February Newsletter

Dear Reader,

Spring is in sight. Mediterranean Spring. We have almond blossoms almost in full flower which, of course, is the first sign of spring around the Mediterranean basin. Do I say this every year? Possibly. I am always so overjoyed to see that lovely pale pink petal showing its face like a blush on young cheeks. The bees are about. Mostly bumbles but I have spotted quite a few honey girls wriggling into the almond flowers.

Another year is waking up. I so look forward to spring and this year, yet again, it feels so welcome and I am grateful for it. The grapefruits are coming into blossom and how sweet is their scent. Lemon and orange blossom soon. Then cherry and peach …

It’s time to linger at the local food markets and stay to eat lunch on the beach in the sunshine.

I take longer dips in the pool which, I admit, is still pretty freezing but a quick march about the garden after I get out sends the blood coursing through my old limbs.

I am receiving emails from readers and visitors who want to book our cottage – their minds are turning to travel. As is mine: dreams of more distant Mediterranean lands!

The terraces are getting more colourful as the wildflowers begin to open. The first of the lovely blue borage flowers are out. We picked a few for a lunchtime salad but left most for the bees. Butterflies are appearing. Birdsong is everywhere. It is all so joyful.

This winter has been tough, and rather sad. Many old-timers have moved on. Dave Crosby, Sylvia Syms, Jeff Beck to name but three. Others I knew personally. Patti Love, a lovely actress I was at drama school with. I feel more than ever the importance of grabbing life by the horns. Whatever it is you are planning, there is no time like the present.

I have been planning trips in my mind, at my desk, over on the Air France site, but for the moment I remain on my chair engrossed in my novel. I don’t want to break the spell. It is taking longer than I had anticipated but that is the way it sometimes goes and as I am still enjoying its world – a vineyard set along the red rocks of L’Esterel, in summer – I don’t mind the extra time. After all, I want to write the best book I can.

On the downside, ee have reached the end of February – out wettest month here on the Côte d’Azur – and so far there has not been a single drop of rain. The land and some of the plants are dry. I am out watering when I am not at my desk. Large pines up on the hill have keeled over because their roots are so shallow, the soil is crumbly and they cannot withstand any force of wind. It involves a massive amount of work, sawing and stocking. We have far too much wood for our own chimneys. If you are in the region, and need firewood, please get in touch with me.

Less trees, less cover. We all know the effects of losing trees on the climate crisis. I worry about this terribly. We try to replant with others, not pines. I choose fruit trees: citrus or another terrace of almonds. Trees that can withstand a certain amount of drought conditions, like the olive.

Obviously, we are keeping all the pines that are not dangerous because they are ecosystems to various flora and fauna. The short-toed eagles still come visiting and I think are still nesting in the higher canopies.

So, aside from writing and working on the land, my days are quiet but busy with lots of reading, watching films and in the evening, cooking with lots of fresh ingredients carried home from the abundant markets.

A couple of days I watched a remastered Blu-Ray edition of an old British film made in 1958. Ice Cold in Alex. It stars the late Sylvia Syms when she was a young British film star. And how luminescent she was! It’s a WWII story set during the Western Desert Campaign of 1942. Three men, two British officers and a South African, and two young female nurses set out to cross the desert in an old medical truck in an attempt to get to Alexandria in Egypt. They are escaping the Germans who have, most recently, taken the coastal town of Tobruk. Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography is excellent. Stunning desert shots. All the performances too. A sterling cast. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Interestingly, this year’s Berlin Film Festival is running as I write. We were meant to attend but had to cancel. Ice Cold in Alex was a winner there in 1958.

My father was in Egypt, Libya, Palestine, Syria-Lebanon and South Africa during WWII. He was with the Ralph Reader Entertainment Corps, the Gang Shows, along with the likes of Peter Sellers and Tony Hancock.

So Daddy did not participate – as far as I know – in action. He was performing, offering moments of laughter and relaxation to the regular troops. I read recently that the Ralph Reader Gang shows entertained approximately three and a half million troops throughout the war. That is really quite astonishing and such a contribution.

My father’s stories of Africa and the Middle East when I was a child were so evocative. I am sure they went a large way towards giving me the travel bug that I have never lost. Watching Ice Cold in Alex, set during that period in some of the same locations, had a special attraction for me.

My only regret is that my father has long left this earth and I cannot ask him all the questions about those days that I long for answers to.

I dashed off to see The Banshees of Inisherin as soon as it hit the cinemas in France, and loved it, of course. A beautiful tragicomic tale of the breakdown of friendship between two island men. Ireland is really punching above its weight in the film industry at present. This film has done well at the British Awards, the BAFTAS, and is on its way to the Oscars. Finger crossed it sweeps the board.

I have been reading some fabulous books.

We recently lost the marvellous Fay Weldon so I went back to my bookshelves and took down Rhode Island Blues, which I read when it was first published. To be honest, I had not remembered a great deal about the story except that it is partially set in an old people’s home in America. I thoroughly enjoyed it along with Fay’s musings on ageing, love, death and late-life relationships. It was as sharp and witty as she always was. Highly recommended.

I wrote in one of my recent Newsletters how much I am in awe of the books of the French novelist-memoirist, Annie Ernaux, who won last year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Her novel-memoir, Les Années, (in English The Years), is in my opinion, a masterpiece. Her writing is so honest. It is spare, stark, while also rich  in detail and observant. Again, I cannot recommend Ernaux’s work highly enough. She is eighty-two years old and is the first French woman to be crowned with the Nobel for Literature. I went to listen to her talk in Paris a few days after she came back from Stockholm. Her modesty was humbling to witness. It was also fascinating to hear her reflections on writing truthfully, unforgivingly, intimately. She spoke of how her own mother had felt pain reading some of the reflections her daughter had written about their life together, Annie’s childhood years. Yet, at the same time, the mother recognised that even the unpalatable has a necessary place in the memoirist’s personal narrative. I found Annie very inspiring indeed. The Years is considered by some to be her crowning work. It is also a wonderful chronicle of modern French history. Don’t miss it.

Now I am embarking on the first book I have read in a while authored by a man. Irish writer, Joseph O’Connor’s latest novel is a dazzling thriller.  My Father’s House is set in WWII Rome during the Nazi invasion of the Italian capital. I have only read forty or so pages but I am enjoying it enormously, infused with O’Connor’s characteristic humour and lyricism. It is based on a trueImage story. Even at this early stage in the book, I highly recommend it.

So, that’s me. Reading, watching films, keeping our land from drying out and writing, while applauding the daily approach of spring.

Perfect days, really. I am blessed.

Thank you for reading this. Do let me know what you are up to and tell me about the books and films you are being inspired by. Or even hated!

More soon,



PS: for the month of March if you are in the UK, the Kindle version of The Olive Farm is on special offer at 99p. Cheaper than a metro ticket to France!

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