May 2010

This is a little late and I apologise for that. It has been a long and rather difficult winter for many people. I am aware of that. Down on the farm, the months have been wetter than usual and we experienced two bouts of snow, one fleeting and the second that stayed and settled on the trees. Only now am I able to begin to assess what has been killed off and what is surviving. Our Jacaranda, carried by Michel as hand luggage all the way from Mexico and planted up on the terrace near the Magnolia Grandiflora because they both blossom at the same time of year, looks like a stick skeleton. I have spent many hours standing by it and studying it carefully without finding any signs of life until last weekend when the weeniest of knobbed shoots began to appear. It was a moment of great joy for us all and a sense of triumph.

Here, below, are two shots of spring awakening.

It is a recurring theme in my books: the power of Nature and its ability to regenerate. I mention this now because, as I said, it has been a difficult winter and several friends have passed away. I would like to pay tribute to two in particular because they were well known to the public: Christopher Cazenove and Jimmy Aubrey. I worked with both. Both were fine actors and good men. Jimmy and I were also at drama school together so the bond was even deeper. God speed them on their way. Both will be greatly missed.

Can you see how the magnificent magenta blossoms on this Judas tree have grown directly out of the trunk? Michel pruned this example back quite severely because it stands on the corner of the terrace where we have been building our bedroom extension. In the new book Return to the Olive Farm, which is to be published on 8th July (please check the Events page on this website as well as Orion’s to see where I will be speaking), I have a great deal of fun describing the enebriated antics of the masons who have been constructing this Olive Farm extension. All four are Portuguese and are rather comically christened: José, José, José and Francisco. The works, stage two, are still ongoing and will afford me many more stories in the future.

Coincidentally, I have just returned from Portugal yesterday having soldiered my way north in spite of yet another dramatic ash crisis. I was visiting the Douro travelling a small length of the river, predominantly by boat, from its mouth at Porto all the way to Salamanca in Spain. The region was quite unknown to me before. Although Portugal has a very healthy olive industry and the Phoenicians traded with the southern coastal people long before the Romans arrived, I did not visit it for The Olive Route because I decided that it was too far from the Mediterranean.

So, it was a joy to discover and I can thoroughly recommend it. Both banks of the Portuguese section of the Douro are quite undeveloped save for hectares and hectares of vineyards, olive groves and almond trees. Beehives and elegant quintas (farms) climb the steep ascents and the area is well known for its honey as well as its excellent wines.

We made an overnight stop in Pinhão where I danced half the night away with locals in a tavern down near the water, ate terrific local chorizo and discovered that this is the winemaking centre for the finest of the local ports. These stretches of vinhateiro have been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Wine has been produced on these hillsides for almost two thousand years. I am writing an article on this region for the Mail on Sunday Travel section so do watch out for it.

Back at the farm,  our little puppy Cardea is growing strong, is very naughty and has been adopted by our two Alsatians, Lola and Homer. Here she is with Lola.

The olive trees are all in blossom as I write this and we are once again approaching the possibility of a plentiful harvest with optimism, knowing that a safe alternative to pesticides sprayed on the trees to protect the fruits against the destructive little flies has still not been entirely settled. I continue to ally myself with campaigns that are working to alleviate the honeybee crises. There is a great deal on this subject in Return to the Olive Farm and I have written a long article on Bees in Paris for the July issue of France magazine. It is a fact that twenty-first century bees kept in hives in cities are faring better and producing more honey than their rural cousins who are facing annihilation. If you live in a city and can plant up even a windowbox, please do call a local apiary organisation and ask for advice on which flowers to plant in which season. Every little patch of land can be used to assist their survival. It is a vital issue.

And lastly to donkeys. I love them, as though of you who have read my series of Olive books will know. In lieu of adopting any of our own at present, I have accepted to be the patron of the WalkwithDonkeys sanctuary in south-eastern Crete. I look forward to finding an opportunity to return to Crete and visit them. Like all these little charity organisatiosn they are strapped for cash and always welcome support. Here is the link to their website if you would like to know more about them.

Once again I would love to welcome you to my Facebook page, OLIVE FARM. It is a terrific group. The WalkwithDonkeys couple are there as are several beekeepers, folk who live in France and others who would like to. Otherwise, it is a group of people from all over the world who have come to the page because they know me and enjoy my work. What is exciting and very invigorating about the page is that there is a terrific sense of sharing: be it information about flora and fauna, travel experiences,  smallholding concerns, sometimes personal support. We are friends. Occasionally, when I am doing a booksigning somewhere, a few of us find the opportunity to meet up, enjoy a glass of wine together and natter. It’s great fun.

So, please help the bees and the donkeys, look after your environment, keep your fingers crossed our Portuguese masons finish our extension before the new decade is out, come and meet me somewhere during my July book tour but if you cannot, then why not buy the book, Return to the Olive Farm. My very splendid editor and publisher of non-fiction at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Alan Samson, has chosen it as his Book of the Year. I am very proud of this one and I hope that you will enjoy reading it as much as I have genuinely enjoyed writing it.

Bless you and thank you for visiting me here


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