You’re in the Limousin and really fancy a cup of tea, cake maybe lunch or a big breakfast? You’re in France and not everything is open for those wishing to start the day with bacon and eggs or a four o’clock cream tea. Look no further, Jaqueline’s Château du Gâteaux has emerged.
The quintessential french maison transformed to tea room opened it’s doors in July serving a wonderous selection of hand-made cakes, meals and beverages. Sitting on the terrace overlooking St Yrieix-La-Perche’s park gardens or in the cosy fireside front room looking at the inviting menu you start to wonder how this all came about.
Have you stirred your tea, nibbled your courgette cake, then we’ll begin.
Twelve months ago Jacqueline was going through a painful separation and wanted to start afresh on, as she put it, her road to independence. St Yrieix is located about 40km south of Limoges, just north of the Dordogne border with approximately 7,000 inhabitants, not to mention tourists, students, business people, club members, all of whom need either refreshments, a friendly place to pop into or a venue to hold a meeting, party, exhibition or even baby shower. Jacqueline had noticed that the town would be well served with such a place and wanted to offer something unique with a customer service to make the experience special.
Now, as a 53yr old mother with ideas of starting a new venture how was she going to make it happen.
It’s not easy when you have an 8yr old son, nowhere to live and are also an expat. It seemed an insurmountable mountain was blocking her path. Tearfully Jacqueline said to her son one day, ‘I’ve got a good idea about opening an ‘English Tea Room’. It’s what the town needs but how on earth am I ever going to get this off the ground?’
‘Well Mum, you could always buy one,’ replied her son. Of course, what a brilliant suggestion.
It was a year that kept Jacqueline busy, looking for a building, moving house, talking to the banks and council, paperwork, business plans, bagging kitchen equipment, decorating and furnishing, sourcing crockery, food suppliers and of course employ staff for her project. Twelve months later the tea room was ready to get its teapots running!
During the past five weeks the chef has been busy starting every day with some tasty platters for the ever discerning customer and the cake makers haven’t even got time to lick their fingers. All nationalities appear on the terrace and if you’re lucky enough you’ll see the intrepid Jacqueline gliding effortlessly between the tables as she manages, organiser in hand, to arrange the smooth running of her well deserved and quite exceptional dream. St Yrieix -La-Perche is a very lucky place.
A dried up pie at the back of the fridge may be inedible but gives out gas helping speed up the stashed fresh food’s decomposition. So unlike the rotten tree trunks and branches in the gardens, which we should refrain from clearing away, holding a myriad of foodstuffs, i.e. Insects for the garden birds and animal life, our fridges offer a good place to start cleaning and decluttering.
Yes, clearing the unusable remnants holding back our bright and welcoming joy always seems a logical thing to do. Sounds simple. Well the cold cabinet, with the stinky moulds lurking in the corners is frankly easy to apply some elbow grease to. However when you get to throwing out years of old photographs, paperwork, ill-fitting clothing, knick knacks, books let alone the large table or selling the tractor it becomes a different and more labourious, not to mention, emotional issue.
Of course if you’re downsizing, moving to live in perhaps either a hotel suite or berber tent it would seem an easier task to throw out all the clutter holding memories from the precious years. At times it takes longer than you think even having made the decision to free yourself of the baggage. The pictures and momentoes awaken feelings and giggles from long ago – the eagerly haggled-for worn out persian rug seems worthless now, the once indispensable radio tuner really doesn’t function anymore; becoming a collection of snippets from the many, eventually fading, memories we inadvertently lodge in our cerebral store. So I cleared out old tools, files, tight dresses, useful bits of string, pots, dried paint and now inane scribbles to make space for the new journey.
Yes it feels liberating; the clear space is calming, allowing new shoots to spring up; ones that offer a marvellous step into the, as yet, unknown exciting experience when goodness knows what will find itself before my feet. It doesn’t stop it from being a challenge though even if the realm of the obsessive hoarder is something far removed from my experience. Having watched friends and family move house with their mountain of packing boxes and plastic storage containers which more often than not remain unpacked for years as they line the walls and corridors of halls and garages, they sit and gather dust with the contents possibly deteriorating too. Is it the security we associate with what we think is inside? Then there are of course the purpose-built storage facilities, dotted around the country for those unable to loosen the grip of particular objects. Unlike the commercial function of storing wares do we hold on sunconsciously thinking about the ‘rainy day’ or is it an escape into a nostalgic pleasure indulging in checking the boxes of mini histories? There are times when unpacking a box feels like Christmas. What a surprise to find that postcard, those old trinkets, grandma’s porcelain cups or an uncle’s 8mm film projector again. Yes of course part of my mini biography nestles there.
Again a fond journey begins remembering when I would secretly help myself to a chocolate from the delightful glass bowl or watching my father using the knarled pliers to recover his canvas frames. Surely they don’t have to be discarded? Well one could always bring them to the local antiques fair – can I make time for it? The cycle begins again as I pack them away or not!. They can go or perhaps there is a little space tucked away at the back of the cupboard. Yes I’ll keep the pliers and the bowl can go. Which boxes in the garage and on top of the wardrobe are next? May do this more often methinks!
‘My imagination was caught by a tin heart fastened to a tree in a tiny 1914 – 1918 war cemetery in Marondera, Zimbabwe.’ (‘The Tin Heart Gold Mine’ by Ruth Hartley)
A chance discovery in a far-off country by author Ruth Hartley was the perfect starting point for a story involving that deadly combination of love, murder and art. A suspenseful story mainly played out against a backdrop of the Cold War in sub-Saharan Africa, the true character of the major players is gradually revealed as we hold our breath over the fate of Lara and Tim.
Ruth kept us greatly entertained on the Girls Do Coffee show on Ex-Pat Radio with fascinating insights into her work as both a writer and an artist and some interesting choices of music (Sebenzesani ma Condom, anyone?). So it came as no surprise to hear that some of the descriptive passages in the book, so accurate that you could practically feel the dust under your feet, were based on Ruth’s own experiences on the African continent. Walking softly through a herd of buffalo so as not to start a stampede and driving through a crowd of rioting students were two such experiences.
Now based in the peaceful Hautes-Pyrénées, Ruth’s love of Africa still runs through her work like a seam in a gold mine. But will the road beckon once more? Ruth says that she is not ruling out trips abroad…she and John intend to visit Africa again quite soon…but somehow I feel sure that Ruth will undertake many more journeys through her writing and her art. Luckily for her readers, we can go along for the ride!
The full quotation, of Arabic origin, reads: ‘The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears’ and Mefo Phillips is well-placed to comment, having spent more time than most looking out on the world from the back of her Appaloosa horse, Leo.
We were delighted to welcome Mefo onto Girls Do Coffee on Ex-Pat Radio where she recounted stories from her journeys on horseback across Europe.
The pilgrim’s route to Santiago de Compostela is relatively well-known and has been trodden by a variety of travellers, religious and otherwise. However, opting to travel on horseback from her home in Canterbury in Kent to Santiago in Spain is another matter entirely. Fortunately, Mefo had the company of her sister, Susie, on fellow Appaloosa Apollo and was followed along the route by husband Peter, bringing with him Bessie the horsebox.
Even so, the journey took several months and involved many adventures on the way. If you’re thinking that this would make a good read, you’re right! Mefo’s exploits are told in conversational and humorous style in her book ‘Horseshoes and Holy Water’ which is available in paperback or to download to the Kindle.
The call of the bridlepath and beyond soon proved too strong for Mefo and before long she was on the road again, this time going solo on another ride…the Long Ride to Rome. Could this be another book in the offing? Watch this space!
These horseback pilgrimages are not just for fun, either, as both trips have also raised funds for very worthwhile causes. The first being the Canterbury-based Pilgrims Hospices and the second for the Alzheimer’s Association.
Mefo clearly loves life on horseback, whether for personal pleasure or for fund-raising purposes, and would no doubt agree with Winston Churchill who said, ‘No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.’
I never did like Monopoly much. One reason being that it went on far too long. The other, which often led to the game going on for far too long, was people making up extra rules. You could be mid-game and about to swipe some money and someone would say, ‘Oh, at our house we only pay half-rent on Vine Street.’
‘Well, they’re clearly not well-off if they’re living on Vine Street, are they? They need all the help they can get. That’s how we play it here.’
Sigh, and mentally add forty minutes to playing time.
Did I think to ask about any quirky rules invented by each and every household before picking up my little silver top hat? Of course not. I presumed that the normal rules would apply. Just as when interviewing for the variety of jobs that I have done over the years…shop assistant, teacher, estate agent…not once did I ask whether I would be earning the same salary as my male counterpart.
‘You didn’t ask’ is one of the arguments sometimes put forward as an excuse by employers found to be paying their male employees more than their female counterparts.
It might not be seen as downright dishonest but it seems to me that phrases like ‘you didn’t ask’ are slippery and disingenuous at best.
Claire Balding, one of the women who have signed the letter asking BBC management to address the subject of equal pay at the BBC, said that it wasn’t a question of women looking for huge pay cheques but was rather a question of parity, whether the employees are front-of-camera presenters or behind-the-scenes producers, directors or administrative staff.
Looking for equal pay for the same job is surely not such an outrageous demand in 2017 and it is being called for by men as well as women. Not cranks nor the disillusioned but working men and women.
As a woman, I ask myself where we are going wrong. Too polite to ask what other staff are receiving? Too trusting in the employer’s sense of fair play? Too nice to ask for more?
Here’s what Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, thinks of women being nice:
‘Nice sends a message that the woman is willing to sacrifice pay to be liked by others.’ (‘Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg, publ. W.H.Allen, 2015)
Sandberg has plenty to say on the subject of women in the workplace. Following the BBC exposure, her observations about men and women seem particularly pertinent:
‘Men at the top are often unaware of the benefits they enjoy simply because they’re men, and this can make them blind to the disadvantages associated with being a woman. Women lower down believe that men at the top are entitled to be there, so they try and play by the rules and work harder to advance rather than raise questions or voice concerns about possible bias. As a result, everyone becomes complicit in perpetuating an unjust system.’
We could all do with channelling some Sandberg, learning to value ourselves as well as others, pushing ourselves forward without trampling over others and having our say as well as listening.
The Girls do Coffee presenters were pleased to talk to their guest Ken Irving last Thursday about the worlds of engineering, money, travel and retirement. Yes they were subjects all interlinked during a fun couple of hours live on air, studded with pertinent information.
As well as being a financial consultant Ken discussed the hosting of a project for engineers who have a wealth of knowledge still to use before retirement takes hold.
Perhaps this is of interest for you who are either about to retire or are retired, being trained in heavy engineering, and who would like to enjoy a couple of days a week working in Bangalore for a period of time. Engineers coming from the UK, Canada, USA and Australia have to date all shown interest. Ken talked about how the project is going to offer something quite unique. How does this sound? Goa is only a 50 minute flight away, Bangkok 30 minutes and with the retirement ages being raised in relation to our life expectancy there remains loads of time to impart your knowledge and share it with a country that needs you.
Being in its embyonic stage, as Ken put it, he wants to hear from men and women with their thoughts and requirements regarding, dare we say, in an almost high kicks ‘Marigold hotel flavour’, for awhile before the garden shed beckons. It sounded very inviting, to hear about the sun, sea and travel; something many people still want to experience later in life.
It seems recruiters are finding it more and more difficult to fill technical roles with experienced people and are increasingly looking at retireess. There is still a market for those of you with skills and enthusiasm to bring it to the market and of course the next generation.
The writer Deborah Alexander, photographer Liz Garnett and artist Gwen Jenner as well as our loyal worldwide listeners were also enlightened to the tax morays of various countries, how big money is handled inbetween the funny personal stories about taking part in last year’s The Old Banger car rally with his trusty Austin Maestro, in fitting ‘rattan beige’, life in France with the elderly neighbour offering top notch plonk and of course dealing with all manner of financial institutions and complex regulations.
Who knows what awaits and pressing the SEND button can make something wonderful arrive in your INBOX. You can write to Ken about the Bangalore project at Ken.Irving@mail.com.
Twitter @ReflectiveDeb, @travelphotouk, @gwenjenner
As a travel photographer I get to spend around three weeks each summer in France exploring whichever region I am visiting. The beauty of France is that each region has it’s own identity and the French are fiercely proud of their regional identities and produce.
My trips are split up into a block of time spent getting to know an area well for about two weeks and then time either side camping in a new area en route with a view to spending more time in that area in future if I feel there is more to discover. Each aspect of my trip has its plus and minus points. Spending a block of time in one place mean you can get under the skin of that village, town and countryside. Staying in a gite or mobile home affords relative comfort and reduces the risk of “disasters”. The camping either side is where the fun begins. I refuse point blank to bring a large tent for a few nights “under the stars” and have experimented over the years with a variety of different tents. With one tent we didn’t bother with a run through of putting it up before we left home so had an interesting time erecting it after arriving late to a campsite which had given us a decidedly rocky pitch. Luckily, a camper on the next door pitch offered to help bash in the tent pegs.
All this serves to highlight that a journey can be interesting and throw up experiences and chance meetings that are unexpected. You learn about the kindness of strangers and about your own ability to manage in a stressful situation. It also gives you something to “dine out on” when you return home. How much more fun is it to have a laugh, once you get home, about the time the tent flooded and the argument over whether an airbed is yours or not only to discover that you have been landed with the one that deflates in the night. Bad weather helps as it provides an “in” for a conversation at the sinks or shower block where you can then learn about interesting places to visit in the region or a good restaurant.
France is such a vast country to explore and the temptation to drive straight down the autoroute to your destination means you miss the enjoyment of stumbling upon a village or town with something special to offer. I have lived in France for two years and there is so much to discover. South East of Boulogne you will find Les Sept Vallées where you can sample local cheeses direct from the farm; visit a chocolate factory at Beussent; and try a very pleasant sparkling wine made from red currents at Loison sur Créquoise. This is just the tip of the artisan iceberg and each region will offer similar delights.
For us, one journey sans-autoroute bought the fun of discovering a shop selling life sized plastic cows. By taking things slowly we were able to stop and have a look. The downside to the slow route is in driving a right hand drive car and getting stuck behind large farm machinery which seems to clog the roads in August. We ended up bein
g over taken by two tractors as we struggled along in second gear but this caused great amusement from my passengers.
Other journeys have brought the chance to view beautiful rolling landscapes and chance encounters with interesting buildings like the little chapel outside Embry not far from Calais.
So, if you want to have and adventure, ditch the autoroute and see what the slow roads show you.
Liz Garnett – www.lizgarnett.com
It’s not often we can combine the pleasures of the sea with the grit of the soil however today we were lucky to have the specialists on the Girls do Coffee airwaves for www.ex-patradio.com
Our first guest was Servanne Sohier who is Editorial Director at Yacht/Art News, UHNWI as well as Family Office. These magazines cover large scale investment and art collections and Servanne had a host of stories to tell about the Super Yacht world and those who invest and work in it.
Formerly attached to a press agency now vessels longer than 24m with the the largest covering 222m have become the business and mode of transport for her current clients. The various yachting seasons in the Med and Caribbean regularly call on Servanne to apply either her photographic eye or editorial skills. Concierge financial service advice, contemporary art collections and the latest sleek yacht designs form part of the heady shoreline existence for the ultra rich and crews who run the exotic ships.
For the latter part of the show we were pleased to have Land Rover specialist Nigel Withers with us. Currently the owner of one from the first produced batch of 50 Land Rovers in 1948, number 17 to be precise, led to a host of questions by the Girls do Coffee team. Could they be used on the Chemin Verts for some off-road manoeuvres or were many old models being dismantled for original spare parts. He mentioned the indian company Tata was investing in better Land Rover products to meet the market requirements; it really is an iconic set of wheels.
People watching was something that happened on both the marinas as well as dirt tracks as our guests recalled. On water the ship owners would eat on another deck to avoid prying eyes and you could spot the 4×4 enthusiasts a mile off with their matching knits and LR tattoos said Nigel. He is one of the few Land Rover specialists in France and can be seen at various shows and gatherings in Europe ranging between Aachen, Nantes, UK Goodwood Show and next weekend you can meet him at www.kelmarshlandrovershow.com in Northamptonshire.
For more information about yachts, art and finances contact Servanne at www.yachtinvestor.com
For Land Rover information you can write to Nigel at email@example.com
Gwen Jenner – www.gwenjenner.com
Looking at the word rootless many perjorative terms associated with our understanding of it pop up. The words, unsteady, vulnerable, fluctuant, hazardous not to mention weak and insecure are used as a parallel interpretation. However there are plenty of instances where being rootless has its advantages and it is certainly a manageable and necessary part of the survival process.
The tumbleweeds, the feathery dandelion seeds and the fluttering leaves are all part of the living process to starting a new existence. Yes we can easily identify with the established plants, the scented rose, the strongly rooted oak tree, the whispering frons of the waterside willows in life’s metaphorical journey.
The moments in our life cycle where the invisible roots are ready to take hold at a later stage, are invariably stepping stones. The parts of the process (without the roots) are referred to as immature, wobbly and unreliable. Gosh these are the often terms we use for teenagers, artists, new playwrights, travellers, mad scientists carrying out experiments. Invariably it’s those who bravely attempt to break new ground whether consciously or not or take a recalcitrant attitude. A stepping stone to something as yet immeasurable.
Rootlessness is a transient situation as is having roots; which in our human timescale takes and lasts much, much longer continuing on after our death and by default merits a positive terminology? The ever changing media is at times without roots except for the reviewed old shows or the temporary iplayer function not to mention internet; look at our show Girls do Coffee on www.ex-patradio.com for example. Much of it lives in the moment.
So why the perjorative understanding for ‘rootless’? Temporary. Unreliable. We want security as we hazard the maze of everyday questions, sorrows and delights. We want confirmation that the choices made were the best, whilst continually searching for an embrace to say we are good and morally upright. However in our paradox we also know that much of which is important remains almost invisible against measurement.
Where is this taking us?
Be aware of the words used in your everyday language. Some are archaic, interesting and belong to a time when values and expectations were very different to today whereas others can be an informative and poetic delight.
Be aware of the words used to describe those who threaten authority, foreigners, intimate body parts whether meant in either jest or denigration to assert power by state or church and watch them flip into the mainstream adjective list.
We often start a reply with, ‘I’m sorry, I’m afraid to say etc.’ Why do we use these terms? Is it to show humility, appease either a potential disgruntlement, rockable boat or conventional poor habit?
Last week I helped my mother move to a retirement home. The home is not far from where she was born just before the start of WWII .
She travelled the world, lived in lands afar and has unexpectedly returned to her ‘formative roots’ to enjoy the closing chapter.
There is a comfort to be had in the easily recognisable streets and pluckable personal history that my mother can access in this town.
Some of us, on the other hand, will have a history consisting of a state of being with those potential or unnecessary roots. Often known referred to as quintisentially ‘rootless’. Nonetheless it too is a life in process, one of equal drama and merit; important and visible when you see my mother’s daughter.
Gwen Jenner – www.gwenjenner.com