A Feather in her Cap

girls do coffee Flight-of-the-Swans-8

The plight of swans, wild geese and waterfowl struggling within the shrinking wetlands of a growing population and such things as fatal interference from worldwide tall power lines can be remedied. According to our guest on this Thursday’s show, Sacha Dench, the intrepid, flaxen haired member of the World Wildlife Trust team, their swansong isn’t playing just yet.

The ladies from the Girls do Coffee team, admirably aided and abetted by ex-patradio’s Dave Hailwood, were keen to pick her brains and find out, amongst other things, what it was like seeing some of the few pristine watery bird habitats lit by the rising sun.

girls do coffee pic 3Liz Garnett asked questions about flying the paramotor and microlight, Deborah Alexander reminded the thousands of listeners that a book about Sacha’s exploits would be in the offing and Gwen Jenner wanted to know what noticeable  improvements for migratory birds were being established. We heard a wind turbine company intelligently asked for information from Sacha and the team regarding working with the migratory flight paths. Someone was listening in their office.

Sacha and the fantastic group of dedicated wildlife experts, medics, pilots and cameramen brought the lives of the Bewick swans into our cosy rooms for this project. The indiviudals Leho, Daisy Clark, Maisy and Hope carry collars to track their progress and we can follow  their movements on the Facebook page Flight of the Swans.

The team’s dedication and passion warrants our attention because as our guest pointed out, ‘Swans are living breathing creatures that don’t just exist in fairy tales,’ as was believed to be the case by some isolated indigenous folk Sacha met on her travels.

girls do coffee sachaHaving been a free diving champion record holder in Australia in one of her previous lives Sacha climbed into the paramotor for her next adventure. Straddling the wetlands of the northern tundra lands, Lithuania, Scandinavia and Russia from Slimbridge, Gloucestershire UK, Sacha overcame her fear of flying to hit the freezing arctic skies. As well as piloting the machine for a records breaking 7,000km flight she filmed the migrating swans with cameras attached to her body, moving her frozen hands and icicled contraption parallel with these magnificent creatures. Eye to eye at an altitude of a few thousand feet. What a feat.

girls do coffee pic 2To have been given a glimpse into the magnificent experience has been a treat. Sacha kindly mentioned the fact that her morning with us had also been one of the more pleasurable and fun experiences of a busy PR life. We were honoured and pleased to have heard her tales, listening avidly to efforts comprising the incessant work required to change the minds of the powers that be. Sir Peter Scott has been referred to as the patron saint of naturalists by Sir David Attenborough and Scott, a former hunter, naval man, skilled artist, ornithologist and conservationist  certainly set the map to change our approach to understanding and protecting waterbirds and the necessary habitats over six decades ago.  We are indebted to him for setting up the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and World Wildlife Fund as well as the wetland parks in the London, the UK and Ireland being worth a visit for all age groups.

We take it for granted that the birds will be with us forever, the swans especially. They are an ancient symbol in very many different respects and to imagine them dissolving within our lifetimes as the extinct Dodo is a distinct horror.

girls do coffee picSacha Dench  and the Flight of the Swans showed us that it is within our hands to protect one of nature’s beautiful evolutions. Donations, birdwatchers, reporters, planning gurus and governments can all take part. Gwen suggested that a new take on Swan Lake might be possible a broader interest;  something poignant and entertaining composed by fellow Aussie Tim Minchin perhaps. Who knows what’ll fly to pull at our purses and heartstrings.

You can listen again on Expat Radio.

Gwen Jenner – www.gwenjenner.com


Instagram: @gwen_jenner

Twitter: @gwenjenner

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Emergency Supplies…


Liz Garnett writes … This Easter holidays brought with it the urgent need to stock up on French goodies.  So a day trip to France was called for and on a day when the weather forecast looked promising I booked a ferry crossing from Dover to Calais. The choice of ferry operators has diminished over the last few years with the demise of My Ferry Link. For a time it was my preferred ferry operator as, even at peak times, their ferries were relatively quiet. The staff were mostly French which meant that as soon as I boarded the ship I could speak French.

The first challenge on any Dover to Calais crossing is the Port of Dover itself. Once you have gone through the French passport control drivers need to be vigilant and follow the numerous obscure signs – not easily seen at stupid o’clock when you are worrying whether you will get to the ticket booths in time.

Tickets issued and line number given, you are then left to your own devices to find the right lane – the number of which is on the tag hanging from your mirror facing out so you can’t see it.  Trying to remember the number while looking for the right lane can be challenging. As I get older the whole exercise gets harder and I know one day I will end up on a ferry going who knows where. One day, when I have more time, this might be rather fun.

Thankfully the crossing is short and before long we are on French roads and the worry has turned from wanting peace and quiet to concentrating on driving on the French side of the road.

1S5A4350The Port of Calais and approach roads have changed dramatically since I lived there over 20 years ago. There are now 5 metre high fences either side of the roads leading to the port as well as French police at various points waiting to prevent migrants from entering the port area. Only last year t
here were also migrants hanging around waiting for an opportunity to sneak across the channel.

The Nord Pas de Calais regions are so often ignored by travellers in favour of warmer southern climes or by day trippers trying to track down cheap booze. This is a great shame as the region has a wealth of historical sites, a diverse landscape and interesting architecture to explore.

1S5A4361On this trip I decided to head up the motorway to St Omer and the nature reserves  just outside this historic town at Clairmarais. Arriving just after midday meant that the visitors centre was closed for the obligatory 2 hour lunch and the nature reserve was free of visitors so we had the opportunity to enjoy the peace and solitude of the marshland. All around we can hear the sound of migratory and native birds and at several points we can see the birds. There are two routes to an observatory, one of which is suitable for wheelchairs and prams. The second route takes in a small self-service chain ferry which adds to the novelty of the visit. It is little things like this that help to give my children 1S5A4385special memories to look back on when they are adults. This was only a brief visit. A walk to get a feel of the place and set the seed for future visits to explore this area rich
landscape. In summer a boat trip along one of the waterways beckons along with exploring the local villages on the marsh.

Of course no trip to Calais is complete without a grocery shop. The wide variety of cheeses in France is far more interesting (and smelly) than in the UK and I don’t feel I have succeeded in shopping in France if I don’t return to the UK and can’t smell my car on the car deck of the ferry.  Jambon de Bayonne is another essential along with Le Fermier yoghurts. Smoked garlic gives our kitchen a long lasting aroma reminding us of our trip. A tour of the alcohol aisle is essential for all British shoppers. So, a few bottles of wine, Pineau de Charantes and cider complete the trolley. When I lived in France it was easy to spot the British shoppers at the checkout in the supermarkets: a trolley laden with alcohol with the obligatory camembert on the top. At one point there was a craze for them to buy enormous boxes of washing powder. Sadly, since those halcyon days the Franc has been abandoned in favour of the Euro and the exchange rate hasn’t been the same since.

As I drive back to the port of Calais we speed past the old Hoverport and I am reminded of how the options to cross the channel have changed over the last 20 or so years. Before the Tunnel the Hovercraft and Seacat were the fastest and most sick inducing but I still look back on them nostalgically as they were a rather fun way to cross the channel on a flat calm.

After a short wait in the queues for the ferry and an opportunity to people watch, we board the ship and park up. I leave a car window a little open so the waft of fromage can permeate the surrounding area of the car deck and we head upstairs to find somewhere quiet to sit.

Liz Garnett – www.lizgarnett.com


Instagram: @lizgarnett_art / @lizgarnett_travel

Twitter: @lizgarnett / @travelphotouk

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Our Cups are Overflowing!

girls do coffee SeanEtCaroFeely

We felt that our cups were overflowing when we welcomed wine producer and author Caro Feely onto the Girls Do Coffee Show on Ex-Pat Radio to talk about her new book Glass Half Full. Full to the brim of fun, yes, but Caro’s wine knowledge is firmly rooted in reality and years of hard graft.

Caro and her husband Séan have been working out of Chateau Feely in South West France for twelve years now and the ups and downs of their lives have been faithfully recorded in a series of three books…Grape Expectations, Save Our Skins and the subject of this most recent book launch, Glass Half Full.

girls do coffee feely-13511448_295347307490104_797240170_nThroughout the series of books, the reader is presented with the full story, the obstacles as well as the successes, the disasters alongside the celebrations and, having travelled through what Caro calls ‘the Valley of Despair’ with the couple, we are only too happy to celebrate the highs with them too.

The journey for the Feely family has not been an easy one and the decision to go organic and then bio-dynamic on their vineyard set them a goal that would prove challenge for a number of years. That they are up to the task is quite clear…their dynamism and can-do attitude is laid out on every page and Caro radiates the same positivity in conversation.

Even with the difficulties that they have encountered, their commitment to the organic method, which means leaving behind the pesticides, weed-killers and systemic fungicides that are par for the course in the majority of vineyards, comes across loud and clear. The benefits are clear too, not just to those who imbibe but to the plant-life and wildlife on the vineyard too.

Caro described orchids growing on their land that are only able to develop with the presence of some ‘friendly fungi’. Orchids are rarely found in the run-of-the-mill vineyards where fungi of this type are simply poisoned out of existence. Whereas the chemical-free environment of Chateau Feely encourages the development of the orchids along with a wide range of other flora and fauna.

The idea of holding back on chemicals for the good of Nature seems an obvious one, doesn’t it? The next step, when you are picking up a bottle of wine from the supermarket, is to think about the effect of chemical residue on us.

girls do coffee ChateauFeelyDegustationCaro can add the title of accredited wine educator to her portfolio of wine-producer and author and these rôles all provide an opportunity to get this message out there. If all this has sharpened your appetite for discovering more about the Feely family and their organic wines, take a look at their website www.chateaufeely.com where you will find information on buying their wine, staying in gîtes at the property, attending wine school at Château Feely.

You can start though by picking up one of Caro’s books and taking that journey with her and her family through the vines, through the Valley of Despair and out the other side. And if you feel as though the best accompaniment to a good book is a glass of wine, better make sure it’s the best in its field.

Deborah Alexander – www.reflective-writing-group.org


Instagram: @alexander_deborah

Twitter: @ReflectiveDeb

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You Can’t Always Get What You Want…

deborah blog

Deborah Alexander writes: Regarding family words of wisdom, ‘Don’t go to bed with wet hair’ is, for some reason, all that sticks in my mind. I feel sure that wiser words were passed on by my parents and grandparents so I like to think that their wisdom was absorbed in a kind of osmosis over the years to form part of my naturally wise character. Or maybe that’s optimism on my part.

There don’t seem to be many twenty-somethings dishing out advice so obviously there must be something about getting older that prompts that urge to pass on what we have learnt to the next generation. But are the young really ready to listen? While we see the sands of time streaming through the hourglass at a rate of knots, for the younger members of society the bottom of the glass is barely troubled with those troublesome grains. We ageing (mature?) types are desperate to pass on what we’ve learnt before we shuffle off, but will they take their earbuds out long enough to hear?

deborah 2The Girls Do Coffee show provides the perfect arena for sharing our life experience with the listeners. Gwen, Liz and even I always have something to share, while Dave Hailwood’s pearls of wisdom are unique, as listeners will undoubtedly testify. It is also an opportunity for our guests to pass on useful or insightful gleanings from their own lives.

We (myself and fellow presenters, Gwen Jenner and Liz Garnett) were thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to the delightful Peter Dunne on the Girls Do Coffee show on Ex-Pat Radio a couple of weeks ago. His book ‘The Fifty Things’ is sub-titled ‘Lessons for When you Feel Lost, Love Dad’. It’s full, not just of wise stuff, but also of lots of laughter and just good stories. Plus, plenty of quotations and I’m a sucker for a pertinent quote.

Thank you, Peter, for reminding me of Isaac Asimov’s ‘Never let your morals prevent you from doing what’s right’ and George Bernard Shaw’s ‘If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.’

Of course, Peter isn’t the first to want to pass on some sound advice for life. One of the favourite books on my shelf at home is Meditations (or Thoughts) from Marcus Aurelius. His written thoughts go back way to around 175 AD. Naturally, the language of the text is appropriate for that era…but the desire to pass on the message to stop wasting our time and get straight to the nub of getting the most out of life is still there. You might have seen ‘Perform every action a though it were your last’ on a T-shirt, but were you aware that it is one of the thoughts of Marcus Aurelius? I also like ‘Some people are busy and yet do nothing’. That could fit right in with modern society, couldn’t it?

But as to how to encourage the young to listen…I can’t help wondering if they are more likely to listen if the advice comes in the form of a song? The first to leap to my mind was Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in the Mirror’…. ‘If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.’ So now what would your go-to song be?

Turning to Reddit to find out which songs offer the best advice, according to its members of course, one of the highest-rated was ‘Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen’ by Baz Luhrmann from 1999. For some reason, that one passed me by in 1999…too busy travelling through France and splitting up with a long-term boyfriend. But its lyrics…and maybe the retro video with its seventies feel…clearly hit the right note for many people. The lyrics (available on www.metrolyrics.com) are lengthy, spoken more than sung, but contain both meaningful and laugh-aloud truths ranging from ‘Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind, the race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself’ to the rather more simplistic ‘You’re not as fat as you imagine.’

Maybe I could have done with listening to some helpful words back in 1999 instead of looking at the eclipse and crying into my pillow. But as the Rolling Stones said, ‘You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might just find, you get what you need.’

Deborah Alexander – www.reflective-writing-group.org


Instagram: @alexander_deborah

Twitter: @ReflectiveDeb

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Writefully Yours


Writer in the attic or writers en masse? Whichever is your personal preference for writing, Marilyn Smith is able and willing to put you in your place…your Writeful Place, to be exact.

After over twenty years in hospitality, and a passion for books that is firmly grounded in hard-earned qualifications, Marilyn has decided that her role in life is to provide welcoming and inspiring surroundings for budding writers.

Marilyn found time in her busy schedule to join Gwen Jenner, Liz Garnett and myself on the Girls Do Coffee show on www.ex-patradio.com yesterday to share with us her motivation for setting up the writers’ retreats that go under the name of Your Writeful Place.

Maz03It’s clear that the choice of environment is key as far as Marilyn is concerned and she has certainly not let down her followers thus far….an Alpine chalet close to Chamonix, a rural retreat near the Cumbrian Lakes…it’s all a long way from the starving writer in some freezing garret trying to warm the ink in his pen!

Marilyn calls herself a facilitator but her warm character and her sensitivity regarding the varying needs of writers places her way beyond that. She recognizes that writers (strange breed that we are) can seek out fellow-feeling and the need to be part of a group but that we may also crave a private space where we can allow our creativity to develop. In finding the right surroundings, she likes to check that there are not only meeting spaces but a variety of ‘nooks and crannies’ to permit this to happen.

Maz05The Cumbrian retreat is planned for 24th to 26th June this year and details can be found on Marilyn’s website, www.yourwritefulplace.com  Marilyn is already planning another retreat for September and is scanning the Normandy area for a property that matches her exacting demands, so if France beckons, watch the website for further details.

No excuses for writers at home though as Marilyn has organised a short story competition which ends on the 31st May, so take a look at the website and have pens or keyboards at the ready.

Liz, Gwen and I, and Ex-Pat Radio director Dave Hailwood, were very happy to welcome Marilyn onto the Girls Do Coffee show. She has a great sense of fun and clearly loves to share stories, her own or those of others. What comes across most strongly is her respect for the writers’ craft and her desire to create the ideal environment where, if everything is in its rightful place, a little writing magic can begin.

Deborah Alexander – www.reflective-writing-group.org


Instagram: @alexander_deborah

Twitter: @ReflectiveDeb

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Tick Tock Monet

gwen monet 1

Looking at the field across the river I caught a glimpse of a recognisable thing. A hay stack. To all intents and purposes this could have been something typical from the 19th century, standing there somewhat timeless and shapeless. Maybe the ghost of Monet had passed by and invited my gaze.

Apparently he had spent time in the Limousin. Monet visited the Creuse area during 1889 to be precise. He even had a porcelain dinner service produced in Limoges for use at home in Giverny.

gwen monet 2Did time briefly stand still? It can certainly occupy a moment or two finding yourself looking at a haystack. A pile of hay that is obviously squeakily new may tentatively offer a glimpse of a so-called paradise lost? Yet the scene fleetingly transports you to what may have existed over a 125 years ago. Five generations ago; feeling, you could say, as if it’s the here and now rather than the there ‘n then.

We now understand that time can be influenced by gravity. The galaxy apparently bends to the forces of it and yet we still seem to hang onto the eternally immovable ‘Captain Clock’.

 Where did the ‘Captain Clock’ come from?

We know when the railway networks were established around 1840, the Great Western Railway line was one of the first to adopt London Time. Thereafter Greenwich Mean Time was recorded as being used in 1847 for the burgeoning railway service. The legal system, during those years, continued to use local time clocks only fully adapting to GMT in as late as 1880. It seemed many watches were worn then, all telling a different time.

gwen monet 3Considering Earth’s 24 hour rotation we understand the speed is influenced by the planet’s position in the orbital cycle. Clocks have been around for centuries although it has to be mentioned that there is a difference between ‘Sun Time’ and ‘Clock Time’. Clock time is measured by the longitude calculation the Earth rotates at, a steady 15 degrees per hour. Therefore between the two most extreme eastern and western points of the British Isles there is a physical difference of 30 minutes in time.

Historically with the advent of the GMT demarcation for clock time a certainty for folk was ensured. It became a reassuring measuring stick regarding their dates of birth, its ramifications as well as for the legal system, railways, telegraph and Post Office. Thus you could say ‘Captain Clock’ came into general being, regulating our lives from before conception to beyond the grave.

My elderly french neighbour, a former cattle farmer and miller often replied, when asked a question about the weather, ‘look out of the window’. He didn’t go on trailblazing holidays around the world requiring a packed suitcase of clothing for all weathers or feel anxious at the thought of not knowing how high the rainfall would be in either London or Sydney. The weather here, on his doorstep, was what would be affecting him immediately.

gwen monet 4The idea of checking the clock first to herd the heifers was not top of the list. Herding the heifers was. Monsieur Audevard knew as a child how to read the ‘Sun Time’ by dint of that around him. Nature’s effect upon the skies, grass, trees, insects, temperature, the animals themselves and his meal times of course.

We’re talking about an agricultural life rather than the fast paced city one. There is perhaps less nature to read in the skyscraper horizon which has changed our lives dramatically since the Industrial Revolution.

My neighbour didn’t wear a watch. Without ticking hands to tell the time he’d look up towards the sky. However over here in France, there are certain activities which seem immovable, transcending all clocks weather clues and gravitational anomalies. These are the 12.30pm lunch, the 19.30 dinner preceded by an apèro, the Sunday afternoon walk and the fixed holiday or feast days to name a few. These habits seem to emerge from within the inhabitants’ DNA. Not even a potentially gravitationally flexible GMT scale nor cloudy sky would dare interfere with the ingrained obligations.

Gwen Jenner – www.gwenjenner.com


Instagram: @gwen_jenner

Twitter: @gwenjenner

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A Humorous Fantasy Business

peter dunne

Another Thursday morning, and for the Girls do Coffee presenters another drama to be dissected; be it reading the news about Trump, Brexit or even today’s guest Peter Dunne.

From what the team could ascertain beforehand our guest was part of the giant entertainment empire that creates the screen jewels such as Wallace & Gromit, American Beauty and Indiana Jones as well as the WW2 drama Resistance and Coraline to name but a few.

Time stops for no man and our Peter couldn’t escape the vagaries of how it affects you as it skims relentlessly past. It may leave wisdom, scars, pain and joy in its wake. Luckily for the reading public Peter turned his experience of becoming aware of Father Time’s incessant ticking clock when he turned 50 to write his book. ‘The 50 Things’ comprises a collection of inspired thoughts the author wanted to share with his children and luckily for us the public too.

Inside the chapters entitled Heroes, Love, Gossip to name merely three of the fifty subjects Peter covered, we gained an inkling into his family, working life and interests. You can’t find this out on his Linkedin page. I tried and still managed to confuse him with another public figure of the same name. Luckily for us our generous hearted Peter was able to recount a couple of funny anecdotes regarding his namesakes. My mistake’s silver lining.

peter dunne 2Squeezing a tale, in between the giggles and music before lunch, Deborah, Liz and I continued to throw questions. Locked in their comfort zones, our listening audience would also have asked about a life in Hollywood, The Princes Trust even Groucho’s Club. What does a Producer actually do? The day job criss-crossing the oceans to sit at giant boardroom tables, organise the publicity, embracing the shoulders of the stars of the screen as well as rushing to catch the last flight conjured a world far removed from the daily trek to a brocante  or sheep field. However, Peter also mentioned how invigorating it is to take his collection of dogs for a walk in humid Herefordshire even when dealing with the large productions for either the forthcoming Spielberg or Katzenberg cinema releases.

We wanted to be a able to feel the warmth from the starry footlights and smell the popcorn which our guest could share from firsthand experience. All of it straight from the PRODUCER’S mouth and there wasn’t a couch in sight!

So for another day we know we can look forward to a ‘Tom Sharpe meets Agatha Christie’ style bestseller from Peter’s pen. For today however we were all delighted to have spent this Thursday morning with such a lovely character.

Gwen Jenner – www.gwenjenner.com


Instagram: @gwen_jenner

Twitter: @gwenjenner

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