Tales from the Tearoom

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You can buy one Mum!



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.


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Oh Clutterbucks!

IMG_5272A 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!


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The Heat of Africa


‘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! P1010294


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The Wind of Heaven


Image - on horseback Alps

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.Image - Mefo and Susie

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.’

Image - Horses at stop

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Rise Up Doormats and Shake Yourselves!


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. women-1209678_640

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.

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Heavy Engineering Needs You !!

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.

Heavy Engineering Needs You!!

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




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