I’ll Take the Slow Road

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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

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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

liz@lizgarnett.com

Instagram: @lizgarnett_art / @lizgarnett_travel

Twitter: @lizgarnett / @travelphotouk

 

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Indulgent Surf ‘n Turf

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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.

girls2For 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.

Pgirls3eople 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 nigel.christine@free.fr 

Gwen Jenner – www.gwenjenner.com

gwenjenner@yahoo.com

Instagram: @gwen_jenner

Twitter: @gwenjenner

 

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Rootless

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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.

girls 2Where 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?

girls 1Last 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

gwenjenner@yahoo.com

Instagram: @gwen_jenner

Twitter: @gwenjenner

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The World Will Come to Me

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Everyone has their own version of the French Adventure, whether it be touring France on a tandem, crossing the country on horseback or upping sticks and moving wholesale to La Belle France.

James Martin, the TV chef probably best known for Saturday Kitchen, decided to embark on a French Adventure of his own. In an homage to Keith Floyd, James took on the red and white 2CV previously owned by Keith and travelled through France, meeting the locals and cooking along the route.

A part of the adventure for James must have been staying with Val and Mike Slowther at ‘Le Vieux Relais’, tucked away into the southern corner of the Aude.

girls do 2We welcomed Val onto ‘Girls Do Coffee’ and immediately understood why the programme researchers chose the couple’s welcoming Chambre d’Hôtes for this stage of James’ journey. Val’s previous life in the corporate world clearly furnished her with a range of transferable skills which she didn’t hesitate to use in rapidly whipping the business into shape. Husband Mike’s experience in hospitality matched Val’s organisational skills and before you know it, you have a thriving business.

These skills didn’t go unobserved by the powers-that-be in the small French village that the Slowthers have made their home. Before long, Val was being asked to take on the role of municipal councillor at the local Mairie.

‘Why me?’ Val asked.

‘Because you integrate and you get things done!’ came the reply.

Getting things done is Val’s forte, as she has since gone on to participate in a variety of committees in the region.

girls do 3The researchers for James Martin’s French Adventure soon picked up on Val’s can-do and happy-to-help approach. In the wake of the TV crew’s departure, a visitor’s book full of positive comments testifies to the high quality of service provided by the Slowthers.

If you are thinking of following in the footsteps of James Martin, you’ll be pleased to hear that the service offered is of the same high quality, regardless of whether you arrive as you are or with a TV crew in tow.

Val’s colleagues from her previous work were worried that her new life would be too calm in comparison with her previous role, which involved frequent interactions with the world at large.

‘How will you cope?’ they asked.

‘The world will have to come to me!’ Val announced.

Val could well be right as James Martin is not the only celebrity to find his way to Slowther’s door. But perhaps it’s more that the world created by Val and Mike is so warm and welcoming that few can resist heading down to Le Vieux Relais for their very own French Adventure.

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

debalex66@gmail.com

Instagram: @alexander_deborah

Twitter: @ReflectiveDeb

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The Storyteller Next Door

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Deborah Alexander writes … Word that the local doctor was leaving hadn’t reached my ears so I was surprised at seeing the little waiting-room packed to the rafters with patients.

I finally managed to sit down and the elderly woman next to me explained, ‘He’s leaving on Monday so everyone is here to get their prescriptions. He’s writing prescriptions left, right and centre.’

Doctors in France have something of a reputation for being generous in their doling out of a range of medication and the recipients all seem grateful to leave with a pass to pillage the local pharmacy.

The long wait obliges us to find ways to pass the time so the elderly woman begins by telling me that she is ninety. She adds that she doesn’t come from this small town in the Southern corner of France but was in fact born in Paris.

Running this timeline through my ever-curious brain, I make an observation.

‘So if you’re ninety and you were in Paris, perhaps you remember the German occupation of Paris in the Second World War?’

‘Yes, I do,’ she says and goes on to tell me her memories of soldiers marching through the city, looking fearsome in troop formation but when encountered individually on the street, yet talking kindly to the children and giving them sweets. There were clearly many who didn’t have the good fortune to see this side of the occupying forces. We talked, or rather I listened, until I was almost disappointed to hear the doctor call me through.

We could have talked about the weather. Or not at all. I could have perused my phone, connecting with distant and often unknown contacts, whilst ignoring someone sitting right next to me, someone who had witnessed a traumatic and dramatic moment in European history.

If you take the time to look around you, there are storytellers like this ninety-year old Parisian woman everywhere. To the outside world they may take the appearance of an elderly man shuffling along to the corner shop for his newspaper. Or a pair of women having a natter on a park bench. They aren’t shouting their stories out from the rooftops. Nor are they posting them on Facebook or Instagram. So if you want to hear them, you have to take the time to talk. And listen.

Rotherhithe merchandise close upA recent project based in the London area, involving stories told by the older generation, caught my attention. ‘The Rotherhithe Babes’ are a group of women in their eighties and nineties who, with the help of people like Candy Worf and Jolie Goodman and the ‘Standing Together’ project, have recorded their memories of growing up in the Docklands area of Rotherhithe. If you visit the Mental Health Foundation website, you can see a videoclip of the women talking.

Alternatively, you can download their book, ‘Our Ups and Downs: Growing Up and Getting On with the Rotherhithe Babes’. I found these stories fascinating, funny and occasionally heart-breaking. Intimate insights into the everyday experiences of ordinary people that bring history to life.

The ‘Standing Together’ project is attempting to address and find solutions for the loneliness of many elderly residents. It is a London-based project but it serves to highlight a situation that is spread across the country and undoubtedly further.

Loneliness is a widespread problem, but often an invisible one, particularly in the older generation, many of whom are used to being stoic in difficult situations and who don’t want to ‘be a bother’.

rotherhitheHowever, taking the time to talk with and to listen to people shouldn’t, in my opinion, be seen as a charitable act, but rather as an opportunity. Many older people don’t see their stories as being anything special, don’t recognize that they have often been witness to extraordinary events such as the Blitz or the Depression, or they can give us insights into how families lived in another time, before the arrival of electricity, telephones or the internet.

Queuing up at the supermarket, standing at the bus-stop or residing in a care-home just down the road…storytellers abound. It just takes a moment, a simple hello and the time to listen.

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

debalex66@gmail.com

Instagram: @alexander_deborah

Twitter: @ReflectiveDeb

 

 

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Getting Cosi on a Tandem

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This week the Girls do Coffee team were joined by two jet setting guests: Andrew Bowie, author of Peloton of Two and the celebrity chef, Reza Mahammad.

Deborah, Gwen, Liz and Dave were pleased to welcome Andrew Bowie to their show after his return from Brisbane, Australia where he had been scouting scenes for his forthcoming book, Crossing Live. The book is set in the 1990s and although it seems like yesterday Andrew and the girls reflected on how different things were back then: no internet, no mobiles except for a few businessmen and media types. It was a very different world and Crossing Live looks set to be another success for Andrew and an opportunity for readers to be transported back in time to 1990s Brisbane.

Andrew’s first book, Peloton of Two brought the discussion to Andrew’s skill at writing from a woman’s point of view and Gwen wanted to know who he had been talking to in order to gain the female perspective. Part of getting his mindset into the character of Catherine Pringle had been to write the book as a diary. With Deborah’s keen interest in diaries, Andrew was asked about his own diary and, although he doesn’t keep one as such, he does keep notes on his travels which covers the routes they have followed and the interesting people and experiences that have come their way.

Andrew and his wife don’t travel on a tandem as they prefer the autonomy of a bicycle, however, he chose a tandem for his characters as it would force the them to work closely together. They both enjoy cycling trips around France as the slow pace allows them to enjoy the journey and see the countryside. They prefer to camp in France as it gives them the opportunity to feel connected to nature and the local region. As well as travelling with him on research trips, Andrew’s wife also helps him with reading through the 20 plus proofs before the books are published.

reza 2Just back from South Africa, Reza was skyped into the studio from the UK.  He was catching his breath before heading over to the Poitou-Charentes region of France to help organize the production of Cosi Fan Tutte at Chez Cartier. This comic opera  is about an old man who is determined to overturn the perfect worlds of two young men. He bets then that their fiancées will not be able to stay faithful to them. Normally a three hour performance, this adaptation has been condensed into two hours with an hour long interval for a picnic in between the two acts.

There is still a huge amount of pre-production work to be done including finalizing the menus and Reza is also busy learning the lines for his role as the narrator. He is very keen to bring the opera out of the city into the regions and has brought together an amazing team of people to get this opera off the ground. This unique adaptation has been scripted especially for Reza to narrate and has six soloists supported by a ten-piece orchestra under the guidance of illustrious director John Ramster and conductor Orlando Jopling.

Andrew Bowie’s book Peloton of Two is available from Amazon and further updates on Crossing Live can be found on Andrew’s website.

Cosi Fan Tutte will be performed at Chez Cartier (1360 Condeon) on 4, 5, and 6 August and tickets are available from Living Magazine.

Liz Garnett – www.lizgarnett.com

liz@lizgarnett.com

Instagram: @lizgarnett_art / @lizgarnett_travel

Twitter: @lizgarnett / @travelphotouk

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How Hard Could it Be?

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Liz Garnett writes … Ah it all seemed so easy … the idea of writing a cookery book.

How hard could it be? It would just be a matter of compiling a series of recipes. Stop that thought right there! The idea, the vision is the easy part. My latest cookery book has been years’ in the planning and my research tells me that I am not alone in the amount of time it has taken to compile it.

The concept was to put together a second cookery book for the English speaking holiday maker on a camping or self-catering holiday in France. One friend had complained that cookery books needed too many ingredients that ended up languishing in the back of his cupboard. Another friend refuses point blank to consider a recipe with too many ingredients. I certainly don’t like buying lots of basic ingredients in France that only get half used and then end up being transported back to the UK.

IMG_1560Thus the idea for the latest book was born. It was going to rely on a basic number of store cupboard ingredients and the rest of the food for recipes could be sourced from local markets or shops. This sounds easy but has resulted in a lot of time developing recipes and drawing on my knowledge of French markets and supermarkets.

Once the book had started to develop it then needed to be left to rest while my brain whirred away in the background thinking about how everything would fit together. How would the chapters be set out; what additional information would I add to the “miscellaneous” section? Over the years more French words were added to the appendix which had started life in my first book. Numerous recipes were found, edited and adapted. Then once the draft book was full to bursting it was time to let it rest for a month or two before going through and culling recipes that didn’t quite fit. Time and again recipes were tested and adapted where necessary.

Then comes the arduous task of proof reading. At times it has felt like having my teeth pulled and at others the final weeks of proof reading seemed more like the final month of pregnancy with the inability to sit still for five minutes and the need to get up and move around at regular intervals. Just when I think that I have made all the necessary corrections and I do “one final” read through I find another correction.

Then it is time to send it off to the printers. Not a quick press of a button but an hour or more double checking formatting and making sure all the publishing information was correct. It felt like giving birth and once the final button had been pressed to send it on its way felt very much like the last push to deliver a baby. Afterwards I felt drained and in need of a rest.

Sadly, like having a baby, this is where the hard work starts. The marketing machine starts to work overtime. When the book is printed it is then time to show it off like a new born baby. Woe betide the person who says “my goodness isn’t it ugly?” or “it looks just like a baby pig!”

I am not alone in my experience of creating a cookery book. Many established writers talk of the importance of getting out the first draft and then putting the book down and leaving it for a few months before returning to it and making the first set of changes.  This allows them to see the book with fresh eyes when they pick it up again. It is then a matter of coming back to the book time and again, checking facts, making alterations, proof reading and so on before the book is ready for printing.

As Gwen, Deborah and I sit down on a Thursday morning to chat with our guests who are authors it is fascinating to discover the journey they have travelled on to create their latest book. Like a new born baby, each one is different and who knows which one will be winning awards in the future. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to chat with these authors and find out more about how they came to write their book.

French Holiday Cookery – Camping Lite will be published on 3 July 2017. For updates and offers sign up to the mailing list for details: eepurl.com/0YJbD . Catch Deborah, Gwen and Liz on Girls do Coffee on Expat Radio every Thursday morning between 11am and 1pm French time.

Liz Garnett – www.lizgarnett.com

liz@lizgarnett.com

Instagram: @lizgarnett_art / @lizgarnett_travel

Twitter: @lizgarnett / @travelphotouk

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