Vive l’entente cordiale!

Oops!  I thought I had posted this ages ago.  Apparently not.  This was a trip we made in February.  Sorry for the delay.  Also – I’ve run out of space for photos.  Time to get myself in gear and upgrade the blog.  Coming soon, I hope,

It’s about 35 years since we last went there.  We were on holiday, camping and cycling around Provence.  In those days travelling by train from London with a bicycle, you took it to Victoria Station a week ahead of your journey, hoped for the best, and consigned it to be transported to where you could collect it.  Hopefully.  And indeed, the bikes were there waiting for us when we arrived.

This time we again travelled by train (no bikes), which was so easy to do.  We took plenty of provisions to eat along the way, and only needed to add occasional cups of coffee.  Train to London, Eurostar to Lille, then TGV all the rest of the way.  A shuttle bus into the centre of Aix, where our kind AirBnB host met us at the bus station and took us to her home.

Such a lovely city, and we were fortunate indeed with the weather.  As we travelled home by train, from Avignon northwards all was covered with a thin layer of snow.  Which a few days after our return became the Beast from the East, and delivered a rather thicker layer of snow here in Bath.  But there was no hint of that while we were in Aix.

Such a delight to buy our food at the market and the local shops.  Such a delight to cook for ourselves every evening.  Daily doses of eclairs au chocolat (ou au cafe). Purely medicinal you understand.

Such a delight to explore the old part of the city in relative warmth and sunshine.  Plenty of time to sit outside drinking coffee and people-watching.  Wonderful art galleries and exhibitions.  A visit to Paul Cezanne’s studio, looking for all the world as if he had just stepped outside for a moment.  Because it was off-season, we had the place to ourselves.  A visit by train to Marseille, where we climbed up to a magnificent cathedral and explored a very new museum complex.

But mostly just being there, in Aix, in the moment, in the sunshine, together.

The icing on the cake was managing to make contact with my sister’s exchange partner (herself the sister of my exchange partner), who I hadn’t seen for about 45 years.  We hosted her (then painfully shy) 17-year old daughter for a week some years ago.

She lives in Arles, and she and her husband generously collected us for the day, we visited the daughter and her husband and children, they gave us a guided tour of Arles (including various views made famous by Van Gogh), and cooked a lovely meal for us.

At one time our families were very close – not just our generation, but her mother’s generation too, and even her grandmother – herself an extraordinary woman still riding her moped around the city (sans helmet) well into her 80s when we visited her last time we were in Aix.

It started with a young French woman who came to my parents for a year as an au pair (to rescue her from a horrible place where she started).  She stayed on as a family friend and was a great friend and support to my mum through various traumas (including my father’s illness and early death); we hosted her mother and some of her cousins; later my sister and I had exchange visits with some of her nephews and nieces.  My mother and step-father became close to another brother and his wife.

The first time I visited her family I was just 12 years old, and spoke very little French.  They spoke no English at all, and I was with them on my own for 3 weeks of the summer holiday.  The mother was kind and lovely to me, and looked after me well.  By the time I went home I had fallen in love with the French language, and with what I had experienced of French family life.

While I was with her in Arles, she took a phone call from that ‘young French woman’ – now 74, who had rung especially to talk with me.  It felt like entering a time machine.  Her voice was the same as before, but now we spoke French to each other.  I was transported back to 1966.  So very wonderful, and so very strange.

We will keep in touch now.  The ‘young French woman’ lives in Noumea, New Caledonia, but frequently visits family and friends in France.  I hope that we may manage to meet in Paris or London some time.   And who knows, perhaps the entente cordiale will reach into the next generation of our families.

Postscript: the ‘young French woman’ (now 74) is coming to visit us later this month!  so exciting!!


Posted in Community, Family, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Seeing differently, Travels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five good things on Friday

Last week it wasn’t hard to find 5 good things to blog about.  The difficult bit was managing to do it on Friday.  Which, as you can see, I didn’t.

  1. We have become grandparents.
  2. We are besotted (of course, who wouldn’t be?)
  3. We have an adorable granddaughter.  She’s our bubbele.
  4. We are her bubbe and grandpa.
  5. We can’t wait till we see her again.  (And her lovely parents of course).

No photos, she’s too young to ask her permission.  You’ll have to make do with the knitting (mine, not hers.  Another thing she’s too young for).

Posted in Family, Five (good) things on Friday, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Food for thought, thought for food

I’ve always enjoyed learning new things.  My current special interest centres on everything to do with food.

  • where does it come from?
  • how was it grown / made / distributed?
  • what cultural history does it have?
  • working to be more effective in growing and making food
  • what implications does it have for public health? individual health?
  • what does it mean for our communities? families?

I could have signed up to do a course to take this further, but I realised that at this moment I want neither the discipline nor the constraints of a course.  Instead I’ve been educating myself by:

  • Reading – books, articles, blogs.  There is such richness available, and I’m so enjoying the way one thing leads to another.  Links emerge between seemingly unrelated topics, and exploring the web of information is fascinating
  • Attending – I was fortunate to be able to secure a free place at a conference organised by University of Gloucestershire, called ‘Growing the Future’.  Some excellent and thought-provoking speakers explained and illustrated the dramatic impact of Brexit on food and food policy right now, not just in the future when Brexit has actually happened.
  • Listening, asking, and watching
    • I’ve found some really interesting talks online, often via blogs, sometimes via BBC radio programmes.  As ever, the R4 Food Programme and the BBC World Service ‘Food Chain’ programmes have a wealth of information and often raise important topics.
    • Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recent TV programmes on obesity showed all too starkly just how difficult it can be for individuals to tackle this themselves, against the flow of our increasingly obesogenic surroundings, the bombardment of advertising for unhealthy ‘foods’, and the prevalence of sugar in ready-made foods.
    • Visiting gardens and nurseries, I find gardeners and growers to be immensely generous with their time and knowledge
  • Doing – I’m trying to be thoughtful about how my thinking and learning can be applied in my everyday life.  Once we start to see it, there is in fact so much we can do as individuals, particularly if like me we are fortunate to be able to make financial choices unavailable to the poorest in our society – I view every shopping exchange as a statement of how I want things to be.  I feel I’m making progress on that one, though of course I often fail.  I’m working hard to make my allotment more productive, and to ensure that everything I grow is eaten.  I’m also accepting that I don’t always have the time I need for that when I need it, and that compromise is often the only way.

Spitalfields City Farm

Buying loose tea leaves in my own reuse container (Gillards, Bath Covered Market)

More to come on each of these topics, with information about who and what I’ve found interesting.

Posted in Allotment, Community, Do what you can with what you have, Farming, Food, Growing, Inspirations, Local food, Reflections on life (and death), Uncategorized, Whatever next? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Five good things – and a bonus sixth (and it’s Friday!)

My goodness where DID that time go?  Well, of course I know where it went.  It went in busy-ness and a lovely holiday (more of that to come), and a few crises (not mine, so not mine to share).  But here we are at now, and I’m glad to share these good things with you.  I hope they find you well and enjoying life, and if not, I hope they bring you a brief glimpse of some simple things that might give you some pleasure.

  1. Sunshine! – oh my goodness, doesn’t everything just feel better when the sun is shining.  I become like one of those cats that sits on a warm sunny window sill soaking up all that warmth.  The very best thing of all has been to sit out on the terrace outside the kitchen reading and enjoying views of the garden, which always manages to look at it’s very best in May. (Picture below clearly not my garden, I was too busy enjoying being there to remember to take a photo.  But I couldn’t resist this when I visited the farm earlier this week).

    Bath City Farm volunteers working hard to create the beautiful beds and displays

  2. Rain!   – the paradox of course is that we gardeners also want and crave rain, because without it our gardens will struggle to achieve their best.  Yet again, despite installing larger water butts in the garden, the water levels are low following a long dry spell, so I was delighted to see rain forecast this week.  Promised, but it didn’t come as forecast.  And then it did.  And I am so very pleased.

    Wet garden view from kitchen window

  3. A date day with my honey – yesterday we took most of a day out of everything.  We took ourselves out for lunch, we chatted about this and that (and the other), we went to an exhibition.  In truth the exhibition was for me really, I loved it and he patiently took it in and then retreated to one of the chairs to wait for me.  It really was as simple as that, and as lovely as that.  A timely reminder that we should do more of the same.  And we will.
  4. Garden and allotment – for reasons external and internal, I am yet again frustratingly behind with all things gardening.  But this time I have managed to take it in my stride, to accept that I will do what I can and not fret about what I haven’t managed to do.  And I have been touched by the generosity of someone who has produced an abundance of beautiful plants (mainly vegetables and herbs) and who gave me many of those I am missing.  The recent rain and free time this weekend will see them all planted and promising good things for the summer.  And of course there’s the Chelsea Flower Show coverage on the BBC each evening – an hour to ogle at the gardens (love them, hate them…), to learn more about plants and plant combinations, and to think that next year I should make the effort to get along to one of the big shows, something I’ve never done before.
  5. Exhibition – a small but delightful exhibition in the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath – A Celebration of Flowers – work by Kaffe Fassett and Candace Bahouth.  If something can be described as ‘a riot of colour’, this certainly is it.  The exhibition is on until 2 September, so if you live in or near Bath or are coming here and you love colour, do get along.  I’m fortunate to have a resident’s card that gives me free entrance, and I plan to dip in there all through the summer.  
  6. The NHS – for a variety of reasons, this week we have had reason to be grateful for and to the NHS.  And let’s remember especially the many people who work in and for it, including the many who have come here from overseas to work in the NHS.  We were received with warmth, kindness, reassurance, and effective treatment.  (And a reminder for those of you not in or from the UK – we paid not a penny at the time, and we have no worries about the cost of any future treatment (we have and do of course pay all the time through our taxes, of which we don’t begrudge a penny).

Finally, I’m continuing to struggle with space for new photos, which is in part why I haven’t been posting much recently.  I will try to get this fixed soon, and I’m hoping to be able to post more now anyway as I (hope!) have more time available.  (You’d be forgiven for saying – I’ve heard that one before!).  

Finally finally, I’ve noticed that recently many more people have started following my blog.  I’m delighted and also intrigued – if you’re one, do tell how you found me and why you’re following.  And – thank you!

Posted in Allotment, Bath, Family, Five (good) things on Friday, Local, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A pocket full of Rye

Drawing on what we learnt from our ‘gap year’, we returned to Rye to continue our exploration of a new-to-us part of the country.

We stayed at the same lovely b and b where we stayed last year, and visited some of the same places: Dungeness, and a number of the extraordinary number of medieval churches on Romney Marsh.  We wouldn’t have known about them, had not Tomas (one of  the B and B hosts) told us about them; and what a delight they are.

The aptly-named Fairfield Church depicted in window in church in nearby Appledore

There was a very definite church theme to our whole visit.  Not only did we go to most of the Romney Marsh churches, we also visited St Mary’s in Rye (a very large church, with a lovely window by Burne-Jones), and revisited St Thomas’ church in Winchelsea, with its striking series of windows by Dr Strachan.

Detail of window in St Mary’s, Rye, by Edward Burne-Jones

Window in church at Winchelsea

On the way home, to complete the theme, the icing on the cake was a stop at All Saints Church, Tudely – a small, simple church with the most beautiful series of 12 windows by Marc Chagall.  And to complete the loop, there is a Rye connection: the windows were commissioned by the parents of a young woman who drowned in an accident in the sea at Rye.  If you have the chance to visit, I can’t recommend it enough.  Allow time to enjoy looking at the windows – its a treat to be able to see them at such close quarters – and then sit a while drinking in the colours.  I promise you will feel better when you leave than when you arrived.

Photo by Malcolm Dodds


While we were away I was crocheting another cot blanket/knee rug (to sell for the farm).  As I sat on Dungeness Beach, it struck me that the colours of the blanket are also the colours of the beach.  I will call it the Dungeness Blanket.

Back at home I revisited my book about Derek Jarman’s garden at Dungeness – the inspiration that took us there in the first place, and that continues to draw us back.  Do what you can with what you have – his garden seems to be a true expression of that ethos.

Posted in Craft, Do what you can with what you have, Gap year, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement, Travels | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Money matters

Below is a post originally published on the Bath City Farm blog.  I thought you might find it interesting – I’m sure the issues raised apply to all small charities and community groups.  I hope it illustrates our struggles to provide the services we do, let alone continue to develop and innovate (and yet we do….)

I’ve been involved with Bath City Farm for almost three years.  The magic still works on me every time I visit the farm.

Two years ago I became a trustee, and then I became Treasurer.  As you’d expect, I take a keen interest in the money side of things.

We’re so fortunate to have such a large mixed site (37 acres!), with wonderful views and a sense of peace and quiet often hard to find in a city.  All this is nurtured and cared for by our dedicated staff and many hard-working volunteers.

Best of all, anyone can visit the Farm any time and we offer most of our services free.  That’s really important to us.  Bath may seem like a prosperous city, but for many people who live here reality is very different.  Bath is a city of massive inequalities, and we think one of our great strengths is that our site is in the heart of some of the most deprived communities, and we are a vital part of those communities – no-one need feel excluded from Bath City Farm by an inability to pay.

But – as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Everything we do and everything we are costs money: paying our amazing staff; feeding and caring for the animals; looking after the site and keeping it looking beautiful; providing the buildings so that we can run our range of programmes; providing training and meeting rooms.  We have to raise every single penny of the money ourselves – around £250,000 a year just to stand still, and rising as costs increase (animal feed; materials; utilities…).

Staff and trustees work hard to get funding.  This means writing many complex applications to charitable funds.  Grants from charitable funds are, quite rightly, restricted for use for specific purposes, and are also for a fixed time.  For example, for several years we’ve had money from Big Lottery for our volunteering programme for adults with multiple or complex needs and several other projects.  It runs out later this year so we need to find a lot of money to replace it so we can carry on running those programmes.  The same is true of all the charitable funding we get across our range of programmes.

As a charity that’s been going for over 20 years now, we’re used to this.  What has changed more recently is the increasing level of poverty and deprivation as wages and benefits stagnate or fall while prices rise and public services and public funds diminish.  Our services have never been more important, but with increased demand for grants from charitable funds, competition is intense.

We’ve seen this coming, and we’re working hard to raise a larger proportion of the money we need ourselves so we’re less dependent on grants.

One of the ways we plan to do this is by building a proper café – I expect you’ve read about our ambitious building plan.  But it’s going to be a while before this is up, running and able to make a profit.

Staff and trustees spend a lot of time working on fundraising.  Our aim over the next five years is to significantly alter the balance between money we get from charitable funds (now around 2/3) and money we raise ourselves (around 1/3).   We need your help and support to achieve this.  There are all sorts of ways you can help us.  How?  There are lots of ways.

If you’re financially able to, we’d really appreciate it if you would give us what you can towards our running costs.  There are lots of ways to do this.  You could:

  • donate in the boxes around the site
  • buy food and drink in our kiosk when it’s open
  • buy something from our farm shop.
  • donate to our funds when you come to our events (our brilliant bonfire night is a highlight in the autumn!)
  • raise money yourself by doing something you’re really good at, in a good cause (Bath City Farm, of course!)
  • best of all, if you’re able to commit to regular giving, is to set up a regular monthly payment.

Regular giving is one of the most useful things you can do.  It  helps us know in advance how much money we have to allocate to projects, removing some of the pressure of constantly needing to find new sources of money.

If just 100 people can commit to giving us £5 per month, that’s £6,000 in a year.  If each of those people are tax payers and tick the Gift Aid box, the government will add an extra £1,200 to that, giving us a total of £7,200 a year.  And of course, if some of those people can afford to give us more, the figures become even higher (and if more people commit to regular giving the benefit multiplies…..)

You may think that your £5 per month would be just a drop in the ocean, and I won’t lie – it would take a massive number of supporters to raise the whole of that £250,000 per year.  But all those drops in the ocean add up to a great big sea, and I’m an optimist!

If you’re able to commit to regular giving to the farm, you can easily set this up through our localgiving page, or we can provide you with a Standing Order form.

Of course we know that for lots of people, giving money is not an option.  Even if you can’t afford to donate money, your time and energy are just as important in helping us keep going – carry on visiting us, enjoy yourself, join in with our work days on the farm, and be part of what we are.

Whatever your situation, we love having you involved.  And we love being involved with you.

And in case you’d like a reminder of what we offer, have a browse of our website, and enjoy  scrolling through the photos below (I have fewer than I imagined – but there are lots on the website)

View from the top, just a few short weeks ago

A peaceful corner, two weeks after the snow

Our information stall at last year’s half marathon event (and no, we don’t grow bananas! they were for our band of half marathon runners

Feeding the animals on Boxing Day 2016 – someone had to keep the ponies from stealing all the sheeps’ food, and who better than our Texan visitor?





Posted in Bath, Community, Do what you can with what you have, Local, Reflections on life (and death), Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We took a charming walk to Charlcombe…”

“…sweetly situated in a little green valley.”

So wrote Jane Austen on 2 June 1799.  One recent Sunday we followed in her footsteps.  It was indeed charming. 

Here’s a flavour of what we saw along the way.  There may have been some hot drinks and snacks consumed along the way.

Lansdown Crescent, Bath. Our favourite…

Creative upcycling (a gate)


Posted in Bath, Do what you can with what you have, Frugal, Inspirations, Local, Seeing differently, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments