Mum and Dad

Mum and Dad at the pool in Constantine

This may appear quite unusual in many ways to tell the story of my parents’ first meeting many moons ago. I gleaned some information from family mainly. Of course one has to be aware of many aspects when one talks to family. It is their perception and how they view the world, then sometimes their distorted recollections of events…Like all of us when we try to remember an event that happened long ago, it will be tinted and distorted…as events fade with time. But is it not how stories are told when time is at stake? Recollections…some dreamed of, some fantasised, some imagined, some tinted with one’s own wishes and some true of course. This story is a mixture of all of them I think.
I will try to put together some sort of my own recollection of my parents’ story.

My grand mothers and aunties and uncles, all of them told me a story about mum and dad…But mum never told me anything about their encounters. She was too withdrawn and I felt at times that she wanted to keep it a secret. It was always dad that took pride in recounting events and occasions of their life.

So, how did it start? But before we get on with the beginning of their romance it is vital to have a glimpse into their background. Let’s start with Mum.

Mum had one sister and 2 4 in the family. One brother and her sister are still alive, Pierre and Georgette, but the other has passed away as well as mum.

A very tough and unhappy childhood. Born in 1929 mum was the 2nd of the children down the line. My grandfather, Simon was a bit of a Don Juan and was playing around quite a fair until he left everyone for Paris to join one of his mistresses. I did meet her. She was not very beautiful at all.

My paternal Grand mother Bellara

Photos above : centre My maternal grandMa …from left to right, my cousin Nelly and me, Fernande,  my maternal grand father Simon, my cousin Charley, Mum at 18 years old
When the Algerian war ended in 1962, my grandfather invited us to stay with them for a little while because dad was still in Constantine to wind up his business. A rather perilous undertaking where he was almost lynched by a group of armed “fellegas” ( the people who fought against the French ) as we used to call them. He got caught in a march celebrating the independence of Algeria and were it not for an Arab friend who knew dad and dad did speak a smattering of Arabic helped, pretending to be one of “them” he went along with the march and his friend alongside shouting slogans. He managed to walk away stealthily with his friend after 10 minutes and got back to his atelier where he started to pack his sewing machines to be expedited to France.

Back to grand Pa….He nevertheless had 6 children with my grandmother Fernande. 2 of them died in infancy. I still remember him quite well. He came often to our house with all sorts of promises for me. I was his first grand child and he was quite fond of me. Always promising me some things that never eventuated. Yes, a bicycle was my dream…I am still waiting today.

But that is a diversion. After my grand father departed for Paris, he left his whole family without a cent.

My grandmother had to scrounge and fight everyday to bring food on the table. The latest child Pierre, was only 6 months old when Grandpa left. So you can imagine the resentment my grandmother harboured. No electricity for the children to do their homework, no regular food on the table, perpetual struggle to survive. Mum knitted socks for the army, grandma would apply her skills as a dress maker to sell her goods and go to people’s place to clean. Neighbours from the street understanding her predicament and her difficulties would bring her food. The headmistress from the school next door would also help the children with books, pens, blouses an so on. Even gave mum a scholarship later on to further her studies in order to become a school teacher. Mum had a lot of aptitudes and was very good learner as well as very strong intellectually. She loved literature and had some perseverance in what she undertook and above all wanted to succeed and to show her skills and and strong desire to shine. She also was an accomplished writer.
According to my uncle Jacques, (husband of my Aunty Georgette) he always kept mum’s letters and would read them again and again as he enjoyed her style and her prose. He told Peter and I this one summer that we spent with them in 2011.

Mum had always felt a pull for adventure and Aunty Georgette told me that when they were around 8 and 10 years old, both went on a train on their own from Constantine to Marrakech in Morocco. I was just dumbfounded. Who would allow these things today? 2 very young girls travelling on their own.

The whole family was brought up with deprivation, fear, even shame knowing that they saw the neighbours bringing food and seeing how their mother would fight for a living and be very hard on them for every minute thing that was not done properly. Food was never discarded as it was scarce and too precious. My grandma was very strict and severe with all the children Aunty Georgette will recall and it was their grandmother who would step and in and reprimand her own daughter for being too harsh with my mother. Milk was sometime the only sustenance they could have. Mum could not bear the sight of milk later on in life after that and anything or food that had a white colour was abhorrent to her. Nothing would change her mind at all. She was very rigid on many fronts.

So, given the background of poverty, the war, the resentment of the children toward their father, and the hatred of my grandma toward him….the atmosphere was very gloomy indeed… I know for a fact that my grandma absolutely hated him. Many a day I used to cross the road from school and be at her place where I spent the night or the day with her. At night she used to tell me all sorts of stories about her husband. She used to sing me songs of the 20’s and 30’s…”J’attendrai” by Rina Ketty…(listen to it on you tube) as we snuggled n bed. She described how she had been a very beautiful woman and many men coveted her and used to ask her to dance. She surely made a big mistake with that one she moaned many times. Every night for years grandma told me these stories and sang dozens of songs…I used to love these moments even if they meant nothing to me….Just the fascination to be with her in the warmth of her big bed and her huge duvet and waiting for the stories to start. A little anecdote there that I remembered for years….Grandma used to pass wind with force when we were in bed together and I used to be horrified and hid under the duvet away from her. She would then say to me “just don’t move the duvet, stay still and it will pass”. To this day I recall these incidents with a big grin on my face. I felt secure with her in spite of the independence war that was raging in the streets in Constantine in the 50’s and 60’s.

I could feel her pain and her regrets. Her bitterness and her sadness. She was so hurt that she called herself a widow and vowed that she would bury him and never speak to him. She wanted to to addressed as ” Veuve Tabet” . It reminded me of “Veuve Cliquot” minus the bubbles. He never gave a cent to bring up all the children that he had with her. One could understand her misery and suffering.

She did indeed passed away well after him at the ripe old age of 101. One day my Aunty Georgette (my mother’s sister) told me that they were all having lunch at her place in Nimes with grandma and her grand children when my grandfather appeared. Apparently a disheveled old character walked slowly toward the house and my Aunty was quite taken aback when she saw who it was. She asked him to come him. Of course my grandma recognised him and as he sat with them she never glanced at him or spoke to him. The atmosphere was to be cut with a knife Aunty Georgette told me. The whole lunch happened without a word among everyone. Grandma just ate and went away in the garden. Grandpa was really old and not in good health at all and Aunty Georgette took pity on him. In fact, she was the the only one that offered a meal. All his other children would not speak to him or see him.

Anyway back to mum. So as you can already figure out that she did not have such an easy childhood. At the age of 17 she put her name down to be part of a political movement where my father was the leader. She did not know that at this stage, but was avid to get out and meet people of her own age and flee the depressing atmosphere of home with all its constraints. For a young woman in her late teens what better than to evade the narrow confines of her home. She was no

doubt bursting with enthusiasm and hope and eager to mingle with young people like her. An escape too good to miss.

It was love at first sight. Dad told me at some stage later on that he knew that she was the woman he meant to be with. They eloped to Paris and my maternal grandma alerted the police. Mum was not yet 21 and of course a minor in those days. They both came back under police escort says my uncle Pierre, my mother’s little brother. It was a scandal in the family. All the family members were told and both were severely reprimanded. Her mother was outraged and worried of the shame that was brought on to the family by the attitude of her daughter. But the romance went on. No question of being together before the wedding, especially when one lives in a provincial town where everyone gossiped. It felt like the whole town knew about their adventure. I am not sure whether they cared or not. But for mum these meetings and reunions were her only purpose. A dedication to a cause, an adventure with her lover, a chance to be with dozens of other young people to forget her background and her constricted life. She was a brilliant student at school and almost qualified to become a teacher. The only handicap was the opposition of Grandma forbidding her to go to the remote regions of the country where she would start her apprenticeship. Her father also denied categorically that she should travel. Another disappointing moment for her and a chance to get away or forge a life for herself. The independence movement started to agitate in the remote regions of the country. But the youth group saved her sanity by the look of things.

But before the wedding took place a brief background on my dad. He came from a larger family that was quite wealthy. There were doctors, lawyers, dentists and attorneys. Money was never an issue. My grandfather was a saddle maker for the French cavalry army and had his workshop underneath our home. It was a huge 3 storey Victorian mansion that he had built and where we all lived also and where I spent my childhood till the age of 13. My paternal grandma was illiterate and was counting on her sons and daughters to guide her through her life. But that did not bother her too much. She was such a gentle soul and I loved her more than anyone else. The saddest thing for her was the loss of her husband when dad was 4 years old.

So, dad lived without a father and under the rules of tyrannical brothers who did not mind using the whip if necessary. He was kicked out of school during the war and never finished past the third year of secondary school. He went on to learn a trade with one of his older sister’s Fortune who had a very successful clothes shop in a chic part of town. The saddle making went under the management of my uncle Simon, the oldest of the family and I heard through the years that he was giving some sort of allocation to his mum. The business prospered and my uncle went to built a beautiful 4 storey villa in the better part of the town called Belleville. It was sumptuous. I went there many times to attend guitar lessons with my cousin Freddy and played around in the big villa for hours. My father would have his business there also in the same ground. He would become a well-known dress designer and was fitting all the fine gentry of the town as well as the uniforms for Air France.

My father was a total atheist and even a rebel who refused to believe in conventions or at times the rule of the law. He just wanted to be independent and not forced to comply. His mum and brothers did not want him to marry my mum. She was not good enough, no money and not a good background. No father and no standing in the community. So, they tried to hook him with one of lady of “better standing”. Eliane was the sister of my uncle Ernest ‘s wife. He is my father’s second brother. A severe man and a teacher. He is still alive at the time of writing. The only one remaining of the 6 brothers and sisters. My father suffered a lot under his harsh discipline. And maybe a motive for him to get out of the family demands and be independent.

So, Eliane was the answer to my father’s “mistake” of choosing to go on with my mum. Meetings took place between Eliane and dad. All sorts of convenient times were arranged for the 2 to meet. Dinners, drinks, dances under the watchful eye my uncle Ernest. This went on for a while apparently until my dad just blew up and said that he was not interested in getting to know her in spite of her good credentials and that she was not very interesting, and tying further the bonds between these families. (??) He told his mum and said that “he was not going to live his life with religious fanatics”. Eliane’s grand father was an eminent rabbi and quite orthodox. Her sister also was going to marry my uncle Raymond, my father’s brother. Dad was just furious…according to my aunt Georgette…3 sisters of these fanatics in our family that was not religious in the slightest. Dad desperate and concentrated all his energy in building up the group that he was attending with mum. That group called “Betar” was going to be his lifeline.

If his brother chose that path he was not going to walk in his footsteps. And above all (vvv) adhere to their code of behaviour.
Dad had abandoned by this stage all beliefs and faith in any religious denomination. “The hypocrisy of it all is sickening,” he said to me many times. The religious community whatever it is, is full of contradictions and nonsense. In those days he was not quite clear on how to articulate these thoughts that came to his mind. He just rebelled. But later on as we spoke and had thousands of conversations around coffee and sumptuous meals (vvv), he enunciated quite clearly the fallacy in all beliefs and doctrines that require a following, a guru, a power that will dictate one’s actions. To him it was the antithesis of a free and enquiring mind. No tolerance and compassion would arise from doctrines that are rigid and where everyone would follow without questioning their positions and attitudes.

The family was totally staggered to hear him saying such things. It was against all odds and my dad was nicknamed “the bête noire”.
Then, one day after meeting mum in the youth camp that they frequented for a while dad proposed while everyone around him tried to dissuade him. It was a big jump for him. He knew, he said to me that marriage was trap and a loss of freedom. But it was clear that he chose to do so. Mum was ecstatic for obvious reasons. A ticket to freedom, independence, a life of her own with the man she loved at first site. Dad also said that when he first set eyes on her he knew she was the lady for him.

So they got married simply and left the town towards a new adventure.

Many years down the track, I still recall as a little girl the envy on people’s face when they saw mum and dad together. They were the talk of the town. Mum, with dark hair and green eyes, slim and always extremely well dressed….of course Dad use to make her the most beautiful garments. Jealousy is the word that one could see on every person’s lips. They were indeed a beautiful couple. I might add that they knew it. They were together against all odds and had to surmount the spite of my father’s siblings. So much so that the 2 brothers that married the rabbi’s daughters, hardly came to visit. The relationships were cordial but that was it. Their resentment was palpable and as a young girl I felt it intensely. Dad would refuse to engage in discussions about religion or political issues saying again and again that they were not worth the paper they were written on. All the preaching and discourses by clerics or politicians would irritate him profoundly and was continuously questioning their premises. He certainly was different and had a spirit of his own.

Mum and dad had a cosy life. They frequented the top end of the town. Lawyers, business men, artists, and a score of other people that entered my life and do not recall. I also felt that they were really unique and used to really “hate” when I saw mum getting dressed in a beautiful evening dress with a gold necklace that dad gave her for her birthday or wedding anniversary falling gracefully on (vvv) slim neck…a few sprays of perfume, high heels, little black purse and a shawl wrapped around her shoulders…and off they went to a night club leaving me wondering why I was not going with them as tears fell down my cheeks. Grandma would gently put her arms around me and singing a little lullaby put me to bed while I was still sobbing.

Yes, they were the talk of the family especially. Siblings, nieces and nephews would drop on them at times and tell at length their love life. Dad was a great listener and always impartial. In his judgements never taking part in family quarrels that might end up in dramas. They were loved for that and attracted it. It seems to me that their love was shining upon everyone with a mixture of jealousy and envy…Loved, hated all at once.

To illustrate the point above, I must recount a little anecdote when the family was sharing some meals together during the festive seasons in Constantine. One of my cousin Nelly, was the oldest of 4 girls and in love with a young man called Guy. He was pursuing some studies in France to become a professor or a lawyer, I do not quite recall which one it was. So, while she was in Constantine, he was in Paris and was not quite sure what to do. She opened up to my parents about her dilemma. I was in those days around 11 years old and I was especially enthralled in stories like these. After lengthy discussions of which a lot escaped me at times, my cousin said to Mum and Dad : “ you two form a real loving couple, you are so nice together and I can see that you are very close, I only wish I could emulate that”.

My cousin Charley, now a famous hairdresser in Paris, spent a lot of time with mum and dad when we all in Paris and said to me one day: “you know Gigi, your parents are a great couple and so fitted to each other, like 2 peas in pod, they are very special”.

Again and again these words about them had an impact on me during all these years…But that might be a story for next time.


It has been many years now that my parents passed away and I miss them very much. But there are a few things that have been gnawing at me ever since. Just a little context.

When dad left us, mum said  to me just a few days after dad had left that all the inheritance would go to my sister. I was first dumbstruck. But in the circumstances of dad being just gone I did not have the temerity  to say anything. So, I replied…”of course that is understandable given the fact that my sister never made it in life and had nothing to her name”. We all felt so distraught by its sudden departure that I was in no position to say anything. Was mum calculating that I was in a vulnerable position when she said it? Was she planning it all along? I will never know. The fact remains that my sister got the lot.

As years went by I had some weird feelings coming and going. My cousin, whom I visited last year said to me as we were walking and meandering in the streets of Paris hand in hand: “do you know that under french laws children can’t be left out of a will”? No, I did not know that at all. She urged me to follow it up and find out what my rights were, I may have a case after all.

This thought has then been in the back of my head and could not get rid of it. What was I going to do? Ideas zapped through my mind. Should I contact a lawyer? Should I write a letter to my sister?  What should I do? I decided to speak to my son and also try to open the matter with my husband which I did. The first thing that they mentioned was : what would I get out of pursuing this matter? That got me going….I tried to find all sorts of reasons: revenge, pride, feeling of having won in the end, showing off, being right, superior, better than my sister, in the end a whole string of ideas that were not really tempting. The more I envisaged them the further away from them I ran.

Why would I not pursue it in the end? After all this idea has been planted in my mind and I was somehow determined to go ahead and claim my rights. Then after having pondered on it for a few days, I realised the futility of it all. Why would I want to stir the hornets nest? Why would I want to enter litigation with my sister for maybe a doubtful result? Why would I want to encumber my mind with for months or maybe years fighting and wasting not only money but my time and my present well-being? Why would I want to give my brain space and entertain the idea that I might win in the end? Just to show her that I am capable.

In the end who care about all the legal procedures? Wasting my time on such a trivial pursuit. I must say that after all these ideas came and went I do not feel the urge nor the need to go after her. It is her in the end who is the loser not me. And she knows it. She is the one living with all this burden on her conscience. Not me. She has not not even phoned her nephews…my two sons… to ask them if they might have wanted a trinket  from their grand parents. How low can you go I thought! I feel she is hiding from it all being scared that I could do something to upset all the financial reward that she received. She could rest assured, I won’t. I have not spoken to her in 7 years.

She mostly lived from help from mum and dad on many fronts.  TV, house deposit, and many other material things from us . Hardly had a steady job. But in all fairness she has a son who is highly disturbed ( was at the time of me knowing her) no husband, and having to deal with raising 3 boys. But I know and knew many women who have struggled with similar issues and managed to cope and had a job.  Obviously she could not that is why mum and dad decided to give her everything I suppose. She  did not cope with life. In the end, yes, I feel sorry for her. And that is one of the reason, today I decided to let go.

But the real reason apart from her tragedy is that I do not need any financial help and I said before I feel there is no point. My present situation is too precious to get entangled with hounding someone  with revenge or prove a point in law.  I prefer my mind to be still and have the space to continue to do the things I enjoy in life.

It was easy to come to this conclusion in the end for my own sanity to forget and forgive. I feel much better and my mind is lighter and breathe easier. I could also say that is a closed chapter in my life. I thank my husband and my son for their insights.

Till next time.

Busy with the painting

It has been some turbulent few weeks. When we came back from Europe and 2 weddings later, we decided finally to get the house repainted. My incessant cooking had transformed the kitchen from a very pale blue to an oily yellow and it was time to give it a fresh coat of paint and a little rejuvenation.

Then it was finding the right colours. An agony! I never thought that deciding on a colour was that hard. But it was. We settled finally on light blue just a little darker than the previous one. We did not want to be too adventurous. A little contrast could be seen below the outside is lighter while this side of the wooden door is a little darker in the picture below.

Contrast between the old and the new
IMG_0416 (1).jpg
Shade of blue







After many painters came and went we settled on a quiet young man. But like every tradesmen if I can generalise, they must have their radio blaring in the background. And there is one thing that I do not like is background noise of the incessant chatting and music all day long. My own company is amply sufficient with the twitters of the multitude of birds, frogs, cows, chickens and cat and dogs. My life is full at this level.

So, this painter was not going to lift a little finger in helping move the furniture. That got me really stroppy. So, Peter and I painstakingly prepared ourselves to do some heavy lifting. Seeing that we were much older than him, “HE” decided to give us a hand finally. But I suspect it was because he saw that we were twice his age and he started to feel just a little guilty to remain inactive in the face of 2 old people being strong and  him not showing some sort of  sensitivity or empathy. So, he did help in the end but just a little.

But we did “the works” during these 2 weeks. Cleaning behind everything, cobwebs, dead cockroaches …What a mess! Living on the farm has its attractions but also one has to be diligent about the dust and general cleanliness. Yes, two weeks of complete scrubbing and moving the sofas, the beds, the wardrobes, tables and so on. We never had so much exercises in 2 weeks and this is not quite finished also. Overnight we just go to bed knackered, exhausted and slept for 10 hours straight.

House in a mess

In that period, we also got rid of a mountain of STUFF that were not in use or that was superfluous. Boxes went to the local Op shop. In these moments I wished I got rid of the whole house …just dreaming of course. Because I know the moment there is an empty space it will get filled. How easy it is to accumulate! How hard it is to get rid of objects! But we were quite strict and we were elated that a lot of it maybe found a better place.

Can we measure the content of a house with the content of our mind? I am sure it is not far behind at all. The baggage, the packages, the nick knacks, the clothing, the books all represent a life time. A lifetime of memories that weighs on the inside and the outside.

Does one feel a little lighter? Well, on the surface for sure. But, we do carry it all our life inside our mind. A good thing or a bad thing. I am not sure. On the one hand, it is of course necessary to have the knowledge that we have in order to function in our society….In fact a must. On the other there is an innocence, a simplicity, a freshness but that is not enough to function in this turbulent world. The pivotal point is an equilibrium between the two. Not too far in one direction or the other. I wonder how many people can do that? How many people can understand the necessity of one and the beauty of the other. Honestly, I really don’t mind how many. I just hope that I can find solace in my own equilibrium. Is not that the most important adventure? Seeing the function and aligning it with wisdom.

Till next time


The lost jewels

Over the last few weeks there have been quite a few robberies in the area and particularly in our street. The residents were alarmed at the speed that valuable were removed. Meeting were organised with the police, residents and the mayor who took seriously that so many people were being targeted over a wide area.

Speculations were rife. Ice, amphetamines or other drugs were pointed as the culprit. Everyone was really edgy and worried if they were going to be next. Many residents started to put video cameras around their house and locking their gate. We did the same. Peter went and bought a combination lock to put on the front gate with a special code.

In the meantime, on Peter insistence and advice , he suggested to me to put away the little jewellery that I had. So, I sorted them into 2 lots. The trinkets and the good ones. I placed the good ones in a place that I thought would be good and the other I decided to hide the other in a place that was obvious to me ( I thought).  Then I forgot about it all.

One day I wanted to put some old earrings . I went to the place where I thought I hid them. Not there. So, I began searching everywhere. I just could not find them . I did room by room to no avail. So I gave up. Then, I thought well, they may have been stolen after all after nearly 3 weeks of searching. I started also cursing Peter for making me paranoid. But that did not bring them back  did they?  Of course I could not rest easy with the whole matter. OK, they are lost so what? They were important after all. Again this was not and easy thought either.  I let it go. It will come back to me one day where I’d put them….May when I am not here anymore I thought, my kids will find them. All sorts of crazy thoughts  run through my head.

Just the other day I was cleaning the guest room and looked at the couple of green woollen blankets that were  there folded on the chair. They have to be moved I thought as our son is coming soon and there was not need for them in summer. I picked up the 2 cushions that were on top to clear the lot and…low and behold the whole stack was there under the cushions. I was jubilating and rushed outside to tell Peter. So, here they were in all their glory. No one had stolen them after all. I put them back on the dresser in our room.

Today as I looked at them again, a funny feeling crossed my mind. I was elated to have them back. But another thought arose why was I so glad to see them there?  What occurred in this split second? I went downstairs where Peter was sitting on the sofa reading the news and share what crossed my mind.

It all occurred in that split second I said. I saw the memories coming back and making me “happy”. Happy to see that these jewels had an importance after all. Memories, of my mother’s in law ambers, Sulma’s present of Sri Lankan river pearls and turquoises from Burma, the silver necklace that I had made in Cambodia on the model of my paternal grandmother. It all came back in a flash and saw the importance of attachments to the past. We are that past and live with it. I do not want to get rid of it but just observed what we are made of as it plays in our everyday living.

The lost jewellery

That is what we are made of. Memories. Again nothing wrong with that but seeing it opens up a different state of mind. Seeing that in the present moment …that split second was an awareness. An awareness of the past in action. That in itself is a form of liberation, like a burden lifted from your shoulders. Yes, I am that. In accepting it I acknowledge what I am made of. Is it not what we suppose to do as humans? Comprehending our complexity, understanding what we are, how we behave, how we relate.

Now let’s see if I just stopped there and not shared this moment with Peter. I would have wallowed in the feeling of “happiness” relieved at seeing all these objects back…back… where they belonged, satisfied that it was great to possess them again and not give it anymore thoughts. I would have missed the boat and failed to see the other side. The attachments to objects and the weight that they carry makes one heavy. Fear, anxiety, frustration, to name just a few emotions.

Ok, you might talk about the joy of passing on all these things to children, grandchildren and so on and so on…right now  I am not ready to go down that path yet. I might leave it for another time. But I can say this is a lot of sentimentality nothing wrong with that either. It really depends on  what you would make of it…the importance that you give it and the ideas that you construct about heredity and the blood line…and so on…and one more thing, no claim on the insurance either. Oh, that is another topic no?

Till next time.


I know it has been a long time since I put my fingers on the keyboard to share my thoughts and activities wit the world out there. It has been busy dare I say, or just lazy on my part. But the inspiration did not come at all. The incessant rain, the cold freezing nights did not help or should it have been? I can’t decide at this very moment. My little voice inside says : ‘c’mon you have been lethargic, uninspired and just plain leisurely.’ I will opt for the latter and also for the second one uninspired. Well, what is inspiring now? I truly still can’t say. But here I am. Even if I said above that I was lethargic, that was only regarding the writing. I have not be idle on different levels. The garden as usual has taken its share of pleasure and little work at that time of the year tending to the winter vegetables growing profusely at the moment.

One of the many cabbages

I have also knitted a pullover to take with me on our trip to France. I have knitted also countless hats for friends and at the same time listened to many audio books. Organising accommodation and itineraries for our trip. And it has been also a few weeks of constant socialising. Sometimes I wonder if I am really retired. Like I said to Peter, it is worse than our job in Hong Kong. But in a nicer way really. No demands on my time and deadlines. Yes, I am glad to be off  the vicissitudes of a working life. I guess retiring has it advantages as you choose what you want to achieve, and put your attention where you like. Our new puppy dog  Zaina, now just over a year has also been a handful. Very demanding and we sometimes wonder why on earth we got such a large dog. German Shepherd can be formidably exhausting. Wanting to play and spend her boundless energy teasing us and always on the look out for some sort of mischief. Luckily the cat, Fripouille takes care of that by taunting and goading her to play. The two of them running around the garden like lunatic, he climbs up the highest tree and stares at the dog while she whines and whimpers in frustration. Then, it is another gallop at full speed hiding under the car or on top of it while she is not looking. Maybe tired of having her neck stretched up in the air.  He waits till she gives up, climbs down and starts to all over again. Peter and I are stitches. But that is not all. When the day is over the same scenario repeats up and down the stairs, under the bed, behind the curtains waiting for the dog to appear and then springs in front of her nose pawing her or just crawls under an opening of her belly and grabs her fur. The poor dog has not got a chance in the world with those claws. Exhausted they crashed at the foot of our bed. Not really, because Fripouille chooses the comfort of the plush blanket of our bed and he is higher that Zaina.

Fripouille in all its length
Fripouille in all its length
She stole my chair while I was not looking
Cat on a hot tin roof
Cat on a hot tin roof

Then one day, one of the newly born calves decides to scamper next door and starts bellowing as it can’t get back to its mum. The two of them wails till they are reunited. But in the meantime we are chasing and searching for the calf. Nowhere to be seen. Neighbours on horses and on foot in pursuit of the little one. After a whole afternoon we give up in despair and distressed and leave it to mother nature to take its course. Nevertheless, we know if calves are separated for too long from their mum they can perish. The little blighter was only a few days old.  As one might expects, the next day mother and calf are peacefully side by side. The kind lady Jo, who shares the property with us tells us that she had seen the two together that morning. It was incredible after all the efforts of the day before. The mother cow stands patiently while the young one suckles its heart content no doubt. All our efforts were in vain. That night, we just crashed completely exhausted. So, life goes on with visits from friends, our days volunteering at the gallery, attending the property and the vegetable garden, walking the dogs, feeding the cows and so on. All sounds so trivial, but I can assure you it is far from it as it demands constant devotion and attention. Of course I have not mentioned the marathon cooking, jamming, pickling and cheese making. One thing that we have been experimenting with is our new wood oven.It took a lot of know-how, patience and perseverance to sort out the real temperature and the length of cooking bread in it. The results were worth it but it is so time consuming and frustrating. But the taste of bread cooked in a wood oven is unbeatable in spite of the instability of that mode of operation. We have not given up yet. It will take lots of practice and assiduity to savour a home cooked and home made bread and cooked to perfection.

Home made olives with homemade flat bread
Home made olives with homemade flat bread
Sour dough bread from wood fired oven
Sour dough bread from wood fired ovenYes, that is already a lot.

We are now preparing for our next trip and already the excitation is palpable. France and Thailand here we come. Tho, the readiness is here, there is always the feeling that we are better off in the splendid surroundings of our beautiful farm. I also know that a nice break from it all will be welcomed. So, do I feel guilty for not writing, I must confess …not at all.

Till next time

Winter chill and activities

It has been hard to find a suitable time to put pen to paper or just sitting in front of the computer to wait for an inspiration. But here we are at last. Charged and ready to share a few moments.

Yes, we are on the verge of experiencing the first winter chills. I can see that when I first wake in the morning and see the valley shrouded in the heavy mist, the beams on the veranda are dripping with heavy dew and of course the sun rises much later. The atmosphere is more damp and a chill in the air is definitely present…Woollens are a must in these early hours. The days reach a very agreeable temperature of around 22 to 25. But not for too long as the cold approaches toward 15h..

The wood heater is already burning. The animals: dogs and cat refuse to stay out when the night falls and the chickens go to their perch early. The cows have started to demand their winter ration, the grass is still long and plenty but they are spoiled beasts and bellow as loud as they can as soon as they see one of us. The calves have also started to imitate their mums and the concert gets louder every late afternoon.

it has been a very busy few months. The Gallery is in the middle of its extravaganza and everyone worked very hard to make it happen. Many artists joined us from interstate as well as quite a few local ones. Many works have sold and we are all very proud and happy that it is going so well. After 15 years it has become an icon of the Northern Rivers. We get an average of 300 visits per day. Not bad for our little village! See our Facebook page@Nimbin Artists Gallery.

In the meantime, our son and his partner Tum who live in Thailand have joined us for a week….too short but happy to have stolen a few days together where we enjoyed some superb food as usual. A glorious green curry prepared by them was truly appreciated by 2 of our friends who joined us for lunch one day. And of course very lively conversations ensued as it is usually the case in the family. The beef was from our property, all the ingredients freshly harvested from the garden for the green curry paste, the green papaya freshly picked that morning and the bitter gourd grows wild on the chicken fence. Such a pleasure!

Sulma and Peter had a go at playing their flute and improvise on some jazz tunes. Peter played also some pieces during opening hours at the Gallery. Music has always been part of Peter’s life and the boys.

Sulma and Tum went for a lovely drive with our friend Magali in the rain forest near home where they enjoyed a picnic and a walk around.

Sulma and Tum
Sulma and Tum
Sulma and Peter have a jam!
Sulma and Peter have a jam!
Sulma with Zaina and Elsie in the sun
Sulma with Zaina and Elsie in the sun
Left over Spicy green Papaya Salad
Left over Spicy green Papaya Salad
What was left of the Beef  green Curry
What was left of the Beef green Curry
Spicy pork and bitter gourd

The garden has not been neglected. Our friend Scott Harrower, has taken to transform the front garden with flair, vision, aesthetic, colours and shapes. It is visually superb now. A feast to the eyes ….and he has cleared up the branches obstructing the large pond which gives to the whole place a sense of depth as the expanse of a water feature always add such a calming touch. Especially when all the purple and cream water lilies are blooming.

We also had the incredible good luck to have hosted for 1 month 2 lovely guys from Vanuatu who have cleared the property, constructed a retaining wall, built a wood shelter and split some wood for winter. Trimmed some mighty bamboos, cleared the chicken run and coop, gravelled the drive with Peter, brush cut around the dam and so many other tasks that I am sure have forgotten to mention. Thanks to Murray and Joel for facilitating the whole process, feeding them, driving them and took them back to Port Vila . They all flew  back to a devastating sight. The mighty cyclone had created havoc in this small town and the surrounding islands. Murray and Joel raised some money to alleviate the plight of the villagers. Joel had not heard from his sister for 2 weeks as she was in the top island of Efate with no means of communications. All is fine now. Food and hospital needs as well as reconstruction materials were a priority. A mighty effort to say the least on their part to have attended to the need of the people of Vanuatu.

Lorrence and Watas on their last day
Lorrence and Watas on their last day
Lorrence enjoying his tea
Lorrence enjoying his tea

In between all the effervescence of these last few weeks I have knitted a baby blanket. No, no babies in perspective. But I might just sell it at the Gallery. While knitting, listening to my audio books from the library made the hours pleasant and a little calmer.

Merino wool 2 ply with crochet borders
Merino wool 2 ply with crochet borders

The winter veggies are under way : Cauliflowers, cabbages, peas, broad beans, fennels, radishes, a few beans and lettuces. I have to wait and make sure that the cabbage moths or white butterflies stay away from them.

I wonder if we will be there to harvest them! A trip is in the pipe line.

Time for drink and dinner!

Till next time

My best friend and a puzzle.

El and Peter in Paris last year.2014
El and Peter in Paris last year.2014

The other day I received a present from a very old friend of mine. We went to school together in Paris and really go back a few decades. In fact she is more of a sister to me than a friend.

We have known each others parents, brothers and sisters. We have been to each others’ house over the years and have shared very intimate thoughts. We keep in touch quite regularly and chat about all sorts of things.

So, as I said above I received a lovely present from her the other day. Of course I was quite touched by the gesture and the intention. She knows my tastes in perfumes and my weakness for some candies that we used to have when we were kids. A special shop in Paris where I used to live (that still exists) stocks the same ones we bought some 40 years ago. A real treat. The owner is no longer alive but his daughter has taken over and sell the same things. The only difference is the prices have shot up something shocking. What we used to buy for a few centimes is now quite a few Euros and really a luxury when you buy a couple of packet that amounts to 20 or 30 Euros. And I did not buy many of them.

So here I am with the parcel that she sent. Inside of course, superb perfume from Fragonard. A very famous perfumery in South of France in Grasse. Candies, and a couple of trinkets. A pumpkin shaped porcelain container and a chicken.  I was in a quandary.  This is not the sort of things that I want to have around the place. Not because I did not like them but because I do not want any more bits and pieces to display around the house. I was elated and at the same time annoyed.

I think it reaches a point in one’s life where we do not want any more gadgets, any more ornaments, any more decorative objects, any more items that you have to move around and about to clean behind them, under them and around them. I do not want to be surrounded with items that are gathering dust. Sure I do appreciate the thought and the expense that she went through, but from my point of view they really have no value except taking room and not really functional.

All this to get to the point of why do we accumulate? Sentimental reasons, souvenirs, memories, momentum. I don’t really know. I guess like my mother in law used to say:” to each his own”. I respect that especially coming from my best friend. I fully realise in the end that it is a gesture from the heart and dear El I am truly grateful that you thought of me and have me in your heart all the time. I did tell her tho, that it was not my favourite trinkets. She fully accepted that. We are too close for me not to tell her what I thought and there is so much between us. I know that you understand me completely. I also know it is very delicate to say that sort of things, I have said it. It took  me a while and I have played with the idea also of not telling you anything. . But it was beyond me and I took courage to be frank. So, I told what was on my mind over Skype. Thank you for being so gracious about it.

Till next time.


Early morning

Life on the farm has been busy recently. But that is hardly news really. Awake at at 5Am this morning a cup of tea in hands, I ventured outside. Still dark. White clouds shroud the whole valley and the top of the mountain. Chilly and nippy the cold mist spread on the fields creating an eery feeling of the world just about to wake up. The birds have not yet started and a lonely wallaby bent over the grass chews some unknown delicacies no doubt. Its ears pricked up. Noise, foot steps, am I worried? Yes, just a little. The smell of the dogs does not abode well for it. Shall I run or stay? I will stay for a little longer then will see how the situation develops. The last few bats make their way back to the trees and one can hear their heavy flapping as they rush away from the newly appearing sunlight.

Blue Salvia
Blue Salvia

The sky has the colour of light grey charcoal and the half moon stands out yellowish and full of blemishes while the stars are getting a little fainter with each minute as the light starts to appear slowly over the horizon. Distinct bands of foggy clouds hover now and move slowly across or down till they will disappear with the first rays of the sun. Different picture just from a few minutes ago and ever changing, transforming and continuously metamorphosing.

Invigorating… that little bite in the air. A shawl wrapped around my shoulders I venture in the semi dark morning towards the chicken run. The two dogs trailing behind me wondering what I am doing so early. As I opened the coop, the big and gentle ginger rooster called “Ginger”, flies off its perch and comes next to my feet. He does that all the time when I open the door. He seems to talk and asks me all sorts of questions…a chicken babble which I quickly interpret as: “Do you have any food so early”? Not yet, you’ll have to wait a little while, I am not ready yet, I have to open the little coop where the newly born chicks are still sleeping under their fat mother. Yes, Lady Grey is a little plump. Little chirps can be heard muffled by a load of feathers and little heads appear from under mum. They seem to say “can we go out now”? So, Lady Grey starts clucking and they all make their way out of the coop in search of little insects so early in the morning.

The first birds are on the move and their songs echoes in the valley. Butcher birds, noisy mynas are the first in the morning parade. The dogs have smelled the wallaby and they are giving chase. Not a hope in the world tho! It scoots so fast that the poor dogs are left miles behind. But the chase was worth it. A little excitement so early is not to be missed.

Still cup of tea wrapped around my hands, I decided to meander down the drive for a walk to the pond. The cows were not around at the time, so I guessed they would have been at the back where the grass was greener no doubt. They are not going to miss me this afternoon tho!

Butcher Bird quite at home. Frequent visits
Butcher Bird quite at home. Frequent visits

The water hens have not yet emerged. The lilies are about to burst in flowers and thousands of little fish dance in circles in the clear waters in the pond. The dogs are running and frolicking chasing each other, grabbing some sticks and playing tug of war. Sipping the tea, I can feel the dew on the grass as the morning slowly breaks and to the east the first light shines on the opposite slope… slowly. Such a sense of vastness and serenity. Everything is alive, Away from news and politics, away from scandals and gossips, away from greed and the stock market, the economy, new laws, the internet, Facebook, corruption at every turn, wars in the world. Boy! How much can the mind take? Comparing to the calm and freshness…There is really no comparison. It seems that a part of the world has come to a stop. Just does not exist at this moment. All the noise that clutters your mind during the day appears to have ceased…at least for now. Just silence and a pristine state of being. Just breathing the crisp air that bites your nostrils and is drawn deep into your lungs with every breath. Just to be there and a sense of timelessness engulfs you. Everything seems to melt into one single movement. 

As I make my way back slowly toward the house the first rays of the sun beam their little warmth over the land, just a little cosiness this morning. It is not going to be a very hot day as rain is expected later on.

Dogs in tow, I sit down on the bench and soak it in this unspoiled moment. Not for long, John next door is also an early riser and he decided to slash the property next door. The noise of the old diesel motor makes its way sluggishly up the road to our neighbours and breaks the silence. But it is there and that is all. Part of the farm, part of the scene, part of rural living.

Zaina our latest puppy gives Elsie a hard time. She is fast, mischievous and very playful. Not for poor old Elsie whose labrador nature (she is rather plump) does not make her a sprinter. Given that her back leg is also injured, that does not help. But she stands her grounds and Zaina has to tow the line and obey her elders.

The colours of the trees now are greener and the tall bamboos sway gently in the breeze. I make my way to the vegies garden secateurs in hand that I grabbed on the table and start cutting the dead leaves from the tomatoes. Uproot the dead eggplants that have withered from some unknown disease. Plant a few seedlings of corn and okra and water the newly planted gherkins.

Time to see if Peter is awake. But not before peeping at the rose bushes and seeing that there are a few dead branches that I happily snip away. A few weeds also. But I stop there. It is already 7AM. As I enter the house, I can see upstairs that the curtains have been drawn and yes, Peter is awake checking his emails no doubt or maybe just enjoying the view from the window where the bamboos sway lazily in the wind bending graciously almost touching the ground.

Cup of tea” I shout from downstairs? Yes, he replies. So the water is slowly on the boil and in the meantime I set out to feed the dogs and the cat. Quickly run to the chicken run and throw a few handful of sunflowers for them and coming back just in time for the water to be ready.

Oh! and I forget, I also read a few emails from J who went mushrooms gathering in the woods in England and is preparing a feast for dinner. Time for gym and a nice cup of coffee. The day’s chores and routines are about to get into full swing.

Till next time.

Busy at home

Just a few photos of what I have been busy doing over the last few weeks. This old traditional family recipe has been around for more than 150 years and it is a pleasure to do it. Labour intensive it is. Dates and nuts come into the realisation of it and NO SUGAR. Who needs it with the dates? A real treat with coffee.This is what we called: DESERT NOUGAT. No spelling mistake. It is DESERT.

Old family recipe.
Old family recipe.

Cheese making a real fun project  that I enjoyed tremendously putting together and the taste was just superb.

Blue Vein, Camembert and Feta.

Blue Vein and Camembert
Blue Vein and Camembert


In the making
This one is Feta




The process.
The process.

It took some time to realise this jumper. I was craving for a nice green one and here it is.

My green jumper
My green jumper

Peter went out after the rain and collected dozens of mushrooms. We had omelettes and I have incorporated them in a chicken ragout. When our son came to join us last week they collected plenty more. By that stage I did not want to see another one…I became almost allergic to them. Just joking!  All super delicious. We even dried some.


Mushrooms collected by Peter.
Mushrooms collected by Peter.