1st January 2017

Enfin. The end of a poor year. The good news? For the Jewish people it's 5777 - any year that has sevens in it is good. Plus, 2017 also has a 7 in it. Yes, four 7s in one year! All good omens. 7 things about the French: 1. Orgueil means arrogant, denoted by the ubiquitous French cockerel emblem. Unlike the English, the French will always crow for their country. 2. They take their health very seriously and recognise that if you want the best, you must be prepared to invest more into the system (note: the system, not in salaries!).  3. They don't like being told what to do, hence marching on the streets. Think la Marseillaise. 4. Use of imaginary English words, e.g. le lifting (facelift), le sweat, le jogging, les warnings etc. 5. They invented condescension by using the 3rd person 'monsieur' when talking directly to you. 6. They like to touch/kiss you at every opportunity - great if it's someone young; not so good if it's the old hag down the road! 7. Contrary to public opinion, they do have a sense of humour, but it's difficult for the average English person to tell a joke in French that they understand or can relate to.
My thoughts for 2017? When levons nos verres with French neighbours, remember to keep eye contact; otherwise they might think you've something to hide (maybe you've poisonous intentions)!  To all my readers, a very happy and healthy New Year. And to my US friends: let's hope we can Trump the opposition.

25th December 2016

To some the best day of the year!  Normally we look forward to watching some great TV on this day, (English of course; French TV is rubbish), but Him indoors is grumpy. Why must all the schedules be full of kids' programmes at the time we want to watch?  We hate animated kids' films. Don't older people exist any more? The only decent programmes are scheduled too late for us as we're an hour later than in the UK, and of course we haven't got the multitude of i-playbacklater devices. Only one way to cheer up: read what happened in Xmases past:
2013: The best-laid plans oft go astray.....
I had been reading the best little book in the world: Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  In it he tells anyone who ever asks what's the point of it all, to focus on 2 things: responsibility and attitude for your own life. Ask not what life can offer you, but what you can give to life. So, in this vein (and because 'tis the season) I made some vegetarian mince pies using dried fruit, honey and a touch of rum and decided to give them to 4 neighbours - you remember, those who wanted to shoot the dogs, who complained about a garden bonfire and had never welcomed us. So, first I ventured next door armed with a paper plate of 6 pies covered by cling-film.  Up the drive and up the step, pressed the door bell...but just when the door opened I foolishly stepped back, fell down the step and 5 pies slipped onto the floor!  Him indoors' response later? Do as I did at the medical clinic. What? You remember, when I came out bent over, you asked 'are you in pain? And I said Look at the sign over there. It says Toulouse-Lautrec Clinic, walk this way!'
Season's greetings to one and all.

18th December 2016

Oh I'll be glad when 2016 is over. The 'horror Thursday' syndrome continues. Thursday I understood that the Geometre land-surveyor was arriving early, but I didn't know that he'd invited all our 'friendly' neighbours round too! Seems it's normal when applying for a building permit for the neighbours to assess boundaries etc. So at 8.30 a.m. Thursday there was a crowd in our drive, whilst Him indoors, blissfully unaware in his pyjamas covered with coat and knitted hat, was busy clearing the morning dog deposits!  A scene from Fawlty Towers came to mind as I loudly whispered across the drive:  come in, come in, get dressed now, as if to a recalcitrant child. Meanwhile the whole world of British expats and family continue to ask why on earth we're going back to the UK - currently suffering from a return of the 1970s with carefully-timed strikes galore, as usual to cause the maximum inconvenience possible to the suffering public. To all those sympathetic to the Unions I would say:  ask your Union leader what he earns.  They, like charity CEOs, have a completely different agenda (to self-agrandiose themselves) so never tell you their earnings because many earn more than the PM, but that's another story.  And so it continues...

11th December 2016

On Friday American actor Kirk Douglas, born Issur Danielovitch, from immigrant E. European parents, was 100. What changes has he seen in his life, what lessons learned?
Here our French friends Gerard et Monique tell me that it's odds-on that Le Pen will reach the second round of the presidential elections. Socialist Valls has all to play for, and Fillon, the centrist Conservative, may be neck and neck with Le Pen. Gerard says there'll be masses of tactical voting for sure: if Valls does well, a majority will vote for the FN to keep the socialists out, and if Fillon does well, the FN will lose because rightwingers will vote for him plus many from the left to keep out Marine! And across the pond: Putin accused of tampering with the US election and recounts galore. In Italy the leader's resigned and in Germany there's the insidious rise of the neo-Nazis. It's tragic. As Boy George says: we're all clinging to a rock and some have got a better grip than others. Ordinary people globally just want to improve their lives, so in order to do this, they think by voting in someone else, things will get better. No. Tactical voting and voting for someone 'different' can let in the devil! Just ask the Germans.
...as I'm sure Kirk Douglas, winner of the US Presidential award for freedom, will say. The way to live to 100 is: moderation in all things - including your choice of leader.

4th December 2016

Monday marked 50 years since Him Indoors and I got engaged!  Yes, 28th November 1966.
Such a lot has changed in everyday attitudes: back then children were to be 'seen and not heard'; we played outside all day during the holidays, only coming home at tea time, and people in authority were to be obeyed without question. Computers were unheard of, social media was talking to others in the local pub, and growing up in the '50s we had no car nor telephone nor TV. Today is like living on another planet. Unbelievably we're living in another country, France, so everything should be rosy shouldn't it? Then why are we going back 'home'?  Ah, that is the question. Could it be that when push comes to shove we all need, as we get older, that comfort blanket of being near family and old friends in person - rather than this strange virtual reality we call the internet.  But, the world looks increasingly dangerous today. I can't get away from it. It's rammed down our throats on all social media. There's that loose-cannon, unsuitably-prepared leader across the pond - please, American readers, don't make him angry - and a new Conservative to be elected here in France: either the centrist Fillon or, heaven-forbid, the far-right Le Pen.  Please can I go back to the '60s?

27th November 2016

What is it about Thursdays? Growing up, strange things always seemed to happen on that day. This week was stormy. No, not election storms, though heaven knows it's still ongoing....in the US someone's paying to have those marginal State votes recounted....in the EU the clown they call Boris is making us all look foolish, and here in France, with Sarkozy now out, it's a race between Fillon and Juppe. However, Meteo France predicted storms in the Aude region, south-east of us. No problem then; we should avoid the worst. Wednesday night was indeed very windy, but we felt safe in our strong stone house. But, early Thursday morning Bruno alerted us, going berserk as tremendous waves of thunder and lightening crashed down above our heads. Dawn arrived bleary-eyed as we surveyed the worst. Our beautiful giant, century-old lime tree - one of a matching pair - was down, together with two birches. Feel so sad for the remaining lime, standing so alone and forlorn amongst the debris. Have always felt an affinity for trees, living/spiritual things and when they die/fall, I have real fears. Didn't help that, just then, before I'd had time to tidy up, our buyer arrives unexpectedly with viewers of 'his' house!!....Meantime, it appears Thursday is named from Thor, the Norse god, and Jove, Roman god - both noted for creating thunder and lightning!  Well, there you go then.

20th November 2016

Theresa May felt bad enough at being 11th on Trump's arbitrary phone list, but Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel were even further behind! Now, if this had been the careful and thoughtful Obama, I'd have been worried. But it's that out-of-control new President-elect we're talking about. Don't suppose for a minute he'd thought about the importance of priority here. To my mind, the UK should have been first. Who stood behind the US in all their travails in the past? Yet he rings Turkey and Saudi Arabia before us?? My worry here is that we have a 'shoot first and think about it later' world leader. Just don't let him near that nuclear button..
In France it may be possible for British citizens to become 'associate European citizens' after Brexit, giving them free EU movement, according to an MEP.  And today French voters head to the polls in the 1st round of the centre-right parties to pick a candidate for the 2017 elections. As long as they remain centre-right and don't get pushed to extreme-right wing. Will the bling candidate Sarkozy win again or a man called Poisson, who - like the NF Le Pen - was the first to congratulate Trump? It all sounds very fishy to me!

13th November 2016

For many today is the day of remembrance. Below is a poem I publish every year in the hope things might change around the world.

At early morn' I had a dream
that man would cease his futile scheme
Fighting battles, suicide missions
Murder, hatred, blazing seditions
What man needs is re-appraise
in eyes of beings not so fazed
Yes, don't fight tribe v tribe
as if nothing else but diatribe
But see with eyes afresh from birth
that we're all one tribe - that of Earth!
by Olga Swan

So now we have a Disney character called Donald in the White House! The year 2016 isn't over yet. Brexit was deemed improbable, President Trump extremely unlikely and in a few months here in France the unimaginable prospect of the Front Nationale leader, President Marine Le Pen. That's one of the reasons we're leaving. Even if she's not elected, it's the fact that such a large percentage of the French endorse her policies. I've raged against racism and extreme nationalism all my life, epitomised in my two noir wartime thrillers. Why can't we learn from the past and recognise those early, dangerous steps towards disaster so that people in power can stop it in time?  Don't forget: in the '30s the crowds cheered for a man called Hitler.  After this week's ringing endorsements from far-right people like Nigel Farage and Mme Le Pen for a man called Donald, the world can only duck....

6th November 2016

Remember, remember, the 5th November...I've always hated Guy Fawkes Night. Why commemorate burning someone live at the stake? There's been explosive action around the world this week. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been sparking each other off in the most malicious way. Is this how politics should be run? I don't mind special artistic events such as the one in Montreal or Le festival l'art de pyrotechnique held in Cannes each year. But, even then, it's not worth the very real danger to spectators. These are explosives of the sort used in war zones. As a child in the '50s I could buy packs of these explosives from our local tobacconist's shop.  Madness. And just look at the explosive action in the seat of the English parliament this week, when the judiciary had the temerity to cast aspersions on the actions of the government. In days gone by this would have been treason. Just ask Guy Fawkes! Should we eat rocket salad and bangers and mash before sending the judges to the stake, commemorating burning them alive for centuries to come?

30th October 2016

Why are the French and English so hostile to each other?  Entente cordiale? Don't think so!
The sang froid was palpable at the Calais Jungle this week as, with a Gallic shrug, the mini-pelles arrived effectively to shovel the Channel emigration border over to Kent. Why do they hate the English so much? You only had to see the fury in Hollande's face that the UK had the temerity to reject all that he and Merkel had manoeuvred so artfully in their favour!  His face captured perfectly the distrust that has haunted Fr:Eng relations for 8 decades. As I wrote in Vichyssoise, even De Gaulle - who was welcomed by Churchill in London during the '40s Vichy era - did a volte-face 20 years later with a categoric Non to the UK's entry to the EEC. We seem to be connected yet divided by old historic hatreds.
Brexit or no, the French and English are geographic neighbours. Isn't it time they shook hands? Wish our neighbour here would shake hands with us......

23rd October 2016

Today is the first anniversary of the release of my first novel with Crooked Cat Publishing:  '3rd Degree Murder', drawing on my 30 years' working at The University of Birmingham. Who killed Prof. Axel Sloan? Was it me, i.e. the secretary? You'll have to read it to find out (authl.it/4ia).
 Anniversaries are always a good time to reflect on the past. Did we make the right decision in coming to France, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, 11 years ago (chronicled in 'Pensioners in Paradis' https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pensioners-Paradis-Olga-Swan/dp/1847994156 )? Yes. We've really enjoyed it but, now we're both approaching 70, we need to return to our roots. A new branch in the tree of life. But, it's not going to be easy. On Wednesday we signed the Compromis de Vente, so the sale of our home is proceeding. But the buyer - a marchand de bien - needs first to get a business loan then planning permission to divide the land into 2 building plots. Thereby hangs a tale. Schadenfreude for us in getting our own back on the neighbour perhaps? Or, giving him the chance to voice his public objection, which he may well do?
Let's hope it doesn't all end in 3rd Degree Murder!!

16th October 2016

Don't wish to tempt fate, but are things finally happening on the French house sale front?
.....Meantime in the UK the High Court on Tuesday started hearing details of three legal challenges over the process of triggering Britain’s exit from the EU. Senior judges will decide whether Theresa May, the prime minister, has the power to serve notice of withdrawal from the EU under Article 50 or whether she will need a vote in parliament approving withdrawal.  Perversely, for me, at this present time of low euro:£ exchange rates, it would be better if Brexit went ahead!  I know, I know. But, you see, if the legal challenges were to win and Brexit were cancelled, the £ would probably then shoot up making our search for an English house within our budget impossible! Some say Fix the Rate now. Also problematical. There'd be a deposit of c.£18K to pay with international exchange banks, which we'd lose if a sale didn't go ahead. And... previously I thought that all buyers, after signing the Compromis de Vente (first stage), had 10 days to change their mind. However I've now discovered that if the buyer is a Marchand de Biens (a company dealing in renovations/land e.g.) there is no 10 day reflection period but you have to wait to see if nec loans are approved. All too much for me. I'm too old for all this.
                                        .........more next week on the rolling sale news of a house in Gaillac.

9th October 2016

A topsy-turvy week.  Suddenly interest seems to be growing at last for our French house. However, just as I was feeling more confident in our plans for the future, a rather unlikely cause has arrived to throw a kybosh into the works.  UK Secretary of State Sajid Javid has overturned Lancashire council’s rejection of a fracking site, paving the way for shale company Cuadrilla to drill in the county next year, provoking outrage from local groups and environmentalists. Why has this outraged me too? The drilling site is just 3 miles from where we were planning to live! My understanding is that this deep drilling can cause nearby house foundations to shake or even a mini earthquake. My panic is rising because we had a viewing today, another one's fixed for Monday and another for later in the week. And, we have no idea where we're going to move to.....
For some, this is the time for talking to Him Upstairs about the past year and hopes for the future.  Wonder what decision He will make for us at this crossroads time of our lives!

2nd October 2016

I often write about French life v American. Best about the US:  the friendly people, the great State of Maine, the greatest customer-service in the world. Worst about the US:  the health system that would have bankrupted us as incoming senior citizens, and the gun law! The average US citizen obsessively allies the 2nd amendment with his citizenship, drummed into him at school.  History tells us that in 1791, having just used guns and other arms to ward off the English, the 2nd amendment was created to give citizens the chance to fight back against a tyrannical federal government. But that was then; this is 2016! America needs to urgently review this law, which gives all testosterone-driven young men (and even toddlers!) a tool to kill whenever they're upset about something. And they are, increasingly, every week! US youths are barred from buying cigarettes/alcohol but can walk into a gun store and easily buy a firearm and ammo. A French law I like: it is illegal for stores to dump expired food. Instead they donate 10m meals p.a. to those in need, via food banks. In the US, whilst 1 in 7 go hungry, 40% of food is wasted and ends up in dumpsters. Well done France.

25th September 2016

Have you read 'Submission' by French author Michel Houellebecq?  What a frightening political future he paints for France!
In a week when the woman we all love to hate, Marine Le Pen - leader of France's far-right National Front (FN) party - is certain to advance to the second round of the country's 2017 presidential election, according to a new poll published on Thursday, maybe we should all listen very very carefully to what M. Houellebecq has to say.  I'm particularly interested as the main character in the futuristic novel is a sardonic French professor (see my own novel '3rd Degree Murder', about another sardonic but English professor, authl.it/4ia); and M. Houellebecq's novel includes threats of a Frexit, similar to the Brexit fuelling my desire to move back to the UK.  However, the novel's main thrust is a future French general election, which pits the FN v a French Muslim Brotherhood party, and because they're neck and neck in the polls, a frightening compromise agreement is worked out between them!
Bon courage M. Houellebecq:  you're a braver man than I!

18th September 2016

The September edition of the excellent Connexion newspaper included a double-feature on how to get a novel published here in France. It's clear that an important point for all authors is to write about what you know and to work out your target audience.  What is different about your novel and why would people buy it?  My latest novel, Vichyssoise (amzn.to/2bg3kkG), now available in paperback, springs to mind because it was researched from original French texts and set in areas and streets near to where I lived. I would hope, therefore, that it appeals to all English readers, but particularly those interested in WW2 and/or those who know the areas of France covered therein. Here's a taster, covering St Antonin Noble Val in Tarn et Garonne. Hope you enjoy it.
"... Back in her own lodgings on the top floor of an old house in the Rue de la Treille, just off the Place du Bessarel, Karin thought long and hard about what to do next. She had secured the flat by using some of her precious francs from her coat lining. She managed to set up her improvised radio on the table in the kitchen, and told her landlady that she was a journalist and didn’t wish to be disturbed.  “Don’t worry about the cleaning,” she told her. “I prefer to do my own.” In her secret broadcast back to London that night, she reported that from her observations, the mood of the country seemed to be that of being neither active in the Resistance nor acting as active collaborators. Most appeared to have adopted a wait-and-see stance – something they called attentisme – and were concentrating what energy they had in holding on and getting through the dark days of les années noires. Their priority was survival. Because of the loss of the men, the burden of everyday life fell on the shoulders of the women. It was they who formed the lengthy queues outside shops, and they who washed what clothes their families possessed with what cleaning materials were available.  That night proved clear and free from mist rising from the Aveyron, so Karin carefully locked her room and ran downstairs to the Rue de la Treille. She crossed over the Place du Bessarel, greeting the old women with her customary “Bonne soirée” before turning the corner and walking up to the café.  Whilst she was standing at the counter waiting to order her coffee, a stranger walked in. He had a newspaper under his arm and wore a soft felt fedora on his head. He walked up to the counter and ordered a café crème.  “Non plus,” said the bartender, wiping the counter clean of coffee stains.  “D’accord,” said the stranger, and went to leave. But not before turning to Karin and, in a surprising gesture rather like Général de Gaulle himself, taking her hand and brushing the skin on the back with his thin dry lips. Before she could utter a word, the man lifted his head and looked at her, his eyes glittering a warning not to say anything. She understood. He left, closing the café door quietly behind him, the tinkling of the bell the only indication of his having been there. 
"It would have been forgotten, except for the scrap of paper he had surreptitiously left in the palm of her hand.  She carefully stowed it away in her coat pocket for later, carrying her coffee over to her usual table by the door. She finished her coffee and got up to leave, wishing the bartender “Bonne nuit” before walking slowly but purposefully back to her flat. Once safely there and with the door locked, she sat down on the bed and took the paper from her pocket.  'Imperative we know date when Germans take over unoccupied zone. Take whatever means to find out, and report back soonest. Gwendoline.' "

11th September 2016

British expats are stressed. Anyone'd think it was 9/11 or something. On arrival here everything was wonderful (read Pensioners in Paradis (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pensioners-Paradis-Olga-Swan/dp/1847994156?ie=UTF8&ref_=asap_bc). This lasted for around 7 - 10 years. Then, slowly, slowly, a sort of mind confusion occurred. Do we want to die in France?  (Him indoors says he doesn't want to die anywhere!) Eventually, this crystalised into putting our house on the market. This weekend we had 2 viewings: 1 via Leboncoin, the other via a local agency. Now this is an unusual house, so for the first I showed them all the petit trucs the house had to offer, but for the second, disaster set in. First, 5 mins before arrival, our 'wonderful' neighbour decided to start his very noisy mower. Peaceful environment shattered. Then I thought the agent was the buyer (she'd never visited before and didn't know the house at all), and French agents require absolute silence and no input at all from sellers!  Result: no sale yet again.  And you wonder why I'm stressed.....

4th September 2016

Humour, mayhem, madness. Should've, could've, would've...
1st, kitchen floor.  Since first fitted, I've struggled to seal the white, natural stone tiles - rather like trying to polish the pavement! Should've insisted the fitter do this in first place. List of products that failed:  linseed oil, beeswax, various floor polishes. Lightbulb moment from Him indoors:  try my car polish. Not perfect, but best of all of them. Second, la Poste. Gaillac has only one - crazy for a town this size - and last Monday, the interior was being renovated. Could've found out before. When I asked how I could weigh/send a small birthday parcel for daughter in US, a gallic shrug!! Third, a house viewing. Olga's rules: stuff all family detritus in available, non-integrated cupboards and keep smart 'staging' materials like cushions, expensive soaps, rugs in a handy place ready to whip out at a moment's notice. Didn't help that Him indoors, attached to dogs, having had specific instructions to keep out of the way, approached the car on arrival!! If I'd known, would've tied all 3 to a tree far away. Did we sell? Jury's out.  Oh, and a very happy birthday to Julie today!

28th August 2016

Be very very afraid.....
Too much state control here in France. First they introduced automatic organ donation. Unless you go to a lot of trouble in finding and signing the right form, your organs can be taken on death without permission. Now a 2nd violation:  in February, without fanfare, France introduced a new law whereby terminally-ill patients can be sedated, water and food withdrawn, until they die.  Imagine how I felt reading this, when my own dear brother suffered from exactly this in a UK hospice under the now discredited Liverpool Pathway scheme.  Legalised euthanasia by another name!  I know there will be some reading this who say 'it's for the best; he's dying anyway.'  No: it gives far too much power to doctors, who can now make their own, God-like, decisions on whether you live or die. Remember: there is no pain that can't be assuaged today by strong drugs. Don't let the State overrule our hard won independence, the human right to make our own decisions.
....life is precious. As long as we live, there is always hope. Don't take that away.

Sunday 21 August 2016

For 2 weeks in Rio the Olympic flame has shone brightly. Superb athletes from most nations have shaken hands in friendship and goodwill...
But in Europe it's chilled, despite the summer heat. No handshakes in the banlieues of Paris, where over the last 3 months, 13000 newly-arrived immigrants speaking Arabic, Pashto and Farsi were quickly handcuffed and served deportation orders. NE in Calais it's worse, the Jungle now completely out-of-control. SW, on the outskirts of Marseilles, wild fires rage.  And, France's Hollande - in his government-funded Lanterne holiday residence, several kilometres from the gleaming Elysée Palace - is also in a rage. Terrible terrorist atrocities have necessitated the deployment of armed guards everywhere. Alarmed, many Communes have cancelled the very summer attractions that boost his ailing country's vital tourist income. And, following Brexit, the 2017 French elections loom, with the scheming Mme Le Pen poised to strike, along with most of the French workforce it seems!
...... but the lights in Paris are flickering alarmingly.

14th August 2016

House sale blues!  The French property market in this region is impossible - no buyers anywhere!  I know what you're thinking.  It's no good saying 'houses aren't selling in our price range'. Just lower the price.  But, what to do if you've already lowered the price drastically and still nothing?  So, we currently have no less than 5 local agents, English sites plus a private ad on Leboncoin (a sort of French ebay: https://www.leboncoin.fr/ventes_immobilieres/1004554664.htm) but with them unless your price is 100K euros or less, there's not much interest. French estate agents aren't worth the huge commission they get:  c.6% of the asking price - way more than the English ones receive! Him indoors says the word immobilier is onomatopoeic : immobile! It's certainly helpful when they vet prospective buyers and come to the notaire (solicitor) with both buyer and seller, but my cynical mind says that's to ensure we actually all sign on the dotted line!  But at least sellers in France don't pay anything to either the agent or the notaire. Meantime I'm busy keeping chez-nous up to scratch: tidy, clean and 'well-staged' with flowers, table-setting etc......just in case.

Wednesday 10th August 2016

Here is the last so far in my series of three books for those aged 9 - 13. And there's a prize!  Read Ruby, Clementine or Saffron (link below) and the first to leave a review on Amazon will receive an Amazon voucher!

Saffron has already had to suffer racial taunts due to her mixed-race origins. Her mission involves the Taj Mahal, where she learns via her late grandmother’s letter that she must find the hidden love token buried many years ago. Her travels to India prove a revelation. In searching and finding the missing artefact, she meets young Abu, who touches her heart. Slowly she learns something about herself and the inescapable facts of her personal Indian roots.

Don’t miss the characters who appear throughout the series:  the inscrutable Verdigris, the evil Miss Pinchtuck and an ancient professor who plots to solve the world’s global warming problems. Can each of the seven Rainbow girls complete Verdigris’ mission and prove that the professor was right all along?  Only time will tell.

Below is an exclusive extract from Saffron, just for you:

Invisible engines thrummed.  An uncanny wind whistled past Saffron’s eardrums, the insistent beat echoing her thudding heart. 
Don’t look down, for pity’s sake don’t look down. 
From time to time the bustling noises of the Agra chawls came wafting up to her: the shouts from colourful vendors, blind and maimed beggars intermingling with the honking rickshaw drivers. All competed for her attention.  But still she could not, would not look down as she clung ever tightly to the boy in the white turban. He was sitting cross-legged on the ancient, now threadbare piece of carpet, but Saffron could only perch on her knees as with every passing cloud the itchy fabric knitted and patched itself into a ruby, woven scab.
‘Remember what I told you,’ the boy shouted to her.  ‘Keep away from the chawls. They’re full of cockroaches, centipedes and earthworms. Above all, don’t drink the water. It’s poisoned by human and animal excrement.’ 
Saffron shuddered.  She just couldn’t imagine what life must be like for all those poor people she could see crammed into their personal kholi flats within their chawl. 
How ever had she got here?  What would her parents say if only they knew? But her parents would still be sleeping, sublimely unaware that she was already nearing her destination. Verdigris had known all along that her special mission involved the Taj Mahal, but for Saffron all she wanted was to fulfil her grandmother’s dying wish.  ‘...Find my very own love token, my dear. I’m the only one who knows where it’s hidden, but I’m now too old.  It’s you Saffron, yes only you, who must find it.  Then at last I can die in peace. Goodnight for now, my darling girl.’
Now, years later, Saffron could only stare straight ahead, even if it was directly into the boy’s cambric shirt.  If she moved her head slightly, or even pinched her eyes tight shut, a terrible nausea would prevail.  She remembered the mantra her Mum always told her at the dentist’s: ‘this won’t last long; this won’t last long’.  Soon, her agile brain had incorporated this with every zoom and lurch of the carpet beneath her knees, until suddenly, at last, the speed and motion changed.
The boy shouted out to her ‘Hold on tight. We’re going down.’
Don't forget, there's a prize. After reading one of the 3, click again on the buy link below and go to Leave a Review.  GOOD LUCK!

Below is that all-important link on how to buy:


7th August 2016

August already and it's not been a good year for British expats in France. Terror attacks and anti-Semitism increasing exponentially and a growing realisation that France's security is not all it should be. Talk of a cover-up in Nice to hide their shame: CCTV camera footage of the recent attack has been destroyed! My solution? Call in the Israelis. They know a thing or two about national security. They have to in order to survive. And Brexit worries continue as we wait for the start button to be pressed in January. As well as the 2 main options (return to the UK or take up French citizenship), for those having difficulty in selling their home in a dormant market, they might consider applying for a carte de sejour, giving them a measure of residence security in the meantime. Trouble is there's the dreaded French bureaucracy to deal with, e.g. they ask for your original birth certificate but it must be issued during the last 3 months!! So, the original certificate I've held for 60+ years is somehow not authentic enough? Words fail me.

Wednesday 3rd August 2016

It's my Wednesday international blog. As promised, here's another excerpt from my alter ego, Gillian Green's, series for those aged 9 - 13.  This is book 2 in the Rainbow series: 'Clementine'.  Musical Tina finds herself going back in time in search of a missing violin. She meets a wonderful boy called Antonio Stradivar but discovers she's now living in the 17th Century. How ever will she get back to normal time again?

So, here's a short extract. Tina is in Rome on a school trip. Her teacher, the mysterious Mr. Verdigris, asks her to do a strange thing, about which she must tell no-one. She must find a missing Stradivarius violin. She has no idea how she will accomplish this but soon, as she's visiting the Colosseum, she's swept up, up and away....

".....Suddenly, a movement in the corner of Tina’s eyes caught her attention.  She turned and saw one of their helpers beckoning to her. 
Oh no! 
It was that weird one with the black headscarf. 
What on earth does she want?
She indicated to Beth that she would only be a moment.  Little did she know!  No sooner had she reached the old woman than she realised at last why she looked so familiar.
‘Oh, you look just like Miss Pinchtuck – from my dance class,’ she said in confusion.  ‘But, what are you doing with our group from school?’ 
Tina was really really surprised.  It was not often that someone from one part of her life collided into another.  Really, her Saturday dance classes at the Rainbow School of Dance had nothing whatsoever to do with Kingsbridge School, so she was amazed that the old woman was here as a helper.  But right here, at the Colosseum in Rome, was where she undoubtedly was.  There was no mistaking her now, with that bent body and horrible warts all over her face. 
Miss Pinchtuck cackled and rubbed her hands together with glee.  ‘I wondered how long it would take you, child, to recognise me.  But at least, as an over-65, I got in for free!’  She paused awhile and looked ahead of her whilst nodding slowly to herself.  Yes, that just might do it!  But first she needed to entice the child towards and through those two central gothic pillars over there, the ones with the flaking masonry hanging in shreds right down to the ground.  Yes, those are the ones, she smiled to herself.  The ones with that arch above them – the arch with the seven grooves in it……But how to lure the child over there? 
Miss Pinchtuck strained her painful neck muscles backwards so that she could look straight up into the clear blue sky, a sky so translucent that it was a perfect dome for the Colosseum beneath.  Why, it was almost as if they were all spectators in what was to be the greatest show on earth.  She brought her head straight again and looked at the arch directly in front of her.  A voice came into her addled brains.  Keep it simple, Mildred…(for that was her name, a name that no-one ever used any more because it sounded like mildew)….keep it simple.
‘Child,’ she said, turning again to Tina, who was shuffling from one foot to the other anxious to get back to Beth again.  Tina was frightened she would lose sight of the rest of the group and become hopelessly lost in the milling crowds all around. ‘You couldn’t do me a favour, could you?’ said the old woman, smiling in the best way she could, despite her yellowing, decayed teeth.
Tina nodded, but saying ‘Yes, but can you make it quick. I’m sure I’ll lose sight of my friends if I don’t hurry up.’
‘Yes, yes, dear.  It won’t take a moment…a mere second in life’s precious passage of time.’
‘What?’  What on earth was the old woman going on about now? thought Tina, growing increasingly irritated.
‘You see those pillars over there – the ones with the arch above linking them both together?  Miss Pinchtuck pointed to the exact place she wanted the child to be.
Tina nodded.
‘I simply need you to fetch my handkerchief which I’m sure I dropped just the other side.  You can’t fail to recognise it – it’s got rainbow bands all around the edges.’
Tina thought oh, anything to get rid of her, so quickly agreed.  ‘Just between those arches, you say?’ as she ran off in the direction the old woman had said. 
Shouldn’t take long. 
As the child sped off, Miss Pinchtuck stuck her bony hand inside her bodice and extracted a rainbow-shaped charm hanging on a gilt chain around her wrinkled neck.  She raised her other hand in an arch above her short-sighted, hooded eyes, the better to see exactly when the child was in the correct position.
She peered through the sparkling sunlight until her eyes suddenly focused. 
‘Yes, yes, you old fool.  Now.  Now.!’  With that, she rubbed the rainbow charm in an anti-clockwise direction, mumbling an ancient spell she had concocted specially for this moment.
Nimble, nimble, child be quick
Don’t be slow, for here’s the trick
By all that’s holy, all sublime
By magic’s grace, GO BACK IN TIME!
Tina found the pillars, the ones underneath the archway, but as she ran through them searching for that elusive handkerchief, something very strange happened.  She found herself growing dizzy, all of a sudden.  She put her clammy hand up to her head in an effort to still the throbbing vein in her temples, but it made no difference.  She suddenly felt worse, much worse.  The whole world had started to spin in an anti-clockwise direction, herself in the centre.  She felt as though she was in the middle of a giant tornado, in the very eye of the needle, twirling, twirling, round and round. Everything went first grey, then black, as she was flung helplessly along.
Every so often, the twisting fabric of her life would pick up elements of years gone by.  Images of people, their thoughts, collided in a quickening and roaring pace, each phase superseded by another, then another. 
Hours passed, days disappeared, followed by years, then centuries, as the loose sheets of the world’s calendar were torn off one by one.  And still she spun in that vortex, like a helpless spider being sucked ever downwards into the giant plughole of time.
In a fleeting moment of consciousness she kept repeating to herself, over and over, in a never-ending mantra:
Where am I? 
What am I? 
Where am I going? 
Soon, very soon, she would find out. 
It would be like nothing she had ever experienced before....."

Here's the link for all 3 in this series:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B013IDLQ4O

Do hope a youngster in your family enjoys them.

Don't miss, next Wednesday, an extract from the 3rd book: Saffron, who's a child of mixed race who visits the Taj Mahal in India in search of her late grandmother's love token. Don't miss it!

31st July 2016

Growing up in England, I was known as someone who couldn't cook. Stay out of the kitchen, everyone said. So, since arriving in France and having more time, I was determined to improve my non-existent culinary skills. Yesterday French friends Gerard and Monique arrived. What better challenge, Monique having almost cordon-bleu abilities. Beforehand, because of the intense heat here, I determined to prepare 3 courses fraiches. Useful because everything could be made the night before. But what?  See what you think. For the main plat I made a smoked salmon terrine: a melange of creamed cheese, herbs, cooked salmon and asparagus, wrapped with slices of smoked salmon, served with noodle salad and green lambs-lettuce. The dessert was mon favoris: cherries in juice topped with a melange of fromage blanc and mascarpone. But what about the entrée? Can you guess? Him indoors said but of course, has to be chilled vichyssoise soup, which I topped with a swirl of cream. And....Monique said: 'C'est tres bien'. Was ich hob gelebt.

Wednesday 27th July 2016

So many troubles in the world. Writers have a role to play in reaching others, but especially the young. JKR did a wonderful job in encouraging children to read but where was that vital message, the one subtly endorsing the need for understanding not only of other faiths but also those living in other parts of the world? My alter ego, Gillian Green, therefore is writing a series aimed at those aged 9 - 13. Each novel subtly includes someone of a particular faith and difficulty to be overcome, who experiences an exciting adventure in one of the 7 modern wonders of the world. Here's an excerpt from book 1, where Ruby has an exciting adventure in the ancient Temple of Petra in Jordan.

 Ruby (given the Jordanian name of Warda), is searching for her missing dog when she falls under the ruins of the ancient Temple of Petra in Jordan. She finds that every time she tries to climb back up to the surface she, and her dog Amber, age one year after every step. Will she and the dog reach the top before she dies of old age?

"....A cold wind blew down from the aperture high above her head, whipping a strand of her fair hair across her forehead and making her skin turn into goose pimples.  
The dog whimpered.
She looked all around her at the dark and dank walls, at the winding, narrow stairs which threw shadows against the walls, then shivered at the thought of the spider.  There was only one thing to do.
She and Amber would climb the steps and pray that she would reach the top in time.  They would each need to lick the water dripping from the walls to sustain their lives.
The clock was already ticking.  She would need every ounce of her strength if she was going to make it. 
She took a deep breath and, with Amber clutched firmly to her breast, began her ordeal.
Warda was dreaming again.
It felt so good to rest awhile on the cool step.  She had worked so hard and for so long, climbing, climbing, climbing.  It seemed like forever, but somehow she had remembered it was important to count each step as she progressed.  But as she became more and more tired, even the reason for remembering became cloudier and more vague. 
Every bone in her body ached. 
All she seemed to want to do was sleep.
And each step she climbed, she became older, heavier and more tired.
And the dog had become heavier and heavier, growling and snorting his disapproval each step she took.  She thought of dropping and abandoning him to his fate, but somehow still managed to hang on to him, despite his heaviness and bewhiskered face.  Every so often they would each turn to the damp walls and lick whatever drips of moisture they could.  Instinctively they each knew that for them to survive, they needed water more than anything else.  It was a far greater need than mere food.  Man could live for a considerable time without solid food, as long as he had water.
Halfway up the steps she had stopped to look down into a puddle and hardly recognised the wavery image that was reflected back at her. 
Who on earth was that old woman staring back so stupidly at her? 
When did my blond hair turn silver grey? she thought absently
And what on earth’s happened to my teeth? 
She brought her now wrinkled and mottled hand up to her mouth and felt the wide gaps between the few and rotting stumps still remaining in her pinched mouth. Why, my teeth seem to be falling out all on their own, she thought in wonder.  Long, long ago she had still been waiting for signs of her first wisdom tooth to appear, and now all of a sudden she had hardly any teeth left at all!
She glanced down at the steadily receding dank water at the bottom of the steps and suddenly, surprisingly, thought she saw a vision of her two brothers.  Yes, her two brothers appeared to both have their heads close together and were staring at her, dumbfounded. Please help me, she whispered silently to them.  Oh, please help me!  For a moment she thought they had heard her, as their faces registered first amazement, then shock.  But suddenly, in a twinkling of an eye, their heads disappeared from whence they came, their faces becoming again a distant memory. But of course they couldn’t hear me, she realised, disappointed.  They’re thousands of miles away.  She shook her head at her own logic, before forcing herself to confront the still daunting task which lay ahead of her. She vaguely remembered a nightmare she had had long long ago.  Everything in it now seemed to be coming true all around her.  Here was the same narrow cave that she had dreamed of, and there on the damp mildewy walls were the horrid faces that had so frightened her as a young girl.  Everywhere she looked was this massive hard rock with honeycomb tunnels leading off in crazy directions, and the very air she was struggling to breathe was depressing and had such a forbidding feeling to it.  There was so little sunlight which had managed to find its way down to where she stood that the whole area had an earthy, deadly smell.  And even though the caves lay under one of the hottest parts of the world, she felt so cold.  Every so often an icy wind would come rushing down the hole towards her, striking a chill deep within her bones.
With thoughts of Emil, she smiled a horrible toothy smile.  Oh, how handsome he was.  She still remembered the embarrassment of youth, when just the touch of his hand and the feel of his dewy eyes on her had made her tremble.  She realised that back then she must have been in the first flush of youth, ready to fall in love with the first boy she met.  And she had been so young, with her whole life ahead of her. 
But now?  She looked down at herself and realised she was almost bent double.  Her back ached and her knees were ready to give way at any moment.  What would Emil see in her now?  And indeed, was Emil still alive?  She couldn’t work out whether it was just she who had aged, or whether – if she were lucky enough ever to escape this hell hole – the whole world outside would have changed forever.
She tried again to calculate just how many steps she had climbed.  She knew it was important.  She thought it must be approaching ninety. 
Oh God! 
She just didn’t think she’d be able to make it.  Every step she took she got older.  Of course, at first she had run and skipped up the steps, determined to reach the top and resume her old life again.  What was it Verdigris had told her just before he left? 
Oh yes. Even though I would get one year older with each step, if I could only reach the top, I would instantly become young again. 
But now Warda doubted if she would make it.  She just didn’t have enough breath left in her body to move any further.
It was then that she heard the shout.  She thought she was dreaming, so far away did the noise sound.  She realised that her hearing was becoming dimmer and dimmer and she now found it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.
But yes, there it was again.
There was no doubt.  Someone was shouting her name.  She tried to answer, but it felt so good to lie down on that cool step for just a moment longer.  Amber too seemed to be happy to rest awhile, her tongue lolling out of the side of her mouth.  At first she used to give Warda cooling licks all over her face, but lately even that had stopped as she preferred to sleep most of the time.  Her coat, which used to be so glossy and silky, had now become rough to the touch, and even her fur had turned dry, dull and grey, just like Warda’s.
With one last effort, Warda managed to whisper:  ‘‘Emil.  Emil!  It’s me, Warda.’  She stopped for a minute, the act of talking at all taking all her strength.  ‘Emil, can’t talk.  Just help me, please.  I’m nearly there, but every step makes me grow older.  Already I’ve climbed nearly ninety steps….can’t go any further….please h.e.l.p……..’ 
That seemed to take the last of her strength as she subsided into thankful unconsciousness again.
An age later her nose twitched as something seemed to be brushing her face.  Absently, unconsciously, she moved her arm up to tiredly brush it away, but there it was again.  It felt like someone was brushing her face with a piece of rope. 
As she opened her eyes, she felt for the dog’s pulse.  It was faint, but there was still something there.  She opened her tired eyes, every move of her muscles taking a supreme effort, and thought she saw a rope dangling there right in front of her face.  And there was that voice again. She was sure of it. It seemed a lifetime away, but surely that was Emil?  And then there it was again. This time she was sure. She recognised Emil’s voice shouting down at her.
‘Have you got it, Warda?  Warda!  Have you got it?’
With her wizened and wrinkled hand, she took hold of the stringy rope and felt it taughten.  Could there be some hope for her and Amber after all?  She had realistically given up all hope long ago. But now with a last ounce of effort, she managed to stand on her aching limbs and catch hold of the rope.  She took Amber into her arms again and tugged again on the rope.
A voice shouted down again at her.  ‘That’s it, Warda.  Hold tight.  I’m going to try and pull you up.  All you’ve got to do is to hang on.’
Easier said than done, she thought as she looked down at the swollen joints on her fingers and felt the weak, hooded lids on her eyes stiffen and weep at the corners. And then, miraculously, she found herself being hauled up the remaining steps, one by one. In truth, her feet were by now dangling downwards as she was dragged and pulled painfully step by step, her arms straining horribly high above her head. But gradually, indubitably, the light above her head was definitely becoming brighter with each pull of the rope as bit by bit, step by step, she and Amber were being hauled up to the surface. But already her sight had faded, and the ringing in her ears became louder by the second, until she remembered no more....."
Note from the author:  maybe you have youngsters in your family who would enjoy this series? Each Wednesday I'll include a link on the first three in this series plus an extract.  Don't miss next Wednesday's blog when Ruby's friend Clementine goes back in time to 17C Italy in search of a missing Stradivarius.

24th July 2016

49 years together. Amazing. 11 years since we moved to France. Challenging. Our early hilarious mishaps (see Pensioners in Paradis paperback (www.amazon.co.uk/Pensioners-Paradis-Olga-Swan/dp/1847994156?ie=UTF8&ref_=asap_bc), contrast with our wonderful French experiences, as they unfolded, on this blog. However, the first turning point came 8 years ago when my brother was dying. Despite frantic efforts to reach him in B'ham in time - and nobody but nobody would have our dog urgently (and the kennel woman was in Morocco!) - I was too late to speak to my brother before he died. Then, soon after, my sole remaining sibling (both parents having passed away 50 years ago) also passed away. I'm now older, but wiser. Never say you'll never change your mind. Life, age and politics can change everything. The Brexit button, despite a legal challenge in Oct, is likely to be pressed Jan 17. So, that's my target too. We, and the UK, may well be leaving France behind over the next few months. But, still keeping an open mind. Who knew 49 years ago that our lives would evolve like this. You never know what's around the corner.

17 July 2016

France is in mourning. Over 80 innocent lives lost, over 200 injured. Tourists of all nationalities and locals simply out on Thursday night to enjoy the national day firework celebrations, something that was meant to remind the world of secular France's abiding Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité for all. But now the Promenade des Anglais in Nice is a shrine to their dear memory. Philosopher John Stuart Mill once propounded the need for everyone to pursue their own happiness goals in life but (importantly) only if this does NOT cause suffering to others. There lies the rub.
To cheer everyone up, I turn to the comedy hour that has been UK politics this last week. Him indoors suggested new PM May, along with Chancellor Hammond, only needed Clarkson to bring her into top gear. He also wondered whether the PM’s staff realised what she meant when, against Boris Johnson's name, she wrote 'F. OFF.'......

Wednesday 13th July 2016

Welcome to my occasional series featuring authors who write about international settings. Today it's the turn of Tim Taylor, whose first book illustrated below covered historical Greece.  Just the place for warm summer nights with a glass of cool retsina.  Here's Tim to tell us all about it.
Hello Olga, many thanks for inviting me onto your blog today.

I am at a disadvantage in comparison to some of your other visitors, in that it is a good few years since I last visited Greece. It is nevertheless a country I love, and I retain many vivid and treasured memories of it. Though its landscape and coast are hauntingly beautiful, perhaps the greatest thing about Greece is the fourth dimension provided by layer upon layer of history. That history, together with the legends and mythology which surround it and the cultural and intellectual achievements it spawned, has fascinated me since childhood. I studied ancient Greece at university, so have a good general knowledge of the period, but such is the richness of the history that by looking a little closer one can always find something new in it.
Fascinating. So, what led to your story?
I was reading a book about Sparta, in which I happened upon a section about the Messenians: a people who inhabited the south-western part of the Peloponnese peninsula. In the eighth century BC Messenia was invaded by the neighbouring Spartans and its inhabitants turned into ‘helot’ slaves, a condition in which they remained for centuries to come, except during their occasional revolts. I was already aware of the Messenians, their helot status and brutal subjection inflicted on them by Sparta. However, reading about them afresh, I was particularly struck by the fact that they never lost their sense of nationhood or their desire to reclaim their land, even after many had fled Messenia to settle elsewhere. Everybody knows about the Spartans and their martial prowess; few people know much about those unfortunate neighbours whose enslavement made Sparta’s full-time dedication to the arts of war both possible and necessary. It struck me that the Messenians’ story was crying out to be told. And my next thought, of course, was ‘well, I suppose I had better tell it, then!’
This touches right at the heart of classical story-telling. How did you plan the plot?
I decided to do so through the fictional story of Diocles, a young helot, forced to flee after an encounter with the Krypteia (a Spartan paramilitary force that spies on and murders helots). He encounters Aristomenes, an old rebel who still harbours dreams of revolt, and for want of a better option travels with him towards Delphi to seek advice from the oracle.  At Delphi, Diocles meets (historical) Theban general Epaminondas, who also has no love for Sparta; and travels with him to Thebes to learn the arts of politics and war.  He becomes involved in wider events which will eventually create the conditions for Diocles and Aristomenes to return to Messenia and begin their revolt in earnest.
The story thus takes the reader on a long journey through southern and central Greece. For some parts of that journey I had memories of my own to draw on.  For example, Delphi, in its stunning setting half way up a mountain with views all the way down to the sea, had made a powerful impression on me.  Even here, though, there was a complication: Delphi as it is now is not the same as it was in the fourth century BC. The ancient buildings, such as the temple of Apollo where the oracle gave her prophecies, are just ruins now (those columns you can see in the photo are all that still stands of it).  I needed to reconstruct them in imagination (and of course, to demolish the modern ones!).  There were other places that feature in the story which I had never visited at all, such as Mount Ithome, the ancient sanctuary of the Messenians (and the home of their patron God, Zeus Ithomatas), where the story begins and ends. Unfortunately, my budget didn’t run to a trip to Greece to spy out the locations I was unfamiliar with, much as I would have liked one! So what was I to do?  I found an invaluable resource in Google Earth, which enabled me to place myself in the landscape and follow the paths my characters travelled, seeing the shape of the terrain more or less as they would have seen it. Feedback from readers who have been to these places suggests that it is surprisingly accurate.

This must have taken painstaking research Tim?
No amount of internet trickery can fill out that ‘fourth dimension’, though. I felt it was important both to be true to the historical events I was depicting and to give a vivid and lifelike picture of a time and place; not just the setting, but how people lived and what they believed: for that, there is no substitute for research. It was far from being a chore. Reading about these things rekindled my love affair with Greek civilisation. But in doing so, it has created a desire that no amount of research or novel-writing can completely fulfil. As writing this piece has reminded me, I need to go back! 
I believe your story will whet the appetite of all armchair classicists who dream of ancient Greece, so thank you Tim for your interesting insights. How do we buy your work and find out more?
Zeus of Ithome page:  http://www.tetaylor.co.uk/#!zeus-of-ithome/cb7u
Facebook author page:  https://www.facebook.com/timtaylornovels
Website:  http://www.tetaylor.co.uk/
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/timetaylor1
Blog: https://timwordsblog.wordpress.com/
Can you tell us a bit about your own background?
I was born in 1960 in Stoke-on-Trent. I studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford (and later Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London). After a couple of years playing in a rock band, I joined the Civil Service, eventually leaving in 2011 to spend more time writing.  I now live in Yorkshire with my wife Rosa and divide my time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities. My first novel, Zeus of Ithome, was published by Crooked Cat in November 2013; my second, Revolution Day in June 2015.  I also write poetry and the occasional short story, play guitar, and like to walk up hills.
Thank you Tim for visiting my blog today. Very enjoyable.