Face to Face

The late Doreen Porter had a career in journalism in both the private and public sectors. She edited magazines for the Police, Customs Officers, the Armed Forces and lawyers. And no, she didn’t have a thing about men in uniform — she married an accountant.
 During her career, she was lucky enough to drive tanks, fly in helicopters, travel in warships and visit countries as diverse as Burma (Myanmar), the USA and the Cayman Islands. She moved to France several years ago and has since written a book An A to Z of Life in France (available as an ebook on Amazon).
 Doreen also produced the FiFi newsletter and ran the Creative Writing Group — five members recently had contributions accepted in the Writers Abroad anthology, Foreign Encounters (http://www.lulu.com/shop/writers-abroad/foreign-encounters/paperback/product-20450826.html?showPreview=true). She also helped Rupert, Linda  Hatfield’s dog, write his blog (www.adoginfrance.blogspot.com).
Sadly Doreen died in 2015 after a long battle against cancer - but her contributions to Taglines and her work with Fifi will ensure she is remembered.

Doreen interviews Gareth Brown
Gareth Brown and his wife, Sarah, moved to the Tarn et Garonne at the end of May 2013, and now live in the hamlet of St Martial, in the community of Varen. Its a far cry from his life in the UK where he was the Group Legal Director of a multi-national listed plc. This role involved a significant amount of world-wide travel so, with holidays, Gareth has visited more than 50 countries. Fortunately, I enjoy travelling.
It also enabled him to indulge his hobby of photography,  a pursuit that has increasingly brought him to the notice of his new friends and neighbours.
His interest in photography began when his adoptive dad bought him a Russian camera for his 16th birthday. I didnt use it much at first until I was 17 when, on holiday, my then girlfriend flashed one of her boobs at me while I was pointing the camera at her and that got me hooked.
At university I took pictures for fun and also occasionally for the student newspaper, on one occasion capturing the then authoritarian Chief Constable of Manchester at a students union meeting giving what appeared to be a Nazi salute  good fodder for the student population. When training for my profession, I funded what was then a very expensive hobby by working for a wedding photographer, photographing up to 40 weddings a year in all weathers and seasons.  This was good training in taking a disciplined approach. I also took portraits of people and animals (sometimes it was difficult to see which was which) and managed to buy some professional equipment on the proceeds.  Taking photographs professionally became too much like a real job, so I reverted to taking pictures of friends and, following recommendations, of their friends. My interest has continued for almost 40 years now.
Gareth likes to photograph anything and everything. I like to photograph people, often in context, and some of my better pictures are of people engaged in their work or hobby. I also like messing about with light and different styles in a studio context.  I have taken many pictures overseas on my various travels, which was a good distraction when travelling for work. I enjoy photographing action, particularly motorsport and I do like taking pictures of landscapes .
Retiring to France means he can now devote time to his photographyThe ability to simply get up and go out to take a photograph when the light is right is something that previously I wasnt able to do. The scenery in south-west France and the changes in the scenery and the light gives many opportunities that were not present in south-east England, particularly when working full time. I particularly like the early morning mists in the valleys and the seasonal colours here, particularly at this time of year. I am fortunate enough to now have a fully equipped studio, for indoor pictures, and to use when the weather is bad.
So what are his tips for taking better photos? “Stop believing that the equipment will do it for you. The camera is just a recording tool, good photos are taken in your head. It doesn't matter how much you spend on a camera, if you don’t think about why one picture works and another doesn’t then you won’t improve. Being self-critical is extremely important and it is a good idea to take a lot of photographs of the same subject from different angles and perspectives to get the best image, thinking constantly about how to improve your original idea. There is no reason not to take lots of pictures with digital photography as there is no incremental cost in taking 50 rather than one photo of any subject.
Of course, things don’t always go smoothly. “When I was taking wedding photos, some good friends asked me to photograph their wedding (always a pressured situation). I learned that the groom shared a forename with his future wife — I think it was something he received at  confirmation  they were both from Catholic families. The groom was embarrassed about his decidedly female Christian name and I found this amusing, particularly as their full names would be read out at the wedding. I planned to capture his embarrassment at the wedding and had my camera set up in an appropriate position on a tripod ready to catch the moment when the priest asked them both to take their vows. This was going to be a great shot.

At the critical time, the priest (a relative), read out the grooms name but didnt use the embarrassing Christian name. Bride, groom and priest looked over to me at the critical moment, the priest winked and they carried on. The rest of the wedding guests were unaware of my plan, or that it had been foiled. I didnt get the picture I wanted, but I did get a good picture of all three of them looking at me knowingly.

The Browns moved to France because they enjoy the way of life here. “I enjoy the scenery, lifestyle and lack of congestion, together with the challenge of moving to a different country and understanding how it works. While part of me thinks that our French cousins should be given a good shake to make them more commercial, that would actually interfere with the way they live. Their set routines and unwillingness to change them is both a good thing and a bad thing but it is part of the reason we moved. The empty roads are great, the landscape is fantastic, most of the villages are pretty, food is good, wine is excellent. What more do you want? The administration is appalling, but most French people think that too.

Gareth particularly admires the work of several political 60s photographers. I likeTim Page and Phillip Jones Griffiths for their books Nam and Vietnam respectively, Cartier-Bresson foreverything, Robert Capa (my 1st half 20th century hero) , George Rodger for Humanity and Inhumanity, and most of the Magnum photographers past and present.
Gareth is available for commissions: gareth.brown21@gmail.com

Click on the pictures to enlarge
Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City 2011
Kerala, India 2010

NE Iceland 2011

Fernando Alonso at Monaco GP 2014.

Doreen interviews Denise Copley 
Cancer Support France is there to support English-speaking people living in France who are affected by cancer. And now there is a branch in the Tarn

 Linda Shepherd and her husband, Andy, set up Cancer Support France (CSF) in 2002 in the Charente departement following Linda's experiences of being treated for cancer in France. She was fully supported in this venture by her doctors. They encouraged her to create the first CSF association — CSPC (Cancer Support Poitou Charente).

Over time, others were motivated to extend CSF to other departements, as a result of which CSPC became both a national and a local organisation. By 2009, when Jeff and Hazel Turner created CSF Sud, there were 13 CSF branches across France.

In January 2014, with the support of an enthusiastic group of volunteers, Denise Copley helped set up CSF Tarn (81). “All our volunteers must undergotraining, and the first training session took place in January this year; we now have trained members ready to support clients in and around the Tarn,” said Denise.

Denise’s involvement is very personal. “My husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2009. He died, at home, in March 2010.The palliative care he received from the French system, and the emotional support I was given were second to none; it was truly amazing. So l looked for a way to repay, in some small part, the debt of gratitude I felt for all the care we were given. I found the CSF ad in the Connexion newspaper, rang their number and, as they say, the rest is history.

Denise herself comes from a nursing background. She worked in the NHS,first as a general nurse, then as a midwife, finally moving into midwifery teaching. “I enjoyed every moment of my career.

CSF offers a telephone listening service, and volunteers may also accompany clients to hospital appointments, or on visits to other support agencies. We are very fortunate in having a professional translator among our volunteers,” explained Denise, so we can translate official documents, for example. We have a comprehensive list of support agenciesto which we can refer clientsto find further support.

CSF is described as being for English speakers only, but of course there are other nationalities, resident in France, who also speak English, for examplethe Dutch and Belgians. “As long as they can speak and understand English,we are happy to support them. We have good relations with French cancer support groups and can refer non-English speakers to them to find help,” explained Denise.

I have accompanied clients to hospital, helped translate a consultant’s findings for partially deaf client, and liaised with the French system, enabling a carer to get financial support,” she added. “I’ve also spoken to GPs on a patients behalf and supported the family following bereavement… sometimes it’s just listening.”

The most common question asked is: “How do I find help, here in France?”

“We need to raise awareness of CSF,” said Denise. “Tell your friends, of all nationalities, about us. CSF nationally would like it if every GPnurse, clinicand hospital is aware of our existence and can refer patients to us quickly and easily... and we are all working to that end!

CSF groups raise money from donations and events such as book sales, BBQs and other functions, as well as the sale of some branded goods which are available on the CSF National website.

We are not primarily a fundraising association... it costs nothing to listen. Weare a service organisation and are here to help people cope with thedevastating effects of cancer. In a family, a diagnosis of cancer is like dropping a pebble in a pool, the ripples are far reaching and affect everyone in that family. Sometimes just talking through one’s hopes, fears and problems to an anonymous, totally confidential voice at the end of a telephone, helps one to find the strength to cope.”

There is a HELPLINE: 05 45 89 30 05 and an email address:  cancersupportfrance@orange.fr. CSF National produces a quarterly magazine TOUCHLINES, which is available through the website, and there is a CSF Forum online: http://cancersupportfrance.org/

 Val says  a very interesting and useful " Face to face" thanks to Doreen for asking the questions and thanks to Denise for answering them so well

Laure Rose resident of St. Antonin Noble Val

Hi Val,
Who am I? Oh well, you've asked for it.
I am French, was born in the South-East about 50 years ago and was brought up in French speaking West Africa.
I was then educated in France and I studied English, which was absolutely no help when I went to Scotland as a French assistante.
Nothing I learnt from Shakespeare, Marlowe or Dickens was any help when it came to asking for a ticket to Kyle of Lochalsh or understanding the kids in Falkirk ("Miss, I dunna ken").
I fell in love with Scotland, decided to stay and studied Marketing in Glasgow (for some reason). 
My mother had told me, "never marry an Englishman" from a very young age, so of course I married a Mr Rose (descendant of the Scottish Clan Napier) and we left for Est Africa, my two children were born on a tea estate in Malawi. Having witnessed my second African revolution and getting tired of it, we came back to Paris.
I've had several jobs, trainer for adults for English and French as foreign languages, energy healer and therapist, responsable associatif, interpreter /translator...
I'm a huge fan of chocolate Hob Nobs, Faulty Towers and BBC period dramas. I make jewellery in my spare time and can cook a good curry.
To cut a long story short, I now live in St Antonin with my French companion, Olivier, and I make a living as a translator, specialised in subtitling among other fields of expertise (I have an MA from London University).
We are renovating a "maison d'hôte" behind the church in Ste Sabine with a view on the vallée de l'Aveyron and we will shortly start to take in people and small groups (we can accomodate 10 people max) for activities linked to alternative healing, nature, well-being, creativity... (or just family gatherings).
Re politics and this whole thing about getting the British involved: Thierry Leroy (head of our electoral list in St Antonin) is a neighbour and he asked me to join his list because he found that being a independant worker working from home and a "porteur de projet", I represented the sort of people that are needed to revitalize this region.
When we met, I told him: "We have to speak to the British, you know, they are very collective minded, I'm sure they would love to mix more and would bring a lot to the community" and that's how the whole thing started, really, very simply.
We had intented to liaise with all foreign communities but of course it all seems more difficult now, we'll see what happens in the near future.
I hope this will satisfy your curiosity. Please feel free to contact me: laurerose@sfr.fr

Laure Rose
Val says very interesting Laure. I do hope the new Maire and his team have the sense to use your strengths to help liaisons within the different community groups.  I will file this letter in "Face to Face" if Doreen agrees.
Comments to taglines82@gmail.com

Face to Face  
 Doreen Porter talks to Godefroy  Maruejouls,   guitar maker

1 How did you start your career ?/Where did you learn you trade ?
I started my career as a professional guitar maker in 2001 when I started working for Dave King making acoustic guitars, after doing a four-year course in guitar making at London Guildhall University. Whilst I was studying I also worked part time at Hanks Guitar Shop in London’s well-known Denmark Street. Later I worked for Bernie Gooodfellow in Brighton making electric basses before setting up my own workshop in Limehouse, East London in 2005.

What do you enjoy the most?
I generally really enjoy all parts of my job but if I were to think of an aspect of it that makes me feel really happy about what I do, I’d say it’s when I spray the first coat of lacquer on a guitar. That’s when the beauty of the wood really comes out and the splendour of the guitar is revealed. The spraying of that first coat that gives the ‘wet look’ to the wood is to me nearly magical.

And the least?
The paper work…basically anything that takes me away from the bench, the guitars and the passionate people I meet doing my work.

What has been the highlight to date?
When a shop in the USA started to order my guitars out of the blue. I had a phone call one day from someone with a strong American accent asking how he could buy my guitars, and I’ve been trading with them regularly ever since. This is when I first realised I must be doing something right.

Do you have typical customer?
I would say my customer type goes from the professional guitarist to the keen enthusiast that just loves guitars and everything to do with them.

How much do your instruments cost?
The acoustic guitars start at around 3000 euros and the electric ones at 2200 euros.

How long does it take to make one?
It takes 70 hours to make the first price acoustic and around 20 hours for an electric. But the raw materials and parts for an electric guitar cost more than they do for an acoustic.

How long do you have lived in Parisot?
Me and my partner Sandra have lived in Parisot since June 2013.

What do you do for leisure?
Maybe not surprisingly, but mostly playing guitar. I also like going out around the countryside on my mountain bike when the weather’s good. I enjoy time with friends too, and if that includes playing some music, even better.

 Tel. 06 52 46 92 90
Email: contact@mjsguitars.net

Val says  Thanks  to Doreen for this insight into Godefroy and his guitars, we have many talented people in our area.
Comments to taglines82@gmail.com

Meet our new neighbours in Tarn and Garonne
Andrew, Becky, Reuben and Jacob

The Brown family are among our newest neighbours having moved to Parisot at the end of July this year. With two young boys, Reuben, four and Jacob, one, it was quite an undertaking for Andrew and Becky to relocate to another country and build a new life. The obvious first question is “why?”.

“One of the main reasons for the move was so that we could spend more time together as a family,” explained Andrew.  “We were always so busy in London and it was not always easy for all of us to spend real quality time together. Living here means we can do some very simple but very important things like eat our meals together as a family.

“Reuben was also due to start school in September and we weren’t sure about the choices we had in London. We liked the idea of him being in a smaller school and for both our boys to have the opportunity of growing up bilingual. “

Parisot is not a complete unknown to the Browns. “This has always been our home away from home.,Becky’s parents bought this house when Becky was seven and she has been coming here on holiday almost every year since. When we got together 11 years ago I started coming too. Similarly our boys have been here every summer since they were born. “

However Becky’s mum is a headteacher and comes out most school holidays with her dad. Her mum is retiring in December so will be spending a lot more time here from January.

In the UK Becky taught baby sign language classes for babies aged 0-2, alongside looking after her own boys. “The classes were fun and stimulating for the babies and used popular nursery rhymes and props to aid teaching the signs. I will be doing a similar baby class here but without the sign language incorporated,” she said. Becky has set up Mini Monde with the aim of providing services for children and families living in or travelling to the region. “We have Mini Hire, a baby equipment rental service with items to hire such as car seats, prams, travel cots, toys and more,” said Becky. “This is aimed mainly at holiday makers coming to the area and people living in the area who have little ones coming to stay.

“Mini Musique is an English language music class for babies and pre-school children aged 0-3, with nursery rhymes, instruments and props. We hope to have this up and running by the end of this term once we have secured a venue, along with Mini Play, a playgroup for all with pre-school children, with toys and refreshments provided by us.b We have lots of future plans for Mini Monde and we would like to provide more services such as children’s workshops in the school holidays.”

Andrew was a qualified social worker back in the UK and for the past seven years he worked as a school social worker in a primary school covering child protection, special educational needs and early intervention social work with children and families.’I would like to continue in that line of work here in the future but need to learn French first!” In the meantime, he has launched Media Man 82, offering a range of services from website design, build and management to computer repairs and maintenance. He will set up, repair or upgrade pretty much any multimedia device. This includes computers, internet, phones, TVs and audio equipment. He is also offering tutorials. All with the motto “If I can’t fix it, you don’t pay!” (http://www.mediaman82.com).

You often hear complaints about French bureaucracy. What was the Browns’ experience of setting up their businesses?
“For Media Man it was quite straightforward,” explained Andrew. “We took a trip to Montauban to fill out the paperwork for the auto-entrepreneur system and the siret number arrived within a week.

“For Mini Monde it has taken a bit longer. We took the same trip to Montauban but it has taken longer for the siret number to arrive. We have also had to go and see the mayor of Parisot as what we want to do involves finding a space in Parisot to run classes from. We’re hoping that he will be able to find us somewhere by the end of September.”

It’s still early days for the Browns, but so far they have no regrets. “We are still quite new to all of this and just settling in to living in France,” said Andrew. “One thing that is very encouraging though is the fact that everyone we have met and spoken to in the short space of time we have been here has been so helpful and really open with us. This has been very reassuring so if anyone else out there is worried about being isolated or not knowing anyone, there is always someone willing to help, including us. We would just like to say thank you to everyone we’ve met so far for the support you have given us in such a small space of time.”

Becky added: “We really enjoy the time we get to spend together as a family. We spend more time outdoors and the boys get to spend more time with their dad. We also love going to the markets, the scenery and meeting so many like-minded people. Reuben is really enjoying school and loves the three-course school lunches!”

Anything they don’t like? “Mosquitos!” shouted Andrew and Becky together.

Becky is writing a blog about the family’s life in France: www.lafambrown.blogspot.fr

Food for thought

Emma Hilditch is a self-confessed foodie. “There was always someone cooking in my family when I was younger, my Dad was one of those 70s bake your own bread types and my sisters and I were known at school as the garlic sisters because we were the only ones who ever had it in our dinner.” Those of us who attended the FiFi What’s Cooking session on bread making given by Emma’s father (who, incidentally, during his food-orientated career, was the brains behind Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire puddings) can confirm that the Hilditches are a truly talented family.
Emma lives in Septfonds and has recently launched Fresh Start Cooking —cooking courses for people who want to kick their ready meal and fast food habits and become skilled at cooking with fresh ingredient. “I was struck by how many of my friends, who you could say had good jobs and sophisticated tastes, were reluctant to cook fresh ingredients and instead often bought ready meals or cooked very basic dishes such as pasta and shop-bought pesto instead,” said Emma. During Fresh Start Cooking’s four-day courses, Emma teaches people how to pick the best ingredients, plan a menu and then prepare and cook fresh food, with all ingredients sourced locally.
The four-day courses, held at her home, are now complemented by one-day sessions, aimed primarily at local people.
Emma doesn’t pretend to cater for anyone with ambitions to become cordon bleu chefs, more to get students to relish using fresh ingredients to cook meals from scratch. “It struck me that there was a need for a different kind of cooking course because so many people say they want to cook but were never been taught how to prepare meat, fruit or vegetables by their parents. Thier lifestyles also made it hard now to set aside the time to learn,” said Emma. Her motto is, keep it simple.
She confesses that she learnt this from experience. “I had a phase in the 80s where I really went for it and cooked dinner parties with course upon course of wonderful dishes such as braised pigeon breast with a caramelised pear and risotto cake with a chilli sorbet palate cleanser etc etc. It took me all day and I enjoyed it, but actually it began to dawn on me that my friends were really coming round to see me and have a good laugh. So I started paring it down bit by bit until the suppers were as simple as possible. No-one even noticed and I still got exactly the same praise for beef and carrot stew as I had for any of the fancier food.”
Living in France, Emma is in foodie heaven. “I can indulge myself talking endlessly over dinner, at the market or on a picnic, about where to get the best goat’s cheese, whose baguette is crunchiest and what’s the best way to roast a goose.”

Emma spent the last two ski seasons in the Alps working as a chef for a premium chalet company.  “It was great fun, a fab experience and a chance to really get stuck into the cooking. So now I also have a ton of brilliant chalet girl secrets to share with anyone who comes on my courses.”
For more information on Emma’s cooking courses, go to emma@freshstartcooking.com or 0870 950 331.
In an exciting new venture, Emma, together with Glynis Howgego, is opening a pop-up curry restaurant in her beautiful garden on three consecutive Mondays in August — the 5th, 12th and 19th. “We’re offering a three-course classic curry cooked using local ingredients, Indian spices and authentic recipes. Wine, coffee and Lassi are included, for 29€ per person.”
The meals are by reservation only. Telephone: 06 13 81 15 72 or
06 06 46 50 38.

Vanessa Couchman

If you’re a regular reader of magazines such as Living France or French Property News, her name will be familiar to you. Vanessa Couchman regularly has articles published in these and many other magazines.

Vanessa has lived near Parisot for 16 years. So what prompted the move to France? “My Swedish husband worked in Limoges for several years before moving to the UK. He always enjoyed la vie française and we holidayed in France, intending to retire here later. However, the opportunity to move arose earlier. My husband worked for himself and could do it from anywhere with reasonable airport access. I decided to leave a stressful job and go freelance too, so we took a leap in the dark. Anywhere south of the Dordogne would have suited us, but we fell in love with the house we now live in.”

Vanessa runs her own business as a copywriter and corporate writer. She also writes articles for magazines which reflect her life as an ex-pat. “Sixteen years gives you a certain perspective on life in France. So I write about issues on which I should have done more research before moving, for example, opening a French bank account, becoming part of the local community and aspects of owning a French property.

“I also write travel features. My piece about a trip down the River Aveyron was published in the July issue of FRANCE Magazine.

While she has no regrets about moving to France, Vanessa admits that, in hindsight “moving here in the way we did was pure folly.” She explained, “We didn’t do anything like as much research about it beforehand as we should have done. So we were very lucky that it worked out well for us and we were both able to get work.

“This is not exactly a regret but we had no idea how much we would spend on heating in the winter! No one tells you that before you move here. We also seem to be the only people on the planet who will never get access to broadband and have to have an unreliable satellite connection instead. This wasn’t an issue when we first moved here, of course!”

Vanessa has always enthusiastically embraced local life. She works in Parisot library one morning a week in winter and is a member of the acclaimed Parisot choir. She and her husband are also helping to restore a local chapel, la chapelle de Teysseroles, a 15th-century historic monument. “We have just held our annual fundraising fête to which about 280 people came this year, despite the weather.”

She is currently helping librarian Gina Connolly organise the first ever Parisot Literary Festival from Friday 11, October to Sunday, 13 October. Here’s she gives us a sneak preview. “We have lined up 10 authors (French and English) to give author talks and readings plus a meet-the-author dinner. On the French side, for example, Daniel Crozes is a very well-known Aveyronnais author, whose books are set in the region.

“On the English side, we have Amanda Hodgkinson (22 Britannia Road), Martin Walker (Bruno Chief of Police series set in the Dordogne) and Victoria Corby (romantic/humorous novels, including Something Stupid and Seven Week Itch). Anne Dyson, who runs the Greedy Goose cookery school, will give a cookery demonstration.

“We’re delighted that we have attracted such high-quality authors. This promises to be an exciting event, which we plan to hold every year.”

A full programme will be published shortly.

Vanessa is a fellow member of Writers Abroad, an online writing group for ex-pats writers, founded in 2009 by Jo Lamb, who lives in Italy. Membership is kept to a maximum of 20 so that people can contribute and receive comments on their writing in a supportive and constructive environment. “We have poets, novelists, short-story writers and non-fiction writers (some members do all four!). All our meetings and contact are conducted virtually,” explained Vanessa.

“We have published an anthology every year since 2010. Our fourth, which we will publish in autumn 2013, is provisionally entitled Far-Flung and Foreign: People and Places. It will include short stories, non-fiction pieces and poetry on the theme of foreign places. We are seeking contributions from anyone who is, or has been, an ex-pat — the deadline is 31 July. All proceeds will go to a book-related charity.” www.writersabroad.com

When she has time, Vanessa writes short stories and has also written her first novel. “It’s based in Corsica and I wrote it last November during National Novel Writing Month [a world-wide initiative where writers are challenged to complete a novel in just a month]. I’m already planning my second novel, but I really have to finish editing the first.”

So what is her favourite part of France? “That’s difficult — there are so many. Locally, I have a great fondness for Villefranche-de-Rouergue. I enjoy just walking around the narrow streets and imagining how it was in medieval times.

“We love Corsica and are planning a fifth visit this year. We always go back to Corte, in the central mountains, which has a faded grandeur about it and, for me, sums up a lot about the island’s turbulent history.”

You can follow Vanessa’s take on the pleasures and frustrations of life in France through her blog, Life on La Lune: http://vanessafrance.wordpress.com

Interview with Maree Giles

It’s quite an accolade to get 5 star reviews on Amazon, but Maree Giles achieved it with her novels Invisible Thread and Under the Green Moon. One reviewer described Invisible Thread as an intense and powerfully moving novel”. Australian-born Maree has more than 30 years’ experience working with words and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Injustice, family relationships and parenting, friendship, politics, the arts, people and places, all motivate her to write and to teach others about the craft and joys of writing. Her three novels —the third is The Past is a Secret Country — are published by Virago Press, London. Having moved to the UK in 1980, Maree recently changed country again to become our neighbour in the Tarn.
So why the move to France? “Like most people who come here, we wanted space, sunshine and to embrace the French way of life, including the language, although that’s a life-long learning experience. It cannot be learned overnight, as we all know!” Maree’s husband still commutes regularly to the UK, so the couple, who have two grown-up children, wanted to be within easy reach of Toulouse airport. “Initially we looked at the other side of Toulouse, in Gascony,” explained Maree. “Although it’s beautiful, it didn’t really ‘grab’ us. When we came to this area in the middle of winter, it was covered in heavy snow. Not exactly ideal property-viewing conditions — the roads were treacherous! But the dramatic scenery won us over, and we knew immediately we would love living here.”

The move has more than lived up to expectations. “We are blown away by the beauty of the area and the friendly people. Every day is an adventure.” Like so many of us, Maree believes the splendour of her new surroundings will be an aid to creativity. “I can think more clearly here because it’s so peaceful. The pace of life in London makes it difficult to concentrate. There are so many interruptions. The scenery here is also inspiring — being surrounded by nature takes my thinking to a deeper level. It’s a great leveller. Whereas life in London was dominated by artificial entertainment — shopping, the theatre, museums, cinema, galleries — here in rural France I rely on my natural surroundings for inspiration. I am also inspired by the people I meet wherever I am. The experiences that we share as humans, is fascinating to me. We all have the same emotions, the same fears and desires, no matter where we are from.”

Maree has always taken inspiration from all life has to offer. “I am inspired by great writing, great authors, poetry, music, art, nature, people, travel. I admire people who never give up on life. People who embrace all that it has to offer. I admire those who find life difficult and yet still battle on and make the most of their situation.”

Whatever our own metier, whether it’s writing, painting, music or sculpture,
it’s not easy to take the first step to success. So how did Maree achieve it? “I won the SHE/Arvon/Little,Brown Shjort Story Competition for my short story, Trouble. The prize included a celebration lunch in London with representatives from SHE Magazine, Arvon and the publishers Little,Brown. I met the editor who was to become my publisher at Little,Brown,  and she asked me to submit a novel, if I had one ready. I didn’t! So when I got home I began to write Invisible Thread, and a few years later she published it under the Virago imprint.” Published in 2001, it’s now not easy to get a copy of Invisible Thread, but Maree has some available — contact her if you would like to order a copy. (mareemichelgiles@hotmail.co.uk)

Maree plans to share her expertise and love of writing by running courses. “They will run for six weeks, once a week, all day. I’ve been planning to run courses in France for as long as I’ve wanted to live here, but I did think they would be residential. There are quite a few of those in France already, but they are no good to local residents.  My goal is to provide non-residential courses for local writers. The first will be Life Writing. So many people have a story to tell, but how do you tell it without it sounding like a personal diary? Many of the technical skills required in fiction writing apply to autobiography. But there are some special tricks to make your life story readable and ‘objective’.”

The courses will be advertised on TAG, but in the meantime Maree shares some tips here. “Study your craft. Don’t assume you can just sit down and produce a work of art. It takes time, dedication, blood, sweat, and tears, and a huge amount of self-discipline. Writing is all about re-writing. The first draft is never what you expect it to be. Editing, re-writing, these are the keys to good writing. Attention to detail. It’s like painting a complex picture. You have to build up the layers. Dialogue, characterisation, pace, careful word choice, detail, accurate description — all this and more. You have to be aware of things that can drain your prose of life, such as adverbs, speech tags, clichés, word repetition, sloppy punctuation. Above all you need enormous patience, because writing a novel takes a long time. It might seem like a glamorous profession but it’s not. The rewards, when they come, are hard won.”

We all have different aspirations when it comes to writing and Maree is emphatic that all genres are to be respected. “I know how much hard work writers put into their craft. For example, I wouldn’t decry Mills & Boon novels — and I feel frustrated when I hear people belittling that sort of book. It’s pure snobbery really. There will always be a demand for all sorts of books, because people have different tastes in reading. We should respect that and not judge it. I cut my teeth with Mills & Boon — I wrote three novels for them, none were published, but I learnt a lot about the craft of novel writing through that process. I’m not ashamed to admit it, in fact I’m proud of it, because it taught me so much. I have enormous respect for successful Mills & Boon authors because I know how hard it is to write one!  Books are for pleasure, as well as for learning, and if someone gets pleasure from literary fiction or comic books, thrillers or racy bodice-rippers, the author has done his/her job well.” And her own favourite author? “The Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova.”

Maree is working on a new project —a romantic adventure series set in the outback of Australia. “It’s quite a change from my previous books and extremely challenging. I am also working on another novel set in Kolkata, India, which is more serious.”

To her delight, she has now been joined in France by her 91-year-old mother Gloria. When not writing Maree enjoys travel, reading, poetry, gardening, photography, cooking, music, art, walking, swimming and learning French! It’s amazing she has the time — she has just signed a film contract with Australian production company Aquarius Films to adapt Invisible Thread for the screen. We’re going to hear a lot more about Maree Giles in the future.

To find out more, go to: www.mareegiles.com

 - See more at: http://www.mareegiles.com/about#sthash.k1tLSykW.dpuf


Lonely, lost — but loved

Doreen Porter talks to Lynn Stone, founder of Chats du Quercy

It’s a Lonely Hearts Club like no other. Its feline members include Norman, Orion and Misty. “Sometimes, we have cats that get overlooked,” explained Lynn. “They remain at the Rescue Centre week after week, patiently waiting for their chance with a new family and a new life. To qualify for the Lonely Hearts Club, the cat must be at the Rescue Centre for two months or longer.” 

The average length of stay at Chats du Quercy is around 39 days and all cats are neutered, inoculated and microchipped before they go to a new home.

Lonely Hearts members are all very different. They may perhaps be shy in the Rescue Centre, but will be carefree and friendly in a new home. Or they might be adult cats, when everybody’s searching for kittens. And sometimes they have unique personality quirks that require a special family that is understanding and accepting of them and their idiosyncracies. Val Johnstone of TAG Online is making it one of her missions to find homes for cats like 15-year-old Norman*, describing him as
“an old, blokey cat, nothing special to look at, well in fact downright disreputable, the look we all get as we get older.”  Norman was found wandering the street after his owner died. Having served his purpose as a companion, he was shut out of his own home. He deserves to spend his last years with a kind, loving family.

Lynn, who has lived in France with her husband and family for 13 years, initially worked with a local cat charity. In 2010 that charity decided to concentrate on feral cats, but Lynn knew there was still a need to help abandoned domestic cats, so Chats du Quercy  — a French registered charity — was born. Situated in Miramont du Quercy in the north of the Tarn et Garonne, on average, it rehomes four cats every week. Lynn has an excellent support network of volunteers, vets and other helpers. “Thanks to them, 202 cats and kittens were directly helped by Chats du Quercy in 2012,” said Lynn. “We also helped a further 721 elsewhere, making a total of 923 cats helped overall.”

Before Chats du Quercy could open its doors, Lynn had to raise 6,000€. Current running costs are 3,800€ per month— that’s around 230€ for each cat. The monthly bill for cat litter alone is €320. Chats du Quercy can take a maximum of 60 cats at any time, but tries to keep the number to below 40. Lynn also has 15 foster homes where cats can go for a short time. She can also call on around 43 volunteers — 20 volunteers come to the centre every day to help with cleaning and cuddling. “It’s essential to keep human contact with the cats,” said Lynn, whose own background is more management than moggies. “Our volunteers cuddle them, but it’s second best to having their own family.”

All the cats at Chats du Quercy have either been abandoned or brought there because their owners can no longer keep them for one reason or another. Lynn works closely with the local Police, Mairie and Social Services. She also has links with Cats Protection in the UK. Sadly, some cats are abandoned outside the centre, where they run the risk of being run over. There is advice on the Chats du Quercy website on what to do if you can no longer keep your cat.

Some of the stories of the rescued cats are harrowing. In one case, a family moved away, threw out Curly, their four-year-old cat and boarded up the cat flap. “The cat just sat on the doorstep for a month waiting for them to come back, but they didn’t. The neighbours fed her — it’s often the neighbours who pick up the pieces,” said Lynn, adding, “cats can be incredibly loyal animals.”
Then there’s little Tilly, who was found in a forest attached to a tree by a rope, her neck rubbed raw. Mickey is a 10-year-old cat threatened with being put to sleep after his carer went into a retirement home. Orion is inseparable from Misty — both came from a lady who has terminal cancer.

How do they get their names? “Sometimes we call them after the person who saves them. For example, we have a gorgeous black and white cat called Prissie, after the lady, Priscilla, who saved her. At the time we already had a Cilla so had to think of something else! We also take current themes, Bilbo, Mungo and Bombur are our Hobbit cats — after the recent film, and we also have Pansy, Cosmos and Petunia our “Black flower cats”!  These themes are good for advertising and grab people's attention —a little bit of good marketing never hurts!  Of course, if a cat comes from an owner, they most likely already have a name.”

It costs 125€ to adopt a cat. Lynn explained: “The fees you pay to adopt are used in part to offset costs of caring, as well as the cost of vaccination, sterilisation and identification. Perhaps most importantly, adoption fees serve as a screening measure, designed to weed out would-be cat owners who are unwilling or unable to spend money on their pets. Someone who can’t pay our cat adoption fees is also unlikely to be able to pay for routine veterinary care or even food.”

The website also gives advice on what to do if you find a cat. Although Lynn works mainly with domestic cats, she cares for the welfare of feral cats too. She advises not to feed feral cats unless you take measures to have them neutered, as feeding can increase the number of kittens born. “Life is miserable for a feral cat,” she said. “Its average lifespan is just three to five years whereas a domestic cat lives to more than 15.”

There are lots of ways you can help Chats du Quercy. You can become a member for 10€ a year, sponsor a cat enclosure for 48€ a year or even volunteer. They are also always looking for towels and bedding for the cats. Chats du Quercy welcomes visitors and there is a small gift shop there too. Contact Lynn for more information on 05 63 94 73 97, email: chatsduquercy@gmail.com. The website is: www.chatsduquercy.fr.

* Since writing this article, Norman has been adopted.

Jan Bentley, carer

The slogan on the mug my coffee came in said it all. “One cat leads to another”. Not content with having 18 cats — 10 of which live in the house, the others don’t want to and stay outside — Jan Bentley is now fostering cats for Chats du Quercy. The charity supplied the cages and Jan looks after the cats for a few days at her home near Septfonds — slightly longer if they are kittens.

“If a cat has been trapped in the local area, it’s taken to the vet and tested for FIV and FeLV (two very contagious cat viruses that kill,)” explained Jan. If that’s negative, it will be sterilised and vaccinated. I look after them while the vaccine takes effect and then they go to the Chats du Quercy for adoption. I’m a staging post on their way to a new life and a forever home.”

Jan can take two adult foster cats at a time and has just welcomed her first adult. “He was living on the streets in Caussade and is used to people so is not wild. He’s probably about a year old.”

In her first role as a foster mum, Jan looked after a litter of kittens, helping them adjust to being with humans. “I cried when they went to Chats du Quercy and again when I saw on the website that they’d been adopted as I knew they’d gone to a good home. You do get fond of them but I’m helping to give them the chance of a new life in a home where they are loved and cared for.”

As I dislodged Ciel from my notebook, elderly Barney arrived to take a look. “She came from Battersea Dogs Home and we brought her with us to France. They told us she was a boy!”

Jan admits it’s difficult looking after so many cats and she and her partner Martyn Cox (of the Charlotte Gray talk fame) find it difficult to go away together for long periods, She mused, “I didn’t set out to come to France to become an eccentric English cat lady. Most of them just turned up…”

Occitan is alive and well in the region
 Doreen Porter talks to Muriel Vernieres about the current revival of the Occitan language. Happily, the interview was conducted in a mixture of French and English.

Occitan is a Romance language spoken mainly in southern France — including the area where we live — and also in parts of Italy and Spain. There are some 1.5 million people who speak Occitan in their daily lives, while 5 or 6 million people have some knowledge the spoken language. It’s not unusual to meet some older folk who spoke Occitan at home and didn’t learn French until they went to school.
To make things even more complicated, there are six dialects of Occitan: Provençal, Gascon, Languedoc, Limousin, Alpine and Auvergne.  (We’re roughly the Languedoc version.)
Nowadays, the majority of speakers are elderly, but the language is undergoing something of a revival, with more interest being shown in it — many towns and villages have their names displayed in both French and Occitan.
Occitan first began to appear in writing during the 10th century and was used particularly to write the poetry of the troubadours. The troubadours performed their poetry of love, satire and war in the courts of kings and nobles all over France, Spain and other countries in Europe.

At first sight, it appears quite a difficult language and it can take time just to learn the pronunciation. Books in Occitan seem to put a heavy emphasis on giants, myths and ogres and there is a lot of importance placed on singing.

One person who is proactive supporter of Occitan is Muriel Vernieres. She gives weekly lessons to students of all levels in St Antonin and plays a major role in the week-long Occitan University held every July in Laguepie. Muriel also sings Occitan songs in a trio with her two sisters, performing regularly at concerts in the area. Somewhat confusingly, the Group is called Nòu Sòrres Triò, which means “the nine sisters’ trio”. Muriel explained that Nine Sisters is the title of a song, sung by the group and they decided to use it as their name.

As a child living locally, Muriel heard Occitan spoken every day within her family. “My grandmother, aunts, uncles and my father spoke it at home, but people believed that to get on at school children had to speak French. Occitan was all around me and I thought it was a magical language, but I grew up speaking French.”

The magic continued with the young Muriel hearing stories of myths and legends from her great-grandfather. “As I child, I didn’t know whether he was 100 years old or even 200!” she laughed. “My grandmother would tell me that the sea began behind the Roc D’Anglars and I would look for seashells in the garden.”

Muriel’s parents were teachers who passed their fascination with language on to her and she began to study Occitan. She is pleased that today more young people are drawn to the language and some départements, notably the Tarn, do a lot to promote it. It is also increasingly taught more in schools. Her own daughter works with the language. Her son’s father, however, is Breton so there is a slight linguistic conflict within the family. Muriel maintains that Occitan is easier to learn than French.

A survey last year on the use and perception of Occitan in the Midi Pyrénées found that 87.7 per cent of Tarn residents thought it important to preserve the language and that it has an important place in the everyday life of the region. Also, 73.1 per cent thought that pupils who wanted to should be able to learn Occitan at school or college. Respondents also felt that the visible presence of Occitan could aid tourism. Sentiments Muriel wholeheartedly supports.

Adieussiatz! That’s the Occitan for ‘hello’ and, confusingly, ‘goodbye’.

Anyone interested in learning Occitan should contact Muriel on m.vernieres@free.fr.

To learn more about the language, you can also visit the Ostal Joan Bodon at Crespin in the Aveyron (http://www.ostal-bodon.com/fr/maison/historique.html). Bodon (1920-1975) was an important Occitan author and his old house has been turned into a museum.

An Occitan tale:

A sharecropper had a cow that gave birth to five calves. He went to see his master to tell him what had happened.
            He found the master at table with his family having some soup. No one thought of inviting him to have soup with them; they just told him to sit down.
When he told them that the cow had given birth to five calves, everybody was astonished.
            “Jesus!” said the master. “Who knows whether all these calves will be able to survive?”
            “Oh, they’re all in blooming health.”
            “That may be so. Four calves can feed well because the cow has four teats, but what will the other calf do?”
            “Oh” said the cowhand. “What do you expect? It’ll do the same as me. It’ll watch.”

Occitan cuisine features a lot of soup. Here’s a recipe:


1 head of garlic
3 soup spoons of olive oil
75cl warm chicken stock
2 eggs
1 soup spoon of cider vinegar
salt and pepper

Method: Peel the garlic and cut into fine pieces. Sweat it for 2 minutes with the olive oil in a covered pan. Add the chicken stock, season and cook for 5 minutes. Then sieve it. Meanwhile, in a bowl beat the eggs and add the vinegar and pepper.
Add the egg mixture to the soup beating continuously to avoid scrambling the eggs.
Serve with the croutons.

Muriel Vernieres

Doreen and Jan  go ''Face to Face''

Helping donkeys in distress

If you love animals, you’ll love Liberté des Anes, a donkey sanctuary near Montaigu de Quercy in the north of the Tarn et Garonne

The instructions told us “continue on through the woods and you think, do they really live here? And at the end of that track is our house!” Very true. Finding the Liberté des Anes donkey sanctuary is a bit of an adventure in itself, but it’s worth it.

Jan Lemmy had worked in the renowned Donkey sanctuary near Sidmouth in Devon for 20 years. It was natural, therefore, for her to want to continue this useful work in France. In 2009 she and her partner Gerrit Hemeltjen set up Liberté des Anes to give a home to donkeys who needed one.

Liberté des Anes is a registered charity. It takes in mainly donkeys, but occasionally horses, mules and ponies, who have been ill-treated or who have been sent to the abbatoir to be killed for meat.  if they are injured or do not have the relevant papers then the butchers often get in touch to see if they can offload that particular animal as a donkey with an injury —  in their system it would not pass the high levels set for meat at the abbatoir !

The animals then receive whatever treatment is necessary to restore them to the best possible health. They spend their days grazing in open fields and are given all the love and affection they may have lacked in the past.

“Finding donkeys to live in the sanctuary isn’t difficult,” said Jan. “We save some from the butcher’s yard or the horse market, which sends horses and donkeys to Italy for meat. Others come from homes where they were neglected and left to run wild with no handling. When this happens, the donkeys develop overgrown hooves and are often in a lot of pain.”

Twenty-four donkeys and horses live in the sanctuary’s 11 hectares of land. They are divided into various groups and spend lazy days outdoors. It can take some time to nurse a sick donkey back to reasonable health. When Myrte first arrived, his hooves had not been trimmed for a long time. He needs regular farrier treatment to help him walk properly. It took a while before his legs and tendons are free from pain.

Loic and Fabien came from the same place. Loic had been left to run wild in a
field and Fabien had been neglected. Fabien had been in a large barn, when its tin roof fell down and he is now is easily frightened. Both donkeys are enjoying their new life.

Newcomers often need a lot of dental treatment. Babouche, an elderly white donkey, had never visited the dentist in her previous life so she required extensive treatment when she arrived. Savane, a large grey donkey, has top front teeth that have worn down to nothing, yet still manages to give a gummy smile.

Jan and Gerrit always keep an eye open for donkeys in distress. “If you see a donkey being ill-treated, please e-mail us. Either we’ll pay a visit ourselves or send someone to visit the owner. We do need precise directions, as being told there is a donkey in a field near, say, Caylus is not very helpful.”

The sanctuary also provides shelter for horses and mules. Thalie is a very large brown mule. When she retired, she came to join her former working partner Bimbo. They had been the front pair of a team of four driving horses. It was touching to see their reunion, when Thalie was reunited with Bimbo. They now live contentedly in the same field rolling in the mud ,whenever the fancy takes them.

“We found Rosalie at the butcher’s yard, when we were collecting a donkey with terribly long hooves,”  said Jan. “She is just a young horse, three years old. As we have handled her with care, she stays quiet. She lives with Rapiette a miniature Shetland pony. Rapiette has bad hips and needs pain killers for them. We have another Shetland pony called Toffee after her toffee colouring. She lives with Lilly a dark, brown donkey. They both came from a couple who could no longer keep them. Since Toffee and Lilly are over fond of their food, we have to keep them on a diet.”

A rewarding side of the sanctuary’s work is finding homes for animals restored to good health. When I visited last year, there were six donkeys looking for loving, caring homes. They included Blanchette, who was found in a very unhappy state, blind in one eye and very lame, and Ninon a young mule, who worked in a circus. You would need a couple of acres, a field shelter or barn — and a love of donkeys of course.

Looking after the animals is expensive. It is expensive paying for hay as well as medical and farriers’ bills, so any contributions are welcome. If you want to help the valuable work being done, you can become a “Friend of the Donkeys” for an annual donation of €25 euros — only €5 for children. Alternatively you can become a member of “Liberté des Anes” for a monthly minimum donation of €10 euros (€120 a year).

Open days are held regularly to enable people to meet the donkeys and learn about their care. An excellent, good value lunch is also available and there are furry animals toys, bric a brac and books for sale. The address is Liberté des Anes, Lavolvene, 82150 Belveze.

The email address is libertedesanes@gmail.com and the website is

Jan with, well that is not a donkey.

The real Charlotte Grays

Martyn Cox has done a considerable amount of research into the work of the heroes and heroines of World War II

We admire the natural beauty of the local countryside. We marvel at themedieval streets of St Antonin and take our visitors to soak up the atmosphere of the region’s Bastide towns. But how much do we know about our area’s more recent history? Those of us who have been lucky enough to go on one of Ross Jenkins’ walks around the sites of the Maquis learnt a lot. Now, we have a chance to discover even more about the courage and work of the real Charlotte Grays, thanks to a talk by Martyn Cox on Tuesday, 5 February in the Salle de Fetes in Le Riols at 6.30pm.

Audiences may debate the merits of Charlotte Gray as a film, but it put St Antonin and the surrounding countryside firmly on the map. Although Martyn’s career was in the music industry, it was after a former a neighbour was appointed the first civilian commanding officers of the FANYs that Martyn became “an accidental historian”. He tracked down and interviewed six of the eight surviving members of the FANYs — it stands for First Aid Nursing Yeomanry — three of whom worked for the Special Operations Executive. One was sent as an agent to France, one was a Coder and another an SOE wireless operator, communicating with agents in the field. This was in 2001-02 when he was the instigator and Associate Producer of the Channel 4 documentary Behind Enemy Lines: the Real Charlotte Grays. He subsequently located all eight of the surviving agents and four of them appeared in the documentary.

In September 1938, the FANY Corps was asked to form the initial Motor Driver Companies of the Auxiliary Territorial Service, called the Women’s Transport Service. A small
part of FANY — highly secret at the time and later famous — served as a parent unit for
many women who undertook espionage work for the Special Operations Executive.
Recruits were trained in one of four fields: Motor Transport, Wireless Telegraphy, Codes or
General Duties. They worked on coding and signals, acted as liaison for agents and
provided administration and technical support for the Special Training Schools. Their work
was top secret, often highly skilled and very dangerous. Members operated in several
theatres of war, including North Africa, Italy, India, the Far East and, of course, France.
Of the 39 FANY members sent by SOE to France during World War II, 12 were captured
by the Germans and died in concentration camps. In the First World War, FANYs ran field
hospitals, drove ambulances and set up soup kitchens and troop canteens, often in highly
dangerous conditions. Between wars, they were trained into wireless communication and
driving. One of the rationales behind this was that they could act as part of a Resistance
movement should Britain be invaded.

The film Charlotte Gray is based on the book by Sebastian Faulks. In the book, some of the
action takes occurs in a place called Lavaurette. The actual Lavaurette lies between St Antonin and Septfonds. “I actually queried this with Sebastian Faulks,” said Martyn, “and he told me he’d just pulled the name out of a phone book as somewhere so small and obscure that nobody would have heard of it … I told him he hadn’t counted on me living there!” Indeed, itmwas only last year Martyn and his wife Jan moved from
Lavaurette to Septfonds. He continued: “As with the movie itself, we filmed some reconstruction sequences for the documentary in and around St Antonin and Lavaurette, and the programme was first broadcast two nights before the Royal
premiere of Charlotte Gray.”

Martyn subsequently embarked on a World War II oral history project, Our Secret War, which has involved filming extensive interviews with morethan 100 British, French and Belgian veterans who played a wide range of roles in the “secret war”, including as members of the French Resistance. Such is his knowledge, that he now also acts as a low-key advisor on a number of documentaries as well as helping to arrange conferences and memorial events. Martyn is currently working with three universities to set up a charitable educational
body to be called the Secret War Museums & Learning Network (or “le réseau”). “It’s an
Anglo-French initiative and will also involve museums and schools across both countries.
We have our launch and first big event in Chichester on 24 February, commemorating the
70th anniversary of Jean Moulin’s [the Resistance leader] clandestine flights from and
to France in February/March 1943 when he went to London to meet de Gaulle. I have an exclusive filmed interview with the now long-dead Lysander pilot from 161 “Special Duties”
squadron who flew Moulin.”

He works with other organisations, including the Resistance Museums in Limoges and Cahors, to ensure that these brave people are not forgotten. “I’m privileged and thrilled to be able to spend time recording the memories of these veterans. To many, the Resistance conjures up an image of a guy in beret holding a sten gun, but equally they could have smuggled bread to the Maquis, listened to the BBC or hid a jewish family. The Resistance meant many different things,” explained Martyn.

Martyn also contributes to a project Storyvault.com, which preserves the life stories
of friends or family’s life alongside other eyewitness accounts of remarkable events
from around the world. Sometimes those we know well have stories they haven’t told. “My
dad landed American troops Omaha beach D-Day,” said Martyn, “but he never talked about it. I recently found a film of my dad’s landing craft crossing channel.”

Musée de la Résistance is a new museum in Limoges:
7 rue Neuve-Saint-Etienne
87000 Limoges
tel: 05 55 45 84 40
It has audio guides in English

Musée de la Résistance, Cahors
Place Bessière
46000 Cahors
Open 14h00 to 18h00, free entrance.

Within the wider context of World War II, across six rooms visitors learn how the
Resistance in the Lot département took shape to attack armoured columns, bomb
railway lines and support Allied troops and operations in the region.

MC with Bob Maloubier DSO, an SOE agent,
weapons trainer and saboteur who, on his
second mission into France, parachuted
with the legendary Resistance worker Violette Szabo.

When France meets Africa

“It always seems impossible until it’s done”                 Nelson Mandela

France's recent military intervention in Mali has focused the world's attention on this West African country. Locally, Jean-Marie Nosal has fought tirelessly for most of his working life to support and help underprivileged and disadvantaged children in Mali and also in France. For the past 30 years, with his wife Winnie, he has run the Association Via Sahel Enfants d’Afrique from their home at the Domaine de Sautou, near Castanet in the Tarn et Garonne. From this base in the beautiful French countryside, the couple offer hope to children in need.

Jean-Marie’s mission began in earnest in 1981 when he took a trip to Mali. Moved by the suffering he witnessed there and seeing children die of hunger because of drought, he returned home to France vowing to try to make a difference.

He started by borrowing €15,000 from the bank to buy maize and rice and went back to help feed the people of Mali. Of course, he had pay the money back and the Association Via Sahel Enfants d’Afrique was born, both to raise funds and further aid the children of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Jean-Marie’s efforts are centered in and around Sahel, a commune in south-western Mali which has a population of around 12,000. The main village is called Bafarara.

So what has he achieved over the years with his fund-raising efforts? He described some of the major projects:

o       Construction of a hospital serving 56 villages with 40,000 inhabitants. It has 15 beds, an operating theatre and a radiology department.

o       Provision of a maternity unit — some 400 babies are born there every year.

o       Construction of a laboratory — the only one of its kind in Mali — which has already helped save 200 children through clean blood transfusions. Blood is tested for HIV/AIDs and the donor is provided with a good meal.

o       A nursery that looks after abandoned children up to the age of 3.

o       Feeding and sheltering street children — around 300 are fed every day. There is also a nutritional centre that has so far helped nourish 15,000 children.

o       Education — the Association runs 36 primary school classes and two colleges, which have educated more than 5,000 youngsters.

o       Providing money so that women can produce goods to help feed their families.

o       Providing wells so that people have fresh, clean water.
Children make these colourful models from old tin cans

The Association charges a small fee for a consultation with a doctor. “Free is not good,” explained Jean-Marie. “If we were unable to continue our work, the doctors would still be able to stay because they are being paid.” Their latest project is to launch a telephone health care service that will give people access to doctors and medical advice 24 hours a day. The initiative is supported by Orange and, hopes Jean-Marie, if it works in Mali it could be rolled out elsewhere in Africa.

He is worried what will happen to the Association if he is unable to continue the work himself, so has launched a scheme where supporters pledge to donate €10 a month to ensure his work continues.

There are lots of local fundraising initiatives too, if you want to get involved.
Jean-Marie and Winnie organise regular functions in a grand room on their estate. Generally with an African theme, these range from concerts, films or theatre productions to meals. 

If you can paint (whatever your standard), your picture on an African theme could be displayed on TAG on-line. When Val and Malcolm Johnstone hold their popular cinema evenings, everyone has a good time and the money taken at the box office (aka Malcolm) goes to Sautou. At the recent screening of West Side Story, Jean-Marie was there to accept a couple of cheques representing money raised by TAG readers.

Jean-Marie and Winnie also help children in France. They work with youngsters who have behavioural problems, have been abused or are mentally handicapped. To date they have welcomed around 400 such children to their home. The young people generally stay two or three years — and most of them come back to visit regularly, generally with their families in tow. Sunday lunch can be a pretty hectic time at the Domaine de Sautou. The couple has four children of their own and have also adopted two. “Here we accept that children have the right to be different,” said Jean-Marie. “Not everyone can pass the Bac or even ever earn a salary.”

Recently, Jean-Marie and Winnie appealed for someone who had a few hours to spare to entertain the slightly mentally and physically handicapped children in their charge. The children need lots of stimulation and things to interest them. Anyone with a reasonable level of French who would like to set aside a few hours each week would be really welcomed. Jean-Marie is having a stage built in their hall, just so the children can put on plays. If you can help, telephone 05 63 65 7264

Jean-Marie obviously looks like a well-travelled man. Recently a reporter from the French TV channel TF1 filmed him in St Antonin — to depict a typical British visitor. However, his travels have a more serious purpose. At the end of last year, he spent 10 days in Mali but had to cut short his visit because of the worsening situation. In Bamako most of the hotels and restaurants are closed. “Business and commerce carry on slowly among numerous daily demonstrations and marches in the streets, some demanding immediate war, others seeking peace,” reported Jean-Marie after his visit. “Food is becoming scarce, coups d'etat multiply and everybody is waiting either worried or pleased at the prospect of massive armament arrivals. The absence of political stability and authority is the norm and it is difficult to see what lies ahead.

“In this new and difficult context I returned to the Nursery where there has been a rise in the number of infants, alongside a new law whereby children cannot be adopted by foreigners. There is also a worry that the presence of handicapped children considerably disturbs the running of the nursery. To find a place more adapted to their needs, I went to Sangha, 10 miles from Bamako, where we negotiated with a centre that might be able to receive them. I proposed a provision of water, which did not exist in the village, and I saw to the provisioning of a communal grocery shop in the village where no shops existed.”

During his visit, Jean-Marie arranged with the National Centre for Blood Transfusion for a reduction in cost and, thanks to donations bought another refrigerator for storing blood.

For more information, go to:
Winnie and Jean-Marie with an amazing wooden door they raffled to raise funds

About Mali

Mali, officially the Republic of Mali, is a landlocked country in Western Africa. Its capital is Bamako.  Mali borders Algeria on the north, Niger on the east, Burkina Faso and the Côte d’Ivoire on the south, Guinea on the south-west, and Senegal and Mauritania on the west.

It is just over 1,240,000 km² in area and has a population of 14.5 million.  A former French colony, the country was formed after the Sudanese Republic and Senegal became independent of France in 1960 and it became the Mali Federation. When Senegal withdrew after only a few months, what formerly made up the Sudanese Republic was renamed Mali.

For several decades after independence, Mali suffered droughts, rebellions, a coup and 23 years of military dictatorship until democratic elections in 1992. However, there was a military coup in March last year, which left the country in turmoil once again and led to the current French intervention. Although one of Africa’s major cotton producers, Mali is considered to be among the poorest countries in the world.

 Comments to taglines82@gmail.com