72

A friend of mine who died last year after a long, long battle with cancer once said, “The most difficult thing is to know what it is you want in life.” I know what I want … the problem is, it’s not one single thing but many and I end up going round and round and round in circles hearing Rebecca say “the most difficult thing is to know what it is you want in life.”

71

Outside the marquee talking to a writer who brought up his kids alone after his first divorce (he went on to divorce two more wives…), I asked how he put food on the table? Through writing? “Oh no”, he said. “But I can’t tell you.” Real mischief twinkled in his eyes. “It wasn’t strictly legal?” I asked. “No”, he said…

70

Usain Bolt says ‘the first thing my coach Glen Mills ever said to me was: “Everybody has talent – it’s what you do with that talent that counts.” I will always remember that.’

69

In the best of times volumes of Shakespeare, Donne, Yeats and Neruda crowd the bed. But when Man’s worser nature presses in close, I find myself quoting the often swiftly dismissed Kipling : “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you … Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating…”

68

Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

67

In and around the abbey of our small provincial town, an impressively large (in every sense) book festival attracts immense talent from across France and beyond. Writers and illustrators, artists, broadcasters and musicians gather for a weekend of readings and talks, book signings and discussions, workshops and performances. Inspiring, thought provoking, entertaining… and all of it free.

66

The town is packed, market spills down hills into parking spaces, happy chatter in innumerable mother tongues, number plates from just about everywhere. It’s sixty eight million degrees hot and I make a mental note to remember in mid Feb, when it’s -6°C and I’m missing far away friends that here is what people dream of and spend years and small fortunes searching to find…

65

Profound thought whilst cycling 19 km in nine million degrees of heat: true happiness is to be found in the things we have, not in the things we think we want.

64

After seeing Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake LIVE at the Olympic Stadium, my younger son can’t decide whether he wants corn rows, or to apply for Jamaican nationality. Or both.

63

I can’t quite believe I’m telling my teenage son his dad and I are worried he’s too nice, that we’d like him please to be more typically full of teenage anger and sulkiness, that we’d rather he went through that normal and necessary if utterly unpleasant phase now than in his 20s.

62

“Beware of men who cry. It’s true that men who cry are sensitive to and in touch with feelings, but the only feelings they tend to be sensitive to and in touch with are their own” said Nora Ephron, finger on pulse…

61

“All men dream, but not all equally. Those who dream by night, in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake to find it was all vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, and make things happen”. T.E. Lawrence.

60

Nora Ephron, looking back through letters she received from Lillian Hellman, wrote: “it all comes back to me – how charmed I’d been, how flattered, how much less charming they began to seem, how burdensome they became, and then, finally, how boring. The story of Love.” !

59

I’m startled to realise that the end of an affair I truly believed in brings only relief that I’m free to be me again, not the target of someone’s angst, neuroses and destructive anger.

58

With a number of book projects on the go I’m having to learn the harsh discipline of staying focused, though it would be much easier and perhaps more fun in the short term to check email or make a cup of tea…

57

Writing can be a difficult, painful, frustrating, alienating process but when the piece is done, and someone says “it’s great. I really like it” you can’t wait to get going on the next piece.

56

Five years after starting to learn French, my son passes his brevet “avec mention très bien”. Fierce pride mingles with laughter that the highest praise accorded is “very good” but then the French education system is not famous for its motivating techniques.

55

I was genuinely moved to see Jean Dujardin receive his Oscar last night. Cinema was born in France, the French are passionate about film and an incredible number of excellent French movies are made every year. Is it possible the success of The Actor will encourage Americans to watch more foreign films??

54

My teenage self fell in love with France. Three decades later, I’m dining in a magnificent house, in a beautiful French town, with a group of highly articulate, intelligent and creative friends. The food is delicious, the wine excellent, the conversation entertaining, the man next to me beau!… Dreams do come true…

53

Shirley Valentine dreamed of sipping wine in the country where the grape is grown. I have the great good fortune to live in a country where, one unseasonably warm winter evening, I can drink champagne after a long walk in exquisite countryside under bright blue, warm sunny skies. Truly, I’ve found paradise.