153

Peacefully we stand in fields as helicopters fly over us at exorbitant cost to the tax payer.  In less than a week 5 hectares of local forest have disappeared and soon 43 more will be cut down, wetlands destroyed and 95 species (some of them endangered) will lose their natural habitats.

152

The old dog died, who used to relieve himself in front of my house, and now there’s a Karma cat in town: every day, twice a day, it leaves presents for the mean old woman who never speaks to me because I used to ask her to pick up after her dog…

151

Save yourself vast amounts of wasted time, energy & false hopes by heeding the wise words of (Oh! how we miss you!) Maya Angelou: “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”

150

An inky frenzy of poultry rushes under my nib: 3 French Hens, 4 rather odd calling birds, 6 geese-a-laying, 7 swans a swimming and a turkey trying to hide from the chef. Christmas is happily still months away but I’m busy drawing cards, drafts of which to be posted soon.

149

Leaving behind stories of murder, terrorist cells and mass killings, I cycle west into the vineyards, where ripe grapes squat, plumply purple, against a backdrop of russet, golden leaves. Apples, roundly red, plop softly down. Figs generously carpet the road. Walnuts blackly peek through burst green shells. Oh, such mellow fruitfulness!

148

If you’re looking for an antidote to feeling overly cheerful and optimistic, watch Kim Longinotto’s documentaries Divorce, Iranian Style and Runaway.

147

Every morning I settle down to read the paper. Minutes later, I’m usually in tears. Jihad-slogan chanting gunmen asked victims to name the Prophet Muhammed’s mother before gunning them down. Did the little Muslim girl from Leamington Spa fail to give the right answer?

146

A country lane, a tree bursting with plums whose dusty skins are a perfect purple, a colour I call “Biba”. Biba was an icon of fashion in the London of my youth: her name powerfully conjures nostalgic images… a fabulous black & gold Art Deco logo, Twiggy in a purple headscarf with matching lipstick and nails… I time travel with plums.

145

Summer arrived late, delayed by months of rain. Glorious, but short-lived, it was cut short by winter, in September. That in turn gave briefly way to a premature Indian Summer, abruptly stopped before it reaching its prime. Confusing times. Reluctantly I got out winter duvets, ordered wood … then suddenly out came the sun. It promises to stay a while. I’m not complaining.

144

The “paysans-boulangers” leap from the pages of a storybook, husband & wife harmoniously baking sourdough loaves in wood-fired ovens in a tiny bakery on an organic wine farm.  They grow and mill the wheat themselves in a Heath Robinson contraption.

143

I was talking about facial hair to a friend who’d told me she’d recently bumped in to someone who was at school with us: a rather downy upper lip apparently now sports a magnificent walrus moustache. Middle age is full of surprises.

142

I read that each year UK citizens receive one billion Christmas cards: that’s 17 for every man, woman and child and a great opportunity for artists and illustrators to test their imagination on a variation of robins, Santas and snow… I’m about to dip a Hunt 107 nib in ink and see if I can come up with something a little more original.

141

I’m told a baby girl born in the UK today has a 33.7% chance of living to be 100. Presumably her chances are best if she manages to avoid binge drinking, drug abuse, over-eating, knifings in the playground, slipping through the net of social services and the thousand other hazards Britain’s youth falls prey to in normal, every day life?

140

September 5th, my younger son’s birthday. When he was little, I ran Shakespeare workshops and he confused his date of birth with a famous English king, telling everyone his birthday was “Henry the Fifth”. Happy Henry the Fifth everyone – I’m off to bake chocolate cake.

139

Neighbours wage war: windows are smeared with excrement; a letter box is wrestled into a tangled wreck of metal. The portly, unshaven bric-a-brac man leaves piles of junk in the street: “This neighbourhood will be better when all the old people die”, he tells me.

138

I constantly marvel that in the south of France in 2013 I can be listening to a documentary about Caribbean culture in 1960s London whilst one son watches the latest episode of a primetime American sitcom and the other simultaneously researches a question of Latin grammar and downloads tunes: Rock on, dot com.

137

France boasts surfing beaches and a beautiful Mediterranean coastline, mountain lakes, broad rivers, ski resorts and a rich cultural heritage, haute cuisine, fine wine, free healthcare and education and some great social welfare programmes. Why, then, are the French are the most prolific consumers of anti-depressants in Europe?

136

A group of protesters have been on hunger strike for a month now and 100s oppose the barrage, amongst them lawyers, teachers, librarians but the press represents them as hippy activists. I’d call myself a bit of a hot-shower 5* hotel girl at heart but easier, I suppose, for the press to see simple stereotypes.

135

The old fella died, alone, schizophrenic, a child, in the psychiatric hospital that had been his home for decades.  His previous home a ground floor tenement gutted by fire when the drunk white Russian who’d married him fell asleep, lit fag in mouth.  Happiest memories Mother’s weekly visits bearing ciggies.

134

I wasn’t expecting, when the phone made that jingly “New Text!” alert, a message from the school asking why my son isn’t in class. He left the house at 7.45 but yet again didn’t turn up for Latin…