Tom Vernon

I’ve just been to the funeral of my very dear friend, Tom Vernon.  He died quite suddenly last week – I think his body had just had enough – and it should not have been surprising given how many health issues he had, but it came as a great shock to us all.


Tom  had already had a colourful life in England, with music and writing intertwined, with occupations as diverse as working for the British Humanist Association – at the same time as singing as a minstrel in a medieval theme restaurant.  (By coincidence my last blog entry was about the visit of Wenol and Paul Blackham.  Paul’s father, Hal Blackham was Tom’s boss at the BHA.)  As someone at the funeral said, it was at the restaurant that he met his future wife, Sally, who was a ‘serving wench’.

Tom was known to a wider audience because of his radio and tv programmes, which centred on his loves of travel, France and cooking.  I saw one of his ‘Fat man on a bicycle’ programmes on the telly before I knew him.

Chris and I got to know Tom and Sally soon after we came to live in France.  Although I saw more of Tom, because of our shared interests in music and computers, it was good that Tom and Chris also shared a mutual respect and affection. Here they are talking amiably, no doubt about food and wine, or perhaps about philosophy:


I think Tom and I drove Chris and Sally mad with our techie sessions with equipment – computers (Apple, of course), cameras (mine) and sound equipment (his).  But more important was our shared love of singing and playing music.  I got Tom to join Rinascenza, the choir in which we both sang for several years.  And we both happily scraped away at our instruments (Tom violin and me cello) in a quartet, which met irregularly. We were both of us largely self taught; I had had two years lessons in my fifties, but Tom made up for the lack of lessons by an innate musicality.

Music weekend at Soubs.  Sep 2007.  Tom Vernon

But it was above all as a gentle and genial host that I will remember him.  He just loved good food, wine and conversation.  He was always generous about others and full of humour and happy to enter into discussions on an incredible range of subjects.


Tom and Sally’s home is a magnificent house near Valleraugue, about ten miles from ours. Its crowning glory is a magnificent magnanerie (vast room once used to breed silkworms).  Restoring the house and in particular creating something very special out of the magnanerie has been a passion of Tom’s.  Here he is coming up the magnanerie staircase (designed by our architect friend, Neave Brown).

Tom & Sally Vernon's magnanerie


[And I couldn’t resist more photos of the magnanerie.]

Tom & Sally Vernon's magnanerie Tom & Sally Vernon's magnanerie Tom & Sally Vernon's magnanerie

Tom’s funeral was memorable.  On a chilly day, the hills that enclose Valleraugue looked beautiful but sombre as we climbed up the hill to the Protestant cemetery where the funeral took place (how ironic, for a humanist burial ceremony).  We stood perched on the hillside while  various friends and family spoke with much love and humour of the various phases of Tom’s life as it had touched theirs (perhaps a rare ceremony in two languages). A recording of a song composed and sung by Tom made him seem even more present.  And then, to the music of Fauré’s Requiem Tom’s coffin was lowered into his grave.  The pasteur (who had not known Tom) tried his best to be in harmony with the occasion, but could not resist saying “Au revoir”.  For non-believers like me, it was sadly “Adieu”.

Back at Tom and Sally’s house it was hard not to expect to turn round and see Tom.  Sally was, as usual, beautiful.  And dignified, in control of herself, as were her sons and their families.  I was so glad to meet Jos and Hal, the two sons whom Tom talked about so often and was so proud of.

Goodbye, dear Tom.  As someone said “A gentleman and a gentle man”.



Paul and Wenol’s visit

This is the last full day of Paul and Wenol Blackham’s short visit.



Wenol and I go back nearly 50 years: we were both volunteer teachers with VSO in Sokoto, Northern Nigeria, in 1966.  And at the end of that dramatic year in Nigeria’s history, we cashed in our return tickets to London, flew to South Africa and then travelled the length of Africa, to Egypt, returning to Europe after nearly four months on the road.

We kept in touch over the years, making friends also with husbands and children.  And now Wenol and Paul manage to include me in their hectic annual diary.  When here, they thoroughly spoil me.  The photo above is deceptive – apart from meals they did very little sitting around and threw themselves at a hectic programme of weeding, cutting down trees, painting and doing more than their fair share in the kitchen.

A lot of time was spent eating.  The first day we went up to La Cravate, the restaurant just above us as the crow flies but about 15 km by road. Tasty lunch with this view in front of us:


If you click on the photo to get the larger version,  you can see Couloustrine (the ‘lieu’ of about six households, including mine) on the far right.  On the horizon is the distinctive shape of Pic St Loup.  Here it is, blown up, and you can see on either side – the Mediterranean!


 One of the clearest panoramas I have seen.

The next day we had a delicious meal at Le Chandelier, in le Vigan. No spectacular view, but still, its great sitting in the main place watching the world go by.  The town has a very pleasant laid back feel to it now most of the tourists have left.

I needed a good meal as I had spent the morning at the funeral of Jeannot Vacquier, a very nice man who lived in Serres – one of four who made the village meals so entertaining when we first arrived, invariably singing old favourites every time.

Wenol wasn’t enamoured by the lively insect life



And we all learnt something new about figs, after Wenol spent two days with lips that looked as if she had been at the botox.  (I’ve been kind and not put up a photo, but we both had a good laugh at her expense.)  Thanks to the internet we now know something about fig-lips!

Website struggles

Rashly I decide to make further inroads in converting my website to WordPress between visitors – and hit a technical problem.  Suddenly the menus were all over the place.  I sought help from the WordPress forum:


I got several suggestions, but in the end I discovered the likely cause of the problem by surfing around the internet.  There appears to be an (undocumented) limit of 90 menus and submenus.  There are various work arounds which I will try once Paul and Wenol – my visitors – have left.  They have  had to put up with enough gnashing teeth during their stay!

Summer has ended

Yes, even here in the south of France.  I was woken at six by heavy rain and this afternoon we have had intermittent rain and thunder.  I’m trying to remember when it last rained.  I know we had a violent storm in mid-July.  I think it might have rained once in August.

We’ll probably only have a couple of days of rain, but it will bring the temperatures down.  Two days ago the afternoon temperature was 35 degrees; I suspect that it will be at least ten degrees cooler over the coming week.

After a cool start in June it has been a remarkable summer. Pity it had to end now, as I have more visitors arriving tomorrow.

Unwelcome visitor

Unwelcome visitorLet’s hope it is just passing. I could do without a hornets’ nest.

These, on the other hand, are welcome, if only they would stay still long enough for me to catch them in focus.  (You can just see one hiding under and behind a flower.) This bush was covered in black bees today, despite the fact that the flowers are almost over.

20130906_IMG_5989 (1)


Visiting Ikea (almost) a pleasure

This year I finally sold my Piaggo scooter and last month, in a low moment, I ordered an electric scooter.  After seeing a young man zooming round the pedestrian areas of Cagnes-sur-Mer I toyed with the idea of a ‘trotinette electrique’ like this:

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 09.25.28


They are cheap, cool, whizz around at an impressive speed, fold up for a car boot, and can have a good battery life.  Then sanity sadly prevailed.  I’m 70, with a growing number of artificial joints. Plus I discovered that they are not only too heavy for me to lift into the car, but that it is illegal to drive them on the pavement.

Instead I bought the lightest of the three-wheeler versions (at three times the price!). These are legal on pavements and indoors as they are classified as disability aids.


Apart from a nervous trip up my steep, potholed road, yesterday’s trip to look at kitchens in Ikea was my first outing. Crossing the large underground carpark was a sheer pleasure and inside – apart from a near miss with someone’s feet – negotiating the route you are forced along was easy.  (Not so simple to push people out of the way to look more closely at door handles and knobs.)  Anyhow, I emerged not feeling like a wet rag.

Just at the moment, thanks to anti-inflammatories, I don’t really need the scooter out here.  It can’t handle the local roads, but I do anticipate using it when sight-seeing round other towns in France.  I plan to bring it on the plane to London and look forward to zooming along those endless corridors at Gatwick Airport.

Bionic woman

Shoulder, knee or hip?  Which won the race to be the next to be replaced.  Answer: shoulder – though it was a close run finish.


I saw THE hand/arm/elbow man in Montpellier, this evening (appointment at 8.30pm, seen at 9.45pm).  He said instantly that my shoulder was completely riddled with arthritic holes and growths (not that I can see any of this in the X-rays).

The surgeon confirmed what all the other doctors have been saying: the shoulder needs replacing.  (I won’t know what sort of replacement till after some scans in October.) Provisional operation date: Monday 18 Novembre.  I’ll be in hospital for up to a week, and then four-five weeks in a maison de reeducation.  He insists on one in Montpellier, rather than our local place, Les Chataigniers.

So it looks as if I might be eating hospital food this Christmas. And I’ll have to break the news to my fellow musicians.  It affects our Christmas concert.

And who knows, next year it might be a knee …. ……



You can rely on my nearest village, Serres, to provide enough dramas and intrigues to fill a novel.  The latest is a spectacular fire last week, which gutted one of the houses in Serres le Bas (that part of the village beside the main road rather than up on the hill), lived in by a member of one of the local families plus his partner and toddler.


The fire burnt all evening with the last of the pompiers (fire engines which double up as ambulances) leaving at 1am, and the gendarmes an hour later.

Onlookers’ immediate reaction was that it must have been caused by the family, as he is known to like a glass or two…  But it turned out that the family had left for a holiday a couple of days earlier and the couple who rent the house next door are now in police detention.  (He was found lying in the middle of the road by the pompiers.)

Let’s hope that the victims are properly insured, though it drove home how nothing can replace personal possessions like family photos.

Ursula and Nick Sims-Williams

My cousin Ursula and her husband Nick paid an all too short visit – just a long weekend.


Apart from the standard tours, we played a lot of music – C.P. Bach and Telemann.  Ursula had her oboe with her and Nick, who came without French horn, played on my pretty awful Casio keyboard.

Ursula, who is curator of Iranian Collections at the British Library, showed me some of the manuscripts she is busy cataloguing.  I so regret missing her exhibition at the BL last winter.

We filled in knowledge gaps each had of family history and vowed to work collaboratively on family records.

Oh, and we discovered we were fellow iPad enthusiasts, though our enthusiasm was not shared by Nick.