Saturday 21 March 2020

I forgot all about this blog which my then boyfriend set up for me because I am a compulsive writer. George Orwell said any day not spent writing was a wasted day. I go along with that. Like cleaning your teeth. The day is not right until you’ve done it. Anyway I see my last blog was August 2017. That’s about right because that’s when my then boyfriend decided to launch a photography business and I started writing blogs for his website www.photographfrance.com. He amalgamated my website with his www.pamela-shields.co.uk. BTW re. the then boyfriend. I married him in Bishop’s Stortford Registry Office, Hertfordshire 4 June 2018 on the eighth anniversary of our meeting. Bishops Stortford is where we had our first date. He was the photographer for one of my books and I needed a photo of the ruins of the Bishop of London’s Palace. That was where the secret wife – Catherine de Valois – of Owen Tudor had his baby – Edmund – in secret. Edmund Tudor kicked off the Tudor phenomenon when he impregnated his wife Margaret Beaufort with the future and first Tudor monarch Henry VII. Catherine’s other son, Henry VI, tragically inherited her father’s mental instability which kick started the Wars of the Roses in England. When Henry VI was crowned King of France it inspired the patriotism of Joan of Arc but there I go rabbiting on about history. Stream of consciousness doesn’t come into it. I breathe history. These people are as alive to me as in the days when they drew breath. Must go. Other half wants a post. I can’t take photos. He finds writing a pick and shovel job. We are well suited. We moved to Amboise in France on Saint Valentines’ Day 2019. How romantic is that? Au revoir! A bientôt!

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The Day I Met Diana Remembering The Princess of Wales on the anniversary of her tragic death 31 August 1997

I met Diana, Princess of Wales, in Vienna when I was Books Exhibition Officer for The British Council on The Mall in London. The British Council is the cultural arm of the Foreign Office.

In 1986, The British Ambassador in Vienna, Mr Michael Alexander as he was then, had the brainwave of putting on Britain in Vienna Festival to promote trade between Austria and Britain. He asked The British Council to arrange exhibitions of contemporary British artists, photographers and fashion designers. This was not difficult. 1986 was a golden year for the arts in Britain especially in the world of fashion. Think Catherine Walker, Zandra Rhodes, Elizabeth Emmanuel, Vivienne Westwood, Katherine Hamnett, John Galliano among many others. The exhibitions were to be displayed in the elegant rooms of the Kunstlerhaus, a lovely old art museum in Vienna.

My brief was to find the names of the artists, photographers and fashion designers who would be exhibiting and to choose the most recently published books on them. This was not difficult either. It meant trips to the many galleries around London.

The exhibition was to be opened by Prince Charles and Diana.

The evening before the Opening I was shown the space I was allotted. It was the ante-room, the receiving room, of a huge ground floor gallery. To show the books to their best advantage I asked for the walls and shelves to be painted matte black. When I had chosen the most beautifully illustrated coffee table books I asked the lighting men to put spotlights on them. Knowing Diana’s sharp sense of humour, on the shelf opposite the door she would use to enter the room, I displayed side by side huge tomes of two photographers who were themselves in the spotlight. Price Andrew and his paramour Koo Stark.

It had the desired effect. As soon she entered she burst out laughing and said: ‘Look Charles! Andrew’s book!’

She, as ever, looked stunning in what I was told was Catherine Walker, one of her favourite designers. A grumpy, bored looking Charles gave her the kind of look my ex-husband used to give me. A mixture of disapproval and irritation.

I was introduced to her and no, I did not curtsy, we were told not to.

Browsing through the books on fashion, she was diplomatically informed there was no time to spare. ‘Usual story’ she sighed ’never enough time to enjoy anything’.

The entourage moved on into the huge galley space to see an Exhibition of The History of British Book Illustrators. The first display was The Wind in the Willows. A life size Toad dominated the area. Bursting out laughing again, Diana poked Toad in his fat stomach and said to the Mayor of Vienna ‘I had to kiss one of those to get’ pointing to Charles ‘one of those’.

The Prince, like his I don’t know how many ‘greats’ grandma Queen Victoria, was not amused. He looked as if he actively disliked her. We now know he did.

The joke was also lost on the Mayor of Vienna. He didn’t smile either. We learned later he spoke no English and didn’t understand what had so amused Diana.

The very most she could have been accused of that day was an abundance of good humour and high spirits. She didn’t try to upstage Charles. She just did. It was not difficult.

I also remember that although she was wearing flat shoes she was still taller than Charles who, unfortunately, looked the spitting image of his Spitting Image puppet.
ends

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Taking Tea With Jeremy Corbyn

It was in the early 1990s. I was training for a Post. Grad. Diploma in Magazine Journalism at the London College of Printing. To teach us to be pushy we were thrown in the deep end. Our first assignment was to interview as many MPs as we could. I contacted all and sundry. Only two replied. One was Donald Dewar who telephoned to say he was sorry it had to be a short interview because he was due in court in a few minutes. I had forgotten he was a lawyer. Utterly charming. No holds barred. Sadly, he died suddenly shortly after achieving his life’s dream of becoming First Minister of Scotland in 1999.

The other MP was Jeremy Corbyn MP for Islington North who invited me to his Finsbury Park home for a cup of tea. He too was charming. Genuine. Honest. Open. What you saw was what you got. What it says on the tin. As we chatted his wife came in with the tray. He jumped up to help and invited her to join us but she declined. They seemed very affectionate. I remember her as being very pretty. Jeremy told me she was from Chile. I was sad later when they announced their divorce citing the reason being a difference of opinion. He disapproves of selective education. The local Comprehensive was a failing school so she sent their son to a Grammar School. As a politician he couldn’t say Comprehensives were fine for his constituents children but not his own. That was his sticking point.

I remember he was taken aback when I asked if he had heroes. After chewing the question over, if my memory serves me correctly, he said Michael Foot, Tony Benn, The Tolpuddle Martyrs and The Levellers. He asked if I knew who they were. I did. It made sense.

The man I see twenty-five years later is the same man I saw in his study in his very modest house. He was not power hungry. He has principles and sticks to them. He probably only threw his hat in the ring to be Leader of the Labour Party when he sized up the pygmies he was likely to be saddled with if he didn’t. Agree or disagree you can believe this man. He would rather die than lie. The message I took away was that in the end, all we have worth having is self -respect. I wish him well whatever his future holds.

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You gotta have a dream

Talking about Fate and why we should listen. I went to Hitchin in Hertfordshire because it pointed me there. I left when it pointed me in the direction of France. So. Now we had the house in Amboise but no means of living there together so Himself asked his friend Giles Babbage, a successful photographer, if he would be interested in a joint venture, Photography Holiday Workshop in the Loire Valley. He would. Good Omen. Giles, who produces an outdoor photography based podcast www.theactivephotographer.com, is a bearded, outdoor type who loves camping. Amboise has a fabulous camping site. www.campsite-amboise.com. Then. Innova Art www.innovaart.com saw his website, admired his photographs and asked if they could display  some of them on their Trade Stand at The Photography Show in NEC Birmingham. Good Omen. At the Show he met Wilf James, founder of the hugely successful World Photo Adventure  (WPA) www.worldphotoadventure.com.  Wilf asked if he would be interested in offering his Holiday Workshop through WPA. Good Omen. Via Survive France Network, we met a chap with a successful stall in the huge Sunday Market in Amboise. We can do that I say. We can sell your photographs and my books. Then, what may well turn out to be The Jewel in the Crown, we switch on the telly and see a series on Channel 4, A New Life in The Sun about Brits taking the plunge and trying to launch a new business abroad. Would Channel 4 be interested in our venture? They would. Watch this space.

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The Fickle Finger of Fate

 I am a Binge Blogger. None for ages then they all come along at once. I talked about the first rung of the ladder – maybe not to success – pushing it a bit – but to running a business. I am a firm believer in The Fickle Finger of Fate. Fate talks to you, tells you things. I moved to Hitchin in Hertfordshire when a publisher commissioned a series of books and a magazine editor gave me a regular column. My closest friend and my son lived there which was another draw. Eighteen years later the publisher went into liquidation (Kindle and ebooks) and the magazine hit the buffers (the recession scuppered advertising). My son moved away as did my best friend. Another friend left to retire to the Isle of Man, yet another, sadly, also hit the buffers. Then, seemingly overnight, Hitchin transmuted into a satellite of London. Cranes shot up all over town followed by miles of scaffolding and brimming over skips. House buyers out priced from north London moved in and property prices shot up. Fate told me it was time to move. I searched all over the UK and fell in love not at all with anywhere. Meanwhile, the Eurozone took a tumble trying to prop up irresponsible member states, property prices in France were falling, the strong pound went a long way and Himself was wanting to indulge his twin passions for photography and France. Was it time to realise The Dream and buy a house in France? It was.

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The Amboise Connection

After years and years of (in the words of Dusty) wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’ and plannin’ and dreamin’, we finally did it. Bought a bolt hole in France, Amboise to be precise. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, what have we done? As Robert Louis Stevenson noticed; tis better to travel hopefully than to arrive. There’s a strange sense of bereavement in the air, having realised the dream, we now mourn the dream. Dreaming keeps us sane. First shock. We bought the house in winter. The road was quiet. When we got the keys in July, we were horrified to see and hear non-stop-nose-to-tail traffic thundering past the front door. All my life I said what kind of idiot would buy a house on a main road?  Now I know. Idiots like us. Having visited a few times, we knew Amboise is a magnet for tourists but this was ridiculous. Turns out the caravans and mobile homes were heading for the camp site on the Ile d’Or. Second shock. In my usual misplaced arrogant confident way I assumed O level French would see me through. Wrong. I would pick up the lingo by osmosis. Wrong. Fine for the baguettes and croissants not so fine when the boiler gives up the ghost. Even worse buying a kitchen from IKEA. Nightmare. Milton Keynes is bad enough. Still. We have made the first rung of our other dream. To run photography holidays in Amboise (himself calls them Workshops but I cringe from anything with the word work in it. Don’t like work, never did, never will).  Now all we need is customers. Until then I can see us renting a stall in the Sunday Market. Don’t mock. It worked for Jack Cohen (Tesco). I can see it now. Coach Loads of tourists queuing to buy his photos of Chateau Amboise and my latest book Leonardo da Vinci: The Amboise Connection. The connection is the fact that the great man lived and died in Amboise. All I have to do is finish it. Continue reading

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The Launch of my children’s book Rosie & Me

Launch Rosie & Me December 2014

Just getting round to a blog about the launch of Rosie & Me which is pretty pathetic. It was in December. However, in my defence, I have been flat out shedding skins. Since then I have packed up all my worldly goods, put them in storage until we find that elusive pied-a-terre in France, sold my lovely home of seventeen years and, after thinking about it for four years, finally took the plunge and moved in with Himself. You can’t rush these things. But back to the launch. It was a bitterly cold day so I was glad of my thermal vest. Everything went swimmingly. Rosie being the good girl in our book wore a halo, me being the naughty one wore devil’s horns. We festooned Eric T.Moore with balloons – well it is a children’s book – then Rosie & Me sat and waited for the hordes to buy our book. And waited. And waited. Signings are like that. Alison said at the end of the day that she had sold quite a few. Turned out all were bought by Rosie to give away as Christmas presents which made us laugh. That’s what we do, Rosie & me, we laugh. Friends Pat and Ted turned up, as they always do, to give moral support. My son brought Ella and Mia my delightful grand-daughters to see what a book signing was like and I finally met his girlfriend who is also delightful. Daphne came too. She showed Mia some of her fashion shoots. Mia is into fashion. I gave the children a fiver each to spend in Alison’s shop. Ella bought a book on psychology which she is thinking of doing at ‘A’ level, Mia bought Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. We all piled into the Turkish restaurant across the road for supper then rounded off the evening at The Lord Lister, Rosie and Jeff’’s hotel. Rosie and Me are now in the ether. Our long suffering mothers who are long, long, gone are surely pleased

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How to buy a pad in France. .

You can’t. Not without a French bank account. A healthy one. Perhaps the same in Britain? First, find someone who speaks English. In luck. Crédit Agricole has BritLine for those silly enough to go to France unable to speak French. Me. Dead easy. Go to website. Download application forms. The fun begins. Present Name? Maiden name? D.O.B? Place of birth? Tax Ref No? Permanent address? Scan P60. Email address? Ph. No? Occupation? Gross annual income?Monthly outgoings? Why do you want a French bank account? Scan in Passport. Scan in driving licence showing proof of address. Scan last two consecutive months’ current account bank statements showing general expenditure and proof of income.  Email to adviser. She replies. Not enough proof you are who you say you are and live where you say you live (even though my address is on photo card driving licence and bank statements). Send her scans of latest invoice for storage of worldly goods. No. Sorry. Not enough. Send scan of car insurance certificate. No. No enough. Scan Completion Certificate for sale of flat and Mortgage Redemption statement. No. Not enough. Scan letter from Energy supplier confirming account closed and a promise of a cheque for overpayment. No not enough. Because I do not own where I live she finally comes clean. She needs a letter from Himself confirming I am his partner, the date I moved in with him plus scans of his passport, last energy, water and Council Tax bill. Bingo! Result?! No. Next comes a half hour grilling over the phone. Why? To trip me up? You stated you spent £200 a month on food, I see from your bank statement it was £200.01? Watch this space.

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The Eleanor Trilogy

I am also working on an Eleanor trilogy. That’s Eleanor of Aquitaine. My heroine. I had never heard of her until someone told me I reminded them of her. Now I’m hooked. I think about her all the time. She is as alive to me as she ever was when she was alive. Egyptians believe that no-one ever dies while we on earth remember them, talk about them, mention them by name. No-one knew this better than the pharaohs who erased the names of previous post holders. I had intended to simply write a book – historical fiction for young adults – until I got started but of course, no-one simply springs out of nowhere, fully formed. I got to thinking about her parents and grandparents and have ended up in a muddle. Himself suggests I treat it like a Crime Scene,  pin up the characters and their dates on Post It Notes at the back of the door showing chronology, geography, people, places and times so that’s what I will do. To make sure she does live on, I had better call her by her real name. Called after her mother Aenor she was known in the family as Aliénor from the Latin alia Aenor – the other Aenor. The English can’t be bothered with fancy French names so called her Eleanor, much easier. When Himself and I went on a tour of the chateau of Chinon the guide called her Aliénor and said we would notice gravity about her. We looked at each other mystified until she pointed it out on a wall. Graffiti in our house will always now be known as gravity.

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Stuff The Pension

We have booked to go to the Loire Valley for Easter to look for a holiday home. To while away the winter months waiting for that day I dug out Stuff the Pension. My good friend Pat edited it. She said in her opinion – her opinion is worth taking on board – she devours books like a hungry Minotaur – I had written two books. One was about my inner journey, the other a travel book. Like Joe Friday in Dragnet, she said ‘Just the facts, ma’am’ (in truth he never did say that, it was said in a parody of Dragnet). So I did. I have rewritten it as travel memoir. She was right. It is much, much better. When Himself is less busy working on his new web site Photograph France I will sweet talk him into putting it on CreateSpace. The bits on the cutting room floor Pat suggests I turn into a novel. Now there’s challenge. I have never written a novel. Wonder if I can hack it.

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