Bikers’ Grove

Bikers’ Grove

We’ve all got bills to pay and everyone everywhere has been forced to adapt quickly to the new reality of these troubling times. This is as true in sleepy Loddon as it is anywhere. A case in point is Rosy Lee’s Tea Room. For many years now this tiny café has thrived on passing trade from sailors and cyclists stopping off for coffee and cake. The delightful owner, Caroline, is a bit of a local celebrity who, more than 20 years ago, floated down the River Chet, liked what she saw and stayed. But now, social distancing means the café can only accommodate one customer at a time. So what was Caroline the tea lady to do?

Extend the little secret garden she has created tucked away by Loddon Staithe*, of course. We got the call from Tom, the nice young man who renovated our cottage and sold it on to us. Would we help out? Hell, yes.

Tooled-up Tom with his broad shoulders and impressive equipment did all the butch work, constructing tables and erecting metal poles. All we really did was mow down the bramble and hold things while he wielded hammer and drill. In the meantime, Caroline kept us fed and watered. I can recommend the bacon sarnie.

Now lycra’d bikers can gather in gangs (of no more than six, of course) in a secret grove to rest and replenish with enough space to keep an eye on their fancy cycles.

Yes, that’s Liam and me with our backs to the camera. We were pleased to do our bit for a village institution.

Loddon Staithe

*A staithe is a landing stage for loading or unloading cargo boats. That ship sailed long ago round these parts. Loddon Staithe is now used by those who like to muck about in pleasure boats.

Sizzling Summer Reads

This writing lark has provided an unexpected bonus: I get asked to review books and they are sent to me for free. It’s mostly (but not always) a fun and diverting pastime. It also forces me away from the keyboard: I tend to read a few chapters at a time over an Americano in a local coffee shop. Now that spring is upon us (here’s hoping) and thoughts turn to a welcome break in a faraway land, you might be looking for the perfect holiday read. You could do a lot worse than these titles. You’ll be relieved to know that I’m not plugging my own work this time.

Sleeping People Lie – Jae De Wylde

Sleeping People LieA chance meeting, a stolen glance, a skipped beat and the birth of a fine romance? Well, not exactly. There are no roses round the door in this gripping trans-Atlantic tryst of passion, intrigue, obsession, and deception. Sleeping People Lie is a splendid affair of the fixated heart with a bitter-chocolate twist. A box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray it ain’t. Where will it end? That would be giving the game away. Jae De Wylde’s second book is a corker (and her first book was pretty good too). The lady’s going far. Fabulous!

Impossibly Glamorous – Charles Ayres

impossibly glamorousCharles Ayres has a white knuckle tale to tell and he tells it with wit and panache in his romping autobiography, ‘Impossibly Glamorous.’ From the moment Charles dropped out of the womb he was different and being different in Eighties Mid-West USA was no walk in the prairie. The MENSA-brained boy from Kansas country found the Bible Belt wanting and went in search of eastern spice. Draped in a second-hand fake fur he used like a comfort blanket, Charles turned on his heels, hitched up his skirt, rode out of town and lay down his sequined saddle bag in the Land of the Rising Sun. It was not all glitter and glitz. Much of the time it was a broken-hearted obstacle course of depression and hand-to-mouth living. By his own admission, Charles has not been the best judge of matters of the heart and he brushes aside one red flag after another with a camp, dismissive wave. Fortunately, there’s an eclectic cast of extras to haul him up from the emotional abyss, including my personal favourites, “the Ladies of the Commonweath.” MTV during its glory days provides a vibrant soundtrack to the adventures and mishaps. As a Tokyo radio translator and TV personality, a dazzling pantheon of stars passed through his hands and Charles deliciously name-drops his way through his extraordinary saga. In the end, though, a diet of oriental fame brought little fortune and there’s no glamour in penury. Through it all, Charles’ humour, humanity, candour, unquenchable thirst for life and rare insight into the slings and arrows, cut through the crap like a blazing shooting star. Charles Ayres is impossibly glamorous and can light up my party anytime.

An Inconvenient Posting – Laura J Stephens

An inconvenient postingWhen husband, David, received the job offer of a lifetime to head up his company’s office in Houston, Texas, it could not have come at a worse time for Laura. Their young children were settled and thriving in the home that she cherished, she was close to launching her own career as a counsellor and her parents had moved nearby to enable them to spend quality time with their grandchildren while they still could. To say Laura was conflicted would be a sweeping understatement. But, her love and loyalty for her high flying husband meant that she was determined to do the right thing even when her heart was screaming “no”. Besides, exchanging the grey and dripping skies of England for the endless horizons of Texas had its attractions. How bad could it be? ‘An Inconvenient Posting’ is an agonisingly candid and raw account of loss and transition. Dark and broody but revelational and comic at the same time, this book will resonate with anyone who has found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Did Laura live the American dream? You best read the book to find out.

Forced to Fly – Jo Parfitt

Forced to FlyI read the first publication of `Forced to Fly’ and thoroughly enjoyed it. As well as 20 brand new anecdotes from a range of expat writers (including me) and bloggers, this second edition also includes a thoughtful new chapter on emotional resilience, a hot topic these transient days. This funny and forceful anthology is the definitive must-read reference for all novice and experienced expats. Slip it into your hand luggage as you board your flight to paradise. Forearmed is forewarned.

Shaikh-Down – David Gee

shaikh-downDecadent western mores slap stifling medieval manners around the face and lose. Nothing could have prepared Cass and Eddy for what was to come when they dumped their unwanted pasts at check-in and headed for the oasis. Follow them as they struggle to keep their heads above water (and on their shoulders). An (almost) bloodless coup upsets the expat apple cart of decadent days and raunchy nights, forcing the lotus eaters to hitch up their skirts and scramble for the border. A delicious, laugh-out-loud, randy romp through the myopic and bawdy world of Gulf expatriate life set against the chilling winds of change.

Going Local in Gran Canaria – Matthew Hirtes

going local in gran canariaGoing Local in Gran Canaria is the definitive guide for visitors and expats alike, covering all aspects of life in this semi-tropical Atlantic semi-paradise. The book is packed to the rafters with well-researched facts and fun, sites and scenes, eats and treats, must-dos and don’t-dos, both on and off the well-beaten track. The entire package is delivered in a witty and erudite style from someone in the know, as is to be expected from a seasoned journalist of Matthew Hirtes’ calibre. Amusing anecdotes weave through the book. I particularly like the notion that nasty General Franco exiled gay soldiers to the island which may explain Gran Canaria’s perennial appeal to the gay community. I’ve been a regular visitor for over 25 years so maybe there’s some truth in this fanciful tale. Whether dipping in for a hint or two or reading cover-to-cover, this book should be in everyone’s Canarian suitcase.

Sunshine Soup – Jo Parfitt

sunshine soupI found it impossible not to be drawn in to this book. The characters are strikingly drawn and developed, the plot is compelling and the sights and sounds of Dubai form an evocative backdrop to a hugely enjoyable story of loss, intrigue and redemption. I found the story of Maya (the book’s main character) very believable and for me that makes this novel appealing. And yes, there is an actual recipe for Sunshine Soup at the end of the book, along with 19 others – a nice touch.

Bitten by Spain – Deborah Fletcher

bitten by spainI was bitten by ‘Bitten by Spain.’ Once in a while you read a book that makes you laugh out loud. I loved it. The author moved from her ever so sensible existence in the UK to build a new life in Spain and she describes her adventures, warts and all, with an amusing, easy-to-read style. The fact that her dogs, cat and parrots joined the fray added some real pathos and when the menagerie is augmented by an assortment of wild birds, feral animals and creepy-crawlies the final mix is hilarious. I was struck by Deborah’s pluck (she was often alone because her husband was often back in the UK working) and there are some tender and thought-provoking moments along with the humour.  It really is a lovely read and the kind of book you can dip in and out of (the chapters are a bit like bite-sized set pieces). I actually read it in one long sitting accompanied by a good bottle of Rioja.

The Okçular Book ProjectThe Okçular Book Project – Alan Fenn

Last but not least…

‘Okçular Village – a Guide’ and ‘Backways & Trackways.’ I whole-heartedly recommend these books because income from sales is spent on environmental and community projects in the village of Okçular, near Dalyan in Turkey.