Diminishing Returns

About 15 years ago, we moved from Leeds (pop. 716, 000)……. to Harrogate ( pop.72,000).    How charming and manageable in size it seemed!Now we’ve moved to Ripon (pop. 16,000).  Its cathedral gives it city status, though it’s so much smaller than Harrogate.And of course, we also live in Laroque d’Olmes (pop. 2, 600)Where next?  A farmstead on a remote hillside?

Next stop: Ripon

After that outburst last week, we had a think.  And then we thought some more.  And some more.  And we realised that we really need a base here.  For us, and for our daughter.  Home-hunting was as depressing as it always is.  Until we had an idea.

Our new flat's near here

Would Ripon, a mere 10 miles from Harrogate, but too far for regular commuters to Leeds, Bradford and York provide a more affordable answer?  It did, in the very first flat we looked at to rent. It’s small, but the complex has been thoughtfully developed on the site of the old College of Ripon and York St. John. Its trees and parkland have been preserved.  By car, it’s out of town.  On foot, it’s a ginnel or two away from the town centre.

And we love Ripon.  It’s so near to Harrogate that we can easily maintain our relationships there, but it has a different centre of gravity, with the open spaces  of North Yorkshire so near to explore, and Fountains Abbey as a near neighbour.

Market Square

For over a 1000 years, it’s been a market town.  Its Thursday market is still busy and lively and there are plenty of independent shops in the  ancient streets clustered round the market square.  It has a Cathedral, and a lively cultural life.  I’ve just discovered it’s twinned with Foix, departmental capital of the Ariège.  I think we’re going to be happy here as we divide our time between France and England.

Ripon Cathedral seen from the River Ure

A love affair

Valley Gardens

Every time we come back to England, I realise how much it is, quite simply, ‘home’.  Our house  is rented out, we have few personal effects here, but still I routinely and unconsciously speak of it as ‘home’, and Laroque as ‘back in France’.  So you don’t have to be a genius to work out where my heart really is. My daughters, grown-up, mature, independent, make no secret of the fact that they’d prefer us to be around more.  It’s difficult not to agree.

England itself works its way under my skin every time I return.   We’re staying in a friend’s house on the Valley Gardens in Harrogate.  Daily walks in the park, easy access to the Stray, and the busy neighbourhood shops of Cold Bath Road have put a much more positive spin on the town than when we lived in our house in the suburbs.  Yesterday we spent walking near Grassington, along the River Wharfe, where baby ducklings and a heron held our delighted attention.  But the landscape of windswept green hills, drystone walls, sheep with their lambs, and late in the afternoon, the bluebell woods, captivated us as only ‘God’s Own County’ can.

A walk round Grassington


I’m happy in Laroque, very happy:  and I don’t want to leave.  Not yet.

Three French Hens

Léonce and I have long wanted hens.  But she’s beaten me to it.  A friend of Henri’s keeps quite a brood: lately, one of the cocks has been having a go at a quiet little trio – a cock and his two hens.  So Henri’s friend decided, sadly, that they’d be better off elsewhere.

We went for a tour of inspection last week.  Léonce was charmed by their pretty colours and diminutive stature and promised to buy.

She’s got the hen house finished off, and now….because of what’s happening over in the UK this week, she’s named the new additions to her family.  Let me introduce William, Kate…..and Queenie

That Wedding

I’m not a big fan of Prince Philip.  But he was right on the money when he declared to Marc Levy, author of ‘«Elizabeth II, la dernière reine» that  ‘You French are frankly funny.  You adore the monarchies of the rest of us, but got rid of your own.’

William-and-Kate-mania can’t be escaped by simply fleeing across the channel this week

Last week for example I noticed a French magazine headline that suggested some 14 million French will be glued to their sets to watch That Wedding.  The Prince and his bride-to-be have already had a big chunk of TV air time, and just look at this week’s schedules:

M6 kicks off on Thursday evening with a three and a half hour marathon, but Friday the 29th is the day those 14 million French take the phone of the hook, kick off their shoes and hole up on the sofa.  Here’s their schedule:

TFI: 9.30 – 14.45
France 2: 9.15 – 13.45
M6: 9.00 – 17.35 ( that’s 5 programmes all about the couple, one after the other)
W9: 20.40 – 1.50.

Actually, I would have been quite interested to watch for a bit, to see how French and British coverages compare, but we’ve chosen that day to arrive in England, confident that the usually busy roads will be traffic-free.  We’ll be glad too to escape the constant questions.  Being British does not make us Royal Experts, but our neighbours are remarkably slow to catch on.

A quick peek at Algeria

Last November, I joined L’Assocation Découverte Terres Lointaines, and wrote about it here.  This month, I’m really involved, up to the neck, because next week, at the library in Lavelenet, we’re taking over, and bringing Algeria to town. More later, then. But for now, have a look at some of our more relaxing moments during our preparations.

Were from England, Brazil, Algeria: but the clothes are all from Algeria

On Friday afternoon, Nadia invited us round and got out a tantalising bundle of her traditional Algerian clothes, many dating from the time of her wedding, for us to try on ahead of next week. Here’s what some of us eventually chose, after we’d struggled in and out of dresses each prettier than the last, elaborately embroidered, beaded and sequinned.  Just as well you can’t see us pirouetting around our workaday tee shirts and trousers discarded on the floor.

Before that, we’d been busy baking, selecting recipes to make for some of next week’s sessions.  Here’s my favourite, Basbousa.  Like most recipes from the area, quantities are expressed in volume rather than weight.


  • 2 cups fine semolina
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup water
  • about 20 blanched split almonds
  • 2 cups caster sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • Tablespoon of orange flower water or the juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4. Grease a rectangular cake tin, about 8” x 12”.

Sieve together the semolina, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Stir in the eggs with a little semolina to prevent curdling. Mix in ½ cup of water. Stir the sifted semolina in and beat until you have a smooth batter. Pour into the prepared cake tin. Score diagonal lines across the top of the cake creating diamond shapes. Place an almond in each diamond. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the cake is firm and golden.

Meanwhile place the caster sugar in a small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved then add the orange flower water or juice of the lemon and bring to the boil. Boil for about 10 minutes or until syrupy.

When the cake is removed from the oven, gently spoon the syrup over it. You may not need all the syrup: stop spooning when the cake has absorbed all it can. Allow to cool in the tin before turning out and serving sliced into diamonds.

When I tested the recipe at home, I had no orange flower water, so used lemon juice.  Nadia said it wasn’t traditional…..but she liked it anyway.  It’s sweet, simple, and keeps well.  Worth having in the cake tin.

Nadia serves mint tea the traditional way, from this elegant pot in small decorated glasses