Archive for the ‘People stories…’ Category


Marcelle had never been as one might say a bright star.  Not that there is anything visibly wrong with her – she is charming, has a radiant smile and a kind word for everyone.  Now in her forties, everyone in the village knows and likes her and she knows and likes everyone in the village.

A Marcelle painting without name

But life to her had always been a bit of a struggle.  School was not her strongest point, and leaving at an early age she had tried her hand at various uncomplicated careers.  To start she had made an attempt at cleaning people’s houses but was fired on account of several disasters that involved flooded bathrooms and arson without intent.  She subsequently proposed to iron clothes for people who were too busy to do this themselves, but after an indiscriminate amount of burns (both inflicted on herself and clients’ properties) this job too was ditched.  Next followed a period of looking after elderly villagers which, with her lovely caring personality, she was good at – until she tripped up 84 year old Cécile, broke Corinne’s TV and allowed Joséphine (Fifi to the privileged) to walk around the village with her dress tucked into her knickers…

After this, Marcelle repeatedly left notes in people’s letterboxes that she would be happy to cook for anyone who didn’t have the time to do this themselves, but somehow people decided not to try out these skills…

Then out of the blue, poor Marcelle was diagnosed with a brain tumour.  A year of operations, chemo treatment and rest followed, but Marcelle never lost her smile.  Because of her perseverance and good humour Marcelle soon got better.  Then a miracle happened.  Someone during the superb rehabilitation and aftercare that she received, had the foresight to put a paintbrush in her hand.  It changed her life.

Marcelle turned out to be a natural artist with (I believe) a talent that surpasses most of us.  Her ability to perceive and interpret light is quite extraordinary.  It puts her on a par with the very greatest…


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afternoon tea

Her name was Edna but the children called her Neddles.  Summer was her favourite season when she would serve a favoured guest tiny alpine strawberries on buttery shortbread, freshly made toast with tarty gooseberry jam and juicy raspberries with cream and homemade meringues on dainty plates with silver forks, and tea from a prettily decorated, old porcelain teapot.

summer tea by barrett

She would have picked those fruits that morning in her small, somewhat messy but always prolific kitchen garden.  And you would sink into faded floral-patterned, feather-filled cushions on her ancient sofa that was draped here and there with crocheted patchwork blankets.  And you would look at the family photos on the mantlepiece while she was preparing this tea of the gods for your benefit.  The sun would stream into her warm wooden interior through the open French doors. And outside these windows there would be a riot of cottage garden flowers, all floppy and fragile and carelessly tumbling over a stone-flagged patio.  She died three years ago but her memory lingers. She was a role model.

field mushroom

Recently, after spending an afternoon searching for ceps in France I thought of another mushroom hunt some 20 years ago in Ireland, which Edna had planned for my children when they were perhaps 4 and 6 years old.  She was certain that the fields surrounding her house would be bursting with field mushrooms that Saturday morning. I had my doubts because the autumn had been dry – a rarity in Ireland. But she proved right. Darting around in the dry grass in their red wellies the kids were thrilled to find plenty of mushrooms – all small and white and neatly buttoned up. They filled their baskets, elated with their bonanza of treasures. I was puzzled but relished their excitement.

It wasn’t until much later that I found out that Edna, finding no mushrooms in the fields early that morning, had gone to the market and purchased punnets of commercially grown mushrooms, then ‘planted’ them in little clusters around the fields before we arrived…

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