The author of this marvellous trilogy is one of my Friends on Face book. Not quite sure how that happened, I cannot think of any logical reason why Carol should wish to have me as a Friend, but there you go. This means of course that when she writes about her olive farm in the South of France, all the daily goings on, how things are progressing etc, up this pops on my page and all her Friends, of which there are many, can keep up to date with it all.
I remember reading the third in this trilogy when it was serialised in one of the dailies but never the other books then or since, so after receiving all these posts and photographs on Face book and getting to know Carol, albeit in cyberspace, I decided to get hold of the three and read the lot.
Before I go any further it is inevitable that I am going to mention All Creatures Great and Small, the TV series which made Carol a household name, which was one of the most popular and successful ever produced by the BBC. In this Carol played Helen, the wife of James Herriot, the young vet alongside Peter Davison and the incomparable Robert Hardy. Set in Yorkshire, one of my favourite places in the UK, it was touching, funny and beautifully acted and I remember well, and this is NOT hindsight, watching Carol and thinking what a beautiful woman she was, not just her physical looks but she had a warm, smiling face which I found most appealing. If you look at photos of her now the warmth and beauty is still there.
So with this background knowledge in my happy memories, I read The Olive Farm, The Olive Season and The Olive Harvest over a two week period and simply loved them. Written in the present tense, which is my bete noire as you know, I found this did not matter as the writing is so good. Bad writing, in past or present tense, I cannot stand and have tossed quite a few received books aside because of this, but no danger here. There is another one which was published this summer and I shall get hold of this as well now that these three are tucked under my belt.
Check out this link of Carol talking about her beloved Olive Farm here
Carol and Michel bought the farm, Appassionata, when they had no business to do so. They had not known each other long, but as Michel had proposed to her within 24 hours of meeting (tres romantique!) it was clear he was a man of decision and they really could not afford it but they had a look anyway.
"The years of neglect, aided by the recent freak weather, have certainly put paid to Appassionata's former glory. Still, I am drawn to it, to its faded elegance. it remains graceful. There is beauty here. And history. Even the gnarled and twisted olive trees look as though they have stood witness on this hillside for a thousand years"
And so they buy it and embark on its restoration and seeing if they can run it once more as an olive farm. Now whenever I read books of couples who are going to live their dream in France/Spain/Italy/Mexico whatsoever and I read the lyric descriptions of sitting watching the sun go down while freshly caught fish sizzle on the barbecue with twigs of rosemary adding a fragrant smell, and drinking the local wine blah blah blah, I usually feel a profound irritation. I blame Peter Mayle for this and his book A Year in Provence which I found acutely annoying, every Frenchman or woman an eccentric, every daily task turned into a soap opera, all this followed by one of the worst series the BBC ever produced which fortunately died the death. All this has made me wary of reading books such as this and probably explains why I had not read these three. And yes, there are wonderful descriptions of food, wine, the locals etc etc but I found this time that I did not get annoyed or fed up with it. We have to come back, not only to the quality of the writing, which is high, but to the reality of the back breaking hard work with which both of them approached their mighty task. Not easy and there were times when they teetered close to bankruptcy, dealing with the French bureaucratic process was tortuous and time consuming, a task Carol leaves happily to Michel, and I can only sit back and admire all the physical work which both of them undertook.
I used to become envious when I read of people who undertook these great adventures and think Oh I wish I could do that, but know full well that I never would. One has to have a certain adventuresome spirit and total commitment for this kind of journey and I know now that I do not possess it. Oh I may travel and enjoy myself, but at the end of a day I do like a comfortable bed, hot water, a secure roof over my head and no worries. So I now thoroughly enjoy second hand adventuring and realise that it is not all fun and enjoyment. Problems and sadness still happen no matter where you live and Carol and Michel have had their fair share. Carol loses a much wanted baby, her sorrow and desolation beautifully expressed and reduced me to tears, and is told that she must not try again. She has two stepdaughters but a child of one's own, hers and Michel will never be. They come very close to losing the farm because of lack of finance and then they are involved in a car accident and Michel, unknown to Carol, who is struggling to stop his business from collapse, falls into a deep depression and withdraws within himself. He wants to go back to Paris, his interest in the farm drops away and at one stage he actually says he wants a divorce. Carol is left to struggle on alone and struggle she does, but she never gives up on Michel giving him space and time. I admire her enormously for this and this period, which seems to last a year or more, tests her sorely. She is obviously a more understanding and a better woman than I because my reaction when told after all the love and care lavished on Appassionata that my husband wanted out, would probably have been Oh well sod off then. But she is wiser and gradually by keeping in touch with Michel, sending him parcels of herbs and olive oil from the farm, enticing him back for Christmas and a holiday, he slowly gets better and his breakdown is slowly overcome. Lovely to know that they are still together and that Appassionata now produces olive oil and is doing well.
I don't suppose for one moment they will ever be free of money worries or be able to ever sit back and put up their respective feet, but their life as described here, seems to me to be a deeply satisfying and happy one. I have much enjoyed reading about it and keeping up to date with the Olive Farm. At the moment Carol is in Malta and is involved in a film about the Olive Route and am looking forward to seeing this when it is finished.
When I told Carol I would be posting about the Olive Farm, I said that a mention of All Creatures Great and Small was almost inevitable and apologised in advance. ' Don't worry' she replied 'they always do....'