Posted in Personal life, Writing

Snowdrops vs Daffodils

photo of roadsign to Hawkesbury with snowdrops

(This post first appeared in the February issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News)

photo of snowdrops on the grass verge beside the road
Snowdrops by the roadside between Hawkesbury Upton and Wotton under Edge

Weary of the continuing long dark nights, today I drove to Wotton in the daylight for the first time this year. Catching sight of the snowdrops lining the roadside banks cheered me up no end.

Visions of their natural successors in order of flowering – daffodils, wild garlic, bluebells – rushed through my imagination like a speeded-up nature film, fast forwarding me to spring.

Despite the plummeting temperature, I felt warmer than I had done for days.

Not for nothing do snowdrops symbolise hope in the traditional language of flowers.

I was reminded of the effect that daffodils had on Wordsworth, buoying him up long after he had got back to his cottage in the Lake District:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth – from I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

(click here to read the poem in full, courtesy of The Poetry Foundation)

I like to think that had Wordsworth chosen to settle in Hawkesbury rather than Grasmere, he might have serenaded snowdrops instead of daffodils.

Though he might have found it harder to find a word to rhyme with them.

Posted in Writing

What’s My Name Doing on a Ugandan School Desk?

photo of children at desk with Debbie Young's name on
Seeing those shy but happy young faces is worth every penny of the £20 donation to sponsor this desk in a Ugandan school.

Sponsoring this desk in a school for Ugandan children made me feel like a million dollars – and cost me just £20.

Read on for more information about this fun scheme and to find out how to get your name on a desk like this to help give impoverished children in Kampala a better start in life.

Martin Brown, one of life’s enthusiasts

When my writer friend Martin Brown told me about the charity he helped set up to fund Ugandan schools, Infancia Uganda, it was with his characteristic energy and enthusiasm, and I couldn’t help be intrigued by what he was doing.

The charity has a Spanish name, because when it was founded, Martin was living in Spain, and the two other founders are Spanish nationals. Martin recently returned to England after several decades as an expat, including a substantial stint in California.

Infancia Uganda – Helping to Educate Ugandan Children

This is how he describes the charity’s work:

“Our mission is very simple and specific. We support several small schools in and around Kampala, Uganda. The public school system in Uganda is broken, and so private schools are everywhere. The only chance that children really have of acquiring an education is to find a place in one of these schools.

“Now when we say private schools, don’t think of it in the same way as we do in the UK or USA. These are not elitist establishments, only for the rich. The cost, for example, to pay for an education for one child for one year in one of our schools is £75! At present, we are paying for 28 children. Our project is small and we want to keep it that way, under control and with 100% of the money collected going directly to the school. We also have appeals from time to time for desks for the schools and also for clean water projects.

“Thank you for taking the time to read this and we hope you will work with us to bring some light into the kids’ worlds.”

How You Can Help

There are various ways in which donors can sponsor the charity, but the particular programme that sparked my imagination was its appeal to sponsor a desk.

Just £20 will pay for a new wooden desk to seat up to four eager pupils, and as you can see from the photo, the desks are built to last!

The charity is pleased to recognise the donor by painting the name of their choice on the front of the desk, and sending a photo of it to the donor.

picture of children at desk with Martin, Hope and Ali painted on it
This photo of Martin’s family’s desk made me want one too!

When I shared the sponsorship opportunity with author friends at the Alliance of Independent Authors, there was a rush of donations, with us all loving the idea of having our pen names on desks. Martin thought the children would be thrilled to know their desks were sponsored by writers.

But you can have whatever names you like inscribed – your family name, your business name, or someone whom you’d like to commemorate.

So if you’d like to sponsor a desk with Infancia Uganda, or to support this delightful charity in any other way, click here for more information.#

Thank you. 

Posted in Writing

What Makes a Proper Village?

(My column for the January edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News)

cover of January issue of Hawkesbury Parish News
Slightly crumpled thanks to my letterbox (the parish mags are delivered to our doors by volunteers)

Driving back from Cribbs Causeway recently, I was bemused to spot what looked like a drab, chunky office block with big white letters on the side proclaiming it to be the “Village Hotel”. According to its website, it’s “a modern hi-tech hotel,” which doesn’t sound very villagey at all to me.

I first noticed the misappropriation of the word village years ago when managing the PR for the launch of the UK’s first factory outlet retail park, Clarks Village in Somerset. Clarks Village boasts 90 shops and 1,400 parking spaces. That’s a village? That’s news to me.

Confusingly, a billboard close to The Village Hotel invited me to move to “The Villages” at Charfield. Apparently, these are the new housing developments springing up in Charfield.  What do people who live in the village of Charfield say when a house-hunter asks directions to The Villages? I’d be tempted to say, “Which village would you like? Charfield, Hawkesbury, Hillesley, Kingswood? There’s no shortage of villages around here.”

Cover of All Part of the Charm
My collection of columns from the Hawkesbury Parish News & essays about village life is available to buy in paperback and ebook

The National Geographic Society’s definition describes a village as “larger than a hamlet, smaller than a town”. But to me, a true village means so much more – a community with a heart and a soul, with personality and spirit, where everyone looks out for each other and where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, to the benefit of all its residents.

And if anyone is still unsure, I have just one piece of advice: visit Hawkesbury Upton to witness a first-rate village in action. I’m glad to say it’s the only village in this village.

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Writers, Stamina & Jane Davis

STAMINA!

Have you go it ? Where does it come from?

At primary school, our headmaster used to say stamina was the secret of success.

This was in the days when schools were obliged to have a daily religious whole-school assembly, and although there were always a couple of hymns and a prayer, Mr Bowering also liked to use the occasion to put across some of his own key messages about life, the universe and everything.

photo of Days Lane School, Sidcup
The primary school in Sidcup where I spent many happy years – and learned the meaning of stamina

His favourite activities included:

  • using a remote-controlled system built into his lectern to illuminate capital cities on the vast wooden map of the world suspended above the platform, and we’d shout out the names of those we knew
    (I hardly knew any of them, and envied Simon Evans his legendary total recall)
  • leading a rousing rendition of William Blake’s hymn “Jerusalem” every Tuesday, an extended assembly to include hymn practice
    (I don’t know why it took me so long to join the WI, when I’ve been word- and note-perfect in its anthem since the age of seven)
  • appointing the King and Queen of the Shiny Shoes every Friday
    (I always regretted never having patent leather shoes for instant, constant shine  – the rich kids had a clear advantage there)

But perhaps his most memorable eccentricity was to impress upon us the importance of stamina if we wanted to be a success in whatever we did with our lives.

“What do you need?” he would bellow to the sea of rapt faces through cupped hands.

“Stamina!” we would shout back, as one.

Photo of budgie
Recollections from an era in which petfood ads offering stamina for dogs and making “budgies bounce with health” (Image by Unmesh Gaikwad via Unsplash.com)

Although I suspect I was not the only child to be a little confused as to what it was. The only place I’d heard the word outside school assembly was in a popular television advert for dogfood, possibly Pedigree Chum, which promised to fill your dog with stamina. This was in the same era as the famous Trill birdseed advert that promised to “make budgies bounce with health”. I imagined them ricocheting off the bars of their cages like the ball bearings in a pinball table.

Stamina as a Writer

image of Jane Davis with pile of books
Award-winning novelist Jane Davis shows considerable stamina herself with eight novels to her name so far

But his saying stuck with me, and it does still spur me on occasionally. So my ears pricked up (that’ll be the Pedigree Chum kicking in) when Jane Davis, author of award-winning literary fiction, asked writer friends to explain the secrets of their writing stamina. I am very pleased that she chose to include my response among her findings, outlined in her latest blog post here:

https://jane-davis.co.uk/2019/01/22/novel-writing-self-belief-and-staying-power/

I hope Mr Bowering would be proud of me. 

 

Posted in Events, Writing

The Michael & Debbie Double Act Strikes Again!

bcfm logoI always love doing radio, especially when the show’s presenter is a great friend. Today I was pleased to be the studio guest of Michael MacMahon, one of BCfm Silver Sound’s hosts.

About Michael and Me

Cover of The Wedding Speech HandbookI’ve known Michael for quite a few years now, having met through our shared interest in writing. Although Michael writes non-fiction books and I write mainly fiction, we get on famously and are often helping each other out in practical ways. Michael is a popular fixture at my Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, renowned for his rendition of Prospero’s speech from the Tempest at our closing ceremony. I’ve chaired his launch events for both of his books, and each time it has been great fun.

The most recent of these launches was just last month, for The Wedding Speech Handbook, when we dressed up as if for a wedding, complete with buttonholes, wedding cake, and in my case my best wedding hat!

Celebrating Michael’s new book about weddings in style (he’s seated, left in his DJ) 20181127 – Photo @JonCraig – 07778 606070

What We Talked About on the Show

Today on the Silver Sound show, we were talking about how and why people shouldn’t think in terms of retirement, but instead of how to reinvent themselves, as indeed both he and I have done with our writing careers. I was very interested to hear about Michael’s plans for his next book, interviewing people who have reinvented themselves in retirement – including my dad, who, as I mentioned on the show, embraced multiple artistic hobbies after a career in computer engineering.

How to Listen to the Show

If you’d like to hear our wide-ranging conversation, you can catch up with it online via BCfm’s website  www.bcfmradio.com/silversound Just click on “Silver Sound” in the programmes list, then on today’s date (20/12/18). We’re on for the first hour from 10am, chatting from about four minutes into the show, after the news at the top of the hour.

Post-Script Coincidence

After the show, we parted company, but a little later an email from Michael pinged into my inbox. “I get dozens of emails every day, but this was the first one I opened when I got home,” he wrote, forwarding the one he’d received to me:

screenshot of Amazon ad

I think Jeff Bezos must be watching us…

What’s Next for our Double-Act?

We’re hoping to stage a joint event on a wedding theme in the new year, involving both his Wedding Speech Handbook and my collection of short stories, Marry in Haste. More news to follow in due course!
For more information about Michael, his multi-faceted reinvention of himself, and his excellent books, visit his website, www.michaelmacmahon.com – or tune in to Silver Sound to catch his show!