Posted in Personal life, Writing

The Early Bird Catches the Focaccia

This post first appeared in the July/August issue of the Tetbury Advertiser

Cover of July/August issue of the Tetbury Advertiser“Only in the Cotswolds!” commented a friend when one Monday morning I posted on Facebook a photo of what I’d just put out in my garden to feed the birds: green olive focaccia and grissini. (And yes, before there are letters to the editor, I did soak it in water first, so as not to dehydrate the birds.) I thought the birds might appreciate dinner-party leftovers as a change from my daughter’s school lunchbox leavings.

Even more Cotswold would be a selection of Hobbs House bread and some trimmings from Tetbury’s House of Cheese, all drenched in elderflower pressé and served up on a wooden trencher hand-carved from a piece of Westonbirt Arboretum wood.

I should probably also have served it in an elegant little Boden dress, covered with a Cath Kidston pinny. I failed on both counts, despite my predilection for the latter’s handbags. And sadly none of it had been nowhere near a middle-aged man wearing oxblood corduroy trousers.

Back to Basics

In fact what my friend took to be a gourmet treat for my little feathered friends was more slummy than yummy. The olive focaccia being reduced for quick sale before loitering in my freezer for a few weeks. The grissini was not the rustic hand-rolled type, but straight white mass-produced batons, bought for a young visitor who eats only bread that looks as if it’s gone a few rounds with a bottle of bleach.

But I’ve come to realise that gourmet cooking is in the eye of the beholder. In a supermarket recently, I overheard a lady saying proudly to her friend “I cooked porridge from scratch the other day”. Er, water, oats, oats, water – there’s only so much that you can do with that. Her claim struck me as not far removed from saying “I prepared a banana from scratch” when all she’d done was peel it. But in a world in which you can buy frozen baked potatoes and frozen scrambled eggs, perhaps I should not be surprised.

Fly-by-Nights?

Fortunately my garden birds are not foodies, and they’re not much bothered by sell-by dates. (Don’t worry, letter writers, I never leave mouldy food out either.) But I was a little puzzled that most of the food put down after my daughter got home from school, still there when I went to bed, would entirely disappear by the time I opened the curtains at breakfast time, without me ever seeing a single bird tucking in.

Another social media friend came up with the answer: “If the birds don’t get it, the rats will.”

To be on the safe side, I’ve now changed feeding time in my garden, so that I’m up in time to see who’s coming to Garden Café Young. If the dawn chorus want a snack before I’m up and about, they can jolly well catch the proverbial worm. Even so, I have to say this morning when I put out their daily rations, I have never been so glad to see a blackbird.


image of covers of first three books in the Sophie Sayers series
My series of village mystery novels is inspired by my daily life in the Cotswolds – just click on the image to find out more about them
Posted in Personal life, Writing

Making Hay Fever While the Sun Shines

This post was originally written for the July issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

A Hawkesbury summer

I don’t mean to sound like one of those townies who on moving to the countryside complains about pesky tractors slowing them down or inconsiderate cockerels crowing at dawn, but this year I’ve found the hay fever season particularly troubling. On the days when the pollen count is at its highest, I feel like I’ve been ambushed by an invisible demon casting gravel down my throat, sand in my eyes and pepper up my nose – all effective sleep deprivation techniques that leave me dysfunctional by breakfast time.

My usual first resort for healthcare advice is the NHS website, but having waited all winter for this glorious summer weather, I will not be following their top tips: stay indoors, close all windows, and don’t dry your washing on the line.

A plea for alternative remedies that would still allow me to have a summer produced several alternatives to prescription and over-the-counter antihistamines. I’m sharing them here in case they help you too. These three are definitely helping me already:

  • Invisible armour: smear Vaseline around your nostrils and eyelashes to trap pollen before it reaches your system (it may not be a good look, but boy, is it effective!)
  • Clean sheets: change your pillowcase every night to avoid pollen build-up
  • Hose down: shower before bed to chase away lingering grains from hair and body

I’m about to try these:

  • Fight fire with fire: take a teaspoon of bee pollen a day (you can buy it in jars – no need to chase bees around your garden with a butterfly net)
  • Grasp the nettle: a daily drink of nettle tea (commercially available nettle teabags will take the sting out of the preparation)

My go-to winter cold remedy, hot water with honey and lemon, is also very soothing, especially for the sore throat. Local honey, available from Hawkesbury Stores, is meant to be best for hay fever, though Sandringham Estate honey, a gift from my sister who holidayed nearby, also works a treat for me. I’m guessing the Queen Bee was involved in that one.

To end on a positive note, at least hay doesn’t actually give you a fever. But that’s the kindest thing I can think of to say about it.


image of covers of first three books in the Sophie Sayers series
My series of village mystery novels is inspired by my daily life in the Cotswolds – just click on the image to find out more about them

 

Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

My Dream Office (with a little help from the National Trust)

This post first appeared on the Authors Electric collective blog

shot of Debbie going through a gate into a graveyard
Debbie Young, going places…

“Where do you write?” asked a very pleasant lady at a talk I gave recently to the Cheltenham Writers’ Circle.

I gave my standard answer: how lucky I am to have my own study in my Victorian Cotswold cottage, with a big desk facing a window that looks out over the garden.

But next morning, when I sat down to write there, I shrieked as a sharp pain shot from my spine to my ankle, reminding me that lately I had been spending far too long at my desk-with-a-view – and I felt desirous of change.

Prompted by the arrival of my new National Trust card in the post the day before, and licensed by my friend and mentor Orna Ross to fill the creative well with a weekly “create date” with self, I stowed my purse, my shades, and my notebook and pen into my backpack, donned my walking boots, and set off to nearby Dyrham Park.

photo of Dyrham Park manor in deer park
The long and winding road down through the deer park to the spectacular Dyrham Park
The long and winding road down through the deer park to the spectacular Dyrham Park

Ok, I confess, I drove there (well, it is about eight miles away) – but on arrival, I eschewed the visitor bus service and set off down the path to this beautiful stately home, nestling at the bottom of the deer park, in search of a different place to write my daily words.

A cosy nook beckoned me from inside a hollow tree

This old hollow tree looked tempting. I’ve always had a soft spot for hollow trees since reading Enid Blyton’s The Hollow Tree House (over and over again) when I was a child. Unfortunately this one was roped off from public access.

I proceeded to the main house, skirting round the building – it was too sunny outside to be indoors – admiring beautiful Delft pots of tulips on the way. (This was a few weeks ago now.)

The original owner had served as Dutch ambassador

I thought the chapel would come in handy if my writing wasn’t progressing well and I needed a quick pray, but sadly it was locked.

The chapel now serves as the parish church.

There were plenty of seats to choose from with scenic views of the flowerbeds…

To sit in sunshine or shadow? – depends on which end you choose

…although I might be tempted to take pity on the gardener and lend him a hand with the weeding.

I think he might benefit from a bigger wheelbarrow

Wildflower meadows complemented the formal planting, replete with so many traditional English plants that I found Oberon‘s seductive lines running through my head…

“I know a bank where the wild thyme grows…”
Great swathes of forget-me-nots – a humble plant invested with a special significance in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries – brought me back to the purpose of my visit: to write.
Not forgetting…
I turned my back on the lake to investigate what looked at first glance as a kind of wooden hammock.
Nature’s hammock?

…but closer inspection revealed a forbidding sign.

Then – who’d have thought it? – I found myself on the threshold of the National Trust gift shop. I do like a National Trust gift shop. Thoughts of writing were quickly forgotten as I snapped up a lovely new linen sunhat, a book about drawing (a hobby I’ve wanted to take up for a long time), and some souvenir postcards.
Running out of time to get home for my daughter’s return from school, I got the bus back up the hill to the car park, and returned home feeling like Wordsworth inspired by his visit to Tintern Abbey, rested, revitalised and refreshed by my impromptu outing, back at my normal place of work.
“Home again, home again, jiggety jig”
And where did I write this post? In Dyrham Park’s excellent tea room, of course. At last – I’d discovered the perfect office!
  • To find the nearest National Trust property to you, click here
  • To find out more about my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, click here
  • To order any of the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, click here.
  • To read other posts by the Authors Electric, click here
Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

New Ages for Old

cover of May issue My column for the May edition of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser

Many years ago, when the New Age was still new, I bought at a festival a t-shirt with the slogan “Whatever age you are now, you are every age you have ever been.”

The notion particularly caught my fancy because the previous week at my office, when someone said something about Little Tikes ride-on plastic cars for toddlers (remember them?), our sixteen-year-old receptionist piped up, “Oh yes, those are great fun, I love those.” It was a sobering reminder to her older colleagues that she was not far removed from toddlerhood herself.

This month that t-shirt slogan has again been front of mind following two recent encounters connected with my own younger years.

Friends Reunited

First came a reunion with my aunt, who had emigrated to Canada in 1970. I hadn’t seen her for twenty-nine years, and last time I saw her, she was younger than I am now. But as with all the best relationships, and with family ties in particular, we picked up where we left off, and it felt as if no time had elapsed at all.

photo of Mandy and Bella
My sister and my aunt – relatives, reunited

Then yesterday I was reunited with the boy next door from my suburban childhood home. When I last saw him forty-nine years ago (yes, I am that old and more), Little Tikes cars hadn’t been invented, but he’d ride shotgun on my much-loved big white tricycle as we careered around our large back gardens. As we reminisced about the fruit trees that we used to play beneath, he described the taste and texture of their russet apples as if it was only yesterday.

photo of Debbie and Robin
My boy next door, half a century on

Old Friends

These vivid illustrations of how much time I’ve spent on this earth – and by implication, my mortality – might alarm me, if I hadn’t been involved lately with a heartening project involving elderly people, inspired by the National Dignity Council’s Dignity in Care campaign. (www.dignityincare.org.uk)

As a volunteer at a local care home, my brief was to set down in the residents’ words what dignity means to them. I anticipated a discussion about respecting senior citizens, but what emerged was a wide-ranging conversation full of wise counsel about childhood, parenting, and society at large.

“We’ve been children, we’ve raised children, we’ve cared for children, and although we’re older now, there’s still a child in all of us,” they assured me.

photo of t-shirt
Been there, got the t-shirt…

I’m planning to add a lot more ages to my collection yet, and if when I’m old, I end up as sage and as generous as these dignified and gentle folk, I shall consider my life very blessed. I just hope my t-shirt will hold up after so many years of laundering.

Posted in Events, Personal life, Travel

All Roads Lead to Hawkesbury

When I wrote this post for the May issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, the 4th Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest was still in the future!

Australian flagA few weeks ago, I was surprised to receive a message from my Australian Facebook friend, Serene Conneeley, saying that she was hoping to attend this year’s Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest. As I only knew her via Facebook and have never met her in real life, I wondered whether she’d mistaken it for an event taking place in the “other” Hawkesbury, near Sydney.

Not that the two are unconnected, of course, the vast Hawkesbury River being named in 1789 after Charles Jenkinson, 1st Earl of Liverpool, then Baron Hawkesbury, and very much part of “our” Hawkesbury.

Aerial view of Hawkesbury River
Hawkesbury River by Tim Starling (Taken by Tim Starling) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
But no, Serene knew exactly where our Festival takes place. While attending it wasn’t the prime purpose of her trip to England, from what she’d heard of previous HULFs, she wanted to include it in her itinerary.

So this year we had a new record for who travelled the furthest to come to the Festival. And it’ll be a hard one to break, because the exact opposite spot to Hawkesbury Upton, in terms of latitude and longitude, is in the middle of the ocean, south-east of New Zealand. But I’m not saying it’s impossible – mermaids will always be welcome here. Advance notice will be required, however, so we can fill Farm Pool (our usually dry village pond) with water to give them somewhere comfortable to stay.

DIARY DATE FOR NEXT YEAR

The 5th Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival will take place on Saturday 27th April 2019 – a little later than usual due to the very late Easter next year. For more information, visit www.hulitfest.com.

team photo
Celebrating another successful Hawkesbury Upton Lif Fest (Photo by Angela Fitch Photography)