Posted in Personal life, Writing

For Remembrance Day

Lest we forget
cover of Hawkesbury At War by Simon Bendry
A moving tribute by a fellow villager (click image for more information about this important book)

I’m lucky enough to live in a village with a profound sense of community, and never is it more strongly visible than on Remembrance Sunday.

On Remembrance Sunday, villagers come together to process down the High Street from the former Hawkesbury Hospital Hall (built to nurse injured soldiers in wartime) to the war memorial on the Plain (our village green) at the centre of our village. All local groups are involved, either in laying wreaths at the service or taking part in services in school or in church or in one of our two chapels.

I don’t remember this degree of commemoration when I was my daughter’s age, living in suburbia in the 1960s.

Perhaps the war was still too close for my parents’ and grandparent’s generation – they wanted to forget. Although it’s now so much longer since the end of the Second World War, I feel much more conscious of it now.

Cover of Murder in the Manger
This Christmas special includes commemorations on Remembrance Day

For this reason, and slightly to my surprise, I found myself writing it into the Christmas special of my latest cosy mystery novel, Murder in the Manger, whose timeline runs from 6th November to the week before Christmas.

My Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries are essentially comedies, but there’s always at least one serious, and, I hope, moving scene. One such scene that I found myself writing in Murder in the Manger takes place on Armistice Day (11th November) in the village school, in which villagers join the children in the village school. During a short service of commemoration, the children recite the names on the war memorial, many of whom, as in Hawkesbury Upton, are still represented in the village by their descendants (Chapter 13 We Will Remember Them). It also draws the reader up to consider who in their acquaintance would be called up to fight should there ever be another such war. (Chapter 14 We Can Be Heroes)

I know that is something I consider every year, as I stand quietly at our war memorial during the service there, observing the young men and women in the crowd who would be sent to fight, or who would not have long to wait for their call-up papers. My daughter, her friends, and her peers.

This small episode in my novel is my small tribute to those that sacrificed their lives in both World Wars and to their bereaved families and all those who loved them, not just in Hawkesbury Upton, but all around the world.

We shall remember them.

poppy field image in public domain
Posted in Personal life, Writing

Season of Mists and Mellow Idleness

Cover of October issue of the Tetbury Advertiser

(My column for the October 2017 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser)

People often say to me “I don’t know how you do so much”.

But I have plenty of sins of omission, because, as an optimist, I am constantly trying to fit more into the day than can physically be done.

I wish I could bring myself to subscribe to the Fall Off the Desk rule invented by my former boss. She held that if you ignored a task for long enough, there’d no point in doing it.

Harnessing Time’s Chariot

Not being that defeatist, I decided last month to re-embrace the timesheet. Years ago, working as a consultant, I had to keep timesheets to demonstrate I’d spent no more hours on a client’s business than they had contracted to pay for. These days, my chief client is me, but I hoped the practice might help me get more ticks on my action list each day – or at least excuse me from wasting precious time on the ironing.

cover of Dull Men of Great Britain
Cover photo via Amazon

The last time I filled in timesheets was before the invention of smartphone time management apps. We got by with paper lists or commercial systems such as Filofax. Such systems may look smart, but they’re not exactly exciting. My novelist friend Alison Morton‘s husband’s collection of Filofaxes earned him a place in the book Dull Men of Britain, alongside a drainspotter. No, that’s not a typo.

Squirrelling Time Away

So this time round, I decided to go high-tech, choosing from a wide selection an app called Toggl, because it reminded me of Tog, the red squirrel from the 1960s children’s television series Pogle’s Wood.

Toggl lets you set a timer running as you begin each new task. My first experiments were fun, but flawed, due to pilot error. I kept forgetting to turn it off when I went to lunch, logging five-minute tasks as taking an hour. Usually I turn my computer off before I got to bed, but when I forgot, Toggl recorded a gruelling night shift. I may burn the candle at both ends, but I’m not that bad. With constant mistakes reducing its accuracy, Toggl’s novelty started to wear off, and I wondered whether to send the little squirrel into hibernation.

Tuning into a New Trick

Then by chance over breakfast, I heard an article on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme promoting the importance of idleness to the creative mind.

To be more productive, it suggested, I shouldn’t be managing my working hours but increasing my down-time.

I already knew my best ideas arise when I’m not actually trying. Sure enough, after the programme finished, I got the idea for this column not at my desk but while in the bathroom cleaning my teeth. Well, it could have been worse.

Here’s to a season of mists and mellow idleness for us all. I think we deserve it.

Cover of Young by Name

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read my collected columns from my first six years of writing for the Tetbury Advertiser.

Now available in ebook from all good eretailers, and in paperback online and from your favourite independent local bookshop – just quote ISBN 9781911223030 to order.

 

***STOP PRESS***

The Tetbury Advertiser has just won another award for parish magazines – best for content and third place overall. Congratulations to the Tetbury Lions, who run it to raise money for charity, to the tireless editor Richard Smith, and to all my fellow contributors. What a team! 

 

 

Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

Eavesdropping While Shopping

My Young By Name column from the September issue of the Tetbury Advertiser

Cover of September issue
The editor’s choice of images to illustrate my column always makes me laugh – spot the subtle listening device in the black and white picture, top left

Whenever I’m on holiday, my writer’s habit of eavesdropping on other people’s conversations goes into overdrive.

It is particularly well rewarded this August in the heart of Inverness’s shopping district, a regular pit-stop when we’re touring the Highlands in our camper van.

Co-op Encounter

Outside the Co-op in a seedy side street, a cluster of pale, unkempt young men is hanging on a bedraggled, older woman’s every word. She looks like she is holding court, giving her loyal troops their instructions for the day.

“There’s the cemetery, like, the graveyard. There’s always the graveyard.”

I am unsure whether this is a deployment directive or a warning against disobedience.

Peril in Primark

As my teenage daughter checks out Primark, a father and his little girl are idling in the toy section. He must be under orders to occupy her while his wife enjoys a bit of low-budget retail therapy. The child, decked out in princess pink, is beautiful: strawberry blonde curls, blue eyes, sweet face. She seems to be taking the lead in the entertainment stakes, so perhaps the maternal instructions were for her to keep Daddy amused, rather than the other way round.

“Let’s play chicken,” she suggests brightly.

He looks blank, unsure of the rules. I pretend to browse a nearby rack of t-shirts while I wait to find out.

She seizes two plastic bazooka-style guns from a nearby display.

“You’ve got to shoot me, and I’ve got to shoot you. Bang, you’re dead! Now you shoot me. Now we’re both dead.”

The father looks dumbstruck, and I suspect I do too. What has he raised? The natural successor for the lady outside the Co-op?

Models in Marks

Half an hour later, towards the top of town where the smarter shops are, I am heartened by the approach of a more wholesome-looking family group emerging from Marks and Spencer: a father, son of about ten, and daughter young enough to be riding on her father’s shoulders. They are all bronzed, beautiful, and glowing with health. They could have stepped out of the pages of an upmarket Sunday lifestyle supplement.

Their glowing tans make me wonder which country they’re from. The Highlands is awash with foreign tourists in summer. Parked near our van that day are high-end cars registered in Monaco and San Merino, as well as the usual swarm of Italian, French, German, Spanish and Dutch motor homes. Then I spot the boy’s West Ham supporters’ scarf.

As the group passes by, the little girl’s crystal tones ring out in Queen’s English: ‘Well, everybody has to pass wind.”

I suspect Daddy may be regretting offering her a shoulder ride.

Tourists in Tetbury

I wonder what Tetbury’s tourists take away from conversations they hear in its streets? Listen out next time you venture into town – you may find your routine shopping trip more entertaining than you expect.

_______________________

Cover of Young by Name

 

FURTHER READING

You’ll find more like this in Young By Name, the book that brings together my first 60 columns for the Tetbury Advertiser, available both as an ebook and in paperback. Click here for details of how to order your copy. 

 

Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

Village Show Cluedo

photo of giant vegetables next to model house
For vegetables bigger than your house, visit Hawkesbury Horticultural Show *

My column for the August 2017 edition of Hawkesbury Parish News

A few years ago, an old school friend from abroad came to visit me here in Hawkesbury and was keen to learn about village life. He took a special interest in our famous Hawkesbury Horticultural Show.

At that point, I was a member of the Show Committee, and I was responsible for producing the schedule each year. Although the next Show was some months away, I was able to show him the draft schedule, and his eyes widened at the huge range of entry classes and trophies.

photo of the 2017 schedule
Our copy of this year’s schedule, slightly dog-eared after much use

“Wow, this sounds just like the sort of thing you see in Midsomer Murders,” he enthused. (They watch a lot of British television in the Netherlands.) “Is there a prize for Best Murder in Show?”

Reluctantly I had to disappoint him, but I squirrelled away his suggestion for future use, and earlier this year I published a novel by the same name, the first in a series of classic cosy mysteries set in the fictitious village of Wendlebury Barrow.

It now occurs to me that our Horticultural Show would also make a cracking setting for a localised game of Cluedo: “Entries Secretary, in the Produce Tent, with a Prize Marrow” or “Show Chairman, in the Village Hall, with some Celery”. The possibilities are endless.

Here’s to another inspiring Show Day for us all – and may we all live to tell the tale.

*Actually, that house in the photo above is really a tea cosy – which I turned into a doorstop by stuffing it with a house brick and some of my husband’s old socks, and covering the base with a piece of his old corduroy trousers. Result: second prize in Class 471 – “a functional object made from all recycled material” 

cover of Best Murder in Showcover of Trick or Murder?
If you’d like to find out more about Best Murder in Showand its new sequel, Trick or Murder? click hereBoth are available in paperback and ebook.

Posted in Personal life

Weekly Whimsy: Desktop Stressbusters

Photo of Bach Rescue Remedies, lip gloss, perfume and hand cream
Four simple stress remedies that live on my desk

A recent social media discussion about stress at work made me realise I’ve developed an unusual set of mechanisms to combat desktop stress, without even realising what I was doing. I thought I’d share it here too, in case anyone else finds it helpful.

Four Simple Therapies on my Desk

Among the mass of stationery, ornaments and other bits and pieces on my desk, I keep within arm’s length of my keyboard four cheery and uplifting treats to self:

  • a zesty orange lip gloss, a free gift from the ACX stand at the London Book Fair in April
  • a citrussy miniature Yves Rocher eau de toilette spray bought on holiday in France at Easter
  • an uplifting verbena hand cream which I was given for my birthday
  • that perennial stressbuster in the idiosyncratic clicky tin, always fun to open – Bach’s Rescue Pastilles, in the newish orange and elderflower flavour

Each of these will give me a lift any time I’m feeling stressed. A quick slick of lip gloss is great if I’ve been anxiously chewing my lips in concentration. Massaging in the handcream is great therapy for aching fingers from constant typing. A spritz of perfume lifts my spirits, and the deep intake of breath it prompts must be good for me too. (It’s astonishing just how often we forget to breathe properly.) All three also remind me of happy occasions, so provide a moment’s diversion from the task in hand as I remember how I came by them. The pastilles are a last resort, but always help. Whether or not you think Bach’s Flower Remedies are a cranky placebo, I don’t care – they work for me.

It’s easy to tell when I’ve had a particularly stressful session at my desk, because I’m especiallly soft and fragrant.

I Spy a Citrus Theme Here

I didn’t realise until I put them all together for the photo that each of them has a citrus element, which is great for increasing alertness too. On a whim, I googled “effect of citrus” and discovered that just smelling citrus fragrances can boost your mood to the extent of reducing the need for antidepressants.

Who knew? Not me. Well, actually, I think my subconscious must have known. And just like my mum, my subconscious always knows best. Although my mum would probably also tell me to get up from my desk and have a rest more often – which is exactly what I’m going to do when I’ve finished this post.

What are your favourite remedies for combating stress at your desk? I’d love to know!