Posted in Family, Personal life, Reading, Writing

Scenes from my Cotswold Cottage #1: Reading After Breakfast

This is the first post in a new monthly series of blog posts inspired by Dame Joanna Lumley’s charming memoir, No Room for Secrets, in which she tours her London house giving a commentary on her possessions. I’m going to show you snapshots of the Victorian Cotswold cottage in which I write my books, with a commentary on what the objects in each picture mean to me.

My travels may not have taken me as far as Dame Joanna’s, and my friends and relations may not be as famous, but I hope you will enjoy these little insights.

So without more ado, here is the photograph I took this morning of where I like to read for a little while each morning after breakfast – a habit I got into during the first lockdown, when it provided a source of comfort amid so much uncertainty.

photo of my reading chair surrounded by other interesting artefacts

The armchair is in the modern extension that my husband built a few years ago. The old part of our cottage has thick, solid stone walls and small windows, which keep it snug in winter and cool in summer, but they also make it very dark. Previously, we could only see our cottage garden from the utility room and my upstairs study.

The new room was therefore designed to give us a panoramic view of the garden and a space filled with natural daylight. We also wanted a high ceiling, in contrast with the low ones elsewhere in the cottage. The stairs lead to a mezzanine floor, added above the old kitchen to make the most of the height.

During Covid restrictions, this light and spacious room, with its view of the great outdoors, really benefitted our mental health.

Now for a commentary on the details of the photo…

  • The armchair, facing the French doors, may seem unremarkable, being standard-issue IKEA, but I bought it because its mid-century design reminded me of the green sofa in the lounge of my childhood home in Sidcup, on the edge of London. I was very happy there.
  • The jade-green cushion with embroidered bumblebee, one of my favourite emblems as my name is Hebrew for “bee”, was a Christmas present from my old school friend Jane.
  • The woollen blanket I knitted during the first lockdown, when I discovered “lockdown blankets” were a thing, because they are a great source of comfort during the knitting as well as on completion. I chose shades of the Scottish Highlands in Rowan Felted Tweed pure wool, becaues for the previous 20 years we had spent many holidays in our camper van in Scotland, and I was missing it very much. It was a bonus that my blanket won first prize in the knitting category at Hawkesbury Village Show this year. (Last year’s village show was postponed due to restrictions.)
  • The rocking horse behind the chair was made by my father, hand-carved with love, when my daughter – his only granddaughter – was two years old. She’s now 18, but you’re never too old for a rocking horse made by your grandpa. It will forever be a family heirloom.
  • The little table came from a charity shop, and on it is an iBeani bookrest (the purple beanbag) recommended by my friend Carol Turnham, who belongs to my Cheltenham writers group. It’s really useful if your hands are affected by arthritis, as mine are.
  • The bottom book, Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra, was recommended by my writer friend, Michael McMahon.
  • The book above it, The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll was bought just after Christmas at TK Maxx – a shop I never usually visit, but my sister had recommended it, and sure enough, there waiting for me was a single copy of this book that I’d been meaning to read for a while. I snapped it up, along with half a dozen beautiful notebooks. (Well, a writer can never have too many notebooks.)
  • The dressmaker’s dummy was given to me by my Auntie Sheila, 91, and the Paisley shawls draped over it are from her daughter, my late cousin Frances. Frances loved wool and textiles, and elsewhere we have felt pictures and cloth that she had spun and woven. We think of her every day.
  • The fez is a souvenir of a hugely enjoyable Madness concert at nearby Westonbirt Arboretum.
  • On the end of the banister is a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker hat which I gave to my daughter a few Christmases ago for her Sherlock collection.
  • The basket and parlour palm were acquired from a neighbour during lockdown, when  lots of people in our village put unwanted items on their front walls for others to take home. Treasure-hunting like this was a fun diversion when we were living such restricted lives.
  • Out of sight, behind the dressmaker’s dummy, is a wooden goose, made by my husband as an accessory for my scarecrow of St Wulfstan, which I made for the Hawkesbury Scarecrow Trail two years ago. St Wulfstan was formerly the priest of our parish church of St Mary the Virgin, where I sing in the choir and ring the bells. Why the goose? Find out more here. 
  • Less interestingly, there’s also a length of copper pipe, left over from some plumbing my husband was doing. I’ve no idea why it’s there or how long it’s been there, and I must find it a more appropriate home!
photo of St Wulfstan scarecrow and his goose
St Wulfstan and his goose

It was only in compiling this list of artefacts that I realised the reason I love sitting here so much. It’s not just the view of the garden or the comfy chair, but that I’m surrounded by associations with people and places that I love. Where better for comfort reading?

Seasonal Comfort Reads

cover of Murder by the BookSpeaking of comfort reads, if you fancy a lighthearted and cheery story set at this time of year, Murder by the Book, a laugh-out-loud village mystery tale of love, friendship, loyalty and family ties.

It’s available in paperback and as an ebook for Kindle (also in Kindle Unlimited).

Order Murder by the Book here.

Now I must get back to writing my next book, Scandal at St Bride’s, also set at this time of year. It should be launched in the spring.

Both Murder by the Book and Scandal at St Bride’s culminate on Valentine’s Day – happy ending guaranteed!

In the meantime, I wish you a very happy new year, with lots of great books and comfy reading chairs!