Posted in Family, Travel

In the Land of Giants

My column for the October edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Lego model of knight on horseback
Tally ho! We’re off to Legoland!

In the first hour of a trip to Legoland on an INSET* day in September (no queues – hurrah!), I spot several signs that I must be getting old:

  • Realising I’m admiring the autumn colours of the landscaping as much as the theme park’s rides
  • Being more interested in the opening times of the coffee shops than of the attractions
  • Wondering how many plastic bricks the builders trod on in stockinged feet while assembling the hundreds of Lego models on display
  • Considering whether the staff valiantly performing in character costumes are thwarted RADA** graduates
  • Not minding the circuitous walks between attractions because they boost the step count on my fitness tracker
photo of hotel carpet
The hotel carpets had pictures of Lego bricks scattered on them – it was hard not to walk around them, as any parent will understand

But such churlish thoughts are vanquished by lunchtime, supplanted by the childish sense of wonder that results from strolling, Gulliver-like, among miniature models of famous landmarks from around the world.

photo of Lego models of landmarks
I towered over the Eiffel Tower at Legoland

Despite the 17,777 paces notched up by my step counter by bedtime, I leave the park feeling rejuvenated. Expensive though Legoland may be, at least it’s cheaper than Botox.

photo of toilet doors with Lego people on them
How to embarrass your teenage daughter: take photos in the Legoland toilets because  the decorations made you smile

*For non-British friends, I should explain that an INSET day is an In-Service Training Day during the school term, when the teachers go to school but the pupils do not. Each school has theirs at different times, so it provides the perfect day to take your kids to a popular attraction that is normally swamped at weekends.

**RADA is a leading British school for actors

Cover of All Part of the Charm

 

My collected columns from Hawkesbury Parish News 2010-2015, is available as an ebook and in paperback.

Posted in Travel, Writing

The Mystery of the Vanishing Bag

A post about one of the milestones in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series

photo of Harris Tweed shoulder bag
It’s in the bag… well, nearly!

This is the beautiful shoulder bag that I bought this summer at the Harris Tweed shop in Inverness this summer. It’s the repository for my research for the eighth book in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series.

Regular readers of this blog may remember that I’d planned to make it only (!) a seven-book series, but this summer’s trip to the Highlands planted an indelible germ of an idea for an eighth adventure following on after the seven-book cycle has run the course of the village year.

Sophie will take Hector to meet her parents, who live and work in Inverness, and inevitably a local mystery will ensue there, with a series of attempts on Hector’s life, and taking them all over this vibrant Highland city just above Loch Ness, to the Highland Folk Museum (our favourite museum in the world), the remarkable Leakey’s Bookshop, and into the Highland wilderness.

The Handbag Vanishes…

The bag has already been involved in a mystery of its own. I realised a couple of day after we’d unpacked our camper van at the end of our summer trip to Scotland, with my husband unloading while I put everything away in our house, that my precious new bag had not made it back into the house. My husband swore blind he had emptied the van, and that there was nothing left in there at all.  I started to doubt my own memory – had I put it away in the house in such a safe place and forgotten where I’d put it?

I started to doubt my own memory – had I put it away in the house in such a safe place and forgotten where I’d put it?

A few weeks later, on a trip out in the van with his best friend, when they were turning the van inside out in search of his friend’s missing glasses (his friend had put Gordon’s on by mistake, and said “These glasses don’t work”), he told me again that the bag was nowhere to be found.

They would certainly have found it this time, Gordon told me, especially after his friend had found his glasses.

In despair – as I had stuffed the bag full of notes, brochures, ideas, and postcards as I roamed around Inverness on our final day there – I made a special trip to the van to see for myself. There on top of my husband’s sleeping bag lay the missing bag.

Needless to say, I won’t be asking him for advice on detection techniques any time soon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

cover of Murder in the Manger
The Sophie Sayers Christmas Special is due out on 6th November

Meanwhile, I’m on the home straits with book #3 in the series, Murder in the Manger, which will be published on 6th November as a Christmas special. It’s already available to pre-order as an ebook on Amazon, and the paperback will be published at the same time.

cover of Trick or Murder?
Available now in paperback and ebook, with a lively story spanning Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night

And in the meantime, the second book in the series will provide a topical seasonal read. The story in Trick or Murder? kick off right about now, and runs through Halloween (31st October) and Guy Fawkes’ Night (5th November).

Here’s the buying link to the series so far on Amazon – or you can order the books from your local independent bookshop by quoting the title, my name, and the ISBN.

There’s also more information about the series on my website here. 

 

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 Travel, Writing

When Blog Posts are Like Buses…

View across the Cromarty Firth
By the time morning came around, this deserted spot on the Black Isle had gained two surprising new visitors: vast cruise ships moored on the Cromarty Firth – fortunately on the other side of it from our camper van

Catching up with my blog for September

A fraught September culminated with a certain inevitability in a debilitating cold virus, which sent me into near-hibernation for a few days. This has put me woefully behind with my blog, even to do what I regard as the bare minimum: to keep it as a central archive of what I’ve written elsewhere online or for printed publications.

So if you’re a regular reader here, please forgive the prolonged silence, which will now be followed by a sudden flurry of posts before I run out of September!

I’m kicking off with the column that I wrote for September’s Hawkesbury Parish News, when I was in Scotland on my summer holidays. Seems like light years ago now!

Stretching the Summer

In August, we head for the Scottish Highlands, whose soaring mountains make the Cotswold hills look like speedbumps.

It’s not just the landscape that is on a grander scale here. This far north, the daylight hours are significantly longer than at home.

From Mallaig, we watch the sun set over the islands of Skye, Rum and Eigg a good hour after Hawkesbury’s nightfall. On the Cromarty Firth, despite the absence of light pollution, it’s only just dark enough at 11pm to discern the Perseid meteorite shower at its official kick-off time.

It is as if we have travelled back in time to the summer solstice.

Although I have been a frequent visitor to Scotland for the last seventeen years, the difference in daylight hours never fails to fascinate me. In the same way, every time I stand on a beach (in Nairn, east of Inverness, this holiday), I marvel at the way the moon pushes and pulls the tides.

Returning home in time, as always, for the Village Show, I know the earlier nightfall down south will come as a shock, as we’ve been away long enough to acclimatise to northern nights. But it’s not as if we’ll feel fast-forwarded into the fall, because whatever the sun or moon might do, everybody knows that the day after Hawkesbury Show is the first day of autumn.

View from Mallaig car park
Over the sea to Skye – and Eigg, and Rumm – viewed from our camper van in Mallaig this summer

 

 

Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

The Power of the Summer Holiday

In my column for the September issue of the Tetbury Advertiser, I’m reflecting on the restorative powers of the summer holiday – mine was just drawing to an end when I wrote the copy

Scenic view overlooking bay with islands
The restorative power of a great view: early morning photo taken from the window of our camper van in Oban, the busiest departure point from mainland Scotland for the Inner and Outer Hebrides

On holiday in our camper van this summer, we had the usual struggle to recharge all the family’s electronic gadgets from a single cigarette lighter socket. Not that we’re hooked on our gadgets – in fact, we were trying to have an internet-free break. (Not difficult in Scotland, because the mountains block the signals.) But we still wanted to use our phones to take photographs and to text home, and I wanted to keep my Fitbit topped up. Continue reading “The Power of the Summer Holiday”