Posted in Personal life, Writing

In the Eye of the Beholder

Who lives for 30 years within walking distance of Badminton Horse Trials without ever going to see them? Me, actually. Until now, neither the horses nor the shopping have tempted me, because horses and crowds, and indeed crowds of horses, leave me cold.

Then this year, singing in the choir at Great Badminton Church on the Sunday of my 31st Horse Trials weekend, I begin to see horses in a new light when the visiting preacher channels his inner Gerard Manley Hopkins and St Francis.

Now there’s great starting point for a fantasy dinner party guest list.

St Francis of Assissi (public domain image)

Gerard Manley Hopkins (public domain image)







He talks about seeing God in nature and, in particular, in the energy and vitality of the horse. When he puts it like that, whether or not the horse’s maker is God, I can’t help but appreciate the end product. Strolling back to my car, I’m admiring not the power of the stable hands’ electric bikes which had earlier caught my eye, but the perfect engineering of the horses in nearby fields.

Horse by Leonardo da Vinci via Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain
Leonardo da Vinci was also fascinated by horses and sketched them repeatedly (image here from Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain)

This sense of wonder soon spreads to other things, notably a carrier bag of organic vegetables given to me by my niece after inadvertently duplicating her family’s veg box order. Emptying the bag onto the kitchen table, I discover a high-fibre art gallery: a knobbly hand of ginger in a neat cotton string vest; the perfectly furled leaves of a white cabbage; the proud, straight seams on stalks of celery; and much more.

My father first drew my attention to the extraordinary patterns known as Fibonacci numbers that occur naturally in certain flowers, fruit and vegetables. Googling Fibonacci – or as close as I can get to the right spelling – I’m reminded that this mathematical term describes a sequence in which each number is the sum of the two previous numbers.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, …

When petals or seedheads develop in this pattern, they look stunning. Perhaps the most familiar example is the array of seeds at the centre of a sunflower, but the most exquisite is the Romanesco broccoli, its florets tiny miracles.

Photo by Ivar Leidus via Wikimedia Commons

Although there’s no Romanesco broccoli in my gift bag, the contents are all beautiful in their own way. I consider signing up with the veg box supplier to relive this wonder every week. Then I reflect that in supermarkets I favour misshapen veg branded “wonky”, as if it were a virtue rather than failure to comply with their buyers’ stringent quality criteria. It’s like comparing a pedigree cat with a moggy. Which to choose?

As if on cue, Bertie, one of my three rescue cats, strolls by, chirruping a friendly greeting. With random black patches scattered over his long white fur, he’s more Jackson Pollock than Fibonacci, but I pick him up for a cuddle, telling him he’s beautiful too. I like to think Gerard Manley Hopkins and St Francis would have done the same. Besides, Bertie’s a lot easier to lift than a horse.

photo of kitten asleep on weighted blanket

This post was originally written for the June edition of the Tetbury Advertiser.

Posted in Personal life, Writing

The Comfort of Blankets

It’s good to welcome back the trusty Tetbury Advertiser for its first issue of 2021. Its February issue was cancelled due to lockdown, so as there is always a double issue for December/January, my March column was the first I’d written for them since November. Normal service has now been resumed – hurrah! 

The Tetbury Advertiser springs back into action

Although I don’t remember having a comfort blanket as a child, the older I get, the more I appreciate the concept. During this strange last year, when any source of comfort has been welcome, three kinds of blanket have caught my attention.

The Weighted Blanket

Ever since secondary school, I’ve enjoyed knitting and crocheting blankets. From the age of 11, we were bribed by house points into knitting six-inch squares. Our squares were made up into blankets, and sixth form volunteers took them to the local care home. We made so many blankets that we imagined the residents swamped under their weight.

Bertie’s blanket is scaled down to suit him, as is his little bed

But I need not have worried: these days, weighted blankets are all the rage. They incorporate tiny bits of ballast to achieve the same heft as a cat on your lap. (That’s my chosen measure, not the designers’ – it sounds more appealing than saying 5kg.)

Originally developed to calm people with autism or anxiety, weighted blankets are scientifically proven to reduce blood pressure and heart rate.

According to the promotional blurb of the one I’ve just bought, they also “stimulate deep-touch pressure to release feel-good endorphins typically obtained from a long embrace”.

In the no-hug zone of Covid lockdown, no wonder weighted blanket sales have surged. (We bought ours from

Bertie tests our new weighted blanket and is asleep within seconds

The Temperature Blanket

Dorothy finds brushed-cotton duvet covers equally satisfactory

Another recent discovery for me is the temperature blanket, created through the course of a calendar year.  At the start of January, you choose a time and place to record the daily temperature and a colour palette to reflect each thermometer reading. Knitting a couple of rows a day in the right colour for that day’s temperature provides a dramatic visual record of the seasons.

If where you live the climate barely changes all year – the Canaries or Costa Rica, perhaps – choose a smaller scale to avoid a monochrome result, eg a different colour for each degree rather than for every five.

Not a problem that will trouble the knitters of Tetbury.

A fleece blanket also goes down well with Bingo and Bertie

The Lockdown Blanket

The lockdown blanket (not to be confused with the blanket lockdown) is the cousin of the temperature blanket. Again, working a few rows each day provides an oasis of meditative calm, as well as a record of a specific timeframe. Make from oddments you have in the house or choose a colour scheme that will lift your spirits.

For my lockdown blanket, I channelled the Scottish Highlands. Every time I picked up my needles and yarn the colour of mountains and glens, I was transported hundreds of miles north without leaving the safety of my home.

Because sometimes there isn’t a cat around when you need one. This is my Scottish panda, bought at Edinburgh Zoo. Beneath my lockdown blanket, he’s wearing a kilt in the official panda tartan!

As we flip the calendar over to March, and with my first dose of vaccine in my arm, I’m looking forward to using a different kind of blanket altogether, once we’re all allowed out to play again: the picnic blanket. But in the meantime, I’m ordering another two weighted blankets to stop the family fighting over the first one.

So much for its powers of stress relief!

Click here to read the whole of the Tetbury Advertiser online for free.

Bertie is fond of symmetry


In Other News

Another cover image by my talented father
cover of Young by Name
The first volume covered 2010-2015.

In the absence of a February edition of the Tetbury Advertiser, I took time out to collate all my columns from the previous five years into book form. Still Young By Name is the sequel to the first volume, Young By Name, which was published five years ago (no surprises there!)

Reading through my archive of columns, it struck me what an extraordinary five years we’ve just lived through, including the rise and fall of President Donald Trump, what seemed like the interminable process of Brexit, and of course the arrival of Covid-19.

I was slightly spooked when I discovered I’d written the first column in this new collection as I was recovering from flu.

The cover of the new book features another slice from my father’s rural watercolour painting that I used on the first book in this series. I do love the composition and calm mood of this painting.

I did wonder fleetingly whether it was wise to have a picture of a cow’s bottom beside the title, but it made me smile, and If it makes others laugh too, that’s fine by me!

The launch date for the ebook is 21st March (my parents’ 68th wedding anniversary, which seemed a good omen), and the paperback should be out shortly too. In the meantime, if you’re in the UK and it’s a Kindle ebook you’re after, just click here to pre-order.  Other buying links to follow in my next post.