How old will you be in 2023? About to turn 63 as I’m writing this column, I’ve always been grateful for being born at the start of a decade and in the first month of the year. Being a child of the Sixties sounds far more exciting than a child of the Fifties, and it’s very easy to calculate my age at any time.
A A Milne – My More Distinguished Twin
Ever since I was a child, I have wondered what it would be like to have a twin.
As the youngest of three children, with a brother and sister five and six years older than me, I used to crave an ally of my own age to provide a balance of power in our family group.
At one stage, I tried to conjure up an invisible friend as a twin substitute, but I soon dropped her as unconvincing and dull, despite my having a sufficiently vivid imagination to believe that bears would get me if I stepped on cracks in the pavement.
It took me until I was nine to find a suitable alternative: Patricia Lawrence, a girl in my class at primary school. We took our shared birthday as a sign that we should be inseparable best friends, and so we were until at the age of 11 we headed for different secondary schools and drifted apart.
Unless you’re a leap-year baby, finding someone who shares your birthday should not be difficult. There’s a 1 in 365 chance with anyone you meet.
For many years, four people in my immediate family had their birthdays on New Year’s Eve – three related by blood and one by marriage. When my mother, aged nine, was asked what she wanted for her tenth birthday, she replied, “A baby brother”. My grandmother conveniently obliged.
I know a lot of people, yet the only other person I’m aware of who shares my birthday is A A Milne, born in 1882. In tribute to Milne’s most famous creation, our shared birthday is now deemed National Winnie-the-Pooh Day. I wonder what Milne would make of that, when he wrote much more besides the Winnie-the-Pooh stories and poems, including screenplays for the embryonic British film industry, various novels, short stories, and humorous articles for Punch magazine.
Alan Alexander Milne died before I was born, but growing up in a household where Pooh stories were staple bedtime stories, I always felt a certain bond with him.
Another Milne-related memory from my childhood is my first experience of school drama, when I played the Queen in my infant school’s production of Milne’s poem “The King’s Breakfast”. The King was played by one Malcolm Bothwell, which even then struck me as an impressive name. In later life he’d have been right at home in the cast of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Feeling that Milne belonged to my childhood, I’d never considered him in the context of his own time, so I was startled to discover recently that:
(a) he was taught at school by the Victorian author HG Wells
(b) in adulthood he played on cricket teams with J M Barrie, P G Wodehouse, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (another author irritated not to gain more recognition for his huge output of fiction besides his most famous creation).
That’s one remove from Christopher Robin, Peter Pan, Sherlock Holmes and Bertie Wooster sharing a social occasion – what an interesting fantasy dinner party guest list they would make.
Meanwhile I’m pleased to be sharing A A Milne’s birthday later this month. If he was still alive, on January 18th, he’d be 140. There’s nothing like being the more junior twin to make one feel younger. Thank you, Mr Milne – and happy birthday to us both!
(This article was first published in the January 2022 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News.)
NB E H Shepard‘s wonderful original drawings of Winnie-the-Pooh are still in copyright, which is why I’ve shared images of different bears here instead
Who is your more famous twin? I’d love to know!
Another Tale of Twins: Murder by the Book
(Sophie Sayers Village Mystery #4)
I’d always wanted to write a novel featuring twins, and having established the charming Hector Munro as the heroine’s romantic interest in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, in the fourth installment, Murder by the Book, I couldn’t resist cloning Hector to produce his more mischievous and daring brother Horace.
Unlike the sensible Hector, who has chosen the gentle career of a bookseller in the Cotswold village of Wendlebury Barrow, Horace has ventured overseas, working as an adventure holiday guide in Australia. When he comes home to visit one January, he puts Sophie’s loyalty to the test – and finds out some secrets Hector would rather he didn’t know.
This perfect seasonal read is available in both paperback and ebook for Kindle, and if you are a member of Kindle Unlimited, you’ll have free access to this and all my novels as part of your subscription.
Order your copy of Murder by the Book online here – or place an order for the paperback at your local neighbourhood bookshop. (That would please Hector!)
Nought to 60 in No Time At All
For ten years now, I’ve been a regular contributor to the Tetbury Advertiser, a multiple-award-winning community magazine run by the Tetbury Lions. As well as providing a valuable community news service, it donates any profits from advertising to local good causes. I’m proud to be a part of it.
The monthly deadline is around the middle of the month prior to the cover date, so I wrote my column for the February issue around the time of a very big birthday…
When the calendar flipped over to 2020, I was very pleased. I’ve always liked round numbers. 18 days later, another round number was due to enter my life: I was about to turn 60.
It was hard to understand where all that time has gone. But when I wondered why I was having trouble sourcing a new refill for a favourite pen, I realised I’d had the pen for 42 years.
For the Love of 60
Despite my natural aversion to growing old, I have always loved the number 60. Write it in Roman numerals (I’m currently learning Latin), and it looks like the suffix of a luxury car model: LX.
At primary school, 60 was my favourite times table answer. My love affair with maths ended as soon as we got beyond arithmetic.
I also liked 60 because it was the age my beloved grandmother turned just after my entry into the world. Throughout my childhood she was therefore my age plus 60. To my childish imagination, this seemed a significant bond, almost like us being twins, despite her being a Victorian.
The Perks of Turning 60
Back to 2020, and as my big day approached, there were reminders everywhere I went. Signs enticed those over 60 to claim extra points at Boots, 25% off at the local optician, and a significant discount with a railcard.
A few days before my birthday, I found myself in a hospital’s charity bookshop. I’d been meaning to read more Graham Greene since enjoying his autobiography last year, so when I spotted his name on the spine of an ancient Penguin (the book brand, not the bird), I pulled it off the shelf without checking the title.
A Special Vintage
It turned out to be A Burnt-out Case, set in a leper colony in the Belgian Congo. (Whoever donated that novel to a hospital bookshop lacked tact.) Wondering when it was published, I consulted the copyright page. You’ve guessed it: 1960, same vintage as me. At secondary school, I wrote a history essay (possibly with that now empty pen) about the Belgian Congo gaining independence, but I couldn’t remember the year it took place. I looked it up on line. Who’d have thought it? 1960.
Finally, when I woke on the big day, I was relieved to realise that not only did I feel no older than the day before, but that my grandmother, if she were still alive, would next month turn 120 – exactly twice my new age. That pleased me immensely – and made me feel much younger. Then her daughter, my 89-year-old aunt, wrote in her birthday card to me that the sixties are the best time of your life. So, all in all, I’m sold on the idea of turning 60 now. So let the good times roll… and with discounts!
CLICK HERE TO READ THE WHOLE OF THE FEBRUARY ISSUE OF THE TETBURY ADVERTISER FOR FREE ONLINE
For the Love of Knitting
One of the many traits I inherited from Grandma was a love of knitting – the theme of my latest book, The Natter of Knitters.
It’s now available as a cute compact paperback the size of a picture postcard – the perfect size to slip in a birthday card for knitting addict friends! -, as well as in all ebook for
It’s a quick read – a short novella, about 20% the length of one of my novels – and features Sophie Sayers and friends from Wendlebury Barrow, as well as introducing new ones, such as the officious Mrs Fortescue, organiser of the village yarnbombing event, and Ariel Fey, self-appointed defender of local sheep.
- Click here to order online
- Click here to order the paperback from Amazon
- Or order from your favourite local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223511
- If you have trouble tracking it down, contact me to order directly
The Big Birthday Swag Bag Blog Hop
I seem to be going in for tongue-twister titles lately – but don’t blame me for this one! I’ve been tagged in a blog hop that was started by Susie Orman Schnall, author of On Grace (US Link, UK Link).
It’s the 40th Birthday Swag Bag Blog Hop, and the premise is that the blogger is going to a friend’s fortieth birthday bash in an exotic island resort. (I should be so lucky!) The challenge is to list a few of your favourite things that you’d like to add to the swag bag for everyone in the group.
You can read the original post HERE. I was tagged by my editor Alison Jack, who is also an author.She recently presented me with my own swag bag – a neatly branded bag containing a lovely hardback copy of her own novel, Dory’s Avengers, which is now nearing the top of the to-read pile by my bed. You can read her post HERE.
Inevitably in this blog hop challenge, one of the items is a book! Read on to see what I’ve chosen…
My favourite book of all time is Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, but somehow this doesn’t seem right for a 40th birthday present, nor for reading on a tropical island. I think I’d have to go instead for an uplifting, jolly book that I’ve read recently that struck me as a great beach read: One Night at the Jacaranda by Carol Cooper. Not entirely frivolous, as there are also serious themes in there, but it’s mostly about making the most of life and starting over, following many characters after a night of speed-dating. A great wake-up call for anyone who hits 40 with the feeling that life has passed them by. This book will encourage them to see that it really hasn’t. (As I can also assure you myself, being on the upper side of 40.) The ebook is just 99p on Amazon UK for the month of June, but I’d splash out and buy the paperback – and also get it signed, as it’s written by a friend of mine!
My favourite beauty product happens to be one that would be perfect for a tropical island trip – those little single-use facial washcloths made by the Oil of Olay people. It’s a really handy travel product (and good at home too), very refreshing and feels rejuvenating at least, although it doesn’t actually smell of Oil of Olay and it isn’t pale pink either, unlike the classic Oil of Ulay (as it used to be called) that I associate with my mum. (Read more about that in “The Scent of a Mummy”.)
Well, that would have to be chocolate. In a cool bag so it doesn’t melt in the tropics. Lindt Lindor balls, the red ones – no contest.
Three contendors here – boxed sets of Mike Oldfield, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, or Buena Vista Social Club – all music that I can happily drift away to any time, whatever I’m doing. They’re all largely without words, or at least without words in a language that I can understand. Perfect relaxation music. Not sure whether Cuba counts as tropical, but I guess the Cuban Buena Vista Social Club would be the most appropriate for the setting.
My choice of any extra treat
As an old-fashioned girl, and a writer, it may come as no surprise that my extra treat would be a beautiful journal of some sort, to make the point that your 40th birthday is the first day of the rest of your life, and that the adventures are just beginning. Maybe a five-year diary, or an undated journal with a beautiful cover. I particularly like my Tardis notebook – I’ve had to buy several of those to give to Whovian friends, and I also use it as a prop when I’m public speaking about social media. (“Think of Twitter as your Tardis, enabling you to reach anyone, anywhere…”)
Passing it on
With my virtual gifts stashed inside, the blog hop now passes on to two more bloggers for their suggestions, from opposite sides of the globe!
First up in England, like me, is Sarah Dale, an occupational psychologist. Given her career, the bag will be in safe hands with Sarah! She has also written a couple of thoughtful self-help books, one of which, Bolder and Wiser, celebrates the benefits that come with growing older. Aimed at 50+, it’s a book to inspire any woman reaching a landmark birthday, whether 40, 50, 60 or beyond. Sarah lives and writes in Nottingham, where she’s just been appointed head of PR and marketing for the city’s Festival of Words this autumn, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about that.
Then the virtual swag bag will zip round the globe to Australia to Rebecca Lang, an editor and author, whose short story Army Dreamers I really enjoyed reading earlier this year – an evocative, eerie tale set in the outback. Rebecca is based in Sydney. I’ve never met either Sarah or Rebecca in person, but have got to know them through the fabulous Alliance of Independent Authors, which brings together self-publishing writers with high standards all around the globe.
Their posts should go live on Monday 16th June, but you can get to know them in the meantime just by clicking on their names here, which will take you straight to their blogs.
Thanks again to Alison Jack for tagging me – her post is of course already up, so you can read that one now too!
What would YOUR choice be for the 40th Birthday Swag Bag? Do share, via the comments! Or contact any bloggers further down the chain if you’d like to take a turn and be tagged too!
The Only Certainties in Life: Birthdays and Taxes
Yes, I know the REAL saying is “there are no certainties in life but death and taxes,” but I’m an optimist, and without birthdays there would be no deaths, so take that, Benjamin Franklin!
There’s been an air of finality in my study this week, because since my last post here I’ve despatched two things that I was glad to see the back of:
- my tax return
The only redeeming feature of January is my birthday, which leaves the last two weeks of the month with nothing positive about them at all.
Actually, when you get to my age, even a birthday isn’t something to celebrate, other than to rejoice in the fact that you’ve made it through another year without necessitating an obituary – UNLESS of course it is a very special birthday, preferably with a 0 at the end.
Celebrating My Mum’s 80th Birthday
Such was the most recent birthday of my lovely mum, who celebrated her 80th birthday on 31st December. When your birthday falls on the last day of the year, you can’t avoid celebrations even if you want to, as most of the rest of the country will be marking the day in style.
Like my father who turned 80 in September 2012, my mum is an inspiration to anyone who is frightened of old age. While a lifetime Oil of Olay habit (branded Oil of Ulay when she started using it, before pan-European labels mattered) might account for her flawless, smooth complexion, I don’t think even that old beauty trick can take the credit for her lively mind and spirit, and her willingness to tackle new challenges.
Her special request for her 80th birthday present was her own laptop, so that she could computerise the stories she’s drafted over the years by hand. We bought her a small, feminine netbook in a smart shade of red.
My mum learnt to type on what my 10-year-old daughter recently referred to as “one of those keyboards that goes ping” – a manual typewriter. The class learned to type to music, carefully chosen to match their target keystroke speed.
As anyone of the same vintage will know, typing on a typewriter requires a much stronger fingerstroke than a computer keyboard. It took her a little while to adjust to her netbook’s sensitivity, but she’s taken to the technology enthusiastically.
Not one to shy away from other modern trends, she also joined me in a “selfie” on her special day, and admired her grandchidren’s Christmas onesies.
I wonder what new skills and interests I’ll be acquiring when I’m her age? It’ll be the year 2040 then. Wherever technology takes us, I think I’d better invest in some Oil of Olay before it’s too late…
If you enjoyed this post, you might like these:
- Another post about my mum (and Oil of Ulay): The Scent of a Mummy
- A post in celebration of my father’s 80th birthday: In Praise of Pinecones and Grandpa
- And a post about Mothers’ and Fathers’ days: Father’s Day To Follow