My column for the November 2019 issue of Hawkesbury Parish News was sparked by reading an article in the paper about the new design for the British sterling £20 note, which will be launched into circulation on the pleasingly appropriate date of 20/2/2020.
I bet I’m not the only one in the parish stealthily collecting commemorative British coins.
Every time I pay by cash, I check my change for these tiny works of art in which I take a childlike pleasure. My latest acquisition is a Sherlock Holmes 50p, an odd bedfellow for Paddington Bear, Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny in my collection, but a very welcome one.
If you’re looking for something to collect, these special coins are a good choice:
They retain their face value
You might even profit from selling rarer ones on eBay
If you hit hard times, simply return them to circulation (ie spend them!) and put a smile on the face of another enthusiast.
Not that I plan to do that with mine. I’ve always regretted as a child spending my collection of old pennies, after acquiring one for nearly every year that they’d been minted.
Good on Paper
Paper money, with its larger canvas, attracts public debate with every new design. The latest note to get a new look is the £20, with a portrait of Turner and his most famous painting, The Fighting Temeraire.
Although celebrating a ship that played a significant role in the Battle of Trafalgar, the picture is tinged with sadness, as it shows the ship being towed away for scrap by newfangled steam tugs. The golden age of sail is over, and the nation is entering a period of radical change. As I write, we’re poised on the brink of Brexit: the end of another era. I wonder whether that’s the real reason the Bank of England’s chose this design?
My column for the September edition of the Tetbury Advertiser
There’s nothing like a holiday in a place very different from home to give you a fresh perspective. This summer we headed for East Anglia, as flat as the page of this magazine. Not only was the landscape a change from the gently undulating Cotswold hills, but we also learned a lot about British history.
Neolithic flint mines: who knew? I thought flint was just something you found on the surface. But Neolithic tribes discovered that the best type for spearheads lies in a vertical seam thirty feet below the ground and sank pits to dig it out. Near Thetford, my husband and daughter descended a mine-shaft ladder to bear witness. (Smart delegation on my part.)
In the city museum of Ely, birthplace of republican Oliver Cromwell and base for Hereward the Wake, resistance leader against the Norman invasion, we learned the remarkable story of how the flooded fenland has been reclaimed and made farmable over the centuries. They’re nothing if not determined, these East Anglians.
But for me the highlight was a trip to a history festival at Castle Rising, once owned by William the Conqueror’s brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, commissioner of the famous tapestry. Dozens of linen tents pitched around the grounds housed historical reenactors in costumes from throughout the last couple of millennia.
A small boy toddling past me in homespun tunic clutched a green plastic Thomas the Tank Engine.
“Ah, a time travelling baby!” I observed.
“Just don’t ty to separate him from Thomas,” replied his dad, a medieval peasant. “Some Romans tried that earlier, and there’s not much left of them.”
A passing Agincourt archer showed me his quilted jacket, thirty-one layers thick to withstand arrowheads.
“I like your sunhat,” I smiled, thinking he must be melting in the heat.
“Armoured straw,” he said with a wink.
But this was no cosmetic exercise. Also on show were impressive demonstrations of historical skills, from handforging chainmail to armed combat with a vast array of authentic weapons. Now I know what a poleaxe looks like, I realise how devastating being poleaxed would be. This stout stick taller than the soldier ends in a combined dagger, axe and hammer – a medieval forerunner of the Swiss Army knife, on a grander scale.
How did ordinary people cope with such gruesome methods of fighting? A Redcoat, polishing his musket, explained.
“It was just normal life to them. When you’re used to slaughtering your own livestock to survive, the only difference in battle is that the blood and guts spilled are human.”
Afterwards, my daughter asked me which era I would choose to live in. I was quick to reply. “The modern era, but in ten years’ time, when all this Brexit nonsense is over and done with.”
And if it’s not, at least I now know how to fell a politician with a poleaxe.
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This post was originally published in the October issue of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser.
After my husband’s summer war against overgrown trees, shrubs and flowerbeds, some old outbuildings, no longer camouflaged by ivy, were just asking to be given a new lease of life.
The first step in our resurrection of two old privies, a pigsty and a Wendy House was to discharge their contents onto the lawn. (Thankfully the privy buckets had disappeared decades before.) I liked to think of the resulting installation as “Tracy Emin’s Shed”.
After multiple trips to the tip and a couple more to IKEA, the conversions were complete. A few coats of pastel-coloured fence paint and the addition of minimal furnishings turned the Wendy House into an art studio fit for our teenage daughter. Once a new clear roof panel had linked the privy building to the pigsty, the introduction of a workbench provided my husband with a carpenter’s workshop. I was the only one in the family without my own outhouse.
A Room with a View
Then one day, admiring the orderly view of the restored buildings from my favourite armchair, I realised we’d done much more than tidy the garden. We’d evolved our own little village.
Not that we’ve been slashing and burning like a fast-food chain through rainforest. Our approach was far more respectful of local wildlife. I’ve never heard as much birdsong in our garden, and the frogs in the pond are flourishing.
Not Strictly for the Birds
Like any decent village, our garden includes plenty of facilities for humans too. There’s a play area with a swing set and trampoline for the benefit of young visitors. For older, wearier souls there are plenty of benches at strategic intervals. For the peckish, there’s plenty of nourishment to be had from the trees. It’s been our best year ever for pears. Once we’ve finished resurrecting the kitchen garden beds, the last task on our list, there’ll be soft fruit and vegetables too.
If it’s spiritual nourishment you’re after, a buddha statue holds court in the shade beneath the damson tree. He’s a handy distraction from our miniature civic amenity centre: a row of compost bins offering their own “ashes to ashes” message about the circle of life.
Finally, for everyone’s peace of mind, Dorothy, our stately calico cat, provides a round-the-clock Neighbourhood Watch service.
As the dark nights of winter approach, it’s a comfort to be able to look out on my own little world. This Englishwoman’s home is her castle.
And if Brexit goes horribly haywire, I can always place an order with the carpenter’s shop to set about making a drawbridge.
If you’d like to read more of my columns from the Tetbury Advertiser, Young By Name, this collection of pieces from 2010-2015 is available in paperback (ISBN 978-1911223030) and ebook.
A rare political post from a usually apolitical, optimistic writer
As I type this post with a heavy heart, I’m bleary eyed after staying awake till 3.30am, repeatedly hitting “refresh” on the BBC News Referendum Results page in the hope that somehow if only I did it enough times, the split in votes would change to favour the “Remain” camp.