Posted in Writing

The Joy of Serendipity

In my column for the January 2020 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, which I wrote in the wake of the General Election, I talked about the fun of discovering pleasant surprises as we go about our daily lives.

photo of Alice in Wonderland scarecrown
My Alice in Wonderland scarecrow in our village trail last autumn

There’s a comforting flipside to the old adage that “whoever you vote for, the government always gets in”. That is, whatever government gets in, the nation it represents will still be filled with individual human beings who think for themselves and who are capable of daily acts of kindness.

No politicians can stop us being generous and considerate to those around us.

Kindness costs nothing and cannot be taxed. Small gestures such as a smile and a cheery ‘hello’ in passing (we’re very good at that in this parish), or holding a door open for the person behind you, or helping a stranger carry their shopping to the car, can make a real difference to someone who is sad, lonely, or having a bad day. Such things also lift the spirits of the giver.

Towards the end of 2019, I was impressed by a few imaginative schemes for spreading smiles to passers-by:

  • A young woman who crocheted dozens of flowers and leaves them in public places with a note inviting finders to be keepers (see full news story here)
  • A knitting group in Caerleon which created “hats” for local pillar boxes, each decorated with a fun scene such as a skiing penguins and a full Christmas dinner (full news story here)
  • Members of an Essex Baptist church who hid around their local community a thousand pebbles painted to resemble a swaddled baby Jesus (full news story here)

Who could fail to be cheered by encountering any of these?

Of course, such schemes are not new. In our parish, the Hawkesbury Rocks initiative has been encouraging us to hide painted pebbles for a while, and the annual Scarecrow Trail is a delight. But in the uncertain early days of a new government, these examples of the generosity and wit of the general British public provide a heartening start to the new year.

In 2020, I wish you happiest of years, full of kindness, smiles and pleasant surprises.

Posted in Family, Personal life

The Circle of Hawkesbury Life

Stepping out with my daughter
Stepping out with my daughter

A post about volunteering to help at the village youth club

This article was written for the May 2014 edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News, our local community news magazine

This month I’ll be resuming my role as helper at the village youth group, a role I gave up 13 years ago, having helped found the club in the 1990s.

At that time, I was married to my late husband John Green. If you didn’t know him personally, his name will be familiar if you have ever sat on the red bench in the playpark, bought to commemorate him by the youth group after his premature death from leukaemia just after the turn of the millennium.

I never dreamed in those days that more than a decade later, I’d not only be returning to the youth group, but also taking with me my daughter from my second marriage, who this term hits the important 11th birthday that qualifies children to join.

I wasn’t sure when to tell Laura that I’d been married before, but I was spared the task when, at the age of 6, she came home from a trip to the playpark with her dad and announced contentedly: “I’ve just sat on your dead husband’s bench”.

Reading names on the war memorial and other historic sites around the village, and realising their descendants still flourish in the village, is a great reminder of the circle of life, and a comfort, whatever age you are. I’m looking forward to taking my place further down the line with the Evergreens*, but for now, I’m sticking with the youth group, and telling myself I’ll be forever Young.

*The village club for retired people

This post was originally written for the Hawkesbury Parish News, May 2014 issue

Posted in Personal life, Reading, Writing

In Praise of Community Magazines

Sample copies of Hawkesbury Parish News & Tetbury AdverEvery month, I write columns for two local magazines – the Hawkesbury Parish News and the Tetbury Advertiser. Both of these publications are lovingly put together by hugely experienced volunteers for the benefit of the local community.

The papers combine articles by local people and community groups with affordable advertising opportunities to help local businesses attract new customers. Both publications plough back any profit into local good causes and charities. They contribute significantly to the well-being of their local communities, both by enabling effective local communications accessible to all (and not just to those on the internet) and by improving local facilities and services – factors which are particularly important in rural areas such as ours. Such magazines may also be significant and much-needed customers for local print companies.

Serving The Whole Community

Impressively, they manage to keep the cover price of both papers low – Hawkesbury Parish News costs just 40p an issue (which includes free delivery by hand to your home) and Tetbury Advertiser is free. Thus not even a housebound pensioner on a small fixed income with no internet access need ever miss out on feeling a part of their local community. Even if they never get out to take part in any of the many local activities featured in these pages, they will still feel like they are part of the community. If I were in charge of the New Years’ Honours List, the volunteers who dedicate an extraordinary amount of time and effort into putting out these publications  would not go unrewarded.

Every Household’s Favourite Read

One might be forgiven for wondering whether in this internet age, which threatens the viability of so many local and national newspapers, such magazines might be on the wane. A few years ago, working for a local private school that was trying to discover the most effective advertising media , I undertook a survey of the school’s current pupils parents to discover which were the best read newspapers and magazines in their households.

I expected to learn that upmarket newspapers and glossy magazines were their favourite – The Times and the Financial Times, perhaps, plus Country Life, Country Living and Tatler. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the papers of which they were least likely to miss an issue were local community magazines such as Hawkesbury Parish News and the Tetbury Advertiser. It’s not surprising that both of these publications have been gaining size, strength and readership year on year.

As you’ll have guessed, I’m proud to support and write for both of these great publications. To make my articles available to a wider audience, including the Hawkesbury and Tetbury diaspora, I post them up on my author website a week after each print issue will have landed on people’s doormats. To suit the interests of their readership, these articles usually relate either to the time of year or to local activity in our part of rural Gloucestershire.  So here’s my first column for HPN in 2014, which manages to do both at once.

New Year, New Strategy

In an old notebook, I recently discovered a list of New Year Resolutions that I’d written down about 15 years ago. Although I don’t remember making the list, the resolutions were familiar, being pretty much the same ones that I make every year.

Why the repetition? Because like most people, I never manage to keep my New Year Resolutions beyond the end of January – though as an optimist, I never fail to make some.

But this year will be different, because I’ve hit upon a cunning plan: my 2014 list will be comprised of things I DON’T want to achieve. That way, by breaking them early on, I’ll reach my true goals. Thus:

  • “To spend more than I earn each month” will enable me to amass regular savings
  • “To consume more calories each day than I burn off” will precipitate steady weight loss
  • “To avoid training 3-4 times each week to prepare for the HU5K* Run” will ensure that I’m able to run it with ease, in a respectable time

Writing this column mid-December, I see no flaw in my lateral thinking, but will it actually work? I’ll tell you on Saturday 14th June as I cross the HU5K finishing line…

Happy New Year to you all, however you resolve to spend it!

* HU5K is the Hawkesbury Upton 5K Fun Run which I help organise to raise funds for the village school. It takes place the Saturday before Father’s Day each year, and 2014 will be the third annual event. For more information, please visit its website: www.hu5K.org.

My Previous Years’ Posts About New Year Resolutions (which, by chance, all have a connection with running!)

Posted in Writing

My New Philosophy of Flower Arranging

This weekend, my lovely friend Susanne, whom I’ve known since I was 11, presented me with a beautiful bunch of spring flowers – anemones and tulips (my favourite). As I stuffed them unceremoniously into the first vases that came to hand, (well, we were in the middle of my husband’s birthday party), I inadvertently conducted a floral  experiment that’s brought out the philosopher in me. Or should that be the flowerosopher? I think I’ve just invented a whole new school of thought. Florists, philosophers – you decide….

Sometimes it’s good to be in solitary splendour, regardless of what anyone else is doing – but it can get a bit lonely.

Single anemone in a green IKEA vase
1) Standing, strong, alone.

Other times, there’s safety in numbers, all standing together, disciplined and firm.

Tulips and anemones stuffed tightly into a glass vase
2) Looking pretty but with no room for manoeuvre.

Best of all is when you can be together, but enjoy the freedom to be who you want to be and to go where you want to go in life.

Tulips and anemones loosely placed in a glass vase, arrange themselves
3) With room for manoeuvre, these flowers arranged themselves to perfection.

I know which I prefer.

Thank you, Susanne – you and I definitely belong in vase number 3!