There’s never a good time to get Covid, but I was surprised to catch it for the first time just as the NHS tracking app expired.
With reduced immunity due to rheumatoid arthritis and asthma, I’m clinically vulnerable and have had every vaccine offered. When I phoned 111 for advice, they told me I qualified for anti-viral medication, which was only on my radar as something President Trump had been prescribed early in the pandemic. He’s not my usual role model, but given the alternative was “high risk of serious complications and death”, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
It may seem perverse to begin my column this month by celebrating a shade that is absent from colourful autumnal trees and hedgerows, apart from in the glittering spiders’ webs suddenly all over our gardens.
Instead I want to talk about a colour – some might call it a non-colour – that since the start of the first lockdown has been top of mind for me, and increasingly on top of my head.
You see, for those of us of a certain age, grey is the new brunette. BC (Before Covid), every four or five weeks, I would happily pop into Hawkesbury’s hairdressing salon, Head Start Studio, for a cut and colour to keep my grey roots hidden and my ends from splitting.
This regular dose of me-time meant I genuinely had no idea what percentage of my hair would be grey if left untouched by hairdresser’s hand. Under lockdown, with the decision to dye or not to dye denied me, the truth slowly emerged.
To my surprise, growing out my grey felt strangely liberating. Ever the Pollyanna, I decided to embrace my inadvertent inverted ombre.
With the irritating zeal of a reformed smoker, I developed a radar for people who had given up their dye-jobs, kindred spirits who had also ushered in the ashen look.
By contrast, I was interested to see who swung in the opposite direction, colouring their hair ever brighter with purples, blues and pinks. I hope this trend helped compensate colourant manufacturers who had lost customers like me.
A kind friend on the same path introduced me to purple shampoo. Rather than colouring your hair mauve, it promises to transform plain grey into shining silver. This counterintuitive trick reminds me of the blue bag my grandmother used in her twin tub to wash whites whiter. I didn’t understand how that worked, either, but it did.
Now I’m wondering why it took me so long to realise I should be glad to be grey. It’s a softer, more flattering look for older skin, as well as a saver of time, money and effort. My only dilemma is how to continue to support Head Start Studio while keeping my new-found natural colour. I’ve always said I go there as much for the entertainment value as for the hairdressing, always leaving with my face aching from laughing so much at Tasha and Alannah’s banter.
Then the answer came to me: I can still visit just as often, if I ask them each time to cut only half as much off as they used to.
This post was originally written for the October issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News.
As the world begins to open up again, I buy a new mid-year diary twice the size of my old one.
After crossing out practically every event in the last sixteen months due to Covid restrictions, I’m hoping I’ll need more diary space to make up for lost time. I have so many missed social engagements with family and friends to make up for, not to mention practical appointments with doctors, dentists, hairdressers and garages.
My favourite time for appointments is 11am. With 11 as my default, I am more likely to remember when my meetings are and to turn up on time. Similarly, when I’m working at my desk, I generally down tools at 11 for a coffee break.
I follow Winnie-the-Pooh’s advocacy for elevenses – “Pooh always liked a little something at eleven o’clock in the morning” – although I don’t share his taste in refreshments.
Rabbit said, ‘Honey or condensed milk with your bread?’ Pooh was so excited that he said, ‘Both,’ and then as not to seem greedy, he added, ‘but don’t bother about the bread, please.’*
My plan for more outings is soon scuppered by increased traffic congestion. (Yes, I know, I’m contributing to those traffic jams by driving places.) One Friday afternoon in early July, when it takes me two hours to drive the six miles between Junctions 18 and 19 on the M4, I resolve to avoid motorways at weekends until after the summer holidays.
Consequently, the Monday to Thursday pages of my diary are soon choc-a-bloc, while the rest are almost empty. But that’s fine by me. Being self-employed, I am fortunate in being able to work whichever days I choose, including weekends.
My next challenge is to fit a whole week’s work into Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Nearly 100 years ago, leading economist John Maynard Keynes predicted labour-saving technology would soon shorten the standard working week to 15 hours.
In my teens (not quite 100 years ago), futurists were still predicting a four-day week for us all. Even so, to avoid burning the midnight oil, what I really need is a five-day weekend.
But after more than a year of not being able to tell one day from another, that’s a good problem to have.
(This post originally appeared in the August 2021 edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News *Copyright The estate of A A Milne)
Summer Holiday Reading
Two books in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series take place in the summer holidays:
Best Murder in Show(first in series) revolves around the annual horticultural show, where Sophie finds a dead body on a float in the village carnival
Murder Lost and Found (seventh in series) takes place just after the end of the academic year at the village school, when Sophie finds a dead body in the school’s lost property cupboard
All of my novels are available in paperback online or to order from your local bookshop and in ebook from all the popular ebook store sites. Best Murder in Show is also available as an audiobook from all the major audiobook sites including Audible – or you can buy it at a very special rate via my AuthorsDirect shop here.
Summer Diary Date
The highlight of this month in my diary will on Saturday 28th August – the fabulous Hawkesbury Horticultural Show, in the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton where I’ve lived for over thirty years. I’ll be manning the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival stall – if you’re at the Show, do come and find me and say hello!
In my Young By Name column for the Tetbury Advertiser‘s June issue, I’m anticipating a return to almost-normal life – and being careful what I wish for.
Inheriting my parents’ strong work ethic and optimism, I have developed a lifelong tendency to try to do more than is physically possible in the available time. Even so, people often remark that I’m prolific, usually in the same breath as asking me to do something for them on the old “ask a busy person” principle. (I really need to learn to say no.)
The upshot is that most of the time, like the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, I feel as if I’m running to stand still. “It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place,” the Red Queen tells Alice. “If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”
I occasionally write a ‘done’ list to prove to myself that I have been more productive than I think, but who has time to do that every day?
Jumping Off the Treadmill
When in 9-5 jobs I stepped off the treadmill for holidays, I was conscious that my work would come to a standstill while others beavered away in my absence. My favourite time to take a break was therefore during the Christmas/New Year break, when almost everyone else went on leave too.
When I worked on a year-round contract in a school office, I rejoiced every time term ended, because in the absence of teachers and pupils, much as I loved them, I felt I had time to catch up with myself.
Stopping the World
To help me stay on top of all my tasks, I used to wish I could put the rest of the world on hold, in the manner of Sleeping Beauty’s fairy godmother making the kingdom sleep for 100 years. My only proviso was that I wouldn’t age a century by the time I woke everyone up again. What a shock that would be for my poor husband!
Covid-19 has put paid to that fantasy for good.
As we emerge, blinking, from the quasi-hibernation of lockdown, I’m hoping this past year is the closest I will ever get to casting that magic spell. As I predicted in the April 2020 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser, for me lockdown resulted in tidier bookshelves, larder, wardrobe, etc, and I’m pleased about that. But going forward, my priorities have changed.
Top of my to-do list post-lockdown will be hugging my parents.
That’s one action I’m happy to keep adding every day.
In my Young By Name column in the May 2021 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser, I was anticipating my kittens’ post-lockdown lives
Like all pets acquired in the pandemic, our two kittens, Bingo and Bertie, are starting to notice big changes in their little world. Until now they’ve led a very sheltered life. Born and raised in a Cats Protection League pen, the only humans they saw before they came to live with us were their foster parents.
Joining a household of three people – my husband, my daughter and I – more than doubled their human acquaintance.
They are used to seeing more cats than humans. When they first came to live with us a couple of days before first lockdown, our calico cat Dorothy was already in residence. Three neighbours’ cats, with wanton disregard for social distancing guidelines, treat our garden as their territory.
As far as Bingo and Bertie are concerned, cats rule our cottage.
We daily prove our subservience by leaping up from our armchairs to open the French doors whenever they want to go in or out of the garden. (And yes, they do have a catflap.) We spend more hours observing their antics than watching television.
Their friends sneak into our house for a snack when they think we’re not around. Often, when we are in another room with Dorothy, Bertie and Bingo, we hear crunching noises in the kitchen, followed by the rattle of the catflap.
Up to Tricks
We’re wondering what they’ll get up to when, post lockdown, they have the house to themselves. It seems Bingo is already planning ahead for a more independent life. The brains of the trio, he has for some time been paying a great deal of attention to the bolt at the bottom of the French doors that give onto the patio. If his paws had opposable thumbs, he’d have flung the doors open by now.
He’s also been practising his party tricks. The other day, startled by Dorothy jumping out of the wardrobe, he executed a perfect back flip. If my daughter hadn’t been with me as witness, I wouldn’t have believed my eyes. He landed so neatly on all four paws that I wanted to hold up cards saying “10.0”, like the judges used to do for ice-skaters. I have never seen a cat turn 360 degrees from a standing start. The only animal I’ve seen perform that trick was battery-powered, a toy dog my grandfather bought from a street trader.
Bertie is equally athletic, easily jumping four or five feet into the air when pursuing an airborne insect. In relation to his height, this is about the equivalent to me leaping from the doorstep onto our cottage roof.
Of course, like all good pet owners, we’re conscious that animals acquired during lockdown may suffer separation anxiety as normal life returns. But part of me can’t help wondering whether for our cats the first day they have the house to themselves, the party will just be starting.
Like to read the whole of the Tetbury Advertiser for free online? Click here.
In Other News
While we’re on the subject of cats, fans of Sophie Sayers’ black kitten, Blossom, will be pleased to know that she puts in an appearance in Murder Lost and Found, the new Sophie Sayers Village Mystery which launches on Sunday 23rd May.
Since Sophie adopted Blossom in Springtime for Murder(in which the main storyline revolves around cats), any new story I write about Wendlebury Barrow would not feel complete without Blossom. She plays a critical part in my novelette, The Clutch of Eggs, too.
All of my fiction books have seasonal themes, and I’m glad to be launching a summery book at this time of year. It doesn’t always work out so neatly – I had to launch the ChristmassyStranger at St Bride’s in midsummer, because that was when it was ready! And during the coming summer I will be writing the wintry Scandal at St Bride’s, the third in the St Bride’s School series, which begins in January. Sometimes I feel so out of synch with the seasons that I might as well be working in the fashion industry.
Pre-order the ebook of Murder Lost and Found to have it land on your ereading device on launch day (23rd May).
Order the paperback from Amazon from launch day onwards (link not yet available), or ask your local bookshop to order it in for you, quoting ISBN 9781911223719. Within the next couple of weeks, they should be able to order it from their usual stockist – if not, they are welcome to contact me and I’ll be happy to supply them direct.