Posted in Family, Personal life

As Safe As Hawkesbury Houses

(This post was written during the downpours at the end of last month, which now seem so long ago after the spring sunshine we’ve enjoyed this weekend!)

Post of Sandra Boynton cartoon  of Noah's ark
I’ve had this poster since I was a teenager. Ever the optimist…

“Mummy, do you think we’ll get flooded here?” my daughter asked during one of the many February downpours.

Vivid news reports of British homes and fields underwater strike fear into anyone living on low ground or close to a river. But flooding is one thing that needn’t worry Hawkesbury Upton folk, because elevation is one of our village’s many charms.

It’s an uphill journey from whichever road you enter Hawkesbury Upton. At its highest point, the village rises to over 600 feet above sea level. That’s not counting the top of the Somerset Monument. Perhaps my daughter had visions of us all taking refuge within that tower, fleeing up the unsafe stairs as the water rose about our feet. Should that ever become necessary, it really will be ark weather.

When I first moved to Hawkesbury Upton over 20 years ago, my elderly next-door neighbour, James Harford, passed on a useful tip about the local climate: “When it’s jacket weather in Sodbury, it’s overcoat weather in Hawkesbury.”

My parents live 20 miles away in the heart of Bristol, and I’ve noticed that their daffodils are always at least a fortnight ahead of ours, reflecting the city’s warmer climate.

In the past, it made me sad that we lagged behind. There’s nothing like Spring flowers to banish the February blues.

But now, as the downpours continue, I’m very happy to take the Hawkesbury Upton high ground – one of many compelling reason that I’ve vowed never to move house again.

(This post was originally written for the March 2014 edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News.)

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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:

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

Posted in Personal life

Spring Fever

Galanthus nivalis
Image via Wikipedia

It’s no wonder they call it Spring.  All of a sudden things are springing up out of nowhere, as if someone’s put nature on fast forward without telling me.

How come I never noticed the snowdrops until they were in flower?  They can’t have just appeared overnight fully formed.  And did those daffodil shoots, now four inches high in my front garden, really pop up like a jack-in-the-box the minute my back was turned?

It’s not just flowers that have been miraculously materialising. When I took my daughter to her tap-dancing class yesterday afternoon, two sisters in her class had gained a baby brother since last week – and I hadn’t even noticed that their mother was pregnant.  It’s bad enough that the weekly tap-dancing classes seem to take place every other day.  To miss a whole human gestation period is beyond the pale.

At this rate, I had better make sure I get out and about in the next few days, or before I know it, the wild garlic and primroses will have come and gone.  Those unlikely roadside bedfellows are my favourite sign of spring.  I’d hate to miss my annual treat of driving down the country lanes with open windows, invigorated by the pungent spring air.  And I can’t get by without seeing that gorgeous blue carpet that will be unrolling in local woodlands any day now.  The delicate scent transports me back to the spring of my childhood, when no classroom was complete without a jamjar crammed with bluebells on every windowsill.  It doesn’t make sense to me that in the days when we were all allowed to pick them to our hearts content, there was never any shortage of wild flowers.

Blink, and I’ll miss the violet haze of flax that briefly rests, gossamer-like, over too few fields round here.  It’s such a welcome respite from the garish, choking rape that seems to take over the countryside for a few weeks each spring, like a horrible bully that wants everything its own way.

In no time at all I’ll be wondering whether I’m too late to admire the sumptuous pinks and mauves of the Arboretum’s rhododendrons. Nor do I want to miss the spindly-legged lambs skittering about fields that were once home only to  sluggish, chubby sheep.  All too soon they’ll have turned into sturdy teenage sheep waiting their turn to go to market.

The trouble is, when you live in an area like this all year round, it’s all too easy not to notice what tourists travel miles to see.  If your chief shopping destination is the Coop rather than the Highgrove shop, and your shopping list is for groceries rather than rare antiques, you’re bound to have a different perspective on the local landscape.

So when are they going to mend all these potholes?

(This post originally appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser, March 2011)

Posted in Family, Travel

The Centre of the World

The prime meridian at Greenwich, England
Image via Wikipedia

“Why isn’t our village mentioned on television more often?” asks my small daughter, Laura, as we’re watching the weather forecast.  “They mention Bristol all the time.”

The swooping BBC weather map has just reached the city where her grandparents live.  Our airspace, as ever, they have passed over without a mention.

For Laura, rural Gloucestershire is the centre of the world.  Now and again she seeks my reassurance that we will live here forever.  She worries that I may sell the house.  When I gently suggest that she may one day want to move away to university, or in pursuit of a career or a husband, she gives me an old-fashioned look.

I understand.  I still feel a gravitational pull towards my own roots in London suburbia.  I was born not far from the Greenwich Meridian, by which the whole world set its clocks – proof, to my childish mind, that I lived at the centre of the world.  Any mention on the telly of Sidcup still makes me feel proprietorial, even though it’s likely to be in the context of a comedy show.  “Porridge” and “Rab C Nesbitt” both used Sidcup to raise an easy laugh.

In my subconscious there lies a world map.  A large pin marks Sidcup as the focal point. Radiating out, in pastel colours, are the territories I’ve explored, while large tracts of uncharted land remain dark.  Even today I take pleasure in visiting places I’ve never been, so that I can mentally colour them in.   My map looks pretty colourful these days, but Sidcup’s central pin remains in place.

Few people feel no pull towards their roots.  We are all like tethered goats, though some have longer ropes.  My Scottish husband, an economic migrant to England at the age of 20, has lived and worked in many English towns and travelled as far India for holidays, but every summer he heads north, as compelled as a homing swallow, to conquer another few Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet high).   Avidly he records his conquests on a vast mountain map that fills our kitchen table.  If Laura had been a boy, he’d have insisted on naming her Munro.  Both she and I are very glad she is a girl.

About the time I was busy being born in Sidcup, a Tetbury-born friend of mine left home for university.  His career took him all over the country before he eventually settled in Norfolk –  about as far east of his roots as he could get without leaving England.  Yet in retirement, what should be at the centre of his thoughts but the area in which he was raised?  He’s now penning a series of whimsical stories1 based on the tiny territory of his boyhood, meticulously remembering every hill, every field and every lane.

Laura’s personal map is already of conquistadorial proportions: not many seven year olds have travelled as widely.  Before she was four, she’d been to Albania: her first kiss, at the age of three, was from a small Greek boy in Athens.  This summer she added the Outer Hebrides to her empire.  She’s now set her sights on Mexico.

“How many countries are there in the world, Mummy?” she asked the other day, wondering how many she has yet to visit.

“194,” advised the internet.

“And which one is the most popular?”

For a moment I’m stumped, till I consider a democratic approach.

“If you asked everyone in the world, the most votes would probably go to China,” I suggest.

She frowned disapproval, patting her “Team England” t-shirt to indicate where she’d cast hers.   (Later, doing the laundry, I check where her t-shirt was made.  No prizes for guessing its country of origin.  I decide I’d better not tell her.)

But no matter how far Laura travels, I’m sure her rural Gloucestershire home will always be her favourite destination. And now, as the autumn nights start to draw in, we are both very happy to be here.

(This post originally appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser, October 2010.)

Posted in Personal life, Travel

Our Global Village

You’d think that the novelty of the internet would have worn off by now.  But every so often, tapping away at my laptop, I’m bowled over at this power we have to be in touch with the rest of the world.

A glance up from my desk reminds me that I’m still in Hawkesbury Upton.  Familiar horses trot past my window; neighbours flit up France Lane to the shop.  Exotic, it ain’t.

star trek
Image by Combined Media via Flickr

But, look back at my screen, and I can be anywhere in the world.  It’s like having my own personal teleporter: beam me up, Scottie, I think I’ll take a trip to Seattle.

A message has pinged in to my email box from an old school friend who lives there.   As our village heads towards bedtime, she’s just settling down for her lunch.  By the power of Facebook, we bounce one-liners off each other as easily as if we were in the same room.  We’re as closely in touch as when we were children, talking to each other in the garden through tin cans linked together with string.  Except, on the internet, the message comes through more clearly.

Clicking on my website traffic report, I find visitors from three different continents.  From Korea to Kansas, from Dubai to Dubrovnik, people have been checking me out, even though I don’t know a soul in Seoul.

The news I pick up through this route is not the stuff that national headlines are made of.    Food, drink, weather, hatches and matches are the most frequent topics of the posts by my Facebook friends.

But the sense of a unified, peaceable community, reaching way beyond our own Hawkesbury Upton, is overwhelming and enormously heartening.

There’s still nowhere else I’d rather live, of course.  But it still feels good to extend the  village boundaries across the ether now and again.

(This post was originally published in the August edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News.)