Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

Flight of Fancy

In my Young by Name column for the October issue of the multiple-award-winning Tetbury Advertiser, I’ve been musing about superheroes and superpowers

One of the few Marvel Movies superheroes I can actually recognise (Photo by Judeus Samson via Unsplash)

Losing the plot early on while watching a Marvel movie with my teenage daughter, I fell to wondering which of its superheroes’ superpowers I would most like to have myself.

Thor’s exceptional physical strength, de rigueur for most superheroes, doesn’t appeal. While it might come in handy for removing a stubborn lid from a jam jar, it’s not something I’d have much use for in my everyday life. Besides, my handy gadget from Lakeland serves the same purpose just as well.

Nor is there much call in the Cotswolds for Captain America’s martial arts expertise, especially while social distancing rules apply. Turning green and increasing my bodyweight ten-fold, like the Hulk, is a non-starter. I’d need a whole new wardrobe. Jessica Jones’ immunity to mind control might come in handy in our era of social media manipulation, but I’d far rather have her ability to fly.

Flight Envy

Being able to take off and soar like a bird would be an undeniably environmentally-friendly form of transport, even more so than my electric car. Just think how many calories it would burn. Plus it would be far more fun than going to the gym.

photo of pheasant on road
The least careful road user I know – the pheasant (Photo by Michael Hoyt via Unsplash)

This makes me wonder why pheasants, designed by nature to fly, are so reluctant to take to the air whenever a car approaches them. There’s always a stand-off between bird and vehicle. Just when you’re starting to think your car is more likely to become airborne than they are, they tease you with a Gallic shrug of resignation and take flight with an “Oh, if I must” expression.

The pheasant’s first choice of tactic to escape from any threat is to run. This is not the smartest move in a single-track country lane with high banks and hedgerows on either side, allowing them only to run ahead of an approaching vehicle rather than to divert out of its path. Although I admire their optimism, their physiology dictates that they will never outrun my car. However, they are capable of flying at up to 60mph*. Surely it’s a no-brainer?

Bird Brain

photo of pheasant in undergrowth
Possibly the worst camouflaged bird in Britain? Even so, on the endangered species list, it rates as “of least concern” due to the zillions bred for shooting each year (Photo by Zoltan Tasi via Unsplash)

And there we reach the heart of the matter. If logic is not the pheasant’s long suit, we can blame the size of its brain: a mere 4g**. Although impressive compared to a goldfish’s 0.097g of little grey calls, the pheasant doesn’t fare much better than the hedgehog (3.35g), and we all know how ineffective the hedgehog’s preferred self-defence method is against cars. (In case you’re wondering, your own brain weighs around 1400g.)

All this makes me wonder which superpower pheasants would pick to enhance their chances of survival on the road. Given their track record on decision-making, my money is on invisibility.

* Source:

** Source of brain size data:

In Other News

cover of The Natter of KnittersDespite a post-cold voice like gravel, I really enjoyed giving a talk via Zoom to a local WI (Women’s Institute) group earlier this week, talking about how living in a Cotswold village has inspired my novels.

Pictured left is the cover of a story that was actually inspired by another WI, from Chudleigh, down in Devon, about a yarnbombing event that goes wrong. The Natter of Knitters is a quick read (about 20% the length of one of my novels) and is available in ebook and a slim postcard-sized paperback – the perfect stocking-filler, for anyone who is already thinking about Christmas shopping! Part of my new Tales from Wendlebury Barrow series, it features all your favourite characters from the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and introduces new ones too.

Cover of Trick or Murder?Like The Natter of Knitters, the second Sophie Sayers novel Trick or Murder? takes place during the autumn. This story sees a conflict in Wendlebury Barrow between Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night, fuelled by the strange new vicar, the Reverend Neep.

In the village where I live in real life, Hawkesbury Upton, we usually celebrate both of these occasions in style, but due to Covid restrictions, there’ll sadly be no trick or treating or bonfire parties this year. However, we’re now gearing up for both a Pumpkin Trail along the route of our HU5K fun run, an event I helped found eight years ago, and the annual Scarecrow Trail, for which this year I’ve rashly volunteered to make not one but two scarecrows, one to go outside my house and the other outside the parish church of St Mary’s. So you can guess what I’ll be doing this weekend…

The theme for this year’s Scarecrow Trail is “Heroes and Villains” – and I’ll show you photos of mine once the trails have started. It’s all top secret till then – but it’s a safe bet that neither of mine will be of Marvel Superheroes!

Buying Links

You can buy all my books online or order paperbacks from your local bookshop. Here are the online buying links for the books mentioned above:

Posted in Family, Travel

Tricked into Treats at Disneyland Paris

My daughter and sister at Disneyland Paris Main Street Station
Disneyland decked out for Halloween

It’s Halloween, and I’m in Disneyland Paris in a queue. No surprises there, as anyone who has ever been to Disneyland Paris will confirm: queuing is inevitable. For anyone with a low tolerance of queues, such as my husband, the best advice is to avoid it.

But we’re old hands, my sister, my daughter, and me. We’ve been coming here once every year or so since Laura was 4 – old enough to appreciate it yet young enough to believe in its magic. (My sister, aged 60, is still at that stage).

Over the years, we’ve become adept at keeping our queuing time to a minimum. But tonight’s queue is different.: I’m not  awaiting a turn on a ride, but lining up, early evening, for refreshments in a Disneyland Main Street cafés. Like everyone else around us, we’re exhausted, but hanging on for the end-of-day audio-visual display before we head back to our hotel for the night. Having seen the show the night before, we know it’s worth the wait.

Looking Forward – and Backward – To Fireworks

Laura in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle
Clear sky by day, laser-filled by night

Thanks to 21st century technology, the end-of-day show is far more sophisticated than when I first went to Disneyland, as a child living in California for a year. In those days, there was only one Disneyland, and we had the good fortune to live close by. Back then, we thought the traditional display behind Sleeping Beauty’s Castle was spectacular, but it was nothing compared to what we’re about to see. This display uses the Castle as a projection screen for a complex laser show, transforming it into Notre Dame, the Scottish castle in “Brave”, Beauty and the Beast’s palace, and more. Not only fireworks but huge blasts of fire shoot into the air around the castle, warming us all the way down Main Street.

After a day of bright sunshine and clear blue sky, the night air is bitterly cold, and we need internal warming to tide us over until the display begins, and so we’ve hit the café. I’ve parked my sister and my daughter in a cosy, comfortable booth of this Victorian-themed fast-food cafés, and I’m queuing at the self-service counter for tea and cake.

Fast Food It Ain’t

Mandy and Laura at Disneyland Paris
Tucking into treats by day

As in all Disneyland Paris’s fast food outlets, the term “fast” is a bit of a misnomer. The French simply do not understand the concept of fast food. If they did, the Park’s profits would surely soar, as they’d serve thousands more meals and snacks every day.

I resign myself to waiting however long it takes to reach the cashier and spend some time inspecting the display of Halloween-themed cakes. Having chosen a fruit tart to share between the three of us, I lean back against the brass rail that runs the length of the self-service counter, channelling the queue towards the till, and I turn my attention to the others in the queue. It’s a good thing that I enjoy people watching: it helps pass the time.

Behind me I observe two American ladies who are just deciding to buy four souvenir plastic cups, adding 20 Euros to their drinks bill. This purchase seems rather coals-to-Newcastle, considering they hail from the land of Disney. I wonder whether they’ve thought how much suitcase space these cups will require on their journey home.

Halloween Treats

Laura in a French cafe
Ooh La La!

In front of me is a middle-aged French lady whose loaded tray includes two pumpkin-coloured tarts adorned with marshmallow ghosts. I’m just speculating whether they contain real pumpkin when I’m distracted by the appearance of a small olive-skinned child whose curly head is bobbing under the brass railing beside me. Pushing through to the counter, she stands on tiptoe beside the lady with haunted tarts, one of which I assume is destined for her. I’m therefore surprised when the little girl reaches up to the counter to help herself to another one exactly the same. The French woman looks down, startled, without a flicker of recognition of the child. They’re not together.

Although I know that not everyone is as disciplined at queuing as we English, but still I wonder at the child’s cheek. I wonder whether her mother has already reached the till and sent her to collect the cake as an afterthought? A glance at the front of the queue tells me otherwise: a man on his own is carrying off a tray without a glance at the child.

Then, as quickly as she appeared, the little girl vanishes, dashing off down the café among the banquettes, the pastry still in her hand. The French woman and I exchange astonished glances as the child settles down next to two coffee-drinking women.

The Mystery of the Vanishing Cake

Next up at the till, the French woman lays into the cashier indignantly. He and his coffee-making colleague are not perturbed: it seems they’re used to such infringements.

“Ça n’est pa grave,” he assures her, totting up her bill and sealing plastic lids on to her drinks order. “Ça fait rien.”

Laura and Mickey Mouse
My well-mannered daughter and friend

I know enough French to recognise that the lady thinks it very grave indeed. As she pays, she continues to rail against the child’s action, the body language on both sides of the counter becoming more pronounced as words fail to resolve her disagreement with the cashier. I begin to wonder whether she’s about to make a citizen’s arrest. Finally, she gives up, muttering crossly as she retreats with her tray to her table.

The child’s mother seems even less concerned than the cashier, continuing to drink coffee and chat to her companion, though she must have noticed her child’s petty theft.

Thankful that at last it’s my turn at the till, I order our teas and pay. As I’m waiting for my  drinks to be poured, I hear a rustle at my side at waist level. The little girl has returned. Ah, I think, she’s seen the error of her ways and come to apologise, perhaps paying  from her own pocket money as a punishment.

She pushes past me without a care and smiles innocently up at the cashier, before saying in fluent French: “Please may I have a spoon with which to eat my cake?”

With a twinkle in his eye, the cashier passes her a spoon. Well, it is Halloween, after all.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like this anecdote about self-catering in France: Always Read The Label

Posted in Family, Personal life

Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

Christmas decoration at a shopping mall in Brazil
Image via Wikipedia

“Shall I put some Christmas decorations up now, Mummy?”

My daughter has just put the Halloween decorations away in a box to be stored in the cellar till next October.  She’s acquired quite a collection of plastic pumpkins in her seven years, each with a different feature – a ghoulish laugh, an integral torch, a battery-powered spooky judder.  It made a surprisingly cheering montage in our front window.

Since Laura was tiny, we’ve enjoyed making seasonal displays that can be seen from the front path, echoing our house’s past as the village post office with a permanent shop window.  Now that there’s a post-Halloween void, she’s itching to fill it.

“Wait until after Guy Fawkes Night,”  I plead, taking a rare opportunity to dust and polish the bare windowledge.

Obediently, she potters off, humming a Christmas carol.  I’m unwilling to fast-forward my thoughts to December, but I realise I’m unlikely to gain much of a stay of execution.  We’ve already had to pack our Christmas shoeboxes for school and the Nativity Play has been cast.

“I’m going to be Mary!” piped up an excited voice  as a throng of infants  headed out of school on Guy Fawkes Night.

I appreciate their teachers need a long run-up to the festive season, to be sure that the children know all their lines in time. I just wish I didn’t feel compelled to rush in to December when November has barely begun.  As it is – whoosh!  not only will November hurtle by, but in no time at all 2010 will be a thing of the past, and we’ll be giving a nostalgic sigh each time we remember to write 2011 on a cheque.

What we really need is a late November festival to act as a brake on the speed of the year.  Harvest Festival is long over, but there are still some leaves on the trees – why not an Autumn Leaf Fest to mark the baring of the skeletal trees, victims of the late November winds?  Or a Winter Warmer Day, when everyone finally accepts that there is no Indian summer around the corner, stashes their cotton clothes in the back of the wardrobe, and dons their thermals for the first time.  Or a pre-Christmas Purge, chucking out the old toys that haven’t been played with since last Christmas Day, clearing the decks ready for this season’s excesses.  Any of these could fuel Laura’s passion for window displays and hedge off the onslaught of Advent.

How I envy the Americans their Thanksgiving Holiday – perfectly placed to fill the void between Guy Fawkes Night and Christmas.  Would it seem churlish to celebrate it here too, as if we were glad to get those pesky Puritans off our soil?

Perhaps we can engineer an acceptable alternative of our own.  After all, we have plenty else to be thankful for.  And acknowledging our blessings might also serve to constrain the unnecessary excesses of the modern Christmas.

Happy November, everyone!


Posted in Family

Not So Tricky

Image via Wikipedia

Hallowe’en in our village seems to have had an identity crisis this year, disguising itself as the season of goodwill.  By the time we return from my small daughter’s first venture into trick-or-treating, we are overwhelmed by our neighbours’ generosity.  Laura is positively radiant – and not just because of the fluorescent nail polish applied earlier by her best friend’s mum.

“I just LOVE trick-or-treating!” she breathes ecstatically as we trek round the village.

We bump into most of her schoolfriends en route, plus quite a few teenagers, all impressively attired.  Not for our village the media stereotype of  big kids in half-hearted costumes harassing old ladies.  A group of teenage witches welcomes my little black cat to tag along with them at a couple of houses.  Some big boys in ambitious costumes, one apparently a wild animal in a tardis-like cage, politely offer her a biscuit.  The packet had just been cheerfully dispensed by a man whose greeting  was “Sorry, I’ve run out of sweets and I’ve run out of money, but here, have these cookies instead”.

Many adults have gone to as much trouble as the children to get into a spooky mood. They’ve festooned their houses with paper bats and ghosts, they  answer the door in costume and character.  One kind couple has made up goody bags of assorted chews that includes a set of plastic vampire teeth.  “I’ve always wanted one of those!” my daughter squeals with delight.  She’ll need new teeth if she’s going to eat her way through tonight’s haul.

Another lady has set up a grisly pick-and-mix in her front porch, chocolate eyeballs and bloody jelly fingers dispensed from dishes proffered by severed hands.

“She’s so kind,” my daughter remarks, slipping her hand into mine as we walk on down the lane.  “Someone really ought to give her  special treat too.”

At the next stop, we’re invited in for some jokes, a chocolate biscuit and an interesting lesson on the Celtic origins of the Hallowe’en tradition.  The adults are clearly having as much fun as the kids.

We head back towards home, looking out for lit pumpkins, the accepted indicator of a household that welcomes trick-or-treaters.  We pass by the home of one of the oldest ladies in the village.

“She hasn’t got a pumpkin, but do you think we should call on her anyway? She’s a very kind lady and always smiles and waves to us.”

Laura’s clearly convinced that Hallowe’en is all about generosity of spirit.  I shake my head.  “No pumpkin, no visit,” I remind her.

But what pumpkins we have seen!  Hours of carving must have gone into many of those on display.  Their fine fretwork depicted cheery toothy grins with varying degrees of menace, witches on broomsticks, moon-lit landscapes, angry cats arch-backed with vertical fur.  How many more ended up as soup following a slip of the knife in these artists’ quests for perfection?

Our own pumpkin, less elaborately carved, gave me a fright the night before.  Having nurtured it to a vast size in the garden all summer, we placed it proudly on the front wall in readiness at dusk, only to find it had vanished by the time night fell.  I was devastated.  How could someone stoop so low as to steal a pumpkin the night before Hallowe’en?  What sort of person does that?  Someone warming up to pinch our Christmas tree a few weeks later?

My outraged SOS on Facebook triggered a sympathetic search. By mid-morning a kind neighbour has discovered it on his front drive.  It’s too far for it to have rolled, so how on earth did it get there?  Why did the pumpkin cross the road?  I can’t help but wonder.  Well, I suppose this ancient festival has had the last laugh.  For all the outpouring of generosity in our village, Hallowe’en has still kept a trick up its flowing black sleeve.