Posted in Personal life, Writing

The Red Van and the White

Photo of antique post office sign
Ironically, my house was at one point the village post office. I found this sign in my back garden when I moved in and have since given it pride of place on my kitchen wall.

My column from the March 2019 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News considers the courier vs the postman

Having lived in the village for nearly 30 years, I tend to forget how bewildering city-dwellers find it that so many houses round here don’t have door numbers. Urban courier drivers’ hearts must sink when Hawkesbury Upton crops up on their route for the day.

Knowing a house’s postcode isn’t as helpful as one might think, as each code covers an average of 15 properties. When you’re a delivery driver working against the clock, 15 is a lot of houses to check to find the right one. No wonder our parcels so often end up being left at the wrong place.

Word seems to have got out amongst couriers that I work from home, because lately I’ve had a spate of puzzled delivery drivers knocking on my door during the day to ask for directions to a house of one name or another. Although even I may not know every house name, if they tell me the person’s name I can usually point them in the right direction.

But sometimes even that’s not enough to satisfy them. One poor courier was almost in tears of disappointment and disbelief when I refused to accept the gas boiler he’d been trying to deliver to a number of houses, none of them correct.

This is why these days when ordering something on line, I choose standard Post Office delivery, because I know we can trust our village posties to get it right. Although they might have trouble fitting a gas boiler through my letterbox.

Postscript After reading this post in his copy of the Hawkesbury Parish News, heroic villager Terry Truebody emailed me to say he has created a Hawkesbury Upton A-Z, which he’s recently updated to include the newest houses in the village. Very generously, he’s willing to share it with anyone who might find it helpful. so I’m including a link to a download of it here. Thank you, Terry – couriers and villagers will all be very grateful to you.

Cover of All Part of the Charm

 

Like to read more of my columns from the Hawkesbury Parish News?

Here’s a collection from 2010-2015, available in paperback and as an ebook.

The second volume will be out at the end of 2020.

 

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Snowdrops vs Daffodils

photo of roadsign to Hawkesbury with snowdrops

(This post first appeared in the February issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News)

photo of snowdrops on the grass verge beside the road
Snowdrops by the roadside between Hawkesbury Upton and Wotton under Edge

Weary of the continuing long dark nights, today I drove to Wotton in the daylight for the first time this year. Catching sight of the snowdrops lining the roadside banks cheered me up no end.

Visions of their natural successors in order of flowering – daffodils, wild garlic, bluebells – rushed through my imagination like a speeded-up nature film, fast forwarding me to spring.

Despite the plummeting temperature, I felt warmer than I had done for days.

Not for nothing do snowdrops symbolise hope in the traditional language of flowers.

I was reminded of the effect that daffodils had on Wordsworth, buoying him up long after he had got back to his cottage in the Lake District:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth – from I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

(click here to read the poem in full, courtesy of The Poetry Foundation)

I like to think that had Wordsworth chosen to settle in Hawkesbury rather than Grasmere, he might have serenaded snowdrops instead of daffodils.

Though he might have found it harder to find a word to rhyme with them.

Posted in Writing

What Makes a Proper Village?

(My column for the January edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News)

cover of January issue of Hawkesbury Parish News
Slightly crumpled thanks to my letterbox (the parish mags are delivered to our doors by volunteers)

Driving back from Cribbs Causeway recently, I was bemused to spot what looked like a drab, chunky office block with big white letters on the side proclaiming it to be the “Village Hotel”. According to its website, it’s “a modern hi-tech hotel,” which doesn’t sound very villagey at all to me.

I first noticed the misappropriation of the word village years ago when managing the PR for the launch of the UK’s first factory outlet retail park, Clarks Village in Somerset. Clarks Village boasts 90 shops and 1,400 parking spaces. That’s a village? That’s news to me.

Confusingly, a billboard close to The Village Hotel invited me to move to “The Villages” at Charfield. Apparently, these are the new housing developments springing up in Charfield.  What do people who live in the village of Charfield say when a house-hunter asks directions to The Villages? I’d be tempted to say, “Which village would you like? Charfield, Hawkesbury, Hillesley, Kingswood? There’s no shortage of villages around here.”

Cover of All Part of the Charm
My collection of columns from the Hawkesbury Parish News & essays about village life is available to buy in paperback and ebook

The National Geographic Society’s definition describes a village as “larger than a hamlet, smaller than a town”. But to me, a true village means so much more – a community with a heart and a soul, with personality and spirit, where everyone looks out for each other and where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, to the benefit of all its residents.

And if anyone is still unsure, I have just one piece of advice: visit Hawkesbury Upton to witness a first-rate village in action. I’m glad to say it’s the only village in this village.

Posted in Writing

‘Tis the Season to Do What, Now?

cover of Springtime for Murder
My latest novel – published in November, set at Easter (Available in paperback and ebook)

In this column for the December 2018 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I get ahead of myself with the seasons

In the retail trade, buyers plan at least a season ahead. While we’re Christmas shopping, they’re planning their stock for the spring.

I share their sense of being out of step with nature’s calendar. Today, for example, the deadline of the Hawkesbury Parish News’s December issue, I launched my latest novel, Springtime for Murder. I wrote it in the summer months, edited it in the autumn, and it’s set at Easter. Now I’m about to start writing a novel that takes place in May. No wonder I have to stop to think what month it is in the real world.

It doesn’t help that I can’t rely on the weather to give me a natural steer on the seasons. With it often so unseasonably hot/cold/wet/dry, a glance out of the window can be misleading.

Image of first four books in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series
The first four books in the series run from midsummer to Valentine’s Day

Taking a break from my desk to go grocery shopping does nothing to put me straight. Why are supermarket shelves still full of fresh summer fruits in the winter? Every time I go to Waitrose lately, there are punnets of strawberries reduced for quick sale, because the shop has more than it can sell. Still, at least I’m full of Vitamin C to guard against winter colds.

Thank goodness for the man-made visual clues around the village. Impressively carved pumpkins dotted around the village heralded Halloween. Mid-November, the poppies on the Plain and in St Mary’s ensured we remember the date we should never forget. Now the Christmas lights will soon be upon us.

Even so, if you see me shivering in a summer dress in December, now you’ll know the reason why: I’ll have simply lost the plot.  Which really shouldn’t happen to an author.

I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

PS And if you fancy some seasonal reading that is just right for December…

Cover of Murder in the Manger
In the third Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, her school nativity play goes off-script from the opening line
cover of Stocking Fillers by Debbie Young
12 short stories that are the perfect antidote pre-Christmas stress
cover of Lighting Up Time
A sweet but spooky story the longest night of the year
Cover of The Owl and the Turkey
A fun short story inspired by mishearing a snippet of news on BBC Radio 4
Posted in Personal life, Writing

She Stoops to Conkers*

This post first appeared in the November 2018 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

(Photo of conkers by Dawid Zawila via Unsplash.com)

While I was growing up in a suburb where many roads were lined with horse chestnut trees, playing conkers was one of my favourite autumn games. I still can’t walk past a freshly fallen conker without picking it up and slipping it into my pocket. My grown-up excuse for collecting conkers and taking them home is that they’re an effective spider deterrent.

Nature’s timing is perfect, because the conker harvest coincides with the mass migration of spiders from our gardens into our homes. Escaping from the chill and damp outdoors is the arachnid equivalent of flying south for the winter.

However, I’ve just heard on the radio that ingesting conkers can be harmful to dogs. They contain a toxin called aesculin, also present in every other part of the horse chestnut tree, which can make dogs very ill and in rare cases prove fatal.

On his podcast, the radio presenter, Rhod Gilbert, wondered how to reconcile his arachnophobic wife who fills their house with conkers and a pet dog who perceives every conker to be a dog toy. How to keep both of them happy and safe?

My cat Dorothy suggests the answer. All summer she’s been snacking on flies and moths. Rhod just needs to follow her example and cut out the middleman (the conker).

If he trains his dog to eat spiders, his problem will be solved.

For more information about dogs and conkers, visit: www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/conkers-and-dogs.

(photo of 1905 performance – public domain)

* With apologies to 18th century Irish playwright Oliver Goldsmith for repurposing the title of his excellent and very funny play, She Stoops to Conquer.


Meanwhile in other news…

cover of Springtime for Murder

I’ve just launched Sophie Sayers’ fifth Village Mystery,
Springtime for Murder,
now available in paperback and ebook.

 

cover of Murder in the Manger

If it’s a more seasonal read that you’re after,
check out her third adventure,
Murder in the Manger
a cheery antidote to festive stress.

 

Coming in 2019:

  • Murder Your Darlings (Sophie Sayers #6)
  • Flat Chance (Staffroom at St Bride’s #1)