Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

A Lockdown Date with Kittens

photo of two kittens on fleecy blanket
Two sources of comfort in lockdown: kittens & the Hawkesbury Parish News

During lockdown, our community magazine, the Hawkesbury Parish News, has heroically continued to publish, thanks to its dedicated team of volunteers writing, editing, printing and distributing it about the village.

In the absence of news of events, which usually makes up a large part of its content, the editor, Colin Dixon, has solicited plenty of new and interesting editorial to fill the space, including personal lockdown diaries by local residents.

Although many of the services advertised in its pages are suspended during lockdown, these companies are continuing to support the magazine, as they book and pay for a year’s advertising each January. They deserve our support in return when normal life returns.

In these strange times, it is comforting to see the Hawkesbury Parish News drop through our letterbox each month, giving some semblance of normality and regularity to the disrupted pattern of life in the time of Covid-19. A huge thank you to the whole team for your continuing service to our community.

Now here’s the column that I wrote for the June issue. 

 

Photo of cat gazing into fish tank
Bertie enjoys cat television

My top tip for lockdown entertainment is to acquire a pair of kittens.

We did this only by chance, collecting Bingo and Bertie (named after P G Wodehouse characters) at nine weeks old, two days before lockdown.

21st March seemed a particularly auspicious day for us to bring them home. Not only is it the Spring Solstice, but it was also my parents’ 67th wedding anniversary.

Reading the adoption paperwork when we got home, I was astonished to find that they were also born on my birthday, January 18th – the same day that our older cat Dorothy moved in. Dorothy was a stray found by neighbours (the Rounds) in their garage on a school snow day. She was personally delivered by another neighbour, Roland Starling, when I joked on Facebook that she could be my birthday present – that’ll teach me to be flippant! Best birthday present ever, though!

Dorothy, my personal assistant, reporting for duty at my writing desk
Photo of cat with head in mug of tea
A nice cup of tea always goes done well. (Bertie likes to search for teabags and lift them out with his paw.)

As Dorothy did when she first came to live with us, the kittens have provided daily cheer and distraction. The timing of their arrival has meant that we have spent as much time as possible bonding with them, and they settled very quickly.

Much as we love the kittens, my daughter has already declared that she is looking forward to seeing how they turn out when they’re full grown. I know just what she means. When she was born 17 years ago, I worried that I might be sad when she grew up. I soon realised that at each stage of development, I loved her even more.

Of course, kittens are for life, not just for lockdown, but I’m glad to have at least this one positive souvenir of these challenging times.


We are very grateful to the Cats’ Protection League for caring for our kittens until they were old enough to leave their mother. Their loving care gave Bertie and Bingo a wonderful start, and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons that they are such affectionate, good-natured creatures now.


Further reading inspired by cats: “Springtime for Murder”

cover of Springtime for MurderDon’t worry, no cats come to any harm in this book!

In the fifth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, I wanted to write about cats and so I introduced some new characters – an elderly neighbour, Bunny Carter, who has a house full of cats, and an irritating do-gooder who keeps trying to foist more cats upon her while also trying to persuade her to leave her fortune to the local cat charity (not a bit like the wonderful Cats’ Protection League, I hasten to add!)

Sophie, as a cat person like me, is easily persuaded to adopt a black kitten, whom she names Blossom, a name nominated by my friend Sue, and not Beelzebub, which was suggested by my friend John, whom I suspect is more of a dog lover! Unfortunately Sophie discovers too late that Hector, her boss and her boyfriend, is a dog lover too…

Full of fun about cats and cat-lovers, and featuring the usual banter between the regular cast of characters in this series, this story is underpinned by serious thoughts about family relationships and the importance of solving family feuds before it’s too late. (Bunny, who earned her nickname by producing so many children in her younger days, has fallen out with all of her offspring.)

The book is available as both a paperback and an ebook, and makes a relaxing escapist read at any time of year.

Click here to order the paperback

Click here to order the ebook from your favourite ebook retailer

Posted in Events, Personal life

All Change!

photo of window with teddies on the windowsill and blossom tree outside
My thoughts on lockdown – and the view from my bedroom window this morning

My column for the April 2020 issue of our community magazine, Hawkesbury Parish News, was written about a week after lockdown started and so included  my initial impressions of the positive changes it might bring to our lives.

As ever, I tried to keep my column lighthearted and upbeat. Now in the fourth week of lockdown, all that I wrote still rings true for me – although I’m not sending anything out in the post, as our precautionary self-isolation due to various health vulnerabilities in our household are precluding the short walk up to the post box at the centre of the village.

Our heroic village post office remains open, however, thanks to Dick, our selfless postmaster, as is the Hawkesbury Stores, our community village shop, aided by dozens of volunteers.

The other difference is that I gave my stash of fancy soaps and hand lotions to an appeal for toiletries for nurses in our local hospital – but the jewel-like blue of my cheap-and-cheerful Pears soap lifts my spirits every time I use it. 

Whatever is changing for you during lockdown, I send you my very best wishes.


The current restrictions, courtesy of Covid-19, are radically changing our lives. Much of these changes may linger post-virus, but, ever the optimist, I can see some good may come of it.

We will have learned to cherish luxury soap. Fancy bars that once ranked as unwanted Christmas gifts are coming into their own as we wash our hands many times a day. So much nicer than the usual squirt of washing-up liquid before I cook tea.

What’s not to love about the translucent glow of Pears’ soap?

We will have nothing but praise for delivery men, from old faithfuls like the milkman and the postman to the anonymous man in a white van. Forget the odd package or pinta left at the wrong house in the past. All will be forgiven. We’ll be happy to see a delivery man at all.

Our houses will be immaculate. With so much time at home, we’re sorting dusty shoeboxes of old photos and alphabetising our CD collections. We’re rearranging our books by author, by size, by topic or by colour – or all four, in turn. When charity shops reopen post-virus, they’ll be swamped with our discarded clutter.

interior shot of tidy walk-in larder
My larder has never been so tidy.

We’ll all have turned into vegetable gardeners. Our natural instinct to Dig for Victory is kicking in. This summer, we’ll no longer complain about a surplus of marrows. We won’t want to waste a speck of food after seeing so many empty supermarket shelves. The Hawkesbury Show 2020 will receive a record number of entries. We might even start our craft entries early, rather than finishing in a frenzy the night before Show Day.

Photo of crab apple tree in full blossom
The promise of apples to come – well, crab apples, anyway, from the most spectacular blossom tree in my back garden. (Plum and apple trees are behind it.)

The old-fashioned habit of sending letters and postcards will enjoy a lasting revival, despite the cost of postage. While the internet helps us connect with our loved ones, it’s much more special to receive a tangible show of affection from afar – well worth the price of a stamp. Bonus point: while we’re writing traditional letters and cards, we’re not frightening ourselves with misinformation online.

Photo of antique post office sign
Funnily enough, my house was once 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.)

With regard to correspondence, the soulless modern sign-offs “Kind regards” and “Best wishes”, or “Best” or even “BW” in abbreviation, will disappear. The evidence in my inbox this week suggests that in future emails and letters will end “Take care and stay well” – a sentiment sent from the sender’s heart.

And that is how I’d like to end this month’s column. Confined to my house as a vulnerable person for health reasons, I’m frustrated not to be out helping fellow villagers, as so many kind parishioners are doing now. I pledge to make up for it once I’m allowed out. You have been warned!

So for now, take care and stay well. This too will pass.

 

 


Special Offers on Escapist Reads to Lift Your Spirits

cover of Best Murder in Show
A fun story set in high summer in a classic English village
cover of Secrets at St Bride's
Mystery and mayhem in an eccentric English boarding school for girls

If you fancy a bit of escapist reading from life under lockdown, you might like to take advantage of two special offers currently running on the ebook editions of the first books in my two series of novels throughout the month of April.

 

The first in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, Best Murder in Show, is currently free to download on all ebook platforms worldwide.
Click here to nab your free copy.

My first St Bride’s School story, Secrets at St Bride’s, is currently reduced to 99p in most stores, including Amazon UK, Kobo, Apple Books and Barnes and Noble. (With apologies to Amazon readers outside of the UK – this promotion is being run by Amazon and is only on my home turf!)
Click here to buy your bargain copy.

Posted in Events, Personal life

Weathering Storms

Every month, I write a column for our local community magazine, the Hawkesbury Parish News. The copy deadline is the middle of the month prior to the cover date. After having spent much of today in my garden enjoying balmy spring sunshine and spring flowers, it seems odd to recall the stormy weather that had come to seem the norm when I was writing my March column, mid-February, which I’m sharing below.

Image by @valentinmuellerandalanmueller via unsplash.com

With Storm Dennis raging outside my study window, I decided to research the naming of storms. The Met Office started this practice just five years ago to make it easier for the media to talk about storms, and so to raise awareness of the dangers they might bring.

A storm is given a human name if it is likely to trigger an amber or red weather warning for wind, rain or snow. A list of 26 named storms is announced at the start of each year, one for each letter of the alphabet. Their names are picked from suggestions submitted by the general public to represent the nation’s cultural mix – hence the likes of Asian Samir and Gaelic Roisin, alongside the solidly English Ellen. The alphabetical list alternates between male and female names. It’s probably only a matter of time before there’s a gender-neutral Robin or Vivan, but Stormy McStormface is a non-starter.

The appearance of Storm Willow in the 2020 list surprised me. I’d always thought of Willow as a good name for a cat, as in Pussy Willow, and it’s currently #23 in the cat name charts. But it’s now also in the top ten for baby girls born in 2020. Who knew? It’s still not a name I’d associate with a scary storm.

But then nor is Dennis, even though psychologists claim that unconscious bias makes us most fear storms with male names. The name Dennis makes me picture a genial old man sitting by the fire with pipe and slippers doing the newspaper crossword. The trees in my garden currently being buffeted about by Storm Dennis beg to differ.

Casting my eye down the list of names for the rest of 2020, there is one that leaps out as easily the most ominous. I can’t help wondering whether the Met Office really thought this particular choice through. In the meantime, look out for Storm Noah, folks – and better start building that ark…

image of double rainbow over landscape
Image by @plasticmind via unsplash.com

Cover of All Part of the Charm
Available as an ebook and in paperback

If you enjoy reading my entries for the Hawkesbury Parish News, you may like to know I have published a collection of my columns from the 2010-2015 issues as an ebook and paperback. 

Click here to buy the ebook on the ereader of your choice.

Click here to order the paperback from Amazon.

Or order from your local bookshop, quoting ISBN 978-1911223023.

Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

A Trick of the Light

photo of sunset behind leafless trees
Sunset on Starveall Lane, one of the single-track roads that leads into Hawkesbury Upton

Every month, I write a topical column for the Hawkesbury Parish News, the local magazine run by an apparently tireless team of volunteers, for the benefit of everyone within our local community. What could be more topical for an English village in the middle of winter than a heartfelt longing for signs of spring?

Yesterday mid-morning, in a brief interlude between torrential downpours, there was a clear, fresh quality to the daylight in my back garden. If I were an artist, I would have been reaching for my paints, eager to capture the arrival of spring. Yet the calendar told me winter would last two more months.

I welcomed the arrival of this blackbird every morning last week as it worked its way through old apples left over from last autumn

Unlike my husband, I don’t always trust supposedly scientific evidence. Our bathroom scales are another case in point. Bringing them into the bedroom to weigh himself last week, he was startled to find he’d lost ten kilos. “Put them back in their usual place and try again,” I advised.

Sure enough, when returned to the bare boards of the bathroom floor, the scales showed his usual weight. Those ten kilos were never lost – they were just temporarily mislaid. Like his car keys and his phone, which go missing several times a week, I knew they’d turn up eventually.

Weight is in any case relative and not worth getting worked up about. At my health MOT at the GP surgery last week, the nurse congratulated me: “Well done, you’ve lost five pounds since this time last year.”

Taking the compliment with good grace, I chose not to confess that I’d actually lost a stone – and then regained nine pounds.

But I’ll store up my husband’s experience for future reference. Then when I really want to lose weight and keep it off, I’ll just put the scales on the bedroom carpet.

photo of snowdrops in the churchyard at Slad
More signs of spring in the Cotswolds: carpets of snowdrops at the churchyard in Slad, resting place of the writer Laurie Lee

And In Case You’re Impatient for Summer…

A Free Summer Read!

A fun story set in high summer in a classic English village – first in a series of five novels (book six due out at the end of February!)

If these signs of spring aren’t enough to lift your spirits, here’s a chance to download a free ebook of my novel set in high summer, Best Murder in Show.  For a limited time only, the ebook edition is available to download free of charge from all good ebook retailers (Kindle, Kobo, Apple, etc).

Just click this link to download your copy in the format of your choice. 

Why am I giving it away? I’m hoping readers will get hooked and go on to buy the rest of the series – especially as book six in the series, Murder Your Darlings, is due out at the end of February!

Fortunately, it costs me nothing to give away an ebook as the file is a digital download, with no print or delivery costs. I just wish I could do the same with paperbacks!

More news about Murder Your Darlings soon…

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.