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.

 

 


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cover of Best Murder in Show
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cover of Secrets at St Bride's
Mystery and mayhem in an eccentric English boarding school for girls

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Posted in Events, Personal life

A Not So Indian Summer

a tree with leaves turned the colours of flame
Autumn colour at Westonbirt Arboretum, just down the road from me

My column from the October 2019 Hawkesbury Parish News

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that autumn begins the day after the Hawkesbury Village Show. This year cooler autumn weather arrived right on cue on 1st September. A couple of weeks later, with chestnut leaves already starting to turn bronze as I write this column, we’re basking in an ‘Indian summer’.

Or so I thought, until I decided to investigate what actual Indian summers are like.

It turns out they’re nothing like this at all. Having never been to India, I had no idea that their summers can bring winds so strong as to be fatal and thunderstorms accompanied by hailstorms. And once they’re over, there’s a four-month monsoon season to look forward to.

It turns out that what we’ve been having is a Native American summer.

Nineteenth century settlers coined the phrase ‘Indian summer’ to describe the unseasonably warm, dry spells in the fall which the indigenous people (termed Red Indians by European immigrants) favoured for hunting.

Outside of the English language, different terms are used for this phenomenon. Germans called it ‘Altweibersommer’ which means ‘old wives’ summer’, as do Eastern Europeans in their own languages. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because the elderly find a less aggressive heat of a good autumn easier to bear than high summer?

The concept can also be used metaphorically. In the English translation of Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago, the term Indian summer is used to describe the run-up to the October Revolution: the calm before the storm.

Given the current political climate, I prefer a more soothing philosophy. This autumn, whatever the weather may bring, I’ll be bearing in mind that optimistic closing line from Shelley’s Ode to Autumn: “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” Let’s hope so.


PS For a more seasonal read for October, you might like to try the second in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, Trick or Murder?, in which a village finds itself divided by a conflict between Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night. Read the first chapter here for free.


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Posted in Family, Personal life

The Wisdom of Estate Agents

(This post was originally written for the September edition of Hawkesbury Parish News, my local community’s newsletter)

Photo of Laura in purple frock and tiara
My daughter Laura as Carnival Queen’s attendant at this year’s Village Show

Twenty-three years ago, when I was negotiating to buy my house in Hawkesbury Upton, there were four significant facts that I’m glad I didn’t know at the time, because they’d have made the process much more stressful. But with hindsight it seems remiss of the estate agent not to have told me:

  • there is an excellent village primary school
  • the village is in the catchment area for an equally good secondary school, with admission pretty much guaranteed for anyone who lives here
  • the extraordinary annual village show – the undisputed highlight of the village year – would make me proud to call Hawkesbury Upton my home
  • climate change and the subsequent increased rainfall would make me very glad indeed to have a house on high ground

Photo of Laura in her new school uniform
Laura ready for her first day at secondary school (still inadvertently wearing the purple sparkly nail polish from the Show)

All four of these factors have given me cause for celebration this year, when my daughter left the primary school with a glowing report, gained a place at KLB, and was picked as Carnival Queen’s Attendant for the Show – and on numerous occasions throughout the year we’ve watched copious rainwater flowing away from our house, downhill, down the middle of our road.

But as September begins, I’m mindful of two more facts omitted from the estate agent’s blurb that I was left to learn from my new neighbours:

  • the day of the village show is the last day of summer
  • when it’s jacket weather in Chipping Sodbury, it’s overcoat weather in Hawkesbury Upton

Perhaps that estate agent was smarter than I gave him credit for. Now where did I leave my overcoat?

 

Posted in Personal life

East, West, Our Village Show’s Best

UNESCO World Heritage Site: cultural sites by ...
UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Image via Wikipedia)

2,300 miles in 4 weeks: that’s one way of summing our family holiday in France this year. For the first time in my life, I am in the fortunate position of being able to take 4 weeks off work. To make the most of it, we hit the road in our camper van.

Normally it’s a fortnight’s tour of Scotland, but as Laura always says “You don’t go to Scotland for the weather”. I’ve never been further south in France than Paris, so armed with a French atlas and a satnav, we hit the road.

We are not disappointed. Our scenic route from takes us through Picardy and Paris before trickling south alongside the Loire and the Rhone. A week’s tour of Provence includes extraordinary ancient Roman remains and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Then it’s back up north via the Ardeche mountains and the Auvergne’s volcanoes. Sometimes things get surreal. Canoeing under an ancient Roman aqueduct, we find ourselves surrounded by French holidaymakers who have turned the riverbank into a beach. At Avignon, our campervan floor fills with Italian children contentedly drawing and colouring, while Laura goes off to play with her new French friend Sybillia. For a writer, the trip is a rich resource, and all the way I’m scribbling away in my notebook, banking ideas for withdrawal at home.

By the time we’re driving north, I’m saturated with new experiences – but for Laura, there’s just one thing on her mind. She shares it from the back seat.

“How many days till the Village Show, Mummy?”

“I’m just SO excited about the Village Show.”

“I can’t wait for it to be Show Day on Saturday.”

“I’m so glad we’re going to be home in time for the Show.”

And do you know what? I think she’s right. No matter how far we travel, I’m sure we’ll never find another sight to match the Hawkesbury Village Show. UNESCO, please take note.

(This post was originally written for the Hawkesbury Parish Magazine – September 2011 Village Show Special Edition!)