Posted in Personal life, Writing

Marching into Spring

I love new beginnings, whether of a month, a season, a school term or a year. When I’m feeling restless, as I always am by this time of year, any excuse for a fresh start will do.

So you may imagine my delight that 1st March not only marks the start of a new month and will usher in a new season, but it is also the beginning of the ancient Roman ten-month year.

Yes, ten months – which explains why our names for the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth months are confusingly based on the Roman numerals for seven, eight, nine and ten – septem, octo, novem and decem.

Of course, the winter months that they eventually designated January and February existed, but for a long time they refused to acknowledge them with a name, as if in punishment for their lack of productivity.

Three new beginnings in one fell swoop! My only disappointment is that March was so called in honour of the Roman god of war, because it was considered the right time of year to resume military campaigns interrupted by winter. Mars was also considered a guardian of agriculture, and his month the beginning of the farming year. If the Roman Empire had had a 21st century-style advertising industry, Mars would have been the obvious poster boy for gardening products designed to wage war on weeds.

drawing of Mars, god of war
A rather cheeky Mars, drawn by Moses ter Borch in 1660, now in the Rijksmuseum (image in public domain via

To my peace-loving brain, the mention of the name Mars is more likely to conjure up the image of the classic chocolate bar than of the Roman god of war. (Other chocolate bars are available, as the BBC might say.)

According to Google, the British Task Force took three million Mars bars to the Falklands in 1982. The manufacturer’s marketing department must have been tempted to add “fight” to its famous catchphrase, “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play”.

(Image public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

But that has nothing to do with the naming of the bar, which by the time of the Falklands War was fifty years old. Like its arch-rival Cadbury’s chocolate (founded 1824), the bar and the company was named after its founding family.

In 1932, in the unlikely setting of Slough, one Forrest Mars, Sr. devised his eponymous snack. The son of the American industrialist Frank C Mars, Forrest belonged to the second generation in a dynasty of candy manufacturers destined to became the richest family in America. This bevy of billionaires still owns the confectionery company – a refreshing change when so many great brands, including our beloved Cadbury, have been absorbed by vast international conglomerates with less cosy names. (Mondelez International in the case of Cadbury – who knew?)

image of Mars, the red planet
(ESA & MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO <;, via Wikimedia Commons)

A more scientifically-minded (or less greedy) person than me might sooner associate the name Mars with the Red Planet, which, like Earth, has four seasons, but each lasts twice as long as ours, due to the 687 days in the Martian year.

That’s a long haul between new beginnings. One of many reasons that I’m glad to be starting another spring on Planet Earth.

This post was originally written for the March 2022 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser.


cover of Best Murder in Show
“A cracking example of cosy crime” – Katie Fforde
cover of Secrets at St Bride's
“The perfect book – I loved it” – Katie Fforde

Both my series of novels begin with a young woman starting afresh in a new home – Sophie Sayers in the Cotswold village of Wendlebury Barrow in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, and Gemma Lamb at the quirky English boarding school for girls in the Staffroom at St Bride’s series.

Follow their adventures from the start in Best Murder in Show and Secrets at St Bride’s, both available as paperbacks, ebooks and audiobooks.

Order Best Murder in Show here.

Order Secrets at St Bride’s here.

Posted in Personal life

February is the Sleepiest Month

My column for the February issue of Hawkesbury Parish News
(with apologies to T S Eliot for parodying the opening line of “The Waste Land”)

Baby Laura fast asleep in February 2004
Like mother, like daughter: Laura’s first encounter with February

Sorry, February, but you are my least favourite month. You kick in when Christmas starts to feel like a distant memory. At least January has the saving grace of including my birthday. But with longer days not yet with us, and weather too grim to entice us outside, the only thing you’ve got going for you is your brevity.

I was therefore interested to read in the press this week of research suggesting the benefits of hibernation. What a great way to bypass February!

Scientists report that the long winter sleep of squirrels switches off their brains, resting their synapses without deleting any information. When the squirrels wake up in spring, they can still remember where they buried their nuts. With my senior moments increasing, especially since turning a year older last month, there couldn’t be a better time for me to give hibernation a try.

So if you don’t spot me out and about in the village this month, you’ll know what’s keeping me off the streets. Just tiptoe past my house until 1st March. That’s when I’ll be emerging, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. And possibly snacking on nuts.

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collectionIf you need something cheery to read,
with a springlike feel to get you through February,
check out my collection of ultra-short stories, Quick Change  

Posted in Family

What A Difference A Day Makes

Humorous leap year postcard postmarked in 1908...
Humorous leap year postcard from 1908 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hurrah! At last February is on its way out, and I’m so glad it’s not a leap year. This means that March – and Spring – will arrive one day earlier this year. 

There’s a world of difference between the last day of dreary, chilly February and the first day of daffodilly, Easter eggy March. Even more so for my husband, because the first day of March happens to be his birthday.

How frustrating leap years must have been for him when he was a boy, making him wait an extra day for his birthday. But this year I’d been expecting him to hanker after a 29th of February, to put off the dawn of an alarmingly significant  birthday.

60 – The New 40

Yes, I know that 60 is often considered the new 40, but for me, 60 absolutely spells old age. (I say that from the safe perspective of someone still many years away from their own 60th birthday.) This is because my grandmother was born exactly 60 years before me, and for me she was the archetypal old lady. I thought that 60 years was the perfect gap between a grandmother and her granddaughter. I’ve always liked a neat round number.

To anyone who doesn’t know my husband, you might think me cruel to have bought him a watch for his 60th birthday. You might be concerned that every time he looks at it, he’ll be reminded how quickly life is passing him by.

But is he downhearted? Oh, no. He’s positively chirpy. He’s even requested we celebrate  with a party, although he’s not usually a party animal. I don’t think I’ll be feeling as cheerful when it’s my turn to leave my 50s behind.

This is a complete role reversal.  Usually, I am renowned for my optimism, ever the Pollyanna. For Gordon, not only is the glass half empty – it’s also got a crack in it. So why the sudden about-turn?

Saving Grace

The reason is, he’s a Scotsman. He appreciates the opportunity to conserve his spending. As a child, he and his sister set up a club in their loft, of which the key rules were pinned to the wall: “No smoking, no swearing, save money”. Although he has a generous heart and is capable of acts of extraordinary kindness, he is also very fond of opportunities to economise. And so as February closes, bringing old age closer by the second, he’s  preoccupied with  the financial advantages that turning 60 will bring him: his civil service pension, his free bus pass from the council, discounted entry to museums, and 10% off on Tuesdays at B&Q.

I don’t think such rewards will buoy me up when I turn 60. Instead I’ll be clinging desparately to my faith in the powers of nominal determinism. (Oh, how I love to slip that phrase into a conversation!) Because, after all, by marrying Gordon, I became Mrs Young. We have no intention of ever getting divorced, and so, no matter what my age, I will be forever Young. If that’s not a good reason to marry someone, I don’t know what is.

Happy 60th birthday, Mr Young!

Badge saying "60 Years Young"