Posted in Personal life, Writing

Tuning In at John Lewis

New on my This post was originally published in the October issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

cover of parish mag with my John Lewis card
October issue with my new John Lewis card

The finishing touch required for our new extension was a little background music.

My tastes in music are eclectic, but when I’m reading or writing, I prefer to listen to something without words. I needed a machine to do justice to classical music.

Going to John Lewis to buy a modest CD player to fit the space, I quickly discovered it’s nigh impossible to buy a stand-alone CD player. All seem to come with a DAB radio attached.

How the Other Half Shops

While awaiting my turn for the assistant, as I browsed the machines in the lower price bracket, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the elderly couple the young man was serving. For them, money was clearly no object: they were inspecting the product range of a brand fancy enough to have its own display area. I assumed they must have a more discerning musical ear than mine.

Not so. “Please may we try it on BBC Radio 4?” asked the elderly lady.

Once they’d been despatched with their purchase, when the assistant came to help me. I said to him, “Only in John Lewis would a customer ask to test your best hifi on Radio 4.”

The couple must have been working their way round the department, because the two models I’d been looking at were also tuned to Radio 4. Stephen Fry was in full flow on them both.

“Perhaps you should have him playing on a continuous loop,” I suggested. “His velvet tones would sell any sound system more easily.”

The assistant smiled conspiratorially.

And almost before I knew it, he was ringing up my sale on the till.


Cover of All Part of the Charm

Every month, I write a short column like this for our local community magazine, the Hawkesbury Parish News. I’ve collected the first six years worth of columns in a book, All Part of the Charm: A Modern Memoir of English Village Life, along with several essays I wrote about living in the village when I first moved here over 20 years ago. It’s available in paperback and ebook format via Amazon and elsewhere. 

Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

Eavesdropping While Shopping

My Young By Name column from the September issue of the Tetbury Advertiser

Cover of September issue
The editor’s choice of images to illustrate my column always makes me laugh – spot the subtle listening device in the black and white picture, top left

Whenever I’m on holiday, my writer’s habit of eavesdropping on other people’s conversations goes into overdrive.

It is particularly well rewarded this August in the heart of Inverness’s shopping district, a regular pit-stop when we’re touring the Highlands in our camper van.

Co-op Encounter

Outside the Co-op in a seedy side street, a cluster of pale, unkempt young men is hanging on a bedraggled, older woman’s every word. She looks like she is holding court, giving her loyal troops their instructions for the day.

“There’s the cemetery, like, the graveyard. There’s always the graveyard.”

I am unsure whether this is a deployment directive or a warning against disobedience.

Peril in Primark

As my teenage daughter checks out Primark, a father and his little girl are idling in the toy section. He must be under orders to occupy her while his wife enjoys a bit of low-budget retail therapy. The child, decked out in princess pink, is beautiful: strawberry blonde curls, blue eyes, sweet face. She seems to be taking the lead in the entertainment stakes, so perhaps the maternal instructions were for her to keep Daddy amused, rather than the other way round.

“Let’s play chicken,” she suggests brightly.

He looks blank, unsure of the rules. I pretend to browse a nearby rack of t-shirts while I wait to find out.

She seizes two plastic bazooka-style guns from a nearby display.

“You’ve got to shoot me, and I’ve got to shoot you. Bang, you’re dead! Now you shoot me. Now we’re both dead.”

The father looks dumbstruck, and I suspect I do too. What has he raised? The natural successor for the lady outside the Co-op?

Models in Marks

Half an hour later, towards the top of town where the smarter shops are, I am heartened by the approach of a more wholesome-looking family group emerging from Marks and Spencer: a father, son of about ten, and daughter young enough to be riding on her father’s shoulders. They are all bronzed, beautiful, and glowing with health. They could have stepped out of the pages of an upmarket Sunday lifestyle supplement.

Their glowing tans make me wonder which country they’re from. The Highlands is awash with foreign tourists in summer. Parked near our van that day are high-end cars registered in Monaco and San Merino, as well as the usual swarm of Italian, French, German, Spanish and Dutch motor homes. Then I spot the boy’s West Ham supporters’ scarf.

As the group passes by, the little girl’s crystal tones ring out in Queen’s English: ‘Well, everybody has to pass wind.”

I suspect Daddy may be regretting offering her a shoulder ride.

Tourists in Tetbury

I wonder what Tetbury’s tourists take away from conversations they hear in its streets? Listen out next time you venture into town – you may find your routine shopping trip more entertaining than you expect.

_______________________

Cover of Young by Name

 

FURTHER READING

You’ll find more like this in Young By Name, the book that brings together my first 60 columns for the Tetbury Advertiser, available both as an ebook and in paperback. Click here for details of how to order your copy. 

 

Posted in Personal life

The Unsung Services of Our Village Shop

(Originally written for the March edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News, this post praises our village shop and encourages people everywhere to shop local)

Photo of the entrance to the Hawkesbury Shop
Shop this way….

“I’m sending you a tall dark handsome man.”

So I was told when I popped in to the Hawkesbury Shop to collect my regular Hobbs House bread order the other week. Hmm, now there’s a new service I didn’t know about, I thought, wondering what my husband would make of it. Continue reading “The Unsung Services of Our Village Shop”

Posted in Family, Reading, Writing

The Christmas Past and the Christmas Present

English: Gift ideas for men - wrapping paper e...
What’s inside – is it a Toblerone? (Photo: http://www.giftideasformen.com)

I must admit I am a lazy wrapper.

Not for me the creative approach of an old flame who tried one year to make Christmas extra interesting by disguising all his gifts as something else. A bit of a challenge when his present to me was an LP. (Yes, I am that old.)

His plan backfired. Presented with a box several inches deep, I was expecting much more than a record. Disappointed to find the only thing in the package apart from Wings’ “Band on the Run” was air, I kept the LP but ditched the relationship.

As for me, I keep gift-wrapping simple. The last few Christmases, I’ve mostly given books as presents – so easy to wrap!

The Best Way to Shop for Books

And if you buy print books, don’t just order them online – support your local independent bookshop, where you’ll be ably assisted by knowledgeable, well-informed shop assistants with brains, rather than dodgy Amazon algorithms. When searching on Amazon for travel books about Japan, its customer service robot once advised me “If you like this book, you might also like “Diary of a Wombat” and “Australian hat with corks”. Bizarre or what?!

But lately I’ve realised I’ve been missing a trick: give an e-book as a gift, and you don’t have to wrap it at all.

If the recipients don’t have e-readers. Provided they have a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or PC, they should be able to download an e-reader app. Better make sure they’re happy with that idea first, though, before making your purchase – either that or buy them an e-reader first!

Then by saving all that money and effort on wrapping paper, you’ll be able to afford an extra book for yourself, and have time to read it too – result! Merry Christmas!

PS I’ve just set up a group on Facebook where, not only at Christmas but all year round, I’ll be posting up news of free and cut-price e-books by my author friends. If you’re on Facebook and would like to join it, send me a request or a message via my website contact form.

(A slightly different version of this article originally appeared in the Hawkesbury Parish News, December 2013.)

Baby Laura in Santa hat
Laura’s first Christmas

If you enjoyed this article you might like some of my other festive posts: