Posted in Personal life, Reading, Writing

My Ears Are Alight – and other Mondegreens

Decades ago, when I worked for a PR firm in an old banana warehouse in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral (but that’s another story), my colleague Rob was keen to improve his vocabulary.

Perhaps he was hooked on the old Readers’ Digest column, “It Pays to Increase Your Word Power”, a motto I’ve always admired. He designated a new word to learn every day, which he shared with us all. I worked alongside him for only a few months, but if I’d shared his office for the rest of my career, I reckon he’d have increased my word power too by around 10,000 words.

Continue reading “My Ears Are Alight – and other Mondegreens”

Posted in Personal life, Reading

Off the Hook for Books

This final post of 2022 was originally written for the December 2022/January 2023 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser, which was published in the run-up to Christmas

This month my to-do list includes a much-needed weeding of my groaning bookshelves, in the hope that Father Christmas, who knows me well after all these years, will bring me a pile of lovely new books.

Every room in my house contains bookshelves, except the utility room and the larder. (I’ve slipped up there.) Each shelf is jam-packed with rows of books, with more laid on top horizontally to fill all available airspace. It’s clearly time to declutter. But which books should I keep and which jettison? Continue reading “Off the Hook for Books”

Posted in Events, Family, Personal life

Just Keep Singing

Tight writing deadlines in the last few months have meant I’ve got way behind on my blog – so please excuse me if I now have a quick catch-up to shoehorn in two articles I wrote for the Tetbury Advertiser in November and December, before I run out of 2022! This article was written for the November 2022 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser. I’ll post the December one tomorrow.

A recent free concert at St Mary’s, Tetbury by the St Cecilia’s Singers provided a lightning tour of four hundred years of Anglican choral music, from Tallis to Tavener. Listening to the music, I gazed up at the soaring windows and ceiling, remembering from school history lessons that Gothic architecture was designed to draw the eye heavenward. St Mary’s high box pews reminded me, as box pews always do, of earthly coffins. Memento mori all round, then.

Continue reading “Just Keep Singing”

Posted in Personal life

Decision Time

When shops mount ‘Back to School’ displays at the start of the summer holidays, part of me feels sorry for schoolchildren. I also find the promise of the return to normality in September strangely comforting, but I’ve only just realised why.

Every day we need to make a lot of decisions. How many is unclear, but the extraordinary figure of 35,000 pops up all over the internet from various sources.

Assuming we sleep seven hours a night, that leaves us responsible for over 2,000 decisions per waking hour.

How did scientists come up with such a huge figure? I question whether some jiggery-pokery is in play. Perhaps it is analogous to my Fitbit’s insistence that I’d walked several miles when I was on a long journey in our camper van, doing nothing more active than knitting. It turned out the device was counting each stitch as a step, misinterpreting the movement of my hands.

Now there’s a  handy tip if you’re struggling to reach your step target at the end of a tiring day: sit down and do a few rows of knitting.

photo of knitting
Currently getting my step count up by knitting poppies for Remembrance Day

Lifestyle app Noom’s estimate of 122 daily decisions is more plausible, and more manageable, considering that we spend a good part of each working day on autopilot. Many of our decisions are shaped by our routines: when to rise, what to wear, how to travel, and so on. The more rigid our workday routine, the fewer decisions we need make. Even a creative job like mine is shaped by a certain degree of habit. For example, I always write first drafts by hand with a fountain pen.

Holidays make us abandon our work routines. While freeing us of some sources of stress associated with our workplace – conflicts with colleagues, commuter journeys – they force us to make many more decisions every day.

However well you know your own mind, all decisions are a source of stress, some more than others.

As a teenager moving from a school with compulsory uniform to one with a liberal dress code added much angst to my mornings.

Most holidays are too short for us to lay down comforting new routines. It takes an estimated 18 days to lay down new habits, although there are exceptions. On holiday in Berlin this summer, my daughter and I quickly got into the swing of breakfasting on oven-warm pastries and good coffee at the Einstein Café on the Kurfürstendamm, cute sparrows hopping around our feet to peck up dropped crumbs.

Returning from our holidays – going ‘back to school’ in spirit if not in fact – and to our old routines, we leave the stress of so many extra daily decisions behind. Whether this means a net gain in well-being depends on how stressful your job is.

If you’re feeling blue as the autumn takes hold, try this top tip for keeping your spirits up post-holiday, courtesy of my friend and former colleague Becky: let your first decision be where to spend your next holiday.

This column first appeared in the September 2022 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser.


cover of Dastardly Deeds at St Bride'sBACK TO SCHOOL WITH GEMMA LAMB

Go back to school with Gemma Lamb this autumn – St Bride’s School, that is! The new edition of the first Gemma Lamb Cozy Mystery, Dastardly Deeds at St Bride’s, is now available in ebook, paperback and audiobook, published by Boldwood Books. (Previously published as Secrets at St Bride’s.)

Order your copy here:

🇬🇧 Amazon UK 🇺🇸 Amazon US

Posted in Personal life, Writing

In the Eye of the Beholder

Who lives for 30 years within walking distance of Badminton Horse Trials without ever going to see them? Me, actually. Until now, neither the horses nor the shopping have tempted me, because horses and crowds, and indeed crowds of horses, leave me cold.

Then this year, singing in the choir at Great Badminton Church on the Sunday of my 31st Horse Trials weekend, I begin to see horses in a new light when the visiting preacher channels his inner Gerard Manley Hopkins and St Francis.

Now there’s great starting point for a fantasy dinner party guest list.

St Francis of Assissi (public domain image)

Gerard Manley Hopkins (public domain image)







He talks about seeing God in nature and, in particular, in the energy and vitality of the horse. When he puts it like that, whether or not the horse’s maker is God, I can’t help but appreciate the end product. Strolling back to my car, I’m admiring not the power of the stable hands’ electric bikes which had earlier caught my eye, but the perfect engineering of the horses in nearby fields.

Horse by Leonardo da Vinci via Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain
Leonardo da Vinci was also fascinated by horses and sketched them repeatedly (image here from Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain)

This sense of wonder soon spreads to other things, notably a carrier bag of organic vegetables given to me by my niece after inadvertently duplicating her family’s veg box order. Emptying the bag onto the kitchen table, I discover a high-fibre art gallery: a knobbly hand of ginger in a neat cotton string vest; the perfectly furled leaves of a white cabbage; the proud, straight seams on stalks of celery; and much more.

My father first drew my attention to the extraordinary patterns known as Fibonacci numbers that occur naturally in certain flowers, fruit and vegetables. Googling Fibonacci – or as close as I can get to the right spelling – I’m reminded that this mathematical term describes a sequence in which each number is the sum of the two previous numbers.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, …

When petals or seedheads develop in this pattern, they look stunning. Perhaps the most familiar example is the array of seeds at the centre of a sunflower, but the most exquisite is the Romanesco broccoli, its florets tiny miracles.

Photo by Ivar Leidus via Wikimedia Commons

Although there’s no Romanesco broccoli in my gift bag, the contents are all beautiful in their own way. I consider signing up with the veg box supplier to relive this wonder every week. Then I reflect that in supermarkets I favour misshapen veg branded “wonky”, as if it were a virtue rather than failure to comply with their buyers’ stringent quality criteria. It’s like comparing a pedigree cat with a moggy. Which to choose?

As if on cue, Bertie, one of my three rescue cats, strolls by, chirruping a friendly greeting. With random black patches scattered over his long white fur, he’s more Jackson Pollock than Fibonacci, but I pick him up for a cuddle, telling him he’s beautiful too. I like to think Gerard Manley Hopkins and St Francis would have done the same. Besides, Bertie’s a lot easier to lift than a horse.

photo of kitten asleep on weighted blanket

This post was originally written for the June edition of the Tetbury Advertiser.