Posted in Travel, Writing

Starting with a Single Step

This post was inspired by a sign spotted at a steam railway station in Wales

Whenever I’m embarking on a major project, from weeding the garden to writing a novel, I draw strength from helpful mantras such as “Eat the elephant one bite at a time”. This graphic mental image can make any daunting task seem so much more manageable, unless of course you’re a vegetarian.

Continue reading “Starting with a Single Step”

Posted in Events, Family, Personal life, Travel

On Track for the Holidays

A few years ago, my husband suggested we download an app* that keeps track of family and friends via their mobile phone signals.

He tends not to listen when I tell him where I’m going, and the most frequent message left on my mobile is from him, saying, “Debbie, where are you?”

He once called me on a Friday afternoon, concerned that our daughter was late home from school. My reply: “That’s because she’s here with me in the car, and we’re on our way to Cornwall for the weekend.” We had of course told him of our plans many times before we left.

While my husband was all in favour of the app, my daughter and I were not keen. It felt intrusive, like being microchipped or electronically tagged.

When the pandemic put paid to travel, we let the matter drop, but when we started to travel again this spring, and with my daughter planning some gap year adventures, we agreed to install the app for reassurance.

Our first chance to test it came in April, when my husband and daughter headed to the south of France for a week. As I’d made all the bookings, I felt personally responsible that everything should go smoothly, so I was glad to use the app to track their progress . With planes, trains and automobiles involved in their journey, there was ample opportunity for trouble – flight delays, cancellations and missed connections – even before we factored in my husband’s propensity to misplace his possessions.

Initially, following their progress on the app made me feel like a spy, but it soon became enjoyable and absorbing, although the intermittent phone signal made it slightly unreliable.

Often they appeared to be in two different places, even when I knew from speaking to them on the phone that they were in the same vehicle or hotel. Part way through their trip, I discovered that if I hit the right button, I could follow their progress at micro level.

When they were in Avignon, for example, I could trace their progress along the ancient bridge, although it didn’t tell me whether they did the famous dance immortalised in the song, “Sur le Pont d’Avignon”, as we did when we visited ten years ago. Fortunately, I remembered the ancient bridge no longer reaches the other side of the river, but stops mid-stream. Otherwise I might have been concerned that they’d dropped off the end and been swept away by the Rhône.

So thanks to the app, I was able to relax while they were away, and on their return, I knew exactly when to put the kettle on to make them a welcome-home cup of tea.

Admittedly, my husband returned minus his glasses (mislaid before they’d boarded the first plane), his jacket (lost, then found, then lost again), and his wallet.

All we need now is an app to keep track of his possessions.

This post first appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser‘s May 2022 edition. 

*The tracking app we used is called Life360.

Speaking of Holidays…

I’ve chosen as the topic of the next HULF Talk – a Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival event – “Holiday Reads“. On Saturday 25th June, I’ll be chatting with three guest authors to help you find your next books to take on holiday – or to read at home this summer to travel by book. Between them, Carol Cooper, Kate Frost and Helena Halme have written engaging, easy-to-read novels set in holiday destinations all over the world,  from Scandinavia to Zanzibar, from Cornwall to the Mediterranean. For more information and to book your tickets, visit the HULF website at

graphic advertising HULF Talk

Posted in Personal life, Travel

I’m on the Train…

Pleasingly the April issue also featured the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on the front page – click the image to jump to the Festival’s website

(My column for the April issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News)

Travelling by train to London yesterday for the first time in ages, I was pleasantly surprised by the changes in the rail service. So often corporate rebranding goes only skin-deep, but the changes at GWR are much more than a new logo, colour scheme and smart uniforms. Immaculate new rolling stock with thoughtful extras such as a recharging point for every seat, an efficient trolley service, and scrolling electronic displays with journey information all made the journey more relaxing. Not forgetting the high-tech new engines, of course!

But what really took my breath away was the toilet cubicle – and I mean that in a good way. It was big enough to hold a party. (I resisted that temptation.) The high-tech controls suggested I was about to be teleported, Star Trek style.

I wasn’t the only one enjoying the journey. The pleasant young man serving refreshments volunteered what a great company GWR is to work for. He confided that he’d applied for engine driver training. Engine driver – once the ambition of every small boy. I hope his application is successful.

In this anxious age of political uncertainty and turmoil, the whole experience soothed and reassured me. Britain can still be great, when it gets its act together, as GWR has done.

Meanwhile, I just wish we could persuade GWR to reverse the Beeching Cuts and even to add new lines.

Next stop, Hawkesbury Upton Station? In my dreams!


Posted in Personal life, Travel

Train of Thought

In my Young by Name column for the April edition of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser, I’m getting all nostalgic about train travel 

cover of the Tetbury Advertiser April 2019
Click the image to read the whole magazine for free online

Growing up in a London suburb half an hour by train from Charing Cross, I became a seasoned railway traveller at an early age. The slam of compartment doors and the rattle of trains on the line are part of the soundtrack to my childhood.

When I went up north to university, I enjoyed the longer train rides because I always met interesting people. From my current perspective as a parent, the thought of a teenage girl seeking out strangers on trains makes me shudder, but for the teenage me it was all an adventure.

On boarding, I’d choose my compartment carefully, walking through the corridor to find the most interesting looking passengers. Before the first stop we’d be sharing the sweets and biscuits bought for the journey while discussing the meaning of life. We felt we were striking up life-long friendships, but of course they never lasted beyond our destination. This is probably just as well, particularly with the middle-aged lady who invited me to bring my swimming costume and sunbathe in her garden any time I liked.

I wasn’t the only one to treat train travel like a social occasion. Once, as I followed a group of girl students into a compartment, its only prior occupant, a middle-aged lady, gave a deep sigh. “So we’re all girls together.” She sounded disappointed. Was the sole purpose of her trip to search for Mr Right in the form of a random fellow passenger? I wondered whether she had a season ticket.

If you didn’t want to chat, too bad. The Quiet Coach had yet to be invented. For a bit of peace, you went out to stand in the corridor.

Then and Now

These days when travelling by train, I always book a seat in the Quiet Coach to avoid irritating mobile phone conversations. This week, too weary to trek to my reservation at the far end of the train, I settled down in a normal carriage, bracing myself for the noise. To my astonishment, it was as silent as the Quiet Coach. Every occupant was staring at an electronic device, most of them further isolated by earbuds or headphones. The train might just as well have had no windows, because none of them once looked out to enjoy the view.

The ever-changing view: another great benefit of railway travel. I still can’t board a train without Robert Louis Stephenson’s poem “From a Railway Carriage” popping into my head at some point along the way:

“…And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.”

cover of Young by Name
Earlier columns from the Tetbury Advertiser, available in paperback and ebook – click image for more details

So I was pleased to learn recently of a care home that has mocked up a railway carriage for the benefit of elderly residents too frail for real trips. (Click here to see the BBC News report, complete with picture.) Complete with scrolling scenery behind fake windows, and with an excellent refreshment service, it offers them all the pleasures of train travel without them having to leave the building.

I bet they’d be great conversationalists too.