Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

Weekly Whimsy: The Angry Bird and the Gardener (from the Hawkesbury Parish News July 2017)

Photo of blackbird
“Now where did I park my nest again?” (Photo by ManicMorFF via

My column for the July 2017 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News shares my husband’s latest gardening crisis

As he’s nearly severed a finger not once but twice while cutting wood, when my husband announces that he’s going to prune some of the trees in our garden and a chainsaw is mentioned, I decide my best course of action is to retreat to my study and hope for the best.

A little later, an anguished cry comes from downstairs.

“Help! It’s an emergency!”

I nearly have an accident myself running to his aid, wondering what injury he’s sustained this time.

Pale and anxious, he’s standing in the middle of the kitchen pointing at a small pile of sticks on the table. That’s not much to show for an hour’s pruning, I think, then I hear some faint cheeps, and realise it’s a nest full of open-beaked baby blackbirds.

He’s inadvertently pruned the limb supporting the nest and is unsure what to do about it. My maternal instinct kicks in on the mother bird’s behalf.

“Put the nest back in the same tree as close as you can to the original site, and she’ll follow the sound of her chicks to find them,” I advise him.

When he steels himself to check next day, all are alive and cheeping, so I’m guessing my plan worked. I bet the mother bird told her chicks off for moving the nest while she was out, though.

Cover of All Part of the Charm
Available as an ebook and in paperback

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to try this collection of five years of my columns in the Hawkesbury Parish News, with, as bonus material, a previously unpublished set of essays about country life that I wrote when I first move to the village over twenty-five years ago. 

“Totally charming… makes you want to pack up and move there right away”
(5* review on Amazon UK) 


Posted in Writing

The Pros and Cons of Writing by Hand

pile of screwed up handwritten manuscripts
With apologies to the trees who laid down their lives in the cause of literature…

Lately I’ve been finding that I am much more productive and the words flow more naturally if I write my work-in-progress novel by hand. This is despite being a really fast touch typist. Part of the reason may be that I associate my computer with work and am more averse to sitting down at my desk to type than curling up in bed or on the sofa with a beautiful notebook and pretty coloured pen.

Of course, this adds an extra step into the writing process. I then have to type  each handwritten chapter into the computer afterwards. On the plus side, I do a few extra edits as I do that, so the first typescript becomes the second draft.

Enter the Dragon

I can speed up that process by dictating the manuscript via my Dragon voice recognition software, which then types the words on the screen for me. I definitely recommend this process, but at the moment post-cold hoarseness is limiting the amount of time I can comfortably dictate. But at least I’ve stopped coughing now, which always confused my Dragon. You think with its fire-breathing heritage, a Dragon ought to be more sympathetic to throat problems.

Productivity Plus

Two further plus points:

  • I’m fast eroding my stockpile of notebooks (couldn’t fit any more in my notebook drawer)
  • I’ve just worked out that since Christmas I’ve been averaging more than 2,000 words a day

Go, me! And now I’m off to plant some more trees…. *

Useful Links

*And about those trees – the paper I use is always from sustainable sources, purposely farmed for this use. I’m sure none of it comes from ripping up rainforests. To my mind, complaining about responsible use of paper is like protesting about the destruction of wheatfields to make bread. And I am VERY mean about my use of paper – if I don’t use both sides, I tear a sheet into pieces and use the clean side for notes. Then all the waste is used as firestarters for my woodburner. While trying not to think of burning books. Just saying. 
Posted in Writing

Saying it with Trees

Royal Wedding of William and Catherine Duke & ...
Image by Defence Images via Flickr

So what did you like best about the royal wedding? For me, near the top of the list was the prayer penned jointly by the bride and groom.  Like the confessional pledge made by Charles and Camilla at their ceremony, it was disarmingly candid and sincere.  A touching testimony to the strength of their relationship, it was more impressive than any amount of pageantry.

But it wasn’t the couple’s eloquence that moved me the most.  It was something far more surprising.    Can you guess?  I’ll give you a clue: they were the tallest guests.  They were welcomed by Kate’s new father-in-law.  And they’ll soon be taking root at Highgrove.

Yes, I’m talking about the trees.  Before we were allowed to see inside Westminster Abbey, Huw Edwards gave the floral decorations a big build-up, but trees?  Totally unexpected, they took my breath away.  It was startling to see their branches rising up, bringing life, youth and vigour to the ancient stone edifice. They softened the vast heights of the Abbey roof, while symbolising shelter from the elements and adversity.  For the young couple they alluded to the promise of future growth and life far beyond the ceremony of the day.  I wondered whether their leaves were rustling in anticipation as warm air rose from the excited mass of illustrious guests below.

Yet what more natural a decoration for the wedding of a country boy raised in rural Gloucestershire, a stone’s throw from our National Arboretum, the magnificent Highgrove Gardens his childhood back yard?  I’ve twice toured the grounds at Highgrove and each time they have struck me as a wonderful place to grow up, and not only for the spectacular treehouse.  Remarkable features pepper the place as you move from one garden room to another, from the amusing black and white garden, to the colourful potager, from the fragrant thyme walk to open meadow views.  I particularly adore the stumpery, where spent trees gain new dignity.  (At Highgrove, old trees never die – Prince Charles just finds another use for them.)

So the wedding trees will now be planted at Highgrove, where they will bring a tear to the eye of many a future garden visitor.  As the years go by, tourists will marvel at how much the trees have grown.  Maybe in time royal offspring will be photographed playing beneath them.  Rather more accessible to general public view will be the new wedding cake tree, rather sweetly planted in the churchyard of St Mary’s by the Duchess of Cornwall for the local WI of which she is pleasingly a member.

I predict that tree nurseries nationwide will now experience a boom in sales, thanks to Will and Kate’s inspired idea.  Engaged couples everywhere will be adding saplings to their guest list. No wedding will be complete without a tree or two in the congregation.  If I were in charge of wedding bookings at Westonbirt Arboretum, I’d be rubbing my hands together with glee, pound signs ringing up in my eyes: where better to hold a local tree-themed wedding?

Mind you, I hope that the trees don’t completely supplant flowers in the wedding ceremony.  If they do, one popular custom will surely disappear: the throwing of the bridal bouquet over the shoulder, to be caught by single girls wishing to be the next to marry.  Tossing the caber may be fun to watch, but there aren’t many girls who’d want to catch one.

(This post originally appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser, June 2011)