Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

The Comfort of Consistency

Photo of show schedule with first prize rosette
The schedule for the 2019 show is now available from Hawkesbury Stores and Hawkesbury Post Office to help you plan your entries

In my column for the July issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I’m looking forward to this year’s Hawkesbury Horticultural Show on Saturday 31st August – a pleasingly longstanding village tradition and the social highlight of the village year for all ages

In an ever-changing world which seems to be lurching from one crisis to the next, it’s comforting to have some events in life that are dependably consistent – such as the imminent Hawkesbury Horticultural Show (Saturday 31st August).

Although each year the hardworking Show Committee announces a handful of carefully considered changes to the schedule – a new category here, changed criteria there – part of the joy is that on Show Day, the essential formula remains the same.

cover of Best Murder in Show with Amazon bestseller flag
The Hawkesbury Horticultural Show, on whose committee I served for thirteen years, was the inspiration for my first novel – although of course the novel is a complete work of fiction. We do not have any murders at Hawkesbury Show!

But I wasn’t aware of just how true to tradition our Show is until my father recently brought to my attention an extract from a book published privately around 1950, Life in a Hampshire Village by Kathleen E Innes. Her description of St Mary Bourne’s village show at the turn of the 20th century could almost be of the present day Hawkesbury equivalent, without the influence of modern technology and the rise of equal rights for women!

… the village Flower Show was the great summer event. A marquee was hired to protect exhibits from sun, wind and weather and beside it in the field there arrived the day before the show, a fair, with all the traditional equipment of roundabouts, swings, coconut shies and wonderful sideshows… Pennies saved up for months soon vanished in rides on the shiny-painted horses of the roundabout, which went round and round to the droning music, working up to what to the riders seemed a terrifying speed… Amid shrieks and laughter, boat-shaped swngs were worked up to a height far above the horizontal, till it seemed as if the occupants must fall out, but they never did…

Judging took place in the morning, and the judges, who came from outside, did not see the names of competitions till the decisions were taken. Then the cards with names were turned face upwards, ready for the rush of excited entrants as soon as the tent was open in the afternoon. Gardeners had separate classes to prevent them, through any unfair advantage, carrying away all the prizes, but many a non-gardener’s exhibit would have gained the award even in the gardener’s class.

There was always a class for cakes, and a dish of boiled potatoes “to give the women a chance”, but on more than one occasion the prize for the best cake was borne away by a boy who had made up his mind to be a chef…

The scene inside the tent was gay and colourful. Vases of mixed flowers, the best table decorations, bowls of roses, sprays of sweet peas, were placed to meet the eye on entering. Classes of vegetables were in their allotted places on long tables round the edge – marvellous marrows, spotless and shapely potatoes, peas and beans with pods full from top to toe; cabbages solid as cannon balls, cauliflowers round and comely, carrots long and straight. All these were set out as an inspiration and a challenge. Their owners hovered with pride near at hand to hear the freely-expressed envy and admiration.

When the exhibits were removed and the tent left empty, the fair went gaily on till the summer nightfall, the monotonous music of the roundabouts inviting all and sundry to stay and make an evening of it, for it would be gone on the morrow. It was late before even the tired and happy children went to bed.

That nostalgic description has whetted my appetite for the 2019 Hawkesbury Show – now I’m off to find the schedule and start preparing my entries. See you at the Show next month, whether or not my name graces any prize certificates!

Photo of interior of village show schedule showing details of vegetable class entry requirements
We don’t do things by halves in Hawkesbury Upton

Everyone’s welcome at the Hawkesbury Horticultural Show – come and join us on Saturday 31st August for a day to remember! I’ll be in the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival tent, near the playpark and the Pimms stall fun by the Friends of St Mary’s (another committee that I’m on!) More details on the show’s website at www.hawkesburyshow.org

Photo of reader talking to author in show tent
Meet the authors in the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest tent at the show (Photo of my mum talking to historical novelist David Penny by another Festival author, Mari Howaqrd)

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Posted in Personal life, Writing

The Red Van and the White

Photo of antique post office sign
Ironically, my house was at one point the village post office. I found this sign in my back garden when I moved in and have since given it pride of place on my kitchen wall.

My column from the March 2019 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News considers the courier vs the postman

Having lived in the village for nearly 30 years, I tend to forget how bewildering city-dwellers find it that so many houses round here don’t have door numbers. Urban courier drivers’ hearts must sink when Hawkesbury Upton crops up on their route for the day.

Knowing a house’s postcode isn’t as helpful as one might think, as each code covers an average of 15 properties. When you’re a delivery driver working against the clock, 15 is a lot of houses to check to find the right one. No wonder our parcels so often end up being left at the wrong place.

Word seems to have got out amongst couriers that I work from home, because lately I’ve had a spate of puzzled delivery drivers knocking on my door during the day to ask for directions to a house of one name or another. Although even I may not know every house name, if they tell me the person’s name I can usually point them in the right direction.

But sometimes even that’s not enough to satisfy them. One poor courier was almost in tears of disappointment and disbelief when I refused to accept the gas boiler he’d been trying to deliver to a number of houses, none of them correct.

This is why these days when ordering something on line, I choose standard Post Office delivery, because I know we can trust our village posties to get it right. Although they might have trouble fitting a gas boiler through my letterbox.

Postscript After reading this post in his copy of the Hawkesbury Parish News, heroic villager Terry Truebody emailed me to say he has created a Hawkesbury Upton A-Z, which he’s recently updated to include the newest houses in the village. Very generously, he’s willing to share it with anyone who might find it helpful. so I’m including a link to a download of it here. Thank you, Terry – couriers and villagers will all be very grateful to you.

Cover of All Part of the Charm

 

Like to read more of my columns from the Hawkesbury Parish News?

Here’s a collection from 2010-2015, available in paperback and as an ebook.

The second volume will be out at the end of 2020.

 

Posted in Events, Reading

Scarecrow Trail Celebrates Roald Dahl’s Matilda’s 30th Birthday

photo of Matilda scarecrow with Little Free Library
A guest appearance by Roald Dahl’s Matilda at the Hawkesbury Upton Scarecrow Trail

It’s an annual tradition in the village where I live to have a Scarecrow Trail each September, organised by Louise Roberts. Each year I try to tie it in somehow with the Little Free Library on my front wall, and this year I chose Roald Dahl’s Matilda, possibly the most well-known and best-loved booklover in fiction.

Free Roald Dahl Books to Borrow

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been raiding local charity shops to find secondhand (pre-loved) copies of Roald Dahl’s children’s books, and I’ve amassed about a dozen – so this week only, the children’s section of my Little Free Library (the one on the right in the picture) will contain exclusively Roald Dahl books for young visitors to borrow. (Donations of more Dahl books will be most welcome.

Happy 30th Birthday, Matilda!

By chance I discovered last weekend that this year is the thirtieth anniversary of Dahl’s Matilda, and this autumn there will be special editions of the book published featuring cover illustrations of what she might be like by the time she’s 30 – doing great things in every one!

How to Visit the Scarecrow Trail

The Hawkesbury Upton Scarecrow Trail runs from today through next Sunday, and there’ll be tea and cakes served in the Methodist Hall from 3pm until 4.30pm both Sundays. Everyone welcome!


cover of "Trick or Murder?"
Available worldwide in paperback and Kindle ebook

  • For more information about the wonderful Roald Dahl, here’s his official website: www.roalddahl.com
  • To find out about the Little Free Library scheme, visit www.littlefreelibrary.org
  • For scarecrows of quite a different kind – home-made guys for Guy Fawkes’ Night – check out my autumn-themed novel, Trick or Murder?
Posted in Family, Personal life

Who Needs Wi-Fi When You’ve Got Good Neighbours?

My column for the January issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Photo of view of snow from my study window
The wrong kind of snow still looks pretty when you don’t have to be outside in it

Just before Christmas, a couple of evenings after our internet and landline were felled for a week by the wrong sort of snow, I was unexpectedly detained in Bristol by the need to take my mum to the emergency room at Southmead Hospital.*

As the thick walls of our Victorian cottage don’t admit mobile signals, I was for a moment stumped as to how to let my husband know that I’d be very late home.

Then I realised the solution was simple: I’d text a neighbour to pass the message on. Unbeknown to me, she was away from home too, but she kindly forwarded the message to another neighbour a few doors down. That neighbour happened to be on the motorway at the time, but she phoned yet another neighbour, who then nipped over the road to deliver the message in person. Problem solved.

Returning home towards midnight, I was more grateful than ever to live in a community in which everyone looks out for their neighbours, and not only in the season of goodwill.

Me and my kilted husband on his motorbike
Reader, I married him.

It was a bonus that this three-step system had not distorted the original message, Chinese whispers style. Not so when I first started seeing Gordon, who later became my husband, when “He is Scottish and lives in Swindon” quickly morphed into “His name’s Scottie and he comes from Sweden”.

But then, as now, intentions were of the best – and that matters far more than accuracy.

With grateful thanks to Emma Barker, Jane Shepley, and Joan Yuill, and all good Hawkesbury neighbours.

*I should add that my mum made a speedy recovery, so happy endings all round!

Cover of All Part of the Charm
My collected columns from Hawkesbury Parish News 2010-2015, is available as an ebook and in paperback – click image for more information

Posted in Events, Personal life, Writing

Village Show Cluedo

photo of giant vegetables next to model house
For vegetables bigger than your house, visit Hawkesbury Horticultural Show *

My column for the August 2017 edition of Hawkesbury Parish News

A few years ago, an old school friend from abroad came to visit me here in Hawkesbury and was keen to learn about village life. He took a special interest in our famous Hawkesbury Horticultural Show.

At that point, I was a member of the Show Committee, and I was responsible for producing the schedule each year. Although the next Show was some months away, I was able to show him the draft schedule, and his eyes widened at the huge range of entry classes and trophies.

photo of the 2017 schedule
Our copy of this year’s schedule, slightly dog-eared after much use

“Wow, this sounds just like the sort of thing you see in Midsomer Murders,” he enthused. (They watch a lot of British television in the Netherlands.) “Is there a prize for Best Murder in Show?”

Reluctantly I had to disappoint him, but I squirrelled away his suggestion for future use, and earlier this year I published a novel by the same name, the first in a series of classic cosy mysteries set in the fictitious village of Wendlebury Barrow.

It now occurs to me that our Horticultural Show would also make a cracking setting for a localised game of Cluedo: “Entries Secretary, in the Produce Tent, with a Prize Marrow” or “Show Chairman, in the Village Hall, with some Celery”. The possibilities are endless.

Here’s to another inspiring Show Day for us all – and may we all live to tell the tale.

*Actually, that house in the photo above is really a tea cosy – which I turned into a doorstop by stuffing it with a house brick and some of my husband’s old socks, and covering the base with a piece of his old corduroy trousers. Result: second prize in Class 471 – “a functional object made from all recycled material” 

cover of Best Murder in Showcover of Trick or Murder?
If you’d like to find out more about Best Murder in Showand its new sequel, Trick or Murder? click hereBoth are available in paperback and ebook.