In this month’s issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I’m talking about late summer gluts in the garden. The copy deadline is half way through the previous month to the cover date, and a month after writing this article, we’ve only just finished dealing with our surplus fruit, but still the lanes round here are dotted with baskets of free apples, squash, and other produce for sale or for free at the garden gate.
Before I moved to Hawkesbury Upton, I couldn’t understand how people could leave windfall fruit to rot. My previous house, in Tring, Hertfordshire, was a tiny two-up, two-down Victorian terrace with a back yard rather than a garden, so growing fruit and vegetables was out of the question. So when a neighbour encouraged us to strip her crab apple tree of all its fruit for our new hobby of winemaking, we were overwhelmed by her generosity. Only now that my kitchen is full of baskets of windfall apples – plus a bucket containing 27 pints of fresh apple juice – can I empathise with her relief at offloading her surplus to a grateful home.
When we moved here from Tring, the garden was one of the biggest attractions of our new house. Its substantial lawn was edged with mature plum trees, and an apple tree divided the lawn from the kitchen garden, where soft fruit bushes flourished. Over the years, we’ve added crab-apple, pear and more apple varieties, and damson and cherry trees have planted themselves. (Thank you, wild birds!)
Our plum trees have also multiplied, due to our habit of picking a ripe plum to eat on the move before chucking the stone on the ground wherever we happen to be. One summer, I anticipated a fairy ring of plum trees springing up where my aunt had sat in the garden, working her way through a dish of plums and leaving a circle of their stones around her chair.
This year we’ve had our largest yield of plums yet.
In the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s good to have a reminder that nature can also be benevolent – so much so that it’s been hard work even to give away our surplus.
There’s only so much jam one can use. When I put my latest jars of plum jam in the larder, I discovered we still had four jars from last year.
At least our plums are delicious, unlike the marrows that Nick Cragg throws in with every lot at the Show Day auction. His cry of “And a marrow!” always raises a laugh.
But in the absence of this year’s Village Show, what are we going to do with all our marrows? At the 2021 Show, I predict record entry levels in the spirits category.
Anyone for marrow rum?
If you like the idea of the Village Show, you might enjoy my novel Best Murder in Show, the first in my lighthearted Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series. Available in paperback, ebook and audiobook, it’s a cheery read to help you eke out the summer for a little longer.
Anyone who has read my first Sophie Sayers novel,Best Murder in Show, will be familiar with the very English phenomenon of the annual Village Show.
At this action-packed event, locals display their home-grown fruit and vegetables, baking, handicrafts and sometimes livestock too. Often such shows include funfair rides, market stalls and organised entertainments in an outdoor arena.
A tea tent and a beer tent are always popular, and other catering options are likely to include a hog roast, a deer roast, a fish and chip van and ice-creams.
Hawkesbury’s Village Show
In the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton, where I’ve lived for nearly 30 years, the Hawkesbury Horticultural Show, which takes place on the last Saturday of August, is generally acknowledged by villagers to be the social highlight of the year for all ages. The community is proud of the show’s credentials as the second-longest running of its kind in the country. Not even the First and Second World War managed to close it down.
Postponed until Next Year
So it was with great sadness last month that the Show Committee announced that the 2020 Village Show would have to be postponed until August 2021.
Postponed, please note, not cancelled, due to circumstances beyond our control – which means that our place in the record books will still stand.
The Village Show and Me
Over the years, I’ve been involved with the Village Show in many ways. Like most people in the village, we have submitted entries into the marquee for judging, winning prizes for all sorts of things. I’ve done particularly well in the knitting and crochet, but also once took the top prize for the oddest shaped vegetable!
I’ve run stalls – for many years, a secondhand bookstall in aid of the village school’s PTA or youth club – and taken part in the carnival procession on floats and in groups on foot.
I’ve been the Queen of Hearts for an Alice in Wonderland team, with my husband as the White Rabbit and my daughter as Alice. I was the Chinese Ambassador in our family’s Pandamonium trailer, celebrating the arrival of Chinese pandas at Edinburgh Zoo. (My husband was the Scottish zookeeper in his kilt, my daughter, step-grandaughter and friends were pandas.) I’ve even been a St Trinian’s schoolgirl for one of the youth club floats. (I helped run the village youth club years ago.)
A highlight for our family was when my daughter and her best friend were on the Carnival Queen‘s float, my daughter one of the attendants to her best friend, the queen. It was a historic day because for the first time the other attendant was a boy. It was the first year the random draw of the pupils in the top class of the village school included boys as well as girls. We’ve since had our first Carnival King.
The Man Who Knew His Onions
I also served on the Show Committee for 13 years. I didn’t realise it was that long until I resigned and was thanked for my long service. During that time, I was editor of its printed schedule, still produced today in the format that I designed. Show Committee meetings, which go on all year round, were always entertaining.
My favourite moment was a visit from the onion judge (all judges come from beyond the village, in the interests of fairness), who proudly showed us his onion rings – no, not the edible kind, but a shiny set of brass hoops used to gauge the precise dimension of each entry in his class. His father had used them before him, and possibly his grandfather too.
For the last few years, I’ve run a pop-up lit fest with a few guest authors promoting the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, which takes place in April. The visiting authors have even volunteered as carnival judges.
There are also poignant memories. My first husband, John Green, adored the show and carried off prizes for his home-made wine. He once took first prize for a bottle of potato wine that had earned second prize the year before. When he died in 2000, I donated the John Green Cup in his memory for best home-made wine. Seeing it awarded each year is a bittersweet moment.
I also arranged for a memorial trophy to be presented in memory of my friend Lyn Atherton, an early green campaigner who co-launched Hawkesbury’s recycling schemes. At the request of her widower, Clive, I sought out a secondhand trophy to be recycled into the Lyn Atheron Cup for a Useful Object Made from Recycled Materials. I found just the thing on my summer holiday in a curiosity shop in a tiny Scottish seaside town. When I told Clive where we’d got it from, he was astounded – that seaside town happened to be the site of their first ever holiday together. He had fond memories of barbecuing sausages on the beach there with Lyn, washing off the sand in the sea.
My second husband, Gordon, is the proud winner of the Lyn Atherton Cup, and my aunt and my father have also won this cup.
Eerily Quiet August
Every August, as the start of the Show week, seeing the bunting go up, crisscrossing the High Street, and hearing the rumbling of the funfair rides arriving in the village gets everyone excited as we put the finishing touches to our carnival floats and show entries. This year, the last week of August will seem strangely quiet, as it will in all the showgrounds around the country as Covid-19 makes such crowded events too high risk.
In the meantime, if you’d like a flavour of a traditional English village show like ours, there’s always Best Murder in Show, which from now until after what would have been Show Day will be reduced to just 99p for the ebook, and there’ll be £1 off the paperback. It’s also now available as an audiobook at various prices on various platforms – currently a bargain at just £2.99 on Amazon’s Audible.
My column for the April 2020 issue of our community magazine, Hawkesbury Parish News, was written about a week after lockdown started and so included my initial impressions of the positive changes it might bring to our lives.
As ever, I tried to keep my column lighthearted and upbeat. Now in the fourth week of lockdown, all that I wrote still rings true for me – although I’m not sending anything out in the post, as our precautionary self-isolation due to various health vulnerabilities in our household are precluding the short walk up to the post box at the centre of the village.
Our heroic village post office remains open, however, thanks to Dick, our selfless postmaster, as is the Hawkesbury Stores, our community village shop, aided by dozens of volunteers.
The other difference is that I gave my stash of fancy soaps and hand lotions to an appeal for toiletries for nurses in our local hospital – but the jewel-like blue of my cheap-and-cheerful Pears soap lifts my spirits every time I use it.
Whatever is changing for you during lockdown, I send you my very best wishes.
The current restrictions, courtesy of Covid-19, are radically changing our lives. Much of these changes may linger post-virus, but, ever the optimist, I can see some good may come of it.
We will have learned to cherish luxury soap. Fancy bars that once ranked as unwanted Christmas gifts are coming into their own as we wash our hands many times a day. So much nicer than the usual squirt of washing-up liquid before I cook tea.
We will have nothing but praise for delivery men, from old faithfuls like the milkman and the postman to the anonymous man in a white van. Forget the odd package or pinta left at the wrong house in the past. All will be forgiven. We’ll be happy to see a delivery man at all.
Our houses will be immaculate. With so much time at home, we’re sorting dusty shoeboxes of old photos and alphabetising our CD collections. We’re rearranging our books by author, by size, by topic or by colour – or all four, in turn. When charity shops reopen post-virus, they’ll be swamped with our discarded clutter.
We’ll all have turned into vegetable gardeners. Our natural instinct to Dig for Victory is kicking in. This summer, we’ll no longer complain about a surplus of marrows. We won’t want to waste a speck of food after seeing so many empty supermarket shelves. The Hawkesbury Show 2020 will receive a record number of entries. We might even start our craft entries early, rather than finishing in a frenzy the night before Show Day.
The old-fashioned habit of sending letters and postcards will enjoy a lasting revival, despite the cost of postage. While the internet helps us connect with our loved ones, it’s much more special to receive a tangible show of affection from afar – well worth the price of a stamp. Bonus point: while we’re writing traditional letters and cards, we’re not frightening ourselves with misinformation online.
With regard to correspondence, the soulless modern sign-offs “Kind regards” and “Best wishes”, or “Best” or even “BW” in abbreviation, will disappear. The evidence in my inbox this week suggests that in future emails and letters will end “Take care and stay well” – a sentiment sent from the sender’s heart.
And that is how I’d like to end this month’s column. Confined to my house as a vulnerable person for health reasons, I’m frustrated not to be out helping fellow villagers, as so many kind parishioners are doing now. I pledge to make up for it once I’m allowed out. You have been warned!
So for now, take care and stay well. This too will pass.
Special Offers on Escapist Reads to Lift Your Spirits
If you fancy a bit of escapist reading from life under lockdown, you might like to take advantage of two special offers currently running on the ebook editions of the first books in my two series of novels throughout the month of April.
The first in my Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, Best Murder in Show, is currently free to download on all ebook platforms worldwide. Click here to nab your free copy.
My first St Bride’s School story, Secrets at St Bride’s, is currently reduced to 99p in most stores, including Amazon UK, Kobo, Apple Books and Barnes and Noble. (With apologies to Amazon readers outside of the UK – this promotion is being run by Amazon and is only on my home turf!) Click here to buy your bargain copy.
In my column for the July issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I’m looking forward to this year’sHawkesbury 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.
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
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!
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
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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.
“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”
If you’d like to find out more about Best Murder in Showand its new sequel, Trick or Murder?click here. Both are available in paperback and ebook.