Friday, 25 August 2017

Going back to Tetbury

Tetbury in Gloucestershire is a small town, or large village, and HRH Prince Charles lives in Highgrove a couple of miles away on the Bath road. I mention that for those of you who may not have heard of Tetbury. It kind of puts it on the map!
I lived there until I was 17. In 2012, when I wrote about my memories of the 1950s and 1960s Coming Full Circle I was astounded by the response, especially from people who remembered me and my family. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean! To have so many comments is quite a rare, heart-warming thing.
I have a deep fondness for Tetbury, as you will see from this nostalgic trip I took a few weeks ago, and it greatly influenced the setting for my novels. Appley Green lies on the border of Surrey and Hampshire, but its sense of community was very much derived from my early years. Tetbury is both very different and the same from how it was when I was a child and I decided to go back on my own to revisit some of those memories - for real!  My parents passed away in the 1990s, so it's a while since I’ve wandered Tetbury streets simply to absorb both changes and familiar sights.

This may have no relevance to you if you’ve never heard of the place, let alone been there. I understand that, but if you read on you may be tempted to stop there on your way to Devon or Cornwall for example, or take it in when you ‘do the Cotswolds’.

Unsurprisingly, the shops have all changed since I was a child. So here we are inside a relative newcomer, Highgrove Shop  in Long Street. 

I took a sneaky photo of Chavenage House mentioned in my 2012 post, familiar to you perhaps as Trenwith in TV’s Poldark.  
Imagine Aidan Turner galloping all the way from those Cornish clifftops to Tetbury. Must have been a nightmare for the continuity team!

This photo will mean a lot to people who remember as I do, but I am sorry it may be of no interest to others.  This is the back of The Ferns, what was Sir William Romney’s School, also mentioned  in my 2012 post.

The huge Cedar tree is still there – iconic and steadfast – but the beautiful grounds with their lawn tennis courts and herbaceous borders are pretty much built over now. Here’s a couple of old photos taken on my first ever camera, a Brownie, snatching glimpses of it as it was: I was a bit of a daydreamer on the tennis court.

This alleyway is Eccles Court.

You may well say, 'So what?' A tad self-indulgent, and obscure for you, but it means a lot to me as I walked along this four times a day to and from Courtfield School situated near The Chipping. I remember swinging round those metal posts so well, and in a wall was a triangle of three holes where you could insert thumb and two fingers and make a wish! Now, covered by an interesting plaque!

This used to be the girls’ playground at Courtfield School and house where a progressive teacher lived.
She let us call her ‘Sylvia’ – yes, in the 1950s - and did some kind of strange chanting with her pupils. A friend and I spent a Saturday morning cleaning her windows, something I’d never done before. Our parents knew nothing of this and neither, I suspect, did our headmistress, Miss Rymer!
This is the side rear view of the school, set in a lovely, rather wild garden where children must not stray from  the paths ...
... and surrounded by a high Cotswold stone wall, and as you can see here those grounds are totally hidden behind big trees (not so big 60 years ago).  

Opposite the school are the quite famous Chipping Steps ...
... and another photo in an area that was the cattle market, at the base of steep Gumstool Hill.  A pen has been preserved to its memory.
Looking down from Gumstool Hill where the old woolsack races took place. Still do! 

From the opposite side, this one also looks down and is the exact spot where the photo for Vogue magazine was taken in 1942 and later reproduced in The Telegraph 1995.

The maternity home on Gumstool Hill where I was born! The story goes that my almost 10 year-old sister was not allowed in and our Dad threw some pocket-money to her out of the window as compensation! Hopefully the coins did not roll down the hill!
This is the shop behind the old Town Hall that I imagined as the Wool and Baby shop (not actually selling babies!) in Secrets in Appley Green, my fourth novel, set in the Sixties.

Another one for Tetbury  aficionados, many of you belonging to the amazing  Old Tetbury Facebook page.  Not just any old woods, but Bluebell Woods and the path that leads mysteriously to Hermit’s Cave where, as 1950s free-range children, we once played.

A bit dark, but I vividly remember this field in Chavenage Lane being alive at dusk with scampering rabbits and full of cowslips, before myxomatosis and the decline of indigenous flowers.

The house where I lived until I left home. The rockery was built by my father when they first moved there and had many rare alpine plants – it was his pride and joy. No ball games allowed!

I had thought this was demolished so was delighted to see it now uncovered and intact, though a little devoid of plants!
An earlier photo taken in 2010 shows the ‘dwarf’ conifers planted by my father. You see why I thought the rockery had disappeared!

I recall the neighbours in their gardens along this road of eight houses, all clapping and cheering me (oh yes they did!) one sunny afternoon as I managed to ride my first bike without falling off, (until I was out of their sight!). Perhaps this memory is slightly rose-tinted! 

Photo of me as a teenager and rockery! 
and as a baby with my sister - the same, now famous, rockery behind us. 

For anyone tempted to take a look at my old home town, it is a place of great history, beautiful to explore, under bridges, over bridges, through alleys and up steep steps!

Visit Tetbury

Monday, 24 April 2017

A Tale of Two 'Trafficless' Villages

Now is the time of year for getting out and about when the sun shines. I love to explore Surrey villages and then write about what is going on for Surrey Life magazine.  It never ceases to amaze me how much activity is buzzing behind the scenes in what often looks like a sleepy hamlet or quiet village high street – apart from the traffic!
It’s inspiring to talk to people who, often quite modestly, lie behind events, clubs, campaigns and so on – those ‘movers and shakers’ who make things happen.  A few weeks ago I visited Stoneleigh Community Library to meet up with Diana Kay and her creative writing group, and donate three of my books.
The location of the library is unusual. In the middle of a vast area of London suburbia, a residential rabbit-warren, you come to a high street and wonder where is the traffic? Parked cars, yes, but virtually nothing moving on wheels!
The reason is that it becomes a cul-de-sac where the railway station lies and right there, opposite the station, is the library. This gives Stoneleigh a real village feel and is such a pleasant surprise – in fact it is more peaceful than some country villages where  traffic streams through. I wrote about this solid, enterprising little library in the February issue if you want to take a look: Notes from a Small Village, page 47
Within a few days I visited Watts Gallery in Compton near Guildford to talk to Dr Desna Greenhow in the lovely tea-shop there about Mary Watts.  I also met up with Tristan Greatrex in Shere to find out more about him and the wonderful website he runs for that picturesque and historic village. Shere draws a host of visitors for which there is a large, free car park!
You can find the Mary Watts article in the current issue of Surrey Life (May) and the Shere column will be in the June magazine, out mid-May.
Surrey is a great county for country walks, as well as villages, and last week my husband and I took our dog to Hindhead to do the Devil’s Punch Bowl walk. So lovely to see the many shades of green that come with fresh spring growth - sorry, no blue sky at the time! 

Surrey people and those who live nearby in Sussex will be aware of the story behind Hindhead – the building of a tunnel that lies 65 metres below the walk pathway. The busy A3 that stretches from London to Portsmouth used to pass through the village as a single-carriageway and proved to be a terrible bottleneck for traffic. Since 2011 the road goes underneath an area of land called the Devil’s Punch Bowl and has transformed the village, as you can imagine.

We remember dicing with death, years ago, crossing the road half-way through the walk (see photos for how it is now!) and again at the end to get back to the car park. Now all is calm.

If only all villages could have a by-pass!! How many times do I say this every year? My family are probably tired of hearing me say it – a pipe-dream.  Or is it?

Appley Green does its best to be free of traffic!!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

B-looming marvellous! Weaving a new story ...

I decided to try something new. In retirement I get phases, little surges of enthusiasm that cause me to dip a toe into new waters and this time it is weaving.
It feels good to take a break from writing novels, even though this is my first creative love; the marketing and selling of books can be all-consuming if you are serious about it. Life is too short!
So here, in pictures, is the story I’ve woven so far on my new passion – my lovely loom.

It arrived in a long thin box. First construct loom!


Now - what to make that has essentially straight sides?
Order wool, and set up the warp.

Actually quite excited at this stage,
seeing the effect of colours melding
and the whole thing growing so much faster than knitting.

Moving swiftly on - the finished product.
Of course a scarf, what did you expect?

Ordered more wool. It's like setting up a paint-box.
Now for something to accessorise the conservatory ...

Not quite wide enough for the cushion cover I planned.
Never mind - this is a ... er ... mat, I guess. A sample.
Now must repeat but make bigger.

Will keep you posted!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Drop Christmas cards? Forget it!

Logically, I thought, there are so many ways of communicating, do we still need to exchange all those Christmas cards? I mean do we? Really? With social media and above all emails, surely we can keep in touch with people all year round if we want to. Even speak to them, see them, on the phone? Many of our brilliant networking younger generation never did latch on to this tradition. The cost of postage could be put to better use – this was my overall rationale. Someone else added to this the environmental cost …
So last year I enclosed a note to say that next time around we would give something to charity instead of doing cards; so nobody would think we’d both died.  I think about three people remembered this.
On the upside, where I've emailed friends and relations with our year’s news I’ve had really good ones back, some with surprising news I wouldn’t have known otherwise. We’ve received about the same number of cards as usual, with letters from people who normally enclose them.
Those people we never see as the decades go by – I really thought if we needed or wanted to meet up then by now we would have done so. Conversely, folks we see daily, weekly or even monthly – then we know they’re there, we’ve swapped news and we’re likely to see them again soon. Do they need a card?

Yet to be displayed
I understand why cards mean a lot. Whether they’re colourful and jolly, religious, leave you misty-eyed, or just plain nostalgic – we’ve always had them and we display them and feel good that these are ‘our people’, our tribe, our inner and outer circle, those who may one day come to our funeral. And it is good to be reminded and be mindful of old friends we don’t see very often (but, says my sad, cold, logical, inner voice – you can do that with an email … …) I can remember my parents saying that they’d had over 100 cards – it was a point of pride.
Well, it seems that cards are still popular so next year I may have to retract. I’ve had comments such as, ‘I had an email from someone and then I had to spend time sending them one!’ Mind you, if you can’t spare a few minutes to send someone your news in an email, are they truly a valued friend or relative?  Another person expressed the view that if we all did this it would put designers and makers of cards out of business. I can’t see that as a valid reason to perpetuate a tradition … Oh, well. Am I being a bit ‘bah! humbug’?
I have definitely taken all this on board – consulted my spread sheet that gives me an instant breakdown of how many emails/cards I have received/sent from/to whom, and I have to cave in.
Next year I will almost probably go back to Christmas cards – until such time as others want to play!
A warm and Merry Christmas everyone!! and thank you for your card, if you sent one!

Related blog post December 2012:

Friday, 25 November 2016

As a columnist!

In case you missed the Tweets flying around, and have come direct to my blog via some source other than Twitter or Facebook, I thought I’d say something about the columns I write for two lifestyle magazines.

SURREY LIFE is a glossy, regional, monthly magazine available in Surrey shops and also free online through their digital archive, each issue accessible about a month after the print version. I have been writing for this magazine since April this year and the feature is called Notes from a Small Village.
LoveaHappyEnding Lifestyle eMagazine (#LLm) is just online and I have been contributing to this for years. It has a global following with tens of thousands of hits a day.

For both publications now I write on the same theme – people who put life into village life, unsung heroes who go the extra mile and bring their small communities together in a rich variety of ways. As you can imagine this is a lovely thing to do, ferreting around in the lovely county of Surrey, and beyond for the LLm magazine, meeting and chatting to inspirational people.
So here you go:  An article about Writing for Surrey Life posted on the LoveaHappyEnding Lifestyle Magazine –  neatly brings the two together with all the links you need to see both.  Here's the link to Surrey Life archive , although it is embedded in the article.

I hope you enjoy meeting these fabulous people as much as I did!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

And now Gypsy Kids – Our Secret World

I have been rather lazy this summer with regard to writing blog posts. No excuse! Well, now I hope to make up for lost time ...

When I found the theme for my first novel, published in 2008, people did not talk about Gypsies much. A secret world indeed! Occasionally we may have glimpsed a group that turn up briefly to set up camp in their trailers, only to disappear as quickly as they came. I know for a fact there were few books – apart from quite ‘chewy’ academic tomes;  these bibliographies can be found at the end of the printed versions of Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served. The only Gypsy memoir I could find at the time was Dominic Reeve’s books which give an account of life on the road fifty years ago.

My research moved from text books to real life, going on sites, talking to Gypsies, Travellers, and people who work with them. I also found out more by going to events that displayed their culture, history, music, dance, food and wagons and knew I had found something different and I wanted to tell people about what I had uncovered – through a readable novel.
I was called upon to speak on BBC Surrey radio whenever there was a local issue concerning Gypsies as I had by then some understanding of the culture clash, the planning laws and so on. Before, I did not know anything about the council-run authorised sites and the reasons behind the more visible unauthorised sites that regularly upset local people.
Then a while later, came Channel 4’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding – wrongly named as it did not portray Romany Gypsies but in fact was about Irish Travellers. (See Gypsy or Traveller? 12 Feb 2010) The programme's main slant was one aspect of their lives, the over the top dresses and extravagant wedding days.  More important issues like poor health and education, shorter than average lifespan, and weary struggle to find a place to be, all the legislation that over the years has criminalised their way of life – such things hardly got a look in. See below for link to some of my comments.
I had put forward a proposal to the radio station for a programme to embrace the lives of Gypsies and Travellers in a more realistic way, offering my help in providing potential sources of information. I did not hear back but later Channel 4 came up with their series and I do wonder if there was some link. Had someone passed on this proposal which had by then been changed out of all recognition? I have no way of knowing.
Now we have Gypsy Kids – Our Secret World on Channel 5 and it is refreshing to hear these happy, healthy, articulate children talking to us directly about what it is like to be a Gypsy and how proud they are, one young man set on becoming a pilot. The immaculate appearance of their homes, the sites and themselves turns upside down any old-fashioned notion or prejudice that Gypsies are ‘dirty.’
Whilst some of us ‘Gorgas’ might not approve of certain aspects of their social norms – the limited educational and career opportunities accorded to girls even  in this day and age, for example – on the other hand you might say that it is understandable that they want to protect their culture of strong family with a male provider.  Women marry young, have children young and stay at home (or travel, of course) to look after them, with little independence. If everyone is happy with that – and it seems many of them are (perhaps not knowing anything different, some would say) it is hard to criticise. Arguably, some young Mums in the wider world, juggling work and under-fives might be a tad envious! By the way I apologise for getting into the ‘us’ and ‘them’ kind of narrative here – it’s hard not to sometimes.

Links to some of my past blogs for further reading, if you are interested: 

Another Grumble on Big Fat Gypsy Weddings (7 Feb 2011) – this was one of three posts on the subject, the first few sentences of which gained a place in Letters to the Editor in The Guardian.

Two other posts were on 20 Jan 2011 and 11 Feb 2011 – my view changes as the series progresses. The 20 Jan and 7 Feb posts have interesting ‘comments’ from other people.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Rings on our Fingers - love stories from the Eighties

Rings on our Fingers 
Bells on our Toes
Two Kindle volumes of my short love stories
 published in magazines in the Eighties.

Just 99p! $1.40 each

When I was probably just a few years older than the people reading them, they were published in magazines such as My Story, Romance, True Story - and Christian Herald! 


I wrote these on a typewriter that might now find a home in a museum, at the kitchen table when my children were knee high ...

Times have changed – which is what makes these stories interesting I think.  Young people can judge for themselves and older readers will remember perhaps when they were just married, maybe having doubts, thinking about having a family, looking for work, planning a wedding … the stuff of life. Relationships are the key theme along with problems and obstacles to finding true happiness.

Here are a few extracts from different stories that may make you think, scoff, raise an eyebrow, laugh - or something else!

Checking that our frilly knickers showed prettily each time we bent over, we set off — each carrying a new sports bag to match our outfits.

"I know a place — on the common, off the beaten track," he said, looking at me.
I should have said, "No — take me home." But my legs turned to water. It was too thrilling. I couldn't bear it!

I bundled Rachel and Emily onto the back seat of the car and left them in there while I slipped into Joel's house.

At nineteen I was young to be considering a family, but I was very much in love with my student husband. I longed to have his child, I wanted to be a mother and I could see no sense at all in waiting.

I am surprised when I read these myself! but you can find many more examples of how social norms have moved on in the last thirty odd years. Passion, jealousy and true love endure, of course.

Happy reading!

Just 99p  /   $1.40