Time to Unpick and Restitch

An interesting title for someone who came 52nd out of 52 in needlework. The most undomesticated of creatures, I was always bound for different pursuits. Who did I take after, I wonder? I look like my mother but we clashed. My opinions were not her opinions. I like to think I am more like my father who gave up his grammar school education to travel the world as a cabin boy/ steward at sixteen. He must have had dreams. Having visited Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and Vancouver Island in the mid 1920s, I now wonder why he settled back in his home town until the second war. Later, after postings in post-war Germany, insurgent Egypt and troubled Malaya, was his wanderlust satisfied, somehow? I wish I could ask him.

No my unpicking and restitching comes from comments from beta readers and my reading of other books. I left too many questions unanswered, too many characters on the sidelines, too many hazy ghosts with stories of their own to tell. I was concerned that readers would dislike being pulled out of the main story, but how can someone know or guess the motivation of others when they are so far detached?

Amidst my gardening, baking, jam-making, rhubarb gin brewing,I have walked the country lanes. Enjoyed the wild flower strewn paths, the wild mallow and yarrow humming with the bright tiny wings of the Cinnabar Moth while new characters speak to me, tell me their stories, explain their motivations. I have gone home, written their tales and now it’s time to find a home for them and restitch the story together, taking out other sections which have become redundant. One day this book will surface.

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Back to Shielding

Oh well! Having moved to our new house, we have plenty to keep us occupied but with Covid cases in our local schools and the government throwing in the towel, it’s back to living in the bubble of home and garden. Forget visiting shops or taking the odd meal out, we can live without but I am disappointed for local businesses and those in retail who are struggling to survive.

I have begun work again on my WIP. It will be slow because I have to work around allotment jobs, however, I think I can see a way forward after feedback from beta readers and reading Girl, Woman Other. It may be a few months yet before I publish but one day I hope it will happen.

I am struggling to find a place to write in this house of many windows. The kitchen table is the only place where the screen is not wiped out with glare. I am going to experiment with a desk in the art room which we are just beginning to sort out. I need an opening window so that’s another job for our builder, once I have tried writing there a few times. The art room was once the staff toilets for the school with the tiny window extension added on. I’m not sure how working in an old ladies’ loo will help my imagination. It’s right next to the bird feeder so I can use it as a hide too. Will be up close and personal with wagtails, tits and finches. The jackdaws may send me into Daphne Du Maurier territory, though.

Art Room

We have just finished watching This is Us on Amazon Prime. I don’t normally like long series but if you enjoy complex family stories which have utterly likeable but flawed characters then I can recommend it. Sex and violence are avoided so my 11 year old granddaughter is also now lapping it up. The programme has great acting and music too.

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Tasks in a Heatwave

Today is too hot for anything other than reading so after weeding the veg plot, a never-ending task, I settled down to finish Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. I have read some cracking books this year and this is up there, will even enter my top ten books of all time. Don’t read it if you want a page-turning plot. There isn’t one. There’s no plot at all. There’s no full stops or capital letters either. I love books which stretch the boundaries. This book is all about the intertwining characters across four generations. I’ve been stuck with my latest WIP but I this has given me some ideas on how to get going again. I need to be braver, let the characters speak for themselves. When cooler weather and rain descends, I may pick my book up again with a fresh eye. I am grateful to have lots of readers this month, still with no marketing, so I ought to have a deadline for finishing this new book.

In the meantime, I sorted my vastly culled library this morning. There are lots of spaces since I moved in with what I thought was still an excess of books and found I had room for a lot more. Living in an old school means I have inherited an actual library, small but perfectly formed. All the art books are held separately in the as yet unsorted art room. How grand it all sounds, but everything is in miniature apart from the field. The cherry tree is laden with fruit. Will we get any or will the myriad of loud, jostling starlings beat us to it? I suspect the latter.

I also had a phone call today inviting me to attend the next village book club meeting. This means I will get to meet neighbours too and they have outings to plays etc. One day life may get back to normal but the prospect is enough for the moment.

Stay safe everyone.

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When Once I Travelled

 

As people begin to take holidays again, I watched a thought-provoking programme on the culture of travel and tourism, hosted by Professor Mary Beard. As one who loved to travel since retirement allowed me time and multiple chances, last year destroyed plans to travel around Scotland and Ireland and then inter-rail around Europe. Instead, we had four days in Devon in October staying with a friend. Since moving to Norfolk, we have travelled no more than ten miles in any one direction for the last four months, and, where before I might be going stir crazy, this year has taught me the value of staying local.

For the time being, my area of discovery is around 4 square miles, my garden, field and the local lanes – an immense wealth of riches. From the sweet scent of horse parsley to the patch of borage, from the abundance of asparagus to the promise of currants, will they be red or black? Every week a new surprise as a bush begins to flower, yellow potentilla, red salvia, peonies – so many varieties about to unfurl their petals. Trees in our drive – a mountain ash, wild cherry, a rare and beautiful whitebeam, hawthorn and an acer – all fill me with delight. I took no notice when we viewed the house. It was November and all were bare branched, sleeping, other than the pines. Now, I sit in my lounge in the early evening and the leaves shimmer in the fading light.

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How long will it be before I want to travel again, I wonder? I have plans. We have so much land, too much allotment to manage. I want to turn a large potato patch into another garden area, replace the ancient greenhouse with a new one in a sunnier position. Then there are all the outbuildings and the old toilet block, euphemistically called the garage, although no car could ever be house there, unless it can climb steps.

Almost every week, a reminder comes up on Facebook for a May holiday once taken, in Italy, France and Norway. What do I miss about those holidays? The scenery, yes. The food – yes, the people you meet, yes, and the unexpected or serendipitous. Chancing upon a medieval village, or yet another gem of an Italian hill-top town, finding a restaurant where the locals go because the food is outstanding and also cheap, an outdoor concert or firework display. It’s not organised travel, it’s local immersion and that can happen in this country too if you look for it. My best memories of travel are those small chance encounters – an old Italian woman who offered us a whole branch of cherries she was harvesting, A Chinese, Australian marvelling at the colour of blue glacial water in South Island, New Zealand, a group of Methodists who welcomed us to a teetotal country dance one New Year’s Eve in Yorkshire, a young girl with corkscrew curls dancing to the music inside her head in an airport terminal.

Hopefully, one day, there will be more memories, but they may be local ones. Stay safe.

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The Good Life – Baker, Gardener, Bird watcher – Breathe

Six weeks since we moved house and a day of non-stop rain which allows me to abandon the gardening and write, albeit a blog. I have still to get back to the next stage of editing. My new book needs further work, maybe a lot more work.

What I love about our new house are the different views from every room. It’s unusual for a house to have great views in every direction and there are so many windows in this house. What I suspect used to be a village green, but is now a field, surrounded by old and new cottages lies to the west; our nearest neighbour’s garden with it’s pristine, weed free veg’ plot to the north, then our own large, unkempt field beyond, The towering trees and bank of honesty and primroses to the south, the old school well at the back door, while the front looks out onto a hot rather tropical area.

I have become a twitcher, spending hours watching the birds at our bird feeder with my binoculars and bird guide beside me. Today, we drove to the farm shop for extra supplies and the starlings descended as soon as the feeders were topped up. It was like a scene from The Birds as they fought each other, with the sparrows, blue tits and blackbirds pecking at the food the starlings were tossing around the feeder in their haste to devour the food. I haven’t mentioned the pied wagtails and gold finches. These are my favourite visitors.

I am researching Asparagus recipes we hope to begin plucking our crop this week. There are extensive options thank goodness. I am struggling more with the rhubarb. So far I have made rhubarb fool, rhubarb crumble and rhubarb sponge which turned out more like rhubarb bread. I need a larger freezer to store stewed rhubarb (which my husband hates) but which I am learning to love and all the other produce we hope to harvest.

Moving here is like moving to a new life. I wonder what will remain of the old one. There are new people to meet, with everyone in lockdown, this has been impossible. However, our builder has found a lady nearby who is could be a walking buddy. Husbands with dicky hips and legs have constrained us both. It’s like being set up on a blind date. I am resisting my granddaughters’ heartfelt pleas for a dog. I am a fair weather walker. Somehow I don’t think I am going to win the argument.

Friday is my busy day, My job is to keep our daughter’s barn gardens in trim ready for new guests, change over plant pots, pick up the children from school and feed them. This requires an afternoon of baking. They demand cakes as well as both meaty food and vegetarian food before their swimming lessons. Thank goodness for two slow cookers to deal with different meal times as well. Children eat at 3.45, their mother grabs a bite before heading off with first child at 4.15, father arrives for food at 5.45 before heading off with second child at 6.00. It makes my head spin. By 6.30, I am exhausted but so pleased I can help out.

Moving to an old school made me realise that it was probably also a polling station (I must research this) until it closed in the 1980s. Now the village hall, a green tin hut, does the job. Somehow I doubt they got many voters last Thursday, the village is tiny, many people like us will have opted for a postal vote in the pandemic, and the turn-out was low. I was disappointed not to be able to vote for my daughter who was standing in the next village for the Greens. She did well, coming second. Returning to the school, if it was a polling station, I think back to just after the first world war when so many men and women could vote for the first time. I wonder how they felt. Being such a rural area, I’m guessing they tended to follow tradition and vote for those who controlled their wages. The last great rebellion in Norfolk, Kett’s Rebellion in the reign of Edward VI, did not end well.

Next week, the sun is due to shine. I wonder when I will get back to editing?

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A Place to Call Home

We finally moved in ten days ago. Still without curtains and blinds, I tend to rise with the sun, so I am writing this with a pink glow in the east and the sound of cooing pigeons but without traffic on the road outside. We are mostly unpacked but have pictures and paintings strewn against walls waiting to be put in position.

The house being old but with modern touches has quirks and intricacies which we are discovering daily. Four days ago, I plucked up courage to make a cup of tea using the quooker hot tap. My only experience with a hot top previously had been pretty much disastrous as I handed out cups of luke warm tea to my writing group following a kitchen refurb by our lovely, long-suffering host. Two days ago, I abandoned my kettle, completely sold on the quooker. This morning it blinks at me. A red warning light can’t be good and the water no longer steams from the tap. Have I killed it, I ask myself? My kettle has returned to its usual place but I want my quooker back. I can see another whatsapp question to the previous owner who has all the answers about biomass boilers, solar power feed-in tarrifs, cess pits and well water. It’s a whole new language we have to learn.

Along with the unpacking, rearranging, I have spent hours on the internet and phone to water, electricity, wood pellet companies etc. It’s always a relief to speak to a human as somehow the questions you need answering do not appear in FAQs on websites. I have decided to give up not speaking to humans – it’s really not worth the hours of endlessly trailing around in circles, the mounting frustration and the shouting at screens.

The rest of my time has been spent in the garden. I should have taken a before and after picture of the mess at the bottom. The remains of the concrete school yard containing the cess pit access was covered in mud and debris and two compost bins full of fairly unrotted compost. It’s almost clear, maybe two more barrow loads of mud to shift to the field. It’s going to become the pot hospital. I thought about pot nursery but that sounds like we are nurturing cannabis which is not on the cards. This garden and our daughter’s gardens need plenty of pots and ones that change with the seasons, so this is the ideal place and it will brighten a dreary area.

With the weather suddenly warming up, yesterday we took time out for a walk and, although getting lost and being too long without anywhere to sit, it was glorious to discover what is on our doorstep. I had heard about the hidden beach but to find this was something else.

I have more to add to my shopping list list, a good pair of binoculars, not the WW2 ones which I have to say are very poor and heavy too, a couple of lightweight portable chairs. Seats for crumblies are few and far between (or even non existant) around here and an OS map of the area. I keep trying not to buy from Amazon but fail. I bought what I thought I needed to make a TV work from Argos a couple of weeks ago but bought a Freeview recorder rather than a Freesat box. New, unused but because some sellophane is missing, Argos refused to take it back. Guess who will never shop at Argos again? £170 wasted unless I can sell it second hand.

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Samples and Swatches

Last Saturday, we celebrated my birthday with a new house. How many people can say that? The previous owners gifted us champagne and I prepared a picnic of tasty nibbles and a tarte citron for afters to celebrate this adventure before dementia. That last phrase came from a sign on an old cottage in the nearby village. It made us laugh and now we often refer to it. There are so many nooks and crannies in the garden to explore, so many trees and plants to get to know. I am looking forward to spending the year here and discovering the seasons. No need to go on holiday, I feel.

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Old School Pump

Luckily, I finished editing and reading through the book aloud just before we completed the sale, so The Bluebird Brooch is now being read by beta readers. Who knows, I may get to publish it by the summer if they like it.

We thought to move our furniture on Tuesday but it needed bedroom curtains and some new carpeting and so we decided to do a full make over – all cosmetic, because the house is lovely. However, if we spend the money now, hopefully, we won’t have to in the future. Now, I would not call my skills in interior design normally a success. A week of choosing paint colours, carpet, blinds and curtains has turned my head to mush – indecision, indecision. I have been guided by the professionals and my family. The choices have been made and let’s hope it looks spectacular – it better do or my husband will be complaining about the money I am spending.

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Curtain pattern

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Waiting for Godot?

I am trying to keep myself occupied as we wait, wait, wait for lawyers to do their bit. It took a fair amount of pushing yesterday by me and our vendors to get the lady at the top of the chain in a position to exchange. With an hour of business left today, we still haven’t had the final call. We have a moving date but no exchange date. Madness.

Our hour’s exercise depending on when the next spot of rain is a lifesaver. Although limited to no use of the car, (an insurance glitch) we have several walks to do. The village, the dunes, the beach, the cart track, the old church ruins and even up to our new house, if we feel energetic enough.

Editing – well I am managing several pages most days with about 60 to do. Then I can send the book out to beta readers. It’s a different genre for me so I’m not sure how it will be received.

Reading – I loved Louise Doughty’s Platform 7, recommended at my bookclub zoom meeting. It successfully managed to cross several genres – ghost, thriller and modern fiction. Hugely imaginative and well observed, it is a book that will stay with me for a long time.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. At last I had time to finish this book. To me, it should become a classic. The writing is exceptional, powerful, evocative and utterly emotional. Be careful not to buy the paperback which seems to be in Dutch.

Writing poetry. I am not a poet, never attempt rhymes, unless accidental, but walking in the snow inspired me to have a go.

A Jewelled Winter

Wellington boots scrunch through pristine powdered snow,

Where clouds of flighty linnets feast in waving grass.

Diamonds of ice stud the glistening, winding track.

Footprints of red deer, pheasant, hare and muntjac

Mingling last in cold moonlight, dancing, prancing.

No masks, no social distancing required.

A lone fieldfare, grey of wing, pecks ruby rosehips

Before flitting up to a cloud-free, sapphire sky,

Behind, a tempest, battleship grey awaits.

We face a mighty storm, jewels of biting hail

Splatter my jacket, transformed from turquoise to pearl.

Icy winds pluck at scarves. Heads down, our frosted feet

Crack on. The old lighthouse landmark disappears,

No ancient sweep of golden light to guide us home.

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A Norfolk Winter

The last time we had more than a day or two of snow was back in the early 1980s when we were living north of Birmingham. The temperature sank to a dizzy – 20 degrees. Arctic weather. As soon as you stepped outside, the hair inside your nostrils froze. It hurt to take a breath.

We have had five days of snow now. Three when the wind was so strong that walking was difficult. Yesterday, I walked along the track in bright sunshine, only to find a snowstorm following behind me. When I turned to face it, the snow pattered on my coat, tiny ice crystals like miniature hailstones. The landscape disappeared in mist of white and I was pleased to make it back to the warmth and dry.

Today, we woke to a pristine landscape of blue and white. Sunshine and an imperceptible breeze enticed us to don our boots. Today we were going to tackle the long walk from our accommodation through the fields, along a farm road, across the main road and the other half of the walk back towards the church and through the village.

The only tracks in the snow as we set off were those of deer, hares, pheasant and other smaller birds. We crunched through powdery snow, cracked the ice in the rutted farm track and stopped to admire a hare bounding across the field. The sign of deer were everywhere, small muntjac deer to the larger red ones we encountered two weeks ago. Unfortunately, we saw none today, although we did see pheasants.

I worried that moving from our home, I would miss walking along the very familiar prom. Now, this is almost home and it has many compensations, not least the peace and tranquility. Our walk lasted ninety minutes, we met two people and passed a jogger along the way.

It was worth taking a day out from editing. Four days in, I am halfway though listening as Word reads back my story. It’s such a useful tool because as boring as the voice is, you can hear so many issues which need addressing from the odd repeated or missing word, to the string of sentences beginning with ‘she’. Duh!

And what of our house move? I wish I knew. Exchange is likely next week now. It’s becoming like groundhog day.

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Twiddling My Thumbs


We had hoped by now to have the keys to our new home but as of yesterday it looks like another two and a bit weeks to wait. A very old lady (not me) at the top of the chain not using email is the reason. Understandable but somewhat frustrating. One good outcome is that we had originally pencilled in the movers for Monday but that is now forecast to be in the midst of a blizzard. Be thankful for those small mercies. We are comfortable where we are – but still itching to get cracking on unpacking etc.

I may be battling the blizzard to walk down to the Church Rooms to collect a prescription. I have a precise time to be there with my mask. At least I don’t have to drive to the next village to pick up from the chemist. So far we are impressed at how the health service functions in our new rural location.

Wellington boots are the most important piece of apparel that I brought with me. It’s a good job that I dug them out of the cupboard where they had languished unused for half a decade and put them in the car. Muddy footpaths, mossy sand dunes and cart tracks make up 80% of our walks and days like yesterday show me what a joy it is to live in this unspoilt landscape.

However, the next few days will see us trapped inside. I can finish editing my new book, finish reading Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet which I put by to savour and, once we have exchanged, finish all the admin’ work that has piled up. It sounds like a plan.

Today’s highlight other than those? Waiting for my Sainsbury’s delivery and ordering next week’s one. Here it comes.

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