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Newsletter Archive 2022
 
Home - 'Windfall Farm'

You will find events, my next book etc, on my website home page under News, while on the Journal Pages there will be interesting ramblings in general as observed by me from my cosy eighteenth-century farmhouse. For an exclusive first read of my monthly newsletter you will need to subscribe to receive my reflections on life in general. 
So, if you haven't already subscribe to my newsletter ... (or wait until an archived copy appears on this page. But then you might miss out on the occasional 'breaking news' or special offers!)
 * * * 
IN ADDITION
'Dispatches' on my website
Mostly about being 'At Home' in Devon. 
https://www.helenhollick.net/journal.html

and just in case you haven't read any of my books, my Amazon author page is: 
https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick

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Newsletter Archive 
in Reverse Order
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SEPTEMBER 

HERE BE...
This Month’s Feature
News
Ten Word Story
Quote of the Month

* * *
Hello and welcome to the new lovely people who have joined my newsletter – it’s wonderful to meet you, and thank you so much for your enthusiasm and support!
 
THIS MONTH’S FEATURE: PART 2
(if you missed Part 1 – how we won the Lottery Raffle on the opening night of the London Olympics, scroll down...)

I now live with my family here in North Devon. We used to live in Walthamstow, north-east London, but on 27th July 2012 our life changed. This was the opening night of the London Olympics and the UK National Lottery ran a special raffle draw. 100 people won £1,000,000. It turned out that we were one of them.
 
So, there we (my husband and I) were, sitting stunned at hearing the news that our ticket was a winner. No, we didn’t jump up and down screaming with delight. No, we didn’t ‘Happy Dance’ all round the (very small) flat. I don’t really think that anyone does do this because at this point everything is unbelievably surreal.
 
I telephoned my daughter, told her to come home. “We’ve some rather exciting news.” (Understatement?)
 
Sunday morning we received a call from Camelot (the Lottery organisers, not King Arthur's court.) Turned out that all sorts of security checks had been made: we were who we said we were, we had bought the ticket from where we said. Security at that level is very strict. I assume it’s even stricter with the very big prizes.
 
We were invited to the main centre in Watford, even given a secret password to get in through the gate. It is a modern building lots of winding corridors and small, private rooms. We were not allowed to go anywhere unescorted in case we met anyone. All winners have their privacy very well kept, unless they want the publicity of course – you are asked if you want this option. I did consider it: free publicity for marketing my books? I decided against.
 
We were treated to luxury sandwiches and cake, talked through opening a special bank account (at one of the posh London banks) and were invited back to a second session where we would meet a financial advisor, and a solicitor who would advise on wills, inheritance tax etc. Oh, and given a bottle of expensive champagne and two souvenir Lottery champagne glasses.


All still very, very surreal.
Next visit was to be a huge disappointment.
 
I think the general opinion is that when you have a big win making a list of expensive things to buy is a first priority. (And I’m sorry TV adverts, but £30,000 is NOT life changing, but one million is.) We didn’t want a new posh car. We didn’t want to go on a luxury cruise. Or to Disney in Florida. Nor did we want to invest it all.
What we wanted was to move out of London, leave our small rented maisonette and live in the country, where we could keep our horses at home, not in a livery yard.
 
The financial advisor was a right misery. “Living in the countryside, for people used to town life, is not always a good idea,” he said. He just would not listen to me saying that we lived in town by necessity. Most of my life was spent in cold, wet, muddy stable yards or assisting my daughter to compete at showjumping equestrian centres (usually just as cold, wet and muddy.) I started riding when I was four years old. My daughter sat up in front of me when she was two months old – she started riding properly at three years old. (A long time ago now!) We were country people at heart.
 
We drove home from that meeting utterly choked. I was in tears. The bubble hadn’t burst, it had never inflated in the first place.


However. We disregarded the nay-sayer and started looking for somewhere to move to. A couple of false starts: The Home Counties were way too expensive (when buying property £1million doesn’t actually go far!) Derbyshire wasn’t right, too cold. I suggested Devon.
 
After a couple of possible properties fell through I applied to BBC TV’s Escape To The Country. By now it was October and I was getting desperate to leave London.
“Please help us,” my email went. “We want to escape. We’ve tried digging a tunnel but our shovel’s broken...”
A few days later the phone rang and we were invited to join filming the last episode of the series. (Series 13) So off to North Devon my daughter and I went...
 
We stayed in a nice hotel (at BBC expense) and met the crew on the first morning. Johnny Irwin was our host. We had no idea what properties would be shown us, and you don’t see them – or any of the rooms or exteriors – until the camera is set up. Although what you see in the final televised version isn’t always the first ‘take’. The number of times you walk into a room expressing false first-time surprise is staggering!


The first house we were shown, well daughter and I knew it was the one, but we kept an open mind. An old late 18th century farmhouse complete with log burner, low beams, and upsy-downsy floorboards upstairs. Bigger than our London home, but not massive. Only drawback, we wanted somewhere with a separate annexe for daughter’s independence. This house didn’t have one. But did it have stables?
Johnny took us up the garden.
Purpose built stables.


But did it have land? At least eight acres was our ideal.
It had thirteen. “Where do I buy?” I asked.
 
Still keeping an open mind we went to see the next two properties. Both were very nice but useless for us. I wanted an old place filled with history (and lingering ghosts.) House two was only four years old. I mean, what on earth do I want with a gadget built into the wall that auto-empties the vacuum cleaner?
 
House three was old, but nowhere suitable for the horses. (Turned out it was on the nearby river’s flood plain. Explains why the front ‘lawn’ was so squelchy)
 
It didn’t really matter. We’d decided. We wanted the first house. ‘Windfall Farm’ as we now (online) call it. 
 
It was well inside our budget and we could build daughter her annexe. And the final ‘oo-er’ clincher... standing leaning on the gate looking at one of the spacious fields and ‘our’ woods beyond, I heard a train go past along the valley down the hill.
“That’s the Tarka Line,” Johnny said.
You could have knocked me down with a feather.
 
Twice a year for a few years I had come down to Devon to stay with my editor, Jo, for a few days. (We always had a lovely time chatting about everything!) I came down from London by train to Exeter, changed onto the line to Barnstaple – the Tarka Line. My house is on the side of part of the Taw Valley and overlooks a small section of the railway. So little did I know then, that every time I made that journey, had I looked in the right direction at the right moment, I would have seen my potential home.
 
The money’s nearly all gone now. Buying houses, building an extension annexe flat, paying for daughter’s wedding in 2014, putting in a sand school exercise arena for the horses, buying a new horsebox, keeping three Exmoor ponies and four showjumpers is not cheap. But we love it here. Absolutely love it.
 
* * *
There is an addendum to this tale. The first night daughter and I were having dinner with the EttC team. I heard one of them say, “I wish, one of these days, I could have dinner with a real millionaire.”
I leant across the table.
“You’re sitting opposite one.”
 
Next time:
The Move (and what an adventure that was!)
 
* * *
News
I’m pleased to announce that Voyage Six of the Sea Witch nautical adventures is written and going through its final edit. I hope to publish it by the end of September, so watch this space.
Here’s the cover. (Designed by www.avalongraphics.net



I’m currently writing A Mistake of Murder, the third Jan Christopher cosy mystery.
If I can, I’ll publish it in late November.
Meanwhile, maybe you would like to catch up on the previous books, or leave me a nice comment on Amazon? I’d very much appreciate some more reviews!

All my books are available on Amazon: 
https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick
(or order from a bookstore)
 
 
Stay safe

A Ten Word Tale:
“The smug black cat sat on the annoying dog’s mat”
 
Quote of the Month:
"Of all possessions a true friend is the most precious."
 
On my website
Have you read my dispatches journal page on my website?
https://www.helenhollick.net/journal.html

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July/August 2022
Hello from Devon

HERE BE...
 
This Month’s Feature:
London 2012 and A Change of Life
 
- Regular Features -
Ten Word Story
Quote of the Month
 
* * *
Hello and welcome to all the new people who have joined my newsletter – it’s lovely to meet you and thank you so much for your support.
 
THIS MONTH’S FEATURE:
I think most of my friends and followers know that I live with my family here in North Devon, and how we came to be here...
 
Ten years ago the 27th July 2012 was the opening of the London Olympic Games. The new stadiums and many of the events were being held a few miles away from where we lived then in Walthamstow, in the London Borough of Waltham Forest. The majority of Londoners  (and others – especially the media) were very scathing about the prospect of the Olympics. Opinion was varied between ‘waste of money’ to ‘it will be a flop’. The one pre-event advantage: all the surrounding areas to the Games’d had a huge makeover. Noticeably, hanging baskets filled with colourful flowers appeared everywhere, and the gaping potholes on the roads had been repaired.

 
Well, the nay-sayer doubters were proven to be totally wrong – London 2012 is still regarded as the best ever Olympics. The show on that opening night was breath-taking. From a bored Rowan Atkinson's Mr Bean playing the piano to James Bond fetching the Queen (yes the REAL Queen Elizabeth II) in a helicopter. (Well, OK, the helicopter bit was staged, but that isn’t the point.) Then the lighting of the Olympic flame – that wonderfully different ‘cauldron’ and the beautiful music... Like I said, it was absolutely stunning.
 
For us, though, the following day was the day that changed our lives. My husband had bought a National Lottery Raffle ticket from a shop which he’d never visited before. (He’d forgotten to get his weekly lottery, so stopped at the first place he found.)
 
Saturday afternoon:
Ron: (from the sitting room) “I think we’ve won the lottery raffle.”
Me: (from my ‘office’) no answer. (Ron was always saying that – and it always turned out we’d won about 50p. I think the highest amount was £4.)
Ron: (coming into my office, waving his ticket and a results slip) “Look, we’ve got a winning number!”
Me: (doubting sigh) “Give it here.”
There were 100 winners. A long list of ‘raffle ticket’ numbers. One, placed at around 95 on the list, corresponded with Ron’s ticket.
Mild excitement...
It took me about ten minutes to find out ‘what to do’. Finally found a phone number. Dialled. Had to go through a lengthy process of  ‘Press 1 for... 2 for...’
Eventually got to the right department. An automated voice read out ALL the 100 winning numbers then: “We are so sorry if your number was not listed here”(I was, by now, tearing my hair out!) “But if one of the numbers does correspond, please hold the line.”
 
At last. A PERSON.
There followed a huge rigamarole of checks and double checks. Name, address, where was the ticket bought? Who bought it? (Ron, so he had to talk to the lady – and go through all the same checks again.)
He passed the phone back to me.
We were told that we would have to go to the main Lottery Centre (in Watford on the other side of London) but we would get a confirming telephone call, probably on Sunday morning to explain what happens next.
All this took about twenty minutes or so.
Finally, “Have you any questions?”
Me: (a bit bewildered) “Er, yes. What exactly have we won?”
The lady laughed. “One million pounds, dear.”
 
In my defence. The prize was “£1,000,000 for 100 winners.”
I assumed the prize was to be shared between 100 people, so £10,000.
There’s a few noughts difference...
 
 
Next time:
What happened next and how we Escaped To The Country
Stay safe

* * *
News
FREE E-BOOK ON AMAZON FOR A FEW DAYS ONLY
A MIRROR MURDER (first in my cosy-mystery Jan Christopher series) is FREE at the moment on Amazon Kindle – grab it quick!
A Mirror Murder 
https://getbook.at/MirrorMurder
(Offer now ended - there will be more!)
Or have you read Episode 2?
A Mystery of Murder  http://mybook.to/AMysteryOfMurder
 
Ten-word Story:
Held    breath...  matching numbers, check ticket...Have we? How much?
 
Quote of the month:
"First you're an unknown, you then write your first book and move up to instant obscurity."


* * *
JUNE 2022

Not much to tell: I have a ‘report’ on my website about my recent jaunts to some crime writers’ conferences, (sadly I was a little disappointed by two of them. Read why here.) I have almost finished writing the Sixth Sea Witch Voyage Gallows Wake. I might (slightly?) reveal the fabulous new cover, designed by Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.net  next month. Then I have the third Jan Christopher Cosy Mystery to write and then... I’ll not promise, but if I can manage the research I’ll have a go at writing a third novel for my 11th Century/1066 Saga, so a sequel to Harold The King. (You can read an excerpt from it below.) I do find research difficult now though, because of my wonky eyesight. I can’t read text books very easily – a big drawback as far as research is concerned. (The internet is not always reliable...)
 
I’m toying with writing Bishop Odo’s story. I think he might have been made a scapegoat after 1066. I also think, that like myself, he did not much like Duke William, even though they were half-brothers. I say ‘even though’? Maybe because they were brothers! William was a jealous person...
 
As I send this out, however, it was Queen Elizabeth 11’s Platinum Jubilee – seventy years our Queen.
 
She is looking very frail now, but what a remarkable woman she is. Her duty to her people has always come first and she works tirelessly – every day. I feel honoured and privileged to have been alive during this period of history. God Bless you ma’am.


From 2nd June Discovering Diamonds (a review site for historical fiction) is hosting a special June Jubilee Celebration in honour of Her Majesty – we’re posting excerpts from novels written by our team of reviewers, all related to monarchy or leaders. We started with Annie Whitehead...
Do join us!


My Upstairs-Downstairs Cats
 
I have two cats. Mab and Sybil. One is black and white, one is white and black.
And they hate each other.

Mab - black and white Upstairs cat


Sybil - white and black Downstairs cat
They didn’t used to, at least, they didn’t appear to have such a mutual dislike, but I’m guessing they ‘fell out’ when we moved to Devon from Walthamstow, North East London in January 2013. They were confined to a cattery for the move, the safest place, I thought, what with all the packing and more packing, then the move itself and then the unpacking... which should have been an ordeal of six days for them. Unfortunately it snowed. We managed to move in, but my daughter, the horses – and the cats – remained marooned back in London, so the cats were catteried for nearly two weeks.
 
When the snow had cleared enough for them all to come to Devon the cats were, well, right disgruntled. (Despite having luxury accommodation at the cattery, including heated  beds!)

They seemed to settle in well, but after a couple of years the ignoring each other became even worse. Sybil left home.
 
We assumed ‘something’ had happened. We searched for her, called her, searched again. If she had died there was no way we would be able to find her on or around our thirteen acres. Then, after almost two months, she suddenly appeared. Looking fat, fit and well so I reckon she’d moved in elsewhere but ‘elsewhere’ had then become not so hospitable for some reason (new owners, perhaps? With a dog?)
 
At first she didn’t want to come indoors, but the cold of winter won out, and in she came. Problem. Mab disapproved. Big Time.
 
They sorted their disagreement out, however, in the way that cats do: Mab elected to live upstairs. Sybil would live downstairs. All well and good, but Mab also decided that In No Way was she going to risk meeting with ‘Her’ on the stairs or by the cat flap. The bathroom window was open. She’d use that as a front door. Out the window, onto the porch, jump down to the garden. Reverse order to get back in.
Which, of course, means that the bathroom window now has to permanently stay open. Even in howling gales during the winter.
 
She had already sussed out this route during the first summer when we moved in, using it regularly. My husband had rebitumened the porch roof.
“No! Don’t let her jump up there!”
Too late. Bitumen on her paws, and all over the upstairs landing and my bedroom carpet. (Which is why I have rugs on the bedroom floor – to hide the paw marks which I can’t remove.)
 
We grabbed her, dumped her in the kitchen sink and tried washing it all off with washing up liquid; got some of it, but a trip to the vet was necessary. (They washed her properly and no harm done, thank goodness!)
 
So, despite their various adventures the cats refuse to have anything to do with each other. Sybil sleeps in a basket on the windowsill of my office. Mab sleeps on my bed (usually curled up in the sunshine or sprawled out under the radiator, depending on the time of year.)
 
Sybil has had her own adventures: she was found as a kitten abandoned, shut in a suitcase and left on a doorstep. Had the case not been opened the kittens inside would have suffocated or starved. Why are some people so cruel?
 
Both of the cats like bringing me presents. I do thank them, but I don’t really appreciate dead mice... or worse, a dead rat.
 
The one good thing about Mab being asleep on my bed for most of the day – especially when it’s a bit chilly –there’s a lovely warm patch down by my feet!

Mab and Sybil just after we'd moved in
 - before they 'fell out'
Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat
 
Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?
I've been to London to visit the Queen.
Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under her chair.
 
The earliest record of this nursery rhyme is a publication in Songs for the Nursery, printed in London in 1805. The Queen most often depicted in illustrations is Elizabeth I, but Caroline of Brunswick has also been suggested.. What Queen do you think it could be?
Queen Elizabeth II could not have cat visitors – not with all those corgis running around!

 
 
Until next month,
Stay safe
* * *
Ten-word Story:
Roast  chicken ready to carve. Distraction. Chicken gone... fat cat!
 
Quote of the month:
‘You have two ears and one mouth, so should listen twice as much as you talk.’
 

* * * 
MAY 2022

HERE BE: (well, not dragons, but items of interest)

News
What? What? What...? My Geese
Goosey, Goosey Gander
- Regular Features -
Ten Word Story
Quote of the Month
Excerpt (Link is to my blog Let Us Talk Of Many Things)
* * *
Hello and welcome to all the new people who have joined my newsletter – it’s lovely to meet you! [Waves enthusiastically!]
 
News
I had a nice weekend in Torquay at the end of April, attending as a debut delegate the Crime Writers’ Association conference. It was rather grand to be called ‘Madam’ by the hotel staff, I had a glorious bedroom overlooking the Bay and met (and made) some lovely new friends. The downside was I wasn’t particularly impressed by the hotel’s (rather pricey) food and I kept getting lost. Posh, late nineteenth-century Victorian hotels are remarkable buildings but when your sight is impaired, everywhere looks the same – and there are disconcerting large mirrors all over the place, which made things worse, so I got lost more than once. Fortunately there were fresh lilies in reception and I was guided ‘back to base’ by their powerful scent!
 
Incidentally, ever wondered where the word ‘posh’ comes from? The days of the Raj when rich people sailed to India – because of the direction of the hottest sun they booked accommodation Port Out, Starboard Home... P.O.S.H.
 
Torquay museum is worth a visit: displays about Agatha Christie and Poirot – but I found the replica of an 1800s farmhouse to be very interesting. The furniture and ‘bits and pieces’ were all authentic, and although our furnishings here at ‘Windfall Farm’ (a pseudonym for the real name) are not equally as authentic, given that the old part of the house itself was built in 1769 I found the display was fascinating.


The farmhouse display was augmented by background sounds: the fire crackling, a dog barking, a cow mooing, hens clucking, cart wheels rumbling on cobbles. One thing was missing. The sound of geese.
 
What? What? What?
I often read about hens in historical novels – rarely do authors think to include geese.

We have four geese and one gander: Colin, Boo Boo, Florance, Daffodil, Mahmoot, (and two little goslings, Moss and Parsley, hatched this spring – possibly more on the way).


Geese are wonderful ‘guard dogs’ as the slightest thing sets them off shouting. They can also appear to be quite vicious – well they can be in fact, they have little serrated ‘teeth’ that can really hurt if the gander grabs hold of you. They can shift pretty quick too – so can give chase, wings flapping, honking madly... The thing is, though, they are also quite cowardly so stand your ground, flap your arms and hiss back. Or poke them with a broom.
Failing all that. Run.


I doubt that many people realise that geese make different sounds. Most of the time (apart from the threatening hissing) they make a sort of ‘what, what, what,’ crooning noise. Then there’s a gentler sound (sort of ‘why, why, why’) when their water bowl is empty and they want a drink. I’ve also learnt that a goose peering through the glass door of my study usually means ‘Oi! You! Water’s empty again!”
 
Our geese wander freely up and down the lane outside, venturing into the orchard when they fancy. If they get into the front garden they make pretty good lawn mowers.
 
Our original goose, with the exciting name of Goosey, was a bit of a tyrant, but my daughter could do anything with him – as this Christmas photo shows.


We used to weigh him every Christmas, I think he got to about 4 stone (23kg). Only once did he attack me. My fault entirely. I went to let the geese out of their night pen early one morning; didn’t bother to get dressed, so just had my nightwear and a white fluffy dressing gown. Unfortunately, as I opened their shed door I slipped over. There I was like a marooned beetle, arms and legs waving unable to get up quickly. Goosey took me for a giant white enemy and ran at me, hissing. I grabbed the broom and he savaged the bristles instead of moi. He also liked to carry things around, a hand broom, bits of wood, plastic bowls... He died a few years ago and I do miss him, he was a right character.


My son-in-law is a little wary (well, a lot wary!) of the geese... and they know it! They know what time he is due home from work of an evening, and arrange themselves along the front steps of the annexe.
Gleefully waiting for him... 
* * *
Goosey goosey gander,
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady's chamber.
There I met an old man
Who wouldn't say his prayers,
So I took him by his left leg
And threw him down the stairs
 
The earliest recorded version of this children’s rhyme is in Gammer Gurton's Garland or The Nursery Parnassus published in London in 1784. As in most early versions the last four lines are not included and the wording is slightly different:
 
Goose-a goose-a gander,
Where shall I wander?
Up stairs and down stairs,
In my lady's chamber;
There you'll find a cup of sack
And a race of ginger.
 
(Sack: an antiquated wine term referring to white fortified wine imported from mainland Spain or the Canary Islands)
 
The meaning of the rhyme has never been established. It could refer to hiding places for Catholic priests (Priest Holes) during various English religious persecutions. If discovered, priests would be forcibly removed (thrown down the stairs) and often tortured then executed. A "left leg" was a slang term for Catholics during the reign of Edward VI, while ‘Can't say his prayers’ could refer to the banning of Latin prayers and the use the English-language Book of Common Prayer.
 
On the other hand, there could be an entirely different interpretation. A ‘goose’ was a common term for a prostitute – so a sexual reference ‘in my lady's chamber’, while
‘bitten by a goose’ was a reference to visible symptoms of sexually transmitted disease.
 
* * *
Ten-word Story:
Experienced local driver required. Fast car provided. Location near bank.
 
Quote of the month:
“We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they're called memories. Some take us forward, they're called dreams.” Jeremy Irons, actor
 
A short excerpt from one of my books (in case you haven’t read it yet – so a taster temptation)
This month: A Mirror Murder
 
Until next month,
Stay safe

On my website
Have you read my dispatches page on my website?  A new topic each month.
https://www.helenhollick.net/journal.html
 
On My Blog
An archive of these newsletters can be found on my blog:
 Let Us Talk Of Many Things - of books & queens & pirates, of mystery & kings!
https://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com/p/dispatches_30.html

* * * 
APRIL 2022



Hello and a huge welcome to all the new people who have joined me here – it’s lovely to meet you!
 
Happy Belated Birthday to ALLi. The Alliance of Independent Authors opened ten years ago last month. The aim was to assist and advise Indie and self-published authors - a goal more than well achieved! I don’t know what Indie writers would do without you ALLi. Thank you for all your hard work.
 
To celebrate, ALLi is running a ‘ten word story’ competition. The idea is to tell a story in only ten words. The most famous example was written by Ernest Hemingway:
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
 
 I’ve entered (no hope of winning). I jotted down several ideas, so rather then waste brain energy, I’ll share a ten-word-tale with you every month. You’ll find April’s at the end of this newsletter.
* * *
Home - North Devon

The Sound Of Silence
When we had a few days of glorious sunshine recently, albeit in conjunction with a chill wind (but that’s what long socks and jumpers were designed for,) I enjoyed my morning coffee, lunch and an afternoon cup of tea beneath my new-built wooden-framed gazebo.


this isn't my actual gazebo - it's the advertisement pic
my camera is still 'somewhere safe' one day I might find it!
 
I treated myself to it after the demise of the second ‘tent’ gazebo which was destroyed by one of those gale force winds that blight us. Poor thing died. As with the previous one, it got shredded, so I decided that something more robust and permanent was required. The building of it is now finished (my thanks to husband Ron and Village Neighbour Tim). All I need are some colourful hanging baskets  – due to arrive from the garden centre in late April. I've put up some coloured solar lights, so I'm now just waiting for a return of the warmer weather to fully enjoy my outdoor living room. I've called my gazebo 'The Go Outside', I must get a pub-like sign for it!
It has been wonderful to sit outside and enjoy the front garden. In particular, the sound of silence. No cars, lorries, ‘planes. No shouting, unpleasant neighbours. No loud thump, thump of music... Country living has huge advantages.
 
I was all on my own one afternoon last week. I sat outside, catching a few rays and sipping my cuppa. The dogs were stretched out in the sun, fast asleep. I closed my eyes and just listened.
 
The countryside is not quiet. In between the silences are many sounds. Loudest are the twittering birds. Sparrows - especially the hoard we have living in the honeysuckle by the front door - can be noisy. They chatter and chirrup, and frequently squabble. Then there are the songbirds, robins, finches, wrens – which reminds me I haven’t, yet, heard the blackbird singing. Surely, one of the most delightful of all our British birds? The evocative, soulful sound of a buzzard calling to its mate as they soar high overhead against a blue sky.
 
The pheasant. We have a male who helps himself to what is left on the bird table. Pheasants make a huge noise when disturbed – an alarm call ‘kark, kark, kark’ as they (eventually) take flight. They will run for great distances though, especially in front of cars. Why don’t they just fly! Stupid birds!



The chickens peck around in the front garden and the orchard. They ‘talk’ to each other. Little chirrups when there’s something nice to eat, louder when they simply must tell you: “I am about to lay an egg”, “I am laying an egg”, “I’ve laid an egg”. Then there’s Harry. The rooster. Cockerels don’t just crow at dawn... Woodpeckers rat-tat-tatting. (And owls at night. Right outside the house in the oak tree...)


that's Harry on the right (the red one)
these are Pekins - small chickens, with feathered pom-pom bustles and feet

Then there are the geese. They really are wonderful watchdogs! (Though maybe the fact that they wander free range in the lane might explain why the postman hasn't come for a few days...?) When on the warpath the geese can make quite a racket, but general 'chat' sounds like they are saying "What? What? What?"


Mr & Mrs - Colin and Boo


LoL - I love this photo!
"What? What? What?"

Occasionally the horses start neighing. (Usually because Franc or one of the Exmoor ponies has Houdinied out of the field and got separated.) If the horses have been up in Top Field and decide to come galloping down you can hear the drumming of their hooves reverberating through the ground – yes, we have Hollow Hills.
 
Sheep bleating from nearby fields, cattle lowing. I caught the sound of a single croak. A frog somewhere near the pond? The pond itself has a fountain which babbles over a pile of rocks.

From outside I can hear the kitchen clock donging it’s Westminster ‘Big Ben’ chime. (It’s a few minutes slow, must put that right.)
 
Somewhere distant I can hear a tractor. It could be anywhere along the valley or up the lane, for sound carries here.
 
That’s Baz, one of the dogs snoring... Oh, and the wind. You hear it coming across the fields, a gentle breeze that ruffles the branches of the trees. It can sound like the gentle shush noise of the sea on a shingle beach – or, in a storm, like an oncoming train.
 
A Bumble Bee bumbles by. The front door creaks as the wind catches it. Then the telephone rings and rouses me from the doze I was dropping off into. I'll be cross if it turns out to be one of those pesky spam calls. (It was. Apparently, my internet needs fixing...)
 
* * *
We all know Simon and Garfunkel’s version of the famous song, The Sound of Silence, but a while ago I discovered a cover version by ‘Disturbed’. It is, in my opinion, far superior, very moving and extremely powerful.
 
Silence can have so many meanings. Relaxing peace in a sunny garden. The quiet of a place of worship, the concentration of meditation. The gentle patter of falling snow. The stillness of Lockdown when traffic and ’planes stopped.
 
But it has its other side.
 
Paul Simon allegedly said that the lyrics of his song shed light on people not having the ability to emotionally communicate effectively with one other. I take the words to mean that we are so wrapped up in our own, personal world that we don’t have time, or even inclination, to notice others. We talk platitudes, say what we want to say. People talk without speaking. We babble on about the topics we want to talk about, and only partially listen, if at all, to what the other person is trying to say... then turn the conversation back to ourselves. People hear without listening.
 
And there are those whose only companion is the darkness of depression. Those who endure the loneliness of silence because there is no one to speak to, no one to listen.
 
Take time to hear those whispers in the silence. Talk and speak with meaning. Hear and listen with empathy. Together, with thought, care – and love – we can defeat the silence that those around us, who are scared or lonely, have to endure.
 

You can find Disturbed's version of The Sound Of Silence here on You Tube.
(Trigger warning: song contains power and emotion.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9Dg-g7t2l4
 

quote of the month: "A politician must have some scruples, a certain decency;
he cannot smear himself in the mud for the sake of a high ideal."
-- Boris Yeltsin
* * * 
Ten-word Story:
Midnight. A muffled thump. A creaking stair. “Who’s there?” Silence...
 
Until next month,
Stay safe
 
 
 

EXTRA:
April Dispatches on my website is about my horses of the past
https://www.helenhollick.net/journal.html (you will need to scroll down)

* * * 

MARCH 2022
SNOWDROPS and PRIMROSES

It is always so delightful to see the first snowdrops poking their little white buds out from the remains of the winter muddle of old grass, faded bracken, the huge clump of violets and the debris from the hedges that were trimmed back during the autumn.
 
We have snowdrops in the front garden but the main groups are along the lane near the house. Dozens of them!

 snowdrops adorning the bank opposite the old dairy - February 2013
... but they look the same in 2022!

I clearly remember our first spring here at ‘Windfall Farm’ (incidentally, that’s its pseudonym, not its real name). We moved in on 18th January 2013 on the day it had snowed heavily, so by the second day, the 19th, nothing on the ground could be seen except snow and slushy tyre tracks from the removal vans. But when the snow cleared and January tumbled into February the snowdrops appeared and they were beautiful! I mean, we didn’t see wild snowdrops back in Walthamstow, London.
 
I resisted the temptation to pick them (as one must) although I did pick a couple that were in immanent danger of being squished by cars or horses’ hooves.
 
And then by early March the primroses appear, great bundles of them in the front garden, the orchard, up the lane... Devon banks are covered by their pretty pale yellow flowers. Primrose Day is April 19th – which I happen to remember as that was my mum’s birthday, her name being Iris Primrose. I recall an excursion to Hatfield Broad Oak in Essex, when I was, oh, about eight or nine? A Sunday afternoon visit to friends of my mum. (I think the chap was the village butcher?) It was a sunny day and we went for a walk along the lanes: I recall being overawed by the open space of the fields and the dozens and dozens of primroses along the grass verges. The first stirring of my love of the countryside I wonder?

primroses
 
Mum’s father had procured a war-time retreat for the family at Broad Oak, (2 brothers 4 sisters) mum being the second youngest – Dad, her fiancĂ©, going off to war with the King’s Royal Rifles in 1939 (to then be taken P.O.W in Crete). I don’t remember many stories about the place, apart from Mum laughing when she told us that the billy goat had got out and ate the laundry which was drying on the washing line in the garden. Oh, and a vague memory of her telling about learning to drive round the narrow country lanes. I’m still incredulous about this, my mum driving? I reckon the trenches would have been safer...
 
I have a vague memory of seeing the house itself, of Dad driving past and Mum saying ‘that’s the one!’ It might have been this one. It was certainly thatched and had dormer windows.



Grandad (Mum’s dad) owned a dustbin factory in Walthamstow, those old metal ones. I assume he made a lot of money as everyone needed a dustbin. I think the factory made other things during the war – no idea what though. I was scared of the factory whenever we visited (Sundays I guess, because the factory was closed). Strange machines – and a ticking sound? The smell of oil?
 
I found this reference online: Metal goods manufactured in Walthamstow varied widely. H. C. Jones & Sons (Walthamstow) Ltd., Tower Hamlets Road, were established as sheet metalworkers in Walthamstow before 1901.  By 1957 the firm was specializing in dustbins. About 1964–5 it moved to Barking.”
 
But back to what I was talking about: Clumps of primroses can, apparently, survive for about fifty years – I assume that’s the original rootstock, so it is a great shame to dig the clumps up – which is, actually, illegal. Again I don’t pick our primroses unless it’s to rescue them. They often bloom in the autumn if its mild, and some are already flowering now (along with early daffodils) so no idea why April was designated as Primrose Day!
 
Next will come the bluebells ... maybe I’ll write about them another time.
 
Until next month,
Stay safe
 
 
 

 "The snowdrop and primrose our woodlands adorn, And violets bathe in the wet o’ the morn." Robert Burns

EXTRA:
March Dispatches on my website is about our 'ghostly guests
https://www.helenhollick.net/journal.html (you will need to scroll down)


* * * 

FEBRUARY

OF MICE and MEN ... well, just mice really

I rather like mice, although not everyone does. In fact, I’d wager that more people dislike them than like them. I do object to treading on dead ones left by one of the cats as a gift. Even worse is hearing Mab (our ‘upstairs’ black and white cat) crunching on one just inside the bedroom door in the early hours of a morning. I’ll tell you about Mab and our other, ‘downstairs’ cat another time...

Having mice on a farm is inevitable. (Rats as well, but I don’t like rats, so we are not going to talk about them!) As long as grain feed for horses, geese, hens etc is safely stored, and the mice stay outside the house I can ignore them. (I am very firmly in the school of thought of  ‘that what lives outdoors stays outdoors’ – this includes spiders, wasps, hornets, snails, slugs...)

Last week, however, my daughter was sorting out the evening hay for the horses. Haybales come in ‘cuts’ - sections within the bale, which can then be easily put into nylon hay nets (which means it takes the horses longer to eat the hay!)

Suddenly something fell with a plop from one of the cuts. Something round, brown and furry. Daughter instantly realised that it was a tiny, very cute, very fast asleep dormouse, as featured in the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. (That’s the Mad Hatter Party in Alice In Wonderland – not 10 Downing Street.)

Quickly, daughter picked him/her up – it curled even tighter, so it was alive. Hastily we found a new, safer, winter home for it: a small cardboard box which we stuffed with hay, and once Dormouse was snuggled inside, we placed between more haybales in the barn. Hopefully to keep it warm enough and safe from predators. (Which include my cats.)

Here in the UK dormice are on the verge of extinction, an endangered species, so apart from being delighted at finding something so lovely, we are thrilled to know that we have these lovely little creatures here on the farm – always hoping that this little chap or chapess survives being moved – and the winter.

One of the most notable characteristics of dormice that live in our temperate zone is that they can hibernate for six months out of the year if it remains very cold, sometimes waking for brief periods to eat food they had previously stored nearby. Having discovered that fact I’m now wondering/worrying whether our little furry friend has enough food nearby?

The edible dormouse (Glis glis) was considered a delicacy in ancient Rome, either as a savoury or a dessert (dipped in honey and poppy seeds). Dormouse fat was believed by the Elizabethans to induce sleep, since the animal put on fat before hibernating. Neither of which sound very appealing to me. (Apart from the honey and poppy seed bit – but I think even with that, I’ll leave our little resident to sleep soundly.)

When it wakes up I wonder if it will recall a very weird dream and doesn’t remember going to sleep in a cardboard box...?

Until next time


"You know me, I think there ought to be a big old tree right there. And let's give him a friend. Everybody needs a friend."  Bob Ross (TV The Joy Of Painting)

EXTRA:
February Dispatches on my website is about trees:
https://www.helenhollick.net/journal.html (you will need to scroll down)

* * * 

JANUARY 

DEVON MIST

I woke up the other day and looked out of my bedroom window over the view of ‘my’ part of the Taw Valley. The rolling North Devon countryside which stretches away behind our orchard, giving a panorama from west right round to east. The top line of the hills, from my bedroom window, is about half-way up the skyline – so half is green fields and lots of trees, half is sky of varying hues and shades depending on the weather and time of day (or night). To the west (the left) I can see a small part of the Tarka Line railway as it curves around a huge bend then heads off straight, either southward over the bridge towards Exeter or westward-ish towards Umberleigh and on to Barnstaple.

Atop the ridge to the right-ish is a farmhouse, too far away to see clearly without binoculars, but at night I can see its outside lights twinkling away. Not far from the railway line is another farm down in the valley, tucked behind the trees. Lots of trees.

The V shape which descends from our house down to the valley, then slopes up again on the other side, is a constant surprise of beauty. No two days are alike. The early morning rising or evening setting sun lights the whole thing as if some unseen theatre producer has arranged huge spotlights to illuminate the important bits. Or the rain can come stomping over the ridge like the blur of an invading army – often with the aftermath of a glorious rainbow arching like a bridge from right to left. No one has ever found the pot of gold, though. I guess the Valley Fairies have it well hidden.

But some mornings we get the mist. It rolls in from the River Taw which flows south-to-north to the west of our house – heading for the sea at Appledore. The mist is always beautiful.

It spreads slowly as the day begins to gather pace and the morning air drifts over the river, its tributary streams and the moist land, causing water droplets to evaporate and create Mist. Slowly at first, it rolls in along the bottom of our V shape, gathering pace as the day grows older (by minutes!) Like dragon’s breath it expands along the valley, sometimes up along the side of the hill as well, hiding the fields that wander behind it, so that only the treetops and the ridge itself remains visible, suspended in time above the magic of the rippling whiteness.

On it rolls, and on... then stops. Pauses. Starts to roll back. The fields, trees and lower ridge appear again, released from the enchanted spell that has caught the valley and locked it, temporarily, into a held breath. Suddenly the sun bursts out from the eastern clouds, the valley is lit with gold ...

And the mist has gone...


I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, although intelligent life is less so. " Stephen Hawking


EXTRA: 
January Dispatches on my website is about my house - and its history
https://www.helenhollick.net/journal.html (you will need to scroll down)

* * * 

 NEWSLETTER

My Monthly Journal on my website

https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick /


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