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Mostly about being 'At Home' in Devon.
and just in case you haven't read any of my books, my Amazon author page is:
This Month’s Feature
Ten Word Story
Quote of the Month
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THIS MONTH’S FEATURE: PART 2
The Move (and what an adventure that was!)
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(or order from a bookstore)
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?
This Month’s Feature:
London 2012 and A Change of Life
- Regular Features -
Ten Word Story
Quote of the Month
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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.)
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.
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...
What happened next and how we Escaped To The Country
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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."
As I send this out, however, it was Queen Elizabeth 11’s Platinum Jubilee – seventy years our Queen.
- before they 'fell out'
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.
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.’
HERE BE: (well, not dragons, but items of interest)
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)
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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).
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
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)
On my website
Have you read my dispatches page on my website? A new topic each month.
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!
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.
The Sound Of Silence
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!
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?"
"What? What? What?"
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...)
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.)
Midnight. A muffled thump. A creaking stair. “Who’s there?” Silence...
Until next month,
We have snowdrops in the front garden but the main groups are along the lane near the house. Dozens of them!
... 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?
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,
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
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...
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