It’s the festival season again. And there’s something to suit everyone—music, film, food, books, hot air balloons, comedy, walking, scarecrows, stone carving, worm charming…the choices on offer increase with every year, and in the UK there are now hundreds of music festivals alone, covering every imaginable genre.
But the biggest, and many say the best, is still Continue reading
This week I got out my pink highlighter pen and crossed another treat off my list. Each time I do this I get a rush of satisfaction from solving a mystery. When I made the list six years ago, I had no idea how each of these sixty wishes would come to fruition and what the experiences would be like. I recounted the stories of thirty-one of them in 31 Treats And A Marriage, and since then I’ve carried on enjoying the remaining twenty-nine. I’ve done most of the at-home or close-to-home ones like horse riding lessons, planting some old-fashioned roses, and reading Middlemarch but there are still thirteen left and they include more demanding adventures such as Japan and an American train journey. Some are already in progress; I’m part-way round the glorious 630-mile South West Coastal Footpath, and can hardly wait to resume it next weekend after a break for the winter.
As each treat goes through metamorphosis from unknown prospect to memory, its personality is revealed and the mystery is solved. By then I know where it fitted in, and what it was like. In the beginning, they were simply things that I wanted to do whilst I was still fit enough to do them but I had no fixed plans. And that turned out to be lucky, as soon after, my life turned into a stormy sea that heaved with overwhelming events. During that time, the treats provided an anchor. Thankfully, life is much calmer now and the sun has come out.
One of the remaining twenty-nine treats has been to ‘get a clock with a nice tick.’ That ended up on the list because Continue reading
This week I was walking home and met a couple of cats. The first sauntered across the pavement, arched its back, yowled and invited me to fuss it. I can’t help but feel honoured when a cat deigns to talk to me so I stopped and stroked it but within seconds it got bored and wandered off to find someone else. Later, when I reached the golf course at the back of our house, a second cat darted out of the long grass and wound itself round my feet.
At the moment I have no animals of my own but there was a time when I had rather a lot. There were cats, dogs, chickens, geese, goats, and from time to time some lambs and pigs. We had a bit of land and in the morning I would lead the two goats down to the tangled woods where they would browse contentedly all day amongst the brambles. In the evening I would bring them back to their shed and lock them up for the night. That was the general plan but sometimes life didn’t go smoothly Continue reading
I was at a large branch of Sainsbury’s this week, and one of the items on my list was a pack of pens. I wasn’t sure where to find them so glanced up at the signs hanging from the ceiling and was surprised to see one that said ‘Stationary’. “Look at that!” I said to my daughter, Molly who was helping with the shopping. “A major company and they can’t even spell. It’s ‘ery not ‘ary”. An elderly man overheard my rant and chipped in. “Yes, it’s like the apostrophes,” he said. When I thought about it later I couldn’t be sure whether he was supporting me with my gripe or mocking my pedantry.
But does the spelling matter? A lexicographer from the Oxford English Dictionary seems to think it does. She argues that Continue reading
Photo: Guillaume Tell
Earlier this week I spent half an hour trudging through my online supermarket order and thinking about the advice on eating a varied diet. As I dutifully included a multi-coloured assortment of fruit and vegetables, protein and so on, I wondered, not for the first time, why human food has to be so complicated and take up so much time. There’s the shopping, the planning, the cooking, the serving, clearing up the spills, cleaning the fridge—it seems a great deal of effort. After all, cats seem quite happy with cat food, cows eat grass, and reindeer warble flies survive perfectly well on reindeer tissue.
Indeed, not only do most animals have a narrow diet, but a varied one can be positively harmful. During the Second World War Continue reading
The honeymoon is over. It was a glorious week on Guernsey where we cycled, swam, and did a bit of sea kayaking. I’d like to sound brave and sporty about that last one, but when the wind pushed me sideways Continue reading
These days I spend a lot of time in my head, playing with ideas. I used to think naively that writing was about sitting down and making the words flow but actually the most time-consuming part is working out how to solve various problems—what angle to take, how to structure the story, what to include, and crucially if you are not to bore your reader, what to leave out. This is all wonderfully absorbing but the downside is that with so much mental stimulation it’s easy to neglect the physical world.
The first time I gave proper attention to this thought was Continue reading
“Mum,” said Henry the other day, giving me an odd look, “Is everything alright?” “Yes fine,” I said, briskly. “Why?” “It’s just that I was in the kitchen and happened to look at your list. It said, Clean bathroom—Hang out washing—Buy anti-snoring device—Get fence mended—Murder!”
By the latter part of this week, I’d done all of those things and had a new list: Take parcels to post office—Contact dentist—Ring Barbara—Buy vitamin tablets—Blackmail. Continue reading
Last week I reached the end of a long walk. The North Downs Way stretches 153 miles from commuter-belt Surrey to the English Channel and I’ve been walking it in stages for over four years. Put like that, I seem a slow walker. But a lot has happened along the way. I’ve not only walked from Farnham to Dover; I’ve walked into a new life.
It was one of the first treats that I started, chosen because it was the nearest of the UK’s fifteen National Trails. I love the mystery of a long walk; you never quite know what’s going to unfold beyond that bend in the distance. There are plenty of other pleasures, too: the landscape changes constantly; you have to watch out for Continue reading
This week I was having a quiet soup and sandwich sort of lunch with the 95-year old gentleman who came to live with me earlier this year. I’ve written about him previously in The Old Man and the Pea and Enhanced Eating.
‘What was Christmas like when you were young?’ I asked him.
‘Oh, it was alright,’ he answered, ‘except for the terrible one.’ Then he continued munching his cheese and pickle sandwich.
I waited patiently. ‘You can’t leave it at that,’ I said eventually. ‘You’ll have to tell me.’ Continue reading