Monday 28 September 2015


Long passages occur when I don't leave my little writing shed in the shires, but occasionally, for a dear friend, I willingly face train schedules and cross country shenanigans. This summer I have managed Hertfordshire, Ely, Wisbech, Hampshire, Chichester and a few days ago, Bury St Edmunds, where I discovered the significance of St Edmund's Wolf. My friend Colette was kind enough to stop outside the Abbey; a wolf greeted us at the entrance and then inside, seemingly, a pack. Since C and I both have The Lupus, the synchronicity was quite striking. Here is a little grisly yet romantic tale about King Edmund:

Edmund, King of East Anglia, fought against the Danish invasion but on 20 November 869, he was captured. When he refused to give up his Christian faith, the Danes tied him to a tree, shot him with arrows until he 'bristled like a hedgehog', and then decapitated him. The King's men came to find his body after the battle but they could not find his head. Hearing a cry of 'Here, here, here!' from a nearby wood, they discovered a wolf protecting the head of the King. The wolf allowed the men to take the head, and when placed with the body, a miracle occurred. The head fused back. 

C and her husband, known only as the mysterious Badger of Badger's Wood, were the most delightful, charming hosts, and their barn conversion is a dream. Acres of land have been transformed by Badger into a haven for newly planted trees - thousands of them. I was taken on a tour and shown a badger's set, taught how to tell a hawthorn from a dog rose, how a willow might seed itself if left to her own devices, and what a roebuck's bark sounds like (I heard him and saw him prance, especially for me).

It was so magical that I forgot about The Real World, and rude awakenings. 
When I bought my ticket at the Cambridge train station, I had simply asked for a return. I hadn't looked at my ticket. It was a shock when the station official stopped me, called me back and accused me of having intentionally given him a folded up ticket in the sneaky hope of getting away with the wrong ticket - he was looking at me as though I were a hardened criminal. This, inspite of the fact that there was a stamp on my ticket, which had been approved by the ticket conductor only a few stops earlier. 'What shall I do,' I asked. 'Tell me what to do.' 'You can go through this time,' he said, 'but,' and he drew a circle around his face, 'Remember this face. I'll be watching you.'
I refused to budge. I refused to be falsely judged. 'I won't go through,' I said. 'Tell me what to do to make this right.'
Eventually he pointed out another station official. I walked over to him, explained my predicament and although I'd have rather not, found myself in tears.
This seemed to amuse the official but it also made him incredibly kind, helpful and didactic - he advised me to toughen up: 'You need to get a bit hardened.' Which was ironic since I'd just been accused of being exactly that, in a different context.
'You lot get really upset don't you?' he commented. I prefer not to focus on what he meant by 'you lot'.
One complication at a time.
I paid my penalty fare of twenty pounds.  Wiped away my tears. And told the nice man I was going to prove my mettle then and there by speaking up. 'No, don't,' he advised. 'You'll just get more upset. I'll have a word with him later.'

One battle at a time. Sometimes you have to take your kindnesses where you find them. 

Sunday 6 September 2015


I have just returned from the first literary evening held at our local village hall - with the authors Allison Pearson (I Don't Know How She Does It) and Sarah Vaughan (The Art of Baking Blind). It was delightful; both women are 'locals' now, so it felt quite cosy. Pearson's novel about a high-powered fund manager named Kate was made into the Hollywood film of the same name, and she had a plethora of roaringly funny anecdotes from her time on the road. She also read a moving passage on the great yet unappreciated work done by mothers - which was the focus of Vaughan's novel, too. The two writers created a braid of literary intimacy on the complex subject of motherhood and working/writing. Both are journalists too - so it was a very connected evening.
As much as I enjoyed tonight, the reason for this post is dedicated to another Kate, a little girl who isn't a little girl anymore.
In my first years of living in Shelford, I babysat a lot, but it is difficult to maintain an unceasing thread with the children you babysit even though you continue to live in the same place for all their growing up years.
Tonight, before the event began, I was catching up with a few of the parents of my once-upon-a-time babysitting years, when I was made aware of a very pretty young girl sitting beside one of the mothers. I can't imagine she recognised me, as I would never have known her for the five year old I once wrote poetry with in a summer garden. I still have my poem but I wish I had kept hers - I must have left it with her mother, for her mother.

Here is mine…

June 28, 'Kate'

In the summer garden
an old pond
edged by lady's lace
and the sun 
falling low
down a blue bowl of sky -

Water lilies float
on a carpet of moss
and through the arch
a pair of blue eyes
watch me

(I think I shall try to send this poem to Kate - who might think it a silly memory, but might also quite like it. It's nice to be remembered, even if you can't remember the rememberer!) Tonight I also learned of the artist Margaret Tarrant, thanks to my friend Victoria - and I am now in love. I am sure I have seen her work before but I like knowing her name, and shall probably find myself making good use of Tarrant's illustrations with the nieces and nephew. Quite a handy evening, all in all!