Tuesday 26 March 2024


 Here in my corner of Devon, as in much of the UK, we are getting used to being soaked. Almost a quarter of the way through 2024 finds this garden a sea of spongy grass/moss, fading daffodils bowed down with raindrops, and a general air of melancholy. However most weeks have about one rain-free day, so little by little as the plants move into their Spring stage, we are beginning to get things done. I  nip outside with the camera whenever there's a dry interval.

The lawn has been mown, and yesterday I managed to carry out some overdue pruning of the climbing roses, all of which have been responding most enthusiastically to the wet weather! Don't look too closely at the photograph, because I've only given this one a light prune.

One more delight: our pear tree. Ever since we bought the pear tree, each successive Spring has seen frost destroy its blossom. This year: so far so good, there is blossom, and - fingers crossed - no sharp frosts. Don't hold your breath!


We visited our son's house last week. This is in the process of being sold, so we were helping clear out the shed, but I took some time out to take some photographs. What was once a difficult, steep bank covered in weeds, was a picture of beautiful periwinkles.

 He has dotted other plants around, but has dug out the fuchsia I gave him a few years ago and we have potted it up back here in my garden for safe-keeping. This plant is the 'grandchild' of one originally owned by my father. I have one too, and they are very special to us. I'm sure other people inherit plants which they try to keep going after the original owners have died, and I find it comforting to imagine my father's surprise that the plants have outlived him for over forty years! Here's mine in full flower last October:

He also has an excellent crop of rhubarb, which unfortunately I forgot to raid before we left!


Days out are few and far between in this weather, so I have devoted the last three months to a marathon session of writing my third book. It's nearly finished - or at least, the end is in sight. It has been an exhausting marathon of mental exercise, but one which I have absolutely loved doing, and I feel sure my readers will enjoy it. There's a little way still to go, with editing etc. so I will need to continue working hard to get it published in the Autumn, which is my hope.


Speaking of reading, I have a book recommendation for you: 'TRUSTEE FROM THE TOOLROOM' by Neville Shute. Here are a brief description and my Goodreads review:

'Keith Stewart is an ordinary man. However, one day he is called upon to undertake an extraordinary task. When his sister's boat is wrecked in the Pacific, he becomes trustee for his little niece. In order to save her from destitution he has to embark on a 2,000 mile voyage in a small yacht in inhospitable waters. His adventures and the colourful characters he meets on his journey make this book a marvellous tale of courage and friendship.

This was Nevil Shute's last novel, published 1st January 1960, and written right at the end of the 1950s when life in Britain was a world apart from today. My parents owned this book, and I believe I now have it packed away somewhere - I didn't read it, because the title sounded dull. I missed something incredibly special, and I now have another lifetime best in my collection.

How to describe what makes this such a wonderful read? Well, it's not only the setting and the (now) historical interest of daily life at that time; the extraordinary ease with which a person who has never before left his country could, for reasons of integrity seldom seen nowadays, drop everything and go; and the fantastic descriptions of a trip half-way round the world. What makes this story rise above so many others is the portrayal of the characters, many of whom are so likeable. The simplicity of life in that era, the trustworthiness of so many people, and their ability to circumvent great difficulties - all of these touched my heart and made me yearn for a way of life gone and forgotten.

Five glittering stars. Would I read this again? Need you ask! Highly recommended, and a book to remember.'

If you can get hold of a copy, this would make a great read over Easter, especially if the weather continues to be as wet as it's been today!


I wish all of you a very HAPPY EASTER! Look after yourselves, and don't forget to let me have your comments and tips which I always enjoy.

Thursday 21 December 2023


Suddenly it’s here: the shortest day. This year December seems to have dragged, long dreary damp days, wet days, soaking days… Devon in December receives a milder climate than other parts of Britain, but sometimes in return we only see rain. Plymouth is four degrees west of London, so the sun sets later. Even so, I’m longing for the days to begin to lengthen and the freshness of a New Year. 

Last week we visited Cotehele, a National Trust property just over the border in Cornwall, where each year they create and hang a massive garland of dried flowers. I feel certain I’ve posted photos of this before, but such a wonderful sight can never be over-repeated, so here are more photos, including some of the lovely house and garden. I also snapped a warm fire burning in the huge fireplace there (above).

Christmas approaches rapidly, and for the first time in ages I'm making lists and preparations. This year only four of us will sit around the table, but for each of us the day is a highlight of the year, especially if that year has been difficult or challenging, as I imagine will be the case for many people. Perhaps this is a good time to remember Christmases past, dear long-dead friends and relations, and also people with whom we have lost touch. 

My reading year 2023 is almost over, and Goodreads congratulated me on hitting my target of 70 books a couple of weeks ago. 

Best book of the year: 'Act of Oblivion' by Robert Harris (about post-civil war Britain and America, and the hunting down of the men who executed the King). Runners up: 'A Winter Grave' by Peter May, 'Kingdom of Strangers' by Zoe Ferraris and 'The Island Home' by Libby Page. I recommend all four. Out of the seventy quite a few were not good choices, and a couple I simply could not finish. Not all books to which famous people give outstanding reviews are necessarily as good as they make out!
Here is my full list in the Challenge if you are interested:  

Finally: the garden in December. Nothing worth seeing here, but of course I'll post a couple of photos:

These were taken at the beginning of December when some sharp frosts hit, and I just had time to move most of my tender plants into the greenhouse, although it was a bit of a scramble.

To end on a positive note, I spotted this little clump of daffodils flowering in the garden at Cotehele. I've never seen such an early - or perhaps late - blooming, but Cornwall is famous for its daffodils, so maybe it's not so unusual there in a sheltered spot. I love seeing the emergence of their green tips in January, and some are already peeping up in my own garden here, so Spring cannot be too far away.

A very HAPPY CHRISTMAS to you all, and the hope for better times (and weather) once the New Year arrives. Enjoy yourselves!

Saturday 26 August 2023


 A lot has happened since I last wrote, but I want to begin by talking about climbing. I don’t mean the sort of serious rock climbing where you see people hanging on ropes dressed in protective outfits. Hill climbing is gentler, but can still be an effort. We – and I probably mean I – decided to visit the Malvern Hills a few weeks ago. For those of you unfamiliar with this feature, the hills and the town of Great Malvern which is situated below them, are part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with scenic views over both Herefordshire and Worcestershire. When I was a child we visited several times, my younger brother and I racing our parents to the hilltops and running up and down along the ridges, revelling in the fresh air and freedom. My father knew the hills well, and my parents spent their honeymoon there, although at the end of November I cannot imagine the weather being particularly good! 


But I digress. I had a sudden urge to climb the hills again, to the very top, as I had done so many years before, and while I still could. My other half had never done this, so was keen to give it a go. We managed to find one of those bargain breaks in a good hotel in the centre of the town, from where you can begin your climb almost at once. We took the route of the ‘Ninety-nine Steps’ which in itself may sound daunting. My recently purchased walking shoes took these in their stride, and the next bit of the climb took us up to a spot called St Ann’s Well, where you can sit for a while, and there is a cafe for tea and food. 

St Ann's Well

We didn’t want to linger there, and began to make our way up the long climb to the top. I say ‘climb’, and everyone we met coming down described it as a ‘climb’, but at no point to you need to pull yourself up with your hands. It’s the fairly steep gradient up which you are walking, and it becomes very apparent when, as I did, you are forced to stop to catch your breath. I had to do this several times, (asthmatic, but otherwise moderately fit,) but was so determined to reach the top that nothing and no-one would have stopped me! My other half had no such problems, patiently waiting each time I took a break.

Eventually the trees fell away and the summit began to feel closer and closer. Finally we reached it! I can hardly find the words to describe how wonderful it felt to stand in the wind and gaze out across the landscape to the horizon on all sides. There is a heady rush of exhilaration more potent than champagne ever could be. 



View east from Sugarloaf Hill with North Hill far right

We climbed to the top of the Sugarloaf Hill, which is not the highest. I didn’t have the energy for North Hill or The Beacon, which were further away and demanded more energy. We were quite happy with our views of Worcestershire to the East and Herefordshire (and Wales) to the West.

Easterly view showing Wales in the distance

View West showing The Beacon and kite fliers

Our descent using a different route, whilst less laborious, became more difficult where it had rained the previous day and was muddy in parts. Other people climbing both up and down were both friendly and helpful, one man in particular who was (astonishingly) wearing only sandals on his feet preceded us down the steepest and most difficult part of our descent, shouting out warnings and encouragement. Such people are gems. We in turn gave encouragement to others making the climb and finding it daunting. You wouldn’t want to turn back, as you would miss an experience unlike any other, and these days we need moments of sheer uplifting happiness to help us through troubled and difficult times.


Back at home, and for the garden it's been a Summer of ups and downs, both in terms of temperature, sun and rain, and growth. In the greenhouse, the tomatoes have excelled themselves! This year I've concentrated more on 'heritage' tomatoes and my goodness they are huge and very tasty indeed. The plants themselves have been difficult to raise in terms of the June heat and a ban on using hosepipes (from May, and ongoing) meaning that all watering has been using cans which is heavy work. We spent a week in France, and are truly grateful to our wonderful neighbour Denise who single-handedly watered the tomatoes every day and saved their lives.



In the main garden it's been a bit hit and miss. My 'Annabelle' hydrangea was almost destroyed by high winds and rain in July, and it's been very sad to watch its broken flower heads lose their beauty and begin to go brown.

In contrast other hydrangeas have withstood the weather, as have the dahlias, some of which have bloomed superbly!



And speaking of climbing, my climbing rose has performed admirably:


I have two book recommendations for you. I read these in sequence, purely accidentally, but discovered a link between them although they are totally unalike.

The first is: 'The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox' by Maggie O'Farrell. I quote from a reviewer on Goodreads who sums up all of my own thoughts:
'Hard to believe there was a time when a young girl or wife or mother could be committed to a psychiatric institute indefinitely just on the say so of a doctor, a mother, a jealous sister, a father or a husband. But there was. The writing in this book is deceptively simple and oh so elegant. The characters real and complete, using flashbacks and memories. The ending... for me, perfect.'
The theme of the story sent a shiver down my spine. The world of the 1930s is nearly a century ago, when people could be unbelievably cruel and self-centred. Esme is committed to a psychiatric institute and remains there for sixty years, until the unit is closed and a relative who can take her is discovered. There's a huge twist to the story, and I found it both astonishing and riveting.

The second is: 'Kingdom of Strangers' by Zoe Ferraris. The book's description says: 'Kingdom of Strangers is a suspenseful story of murder and deception among Saudi Arabia's shaded alleys, gleaming compounds and vast lonely deserts.' 
What this doesn't tell you about the story is the struggle of a young woman, one of very few on the Jeddah Police Force, to be herself and do her job in a shuttered and repressive society. Her 'entrapment' is a kind of link to the first book. If you decide to read them both, let me know if you find the same link, and what you think - I will be most interested. Both books are superbly crafted and written, and I will definitely read them again.

Life is like climbing. You make the efforts and you reap the rewards, and it can be very hard. And then: you still have to climb down again! Look after yourselves, and I'll try not to take so long before I write the next piece.

Favourite Dahlias in July

Friday 31 March 2023


 The last day of March is undoubtedly exiting ‘like a lion’ with gusts of wind and rain battering the windows as I write this. One quarter of the year has passed, with few cheerful sunny moments, although last Monday was just such a day, and we made the most of it by visiting Truro.

Truro is Cornwall’s ‘county town’, a cathedral city in fact, and very popular with tourists – although fortunately for us they haven’t quite arrived in their hoards just yet. We used the excellent ‘Park and Ride’ service to access the centre, and took the time in between shopping to visit the Cathedral which we hadn’t seen for many years. A pretty display of hanging baskets in front of the main entrance enhances the grand front of the building. Inside, despite being quite a ‘young’ Cathedral compared with many in Britain, it is truly beautiful both inside and out.






Since my last blog post our ornamental Japanese Cherry tree has flowered and gone over, the blossom being replaced with new leaves. As the petals fell, a kind of pink snow built up on the grass around the tree, and a number of bluetits could be seen on the branches, moving around with the speed of flashing Christmas tree lights as they fed on bits of dead blossom and tiny insects. They continue to visit it, clinging on with great tenacity, and won’t be put off even when I open the window or creep close with the camera.



Elsewhere in the garden daffodils have been parading their gorgeous bright colours. Some were very early but others have yet to flower, so their season is long this year. Again, the wind knocks them down, but they are quite strong and manage to revive, although today’s blasts may have finished off some of them. I have lost most of my Hebe bushes, which were weakened by the excessively hot Summer and finished off by frost. I planted them when we first moved here eight years ago, so we have taken them out and this is an opportunity to replace or plant something new. The garden is always changing!


For Christmas I was given a DNA testing kit by our son. This was exciting! A tiny test tube of my saliva was sent to a processing centre in Ireland which works in conjunction with Ancestry, the family history organisation. Six weeks later my results arrived in the form of an email from Ancestry. They are fascinating.



The ethnicity was partly a surprise (Wales??) and partly not, as my father's family originates in England around the Liverpool area, and my maternal grandfather was Swiss. Having researched my mother's family some years ago, I realised that her mother's ancestry has a link to Wales which must be much stronger than I previously thought!

More bonuses followed, the first of which has been the discovery of a new, very distant cousin: Suzi in Iowa, US, who is only a year older than me, and who reached out after my DNA results were published. I had ticked all the boxes for sharing when Ancestry questioned me about this, because my son is the last of our line which will then become extinct, and I am keen to share all my extensive family history information with all those interested. Such links are available to all those whose DNA has been tested and who agreed to share their results. Apparently I have 225 cousins, two of whom I already knew, and the rest more distant. One distant cousin on my mother's side - another bonus - John in Australia, is helping me with my family tree by adding information he has obtained from more cousins. It's extraordinary!


All the excitement over the DNA and extra work on family history is the reason for this blog post being so delayed. I have also been reading, and one book must be recommended to you. This book was serialised by the BBC and I listened to it after Christmas, but very annoyingly missed the first episode and could not access it from their 'Sounds' set-up (which is often not very user-friendly). So I bought the book, and it has been outstanding. 'Act of Oblivion' by Robert Harris is set in the 1660s in both England and America. This is a short description:

'... spellbinding historical novel that brilliantly imagines one of the greatest manhunts in history: the search for two Englishmen involved in the killing of King Charles I and the implacable foe on their trail—an epic journey into the wilds of seventeenth-century New England, and a chase like no other

'From what is it they flee?'

He took a while to reply. By the time he spoke the men had gone inside. He said quietly, “They killed the King.”'

Here is my review on Goodreads:

'There are almost no words for this. A book which makes you think deeply about its story long after finishing it is something very special. I had never viewed history from Cromwell's point of view, in fact I knew little about this period of history other than what I had read from many authors with a Royalist take. I'm so glad I heard this (brilliantly read) on the radio, because it made me determined to read the book, and I highly recommend others to do the same. It's a gripping story of a brutal age so dominated by religious thought as to be dangerous for almost everyone going about their daily lives. Whichever side you took on the Royalist/Cromwellian divide, you were damned.

Five stars, an outstanding read. Highly recommended, and I'll definitely read it again.'

Just one proviso: there are some very gruesome scenes, extremely well described. Well, it was, after all, the Middle Ages!

Let me know if you have read anything outstanding lately, or if you have had your DNA tested!
All for now, take care of yourselves and enjoy the Spring - when it finally arrives.

Dancing daffodils at Buckland Abbey, March 2023

Wednesday 4 January 2023


 Happy New Year! As we roll into 2023 I’ll be taking a look at my favourite photos and books of 2022, but first – a few thoughts on the current state of things.

There used to be a description given to certain people: a ‘safe pair of hands.’ My father was one such, someone with whom you felt safe, secure and protected. A person at the helm of a household, an organisation, a business or even a government, who ran things in an orderly manner and with good sense. These people were totally reliable in a crisis. They had often served in the armed forces and (in my father’s case) during war. If everything went wrong, this person would know what to do, and would get on and do it.  And I keep asking myself: where are these people now? Has the twenty-first century seen the demise of the ‘safe pair of hands’? For if ever some were needed to sort out the myriad crises in the world at this time, it is now. More than this, there is an urgent requirement in many governments for leaders who can combine the ‘safe pair of hands’ with the star qualities of bravery, daring and courage who are prepared to take a chance and try something new. This is where things become difficult, because I must decide whether I believe such people still exist and can rise to lead us out from the slump of mediocrity in which we find ourselves, or if we are doomed to slide into a ‘slough of despond.’ The latter is almost too depressing to contemplate, which is perhaps why we all carry on living our lives simply hoping for everything to improve. I’m not sure it will. Tell me what you think!


Someone suggested choosing the best photo from each month of 2022, and this was a challenge I enjoyed. Some months lacked inspiration while others contained a number of ‘best’ photos making the choice difficult. In the end I succeeded in picking a dozen, and here they are.

Bullfinch in January

Ornamental Cherry blossom in February

Pear blossom in March

Robin in April

Tree in leaf, my birthday in May

Aquilegia and hover fly in June

Dahlia and heather posy in July

Echinacea and bees in August

Sunrise in Roscoff, September

Late Dahlia in October

Tree on a walk in November

Old trees in December


I read more than seventy books in 2022 - but this is an average for me! Glancing back across the titles, I'm struck by the number of 'comfort reads' I have chosen, as well as several which I found uninspiring and the odd couple unfinished. The phrase 'lose yourself in a book' did not really describe my reading, other than for one or two exceptional reads. I blame the uncertain times for this. Reading can be a form of escapism, but I believe my attention span is not as good as it once was, and I don't think this is due to my age. Many of you have told me you have experienced the same thing, particularly during the pandemic. Could it also be that there are fewer really engrossing stories? Several of my favourite authors wrote series' sequels in the last couple of years which have not (in my opinion) maintained the same depth of plot or characters as before. Since I have made little progress on my own third novel, I'm a fine one to talk, but I fear the same kind of malaise is affecting the writing community as the staleness infecting society as a whole, and which I touched on above. So I hope to start writing again over the next few weeks, and perhaps to change my early attempts at book three to make it altogether a better story! We shall see. In the meantime, here are three suggestions from my best reads of 2022:

Coming Home         Rosamunde Pilcher
Signal Moon             Kate Quinn
The Night Gate         Peter May

One old, two new. Let me know if you enjoy them too!

Finally a couple of quotes which I want to include in this blog post. The first is from 'Ultimate Prizes' by one of my favourite authors, Susan Howatch:

'Life's not about the day when you win the prizes - it's about all the days in between.'

And this one to make you smile, from Douglas Adams 'The Restaurant at the End of the Universe':

'The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.'

Whatever January may bring, stay well and enjoy each day.