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Monday Memories: Beginnings #6 – Leaving Paradise

The cottage did not have a front garden or lawns. It did have a kitchen garden, separated from the cobbled yard by a low stone wall and accessed via a wooden gate. The garden contained fruit trees – apple, damson and greengage; red and black currant bushes. There were purple and white lilacs, a laburnam and a couple of rose bushes. I remember a crimson moss rose with the most delightfull smell.

During the war, and for the long period of shortages that continued in the years afterwards, citizens were encouraged to “dig for victory”, growing as much as possible of their own food. At this distance I would not dare to estimate the size of our garden. I do know that we grew all manner of vegetables.

The fruit from the trees and bushes was preserved by bottling and making jam. Onions and shallots were pickled, surplus runner beans were made into chutney. All of the associated work – digging, hoeing, raking and weeding; planting, harvesting and preserving – was undertaken by my mother.

As I became older I took on some of the work in the garden. But I can only look back in admiration at the way in which this city girl rose to the challenge of becoming a gardener with all of the hard work entailed, beginning with digging the heavy Herefordshire clay. In fact she came to love gardening and gardens, a passion she passed on to me.

Beyond the garden, accesed via the meadow that contained the Dutch barn, was a small orchard. Planted many years before on land that sloped quite steeply towards the stream, the orchard contained several ancient apple trees. But the trees we loved – or their produce, at least – were two that bore, each summer, a bumper crop of golf ball size pears that were deliciously sweet and juicy and to which we were permitted to help oursleves.

Close-up image of a wasp on a human's skin with its sting poised to inject venom.
A wasp about to sting – Photograph: Nataba/Getty Images found at

The branches hung low, especially when weighed down by ripe fruit. Of course, we were not the only creatures in the neighbourhood to savour these delights. The local wasps loved them, too. We soon learned to check that the ripest seeming fruit was intact, not having been hollowed out by a wasp who might still be present, before grasping it in our tiny hands.

Through the spring and summer of 1952 Mum spent a great deal of time and effort in finding for me an alternative to the Hereford High School. I was due to enter secondary school in September. Once I passed, in the spring, the exam designed to separate those with an academic bent from the rest, it was clear that daily travel to the High School was not a practical option. Whilst there was free transport from the cottage to the village school, this would not get me to the village in time to catch a bus that would reach Hereford before the school start time. The return journey would be similarly afflicted, making the day impracticably long for a ten-year-old.

One solution would have been for me to board out with a family in Hereford during the week, coming home at weekends. A potentially better alternative would have been for me to attend a boarding school, if a suitable one could be found. I remember accompanying my mother on a visit and interview at Christ’s Hospital in Hampshire. I have no idea if they turned me down or made an offer that we rejected.

Reed’s School had been founded in the early years of the nineteenth century as an orphanage. By the 1950s it was a small boarding school for boys, entirely funded by charitable donations and legacies, run along similar lines to much more famous public schools. I passed their entrance exam and entered the school in mid-September 1952.

A large 3 storey building partially of brick with mock timber frame sections.
A recent image of the original school building that
we called “The Shack”

The school was, and still is, located in Surrey. Rail routes from the West into London terminate at Paddington; those from the South at Waterloo. Thus I would need to cross London. For a ten year old to do so unaccompanied was impossible to contemplate. My mother still had relatives, and at least one former friend, resident in the capital and was able to prevail upon the friend to escort me, providing overnight accomodation en-route.

That first journey is difficult to recall. I guess I was overwhelmed by the experience of train travel, alone, by the noise and bustle of London’s traffic and the strangeness of the woman who had charge of me for 24 hours. I have a more enduring memory of the second such journey, in January of 1953.

Monday Memories – Life After Retirement #4: More Books and a Garden.

For the first few weeks after we moved in to oiur new house, thoughout the summer of 2011, work continued around the site, although a lot of the time it seemed that it was more a matter of the two remaining employees finding things to occupy their time rather than any really useful work. The nursing home had opened in February and was gradually reaching full capacity but no more of the houses were being worked on. None, it seemed, had been purchased. By winter the two men – a father and son – had left the site, aparently made redundant.

Meanwhile I set to work creating a garden on the tenth of an acre plot. In November I uploaded Honest Hearts to Smashwords. The writers’ group published an anthology which included the first chapter of Honest Hearts and another story of mine. We secured sponsorship and held a number of fund raising events to fund the printing then sold the book with all sales income donated to the cancer support charity.

A couple of incidents that had occurred during my childhood provided the inspiration for my second book, Summer Day, which is set on a single day in the summer of 1947 and entirely in the district immediately surrounding the house in which I lived as a child.

Nothing happened on the site during 2012. In the spring of 2013 a new contractor was assigned to carry out some work tidying the site and a fresh attempt was made to market the empty houses. When that young man was killed in a traffic accident early in 2014 work came to a standstill once more.

The gardening task at the cancer support centre was made lighter by the appointment of a sccession of part-time employees on various schemes. The manager offered me the opportunity to participate in a walking programme being introduced with the support of the Irish Cancer Society.

Not long after we arrived in Ireland we visited a ruined castle on a hill close to our new home (An image of this place graces the top of the page, curtesy of Portlaise based photographer Ciara Drennan). An information board at the entrance indicated that it had once been associated with a man called Roger Mortimer. That reminded me that a man of that name had strong associations with Herefordshire.

Now I decided to investigate further and discovered that Ireland had been invaded by Norman fighters late in the twelfth century and that these fighters were led by a man who also had strong connections to the country around the Welsh border, Strongbow. The story of how a deposed Irish kinglet had offered the hand of his daughter to Strongbow in return for the latter’s help in regaining his kingdom fascinated me. What would it have been like to be that girl? That was the genesis of Strongbow’s Wife, my third novel.

I also created a website called Hereford and Ireland History in which I posted several stories about the various actors in the peculiar history of England, Wales and Ireland during the middle ages. That website was eventually incorporated into my author site. (See the tab above)

For some time I had entertained the idea that scandals like those surrounding Jimmy Saville and others were linked to the changes in attitudes to sex and sexuality that have taken place throughout my lifetime. That was the inspiration for Transgression, my third novel.

A gentleman joined the writers’ group who was attempting to compile a number of anecdotes from his life as an adviser to the agricultural industry, a bank manager, and, later, a land valuer and surveyor. It appeared that he had experienced something like an ABI and was looking for support in preparing his little book for publication. I later learned that he had Parkinson’s. Various members of the group assisted with editing, formatting and choice of cover design and, in due course, the volume was published at his own expense.

Monday Memories – Life After Retirement: #1 The first two years

In the run up to retirement I was repeatedly asked “What are you going to do with your time?” I was in no doubt, and told anyone who asked, that writing and painting were things I’d always wanted to do. Colleagues very kindly presented me with retirement present consisting of a selection of artist’s materials – acrylic paints, pastels, an easel and a pad of art paper.

The first weeks in the new house were taken up with creating a garden in the small space at the rear, shopping for furniture, and carrying out various DIY tasks to provide features that the developer had not covered. My daily routine included an hour walking to the town centre to purchase a newspaper and returning. This took me past a new senior school still under construction. By January 2007 the school was open and offering a range of evening classes for adults.

I joined the art class, Freda the flower arranging group. By the time the 10 week course was over I felt I was not learning anything of value. A brief item in a local newspaper indicated that a local group of amateur artists, who met weekly, were looking for new members. I contacted the lady whose number was provided in the article. I became a member of the group and remained so for the next 5 years.

I also wanted to resume providing my services as a volunteer. In April, in Ireland, a “Clean up week” takes place, the idea being for volunteers to participate in the collection of litter and a general tidying up of the local environment. Freda and I joined in with this event and were thereby introduced to the “Tidy Towns” group. Evenings during the summer were then spent planting up, and maintaining, various containers and hanging baskets around the town.

Tidy Towns is a movement not unlike the “Britain in Bloom” initiative in UK. Groups of volunteers in every community work hard to improve the appearance of their town or village through the use of planting and the clearing of weeds and rubbish from all those untidy corners; streams, lakes or canals. An annual competition is held to award certificates to those communities deemed most successful in these activities.

As keen gardeners we enjoyed both the physical activity involved and the camaraderie (the “craic”) that accompanied it. We would often end an evening of hard work with an hour of relaxation in one or other of several pubs. We continued as active members of the Tidy Towns group for the next 4 years.

Also that summer, 2007, a music festival, grandly entitled “The World Fleadh” (pronounced flaah), took place in the town. They appealed for volunteers with the offer of free entry into some of the concerts due to take place. I offered my time and was assigned the task of looking after the festival camp site. This proved to be not very onerous as there were only a handful of caravans, motor homes and tents.

The atmosphere around the town during the festival was electric, with stalls selling street food, cheap jewellery and clothing lining one street. The music on offer majored on Irish traditional music but included some mainstream popular genres also. I remember watching Katie Melua, for example, as well as a Manchester based Irish folk Group I had first seen, and been very impressed by, in UK a few years before – Flook.

All of this activity took up the summer but autumn and winter loomed with little by way of daytime activity to occupy us. Then, in January, a newsletter was distributed around the town by a semi-state organisation involved in community development. They were responsible for several projects, all described in the leaflet, which also indicated that some of those projects needed volunteers. I contacted the organisation and, after a brief interview in which I pitched my background and skill set, I joined as a volunteer administration worker carrying out various tasks over 3 hours each Wednesday morning.

The organisation had applied for funding for a new project, this one concerned with helping elderly people with simple tasks in their homes. The application had been rejected because it included certain activities which were already within the remit of the national Health Service Executive. It was necessary to submit a revised application with that element removed. This meant completely re-working the financial justification and cash flow predictions. This task was assigned to me.

In the summer, with funding for the project approved, a steering group was established to kick start it, recruiting staff and finding premises. As a member of the target demographic I was co-opted to that committee as chairperson.

The First Rose of . . . February!

My first summer in this garden I purchased and planted a dozen roses, some climbers against the fence and the rest bush roses which I planted in a bed at the front of the house. Most did very well. A couple died after the first 2 or 3 years.

This one was not doing well, seemed much smaller than the rest, so last summer I dug it up and placed it in a container next to the front door. It perked up and produced a couple of good flowers in late summer. Then in November I noticed another bud had formed. That bud has now begun to open, in the middle of February!

It’s a symbol of the earliness of the season. There are daffodils everywhere, some of mine began opening 4 weeks ago. Here are a few more pictures I took around the garden yesterday.

And one I took on January 6th.

For Goodness Sake Stop Digging! #WATWB

I grew up in an environment where it was taken for granted that you dug the garden every spring using a spade, then, a few days later, you would go over it again with a fork to remove the weeds. During that first digging you would create trenches into which you would pile organic matter. Living in a farming region there was always plenty of farmyard manure available for this purpose. The point being that the organic matter was buried, to be accessed by the roots of the plants you subsequently grew on the plot.

If there was an area on which nothing was grown during winter you might do that first dig in autumn, leaving the turned soil exposed to frost in order to help break it down. Because we had a heavy clay soil, all of this work was deemed essential. That remains the basic principle with which I still garden.

It turns out that my parents were wrong, and so am I. You don’t have to dig at all; instead you place your organic matter on the top of the soil and plant into it.

At 77 digging is noticeably hard work these days so I’m going to embrace change, leave my spade in the shed, and have a go at “no-dig” gardening. My parents would probably turn in their graves at the thought!

The same principle can be used to ensure a sustainable source of nourishing vegetables to replace the vast numbers that are imported over huge distances.

#WATWB cohosts for this month are: Inderpreet Uppal, Sylvia Stein, Shilpa Garg, Simon Falk, Damyanti Biswas

Do you have a story about people doing good in the world? Why not share it? Here’s what you should do:

1. Keep your post to Below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. Link to a human news story on your blog, one that shows love, humanity, and brotherhood. Paste in an excerpt and tell us why it touched you. The Link is important, because it actually makes us look through news to find the positive ones to post.

3. No story is too big or small, as long as it Goes Beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD badge or banner on your Post and your Sidebar.

5.Help us spread the word on social media.
Feel free to tweet, share using the #WATWB hashtag to help us trend!

Finally, click here to enter your link.

Growing Health and Well Being #WATWB

watwic-bright-tuqblkI first came across the Sydenham Garden through a feature on the BBC’s weekly gardening programme Gardener’s World. My link will take you to the page on their website that explains how they began. From there you can navigate to the rest of the site where you will see news of some of their achievements.



Whilst researching Sydenham Gardens I also came across another website that presents evidence about the efficacy of gardening as therapy, in the treatment of mental health and developing self esteem. Again, you can navigate from that page to see a huge range of information about the health and other benefits of sustainable farming and food production.

Your cohosts for this month are: Eric Lahti, Inderpreet Uppal, Shilpa Garg, Mary Giese and Roshan Radhakrishna.

Here is a reminder of the guidelines for #WATWB:

1. Keep your post to Below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. Link to a human news story on your blog, one that shows love, humanity, and brotherhood. Paste in an excerpt and tell us why it touched you. The Link is important, because it actually makes us look through news to find the positive ones to post.

3. No story is too big or small, as long as it Goes Beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD badge or banner on your Post and your Sidebar. Some of you have already done so, this is just a gentle reminder for the others.

5. Help us spread the word on social media. Feel free to tweet, share using the #WATWB hashtag to help us trend!

6. Click here to add your link.

Gardens and Gardening: #atozchallenge

Throughout World War II gardening was a patriotic duty for UK citizens. Before the war the country had relied heavily on imported food. Now ships bringing essential supplies ran the gauntlet of German U-boats patrolling the principle routes. They did so in convoys, accompanied by British and, later, American war ships. Every patch of land capable of growing a food crop was cultivated. City parks and once ornamental gardens were turned into vegetable plots. Scrub land on hillsides was grubbed up and turned into farm land.

Encouraged by such slogans as ‘Dig for Victory’, ordinary folk grew as much of their own produce as possible. For my mother, a city girl stranded in the countryside, this brought a new interest. She cultivated the garden alongside our stone cottage, growing a range of vegetables. This continued in the years following the war and, as I grew old enough to wield spade, fork, hoe and rake, I joined in.

When we moved to the former Manse (which we renamed ‘Homelea’) our gardening activities continued. Mum’s new partner, Harry, was a keen gardener too. In addition to our own garden he maintained a garden belonging to an elderly lady. He was paid for this with a share of the crops produced. With ample supplies of vegetables, there was room for flowers too. The front garden of Homelea was steep and narrow but the borders were filled with rose bushes and an assortment of perennial flowering plants.

The first garden that I was able to call my own was at the modern terraced house we purchased from Hereford City Council in 1965. I grew vegetables the first two years. A toddler needs space in which to play, however, and the garden was small so I stopped growing vegetables and laid turf. The 1970s and ’80s were decades during which I had little time or inclination to devote to gardening. My mother, however, continued with her love of gardening and gardens. Even in her 80s, residing in a sheltered apartment block, she kept a collection of plants in containers outside her window.

Kitchen garden

In 1991 my wife and I purchased a new semi-detached house in a village in East Yorkshire and here I renewed my interest in gardening, attempting to follow Geoff Hamilton‘s theories, creating a traditional kitchen garden.

Unlike a work of fiction, a garden is never finished. The active gardener is constantly developing and reshaping his creation, all the time seeking to work with soil and climate to perfect a living work of art. In 2006 I passed on my East Yorkshire garden to the custody of another gardener and began creating the first of two Irish gardens. The first was much too small to satisfy my appetite for growing things. I am now into the fifth spring in my second Irish garden which is slowly developing into the kind of small piece of heaven I imagine a garden ought to be.

Use the comments below to tell me about your own gardening exploits.

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