Friday, 28 March 2014


We really do not deserve to get on. As I am sure you will remember, we moved in on the Monday before last. Well, last Monday, a week later, we realised that the door from the sitting room into the garden was STILL unlocked. I say 'still' because we have been in and out lots of times but neither of us thought about locking it. Luckily nobody had tried it or . . .

This reminds me of a similar happening at our old home. There the front door was very visible from the road and we came back after being away for most of the day (we had been down in Cornwall - this was when Marcia was writing Echoes of the Dance) to find it not only unlocked but wide open. Then there was the time that Marcia left her handbag in the porch on the windowsill in full sight. As I said, we really do not deserve to get on.

You will not be that surprised to hear that one of the first jobs was, I felt, to put up a bird table. To be a little more accurate, to make a bird table and fix it to a fence post that a kindly removal man had rammed into the bank behind the house where Marcia can see it when she is working and we can both see it when we are in the sitting room. From there being only one stray blackbird that looked in now and then (encouraged by Marcia throwing odd bits and pieces out for him) within a day the garden became very busy. Regular visitors include the blackbirds (obviously a pair). Blue tits, great tits, coal tits, dunnock, house sparrows, a chaffinch and a greenfinch. We have heard a great spotted woodpecker drumming down on one of the trees by the River Dart (which is only a couple of fields away) so I have high hopes that we shall soon see them on the nuts here.

Staying on the nature theme, we had been out in the garden doing a little cleaning up and had returned to the kitchen. There, on Marcia’s arm, was a ladybird. Now, you will remember that on the blog of 13 March I put up a photograph of our first Dartington ladybird. Well, that one was a native known as the Seven-Spot Ladybird but the one here is, unless I am mistaken and I hope I am, a Harlequin. I put it that was because that is quite bad news.

A little out of focus, I fear. The beetle was on Marcia's sleeve and I was able to get it onto a piece of paper before grabbing a camera and taking the picture. As always, you hit the button immediately (just in case) and was only just in time: it flew away before I had time to do anything else.
We have forty-six species of ladybird here in the UK – there are about five thousand worldwide and I think well over four hundred in the US (where I think they are called ladybugs) so we have quite a small number by comparison. The Harlequin is not a native in either the UK or the US and is proving to be rather a nuisance. It was deliberately introduced, of course, to control aphids but what was not known at the time was that it is incredibly invasive. They are posing a real threat to the true native species and now some are facing extinction.

Another introduction in Devon is the European Beaver. This species was a native here but was hunted to extinction about five hundred years ago. There was a furious debate about the whole thing in which I became involved – if only peripherally – three or four years ago. Some beavers had escaped from a wildlife park very close to Roadford Lake, a reservoir near where we used to live. There had been a large planning application to build a holiday complex beside the lake which some of us felt was out of scale. As a result, a Roadford Lake Society was formed and I was the first secretary. Thus we became involved when the beavers escaped – the whole thing divided the community into the “fors” and the “againsts”. Now there have been sightings on the River Otter (a touch of serendipity here, one feels) which is about eighty miles to the east of that lake. Someone has managed to get a photograph of two of them together and so some people are hoping they will breed this summer. I rather hope so too but I do have a few reservations: we really don’t know what will happen any more than the people who released the Harlequins did. Has there been another escape or have these two travelled that far? No good reason why they shouldn’t.

One species we can be fairly certain will not face extinction just yet is the dog. This week’s blog dog is Billy who belongs to Brian who sells things in the market at Totnes on Fridays. The week I took these photographs, one of those “things” was a three piece suite. No idea how well this went down with the punters but Billy thought it was great.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good

A couple of weeks ago, Nancy in Charlotte left a comment about Primula eliator – Oxslip – which she has planted and is hoping will be happy in her neck of the woods. We both hope this works for you, Nancy, as it is a lovely plant and just as quintessentially English as its cousin, Cowslip, as is demonstrated by this quote from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglatine.”

Cowslip or Primula vulgaris

I’m not sure which musk-rose Shakespeare had in mind but I assume not the Rosa moschata (which I understand is a native of the Himalayas and unlikely to be common in England in the late 1500’s) although he would probably recognise Rosa rubinosa as his Eglatine. Any thoughts, Nancy?

The Bad

Anyway, enough of that. We have moved. That part wasn’t too bad but having arrived we started to hit the usual IT problems that seem to beset us whenever we do anything unusual on the computer front. This time, of course, it was a transfer from one ISP to another and so I called in a chap called Richard Bravo to help us out. In the old days I would probably have struggled on until I found some sort of resolution but life is too short so I thought we needed a bit of proper expertise for once. I’m glad I did as I would not have solved this one. It seems that the house is so built that the wi-fi signal from the hub cannot penetrate properly into my study. This is, as I have now learned, easily solved: use the house ring main as an ethernet connection. There, now you know (but my guess is that it will mean as little to you as it does to me).

Meanwhile, I have been having problems with my PC which has been infected by various odd programmes I don’t want which has slowed it up to the point where some things are quite painful. Richard took it away and carried out some clever first aid and all seems to be well again.

The grass covered car – again. 
These pictures were sent to me by Ros Foreman with the following comment. “Photos attached of another artificial grass covered car taken during the Iford Butterfly day event in 2012. It was parked in a field being used as a car park and was almost camouflaged against the real grass.”

The Ugly

Another Richard, with the help of Nick and Dean, moved us. These guys are not beautiful but they’re wonderful which, in the circumstances, is far more important.

Moving can be extremely stressful but this trio made it pretty much stress-free. We were so lucky with the weather. It was wonderfully sunny but the fine spell broke on Thursday so the “window” was quite short. Anyway, all the boxes are now unpacked in the house even though there is still a fair bit to be done in the office. That doesn't really matter, all the urgent and important stuff is to hand and the rest can be done gradually over a couple of months.

The main downside this time is that I have put on weight. This is because we have been spoiling ourselves and eating out (mainly in The Cott Inn) most lunchtimes. Time to cut down.

Taken at lunchtime to-day: one of the hanging baskets now adorning the walls of the old Cott Inn.

We do not know what this chap is called. He was wandering around Totnes market with a lead over his shoulder but I couldn’t work out to whom he belonged. He was obviously on very friendly terms with a number of people, traders and customers, but clearly none of these were his owner. In the end, I ran out of time (or, to be more accurate, the parking ticket on the car had) so he has remained nameless.  
And finally, I promised a photograph of a carver chair.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

On tables, chairs and pigs

Wednesday and I am sitting at an old French country style table (probably made in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s) on a rush-seated chair from about the same period and also French. The table and chairs are in our new kitchen and we are here waiting for a cooker to arrive and for the electrician to come and wire it up for us. The sun is shining – as you can see in the photographs of the garden. (This is the sort of garden we both like. Rather wild and definitely not regimented in any way.)

Yesterday we were waiting for the table and the chairs to arrive so I brought over our two most comfortable garden chairs with which, until Monday, our sitting room is furnished. We were probably mad to buy the table. It is very beautiful – the top is of mahogany but it is not as simple as that. Apart from the edges, the whole is inlaid. It is covered with dozens of square pieces of mahogany, each about an inch and a half square, set diagonally and each with the grain running at right angles to the grain of its neighbours. We shall have to take great care of it – always using table mats and coasters to protect it. We might even get some backed oil cloth (it will have to have a gingham pattern – blue and white, I think) to use when some of our less disciplined friends are with us.

Last Saturday, we drove up onto the moor as I wanted to film some people kayaking on the River Dart. My timing was terrible: they had just left the water when we arrived. On the way back we came across this person. On close examination it turns out that it is owned by a company that supplies artificial grass. Obvious when you know that, isn't it?
The carvers that we both sit in at the moment are much more comfortable than the one I am using here so, although at first we planned to sell them and buy two more on the French art deco theme, we have changed out minds. It has been a bit of a battle between style and comfort with comfort has won. This probably means that I shall paint them eggshell blue or somesuch which is a bit of a compromise between the two.

Meanwhile, being here has certainly proved a good thing on the book front. Marcia’s characters, and especially this ‛new’ man, have been chattering away like mad and she now knows a great deal about him, his connection to one of the main characters and where he fits into the story.

Our first ladybird this spring enjoying the sunshine earlier today (Thursday)
Obviously I mustn’t say anything that would let the cat out of the bag – which thought leads me down what I feel is a quite interesting aside. I am sure you have all heard or used the expression “a pig in a poke” to describe buying something that has not been inspected properly. It seems that the pig was, in fact, a piglet and it was quite usual to carry them to market in a bag (or poke). Well, some authorities suggest that crooked sellers sometimes put a cat in the poke instead – a large cat being about the same size as a piglet – hence “letting the cat out of the bag” came to mean disclosing a secret.

For the last year and a half we have been rather lazy and have taken advantage of there being a pub a short walk away where you can have an excellent Sunday lunch. It would be wrong to say we have eaten there every Sunday but . . . Anyway, the Bar Manager at the pub was John, until last week. Now he is off to Switzerland where he will be in charge of the catering in one of the chalets popular with people who want to enjoy skiing but have a restricted budget. Thus it was that last Sunday we had lunch with him and his girlfriend, Leah who used to work in the chalet and, indeed, told John about the vacancy. We shall miss him and wish him great success in his new post.

Leah and John
This blog will be going up late on Thursday evening as I have to be at the hospital on Friday to have my new hearing aids fitted. Will they work or be as useless as the last ones? I am, of course, hoping for the best whilst preparing for the worst: fingers crossed everyone.

This is Reg. Reg works (well, goes with his owner to work) in Totnes.

Friday, 7 March 2014

The Man in the Shadows

Moving is certainly an interesting occupation. We took over our new office on Monday but had to wait until Wednesday for the removal men to have a vacant slot for us. This move was not really all that complicated: all the archives, of course (which are quite bulky), and a file copy of every edition of each of Marcia’s books (including Large Print and Audio versions) in every language. By the time they were all packed up there was an impressive stack of boxes.

Just outside the office window, spring is announced
As it turned out we were incredibly lucky with the weather. The sun shone down and it was one of those days when you just know that spring is on the way. This was confirmed when I looked out of the office window onto a carpet of snowdrops against which clumps of bright yellow daffodils glowed cheerfully.

This was a meadow - a field with grasses and wild flowers which was a delight to see and the stock that were turned out here definitely looked as if it was good to eat, too. Then came the floods. I suppose it has been under water now for about six weeks. Now, at last, the flood waters are draining away but you can see the damage. Will this sea of mud give rise to enough grass to feed stock this summer? We shall see: I am not very optimistic.
The removal firm we use (South Hams Removals) started off with one man and his van some twenty years ago. Said man (Mark) moved some stuff for us before he gave up the day job to become a full-time removal man. We have used the firm for every move since then and would happily recommend them to anyone. It is now quite a big firm but Mark has managed to collect together a group of extremely cheerful and very efficient people. It is said that the three most stressful moments in life are bereavement, divorce and moving. When Mark’s team (it was Richard and Dean this time) appeared on the scene bringing with them their “can do” attitude we could feel all that stress roll away. Next, in about ten days time, they will be tackling the domestic bits and pieces.

Since most of this material had been in the garage here – a very damp garage – I had been quite worried about what sort of condition they would be in but I need not have worried: all was well. When I have finished unpacking all these boxes (which I intend to do at my leisure rather than run myself into the ground) they will be on proper book shelves in a properly ventilated and warmed office. Sorry the blogs are a bit below par during this period but life is extremely hectic. Hopefully we shall be back to normal in a few weeks.

The wet winter has not been all bad: the mosses and ferns growing out of the walls in our old towns have loved it and look splendid in the sunshine.
Meanwhile, Marcia had thought she had finished the book she is working on but then remembered a rather indistinct figure who had been lurking in the shadows when she first started the book – only to then disappear from sight. He has come back and so will have to be woven into the story. She tells me he will appear in the first chapter and I am really looking forward to finding out more about him.

Molly is a Border Terrier.