Friday, 25 April 2014

A morning off

When we shot into Totnes yesterday (for reasons that will become apparent in a moment) the sun was shining although it was quite chilly. Anyway, we decided that it was a morning for a quick cup of coffee outside the brioche. While we were sitting there, a seagull landed on top of the telephone box opposite and so I took his photograph. That triggered a conversation.

Me: Is it a telephone box or a telephone kiosk?

Marcia: Well, I suppose it should be a telephone kiosk but nobody will mind if you call it a telephone box. Most people do.

This could easily have resulted in a lengthy discussions on the pros and cons of the two words but we were deflected from that - which was probably just as well - although I can't now remember why.

The gull standing (on one foot) on top of the telephone thingy. I just love the way the red light from the roof colours the gull's feathers/
We were in Totnes to give Marcia a break from hitting the keys and a chance to let her mind roam around a bit to try to sort out what has proved to be a tricky point in the book she is writing. This is all to do with that shadowy figure I mentioned before but who, for reasons unknown, failed properly to reveal himself during the period when the book was at the germination stage. The lack if detail about this chap is the problem and Marcia is, in my view, in danger of rushing things. True, this book is now running behind schedule (sorting out where we were going to live and then moving is largely to blame for that) and she really, really wants to get this one out of her head as this is the time of the year that she usually starts to brood on the next one. Rushing it, however, being a rather bad idea, we thought a morning in the town doing not very much at all would be good for her.

Some of you will know that I am working on a series of books (or whatever you want to call them) about Marcia Willett's West Country. The first (covering Dartmouth and Start Bay and so Hattie's Mill and Second Time Around) was supposed to be ready by Christmas. The text was written but for various reasons there were some photographs that had not then been taken. I hope to get them in the bag quite soon now. Anyway, since there is no way of illustrating Marcia and I doing nothing very much, here are some of the pictures of architectural details from the Dartmouth section which I hope you will find interesting.
It also meant a good opportunity to stock up on those things we can't buy in the village. So it was that after breakfast we created a comprehensive shopping list. Having enjoyed one cup of coffee, I strolled (no rushing for me, either) down to a shop called Lawsons - hardware, kitchen stuff and so on - and once there put my hand in my shirt pocket for the shopping list. The pocket was empty. Hmmm. Having selected what I could remember I arrived at the checkout to find that they are now offering a 10% discount to pensioners on a Thursday. Every cloud has a silver lining.

As it is really quite a long time since we were in a position where we could pop into a town whenever the mood took us, I had forgotten how different Totnes feels on the various days of the week. Whether that is true of other towns I have no idea.

Obviously Friday being market day means the place is busier - you have to be quite early if you want to be sure of finding somewhere to park the car - and there is a great sense of 'buzz'. Saturday also has a market but the people in the town seem to be completely different with many more families about which is, of course, just what you would expect. Sundays vary: once a month there is a Farmers' Market which pulls in people from all around who are rarely in the town on other days. Monday and you feel a sense of relief that the busyness of the previous three days is over and there is time to stand and stare, to chat, to relax.

Tuesday sees Totnes at its most odd. It is known as Elizabethan Tuesday, thanks an idea dreamed up by the Totnes Town Association some years ago. There are charity stalls in the Market Square and quite a few people dress up in Elizabethan clothing or, to be more accurate, in what they see as being Elizabethan clothing somewhat modified with comfort in mind (especially when it comes to shoes).

Wednesday and Thursday are much alike. The town is at its quietest (which is, no doubt, why Lawsons choose Thursday to offer oldies like me a discount) but I rather like it. It retains its quintessential essence and in some ways this is easier to enjoy when there is less hustle and bustle.  

It would seem that Chudleigh (yes, like the village) found the whole business of modelling a bit too much. Marcia tells me that his front feet are in the third position - well, almost - but I really could not comment knowing nothing about ballet myself.

Friday, 18 April 2014

A soft landing

One thing that we have learned since leaving The Hermitage nearly two years ago now is that you never stop learning. When we decided that we could no longer stay in such a remote spot (or, to be more accurate, when I decided that I could not since it was really my decisions and Marcia went along with it out of consideration for my advancing years) we decided we needed easy access to shops and other facilities.

For a few months it was wonderful to be released from the tyranny of long-distance shopping. I call it 'tyranny' because that is really what it becomes: the need to make sure that you forget nothing and that means keeping an accurate record of what you have used, making sure the shopping list reflects that record and that the shopping reflects that list. It is rather like setting off on a boat for a long voyage - if you forget something then you have to live without it. Living in a village removes all that, we could be down to the shop and back with a packet of butter in less than four minutes. We called this ‘’ shopping after the travel website of that name.

This little fellow more or less lives in the garden I have spoken severely to him (or her, as the case may be) pointing out that there are certain plants such as lettuces that are not to be on his/her menu. Soon I shall know whether or not he/she was listening.
With these thoughts in mind, we started to look for a house to buy (you will remember that we were lucky enough to be able to rent a property from one of Marcia's old friends for "as long as you want it"). We decided that we wanted our 'local town' to be Totnes and that is the only one of the decisions that we took then to which we have adhered: Totnes is probably the place at which we both feel most at home and we know more people who live in or nearby than anywhere else. So, we created a search area covering a five mile radius around Totnes and kept an eye on all the local estate agents seeking that perfect property.

We couldn't find one. The months went by and we widened our search area but still with no success. We hate raising hopes so every house we thought might be the answer was subjected to an 'outside recce' before we took matters any further. These soon made us realise that the new search area was now too big. What is the point in recreating the wheel by buying a house that is too far from your local town - and especially so if it does not have the remoteness, outlook and tranquility of The Hermitage? Right, better to give the tenants notice and go back but we knew that was not really an option.

We have really missed seeing stock in the fields so it was very good to see this lot who had been turned out for the first time this year yesterday.
At this point we took the decision to live IN Totnes. We even got so far as to view a couple of properties. Then we started to learn. Basically we are both very rural people who feel badly deprived if we do not have that connection with the natural world which centres us. It was this connection that we were missing living in the village but it took us over a year to realise this simple fact. This posed a problem and then, quite suddenly, we were presented with an answer.

This odd image needs some explaining. The full moon rose on Wednesday and is seen here behind a fork in a big oak tree: the odd bits between the branches are twigs. Anyway, I decided to photograph it before it lost that huge yellow look but the only camera to hand was my little Panasonic (which does not offer manual focus). I was pretty sure the moon would be out of focus but I hoped the twigs would be sharper than they are 
We discovered, quite by chance and thanks to Marcia's sister, that you could rent properties from the Dartington Hall Trust. Bingo. The estate had a couple of properties available and we were offered one. Once again we have a field the other side of the garden hedge and another field the other side of the lane but it is less than two miles from Totnes and we have direct access to some of the most wonderful gardens in the UK. True, the nearest shop is in Dartington village - and it is a truly excellent one - and so we have lost ‘’ but now we know that is not as important as we thought it was two years ago.

Just a field away is the River Dart and, on the other bank, a preservation railway. How much fun is that?
So we have learned a vital lesson - be true to yourselves. You are what you are and denying that leads to a lesser life. We, being very lucky, have a choice and can live a life that accords well with our characters. Sadly, so many people do not have that choice.

Meet Bono: there is something so regal about a Golden Retriever/ 
PS This morning Marcia and I went for a walk around the gardens of Dartington Hall. I shall be putting the pictures I took on my photo blog later today. Click here to see them.

Friday, 11 April 2014

A Moor Day

Marcia is Great Aunt to a ten year old boy. She, of course, does not think of herself as a “great aunt”. In fact I don’t think she thinks of herself as an “aunt”. Certainly she is called Marcia by all her nieces and nephews and never “auntie”. But these things happen with the passing of the years and the best thing to do is to accept it graciously which, of course, she does. Anyway, one of her great nephews wants to write a story. Who better to mentor him than his Great Aunt Marcia? I find it very heart warming that this youngster wants to take writing seriously.

Is the art of writing at danger because of modern means of communication such as texting, Twitter and so on - all of which tempt people to use "text speak"? Marcia and I are not immune to this temptation. Let us look at an example: TAGT.

Those who watched the television series 2012 - a comedy set 'behind the scenes' during the preparations for the 2012 Olympics held in London - will know that this stands for "that's all good then'. Since texting from a mobile is a rather tedious exercise and TAGT demands only four key strokes it is the quickest way of indicating approval. None of its rivals are as easy. 'Yes' requires nine, 'OK' (surprisingly) takes five.

Does any of this threaten the English language? This is a debate that has occupied many column inches in The Times here in England and I would not be surprised to hear that similar arguments take place in other places. For what it's worth, neither Marcia or I feel that there is any problem with text-speak – in one form or another people have using abbreviations and references to books, songs, personalities and so on for centuries. Nevertheless, I am sure that there are many who find the whole thing very worrying.

What a way to start the day! I was making the tea and looked out of the kitchen window. The sun was just rising so I grabbed a camera, opened the door and 1/500th of a second later we have this.
Yesterday we crossed the moor to meet up with some friends in the Bedford Hotel in Tavistock. It was quite odd – as we drove so we realised how much we have missed this spring: the bank where the snowdrops grow which we usually see as a mist of white; the daffodils that grow in Hembury Woods; the primroses (and the sports in particular) as you approach Holne. The problem has been, as you would expect, that we have been too busy to go roaming and when we have had to cross the moor the weather up there has been pretty awful. It has not been a cold winter but incredibly wet and windy – now we are having a rather odd spring with a wonderful display of daffodils (nearly all gone now) and primroses (still with us here but going over on the moor) while the blackthorn was late coming into flower.

Just for those who don't know what I am talking about, I took this picture of the front lawn here. We havw celandine and the paler yellow primroses and, some pink "sports" or, more properly,  Primula vulgaris sibthorpii. I think you will agree sports is a nicer name.
One thing that we have seen for many years that was still there yesterday is this totally unexpected escapee: honesty in a hedge bank on the lane from Buckfast to Holne.
Up on Holne Moor we stopped to drink our after-breakfast coffee. Thanks to the move I had emptied the bottles in which we keep water for washing the mugs and then forgotten to refill them. So I stopped to fill them at an issue (a place where water seeps out of the moor) just north of Saddle Bridge which takes the lane over the O Brook. As I looked over towards Foxhole I realised that the gorse was in full bloom so took this picture.

Those who have read Forgotten Laughter will know what I am talking about. Foxhole was the fictional house that was central to that book and, typical of Marcia, it was set in a very real place. Chop down that gorse and you would see the house (if it existed) down by the River Dart but as it doesn't you wouldn't.
Just one of the many trees that had come down over the road.
One thing that hit us was the amount of damage done by the winds with trees down all over the place and the roads peppered with pot holes. It is going to be a long time before all of these can be filled in. The real danger is when the road is covered in water and this is hiding a pot hole. We hit one such but there was no real damage. My brother-in-law was not so lucky and he ended up shredding a tyre.

I really do love this picture of Monty. He is at the marina and all ready to go afloat. I imagine that the sequel to this photograph (which was given to me by Monty’s owner, Carol Richards) shows him on the after deck holding a long, cool gin and tonic.

Friday, 4 April 2014

London Book Fair

Next week, from Tuesday and Thursday, Marcia’s agent – Dinah Wiener – will be attending the London Book Fair (on Table 8b, as it happens).

This book fair sprang from the loins of the Small and Specialist Publishers’ Exhibition which was a librarian’s trade show held in the basement of an hotel. It was the idea of Lional Leventhal, founder of the publishing house Arms and Armour Press. The first exhibition was held in 1971 and twenty-two publishers attended, their titles being displayed on tables.

Six years later it changed its name to the London Book Fair and in the mid 1980’s was bought by Industrial and Trade Fairs. It had become one of the most important international book fairs in the world, attracting over five hundred exhibitors. Present day statistics are impressive: over 1,500 exhibitors from around the world with about 25,000 people attending from over 100 countries. Naturally, it is no longer held in an hotel basement but rather in the impressive surroundings of Earls Court.

Dinah will, I have no doubt, be talking about her new book to people from all of Marcia’s overseas publishers (and, I have no doubt, other possible publishers from even more countries) and so has been preparing a “blurb”. Dinah is very good at these – Marcia is hopeless and I fall somewhere in between the two. This is the agreed text.


Retired knight of the stage Sir Mungo always enjoys visits from his old friend Kit Chadwick. This time Kit brings a letter from her first, and only, love Jake. Twelve years together, and Kit always reluctant to commit. Eventually Jake returned to France, turned to another, married and had four daughters. They met only once, but always exchanged birthday cards. Now Jake is a widower and has written to Kit asking if they could meet again. The reunion between Kit and Jake is the core of this incredibly human and moving novel. But life in the peaceful valley is not what it seems, contrary to aspiring novelist James’s impressions. Many years ago Sir Mungo had played host to another dear friend and acting partner, Dame Isobel Trent, and tried to console her over the breakup of her relationship with cruel Ralph. Izzy’s death, and the loss of her unborn baby, is never far from Mungo’s mind. Also living in this peaceful valley are Emma and her two small children. Emma’s husband is serving in Afghanistan and she is on the verge of an affair with a brother officer when she realizes he is a dangerous man. With Mungo’s help she ends the relationship in such a way that her marriage can’t be threatened. Finally, Mungo’s brother Archie, who owns the land, fears he may have to sell the family house. Mungo is determined to prevent him but, in order to do this, secrets kept for nearly 40 years now have to be revealed. Will the relationship between the two brothers ever be the same again?

Talking about Earls Court has made me realise I have absolutely no idea as to why it has that name. So I Googled it to find out.

The name is, as you would expect, an ancient one. This was once a rural area to the west of Kensington under the lordship of the Earls of Oxford. They held the manorial court near near to the spot now occupied by the Earls Court Underground Station – hence the name of the road (Earls Court Road) and of the exhibition centre built alongside it in which was opened in 1887, rebuilt in 1937 and is now scheduled to be demolished to give way for residential properties. I think that makes me feel quite sad. When I worked in London (many, many years ago and for a few months only as, being a country hick, I found the place intolerable) I shared a flat in the Earls Court Road.

Now for some photos (although none of them have anything to do with any of the above).

Spring has certainly arrived as witness the flowering cherries in the Courtyard at Dartington Hall
Spring means that the jackdaws are thinking about nesting but these two are seriously frustrated by the wire mesh that now covers the chimney stacks (and makes it look as thought the picture is out of focus).

The trees on the east bank of the River Dart just as the sun began to set.
And then, looking to the west, we had a wonderful sunset. Too small to show up but in that blue bit of sky is a wonderful new moon.

This week's Blog Dog, a lurcher who answers to the name "Barney", has been in the wars. It seems he rushed through a hedge and came out with blood pouring out of his leg. His owner, Will Cooper, rushed him to the vet where he was duly stitched up and bandaged. Nevertheless, he is still feeling a bit sorry for himself.