Then comes the harvest supper

Here is the last part of John Clare’s September poem in his Shepherd’s Calendar; this is the time of year when hedgerow fruits will be preserved, and apples turned to cider. The harvest supper is still celebrated in villages around here, a great evening of eating, drinking and dancing!

Then comes the harvest supper night
Which rustics welcome with delight
When merry game and tiresome tale
And songs increasing with the ale
Their mingled uproar interpose
To crown the harvests happy close
While rural mirth that there abides
Laughs till she almost cracks her sides

Now harvests busy hum declines
And labour half its help resigns
Boys glad at heart to play return
The shepherds to their peace sojourn
Rush-bosomed solitudes among
Which busy toil disturbed so long
The gossip happy all is oer
Visits again her neighbours door
For scandals idle tales to dwell
Which harvest had no time to tell
And on each bench at even tide
Which trailing vine leaves nearly hide
And free from all its sultry strife
Enjoy once more their idle life
A few whom waning toil reprieves
Thread the forests sea of leaves
Where the pheasant loves to hide
And the darkest glooms abide
Beneath the old oaks mossd and grey
Whose shadows seem as old as they
Where time hath many seasons won
Since aught beneath them saw the sun.
Within these brambly solitudes
The ragged noisy boy intrudes
To gather nuts that ripe and brown
As soon as shook will patter down
Thus harvest ends its busy reign
And leaves the fields their peace again
Where autumns shadows idly muse
And tinge the trees with many hues
Amid whose scenes I’m feign to dwell
And sing of what I love so well
But hollow winds and tumbling floods
And humming showers and moaning woods
All startle into sudden strife
And wake a mighty lay to life
Making amid their strains divine
All songs in vain so mean as mine


Some friends and I have started another writing group – what another one?! Yes, another one!! This one is a little different from the other ones I am involved in… The ones I lead are for two hours; the first fifty  minutes we talk about a topic or aspect of writing, having a good old discussion, usually with some prompt materials. Then I set a task for our next meeting, and then we have coffee or tea and biscuits or buns. After our refreshments we read our work to each other – something I ‘set’ the previous meeting, but it’s not strict so if someone wants to write something completely different that is fine! In the other group I am in, we just read our stories and then the others comment on them.

In the new group we are trying lots of different things; there is no ‘leader’ it is more collaborative. We have only had a couple of meetings so it is very early days; the first meeting was just discussing the sort of things we would like to do, and the sort of different writing projects we each have. I unfortunately missed the next meeting but again it was successful and little writing exercises were suggested – including writing a complete story, beginning middle and end in fifty words.

An activity apart from the meetings where we all get together, are ‘write-ins’; we meet somewhere, preferably someone’s house and just sit and write… that’s it!! It was the first get together today, and three writers came to our house; we had a brief hello, cup of tea/coffee, quick news flash (Weston-super-Mare Literary Festival) and then down to work. We worked solidly for fifty minutes and then took a break. More refreshments and a quick catch-up on what we were doing today, poems, poem/memoir/reflection, novel, and I was working on my next Radwinter story. We didn’t allow ourselves to get too distracted and quickly settled back down to work. We had planned for the ‘write-in’ to last two hours, but credit to us, we over-ran by half an hour!

We all felt jolly pleased with ourselves, and we all felt we had really made progress on our different projects. I’m looking forward to the next time! We haven’t set a date, we can do it as often or less often as we like. I can imagine there might be a time when one of the group has hit a bit of a wall and has a shout-out for an impromptu write-in to get them over the hump! The great thing is it can be two of us, or all nine of us, there is no limit!

So… her’s to the next time!!


I am sure I am just one of many people writing about the name Nigel and it’s dramatic decline in popularity. I was at school with Nigels, I worked with Nigels, I taught Nigels, I had best friends who were Nigels, I had friends with children called Nigel… I don’t think I have any relatives called Nigel, and I never had a boyfriend called Nigel, but there have been Nigels a-plenty in my life.  Nigels abound in public life… I looked up a list of them and there were so many! I picked out twenty who I actually knew (not personally of course except for one who I was at school with for a couple of years!) Nigels well-known as sportsmen, politicians, musicians, writers, actors – lots of actors:

  • Nigel Benn
  • Nigel Bruce
  • Nigel Clough
  • Nigel Davenport
  • Nigel Farage
  • Nigel Havers
  • Nigel Hawthorne
  • Nigel Hess
  • Nigel Kennedy
  • Nigel Lawson
  • Nigel Mansell
  • Nigel Nicolson
  • Nigel Owens
  • Nigel Patrick
  • Nigel Pivaro
  • Nigel Planer
  • Nigel Stock
  • Nigel Terry
  • Nigel Williams
  • Nigel Wrench

… and of course there is the famous steam locomotive, Nigel Gresley, and two novels, Sir Walter Scott’s The Fortunes of Nigel published in 1822, and Conan Doyle’s Sir Nigel , 1905. Looking at birth records since 1840, there is a definite Nigel popularity bulge:

  • 1840 – 1
  • 1850 – 2
  • 1860 – 1
  • 1870 – 7
  • 1880 – 8
  • 1890 – 10
  • 1900 – 18
  • 1910 – 24
  • 1920 – 71
  • 1930 – 164
  • 1940 – 445
  • 1950 – 1943
  • 1960 – 4383
  • 1963 – 5529
  • 1970 – 2469
  • 1980 – 413
  • 1990 – 125
  • 2000 – 25
  • 2010 – 18
  • 2015 – 9

So what is the origin of the name? I probably derived from the old French Neel, and possibly because of a mistake in transcription became Nigel during the Middle Ages. It was a known name throughout that period, but it only became widely popular as the data above shows, in the 1950’s-1970’s.

In case you are wondering, my featured image is of our friend Nigel!

Here’s a Nigel…

A very controversial subject

I must admit I am on a bit of a roll with the challenge a fellow blogger and I have set ourselves; we came across a list of seventy-three different sorts of blog which could be written. Just like in the playground when we were young, I have to say ‘he started it!!’; my friend took up the challenge to write a blog for each of these suggestions… and after a little thought I took up his implicitly flung down writing gauntlet.

I started at the top and have written three –

  1. Tutorials and How-to Guides – A How-To Guide – How to edit what you have written
  2. Latest Industry News – Writing as an industrial process… maybe… maybe not!
  3. Current Events – Snow Leopards and the Severn Bridge

So now I am looking at number four

4. Controversial Subjects

So, a subject which would always provoke a fierce and sometimes very confrontational debate when i was teaching …

The Correct and Cornish Way to Eat a Cream Tea

There are three elements to a cream tea  – not counting the tea, scones, jam, clotted cream. It is so simple and yet causes such a furore, members of families taking sides (in our case husband and daughter against me and our son) and fiery letters written to the editor. What is so controversial? Whether, once you have cut the scone in half, you should put the jam on first then cream or the cream on first and then jam.

Clotted cream is thick and comes out of its pot in delicious mountainous spoonfuls, so it makes perfect sense that the jam should go on the scone first and the cream be settled in all its glory on top. How is it possible to put that thick, almost solid cream straight onto the scone (it doesn’t attach itself to the surface in the same way as jam does either) and then to balance jam on top – the jam will just slide off!

I know what the opposition’s argument is; that without butter for the scone, the cream goes in its place. So jam-firsters, you take that lovely clotted cream, and you press it down and spread it thinly so you can hardly taste – let alone appreciate it! What is the point of clotted cream – you might as well have butter, ordinary old butter! if you did have butter, then you could butter your scone, spread the jam, and then put cream on top of that!

Just to make it perfectly clear, by the way – we are talking about clotted cream which I will explain by quoting directly from Wikipedia:

Clotted cream (sometimes called scalded, clouted, Devonshire or Cornish cream) is a thick cream made by indirectly heating full-cream cow’s milk using steam or a water bath and then leaving it in shallow pans to cool slowly. During this time, the cream content rises to the surface and forms “clots” or “clouts”. It forms an essential part of a cream tea.

Soft gooey inside, creamy delicious crust barely containing it

We are not talking about whipped cream, aerosol cream, non dairy cream or any product artificially thickened or sweetened. Another thing which needs to be clarified – Devon clotted cream is delicious, and is no doubt, in actual fact, as delicious as Cornish clotted cream – it is the Devonish way of eating it on scones which is in contention!

We live in Somerset, and in tea shops you will see ‘Somerset cream tea’ advertised – but I have no idea which way is the correct ‘Somerset’ way to eat it. You may also see other styles of cream tea, chocolate scones and chocolate spread, fresh fruit instead of jam, even savoury versions, but the true cream tea is just those three items, scones, jam, clotted cream

Eating a cream tea the correct way – warm, freshly baked scones, split open, generously dolloped with jam, and with a glorious crown of thick clotted cream piled Everest high – or maybe I should say Bronn Wennili high (the highest hill in Cornwall, otherwise known as Brown Willy) is not only the best way, but the only way to eat scones, jam and clotted cream (also you get much more cream per scone and jam than doing it the Devonish way!!)

Cut open the scone… now, cream or jam on first?

Here is a link to one of the finest clotted cream makers, Rodda’s:

… and links to my first three of the seventy-three blogs!

… and links to my books:

Literary Festival

I have to confess I have never been to a literary festival; so what are my excuses – in the past when I could afford it, I was working so any weekday events were out of the question, and weekend events were expensive and often logistically not possible. There are two literary festivals near-ish to me, Hay-on-Wye and Bath which attract big names and top writers/authors/poets/people – but I have never managed to get to either of them.

Now, very excitingly, there is, we hope, going to be a literary festival in our very own town of Weston-super-Mare, sometime early spring next year. So what have I done about it? Well, as a writer, I have got in contact to see if I can be involved – not just in the audience but in the actual events!

Writing is my life and it’s what I do all the time, from getting up in the morning, to last thing at night; I write my novels, I write her, I write in the shared blog I have with two friends, I teach writing, I lead writing groups, I read other people’s writing… it’s my life!!

I ran my first workshop for adults three years ago… here’s what I wrote about it:

Yesterday I ran my first creative writing workshop… and I admit that although I wasn’t nervous, I did have a lot of thoughts about would I be presenting ideas in the right way, would I be delivering what the group (of strangers) wanted, would I have enough to do for the four hours I was given? I felt sure all the people in the group would be nice and interesting, but many of them would be strangers to each other and would they gel? I have only been teaching creative writing for a year, so although I write masses and masses, actually teaching it to adults is fairly new for me. I have never even on any classes, courses,or workshops myself so I didn’t really know what exactly was expected to do.

I arrived having been told I would have eight ‘students’ – in fact I was pleased, delighted actually, to have eleven of them; pleased except I only had works sheets and other information for eight. I thought there might be one extra, but four extra?!! I started off by introducing myself and talking about my own writing and love of writing – just briefly, I didn’t want to sound boastful, and then each of the ‘students’ introduced themselves and said something about their writing experiences.

Three of them ran their own CW groups… oh goodness! They were much more experienced than I am!! But their way of doing it was very different from mine, so I think they did enjoy my class, and did learn something. Two of them were poets who had poems and books of poetry printed… heck! Two of them had written plays which had been performed… goodness!

However, I started off with the premise of a writer being aware of the voice s/he’s using… and although the group were very experienced in the most part of writing, some had clearly not really thought about ‘voice’, so we had some interesting discussions, and the exercises I gave seemed to go down well. A couple of people had stories to tell, but were pondering on how to tell them, and again I think – I hope that what we did yesterday was helpful, and maybe gave them an inkling of a way forward in ‘telling their story’,, as the title of the workshop said!

I had a really enjoyable day, I learned a lot, with some lovely,lovely people; I hope to meet them again, and I wish them all success in their writing ventures!

If you want to read my books, here is a link:


Animals in pubs

Our pub the Dolphin (named after an animal) is a creature friendly pub. Dogs are more than welcome, in fact there are two resident Jugs (pug/Jack Russell cross) Tim and Sim. There are other dogs who visit, some are regulars, but none is as famous as Penny, known as Mrs Pen, who died several years ago but is not forgotten.

I was researching something else and was looking at the names of pubs in Cambridge – well, the names of old pubs, so many have now disappeared or changed names. Cambridge not so long ago was little more than a market town with a university – although in actual fact it is a city. The rural nature of its surrounding countryside is reflected in some of the old pub names…

Animals of various colours and although there are some exotics, many reflect animals seen in the Cambridgeshire countryside  –

  • The Blue Bore/Lion
  • The Black Bear/Bull/ Lion/ Swan/The Little Black Bull
  • The Green Lion/Dragon
  • The Red Bull/Red Cow/Red Lion/ The New Red Lion/Old Red Lion
  • The Cock x3
  • The Cow and Calf
  • Dog and Duck/Hare and Hounds
  • The Horse and Groom/The Light Horse/The Race Horse
  • The Eagle/The Hawk/The Peacock/The Crane
  • The Lamb/The Ram
  • The Roebuck
  • The Pike and Eel/The Pickerel/The Salmon

… and of course there had to be…

  • The Dolphin

Penny, Mrs Pen at the back door of the pub


Wondering where she went…

This is a true story but as usual I have changed the names identities, circumstances and locations.

Lily left her small junior school and moved onto a secondary school on the other side of town; it was a well-thought of school and children came from all over the area, some catching buses just after seven in the morning and not getting home until six at night. There was a group of children from Lily’s junior school all going to this school, so she had a few friends already; however the three year seven classes were arranged in alphabetical order, so the people she knew were in different classes.

It wasn’t long before Lily knew all the people in her class and soon made friends; she got on well with most of the others, some she liked more, some she liked less, but no-one was horrible, so all was well. There was one girl Lily was secretly fascinated by; Lily was one of the tallest in the class, but Nancy was the tallest. Nancy wasn’t just tall but she was big as well – broad-shouldered, big hands and feet, and was strong and athletic.  She had red curly hair cut in an unfashionable style, freckles all over her pale face and was always very cheerful and happy, but to Lily she seemed to have a lumpy awkwardness about her, as if she didn’t quite fit somehow.

Lily knew little about Nancy’s home or background, which was the case with quite a lot of her classmates – they knew everything about each other in school, but not necessarily anything about their other lives. Lily and Nancy were in the same class for most things, and although they always got on, they weren’t really friends – Lily’s friends were what you might call ‘characters’, and looking back she realised  they were strong-minded, intelligent, and with an off-beat sense of humour.

A compulsory class which everyone had to do was ‘dance”; the children wore tunics and what I guess you might call knickerbockers, in primary colours – how foolish and embarrassed they all felt.  A middle-aged woman played a piano and they were instructed by a shouting teacher  in this terrible free-dance class which was just awful… years and years later they would reminisce with horror about it!! Lily had a blue tunic which her mum had bought second-hand. Nancy had a green tunic which actually complimented her hair and complexion. They all leapt about, the teacher shouting instructions at them, and the biggest person in the class, Nancy, leapt and bounded  the most enthusiastically – for she was a ‘good sport’. Lily always felt sorry for her – not pity, but sorry that she was so big and… well, lumpy.

Nancy was such a nice person, everyone liked her… but years later Lily couldn’t remember who her particular friends were.  When they were in their last year at school, studying for their English exams, they were given past exam papers to practice with. When they had finished the particular question, they got into groups to read out what they had written, the first time they had done something like this. Lily as amazed at the story Nancy had written – it was brilliant!! It was really, really good! She had never realised how good Nancy was at writing, how imaginative and creative.! That was the last real memory Lily had of Nancy at school… she left, moved away, and eventually settled down with a family, a career and all she wanted.

Over the years, before there was the internet and an easy way to keep in touch, Lily tried to stay connected to old school friends through writing letters, but that drifted to a full stop. Lily had been happy at school and often thought back and wondered what her different friends were doing, wondering what lives they had, what choices they had made. She thought of Nancy, big, red-haired Nancy who had danced so enthusiastically in the awful short green tunic and knickers, Nancy who was such a good writer.

Many, many years passed, and there was a school reunion which Lily was very excited to attend.  It was interesting to meet other people she had known so well so many years ago…  There were surprises… a bully who had been so mean to others (not to Lily) looked a funny little soul, older than her years and  with a very staid life; a girl Lily had always admired and had secretly wanted to be friends with, had secretly thought the same about her! Three girls who had been so close, best friends since junior school – well, two of the trio had mercilessly bullied the other! Some girls, apart from obviously being grown women, looked exactly the same and seemed exactly the same, some were unrecognisable!

Lily was having a wonderful time catching up with dear friends, chatting non-stop and hearing all the news. Suddenly the door opened and in strode a tall woman; she had a flame of red hair,  confident, friendly smile on her perfectly made-up face, head up, shoulders back, fashionable clothes and high-heeled boots… it was Nancy!!

Lily rushed over to her and they immediately began to chat, catching up on each other’s lives! It was obvious that Nancy was successful and happy; she had the same lovely manner and kind way about her, the same sense of fun. She’d had a happy life, a successful and fulfilling career, was very happily married, travelled, pursued her hobbies and interests and all in all, life was wonderful for her!

As Lily drove away after a very happy afternoon, she thought about Nancy… all these years she had secretly worried about Nancy; how relieved and happy she was for her old school friend!!