Window Shopping

As a child I remember going to London just to see the windows decorated with magical scenes for Christmas. The big department stores created whole scenes that stopped people in their tracks whilst children gazed and wondered. Later, Regent Street and Oxford Street put up lights attracting even more visitors.

Local shops at home would have chosen items from stock with a seasonal theme and dotted decorations and greenery around to draw the eye, making even cans of ham and fruit look festive. The shoe shop might have the slippers decked with holly (very painful) and the greengrocer would have had nuts, dates and pyramids of oranges with holly and mistletoe for sale. There were often competitions amongst local traders for the best decorated window, something that also happened for events such as Jubilee celebrations.

Looking around shops today the most colourful things are the Sale signs and windows are largely obscured by huge posters advertising offers. None of those tempting displays that encouraged people to browse and window shop even once the stores were closed.

Shame about the horror masks

Shame about the horror masks

I have struggled to find any really seasonal shop window displays this year to date. The ones used here are from recent years. The one above was in a department store in a city whilst the one below is from a nearby town. I’ll keep looking, but I feel this is a bit of Christmas cheer that is definitely a fading tradition.

Gift shop choice

Gift shop choice



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Quote of the Day 2

Sign 9 ImaginationYet another quote to inspire writers!

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Quote of the Day

When a new owner took over our village pub he started putting up daily quotes on the A-frame board. Adds a bit of interest to a daily walk and they have certainly been varied. Just a selection here.

Firstly one with an almost poetical feel.Sign 5 LeavesI found myself agreeing with this as I walked on through masses of fallen leaves being blown off the trees by a stiff breeze and listened to the sound as they skittered down the road in the gusts. So many shades and shapes and sizes and I couldn’t resist scuffing through them once or twice.Autumn leavesBut when I got home and surveyed those lying on the lawn I wasn’t quite so enamoured of the idea. Pointless to rake them up with the wind blowing so a job for another day.Leaves lawnOn other occasions the messages have been more tongue in cheek such as this one.

sign 4But a few have appeared to have been written with writers in mind. How about

Sign 6 Successor maybe this one? sign 3He’s been writing these up for several weeks now and to date I haven’t spotted a repeat. I wonder if there is a book of sayings for pub landlords?

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Visiting the Postal Museum, London

A while since I have ventured into the capital but a group of us joined a coach trip at the weekend to visit the Postal Museum (

This proved to be worth the journey and there is certainly plenty to fill the suggested 2-3 hours to allow for your visit.Postal Museum mural 1

The main exhibition takes the visitor through 500 years of postal history in the country. As it is all so new it has lots of interactive displays, audio and video clips and so on. For children there is the expected trail of clues to follow with many of the interactive elements at child height, too.

A special exhibition in place at present looks at a postal packet boat that was sunk and has been excavated. Many of the artefacts recovered are on display along with details of the crew who served aboard her. The mail carried included trading samples and the display offers a snapshot of how diverse these items were.

Talks are available throughout the day looking at different aspects of the displays, but we didn’t find time to fit one of these into our allotted time.

A feature of the visit is a chance to travel on the mail rail, an underground railway that ran east west under London helping to speed the mail on its way by avoiding the traffic. It operated for seventy years, only stopping in 2003 when mail was no longer taken into the central hub at Mount Pleasant nearby.  Designed to carry mail bags, not passengers, it is a cramped ride and, as the museum advises, not for those who suffer claustrophobia.

The timing for the rail trip was issued at the start of the visit and proved to be in the middle of the session before lunch. This did cause issues with visiting the exhibitions, but return was possible afterwards. The trip itself lasts for 15 minutes and includes a commentary and various presentations at stations visited. After the trip there was an exhibition devoted to the rail system to visit before returning to the main building across the road. We were blessed with fine weather so the walk across between the buildings was not an issue.

For anyone setting stories in those five hundred years there would be plenty to help with getting details correct. The various uniforms employed were on display for example along with transport from stage coach to cycles to motorised vans.

The centenary of the ending of the Great War meant the exhibits around mail delivered to troops, the telegrams that brought the dreaded news home and other issues, were of heightened interest. 10,000 postal workers served in WW1, with a fifth of them sacrificing their lives in the conflict. The need for the postal service to carry on an indeed deal with a huge increase in mail meant women played an important part although they had already been employed by the service before the War.

For anyone who has postal workers in their family tree this is also the location for the records of the postal services and facilities are available for accessing them. A museum ticket is not required to visit the archives. All details for visiting, including accessing the archives, can be found on their site.

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A berry interesting walk

Yesterday the sun shone, the current WIP was getting bogged down in detail and refused to flow smoothly so I took the camera and went off to stretch the legs and concentrate on a different sort of detail, the autumn berries.yew berriesA nearby house has a mature yew tree in the front garden with its lovely waxy red berries much loved by the birds – I know how much – they drop the pips down my chimney. There seems a good crop this year and the ground beneath is carpeted with those that have dropped.

In places the ivy is still in flower offering a feed to a variety of insects including a late red admiral that was soaking up the heat form the sun as it feasted. Elsewhere the berries are already forming, green at first but turning black as the year progresses.ivy berriesA hedgerow offered a range of species including hawthorn and, perhaps most exotic looking of all, spindle. You can’t miss the bright pink berries with their very distinctive shape and most had already ripened and were bursting open to reveal the bright orange seed inside. Another firm favourite with the birds, the wood from the trees is very hard and dense. It was used for making spindles, hence the name, and other domestic products such as skewers and knitting needles.spindleThere were still a few blackberries around plus hips and haws which will continue to be enjoyed by the birds over the coming months.

These have been the berries in season, the colours of autumn, for generations but it was the pumpkins at the farm shop that were attracting the attentions of others. Every year the crop is laid out alongside the vegetables and plants for sale and at present there are still plenty to choose from.pumpkins

Concentrating on a different kind of detail for a while, plus the joy of walking in the sunshine, meant I returned to the writing in a fresh state of mind and, just as I had been viewing the everyday from a different viewpoint, I was ready to read through what I had written and carry on.

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Keeping a Diary

I was never very good at keeping a diary. I usually found one in my Christmas stocking, one year, two, – whatever was Santa thinking of – but it was rarely completed beyond January apart from a few birthday or holiday references. Fortunately, people in the past have been more persistent and I continue to find reprinted examples through the centuries when I trawl the charity shops. They offer a snapshot of ordinary lives often absent from history books. Life stories

The Oxfordshire Within Living Memory book records customs and daily life from around the county with contributions from the WI members of the time. It’s a year now since a small group of us started getting together to talk about how we might record our life stories. Simply writing from birth to present day is not the aim and indeed several members are reluctant to write at all. Visual records are the preferred option from simply annotating the photograph album to creating a work of art recording key events. The meetings are an opportunity to share stories and events with the chat stimulating lots of memories for individuals to record in their own way. We have a theme and I try to find something tangible to spark the conversation. Photographs are all very well but so much better to handle a school reading book, a piece of coal, a garment from another era and so on.Broads Diary

Diaries have also been discussed and it seems I was not alone in giving up at any early stage. However, there was one time when keeping a diary was important to me, albeit for a single week. A sailing trip on the Norfolk Broads during my teens was a highlight for many of us at our youth club. I was the one designated to write the report at the end of it for the local magazine. In fact I was the only one to even take a pen on the trip so it was used for writing all the postcards the group sent when we had stops to pick up supplies and stopped writing at all on our last evening. Despite this the report was written and that might have been that if it had not been packed away in a box in the loft of my family home.Waterways World 1

When said home was cleared and boxes sorted I hung on to it to reread at leisure and this was the source of my recent article in Waterways World. There was enough detail packed away inside to work out the route, when funny incidents – and there were many – happened, and the culinary delights enjoyed on board. A couple of postcards home had survived but the only photographs had been taken on a Brownie 127 camera that produced 8 photos to a roll of film – and three of those were spoiled by light infiltrating the camera. So, for one short week of my life, I have a detailed record that has now been shared, not just with family, but also the wider world.

Writing about individual events or experiences is my preferred way of recording my life. Many of them have become published items, usually aimed at a specialist market. Snapshots of life like these are more likely to be published than a chronological account. However, for family I would need to rearrange all these short pieces and anecdotes into something more ordered for them to read.


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Catching Up

The lack of posts this year has had more to do with technology than with a lack of time but hopefully I now have the treadmill set to a more even pace.

Since I last posted the weather has been a major talking point with everything from extreme cold in spring to extreme heat in summer and all points in between. It has made gardening a bit of a gamble with some plants thriving whilst other favourites have faded away for good. Vegetables grown in containers seem to have been particularly vulnerable. The wildlife, too, has suffered with few butterflies until late summer when we had a flurry of activity from them. Even our swifts arrived over a week later than previous recordings but if the sound above the bedroom window was anything to go by their productivity didn’t suffer.

OrchidI have been out and about exploring new areas and gathering new ideas to write about. This beautiful orchid was one of many seen whilst visiting a former mining site in South Wales.

Parc Slip  Scene of a mining tragedy and now a place of refuge for wildlife.

Parc Slip
Scene of a mining tragedy and now a place of refuge for wildlife.

It is now a nature reserve with lots of places to walk or enjoy cycling. It is hard to image its former life when faced with such a diverse environment.Margham Abbey

I’ve visited several interesting exhibition is search of ideas. This one was of particular interest as it is a subject I have written about for  a couple of titles, most recently The Great War magazine.

For the past year I have run a group for a small number of people who want to record their personal stories. Most do not want to write but have been looking for ideas of what to include in their albums and how they might pass on family stories to future generations. Meeting once a month a different starting point is chosen each time and we just chat. More of this another time but visiting the Oakham Treasures Museum just off the M5 J19 with family members I could see it would appeal to the group, too. It is full of items from shops, garages, farms, factories, etc including this sweetshop. Having recently discussed disappearing sweet varieties at a meeting I was glad to refresh my memory of still more at this exhibit.Oakham Treasures sweetshopAnother interesting visit was to the Purton Ships Graveyard. Here, from 1909 to 1965, unwanted vessels were deliberately beached along the river bank that separates the estuary from the canal. As they silted up they helped prevent the erosion of the bank and protected the land between river and canal.WrecksSo, plenty to fuel the imagination for more writing. There seem to be opportunities to learn something new all the time. Recent items to make it into print include articles in Welsh Country, The Great War and Waterways World.Waterways World 1Who would imagine that a diary from so long ago would resurface and provide the material for an article.




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Costa Prize Winner

One of several books I got to review last year, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, has won the Costa First Novel Award and justly so I feel. It was a book I was unable to put down and was quite different to anything I had read before.Eleanor Oliphant BlogFacts and backstory were revealed only when they became necessary to the story so the reader didn’t feel overwhelmed by them and they never intruded upon the flow of the story. Each time a new detail emerged you felt you understood Eleanor and her current situation better and more than once I thought I knew how it might end. However, when the truth is revealed in the closing pages it is quite unlike anything I had imagined and yet on reflection I felt no disappointment at all. I simply admired the skill of the writer. I do hope we are going to hear of a new novel from Gail in the very near future.

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What’s New?

A new year, a new start and a new computer. So Happy New Year.

Snowdrops beneath the trees

Snowdrops beneath the trees

Shortly after the last entry on this blog computer problems began and within a couple of weeks things were clearly terminal. I battled on using a tiny tablet computer but it was not for me and so began the rounds of computer outlets, website and review sites and endless conflicting advice from more knowledgeable friends until I finally bit the bullet and did the deed. A new laptop now to master. Everything is just a little different from previous models, short cuts that had come naturally now need thinking about and the need to back up work constantly looms upmost as the final drafts of several pieces lie locked away in the now defunct machine.

On the plus side I have the chance to be more organised in saving and filing work so that I will hopefully waste less time tracking down that carefully researched fact or locating that quote that seemed so apt to open/close a planned article. I still have my writing course to complete but alongside that I have requests for two more articles on topics already researched and I intend keeping up with the letters/tips/photo contributions to magazines as these produced a steady flow of cheques, vouchers and gifts throughout last year.

I don’t “do” resolutions as such but certainly I hope to be more structured in how I organise writing time and the resulting output. Maximising available time seems a better way forward than trying to create more opportunities. And with those random thoughts I will return to the work in progress.



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Lots of National Trust properties have collections of some sort , usually within the building, but Upton House has a National Plant Collection of Asters and they make a visit at this time of year extra special. The garden itself is set on a south facing slope which is quite a challenge. Upton 5 Upton 6The collection has examples of varying heights and colours range from white through various shades of purple and a few pink to cerise ones, too. Some flowers are quite small and star-like whilst others are open and particularly attractive to butterflies. Double flowers give a stronger splash of colour.Upton 2 Upton 3In addition to keeping these heritage varieties available they are extremely attractive to insects such as bees and butterflies. During our visit we saw, red admirals, large whites and comma butterflies.Upton 1 Upton 4The collection forms only a small part of the garden although there are more asters, or Michaelmas Daisies as some know them, in the borders, too. A real autumnal plant and important food source for insects at this time of year, they also feature in harvest festival floral arrangements.

Seasonal touches can be important in setting a scene. Being aware of which plants are in bloom at different times of the year can help to avoid unlikely combinations. Even with unusual weather patterns asters and daffodils are an example.


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