Magnolias

When I was in Australia in 2017, I was fascinated by the number of jacaranda trees in gardens and the stories behind why there were so many.
On my daily walks around the streets of Northampton I have been enchanted by the number of magnolia trees there are in front gardens. They are full grown trees not little bushes and come in a range of colours. I am not sure why they are so popular, but it is warmer ‘down south’ and they seem to thrive here.


It was always going to be a culture shock living somewhere other than Northumberland. The coast and hills have always been on my doorstep and any troubles seeped away when you put one front of the other and took in all the beauty. Northamptonshire is different.

The nearest hills are probably the Chilterns. The nearest beach is a two-hour drive away in Norfolk. The good things about it are that London and Birmingham are both an hour’s train ride away so handy for work meetings.

Northampton, as a town is like many struggling town centres. Retail has been hit by out of town developments and it looks sad and unloved. It was once a thriving. The centre of the boot and shoe industry it has a proud history. I live in an apartment in a converted mansion. Once owned by the Manfield family. How many people remember Manfield shoes? It is still the home of luxury shoe brands; Churchs, Crockett and Jones and Trickers. There is currently a sculpture trail of 12 different types of shoes across the town. I have so far, found six. More on these in a future blog.

I discovered Sywell Country Park on Monday – I was so happy. It is an old reservoir and there are a number of trails you can follow. The sun shone and I was treated to the sound of a woodpecker tapping, a robin singing a song (just for me), blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, goldfinches, nuthatch wrens and peacock butterflies. I also saw a bird I did not recognise and had to research when I got home. A reed bunting. It was a day when I felt both joyful, because the sights and sounds made it clear that Spring had finally arrived and desperately sad, as this would be my last long walk for some time. Sywell Country Park is closed for the foreseeable future.

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We have entered a period of great uncertainty. We are concerned for our family and friends, our work and the aftermath of it all on our lives, the economy and the world. But life will go on. I do feel isolated, but grateful for technology so I can keep in touch with my family and friends. Everyone has different challenges, but we are resilient beings and will find ways to get through this.

Stay safe, well and look after each other.

Northumberland, London, Forensics & Short Stories

My 26 mile challenge walk has been and gone and with only minor muscle aches I feel a great sense of achievement. The weather was spectacular and nowhere on earth beats the view on a sunny day as you walk up the hill to Low Newton and see Embleton Bay stretched out in front of you and the haunting ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance. Northumberland is my home and I feel privileged to have been born here. Friends who visit the county always want to stay. It is an inspirational place with castles, deserted beaches, forests, market towns and hills where you can walk for hours and never see another soul.

Bamburgh CastleDunstanburgh

In a real change of scenery I spent four days in Ibiza with my 18 year-old daughter. San Antonio Bay to be precise. I can hear the gasps and the images you must have of me in skimpy shorts clubbing on ‘the strip’. Well to my delight it was quite sedate as the real clubbing season hadn’t started. We did sip cocktails on the sunset strip with hundreds of others but it was more of a middle-aged clientele than the teens and twenty-somethings staggering along pavements having imbibed vast quantities of booze.

In my last blog I mentioned Jack London’s ‘The People of the Abyss’. At times I found the book frustrating and annoying with London’s ideological view of how the world of the East End should be. Many of the areas in the book are no more but throughout London,particularly in the East End, there is still a society where low paid workers are at the mercy of landlords charging high rents. Poverty is still prevalent and although living conditions have improved there are still overcrowded homes and poorly maintained houses. We talk about progress but has life really changed?

I loved Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life after Life’ and eagerly awaited its companion ‘A God in Ruins’. I wasn’t disappointed and although it did not give me the same breathtaking feeling as ‘Life after Life’ I found myself caught up in the story of Teddy and his wartime life. Atkinson writes emotive stories and the beauty of the prose engages the reader from the beginning. It is an amazing read.

Intrigued by the Twitter conversations I visited the Wellcome Collection for the ‘Forensics – Anatomy of Crime’ exhibition. For anyone interested in crime this is the exhibition to visit. Blowflies, blood spatters, DNA – it is all here. The history of forensics is shown in artifacts, interviews and real life cases. Accompanying the exhibition is the brilliant book by Val McDermid which shows how forensics has helped solve cases. I spent a very enjoyable (is that the right word?) journey home reading the book.

I seem to have turned into a Val McDermid groupie as I attended an event on Thursday 4 June at the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts where Val and Jackie Kay discussed the short story. Reading a short story each we were entertained by Jackie’s Shetland wedding story ‘Grace and Rose’ followed by Val McDermid’s ‘The Road and the Miles to Dundee’. We were even treated to musical renditions of the song in Val’s story with her singing. She has a great voice as well as being a great writer. There followed a discussion on the short story form and how it is all about voice. Both writers agreed that it gave them an opportunity to step inside someone else’s shoes – someone you are not. The two writers had a really good rapport with each other and this made it feel like you were sitting in a small front room with them, listening to their stories and learning from their vast experience of writing. I came away enthused and inspired.

And now to my writing. For a couple of years I have been struggling with my novel which seems to be going nowhere. So much so that I have decided to put it away and write something totally different. Crime. Maybe all those images of maggots and flies have stirred up my creative juices.