Friday, 25 August 2017

Going back to Tetbury

Tetbury in Gloucestershire is a small town, or large village, and HRH Prince Charles lives in Highgrove a couple of miles away on the Bath road. I mention that for those of you who may not have heard of Tetbury. It kind of puts it on the map!
I lived there until I was 17. In 2012, when I wrote about my memories of the 1950s and 1960s Coming Full Circle I was astounded by the response, especially from people who remembered me and my family. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean! To have so many comments is quite a rare, heart-warming thing.
I have a deep fondness for Tetbury, as you will see from this nostalgic trip I took a few weeks ago, and it greatly influenced the setting for my novels. Appley Green lies on the border of Surrey and Hampshire, but its sense of community was very much derived from my early years. Tetbury is both very different and the same from how it was when I was a child and I decided to go back on my own to revisit some of those memories - for real!  My parents passed away in the 1990s, so it's a while since I’ve wandered Tetbury streets simply to absorb both changes and familiar sights.

This may have no relevance to you if you’ve never heard of the place, let alone been there. I understand that, but if you read on you may be tempted to stop there on your way to Devon or Cornwall for example, or take it in when you ‘do the Cotswolds’.

Unsurprisingly, the shops have all changed since I was a child. So here we are inside a relative newcomer, Highgrove Shop  in Long Street. 

I took a sneaky photo of Chavenage House mentioned in my 2012 post, familiar to you perhaps as Trenwith in TV’s Poldark.  
Imagine Aidan Turner galloping all the way from those Cornish clifftops to Tetbury. Must have been a nightmare for the continuity team!

This photo will mean a lot to people who remember as I do, but I am sorry it may be of no interest to others.  This is the back of The Ferns, what was Sir William Romney’s School, also mentioned  in my 2012 post.

The huge Cedar tree is still there – iconic and steadfast – but the beautiful grounds with their lawn tennis courts and herbaceous borders are pretty much built over now. Here’s a couple of old photos taken on my first ever camera, a Brownie, snatching glimpses of it as it was: I was a bit of a daydreamer on the tennis court.

This alleyway is Eccles Court.

You may well say, 'So what?' A tad self-indulgent, and obscure for you, but it means a lot to me as I walked along this four times a day to and from Courtfield School situated near The Chipping. I remember swinging round those metal posts so well, and in a wall was a triangle of three holes where you could insert thumb and two fingers and make a wish! Now, covered by an interesting plaque!

This used to be the girls’ playground at Courtfield School and house where a progressive teacher lived.
She let us call her ‘Sylvia’ – yes, in the 1950s - and did some kind of strange chanting with her pupils. A friend and I spent a Saturday morning cleaning her windows, something I’d never done before. Our parents knew nothing of this and neither, I suspect, did our headmistress, Miss Rymer!
This is the side rear view of the school, set in a lovely, rather wild garden where children must not stray from  the paths ...
... and surrounded by a high Cotswold stone wall, and as you can see here those grounds are totally hidden behind big trees (not so big 60 years ago).  

Opposite the school are the quite famous Chipping Steps ...
... and another photo in an area that was the cattle market, at the base of steep Gumstool Hill.  A pen has been preserved to its memory.
Looking down from Gumstool Hill where the old woolsack races took place. Still do! 

From the opposite side, this one also looks down and is the exact spot where the photo for Vogue magazine was taken in 1942 and later reproduced in The Telegraph 1995.

The maternity home on Gumstool Hill where I was born! The story goes that my almost 10 year-old sister was not allowed in and our Dad threw some pocket-money to her out of the window as compensation! Hopefully the coins did not roll down the hill!
This is the shop behind the old Town Hall that I imagined as the Wool and Baby shop (not actually selling babies!) in Secrets in Appley Green, my fourth novel, set in the Sixties.

Another one for Tetbury  aficionados, many of you belonging to the amazing  Old Tetbury Facebook page.  Not just any old woods, but Bluebell Woods and the path that leads mysteriously to Hermit’s Cave where, as 1950s free-range children, we once played.

A bit dark, but I vividly remember this field in Chavenage Lane being alive at dusk with scampering rabbits and full of cowslips, before myxomatosis and the decline of indigenous flowers.

The house where I lived until I left home. The rockery was built by my father when they first moved there and had many rare alpine plants – it was his pride and joy. No ball games allowed!

I had thought this was demolished so was delighted to see it now uncovered and intact, though a little devoid of plants!
An earlier photo taken in 2010 shows the ‘dwarf’ conifers planted by my father. You see why I thought the rockery had disappeared!

I recall the neighbours in their gardens along this road of eight houses, all clapping and cheering me (oh yes they did!) one sunny afternoon as I managed to ride my first bike without falling off, (until I was out of their sight!). Perhaps this memory is slightly rose-tinted! 

Photo of me as a teenager and rockery! 
and as a baby with my sister - the same, now famous, rockery behind us. 

For anyone tempted to take a look at my old home town, it is a place of great history, beautiful to explore, under bridges, over bridges, through alleys and up steep steps!

Visit Tetbury

Monday, 24 April 2017

A Tale of Two 'Trafficless' Villages

Now is the time of year for getting out and about when the sun shines. I love to explore Surrey villages and then write about what is going on for Surrey Life magazine.  It never ceases to amaze me how much activity is buzzing behind the scenes in what often looks like a sleepy hamlet or quiet village high street – apart from the traffic!
It’s inspiring to talk to people who, often quite modestly, lie behind events, clubs, campaigns and so on – those ‘movers and shakers’ who make things happen.  A few weeks ago I visited Stoneleigh Community Library to meet up with Diana Kay and her creative writing group, and donate three of my books.
The location of the library is unusual. In the middle of a vast area of London suburbia, a residential rabbit-warren, you come to a high street and wonder where is the traffic? Parked cars, yes, but virtually nothing moving on wheels!
The reason is that it becomes a cul-de-sac where the railway station lies and right there, opposite the station, is the library. This gives Stoneleigh a real village feel and is such a pleasant surprise – in fact it is more peaceful than some country villages where  traffic streams through. I wrote about this solid, enterprising little library in the February issue if you want to take a look: Notes from a Small Village, page 47
Within a few days I visited Watts Gallery in Compton near Guildford to talk to Dr Desna Greenhow in the lovely tea-shop there about Mary Watts.  I also met up with Tristan Greatrex in Shere to find out more about him and the wonderful website he runs for that picturesque and historic village. Shere draws a host of visitors for which there is a large, free car park!
You can find the Mary Watts article in the current issue of Surrey Life (May) and the Shere column will be in the June magazine, out mid-May.
Surrey is a great county for country walks, as well as villages, and last week my husband and I took our dog to Hindhead to do the Devil’s Punch Bowl walk. So lovely to see the many shades of green that come with fresh spring growth - sorry, no blue sky at the time! 

Surrey people and those who live nearby in Sussex will be aware of the story behind Hindhead – the building of a tunnel that lies 65 metres below the walk pathway. The busy A3 that stretches from London to Portsmouth used to pass through the village as a single-carriageway and proved to be a terrible bottleneck for traffic. Since 2011 the road goes underneath an area of land called the Devil’s Punch Bowl and has transformed the village, as you can imagine.

We remember dicing with death, years ago, crossing the road half-way through the walk (see photos for how it is now!) and again at the end to get back to the car park. Now all is calm.

If only all villages could have a by-pass!! How many times do I say this every year? My family are probably tired of hearing me say it – a pipe-dream.  Or is it?

Appley Green does its best to be free of traffic!!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

B-looming marvellous! Weaving a new story ...

I decided to try something new. In retirement I get phases, little surges of enthusiasm that cause me to dip a toe into new waters and this time it is weaving.
It feels good to take a break from writing novels, even though this is my first creative love; the marketing and selling of books can be all-consuming if you are serious about it. Life is too short!
So here, in pictures, is the story I’ve woven so far on my new passion – my lovely loom.

It arrived in a long thin box. First construct loom!


Now - what to make that has essentially straight sides?
Order wool, and set up the warp.

Actually quite excited at this stage,
seeing the effect of colours melding
and the whole thing growing so much faster than knitting.

Moving swiftly on - the finished product.
Of course a scarf, what did you expect?

Ordered more wool. It's like setting up a paint-box.
Now for something to accessorise the conservatory ...

Not quite wide enough for the cushion cover I planned.
Never mind - this is a ... er ... mat, I guess. A sample.
Now must repeat but make bigger.

Will keep you posted!