posted Sep 9, 2018, 3:16 PM by J Norton   [ updated Sep 9, 2018, 3:16 PM ]

By Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic Section [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It has been a lovely summer, but Autumn is moving in and the sky tells us the cycle of the year is with us already. The children are back off to school and quiet has descended on everything.

It has been quite a while since I have written a blog. Various things have kept me away, including the garden and our beloved new kitten, Dora. We have also had such good weather this year, it seemed rather a shame to be indoors.

The garden has come along nicely. After the loss of a lovely original Lime Tree, six newer trees were planted about ten years ago and are now a good size. Some of the apple trees died away too, all very old. The various trees are wonderful to our very naughty new kitten Dora. She is a close companion and, like all children, has great fun in getting into mischief - in her case, climbing high up trees. Our ladders are getting rather a lot of use these days as she often requires a rescue...

The Sweep

posted Aug 7, 2016, 4:16 PM by J Norton   [ updated Aug 7, 2016, 4:16 PM ]

I grew up on North London, and still recollect many of the things I saw in my childhood many years ago, which I try to explain to my grandchildren...who think I am very odd as I have been to lots of places and seen many things way beyond the comprehension of eight-year-olds. They, like most children, have seen the film Mary Poppins, so are familiar with the concept of the chimney sweep in the form of Dick van Dyke, but they were amazed to find that sweeps actually still existed in my childhood.

The arrival of the sweep was long expected, and greatly dreaded, at least by me because they were so black and grimy. It required a week's cleaning in a day to get rid of the horrid black dust. Coal fires were the only fuel available at the time, and poor quality coal, too, in the aftermath of WWII. Imagine today's children going to bed dressed in more clothes than they wore in the day because the only fire was in the living room!

A visit to various Aunties who lived further into London - one living not far from Marble Arch, and the other in Paddington - gave a nosy five-year-old glimpses of much of city life, there wasn't much that could be see from 226 bus, and accepted as normal, in the chaos about us.

I was especially fascinated by the bomb sites we passed, so much part of everyday life in the fifties as to be unremarkable. They were the forbidden playgrounds of my brothers, and later the one near us was cleared so that one year we had a huge bonfire on it for Guy Fawkes night.

A vision still echoes in my mind of being on top of the bus and seeing the remaining wall on a third attic floor of a house, where a cracked mirror still hung on flowery paper, seven years later, with a towel, ragged and grey by that time, midst London smogs. We left before all they sites were finally cleared - off to green field and rural Hertfordshire. 

Isn't memory a wonderful thing, called back in a moment from a very long time ago, but with one still for the foreseeable anyway?

The Mystery Even Hal Westwood Cannot Solve

posted Feb 3, 2016, 1:25 PM by J Norton   [ updated Feb 3, 2016, 1:25 PM ]

I have been struggling with a mental block for the past few tell a lie - for nearly a year. Sometime last spring, having achieved a substantial amount of accumulated chapters and notes for the next book, I moved them to separate file and labelled it. This is something I automatically do. I then usually put the handwritten notes away carefully, in a good old fashioned cardboard file (just in case), and continue working on the file on my iPad until the book is finished, reviewed, rewritten, and submitted to my editor.

This system has worked for the past few years like clockwork. I could show you a stack of files languishing in a cupboard, all carefully stacked, labelled, in order - some a bit tattered round the edges - but safe. I even have a separate lot of typed notes in a fireproof file, but what I don't have, and despair of ever finding, are the notes of my latest novel - the one which in normal circumstances would be on sale now.

Where are they? Heaven only knows. Certainly not in the cupboard with its friends. Those notes are the maverick of notes - they have gone missing, and having searched an old house full of nooks and crannies, looking in all sorts of cupboards, I realised I had to give up and write it all again, secure in the knowledge that the moment I neared the finishing line of a rewrite, somebody would move something and the file of notes would be revealed, lurking, chucking, in a totally inexplicable place that I will have definitely looked in at least ten times and never seen before.

Yes, as you may have guessed, this is a thinly disguised apology for not having produced the latest Hal Westwood mystery in the usual timeframe. Hal is, of course, too polite to make any complaint, although I have had a few quizzical looks from him lately.

How, he obviously wonders, can he get on establishing law and order in the seventeenth century, a difficult achievement at the best of times, if he has no help but that of Sophie, who tends in her eagerness to be of assistance, to throw complications and danger in his way? How much more harassment is a hero expected to endure? Is it not enough that there is no efficient police force, an antiquated legal system and a set of villains forever at his elbow - that now the one person whose main task is to at least record his struggle against the forces of darkness, has come up with the feeble excuse of losing her notes?! Is he really to believe she has spent the whole winter season looking for her paperwork?

I can sense the advice hovering on his lips, so I make haste to assure him and it is being attended to even as we speak: the next in an exciting tale of his exploits of storms off the Cornish coast, being cast ashore in remote coves, followed by a ride through wild countryside, terminating with Sophie inevitably having to be rescued from a dangerous and complicated in the making as I write.

Autumn Colours

posted Jan 19, 2016, 12:05 PM by J Norton   [ updated Jan 19, 2016, 12:05 PM ]

After a damp, chill summer, when only the weeds flourished, and most of us gardeners felt mildly discouraged, we appear to be enjoying a long autumn with some splendid colours. Having said that, of course, the next arrival will be a gale from the west followed by torrential rain, but at this moment in time, the leaves are gently turning various shades of gold and brown, and the Virginia creeper is a glorious riot of red scrabbling over the Cotswold stone.

Time for the Great Cut Back before the frosts hit. Shrubs which had so much rain they doubled in size must be trimmed down to avoid root strain when the winds which bring the rain blow. If we are lucky we will get the resultant pile of green stuff burnt before the onslaught of the worse weather.

When it does, it is time for the autumn clean up for the advent of Christmas, already the shops have donned their festive colours, and the inevitable Christmas songs are playing whereever one goes. My granddaughters wrote out the list for Father Christmas shortly after going back to school and persuaded their grandfather to send it up the chimney there and then, which he did...not knowing he was required to memorise the contents. 

The return of Hilda, their fairy who left fairyland under a cloud last year having gone to the aid of the unicorns Norman and Harold and who took many dangerous risks, is required. She will ask the right questions and mobilise the gift-giving workforce of reluctant unicorns, elves and fairies in time for the usual advent calendar.

Hilda's tree has died in the meantime, whether the result of the re-routing of a stream, or just because Hilda was in exile, no one is quite sure. But, a new tree must be chosen, and the herald of a tiny lamppost next to it will be the first sign, followed by the advent (along side the religious one) of her tiny hand-written letters, which is the beginning of the Christmas routine.

A Child's Musings

posted Jun 26, 2015, 8:39 AM by J Norton   [ updated Jun 26, 2015, 8:39 AM ]

'The open haert is the love and faithful thing in your body. You must have love in your haert  to trust others and thell trust you back.This information is about love in you and your friends where ever you are. The round red thing is in every person to help them live.
The soul, which is you, is protected by an invisidel  bubble, like us today. Our heart is very personl to us.people may think our haert is in our tummy, but it is in your chest.'

The above was written by my granddaughter, and she wrote this back in the spring. It wasn't written as a lesson, although they had clearly had one at school. I have copied it verbatim, because it shows that words are stronger than the rules which surround them.

She is seven years old now, but was six at the time. It still makes me weep each time I read it, the innocence of the words are a lesson to us all, as we rush about our daily lives, caught up in the hustle and bustle.

'The open haert is the love and faithful thing in your body.'

I defy any philosopher to gainsay it. Innocent yes, but by heaven couldn't we all do with a dose of such innocence?

'you must have love in your haert to trust others and thell trust you back.'

 It shouts at us, these phases which trip off our tongues so glibly, yet get thrust aside in the hustle of everyday life.

Will she be a writer?  I have no idea - at her age the whole world is before her, but she is undeniably a thinker, and her words make us all stop and think.

Ransom for a Fairy

posted Dec 14, 2014, 6:02 PM by J Norton   [ updated Dec 14, 2014, 6:02 PM ]

For some years now I have been telling my granddaughters the adventures of Norman and Harold, two unicorn brothers, who each year enlist their help in solving a problem which afflicts one inhabitant or other of the Magic Garden at the top of the Grassy Steps.

So far we have four or five adventures, for the children have to be old enough to comprehend the idea of magic, and yet still young enough to believe in all the tales told to them by adults. The unicorns live in the Magic Garden through the Golden Gates which stand at top of the Grassy Steps, which can be accessed in several ways, the chief of which is to believe in the possibility of wonder.

This year we are half way through the adventure of Hilda and the Pirates. Hilda is the resident fairy. She lives in the fairy stone, and concerns herself with keeping everybody she knows happy, but her especial care is of small birds, and tiny woodland creatures. She is a very hardworking and can be gone for considerable lengths of time, for as everybody knows if you want something done you ask a busy fairy. Things started to go wrong some weeks back, when Hilda went missing.

And then came the dreadful news, as ever, via the Advent Calendar, from Norman and Harold, who leave messages each day in the pockets, with clues to where sweeties and small gifts might be found, that it was rumoured Hilda had been kidnapped by gnomes and sold on to Pirates, who were demanding a ransom for her release. These last few days have been concerned with gathering together as much ransom as we can find, for how could any of us leave Hilda to the fate of having to cook and clean for a boat full of rowdy pirates, and who would feed and tend the small birds?

This task meantime has fallen to my granddaughters, who have enjoyed seeing the arrival of the assorted finches, tits and sparrows each day, as well as gathering together as much gold and precious jewels as could be found to secure Hilda's release. The crunch came when I suggested they should add their new Frozen necklaces, which Norman and Harold left as a gift, to the ransom, which they were not inclined to do, as they are much prized. The story of the two sister princesses very much appeals to them, and they entered into the trials and tribulations of the pair with the enthusiasm of six year olds, but the sacrifice of prized necklaces is it would seem, another kettle of fish.

Luckily their grandfather, stepped into the breech, offering some cuff links and we have finally gathered together the ransom, and are awaiting further instructions as to their disposal. How will it all be resolved? Hopefully happily, and in time for Christmas Day, as is Harold and Norman's won’t and Hilda will be back safe and sound in her fairy stone.


posted Nov 11, 2014, 8:59 PM by J Norton   [ updated Nov 11, 2014, 8:59 PM ]

In the village we live in, Halloween is celebrated along with Guy Fawkes in a typically English way of mixing everything together, taking bits from other cultures, and embellishing it.

My granddaughters dressed up at witches, and rather than tricking or treating, we gathered together and paraded about the village as soon as dusk fell to see how well each other had carved and lit pumpkins, and put out displays of ghosts and ghouls, skeletons and graves, before ending up in a field to see Guy Fawkes burned on a bonfire, eat sausages and burgers, and watch fireworks light the sky.

We have put on a large-ish display for many years, as we utilise the end of a small road where a corner turns. We raised a witch on a broomstick, the head of a murdered bride, and a ghost in a white robes zipped from tree to tree along a wire. We had a tombstone, another set of heads made by my granddaughters which were sitting at a table eating bugs and bones in blood, a couple of skeletons (one of which is still occasionally luminous), skulls and other horrid things, much to the delight of the children.

This year my husband had to attend a Halloween party to celebrate a colleague who was retiring to live abroad. It had been decided everyone would go in costume, but my husband wanted something easy to wear, so I made him a Merlin costume, using a long white wig and beard, a magician type robe, a stout stick, with a crystal on the top.

When he arrived at the party the younger members immediately called him Gandalf, and the name stuck.

He looked very good, so I insisted he made up part of the village display, and as you can see from the photo, he was amazing.

True, the weather was on our side, there was a stiff breeze blowing, so the witch slid back and forth, the ghost, hung with chains clanked happily, and as the crowd approached to view the scene the moon appeared from behind a cloud, over his shoulder.

The group came to a halt as Gandalf thumped his staff and cried out greetings, and seemed to stand rooted to the spot, until one boy advanced closer and then announced, 'You're not Gandalf, you've got a checked shirt on, just like my Granddad!

Once again Gandalf banged his staff, and instructed him and the crowd to go forth, which after due deliberation, they did, to view other displays before ending up all of us watching a bonfire and fireworks spiralling in the sky.

Autumn Sunshine

posted Oct 13, 2014, 2:25 PM by J Norton   [ updated Oct 13, 2014, 2:25 PM ]

It has been a busy few months. There always seems so much to do...until it occurred to me that the older one gets the longer everything takes. 

The summer holidays passed in a whirl of catch-up gardening, as we trained the new gardener to our methods. We were accompanied by my granddaughters who were finally going from being proficient swimmers in the pool to being totally at home, bordering on a downright nuisances to those who have never enjoyed being splashed by children who feel leaping in off of the side of the pool is a must-do occupation. They did it to such excess that a friend took a photo of them both appearing to be in flight, side by side as twins always seem to be, looking for the world like two birds taking off for the warmer climes of Africa.

Then, no sooner were they packed back off to school than our holiday came along, our annual trip to Cornwall. There it was quieter where we could  admire the magnificent scenery and enjoy the quiet beaches, as is our want, in the (fortunately) warm, autumn sunshine.

With less people it was possible to go to the relevant places for the next book and to walk the old streets of the ancient ports and towns without crowding, and discover again the topography of towns and villages I have known for so many years. Although occasionally, it was a bit of a puzzle where town planners had been let loose with their ideas on traffic flows, it was then a joy to find I hadn't imagined the very long street which made up the centre of Bodmin from my childhood, for there it was again (once we'd negotiated the ring roads and car parks).

It was easier to observe how the tides came in onto lonely beaches, even with the resident surfers, for although I have seen them many times before, to remember which location has which sort of peculiarity often escapes me. Definitely a case of familiarity breeding a different memory.

We were lucky with the weather, and it has been a beautiful autumn. We were able to linger in the beach side cafés, recognising how the recent revolution in cooking has been greatly to the advantage of the population so that it is often possible to get really excellent food at the tiniest of cafés. So we spent time sitting in the autumnal sun, lingering over simple but expertly-prepared dishes, before strolling on the beach to walk off the calories...then realise that the tides seem to come in swifter these days and having to scramble back over rocks to the car then back to the hotel to sleep the sleep of the well-fed and well-exercised.

The Hunt for the Golden Key

posted Aug 19, 2014, 11:42 PM by J Norton   [ updated Oct 13, 2014, 2:23 PM ]

I have been blessed in this life with two sets of granddaughters, who were born approximately fifteen years apart.

The stories I told my elder granddaughters were brought out again years later, retold with embellishments. The first time round, I was a novice, often thinking on my feet, as Sarah the eldest granddaughter had inherited my naturally suspicious nature, and would not only retain all I told her, but cross reference previous answers against the new ones (something Charlotte, the elder of the twins appears to have inherited).

The stories, designed to send a stubbornly unsleepy child to the Land of Nod, require quite a lot of repetition, so the climbing of the mythical grassy steps into the secret garden, required enumeration of various wild flowers which adorned each step, and a detailed description of the jewels which encrusted the golden gates at the top of these steps, and led into the magic world of two milk-white unicorns, brothers, named Norman and Harold, who conducted them into the secret garden and helped them enjoy the various adventures which ensued and are acted out each Christmas time by means of messages concealed in the Advent Calendar.

Hilda, their fairy, who resides in the Fairy Stone (when she isn't rescuing birds and small creatures from the vagaries of the weather) assists in these matters between Christmas and Easter, when the Easter Bunny temporarily takes over.

The long six week summer holiday seemed an ideal time to add to the excitement, as they have been looking for a secret door to the grassy steps which will lead to the Secret Garden for sometime now, and the opportunity came some weeks ago when we saw exactly what we needed at Hampton Court Castle, not the one near London, but another such house in Herefordshire, which is blessed with the most beautiful gardens, and well worth a visit should you be in the vicinity.

Of simple construction, we accomplished the making of the door last weekend. It required the cutting of a shape into the trunk of a dead old tree, the application of paint, a handle and a keyhole, and the rest is all in a child's imagination. We sat back and waited for the discovery.

The screams of excitement and delight told us it was made last Sunday morning, followed by a frantic hunt for the key about the garden, which went to the extreme of Charlotte clambering onto my husband's shoulders to search an empty bird's nest, just in case Hilda - whose main object in life is to assist the birds - was using it as a handy repository.

Did they find the key? Not yet. There are still two weeks of the holiday to go, and what better way to keep the interest going than a key hunt on fine days? There are many keys to be concealed about the garden to keep them looking and trying, and as all adults know, the allure of the possible far outweighs the accessible.

And then, when the weather turns, Christmas and the Advent Calendar hie into view. Another story told by Harold and Norman is surely in the offering. Children grow up so quickly these days, who knows how much longer they will believe in the Secret Garden at the Top of the Grassy Steps where wonderful things happen, but until that sad day, there are always adventures to be had, dreams to be dreamt and two milk-white unicorns with silver hooves, silken manes and little golden horns just waiting to join them in another adventure.

Last Resting Place

posted Aug 4, 2014, 12:21 AM by J Norton   [ updated Aug 4, 2014, 12:21 AM ]

What happened, I hear you say, to the open gardens projected earlier in the year?

They went ahead of course, as naturally as sun follows rain, but not in our village.

Some of the usual stalwarts of the gardening scene were away on holiday, others hadn't the time, or inclination, for it is something of a formidable task, and as we had lost a our usual gardener, a casualty of domestic discord, it soon became apparent, that it just wasn't going to happen, especially when my husband's mother became ill.

A lady who had reached her 91st year, and looked set to get the traditional telegram from the Queen, became suddenly rather frail, and within a few weeks had gone, leaving behind the usual chores dependent of such matters, and the disposal of the accumulation of possessions of the previous years.

But all the work of the spring months was not for nothing, indeed, as we totter on the edge of reclaiming the garden from the onslaught of weeds, we are very thankful for our earlier efforts, especially as finally the box trees have begun to grow and the lavender is now in flower.

The June dates of the Open Gardens was actually the weekend we went (with my husband's brother and sister in law) to Durdle Door in Dorset to scatter, in accordance with the last request, the ashes, in a beautiful landscape depicted on many a calendar.

A tranquil beauty spot, just above a beach which echoes to the laughter of children, in the summer months, within sound of the eternal crashing of the waves upon the shore, and the lonely call of the gulls, it is a lovely last resting place.

Just off the footpath which has been traversed for centuries, where people hesitate, and stop to look once again at the sheer majesty of nature, it is an ideal spot to have ashes scattered to the four winds, so they were, the final act which can be performed for anyone.

It naturally gives one pause for thought, where I wonder would we choose to be cast or buried, if the world were so to speak our oyster? For a moment ones imagination takes flight, but then the answer emerges from all the choices, one would like to be scattered were one feels at one with nature, be it on a wild moor, hallowed ground, a country field or a bluebell wood, death is very much like life after all.

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