Archive for the ‘life’ Category

For my post this month I thought I’d share some pictures* of that most British of pastimes, the New Year Hunt. Traditionally, the hunting season runs from November to April, with Boxing Day or New Year being one of the calendar highlights.

Fox hunting has been illegal in the UK (but not in Northern Ireland) since an Act of Parliament in 2004. The Act has been hotly protested by the pro-hunt lobby—indeed, Otis Ferry, son of the Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry, wrote an article in the Sunday Times on the subject last week, while the anti-hunt lobby claims that, since the ban, more foxes are slaughtered by illegal hunting than ever before.

Hunts now follow a false scent trail (called drag hunting) and are (meant to be) strictly monitored. While I love foxes, I also love tradition, so for me at least it’s wonderful to be able to see a hunt, even a false one.

The arrival of the hounds, accompanied by the Whipper-In (on the white horse) and the Master of the Hounds (red coat, brown horse).



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With all the talk of Wimbledon and grass (a very important subject if you’re a Wimbledon player, official, or fan), I thought I would post about a very different form of lawn.

If you think “The Camomile Lawn” is the title of a book by Mary Wesley, you’d be right. Out of her novels, it’s my second favourite book of hers and I’m delighted to own a signed copy. The novel was turned into a television production described as very close to the original book. This mini-series starred Felicity Kendal, and Paul Eddington of “The Good Life” fame. It also starred Tara Fitzgerald and Claire Bloom, among other recognisable names.

The story is a dramatic backdrop to wartime England as seen through the eyes of five cousins. The expansive camomile lawn sits at the back of a large house owned by one of the character’s aunts. Being the favourite holiday spot for the cousins they gather there in August 1939 at a time when they are still able to enjoy the innocence of youth, even while facing the imminent prospect of war. The novel moves back and forth from this picturesque setting to the devastation of a bombed London where people fight for survival with all the wit and warmth that is common to the human spirit when faced with such dire circumstances. The cousins suffer through loves and losses, while holding dear to the memory of that more innocent time when they played on The Camomile Lawn. Memories of these sometimes-dangerous games (such as “The Terror Run” on the cliff path) are recalled when years later the family gather for a funeral. They also recall their uninhibited behaviour during the war.

One might well wonder why Mary Wesley chose such a setting as a camomile lawn for the book if one has not experienced “walking with fragrance” a phrase coined by one UK supplier. The scent is such that it could well invoke rich memories, memory being a profound theme of the book. Originating from Greek, the name chamomile, or camomile, means “earth-apple” and although it relates more to the way the plant grows low to the ground and the daisy-like flower some varieties can produce, I liken it more to the scent. Camomile is not a grass, nor related to one. It is a ground-covering plant like many rockery plants. I’ve discovered that it grows and spreads by sending out shoots on all sides from which further roots seem to form and travel down into the soil. Larger plants can have some shoots carefully removed and replanted to fill in barer spots.

Like most herbs, camomile has a long history of therapeutic uses, ranging from skin disorders, cancer treatments, and anti-inflammation creams. Most famously, we associate camomile with its calming influence, particularly with regard to herbal tea. Of the many thousands of people who regularly purchase camomile tea, probably few have heard of growing a whole lawn out of this plant and yet it creates the softest, most springy lawn imaginable. Note: I am not telling you to grow a lawn and make your tea out of it. There are many varieties of this plant and some are better for growing purposes, while others more palatable for tea. Like any plant, do not ingest it unless you are certain it is safe to do so.

A camomile lawn is not only pleasurable to walk on because of its bouncy trait but because of the incredible scent that’s released when the plant is trodden on or rained upon. Elizabethan England knew all about camomile and many poets sang its praises. Buckingham Palace boasts a camomile lawn that dates back to George V.

The one practical advantage of the modern variety of camomile grown for lawns is that the plants require no cutting. You can choose between flowering and non-flowering varieties but I always chose Treneague (available from www.camomilelawns.co.uk). No, I don’t have shares in the company, nor am I advertising for them, but if you’re interested in growing a lawn of your own this is my recommendation, although neither I nor the company can guarantee success. I can only say that I’ve never been exactly green-fingered but if there is one plant I simply “must have” in my garden, it is this.

Here is a picture of the camomile lawn in my last garden.


I was devastated that I had to leave it behind. In my new home, we have too much concrete for my liking. I have started by planting some areas with camomile this year, and I began with this:


This photo was taken on the day of planting. They are coming along and I fully expect that by the end of this summer this area will be a full, soft, rich green.

The most important thing to consider when choosing to plant a camomile lawn is the scent. Some liken it to apples. I agree but I find that it also makes me think of “citrus” and “fresh”, literally as in a breath of fresh air. I’ve found that the scent seems to clean the air and that breathing in the fragrance for me has a cooling effect. You’ll find this and other information on the camomile site as mentioned above, including that this could be the answer to hayfever sufferers. Choose the non-flowering variety and there’s no pollen! So, green in dry summers, no cutting, a great scent, you can use it to grow a whole lawn or in feature spots (even as a seat!) or as your main path, because the one thing camomile likes is to be walked on! Walk on it and it grows better. You can intermingle it with other plants, with flagstones, with shingle. The only rule is don’t plant it with any form of grass. The grass is too invasive and will take over. Go on. Walk with fragrance. I can’t scream it’s praises enough…although, I doubt Wimbledon would consider it as an alternative for tennis.

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Talking of the green, green grass of Wimbledon, there’s a fascinating blog post about lawns, their history and their uses at Mark Easton’s blog on the BBC Website.  It seemed too appropriate not to pass it on!

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By Geoff Nelder

I laughed the other day because I received a request from a baby naming site to link with my writing one. Initially, I thought this was a curious variation of a Nigerian bank scam, but once my stomach subsided I realized there was some sense here.


When I started writing fiction, characters’ names appeared from a mix of telephone directories, atlases and local newspapers. A snag with the directory method is repetition and so time consuming. As my fiction reached into more exotic parts I found a site with a name engine that gave me lists of real names from different continents.


Choosing the right name for a character is as important, if not more so, than choosing one for a newborn. You don’t want a tough gangster being called Cedric, or – I realize I may be upsetting real people here – an academic called Buster. It isn’t so simple. One of our aims is to have our main characters undergo change during the plot. The change is usually one gleaned from experience such as surviving a crisis, or it could be a coming of age. For such a character a name that can also ‘grow up’ is handy. That’s why many novels use Robert. Bobby as the kid, Rob as he matures, Robert as a gentleman then Bob as an ancient with dementia.


As my main genres are science fiction and fantasy I have great fun making up names. It was a voyage of discovery when I conjured up a name for a prehistoric man living in the Middle East. Twenty thousand years ago was before any established religion so Mohammed was out. However, I reasoned that since that region would likely have had a proto-language that led to early Arabic. I played around with Omar but although ancient was too new for my character. I felt I needed a Q in there since it is a feature of so many names in that region. Oqmar thus was born. If you google Oqmar 99% of the hits are for my ancient man in my recent book.


So what was the link I was asked to make from my website? It is Quick Baby Names. I gladly acceded because apart from having spent months trying to convince daughter that Ewan is a great name for her baby, the site gives the derivation and meanings. My daughter chose  Oliver, and he’s gorgeous.

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Public Lending Right

‘PLR’s aim is to provide an excellent service to all our stakeholders making annual payments to writers and other creators whose works are freely available in libraries. We will achieve this by maintaining a highly skilled team and making efficient use of all our resources.’

Basically, if your books (or anything else) are in libraries in the UK then you are eligible to a ‘royalty’ for each time it is loaned out.

Ho ho! I thought – even if Standish is the only book that is in any British libraries, and only in one library that I know of (Chesterfield, because a friend demanded they order it) – this sounds like a good idea!  Even if it’s only a little amont extra, ‘every little helps’ as a famous supermarket slogan says these days (ignoring the fact that the joke it came from was very rude.)

So I logged in and – me being me – did it all completely wrong. See elsewhere for my posts of how NOT to apply for your ITIN for example. The site is ease itself, and very user-friendly. You have to give your personal details before you can register any of your books – the trouble IS is that before the final submit your details page (although it does, very helpfully, give you a percentage of the process so you don’t do exactly what I did) it gets you to print out your application form.  And here’s where I got sidetracked and didn’t progress to the end. D’oh!

So don’t do that.

The reason you have to print out the application form is to get someone you know (not a relative) to simply say that you are you – you post it off and Bob’s your mother’s slightly dubious brother your account will be activated within a few days.

(What I had to do, for those of you who cock up as regularly as I do, was I had to enter all my details again but not print off the form once more. They were incredibly helpful both by email, phone and letter. They obviously have had idiots pass their way before.)

Anyway, my account was authorised yesterday and I logged on and registered all my books. It was a real thrill to just input the ISBNs and find that the computer already knew the names and publishers!  One thing to be aware of, you must be honest about your Lending Right percentage, don’t go putting “100 percent” if you are in a 3-author anthology!

Other countries, Ireland, Canada and many others have a similar system apparently, and I’ll checking them out – and no doubt getting all the forms wrong there too!

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Missing apostrophe

Missing apostrophe

Birmingham City Council has been getting a lot of stick lately for its decision not to use apostrophes on street signs.

As a writer part of me does worry about this. It’s yet another erosion of the traditions of our language and grammar, and yet another blow to the trusty old apostrophe, the use of which baffles many people already.

But just how important is this? Fair enough, something like St Paul’s Square really should have an apostrophe because it’s called after St Paul’s Church, which is called after… St Paul. The apostrophe is there to show possession. Place names, on the other hand, tend to be less clear-cut. Kings Heath perhaps ought to have an apostrophe because it refers to the heath owned by the king (singular). But how about Druids Heath? Is that singular or plural? Where should the apostrophe go? It might well be better in that case to leave it out than get it wrong. And as for Acocks Green, is this even named for someone called Acock or does it come from a different source altogether?

As the article I link to above says, many of the apostrophes were already dying out in the 1950s so this is hardly a new phenomenon. Indeed, I have an old map of the area which shows Kings Heath spelled without the apostrophe as far back as 1880 – and many other such names around the country have either lost their apostrophes or never had them in the first place: Kings Pyon, Bishops Itchington (yes, really!), Canons Ashby.

So perhaps Birmingham council deserves a bit of slack. After all, I’d much rather see a road sign spelled Kings Heath than the sign I saw in a computer superstore this lunchtime, which read “IPOD’s”. That really did annoy me!

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‘Twas the night before Yesterday, when all through the house

We heard Christmas music, playing ever so loud;

We thought it was coming from the neighbours so near,

That they must have it blaring, dear, oh dear.

It got louder and louder, and made such a clatter

We jumped to our feet to see what was the matter.

Away to the door, we both rushed outside…

And saw Santa drive by…In his Sleigh, no lie!


(Actually, it was the local scouts but quite spectacular in its way.)

Sharon Maria Bidwell
aonia – where the muses live

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