Charles’s Birthday

Last Sunday, my friend Charles Brooking, founder of the Brooking Collection, held an elegant and select birthday bash blessed by uninterrupted sunshine.  I mention this simply because Charles founded the Brooking Collection of architectural details, that amazing and comprehensive collection of the bits and pieces that we too often take for granted in the buildings we inhabit – from window catches to staircases. Charles’s collection dates back over the centuries and is a national asset that deserves to be fully recognised, while Charles himself is a leading authority on architectural details and their history.  Those histories form the history of the buildings where we all live and work.

Three cheers for Charles!

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Back online

October 2013 update:  Thank you, Falmouth.

I have my MA degree, having attended the awards ceremony in Falmouth in September. In the delightful Princess Pavilion overlooking Falmouth Bay, what could be nicer setting for a reunion with fellow MAs and tutors at Falmouth University?  The ceremony for our faculty was conducted with warm dignity on a breezy grey afternoon, after which some of us took to the shelter of the Falmouth Hotel, where we celebrated with a good Cornish cream tea while we watched the sea just below.  After that, what better to follow than good Cornish fish and chips Rick Stein style in his harbourside restaurant beside the Maritime Museum.  (That’s what I had but Lucy demolished an outsize steak as she’s no veggie.)  

We stayed in student accommodation at the University’s Tremough campus, where we envied present-day undergrads such comforts as individual en-suites and multiple power sockets while we remembered earlier student days.

If you happen to be in the Falmouth area and you’re interested in building design, you’d probably find a visit to the brand-new the campus rewarding.  Try flying by with GoogleEarth for a preview.

Life is moving forward now.  Our house is for sale and we are looking to move.  I know now that all you hear about selling and move being mega stressful is all too true.  But it’s time to pick up the pen again and, between clutter clearing and keeping the house looking decent for viewers, to get on with writing.

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Pink beats the blues

Me oh my, but I find myself the proud owner of a new handbag ‘earned’ by writing a caption.  This elegant pink bag by designer Shona Easton ( is part of her new range for Spring 2012.  All Shona’s bags come in a wonderful range of colours, but she chose pink for Valentine’s Day.  Her challenge was to complete the sentence, ‘I need one of those pink bags right now because ..’.

Hmm, I thought, needs some alliteration here:  how about:’.. perfect pink beats February blues,’  or  ‘.. I’ve a passionate penchant for perfect pink’?

Yes, ‘perfect pink beats the February blues’ is probably the better of the two, but in the end I sent in both.  Shona thought my effort was worth a prize, and now dare I say at the end of an otherwise dreary day I’m feeling in the pink?

It’s a good-sized bag and should be inspirational while carrying my maps and papers when I’m out on the trail researching for my book.  Thank you, Shona!

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Haven’t I promised a write-up about the wonderful University College Falmouth post-graduate MA course?  In case your curiosity is overwhelming, here is the low-down.

It is:   Brilliant.  Fantastic.  Inspiring.  Exciting.  Practical.  Challenging.  Life-changing.

I’m writing from the perspective of one who is studying the on-line course for distant students – ‘distant learning’.   Distant it is, as there are students in my year group in Austria, Uganda and Portugal.  I was in Australia when the course began last year but was able to join in right away, except for one or two phone-in sessions conveniently timed at 6 pm in the UK, which was 5 am in Sydney.

As the distant course is part-time (at least in theory) we’re over half-way through (our academic year starts in January).  I have learned already an enormous amount: things I wish I’d known way before now and things I didn’t know I needed to know.  This is how it works:  there’s a unit of work each week, with on-line lectures and notes.  Students post their writing to the forum for the week, fellow students critique (constructively) and tutors comment on everyone’s work.  That’s the basic.  In this process you get to know fellow-students and they’re all interesting people with lively minds.  Well, they’d have to be!  I guess that goes for the tutors too.  They’re all publishing professionals.  One thing I have to explain to friends is this is not ‘creative writing’, but writing with intent to publish.

So far we’ve covered:  practical writing skills in fiction and non-fiction, editing, business writing, blogging, websites and a book.  Everything is very carefully programmed and I’m looking forward to getting back to my book, which I planned last year, once I’ve finished various other exciting units.  The book is going to be my big project for 2012.  That and a spot of free-lance work.

I may well return to this later, but if you feel a flicker of interest you might like to see what’s going on.  You could start at

I’ll be posting more anon as the year progresses.   It’s going to be quite a year.

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Charles Dickens: Happy Birthday

I can’t let this day pass without saying something about Charles Dickens – surely as much a part of our national heritage as Shakespeare, and very likely accessible to more people.

Today – 7th February 2012 –  is the bicentenary of Dickens’s birth.  Great pronouncements have been made in Westminster Abbey and we can all feel proud of ourselves as a nation.

So Dickens was an Aquarian.  I’m not surprised:  Aquarians can be charming, delightful, very much their own people and occasionally so much their own people they seem a little apart from the rest of us.  Original thinkers, they follow their own star and can be brilliantly inventive.  They know what they know and they have a view of what makes the world tick.   Just occasionally they get it wrong, but don’t we all?   Some born under stars not in sympathy to the Aquarian vibe might find them hard to understand.  Aquarians are special, and they’re not in the business of pandering to the lowest common denominator.  Two other famous 19th-century Aquarians come to mind:  Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, neither of whom seemed the sort to be put off by popular opinion.

If Dickens were alive today, I doubt he’d vote Conservative as he was too painfully aware of the effects of poverty and indifferent officialdom on ordinary lives.  Come to think of it, with his talent for spotting cant, I’m not sure he would vote for anyone.

I was introduced to Dickens at a surprisingly early age.  My grandmother, whose favourite book was ‘Our Mutual Friend’, collected the complete works and would read aloud the funnier passages from an ancient, leather-bound ‘Pickwick Papers’ which I still have.  As an adult, one appreciates the anger that lay beyind the writings, the peeling back of  layers of hypocrisy and the sheer fudge surrounding the social injustices that so outraged Dickens.

Later on, at times when life dealt a particularly bad hand, I’ve turned to Dickens:  maybe because what the characters were going through was so much worse than what I was dealing with, or perhaps because he has a way of defining the human situation that puts things in context.  Or just possibly because Dickens’s slower-paced prose takes one out of the stress-inducing obsessions of the 21st-century into the intimate world of that other way of life.

Thank you, Charles Dickens, for ‘telling it as it is’ in exemplary, inventive prose that has something to say to us two hundred years later.

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Feeding the map addiction

A Family History Fair seemed a good way to spend a grey Sunday afternoon yesterday, as  I needed some material for a study I’m making of opportunities for writers and editors in family history.  This turned out to be a good decision as family historians seem to be an enthusiastic band, happy to share information or pass the time of day.

An extra delight was the discovery of a stall selling reprints of antique maps.  I eventually chose replicas by Cassini of three of the first-ever Ordnance Survey maps, which appeared in 1805.  West London is fascinating as it shows main roads such as the A30 much as they are now (disregarding motorways),  villages and big houses scattered across open country as you headed west from the capital.  That’s where History and Geography meet – nothing like the sort of History we were taught at school, which seemed to focus mostly on the first Duke of Wellington and the battles he fought, “Oudenarde, Ramillies, Malplaquet” is about all that’s left in the memory bank. It should have been enough to put anyone off the subject for life.  Two 1805 maps of far western Cornwall show a landscape not vastly different from what is now and should be useful for a writing project I’m planning.

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Someone wrote Shakespeare…

The question is, who?  Some say ’twas the lad from Stratford.  That’s the traditional view, because it’s been handed down from generation to generation.  It’s what we were taught at school.  And the man’s name was on the texts, wasn’t it?  But there’s not much if anything to say William Shakespeare actually wrote the powerful and amazing words published in his name.  Then the film ‘Anonymous’ hotted up the debate and the flak began to fly. Strange how the critics ganged up, wasn’t it?  Maybe it’s because they all have English degrees and believe what their teachers told them at school?

There’s more to all this than meets the eye.  I’ve just finished my draft feature so that’s enough for now.

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I can’t live without my .. iPhone!

I don’t have an iPhone (yet) but here’s a ‘day in the life of’ an iPhone user.  I wanted to give the woman’s point of view.  I’d like to think it’s the start of a short series showing how iPhones are indispensable to 21st-century women of all ages.

Quite a good day, despite desperate run for train as forgot iPhone and had to go back.  Doing e-mail on train when Sis rings to say she’s preg and would I be godmother.  Shock and delight so listen to iTunes until Waterloo.

Team meeting OK: my designs accepted.  Wow!  Sandwich lunch:  Mum texts, ‘I’m going to be a granny’, and travel agent e-mails.  Christmas in the Maldives:  hooray!  Think I need a camera, look at Amazon and nearly invest in a new one with video, realise iPhone camera is as good.  Save £200:  not bad.

Afternoon a happy haze of achievement.  On way home am looking for recipe online when Ben rings to suggest eating at new restaurant out in the sticks.  He’s not sure where.  ‘No prob,’  I say, ‘my iPhone GPS will sort it.  You drive and I’ll navigate.’   Abandon recipe app and play Scrabble online until Woking.  Score 47 over Bro Nick in Brisbane, feel pleased.  N not amused.

Fix hair, slip into L.B.D.  iPhone navigator takes us to restaurant in good time:  no more arguing over maps!   Dinner divine.  Fusion with an Italian influence.

Home in blissful state and – bed.

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Sydney in 100 words

In Sydney I’m never far from the sea. City of seascapes and bridges, skylines and light – deep copper-flame sunsets backdrop the Harbour Bridge, gardens lapped by the South Pacific.  I linger on Circular Quay, watch the ferries cross to Manly, sip a cappucchino in a harbourside café or cool off with a beer.  Dazzled by the Opera House, pale sail-shapes in shifting perspectives and light – the bridge, quay and ships against a soaring cityscape framed by uninterrupted blue.  At New Year, everyone comes out at midnight to see the city take fire.  I love it for its ‘no worries’.  And always the dancing water.

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Back – and it’s 2012

Oh my word, Deary me and Did you ever!  It’s 2012 and we’ve all done Christmas and New Year, so it’s time to come out of hibernation and get blogging.  All sorts of stuff going on in these parts:  writing on ‘Who Wrote Shakespeare’ (work in progress), Sydney and Singing Farewell all to come.  Plus clearing the clutter.  So I’m back in business and the resolution for 2012 is: more blogging!

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Fog and a zawn

The day after that breezy visit to Land’s End, I drove across the Penwith moors to the Lelant mine.  But first an excellent lunch of fish soup en-route at the pub in Pendeen       This turned out to be a proper Cornish pub, unspoilt by touristic pretensions and all the better for it, where the efficiently charming girl behind the bar turned out to be a photography student from the University at Falmouth.  If I remember rightly, she’s experimenting with ‘old-fashioned’ pre-digital picture making.  At some point a couple with a dog arrived and reported they’d been walking on the upland moors when they realised a thick mist was coming down fast and the only thing to do was to leave immediately.

It was fine and sunny when I arrived on the cliffs above the mine.  It seemed a perfect sort of afternoon for exploring the cliff paths high above the deep blue-green sea below. Relics of the old mining industry are everywhere in these parts and there are some astoundingly deep, and well-guarded, holes connecting to the mine workings which themselves reach out far under the sea bed.  A shame, really, to go indoors, but standing close enough to the working beam engine to be able to touch it – which would have been extremely stupid – was well worth it.  Lovingly restored and maintained by a devoted team of volunteers, ‘the Greasy Gang’, the engine is the treasure of this modest National Trust site which holds the remains of the once-famous Levant Mine, one of the richest in the area when mining was in its heyday.

They show you a video of the mine underground, a bit of history and geology and a fair taste of what it’s like below ground.  I learned here what a zawn is:  a deep inlet in the cliffs formed by centuries of pounding by the ocean.  One such is Hell’s Mouth, up the coast near Hayle where just the other day a vast chunk of cliff fell into the sea.  You’ve probably seen the clip on U-tube.

Coming out of the old mine buildings, I realised the weather was changing, the Pendeen Watch on the far cliffs had disappeared and by the time the car was making its way up the narrow lane inland it was the hills were vanishing and fog was really closing in.  There was a surprising amount of traffic on the road to St Just, headlights were needed and where you expected to see the sea on one side and the hills on the other there was a blankness of white.  Nothing else to do but make for home carefully, put on the kettle and settle in for the night.

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Easton Handbag at Land’s End!

So there I was last week at Land’s End, and it was a grey and decidedly breezy day.  I’d remembered that I promised to take a photo for Shona Easton, luggage designer extraordinaire – meaning extremely talented.  Shona has been asking for photos of her handbags in famous places, so I reckoned Land’s End might qualify as a famous place and took my Easton bag along.  It’s biggish as handbags go, more of a weekend bag really, so into it I shoved my camera, map, money, mobile, tissues .. I needn’t go on .. and off I went to prowl the cliff paths and take photos.  Which I did – cliff views, sea views, views of waves crashing against rocks, the lighthouse, all that kind of thing.  After some time doing this in a howling gale, it began to feel like time for a cup of tea, so I first made my way to the famous signpost.  They like you to pay to have your photograph taken, but it was late afternoon and nobody much about on a grey October day so I didn’t need to feel guilty at depriving someone of a fiver.  Anyway, there can’t be a law against taking a photograph of the view if you feel like it.

Husband – he’d been out on the cliff paths surveying the view too – elected to photograph the bag while I held it.  I mentioned that there was a stiffish breeze – straight off the sea?  Doing its best to wave the handbag like a flag?  Well it was, but he did his best and Shona can have the photo for her website –  I’ll put a link to it here.  That is an extremely useful bag, if anyone wants to know.   I really like is the light pink lining, which makes it easy to find what you’re looking for.

After all that, a full cream tea on England’s most westerly point was the only possible course of action.

By the way, everyone seems to hate the weird architecture of the tourist ‘attraction’ they’ve installed, but you can look the other way.

More to come about ramblings in the West, but that’s all for now.

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‘Taking the air’ in Cornwall’s far west

17th October and it’s a fantastic, fine, sunny day with a wind enough to blow the garden seat over.  Which it did.  But hey-ho, what a great day to be heading Westward, for Devon and Cornwall.   Especially Cornwall.  Somewhere like my header photo, which I took near Porthleven on Cornwall’s south coast.   There’s a fantastic ‘B&B’ perched right on the cliffs, where you can see for miles and walk for miles on the coast path.  Bliss, but it might be interesting in a Force 8 gale.

I’ve just managed to snatch a few days away in the far south-west of Cornwall, an essential battery re-charge before serious Autumn sets in.  The wonderful air, well-oxygenated and straight off the Atlantic, is very sleepifying for about three days and then you feel re-energised.   So on the fourth morning it was straight up Trencrom Hill for a visual fix:  views eastward across Mount’s Bay to the Lizard and St Michael’s Mount, North-West to the Hayle Estuary and Godrevy (celebrated by Virginia Woolf in ‘To the Lighthouse’, north-east to Redruth and up-country, and south-west to the high moors which lead to Land’s End.  Or ‘the Land’s End’ as they used to call it, when it really was the end of the known land.

Trencrom itself is a mysterious place, of which more anon.

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On September 11th, 2011, I wrote this mini memoir from ten years ago.

Nine Eleven

We are relaxed after a sunny day at the Lost Gardens of Heligan.  It is early September and we are on our way to stay with friends near St Ives.  We need to buy fresh fish from the shop in Grampound and we’re relieved that we just make it before closing time at six o’clock.  In the shop we can’t quite hear the radio in the background, but we think a light aircraft must have lost its way or the pilot had a blackout.  Or something.

‘Something’s happened in New York,’ says the fishmonger as he weighs up our fillets of plaice, ‘There’s been a plane flown into the World Trade Centre’.

We thank the fishmonger, pay and leave, and I switch on the car radio to catch the news.   Somewhere towards Truro we hear it’s a big plane, with people on board.  Then we hear another plane has hit the second tower.  Through villages and towns, and down the A30 past Hayle, the story unfolds.

We arrive and our friends greet us, ‘Come in, the television’s on.  Have a drink:  you’ll need one.  We all need one.’   The four of us watch, mesmerised and horrified, and the history of the world changes as we drink Hamish’s best Lagavulin.   Through the evening the news is repeated and up-dated over and over.  When we finally get to bed we know things will never be the same again.

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I’m back!

After a long if not hot summer, it’s time to resume blogging again.  I managed an early holiday in beloved Cornwall and after that it was writing, writing, writing!

Talking of Cornwall, the news tonight is that Falmouth Coastguards have (again) been instrumental in a long-distance rescue, this time of a British couple whose campervan took a tumble into a river the Brazilian outback.   Great to be that adventurous, but hurrah for mobiles, GPS, satellite phones and the good Coastguards down in Cornwall.

I’m going to be off and down to Cornwall again for another ‘fix’ before the clocks go back:  after a few months withdrawal symptoms start to set in and it’s time to hit the A303 once again.

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Thirsty fox, hungry deer

Before the drought broke the other day, our friendly neighbourhood fox called in from the fields, ambled across the garden and enjoyed a good drink of water (thoughtful Husband to put out water) from one of the bird baths — or rather watering places.  When it had finished, it had a quick look round, more or less nodded its thanks, and ambled off.  Bother and drat, I thought, there’s never a camera handy when you need one.

The rabbits continue to frisk about on our lawn and hide under the shed when alarmed, which is not often.  But the real excitement of the week came about one day last week.  A full-grown adult deer was quietly nibbling the geraniums in the larger flower border.  (These are the geraniums that like to spread themselves around, not the kind in flower-pots which are really pelargonums.)  We had been told deer regard them as a delicacy and we realised that some animal had a predeliction for our geraniums, but we were firmly in denial when it came to deer.  Surely, we thought, that cannot be.  But there it was.  Very quietly, very gently and thoughtfully, the beautiful golden-brown creature stooped, nibbled, paused for thought and a quick look around, and nibbled again.

I rushed for the camera to get the photographic evidence (shooting through the window).    Eventually, we thought we should gently discourage further feasting while a fair few flowers remained.  I quietly opened the kitchen door:  deer looked at me and I looked at her.  ‘Hallo, beautiful deer,’ said I adopting a hopefully soothing tone, ‘Nice to see you, but we do like our flowers.’   A pause.  The deer turned and walked – no panic, no hurry – down the garden, pottered about by the compost heap for a few minutes, and ambled back into the fields.  Next time I’m downloading (or us it uploading?) I will post some photographs here.

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Return of the Fox

Yes, as you’ll have guessed, the Fox came back.  Another tranquil day, and husband said ‘There’s  a rabbit!’  This is not unusual in these rural parts, but this time a very small, juvenile rabbit ran hell-for-leather down the garden from the compost heap at the end.  Enter Fox from the same direction, confidently but not in urgent pursuit of prey. Nevertheless, you could tell he saw an opportunity not to be passed up.  Rabbit made for the cover of a dense low-growing shrub, and disappeared.  Fox followed and began circling the bush.

Unlike wildlife film-makers, who make it a policy not to interfere with the course of Nature, we took a rapid decision and, quietly, opened the kitchen door which leads to the garden.  Fox paused and I said in a conversational tone (here you have my permission to laugh if you like),  ‘Hello, you are a handsome fox, a lovely fox, a very fine fox indeed.’    Fox retained his poise and trotted, not ran, a short distance down the garden, paused and looked back.  ‘That’s OK, it’s good to see you.’   After a moment’s consideration, Fox exited at a leisurely pace via the compost heap into the field.   Rabbit lay low and we did not see it again until it returned a day later with some of its family.

All of this might be quite picturesque, but leads one to conclude that while we have no objection to foxes per se, and they do of course need to make a living, we would prefer that they left our garden – and our cats – out of their life plan.

OK.  Foxes need to live but he’ll have found plenty of prey out there in the fields.   He certainly was not desperate for a meal.   You might think we should have let things take their course, but encouraging slaughter right here in our domain seemed short-sighted when Cat One and Cat Two believe it is their territory and on-one else’s (which in theory at least is correct).

To follow:  the Fox in Winter.

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A fox in the daytime

‘Would a fox attack a cat?’  is a question often pondered in our locality somewhere in the rural fringe.   A story of a large cat beating off a fox with much shrieking and rumpus is going the rounds.   Opinions vary, but I would not give much for the chances of a small cat against a large powerful fox, if the fox was determined.   This is what happened in our garden yesterday morning.

To set the scene, we have to 13-year-old Siamese cats.  We have a fairly long garden with a wildish area at the far end by the field boundary and young rabbits occasionally come visiting.  For various good reasons, the grass had not been cut for at least three weeks and the bank of Queen Anne’s Lace at the far end was picturesquely tall and thick.  It was around mid-day and all was peaceful and sunny.  Number One Cat was asleep close to the house and Number Two Cat had recently been seen in the herbaceous border.

Contemplating this rural tranquillity, I noticed in the longer grass something brown and pointed, which turned out – you’ve guessed it – to be the head of a fox.  A strikingly handsome dog fox ambled into view, gently pottering, sniffing at this and that, sitting down, looking about and peacefully enjoying the garden.  Where was Number One Cat?  Number One Cat is a feisty character but is very small.   On cue, Number One appeared at the far end of the garden, ambling without a care towards the house along the only mown path in the long grass  – like the fox, just enjoying things.   The fox, positioned close to and facing the pathway, was poised to see Number One, who was blissfully unaware of anything untoward.

As these things do, it happened quite quickly. Fox saw cat and moved forward to investigate at close quarters.  Cat saw Fox approaching within a metre of her and took off like a Derby winner, probably faster than she has ever run – and she has a style like a Cheetah – bang! straight through the catflap.  The fox appeared slightly puzzled, sat down for a scratch, pottered about some more and eventually headed off into the fields.  Number One quickly regained her poise and said keeping foxes out of the domain was all in a day’s work.

In the prime of her youth, Number One Cat would take on the pheasants who visited the garden most days then.  The stalk, flat to the ground, using for cover whatever came handy, maybe the wheelbarrow or a flowerpot, was a marvel of acute concentration.  Pheasants, not being the brightest of birds, would take some time to become suspicious.  On suddenly realising a cat was taking a close interest, they would take off in a fluster of wings and squawks – pursued by cat, leaping high in the air.  It was often a close call.  Somewhere we have a photo of Number One in mid-air leap surrounded by airborne pheasants.

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Jamie Perks and the other kids in ‘The Archers’, continued

So young Jamie has found a girlfriend:  sounds like good news for a change, but it’s not going to guarantee him success in those exams.  Meanwhile, young Freddy over at Lower Locksley shows a talent for writing [hurrah] and is clearly devoted to the Harris Hawks his father so loved – and which his mother has decided to abandon for economic reasons.  However, there are hints that Elizabeth may yet change her mind.  But, here’s the big BUT, brother David, never one for subtlety, has given Elizabeth the impression he was responsible for her husband’s death.  Something of a nuclear explosion in the family!

Back to the children and the Philip Larkin syndrome.   Phoebe has every chance of being messed-up well and truly if her indulgent part-time mother has anything to do it, which she will.  Poor kid, trying to belong to two different families in two different countries.  So long as Phoebe’s Dad, Roy, fails to stand up to Kate, sensible step-mother Hayley’s concerns don’t get a look-in.

Then there’s little George:  at one time no-one was certain who George’s father was, but it turned out to be Will, at that time married [just] to George’s mum, Emma, who then realised she would be happier married to Will’s brother, Ed.   Which she did.   Result:  unreasoned enmity between the brothers and confusion for little George, especially now baby Keira is on the scene.   Now Will thinks he’d like a new baby with his partner Nic, but she’s not keen.   Good on you, Nic:  don’t bring any more kids into this mayhem – they’ll only have a bad time.

You are following all this, are you not?  Because there’s more to follow, dum-de-dum-dum-de-dum…

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‘The Archers’: Philip Larkin was right

‘An everyday story of country folk’ they called it, once.  But does everyone mess up their children to the extent that the characters do in ‘The Archers’?  Having ruminated recently on the sad situation of young Jamie Perks, I was led to consider the other children born into a life of strife in that long-running saga.  You can see what the editorial team are up to:  a supply of new babies has to be born (oh joy!) in order to provide the tug-of-love kids, the troubled teenagers and indeed the future generations of parents who will pair up and start the whole thing all over again.   How else can an endless saga survive?

Nobody really believes that Jamie is revising for the exams with his pal.  The truth will out and there is a time-bomb waiting to explode when the results are announced later in the summer, if not sooner.   Meanwhile, Daniel Hebden went through a bad patch last year but now is studying hard and intends to follow in Dad’s footsteps and become a lawyer.  Will he succeed?  If the editorial team have anything to do with it, it will not be easy and there may be a spectacular failure at some future date.

The script-writers don’t stop at teenagers.  They really have it in for a generation of younger children:  George, Phoebe, Freddy and Roraigh.   It is all to do with abandonment and separation, which any amateur psychologist will tell you can scar a person for life.   More on this will follow.

Dum de dum de dum de dum ..

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