Remember - Service Graves

So, I've just had the excitement/terror of chatting live on my local radio station, BBC Berkshire about the service graves that Mum and I look after in St. John's Churchyard in Woodley.

You see, almost 80 years ago, my Grandad arrived at the RAF airfield in Woodley to learn how to fly. He did his first solo here and went on to fly with the RAF right through WWII. He flew on D-Day and then spent the days after landing in Northern France to evacuate casualties under fire. When he eventually left the RAF, he and my Gran returned to Woodley, set up home there and I spent my early years in that very house.

A page from my Grandad's RAF logbook

A page from my Grandad's RAF logbook

Gran and Grandad are now buried together in the St. John's churchyard and a few years ago, on Remembrance Sunday, we noticed a couple of local Air Cadets laying poppies on two graves that are tucked next to the churchyard's boundary fence, under a tree.

When we looked into this a bit more, we found out that these two RAF officers had been killed on Woodley airfield when their plane, an Avro Anson, flipped over and crashed in flames on take-off. I doubt that these two came from Woodley so they've not been returned to their families, but left in a churchyard far from anyone who knew them.

The graves surrounded by weeds and bare earth

The graves surrounded by weeds and bare earth

And so Mum and I started looking after them. At Christmas, at Easter, at Remembrance and any other time of year when we were at the churchyard, we'd bring plants and flowers and try to clean the mud and dirt on their headstones and clear the weeds. One Christmas, we bought some stones to put around the graves, just to cover up the bare earth and show someone cared.

Me trying to weed!

Me trying to weed!

But now, the weeds are huge and clearing the tidying the graves is going to be a big job. However, it's a job that we want to do because after all, these two men were someone's sons and if you had relatives buried a long way from home, wouldn't you want to think someone did something, anything for them?

After yesterday's ministrations - looking a little more cared for

After yesterday's ministrations - looking a little more cared for

So I spoke on BBC Berkshire today and asked for some help. For some help in identifying those giant weeds or for a little help from a local garden centre with weedkiller, bulbs or anything that could help us show these two men that they've not been forgotten. Because they haven't been.

If you can help, please get in touch. Thank you so much.

The Little Things - Winter Mornings

Now, however cold it is or however reluctant my duvet is to release me in the morning, I usually have to summon the courage to throw back the covers and step out into the chill of the early day. 

You see, when you have a dog who loves her post-breakfast walks and a son who has to get the school bus at 7.20am on six mornings every week, there's really not much chance to linger in bed. This used to really bother me but, this winter, the excuse to get out and about early is one I've gratefully seized...

These winter mornings have been unbelievably beautiful. And, when you're the only one around, you can stand, stare and soak it all in for as long as you like without having to share any of it with anyone.

On super cold mornings, when I pull my hat further down over my ears and wonder why I didn't put on that extra layer, you feel pretty chuffed with yourself that you made it out. On misty mornings, when tendrils of creeping fog ooze across the paths in front of you and slip over the lake, the world seems muffled and if anyone is out, they're usually hidden from view.

So, my dog and I crunch through the frosty grass, splash our way through mud and puddles and drift soundlessly through the mists and fog on these winter mornings and, by the time we return home, we think we've earned the right to slip back upstairs for a few minutes and wrap ourselves in blankets until we're warmed through again.

Review - Morgan Motor Company Factory Tour

Son loves cars. In fact, I love cars and, given my passion for all things historic or those that have a distinctly vintage vibe, it's really no surprise that both of us adore Morgans.

These genuinely beautiful cars might look like they belong in a pre-war world but they're modern machines in every sense of the word. They're also special because each and every Morgan is hand built on a quiet residential street in the Worcestershire town of Malvern and this site has been home to the Morgan Motor Company since they were founded by H.F.S. Morgan back in 1909.

And so, when you visit Morgan, you don't step into a highly polished visitor centre or super shiny showroom. Instead, you push open a door and find yourself, quite literally, on the factory floor where bare chassis are transformed into glorious Morgans.

I can't express my admiration for Morgan here. It's a pretty brave thing to allow strangers into your world, to have them wander around your business, watching how your staff do their job. It's a huge credit to everyone involved that production continues and tours continue hand-in-hand and, it's fair to say that we LOVED our tour of the Morgan Motor Company.

Our amazingly knowledgeable guide led our little group through the build process - we saw each step from the bare structure of the car, the addition of the body work and wood work through to engine fitting, paintwork and the finishing touches of soft leather and individual flourishes. Each Morgan rolls through the workshops complete with its own little pamphlet that tells the craftsmen what car they're building and for whom. It's wonderful to see these information packs with the end customer's name on them, knowing that the car is being built for someone who's already chosen it. The whole process is about as far removed from buying a mass market motor as you can imagine. 

We so enjoyed every minute of our time at Morgan. Seeing the historic range of cars was amazing and viewing the special selection of racing and other 'important' Morgans was equally as thrilling. Watching real craftsmen at work was a huge treat and following the journey of a Morgan through the personal production line was a joy.

If you've got a bit of a thing about cars then we really recommend the Morgan factory tour. In the couple of hours that you're there, you really get a sense of the company's history and how they're developing their brand for the future. You feel how personal it all is and you see the huge amount of work that goes into each car. It's not a super slick tour, it's more rough and ready than that and, I have to say, all the better because of it.

The Morgan Motor Company runs regular factory tours throughout the year. You can find out more about them and book yourself onto a tour here.

* It's important that you know that I wasn't paid, bribed or given any type or freebie to encourage me to write this post. It's just my humble opinion.

Wanderlust - France In Autumn

Now I know I'm very lucky to have an Aunt who lives deep in the French countryside but I felt even luckier last autumn when son and I escaped for a few days in France during the half term.

And really, we couldn't have been more fortunate with the weather if we'd wished for it. Blue skies, autumnal sunshine and all manner of glorious colours and seasonal beauty awaited us.

Not far from Aunt's house is Le Bois du Tay, a wooded hill that always reminds me of something from a fairytale - a deserted hilltop chapel, mineral water springs, a pretty arboretum, twisting paths through the trees and even horses in unexpected clearings. We love wandering round because you really never know what you're going to find when you round the next corner.

Son loves it there too. Aunt's dog and he run and run through trees and up and down hills for hours. You know where they are simply by listening for the combination of excited barking and happy laughing.

At the end of Aunt's garden is a field full of cows. This soft-eyed creatures amble up to their fence when we appear in the garden and moo gently until we pay them some attention. When you walk up to them, they back away until one or two brave cows edge forward and push their noses into your hand, hoping for some kind of treat.

For some reason known only to the powers that be, the airline we fly with stop flying to Aunt's local airport at the end of October so we had to sail home. I admit that I loathe boats but the opportunity for this history-loving girl to call in at Pegasus Bridge before boarding the ferry made the ridiculously long journey home bearable.

With our batteries recharged after a few days of French living, we made it back home with smiles on our faces and a last touch of sun-warmth in our bones.

Do - Compare Yourself To Mole

One of my favourite books ever is Wind in the Willows. When I was young, I had about five copies plus the audiobook and rather glorious animated version on VHS (yes, my youth was indeed that long ago).

There's a poignant passage in there where Mole returns to his little underground home after living with Rat for a while. He's had a lovely time being busy with his new life but, when he scents his house, he misses it and feels the need to return, to reconnect with himself.

That is my clunky way of trying to explain my absence from this blog for these past months. Life has simply got in the way but I've missed these pages and have returned.

So, expect some catch-up features as I bring you back up to speed with some of the highlights from this super busy period and attempt to chronicle some of the memories I don't want to be lost to the mists of time.

Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way! Why, it must be quite close by him at that moment, his old home that he had hurriedly forsaken and never sought again, that day when he first found the river! And now it was sending out its scouts and its messengers to capture him and bring him in.
— Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame


Do - On The Scarecrow Trail...

Whilst today is a pressing mass of grey cloud and rain, yesterday was really rather lovely and so we sallied forth under blue skies to the Sonning Scarecrow Trail. Sonning, for those of you that don't know it, is a picture postcard village on the banks of the Thames near Reading. It's just down the road from us and happily, every other year they hold a Scarecrow Trail where the whole village get a little bit silly and a little bit creative and gardens become full of papier mache figures while the roads fill with happy people wandering around, asking strangers if they've found scarecrow number twenty-seven or where the nearest tea stall is. It's all a bit lovely and a very enjoyable way to spend an afternoon while the white clouds race overhead and the sun shines on...

Mr Bump, 101 Dalmations, Warhorse & Quadrophenia...

Mr Bump, 101 Dalmations, Warhorse & Quadrophenia...

Eeyore, Spiderman, an accident prone decorator and Kitchener - warlord & bell-ringer...

Eeyore, Spiderman, an accident prone decorator and Kitchener - warlord & bell-ringer...

Wallace & Gromit, Tom & Jerry, The Great British Sewing Bee and a pensioner with road rage...

Wallace & Gromit, Tom & Jerry, The Great British Sewing Bee and a pensioner with road rage...

Captain Mainwaring, Willy Wonka, Gru & Minions and some busy bees...

Captain Mainwaring, Willy Wonka, Gru & Minions and some busy bees...

Del Boy & Rodney, Champagne Charlie, An ark in the bus stop and Strictly in the cricket pavilion...

Del Boy & Rodney, Champagne Charlie, An ark in the bus stop and Strictly in the cricket pavilion...

Do - Visit TV Villages

Tucked away in the greenest, most English of valleys between Henley and Marlow are the villages of Hambleden and Turville. Whilst you might not know the names, you'll certainly recognise the places themselves. The Vicar of Dibley, Foyle's War, Miss Marple, Poirot, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Band of Brothers, Goodnight Mr Tom, Midsomer Murders, Lewis, The Witches, Sleepy Hollow, Nanny McPhee and more have all been filmed hereabouts and you point around you repeating the refrain 'isn't that in...?' 

Both villages are lovely to visit, partly because they're still villages. People still wander around, in and out of the post office or round the corner to a friend's house - lives are still led here, the villages are real, they've not been turned into preserved versions of themselves, frozen for all time on film and left unloved by humans. No, these are real places and, however much I may hope Damian Lewis in US paratrooper gear would appear from around a corner in Hambleden, that's not going to happen. However, the postman was very nice...

Both villages have great pubs to pop into and pretend you're a local (The Stag & Huntsman in Hambleden and The Bull & Butcher in Turville - both with more TV credits to their names than me) and both places have great walks and footpaths leading from the village centres will take you into the beautiful countryside around. Indeed, take the path from Turville up to the windmill that features in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and remember to sing 'Toot Sweets' on the way.

Anyway, if you're ever in the area, do visit Hambleden & Turville then spend far too long afterwards browsing Rightmove and dreaming of that lottery win...

The view from the village green in Turville to Cobstone Mill. Or the bit just outside the vicar's house in Dibley up to the inventor's house from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. 

The view from the village green in Turville to Cobstone Mill. Or the bit just outside the vicar's house in Dibley up to the inventor's house from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. 

I could definitely live in Hambleden...

I could definitely live in Hambleden...

Miss Marple's butchers? 

Miss Marple's butchers? 

Hambleden's pretty church - I have absolutely stepped into a tv drama set in the 1940s.

Hambleden's pretty church - I have absolutely stepped into a tv drama set in the 1940s.

Why this place isn't covered with American tourists, all disclaiming 'gee, how quaint', I don't know...

Why this place isn't covered with American tourists, all disclaiming 'gee, how quaint', I don't know...

A sign in Turville - a genuine WWII leftover or something from the last tv show shot here?

A sign in Turville - a genuine WWII leftover or something from the last tv show shot here?

Mr Tom's cottage? Someone's house in Dibley? The heroine's cottage from Foyle's War? Or simply my dream pad...

Mr Tom's cottage? Someone's house in Dibley? The heroine's cottage from Foyle's War? Or simply my dream pad...


Do - Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 @ The V&A, London

On Wednesday 30th April I was lucky enough (and, when I say lucky, I mean lucky) to attend the press viewing of the fabulous new exhibition at the V&A in London - Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 on behalf of Love My Dress.

As you'll probably gather from my feature on Love My Dress reviewing the exhibition, I thought it was simply brilliant. I'm a history geek so combining that with weddings sent me into raptures. However, I really think that there's something for everyone at the exhibition and it is, in my book, something to absolutely try and do over the coming months. I am actually going back for part of my birthday treat with My Mr in a few weeks time and I'm so excited to see all the gowns again. I have absolutely no doubt that different things will catch my eye next time.

Some of my earliest memories are related to weddings - I remember being a bridesmaid at my Aunt's wedding and loving my dress but reverting to tomboy ways during the reception and running up and down the riverbank in a most unseemly manner. I remember listening to a discussion prior to my cousin's wedding where they were decided if I could still be bridesmaid should the cast on my broken arm not be removed in time (it was and I was). I remember watching the wedding of Lady Diana and being amazed by her gown and I remember copying the sketches of royal wedding dresses from my childhood collection of Ladybird books. All of those memories and all of that childlike wonder came flooding back to me as I wandered around the V&A on Wednesday.

It still surprises me that the short-haired tomboy who liked to play rough with the boys has become the short-haired tomboy who works in a world of pretty. But, I guess, that's part of the joy of weddings. The prescriptive 'church, buffet, disco' pattern of the past has gone and now, whoever you are, whatever you like, you can have a wedding that works for you. That's borne out by the V&A exhibition - the full-on attention seeking gowns of the celebs, the restrained elegance of the royal outfits, the traditional gowns, the opulent gowns, the make-do-and-mend gowns all hold their own next to each other. One dress, one wedding or even one life is not automatically better than another. If it suits you, it's perfect.

The Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 exhibition opens on 3rd May and you can find out more information & book tickets on the V&A website.

This gown, by Aida Woolf, is from 1914 and features a detachable train that would allow the wedding dress to be converted into a gown suitable for the newlywed bride to be presented at Court after her wedding. The silk brocade shoes are also beautiful and the outfit reflects the influence of evening dress fashions on the bridalwear of the time.

This gown, by Aida Woolf, is from 1914 and features a detachable train that would allow the wedding dress to be converted into a gown suitable for the newlywed bride to be presented at Court after her wedding. The silk brocade shoes are also beautiful and the outfit reflects the influence of evening dress fashions on the bridalwear of the time.

This outfit was worn by a farmer's daughter at her wedding in 1775. What strikes me is the low-cut neckline of the gown! The shepherdess style silk covered hat was also very 'of the period' and the little silk shoes have survived amazingly well.

This outfit was worn by a farmer's daughter at her wedding in 1775. What strikes me is the low-cut neckline of the gown! The shepherdess style silk covered hat was also very 'of the period' and the little silk shoes have survived amazingly well.

I remember watching the Duchess of Cornwall's wedding to Prince Charles and thinking 'well played Camilla'. I loved this outfit then and I still love it now. The dress and coat are beautiful - elegant, refined and totally in keeping with, what was, a very understated occasion. The Philip Treacy headdress is stunning and the LK Bennett shoes are a perfect finishing touch.

I remember watching the Duchess of Cornwall's wedding to Prince Charles and thinking 'well played Camilla'. I loved this outfit then and I still love it now. The dress and coat are beautiful - elegant, refined and totally in keeping with, what was, a very understated occasion. The Philip Treacy headdress is stunning and the LK Bennett shoes are a perfect finishing touch.

This is some of the detail on the skirt from Ian Stuart's 'Flower Bomb' gown and it was certainly spectacular. It would take a bold bride to wear this I think but if you've got a big personality, why try to pretend that you're demure and quiet on your wedding day?

This is some of the detail on the skirt from Ian Stuart's 'Flower Bomb' gown and it was certainly spectacular. It would take a bold bride to wear this I think but if you've got a big personality, why try to pretend that you're demure and quiet on your wedding day?

Kate Moss's Galliano gown was attracting a lot of attention and for all the right reasons. The 'phoenix feather' emblems on the skirt are just great and the sequins that cover the dress and veil look absolutely stunning.

Kate Moss's Galliano gown was attracting a lot of attention and for all the right reasons. The 'phoenix feather' emblems on the skirt are just great and the sequins that cover the dress and veil look absolutely stunning.

As I was leaving I (naturally) had to have a look in the dedicated exhibition shop and what should I find there? Only Style Me Vintage: Weddings by Annabel Beeforth, the founder of Love My Dress who had sent me to cover the exhibition! Such an honour to be included as part of this iconic exhibition.

As I was leaving I (naturally) had to have a look in the dedicated exhibition shop and what should I find there? Only Style Me Vintage: Weddings by Annabel Beeforth, the founder of Love My Dress who had sent me to cover the exhibition! Such an honour to be included as part of this iconic exhibition.

Love - My New Office

As some of you might know, I run a little wedding PR & business consultancy called Candid Apple. I've been in the wedding industry for over 11 years now and I really do enjoy it. After starting out as a wedding planner (multi-award winning too don't you know!), writing two books and running hundreds of weddings, I moved over and started working with businesses instead - helping everyone promote themselves and their businesses, advising people, project managing and generally being a sounding board for anyone who needs a little bit of cheerleading.

I work from home which I love - the flexibility, the lack of commute, the absence of the corporate world, office politics and those meetings-for-the-sake-of-meetings where everyone tries to look important and useful. 

That said, working from home is not without it's challenges and when you've got three kids who always seem to be on school holidays, finding some space that's just mine is really tricky. However, as my business is growing beautifully right now (it must be spring!), it's become essential that I've got somewhere where I can feel comfortable and happy to work and to have a space that's just mine.

Happily, in our garden, we have an outbuilding that used to be an architects drawing office. It's been used more recently as a potting shed/general garden dumping ground so the current project that's absorbing My Mr is to fix this up to become my workspace. In the meantime, I've cleared the conservatory, painted some furniture and prettied up the space to become my interim office and I'm absolutely loving it.

It's bought home to me just how important it is to have a dedicated work area - it means that when I leave in the evening and close the door, I'm switching off so much better and my evenings are now way more relaxing than they have been. I'm not being interrupted by the kids who've learned that when the door is shut, there's no entry. It's making my work, and my work life balance so much better. Who'd have thought that a few tins of paint and a little bit or re-organisation could make such a difference?

These shelves got a lick of chalky emulsion and suddenly were the perfect home for books, stationery and a few pretty bits...

These shelves got a lick of chalky emulsion and suddenly were the perfect home for books, stationery and a few pretty bits...

Another little bookshelf that got the paint treatment and then my dog soon made herself at home!

Another little bookshelf that got the paint treatment and then my dog soon made herself at home!

A few of my favourite things - pictures of my son when he was younger, one of my awards from my days as a wedding planner, a scented candle, a couple of copies of my books and also 'Style Me Vintage: Weddings' by the lovely Annabel of Love My Dress

A few of my favourite things - pictures of my son when he was younger, one of my awards from my days as a wedding planner, a scented candle, a couple of copies of my books and also 'Style Me Vintage: Weddings' by the lovely Annabel of Love My Dress

My view - again, the desk got a lick of paint, the chair is a cheap buy from Ikea and, if you look down the garden, that building on the right will soon be my 'proper' office.

My view - again, the desk got a lick of paint, the chair is a cheap buy from Ikea and, if you look down the garden, that building on the right will soon be my 'proper' office.

Some scented English stocks are making my desk an altogether prettier place to be. You might recognise the painted tins from my Easter post!

Some scented English stocks are making my desk an altogether prettier place to be. You might recognise the painted tins from my Easter post!


Celebrate - Mum's Birthday

Slap-bang in the middle of the Easter holidays was my Mum's birthday. I love to treat her because she is as wonderful as they come so it's great that we can make the day a bit special. This year, we went for an afternoon tea at home, complimented by homemade cakes & scones and lots of pretty details. I got to try out a few crafty makes that I'd had my eye on for a while too as well as indulging my love of baking so if Mum enjoyed herself, I can tell you I did too!

A table fit for a birthday tea! Hanging from the shelves, the honeycomb garlands were a great buy from John Lewis as I cut one pack into three lengths. The pom-pom garlands are just wool pom-poms made around forks and threaded onto thin cotton. The daffodils are in tins that I painted blue and the cake centrepiece is the large version of the gluten-free sponge recipe I blogged a while ago.

A table fit for a birthday tea! Hanging from the shelves, the honeycomb garlands were a great buy from John Lewis as I cut one pack into three lengths. The pom-pom garlands are just wool pom-poms made around forks and threaded onto thin cotton. The daffodils are in tins that I painted blue and the cake centrepiece is the large version of the gluten-free sponge recipe I blogged a while ago.

I made this cake bunting in under five minutes. I just threaded a pretty doily (again from John Lewis) onto some of the green wool leftover from making the pom-poms and cut two slits in the top of each stripy straw, squeezed the wool through and snipped the loose ends. Ta-dah!

I made this cake bunting in under five minutes. I just threaded a pretty doily (again from John Lewis) onto some of the green wool leftover from making the pom-poms and cut two slits in the top of each stripy straw, squeezed the wool through and snipped the loose ends. Ta-dah!

Gluten-free vanilla cupcakes topped with piped buttercream and sprinkled with sprinkles because you can never have enough cake at a birthday party!

Gluten-free vanilla cupcakes topped with piped buttercream and sprinkled with sprinkles because you can never have enough cake at a birthday party!

Mum's birthday party was the unveiling of new shelves in the kitchen which are the proud home of the photos we had taken at an amazing family shoot with the absolutely wonderful Eddie Judd - thoroughly recommend her sessions for families if you want some rather wonderful images of your with your nearest & dearest.

Mum's birthday party was the unveiling of new shelves in the kitchen which are the proud home of the photos we had taken at an amazing family shoot with the absolutely wonderful Eddie Judd - thoroughly recommend her sessions for families if you want some rather wonderful images of your with your nearest & dearest.

The pattern on the top of Mum's cake was created by just laying one on the heart-shaped doilies on top and sprinkling sieved icing sugar over it before peeling it carefully away. In this pic, you can also see the gluten-free, egg-free scones too!

The pattern on the top of Mum's cake was created by just laying one on the heart-shaped doilies on top and sprinkling sieved icing sugar over it before peeling it carefully away. In this pic, you can also see the gluten-free, egg-free scones too!

More birthday goodness and birthday best-bits...

More birthday goodness and birthday best-bits...

Celebrate - Easter

Unbelievably, the kids are finally about the return to school after what seems like almost a month off school. It seems like a month because, well, it has been a month. That's quite a long time and at the risk of sounding like a whining old woman, the juggling required to entertain kids, spend time with them and run your own business is not the easiest thing in the world. It feels like juggling vintage china whilst bouncing on a pogo-stick with no hands and joining in with a serious conference call all at the same time.

Anyway, that simile aside, now their attention is being diverted to the imminent arrival of summer term, I've actually got some time to blog again - hurrah. So, here's a little look at our Easter celebrations.

My Mum and Dad came round for Easter lunch and we feasted en famille. Of course, to me, celebrations offer the happy opportunity to craft with undeniable purpose so I got a little stylistically excited...

As we've got a right mix of food allergies and intolerances among the kids here, it's hard to get things 'off the shelf' that they can all have. So, I packed individual egg boxes with a mix of things to suit the recipient - no-one could complain that their gift didn't look the same as someone else's and no-one looked like their were 'different'. Result.

As we've got a right mix of food allergies and intolerances among the kids here, it's hard to get things 'off the shelf' that they can all have. So, I packed individual egg boxes with a mix of things to suit the recipient - no-one could complain that their gift didn't look the same as someone else's and no-one looked like their were 'different'. Result.

Stripy straws and bunny cups from The Hambledon - easter essentials

Stripy straws and bunny cups from The Hambledon - easter essentials

And I didn't forget Mum & Dad either - their boxes looked slightly more 'grown up' though!

And I didn't forget Mum & Dad either - their boxes looked slightly more 'grown up' though!

Mini-egg place settings - pile a handful in a cupcake case and popped on plates for lucky diners.

Mini-egg place settings - pile a handful in a cupcake case and popped on plates for lucky diners.

A bit of Easter decoration - iconic spring flowers in a painted tin, painted egg-shells in an egg box, pretty pastel buttons scatter around and sparkling elderflower soda, bringing a hint of the summer to come. {the paints are Farrow & Ball 'Lulworth Blue' and 'Nancy's Blushes'}

A bit of Easter decoration - iconic spring flowers in a painted tin, painted egg-shells in an egg box, pretty pastel buttons scatter around and sparkling elderflower soda, bringing a hint of the summer to come. {the paints are Farrow & Ball 'Lulworth Blue' and 'Nancy's Blushes'}


The Little Things - Spring Blossom

One of the highlights of my days is taking my dog for a walk. I love getting away from my desk or just grabbing some fresh-air time to blow the cobwebs away and clear my head. Invariably, any problems or issues that are floating around in that packed cranium of mine and sorted, arranged and organised nicely by the time I get home.

Another reason I love walking my dog is that it makes me really aware of the seasons. In the winter, Jack Frost's fingers pinch my cheeks and nip my fingers. In the autumn, I kick my way through drifts of leaves and leave over puddles. In summer, I'm up walking by 6am in the cool, still freshness of the morning so my black Labrador doesn't overheat. And in the spring, watching the beautiful blossom burst from bare branches makes me smile. It makes me stop, stand under the boughs and stare upwards. I trail my hands across the petals, feeling their silky softness and I take photos in the hope of capturing these spring moments for bring brightness to grey days...


The Little Things - Camping Out

One of the things I really like about the long Easter holidays is the opportunity to do things that are a little bit out of the ordinary an I'm being reminded every day that it's not the expensive outings or the uber-planned excursions that seem to get the kids really excited. Oh no, it's the little things...

At the moment, in our house, son and step-daughter are totally obsessed with 'Swallows & Amazons'. They're listening to the audio-book, I'm reading it at bedtime and they're dreaming of a summer holiday in the Lake District where they can paddle about on the water, eating cake and avoiding the natives.

So, with this in mind, last night, they camped out.

Even the hardiest of campers need a decent tent...

Even the hardiest of campers need a decent tent...

After putting the tent up themselves, they furnished it with sleeping bags, blankets, torches and those other essentials that make nights under canvas fun/bearable* (*delete as appropriate depending on your point of view here).

So, when bedtime came, they made their way out to the tent with much giggling and laughter. Warm socks, jumpers and pyjamas were visible as they crawled into their home-from-home and soon the light from their torches could bouncing around in the sides of the tent like a very small, very quiet rave.

Back inside, I was planning a little stealth raid of my own into enemy territory, under the cover of darkness, to deliver a little package to the adventurers...

The midnight feast - an essential for campers everywhere...

The midnight feast - an essential for campers everywhere...

Juice and water, popcorn and biscuits, chocolate bars and sandwiches were all packed into a big bag and carried out to the campers along with hot water bottles and hot chocolate with marshmallows. A film was gifted to their iPad and the book that inspired it all, 'Swallows and Amazons' was tucked inside the bag and I crept down the garden to find them...

I was, however, totally let down by my comrade during the tent incursion - the dog galloped down the garden and launched herself into through the little gap left in the tent's door. Cue much more laughter as she tried to wiggle her way into the sleeping quarters.

So, as I say, it's the little things. The memory of two excited children peering into their midnight feast back, torches flashing in the dark to see what goodies have been delivered to them, smiling and laughing, is proof of that. It's also proof that the old childhood classics can still inspire and fire the imaginations of children now.

And it must have been fun because they're doing it again tonight...

Review - 'A Girl Called Jack'

As you might have gathered from the amount of food related content on this blog already, as you might have picked up from my comments about step-kids with food allergies and as I'm sure you can imagine - cooking for the five people in my house is not a simple or straightforward task. Most nights, we have the hectic rush to get food ready in that tiny window between the arrival home from school and the departure of people at various times to various evening activities. It's a juggling act for sure.

I guess we're slightly unusual in our house that we sit together pretty much every evening to eat together and the kitchen is definitely the hub of the house. I'm typing this now at the kitchen table and my step-daughter is sitting opposite me. I love that we do the family food thing but I am always on the look out for quick, healthy, relatively simple, child-friendly meals to cook on weeknights when time is short.

So, imagine my delight with 'A Girl Called Jack' from budget-conscious food blogger Jack Monroe. For those of you that don't know Jack's story, the short version is that whilst she was unemployed, she had a budget of just £10 a week to feed her and her son. Despite hitting rock bottom on a few occasions (one blog post recounting this is reprinted at the start of her book and it absolutely chilled me), Jack's recipes, full of 'value' range ingredients and bearing all the hallmarks of that particular type of ingenuity that is only born from having no other option, were posted on her blog and the snowball of interest started. Anyway, do read her blog, it's absolute genius.

Anyway, let's get on to the book itself...

All the little page markers make me smile - so many recipes to try!

All the little page markers make me smile - so many recipes to try!

Firstly, for a great cookbook, £6.49 (today's price on Amazon - 5th April 2014) is a bargain. I have recently become very fed up with my monthly foodie mag and frankly, there are many many more recipes in here that I am likely to try than have caught my eye in any of this magazine's last five issues. So price - tick.

Another major plus is the short ingredient lists and the really great use of store-cupboard ingredients. And when I say store-cupboard, I mean the kind of stuff that everyone has in their house, not the kind of thing that food editors like to think that people have just laying around when they're trying to justify those ingredient lists that look more like a novella. I have been left with more jars of spices and herbs, more odd flavourings and more crazy ingredients than I care to mention after trying a recipe only to see the kids grimacing manfully as they struggle to eat something that hasn't properly rewarded me for the time I've spent cooking it. So practicality - tick.

The recipes themselves are very simple, a couple of short paragraphs of instruction at most and Jack provides little notes at the foot of each one to suggest alternative options and replacement ingredients. With that in mind, despite the fact the book cover says '100 recipes', with all these extra details, you're actually getting way more than that.

And it absolutely does what it says on the tin - these recipes are really budget conscious. We've been experimenting by 'Going Jack' when we shop and the food bill has taken a dramatic plunge, even without using value ingredients which would slash it even more. 

It'll come as no surprise I'm sure when I say I love this book and here are a few more reasons why...

  • the portion sizes are really generous and we've had leftovers from every recipe I've tried without skimping on the size of dinners. 
  • the leftovers have all, without exception so far, re-heated brilliantly.
  • the photography is great - the food looks deliciously real, not styled to the point of abstraction.
  • there's no need for hundreds of bits of equipment.
  • the actual cooking itself is simple so it's really easy for kids to follow the recipes too.
  • Jack is pretty flexible on the quantities of herbs and spices so it's easy to adjust things to suit the palates of your diners!
  • there's a great mix-and-match feel to the book with Jack suggesting side dishes to accompany main meals.
  • it feels real. It is the perfect antidote to those books that assume everyone has hours to spend shopping in chichi delis/preparing/cooking/cleaning/wafting around a dream kitchen in a silk kimono. I love cooking and I love food but I also have a life that needs living.
  • it's a perfect 'travel' cookbook - we took this book to The Hut and as you don't need loads of equipment/time/huge store of ingredients, it was excellent and we feasted royally the whole weekend.
  • it is a great family cookbook and my gang has tried things from this that I never thought they would.

As a little heads up, some of our favourites so far have been: peach & chickpea curry, mumma Jack's best ever chilli, lentil bolognese, sag aloo, roman pasta with mandarins, vegetable masala curry, spanish style chicken, mixed bean goulash and smoky red lentil burgers. And we've still got loads we all want to try - result!

Well played Jack. You've got this spot on.

The Little Things - Mother's Day

Like most parents, I have days when I really don't feel like I'm making the grade. You know, the days when the supply of clean school shirts has run out, that form about the trip hasn't been sent back or I've forgotten who fell out with whom last week and who is still on the invitation list for holiday sleepovers. These days are usually accompanied by a soundtrack of slamming doors, raised voices and even me giving it the "I'm not here to win a popularity contest, I'm here to make the right decisions" line. Oh yes.

Our family of five has a complicated, by by no means unique, dynamic. We are son, me, My Mr and his two children. The smaller ones are all very different, all at different school, all friends with different people, all indulging in different clubs and all require different handling. My son regularly goes off to stay with his Dad and my two stepkids are getting to grips with having a woman about again after their Mum's death almost seven years ago. It's not simple, by any stretch of the imagination and I'd be lying if I said I sometimes didn't wish for an easier, simpler life.

But sometimes, it all comes together for a moment and you know you're actually getting somewhere. You know that, as it turns out, you might just be heading in the right direction after all and Mother's Day was a case in point.

I'm not a massive fan of these pre-ordained days of declaration. I don't need a date in my diary or to be told on when I need to tell someone I love them but hey, it's always nice to have a bit of an excuse for a celebration or just to do something different. Yet, after this year, I'll never be snotty about Mother's Day again.

My step-son chose me chocolate. Not just any chocolate but chocolate with a particular flavour he knows I love and that is the basis for one of my signature allergy-friendly bakes - salted caramel chocolate brownies. I love he chose this gift. Not a huge gift or an exuberant gift but something carefully selected and definitely linked to me. It's the little things you see...

Son had gone shopping with Grandma and had hunted down a little calligraphy set. He knows, you see, that I'm trying to master the art of the sweeping pen at the moment. He'd wrapped it himself and he'd put a lot of effort into writing lots in the card. Take that Dyslexia, you can be beaten by love every time...

"I love you and I think you're amazing... just for today. No, forever." Sentiment wins over style every time.

"I love you and I think you're amazing... just for today. No, forever." Sentiment wins over style every time.

Step-daughter had also plumped for chocolates (oh, how well they know me) but had accompanied her gift with a letter that made me heart swell to read it. For a reserved fifteen year old to pour out her heart without reservation and without fear of judgement was a big deal and the hug I got was also pretty special.

So, Mother's Day, you've won a reprieve. If your presence induced these three bundles of contradiction to think and do then I'll forgive you the sad and overpriced bunches of forecourt flowers and the cards filled with so much standard schmaltz that there's no room and no need for your own feelings. Instead, I shall be glad you got these three away from their ipads and ipods long enough to make a big impact with little things.

Oh, and to my dog, the Miss Marple boxset was perfect too xx

The Day I Found My Family

"Excuse me, I think you're my Uncle Laurie's grand-daughter..."

When we booked our Dorset trip, I was hoping to find the time to visit somewhere that has been calling to me for years. Tucked almost at the tip of the Isle of Purbeck, within sight of Corfe Castle and the sea at Swanage, is Langton Matravers. It's a small and insignificant little Dorset village, like many others scattered along the coast and to most people, it's a blip on the journey from sea to scenery.

For me, its meaning is almost indescribable. My grandfather, my adored Grandad, was born in Langton Matravers, on a dairy farm to be precise. He left, became a pilot, flew throughout World War II, dropped paratroopers on D-Day, met my Gran who was nursing in India and returned to England via a three week boat trip down the Suez Canal in the late forties with the baby who became my Mum in tow. I love my Grandad - his medals hang above my desk, my son has his Grandad's name as his middle name and when I was looking to change my surname after my divorce, it was his name I chose.

So today was a pilgrimage of sorts. I wanted to see the church where he was christened and where my great-grandparents are buried. My great-uncle who also joined the RAF and was killed in action in World War II was returned to Langton Matravers after his death and his grave also sits in the cemetery. This was all I hoped for - a visit.

We found the church quite easily - it stands on the high street in the village, built of solid local stone. We wandered through the churchyard, unable to find the headstones I was searching for so we went into the church and there, by the door was a memorial.

Richard Eastment, RAF, remembered.

Richard Eastment, RAF, remembered.

I felt incredibly content - my great-uncle was remembered, his sacrifice was recorded and as long as the church in Langton Matravers stands, he'll always be there.

At this point, we thought our journey was complete. We were walking down the steps from the churchyard, back to the car, looking at the headstones again, just in case we'd missed something, a inscription hidden over time, when a man's voice called out "Are you looking for someone in particular?" I explained my story, my family connection with Langton Matravers. "Oh yes," he said "I knew your Grandad."

My heart almost stopped beating - this man who just happened to see us knew my Grandad. A moment later or earlier, and this meeting wouldn't have happened. "Come with me," he said "we've got things in the museum about the family." We followed him to the little village museum and there was my family - photos of my great grandparents on their farm, photos of my grandad, of my great aunts and uncles and a book written by my great-aunt. This man, this amazing ninety year old man, told us stories of my family. He told us where my great-grandparents and my great uncle were buried - in the cemetery further along the high street.

We walked down the street, lifted the latch into the cemetery and there they were...

Ernest and Amelia, my great-grandparents

Ernest and Amelia, my great-grandparents

My great-uncle.

My great-uncle.

I wished I had taken something to leave on their graves, to show they hadn't been forgotten. I had nothing with me but I was thinking of them in that moment and had been for a long time. It was a good place to be for eternity - looking out toward the sea, surrounded by the village you knew so well.

Langton Matravers cemetery

Langton Matravers cemetery

Outside the cemetery, I stood for a while, looking at the village map, trying to find my family's farm when I heard a voice, a warm voice, saying "Excuse me, I think you're my Uncle Laurie's grand-daughter." I turned around to see a woman, not unlike my Mum, smiling at me. My second cousin. My relative who I've never met, who I barely knew existed was there, right in front of me.

We hugged, we talked, we stood by the side on the road on the high street in Langton Matravers, clasping each other's hands with mistily moist eyes and we found each other. We kissed goodbye having made arrangements to meet again.

So, today I went to Langton Matravers, today I fulfilled a long cherished ambition to connect with my grandad and today I made a bit more sense of me, of where I came from and who I am.

So, today, I found my family. 

Me. In Langton Matravers. After all this time.

Me. In Langton Matravers. After all this time.

My second cousin and me. Do we look really rather shell-shocked at finding each other? We were.

My second cousin and me. Do we look really rather shell-shocked at finding each other? We were.

Review - The Hut, Dorset

There is something about choosing somewhere to stay that can turn my usually sensible and unflappable brain to mush. I blame a distinctly dodgy hotel near Cambridge - you know the thing, looks good online and yet, like everyone's idea of a dodgy internet date, in reality it is really rather horrid. Anyway, I'm now the nittiest of nitpickers when it comes to booking getaways.

Happily for me, the Sawdays website never lets me down and it was on here that I found The Hut. Straight away, I knew this would be the place - yes, it would involve a slightly lengthy drive to and from Weymouth twice a day to fetch & carry My Mr to the Jurassic Coast Challenge but I didn't care. An hour or so in the car to be rewarded by wrapping myself up here for three days...

The Hut - it really is perfect. The location, the design, the decor. The moment I walked in, I was happy. What more can you ask?

The Hut - it really is perfect. The location, the design, the decor. The moment I walked in, I was happy. What more can you ask?

This is the view from the deck that you can see in the photo above - straight out over the countryside. I have spent much of my weekend walking around the lanes and paths that surround The Hut or ensconced in a big armchair by the window reading. Either way, this view has been the backdrop to my days.

This is the view from the deck that you can see in the photo above - straight out over the countryside. I have spent much of my weekend walking around the lanes and paths that surround The Hut or ensconced in a big armchair by the window reading. Either way, this view has been the backdrop to my days.

The living area - that woodburner has been wonderful in the evenings as we cosy up and there is really nothing missing at all. The amazing flooring is reclaimed scaffolding boards, the side tables are old tea chests and there are blankets on the back of the sofas. It's like a secret hideaway for adults.

The living area - that woodburner has been wonderful in the evenings as we cosy up and there is really nothing missing at all. The amazing flooring is reclaimed scaffolding boards, the side tables are old tea chests and there are blankets on the back of the sofas. It's like a secret hideaway for adults.

Just a few of the details in The Hut that have made me smile over the weekend. The fact that the place is full of books has made my heart sing - they lurk everywhere like attentive servants waiting to be helpful. The beer bottles are taunting My Mr however as, due to his marathoning, he's been off the booze.

Just a few of the details in The Hut that have made me smile over the weekend. The fact that the place is full of books has made my heart sing - they lurk everywhere like attentive servants waiting to be helpful. The beer bottles are taunting My Mr however as, due to his marathoning, he's been off the booze.

More Hut happiness and the great details that I keep finding. On a practical note - the bathroom is excellent and My Mr has been much comforted by long hot baths post-race each day. There's also a large and toasty shower which I have struggled to leave each morning.

More Hut happiness and the great details that I keep finding. On a practical note - the bathroom is excellent and My Mr has been much comforted by long hot baths post-race each day. There's also a large and toasty shower which I have struggled to leave each morning.

The kitchen. Sigh. It's totally country, totally vintage and totally great to cook in. I have got to grips with the Aga but there's also a 'normal' oven and hob too plus fridge-freezer, dishwasher and washing machine. 

The kitchen. Sigh. It's totally country, totally vintage and totally great to cook in. I have got to grips with the Aga but there's also a 'normal' oven and hob too plus fridge-freezer, dishwasher and washing machine. 

Kitchen details - it's been a lovely place to be and all the meals I've cooked this weekend have been from Jack Monroe's 'A Girl Called Jack' and I'll be reviewing that on the blog soon too.

Kitchen details - it's been a lovely place to be and all the meals I've cooked this weekend have been from Jack Monroe's 'A Girl Called Jack' and I'll be reviewing that on the blog soon too.

The sign to much weekend happiness! So, the nitty gritty - the hut sleeps two in a gorgeous sleeping area upstairs. There's also a dressing/office area up in the eaves too. Downstairs is the kitchen, the bathroom, the living area and a small dining area. Outside, the deck runs around two sides of the building so you've always got a sunny spot to sit in. The garden is enclosed so dog friendly (although I didn't bring my girl) and there's also plenty of parking space. There's wifi, logs for the burner, coal for  the aga and towels provided too. Really, I absolutely can't fault The Hut at all - it's so perfect and a really special place to escape to.    *please note, I've not been paid/rewarded/bribed or coerced into writing this piece. It's just my humble opinion.

The sign to much weekend happiness! So, the nitty gritty - the hut sleeps two in a gorgeous sleeping area upstairs. There's also a dressing/office area up in the eaves too. Downstairs is the kitchen, the bathroom, the living area and a small dining area. Outside, the deck runs around two sides of the building so you've always got a sunny spot to sit in. The garden is enclosed so dog friendly (although I didn't bring my girl) and there's also plenty of parking space. There's wifi, logs for the burner, coal for  the aga and towels provided too. Really, I absolutely can't fault The Hut at all - it's so perfect and a really special place to escape to. 

 

*please note, I've not been paid/rewarded/bribed or coerced into writing this piece. It's just my humble opinion.

Wanderlust - Chesil Beach

So, on Friday 21st March, I found myself in the strange situation of being at a loose end. The loosest of loose ends in fact because I dropped My Mr to start his first marathon at 7.15am and then had hours to fill before either a) he finished or b) 3pm rolled around and I could check us into the little hideaway we'd booked for the weekend.

Happily, the weather took pity on me and my rather hopeless situation. The sun shone and as My Mr was walking along the coast path from Charmouth to Weymouth, I made up my mind to potter along the coast road, seeing him at checkpoints and indulging in a bit of beachside photography/reading/people watching.

And do you know what? It turns out being at a loose end along Chesil Beach is really rather stunning...

Ok, so I should be honest and say my day cruising the coast road didn't start quite how I thought it might. I was driving  to Abbotsbury and saw a sign for 'The Hardy Monument'. Oh hurrah, I thought, Thomas Hardy, Dorset's famous writing son. So I pulled off and drove to  the monument. Impressive, I thought as I walked toward it in the sunshine. However, when I got to the little info board, it became clear I'd got my Hardys confused. This wasn't a monument to Thomas 'Far From The Madding Crowd' Hardy. No, this was a monument to Thomas 'Kiss Me Hardy' Hardy, the giver of Admiral Nelson's goodbye kiss at the Battle of Trafalgar. Quite a difference you'll agree but two Thomas Hardys from a little part of Dorset - who knew?

Ok, so I should be honest and say my day cruising the coast road didn't start quite how I thought it might. I was driving  to Abbotsbury and saw a sign for 'The Hardy Monument'. Oh hurrah, I thought, Thomas Hardy, Dorset's famous writing son. So I pulled off and drove to  the monument. Impressive, I thought as I walked toward it in the sunshine. However, when I got to the little info board, it became clear I'd got my Hardys confused. This wasn't a monument to Thomas 'Far From The Madding Crowd' Hardy. No, this was a monument to Thomas 'Kiss Me Hardy' Hardy, the giver of Admiral Nelson's goodbye kiss at the Battle of Trafalgar. Quite a difference you'll agree but two Thomas Hardys from a little part of Dorset - who knew?

You'll be pleased to hear that I made my way to the beach quite safely. It was signposted as a beach and a seaside strand it turned out to be so the day got better. And with this view, it's safe to say that the day got much MUCH better...

You'll be pleased to hear that I made my way to the beach quite safely. It was signposted as a beach and a seaside strand it turned out to be so the day got better. And with this view, it's safe to say that the day got much MUCH better...

I had forgotten how loud beaches were, even without people. The noise of the water and the movement of the shingle and the rush of the wind across my ears. It was all encompassing and utterly enlivening.

I had forgotten how loud beaches were, even without people. The noise of the water and the movement of the shingle and the rush of the wind across my ears. It was all encompassing and utterly enlivening.

The coast path - My Mr's home for three days...

The coast path - My Mr's home for three days...

I have absolutely no idea why this little obelisk was sat on the beach but it was great. Sun-bleached, spray-smoothed and clinging on to its little area of shingle like the most determined holidaymaker.

I have absolutely no idea why this little obelisk was sat on the beach but it was great. Sun-bleached, spray-smoothed and clinging on to its little area of shingle like the most determined holidaymaker.

This image makes me realise what you miss by living in a town. Sky. You miss the huge and soaring skyscapes when you're surrounded by buildings. There was just so much blue above me and around me. Huge huge skies that went on forever until they touched the sea on the distant horizon. 

This image makes me realise what you miss by living in a town. Sky. You miss the huge and soaring skyscapes when you're surrounded by buildings. There was just so much blue above me and around me. Huge huge skies that went on forever until they touched the sea on the distant horizon. 

And here he comes! My Mr toiling across the shingle and slip-sliding on the ever-shifting pebbles. It was great to see him looking perky.

And here he comes! My Mr toiling across the shingle and slip-sliding on the ever-shifting pebbles. It was great to see him looking perky.

After seeing My Mr on Cogden Beach, I drove along to Abbotsbury (home of the swannery but with my irrational bird hatred, there was no way that was on my agenda)) and parked up at checkpoint two. I loved the boardwalk, disappearing up the bank of the beach.

After seeing My Mr on Cogden Beach, I drove along to Abbotsbury (home of the swannery but with my irrational bird hatred, there was no way that was on my agenda)) and parked up at checkpoint two. I loved the boardwalk, disappearing up the bank of the beach.

Swannery? No thank you, I'll stick to my spot in the sun.

Swannery? No thank you, I'll stick to my spot in the sun.

Yippeee! It was a great day (despite my monumental mistake early on) and My Mr finished marathon one of three safely, happily and sans blisters. 

Yippeee! It was a great day (despite my monumental mistake early on) and My Mr finished marathon one of three safely, happily and sans blisters. 


Wanderlust - Weymouth Harbour

I'll be completely honest and say that Weymouth has never really been on my list of places to go but as My Mr is taking on the Jurassic Coast Challenge this weekend, we needed a place to lay our heads the night before the race and Weymouth is right on the doorstep of Race HQ.

As usual, Sawday's Special Places did not let us down and we tipped up to Old Harbour View on Thursday afternoon...

Squeezed onto the frontage, Old Harbour View is an absolute gem.

Squeezed onto the frontage, Old Harbour View is an absolute gem.

And it was really rather perfect. Welcoming hosts, ready with tea and homemade cake, a great little room, parking outside, the most amazing breakfast and a happy little dog to make it feel more like home.

On Thursday night, we headed out to The Crab House Cafe and had some super fresh fish and seafood in a really laid back restaurant, right on the beach. Perfect for the night before a race when you're getting a bit jittery and don't want to be somewhere too posh!

Friday morning was an early start for us both as I took My Mr down to the start for 7.30am. Whilst the alarm might have felt a little bit harsh, the early morning views over the harbour were absolutely worth the fleeting pain...

weymouth-harbour-shops.JPG
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It was a great night but with My Mr on the move along the coast, my time in Weymouth was up...

Love - Agatha Christie

I have many loves. There are lots of things that make me smile, make me happy and get my little heart a-skipping with joy. The 'Oh, My Love!' posts here on this indulgent blog of mine are going to be me spreading a bit of my lurve around like proper butter on hot toast. You never know, there might be something that you fall for too and then I can feel smug that I've set you off on the path to a new romance. Don't worry, I'm not jealous. I won't hunt you down like an oddly bitter ex. I just hope you'll be happy together and that you'll think of me from time to time...

Anyway, my current oh-la-la love is Agatha Christie...

The new additions to my Christie collection...

The new additions to my Christie collection...

Yes, I am quite aware that this might make me sound like a prematurely aged spinster but do you know what? I don't give a monkeys because I LOVE AGATHA. My collection has been expanding over the last few weeks as my book greed knows no bounds. I am rattling through them at quite a pace and my addiction must be fed. However, and happily for me, there seem to be some crazy fools in my local area who are donating their books to Oxfam where I then go in and hoover them up. Hurrah.

Anyway, let me tell you why I love Agatha Christie and why, if you've not tried one yet, it might be worth opening your mind to a bit of murder mystery...

Firstly, the stories are excellently and tightly written. There's no clunking about through the plot, there's no padding, it's all building up perfectly and the dialogue is fabulous. Of course, it does help that I have a particular penchant for this period but the text transports you to St Mary Mead, the Orient Express, a cruise ship on the Nile or any of the other delightfully described locations. Escapism at its very best.

Let's be honest, anyone someone wrote 66 novels and 14 plays clearly knew a thing or two and about her genre and her audience. These are books that were bought and devoured and enjoyed by millions for just being a good read. Forget the obscure literary prize winners and those books that you put down with a mildly confused and vaguely unsatisfied feeling, these are satisfying books that don't require hours of hard work yet reward you beyond measure. Don't be a literary snob and think such a popular author is a little too obvious to bother with. Let me tell you, she's popular for a damn good reason. 

Anyway, if you've not lost yourself in an Agatha (or if you're a lapsed Christie fan), try opening one this weekend. Whether you go for a Poirot, a Marple, a Tommy & Tuppence or a plain old mystery, you'll have a surprisingly lovely time reading about strangulations, family feuds and poison pen letters.

As for me, I'm in love so am off to hop into bed with Hercule Poirot and those poor people stuck on the Orient Express in a snow drift. Something tells me, at least one of them isn't long for this world...