One week down, X to go…

So we’ve survived one week. There will be plenty more to come I fear. This week I’ve had to content myself with speaking to my kids and grandkids on Skype – although I’ve become more proficient using FaceTime and Houseparty. I’ve been in touch with friends I don’t speak to nearly enough and I’ve exchanged more words with my lovely neighbours over Whatsapp, than I have in eighteen years of living in close proximity. Where did my writing time go?

We’ve rearranged all the furniture and my house has never been so clean. I’ve topped up my freezer with tomato and vegetable pasta sauce from Jamie Oliver’s ‘Keep Cooking and Carry On’. Hoping he’ll be carrying on with these brilliant sessions over coming weeks.

I’m craving bananas, but I’ve still got sufficient wine, chocolate, gin and, for now, loo rolls.

We’ve stood at the end of our drive to ‘Clap the Carers’ and we’ve joined neighbours – each at the end of our own drives with our own glasses of wine – to wish a couple two doors down a ‘Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary’. Their special party was of course cancelled.

This morning, for my daily exercise, I went out early for a walk – still allowed at the moment. As I pass dog walkers and fellow exercisers, I notice how social distance is interpreted differently. To be fair, most keep the prescribed distance. Some do it with a laugh and a little courtesy dance – ‘you go’, ‘no, you’, as we negotiate chess moves to determine who will step off the pavement and walk in the road. If we pass on opposite sides of the road there’s often a ‘hello’, a ‘good morning’ or a smile and wave. Others keep their eyes firmly fixed forward or even down on the ground. They seem to think social distancing means you can no longer greet or even acknowledge a stranger.

Yesterday someone on the TV said, perhaps it should be called ‘physical distancing’ rather than ‘social distancing’. We humans are social beings and we need contact with others, even if it is from two metres away. Please don’t think I’m going to infect you with my wave or a cheery ‘hello’ as we pass.

Look out for me tomorrow morning. I’ll be the one putting my hands together and trying a respectful ‘Namaste’.namaste.

Protect and Survive

‘Stay at home. Stock enough food for your family. Make sure you have plenty of strong disinfection and toilet paper.’

Is this a response to the Coronavirus pandemic?

thNo, this was advice from the UK government in the early 1980’s. It was set out in the leaflet, Protect and Survive, available for sale to those who wanted to buy it. However, in the event of a serious nuclear threat, it was to be distributed free to every household. Protect and Survive was adapted for television as a series of twenty short public information films. The films were classified, and only intended for transmission on all television channels if the government determined a nuclear attack was likely within 72 hours. However, recordings leaked and the BBC broadcast them in a documentary on Panorama in March 1980.

Today the leaflet makes alarming reading. It was clearly written from the view that a nuclear attack was a genuine threat and people needed to be prepared. We will never know how likely it was, but it was certainly perceived as a threat across the world.

THE ATTACK WARNING

attwarnWhen an air attack is expected the sirens will sound a rising and falling note.
The warning will also be broadcast on the radio.

THE FALL-OUT WARNING

fallwarnWhen there is danger from fall-out you will hear three loud bangs or three whistles in quick succession.

 

THE ALL-CLEAR

allclearWhen the immediate danger from both air attack and fall-out has passed, the sirens will sound a steady note.

REMEMBER:
The longer you spend in your refuge and your fall-out room after a fall-out warning the less the danger to your lives.

The threat of nuclear war was very real to people in the UK, and the message from the government under Maggie Thatcher was ‘people need to be prepared.’

I was twenty-six, a young mum with three children under the age of four. Protect and Survive became my Bible. The leaflet told me how to make my home and my family as safe as possible in the event of nuclear attack.

Under my bed I stowed a cardboard box filled with tinned food. Each day I listened to the news and avidly read newspaper reports telling me how to ensure my family survived. I hoarded black sacks. Why? Because we’d need to fill them with earth.

‘Even the safest room in your home is not safe enough. You will need to block up windows in the room, and to make the outside walls thicker, and also to thicken the floor above you, to provide the strongest possible protection against the penetration of radiation. Thick, dense materials are the best, and bricks, concrete or building blocks, timber, boxes of earth, sand, books, and furniture might all be used.’

The initial forty-eight hours after the attack were to be spent in the safest place in our home. The leaflet told us how to create a fall-out room, this nuclear-proof den would be our inner sanctuary.

‘Still greater protection is necessary in the fall-out room, particularly for the first two days and nights after an attack when the radiation dangers could be critical. To provide this you should build an inner refuge. This too should be thick-lined with dense materials to resist the radiation and should be built away from the outside walls.’

The leaflet suggested we use doors from rooms above to create an indoor lean-to. We might even use a table if it was large enough, surrounding the den with heavy furniture filled with sand, earth, books or clothing. Best of all, and this was my preferred option, a cupboard under the stairs, with bags of earth or sand on the stairs and along the walls of the cupboard.

The government encouraged us to stockpile:

food‘Stock enough food for fourteen days.
Choose foods which can be eaten cold, which keep fresh, and which are tinned or well wrapped. Keep your stocks in a closed cabinet or cupboard.
Provide variety. Stock sugar, jams or other sweet foods, cereals, biscuits, meats, vegetables, fruit and fruit juices. Children will need tinned or powdered milk, and babies their normal food as far as is possible. Eat perishable items first. Use your supplies sparingly.’

Like many people, I’ve been judging the people panic buying during the Coronavirus crisis: ‘Those selfish, greedy people just looking out for themselves.’ But, in recent days, as my anxiety has increased with each news bulletin, I remember how I felt back in the early 80’s and, whilst I in no way encourage or condone panic buying, I can understand the behaviour.

In the 80’s the government also advised us to store water:

‘You will need enough for the family for fourteen days. Each person should drink two pints a day – so you will need three and a half gallons each.
You should try to stock twice as much water as you are likely to need for drinking, so that you will have enough for washing. You are unlikely to be able to use the mains water supply after an attack – so provide your drinking water beforehand by filling bottles for use in the fall-out room. Store extra water in the bath, in basins and in other containers.’

And, relevant to the empty shelves we now find in all our stores, they told us we’d need toiletry items:

‘Toilet articles including soap, toilet rolls, bucket and plastic bags.’sanit3

We were encouraged to build a first aid kit as there’d be no access to the NHS:

‘First aid kit – with household medicines and prescribed medicines, aspirins or similar tablets, adhesive dressings, cotton wool, bandages, disinfectant, ointment, including Vaseline.’

If we were ‘lucky’ enough to survive the initial stage, the heat and the blast, the following days would bring fallout dust carrying radiation sickness. Like Coronavirus they told us:

‘It cannot be seen or felt. It has no smell…. Exposure can cause sickness and death.’

My sister and I remember a conversation with a young man. He said when the alarm sounded, he’d go into his garden and watch the fireworks. As young mums with little children, we were horrified. All we wanted to do was to protect our families.

For fourteen days we knew we’d be completely isolated, but what sort of world would we have emerging into? After twelve weeks plus of self-isolating, what sort of world will exist after Covid 19?

There are some environmental positives. Maps reveal significant drops in pollution levels above China and Italy. The reduction in travel and particularly grounding flights must surely have reduced our carbon output?

And this time we’re not completely isolated. Okay, most of us received good wishes for Mother’s Day over Facetime, and I desperately missed hugs and kisses, but humanity is coming up trumps. A generation of caring, supportive people are emerging locally. Always there, they now come to the fore, using Facebook and Whatsapp, even dropping notes through doors, offering to collect shopping, medicines or just be there for a chat. Heroic efforts are being made by our NHS professionals, emergency services and key workers. Our government and our scientists work around the clock, seeking solutions and making difficult decisions. And let’s not forget the delivery drivers and the cashiers on the checkouts, some sadly subjected to abuse on a daily basis.

I can’t hug my grandchildren, I can’t see my loved ones, but we can stay in touch remotely, and now there’s time to contact the old friends I haven’t spoken to in ages.

‘This too will pass’

Meanwhile let’s be kind to each other. Hopefully most of us will emerge on the other side, perhaps with a changed perspective. We’ll recognize what’s important to us, we’ll have greater respect for our planet and perhaps we’ll reassess the way we live our lives.

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Lentil Soup – how to survive when all around you are panic buying

This is my mum’s recipe. It’s a great idea when everyone’s panic buying and you’re trying to survive on what you’ve got.

  • In a large saucepan, lightly fry a large onion (sliced).
  • Chuck in two or three carrots (sliced) and a large spud (sliced).
  • Just cover with water, add a vegetable Oxo and simmer until soft (15 mins)
  • Mash (or use a hand blender).
  • Chuck in half a cup of red lentils (or you can use brown or green lentils)
  • Add more water to preferred consistency. Simmer for at least 30 mins until lentils are soft. Don’t let the lentils burn on bottom of pan.
  • You can double this up, water it down, add ANY additional or substitute veg, add garlic with the onion, chuck in a can of beans… There are multiple variations. I literally use up any veg that I’ve got – sweet potatoes, parsnips, greens… It’s always good. Enjoy!
  • This is a great source of protein and makes a meal if you add bread.

Self-isolating and coronovirus

Is it just me? Now I have all the time in the world to write, I waste it listening to increasingly depressing news bulletins. I’ve become obsessed.

Enough is enough – time for self-discipline! I shall establish a new daily routine – time to write balanced with well-being and emotional needs:

  • Getting some fresh air – going for a walk (as long as restrictions allow); get out in my garden (I know, I’m lucky to have one); opening a window and sitting with a cup of tea or coffee whilst listening to the birds and breathing deeply.
  • Taking exercise – going for a walk (as above); riding on my exercise bike; joining a ten to fifteen minute exercise routine (plenty on YouTube for free)
  • Leisure – reading a novel or listening to an audio book (Audible app is great) or a podcast (BBC Sounds has a wealth of free podcasts)
  • Learning a new skill – this could be a language (using a free app), knitting, crochet, drawing, painting, cooking – perhaps I’ll get creative with store cupboard basics (see Jamie Oliver 14 store cupboard recipes) or try my mum’s Lentil Soup recipe.

On BBC Breakfast this morning, a guest shared the ‘Gratitude Game’. He suggests sitting down with your family every day and asking:

  • What’s the one thing I’ve done today to make someone else happy?
  • What’s the one thing someone did today to make me happy?
  • What have I learnt today.

Let’s try it.

  • I’ve messaged friends and family, just to touch base, let them know I’m thinking about them, tell them I love them and I’m here if they’re struggling.
  • A note through my door from a kindly neighbour offering to shop or collect medication if I’m self-isolating.
  • I’ve learnt there’s a thing called Zoom for web-based video conferencing which might replace our fortnightly writing group now that Hove Library is closed until further notice.

How about you?

 

 

 

Self-Publishing Course Jericho Writers

Coronovirus has caused me much deliberation this week. Was the slight tickle earlier in the week just a regular cough or something more sinister? (the former). Do I want to be in a large crowd? (there were only 40 attending and a nice big space to spread out in). Do I want to travel on the tube? (my lovely husband drove me door-to-door). I decided to attend the Self-Publishing Course run by  Jericho Writers. I was so pleased that I did. Great sessions by Melissa Addey and Harry Bingham.

Here are a few key points:

Read, read, read – everything about self-publishing – particularly Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn and David Gaughran.

Treat writing (and getting published) like it’s a job.

If you have a choice, write in popular genre areas – not obscure. Readers always want more books like their favourite novels.

A series works better than stand-alone for self-publishing.

Build your writing CV – any relevant past experiences, writing successes, education and courses in creative writing.

Write a Business Plan – what do you want to achieve in six months/one year? Create opportunities and stalk your prey.

Go narrow – exclusive to Amazon as it also gives you Kindle Unlimited (together they make up 80% of book sales) and it’s worth more £ than going wide (Kobo, Apple, etc).

Your email mailing list is absolutely crucial.

You’ll need a ‘reader magnet’ (something specific and exclusive) to giveaway to your ‘reader club’ – a prequel to your novel works well.

The text of your book matters more than anything else.

The cover is the first key step in your conversation with your reader. The cover, title and blurb must all define and solidify the theme/genre of your book.

Don’t start traffic to your book until everything is perfect – text, cover, book description, genre and sub-categories, keywords, e-book, reader magnet and website.

Use links in book one to direct readers to your next book and also to a page on your website where they can order ‘my free e-book’ in exchange for their email address.

Reviews – don’t cheat and get friends and family to write them. If reviews not written by actual readers of your genre, it messes up the system. Amazon needs to learn who your real readers are so it can recommend your books to them.

Outsourcing – self-publishing can be supported by companies like Bookouture.com (via submissions) or Sam Pearce at Swatt-books.co.uk – package costs £3800 for 80k book (not including marketing).

Phew – plenty for me to get on with during Coronovirus self-isolation if it comes to that!

Stay well everyone.

World Book Day

5th March is World Book Day and naturally I want to talk about the author who inspired me to write. My mother and my grandmother both loved Daphne du Maurier.

IMG_6164Grandma’s favourite Daphne du Maurier novel was Jamaica Inn. One year, heading west in our six-berth caravan for our family holiday in Cornwall, we called in at Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor. Back then it was a proper old Inn, not the popular tourist themed attraction it has now become. Me and my little sister Pauline were too little to go inside – this was before children were allowed in pubs. I remember we sat outside in my dad’s Zodiac with a bottle of Fanta and a bag of crisps.

Soon after this, Mum introduced me to the book Rebecca. I’d started out reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, then progressed to Noel Streatfield and Agatha Christie, but Rebecca was the novel that made me want to become an author. I journeyed with the narrator throughout the story – not even realising back then that she had no name because I was her and together we shared all those embarrassing and self-conscious moments.

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After reading Rebecca I made up my mind that I would write a book. Each summer I’d equip myself with a new notebook and pen. I remember long sunny days laying on the grass inside my red and yellow tent while I composed my masterpieces – they never amounted to very much I’m afraid.

 

But Daphne continued to haunt me throughout my life. So much so that, when I was completing my MA in Creative Writing, I put her at the heart of my dissertation – see my Imagined Dialogue on the Daphne Du Maurier website.

It was while researching Daphne that I read books written by her grandfather. George du Maurier (incidentally his birthday was 6th March) used the concept of ‘dreaming true’ in his novel, Peter Ibbetson and I’m sure Daphne was influenced by this when she wrote about Dick’s time travel in her own novel, The House on the Strand, another of my favourites. I don’t think she’ll mind that I’ve adapted this method myself to communicate with her.

 

Beginnings

I don’t do New Year resolutions. See my article on FocusMe

Instead I like to make my own targets for the year.

2019 was going fine. I had an action plan for the year with the aim of self-publishing one of my novels by Christmas 2019.

It didn’t happen.

The year started well. I achieved a distinction for my MA in Creative Writing. My Imagined Dialogue was published on the Daphne du Maurier website and I’d booked myself on several events to enable me to meet my targets – Fowey Festival, a Jerico Writers event in York and Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival 

It was while I was attending the #foweyfestival in Cornwall I received desperately sad news. My little brother, ten years my junior, had died. That’s not supposed to happen. His death came without warning and really threw me. There were more shocks. I was his named executor but his beneficiary was a person unknown to the family. It seemed my brother had a secret life none of us knew anything about.

As I was thrown into the demands of executorship, plans for completing my novel (seemingly superficial in the light of real life events) went out of the window. Self-editing became impossible. I was however, able to write about what I was experiencing and I wrote it all down. I really recommend #journaling for the bad times in your life. Here’s an extract from an article I wrote for TAMBA (TWINS TRUST) bereavement support:

I found journaling helped me to manage my own grief. It was the start of my healing journey, giving me an outlet for my emotions and a place to store my memories and feelings, like photographs, to take out and experience again. […] The page became my friend, someone I could talk to without having to watch what I said, or how I said it. Sometimes I ranted with the fury of a madwoman – a raw, primitive wail.

The page allows you to vent your anger, guilt and frustration with no judgement or regret. You don’t have to worry that you might hurt someone else’s feelings by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. The good thing about (journaling) is that you can’t write the wrong thing. […] In the early hours of the morning when I couldn’t sleep, I’d make myself a cup of tea and pour my emotions onto the page. […]  Writing is cathartic. Write when tears are streaming down your face. Let grief fuel your pen. Spew your guts on the page. Swear your f****** head off.

Autumn 2019 and I’d encouraged a friend to take part in NANOWRIMO – I should support her by participating again myself. Journaling had sown seeds and I completed 50k words of my new novel (working title – My Brother’s Dominatrix)

December and Christmas were hectic so it was January before I got back into regular novel writing. My targets for 2019 (to get my work out there and publish my first novel) had to roll into 2020.

And what a good start. I’ve completed a first draft of my novel The Travelling Philanthropist #timeslip. I’ve had a short story published by Shooter literary magazine and I’m working to improve my social media presence.

I shall be documenting my journey to #selfpublishing (see my #Indiepublishing page on this blog). Of course there are excellent resources already out there on the subject – David Gaughran  Jerico Writers to name but two. But I’ll be giving you a breakdown of the key steps in my journey, along with the pitfalls – I’m sure there’ll be plenty.  So watch this space.

 

Short Stories

It’s been a manic few days. Not one but two grandchildren celebrating birthdays this weekend. Luckily my daughter makes her own children’s cakes so I only had one to make. She’s doing a splendid and professional job and I’ve told her she will have to take over the family baton.

Here’s the cake I made for footie mad Will – the hornet is his team logo.IMG_6113 (3)

In between cake baking, after my success in Shooters literary magazine I’ve been prepping some #daphnedumaurier inspired #spookyshortstories for competition entry. Next month is the Fowey Festival competition ‘Not after Midnight’ deadline 16th March, followed by Writing magazine ‘Haunted’ deadline 15th May.

If you haven’t read any of Daphne’s short stories, they are worth a look. In fact, both the films ‘The Birds’ and ‘Don’t Look Now’ began life as Daphne du Maurier short stories.

The short story collection ‘The Doll: the lost short stories’ was unearthed by bookseller Ann Wilmore who hosts the brilliant Daphne du Maurierwebsite

Other short stories by Daphne that I’ve enjoyed are ‘The Breakthrough’ which has a sci-fi flavour and ‘The Alibi’, one of her best thriller suspense stories in my opinion. What happens when you allow sub-conscious thoughts free rein? Or perhaps that’s just my weird sub-conscious… The BBC dramatization is still available here.

 

Postcards to my grandson George

This was inspired by a writing exercise suggested by Clare Best.

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Hi George. You remember Jacob saying I used to live in a house called Beaumont? Well this is my second house in London Road – it was called Beaumont House too. It was very old and had two staircases, a posh one at the front and a winding one at the back that led from the kitchen up to my bedroom. The floors were so crooked we had to prop up one leg of the bed with a brick. The central heating wasn’t good so, in winter, great grandma warmed our clothes in front of the Aga. My sister Pauline and me would make ‘a run for it’ from the warmth of our beds to crouch in front of the warm range pulling on our school uniforms, while great grandma cooked us fried eggs which we almost never ate. Our favourite treat was curly bacon rinds which great grandma would cut off and, when she had enough, she’d bake them in the oven. They were really yummy.

Love Granny xx

 

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Hi George. This is the tree I was telling you about. Do you like trees? I bet you’d like this one. It was right outside my house and I used to play in it. It was hollow even then, and I could crawl inside and sit in it. Sometimes I’d hide messages in there for someone to find.

Yes, I do sometimes wonder if there are any still there…

No, I don’t know why they’ve put it behind bars. It looks kind of sad, doesn’t it?

Love Granny xx

 


Picture 145

Hi George. Yes, Granny did used to ride a bike. I got my first one when I was about your age, when great great Grandma died, then I got my second one when I was ten. It was a green Raleigh bike a bit like this one. Father Christmas brought it for me, but he couldn’t get it up the stairs so he pinned a note to the foot of my bed saying he’d left it in the kitchen. I was so excited.

Love Granny xx

 

FullSizeRender (6)Hi George. You’re right, it wasn’t much fun riding on my own – I’m glad you’ve got Jacob to ride about with. But, one day me and my best friend Gillian saw an old black bike for sale at a jumble sale at the WI hut in Ghyll Road. We ran home all puffed and asked great grandma for half a crown (12 ½ p in today’s money) to buy it. Gillian painted it – bright green and white, and we’d ride our bikes down Mardens Hill, free-wheeling all the way to the Half Moon pub as our brakes were pretty rubbish. It felt like we were flying.

No, luckily there weren’t as many cars about then. Love Granny xx

 

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Hi George. How are you getting on with your bike? Have you got the stabilisers off yet?

You asked me if I ever fell off? The first time I had a bad fall was here – outside Fieldbus the Newsagents. Gillian and me used to do a paper round. We had to do it together as we were girls. One icy morning I turned in a bit sharp and skidded right across the parking area. Next thing I remember was sitting drinking a cup of tea and eating a piece of chocolate in the back of the shop. Really shook me up. Take care on your bike.

Love Granny xx

 

 

Hi George. You remember I told you about the twitten? It’s like a long narrow passageway or tunnel through the woods. On our way home from school, Gillian and me would be nattering all the way. When we got to the top of Elim Court Gardens where she lived, she turned off and I carried on down London Road. When we got to the twitten, Gillian would stand her end and I would stand mine and we could still see each other. We’d always have something important we still had to share.

Yes, you and Jacob could stand each end and call to each other.

Wish you were here. Lots of love Granny xx

A Birthday Walk with Jacob

This morning my grandson Jacob and I went for a walk. He’s six today and always wants to hear stories about when I was little. Like my other grandchildren, Jacob has a morbid fascination in my many childhood mishaps, never tiring of their retelling.

‘Don’t start until we get there,’ he says, as we walk along Croft Road, but it’s hard not to, especially when we get to the top of School Lane.

‘This is where I went to school when I was your age,’ I say.

‘Six?’ he says.

I nod, showing him the sign:IMG_0275

“This lane is used daily by 250 small school children.”

‘Where’s the school?’ he asks.

‘It’s gone. They pulled it down to build houses. The children go to Herne School now – a bit further down the road. Your great grandad built it.’

We walk down School Lane and join Queens Road at the bottom, then turn right, and next left and we are in Huntingdon Road. It all seems changed. There are so many cul-de-sacs with new houses. It’s not until we get to Huntingdon Road, that I feel on familiar ground.IMG_0357

Beaumont, I Huntingdon Road. I’m surprised to find it is still called Beaumont House, as I’m sure mum and dad took the name with them to our next house in London Road. It doesn’t look so very changed, just a little smaller as all childhood places, when revisited, appear to be. I show Jacob the wall where I sat with Trudy Fisher eating what looked like pea pods, until my mum called out: ‘You’re not eating those laburnum pods are you? Because if you do, you’ll die.’ Trudy and I, way too scared to confess, spent a terrifying night in our respective beds, just waiting to die.

We walk along to Trudy’s house. I think it was number 5 – but it could equally have been 4 or 6. There was an alley down the side to her rear garden where she had an outside toilet. We had an inside toilet in our bathroom, and we didn’t use our outside one any more. Trudy’s seemed so much more exciting. We’d go in together, chatting while we did our business… Trudy didn’t have much of a garden, a tiny pocket handkerchief bit out front between the road and her front door, then a scrappy bit of back yard. I remember her dad seeding a small patch once; we weren’t allowed on it for ages. Sometimes Trudy came and played at mine. We had a huge garden as our house was a corner plot. In addition, adjoining the garden, we had a plot big enough for another house which dad used for his building stuff; a bungalow has been built there now. When we did play at Trudy’s, we played indoors. Her big brother used to pull the sofa and chairs forward to make us a tunnel running along by the front window. We’d crawl through, while he terrorised us with threats of spiders or cold wet flannels. Sometimes Trudy and I fell out, and then Trudy would be friends with someone else. I can’t remember the friends name, but she and Trudy would write notes on paper, like ‘YOU STINK’ and hold them up to the window for me to see when I walked passed. Much as kids do nowadays, reading unpleasant messages on social media, I’d emotionally self-harm by continually walking up and down outside to see what they were saying about me.

IMG_0325Jacob and I walk down Figg Lane. ‘We used to call it the bumpy lane,’ I tell him. Not much has changed, still bumpy but seems wider than it used to be. I think they must have cleared the sides and built the new houses  further back. It used to be quite muddy with lots of puddles, and stinging nettles growing up either side. Once I got pushed in (or fell) and was covered with a bumpy rash all over my legs and arms.

At the bottom of Figg Lane, Jacob and I turn left and cross the road. This area, now allotments, is where we’d come and play. There didn’t seem to be any problem letting your kids play out of your sight back then. It used to be a wilderness, rough and overgrown. We’d build camps and make bows and arrows out of tall bamboo-like plants with hollow stems. The ground’s quite boggy, perhaps they favoured boggy soil? Adjoining the allotments is Crowborough Crematorium. I find it hard to believe we played so close to the graves and yet I don’t remember any talk of ghosts. Jacob and I stroll around, checking out how old the gravestones are. Many date back to the 1920’s or earlier. We find a grave for two brothers – Eric who died in 1931 aged six months and Raymond who died in 1939 aged 2 years and 4 months. Jacob and I are intrigued by a grave with lots of ribbons tied to a tree – Joseph Harvey Knight, Master of Fordcombe, and further over, the grave of an old lady, her faithful dog guarding her. While we watch, a crow flies down, tormenting the poor dog, but the little dog, loyal to his mistress, doesn’t leave his post.

‘Do you think her dog is buried here?’ asks Jacob.

‘I don’t know,’ I say.

Over the road, I show Jacob where Margaret lived. Margaret was my friend. She was a big girl – late teens or early twenties, but somehow also around my age. I’m not sure if Margaret had any other friends, but my mum would bring me to play with her – she liked my dolls.

We walk back up the bumpy lane and I show Jacob the house that was once Mr Diamond’s shop. I tell him about the day I came home from school and my mum said: ‘You need to go over and see Mr Diamond.’ When I got there, Mr Diamond told me I had won the raffle prize displayed in the shop window; a huge box of chocolates, almost as big as me. The chocolates didn’t last that long (we had a big family) but I kept the pretty picture box for years.

Past Mr Diamonds and we continue back up to school. On the way I realise why everything felt odd on the way down, we’d gone the wrong way. We need to cross Queens Road and walk a few yards up Gladstone Road, before turning left on South Street and coming out further up School Lane. This route is much more familiar. I point out the remains of the old school wall, and the gap in the fence where we used to cross School Lane to take our lessons in the prefabs with lovely Mr Hendry.

On the way back to town, I show Jacob where I used to walk along the top of the grass verges and, despite the trail now being almost non-existent, he follows in my footsteps, but he’s lagging behind.

It’s not until we get to the charity shop, where I pop into get a jigsaw puzzle for my mother-in-law, that Jacob reappears. This morning I posted a happy birthday message to Jacob on Facebook with the words: ‘Every Summer I gather pebbles and seashells for your sandcastles.’ Here’s the jigsaw he left for me to find:

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