Lockdown Isolation

Wivenhoe has been quiet this month. Walks by the river have become highlights of the week and it’s easy to feel isolated from family, friends and the rest of humanity. The good new is that a coronavirus vaccine may eventually be with us in 2021.

Meanwhile I’ve been thinking how much worse this situation of restriction and social isolation must be for those who are blind or visually impaired. Organisations such as the Colchester Talking Newspapers try to help, keeping recipients in touch with local news, delivered by friendly voices.

I’ve been a volunteer reader for the Talking Newspaper for about five years now. Until March 2020 we readers met in rotating groups of three, in a studio at Essex University to create a weekly edition for our recipients.

After the arrival of Covid-19 the studio recordings came to an end and for 20 weeks volunteer readers who felt able to do so made home recordings of the local news stories, taken as usual from the Gazette ( the local paper with whom we have an agreement). This must have been intriguing for the listeners, hearing lots of different and varied voices in one week, rather than the usual three at a time on the rota. Our director, Bob deserves a medal for sorting out the variations of sound quality he must have dealt with along the way. The studio opened up again for 6 weeks when the first lockdown eased, but now in November, and for the immediate future, we are back to ‘back bedroom recordings’.

Colchester and District Talking Newspapers is therefore still alive a well. Edition number 2400 was posted on November 19th, plans are underway for a special Christmas edition in December ( recorded from our homes of course) and then the volunteer team of trustees, readers, sound recordists, dispatchers and everyone else who helps, will work on into 2021.

If you know anyone with visual impairment who would benefit from receiving the Talking News, do get in touch – the details are here on the poster.

An October feast

This October I completed a four week online course in micro fiction delivered by the excellent www.helenchamberswriter.wordpress.com under the umbrella of www.thewriterscompany.co.uk based in Wivenhoe. The course has resulted in a host of ideas to develop in response to her challenging prompts and exercises. We used pictures, random word lists, fairy tales, and starter sentences from other writers as inspiration. We attempted 6 word stories, OULIPO and snowball writing as well as more traditional 100 word stories. It was a great way to spend Wednesday mornings in these times of restricted activity.

Happily socially distanced walks were still allowed and made a perfect change after a morning at the computer . Tramping through the woods and along the Colne was great for consolidating thoughts on a cool autumn afternoon. The fungi along the riverside path had woken up and multiplied – it would have been rude to not take pictures. Once home I set about identifying what I’d seen but then got side-tracked by the bizarre lists of mushrooms and toadstool names I came across. Many of these would not be edible ( please don’t even try) but an imaginary feast, menu set out as a piece of snowball writing, was the end result.


Scurfy twiglet

Starter mealyoyster

Main course bitter poisonpie

With pancake crust potato earth ball

Bonfire cauliflower with witches butter dressing

Wine served in turquoise elfcup

Dessert of upper crust

Plums and custard

Whiskery milkcap


The Rule of Six

Ready to go

It’s September 14th, the day the ‘Rule of Six’ comes out to play in England. Only six people can meet in an indoor or outdoor setting from today, the very day that we’d planned the first face-to-face get-together of the Shed Writers Group in six months. (We have worked on-line since March). This educational meeting was to take place in my garden and there are seven of us. Social distancing and Covid security was to be strict but even so, what to do? What is right? What is safe?

Happily, or perhaps unhappily, one of our members was self-quarantining having recently travelled home from a family visit to country deemed of higher risk, so we chose to carry on. We missed her but had a great session which she will catch up with virtually.


The rule of six seems somewhat random but I’m not planning to go political or medical or analytical about it. Instead I’m going to play a game or two, prompted by various twitter feeds that are around at the moment.

Choose six calling names you have been given in your life:-

Philippa – technically my second Christian name but used by everyone

Pippa – only used by people who are trying to be friendly but don’t really know me

Phiff – only used by my husband ( heaven knows where that came from)

Philly – used by my dear late father

Pippin – used by my first serious boyfriend when I was 16 ( he loved Lord of the Rings)

Pip – used by no-one (thank goodness)

Next game, name six people, dead or alive, you would like to come for a picnic in the garden:-

James Taylor – love his words and his voice

Michelle Obama – to widen my outlook

Darcy Bussell – just because

Roger Federer – to talk tennis

Stephen King – to exude writing brilliance

Beth Chatto – I’ll need some gardening advise.

Now that was a good way to spend a potentially awkward Monday. Feel free to send me your lists.


Where did August go?

Five months of coronavirus and the arrival of our first grandchild ( now emerging from lockdown) has limited my blogging ability. No great inspiration to share this month, just the news that I’m learning Dutch online, the garden is in good fettle, and I am 50,000 words into my current work in progress ( novel number four). Hoping to find something fascinating to write about in September.

Busy doing nothing!

Plain English

A writer friend has recently written an amusing story about the use of plain English, which has set me thinking of my own use of words when I speak but also when I write. I like to think I use plain English in my novels and stories and I consciously avoid words which might be considered highfalutin or pompous ( unless a specific character demands it). English is such a generous language, with so many options and alternatives, that’s sometimes easier said than done.

Language continues to develop and change; regional variations and accents are now more encouraged, email etiquette alters the way we communicate, and then there’s texting and tweeting!

Many of us change our language according to circumstance. There’s an interesting chapter in “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”, where at the end of Chapter 29, Maya Angelou describes how her Black (always a capital B in the book) childhood associates “learned to slide out of one language and into another without being conscious of the effort”. She explained by saying that at school, in a given circumstance they might respond with “That’s not unusual’ but in the street, meeting the same situation, they easily would say “It be’s like that sometimes.”

In speech many of us alter our choice of words, tone or accent according to circumstance. It was a family joke that my Yorkshire born mother, renowned for her perfect Queen’s English, slipped into a Yorkshire twang half-way up the A1 when we drove north to visit grandparents. I have the ability to do the same. I guess changes might be less obvious in the written word but they still occur.

Despite my desire for plain English I love to find unusual new words and Twitter is a great source of such discoveries. Susie Dent, she of Dictionary Corner fame, posts excellent new-to-me words, as does Robert Macfarlane who finds pleasure in his lost words. There’s even a Twitter site named New Words. These lost and found, new words are not always usable in everday life but I’ve recently found one that suits be well and it is to tartle (19th century Scots). Apparently if you’ve ever had to introduce someone while totally blanking on their name, you’ve tartled. I tartle all the time.

Another new found gem that’s cropped up is a percontation – a 16th century suggestion for indicating a rhetorical question, sometimes called an irony mark. Sadly I can’t find a percontation to use on my keyboard but I’ve given you a picture of one to see at the top of this post.