Angel Community Garden, Tonbridge

My first guest blog post: a beautiful and inspiring bit of car park. Not something you say very often.


A guest post by writer Karen Hart

Dirty old plastic bags or lush scented herbs? The glint of broken glass or golden wallflowers? I didn’t need a second to decide when I visited the Angel Community Garden in Tonbridge yesterday.

Do take a look at that link; the Twitter feed shows  how the featureless edge of a shopping centre car park has been transformed by volunteers.

Floral displays always enhance towns and cities but it’s extra special when something’s been created by the inspiration, hard work and obvious love of a community.

“It’s been enormously satisfying,” Christine Parker, from Abbey Funeral Services,  said when we arrived at the car park. “My car stank of manure  a friend gave us, and I ached all over when I got home, but I felt a real sense of achievement.”

Christine – in the stripy wasp top above – gave a donation toward the project and joined the yellow-clad volunteers on April 17 to help plant the site…

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‘Sunlight and twilight and firelight’

‘Short breaks in restored historic buildings.’ I love the Landmark Trust, the charity ‘giving new life to castles, forts, follies, towers and cottages.’ We spent most of our honeymoon at one of their Peppercombe places: a tiny thatched cottage, hidden in a wooded valley by the Devon coast.

A short break before Easter needed specific requirements: not far from London, accessible by public transport and affordable. It needed to cater for a recently-bereaved pensioner, a teen laden with AS revision notes (scowling at missing Game of Thrones); a zoo, decent pubs and some form of natural history museum for husband. I wanted somewhere to sit, write and get away from the non-stop drilling and sirens of Whitechapel.

Peake’s House, Colchester ticked every box, full of words like ‘atmosphereic’, ‘snug’ and ‘Elizabethan’. Such a gorgeous and imposing  exterior when you arrive: timbered and mullioned and transomed. (Ignore the next two paragraphs if you’re of a nervous disposition: read on for the true nature of the place.

‘It looks safe round here,’ Mum said. ‘So many policemen!’ I got her inside before she spotted the boiler-suited and masked scene of crimes officer. Murder, a copper told me. Earlier in the week and along the road, though.

My husband was delighted by the cellar, convinced he could call up something nasty from Cabin in the Woods by finding the right object somewhere in the house. Zombies at the very least. My money was on the Satanic jug next to the bed. I didn’t realise daughter was unaware of the cellar and scared her witless by mentioning it. Then I woke up to the sound of drilling …

Colchester has a beautiful castle in stunning grounds, full of forget-me-nots, squirrels and sunshine for us. It has the sweetest Natural History Museum, surrounded with lush growth in an old churchyard, and the requisite zoo. Gran and Grand-daughter were happy with finding the same shops as home. ‘They’ve got a BOOTS!’

We had a wonderful meal at the esteemed Stockwell Restaurant, purveyors of fine medieval fare, a few steps from our front door and they, most generous of restaurateurs, gave us two huge logs so we could have a fire on our last night.

And I was happy, relaxed and inspired. I sat and wrote in almost every spacious and beautiful room, finding the peace and quiet that I needed. If you don’t know the Landmark set-up, they spurn tv, radio etc in favour of well-stocked bookcases, local histories and fiction from authors linked to the area.

Each also has log books, filled in by visitors with lots of advice about which takeaway to use, the best places are to visit and any to avoid. There’s also a lot of info about the place you’re staying and how it was refurbished.

The title is from a book about a similar house to Peake’s. Please don’t pinch it: that’s my short story name for the Landmark writing contest. I want to win so I can go back to my shortlist of, ooh, at least ten other places: temples and lodges and towers …

‘If it welcome you when you enter its hall, if its rafter re-echo gaily as though they laughed with you, if peace come dropping slow in its bedrooms, if it seems just to have stopped speaking to you when you wake, if sunlight and twilight and firelight seem equally the best light of all for its panels, its corners, its great beam – then it is a seasoned house.’

From ‘The Paycockes of Coggeshall,’ Eileen Power, 1920.

Seven ways London went wrong

Courtesy of @twittaxristy on April 1, 2014
Courtesy of @twittaxristy on April 1, 2014

From Sunday 31 March, I ran the @londonisyours Twitter account for a week. You’ve probably seen these curated accounts round your way, where a different person gives insights into their daily life in a town, country or continent. @Sweden is one of the most-followed and I think it’s consistently interesting.

Signing up a few months ago, I tempted the Fates with my plans. There’d be a day or so at wonderful places I support with yearly membership but never seem to have the time to visit: Kew Gardens and the Chelsea Physic Garden. I’d travel by boat, taking in Tate a Tate en route, among a plethora of shows, galleries, museums and lectures.

I’d revisit areas I’d lived, from Stockwell to Stoke Newington; the bars and cafes of Islington, the City and Barbican. There’d be fascinating crime anecdotes from former workplaces at the Home Office and Met Police, and topical observations on paying nearly £1K a month for childcare back in the late 90s.

Cue the vengeance of the London-wrecking Seven:

1. Dental misery. A visit to the dentist the previous week led to antibiotics and endless days of head in a bucket. ‘Oh, those! They make you really sick,’ said everybody, while I was being really sick.

2. Childcare. I thought those pricey days of toddlerdom were the worst. No. that’s appeared in the shape of weeks of exams where lives are at stake on a fairly literal level. So any money required for cocktails in theatre intervals needs to be spent on extra tuition and I have to give my ‘free’ time to helping remember facts about covalent bonds, cystic fibrosis and El Nino.

3. Family. Dad left almost nothing when he died in January but that doesn’t seem to have negated the need to visit out of town solicitors to whom digital has little meaning. Mum was trying to get over what would have been their 59th wedding anniversary so I needed to stay with her a little longer. Leading me to …

4. The provinces. I was born in London but left for Folkestone at six weeks. Most people I know here aren’t from London. I complain about Folkestone but it is where I was brought up and I have a lot of interest in seeing it thrive. So it was lovely to chat with one Folkestonian following the account, more followed and, on my visit, I met one lovely person I’ve talked to on Twitter for a while.

5. Work. The contract for my last job ended on the day this Londoning began. Rather than the free time I’d envisaged, this meant getting straight on with the first freelance jobs that came up.

6. April Fool’s Day. This left me frankly terrified to post anything as I am one of those people who believes that ‘gullible’ isn’t in the dictionary. Having said that, the great ‘Underground Overground Wombling Free’ sign of Whitechapel went down a storm. And if you didn’t see one of the most charming and creative charity campaigns ever, do check this post via Charity Chap on the Girlguiding/Minifig takeover. Inspired.

7. There wasn’t really a seventh. But seven is the world’s favourite number. I’d voted for four which, with a pleasing elegance, came fourth. Go forth and curate your hometown. Seven aside, it was a fun week and a great experience.

Celebrate International Sir Terry Pratchett Day!

‘Bugrit Millennium hand and shrimp!’ Love, admiration and all good wishes to wonderful Sir Terry.


Pratchett April 8th has been designated International Sir Terry Pratchett Day to celebrate the world-famous fantasy writer being Author of the Day at the London Book Fair.

To launch the day, authors from around the world will be asked to vote for their favourite character from one of his books – choosing from a list of Sir Terry’s Official Top 10 Favourites, which are:

             1.            Commander Vimes

2.            Death

3.            Granny Weatherwax

4.            Tiffany Aching

5.            Lord Vetinari

6.            The Librarian

7.            Nanny Ogg

8.            Rincewind

9.            The Nac Mac Feegle

10.          Willikins

Katie Webb, International Authors Forum, said: “Sir Terry Pratchett is a huge source of pride amongst the global author community. His innumerable achievements and dedication to his craft – unlocking imaginations, giving entertainment, education and wonder to so many – are testament to the value of the author in…

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Stream of consciousness

Loki-AKA-Poufeball*uninspired sigh* ‘What shall I write my blog post about, beloved daughter?’

*looks up cheerfully from Biology revision* ‘Your paintings, what you’re thinking, a book, the view from your window, atrial systole and the sodium channel, those %$&^£! downstairs, Grandma, your work, your desk, why does Pouffeball [Loki the cat] get that black gunk in his eyes, funerals, that’s why they stopped Crufts, you know, Miss said, because of the pure-breds not being able to breathe, you know, look, he’s just like Henry the 8th, you know with that frill around his neck, you can just imagine him doing divorced beheaded survived, OH MY GOD LOOOOOOOK HE’S HOLDING ON TO HIS TEDDY!!! oh no he’s just got his claw stuck in it stupid Pouffeball I feel so sorry for myself, Falance [other cat] sneezed he’s so cute awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww if only he didn’t hate every one Falance always ignores me*