It’s a beautiful day today; the powder-blue sky is cloudless, there’s a whisper of wind rustling the new, green leaves on the trees, and my neighbourhood sings with people enjoying the outdoors. This is the sort of weather that penetrates the soul, rejuvenating and uplifting it after the long winter months. With that in mind, here is a little list of things that make me happy. Note that it is by no means exhaustive!
- Spring and autumn.
Spring and autumn are my favourite seasons. The autumn is so refreshing after a hot summer and I just love the changing colours of the leaves and the crisp weekends when you can take a beautiful walk and then reward yourself by holing up in a coffee shop with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book. I love spring because, somehow, I always feel like we all deserve it after putting up with the winter. I live in England, so winter tends to be long, cold and wet. Spring arrives so gradually and this teases me and makes me impatient for the sunshine. I love the birds returning and building nests (we have nesting blackbirds in our garden at the moment – it’s such a treat!), and the dawn chorus getting a little earlier each day as the days begin to lengthen again. I love spring flowers, too; they seem especially good this year: the daffodils and grape hyacinths seem never-ending, and the cherry blossom and magnolia are particularly abundant.
I have always been an avid reader. I am an August baby, so my mother kept me home from school for an extra few months, otherwise I would have only just turned four when I started school (apparently I was still prone to napping in the afternoon – this is not conducive to a classroom education!). My mum taught me at home, so by the time I started school I could read a bit. There were these ghastly reading-scheme books in our classroom that the teacher would assign to us to take home in our bookbags for home reading. The books were about two mice called Bubble and Squeak who lived in a house. I hated the books! They were so boring and pedestrian and my mother was soon compelled to write a letter to my teacher requesting that she not send any more Bubble and Squeak books home as I found them ‘patronising’ (her choice of words, not mine!). Before too long I had exhausted the books that the infants section of the school had to offer and I had to cross the large assembly hall to get to the juniors part of the school when I needed a new book.
I regret a lot of the books that I read as a child. I discovered the Jacqueline Wilson books when I was about 9 years old, and I ploughed through them all… and then started them again. It was foolish, because the books are not challenging and they are all fairly samey, so I should have read them once and then moved on to something that would challenge me. As it was, I became an incredibly lazy reader – a habit that I wouldn’t acknowledge or seek to break until I was about 16 – and I deliberately sought out books that I knew I could polish off very quickly. Because of this, I missed a lot – like I didn’t ready any of the children’s classics whilst I was a child, I only read them later and there are so many that I haven’t read yet.
These days, I read very broadly. I drew up a reading list when I was 16 and realised that I needed to broaden my literary horizons. The list is very diverse and I’m determined to have crossed everything off it before I am dead – even the Bible in its entirety! I have a very bad habit of reading several books at once. I periodically try to break the habit, but never with enough conviction for it to stick. At the moment, I am reading 10 books.
I am not sure how my love of puffins began, but for a long time they have been my favourite bird. I absolutely love them – how could anyone feel sad whilst looking at a puffin?! I have never seen a real puffin (only taxidermied ones in museums) but I’m hoping to rectify this in the near future.
Check out this board that I made on Pinterest to pay homage to the ‘clowns of the sea’.
- George the cat
When I was 15, I persuaded my parents that it was high time I was allowed a cat. Our previous cat died when I was 10 and my parents had always refused when I asked if we could get a new cat. We lived on a farm and had a dog, some goats, chickens and ducks, and usually several hamsters, but the collection was not complete without a cat. When my friend’s cat had a litter of kittens and offered me a kitten for free, it was the perfect opportunity and my parents agreed that I could have a cat as long as it was a ginger tomcat so that it would stand out from all the farm cats, who were blacks and tabbies. It was just after my GCSEs that the kittens were ready to leave their mother, and my brother drove me to my friend’s house to collect the kitten, whom I had named George. He was absolutely tiny and was able to sit on the palm of my hand. He had pale orange fur that wasn’t quite long enough to lie flat, and bright blue eyes which later turned green. When my Dad got home from work he sat on the kitchen floor and introduced George to our dog, Tiggy, who wasn’t very impressed with the new addition to the family! George stayed inside until he was big enough to go out and then there was no stopping him- he was quite an explorer and loved going on the roof and making friends with the farm cats.
When we left the farm (the less said about that, the better) my brother and sister-in-law gave George a home, but I missed him when I was at university. There was no doubt that George missed me too; cats are renowned for their standoffish behaviour, but whenever I saw George he was so welcoming and he definitely remembered me and was pleased to see me. George lives with my husband and I now and he’s going to be 9 years old in May. He’s such a funny cat, with real character and personality. I always feel very over-protective of him, because I think he’s pretty irreplaceable as far as cats go.
I love music and I feel very blessed to have ready access to music on the radio, on my computer, on my iPod, and through singing and playing an instrument. I can’t imagine living in a world without music if I, God forbid, lost my hearing or if I lived in a society that didn’t place a value on music. I like all sorts of music; my favourite band is a folk trio from the West Country called Show of Hands. If you haven’t heard of them then do look them up! I’ve been following Show of Hands since I was 15 and have seen them live well over a dozen times. I also really like Classical Music, but I haven’t got much of a memory for names, numbers and key signatures of symphonies and concertos. This is annoying because my brain is a sponge for lyrics – I know several musicals off by heart and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I probably know the full lyrics of 1000 songs. My husband is stumped by this; if we’re listening to my iPod on shuffle he’ll often ask me what something is called or who the artist is and I usually respond with ‘Dunno, but I know all the words!’. My favourite piece of Classical Music of all time is the Cantique de Jean Raccine by Faure. It’s hauntingly beautiful and I love the words.
I don’t think I need to write much about how music makes me happy. It’s such a cliché and a topic that has been done to death by numerous other writers over the years.
I have always loved to write. I adore the infinity of writing – through my pen, I can become anybody that I want to be (I can even become a tree when writing a first person account of a yew tree’s story). I recently decided that it was time to get serious about my writing, hence beginning writing classes, reading writing magazines, starting this blog, and securing a ‘Topwrite’ place at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. I have even downsized my laptop, swapping my MacBook Pro for a little Lenovo notebook because it’s a lot more portable so I can write on the train to and from work.
Sometimes I struggle for new ideas, but as soon as I know what I am writing and where I am going with it, there’s no stopping me! I am working on a novel at the moment (watch this space!) and I really enjoy writing short pieces, too. If I’m not in the mood for creative writing (!) then I like to write letters and write in my journal.
I’m a massive foodie. I have quite a sweet tooth and I’m something of a chocaholic. At the moment I am halfway through giving up chocolate for Lent – I’m very impatient for Easter. In addition to being a foodie and a chocaholic, I’m also a comfort eater; this is not a good combination…!
I have always enjoyed cooking and I have been competent in the kitchen for a long time. I like to make things up, especially soups and salads and recipes to use up random ingredients when I can’t be bothered to go to the supermarket (our nearest supermarket is absolutely enormous so it’s usually very busy and, because it’s so big, it takes ages to get around the shop). I also love to bake. I like cooking and baking to relax – going into the kitchen, putting on my apron, putting on some good music (jazz and blues are good for the kitchen) and creating something wonderful.
- Meeting new people
I wasn’t always a people person. I was quite shy when I was a little child and felt timid when meeting other children. However, I soon grew out of this and I now love meeting new people. I find it a great shame in the workplace that 90% of my contact with colleagues is over email – there are so many people that I work closely with that I have never even met…and they work in the same building!
My first ever job was in a nursing home when I was 13. I loved getting to know the residents; some of them had lived in the area for their entire lives and it was fascinating hearing their stories. More recently, I have worked for the National Trust and this was another delightful job where I got to meet people and find out about them.
When I was 19, I went to stay with an elderly friend in Northumberland. She lived out in the sticks and most of the population of the village was elderly. One day, we went for lunch in the village tea room. My friend leaned over the table and whispered to me,
“That man in the corner, facing towards us. He used to be the postman. His round was 22 miles on foot. During the war he was part of the contingent that liberated Bergen Belsen.”
I was absolutely amazed. The man was very old and must have had such incredible and awful stories to tell of the things that he had witnessed. I had always believed that everyone has got a story to tell, but being in that tea room with my friend made me appreciate this on a whole new level.
- The countryside
I was born at home, in the heart of the Hampshire countryside, and I grew up on the farm that I called ‘home’ for 20 years so it’s hardly surprising that the countryside is on this list. I miss not living in the countryside, but I always appreciate it more now than before. I was so lucky to have unlimited roaming space when I grew up. We could walk on the fields of the farm as long as we didn’t damage any crops, so I didn’t have the restriction of having to keep to footpaths as I do now.
- My husband
I met my husband when we were at university. We were housemates for almost a year before we finally decided to admit that we had chemistry, and the rest is history. He’s a wonderful person and this list would not be complete without him (and nor would I!).