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Sunday 28 April 2024

From my desk and armchair this week I've been able to experience the working lives of a boatbuilder, blacksmith, lorry driver, fisherman, tailor, printer and farmer. And it's been hugely inspiring. So much so, that I've been ready to don some overalls and join each one of them. 

You can read about the three women who have turned their passions into fulfilling careers in my article for Woman's Weekly here. And the husband-and-wife who have built a printing business from a tiny studio near Orford, are featured in my article for Pressing Matters magazine here. And if you scroll down you'll be able to read my review of the book by fisherman and skipper Ashley Mullenger, recalling how she left her office job for life on the sea.

The value and fulfilment to be had from practising traditional crafts and industry was evident, and this was cemented in my reading of two books, both newly published. 

'Where are the fellows who cut the hay?' by Robert Ashton revisits the farming communities in mid Suffolk which were first interrogated by George Ewart Evans in the 1950s and explores how much has changed, for better and worse. And 'Less' is the new book by tailor and tv presenter (Great British Sewing Bee) Patrick Grant which draws a distinction between the creativity in the clothing industry and the commercialism of fashion. He highlights the value of craft and skill, and urges us all to pursue a simpler life with fewer 'things'.

I'll be reviewing both these titles more fully in the coming weeks but there was a message throughout regarding the value of work.

'The politics of much of the past half century has failed to see work in anything more than purely economic terms,' writes Grant. 'Work is more than money, it is a vital part of our happiness and wellbeing...Technology has deprived us of the work we enjoy most, the useful work with hands and brains.' 

More of that another time, then, but before I sign off for this week, don't forget that there is a visit from the nature writer Matt Gaw on Wednesday in Framlingham. It's sure to be inspiring and uplifting so I hope you'll come along - the details are listed below. Thank you for reading.

Sunday 21 April 2024

Once again the weather has made the headlines this week, with scenes of the terrible floods in Dubai.

Even at home, conversations and tv weather reports have all referred to the cold wind and only occasional and fleeting spring sunshine.

We've always had a tendency to obsess about the weather, haven't we? In this country it's largely due to the unpredictability and variety of conditions we experience. Sadly these days we're also seeing more extreme weather, as is the case all over the world.

In the new book by nature writer, Matt Gaw, climate crisis is inevitably mentioned but he also wants us to show us how we can appreciate and celebrate the huge mix of weather conditions in Britain - to see and feel the changing landscape, to understand the response from flora and fauna, to appreciate how our character is shaped and our creativity prompted by the rain and shine, the fog and frost, the snow and ice... 

And just like Matt Gaw - and David Nicholls and Olivia Laing (see below) - we shouldn't just watch the changing weather through the window. For a myriad of reasons, highlighted in these books of fiction, memoir and observation, we should be out in the air and the countryside, experiencing it at first hand.

The fell walker and guide book author Alfred Wainwright said 'there is no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing'.

This is exactly the message Matt Gaw shares with us in his wonderful new book. He'll be coming along to Framlingham in a few days' time to introduce 'In All Weathers' and tell us more about the walks and weather he enjoyed. Perhaps he'll also share something of how he relates his experiences through such stunningly perceptive and lyrical writing.

I hope you'll join me in meeting Matt again - he visited us in Woodbridge some years ago for his first book about travelling Britain's rivers in a canoe. (I wonder if he'd be so keen to do that today?) He's a very inspiring and engaging speaker who writes beautifully. Do scroll down for details and reserve your place.

But for tomorrow, hopefully the weather won't prevent us from meeting together for our book group discussion in Woodbridge. Please let me know if you are planning on coming along. I hope to see you there!

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 14 April 2024

I've covered quite some miles in my car in this past week, driving around the region for various reasons. And it's been enjoyable. The weather has been fine, the routes clear and familiar, the roads well maintained (on the whole) and the traffic free flowing!

When I'm driving without any stress or pressure, it's a time for thought and inspiration. I usually have voices on the radio quietly accompanying me. And my mind wanders, whether prompted by something being discussed in the programme or sent on a tangent of an altogether different subject. 

In an article this weekend, the novelist David Nicholls describes how he has found walking to be his way of gaining clarity and insight. (And also a time to listen to audio books, rather delightfully sharing that a 500 page book is a 50 mile walk.)

His latest novel, called 'You Are Here' (released later this month with my review to follow next weekend) focuses on friends walking from one side of the country to the other. It is something David Nicholls himself has discovered rather late in life, he says - this experience of taking a journey, stripped away of all the usual distractions of daily life, focusing entirely on getting from A to B through your own efforts.

Another new book details the therapeutic, healing properties of walking as three men undertook just such a trek to process some very real, tragic recent events in each of their lives. 

'Three Dads Walking' is a powerful read. It's uplifting, inspiring and full of hope but it is also a stark reminder of how young people can be so devastatingly troubled. For these three men, walking and talking together, through the British countryside, gave them an opportunity to process their grief and raise awareness of their cause.

We'll be meeting and talking together in Framlingham this week for the monthly book group at Ottie and the Bea. Do come along if you can.

And our Woodbridge book group meets the following Monday on a slightly-earlier-than-usual date for our monthly discussion. We'll be talking about 'For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy on My Little Pain'. If you're planning on coming along, please let me know. I hope to see you soon!

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 31 March 2024

Well, despite losing an hour of sleep and the weather being a little variable, I hope you've had a good Easter weekend.

I was glad to be up early in the morning on Saturday when I was the cox for a men's four on the river here in Suffolk. The water was mirror calm, the tide low and we only had wading birds for company. It was very special. 

Although I should have made the most of the spring sunshine for the rest of the day, the Boat Race was taking place in the afternoon so I spent a good couple of hours in front of the television.

I very much enjoy the BBC's coverage each year as Clare Balding and her team take us along the route, introduce us to the phenomenal athletes, invite comments from the marvellous Katherine Grainger and also, this year, reference 'Lessons in Chemistry' - the bestseller by Bonnie Garmus where rowing is a key theme and my novel of the year for 2023!

The women's and men's races were both very exciting and not without incident and I couldn't help but feel for both the winning and losing teams as they dealt with the outcomes of the competition. My reading of a book by Simon Mundie, just a couple of days earlier, made me consider their situation even more keenly.

With any sport, the focus is on strategy, tactics and the result. And with our lives we can put a great deal of store in how high we have risen up the ranks at work, or how well regarded we are by our community or our peers. 

Simon Mundie suggests we should measure success differently. Yes, we should explore our potential and delight in 'getting in the flow', but true contentment might lie elsewhere, and might just be more attainable than we have realised. It's a fascinating book! 

Thank you for reading.

Sunday 24 March 2024

My reading usually consists of newly published or forthcoming books as I research for magazine articles or make recommendations for this newsletter and website. But this week I've had reason to pore over old books, documents and stories.

For two distinct projects, I've been looking back on lives lived from the early to mid-20th century and it's been both poignant and inspiring, seeing how people have faced and overcome personal trials and challenges. 

However, it's also been frustrating. The stories have been incomplete. Letters and diaries have been destroyed. Documents are tantalisingly out of reach so it's not possible, yet, to find out why certain events occurred, or what an individual thought or felt in a particular circumstance.

These days we're used to having our questions answered, usually almost instantaneously. We have come to expect that we can find out anything and everything we want about something, or someone. 

In the present day, it's important, though, to remember that we are all entitled to having some control over what we reveal about ourselves, to have privacy and respect from others, to be able to maintain a sense of mystery, if we wish.

For past lives, we have more freedom in speculating and pondering, perhaps. There's a genre of fiction that has arisen from just that approach. And we may, in fact, learn more about ourselves through our responses to what we know, or don't know, about individuals from long ago.

Thank you for reading.