I spent a couple of days away, and the picture above is taken about twenty yards away from my tent. The mill race soothed me to sleep, once I got used to the idea that it was a real sound and not a CD which would turn itself off.

As evening fell, the bats came out to hunt, swooping and squeaking after insects, taking over where the martins left off for the day. As night deepened, the sounds of hunting owls filled the air: tawny, barn and little owls all called over our sleepy heads as we lay in our tent.

It’s a shame you can’t take your own bed camping as I woke with an aching back most mornings; I’m getting too old for a kip mat.

Below is Avebury, the greatest stone circle in Britain. It’s so large it holds a whole village: you can’t see the whole circle from any one spot as it covers an enormous distance.

The whole place has a sense of peace about it and the early summer sun made us feel relaxed and happy.

A word to the wise: never go to visit Avebury at the Solstice. If you find parking, you’ll get blocked in and the whole place is ludicrously busy. But if you want a colourful experience people watching, get there early and prepare to stay overnight.

A frog he would a-wooing go…

It’s finally Spring and a young frog’s thoughts turn to….

This obliging young frog waited patiently for me to get my camera out, snap him and wait to be thanked before he moved on.

It’s the little things in life that make you smile.

He wasn’t very big but he sure as heck made me grin….

Defining success

I have been thinking today about what I define as success.

I have been quite disturbed by my own thoughts, because my first thoughts were connected with numbers.

OK, so when it comes to blogs, do you reckon them a successful blog by the number of hits on the stats counter? By the time you read this, I will have turned my stats counter off. It’s an experiment; it may go back on again. Do you find a new blog and after a little while check out how many hits it’s had and how long its been going for? I do and I am now ashamed of this.

To be a successful blog, what number do you count as being a good number of hits per week, per month, per year? As I have said before, there’s always a bigger fish. There’s always blogs with bigger numbers and wider readership and more comments.

In the end, if only ONE person reads and enjoys, then that’s successful. If no one reads but you still enjoy writing it, then that’s successful.

I struggle with this because to be a successful writer, the outside(that is outside my head) world deems certain numbers of sales to be the gold standard of success. To be on the best sellers’ lists, is a goal most writers lust after, perhaps. To be honest, that’s the only way you’re going to make a real living at it.

But my quest is now to quit worrying about numbers. Hits on this blog, sales of my book….irrelevant to the actual concept of success. Each person who has read Strangers and Pilgrims found it took them on a unique journey, and they learned something special about themselves and their lives. Don’t get me wrong: I really want it to reach greater numbers of people. But not for the numbers game, so I can define it by that criterion as successful. Rather because I believe it can change lives.

My writing is my gift to the world: I’d like more people to open that present and enjoy it. But that’s because it’s for them and not because the numbers matter in themselves.

The Uninvited Guest 2

 Part one of The Uninvited Guest

The Uninvited Guest 2

The room seemed so quiet after the noise of before and it made me feel a little uneasy. I was tempted to go and turn the music back on but he wouldn’t talk if I did that, and I really needed to hear what he said. He picked up one of the empty glasses and twirled it experimentally, making the crystal catch the light and twinkle brightly.

“You need me,” he said. “No, don’t speak. The more you push me away the more I will keep pushing back. I don’t mean you can’t survive without me. That’d just be stupid. Most people survive without guys like me. Two thirds in fact.”

“You’ve nearly killed me God knows how many times,” I said.

He simply shook his head.

“No,” he said. “That’s not down to me. That’s down to you trying to get away from me.”

He had a point. He’d never touched me and never would, not in violence anyway.

“You know I love you, right?” he said, suddenly unsure.

“Yes,” I said slowly. “You’ve been the one constant my whole life. I just don’t understand why you come and stay for months, years even and then just vanish.”

“We all need a break,” he said and I knew he didn’t mean me. It made me wonder how hard it must be for him; I’d never looked at it like that before.

“OK,” I said. “So tell me what you do for me other than make my life shit when you’re around.”

“That’s not me,” he said. “Again, that’s you. You ignore me, you push me away and you dive into anything that blocks me from you and wonder why it all collapses on you and you end up hiding in bed crying for days. I’m not the enemy, you know. I’m here to protect you against the enemy; that’s all I’ve ever been here to do.”

“I don’t have any enemies but you,” I said bitterly and he sighed, and rubbed his head, ruffling the dark hair that was just starting to show strands of silver. It seemed he was going grey just as I was.

“I’ve said I am not your enemy. I’ve said I love you,” he said, clearly exasperated. “What more can I do?”

“Tell me then who my enemy is that you claim to be protecting me from. Tell me why you hang around for months making me miserable. Tell me what earthly bloody use you are in my life.”

I almost screamed the last sentence.

He put his head in his hands for a second and then raised it to look directly into my eyes. His eyes seemed so full of sorrow I had to turn away.

“Your enemy wears many faces and many names,” he said. “But perhaps complacency might be a starting point. You’re like most humans; you like to get comfortable in a rut and call it finding your place. You have so much more to you than that. You never wanted the semi in suburbia with 2.4 kids, but you let yourself be convinced that it’s something that would have made you happy. You never felt normal and like everyone else, but you convince yourself that if you could just conform a bit more and hide your true self, you’d be happier and you’d get greater acceptance from the world around you. Shall I go on?”

“I don’t understand why you make me so miserable. Do you like doing it, coming along when everything is going well and casting your horrible shadow over it all. Do you like it? Does it make you happy?”

I was crying by now. I always end up crying before long when he’s there.

“No,” he said. “I hate it. I don’t want to do it. But better that than you going to sleep and becoming a robot, becoming a mindless clone watching EastEnders every night.”

He rummaged in a pocket and passed me a handkerchief, still warm from his body heat and smelling of cedar-wood.

“We should have talked before,” he said, as I blew my nose. “Years ago.”

“I wouldn’t have listened,” I said. “I’m going to listen now. Just, tell me something.”

“Anything,” he said, and took my hand. His was warm and the skin was as soft as mine.

“Just tell me you won’t ever leave me now I know why you’re here,” I said.

“I promise I will be here for as long as you need me,” he said.

“That’ll be forever, I think,” I said and smiled through my tears.

Newton’s Apple tree.

This one is specially for my friend Shafali. If you haven’t checked out her glorious blog on caricatures, I suggest you do so. They never fail to make me smile; she is very, very talented indeed:

The above post is about Sir Isaac Newton, man of many hats but mainly known for his discovery of the law of gravity. The story of the apple tree is so well known I won’t repeat it here. But the apple tree itself is long gone but its scions survive. My picture is of one such apple tree, found near the entrance to Cambridge botanical garden…but you still have to go in to see it.

It’s a tenuous link to a great man but I do my best with what I have….

Susan Howatch- a writer to get addicted to


You don’t hear much about Susan Howatch   these last few years and I think it’s a shame. If you love a book or a series of books to really get your teeth into, you can’t do better than discover this author.

I first came across her books when I was an undergraduate and my flatmate loaned me The Rich are Different, Sins of the Fathers and a few others. I enjoyed them a great deal, even though I am not especially fond of historical or period fiction.

The next time I crossed paths with Ms Howatch was when my husband was at theological college and I was undergoing something of a protracted breakdown of sorts. Her Starbridge series of novels gave me some relief from the emotional anguish I was in, partly due to the novels being about the very structure(the Church of England) I was battling to survive, but mainly due to the strength of the characters and the power of the stories: 

The action of all six books centers around the fictional Anglican diocese of Starbridge, which corresponds to the real life dicoese of Bath and Wells with the city of Salisbury(Starbridge) at its centre supposedly in the west of England, and also features the Fordite monks, an Anglican monastic order that has no direct paralell in real life. They remind me a little of the Franciscans, though.

The first three books of the Starbridge series (Glittering Images, Glamorous Powers, Ultimate Prizes) start during the 1930s, and continue through the  war. The second three (Scandalous Risks, Mystical Paths, Absolute Truths) take place in the 1960s.

Glittering Images is narrated by the Reverend Dr. Charles Ashworth, a Cambridge academic who undergoes something of a spiritual and nervous breakdown after being sent as a sort of spy, under the guise of interviewing  the Bishop of Starbridge. The Archbishop of Canterbury suspects that there is a steamy menage a trois going on in the Bishop’s household.After a very public meltdown, Ashworth is helped to recover, and to realize the source of his problems, by Father Jonathan Darrow, the widowed abbot of Grantchester Abbey of the Fordite Monks.

Glamorous Powers follows the story of Jonathan Darrow himself as he leaves the Fordite Order at age sixty following a powerful vision of a new future for him.. He then must deal with his adult children’s problems, address the question of a new intimate relationship, and search for a new ministry. His particular crisis surrounds the use and misuse of his charismatic powers of healing, and his unsettling mystical visions, or “showings”. This is the hardest book for people with no experience of such things to take on board.

Ultimate Prizes takes place during World War II. It is narrated by Neville Aysgarth, Archdeacon of Starbridge. From a working class background in the north of England Aysgrath has had a meteoric rise to power. After being widowed from his childhood sweetheart and remarried to an eccentric but fascinating society woman from way outside his class , he too undergoes something of a meltdown but also rescued by Jonathan Darrow.

Scandalous Risks follows Aysgarth to a Canonry of Westminster Abbey and back to Starbridge, where he becomes Dean of the Cathedral and Ashworth becomes Bishop.  Unlike the other stories, this is the first one to be narrated by an outsider to the church, Venetia Flaxton, a young aristocrat who risks great scandal by beginning a strange relationship with the married Aysgarth, her father’s best friend. Venetia falls obsessively in love with Aysgarth and is faced at the end with some terrible choices.

Mystical Paths follows Nicholas Darrow, son of Jonathan, in his quest to stay away from dangerous paths. It’s the only story so far with a muder mystery theme, which takes a different tack to all the others so far. It also deals with Nick’s difficult relationship to his now elderly father.     

Absolute Truths brings the cycle full circle and is narrated by a much more elderly but still troubled Charles Ashworth, thirty one years after we  encounter him in the first of the books. Charles’ life is far from what he wanted it to be and his search for peace nearly costs him everything.

Well I was blown away. I read them cover-to-cover and hungered after the next release in paperback. I understand she managed to upset quite a few people in Salisbury which is the town Starbridge is based upon, but the stories were so very powerful indeed…..

Then after a hiatus of a few years came the St. Benet’s trilogy:

The St. Benet’s trilogy takes place in London of the 1980s and 1990s. Again, the changes which took place in the Anglican Church in those years are startling and the stories brings back some of  the characters in the Starbridge series.There is an increased emphasis on characters who are not members of the clergy though to be honest, the Churh looms large constantly.

A Question of Integrity (given the title The Wonder Worker in the United States), continues the story of Nicholas Darrow fifteen years after the last of the Starbridge novels. Nick is now rector of a church in the City of London where he runs a center for the ministry of healing. Alice Fletcher, a young woman in turmoil happens upon the healing centre Nick runs and becomes a volunteer there. Nick’s own life is greatly affected by events taking place at the center, he is forced to reassess his beliefs and commitments as a result. Much of the story is told in the words of Alice, but the narrators takes turns. It makes for an interesting change every so often in the book.

The High Flyer narrates the story of a female City lawyer, Carter Graham(changed from Catriona to make it more masculine). Her outwardly successful life, complete with highly compensated career and suitable marriage, undergoes profound changes after strange occult tinged events begin to occur, which show that all is not well in her life.

Finally, The Heartbreaker follows the life of Gavin Blake, a charismatic male prostitute specializing in powerful, influential male clients, who finds his world spiralling out of control when he realises he is himself at the center of a criminal empire and must fight to save his life. Meanwhile, both Graham and Darrow must deal with their own weaknesses in trying to help Gavin. This is by far the raciest and most shocking of the books, and strangely one of the most touching.

Hooked yet? I was.

Susan Howatch is one of the very tiny number of authors whom I have actually written to; like the lady she is, she replied to all my letters with thoughtful, handwritten replies that I keep and treasure. I’m not a reader who has a great tendancy to worship or set on a pedestal the authors whose work I enjoy. I am quite happy for them to be almost anonymous, really.   In her last reply to me, she said she wanted to give up writing and indeed, there hasn’t been a new book from her in some years. I understand that, though it makes me sad. I understand because the scope and complexity and sheer range of subject and emotional exploration she has covered in her many books is so immense that surely it would have to be something entirely out of the usual to get her to start the whole process again.

Anyway, go and get addicted!

Do you believe in angels?

Do you believe that someone, somewhere watches over you and tries to keep you from harm? That things happen for a reason or many reasons, and we don’t always(or indeed very often) know why?

My old friend W has lived an extraordinary life, working and living in some very strange and often dangerous places. I first met him about 22 years ago, when for a short space of time, he was trying domestic life and lived in the next street to me in the north eastern town where I lived when I first married. We babysat his little girl. Over the intervening years, we’ve moved a good few times and he has clocked up tens of thousands of miles travel. He sends postcards from round the world, reappears at irregular intervals with tales and souvenirs and marvellous gifts and then vanishes again. I get postcards and packages from all over the globe; he indulges my strange fascination with rocks and sends parcels of rocks from the places he’s been that I, in all probabilty will never see, so I can sleep with them under a pillow and dream a psychometric dream.

The last time I heard from him was about a month ago when I got first an email and then a postcard from Libya.

I really didn’t think any more about it till the news the other night told me about the plane that crashed at Tripoli airport. I didn’t even think much then, until the news came through that there were Britons on that plane. Then a cold wave went through me. You see, because he has no family, we and a few other friends have become his official family: I may even be named as his next of kin. I’m certainly his executor.

Rather than wait and worry, I emailled him. I figured that if I have no reply within a week, then I will start looking on the manifest list or the list of casualties.

Late last night, I got a reply. No, he was fine. BUT: he’d been trying to get back to Libya from South America, and he’d been bumped off the flight he ought to have been on and therefore missed his connection.The connection should have taken him to meet the plane that crashed. He’d been booked on that plane.

You can imagine how it happened and how cross he must have been to have lost his flight and to have to sit and wait for the next one. We’ve all done it; got angry and frustrated at how things unfurl at times.

His final comment on his email to me: “My angel strikes again.” You see, he’s had near misses before, not to mention almost fatal accidents, and he’s always believed he won’t be allowed to pass on till he’s done whatever he was meant to do on earth. He’s still trying to figure out what that is, but you get the point.

For a large number of people, that flight was the end of the road for them. But for my friend, it wasn’t. I don’t know why. I do know I am glad it wasn’t. I’m not certain I believe in the popular idea of guardian angels, with your very own celestial body guard growing greyer of hair by the year, but I do believe our lives are watched and cared for and we each have our time to go. The book of Ecclesiastes has it well:

“For everything, its season, and for every activity under heaven its time: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time for mourning and a time for dancing.” (Ecclesiastes 3, 1-4)


I’m glad that this time it wasn’t his time to die and it wasn’t our time to mourn.