birds, Christmas, Dickens, exercise, Fresh Air, neighbours, Wildlife, Winter

Six Ways To Enjoy Christmas, Despite Everything…

Floods, disasters, relationship problems…not everyone feels like celebrating this year. If you haven’t been able to face making plans but you don’t want to be lonely this Christmas, here are a few ideas.


Be Good To Yourself… get some fresh air. During the shortest, darkest days of the year, things always look better in daylight. Even if the weather’s foul, get outside the four walls of home for an hour or two. The sun’s still up there somewhere, and exposure to natural light will raise your seratonin levels to increase your feel-good factor.  If you feel the need for company, there are bound to be other people out and about, trying to work off all those mince pies. 


Make Something…if it’s only a mess!  Fat cake will be gobbled up by wild birds. Very gently warm some lard until it melts. Careful—don’t leave the pan unattended, and don’t burn yourself. Stir in some wild bird seed, crushed unsalted peanuts and maybe a little grated cheese. When it’s cooled almost to setting point, pour the mixture into ice cream containers or yoghurt pots and leave to set.   Put it out close to a window, near to a dish of water (but away from bushes or other cover, where cats might hide).


Visit a Neighbour…England’s not a big place and most people live cheek by jowl in towns, but a 2013 poll by Churchill Insurance discovered that about 70% of us don’t know our neighbours’ first names, and more than a third wouldn’t recognise them. If you don’t know the name of your neighbours, Christmas gives you the perfect excuse to find out. Playing postman is a great ice-breaker. Simply write “with best wishes” inside a non-denominational greeting card, knock on their door and say, “I would have made it more personal, but I’m afraid I didn’t know your name.” Who knows—they might have been screwing up the courage to make contact with you!


Join in…every year, our village’s silver band travels around the surrounding countryside during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, stopping every half mile or so to play a selection of carols and collecting for charity. The sound travels a long way up and down the various valleys, so even the most isolated houses can track their progress. Everyone comes out to listen, and the more adventurous follow them round as part of a spontaneous choir. Think of it as a slow-motion flash mob! Find out if there’s something similar where you live such as carols in the mall. Even if you aren’t religious, services over Christmas should give you a warm welcome. Music is very therapeutic (and there might be a mince pie or two involved, too.)

Give A Bit Back…foodbanks are grateful for donations of dry and long-life goods all year round. Christmas is no exception, but it’s a time of year when people in difficulty feel more isolated than ever. How about putting some chocolate or a fancy packet of biscuits in the collection for your local foodbank?  Eating the wrong things is never the answer to any problem, but everyone needs a bit of non-verbal comfort now and again. Offer a listening ear to a lonely person. Take a few small, non-controversial and prettily wrapped presents such as notebooks, cotton handkerchiefs, or calendars along to your local hospital, if they run a donation scheme for those who have to be in hospital over the holiday.

Whatever you do, have a a peaceful, happy Christmas.


birds, Creative Writing, inspiration, National Dawn Chorus Day, Spring

Refilling the Creative Writing Well…

By Martyn Stanley
The surge of spring is well under way. These bluebells surround our house like the sea, and  for a few precious weeks each year their blue tide sweeps through the wood.

Growing things gives me a break from writing and gives my mind a chance to freewheel. I can develop fictional characters and formulate new stories. This week, I’ve been planting salads out in the Greenhouse #1, and looking forward to the first tabbouleh of summer. Tomato plants give off a powerful fragrance which reminds me of when I was little, as my father used to grow hundreds of the things. The perfume of lilac blossom is another trigger for memories. The house where I grew up had double white lilacs all along one boundary. In the low light of dusk and dawn the flowers glowed like banks of snow. I used to think it was an extra present, as my birthday falls this month. Things were so much simpler back then!

The dawn chorus is another powerfully evocative spur for me at this time of year. The birds start singing before first light. That’s when I like to go outside for some thinking time. Sitting in the garden with a cup of tea, waiting for the performance to begin eases me gently into my working day. It’s usually a robin who starts singing first here. There are two song thrush nests close to the house, one in the kitchen garden and a second in  a holly tree on the lower lawn. I like their songs second only to the nightingales that sing a few miles up the road. There are blackbirds nesting in the ivy encrusting our old shed, and once the male starts warbling from the ridge of the bigger greenhouse, I know it’s time to get ready for the school run.

Sunday, 4th May, is National Dawn Chorus Day. The thought of yet another “day” to add to all the other weird and wonderful promotional activities dreamt up by marketing men usually provokes yawns of boredom. Not this time. We’ll be heading off to Highnam before 4am, to see if the famous Gloucestershire nightingales are on song. Then it’ll be back home for a great British breakfast. The smell of frying bacon is another memorable experience. It makes me want to write a piece on why I could never be completely vegetarian…
What inspires you to write?