black twist pen on notebook
Blog, books, Spring

The Story So Far…

Signs of spring are everywhere

We’re now nearly a week into March. The days are getting longer, and signs of spring are everywhere. I’m taking a week off from writing to do some spring cleaning, as we’ve had the builders in at Tottering Towers. Paul and his team have worked wonders, so I’ve got no excuse. Everything has to be sparkling clean before it goes back into our newly-refurbished space.

The trouble is, housework is a never-ending task. I love to see everything clean and tidy, but in an old house with an active family and pets, it never stays that way for long. It’s very dispiriting.

I wrote here about how I’m following Antony Johnston’s methods for creating an organised workspace, and developing efficient working methods. It’s going quite well. Since the 3rd of January I’ve submitted five new pieces of work. I’ve also managed to keep my accounts up to date, and maintain my journal.

I’ve also managed to enjoy some books, although most of that has been done through Audible. Audio books are my secret weapon when it comes to getting the housework done. I put on a book, and lose myself in that. The time flies by!

Right now, during the day I’m absorbing Dr Ian Mortimer’s A Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England. It’s absolutely fascinating. Did you know that until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the hour as a measure of time didn’t exist in the form we know it today? During the winter time, hours (as measured out by the chimes of church bells) were twice the length of hours in summertime, as there was calculated to be only half as much light.

In the evenings I’m reading a “real” book: Raymond Blanc’s The Lost Orchard. This is Raymond’s personal exploration of fruit, and his experience of growing and using many different varieties. Much as I love listening to stories during the day, there’s nothing like reading a few pages of this in bed at night before settling down to dream of tarte Maman Blanc, or apple pie…

What would we do without books?

Alex, Care and Connect, cats and dogs, Ellie and Freddie, Labrador, Pets, puppy, Spring

Puppy Power!

Dogs have owners, cats have servants.

DD always wanted a puppy. We said no, as they’re such a responsibility and the whole family has to be committed to the idea as dogs are so dependent on humans. Eventually, we gave in and let her have a tiny kitten instead, as cats are more able to fend for themselves. Jynx the Norwegian Forest Cat grew into an enormous hunter of four-legged furry creatures. He’s an old timer now, but although he’ll catch anything from shrews to squirrels, he’s terrified of everything else. This includes our neighbour, who fed him on the couple of occasions our family has all been away from home together.

Son No. 1 started asking for a dog the second he could talk, arguing that the cat belonged to his sister and he didn’t have a pet of his own. We held out for years, but so did Son. Nothing would put him off. We told him he could open an animal sanctuary once he owned his own house. He kept on. Once he was fifteen and thinking about working with animals, it seemed like more than just a phase. We told him to do all the research, hoping the costs and work involved would deter him.  It turned out that was the worst thing we could have said. He attacked the task with the zeal of a Dr Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. Breeds were narrowed down, and he decided he wanted a male golden retriever puppy. He even decided on a name for it—Alex.

Once Son No. 1 saved up enough money, he tracked down Kennel Club approved golden retriever breeder Gaynor Vines.  Some of Gaynor’s puppies have gone to be companions and assistance dogs for autistic children, so it sounded like a partnership made in heaven. Son No. 1 still had to convince Gaynor that he (and the rest of our family) were fit and proper people to take on the big responsibility of owning a golden retriever for anything up to fifteen years. He passed the test, paid his deposit, was

Alex on viewing day

put at the top of the waiting list, and we settled down to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Nature is unpredictable. Before any purebred golden retrievers became available, a lovely litter of retriever/labrador cross puppies arrived, and our son fell in love.

There were ten babies, seven girls and three boys. A viewing day was arranged so potential owners on the waiting list could pick which puppy they wanted. As Jeff was top of the list, his appointment was first, at 10:30am one Saturday morning. Armed with his list of things to look out for, we went to view the puppies. First we met their mum and dad, Ellie and Freddie. You can see a lovely picture of Freddie on the banner of the Care and Connect Facebook Page. Both parents were quiet, friendly and most importantly, their whole canine family had been home reared in company with several cats. We wanted to be sure of this, so our new arrival wouldn’t bother with Jynx.

The puppies were only five weeks old, and their resistance to the outside world was still low. We had to go through a disinfectant footpath and weren’t allowed to touch the puppies ourselves, only look at them as they played around on the other side of a low partition.  It was impossible to choose between between the three little dog puppies. They were all beautiful (of course!) but more importantly they were equally well grown, lively and inquisitive. We asked the breeder loads of questions, and watched the puppies playing with each other, and with her. They had the run of most of a large room, with lots of toys. There were unusual things, too—a collection of metal ladles and spoons, and  tunnels made from short lengths of wide plastic pipe. Their environment was designed to make sure they grew up accustomed to all sorts of unexpected sounds and experiences. It would be our job to carry on this work of socialising Alex to people, places, and things after we brought him home.

When you’re getting ready to welcome a new puppy into your home, there’s as much to do as when you’re waiting for a human baby. And the similarities don’t stop there! Next time, there are tears at bedtime and sleepless nights, so make sure you don’t miss the next episode.

For more news about  Alex, life here at Tottering Towers and (with luck) a recipe for Orange Polenta cake, drop me an email at christinahollis(at) with the words “Spring Newsletter” in the subject line.

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?
#mywritingprocess, Bees, blogging, Creative Writing, Spring

Writing in a new season…

There’s no going back now – spring has definitely arrived here at Tottering Towers. The dawn chorus starts around 5am, and just about all the summer migrants have arrived apart from the cuckoo and the nightingale.

My bees are going mad, working over the fruit tree blossoms, dandelions (!) and spring bulbs. Colonies are expanding very fast, working all day and fanning all night as they drive excess moisture off from the nectar they’ve gathered. I’ve got everything ready in case they decide to swarm, but after two terrible beekeeping years, I’ve got my fingers crossed they’ll concentrate on consolidation this season, rather than expansion!

The cuckoo’s just arrived, so here’s something lovely to celebrate the event…

Have a great weekend!

Beekeeping, Christina Hollis, Dawn Chorus, Spring

On The Inside Looking Out…

It’s been a while since I last blogged. My father’s sudden death meant I’ve been busy with arrangements and there’s been so much paperwork to get through, there’s been very little light relief. Luckily, spring really has arrived. This will be the first chance I’ve had to get out and about with a clear conscience (no meetings, no paperwork that absolutely has to be done) for about a month. The Dawn Chorus starts at around 5am, and this weekend the clocks go forward so it will be lighter in the evenings. That means less incentive to flop in front of the TV after tea each evening. I hope…

There are flowers on the strawberries in the greenhouse, and for the first time ever we’ve had a pair of partridges blown over the hill from the local game shoot. They’ve made themselves at home, so I hope the fox family living out in the wood don’t find them. Yesterday I saw the spectacular sight of a pair of goshawks ‘sky-dancing’  over the garden. They’ve nested in nearby woods for several years and we get birdwatchers from all over coming to watch them displaying. I felt really smug that all I had to do was look up while on my rounds of the greenhouses! This clip-art photo is the closest I could find to the birds we have here – this image is tagged as a Grey Hawk, but it’s got that distinctive ‘Mad Marigold Eye’ described by T.H.White. That really stands out – I saw it when one rocketed past our kitchen window about to knock a squirrel out of an overhanging tree.
I did the first checks around the apiary last week. All the colonies of bees have survived the winter, and they’re building up nicely. Later today I’ll be bottling the last of our stored honey. I don’t take much from the bees, just enough to sweeten OH’s coffee all year and some to cook with. The more honey I rob, the more sugar syrup I’d have to feed them in return. If processed white sugar doesn’t do humans much good, it seems a bit mean to make my bees eat it!