Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Most of our green fingered friends have their trays of seedlings of all types of plants lined up in their greenhouses or even on the kitchen windowsill. Cuttings are growing apace and there's a sense of excitement as we anticipate another Chelsea Flower Show starting on Monday 21 May, continuing for a week.  As a keen gardening journalist (among other things), I am looking forward to this annual event that has been popular for one hundred years.

To celebrate the amazing centenary of this most famous flower show in the world, the RHS has convened a panel of horticultural experts to select the top 10 plants launched at the Chelsea Flower since 1913; one for each of the past 10 years.

Ten amateur gardeners, each with a passion for a plant on the shortlist, have been chosen to explain why you should vote for their plant. These 'Plant Champions' were all born in the same decade that their plant was launched at Chelsea.
Watch them talking about their plant below and cast your vote. I will post the linking connection later today.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


An especially moving piece of writing from Boston-based  colleague Suzette Standring, received today.

Vengeance is a human trait. Among the 260 people injured at the Boston Marathon bombings, there have been fourteen amputations, permanent nerve damage, hearing loss, three deaths, and another layer of innocence lost forever. How does faith comfort in light of random and relentless evil?

In this world, no amount of man-made justice will ever satisfy, or be perfectly applied. For many who grieve, no punishment of the guilty could be quick or harsh enough. Even the death penalty brings little closure, as reported by many witnesses to capital punishment who have lost loved ones to murder. While laws are in place and judgment will be served, true justice can never pass from human hands because no judge or jury can fully know every motivation or all mitigating factors that come into play.
If one believes that punishment can never be equal to the horror, such feelings can create despair. I, like thousands of others, feel great sorrow at the inexplicable violence against the innocent. Is there no justice? Hebrews 4:12-13 says: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
A full accounting is possible only to The One Who Knows All. The difference between soul and spirit is not easily made. Who can fathom or fully know the thoughts and attitudes of another’s heart? What saves me from bitterness is my belief that an omnipotent God dispenses perfect justice. It will not take place by my timing or my terms, but it will happen, and it is not for me to imagine the sentence, but to be reassured that divine justice will be a perfect fit.

Obviously, my belief will not sweep aside the pain, or replace the loss, or create sense out of the senseless. Yet my belief that God will put all things to right helps me to refocus my thoughts to things I can change. There are overwhelming reminders of God within each of us. That even in the face of unspeakable loss, we hold out hope and refuse to be defined by an escalation in hatred.

I drove toward Boston and read a brightly colored poster mounted on an overpass, “No more hurting people – peace” – the lasting words of 8-year-old Martin Richard who was killed at the marathon. From another overpass, I saw American flags fluttering, unity and resilience in the face of tragedy. Flowers, cards, and memorials flank the bombing scene, tributes from strangers who weep and promise to always remember. Within hours, millions of dollars were raised and continue to pour in to help the victims.

Inner darkness breeds vengeance and hatred. But hope and goodness are not extinguished in the face of, yet again, senseless tragedy. It is amazing how millions remain brightly lit from within with a resilience to reach out and help. Like rescuers at the bombings, we run, inexplicably, toward a blinding light.

Suzette Standring from Boston Massachusetts



Monday, April 22, 2013


Unfortunately I was unable to see Billericay's Mayflower Men perform their unique Mummers Play on Saturday in our High Street. Heard that it was as fabulous as usual and, as a fan of the team, I usually manage to meet them and take new pictures.  The pic above was included in one of my books  published by THE HISTORY PRESS entitled FOLKLORE OF ESSEX, along with numerous other images of Essex to illustrate some of our more quaint customs.  This was my fourth book under ISBN 978-0-7524-3677-7 price £14.99 @ good bookshops but much cheaper at Amazon, or indeed, you may contact me via this blog if you would like a signed copy.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


                                                           A Handful of Straw
                             Mary Rensten’s bewitching new HERTFORDSHIRE novel

Standing directly in front of her, with his left hand firmly grasping Jane’s arm, Arthur drove the pin deep into her flesh.  The old woman remained perfectly still and looked straight into Arthur’s face. Caroline flinched and turned her head away. When she looked back Arthur was withdrawing the pin from Jane’s arm.
  Now, let us see if there is any blood.” Francis took hold of Jane’s wrist and lifted it, waving her arm about as if it was an inanimate object, not a part of a human being. “There. Nothing. Not a drop. Just  watery fluid. I knew there’d be no blood.” He let the arm drop. Slowly the woman’s sleeve slid down.’

This spine tingling excerpt is from ‘A Handful of Straw’ by Hertfordshire author Mary Rensten. The novel is based on the story of Jane Wenham of Walkern, who was tried as a witch at the Hertford Spring Assizes in 1712.
All Jane wanted was a handful of straw, but when the farmhand refused to give it to her, he accused her of putting a spell on him. The villagers said she was a witch; they wanted her dead. So did Francis Bragge… and he was a man of God.

How could any sensible person believe such nonsense in this new enlightened century? Caroline Newell, 30, widowed and wealthy, did not… and said so.  Voicing her modern ideas in Walkern was dangerous,  both for Caroline and Mary, her young maid… who could read! The events of February and March 1712 - the witch-hunt itself and meeting the gentle but passionate Simon Warrender and the clever gypsy boy Jem – would have a lasting effect upon Caroline’s life. 

A Handful of Straw. ISBN 978-0-9562494-6-3. Published by SCRIPTORA (in association with the SWWJ.)  Retail Price: £10.99 paperback. Distributor: Books@Hoddesdon. Tel. 01992 442290.  Email: enquiries@booksat.com   
 Launch, Hertford Museum, 18 Bull Plain, Hertford, SG14 1DT. Tel. 01992 582686.   April 20th. 11am -2 pm;  Signing, Books@Hoddesdon, High St. Hoddesdon, April 27th. 11 am - 1 pm. Walkern Fair, Walkern Sports & Community Centre. SG2 7NP. Sunday, May 5th.  2-5 pm.
The cover painting is by Cuffley watercolour artist Yvonne Sint.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


The Billericay Art Trail 2013 brings together artists, retailers, caterers and community groups of Billericay to showcase the talents of local artists and to encourage more people to visit the wide variety of shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, churches and other community venues that Billericay has to offer. It all takes place in July to coincide with the 'Summerfest'. Thursday 11 July - Artists will exhibit in premises along Billericay High Street and a hub exhibition will run throughout in the historic St. Mary Magdalen "Church in the High Street".

Festivities include jazz, themed activities, 'have a go' events and opportunities to meet artists in their Open Studios. There will be a wide range of art styles and craft work, a Big Draw event, an Arts Evening and school links with artists.

For further information about our media coverage or to request a press release contact us at info@billericayarttrail.co.uk




Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Absolutely wonderful to catch up with our friend, the  Portuguese artist Rodrigo Costa whose work is showing at the Royal Academy at the moment.  Rodrigo's work is known worldwide and after yesterday's superb lunch courtesy of poet Eileen Mayer  in Essex, we had a photo call with the great man.    Rodrigo's paintings are intriguing and, linked with Eileen Mayer's poetry, which can be viewed in their joint book entitled THE LANDSCAPE AS THE PLACE OF EVERYTHING.  For more detail, email me.

Sunday, April 07, 2013


Ann Ladbury - alive and well and living in Yorkshire
I know there is now a great interest in making clothes, not just to save money, but to wear something that fits perfectly and is like no other garment to be found in any shop. Hence the new television programme on BBC 2 on Tuesdays around 8pm.

Many of us have always made clothes, from simple dresses to coats and suits and my own inspiration has been derived from books and television programmes in the past under the presentation of Ann Ladbury.  As well as being a skilled dressmaker with a famous family background in tailoring, Ann is a great writer who has produced dozens of books on sewing. She is a valued member of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists and has a great personality - well, she headed so many TV programmes for 20 years.   How I wish she had been chosen to present this new TV production which does need some pepping up.

Thursday, April 04, 2013


As an author and  reviewer of local history books, I'm lucky in being in a position to read some of the best titles being published in this county.  

I'm currently reading RAYLEIGH THROUGH TIME by Mike and Sharon Davies writing for Amberley Publishing in Stroud.    Rayleigh has been a place of religious devotion since before Saxon times and its name is derived from raege (a wild roe deer) and leah (a clearing).  Its market has one of the earliest royal charters in Essex dating back to 1181 and its history its fascinating.  I particularly liked the story of the Whispering Court, one of the earliest Manorial Courts in Essex, dating back more than 400 years.  Perhaps it was the advent of the railway in 1889 that changed life so much for the villagers.  From a quiet 19th century community with a population of around 1,500, it gradually become a bustling, vibrant town with a population today of around 35,000.   This is an interesting new title with so many fabulous photos and stories - ISBN 978 1 4456 13307 price £9.99 This is a great read.