Friday, July 29, 2016



No interviews today - no deadline to meet, so scrubbing up for a day of baking (and freezing the results); also I start off a new wine, so lots of sterilising going on.  It sounds odd as I will be not be using grapes (they are still on my vines and not ready until October).  Today I am using a black grape concentrate which, when the laws of fermentation are properly followed, will make a tolerable alcoholic beverage.   Fermentation is an interesting subject.   The magical process by which water and grape or fruit juice is changed into "wine" using different yeast cultures, has always seemed to fascinate alchemists and remains a challenge to modern vinologists today.  Mead, using honey, is part of this phenomenon and I have many friends who keep bees.  One, in particular, was Brother Adam from Buckfast Abbey in Devon who was a good friend and encouraged my wine-making efforts.

Many years ago, I wrote a column in an Essex magazine which lasted almost two years (entitled Fascinating Fermentations) which tested out dozens of different wine recipes and it brought me other winemakers' experiences (with their permission, of course).  I now make use of this material for my current column in HOME FARMER magazine - a superb journal whose readers gain benefit from growing their own fruit, vegetables, keep bees and poultry AND learning how to cook, preserve and ferment their own produce.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


John Agard Fleur Adcock Wendy Cope at House of Lords ALCS summer party

Adrian Mitchell who came to the Billericay School in 1982 as our Poet In Residence

We enjoyed listening to POETRY PLEASE on BBC Radio 4 today particularly as many students became friends with Adrian Mitchell in the 1980s when he was invited to become the Billericay School's Writer in Residence for two years.   When I wrote this School's history around 2002 (still in print), Adrian was kind in helping me with photographs and material for that section of the book. 
During the early '80s. While he was closely linked to the School, students enjoyed the opportunity of working not only with him, but with the then Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, Roger McGough, Brian Patten, Alan Brownjohn, Fleur Adock (met her myself a few months ago - pic below) and many other well known poets.
Tim Cunningham taught English at the Billericay School from 1976 till 1996 and, even now, many former students have commented on his imaginative way with words.   His first book of poetry, entitled Don Marcelino's Daughter was published by Peterloo Poets in 2001 and since then he has published many more wonderful collections.
My book THE BILLERICAY SCHOOL published by Tempus Images of England is still available from The History Press £12.99  ISBN 9-7524-3083-1


Thursday, July 21, 2016


Yesterday was a rather  special day saying goodbye to a good friend from the past - Pipe Major Peggy Iris, BEM, one of the founding members of the Dagenham Girl Pipers.  Peggy's long life was spent with the Piping Band from 1930.  It was the Reverend Joseph Waddington Graves, Minister of the Congregational Church in Osborne Square, Dagenham, who saw the potential in these dozen 11-year-old girls. They quickly learnt the skill of playing the bagpipes, marching, and Scottish dancing. Within a year or two, they were so professional, they were the stars of the Lord Mayor's Show which was covered in all the leading British newspapers in 1932.  From there, they became famous as the first all girl piping band, all professionals and sought after to perform in all major British cities and overseas.  Peggy's careful training was inspirational and her wonderful personality and strict teaching ability were respected and loved by all her young recruits.  Certainly a name we will never forget.
My favourite flower given to me as a tribute from Peggy Iris' funeral bouquet

Peggy Iris and yours truly in 2002

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Top of my reading list this week is Nick Ardley's SWINGING THE LAMP.  Published by Fonthill of Stroud, this fascinating book outlines some wonderful tidal tales of our Thames Estuary. But, let me tell you a little about this prolific author and his beautifully written book.  

Salt water courses through Nick's veins.  Born in 1955, one of four children living on a Thames spritsail barge, he and his siblings soon became the crew. His working life was spent as an engineer officer with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.  He has sailed the high seas on ocean-going ships over many years.  When he eventually retired, Nick began writing about his childhood and now writes more widely about his love and enthusiasm of sailing amongst the rivers and creeks around the Thames and its estuary, researching and writing about its industrial history.  Nick is currently sailing with his 'Mate' wife Christobel.   With his Mate beside him, he has explored much of the 350 miles of Essex coast and Thames Estuary's tidal waterways over many years, mostly aboard his clinker sloop, exploring and investigating those nooks and crannies of which most of us are unaware in and around Essex. Nick narrates many amazing stories set in boatyards, marinas  and waterside settings. Interestingly, we learn how man has created new uses for disused lime, cement and brick docks - all of this is new to me - but so interesting. 

Beneath Nick's boat's swinging lamp, he muses about those old souls, the relationship of humble spritsail barge and shoal draft yachts, but always and throughout the book, his enthusiasm for the environment in this small corner of England is alive. 

Nick's book published by Fonthill Media can be purchased at most good bookshops price £18.99  ISBN 978-1-78155-498-2.

Friday, July 08, 2016


A super piece of Essex folklore will be enacted tomorrow at Great Dunmow in Essex. The famous Flitch Trials will attract thousands as they have for many years. I have visited this small town to interview those taking part at four-yearly intervals - the last event was in 2012 - and had the most wonderful time.

I used this topic within a chapter of a book written about ten years ago entitled Folklore of Essex published by The History Press and have outlined its amazing history.  Records show that the story dates back to 1104 when the Lord Mayor of the Manor of Little Dunmow and his wife dressed themselves up as humble folk and begged blessing of the prior a year and a day after their marriage. The prior, impressed by this devotion, bestowed upon a flitch of bacon. In return the Lord gave his land to the priory on the condition that a flitch be awarded to any couple who could prove similar devotion. Things have moved on since then. These days a court is presided over by a judge, and a counsel of claimants and donors of the bacon, with a jury made up of 6 maidens and 6 bachelors.

The whole show is fabulous and is a very tongue in cheek affair with the successful couples carried by bearers in the Flitch Chair from the court in Talberds Ley to the Market Place where they take an oath kneeling on pointed stones. Unsuccessful couples have to walk behind the chair.

Why not check out the BFI's films and a video or two which shows excerpts from the 2012 Trials - you can pick up a little of the light hearted atmosphere over those rather special weekends.  I loved meeting the couples who won the flitch of bacon; also the judge and members of the court.  If you live within easy distance of Dunmow, do visit the town and enjoy a wonderful piece of Essex folklore.

This year, you will meet the judge who is our own super Dave Monk, presenter of BBC Essex. Wishing you an enjoyable visit.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016


It's always a pleasure to visit Phoenix 98fm Radio Studio in Brentwood to meet their lovely morning presenter MICHELLE WARD.  She is so good at her job and also happens to have a fabulous singing voice. 

Our monthly Book Club (now in its fifth year) fits in so nicely with her regular line-up of guests and music  and, of course, in our slot, our guests invariably have links with the world of writing, so we have editors, authors, journalists, playwrights, film people - even the odd poet or two.  This week we welcomed JAMES SHRUBB into the studio. 

We call him Jim and he is a marvellous ambassador for our little town of Billericay in Essex, England.  Jim is our Town Crier with a wonderfully mellifluous voice, as will be heard when Michelle streams the broadcast over the cyberwaves. Jim brought along some of the scrolls he writes on parchment, complete with scarlet silken ribbon - impressive! 

We were also lucky to meet Harry, our current Intern, from Brentwood School who would like to become a journalist - it's a tough old job - but I think he will be great with some training. I feel he has the air of a young Richard Madeley who started out in journalism just up the road in Brentwood.  Richard most kindly gave me an interview some years ago for one of my earlier articles about the history of our town. I used the piece for a section in my book  VOICES OF BRENTWOOD.  I later discovered that Richard had lived along the road from me in Hartswood - an interesting coincidence. 

Sunday, July 03, 2016


Pamela Payne with guest speakers 
This year's Society of Women Writers & Journalists' Summer Tea and AGM was a huge success on Thursday.  Held at the stately National Liberal Club in Whitehall, many members attended from all around Britain and enjoyed the usual fabulous atmosphere. Here are a few pictures to give folk a taste of that special afternoon.

Members enjoyed meeting up and  chatting with old pals and there were lots of  new faces present whom we hope will join us at future gatherings.  Writing is a wonderful way to earn a living. The SWWJ is proud of its members, those authors, journalists, poets, playwrights and film-makers - all such creative pursuits.  We have existed for 122 years and, although it's sometimes difficult to find a chink in the professional field, we are proud to count some of the world's most well known names within our membership.  Check our our website 
Vice President Valerie Dunmore

My friends Candy and Patricia from Brentwood Writers' Circle and Frances from London


Saturday, July 02, 2016


Yesterday's poignant services in France and England  commemorating the start of the centenary anniversary of The Battle of the Somme, are currently on our minds.  This particular battle took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of upper reaches of the River Somme in France.  More than one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the  bloodiest battles in human history and so many of our families were touched in some way or another.

British battalions went into battle fit, strong and full of confidence. Days later, just a handful of men that took part came out exhausted, with so many of their dead comrades left behind. Covered in mud, they fought for their lives with bayonets, knives and even their bare hands.  The first day on the Somme was also the worst day in the history of the British Army,  57,470 casualties on that day alone. But it went on and on, through 141 days of hell. I feel it is vital to learn more about this sad period of our history.

In this regard, my friend Jean Morris, who is a colleague (and fellow Vice President of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists),  has written a book entitled The Church Lads’ Brigade in the Great War - the 16th(Service) Battalion. The King’s Royal Rifle Corps. This book which is published by Pen and Sword Books gives the reader another perspective.   I usually write about our own Essex Battalions but need to learn so much more about this Great War and Jean's research has supplied some of the stories which, even though a century has elapsed, still bring tears to our eyes.

The Church Lads' Brigade in the Great War
16th (Service) Battalion - The King's Royal Rifle Corps
Pages: 259ISBN: 9781783463589
Published: 12th August 2015
Price: £25.00