Sunday, April 29, 2018


Currently researching the life of Nancy Astor, so once again return to  my articles written twenty years ago under the auspices of  LONDON ESSENCE one of the first prestigious on-line magazines. Thanks to my earlier lovely editor, Caroline Dubachet.

A snap from my window
Westminster is arguably London's most famous - and historical area - the seat of England's government for almost a thousand years. The name is also used for the larger City of Westminster which covers a wider geographical area and since the mid-60s has included the former boroughs of St Marylebone and Paddington.

The historic core of Westminster is the former Thorney Island on which Westminster Abbey was built. The Abbey became the traditional and historical venue of the coronation of the kings and queens of England. The nearby Palace of Westminster, in later centuries, housed the developing Parliament and law courts.

Right - Viscountess Nancy Astor
Politics were confined to men for centuries until the introduction into Parliament of the American-born politician Nancy Astor (1879-1964). She married her second husband, Waldorf Astor (later Lord Astor of Hever), the MP for Plymouth, Devon on 3 May 1906. She developed a passion for politics and took over his Plymouth Sutton seat when he moved into the Lords on inheriting his father's viscountcy. On lst December 1919, she was introduced into the Houses of Parliament Chamber, accompanied on either side, by Arthur Balfour and David Lloyd George. She wore a black coat and skirt with white blouse and black tricorn hat. Punch described her as "demurely, but daintily, garbed".

The Astor family were immensely rich, owning Cliveden mansion in Berkshire, a home in Plymouth, but primarily she lived at her lovely home at 4 St James's Square, Westminster. She remained a Conservative Member of Parliament for the next 25 years.  In the annals of history, Lady Nancy Astor was one of Westminster's most famous and colourful personalities.

Reflecting back on my work in London, I enjoyed my 26 years working in Westminster 's Hansard offices and occasionally meet up with my fast-writing colleagues.   


Just some of our two thousand contributors to the last charity fun walk
John Baron MP: 2018 Fun Walk Bonus Pot starts well

John appreciates donors and says more still to decide their contribution for our 16th year

John Baron MP today announced the Fun Walk Bonus Pot has already exceeded £22,000 and will rise further as a number of donors have yet to decide how much they will contribute. Each year, the bonus pot pays a bonus to the participating charities/projects over and above what they raise themselves in sponsorship.

 In 2017, for every £100 raised in sponsorship by the various projects themselves, the bonus pot added a further £55. The Walk is set for 2nd September, again at Barleylands Farm – a factsheet is attached. 

John said: The generosity of our Bonus Pot sponsors is appreciated by everyone. In addition to Barleylands Farm for hosting the Walk, our thanks go to this year’s sponsors so far –Billericay Football Club, c2c, Hallmark Care Homes, McDonald’s and others. It has started well, with a number of other donors still to decide how much they will contribute.


Saturday, April 21, 2018



One of the first books I read (and reviewed) when I joined Billericay Readers' Group in 2000 was Geoffrey Wellum's FIRST LIGHT and I loved it.  Last night on BBC TV The One Show, the spotlight was on the four remaining wonderful members of 'The Few' and I will be reading Wellum's book once again. This is a superb, beautifully written masterpiece and so very poignant relating to the Squadron Leader's manuscript of that dangerous period in history.   What an amazing life Wellum has led who was just 18 when he joined the Royal Air Force and took to the skies.  Our hero will be 97 on 4 August and I hope to have a chance of meeting him if possible.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Here we have a slightly different birthday treat for Peter flying the Tiger Moth plane yesterday via Classic Wings based at Duxford Imperial War Museum centre in Cambridgeshire. We enjoyed photographing so many ancient aeroplanes, interviewing some clever aerial chaps and spending time in the IWM American Museum, touring the area for several hours before taking to the air. Wonderful day for us all.

Sunday, April 15, 2018


Yours truly and former Barking Mayor Pat Manley
Yesterday's visit to Chadwell Heath History Fair was once again a great pleasure. Enjoyed signing a few of my own books and catching up with friends and meeting some new history enthusiasts.  Excellent lectures from Bill George, President of the Barking & District Historical Society speaking about local artist Frank Tingey's work and later listening to Tom Cromwell of English Heritage who filled in all the gaps regarding Barking Abbey, a place that's always fascinated me.  Meeting up with Pat Manley, former mayor of Barking, was a pleasure and I enjoyed listening to the latest news from Pip Field (Company Drinks) and Christine Wagg author of Homes for London (The Peabody Story), among others. Very impressed with Terry Felton's books on the history of Romford Football Club - huge amount of work involved there over a longish period, but the finished results are so impressive and sure to be of enormous interest to football fans around the world.
Authors Linda Rhodes and Terry Felton with one of the five volumes of the history of Romford Football Club

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Writers - like gardeners - usually think ahead.  Some of the column articles appearing this month in national press were created and written at the end of 2017. Already, even before summer starts, many writers are researching ideas for Christmas.  Sounds silly, but as keen gardeners are sowing seeds for the latter part of this year, so my self-sufficiency colleagues are foraging through their press files for ideas for the festive season.  

Saturday, April 07, 2018


I am writing features on both gardening and cookery this month.  With gardening pen in hand, off we go today, sowing seeds, making cuttings and generally preparing plants for some local fundraising groups. Oh, and if it doesn't rain, I might even mow the lawns.
Courtesy of Gardens Illustrated

One plant that always seem to attract folk is the succulent houseleek (sempervivum calcareum) which is one of the most wonderfully easy plants to grow. A single variety looks great, but more so in a group.  The most important thing to get right with houseleeks is compost - or lack of it.  They seem to love being potted up into an old sink, or other crusty old vessel and I find that they don't seem to mind the position in the garden - always creating babies which I grow on for other gardening events. I use just an ordinary gritty compost, on which the houseleeks just sit - so easy and so pretty. Why not try growing some?
Discovered this warrior at Tamworth Castle a few years back - note his armour! So cleverly made of houseleeks.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018


A youthful Jess Conrad and yours truly in the '60s.
Just caught sight of the new five part ITV series of programmes (Tuesdays at 9pm)  which includes nine British showbiz legends on their way to  Las Vegas.  Some famous names from comedy, music and variety from the years gone by who will be given one last shot at putting on their dream gig in the variety capital of the world. The theatre in Las Vegas is booked for one night only and our intrepid friends will be given the chance to fulfil the dream they thought had long gone and will put on a spectacular variety performance at one of the iconic venues in Las Vegas.

I have met and interviewed some of these showbiz folk which include  comedy double act Cannon & Ball, entertainer Bernie Clifton, comedian Mick Miller, pianist and entertainer Bobby Crush, singer Kenny Lynch, 60s pop idol Jess Conrad OBE, actress and singer Anita Harris and actress, singer and comedienne Su Pollard.

It will be interesting following their journey from their departure in the UK to the moment they step onto the stage in Vegas.  They’ll live in a house together, enjoy and explore the Vegas Strip and rehearse and reminisce together to deliver a show that they'll all be proud of.  Viewers will also be treated to a unique insight into the legends' vast and varied careers as they look back and talk firsthand about their incredible stories. The first four episodes will air on ITV prime time with an additional feature length special of their full variety performances in Vegas airing exclusively on ITV3. Head Of ITV's Entertainment Commissioning Siobhan Greene said: “Last Laugh In Vegas is the chance for the audience to reconnect with true iconic entertainers, as they get the trip of a lifetime to perform in the show business capital of the world.”

Monday, April 02, 2018


As a freelance writer working across many genres, it is always great to work with like-minded folk. Congratulations to the editors and staff of Home Farmer magazine who are celebrating their tenth birthday this year.  From a self-sufficiency viewpoint, Home Farmer is the very best magazine to read and learn about growing food - whether in maybe tiny veg patches or some of the huge allotments which serve as great green places in which to work and, dare I say, relax, away from noisy, busy London.
The magazine's strapline ' For Dreamers and Realists' - Your Key to  Practical Self-sufficiency - really does what it says on the tin! We learn about preserving your harvest, wonderful ideas for cooking food, bee-keeping, looking after livestock, foraging, crafts among dozens of other satisfying pastimes, including, of course, how to make your own organic wine from the produce you grow and find in hedgerows and fields. That's where I come in, endeavouring each month to write a thousand or so words describing the process of fermenting wine from simple ingredients found in your own garden or veg patch, free of insecticides.  April edition outlines how to make 'quickie' wines from my own grapes - Rondo and Seyval Blanc along with other recipes. Cheers!