Monday, December 29, 2008

Postcard from Wellingtonia Avenue

No Christmas tree could be as impressive as these. Tucked away in an otherwise unremarkable corner of Berkshire, Wellingtonia Avenue is a great example of British eccentricity. The 100 giant redwood trees were planted in 1869 to commemorate the death of the Duke of Wellington. The road they line leads nowhere very interesting – but the journey's the thing. Driving down this avenue feels special.

One side of the road is on National Trust land, forming the border of a wood, which could be lovely; if only today's irresponsible Brits could refrain from fly-tipping. On the other site of the road, the trees are in private front gardens. I know I'd feel pretty lucky to have one. But then, I do own the National Trust ones don't I? Lucky me.

My picture doesn't do it justice. There's a better photo here:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Card 2008

Only ten days to go until Christmas so I'm showcasing the Christmas decorations on Birmingham's Selfridges slug. Anyone who hasn't visited the city in recent years is probably thinking, 'What the...?' It's a building I'm fond of though – iconic and fun, especially with its Christmas decorations up.

I've just been to the Post Office with a stack of actual cards and parcels. And yes, I had to stand in a ridiculously long queue for the privilege of posting them. My own fault for not doing it sooner, I know! So the ability to post a 'card' here, from the comfort of home, with a cup of tea by my side, is a wonderful thing.

I hope you have a good Christmas and wish you all the very best for 2009.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Postcard from Troon

It was a perfect winter's day. Cold enough to make your cheeks tingle but bright and dry enough that you don't care. I love sunsets as much as I love postcards, and a seaside sunset is the best kind.

Driving into the low sun is a pain of course – the combination of the glare below the visor and the salt-splattered windscreen made visibility awkward. Troon was well worth the trip though. The seafront walk is bracing and beautiful, there was a Christmas craft fair on in the tiny concert hall and we found the perfect café.

With home baking and frothy coffees the Beach Café is a trip back to the 1950s – including the décor, but even that is appealing. The lady in charge bustles about taking care of her customers and adding to the feel that you're visiting her living room. This kind of place couldn't survive in a busier town. Troon doesn't know how lucky it is.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Postcard from Birmingham's German Market

Birmingham's twin city is Frankfurt, which I guess explains why the largest German Christmas Market outside Germany sets up in Birmingham every year. Stalls selling stollen, gluhwein, wooden toys and other German flavoured products set up along New Street and Christmas shopping gets underway – much easier when you have a glass of warm wine in hand!

Unsurprisingly, the stalls selling alcohol and frankfurters do the best business. Makes you wonder what Birmingham exports to Frankfurt in exchange – a pub selling pints of mild and faggots?

The crowds at the market this evening would make you wonder 'what recession?' Seems where Christmas and alcohol are concerned we still have money to spend.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Postcard from a writer's room

I’ve been hiding out for five days at a wonderful writer’s retreat in Devon. My second novel (working title ‘Park Life’) grew faster than I'd hoped it could, while my every need was looked after by Deborah and her family. They made Sue (the other writer staying for the week) and I so welcome and comfortable we couldn’t fail to be inspired to get on with our writing.

The house is wonderful - each writer has a comfortable room equipped with desk and kettle (what more does a writer need?) and in the evenings a log fire tempted me to scribble in the sitting room in front of the flames. Meals are delicious, there are riverside walks on hand for vital ’fresh air’ breaks, and the family are great company when sitting at the PC screen feels a bit too isolated.

Deborah’s a professional writer who was happy to help me with writing queries and I hope Sue got as much out of our chats about writing as I did. It was great to immerse myself in the book for an extended period and to discuss characters, plots and techniques with people who were interested.

Definitely recommended to any writers who want to invest some time in their writing and Deborah can offer writing exercises and feedback for anyone who doesn’t just want to get their head down and crank it out as I did! Check it out at:
As well as writing a lot more of Park Life, I've noted some revisions I want to make to Map Reading and written two thirds of a short story - it was an intense few days!
If any authonomy members see this and want to know more - message me online, I'm KR.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Postcard from the first frost

Autumn's arrived and it feels more like winter. We had snow in April then snow in October. The summer never seemed to start.

This recently planted passion flower might have been hoping it would grow up to a life of sun-kissed bliss. Instead it's been put to work disguising a new fence panel and, within its first few weeks in the job, got chilled to the core. It's surviving though, clinging on and only shivering slightly.

Things have warmed up a little now with wet weather from the West instead of ice from the North. Sorry for the delay in posting this, guess I can't even pass the blame to the Post Office this time…

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Postcard from Greenwich Park

When I was at school in Greenwich, we spent an occasional cold, damp, muddy sports lesson cross-country running in Greenwich Park. I was usually the one walking at the back. Hideous though that experience was, it was a chance to admire the Park and I often return now (without the trainers!).

The residents of Greenwich are lucky to have this beautiful, varied, historic open space on their doorstep and the huge numbers of tourists who join them to walk, run, play and picnic there just back up the value of the Park for the local area. Can it really be a sensible location to consider for the 2012 Olympic Equestrian events?

The Park would be closed to the public for months in the lead up to and during the games. There is the potential that the historical and ecological character of the Park could be damaged by the construction of the facilities required. I think Greenwich Park is too important to take the risk. This photo is taken from a point just to the side of the Prime Meridian line that dissects the world through the highest point of Greenwich Park. It's a view tourists cross the world to visit.

As Kerry, the main character in my novel 'Map Reading' (see 'Postcard from the internet' below) puts it: ' It's the start of time, that's all. East and West, it all starts here.'

A couple of weeks of Olympics events and it might never be the same again. For more information see

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Postcard from National Poetry Day

The theme of this year's National Poetry Day was 'Work'. At Cannon Hill Writers Group we devoted the weekly meeting to poetry and arranged a display of work poems in the poetry section of Hall Green Library. That's my extremely short effort you can see in the picture.
We then spent the evening sharing a variety of poems - joined by the brand new Birmingham Poet Laureate, Chris Morgan, and afterwards retired to the pub.
Great fun, this poetry lark.

What's that? You can't read it? OK then, here it is.

Public Sector Reorganisation

You want me to apply
For the job which I
already do?
The pay will be less,
the responsibility more.

It certainly seems
just perfect for me.
A familiar
I'd be keen to explore.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Postcard from Totnes

Totnes has so much going for it. First, there's the route in by train – cutting along the Exe estuary and the coast, in and out of hewn tunnels, right up against the water. I almost wished it had been a stormy day. Then, there are the buildings – so much history in every brick along the high street. Can it be true that the largest number of listed buildings in any town is found here? Could be from how the place looks.

Having to walk up a steep hill to see these buildings justifies stopping for cake. Fortunately, there's a fine selection of cafes and interesting, counter-culture shops to browse around. My visit to Totnes was certainly the first time I found myself reading a window display inviting me to weave my own coffin.

As the photo shows, it's a big feeling town in a very rural setting. I was there less than 24 hours, but I'd happily return – is the invite still open, Ali & Dave?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Postcard from ArtsFest

I haven't been inside Birmingham's Museum and Art Gallery to look at the art for a long time; but a display of images of some of the most popular works enlarged to epic sizes and projected onto the outside of the council house to a soundtrack of classical music was quite something to see. It was called 'Light Night' and was part of the annual ArtsFest – a weekend of free arts events.

I sampled comedy and poetry in a pub on Friday night and had an incredibly varied day on Sunday. Robin Bailey, the 'bard of Moseley', just about managed to make his great poems heard over the air conditioning in one of the rooms of the Art Gallery; the Notorious choir demonstrated how good the acoustics of the Industrial Gallery were for an acapella rendition of the Doctor Who theme tune, and KerrangFest on the Centenary Square stage left a ringing in my ears.

Council Tax in Birmingham is high, but subsidising events like this makes it sting a little less.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Postcard from The Retort

Kings Heath High Street is 'paint by numbers' – put a Boots just there, a Sainsburys up the top, you'll need a McDonalds, then fill in the gaps with charity shops and take aways. Venture into the side streets though, and things start to improve (well, choose your street carefully…).

The first Sunday of the month is Retort Cabaret night at the Kitchen Garden Café on York Road. They host a mix of live music, comedy, poetry, magic and almost anything else that can be performed. The quality is mixed but this month I was impressed by two headlining acts familiar to national tv and radio. Shazia Mirza made us all laugh and Rebecca Hollweg strummed and sang a blend of folk and jazz that sent everyone home happy. And there's a great selection of organic wines and beers too!

Kings Heath's not boring, you just have to know where, and when, to look.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Postcard from the internet

The opening chapters of my novel 'Map Reading' are now available to read on the HarperCollins website . Please take a look. I'm thrilled by the number of enthusiastic comments I've had so far.

Map Reading is the first novel I've completed and has spent the last year or so being polished and improved. It's essentially the story of a woman trying to find happiness and is set against a background of travel, friendship and romance. You never know, it might be your kind of thing!

It would be great if you could look at Map Reading on Authonomy and, if you like what you see, register and vote for me by putting the book on your online bookshelf. This will increase my chances of getting into the top five and potentially winning a critique from an editor at HarperCollins. I'd love to get that feedback from a professional but I'd also really like to hear your thoughts – please drop me an email and let me know.

Postcard from the pub

What do you mean, 'Liverpool's a strange place for a holiday'? It certainly kept me busy and interested. From the musical history at 'The Beat Goes On' exhibition to the social history in 'Seized: Customs and Revenue Uncovered' at the Maritime Museum. From oil paintings at the Tate to Antony Gormley's men on Crosby Beach. From the spooky entertainment of the Shiverpool ghost tour to the cheeky Superlambananas – the city has something to interest everyone.

Best thing though, are the pubs. Here in Brum you can't escape from the huge, soulless, identikit chain pubs. In Liverpool they're blessed with a cosy, classic pub around every corner. And the people are so friendly, happy to chat to anyone – even invite strangers to join their whisky tasting club for the night (shouldn't have done that on an empty stomach). My tips – try the local brew – Cains – and eat at the Everyman Bistro.

Postcard from the Proms

Tradition, grandeur, eccentricity – the Proms could fill the Albert Hall several times over. The best thing about Prom 62 though – some Beethoven and Sibelius, played by the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester – was that they did it differently.

Think classical music is boring? The way these guys play it, it's packed with energy. And it's a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. The predominantly female string section used bare arms to draw elegant arcs with their bows, while the dapper double bassists dipped their instruments in an embrace like lovers on the dance floor. If it wasn't choreographed it could have been. And, when it was all over, the orchestra shared the type of celebratory hugs usually reserved for the football pitch.

OK, so it'll take more than this to bring classical music to the masses. Must the orchestra wear black tie? Couldn't someone speak to the audience occasionally? But, last night at the proms, I enjoyed a performance that was modern, accessible and down to earth.