Stealing a Piece of the Past

Stealing a Piece of the Past

I pulled up the last inch of zip on my hood and looked all around me, peering deep into the wet night to make sure nobody was watching. I had to move fast. In the dark, I snuck behind the metal fence and picked a path through the puddles and debris on the broken driveway. I looked up and what I saw took my breath away – the last few remaining walls of my childhood home, battered and empty as…

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Along the Brook and Through the Fields to Hambleden

Along the Brook and Through the Fields to Hambleden

The old church smelled like old church – a slight whiff of damp and ancient stone that the fresh air can’t reach because the doors stay closed to keep the jackdaws out. I sat in one of the few pews that weren’t blocked off by stacks of kneeling prayer cushions, made of tightly tapestried wool in an assortment of colourful designs. I was the only person there. Saint Mary the Virgin Church is huge in comparison to the tiny but…

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You Can Call Me AL

You Can Call Me AL

What’s in a name? A quick search tells me that my name Alison has been around since Medieval days. It was French probably, or maybe Scottish or English, and it is spelt with two Ls in America. Long ago, it was given to an Alice’s offspring – meaning ‘little Alice’ – and in Brazil it’s given to a boy. Does any of that matter? Not really. What matters is that my Mum and Dad liked the name Alison back in…

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Waiting Patiently to Swim Across the Channel

Waiting Patiently to Swim Across the Channel

I am on the riverbank at Aston, a tiny village near Henley, on a sunny Saturday morning. Surrounded by the green of wild hedgerows and overhanging trees, river reeds and fields on all sides. The Thames flows quietly by, glinting in the still air. Six women in swimsuits have just waded in, waist-deep, talking all at once about the size of their boobs and laughing at each other’s quick-fire tales of bra fails and breastfeeding. Caps and goggles on, they…

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Huge Increase in Food Bank Demand and Donations

Huge Increase in Food Bank Demand and Donations

A Henley food bank has delivered nearly 10 times more food parcels during the coronavirus pandemic than it did a year ago. The food bank is run by the Nomad Food and Community Project – a charity that gives grass-roots support to local children, young people and families facing challenging situations. In the seven weeks from 23 March, Nomad delivered 340 food parcels, up from 36 during the same period in 2019. The parcels comprised 804 bags of food and…

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The Lonely Life of Nina Simone

The Lonely Life of Nina Simone

I step carefully into the deep water and lie down. There’s just the right amount of bubble bath, the lights are off and a red candle flickers in the steamy haze, lighting up the walls. The hot water embraces every bit of me, I’m hugged, my eyes close and I start to relax. I’m listening to I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free by Nina Simone and I decide that this is my lockdown song —…

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Drawing Bella’s Curves

Drawing Bella’s Curves

Whether we are all alone or squashed together, working or not, worried or relaxed, everything has changed because of coronavirus, and this feels deeply unsettling for everyone I know. The death rates are mind-boggling. How will we get out of this? What was true last year is now nonsense, things we now know to be true were unthinkable a few months ago, and nobody has a clue what the world will look like once the virus is under control (if…

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Sleepy Heads and Other Stories

Sleepy Heads and Other Stories

I’ve been putting together a scrapbook of some of the things I wrote about during my first 10 years of motherhood. Maybe one day my kids will read it and get a glimpse of what it was like for me when they were little? Some of these memoirs were published in my magazine, a few were just scribbled in journals, and others were posted on a blog that I was obsessively devoted to and besotted with for a couple of…

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The Free Thinker, the Genius, the Oddball

The Free Thinker, the Genius, the Oddball

Houses are a bit like people. They have personalities. Some are practically perfect, others need some work. Some are polished but have no character, others are scruffy but comfortable like a pair of old slippers. From time to time, a house with the personality of an artist comes on the market. You know, the sort of interesting character that stands out from the crowd because he or she has an unusual way of seeing things, a creative way of doing…

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Bradley For Sale at £2 Million

Bradley For Sale at £2 Million

Lambridge Wood Road is a racehorse amongst ponies. A professional in a crowd of amateurs. A Harrods Café coffee next to a mug of Instant. Discreet and exclusive, this residential road is hidden from view, just off the Fairmile, and curves smoothly towards a large area of woodland bordering the National Trust land of Greys Court. Lambridge Wood Road is broadly exempt from Henley’s burgeoning traffic issues, because it is a quiet no-through road ending abruptly at the edge of…

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My Earliest Years

My Earliest Years

Of course I don’t remember anything about the start of my life, so I went around to my parents’ house to ask them about it. We sat on the green sofa in the living room of their bungalow and looked through some of my old baby photos, chuckling at my chubby round face and thick dark hair, and how I was dressed from head to toe in hand-knitted baby clothes. I was born on a cold winter’s night in Hitchin,…

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A Well-Heeled But Unflashy Neighbourhood

A Well-Heeled But Unflashy Neighbourhood

“It is the place to live,” I hear. “It is the most desirable road in Henley,” they say. Well I don’t know about that, but Rotherfield Road definitely has a lot going for it. It is a no-through road for starters – so there are no passing cars and it is as quiet as falling snow – and yet all the hubbub and happenings in the centre of Henley are still within walking distance. Woodside is a six-bedroom house that…

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Treasures of the British Library

Treasures of the British Library

Every book published in the UK and Ireland is deposited, catalogued and archived by the British Library at St Pancras in London. So, having just self-published my own book, I decided to go there and have a look around. The British Library receives around three million new books every year, along with a huge number of newspapers, maps, scripts, databases, music recordings, drawings, films, digital content, magazines, and all sorts of other tasty fruits picked from our fast-growing cultural and…

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General Eisenhower’s Secret WW2 Hideaway

General Eisenhower’s Secret WW2 Hideaway

It is 1944 and mainland Europe is on its knees, ravaged by years of Nazi occupation and desperately waiting for liberation. Large numbers of American military personnel are over here, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our British soldiers ready for battle, holed up in the woods as they await the orders that will send them to fight on the beaches of Normandy. Living and working unnoticed in a top-secret location – an Edwardian townhouse in a small Berkshire village – is the…

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Review: Foo Fighters

Review: Foo Fighters

We arrived late for Sunday’s Reading Festival because we were only there to see Foo Fighters. It’s a mainly young crowd here — a grubby throng of demob-happy teenagers, although I hear the average age went up on the Sunday — so, heads down and sunglasses on, we grabbed a quick cider and headed straight for the main stage. The mighty Foo Fighters. One of the last remaining bastions of rock ‘n’ roll. But it’s not old school, it’s better…

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The Laundry in Three Men in a Boat

The Laundry in Three Men in a Boat

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome, first published in 1889, is a classic Victorian novel originally intended to be a Thames travel guide. The author found his comic voice while he was writing, however, and the book evolved into a funny tale of three friends and their dog, Montmorency, on a journey up the river from London to Oxford. One day – having already passed through Henley and Reading, before going for drinks in Wallingford – the…

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Shakespeare at the Globe

Shakespeare at the Globe

We all stop talking and turn to watch the cast of Twelfth Night sashay out on to the stage. I am visiting Shakespeare’s Globe on London’s South Bank – a replica of the Elizabethan playhouse where William Shakespeare was playwright, actor and co-owner between 1599 and 1613. A circular thatched roof covers the stage and three tiers of seats, but my £5 ticket has me standing in the open-air yard, thrillingly close to the action. Patches of blue peep through the…

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Review: Jo Whiley’s 90s Anthems

Review: Jo Whiley’s 90s Anthems

DJ Jo Whiley, perennially cool in her baggy gold top, tight black trousers and floppy blond hair, stood atop a big flashing screen at the Henley Festival and took us on a musical stomp through a collection of dance anthems and Britpop classics from the Nineties. The audience danced wildly and sang along with gusto to the familiar sounds of Funk Soul Brother by Fatboy Slim, I’ve Got the Power by Snap, Ride on Time by Black Box, Set You…

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Former Lodge of George Harrison’s Neo-Gothic Mansion

Former Lodge of George Harrison’s Neo-Gothic Mansion

It is not uncommon to see Henley’s visitors standing on Gravel Hill at the iron gates of Friar Park, the grand country estate that George Harrison once called home. They dutifully take their selfies before gazing up the winding drive, wondering what lies over the hill, dreaming of The Beatles and the golden age of sixties pop. Friar Park House is a huge and elaborate neo-Gothic mansion surrounded by wooded parkland, originally built in the 1890s as a weekend retreat…

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What am I Doing Here?

What am I Doing Here?

I stand on Rethink Street every day of my life. My reasons for being here evolve as I get older. Now what? The landscape shifts before I have time to process the previous scene — I’m not quick enough — and it’s hard to keep my balance. But writing helps.