Alan Cadbury’s Abbey: Crowland

Fenland view from Bukehorn Toll, looking north-west (Crowland Abbey just visible on horizon)The Fens are open, flat and full of myths. One persistent myth is that Fenland is all the same; that there is no regional distinctiveness or identity. Outsiders cannot get beyond the straight roads, the even straighter dykes and the all-enveloping, level horizon. But the people are very different: yes, they do see themselves as Fen folk first and their county comes a distant second, whether it be any of the four Fenland counties: Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire (ex-Isle of Ely), Norfolk or Suffolk.    read more…

Posted in books, Landscape | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Snowdrops: Divide and Rule!

I have long been a fan of snowdrops. They offer the best value of any garden plant and their crowning glory is their timing: they flower when almost nothing else is prepared to stick its head out of the soil. Yes, aconites are lovely, if rather short-lived, and hellebores can be stunning in a good winter garden, but taken as a whole nothing has the same impact as a good expanse, a vista no less, of snowdrops.

So if you’re new to gardening, how do you go about acquiring some? Ideally you want to make friends with a gardener who has a well-established snowdrop bed. Then arrange to visit him or her later in February, just after most varieties have finished flowering. It’s then that the bulbs are in the best condition for moving. Long-established clumps can become congested and then they don’t flower so freely. So that’s why it’s always a good idea to divide them up – or rather that’s what you tell the potential donor (and it happens to be true). Then, once you’ve scrounged a clump or two, take them round to your garden and plant them right away, but don’t make the mistake of planting individual bulbs: try to plant three or four at a time. Do that, and your new clumps will become visible far quicker. This way of planting-out growing bulbs is known as planting ‘in the green’ and I would strongly recommend it for aconites, and other non-bulbous springtime plants, such as anemones, too. And another useful tip: if you buy a pot of snowdrops in the garden centre, I’d advise waiting till March or April, when the nursery normally reduce prices by around 50%. And one final thing: always wash off the fluffy peaty compost that they’re nearly always grown in these days. If you don’t, the bulbs will dry out in hot summers – and snowdrops sometimes fail to break dormancy if they’re allowed to get too dry. Which is one of the reasons I rarely buy them as dried bulbs, because even if they do manage to germinate, they’re often very feeble the following year.

But there is one aspect of snowdrops that has never appealed to me. I suppose you could call it ‘snowdrop fancying’ and the people who practise this arcane, this black art, are known as ‘Galanthophiles’, after the Latin name for the snowdrop family, Galanthus. I’ve never actually dared take part in a Galanthophile conversation, but I have listened-in to one. And it was scarily obsessive. Indeed, I’m reliably informed that rare selections can change hands for hundreds of pounds. And often you need a magnifying glass to tell the various types apart.

I suppose we’ve got about half-a-dozen different varieties in our garden, but 99.999% of them are the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis. To my mind it’s perfection and cannot be improved upon; but there is a straight double version, if you’re looking for something that looks a bit more garden-like and less like a wildflower.

By and large, snowdrops prefer shade to direct sunlight, and they would rather remain dampish all year round. They very much resent having their leaves cut off before they die down naturally, over summer. So don’t plant them in grass that you intend to mow. Otherwise they require little or no attention, which is another reason I like them so much. They’re also superb in dark urban gardens at times of the year when the light is dim. But town being warmer than country, they often bloom two or three weeks earlier.

Over the years I’ve planted thousands of snowdrops and I set about it as a military operation, but one that’s short and sharp – as befits the brief days of February. Snowdrops are very forgiving, so it doesn’t really matter when you move them. The traditional time is after flowering, but often, like in the current season, it suits me to do it early. I also find that bulbs moved early ‘in the green’ seem to settle into their new positions a bit quicker. And it’s also worth bearing in mind that early springtime can be very busy elsewhere in the garden. So I tend to strike when the mood is upon me – which is now.

First, I dig an entire clump out of the ground with a small border spade. Then I remove surplus soil from the roots and use it to refill the hole, planting four or five new clumps as I do so. Then, I break my lifted clump into large pieces, from which I break-off individual bulbs to make mini-clumps of 4-5 plants. I then drop these onto the ground in what I hope looks like a fairly random pattern. Finally, I plant them where they fell – and I do this quite quickly and without much fuss, a process that takes less than half the time it took to form the mini-clumps. If the season’s very dry or your soil is sandy, I would suggest you water after planting. Using this system, I can plant roughly 50 mini-clumps in an hour, or so. I concede it’s very hard on the back. But be of good cheer: next winter they’ll look gorgeous. And then all the effort will be worth it.

Choose a source of snowdrops where the clumps are getting large and congested.

Choose a source of snowdrops where the clumps are getting large and congested.

Dig up a clump, remove surplus soil and put it in a container.

Dig up a clump, remove surplus soil and put it in a container.

Close-up of the lifted clump. Gently pull it into halves, then quarters. Then subdivide each quarter into ‘mini-clumps’ of 4-5 bulbs.

Close-up of the lifted clump. Gently pull it into halves, then quarters. Then subdivide each quarter into ‘mini-clumps’ of 4-5 bulbs.

A mini-clump lying on the ground, ready to be planted.

A mini-clump lying on the ground, ready to be planted.

5.Planted mini-clumps. If planted early in the season (say early February) the leaves and flowers will resume their customary upright position after a week or so.

5. Planted mini-clumps. If planted early in the season (say early February) the leaves and flowers will resume their customary upright position after a week or so.

Posted in Gardening | Tagged ,

Death Comes to the Fens for a Second Time…

Dear reader, if you haven’t guessed from the title of this blog post, I have finished writing the second Alan Cadbury mystery. I’ve learned a great deal about fiction-writing over the past year and this time the process of producing the manuscript didn’t take a dozen drafts, as The Lifers’ Club did. But the process of writing wasn’t perfect by any means, if by perfect you mean, did it go entirely according to plan? Well the answer to that is, it didn’t. In fact the book acquired a life of its own: a villain turned out to be less villainous and the latter chapters kept surprising me with new and entirely unexpected things. It was all very odd. I also made some entirely new mistakes.

For a start, I under-estimated how time-consuming the Unbound subscription process would be. Having said that, all the nice people at Unbound now assure me that it won’t be quite so laborious the second time around. Believe that, if you will. Second, the editorial process was quite extended, but this was almost entirely because I was new to fiction and didn’t really understand the subtleties and complexities of plot-construction; I was also a bit naïve when it came to human motivation – which doubtless reflects my own rather straightforward view of the world. Maybe that’s why I hate, loathe and detest the behind-the-scenes intricacies of academic inter- and intra-departmental politics – which I’ve tried to steer clear of all my life. No, I think my main problem in 2014 was in time-tabling my work. So no sooner had I resumed writing the second Alan Cadbury (which for brevity I’ll call AC2) than I went off to film in Italy. Then I got re-started just in time to be greeted by the editing and proofs for HOME. I had only just got re-re-started, when I was overtaken by the HOME launch campaign, plus the autumn literature festivals, where both Lifers and HOME seemed to have gone down very well. Eventually I finished the first draft of AC2 on November 13th. I then did a couple of weeks on the farm before I read through the manuscript, tweaking it here and there. Only then did I send it off to my Editor, Liz Garner.

So this time around, I intend to handle things a bit more astutely – or at least that’s the plan. But already I’m hitting snags, because like the complete fool I am, I’ve had the idea for another non-fiction book, which I plan to be lighter in tone than HOME, but with a serious underlying theme, nonetheless. I also plan to write it in collaboration with a co-author. But more on that later. And of course I’m also thinking about AC3 which will be the third of what is shaping-up to be a Fenland Trilogy for Alan Cadbury. I’m still not certain where AC will be heading thereafter, if, that is, he manages to survive AC3, but perhaps I’ll know around Christmas 2015. Maybe he’ll settle down (with whom?) and tend his garden in suburban security, somewhere. Or maybe not. But whatever actually transpires, 2015 looks like being just as unplanned, ungovernable and chaotic as 2014 – for both AC and FP. And finally, and to make matters even worse, I’ll be trying to make sense of everything as I set out on my eighth decade on this planet. Or to put it another way, I’ll be 70 in a few days’ time – which is odd, as I currently feel about 85.

So what is the second Alan Cadbury book about? It’s title doesn’t give much away, but is, I hope, slightly menacing, if not actually evil: The Way, The Truth and the Dead. Sadly I can’t divulge the plot, other than to concede that it was the Bishop with the cleaver (and the mistress in Morocco) who did it – in the library, of course. Apart from that, the action takes place in the southern Fens, in a small hamlet called Fursby, a few miles from Ely, on the Littleport road. We are in the Black Fens –thus named because of the region’s dark peat soils. It’s a part of Fenland that I love, but it’s very, very different from the silt Fens further north. For a start, there really are hills – proper ones that you can look up to. The small city of Ely is on one end of a long, undulating ridge, which extends westwards to the large villages of Haddenham and Sutton. Encircling these hills, which would have been true islands in pre-drainage days, the fields are a deep dark and golden black, especially when lit by the low amber sun of a winter’s evening.

Like other Fenland landscapes, the Black Fens were very attractive to prehistoric, Romano-British and early medieval communities. Monastic settlers were also an important feature and history books tell us that they were attracted by the bleakness and isolation of the Fens. I suspect that lonely, cold image was what they wanted to portray. In reality, Fenland abbeys, such as Ely and Peterborough, were some of the richest in Britain – and I don’t think it should come as a surprise that two of the other hugely rich foundations, at Westminster and Glastonbury were both sited in marshy landscapes. Those old monks knew a thing or two when it came to PR – and economics, too.

A view of Ely Cathedral, looking towards the magnificent medieval ‘lantern’. The Cathedral was originally a Benedictine Abbey, which was founded by St. Etheldreda in 673.

A view of Ely Cathedral, looking towards the magnificent medieval ‘lantern’. The Cathedral was originally a Benedictine Abbey, which was founded by St. Etheldreda in 673.

Anyhow, Alan Cadbury finds himself running an excavation at Fursby, but it’s no ordinary dig. The archaeology is outstanding, and soon its fame gets to the ears of people in television. Much of the book’s action takes place ‘live’ and on-screen. Those scenes were a lot of fun to write and I’ve tried to capture some of the adrenalin and tension of a live broadcast.

AC2 has given me a great excuse to visit Ely ‘for research’. Sometimes I drive, but in winter the great washes between the Old and New Bedford Rivers (which I discuss in The Making of the British Landscape) are flooded and it becomes far quicker to go by train. The line passes close by the great nature reserve at Welney Wash, which is famous for its huge population of whooper swans, which pass over our house on their migratory route northwards, later in the spring. I love the sound they make as they fly overhead: it’s so conversational; rather like they were chatting to one another.

Despite its proximity to Cambridge and the construction of some vast new housing estates around its fringes, Ely still manages to retain its unique character. It’s a great place to eat and drink – everything from haute cuisine to fish-and-chips. And the independent bookshop, Toppings, is superb – in fact it’s where we’ve chosen to launch AC2, on the evening of January 20th. I’ll be there doing a talk and signing Lifers’ Club and HOME, so do please come along if you possibly can. It promises to be a convivial evening!

A view of Welney Washes when partially flooded. The huge ‘washes’ between the two 17th century canalised courses of the River Ouse are intended to flood, thereby relieving pressure on the river’s outfall into the Wash, at Denver, in Norfolk.

A view of Welney Washes when partially flooded. The huge ‘washes’ between the two 17th century canalised courses of the River Ouse are intended to flood, thereby relieving pressure on the river’s outfall into the Wash, at Denver, in Norfolk.

The RSPB Welney Washes Nature Reserve is one of the most important habitats in Europe for migratory species, such as thousands of mute and whooper swans.

The RSPB Welney Washes Nature Reserve is one of the most important habitats in Europe for migratory species, such as thousands of mute and whooper swans.

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Getting Ready for 2015

Since last year we’ve decided to lamb rather later than in the past – which means that we put the rams in with the ewes late in October and expect our first lambs in mid-to-late March (the actual date this year is March 21st, if the ewes are true to their often quite strict 21-week gestation). The reasons we’ve opted for a slightly later lambing are partly that we’re getting older ourselves, and it’s less physically demanding if lambing isn’t in the cold weather; that’s also why we’ve cut the flock size by over half. Time Team is no longer being made, so I don’t have to rush off and film in early spring and of course the grass is that much better in early April, which means that lactating ewes don’t have to eat hay and straw. So, all in all, I think a slightly later lambing makes plenty of practical sense. The only down-side is that lamb prices aren’t as good later in the year, but again, we really aim to raise breeding ewes, which aren’t affected by such fluctuations, as we sell them the following year. Anyhow, I’m really pleased with this year’s crop of breeding ewes, which are still looking good, despite quite a wet autumn.

As readers in Britain will be aware, 2014 was the warmest year on record, but it went out with a bang here on the east coast. We’d brought the in-lamb ewes into the barn on Boxing Day, then that night it snowed hard and we woke-up to a just-missed White Christmas. But there’d been a lot of rain with it, too (I measured 31mm in my rain gauge) and the ground was sodden. Still, it looked very picturesque when I took this photo on December 27th.

Snow along the drive.

Snow along the drive.

The ewes chewed the cud contentedly in the barn as we hurried to assemble hurdles to make a dry corral for last year’s female lambs, technically now known as gimmers, which we had to remove from nearly-flooded pasture. Later in the day we drove them in and I could have sworn I heard one or two thank me under their breath as they filed into the barn. The only person to resent their arrival was one of the farm cats, now known as Ginger or Ginge (her previous name was Death, as in Death and Glory – two kittens we found dumped in a dyke by the road a few years ago. Our nice vet wouldn’t allow the name Death to appear in his files, so gave her the name Ginger). Ginge was forced to move up to a higher bale, or risk being sniffed to death by curious young sheep.

Ewes in the barn, surrounded by bales of hay.

Ewes in the barn, surrounded by bales of hay.

The gimmers in the yard beside the barn (where they can shelter when it’s wet).

The gimmers in the yard beside the barn (where they can shelter when it’s wet).

Ginger aka Death.

Ginger aka Death.

As I walked around the farm I noticed that one or two large puddles were not decreasing quite as fast as I would have liked. So the following day, I decided to unblock the outfalls of the land-drains that run below our fields, wood and garden. They empty into a large dyke maintained by the South Holland Internal Drainage Board (the IDB), to whom we pay an annual drainage rate. So far as I can discover, the drains were laid in the 1960s. They consist of individual, foot-long, four-inch ceramic pipes which were placed directly in the ground. This would tend to confirm their earlier date, as by the 1970s pipes were nearly always bedded in gravel, and were often made of perforated plastic. Most of our drains were blocked when I discovered them in 1996 (I think). Then we had them jetted-out by a professional contractor, who did an excellent job. All I have to do is make sure their outfalls into the dyke aren’t blocked, which I do every year and it’s a job that’s best done after heavy rain, when water pressure in the pipes helps to wash them out.

As you can see from the photo, the IDB dyke is quite a large one and the sides always seem to be wet and/or frozen when I come to do the rodding-out. Several times I’ve fetched-up in the freezing water. First I have to find the drain, which is made easier by some wires I’ve attached to a nearby fence. Then I find the pipe with a small border spade and a road spike. Having carefully located a pipe (I don’t want to shatter it), I trowel away the surface mud, but with a long garden rather than an archaeological trowel, then insert a drain cleaning rod, fitted with double-spiral bit. By the time I’ve twisted that rod a few hundred times I’m ready for a beer with my luchtime pork pie from the local butcher’s. In fact my arms are still aching, over twelve hours later. But it was worth it. Security matters a lot. I’d much rather have a sore arm than a nagging conscience – and floods.

There’s still an hour to go before breakfast. Time to start the edit of my second Alan Cadbury thriller (The Way, The Truth and The Deaths) which my kind editor, Liz Garner, managed to return to me shortly before Christmas. We plan to launch the new campaign with Unbound on January 20th, when I’ll be doing a book-signing (Lifers’ Club and HOME) at Topping Bookshop in Ely – where the new book is set (in the landscape around the city, not the bookshop, idiot!). Then later in the morning I’ll return to digging-over the vegetable garden, which I had almost finished before the rain and snow hit us. Give me an active over a sedentary, passive Christmas, any day. Roll on 2015…

A view along the IDB dyke.

A view along the IDB dyke.

The hidden pipe revealed!

The hidden pipe revealed!

Posted in books, Farming, My life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Accidental Shopkeeper

IMG_0193It’s not often that you read a book and realise that you are holding history in your hands. And I don’t want that to sound pretentious: I can’t imagine for one moment that The Accidental Shopkeeper, by Patrick Limming, will ever appear on the Reading List of university students; indeed, if it did, its author would probably die laughing. No, what I meant, is that without intending to – which is crucially important as it rules out bias and prejudice – this book has given future historians an invaluable resource. I’m sure the late 20th and early 21st centuries will furnish scholars with vast quantities of material on the digital revolution, on political devolution, on the rise of religious fundamentalism and the collapse of established Christian churches, all of these are if you like predictable themes. The trick is somehow to side-step the predictable and produce something that throws new light on aspects of contemporary life that people in three or four generations’ time will realise were important. And one of these must surely be the decline, or the survival – it is still unclear which it will be – of smaller towns and their economic basis, the High Street. True, the media are full of Mary Portas, but hers is the very metropolitan High Street of large chains and superstores. What Patrick Limming is writing about is a very different beast. And it matters hugely to local people. In fact I’ll be visiting his shop later today to pick up some Coarse Mix for our three rams, who have been closely confined together since their four weeks of frolicking with the ewes, which came to an end a fortnight ago.

So the book is essentially a work-focussed autobiography and it tells the story of how one man and his father set-up and established a small business, based around horticultural supplies, pet-food and garden furniture, in a provincial market town, Holbeach, in the Lincolnshire Fens, just a short distance from the Wash. It’s very much a warts-and-all story and I for one was fascinated to learn what lay behind the firm’s expansion and the creation of new premises. This involved the demolition of some Georgian buildings and it was good to read for once the other side of the story. As an archaeologist and landscape historian I rarely get to see ‘the other story’ and Patrick makes it clear that they had no alternative. We tend to forget that many buildings of this age were very Gerry-built and I honestly don’t think he could have done anything else – if, that is, the business was to continue and in the process employ local people, as it does to this day. Ultimately even old building have to make way for human well-being. It’s only when ambition and greed lead to unnecessary demolition that I get really angry: there was no need, for example, to have pulled down the Euston Arch. It’s also worth reminding ourselves that some of the finest country houses, that visitors now flock to in their millions, were constructed on the remains of destroyed medieval villages.

This book is based around the experience of success and of many small failures and that’s why it’s so important. It’s the sort of book that ought to appear in all university Local History Departments and indeed, in university libraries. As I implied earlier, it’s an historical building-block. The author is very modest about his achievements, which are considerable and the book is written light-heartedly and is replete with terrible jokes – just like the author. It’s also far better written than nearly all the dreary reports and formulaic papers produced by professional archaeologists that I still have to wade through from time to time. He jokes about his spelling (which is impeccable) and his grammar which it’s fair to say is individualistic. But his words and the pattern of his writing are helping to preserve a record of how people in the northern Fens currently speak. And it makes such a refreshing change from the ubiquitous Estuary. But at the same time it’s very good reading: from the very first page, the words flow with the natural, unaffected ease of a born writer. Whatever else he chooses to do next, I do hope Patrick never goes on a Creative Writing course.

Towards the end of the book, we are given some fascinating statistics about the rise and decline of Holbeach as a mercantile town. These are accompanied by a series of ‘then and now’ views of the High Street, which, as a local resident, I found most absorbing. Patrick spells out clearly what makes being a shop-keeper difficult and quite predictably it’s almost always either bloody-minded bankers or brain-dead local bureaucratic jobsworths. I think you get my drift. But he drives his grievances home with many pointed case-studies that you wouldn’t believe if he hadn’t told you. And that’s another thing about this book: it’s 100% truthful. I honestly couldn’t detect any signs of hyperbole or exaggeration – even when he was describing high speed exploits in his much-loved Lotus cars.

So if you’re looking for an original, thought-provoking Christmas present, you’ve just found one: Patrick Limming’s The Accidental Shopkeeper. And at £9.99 it’s the same price as The Lifers’ Club – plus it’s got pictures!

IMG_0195

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I Love The Country

I started writing this around six in the morning when I had to get up to take a very powerful antibiotic. That’s because at 3.30 this afternoon I’m going to Kings Lynn hospital to have my sixth prostate biopsy. I vowed I’d never have another one after the fifth, which went septic and left me in a terrible state. I didn’t realise it then, but infections deep within the body cavity can be very nasty indeed and that one took weeks to shift. So I’m keeping fingers firmly crossed that today’s doesn’t follow the same path. The last biopsy was shortly before Christmas and poor Maisie had to go to the local A and E Department to fetch me emergency treatment around midnight on Christmas Eve. And a very memorable Festive Season that was.

                As readers of this blog will be aware, we normally like to do a big jig-saw puzzle over the Christmas holiday. I suppose it’s a way of making sure that we change gear and slow down. Of course booze can do the same thing, but puzzles are much cheaper and don’t make you so fat. Some puzzles can be harder than others: I well remember as a child spending an eternity piecing together a huge view of a bluebell wood, with lots of identical flowers, leaves and trees. And was it fun? No, not really. I suppose it was a way of satisfying the obsessive side of my character. No, the puzzles that work best for me are the ones where there’s a wealth of detail but hidden within the intricacy are little jokes – little moments of humour, like a distant view of the Titanic sinking in a rural lake. But the main design should be appealing too. In fact it wasn’t until I’d finished it that I realised the view of the bluebell wood was actually rather dull.

                But Mike Jupp’s designs are never boring. His puzzles are strangely personal and communicative. In some respects they’re rather like books. When I write, I imagine my reader (and I always write for one person, preferably alone) is sitting alongside me, but not in front of me. In other words, we’re chatting together. I’d hate anyone to think that I was teaching or lecturing to them. I like things to be more informal – hence this slightly chaotic blog, which I wouldn’t have any other way. And that’s how I imagine Mike Jupp works, too. I can picture him in his studio in Bognor chortling away as he imagines the moment when somebody discovers that the goose is wearing dark glasses and there’s a deep-sea diver in the village pond. To me these are shared jokes. As I said, chortles rather than belly-laughs. And what’s wrong with a good chortle? I ask.

                I might as well face it, but I’ll only be good for chortling over the next three or four days, so I’ve decided to move a bit of Christmas forward: I’m going to start one of the two Mike Jupp puzzles we’ve still to do, today. And it’s going to be a treat. It’s part of his hugely popular ‘I Love’ series: ‘I Love The County’. And I can’t wait to get started.

                Shortly before I took the antibiotic, which has left me feeling a bit woozy, I took a picture of the puzzle’s box lid with my iPad, but you can see much better reproductions on the Gibson’s website:

www.gibsonsgames.co.uk

It’s well worth a visit, if that is, you’re up for a damn-good chortle.

Mike Jupp’s jigsaw: I Love The Country (Gibsons, Surrey). Can you spot the Pentre Ifan dolmen? I’d say the church tower was probably Saxon, too (but with a 14th century window added later). Shame about the glider - and its two pilots.

Mike Jupp’s jigsaw: I Love The Country (Gibsons, Surrey). Can you spot the Pentre Ifan dolmen? I’d say the church tower was probably Saxon, too (but with a 14th century window added later). Shame about the glider – and its two pilots.

Posted in My life | Tagged ,

Missed Posts, 1: Puppytime

What a year! I don’t think I’ve ever been so busy as I was in 2014. Completely lunatic. Absolutely mad. You might have thought that after damn-near 70 years (in 6 weeks) on this planet, I would have learnt to plan my life a bit better. Most of my contemporaries have managed it. Some have retired completely and are proud of doing nothing. These are the real time-wasters:

‘Any chance we could pop over next week? Our cruise to Outer Mongolia isn’t for a fortnight, and it would be so nice if we could catch-up on old times. Haven’t seen you since that week in March last year …’

I remember it well: mid-lambing. Rushed off our bloody feet. They said they only wanted to be put-up en route to the in-laws in Yorkshire. But they stayed a God-awful week, and then insisted they took us out for a meal on their last night. There was only one ewe who hadn’t lambed, and of course that’s precisely what she did, as soon as we’d closed the gate behind us. And then she sat on it and suffocated the poor little thing. It wouldn’t have happened if we’d been there. Ugh, I was livid! And what was worse, our self-invited ‘guests’ didn’t seem to care:

‘Oh well, don’t worry: these things happen. See you next year!’

And off they swanned.

But I digress.

As I said, some retire and become time-wasters. Others manage to do a few consultancies and a bit of voluntary work. And they’re the happy ones: a nice pension and plenty of genuinely useful things to do to occupy their time. It’s what I’ve been trying to achieve for the past five years, but it just doesn’t seem to happen. I vowed, for instance that I’d write no more archaeology books, but I’m planning one already. And Alan Cadbury’s exploits have proved ludicrously absorbing. Did you know, I’d no idea young Alan had been up to so much behind the scenes. And can you believe it, but he’s already started telling me about a third exploit, and the second hasn’t yet been funded:

‘Oh for Christ’s sake Alan,’ I almost wept, ‘Please don’t start another one.’

‘Would you rather I told that nice Mr Rankin in the Oxford Bar? Edinburgh’s less than four hours by train and I’m sure there must be fens in Scotland where Rebus could happily uncover the dark truth. And I have to admit, it’s a cracking tale. Right up his street.  DCI Lane thought so too, at the time. Said it’ll probably earn him promotion. Or the sack.’

So I let him talk.

The next thing I knew I’d accumulated six pages in my iPad’s Notes app.

Anyhow, I’m absolutely determined not to let things slip so badly in 2015. I enjoy writing my blog and what is ‘retirement’ about, if not enjoyment? So I’ve decided that COME WHAT MAY I am going to write-up the blog posts I had prepared in 2014, but never got round to doing. I’ll try to do them in chronological order, except for this one. Which is very short. Or rather it was, before my earlier digression on the joys of retirement. It’s also quite simple to write, and as the sun has just poked through the leaden skies, I’m keen to get out into the vegetable garden and start digging. You never know, we might have a frost in this record hot year (and some brain-dead people still deny climate change – leaves me speechless!!). And that’s just what the veg garden needs: a good air frost on freshly turned soil. It should help clear-up the fungal diseases that are starting to become quite problematic. Oh dear, I feel a digression is starting to happen…

Back to the point of this blog, which is the first of five posts that I had intended to write in 2014, if life hadn’t been quite so frantic. Its purpose is simple: to introduce the world to a young puppy called Pen. Pen is the result of a working Border Collie who jumped onto an unsuspecting chocolate Labrador bitch, on my niece’s farm in the Yorkshire Moors. So her working pedigree is impeccable. She has turned out to have the brains of both breeds, but the energy and lithe body of a Collie. She also has the short, fine coat of a Labrador and it looks like she’ll turn out to be as big as one. She certainly seems to have a Labrador’s appetite. Most important of all, she has a very sweet nature. Right now she’s just over six months old and is starting to behave a bit like a naughty teenager, but that’s fine. It’s what happens.  The two photos I’ve posted here were taken on the 2nd of October, shortly after we returned from collecting her in Yorkshire. She’s a lot bigger now, but no less charming. If I get sufficient Tweets I’ll take another picture of her closer to Christmas.

And come to think of it, isn’t it about time that Alan Cadbury acquired a pet….?

Pen on her back Pen close-up

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