(Although, looking at it, most of my site, other than the Westerns, seems to be autobiographical).
Some years ago I wrote a short series of 'tongue in cheek' articles for an 'outdoorsy' magazine, the articles were headed 'Tales from a Virgin Camper' and told the story of how a family of complete novices (us) who had never camped before, purchased a tent and tons of equipment (much of it completely useless). Our first camping trip ever was two weeks, up one side of Scotland and back down the other. A real Baptism of Fire! We had practice runs at putting up the tent in our garden (a big, rectangular tent, in a small oval garden. That was great fun! I don't think!) There were only three excerpts of that actually published because the magazine went bust, but I do have enough for a book, so I am slowly trying to put that together also. It's a fun read!!
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"NOT FIT FOR PIGS".
Here you will find animals of course! There are chickens, ducks, dogs, ponies, goats, and others. Animal stories which are in turn, funny and sorrowful. It's about life on a smallholding in Kent, the renovation of an almost derelict farm cottage into a comfortable family home with open log fire and a Rayburn stove in the kitchen. It's also about our small animal rescue centre and the injured baby skylark who ate from our plates and followed me around like a dog.
There is a lot more in here of course, including chapters entitled 'Dog Biscuits and Snake Rugby', 'A Box of Quackers', 'Not Fit For Pigs' and 'Tales from a Virgin Camper'. When I finally get them posted, why not have a look and have a laugh (or a cry, or both!) And tell me what you think about them.
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This is a short piece from a chapter entitled 'Dog Biscuits and Snake Rugby'
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"The snakes are out, look out!"
I had just walked into my parent's pet shop after my day at work and that was my greeting. Never mind -'Did you have a good day?' - or- 'Would you like a cuppa?' - No such niceties here.
"Oh, and this gentleman wants one for his class at school."
Mum disappeared into the back room so fast, I wasn't at all sure if she had even really been there. I fished out one of the remaining grass snakes, and popped it into a box for the rather nervous looking teacher. As he turned to go, I spotted one of the escapees heading rapidly for the door in his wake.
"Don't open the ---!"
Too late, as he turned to see what was wrong, the snake darted out of the door between his feet.
"Sorry, got to go" I said, rushing past him and down the street after the snake, which was on the look out for the grass it was named after and had no intention of coming back. Grab it now or lose it, I thought, as I executed a wonderful Rugby tackle and grabbed the creature. Funny, I didn't even know I could play Rugby until then!
"Gotcha Matey!" I muttered from the pavement, clutching a double handful of wriggling snake. I heard a scream, it didn't come from the snake, I checked. Looking up, I saw that I had touched down almost at the feet of a rather stern looking gentleman, whose female companion was nervously dancing around behind him, looking for all the world as though she needed the bathroom.
"Oh, sorry, just catching snakes", I grinned sheepishly, hauling myself and my squirming three foot captive up from the floor. The woman squealed again as I held out the snake for them to see I really was telling the truth.
"Get it away from me," she squeaked, doing a good impression of a mouse, I hoped the snake wasn't hungry.
"Yes, get it away from her. What are you playing at anyway?"
Of course, I did resist the strong temptation to tell him I was playing Snake Rugby and explained the situation as best I could. Upon which, they both quickly crossed the road and legged it, rather white faced, into the distance. I took my beautiful captive back into the shop to replace him in the tank with his friends.
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My Autobiography will probably stretch to two, or maybe even three, books. A lot of it is animal based of course, but there are stories of cottage renovation (a long time before it became fashionable) nests of snakes in the old outside privy, our smallholding, animal rescues and those truly wonderful camping holidays when none of us had ever camped or even put up a tent before and our first try was a 1,000 mile round trip up to the farthest North of the Highlands of Scotland!
There is the story of our beautiful little daughter, Sara, who almost died at birth, and wasn't given a clean bill of health for over a year. There are the two tiny ponies, Adam and Bess, and Brett, the huge black Great Dane, who was bigger than the ponies. There are tame 'wild' birds that would take food from our mouths,and roosted on the lampshades at night, nasty foxes, scary ghosts, crazy people, and 'strange goings on down on the farm'! How about the marrows that you couldn't get into even with a chain saw! Or the shed full of tiny fluffy yellow chicks that eventually became huge white turkeys,(one of which weighed over 30 pounds!)
There is also Kat, the gorgeous Border Collie, who was really a human in disguise, and could even spell, and Tess, the sleepy Labrador with dancing eyebrows, who once got chased downstairs by an evil vacuum cleaner. Oh and little Bill, the epileptic Miniature Yorkshire Terrier, who fell in the fish pond and came out smelling and looking like Swamp Thing!
There are so many tales and characters, it is impossible to mention them all here. But I am popping another section in just to give you a bit more of a flavour of the whole, as it were. This is a draft version and may be quite different when completed. Nevertheless, I do hope you enjoy reading it.
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The old Cottage.
When we first saw the old farm cottage it was almost derelict, doors and windows sealed with old boards and rusty corrugated iron sheets held on with nails of many shapes and sizes. Those sheets had been torn off many times by children or squatters, then nailed back on again until there was almost no frame left to nail them back onto. There had been a neat little porch at the front door but the whole thing had collapsed in upon itself, thus completely blocking any access to the front door.
We picked our way around the back of the place, stumbling over piles of debris, the walls and roof of the cottage still looked strong enough, it was a good size, but, oh what an awful mess it was in. And that was still just the outside. Looking around we were a little dismayed at the amount of work which would have to be done just out there.
A huge garden, or rather jungle (almost a small field) was filled with assorted rubbish, long neglected and overgrown, with the tumble down remains of sheds of various sizes and rusty wire enclosures, all of which were almost hidden beneath a lush growth of nettles and bindweed.
Through the long, weed filled grass, down at the end of the garden, we spotted the remains of an old privy with only part of the roof still standing and part of the wall collapsing around it. We looked at one another and hoped we wouldn't have to actually use it for its original purpose.
This was certainly not a pleasant sight (or even site) and certainly not a sight for the faint-hearted. There would be a heck of a lot of work needed just on the outside, to get it into any semblance of order, but somehow I wasn't worried by that, it had to be admitted, it had - Prospects!
Stepping gingerly over the rubbish, we reached the back door and began wrenching off the wood and iron which covered it so we could get in. I laughed. It had suddenly struck me as amusing that we had been given the keys to go in and look at the place. There was no way we could have got anywhere near the front door and from what we could tell, if we'd pulled the boards off any one of the windows we could have got in that way easily.
Cautiously, wary of what might be waiting for us, Chris stepped inside, I heard him groan and then he called out to me.
"Well, it's okay to come in, but it's awful."
His voice sounded so disappointed, nevertheless I stepped inside as he went off to explore the other rooms. I stood in what was supposed to be the kitchen and looked around at the filth and chaos. Huge grey cobwebs hung everywhere, grease and dirt covered every surface. An old cream Rayburn stood at one side of the room, almost unrecognisable beneath the grease and old pots and pans filled with unmentionable contents.
Suddenly, I had an overwhelming sense of welcoming and belonging, as if the old house had just been waiting for me to come and love it back to life. It wanted me here, it wrapped me in its warmth and hugged me tightly.
"I love it, let's take it!"
"Hold on, let's look at the rest of the place first, this is only one room" urged Chris. I think he was having second thoughts. I didn't need to see the rest of the place to know it was mine and I would love it, but I went along anyway, I was curious too.
We saw everything through a murky gloom, as all of the windows were boarded up and we only had torches. A large kitchen/diner, a living room and a bathroom on the ground floor, with a crooked staircase leading to a large landing with three bedrooms, or rather, two and a small 'box' room.
All the doors were missing, ripped off by squatters to light the stove and some of the floorboards had even been ripped up. And everywhere there were the curtains of grey cobwebs and layers of dirt.
"Are you sure about this? There's a heck of a lot of work to do and you'll have to do most of it."
(Earlier in the book I explain that Chris was working long hours then as an agricultural mechanic and I had not long since had our daughter, Sara, by C-section following complications. We'd been told she may be brain damaged, so she was on constant medication and many hospital visits around that time. He was concerned I might not be up to all the work.)
"I can do a lot of it and we can get some help, we don't have much choice do we, the lease on the bungalow runs out soon. Anyway, it's ours, it wants us here, can't you feel it?"
He'd always joked that I'm weird and I guess I was just reinforcing his opinion. There was no way he'd admit it anyway, even if he did hear the house 'talking' to him.
We stepped out into the bright Kentish sunshine, I said a silent goodbye to the house and Chris started nailing the wood back on the door. Suddenly, my eye was attracted by something as I glanced around. I started to pick my way down the garden away from the house, ignoring my husband's cries to be careful, totally focused on the thing I had spotted, my heart beating faster as I approached it.
There, almost hidden among the dereliction and weeds, a rose was in bloom. Just one flower, shining out of the tangled greenery. One beautiful, perfect, deep red rose.
I am a Lancastrian girl, our symbol is the red rose. This was irresistible. The red rose of Lancashire, a little piece of my home in a foreign part of the country, in the midst of all this chaos. A message for me, very loud and clear.
This was our house.
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And you know, we loved that old cottage back to full health and lived happily within it for a blissful eight years, turning the large garden into a smallholding, with poultry, growing tunnels full of fruit and vegetables and even two gorgeous Shetland ponies. Until we were forced to leave.
But for the rest of the story, you will have to wait for the book(s). Sorry!
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Please let me know what you think of this idea won't you? Thank you.
Recently I have read a couple of books along similar lines to our story, so I will start putting it all together again now.
One day it will be published!