Season of sharpened pencils and mellow productivity

Season of sharpened pencils and mellow productivity

Decades after leaving school, September is still my favourite time of year. It means crisp air, clean skies, oversized uniform and the intention my homework will always be beautifully presented and handed in on time.

As Tom Hanks says in You’ve Got Mail: “Don’t you just love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies.” It’s Autumn in Bournemouth and I want to learn something new.

Last week, I told an editor to say no if I ever offered her any of my own photos. It might be my phone. I suspect it’s me. My pictures seem little better than they were when I was first given a camera at ten. And so I avoid taking them, and the ones I do are impressionistic.

old photographer at work

But yesterday, I downloaded a book on Kindle- Photography for Writers. In an hour, it demystified frightening terms like shutter speed and pixel, and inspired my September challenge – to take a photo a day for a month and see if I improve.




This week’s parenting crisis

This week’s parenting crisis

This Tuesday, I took my children to our local country park. Unless it’s the sort of thing that requires Tesco vouchers (Longleat, Legoland…that sort of thing) it’s a rare day when they all want to do the same thing, but as a man they decided to see if the shelter we’d built last week was still there. The ranger had shown us how to do it. It had been a relaxed and fun affair that took hours.

Yesterday was more stressful because I was it for adult supervision. Yes, the den was there. Last week it had been a thing of beauty, but the foliage we’d used for waterproofing was now brown and a few areas of the roof were completely bare.

This time, the children decided to build an extension. I watched, torn between pride at the beauty of the thing and worry about the stability of such a grand structure. (The ranger will know it was me who let it happen, because she heard their grand plans.) Pretty sure the powers that be at Moors Valley won’t let it last the week.

Den-building is one of the fifty things the National Trust think you should do before you’re eleven and three quarters. When I first saw that list, it made me feel bad. Of course, I thought it was my failing it took the grandparents to find a hollow trunk for hiding or that they’d not yet built a campfire. Relative sanity now tells me I was a mother with four children under seven, and a husband that worked until midnight during the week. Now we’ve got rid of the buggy, and even the youngest has homing skills and some common sense, it’s amazing how many of those things they’ve done. And my eldest, isn’t quite twelve.

But as my children enjoy grand country estates and days Enid Blyton might have written about, albeit with the rest of the proletariat, I’ve worried about the line between innocence and entitlement. When do I make sure they know about Aleppo? Is it right or wrong to make them miserable when the only thing they can do is pray. How do I prepare them for an insecure world?

I don’t have the same unfettered access, but Diana, Princess of Wales apparently took her children to homeless shelters to help them understand their privilege. I like what I see of those boys now. That seems inspired to me.

Maybe, it’s about protecting them not from the truth, but overwhelming helplessness. Blue Peter told me in abbreviated terms about Pol Pot and Cambodia, but they also encouraged bring and buy sales to raise money for medical bicycles. Maybe it’s about teaching them how to react to other people’s pain.

Beatrix Potter: sheep-farming scientist and author.

Beatrix Potter: sheep-farming scientist and author.

My article on Beatrix Potter’s Lake District is published today in Britain Magazine.

Controlled by her mother, constricted by Victorian expectations of women, she worried she’d never find anything useful to do.

But she was allowed to draw and paint. In doing so, she saw differences in closely related fungi others didn’t find until the 1940s. Eventually, she produced a scientific paper for the respected Linnean society, speculating about the germination of fungal spores. As a woman amateur, she was easily dismissed, but years later proved right.

With the proceeds of her books, she bought Hilltop Farm in the Lake District. Her energies turned to farming and conservation, and she became a passionate champion of the early National Trust. At 47, she married her solicitor, William Heelis. With his help she bought up farms vulnerable to ruin or development. When she died in 1943, she left the NT over 4,000 acres of land and 14 farms, still working and tenanted today.  No one knows what the Lake District would look like without her.