Monday, 2 January 2017

A Fat Thrush. (Not a Round Robin)

I came back from our Christmas break this year to find a complaint from a friend that they had not received a Round Robin full of details of our exciting overseas adventures and all the books I have published. The reason, I fear, was very simple: we live an extremely dull life these days and there didn't seem to be a lot to say. Prior to our Christmas break in France, the only time we have been out of the UK was a short holiday in Istanbul back at beginning of the year. There has only been one book published, too: Back Home. I'm proud of that one and very happy with the reception it has received, but that was back in April, so long ago it seems I can barely remember it.

Yet, for all that everybody is, quite understandably, going on about what a terrible year 2016 has been, here on the domestic front it has seemed to slide by pleasantly if unexcitingly. That's left me wondering just exactly what we did do last year and, given that I am always being told that I should be more open on my blog posts, I thought that once I’d worked out what it was, I'd share it with you.

A surprising amount of our time was spent in mid-Wales. Regular readers of the blog will know that we like to get there quite often but every year we promised ourselves that we will have a proper Welsh holiday and every year we don't. Except 2016. After a particularly frantic couple of years, our son finally got to take a proper break from his work with the Army – if only because all the abuse he has put his body through landed him up in hospital. The result was that he took himself off for an extended rest in God’s Own Country and we spent a lot of our summer joining him there. It was glorious! I'm not going to preach about how we shouldn't boast about our holidays on Facebook because everybody does it and they won't stop just because I moan, but there's no doubt that we miss a lot of simple pleasures because time spent in mid-Wales doesn't produce the exciting status posts of  time spent in some exotic distant spot. It does, though, produce astonishingly high levels of relaxation and well-being, punctuated with long walks and, because every stereotype has a basis of truth, lots of sheep.

Another UK destination I had been meaning to visit the years but never got around to was Bletchley Park. We finally got there in the aftermath of my birthday/launch party celebrations for Back Home and I was blown away by the place. I did blog about it here and if you have any interest in the beginnings of the world of code breaking and computerised eavesdropping that ended with GCHQ, I do recommend a visit.

St George's Day produced one of those completely mad, random events that are pretty well impossible to plan, but unforgettable when they happen. Following a casting call on Twitter, I ended up performing in Henry V at the Wallace Collection. I haven't been on stage since I left school so my two minutes of fame was as unexpected as it was exciting. Self-help books are always telling us that we should do something new that scares us and sometimes they are right. It was a wonderful day and one of the highlights of the year.

Why do you stay so long, my lords of France? Waiting for someone who can act, probably. 

Something I have always wanted to do is to train my own hawk. I doubt it will ever happen – I simply don't have the patience – but I came surprisingly close when we found an injured kestrel in the street and took it in until it was better. It was only with us for around four days which saw it changed from a huddled, terrified creature hunched on the floor in the corner of our spare room into a confident, sassy flyer eating us out of house and home until we could open the window and watch it fly away. And, yes, it did perch, however briefly, on my hand and for a moment I was some medieval hawker with my own proud bird. Another unforgettable moment.

What else? We went to a polo match (as you do) and danced the night away at a ball in a 15th century castle. I spent two days of lectures being taught about the metallurgy and art of non-European swords and a morning clambering over tanks, so I now have a detailed theoretical knowledge of how to kill you in the century of your choice. I even gave my own lecture on South-East Asian weaponry to an audience largely dressed in Victorian costume. Don’t even ask.

2016: a miserable year for many people in many ways, but, here at home, perhaps not so bad after all.


  1. It sounds like you had a pretty decent year!

  2. Growing up in a suburb skirting rural land and swamps, I developed an obsession with hawks early, and still delight in seeing them frequently. Most recently, perched in the driveway and then atop a neightor's car on Christmas day! The hawk was there for hours, didn't trouble to move when I drove up next door, and posed obligingly on the car for some time.

    It's good to hear 2016 treated you well. My own year, personally, was not bad; but socially, it's still very concerning living in the US. I have been interested to note how many people are gritching about 2016, as if 2017 (when Orange Julius Caesar will actually TAKE office) is not the more frightening prospect ...