Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Christmas in Cranford

Deer at Dunham Massey

I went to Cheshire for Christmas. You can tell how hard the recession is biting in Knutsford, one of the two Rolls Royce garages has closed. In the posh little shops shoes are in the sale at a hundred pounds and most places were closed for four days, something unheard of where I live in Durham.

Knutsford, the Moor. All the poor ducks, swans and geese were sitting on the frozen ice

I can remember walking down Oxford Street years ago and being astonished that nothing was open on a Sunday. In Durham we live to shop. Conspicuous consumption is everything. Not that you don't get that in Knutsford. As you wander up the two main streets, King Street and Princess Street, the narrow road is full of enormous black cars which would look okay in a funeral procession, four by fours which have never seen a muddy country track and sports cars which would give my old Mazda a serious self confidence trauma if I had taken it with me.

No, no, I went on cross country trains.  Pause here for horror and shock.
The Monday before Christmas I ventured forth. I'm a nervous traveller, I don't like other people driving, I don't care that it's an aeroplane or a train, I don't trust anybody else, I'm not in control.
I dropped and momentarily lost my ticket, I dropped two of my three suitcases before I got on the train, the ticket guy looked sympathetically at me, obviously recognising that I was already a wreck and let me through the barrier. The suitcases were not full of gorgeous clothes, they were filled with the blessed Christmas presents which seem to get bigger and heavier every year.

The standard class was crowded and of course there were three first class carriages almost empty. I could moan on about this but it's enough to state it. That and my frustration.

Everywhere I go enormous people sit next to me. I'm the woman who attracts men of eighteen stone with backpacks. You could be killed when somebody turns around in the tiny space of a standard carriage. There was no food of course, just before I got off two hours later in Manchester Piccadilly a trolley reached me. It doesn't really matter, I don't eat any more on trains I sit there and worry my way across country.

The tickets, which you had to go through a barrier with before you got on were checked twice more on the train. There was nowhere to put one suitcase, never mind three. The only good thing about my suitcases is that they are a rather delicate shade of pink,can be seen at half a mile and I can't see why anybody would want to steal one.I did see a woman once getting off with what looked like my suitcase and I panicked but the poor soul just had the same awful taste as me.

The change at Manchester wasn't too bad, only fifteen minutes wait. It was bitterly cold but I got to Knutsford on time only to discover that my daughter who was picking me up from the station was caught in a traffic jam on the M6 and would be at least an hour. I struggled over the blasted bridge, stairs at both sides and eventually reached the ticket office and begged the man for a warm waiting room or a hot drink. Alas, there was neither but he must have caught the look in my eyes because he provided hot tea and biscuits and the heater from his office for me and another woman who had spent two hours in an unheated train getting the few miles from Chester.

So this week's Hero Award goes to the station master at Knutsford whose name I do not know. I hope he had a good Christmas.

Knutsford has a Booth's.  Booth's is like a better Waitrose, a small family company based in the north west and almost a good enough reason to move. Booth's is just that little bit posh, in a sort of apologetic way, as though it means to be down to earth but can't quite help being slightly up its own backside. One of its joys is that the staff are proper north western people and call a spade a spade, not quite like in Durham where we usually call it a bloody shovel.

The streets are filled with old ladies who wear Barbour clothes and expensive walking boots and gentlemen who wear brogues, and the park, actually its called the Moor for some reason, is filled with lots of other old people walking recognisable dogs like spaniels and Scotties.

In the bank some man thought I was from Workington. I'm not sure whether it's a compliment or not but different than usual where people think I'm Irish. The girls in the bank were dead chuffed as Barclays had awarded them four days off. Almost a holiday. The library was closed as well and while I don't begrudge the librarians time off I did miss the library being open. I feel rather lost without it as here it's open on Sundays.

Dunham Massey

My daughter works in retail so she didn't get much time off for Christmas. Up to Christmas Eve she was selling turkeys, sprouts and lots of chocolate desserts. Two days after Christmas she went into sale so that people who had been buying presents for their loved ones were now trampling such like underfoot. I thought nobody had any money. It doesn't show. Me, I'm worried about my gas bill since the heating has been on constantly for six weeks. My first letter on coming home was from the electric people to tell me that they are putting up the bills by over 5%.  Happy New Year to you too, you greedy  bastards.

This time next year, not being able to afford heat or light, I will be sitting by a candle eating my gruel. I can see where Scrooge got it from now, so many people with their hands outstretched towards my meagre income. I won't be able to afford Christmas, so there.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

In The Bleak Mid Winter Lizzie Gill may moan

Christmas has hit the city in a big way. The university orchestra is playing In the Bleak Mid Winter. Don't they know it makes me cry?  It reminds me of being a little kid and we had the most wonderful Christmases. The Salvation Army used to come and they would play my very favourite carol and we would stand while they played in the porch at the side door on Christmas morning and when it snowed as it usually did on Christmas Eve ( I'm not exaggerating, this was the Durham fells ) I used to go outside with my little brother and sister and dance in the porchlight.
I want to be eight again when my mother made broth and we had big fires and my dad put lights all around the enormous window in the lounge and we would run down the garden to see how good the effect was and Christmas Day was a haze of presents and turkey and seeing my cousins up the dale and getting everything I wanted. I was indeed a very lucky little girl.

Santa. Only an hour from the border he plays the bagpipes for the solider's charity.My friends, Joan and John Gray,were working at the Victorian Fair up at the cathedral. They run a jewellery business, Sterling Crafts. I've known them for fifteen years, one of the kindest couples I've ever met.
The green man
The lady who runs Entropy Glass in her gorgeous hat.Little donkey, little donkey ...

When you're sixty Christmas is more a case of wondering whether you have enough champagne to see you past the films on television, all of which you have seen before, making sure the vegetarians get their nut roast, avoiding the cathedral so that I won't have a fog around me when they sing the inevitable Bleak Mid Winter carol ( last year they outdid me by having it two weeks early from a Canadian choir and slipped it in to confuse me, I just hoped the woman standing next to me thought I had a seriously bad cold ).

 My lovely kid works in retail and the last damned thing she wants to see on Christmas Day is anything which needs a pan or an oven so we go out along with her lovely man who thank God is a meat eater. She has fish, we have beef and everybody is happy. Somebody else does the washing up and hopefully we will retire to the fire in their new two hundred year old cottage and all I have to get through after that is new year.

Don't start me on about new year, open sore of the single, unfavourite time of the widowed. The people next door to me used to go away and their kids would party.

I loved Boxing Day best of all, when I was married. We would go to the seaside, take the dogs and have a picnic. It's such a long time ago now but somehow I never get used to being alone.  I miss Richard. I miss the dogs and the cats and the house in the country where we were happy and the little girl my daughter was. So I don't do In the Bleak Mid Winter, not very well that is.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Marian's Mother

The little statue in my back garden

I've had one of those weeks. It doesn't matter that when I turn on the news everything is falling apart, it's me falling apart that I care about.  When I was young, well, about thirty four or five, married with a small child and feeling like the world belonged to me I had this friend called Marian and her mother lived just up the street from her as people very often do around here and sometimes I would go with Marian to see her mother.
Marian's mother was quite old - or was she?  she seemed old to me at the time. Marian's mother never went out, hardly ever moved from her chair and sat in front of the television with the kind of devotion which I would accord a C.J.Sansom book ( have you read the latest - brilliant. Five hundred glorious pages which I woofed down as other people do expensive chocolates ). The poor man writes a book a year and I just wish he would work faster so that I could gobble up the stories about the brilliant lawyer and his sidekick, Jack. When are they going to put it on the telly??

Anyway, Marian's mother.  I thought it was pathetic, there she was probably with several years in front of her lapping up daytime television. Now as things get harder as I get older I'm beginning to understand it. I think what I will probably do is to buy lots of computer games and spend the last ten years of my life zapping people into kingdom come. In fact I might start doing it now.

An old lady in Workington died overnight this week, apparently going to her outside toilet. AN OUTSIDE TOILET  ARE THEY SURE ?  Are there still such things?  And nobody found her. She lay in the back garden and died.

 There they are on the news telling old people to stay indoors. That's probably why Marian's mother lasted so long. She held the boredom at bay with cookery programmes and those dreadful celebrities talking about themselves and their projects, gardening programmes and other dross. I love to read gardening books and cookery books. I don't garden and I don't cook, perhaps it's just me gloating inside that I don't have to do yet another bloody thing. When you live on your own you get to do everything unless you pay for somebody else to do it. Howard looks after the garden and Marks and Spencer look after the food.

This week my world is falling apart. The libraries aren't buying my books, the librarians are losing their jobs,  my kids are fighting and I'm in danger of turning into Marian's Mother.

It won't do.  I have to turn into Auntie Mabel.  I go out with a friend on Friday nights sometimes to have a meal and discuss life and like everybody else we have good times and awful times and when we are having awful times we think of Auntie Mabel. Auntie Mabel when through more bad times than anybody else I know and lived to be ninety and always looked on the bright side.

 Auntie Mabel was a vegetarian, didn't drink and was kind to everybody and  my sister says If she had to give up beef and red wine she wouldn't want to live to be ninety so there you go. Auntie Mabel was quite happy with it but for the rest of us it has to be steak and shiraz and dark chocolate and watching Laurence Fox every night this week as the coolest man on television in Lewis.
So I won't give up just yet but I might go into town and have hot chocolate and see what's on telly tonight because I have two foot of snow in my front garden. Yes, that's my car.

Friday, 26 November 2010

First snow in Durham

I love writing about winter and since we have so much of it here perhaps it's just as well. We had our first snow of this winter overnight. I like writing best in winter too, sitting over the fire while the day becomes dark outside and lately it has been dark here at three.  This is the statue of Lord Londonderry in the Market Place. It's just been moved a few feet and repaired and the market square and surrounding streets revamped. It cost 5.2 million. Some people think it's wonderful, other people think it's an abortion. This was the man who liked the idea of women and children working in mines. He does look much better with a seagull on his head though, don't you think?
These are our very own  monks, carrying Cuthbert's body. They're in Millenium Square right outside the library. There again, perhaps Palace Green would have been more appropriate, they're not even going the right way!  Very useful though for beer bottles on a Saturday night.
And the river from Framwellgate Bridge. I use this bridge very often in my stories, I have people standing disconsolate in the middle of it or crying their eyes out over lost loves. In Silver Street, my story about a nurse in the second world war Iris finds the love of her life standing here on a very wet day when everybody else has gone home.
  In the Road to Berry Edge Rob and Harry come from visiting prostitutes ( I take no responsibility for what people do in Silver Street in the stories ) and Rob remembers as they stand there how his brother drowned and he became his father's last hope. All in vain, of course. South Street, just above the north side of the bridge is where the prostitute lives that Rob falls in love with. He came from Consett, the old steel town where his father owned the works.
My characters people the small city which is probably why I love it so much or maybe it's the other way round and especially on a day like this when it is at its best.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Elizabeth Gaskell, Wife, Mother and Writer

It is no wonder that so many women have taken up writing over the centuries. It is the perfect form of work for them, you can write anywhere, at home surrounded by your hopefully increasingly dusty house, in cafes and even watching television with your children. You don't even have to write as such, you can just sit there and think about your work everywhere you go.
Heathwaite, where Elizabeth came to live with her aunt when she was a year old

I was in Knutsford at the weekend. One of the gems of Chesire and immortalised by television as being the original model for Cranford though of course the filming was elsewhere. Parts of  Knutsford have changed since Mrs Gaskell wrote about it but the two main streets, King Street and above it Princess Street remain much the same, I think and many of the buildings which she knew are still intact.
She was born Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson in 1810 in Chelsea but her mother died shortly afterwards and she went to live with her aunt, Hannah Lumb in Heathwaite, the lovely house which overlooks the heath. It may seem cruel to us now that her father sent her off to live in Chesire when she was a year old. He married again and had other children and it could be several years before Elizabeth saw him.
Dr Holland's house

She went to school in Warwickshire but it was in Chesire that she met William Gaskell who was junior minister of Cross Street Chapel in Manchester. They were married at the parish church in Knutsford and after their marriage they lived in Manchester but Elizabeth was often at Knutsford, she was very fond of her aunt and referred to her as 'my more than mother'.

Elizabeth was a Unitarian and she and her husband taught in Manchester. Her family did great charity work during the cotton famine caused by the American Civil War. Unitarianism, the religion of Elizabeth's family, was way ahead of its time, teaching tolerance towards all people no matter what their religion.  Her husband, who had his own literary career, taught the poor and held welfare committees, and many of their friends were social reformers and religious dissenters.
They had several children but Elizabeth only started to write, encouraged by her husband, after the death of her baby son.
She wrote Mary Barton which was about the poor and disadvantaged in Manchester. It was regarded as subversive by many because people assumed that the hardships the poor endured were their own fault due to their thriftlessness and vice, a view which some people still believe today. ( Ecclesiastes: There is nothing new under the sun. )
Worse was to follow.  Elizabeth wrote Ruth, a novel about an unmarried mother. I think what I like most about Gaskell's work is that she takes on subjects which other people were afraid to write of. It was said that even some of William's congregation burned the book. She was indeed a very brave woman.
The building on Princess Street supposed to have been used as Miss Matty's house in the stories.

Brook Street chapel in Knutsford where Elizabeth, her husband, William and two of their daughters are buried.

Typical Knutsford, beautiful old houses

Her best known work of course is Cranford but I prefer North and South where Margaret Hale comes north with her family and discovers what the world is like which centres around a cotton mill.
 Women are so important in her novels. Interestingly too she was fond of using dialect. If you can make dialect comprehensible to people from other places I think it can stamp your stories as products of where they came from but enable everyone to enjoy them.
Mrs Gaskell is also known for the biography which she wrote of Charlotte Bronte. Apparently she visited the house in Manchester three times and once hid behind the living room curtains because she was shy with visitors.  Mrs Gaskell wrote ghost stories. Charles Dickens helped her with these and published her work in his magazine, Household Words.
I was pleased too to note that Elizabeth Gaskell spent time in Newcastle upon Tyne with Rev. William Turner's family and in Edinburgh. Born in London she may have been but I like to claim her as a real northern writer and true northern woman.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Silver Slug

The Tyne, the Tyne, the coaly Tyne,
Queen of all the rivers.

That's what we like to think here in the north east. Of course I'm particularly keen on the Wear  because I live in Durham and I love the Tees too because I have friends there. I could go on, I'm hung up on rivers.
Last Saturday I ventured up to Newcastle to the Sage at Gateshead, to attend a session of BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival. It was a perfect day, rather like today in fact, we don't get many, we have to make the best of them and I walked through the city to the riverside.
This is my second favourite building in the whole world, after the cathedral. It sits there on the Gateshead bank of the river and has such attitude. It's so up itself you can't help but admire and inside it has concert halls and meeting rooms and cafes and bars and one of the best views, looking out over the river to Newcastle. It was thronging with people at the various goings on, there were people from Durham Photographic Society ( to which I belong, but don't tell anybody, my photographs are obviously not so hot but we go to the pub afterwards which is incentive enough for me ), a trio of women singing like a barbershop quartet, just because they wanted to in front of the cafe on the ground floor and other people just there for fun or presumably as part of the many classes and and happenings which makes the Sage such a wonderuflly vibrant place.
This of course is the famous blinking eye bridge which won many awards when it was built. It's best seen at night when it changes colour every few seconds. I timed my getting there perfectly because it was the time for tilting.
A navy training vessel going underneath. I waved at the all the cadets and they waved back.
The old Baltic flour mill beside the Sage, now an art gallery and such. The best thing about it is the building itself and the cafe of course and the cake and coffee and the lift and the views.

And this of course is the Tyne Bridge. I was born in Newcastle and I'm so stuck on the area I couldn't go and live anywhere else. Some people might say it's sad to be so tied to one area but in order to write about a place you  have to love it fiercely. In fact to write about anything you have to feel so passionately about your subject that you can't not write and that's the point really, through all this. The writing is the thing and everything else follows as long as you are faithful to your loves.
Afterwards I went with friends to La Tasca across the river and had calamari and salad and then chocolate profiteroles and lots of red wine and coffee.  Perfect!!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Writing about your Passions

My agent always tells me that I have far too many tea parties in my books. Actually I think she means that I spend huge amounts of time telling about chocolate cake and what sort of wine people are drinking and describing three course meals instead of getting on with the story. Up to a point this is true but I enjoy good food and wine and enjoy writing about them and am happy to edit some of it out if I get carried away.  Recently I have taken to reading the wonderful stories of Donna Leon and her Venetian detective and the stories are well written and well plotted but the best thing of all about them is that food and wine is described at length and is one of the most important things both about the books and about Venice.
I've been to Venice twice and if I had to live somewhere other than Durham I would choose Venice. Italians have just the right attitude to food, they eat late at night and drink good wine and are the best cooks in the world.
I have Elizabeth David's Italian Food, I bought it many years ago and it's one of the best cookery books I have ever read. I can spend a whole evening reading cookery books even though I rarely cook.
I'm the same with gardening. I read the books which Christopher Lloyd who is the Elizabeth David of the gardening world wrote and Gertrude Jeykll for the way that she turns colour into brilliance. I don't garden very much, Howard does the difficult bits and I make tea and talk about plants and it's really more of a social thing than anything else. Living on your own is okay most of the time but it's very nice to have lots of conversations on subjects you care about. I prefer other people's splendid gardens and to go to Howard and Sharon's walled garden and nursery at Whitworth Hall and see how these things are really done, like I love to go to good restaurants.
A week after my birthday - I had five weeks to celebrate being sixty and somebody suggested to me last week that when I'm seventy I should spent a whole year celebrating which sounds fine to me - they took me to the Black Bull at Frosterley in my beloved Weardale. It was cold and dark outside but in this restaurant and pub the open fires were burning.
The wine list was short and the merlot we chose was so thick it was like drinking fruit. The food was what used to be called nouvelle cuisine except that the portions were big. Decorative and wonderful to taste. Perfect. The Black Bull is run by Diane and Duncan Davis and their three children. The food is sourced locally, the beer comes from breweries at Allendale and Durham. The chef, I am told, is Mr Davis himself, a genius with food and his wife runs front of house. She's lovely. She let me go back and take photographs the day after I'd  been there for dinner.
Above the bar the pub's own peal of bells.  The floors have pieces of Frosterley marble laid in among the flags. I spend my summers in the dale and will be making many more trips the short distance to this wonderful restaurant.
Also for my birthday I went to the Fat Buddha in Durham, one of my favourite places - very often during the week I go drinking red wine in there and the food is excellent. A friend took me, last weekend, to a place called The Dudley Arms in a tiny Yorkshire village called Ingleby Greenhow. The pub is next to the butcher's shop and I call that a match made in heaven because the butcher owns the pub. The restaurant is like a huge barn and has its own gallery where people can eat. I had one of the best steaks I have ever eaten and a friend to drive me home. What more can anybody ask of a birthday?

Monday, 25 October 2010

Northern Lasses - Catherine King and Leah Fleming

Catherine King is from Rotherham. She lives mostly in Hampshire which is very posh, children spend weekends riding ponies and people own houses with thatched roofs and have thick glossy lawns in their gardens. Leah Fleming lives in an idyllic village in the Yorkshire dales, the kind of place where people have labradors in matching pairs and roses around the doors. So meeting them at The Boar's Head at Ripley seemed fitting, Ripley being one of those villages which has a castle and a deli, and hens roam the village green.
We met there for lunch last week and spent the afternoon in the pub. Catherine had only been there once before, Leah and I go back years to when we started RNA North and have had many happy days at The Boar's Head.
They are both successful writers, they both write historical novels, they both have books about to be published so there was lots to talk about.

Winter's Children is published on November 11th by AvonChristmas on a farm in the dales will never be the same again for the Snowdens after foot and mouth has destroyed their herd but the resident spirit of the house has other ideas. The coming of a child and her mother will change everything as it has done in the past.  This book is perfect for when you are sitting around the fire on a winter's night with a glass of mulled wine, listening to Sting.
This is Catherine's fifth Victorian saga set in Yorkshire and is about a foundling who does everything she can to escape her lowly life as a scullery maid only to end up in the dreaded workhouse.  The hardback is out on December 2nd and the paperback will be published on March 17th 2011 by Sphere.

And yes, the hens. We gave them apples from the back of Catherine's car. She grows them in her beautiful southern garden. It has been a very good year for apples, and for the best selling Northern Lasses.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

My Northumbrian Birthday

I got a tour of my favourite places for my birthday at the weekend. This is me on the beach at Alnmouth mid morning, drinking Moet.  The sun  shone, people exercised their dogs and my kid walked me up the sand.

We went to Barter Books in Alnwick. Everybody should go there, it's based in the old railway station, has its own private carpark on the edge of Alnwick, there are open fires, good food and thousands of secondhand books. Little trains run on the tops of the bookcases. You can take your kids and your dogs. We had coffee and biscuits over an open wood fire. There is the old buffet where they serve soup and hot food. There are lovely seats. The staff are knowledgeable and encouraging. You can stay all day if you like. It's bliss. My very favourite bookshop.

My last surprise was a visit to Alnwick Gardens where Sunday lunch had been booked in the treehouse.

Squidgy cheese hot, with salad, roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, hot chocolate brownie with ice cream. When you go to the loo you have to go up winding stairs to the tower. There is a big fire in the middle of the main room and fantastic views on all sides and the best thing of all on my birthday, the company of my lovely daughter.


Friday, 15 October 2010

Giving Talks

Houghton le Spring library, librarians and friends

Being a natural show off I love giving talks. When writers first get published people assume that they are good at this. Most writers are absolutely terrified of gettng up in public and talking to an audience and not just writers, apparently it's one of the things that bothers people most.

I was nervous at first and then one evening I decided to go for broke and talk without notes or cards and it worked much better. I made eye contact with the audience right from the beginning and they are there because they want to be there so they urge you on to do your best.

 When I first went to private school my dad decided that I ought to try and cultivate a  better way of talking, being brought up in a pit village I had a thick accent. So he decided to pay for elocution lessons at school. That brought into my life a wonderful teacher by the name of Margaret Marshall.  It was quite funny really but when I came to take the exams along with a lot of very middle class girls some of whom had been 'taught to talk proper' from birth  I got several distinctions. I think we had all imagined that I wouldn't be very good at this but then nobody had thought about my grandmother.

My grandma, Elizabeth Gill had a very clear speaking voice. Thank you again, Grandma, for giving me something so useful. I'm the woman who never needs a microphone. When I speak at a library in Durham you can hear me in Newcastle. There isn't a hall so big that I can't be heard good and loud at the back.

 My daughter is the same, she doesn't fear getting up in public because I too encouraged her to have lessons on how to do such things and more and more people are required in their jobs to get up and give presentations so I always thought it was a useful thing to learn. You can go on courses for it now. My dad had to pay for elocution lessons all the time I was at school because I enjoyed it so much and I also got good parts in the school plays. I never did lose my Tow Law accent, I'm pleased to say and I'm proud of where I come from.

Writing is one of these solitary things that it's lovely to get away from.  I really like meeting people, librarians are amongst my favourite people of all, they read the books I read and will happily spend hours discussing them, they are enthusiastic and wonderful and organised.

I used to give lots of talks at W.I.s and all kinds of groups and this year I've done several talks. I spoke at my local soroptimists dinner the other night, then yesterday I went to Houghton le Spring library. If you haven't been do go. The library is ten years old and is gorgeous!! It's very like the one in central Sunderland  ( where I spoke earlier in the year ), with lots of light, huge windows, a cafe, different rooms all over the place and the library itself is spacious and bright. The librarians of course are fantastic.

This is me, wearing my new Monsoon dress at Houghton yesterday. I had such a good time.  It's Houghton Feast where they do up the town with decorations and have all manner of events and invite lucky people like me to give talks.

I am giving talks at other libraries soon, so in case anybody is nearby and wants to go to one I'll list them. The Crook group is having a history event this autumn.

I'm at Langley Park at 2.30p.m.  on Friday October 29th
Esh Winning at 2.30p.m. on Tuesday November 2nd
Shildon at 2.30p.m. on Tuesday November 16th
Cornforth at 4p.m. on Tuesday November 23rd

Friday, 8 October 2010

Saltholme - Not Just for the Birds

I once set part of a book in Seaton Carew, the little seaside town which became a popular bathing place for the Darlington Quakers early in the nineteenth century. I sent my family - a middle aged woman, her son, lodger and two smaller children away from the pit village where they ran a pub, The Golden Lion and gave them a week on the coast. This the book that my daughter and her friends read and liked when they were teenagers because it starts when the four main characters are about thirteen. I didn't know I had written a teenage novel until then.

Yesterday I went back to Seaton Carew and what a pretty place it is with its different pastel coloured houses and hotels on the front, its green, its arcades and fish and chip restaurants. We ate at a wonderful place called  The Almighty Cod.  We had cod, chips, mushy peas, white bread and butter and a big pot of tea for £4.99 each and the fish was as fresh as you would expect it to be, wonderfully flaky, the chips were thick and well cooked, the tea was strong - who could resist the smell of fish and chips freshly made?

And then we went to Saltholme Wildlife reserve and discovery park and I am going to go many many times, it is the perfect place to write. It's run by the  RSPB and their staff and volunteers.  There is a big play ground for children, a cafe for those who have been out in the fresh air. All the windows are huge and look out over the lakes and the hides, the land is flat, there are wonderful walks laid out to the hides and around the lakes. It exudes a feeling of complete calm. Kate Humble, RSPB President, officially opened Saltholme in March 2009.

Above,the famous transporter bridge from one of the hides.
You get into Saltholme free if you arrive on foot or by bicycle. If you come by car it's only £3 and members get in free.
Lapwings in flight.

Designed to resemble a kingfisher this is the main building at Saltholme with its glorious views.

People sitting upstairs outside. It was the perfect day, warmer than most of the summer has been, with barely a breeze.  We spoke to two volunteers who had been in a hide all day, I can't think of a better way to spend time, with a flask and a sarnie, and one of those big binocular type telescopes or whatever they are. One gentleman let me look through and see a redshank, I was really pleased! There were coots and ducks and we could see way over flocks of noisy geese. It's a paradise on earth for birds and other wildlife and for people too.

The shop where you can buy everything you need for the birds in your garden and a lot more besides!