Counting miracles

Appreciation can change a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary;  so said Margaret Cousins, activist and freedom fighter.

We need to make time to thank the people who make a difference in our lives. Giving thanks to others for their kindness and consideration is also a major key to our own happiness.  It works both ways.

Appreciation and giving thanks go much deeper than that though.  Gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions that we can regularly practise and it is relevant to all aspects of life.   Being grateful for the simple things is a good place to start: our health, our family, our food and so on.  For each one of us it will be different things that we are grateful for. Actively and consciously giving thanks for the important things and the small things in our lives naturally leads us into a positive state of mind.  It’s a case of counting one’s blessings, as opposed to focusing on what we think is missing.

Yesterday my sister in law and her husband dropped by and they came bearing gifts – two jars of homemade chunky orange marmalade and a handmade cotton woodworking apron for Mr B to wear in the workshop.   What a marvellous surprise.  And so thoughtful.  This lovely couple retired from work last year and they have taken up new interests and hobbies, and travelled quite a bit too.  They are enjoying and making the most of the extra time and freedom that retirement has given them, after working long and hard for many years.  And they are grateful for the good stuff.

So today I want to say thank you for the delicious marmalade that you spent the time making for us, and thank you for the cotton apron you sewed, which will save sweaters and jeans from future ruin no doubt.

Today, right now, I am grateful that I can work from home doing something I love; to be sitting at my desk looking out over green fields whilst happily munching on toast and orange marmalade, and sipping licorice tea from a china cup and saucer.

I give thanks for the peace and quiet of this place I live in, and for the beauty and endless miracles of the natural world around me, and for the clean air I breathe.

Good old Mr Einstein had it about right I reckon when he said – “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Do you count miracles?

Toast and Homemade Orange Marmalade
Toast and Homemade Orange Marmalade
Licorice tea
Licorice tea



Goodnight Peeka

Saturday saw the untimely demise of Peeka, a friendly brown hen who was given to our granddaughter as a birthday gift on her second birthday.  Peeka was an education for a small child on how to look after a living creature and to understand where her favourite food, eggs, came from.

We do have other hens; our little one will not be without free range eggs for her breakfast.  But we still have some explaining to do.

Gramps’ idea was to go buy another brown hen and quickly.  Mummy thought we could maybe say she’s flown away.  Granna thinks we should be honest and take the opportunity that this poor dead hen presents us with, which is a chance to talk about death in a matter of fact way using appropriate language for a 4-year old.

Three weeks ago I took our little lady to a wooden play park in a small village nearby, which is right next to the village church.  Once she had exhausted the need to climb and swing, we headed over to the church for a look inside.  Sadly, the door was locked; a sign of the times.  Instead we wandered around the churchyard and my granddaughter asked lots of questions about the headstones, and what the wording on them said.  All of this culminated in us having a conversation about the people these headstones were for, and what might have happened to them.  And we talked about history as some of the dates on them were from two and three centuries ago.  I stopped short of explaining that the actual bodies were buried there.

In the car on the way home I had more questions to answer as I had expected.  She asked how old we have to be to die.  And what happens to us?  Where do we go?  I replied as honestly as I could without breaking her heart or scaring the living daylights out of her.  I was also conscious of the fact that I was treading on territory that her own mother, my daughter, might approach completely differently.

So, this child has a little bit of knowledge about death already, although none of it will make much sense until she loses someone or something close to her that she really cares about.  Like Peeka.

I hold the view that it would be better for her to cut her teeth on the sadness and grief of losing a chicken, and getting to grips with the reality of death at this point, and understanding that a hen does not live as long as a human being anyway, rather than finding herself in completely unknown and terrifying human death territory in the future.

And that’s not to say that Peeka is just a “mere” chicken, to be dismissed without care.  This little brown hen holds a very special place in our granddaughter’s heart.  We will have to tread carefully whichever way it’s dealt with.  It’s a tough one.

I would welcome readers’ thoughts on this issue.

Brown Hens
Brown Hens



I was in the process of writing a post in tribute to Prince and the joy and fun and dance opportunities his music has given to me and my family over many years when this post alert popped into my inbox. It’s a post my daughter has written for her blog, broganjane, and her words say it just perfectly. So here it is –


Not that long ago David Bowie died and my boyfriend was really, truly sad for about three days. Certain songs on the radio would make him cry and he was quieter than normal. He is ordinarily one of the cheeriest people I know. I knew he was big David Bowie fan but I didn’t really understand the blues that consumed him.

However, this evening over dinner I heard on the radio that Prince died today. Before I could really think about it, my chin was wibbling and I cried. I’m now listening to some of my favourite Prince songs and can’t help but continue to cry.

Although, of course, I’m sad for the loss of his musical skills but that’s not why I’m crying (no-one needs another person lobbing words like ‘genius’ and ‘legend’ around).

I’m crying because the death of Prince represents the final nail in the coffin of…

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The memory bank

This last weekend involved a birthday celebration with most of the family home.  We had a wonderful time; I appreciate these get togethers even though they take a bit of organising to fit into everyone’s diary.

Our younger daughter has an incredibly busy life, and this time she had to scoot off on Sunday, catching a train up to Leeds for a bridesmaid dress fitting before taking the evening train back down to London.

Whilst driving to the birthday boy’s chosen restaurant on Saturday evening, we saw that there was a 10k run scheduled for Sunday which involved numerous road closures in our small capital, Lincoln. So, Sunday lunchtime found me speeding along nicely with zero hitches bar a few “Sunday drivers” on the country roads towards Newark instead of Lincoln.

Would you believe it?  Three miles from Newark station we ground to a halt, behind queues of traffic, with no alternative route possible.  With 20 minutes to spare we prayed a little.  And swore a lot.

We made it to the station just in time for her to dive in and retrieve her pre-paid tickets from the machine, whilst I hauled the backpack from the car boot.  Thankfully, the train left from platform 1.  It was a close call.

I drove away from the station feeling a bit stressed, very relieved, and also a little sad that my daughter had gone.  And so quickly.  Coffee was obviously needed.

Once seated by the river with a drink in the warm spring sunshine I soon recovered.  And found myself considering how industry past and present had artfully melded with new residential developments all along this picturesque riverside.  The need to explore kicked in.  Armed with my camera, I spent the entire afternoon outdoors.  I walked for miles, took far too many photos, dangled my legs off wharves trying to get the best shot, and almost toppled into the chilly river Trent a time or two.  Newark has a lot to offer visitors; it’s one of my favourite towns with a wealth of history to discover and enjoy.

It was exactly what I needed to round off the weekend on a high.  The fresh air and sunshine worked wonders, and I arrived home just in time for tea, with more precious weekend memories banked.

All photographs © Suzy Barker 2016 and they may not be used elsewhere

A magical carpet

A Magical Woodland Carpet of Anemones
A Magical Woodland Carpet of Anemones

The woodland floor today was a beautiful, magical carpet of delicate wood anemones.  After several days of extremely heavy rain I doubted if these incredible little spring flowers had been brave enough to poke their heads up. They did not disappoint.  The question was – where to tread?

All photographs © Suzy Barker 2016 and they may not be used elsewhere

God bothering alternatives

Churches make fantastic spaces for so much more than simply God bothering.

And by allowing alternative uses for some of these fabulous old buildings, local councils can help to ensure that they remain “lived in” and to some extent “looked after”.

Holy Trinity Church in Horncastle was made redundant on 19-Oct-1979 and became an Arts and Community Centre on 21-Dec-1988.  This retired church on East Street is now home to the Trinity Antiques Centre.  Anyone visiting this small Lincolnshire market town for the first time cannot fail to notice the plethora of antique shops.  In fact, this is what Horncastle is most famous for in the 21st century – it has welcomed television shows such as the BBC’s Bargain Hunt on more than one occasion.

The town has Roman origins and you can still see some of the remaining walls.  It also has a famous character or two on its historic bragging list.

It is a sense of godly history that makes it feel a little odd to be in a church perusing English bone china tea sets and cut glassware all laid out with price tags, just asking to be bought and given a new home.  It goes against the grain somehow.  There’s a definite decibel awareness too; fellow visitors speaking almost in whispers, and treading reverently on the ancient stone flags, as if He might still be in residence.

It makes for a peaceful experience I have to say, a welcome break from the constant traffic buzzing by outside on its way to the east coast seaside resorts on a Friday afternoon.  Retail clearly does work as an option for redundant town churches, as proved here.

My particular concern though is regarding the demise of the scores of small, country churches in our villages and hamlets, where there is no call for retail businesses to exist.  And not every village has a famous son or daughter to fall back on in hard times.  Sadly, because of planning rules, the majority of these buildings cannot currently be purchased and made into dwellings.  I’d like to see local councils changing their tune on planning permission and re-assessing how these ancient buildings can be put to alternative good use as homes, offices, galleries and small rural businesses.  Surely “lived in” has to be a better description than “lost” for our rural historic churches?



All photographs © Suzy Barker 2016 and they may not be used elsewhere

That crazy April

Four seasons in four hours.  We were ripping our coats off one minute as the spring sunshine burned our backs, and hastily zipping them on again the next minute, and hiding behind our hoods when the horizontal sleet stung our faces and soaked our legs.  To say the sky lurched dangerously from traumatic to serene and back again is an understatement.  That crazy month called April – the one of a typical English spring, cruelly teased and caught us out today.

Paddling through muddy bogs and trekking across green fields and rambling uphill through ancient fragrant woodland provided the best of fresh, clean air that it’s possible to breathe in our country.  My lungs burned with the steep climbs; muscles worked hard.  It took us several hours to complete the walk as per the map, and the best thing about walking in the countryside is what you see.

It was when we stopped off for a quick swig from our water bottles that I spied what I initially thought was twinkling sky through the trees.  It turned out to be a lake; a stretch of sparkling water that was once used for fishing and boating but which seems to have since been abandoned to nature.  The short jetty has collapsed.  The ducks were more than slightly alarmed when I put in an unexpected appearance.  It was a lovely find.

Today we also came across the remains of old mining works.  In the Lincolnshire Wolds.  Who’d have thought it?  We know that the landscape of the Wolds has been shaped a great deal by industry. The obvious one is farming but the not so obvious activity is ironstone mining.  It is hard to believe when looking out over the tranquil landscape of Nettleton and Claxby that it was once a very different scene, a noisy and bleak setting where up to 180 people worked to mine the ironstone of the land.

Underground ironstone mining was part of the life of Claxby village from 1868 to 1885. Nearby Nettleton Iron Mine was first opened around 1928 by Mid Lincolnshire Ironstone Co which later became John Lysaghts and finally British Steel Corporation.  It ran until 1968.

Originally horses were used for haulage with locos introduced in the 1930’s.  Tubs of ore were tipped from the 2’ 6” system into buckets which were then conveyed by aerial ropeways to LNER railway sidings at Holton le Moor.  In turn the ropeway was replaced by a lorry road which still exists today.  There are remains of several adits – an adit is “an entrance to an underground mine which is horizontal or nearly horizontal, by which the mine can be entered, drained of water, ventilated, and minerals extracted at the lowest convenient level”. There are remains of these at the top mine and the later bottom mines as well as workshops, an office which has since been turned into a dwelling, and nearby stables.  Much of the top end stands on what is now private property.  Adit No 5 collapsed apparently, burying a loco and some tubs which still remain buried there.  Images of the remains of the mine are online here –

Once back down on ground level in Nettleton we enjoyed a welcome late lunch at Dunn’s Tearooms.  Leaving our muddy boots at the door, it was a real treat to patter about in our socks on the cool spotlessly clean tiles and rest our weary feet for a while.  Then it was just a short trot back to the Georgian town of Caistor to where we had left our cars.  We’ve promised to repeat this hike in the summer in tee shirts, with a picnic and the full quota of seven of us.  Roll on July and more dependable summer time weather – wishful thinking?

All photographs © Suzy Barker 2016 and they may not be used elsewhere