Guest Post #1 – Hello Home…

Last week I posted about how it felt to be entering yet another strict lockdown here in the UK due to Covid 19 infections soaring again. It was a post addressed to my home…the place that is sheltering us and keeping us safe. It got me thinking, how are other people coping in their homes? All our homes are so very different – how does it feel for other people to be locked in again? So, I reached out and I’m happy to report I’ve got a wonderful selection of guest posts lined up for the coming weeks on the theme ‘Hello Home…’. For the first post please welcome author R. V Biggs. You can find out more about him and his books at the end of the post!

Home.

‘Home… home again.

I like to be here when I can.

When I come home cold and tired,

I love to warm my bones beside the fire.’

Wonderful song lyrics that I’ve remembered for almost 50 years and taken from the album ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd.

But at some point during autumn, maybe into November, a switch usually turns on inside my head while I’m glaring at tail lights during the daily commute home along the M6. The switch activates the memory of these song lyrics and draws me into the warm embrace of what home means, especially when we’re heading for the dark months.

That warm embrace offers up a myriad of recollections all listed under the heading of Nostalgia and not just related to the winter months when, for the most part, we humans migrate indoors.

As the years have passed, I’ve realised that Nostalgia isn’t just a yearning for years gone by. It can invoke memories in the recent past, and I think lockdown has had its effect on this notion as well.

My commute came to a halt in March 2020, much like, I imagine, many others, though I deem myself one of the lucky ones who can work quite effectively from home. So now my house has become my sanctuary, since I’m shielding, a place where I’ve been able to shut out the world to keep safe.

But the way I feel about my home has changed over the last twelve months. It has taken on a more poignant meaning after a three week stay in hospital when the medical experts tried to figure out what was wrong. Mercifully they did and returning home made me realise how I long for and value my home when I’m away.

For almost a year now I’ve worked from home, which suits me for the main reason that I don’t have to commute… the single most exhausting part of the working day. It means I’m here to have breakfast with my wife, and elevenses, lunch and dinner, the latter without being almost too tired to eat. There’s a comfort in knowing I can share more of my day with her and Mags, our Labrador rescue.

As I look around, I see the material things that make up our home. The furniture, the photographs, prints on the wall, the candles, the DVDs, my wife’s knitting basket. Then outside the trees we have planted, the roses, the summer bedding, the hard landscaping, the vegetable garden, the bird feeders. The list goes on.

But each of these things invokes a shared memory. The memory of when and where we bought ‘x’, or planted ‘y’. When this or that photo was taken and what we were doing at the time.

Imagine if you stood in each room of your home in turn, picked out an object and pondered when you bought it, from where, and what you were doing at the time, how far down memory lane could you go? What connections would you make?

Here’s an example. On the bistro table in the photograph above, there are cups and saucers my wife and I purchased from a charity shop in Tywyn, near Aberdovey. At the time we were having a short break in October 2019 for our wedding anniversary. I use one of this set each day for coffee while I’m working, and it reminds me of our rediscovery of the Cardigan Bay coastline of Wales.

During the year we met, we took a short break in Wales and fell in love with the place and each other. For years we holidayed there in the Autumn before discovering the vastness of Scotland after which we only had days out in Wales. But the return was an eye opener, since we’d all but forgotten its beauty. Now when I look at these cups and saucers, I remember that holiday in 2019, I remember the days out over the years, the seafront at Criccieth, Cadwalladers ice cream, the long beach at Harlech, Fish and Chips from Barmouth… catching the sunset before the long drive home. And all this from an object that sits in a cupboard in our kitchen.

Maybe these are the things that really define our homes so that when we return we are surrounded by the memories we’ve made.

I mentioned lockdown above. Well, below is a picture of homemade jam. The fruit was partially foraged locally by my wife during lockdown on daily dog walks, and from Cumbria during an early autumn holiday of this year before the world closed in once more.

Everything around me has a link to a memory somewhere in the near or distant past, and for me each of these memories relates to and brings me back home.

But if I were to be honest, home has two meanings for me. The first is that which we all recognise from the word… the place where we live. But for me, the other meaning is my wife. She is the reason I have a home, the reason I have so many memories, so many objects around me that link to my past. In the words of Roger Waters, (sorry, Pink Floyd once again but more recently than 1973), ‘Everybody’s got someone they call home.’

I think home must mean more to me than I sometimes realise, which is why I chose to weave themes of family and home into my writing. Not a decision I sat and thought about… it just developed that way, as you can see in this extract from Reunion, the second in my short series of psychological mysteries.

Sarah’s need for the sanctuary of family was her greatest strength and her greatest weakness. What was family, she thought, if not a place to belong? Family was everything. It was a warm blanket… an embrace… a safe place to hide when the world threatened. A refuge where the door was always open, and a friendly face welcomed. Her need was deep-rooted, which explained the intensity of her grief after losing both of her parents.

With thoughts of family, she recalled the feeling she’d had when entering the building over half an hour ago. But the feeling of home that touched her back then, was little to do with the carpeted entrance, the heavy curtains and fresh flowers. Instead, it was the presence that called to her… a manifestation which sent forth warm tendrils of love that spread outwards from this quiet room overlooking the sea.

So I guess ever more so during these times of lockdown, home is not only where the heart is, it’s where memories lie, where our spirit settles, where our souls are at peace.

Thank you so much to Rob for this wonderfully personal piece. If you would like to find out more about him and his work his bio and links are below! We will have a new ‘Hello Home…’ piece mid-week!

R V Biggs lives in a small ex-mining village near Wolverhampton, England, with his wife Julie, and Mags the black lab. He has four grown up children and six grandchildren.

Walking with the dog is a favourite pastime and much of the story line for his first novel was developed during these lengthy outings.

Robert worked for 35 years in telecommunications but changed career paths to a managerial supporting role within a local Mental Health National Health Service trust. It was during the period between these roles that the concept for Song of the Robin was born.

Robert is a firm believer that destiny and co-incidence exist hand in hand and this conviction extends to his writing. He has a passion for holistic well-being and after first-hand experience of the potential healing powers of Reiki, a form of energy therapy, took a Reiki level 1 training course to heighten his spiritual awareness. Robert’s experiences in these areas helped conceive the ideas that led to Song of the Robin and its sequel Reunion, novels with central themes of fate, love and the strength of family. His writing is not fantasy but is set in modern times involving real people living real lives.

Amazon :- Tinyurl.com/yavoqlbx
My website:- rvbiggs.com

Guest Post #4 Pandemic Pets – How Are Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Welcome to another Pandemic Pets feature! Each week I will be welcoming a guest to the blog to tell us how the furry friends in their life have made getting through the Covid 19 pandemic that much easier. Please welcome YA author KM. Allan who tells us how her new kitten Dash helped fill the hole left by her previous writing buddy, Slinky.

How Having A Pet During The Pandemic Made Things Joyful

When lockdown began in Australia during March, I’d had my new kitten Dash for only a few weeks. He wasn’t a lockdown pet, but a cat I’d been waiting to get for a few months, having lost my last cat, Slinky, to cancer 2 years prior. I’d had her for 15 years and was looking forward to having another furry companion and a new writing buddy.

Slinky – writing buddy

That first lockdown lasted from March until June. Then we had a second lockdown in July that’s still ongoing, although the harshest of restrictions eased last month. Having spent 7 months of the year in lockdown—mostly at home for 23 hours a day—you get to know a kitten pretty well.

While Dash spends a good amount of time sleeping, he’s also playful. Sometimes that playfulness happens at 3am and I wake to find him trying to steal my pillow, but it has made lockdown more bearable.

I tried to keep a routine during this time and stick to writing with the #6amAusWriters on Twitter, and this became part of Dash’s routine too. He’d get up with me and sit near the desk, often stealing my chair (until I got him his own) and would keep me company on cold winter mornings. It even got to the point where he’d wake me if I didn’t get up when my alarm went off (yes, really. And his idea of an alarm is biting me!)

Dash – writing buddy

While I didn’t get a pet to help me through lockdown, I wonder what it would have been like without one. I probably would have checked the news more often, letting the sadness of the world get to me more than it did. I wouldn’t have taken breaks through the day to throw soft balls around and marvel at how high a kitten can jump, and I wouldn’t have discovered how much Ragdoll cats are like dogs and will play fetch with you.

I would have known what it was like to pass the Groundhog Day sameness of lockdown by doing a puzzle without a cat stealing the pieces, but I wouldn’t have arranged boxes from online orders into cat tunnels or upgraded to a cat play system. I got to do those things during a time when we’ve all done things we probably thought we wouldn’t.

Dash – box tunnels

It was, and still is, a hard year to cope with, and I’m glad that I had a pet to help me through it.

Dash wasn’t just there on the days when all the creativity I could muster was to set Netflix to binge. He was also there when I achieved milestones like publishing my first two books.

In a year when being a debut author meant missing out on bookstore events, in-person launches, and celebrations in restaurants with family and friends, having a cat who was just as excited as me to open a box of my published books was fun. Okay, so for him, it might have been about a new box and not the books, but I’ll always smile when I see the picture of Dash nosing his way into the carton.

An event that didn’t pan out like I thought it would because of 2020 was still joyful, and it and many more events throughout year were, simply because I had a pet to share them with during the pandemic.

Thank you so much to Kate for joining us on The Glorious Outsiders and introducing us to the gorgeous Dash! It sounds like having him around really helped the strict lockdowns become more bearable. If you would like to know more about KM Allan and her books her links are below! And if you would like to write a personal piece, story or poem on the Pandemic Pets theme please get in touch!

K.M. Allan is an identical twin, but not the evil one. She started her career penning beauty articles for a hairstyling website and now powers herself with chocolate and green tea while she writes novels and blogs about writing.

When she’s not creating YA stories full of hidden secrets, nightmares, and powerful magic, she likes to read, binge-watch too much TV, spend time with family, and take more photos than she will ever humanly need.

Visit her website, http://www.kmallan.com, to discover the mysteries of the universe. Or at the very least, some good writing tips.

Guest Post #3 – Pandemic Pets – How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Welcome to another Pandemic Pets feature! Each week I will be welcoming a guest to the blog to tell us how the furry friends in their life have made getting through the Covid 19 pandemic that much easier. Please welcome author Val Portelli who has a fascinating tale to tell about some unusual lockdown visitors!

I love animals, except meeces, I hate meeces. I’m not sure why they make me neurotic; they’re tiny, supposedly more scared of me than I am of them, and it’s not as if they can harm me. Although I’d be worried if I came face to face with a charging lion, at least that would be logical. My first lockdown visitor was a mouse. My personal supply of cheese and chocolate diminished rapidly in an effort to tempt him into oblivion, but he was a clever-clogs and managed to avoid or jump over traps and sticky things.

It was as well we were not allowed visitors as they would have had hysterics at the sight of me banging on the kitchen door before opening it, and yelling, ‘I’m coming mouse, hide, I don’t want to see you. Alright?’

Sometimes he listened, sometimes I didn’t bang loud enough and saw him scuttling into a corner, while I shook in fright. With the aid of my household cavalry, I plucked up courage to re-enter the kitchen, but even when they saw him scuttle off, there was no way he could have squeezed into the tiny gap between the floor and the cupboard under the sink. Where had he gone? Was it in fact a ghost mouse come to haunt me?

I’ve always loved dogs and when I was growing up, they were part of the family. It didn’t seem fair to have one when I first bought my own property, and was out at work all day, but fate intervened. A casual visit to some friends with my fiancé resulted in us coming home with a bundle of mischief I named Pacer, after the character in one of my favourite Elvis films. Our friends had holiday-sat a Labrador who had got frivolous with their Alsatian and somehow a puppy ended up coming home with us. We had nothing ready for the new addition but for the next seventeen years Pacer was part of our household.

‘No more dogs,’ I said, when he went over the rainbow bridge. ‘Holiday arrangements are impossible, they want walkies even if it’s snowing on Christmas day, the house is always a mess and losing them breaks your heart.’

Six weeks later Mij, a staff mongrel, took up residence and was the boss for another sixteen years. When he joined Pacer, I realised that apart from a few weeks, the house had never been without a canine presence, and I had no-one to blame if it was untidy.

Next to appear on the scene was ‘Cheeky.’ This was a fox who appeared in my garden one day, and decided I was a soft touch. Over time he realised the chairs in the conservatory were quite comfortable, and they still bear the claw marks from where he wriggled down for a snooze. He would eat from my hand, and wander about as if he owned the place. Sometimes when I was engrossed in writing, I would look up and find him next to my desk in the office, but I’m not sure how impressed he was when my first book was published.

He was followed by Chico and Rosie, who visited regularly for a few years. Chico was the larger and more confident of the two, but woe betide him if he tried to snatch all the goodies. Rosie would give him a tongue lashing and put him firmly in his place. I was sad when I returned from a few week’s holiday and they didn’t appear. I hope they had found alternative lodgings, but as by then they were quite elderly perhaps they had gone to join their predecessors. For a while there were no animals around as restricted mobility meant I was unable to have more dogs who needed exercise, and the house felt empty.

Around the time the virus hit, I noticed a new fox in the garden who ran off as soon as I appeared. A box of cheapo chicken wings went on the shopping list, and Spiro became a regular visitor. What was surprising was his size seemed to alter slightly, but that might have been because of the dark evenings and his fur being flattened by the rain. It took a while to build up his confidence, but gradually, instead of leaping the fence as soon as I appeared, he would sit and wait for me.

The mystery was solved when he came for dinner late one afternoon while it was still light, and through the trees I noticed another face watching. There were two of them! No, actually three! Spiro was very slightly larger, but the twins, Lucy and Luca were identical. I now had to buy giant sized packs of chicken, to feed the growing family. Although I wasn’t responsible for the great toilet roll shortage of 2020, a lack of chicken wings in the shops might have been down to them. Lucy was the most nervous of the three, and it became a game to ensure they all had their share. As the most confident, Spiro would grab one piece, then sprint back for the two others before she got a look-in. Luca would often take one off him, leaving Lucy with nothing.

I wonder if the neighbours thought I had totally lost the plot through Lockdown if they heard me calling ‘Come on, quick. Before the others get back. I’m not going to hurt you, but if you don’t learn to trust me, you’re going to starve,’ especially as it looked as if I was talking to the tree.

Although I live fairly close to the city of London, it made me appreciate the joys of having a garden. The menagerie currently comprises three foxes, one occasional squirrel, the odd jackdaw, a pair of magpies, and various roaming neighbourhood cats. I seem to have taken on the role of referee, often having to break up fights by clapping my hands at 3 o’clock in the morning, and threatening them if they don’t quieten down. Like stroppy teenagers, they’ve also learnt to answer back. I’m not expert in speaking fox, and hope they are saying ‘Thank you,’ but I have a sneaking suspicion when they stand and bark it me, it’s actually ‘We’re hungry. What kept you?’

With love from the crazy lockdown fox lady.

© Val Portelli November 2020

A huge thank you to Val for this gorgeous piece and beautiful photos of the foxes. My sister was also visited by an urban fox during lockdown, one that has become so friendly it enters their house to take food. I’m trying to persuade her to write about it for my blog! If you are interested in finding out more about Val and her books her links are below. If you would like to write a personal piece, story or poem on the subject of Pandemic Pets then please get in touch!

Val’s Amazon page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Val-Portelli/e/B08272K1R4?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1607110915&sr=8-1

Guest Post #2 Pandemic Pets – How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Hello and welcome to another guest post in my Pandemic Pets feature. Each week I will be welcoming a guest on to The Glorious Outsiders to talk about their pet and how the experience of owning one helped them through the Covid 19 pandemic. For our second post, please welcome Simon Finnis to the blog. Simon is a regular writer at my adult writing group and a fantastic poet and short story writer. Here he talks about how walking his Labrador Harvey made lockdown more bearable.

Pandemic Pet

If we had not fully appreciated the value of a dog as a companion, a source of therapy and love, a force of sanity and comfort in a seemingly crazy world, we certainly do now. Months of vacillating uncertainty as the pandemic raged across communities and nations. The agony of personal doubt and tiptoeing around the edges of pits of despair as the supposed certainties of a previous pre-Covid life are thrown into turmoil. Our Labrador-retriever’s contribution to the year 2020 has been enormous!

My wife and I have had plenty of time and opportunity to better acquaint ourselves with our beloved four-legged friend. His energetic and loving welcome at the start of each morning injected a greater sense of purpose and meaning into our days as a new routine began to take shape. How were our days going to work out? All at once, walking the dog would take on a new enhanced status. Something to cherish.

At a time when it was easy to feel so negative about the world, here was a reason to feel privileged. We had an even stronger motivation to go out and explore our beautiful and varied surroundings during lockdown. Suddenly we found new places to walk close to home. It became possible to relate to the world more from an animal’s perspective, to take time and have a more sensual and engaged relationship with both nature and our built environment. There was certainly less need to rush about crazily as had so often been the case in the past, constantly being driven by the clock; less stressing about work, traffic, shopping or meeting up with friends in time.

There is something infectious about the undimmed enthusiasm of a furry, four-legged companion. Whether at home or outdoors, their curiosity and playful nature has become the perfect antidote to a seemingly grim reality of coronavirus being drip-fed through the media over the last few months. One upside to all the turmoil was a now daily opportunity to escape from all the noise and overwhelming busyness that had hitherto been filling our lives. It was time to see the world from a new perspective, to turn down the volume, adapt to a new rhythm and value each day. I believe that there is much that pets can teach us as humans. If anything, the pandemic has offered the space to develop a greater bond with our dog, fully sensing all the light and beauty it brings into our lives.

Thank you so much to Simon for joining us today! It was lovely to hear how the family dog made lockdown so much more bearable. If you would like to tell us about your pet and how they’ve helped you through the pandemic, then please get in touch! Stories and poems are also welcome!