Dear Mrs Bird

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Author AJ Pearce might have inadvertently invited the audience of her talk at Hungerford Town Hall to be extras when the time comes for her novel to be made into a television series.

And that wasn’t the only bit of good news for the mostly female audience that gathered for her chat with Hungerford Bookshop owner Emma Milne-White about her first novel Dear Mrs Bird. Fans of the book will be delighted to hear that a sequel is on its way.

The original book was inspired when AJ Pearce started collecting wartime magazines and found herself compelled by the advice columns. Letters from the era give an incredible insight into the worries faced by the women on the home front, ranging from queries on rations to terrible wartime losses of loved ones.

Not only that, but they reflect the remarkable Blitz spirit of the times – there’s no moaning or self-pity, but a determination to Get On With It.

Dear Mrs Bird embodies this with a story about a young would-be war journalist Emmeline Lake who accidentally lands a job on an ailing women’s magazine. Rather than writing about political intrigue or the war cabinet, she finds herself weeding out any ‘Unpleasantness’ among the letters to the magazine’s resident agony aunt Mrs Bird. Unable to turn her back on the pleas for help, she decides to secretly write back.

The book is so upbeat and positive that it was interesting to hear how true-to-life it was thanks to the author’s research. Thanks to interviewer Emma’s enthusiasm for the subject, the audience heard about the writing and research process which included conversations with real women who had served in the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) and the collection of wartime photo albums that the author found in eBay and junk shops. Unloved photos were brought back to life as the inspiration for the characters, including Mrs Bird who was a particular source of interest from the audience.

This prompted Pearce to read out a real letter from an advice column from 1903 –  a beautiful, earnest letter written by a 10-year-old which was met with a strange and heartless response from an Edwardian agony aunt.

This was a lovely talk on the power of positivity and the reality of living through a world war, but most importantly, to the power of friendship.

(appeared first in the NWN)

West Berks Athena in July

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July’s Athena Network meetings include a talk on how to work with different people and also how to make an impact with your image.

The Thatcham meeting takes place on Tuesday 17th July at the Regency Park Hotel where Tamsin Regnes a MBTI® Certified Practitioner will be demonstrating how differences in people’s preferences for information and decision making can present challenges when working with others. Attendees will have a better appreciation of the behavioural cues of others, enabling them to adapt and reduce frustration.

The Newbury Central meeting takes place on Wednesday, 18th July at Arigato where Lara Lauder, Image and Impact Consultant, will be giving her top tips on “How to be Remembered for the Right Reasons”. Visitors will learn how to ensure they can create that all important first impression and achieve more in business as a result.

Debbie Miles, Regional Director for The Athena Network in West Berkshire, said “We pride ourselves on the quality and relevance of the training that we offer in each of our meetings.  Not only do our members share their professional expertise, but each meeting we allocate some time to honing our networking skills. “

All meetings take place between 12pm and 2pm and visitors are always welcome.

June – reading, watching, listening to…

Well July is here, the outdoor pool is still not open and the beautiful weather continues.  So despite lido road trips and work (that old chestnut), what were we reading, watching and listening to?

Reading:  First up was The year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell, which was a guide to living in the world’s happiest country. She gives up her frenetic life in London and moves to rural Jutland and explores what life is like in Denmark, interviewing various people and asking them to rank their lives and happiness out of ten. Imagine the kind of marks that people in this country would give themselves. In Denmark, no one seems to score themselves lower than an ‘eight’.  From equality, to work-life balance, it’s probably what the world would be like if I were in charge.


I also read Dear Mrs Bird which is not normally the kind of book I would pick up, but the author gave a talk in town an event last week, (keep an eye out in the NWN for my review!)

This is a positive and uplifting book about the greatest generation -those who lived, uncomplainingly, through the war, and a young life set against the backdrop of bomb hit London. Emmy Lake is a would-be war journalist who accidentally gets a job working for a formidable agony aunt and ends up replying to some of the people seeking advice. It’s a lovely read and I hear there’s a sequel coming!



The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!  Series four has just appeared on Netflix, so I’ve been rewatching the first three series. Everything I’m reading and watching at the moment seems to be about people with wide-eyed enthusiasm – obviously I must be seeking some positivity at a time when the world seems to have gone quite mad!  I got hooked on Kimmy after the end of 30 Rock which is one of my favourite comedies of all time. I quite often get compared to Liz Lemon (not sure if it’s the glasses or because I quite often have lettuce in my hair), so when that ended, I sought out more of Tina Fey’s work and found Kimmy. It didn’t originally sound like the realms of comedy; “Oh it’s about a woman who is forced to live in a nuclear bunker for 15 years and then after being rescued, has to adapt to modern life”, but it’s an hilarious and absurd comedy about surviving, friendship, being a good person and living with someone called Titus Andromedon……

Listening to:

Holy Moly and the Crackers! They’re appearing at a few festivals that I’m going to this year, plus appearing at Ace Space in Newbury in October.

What else

I’m planning a Twitter hour in September for small businesses! Get involved at @wberkshour

Travelling by Tuba II The Sequel


Even before our journey through two millennia of musical time travel, the younger members of the audience were invited onstage to get involved and become part of the show.

The Travelling by Tuba pair; Chris Cranham on tuba and Stewart Death on piano, put on a hugely interactive and energetic performance including everything from classical to jazz. Our musical voyage explored almost every musical genre, starting with Fanfare for the Common Man, the Girl from Ipanema and the Entertainer and finishing up with Star Wars.

The audience was enthralled by the fun facts and the snippets of history, accompanied by great props. We all learned new things about a range of instruments up to 2,000 years old – the snail-like Roman Cornu which centurions took into battle with them and the wonderfully ornate Chinese dragon trumpet.  One of the highlights of the show was watching a young child of no more than three managing to get a great sound out of the alpine horn.

There were some stand out performances from these two virtuoso musicians. The Flight of the Bumblebee on the tuba will stay with me forever – all 1121 notes of it, as well as the sight of Cranham dancing both the CanCan and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy while playing them on the tuba.

The music was interspersed with plenty of opportunities for the children in the audience to get on stage and really get some hands-on experience, including a child who was invited to actually get inside the tuba. Adults too got up close to the action as the pair frequently wandered around the auditorium playing their instruments up close.

There were at least two three tuba players in the room during the performance and thanks to the enthusiasm circulating in the air during this hour-long show, there are sure to be more soon.




Ping Pong

Most times we go shopping, we do not find that an entire unit in the Kennet Centre has been devoted to the art of ping pong!


Three tables, complete with bats and balls, mean that the stage is set for some competitive fun.  And we found ourselves there for hours, in a Isner-Mahut style stand off. I refused to back down and little one was enjoying smacking the ball across the neighbouring tables and even into the shop opposite a couple of times.

I can’t say whether our ping pong skills improved, but this was very sociable and a lovely way of burning off steam and getting to chat to the good people of Newbury!

Not sure how long it’s there for, but we’ll be back!

Northcroft Lido

northcortf.jpgAnyone who loves an outdoor pool will know that we are blessed with an absolute stonker of a lido here in Newbury. And the good news is, it’s set to open in the next couple of weeks!  It’s been fixed and is being filled with water, ready for a few weeks of glorious swimming.

There is no finer place to be on a hot summer’s day, but personally, it’s those duller days, and even when it’s pouring with big fat drops of rain that I love. You’re going to get wet anyway, so why not head down there when it’s quiet and enjoy the gentle splashing and birds warning each other that there’s a crazy person in the pool?

The pool is one of the longest in the country, at 71m and dates back to the 1870s.  There’s plenty of spectator space and free parking for three hours. It is a gem!

If you can’t wait until early July when the pool is scheduled to open, then the nearest outdoor pools to Newbury are:

Thames Lido in Reading,    The Rolls Royce of pools with restaurant and massage treatments onsite. A pure 25m of heaven, but consequently pricier than your normal swim.

Hincksey   Another beautifully-refurbished pool – this one’s in Oxford, so limited parking, but worth the drive! Slightly funny shape for swimming laps, but definitely worth a visit and taking part in one of their lovely special events. I got up at 4am for their early morning swim and it was one of the best sunrises I’ve ever seen.

Woodstock   a bit of a drive from Newbury, but something of a hidden gem. Diving board!

Aldershot   This one is just like loading the Ford Anglia and heading back to the 1960s to a holiday at Butlins. Massive water slides, and unusually, a DIVING board!  Lots of space to sit and picnic and changing rooms that have defied history.

Petersfield Again, a bit of a trek from West Berkshire, but a gorgeous community-run pool with plenty of events.

Guildford A gorgeous pool in a beautiful setting. A bit of a drive and the toilets are ….hmmmm.

Cheltenham       Sandford Parks Lido has two fabulous slides, and is a beauty to behold.

and last but not least, Abingdon, which is on the banks of the River Thames and has opened this week after a million pound refurbishment.

Sign up for the Lido Guide for a proper guide to all of the UK’s outdoor pools!

Learn how to give an Indian Head massage (Kingsclere)

Nicki Lee is a Kingsclere-based sports therapist and all round good egg. She’s hosting an Indian head massage workshop so you can give friends and family a real treat!

Her next event takes place from 1pm to 5pm on Saturday, 16th June at the Kingsclere Club on the village High Street.

You just need to wear comfortable clothes – everything else is provided including tea and cake! £45 pp.

More info and future events are here:

Reading, watching, listening to – May!



Reading: Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine

Oh what a lovely book! I try to steer clear of books that contain human misery, and while this does contain a bit, it’s an uplifting story about one of life’s misfits and the importance of kindness. I absolutely loved it.

Watching: Brooklyn 99

I’m unfashionably late to the party, but decidedly happy to be here! I love this comedy cop show as it’s this decade’s Sledge Hammer! A catchy theme, an immature but handsome joker in the lead role, a brilliant cast, hilarious storylines, but this time set in Brooklyn.

LIstening to: Hollie Cook


I hate to admit this but I saw Hollie Cook live a couple of years ago and wasn’t really into it. I now wonder if it was the wind blowing her gorgeous voice in the wrong direction. Now that the weather has got better (it’s just started raining as I type this), this laid back vibe is just the thing for a summer’s day.

Working with:

favourite client this month has been my lovely declutterer!

Father’s Day AND National Fudge Day!

National Fudge Day! It always sounds a little bit made up, but I promise it isn’t! It started in the States but as we believe the its spiritual home is Cornwall, we have brought it to the UK on 16th June! And as Father’s Day this year lands on the same weekend (17th June), it makes sense to combine the two with a round-up of fudgey gifts!

artisan tin

First up is the artisan tin which retails at £11.99. Filled with three of your favourites, the  crumbly fudge, the honeycomb and creamy milk chocolate and the Peanut Brittle (which we’ve discovered is extremely popular with dads), it’s available here






Perfect as a gift for someone special, or to put out as petit fours at the end of a meal. A decadent treat whatever the occasion.


Butter tablet

Last,  but not least, if your dad loves Cornwall, then check out Buttermilk’s multi-award winning, traditional tablet. It’s handmade in Cornwall and is one of Buttermilk’s best-ever sellers, but comes from a traditional Scottish recipe handed down from the original Scottish owner of the Buttermilk shop in Padstow.


#ad #buttermilk #cornwall #fathersday #nationalfudgeday


For more info or an interview with Buttermilk @newburymummy



Prize of £1,000 to the creator of the winning dish plus £1 donated to West Berkshire Mencap every time the dish is ordered

Amateur and professional chefs have a shot at getting their signature dish on the menu of the award-winning Newbury Pub.

The pub on Bartholomew Street is partnering with West Berkshire Mencap to come up with an eye-catching, and of course, delicious main course for their a la carte menu.  There’s a £1,000 cash prize for the winner and £1 for West Berkshire Mencap every time the dish is ordered by a customer.

All you need to do is email the recipe with clear step-by-step instructions on how it’s prepared and cooked, plus where the ingredients can be sourced locally and all emailed with name, profession and contact number to 

Initial recipes need to be submitted by 30th June. The best three will then be cooked in front of a panel of judges including a TV chef to be announced shortly, Newbury Pub owner Pete Lumber and West Berkshire Mencap CEO Leila Ferguson on Sunday, 8th July.

All finalists will be given some assistance and tips by the Newbury’s head chef Gary Basham on the evening.

Newbury owner Pete Lumber said: “We think this is an innovative way to see what dishes local customers would like to see on our popular menu and hope it will raise funds for West Berkshire Mencap. We like to support local charities and this is a brilliant one that has really won me over with their support for local people with learning disabilities and their families despite limited resources.”

Leila Ferguson added: “We are so grateful to the Newbury Pub for helping us in such a fun way. Pete has a real talent for finding inventive ways of helping the local community and we are lucky he has chosen us as one of his beneficiaries.  Anyone over the age of 16 can enter and be in with a chance of winning the huge £1,000 prize!

“We are very much looking forward to playing the part of Gregg Wallace and John Torode while raising money at the same time.”