Yes, meet our micro-flock of rare breed wethers: two white Borerays, and a brown Soay/Boreray cross. This ‘thrifty’ breed is famously hardy and requires little care – especially castrated males like these – ideal for complete novice shepherds like us, and we don’t plan to get any breeding stock until we’re more experienced. Meanwhile the Woollies now come to Hubcap’s whistle, and follow us round the field. Bold Soboray, the most agile, likes challenging food (eg leaves and bark from Hubcap’s precious apple saplings, nibbled despite their barricades). Bossy Socks is greedy for treats like apple and carrot, and stamps in excitement when he sees them coming; and Sweater’s new nickname is ‘Messy’ because his fleece is so festooned with vegetation. They’re thriving in their new environment, and simply by grazing down the poor Yorkshire Fog grass Hubcap now regrets sowing so widely, and making short work of invasive weeds and brambles, they’re saving us countless hours of mowing and weeding – plus fertilising the site and providing food/habitat for millions of insects and micro-organisms as they go. Beckside feels even more alive and organic now, and we’re delighted with them!
Hubcap and I were thrilled to learn that Wakefeld District Housing, one of the landowners of our proposed Kettlethorpe Community Nature Reserve, has nominated us for the Community Group section of their annual ‘Love Where You Live’ awards. If we scoop the first prize of £200 when results are announced in November, we plan to get another community skip for use by KNAG members and neighbours – but even if we’re not placed at all, the nomination itself is a massive, unexpected honour, and a nice accolade for all the hard work so many members have put into group projects so far.
Although the only actions we’ve taken recently have been clearing up yet more fly-tipping in the woods and beck, we have been meeting regularly with WDH and Council officers to plan future works, including some major woodland management/tree-planting projects over the autumn and winter when all the present lush vegetation has died back. Watch this space for further developments!
Since mid-January, we’ve achieved great things and caused quite a political stir! Thanks to loads of free publicity through our Labour council candidate, Paul Belbin, we got an influx of new members from Wakefield Labour Group and other local residents, swelling our number to 174. (Paul won a much greater percentage of the vote, though sadly not enough to take the seat). Together with Wakefield Litter Heroes, we’ve pressured the Council to observe ‘No Mow May’ and immediately abandon the use of dangerous herbicides on public green space. Our short-lived ‘Beck Bridge Mk 1’ experiment proved a massive hit with locals of all ages, prompting a rapid response from landowners WDH. Although we had to take it down, officers understand why a bridge is needed/wanted, and are for the idea in principle – so we’re now seeking permission to have an approved crossing of some sort installed before too long. However, our carpenter neighbour’s fabulous designer bin (pictured) can remain – another massive hit with locals which has significantly reduced littering in the vicinity. So everything’s coming together for our Kettlethorpe Community Nature Reserve with safe paths and bridges, lovely informative signage, better facilities for users, and a cleaner, greener environment for nature – with full, enthusiastic support from the landowners and local residents. It’s all good!
An update on Kettlethorpe Nature Action Group (KNAG): I’m delighted to report that since its inception, the group has grown to more than 100 members, including our local councillor, and a candidate for the forthcoming council elections. We’ve also held a well-supported inaugural event, a Street Spring-Clean, involving a litter-pick and a free street give-away where people could pass down unwanted items (and browse their neighbours’!) in an attempt to reduce rubbish and fly-tipping at source. I was very pleased to give away plants, bookcases and unused board games, among other things, and to acquire a pretty ceramic jug; and KNAG members collected at least 20 sacks of litter from our street and woodland paths, to be promptly removed by Wakefield Council’s excellent Streetscene service. The event resulted in several new group members and orders for Hubcap’s free swift-box initiative, so we were well pleased – and we have much bigger plans in the offing, which I look forward to sharing in due course. Watch this space!
My first foray into writing for children is on track for a summer release. Graced with a cover quote from renowned arts journalist and author Maeve Kennedy, Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat is a whimsical, humorous tale for children aged 8 years and over, and cat-fans of any age. I was delighted with the proof copy which Hubcap is perusing above, and am now awaiting return of the corrected final version before confirming an order for the first print run. Based on the doings of our own feline companion and beautifully illustrated by talented artist Janet Flynn, it’s a cross between Mr Benn and Through the Looking-Glass, with cats – and if you’d like to know more about Henry Wowler or check on the progress of His book, you can follow him on Facebook.
The proofs are approved, the print run is ordered, and I expect news any day that Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat is finally available to buy! So the advance publicity has gone out via Black Swan Book Promotion: mailings have gone out to hundreds of schools, libraries and university bookshops, and it features in the October 21 Signet catalogue distributed to the book trade. Syros Cat Sanctuary in Greece will also be promoting HW&MC, and a percentage of sales will go towards supporting their important work with the island’s street cats. I’ll be selling copies at £5 (RRP £6.99) at the Towton Battlefield Society Christmas meeting on 6th December, (where I’m also giving a talk on The Story of Christmas) – but if you can’t make that, order your copy direct from ypdbooks.com. I really hope it does well, because I have lots of ideas for a sequel!
Big news: Herstory is publishing ‘Around The Ice in Eighty Years: An Irreverent Memoir by an Accidental Champion’ by our former British, European and World Ice Dance Champion, Courtney Jones! Given publisher backlogs due to Covid, there’s no chance of having it in print by the February ’22 Winter Olympics unless we do it ourselves – so now it’s full steam ahead with the final touches, including pre-launch publicity. On Tuesday 31st August, my recent interview with Canadian skating expert Ryan Stevens will appear on his Skateguard blog, and there’s a podcast in the pipeline for Courtney. It’s all very exciting, and I look forward to posting further details soon!
Also, the latest corrected version of Henry Wowler and the Mirror-Cat has gone off for what I hope will be the final proof copy before the print-run goes ahead. Considering that it’s my shortest book, it’s the one that’s had the most revisions – I can’t believe how many mistakes got through repeated checks – but now I think (fingers crossed) it’s good to go, and I hope it will be ready for Christmas. Watch this space…
In the last week of March 1461, Edward IV’s Yorkist army fought their way through bitter weather, and sharp engagements at Ferrybridge and Dintingdale, to face a massive Lancastrian army at Towton. Famously fought in a snowstorm, the battle of Towton was among the biggest ever fought on English soil, and the worst, bloodiest rout of the Wars of the Roses, with no quarter given to the vanquished foe. Since the 1990s, Towton Battlefield Society has marked the anniversary with a special event – this diary piece gives a flavour of one of my earliest events:
Welcome to Herstory Writing & Interpretation’s brand new website! On this page you’ll find regular updates, starting with big thanks for all your encouraging and useful feedback, which helped me make numerous layout improvements – and special thanks to the wonderful WordPress support team for patiently helping me get to grips with the software. This site will be far more interactive than my old ones helencox-herstorywriting.co.uk and lay-of-angor.co.uk, with the recent addition on the Walks page of virtual tours of some favourite sites to tide you over until we can physically go there together. In the coming weeks I’ll also be adding new pages of articles and reviews, and developing the Lay of Angor page until I get round to giving it a new website of its own. Enjoy!
The footpath from town takes in part of the Cleveland Way, a stiff hike up and down rough trackways and steep gradients. Overdressed for the surprisingly mild day, we were soon puffing and stripping off layers, and I regretted I’d left my walking stick at home. To spare ourselves for the return journey, we opted not to look round the site (we plan to do that another time), and instead stoked up with drinks and bars of chocolate from the café; and as I couldn’t face a second trip down and up the rough stone steps of a precipitous gorge without my stick, we took the longer (3 mile) route back by road. As I’d hoped, once we’d made the hairy climb up the narrow, winding lane from Riveaulx, (luckily there was very little traffic), the rest of the way along the main road was safe and relatively easy going thanks to the broad grass verges – and unlike the densely wooded footpath, offered spectacular views. So we got the best of both worlds – a nature walk and a scenic walk – not to mention a strenuous cardio-vascular workout. Highly recommended if you’re fit enough!
After such a long dry spell without meetings, it was great to catch up with old friends on a fine sunny evening in July. TBS Chair Chris Berendt and his wife Jo entertained around 30 members with a barbeque, kindly hosted by Laura Charles in the Crooked Billet’s lovely new outdoor covered dining area. The Society’s programme of guided battlefield walks is now up and running again, public lectures resume at Saxton Village Hall on the first Monday in the month, starting 6th September, and I’m due to give my ‘Story of Christmas’ talk there in December – see the TBS website for further details. (Pre-pandemic, I was scheduled to speak on the Black Death, but we felt that might be a bit too grim and depressing for the festive season!). It almost felt as if the past 18 months had never happened as we all chatted away, although naturally coping with Covid was a big topic of conversation – but it felt very good to be back in company again, and we’re looking forward to being more actively involved with the Society in the coming months.
As a child fan of ice dancing on TV, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that fifty-odd years later, I’d be editing the autobiography of one of the all-time-great British champions, the unique, multi-talented Courtney Jones (former British, European and World Ice Dance Champion, eminent skating judge and coach, and responsible for Torvill and Dean’s famous Bolero routine and iconic costumes, among many other notable achievements). Then a friend of a friend put us in touch after Courtney wrote his memoir, with no idea how to get it published. To cut a long story short, I knew precisely how to go about it, and volunteered to help. I’ve drafted 10,000 words in a week, adding titbits of research and extra details kindly supplied by Elaine Hooper, official historian of British Ice Skating, and straight from the horse’s mouth – an incredible privilege, and tremendous fun. By far the most important editorial project Herstory has ever undertaken, the story of Courtney’s meteoric (and completely accidental) rise to global skating stardom is pure gold, studded with gems of anecdotes ranging from the touching, (a 4-year-old Courtney skating off clutching his teddy to the strains of ‘Blaze Away’), to the hilarious, (going to Harrods to buy a pair of socks and coming out with a gay Siamese kitten). I feel truly honoured to tell it, and will be amazed if a major publisher doesn’t snap it up straight away – hopefully to be in print in time to catch the Christmas market. Watch this space!
560 years ago, Edward, Earl of March, was proclaimed King of England in London – the Yorkist rival to the Lancastrian Henry VI. This unique situation occurred after an unprecedented campaign fought by the 18-year-old Earl after the deaths of his father Richard, Duke of York, and younger brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland, at Wakefield in December 1460. The story of his campaign, encompassing Yorkist triumph at Mortimer’s Cross, disaster at St Albans, and eventual decisive victory at Towton on Palm Sunday is told in my book co-authored with Alan Stringer, Walk Towton 1461 – and you can see more of the images Alan and I collected on our research trip in the slide-show just added to the Walks page. I also plan to mark the 560th anniversary of Towton with a feature on memorial events held by Towton Battlefield Society – watch this space!
I’ve always been interested in conservation in the widest sense: of museum objects, collections and buildings, of energy and the environment, and of the natural world. So now that Hubcap and I are easing down into semi-retirement, we found the time to set up a private group, KNAG, (Kettlethorpe Nature Action Group), and its companion public page, Kettlethorpe Nature Group, aimed at encouraging local people to care for the flora and fauna on our amazingly rich and diverse estate. It clearly struck a nerve, because we already have 90 group members and 70 page followers in just a couple of weeks – and extremely heartening for us to discover that far from being lone eco-freaks, we’re surrounded by kindred spirits doing their bits for nature, and keen to do more. Check us out for some great wildlife-gardening tips!