Scottish play and English vegetables

Browsing in my local greengrocers, I found a veritable cornucopia of vegetables. Oregano, mange tout, pak choi, rocket, okra, samphire, fennel, sweet potato . . . all wonderfully cosmopolitan, but no sign of a humble marrow.

I don’t mean zucchini or courgette, often described (wrongly) as being baby marrows. I mean full blown cucurbit, described in as ‘an egg-shaped gourd, commonly eight to ten inches long. It is noted for the very tender quality of its flesh, and is a favorite culinary vegetable in England’.

Not so favourite that I can find one.

I asked in my local greengrocer and not only had they no marrows in stock, but also asked me to spell it, so they could write it down (M-A-R-R-O-W) to ask their wholesaler.

In the unlikely event of anyone finding a marrow anywhere, the usual way of serving it is to stuff it with meat, served grilled or as a curry; or make into a cake; or turn it into soup. For me, I just like it boiled and sliced, then served with beef mince or lasagne, peas, red wine and copious amounts of gravy!

My vegan daughter says marrow’s tasteless. But then, if you looked at my record collection, you’d say the same about my musical tastes! So marrow and me are a perfect match.

In the absence of any on the shelves of the shops, I could always grow my own, I suppose.

But my garden is a small, city space that supports wildlife (frogs, toads, newts, birds of all shapes and sizes) but has insufficient room for me to become a modern-day Tom Good and go for self-sufficiency. And anyway. my fingers are better suited to a keyboard than being green.

Perhaps I am forever scarred by my father’s failed attempts at horticulture, with the annual ritual of green tomatoes lining the window frames and rotting until December before being consigned, with a reluctant sigh, to the rubbish (in days before there were compost bins).

It has occurred to me that I should initiate a Marrow Appreciation Society, to spread the word, commend marrow to the world at large, build up some enthusiasm for it. It has led me to carrying out some research on its history. Disappointingly, I found only two references in literature. Dickens mentions marrows in Nicholas Nickelby;

What!’ said Nicholas, ‘cucumbers and vegetable marrows flying at the heads of the family as they walk in their own garden!’

Use as a projectile was not what I had in mind.

Then, as I recall from my schoolboy Shakespeare, growing them crops up in Macbeth.

To marrow, and to marrow, and to marrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day.’

At least, that’s what I thought he wrote. Maybe that explains my C- grade in O level English Literature.

But popular culture aside, my tastebuds still crave marrow. Except it’s November and marrow is seasonal. I’m fearing this could be a marrowless autumn. This blog is my last hope. Should you happen across one on a shelf somewhere, please let me know. Failing that, I’ll have to go to my local greengrocer and ask for turnip. Yes, that’s T-U-R-N-I-P.


If you’ve been wondering why my blogs had dried up over the last few months, it’s because I’ve been concentrating on a second novel. It’s now with my editor and any day now, after months of working on it, I’ll get it back with the inevitable ‘good draft, now it needs some work. . . .’ In the meantime, if you haven’t caught the first, Homeward Bound, you should still be able to find it on

It’s not COVID, it’s pollen

It’s April and officially summertime. Not that I count the year in months or in seasons. I count it by what makes me sneeze.

We’re in birch, having come out of a long hard willow, and am dreading moving into oak, plane, oil-seed rape and a long hot grass, before moving into mould spores and heading into Christmas (when my wife says I’m allergic to opening my wallet). These, on top of unseasonal pets, air fresheners and, quite frankly, life.  Not to mention reactions to dust that is invariably brought on by talk of doing housework.

I know when all this started. I went strawberry picking to make money as a teenage student, during which I amused myself by successions of twenty or more sneezes in almost as many seconds. Fifty years on, the novelty has worn off. I’m told allergies are supposed to diminish as you get older, but I’m running out of time to find out if that’s true. I have this image of a crematorium chapel at my funeral. As the curtain closes to my wife’s selection of music (I’d expect Linda Rondstadt’s You’re No Good or Elton John’s Better off Dead), from inside the casket comes the sound of me, still sneezing.

But I have a more immediate problem. When I’m outside, freed from the constraints of lockdown but surrounded by people still in fear of COVID, people don’t take kindly to someone suddenly sneezing uncontrollably nearby. I might try to wheeze, “Don’t worry, it’s not the virus,” but they’ve normally already scattered – and I’m not sure they’d believe me if they’d stopped to listen. Boris is pushing for a vaccine passport to get access to clubs and events. I need one to wave when I convulse with sneezes. And don’t even mention what it’s like wearing a mask when this happens.

I’ve had all the treatments medical people can offer, (left – and some!) and I’ve tried a few of those that non-medical people propose as well. The only cure seems to be when I repair to the darkest, deepest space beneath our house.

Which just happens to be where I keep my record collection. And as my wife has just remarked that the stair carpet looks in need of vacuuming, I can feel my eyes and nose itching and a convulsion approaching.  So excuse me while I head off downstairs. I can already hear Paul Simon’s song Allergies in my head. I may emerge when I’ve played an album or two!

If you thought this post vaguely interesting, you might like Richard’s hearwarming debut novel, Homeward Bound, a story of family, ageing and ambition. With a bit of music!

Strange sightings in the garden

Who is Phileas? And what’s he doing in the back garden of a north London terraced house?

This is Phileas, a pheasant that has miraculously appeared in the back garden of our north London terraced house. A pheasant meeting the peasants, a neighbour in the posh houses up the other end of the street commented. But it’s a mystery what brings such an decorative creature, common in farmland and woodland, to Zone 2.

I first spotted him pecking beneath our bird feeder, seeking out the grains carelessly discarded above by the ubiquity of sparrows and whatever collective noun applies to blue tits and great tits. It didn’t take him long to discover the heap of seeds that, not long before, I’d carelessly spilled when refilling the feeders, gorging on this free and easy feast.

I first spotted him pecking beneath our bird feeder, seeking out the grains carelessly discarded above by the ubiquity of sparrows and whatever collective noun applies to blue tits and great tits. It didn’t take him long to discover the heap of seeds that, not long before, I’d carelessly spilled when refilling the feeders, gorging on this free and easy feast.

We are lucky that, over the years, our feeders have attracted as diverse a selection of birds as you could imagine this far into the city. Robins, blackbirds, parakeets, woodpeckers, even the occasional sparrow hawk, along with magpies, crows, jays and the inevitable pigeons, are amongst those costing me a small fortune on bird feed every week. But Phileas the pheasant was a first.

As he worked his way through the seeds, he met with another of our garden visitors. Squirrels. When they’re about, the birds normally scatter. But not Phileas. He was standing no nonsense. When one brave squirrel dared to investigate the booty, Phileas squared up, beak to nose.

The squirrel backed off. 1-0 to Phileas. Yet I feared defeat was still on the cards, if not from a squirrel, from other intruders into our small space.

Once satiated, Phileas retreated into what he must have considered to be the safety of the undergrowth. Maybe in the New Forest he would have been invisible. But here, his camouflage through a clump of daffodils against a trellis and concrete wall was not convincing. It certainly wouldn’t convince the foxes that roam the streets each night and trespass in our garden. My wonder turned to worry. If I fed him more seeds, would I not be encouraging him to stay, luring him to a certain fate of snarling jaws and journey’s end?

There was also another problem. Keeva the greyhound. She’s ours. Friendly, docile, somnolent. Until she sees something that she can chase. An ex-racer, a serial winner at Romford, Harlow and Crayford, she makes the end of the garden in next to no time. A cat or squirrel that catches her eyes needs to be quick off the mark and over the fence.

Even after finishing fourth, third and a lowly fifth in consecutive races three years ago, before being subjected to a life in retirement, she’s still quick. Probably too quick for a slightly ungainly pheasant.

Keeva running free, three years after retirement.

So for a day, we kept Keeva from going into the garden where Phineas was taking shelter, leaving her to stare balefully through the patio door windows, looking longing at the bright-colours of a potential prey.  But we couldn’t keep her cooped up for longer than a day. I made a decision. As hungry as Phineas appeared to have been, I must offer him no further inducement to stay.

It was with some relief that, as evening fell, he loped off into the trees, perhaps disappointed that dinner was not going to present itself. That just left me to worry about the night, and a likely encounter with the foxes and his becoming dinner.

I needn’t have worried. Early next morning, there he was, back in the garden.

But Keeva needed to use the space. There was no option but to let her out.  Although we kept her on a lead, for Phileas, the sight of a dog built for speed was too much. He hopped into a tree and from there, out of sight, to we know not where.

It’s what I’d hoped for really. All for the best, make his own way on his round the world journey, free and without human intervention.

For me, I was grateful that I no longer needed to feel a sense of responsibility, to protect him from an environment he is not ideally suited to. Even though I know I’d not be up to the task.

And yet, even as I write, I’m still glancing out the window, worrying about him, contemplating throwing down some more seeds should he be hungry and wanting to come back.

When I’ve finished writing this, I’ll go and have a proper look.

If you enjoyed this blog, you might just enjoy Richard’s first novel, out now. A heartwarming story of ambition, ageing and family, it’s called ‘Homeward Bound’. It’s available online, through bookshops and here.

The trouble with Henry

I hate Henry.

I hate to admit is, but I loathe the happy, grinning face on the body of our vacuum cleaner.

It’s worst when the cleaner (I refuse to call it ‘Henry’ or ‘he’) has wedged itself on a chair leg and I have to trail back to untangle it.

Or the flex has become entwined in the banisters and I have to struggle back downstairs to release it, carting said vacuum with me. And all the while, I’m being stared at by that unrelentingly cheery look.

The origins of the face are, according to Wikipedia (that source of all accurate information) to ‘prevent late night and early morning workers from feeling lonely.’ Created and built in the UK, it first started sucking up dust in 1981. If there were such a crime as violence towards inanimate objects, what might the incidence rate have been before that date and after? A sharp rise, most likely.

Described variously as ‘iconic’, ‘loveable’ and a ‘legend’ by the manufacturers, Numatic, Henry has been joined by other family members. There is a Hetty, whose contribution to equality of the sexes is a pink body and large fluttery eyelashes. Whether this subtle femininity would help me contain my bursts of anger I can only conjecture. There are also Henry’s cousin’s Charles, James and George and probably, before long, a Boris, a Kier and a Sir David.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the vacuum cleaner is only in use when I’d rather be doing something else. It might be the result of a three-line whip to clean the house, often in preparation for a cleaner coming. The house apparently mustn’t be too dusty or untidy for such visits.

Or it’s a displacement activity. Like when I’m agonising over writing a particularly troublesome paragraph. Getting out the vacuum cleaner to suck up a cobweb that’s been irritating me for months is one way of escaping the frustration of writer’s block, at least temporarily. But it means I’m already predisposed to rage. It inevitably erupts when, perched on a chair and stretching, the nozzle doesn’t quite reach, the face topples and I lose my balance, leaving me on the floor alongside that face baiting me., still grinning.

Perhaps the answer is a cordless vacuum cleaner. My experiences have not been good, though. Scarred in my youth by a Pifco cordless, a Ewbank, and a battery driven cleaner that neither cleaned nor lasted long enough to manage a rug, I am left deeply distrustful.

A recent arrival is an Amazon Robotic Vacuum Sweeper. Like a floor-mounted drone, it buzzes across the kitchen and aggregates an alarming amount of dust and detritus, no matter how many times the floor may have been swept already. But although spared the Henry face, it still drives me mad, demanding attention. Its apparently random movements and wild trajectories make escape from it like some futuristic game of dodge ball.

And if you leave it to its own devices, it’s quite likely to fall down a step or trap itself on some unlikely obstruction. Then, like an ostrich stuck in a corner, it will bounce endlessly from side to side until it’s rescued. I want to punish it for its stupidity, pick it up, shake it, except that’ll result in all the dust its collected returning to the floor.

But the truth is, I guess, I just hate housework.

And at this point, I was planning on concluding that I should acknowledge the efficiency with which these devices have the desired effect of cleaning dusty surfaces and it’s really all my fault. That the problem is mine, not Henry’s.

Then I changed the end and decided to suggest that maybe the manufacturers of Henry, Hetty and the rest could help me out by creating a different face; one that is responsive to my mood, offering me an expression that is non-patronising, sympathetic and understanding.

Then I changed my mind and went for an excoriating paragraph on anthropomorphism, that a face on a vacuum is entirely inappropriate. I’m quite justified in my ire, I was going to write. But then again, isn’t that a sign of personal weakness . . . ?

At which point, I concluded it was all just too problematic to find a decent end and  . . . if I’m not mistaken, is that not a sliver of dust under the sofa? Excuse me while I go and fetch the Henry . . .

If you enjoyed this blog, maybe you’ll enjoy my first novel ‘Homeward Bound’, a feelgood tale of family, ageing and ambition. Available from bookshops, Amazon (paperback and e-book) and other online retailers.

A heartwarming Christmas read

A recent tweet said of Homeward Bound: If you enjoyed #RichardOsman‘s novel, try another heartwarming story about ageing, family & ambition: Homeward Bound – Richard Smith. Characters are likeable, their journey is fascinating and poignant. Highly recommend. You won’t regret it! (Stephen Thorpe@Steve999Thorpe·29)

If you fancy it as a gift or for yourself, you will find Homeward Bound here and here both in paperback and as e-book.

Other readers have written: ‘This book is a lot of fun – I read it in two days, finding it hard to put down. Humane, witty, super-readable, enjoy.’ and ‘Wish I could read it all over again! If this book was a song, I would play it every day.’

That’s just the tip of the reviewberg and if you want more testimonies, please click over to another blog of mine.

And if you want a short taster, please try this below. Hope you enjoy it – both taster and the novel itself! Merry Christmas!!

Seventy-nine year-old George is reminiscing. He’s sitting in a room full of his records with his dog Hunter. It’s a sacred place to George that he allows no-one else to enter, although his granddaughter – who he’s taken in as a lodger – and her boyfriend have just broken his rule. Alone again, he reflects on how he met his wife, Evelyn.

Even before Tara had left the room, George had closed his eyes and started rocking in his chair. His peace was momentarily disturbed by something warm nuzzling his hand. “Why are you in here, Hunter? You know you’re not allowed.” He looked down to see a pair of obedient brown doe eyes staring back at him.“ Oh, alright. If that apology for a boyfriend of Tara’s can barge in here, I won’t keep you out.” George patted his lap and Hunter jumped up, curling himself round before settling. “It’s just you and me now, old boy.” George laid his arms across the dog’s warm body. It was strangely comforting. “You miss her too, don’t you?” As he gently rocked the chair, his thoughts drifted back to the first time he met Evelyn. Evelyn Little she was then. He remembered so clearly the speech her father had given at the wedding.

“It’s all my fault we’ve got George as a son-in-law,” he’d said, barely looking at the sheaf of notes he’d prepared for the biggest event in their family’s life. “It was my dad’s shop and his before that and they’d hardly changed a thing over the years. I wanted to bring us into the sixties. I’d seen electric signs in other shops and wanted one for us. Evelyn’s mum wasn’t keen, said it’d be a waste of money. I laughed at her and bought it all the same and it brought us at least one customer. Our new son-in-law, George. Who’s laughing now?” The Reception gave him a rousing round of applause.

George could still see the neon glow of ‘Little’s Grocery, Big Reputation’ that had enticed him into a shop he’d previously passed without noticing. It’d been a Thursday evening and he was on his way from his office to a rehearsal. And there was Evelyn, emptying broken biscuits into a jar, head down, her face hidden behind long mousy hair. And she was singing to herself, quietly, under her breath.

George knew the tune well. ‘I Almost Lost My Mind’. A rhythm and blues song from the American South, he’d not heard it since his National Service. How did this young girl know it – let alone sing with such feeling?

“Can I have half a pound of sugar, please?” He waved a ten- shilling note. “And can I ask how you know Ivory Joe Hunter?”

The young girl stopped what she was doing and produced a bag of sugar from beneath the counter.

“Who’s Ivory Joe Hunter?”

“It’s his song you’re singing.”

From the tiny window to her face behind her hair, George could see her blush.
 “Dad doesn’t like me singing. I didn’t think anyone would hear.”

“It’s an R&B standard. How do you know it?”

“Pat Boone. He’s the most.”

George’s heart sank. He’d always hated Pat Boone as a crooner from the fifties who took the rhythm and blues out of R&B. But now she tossed her head back, he could see she had an earnest, welcoming face.

“Isn’t he a bit too old for you?”

“I guess. I like Bryan Hyland and Bobby Vee better. And Cliff of course.”

“Of course.” He didn’t mean it.

“Do you like them too?” She stared intently at him before allowing her hair to fall back over her face.

“Cliff Richard’s rock’n’roll’s OK. Bobby Vee’s a bit too soft for me. More Fats Domino, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Elvis.” He looked for signs of approval or recognition. When there were none, he changed tack. “What about the Beatles? Everyone likes them.”

She shrugged. “They’re OK.”

He took a deep breath. “I’ve got my own group. The Beat Boys. If you like e Beatles, you’ll love us. I reckon they copied us.” Again, he looked for a reaction. Again, there was none, at least as far as he could tell. “We’re playing tomorrow night at the British Legion Hall. Wanna come?”

Being this forward was right out of character. He was more at home hiding behind his music, confident with his piano and guitar, not with people. Certainly not one-to-one. It was how he had stayed single all these years. But this girl wasn’t a threat like most other girls he fancied.

“We’ll even do ‘I Almost Lost My Mind’ for you.” He saw her glance towards the bacon slicer where her father was tormenting a leg of streaky. He followed the look and knew at once the outcome of his moment of courage.

“I’d better not. My dad wouldn’t approve.”

He might have asked her to check, or even steeled himself to ask her dad himself. But what would it show? That she was just letting him down gently. He was timid enough without needing confirmation that he couldn’t even get a date with a girl who wouldn’t turn the head of anyone else.

“Some other time, then.” He handed over the ten-shilling note, picked up the sugar and accepted the change without making further eye contact. Not that there was any risk of that, her face having retreated fully behind the curtain of hair.

For a few months he didn’t go back to the shop, but was eventually driven in by an empty larder and a wet evening. To his surprise, the same girl looked quite different, more confident, her hair styled, wearing make-up. And she remembered him.

“Hello again. Haven’t seen you in here for a while.”

“No, been busy.”

“What can I do for you?”

“A quarter of Cheddar, please.”

“Coming up.” She placed a block of cheese on a slab and estimated a quarter of a pound, slicing it off with a cheese wire. “I’m Evelyn, by the way. How’s the group?”

“We’re still performing. Hope to get a record deal soon. And I’m George.”

“Like George Harrison?”

“He’s lead guitar. I’m bass. And piano.”

She smiled. George fell in love. She continued weighing cheese. “Anything else?”

George studied her fingers as she caressed greaseproof paper around his Cheddar. “No, I think that’ll be all.” He determined to offer no sign of how he felt, nor risk being let down.

“You were right about the Beatles,” she said as she smoothed the edges of the packet, making neat hospital corners. “That Ringo’s fab. Even bought the LP.”  

Here’s a taster!

Here’s a short excerpt from my novel, ‘Homeward Bound’. It’s a story of family, ambition and ageing and recent Amazon reviews include, ‘Such a lovely book, highly recommend,’ ‘An excellent read concerning family, music and memory,’ and, ‘This book is brilliant and is well worth the journey.’ I didn’t write or pay for any of them, promise!!

Seventy-one year-old George is alone in the car with his teenage granddaughter Tara, while her parents have left them gone to inspect a retirement home for him as they think he’s not safe living on his own. George is not happy with the idea and is looking for support. But Tara has her own problems with them. . . . Now read on!

George watched until they were out of sight. “This is nice. Just like the old days, don’t you think?” There was no response from the back seat, so he kept going. “I’m sorry I’m not much company at the moment.” He hadn’t felt much like talking to anyone since the funeral.

Tara said nothing and kept reading. When she was younger and they were together for weekend visits or day trips, she’d always had an opinion and never shied from letting everyone hear it. How George missed those days.

“Come on, then. Tell me my future.” He twisted the rear-view mirror so he could see his granddaughter better without having to turn round. Her eyes fixed on her magazine, he analysed her. Elfin-like, auburn hair, newly cropped, she looked so grown up and not the grandchild he remembered playing in the garden, being pushed on the swings, building sandcastles on the beach, skimming pebbles across the sea, being treated to sweets and ice cream despite Bridget’s protests about healthy eating. “November 30th. St. Andrew’s Day. Sagittarius.”

Tara closed Teen Tips and slapped her hand on the cover. It was a gesture George recognised from when Bridget was a teenager and about to sound off. Like mother, like daughter.

“You’ve got to tell them.” She was looking straight into his reflection.

“Tell them what?”

“You know.”

“That your mum only buys Rich Tea biscuits and I like chocolate Hobnobs?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Or the only music I hear is on some local radio station, twittering away in the kitchen. And all there is to read is the free bloody Basingstoke Tribune and your mother’s gardening magazine.”

Tara tutted and repeated, “You know.”

“No. Tell me.”

“That you don’t want to move into one of these homes.”

“I should think that’s bleedin’ obvious, pardon my French.”

“Why? What’s wrong with them?”

“You’ve not been inside.”

“But if you’re living on your own, what will you do with yourself?”



“Things I still want to do.” George caught her expression of surprise. “Don’t pull that face. I may be old, but I haven’t given up just yet. Despite your mother saying I’ve retired. The fires still burn, you know. And don’t ask me what. You’ll know when I’ve done them.”

“So you’ve got to tell them.”

George folded his arms to show he was taking no notice. “Did you read that sign outside the last place?”

Tara nodded.

“You saw that it was sponsored by funeral directors and an estate agent.”

Tara nodded again.

“One to get shot of the body and another to sell off the house. What did your mother say about that?”

“I don’t think she saw it.”

“I don’t suppose your father missed it.” George grunted. “And do you know what passes as entertainment in there? I’ll tell you. Watching school Christmas pantomimes. I saw the evidence hanging in a corridor. Had ten years of them when your mother was a child. The memory still gives me nightmares. I’d rather die than spend the rest of what’s left of my life watching someone else’s little darlings.”

Tara shook her head. “Gramps. Tell. Them.”

“I can’t.” He was having second thoughts on missing hearing his granddaughter voicing her opinions.

“Why not?”

What could he answer? That he was scared they were right, that he needed to be cared for, that he really wasn’t safe to be left on his own? Or maybe this was a sign that his time was done. That he’d have to face up to the reality. That what he hadn’t achieved he was never going to achieve. “You tell them for me.”  


“Yes. They’ll listen to you.”

“Oh, no.” Tara shook her head decisively. “It’s not for me. Only you can speak for yourself.”

“You can help.”

Tara shook her head again. “I can’t. I really can’t.” She opened Teen Tips and resumed reading.

George twisted the mirror back round and stared out the front of the car. It was starting to drizzle. She was right of course. How could he expect an eighteen-year-old to argue the case for a seventy-nine-year-old? The fact that he was asking for her help almost proved the case for the prosecution. He couldn’t cope with the real world anymore.

They sat in silence for a while, Tara flicking through her magazine, George staring through the windscreen that was beginning to steam up.

“What are you reading?”

Tara reached forward and showed him the magazine, twisting it as she handed it to him so as to reveal only the opposite page to the one she’d been looking at. ‘Vegan needn’t mean unhealthy,’ the headline read. “You’re not one of those, are you?” He looked worried.

“Why shouldn’t I be? Lots of people are. It is the twenty-first century.”

“It’s not natural. We’re meant to eat meat.”

“I don’t think it’s natural to keep animals cooped up in tiny spaces, now you’re asking.”

“Well I just don’t like fads. Never have. Never will.” He turned the page over impatiently. There, in bold, was a different heading: ‘Should I have sex with my boyfriend?’ Tara stretched to reclaim the magazine but he shifted it just too far from her. He’d read the first line, ‘My boyfriend and I have been going out together for almost nine months and have only reached third base’, before she was able to snatch it back.

“Thanks,” she said as she turned it over again and clasped it in her lap.

“Can anyone read that?”


“When I was a boy, I was reading about fighter pilots, not that kind of stuff.”

“It’s different today.”

“And at your age it was National Service, not ‘third base’.”

“Did you talk to your parents about, you know what?”

“Certainly not. Do you?”

She took a deep breath, then shuffled across the car seat and leaned forward. George turned and they were almost nose-to- nose. “If you won’t talk to my parents about you, will you talk to them about me?”

To buy Homeward Bound on line, click here. If you like it, please leave a review. Many thanks.

Homeward Bound – new review (and interview with me)

“Homeward Bound” made me smile from page 1 … it is a funny yet poignant novel centred around a grandfather who has a passion for music and his teenage granddaughter who moves in with him to keep an eye on him as he is getting frail, and also to give her some space from mum and dad. George (grandfather) has a massive record collection that has become his “comfort blanket” since his wife died – and as he plays his vinyls, he still tinkers along on his piano hoping to revive his musical ambitions. George’s son in law thinks he should be put in a home & sets out to find George a place. George’s daughter is the go between. George’s granddaughter wants space away from her parents and isn’t sure about her musical teenage boyfriend, who has his own idea of what music should sound like although he is fascinated by George’s collection. Then there are the homes George visits & the residents he meets, the notorious cousin, the impromptu musical recital, the seaside trip and the unexpected job offer. This novel has twists and turns, ups and downs, and plenty of musical innuendo. I loved it and it is a great light hearted read perfect for winter nights, holidays, lockdowns….

Review from Linda Hobden

Full review and interview with me here

Homeward Bound is available from bookshops and online.

My thanks to Linda Hobden with her Books, Interview, Music/Entertainment, Reviews on

Every home needs two dishwashers

“Two dishwashers? Why do you need two dishwashers?”
That was the question the lady designing our new kitchen asked me.
It struck me that if she was any good at kitchen design, she’d know the answer.

“Two dishwashers? Why do you need two dishwashers?”

That was the question the lady designing our new kitchen asked me. It struck me that if she was any good at kitchen design, she’d know the answer. But I could tell from the way she was staring at me, she was waiting for an answer.

“You take plates from cupboards, cutlery from drawers and glasses from shelves and use them for a meal,” I patiently explained.


“When you’ve finished, you put them in the dishwasher.”


My wife was rolling her eyes as she knew where I was going with this. Our designer manifestly did not.

“You wait until it’s full, then turn it on and when it’s finished, you take out the plates and put them back in the cupboards, the cutlery back in the drawers and the glasses on the shelves.”


I think I hoped for a sign of recognition. Instead there was a blank expression with a soupçon of impatience. My wife just stared daggers at me.

“So next time you have a meal, you go back to the cupboard for the plates . .”

My wife interrupted. “I think we’ve got that.”

I needed to complete the cycle. “But with two dishwashers, next to each other, of course, you cut out all that unloading, putting away, fetching out again. You leave the clean stuff in one dishwasher until it’s needed, then take it out, use it and . .”

“. . .  put the dirties back into the second dishwasher. I get it now.”

“Exactly. And when dishwasher two is full, you turn it on and dishwasher one becomes the place where the dirties go.” I was pleased she didn’t pick up on the one flaw in my plan; what happens when you’re mixing dirties with unused cleans.

“What a good idea.”

And so the dual dishwashers were integrated into the new kitchen plan. It would make shelf, cupboards and drawers in the original scheme redundant. For the moment, I kept secret my hopes for using them as overflow storage for my records and CDs.

And so the dual dishwashers were integrated into the new kitchen plan. It would make shelf, cupboards and drawers in the original scheme redundant. For the moment, I kept secret my hopes for using them as overflow storage for my records and CDs.

Photo: Kimi Gill for Islington Faces

What has fascinated me is that no-one else seems to have cottoned on to this idea. I did a quick Google check and could find no manufactures that have created a double dishwasher, though surely there’s need for a new products with a unique design in a crowded market. Nor have retailers seized the moment to sell two instead of one to every customer. I offer them the concept. It could be my small contribution to helping the UK out of recession.

Inevitably this has led to me to re-evaluate other ‘givens’ of domestic life.

A full plate and plentiful supply of a good red is one not to change. And somewhere warm and safe to sleep is essential. The sofa with the TV on or music playing is as good a place as any.

But if we must have beds, why do we need to ‘make’ them?

If it’s straightened sheets and pillows you’re after, why not do it before you go to bed rather than waste time and energy in the morning, especially when there’s already the tedious routine of shaving for men and make-up for women. Though I’d go one further and say why bother make the bed at all. The sheets will be crumpled up within minutes of getting in anyway.  When the reaper comes calling, how much of your life will have been wasted making beds – smoothing sheets, hospital corners, plumping pillows and all? And if you really feel the need for crisp, cold sheets, tightly tucked down, then make it a treat to look forward to every couple of months when you change the bed or go on holiday and have hotel staff do it for you.  

And don’t get me on duvets and duvet covers. I had an eiderdown as a child. It needed no constant wrestling with a cover, just pulled up over me at night. No-one admits to inventing the duvet but its popularity in the UK seems to have arisen as some sort of fashion statement, when we were in the thrall of Habitat and Laura Ashley on every High Street. And where are they now, though we persist with the duvet?

And then there are cushions. What are they for? Show me a house with cushions and I’ll show you the influence of a woman. No male that I know would even consider buying a cushion, let alone festoon sofas and – worse still – beds with them.

But back to my genius dishwasher idea. I’d put it out of my mind to concentrate on writing Homeward Bound,  though I did get the occasional twinge about whether it would work and was I being a mite extravagant, decadent even.

I needn’t have worried. There was a late change. When the old kitchen was just a shell, I was informed that there was insufficient space in the new one for two dishwashers. And anyway, the plumbing couldn’t be adjusted to accommodate them both. I might have protested, but my wife and the designer presented the news as a fait accompli.

So we have a new kitchen but just one dishwasher, and I spend probably twice as long a week in the cycle of dishwasher-storage-dishwasher-storage as I do making the bed and plumping up cushions (though luckily I’ve never mastered the duvet, so that’s a task avoided).

But if you like the dual dishwasher idea, feel free to use it.

As for me, my disappointment was mitigated somewhat by an unexpected addition to the kitchen, one that required minimal space and no extra pipework; a wine chiller. And I couldn’t argue against that.

Richard Smith’s novel ‘Homeward Bound’ is out now and available from bookshops and Amazon (paperback and e-book).

A version of this blog first appeared during Rachel’s Random Books Tour

Dido changed my life

Dido changed my life.

Dido – Thank You, White Flag, Life For Rent, Stan (with Eminen) – yes, that Dido. She has changed my life.

I don’t suppose anyone – not least Dido herself – would have expected her music to be behind such an epiphany. How did it happen?

It started when I woke up in the middle of a BBC televised Radio 2 Live concert late one night. I’d fallen asleep during a particularly dull Match of the Day and was woken by Dido in full flow. I often fall asleep watching television. I close my eyes, with the intention of simply resting them and listening for a few moments . . . then it’s an hour later. I know it happens but I still do it. More than a few times, I’ve started watching a film, drifted off and woken up and continued watching, not realising until the end it’s a different film with different cast and plot.

Back to Dido. She was singing a song I know now to be called Friends. Dido’s usual gentle, mournful but appealing (to me) delivery was suddenly interrupted by a wild guitar break and even wilder drumming. I was hooked. And that’s always a cue for me to want to go buy it.

Trouble is, in these digital times, it’s been increasingly hard to buy new music. I like it on a physical medium, something I can touch, hold, read and smell – and possess. I’ve bought high-end equipment and so I can hear it at its best. Not for me Alexa or my laptop’s squawky speakers. 

This, some might say, obsession began in my childhood. I have assembled an array of vinyl (it’s too random to be called a ‘collection’) since my first singles at the start of the 1960s, gradually embracing LPs (albums as they became known).

No particular genre, just if it takes my fancy. And it’s probably as diverse as you can get. Sharing shelf space, Jimi Hendrix sits cheek by jowl with Heron Oblivion, Henry Cow, the Herd, Herman’s Hermits and Woody Herman. I also assembled CDs in the Dark Ages when records were few and far between. But in recent times, with the growth of mp3, I’ve missed out. And it’s left me feeling disenfranchised, as there’s a lot of good music out there, even to these ageing ears.

And Dido’s Friends, had taken my fancy. The worry I had was that it would only be available on mp3. So I was relieved to find that it was on a traditional vinyl album and, what’s more, on the shelf of my nearest surviving record shop.

Back home, on the turntable, I went straight to that track. But while sounding smooth and rounded, there was none of the drive from guitars and percussion that I’d imagined on the live show. Perhaps it was the way the record was pressed.

I have noticed that digital recordings sometimes don’t sound so good on analogue vinyl. So back I went and bought a CD version. No go. A little crisper, sharper, but none of what had first drawn me to the song in the Radio 2 session.

Desperate, I turned to YouTube and checked the performance online. The answer stared me in the face. The guitars were additional to the recorded version and the drumming came from a person not a synthesiser.

At first, dismay. And then, the epiphany.

I found I could plug my computer into my hifi’s pre-amp and, wow! The track came to life for me. With a couple of tweaks on the graphic equaliser, it sounded even better.

It was just a small step before I was Googling other live performances and listening to artists with an online presence only. What’s more, I started discovering tracks I don’t own or haven’t the space for. A new world of music previously unavailable to me. At my fingertips. In a decent quality. Online.

So late in the day, I have entered music’s digital age. And I’m excited at the discovery.

Dido, Thank You.

Friends is on Dido’s album Still On My Mind. (And the other tracks have hooked me too and are well worth a listen, I should add!)

Richard Smith’s first novel, Homeward Bound, is available on lone and from bookshops.

The tyranny of the pen

We weren’t allowed to use ball point pens at my school. The very word, Biro, was never mentioned. All writing had to be with a fountain pen, preferably using Quink blue-black. We also had lessons in how to form capital letters, and no essay would be accepted if the wrong form of ‘F’, ‘G’ or ‘T’ was used, or words were not joined up correctly.

I was sitting with my feet in a pool a while back, reflecting on life, and this early ‘60s memory flashed back to me. Having published my first novel, Homeward Bound, I’m often asked how I write; longhand or straight into a computer. My first response is it’s a wonder I write at all after that induction and suffering the tyranny of the fountain pen.  But the answer is that once I’d been given a Parker for my 18th birthday, I never looked back and now I compose entirely using its cheaper successors – a Biro, Bic, or one of those freebies you collect at exhibitions.

Why I like a ballpoint is it’s so easy to write quickly and even easier to make changes, ideal if thoughts are spilling out of your head at a rate of knots. And if there’s an inspiration for later, a word that’s just come to me to improve a previous sentence, or a paragraph that needs moving, I scribble it down and add an asterisk, a box, or an arrow to signal something to come back to later.

It takes just a second and  – more importantly – it doesn’t interrupt the flow of ideas. Add to the fact that I write on scrap paper – the reverse of single-sided photocopies or envelopes that held today’s consignment of bills and begging letters and I can add feeling virtuous about my recycling into the argument for longhand.

I’ve tried starting on a computer but, for me, it’s a slow, laborious and stultifying experience. I’m quite fast – a self taught two fingered style serves me quite well – but the plethora of red underlines and strange line spacings distract me, making me want to correct as I go, and the practicalities swamp and submerge the original inspiration. Using a ballpoint, the ideas can just flow.

There is a downside to paper. A puff of wind and the pages scatter across the room, a disaster when I’ve not numbered them. And worse, the speed that the ballpoint allows me invariably comes to the detriment of legibility. I’ve invented my own form of shorthand, with vowels omitted and words often just a squiggle between first and last letters. Their meaning is all so obvious as I write, but when it comes to reading back, it’s often impossible to decipher.

The answer? I don’t read it back! For the next stage is to transcribe my manuscript into my laptop and as often as not, I make it all up again. This is partly because I can’t make head nor tail of my longhand, but also because, having created a sense and the structure, I can recompose it straight into my laptop from memory. A second draft, as it were.

Once the page is on the laptop and saved (how many times did I use to lose a day’s work because I hadn’t saved my manuscript – and pardon me while I save this one, it’s still Document 29. Done it), the next question is proof reading and revising for a next draft. My preference would be to do it by printing out the pages. I find reading for content easier on paper, and making amendments using my ballpoint brings all the advantages of being able to scratch out words, move paragraphs and make comments to myself along the margins. But this is very wasteful of paper, even if the reverse does provide new scrap for the next handwritten manuscript.

My solution is to use an iPad with one of those electronic pencils. That way I have all the advantages of longhand and the sheaves don’t blow away. Then it has to be transposed on to the master laptop, but that’s OK as it’s yet another drafting and improving stage. By the end, I may have dozens of fragments of manuscripts on paper, laptop and iPad, not to mention bits I thought were good but left out, in case they should come in handy for something else.

It was one of these I was searching for just the other day. While working on my second novel, I thought I might be able to incorporate a section I’d written and left out of a first draft of Homeward Bound. I rummaged through a box stuffed with papers.

They’d been hidden there, away from my wife’s perfectly reasonable wish not to have every surface in the house awash with scrap paper and old envelopes. It didn’t take long to find the very manuscript I was seeking. Except I couldn’t read a word of it. Completely inscrutable.

But also in the box, an old school exercise book, with my handwritten notes on Shakespeare in blue-black ink, clear and legible.

Perhaps my school had a point