Good Things Can Come in Threes…

Today is Sunday, March 26, and I have three things to crow about…

First, today is Mother’s Day in the UK, a day when I get lots of nice prezzies. This date doesn’t coincide with Mother’s Day in other countries around the world, but in Britain (in case anyone didn’t know!) we’re sticklers for tradition. And our Mother’s Day – or as it was  originally called, ‘Mothering Sunday’ – originated several hundred years ago and has gradually evolved to become what it is today, with Mums getting cards and gifts ranging from flowers, chocolates or meals out and so on…

I wrote a post about the history of Mothers’ Day two years ago, and retweeted it last year. It would probably be pushing things a bit to retweet it again but a link to the original post can be found here.


The second thing I’m happy about is that today the clocks have moved forward an hour, putting us into British Summer Time (BST). From October to March we’re on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). In the UK the clocks go forward at 1 am on the last Sunday of March – which, from what I’ve seen on other people’s blogs, is a week or so later than in the US – or, at least, in some areas of the US.

Moving the clocks forward means a lot to me because I loathe the long, dark nights of winter and now daylight lasts an extra hour every evening! Yippee! It does mean that mornings stay dark an hour longer, but that gradually adjusts over the next few weeks. Naturally, in contrast, I whinge and moan every October when we move the clocks back and evenings get dark an hour earlier. Then it’s boo-hoo time!

Many people remember whether clocks move forward or back with this little saying, which I believe came to the UK from ‘across the pond’: Spring forward, fall back.

This is interesting because we haven’t called autumn “fall” in the UK for a few hundred years. Apparently, the word travelled to America with the early settlers and stuck, whereas its use eventually changed to autumn here. According to this site the use of the word was first found in print in 1545 in an archery instruction manual by Queen Elizabeth’s tutor Roger Ascham, who refers to autumn as faule of the leafe. 

I don’t intend to write about the reasons behind the moving backwards and forwards of clocks, other than to say it involves daylight saving time (DST) and its use has interesting origins. Perhaps I’ll write about that next year.


My third thing to be happy about today is my latest review of Shadow of the Raven on Amazon UK. I confess, I haven’t read any books by Giles Kristian, so that’s something I’ll do as soon as I finish Book 3 of my trilogy. This is the review, which I’ve just copied from Amazon. I’ve no idea who Catherine is, but I’m very grateful for her lovely review.

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read.

By catherine stelfox on 21 Mar. 2017

 Format: Kindle Edition

Well written with fabulous characterisation. I would even go so far as to say that Milli Thom is very nearly up there with Giles Kristian: Strong praise indeed. I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the next two books in the series.
Millie Thom makes every action lend weight and meaning to the story. That the author knows her subject well shows in her attention to detail.
All this contributes in making this book a thrilling reading experience, and my delight in finding a new author who can provide my ongoing cravings for a Viking fix is to be celebrated.


Lovely spring… Who wouldn’t be happy at this time of year?

My Internet Got Up And Went – Yet Again!


Before I start, I must tell you that this is nothing more than a ‘moany’ post – and I’ll try to write something more sensible by tomorrow. Right now I’m having a sulk.

Sometimes I hate living in this village! Pretty as it is, and the surrounding countryside is lovely, our Internet connection is abysmal! Or rather, it’s just downright unreliable.

On Wednesday afternoon, I’d decided to do some catching up on reading posts I’ve missed due to my writing commitments. I’d been on my blog for five minutes and yes… you’ve guessed it… our Internet connection flew out the window. AGAIN!

It’s now Friday afternoon, and we’ve just been reconnected. Engineers couldn’t come out before today so we’ve had two whole days of twiddling our thumbs. The Internet in this village is very slow at the best of times and despite having been promised ‘Superfast Broadband’ for the past two years, we’re still waiting – whist surrounding villages have had it for ages!

shutterstock_199521074Perhaps we’re just too small a village to bother with. But the fact is, there are a lot of people who work from home living here, to whom the Internet is crucial.

The problem regarding losing connection altogether is something else, and no one seems to be able to tell us why this keeps happening – or perhaps the engineers just aren’t telling us.

Anyway, I must apologise to anyone who has left a comment on my last posts which I haven’t replied to. Also, I have several new followers I still need to get back to. Thank you for being so patient and understanding.


Moan over.

Have a great weekend!

A Perfect Relationship

Nettles and Dock Leaves

Today has been a lovely warm, sunny day here in the UK – at least in the small part of it where I live in Nottinghamshire. While I was out on my walk this morning, I was reminded of a couple of photos I took last week. I was actually taking photos of the local cereal crops (another post I need to do!) when I spotted clumps of stinging nettles and, of course, growing alongside them were clumps of dock leaves.

As children we grow up knowing that if we get stung by a nasty old nettle, we immediately get a dock leaf and rub it on the affected area, which by now will have started coming up in horrid little lumps and not feel very nice at all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stung by nettles – even fallen into a patch or two as a child. And thank goodness for the good old dock leaf!

A large nettle sting. Ouch. Author: Wilbysuffolk. Creative Commons

Well, today I started thinking about three things: exactly why do nettles sting in the first place, why are dock leaves the perfect antidote for the sting and how come these two plants are always found growing together anyway?

Like many of us, I knew a little about this, and thought I’d look up a bit more once I got home. So here it is.

Most of us will have guessed that nettles contain some kind of chemical that seriously irritates the skin. We may also have thought that dock leaves contain another chemical which, when released as the leaf is crushed by being rubbed against the skin, will neutralise the painful sting of the nettle – an idea that is no longer accepted (as mentioned later on).

Dock Leaves

But, to gain any relief from the dock leaf, old folk lore tells us we should cite this rhyme during the rubbing process. (Personally. I don’t think this will help at all, but you’re welcome to try for yourself! Lol)

Nettle in, Dock
Dock in, Nettle out
Dock rub, Nettle out

The stinging nettle is native to Europe, Asia, northern North Africa and western North America. It has also been introduced elsewhere due to its many beneficial uses, which I won’t go into in this post. It is an herbaceous perennial, meaning that it grows back in the same areas year after year. As for why nettles sting, chemists aren’t exactly sure which chemicals are in the venom, but histamine, acetylchlorine and serotonin are present, and possibly formic acid.

Brennnessel_1 (Species: Urtica dioica.) Creative Commons

Nettle leaves are covered in tiny needle-like hairs called trichomes. When we brush against them them, they break off and penetrate the skin, releasing a cocktail of chemicals into the base of the hair, so causing the sting:

Urtica dioica close-up. Author: Frank Vincentz. Creative Commons

It stands to reason, then, that something containing an alkaline substance would neutralise the effect of the sting. It was previously thought that dock leaves worked for that very reason but now we know there is no scientific evidence that they work by neutralising acids. Dock leaves are not alkaline, as proven by simple Litmus tests.

Dock leaves may soothe nettle stings for a few other reasons. Firstly, simply by rubbing the dock leaf over the sting we spread the acid over a bigger area which reduces its effects. Secondly, rubbing the area releases sap from the leaf, which also produces a soothing effect. Thirdly, it is thought that actually rubbing the area causes other nerves to lessen the signals of the pain-sensing nerves, which may reduce the pain sensation further.

However, there are some species of dock leaf that don’t work, including yellow dock and red dock. This is yellow, or crispy dock:

A plant of the Rumex crispus showing the curled edges of the leaves. Author: Oliver Prichard. Creative Commons

Unfortunately, I can’t find any copyright-free images of red dock to show so here’s a link to Google images: Red Dock

Dock leaves have helped many generations of people to counter the effects of nettle stings, and there is little doubt that they do. But it is now thought possible that rubbing the skin with any kind of leaf will have the same effect.

In the past, dock leaves were often called Butter Dock, simply because farm-made butter was wrapped in long, broad leaves to keep it cool while it was being transported to market. In Chapter 8 of her novel, Adam Bede, published in 1859, George Eliot refers to this through the words of Mrs Poysner:

” Molly,” she said, rather languidly, “just run out and get me a bunch of dock leaves; the butter’s ready to pack now”.

As for my last question about why nettles and dock leaves always grow together, it seems to be just a coincidence. Both plants are early colonisers and will quickly move in and spread in any area of waste or neglected ground.

To finish, here’s the first few lines of a poem by William Barnes (!801-1886). Note how he makes use of that odd little rhyme I quoted above:

Dock Leaves

The dock-leaves that do spread so wide
Up yonder zunny bank’s green zide,
Do bring to mind what we did do
At plaÿ wi’ dock-leaves years agoo:
How we,–when nettles had a-stung
Our little hands, when we wer young,–
Did rub em wi’ a dock, an’ zing
“_Out nettl’, in dock. In dock, out sting._”


Nettle tea, just one of the many, varied uses of nettles:



Ask a Guru:

Mail Online:

Loudly Sing Cuckoo

Common Cuckoo
Common Cuckoo. Author: Cuculus_canorus_vogelartinfo_chris_romeiks_CHRO791. GNU Free Documentation License

Every year, from April onwards, I listen for the distinctive call of the cuckoo when I’m out on my walk, and yesterday, I was not disappointed. It’s a little later than I’ve heard it in some years, when the spring weather has been warmer and the prevailing winds are more favourable. In 2012, I heard the first cuckoo in March – but that was an unusually warm spring. This year we’ve had some very cold, northerly winds which would not be at all favourable for migratory flights from Africa to Europe.

I find the cuckoo, and its habits, quite fascinating, and decided to look up a few facts about the bird to share on my blog.

The name cuckoo comes from the Old French word cucu. It first appears in 1240 in a poem Sumer is icomen in. In modern English, the first two lines are:

Summer has come in

Loudly sing cuckoo.

The cuckoo’s song can be heard on this video, appropriately titled, Cuckoo Song.  (A few moments of listening to this one might drive you cuckoo!)

The male’s song, goo-ko/cuckoo is usually given from an open perch, often at the top of a tree on the edge of woodland, although cuckoos can often be heard/seen in grassland and reed beds. During the breeding season the call can generally be heard in groups of 10–20 with a rest of only a few seconds between. The first note is higher than the second, as can be heard in the video. (The female call is quite different – more of a loud bubbling sound.) If you hear a cuckoo singing you will probably not see it until it stops, which is when it flies away from its song post.

The adult males have bluish-grey upper parts and a white belly with dark, horizontal barring. Females have two forms. One is similar to the male but the breast is light brown with dark barring and the other is reddish brown, and often covered with dark bars. In flight, the cuckoo can be mistaken for the kestrel or sparrowhawk because of its long tail and swept back wings, although the sparrowhawk does not have pointed wings.

Euopean Cuckoo and Sparrowhawk
Images of a European cuckoo (top) and a sparrowhawk showing the extent of mimicry. Author: Chiswick Chap. Creative Commons.

Other than its distinctive call, the cuckoo is perhaps best known for its breeding habits! It is known as a brood parasite – the only one to breed in Britain. This means that females lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, known as foster species. Certain foster species are preferred, including dunnocks, meadow pipits, reed warblers and robins in Britain, although many more host species have been identified in cuckoo breeding areas. Each female specialises in using a particular host species and will establish a territory in which there are a number of potential foster nests. She will carefully observe activity and wait until the nests are at the right stage. Then she swoops down, ejecting an egg of the host bird and laying one of her own that mimics the markings of those of the host bird’s eggs.

Cuckoo eggs and reed warbler eggs
Four clutches of reed warbler eggs, each with one (larger) cuckoo egg. Author: Chiswick Chap. Creative Commons.

The female is helped in this dastardly deed by her mate who, readily jumps into his role of mimicking a sparrowhawk. His appearance close to the nest is enough to distract the small birds long enough for the female to hop in and deposit her egg.

Common cuckoo in flight
Common cuckoo in flight. (Deutch Kuckuck). Author: Vogelartinfo. Creative Commons

The host bird, knowing nothing of this, will incubate and feed the impostor.

Reedwarbler feeding cuckoo chick
Reed warbler feeding a common cuckoo chick in nest (brood parasitism). Author: Per Harald Oisen. Creative Commons.

Once hatched the cuckoo chick instinctively pushes all other eggs and chicks out of the nest, and continues to thrive. It often grows to be far bigger than its ‘adoptive’ parents.

Cuckoo Chick
Chick of common cuckoo in the nest of a tree pipit. Author: Vladlen666. Creative Commons

As a brood parasite, the cuckoo has become a symbol of infidelity and selfishness. A ‘cuckoo in the nest’ can refer to an unwelcome intruder in a place or situation – or something that grows quickly. In the novel, Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is introduced by Nelly as a cuckoo’s story – which anyone who has read the book will understand. The word cuckoo is also sometimes used, informally, to describe a mad or psychotic person.

The cuckoo’s behaviour does little to endear it to us – our sympathy goes out to the poor little reed warblers, dunnocks and other birds who lose entire clutches because of it. But as they say, that’s life – and I still like to hear my first cuckoo of the year. Its call really is ‘the harbinger of spring’.

In April I open my bill
In May I sing night and day
In June I change my tune
In July far far I fly
In August away I must

2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

This is the second Annual Review I’ve had from WordPress, although I didn’t post the one from 2014. I hadn’t written too many posts by last Christmas, so it didn’t seem worth posting a review, somehow. I have no such excuse for this year’s, so here it is.

As it’s already 2016, I’m a little late in wishing everyone a Happy New Year, but that wish goes out sincerely to you all. Christmas week is always chaotic in our house, and the last thing I managed to post was on December 22nd. I’ve responded to some comments, and I’ve visited a few blogs, but I know I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

I want to thank all the wonderful people out there who’ve supported my blog this past year. I’ve loved working on my various posts – even if I did almost wreck the entire blog on one occasion! (here) I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed reading so many great posts from you, and learning so much from them. Most of all, I’ve loved connecting with you – my blogging friends. I feel as though I’ve known many of you for years.

As  some of you know I need to concentrate on my third book this year, so my blog posts will be few and far between for a while. I have a couple to do this coming week, before I slow right down and retreat to the 9th century again. My battle helmet awaits . . .

As 2016 gets going, I’m feeling very positive about the year ahead, and what I can achieve. This is how I feel today . . .

shutterstock_297354932And I can only hope that you all feel the same.

Let’s make 2016 a really great one!

The Mini-Barons Celebrate Christmas

Curtis Header 2

Throughout this summer the city of Lincoln celebrated the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runneymede.  Only four copies of this ‘Great Charter’ are still in existence today: two in the British Library, one in Salisbury Cathedral and one that belongs to Lincoln Cathedral, but is on display in Lincoln Castle.

As part of the anniversary celebrations in Lincoln the organisers created a Barons’ Charter Trail for children to follow. Twenty five lifesized and colourful ‘barons’ were created and given names like ‘Truck Driver Baron’ and ‘Wild Flower Baron’. They were placed in prominent positions across the city centre and little ‘mini barons’ were produced for people to buy and decorate themselves.

I wrote a post about the Magna Carta, with pictures of the life-sized barons in August (here) but here is a picture of just three of them . . .

. .  and this one had changed his clothes to welcome people to the Christmas market over last weekend:


In September the barons were brought together for one last ‘reunion’ in the castle grounds before they were auctioned off.  Since then, as part of the Christmas festivities in Lincoln, many shops and businesses have been given one of these mini barons to decorate and display in widows, or on check-out counters. Again, the challenge has been to see how many people can find them. Last week we went into ‘downhill Lincoln’ – the main shopping area – and photographed some of the barons we found:

On Friday evening, we went to Lincoln Christmas Market and had a look for a few more of these little barons in shops in the ‘uphill’ part of the city. These are some we found:

The Barons – both big and small – have been good for Lincoln. Along with the Magna Carta and the Sand Sculptures, they have brought many visitors and trade to the city. Last weekend the Christmas market added to the festive feel as 2015 draws to a close. I wonder what 2016 will bring . . .?

Shoe Baron Hearder

Oops… I Wrecked My Blog!


Last Friday, I was happily playing around on my blog, updating my header image and adding extra pages for easier navigation around the different categories, when all of a sudden I received a message from WordPress. It informed me that my Media file was almost full . . .

Shock horror! What would I do for future posts?


The way forward seemed to me to be obvious. I’d simply have to delete all the images already in my Media file  . . . which is what I proceeded to do! I admit that I had so many photos in the file that I gave up after a while – fortunately, as it turned out.

All seemed well until I noticed that all my images had disappeared from my last post. I just thought I’d have to put those few back in again. Imagine my horror when I realised I’d totally wrecked most of my posts back to early September when I was doing my Malta posts . . .

All those Travel and History posts with big galleries of photos were now totally devoid of photos! So were many of my posts in various other categories. All gone . . .


To cut a long story short, I made my blog private so I could do the repair work necessary.


I’ve spent most of my time since then re-uploading all lost images. What a sad state of affairs.

I realise that the type of posts I do involve a lot of illustrations. So now the files are compressed and re-uploaded so they take up less space.  I’ve also been told there’s a way of getting Wikimedia images straight onto my posts without putting them into the Media library first. I haven’t tried it yet – knowing my luck it would probably wreck my blog… again!

I’m very aware that my Media library is likely to be full again before too long. The only answer to that, as far as I can see, is to upgrade to a Premium blog.


I’ll think more about that when the time arises…

My apologies to all the people who’ve been requesting access to my blog, but I couldn’t possibly allow anyone in to see the mess. Now I think I’ve cleaned it all up. I’ve also missed visiting many people’s blogs, and I can’t see me being able to catch up on everything at the moment, unfortunately.  We’ll see . . .


My Internet Got Up and Went!


Today (Saturday) is the first day I’ve had Internet connection for almost a week! So this is just a quick apology to all those people whose blogs I generally read regularly. I’ll do my best to get to everyone over the next week, but I can’t promise to read every post I’ve missed. Thank you so much to all the people who commented on my Caernarfon post of last Sunday. I’ll reply to them asap.

Needless to say, I’m more than annoyed about this – to be honest, I’ve been tearing my hair out, at times. Internet connection is always dodgy in this small village but we’ve only been without it for this long once before. I drove out to a local restaurant (a Brewers Faye) on Tuesday just to check on emails, but I could hardly sit there all day blogging. Besides, there’s only so much lemonade I can stomach!

My Word of the Week posts are now a week behind Heena’s (challenge organiser) so I’ll have to catch up by doing two at some stage. I also missed out on FFfAW, which is the only flash fiction I do nowadays because of time – or lack of it – while I’m writing Book 3. Not to mention other posts I had planned.

Ah well…these things are sent to try us. Here’s one of the roses in my garden which cheers me up:





Resolutions, Book Reviews And The Weather


During this past week many bloggers have written about New Year resolutions. Several, I note, have decided not to bother with any at all since they profess an inability to keep them. Probably a wise decision, then.

I rarely make resolutions, myself. Not that I don’t admire the determination of those who do – however long that determination may last for.  I’ve got as far as telling myself I’ll do this or that in the coming year, but it’s always been a half-hearted gesture. I suppose I’m fortunate in not needing to lose weight or give up smoking. I’ve never smoked in my life and, according to my husband, I need to put a good stone on! But I know there are lots of other things in which I could show real resolve.

This year I have made one big resolution: to finish the last book of my trilogy. With Book 2 now on Amazon, I need to concentrate on getting Book 3 completed. Then I’ll start on something completely new, although it will still be historical fiction (something I am addicted to!).

Starting a blog on WordPress just over five months ago was one of the best things I did in 2014. I’ve met so many lovely people and have been nominated for two awards, though I’ve still to put my Sisterhood of Bloggers Award on display. I haven’t managed to blog very often, however. I aimed for once a week at first and over Christmas, after finishing Book 2, I managed to do a few extra posts. But I’ll never make a power blogger! My writing time is precious to me, so I just fit in whatever else I can.

Two of my fellow bloggers have reviewed my first book, Shadow of the Raven on their blogs, and I am really grateful to them for that. Both of these people have lovely blogs, with lots of great photos as well as informative posts on a variety of subjects.

The first was in November by the wonderful JF on his blog PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.  He also mentioned my book again yesterday, in his summary of  2014. Thank you JF!

Today came  a second review by a lovely Australian lady, Christine J. Randall, on her blog, Christine R. Thank you, Christine, for the really thorough job you made of it!

I can’t thank these two people enough for the kind things they say about my book. My offer of a free copy of Shadow of the Raven in exchange for an honest review still stands. Two other bloggers have also taken up the offer. My email address is on this page. Just let me know whether you need an ePub or Mobi file, or even a pdf.

Since JF reviewed the book in November, I’ve changed the cover to the one now shown here.  Here are the two different covers. The old one is the very blue one. I’ve also added a couple of much-needed maps to both Book 1 and Book 2, Pit of Vipers.

book cover trimmed

Shadow of the Raven (Medium)

Well, next week things will really get back to normal. Most schools here open again on Monday or Tuesday, so that’s holidays over until half-term at the end of February. The weather has been cold again today. (I’m English, so bear with me whilst I wallow in the nation’s preferred topic of conversation.) After having sunshine and 9°C a few days ago, yesterday was miserably grey, and it poured down before brightening up by late afternoon to give very clear skies  – which revealed an amazing full moon and a cloudless sky. Naturally, temperatures plummeted to -5°C and it continued to be freezing all morning. It’s always pretty, though, to see sunshine glistening on the frost.

But I still prefer to be warm! The first picture of me was taken at Wayland’s Smithy in Oxfordshire in June, and the second one in Lincoln (left) with husband, Nick, and Auntie Joan in August. They show how I like the weather to be:

Mum's Wantage pctures 016

Mum, Dad and Joan

Life in Britain can never be truly boring. We always have the weather to talk about – fickle as it is.