The Heeding by Rob Cowen Now In Paperback

The Dazzling Paperback Copy of The Heeding

One of my favourite books of last year is getting a much deserved paperback publication on Thursday (31/03/2022). The Heeding by Rob Cowen and illustrated by Nick Hayes was borne out of the weird Covid timewarp of 2020 and 2021 providing an anchoring point for some of the world passing by around us. In original poetry with amazing illustrations it helps us to look at the world around us and to heed what is going on. To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes – To not just look but to observe.

You can reread my original review of The Heeding here. It’s original publication also coincided with the month of AudioMo, and I read an extract from the book, part of the poem “The Allotment” as one of my submissions:

The publishers of the book have very kindly given me a copy of the paperback edition to giveaway to a reader of this blog. If you would like to enter the giveaway all you have to do is leave a comment on this post before the 5th April 2022 (please leave a valid email address in the relevant box when submitting your comment, but not in the main body of the comment, that way your details won’t be shared but will be how I contact you if you are the winner). I’ll randomly draw a winner from those comments. Please note that due to rising postage costs this giveaway is for UK readers only.

Update March 2022

We’ve nearly reached the end of the first quarter of 2022, seems to be going about as well as 2020 and 2021, although at least there was only the threat of virus in those two years and not the threat of a virus and nuclear war.

My Fifty from Fifty newsletter seems to be going well and another month has pretty much gone by where all my posts have been via that outlet rather than here.


So far this year I seem to have read 20 books. I’ve mentioned The Marmalade Diaries in a review post, but outside of that there weren’t really any stand out books. Some good ones like Len Deighton’s Spy Hook & Spy Line (I have the final book Spy Sinker in the trilogy to read) and Spike Milligan’s Monty: His Part in My Victory. The latter of this is probably a bit of an acquired taste but if you get the humour they are a great series too and laugh out loud funny at times.


We’ve been touched indirectly a few times now by Covid, with lots of friends and family members reporting that they are positive. My Mum has had it for a second time, and although now triple vaccinated she seemed worse this time than when she caught it the first time unvaccinated. The ring of protection that the government put around care homes is an utter joke. As is most of their Covid response now. Rising infections and just a ‘nothing to see here, move along’ mentality to appease a handful of Tory backbenchers who can’t possibly inconvenience themselves with a few simple measures like wearing a mask or a bit of physical distancing.

For our part we’re still being very cautious, and even more so now numbers are on such a rise.


Digging Potato Trenches

The allotment is starting to take off again, I spent some time over the weekend getting my potato trenches dug, ready for planting probably next weekend. It should be late enough here now that by the time the shoots emerge from the ground the risk of a heavy frost is past. It is odd this year though because we are very much preparing for a house move that will mean I’ll have to give up the allotment, so whilst I want to make the most of the space and the lower cost of fruit and vegetables, I also don’t want to put in too much effort on sustaining the plot beyond the end of this years contract apart from making sure that whoever gets it after me does so in a reasonable state.


The weather is getting warmer and this coming weekend the clocks go forward, evenings become longer and we lose an hours sleep. Hopefully this means more time to be outside.

Stay safe and take care.

Book Review: The Marmalade Diaries by Ben Aitken

My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This is really a story of the current age, we’ve all been through the same period(s) of lockdowns and restrictions and have our own tales to tell but The Marmalade Diaries presents quite a heartwarming story of a rather eccentric odd couple.

I was worried starting out, that this book might become a bit repetitive given that it was written under Covid conditions when many of us were living very limited and repetitive lives ourselves. But that is not the case, sure there are the daily tasks that Ben completes for Winnie, like lighting the fire but these are a unique perspective to a wider discourse at the time.

As Winnie’s and Ben’s relationship develops this becomes a much more heartwarming story. If you’ve ever had an elderly relative living alone like Winnie I’m sure you’ll be able to relate to some of the diary entries. Winnie’s memory issues and her love for her family, particularly her disabled son is clear but you can’t help think as the diary entries unfold that time is not on Winnie or Ben’s side.

This is a great story told over a relatively short period of time of two people stuck together in unlikely conditions. Ultimately Winnie has a very quick wit and really steals the show from Ben but the ‘odd couple’ appeal and interactions between them are a bit of soul food for the pandemic age.

I’d recommend reading this, but I think would advise that if you have an elderly relative in a similar situation then you might want to have a box of tissues handy for some of the more touching moments.


From The Publisher

From the author of The Gran Tour, a portrait of an intergenerational friendship.

Recently widowed, Winnie, 84, was in need of some companionship. Someone to help with the weekly food shop and offer tips on the crossword. Ben, 34, was looking for a new housemate.

As the UK was locked down in 2020, Ben and Winnie’s lives interwove, forming an unlikely friendship, where lessons were learnt (heat the red wine in the oven with the plates; preserve or pickle whatever you can; never throw anything away) and grief, both personal and that of a nation, was explored.

Charting both their time together, and the details of Winnie’s life that are shared with Ben in fragments, The Marmalade Diaries, from the author of The Gran Tour, is a very human exploration of home, of the passage time, of the growing relationship between an odd couple, told with warmth, wit and candour.


About The Author

Ben Aitken was born under Thatcher, grew to six foot then stopped, and is an Aquarius. He is the author of Dear Bill Bryson: Footnotes from a Small Island (2015) and A Chip Shop in Poznan: My Unlikely Year in Poland (2019), ‘one of the funniest books of the year’ (Paul Ross, talkRadio).


Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a free copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. No other payment has been received.

Update February 2022

I’ve just come on here to write up a book review (it’s embargoed until 6th March, so pop back then to read it) and realised that the weeds have been growing a bit in my absence.

This is mostly due to concentrating on my Fifty From Fifty newsletter which has been going for a few weeks now. I’m not cross-posting those entries to the blog as I wanted it to be a stand alone venture which ultimately will come to an end. If you’re interested in reading it you can do so at the link above and you can also subscribe there to have it delivered directly to your email inbox. I’ve also had a couple of busy weeks with work, trips to the vet and sorting things out for my Mum which has left me little time to write or at least write coherently (if I ever do).

I am hoping that perhaps I can free up some time to write a little more here going forward but I guess we’ll just have to see how that pans out.

Fifty From Fifty

In a few weeks time I turn 50. I’ve been toying with ideas of ways to mark it in some way and I thought I’d write about some of the things that I’ve learnt in my life, things that were important to me.

I wanted it to be a limited thing too, something that would be roughly 50 posts, done before I turn 51. So rather than post them here I’ve set up a separate newsletter that way if you’re interested you can sign up for it and if you’re not you don’t have to worry about it – although I can’t guarantee I won’t mention it again here.

So if you’re up for some reminiscence and nostalgia you can sign up here: Fifty From Fifty the sign up process might ask you if you want to pay, but ignore that all the posts will be free. I hope you’ll join me.

Reading Productively

At the end of last year and for the first couple of weeks of this year I seem to have been reading a lot of books that could broadly be classed as “productivity self-help”. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Mason Currey’s “Daily Rituals
Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism” & “Deep Work“,
Oliver Burkeman’s “Four Thousand Weeks” (as an audiobook),
James Clear’s “Atomic Habits

All of these have been recommended to me via a variety of difference sources; friends, podcasts, etc, and some of these books reference each other. All of them were worth reading in their own way, just after I’d decided to take a break from social media I read Digital Minimalism. Interestingly most of what the author was suggesting in terms of reducing digital consumption were steps that I’d already been taking. In fact in most cases you could make the argument that most of what was being suggested anyone could probably come up with by themselves with enough thought and time. I would say however that these books save you that time but only work if you are prepared to put the thought in about how you might implement things for yourself.

Accepting that we are all unique and our personal circumstances are different there is no one-size fits all approach, did I learn anything? Yes, I did. I’d say that I’ve tweaked some of my work patterns to better fit me. For example I know that mornings work best for me to really get things done. So I’m blocking my mornings much more for writing and thinking and trying wherever I can to push admin type work e.g. raising client invoices, to afternoons. That doesn’t mean that I won’t do other things in my mornings, because I also need to be responsive to clients needs, but my preference is to try and keep them for when I really need to focus on things.

I’m still on a bit of a social media break, but I have allowed it to creep back into my life a bit more than it was. However this is much more on a set of “rules” that mean that I don’t end up doom scrolling or wasting time. I am now spending more time reading which is one of my aims for this year (not necessarily more self-help books though). I enjoy this lower level of interaction, although it isn’t the perfect balance yet so will need a bit more refinement.

Do I recommend any of the above books? Well that depends on whether this is something that you want to read about. All are good, but I’ve had a couple of them languishing on my kindle for quite some time (purchased when they were 99p specials), so I’m not sure I’d have bought them (at full price) if I weren’t already thinking about this sort of thing. I don’t think they’re the sort of book you’d read without a reason to.

2020 Take 3

A couple of different people have mentioned that this seems like the third attempt at 2020 after 2021 turned out to be the rerun. I’m not sure yet whether 2022 will fare any better but so far it’s starting out a little similar to 2021 with Covid-19 on the rise, a government that is focussed on its internal party politics rather than the betterment of the country, work being cancelled or changed as a result and life not being quite what anyone would wish for. It probably doesn’t help that the days are shorter and there’s not a great deal of sunlight at the best of times.

I’ve been taking a break from writing here and just about everywhere on social media for a few weeks. I needed the break, especially from Twitter and to a lesser extent YouTube and Instagram, and to be honest I’m not planning on going back anytime soon, and when I do it won’t be to the same extent. Inevitably I use social media a little by default, with things autoposting e.g. GoodReads and this blog, but that’s likely to be my limit of interaction for the time being at least.

One of my aims for this year is to read more and in doing so read more widely. The less time I spend doom scrolling the more time I’ll have for other things like that. I took the approach of looking at things I should: ‘stop doing, start doing, & keep doing’ the logic being that to start doing one thing you have to stop doing something else.

I ended up spending quite a bit of time reading at the end of December, partly in a conscious choice to have a break at the end of the year and also as ideas emerged about less social media and more reading to see what that felt like. Overall I read 83 books last year and so far this year I’ve read 4 (including one audiobook), like last year I have no target I just want to see where I go, no pressure and reading more doesn’t necessarily mean more books.


We finally watched the most recent Bond film over Christmas. I enjoyed it and it was worth the wait. Would I have liked to have seen it in the cinema? Yes, but then I still think that was just too great a risk at the time. Other than that Christmas television was pretty disappointing and there hasn’t been much better so far this year. We’re watching quite a few repeats or just not bothering.


We had a quiet Christmas, restrictions on care homes meant that I saw my Mum before Christmas and spoke to her on the phone on the day itself. Her Alzheimer’s meant that she didn’t actually know that it was Christmas as such. We don’t have what I would consider to be family Christmases anymore.


Related to reading I’ve been cataloguing my kindle highlights using my.clippings.io and my Evernote account. I’ve wanted to be able to make better use of my kindle highlights for writing and making them more searchable has been my aim. They’re now all uploaded to Evernote and I’m working my way through adding tags to each one. I have a couple of hundred books left to do this for so I’m doing them in batches.

I already add my handwritten notes on real books into Evernote when I finish a book so finally all my reading notes will be together in one database.


I’m not sure where I’m going with this blog at the moment. I want to write, but I think I’ll be posting on a more ad-hoc basis than a regular timetable.

Whatever you’re up to, stay safe and take care.

Mid Way

I’ve reached the mid-point of my post a day in December experiment and decided to stop.

I’m going to have a social media detox for the rest of the year and have decided to include blogging in that. A complete switch from what I had planned.

If you want me, you can contact me in the usual ways (telephone, email), if you’re not sure of the details then please ask and if I know you well enough I’ll supply the details.

My Best TV of 2021

Unlike my films of 2021 post yesterday, there’s a bit more to this, even if looking back some of what I’ve enjoyed most this year are things that were made some time ago, so case in point:

Maigret (Michael Gambon) and Inspector Morse were both made back in the 1980’s and 1990’s but still stand up really well today, obviously the latter has had spin-offs (Lewis and Endeavour) and the former a more recent incarnation with Rowan Atkinson as the French detective, but we watched all of both of these series from start to finish when they were repeated this year and enjoyed them all.

More up-to-date but set back in 1970’s was Adam Dalgliesh based on the books by PD James, I liked that they kept the ’70’s setting (unlike the Martin Shaw adaptations) and a series that I hope we’ll see more of.

Shetland made a welcome return and ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. I felt that this season wasn’t maybe as strong as previous ones but we still enjoyed it and I believe there’s another series to come so hopefully that will be resolved.

The excellent Ghosts was back for a third season and I believe that there’s a Christmas special to come. This season started to tell more about the ghost’s backstories and how they ended up as ghosts, I wanted a bit more about some of them, but maybe that will come.

And finally All Creatures Great and Small had a second season which continued the excellent retelling of the James Herriot books and is a worthy successor to the original BBC adaptations, and also has a Christmas special to come.

My Best Films of 2021

This is going to be a really short list for two reasons. Firstly Covid has meant that I haven’t been to a cinema in over two years and secondly I haven’t watched much that I’ve really enjoyed. There’s been more TV that I’ve watched which has been better. So a couple of honourable mentions:

Greyhound – made for Apple TV, with Tom Hanks as an escort destroyer Captain during the Atlantic convoys in the Second World War and adapted from C S Foresters book The Good Shepherd. Okay the book is better but they did a pretty good job of transferring it to the screen. It loses a bit by trying to hype up certain aspects and add things that never happened but it’s a pretty good film.

The Guilty – This is the original Swedish version and not the more recent Jake Gyllenhaal one (which I’m told isn’t as good. The films premise revolves around a single emergency service operator and there are no other major actors seen, most of the other characters are voices on the other end of the phone. Brilliantly suspenseful.

And that’s it, it seems everything else has been eminently forgettable. I would have liked to have watched Black Widow and No Time to Die, but haven’t yet, but I’m hoping I get a chance over Christmas / New Year.