The year 2020 began for me in Portugal. I was recovering from a broken arm and disappointed to have to cancel my annual charity ride through southern Africa. However, a lovely girl flew over from the Waterberg in South Africa to work for me and we had fun designing gifts, using the illustrations from ‘The Making of Swallows and Amazons’.
When news of the Coronavirus broke out, we launched an appeal to help families in rural South Africa, which proved a huge success.
Carefully monitored by a qualified nursing sister, and with the help of volunteers from St John’s Church, food packages are still being distributed to needy families, feeding about 150 people a month. Read the latest news here.
Tests were unavailable in March, but I might have had a light version of Covid-19 whist we were working on this fund-raising campaign. I certainly lost my sense of smell and developed a weird blister/rash on one hand and foot after spending ten days in bed with fatigue.
My talks, planned for the summer, were cancelled but I read a story for Lockdown Tales, produced by Wildbeast for BBC Radio Suffolk and made available on BBC Sounds. I took part in an online reading of ‘The Picts and the Martyrs’ by Arthur Ransome, recording a chapter at home.
As literary conferences went online, I led a workshop on photographing books for instagram, when we were joined by the award-winning author Claire Wade.
While devising exotic recipes for my next book, I began baking cakes successfully, for the first time in my life, adding cardamon and cloves.
We rolled up a circle in the lawn to make a Lockdown vegetable garden so the children could see how different plants developed. Our dancing carrots became a hit on Instagram.
I photographed one of my husband’s artichokes, winning the Create! competition, organised by the literacy charity SchoolReaders and judged anonymously by Harry Cory Wright.
I was Highly Commended for a collage made out of sea plastic I’d collected when beach cleaning, which was awarded by Emma Bridgewater. The winning entries were exhibited at the Wilson Stephens and Jones Gallery in Notting Hill. I also won a prize for taking part in a socially distanced archery match, but otherwise had a year off on the sports front.
SchoolReaders invited me to become an author supporter of their work instilling a love for books in the next generation, along with other authors including Joanna Trollop and Sophie Kinsella. We are encouraging people to make a gift in their will.
Hailed as ‘the feel-good film of lockdown’,’Swallows and Amazons'(1974) was broadcast on BBC 2 in both April and August. It was screened in Australia in January 2021. The Radio Times used this shot of me rowing Swallow with Sten Grendon who played the Boy Roger.
I was invited to talk about the movie memorabilia in a socially isolated edition of BBC Antiques Roadshow at Windermere Jetty, which hopefully will be broadcast in March 2021.
It was wonderful to be able to spend a few days in the Lake District, where Arthur Ransome’s first draft of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is on display.
In the autumn, a signed First Edition hardback copy of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ was auctioned online, raising an astonishing £201 for BBC Children in Need, exceeding bids for signed copies of books by bestselling authors such as Bernard Cornwall, Jeffery Archer and Adam Kay.
Lakeland Arts organised an online event to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the publication of ‘Swallows and Amazons’, selling tickets for an evening ‘In Conversation with Sophie Neville, which you can listen to here.
Kett’s Books invited me to speak on Zoom for their ‘Books at Lunchtime’
The greatest days of this unusual year were spent on the Solent, litter picking with my extended family, who came to live with us through lockdown. Although some dreams were grounded, we had time to go for long walks and were able to explore the South Coast where we live.
Reviews and photos from readers are always appreciated, especially on Goodreads and Amazon.
After Christmas, I heard that a historical novel I am currently working on was awarded a prize in the Association of Christian Writers’ novel competition and was shortlisted for the Eyeland’s Book Awards, who have offered me a writer’s residency in Crete.
As we entered Tier 3, I was recognised as ‘Beach Picker of the Year’ by Litter Pickers of the New Forest, a high accolade that marked the end of a quiet but busy year.
I’ve gained 3 pounds and haven’t been to the hairdressers for eighteen months, but we kept safe in our little bubble and are looking forward to a better future when there is no need to wear face-masks. You can find my post on finding elderly litter here
I was told the beach was free of litter. It took me ten minutes to fill my builder’s bucket with flotsam. Do people simply zone out sea plastic and litter?
Some was old, but how long have PPE masks like this been floating around the Solent? I found two, along with the usual plastic bottles.
It is interesting to count and categorise what you find. The Marine Conservation Society list: litter, sewage and fishing gear but the reality can be hundreds of small pieces known collectively as micro-plastics.
Picnic litter is inexcusable. With well-designed bins near the gate to the beach there is no excuse for this. Although some plastics, such as the straws and bottle-tops, have floated in on the tide, I found a neatly folded crisp packet tucked into the sea wall. Why?
Cotton bud stalks and plastic tampon applicators classify as ‘sewage’ since they are flushed down the loo – with things too revolting to photograph – and yet this is where our children play.
Fishing line makes up the majority of plastic pollution in the seas. We found an angler’s hook and line as well as commercial netting and floats. The fishhook, lying on the float, caught on my own finger.
We tried digging out one section of PVC rope but failed and had to bury it.
The reward for our work was finding a killer whale, a toy orca.
Since ‘Baby Shark’ has been popular in our family, this made our spirits soar, coming almost as a thank you from the sea.
We returned two days later to find half a bucketful of assorted detritus had either come in on the tide or been missed in earlier searches. Spotting a toy soldier amused me this time. I’ve found a couple of others further along the Solent coastline within the New Forest National Park.
For a list of really weird things found on previous beach cleans, click here
One thing is certain. I can no longer walk along the shore without collecting as much plastic pollution as I can carry. It always proves fun and gives us a sense of purpose higher than ourselves.
Whenever I go for a walk, I take this heavy duty bucket to collect any broken glass or litter I find using barbecue tongs or gloves. I try to remember to photograph what is in the bucket noting things of interest. This McDonald’s cup was picked up 22 miles from their nearest outlet.
I take bags for larger finds I later collect from the nearest road.
Showing the fragile ecosystem where I collect the rubbish is perhaps more important than shots of unidentifiable plastic or broken bottles.
There is always enough to fill the bucket, often twice over but the children enjoy finding flotsam, cleaned by the sea and find bottle tops for me.
This PPE litter and a bottle or Corona Extra was found on the Solent shore.
It has to be collected, taken home and recycled. Leaving bags of rubbish by overflowing bins is not the answer.
If all our children learn to pick up litter, hopefully they will take their own rubbish home in later life.
Sadly, it’s too dangerous to take the family along road side verges, where I only litter using tongs. Some of it looks distinctly dodgy:
Every bucket load raises questions: Why would someone dump the head of a mop in the New forest National Park?
What more can the take-away food providers do?
What are the risks of eating, drinking and smoking whilst driving?
We see the resulting rubbish and a growing need for car bins or heavy fines.
To see some of the weird things I’ve collected that raise a lot more questions, click here
For 20 reasons why it’s good to pick up trash, click here
Accompanied by my purple bucket, rescue hound, two sons and their small children, I can no longer classify myself as a lone litter-picker, but as Covid-19 restrictions lifted on 4th July we set off through the New Forest to resume collecting things that have been lost or discarded. Most of what we found was scattered around the car park despite the prevalence of litter bins.
5th July, and I collected this from a causeway crossing a tidal river where some drivers think it a good idea to toss what they no longer desire into the water. The evidence suggests they are drink driving, and perhaps not thinking clearly.
I pick up endless car parts and assorted trash whenever I venture out, believing that taking one or two pieces from the river bank has to make a difference. We collected a bucketful collected from a beach on the Solent and another from around a local landmark in the New Forest National Park.
When will people realise what they are doing to the planet? The dog now waits expectantly while I excavate plastic from the sea, often showing me something I’ve missed like a lost shoe. I was extracting three pieces of plastic guttering from the Solent when this photo was taken.
Before Lockdown, I was cleaning this section of the Solent shore on a daily basis, mainly collecting plastic pollution that had blown in or been deposited by the tides.
Being isolated and difficult to reach, and yet near my home, it seemed a good place to continue taking exercise with my rescue dog, using a bucket that can contain broken glass and handle windy conditions. I have three that I found washed-up, along with a bicycle basket.
Each bucketful contains between 40 and 260 pieces of plastic. Some items are very small. Barbecue tongs are useful for extracting wrappers from brambles but most sea-rubbish is clean having been floating in the Solent.
I find quite a few glass bottles, takeaway food containers, PVC fishing rope and always an old cigarette lighter.
Some items will have been lost overboard.
Occasionally something makes me laugh.
I find the task of clearing the bridge across the estuary quite distressing. People have obviously been dropping litter from vehicles, including sani-wipes, plastic gloves and things that had been in their mouths. What do they imagine will happen next?
There was a lot of drink-driving prior to Covid-19. I’ve noticed less bottles and cans of alcohol chucked out of cars but far more picnic litter. It’s a wonder we are not coping with a more formidable virus.
“What is the worst things you seen dumped in a beauty spot?”
At the beginning of Lockdown I came across this rubbish dumped in a nature reserve where otters bred. There was human faeces everywhere.
“Why do people throw litter?” I’m asked.
It’s no excuse, but think it gives them a sense of release, which is why we are being inundated right now. I have studied the issue in my depth here.
Quite a lot of rubbish blows off building sites. Here I am in my V.E. Day dress, removing builder’s plastic from a New Forest pond along with a war-time can that looked at least 75 years old.
“What are the most distressing things you find?”
Fly-tipping upsets me. I took my family to help clear half a ton of plastic car parts dipped in a beautiful bluebell wood a mile from our house, last night. It’s been languishing there so long that a member of a UK Litter-picking group has asked me to send him what have become ‘collector’s items’ but there are too many! I dated the haul by a 2004 crisp-packet lodged with the hubcaps.
This was a load of brand new camping gear dumped in the New Forest National Park as if it was biodegradable.
It’s always distressing finding objects that have obviously been stolen, such as handbags, empty jewellry cases, laptops and iPhones. I’ve found eight different lots chucked in the river within half a mile of my home.
Finding nitrous oxide canisters worries me. What is something goes wrong? People are obviously taking it in areas inaccessible to an ambulance.
This bucket weighed in at 4kg. It can often weigh 6kg.
This is one of the most lethal objects found on a beach frequented by children, dogs and New Forest ponies. No one from the Council is going to find this.
Some items seem to have travelled a long way.
“What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found?”
I find long, fluorescent light bulbs washed up in the same place – intact. Here is one I found at the beginning of Lockdown. I’m assured they contain mercury and would be horrific if smashed.
“Do you do art with the rubbish?”
Not using the hub-caps, but during Lockdown I’ve begun to make abstract pictures with sea plastic. You can see the earring and beer bottle caps I found above.
This seascape is proving popular on Facebook:
Those of us collecting sea-plastic along the south coast have found a number of toy soldiers. I incorporated one into this collage:
Being a writer, I usually litter-pick alone so that I can take advantage of good weather and tides while being able to loosen-up after a day typing, but friends sometime join me. It’s fun and gives us plenty to chat about as we view society from the bottom up.
To see more photos and read more about #SolentBeachClean, please click here
For a list of the kind of things I find washed up on Solent shores, please click here