Bury Free Press columns


Nicola Miller: The internet has made me an expert.

I’ve learned so much about animals this summer that I am now a fully-fledged expert. The internet is great at enabling a person to become an instant one of these, ready to argue with people who have clearly wasted their time studying their subject for decades. Who needs experts on animal care or anything else when they could have people like me? I expect Mary Beard says similar whenever some random person thinks they know more about racial diversity in Roman Britain than she, a mere professor, does. Read more.  Published 13th Aug 2017

Nicola Miller: how the menopause can turn you into an armadillo…

Around my mid-40s I began to notice that from the toenails up I seemed to be turning into an armadillo. I acquired a small, round shape; grew the kind of hide that Bill Bryson described as perfect body armour and developed an inconvenient tendency to curl myself up into an obstinate ball whenever I was faced with anything out of my comfort zone. I found this especially alarming considering my family history of inappropriate behaviour towards armadillos. In Mexico my mother had an actual handbag made from one of these poor creatures, its tail curled around and stitched into its mouth to act as a handle….Read more. Published 17th July 2017

Nicola Miller: Books are so at home in our town…

As a kid I swiftly learned that I could read my way out of most tricky situations. An elderly tutor began to teach me to read, in Spanish and English, well before my fourth birthday so as to stand me in better stead for our subsequent emigration to Mexico. Books became escapism but they also modelled human relationships in all their messy complexity, even if a lot of the nuance went over my kid-head….read more. Published Sun 11th June 2017

Nicola Miller: Where ageism and sexism meet…

One of the most vibrant women I know once told me that there are times when she feels invisible. Turning 50 had, she said, brought her to a time in her life where she felt diminished and she worried that as she entered middle age, it wasn’t just her own edges that felt as if they were blurring, but those of her female peers, too. read more….published Tues 16 May 2017

Nicola Miller: A glimpse into our post-Brexit future….

Good citizens and patriots, imagine it’s 2034 and over a decade has passed since we were ejected from the EU in disgrace after a failed attempt to blast the Rock of Gibraltar free from its Spanish moorings.

We’re well past that moment when Jacob Rees-Mogg’s fantasies about Theresa May’s Gloriana made us all wonder whether this was another boarding school euphemism for a word his nanny would have washed his mouth out for uttering. How have we fared here in the East as the fever-dreams of our Brexit masters bite deep? Let’s take a look at what a post-Brexit Britain might be like, shall we…read more. Published Sunday April 16th 2017.

Nicola Miller: The best and worst of social media in the hunt for Corrie McKeague

There’s one particular event which has really given me pause and that’s the influence that social media exerts over the investigation into the disappearance of Corrie McKeague. Here we see social media at its very best and worst. This is a perplexing case which has broken new ground in terms of its relationship with the public and one which I believe will form an intriguing point of study for many years…read more. Published Sat March 11th 2017

Nicola Miller: such paucity of mental health care is untenable.

On Monday night, Panorama highlighted the crisis facing our mental health services. This is an issue that has particularly impacted locally where the mental health trust, Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), was the first to be placed in special measures until October of last year. While the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) overall rating has moved from ‘inadequate’ to ‘requires improvement’, please forgive me if I postpone buying a celebratory piñata…read more. Published Sun 12th Feb 2017.

Nicola Miller: 2017,. do your worst.

It’s tempting to file a review of 2016 although you all know how it went and the media is jammed with celebrity deaths, wars, Brexit and the US election. If you’re reading this, you obviously survived it. Next stop, the inauguration of an orange Trumpanzee who has just discovered he has opposable thumbs and is using them to troll unstable nations on Twitter. Go 2017, do your worst, although you’ll struggle to beat the sheer horror that my friend in Florida experienced when his dog rolled in a decomposing pelican complete with pouch filled with decomposing fish…read more. Published Sun 15th Jan 2017

Nicola Miller: Let’s banish the Grinch, it’s Christmas time.

The Grinch-like grumbles about Christmas cavorting in November are silenced by the arrival of December. Now we can make ourselves feel sick on mince pies without being told you’re being seasonally inappropriate. And if you’re like me, you’ll also have to start refilling the Advent calendar because you’ve sneaked one or two sweets at night when willpower is weak and the need for cheap chocolate overwhelming...read more. Published Sat 10th December 2016

Nicola Miller: why we need to support local newspapers…

What does £1.25 get you these days? Just over half a cup of latte from Starbucks, a couple of Mars Bars or you could buy a print copy of the Bury Free Press. ‘But but but,’ I hear you cry. ‘Why buy the paper when I can read it free, online?’ These are tough times for local newspapers who have seen significant declines in their print circulations over the last ten years and a steady drop in what they can make from advertising as the internet causes a shift in the balance of power from publishers to digital advertisers…read more…published Sun 13th Nov 2016

Nicola Miller: Just what the heck is going on?…

The last few weeks have been busy ones. As well as a holiday in Venice, I’ve attended a launch party for Gannet Magazine at Brawn in London where we ate bread from Sardinia, anchovies from Spain and drank French wine and a book launch at the Maltese High Commission saw us eat food cooked by Meike Peters whose latest book Eat in my Kitchen celebrates the food of both Germany and Malta. There’s also been Turkish shawarma, Mexican guajillo tamales, handmade British chutneys from a company owned by a New Zealander and a splendid Middle Eastern cheesecake from Honey & Co. I’ve been living under the illusion that it is impossible to sit around a table, break bread and fail to find some commonality with one’s dining companions but looking at the xenophobic state of the UK today, I am starting to wonder just what the heck is going on…read more..published Mon 17th Oct 2016

Nicola Miller: Big Mac to go?  It’s Pokemon Go…

Recently, this paper printed a story about McDonalds applying to build a drive-thru close to Moreton Hall, a rather cynical move on part of the company considering that this estate is home to many children and their parents.

This comes at a time when obesity rates are skyrocketing, we are becoming ever more sedentary and overly reliant on our cars. And people mostly know that a fast food drive-thru is bad for us. A lot of the comments underneath the piece showed dissonance along the lines of ‘I know it’s bad for me but ah, what can you do, gotta love a Big Mac’. Read more…Published Mon 22nd Aug 2016

Nicola Miller: Speak out against these acts of hatred…

I really didn’t want to write about the referendum in this column especially after reading humblebrag tweets from political journalists about their lack of sleep and disappearing fingerprints, worn away by typing endless copy.

We know they’re secretly exhilarated by it all because chaos sells. And I wasn’t sure I had anything new to add anyway.

But I have to speak out about the rise in racist abuse. Every time Daesh attack and kill, we hear calls for ‘decent’ Muslims everywhere to condemn such crimes against humanity; to floridly demonstrate that not all Muslims support Islamic terrorists. Yet when it comes to the 57% rise in the incidence of reported hate crimes in Suffolk and other parts of the British Isles, I haven’t seen similar calls for every ‘decent’ Brexit supporter to vigorously denounce these new incidents of racial hatred as ‘not in my name’…read more. Published Saturday 11th July 2016

Nicola Miller: Allotments are part of our fabric…

According to the National Society of Allotment Holders, people want to reconnect with the land when hardship hits and the demand for allotments was at its highest during the Dig For Victory campaign and in the recession-hit seventies where Tom and Barbara dug up their garden and aimed for self-sufficiency.

That war-time high of over 1,300,000 allotments has sadly dwindled to around 250,000 as councils sold off their land, leaving a waiting list of 100,000 people which rose as the middle classes discovered the joys of allotment gardening too. Council-held plots remain under threat from development in some regions and their continued existence must never be taken for granted…read more

Published Saturday 12th June 2016

Nicola Miller: I hope that’s the last of the Suffolk scufflies…

April has been an interesting old month, weather-wise hasn’t it? In search of some perspective on the rather *ahem* short-tempered weather we’ve been enjoying, I’ve been reading Landmarks, where Robert MacFarlane collates and explains the many words we have for it, and Charlie Haylock’s book, ‘Sloightly On The Huh’ which shows how especially great Suffolk people are when it comes to describing it. In short: we have a lot of weather. I can see how useful it is to distinguish between ‘weather’ and ‘climate’ although I am not going to go into the debate about climate-change here because, um, it’s happening y’all and it’ll still be here even if you deny it, just like taxes, ringworm and Katie Hopkins….read more

Published Saturday 14th May 2016

Nicola Miller: April has given and it has taken away…

April is such an ambiguous month for me, a month that has both given and taken away in the profoundest of ways. The calendar on the kitchen wall records the birth of one of my children and the death of my grandfather in mid-April – but neither are events which I’m likely to forget as I brought one life into the world and a few years later, helped my grandfather take his leave of his. There’s been much loss this year already yet the leaves have barely unfurled on the trees. David Bowie was a particularly brutal one. Like a lot of folks I’ve adopted a psychological brace position, nervously awaiting the next twitter #RIP hashtag, hoping that it won’t be anyone dear to the world, hoping that if it has to be anyone, there’s a particular GOP candidate worth bearing in mind…read more.

Published Saturday 9th April 2016

Nicola Miller: NHS: It’s time for joined-up thinking.

These are challenging times for the NHS. The introduction of loans for student nurses and eventually, one must assume, all Allied Health Professionals alongside the junior doctor crisis has put it at the forefront of political debate, much to the chagrin of our government who would rather we turn a blind eye.

I’m baffled by people who rhapsodise about olden-times when junior doctors worked well over a hundred hours per week, wearing a hair shirt and existing on cheese scones, snatched from the canteen at stupid o’ clock...read more

Published Saturday 12th March, 2016.

Nicola Miller: The ghostly goings on in Suffolk.

You don’t have to believe in ghosts to enjoy a good ghost story. M R James is the master of tales that haunt and this former resident of Great Livermere was often asked if he believed in ghosts. It is understandable that people thought that anyone so utterly proficient at terrifying his readers must have surely done so. In response, all he would say was that he was prepared to consider the evidence. James published a short story just before his death titled A Vignette which was taken as further ‘proof’ of his belief in ghosts by some because, unusually for him, it was narrated in the first person by a young boy from a small village who was being watched by a ghost through a hole in a gate. Many readers suspected it was based upon his own childhood experiences in what some have gone on to describe as one of the most haunted villages in England...read more.

Published Saturday 13th February 2016

Nicola Miller: Its a bunny old world for this [foster] mum

When we told my father that he was to become a grandfather for the first time, he blurted out, “it’s not like a rabbit, you know. You can’t just leave it in a hutch” which, as a lesson in parenting, rankled at the time seeing as he once ate one of my childhood pet rabbits.

I’ve been thinking about rabbits as I have become a kind of foster mum to two of them. These rabbits are on track to be as costly as human children, having visited the vet on two separate occasions recently…Read more

Published Tuesday 12th January 2016.

Nicola Miller: Why I’m drawn to the starry skies

To the poet John Clare, the first star that rises after sunset acts as a celestial shepherd’s lamp; a profoundly comforting image of starlight acting as guide for our ancestors as they navigated pitch dark lanes, sailed towards the midnight blue line that divides ocean and horizon and watched over sheep in fields around our wool towns. Stars as night lights, watching over us all, is something that I desperately want to believe…read more

Published Thurs 17th December 2015

Nicola Miller: We’re an odd lot with an even odder history

I’m writing this on All Hallows Eve where night has drawn in early after a cement grey day. Tiny witches with stick-on warty noses, black gowns and feet still in school shoes are roaming the streets whilst pumpkin costumed babes in arms accompany them. They are watched over by tired looking parents who look, quite frankly, as if they would prefer to be sat at home in their favourite chair with a glass of the devils brew after another long day. But instead they keep a careful eye on their offspring as they go a haunting in streets which have taken on the glassy and unfamiliar patina of a rainy evening…read more

Published Weds 11th November

Nicola Miller: Putting our local producers in the spotlight

As Autumn in Bury arrives, our skies are imbued with a familiar vegetal and burned toffee aroma which emanates from the sugar beet factory as their yearly campaign gets underway. It is a timely and important reminder that despite the growing urban amenties we all benefit from, our town’s engine has a rural heart and none of us could live as we do without the efforts of our rural food producers.

We have a world famous market which sells the fruits (and vegetables) of their labours and we quite rightly must do what we can to nurture it, however it is an unending mystery to me as to why Bury does not have its own dedicated farmers’ market, celebrating local produce grown or created within a thirty mile radius… Read more

Nicola Miller: Stone curlews are a local success story

According to Mark Twain, experience is an author’s most valuable asset, “It’s the thing that puts the muscle, breath and warm blood into the book” he said. I know I love reading books although I’m less convinced that I have a book IN me but I have been thinking about what inspired my fondness for landscape writing and the natural world.

I recently interviewed the Springwatch team at the launch of last season’s programme. Chris Packham’s father drove him to Suffolk to see our hen harriers when he was a kid. Michaela Strachan had a childhood less obviously driven by the love of wildlife but she was keen to emphasise how an interest in the natural world is, indeed, a natural part of childhood..read more

Published 22 September 2015

Nicola Miller: I think I’ll leave my body to nature

One of the aimless ways I entertain myself with is by imagining what kind of tattoo I might like if I was in the market to have one, which I am not, despite the burgeoning number of tattooists in the St Edmundsbury region. What event or thing might I commemorate via multiple dermal injections of ink? Had I 
offered up my tender flesh to Colchester’s Tattoo Mick as a teenager, what would I now be looking at with a frown, trying to recall what might have made me think it was a great idea….read more

Published 3rd September 2015

Nicola Miller: The bike’s a symbol of the old me

The years of devil toddlerhood can make even Donald Trump look reasonable, liberal and amenable by comparison and we’ve seen them through. We’ve emerged from the wind tunnel of parenting adolescents which left our hairdos and psyche slightly skewiff but nothing to worry about. Most of the kids have left home, the parental DEFCON system has started to accrue some cobwebs… then my son bought a motorbike and my thoughts have become …complicated.

I haven’t really worried about empty nest syndrome nor had concerns about 
growing old. The alternative to the latter, an early death, doesn’t really appeal and it 
also seems a bit selfish to be vain about ageing when so many people are denied that option….read more

Published 23rd July 2015

Nicola Miller: Why the wolf is part of our heritage

The wolf is an indomitable animal, aloof, untamable and in times past represented humankinds struggle against the wilderness as Christianity slowly spread through Europe, replacing what it saw as a feral abyss. Often depicted as evil in folklore and in the church teachings of medieval Europe, there was no place for such a wild beast in the garden of the Lord.

That is why the story of St Edmund and the wolf that guarded his body is such an interesting one,  offering a different narrative to the sharp toothed predator of Little Red Riding Hood and one of my favourite childhood books, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Although Hitchcock once said that “nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the big bad wolf. What frightens us today is exactly the same sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. It’s just a different wolf and this fright complex is rooted in every individual”, the relationship the townspeople of Bury St Eds have with the wolf is quite different…read more

Published 14th June 2015

Nicola Miller: A punishment Fit for Flytippers

I share the rage of Walsham-le-Willowers who recently awoke to find a tsunami of washed up rubbish soiling their village verge and hedgerows.

What was a pristine piece of Suffolk roadside, home to the baby shoots of Queen Annes’ lace and the greening of elderflower and rowan, was now befouled by a snaking ridge of old junk…Read more

Published 3rd June 2015

Nicola Miller: Our Town’s Full of the Written Word

I recently interviewed the poet and author Michael Rosen. We talked about poetry and how parents might be discouraged by its seemingly rarified air.

Something he said about nursery rhymes stayed with me; that they are ‘wonderful and surprising little dramas’, and I started to think about how poetry and words of all kinds could be lifted from the pages, into our everyday lives. Something else he said resonated with me too: ‘that we learn through the world and what is around us – our bodies, the earth, the way we play, eat and the energy and life around us’. Isn’t this actually the way children learn in the most unselfconscious of ways?…read more

Published 12 April 2015

Nicola Miller: Politics is About our Daily Lives

A while ago I was asked to participate in the campaign by the towns branch of the Fawcett Society to encourage young women to engage with politics and vote. I am proud to be a part of it but remain frustrated by the apparent ease by which the anti voting argument appears to shout loudly and more successfully.

The loss of faith in politicians goes some way towards explaining why figures like Russell Brand’s advice not to vote gained traction among the politically aware and disillusioned….Read more

Published 25 March 2015

Nicola Miller: Watch Out for Potholes in the Dark.

“I went for an inadvertent swim the other night, walking back from my late night foray to the local store in search of all the things I had forgotten to buy in an earlier shopping trip. I had missed the press release announcing the opening of a new community waterhole in the middle of the neighbouring street and in the darkness, stepped right into it.

Rivalling the one I used to swim in as a child growing up in northern Mexico, all this water-filled pothole needed to transport me back in time was a tyre on a rope, a few water moccasins and a lizard sunning itself on a rock. Throw in a few corrupt policemen threatening to shoot our car tyres if we didn’t allow them to siphon off some of its petrol and the blast from my Latin American past would have been complete. It is kind of hard to miss these cratered behemoths when the streets are plunged into darkness, made worse by the fact that our winter appears to be five months of crepuscular gloom. You’d think our eyes would adjust in a kind of super fast evolution, rendering us all creatures of the night like two-legged foxes or cats but no, humans just aren’t that adaptable, especially us townies, accustomed to paying over a grand a year for, um, street lighting and basic road maintenance…Read More

Published 16th Feb 2015

Nicola Miller: Whisper it Gently; We’re On The Way Up.

“When I left London, kicking and screaming all the way with the words of Samuel Johnson ringing in my ears, I was initially bedevilled by every cliche and lazy assumption about the countryside – boring; where you retire to; insular and culturally narrow; full of late adopters, etc. etc.

My early experiences working for a local trust bore some of that out, too, with racist and sexist conversations not uncommon on Sunday afternoons in the ward office when things were quieter – much to my horror – although I know that side of things has changed greatly since the late nineties. I also know that prejudice and a lack of willingness to change is not confined to our green and pleasant regions and cities have plenty of it, too. It just seemed different here. More entrenched….Read More

Published 11th January 2015

Nicola Miller: Building New Christmas Traditions

“My natural cynicism abates in December, firmly pushed back by sentimental Christmas films, Phil Spector’s Christmas album and toasted Pandoro for breakfast.

“The start of the season of goodwill is marked not by the John Lewis advert, but by The Grinch and A Hobo’s Christmas, finally coming to a festive climax with Miracle on 34th Street. At last count, my film tally reached 48 and on the first of December, they are retrieved from the cupboard to go on display as part of our Season Of Tat along with Malibu Santa in a convertible, the glass snow globe, the Virgin Mary in flamingo pink robes and a herd of reindeers on the fireplace. Christmas at ours is all about decorative excess and a measure of flash trash, taking its lead from the Three Wise Men who brought gold, frankinsense and myrrh to the stable, not an understated ornament a la Elle Decoration……..Read more

Published 12th December 2014

Nicola Miller: Cuts to service are disproportionate

“I’m not one for attributing human motivations to Mother Nature but when it comes to two of the most common human conditions, cancer and mental illness, she shows no discrimination with regards to who will be affected – one in four of us are statistically likely to develop either.

“Sadly, the Department of Health (DoH) shows no such lack of bias when it decides which kind of illness gets the bigger share of the pie. General hospital budgets in Norfolk and Suffolk have risen by 15 per cent since 2010 but the story is different with mental health: despite an annual 4 per cent rise in demand, funding fell by 15 per cent (inflation adjusted).

“The Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk & Suffolk describes these cuts as ‘devastating’ and its website details distressing examples of how the ‘Radical Redesign’ (AKA the cuts) have impacted upon service users, staff and carers”…..Read more...

Published Friday  14th November 2014

Nicola Miller: The past is not a foreign country

“I recently attended the opening of the Loving the 70s exhibition at the Moyse’s Hall Museum in town (you should pay it a visit because where else will you find the Tardis, mummified cats, a book bound in human skin and Rococo clocks in one small place?) and, as I wandered around, was struck by the inaccuracy of LP Hartley’s famous quote “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

“From familiar exhibits such as album art (the still popular Aladdin Sane and Kate Bush’s Kick Inside and Lou Reed) and items from Doctor Who to the computers playing Space Invaders with screens that went blank and retreated from me like a sulky monk at Mount Athos (something my own laptop STILL does), the more things change, it would seem, the more they stay the same.. …. Read more

Published Friday 10th October 2014

Nicola Miller: Preparing youngsters for what lies ahead

“We all have our own circadian alerts that tell us that a particular time of year has come to an end and for me, Summer draws to a close when our garden spiders go from silent watchfulness to skittery anxiety as they make a rush for warmer climes inside our house, abandoning the billionaire sized web-mansions they have been constructing outside for dark corners and discreet nooks.

“And the start of Autumn is further marked by the exodus to school of tiny children in their tiny uniforms, dwarfed by new backpacks, scattering along the roads of our town as the leaves will do a month later. Then there’s the intake of college students, loping about supermarkets and department stores, trolleys piled high with box fresh frying pans, toasters and sacks of rice and pasta and their departing gap year friends, arms flung around each other in the pub as they say their goodbyes and fly off to warmer climes and adventures. So for me it is not Spring that heralds new life, the unknown future and fresh starts….it is Autumn….Read more….

Published 14th September 2014

Nicola Miller: Keeping Burglar Bill at Bay

“Well the police and scenes of crime officers have gone and only the silver fingerprint dust all over our front and back door is left as a reminder that this English woman’s home is not her castle.

“Yes, we have had burglars and as I stand furious and stunned in my now not quite so private space, I am left wondering what to do next.

“Doing the job I do as editor of Mumsnet Suffolk, the local ‘arm’ of Britain’s most popular parenting website, has turned me into a bit of a Pollyanna – I meet so many amazing people doing good things for this town and Suffolk in general, that it is easy to forget that there also exists a whole group of people whose actions make the lives of others worse, not better…….Read more…..

Published 14th August 2014.

The Bury Free Press.


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