Sunday 31 December 2017

Why do they lament?

30 December
At Christmas and New Year we embrace a few favoured family traditions. We always watch 'It's a Wonderful Life' or 'Scrooge' aka 'A Christmas Carol' on Christmas Eve. Those activities were established by my brother and my mother. I try to follow Kings College carols on the 24th, that's my tradition. We take a post-meal walk but never open presents until the evening on the 25th. Who established those rules? I have no idea but the habit evolved most likely at my brother's where we sit down to eat the festive meal about 4pm. 

At Hogmanay we run round the house like mad things shouting 'Lang may yer lum reek' on the strike of twelve. My father - a MacPherson - handed that craziness on to us.

We also tend to do quizzes rather than bother with what's on the box. This year the only TV programme I watched 'live' over Christmas was 'Call the Midwife'. When I'd digested the storyline and contrasted it with 'A Christmas Carol' it seemed to me that our leaders, especially the ministry of justice - for prisons, the home office - for police and the DWP - for work and pensions - formerly social security, still have a lot to learn. Despite government inactivity regarding the NHS and our most vulnerable citizens both dramas will continue to be viewed in our house during Christmasses yet to come. And we'll still give to charities to help those in need, showing rather more concern than the Tories.

Both 'Midwife' and 'Scrooge' veer towards the sentimental yet have important messages to convey. The former's offering this Christmas showed 1960 society's attitude to Down's Syndrome, the latter the difficulties of being a cripple in the 1840s. The former tells of wife beatings from a domineering man, who was also a sexually abusive father, the latter of folk working for a pittance, barely able to afford a Christmas dinner, yet in full time work. Aspects of life for some in the 1840s and the 1960s are not yet behind us.

With SENDIST legislation - special educational needs and disability - schools and colleges now make provision for Down's and the disabled. In that sense, partly because responsibility for special needs was removed from the department of health to the department of education in the 1970s, Britain is a better place in which to grow if born with syndromes or handicaps. 

However the increasing demonisation of beggars and those on benefits has meant tolerance of the financially needy has all but dissolved - at least in the offices of the parliamentary Conservative party.
On Christmas Eve, 1843, Scrooge passes a group of waifs singing - and shivering  - on a snowy pavement for their supper. They were clearly making a nuisance of themselves outside his large home. He says 'Be off with you' in much the same way some of us ignore beggars, cap in hand, on our streets today. I don't always give to beggars. I'm not sure how I manage to walk past, but sometimes I do.

When asked by charity workers if Scrooge would make a donation for the needy 'for it is at Christmas time that want is felt' he merely asks 'Are there no workhouses, are there no prisons?'

The lack of compassion for the poor as we stumble towards 2018 doesn't mean a return to the shame of the workhouse but our prisons are suffering - buildings, inmates and officers are all in need of much greater support than they receive from our government. Are we, the law-abiding electorate, not in danger of looking like the ignorant bystanders in Dickens' novels?

In towns we have food banks for the near destitute and soup kitchens for those sleeping rough. Labour wants to shift power from private landlords to tenants - giving them more chance to avoid eviction - thereby reducing the numbers of homeless. By contrast Finland has all but eradicated homelessness altogether. It can be no coincidence that the numbers sleeping on the streets of Britain has increased 134% since 2010*, when Cameron and the Tories came into power. According to Shelter a
private landlord/lady can make an eviction without giving any reason. If s/he chose to serve notice on 4th December this year a tenant could have been homeless on Christmas Day. If notice had been served on 11th December the recipient tenant could be homeless tomorrow. Not a happy new year for some. Tenants are given 21 days to clear up and move out. 

But to where?

The department for Communities and Local Government knows homelessness is on the increase. Why, as 2017 becomes 2018, do we have such a shameful housing problem in a wealthy country like ours? When social services, housing benefits and other benefits are cut and part-time insecure work becomes the norm for the mainly unskilled worker, where does rent money appear from? When private landlords increase and council or social housing decreases Britain sees its impoverished lying in the gutter. 

The night Marley's ghost visits Scrooge and shows him images of 'mankind' tormented by a lack of accommodation, warmth and food Scrooge asks 'Why do they lament?'implying he has no idea.

As I add up my donations to Crisis, The Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other charities I hope the money helps those who are shivering, hungry, ill and homeless and I wonder what has changed since 1843. G K Chesterton's poem 'The House at Christmas' describes the virgin Mary as homeless '... driven forth out of an inn to roam...'

We celebrate the birth of a homeless child, born 2000 years ago, in the comfort of our modern sitting rooms, surrounded by cards, nuts, satsumas, decorations and more mince pies than are good for us. But the continuing increase in homelessness is a disease of modern Tory Britain. The Irish Times supports the idea of unwanted Christmas presents being donated now to be ready for those in b&b accommodation in December 2018. No change there then.

Why do they lament, indeed. 

*Homeless Link figures

Sunday 17 December 2017

Happy lexicon 2017

This Christmas, following the latest trends, I will be signing cards as Mx Nina MacPherson, to show solidarity with our non-binary friends, our enbies. My gender is none of your business but have a merry yule all the same … is the essential message.

Now that Richard has his art work hanging at Bath’s latest vegan restaurant, Nourish, our food will, for the festive season, be plant-based mermaid dishes, followed by unicorn toasties.

Last Friday we rushed around our local top-end supermarkets searching for gluten-free desserts for our good friend Richard, yes another Richard, and discovered how helpful Marks and Spencer are in this regard. Now that we have been introduced to veganism aquapaba is going to be our new go-to dessert, no need for dashing to supermarkets for the perfect meringue.

Being an oldie, rather than a xennial, I will likely not convert to an avolatte, as I do prefer my drinks in a glass, or a cup. I’ve never got used to drinking cappuccino from a cardboard takeaway cup, a habit we renounced in San Francisco in 1997. Yep it was twenty years ago today and since then cardboard cups litter the place. Strange to tell I prefer to sit and enjoy my coffee rather than supping it on the move, spilling it down my top and giving myself heartburn.

The greed of the banks has been a topic for conversation with friends and family in recent weeks. In order to avoid paying any overdraft charges whatsoever history was made in our household when Richard gave up his current account and joined his funds with mine. After thirty-six years of marriage we have a three-day-old joint account. The shocking rise in bank charges makes me want to bank with Tesco but First Direct may be more up my street. We are not spending shedloads this Christmas. Instead we’ll be at home in a state of lagom. Tonight we are singing Christmas carols enjoying firgun and general bonhomie. The dark nights and dull mornings lead one to sense that hibernation is no bad thing, hygge is easily achieved in our house: drinking cocoa, feet up and watching TV or simply reading a novel is the new party-hard. Lykke is something to relish, I feel.

Next year I will have to stick to my resolution to lose weight and exercise more. This will involve ignoring the manspreading around the swimming pool, careful there. I don’t, however, enjoy the sausage fest in the pool when I’m trying to swim.

These days, when confronted by shopkeepers or tradesmen one stare from me ensures I don’t suffer from mansplaining and as I attend few meetings now I don’t have to endure  hepeating. Thank goodness most of my Headteachers have been women and we didn’t have to put up with over confident men, nor manfants, at school management meetings.

If that foray into new words entering the Oxford dictionary hasn’t given you verbal indigestion all that remains for me is to wish everyone out there a Merry Christmas, away from thoughts of Brexit, and political the spelling.

If it snows reach for the warmest gorpcore, stay safe and snug.

That’s the new way to be.

Sunday 5 November 2017

Stop the Clocks

Mum died a year ago - at 8 pm on November 4, quite suddenly and painlessly, from a stroke. She was 92 and had been in a nursing home for less than two years.
The entry for mum, in the Book of Remembrance at the crematorium, looks dignified and hers is the last on the page for November 4th. I doubt whether that's because no-one else died in her part of the industrial Midlands on the same day. We are talking about a vast urban population. It may have something to do with the huge increase in costs for funerals and memorials.

The bench we ordered when dad died in 1993 was finally refurbished in time for mum's birthday - this August - when she would have been ninety-three. My aunts - her sisters - took a posy there on mum's anniversary. It all looked very fitting.

Since creating 'mum's garden' at our house I have been adding another plant to mum's favourite collection of flowers on significant dates. This November I planted a cream hellebore named 'Christmas Carol'. If mum had still been with us I would have taken her a similar Christmas Rose - she would have approved.

Strangely however, our indoor Christmas cactus has, as last year, flowered early. When my brother rang on November 4, 2016, to say mum had died, the Christmas cactus suddenly bloomed. It was at least seven weeks early. And again, a whole year later, the cactus flowered prematurely, sending spikey pinky-red flowers way up into the air. Again to the day when mum's spirit left the temporal world.

Even more confounding is that two carriage clocks and a kitchen wall clock stopped working - all within 24 hours of each other - as we approached mum's anniversary on November 4th. It was a simple matter of changing the clock batteries but given that one of the clocks is fifty years old, another twenty-five and the newest approximately ten and their batteries were replaced at very different times of the year it is curious that they should all stop ticking on the same day.

Stop the clocks.
We will remember.

Friday 27 October 2017

More haste less speed is a pain in Uranus

I don't know whether Mars is in Uranus this week but I'm slowly learning, after minor pratfalls, that rushing to get things done does not pay off. And it leads to a pain in Uranus.

I have edited a once-long chapter in my ms, 'The Keys to Heaven', and cut it by at least at third.The pace is better but in the cutting I neglected the finer things like making page one make sense. In trying to get my editing done before we go away for Richard's birthday I've been rushing at it. Writing won't cope with a race - it shows on the page. I have learned to slow down... It's not worth making errors which then have to be undone - costing more in time and producing poor quality copy.

Similarly I turned a ten-minute repotting job into a two-hour slog this morning. All I had to do was remove a weakling African violet, scrape old compost and leaves from it, put it in specialist species compost, water it, arrrgh..., and place it near the window. So what went wrong with such a simple task?

On my pre-holiday  list of tasks I'd itemised putting garden chairs away, finish painting tubs and switch off the water to the outside tap. We did all that by 11:00 this morning. Hence I decided, with no outside water, to repot my violet in the downstairs wet room. All was going well, although I should have put newspaper down to gather the crumbs of waste compost, until I watered the new, gritty absorbent compost. I didn't realise my new pot had a very large drainage hole in it. As soon as I watered it the compost ran out of the rather large hole and straight into the sink. What a mess! I placed two crocks in the bottom of the pot, yes... should have done that anyway, and completed the job. The plant was looking good but the sink was full of soil, it wouldn't drain and there were spent soil granules on every surface.

Trying to plunge the sink made even more chaos. The suction sent sprays of muddy water around the walls, on the floor, over the lavatory, behind the radiator and everywhere you could think of. And still the water wouldn't drain. I moved everything out of the wet room, tried to tidy, knocked bottles of bleach over and created pandemonium. That bloody African violet was on its last legs and will likely die, and I had a sink which was blocked with perlite and mud.

Richard tried to rescue the situation but he had no better luck than me... It delayed him doing what he needed to do by more than a couple of hours as he had to go to our hardware shop for drain unblocker. What a fool I'd been! Meanwhile, with muddy hands, I had to use another sink to clean up so I could hang out the whiter-than-white washing. It was a lovely, sunny morning.

When Richard returned he had to switch the outside tap back on and uncoil the ready-for-winter hose, push it through our wet room window and, as the hardware store suggested, try to shift the soil by hosing it away. Sink unblocker wouldn't work.

After another hour baling mud out of said wasbasin it was finally free. Water went down the plughole once more. Good old Richard and good old hardware store.

More haste less speed has never been truer than this week. I've been trying to hurry things along so that we can go away for a few days. I've made a mess with my writing, sprayed the downstairs loo with soil and switched the water supply to the outside tap on and off about four times.

My list for today was: put garden chairs away, switch off outside tap, paint outside tubs, repot violet,  iron for our holiday and continue editing - all by 11:00 am this morning. It's almost 4 pm and I have achieved 3 of the above.  I shall now sit quietly and collect my thoughts. Rushing has achieved very little... The sun is shining. If I hadn't packed away the garden chairs I could have sat outside and soaked up some rays... Clearly I need a few days away.🌞

Friday 6 October 2017

Return to Sender

For over a year I have been using our local deposit point - in that way, when we are expecting deliveries, we don't have to stay in all day, we just collect them from the deposit point at our convenience.
So confident was I that the system was working perfectly I ordered three items, to be delivered to the deposit point, for my husband's birthday. I made the order three weeks ago and, no, the items have still not arrived.

For something new to wear, from a specialist 1950s jive shop, I ordered a replacement dress for one I've ripped, but of which I'm fond. That was for Richard's birthday too and was ordered well over three weeks ago. The delivery was taken to our deposit point but was refused, ie someone wouldn't sign for it, and my lovely Audrey Hepburn dresses were returned to sender. I'm now doing what I was trying to avoid ... waiting in for five days in case there's a delivery at our home...

Another order of M&S underwear and jewellery should have been delivered this week. I chose to have it delivered as there was no delivery charge. But, yep, you guessed it, I ordered it over three weeks ago, hoping to be able to wear said items by now, but not only was despatch delayed by two weeks this package was also refused at our delivery point. ( Someone new or someone very  busy was on the desk and had, erroneously, sent the items back. ) My new bras have been returned to sender. I asked M& S if my returned lacy, underwired-in-almond bras could be taken to our nearest store for click-and-collect. It took 24 hours to get the very personal and polite reply but there was no mechanism for that process and I would be refunded. I therefore have to re-order everything. I am going into town today and could simply go in to the shop but I was trying to save time ... I wanted to concentrate on my novel's final edits rather than choosing bras from a vast array of styles, colours and fit.

So, today, 6th October, I await the delivery of my husband's birthday gifts. I asked our delivery point not to refuse them... and why had my items been refused? Because of some error. Dare I hope my husband's birthday gear will be here ready for his birthday ... at Hallowe'en? If so it will have been the longest shopping trip ever.🎁😑
Oh what a tangled web we weave when we try to proceed πŸ•Έ(without going out to the shops).
Let it be a lesson for me... Trying to save time has resulted in re-orders, not knowing where my items are and the inevitable waiting in for a parcel ( or 5). In most cases the shops are not in our town and I couldn't simply go in and make a purchase. Their stores are in Cornwall and that's five hours away.
It would have been quicker to have driven there and back... (But too exhausting.)

What to do in the future? Find another deposit point, or just stop buying things? ... It is a first-world problem. The dalai lama would simply laugh and have something philosophical to say about the way we make ourselves ill going to work to make money to buy things we don't really need.

Happy hallowe'enπŸŽƒ

Monday 2 October 2017

Are we behaving as if it's the 1930s?

My novel opens in 1918 on the day women, aged 30, finally got the 'married women's vote'. Ninety-nine years ago around 8 million women stood alongside men, in the polling booths. It took another ten years for universal suffrage to be extended to all in the UK. The 'Votes for Women'  movement was a grass-roots pressure group forcing the government's hand. Today, almost a century later,  we hear how votes for a referendum in Catalonia - for a declaration of independence from Spain - was banned by Spain's constitutional court. Police used force to try to block voting. As an interviewer on 'Today' stated Spain is a young democracy, having been ruled by Franco from pre-world war two until his death in 1975. In other words they are still learning how democracy works.

My father always said the USA is a young country, implying they are still learning how to run themselves whilst, apparently, being the most powerful nation in the world. When the USA went to the presidential polls last year, Donald Trump, at best 'a wild card' with his lack of  political experience, gained fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, a political heavy-weight, yet he was voted in as President.
This was described as a populist movement against the political elite.

In Britain we have had a referendum which asked us simply 'should the UK remain in the EU?'.
In another soi disant populist attack on our political status quo the vox populi was to leave the EU.

The situation in Spain, the USA and in the UK show democracy in action, struggling for birth or re-birth, but shifts in people's perception of who they want to represent them are taking place. In Germany Mrs Merkel has been voted in for a fourth term as Chancellor, but with neo-Nazis nipping at her heels. Her stability seems desirable but at a considerable cost if neo-Nazism is on the move.

My novel ends two weeks after Britain has declared war on Germany in 1939. Europe and the USA beat the Hitler dictatorship. The slump of 1929 sent shockwaves through western economies and people were poor, unemployment was very high and the lot of the common man - and woman - was desperately hard in the 1930s. Economic unrest can lead to civil unrest and war.

Do we have this level of civil unrest and poverty now, causing populist movements ie Trump's ascendancy and the UK referendum? It is said parts of Bristol, in the UK, are as poor as the dreadful days of the 1930s. But is this a localised pocket of poverty? Are children walking the streets barefoot as pictures from the 1930s reveal?

It seems one reason for the populist vote for Trump was a result of the American rust belt ... declining industry, joblessness, folk forced to move to find work. A reason for our UK referendum leading to Brexit was, similarly, joblessness, a belief that being in the EU meant Eastern Europeans were free to travel to the UK and take 'our jobs' and school places. Again joblessness or austerity have, possibly, created a gass roots movement leading to a protest against current politics and politicians. More voted in the UK ref than in any general election. Is this democracy at work? I would defend the right, of course, for people to have a referendum. If the people of Catalonia want a referendum it's easy for me to say they should have it. But what if London wanted a referendum to split from the rest of the UK, or Birmingham, or, as nearly happened, in Scotland's referendum, the Scots voted to leave the UK? We wouldn't want that level of independence and break up. Spain likely doesn't want Catalonia to leave it. Democracy is hard to achieve; it can lead to outcomes we don't all want.

Thus democracy is good if the results of a democratic vote go the way you want it to. I didn't vote for our Conservative government, I think its austerity policy has damaged thousands of our most vulnerable citizens and I certainly didn't vote for Brexit. However, since 2010, Britain has had a democratically elected Conservative government, which I don't like, but we aren't a dictatorship. Are the conditions across the USA and Europe as bad as the 1930s? Blaming East Europeans for our joblessness sounds familiar. Despite my dislike of Trump and our Conservative government we don't have neo-Nazis nipping at our heels like Chancellor Merkel in Germany. Aren't they the elements to watch? Trump, austerity Britain and our Conservatives will go. Democratically. But we know what damage was done in 1933 by Hitler and his Nazis.And we have just seen Attwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' on UK TV.  Let's hope the conditions in the USA and Europe are not the same now as in the 1930s, nor Gilead. Let's hope further discontent can be avoided and no extremist force takes over in any of our democracies in the forseeable future. Perhaps we are all still learning how to be democratic, not just Spain. Let's hope upheavals in the land are small ones and not the seismic shifts of the 1930s. We don't want another 1939.

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Hey Mr Tangerine Man

The death of Glen Campbell reminded me of misheard and misunderstood words from my childhood ... I didn't follow his career but I thought the words '...I'm a lineman for the county...'were beautifully sung. He had a special singing voice but when I first heard these words I thought a 'lineman' was a cowboy-like figure who paraded up and down county borders in the States with a rifle - defending the county line. It was only as an adult that I realised a 'lineman' was to be seen up telegraph poles - fixing the phone lines. ( I was only very young in the 1960s!)

Has anyone else ever spent years pondering lyrics to songs only to find they'd misheard them from the outset?

Bob Dylan's 'Hey Mr Tambourine Man...' came - to my uncultured ears - as 'Hey Mr Tangerine Man' and I thought the great Bob was either bright orange or he was singing about a fruit seller! Again it took a little while before I realised why Bob wanted him ' play a little song for me...'

The phrase 'Gordon Bennett' was somewhat overused in our street - I felt - as I was sure it referred to Mr Bennett who lived at number one - we were number eight. Mr Bennett seemed to crop up in many conversations. Again it took me a few years before I realised ' Gordon Bennett' didn't refer to our neighbour, it couldn't have done, his name was Chris and my father taught him.

Tom Jones' 'Green, green grass of home' proved similarly difficult for my young ears. I couldn't quite understand '...her golden lips like cherries...' How so? Cherries aren't gold! Only when listening very carefully did I hear the actual words '... Hair of gold and lips like cherries...' And I never have quite got the gist of 'abhoring the virgin's womb...' in church.  How do you abhore a womb? Anyone?

Even when Dusty sang '...You don't have to stay forever, just be close at hand...' I misheard it - for years - as '... You don't have to stay forever just because of that...' I never knew what 'that' was ... and why wasn't he having to stay - or not stay - forever - just because of ...what? Perhaps I've had unresolved hearing difficulties since childhood?

Now I'm older I know I suffer from simply not hearing things properly. 'University Challenge' is becoming gobbledegook ... My scores are going down ... I'm simply not hearing the questions correctly. Well that's one reason I can't answer them.

 Must get my ears looked at.

Thursday 24 August 2017

Top 50 American novels - discuss

As I did a BSc for my first degree I feel I've never got to grips with the Great American Novel. Somehow I haven't met enough Americans or Eng Lit graduates who majored in American Literature.
What do you think of this list? Are they the best 50 titles? (I've missed out the ones I've actually read).
1  Huckleberry Finn - Twain
2  Catcher in the Rye - Salinger
3  Scarlet Letter - Hawthorne
4  In Cold Blood - Capote
5  East of Eden- Steinbeck
6  Little Women - Alcott
7  Catch 22 - Heller
8  Death of a Salesman - Miller
9  The Stand - Stephen King
10 Leaves of Grass - Whitman
11 Outsiders - Hinton
12 Crucible - Miller
13 Absalom - Faulkner
14 Charlotte's Web - White
15 Invisible Man - Ellison* reading it now
16 Sophie's Choice - Styron
17 The Sound and The Fury - Faulkner
18 House of Mirth - Wharton
19 American Tragedy - Dreisser
20 The Sun Also Rises - Hemingway
21 The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson
22 Main Street - Lewis
23 Cannery Row - Steinbeck
24 Ethan Frome - Wharton
25 The Bridge of St Luis Rey - Wilder
26 Herzog - Bellow
27 Franny and Zooey - Bellow
28 O Pioneers! - Cather
29 Their Eyes were Watching God - Hurston
30 Rabbit Run + 2 - Updike
31 Breakfast of Champions - Vonnegut
32 Accidental Tourist - Tyler
33 World According to Garp - Irving
34 Angel of Repose - Stegner
35 Beloved - Morrison
36 Crossing to Safety - Stegner
37 Confederacy of Dunces - Toole
38 Killer Angels - Shaara
39 Native Son - Wright
40 My Antonia - Cather
41 Death Comes to the Archbishop - Cather
42 The Good Earth - Buck
43 Wings of a Dove - James
44 Maltese Falcon - Hammet
45 Shipping News - Proulx
46 Naked Lunch - Burroughs
47 Tortilla Flat - Steinbeck
48 The Things They Carried - O' Brien
49 The Stand - King
50 One Thousand Acres - Smiley

I would just say I have read Faulkner's 'As I Lay Dying' and I'm not interested in reading any more Faulkner - at least not yet...
What do any of you think of this list? Anything vital that's been left off? Any other recommendations?

With thanks !

Sunday 13 August 2017

Space Oddity

I had the oddest dream last night. For quite some time I was puzzled about the subject matter - where had I got the idea - or imaginings - for deep-space travel? And why was I so relieved it was morning and I wasn't really stuck on a space ship with people clamouring for my attention?

It struck me that maybe I had gone to bed thinking about comets - the Perseid shower is supposed to be visible in the evening sky. Here I could see very little, apart from a few stars and lots of cloud. It could explain why I had gone to sleep with notions of celestial beings but why was I appeasing crowds of folk on a space ship? Is it because I have been planning a big party for my husband? ( But that's not until 2018!)

Hey ho. Whatever the stimulus was for my extra-terrestrial reveries the joy with which I woke up, free from cares and responsibiliies for my fellow passengers, was palpable. The feeling was of liberation, of having nothing to worry about and of having nothing in particular to even think about. I woke up as if on holiday - simply relieved of everyday concerns.

Of course the images from my space travel disappeared very quickly. I do, however, remember characters in my dream were dressed in shiny white space uniforms. But many were also wearing fancy dress and I seem to remember tables full of trifle and jellies featured quite strongly. One of the oddest aspects of the dream was people asking to get off, as if we were on a bus, and groups wanting  to alight at a variety of 'bus' stops. I had to keep them calm and repeated that they must wait. Another abiding sensation I took away from the dream was that I knew I had to keep everyone safe and I had to stay on the ship until the bitter end. I was very busy telling people to take care of their belongings as well as dealing with their dietary requirements. I could almost have been running a school trip - but for whole family groups - not just for a class of twelve-year-olds!

At the end of the dream I had managed to quash everyone's worries and reassured them. I had met each request or demand and kept them safe until they were able to get off the space ship at some extra terrestrial airport lounge... When I awoke it was barely 6.30 am, far too early to wake or get up, but so enlivened was I by having discharged my duties as space hostess I couldn't get back to sleep!

I wrote down the details from my space travel, such as they were, and remembered I'd done something which, although prosaic, might explain my 'high' feelings. I'd taken paracetamol with caffeine in 2 separate doses the day before. I'd also had an Aperol Spritzer, the drink that's sweeping Europe, according to the barman at our riverside local. Is it the effect of this cocktail which had created my fantastic space trip? I don't watch Dr Who and I haven't been thinking of Bowie nor his Space Oddity. I haven't been entertaining friends or family enmasse but I have had paracetamol-with-caffeine for a trapped nerve in my back. I had cleared  the kitchen garden and made new paths, all of which had made my back pain flare up. Is it the realisation I no longer have to dig the veggie plots, nor re-stain fence panels, nor clear unwanted honeysuckle - which has been a devil to shift - nor transport garden waste to the 'green bin' that has given me the feeling, on waking, of great elation? Has doing the garden been weighing on my mind? But what has making new paths in our kitchen garden got to do with the overriding responsibilities of space travel?

Yesterday, after my gardening chores were over and I was lying down, resting my back, I did watch an excellent BBC version of Priestly's 'An Inspector Calls'. Had I, perhaps, taken the message of the play, to be responsible for everyone we meet, to heart? Could that explain my own 'space oddity'?- the notion that if you don't treat people with courtesy they might suffer as a result of your actions. Might these thoughts have affected my subconscious? Are these the thoughts I had when I closed my eyes last night? I do know this morning I have nothing to worry about. Well, nothing apart from querying why I had such an odd dream, full of an overwhelming burden that I was responsible for everyone on that space ship. Now I've written my blog and discharged my duties I can relax, have a cuppa and get on with my day.

Can't I?

Monday 24 July 2017

Dunkirk and Paxman

It is rare that I go to see a war film at the cinema, it's not usually something I can stomach. I had to switch off 'Platoon' when it was shown on the box and I have only managed to watch part of Tom Hanks' film 'Saving Private Ryan.' This latter was important to follow as my father was in D-Day ops. A few years before he died, in Italy where he was to revisit Salerno-sadly, he never made the battle sites but died in our hotel just after breakfast one August morning, we took him to Arromanches, the landing beaches depicted in the Hanks film. At the commemorative museum there I recall another veteran saying to dad 'It was hell, wasn't it?'
                                   'Not as bad as the desert,' my father replied, referring to El Alamein.
My father didn't mention the fact that nothing, even these major offensives, could prepare him for his role in the relief of Belsen. So, for him, D-Day wasn't hell. It was just bloody awful.

Watching the Christopher Nolan film 'Dunkirk' today I was quite moved and humbled. Demoralised young men stood in lines on a vast stretch of sand, not knowing their fate. In 1940 many were my father's age, just eighteen. They were waiting, defeated, to be picked up off the beach. But, I understand from personal testimonies, the really frightening aspects of the humiliating wait were the strafings from enemy fire. There was no shelter and Nolan effectively showed the randomness of war. Heads - you keep your head down and live, tails - you're blown to bits, to be 'buried' with the words 'Known unto God' on a headstone.

My father would have suffered a similar fear, although he was in armoured cars, with a driver, but one admires these men. They recovered, in most cases. They married in the 1940s and 50s, after de-mob, and had families.

Ordinary dads. Going to work, taking their families on day trips. Playing games, feeding the cat. Others never returned and died as teenagers or twenty somethings in France, in Germany, in the desert, out at sea, in the skies or on the Burma railway.

Never once did dad mention the horrors of war when we were growing up. I first heard about his experiences when I was in my thirties, some forty years after the end of WW2. Today Nolan put the audience, us, in the position of a uniformed participant, at a remove of 77 years and the big screen. But it was like we were there. One could only feel for the poor souls. What they went through to allow us to be British-not Nazi puppets. Such acts of unselfishness; those that weren't hit were soaked through, drowned or burned alive. Such profound sacrifice. A mug of tea and bread and jam were their rewards. No self-indulgence allowed.

Which brings me to Jeremy Paxman. Again I rarely watch him but one thing he said when promoting a book he'd written, and with which I concur, is that today 'we live in trivial times.' The fuss people make about what to eat, how their wine is served, lah-dee-dah, lah-dee-dee, is indulgence and, yes, trivial. It rarely matters what wine you drink if you are happy, in good company and have a sense of perspective. With so many horrors still being perpetrated around the world today having a glass of wine, anything to drink in fact, is luxury for some poor creatures.

Nolan made me feel for the soldiers waiting on the beach in 'Dunkirk'. Poor lads, I thought. One of them could have been my father, my uncle or a friend's father. We are very lucky to be living in trivial times. Mere irritation won't kill us. Enemy fire will.

Tuesday 13 June 2017


I sat down to watch the TV at 9 pm on Thursday 8th June, having placed my vote, hoping the Lib Dems would wipe out our Tory MP. Reading the Indy headlines the night before meant I hadn't slept well. They predicted a May (Tory) landslide.I'd hope she might only manage a working majority of 30 ( ie 326+30 seats).

I was convinced the other polls were inaccurate. Corbyn and Labour couldn't have caught up as well as they predicted in the days before the election, could they? After all we'd had the shock of the referendum - I believe even Cameron was shocked by the Brexit vote. We've seen the inauguration of Trump in place of an extremely capable candidate in the form of Hillary Clinton. Surely this just wasn't the time to hope for a left-wing upsurge.

And then a programme of support, love, helpfulness and compassion was broadcast. It made me feel we weren't a hard-nosed Tory-led island race after all. What was this programme?  In the build up to the BBC Exit Poll at 10:00 I was watching DIY SOS.

I can only rejoice at the timing of this perfect piece of television. I was weary of viewing nattering MPs - some hell bent on destroying this country's sense of compassion for the ill, disabled, unemployed or those otherwise in need - but Nick Knowles showed us another way. Seeing a splendid couple taking on - with great love - the upbringing of four adopted children - all with difficulties - restored my faith in humanity. The fact that countless builders, electricians, plasterers and others gave their time, gratis, for the worthy cause of building a specialist house for the family of six was the icing on the cake. As the programme ended and I dreaded five more years of Tory cuts, I anticipated a very different BBC-SKY-ITV exit poll to the one David Dimbleby announced. 

From 9:00 to 10:01pm that night I felt the understanding of the needs of others had been restored in the UK. DIY SOS was moving and practical. It shows what can be done.This excellent slice of humanity at its best was followed by the best exit poll ever! A hung parliament.

 May was going to have to rethink. Maybe austerity would come to an end and the support services, one-one tuition, SEN provision, NHS funding - all required by Nick Knowles' family - would be 'fashionable' again.Moreover funding might be delivered. 

I didn't sleep that night either - but for quite different reasons. I am a literacy, KS2 SATs & special needs teacher. I am bound to think disabled, ill, weak or academically challenged children need support. I believe in giving help to children who find SATs tests or reading books hard. Austerity measures have let children who need extra tuition & medical support down. A wealthy country like the UK has the resources for such a family as the one Nick Knowles and his team were helping. But where's the political will? 

This was most impressive broadcasting. The only landslide that night was shifting soil, a result of the diggers making tenches and foundations for the new build. It was a new home for the most deserving of families. 

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Emoji my friend?

I wonder, can we find an emoji for every human mood? When we scan the range of smiley faces to insert into our posts, is all life there? I must be getting the seven-year-itch – it is 7 years since I left full-time teaching – I need a change of place or face or just more sunshine! Can we sum up folk we meet by their ‘smiley face’?

🌞 Some people radiate warmth. It’s good to be in their company. It’s a bit like being at home again but you’re all grown up now and out having a drink instead.
πŸ˜€ Others are happy, they smile when they see you. They laugh at life’s absurdities.
😁  A few are comedians, cracking jokes, and an entertainment. We laugh & love seeing them.
πŸ€” One or two are thoughtful, pensive and like a good conversation; stimulating and good to know.
πŸ€• One chap I know jumps off buildings, another cripples himself marathon running or seems accident prone… yet they both persist. They'll carry on till their ankles give way.
πŸ€’ Some always seem to be ill and their lives consist of hospital, GP surgery, therapy, treatments, special diets and conversation is always the same and glum. And about them.
😩Another  wears everyone down with their misery and angst. Are they suffering anxiety disorder or  clinically depressed? It’s a cold experience and their point of view so out of line with others.
😑Then there are the complete miseries. They can’t know how bossy and negative they are, or surely they’d do something about it, wouldn’t they? But perhaps they too suffer from depression.
😡Oh and the confused. They barely know the time and appear to be in a state of complete chaos. Must be difficult but if they are blithe about it all who am I to comment…?
🀐And what about those who are inscrutable? So afraid of letting anything personal out into the open…conversation can be very difficult.
😧The stressed. A lot of these about. So busy coping they forget how to relax or laugh.
I like folk who can say ‘It doesn’t matter…’ and put things into perspective. It’s a skill.And I like people who enjoy pub quizzes - it's fun and you get to have a drink or three.
😴 And then there’s me. Half asleep, overweight and trying to cope with the mixed emotions around me. But I hope I can be πŸ˜ƒand🌞and good company. Perish the thought I’m one of these ☹️or🀧orπŸ‘Ί

But do we ever see ourselves as others see us? And what if we never learn to project happiness? πŸ˜€

This week you really should ...

Learn how to make a medieval wattle-and-daub wall. Wear knee-high wellingtons or stout boots -you never know what lies underfoot when making your own ancient domicile. You will be joining an expert team of archaeologists and builders. Meet 6.30 am daily by Farrow and Ball for travel by shepherd’s hut to our nearest mystery ancient site. Bring own packed lunch and toilet paper. Mead served at noon. Chemical lavatories only. No dogs.

Haven’t you always wanted to spend £60 foraging for root vegetables on a Saturday afternoon? Well now you can. One small trowel allowed. Remember how our forefathers dug for grub? They didn’t carry Wilkinson Sword shovels with them did they? Meet outside the Holy Well at St Credo Parish Church at noon. Back 3pm.

We all know the view from Avebury Ring but HengeWalks&Builds offers you a fine panorama from atop The Ridgeway. Learn how to build your own  Stonehenge from quick-set cement blocks. All you have to do is create your team, decide upon a leader and plan your strategy. You’ll have the challenge of a stiff walk uphill to the ridge, making a raft, dragging your ‘stone’ blocks down to a clearing and recapturing Stonehenge as your team thinks it looked. Judging takes place at dusk.
All this for £100 every Thursday evening, summer time only. Meet at Avebury stone circle, near the car park, no later than 5.45pm. No mobile phones.


Monday 15 May 2017

Barmy, tired or mental health issues?

I've had a fantastic response to my badger post. Apparently cloths soaked in eucalyptus oil might literally put badgers off the scent. I love them but don't want my seedlings withered and emaciated because they've been uprooted. It'll be interesting to try that remedy before being driven barmy!

What with the badgers and our welcome but demanding social life we've had a busy few weeks: We had a small party before our Open Studios, thereafter we were open house for three days, meeting & greeting and making sales, raising charity funds etc. Between the gardening - a very busy time trimming, watering, mulching, tieing back, lawn cutting - we've had two more big parties and I've been trying to sort out wearable clothing, unwanted crocs, second hand books and other items for a car boot sale. Yesterday I neatened the lawn edges and generally hoovered outside. I washed endless linens and T shirts which may be good for a car boot and fell asleep in the sun for about 5 minutes. Why this activity? The warm, dry weather was merely coming to an end! Gardening and drying rugs and heavy towelling robes are far more difficult when the rains come. I sat down mid-afternoon - after a party the night before - and managed to take a photograph of the manicured garden.  I was just in time. Within moments the heavens opened!
Today Richard and I are surprised we are tired. And we shouldn't be shocked by our weariness. We all have to be sensible about flagging energy levels. Fatigue can play funny tricks on one's mood and mental well-being. The body is saying it needs a rest.

More importantly, regarding mental health, I note Eva Wiseman, in yesterday's Observer was quite rightly saying awareness of mental health issues is at an all-time high. But, she asked, where's the provision to help said issues? While I tap away here, feeling glad I am merely tired from overdoing it, my heart goes out to those who have overpowering mood changes, panics, depressions and anxiety or personality disorders. At least I know that if I rest or go for a walk or watch Casablanca I'll feel restored. It's not that simple for those for whom a cup of tea, paracetamol or a lie down aren't the answer. Eva Wiseman hit the nail on the head. Awareness of issues is not enough. Mental health needs preserving, nurturing and treating - when an inbalance sets in for more than the odd few hours, simply because we've done too much! Well said Eva. As a special needs teacher I know that provision is all.

Thursday 11 May 2017

The badgers got me off my guard today

In the old days, let's say 2013, I could dig and weed the flower beds in February, if they weren't frozen, enjoy the daffodils in March, put compost down for the French beans and in April think about planting leeks (or sowing them). By April Richard would have cut the lawn at least four times and by now, mid-May, we'd be enjoying the splendour of the vegetable beds. But that was then!

Since early spring this year we've been thrown by the activities of the woodland wildlife who visit our garden. They feed (and dig) our lawn and beds like it's an all-night diner. The leeks I sowed in March were scooped up one night. It made the raised beds look as if the badgers ( for it is they) had decided to become wine growers and had taken up grape-treading. I bought packs of leeks to replace my stillborn seedlings. Within days the pencil-like plants were lying flat on the soil, their roots out of the holes I'd made carefully for them with my dibber. Instead of 36 leeks I now have about ten. One of the original 36 is now thickening - the way it should - the rest are flailing around like blades of grass recently trimmed by the lawnmower. I won't be sowing my usual lettuces and leaves - can't cope with the carnage when I go forth with my watering can.

Now we have no hose pipe and garden tap at the top of the garden the vegetable beds are truly suffering. The early broad beans were upended by a badger who must have learned his technique from queuing for ice creams; watching the servers scooping vanilla ice out of a big tub.Richard has replanted his broad beans and resown more. We now have 50 small plants - far too many - as he didn't expect his first set to grow - they were for autumn sowings. Since the raised beds will have no access to the hosepipe I have sown spinach seeds (as a medicine for Richard's macular). Spinach suffer less from a lack of water. So far these seedlings haven't been interefered with. My French bean seedlings are so successful I have run out of window ledge to house them. About ten grew last year.  Most of those were eaten.This year I have more like sixty. Now I'm making space for them in our mini-greenhouse but they are going to be ready too quickly. It's been so warm they have leapt out of their seed trays like a goldfish jumping out of its bowl. (Before the cats we had a goldfish who jumped out of his bowls so often his new home became a baby's bath. We think he was a carp.)

In order to cope with too many seedlings I'm turning old flowering plants out of their barrels - hoping the badgers won't stand on hind legs to get at our brand new beans. The water butt, usually overflowing this time of the year is getting decidely short of water. It's been so dry and we haven't quite worked out how to water our vegetables now the water pipe has been shut off.  The water butt has never been in so much demand. Is it a good idea to lay a hose the full length of our garden, up two sets of steps, so we can have instant liquid for our kitchen garden? It could be 100 feet in length...

When the beans are planted how long will they last? I wanted to add more compost to a bed today. What did I find? Six heavy stones had been removed from in front of the compost bin (badger deterrent) and a scattering of rotted vegetable matter strewn around my neatly swept gravel paths. ( I only swept them yesterday.) I feel like the mother in Harold and Maude on finding her son, Harold, who has pretended to cut his wrists, spraying blood all round the mirrors in their well-appointed bathroom, (not his first quasi-suicide attempt). On seeing blood everywhere she cries 'This is tooo much!' Do I battle on or grow flowers in the raised beds next year...? I love badgers but we had a hole about a foot deep in the broad bean bed today. It's been quiet for a few days. I thought we were safe. But no. The badgers were back...They got me off my guard...

Saturday 6 May 2017

Time and Place

Watching the excellent film interpretation of Ishiguro's Remains of the Day I was reminded of the day, in my early years as SENCO (school special needs co-ordinator) at Patchway, when the A46 was closed for filming. I travelled along that road morning and night, from Bath to Patchway and back, for twenty years. Early in the 1990s, when filming of Remains of the Day began, our section of the A46, just outside Bath, was blocked, and we took another route.
     The early scene in the film where Stevens, seemingly trapped in Darlington Hall for decades as a butler, seen driving out of the big house on a rare visit to Clevedon, was captured in the space of a few hours. We know this because the A46 was open as usual the next day. Of course the 'hall' being used was beautiful Dyrham House, in Dyrham Park, and I passed its entrance, from where Stevens drove the 1930s Daimler, twice a day, from 1990 to 2010, but in a much less prestigious car! However, whenever I see the opening shots to the film I'm so grateful that when passing the entrance to Dyrham I was always free to go home, unlike Stevens. The final shots of a trapped pigeon finally making its escape from the hall are moving. Unlike the bird Stevens is still incarcerated with little or no privacy, family nor home of his own. He was 'in service' for life. The novel encapsulates duty, its virtues and restrictions. I know no-one in such a subservient role.

Even more of a jolt - when comparing my life and fortunes to others' - I was horrified to learn that it was on March 13th, a day before my birthday, but removed by a mere 13 years, that the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto at Krakow took place. In researching the war years for the sequel to my novel 'Coming of Age', beginning in 1939, where the first book left off, I was shocked that a mere thirteen years to the day when my mother went into labour with me, her first born, established Jewry in Krakow was no more. I learned these facts from watching Schindler's List. I have yet to read the book but the film shows the gradual lack of freedoms endured by Jews, until the ultimate is achieved; their annihilation. Thirteen years is hardly a life-time. It's a shockingly short passage of time between their deaths, their tortures, the brutalities meted out on them, and my birth. It feels very,very close.

When I was three I would take my mother's hand and 'help' push my newborn brother in his pram to our local park. There, peering between the pink and yellow rose bushes, I could look down at shiny railway tracks, wait for a whistle, see white smoke and finally jump up and down at the site of the steam train passing through to Birmingham and the huge world beyond.

When the Jews of Krakow stood in railway trucks, melting in the heat, passing out from hunger, lack of air and water, and herded about like cattle, condemned for slaughter, I cannot believe they viewed the steam train, so beloved by nostalgic train-spotters, with affection. For us the steam train represented a journey of excitement, into the big city, into a world of the unknown. For them, in March 1943, they could only feel fear and doom. My memory of  seeing shiny railway tracks as a three-year-old will be for ever corrupted by the image of  tracks entering Auschwitz.

Adverts on the television still show suffering: street children in Asia, refugees in camps, the starving babies in parts of Africa and Yemen, donkeys crippled with overwork. While I sit in the comfort of my study watching scenes of depravity I recall the day my father told us he had been in the liberation party for Belsen camp. He had never talked about it until I was in my thirties, the year we took him on holiday to Arromanches, France, where he had served in D-Day. I had had no idea he had witnessed the results of acts of gross inhumanity. It explained, however, why dad had given me 'Spotty' for my first reading book. It was written, at a child's level, as a plea that we should accept those who are different from us, even if that difference is merely being spotty in a non-spotty world.
     Dad had witnessed wicked cruelty, intolerance and lack of freedom for human beings who happened to be living at the wrong time, in the wrong place. I am ever grateful to have a comfortable home in a beautiful city. I can come and go as I please. Not everyone, not even the butler Stevens, had those freedoms. He's seen 'disappearing' into the wainscotting he had just polished, accepting he had to be seen and not heard, pushed to one side, unimportant. A different time and place.

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Not what it says on the tin

I don't know whether it's 'hats off' to Cuprinol (other garden shades are available) for being helpful or just a clever tactic on their part... ie their successful sale of fence paint to an unknowing me.  In a roundabout way I'm referring to the endless task of maintaining our home - more specifically, on this occasion, to the garden fence. Have Cuprinol been our rescuers? Please read on ...
       About 16 years ago I paid a lot to have the whole length of our garden refenced. Within a few years the weight of honeysuckle from the other side of said fence had eroded the tops and some panels had to be replaced. Since then even more have weakened but I rescued them - visually at least - by painting them - laborious panel by laborious panel - with an elegant fence paint named Cuprinol Holly. It was a dark green - it matched our garden furniture - it set off the flowering plants very nicely and looked so much better than the traditional orange freak-me-out wood stain which looked positively vile and was not easy to slap on.
        In the welcome spring sunlight I can see one or two sad panels have grown moss (now there's a shade) and they need recoating. Others are still splattered grey - cement having been hurled at them while the boys from Abergavenny replaced our old water pipes last November.They dug up most of our patio and there's more cement on the fence than between the replaced slabs. Can you imagine the scene when I tried washing the fence with soap and water? A freezing day made much worse by having my hand in cold water performing a fruitless task ie making the fence look super-important and me like something out of a back-to-back slum from the poverty-stricken 1930s.
       This week I decided to repaint the panels. We've had plenty of dry weather. Why delay?
Why delay indeed. Firstly no-one either in the flesh nor on-line had tins of Cuprinol Holly. It wasn't just our garden centre becoming shy of stocking that shade ... Even Cuprinol themselves don't have  it. Imagine my surprise when I heard back from my email to their 'helpline'. ( I didn't sign myself 'Desperate of Bath' but was trying to avoid days and days of painting our long stretches of fence with a new shade ...) The Cuprinol email was long, addressed my concerns, told me how to rescue the situation and sent me a voucher to buy a brand new tin of 'Cuprinol Garden Shades.' So pleased was I to learn that although  'Holly' was no longer made by Cuprinol two other shades mixed in a ratio of 3:2 was the new equivalent. I felt certain our fence would soon be elegant once more.
     Sadly the reality of DIY projects always makes me glad I'm not answering those questions on Desert Island Discs which begin 'If marooned do you think you could build yourself a shelter?'I planned out my strategy - what could go wrong? I had three tins :- 1) Remnants of Cuprinol Holly - the last cms of said stain on planet Earth 2) A free tin from Cuprinol called Ash and 3) Another tin from Cuprinol - paid for by me - called Sage. The lengthy email from the helpline told me that others had found three parts Ash mixed with two parts Sage = Holly. I must have looked a strange sight measuring and marking 5 cm on the side of an almost empty tin, and pouring the remnants - for colour matching - into the lid. An even stranger sight was my getting covered in Ash whilst trying to pour it into the old tin up to the 3 cm mark. Could I judge 3 cm depth of fence paint? No I couldn't. I managed to dip the end of of a tape measure in to judge the amount of stain I'd poured and found I was way over 3cm. If 3cm:2cm is the ratio 3:2 in a quantity of paint measuring 5cm depth, what the bloody hell is the same ratio for 4.75cm Ash to ...???... Sage? It took me aeons to do simple arithmetic. Eventually I poured in the almost-correct amount of Sage. The tape measure showed this time I'd added too little. And did the mixture look anything like 'Holly'? ... Of course not! Many pourings of stain and my coat, hands, hair in-a-state later I decided that was the best I could do. I tried painting the magic mixture on cement splattered panels and instead of looking a deep, rich green the effect was grey, thin and very messy. But I ( quite deterred) continued painting the fence. Even grey was better than cement encrusted panels.After half an hour of yet more pointless DIY the stain began to dry ... and looked remarkably like 'Holly'.
      I was coated in grey, green, near-black and various other shades but the desired outcome may have been  achieved. Now the old tin of Cuprinol 'Holly' contains Ash/Sage - not what it says on the tin. My hands were so covered in paint I couldn't get to a label to stick on said tin thus it still looks as if its full of anything but the newly homemade shade. It definitely isn't what it says on the tin. Bravo Cuprinol - I think - but it would have been so much easier to have bought a tin of 'Holly' - wouldn't it?? I really don't to remix tins in order to restain the whole of our long fence but ...

Wednesday 5 April 2017

What's a Ford B max?

Over the last few days the good people of Devon, my husband and my friends have all shown great restraint. Why, on sunny afternoons, have I, dressed fully in black, save for a necklace of multicoloured lozenges, been seen wandering around car parks? Why have I surreptitiously positioned myself to take the best shot of the rear end of a Ford motor car? Have I suddenly become fascinated by 'Top Gear' now Clarkson's gone? Am I a sex-starved voyeur? Am I in hot pursuit of holiday makers having a quickie, before ambling through the car park to the rear entrance of Boots for their painkillers and haemorrhoid preparations? And why am I wearing a long black, warm, woollen winter coat with the sun high in the sky and temperatures well above 65 degrees?

I haven't found myself short of things to do on this early spring holiday. That's not the reason. And it has been a cold wind out there - once we've got out of our holiday cottage for down-town Beer, Branscombe, Budleigh or Sidmouth - hence the winter coat. 

No the reason for this odd photograph-taking behaviour is this: There being a shortage of Ford B max motor cars on the road I was trying to take a piccie of one nestling between more well-known makes - thus enabling me to show our Devon-residing friends the car we're going to get. They'd never heard of the model. Since my aunts said we could have their hardly-used Ford B max, with full service,  immaculate within and without, I've been trying to see one 'for real'. There's such a poor signal here I can't google an image of said vehicle and the only other one I've seen was loaded with a family, all doors and windows open, wing-like, as if ready for take off, parked at the Donkey Sanctuary. My husband didn't want to drive round to the rear end of the car, once its inhabitants had eaten their sandwiches and locked up. He wanted to stroke wiry donkeys and talk to the poor beasts, not take photographs of a black Ford B max in a muddy, grassy field. 
Makes sense. (Although when I spotted the only other B max that I've seen on this holiday it was silver, like the one my aunts are selling us. The black one at the Donkey Sanctuary was rather smart.)
Beggars can't be choosers. 

Brand new the cheaper B max retails at £13K and we're having my aunts' silver one - two years old and only 14K on the clock. No point looking for a better deal than that - anywhere!

Now I have my piccie of a Ford B max - this one's in a royal blue finish - I'll ogle it until I can google it - and get back to receiving an internet signal. ( And I find I prefer silver or black car bodies.) 

After all the effort of wandering round car parks, suddenly darting down side streets and sitting at a pavement cafe just so I can see the traffic stop at the lights ( who me?) I have an image of said car. Ford B max. That's the one. You don't see many of them around. Why is that? They've only been available for a couple of years and the Fiesta, Focus and other models seem more plentiful. Are we buying a white elephant? No we're buying a silver Ford B max with superior upholstery and bleeping things to help with parking. Anyone seen one? What are they like? There don't seem to be many on the road ...

Thursday 16 March 2017


When I woke this morning my to-do list was, amazingly, empty. I have written before about how the blissful state of being  en retraite  is nothing like how I dreamt it would be. My imaginings of having oceans of time to go to the coast, sit in the garden, read, even read the papers, travel and people-watch never became reality.

But - for once - today - I can read, catch up with the papers, even sit in the garden ... and next week I can go to the coast. Why? Because we are in a new season!

In my dreams of retirement I had forgotten something called winter - which annually eats up four months of garden-sitting and people-watching. It's too damn cold to be outside unless you're jogging. And I don't jog.

I'd also forgotten housework has to be done and no matter how long I put it off there's always ironing.
Machines wash and dry clothes and dishes but they don't press shirts, trousers, t-shirts, jeans etc.

Retirement isn't one long blissful journey to foreign shores with endless sunshine and a heavy privy purse to pay for it all. Retirement is simply not leaving the house every morning to go to a place of work in exchange for a salary cheque at the end of the month. So how have I replaced that ' going to a place of work' ?

I do clean, dig the garden, get workmen in to fix our 125 year-old-house (and pay for it handsomely.) If I didn't live in an old house would I have more money for travel? More importantly would I have the time?

If waking -  with nothing vital to tackle - as I did today - was less of a rarity maybe I would have time to wander abroad. But, I wonder, why am I so busy the rest of the time? Perhaps writing a novel has taken over where my job left off. I read far more now - as much to inform myself of the craft of writing as for enjoyment - and perhaps I'm more particular about the state of the house and garden. Maybe I'm using more of my free time on domestics than I care to reveal. After all I'd never admit that retirement has meant my cooker hardly ever looks in need of a polish. I can't imagine myself bragging to anyone about the latest vacuum cleaner and how much better my carpets are now I have time to devote to them. And I rarely tell anyone I bake my own bread - but I do. ( Just don't pass it on.)

I did dig my herbaceous borders and raised vegetable beds a few weeks ago and the miniature daffodils always look brilliant for my birthday. This year was no exception. I have to admit it, grudgingly, retirement has meant I do more around the house and garden. It doesn't sound glamorous but it makes sense that, as a result, I rarely wake with nothing on my to-do list.

But today I really am going to read-for-pleasure and loosely plan part two of my trilogy - i.e. begin making notes for my second novel. It opens in 1939, from the pov of a very young volunteer soldier - a rich field - and continues through the war to the emergence of the NHS and the end of rationing.

I have my father's diaries of his duties in an armoured car during the big campaigns of WW2. He was in the Royal Corps of Signals. To be able to use his first hand notes and experiences of battle in The Italian Campaign, in El Alamein, the D-Day landings and - even more frightful - being part of the liberation task force for Belsen - should translate vividly into a novel.

But first find his diaries. That will take days of searching. Time - there's always something to eat into it. And perhaps if I really am a writer it would explain why I don't feel as if I have left work. I haven't. I've just exchanged one modus operandi for another. My choice. No-one made me use my time in this way. And - in theory - time is what I do have. I certainly didn't when I was an employee.

Sunday 5 March 2017

March On!

The weather men tell us March 1st is the first day of spring. The spring equinox is March 21st but we don't put the clocks forward until the end of March. This is why winter seems so long here; it's too late after shortest day, December 21st, to wait for much needed extra hours of light. My iphone calendar tells me it was dark at 5.20 pm on 30th October - my husband's birthday, the night after putting the hour back. Four 'rough' months later - 1st February - it was dark at 5.30pm. Isn't that about the time we should be moving the hands of the clock forward? Early February would be roughly two months after shortest day ... October 30th is roughly two months before that date, shortest day is just about in the middle of those two dates.

Why do we have to trudge through near-darkness for almost eight weeks longer than I would deem necessary? There is a reason - something to do with the shift of the moon or the inclination of the earth. Or some other half-remembered truth.

I was a school girl when the experiment to do away with light-saving took place. The issue was that to gain longer, light evenings we had to trade this for evil, black mornings. We were dressed in flourescent arm bands as it was so dark in the mornings on our walk, yes walk, to the primary school gates. The experiment showed light evenings, ie putting the clocks forward before the end of March, was too dangerous for morning rush hour traffic. The mornings were simply too black. That's the reason we suffer long dark evenngs in February and March; to do otherwise means dangerous roads and school children at risk of accident.

Nature doesn't stop, thankfully; it believes it's spring whatever time the big hand is telling us. This weekend our miniature daffodils have bloomed and are sitting in their barrels and tubs on our front steps, welcoming visitors, postmen and passers-by. Our primulas also look beautiful and another barrel - of pulmonaria - is ready to move to the front of the house too. Spring is in the air. There was real warmth in the sun on Thursday.

I always look forward to this time of year; it's my birthday in ten days time, prunus are flowering, scattering petals confetti-like along our semi-rural road, and gardens start to look very pretty. It's still dark at 6.45pm on the fourteenth of March - not light at 8pm until we alter the clocks. I crave the light nights!! We need sunshine and daylight, especially for us, this year, as mum died so soon after we put the clocks back. It was already dark by 5.30pm the night she left us. It's been a long four months since 4th November.

Given the horrendous stories from here, the USA, Syria and many places covered by world news it's good for the soul to see spring come round again.  Since Brexit, Trumpism and the terrible underfunding of our NHS, prisons, libraries, schools, the disabled ... the news seems more miserable  as the weeks go by ...  it's important to remember the good things. Seed packets at the ready, forsythia blossoming, an array of cut flowers to be had and good company. Solid, fun friendships forged with like-minded folk equally stumped by events in the news are of the essence. My manuscript is with my editor - that's draft three of my novel - but the first time she has read the whole in one sitting. Editing and making cuts has taken me some weeks. Now to emerge from in front of the screen! Get out into the fresh air. Spring clean (!). It's March. Things are moving forward.March on!

Saturday 11 February 2017

Manuscript or how to be a ponce*

When Kylie Fitzpatrick ( 'The Ninth Stone' inter alia) agreed to edit my m/s and mentor me I found myself referring to her - in polite conversation - as 'my editor' - like the ponce, always on the phone to his editor, in the film of  'Educating Rita'. Similarly when entering the half-sleeve t-shirt-clad emporium that is The Apple Shop I found myself talking to a young chap called Ed, they're all named Ed aren't they? and telling him I needed a MacBook Air to write my novel. He looked at me as if he'd misheard and seemed unable to cope with phrases which didn't contain terms like e-mails, downloads, netflix, speed, apps and megabytes (or is it bites?). He seemed somewhat bored when he showed me Pages. Not enough challenge for him. Then again maybe he too thought I was a ponce.

The day my website went live I showed a friend how part of it was dedicated to my tutoring. She glanced at the site and my business card and muttered 'Writer and teacher?' 'Well I do write' I said, aware that she defintely thought I sounded like a ponce.
After a struggle against the events in my late mother's life, from April 2014 onwards, I do finally have a full manuscript ready to deliver to my editor. ( Well almost.)Doesn't that phrase sound like I really am a writer? In fact, this time around, I'm pleased with the copy. My editing has worked, the suggestions Kylie and other readers have made have been truly helpful and all I need do now is take out about 50,000 words - it's far too long!

I don't believe I'm too precious about my writing and even I hate long novels but I really do have to slim it down, keep the pace and lose repetitive, humdrum minutiae. I'm roughly half way through this major cutting back and I seem to be adding to the word count rather than cutting it down.
I'm hoping that by the time I get to the last third of the novel the task will become more evident and easier. The last third is only just in its second draft whereas most of the whole is in its fourth or fifth draft and is a tighter read.

It so happens I'm taking heed and doing as two GPs have advised - resting. This gives me the headspace, excuse and time I need to revise the novel. It's naturally very time-consuming but even I, an only ever once-published debut author, can see, to misquote 'Educating Rita', my manuscript could get into a pile of 'to be published' writings. This is the first time I've felt that level of confidence about my work as a writer. It's also the first time since April 2014 that I've had chance to read the whole and simply concentrate on the m/s. But the more I read the more I see how all writers have their weaknesses and my errors may well be getting fewer in number. I sense I'm crossing the rubikon from student writer to something resembling an author. I may just be getting ahead of myself, of course. Or perhaps I am just being a ponce. Either way I truly do sense that I've progressed. Reading, reading, reading that's the key. And when reading it's good to set your own work of fiction against published novels. Maybe, one day, my work truly will be seen by a wider audience. ( If that doesn't sound too much like being a ponce.) I'm already making notes for the sequel - I appear to be in for the long haul! Ponce!

* wannabe

Thursday 19 January 2017


When I last wrote I was designing the order of service for mum's funeral. It was with some luck that she had told me her favourite hymns, tunes, songs for the choir and organ and best readings, long before she became ill. Her vicar, Rev Dave Wills, knew her well and we had a choir for mum's funeral service.The personal tributes to mum were warm and the service was, if not happy, very personal and meaningful.

The tributes we received ran to many sides of A4 and the cards, donations and support were received with heartfelt thanks. My oldest schoolfriend was an absolute brick. We had to travel to the Midlands several times before and after the funeral and we are going again this weekend for the memorial service. My friend has been so supportive throughout.

It's been a shock to me, therefore, that some so-called friends have absolutely no idea how I'm feeling, my schoolfriend does, but I have received some very self-centred comments from a couple of people I know, but now don't wish to know from hereon in. Aswell as dealing with funeral directors, family's thoughts and wishes, order of service, eulogy, flowers, donations, caterers and the funeral party I succumbed to an infection which needed three doses of antibiotics. I hardly slept for about seven weeks. My GP told me it was the shock of mum's death that had weakened my immune system. I have done as they advised - stayed in, stayed warm and hydrated, got a great deal of rest and built up my immunity by eating nutritious foods. I don't have a bad diet and during all of this illness and bereavement I was told my blood sugar, blood pressure and pulse were good.

 I explained I
wasn't exercising much as I was supposed to be resting. I take paracetamol when I need to and stay off caffeine, spicy and acidic foods.

Throughout the ten weeks since mum died I found the strain something I could endure, like anyone else in a similar position, and I managed. Until, that is, I received these remarks from people who seemed hell-bent on ignoring my needs (simply ignoring me would have been good.) I cannot understand why someone recently bereaved and on medication needs to receive unkind texts. It has made me feel really quite dismissive of them. If people can't be at least understanding they should remain quiet  -  and they are not worthy of being thought of as friends. It's quite easy to defriend someone on facebook but less easy in the real world.

Since these comments two other people I know have been bereaved and I've not noticed they have  complaints about receiving nasty remarks from people they know.

My true friends have been kind and understanding. They have advised me to keep my distance from those who are clearly so unhappy they can't even support me at a time of bereavement. I've had lunch out three times this week with good people. When my father died - back in 1993 - one of the churchwardens said to mum that she should spend time with people who make her feel good. This was excellent advice. I certainly don't intend to spend my time with self-centred miseries. I was quite upset at their unhelpful remarks but now I see it as a liberation. I don't need to spend any time on them and life is too short.

Be with people who make you feel good - that is the best advice. 2017 is a new year. Time to cut the cord. It's mum's memorial service on Sunday and ten weeks since she died. She would never have been so unkind as to make unpleasant comments after someone had been bereaved. That's a fitting memorial to her.  I've learned a lot about people since her death.
My next post will be much lighter as the full manuscript for my novel is being delivered to my editor. 
Hard work has its own reward. 
Happy new year - if it isn't a tad late in January for such sentiments!