Friday, 30 December 2011

You are invited...




...to a cyber New Year's Eve party. All you have to do is bring yourself, a partner of your choice (living or dead, celebrity or not) and one (genuine) unwanted Christmas gift* to exchange with a fellow guest. Drinks and canapes will be provided. Carriages at 12.30. And this is a party you can attend in addition to any other party you may be planning. So you have nothing to lose.

I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.

RSVP (for catering purposes)

*This can be any year's unwanted Christmas gift, to avoid the embarrassment of its donor finding out. But I shall be bringing my Coronation Street Quiz Book. Oh - and Reginald D. Hunter, because he makes me laugh.

Getting rid of books

One of my many new year's resolutions is to dispose of one book every time I acquire one. Not easy. Even harder, is the Amazon Vine problem.

Like lots of other people, I review books (and other items) for Amazon Vine. Great. Lovely free books every month. But there is a snag. Most of these are unedited proofs, and we are bound under pain of ....not sure what ...to "dispose" of these books. We aren't supposed to give them away because, since they are unedited, the terrible typo on page 96 might get into circulation, and where would it all end?

So what to do? I have lent one or two (ts ts) but some have been so awful that the other day I actually tore one up and recycled it. Now, for anyone who loves books (probably most people reading this), tearing up books is up there with drowning kittens and microwaving live hamsters*; ie something you just don't do. I have never ever destroyed a book. My kids, who were as naughty as most kids, never tore or scribbled on books. Books were/are sacred.

But books are really only things. Well, they are, aren't they? So from now on, I shall try to stop being so sentimental (and, let's be honest, pompous) and recycle bad (Vine) books, difficult as it is.

*I am not a cruel person, and of couse would never try it, but I have often wondered what exactly would happen if you did this. Implosion? Explosion? Any other kind of plosion? Does anyone know?

Monday, 26 December 2011

Magpie 97 - a post-Christmas Carol











A secular carol for the end of Christmas

Drink up, you merry gentlemen, and party while you may.
I've wrapped myself in tinsel, lads, and now I'm on my way.
I'll have my wicked way with you, whatever you may say,
Oh-oh tidings of festive fun and joy, fu-un and joy.
Oh-oh tidings of festive fun and and joy.

I've bleached my hair and glossed my lips, and whitened all my teeth.
I've stuck a figleaf on each breast (but nothing underneath).
And round my hips I'm wearing just a ribboned ivy wreath.
Oh-oh come lads and meet me at the door, a-at the door,
Oh-oh come out lads, for fun, and much much more!


(To be sung to the tune of Oh Rest you Merry Gentlemen)

Thanks to Magpie Tales for the photo

Friday, 23 December 2011

A very dull post about a wall planner


While waiting for a phone call (about the horse, needless to say), I decided to buy a wall planner for next year. Not to plan my wall, but to plan my year. Because nothing else works. Not diaries, not calendars, not filofaxes. No. I need to see the whole year in one go.

So off to Amazon (where else?). And oh, the choice. There are mounted ones and unmounted ones; laminated ones and plain. There are holiday ones and planners with highlighted week-ends, and there are ones with pens and stickers (stickers?) included. They come in a wide range of prices and colours, and some of them are Amazon Prime (ie I don't have to pay postage) and some not. Are you losing the will to live yet? Because I certainly was.

Anyway, I've ordered one. How exciting is that. And that's its portrait up at the top of this post. (And writing this post was all because of waiting for that phone call, too, because I can't settle to anything sensible when I'm waiting. And yes. I do have better things to do. I just can't get down to them.)

Oh a less mind-numbingly boring note, I do hope you all have a very happy Christmas, with lots of books you haven't already read, as much chocolate as you feel you need, and (if you want one) a spanking new Kindle.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The horse diaries - end in sight

Me (nonchalantly, because a panicking horse is not to be trifled with): I've had an offer for you.
Titch: (speaking with his mouth full): Oh? (no panic, then) How much?
I tell him.
Titch: WHAT!!!??? I was sold for ten times that only a few years ago.
Me: Well, you were probably worth ten times more then.
Titch: I'm much more mature now.
Me: No you're not. You know perfectly well you're not.
Titch: How about stud? I'd enjoy that.
Me: Titch, we've discussed that before. You know you can't...you've had...you know... that little operation?
Titch: You can be very cruel sometimes.
Me; You're in good comany. All your neighbours have been...done.
Titch: But I'm well bred!
Me: So are lots of them. You just weren't very successful.
Titch: I bet you haven't had any operations like that. I bet you've had foals. You have, haven't you?
Me: Well, in a manner of speaking, I suppose I have.
Titch: Are you well bred?
Me: Not really.
Titch: Did your grandfather win all his races?
Me: I'm not sure my grandfather did a lot of running.
Titch: Well, then. (Munch.) I'll have another of those carrots, if it's not too much to ask.

Sarcasm doesn't suit him, but I let it pass. The offer stands, and I'm trying to decide whether to accept it. This whole situation is very painful. Titch can be a bugger, but I do love him.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The tyranny of sell-by dates

My daughter regularly phones me to say that she's had a packet of mince/chicken or whatever in her fridge, and it "expired" yesterday, and is it ok to eat it. And I say, give it a good sniff, but it's probably fine. After all, there was a time when there were no such things as sell-by dates. Or, come to that, fridges. My kids love to go through our larder crying "MUM! Have you seen he sell-by date on this!?" (No, probably not. Nor do I care. I seem to have mislaid a treasured tin of anchovies dated 1987.)

But yesterday, having cheese and chutney for lunch, I decided that the sell-by date people may occasionally have a point. The chutney (2007 - one of those pretty little jars of home-made stuff people give you when they come for a meal - was horrible (it had been open for some time), and I discovered that the cheese, which also tasted odd, was thick with mould on the bottom (the bit I couldn't see). And when we once borrowed some (open) horseradish sauce from a neighbour, and found that that too tasted very odd (it was also a nasty grey clour), we discovered tha that had a sell-by date of 1997. (The neighbour is a woman after my own heart, but we threw the sauce away.)

But I do hate waste.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Of unwanted gifts and Booker prizes

One of my fondest (and earliest) memories of my childhood Christmases was my mother opening presents addressed to herself as soon as they'd arrived, and re-wrapping them as presents for other people. We were very short of money, and so this must have seemed a good solution (although my mum would have given you the coat off her back if you'd admired it).

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago, when I ran out of reading material and the library was closed. We'd been given a book-shaped present, so I thought I'd probably be able to read that.

Except that I couldn't, because it was the Coronation Street Quiz Book. Hmmm. We are Corrie fans, but we are also grown-ups, so some lucky customer of the Oxfam shop will get it instead (I took it straight there). A lot of my Christmas presents end up in the Oxfam shop, so maybe it would be better to open them all so that they can be bought before Christmas while people still have enough money. (I'm not hard to please; I just don't need too many smelly candles, diaries and strange dangly pendants.)

But the second book-shaped parcel I opened was Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending (Booker prize winner) which I'd asked for, so I'm reading that. It's very slim, beautifully written, and quite good, but I never cease to be amazed at the Booker Prize. While lesser mortals like me are told they must write at least 70,000 words, and preferably quite a lot more, literary prize winners get away with far less. Think John Banville's The Sea. And Chesil Beach.

Perhaps I shall write a very short, brilliant book in 2012, and then you'll all be proud to know me (well, a woman can dream...). And - who knows? - I might even get up to 60 followers.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Magpie 96












SHERLOCK'S LAST CASE

"The photograph is black and white.
A man? A woman? Hermaphrodite?
The wristwatch small, the coat is pale,
The lock is definitely yale.
The hair is long, the expression grim,
Could be a her. Could be a him.
The shadow on the chest appears
To be a man with flattish ears.
Oh Watson, we are out of luck.
I have to say, for once, I'm stuck."
(The case remains open to this day,
For Holmes pre-dated DNA.)


(Thanks to Mapgie Tales for the photo)

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Round Robins. And the winner so far is...

...M and K's letter.

Every year, we put the round robins aside, and finally choose a winner at Christmas. Well, so far the entries have been disappointing, but M and K's letter has been a stonker. We hardly know M and K; in fact I don't think I've ever spoken to K. But now, thanks to the round robin, we know aaaaaalll about them.

M and K have very many - and I mean seriously many - children. And now, scores (or so it seems) of grandchildren. And are those grandchildren wonderful! Here are some of the epithets applied to them: happy, sporty, laid back, charming, feisty, fun, tall, elegant, warm smile, glorious pre-Raphaelite hair, gorgeous looking, great singing voice, outstanding (in an acting role). All in all, a family to be proud of. Oh yes. And not a fault or a failing in sight.

My brother (a lovely man, and father of three clever children) and I have an annual argument about these letters. He says "people like to know". I say that those who need to know, already do. And those who don't, probably would rather not know. If, through no fault or choice of their own, they have no children, or perhaps one very dim one (or worse. One who has turned to crime), then they certainly won't want to know. Do you want to know how wonderful my children/grandchildren are? Of course you don't (and they aren't always, anyway, much as I love them all).

But I do enjoy these round robins, if for all the wrong reasons (new year's resolution no. 17: to be a much nicer person. But it's still 2011, so I can say this).

Friday, 16 December 2011

My book for Christmas?

I am very, very bad at selling myself (ie my books). I have even been known to give a talk and not be able to bring myself to advertise the fact that I have brought books to sell. However...as this is my blog, and no-one HAS to read it, may I (very politely) suggest that if you really are stuck for a present for someone, The Birds, The Bees and Other Secrets might be an answer?

British people love anmimals. Fact. And there are dogs in my books. So here is a doggy taster from my book:

Thus two days later, Mum set off to the rescue centre, and returned in triumph, a small bouncy black and white hearthrug frolicking at her feet. Its eyes were entirely obscured, and it seemed to be lacking something. It took me a few minutes to realise exactly what.
“Mum, do we really need a dog with three legs?” I asked.
“He doesn't mind,” Mum said gaily. “He’s used to it. Apparent he lost it ages ago. And look at it this way, Cass. He’ll have only three legs whether we have him or not, so he might as well live on three legs here. And he won’t need so much exercise, will he?”
“Won’t he?”
“Of course not. He’s got one less leg to exercise, hasn’t he?”
“Where are his eyes?” I couldn't even tell which end of the hearthrug was which.
“Under here somewhere.” Mum poked about in the matted fur. “There we are! Lovely brown eyes! We’ll give him a nice bath, and he’ll come up as good as new.”
Her new friend did not enjoy his nice bath, and Mum emerged some time later soaked to the skin and sporting several nasty scratches, but with her enthusiasm still intact.
“Here we are,” she said. “Doesn't he look lovely?”
Lovely was hardly the word, but we all agreed. When Mum was in this kind of mood, we would do anything to keep her there. Besides, she now had something to look after, and Mum was never happier than when she felt needed.
We looked at each other and gave a collective sigh. New Dog had joined the family.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

I am invisible

This is something I've suspected for some time, but now I'm quite sure. People barge into me, jump in front of me in queues, walk through me (almost). Today, I was waiting at the door of a shop which is exited by a short flight of stairs. I stood to one side, holding the door open, while two elderly women climbed slowly up the stairs and out into the street. No eye contact, no word of thanks. Nothing.

I don't expect bunches of flowers or even flowery language. In fact, I don't expect anything of a floral nature. But a smile? A "thank you"? A recognition that I'm there, perhaps?

No. I'm invisible. I must be. So look out. Soon, I could be somewhere near you, watching your every move, and you'd know nothing about it at all. In fact, I could be standing behind you right now.

So if I am, and if you're offering, mine's white, please, with no sugar (red if it's wine).

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Magpie 95 (again)
















"Hey! Man Friday! Come back! Joke's over. Friday? D'you hear me? COME BACK. THIS IS NO LONGER FUNNY!"


(Waiting in for deliveries, time on my hands, and bored with doing Christmas cards)

Bowel surgery in the woods with a stick

This is one of my eldest son's less savoury expressions (as in he'd rather have that than, say, root canal treatment).

And this is how I feel about Masterchef. As I've said before, I have several recurring nightmares, dinner parties (giving them) and deadlines being two of them. They'd only have to had my other nightmare - heights - and conduct Masterchef on top of a skyscraper, and the nightmare would be complete.

Which is why I (continue to) love Masterchef. It's my equivalent of a horror movie. Last night, the three remaining candidates were doing amazing things with tiny little bits of something rare and expensive, with that colourful smear they always have, and garnishes of squirrel livers and pine needles, and reductions (what's the difference between sauce, jus and reduction?).

Clare is doing brilliantly and, extraordinarily, she's ENJOYING it. This I cannot understand. I can understand being good at cooking, and wanting to win. But enjoying cooking an esoteric dish with cameras and sound engineers, and three 3-star Michelin chefs breathing down her neck?

Shudder.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Magpie 95















SEA FEVER REVISITED

I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I seek is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by.
But all I have is a rowing boat, moored inches from the land,
And not a hope of reaching her, for I'm up to my chest in sand.


(With apologies to Masefield, and thanks to Magpie Tals for the picture)

Friday, 9 December 2011

Masterchef, Michel and me

Well, Claire's through, and she is quite amazing. A meal that looks like an edible flower arrangement, with dessert to match... And she's only 22.

Inspired by this programme, and not having learnt my lesson from previous experience (see Hollondaise sauce disaster), I decided to make a chocolate and raspberry tart, a la Michel Roux. I didn't use his recipe as it had some rather outlandish ingredients, but found another off the internet.

I should have realised as soon as I saw the ingredients: 300g plain (no-nonsense, 70% cocoa solids) chocolate, plus half a pound of butter, plus creme fraiche. And that was just the filling.

Filling being the operative word. it looked pretty enough, but oh dear. We struggled through some of it (poor daughter-in-law had to give up towards the end), but the rest languished in the fridge, with John manfully (I love that word) having some every evening after his meal for nearly a week, until I put it out of its misery and threw the rest away.

There was nothing wrong with it; just nothing much right with it, either. I realised too late that this is the kind of pudding you have after a "fine-dining" meal (these always remind me of the garden-on-a-dinner-plate arrangements we made as children for the village show compeition), and are still very, very hungry. But our main meal had been a hearty stew, and somehow the two didn't go together. Or even one after the other.

Never mind. I'll get back to Claire, with her beautiful blue eyes and her grey hair(yes, grey. She seems to have dyed her hair grey, thus supporting my view that more people would go for grey hair if it were not associated with old age). All the contestants are good, but there's something about Claire. And this kind of thing is no fun at all if you don't have a favourite.

I do hope Monica comes back next week.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Christmas shopping? Help is at hand




I bet you can't guess what this is. Well, I'll tell you. It's a "balance ball chair"; a chair which is supposed to keep you fit while you sit, because if you don't make all your muscles totally rigid, you'll fall off (well, I think that's the idea). And it's one of the magnificent suggestions offered by The Times (yes. The Times again) for those who are stuck for Christmas presents to buy.

And that's not all. There are (among other things) a make-your-own-birdbox kit, complete with old comics to stick all over it (and no doubt frighten the birds away); an inflatable roller ball in which you can "roll around the house" (we have a lot of stairs, so to anyone thinking of buying one for me, no thanks); a Japanese bicycle bell; a snowflake pan which imprints all your pancakes with snowflake designs and a Damien Hirst Spot clock. This last is a round white clock, with what look like children's poster paints all round the edge instead of numbers. Round coloured dots. Clever, eh? And signed by Damien himself. A bargain at £305.

And to think I've already done most of my shopping. Damn.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Horse Diaries - the beginning of the end

Titch is doing that coy thing he does; not quite lookng me in the eye, but hoping for a treat. I give him a carrot.

Me: Titch, it's crunch time.
Titch: Only way to eat a carrot. You should try it.
Me: I'm not talking about carrots. I'm talking about you.
Titch: Oh yes?
Me; I really am going to have to let you go. I've thought and thought, and it's crazy that someone of my age is careering round the countryside on a mad thoroughbred.
Titch (bridling - no pun intended): I'm not mad!
Me: Yes you are. We both know you are.
Titch: I'm just highly-strung.
Me: That too.
Titch: Oh. (Further crunching). What will you do with me?
Me: Well, there's someone interested in you. Nice poeple, and they hunt with the Beaufort.
Titch(brightening): The Beaufort, eh? My grandfather...
Me: Yes, yes. We all know about your grandfather. But this sounds just the place for someone like you.
Titch: Plenty of food? Carrots? That kind of thing?
Me: I'm sure there will be. So when they come to see you, you must behave nicely. None of that ridiculous leaping about, no spooking, and don't push them around asking for treats.
Titch: Moi? Leaping about? Never!
Me: That's the spirit. (I stroke his nose).I'll miss you.
Titch: Of course you will. Got any more carrots?

Animals can be very unfeeling sometimes.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Christmas calories

Yep. That's right. All those extra calories we're supposed to consume over the festive season. And to help us control our urges, The Times today gives lots of helpful hints. For example, dark chocolate isn't so bad, so if you're soooo tempted by the office chocolates, keep a bar of it handy in your desk drawer "to nibble on" instead. And eschew the office mince pie, because it's got shedloads of calories; just don't even glance in its direction. Move your desk and face the wall if necessary. Helpful, eh? And if you're at a party where there are canapes, heaven help you, for those are FULL of calories. The Times helpfully tells us just how full, and how to avoid them. And if you're tempted by one of those tiny little Yorkshre puddings with beef in them, well, just peel off the pudding and eat the beef. Voila! Who would have thought of that? As for drink, well, we won't even touch on the calorific evils of alcohol.

Feeling festive now, are you? I've never really got this don't-eat-too-much-at-Christmas thing, because while personally I don't, I really can't see any reason why those who want to shouldn't. After all, while it may feel as though Christmas lasts for ever, we all know that it doesn't, and no-one is going to grow obese in a week. And if by any chance they do, there will be an equally helpful article in the new year on how to get slim again.

You read it first here.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Scrooge guide to Christmas dinner












Listening to Mary Berry telling people how to cook Christmas dinner, it occurs to me that this is a vastly over-rated meal.

1. Turkey. Do we really, really love turkey? Is it a treat? Not really. And then when you're dealing with the carcass the next day, there are all those stringy sinewy bits which never occur in the humble chicken.
2. Giblets. These look and are disgusting. Take no notice of the people who say you must make them into gravy. Just throw them away. (If you have a cat, and you can stand the sight of it dragging them off the plate onto the floor and doing that sideways chewing thing cats do, then this could be another solution.)
3. Many adults and all children hate sprouts.
4. If Christmas pudding is that good, why don't we eat it all year round?
5. Ditto mince pies.
6. Christmas cake. No-one has room for this after eating the above. I used to make one every Christmas, and throw it away at Easter, because no-one liked it.
7. Paper hats fall off.

But we shall do/have all the above, because that's what you do. And Christmas morning has to smell of roasting turkey (by far the best thing about roast turkey is its smell). Best of all, it's no longer my job. My domestic goddess daughter does it all.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Magpie 94












LAST WEDNESDAY

The public workers go on strike
Unhappy with their lot;
With working hours, and frozen pay,
And dwindling pension pot.
But unions, like other folk,
Enjoy a bite of lunch.
In Unison, they take a sip,
In Unison, they munch.


(With thanks to Magpie Tales for the photo)

Friday, 2 December 2011

Post traumatic stress?

I'm sure that post traumatic stress is real, and terrifying for some of its sufferers. But sometimes I have my doubts.

On Monday, George (my shop-lifting grandson), aged four, was leaving a soft play area with his (other) grandmother. On the way out, his little finger became trapped in the steel door. Poor Grandma had to run up hill and down dale to find anyone to help, leaving a screaming child, still trapped, in order to find someone to open the security (ha) door. George had an operation the next day, and is doing ok, though they won't be for sure for two weeks. Grandma is recovering, but understandably, she doesn't enjoy revisiting the experience. And the man who unlocked the door?

When my son phoned to, er, discuss the matter, he was told (in a blaming kind of way) that the man who had eventually opened the door had had to take the next day off because of the stress he'd incurred.


Aaaaaaah. Bless.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

My recipe for swede

1. Fall over and injure left hand (this is important for the rest of this recipe).
2. Buy swede from Tesco's, which will let you have a bit of swede. Sainsbury's only stock them in one size; approximately the diameter of a human head.
3. Attemt to cut swede with small knife, then big knife, then that very sharp knife which as been known to sever a finger at a touch. No good because of injured hand and very hard swede.
4. Fetch husband. Explain about sore hand. He has a go.
5. Husband gives up.
6. Fetch hammer. Get husband to apply small hatchet to swede. Bang hatchet hard with hammer. Now we're getting somewhere.
7. Dice and cook swede.
8. Discover husband doesn't like swede anyway.

It's been that kind of day.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Not funny

I've just been reading an author's description of her own novel. Hilarious, she says it is. Just hilarious.

Now why is it that saying one's own book is hilarious kills the joke stone dead? Surely it's for other people to say whether or not the writing is that funny; not the author. It's a bit like over-use of exclamation marks; it just doesn't work.
But then I find that any book that's labelled "laugh-out-loud-funny" just isn't. Humour should be a wonderful discovery the reader makes for him/herself.

But I'm probably just being a curmudgeon. We old people are like that sometimes. Especially when we (or one of us) have/has tripped over and injured ourselves this morning. We old people do that. We fall over.

Which reminds me of a story of my (doctor) son's. Years ago, he was admitting an elderly patient to hospital. One of the questions he had to ask was whether or not the patient had had any falls.

Son: Have you had any falls?
Elderly man (after a long, thoughtful pause): Well, I fell off a wood pile during the war.

I shall now go and apply more arnica to my wounds and try to cheer up. I might even look for something hilarious to read.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The joys of internet shopping

Well, I'm getting along quite nicely (we have a large family - seven children and fourteen grandchildren between us, for starters) and I have hardly left the house for Christmas shopping purposes. But there are pitfalls.

For instance, I have received two identical items which I don't remember ordering at all (I must have pressed the Wrong Button. The Wrong Button lies in wait for people like me). And then there is the knotty problem of the password.

Like most people, I have a main password which I can remember (anyone who knows me, and who has half a brain, could work that one out). And then there are a couple for when you need more letters, which are a bit dodgy. And then there is the one you have to think up which includes numbers as well as letters (I've forgotten that one entirely). Add to all that, I have two big issues (have you noticed that people no longer have problems; they have issues?).

1. Why do I need a password at all to go shopping? I don't have to have one to enter Boots or Tesco's. I don't even need my passport.

2. Why when they send me a new passord, is it something like 8Zsd1Py8Xn? That's not a password. It's a puzzle. Or some kind of esoteric mathematical problem.

Meanwhile, the parcels are arriving thick and fast, and I'm still wondering what to do with the two items I didn't order.

Does anyone want a small, fluorescent vest?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Magpie 93














Song of the Removal Men

We took it as far as we could.
We've been paid, so we promised we would.
And all we can say
Is we'll come back one day.
For the time being, sofa so good.

(Thanks to Magpie Tales for the photo)

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Can you judge a book by its cover?




No, of course you can't. But if you're browsing in a bookshop, the cover is the first thing that catches your eye. After that, you (probably) pick it up, open it or read the blurb, look at the opening paragrpah...and then decide whether or not to buy it.

Above, are two (I think) excellent covers; covers that are striking and different, and that would make me want to pick up those books. Trades of the Flesh is by fellow Macmillan writer Faye L. Booth, and I think its cover is everything it needs to be to gain attention. The other cover is, I think, stunning, and compelled me to choose the book (which I hated, but that's another story!).

The paperback cover of mmy own The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets, on the other hand, is (in restrospect) a disappointment. It doesn't stand out in the way the hardback cover did, and I wish now that it could have been different. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. A different cover might not have done anything for sales - who can tell? - but it would have made me feel a whole lot better!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Coffins and cold callers


Researching coffins on the internet, I found this. This is a fun coffin, apparently. A chocolate-lover's coffin for a dead chocolate-lover. No more chocolate, sadly, but a pretty coffin instead. I got quite carried away. There were animal-lovers' coffins and coffins in the shapes of things, and wicker, banana leaf or even hyacinth (?) coffins.

Why coffins? Because today I announced my own death to a cold caller. Because although I'm superstitious, I really have had enough, and maybe, just maybe, word will get round that there's no point in trying to sell my anything any more because I'm dead.

The caller did offer his condolences, which was nice.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Getting your facts straight...

...is important, even in fiction. I am currently reading a review copy of a book by a very well-known author, which is well-written, and I'm enjoying it. But he begins by describing his central characters's return to England from France in the spring, and what a spring! There is hawthorn blossom, masses of wild pink and white cherry blossom, bluebells, primroses, rhododendrons, little ducklings and returning swallows, all at the same time. Had he done just a little research (or lived in the country), he might have discovered that these things don't all come out at once; that spring is staggered (thank heavens) and things bloom and breed at different times. And I have never seen (or heard of) pink wild cherry blossom. Think Houseman:

"Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with snow along the bow..."

Maybe none of this really matters, but I kept stopping and thinking..."hang on. Surely that isn't right?" and it's very distracting. I just hope the same doesn't happen with autumn (if we get that far)...

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Sex for the birthday boy

Funny, the things you overhear. My son and his wife were out to dinner - posh restaurant dinner - at the week-end. Next to them sat a couple, speaking loudly. The man said to the woman: "It's my birthday, and I think the birthday boy should be allowed to choose who he f***s on his birthday!"

There was more to this conversation, and my son said he nearly went over to ask them to keep their voices down. I think that had I been there, I would have been sorely tempted to pour boiling soup into birthday boy's lap, thus scuppering birthday boy's birthday chances.

But then my son is a nicer person than I am.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Magpie 92












"I'm a Catholic!" cried Mona to Fred.
"We must keep all our clothes on in bed.
We may kiss on the lips
(But not join at the hips)
Then take everything off once we're wed!"


(With thanks to Magpie Tales for the photo)

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Christmas at Sainsburys

Our local branch of Sainsburys has gone all ho-ho-ho already. This week, almost six weeks before C-day, the poor wretched staff are already decked out in silly hats and Santa frocks, and there are horrendous great baubly things hanging from the ceiling. "Gifts" are there in abundance, including those long bottles of olive oil with what looks like half a tree floating in them and which would only ever be bought to give (and then probably thrown) away (always add Fairy liquid before pouring down the sink; see my hollondaise recipe for further details). There are crackers and mince pies and wrapping paper and... and...

...and miserable-looking shoppers, because as everyone knows, no-one, but NO-ONE, wants to be reminded that Christmas is well on the way in the middle of November, least of all women who, let's face it, do most of the shopping and most of the Christmas stuff.

Bah. Humbug.

But to brighten things up a bit, my granddaughter Phoebe told me on the phone this morning that what she wants for Christmas is me, "in her bedroom, talking" (giftwrap optonal). Aaaaah!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Masterchef - go, Claire!


This riveting programme of nightmare scenarios continues apace. Poor Ben retired hurt (he'd cut the top off his finger. Almost) and weeping, the grim judges and grimmer restaurant critics (how dare they? Could they do any better?) judge, the contestants tremble and weep and mop their brows as they thrash about among the quails and oysters and celeraic (there's an awful lot of celeriac this year). And all to make tiny little meals of something sliced up very small in a jus* with a colourful smear of something round the edge of the plate and a garnish of pine needles (or whatever). Not pick-up-your-knife-and-fork-and-get-stuck-in food, but pretty food; food you want to frame and hang on the wall before you go out and get a proper meal.

Monica rolls her eyes, Michel nodds sagely, and Greg - well, Greg eats. They bend over the sweating contestants asking them whether there's a hope of getting the Beef Wellington spiced with beechnuts on a bed of tumbleweed done in time (of course there isn't), or what the competion means to them, and everyone - but everyone - is "pasionate about food".

Claire - only 22 years old, pretty, sweet-faced and a culinary genius - is brilliant, and I want her to win. But whatever happens, I just love it!

*What exactly is a jus? Or is it just a posh word for gravy/sauce? I'm sure there never used to be any such thing.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Limerick competition

Deciding on a winner was difficult, but as no-one responded to my plea for help (tho' Patsy made some comments. Thank you, Patsy) I've decided that Rosamund is the winner, becuase hers scanned and stuck to the point, and was also amusing. I liked several of them, but Maggie's. Aliya's and Susan's (second one), whiel funny, were somewhat inconsequential. Sadly, Patsy's didn't really scan, and Susan's first was more in the style of Little Miss Muffet than a limerick (though amusing).

Thanks for entering, everyone. And Rosamund, well done. I know where to find you...

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Bad hair day


Actually it's more of a no hair day. You know how it is. I trolled cheerily along yesterday to have it cut, and said that last time it hadn't been quite short enough, so could they please...and you can probably guess the rest.

I want to go away and hide, but I can't. And I'm going to stay with my (beautiful) daughter tomorrow, and she's always very nice about my appearance, but I think that even Daisy will balk at the sight of a bald mother. And I know it will grow back, of course it will (did you know that hair grows at the rate of half an inch a month?). But I want it back NOW. I keep looking in the mirror to see if it's grown at all (after all, it's been nearly 24 hours, and that's a whole day, which is a 30th. of half an inch)...

As for the paper bag, that's a no-no, because I shall have to drive, and I'm quite sure that the police are as hot on paper bags as they are on mobile phones and (soon, possibly) fags. But if you do happen to see a woman driving a blue car with a paper bag on her head, give her a wave.

She badly needs cheering up.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

How do you deal with cold calls?

We have had a plethora of cold calls recently, and I still haven't worked out the best way to deal with them. On a good (kind) day I will just say no thanks, but on a bad day, when I've already had several, I'm not quite so nice. I know the person making the call is just doing a job; I know s/he may have no other way to make a living. All this I know. But I hate this regular intrusion at (usually) a busy time of day, at a time of the caller's choosing.

I've just had one of these calls, and when the caller asked for Mrs. Stott (that's my other name, by the way), I said that no, she couldn't come to the phone, as she was very ill in hospital (I stopped short of saying that I had died, as I'm very superstitious, and I've got a book to write).

Which reminds me of the worst cold call I ever had, which was from a charity. It went something like this:

Caller: May I speak to Dr. Garrood, please?
Me: I'm afraid you can't. He died last week.
Caller: Oh. I'm sorry about that. Is that Mrs. Garrood?
Me: Yes
Caller: Well, I wonder whether you would be able to do some house to house collecting instead?
Me: ****! *******! ******!!!!

Nuff said

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Magpie 91
















I wandered like a mote of dust
That floats on high above the stairs,
When all at once, I came across
A host of little wooden chairs.
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
I wondered - whose on earth are these?

(With thanks to Magpie Tales for the photo, and apologies to Wordsworth)

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Masterchef and me

Masterchef is on again, and we're loving it. The rolling eyes of Monica; the sadly shaking head of Michel; that frantic rush among the pots and pans to produce something small and beautifully formed (or not). Great entertainment!

So, inspired, I thought I'd cook something different: fishcakes (well, I quite often do those) with hollondaise sauce (new departure). To make things easier (don't look now, Monica), I googled "cheat's hollondaise sauce", and was assured that this never failed, and my family and friends would be full of admiration

Ha.

Here's my recipe for the sauce:

1. Put egg yolk, lemon juice, a little water and seasoning in the mixer. Blend.
2. Pour hot melted butter in slowly, blending all the time.
3. Upon discovering that the mixture doesn't thicken as promised, try little basin over hot water.
4. Upon discovering that that doesn't work either, pour mixture into saucepan on stove (which of course you must never, ever do).
5. Upon discovering that after some time, all you have (still) is lemon-flavoured liquid butter, take saucepan over to sink
6. Add Fairy liquid and hot water, and swill around to mix.
7. Pour the mixture down the sink.

I shan't try that again.

Friday, 11 November 2011

November 11th.

Several fellow-bloggers have posted war poems on their blogs for today. This is one of my favourites:

I Did Not Lose My Heart
by AE Housman

I did not lose my heart in summer's even,
When roses to the moonrise burst apart:
When plumes were under heel and lead was flying,
In blood and smoke and flame I lost my heart.

I lost it to a soldier and a foeman,
A chap that did not kill me, but he tried;
That took the sabre straight, and took it striking
And laughed and kissed his hand to me and died.

Editing? What editing?

I am currently reading a novel (courtesy of the Amazon Vine programme). It is, I suppose, a thriller, a first novel re-issued by Amazon publishing. It has had good reviews so far, and I am baffled.

Because if this book has been edited at all, then how has the writer got away with so many basic errors?

For start, there's the opening sentence: "'Hurry up, Katy,'" Jake Crosby called out, as he took a wet tennis ball from his aged Lab Scout."

Hardly gripping stuff, and as for the name of the "aged Lab", who needs that at this stage? A small point, but as we all know, openings are crucial. Then there is the mix of POVs. One minute we are with someone who's on the phone, the next, we are suddenly told the the person he's talking to is "gazing at the ceiling". How do we know? We aren't with that character. This happens repeatedly, as we skip from one POV to another.

Meanwhile, everyone's scurrying about in a forest in the middle of the night looking for villains. A deputy sheriff finds a girl bound and gagged, and forgets to remove the gag or even ask her how or who she is; he just bundles her into his van and heads for home, feeling like a hero. There's the police dog which would rather lick its balls (it does this all the time) than work, which as well as being unbelieveable adds nothing to the plot. There's the excess use of adverbs, the avoidance of "said" if he can write "explained", "demanded" or whatever, the lengthy phone calls ("Bye,", "bye", "love you", "love you" etc etc), no doubt true to life, but not remotely interesting. Sometimes, there are simply too may words.

And yet this novel has the bones of a good story (probably not really my kind of book, but that's not the point). So why, oh why, didn't someone edit it properly? Those of us who have suffered (at the hands of an editor) the pain of having our favourite passages removed in the interests of plot; who have been (quite rightly) picked up on every little error or repetition, will know that while this is a painful process, it is essential, and leads to a tighter, better novel.

This particular novel is American, and there are things in it that might only be understood by the author's compatriots, but surely any novel by any author needs some good editing. Maybe many readers won't mind any of this, but I can't help feeling that the loose editing (if indeed there's been any editing at all) must have compromised the chances of this novel. And what a shame.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Theresa May...

...resign, or she may be allowed to stay. Luckily for her, other events (Greece, Italy, that kind of thing) have grabbed the headlines, but the signs are not good, because she's said she "has no intention of resigning". Sounds familiar, doesn't it? The formula is usually this:

1. Minister Makes a Big Mistake.
2. Minister says s/he has no intention of resigning.
3. Prime Minster says Minister "has his full support"
4. Minister resigns.

Watch this space.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

BOGROT

Yes. Bogrot. We have far, far too many books, the old bookcase we gave a home to a few months ago is already full, and we have to do something. So I've decided that Bogrot is the answer. Buy One Get Rid Of Two.

I'll let you know whether it works (but I'm not holding my breath).

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Not Downton Abbey - a competition!

I'm talking about the wonderful Upstairs Downstairs, which showed how it should really be done. And as we have duplicates, I am offering a DVD of one or two episodes as a prize (they were freebies, but a DVD is a DVD). All you have to do is write a limerick about maids, the aristocracy, a stately home - in fact, anything Downton- or Upstairs Downstairs-ish.

Ditch your NaNo for a few minutes and have a go.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Downton Abbey (again)

Every week, we watch in fascination as another episode of unlikely plot and clunky prose crosses our screen, to a background of beautiful buildings and pretty frocks. Come on, fellow-writers! Couldn't we all do better than this? Last night's highlight, after the miraculous recovery of Matthew, who leapt from his wheelchair apparently healed, and the next day (or thereabouts) took the lovely Mary in his arms for a quick waltz round the drawing room:

Mary: Can you dance without your stick?
Matthew: You ARE my stick.

Isn't that lovely? No-one has ever called me their stick before (sigh). And there's m'lord, kissing the maid, telling her, "I want you with every fibre of my being". Aaaaah. Bless.

I wouldn't miss it for the world. Roll on the next series.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Magpie 90













Here lie the family of Moore,
No longer here, but gone before.
Their motto? "Always do your best.
Remember: better Moore than Lesse."


(With thanks to Magpie Tales for the picture)

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Horse diaries

Titch likes to mess about. He prances up to other horses in the field, and nips them on the bum. This doesn't always go down well. Today, he has a cut on his knee where he's been kicked.

Titch: We're not going out, are we? I've got this sore knee.
Me; It's just a little cut. You'll be fine. Have you been in another fight?
Tich: Yeah. You should see the other guy!
Me: No-one else has been injured. Just you.
Titch: Oh, Is that right?
Me: That's right.
Titch: And we're going out?
Me: Too right we are.
Titch: Can we go to the dairy?
Me: Okay. We'll go to the dairy.

The dairy is a route much beloved of all the horses because it is short. It's the convalsescent route for those recovering from colic, minor injuries or whavever. Titch loves it, and as we set out, he completely forgets his sore knee. We bounce along the road, shying at everything in sight, and when we meet a woman in a bright orange coat, he turns tail and canters off down the road. With some difficulty, I pull him up and apolgise to the woman, who is looking startled.

Me: What on earth was that about?
Titch: You know I hate orange.
Me: I think you're feeling a lot better.
Titch: No, I'm not. I've got his sore knee....By the way, are you still thinking of...of ...getting rid of me?

I think about the huge bill I've just paid the stable. Then I look at Titch's glossy coat, his big dark eyes, his long legs and his ridicuously kissable nose. And I sigh.

Me: No. Of course I'm not.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A journey in the quiet carriage


We went London today, booking seats in the quiet carriage, so that we could read our books. Fair enough?

But why do they penalise us by ALWAYS putting the quiet carriage at the back, so we have to walk miles to reach it, and also have to trawl through about seven (noisy) carriages to buy a cup of coffee? It's as though we're being punished for not wanting to listen to people telling us, loudly, that they're "on the train, and will Malcolm remember to buy the rabbit for the stew/polish his boots/get Andrea to send that unrgent email"? I think, instead, there should be a noisy carriage - several if necessry - at the back of the train, well away from the rest of us.

But when a mobile phone went off in the quiet carriage this morning, there was a general bristling and tutting. And when a second one rang, and was anwered at length, a lynch-party descended upon it. There was much huffing and puffing and flying of feathers, and a timid little voice was heard to whimper that she "hadn't been on a train for ages". That excuse cut no ice with the lynchers ("pshaw!"), and the timid little voice seemed to vanish. I felt quite sorry for her. Well, almost.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Horse diaries - in memoriam

Titch: Where is he?
Me: Where's who?
Titch: Westy. My neigbour. You know.
Me: Well....
Titch: There's something you're not telling me, isn't there?
Me: Titch, you'd better sit down for this.
Titch: Don't be ridiculous!
Me: You're right. Sometimes I forget. Well, you know that Westy was old?
Titch: Older than me?
Me: Much older than you. And he had that bad leg, which never really got better. And he was in a lot of pain. In the end, there was nothing more they could do.
Titch: You're talking about the vet with the...with the...?
Me: I'm afraid so.
Titch: I'll really miss him
Me: Me too. Westy was a real gentleman.
Titch: More so than me?
Me: I'm afraid so. You've got some way to go yet.
Titch: But did he have a famous grandfather? I bet his grandfather wasn't as famous as mine!
Me: Maybe not. But not everything's about you, you know.
Titch: Perhaps not... You know, I always felt safe with Westy. He saw me past cows, and wheelie bins. Told me not to worry. Said he'd look after me.
Me: Yes, he did.
Titch: Not any more, though.
Me: No. Not any more.
Titch: Everyone's been looking so sad.
Me: Yes. We all miss him. He was one in a million.

Westbury (Westy to his friends) died last Thursday. He is buried in a field on the farm where he lived for most of his life. We all miss him very much.

Monday, 31 October 2011

A break from fiction

I'm taking a break from novel-writing* (although I shall still write the odd short story) and am currently writing a non-fiction book. As it's largely about my own experience, I don't have to think up a plot or an ending (or even a middle) because it's all there in my head. And today, I got my agent's approval (I'd sent her the opening), so I can go ahead with it. Quite exciting!

*I shall return to it when the idea in my head has gelled. It's taking its time at the moment.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Magpie 89 - The downside of modern technology










"You can fall back on shorthand and typing,"
Said her mother, "it's all you will need."
So Monica went off to Pitmans
And brought herself right up to speed.
At hundreds of words to the minute
Our Monica was top of her class,
She thought that the sky was her limit,
Poor girl! For years later - alas -
Along came computers, and suddenly
Skilled typists were needed no more,
For children of five were taught typing
And could churn out the words by the score.

Poor Monica sat in her garret
"I've no work and no money," she cried.
So she typed a last note to her mother,
And drank all her Tipex. And died.

(Thanks to Magpie Tales for the photograph)

Friday, 28 October 2011

Calling Coronation Streets Fans

Please, please tell me:

1. How John survived his fall off the roof? (it must have been at least two floors, and he apprently walked away)
2. How he was going to prevent Rosie from spilling the beans at Fizz's trial if she'd done what he was asking?

Sometimes I think the scripwriters live in la-la land.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

He was sat at his desk...

No, no, NO! He was SITTING at his desk! Did someone have to pick him up and plonk him on his chair? Of course they didn't. So he wasn't sat at all; he did it all by himself. He was sitting at his desk. As the meercat would say - simples.

Am I the only person who hates this particular grammatical abuse, which seems to be here to stay? Or am I a pedant?

Monday, 24 October 2011

Magpie 88















If you can eat a feast when men are dying,
If you can wear fur coats when kids run bare.
if you can pass a beggar who is crying,
Or see a suffering child, and fail to care.
If you can travel in chauffeur-driven splendour,
Or go to gambling clubs to find your fun.
If you can't see the poverty around you,
I fear you'll find you're on your own, my son.


Thanks to Magie Tales, and apologies to Kipling.

But there's more, because...

...according to the Sunday Sport (headline seen in newsagent today): AUTOPSY SHOCK! GADDAFI WAS A WOMAN!

Gaddafi photos - enough already

I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling disgust at the proliferation of photographs of the last moments of Colonel Gaddafi's life. Yes, he was a tyrant; he inflicted terrible punishments on his people; he was, in short, a hideous human being. But photographs of him in his dying moments serve no useful purpose, except to pander to the worst in those who view them.

The Times, after rather pompously saying that it "wouldn't normally publish such pictures" (yeah, right) but that this was "an historic moment", jumped on the grisly bandwagon, and added some more today for good measure. Okay. We know Gaddafi's dead. Many of us will be very relieved that the world it now rid of such a man, and his country free to rebuild itself. But we don't need to see his body.

Having seen many people dying, and many shortly afterwards, I have always felt that death - anyone's death - should be a private affair. Whatever has happened, has happened. For our sakes, never mind that of the deceased, there should be an element of dignity.

But no doubt these pictures will continue to roll across our screens until the next catastrophe, because that's the media, isnt' it?

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Gold by Dan Rhodes


I happened upon this novel quite by chance, while browsing in the library. I had never heard of either the novel or the writer, but this book has given me more sheer entertainment than many a worthier read.

It tells the story of Miyuki, a half-Japanese lesbian, who is on her annual fortnight's break from her partner, the wonderfully named Grindl. Much of the action - if you can call it that - takes place in the village pub, where Tall Mr. Hughes, Short Mr. Hughes and Mr. Puw are regulars, together with the rock band (who neither play nor practise) Septic Barry and The Children of Previous Relationships. Here, Miyuki observes them from her accustomed seat beneath the stuffed pike, joining in from time to time. Not a great deal happens, although Miyuki decides to paint a rock in one of the local coves gold (this doesn't go down too well) and eventually decides to cut short her visit.

I'm tryng to avoid that dreadful cliche "laugh out loud", but at one stage I was literally crying with laughter. The inconsequential nature of the novel reminds me very much of Magnus Mills, although I found this funnnier. Even if it doesn't make you laugh, it's an easy, fun read. If you haven't already, do give it a try.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Oh, and there's this one, too...



Certain (smaller) members of our family think this sign represents a man trying to open an umbrella.

Road signs



This lovely sign (the one on the right) appeared on the blog of Broken Biro, and I hope she doesn't mind my pinching it.

It puts me in mind of a letter to the Times ages ago about the Elderly People Crossing sign, which, the writer suggested should mean Beware of Pick-pockets.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Knickers are a girl's best friend


Well girls, in case you haven't yet compiled a list of your Christmas wants, here's a timely suggestion. Selfridges have launched (ha) a pair of knickers with a real diamond (that's the tiny little thing in the middle); a snip at £235 per pair. The diamond is detachable (how thoughtful), presumably so that it doesn't disappear in the wash to join all those odd socks. Sefridges coyly suggest you wear the knickers on your wedding night (I don't recall needing any knickers at all on my wedding night).

Just a thought.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Horse diaries - the beginning of the end?


Titch was in an appalling mood this morning, skulking at the back of his box, then trying to chuck his rug over the barrier into his nieghbour's box. You get the picture.

Me: Titch, we need to talk.
Titch: Humph.
Me: No, really.
Titch (flicking an ear): I'm listening.
Me: This isn't easy, but I'll give it to you straight. I may have to let you go.
Titch (flinching): Not...not...the vet with the... you know...?
Me: Of course not! I'm talking about a new home.
Titch (munching hay): Oh. That's okay, then.
Me: You don't mind?
Titch: Will I be fed? Will I still get three meals a day?
Me: Of course you will.
Titch: I'm cool with that. Will you tell my new owners about my grandfather? Will they know who I am?
Me: It'll all be on your papers.
Titch: Papers, eh? That's good.(Pauses). Not crying, are you?
Me: Of course not. Something in my eye.

Horses can be very heartless sometimes.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Hearing but not listening

Does anyone recognise the following?

She: (something like) I wonder how we're going to pay for Petronella's lacrosse lessons this term.
He: Hmmm.
She: You weren't listening!
He: Yes I was.
She: Then tell me what I just said.
He: Something about paying for Petronella's lacrosse lessons.
She: That wasn't proper listening. That was recall.

It is my belief that there's a small waiting room in the (usualy male - sorry guys) head. There, anything said to them will remain for about seven seconds, and in that time, they can recall (and repeat) it. But it has altogether bypassed the brain, and after those seven seconds, it is gone. For ever.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Magpie Tales (but not this time)











You need an asterisk or three
To write of things that rhyme with duck.
To manage this is not quite me,
So this week, I'm giving the Magpie Tales challenge a miss.

(Also, I can't get the link to work!)

Gift catalogues

It's that time of year again; catalogues full of silly "gifts".

It seems to me that a "gift" is something you don't need (or you'd already have it) or want (probably). These gifts are bought by the desperate, and received by the reluctant. The catalogue that arrived this morning is quite a classy one, and has some things that are not entirely useless, but oh dear...

There are, among other things: a Union Jack Worktop Saver; a Personalised Insulated Travel Coffee Cup; Leather Animal Doorstops; Rocking Glasses (the kind you drink out of. Hilarious, eh?); Glass Teapot; Flower Scissors (won't any scissors do?); plus the usual mugs and things with silly/amusing(?) things printed on them.

In conclusion, if it's marketed as a gift, avoid it. You don't need it or want it, and (probably) neither does the Oxfam shop (although I've lost count of the smelly candles and tiny little diaries they've had from me).

Sunday, 16 October 2011

My week-end

I've just returned from three days of helping with grandchildren while my lovely daughter-in-law was away. These are three wonderful and very naughty boys, including the disappearing 3-year-old George mentioned in a previous post (he did disappear. About fifteen times).

Highlights:

1. Finding the right children coming out of school. The school is huge, and the children stream out all looking much the same, and it's a bit like trying to collect your luggage off an airport carousel. You know it's there - it's got to be there - but on the other hand, it could be in Dubai. I nearly panicked, as one of them was the very last to emerge. Not in Dubai, then. Phew.

2. Seeing Joshua the guinea pig eating toast and marmalade and drinking tea (yes really. He takes one sugar) at breakfast.

3. Finding Goerge (about fifteen times).

4. Discovering that Freddy hadn't broken his arm (falling off the slide) after all.

5. Spending time with son when they were in bed.

Low points:

1. Losing George.

2. George managing to wipe William's homework from the computer.

3. Mealtimes (enough said).

4. Having to leave them, because they are funny and bright and excellent company, and I love them dearly.

I'm now going to lie down in a darkened room. I may be gone for some time.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Endings



I don't plan when I write; I just let things happen. Ths is lazy, I know, but I like to surprise myself as well as the reader. I genuinely admire those authors who paper their walls with post-it notes, and know exactly where they're going, but it's just not for me. I wouldn't know where (or how) to start.

So I was comforted to read this from Rose Tremain:

In the planning stage of a book, don't plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.

Tremain is a wonderful writer. I'm currently reading - and loving - her latest novel, Trespass. it's good to know that novels like The Road Home were allowed to find their own pace, so I shall continue on my unordained journey with renewed hope.

Probably...

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Horse Diaries (cont)

Well, off we set. It was a very windy day, and wind has a funny effect on horses. Things that don't normally bother them do, and things that do bother them tend to flap about and vindicate all their worst fears.

There were flapping road signs and things in the hedge and wheelie bins (I know. Wheelie bins don't flap, but Titch has been waiting for them to move ever since he first met one, and every rubbish day,when all the bins stand to attention along the roadside, he skirts them carefully, snuffling and muttering under his breath).

Of course, we shouldn't have gone along the road. Big mistake. Cars, vans, bikes, and that long lorry with something strange attached to its back were all causes for concern (he's usually good in traffic). He dannced about and held up traffic and was a bloody nuisance. Crunch time came when he saw something in the hedge (I've no idea what) and plunged right out into the middle of the (busy) road.

Me: What the f***?!
Titch: That was close!
ME: No. the traffic was close. That was a stupid, dangerous thing to do. What if there'd been a car coming?
Titch: Well, I'm a thoroughbred. That's what we thoroughbreds do. They should know that.
Me: Lets get this straight, once and for all. To the casual road-user you are just a horse.
Titch: WHAT?
Me: That's right. You could be any old horse. Carthorse, cob, pony...they're all the same to a driver. They don't - repeat, don't - give a damn about your pedigree.
Titch: Do they know about my grandsire? (Titch's famous grandsire never lost a race, and Titch is a terrible name-dropper).
Me: Most probably not. And if they did, they might also know that your grandsire would not be at all proud of you; that you're a failed racehorse, and that that's why I was able to buy you for a song.

We didn't speak all the way home.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Time slip novels

Is time slip a relatively new device? Every modern novel I read now seems to go back and forth between the past and the present. Sometimes it works; sometimes not. I'm probably the only person on the planet who couldn't cope with The Time Traveller's Wife (the ultimate time slip novel), and I had my doubts about One Day, probably for similar reasons.

But I cannot think of a single "classic" novel which works in this way. Dickens, Austen, Gaskell, Hardy, Trollope - they all move seamlessly in one direction, with only passing references to the past. When did this time slip thing start (I've done it, too, in my novels, almost without realising it)? And why?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Magpie Tales (October 9th.)



"Anything in the paper today, dear?" said the Queen at breakfast, putting down her teacup.
"No. But I'm ON the paper!" exclaimed the King excitedly.
"Not funny, dear. I think we've had enough of that joke, haven't we."
"Sorry, dear."
"Not sulking are we?" asked the Queen sternly.
"No," said the King. "But you do make me feel rather small."

Friday, 7 October 2011

Nose jobs moving up the charts...

I'm still fascinated by the popularity of some posts, and while horses and ping pong didn't really do the business (sorry, Aliya), R for Rhinoplasty now stands at all-time 5th favourite (In Love with a Horse is still way ahead in first place).

So - nose jobs are where it (or some of it) is all happening, folks. I just hope those who looked up my post weren't too disappointed (they might have been hoping for some kind of bargain. A BOGOF perhaps).

What are your most popular posts?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Uncle revisited

I have posted several times about the heartbreaking situation of my 95-year-old uncle; demented, frail, incontinent, unable to walk and appearing to be pretty unhappy for much of the time (although it's hard to tell).

I visited him today, and the nasty sore on his face has been diagnosed as malignant. And guess what? The dermatologist recommends radiotherapy. This would involve distressing journeys to and from the hospital, disrupted routine, strange faces, more distress at having to lie still, and the painful after-effects of the treatment. And all for what? To keep alive someone who would naturally have died some time ago (he's been kept going by a multiplicity of drugs, antibiotics etc). Add to that the fact that the cancer may well have already spread, and...well, I despair. As next of kin I have made my feelings known, and the staff are very sympathetic, but how can anyone with an ounce of common sense and/or humanity even contemplate such a step? And that's putting aside the expense for a cash-strapped NHS.

As I said, I despair.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The full English


Las night we went away to a very pleasant hotel for John's birthday treat, and this morning I did it again. I succumbed to the full English breakfast.

Why, why, why do I do this? I know that it will make me feel full and lethargic for the rest of the day; I know it will probably put me off food for a week; I don't even really like it. Part of me would much rather have a boiled egg or the nice smoked haddock. But the main, greedy, stupid part wants that fry-up; knows that when it sees John's (he always has it) it will be jealous.

And then we compounded the problem by meeting a friend for lunch. And he insisted on taking us somewhere nice because of the birthday. Just four hours after the breakfast.

And after my rant about overweight kids, too.

I feel very ashamed.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A spider will not survive -17 degrees C

I discovered this by chance yesterday. I had picked some blackberries, and frozen them on a tray, and when I went to tip them into a bag - lo! I found that I had mistakenly frozen a spider.

What if I am the first person to discover that a spider can survive such a low temperature? I thought. So I laid him/her tenderly on the table in the kitchen to see. S/he seemed rather crisp, but no matter. All the legs were there. Everything in tact. I waited.

An hour later, I returned. The spider wasn't quite so crisp, but it was almost certainly dead.

Telling my son about this, he reminded me of all the times when we had resuscitated hibernating hamsters by the fire, and he speculated that the flower bed which doubled as burial ground for animal corpses was probably full of misdiagnosed hamsters which had been, not dead, but merely waiting for the spring. Isn't that an awful thought?

Monday, 3 October 2011

The travels of George

Apropos a comment by Jenny on my last post* (below), I am reminded of something that happened this week.

My three-year-old grandson, George, disappeared while his (other) grandmother was collecting him from nursery. There was a frantic fifteen-minute search before he reappeared.

It transpired that George (who I have to say is the most disappearing child I have ever come across) had absconded across a road, through a shopping centre and along a busy high street. There, he had entered a newagent's, filled the pockets of his dungarees with sweets, and returned. All by himself. And no-one seems to have noticed.

George is fine. Grandma is recovering. And I'm sorry to say, his parents (with the beneift of hindsight) are really rather proud of this display of enterprise.

*I should mention that George is not obese. He doesn't stand still for long enough.

A form of chilld abuse


It's odd, isn't it, how it's somehow ok to be rude about fat people. Thin people are "slim", but fat people are, well, fat. And on the whole, not well tolerated.

I have nursed some enormously fat people in my time. I know what they look like under all those clothes, and believe me, it's not a pretty sight. Having said that, I think that obese adults have made a choice, and while it's fine - good, in fact - for health professionals to advise them, you can't MAKE people change their eating habits (I've tried!). As for the medical costs they may incur for the cash-strapped NHS, they will probably die at a younger age and save on care at the end of their lives, so in the end it will more or less equal out.

What I do have a problem with is obese children. I have just seen - in a supermarket - two obese women shopping with an obese child. The girl was about 12. They were carrying - among other things - boxes of chocolate cakes and crumpets, and I had to restrain myself from going over and telling them to put them all back; that they were abusing that child. Because they are. It's like making babies smoke. Adults can smoke if they choose, but you wouldn't do it to a child, and the same applies to food. I know - for a fact - that this girl will go on to be an obese adult, with all the attendant problems. She's probably already being teased at school, and I ache for her.

I don't have the answers. I certainly don't think that obese children should be taken into care (as has recently happened). But I do feel sad that this is going on, and that there seems to be so little anyone can do to stop it.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Magpie Tales (winged elephant)








They say that one day
Pigs might fly,
And giant mammals
Fill the sky,
And elephants skim o'er the clouds
To entertain the cheering crowds.
Some people think it's all a myth
(I think they're trying to take the pyth).

Thanks to Magie Tales for the picture.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Dealing with old clothes...


Well not that old, obviously. But I've been trying to sort out some of mine.

My problem is that most of my clothes are old, so what to get rid of? I decided to start with sweaters, but then found that I'd worn all of them at least once in the past year, so they don't qulify as chuckable. And the one hanging up in the wardrobe; the one the moths have been slowly nibbling away at for some time. That one poses just as much of a problem, because although it is now unwearable, if I remove it the moths might start on something else, whereas if I keep it as a kind of moth hatchery, they may confine their attentions to just that one (I never see the actual moths, so can't launch any kind of attack, and you can't hang up a mothball).

Then there's the awful dress I wore to no.1 son's wedding. It was so expensive...and yet I shall never wear it again (what was I thinking of?), and my old nurse's uniform (the old nurse being me) - will I ever need that again? Perhaps as a fancy dress? Probably not. And about a hundred pairs of tights with holes (but you can wear tham under jeans), and (talking of jeans) the ancient pair I remember being vomited over by a grandson as a baby (he's now nearly eight), but I love them and they're comfortable, and frayed jeans are ok nowadays...

I was going to revamp my wardrobe, but I've decided it's quite vamped enough for me, so I shall put everything back again. Till next time.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Being invisible

A Serbian beggar, fed up with being ignored, has apparently taken to placing his cap and shoes on the pavement, together with a sign saying "invisible beggar" (fair enough, although I think that "hungry, homeless and invisible" might have been even more poignant). But it's working, for nowadays he sits in the cafe opposite and watches the cap fill up with money.

This is an inspired idea. We've all come across the invisible policemen (most of them, especially when you need one), and the invisible train manager who makes unintelligible announcements from the region of the ceiling, and the invisible traffic warden, who manages to stick a notice to your car windscreen in the time it takes to nip out and buy a packet of Polos, although you never see him.

What invisible job would you like? I think I'd like to be the invisible writer in residence at some very prestigious seat of learning. I would, of course, consent to become visible, on request.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Magpie Tales


"Oh, I do love to dance in the rain!"
Said my niece, on a visit from Spain.
But she ran out of clothes
Since she'd only brought those.
So she said, "I won't do it again."

I know. Awful. But I saw the picture, and I just had to have a go... (thanks to Magpie Tales for the picture)

Am I the only blogger...

...having yet more blog-relatd problems? Today, rather than not being allowed to sign in or out, or having my follwers confiscated, I'm not allowed to post any comments on other people's blogs. I have tried (hi Alan, Librarian and Gail, among others) but have had to give up. If this goes on, I may even have to do some serious writing.

What is the world coming to...

Monday, 26 September 2011

A lesson from a spider


There is a spider in our garden (all right then. Our courtyard). In fact, there are probably lots, but this one keeps making his web across the doorway, and inevitably, someone walks into the web, and he has to start all over again. I inadvertently destroyed it again last night, and by this morning, it was completely re-built. He must have been at it all night. But I have decided to move him to another spot, where he can build undisturbed, for while I am not a particular fan of spiders, I'm a great believer in the live-and-let-live thing.

But is there a lesson to be learnt here? I asked myself this morning. For those of us who keep writing and find that what we write isn't sufficiently wanted/needed/appreciated, should we perhaps move our little writing webs into another place; another genre? My agent wants me to insert something "dark" - a secret, perhaps - into my next book, and I am reluctant to do so. But if I follow her advice and move out of my comfort zone, maybe, just maybe, I shall be a blockbusting overnight success.

I might even dedicate it to the spider.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

My daughter's a domestic goddess


No. This picture isn't of her. But she is a domestic goddess just the same.

I have just phoned her, and this morning she's made (not heated up; made) waffles for breakfast, and now she's made eight individual shepherd's pies and a pecan and something-or-other cheesecake and lemon ice cream for a dinner party tonight. She gives a lot of dinner parties.

I don't really do dinner parties. For me, they are the suff of nightmares. Will the people get on? Will the food be ok? What if eveyrone want to leave immedately after the coffee. AAAAARGH!

I panic over the menu. I try new things, and worry that they won't work. And as for things that have to be turned out (ie of moulds) - they are the worse of all. I shall never forget the fresh fruit jelly that promised to be so irresistible, with its jewel-like pieces of fruit in a glorious suspension of fruit juice, to be served with cream. Mmmm. Except that, guess what? As, with trembling fingers, (the jelly wasn't the only one trembling) I 'turned out' my jelly, it wobbled uncertainly for a few agonising seconds, then fell to its knees and collapsed in a messy heap. See what I mean? And that's only one example (the shoe-leather ratatouille being another). As for the guests, there was the night of the died-in-the-wool left wing friends versus the very-public-school right wing friends. That was a night to remember. And there are others, but I won't bore you with them.

So, my daughter (whom I love dearly, who is one of my very best friends, and to whom I can say just about anything) is a domestic goddess (she also makes amazing fancy dress costumes, and gives wonderful Hallowe'en parties for her kids, and and and..) and I am not. She is hosting yet another dinner party tonight, and we are going to sink ourselves in a bottle of wine and a DVD.

That's all.

Friday, 23 September 2011

No more hearty meals for the condemned man

As a postscript to my last (below), apparently Texas is no longer letting prisoners choose their last meal before they're executed. It seems that some of them have been making exorbitant demands (how dare they?), and in any case (says Texas) they don't deserve a special meal. They're criminals. Let them eat the same as the other prisoners.

It's good to know that compassion and humanity are still alive and well in Texas, even if 400+ prisoners (since the 1980s) are not.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Death in Georgia

I have been feeling enormously sad at the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia last night. This man was on Death Row for 20 years, and had already had three stays of execution. After all that, his execution was delayed for four hours. Is that enough punishment for a man who has maintained his inncence throghout, and whose last words were a plea to the victim's family to find the real killer? Seven of the people who testified against him at his trial have since withrawn their testimony, and another man has confessed to the murder. But no matter. Revenge has been exacted, and so that's all right then, isn't it?

On a happier note, my own Death Row prisoner (the one I correspond with) has had his sentence commuted to life without parole. I only found this out by chance, and am delighted for him. Apparently:

"during a June 23 hearing, it was revealed that the lone juror at
the murder trial who held out to sentence **** to death and refused to
join with other jurors who preferred a sentence of life in prison was never
questioned by defense attorneys during jury selection."

Astounding, isn't it? One juror was in favour of the death penalty in this case. Just one. And if he had been questioned by the defense, presumably D would still be on Death Row.

It beggars belief.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

What's in a name?

Our window cleaner calls himself a "Glazing Enhancement Specialist", and this lofty title appears on all his invoices (okay, little pieces of paper he leaves if you're out). Don't you just love it?

So - what posh name would you give to your day job (if you have one)? And more to the point, what would be a more impressive name for a novelist/short story writer? (How about Imaginative Escritory* Operative?)

*There's probably no such word, but I like the sound of it.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

I'm on the train...

Well, I was. Earlier today. And behind me was a woman who apparently works for a well-known publishing house (I'm being discreet here, though heaven knows why, because she certainly wasn't), and for nearly the whole of the journey, she was busy talking on her mobile, organising her day. Loudly.

Among other things - lots of other things - I gathered that her name was Jo, and she was trying to get hold of Miranda and Michaela. She was also trying to track down an author to sign a contract so that they could give her her advance, and another author had said she was too busy to take part in Radion 4's A Good Read (at this point, I had to restrain myself from leaping up and offering to go in this person's place). She was also planning to stay somewhere for five days, but it was going to cost $350 per night. She was a bit shocked, but it seems that she's going to go anyway.

You may say that I shouldn't thave listened, but I had no choice. I couldn't concentrate on my own book because my new friend Jo was talking so loudly. And while some of what she said was quite interesting, I couldn't help wondering why, if she could afford to stay somewhere for $350 a night, she couldn't also afford to travel first class, and leave people like me in peace.

I wish that instead of having Quiet Carriages, invariably impossible to find, the railways would have Noisy Carriages, and put them right at the back. Oh, and Jo, if you should happen to read this, next time please, please KEEP YOUR VOICE DOWN.

Thank you.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Downton Abbey

Are we the only people on the planet who don't think that Downton Abbey is the best thing since Upstairs Downstairs*? Watching it last night, we were so bored that we barely managed to make it till the end. The characters seem wooden (apart from fabulous Maggie Smith, who could read the telephone directory and make it sound ilke magic), the plot whisks hither and yon, in and out of the trenches, and back to a candlelit dinner before you've had time to draw breath, and the dialogue...

"War is reaching its long fingers into our house and scatttering our chicks," says the lord to his lady (or the oher way round; I forget) as they get into bed. Does ANYONE ever talk like that in a private domestic situation? Okay, so I'm not privy to the conversations among the nobility, but nonetheless, this beggared belief. And the cliches: "war has a way of distinguishing between those things that matter and those that don't" (one soldier to another, as they stand together in their trench). Really? Now, who would have thought of that? Surely not a soldier, surrounded by dead companions, up to his knees in mud?

And before I get completely shouted down, this is just my opinion, expressed on my blog, and I'm open to the opinions of others. So please be gentle with me!

*One of our favourite programmes ever.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Laundry mysteries


Okay; so everyone knows that one red sock can turn an entire load of washing pink (without, incidentally, losing any of its own redness; a bit like giving blood, but without needing the cup of tea and biscuit afterwards), and that if you put ten socks into the washing machine, you will only retrieve nine afterwards. But can anyone explain how a duvet cover*, put in separately, will invariably eat every last garment that's put in with it? And when you think you've finally emptied it (the duvet cover, that is), there's always one little item (possibly the lost sock?) curled up smugly in a corner, to be found much later, slighly damp and a bit sort of crispy.

*I know, I know. You should always button up the duvet cover first, and tie up the socks separately in a little bag, but life is far too short for faffing about doing that kind of thing.

(Incidentally, I've always thought it might be fun to have a kind of sock-pairing party. Everyone brings a bottle of wine and a bag of odd socks, you throw them all (the socks, not the bottles) into the middle of the room, and then everyone leaps in and tries to make as many (approximate) pairs as they can. They get to keep the socks. This can of course be done to music.

Friday, 16 September 2011

The love of chapters

I've just read a novel which has no chapters; it was just one lengthy narrative, with no sub-divisions of any kind. And it made me realise something: I love chapters.

I love the way they break the story up; the "I'll just read to the end of this chapter" thing; the way each one is a link in a chain, with a hook (of excitement/uncertainty/mystery/expectation or whatever) to lead the reader on to the next. They also give the opportunity for a clear change in POV or scene. They are a useful device, for both reader and writer.

I always write in chapters, generally quite short ones, and I don't think I could write in any other way. I tend to edit each one as I go along (which is probably bad practice, but never mind), and so each one has several little drafts of its own (I think this is probably a relic of my short story days).

How does anyone else feel? Do chapters really make that much difference?

Thursday, 15 September 2011

My writing day

Talking to book/library groups, I think we're all often asked what our writing day is like. This happened again last night, so at the risk of boring them (and you):

I'm an early bird, so wake about half past six. I need two strong cups of coffee, and then I write for a couple of hours before breakfast (I don't really care for breakfast, so that doesn't take long). After a shower, I write from about ten until one, and then stop for a sandwich. After lunch, I'll go for a ride, and then fit in another hour of writing before making the evening meal. The rest of the day is my own time, although I often find myself going back to the PC to look over what I've written during the day.

And if you believe that, you'll believe anythihng.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Greetings cards (again)

My favourite is still "Happy Easter from the Dog", but here's one that comes pretty close:

Happy birthday to my partner's friend.

Dear friend of my partner
On whose behalf I have bought this card
You'd think he'd find time to buy one himself
But being male he find it too hard.

There's more to this "poem", but I was getting odd looks as I copied it down in the newsagent's (I certainly wasn't going to buy it). So - come on all you (we) guys who want to get into print (and presumably earn some money). Ridiculous subject apart, we HAVE to be able to do better than this. In fact I'd love to run another competition, but it's getting expensive! (Sorry, Joanna. I've bought the tea towel, and it will be on its way by tomorrow.)

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Writing from a child's viewpoint


This blog started out as a place for my thoughts about writing and books, and immediately fell off the rails and became a general ramble. Time, then, for a book-related post.

By one of those odd coincidences, I have recently read three novels in which at least part is written from a small child's POV, and in the first person. The first was Emma Donoghue's Room; an immensely successful novel, which has won many plaudits. For me, however, it didn't quite work. The child is just five, and yet much of the vocabulary he uses is way beyond that of even the brightest five-year-old. This spoilt the novel for me, although many wouldn't agree. I also found the names for household objects (Chair, Table, Bed etc)used without the definite article contrived and irritating.

The second book was Nell Leyshon's Devotion; a brilliant if slight (in length) novel about the break-down of a family, told in four first-person voices; the mother, father, and teenage and six-year-old daughters. Leyshon's novel doesn't seem to be doing especially well commercially (I happened upon it in the library) and this is a great shame, because I think she really does manage (as much as is possible) to get inside the heads of the two children, and the book is altogether a wonderful if tragic read; I really recommend it.

The third novel is Chrsitopher Wakling's What I Did; like The Slap, the story of the aftermath of the public smacking of a child, and told from the point of view of the six-year-old involved. This one I find particularly irritating (I'm only half-way through). The "thoughts" of the little boy seem to me contrived and unlikely, esepcially (again) in the vocabulary he uses. For example, would a child of this age really use the word "extraordinarily", and then "air looms" for "heirlooms"? It borders on the cute/twee, and for me, it doesn't work. This is a shame, because the story is an absorbing one, but several times I have been sorely tempted to give up on it because of the style. The actual story could have been told in the third person, and I don't think it would lose any of its impact.

In conclusion, I think from now on I will avoid novels told in this way. It can work - just - but it's very, very difficult to pull off. After all, how many of us can remember our thought processes at the age of six? We may remember what happened and how we felt, but that's a different thing altogether.