Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Courses for horses (kind of)

One (at least) of the lovely staff where I keep my horse is going to have to go on a course to learn how to deal with clients (some government directive). They all know how to deal with clients; many of them have been doing it for years. But no matter. If you haven't been on a course, it doesn't count.

We've all been there, haven't we? I certainly have. I finally left my job as a practice nurse (something I'd been doing since the days when they were a rare breed) because they wanted me to go on a course to learn how to be .....a practice nurse.

And the courses themselves ...ah, the courses. The coffee at the start, and then the cringe-making 'getting to know you' exercise. You throw a ball at each other, merrily calling out his/ her name (I can never remember names). Or you have a little chat with your neighbour and then 'introduce them to the group' ('this is Seth from Wapping. He collects newts and wants to be an astronaut'. That kind of thing).

Then - and this is enormous fun - you divide into small groups with a large piece of paper and write down all your ideas about whatever it is you're supposed to be having ideas about (are you still with me?). Then back to the big group, where the bossiest person out of your group has volunteered to tell everyone else about those ideas, and if you're lucky, the person in charge writes them on the flip chart (every course has a flip chart. Courses keep the flip chart manufacturers in business) for the edification of the others, who have all had the same ideas anyway.

Break for lunch. If your luck's in, there may be a pub nearby.

I won't bore you further with the Afternoon Session, but at the end, we're all jolly good friends (aren't we?) , we've filled in a form to say how helpful the course has been (and lied, to be kind), and have a nice piece of paper to say we've....been on a course. Usually, however, we go home none the wiser, but resolved never, ever to go on another course.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Quote du jour

"Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy" (Tchaikovsky)

Hmmm....back to work.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Pigeon post

I am not a fan of the (town) pigeon. Devizes is full of them; fat,  lazy, and over-fed, with greedy little eyes and no manners. If you cut a Devizes pigeon, it would be liked slicing through a loaf of Mother's Pride.

But two things puzzle me. One is that every pigeon seems to be differently marked, and this isn't true of most birds. The other is their sound. The normal call goes a bit like this: "Oh, I am so cool; oh, I am so cool".  But nowadays, it seems they're too exhausted to finish the sentence, so they finish with either:  "Oh, I am so -" (abrupt halt), or sometimes just "Oh-"

This is maddening, as I keep waiting for the bit that doesn't come. Is there an explanation for this (GB??)?

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Return to my soapbox...

...Death Row, and in particular, the barbaric conditions on the Row in Texas. These are apparently my least popular posts, but I still want to spread the word. Here's part of an article written by a man released after many years on the Row. He was lucky (if you can call him that). Many innocent people have almost certainly been executed, with Texas just passing the 500 mark for executions carried out since the death penalty was reinstated.

There are 12 more people like me from Texas. Twelve people who spent years of their lives locked alone in concrete cages waiting to die before they were set free, exonerated for their innocence.

Eleven people have committed suicide on Texas' death row. All because of the conditions.

When I was sentenced to death, I did not know that this sentence would also mean that I would have 12 years without any human contact, i.e. my mother, my son, my friends. All those people were stripped from my life because of this injustice. I did not know it would mean 12 years of having my meals slid through a small slot in a steel door like an animal. I did not know it would mean 12 years alone in a cage the size of a parking spot, sleeping on concrete steel bunk and alone for 22 to 24 hours a day. All for a crime I did not commit. The injustice.

For me and the 400 other prisoners on Texas' death row while I was there, a death sentence meant a double punishment. We spent years locked alone in a tiny, concrete cage in solitary confinement, with guys going insane, dropping their appeals, doing everything they could to check out of this place before we were ever strapped to an execution gurney. All because of the conditions.

I am writing today because the ACLU has put out an important new paper about what it does to people to lock them alone in cages on death row. They found that over 93% of states lock away their death row prisoners for over 22 hours a day. Nearly a third of death row prisoners live in cages where their toilet is an arm's length away from their bed. Sixty-percent of people on death row have no windows or natural light.

Solitary confinement is like living in a dark hole. People walk over the hole and you shout from the bottom, but nobody hears you. You start to play tricks with your mind just to survive. This is no way to live.

I saw the people living on death row fall apart. One guy suffered some of his last days smearing feces, lying naked in the recreation yard, and urinating on himself. I saw guys who dropped their appeals and elected
to die because of the intolerable conditions. To sum it up, I saw a bunch of dead men walking because of the conditions that killed everything inside of them. And they were just waiting to lie down.

After I got out, I have tried to use my time to raise awareness about these conditions. I am currently working on a book and traveling the globe trying to share my message and educate people about the effects of solitary confinement. I have, which is my consulting firm that I use to help attorneys, nonprofit organizations, etc. I am asking for your support in my endeavors to bring attention to such inhumane issues by going to my website and ordering anything from my store to help offset my travel expenses. There's also a petition on my webpage that I am asking 10 million people around the world to sign in solidarity with me as I stand up for justice.

Please help me and the ACLU get the word out about these conditions. Our death penalty system is broken in this country – it is applied unfairly against people. When you have a broken system, innocent people like me can end up on trial for their life. And subjecting anyone in prison to solitary confinement is torture. I am speaking on experience. Many of these same people are returning to our society, and when they do they come with all the baggage we put on them in the system. This keeps the rate of recidivism high.

In this country, we should be doing better than that. We should not have a criminal justice system turned into a criminal by the way we treat our citizens. Even when we do not like people or believe they have done something wrong, our emotions should not govern
our society. We should be making laws from a rational perspective. We have to be above the criminal by keeping our system humane. Everyone should be treated like a human being. This is America.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Magpie 178

When Matthew parks his motor bike
(Beside the lake, beneath the trees),
On looking down, he sees his bits
Are fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
And lo! (his heart with pleasure thrills) -
They dance, like Wordsworth's daffodils!

(With thanks to Tess at Magpie Tales for the picture)

Friday, 19 July 2013

Coming soon to a nursery near you...

...a 'sip and see' party. We've had the baby shower, then the party where the baby's gender is revealed (prenatally) via the colour of the inside of a (white-covered) cake. Well, now, to complete the baby celebrations, we have this. The happy parents give a party for friends and relatives to sip (a drink) and see (the new arrival) ...and, presumbly, bring yet another babygro/frilly frock/fluffy teddy (if you look at the invitation above, you will see that the name of purveyors of such giifts are craftily - if not subtly - included in the invitation).

Isn't that lovely? Altogether now....aaaaaaaaah!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Liverpool Care Pathway

This has been much in the news in the last week. For the uninitiated, it is a regime set up for the seriously ill, usually dying, patient, and is about to be abandoned in most hospitals. But what other scheme will take its place? I dread to think.

The whole idea of the LCP makes me deeply uncomfortable. I have no first hand experience of it, but I have cared for many dying patients in my time, and I cannot see that a one-size-fits-all regime can possibly work. Each person is different; each death is different. If practitioners go by the book, then mistakes are bound to be made. We have an excellent hospice movement in the country, and while only a minority of us will die in a hospice, those who run them are experts. Surely this expertise could at least be used, even in a hospital ward?

I believe (back to my hobby horse) that much of this comes down to nurses. Nurses know (or used to know)  patients in a way that doctors never can. They care for them every day. A good nurse should have a pretty good idea of what's best for the patient. And yet the LCP is decreed by the consultant in charge, and often relayed to the staff by a junior doctor.

Furthermore, I don't believe that the waithdrawal of fluids can ever be justified. Dehydration can cause appalling suffering, and no one knows how much even a deeply unconscious patient can feel. Terminal care should,  I'm convinced, be tailored to the individual, taking into account his/her wishes (if known),  those of the family, and the input of those in charge of the care. When I was working in hospitals, we wouldn't have dreamt of applying one rule to every patient.

I am fortunate in having a nurse and three doctors in my immediate family, and have made my wishes known to them. But what about those who have no one, and depend entirely on the "experts"?

Tuesday, 16 July 2013


We English should never
Complain of warm weather,
And I'm not.
But it's hot.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Pooh, Piglet, Tigger...which are you?

I have long thought that most of us are (more or less) made in the mould of an A.A.Milne character. Discussing this with my sister, I decided that my children are as follows: one Kanga, one Christopher Robin and, sadly, two Eeyores. I've not yet decided what I am; possibly a bit of Eeyore, with a touch of Rabbit and Kanga thrown in. I'm married to a Tigger/Owl.

Which of them is most like you?

(I'm writing this while waiting for Tigger/Owl to get off the phone...)

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Magpie 177

"Are these hot potatoes?" our Septimus said,
As he plunged in his hands, till they sizzled and bled.
He did terrible damage to his tongue, throat and teeth,
And the muscles and sinews that all lay beneath.

Poor Sep! He will never chew spuds any more,
For nowadays, he sips them, pureed, through a straw.

(With thanks to Tess at Magpie Tales for the picture)

Saturday, 13 July 2013

In praise of the semi-colon

I love the semi-colon; the elegant little half-way pause, something between a comma and a full stop. I use it a lot, and would be lost without it.

This was brought home to me by a book I'm reading at the moment. It's an interesting true story, but for me,  spoilt by bad writing (this is even worse, because it's ghosted, so someone was paid to do the actual writing). While reading this book, it suddenly struck me that the writer doesn't use a single semi-colon anywhere in the book; and boy, does it need them! The sentences are either short and abrupt, or long and rambling, with only commas for pauses. And commas are not enough.

Is the use of semi-colons (and colons) taught in schools? I've no idea. But if it were given half the attention that seems to be lavished on the ubiquitous exclamation mark, then the world of writing would be a better place! (And that was an exclamation.)

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Small and sprightly is the way to be

After a lifetime's observation of my fellows, I have decided that I am the Wrong Shape

I've often wondered why I have less energy than small, slim people, and I still don't know the answer, but what I do know is that theirs is the best shape to be. I've posted before about our amazing neighbour, who is much older than I am and has ten times my energy. And then there is our friend, Di, who at eighty plus bounces about and wears her poor husband out. And just now, when I was  at the lovely horsey place buying horsey things, there was this small, sprightly assistant, whose colleagues say she rushes about "like a hamster in a wheel". 

I am tall. I am not at all fat, but could never be described as sprightly. I often lack energy. I'll just have to live with it. Sigh....

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

White teeth (but not the Zadie Smith kind)

Yesterday,  I went to the dentist. After an uncomfortable (ie painful) session with the hygienist, it was the dentist's turn.

After he'd done his bit, I asked - just asked - about tooth-whitening. On holiday, we met lots of people from the US and Australia, with gleaming porcelain smiles; so ubiquitous were they that after a while, I felt quite embarassed about the state of my own teeth, and started mumbling through half-closed lips so no-one should see them. So I thought I'd just ask. I didn't want porcelain, I told him; just, well, just a bit whiter?

Dentist got out a little row of plastic teeth, arranged according to colour like a Dulux chart, but without the fancy names. Then he pointed to one near the Bad End. "That's yours", he said. "Yellowy grey"?  My teeth are yellows grey? It would seem that all that red wine has come home to roost. I tottered home in a state of shock.

But when I looked at them afterwards, they didn't look that bad. Not really. And whitening's very expensive. And (as dentist helpfully pointed out) doesn't last. And, said he, works better if you're young.

Well, that's me told. So I think I'll stay as I am. For the time being.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Magpie 176

The statue of liberty stood on her plinth,
And she dreamed, like Snow White, of a handsome young printh.
She thought that she saw one, (he tried to convinth
Her), but afterwards, vanished. She's not seen him sinth.

So she stands weeping quietly beneath a pink moon,
And she hopes and she prays that her printh will come thoon.

(With thanks to Tess at Magpie Tales for the picture)

Friday, 5 July 2013

Am I jealous...?

I try not to be. I accept that there are thousands of writers much better than I am, and that's fair enough. I read many of their books, and thoroughly enjoy them. But...

We live in an age of celebrity. We, as writers, have to face it. And if we are not Names (eg Jeffrey Archer, Jilly Cooper, Wilbur Smith, Hilary Mantel; writers who have worked their way up in the past to well-deserved success), or "celebrities" (Jordan, Pippa Middlleton, Alan Titchmarsh), nowadays, we are in for a struggle.

Take Richard and Judy. Someone pointed out to me today that Judy Finnegan's debut novel is currently no. 430 in Amazon sales; Richard Madeley's  is no. 10. These may well be excellent novels, but perhaps it doesn't matter so much if they are not. Richard has (to my knowledge) done two TV interviews about his novel, although probably he doesn't need to, while some of us are lucky if we get a five-minute slot on local radio. The odds are very much against us, whether we are brilliant or pretty poor. It's a fact.

I read a lot of new novels, and some are quite outstanding, like Clare Morrall's wonderful The Roundabout Man. ,  and yet that novel (for example) is currently at no. 141,000.

So while I enjoy rather than envy those who deserve success, I am sad for much of the publishing industry. Sad, that so many good novels seem to go unnoticed (and largely unread), and some terrible ones do well. It's something we as run-of-the-mill writers have to live with (here, I speak for writers like myself), and do the best we can. We write because we love writing, and accept with pleasure such rewards as may come our way. But it is hard to read a book that is badly written, and possibly even ghost-written, whose 'author' is flying high in the charts, while many of the rest of us just bump along near the bottom (and are very grateful to be published at all).

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

A plea and a bargain!

For some reason, Macmillan have reduced the Kindle price of my novel, The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets, to the rather odd price of £2.09p. But no matter. At this price, it just could be the bargain you're waiting for (they're bringing out a very expensive new paperback in August, too. I'm not sure why they're doing that, either). After all, this is less than the price of a pint of beer (never mind the pork scratchings).

Like many writers, I find advertising my books almost impossible. I've even been known to give a talk where I've been invited to speak, and sell copies of my book, and haven't been able to bring myself to get the books out of my bag.  But here goes:

Please, please buy my novel! I would offer to give you your money back if you didn't  like it, but doubt whether anyone would take me up on that...?

Anyway, here's a brief extract to give you a flavour of the novel. There's a link to buy at the bottom of this post.

The party was a success. All my mother’s parties were successes, as she didn’t hesitate to remind me. It seemed as though everyone I had ever known was packed into our house, eating and drinking and laughing, some of them smoking strange-smelling cigarettes, others making uninvited use of the bedrooms to further their new-found friendships.

Richard had brought his ukulele; Greta sang along to an old gramophone record, accompanied by Mum on the ironing board; someone I had never seen before had brought bagpipes; The Dog sat in the cupboard under the stairs and howled. The noise was indescribable.

I found Lucas sitting on the stairs drinking a pale liquid out of a bottle.

Vodka,” he explained briefly. “Want some?”

I nodded, and took the bottle from him.

It doesn’t taste of anything,” I objected.

It doesn’t have to,” Lucas grinned. “Have some more.”

I had some more, and soon discovered that Lucas was right. It didn’t matter in the least what vodka tasted like; it was the effect that mattered. Very soon I was singing along to the nearest instrument (the bagpipes, as it happened; not an easy instrument to sing along to, but as I discovered, I simply had to open my mouth and the vodka did the rest).

At half past eleven, the neighbours started to bang on the door and talk about disturbed sleep and work in the morning. Mum smiled and apologised and invited them all in, and some of them even went home to fetch more bottles to replenish our diminishing stocks.

Just think,” I said to Lucas, as we walked unsteadily towards the kitchen in search of more food. “Any of these people could be our fathers.”

So they could.”

But it Here. Please!

Monday, 1 July 2013


I won't use that overused expression and say they're a nightmare, but they come pretty close. My sons in particular get exasperated because I cannot for the life of me remember them (the passwords, not the sons).

I've just had to make up a new one (the "forgotten your password" link was just made for me). The instructions are to "make it hard to guess and not use personal information". But if I do that, then it's hard for me to guess, and so I forget it, and the whole blessed cycle starts again.

And then just when I've chosen a really good one, I'm told to include extra capitals and numerals, and make it even more forgettable. But I do like the way it checks that I'm me by asking me the name of my first pet (I can't tell you, of course, except that she was a rabbit and next door's dog got her). That little personal touch makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Aaaaah...