Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Things I've learnt in the past week

1. Nail varnish is one of the most expensive liquids of all per fluid ounce.

2. "Galore" is the only gothic word still in use in the English language.

3. That green vegetable that looks like a pretty cauliflower (romanesco; see above) is not nearly as exciting to eat as it looks. It would be put to better use tied with a ribbon and given as a present.

4. My new horse (Blue) is very fast. Yesterday, we won an informal race. "Do I need to hear this?" asked child no.4 when I told him, (my children think horses are terribly dangerous). I explained to him that nowadays, this is the ONLY thing I can (sometimes) do faster than people half my age. Plus, I love it. A friend calls it "the need for speed". Exactly.

5. Trollope (Anthony) really is my absolute favourite author. I've read many of his books, but I've just discovered his lesser-known novel, The Claverings. It's brilliant.

6. When sending toys to grandchilden for birthdays etc., I must, must, MUST remember to include batteries (I'm so sorry, George. It won't happen again).

7. Wine-tastings can be fun, but aren't really my thing. I prefer to taste one bottle of wine I know I'll like, at home, in front of Coronation Street (okay We're addicted. People - especially my brother -scoff at this, but we love it).

Monday, 26 October 2015

Let me introduce you to....

.... my mad sister. She's had a difficult life, being handicapped from birth, but has overcome all kinds of problems to become an actress, a writer, a wife and a mother of two amazing girls. Although by then confined to a wheelchair, she managed to nurse her husband at home until his death eight years ago.  She now lives in sheltered accomodation, and while she has lots of friends, life can be lonely. I've been trying to persuade her to join the blogosphere for some time, as it means she might come across new people.  So....please visit her blog if you have a moment. I know she'd appreciate it.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Christmas Elephant

Around the end of August. I'm aware - just slightly aware - of a hint of its trunk, with the arrival of the first catalogue. I ignore it.

By the middle of September, one grey foot can be glimpsed through in the doorway. We (my family) all ignore that, too. We laugh nervously, and speak of other things.

October, and a huge grey head peers round the door. Elephant? What elephant? I didn't see an elephant, we say, as we edge round it on leaving the room. We don't believe in elephants around here. Now, what was it we were saying? All kinds of things; that's what we were taking about. But not that elephant. Perish the thought.

Mid-October, and things are hotting up. The elephant sidles into the room looking shy but determined. Nobody mentions it. End of October, and the elephant gets desperate, and starts trumpeting. We know that if we continue to ignore it, it will come crashing in and trash the house.

Eventually, someone takes pity on it. "Um.... what's everyone doing for Christmas?" s/he says.
"Christmas? Oh, Christmas! Haven't really thought about it," we trill merrily, lying in our teeth,  as the elephant begins to settle down, simpering, in a corner. Because the elephant knows just what 's going to happen. There will be talk of Whose Turn it is, and who has, or hasn't, got room for everyone; there's talk of in-law and out-laws, and Chrstmas Lunch (or maybe just Christmas Tea?), and who will or won't be pleased/offended/upset/disappointed.

And me? I just stay very, very quiet; not least because last year, I well and truly messed things up with misunderstandings and prevarications, and was (quite rightly) reprimanded. So I'll just settle down quietly in the elephant's corner,  and eat one of the elephant's bananas.

And wait...

(With acknowledgments to B, who pointed out the elephant thing.)

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

A silly competition...

...to make up for the huge disappointment caused by my last post, whose link refused to work (I've now deleted it).

No prizes, but this is a fishy literary competition (game, really).  Names of well-known books altered to look fishy. For example:

Peyton Plaice
The Cod Delusion
The Pilchard's Progress

Over to you now (only those with nothing better to do need apply. I'm off to do the ironing).

Saturday, 17 October 2015

I'm a pessimist

I think I always have been. Pessimists call themselves realists; optimists call them (us) .... pessimists.

We pessimists know the score. We know we're all heading in the same direction, and we could get there any minute. We know that every time we get in a car, that journey could be our (or worse. Someone else's) last; that that lump/cough/weight loss/chest pain is almost certainly going to prove fatal (actually, I'm not a hypochondriac, but many of us pessimists are). We know that when we invite people to dinner, that dish that's supposed to set in a pretty shape is going to tumble out of its tin in a messy heap, someone at the table will be allergic to something, and the guests will take an instant dislike to each other. (This last happened some years ago, when I stupidly invited very left-wing friends together with very public school right-wingers. They hated each other on sight. Why didn't I see that coming?). We know that that garment we hanker after will be out of stock/only available in tiny or outsize/or just won't fit. If we do buy it, it will certainly be half price in the sale next day. C'est las vie (or the pessimist's vie, anyway). Oh, and if we see a police car, of course it's after us, although we can't remember doing anything wrong.

The other day, I came across this spectacularly silly rhyme, written when I was probably about nineteen:

Oh cabbage in your cabbage patch,
Where bugs and caterpillars hatch.
Tell me, I pray, is it too late
For me to come and vegetate?

It's seems I haven't changed much.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Amazon reviews

For some time, I have been reviewing books (and other things) as part of the Amazon Vine programme, and I've given the whole subject a lot of thought. I thought it might be helpful to other writers to share some of the things I have discovered.

1. Beware the one-off five-star review. If a review is (usually) an ecstatic, five star review, and the writer of that review has only written one or two (or no) reviews before, the odds are that this is a friend/famly member of the author. This may be fine, but it probably means that the writer is trying - with the  best intentions - to be kind, but the review will inevitably be biased.

2. It is better to have more reviews, with a wider range of ratings. After all, not everyone will enjoy our work, and it's fine for  readers to say so. It at least means someone has read the book, and taken the trouble to review it.

3. Especially beware the reviewer who tries to promote his/her own book through the review: ie "Review by  ANNE CLEVER-DICK,  author of  MY WONDERFUL NOVEL". I came across one of these yesterday. The review is not about you, Ms. Cleverdick. It's about someone else's book.

4. Never write a highly critical review using the name under which you write. Pay-back is only a matter of time, and you may well find your own book slammed by the author (and his friends).

5. If you can get a top reviewer to read and review your book, so much the better. All reviewers are rated by Amazon.

I have experienced all these things - including the ecstatic relatives - and you may already know all this. But I thought it was worth saying (forgive me if I'm stating the obvious in this post).

Cautionary tale: ages ago, I approached a publisher with a view to asking them to look at a book of mine. I received an amazingly forgiving email saying that "as I had just reviewed one of their novelists under the heading 'Where, oh where, was the editor?', she declined the opportunity to read my novel". Oops. I apologised profusely, and she was so gracious that I really wished I could have had her as my publisher. It was quite clever of her to trace me as I review under a different name.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

The tyranny of homework

I was chatting on the phone to my fourteen-year-old granddaughter today, and she told me she has nine pieces of homework to do over the weekend. That's right. Nine. "The weekends are just school, but at home," she said. How sad. I certainly don't remember my own children ever having this amount of homework.

Some of this homework is Spanish. She has to learn over 100 new words. They include the Spanish for "widower" and "step-brother".  "I don't even use these words in English," she told me.

Now, have you ever, when abroad, needed either of these words? I would have thought phrases such as "please return this to the chef. It's inedible," or "please don't do that. I have a boyfriend/fiancé/husband at home," or even "do you have aspirin/sticking plasters/pair of crutches" might possibly come in handy for a young woman abroad, rather than the words she has to learn.

My poor daughter grieves for the (triplet)  children she used to play/walk/ picnic with at weekends, but they don't have time to play with her any more. I've  invited her to come down to Devizes to play with me. I hate Ludo and Monopoly, but I'm a dab hand at Scrabble.

Tempted, Daisy?

(This post pinged off too early yesterday. Apologies.)

Friday, 9 October 2015

On being un-followed

Dear Un-follower (if you read this)

I had a feeling this might happen, and I'm sorry to see you go, but we obviously disagreed about something about which I feel very strongly. Maybe I was too fierce - maybe you were, too  - but nonetheless, I'm sorry to see you go. Thank you for following me, and for all your comments. This is the risk we all take when writing about things near to our hearts; people won't always agree. But, dear late follower, I wish you had done your research, as I have. Then we need never have fallen out at all.

Best wishes, and no hard feelings, eh? 

Thursday, 8 October 2015

A guinea pig post

This is one of  my grandsons, with his beloved guinea pig.

Our family has long had a love affair with guinea pigs, who are enchanting (especially the babies, who arrive as ready-made miniatures of their parents. None of that blind, bald nonsense). They are peaceful pets, little trouble and  have an  endearing range of squeaks and whistles. But - they are also subject to panic attacks, they are shy, and they are not very bright. They also don't live very long. Ours in particular didn't live very long, for fate did not smile kindly upon them, although they were much loved. Thus (a random selection):

Two were despatched by next door's dogs, who got into our garden.

One, who had escaped, was borne away, screaming, by the farm cat. The memory hants me still.

Next door's dogs again. The owners were genuinely horrible, and not just becasue they kept guinea- pig-eating dogs.

Perhaps most traumatic of all, on the morning of my father's funeral, we discovered that rats had chewed their way into the cage, eaten the babies, killed one parent and badly maimed the other. A weeping daughter and a trip to the vet on the morning of a funeral is not what we wanted.

Although we had many guinea pigs over the years, I don't recollect a single one dying peacefully in his bed of old age. Oh dear. But those whose bodies we had were given respecful burials in the left-hand flower bed. Theirs weren't the only flower-bed graves, either....

But the good news it that grandson (above) seems to have better luck with his. They live to ripe(ish) old ages, and are beatifully cared for. One of them, the much-loved Josh, used to come into the kitchen to have toast and marmalade and tea (two sugars) for breakfast.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A man was executed last night

This is an eye-witness account of the suffering of the family of a man executed last night in Texas. Punish a prisoner, and you punish his whole family.

ALL executions are sad. ALL executions are barbaric. ALL executions are unnecessary. ALL executions hurt.
What made the execution of JUAN GARCIA different from the rest? It was the wailing. It was the gut-
wrenching, fist in the stomach, hand down the throat, hurtful. mournful wailing. The sounds of utter despair,
disbelief, sadness, torment, wailing that came from the three children of JUAN GARCIA tonight when they,
standing outside the Walls, came to the realization that the State of Texas had taken their father and shot
drugs up his vein to kill him. This is the same father, where mere hours ago, had seen his children when he was
alive and wishing them the best in life. This was the same father, who just an hour and a half before, had told
them on the phone to stick together in this harsh world. The three teenagers, ages 15, 16 & 17, could do nothing
except wail when I had to give them the news that their father had spoken his last words and would speak no
more. They lit white candles, released three balloons with their names on them, to meet their father up in the
heavens. And they wailed. This is the sound I will never forget. A sound etched in my mind forever. Reverend
Cheryl rang the bell 15 times, once for each year Juan was on Death Row. I read the poem, "Good Bye", written
by Uncle Ippy, Eugene Broxton #999044, and told the three children that it was from their father to them. I
told them some of his last words to me was for them to love each other and stick together. And, they wailed. At
the church, where they could touch and kiss their father while his body was still warm, they cried out to him to
please wake up. And, they wailed. It is a sound I will never forget. Good night from Texas.


Saying goodbye is never easy

but moving on

We all must do

Going on with our lives

Not just talking about it

But seeing it through

Move on,

My loves,

Move on,

And live,

You have,

Much more to give

Now it's time I must go.

It's not easy to say good bye

But it's time

So I say good bye

Know my love for you is true

And as long as you live,

My love will be with you.

Monday, 5 October 2015

And while on the subject of fashion...

...what about waists? And more to the point, "low rise" jeans? What is the point of a waist that isn't a waist? A waist that balances precariously on the hips, neither up nor down; neither one thing nor the other?

 I am a woman, and notwithstanding my advanced age and four babies, I have a waist. I go in at the middle, and out above and below (too much below, but no matter. I have learned to live with it). Most modern women's jeans are designed to settle at half mast, and this is not comfortable. They dig into the hip bones, and need a belt to prevent them from sliding South. I'm wearing some now. Jeans that have proper waists in the right place are hard to find. Trust me. I've been searching, yet again, for a pair. I live in jeans (when not in jodhpurs, which, btw, have proper waists), so this is a matter of great importance to me.

That's all. (No pictures. The Bat was the last photo of me you'll see on this blog. Unless at some stage I feel impelled to redress the balance and show you I can occasionally scrub up well.)

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The bat outfit (as requested by Joanna)

I referred in my last post (on sartorial mistakes) to the Bat Outfit I wore to a son's  wedding. Well, I've swallowed the last remaining drops of pride, and here it is. I'm second from the left. Well, you can tell, can't you?

Kind comments only, please. It's a sensitive subject.