Tuesday 31 May 2011

Pied de cochon

Today, we are going up to London to a very posh, extravagant restaurant to take my son and his wife out to celebrate his new job. The meal is courtesy of John, who is into food, and who has a special fund for treats such as this. As for me, I'm not a foodie. I tend to spend my time in such places thinking what I could have bought for the cost of, say, half a starter. But I do love this restaurant. Not so much for the food (which is lovely, but probably wasted on me), but for the ambience, the wonderful service, the lilies in the loo, the way everyone makes you feel so special.

I was a little disconcerted on looking up the menu to find that "pied de cochon" is one of the choices. Surley that's the bit most sane people throw away? But never mind. I shall have the lamb, and leave the trotters so someone else.

And I shall go to the loo at least twice. Whether I need to or not.

Monday 30 May 2011

The dancing policeman

Today, I read the reassuring news that in some areas, the police are being issued with "lifestyle guides". The advice includes helping with the household chores, and taking up activities such as gardening and dancing in order to keep fit. Also, police should remember to have a pee before going to bed - yes, really - and also to wrap up their sandwiches if they make them the night before, to stop them from drying out (you see? Really useful advice).

Suggested sandwich fillings include the bewildering combination of peanut butter and grated apple, and the sandwiches should be eaten sitting down "to avoid consuming too much", (and also presumably so that police don't, literally, end up filling their boots).

So if you come across an ill-tempered policeman, be gentle with him. He's probably eaten too many peanut butter and apple sandwiches standing up, and has got his quickstep confused with his tango.

Aaaaah. Bless.

Saturday 28 May 2011

Er...feminine hygiene

Thanks to today's Times (I thought I should put that bit first), I have just come across the website of a company bewilderingly named "I Love my Muff", which specialises in products developed in the interests of "feminine hygiene" (odd that a company with such an unashamedly specific name should be so coy as to use a euphemism to describe its products; but no matter).

While I was relieved to read that the products are suitable for vegans, and have involved no cruelty to aniamals (imagine trying to love the muff of a surprised - and no doubt indignant - animal while trying out special wipes/clippers or whatever), it did set me wondering.

Do people see a need, and set out to create something to fill it, or do they have an unusual idea (ie something no-one's thought of before) and set out to fill their own pockets? Personally, I think that (at least some of) these products probably fit into the same category as personalised gear stick covers and hats which double as umbrellas: ie, things that are largely unncessary, but also things that no-one has thought of before. And there is always the chance that someone, somewhere, will buy them.

(I should add that I'm all for hygiene, but I do think things can be taken too far!)

Friday 27 May 2011

Quote du jour

I've just come across this wonderful quote from Thomas Mann:

"A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."

Oh, how true! (and strangely comforting)

Thursday 26 May 2011

The Darwin Awards

Years ago, my son introduced me to the Darwin Awards, and I'd forgotten about them until recently. For the uninitiated, this is the idea:

"In the spirit of Charles Darwin, the Darwin Awards commemorate individuals who protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives. Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species' chances of long-term survival."

There are some wonderful examples, but my favourite is the one where a winner was awarded the prize although he managed to survive his experience. He sat down on his garden seat, equipped with a supply of beer and sandwiches, tied lots of helium balloons to the seat, and waited to see what would happen. What happened was that he floated so high above the ground that he was in the flight path of airliners, thus posing a threat to others as well as himself. He was eventually brought down by means of someone shooting the balloons one by one.

Another winner was a man who dived out of a plane in order to photograph skydiver, but perished as he'd overlooked his own need for a parachute. And there was the man who drowned in a washing up bowl of hot water while trying to break into his own house head first through a small window. History doesn't record (a) why he turned the hot water on, (b) why he didn't turn it off or empty the bowl and (c) why he didn't come in through the door (his keys were in his pocket).

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Horse diaries (cont)

Well it took us some time to recover from the incident with the cows. Every manhole cover was a cowhole cover; every wheelie bin was a cunningly disguised cow. You get the picture. But gradually things returned to normal (provided, of course, that we avoided cows). Until today.

There we were, pottering along the road in the sunshine, and suddenly we came across a horse-drawn caravan coming the other way.

Titch: WHAT is that?
Me: A caravan. Look. There's horse pulling it.
Titch: The silly bugger. You wouldn't get me doing that.
Me: Well, no-one's asking you to pull it; just to pass it.
Titch: Ooooooh no. I'm going home.

He proceded to do just that. Backwards.

Me: Why are you going backwards?
Titch: Got to keep an eye on it, haven't I?
Me: Don't be so ridiculous. Besides, that's the long way home, and we are going to go the proper way home. Forwards. And past that caravan.

There followed a bouncy prancy little number, choreographed by Titch, with much snorting and clattering of hooves. We were holding up the traffic both ways. It was becoming embarrassing. The people in the caravan looked amused. The people in cars, bored but patient.

In the end, I had to ask the caravan people (who, after all, are also horse people) to lead him past the caravan. It took two of them, all of us telling Titch what a good, brave boy he was (which wasn't true).

He danced his way home, muttering about near misses and narrow escapes, and arrived at the stables dripping with sweat.

Back to square one...

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Of hatred and computers

I need a computer. You need a computer (or you wouldn't be here). Computers are useful. But today, I HATE computers!

Years ago, my then toddler daughter was ill (bear with me; there's a point to this). I called the doctor (a thing I very rarely did), but by the time he arrived, daughter was sitting in her high chair looking disgustingly healthy and eating a huge lunch. I was mortified.

The same thing happened today with my computer. I had a problem, and I rang Elliot, who is young and brilliant with computers, and knows all about cookies and browsers and search engines and all that stuff. And guess what. As soon as he arrived, the computer (as it were) sat up in its high chair and ate a huge lunch. I had checked it all day, to make sure the problem was still there, and it was. But as soon as Elliot arrived, it recovered, putting me to shame. Because Elliot is very busy and had fitted me in at the end of his hectic day.

That's all.

Monday 23 May 2011

Getting down to things

I am very, very bad at getting down to things. I make decisions about what I'm going to do, and then change my mind (too much like hard work, too expensive, perhaps not such a good idea after all etc etc). Recently, I've had an idea for a radio play, another idea for a screenplay, thought about saxophone lessons, having more dressage lessons, improving my French (the CD and booklet have been sitting patiently waiting for my attention for over a year), stocking the freezer with food for visitors, cleaning out a particularly daunting cupboard...and I haven't done any of them.

My neighbour, on the other hand, is (and I'm sure she won't mind me saying this) one of those small, slim people, sometimes known as "sprightly", who never stop. In her eighties, she can be seen dashing off for her early morning swim, her day-long ramble, one of her many instrumental gatherings, her voluntary work at the hospital (an hour's drive away), looking after her grandchildren, driving off on her five-hour journey to visit the 90+ woman who looked after as a child, and whose garden she sorts out, having Russian lessons...you get the picture.

Why can't I be like that? Why am I sitting her wasting time when I could be doing Pilates or learning to tap dance (another thing I've always fancied) or doing something Really Worthwhile? I know I take after my father - he was like this - but that's no excuse. And the counsellor in me says that I can change.

If I really want to...

Thursday 19 May 2011


Getting my ancient Ka through its MOT is an annual worry; a bit like getting a recalcitrant child through its GCSEs. And of course it's largely my fault.

The driving world is divided into two kinds of people; those who look after cars, and those who don't. We don't.

We mean to. Of course we do. But after a couple of weeks with a "new" car, we lose interest. The moss builds up round the windows, the mud and straw accumulate on the floor, and the horse stuff builds up in the back. I'm not proud of this, and would like to be different, but there it is. However hard I try, I cannot make myself care about cars.

So when I took my little mud-splattered moss-covered friend in for its MOT today, I was not optimistic. The rear windscreen wiper had been immobilised, I'd found the spare tyre for £10 at a scrap yard, and something important-looking was dangling down from the car's innards. And those were just the things I knew about. I suspected that during surgery (or whatever it is they do) far worse things would come to light.

But it passed! Lovely Barb rang from the garage to tell me. Ok, apparently there are one or two things I need to be aware of; something is wearing down, and something else is a bit loose, and there's another thing which I've now forgotten. When these things reach their separate crises, I will have to get something done.

"How will I know?" I asked Barb, as she explained about each risky thing.
"There'll be a Noise," said Barb. "You'll know."

Barb speaks my language. I understand Noise. I shall listen out for it. But in the meantime, my little Ka and I are back on the road for another year


(Mine doesn't look at all like the one in the picture. I couldn't find a photo of a dirty navy blue one.)

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Good read (cont)

Jeffrey Archer was on the radio this morning (I'll confess; it was in fact Jeffrey Archer I was referring to in my previous Good Read post), and he made several interesting points. The one that sticks in my mind is this. When he decided to write a novel to resolve his bankcruptcy, he asked someone's advice on how to go about making money out of writing. The answer was, you choose between being a writer or a storyteller. He chose the latter, and must now be one of the wealthiest people in this country.

I think we all want to tell stories; after all, that's what novels are. But when the story is all, and it's a really good story, we are, as it were, lead by the nose. We can't help ourselves. The writing may be awful, the descriptions dire, but the story pulls us along. Those great big glittery blockbusters labelled "No 1 Bestseller" (surely they can't ALL be the No 1?) are, above all, compelling stories. I've read some of them, and I can see what they're doing. But can I do it?

My books are character-led. They start with the characters, and move on from there. I love my characters, get deeply involved with them, and most of them are nice people. I miss them, and think about them long after they've gone. They've paid a few bills, but that's about all.

But perhaps it's time to change...

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Typnig dysxelia

Does anyone else suffer from this? I am a very fast typist, but so wildly inaccurate that the time it takes to spellcheck could probably better be spent typing more slowly (or going on a course). Why does it happen? Am I alone? And is there a cure? I just typed what I hoped was "children", and the spellcheck decided that I must be trying to write "insecticide". Something needs to be done, and fast.


Monday 16 May 2011

A good read?

As I plan my next book, I am interested in what exactly makes a good read, and also what makes a memorable read. And what is the difference.

I read a great many books, and enjoy some of them. But quite often I find that a few weeks down the line, I can hardly remember what they were about. For instance, I like the novels of Anita Shreeve, and have (I think) read all of them, but I can remember very few of the plots. On the other hand, Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin (currently in the news again as it is coming out as a highly-recommended film) has remained in (and on) my mind ever since I read it when it first came out. Another example is Michael Rowbotham's Shatter.

The things these two very different novels have in common are strikingly strong and original plots, so maybe these are two characteristics to bear in mind when writing a novel. They are not the best novels I have ever read, but they were both vivid page-turners, and as such, excellent entertainment.

I am currently reading a book by a very well-known author, whose novels have sold in hundreds of millions, but who tends to be looked down on by the literary establishment. I'm reading his book because I'd like to know how he's come to be so successful. Already, I am involved (if not gripped), although the writing isn't particularly good (eg superfluous adverbs are scattered through the text like confetti), and am beginning to see that, in some novels, story really is all. If the story is good enough, it seems that the writer can get away with almost anything.

I write in a particular way, and, sadly, am incapable of writing a gripping or thrilling book. But what I can do is sharpen what I write, and hope that it will grip (if not thrill) at least a handful of readers...

Saturday 14 May 2011

...and a fox

This week, disaster struck in my daughter's household. In broad daylight, and in full view of the house (and one terrified child), an urban fox knocked over the guinea pig cage and killed the guineas pigs.

My daughter and the children are all traumatised, and everyone feels guilty about something, from why did they put the run out in the garden? (they've been doing this every fine day for two years) to (the children) why weren't they better carers? why weren't they more assiduous in cleaning/feeding etc (atually, they were pretty good, and those guinea pigs were very well cared-for, but death always makes people feel guilty).

This has brought to (my) mind two things. Firstly, it was the children's first experience of bereavement, and they are going through that "I shall never, ever see my guinea pig again" thing. I think everyone remembers their first (mine was my pet rabbit Susie, unceremoniously carted off by the neighbours' cat). So it is particularly traumatic for them.

Secondly, there's the problem of urban foxes. These foxes are a dreadful nuisance. They have no predators, they are mangy and flea-ridden, and they create mayhem in city gardens. They leave their faeces all over the place, they take pets and chickens, and there have been reports of them attacking babies. It is virtually impossible to keep them out of city gardens, and they are fearless. I know of someone who saw one coming out of her bedroom carrying one of her shoes!

And yet we tend to be sentimental about them. While we are accept that rats should be poisoned (a horrible, painful death), the killing of foxes is prohibited. Foxes, apparently, are not vermin, and thus are protected. Those affected by their presence must simply put up with them.

Maybe if the worst happens, and a child suffers serious harm, the law will change.

But then, of course , it will be too late.

Thursday 12 May 2011

An adventure with some cows

Titch (horse) dislikes cows. I've no idea why, but there it is. Some people are afraid of spiders. It's one of those things.

So there were were, yesterday, moseying along, dreaming (Titch) writing stories (me) when we came to a gate. On the other side of the gate were cows (to the left) and sheep (to the right). So I thought we'd go through the gate and turn rignt. So far, so good.

We got through the gate, and then disaster struck. The cows - young and curious - decided to come and investigate, as cows do. Things proceeded as follows:

Titch: I'm out of here! (Doing his plunging and leaping thing)
Me: They're only cows.
Titch: Yeah. Right. I'm still out of here.
Me: But they're much smaller than you. (They were only heifers.)
Titch: But there are more of them. (True)
Me: But we haven't closed the gate!
Titch: Ooooooh no. Not going near that gate again. It's surrounded by cows. (More plunging and leaping.)
Me: But they'll get out!
Titch: So?

The cows came closer.

Titch: Well, you can come with me if you like, or I'll drop you off on the way, but I'm off!

And we were. We careered up the hill, leaving the gate open, with me praying that horses are faster than cows (they are. Much). I phoned the yard to tell them what had happened, and they sent someone to close the gate (mercifully, the cows were still on the right side, the grass being greener etc etc). Titch was sweating and frightened, all his worse fears having been fully justified, and trembled his way home with an "I told you so" expression on his face.

Meanwhile, I have a problem. There are a lot of cows around here. Hitherto, Titch has tolerated them. Just.

But not any more. So - does anyone know how to cure a horse of an irrational fear of cows? Because with things as they are, we won't be going anwhere far for a long time. Horses have very long memories.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

To a pork pie

Round, succulent, redolent of the deceased
Pig which gave it life.
Porcine pink, fat-flecked and fattening,
Crisp crust encased, celophane wrapped,
Seven hundred calories a serving.
Precious pig, you died for this,
Served on a leaf of limpest lettuce.
It's enough to make you

(Since this started as a literary blog, the occasional poem is only to be expected. As to the poem itself, I must have written it a very long time ago. It was lurking at the back of a cupboard, so I thought I'd give it an airing. Now you can see why I write novels.)

Tuesday 10 May 2011

On reading a new book

Beginning a new book (reading one, that is; not writing one) is a bit like meeting a new person. It often takes time to form a relationship, and if that relationship is good, then it's really sad when it's all over. But if it takes a lot of time, or the relationship doesn't work out, then that's a different matter, and occasionally, the relationship ends before it should.

I've just done a rather stupid thing. As a reviewer for Amazon Vine, I've foolishly chosen the latest Gerald Seymour. Now, I've enjoyed many (though not all) of his books, he writes very well, and reasearches his subjects so thoroughly that it feels as though he's writing everything from personal experience.

But I do have a problem with his writing. Firstly, he tends to introduce a great many characters at the beginning, so it's easy (for me) to get confused, and he often omits names when he starts a new section, beginning with a personal pronoun rather than a name. For example, he might start a chapter thus: "he lay in the long grass watching them through his binoculors" (I made that up, but that's the kind of thing he does). It can then take several paragraphs for the reader (or this reader) to find out whom he's talking about.

His latest book is long and complicated, and I'm reaching the stage where I'm thinking - only thinking - of ending the relationship. I do my reading at night, when I'm not at my most alert, and I'm finding it quite heavy going. On the other hand, the book is a freebie (albeit an unedited proof freebie), and I feel duty bound to read it (although we only have to review 75% of what we receive). Also, the plot is a promising one, if only I can get my head round what exactly is going on, and who it is that's lying in the long grass.

Oh dear...

Monday 9 May 2011

Another important wedding

After That Wedding, here's another one. No kiss, I'm afraid, as the couples (yes. There were two) didn't apparently really take to each other. But never mind. The (un)happy couples in question were guinea pigs, "married" by my lovely daughter-in-law for the benefit of her three little boys. The music - I kid you not - was Vidor's Toccata, and the hymn was All Things Bright and Beautiful (for what could be more bright and more beautiful than a married guinea pig?). The wedding photographs were taken by my son, who assures me that the whole idea was "nothing to do with him".

What worries me is the strange messages this is giving to the boys about marriage, reproduction etc (baby guinea pigs being the ultimate aim of the whole operation). I can see them on their respective wedding nights, dressed up in their top hats, thinking that strutting about in ridiculous clothes is how babies are made.

Most alarming of all, my daughter-in-law is a GP (and in her case, that is not short for guinea pig).

Saturday 7 May 2011

Vanity publishing for kids?

This morning, my daughter phoned me with a problem. She has just received two letters from a publishing company about the poems written at school by her two ten-year-old daughters. The publishers, say the letters, are greatly impressed with the poems written by the girls, and would like to publish them. The anothology can be bought for £15. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

I think this is totally disgraceful. Apart from the fact that the two poems, while undoubtedly good, are suspciously similar (the girls received some "suggestions" when, together with the rest of their class, they were writing their poems), this is emotional blackmail. Of course, the children are desperate to see their poems in print; they are too young to be cynical, and are blown away by what they perceive to be their considerable literary success. And of course, they want a copy each.

So what does my daughter do? Does she refuse to succumb, and disappoint her daughters, or does she fall into the trap and order two copies of the book?

What would you do?

Friday 6 May 2011

Stats and horses

I find blogging stats fascinating; people following from all over the world, and I've no idea who most of them are. My most-visited post - by far - has been the one entitled "In Love with a Horse", which goes to show that I'm not the only one who's besotted with horses. (This is closely followed by "Beware of the Elderly", which is a trifle bewildering.)

So for any horsey followers, here's a picture of Titch, reluctant to get out of bed this morning.

Thursday 5 May 2011

Holiday postcards

We have just received one of the first holiday postcards of 2011*, and it got me thinking.

I don't really get the holiday postcard thing. Why would anyone be interested in my holiday destination, the food, the view, the weather etc. etc.? Those who need to know, know, and those who don't, probably don't really care anyway.

But not so my husband. John does postcards in a big way. Every time we go away on holiday, the routine (for a two-weeker) is as follows:

On about day 4: "I need to buy my postcards," says he, making a list of names.

Day 6: he buys his postcards.

Day 8: "I ought to write my postcards."

Day 9/10: he sits down and laboriously writes them.

Day 11: "I really ought to post my postcards."

Me (exasperated): "Isn't it a bit late? Why don't you post them when we get home?"

John (shocked); "Oh, no! That wouldn't be at all the same!"

No. It wouldn't. But it would be a great deal easier. The postcards are a chore, and are largely unnecessary. They hang over him like a little cloud of "oughts" (there shouldn't be any oughts on holiday).

But he'll do it again this year. And in spite of what I've said, in a funy way, it wouldn't be a proper holiday if he didn't.

*Needless to say, from a friend of John's.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Uncle (again)

So, having been rescued from my impecunious state at the filling station yesterday, I continued on my journey. First, I saw my sister, which was fine. And then, my uncle...

I have posted about him before, but I think the subject bears re-visiting. Uncle is ninety-four, in a home, demented and frail. The other residents on his floor are in a similar state, so it is not a merry place to visit. But never mind. The staff are very kind, everything is clean and comfortable, he is well looked-after, but...

Yesterday, they were having a party. The day room had been re-vamped as an ocean liner, and was being "launched". There were life belts and anchors, and fish on the huge television, and glug-glug sound effects more suggestive of the fate of the Titanic than a happy holiday. Someone dressed in a long frock and a tiara was opening champagne, and there were crisps and fairy cakes. The staff were all very jolly, but the residents, wearing flowers in their hair (the women) or buttonholes (the men) sat staring into space or moaning (or, in one case, trying to escape) and had not a clue what was going on.

Why, oh why, do people do this to helpless, elderly people? It is not dissimilar to dressing a dog up in baby clothes and wheeling it about in a dolls' pram. It is simply not appropriate. Yesterday's party was certainly well-meant, but those whom it was intended to entertain were merely bewilidered.

Uncle refused his chamapgne, and also the little fairy cake with an icing-sugar anchor on it ("it's a prize", he said. He couldn't eat that. So I found him a piece of cake that looked like cake, and he ate that).

At one stage, Uncle and I rolled our eyes and shook our heads in a brief, rare and wonderful moment of complete mutual understanding.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

The kindness of strangers

Today, on my (long) round trip to visit my handicapped sister, who has managed to break her leg, and my uncle (the one I've posted about before), I filled up the car with petrol. And discovered that I'd left all my money, credit cards etc. at home.

It was one of those "this can't be happening" moments. I was exactly half-way, my poor sister was expecting me (my uncle no longer expects anyone or anything, but I wanted to see him), and there I was with a full tank but without any means of payment.

I offered my engagement ring as a hostage; I told them I knew my card number and wouldn't that do? No. Apparently it wouldn't

The the man behind me - a total stranger - came forward and offered to pay (nearly £60) for my petrol with his card. I was overwhelmed by this act of trust and generosity, and, oddly, it made my day.

Would I have done the same for someone else? I don't know. I'd like to think I would, but then again, I suppose it would depend. Needless to say, I phoned John right there and then, and asked him to send off a cheque and a thank-you. But tomorrow I shall write a note myself.

Sunday 1 May 2011

It might come in useful...

Oh, that fateful phrase. In homes everywhere, it has filled lofts and garages and sheds full off stuff that just might, one day...well, you know what I mean.

This morning, with a nice free day (visiting grandchildren, Easter, royal wedding etc all behind me) I decided to rid my wardrobe of old/unwanted/mistakenly-bought clothes. So far so good. The pile on the bed built up nicely. The hangers clattered emptily. I began to feel pleasantly smug.

But hang on a minute...This might still fit (tried it on. It did); this doesn't look too bad after all (back it went); this was so expensive, I can't just get rid of it (ditto). And so on.

I have washed the few thing that I really, really don't want, and will iron them and take them to Oxfam. The rest...well, they might - they just might - come in useful. As for the things still languishing in the washing machine, I've been thinking. They're in good nick, and they're clean now. I might try them on once more. Just to make sure I'm doing the right thing...