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).


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


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.


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.