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... 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


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


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.