Tuesday 31 January 2012

Death row revisited

A few weeks ago, I posted about Texas Death Row, and was pleased that at least two readers became interested in writing to Death Row inmates. One of the Texas Death Row inmates has a website (I've eno idea how he's managed it - probably through a third party) and here is what he says. Do please take the time to read it.

Have you ever had a life or death experience? If so, how close did you come to meeting your maker, and how long did it last? Do you even think about death? Well, think about this.

He goes on to describe how he lives in a small and filthy cage where you have no voice...a place where a desperate pleas is NEVER heard...where your humanity is no longer acknowleded and you are referred to as a number...I am a 27 year old guy who hast to "live" on Texas Death Row.

This man insists that he is innocent. There was no DNA, fingerpirnts or eye wintesses to connect him to the crime of which he is accused, and evidence used in his trial was tampered with. This is commonplace. One inmate, the now well-known Linda Carty (subject of a recent documentary), was given just five minutes with her attorney before her trial. A Texas inmate was executed last week, and several more executions are scheduled over the next months.

There are currently over 200 people on the waiting list for pen friends. It doesn't take up mmuch time. Do please think about it. The organisation through which I write is Lifelines, and Nichola Glasse is the membership secretary. Her email address is: nichola@glasse.org.uk

Monday 30 January 2012

Ageism is ok, isn't it?

As I edge dangerously close to being elderly myself (I'm still not sure how old you have to be to qualify), I'm increasingly aware of ageism. Old people are, apparently, funny. It's fine to make jokes about deafness, zimmer frames, short-sightedness, incontinence - in fact all the humiliations and disabilities that go with old age. Happening upon the TV programme Room 101 last week, I noticed that the people one contestant wanted to get rid of were old people at cash machines. They fumble, they hold you up, they get in the way. They are a nuisance.

Now, all this may be true, but if they had suggested getting rid of, say, black, Jewish, gay or handicapped people, with or without cash machines, there would have been an uproar. But the elderly are fair game. The don't on the whole fight back.

And then there is the portrayal of older people in novels (by younger novelists, needless to say). I have just read a novel in which a very elderly man - doddery, wizzened, one foot in the grave - turns out to be just 73. And I have come across this in other novels, too. As for children's books, we grannies are all depicted with our hair in grey buns, sitting in rocking chairs knitting. Well, this granny hasn't got a rocking chair, her knitting is terrible, but she still rides a horse (yes. I know I was going to get rid of him...) and loves to use the kids' trampoline. I'm not trying to prove anything; I'm just being who I am.

I do think that some people allow themselves to become old before they need to - my father certianly did - and this is partly their perception of themselves, and partly due to bowing to the perception of others. But come on, girls! Dye your hair, paint your toenails (if you can't reach, get someone else to do it for you), put on your jeans and have a go on the trampoline. It's great fun. As for those who mock, well, they've got it coming to them sooner or later. If they live long enough.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Magpie 102

When Geoffrey took his car apart
He found inside a beating heart,
And vowed that he would never drive
A vehicle that was still alive.

But Geoff's not one to make a fuss.
He now goes everywhere by bus.

(With thanks to Magpie Tales for the pirture)

Saturday 28 January 2012

Window cleaners

Now, I've nothing against window cleaners. They do an excellent job. I hate heights, and they need the money, so my relationship with them is a perfect symbiosis. But...

I wish they wouldn't just appear. They never knock on the door to announce their arrival, but suddenly there they are, at the window, looking in, (which I'm sure is against their code of conduct, just when (as this morning) I'm about to get in the shower. Ours is fearless* and friendly, and sports a nice woolly hat (rather than the tin one I'm sure he's supposed to wear), but there are some things I don't want him to seem.

That's all.

*Our house is on four floors, above spiky railings. I can't watch.

Thursday 26 January 2012


...that didn't last long. I've had my Kindle less than a month, and I've already lost it. Half-way through an exciting book, too. And I LOVED it. It was so small and neat and easy to manage, and I'd bought it a posh cover, which (ridicuously) cost a third of the price of the Kindle itself), and it looked so smart.

I was going to end this post with a few choice expletives - one of them mght even have begun with F - but decided not to. In the interests of good taste and propriety.

(And in case any anti-e-readers see this post, I still love real books, and always will. But if we buy any more, we'll have to move out to make room for them.)

Monday 23 January 2012

Exerpt from my novel ...

...The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets can be found here. Macmillan New Writers have been taking turns in posting favourite or taster exerpts from our novels, and it's my turn this week. Do visit the blog. It's worth a look, and might give you some ideas for future reading!

The worst itch...

...is an ankle itch, apparently. Well, it's the "most satisfying to scratch". And this comes from an expert; a Professor from the International Forum for The Study of Itch, no less.

It's good to know that in these hard times, there are still people beavering away doing invaluable research into major problems like this, isn't it? Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Magpie 101

The sheep is stuffed, and rather square,
The woman, slim, asleep and bare.
They make a most peculiar pair.
I've no idea why they are there.

(With thanks to Magie Tales for the photo)

Thursday 19 January 2012

User's guide to on-line shopping

On-line shopping is great. You save all that travelling, all those crowds, and (at Christmas) that dreadful disembodied voice chanting "do they know it's Christmas?" (yes, of course they do; that's why they're here) from somewhere in the region of the ceiling. And you don't have to buy expensive coffee/lunch/light refreshments, taken because you need to REST YOUR FEET NOW, before they kill you. That's the upside.

Now for the downside.

You log on. Great. You are asked for your password. Password? Why do you need a password? I've no idea, but you do. If you don't have one, provide it now. If you have one, try to remember what it was. Is it the one you use for the bank? Or the one that has to have numbers in it? Or the one with more than 22 letters? Whatever. If you can't remember it, no worries. They will email you a new one. Which means you have to log off and find your emails. Ah. There we are. It's arrived. Your new password is (something like) E35YvZ78sLL0. Nice and easy to rememeber. And you can change it to another if you want to (now, why on earth would you want to do that?). Log on again.

Are you still with me? Good. Now, do your shopping (allow more time for indecision/finding out that they haven't got it in your size or colour etc etc), fill in all the details and go to the checkout. Great. Nearly there.

Or are you?

You have filled in the form, but you have done something wrong. They tell you you have done something wrong, but not what it is. It's for them to know, and you to find out. Name, address, phone no, hair colour - all done. Ah - but have you ticked that tiny little box about abiding by "terms and conditions"? You haven't? Well, tick it, then. No. You don't have to read the terms and conditions, but tick the box, otherwise you have wasted the last two hours.

Then bank details, and that bit about leaving things in the porch/with a neighbour/under the gooseberry bush or wherever if you're not in when it arrives, and you're done. You've bought a pot of face cream, and it only took you three hours. Great.

Then (and this happened to me today), you find after all that, you have been sent the wrong item. You email. No reply. You phone, and find it's an 0844 number (5p a minute, and they keep you waiting for ages, and it wasn't your fault, so you're getting cross), and eventually nice Matt tells you he'll send you the right item, and refund the phone call, and everythng wil be fine again. All you have to do now is trog down to the post office to post back the thing they sent you by mistake. And stand in a queue for hours.


I can do it!

At last! Thanks to Gail Crane and Librarian - two splendid fellow-bloggers - I can now advertise my new blog with a real grown-up link for my campaign for the return of real nurses. You can find it here

Thanks so much, both of you. At the end of a day which has included a physio appointment and two fillings at the denstist, it's good to achieve something, albeit rather late in my blogging career.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

New blog - what's gone wrong with nursing?

In order to stop (lessen) one of the most noisy/bothersome bees in my bonnet, I have started a new blog about the current state of nursing. I don't intend to post often, unless there is something particular in the news, or someone would like to contribute a post. But it is something I have been meaning to start for some time, and I'll see how it goes.

Please do visit if you have a moment. Sadly, I still haven't mastered the art of links to click on, but if you copy the link below, you'll find me. I look forward to any ideas/comments you many have. Oh - and you may be relieved to hear that Titch says he's having nothing to do with this, so horse-related topics are off-limits.

PS Librarian - a loyal follower - has just issued me with link instructions, and while I stil haven't quite mastered the art, she has added a link to the new blog in the comments following this post. See below.


Cold calls - the solution at last

I have finally found the perfect solution.

Cold caller: Is that Frances Garrood?
Me: I'm afraid she died last week.

Cold caller promptly rings off. It works every time. Short and polite. And the caller is left believing that there's at least one person worse off than they are.

Monday 16 January 2012

Open letter to Fairy Liquid

Dear Fairy Liquid

For years, I have been a loyal customer. I have defended you aginst people who say that cheaper brands are just as good by replying that you are not only excellent, but you last for ages. I haven't been taken in by your ridiculous advertisements about "the hands that wash dishes" being "soft as your face", because I am old enough and (I hope) wise enough to know that my hands will never be as soft as my face. But I can forgive you for those. I understand that you have to advertise.

Nevertheless, I am deeply disappointed. Why? Because you have cheated. You look the same, and smell the same, but (and here's the really hurtful bit) I strongly suspect that you have been diluted. That's right. Diluted. Made weaker. You don't go nearly as far as you used to. And I'm upset. Because I trusted you.

So that's it. It's over between you and me. I can hardly believe it myself. All those years...all those dishes.... all those happy times over the kitchen sink... all those laughs among the sparkling dishes and the suds...all that wasted loyalty.

So if you see me buying a cheaper brand, it's because I feel betrayed. It's only what you deserve.

Iron Lady

I gather from this morning's news that Meryl Streep has won a golden globe (whatever that is) for her performance in this film.

Whatever you may think of her performance (and it was undeniably brilliant), having seen the flim, I don't think it should have been made at all. I won't say what my views on Thatcher are (they're irrelevant to this post), but to portray someone in crumbling old age and dementia - pathetic, confused, and haunted by images of her dead husband - while she is still alive, seems to me desperately cruel and inappropriate. Watching this film, I felt as though I were spying on somone when I shouldn't have been there at all; voyeuristic and very uncomfortable. Thatcher is/was a dignified and quite private figure. To exploit her privacy when (presumably)she is no longer able to give or withhold permission, for commercial purposes (and films are commercial, whatever the film-maker may say) is, I think, totally unethical. I really hope this film doesn't go on to win more accolades and further exploit its subject.

There. I feel much better now. I shall now go off and see that bloody horse.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Magpie 100

The ship, Titanic, out of luck,
Went down the night the iceberg struck.
And Deirdre, sadly, found out that you
Cannot swim, if you're a statue.

(With thanks to Magpie Tales for the picture)

Saturday 14 January 2012

Horse diaries

Titch: You've changed your mind again, haven't you?
Me; Well...
Titch: Go on. Admit it.
Me: I might have. But that woman didn't really want you, anyway. She said you were badly schooled.
Titch: WHAT!!?
Me: Well, it's true.
Titch (defensively: Alan Sugar was badly schooled and he's done a lot better than you have.
Me: There's no need to make this personal. Besides, I don't want to run a computer business, and if I were Alan Sugar, I'd be able to afford a much better horse than you. Several, in fact.
Titch: I always know when I've won. You get all defensive.(Pause). Got any more of those carrots?

Friday 13 January 2012

Boomerang son

Every week, there is a column in a well-known newspaper written by a mother whose son won't leave home. He is 24, and she appears to spend her time clearing up after him, cooking for him etc.

This is supposed to be amusing, but I find it absolutely infuriating. Children are SUPPOSED to leave home. That's what we prepare them for. When they reach 18 or thereabouts, they should be partying in their own (rented, shared, messy) place, pouring beer into their own carpets (okay. Bare floorboards), doing amazing things with other consenting nearly-adults, sleeping in their own (same) sheets for months, burning their own toast and running out of their own milk. That's what growing up is all about.

I love my children very dearly. They visit us often, and we love to see them. If they were to fall on hard times, I would welcome them home literally with open arms. But I don't want to live with them long-term any more than they want to live with me.

And if either of the younger two happens to be reading this, please, please will you come and collect the rest of your Stuff?

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Thought for the day

I've just found this very comforting quotation:

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
Einstein (who else?)

So that's the answer. I'm a fish, and I must stop trying to climb trees. Voila. Success at last!

Who could resist?

I've taken the plunge and advertised him. Sob. This is his (very bad) publicity photo. But at least he's smiling.

Any takers?

Tuesday 10 January 2012

High speed rant

I find the proposal for the new high speed railway link between London and Birmingham quite breathtaking. We are in crisis; school and hospitals are desperate for funds; and if it's trains we're talking about, in our neck of the woods it would be nice even to be guaranteed a seat, never mind a clean carriage and a punctual train. But no matter. Those lucky (relatively) few who want to whizz from London to Birmingham (in less time that it takes to have root canal treatment) may soon be able to do so. In clean new carriages. Sitting down. In comfort.

How large a percentage of the population are actually going to want to take advantage of the link? It connects just two cities. Personally, I shall probably never need to travel (extremely fast, or even slowly) between London and Birmingham. At a time when it's never been easier to work on a train (even our humble, dirty, overcrowded trains have intenet links. If you can get at them), why the hurry? And then there's the destruction of the contryside, too, but since when have we ever cared about that?

As for the billions being spent on just the opening ceremony for the Olympics...

I think I need to go and lie down in a darkened room.

Monday 9 January 2012

Magpie 99

The statue mocked, "you have no hair!"
Cried Yul, "it's impolite to stare!"
A pigeon up above them coo'ed,
"They're right. One's bald, the other's rude."

(With thanks to Magpie Tales for the photo)

Saturday 7 January 2012

Texas death row

My last death row correspondent, D, no longer wishes to continue writing (perhaps because his sentence has been finally commuted to life imprisonment), and I have been allocated a new prisoner to write to. This man had been on death row in Texas for ten years, and the conditions (especially compared to those of my last correspondent) are appalling. D was at least allowed an X box, and his exercise was taken in the open air. He was also allowed to speak with other prisoners. This is not the case in Texas. The conditions are as follows:

The men are kept in solitary confinement in a small cell, which contains a steel bunk, steel sink and steel toilet. Food is passed through a slot in the door on plastic trays. There is a tiny window shaped like a long letterbox, which is placed high on the outside wall. They have no television and only those with good disciplinary records will be allowed radios. There are no work facilities or study programmes. There is a commissary that sells stamps, stationery, toiletries, food and beverages. The food provided by the authorities is generally poor and those who can afford to will try to supplement their diet as much as possible. The prison is a non-smoking area and it is a disciplinary offence to smoke tobacco. (Of course, recreational drugs are not tolerated.) Prisoners recreate alone in cages big enough to pace around in. They are allowed recreation for one hour three times a week. The visiting is non-contact (behind glass), even for immediate family.

I have only just received this information, and am, quite literally, lost for words.

Friday 6 January 2012

Horse update

I still can't decide. I've had a (small) offer for him, but ....oh dear.

And then I had the following telephone conversation with my daughter last night (she of the club raid photo):

Daughter: Have you decided about the horse yet?
Me: Ooooh....I still can't make up my mind.
Daughter: Well don't, then. Hang on to him. Just don't fall off. We don't want you knocking out your next book with a stick tied to your head.

Isn't she sweet? I now can't get that image out of my head. Me, propped up at the computer in my wheelchair, said stick attached to my forehead like a miner's lamp, laboriously tapping out my next oeuvre, letter by letter, wishing I'd got rid of the bloody horse when I knew it was the right thing to do...

Talking of Titch, his new year's resolution seems to be to decide that tractors are terrifying. As I said to him, he's lived on a farm for the past three years. He knows about tractors. But Titch's motto has always been You Can Never Be Sure, and now that applies to tractors as well as everything else. We spent fifteen minutes dancing in the road while poor Lionel (who drives the tractor) waited patiently, with a queue of cars behind him. Another good reason for finding that New Home.

I wonder where you buy those sticks; the kind you tie to your head to write books? I must find out. Just in case...

Thursday 5 January 2012

Couple arrested in night club raid

"Sir, Madam, would you come with me to the station to answer a few questions".

This photo makes me laugh because it looks to me exactly like a plain clothes policeman/detective making an arrest in a bucolic nightclub. (In fact, it's three of my children at a family christening.) Needless to say, they don't agree with me, and the "policeman" actually thinks he looks rather fetching...

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Round robins - the final winner...

...came from cousin J, a relative by marriage. Not because it is entertaining or even mildly amusing, but because it has made me SO angry.

J is a Christian, a kind of preacher, a minister, a man who reckons he has a direct line to a God who will answer his every request. J's family are all well and flourishing, because the Lord looks after them. J did have a yacht (funds provided by the Lord), and now that he's had to sell it, guess what? The Lord has provided him with a nice little bolthole in the form of a flat overlooking a harbour Yes. That's right. The Lord has given J a flat (I assume J had to pay for it himself with the funds from the yacht, but the yacht was provided by the Lord). So. People are starving, lonely, grieving, in terrible pain, suffering awful tragedies. Millions died in the Holocaust. But the Lord has time for a spot of flat-hunting.

Now, I am a Christian. Not a very good one. In fact, not at all a good one. I gossip, and I'm lazy, and I lost my virginity years before I was married, and was delighted to do so. In fact, I've been quite a Bad Girl in my time. So I'm not in the same league as J. But I don't expect God to provide me with yachts and flats, or even to protect me from disaster. I just hope he'll help me cope with whatever life happens to throw at me. I have frequent huge doubts (I don't think J ever has even one tiny one), and I am quite quite sure that that serpent never spoke to Eve in the Garden of Eden, and that a man in a boat, with only seven helpers, never managed to pack all those animals onto it to avoid the flood, and that no-one ever escaped unharmed from the belly of a whale (these are all held to be God's own truth by people like J).

So. J is the winner. Because of the staggering conceit of his awful, smug Round Robin.

Phew. I feel much better now.

PS If anyone is offended by this rant (and I know there are some very nice fundamentalist Christians), then I apologise. But as this is my blog (and of course you are very welcome to visit it), I feel that it is a place where I can express my own personal feelings. Please feel free to disagree.

Monday 2 January 2012

Magpie 98

Cried Holmes, "that picture's upside down!
If you could turn it right around
You'd find, on very close inspection,
The real landscape's the reflection!"

Said Watson, "Now you've spoilt it! You
Did just the same at London Zoo.
You said that snake was just an eel
And that the panda wasn't real.

Next time, I'm leaving you at home.
I'm going to the Tate alone."

(Thanks to Magpie Tales for the picture)

Ode to my new Kindle

I'd always thought to use a Kindle
On a par with mortal sin-dle,
Thoughts of books consigned to bin-dle
Sent small shivers up my skin-dle.

But my wonderful son gave me one for Christmas, and I LOVE it!

Sunday 1 January 2012

Horse diaries

No. He hasn't gone yet. He's kind of "under offer". Kind of. But no sign on his stable door to that effect. Yet.

Meanwhile, lovely Gemma, my son's girlfriend, says she'd like to come riding with us. Fine. We have to go with a hack, because she hasn't ridden at the yard before. Also fine. But J and his horse P are coming too. Not so fine, because Titch cannot stand P.

Titch: Is HE coming with us?
Me: Yes. D'you have a problem with that?
Titch: Yes. He's a nasty common animal, and I don't want to be seen out with him.
Me: Well, that's tough. Just get over yourself, will you? P is nice, and well-behaved, and could teach you a thing or two.
Titch: Whatever. (Titch likes to sound like a teenager, and since on February 24th he will actually be one, I suppose that's excusable. Just.)

So off we set. Four of us. Over the hills and far away in the pouring rain and gusty wind. Horses don't like wind. Or rain. Especially (says Titch) thoroughbred horses. With famous grandfathers. For a while, he behaves reasonably well. Then -

Titch: (Leaping and prancing after tearing up a hill) It's cold and wet. I'm just hating this.
Me: Well, we've got half-way. so you're just going to have to stick with it or we won't get home.
Titch: P is trying to overtake me.
Me: So?
Titch: I'll show him!

Which he does, to the considerable discomfort of his rider (me) who has some difficulty in stopping him. We pause at a gate, and Titch tries to kick P. Twice.

Me: What did you do that for?
Titch: Only what he deserves. Next time I won't miss.
Me: There won't be a next time, and we'll go over here on our own so you can't kick anyone.
Titch: Blah blah blah...

Titch leaps and dances all the way home, muttering about breeding and manners (manners!) and being judged by the comany he keeps. Meanwhile, I am becoming more and more sure that selling him is the best idea I've had in years. When we get back, I'll stick a large SOLD notice on his door. That'll teach him.

But when we get back, Titch (warm and dry in his two rugs, up to his belly in nice clean straw, his issues with poor P forgotten) whickers very sweetly for his carrot, and although he doesn't deserve a treat, I give him two.

Bloody animal. Oh dear. I wish someone would make my mind up for me...