Monday 30 December 2013

Is Amazon taking over the world..

...of retailing? I find myself using Amazon more and more; partly because it's easy, and I don't have to brave the wind and the rain, and partly because the delivery is prompt, the service second to none, and sending things back (usually such a chore) so easy.

Ad yet....our high streets are emptying, the book shops are struggling, Amazon don't pay much tax (this is apparently complicated) and they are (again apparently) uncaring slave-drivers for those who work for them (I was shocked by the Panorama programme. Can it really be as bad as that?).

I admire those who stick to their principles and eschew the delights of all those next-day  brown paper parcels. I have at least one friend for whom the very name A***** is a dirty word (rivers being an exception). I have a dilemma.

I was discussing this possible monopoly with John, who said "ah. But you couldn't buy a leg of lamb from Amazon!"

Guess what? You can.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Shark diving in Reigate

We spent  Christmas night  in a hotel in Reigate, between visits to sons. Apropos which, I've just filled in a quite extraordinary questionnaire. It ended with the injunction to make comments about what we enjoyed, and "type in things like shark diving, stargazing and vegetarian cuisine". Hmm. Since there were no sharks, and no stars (it was p****ng with rain), and we are not vegetarians, I was unable to help.

I would advise anyone who's thinking of looking for sharks in Reigate to think again. Trust me. There aren't any.

How was your Christmas?

Saturday 21 December 2013

Fairfax speaks (doesn't happen often)..


Fairfax says Happy Christmas. So do I. And thank you to everyone who takes the trouble to trawl through my rambling posts (you know who you are).

Monday 16 December 2013

Some seasonal cheer (and a proud mum/granny)...

..because here s something that certainly cheered my up; my daughter and grandson having a sing. The track is a backing track; the voices, their own. Considering they were just messing about, and hadn't rehearsed at all,  I think  it's brilliant!

Thursday 12 December 2013

Bah humbug (part two)

I'm not cashing in on the quite astonishing popularity of my previous post (nearly 1000 hits so far, and growing) but   I do have something to add; a more serious example of seasonal bonhomie gone wrong.

My disabled sister lives in sheltered accommodation. She is intelligent and has her wits about her, but she's in a wheelchair. Okay so far. But - every Christmas, the mayor comes round to distribute little bags of goodies to the residents: sweets, chocolate, perhaps tea bags or biscuits. That kind of thing. And she dreads it. Why? Because it feels patronising and belittling, that's why. Because the powers that be haven't tried to imagine what it's like to be physically challenged, and therefore treated like a child. She is wondering whether to escape this year, or sit it out. She is too kind to tell the mayor that she doesn't want his sweets, and that she is capable of buying her own tea bags.

Ten years ago, I too was on the receiving end of something like this. Flat on my back in hsopital, with a spinal injury, I was (astonishingly) probably the youngest patient on theward. Christmas came, and with it, the well-meaning women from an age-related charity, with bags of sweets. They were probably older than I was. Worse was to come. A couple of days later, along came Father Christmas, complete with elf (yes, really), and more sweets. I hid under the covers, but the nurses gave me away.

What I want to  know is, why? Especially the Father christmas bit? Do people think that if you are old, you forget there's no such person as Father Christmas (and that it's really Mummy and Daddy who deliver the goods.  Never mind that Mumy and Daddy, in this case,  are inevitably long dead)?

No doubt the mayor (and Father Christmas) feel warm and fuzzy after doing this, but I do wish they woudldconsider the recipients of their good works, and think again before they do this kind of thing.

My poor sister is expecting the mayoral visitiation this afternoon. Please spare her a thought.

Monday 9 December 2013

A bah humbug Christmas post

I think Christmas would be much improved if:

1. It came once every five years...
2. ....and lasted just three or four hours.
3. All the turkeys were released into the wild, and we could have beef instead.
4. Christmas puddings were set on fire and then left to incinerate.
5. Ditto mince pies.
6. And mulled wine. Mulling good wine spoils it, and mulled bad wine remains...bad wine.
7. Everything came WITH batteries (even the things that don't need batteries; just to be sure).
8. Pretty calendars and smelly candles went straight to Oxfam, without taking the scenic tour via me.
9. Someone somewhere would tell me how/where to store all the cardboard packaging we have accumulated through my obsessive on-line shopping. Re-cycling day was today, and already we are snowed (cardboarded) under.
10. Someone would help me re-package all my shopping mistakes, and take my place in the queue at the post office to post them back.
11. Anyone asking the question "are you ready for Christmas yet?" was trussed up like the above-mentioned turkey, and publicly shamed.
12. Ditto anyone who says "it's all about the children, isn't it?" No, it's not. It's all about ME.

Sunday 1 December 2013

The essential colon

Sometimes, people wonder whether colons and semi-colons are really necessary. Well, take this headline from today's paper, about the difficulties the broadcaster Clare Balding experienced when she told her grandmother she was gay:

Balding: grandma said being gay was disgusting.

Now remove the colon.

See what I mean?

Saturday 30 November 2013

Flash fiction


For the first time in twenty-five years, I lie with a soft pillow under my head. After the extremes of heat and cold, in my tiny isolated room, I am comfortably warm. I have just eaten the most delicious meal; one of my own choosing, after years of near-inedible mush. People move around me, touch me (how I have longed for that touch; the human touch of skin against skin!) and talk in low voices, and are kind. Someone smiles at me.

I hardly feel the scratch of the executioner's needle. Soon I will be at peace.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Two beetles on a cupboard

I'm afraid I still  have this tendency to see images in odd places. I don't particularly look for them; they're just there.

We've had this cupboard for years, and suddenly this morning - voila! Two beetles swimming (?) around on its side.

That's all.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Magpie 195

She had sauvignon blanc, and she drank it.
And was sleeping it off (with a blanket).
She stayed nicely afloat
On her comfortable boat
Till it struck a small steamer, which sank it.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Do you believe in guardian angels?

I've never really believed in guardian angels, but recently, I've had a weird feeling that someone somewhere is looking out for  me. I know. It sounds odd. But there have been several incidents in the past few years where what could have  - even should have - been a total disaster have, by a twist of fate (or of angel...?), turned out better than they should have.

Here are three examples:

1. When I hurtled down the stairs ten years ago, head first and not touching a single stair, literally flying from top to bottom, I somehow managed to turn 90% so that I was at right angles to the staircase. Had I not turned, I would have broken my neck on the front door. As it was, I broke my back (bad enough) but I'm still here to tell the tale.

2. When my beloved Titch died while I was out riding him last year, we were going along a quiet country lane. I very nearly took the (busy) road, but decided against at the last minute. Titch went totally ballistic with pain, and we would most certainly have had a horrible accident had we been on the road.

3.Yesterday, I went for a long ride on Fairfax. On the way home,one of  the reins broke (to the uninitiated, this amounts to a brakes failure). We had crossed roads, galloped hard, in fact had an adventurous time, but when the incident happened, we were walking beside a field, with no hazards (and little pressure on the reins). It was pretty hairy, as the only way to stop a horse with one rein is to go round in cicles, and it was very difficult gaining control. But we could have been in the middle of the road, or galloping, and in the latter case, I don't think we would have stopped at all.

Or I suppose I could say that my guardian angel wasn't paying attention in the first place...

Saturday 16 November 2013

Funeral fun

A new funeral directors is/are opening in our town, and gaily advertising an "open day". Hmm. I wonder what exactly they'll be opening? Not one of those, obviously, but still, I confess to being curious.

Wll there be refreshments? This puts me in mind of one of those gallows humour conversations one can have when things have reached rock bottom. Some time ago,  friend of mine (who had suffered appalling losses and bereavements) and I were discussing what refreshments one should offer as a funeral caterer. We came up with such things as 'funeral fancies' and 'coffin and walnut cake', and now I find myself wondering what else might be appropriate. Certainly, a CD of Girls A'shroud could provide the music, but does anyone have any other ideas?

(And  yes, Adrian, I am getting on with the novel. Slowly.)

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Is blogging a waste of time?

I have a horrible feeling that for me, quite often, it's not so much a waste of time as time mis-spent. For a writer, it's the perfect way of procratinating, while still (technically) writing.

I enjoy blogging. I like having somewhere to express feelings or experiences or odd thoughts, and  I like reading other people's opinions/ views/takes on life etc.  Inasmuch as you can never really know someone you've never met, I have nonetheless come to 'know' some really nice, supportive, interesting and entertaining people. But does that make it a good use of time?  (Many people use Facebook for the same purpose, but for some reason, I cannot stand Facebook. It seems not only trivial - often - but too public, for while anyone can read this, not that many people know about it, and it's my own forum.)

So - what do you think? And (perhaps more to the point) is there anything you ought to be doing now, rather than reading this? I'm putting off work on the WIP, which has run into difficulties. What's your reason?

I'd really love to know.

Monday 11 November 2013

The wrong kind of Christmas box

Recently in the news was a report of a head teacher who was banning the giving out of party invitations at school,  as this meant some children felt excluded if they were not invited. I applauded her decision.

It put me in mind of those post boxes put up in classrooms for the posting of Christmas cards from pupils to each other. How well I remember those dreaded boxes in my own school classroom, with their contents waiting to delight or humiliate; the awful fear that I would be the one with the fewest cards. It mattered not a jot whom the cards came from; it was the number of cards that mattered, for therein lay the measure of one's popularity (or lack of it).

This cruel (and unnecessary) practice is alive and well in some schools even today. Quite recently, a small grandson of mine, an affectionate and sensitive child, was mortified to find that he was the recipient of just one card when the post box was emptied at the end of term.

Isn't it time that this kind of thing was discouraged in schools? Life is quite difficult enough for less popular   children. Let's not make it even harder; especially at Christmas.

Saturday 9 November 2013

Making an exhibition of yourself. Nine easy steps.

1. Choose a Saturday morning in a busy market town. Timing is all.
2. Take your shopping trolley (I know. Geriatric equipment. But this won't work without the trolley).
3. Do lots of shopping.
4. Go to Sainsburys. Do more shopping.
5. At the self serve thingy, check out your stuff, and pack it into the trolley. Do this in a hurry (there has to be a queue building up behind you for this to work really well).
6. Stuff large bag of potatoes on top of other purchases, ensuring that the trolley is top-heavy. Fumble with your change and drop your purse.
7. Try to reach purse and grab trolley, preferably at the same time.
8. The trolley will now tip over, the purse will skitter across the floor, and if this goes really well, you will ricochet into the confectionary display, which should be small and unsteady.
9. Land heavily on your knees, arms outflung, uttering expletives (your choice), scattering packets of sweets/chocolate etc and the members of the queue.

This works. I promise. I tried it only this morning.

(Oh, and I'm feeling a bit better now. Thanks for asking.)

Thursday 7 November 2013

What (not) to say when someone dies

It came home to me strongly last week - and for the nth time - that people who haven't  been bereaved often have no idea what to say.

It would have been my first husband's birthday, and a kind relative of his, who has been  unfailingly supportive, phoned to say he was thinking of us. "But I suppose you've got over it  now," he said, adding "99.9%", just in case. I was appalled, and I'm afraid my response was not as polite as I would have liked (it was one of those speak first, think afterwards, moments).

Because you never, ever, "get over" something like that. All those birthdays, wedding anniversaries, the graduations of children, the births of grandchildren, watching my son lead his sister down the aisle on her wedding day, because she had no father to do it...the list is endless. He never lived long enough to see his children established in their careers; our youngest was only just eleven.

But this kind of thing is well meant. Maybe you just have to go through it yourself to understand. There is so much I have learnt since it happened to me. Some of those things are:

When you hear the news, write. Briefly. Preferably a proper letter.  And only about the bereavement/the dead person. Don't - as one person I  know did - add your own holiday plans at the end of the letter. This isn't about you!

Phone if you want to. This is scary. You don't know what state the recipient of your phone fall will be in. One friend of mine phoned me and just sobbed down the phone. I can't tell you how helpful that was.

Don't say "let me know if there's anything I can do". This is well-meant, and kind, but the bereaved person won't take you up on it, especially if you live hundreds of miles away. If you want to help, take a meal round, send flowers, offer to fetch the kids from school, do the ironing. If you're too far away, never mind. At least you've written.

If  you do speak, don't mention yourself or your own experiences. One of my own worst memories is of the parish vicar coming round on what I suppose he would call a "bereavement visit". I hardly knew the man. He spent the entire time talking about (a) his own wonderfully happy marriage and (b) his own heart attack. It was terrible.

Stay in touch. for as long as it takes. Don't tail away after a couple of months. If you're a friend, the bereaved person will go on needing you for  much longer than you think.

Remember the anniversary. I suppose this isn't strctly necessary, but as that first year comes round, the bereaved person will be going through all those memories all over again, and suffering.

I have learnt so much over the last 21 years. Would I have followed this advice before that? I shall never know. I hope so, but I shall never be sure. And if anyone (probably many) who reads this post knows all this, and doesn't need reminding, I apologise.

Monday 4 November 2013

Horse (Fairy) Diaries

Well, Fairfax (aka Fairy) has been with me nearly a year, and has finally agreed to have his comments posted. Provided they are accompanied by a photo showing his best side (he doesn't have a best side, and anyway, strictly speaking, it should be 'better' side. But I'll let that pass).

So. Fairy has a nice new rug. I took it in to show him this morning.

Me: Look! Lovely new indoor rug! Nice and cosy, and the colour suits you.
Fairy: I liked my old one.
Me: No you didn't. It was so big that it looked as though you were hiding under a tablecloth, and besides, you had trashed it. (How does a horse wreck a rug which is only worn indoors? I have no idea, and he's not telling).

I put the rug on him. It looked lovely, and fitted perfectly. Fairy was not impressed, so I led him out to the grass in front of the yard office to have a graze. I was holding the lead rope and dreaming, as you do, when Fairy suddenly plummeted earthwards.

Fairy (kicking his heels in the air): Just seeing whether it stays on when I roll about like this.

It did. It is now a very un-smart muddy rug, but he was pleased, and I suppose that's what counts. (I would add that this was only the second or third time in all the time I've had him that he has rolled while I'm holding him. He says it was pure coincidence. My own jury is still out.)


Sunday 3 November 2013

Wonga in the wronga

I have posted before about ageism, and how it's apparently hilarious to make jokes about zimmer frames/deafness/ blindness/confusion/ short-sightedness etc etc because the old dears can't fight back, can they? Well, this old dear has had enough, and the Wonga advertisements are just about the last straw. Some can be found here.

They aren't funny or clever, but deeply patronising, and just plain horrible. No-one would be allowed to parody the handicapped or an ethnic minority (for example) in this way, so why they elderly? Being old is bad enough without this kind of thing.

Come to think of it, I can't even remember what exactly Wonga is; I'm usually so occupied in ranting that I never get to see the denouement of these adverts. Do tell me what I've missed...?

Friday 1 November 2013

Christmas shopping? Look no further...

...for that special gift, for I have the solution  right here in a catalogue*: clockwork salt and pepper pots, shaped like penguins. You "just fill the pots with salt and pepper, wind them up, and let them go...shooting across the table to whoever needs them". Apparently "passing the salt and pepper has never been so much fun".

Passing the salt and pepper fun? Really?

Oh, what have I been missing all these years...

What will they think up next? Wind-up vegetable dishes? Motorised knives and forks? When you think about it, the possibilities for fun at the dinner table are endless.

*One of those catalogues full of things nobody needs to give to people who don't want them; the last resort of the desperate shopper.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

That'll teach me... browse my stats (having finished one job, and putting off another, as one does). I was looking through my blog's "traffic sources", and on clicking on my main (and rather mysterous) one, found that it is apparently a hard porn website, and was immediatley confronted with - well- porn.

Hmm. Well, as a woman, I don't particularly want to entertain myself with  full-on views of women's bits (I saw enough of those - if you'll excuse the reference - at a time when my main job was performing cervical smears). I'm not shocked - it takes a lot to shock me, as Relate cousellors are trained not to be shocked by anything - just rather surprised.

Does anyone else's blogs links with this kind of thing?

I  just wondered.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Pen friend with chutzpah, anyone?

I had a letter yesterday from a man in Indiana prison. He'd been talking to an ex-death row correspondent of mine (who dumped me some time ago) and thought I might like someone else (ie him) to write to.

He's in prison because he kidnapped two deputy sheriffs, "took their guns and money and car and badges, left them handcuffed to a tree and escaped". I can (he tells me proudly) Google him. He "caused quite a fiasco and made all the headlines and world and local news". I'm afraid I  had to admire his cheek. I bet those sheriffs felt stupid.

I did Google him, and he has a long string of convictions. He seems a sanguine kind of fellow, and his letter was hilarious. I shan't be writing to him regularly as I have another more deserving correspondent (I shall of course let him know of my decision).

 He "doesn't get much mail". Any takers?

Monday 21 October 2013

Open letter to Julian Fellowes

Dear Lord Fellowes,

I read in the paper today some of the remarks you have apparently made concerning  your recent adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

I'm afraid I have some problems with these. You say that to understand Shakespeare, "you need a kind of Shakespearean scholarship, and you need to understand the language and analyse it and so on. I can do that  because I had a very expensive education. I went to Cambridge."

Ah. So you had a very expensive education, did you? Well, bully for you. I, on the other hand, had a very cheap education (free, actually), and have never had any trouble understanding Romeo and Juliet. I know many people who are like me in this respect. How dare you patronise us in this way?

In the meantime, I suggest you leave Shakespeare alone (after all, he has managed without you for several hundred years, and will no doubt continue being loved and admired long after you are forgotten), and concentrate on correcting some of the clunky prose and glaring anachronisms* in the script of Downton Abbey.

Yours etc

*You see - you don't need an expensive education to use long words after all, do you?

(I apologise to any readers who are fed up with me banging on about Lord Fellowes, but one of the joys of having a blog is that it is my own personal platform my for own personal rants, and at least it  stops me from running amok in the streets, screaming obscenities.)

Friday 18 October 2013

Today, I saw Michael Caine outside Tesco's...

...smoking a cigarette. He had a beard.

Only it wasn't Michale Caine at all. I have a mild form of what's known as "face blindness"; ie difficulty in recognising faces. I have also recently seen Prince William in Sainsbury's,  and several characters from Coronation Street wandering the streets of Devizes.

On the other hand, I am often accused of ignoring people I know quite well, when actually I just haven't recognised them. Watching complicated films is a nightmare. Unless there is a redhead, a blonde and a very tall bald bloke (for example) I am lost. I have to keep asking John "is that the one who...?". He's very patient, but it must be infuriating. I can't tell my goodies from my baddies.

Where we lived before, I was both a nurse and a Relate counsellor, so if someone appeared to  know me, I could safely say, "how are things?", and this covered most eventualities, from adultery to piles. But it can be very awkward.

Does anyone else have this problem?

(PS I prefer Michael Caine without the beard)

Thursday 17 October 2013

Fourteen Days in May... a chilling documentary, following the last 14 days in the life of Edward Earl Johnson, who was executed by gas in May 1987 in Mississippi.

Johnson was on death row for eight years, and maintained his innocence until the end. There are huge doubts over whether or not he was guilty, but no matter. He was poor and black; even today  a bad combination if you want to get off death row.

This full-length film is now available on you tube  and doesn't  make for easy viewing. The gassing of the rabbit (when the gas chamber is tested out beforehand) gives the viewer some idea of what Johnson had to go through.

His last words were: "I guess no-one's going to call now" (to grant a stay of execution). If anyone has any doubts about whether or not the death penalty is ever justified, they should watch this.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

The bottom of the kitchen drawer fell out...

...probably under the weight of all this. I am ashamed (and now, publicly shamed) by the contents of this drawer. But you see, all these gleaming (or rusty) objects might come ine useful, and sometimes they even do.

There are at least four corkscrews (fish shaped, one with dear little arms, one of those waiters' ones, and an ancient wooden one of my father's); kebab skewers (we haven't made kebabs since we moved here14 year ago, because Agas don't have grills; and if you look carefully, you will see a small hatchet.

John says this is a cleaver, not a hatchet.  Whatever. We don't use it. But it is his hatchet/cleaver. Why did he buy it (in his single days)? To make chicken stock, says he triumphantly. A hatchet? To make chicken stock? Yes, says he. For chopping off the wings. Ah.

So - if anyone would like a corkscrew, a hatchet, or anything else you can identify from this sorry heap, do please let me know. Meanwhile, the drawer has been taken away for major surgery.

Monday 14 October 2013

Is sex loud?

A random question from my granddaughter when I was looking after her and her co-triplets at the weekend.

Just a thought for a damp Monday.

Monday 7 October 2013

Crime; one road to writing success

I'm not referring to the genre; rather, the behaviour of the writer.

Of course, we already knew this, but one way to get noticed is to commit a crime. Today, I read that Vicky Pryce, disgraced ex-wife of the disgraced Chris Huhne, fresh from prison, is having her experiences serialised in a national newspaper. Presumably, they will then come out in book form, and will sell at least reasonably well. Next, no doubt, she will be appearing in 'I'm a Celebrity', or 'Strictly Come Dancing'. From now on, only way is up.

The road to success is often paved with crime/sin. Take the Hamiltons (Neil and Christine, of 'cash for questions' fame; David Mellor - disgraced MP, who now presents a show on Classic FM). And these are only two. Jeffrey Archer's career admittedly didn't need much of a boost, but prison certainly did him no harm.

Naturally, it helps if you are a public figure in the first place, and lesser mortals like me (to date, several parking fines and a speeding offence) are not important enough to be noticed unless we resort to crimes on  a Great Train Robbery scale, but it's all worth bearing in mind.

So come on, fellow-writers (or those who could do with a little help). There must be something we can do. Any suggestions?

Friday 4 October 2013

Boring Granny...

...but here's the new arrival with big brother. Okay. I'll shut up now. For a little while, anyway.

Wednesday 2 October 2013


We've all been there, haven't we? (If you haven't, please do let me in on your secret.) And the words used by the magazine/publisher/agent remind me a bit of estate agent lingo. You have to read between the lines:

Outstanding opportunity for renovation = it's falling down
Wonderful views  = there's a tree outside, and you can just see it if you lean out of the attic window
Within easy reach of shops and schools = do you like long walks?
Cosy = it's a dolls' house
Fitted ktichen = there's a sink
The garden is laid to lawn = it's completely overgrown
Extra bedroom/study = but only a bedroom for someone under 4' tall, lying crosways

So (I suspect) it is with written offerings:

Well-worn theme = we just don't like it
Guessable = ditto
Not quite right for us = ditto
No surprises = ditto
We wish you luck in placing this novel/story/poem/article = please go away and leave us alone

Okay, okay. I know you're trying to be nice, but please just tell me I've written a lousy book/story. I can take it. I've got writers' shoulders (ie broad ones).

(And in case any of the wonderful editors etc. I've had dealings with should happen to come across this, I do know that some of these reasons are genuine, and I do love you really. Plus,  I've just had a nice acceptance, so I'm not sure why I'm rambling on about rejection...)

Monday 30 September 2013

Downton v Corrie

"But you watch Coronation Street!" was my  brother's indignant riposte, when I dared to criticise Downton Abbey (he's a DA fan, of course).

Well, for us, there's no comparison. The clunking prose, the anachronisms, the slow-moving plot (is there one?), the wooden acting...I think Downton is terrible. Lady Mary looks as though she's been impaled (vertically - I'm trying to be delicate here) by a broom handle, and apart from Maggie Smith, everyone sounds as though they're reading through their lines for the first time. And oh, those lines...

"She is bruised and broken. We must wrap her up and protect her" (his lordship, about the bereaved Lady Mary, who incidentally  looks as though she's never experienced an emotion in her life, let alone grief).

"I love you with every fibre of my being" (his lordship again - he seems to be cursed with the worse lines - quite out of the blue, to one of the maids. Last series).

Whereas Coronation Street is, I think, marvellous. Okay, so some of the plots are a bit off the wall - it's hard to keep going week after week with credible plots - but some of the acting is wonderful. The present story of Hayley's terminal cancer has brought out some of the best scenes (between her and husband Roy) I've ever seen on television.

And before anyone attacks me, yes, we do watch DA. We find it vastly entertaining, for all the wrong reasons. We don't care what happens to anyone, but are constantly astonished that so much money has been thrown at the production of something so soulless. For us, the Emperor that is Downton is stark naked.

But we're in a tiny minority, so feel free to ignore us.

Saturday 28 September 2013

A Death Row Journal

My Death Row correspondent has asked me to post this entry from the journal he tries to keep. I think he writes brilliantly. I'd love to know what you think. Every word and all the punctuation are as he wrote them.

The Row I've Hoed Bears Bitter Death

Sometimes the rain falls and I'm never aware of it. I'm sound-proofed from the world. Cursed to witness but not participate. Sometimes the sound of thunder is lost in the cacophony of shouting men screaming their grievances to apathetic guards; their prayers to an indifferent deity.

The only time I hear rain is when it leaks through the cracks in the ceiling. It's not the melodic symphony of water dancing off of the leaves or earth or man-made edifices. No, this sound has more of a dull metronomic quality as it slaps the stone floor. Each drop is a tiny defibrillator that shocks me back to reality; the needle that pierces all my dreams.

After the rain has fallen I plug up the concrete sky, shut off the light that became my fluorescent moon and stars and finally sleep.

This is where my life's journey has taken me and dropped me off, like a child on the first day of school...kicking and screaming. A ten by six cell where I play at being god. Creating, destroying, rearranging and likewise becoming indifferent to the world.

Irving Davis

Recently, he had to be transported elsewhere. He was returned late, and couldn't understand what all the little lights were in the sky. He finally realised that they were stars. He hadn't seen stars for eleven years. He never received the book I sent him; a harmless book he had asked for. It was refused him because of one sentence. I shall never know which.

Thursday 26 September 2013

The Virgin on the blanket box

This is the hardest of all, not least because it doesn't come out well in the photo. But for years, I've seen this figure in a dark skirt (slightly to the right), with a circle of stars not quite round her head (well, actually to her left) on the pine box we use as a coffee table.

And because of this, some time ago I wrote a mad novel called The Virgin of the Hen House, which was (rightly) rejected by my publisher. Without the Virgin the novel would have been quite sensible. I blame the blanket box.

And that's the last. I promise. Well, for the time being, anyway.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

The fox on the bathroom floor

This one needs a bit more imagination, but if you disregard the line running across its nose - voila!

Tuesday 24 September 2013

The dragonfly on the bathroom door

In a recent post I mentioned seeing faces in odd places. Well, this isn't exactly a face (I'm not sure whether these creatures have them), but this is an unadorned and un-tampered-with dragonfly in the grain of our bathroom door. And I seem to be the only person who's noticed.

Foxes on the floor next time.

Monday 23 September 2013

Magpie 187


I like to pretend I'm a moth,
But it's not very comfy, becoth
When I cling onto lampth
That are more than two ampth
They make me feel prickly and croth.

(With thanks to Tess at Mapie Tales for the picture)

Friday 20 September 2013

Seeing faces (a displacement-activity-post)

I'm sure I'm not alone in seeing faces in things. I've been looking at this little face on our bedroom light switch for years, and finally decided that it just needed a mouth. Voila! John likes it, so I'm afraid it's staying for the time being.

There are two fox faces on the ancient wooden floor of our bathroom, and years ago, there were rows of little faces in the floral curtains. The trouble is, once you've seen a face, you can't un-see it. It's there to stay. So those curtains were never quite the same, peopled as they were with all those tiny pink faces instead of flowers.

That's all. And yes,  I have got better things to do. I'm just not doing them at the moment...

Thursday 19 September 2013

An ode for the digital-averse

When a technophobe woman called Bridget
Comes stumbling into the digit-
-al world, the computer
(She finds) doesn't  suit her.
Now she can't tell her app from her widget.

And that, I'm afraid, is me. I've no idea what any of these things are. I keep being told (by my computer) that I 'need cookies' (for example) but nobody tells me why, or even what they are.

Why can't things computer-related have sensible names/titles? ones that I can understand? If I phone for help, I get nice young men who rattle off instructions and lose me after about thirty seconds. I hesitate to ask children/grandchildren (yes. Even you, BJ) because they're all busy. I probably ought to go on a course, but I'm done with courses.

So I soldier on. Sort of. Hoping that one day the penny might just drop.

On day...

Monday 16 September 2013

In praise of Gina

Gina Ford's Contented Little Baby Book is a Marmite book. Parents either love it or hate it. I suspect, however, that the haters haven't given it a proper try.

When my daughter was pregnant with triplets, someone gave her a copy. How we laughed! Oh, we knew all about baby care; after all, I'd had four, and she'd had plenty of experience looking after other people's babies. Gina was put firmly away.

Fast forward to a few weeks after the babies' births. Exhausted mother, screaming babies; bedlam. She reached for Gina, and within a week, she had her evenings back. I won't say all went swimingly from then on - swimmingly isn't something that happens with triplets - but her life was much improved.

Since then, I've had five more grandchildren; all are 'Gina' babies. Daughters-in-law have joined my daughter and are great Gina fans. Okay, so some of her ideas seem a bit extreme (for example, 'no eye contact' when putting the baby down to sleep), but the strict routine really works. Our newest addition is already on the regime, and when I texted my son this morning to ask how their night had been, he replied: "Excellent...Slept from 9.30 to 2.30 then 3.30 to 7. Love Gina!" The baby is just six days old (and was delivered a week early).

I cast my mind back to my baby days;  long nights of screaming (me as well) and exhausted days. Living with a small person permanently stuffed up my jumper/shirt feeding yet again. I remember sitting with baby no.1 in the middle of the night, desperately consulting Dr. Spock, and trying to absorb such gems as "perhaps he has a safety pin sticking into him" (hardly); "maybe he's hungry" (you think I hadn't thought of that?), "perhaps he has colic" (in which case, what do you suggest?).

And the advice? "Use this wakeful time to take baby for a walk in his pram". What a brilliant idea!  We lived out in the country. It was midnight, and the middle of winter.

Where, oh where, was Gina when I needed her?

Thursday 12 September 2013

Here he is!

Rather tubed-up, but fine now. I saw him yesterday, and he's beautiful - really. Worth the wait, but I still feel drained (see last post for details, if you need to!). Off this week-end to help out.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Waiting for news

I'm waiting. As any writer will know, waiting is sooooo hard. But this waiting is worse. I've been expecting to hear for over an hour now. I've got both phones at the ready. I've done the Times difficult su doku and the quick crossword (not enough concentration for the cryptic one). I've had a drink of water. Iwas going to scrub the kitchen table (yes. It's that bad), but then I'll be all mucky and will have to wash my hands to answer the phone. (Just noticed that my mobile is showing the times in  Copenhagen and Lusaka. It is now 5.53 in Lusaka, apparently.)

I can't read; can't phone anyone (obviously). I'd play patience, but don't know where the cards are. I need a shower after ride this morning, but of course I can't risk that. And still the phone hasn't rung. John is cooking tonight, so I haven't even got that to do. I've run out of things to occupy my mind, hence this rather pointless post.

(Some time later) At last the call came. Theodore John was born to my son and daughter-in-law at 2.15pm. Phew! It's been a very difficult few months for them, but all worthwhile. I'm now totally exhausted. I expect they are, too. But very very happy.

Expect a photo, my place, soon!

Monday 9 September 2013

Yummy mummies at the school gate

I have been quite astonished at the number of articles about yummy mummies at the school gates, and the trouble they go to to look good when delivering their dear little ones in the mornings. Apparently, some actually buy new outfits for the purpose. A new outfit to take the kids to school? Has the world gone quite mad?

When mine were small, they were dressed and fed, teeth cleaned, hair brushed (if they were lucky). I threw on some jeans (no time for make-up) and we tore up to the car (parked at the top of the lane).

This was the next bit of the "routine":
1.Throw kids in back of car, usually plus a baby.
2. Car refuses to start (almost always).
3.Put  gears in neutral, and push said car (from the outside, obviously) down lane.
4. Car plus kids gathers speed (there is a dangerous junction and a busy  road at the bottom, so time is of the essence).
5. (Here's the tricky bit) Jump into car before it reaches the junction, start engine, shut driver's door, apply brakes.
6. Reassure weeping kids.
7. Off to school.

No designer clothes, no new hair-do, no posh handbag (no handbag at all. I don't really do handbags), no extravagant outlay (although a new car would have been nice). Simple.

Saturday 7 September 2013

(Not) being organised

We recently had friends staying. The wife, A,  is a very  organised, person (she says she's "on the specturm", but then I guess we all are). In her life, everything is tidy; nothing's out of place.

Now, I like and admire A very much. I would love to be like her. Really. So I asked her advice. When I showed her the contents of a random drawer, she was appalled.

A:"Ginseng? What's that doing in this drawer?" she asked. "Do you use it?"
Me: "Well, not exactly..." (when/why have we ever used it? Why did we even buy it in the first place?)
A:"Well, then, Throw it away!"
Me:"Mmm..." (I suddenly feel very attached to that ginseng)
A: "And this selotape, and string, and aspirins. Why are they all together?" (There is also my granny's old sewing box, circa 1900 and falling to pieces, and drawing pins, and half a candle, and a small glass candle-holder get the picture).

For the week or so after they left, I  kept looking at my muddled possessions and thinking: "what would A do?". I went through my 'wardrobe' (ha) of ancient clothing, thinking of the Oxfam shop, and then put almost everything back again, because...well, I just couldn't somehow let go, although I almost certain won't wear many of the clothes again. Besides, you never know, do you? That nursing uniform, for instance. I might need it for a fancy dress party. (I never go to fancy dress parties.)

My conclusion is that sadly, I shall never be like A. .And the reason? To put it baldly, I simply don't care enough. It's as simple as that.

But I did wash and iron two lovely linen tops that I don't wear, and take them to the Oxfam shop. And the ginseng's in the bin. So I'm not all  bad.

Thursday 5 September 2013

On a lighter note

After my last, rather wallowing, post, I though I'd lighten things up a bit on this blog with a follow-on from my grandsons' recent visit.

We were discussing the evils of  lying, but the necessity of lying occasionally to save somebody's feelings

Me: for example,  when you receive a present, and you don't really like it, but you want to say something polite. What would you say?

Eleven-year old grandson (after much deliberate thought): Have you kept the receipt?

Well, at least it's along the right lines...

Tuesday 3 September 2013


Aa year ago today, my beautiful horse, Titch, collapsed and died. I wrote this a week later. I've been thinking of him so much today. He was very, very special.

And I was so lucky to have him.

Sunday 1 September 2013

I'm outraged...

...that Julian Fellowes, he of the clunky, anachronistic prose and see-through plots that comprise Downton Abbey*, has actually presumed to re-write Romeo and Juliet in his new film of the play. Some of it is apparently Shakespeare, but Fellowes has 'improved' on parts of it by altering them.

How dare he? How dare anyone try to better Shakespeare? It's like The Beatles (whom I do respect)trying to re-write Bach. Zefferelli's Romeo and Juliet stuck faithfully to the original words,  was perfectly comprehensible, and (I thought) very well done.

That's all.

*I know that DA has lots of fans; some of them are my best friends (yes; really). I also  know that I may well be offending some of those  fans by writing this. But I guess one of the advantages of a blog is that it's my blog, and a forum for my own opinions. No-one has to read or agree with it!

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Things I've learnt with/from young grandsons this week....

....include the following;

A "fart whistle" in no way resembles a fart. Upon explaining this to the woman who'd sold it, we were told that  "all farts are different. For instance," she said, "I'm a vegetarian..." (too much information).

If enough burrs are thrown at you, they make the skin itch for some time afterwards.

Children fight. All the time (I already knew this, but it was a tiresome reminder).

Boys eat. And eat. get the picture.

Boys are endlessly funny/entertaining (fortunately. I knew this, too, having three sons of my own, but it's a nice reminder).

Children ask ridiculous questions just in order to keep you talking (eg "what's your favourite letter of the alphabet?").

That there's a wonderful word for that desperate patting of pockets etc. to find things such as keys. It's called "grubbling".

That when they come to stay, they want to do exactly the same things, every time, even including having me  read the books I read to them when they were toddlers.

Sunday 25 August 2013

Magpie 183

Reggie thought that the 'place' meant the fish.
And he said to his wife, "oh, I wish"
(As he whetted his lips) "we could have fish and chips!"
But she said: "you silly old fool! Don't you know that fish aren't allowed to drive along this road?"

(Written in very great haste, but you get the drift. And with thanks to Tess at Magpie Tales)

Friday 23 August 2013

Mobile "manners"

Twice in the past week I've been amazed at the sheer bad manners of mobile users.

Scenario 1
A couple of a certain age, with (presumably) their twenty-something son, out for lunch. Couple sit almost in silence, watching son, who texts or checks his phone throughout the meal. I wanted to dunk his mobile in his drink, though of course it was none of my business (what stupid parents to put up with him. Though I suppose they did once try to bring him up, and so are partly to blame),

Scenario 2
Young couple out for lunch. Very much in luurve (by their amorous gropings), but BOTH on or looking at their mobiles ALL the time. We were with my son (his treat, in case you think we eat out every day). I'm proud to say that his mobile was not in evidence.

What is the world coming to? Sigh.

Sunday 18 August 2013

Magpie 182

Said Ed to his daughter, "I insist
That you take all that stuff off your wrist!
And that nightie's not proper.
Please, somebody, stop her!"
Said his wife, "you old softie, You're p***ed!"

(With thanks to Tess at Magpie Tales for the picture)

Friday 16 August 2013

Ode to the exclamation mark (dedicated to Fran)

Fran has written a brilliant sonnet bemoaning the demise of the semi-colon. So while I'm not as clever as she is, and couldn't write a sonnet to save my life, I thought I'd contribute a little verse about my own bete noir: the exclamation mark.

The semi-colon's gone, but hark!
Here comes the exclamation mark.
Unsubtle, crass (though tall and slim),
With hobnailed boots it charges in
To give us all a playful poke:
"Come on,  now! Geddit? Get the joke?!"
In notes and letters, they'll be found.
In "funny" greetings cards, they abound.
Sometimes in twos, or even threes,
To emphasise, or mock, or tease.
"Having a lovely time!" they shout,
"The wine is strong!! The sun is out!!!"
"Went paddling among the breakers
(Now Gilbert's with the undertakers!!!!!")

This, gentle reader, makes me sad,
For what do all these EMs add?
It's time we learnt, the only occasion
For the exclamation  mark, is - an exclamation.

(Apostrophe poem, anyone?)

Thursday 15 August 2013

A friend, a picture and a book

This is, I think, my top favourite painting (I believe I've mentioned it before). It's by Honthorst, and portrays 'Christ Before the High Priest'. It's in the National Gallery, and whenever we're nearby, we go in to visit it. The weary resignation on the face of Christ, and the almost 'you know what I have to do - I've got no choice' expression of the priest  (and, as John pointed out, the 'there you are. You had it coming to you' expression of the man behind the priest, really say it all, whether or not you're a believer. The whole is enhanced by the glow of candlelight.

I had a wonderful day, having lunch with my oldest and best friend, and, on the train,  reading a book by my latest discovery (Charlotte Mendelson - her most recent novel, Being English, is quite brilliant, and I'm pleased to see that it's been long-listed for the Booker), and being mesmerised by fellow- passengers, (in particular,  a young man who ate his way through two whole packets of  cold meat on the way  home).

Do visit the picture and/or read the book if you get the chance. (But I can't guarantee the presence of the young carnivore.)

Monday 12 August 2013

A literary post (for a change...)

I always feel that starting a new novel is like meeting a potential friend. There are all the same questions: will I get on with it? Will it absorb and interest me? Or will a struggle with it (like those people you ought to get on with, but with whom you have nothing to talk about)? And then there's the missing it (or him or her) afterwards (or not!).

I have to confess that while I read a lot of books, I've forgotten the plots of quite a few within a couple of months. But then there those rare books which I shall never forget, amd which I can't bear to finish. I have to ration my time with them to prolong our...relationship.

Spirit House by Mark  Dapin is just such a novel. It's gripping, funny, heartbreaking and very very human. It's one of those (all too many) books that remind me yet again that I shall never be a great writer, but I thank heaven that there are writers like this one. Do read it if you get the chance. Sadly, I shall finish it tonight :(

Sunday 11 August 2013

Magpie 181

The decolletage of Aunt Peg
Is quite something, it's true. But I beg
You to lower your glance
When she does this next dance,
For she has the most elegant leg.

But Aunt Peg, as she tilts her white neck,
Has other ideas, you can bet.
She will dance with the others,
Ee'en lie down for her lovers;
But her sitting she saves for Lautrec.

Saturday 10 August 2013

My nursing hobby horse

Could I please point my patient followers in the direction of this post regarding the place of nurses in the current NHS crisis?

If you do read it, thank you.

Monday 5 August 2013

Things I've learnt in the past week

1. That even if I've done the same journey literally thousands of times, I can still take a wrong turn and end up near Eastleigh airport. I didn't even know Eastleigh had an airport.
2. That a chattering granddaughter can lead to inattention when driving, resulting in an unscheduled trip to Eastleigh airport (see 1 above).
3. That on a windy day, with no other horse for company, Fairfax can be seriously spooked by the following: a man sleeping in a motorised buggy in a field (understandable); dock leaves (no excuse); a butterfly (ditto); a motorbike (he gets away with this. He really hates them); ragwort (yes. Little yellow flowers, and he's a very big horse. Pathetic); smelly effluent from cattle dung (hmmm); nothing at all (this happens frequently).
4. That the best way to celebrate a three-year-old's birthday is not to invite anyone under twelve to the party. This was my small grandson on Saturday, who had a wonderful time being the centre of attention and didn't have to share anything with anyone. (Now, why didn't I think of that, when mine were small?)
5. That when a man who is known to be clumsy dons a large  apron and equips himself with a pile of old newspapers in order to clean one pair of shoes, it is far better to do it for him.

Sunday 4 August 2013

Magpie 180

Our Sidney believes himself cursed,
And he's always expected the worst.
So he quite understands
Now his dismembered hands
Have won prizes for Damien Hirst.

(With thanks to Tess at Magpie Tales for the picture)

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Courses for horses (kind of)

One (at least) of the lovely staff where I keep my horse is going to have to go on a course to learn how to deal with clients (some government directive). They all know how to deal with clients; many of them have been doing it for years. But no matter. If you haven't been on a course, it doesn't count.

We've all been there, haven't we? I certainly have. I finally left my job as a practice nurse (something I'd been doing since the days when they were a rare breed) because they wanted me to go on a course to learn how to be .....a practice nurse.

And the courses themselves ...ah, the courses. The coffee at the start, and then the cringe-making 'getting to know you' exercise. You throw a ball at each other, merrily calling out his/ her name (I can never remember names). Or you have a little chat with your neighbour and then 'introduce them to the group' ('this is Seth from Wapping. He collects newts and wants to be an astronaut'. That kind of thing).

Then - and this is enormous fun - you divide into small groups with a large piece of paper and write down all your ideas about whatever it is you're supposed to be having ideas about (are you still with me?). Then back to the big group, where the bossiest person out of your group has volunteered to tell everyone else about those ideas, and if you're lucky, the person in charge writes them on the flip chart (every course has a flip chart. Courses keep the flip chart manufacturers in business) for the edification of the others, who have all had the same ideas anyway.

Break for lunch. If your luck's in, there may be a pub nearby.

I won't bore you further with the Afternoon Session, but at the end, we're all jolly good friends (aren't we?) , we've filled in a form to say how helpful the course has been (and lied, to be kind), and have a nice piece of paper to say we've....been on a course. Usually, however, we go home none the wiser, but resolved never, ever to go on another course.

Monday 29 July 2013

Quote du jour

"Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy" (Tchaikovsky)

Hmmm....back to work.

Saturday 27 July 2013

Pigeon post

I am not a fan of the (town) pigeon. Devizes is full of them; fat,  lazy, and over-fed, with greedy little eyes and no manners. If you cut a Devizes pigeon, it would be liked slicing through a loaf of Mother's Pride.

But two things puzzle me. One is that every pigeon seems to be differently marked, and this isn't true of most birds. The other is their sound. The normal call goes a bit like this: "Oh, I am so cool; oh, I am so cool".  But nowadays, it seems they're too exhausted to finish the sentence, so they finish with either:  "Oh, I am so -" (abrupt halt), or sometimes just "Oh-"

This is maddening, as I keep waiting for the bit that doesn't come. Is there an explanation for this (GB??)?

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Return to my soapbox...

...Death Row, and in particular, the barbaric conditions on the Row in Texas. These are apparently my least popular posts, but I still want to spread the word. Here's part of an article written by a man released after many years on the Row. He was lucky (if you can call him that). Many innocent people have almost certainly been executed, with Texas just passing the 500 mark for executions carried out since the death penalty was reinstated.

There are 12 more people like me from Texas. Twelve people who spent years of their lives locked alone in concrete cages waiting to die before they were set free, exonerated for their innocence.

Eleven people have committed suicide on Texas' death row. All because of the conditions.

When I was sentenced to death, I did not know that this sentence would also mean that I would have 12 years without any human contact, i.e. my mother, my son, my friends. All those people were stripped from my life because of this injustice. I did not know it would mean 12 years of having my meals slid through a small slot in a steel door like an animal. I did not know it would mean 12 years alone in a cage the size of a parking spot, sleeping on concrete steel bunk and alone for 22 to 24 hours a day. All for a crime I did not commit. The injustice.

For me and the 400 other prisoners on Texas' death row while I was there, a death sentence meant a double punishment. We spent years locked alone in a tiny, concrete cage in solitary confinement, with guys going insane, dropping their appeals, doing everything they could to check out of this place before we were ever strapped to an execution gurney. All because of the conditions.

I am writing today because the ACLU has put out an important new paper about what it does to people to lock them alone in cages on death row. They found that over 93% of states lock away their death row prisoners for over 22 hours a day. Nearly a third of death row prisoners live in cages where their toilet is an arm's length away from their bed. Sixty-percent of people on death row have no windows or natural light.

Solitary confinement is like living in a dark hole. People walk over the hole and you shout from the bottom, but nobody hears you. You start to play tricks with your mind just to survive. This is no way to live.

I saw the people living on death row fall apart. One guy suffered some of his last days smearing feces, lying naked in the recreation yard, and urinating on himself. I saw guys who dropped their appeals and elected
to die because of the intolerable conditions. To sum it up, I saw a bunch of dead men walking because of the conditions that killed everything inside of them. And they were just waiting to lie down.

After I got out, I have tried to use my time to raise awareness about these conditions. I am currently working on a book and traveling the globe trying to share my message and educate people about the effects of solitary confinement. I have, which is my consulting firm that I use to help attorneys, nonprofit organizations, etc. I am asking for your support in my endeavors to bring attention to such inhumane issues by going to my website and ordering anything from my store to help offset my travel expenses. There's also a petition on my webpage that I am asking 10 million people around the world to sign in solidarity with me as I stand up for justice.

Please help me and the ACLU get the word out about these conditions. Our death penalty system is broken in this country – it is applied unfairly against people. When you have a broken system, innocent people like me can end up on trial for their life. And subjecting anyone in prison to solitary confinement is torture. I am speaking on experience. Many of these same people are returning to our society, and when they do they come with all the baggage we put on them in the system. This keeps the rate of recidivism high.

In this country, we should be doing better than that. We should not have a criminal justice system turned into a criminal by the way we treat our citizens. Even when we do not like people or believe they have done something wrong, our emotions should not govern
our society. We should be making laws from a rational perspective. We have to be above the criminal by keeping our system humane. Everyone should be treated like a human being. This is America.

Sunday 21 July 2013

Magpie 178

When Matthew parks his motor bike
(Beside the lake, beneath the trees),
On looking down, he sees his bits
Are fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
And lo! (his heart with pleasure thrills) -
They dance, like Wordsworth's daffodils!

(With thanks to Tess at Magpie Tales for the picture)

Friday 19 July 2013

Coming soon to a nursery near you...

...a 'sip and see' party. We've had the baby shower, then the party where the baby's gender is revealed (prenatally) via the colour of the inside of a (white-covered) cake. Well, now, to complete the baby celebrations, we have this. The happy parents give a party for friends and relatives to sip (a drink) and see (the new arrival) ...and, presumbly, bring yet another babygro/frilly frock/fluffy teddy (if you look at the invitation above, you will see that the name of purveyors of such giifts are craftily - if not subtly - included in the invitation).

Isn't that lovely? Altogether now....aaaaaaaaah!

Thursday 18 July 2013

The Liverpool Care Pathway

This has been much in the news in the last week. For the uninitiated, it is a regime set up for the seriously ill, usually dying, patient, and is about to be abandoned in most hospitals. But what other scheme will take its place? I dread to think.

The whole idea of the LCP makes me deeply uncomfortable. I have no first hand experience of it, but I have cared for many dying patients in my time, and I cannot see that a one-size-fits-all regime can possibly work. Each person is different; each death is different. If practitioners go by the book, then mistakes are bound to be made. We have an excellent hospice movement in the country, and while only a minority of us will die in a hospice, those who run them are experts. Surely this expertise could at least be used, even in a hospital ward?

I believe (back to my hobby horse) that much of this comes down to nurses. Nurses know (or used to know)  patients in a way that doctors never can. They care for them every day. A good nurse should have a pretty good idea of what's best for the patient. And yet the LCP is decreed by the consultant in charge, and often relayed to the staff by a junior doctor.

Furthermore, I don't believe that the waithdrawal of fluids can ever be justified. Dehydration can cause appalling suffering, and no one knows how much even a deeply unconscious patient can feel. Terminal care should,  I'm convinced, be tailored to the individual, taking into account his/her wishes (if known),  those of the family, and the input of those in charge of the care. When I was working in hospitals, we wouldn't have dreamt of applying one rule to every patient.

I am fortunate in having a nurse and three doctors in my immediate family, and have made my wishes known to them. But what about those who have no one, and depend entirely on the "experts"?

Tuesday 16 July 2013


We English should never
Complain of warm weather,
And I'm not.
But it's hot.

Monday 15 July 2013

Pooh, Piglet, Tigger...which are you?

I have long thought that most of us are (more or less) made in the mould of an A.A.Milne character. Discussing this with my sister, I decided that my children are as follows: one Kanga, one Christopher Robin and, sadly, two Eeyores. I've not yet decided what I am; possibly a bit of Eeyore, with a touch of Rabbit and Kanga thrown in. I'm married to a Tigger/Owl.

Which of them is most like you?

(I'm writing this while waiting for Tigger/Owl to get off the phone...)

Sunday 14 July 2013

Magpie 177

"Are these hot potatoes?" our Septimus said,
As he plunged in his hands, till they sizzled and bled.
He did terrible damage to his tongue, throat and teeth,
And the muscles and sinews that all lay beneath.

Poor Sep! He will never chew spuds any more,
For nowadays, he sips them, pureed, through a straw.

(With thanks to Tess at Magpie Tales for the picture)

Saturday 13 July 2013

In praise of the semi-colon

I love the semi-colon; the elegant little half-way pause, something between a comma and a full stop. I use it a lot, and would be lost without it.

This was brought home to me by a book I'm reading at the moment. It's an interesting true story, but for me,  spoilt by bad writing (this is even worse, because it's ghosted, so someone was paid to do the actual writing). While reading this book, it suddenly struck me that the writer doesn't use a single semi-colon anywhere in the book; and boy, does it need them! The sentences are either short and abrupt, or long and rambling, with only commas for pauses. And commas are not enough.

Is the use of semi-colons (and colons) taught in schools? I've no idea. But if it were given half the attention that seems to be lavished on the ubiquitous exclamation mark, then the world of writing would be a better place! (And that was an exclamation.)

Thursday 11 July 2013

Small and sprightly is the way to be

After a lifetime's observation of my fellows, I have decided that I am the Wrong Shape

I've often wondered why I have less energy than small, slim people, and I still don't know the answer, but what I do know is that theirs is the best shape to be. I've posted before about our amazing neighbour, who is much older than I am and has ten times my energy. And then there is our friend, Di, who at eighty plus bounces about and wears her poor husband out. And just now, when I was  at the lovely horsey place buying horsey things, there was this small, sprightly assistant, whose colleagues say she rushes about "like a hamster in a wheel". 

I am tall. I am not at all fat, but could never be described as sprightly. I often lack energy. I'll just have to live with it. Sigh....

Tuesday 9 July 2013

White teeth (but not the Zadie Smith kind)

Yesterday,  I went to the dentist. After an uncomfortable (ie painful) session with the hygienist, it was the dentist's turn.

After he'd done his bit, I asked - just asked - about tooth-whitening. On holiday, we met lots of people from the US and Australia, with gleaming porcelain smiles; so ubiquitous were they that after a while, I felt quite embarassed about the state of my own teeth, and started mumbling through half-closed lips so no-one should see them. So I thought I'd just ask. I didn't want porcelain, I told him; just, well, just a bit whiter?

Dentist got out a little row of plastic teeth, arranged according to colour like a Dulux chart, but without the fancy names. Then he pointed to one near the Bad End. "That's yours", he said. "Yellowy grey"?  My teeth are yellows grey? It would seem that all that red wine has come home to roost. I tottered home in a state of shock.

But when I looked at them afterwards, they didn't look that bad. Not really. And whitening's very expensive. And (as dentist helpfully pointed out) doesn't last. And, said he, works better if you're young.

Well, that's me told. So I think I'll stay as I am. For the time being.

Sunday 7 July 2013

Magpie 176

The statue of liberty stood on her plinth,
And she dreamed, like Snow White, of a handsome young printh.
She thought that she saw one, (he tried to convinth
Her), but afterwards, vanished. She's not seen him sinth.

So she stands weeping quietly beneath a pink moon,
And she hopes and she prays that her printh will come thoon.

(With thanks to Tess at Magpie Tales for the picture)

Friday 5 July 2013

Am I jealous...?

I try not to be. I accept that there are thousands of writers much better than I am, and that's fair enough. I read many of their books, and thoroughly enjoy them. But...

We live in an age of celebrity. We, as writers, have to face it. And if we are not Names (eg Jeffrey Archer, Jilly Cooper, Wilbur Smith, Hilary Mantel; writers who have worked their way up in the past to well-deserved success), or "celebrities" (Jordan, Pippa Middlleton, Alan Titchmarsh), nowadays, we are in for a struggle.

Take Richard and Judy. Someone pointed out to me today that Judy Finnegan's debut novel is currently no. 430 in Amazon sales; Richard Madeley's  is no. 10. These may well be excellent novels, but perhaps it doesn't matter so much if they are not. Richard has (to my knowledge) done two TV interviews about his novel, although probably he doesn't need to, while some of us are lucky if we get a five-minute slot on local radio. The odds are very much against us, whether we are brilliant or pretty poor. It's a fact.

I read a lot of new novels, and some are quite outstanding, like Clare Morrall's wonderful The Roundabout Man. ,  and yet that novel (for example) is currently at no. 141,000.

So while I enjoy rather than envy those who deserve success, I am sad for much of the publishing industry. Sad, that so many good novels seem to go unnoticed (and largely unread), and some terrible ones do well. It's something we as run-of-the-mill writers have to live with (here, I speak for writers like myself), and do the best we can. We write because we love writing, and accept with pleasure such rewards as may come our way. But it is hard to read a book that is badly written, and possibly even ghost-written, whose 'author' is flying high in the charts, while many of the rest of us just bump along near the bottom (and are very grateful to be published at all).

Wednesday 3 July 2013

A plea and a bargain!

For some reason, Macmillan have reduced the Kindle price of my novel, The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets, to the rather odd price of £2.09p. But no matter. At this price, it just could be the bargain you're waiting for (they're bringing out a very expensive new paperback in August, too. I'm not sure why they're doing that, either). After all, this is less than the price of a pint of beer (never mind the pork scratchings).

Like many writers, I find advertising my books almost impossible. I've even been known to give a talk where I've been invited to speak, and sell copies of my book, and haven't been able to bring myself to get the books out of my bag.  But here goes:

Please, please buy my novel! I would offer to give you your money back if you didn't  like it, but doubt whether anyone would take me up on that...?

Anyway, here's a brief extract to give you a flavour of the novel. There's a link to buy at the bottom of this post.

The party was a success. All my mother’s parties were successes, as she didn’t hesitate to remind me. It seemed as though everyone I had ever known was packed into our house, eating and drinking and laughing, some of them smoking strange-smelling cigarettes, others making uninvited use of the bedrooms to further their new-found friendships.

Richard had brought his ukulele; Greta sang along to an old gramophone record, accompanied by Mum on the ironing board; someone I had never seen before had brought bagpipes; The Dog sat in the cupboard under the stairs and howled. The noise was indescribable.

I found Lucas sitting on the stairs drinking a pale liquid out of a bottle.

Vodka,” he explained briefly. “Want some?”

I nodded, and took the bottle from him.

It doesn’t taste of anything,” I objected.

It doesn’t have to,” Lucas grinned. “Have some more.”

I had some more, and soon discovered that Lucas was right. It didn’t matter in the least what vodka tasted like; it was the effect that mattered. Very soon I was singing along to the nearest instrument (the bagpipes, as it happened; not an easy instrument to sing along to, but as I discovered, I simply had to open my mouth and the vodka did the rest).

At half past eleven, the neighbours started to bang on the door and talk about disturbed sleep and work in the morning. Mum smiled and apologised and invited them all in, and some of them even went home to fetch more bottles to replenish our diminishing stocks.

Just think,” I said to Lucas, as we walked unsteadily towards the kitchen in search of more food. “Any of these people could be our fathers.”

So they could.”

But it Here. Please!

Monday 1 July 2013


I won't use that overused expression and say they're a nightmare, but they come pretty close. My sons in particular get exasperated because I cannot for the life of me remember them (the passwords, not the sons).

I've just had to make up a new one (the "forgotten your password" link was just made for me). The instructions are to "make it hard to guess and not use personal information". But if I do that, then it's hard for me to guess, and so I forget it, and the whole blessed cycle starts again.

And then just when I've chosen a really good one, I'm told to include extra capitals and numerals, and make it even more forgettable. But I do like the way it checks that I'm me by asking me the name of my first pet (I can't tell you, of course, except that she was a rabbit and next door's dog got her). That little personal touch makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Aaaaah...

Saturday 29 June 2013


We are being warned that fuel blackouts will become more common as stocks run low. So I try to save on electricity (ok, so it saves money too). But here are some suggestions for more country-wide fuel efficiency:

Those automatic doors. Are we really incapable of opening doors for ourselves (I exclude wheelchair users here)? And by the way, am I the only person who has almost slammed myself into an ordinary door because I'm so used to automatic ones?

Justin Bieber's monkey. I have to confess I'm not entirely sure who JB is, but no matter. Apparently his monkey went missing, and he organised a search using his private jet and a helicopter. Has the world gone mad?

Doors again. Those shops that insist on keeping the doors open all winter in the belief that an open door belching hot air out into the street is inviting. It's not.

Private jets again. Does anyone really need them?

Those army helicopters that endlessly circle the hills where I ride, scaring the horse witless and endangering (my) life. What are they doing? Practising? I think they've had quite enough practice.

Enough. It's a lovely day. And I'm going to a party.

Thursday 27 June 2013

Texas execute their 500th. prisoner

Ok, so I'm on my hobby horse again, but I was very sad to hear that Texas went ahead last night and carried out the 500th execution since capital punishment was reinstated in the US by putting to death Kimberley McCarthy. They have carried out nearly 40% of all executions in America, and (as I've said before) the governor, Rick Perry,  has said that he wouldn't lose any sleep if an innocent person were to be excuted. Kimberley is the first woman to be put to death for some time, and there are still big questions over the way her trial was conducted. She had already had several stays of execution, one at the last minute.

The link below is about the chaplain who for many years worked on Texas Death Row, and during his time there he remained with prisoners while they were executed. He finally decided that the death penalty was wrong, and he gives his reasons.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

1471 - the downside

The phone number, that is. The one you dial to see who last phoned. Useful, but it can be annoying. I've just had the following experience (rather reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh).

Phone rings.

Me: hallo?
Caller: hallo?
Me: hallo...Toby...?
Caller: it's not Toby. It's Tim.
Me: hallo, Tim.
Caller: who is that?
Me: It's Fran.
Caller: did I ring you?
Me: yes. The phone  rang, and I picked it up, and it was you.
Caller: did you ring me?
Me (slightly exasperated): no. You rang me.
Caller: ah. I just dialled 1471

Mystery solved. John had called Tim earlier, and not left a message, so Tim wanted to know who had called. I just wish people wouldn't do this. I feel all confused now (so, I gather, does Tim).

Tuesday 25 June 2013

That Nigella story

The other day, someone asked me what I thought about this, and my immediate reaction was: for goodness' sake, leave the poor woman alone. The "attack" took place in a public location in broad daylight. Nigella is a big girl, and in this kind of situation, she can no doubt look after herself. What she doesn't need is a whole load of publicity on top of whatever problems she may already have.

Am I hard? I don't think so. I always stop and try to help if I see anyone in distress, and have stopped at the sites of at least two fatal road accidents (while the rest of the traffic zoomed merrily past). But surely there's a difference between help and interference?

The tabloids, of course,  have loved every rminute. There's nothing quite like seeing that the rich and famous can suffer, just like the rest of us. Undisguised glee emanated from every front page. And can't you just imagine the converstions? "Hey! Look! She's crying! Quick! Get that before she wipes the tears away! The nose pinching? He pinched her nose and I missed it? Damn! I'll get it in the neck from my editor. Do you think the Daily Scandal missed it as well? I do hope so."

But back to Nigella. She's not always had it easy. She lost a mother and a young sister to cancer, and a husband, whom she nursed devotedly. But at least she has the financial resources to lead a separate life, if necessary (many abused partners do not). She will get through this on her own.

If only we let her.