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.

Monday 24 June 2013

Please leave me alone and let me sleep....

This was Fairfax this morning. At the moment, he's turned out at night with a selected few calm friends (he tends to wind up the day gang, and end up getting kicked). So having spent all night partying and eating, he likes to sleep in after breakfast.

I always think there's something particularly appealing about a horse lying down. This is probably because their natural instinct is to get up and run, as lying down makes them vulnerable. In a nutshell....aaaaaah!

Saturday 22 June 2013

What constitutes sexual assault?

With the recent flood of sexual assault cases - ageing public figures often dragged out years after the event, and publicly pilloried - I can't help wondering how many of these accusations are true.

Before anyone jumps to the defence of the victims, let me say that I have counselled countless adults still suffereing the effects of childhood abuse. One was so horrific that when I returned home, I wept for her. I am neither heartless nor cynical. But. Could it just be the some people are jumping on a rolling bandwagon? Could this be a dangerous trend? It seems to me that soon, we will be counting the celebrities who haven't abused children or (or adults), rather than those who have. Are all these claims genuine? And how on earth can they be proved, years after the event?

I am not defending the abusers; far from it. And I know that sex abuse has always been more prevalent than most realise (at any one time, my caseload included at least one man or woman who had suffered in this way, and the effects were often devastating). But (back to my original question) what exactly does constitute sexual abuse? I was kissed inappropriately at least twice as a child, and in my teens I spent a terrifying few days staying with family friends, where the wife went away and her notoriously randy husband chased me round the kitchen table trying to fondle me (and no doubt more. I escaped and hitchhiked all the way home in a lorry).

Two questions, then. Firstly, can all these claims really be true (personally, I have no idea). And secondly what is assault? A kiss? A grope? A pat? Or does it have to be more?

Perhaps the answer lies in the effect on the victim, rather than the intent of the perpetrator. What does anyone else think?

Thursday 20 June 2013

Twists and endings

Endings can be hard to pull off satisfactorily, in all kinds of fiction. The famous "twist" is a popular device in short stories especially, but whatever the ending, it must satisfy the reader. It doesn't have to be happy (ah...poor Anna Karenina), but it must complete the novel or story. And as short story writers are constantly reminded, the reader must be given enough information for him/her not to feel cheated, while maintaining the surprise.

I have just finished a novel where the entire book turns out to be fantasy. The final part begins with the statement that "none of this really happened", and I felt really furious. How dare the author pull a stunt like that? It's like the famous dream twist ("I woke up, and it had all been a dream"). You just can't get away with it.

The author of this novel is very well-known, and has written at least one masterpiece (which I found utterly compelling), so I won't name him/her and spoil this book for anyone yet to read it. But when I finished it, I was so mad I would have hurled it across the room, if it hadn't been on my Kindle (another disadvantage of Kindles!).

Tuesday 18 June 2013

A holiday picture for a grey* day

This is my youngest grandson (and friends) on the plane on his way to Greece. He may look serious, but apparently he had a  marvellous time.

(*I know that some are experiencing the sun today, but as yet there are have been no sightings in Devizes)

Monday 17 June 2013

Fifty Shades of Bridget Jones and the Boy Wizard

No. Not a new best-seller. And no; I'm not writing it. Would it sell? Almost certainly not, and besides, there would  inevitably be copyright problems.

But. Every so often, a new book/series hits the literary headlines, and becomes an instant best-seller. Then lots of other writers jump on the bandwagon, and we get (for example) Fifty shades of everyone from Elizabeth Bennet to (probably) Winnie the Pooh. But by now, the moment has passed, and I'm sure none of these also-rans have sold the way the originals did. What's happened is that the author has (probably unwittingly) filled a gap in the market; a gap no-one knew was there until it was filled.

Crazes come and crazes go. The knack- if it is a knack - is to identify that gap before it is filled. My novels are of the unfortunate kind that don't fit into any genre (although The  Birds , the Bees and Other Secrets does seem to get mistakenly lumped together with 'facts of life' type books. My publisher didn't like the title I wanted). So the answer seem to be to write something stunningly original/outrageous or whatever - something that hasn't been done before - and hope the world is waiting breathlessly for just such a novel.

Meanwhile, back to the drawing board...

Sunday 16 June 2013

Magpie 173

My sister's as high as a kite.
You should see what she looks like in flight!
But she's finally found a
Young man who can ground her.
(He's been  known to stay with her all night...)

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

Friday 14 June 2013

Taking sides

I believe I've posted about this before, but I'm fascinated by the need of the (or this) reader's need to identify with at least one character in a novel, play or film.

This came over strongly while I was on holiday. I read quite a few books, from good to ok to awful, and  one of the awful ones (in my opinion) was a new one I was reviewing for Amazon (so I had to finish it). It should have been really moving; a woman on death row, with only months to go before her execution, and the battle to gain a reprieve for her. Some  may know that I have a Thing about the death penalty, and so I was expecting at the very least an interesting read, but apart from the writing, which was not good, and the plodding storyline, I really thoroughly disliked the prisoner, and in the end, because I didn't care about her,  I wasn't really bothered about her fate. Thus, any tension or suspense was eliminated, and the whole novel a waste of my time.

In another novel, a gripping thriller, my sympathies were challenged when the supposed victim turned out not be all the reader had been led to believe. My loyalties switched. But there were still characters to identify with. The main reason why I didn't like The Talented Mr. Ripley was that I hated the central character (although it's a very clever novel),

From Peter Rabbit onwards, we are encouraged to identify with a central character (Peter, of course!). But the character doesn't have to be 'good'. Our family are all riveted by the TV series Dexter, where the central character is a serial killer. And boy, do we want him to succeed!

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Why holidaying abroad is like childbirth

I have had four babies, and it hurt. A lot. But I cannot for the life of me remember what the pain was like. Half-way through the birth of number four, I recall saying to my husband: "When I next get broody, please remind me of this". But I cannot for the life of me remember what it was he was supposed to remind me of; what the pain was like (otherwise presumably I wouldn't have kept on doing it).

The same with holidays. If the holiday is great, I forget the agony of travelling. The early rising, the waiting, the being herded hither and thihter, the being frisked by po-faced officials, the delays, that awful moment when our suitcases don't appear on the carousel, and I wonder whether they are holidaying elseswhere; still sunning themselves while we are back here in the rain. It's horrible. All of it. It's still fresh in my mind (we got back last night).

But no doubt in a couple of days I shall have forgotten all that, and will remember only the sun, the food, the marvellous places we visited. But for the time being, all I can remember is the journey/labour. It still hurts.The equivalent of stitches, I suppose.