Monday 31 August 2015

Magpie 283

I am the wife of Nanki Poo,
With, sadly, not enough to do.
So I look at flowers
For hours.

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

Sunday 30 August 2015

My least favourite hymn, and why

Years ago, I won a competition in the Guardian for writing an alternative, non-green version of We Plough  the Fields and Scatter. I won a Christmas pudding (which arrived in the post, rather flat. But it was a prize, and I quite like Christmas pudding in small doses).

 I always thought All Things Bright and Beautiful could benefit from similar treatment. I hate that hymn, not least because it's so selective. It only includes the nice things, and leaves out everything else. (People choose it for weddings, and we sing at quite a few weddings as we are both in the church choir, so I've had a lot of time to think about it.)  Here's what I mean:

But wait! Who made the cockroach?
The bugs that cause disease?
The locust and the clothes moth,
The house flies and the fleas?

All things base and horrible,
All slimy things that crawl.
All things bite- and stingable -
Well, someone made them all.


Saturday 29 August 2015

Aga saga

You know that thing where there's an electricity cut, and you think, never mind. Let's just put the kettle on/watch a DVD/or (perish the thought) do the ironing, only to realise that of course, you can't? Well, it's a bit like that when the Aga breaks down.

"Never mind," I say to John. "We can have toast instead." It's Saturday. Cooked breakfast day).
"Ha!" He smirks. "How are you going to make toast?" (To the uninitiated, Aga people make toast inside a kind of metal tennis racquet placed on a hot plate. Quaint, but it works. They/we do not have toasters.)

We've had to buy a (very cheap) electric kettle, because Aga people put the kettle on the Aga. The kitchen is cold, because the Aga makes it cosy (too cosy, according to one son, who goes around in a skimpy teeshirt all year round. But we like cosy. It's what we're used to). I have just lovingly  hung the washing round the now stone cold Aga, because that's what Aga people do, forgetting that the Aga is no hotter than anywhere else in the house.  I've left it there because....well, just because. No. I'll be honest. I just can't be bothered to move it.

I recently posted about Sod's law. Well, it was Sod's law that put the Aga out of commission late on Friday afternoon, at the start of a bank holiday weekend. And the Aga technicians are all away for the holiday. Because that's what Aga technicians do.

Roll on Tuesday. Happy bank holiday to one and all.

Monday 24 August 2015

It doesn't seem that long ago...

...that he, just fourteen months her senior, was hitting her on the head with a biscuit tin lid (to find out what would happen. She cried); that she wept when he was sick at playgroup; that he wept because he wanted the Fisher Price record player we had given her for Christmas, and not the toy garage, painstakingly made by his father. That they fought - oh, how they fought - in the back of the car, on walks, at home...any location was just fine.

This year, they each (separately) took their families to the US for a holiday. And the best day? According to the grandchildren, it was the day they all met up on Manhatten Beach, and this photo was taken.

(All together now) - aaaaaah!

Saturday 22 August 2015

Now for the commercial...

Like many writers, I'm appalling at advertising my books. I've even been known to find myself unable to sell copies at a book group meeting when I've been specifically invited to do just that. But after some difficulty in getting hold of my editor (my emails were being accidentally binned), he's managed to get the Kindle price for The Birds, the Beas and Other Secrets down to a reasonable price, so please forgive my posting this short extract (for the first time ever, I've advertised this novel on Facebook, and wanted people to have a taster before they they think of buying it). I  know some of my followers have already bought and read the novel (and I'm really grateful to them), but for anyone who hasn't, I'd love you to give it a go. Down from over £10 (!), it's now just £3.12p.

The mother in the novel is based on my own eccentric mother, and the primrose story is entirely true. I shall never know how she got away with it.

We did have fun, didn’t we?” It’s as though she is reading my thoughts. “Do you remember the time I sent a note to school and we went picking primroses?”

Oh yes!”

A blue and white spring day, a dapple of bright new leaves, and the primroses like stars in the chalky soil, their faces turned to the sun. We picked the slender pink stems, sniffing the perfume of the flowers, and filled a basket with them, then sat on our coats on the ground (“Don’t sit on the wet grass; you’ll get piles.” “Piles of what?” “Never you mind.”) to eat our picnic lunch of crisp rolls and ham and apples. It never occurred to me at the time to question what we were doing. My mother always reasoned that we were her children, and if she wanted us out of school for a day, then that was her right.

What did you say in the note?”

What note?”

The note you wrote to the school on the primrose day.”

I forget.” Her eyes start wandering again, then return with a snap. “On yes! I said you had your period!”

Mum!” I was ten years old at the time, my chest as flat as a board, my body smooth and hairless as a plum.

Well what did you expect me to say?” And of course, as usual, there is no answer to that.

And Deirdre and the cowpat. Do you remember that?”

Blowing up cowpats with Lucas and his friends in the field behind our house, choosing a nice ripe one (“crisp on the top, with a squidgy middle,” advised Lucas, the expert); our excitement, watching the smouldering firework, waiting for the explosion; and the sheer joy when a particularly messy one erupted in a fountain of green sludge, splattering the blonde ringlets and nice clean frock of prissy Deirdre from next door. Oh, Deirdre! If you could see yourself! We rolled in the grass, kicking our heels, convulsed with mirth, while Deirdre, howling and outraged, ran home to tell her mummy what bad, bad children we all were.

What’ll your mum say?” One of Lucas’s friends asked anxiously.

Oh, Mum’ll laugh.”

Mum laughed. She tried to tell us off, but was so proud of the inventiveness of Lucas, and so entertained at the fate of prissy Deirdre, that she failed utterly. But she promised Deirdre's mother that we would all be “dealt with.”

Whatever that means,” said Mum, dishing out chocolate biscuits and orange juice. “Poor child. She doesn’t stand a chance, with a mother like that. But I suppose she had it coming to her.”

I wonder what happened to her?” she muses now.


Prissy Deirdre.”

Married, with a nice little semi with net curtains, a Peter-and-Jane family and a husband who washes the car on Sundays.”
For the cowpat idea, I'm indebted to my two younger sons. My lovely neice, Hannah, was the hapless victim.

Tuesday 18 August 2015

One of the reasons I left nursing... the many, largely unnecessary, courses nurses were suddenly  required  to go on. I think one of the things that finally finished me off was the so-called "reflective exercise". You "reflect" on a particular task, think about how it went, and then - wait for it - WRITE about it! Below is a summary of this wonderful innovation, which is, sadly, still alive and well. And downright ridiculous.

  • Identifying your feelings;
  • Evaluating the experience;
  • Analysing the experience;
  • Drawing conclusions, including alternative actions, that you could have taken;
  • Drawing up an action plan for the future.
  •  This, dear reader, is what used to be known as learning from experience. When my son B was a toddler, he put his fingers in a hot cup of tea (I know. My fault, but that's another story). He cried. Whenever I mentioned the word "hot" for the next few days, he cried again. He had learnt that tea is hot. Did he go away and think about it, and then write about it? No. Astonishingly, he didn't. He didn't need to. He had learnt. And he wasn't yet two years old. He's now a father of two himself, and he still doesn't put his fingers in hot cups of tea. Astonishing, isn't it?

    But I, at forty-something, was expected to do go away and write about things I'd been doing for years, and reflect on them. And then write about them. I had four children, an overworked husband,  a job, and was also a Relate consellor and writer. I didn't have time to faff around doing this ridiculous thing I'd been told to do.

    This has been brought to my mind because my daughter  is a practice nurse. She does a lot of cervical smears. She's been doing them for years. But - wait for it - she's now required to take a selection of these "experiences" and write about them.

    Well, she's not going to do it. Neither would I. To use an expression beloved of of my eldest son (who doesn't put his fingers in hot cups of tea, either): I'd rather have bowel surgery in the woods with a stick. Really.

    Saturday 15 August 2015

    Technical-speak v naked stupidity

    There are certain times in my life when, listening to someone explaining something, a kind of curtain comes down, like a safety curtain at the theatre. On this is written, in bold letters:


    And whatever the other person is saying turns into a kind of auditory mush. It's usually computer-speak. This morning, it was banking.

    So.  I went into my bank, wanting to transfer some money from one account to another. A nice young man was helping me.

    NYM (indicating a bank card): is this a debit or credit card?
    Me: mmm....we're never quite sure (true)
    NYM: because if it blah....long might not be able...blah...
    Me: could you repeat that, please?
    NYM: of course. Sort code...blah...short number...blah...customer account...blah...
    Me (feeling really, really stupid, and quite unbelievably bored): I bet you're glad there's not a queue behind me (not funny, but I felt I ought to say something to show him I was still alive)
    NYM (smiling thinly): all you have to do...blah...transfer...blah...PIN....blah...Shall I do it for you?
    Me: yes please!
    NYM: blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. There. All done.
    Me: thank you. Grovel grovel grovel.
    NYM: you're welcome blah blah blah.....

    Phew. Out again into the sunshine. I'll never make a banker.

    Thursday 13 August 2015

    Another pointless death in Texas

    Yesterday evening, a young, healthy man died. He was 28, and put to death by lethal injection in the same way you might put down a sick animal. Yes, he may (just may. No one can be certain) have murdered someone years ago. And if he did, then he needed to be punished. But as for so many in the US, he was killed in cold blood, after years in solitary confinement, with no opportunity for redemption; no hope of any kind. What a terrible waste.

    The excerpt below was sent to all of us who write to death row inmates in Texas by our amazing, indefatigable coordinator, Margaret. She had received it from her own contact in Texas. These people  work tirelessly to end the barbaric practice of capital punishment, currently  taking place in one of the most supposedly "civilised" countries in the world; a country that is among the first to criticise abuses of human rights in other parts of the world. Once again, I appeal to anyone who feels they could write to one of these prisoners to do so. I can tell you how to go about it. My relationship with "my" prisoner has been incredibly rewarding, and has taught me so much. Please?

    We have made it back, driving the long, sombering ride from Huntsville to Houston. The trip back is always a time for reflection and quiet conversation about the person executed, the system as a whole and how we can do our best to fight this system. Today was even more sombering. Leaving the Walls, driving down Hwy 190 to the intersection of 45, we realized we were behind the hearse carrying Daniel. I followed it for awhile, talking to Yancy and Nena in the car and became so saddened that I had to speed up to get away. Knowing that the person in the hearse was a living, viable human an hour ago and now, is dead. Dead because of the system. Dead for no logical reason. Leaving behind his mother, sister, god-mother, child, extended family, close friends and pen pals. While we were standing outside the Walls, I had the fortune of speaking with a high school friend and his friend and after the execution, I extended my condolences to the family. The execution itself was especially surreal tonight. The law enforcement went above and beyond to rev the motorcycles and cause more pain for the family of Daniel while they are inside the Death House. However, we were encouraged by the people who just show up to see what is going on and give their quiet support. The family from England was especially moved by not only what was going on but the actual atmosphere, especially when the motorcycles started. The TDC personal behind the caution tape openly sneering at us and the huge press conference that was taking place as we left the Walls was the ultimate insult. I would imagine the TDC personnel had no apologies to the family of Daniel for these motorcycles. ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY AND REST IN PEACE, DANIEL LOPEZ.

    Friday 7 August 2015

    Please say hallo to Blue

    After my last fall (and I really hope it was my last) I finally decided my family were right, and it was time to sell Fairfax and buy a quieter model. It was a very hard decision, but Fairfax has gone to a lovely new owner, and I have  bought Bleu Harvest Moon (aka Blue). He's sweet and good natured, and I'm very lucky. He kindly consented to pose for this photo.

    Tuesday 4 August 2015

    They have been warned...

    Eldest son, wife and children have just landed in the USA. This is the sign outside their first hotel. They are going on to explore Death Valley, Furnace Creek and other delights. Death Valley is the hottest place on earth. Think hire car + hottest place on earth + three kids in the back + often (apparently) no mobile signal (plus cancer risks, as above)..

     I shall be awfully relieved when they get home.