Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Winter in October

Two blogs for the price of one. Well, I couldn't sign off without showing the dramatic weather we had overnight. Snow - in the south of England - in October. Unheard of since the 1880s apparently.

This morning, I took photos before the snow disappeared - just to prove it was true. But I needn't have worried. Because of the frost last night, the snow froze and only disappeared where the sun hit it. I hope the apples are OK. M & I went out an picked up bags of them and put them in the shed, but that's not very good, long term. In the last good year, the bags got chewed open by rodents. But I will probably pass on some of the bags to my friends before that happens.

A storm in the media tea-cup?

Like everyone else, I am ready to give my own view on the performance by Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross on a taped phone-call to Andrew Sachs. I do not generally read the Daily Mail, and I heard about it on the radio itself and then looked it up on-line.

I decided that, though I have never done this before, I would protest on line to the BBC, as did many others. I have already heard that this whole saga is regarded as a generational thing - the middle aged (from middle England - yes, we all know about 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells') are shocked, and the youth, Radio 1 listeners are supporting their two 'edgy heroes.' I have also heard over and over again that comedy has to 'push the boundaries' and people who listen to this type of programme 'know what they're getting.'

Firstly, I don't support the idea that bad taste has to be pursued, in order to produce better comedy. I've already described some of the radio programmes I like, and I still watch repeats of 'Frazier', a wonderful example of comedy that contains both sophistication and farce, but also subtle examples of characterisation. I turned on to Radio 2 yesterday afternoon, (in the capacity of a researcher) and heard two performers laughing at each other's jokes, which weren't funny, and was reminded of an end of term entertainment at school, when the performers get carried away with their own humour. Fine for school kids, but to pay for this. Unbelievable.

The much vaunted telephone conversation included the F-word, which was not particularly shocking as we hear it so much nowadays. It shouldn't have been used though in relation to Mr Sachs's granddaughter, which to me was slander. So for me, the problem was not the bad taste, it was the fact that the bad taste was personal. The two performers telephoned Andrew Sachs, left this crude message on his Voicemail and the conversation was recorded. Mr Sachs did not give his permission for this to be used, but it was broadcast, just the same.

I have never heard Russell Brand before, and I wouldn't choose to again. I have, however, watched Jonathan Ross on TV occasionally. I see celebrities go on his programme and because they are promoting a book or a show, they put up with his smutty innuendo. When I've seen these programmes I speculate on whether I could face being on the programme, if I were trying to sell my book, and the answer is, I would hate and dread it. And one of the reasons why I made my feelings known, was because sometimes people think they have become so big and important that they can get away with murder. Not literally, but they can get away with being uncaring of people and of what they might feel. Not only is this dangerous but it also creates the idea for young people - the ones that have supported them - that it is OK to do this. We have young people going around with cameras, taking photos of people being beaten up for entertainment, for example, and these 'shock jocks' or edgy comedians are where many of them get the idea that humiliating others is OK.

Please, can we stop finding bullying and humiliating people funny. That to me, is what this story is all about, and that's what makes it important.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Goldenford is out and about

A quiet weekend, after a busy week. Last Saturday, we launched Jay Margrave's novel, Luther's Ambassadors, a worthy sequel to The Gawain Quest. Jay specialises in historical fiction - or mystoricals - to coin a phrase. This, the second the Priedeux trilogy, deals with Anne Boleyn's schemes to gain power and bring Catholism to England - and this means plotting to marry the King of England. Priedeux, Jay's fictional hero is a kind of Blackadder, though not a comic figure. Like Blackadder, though, he turns up all over the place and at different times in history. You can read about it at the Goldenford site. At any rate, it was a good launch, with the Mayor, no less, one of the guests.

We have already had an order to supply copies to Hever Castle.

Later in the week, Guildford Writers hosted an event for the Guildford Festival and our guest was author, Adrienne Dines, whom I'd met as a result of her being one of the judges at the Winchester Writers' Conference when Tainted Tree won second prize. Adrienne is highly entertaining and gave a wonderful talk, having many of us in stitches with her unscripted performance.

Then we, the Golden Girls, gave two presentations, one at Leatherhead at the theatre and the second at the museum. Both our talks went down extremely well, and we also sold copies of our books, which of course is the purpose of the exercise, though it's also a case of getting our 'brand' better known. Our next talk is in November, when we'll be at East Horsley library.

M has managed to cook his own apple dessert, and if he can do it, anyone can. This is probably the most simple thing to do with a large cooking apple.

Wash the skin. (You may have noticed that on the photo of the apples I'd collected, some of them were grubby from lying on the grass.)

Core the apple and fill the inside with sultanas or raisins. Place on a flat pyrex dish. Pour a spoonful of honey on the top of the apple and allow to dribble down. Bake on full power in a microwave oven for approximately 3 - 5 minutes (depending on size.) Allow to stand for a few minutes to ensure it is cooked through. Beware also that it may be very, very hot. Serve on its own or with icecream. You could also vary the filling in the centre; try almonds or other nuts.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Memories of hard times

They are talking at the moment of the difficulties of running a small business. I remember, only too well, the difficulties M & I faced at the start of our life together, when I not only married him, but took on a small business as well. Although I was on the perifery of that business, it invaded our home, as we lived on the premises while building our new home and affected my life in other ways.

I had always been a saver but I had no current account, as I'd lived at home before that, and didn't pay bills. When I married, I gave up all my capital to contribute to the purchase of our piece of land, so I had no money of my own, and though I worked as a temp for a few months, I ploughed my money back into our household.

M gave me a 'housekeeping allowance' to start with, but very soon the recession of that time hit us. He was summoned to the bank and told to reduce the overdraft. As a result, he said he would have to reduce the housekeeping allowance by 20%. I economised on food and on clothing - I still had plenty of the latter left over from my single life. Although we ate more meat then than we do now, I bought cheaper cuts. Convenience food barely existed and I rarely was tempted to use something where the covers on the packs were more interesting than the contents. We didn't go out much except on family visits and as I was very soon pregnant, things carried on this way for a long time. Things got worse for us, though, not because of anything I did, but because M took on large contracts that kept his employees occupied. In the building trade, the large contractors at the top held on to their payments for two, three or four months, while we had to pay the men weekly. Somehow we managed to survive from week to week. M would regularly telephone these large companies to plead for partial payment and each week required negotiation with the bank - were they going to let us draw the wages (paid in cash in those days) that week? They obviously did because we muddled on for something like five years. There wasn't very often a shortage of work - only cash - and because of that, the bridging loan taken out to provide the money to build our house on our piece of land - somehow got incorporated into the business's funds, leaving us with more problems later.

We got out of it in the end, because a company that frequently used us decided to take us over with all the staff, including M. Somehow, when M became employed, we managed to slowly rid ourselves of the overdraft and bank loans of the previous years. A lesson for bank managers and building societies now - no-one foreclosed. We never went bankrupt. We repaid every penny. Sometimes, small businesses need only time and some re-organisation to get back into a solvent situation.

Years later, when I became an avid radio listener, I heard the managing director of Dicky Dirts - a company that made shirts and who became very big in the UK. He had gone bankrupt and he said: Profit is not important. It is cash flow that matters. That was the most important lesson I ever learned about running a business, and it equipped me to ensure that M's next venture into running a business did not go the way of the first one.

Talking of small businesses, why is penalizing small publishers? I've tried to look up my book and other books today and I keep getting told there's no match. All I can find are their recommended buys - the Booker winner, etc. Friends, if you want to buy Tainted Tree, then come to the Goldenford website - efficiency guaranteed.

However, good to see that Elizabeth Grace has posted a review on about A Bottle of Plonk (known in the US as Have Wine Will Travel.) Thank you so much, Beth. I didn't notice until now.

I thoroughly enjoyed traveling along with the wine as it made its way into and out of the homes and lives of Luben's interesting cast of characters. From the moment that Julie Stanton headed out the door, bottle in hand, until all was said and done, that simple bottle of plonk journeyed seamlessly from place to place while its temporary owners got on with the business of living.

A fun and easy read, yet the story never fails to entertain. I'd highly recommend curling up with this one on a lazy afternoon.

A Postscript - for anyone in the Guildford area, as part of the Book Festival, The Goldenford Girls will be giving a talk at Guildford Museum at 7.30 p.m. on Friday, 24th October - tomorrow - at 7.30 about setting up a publishing company, with readings from our books. Do come.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Me days and Anger Management

Today was not a 'Me' day. There were a lot of boring jobs that had to be done - checking the laundry basket for washing; ironing the previous wash, now dry; filing a dish of apples in the freezer; cooking the next batch. Bookkeeping. I also went to the bank to pay in cash and took a dress, a sweatshirt and a hat into the charity shop. The dress, when I tried it on, looked incredibly garish; the hat, which once fitted me, now sits on the top of my my head like a pimple. Has my head grown? Goodness knows. At any rate, they've gone now. But they didn't make much impression on my wardrobe. I must be more ruthless in the future.

Fortunately, during some of my jobs, I had Radio 4 to keep me company and two programmes I particularly like - Ed Reardon - the grouchy and unsuccessful writer - wonderfully politically incorrect, he's a joy to hear (this week on an anger management course) - and The Write Stuff - four talented writers in a quiz show that's clever, entertaining and witty.

While in the bank paying in the proceeds of the Goldenford launch was an Ed Reardon clone. As the bank clerk dealt with several wide ranging problems of one customer, the next in the queue shouted at the two of them, 'There are other customers around, you know. There's a queue of ten people here. '

The clerk responded, that she was dealing with a customer, and when she'd finished, she would give her attention to the next one. The man then turned his attention to the customer, who replied with much control, 'I am carrying out transactions, which is what we are all here for. Some of us have one transaction, others more than one.'

However, it's easy to get irritated if you're in a rush. When I was in Sainsbury's not long ago, with a couple of items in a basket, hoping to rush in and rush out, a couple in front of me had a trolley with a number of things. If I were an assertive sort of person, I would say something, I thought. (I'm not normally.) Then it just popped out. 'You do realise this is a basket only counter,' I said. The woman responded that they had two lots of shopping which amounted to one basket each (and they did later pay separately). I raised my eyebrows sceptically. (I was in a foul mood.) There was a brief pause, Then she commented to her male companion. 'I wouldn't have said anything, would you? What an a***hole.' I ignored the comment. This is how a situation can escalate, I thought, and I kept shtum. It wasn't nice, though. I decided that my normal non-assertive behaviour might be a better option in future.

But back to the subject of writing, I almost went to a Guildford Book Festival function. I tried ringing to see if there were places available, when I returned from the bank, but there was no answer. I decided it wasn't meant to be, and I didn't go. But tomorrow night is the Guildford Writers event at the Guildford Institute, at 7.30 p.m. Do come if you're local. Adrienne Dines will be giving a talk.

And the launch of Jay Margrave's book, Luther's Ambassadors, was a great success. Lots nibbles and wine, people to chat to and good book sales, including some Tainted Trees.

And just a reminder - The Golden Girls will be giving a presentation about our books at 7 – 8.15pm in The Green Room, 3rd floor, Leatherhead Theatre, Church Street, Leatherhead, as part of the Mole Valley Arts Festival (Arts Alive.) Admission is free, so I hope anyone local will join us.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Apples in Abundance

It seems incredible that after the summer we've had, autumn should be so beautiful, and, despite giving away pounds of apples, we are stillsurrounded by them. As you can see, I have them laid out on my garden table, some are lying on the ground and others are still in the tree.

This is not the day to be worrying about the state of the world. I'll just take delight in a beautiful day.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Goldenford goes out and about and Tainted Tree gets a good review

Have I been missed? Alas, my computer has been out of commission. I have been forced to resort to book-keeping, since there was nothing else I could usefully do.

Just before the computer crashed for the final time, before the engineer took it away for a good cleanup, I got a lovely email from Julie Goucher, who had bought a copy of Tainted Tree, and whose website and blogs detail her interest in genealogy. She says that she’s posted a review of TT on Amazon and on her Live Journal & Blog, as well as at Book Crossing.

I’ve set out part of her review below and her final comments.

"I came across this book purely by chance and am so glad that I did. I was looking on Google to see what books were set in Guildford and noticed that this one was and available from a local publisher. It appealed to my
genealogical mind, so I ordered it and it arrived on Monday just in time for a business trip. I devoured the book during my 6 hours travelling yesterday.

Addie inherits a lovely house in
Guildford from someone she does not know, but she understands that the deceased has links to her mother, who died in childbirth with Addie, in America. The people that Addie's mother
was living with write to advise the would be grandparents of the death of their daughter to find that they do not want to accept responsibility for the child, and after a period of time, Addie is adopted by the couple. Addie
has a happy and loved childhood, but finds that she has questions of her heritage and wants to "know" her deceased Mother, and she has no idea who her father is.....Inheriting the house is a catalyst for discovering the

The link is that Addie's mother was god daughter to James, and it is his house that she has inherited. Addie sets out on a journey of discovery, and as with most genealogical type searches Addie soon finds that she has more
questions than answers, and that she has to live with the decisions that her ancestors made.

The author has done obvious research into genealogical searches and mentions the huge references of birth, marriage and death records at St Catherine's House. Of course they are no longer available in the search room but that has occurred since the book was published earlier in the year, and the reference to it in the book reminded me of days lifting those heavy books and battling for space with other researchers. Also the use of the surname of Daborn a very
Surrey name!

The genealogical search is just like a jigsaw, gathering the facts and placing what you know into the mix to build the picture, and that was done as we read of Addie's search.

Quite simply I loved this book, not just for the subject matter, but the way the story unfolds and evolves. I was there, within the pages."

Feel free to use the review if you wish.

Need I say more, I loved it!’,

What a lovely review. Thank you so much Julie. She is right of course, that you can no longer visit St Catherine’s House for Marriage, Birth and Death records, but TT is set in 1991, when you could do so.

Having had a quiet week, except for visits from the computer engineer, next week is going to be hectic. On Saturday afternoon, we are holding the launch party for Jay Margrave’s historical novel, Luther’s Ambassadors, which has already attracted the attention of Hever Castle, who have a particular interest in the heroine, Anne Boleyn, and who have placed a substantial order.

On Tuesday, 21st October, we (Guildford Writers) have a Guildford Festival event at the Guildford Institute, when Adrienne Dines will be giving a talk. Read all about it at the festival programme on line.

On Wednesday, we the Goldenford girls will be giving a presentation at Arts Alive - the Mole Valley Arts Festival at the Green Room in Leatherhead, and on Friday, 24th October, 7.30 p.m., we will be at Guildford Museum for the Guildford Book Festival – see above programme. It should all be great fun, so do come along to all or any of the above if you are in the area.

Normal service will be resumed the following week.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Saving apples for a rainy day

This is last week's post, but having had problems with the computer, I thought it had disappeared.

I've been offline for several days, but hopefully, all is resolved now, and the blog is still applicable.

What can you do about the current crisis, if you are not directly affected? My own feeling is that you have to carry on as normal. My philosophy for all times, is never invest what you cannot afford (this applies to putting money on the horses, too), always have some Rainy Day money for when times get bad, and spread the risk. Alas, many people may have been caught out by putting their Rainy Day money in what were regarded as safe places, and which may not be safe after all - a very frightening prospect. However, the spreading of risk applies here. The Government in the UK are guaranteeing £50,000 in private savings accounts, so if you have more than that, then choose a second account. If you are considering equity investments, put them into unit trusts/investment trusts, etc, where someone else is spreading the risk for you. Even then choose different companies, not the same ones over and over again. Not everything will crash at the same time. Think in terms of a pyramid, with the safest forms at the bottom, forming a large base, bonds, etc. and the most risky, the point at the top – shares recommended by someone who knows someone, emerging markets/ Russia/China, etc.

However, should you be thinking in terms of investment at all. An American TV presenter has said, ‘Sell. Sell. Sell.’ The problem with this is that you will lose your money if the shares are at a low point, and you will regret it, if they bounce back. An unit trust manager in the UK says he is buying now. Cautious people may consider buying on a monthly basis – a little at a time – the dips now may be valuable in three years’ time.

But don’t panic. If you have the money, carry on shopping. I bought a new jacket/cardigan from Per Una at M & S, when I was in Guildford last week. Someone’s got to keep the money moving.

And now to something I really know about – apples. I am peeling, cooking and freezing now, so that when the tree is bare, I will still have something stored away. You could call them rainy day apples – and as long as the freezer doesn’t fail, I’ll have several potential desserts to fall back on.

This is my recipe for apple cake – for those who have a surplus.

I’ve lost the recipe, so this is from memory:

6 oz s/r flour

2 oz cornflour

6 oz margarine

6 oz caster sugar

3 eggs

1 oz butter (melted)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced

Baking dish 9” x 12”

Sieve flour with cornflour. Beat together margarine and sugar, and add flour mix, 1 tbspoon at a time together with one egg and beat in. Fold in the remainder with a metal spoon, and add lemon juice to taste. Cover base and sides of baking dish with parchment or grease-proof paper. Place mixture in the pan, cover with slices of apple about ½ inch thick and paint with melted butter. Cook for about 40 mins in moderate oven – 175 C - and remove when cake mixture is golden brown. Allow to set on wire stand and ease out of the dish carefully when cool.

Freeze what you don't need, but don't keep too much out at any one time. The apple on the top goes mouldy very quickly.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Capitalism in Crisis

The current situation has created an interesting conflict for politicians and others who have strong left/right feelings. When George W. first suggested the bailout, I thought - my goodness, a Republican is nationalising the banks. Then my daughter in law, who is decisively left of centre, said that the banks should be left to sort themselves out. ‘That’s a very ‘free market’ philosophy for a socialist,’ I said to her. Things are very definitely topsy turvy.

As someone else, or many others have already said, it’s quite natural to feel angry with the banks who have behaved totally irresponsibly in lending to people who couldn’t pay for the loans, and then parcelling up their debt and selling it on to other people. But the blame too, can be parcelled up and allocated to many groups of people. In my view, in the UK, the Conservatives would have done the same as Labour. The Conservatives (Tories), like the Republicans, are opposed to too much regulation/interference, as they would have it. Lack of interference of supervision of what the banks were doing is one of the causes of the current problems.

But the Left have also been complicit in creating these problems. The Labour party here did not bring in more regulation - partly, perhaps, because they didn’t want to be seen as the party who discouraged big business and drove it away from London. There’s another reason, and I read somewhere that this applies to Bill Clinton too. That the parties on the left have wanted to encourage people of low incomes to have their own homes - to somehow struggle on to the bottom rung of the housing ladder.

My view is that you don’t do anyone any favours by encouraging them to get into debt. Governments all over the Western world seem to be guilty of this; banks and building societies, likewise. Hence all those envelopes inviting me to get more credit, so that I can take a holiday, buy a yacht or a new car, without having to wait and be patient. I really hope that credit will be tightened up a bit, so that at least people are encouraged to save up and be prepared to wait for some of the things they want, but don’t necessarily need.

In the UK, many mutual building societies demutualised. I was one amongst many others who, without understanding, voted for this, in order to get a slice of shares or cash. I regret that, but I have to accept some responsibility, together with all those other people that voted for a ‘free lunch’. I didn’t realise that losing the mutual status and getting quoted on the Stock Market would cause the new banks to take on unrealistic risk. The clever bods at the top were naively assuming that the value of property would rise and rise and rise, and the 125% of value they were loaning to their customers would become a lower percentage in time. They were wrong. Every bubble bursts eventually. I really hope that these arrogant money makers will not be rewarded to the same extent in future. One always hears the cry - if we didn’t give them their million pound(?) bonuses, they would leave us and go elsewhere. Let’s hope the whole of the Western world reduces its rewards to these people to a more appropriate level.

It is tempting to punish the Governments/Banks and all the money makers by insisting that they should not be bailed out. Let them reap what they have sown. In some ways, this is right. If they are always bailed out, they, in effect, can take on any risk. They have no responsibility. If they are not bailed out, though, either by other banks, or by governments, there will be problems for all. Businesses will not be able to get credit. People will not be able to buy new houses. Large and small companies will collapse. People will be unemployed. People will buy fewer items. Shops will close. It will be a downward spiral that affects most people. Bailing out the banks is probably the least worst option - a necessary evil.