Saturday, May 30, 2009

Curtains for the bedrooms and curtains for democracy?

Before we left home, we had to prepare for the decorator who was coming in, in our absence. We moved all the books from the bookcase, the videos (yes, we are old-fashioned) and ornaments. At the same time, the kitchen was invaded by ants, and we had to leave ant traps down on the kitchen floor. That, I’m pleased to say was successful, though the high season for ants hasn’t yet arrived. For years we have ant invasions throughout the summer, so let's hope this brief incursion wasn't a forerunner of another bad ant year.

When we got back, we had to get everything back to normal. The decorator, who made a very good job, had not been able to reinstate all our pictures and ornaments, and had left all the furniture in the middle of the room, so that the paint could dry. It was not something we really wanted to tackle mid afternoon, having got up at 6.30 a.m to get to the airport, but we had to make our living room liveable in. The decorator popped in at 5.30 p.m. and helped us put back the heavy curtains, by which time, we’d managed to reinstate order. Just before we went away, we heard that the ProdicalD and family were going to visit, as it was half term. We arrived home on Friday, and she, spouse and GD2 – and another visitor, a three month old Labrador would be arriving on Sunday and staying till Tuesday. We had had new linings fitted to the curtains in our room, but had borrowed the curtains from the little girls’ bedroom. So this was another priority job, before our granddaughter arrived – to take down one set of curtains from our bedroom, put them in the girls’ room, make sure the newly relined curtains were the right length and put them up in our room. And there was the post to deal with (still dealing with it) and the unpacking and the washing (still dealing with it) and some food to prepare for the visitors. Now the ProdigalD’s come and gone, and there’s still a heap of paperwork on my desk – some of which is the four thousand words to add to my novel in progress, and also some comments on the second book I read on holiday.

We wondered quite how the dog would fit in, but she has her own cage – until she is house trained (Labradors tend to chew everything in site, when they’re puppies; that probably applies to many breeds.) She was actually perfectly behaved, very quiet, and only got excited when we went for walks. GD2 is a little nervous, as she snaps a bit – that’s due to teething. But I made a fuss of her, and GD2 gained a little confidence from seeing me stroke her. She is quite small at the moment – the puppy, that is, but I wanted to be sure she liked me before she got to full size. She has large feet already, and is apparently going to be huge. This is the time to make friends.

Even on holiday, we couldn’t avoid the political shenanigans, and the situation worries me. I am not alone in saying this, but the politicians can be divided into three groups – those who have done absolutely nothing to be ashamed of; those who took advantage of a bad system but stayed within the rules and those who did things that were frankly, criminal. Let’s get rid of the criminals; there’s no excuse for them. However, of the others, it seems they were given a nod and a wink, and told them to use their legitimate allowances instead of receiving a pay rise – and let’s face it – they’re not getting a huge salary for running the country. Now, they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them. There are many of us who’ve been told by accountants, or read in the papers, that we can use tax avoidance measures. Do we all rush to say, ‘No, we don’t want to avoid tax. We want to pay it.’? Do we heck! Members of parliament, like us, use the system. What worries me is that there are more important things than bath plugs? In fact, we are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. These are people, many of whom are very talented and who have skills that we need to run the country. Are we going to chuck out half of them, both the deserving and the undeserving and end up with a bunch of honest amateurs, or even worse? I don’t think the Daily Telegraph was thinking of democracy when it published its scoop. I think it was thinking of sales, and what it has done has been damaging to democracy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

R & R in Majorca

We have been on holiday – once again to the Hotel Bon Sol in Illetas, Majorca, where we have spent many holidays in past years. We had a suite of rooms – bathroom, bedroom, sitting room and a large veranda looking out onto the mini-golf course and beyond that, the sea.

Other times we’ve had a bedroom and sitting room combined. It’s quite arbitrary; all the rooms are nice in different ways. There were two sink bowls in the bathroom, so I said to M, ‘This is mine; don’t get my area wet and soapy.’ I also had a hairdryer and magnifying mirror on my side, but M had to sneak over to my patch to get the benefit of the mirror.

We arrived on a Tuesday when it was cloudy; the next day it was dull; we went shopping for fruit juice – I can’t wake up in the morning without liquid refreshment - and bought an umbrella. On Thursday, it was cold and wet – I didn’t go out, but M braved the weather for a while. On Friday, cloud turned to full sun, and from then on the temperature increased day by day. I hid my vulnerable skin one minute and lay out in it for a little while, the next minute. The Bon Sol has various levels of seating , some parts shaded by trees and other more open areas with beach umbrellas. Below is the patio where some people choose to lie, and also where drinks and icecreams are available, and below that the view from the edge of that patio, looking out over the sea. We always sit in shade, but make the occasional foray to the little beach below.

The glass roof above covers part of the restaurant area, where we had buffet lunches each day – for example smoked salmon, Spanish omelette, courgettes, potatoes, or a roast meat with sauté potatoes, or lightly fried or grilled fish; salads and fantastic desserts. All delicious and tempting. M gave way and arrived home half a stone heavier, after a mere ten days. I was very careful, and what’s more, visited the on site gym, every day for half an hour. I am only one pound heavier than when we left home – and smug.

In the time we’ve been going to the Bon Sol, we’ve seen the waiters change from young to middle aged; that applies to us, too, of course.

While I was there, I read the third fiction book of my Piatkus prize (for second place, first three pages of a novel, at the Winchester Conference) – Songs without Words by Anne Packer. Of the other two fiction books which I won, I left one at the hotel last year, and gave one away, but this was markedly better. I empathised with the characters, was amused by the dialogue and caught up by the plot. It had very good descriptions of how the main protagonist felt in the context of the situation, in which they found themselves. (I was inspired to get my own creative juices flowing and break the log-jam with my latest novel.) One thing I did find difficult was an American vocabulary – some words I literally didn’t understand – and to a greater extent – references; I can’t remember being quite so aware of this before, so maybe there’s a difference between Californian language or possible colloquialisms and New York/Boston lingo. Also, a few too many names dropped in, but if they weren’t important, I ignored them. Although it was a large book (in size, I mean) I brought it back home, which is praise indeed.

And speaking of books, all copies of Tainted Tree in Surrey Libraries were out on loan over the weekend, though one's now back on the shelves at Godalming. Hurry along there and collect it, if you're a local.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Lamb's testicles and other delicacies

I am trying very hard to sort out a number of things - washing, ironing, which have fallen behind and invoicing and statements - and as we are having our lounge - or should I say, sitting room (I don't know the posh word for it) decorated, removing books and ornaments to another room. So a busy couple of days ahead.

Somehow, despite not being able to throw off my cold, I managed to participate in two presentations this week - one on my own with a half hour talk at Staines Synagogue, on how much of my writing comes from inside me, with readings to illustrate. (I read part of a chapter from a Bottle of Plonk, with the mother from hell telling how daughter how she should have behaved instead of divorcing her husband - and I got a gratifying amount of laughter from the audience.) Even M, who chauffeured me, said the talk was really good, and he was proud of me.

The second one was at The Deli, Lynchford Road, Farnborough, where host and hostess, Claire and Matt provided smoked salmon bagels, as mentioned in Tainted Tree, wine, some spicy finger food, a la The Moon's Complexion and Darshan and an attempt at medieval food to represent The Gawain Quest and Luther's Ambassadors with, er, lamb's testicles. The bagels were lovely. I thoroughly recommend that if you're in the area, you visit The Deli. Even if you don't fancy that particular bit of lamb.

This time, my reading was from Tainted Tree - where American, Addie Russell, my heroine, gets invited for an English roast dinner, with Jonathan, lawyer, his sister, Sarah, and mother, Helen. Helen is about the age that Addie's mother would have been, had she lived, and Addie tries to get insight into the period when her mother was growing up - in the late fifties and sixties. So not much about food then, but quite a lot about morality of the time.

While I was suffering from my cold, I lost two pounds, through lack of appetite. Reassuringly, I have now put it back on again - though maybe that was partly due to the bagels with cream cheese and salmon. Even with the increased appetite, though, I wasn't tempted by the medieval treat.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Walking Wounded and a couple of misfits

We've been out today - M with a torn calf muscle and me with a cold. Yesterday, I wasn't sure I should contemplate visiting, but with decongestants and cough syrups I got through the day. I just hope I didn't infect the cousins we were visiting. It was a good fun day - lots of hilarity at the lunch - and that's why I wanted to go. My very discriminating cousin pleased me by saying how much she enjoyed Tainted Tree. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a piece of paper out to record what she said, but something about good characterisation and plot and a page turner.

Now I'm back the cold is streaming once more and I feel cold. Hope I'm better soon, as I am involved in two talks in the coming week. One with the Goldenford Girls is at the Deli in Farnborough on Thursday. In theory, there should have been a feature in the local press, but I don't know whether it got there or not.

I have planted a lovely azalea which Irene gave to me, right in the centre of the bed in front of the lounge window. Only problem is, the straggly foliage left from the bulbs doesn't look right with it. I've had a couple of sessions of removing the bulbs and putting them in a different area, where it will be OK to have a spring garden, because nothing else will follow it. I think I might add some more low growing azaleas to that bed.

In the background is the shrub, whose name wouldn't come to mind, but which now has its red leaves, though fading a little. It has looked absolutely right, surrounded by forget me nots. The name I've now found out is pieris. It's ideal for our sandy soil, but the photo below doesn't quite do it justice.

We also bought at Wisley, last week, a pink rhododendron - Pink Bells. I really wanted Pink Pearl, but they didn't have one, and I've been trying for a pink one for some time. Once planted, this looks miniscule amongst my more mature ones, but hopefully, it will gain stature.