Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Cold climes, watery views and a nostalgic power cut

Goodness, nearly three weeks since I was last here and in that time, we have had the worst November weather for decades. And all this may look familiar, because it was only last February, if I remember correctly, that we were hemmed in by snow, looking just as picturesque, and being just as much nuisance.
We have also had temperatures dropping to -6 0r -7C, locally, and unfortunately for them, in Scotland, -10 to -20C - that's about 0F. They are still having tremendous difficulties; we at least have had a partial thaw, and expect better weather during the next few days.

Just as well, as this afternoon, we had a power cut. I was contemplating an evening in front of the TV, after making the meal, watching The Apprentice, with a good log fire, again, and the fire was loaded up ready to go. In the meantime I was doing email correspondence, when there was ping, and the computer and the lights all faded away. It was not quite dark, and we lit the fire, found some candles and a torch; then the OH went in search of our gas light. One of the things we acquired, many years ago, when we lived here without electricity for six months, (as described my book, The Fruit of the Tree, was a gas light, and we have kept it safe for this sort of occasion.

I am the skilled firelighter of the family, so I sat in front of it, making sure it kept going, for some time. The plans I had made for that hour and a half, went by the board, but fortunately, the power came back at around 6.00, and I was able to get on with cooking. I will still be able to watch The Apprentice tonight.

In the last week of November, before the snow descended, we Goldenford Girls, took our books to several sales, and, particularly at the last one, were quite enthusiastically welcomed. But then in the last few days of November, the snow came down, and for a few days, I didn't leave the house. We had to cancel a lunch with friends, because they were marooned in their house on a hill. The OH even tried to get up the hill, (to prove a point, I suspect) last Wednesday, and then had to reverse and slide all the way down again.

On Wednesday or Thursday, I broke a tooth, and then broke more bits off it, in the next couple of days, till there was a great canyon in my mouth. But the dentist closed his surgery, and I couldn't get through till Monday morning. By Saturday, there was enough of a thaw to get to the shops and replenish fruit and veg supplies. And on Monday, I went to London, where the temperature had reached zero, I think, which felt almost balmy compared to the previous days. In London, opposite the National Gallery, in Trafalgar Square, the huge Christmas tree stood not far away from a giant menorah, celebrating Chanukah, with the ship in a bottle just behind. London, at its multicultural best.

I met the OM's cousin and we visited the exhibition of Canaletto's paintings - meticulous visions of Venice, many of them full of life and action - together with those of some of his rivals. (Coincidentally, I am currently reading The Glassblower of Murano.) I admired the truth and accuracy of all the paintings, and enjoyed the exhibition more than that of Gaugin. Cousin and I then spent several hours, chatting over lunch in the National Portrait Gallery cafe. It was good to have a day out after my brief incarceration.

I managed to write a few hundred words on the train, but the novel is progressing slowly, nevertheless. I have spent more time reading recently, both the Reading Circle reading book, above, and also I am editing - I say, editing, though it actually needs very little input from me - Irene Black's fantasy novel, The Noontide Owls, which is an impressive tour de force.

Today, I got to see the dentist, my centreless tooth having managed to survive without further damage. The dentist filled it with amalgam and warned me not to bite on it for a couple of hours - not to even breathe on it. As I have been doing for the last five days, I continued to eat on the other side of my mouth - and so far, it feels intact.

Tomorrow, I will be selling books at the Guildford Institute, after I've dropped my car off for its annual service. The temperature is supposed to be up a little, which will be welcome when I make the chilly walk from the garage to the town. Now, our fire has dwindled down to nothing, and we have coped with another cold evening - so as S Pepys would say, 'and so to bed'.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Procrastination, paranoiea and e-publishing


I’ve spent quite a bit of my time devoting myself to the Goldenford accounts (together with numerous games of Freecell, etc.) The thing about having a particular job hanging over you is that frequently you don’t get down to it and you don’t get down to anything else either. At least that’s what happens to me, so perhaps it does to others too. At any rate, the accounts are finished and only have to be handed to the accountant, so perhaps now, I’ll be less inclined to get diverted by trivia on the net, and do something more productive.

The OH and I haven't been to any of the stately homes recently, apart from our visit about three weeks ago to the Winkworth Arboretum. We followed a trail along a path where the ground fell away from us into a valley. This was all fine when it was fenced off, but I became quite panicky as we made our way along an unfenced area. I took a photo, almost not looking through the viewfinder, I was so eager to move on to somewhere that felt more secure. Very stupid really, as it was quite a wide path. The photos are very beautiful though, as you can see.
As far as the social events are concerned, I’ve been to a Quiz Supper with the OH and other friends, and we came third, which was quite acceptable and good fun, anyway. I’ve lunched with two or three local friends, leaving the OH behind with instructions on how to butter a roll and take tomatoes out of the fridge. I went to a more formal lunch at a trattoria half way up Newlands Corner – an 80th birthday party of a friend - which was most enjoyable. And I’ve had the Son&H and his womenfolk here for the most recent weekend. His daughters – Granddaughters 1 and 3 – now respectively nearly 12 and nearly 9 – are so tall and elegant, I cannot call them little girls, though an eight-year old certainly should be regarded as one. They are both now taller than I am, at around 5ft 6″ and 5ft 3″.

I have watched The Apprentice and Downton Abbey with enjoyment and disappointment at the number of loose ends left by the latter. Another series soon, please. What a dishy hero, too. I can see him having as many admirers as D’Arcy. Not totally sure of the truth of the characterisation of the heroine. She seemed such a strong willed and decisive young woman. Surely she would have made up her mind about him – if it weren’t for the fact that the audience has to be tempted along to the next series.
Also I’ve read the latest Reading Circle book – Songs of the Humpback Whale, and my review is below:
I found this to be a very readable book, whilst on the other hand, feeling able to criticise its structure and some of its characterisation. Having recently included my thoughts on the structure of a novel at a presentation, I felt qualified to make this judgement.

After a crisis at home, Jane leaves Oliver, taking her teenage daughter with her. Because, ostensibly, she’s no good at finding her way across America, her brother, Joley, feeds her information via letters, a device which enables her to do a tour of sights in the USA and perhaps allows the author to describe places which she enjoyed visiting herself. This was the first unlikely thing to happen. Jane describes her trip to get to her brother chronologically, whilst her daughter, Rebecca, describes all the events, including the very dramatic happenings once they reach Uncle Joley’s apple farm, backwards. I could find no good reason for doing this, because it took away every element of surprise, and whilst I hoped the author would pull something else out of the bag at the end – she didn’t.
I also could not believe in the characters’ emotions and reactions to some of the events. In particular, regarding the death which occurs, I felt there would be much more grief, guilt and anger – which is not shown.
I took the title to be a reference to the different ways in which men try to attract or behave towards women. A good title, perhaps, because, it fitted the current trend of rather cryptic titles and got your interest. I haven’t read the author before, and understand from many people who have that this is a far inferior novel to some of her others, and this, I am prepared to believe.

A couple of fairs are lined up during the next couple of weeks – in fact, one is tomorrow – where we Goldenford girls will sell our wares. From a writing point of view, the good news is that I heard from Untreed Reads during the week, and they are to send me a contract for my story, Maggies Plot for their site. I’ll be interested to see what happens about pricing for something so short. However, there’s no doubt that the ability to download something to Kindle or its equivalent opens another door to the selling of short stories. I can see that e-books will become more popular over time, and I’ll try to report how my first experience of publishing a short story on line goes. It’s possible, of course, to do it oneself, but I haven’t yet acquired that skill, and I’m inclined to believe it’s better to be filtered through a publisher who actually makes a judgement about the story.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Capturing the colours of Autumn



Every autumn, I am carried away with the desire to capture the scene on paper or with photos. I imagine Monet felt the same way, when he painted his water lilies over and over again. So once again, I’ve taken some shots, and for good measure, throw in this poem which I wrote more than a decade ago. I remembered it a few days ago, when there was the same sort of light quality, and I took an enjoyable walk in the unusually mild November weather.

It was rather a forlorn poem, and though the period from November to February is my least favourite time of year, I’m taking each day as they come. The last few days have been a pleasure. There is a conflict here, which I hope I capture in the poem – being aware of the nature of dying of the leaves but recognising and appreciating the beauty of autumn, those magnificent reds and scarlets just before the trees and bushes lose their leaves, the brilliant yellow and golden browns and all contrasted against the evergreens. I’m pleased to have most of those colours in my garden at the moment.

Greens and golds, yellows and browns -

Shining in the low sun

Damped by the early evening mist

A blaze of muted colours

Lit by the eerie light

Of the sky, blue white

Edged by the sun's last touch.

So light it hurts my eyes,

As if I were thrust newborn into this place.

So why the sadness?

I have this ancient knowledge

That the sky will turn

From blue to pink through purple to black.

The autumn colours shout

A triumphant trumpet blast

Heralding their end.

And each of us rush blindly

Towards our own dark winter.

This is the best shot, I think, of those I took last week; all the rest are on my walk, down my lane and neighbouring houses and the newly arrived sheep in one of the local fields (are they pregnant? They are certainly not spring lamb.)

I do wonder why we can’t have double summer time here, or whatever it’s called. I would love to have lighter evenings. Apparently, when we experimented many years ago, it was found there were more deaths in the morning. But the reduction of deaths in the evening was not, at that time, recognised. Scotland could have its own time zone. If they do it in America, why can’t they do it here?

Last week, we went to the Jay Margrave launch party. I took the OM along, feebly protesting that book launches are not his thing. I found him at one point in an animated conversation with another man about a boiler on board ship. I left them to it very quickly. Later it transpired the man was a gatecrasher, but the OM enjoyed the conversation.

I got into a terrible tiz when I arrived at Sainsbury’s to do my poppy selling stint. I was so thrown by my diary error, that I dropped one of my gloves in Sainsbury’s and didn’t find it again. Fortunately, I was able to team the remaining one with the partner of one I lost in Guildford last year. My brain was still not working very well when I nearly double booked on day next week. Goldenford are going to three schools to sell our books, but I shall have to miss one of them because I will be at my book circle discussing Songs of the Humpback Whale.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cows and whales and girls behaving badly

Goodness, it's been a long time since my last blog. So I'll quickly try to get something down. I have had a busy few days - it seems to come in fits and starts. A quiet week, when I try to break the back of the paperwork, then no time at home and the post piles up again. A week ago, I picked up my library book - something about hump backed whales, but I've only read one page so far.

We had a family lunch last Sunday - always an enjoyable occasion - with my two sisters in law, and three brothers in law present as well as my one niece. So much talking and eating is very tiring, and having arrived at midday, we got home in time to see Downton Abbey - a regular slot for my Sunday nights.

The ProdigalD was arriving with her family that day - but I could rely on her not to appear before midnight, and my expectations were fulfilled. It didn't stop me sleeping rather fitfully until her arrival at 1.30 a.m. and this has contributed to my tiredness all the week. However, it was lovely to see her and hubby and two of my granddaughters, and we had a very good day on Monday. We had considered going to Guildford to get Christmas presents, but in the end there was a vote against it. GD2, apparently does not like shopping, and no-one else had any enthusiasm either, although I was hoping to take them all to the veggie restaurant at the Guildford Institute. It was a nice day, after the heavy frost the previous night, and we went for a walk through the woods, lifting the push chair over challenging bits of the route. (That's the two spouses - I've given up lifting things, since my op.)

Now that the PD lives in the country (real country, surrounded by cows and bullocks and things like that) she found it difficult to let off fireworks for Bonfire Night. Having bought them in Sussex where she lived originally and taken them to her West Midlands in the year of moving, about four years ago, she asked if she could bring them with her on this visit. As a result we had an early firework display on 25th October to which GD2 watched, thrilled, and baby GD4, watched from her push=chair, with an increasing lack of enthusiasm. Before and after, I did the food preparation of a veggie roast with green veg, sweet potatoes and the conventional sort, parsnips and ratatouille - and roast turkey for the OM and me - but in fairness - some of this, as in Blue Peter, I prepared earlier.

The family didn't leave till Tuesday, midday approx. and in the evening, I went to Guildford Writers, though I'd failed to produce any further episodes of my novel, Innocent Bystanders. (My hero is going though a hard time at the moment, pursuing the baddy through casinos and lap dancing clubs, trying to find some evidence of his wrong-doing.)

On Wednesday, we Goldenford Girls, did a presentation to an audience at the Guildford |Institute of recorded music linked to extracts from our novels, entitled Music and the Muse. It went extremely well, and the audience appreciated it. This was our first performance, but we feel we could do it again at other venues; one of its advantages is that, since our books are so different, so too is the music, mine being linked to my twentieth century novels, with a bit of sixties, eighties and a classical piece from 1917. Jay Margrave goes back into history and medieval times for her inspiration, while Irene has an exotic Indian link and a bit of jazz thrown in. I rushed home to eat and subsequently participate in a committee meeting in the evening, and sat yawning and making notes at the same time. Fortunately, I got home in time for The Apprentice as I wouldn't have wanted to miss Melissa behaving extremely badly in the course of the programme, and being charm itself for The Apprentice, You're Fired.

It was a relief to get to Thursday, though, and have nothing to rush around for. I was so tired, I booked an on-line delivery for today, rather than go shopping yesterday. And today is the first day I haven't felt tired, for a week. And no plans for tomorrow either.

Sunday, the OH is joining me and Irene to go to London for the launch of the latest Goldenford book - The Nine Lives of Kit Marlowe, by Jay Margrave. And after that, goodness me, we're in November, with more things planned, but hopefully, one or two rests in between.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

A story of heroes and comrades

It was a busy week, particularly the latter half and, as a result, my desk is piled high with bits of paper I haven’t sorted out. Even a trip to the Writers’ Circle results in several sheets with comments on them, for me to take note of - or ignore – as the case may be, as was the case this week, when I did manage to produce a further episode of Innocent Bystanders. I spent much of the earlier part of Tuesday removing pieces of paper one at a time, and filing them, acting upon them or presenting them to the waste paper recycling box. But it didn’t seem as if many disappeared.

On Wednesday, I met my friend, Pam, in London, with a view to seeing the Gauguin Exhibition at Tate Modern. Pam had a brainwave and instead of going by tube and getting lost en route from the tube station, we took a bus from Charing Cross to St Paul’s and crossed over the Millennium Bridge. First time I’ve done that – and of course, it doesn’t wobble any longer. I’m not a great fan of Gauguin – his rather flat, two dimensional style -though some of his highly coloured paintings are quite attractive. http://uk.images.search.yahoo.com/search/images?_adv_prop=image&fr=yhs-avg&va=gauguin&sz=all . Because we had tickets timed for 2.30 p.m., we first went to the Sunflower Seeds exhibit, created by artist, Ai Weiwei. http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/unileverseries2010/default.shtm . This occupied the whole of the Turbine Hall at the Tate, and was filled with people strolling over the massed ‘seeds’ (they are in fact made of porcelain) and sitting down and playing with them, particularly when accompanied by toddlers and children. We even saw a couple of kids of about eight and ten being buried up to their necks in the seeds. It was very much like being on Brighton beach, playing in the loose stones. On Friday, it was announced that people were no longer to be allowed on the seeds, because of dust – and I must admit to having had a coughing fit, near the entrance. However, I do feel quite privileged to have been one of the visitors in the three days that the public could walk all over the exhibit. It is sad, because without people, there, it does look like a room of shingle, or even, from above, a fitted, sculptured grey carpet. It’s the people that make the exhibit, though I know that Mr Weiwei’s aim was to show that a mass of seemingly identical objects are actually all individual – perhaps a metaphor for China and its history. You can still see a video of his thoughts and how they were made.

I came home and had to force myself to do the ironing in the evening, because I was so behind with chores. I watched The Apprentice at the same time, so that made it palatable, and then went to the rolling news on BBC to see what was happening to the miners. I stayed up later than I should, just watching as the miners were brought to the surface, as I had also done on the previous day. Listening to the squealing girls on The Apprentice, incapable of co-operating with each other, it seemed, with all the egos struggling to be top, I couldn’t help contrasting this with the amazing ability of the men imprisoned down the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile, to work together as a team from the very beginning.

What a stirring story the miners’ rescue has been. I haven’t followed the individual stories of the minors, though I know that some have more than one woman in their lives, and some have fathered children additional to their acknowledge family unit. But I was affected by the story as soon as I heard how they had survived the first 17 days down the mine – they had worked together and rationed out their food and water. What self discipline they exhibited then and later. I felt they just had to be rescued and their concern for each other, their ability to act as a single unit was inspiring. And although there were concerns about how they would survive until rescue came, I felt that in succeeding to survive up till the time of their discovery, they had surely experienced the worst time of all and would be able to cope with anything else they were presented with.

From a psychological point of view, it was good that the initial forecast was three months, then reduced to two and actually, one month. And the engineering and the drilling, etc., has been magnificent.

This is so obviously going to make a fabulous book – all the ingredients are there; the drama and the human stories. It is also a very good example of how a novel could be constructed and shows how over time, we can get involved with a group of people. A tragedy occurs, people die – we hear, we’re sorry, but it’s at an end. But when the story of a group occurs over a longer period, we can’t help but get involved.

Meanwhile, we at Goldenford, had another rehearsal of our event, Music and the Muse, to take place on 27th October at the Guildford Institute. Our audience will get tea and cake and us to entertain, all for a very modest price. After our rehearsal, I lunched with Irene, and then dashed home before rushing out again to the reading circle, where we discussed India House – a somewhat claustrophobic book purporting to describe the late fifties. It had some wit, but was, on the whole, a rather downbeat and depressing book. So it may have been well-written, but I wouldn’t be tempted to read it a second time. My bro-in-law came for dinner on Friday, and yesterday, I more or less flopped in front of the TV. Next week is looking quiet, though, so plenty of time to catch up with paperwork, washing – and the dreaded Goldenford accounts.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Two halves of cake are better than one

I was busy all last week preparing my slot for the Goldenford presentation for the Mole Valley Arts Alive Festival. This was a more ambitious workshop than last year, and therefore more daunting, but I think, in the end, our pupils, or perhaps, subjects, were satisfied with it. One thing you can say is that our sessions are never po-faced. We always seem to have a bit of a laugh. The preparation, though, wasn’t really a laugh. At times I felt as if I was facing an exam, and by the night before, had the same sort of panic at the prospect of going blank once in the exam room. We are doing another one at the end of the month at the Guildford Institute, but I think it should be less alarming, second time around.

We also are putting on a musical afternoon, also at the Guildford Institute, and have done one rehearsal for that too. Don’t worry – none of us are singing – it’s all recorded – and just as well we rehearsed, because two of my pieces have talking on them before the music starts, and so we’re going to have to run them silently and start at the right place.

After the hectic Saturday, the OH and I spent Sunday afternoon at Winkworth Arboretum. We went to see the autumn colours, but we were too early. Because of the amount of rain we’ve had, the leaves for the most part, haven’t turned yet. The nice thing about visiting National Trust properties – and Wisley, for that matter, is that you can sit down to tea and cake as part of the outing. Feeling somewhat weak-willed, I ordered a slice of lemon drizzle and a chocolate gateau, and cut them into halves, so we each had a piece of both. Then we had to do a second walk to counteract the cake eating. We followed a gradual slope down to the lake, which took about 15 minutes. Alas, the gradual slope felt like very hard work on the return journey. The OM, who tripped over last week, also found it hard going, and his knee has puffed up today and has required several cold compresses throughout the day. We shouldn’t really have done the walk, but he thought he was better.

Guildford Writers tomorrow night, and I must try to get back to another instalment of the novel.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Autumn begins with an 'e'

I’ve remembered to upload selected photos from the Sculpture Trail at Wisley. So here they are. Above is Heron, by Gilbert Shyman, made of rusty old shears and the innards of a bicycle, that the OH and I were quite tickled by. A snip at £825 and quite unique.
I think this rather lovely cat is Standing Cheetah.
The male with baby is called Paternita, which I told a young girl was Latin for fatherhood, but I suspect is a corruption of the Latin, or an invented word. But you get the general idea, just the same.
The coy young lady holding a pair of shoes is Salad Days, Bronze Resin, costing £4,995. I hope she makes her creator a mint.
I think this bird was Eddie the Egret, made of Marble/bronze resin. In an appropriate place near the water at the rock garden.
I always like traditional sculptures of the human form, and I though this was lovely. Not sure though of its name. It may have been Alex, by Sherry Craton Hotchkin.


Very much a female too, but quite a different style: Mobius Regina, is this queenly lady, by Richard Mason.
Great fun, this one, entitled Singing in the Rain, by Everard Meynell.


And back to the traditional, but alas, I can't identify this one. Go along, if you can, and see all of them yourself. There are many others which appealed, too.

As autumn began, I tried to enthuse myself with a little activity and send a couple of stories to e-publisher, Untreed Reads, with a biography. Untreed Reads haven’t read my stories yet, but replied to me that they would like to look at my non-fiction books – that is – The Fruit of the Tree and Cot Deaths – Coping with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. They had looked up what I had to say about them on my website, http://freespace.virgin.net/jackie.luben and found it interesting. Fortunately, I didn’t have to send them a ton of paper, as they were both on my computer, although the Cot Deaths files had been converted from another format, and a couple appeared to be corrupted in some way. Their interest came as a total surprise to me, and that, in itself, was very welcome. However, many a slip twixt cup and lip. I won’t get excited about it yet.

We were back in the swing of things with a discussion last week with the other Goldenford Girls about our workshop which we are presenting in Leatherhead on 9th October. I seem to be talking about Structure, Plotting and Dialogue. Actually, we are all covering similar ground with different slants on it, I think.

In the meantime, on Saturday, Irene and I distributed leaflets in Dorking where the Mole Valley Arts Festival had begun, with street entertainment. There was live music, dancing, a barbecue and a very good atmosphere. We gave out seemingly hundreds of flyers about our workshop, though we have only 16 places, so let’s hope they don’t all turn up. It was a sunny day, and gave one heart that summer was not quite over, though today I’m not convinced.

Tonight we have a committee meeting and tomorrow, it’s Guildford Writers again.



Sunday, September 19, 2010

Visiting Wisley - and a tour round my garden

I’ve had a lot of satisfaction from the garden this year. Firstly, earlier in the year, we planted a couple of pieris, a second hydrangea and a rhododendron, as well as bedding plants, of course. The pieris are in addition to those we already had, and we bought them because of the success of the earlier ones in the garden. A week ago, they were sprouting bright red leaves; now the leaves have changed to a yellowy green; they are a nice backdrop for the cotoneaster, which is just starting to produce red berries. We are soon going to have some lovely autumn colour, but there’s no sign of it yet, because we had too much rain earlier on.

The hydrangeas – this year’s and last year’s are at the front of the house. They started fading after one particularly cold night, so the colours now are muted, though they were an attractive pink and mauve during the summer, the mauve one having started out cornflower blue. We have, in the past, suffered from a lack of summer colour, and they were bought with this in mind and have been successful because we watered them regularly from our rainwater butts. The New Guinea busy lizzies have been lovely, of course; they always are. Come the first frost and they will be finished, but for the moment there is still a display of pinks, reds and whites. In amongst them are three rose bushes, which have flowered for the first time in many years. It’s been such a pleasure to have them back – and all due, I believe, to my neighbour removing her electric fence, so that now it’s her plants that get eaten by the deer, instead of ours. We also planted last year a second potentilla, and that started to produce more small yellow flowers when we had an oak tree at the front pollarded for the first time, and some of our shrubs received more light than in previous years.

Today is grey and rather depressing, so it’s good to think of the recent summer colour.

I had an email recently from Allromance ebooks, offering me the chance to promote myself by sending them a short story, to be downloaded free by their readers. I was pleased to do this and sent them a copy of A Gift of Gold , a short story written about two years ago. I re-read it and was quite pleased with it; a few days later, I received a contract, which although no payment is to be paid to me, protects my rights over the story. I’ll mention it, when it’s available for a free download.

Last week I made a second trip to Wisley to follow the Sculpture Trail and I’ll post some photos, probably next week.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Significant Anniversaries

The Blitz was seventy years ago. I listened to Woman’s Hour this week, describing the blitz on Plymouth, and then Liverpool.

When I was writing Tainted Tree, I wanted to describe an event that took place as a result of a bombing raid, and looked through some books on the war that the OH’s father had passed on to him. I found that there was a major raid on Plymouth and, since a large part of Tainted Tree takes place in the West Country, Plymouth seemed to the be right place to use.

As far as London was concerned, I remember my father describing how everyone tried to persuade him to go into the shelter, but he preferred to stay in the house (on a regular basis). He was rather deaf at the time, so was able to ignore the bangs going on around him at our East London home. He had an ARP whistle which I found in a drawer once, and I believe he had to go out and look up at the sky, and then - presumably, blow it, if he saw a suspicious plane. I wish I had asked him more about his experiences, for as someone said today, the blitz was not just about the courage of The Few, but of the many – those that experienced it in their own homes.

In the road where I lived, when I was a child, a house opposite had been bombed, and remained a bomb site for all the years I remember. And a block of flats nearby were bombed, and I think I remember my mother telling me that they went to look for relations there, but never found them.

Our own anniversary falls on 11th – another significant day - and we’ve been married long enough for me not to be surprised when the OM shows signs of male craziness – a bit like those odd men from Three Men in a Boat. Yesterday, he said to me, ‘We’ve got a problem. There’s a bird up the chimney.’

He could hear chirping, but any bird would not have been able to escape, as there’s a piece of polystyrene wedged there, to keep soot from coming down.

We have a very straight chimney, and I’ve been fooled myself sometimes into thinking that a bird has got trapped, when actually, it’s sitting on the roof singing to itself. I decided not to say this to the OM, as he tends to get a bit huffy, if he thinks I’m trying to evade helping him. He got in a very large dirty plastic sheet and asked me to cut it up. I couldn’t follow his plan, but it seemed he wanted to put it over the fire place, and was then going to catch the bird in a bucket, inside the fireplace (he asked for a box, but I didn’t have one), once he had stopped it from escaping into the room. This idea seemed full of holes to me, and my scepticism must have showed, because he said, ‘Well, what’s your plan, then?’ I said I didn’t have a plan, but I got him a somewhat smaller transparent plastic bag, which he attached to the front of the fireplace with masking tape. He left the large sheet over the carpet, ostensibly to protect it. In the mean time I carried out the nearest thing to my plan, which involved closing the curtains at one end of the room, opening wide the windows at the other end and moving the newly recovered settee out of the flight path.

(I didn’t believe for a moment that any bird worth its salt wouldn’t be able to escape from his bucket and plastic sheet.) After this, he pulled the polystyrene out from the chimney, and waited. It won’t surprise you to know that there was no bird up the chimney. But after we had stopped laughing, and after he had stripped off the plastic, I took the opportunity to clean the grate.

We have a decorator here at the moment and feel somewhat invaded – but he is doing a really good job on places that have become shabby over the years, and also, as a result of occasional floods and burst pipes.

At the weekend, we went to the RHS Gardens at Wisley, which is a nice easy trip for us. We decided to rejoin, even though we still have our membership of the National Trust. Many of the flowers have faded by the end of August, and Wisley has, as an attraction in September, a Sculpture Trail, which we followed. I didn’t take my camera, which was a shame because there was an interesting range of exhibits from some very beautiful bronzes to some interesting designs, for example, a butterfly and a dragonfly of stainless steel, both about two or three feet in size and some other creations which were amusing. We liked one sculpture – I think it was a heron - whose body was made of a motor cycle engine.

The following day we went to Hughenden Manor, the home of Disraeli. We started out earlier, as this was an hour’s journey away.

Thinking it was going to rain, we were primarily interested in the house, but the garden, which we saw after all, was also interesting with very formal planting in its main part, with some mature shrubs in another, and a walled garden full of fruit trees and vegetables. Visitors can play croquet on the grass, as you can see above.

The house, apart from containing the history of Disraeli and his wife, Mary Anne, also had a cellar devoted to the map makers of the Second World War. During that war, all the other exhibits were moved to one room and the manor was taken over, for use as a secret intelligence base, code-named "Hillside". The UK Air Ministry staff at the manor analysed aerial photography of Germany and created maps for bombing missions, including the famous "Dambusters" raid. Now, the cellar is a little museum in its own right describing that period. How appropriate for this 70th anniversary.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tea party in the rain


In the news, at the moment, the miners, trapped underground in Chile. I think they coped admirably until they were found, and I hope that they can continue the level of co-operation that already existed. When I heard they had been living on one or two teaspoonfuls of tuna per day in order to survive, I was extremely impressed. How easy it would have been for one person to help himself and deprive the rest. It would be good if their restraint then, and their patience now ensure their physical and mental well-being and ultimate survival. There was an interesting article on the New Scientist website about how they can be helped to cope psychologically.


A fairly quiet week for us, after the two treks out to the family. Yesterday, we went to Polesden Lacey, again – with the intention of visiting the rose garden. I had some invoices to do in the morning, so we drove off in the afternoon, but not until I had changed and applied my usual camouflage. The OM complained that by the time we got there, the weather would have changed – and predictably, it did. From passable sunshine, it suddenly poured down, just as we arrived at the entrance. Still, all was not lost, for we made for the shelter of the tea tent, and, rather like last week’s barbecue, sat, as rain poured down around us, with our tea and lemon drizzle cake. We managed to find a place, which although on the edge had two places away from the August wind and rain. In a short time, a couple rushed to join us, then another one, and we all squashed on to three sides of the table. It was very jolly. Then the sun came out again, and we were transported by the buggy (designated for the less able, although we were perfectly capable) to the house and garden.

First we visited the house briefly, (see photo of magnificent chandalier) as we saw it a few weeks ago.

Then the garden - see other photos. Probably June would have been a better time to see the roses, but to compensate, there were dahlias and other things to see.


At the beginning of summer, I always look forward to it stretching forward, visions of me sitting in the garden in the sunshine, but August is often disappointing.

Friends are away, the children have seen enough of us and the sun’s not shining. In many ways, September will be welcome. The Writing Circle will be back in action – actually we have a meeting in someone’s house, tomorrow, and soon after that, Goldenford will be hosting some events.

In the meantime, my Virtual Tales (www.virtualtales.com) royalty statement arrived today, showing my three monthly sales of Have Wine will Travel. Don’t forget whether you are in the UK or the US, or anywhere else for that matter, you can download a copy of Have Wine … for a very moderate cost. For some reason, if you are looking on Amazon, you have to find the author page, before accessing the Kindle edition. Copies of Tainted Tree, in the mean time, are out on loan from Surrey libraries and available from some Surrey bookshops – and Amazon, of course. All looking up. I have an extract from my current book, ready to read, at Guildford Writers. Must keep at it, before inspiration fades away.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cows in the field, punts on the Cam

In terms of mileage, it's been a busy couple of weeks. Possibly, I've already said that we went to visit the ProdigalD at Herefordshire. Once upon a time, when I first came to live in Surrey from my London home in a busy main road, I thought I was coming to live in the country. When I visit my daughter, I realise that is real country. The neighbours are bullocks and sheep, and when we drive the last ten or fifteen miles to her home, we see nothing but undulating hills and valleys with fields on either side of the road. My home, by contrast, is a mere half a dozen miles to the civilisation of the Guildford, the town centre and Surrey University too. We have a station only two miles away, taking us to London in 40 minutes. Thank goodness.

By contrast, the Son&H lives in a town house not far from the centre of Cambridge, and that's where we were this weekend. We went on Saturday and returned on Sunday afternoon. In the morning we walked to the river, and there was the usual hubbub. Young men trying to tempt passers by, or should I say prospective punters, to go for a ... well punt. GD3 didn't really want to go for a walk, but she was mollified by being allowed to climb a tree en route. GD1 put her foot down and simply didn't come.

We rushed home to go to join friends for a barbecue on Sunday evening. Having left Cambridge in brilliant sunshine and with a temperature of 27 deg. C. , we came home to drizzle, which, once we were under our friends' gazebo, turned to torrential rain. We sat there the whole evening, eating and talking. I suspect the host had rainwater dribbling down the back of his neck, but the OH and I were OK. It was very British - a barbecue in the rain.

I've been to the orthoptist, the dentist and the optician in the last couple of weeks. The dentist had to repair yet another broken tooth, which fortunately only took about two minutes. The orthoptist discharged me, as my vision seemed fine, and the optician saw me for the first time since my eye operation and was very impressed at the difference between a year ago and now. The operation has transformed my sight in terms of double vision. It's nearly a year ago that I was contemplating both operations with dread, and now they're in the past, and I'm very glad that I had them done.

Tonight, I've been to a Goldenford meeting, where we discussed activities for the autumn, and ideas to get our books to the public. Once again, we're doing about four presentations in this area and I hope some other ideas will come up. And, on the subject, while arranging to have a new lens in my glasses to accommodate my improved vision, I asked the optician if she'd read the copy of Tainted Tree, which the shop had bought from me. 'We've all read it,' she said. 'We all loved it.' Can't get much better than that.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Eating peanuts at the lap dance club

Things wind down during August, and if the weather starts getting cool, it feels as if summer is over, but the interesting events of early autumn haven’t begun. We three Goldenford girls met last week, but it was supposed to be a Guildford Writers meeting. No-one else came, though. They must all be on their hols, so we didn’t discuss writing at all, but just chatted about all the things we don’t normally have time to do. I had taken my latest bit of Innocent Bystanders where my hero goes investigating in a lap dance club. Perhaps I should call the book Eating peanuts at the lap dance club. At any rate, I’ll be saving it for our next meeting.

On Thursday, I had my hair trimmed and booked an appointment with the optician, too. The receptionist has read Tainted Tree and asked how I was getting on with the next book. At least I could say that I was making progress. She mentioned that she’s part of a reading circle and I said I’d be happy to give a talk or similar. I hope something will come of it. In the meantime, I’ve been reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – which has to be one of the longest and most gimmicky titles in publication at the moment. Did they think of the title first, I wonder. It seems to me that sometimes it’s the quirky title that sells the book – Salmon Fishing … and Tractors in Ukrainian .. or whatever. On Thursday night was my reading circle night, where we discussed Guernsey, etc..

Like one of the reviewers, at the beginning of this book I was immediately reminded of 84, Charing Cross Road, particularly, when Juliet requests a particular book for Dawsey Adams and says – ‘a good plain copy’. That’s the sort of thing Helene Hanff used to say all the time to Mr Frank Doel of Charing X Road.

But this is fiction, so it doesn’t have to be authentic. Some of the long letters from these previously not very literate people seemed to be a bit unlikely. Nevertheless, it was a clever way to tell the story of the tribulations of the Channel Islanders during the war, with a love story at the same time.

People have described this as a gentle book – which it is. I felt it was a little too cute sometimes – particularly at the beginning when many of the characters seem to start with the letter ‘S’ – Sidney and Sophie Stark of Stevens & Stark, and Susan Scott, and then Gilly Gilbert, also. It was as if they were caricatures, rather than characters. In some of the letters too, they were very determinedly eccentric.

I also felt that the letter format detached me from any real drama. I wasn’t really carried away by the plight of Elizabeth, though I know I should have been. I never really felt I got to know her, in spite of descriptions showing her to be brave and altruistic.

I was a little concerned about the child, Kit. Did this child ever speak? (Was she traumatised? Perhaps I missed this.) All she seemed to do was pat people on the face. At four years old, my children never stopped talking.

However, despite this, I found it very readable – and easy to pick up and resume. Perhaps that was part of the problem. I did pick it up and then leave it several times.

I saw the orthoptist on Friday, and also the eye surgeon who carried out my operation earlier in the year. Both were very happy with the result of the op, as I am too.

Over the weekend, we went to Herefordshire to see the ProdigalD, spouse and two of my granddaughters – GD2 and GD4. We took GD4 a caterpillar which plays music when its nose is pressed. It drove us up the wall very quickly, particularly when GD2, who should know better at 9 years old, insisted on starting it up, when the baby wasn’t actually interested. GD4 is approaching her first birthday, and is very cute and cuddly.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chartwell








As promised - a few photos taken at Chartwell, Winston Churchill's home looking out over The Weald, Kent.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The sting in the tale

Despite threatening clouds, Irene and I had a very pleasant afternoon selling our Goldenford books at the Pirbright Flower Show. Only problem was that we were under a tree, which would have been good if it had been hotter, but was rather windy. When we first arrived the plant tent adjacent to us was being held to the ground with sandbags and seemed in danger of taking off. But somehow or other, the Flower Show manages to achieve good weather, even in the bad summers of the last couple of years, and the wind settled and it remained dry.

I left our pitch a couple of times, once to look at the paintings from the local Art club, which are hung on the railings for display and sale, a la Green Park in London. (Do they still do that, I wonder? I haven’t been there at the weekend for years.) On the other occasion, I went into the show itself, to admire displays such as ‘four vegetables on a trug’ or the best coffee walnut cake. Despite the popularity of the presentations, we had lots of visitors to our table, sold some books and chatted with lots of people. I was delighted that one lady who had read Tainted Tree last year enjoyed it so much that she wanted another book of mine, and took a copy of A Bottle of Plonk.


The only fly in the ointment was - well to be precise, not a fly but a wasp, which decided to alight on my finger and sting me. There were loads of wasps hovering in our tree, and after this attack, I spent more time standing up away from them.


On Sunday, Irene came with the OM and me to Polesden Lacey, a stately home where the former King and Queen (George VI and Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother) spent their honeymoon. The owner of that time seemed to have climbed the greasy pole from being a porter’s daughter, albeit the illegitimate child of a brewery millionaire, to marrying the eldest son of a baronet. Since they had no children, she owned seventeen dogs, whose graves we saw in the gardens. Fascinating insight into the aristocracy – she ended up leaving her diamonds to the Queen Mother and thousands of pounds to Princess Margaret. ‘New money,’ the guides told us several times.


Since Monday, when I met up with the reading group, one of whose ex-members has just returned from Holland for a brief trip, I have been dealing with various forms of drudgery – invoices, quotations and washing. I’m bored with it. Next job is the Goldenford accounts and also the OM’s, and if I can polish them off, I’ll be able to do more fun things. So back to the treadmill …

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Darling Buds



Having skimmed what I wrote last time, I wonder if I am anti-child. This also reminds me of yesterday’s Woman’s Hour, which was about women who have chosen not to have children. Some of them said, ‘I never liked children,’ or ‘I never looked in prams to see other people’s babies.’ I have to make a confession here, and repeat what I said at some stage in The Fruit of the Tree, my autobiographical book. I didn’t have maternal instincts before I had children; I also didn’t like children particularly, and certainly didn’t do much drooling over babies. I wish I could reassure people who don’t have babies for those reasons, that they grow up. I particularly valued my children when they turned into human beings that I could talk to, and I enjoy that aspect of them still.


I haven’t forgotten about my Chartwell photos, but they’re still in the camera, at the moment. Instead, I have a deer. This little creature got into my garden a few weeks ago, and then didn’t know how to get out. I captured him/her on camera, while he was dithering. Strangely enough, this year, for the first time for many years, we have been able to enjoy our roses. We only have three rose bushes left now, because they have died as a result of having their top growth eaten away, or because we have given them away. But these three produced buds and flowered. We cannot fathom if the deer have abandoned us because they have found somewhere that is cooler and damper, where there’s more vegetation, or possibly because a neighbour has removed an electric fence (due to having small children) and the deer are now in their garden. If the latter is the case, I’m pleased to say they have a new baby, so long may their non-electrification continue.


I’m also pleased to see that my hibiscus has a number of buds, too, so perhaps there will be a colourful display there too. Last year, the flowers seemed to drop off – or were they bitten off by the deer. It will be interesting to see. We also bought a blue hydrangea last week, and will try to take care of its watering needs, as we have the pink one we’ve been nursing for two years. (Required because I nearly killed it when it arrived as a present in a tub – much safer in the garden.)


I shall be selling books at Pirbright Flower Show tomorrow, with Irene, which reminds me - I went into Guildford yesterday, and noted that at Waterstone’s North Street, all paperbacks are being sold on a three for the price of two, basis. So rush in now and buy a copy of Tainted Tree, along with two other books you like