Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Naughty but nice

A week tomorrow I’ll be going in, and in the meantime, I had a busy weekend preparing for a visit from my sister-in-law, spouse and some others. I realise that some people take cooking in their stride, but for me, it’s a day’s effort. For those of you who like to know about food, we had a befores of smoked salmon and a little salad – the sort you buy washed from the supermarket. Well it was only there as a decoration. Followed by chicken cooked with mushrooms, peppers and mushrooms together with roast potatoes and other veg. My signature dessert – apple crumble, made with the apples from our tree, vintage 2008 (Last year was a bad year.) made its regular appearance. Incidentally, we don’t know how this year’s crop will turn out. The tree, a week or so back, was covered in blossom, but it was so cold, would any bees have ventured out? And of course, we all know that bees are vulnerable and many have been wiped out.

A very popular additional dessert was Pear Mechante Helene – I should patent this name. This the traditional pears in chocolate sauce recipe but with the added naughtiness of meringues underneath the pears. This went down very well. Alas, I have put on 2lb through eating up the leftovers since then.

We had tree surgeons in on Friday, reducing the size of our oak tree and cutting down some other neighbouring trees, so we now have much more light. This should benefit our rhododendrons, which lost a number of buds to the cold winter. Nevertheless, they are looking spectacular at the moment, smothered in vulgarly bright red and purple blossoms.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Over the hills and far away

It’s now countdown to my operation – about 16 days to go now - when I’ll be disappearing from here for a while – or until I’m comfortable typing. In the meantime, I saw the orthoptist just over a week ago, and she’s very satisfied with the result of the other operation – as I am too. If I’m fit enough, I will report back on how I’m feeling. It may be of use to other people who are having a hysterectomy.

This weekend we went to Cambridge to see the Son&H and his womenfolk; the two little ones are getting bigger and bigger and GD1 is now a very trendy (or perhaps I should say ‘cool’) 11 year old and looks down on me; she’s 5ft 4 – sorry I can’t translate that into metric.

We Goldenford girls went to Brighton on Wednesday last and did another presentation of our Sense and Sensitivity Workshop at the Brighton Fringe Festival. About a dozen people attended and we had lots of fun – and walked down to the sea front too, before we started. The journey was interesting to say the least, as I had to balance a tray of jelly on my lap, and tried to control it over the hills of the North and South Downs. Tomorrow I am giving a talk at the Guildford Writers’ Workshop, and of course, this will be my last presentation for a couple of months at least. However, you can still buy my books from Amazon, even if not from me in the flesh.

Talking of books, the reading circle met up last week, and we discussed Margaret Forster’s ‘Keeping the World Away’; some people described it as a gentle read; for me it had insufficient drama. At about the halfway point, I was finding it difficult to work up enthusiasm to continue, although I have to say that some of the heroines and some of the stories were more interesting than others. The book is not a straight novel. It uses the device of the painting by Gwen John to introduce new characters and move on to new stories. There are six heroines, and the link from chapter to chapter is tenuous. I had a similar device in my novella, A Bottle of Plonk, but I never regarded it as a true novel. Nevertheless, tt seems that more and more authors are using this sort of device now – that is – taking what are essentially short stories and weaving them together into a long book. This may be because we know that short stories sell less well than novels.

In the case of Notes from an Exhibition, the mother was the link between the chapters, which were frequently unrelated, though it was all sewn up fairly neatly at the end.

In Margaret Forster’s novel, to be fair, the heroines have quite substantial stories, so I can’t really label them as short stories. But at the end of one, there is nothing to propel you into a new narrative. I hope I did better with A Bottle of Plonk, simply by letting the previous heroine, or in a couple of cases, hero, to take you on into the next story.

There was also so much narrative, compared with the amount of dialogue, in ‘Keeping the World Away’, that mostly, I felt the story never came alive at all. In Creative Writing classes, etc, one is always being told, ‘Show, not tell.’ I tend to feel that one should listen to these rules, then break them. Nevertheless, in my opinion, a novel – or story – should have a mix of narrative and dialogue, with enough white space on the page to tempt you along. And on the whole, this to me didn’t have it.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Today, we’ve been on a walk around Wisley Gardens, Surrey, with a group of people, including Irene, and with Jennifer as our guide. At some time, you will no doubt be able to see photos which Irene has taken, on her site. But I, in the end, didn’t take my camera. It was a bitterly cold day for May, with a north east wind; fortunately I was dressed for February or March with coat, scarves, and gloves and after a while we took refuge in the huge greenhouse, with its range of cacti, succulents and tropical plants.

Yesterday was a similarly inclement May day. The OM and I having done nothing but sit and talk on Saturday, went for a walk in the afternoon, after a morning of more or less non-stop rain. I put on my coat, which had already been put to one side post winter, and didn’t find it too warm at all. M & I took a new route and found a footpath that we had not known about. It was rather narrow and prickly, but we made it to the end. Arriving back on the main road, though, we had no idea where we were. There was no sun to guide us, so we guessed, fortunately correctly. Unusually for us, we walked for over an hour. Near the end of the journey, I took a couple of photos of local young lambs, which I’d been meaning to do for several days.

Having walked on two days running, I hope to have lost a pound or so, to compensate for over-indulgence on Saturday, when we were at a 100th birthday lunch – the mother of a local friend. Having abstained from naughty things for a week, I had a couple of profiteroles and a slice of cheesecake at the party – as well, of course, as a main course. We saw the Queen’s telegram to the party girl – who seemed in fine form, and who blew out the candles on her birthday cake, with the assistance of two great grandchildren.

As a complete non-sequitur, I loved this piece which appeared in the local church newsletter, although I can’t say I remember the relevance:

This is the transcript of a genuine radio conversation between a US naval ship and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in 1995:

Americans: Please divert your course 15 deg. north to avoid a collision.

Canadians: Recommend you divert your course 15 deg. south to avoid a collision.

A: This is the captain of the US navy ship. I say again, divert your course.

C: No, I say again divert your course.

A: This is the US carrier Lincoln, the 2nd largest ship in the US Atlantic fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers, and numerous support vessels. I demand you change your course 15 deg. north or measures will be taken to ensure the safety of the ship.

C: We’re a lighthouse. Your call …