Sunday, 5 November 2017

Stop the Clocks

Mum died a year ago - at 8 pm on November 4, quite suddenly and painlessly, from a stroke. She was 92 and had been in a nursing home for less than two years.
The entry for mum, in the Book of Remembrance at the crematorium, looks dignified and hers is the last on the page for November 4th. I doubt whether that's because no-one else died in her part of the industrial Midlands on the same day. We are talking about a vast urban population. It may have something to do with the huge increase in costs for funerals and memorials.

The bench we ordered when dad died in 1993 was finally refurbished in time for mum's birthday - this August - when she would have been ninety-three. My aunts - her sisters - took a posy there on mum's anniversary. It all looked very fitting.

Since creating 'mum's garden' at our house I have been adding another plant to mum's favourite collection of flowers on significant dates. This November I planted a cream hellebore named 'Christmas Carol'. If mum had still been with us I would have taken her a similar Christmas Rose - she would have approved.

Strangely however, our indoor Christmas cactus has, as last year, flowered early. When my brother rang on November 4, 2016, to say mum had died, the Christmas cactus suddenly bloomed. It was at least seven weeks early. And again, a whole year later, the cactus flowered prematurely, sending spikey pinky-red flowers way up into the air. Again to the day when mum's spirit left the temporal world.

Even more confounding is that two carriage clocks and a kitchen wall clock stopped working - all within 24 hours of each other - as we approached mum's anniversary on November 4th. It was a simple matter of changing the clock batteries but given that one of the clocks is fifty years old, another twenty-five and the newest approximately ten and their batteries were replaced at very different times of the year it is curious that they should all stop ticking on the same day.

Stop the clocks.
We will remember.

Friday, 27 October 2017

More haste less speed is a pain in Uranus

I don't know whether Mars is in Uranus this week but I'm slowly learning, after minor pratfalls, that rushing to get things done does not pay off. And it leads to a pain in Uranus.

I have edited a once-long chapter in my ms, 'The Keys to Heaven', and cut it by at least at third.The pace is better but in the cutting I neglected the finer things like making page one make sense. In trying to get my editing done before we go away for Richard's birthday I've been rushing at it. Writing won't cope with a race - it shows on the page. I have learned to slow down... It's not worth making errors which then have to be undone - costing more in time and producing poor quality copy.

Similarly I turned a ten-minute repotting job into a two-hour slog this morning. All I had to do was remove a weakling African violet, scrape old compost and leaves from it, put it in specialist species compost, water it, arrrgh..., and place it near the window. So what went wrong with such a simple task?

On my pre-holiday  list of tasks I'd itemised putting garden chairs away, finish painting tubs and switch off the water to the outside tap. We did all that by 11:00 this morning. Hence I decided, with no outside water, to repot my violet in the downstairs wet room. All was going well, although I should have put newspaper down to gather the crumbs of waste compost, until I watered the new, gritty absorbent compost. I didn't realise my new pot had a very large drainage hole in it. As soon as I watered it the compost ran out of the rather large hole and straight into the sink. What a mess! I placed two crocks in the bottom of the pot, yes... should have done that anyway, and completed the job. The plant was looking good but the sink was full of soil, it wouldn't drain and there were spent soil granules on every surface.

Trying to plunge the sink made even more chaos. The suction sent sprays of muddy water around the walls, on the floor, over the lavatory, behind the radiator and everywhere you could think of. And still the water wouldn't drain. I moved everything out of the wet room, tried to tidy, knocked bottles of bleach over and created pandemonium. That bloody African violet was on its last legs and will likely die, and I had a sink which was blocked with perlite and mud.

Richard tried to rescue the situation but he had no better luck than me... It delayed him doing what he needed to do by more than a couple of hours as he had to go to our hardware shop for drain unblocker. What a fool I'd been! Meanwhile, with muddy hands, I had to use another sink to clean up so I could hang out the whiter-than-white washing. It was a lovely, sunny morning.

When Richard returned he had to switch the outside tap back on and uncoil the ready-for-winter hose, push it through our wet room window and, as the hardware store suggested, try to shift the soil by hosing it away. Sink unblocker wouldn't work.

After another hour baling mud out of said wasbasin it was finally free. Water went down the plughole once more. Good old Richard and good old hardware store.

More haste less speed has never been truer than this week. I've been trying to hurry things along so that we can go away for a few days. I've made a mess with my writing, sprayed the downstairs loo with soil and switched the water supply to the outside tap on and off about four times.

My list for today was: put garden chairs away, switch off outside tap, paint outside tubs, repot violet,  iron for our holiday and continue editing - all by 11:00 am this morning. It's almost 4 pm and I have achieved 3 of the above.  I shall now sit quietly and collect my thoughts. Rushing has achieved very little... The sun is shining. If I hadn't packed away the garden chairs I could have sat outside and soaked up some rays... Clearly I need a few days away.🌞

Friday, 6 October 2017

Return to Sender

For over a year I have been using our local deposit point - in that way, when we are expecting deliveries, we don't have to stay in all day, we just collect them from the deposit point at our convenience.
So confident was I that the system was working perfectly I ordered three items, to be delivered to the deposit point, for my husband's birthday. I made the order three weeks ago and, no, the items have still not arrived.

For something new to wear, from a specialist 1950s jive shop, I ordered a replacement dress for one I've ripped, but of which I'm fond. That was for Richard's birthday too and was ordered well over three weeks ago. The delivery was taken to our deposit point but was refused, ie someone wouldn't sign for it, and my lovely Audrey Hepburn dresses were returned to sender. I'm now doing what I was trying to avoid ... waiting in for five days in case there's a delivery at our home...

Another order of M&S underwear and jewellery should have been delivered this week. I chose to have it delivered as there was no delivery charge. But, yep, you guessed it, I ordered it over three weeks ago, hoping to be able to wear said items by now, but not only was despatch delayed by two weeks this package was also refused at our delivery point. ( Someone new or someone very  busy was on the desk and had, erroneously, sent the items back. ) My new bras have been returned to sender. I asked M& S if my returned lacy, underwired-in-almond bras could be taken to our nearest store for click-and-collect. It took 24 hours to get the very personal and polite reply but there was no mechanism for that process and I would be refunded. I therefore have to re-order everything. I am going into town today and could simply go in to the shop but I was trying to save time ... I wanted to concentrate on my novel's final edits rather than choosing bras from a vast array of styles, colours and fit.

So, today, 6th October, I await the delivery of my husband's birthday gifts. I asked our delivery point not to refuse them... and why had my items been refused? Because of some error. Dare I hope my husband's birthday gear will be here ready for his birthday ... at Hallowe'en? If so it will have been the longest shopping trip ever.🎁😑
Oh what a tangled web we weave when we try to proceed πŸ•Έ(without going out to the shops).
Let it be a lesson for me... Trying to save time has resulted in re-orders, not knowing where my items are and the inevitable waiting in for a parcel ( or 5). In most cases the shops are not in our town and I couldn't simply go in and make a purchase. Their stores are in Cornwall and that's five hours away.
It would have been quicker to have driven there and back... (But too exhausting.)

What to do in the future? Find another deposit point, or just stop buying things? ... It is a first-world problem. The dalai lama would simply laugh and have something philosophical to say about the way we make ourselves ill going to work to make money to buy things we don't really need.

Happy hallowe'enπŸŽƒ

Monday, 2 October 2017

Are we behaving as if it's the 1930s?

My novel opens in 1918 on the day women, aged 30, finally got the 'married women's vote'. Ninety-nine years ago around 8 million women stood alongside men, in the polling booths. It took another ten years for universal suffrage to be extended to all in the UK. The 'Votes for Women'  movement was a grass-roots pressure group forcing the government's hand. Today, almost a century later,  we hear how votes for a referendum in Catalonia - for a declaration of independence from Spain - was banned by Spain's constitutional court. Police used force to try to block voting. As an interviewer on 'Today' stated Spain is a young democracy, having been ruled by Franco from pre-world war two until his death in 1975. In other words they are still learning how democracy works.

My father always said the USA is a young country, implying they are still learning how to run themselves whilst, apparently, being the most powerful nation in the world. When the USA went to the presidential polls last year, Donald Trump, at best 'a wild card' with his lack of  political experience, gained fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, a political heavy-weight, yet he was voted in as President.
This was described as a populist movement against the political elite.

In Britain we have had a referendum which asked us simply 'should the UK remain in the EU?'.
In another soi disant populist attack on our political status quo the vox populi was to leave the EU.

The situation in Spain, the USA and in the UK show democracy in action, struggling for birth or re-birth, but shifts in people's perception of who they want to represent them are taking place. In Germany Mrs Merkel has been voted in for a fourth term as Chancellor, but with neo-Nazis nipping at her heels. Her stability seems desirable but at a considerable cost if neo-Nazism is on the move.

My novel ends two weeks after Britain has declared war on Germany in 1939. Europe and the USA beat the Hitler dictatorship. The slump of 1929 sent shockwaves through western economies and people were poor, unemployment was very high and the lot of the common man - and woman - was desperately hard in the 1930s. Economic unrest can lead to civil unrest and war.

Do we have this level of civil unrest and poverty now, causing populist movements ie Trump's ascendancy and the UK referendum? It is said parts of Bristol, in the UK, are as poor as the dreadful days of the 1930s. But is this a localised pocket of poverty? Are children walking the streets barefoot as pictures from the 1930s reveal?

It seems one reason for the populist vote for Trump was a result of the American rust belt ... declining industry, joblessness, folk forced to move to find work. A reason for our UK referendum leading to Brexit was, similarly, joblessness, a belief that being in the EU meant Eastern Europeans were free to travel to the UK and take 'our jobs' and school places. Again joblessness or austerity have, possibly, created a gass roots movement leading to a protest against current politics and politicians. More voted in the UK ref than in any general election. Is this democracy at work? I would defend the right, of course, for people to have a referendum. If the people of Catalonia want a referendum it's easy for me to say they should have it. But what if London wanted a referendum to split from the rest of the UK, or Birmingham, or, as nearly happened, in Scotland's referendum, the Scots voted to leave the UK? We wouldn't want that level of independence and break up. Spain likely doesn't want Catalonia to leave it. Democracy is hard to achieve; it can lead to outcomes we don't all want.

Thus democracy is good if the results of a democratic vote go the way you want it to. I didn't vote for our Conservative government, I think its austerity policy has damaged thousands of our most vulnerable citizens and I certainly didn't vote for Brexit. However, since 2010, Britain has had a democratically elected Conservative government, which I don't like, but we aren't a dictatorship. Are the conditions across the USA and Europe as bad as the 1930s? Blaming East Europeans for our joblessness sounds familiar. Despite my dislike of Trump and our Conservative government we don't have neo-Nazis nipping at our heels like Chancellor Merkel in Germany. Aren't they the elements to watch? Trump, austerity Britain and our Conservatives will go. Democratically. But we know what damage was done in 1933 by Hitler and his Nazis.And we have just seen Attwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' on UK TV.  Let's hope the conditions in the USA and Europe are not the same now as in the 1930s, nor Gilead. Let's hope further discontent can be avoided and no extremist force takes over in any of our democracies in the forseeable future. Perhaps we are all still learning how to be democratic, not just Spain. Let's hope upheavals in the land are small ones and not the seismic shifts of the 1930s. We don't want another 1939.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Hey Mr Tangerine Man

The death of Glen Campbell reminded me of misheard and misunderstood words from my childhood ... I didn't follow his career but I thought the words '...I'm a lineman for the county...'were beautifully sung. He had a special singing voice but when I first heard these words I thought a 'lineman' was a cowboy-like figure who paraded up and down county borders in the States with a rifle - defending the county line. It was only as an adult that I realised a 'lineman' was to be seen up telegraph poles - fixing the phone lines. ( I was only very young in the 1960s!)

Has anyone else ever spent years pondering lyrics to songs only to find they'd misheard them from the outset?

Bob Dylan's 'Hey Mr Tambourine Man...' came - to my uncultured ears - as 'Hey Mr Tangerine Man' and I thought the great Bob was either bright orange or he was singing about a fruit seller! Again it took a little while before I realised why Bob wanted him ' play a little song for me...'

The phrase 'Gordon Bennett' was somewhat overused in our street - I felt - as I was sure it referred to Mr Bennett who lived at number one - we were number eight. Mr Bennett seemed to crop up in many conversations. Again it took me a few years before I realised ' Gordon Bennett' didn't refer to our neighbour, it couldn't have done, his name was Chris and my father taught him.

Tom Jones' 'Green, green grass of home' proved similarly difficult for my young ears. I couldn't quite understand '...her golden lips like cherries...' How so? Cherries aren't gold! Only when listening very carefully did I hear the actual words '... Hair of gold and lips like cherries...' And I never have quite got the gist of 'abhoring the virgin's womb...' in church.  How do you abhore a womb? Anyone?

Even when Dusty sang '...You don't have to stay forever, just be close at hand...' I misheard it - for years - as '... You don't have to stay forever just because of that...' I never knew what 'that' was ... and why wasn't he having to stay - or not stay - forever - just because of ...what? Perhaps I've had unresolved hearing difficulties since childhood?

Now I'm older I know I suffer from simply not hearing things properly. 'University Challenge' is becoming gobbledegook ... My scores are going down ... I'm simply not hearing the questions correctly. Well that's one reason I can't answer them.

 Must get my ears looked at.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Top 50 American novels - discuss

As I did a BSc for my first degree I feel I've never got to grips with the Great American Novel. Somehow I haven't met enough Americans or Eng Lit graduates who majored in American Literature.
What do you think of this list? Are they the best 50 titles? (I've missed out the ones I've actually read).
1  Huckleberry Finn - Twain
2  Catcher in the Rye - Salinger
3  Scarlet Letter - Hawthorne
4  In Cold Blood - Capote
5  East of Eden- Steinbeck
6  Little Women - Alcott
7  Catch 22 - Heller
8  Death of a Salesman - Miller
9  The Stand - Stephen King
10 Leaves of Grass - Whitman
11 Outsiders - Hinton
12 Crucible - Miller
13 Absalom - Faulkner
14 Charlotte's Web - White
15 Invisible Man - Ellison* reading it now
16 Sophie's Choice - Styron
17 The Sound and The Fury - Faulkner
18 House of Mirth - Wharton
19 American Tragedy - Dreisser
20 The Sun Also Rises - Hemingway
21 The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson
22 Main Street - Lewis
23 Cannery Row - Steinbeck
24 Ethan Frome - Wharton
25 The Bridge of St Luis Rey - Wilder
26 Herzog - Bellow
27 Franny and Zooey - Bellow
28 O Pioneers! - Cather
29 Their Eyes were Watching God - Hurston
30 Rabbit Run + 2 - Updike
31 Breakfast of Champions - Vonnegut
32 Accidental Tourist - Tyler
33 World According to Garp - Irving
34 Angel of Repose - Stegner
35 Beloved - Morrison
36 Crossing to Safety - Stegner
37 Confederacy of Dunces - Toole
38 Killer Angels - Shaara
39 Native Son - Wright
40 My Antonia - Cather
41 Death Comes to the Archbishop - Cather
42 The Good Earth - Buck
43 Wings of a Dove - James
44 Maltese Falcon - Hammet
45 Shipping News - Proulx
46 Naked Lunch - Burroughs
47 Tortilla Flat - Steinbeck
48 The Things They Carried - O' Brien
49 The Stand - King
50 One Thousand Acres - Smiley

I would just say I have read Faulkner's 'As I Lay Dying' and I'm not interested in reading any more Faulkner - at least not yet...
What do any of you think of this list? Anything vital that's been left off? Any other recommendations?

With thanks !

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Space Oddity

I had the oddest dream last night. For quite some time I was puzzled about the subject matter - where had I got the idea - or imaginings - for deep-space travel? And why was I so relieved it was morning and I wasn't really stuck on a space ship with people clamouring for my attention?

It struck me that maybe I had gone to bed thinking about comets - the Perseid shower is supposed to be visible in the evening sky. Here I could see very little, apart from a few stars and lots of cloud. It could explain why I had gone to sleep with notions of celestial beings but why was I appeasing crowds of folk on a space ship? Is it because I have been planning a big party for my husband? ( But that's not until 2018!)

Hey ho. Whatever the stimulus was for my extra-terrestrial reveries the joy with which I woke up, free from cares and responsibiliies for my fellow passengers, was palpable. The feeling was of liberation, of having nothing to worry about and of having nothing in particular to even think about. I woke up as if on holiday - simply relieved of everyday concerns.

Of course the images from my space travel disappeared very quickly. I do, however, remember characters in my dream were dressed in shiny white space uniforms. But many were also wearing fancy dress and I seem to remember tables full of trifle and jellies featured quite strongly. One of the oddest aspects of the dream was people asking to get off, as if we were on a bus, and groups wanting  to alight at a variety of 'bus' stops. I had to keep them calm and repeated that they must wait. Another abiding sensation I took away from the dream was that I knew I had to keep everyone safe and I had to stay on the ship until the bitter end. I was very busy telling people to take care of their belongings as well as dealing with their dietary requirements. I could almost have been running a school trip - but for whole family groups - not just for a class of twelve-year-olds!

At the end of the dream I had managed to quash everyone's worries and reassured them. I had met each request or demand and kept them safe until they were able to get off the space ship at some extra terrestrial airport lounge... When I awoke it was barely 6.30 am, far too early to wake or get up, but so enlivened was I by having discharged my duties as space hostess I couldn't get back to sleep!

I wrote down the details from my space travel, such as they were, and remembered I'd done something which, although prosaic, might explain my 'high' feelings. I'd taken paracetamol with caffeine in 2 separate doses the day before. I'd also had an Aperol Spritzer, the drink that's sweeping Europe, according to the barman at our riverside local. Is it the effect of this cocktail which had created my fantastic space trip? I don't watch Dr Who and I haven't been thinking of Bowie nor his Space Oddity. I haven't been entertaining friends or family enmasse but I have had paracetamol-with-caffeine for a trapped nerve in my back. I had cleared  the kitchen garden and made new paths, all of which had made my back pain flare up. Is it the realisation I no longer have to dig the veggie plots, nor re-stain fence panels, nor clear unwanted honeysuckle - which has been a devil to shift - nor transport garden waste to the 'green bin' that has given me the feeling, on waking, of great elation? Has doing the garden been weighing on my mind? But what has making new paths in our kitchen garden got to do with the overriding responsibilities of space travel?

Yesterday, after my gardening chores were over and I was lying down, resting my back, I did watch an excellent BBC version of Priestly's 'An Inspector Calls'. Had I, perhaps, taken the message of the play, to be responsible for everyone we meet, to heart? Could that explain my own 'space oddity'?- the notion that if you don't treat people with courtesy they might suffer as a result of your actions. Might these thoughts have affected my subconscious? Are these the thoughts I had when I closed my eyes last night? I do know this morning I have nothing to worry about. Well, nothing apart from querying why I had such an odd dream, full of an overwhelming burden that I was responsible for everyone on that space ship. Now I've written my blog and discharged my duties I can relax, have a cuppa and get on with my day.

Can't I?