Posts Tagged ‘blogging’

I wonder why it is that, however carefully you pack away the Christmas lights each year, you end up wrestling with a tangled mass of wires before draping them over the tree to discover that they’ve decided not to work. They worked fine during the plug-in test in their jumbled state. This is one of life’s many little irritations and reasonably resolvable after checking the efficacy of each individual bulb but it is a seasonal time-waster.

I managed to avoid one of the stressful Christmas traditions this year – that of actually going out and buying the tree in the first place. For once, last year’s tree has been flourishing, potted up in the back garden, requiring very little maintenance other than the occasional watering. Because I have to have a real tree – and I’m very determined about this – nothing will incite me to unfold a fake tree from my attic – the task of selection and carriage falls to me. Many a year I have suffered scratches to face and arms as I force the shapeliest spruce I can find into my modest hatch-back.

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So with the tree decorated, all presents wrapped and cards written, unusually I had time on my hands so, as you do, I hemmed a pair of curtains. Now, this might not sound like much but let me tell you, my sewing box and I are distant acquaintances. It sees the light of day occasionally if a button goes astray but coming out as part of some sort of enjoyable leisure activity is, frankly, risible.

I put this down to the trauma I suffered as a child in my first year at secondary school at the hands of our sewing mistress, Mrs Gorrill. She was a sour-faced little woman, always dressed in black (I think it may have been taffeta – whatever it was, it rustled) and she would rap us over our knuckles with her pinking shears if the stitching on our gingham cookery aprons wasn’t neat enough. My knuckles that term were red raw and I spent much of the time in that sewing room unpicking my sub-standard effort gazing across to the adjacent hut where the boys were doing technical drawing, wondering why girls were excluded from learning about perspective.

We were relegated to ‘domestic science’ which I reckon was only a generation away from ‘housewifery.’ I wasn’t much better in the cookery room, either. I remember my Swiss roll unravelling and ending up on the floor and being told off for pointing a saucepan handle over a hot ring when, in my defence, I’d been taught at home to angle handles away from the edge so that smaller siblings wouldn’t reach up and tip molten liquid over themselves. I think the teacher burned her hand on that handle as she was reprimanding me…hadn’t she heard of oven gloves?

These days cookery is called ‘Food Technology’ and anyone is allowed to take it as a subject, although its current status has gone the way of many of the more useful subjects on the national curriculum and has been savagely down-graded in favour of the academic subjects. While students are still required to make (in my opinion) unnecessary culinary items – fresh pasta, for instance, whoever is going to make their own pasta in halls of residence? – for some pupils, creating dishes in the kitchen is what they excel at and should be given as much kudos as an A star in English or Maths.

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Little Mai from the Moomins looks just like my old sewing teacher

But what am I thinking? This wasn’t meant to turn into an education based rant. I simply wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Have fun, enjoy yourselves – and cheers to another blogging year!

 

 

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Hello 2016! Over half way through January and already I‘m writing the sixteen part of the date with consummate confidence – no slipping back into last year for me. Yet what have I done so far? Nothing but feel lackadaisical, that’s what. Everything is an effort. Maybe it’s the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having that assists my sluggishness – particularly in the writing department. However, thankfully I don’t think I’m alone. Several blog posts I have read lately seem to be complaining of similar afflictions. So I’ll heave myself out of my malaise and share my recently read titles and my new book pile, purchased delightedly with Christmas money gifted specifically for that purpose.

I started the Christmas break (it seems so long ago now), by reading the book club choice – “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?by Jeanette Winterson. This sorry autobiographical tale details her early life with a monster of an adoptive mother and how, against all odds and between bouts of being locked in the coal cellar she collected a forbidden library of books, taught herself literature and wound up at Oxford University before embarking on a career as a writer and journalist while seeking her biological mother. The title refers to a comment the adoptive mother made to Jeanette when she discovered her having a relationship with a woman.

This was an interesting read if only for the fact that she and I are of similar age and my own childhood was in complete contrast to hers. While I was riding my Raleigh bike with its Sturmey-Archer gears carefree through the leafy lanes of Surrey she had run away from home ‘up north’ and was living in the back of an abandoned mini car, wondering from where her next meal was coming. I won’t reveal the outcome of her search in case anyone chooses to take this on. To sum up – it’s a quick read but not an easy one.

Next up was “A Spool Of Blue Thread” by Ann Tyler, recommended by Lisa. I had only read Ann Tyler once before and hadn’t particularly enjoyed her so this was started with some apprehension. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this family saga spanning three generations. We start and end with Denny, the black sheep of the family and Tyler’s writing is pacy, winding us through various time frames and familial relationships using mainly dialogue. Her characterisations and her descriptions of place create a vivid visual picture. It’s a very clever story and well deserving of its place on the Booker Prize shortlist.

After seeing the film “The Lady in the Van” I just had to read Alan Bennett’s book to find out if the film was completely true. Both the film and the book are enchantingly British, very funny and well worth a watch or a read – preferably both. I’m not saying any more than that lest I spoil it for you!

Having enjoyed the above title so much I decided to revisit and indulge in Alan Bennett’s “Talking Heads.” This is a compilation of the series of monologues he wrote to be performed both at the theatre and on BBC television. They hark back to the early eighties but lose none of their wit and poignancy over thirty years later. I‘ve read these more times than I probably care to remember but each time I find a new gem of an observation or turn of phrase that has me laughing out loud. The book I have lists the name of the actor who originally performed each one and the cast list reads like a night at the BAFTA’s. I find these monologues highly inspiring and am hoping that by reading them again now will send a jolt of creativity across my stagnant bows.

So…that’s what I have been reading and this is what my new book pile looks like:

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Having looked at Pauline’s new year list recently, I’ve pre-ordered two titles from hers – “The Forgetting Time” by Sharon Guskin and “The Reader on the 6.27” by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent. Neither title is available in the UK till later in the year so I’ll have a lovely surprise when either turns up on the doormat.

So many books…so little time. I keep the ones I might conceivably read again – the others I pass on, not minding if they are lost to me forever. Rather that than lend a precious title to a friend who returns it in appalling condition. This happened once, which inspired this 300 flash fiction. I haven’t lent anything to her since…

LENDING

As she adjusted the vertical blinds at the far end to stop sunlight streaming through the window and discolouring the books Margaret noticed with distaste that Ms Elizabeth Rivers was in again.  Only last week she had said to young David (work placement, not permanent staff); she had said to him, she said, that she would rather never lend Ms Rivers a book again.

While she tidied her pristine work area and wiped her computer screen with a vanilla scented wet-wipe, Margaret kept a disdainful eye on Ms Rivers rummaging through the shelves, opening a book, reading a page, turning it over, reading the back cover synopsis, ramming it back on the shelf, repeating the process with another title. The state her last selection had come back in had been a disgrace – corners bent over, unidentifiable smears on covers and, worse still, remnants of what looked like blueberry muffin squashed between the pages of “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.”

David arrived from the kitchenette with yet another mug of coffee which he placed with exaggerated care onto a cork mat next to his keyboard. He looked at Margaret somewhat defiantly she thought, and nodded in the direction of Ms Rivers, who by now had chosen two titles and was looking for her third. Margaret turned her attention to Mr Dawkins, another regular who had an insatiable interest in Military History, and who treated the books he borrowed as if they were precious relics. Swiping his card with a flourish, Margaret heard David dealing with Ms Rivers who was remonstrating loudly.

“I’m sorry, Ms Rivers” she heard David say, “Your card appears to have been withdrawn.”

Margaret, head down, busied herself by straightening a pile of leaflets.

oooooooOOO~OOOooooooo

 

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The annual review provided by the Big Brother that is WordPress suggested that we revisit old posts and write about those subjects again. This seemed a bit counter-productive to me but as I trawled through some really old posts I began to see possibilities.

I blogged a couple of years ago about the first paid job I ever had, aged thirteen, writing up the new year’s stock books for my father. (If you want to read about that, you can do so here). This was lucrative while it lasted but it didn’t provide me with regular income and at that age, when the lure of Aqua Manda scented products and shops such as Chelsea Girl beckoned, money was all important.

Babysitting became the next option. A friend of mine, Viv, seemed to have a monopoly in the village which I was keen to break into. A recently built housing estate spawned plenty of opportunity and I began to get the odd Saturday night slot. I can’t say that looking after other people’s children particularly appealed – I wasn’t that bothered about taking care of my own siblings – but Viv assured me it was easy money and that most people had coloured TV sets and a never ending supply of biscuits.

Once the children are in bed, having read them a story, got them drinks, admired their Lego model, reassured them there are no monsters and Mummy and Daddy will be back soon, the evening is pretty much your own but sitting by yourself in someone else’s house is the weirdest thing. You’re not familiar with the creaks the house makes; the heating system might rumble on like thunder, the washing machine, set on a timer, may well spring into action to take advantage of cheaper electricity. There are likely to be small rodents somewhere in a cage running round in a wheel. You are on edge for four hours just waiting for the parents to get back and free you from this potential peril.

One household I sat for locked the telephone in their bedroom. What kind of family have locks on their internal doors – and who in their right minds locks a telephone away from someone who is acting in loco parentis? Did they think I’d be spending the evening ringing friends in Australia? What would I have done if an emergency presented itself? I never sat for that particular family again. In fact, I wasn’t very successful as a babysitter – I let Viv maintain her monopoly – but I stuck it out until I was fifteen or so until I was able to obtain a proper job: my first foray into retail. But that’ll have to wait until part two.

*My Brilliant Career – a 1901 novel by Miles Franklin about a young Australian girl, Sybylla, and her secret desire to become a writer. It was made into a film in 1979 starring Judy Davis. I’ve always wanted to use that as a title – and now I have.

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How long did it take during your Christmas/New Year break to discover that you really couldn’t face one more chocolate, marzipan fruit, mince pie, trifle or slice of cold turkey, ham and accompanying pickle? How long was it before you were pining for something plain and simple, no sugar or unnecessary carbs attached? I’d reached my limit by Sunday 28 December.

As the fridge was still bursting with seasonal fare and a chocolate mountain overloaded the sideboard already I was dreaming of fasting. Even alcohol lost its appeal.

The sofas remained in a state of permanent lopsidedness with their slumped indented unplumped cushions caused by their permanently slumped and increasingly obese occupants while the TV went round on a loop of hideously boring repeats – some only repeated from the week before – as if any of us really noticed or even cared as yet another box of Turkish Delight was offered around.

Not being one to waste food I’ve made just about made sure we’ve chomped our way through pretty much everything before hitting the supermarket with renewed New Year vigour. The other day I made soup from some old leeks I found lurking and a wedge of stilton cheese. Why we buy strong blue cheese I have no idea – we never eat it at any other times during the year – but it’s a part of Christmas, so we have it. I had no idea that there would be a recipe for this combination so I just followed my culinary instincts (which we all know aren’t that well honed), chopped the leeks, sweated them in some butter, added a potato and vegetable stock then zizzed them up together with my hand-held blender. I then crumbled in the cheese, zizzed a bit more and returned the pan to the heat, adjusted the seasoning and served. Quite good, actually, although if I made it again (unlikely), I’d add a bit of milk to take the strength from the cheese.

I’m pleased to report that a) there won’t be any further recipe tips here and b) thankfully the cupboard is bare and we can look forward to getting back to a weekly routine.

Speaking of reports – I was interested to learn from the WordPress review of my blogging year that I have managed to elicit the same amount of traffic to my site as it would take to fill the Sydney Opera House several times over. Well, not having ever visited said concert hall, this statistic was rather lost on me until I equated the total to filling the Royal Albert Hall and discovered that I’m probably as popular as Eric Clapton on a two night sell out tour.

Now I know how many hits it takes to fill the Albert Hall…

Thanks to everyone who has dropped in, liked and commented – much appreciated.

WordPress also suggested that I take a look at some older successful posts and consider writing about those topics again. Hmm, might try this as a bit of an experiment especially as one post has only elicited interest because of its accompanying photographs and I’m feeling less than creatively original at the moment. Sounds like an excellent solution.

Also, in their wisdom, school have sent me on a training course which requires homework to be completed every week for the next ten. I can see this taking up more time that I anticipated so blog posts may well be sporadic although I’m hoping that the training course itself will provide some fodder.

So, that’s the start of my 2015 – glad to be back in the routine – however much we rail against it, I think we’re all creatures of habit to a greater or lesser extent.

Here’s to a new blogging year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As we race towards the sharp end of the summer term with the dreaded sports day and activities week safely out of the way, the long summer break looms ahead and my postings are likely to be more erratic than usual. Without the daily routine that term time requires I fear that my time will merge into a summery haze although I have every intention of concentrating on some story writing and editing. beach-scene120412[1]

However, if last summer was anything to go by I managed to fail miserably on both of those counts, so I’m not promising anything or indeed setting a deadline that I will feel obliged to fulfil. I shall keep up with reading as many blogs as I can so won’t have evaporated completely from the stratosphere and I shall hopefully find some interesting places during August that will be worth blogging about later.

Before I go though, I must just share this with you.

The autistic son of an acquaintance of mine was recently banned from his school bus for a few days apparently for causing damage to said vehicle. He sat down next to a sign which clearly stated:

TAKE HAMMER AND BREAK THE GLASS.

So he did.

Enjoy your summers!

 

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 First of all I’d like to extend thanks to everyone who read and responded to my last post on the sorry state of current education in our country. It was heartening and depressing in equal measure to discover that we are not alone here in the UK –this seems to be a global issue: your replies and points that you raised were both interesting and supportive – thank you all very much.

Let’s move on to a lighter topic this week. Well I wish we could, but this week is all about weight: my weight. It’s not something I’ve ever had to watch or be bothered about, having been blessed with height and a speedy metabolism. I don’t have a sweet tooth either (apart for a penchant for chocolate) so I’ve never tucked into puddings with relish. My weight has remained around the same for the best part of thirty odd years, with occasional minor fluctuations of a few pounds either up or down – in the same way as stock market linked investments go up and down – it’s just a pity that my particular savings account is not travelling in the same direction as the needle on my bathroom scales.

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I don’t even weigh myself that often so it came as a bit of a shock to discover that, just after Christmas, I was heavier than I’ve ever been. And I’m talking more than just a few pounds. How did that happen? I wasn’t aware of any clothes feeling tight. I don’t stick to a dress size either, I tend to buy things that fit rather than squeezing into a size for the sake of false modesty so a quick scan through my wardrobe revealed that I’m anything from a size 10 to a 16, depending on the make and cut.

So, what do I normally do when the fluctuations are heading in the wrong direction? Well, I cut down on the eating and exercise more. Simple. In a couple of weeks the needle on the scales is where it should be. Except that this time it isn’t. I’ve already designated myself a chocolate free zone until Easter and am eating only what I consider to be necessary foods – so no cakes, biscuits, buns, crisps, nuts – and slightly less of everything else.

That, as far as I’m concerned, is dieting, isn’t it? To be honest, I tend to switch off when people talk about their diets – I catch bits of conversations where they are earnestly debating calorie counting, eating just bacon for a fortnight or liquidised cabbage and fretting over their body mass index – but maybe I’m missing something.

I do have a theory, mind you. I’ve had my suspicions for a while but I’m pretty sure I’m right. Blogging is making us me fat. Not only is it fascinating to dip in and out of other people’s lives and thoughts it is another way to learn any amount of new things and I’ve been spending far too much time sitting in front of my computer screen rather than properly exercising.

Blog – it even looks like a ‘fat’ word to me – all those rounded letters – so I’m going to make a conscious effort to go back to some formal exercise. I know it can be done- my blogging pal, Red Hen, over in Southern Ireland runs and blogs (not at the same time, although I wouldn’t put it past her), about places she encounters while out running, providing a wonderful travelogue of her part of the world. Couple that with the way she writes and you’ll hear her Irish lilt coming through her words – and not even out of breath.

That’s all I’m going to say about my weight – I shan’t update you over every ounce – and I will still be reading all the blogs I follow. What I won’t be doing is getting side tracked along the way – and that will be much more difficult than keeping my promise to myself to eat less.

 Well, there’s no point in cheating, is there?

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I have a slightly delicate subject to blog about this week, which is one of the reasons I’ve been putting it off. Other reasons include Christmas shopping on the high street as opposed to online and having a whale of a time at Tracy’s blog party which I managed to turn up late for, met lots of interesting folk and then probably out stayed my welcome.

Now, not wanting to offend anyone at all (believe me, if it was intended there’d be no mistake) – but the delicate subject to which I refer is awards. I just don’t get them. I don’t mean that I don’t get nominated – I do and have been sincerely touched by the thought – I mean that I don’t understand the concept. To me, an award is something bestowed, without strings attached, for an outstanding achievement or endeavour. So while it is obviously very gratifying that fellow bloggers consider my blog an outstanding achievement, I reckon that’s over doing things a tad.

Furthermore, as far as I’m aware, a requirement of accepting these awards is to answer a few questions posed by the nominator then pass on to other deserving bloggers, rather like a game of hot potato or an old fashioned chain letter. Therein, for me, lays a twofold awkwardness. Firstly, if I was worthy enough to win an award for something like, say, a Bafta, I‘d get to keep it with impunity and bask in its regularly polished reflection forever, and secondly, not wanting to bequeath to someone else the same uneasy dilemma, I wouldn’t have to angst over to whom I should pass the award.

I suppose it’s a bit like the passing on of the baton in a relay race, unless of course you are British  (which I am – and we all know how disappointing that can be when it comes to the last day of track and field events), as the baton is frequently dropped. So in traditional British style, I shall fumble over the baton exchange on this particular subject, say a collective thank you to all who have sent an award my way, and apologise for breaking the link.

photo from Daily Mail archive

photo from Daily Mail archive

Most blog awards that I’ve come across also require a certain amount of question answering, which I never mind as long as they are not being posed by a sales caller, so without further ado, (rather like a man faced with a set of instructions for flat packed furniture) I shall skip to these, and answer, as promised, a set of questions sent to me by the lovely Jade from her eclectic blog, Cocktails and Country Tales.

1)   What are your five favourite novels?

I couldn’t possibly commit to naming five all time favourites: the list would change. Books to me are memorable for different reasons, not always because I’ve enjoyed them. However, five books I’ve read recently and have enjoyed are:

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan; Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor; Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding; Ours Are the Streets by Sunjeev Sahota and Toby’s Room by Pat Barker.

It remains to be seen if they become memorable.

2)   What’s the best lie/ tall tale your parents ever told you as a child?

I don’t think they ever did. Apart from the magic surrounding Santa Claus they were wary of feeding the wrong information into enquiring young minds so were always very straight with us, even if sometimes the truth was disappointing.

3) What one object would you save from your house in a fire? (Nothing alive – presume that even the tropical fish can get themselves safely out without your help).

My teddy bear collection: the gang of three. As they are inseparable they’d have to count as one object, although they wouldn’t like to be thought of as such, each having his very own unique personality.

4) Do you remember the first ever fancy-dress party you went to? What did you go as and why?

It was our village summer carnival. At six years old, I was Peter Pan and my sister, Tinkerbell. Nanna made our costumes. I wore green tights underneath a green cotton tabard onto which she had sewn an assortment of plastic leaves. I also wore a pointed pixie hat. My sister had a white frock with lots of netting. I think she carried a wand made from tin foil and a cereal packet. As children, Peter Pan was one of our favourite stories – we would play at being the Darling family. By the way, Nanna was our real grandmother, not the Darling’s dog.

5) What would plan B have been, career-wise?

To try harder at Plan A

6) What one garment or item of clothing that you own could you not live without?

My old leather car coat

7) What’s the best mistake you’ve ever made?

On leaving school I attended the London College of Fashion’s course in periodical journalism which I hated with a passion. Thankfully the course duration was only a year and it turned out to be a case of being in the right place at the right time because it tipped me in the direction of the career in publicity which I absolutely loved and which I followed for the next fifteen years.

8) Do you have any phobias, and what do you think caused them?

No phobias, although I’m not a huge fan of heights or spiders – but I deal with the latter using a glass and bit of cardboard. (Or the vacuum nozzle if it’s handy). An encounter with a spider on the top floor of an open air multi-storey car-park could well set off a phobia.

9) What is your most common typo? (Mine is Englihs . Yes, I know. ‘I am an Englihs teacher’. Sigh.)

I’m not aware of making a consistent typo. The spelling of ‘weird’ always takes me by surprise.

10) Why did you first start your blog, and is it the same thing that keeps you writing it now?

 I sometimes ask myself the same question. I wanted a reason to write regularly and originally I had intended to post some creative writing here, which I have done occasionally. However I quickly discovered that posting equals publishing so for any competition entering I may want to venture into, pre-posted stories would be ineligible. I keep writing now, still for the challenge of regular postings, but mainly to interact with all the interesting bloggers I have met along the way.

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