Tuesday, 30 October 2012

'Whatever Happened to Xenia Cage?' Scene from my play

(In copying this from Word, some of the script formatting has slipped slightly, apologies.)


Scene Seven– Mrs Cage’s Art & Crafts store, Los Angeles, 1933

        Enter Xenia, wearing a fashionable hat. She looks around the store.

Xenia             I hope this store has what I need for my course. Let me think. (ticks things off on her fingers) Soft pencils, turpentine, good brushes…
 
    Enter John Cage, shop assistant (played by one of the sisters)

 John              Good afternoon miss. Can I be of any assistance?

Xenia             John! What are you doing here? Sasha said there should be no famous people in this play!

John              But it’s only 1933. I’m not at all famous, not yet.

Xenia             Neither should there be any men.

John              Well, what am I meant to do about that? Cut me a bit of slack Xenia, please.
 
Xenia             I suppose I might, for now. Just out of curiosity.

John              You do remember this scene?

Xenia             Unfortunately, I remember it very well.

John              Shall we begin again?

Xenia             If you insist.

John              Would you care to go off and re-enter?

Xenia             Not particularly. Just get on with it.

John turns away, then back to face her.

John              Good afternoon miss. Can I be of any assistance?

Xenia             Thank you, but I require no assistance whatever.

John             That’s such a shame, we have so much to offer. We stock absolutely everything a talented artist like yourself could possibly need, from stretched canvas to hog-hair artists’ brushes.

Xenia           I want sable, not hog-hair.

John              Ok. We’ve got those somewhere, but they will cost you. Folk can’t afford much in these recessionary times, there’s no demand for sable brushes.

Xenia             I need three. I’m studying art at Reed College.

John              That’s marvellous. I’m a student too, I study music. I just work in the store to help out as I’m between tutors right now.

Xenia             A musician. Any particular variety of music?

John              Modern, absolutely modern, but not jazz. I’m working on a bunch of my own compositions right now, some piano pieces.

Xenia             I play piano.

John              I’m sure you’re absolutely excellent.

Xenia             I would be if I could only practice more.

John              Absolutely, you must practice. It’s essential for a musician to know what they’re doing, even if they then want to break the rules.

Xenia             I see. So you like breaking rules?

John              The classical stuff has been absolutely done to death, I need to be original. I want to break down barriers between musical performance and everyday sounds.

Xenia             Experimental music. I see.

Pause

John              But I don’t mean to denigrate your tastes. And you must practice, it’s so important.

Xenia             It’s difficult to practice. Right now I don’t have my own piano, my cottage is too small. Sometimes I visit my friend Gretchen’s house. They’re very wealthy, they have a good Steinway grand which I play.

John (slowly) You play on Gretchen’s Steinway?

Xenia             I believe that’s what I said.

John              Absolutely! How many Gretchens are there in LA, do you think?

Xenia             Oh, quite a few I should imagine, only she doesn’t live in LA. We were at Monterey High together and they have a marvellous house above Carmel Bay.

John              Not so many Gretchens in Carmel.

Xenia             I wouldn’t know. But I’ll bet you she’s the only one with a Steinway.

John              I’m certain she is. I’ve played on that Steinway too.

Xenia             I beg your pardon?

John              When I’m in Carmel, I play on Gretchen’s Steinway, just like you do.

Xenia             Well that’s a new chat up line. I certainly don’t believe a word of it!

John              I’m not actually… er… (pause) Listen, perhaps an introduction is in order. My name is John Cage, this is my mother’s store, she set this up to help impoverished artists. I help out when I’m in town.

Xenia             I am Xenia Kashevaroff. Pleased to meet you, John Cage.

They shake hands.

John              And I’m delighted to meet you, Miss Kashevaroff. You are absolutely the loveliest young woman who has ever walked into this store.

Xenia             Now that’s a much better line. Please do continue.

John              And plenty of beautiful people do come in here. Artists bring their models, and models bring their artists. Teachers bring their students and students bring their lovers. I’m not saying which might be the woman in any case. And, Xenia Kashevaroff, you outshine them all! If I were to be the marrying kind, you would absolutely be the kind woman I would want to marry.

Xenia (with an exaggerated Southern US accent) Why Mister Cage, without that kinda noticeable little word, ‘if’, I’d say you were being kinda hasty.

John              But how much less fun conversation would be without a few ‘ifs’! Don’t you agree?

Xenia             I might need some convincing of that. Ifs can be confusing, though I do have more of a problem with buts.

John              Okay. (pause) Returning to ifs, if your friend Gretchen, with the Steinway piano, turned out to be the very same Gretchen as my friend Gretchen, with the Steinway piano, would that be kind of convincing?

Xenia             That would be very amusing. But how could we possibly prove it, without going all the way to Carmel?

John              We can absolutely resolve the whole thing. If you care to tell me your friend Gretchen’s surname, I can then tell you if it’s the same as my friend Gretchen’s surname.

Xenia             Oh no you don’t John Cage! I’m absolutely not caught out so easily!
John           Xenia, beautiful Xenia, I’m absolutely not trying to catch you out. No ifs, no buts!
                    My friend’s name is Gretchen Schoeninger, which I think is unique. So, what is
                    your friend’s name?                
Xenia          So? I don’t believe we’ve come to so’s, but I can reply with a positive and. And
                    my friend’s name is also Gretchen Schoeninger.
Pause
John              And Gretchen’s little white dog howls when I play her piano.
 
Xenia             Ands are certainly doing well. What is your opinion of howevers? I need to
                      use one just about now.
John              I’m broadly in favour. I believe I actually used a ‘however’ a bit earlier in this very conversation, when I paid you a compliment.
 
Xenia             I can’t say I noticed.
 
John              And you are absolutely free to use however or whatever takes your fancy
Xenia             I wouldn’t call it a fancy. However, Gretchen’s little white dog certainly does not howl when I play the piano.
 
John              And you probably play far more beautifully than I do.
Xenia             If I confess to Schubert, would that tempt you to confess to the sort of
                      music which you play, on Gretchen’s piano?
John              That is definitely a confession! I play my own experimental compositions.
 
Xenia             I kind of thought you might. What does that sound like, to make the poor 
                      puppy howl?
John              It’s modern atonal stuff, less Schubert, more Schoenberg.
Xenia             I don’t exactly know who that is.
John              Miss Kashevaroff, would you care to be enlightened?
Xenia             Well I do declare, Mister Cage, I never heard it called that before.
John              I never meant… oh what the heck! (offering his arm) Miss Kashevaroff, would
                      you care to find someplace really nice to sit and partake of a soda?  I could
                     then enlighten you.
Xenia (taking his arm) Why Mister Cage, that sounds most enlightening.
          They walk towards the exit arm in arm, then they stop. 
 John            So, my darling. Was that as terrible as you remembered it?
Xenia            Oh Bunny, of course it wasn’t terrible.
John             And will you ever forgive me?
Xenia            I don’t suppose so. Not for one single moment.
      They exit together.

Monday, 29 October 2012

I don't write much poetry, but...



                                               TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY

..was the title of a 2005 exhibition in the Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast.

visitors were encouraged to respond...

 

walls are barriers if you want out
fences are barriers if you want in
words are barriers if you won’t hear
pictures are barriers if you won’t see

       
Defy barriers

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Why I Don't Keep a Dream Diary...

Slipping again .... still not writing, it's just not working at the moment. Had writer's block before but not for this length of time. I've written nothing original since last year, apart from one very short, bad story. All I'm reading at the moment is the newspapers so right now I can't even review a book. I'm damned if I'm going to review the Guardian!
 
However I've decided it's better to post something I wrote before than to post nothing, so a few original, if old things will follow in a day/week or two.  In the mean time here's a thing I wrote several years ago, when I was well and so was my creativity ...
 
The Nutshell and the Oyster – thoughts on ‘making the darkness conscious’.

      The opposite of “putting it in a nutshell” could be to “have the world as your oyster”, but for all its pearly sheen, an oyster is just another container. Another shell to cut us off from the universe outside. I feel this is what happens to me, with my dreams, they don't connect me to reality they cut me off from it. When it has been suggested to me that, as a writer I really ought to keep a dream diary, I just know that I can't. All I can do with the dream diary idea is try and explain, to myself, why I can’t write one.

      In my dreams my imagination is not merely beyond my control, not only out of synch with where I need it to take me, but its intensity, even when I have forgotten the dream, can invade whole days, making me useless. I know that there are accepted reasons for people to believe that dreams are a way out of the nutshell or the oyster or the cave with shadows on the wall, I just don’t happen to believe them. For me, it feels like the opposite.

      Since I was tiny, my imagination has been my constant familiar. I love it dearly, it is probably the most important thing in my life. This may well make me borderline certifiable, but I feel I am in charge of it. I began controlling and experimenting with my imagination from before I can remember and it mostly does what I want. It has carried me through stormy days and sleepless nights. But when I can sleep, dreaming is seldom helpful.

      When I was a child, for a time I became petrified at the prospect of sleep, because my worst nightmare was waiting for me. This dream, recurring time after time, was of walking down a dark stairwell, down almost endless staircases, descending into catacombs or cellars or dungeons, spiralling out of my control and I knew there was something terrible and nameless at the bottom, waiting just for me. I would have welcomed Esher’s staircases, they make complete circuits, therefore there is no end. That would have been preferable to the knowledge that there was indeed an end.

       I finally invented a way to escape from the horror of this nightmare. When my fear reached a certain pitch, I learned to very deliberately tell myself, this is a dream and now I am going to wake up. It worked, I did wake up. And a mere shadow behind the door was just my dressing gown hanging there, and the creak of the tree branches outside held no fear for me. And after a while the dream became less frequent. It has left me with an abiding horror of enclosed spaces, and a suspicion of staircases.

      I have no desire to analyse this dream. I’m not interested in Freudian or spiritual interpretations of it. Dream imagery is bound to differ not just according to culture but also personal experience and associations. My nightmare is simply about an uncontrollable fear, which must be a pretty universal emotion. This is what I get from memorable dreams, emotion, not imagery.

      I know that I do have pleasant dreams, but they seldom last into daylight, beyond a certain feeling of well being or satisfaction. Memorable dreams are of frustration, or fear, or exhausted anxiety because I have to perform some mundane task which is nevertheless so enormous as to be impossible. I often wake with a clear memory of sobbing my heart out from anxiety and frustration, so maybe I am still telling myself to wake up.

       Such are my excuses for not writing a dream diary. So as a writer how do I go about “making the darkness conscious,” without this apparently invaluable tool? When writing fiction I find it comparatively easy, I make my characters suffer, putting myself into their heads, their minds, so that I can feel how they respond to the suffering. Perhaps this is where my dreams come in, enabling me to heighten the emotional intensity that my characters feel, but I don't need  a dream diary to remind me of this.                            

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

“Lady Macbeth” a novel by Susan Fraser King - Reading Habits


I’ve been asked to write a treatment for a play about Lady Macbeth and read this novel in the hope of understanding more about this misrepresented Scottish Queen.
The novel begins with action, as a nine year old girl is nearly kidnapped on a trail near the Castle of Elgin, by her father’s enemies. The girl is Lady Gruadh ingean Bodhe, mac Cineadh, mac Dubh (daughter of Bodhe, son of Kenneth, son of Duff) and these names of her ancestry are crucial to the plot because they detail her royal bloodline.

The girl is dragged from her pony and though she is saved by the bravery of others she puts up a fight and stabs her assailant with a brooch torn from his cloak. Her brother is killed in the skirmish so she is the last bearer of the lineage.  Gruadh keeps the brooch as a talisman and this day’s events indelibly mark her character and her future.
Six years later she is married to the middle-aged Mormaeur (Earl) of Moray, before he is killed in a skirmish with Macbeth, who has been sent to do the job by his uncle King Malcolm. Macbeth forces marriage with Gruadh, as is his right under Celtic law, but afterwards treats her with respect and treats her baby son Lulach as his own. King Malcolm is succeeded by his son, the warlike Duncan, who stirs up trouble with the Scots’ enemies, until Macbeth kills him in battle.  Macbeth then becomes King of the Scots and Gruadh his Queen.

Throughout, Gruadh is depicted as a kind-hearted woman who has many friends; she is also intelligent, ambitious and strong-willed.  She lives in ruthless times and has to stand on her own feet; learning to fight and accompanying her husband into battle. She has second sight, though this gift is not strong enough to enable her to always shape her destiny.  A misinterpreted dream, combined with her grief at losing a baby makes her plead for the life of Duncan’s young son, Malcolm Canmore, an act of mercy which eventually proves her undoing.
Whilst I struggled in places, the novel is compellingly written and certainly exceeded my expectations.  It’s convincingly researched, with details of Celtic life and genealogy on every page and this may be why I struggled, it sometimes slows the storytelling down.  Detailing historical research to this extent might be more in keeping if this was a biography, though as the author points out, there are so few records of the real Lady Macbeth that a biography would necessarily be thinner than the 340 pages of this provocative novel.

Lady Macbeth the novel certainly dilutes the stain of villainy and evil which cloaks Lady Macbeth and her husband in Shakespeare’s play; whether it will guide me in my search for a hook on which to hang my own play remains to be seen.

                                                                                        *           http://www.susanfraserking.com/

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Writing Habits: 'Becoming a Writer' by Dorothea Brande

Although I love to watch films and TV, listen to music, go the the theatre and read widely, I do find it hard to write with other people's words still in my head. A bit of space is necessary between the activities for my own words to arrive.

Picking up Dorothea Brande's book, 'Becoming a Writer' which I haven't looked at for years, I opened it randomly at page 133 and under the heading Wordless Recreation, her words were;

If you want to stimulate yourself into writing, amuse yourself in a wordless way. Instead of going to a theater, hear a symphony orchestra, or go by yourself to a museum; go alone for long walks, or ride by yourself on a bus top.

I realised that she's absolutely right. When I do any of these things they do very often stimulate my writing, even although this is not the reason I'm doing them. Ok I don't go to listen to symphony orchestras. My tastes in classical music are limited and there's always one thing on a concert programme I know and like and a whole lot of things I'd find boring. My musical tastes are more in folk, rock and blues music and I acknowledge that their lyrics can interfere with my own creativity.

On the other hand I find visiting museums and galleries by myself hugely exciting. I can look at exactly what I like and spend an hour on the minutiae of one exhibit if I want to, without boring my husband to death or having to follow kids to the toilet/cafe/shop every five minutes.  And going on journeys alone, on foot, train, bus, car or plane takes me into other worlds, where my imagination is freed.

Dorothea Brande's book is full of great insights like this. When it was first recommended to me I nearly didn't bother to read it, as it was written so long ago. I felt she couldn't possibly tell me anything relevant to my generation and my writing. She'd never even seen a computer, for heavens' sake! But I did read it and from her wise and totally unpretentious words I realised that I had already become a writer and she also showed me how to carry on being a writer.

So, have you given up on all those starry-eyed, pseudo-spiritual books on writing which appear everywhere? Are you even more fed up with the 'How to Write a Best-Seller in Six Days/Six Chapters/Six Websites' genre, then I can recommend going back to basics with Dorothea Brande. It doesn't matter what you are trying to write: fiction, poetry, journalism, scripts, memoir or even academic theses. She can help remind you of how the process of writing works in your own mind. She really can!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Novel extract: The Other Elephant

This is a short extract from my novel, The Other Elephant  :-

He’s walked right up the Edgware Road, trying to find this address. The small grocery shop at the top of the terrace is closed, dilapidated metal shutters heavily padlocked. The carcass of a Ford Cortina stands on bricks, rain pours from the wheel arches and into an oil-skummed pool that covers half the width of the road. A train squeals and judders past, right behind the cramped little terrace. Once the train’s gone, he can hear water fizzing from the broken down-pipe at the corner of the house. He’s pissed in better streets.

He wasn’t welcome elsewhere. Now it’s dark and this is his last chance. Twelve Belmont Grove, Maida Vale is a very fine sounding address, only it’s really just part of the arse-end of Kilburn, that’s why he’s taken so long finding it. The rain soaked rucksack drags his shoulders down, only his guitar is dry. He’s got to get out of this freezing rain. Since Rotterdam he’s had two hours kip, his clothes have been wet for thirty-six hours, his stomach’s been empty longer. The Guilders he nicked only just paid for the ferry, but he’s got past hunger, all he wants is a smoke. And to be warm.

He’s been wondering how to greet her, rehearsed so many opening lines. Make her laugh, that’s the way in with chicks, right? Why should she be any different? He knocks. As the door opens, an unfamiliar face is a shock. He knows she’s the wrong one. He mumbles his opening line.

‘What?’ She shouts, but doesn’t seem to be addressing him. Just somebody.

‘Can I see Mairi?’

‘Why?’ He doesn’t blame her for being suspicious. This area’s probably full of derelicts.

‘I knew her years back,’ he says.

‘So you’ll know the rest of her name, then.’

He shakes himself out, into the reality of this situation; the concrete of her stare. Not sure he can handle it, but he’s got to make an impression, somehow. At the moment she’s a wall, just bouncing him back. Make ‘em laugh, right?

‘I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.’ But this chick doesn’t laugh. ‘Her name’s Mairi Shona Maguire,’ he says.

She stares at him silently, still concrete, still a wall.

‘So who are you, then?’ She asks, eventually.

‘Joe,’ he says.

‘Just Joe?’

He nods.

‘Wait there, just Joe.’ She slams the door.

He presses numb fingers onto the chill of the frosted glass, but she’s gone. To his white fingertips the glass feels warm. There are faint sounds, muffled by the barrier. He tries to drum on it but his fingers won’t co-ordinate. At last a figure appears. The door catch clicks back twice before opening. A pale face framed by a dark halo of chaotic hair peers around the door. This is the right one, but she’s still a shock. It’s ten years since he last saw her. He trawls up his line.

‘Jonathan Joseph Maguire at your service, ma’am.’

He bows, unskilfully, from his stiff waist. The rain that has accumulated in the polythene which he has so lovingly wrapped around his guitar tips over his head and neck.  As he straightens, the icy water pours down inside his jacket. Cold as he is, it still makes him shudder out loud, ‘Oh Shit! Shit!’ He meets her eyes for a second. She has stuffed her knuckles into her mouth, is she laughing?

‘Hi, Mairi.’ Not much of a greeting after so many years, but it’s all he can manage just now. ‘Can I come in, please? I’m bloody freezin’.’

She backs away slowly down the narrow hallway, leaving the door ajar. She calls out, ‘Gina, Gina!’ But her eyes seem fixed in a stare, directed at him. This could be an invitation to come in, he’s too cold to wait for any more.
                                                                              *

 



Comments welcome...


 
 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Reading Habits: Passenger by Billy Cowie

I'm reading a lot at the moment. I used to be able to read up two novels a day - when I had not much else to do, obviously. Don't want to try that much right now, but a novel every two or three days is feasible. Having started yesterday with one review I may as well review some more, although I don't suppose I'll bother if they aren't worth the effort. This one is:

Passenger by Billie Cowie, published in 2008

Milan is a musician, a violinist in a orchestra. His new relationship with flautist Karen becomes diverted by a passenger, who lives inside him. The extraordinary existence of his conjoined twin is entirely new to Milan. He names her Roma, begins to communicate with her through music and realises she is a sentient and intelligent human being, not just a medical curiosity. The press and the medical professions are fascinated and Milan is tempted to bow to their fascination and to disregard his and Roma's real needs.

The story wastes no words, the writer's musical knowledge enhances without becoming intrusive. Passenger is well written and sympathetic whilst managing to steer well clear of the maudlin. The tragic end is unexpectedly abrupt and moving.

Billie Cowie is an installation artist, choreographer and theatre writer. This accomplished foray into fiction writing is his only published novel so far.



Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Another Tour de France Doping Scandal! 'Bad to the Bone,' a novel by James Waddington

Reading Habits.

I just wrote a short review for Amazon:

"Bad to the Bone, a novel by James Waddington:

The news about the controversy over several times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong makes this seem a good time to review James Waddington's rather extraordinary novel about professional cycling. The story races tumultuously through an imagined Tour de France race with its own peculiar doping scandal. The author is a cyclist and one feels he understands somewhat of what he speaks. The twists and turns of race and story are comic, dark and bizarre.  Well worth a read even for non-cyclists! "

Lets see if Amazon publish it. I can definitely recommend the book, anyway.   

Catching up

I wanted to post everyday on this bog, less than two weeks since I began and I'm slipping  already. I nearly said failing but made a conscious effort to not be quite so negative.

So, 11 days in and only 7 posts.

Here's number 8...




Well I couldn't justify just leaving it there, could I..? But the doctor has told me to rest, and resting is very boring and uninspiring.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Bramley Apple Pie Week

I've just found out that this is National Bramley Apple Pie Week. As far as I know the Bramley apple is more or less exclusively a British obsession, although a friend who lives in Adelaide, South Australia has been able to source a few locally. Originally called Bramley's Seedling, this apple began life as a pip planted in Southwell, near Nottingham by a little girl called Mary Anne Brailsford, two hundred years ago. It got its name not from Mary Anne but from Matthew Bramley, the local butcher who later bought the house and garden, complete with its unique apple tree.

My grandfather, who we all called Fafa, had several apple trees in his garden in West Sussex, his varieties were Cox's Orange Pippin, Worcester Pearmain, Egremont Russet and of course Bramley's Seedling. As children we would help him harvest the apples. We were all enthusiastic tree climbers but were not allowed to climb Fafa's precious apple trees, harvesting had to be done from ladders. The apples were stored in his huge garage, which as far as I know never housed a car. He had hand-built, wooden racks to store the apples in cool dry conditions and the Bramleys would keep for many months. Granny would bottle them with cloves, stew them, convert them into apple crumble, apple fool and of course apple pie.

Now I have three apple trees of my own. None are as large as Fafa's standard sized trees, my garden is smaller than his, but I do have a Bramley, on a dwarfing rootstock. It has never grown above seven feet tall (Fafa's was 20 feet plus and they can get even bigger), but it's a sturdy little tree with a number of spreading branches

Above all, the Bramley is a disease resistant tree and it is tough. Mine spent the first seven years of its life in a sheltered, walled garden in Buckinghamshire. Now it lives half way up the Pennines in a North facing garden in the Grimescar Valley on the edge of Huddersfield. We move house in the 1990's and brought two of our favourite trees up with us. My lovely little Victoria Plum didn't survive the move, but the Bramley did.  Now it thrives in our heavy clay soil and is currently covered in 40 or 50 healthy apples which, in the October rain are still growing and ripening.

We have found that in these more Northern climes our Bramleys really don't sweeten enough to be worth harvesting before November. The Bramley apple is known for its acidity, which renders it edible only when cooked and sweetened and ours remain a challenge to the stomach if picked too early.

So Bramley Apple Pie week this may be, but I won't be celebrating for another month. You don't expect me to actually buy Bramley's, do you?

Comments now welcome...

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Why Trust Wikipedia?

I'm not sure about Wikipedia. I certainly don't swear by it, however as I understand it, the original intention was not to be an infallible source but a democratic resource to which we can all contribute and I think that's admirable. Inevitably there's a lot of rubbish in there, contributed by the ignorant but enthusiastic, the knowledgeable with an obsession and those with personal, political and commercial axes which they wish to sharpen, but the thing is huge and there's also a lot of accurate stuff.  I've contributed an article to it and although that has been somewhat altered by others, it is still there and still accurate as far as I can tell.

When I'm researching something I look at Wikipedia AND a number of other sources, it's usually up there with some of the better ones. I've seen a lot of inaccuracies, omissions and bias in printed encyclopedias and other 'factual' books over the years, there are flaws in every one.

This from a discussion by a group of very literate writers on Linked In;

"So, you cannot really trust ANY source, even the seemingly reliable and carefully verified sources. The truth is that everything we read is potentially a lie, and unless you know the writer's political persuasion, commercial interests and connection in detail, it is extremely difficult to distinguish truth from fiction."    Lorraine Cobcroft.

Lorraine I'm absolutely certain you're right! Therefore we have to take responsibility for making up our own minds. Anything remotely political or commercial which is posted in Wikipedia is suspect to begin with and is subject to constant attack by people with an axe to grind. I've heard pretty negative suggestions about the powers of the Wiki 'moderators' too - they too are far from unbiased - allegedly.

There are certain topics where I wouldn't trust Wikipedia and suspect it was never intended to cover. For example, health advice. I am sure that most writers are intelligent enough to take that from our doctors and not from an encyclopedia of any sort!

However when looking for basic information about, say an obscure 19th century painter, or a species of New Guinea marsupial, then the info on Wikipedia is as good as you'll get in plenty of other places, just like an old fashioned paper encyclopedia. And Wiki's best articles give useful references and links to other sources, which that encyclopedia from the doorstep salesman never did.

Maybe some people expect too much, or can't be bothered to do the proper research because that means they have to check many sources. As for the very gullible, they will also believe everything they see on TV or in the worst newspapers, all we can do is hold their hands and try to keep them safe!                   

Friday, 12 October 2012

Red Worms are Beneficial


When I opened the parcel that came in the post today, I was shocked to find that it was full of snails. I didn’t order snails, being British I don’t eat snails, unlike those perfidious French. Besides my garden is full of damned snails, they’re eating my dahlias, my potatoes and have already devoured most of my strawberry plants. I put down slug pellets which normally work for snails too, but the bloody things keep coming back. I certainly don’t require any more!

I shall complain to Thompson and Morgan. They’re a reputable garden supplier, who don’t usually get my orders wrong and I definitely didn’t order snails. I ordered worms. To be precise I ordered the little red worms which you find in compost bins, because the only wildlife in my compost bin are rats. Red worms are beneficial to the process of composting, rats are not beneficial to anything. My wife is scared of rats, which is plainly ridiculous, but they don’t belong in the compost bin.

My wife says the rats like the compost bin because I put the wrong things into it. I told her she was talking rubbish. I put all the garden waste through my shredder, mixed with shredded paper from the old books on my wife’s bedside cabinet which I know for a fact she’s never read. I layer this in the bin with all the kitchen waste, cabbage stalks, fish bones, potato peelings, even my wife’s pathetic attempt at chicken curry goes in. Nothing inorganic, it will all rot down and the little red worms will help, they’re a sign of healthy compost.

We ate roast beef for dinner, or I ate roast beef, my wife wasn’t hungry. I do wonder about her, she’s begun to exhibit some peculiar behavior recently. For example since the surplus snails were delivered earlier today, she’s been crooning over them and feeding them with scraps trimmed from the roast beef. Honestly! Snails are vegetarian which is why they have eaten my dahlias. My wife hates dahlias, she likes forget-me-nots which is totally ridiculous, forget-me-nots are weeds. I failed to remember our stupid anniversary last week and so I offered to order her some flowers, but she refused, saying forget-me-nots were out of season.

Well I’ve had my after-dinner rest in front of the football. I need to fetch my laptop and send a sharply worded email to Thompson and Morgan about my worms and those damned snails. Where are they… and why can’t I move my arms…? Or my legs…? Ooh, I feel quite ill.. my wife is looking at me very strangely.

What the hell are you doing you stupid woman? Why are you putting the snails on my hands? They’re crawling up my arms, inside my shirt… ahhhh that hurts that hurts… aaaghhhhh…. Help me!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Grey Lady


 We met the grey lady when we were on holiday, camping in Northern Spain. The holiday was partly to help my son, who was studying GCSE Spanish so myself, husband and 14 year old had headed in our VW camper van for Spanish beaches.
We made it as far as Sitges, a small town on the Costa Dorada. Our campsite wasn’t actually on the beach, but about a mile away, across a main road and two open, barren wastes.  On the campsite our nearest neighbours were a colony of tiny brown ants.  They were hugely industrious, moving in untidy but determined lines gathering food and returning it to the nest. Others would appear with tiny stones held high, which were also transported towards the nest.

We fed the ants with crumbs from our breakfast table. They were particularly keen on the brioche which we’d bought in a boulangerie near Carcassonne on our way down through France.  They also liked the plum jam which was spilled by mistake, they couldn't transport the jam so had to eat it in situ. Never were small brown ants so well fed.
The morning was getting very hot, as this was Spain in August the heat wasn’t unexpected. Our pitch was becoming unbearable, despite the sparse olive trees that we were theoretically sheltering beneath, so we headed for the beach.

We carefully took our lives in our hands and crossed the main road, heat shimmering from the tarmac, and walked across an open area of uneven ground with concrete bases of some long demolished structures. Across this bare area was a fenced off private garden with shady shrubs and trees.  Alongside this was a well-worn path, which we followed.  It felt like the right direction.
The open space closed in until the path was slightly shaded by the private garden to our left and a ramshackle fence of chain-link strung between concrete posts. The edges of the path had low growing weeds, many dried out and on the fence side the mesh was inerwoven with brown, brittle weedy stems, shrivelled leaves and thistles. The open area beyond was equally brown.

This deserted trail was hot and frustrating, the green oasis to our left was out of bounds and we had no idea how far it was to the sea. There was nobody else on the trail, until it curved slightly and there she was, strolling along ahead of us; the grey lady.
Perhaps lady is a slight misnomer, but she was certainly female.  She possessed a pair of long, tanned legs and once we were slightly closer we could see her huge brown eyes  with lashes that  any supermodel could only dream of.  She was dressed in a thick, grey, fluffy outfit which might have seemed totally unsuitable for this hot and arid climate, if it wasn’t for the fact that she was an ostrich.

I wasn’t very familiar with the native wildlife of Northern Spain.  I had been bitten by mosquitos. We’d all seen swifts shooting through the hot air, shrieking with abandon. There were plenty of sparrows around and of course our own little brown ants. However I was fairly certain that Spain was in Europe and that the ostrich was a bird native to Africa and Arabia, not Sitges.
We followed her cautiously along the stony trail. I knew she was a hen ostrich because the males flaunt bright, white and black plumage, females are calmer and less vain; however she was still very large, for a bird. We kept our distance behind her; I seemed to remember stories of humans being disembowelled by a kick from an ostrich. For about a hundred yards she sauntered along, sometimes glancing coyly back at us, sometimes pausing to pick up an unseen morsel from the weed and stone-strewn ground, then the path began to open out.

There in the middle distance was the blue of the sea. And between us and the sea, on another open area in a similar state of disrepair, was a huge, azure tent. Not a tent like the squat, ungainly frame tents that shared our camp-site, this was a thing of joy and beauty. It was adorned with gold trim and huge tassels. At four corners were little gold capped minarets and the azure and gold striped central structure soared skywards, many tall poles, strong ropes and taut cables taking the strain.
The circus tent explained the ostrich. As we crossed the circus site we also saw camels and ponies, tethered to tall stakes from which were suspended nets full of hay.  We watched the camels and ponies munching the hay, until a man appeared from behind the circus tent.  I turned to point out the grey lady to him, but she had vanished.  I don’t speak Spanish but tried to mime ostrich, with one arm above my head, fingers simulating a beak. He wasn’t impressed.

We went on to the beach. No grey lady there, not even very many people. The sand was gritty, litter strewn and not very welcoming. We paddled, then several unidentifiable, brown things appeared, floating around our feet. They didn’t seem to be native fauna so we stopped paddling. We bought bottled water from a small kiosk and decided to return to the campsite. At least we could take a cool shower there. 
We wandered back through the circus site, which was still largely deserted. There was no sign of the grey lady there, or on the weed strewn path, or on the barren area by the main road. Back at the campsite we cooled down with showers and iced drinks from the tiny icebox in our van. 

We didn’t have the energy to return to see the circus. The heat inside the big top would have been unbearable, even if it offered the possibility of seeing our grey lady. We spent the rest of the day watching the ants. After one more night at Sitges, we headed for Barcelona. We never saw her again.

 

 

 

Blogs and snails

Oh well, slipping already. Better get on with it.

The bad news is it was frosty last night. The good news is we still have a few strawberries on the plants we potted up in the spring! They are on the windowsill in the sitting-room, we had to bring them indoors to save them from the slugs, which were eating everything in sight.

OK so this isn't meant to be a gardening blog, or a diary come to that, just an attempt to discipline myself into writing something every day. I follow a blogger called Clarissa, she's an American academic who blogs several times a day. Surely I can manage it once a day? I'll obviously have to build up to actually having something interesting to say!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Good Day Sunshine

The sun is out, the sky is blue.
I'm beautiful and so are you,
Dear Prudence....

The Beatles permeated my teenage years, I still know most of their lyrics by heart.

Last night's TV programme on the making of their Magical Mystery Tour film reminded me how creative they were as a team. Somehow they were limited individually, although I suppose you can say that about most of us!

The film itself was shown after the documentary and was entertaining, if slightly slow in places, but the songs were still great. I still reckon you can't beat I am the Walrus as a piece of knowing surrealism - the documentary showed there was no naivete, they understood what they were trying to create. Even then in 1967 they weren't a bunch of ignorant kids, they were all very literate and certainly John and Paul understood modern and contemporary art and cinema.

And the sun is out...
the sky is blue...

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Beginning a blog

This will be my new blog as a writer.

The purpose of this blog is to encourage me to write something new, preferably every day and hopefully something creative. I've been in the creative doldrums all of this year. I may permit myself to post something I've already written, but not more than once a week.

I mustn't allow myself to just post an old photograph! This is for words not images, well not visual ones at least, descriptive prose maybe.

I will continue my other blog, Expert's Life, but narrow it down a bit, to still include my photographs and otherwise mainly building related comments and articles.