Monday, 30 November 2015

The GBBO (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Well, it certainly is here. Little G and I have found a small covered shopping arcade that has gone Hardcore Lights: there are shiny hanging icicles from the ceiling, a red star lazar display, and the biggest Christmas tree in the world (if you are only a few feet tall) with blue flashing lights. And to top it all, piped Christmas music.

It is now our favourite go-to destination. Especially as it is only a slow six minute saunter away. We visit it several times a day for Little G to marvel at the lights and boogie to the music. She is rather a good little mover, so we attract much attention from the passing public. I am thinking of putting a hat down and augmenting my meagre Christmas present budget.

With Christmas in mind, last Thursday Little G and I had our first go at making fairy cakes. She has never done this before, so initially she was not sure what we were about, but fetching eggs from the fridge, standing on a kitchen chair putting Christmas themed paper cases into baking trays and pouring ingredients into a bowl proved fun. As did spooning the mix unsteadily into said cases later. As usual the cat refused to be any part of it and slouched out.

Admittedly our finished cakes were all different sizes and we had some tray runoff due to haphazard initial positioning of mix, so I'm sure the GBBO judges would not give us many marks, but we thought the Gran-Baby Bake Off was a huge success. Proof of the baking? By bedtime, there wasn't a single cake in sight.

To be continued ...     ......

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Nostalgia's Not Like It Used To Be

Where have all the tangerines gone? Shops used to be full of them. Now all you seem to be able to buy are those satsuma things that look like baggy oranges in need of botox. And they taste of nothing much. Tangerines tasted like concentrated essence of orange velvet dipped in sunshine. I always had one at the bottom of my Christmas stocking. Along with a half crown. Which reminds me - whatever happened to half crowns ... no, not going there, that way madness lies.

They say that in this life you are either a: 'glass half-full' or a 'glass half-empty' type of person, but increasingly I'm turning into a: 'This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was much bigger and it had a pink cocktail umbrella and a small plastic shark' type of person as I sit in the writing garret contemplating the demise of western civilization.

Much of this malcontent has been precipitated by something called Black Friday, another of those American things that has turned up over here and that we seem to have seized upon, along with School Proms and Halloween. When I was growing up in the dark ages, we had sedate school dances, pumpkins were the preserve of fairy godmothers and the coaching trade, and we did not cause GBH to ourselves and those around us in an undignified 24 hour scramble to buy stuff that we have been brainwashed by the retail industry into thinking will enhance our lives.

Given that everything nowadays comes with either a dire health warning or a phone number to call if you have been affected by issues surrounding it, I'm frankly baffled that we eagerly embrace the chance to put ourselves in the way of physical and financial harm for a few material goods. We really are all going to Hell in a handcart, aren't we? Except that I haven't seen any handcarts around for ages. Gone the same way as tangerines and half crowns, I guess.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Manners Maketh Cat (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

I am teaching Little G good manners. As soon as we get on the bus and the inevitable: 'Snack ... snack .... snack' rigmarole starts up, I suggest the addition of 'please' might produce something nice. And 'thank you' might be an acceptable way of acknowledging its arrival. The 'politeness pays' message seems to be getting through, though I had not realised how well until last week.

Ever since she started visiting my house, Little G has been fascinated with the cat. Sadly the feeling isn't mutual. There have been Standoffs Behind the Blue Leather Sofa. There have been Quick Exits Through the Garden Door. There has not been much meeting of minds.

Little G is not one to give up however, and recently the cat:baby dynamic has undergone a slight change for the better. Stroking the cat is now permitted by the cat. Under protest. I can almost hear the cat's teeth gritting as her fur is pushed the wrong way and a small finger narrowly misses her eye, though to her credit she has not retaliated which, given she is a Tortie/Siamese cross and volatile, is pretty good going.

On Thursday I was getting Little G's lunch ready when I suddenly became aware of A Silence. A Silence is always worrying, so I tracked it through the house, finally arriving at the office where I discovered the cat on the chair and Little G on the floor, a pile of cat biscuits, pilfered from the cat's bowl, next to her.

As I watched from the doorway, a biscuit was solemnly placed in front of the cat. The cat sniffed and consumed the biscuit. Little G then prompted 'Thank you,' in a tone of voice that alas, I recognised all too well. The whole process was repeated until the final biscuit had been eaten.

I am impressed that my efforts are bearing fruit. Sadly, there is still some way to go with the cat.

To be continued ...      ....

Monday, 16 November 2015

Amazing! (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Little G has recently learned a new word: amazing. Or as she pronounces it: AMAZING!!!! I am taking full credit for this as I say it frequently but You must be mad says she says it, and so does Little G's father, so apparently full credit might have to be shared. Reluctantly.

Whatever. We are deriving much fun from the new word: last week we managed to reduce a whole busload of passengers to incoherent laughter and she got free silver ribbons from the nice people in Space NK, who think Little G and her word are hilarious. I am contemplating taking her into the bank to see if it works there too.

When she is not pottering about town with me and practicing her word, Little G goes to a workplace nursery. Frequent questioning about what she does there and what they feed her always elicits the same answers: painting and toast. I could find out how she really spends the day as the nursery staff have to provide a daily handover summary. With the ubiquitous targets.

I don't do this. Handover here runs rather on the lines of: You must be mad falls through the door. Little G falls upon You must be mad. I fall into the bus. Besides, I don't think my daily summaries would pass muster with the Great and Good at the Education Department.

Today Little G enjoyed: Turning the light switch on and off until forcibly removed.
She ate: With her hands, as her fork and spoon were confiscated for persistent table-drumming.
Targets Achieved: None.

Next week, apparently, the nursery is going to be teaching them all adjectives.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The PINK SOFA meets writer Stewart Bint

Stewart is another of those fascinating people I know via the great social whirlpool that is - ta-daa: Twitter. For some reason he has expressed a desire to sit on the PINK SOFA and after a certain amount of negotiations, this is now taking place. A slight sticking point has been Stewart's habit of not wearing footwear, but the SOFA, who is fussy about its upholstery has compromised by lending him a pair of pink bunny-ear slippers for the duration of his visit.
 ''I was born in the dim and distant past (under extreme torture I’ll admit to 1956). Writing takes up pretty much all my time in three different guises. As well as my novels I also write a column for a fortnightly local magazine, and I’m a Public Relations writer for the world’s leading industrial CAD/CAM software developer.

Having trained as a journalist I worked as a radio broadcaster reading the news and presenting current affairs and phone-in shows for ten years.

The writing bug infected me when I was just seven years old, thanks to my favourite television show, Doctor who. The original series, way back in 1963, inspired me when I became enraptured by the storylines which could take place at any time in Earth’s history and future, and absolutely anywhere in the universe and beyond.

I started creating my own worlds and my own characters, writing my stories in little blue notebooks until my parents bought me a portable typewriter for my ninth birthday. And those make-believe worlds became invaluable after my Dad died when I was 11. I retreated more and more into those places where I was in control of my characters’ fate – knowing that whatever happened to them during the story I would make sure they were okay in the end. My worlds were certainly better than the real one at that time.

Being a meticulous time manager certainly helps with my writing routine. My PR day job is based from home which is a big help. I can log off from the company computer at around 6 pm, have dinner and then fire up the personal laptop to either write, or, as at the moment, work on marketing activities for my latest novel, In Shadows Waiting. Since the new edition of the book was published by Booktrope in August, I have rarely finished work before midnight.

Once my ideas start to take shape I work out where the story is going and I usually know the ending right at the start of the process. As I write, the scene unfolds before my eyes, rather like a film. Sometimes the journey takes me down uncharted roads, as the characters do their own thing. But I’m always happy to let them. In fact, a fairly minor character in the novel I’m currently working on said something that changed the entire premise that the hero had been working to through his entire life.''

In Shadows Waiting

Young Simon Reynolds lives a bucolic life at his family home, White Pastures, surrounded by a loving family and a charming community. Simon finishes his A levels and looks forward to unwinding while his sisters work on their tans.

Meanwhile the tiny community of Meriton has been plagued by a spate of burglaries, and White Pastures seems to be next. A shadowy figures stalks the house, but the police can find no signs of an intruder,

Inspired by the author’s real-life experience with the supernatural, In Shadows Waiting recounts a summer that changes the Reynolds’ lives forever. As the summer progresses, the shadows take on an altogether more sinister implication, and White Pastures begins to reveal a terrifying secret.

The epicenter of an event that has scarred an entire community, White Pastures grows more and more dark, possessed by a shadow that yearns, a shadow that will not be denied. At White Pastures, someone will die – but love never will. 


Monday, 9 November 2015

Freebies (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Over the eight months that I have been minding Little G, I have come to the conclusion that grandmothers hold up half the sky. Well, it feels that way after an eleven hour day having fun. For the benefit of any newly-minted grand-colleagues, here are a few things that Little G and I like to do. Most of them are free.

Bus rides: The fun starts long before you get on the bus. There is passing traffic to criticize, people with funny hair, dogs, men in suits spilling coffee, other buggies ... it is never ending. I have a bus pass so I go free. Little G also goes free. NB: the singing of 'Wheels on the Bus' while actually on the bus is pretty obligatory.

The library: Free books? What's not to like. Even if you aren't a member, you can still go in and spend a happy half hour or longer sharing stories. Many libraries have a discard shelf, where you can buy books for 10p. I have blogged here about Baby Rhyme Time. Check it out. Not to be missed.

The Park: Source of swings, slides, climbing frames, other toddlers. A great summer or fine weather activity. Builds up your arm muscles and ability to shout Wheeeee on command.

The Park 2: We like lying on our backs under a tree watching leaves and planes.

Birds: In the early summer, we saw a pair of robins building a nest in a wall in Little G's garden. We also observed swallows in the opposite building. Feeding ducks is always good for an afternoon's outing, though Little G tends to run the bread distribution on a 50:50 basis.

Crafts: It is possible to spend a small fortune on paints, crayons, colouring books, sticker books etc. Or you can hang on to all those catalogues you used to shove unread in the recycling and use them to make collages. Little G chooses the picture. I cut it out. She does the Pritt stick dab of glue. I place it where she wants on the paper. She bangs it down. Arts Council here we come.

Vets 4 Pets: Our latest go-to place. Zoos cost a fortune, and then there's all the peering through the bars for non-existent animals or staring at the horizon trying to spot them on the far side of the paddock. That's if you can get near the cages in the first place for the crowds. Vets 4 Pets sells small animals, fish and reptiles. All the cages are at ground level or slightly higher and you can get nose-to-glass with rabbits, guineas, and manic dwarf hamsters in wheels. It's quiet, practically empty and fun.

The Best Activity EVER: One free grandparent, containing songs, stories, cuddles, kisses, tickles, unconditional love and all the time in the world. Priceless.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Why I dislike bookshops

So the great monopoly that is Amazon, having closed a gazillion bookshops by its undercutting pricing policy has now opened....ta-dah: A bookshop. In Seattle. Irony much? Can't see it catching on. I am becoming more and more disillusioned with the way books are marketed and sold, which is not good news as I write them.

The rot set in with the scrapping of the Net Book Agreement. The NBA came into effect on 1 January 1900 and involved retailers selling books at agreed prices. Any bookseller who sold a book at less than the agreed price would no longer be supplied by the publisher in question.

Ironically, it was bookshops themselves who fought against it, and Waterstones was one of the first stores who started discounting books in an attempt to undermine it. In March 1997 the Restrictive Practices Court ruled that the Net Book Agreement was against the public interest and therefore illegal.

So here we are. Pile them high, sell them cheap, give them away. Next time you, dear writer, moan about the discounting you have to agree to and the hoops you have to jump through to get sales, you know whose fault it was. Yep. The good old bookshops. The ones that Amazon closed down by implementing the outcome that they fought so hard in the courts to obtain in the first place.

 I am becoming less and less a fan of bookshops. It is personal - but before I am accused of 'sour grapes' let me say that 99% of my sales now come from ebooks and I'm not complaining. It is the undermining of authors, and who caused it that I get angry about.

Bookshops never had, nor do they now have the writer's best interest at heart. To get books into any bookshop, a publisher has to offer at least a 45% discount. Subtract from that what a writer gets paid in royalties, and the fact that bookshops run a sale or return policy, and you end up with so little for your years of hard graft that you might as well go and work in Asda (also selling discounted books).

It is not a level playing field. Large publishers can print books cheaply and in bulk, and take a hit on a couple of titles. Small publishers cannot. Plus most bookshops still operate their snobby policy that if it's NOT published by one of the big names it is, ergo, of inferior quality. As one who has given up on so many novels by 'famous authors' because I can't get beyond page 15, I find that, frankly, deeply insulting.

My local Waterstones once had a local writer shelf. I was on it. Then it didn't have one. They don't stock my books (other than the Usborne ones). Nor do WH Smith. They say they do, but several people have been in to ask, and they seem not to have heard of me.

So I read the news of Amazon's latest venture with a mixture of amusement and deep cynicism. I can see the day coming when Amazon the online retailer starts undercutting Amazon the bookstore, causing it to close down. Watch this space.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Red Bed (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Now that Little G has gone from sedentary to ambulatory, shop windows have taken on a whole new significance. Gone are the days when we whisked past, barely pausing to look. Much amusement is now derived from standing outside and identifying numbers, which are shouted out with all the gusto of a Bingo caller, followed by spotting Ds (Daddy), Ms (Mummy) and Gs (Grandma). All good harmless fun.

Less so recently.

Last week marked the run up to Halloween and many of the local shops had decked out their windows accordingly. The upmarket shop with the posh designer beds and Egyptian linen sheets with a gazillion thread count had unaccountably decided to go the full Fright Night. There was a headless body on a bloodsoaked sheet, its legs dangling over the end. Two gravestones with RIP on them stood to one side.

It was utterly revolting, quite graphic and made me feel ill the first time I saw it but there was no way of avoiding it. Every time we passed, Little G paused, nose pressed to the glass and studied the gruesome scene avidly. 'Red bed,' she remarked.

The gift shop two doors down had decided to go more 'natural' in that the windows were full of spiders' webs, massive black spiders, witches' hats and bats. 'Incy-Wincy,' Little G said, nodding wisely.The grinning pumpkins with assorted teeth were clearly 'oranges'.

I am relieved that at her age, Little G has very little sense of what is going on, but on her behalf I am angry that what was a Christianized feast, influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, when people traditionally went to church and lit candles on the graves of their family members to honour their memory, has become a nasty over commercialized event bent on scaring people.

Soon it will be the run up to Christmas, when the shops will be decorated with Christmas themed goods. Last year one of them was requested to take the Nativity scene out of its window as it could cause offence to people of other or no faiths. A clear case of Red bed - good; Manger bed - bad.

To be continued ...    .....

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Women In Cages

Whenever I mention that I write Victorian crime fiction, people always comment upon the infamous crinoline. Why on EARTH would women put up such a monstrosity? Well, they did, and surprisingly, with great relish. The crinoline, or hooped skirt was actually based on a design from the 1840s. In 1856, the American W.S.Thomson patented the metal cage crinoline and it became a huge hit in the USA, France and Britain. It was the first fashion to encompass all classes - rich or poor, you could still afford to wear it.

Although we find it hard to believe, women really loved the cage crinoline. At the height of its popularity, enough steel was produced in Sheffield to make half a million hoops in one week. It freed women from the constricting two petticoats: one flannel, one cotton, that they wore previously and gave them more ability to move their legs. And it was easy to hoick it up at the back when you needed to go to the privy or relieve yourself in the street (no public toilets).

Crinolines came in a variety of shapes, but they were not especially expensive, retailing at a third of the price of a dress. And if you were a skillful needlewoman - as most young women were in those days, it was easy to transform the style of an existing dress by the addition of a cage.

Spring steel shapes crinolines were light and flexible, and could be pressed out of shape temporarily, a useful attribute when trying to sit down, or get in and out of carriages and buses. Together with the tightly-laced corset, which emphasized a woman's tiny waist (the record was 13 inches), the crinoline gave the wearer a very ''sexy'' shape. This was enhanced by the way women had to walk: placing the foot outwards and describing a semi-circle, which gave a swaying motion to the hips. It was almost impossible to go at speed, so the slow, swaying gait was considered very alluring.

A 'waspie'

And cages and stays came in very nice colours. In Diamonds & Dust, Josephine King and her fashion mentor Isabella Thorpe visit a big department store, where they are informed by one of the female assistants that: ''We have some delightful articles in scarlet, Mademoiselle ... Zey came in last week, fresh from Par-ee.''  

However brightly colored and popular, cage crinolines were not all good news however. Sitting down had to be re-learned, and getting through narrow doors or down narrow passageways was a nightmare. And the there was the ever present danger of high winds, which could leave you scrambling to hold your skirt down lest (oh horror!) your drawers were exposed to male passersby. Add to this the danger from open fires and gas lamps and wearing the crinoline could have fatal consequences:

However attractive you felt, wearing a crinoline didn't make courtship any easier than it already wasn't. In November 1856, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine published a poem called 'Crinoliniana' which ended:

I long to clasp thee to my heart
  But all my longings are in vain;
I sit and sigh two yards apart,
  And curse the barriers of thy train.
My fondest hopes I must resign,
   I can't get past that Crinoline!

The crinoline seems a perfectly ridiculous item of fashion to us today, but for the Victorians with their sense of propriety, it was the perfect device to distance a woman both physically and psychologically from her surroundings, from the real world and to preserve her femininity and chastity for her husband. In a sense, it was the real-life equivalent of placing herself upon a pedestal.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Autumn Ambling (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Now that Little G is officially walking, and requesting to do it everywhere we go, our routine has taken on new vistas. Admitted they are only at ground level, but it is amazing how much stuff I seem to have missed over the years.

Cracks in pavements are a prime example. Who would have known there were so many? And all equally deserving of a stop followed by long hard stare. I remind myself, as it takes us 15 minutes to cover a distance that previously took 2, that You must be mad at a similar developmental stage had a thing about gates and couldn't pass a gate without touching it.

There are small flowers and weeds growing out of the cracks and in the gaps between buildings. Did you know? You do now. Happy to share. And bits of interesting shiny detritus that is just begging to be picked up and handed over for examination at a later stage.

Last week we found a brand new bright orange comb on our way into town. What riches. Forming our usual small human circle, we peered at it, studied it from various angles, commented on the colour, the resemblance to a carrot and whether it was, as Little G asserted, for cleaning teeth.

Of such is our day. The highlight right now is a walk to our small local park, where the leaves are falling in a profusion of reds, yellows and golden brown. So many colours. So many different shapes. So many leaves to be carefully studied, selected, collected and handed over, to be replaced by other better leaves as they too are discovered lying on the ground.

I am never sure of the criteria, which seem to vary from moment to moment. All I know is that I end the day with a pocket stuffed with what to you might appear to be bits of utter rubbish, but to a small 20 month old is treasure unlimited. And why not?

To be continued ...     ....