Saturday 23 February 2013

A Nasty Virus

Roman Snails are armed and dangerous
A highly vexatious week at Hedges Towers. First I was hit by a computer virus. Every time I tried to type, all I got was row after row of Xs. They even typed themselves regardless of me. Twitter, email, Facebook: rows of Xs. And I couldn't delete or file anything  - just got flashing lines. Absolute panic hit as I thought of all the manuscripts I'd failed to back up (as you don't), the photos of DD's wedding and other precious family events that were even now melting away somewhere in cyberspace.

Shut down the computer, and rebooted it. Still the same. Rows and rows of Xs. By now I was total despair and near to tears. Desperate enough to contemplate ringing Computer Mendy Guy on a Sunday afternoon. It was only while I was rummaging through the little box of business cards by the keyboard that I suddenly noticed the X key looked slightly lower than the others. Closer inspection revealed that it appeared to be stuck down by something which, upon the application of a paperclip proved to be ginger cake. I'm sure there are many, many lessons to be drawn from this, and I shall leave you to draw them.

The best blackberries ever.
Maximus the Roman Snail (unarmed)
On a more serious note, the flawed planning application to force an 'access road' onto our playing field, destroying an ancient bank, seven mature trees, a colony of protected Roman Snails and all our lovely blackberries, was passed by a Planning Officer, which meant it was now heading for a committee of councillors to be ratified. Once again, I was faced with the prospect of having to prepare a 3 minute speech to give at the committee meeting. Have you, gentle blog reader, ever had to prepare a 3 minute speech? I only ask because if you haven't, you probably think 'piece of cake' (possibly not ginger ..).

 I have done many 3 minute speeches since I started this campaign. They are total buggers to compose. I would actually rather write a 70,000 word novel than write a 3 minute speech. It's like one of those You-tube things where a large cat attempts to climb inside a jam jar. Trying to condense all your points into 3 minutes is almost impossible. Finally got it down to 3 minutes 9 seconds, managing to get in the cost, the illegality of killing IUCN Red Listed animals, the health and safety concerns over kids running onto a field with diggers and spoil lorries AND the fact that if we got Town Green, the council could face action in the Magistrates Court to remove the road.
This is where the road would go: bye bye little one

All the time however, I knew that, given the twisty nature of the council, this stupid application would inevitably be passed despite all the lobbying I and the many wildlife organisations backing us had done, and the wonderful support we'd had from the local press. But sometimes, unbelievably, miracles happen. Two hours before I was due to appear, suited and booted in front of the committee, a Planning Wonk put in a call. The application had been pulled. The Head of Planning was 'dissatisfied with the Officer's report'.

They are now looking at it again, and 'may include a wildlife survey'. Or they may not, of course. Who knows? No admission of error, no acknowledgement that the report had more holes in it than Gorgonzola cheese, no apology for the glaring errors and deliberate omissions. Or the stress caused to local residents. So it seems we have a brief stay of execution while they faff around and try to extract themselves with enough credibility.

While we wait, I have submitted a formal complaint to the Monitoring Officer. I am in no doubt that it  will be ignored, and nobody will be held accountable. And then, like the Terminator, they will be back. What is it with these councillors? I am loth to speculate who they have got into bed with - but I certainly know who's getting screwed!

Saturday 9 February 2013

A Novel Beginning

A quieter week at Hedges Towers. By the time you read this, the closing date for our objections to the local town council's sneaky planning application will have passed. Interestingly though, we have now discovered what one might euphemistically call an 'anomaly' on the actual application. 

Under the Wildlife and Ecology section, the council has declared that there are NO protected species who would be adversely affected by their road and the dumping of earth upon the adjoining Wildlife Site. Really? Not sure the Roman Snails (protected by law and IUCN Red listed) would agree with that.

Am I saying that the town council is a collective of mendacious offspring of unwed parents? Probably. Watch this space. We have made a formal complaint to the Planning Officer. Meanwhile, the frostbite continues to heal albeit slowly, thanks for asking, and the Roman Snails are still hibernating, unaware of the furore breaking over their innocent heads.

And so to the new novel. Those of you who have followed this blog from its inception last May know that one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was to dissipate my anger over the inability of mainstream publishers to appreciate my enormous writing talents (sic), and publish the Victorian novel, coupled with frustration about my current publisher's refusal to commission a fifth Spy Girl book. I am a warning to all those writers who think that once you get an agent, fame and fortune will follow. Were it true, I'd be writing this on the terrazzo of my villa in Tuscany, with my pink Ferrari parked in the driveway.

The Victorian novel now nears its rewritten completion. It is called Diamond Girl and can be loosely summarized as: 'Orphaned 17 year old inherits priceless diamond after horrific murder of uncle. But dark and evil forces are waiting to steal it.' There are also more subplots than you could shake a stick at, two slightly pastiche detectives and a gigantic hound. It is probably best described as a 'homage' to the Victorian era, a kind of: 'Terry Pratchett and Charles Dickens go clubbing with practically every novelist from the period and they all have fun.' This is how it opens:

''London, 1860. Dreamworld of pain and pleasure, of fantasy and phantom. It is midnight, a full moon and a cold mist rising up from the river. Mist ghosts the masts of the sloops and Russian brigs waiting to unload their cargo. Mist curls itself possessively around sooty chimneys and rooftops. Mist gently fingers its way into fetid courts and alleyways, and the crowded tenements where a myriad Londoners toss and turn in troubled sleep.

Not everyone is sleeping though, in this vast city of many million souls. Strange shapes of men and women drift through the misty streets like ghostly apparitions. They gather outside dim gaslit haunts. Street corners are beset by night prowlers. The devil puts a diamond ring on his taloned finger, sticks a pin in his shirtfront and takes the air.

Look more closely. A solitary man is crossing Westminster Bridge. Tall and broad shouldered, he wears a top hat and an overcoat with wide lapels and a velvet collar. It is buttoned up against the chill night air. He walks with purpose, as if on his way to an important rendezvous. A gas lamp throws its shifting radiance upon the upper planes of his face; the lower part is covered by a knitted scarf, protection from the stinking miasma that rises from the oozing mud.

Footsteps approach from behind. Someone else is crossing the bridge, moving with incredible speed. Darkness clings to a misty outline, pools around feet that step from shadow into light and back into shadow. The figure stretches out a black gloved hand. Touches the man upon the left shoulder.

He turns. Freezes. Then cowers back, uttering a low cry of horror and covering his face with his arms. There is the sound of blows being struck, the shatter of bone. The thud of something heavy hitting the ground, followed by silence. Steps re-cross the bridge and echo into the distance. The man remains, lying motionless in the gutter, blood pooling beneath his broken body. A gas lamp flickers momentarily overhead, and goes out. ''

Feel free to comment. Next week, if they ever stop fighting on the landing, one of my elite selection of guests will be joining me upon the PINK SOFA for a chat. Don't miss it.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Mind the Gap!

As Chico Marx once memorably said: 'There ain't no sanity clause' (Duck Soup). There ain't no sanity line either. Or if there is, I now seem to have well and truly crossed it. 

It all started, so very innocently, last week Wednesday after lunch ...

I was leafleting the neighbourhood because the local council, who are so damn twisty you could upend them and use them to open wine bottles, have sneaked in a planning app for an 'access road' across our playing field, without waiting for the decision on the Town Green to be made. This is so that they can claim it was there all the time, and hey, even if it wasn't, they may as well use it now it is to service the development they are scheming to inflict upon us. 

Picture me therefore, in the cold and the snow and the ice (just building my part here), trudging the mean streets when whom should I meet but Bill the Builder.* So I stopped and we had a chat about things, and I said I was pretty sure there was an alternative route for the maintenance vehicles to get onto the field, which is what the council is claiming there isn't, which is why they have to build an access road, but I wasn't sure the road I had my eye on was wide enough at the end, where it narrows into an alleyway. And Bill the Builder said 'Carol, I'm sure you could get a 7 ft transit through that alley, and that's what the council ground staff use.'

Then I asked: 'What's a 7 ft transit?' And he gestured towards his builder's van and said, 'One like that.' And then I said, 'Really?' and he nodded, and I said, and I don't remember saying it but I must've because of what happened next, 'Can I borrow your van and see if it fits?' and he handed me the keys.

And the next minute, elderly white van woman was heading up the road towards the field. Arriving at my destination, I lined the van up with the alleyway and eased it down as far as the bollards at the end. Fitted a treat, with 6 inches to spare either side. Mission accomplished. Now all I had to do was back it out and return it to its rightful owner.

Which was when the not-properly-thought-out plan began to fall 
apart, because I had not factored in the effect of compacted snow and ice. The engine revved, the wheels spun, but the van wouldn't move. Every time I tried to back it out, it careened gently sideways. In the end, I just turned off the engine and sat staring out at the white wastes before me. I'd forgotten to bring my mobile, of course. Sic transit ....

But it transpires that there is a deity that looks out for lunatics. Unbeknown to me, three Lithuanian builders were working on a house in the road and had been watching my struggles from the scaffolding. Now they climbed down, and uttering the three finest  words in the (broken) English language: 'Ve haff rope,' they proceeded to dig away the compacted snow from behind my wheels. Then they lined up their own van, attached the rope between us and hauled me slowly out of the gap, cheering as the transit gained terra firma once more.

So have I told the local council that there is a better, cheaper alternative to their sneaky plan, that would only involve removing 2 bollards? I have. And have they listened? Oh please, come on ... you know the saying: rats always leave a sinking ship ? Round here where I live, the rats are in charge of it. Happy days.

*Name changed to protect his identity.