Saturday 30 March 2013


It's been a frustrating week at Hedges Towers. BH's car is playing up again. It is an Italian car, and so was built for the wide open Italian roads, where the sun shines down, and the breeze gently blows and it bowls along at speed, with Volare by Dean Martin on the sound system. What it gets instead is rain, snow, slush and potholes you could go caving in.

The car expresses its dissatisfaction by continually going wrong, and informing us in no uncertain terms of how it is feeling. Every time we set off, a series of alerts come up on the dashboard: Rear left sidelight not working, we are informed. Motor control system failure, we are told. Front headlight not working. And so on and so on. And that's on top of the Possible ice on the road and other potential weather hazards that it feels it has to warn us about. Why it can't just come straight out with it and say: I hate this sodding country, I do not know, but its discontent is costing us enough to keep a small African township in food for a year.

The other way the car lets us know it is unhappy is via the parking sensor. Every time BH backs it into a parking space, or up the drive, a small squat evil Italian Mama clad in black waves her gnarled finger and shouts: No.. No..NONONONO! Or at least that's what it sounds like. My friend E has a similar problem. Her car is one of those people carriers (she has 3 kids and a dog) and it has parking sensors on all sides. It is like being attacked by a trio of smurf castrati.

A further problem with E's car is the colour: it is metallic silver, like practically every car on the road nowadays, which means whenever we go out, we almost always lose it in some multi-storey car park. The time we have wasted going from floor to floor, suddenly locating it, but then realizing at the last minute that it is not hers. We have even resorted to walking up and down pressing the key fob in the vain hope that it will beep and let us know where it is hiding - because honestly, that is what it feels like at times. The conspiracy of cars. I'm sure it exists.

Annie Rose
My car on the other hand, is French and so it couldn't give a damn. You kerb it, or park it askew, or scrape it along something, it just shrugs and goes tant pis. It also has this habit of taking on other cars, especially   'baby on board' landcruisermobiles driven (badly) by the blonde yummy mummies who live in my town. These behemoths are completely unsuitable for the narrowish streets and my 2CV hates them. Whenever we get into a confrontation on a bridge or up a hill, it simply refuses to go into reverse. Just waits, sneering with Gallic insouciance, until the other car is forced to back down. Nothing I can do, honest.

We are thinking of putting my car up as a candidate in the next local elections, on the basis that it has no political affiliations, it knows no developers, you can't bribe it and it does no deliberate harm to anybody. After all, if Caligula could make his horse a consul, I don't see why my car couldn't be a councillor.
Do you?

Saturday 23 March 2013

Seeing Red At Waitrose

A thought-provoking week at Hedges Towers, which began with my best friend E having one of those encounters that keeps the iron of revolt firmly embedded in my soul. She was queuing at the checkout in Waitrose with her lovely young daughter, who has Downs. Because daughter does not do waiting patiently, E with permission from the understanding checkout staff, always gives her a small handful of those green counters to post in the Community Matters slots while she bags and pays.

She had just handed over the counters when one of the hard-faced middle-aged women we refer to locally as ''Tory wives'', the sort whose husbands think they own this town and us, tapped her on the shoulder and informed her coldly that her child was only allowed ONE green counter. Now E is a Canadian with a tongue that could remove paint from walls, but as she said, 'It was after school and the store was full of kids.'

So she took a deep breath, called daughter over, and proceeded to prize the green counters, one by one from her reluctant fingers. By the end of the exercise, daughter was sobbing, the queue had reached epic proportions, and Tory wife was so red and rigid you could have used her to stop traffic. This says all you need to know about my town, and explains why, despite losing our Town Green application, we continue to fight for our green space, and our beloved snails.

Meanwhile closer to home, I decided BH needed a new aftershave as the one he wears is getting on my nerves. Ever mindful of the Estee Lauder Youth Dew Incident*, decided to wait until the weekend, when he was around to test drive products. (*This was the infamous Christmas present that I was given quite early on in our marriage, because a girl where he worked wore it and he thought it smelled very nice. On her, maybe. On me it smelled like week old cat litter. Money completely wasted but hey, a lesson usefully learned.)

Arriving at John Lewis on Saturday, I headed straight for the 'Men's fragrances' a place BH dreads almost as much as a visit to the dentist - apparently it's the word 'fragrances' coupled with the scary ladies armed with bottles, fixed smiles and slightly more teeth than expected - and spent a happy time getting various strips of card sprayed before meeting BH outside the coffee place. Over coffee, persuaded him to sniff, smell and critique the various colognes. He said they all smelled exactly the same and he didn't like any of them. Just as well, as I'd forgotten which one was which anyway. And they all seemed to cost a ridiculous amount of money in the first place.

All I need to get by
So I have thrown the elderly bottle of aftershave away, leaving BH to smell of BH, which is actually quite nice for a change. See, that's another good thing about strolling gently towards one's dotage: there are so many things you no longer need: expensive cologne, eyelash curlers, mini hair-straighteners, eyebrow threading kits, waxing strips, designer sunglasses, hair extensions, false nails, and fake tan. The older I get, the more low maintenance I become. Nowadays I just check I'm not still in my slippers, can remember my name and destination, and I'm good to go.

Saturday 16 March 2013

The PINK SOFA Welcomes Catharine Withenay

Catharine Withenay

Catharine Withenay is a recent Twitter friend. We linked up when she used a conversation I was having with someone else as the basis of a very clever blog post. So when The PINK SOFA heard that her memoirs of her life in Zambia: In The Shade Of The Mulberry Tree was to be published, an invitation was soon winging its way. In honour of Catharine's visit, there is chikanda, nshima and sadza on the coffee table for everybody to try. Don't know what it is? As Catharine, she'll tell you all about it. So, without further ado, it's over to my guest:

''How wonderful to sit on your squishy PINK SOFA! ... all I need is glorious sunshine and I'm sorted for the day. A sofa was something that I missed when we first arrived in Zambia. It was about four months before we got one. Until then we had some cheap plastic garden chairs that slid over the concrete floor and one uncomfortable wooden chair with a foam cushion that might have well not existed. Somehow I still managed to breastfeed my daughter in that time.

So let me tell you a little about why and what I write. Moving to Zambia in 2003 was a life-changing experience. I never wanted to go, but my husband is a paediatrician, had done a Diploma in Hygeine and Tropical Medicine and the PhD was his next step. At the time we moved, my son was 2.5 years old, my daughter just over 7 months. I was petrified as to what would happen!

I ended up staying there four years and when I got back to the UK my book almost wrote itself. By then the children were at school and since I was living in a new part of the UK (new to me) I had no friends and plenty of time to write. So why so long to publish? Well, partly because writing isn't simply sitting in front of a computer screen and typing. The first draft is easy, the difficult bit is editing. After trying a few agents, I decided to self-publish.

Memoir is a difficult genre to sell to agents and publishers. It is neither fact nor fiction and in general their memoir budget is taken up by celebrities. (Boring. They all end up in Oxfam Book shops.) But I find other people's lives are interesting: even seemingly 'normal' lives have a tale to tell. My life is not really different from thousands of others, bringing up children and trailing their spouses where the jobs go. But, in fairness, most people don't find themselves trying to emigrate having lost their passports ...

Catharine's memoirs of Zambia
Zambia offered so many challenges to the naive expat! The currency needed dividing by 7,500 in order for me to understand it in UK £ sterling. I had to employ a maid (I'd never employed anyone before but it would have been very strange for the white lady not to have one). I had to develop a skill in bartering, which I'm not sure I ever mastered! All together I had a very steep learning curve, much of which I share in the book.

My husband's medical research was into malnutrition and the immune system. Malnutrition is a big issue in developing countries, as there are many people with little or no money and who scrape around for food. Throw in the spectre of HIV/AIDS which is ravaging sub-Saharan Africa and there are many many children who have slim chances in life. I met and worked with international aid workers and it is shocking to know that so many children remain without food and education. I was delighted to witness a rural project that tried to deal with both: feeding lunch to every child that came to school. Unsurprisingly, their education, health and weight improved!''

In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree : Organising a husband, toddler and babe in arms, three suitcases, two rucksacks, a pram and a travel cot onto a plane ready for a new life in Zambia is complicated enough. Given Catharine's fear of malaria and tropical diseases and the anxieties of moving beyond the reach of friends and family, she wonders how she was persuaded to move at all. The, just as they approach the airport, it appears that they don't have their passports.

In her debut book, Catharine chronicles her first year living abroad as an expat wife. Nothing is simple, from buying furniture to getting a haircut. As she copes with motherhood and the injustices of poverty and healthcare in Zambia, she wonders: could she ever come to call this pace home?

In the Shade Of The Mulberry Tree is available on

Follow Catherine on : Twitter @c_withenay,,

Whoah - what an amazing adventure! Thanks Catharine, the PINK SOFA has really enjoyed hearing about your book ... and is looking forward to trying the Zambian food. Tuck in people... Catharine will be staying around to chat.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Barking At The Bank

 I left them around here somewhere...
A vexatious week at Hedges Towers. Cat A is definitely losing his marbles. He doesn't like being left alone, especially if I'm doing something while he's awake. He seems to need constant reassurance and follows me wherever I go (yes, there too). It's like having a toddler, only not. I'm actually typing this with him on my lap, where he is currently happiest.

He has also started waking up at night, and wondering round the house looking for me. Given that he is 16.5 years old and has bad cataracts, this is not a smart move. I am awoken by distressed miaowing and the sound of cat bumping into walls. So then I have to get up, rescue him, take him downstairs and feed him biscuits, after which I settle him down again under the radiator where he sleeps. It's a TOTAL pain, but he's an old cat and we've had him a long time, and someone has to be there for him.

Which meant we were pretty tired by the end of the week, when Beloved Husband and I went into town to close his dormant bank savings account which was earning zero interest whatsoever. He has to be physically there because I, despite being married to him for 36 years, and in full possession of every identity document of his that you could shake a stick at, am not now allowed to open or close or do anything without his actual presence, thank you, even though I apparently own 60% of the Bank.

We both think it's preposterous and a waste of our time. Especially as we used to be able to open and close accounts for each other, and we have a joint account there anyway. So, picture the scene therefore: It's Saturday morning. We are knackered, thanks to insomniac cat. We are cross. We have heavy colds. We are fed up with stupid bank protocols. What followed was something Samuel Beckett would not have been ashamed to own. As I recall, it went like this:

BH: You don't need to stay with me.
Me: Really? Are you sure?
BH: I can manage perfectly well. You go and wait over there.
Me: Over here? OK. I'll wait.
Young Female Bank Person: So Mr Hedges, what is the name of the savings account?
BH: I don't know. It's just a savings account.
YFBP: I need the actual type of account.
BH: Oh for goodness sake. (calls) What's the name of the account?
Me: I thought you told me to wait over here.
BH: I don't know the name of the account.
Me: You said you could manage.
BH: I could, only I don't know the name of the account.
Me: So you want me to come over there now?
BH: Yes.
Me: You don't want me to wait over here?
BH: No.
YFBP: (smiling rather too brightly) Right. Good. Let's start again...

That was pretty much as good as it got. We agreed afterwards that we'd never made it through a bank visit quite so speedily before. Bank Person couldn't get rid of us fast enough. None of that 'while you're here ..'' stuff that usually heralds them attempting to flog you naff insurance. It was: Pretend to smile, press the buttons, print the paperwork, please please go away now. Grumpy Old Sods. It's an art. We are thinking of hiring ourselves out to other bank customers.

See - every now and then being old has its advantages, and we need all the advantages we can get as neither of us are getting any younger. Certainly we're not getting any saner. Quite the opposite. And I notice that we oldies are constantly being referred to in the media as 'a burden' and 'a drain on resources' and an 'elderly time-bomb'. Makes me wonder, when I reach what Shakespeare so vividly describes as 'Second childishness and mere oblivion/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything'' whether there will be somebody there for me to give me biscuits in the middle of the night and let me sleep under the radiator. I do hope so.

Friday 1 March 2013

INCEPTIO Book Launch. The PINK SOFA was there.

Alison Morton
Yesterday, fellow author and Twitter friend Alison Morton's novel Inceptio was launched. The PINK SOFA went to the launch, accompanied by its usual bottle of 40% proof and roll of police incident tape. Alison has been extremely busy in both the run up, and on the launch day, but she has very kindly popped in to collapse on The PINK SOFA and talk about the book. In honour of the event, there are mini spotlights, amphorae of red wine, bread and delicious fish soup on the coffee table. 
The Roman Snails, fresh from their victory parade round their field (which has taken them all week) will also be putting in an appearance at some point, so please check the floorboards very carefully when you stand up. Alison, over to you...

''Thank you for welcoming me to your blog, Carol. Yesterday, three years of slog - researching, writing and publishing led to the exciting moment when my debut novel Inceptio was published. I've played with words most of my life - storyteller, playwright (aged 7), article writer, local magazine editor and professional translator. The idea for the novel came one evening in a darkened auditorium of our local multiplex on half-price Wednesday. We were watching a particularly dire film. The photography was gorgeous, the story total crap. 'I could do better that this,' I whispered to my other half. 'So why don't you?' Three months later I had completed thee first draft of Inceptio, the first of my Roma Nova alternative history thrillers. (The PINK SOFA is just butting in here to say that it produced its first novel, Ring of Silver, Lord of Time, as a result of  a husbandly challenge; it wonders how many other writers have gone down the same path?)

I knew I needed to learn novel-crafting skills, so joined the Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers Scheme in 2010.  Participation in two RNA conferences, an Arvon Foundation course in commercial fiction and the Festival of Writing at York all helped me develop my writing. And I meet some knowledgeable, generous and fun people along the way. My history MA had taught me how to research and my six years in the Territorial Army trained me to do 'guns and mud'. Perfect preparation for Inceptio.

My husband took early retirement, I sold my translation business and we decamped to France in May 2010. Surrounded by peace, fresh air and sunshine, I have written to further books in the series. I write most mornings after a short spurt on social media, and do domestic stuff in the afternoons. In the evening, I'll write a few more lines, research and mess about, er, ' interact with professional colleagues' on Facebook and Twitter.

One question I'm often asked: is Inceptio about Romans? Stories with Romans are usually about famous emperors, epic battles, depravity, intrigue, wicked empresses and a lot of shouty men with sandals, tunics and swords. But project the Roman theme sixteen hundred years forward into the 21st century, and with a feminine twist. How unlike ours would that world be?

Inventing a different development in history is not for the faint-hearted. I firmly believe you have to know your history reasonably well before sending it in a different direction. I've been a 'Roman nut' since I was eleven, fascinated by my first mosaic. More importantly, I know what I don't know and am prepared to track it down.

Inceptio starts in New York - present day, alternative reality. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt has a harsh choice - being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother's homeland in Europe. Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety, a ready-made family and a new career. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus who rescued her in America, isolates her.
Inceptio cover

Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops her fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it....''

Inceptio is available in the UK on Amazon:  and in the US:

Find Alison on:,, and follow her on Twitter @alison_morton

What an amazing concept. Alison is currently working on Perfiditas, the second book in the Roma Nova series. And now, let the soup and bread flow free! And mind the snails!!