Friday 27 September 2013

Consultation, Harpenden Style

A further frustrating week at Hedges Towers. As predicted, the 2CV has failed it MOT. One piddly little brake light, which if I'd known, I'd have fixed myself, and rust. Rust is to 2CVs what icebergs were to the Titanic. In this case, it is under the chassis, driver's side, rear quarter. This means the other dreaded word: Welding. Merely to say the word raises the spectre of a three figure bill. For the last week, the car has been in bits in Big Dave's garage, and I have been in bits here.

The passport saga has now reached its inevitable conclusion. As some of you know, I had applied for a new passport. What I did not realise was that it costs £77 +. Given the broken window bill (see:Bang Out of Order!) and the prospective 2CV bill, we can't afford it. And as I rarely venture abroad - well, I did go to St Helen's the other weekend without a passport, but nobody deported me, I maintain that I do not need one. The passport office, having received the application, have decided that I do. And they need the money. Now.

Cue several letters demanding it and then a phone call. BH fielded it. I could hear his voice getting colder and colder, until icicles were dripping off it. Finally he put the phone down. No, they cannot, apparently, save my info until we can afford a passport. And they don't do pensioner reductions. And they're probably not going to return the photos that we sent and had to pay for. Is it any wonder that we are turning into Two Grumpy Old Sods? Banks, insurance companies,water utilities ... we are rapidly running out of organisations that haven't annoyed us off to industrial strength.

Roman Snail on allotment site annexe

Which brings me, with a sad inevitability to Harpenden Town Council and my campaign to stop them building on our former allotment site. Having successfully got the Town Green Application turned down, even though it was supported by practically the whole community, they are now going to ''consult'' the same community about new play equipment on the field next door, which was devolved to them by the District Council in March 2011. They couldn't do it before because of Bad Old Me and my Town Green - though I have checked the legal position, and they could.

Be that as it may, we are all going to be asked what we'd like. Which is good. Whether we get anything is another matter altogether. My finely tuned irony-meter is currently in the red zone. When the field belonged to the District Council, we asked both councils regularly for new play equipment. Nothing to do with us, we were told by the District Council, the field was in Harpenden so they weren't going to fork out. Nothing to do with Harpenden, we were told by Harpenden Town Council, the field was owned by the District Council so they weren't going to fork out either. O tempora, o mores!

Allotment site in background, behind fence
However, amid all the promises of future largesse, there remains the inevitable question of the future of the allotment site, as the field was only returned to Harpenden Town Council on the basis that the allotments would be developed and an access road run right across the field. A ''deal'' which we were not told about until it was secretly signed off. Yes, I know most councils don't do it like this, but then when you rule the school and the District Council Cabinet also, and no other political group in Harpenden can be bothered to object or show the slightest interest in getting involved, you can virtually do what you like. Or so it appears.

The allotment land has been deliberately neglected and allowed to overgrow, and is now home to Roman Snails and, we believe, some badgers. What is going to happen to it? I put this to one of our local Tory Councillors as he was manning the Conservative Party Stall on St Albans Market the other week. Plans are going ahead for the development, I was told, despite opposition from 4 major wildlife societies, and the whole community. And the badgers, I asked. If there were any badgers, I was told, he'd go and put cyanide down. Of course, I was immediately reassured that this was just a joke. Funnily enough, I'm not laughing. Are you?

Allotment on left. All this will be cut down to make way for access road
See also:   Localism,Harpenden Style
                  Democracy Harpenden Style

Friday 20 September 2013

SNOW: A Meditation by Peter Davey

''I'm immensely grateful to the fabulous Carol Hedges for inviting me to park my pert posterior on her prestigious PINK SOFA and prattle away until it's time for my next dose of Prozac.

I'm fascinated by snow. Well, actually, I'm not fascinated by snow so much as by the British attitude to snow. Here we are, a tiny island stuck out in the North Sea, on about the same latitude as Newfoundland or Siberia yet due to the gentle caress of the Gulf Stream we greet the threat of snow not with the romantic resignation of the Russians or calm efficiency of the Canadians, but with a peculiar blend of bureaucracy and blind panic.

 The mere sight of a snowflake drifting past a window is enough to shut down the entire country's public transport system in anticipation of 'Arctic conditions' which almost never materialize. Our normally cheery TV weatherman assumes a grave, headmastery air, admonishing us to 'take only journeys which are strictly necessary' and implying that if we ignore these warnings we are behaving highly irresponsibly and may get put in detention.

Of course, on the rare occasions that a real blizzard renders the work thing completely out of the question, we're reduced instead to the start struggle for survival - or its modern Western equivalent, the struggle for fresh croissants. Despite the four foot snowdrifts banked against our door, we know we have to get on those coats and gloves and wellies and trudge down to Asda before those vultures who live next door have cleared out all the bread and milk and Chardonnay.

Having endured a week of this nightmare, and just when we feel we can't take any more, we suddenly notice our weatherman has regained his former jocularity.' Tomorrow a warm front will move in from the West,' he proclaims, ' the snow will turn to rain and a thaw will set in.' And the news is greeted by the entire nation with an audible sigh of ...... disappointment. For the fact is that, with the masochistic perversity which is another of our national characteristics, we've actually come to rather enjoy the suffering, the privation, the evenings clustered by candlelight round the fire eating 'win the war' suppers. because the power's goner off, granting us a few hours' blessed relief from the telly and the computer screen.

To me there is nothing sadder than the thaw: the great white giant reduced to a sad, pathetic, grimy shadow of his former self, vanquished not by us but by a few degrees' rise in the air temperature. Suddenly everything is dripping - trees, gutters, hedgerows - melting snow dripping into melting snow, then dribbling into drains and dykes and ditches ... drip drip drip.... an outward depiction of our desperate, drooping, deathly dysfunctional depression.

A few days after our last bout of polar conditions I went for a walk in green fields and sunshine - the sky blue, the clouds white, the air warm and springlike. In a shady corner I came across a sad little remnant - a heap of sooty slush clinging on for dear life but vanishing even as I gazed at it, and I could not help closing my eyes, pressing my foot into its depths and rejoicing in that creaking crunch unique to snow beneath the human welly. All of a sudden I was a little boy again, venturing out at first light after an all-night fall, trudging over the arctic wasteland that had once been the lawn, eagerly anticipating toboganing and snowball fights and days off school and marvelling at the sudden fabulous curves and cliffs and cornices, the tiny conical walls of white along every branch and twig and wire.

And most of all, that vast, all-embracing all-muffling silence which is so rare and precious in our  modern world, enhances by the distant indignant chirp of a blackbird. And I realized that however much we claim to hate it, however much it disrupts and inconveniences our adult lives, there remains deep down inside all of us, a child who loves the snow. Maybe I am fascinated by it after all...''

Peter Davey is one of those rare individuals who can turn his hand to any art or literary form: books, poems, art, photography. I have one of his beautiful watercolours on the Writing Room wall. His is the breathtaking photo at the top of this post.
Peters's book Loved and Lost in Lewisham can be found at
His art and photography can be viewed on . 
He can also be found on Twitter @PedroYevad

Thanks Peter for taking over the blog this week. I have had second edits to complete and invitations for the slightly manic Facebook Launch Party of the new book to send out. Next week, 'normal' (sic) service will be resumed. In the meantime, do stay and chat with Peter. Not often we have such multifariously talented person gracing the Writing Attic ....

Saturday 14 September 2013

Strong People Weep...But They Don't Go Under, A Guest Post from Carol Hedges

Strong People Weep...But They Don't Go Under, A Guest Post from Carol Hedges

Arrivederci Aviva!

A busy week at Hedges Towers. First edits of the Victorian novel, due to be published by Crooked Cat later this year, have arrived. It has been many years since I did an edit and Things Have Moved On Considerably. Farewell days of correcting a manuscript online from a paper copy covered in illegible red editorial pen. Hullo ''Track changes''. For those who are not in the writing game, ''Track changes'' is where your editor marks up the changes he/she thinks need to be looked at in one colour (red), and you click on accept. If you don't agree, you can refuse or add your own changes or comments in blue. All clear? Think I got the hang of it after the first 20 pages and once I'd stopped accepting my own changes. Anyway, it has gone back to my Crooked Cat editor. And there is now a title. Hopefully. Of which more anon.

Meanwhile the window has been fixed (see blog post: Bang Out Of Order). However Aviva, having informed us we'd have to pay the first £150 of any bill AND that they would up our premium on top of that, has now upped our premium by £130 to over £600. Even though we didn't claim on our insurance in the end. Unsatisfied customers? Tell me about it. BH was so furious that he actually went online and has come up with three quotes from other companies that would save us over £400.

We've been loyal Aviva customers for over thirty years. In fact, if you cut BH in half, you would find the word 'loyal' written right through him, like a stick of rock. Not any more. As he said: the quotes may be only introductory offers, but he's quite happy to introduce himself to someone else in a year's time. I've also sent a report of the Aviva fiasco to Paul Lewis at the BBC's excellent 'Money Box' programme. A couple of months ago, he did a feature on exactly this rip-off behaviour. Seems nothing has changed.

On top of all this, the time has rolled around again for the 2CV to fail its MOT. This is an annual event - I have never known any 2CV I've ever owned to pass first time, because every year, the DVLA ups the ante and raises the bar, and old cars like mine stand no chance. Two years ago it failed because the windscreen wipers ''didn't park flat''. They don't ''park flat'' on 2CVs, they never have, it's how they're made, but the test centre wouldn't believe me. Even after I provided them with a picture of a 2CV meeting with a long line up of cars, each with the wipers parked at an angle. I was told that they must have just stopped like that. All 50 of them?

In the end, Big Dave, who looks after the car, did something fiddly just to get it through. Goodness knows what the reason will be this time. Wheels not round enough. Engine needs stronger elastic band. Hamster needs replacing. Every year, we have the 'is it worth holding on to the car given the small local mileage that I do' debate. But I always end up keeping it, because even though it is probably the unsafest car on the road and owes much of its current existence to the miracle that is gaffer tape, nothing compares with bowling along the Lower Luton Road, roof rolled down, and Diana Ross blaring out of one speaker, then hitting a bump and for a brief while listening to Diana Ross in stereo. Magic. Vorsprung durch technik? Nein danke.

Friday 6 September 2013

The PINK SOFA welcomes Val Poore

Barge dweller, author, blogger, supporter of other writers, kindness personified, caring and all-round totally nice person ... yes, I could only be talking about one special individual: Val Poore. Val lives on a boat on the Rotterdam canal and if you want to sample life afloat without actually being afloat, visit her blog and check out the pictures. The PINK SOFA is overjoyed that she has decided to place her feet upon terra firma for a while, as it is not keen on getting its upholstery wet. To celebrate her visit, there is strawberry cheesecake and freshly brewed dutch coffee on the coffee table. Val .... over to you!

''Yay! I've made it to the PINK SOFA! I must be doing something right. Thank you so much for inviting me, Carol. I must say it feels a lot more stable up here in Hedges Towers than it does on the barge. Ooh - and that strawberry cheesecake looks heavenly. How did you know it's my absolute favourite?

Anyway, to earn my slice, you want me to talk about my book background. Hmm..where to start? Like most of us who end up writing, I was an avid reader as a child. I was the youngest of four and with the older three away at school, I was a bit lonely, so books were my escape and companions. I loved nothing better than lying on my bed with our old cat Tiger for company and reading.

 I read everything on my parents' bookshelves - they never limited my reading, so I had everything from Elizabeth Goudge's Little White Horse and E. Nesbitt's The Railway Children to Dornford Yates' 1920's comedies and the historical novels of Georgette Heyer. Later I got interested in archaeology, so I read books about Roman history. I was a dreadful nerd. Well, we had no TV and my dad (bless him) only played the Third Programme on the radio, so what do you expect?

How did I end up on a barge in Holland? I got there by the scenic route! I lived for twenty years in South Africa before I found my way to Rotterdam, (f anyone's interested, I have written a book about it). I loved it there and would never have left had it not been for my now less than 'significant other' who seemed to be quite significant at the time. The whole barge thing got me hooked very quickly though. We didn't have much water to speak of in Africa (read my book; you know you want to) so I was amazed when I saw all these floating homes. It's a lot of work though, so writing has to take second place to painting. You have to be totally in love with paint to have an old barge like mine. Oh - I also managed to fall in love with a Dutch skipper too.

As I lost my job - I used to write copy and communications stuff for a company in Johannesburg, I had to get my writing fix by writing books. Writing is an addiction, and I've been hooked on it all my life, so it's impossible to break. The African memoir came first, then Watery Ways describing my first year on a barge. After that, a sort of YA novel about the waterways  - I call it kidult, called The Skipper's Child and now my latest offering .... drum roll....... 

How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics. It's a novel about a girl trying to do the self-sufficiency thing in the wilds of rural Dorset. It's got a very special and eccentric cast of characters that includes the girl's mother who drifts around in an old wedding dress half the time. There's lots about a flock of wilful sheep and some lunatic geese as well, but it's all good fun, especially when Maisie (the main character) has to cart her sheep around in the back of a VW Beetle. The background story is of course rooted in fact - somewhere. I've self-published this one through and Amazon Kindle simply because I wanted to. I've had two books published by Sunpenny Publishing, but I really liked the whole process of doing it myself this time.

Anyway, I think I'd better shut up now, or you'll be throwing me off the turrets here at Hedges Towers. Thanks a million for having me, Carol. Can I have my strawberry cheesecake now? I promise I won't spill any on the sofa ... oops ..what did I go and say that for?''

Before you send me off to get the cloth, here's the links to my writing and blogs etc:

Amazon Page:
Twitter: @vallypee

Val,thank you so much for visiting. The PINK SOFA is now humming: 'The Padstow Lifeboat' and contemplating the slap of the waves and the feel of the wind in its cushions. So while I nail its legs to the floor to stop it escaping yet again, and you enjoy a well-deserved chunk of cheesecake, I'll open things up to everyone. Questions? Comments? Go for it................