Saturday 30 December 2017

Living in Interesting Times

Harpenden in the Snow (pic. Alison Woodley)

We live in interesting times, as the saying goes. For some of us, the times are slightly more interesting that we'd like. Last week, a few days before Christmas, FIVE letters arrived from the two hospitals who are dealing with the aftermath of my cancer operation. Cancermin gone mad.

Before we go there, a piece of advice: Do Not Research Cancer Causing Symptoms on the Internet. Apparently my cancer could have been caused by: cigarettes/weight/age/coffee/alcohol/salt/red meat/smoked food/air pollution/stress. No mention of the current government, but I'm pretty convinced they must be part of it.

Briefly, I shall be spending most of January shuttling between the Luton & Dunstable Hospital (checkups, follow on checkups, bone scan etc) and Mount Vernon Hospital, where I am slowly going to morph into Radioactive Woman. Stand next to me at bus stops at your peril. In preparation for this, I have now been CT scanned and Marked In Indelible Pen. After a while, you just withdraw into your head and let them get on with it.

To add to the fun, the dumbphone has packed up. It started a while ago when it kept locking me out. Then it refused point blank to send any texts. Cue taking it into a local EE shop, where a pair of twelve year olds in blue overalls with the yellow EE logo took it apart, re-assembled it, and informed me that there was nothing more they could do.

Thus acquisition of New Phone. Luckily, the other Grumpy Old Sod is a big fan of Classic FM and knew immediately that the right phone for the non-techie-with-tendency-to-shout-at-and-break-phones was the one they've been pushing as the ideal Xmas gift for the over 80s. So while he has a brand new white Apple iPhone with gold edges, I have a black one with BIG keys and SIMPLE instructions. Happy? Yep, though I'd have preferred a red one.

Life is all about survival in one form or another, isn't it? Sometimes this means adopting a different strategy, sometimes it means adapting to a new one. As the days lurch unsteadily downhill towards the gate of 2018, I'd like to wish all the readers of this blog a Happy New Year. Resolutions? I don't make them. Let's just say that if I and the mobile phone haven't packed up by December 31st, 2018, I shall chalk it up as a success! Cheers!

Sunday 24 December 2017

It's Party Time!

What is Christmas without a P*A*R*T*Y? So step inside the writing garret, gentle reader, and help yourself to a party hat, a handful of poppers and a tinsel wreath. This party is for all of you - 2017 has been a momentous year for many reasons, and it is time to celebrate!


Ah, you found the box of crackers. No, I don't know what Vampires sing on New Year's Eve..... ''Auld Fang's Syne''. Haha - love it. OK, while you're attacking the sausage rolls, grabbing a drink and introducing yourself to the other guests, I'll just run through some of the events that made this year so special for me. Please share your special events later.

In May I started minding Little G and Small when my daughter returned to work. We have had a lot of fun and adventures and in honour of their dual presence, I re-started The Adventures of L-Plate Gran to tell you all about them.  Here's the first *new* post

The PINK SOFA has played host to some lovely writing guests over the year, including: Jonathon Fletcher, Jan Ruth, Kelly Florentia, Shelley Wilson, Ian Wilfred, Amanda James and Jo Carroll.

The MOST popular blog post, with nearly 6 thousand views so far was this one.

All the Victorian Detectives books were re-issued with brand new covers, designed by Gina Dickerson (@GinaDWriter ). The fifth Victorian Detectives book, Wonders & Wickedness was published in September and has been on several eminent book bloggers' Best of 2017 Book Lists including @CathyRy  and @MrsBloggsReader  @TerryTyler4  Thank you ladies. I am honoured.

I'd also like to thank everybody who reads and comments on my blogs, and chats to me on Facebook and Twitter. You know who you are. I know who you are. In the dark times when staring at a blank computer screen and wondering why I have the effrontery to call myself a writer, YOU have encouraged and cheered me on. Especial affection for all my mad fellow #thearchers Tweetalong mates.

I see someone has opened the PROSECCO! Excellent! And if one of you can sort the play-list, let's start celebrating!

On behalf of the SOFA and myself: A Very Happy Christmas to One and All!!

Sunday 17 December 2017

Cheek to Cheek (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Christmas preparations are underway at You must be mad's house. Little G and Small  have helped to lug home a very big tree which looked a lot smaller in the market, and then helped decorate it. Small's contribution has been to pull off all the decorations within reach on the lower boughs, so the tree now has a rather lopsided look.

Little G keeps dropping hints about my present in a 'not-telling-you' sort of way, eg:

Little G: What is your favourite colour?
Me:        Orange.
Little G: That's the colour of your present!

Meanwhile, Small is starting to push the boundaries, as those books on child-rearing put it. The pushing involves things like dropping food off his highchair/being told to stop/doing his sad 'lip' gesture/ then dropping more food .... slowly and deliberately .... while staring at you. He has also mastered the art of reaching out behind his back to touch something that he has been told not to touch. He is turning into a cheeky little monkey, as the books on child-rearing don't put it.

You must be mad and I are the discipline duo. We absolutely refuse to be defeated by an under-two on a wind-up mission. Small, on the other hand, clearly sees our reactions as part of the game. Neither of us have any experience in raising boys, and the sort of brisk telling-off that would reduce Little G to floods of tears, washes off Small like water off a seal. Frankly, my dear, he simply couldn't give a damn.

We are both hoping it is a phase. Like Little G's phase of ritual burping. She rarely does it now. Meanwhile we continue to admonish Small, and he continues to run rings round us. You can see him sizing us up behind his innocent 'what, me?' face, while L-Plate Grandad (Small's favourite person out of the two of us) tries not to laugh.

It's a battle, that's for sure. But we all love Small too much to let him win. On the plus side though, I am mentally stocking up on a lot of 'when you were very little' stories to use as embarrassing ammo when Small turns into a teenager. My day may not have arrived yet, but it will surely come.
Oh yes.

Saturday 9 December 2017

Spreading Myself Thinly

WARNING: This blog post contains strong language and scenes of a surgical nature that some readers may well find distasteful. Don't say you weren't told.

It is Saturday, and I am back home recovering. Partly from the mastectomy itself, but mainly from 48 hours in hospital. Do not get me wrong: The Luton & Dunstable Hospital is brilliant. The NHS is the greatest invention since sliced bread. But.

They keep waking me up. The first night, they come round every hour to see how I am. Sometimes I am asleep, in which case they wake me up to check if I was asleep. When I  am not, they stick things in various orifices, on various fingers, and mutter to each other. I've been given a nice green buzzer attached to a morphine drip. Somewhere in the course of that long dark first night, I lose all sense of reality, and just empty it. Which kind of accounts for the next day.

I am labelled. My left leg has a label, as does my right arm. Presumably on the basis that if they go missing, they can be reunited with the rest of me. My left hand also has a large blue arrow pointing upwards, allegedly indicating where the sentient bit is. Every time anyone enters my room, they ask me my name and date of birth. After a while, I stop waiting to be asked, and tell them anyway. This means the cleaner, the menu lady and the patient next door who forgot where her room was know who I am and when to send birthday cards.

Hospital time is different from everywhere else. There seems to be an awful lot of 4 am and most of the time it is Thursday. Little G and Small come for a visit the day after the operation and instantly manage to locate the device that raises and lowers the bed. So there is a great deal of 'bed UP - bed DOWN.' They get plied with biscuits and cooed over by the nursing team, which they thoroughly enjoy.

The thing with the drainage bottle honestly wasn't my fault. (The drainage bottle, which contained  me in liquid form, follows me round in a nice green bag.) Look, I just stood up and it somehow became unattached and ended up on the floor, so that there I was, briefly, spread thinly over a wide area.

They load you up with pain relief in hospital. Unfortunately, even though all the drugs say they may cause drowsiness, the staff don't like you lying around in bed, so I spend a lot of time sitting up fast asleep. I have to say, however painful the operation was, the most painful event occurred when they removed the surgical tape attaching the cannula to the back of my hand. Words of an unladylike nature were shouted and I had to apologise.

I have now been sent home with something called Tramadol, which I gather is one of the opiate based pain-killers currently responsible for the majority of drug-addicted deaths in the US. Luckily, this isn't the US, so I reckon I might be OK.

But at the end of the day, whatever day it is, it's great to be home. I have drugs, I have an exercise chart, I have a cat who missed sleeping on me and is now making up for lost time. And, as I keep reminding myself, in Victorian times, my operation would have been performed minus anaesthetics, and my survival rate would be practically nil. Plus I'd have had to pay for it. I could make a political point here, but I won't. You know what it is. I'll just keep taking the Tramadol.

Saturday 2 December 2017

The Big C & Me

As regular readers of this blog know, 4 years ago, I was diagnosed, via a routine screening, with ductile cancer, and underwent an operation to remove it. You can read about it HERE.
Unfortunately, it appears that me and the Big C have not finished our relationship. I now have Grade 2 breast cancer, and in 4 days' time (Wednesday 6th) will be going into the wonderful Luton & Dunstable Hospital to have some more of me chopped off.

It is quite a major op, and like most major ops, it has generated an incredible amount of paperwork (known, rather wearily, to us sufferers & survivors as Cancermin).This week alone I have received:

* A BIG booklet on primary breast care
* Results of my biopsy
* A letter explaining about my healthcheck, pre-op
* A report of my 2 meetings with my Macmillan nurse
* Letter from the Photography Dept re appointment to take pics
* A form for the Implant Registry
* Info about the above
* A questionnaire to fill in post op
* A survey to fill in about Breast cancer and 'older women' (optional)
* A report on my initial diagnosis and meeting with consultant, sent to my GP cc. to me
* Information about my Outpatient Department appt. post-op
* A treatment plan outline sent to my GOP cc. me
* Various leaflets about stuff

Worried about the operation? Heck, I don't have time. Too much reading and box-ticking to do!

Last time I was chopped, I noticed a few people backing away into the undergrowth. They have not re-appeared. So, in the interests of being helpful, here are some things to say/not say when a friend/family member or work colleague announces they have breast (or any other) cancer.

* 'Aren't you lucky you don't need chemo': yes, probably I am, but I'm not feeling lucky right now. Why not ask me about my treatment instead?

* 'Let me know if I can do anything' (I had a text that said this). Translation: Don't let me know, please. Better to say: 'Can I cook you a meal? When shall I bring it round? Can I hoover the house for you? What would be a good day?' Most treatment involves being unable to lift anything lighter than a feather for weeks, so cooking/cleaning is a bit of an no-no.

*  How are you? If you can add 'today' it helps us respond. Today, I am feeling tearful. Yesterday, I was fine.

* But PLEASE PLEASE ... at the end of the day, the worse thing that one can do is to ignore. I have been told several sad stories of women taking cakes into work, to get colleagues to speak to them. If all else fails, drop round a card. With a nice Boots/Space NK/MS voucher inside ... 'to treat yourself when you are better'.

And finally, coz I want to leave room for other far wiser people to pile in with their words of wisdom: to my fellow cancer friends: Whatever your deeply held beliefs, if someone offers to: pray, light candles, send blessings, plant a tree, or ritually sacrifice a politician, be grateful (especially the last one). It shows they care. xx

Saturday 25 November 2017

Cold Comfort (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

It is nearly the beginning of December. Everywhere is gearing up for Christmas: lights are being strung between High Street lamp posts, Christmas goods are enticingly displayed in windows, shops have placed twinkly trees in pots outside their doors in precisely the wrong place for a passing double-buggy, and we have all gone down with coughs and colds.

Small brought it back from nursery first. Little G then caught it, and with the loving generosity displayed by all small children towards their adored grandparents, they gave it to us. We are both fuzzy-headed, bleary-eyed, badly-slept, runny-nosed, coughing and generally under the weather.

Meanwhile Little G and Small, perfectly accustomed to living with a wide variety of minor ailments, forge through the day, mopped up at intervals, waiting expectantly for us to provide the next entertainment. All we want to do is curl up under a duvet without being used as a slalom or a trampoline. It doesn't happen.

L-Plate Grandad has cunningly mastered the ability to sit with his eyes closed and zone out for 5 minutes, but I am too worried about Small's ability to run amok to relax. I am like a coiled spring, constantly monitoring him for incipient catastrophes involving stairs, drawers, plugs, doors, small found objects on the carpet, the cat, sharp objects, or cupboards, for which I will be held accountable by You Must Be Mad. I do not remember feeling this heart-lurching sense of responsibility when she was growing up.

In an effort to corral the wagons pre~CBeebies time, I sit them both at the kitchen table, give Small some crayons to eat, and help Little G compose her letter to Father Christmas. I write to her dictation: ''A crown, a wand, a dressing-up box and a police outfit.'' She signs it. I am impressed. Little G is clearly going to rule the world when she grows up.

If she could also find a cure for the common cold, that'd be great too.

Saturday 18 November 2017

The PINK SOFA meets writer Jan Ruth

The PINK SOFA is a great celebrant of Christmas, and has already laid in stocks of food and bottles of mulled wine for its Christmas guests. Here is the first of them: Jan Ruth lives in Wales and has horses, something the PINK SOFA envies to the ends of its little curved wooden legs. She also has a new book out just in time for the festive season. So, sit down, grab a mince pie, and let's find out all about it:

The Story behind the Story...

"Away for Christmas is a novella about the joy and pain of fractured relationships, the joy and pain of Christmas itself – because the festive period is not always fun for everyone – and the joy and pain of publishing books! But perhaps most of all, this is a story about staying true to oneself and looking for the real Christmas spirit beyond the baubles and the glitter.

Regular readers will know that my characters tend not to be in the first flush of youth, and that the joy and pain of relationships are often par for the course. Christmas is very much a family time and can unearth a multitude of unwelcome emotions and in the case of my character, present plenty of troublesome hurdles before the festivities can be enjoyed. His ex-wife doesn't always make life easy, but Jonathan is determined to be a better dad, against all the odds.

And finally, the joy and pain of publishing books. There are some great publishers out there, ones who achieve results, look after their authors and understand the industry from the ground up. This story isn’t based on them.

It’s no secret that I’ve been round the houses and back again with regard to writing and publishing. Thirty years ago I used to believe that a good book would always be snapped up by a publisher regardless of genre, style, and content. In the real, commercial world, this just isn’t true. After several years of agents and self-publishing, a turning point came for me when a small press offered a contract for Silver Rain. This is it, I thought. This is the change of direction I need… but be careful what you wish for! Don’t get me wrong in that I had huge delusional ideas at this stage. I was simply seeking greater visibility and some respite from the nuts and bolts of self-publishing.

And all the outward signs were good: they took five back-catalogue titles and one new title, to make six contracts. This material represented several years of my life, several thousand pounds’ worth of investment in terms of editorial advisory, editing, proofreading, designing, formatting for ebooks and paperbacks, advertising… I could go on. Producing a quality product and promoting it to its best advantage doesn’t happen by accident. If you don’t have these skills yourself, then one needs to employ freelance professionals, as I’ve reiterated many times. Of course, we know there are a lot of ‘home-made’ books out there which don’t quite cut it, but this is certainly not the case for all self-produced work. What is slightly disconcerting is that I discovered (and so does my poor character Jonathan Jones) that this isn’t necessarily the case for traditionally produced work, either!

The process of trade publishing has less to do with the quality of material than you might presume, but it has a lot to do with what is or isn’t marketable at any one time. This isn’t bad business, it’s about making money to stay afloat. Small publishers are in exactly the same boat as the independents, but with far more overheads and problems with staff. Some of these staff may be inexperienced or learning ‘on the job.’

These small companies are up against the same fast-moving on-line industry as any independent but perhaps without the resources to manage it effectively, let alone build a lively following on Twitter; a following which has the power to engage. Traditional publishing, by its very nature, is painfully slow and this produces a massive clash with the shifting sands of on-line business. We perhaps don’t realise how fine-tuned independents have become in this respect.

Worryingly, new authors are often excited by offers from vanity publishers, or those who operate under the guise of assisted publishing, not realising the implications until it’s perhaps too late. Even contracts from those real publishers with seemingly no pitfalls or upfront costs, can dissolve into a horribly disappointing experience. Of course, my poor character thinks he’s landed lucky when a small publisher offers him a three-book deal. What could go wrong? If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a book or maybe you’ve just typed THE END to your manuscript, you might think twice about your next step…

Away for Christmas is set over three Christmastimes, and because I feel sure you’ll be looking for a few hours of warm and cosy escapism at this time of the year, I can assure you that there’s a happy ending by the time Jonathan makes it to 2017."

Jan's book can be bought at:
Find her on Twitter at: @JanRuthAuthor 

Monday 13 November 2017

A Girls' Night Out (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Now that Little G is three and a half (or as she puts it: nearly four), our relationship has moved to a new dimension. While Small potters around finding stuff and transferring it elsewhere ~ spoons, a glove, the cat tray shovel, we get on discussing the Big Things in life, like What is Friendship? (it's being nice and sharing your toys) & what Little G would do if she met someone who wasn't friendly (I'd tell them to be exactly like me, because I am a good friend).

As a reward for being exactly like herself, Little G and I recently decided we needed a Girls Night Out, because Small was going to the football with the rest of the family and L-Plate Grandad. Little G was most excited about the concept of a 'Night Out', and in the weeks running up to the Saturday when it was going to happen, she referred to it frequently.

Saturday finally arrived, and I rocked up at You Must Be Mad's, to find Little G waiting impatiently for me on the sofa. She was wearing her best little black sparkly dress (what else?) and her boots with sparkly stars on. We spent some time perusing and selecting appropriate accessories, finally coming down on the side of a silver sparkly bag and some sparkly clips. You may detect a theme here. I cannot comment.

Sparkling and excited, we walked together into town until we reached Wagamama's  ~ a place we used to go regularly when she was tiny. We selected exactly the same meal, as a homage to those far-off days, opting for spoon and fork rather than chopsticks. We know our limits. Once again, some adult diners regarded Little G's presence with antipathy, and once again, I remarked LOUDLY on the mess they were making with their chopsticks, as opposed to the neat way Little G was eating.

After dinner, happy and replete, we strolled along the high street, just two girls on the town, footloose and fancy free, pausing at intervals for Little G to re-apply her lipstick (a scented lip balm). As you do on a night out. When we'd seen and been seen sufficiently, we went for ice cream at a local coffee-shop, then home in time for bath, story and bed.

OK, maybe it wouldn't have score highly on your scale of nights out, but as the song says: 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun'. And we did.

Saturday 11 November 2017

Armistice Day 2019

 'No shelter from the kniving wind
                                                       No solace from the driving snow. 
                                                       No warmth, no comfort or bright cheer 
                                                       In heav'n above or earth below'
                                                                'Trench Winter. November 1916'                                                                                                    ~ Noel Clark 

If you read my books, you'll know that lines from this poem feature in Jigsaw Pieces , my YA Ebook . Noel Clark is a character from the book and his short life as a soldier poet in the first World War makes up one of the story strands. In a few days, we will mark the anniversary of the end of  that so called 'War to End all Wars', and there must be very few UK people who don't have some link back to the 1914-18 conflict. My link comes via my late father-in-law, the wonderfully named Herbert Inkerman Hedges.

My father-in-law was the youngest of twelve brothers. The eleven older ones joined the East Riding of Yorkshire Regiment and marched away to fight the Hun. They were all killed at the Battle of the Somme. He recalls his parents telling him how the telegraph lad kept cycling up to their house day after day, until the news of the last son's death was delivered.

I'm always intrigued by the way wars throw up poets. It's not just World War One, though that cohort are probably the best known. Poetry was also being written during World War Two, on both sides, in the Iraq War and is still being produced in Afghanistan today. I think the proliferation of soldier poets during times of conflict is directly related to the situation they find themselves in.

Poetry demands an inner ordering, a precise selection of vocabulary and structure - it's the verbal equivalent of piecing together a complex jigsaw - the picture only emerges when all the pieces are correctly placed. The control needed to make a poem is in direct contrast to the chaos that soldiers live in daily. Poetry is a way of containing their world and making sense of the senseless. It is therefore both therapy, and a psychological outlet for feelings and emotions too horrific to be dealt with in 'normal' prose.

Those who have read Jigsaw Pieces know the story of Noel Clark an imaginary World War One poet who died tragically at the age of nineteen, is closely linked to another soldier from that time: Billy Donne. What you do not know is that Billy was an actual person. I came across him quite by accident in a small article in the Times in 1997. It was headlined 'A happy 100th for man with mysterious past'. I used his story almost to the letter: Billy Dunne (the correct spelling of his surname) couldn't speak, and drew pictures of battlefields, just like his fictional counterpart. He was placed in a mental hospital in 1923 for unknown reasons, and no family had ever claimed him. His story touched me so much that I felt I had to write about him. The link with Noel Clark is where fact and fiction elide.

During the upcoming commemorations for the anniversary of World War One, we shall no doubt re-read many times the 'big' soldier poets: Owen, Sassoon and Brooke. But actually I find just as much pity and pathos in the work of the women poets of that time, who did not share in the fighting at the Front, but shared in the suffering, and the changed lives.

It is their sense of loss, their attempt to learn to survive survival, that makes their verse so poignant. One of the best is Margaret Postgate Cole.
This is her poem:


When men are old, and their friends die 
They are not sad,
Because their love is running slow, 
And cannot spring from the wound with so sharp a pain;
And they are happy with many memories,
And only a little while to be alone.
But we are young, and our friends are dead
Suddenly, and our quick love is torn in two;
So our memories are only hopes that came to nothing.
We are left alone like old men; we should be dead
- But there are years and years in which we shall still be young. 

Saturday 4 November 2017

Just Plane Crazy (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

If we wanted to, L-Plate Grandad and I could spend all day ferrying Small and Little G from one organised activity to another, such is the wide and varied choice available locally. Playgroup might morph into Baby Sensory Club, then on to Music Time, Baby Yoga, Rhythm Time, Mini Mindfulness and so on. However, as these all cost money, and we are on a pension and mean, we refuse to pay out for stuff when we can amuse us and them for free.

One of our favourite free haunts is the local playground, recently refurbished. Little G is an experienced playgrounder, and can be safely left to work her way round the various things on offer, with only the occasional encouraging remark. Small, however, needs constant supervision as he has no fear, less sense and is reluctant to do any serious risk analysis before launching himself off the end of things he has clambered up.

Once we are all playgrounded out, we often drive to another favourite location: the end of the runway at Luton Airport. There, ensconced behind a mesh fence, we can watch the planes arriving and taking off. Little G and Small bring their two toy planes, and wave them in the air enthusiastically, making plane noises. Little G is now quite expert with the vocab, and can talk about 'control towers' and 'wheels down'. She can identify a Whizz plane from an EasyJet one, and a few weeks ago, we managed to see the last few scheduled Monarch flights going out.

Watching the planes is not just popular with us. Whatever time of day we turn up, and whatever the weather, there is always a line of cars parked by the fence, with men (mainly) with binoculars, flasks and sandwiches sitting in folding chairs along the perimeter. Some even have step-ladders and perch on the top step, like umpires at Wimbledon. It is clear that when it comes to watching planes take off and land, we are all just small kids at heart. Though two of us actually are.

Saturday 28 October 2017

EU too? Reflections from EU Citizens in the UK.

I have written several blog posts about the ongoing difficulties experienced by EU Citizens trying to live ordinary lives post-Brexit. You can read one of them here. 

The following are all snippets from an EU Forum to which I belong. This is what life has become like for these families, ALL of whom are here ''legally'' (we still belong to the EU.) I have interspersed the comments with some montages of what these 'hard working families' read every day in the popular press.

'I went to a medical appointment yesterday and was asked a wide range of questions about my family, my marital status, nationality including my husband's and children, the date I came to the UK and if I naturalised. Strangely enough I have the impression that I will have to give further justifications in accessing any services. This is worrying and I just would like to know if there is an appetite in this group to campaign with all non EU migrants to combat against this disgusting immigration check policy within the NHS that has come into effect in October 23rd, yes...only 3 days ago.' 

'Its not NHS staff that are often bad, but stupid govt forcing them to be immigration authority. NHS organised quite few protests against that too.'

''I have not experienced any issues or discrimination personally up until today. I wanted to buy a bottle of cider in Morrisons in Bristol and was refused. I was asked for ID to verify my age (which is fine, and in fact even a bit flattering at 36  ). When I presented my Estonian ID card, the staff member first said that she's not sure they can accept it. She then said that she'll go and check with her superior. I was happy with that, as I expected her to return and say that it's fine. Instead, she returned and said that "Unfortunately, they don't take these." She wasn't rude and apologised for the inconvenience but it was still really annoying. She asked if I had anything else with me, such as a driving license, and when she heard I don't, she said that she cannot sell the cider to me. I was too upset and embarrassed to want to go and talk to a manager. ''

'As someone who's half Asian, half European, speaks five languages, went to bilingual schools and has had friends from all across the globe, I just never got the concept of 'foreign'.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I view this whole situation as ... disappointing, more than anything. It's also made me less intent on wanting to make plans for a future here, and I have been painting a vision of my future as dependent on where I want to go and where I feel welcome, because if the past few months have taught me anything it's to appreciate the power of just packing my bags and leaving.
I know that's an extreme view, and the optimist/realist in me pretty much doubts that I would have to leave, but I think ... that somewhere, somehow the UK has just let me down 

And I think that's the saddest part about this whole current ordeal -- it's making people like me who used to admire the UK just want to leave, because the rest of the world just seems like a more welcoming place.'

' The choice of language is used to reinforce their (Government) narrative- such as before the referendum, using the terms EU citizens vs British ( therefore stripping UK citizens of their EU citizenship, then applying together EU with immigrants ( when EU citizens were not considered immigrants per se, but merely using their freedom of movement, now regularise. these words are chosen carefully, to create an effect.'

'What's with the “those who are unemployed” may be rejected from settled status? That’s all students/carers/out of work spouses Pandora box re-opened, no? Does that mean CSI will be dropped but not being in employment could get you rejected? On what basis? Age? Gender?'
'Remainiac tripe claiming to be "art" spotted in Bolton, which voted for Brexit.'
This was posted today (20.10.2017) on Twitter from a Conservative Councillor.

'I read a report on the BBC this evening that Theresa May will say that the cost of applying for settled status will be "as low as possible". My partner is Spanish and I see no reason why he should pay a penny for his new status.Theresa May should guarantee now that no EU citizen should have this burden, no matter how small, just as benefit claimants should never have had to pay those outrageous costs for calling the Universal Credit helpline.' 

'It is becoming more and more apparent that the uk and the home office in particular are meaning to create a hostile environment for all non British. I think it’s high time we drop the hierarchy of immigration and fight in solidarity for all our rights as human beings no matter where we come from.'

'People are leaving because they see the writing on the wall.

The UK is going to be poorer, and the immigration situation will not get better. Even if they grant us the same rights, you will still need settled status, and you can rest assured that the
y will check this everywhere (job, bank, GP etc..) you go. A lot of people came here under FOM which allowed them to live here with far less restrictions and beauracracy. With settled status they will now have to jump through hoops to work and live here. Why do that when you can go to the continent and live in another EU country without jumping through so many hoops.

Also (and this one I feel is important), the Brexit vote has shown a side to the UK that a lot of people have found very distasteful, and they do not feel comfortable living here anymore. The anti-immigration fervor is most definitely a turn off for a lot of people.'

Sunday 22 October 2017

Christmas Capers (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Although Christmas is officially still two months away, it has already unofficially arrived at our local garden centre. The garden centre is on our list of  'free activities' because we recently signed up for a loyalty card, which means we get 2 free coffees and cakes every month.

The garden centre also has a pets section with rabbits, guineas and hamsters. Small loves pointing at the pets and shouting 'DOGGIE' at the top of his voice, and Little G is allowed to buy the cat (rarely seen since Small's arrival) some biscuits, which we assure her are gratefully received.

We hadn't been to the garden centre for a couple of weeks, but Little G and I needed some spring bulbs to plant, and we still had this month's free coffee & cake vouchers, so last week we decided to mosey along, only to discover that in our absence, the garden centre had morphed into full Christmas mode.

There were strings of flashing lights. There were glittering baubles. There was more tinsel than you could shake a stick at, and a very large animated snowman, that sent Small into such conniptions that we had to wheel him hastily away. There was also a table of battery operated rather naff 'antique' lanterns with Christmas snow scenes, that whirled fake snow when you turned them on.

While Small was being calmed down and debriefed by L-Plate Grandad, Little G and I drifted towards the table of lanterns. We stood in companionable silence, watching the snow whirling around the little plastic snowman and his friends. Little G's face was wide-eyed in radiant wonder.

Did we end up buying one? Of course we did. Even though I was pretty sure You must be mad, who is very artistic, unlike me, and always produces a wonderfully decorated tree every year, would lament my lack of tasteBut nearer December 24th, when we are on our own, Little G and I will turn it on, and sit together watching the little snowman in the snow, and it will be tasteless and fun and wonderful. Because that's what Christmas is like. Here, at any rate.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Hit Me With Your Techie Stick ... Hit Me!

It would be fair to say that we, the Two Grumpy Old Sods have embraced modern technology, albeit at arms length. We have computers. We have a twitter account (GOS1) and an iPhone (GOS2). It would also be fair to say that when things go pear-shaped, our technical ability to sort them is so low you couldn't limbo under it.

As those of you who have nothing better to do than follow this blog know, I have now got a new state of the art small purple laptop, as my beloved e-Mac died on me five months ago, taking 13K words of the sixth Victorian Detectives book with it. The new laptop is supposed to be just for writing, and is not connected to the internet, but recently, it has started behaving oddly.

Out of the blue, it 'locked' my manuscript, offering me an alternative version to merge. Then various apps mysteriously appeared. I hadn't downloaded them (no internet connection). GOS2 accused me of various underhand dealings. I denied them. We worked out finally that my laptop must be connecting to the office desktop. Through the floorboards. A kind of internet computer dating ... only with real computers.

Weird stuff continued to dog the new laptop. I kept getting requests to update stuff. Or install stuff. Finally, the whole thing threw a mega cyber-sulk, closed down and refused to let me write altogether. After a brief altercation on the lines of 'Well you must have done something to it.'/ 'No of course I didn't,' we took it back to CurrysPCWorld, where a very nice techie person showed me exactly what I needed to do to stop it playing with the downstairs desktop:

Press the key with the little plane on it. Who knew? Not us; reading manuals is for wimps.

The very nice techie-man came from Poland. I asked him. Which means that in 12 months time, which is when I can down-grade to a non-internet package, I guess he won't be there any more. Another thing to lay at the door of this ghastly Brexit.

Tuesday 10 October 2017

'Babies that Lunch' (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

It is often said that 'there is no such thing as a free lunch', though in the case of Little G and Small, this is not the case. Every week, two free lunches are set before them. One lunch is eaten, one is frequently not.

We have been informed by You must be mad that Small eats a wide (though currently vegetable-free) variety of foods at home; this is good to hear. Unfortunately, in the physical transference between his home and ours, something seems to have gone awry. Small regards all food placed on his tray as highly suspicious. Bits of egg sandwich ('He loves egg sandwiches') are handled cautiously, then deposited on the kitchen floor, which, by the end of lunchtime, resembles a war zone.

If L-Plate Grandad (in charge of Small's diet) actually manages to persuade him to try something, it is often spat out, or solemnly handed back. I gather that the current trendy idea is to place a wide variety of foods on the tray and let the baby 'choose' for him/herself, but we are pre-trend and were brought up in the era of eating what was put before you, so we are disinclined to go down this route.

The nursery suggests giving him his food, waiting 20 minutes, then removing him and trying again later, but we are not trained professionals and frankly, my dear, we don't have the patience. Small's eating habits are regarded with some satisfaction by Little G. 'I'm eating everything on my plate,' she observes smugly as the bits of food pile up around his highchair.

There are certain things that Small will always eat: yoghurt, fruit, and Weetabix ~ a current favourite, but we have been asked not to use this as a fallback solution, as the last time Small lunched and dined on Weetabix there were, not to put too fine a point on it, problems further down the line.

One day, when Small is older, and a rugby prop forward, I shall regale him with stories about the time he refused to eat his lunches. Oh, the fun we will have! Meanwhile, we struggle on, feeling inadequate and crossing our fingers that one day, Small will actually consume everything we give him and the cat won't stuff herself on his rejects.

At least one of them gets to enjoy a free lunch.

Saturday 7 October 2017

Growing Old, Fairly Disgracefully!

Several months have drifted by since the other Grumpy Old Sod stopped full time employment, and now that we are home together every day, we are slipping into a retirement routine which is developing its own rhythms and pinch points. One of them is the Denial of Responsibility conversation, which runs on similar lines every time it is had, and could easily have been scripted by Samuel Beckett:

GOS1: Did you remember to bring the newspaper voucher/shopping list/bag?
GOS2: No, I thought you were bringing it.
GOS1: I thought you were.
GOS1: I brought it last time.
GOS2: So you haven't got it?
GOS1: You didn't remind me.
GOS2: I can't remind you of everything.
GOS1: You could have brought it.
GOS2: I was relying on you.
GOS1: Well I haven't got it. I thought you were bringing it.
GOS2: I thought you were   .....   (and so on.)

Then there is the I put it down there a minute ago and now it's gone observation. This can apply to a biscuit, reading glasses, a mobile, a pile of clean socks, or the sports section of the newspaper. Nobody knows, or will admit to knowing, where the item has vanished to, so in the absence of any firm and tangible evidence to the contrary, the cat usually gets blamed.

It is hard work not working. It is even harder work trying to justify it. Much time is spent looking busy, whether it be 'paperwork' (GOS2) or 'writing my novel' (GOS1). It is vital to appear to be preoccupied by something, or busy doing anything, which justifies not actually being engaged in official paid employment. Guilt? Don't tell us about it ~ we are working flat out on it here.

There are, however, plenty of up-sides: I couldn't look after Little G and Small on my own ~ I don't have eyes in the back of my head, and I'm not nearly fast enough to be in two places at the same time. And it is good to have someone to sound off to about the mindlessly stupid and endlessly frustrating complexities of everyday life. Even if, between us, we are responsible for most of them.

Sunday 1 October 2017

Tiara-boom-de-ay (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Now that she has reached the ripe old age of three and a half,  Little G has become a huge fan of dressing up. Her favourite costume at present is a bright pink and green sparkly fairy dress with pink stick-on wings (think: Flower Fairies on acid) that I found in a charity shop. The moment she gets into the house, she is off to the playroom to change into it.

'Look, grandma, I'm a fairy princess. I'm so pretty,' she announces, twirling in front of the mirror while presenting me with a moral dilemma of epic proportions, because You Must Be Mad has dinned it into me that one must not encourage her to focus on her physical appearance alone. 'Umm ... but you're also a kind fairy princess who helps people, aren't you?' I parrot obediently.

Little G treats this intervention with suitable indifference. 'Of course,' she says, twirling a bit more. 'Look, my dress goes out when I turn round.' There then follows the discussion about whether the silver tiara is better than the pink tiara. It is hard work being three and a half: so many important decisions have to be considered.

Spending a day with a small child dressed as a cast member from Midsummer Night's Dream presents its own very weird moments. I find myself uttering stuff that no sane person would be caught saying, such as: 'Sorry, you'll have to take your wings off, I can't get the seat belt over them.'

Then there is the accessorising. Little G has a box full of what you could call cheap plastic tat, but to her represents riches untold. Much time is spent picking over her loot, selecting what to wear. Look, you might be a shrinking violet, but trailing round Sainsburys in a shocking pink fairy dress, pink wings, tiara AND a selection of Frozen necklaces and bracelets is the way to go. When you are three and a half, it's all about fading into the foreground.

Friday 29 September 2017

Kim Jong May & her Tory Party Respond to a 'Democratic' Request.

We're living in a dictatorship, folks. 

Dear XX
The Government has responded to the petition you signed – “Hold a referendum on the final Brexit deal”.
Government responded:
On 23 June 2016 the British people voted to leave the European Union. The UK Government is clear that it is now its duty to implement the will of the people and so there will be no second referendum.
The decision to hold the referendum was supported by a clear majority in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. On 23 June 2016 the British people voted to leave the European Union. The referendum was the largest democratic mandate in UK political history. In the 2017 General Election more than 85% of people voted for parties committed to respecting that result.
There must be no attempts to remain inside the European Union, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the Government to make sure we do just that. Rather than second guess the British people’s decision to leave the European Union, the challenge now is to make a success of it - not just for those who voted leave but for every citizen of the United Kingdom, bringing together everyone in a balanced approach which respects the decision to leave the political structure of the EU but builds a strong relationship between Britain and the EU as neighbours, allies and partners.
Parliament passed an Act of Parliament with a clear majority giving the Prime Minister the power to trigger Article 50, which she did on 29 March in a letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. As a matter of firm policy, our notification will not be withdrawn - for the simple reason that people voted to leave, and the Government is determined to see through that instruction.
Both Houses of Parliament will have the opportunity to vote on the final agreement reached with the EU before it is concluded. This will be a meaningful vote which will give MPs the choice to either accept the final agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.
The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. We want a deep and special partnership with the EU. We aim to get the right deal abroad and the right deal for people here at home. We will deliver a country that is stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking than ever before.
Department for Exiting the European Union

Tuesday 26 September 2017

'Two Roads Diverged in a Brexit Wood'

Tabloids 2016
Daily Mail 1930s

As most of you know, my parents, Hans and Suzanne Flatauer were German Jewish refugees - my mother came from Berlin, my father from Hanover. They met at an international Jewish conference. This was in the early 1930s, when many predicted, correctly, that Hitler's rise to power would mean persecution in some form. Although those who'd read Mein Kampf could deduce what form this was going to take;  a lot of people felt equally that the German population would see through Hitler and his thuggish rhetoric, and vote his party out.

As restrictions on the lives of Jewish citizens began, including their right to education (my mother had to leave Berlin University), and attacks on individual Jews went unpunished, they decided it was time to leave. My mother's family, Lotte and Richard Mannheim came with her and settled in Hendon, north London. My father's parents Raphael and Alma Flatauer, affluent, highly intellectual Orthodox Jews, but maybe not so worldly-wise, decided to stay. They subsequently perished in one of the camps - part of Hitler's deadly 'Final Solution'.

In their absence, my parents' German nationality was taken away, as happened to all who fled Nazi persecution. They never went back, and I was born in the UK, grew up here, suffering racial taunting from time to time ~ age 7, I remember asking my mother why a kid in my class had called me 'a dirty Jew' when I had a bath every night. I was though, to all intents and purposes, a British citizen. I had a British passport, then in time, an EU one. And so my 'story' might have run its course - until June last year, when this country voted to leave the EU.

Me as a student in the 1960s

My parents were stripped of their German citizenship. Soon, I will be stripped of my EU citizenship. As it currently stands, I and my descendants will no longer be able to start a business, work, live, or study freely abroad without restrictions. Once again, other people have removed at a stroke my 'identity' in the name of 'getting back control' and all the lies we have been spoon-fed by the right wing individuals who poured millions into the Brexit campaign.

It would be easy to shrug, and say that everything will be OK eventually. That was what so many German people said, and truly believed. But I don't think I can, because I don't believe it will be. When I read of people being stabbed because they are not 'British', it is time to speak out. When I see the AFD gaining 13% of the German population vote, it is time to speak out. When I see my EU friends having their bank accounts 'searched' for evidence that they are here in the UK illegally, or being discriminated against because the are from the EU, it is time to speak out. When the Home Office sends over 100 letters of deportation, wrongly, it is time to speak out. When our prime minster falsely claims, on my behalf, that 'WE' never felt entirely at home in the EU' (Florence speech) ~ it is time to speak out.

How do you 'speak out'? This is how I do it. I blog. I march. I write letters to the local press. 'But it won't happen here', I am told. 'Oh, we don't mean people like you', my EU friends are told. Same empty words. Same well-meaning but gullible sentiments.
London EU march (with yellow banner)
And I use Twitter, Facebook and every opportunity I can to alert people to the path this country is currently stepping down.

Am I being too alarmist? Well, last week, a caller rang the BBC Any Answers programme and suggested that once all the current EU workers had gone, it would be time to retrospectively deport all those who were born here of foreign parents. The conversation was closed down by the host. But subsequently, many people on Twitter thought the caller should have been allowed to finish what they wanted to say, and it was wrong of the BBC to cut them short. This is where we are today. Where we will be tomorrow, is anybody's guess. But I know where I don't want to be. And so, I hope, do you.

Saturday 23 September 2017

Waiting for Grandma (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Little G is now three and a half, and ever since You Must Be Mad ended her maternity leave in April, has returned to my dodgy care, along with Small Brother. Having two children to look after goes way beyond my pay grade, so I am lucky that L-Plate Grandad (retired) is now on hand to shoulder some of the responsibility.

Little G is exceedingly good with her small brother, who has reached an unreliable and snatching stage in his development, but every now and then, her tolerance level dips below socially acceptable, and we go upstairs to the playroom for some 'us' time. The playroom used to be You Must Be Mad's room when she was growing up. It has dark blue walls and a massive Pulp Fiction poster.

It also contains the dolls house, a three-storey Victorian edifice that I built for You Must Be Mad when she was six, and which we spent many happy years papering, painting and making/buying furniture for. It is totally unsuitable for a three year old, but nobody has told Little G this, so she delights in taking all the furniture out, re-arranging it and telling herself stories about the dolls house family.

The playroom also contains some of You Must Be Mad's childhood books, which we enjoy dipping into. At the moment, we are reading My Naughty Little Sister, which I remember from my own childhood. It is very much of its time, with a mangle, and kind policemen on bicycles. A few weeks ago, we read the story where My Naughty Little Sister bites Father Christmas' hand. Little G was suitable shocked, and there then followed a big discussion about the role and purpose of Father Christmas, with me trying not to be didactic, in case I deviated from the script that I hadn't been given.

Ever since then, however, it has been Christmas Day in the dolls house. This follows the same routine: the family sit round the kitchen table, which is piled high with a turkey, a birthday cake, tiny jam tarts and two miniature bottles of red wine. After dining, the three babies of dubious provenance are put to bed in the nursery, while the rest of the family slump in the living room, until the presents under the tree are doled out.

At some point, the minute red plastic phone will 'ring', and Little G, acting as surrogate family member, will pick it up. The conversation is always the same: their grandma has called. She is coming round shortly, and has lots of presents. We inhabit a universe of complete chaos, whose moral tectonic plates are spinning out of control, so it is comforting to know that here, in Little G's small post-Narnia world, it is always Christmas. And that grandma is on her way.

Saturday 16 September 2017

Watch out: Serial Killer at Large!

Yesterday (Friday ~ adjust to whenever you are reading this), the other Grumpy Old Sod and I had our letters from Cambridge University confirming that they will take our bodies (post mortem) for students to cut up, thus saving You Must Be Mad around £16k jointly in funeral expenses, and helping youthful medics to appreciate that age is no barrier to being useful. Plus it's the nearest to Cambridge Uni that we'll ever get. All of which has no connection whatsoever with what follows.

As you probably all know, Diamonds & Dust, which was rejected out of hand by my former agent as ''not remotely publishable'' and subsequently went on not only to be published, but to be up for the CWA Historical Dagger, the Walter Scott Prize, the Folio Society Prize, and score 90+ reviews on Amazon, has now developed offspring.

It wasn't meant to. Seriously. I didn't envisage trotting out the two Victorian Detectives Stride and Cully again. But like lily pond paintings by Monet, and Haydn String Quartets, once started, it seemed logical to keep going.

Thus the sequel, Honour & Obey, which was published November 2014, and Death & Dominion,, which came out in October 2015. Rack & Ruin, the fourth outing for Stride & Cully, was published in Oct 2016. The latest book, Wonders & Wickedness came out a few weeks ago.

There are those writers who regard a series as a bit of a 'cop-out'; after all, you've got your characters already written for you. To them I would say: writing a series is MUCH harder than producing a one-off text. And I know what I'm talking about: this is my second series of books. (The Spy Girl teenage series for Usborne was the first)

The main problem is that unless you started with the idea of writing a series, and few authors do, they just tend to evolve, you are stuck with whatever you wrote in the first one. You cannot radically alter the appearance nor personality of the main character/s without readers going ''What the ...?'' After all, it was how they were in book one that will keep them reading books 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. You can and must develop the main characters, but in essence, they have to bear some resemblance to how they were in the beginning.

Then there is the problem of keeping the plot momentum going. I find book 2 is usually the easiest, as it seems to evolve naturally out of the first one. Book 3, however, is far more problematic. New areas have to be introduced to keep the reader interested. Some fundamental shifting of perspective must take place, or else book 3 becomes merely a watered down version of the previous two. Actually, book 3 is usually the pivotal one upon which the rest of the series rests. If you cannot pull it off successfully, it is best to admit defeat and pretend you only meant to write two in the first place.

By book 4, the pitfall is over-confidence. You have run the gauntlet of three books. You feel the surge of expertise as fingers hit keyboard. This, after the previous three, will be a doddle to write. You have your characters, you know how the story arc works. Sometimes this attitude pays off: I still think Dead Man Talking, the fourth Spy Girl book, is the best plotted. However, beware: book 4 can so easily wander off into alien territory, or become a repetition of book 3 with added lacklustre.

Having now reached the dizzy heights of book 5, I am not sure whether I shall carry on or not, because in my opinion, based on avidly reading crime series, some writers manage to sustain plot, characters and reader interest beyond book 5, but many more don't and the result is a series of  flat readalike stories with little variety at best, or downright daftness at worst. (Lee Child manages it brilliantly, according to GOS; Janet Evanovitch does not ~ bounty hunter Stephanie Plum's hamster has survived longer than any hamster should or ought)

The trouble with series is that publishers LOVE them. They are easy to market, and each book sells on the back of the previous ones. Thus the temptation to go on churning them out year after year, when by rights the whole thing should have been allowed to quietly slink off and hide in a dark corner after the fifth one.

I have been told though, that the 'real money' comes from a 5 book series, so I am now sitting back and waiting for it to arrive. Mind, I never thought I'd get as far as a third or fourth book. My former agent didn't see any mileage in the first ...

So what's your experience: Do you prefer reading a series? Or a one off novel? If you are a writer, have you ever tackled a series, or does the prospect fill you with horror? Do share your thoughts....