Author: admin


All aboard the writer’s train of inspiration

It has been like waiting for a train when unaware that there has been a derailment further down the line.

You wait in hope. At first, quite patiently, unconcerned. It will be coming soon.

Gradually other emotions creep in. A slight anxiety, morphing into concern. What’s gone wrong? The train should be here by now.

It is never this late in coming.

Then irritation mingles with the anxiety. What if it doesn’t arrive; what happens?

There is no one else around. Porters have been phased out, sent to the railway museum of antiquities. The absentees are the wise ones who always have a Plan B, even a Plan C. They don’t get caught out by a train that doesn’t come; they have their alternatives ready and set to go.

But not this bunny, stuck in the midst of nowhere, waiting for a train that seems destined never to appear. Fretting and fuming that life has come to a standstill.

And that is how it has been for far too long on the creative front. Days, weeks and eventually extending back into a previous year.

All that time gone forever, lost in waiting for inspiration for the next book. To have an idea would be good, a theme, a topic, anything that would get things moving forward.

But no, not a cracker.

Several stuttering starts were made when frustration forced the brain to come up with something, anything. But brain and I both knew these were false starts, not worthy of being classed as ideas.

They were dross, the rejects of an uninspired mind.

Such words as were scribbled were ill-suited to each other; sentences were ill-matched partners in a forced fictional marriage.

Suddenly the familiar railway cry of “all change” is heard. There is action down the line. An idea flows in from nowhere, words quickly follow. A metaphorical engine towing carriages of characters pulls in to the station.

I see the familiar face of Bromo Perkins among them.

I board. Exhilarated to be on the move at long last. Words arrive almost without bidding, sentences follow and an opening chapter soon comes into being.

The next book has begun. Let’s call this one Crossing The Line.

Pooh-pooh to penalties for pooping

Scoopy-doo [with acknowledgement to the Dog Fair blog https://thedogfair.blogpost.com]


NO matter which way you look at it, it’s a doggone mess.

I refer to the widely welcomed but totally ridiculous decision by Cornwall Council to introduce on-the-spot fines for those who allow their dogs to foul our footpaths, parks and playing fields.

This is window dressing of the worst kind. The type of initiative taken by bureaucrats who wish to appear positive, proactive and in tune with the populace.

But it is impractical, unworkable and a complete nonsense.

The problem is there in the name. What are the chances (millions to one?) of an approved enforcer being on the spot to witness the offence and impose the fine?

There is no comparison between this and, for example, on-the-spot penalties for speeding and other driving infringements. These are usually the result of detection devices or people being on place at known hot spots for offending.

Highway patrols, speed cameras and CCTV are sited where it is most likely the laws will be broken.

But dog pooping? This is a sudden and spontaneous act, done at the whim of the animal at any time and in any place.

And the irresponsible owners who allow the resulting heap of steaming excreta to remain in place usually take a few furtive glances to ensure they are not being watched before scurrying on. Scooping is only done if the deed has been witnessed.  Embarrassed into a clean-up rather than performed as the result of any social conscience.

It is left to some innocent pedestrian (probably with eyes on their phone) to suffer the indignity of footwear covered in the stinking, slimy goo and no immediate way of washing it fully away.They are only ones who are on the spot.

And no way will this seemingly positive move do anything to catch the crappers or reduce the amount of s**t fouling out footpaths.

It’s the council which is on the spot over finding a genuinely workable solution.

 

Postcards No.8: living for death

Traditional homes of the Tana Toraja people

As this next postcard instantly reminds me, they were holding a funeral the day I arrived in Tana Toraja; and the corpse was six months dead.

To mark the occasion, two splendid white buffalo were slaughtered (quickly and cleanly), dozens of pigs were butchered (slowly and noisily) and there was hour after hour of singing and dancing by the thousands of mourners gathered in this luscious green valley in the heart of South Sulawesi.

A somewhat heady mix of gore and gaiety.

It was, however, a comparatively small affair. Or so I was assured by an Australian missionary on service in the area.

Only a week before he had been to a funeral where the corpse had been held in waiting for twenty years and the celebrants had killed 80 buffalo and 1000 squealing pigs.

Such happenings are very much part and parcel of daily life in this still reasonably primitive region of Indonesia. Those who venture there will undergo some unique experiences but need to be prepared for a certain rawness; little is toned down or adulterated for sensitive Western stomachs expecting package tour cosseting.

South Sulawesi, previously known as the Celebes, is one of the many islands that combine to form Indonesia and was a fairly late arrival on the tourism scene, especially when compared to places such as its famously popular neighbour, Bali.

Its main attraction is the southern region peopled by the Torajas, believers and followers of animism which was neatly summed up by one local who told me “we live only for death”.

The Torajas’ earthly life is a simple agrarian existence in which wealth is measured not in rupiahs and dollars but in pigs and buffalos.

Death is a joyful event, the beginning of the true life and an occasion demanding great celebrations and immense expenditure. Thus the sacrificing of so many animals. The bigger your funeral, the greater your standing in the community and so an entire life is spent working for one’s final send-off.

Great expense and effort go also into home-building – huge multi-family timber dwellings of high-pitched, high-prowed roofs that use not a single nail in their construction.

Several days of feasting singing and dancing are held on the infrequent occasion of the completion of a new house. One such celebration I saw was a splendidly colourful and ritualistic affair. Celebrants came from kilometre upon kilometre in all directions. They thronged the roads bearing canopied pigs, decorated stretchers borne on villagers’ shoulders, dressed in bright and fantastic attire, singing and dancing non-stop.

The singing of the Torajas is deeply resonant and richly lilting. When I first entered the Tana Toraja – the Land of the Torajas – it was this singing that greeted me. It was dusk. The road led over across a narrow bridge over a deep ravine. Torchlight lit the village ahead. The last rays of the sun was casting a golden glow across hills and valleys.

From the other side of the ravine came this steady, rhythmic bass chant. Rising and falling. Melodic and rich.

The chanting came from as circle of villagers, slowly circling, hands linked, in a shuffling hopping movement. They broke the circle,  inviting me to join them, link hands and try to maintain the intricate motion of their dance.

It was Lost Horizon, Shangri-La and the Welsh valleys all rolled into one, a heady mix of deep male voices, ancient cultures and a treasured inaccessibility. Something that has lingered long in the memory and been greatly vividly revived by a single old postcard.

[A generation or so ago it took twenty-seven hours in a four-wheel drive to get to Tana Toraja from the city of Ujung Padang (formerly Malacca), the main entry point into South Sulawesi.  A sealed road now provides smoother travel and a journey of around ten hours and a once hidden gem is gradually being dragged into the modern world.]
 

 

 

Healthy times are here – minus the vitamin pills

One “health” blogger and adviser’s daily intake of vitamins

Now here’s some food for thought.

Real food, too. Which probably makes quite a change for many of us in these vitamin-fuelled times.

At least you can now count me out of the millions here and worldwide who are buying vitamin supplements in ever-increasing numbers in the hope, and even belief, that they will improve  their health, both physical and mental.

A couple of months ago I went cold turkey.

No tapering, no slow withdrawal. I simply stopped, and the blister packs and bottles have sat on the kitchen bench untouched ever since.

And here’s the punchline: it’s been a long time since I have felt as good as I feel now.  The proof – and the bonus – has been in the unsolicited comments made by friends and family about my healthy glow and my steady display of  a newfound energy.

The initial decision to curtail my daily vitamin intake was a true spur of the moment action. There was no pre-thinking. No reasoning behind it.

It was only after some days/weeks of feeling less lethargic, of sleeping far better, of being more active that I began to ponder the reason for this return to normality.

There had been no change in my daily routine, no reduction in work-related activity and the diet (i.e. my intake of food and nothing to do with any weight loss or body changing plan) remained as it has always been.

Only one thing was different: the total absence of any vitamin intake. It was the only possible answer.

The absence of iron capsules (I was told I am anaemic), D3 (sunlight for someone who makes a point of getting outdoors every day?), turmeric (because the full-page ads seduced me), probiotics (to improve the digestive health of one who is a stranger to gut problems?) and valerian (a sleep aid for someone who is in Dreamland within minutes of turning out the light?) has made not the slightest difference.

The sub-text to this is to wonder whether, as I felt so much better without them, was it possible that they had actually been having a negative effect rather than the huge benefits that are claimed by this multi-million pound industry?  An industry that commands an ever-growing allegiance from an estimated 40 per cent of the UK population?

After all, its sales of some £445 million a year are largely built on claims (read the labels) rather than scientifically tried and tested research.

Most simply state they are a food supplement.  And anyone who is getting their five-a-day and avoiding excessive levels of fat, salt and sugars doesn’t really need to “supplement” their food intake.

So, as we troop unceasingly into our high street “health” stores or click their online equivalents, maybe we are shelling out our hard-earned on pills, potions and powders that are nothing more than placebos.

It’s just a thought.

I’ll leave it with you while I nip out for a run … got a couple of testing races coming up.

 

 

 

 

 

Garfield found; where to now?

My first tentative venture into crime fiction occurred many years, even decades, ago. As tends to be my way of doing things, I started writing and let the characters lead me.

Chief among them was a mild and insignificant denizen of suburban life, Garfield Parks.

Why he was called that, I have no idea; that back story had yet to be discovered and written.

Then other things intervened: work, business, life and love among them. Garfield and his troubles were set aside for another time – one that never arrived.

Fortunately I did at least transcribe this hand-written tale from exercise book to computer. But that was many PCs and laptops ago and Garfield became lost among the many updates and data transfers.

His wife, so we are told, had also disappeared. She had not returned from what Garfield maintained was a visit to her sister. By now the police have arrived … and that is where I left him, being grilled by two highly suspicious detectives.

Searches of old CDs and memory sticks failed to find him. The passwords to three external drives where he could possibly be hiding have been forgotten and cannot be reset.

Poor old Garfield, lost and gone forever with never a change of removing the taint of guilt hanging over him.

Until today!

More much-needed sorting and decluttering revealed three memory sticks used for backing up files and storing pictures.

And there among them was the yet-to-be titled nascent story of Garfield and his missing wife. Well, at least the opening chapters – a total of a mere 4000 words.

In all modesty, I always thought it was a pretty good effort for a would-be author.  That opinion remains unchanged after re-reading it today after the many years of tuition, study and honing my craft that have occurred in the intervening years.

All I ask for now is that Garfield does a Rip Van Winkle and soon awakes from his slumbers to lead me through whatever dilemmas, dramas, dangers and detours beset him as he fights to clear his name.

I fear there were sinister forces at work; that there was much more to the innocuous Mr Parks than has so far been revealed.

Maybe the police were right to have suspicions, especially as he seemed so unworried and vague.

And then there’s his wife’s bossy sister who has never hidden her antagonism to their marriage.

Come on, Garfield. What happened? Where to now? Where is the body – if there is a body – and who put it there?

Watch this space …..

Crime fiction fans: Bromo’s back

Bromo Perkins returns.

The latest story in the ongoing investigations by Richmond’s favourite cynical sleuth will be available in paperback and to download as an e-book from next week.

All the heavy lifting has been done by the wonderful team at Design For Writers and everything has been uploaded to the international websites of Ingram Spark.

Ingram Spark will also be making both versions available through all the major websites and booksellers.

No matter where you live, copies will thus be readily available to order by logging in to www.ingramspark.com

Watch this space…..

Memoir dilemma: knowing when to stop

The rhetorical response to the unanswerable has traditionally been to ask “how long is a piece of string?”

An alternative, as recent experience has taught me, would be to comment “how long is a memoir?”

Having decided it was about time the work in progress was wrapped up, the sudden discovery of  another must-follow line of enquiry emerged. And it was too tempting to ignore.

A  report in the Plymouth Journal revealed that a great-great-great-great-grandfather  I had so far blissfully ignored had been swept off the landing stage at the Eddystone Lighthouse off Cornwall’s rugged coast by a freak wave. As the newspaper bluntly put it, he “sunk to rise no more”.

It was a story clearly needing further exploration as his death would inevitably have had a drastic impact on his wife, then eight months pregnant, and  their five  young children. Thus any thoughts of  signing off on the memoir were deferred yet again while these lives were researched.

Within two years 4x great-grandmother was listed as a pauper. With only a teenage son out at work, money was beyond tight.

Eventually, as others came of age, things improved. She took in a lodger (which has overtones of something else as he remained well beyond normal tenancies), secured an annuity and lived in reasonable comfort until the age of seventy-four, even employing a servant in her final years.

It was one more chapter crying out to be included in a book titled Celtic Skeletons.

But still the book could not be completed. That same day an email lobbed from a woman in Minnesota, USA.

She was a complete stranger. At least until I checked the family tree and found her to be not only a cousin but the daughter of a petty crook and long-term prisoner whose terms in and out of gaol and numerous appeals for release I had fully documented along with a home life that could best be described as tumultuous.

And here was his daughter, now about to celebrate her 87th birthday, thanking me for providing her with details of her family’s early years. To which she is adding several memories and personal details. 

It was a bonanza and a bonus for any memoir writer. Which is what makes it an endlessly fascinating and enjoyable field of writing endeavour – and why Celtic Skeletons remains a work in progress.

As long as a piece of string. 

Postcards No.7: at the crossroads on the Costa Brava

lloret-de-mar

An uncrowded beach, family-run inns and guesthouses, fishing boats and genuine local cuisine: a place familiar to millions but unrecognisable in this postcard scene from the 1950s.

There were none of  the earlier mentioned struggles of recollection when I turned to the next two postcards in my time-worn pile.

So much to remember here. So many highs. Such a crush of never-to-be-forgotten places, people, events and incidents enjoyed in a couple of weeks.

And memorable on a different level for being a time of decision-making; truly the crossroads on my journey through life.

One cannot help but wonder, and doubt, if the boozed-up thousands who nowadays

Lloret de Mar 2

Truly unspoilt: Lloret de Mar in the day before the tourist hordes.

throng the high-rises, restaurants, bars, discos and clubs of this grossly overdeveloped strip of once idyllic Catalan shore derive even a smidgen of the happy and abiding memories that have been mine for more than fifty years.

These were fifteen days of wonderment, unabated pleasure and a simmering of youthful romance.

It was where I learnt how to make a salad dressing – something in those austere days unknown and almost unheard of unless it oozed as a thick cream from a Heinz bottle.

This was thanks to another lone, but more worldly, traveller living in our small guesthouse only a few steps back from the beach. He called for vinegar, olive oil (surely to be used only for medicinal purposes), a shallow dish and condiments.

I watched fascinated as he melded them into an unctuous concoction, part of which he spooned over our salads and the remainder he invited me to use as a dip for chunks of newly-baked bread.

It was my initiation into a world of food I never knew existed and which has given me lasting pleasure ever since.

The culinary wonderment continued. As the message on one postcard naively notes, “I had a meal the like of which you’ve never seen, consisting of prawns, shrimps, mussels and squid in a rice dish plus chicken. Paella it is called.”

I also commented, “The way these people eat is unbelievable.”  A comment probably resulting from a visit I made to the legendary Los Caracolas (Snails), already then more than a century-old and still today the haunt of the world’s movers and groovers.

Somehow its status among the rich and famous passed me by; I was simply in awe of the setting, the atmosphere  – and the food. This was fine dining in extremis, but done with not a single hint of snobbery or elitism. How could there be when little ol’  twenty-something me from the back-blocks had not only passed through its doors but also could pay the bill.

These explorations into the culinary world were not the only steps into unknown territory. There was my first attendance at a bullfight  (okay, each to his own) and being enraptured by the whole extravaganza.  Call it my Hemingway period.  “Will go again,” said my postcard home.

Diane and Me, Lloret De Mar 1950s

Catalan cellar nights: with Diane [get that jacket and tie!!]

Then there were the night-time excursions into the cellar bars for copious wine and Catalan folk music. This was usually in the company of locals of my own age as I broadened my knowledge of the language that I had already been trying to learn back in England.

Again there was a wide-eyed comment on the postcard: “Just got in at 3.30 am – early by their standards.”  And again, “I’ve seen the fishing fleet return three times now at way past 3 am.”

Back then the local boats would pull up on the beach and unload a haul of anchovies. Today?

Nearly always throughout this Spanish interlude I was accompanied by Diane, a delightful young woman I had met back in Worthing. She worked in her family’s travel agency which was right at the forefront of  what became a massive explosion in packaged holidays.

Already they had built their own villa in the hills above Lloret as a base from which to run holidays to a handful of guesthouses in the area.  It took little persuasion to get me to book one of their Lloret de Mar packages, especially as Diane would be there to escort and guide me.

Coincidentally, not only had I been learning Spanish but also contemplating changing careers to become a tour host, preferably based in Spain.  The money was good, the commission a bonus and there was a long break in the off-season when I could teach English in Spain.

The two weeks in Lloret took me closer to making the change, especially when the involvement with Diane deepened (siestas at the hillside villa, Sunday family lunches at her home back in Worthing,  the hint of a job with the firm … and more, suggested Diane).

It was touch and go.

Then family intervened. Let’s just say mum and dad were not best pleased to have me decamp to live among a lot of foreigners, drifting around Spain, an uncertain income and, above all, that big no-no of “no security.”

Back then parental control and influence were far stronger. Not like these free-wheeling times when even pre-teens seem able to dictate terms.

So I relented and, as is often said, the rest is history.

But I can’t help wondering down what paths I would have wandered if I had followed my passion.  And what did become of Diane?

One thing is certain; I would be making a big detour around what the once alluring Lloret has since become.

Saddling up: postcards No.5

 

Great riding country: Sheepscombe, near Painswick.

As the saga of the postcards continues I have at last struck some sort of common thread.

And it’s all about horses. Not all that deep and meaningful but at least it is a consistent theme extending over several of these messages of long ago.

For once during my trawl through these newly discovered mementoes, I have little difficulty in recalling time and place which, in itself, is a great relief.

The first card depicts a white horse looking out over its stable door. “Man’s friend” is how I captioned it on the reverse.

The accompanying message is equally succinct: “Have arrived. This is great. There are 15 of us and it’s an all-male week.”

No hint was given as to whether I thought the all-boys-together situation was good or bad. Maybe on this occasion I preferred the absence of distractions for we were lodged at “the only place of its kind in England” – the home and riding centre established by the legendary Pat Smythe, Britain’s golden girl of the 1952 Olympics.

A week of mucking-out, tuition and riding beckoned.

The location was a dot on  the map labelled as Camp, set in the midst of the Gloucestershire countryside.

As I recorded on a second postcard, also bearing a horse’s head on the front, it was seven days of “plenty of good food, excellent company and fine weather.”

The highlight was doing duty as stable lad at  a day of polo matches, walking the mounts to and fro, cooling them down, giving them feed, making sure they were fully ready to go again and generally being fully immersed in the whole horsey business.

I loved it. And it is one memory that has remained bright and clear down the years. An idyllic time. Rural England at its very best. Something to be treasured, although I fear it is becoming less and less understood, appreciated and valued by succeeding generations.

Postcard home: a good companion

Those seven days at Camp, Painsnwick, Pitchombe, Sheepscombe and other nearby villages set in train a love of horses and riding that remains to this day, although time in the saddle has become almost non-existent.

Throughout my travels I have ridden whenever the opportunity was offered – on an Israeli beach, in the Canadian Rockies, across the Hungarian plains, to the summit of an active volcano and on Lipizzaners at their home in the former Yugoslavia.

Like so many young girls, my daughter caught the bug. School holidays were spent immersed in the whole horsey thing, lodged at a riding centre in the Macedon Ranges.

So we acquired horses of our own: loveable former pacer Brandy, the lively Donna and thorougbred Gypsy. And I had to lug a horse float hither and thither – a cumbersoome and scary task I never truly mastered – as proved by the time the car and float parted company on a sharp uphill bend in a long line of Sunday traffic.

Twice during my double life as a travel agent I devised and acted as leader for an eight-week world horse-riding tour.

The itinerary  included (inevitably) the Spanish Riding school, tuition under a master of the horse on the Esterhazy estate, pony trekking in the Brecon Beacons, lessons at the Fulmer Riding School, tuition and daylong gallops at the Lipica stud plus show-jumping at Aachen, Hickstead and the Dublin Horse Show.

Trying  to control and corral sixteen young Aussie women on what for most was their first  overseas trip added a memorable dimension over which a veil has long been discretly drawn.

So many memories from a clutch of postcards.

**To be continued….

 

More memoir surprises

Family history never ceases to surprise and delight.

It is an endless journey into the unexpected.

Skeletons leap from cupboards and sudden contacts from hitherto strangers breath life into people who so far have been mere names clinging precariously to the family tree.

This week, emails from out of the blue have unearthed another bag of surprises and added further grist to the memoir that is becoming an ever-expanding work in progress.

Overnight I find I am related to two sisters who met prematurely early deaths; one was an alcoholic, the other a drug addict.

A third relative from this same Welsh ancestral cluster spent years in a mental asylum after undergoing cross-examination in a sensational society murder trial.

From cursory reading it appears that Aunt Eva was employed as a nursemaid for the murdered woman and was accused of somehow having access to the arsenic used as the killing agent.

The common thread here is that many of their male line served in the Great War and either came back maimed, often in hidden ways, or simply never returned, in some cases their bodies not even found on the battlefields where they fell.

Their wives and families were left to struggle on tbe best they could.

Happily, more recent descendents have become absorbed into suburban respectability with not a black sheep to be found among them. At least, so far.

But one cannot help wondering what the next generation of family historians might eventually dig up.