Friday, 20 December 2013

More small celebrations you, VikLit, for the idea to Celebrate the Small Things. It's been a good discipline. Having said that, I probably won't be able to post anything next Friday, but I shall still be celebrating.

I've had a sneaky day off today (the joys of self-employment) and been to Melton Mowbray. Yes, I know! I met my friend Jeanette, whom I studied with when we did our yoga teaching diploma. She can charging across the market square with her arms outstretched and greeting me with a massive hug. Wonderful!

Also on the yoga front, the chocolate santas and coins were well received by my students. I tiptoed round to deliver them while they were lying in the dark doing their relaxation.

I have the star letter in the current issue of Grow Your Own magazine. I've written a snippet about beating gardener's backache.

Not a bad week!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Ukulele Time!

On Saturday evening, I played in the Raunds Ukulele Group. We were the 'guest artists' at the Raunds Community Choir Christmas Concert. OK, so the Britain's Got Talent judges might not have put us through to the next round, but we had such a laugh. It's just not possible to be miserable when you're playing a ukulele. This was the first time I had performed on a musical instrument since I was at school. They still talk of my glockenspiel virtuosity in the halls of Picknalls County Primary.

It seems to me there are two ways of teaching music.
  1. to pass exams - this was the way I was taught to play the piano, as a result of which while I can still do a passable rendition of Chopin's Raindrop Prelude, I can't do much else
  2. to instill the joy of playing - surely the better way.

My modest ukulele strumming has allowed me to find an outlet for my musical inclinations, but with no pressure to achieve greatness. We turn up on a Thursday evening, pick a song, play it, stumble over the chords, laugh and have another go. Then we pick another song and repeat the whole, glorious process.

Even on Saturday, when we were 'performing', the overriding motivation was to have fun and to share the joy of this quirky little instrument with the audience. Sure enough, as soon as we appeared, people started to smile. As we played, they joined in with the songs and tapped their feet. They clapped: hell, they even cheered!

Now, that's what I call music.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Here come the girls!, it's time to Celebrate the Small Things, but this will be a quick post because I'm off out with the girls. I say 'girls'; I love a euphemism. We are off for a quiet drink in a local hostelry for a catch-up and a gossip.

But there's just time to say that I'm celebrating the end of Masterchef. I haven't watched it, but I live with someone who has, so I've absorbed the finer points by osmosis.

Repeat after me, Michel: it's just food. I don't want pork cooked three ways, I don't want jus, veloute, crumb, beurre blanc, reduction or deconstruction - and I certainly don't want foam. I want something tasty, nutritious and faff free. Thank you.

Monday, 9 December 2013


Last night's carol concert was lovely. We sang some Northamptonshire West Gallery Carols that had been collected by our President, Stephen Weston, which was a treat in itself. What made it even better was that Stephen accompanied us on his ophicleide, which is an ancient serpent-shaped keyed brass instrument that produces the most extraordinary noise notes.

In conversation over wine and mince pies after the performance, the question of alcohol in churches came up. Apparently any church that uses wine during communion needs a licence to serve alcohol. Communion wine must be at least 9% proof on health and safety grounds, to kill germs, while the natural antibacterial properties of the silver chalice also have their part to play. That is why if you go to a church where fruit juice, rather than wine, is used, communicants each have their own tiny cup to reduce the risk of bugs circulating among the congregation.
 In other news, I have just watched with amusement while the young man behind the glass in the Post Office struggled to work out how to sell me 40 second-class stamps when they come in books of 12. 

Friday, 6 December 2013

Om shanti, shanti, om

After the trauma of the Winter Concert on Saturday, it was with great relief that on Sunday afternoon I settled on to my yoga mat for a Christmas Chill-out with the lovely Harshani. We stretched, we chanted, we breathed, we relaxed: it was bliss., I'm celebrating:

*  some great yoga with my own students
*  a successful final rehearsal ahead of a carol concert this
*  visiting my mum and catching up on all the news
    'up north'
*  resisting the temptation to buy any more baubles

Have a great weekend, folks - and wrap up warm!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Songs of praise

Last night, my choir’s winter concert began with a performance of excerpts from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. It started so well. As the last notes of ‘Christians Be Joyful’ faded away, the tenor took his place on the platform and launched into the recitative: ‘Now it came to pass in those days.’

But something was amiss. When the piece came to an end, the organist lifted his hands from the keys, but the sound kept going. Something was clearly stuck somewhere, because the church was filled with a dismal groan – and not from the audience. Like the drone of bagpipes, one valve or tube or some such was resolutely open and its mournful A-flat would not be silenced. The decision was made to switch off the organ and go with piano accompaniment instead. As the air wheezed out of the mighty instrument, the tenacious note finally breathed its last.

Down on the floor of the church, there was a brief commotion while the piano was wheeled into place and the stool adjusted to the correct height – at which point it was discovered that the piano lid was locked. Clearly, someone had to be summoned. As luck would have it, the Keeper of the Keys was in the audience. He produced a huge bundle from his pocket, but none was the right one. Further investigation in the vestry was needed. He disappeared.

Meanwhile, our valiant Musical Director chatted amiably with the audience, congratulating our accompanist on his versatility.

The keyholder returned and this time was able to unlock the piano. The concert resumed, but never has a choir been so glad to reach the interval. Punch and mince pies were dispensed to all and the mood was jovial.

The second half went surprisingly well. It included a couple of world premieres of pieces composed specially for us: a lyrical setting of the Magnificat and an intricate Benedictus. Both composers were in the church – well, one of them was in our tenor section, actually – which was lovely. The new music went down well. Then we rounded off proceedings with Haydn’s Nelson Mass, which has a Latin title that is generally translated as ‘music for troubled times’, appropriately enough.

As the audience left at the end of the concert, I heard one woman say, ‘They did well, considering how challenging the programme was.’ Damning with faint praise.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Ivory Yardsale news!
Just a quick one this week, as I'm dashing out in a mo to see the Bad Shepherds (Ade Edmondson's band), which is in itself a cause for celebration.

I'm also celebrating that Ivory Yardsale, for which band my son is the drummer, has a new EP out. You can hear the tracks via Soundcloud here. They were played on local radio on Wednesday, and there has been interest from BBC Introducing, which is very exciting.

Have a good weekend y'all!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Once upon a time, there lived an aspiring writer

As I mentioned on Friday, I went to a workshop last week: ‘How do you climb a glass mountain? Exploring Fairy Tales Masterclass.’ It was run by the wonderful Jo Blake Cave, who gives her job title as ‘Storyteller’. Isn’t that lovely?

Sixteen of us sat round in a circle, and after some general discussion of what makes a fairy tale (not a fairy story, note, which is a story that has fairies in it), Jo told us her version of the Brothers Grimm tale ‘The Three Languages’, which I must admit I didn’t know.

Then, working in pairs, we had to retell it in our own way. I was surprised how difficult I found this. Clearly I’m not an auditory learner. Next, we had to plot the shape of the story on a graph, marking the fortunate and unfortunate events, and the threshold points that could be said to be decisive moments or turning points in the narrative.

Then we were each given four pieces of paper on which we had to write (1) a problem and a task, (2) a hero(ine), (3) a magical object and (4) a helper. These were shuffled and we were given back a different set of four unrelated elements from which to construct a story.

It was fascinating and tempted though I am to write up the entire two hours I will instead tell you that as well as the four elements above, a fairy tale needs its own internal logic, archetypal landscapes and some manifestation of the rule of three (three wishes, three bears, etc, etc).

Unfortunately, this masterclass came too late to help me write my entry for the recent WM adult fairy tale competition. Now, where’s my magic lantern?

Friday, 22 November 2013

It's Friday: let's Celebrate the Small Things Time to bloghop with VikLit and Celebrate the Small Things. It's been a good week, high on achievement workwise, but with quite a bit of socialising thrown in for good measure. On Monday I caught up with an old friend who has turned a corner with a health issue and seems to be on the way up. Tuesday's choir rehearsal went well. I think we've finally mastered the tricky Benedictus. Excellent yoga class on Wednesday evening, even though the school was cold. We worked our way towards the Turtle (kurmasana). Tricky to get into; even trickier to get out of. Have a look here. Last night I went to a Fairy Tale Writing Masterclass, which was really interesting. I'll do a more detailed post on this in due course. Today, I've had a good day, too, with lots of work done.

Highlight, though, has got to be yesterday morning, when the doorbell rang. There on the step was a delivery man with a huge bunch of flowers. Normally when this happens, he asks me to take them in on behalf of a neighbour. But no: they were actually for me! It crossed my mind that perhaps my husband or one of my sons had done something I had yet to find out about and was getting his apology bouquet in first. The accompanying card revealed, though, that they were from a grateful client. Isn't that nice?

Hope you all have something to celebrate.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Neither offender nor offended be

Many of us are in the midst of preparing Christmas logistics. May I throw something into the mix, please?

Resolve not to be offended if your plans do not meet the expectations of your nearest and dearest (and others to whom you feel you owe festive duties). If they don't want to come to your house, that doesn't mean they don't trust your cooking or that they hate your children or your dog. It simply means they have other plans.

If folk insist on seeing you when, deep down, you'd rather they didn't, be glad that you can make them happy. It's just possible you'll miss them when they're gone.

Capra's It's A Wonderful Life
If people take offence at what you have planned, let them. It's not your problem. You can control your own response to circumstances, but not that of others.

Follow Utilitarianism's Greatest Happiness Principle: take the course of action that brings happiness to the greatest number of people.

I thank you.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

You must have been a beautiful baby

Our local paper this week has 28 pages devoted to pictures of new starters at school. It proudly proclaims: '67 schools - 135 pictures - 3,065 children'!

I don't know anyone who has a child who started school locally this term, but I always have a look at the pics, and I'm not ashamed to admit I'm doing this for their comedy value. OK, clap me irons, but I can't be the only one plays 'spot the class clown' and 'seek out the name most likely to cause embarrassment in later life'. There is similar sport to be had when the photos of entrants to the 'beautiful baby' competition are published. Of course, all babies are beautiful in their own way, but some are also hilarious. Have you never run your finger along the line of beaming faces and labelled them plumber, builder, lawyer, shoplifter, dealer etc, etc? No? Just me? Oh, OK.
My own babies, now both in their twenties.

One section of the paper I always look at is the court reports. I'm nosey: I like to see if anyone I know is in trouble; but I'm also looking for inspiration. Many of the arrests are in connection with possession of drugs or being drunk and disorderly. Occasionally, though, there is a glimpse of human tragedy where someone has taken a packet of cooked meat and a bottle of wine from Lidl. How sad is that! The Northants Telegraph comes in for a lot of stick, but I buy it every week. There's always something in it that makes me go: 'Well, fancy that!'

Friday, 15 November 2013

TFI Friday Blogging is a funny old game. We write these words not knowing whether anyone will read them or not, and certainly not knowing what reaction there will be. Monday's blog about giving to charity had one of the highest number of readers I've ever had, but only one comment (and that came this morning).

Of course, we don't only write to be read. I've just finished Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott (one of my birthday books - fantastic). She says we should write to become better writers, because helps us to become better readers, and that is the real payoff.

As National Short Story Week comes to an end, I have just finished reading Jeffrey Archer's collection, And Thereby Hangs A Tale. Some say he's much maligned, others that he can't write for toffee. I think some of his stories are built on interesting premises, but must confess I didn't find them all that engaging. The book was given to me by a fellow volunteer at Cheltenham. He doesn't want it back, so it seems only fitting that I pass it on. Let me know if you'd like it. (No pushing at the back!)

So I'm celebrating the joy of reading and of unexpected gifts. How about you?

Monday, 11 November 2013

To give requires good sense*


 Imagine you have £5 to give to charity. No excuses: you have to give £5 to charity today, right now. What are you going to do?
  • Are you going to pledge it to Pudsey? The BBC is awash with plucky children telling us how even the smallest donation can make a big difference. Terry Wogan calls Children In Need 'the widow's mite charity'.
  • Maybe your heart is moved by the desperate situation in the Philippines. Over 10,000 souls lost. Will it be Oxfam or the Red Cross?
  • Or what about sending it to Cancer Research UK, or Macmillan, or Leukaemia Care?
  • Or has your family been touched by tragedy via another route? Send your money instead to the British Heart Foundation, or Shine, or Mencap.
  • How about looking closer to home? Isn't that where charity begins? Give your money to the youth club down the road that needs its toilets refurbishing, or that women's shelter, or the food bank, or the Sure Start centre.
  • Why not spend the money on 'good causes' lottery tickets? That's £5 well spent, surely -  and then if you win you can donate even more.
  • Or what about ...? You get the picture.
I have no answer.


Friday, 8 November 2013

What a difference a week makes, I'm so much happier today than I was last Friday, not withstanding that I've had to pay out £100 to get my wing mirror fixed after a bit of a prang. Still, could have been so much worse.

So let's get on with Celebrating the Small Things.
  • The company that owed me £250 has paid up!
  • I have a reader's letter coming up in the New Year in a gardening mag.
  • I think I've sold an article (won't say what, in case it all goes belly up).
  • I also have an article in Freelance Market News this month.
  • Number One Son is safely moved into his new home.
  • I had a lovely birthday. Thanks to family and friends for a great day - and check out these funky flowers:

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

We need more power, Captain!

On Monday evening we had a series of mini power cuts lasting about 10 minutes each. It's at times like this you wish you'd listened to the advice to keep a torch where you can find it in the dark. However, thanks to the flashlight function on my phone I was able to fumble about and find some tea lights and a box of matches.

Somewhat ironically, the only glimmer of light in the whole house came from the ridiculous gizmo British Gas has given me to monitor my power usage. It turns out that the more things I have switched on, the more it costs me. Well, thanks, chaps, I'd never have thought of that! This gadget has a battery backup, which revealed the reassuring fact that I was using no electricity as I sat in the chilly gloom.

Monday, 4 November 2013

A lesson in self-promotion

It has been raining in. Not surprising, given the weather we've been having; but what is a bit strange is that it is raining in on to a downstairs internal wall. Men have been called.

One of the roofers who came to give us a quote also has a sideline as a writer. What follows is not a recommendation of his book, which I haven't read, but rather a celebration of his gift for self-promotion.

While he was investigating the rather peculiar structure of our house, he chatted amiably about life, the universe and so on, and revealed that he has written a book. He was interested to discover that I, too, am a writer and asked about my work, as well as telling me about his latest project. But what I found really impressive is that he was able to produce from his wallet some promotional bookmarks for me to use and give out. Ten out of ten for preparation. Not only that, but he had also given my husband a couple while they were upstairs taking a manly look at the job.

It seems only fair, after all this, that I direct you to his website, here.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Friday the first the small things? No, sorry, nothing to celebrate today (grump, grump). Normal service will be resumed as soon as poss.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Pay up!

I've just been round Morrisons to do the weekly shop. When I got to the till, the cashier asked me for £43. 65. 
'Thank you,' I said. 'I'll come back in 30 days' time to settle up. Is that OK?'
'Certainly, madam,' she replied. 'Morrisons is more than happy with those terms.'
I wished her good day and continued on my merry way.

What actually happened, of course, was that I took out my Halifax card and paid up there and then. Seemed only fair, since they'd let me have all that food.

Can someone explain to me why I have to wait SO long for some of my customers to pay me? Not everyone; in fact, most of the people I work for are pretty good. But I did some work for a company that I invoiced on 8th August on the understanding that I would be paid at the end of September. Quite a long time to wait, but at least I knew what to expect.

I'm still waiting. When I rang this morning to see what the latest was, I was told that they only do a payment run on Fridays. So I'll get paid tomorrow then? Not necessarily. My invoice will be added to the payment run, but I won't get the money until next week at the earliest.

This seems very strange, given that it is a BACS payment and the money should, in theory, be transferred at the touch of a button. I'm getting a bad feeling about this.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Japanese art of paper folding

I've still got the book!
Those of you of a certain age might remember a quirky TV programme of the late 1960s/early '70s called Origami. Presented by conjurer Robert Harbin, this 15-minute show was part of  ITV's children's hour during which RH would deftly create something wonderful out of a square of paper while we viewers tried our best to do it along with him.

I loved this programme, and even had an origami book and packs of special paper so I could practise between shows. I could manage the basic salt cellar, a turban and some simple animals, but only the very straightforward ones - and only with my tongue clamped firmly between my teeth in concentration and at the expense of a lot of wasted paper. Ah, we made our own fun in those days.

My lovely dragon
This has come to my mind because one of my room-mates in Cheltenham, Kayo, being Japanese was brought up with this ancient, rather mystical art. One of the first things she did once we had settled in was to make me a purple dragon, which I managed to bring home safely and which now keeps me company from the windowsill of my office. It took her about a minute, using  proper origami paper, which I think was called 'washi'.

Kayo runs workshops at a nearby library; maybe I should go along to one and relive my childhood.

Friday, 25 October 2013

That was the week that was

I've just about managed to get my backside in gear to join in and Celebrate The Small Things, so here goes:

I had a lovely time at the Kettering Arts Centre last Saturday. We went to see the comedian Tony Law, and he was fantastic. 'We' is hubby,  my two brothers and me. The older of my two brothers had a significant birthday in the summer (remember the cake?) and the other bought him a night out in Kettering as a present. Much fun was had by all.

Yesterday I had lunch out with a friend ahead of my own birthday.

I've taught some lovely yoga classes this week, including one at a care home, where one of the elderly residents told me he'd enjoyed the session because 'It was nice to have a bit of peace and quiet, for a change.' Lots of talk on Radio 2 this week about loneliness, so it was good to be with some seniors who had company (and care) in their later years.

If you want to join in the celebrations, share yours here.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Radio times

Friends, it's taking me a while to get back into the swing of things after my trip to Cheltenham. I don't want to be sitting here working when there are books to be read, new contacts to follow up and ideas to expand on. Nevertheless, I have ploughed my way through my backlog of emails and tried to get things back to normal.

I had some fun on Sunday evening, though, when I did an internet radio interview for the Paul Edwards Show. Paul is a friend, so it was a bit odd trying to sound 'proper', but I think we did OK. (You may or may not be aware that I record 'Julia's Thoughts' for him to play in during the show, in which I pontificate for a couple of minutes on whatever has happened to me.)

Anyway, the idea of this interview was that I would go and talk about my volunteering experience, but in the event we chatted about all sorts of things: golf, comedy, logistics(!), arts venues, music and, yes, LitFest. There is a podcast available, should you fancy it, either via iTunes or podbean here.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Cheltenham Literature Festival: I'm back!

You will, I hope, forgive me if for the foreseeable future I begin conversations with 'When I was at Cheltenham...'
Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
I have just had one of the most extraordinary fortnights of my life, working as a volunteer at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. There is so much to tell that I hardly know where to begin. Perhaps as good a place as any is to remark that, somewhat to my surprise, the volunteering element was as important and enjoyable as the literature. I spend much of my working life on my own, so to be flung into a team was stimulating and, to coin a phrase, 'such fun'. We 'vollies' were housed in serviced flats on the edge of town and I shared mine with two fabulous women, Kayo and Sally, similar in age and outlook to me. We got on really well and managed to negotiate sharing the facilities without any cross words. It was also great to be working with students, graduates and interns whose youthful energy was infectious.

The ten days of the festival were prefaced by a couple of days' training and putting the finishing touches to the site, and rounded off with a day of dismantling everything again, so I've been away for 13 days, the longest time hubby and I have been apart for many years. I was also away for my son's birthday. When I left home he was a teenager, and now he isn't. (Pause for sob here.)

I had pictured myself floating around being bookish, but the reality was that the days were long and physically demanding: 8.30am starts and, sometimes, 11pm finishes, plus a 15-minute walk at either end. I walked miles to and fro on the site, and there were many hours of standing - not to mention the strain of having to smile all day! But my goodness, it was worth it.

Fortunately the Milk - UK - HardbackI shook hands with radio presenters, made tea for publicists, chaperoned celebrities and directed TV stars. I booked cars for professors and carried bags for screenplay writers. I sat in on writing workshops and panel debates, and heard presentations not just on fiction books that were being promoted, but also wider subjects from the realms of literature, science, economics and philosophy. I learned to my write my son's name in Gallilfreyan, discovered a talent for putting up flatpack furniture and was a human shield between over-enthusiastic autograph hunters and their quarry.

There were academics and celebrities, authors and publishers, and quite a few 'who was that?' moments, and the details will come to the surface in future blogs. I won't bore you with a list of all the people I met/heard/saw in the distance, because no one likes a name-dropper. For now I want to mention two highlights. First, I met Brian May. I know! How awesome is that! Second, I heard Neil Gaiman speak and then accompanied him to his book signing. He is one of the loveliest men I've ever met, endlessly patient with the very long queue of people waiting to meet him - he signed books for getting on for two hours - and just a joy to be with.

Cheltenham Literature Festival 2013: been there, done that, and I have the t-shirt to prove it.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

'Til we meet again

I was slightly surprised to hear my son mentioned on Downton Abbey on Sunday, in the guise of a worker making a play for Lady Rose. OK, so the spelling was different, but Sam Thawley sounds like Sam Thorley. I think this is the closest any of the family has come to TV drama stardom - so far, that is.
The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival 2013I'm not going to be around for a couple of weeks, as I'm swanning off to Cheltenham. Anyone else going? Come and say hello: I shall be the bewildered-looking volunteer! So I shan't be here to write my blog or to the Celebrate the Small Things - or indeed the large - for a while. Still got lots to do before I stop work and pack, but I didn't want to go without saying au revoir.

So, au revoir.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Happy Birthday

We're all going out for a meal this evening to celebrate my younger son's birthday. Actually he won't be 20 (TWENTY!) until next weekend, but I shall be away. Two jovial sons who enjoy cheeky banter, an oft-bewildered dad and, well, me. Sometimes I wonder if we're turning into the Friday Night Dinner family - 'cept we're not Jewish.

Celebrate the small things with me and the rest of the blog-hoppers via VikLit's Scribblings of an Aspiring Author blog, here.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Little Miss Busy

Yesterday was one of those days when I was what comedian Micky Flanagan would call 'double busy'. The result of this was that I finally came home just before 10pm, wolfed down a couple of slices of pizza and went to bed without giving myself time to wind down properly. Unsurprisingly, I couldn't sleep, so I got up and, having put the finishing touches to the general crossword in Saturday's paper, I switched on the TV for some mindless entertainment.

This is how I came to be watching Don't Tell The Bride at 3am. Good grief, what a strange world we live in where we can make a programme about a hapless man organising a wedding in secret from his betrothed. Will she hate it? Will he stick to the budget? Do we care? It was awful and yet awesome. It did the trick, though, and I was able to nod off when I went back to bed.

When my eyes reluctantly opened this morning, it took me a while to realise that the numbers displayed on my clock-radio were not the Radio 4 frequency, 94.5 FM, but the time: quarter to ten. Now I'm spending the whole day playing catch-up. Double busy, again.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Catching the last rays

The first of many
As I was sitting in the garden this morning I caught the eye of my new neighbour looking out of her bedroom window. We haven't met yet, but I gave her what I hoped was a cheery wave. I remembered just a few seconds too late that brandishing a knife at a stranger while wearing swimming goggles and latex gloves might be rather disconcerting for her - unless she could see that I was peeling onions ready for pickling.

Yes, my green-fingered husband continues to bring tonnes of crops home from the allotment for me to process, pickle and otherwise preserve. We are just about coming to the end of the tomatoes-with-everything season and are entering the realms of 'what are we having with the squash this evening?'

Don't look back!
So I'm taking advantage of the glorious September sun to peel a few things, with my back to the unweeded border. Looking at the flowerbed that has recently been treated to a tidy-up, I'm pleased to see that the self-set sweetpeas are still flowering. I've had free blooms for weeks. 

My neighbours have recently culled the rampant ivy that is threatening to overwhelm their garden and had started to invade ours, too. The trouble is that now they have cleared the fence panels, it has become clear that in places it was only this tenacious creeper that was holding them up . Husband is resolved to fix things; he has just announced his intention to fetch 'some screws and a hammer'. Interesting combination. Should I be worried, do you think?

Friday, 20 September 2013

All change: here comes an equinox

Celebrate the small things with me and the rest of the blog-hoppers via VikLit's Scribblings of an Aspiring Author blog, here.

Let's celebrate the changing seasons. We might be sad to see the summer go, but who doesn't love a walk in the bright autumn sun with the leaves crunching underfoot and the smell of a bonfire in the air? (Cue Jusin Hayward: 'Through autumn's golden gown we used to kick our way!') As it happens, we've just had a missive from the allotment committee to say that we aren't going to be allowed bonfires any more. Some numpty fellow allotmenteer managed to set himself alight, so we're all being penalised. Seems a shame to me.

Crawford and cards
Photo from
Those of you who have kindly been following me for a while might remember my post from July last year entitled Boy genius? (It's here, if you'd like to read it.) Crawford Johnston was 14 at the time and had devised 'Creative Writing Magic Money Cards' as a way to help nine to 15-year-olds improve their creative writing skills. He was enjoying modest success. I have heard from again and it seems his business idea is going from strength to strength. You can read the update on the London Mums Magazine website: here. So, let's celebrate entrepreneurial spirit in the young!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Wedding bells

Best wedding cake EVER!
I went to the most remarkable wedding on Saturday. Congratulations to Becky and Pete, not just on tying the knot, but also for organising such a fabulous day. It was an astonishing mix of the traditional, the informal and the downright quirky. Bride and groom both work in the film industry - and it showed in the attention to detail and the sheer glorious theatre of it all.

After a (mostly) conventional church service, we walked through the village for the reception down by the river, a party on the theme of a meadow picnic. There were trestle tables groaning under the weight of homemade food, champagne all round, fresh flowers hanging from the ceiling of the marquee, straw bales for the guests to sit on, crazy golf and a pick 'n' mix stall.

There were, of course, speeches, but the bride's father kicked things off in fine style by singing his to the tune of 'Paddy McGinty's Goat'. It was hilarious - well, he is a writer and performer, so we expect nothing less. There were 'turns', too, from other members of the wedding party and guests, too numerous to list, but special mention must be made of Becky's sister Sarah, an actress and singer-songwriter, who played and sang beautifully. Tears, aplenty! I'm hoping someone filmed the entertainment and that it will be posted on You Tube.

But surely the quirkiests of all the quirks was the wedding cake, which was a cheese cake: that is to say, a cake made of cheese (pictured, above).


Friday, 13 September 2013

Friday 13th? No worries!

Celebrate the small things with me and the rest of the blog-hoppers via VikLit's Scribblings of an Aspiring Author blog, here.

I've not been feeling my best this week, so I'm celebrating the support I've had from friends and family (and antibiotics!).

I'm celebrating the return of hubby from his golfing weekend with 'the lads'. A good time was had by all down on the south coast, despite the odd shower.

Celebrating, too, my son's girlfriend off to start her midwifery course. Good luck to her and all other freshers.

Big celebrations tomorrow when I'm off to the wedding of friends Becky and Pete. Fingers crossed for good weather.

Feeling stressed?

Any of you who live in the area of Wansford, near Peterborough, might be interested in a workshop I'm helping to run next Saturday, 21st, on yoga for positive living. Details are on my yoga website here. If you fancy learning some strategies and practices to give you a positive outlook, you would be most welcome.
.. and relax.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Welcome to September

Celebrate the small things with me and the rest of the blog-hoppers via VikLit's Scribblings of an Aspiring Author blog, here. Short and sweet today, but I'm celebrating:
  • My e-colleague Linda, whom I haven't met yet, but who has kept me on the straight and narrow with some tricky projects recently
  • My yoga friend Jacqui who helped me out with something today
  • My plumber Justin who has been engaged to remove and replace a radiator for me
  • Becky and the team at the Kettering Arts Centre for organising the Potbelly Folk Festival.
Headliners: The Willows

Friday, 30 August 2013

I love a four-day working week

Happy Friday, folks. Time to Celebrate The Small Things. If you want to join in, check out the link from VikLit here. Here are my highlights of the week.
  • I had a very successful meeting with fellow yoga teacher Penny. On 21 September, we are running a workshop on 'Yoga for Positive Living'. Planning is going well and bookings have started to come in.
  • I've broken the back of a massive proofreading job.
  • I've crept into the Top Free Downloads chart at number 24. Woo-hoo! Now, if I could only convert them into sales.
  • We have finally started to decorate our spare bedroom. Over the 12 years since we moved in we have done some superficial touching up, but this time we are going to do it properly, which means stripping off decades of paint and woodchip. Inevitably, since this is an old house, chunks of plaster have come away, too. On a particularly challenging part of the sloping ceiling we found the signature of, presumably, a previous occupant, Mr Lovell, dated 1952!
  • Made some more jam - courgette, rhubarb and ginger. 
  • My son's band has a new song on Soundcloud, called 'Is That You?' Please listen and like here, if you have a moment. 
Have a lovely weekend, everyone.

Monday, 26 August 2013

A review, of sorts

I find myself coming late to the magical realism party. I've just read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I'd heard of him, of course, but this is the first of his books I've actually read. I heard a little snippet when it was Radio 4's Book At Bedtime and was intrigued, so when my son said he'd got the book I thought I'd give it a whirl.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane - HardcoverMy son is an avid reader. When I think back to famly holidays one of my principal memories is the rest of us having to stop and wait for him to catch up with us: because you can't walk and read at the same time and expect to do both of them efficiently. His book always won over his feet. We have some favourite authors in common, but he hates Wuthering Heights, which I'm taking with me on Desert Island Discs, and I can't abide full-on fantasy, which is his favourite genre. I was not a little surprised, therefore, to find The Ocean at the End of the Lane so good. I couldn't put it down. This week we've had lumpy sauce because I've tried to stir and read at the same time and  cups of tea have gone undrunk.

Most of the story is told from a child's point of view, but it's not a children's book. It's scary and bewildering and uplifing, with wonderful decriptions of scenery and sensation. I'm converted. I can't really tell you what the story is about, because that would spoil it, suffice to say that a young boy escapes from a horror in the real world only to be taken on an adventure elsewhere with a friend and her curious family.

I see there is a textbook on my shelf called Magic(al) Realism by Maggie Ann Bowers, which my son had as part of his studies for his creative writing degree. I might give it a read - or I might seek out another Neil Gaiman book, which, I suspect, would be much more fun. I like the look of Neverwhere, which is set in a world below London and has an angel in it called Islington. Any other suggestions?


Just had a text from my other son on his way back from the Reading festival. 'Awesome weeked. Very tired, smelly and disgusting!' Ah, to be 19.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Celebrate the small things - already?

I can't believe it's Friday again already. The week has gone by so fast, probably because I've had my head down working hard. Celebrate the Small Things with VikLit here.
Typical A14 traffic
Nothing specific to celebrate this week, other than having survived. There have been a couple of horrible crashes on the A14 today, a road I use quite regularly, and my heart goes out to all those people who have been involved. This is the road that connects the M1 to the A1, so it is heavily used by lorries going to and from the east coast ports. There's talk of widening it to three lanes in places and while I'm sad that this means we shall lose more fields, I think it will improve the safety. Time will tell.

Well, that was cheerful! Must try harder next Friday.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Family Favourites

'With a Song In My Heart'
I'm showing my age a bit here, but does anyone else remember (or remember their parents telling them about) Two-Way Family Favourites on the radio? Hosted by Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Michelmore (pictured), it was a cheesy Sunday morning show through which families on opposite sides of the world could send greetings and a tune to one another via the BBC. All very worthy! In our house, we used to call it 'The Yorkshire Pudding Show', because Mum would be preparing the Sunday roast while it was on. Ah, those were the days.

Last weekend I was up in the Staffordshire hills at a family do to mark the Golden Wedding of the son (and his wife, of course) of a woman who was my mum's cousin on her father's side: at least I think that's who it was. The details probably aren't important. Suffice to say I was surrounded by almost a hundred people who are related to me in some way or another, many of whom knew who I was because I was with Mum. It was a splendid occasion: pie and pea supper and homegrown entertainment in a most convivial atmosphere.

There's literary gold in them there hills
I want to say these are simple folk, but that sounds patronising and I don't mean it to. These were some of the most welcoming people I've met in a long time. OK, so I could have done with some subtitles - I've got a Staffordshire twang, but wow! - but all in all it was a lovely evening.

Then on Sunday I had a nice lunch with my brother and his family, where my little niece confounded all dietary advice my insisting that jacket potato with chips was a perfectly fine choice.

As if that wasn't enough, I've been in touch with another of my mum's cousins, but this time from the other side of the family. She now lives in America and has had the sort of life that would make a fabulous film. She has recently discovered that her son has a half-brother, and there is a whole adventure unveiling itself there, too.

The names would need to be changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty), but there's enough material in everyone's family for a mini-series. Downton Abbey? You ain't got nothin' on my kin!

Friday, 16 August 2013

Here comes the weekend!

Let's celebrate the small things with VikLit and Co. Details here. I'm celebrating:
  • A four-day week because I was away in Chester and didn't come home until Monday
  • Managing to get all my work done on time
  • A nice email from someone who'd read something I'd written and enjoyed it
  • Live music: off to another house concert this evening
  • Family: off to Staffordshire in the morning for the gathering of the clans
Just had this from the mumsnet academy (who knew there was such a thing). Haven't explored it: might be worth a look,might not.

Looking to take your writing to the next level, and perhaps even make a living from it? Then do check out MN Academy’s Starting Out As A Freelance Writer course, which is designed to help kickstart your writing career. Joanna Moorhead, who freelances for the Guardian, the Independent, Good Housekeeping and more, will guide you through the entire process - from coming up with sellable ideas, to working out your market, to the somewhat scary prospect of pitching to commissioning editors.

Or, if you think you’ve got a novel in you but find yourself blocked when you sit down to write, do have a look at MN Academy’s Start Writing course. It's a 2-day workshop course, held at MN Towers, and is led by best-selling authors Esther Freud and Raffaela Barker. They'll help you find your authorial voice - offering tips on character creation, marking out a plot line and creating a convincing story - in the supportive and collaborative company of other aspiring writers and journos.
Incidentally, am I the only person who HATES the use of 'looking to' (see above). 'Are you looking to take your writing to the next level?' No. Am I wanting to? YES. Grrr.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

A trip to Chester; and guest blogging

Four days of fun and frivolity in Chester have left me more tired than when I went away - but in a good way. The city itself was not what I was expecting, but thanks to a fantastic tour guide called June I learned an awful lot of stuff while I was there.

Who doesn't love a meerkat!
Tiger cubs - aah!
Jeremy Fisher at Tatton Park
Of course, the stay had to include a trip to the zoo amid the history and culture. There are no bars, which makes it feel as though you could reach out and touch the animals - yes, even the fierce ones. The keepers assured me that the clever use of trees and water, plus some discreet wire fencing, meant we were all safe.

I also took a drive over to Tatton Park, where there is a bit of a Beatrix Potter vibe at the moment. There were loads of children scampering about with activity sheets and looking for Squirrel Nutkin and the like. Wonder how many of them have read the books.
In other news, I have been a guest blogger on Charl Harrison's blog: A Place on the Bookshelf. She is a fellow Ether Books writer. Whether or not you are interested in my 'Top 10 ways to annoy an editor', why not pop over and say hello? Click here.

Friday, 9 August 2013

I'm going to Cheltenham

Just a quickie, as I'm about to set off for a few days away up north - which is one thing I'm celebrating. (Click here for more on Celebrate the small things)

The main thing, though, is that I've been chosen as a volunteer for the Cheltenham Literature Festival!

Must dash. Have a great weekend, folks.