Friday 31 January 2014

Goodbye to all that

May I join the consensus and say how pleased I am that this is the last day of January? My son and I both work from home quite a lot of the time and have spent much of the month sighing and saying, 'Is it too soon for another cup of tea?' Enough with the rain and the drear, already.

This same son gives me one of my small celebrations today, as his band has done some really positive things this week, including making a video for one of their new songs. It's still being edited and sync-ed (no, me neither), but I will of course be doing my Proud Mother bit in due course.
Yakisoba EP cover art
Ivory Yardsale
I'm also celebrating my return to Zumba classes after a break of several months. Not only that, but I've also been to a FitSteps class. Ooh, the power in those little legs.

Biggest celebration, though, is that I've survived Dry January (unless I weaken in the next 12 hours, that is).

Join in the celebrations via VikLit's blog 'Scribblings of an Aspiring Author' here.
Did you watch that Horizon programme about whether sugar or fat is the worse? I won't spoil the ending, in case you want to catch it on the i-Player, but it raised some interesting points. It also made me want a bowl of ice-cream. Good job I'm back on the dancing.

Have a lovely weekend, folks.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Words worth

A G4S spokesman speaking on the Today Programme on Radio 4 this morning described a riot as: an incident of concerted indiscipline. I shall surely hear no finer phrase today.

At the other end of the linguistic spectrum comes this observation. Indulging in a cheeky midweek lunch with a friend, we were tickled to hear the barman respond to our every request with 'Not a problem.' Had we asked him to fill my car with unleaded petrol or to take my blood pressure I would have been delighted by the response; but since all we wanted was a couple of drinks and some sandwiches, we hadn't anticipated any difficulty. Later in the day, the staff in the bank informed me that paying in some money wouldn't be a problem either. Good to know.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Anyone else think time is going slowly today?

Come to that, anyone else think the whole week is dragging its heels? Not that I'm wishing my days away, but come on! Can it really only be Wednesday? The view out of my window isn't helping my mood either. You might think that the accompanying picture is bleached out, but no: this is really the colour of the sky. Miserable, ain't it?

Still, pulling myself together I can at least be grateful that I'm not the woman who was ahead of me in the bank yesterday who paid in £1. One pound! There's a story of bailiffs waiting to happen, I fear.

There was a brief moment of respite this afternoon when my son misread the title of one of what he calls 'Mum's weird yoga books' as 'Mindfluming'. It was actually 'Mindfulness' - but fluming the mind sounds much more fun.

I'm enjoying the build-up to the BBC 500 words writing competition. Even for those of us slightly  over the 13 years age limit (ahem), there still lots of useful advice on the website and in the various interviews and features on the radio at the moment. Worth a look. Many years ago, I worked for the PR department at the WHSmith head office and was on the edge of the arrangements for the Young Writers Competition. Seems like a lifetime ago.

STOP IT! Starting to get maudlin again. Time for some energetic yoga  and a bit of mindfluming.

Saturday 18 January 2014

Anyone know anything about tiles?

Following my recent chunter about decorating, I have a question for you.

We are doing up our hall and lifting the manky carpet has revealed what I assume are the original 1920s floor tiles (see pic). Do I try and restore them (with help from an expert), even though some are slightly damaged and a bit wobbly; do I lift them and try to sell them on eBay; do I lift them and chuck 'em and relay fresh flooring; or can I lay new flooring on top of them? Anybody know? Or do you know someone who might know?

Thanks, folks.

Friday 17 January 2014

Bouquets all round

Time to Celebrate the Small Things again. Join in via VikLit's blog 'Scribblings of an Aspiring Author' here.

Top of the list is the lovely bunch of flowers one of my students gave me on Wednesday.

High on the list is the fun I had at the barn dance last Saturday with old friends and new.

I'm celebrating lunch with one friend, followed a couple of hours later by tea and chat with another.

I'm also if not exactly celebrating, then certainly looking on with admiration at the way the internet connects us. This time last week, only a handful of people knew that David Jinks' novel The Dodo Tree had been published. He was my guest blogger last Friday, as a result of which many of you kind souls clicked through to Amazon to have a look and he has sold quite a few copies. Not only that, but also his post was picked up by Ether Books, which mentioned it in its regular members' newsletter, and so DJ's fame is spreading. Isn't that great? Thanks, folks.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Coats of many colours

Up and down the land, couples will be sitting in stony silence after having had yet another row not about money or inlaws or whose turn it is to take out the bins, but about redecorating the house. You know what it’s like. You take down the Christmas decorations and suddenly the rooms look spacious and uncluttered. Unfortunately, they also look rather dowdy now that the glitter and glitz has been packed into boxes for another year.

There’s only one thing for it: a trip to B&Q. Plenty of choice there. And that, of course, is where the trouble starts. It’s amazing that the person you live with, whose politics you share and whose views on life you respect, can be so wrong when it comes to picking a pot of paint. While one partner might think that you can’t go wrong with white gloss on all the paintwork, the other might prefer a splash of colour to provide harmony or, perhaps, contrast, with the rest of the d├ęcor. And what about the walls – do you go for painted walls or papered? A flamboyant pattern or something simple and neutral?

But before even that, there is the thorny question of preparation. For one partner a quick fix is all that’s required: a perfunctory rubdown of the existing paint – or perhaps not even that: maybe a good wash over will suffice – then rip the old paper off and slap up the new. Or, if you want it done in a day, just paint over the old paper.

At the other extreme is the person who wants to strip everything right back, removing not just the wallpaper but also the lining beneath it. Of course, this is likely to mean some of the plaster will also come away, creating a whole different set of challenges. This same person is likely to want remove radiators and leave light switches and sockets dangling precariously so that every last scrap of paper can be stripped off. Then he will want to take one of the massive hair-dryer thingies to the paintwork and get back bare wood. Meanwhile the clock is ticking.

Clearly some compromise is called for between the standards of the perfectionist and the ‘that’ll do’ attitude of the other. This will involve negotiation, by which I mean debate, by which I mean arguments, shouting, huffs and sulking. The solution is often to leave the room as it is for now, which probably means until this time next year when the whole process can be gone through again.

Friday 10 January 2014

The Dodo Tree

Product Details
Welcome to Friday, folks. Bit of a departure today. I've invited friend and colleague David Jinks to be my guest blogger to talk about his new novel: The Dodo Tree.

D: Thank you for having me inside your blog. I do like the bookshelves.

J: What was your inspiration for the book?

D: Oh, I’m obsessed with rare and vanished things: coins made with Edward VIII’s head on that couldn’t be used because he abdicated, for example, or lost works by Shakespeare that we know once existed. The dodo is the ultimate in extinction, because it’s the first creature mankind ever realised had become extinct. It was shocking. No one could believe God would go to the trouble of creating a creature and be careless enough to let it die. Now the tree that the dodo fed on looks like it might be going the same way.

J: How would you categorise your book – a historical romance?

D: Almost yes and almost exactly no. It’s about relationships, but not necessarily healthy ones! The dodo and the dodo tree had a symbiotic relationship. The dodo needed the tree: it depended on its fruit, partly because it didn’t have much competition for it; nothing else could eat it as the fruit’s pit was hard as stone. The tree needed the dodo to eat its fruit, because only the dodo’s gizzard was tough enough to split the seed and let it germinate. But what happened to the dodo tree when the dodo died out? Loads of scope for metaphors about fatal over-dependent relationships. Add the fact that both species only lived on the so-called ‘honeymoon island’ of Mauritius and you’ve loads of scope for irony.

J: Did it take you long to research?

D: Well, I started it in my 20s and now I’m in my late 40s! There’s a very good bit of advice to authors that I ignored: stick to what you know. I foolishly made the hero of the modern day strand of my novel a scientist working on genetically modified crops who turns his hand to saving the tree. Happily I eventually changed him into the PR guy who’s going to tell the story of the attempt to save the tree… Stick to what you know. [David currently runs the public relations team and publishes the journal of a long-established membership organisation.] In the meantime, I’d got married, moved from London and had a son, and my novel itself nearly became extinct.

J: What galvanised you to finish it?

D: Too much cheese! I got a bit out of shape and unhealthy and stressy at work last year and had a stroke. I wasn’t up to talking or walking much for a while, but I watched one hour of daytime TV and I knew it would finish me off. Time to dust off the old novel.

J: Why did you take the indie route to publishing?

D: I fired the finished story off to a few agents - who didn’t exactly form an orderly queue. Their feedback was that it was imaginative and entertaining, but very niche for conventional publishing. I do have a sneaking desire to see a lavish hardback in Waterstones, but I took their point. Kindle Direct Publishing’s wonderful in enabling niche books of all descriptions find an audience.

J: What’s next? Do you have another book in the pipeline?

D: Maybe another outing for my deeply shallow PR guy – again, with some kind of historical bent. If I do start another, though, I’d really like to find a less drastic way to find the time to complete it!

The Dodo Tree is available from the Kindle Store here.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Mind your back!

One of the pics from my yoga/driving article
I've just been to WHSmith to pick up a copy of Truck & Driver magazine, not because I fancy a change of career, but because I have an article in the February issue about how yoga can help drivers overcome bad backs caused by long hours behind the wheel - and, I've just noticed, it's flagged on the cover, too. OK, I'll put my trumpet away now.

In other news, my son has come home from work with yet another drum kit. That makes three. We are going to need a bigger house - and there was me thinking it was time to start planning to downsize. In what I used to call my dining room but what has become a music room, there is now an electric piano, two ukuleles, a bass guitar, two guitars (one electric and one acoustic) and a selection of picks and plectrums (plectra?), several amps and a spaghetti of leads, two complete drum kits and some spares, including a tub full of sticks, a bodhran, a set of bongos, a cajon, a mouth organ and a tin whistle, not to mention teetering heaps of music and several stands of various designs. Good job we have such lovely neighbours. My son is the drummer in Ivory Yardsale (may have mentioned this before!) and their EP 'Yakisoba' is getting played locally and online, and is now available to download (name your price) here.

The Dryathlon is going well. Seven days in and no DTs.

Saturday 4 January 2014

I'll drink to that

I have signed up to be a DryAthlete. This doesn’t mean that I’m eschewing all physical activity centred on the swimming pool, but rather that I’ve pledged not to have an alcoholic drink during January. My friend Sarah put out a call for people to join her in a team, so I said yes. The idea is that we send to Cancer Research UK any funds that we would have spent on drink, so if you were planning on buying me a pint, I shall say no thanks, but I’ll take the money instead.
I’m not expecting this abstinence to be too difficult. I’m not a huge drinker, and rarely drink at home except for high days and holidays. (I admit I’ve done my best over Christmas.)  I live with a real ale aficionado and the taste for something brewed locally has rubbed off, but even so, I don’t find it difficult to stick to soft drinks if I’m driving, for instance.
Being abstemious at home is relatively easy, of course. The bottles left over from the festivities have been hidden away out of temptation’s reach – even that bottle of spiced rum I keep in the kitchen cupboard for livening up my coffee on a chilly morning.
The real challenge will come when I go out and mix with people who are still drinking. The first test will be next Saturday. I’m going to a barn dance, and all that reeling and jigging is thirsty work. Not sure lime and soda will do the job. Then on the following Monday, I have a New Year celebration lunch with some colleagues. I shall have to be on my best behaviour, of course, given that I’m self-employed and don’t want to lose any work, but there is bound to be the offer of a glass of wine. Finally, there is a comedy do at the Arts Centre, where I usually feel duty bound to support the sponsor, the  Potbelly Brewery, by sampling a drop of Hop Trotter or Pigs Do Fly. Hm, it seems on reflection that I perhaps drink more and more often than I thought I did.
I shall do my best not to let down Sarah and the rest of the team – we’re called Brahmacharya, which is a Sanskrit word that loosely translates as abstinence – but I can’t guarantee that I shan’t be a bit tetchy over the next month. And it looks like I’ll be doing all the driving for a while. 
It's not too late to sign up. Details are here or you can 'buy me a pint' here