Monday 30 September 2019

Pesky varmint!

I am supposed to be editing today, but I'm grumpy and can't settle, not least because I'm chasing payment of an invoice for a raft of yoga classes that began on 3 July. It's not acceptable and I'm banging my head against a brick wall. In an attempt to boost my mood I've been for a walk, but that hasn't helped. So, I'm writing a blog instead. I should probably have tried this first. Here goes.

We have a beautiful hazel tree in our garden that this year has yielded a particularly spectacular harvest. We like hazelnuts, but not, apparently, as much as the squirrels, who have been quicker off the mark than we have in their picking. Now, I like a squirrel as much as the next woman, but they've gone too far.

Usually they skitter about in pairs, but I've had regular visits from a Gang of Four who, not content with stripping the tree, have also been fighting amongst themselves. If you think squirrels are cute, I assure you you'd change your mind if you had one snarling at you from the conservatory roof. And the noise!

I would be quite  happy to share the produce with them, but they haven't left us any at all. They eaten quite a few, judging by the debris on the patio, but they've also buried dozens in my lawn. I fully expect that we shall have our own burgeoning woodland this time next year. They've been at the peanut feeder, too, and during their acrobatics have annihilated the trellis over the shed window. 

What's the solution? I don't want to cut down the tree, but this can't go on. One friend has suggested we cut off the nuts. Whether he means from the tree or from the squirrels isn't clear.

Thursday 26 September 2019

Order! Order!

I went to a full council meeting last night of Kettering Borough Council to support a motion relating to promoting cycling and walking in the town. I was there with my Extinction Rebellion pals, but also as someone who used to cycle, but who has been driven off my bike by two things: fear of getting mown down and lack of places to secure my bike in the town. Several members of the public spoke for the motion. (You can just turn up and do your three minutes.)

 I'd never been to a full  meeting before, and it was fascinating. For one thing, I hadn't expected it to be so formal. We all had to stand as the Mayor and her Deputy, both in full regalia, the Monitoring Officer, the Managing Director and, for some reason, a vicar, paraded in, following the mace, which was placed before them all with great ceremony.

Then we had to stay standing for what the Mayor described as 'wise words' from the Reverend Helen, followed by a prayer. I definitely wasn't expecting that! Of course, I don't know whether or not this opening speech is shared among the faith groups in the town.

Those of us in the public seating were given a fact sheet to explain proceedings and a helpful map to show who was sitting where and to which party they were affiliated. We have three Independent councillors, one LibDem, six Labour, and the rest are Tories. Our Conservative MP, Philip Hollobone, is also a councillor and I was surprised to see him there, given everything else that he must have going on at the moment. Perhaps that's why he didn't say much.

Anyway, it was a lively evening, especially the discussion around the motion. I'll spare you the details, suffice to say it was passed unanimously other than for one abstention.

Whatever you think about national politics, let's not forget how privileged we are to live in a country where we can play a role in what goes on - even if sometimes it feels as though we're being ignored.

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Drawing attention to poetry

Adding further weight to the argument that Corby is the go-to place around here for unexpected arts events, I was at the town's theatre last night, The Core at Corby Cube, for an event organised by the Northamptonshire Children's Book Group, a branch of the Federation of Children's Book Groups*.

Author and illustrator Chris Riddell, former Children's Laureate, was in town promoting his new anthology, Poems to Fall in Love With. He was already in situ as the audience rolled in, sitting behind a desk sketching, with the images being presented on to a screen. Also on stage were our readers for the evening: local actors Will and Sue, and Elaine, a student from one of the town's senior schools.

It was an interesting format. Chris chatted amiably about the poems and then as one of the readers stepped forward he sketched an appropriate illustration, live, right there, before your very eyes, replicating the fabulous images that accompany the poems in the book. Several lucky people went home with one of the pictures.

The book is beautiful inside and out, with a cover that just makes you want to stroke it and a broad selection of poems ranging from Kate Tempest to Sylvia Plath, Leonard Cohen to William Blake, and all points in between.

It was a great evening and Chris was generous with his time as we queued up to get our copies of his book signed. I know from speaking to the organiser that he'd had a pretty full-on day, but you wouldn't have known it from the way he engaged particularly with the youngsters, posing for selfies and chatting as though he had all the time in the world. What a nice man.

* Check out this organisation if you have any interest at all in children's literature - and who doesn't?

Thursday 19 September 2019

Saving the world, one piece of cheese at a time

I've just caught myself washing the wrapper from a Dairylea Triangle, so I can put the paper label and the foil into separate recycling bins. Have I gone too far?

Since I've become involved with Extinction Rebellion, environmental issues have started to become a bit of a 'thing'. I'm taking my own mug everywhere, I'm saving the inner bag from my cereals to use for my packed lunch and I'm making Ecobricks like a demon. Some changes are easy; I gave up Clingfilm ages ago and it's been no bother to revert to loose tea rather than teabags.

Other things are much harder. I'm not ready to give up my car, for instance, even though we have two and I work from home, so with a little bit of planning we could probably manage with one. I have tried to use the bus, but it tends not to turn up, which is annoying, and while I'd love to travel by train it is prohibitively expensive. I've just checked, and a single ticket from Kettering to London for this morning would cost £64.50. It's about 80 miles and my car does 45mpg. No contest.

Tomorrow, though, I shall be out on the streets waving my banner in support of the Global Climate Strike. Will you?

Wednesday 11 September 2019

County matters

The Raunds Ukulele Orchestra, of which I'm pleased to be a member, was invited to play at the Dean and Shelton Country Show on Saturday. It was a splendid affair, with a fine display of lawnmowers and tractors, stalls and sideshows, hog roast and a tea tent. I was pleased to see that refreshments were served in proper cups and on proper plates, with bamboo cutlery: no plastic in sight.

A particular highlight for me was a demonstration of a sheepdog herding ducks. I was too enthralled to take any pics, so you'll just have to trust me when I say it was extraordinary. The countryside is a very strange place. There was also, of course, a flower and produce competition - the photo shows the entries in the category of 'Heaviest Vegetable'.

And talking of competitions...

The closing date for the Moulton Literary Festival Short Story Competition has been extended to 26 October. Does this mean there haven't been many entries? You could be in with a chance. Details are here. Full disclosure: I'm the judge!

Monday 2 September 2019

Are you lost in Austen?

The real Sanditon - image from
Are you all watching Sanditon, then?

I like Jane Austen's books, but I wouldn't say I was a fan as such. I read Pride & Prejudice at school because I had to, and similarly Mansfield Park was one of my OU degree set books. I've read the others, too, and also the recent reworkings by Val McDermid and Joanna Trollope, and watched the various TV and film adaptations, though more because I felt I ought to than because I particularly wanted to (Colin Firth notwithstanding).

All this to say, I'm not offended by the prospect of Andrew 'Randy Andy' Davies turning Jane Austen's 24,000-word first draft of a few chapters into an eight-part series.  I watched the first episode having told myself it was 'based on an idea by' rather than an adaptation. Given Davies' past record and having heard him interviewed on the radio, I psyched myself up for Fifty Shades of Austen.

It speaks volumes that I'd forgotten it was on again last night. The problem for me was that it felt as though AD had gone through a Pick 'n' Mix of characters from all JA's books and come up with a perfect set of grumpy dowager who has a guarded interested in our feisty heroine, a well-meaning but deluded male lead and his long-suffering wife, a louche brother, a simple brother, a scheming woman after the dowager's fortune, and a few 18th-century caricatures thrown in for good measure. Sorry, but I thought it was all a bit so-what.

I also thought the CGI was rahter in your face. You can 'see the joins', as it were.

But what do I know. Sanditon will probably run into several series and win loads of awards, not least for Anne Reid who will win the prize for 'Best Actress Who Is Slowly Turning Into Maggie Smith'.