How to read when you don’t have time to sit down with a book
I can’t believe how quickly I converted to loving audible! I adore reading and quite often I’m reading more than 1 book at a time nowadays
* one for research purposes for my writing
* one for my book club
* one for lunchtime at work & bedtime
now one for when I’m walking the dog / doing chores around the house!
The ability to “read” while my hands are doing other things like gardening or chopping vegetables, or when I am walking one of our dogs is a marvellous thing and has quite boosted my motivation to do boring things like clearing the attic and painting.
Podcasts are free with my monthly audible subscription and these can be informative, funny, thought provoking. They keep me company and they expand my mind – I enjoy having new facts to throw into the conversation and (hopefully) to impress my kids with!
I’m taken back to the days when my I’d lie in bed in the room I shared with my younger brother. We’d be in our PJs waiting for our father to get home from work. We’d hear him come upstairs, still in his suit and tie but with his jacket off so we could see his coloured braces. He’d sit down on one of our beds and pick up the book he’d read from the night before, and continue with the story.
We’d be spellbound as the story unfolded – dragons, princes, giants and tailors who could fly or fight or outwit monsters with many heads or poisoned tongues. My brother liked stories of Gumdrop, a car with a personality and I giggled at a wolf who could never catch a break with Polly or her younger sister.
Now accomplished actors read the stories aloud, their expression so skilful it’s like listening to a play. Sometimes I am listening to a play, with different voices for each part and sound effects, while some writers have chosen to narrate their novels themselves.
For the price of 2 fancy coffees a month, I am transported by my choice of 1 book and unlimited exclusive podcasts. I can listen to the stories as many times as I want, once they are downloaded and I can file them on my phone by categories I define, I can gift them to a friend or delete them if I don’t want them anymore.
By using the sleep function (a timer on my phone) I can even recreate the feeling of being read to as I fall asleep. Happy days!
The Devil & the Dark Water : Stuart Turton [Crime/Mystery/Historical]
The Midnight Library : Matt Haig [Philosophical / Adventure]
What Alice Forgot : Liane Moriarty [Chick Lit / Mystery]
When people ask me to tell them something about me that nobody knows – well that’s a tough one – but something hardly anybody knows about me is that I used to be a model. Not a catwalk model (I’m only 5’4″) but a baby model. We lived in London when I was a baby and my siblings were a little older than me, so during the day when they were at school, my mother had time to focus on me. She says people constantly stopped her when I was out in my pram to remark on my looks – I know, I know, people say that platitude a lot, but I guess my mother thought it rang true.
I was an even tempered child, not shy with strangers and not too quick to cry. With white blonde hair and blue eyes, I guess I had the look they wanted as they filmed me for baby food commercials, soaps and bubble bath. My mother was not filmed with me, they would use a model for the parent. My mother would stand just out of shot so that I could see her; you’ll notice that babies in adverts look over the shoulder of the person holding them.
Recently, clearing my parents’ house, I found this typed schedule to which my mother and the film company worked.
6.30 Baby wakes up, is changed and goes back to cot to play for a bit
7.00 Is dressed and goes into playpen
7.45 Has breakfast with parents
8.15 Put down in pram for sleep, while Mother prepares food and kit for modelling session
10.15 Is dressed to go out, is put in pram and pushed to studios
10.45 Arrives at studios for modelling session. Studio staff carry pram up to quiet room where Baby can rest later on. Baby is dressed in clothes provided by studio, introduced to model mother and trained nurse who is there to see baby is well looked after and not overtired. The director looks Baby over, approves and …
11.00 Modelling session begins. This is a baby food ad. for television and they want shots of Baby playing happily with mother. After a few takes, the lights are turned off and Baby is given a rest and cools off.
More pictures are taken and Director is satisfied. Then he wants shots of Baby eating. The complete range of baby food is there and we choose her favourite for her filmed meal. This goes well because the baby likes the food, it is her proper lunch time and she is given every consideration.
12.30 The nurse and I decide she has had enough and tell the Director, who immediately says she should go and rest. He asks me what time she will be ready for further session, I suggest 2.15. He says “Right, but if she sleeps on it doesn’t matter, don’t wake her up specially, we wont shoot any more until she is ready.”
Baby is changed, put to rest in quiet, well-ventilated room and I go down to studio to have my lunch, which is provided.
2.15 Baby wakes up completely refreshed and happy. I take her back to studio where a few more scenes are taken. As soon as Director has enough film, we are told we can go. Again the studio staff are very helpful carrying down the pram.
I’ve unfortunately never seen any of the adverts in which I featured, they probably don’t exist any more, but it’s a fun fact about me that I can throw into the conversation occasionally.
Once upon a time, there was a greedy fisherman called Joel. Everyone thought he was poor because he never seemed to spend any money. His wife, Mara, went about in a ragged dress and his son, Peter, ran barefoot. The fisherman worked hard catching fish to sell, but instead of using his money to buy Mara a new dress or shoes for Peter, he put his gold and silver into leather bags and hid them under the floorboards.
Besides being greedy, Joel was bad-tempered. He spoke crossly to Mara although she kept the house neat and always had hot food waiting when he came home with his catch. He was always scolding Peter although the boy did everything he could to help his father.
One day, Joel and Peter were out at sea, casting the net and drawing it in then tipping the fish into the boat. That day they had done well, the bottom of the boat was a mass of wriggling, shimmering silver fish. Greedy Joel rubbed his hands.
“This is a fine catch,” he said to Peter. “It’ll earn me a tidy sum.” He looked up at the sun. “Just time for one more cast,” he said.
Out went the net into the calm sea, the centre sinking while floats kept the edges bobbing on the surface. Joel waited a while, then began to haul it in.
“Lend a hand, lazy boy!” he shouted at Peter. “The net’s really heavy. There must be hundreds of fish in it.”
Joel was pleased and hauled away with a will, his muscles bulging. Peter pulled too, adding his small strength to Joel’s. Their arms were getting tired, but still they pulled , Peter wanting to please his father and Joel thinking greedily of the money he would put under the floor when he sold his record catch.
What a surprise they had! They hadn’t caught hundreds of silver fish, but one enormous fish with green scales. They were even more surprised as they wrestled with the slippery tail to discover that the front half was like the body of a human woman.
“It’s a mermaid!” cried Joel, “I’ve heard tell of such creatures but I thought they were nought but fishermen’s yarns.”
When the mermaid was freed from the net, she sat with her green scaly tail resting on the pile of silver fish. Her skin was pale green, her long golden hair hung down to her waist and her eyes were as blue as the summer sea. Her hands, tipped with mother-of-pearl fingernails, were clasped together in anguish. There was a pleading look in her sea-blue eyes and tears rolled down her cheeks.
“She wants me to put her back in the sea,” Joel whispered to Peter, “but I won’t!” He spoke to the mermaid. “You want to go back? Nothing doing, my pretty. You’re going to make my fortune.” He grinned nastily and, taking a piece of rope from his pocket, he tied her hands together so she couldn’t get away.
Peter felt sorry for her, but he dared not argue with his father.
All the way home, Joel ignored the mermaid’s sobbing, his head filled with schemes for getting rich. Peter was thinking too, but he was trying to find a way to help her.
Although their cottage was near the quay, it was too far for Joel to carry her, so he sent Peter to fetch a wheelbarrow.
“She’s so beautiful,” Peter said as he helped his father lift her, “but she looks so sad. Couldn’t we let her go?”
“Stupid boy!” Joel said crossly. “Certainly not! She’s going to make me rich.”
“How?” Peter wanted to know.
“I shall sell her to a showman from a fair. People will pay to see a mermaid because they are very rare.”
“Please put her back in the sea.” Peter pleaded, but he got his ears boxed.
“Keep quiet and do as you’re told! Let’s get her indoors before anyone sees her. I shall go and see the showman tomorrow.”
It was obvious the mermaid understood what they said, for when Joel mentioned the showman and people paying to look at her, she burst into a wild storm of weeping. Peter quite expected her to get her ears boxed too.
Mara was astonished when she saw what Joel had brought home.
“Poor thing!” she said indignantly. “It’s a shame to bring a sea creature onto land. Why don’t you put her back where she belongs? What do you want with her?”
“You mind your own business,” Joel said sharply. “Put her in the scullery and don’t untie her.”
That night they their supper in uncomfortable silence. The poor mermaid’s weeping put Peter and Mara off their food but Joel did not seem to care and ate a hearty meal. Then, while Mara and Peter washed the dishes, Joel snored in front of the fire.
Peter tip-toed out to the scullery and offered the mermaid some food. She shook her head but smiled gratefully.
“Don’t worry,” Peter whispered, “I’ll find a way to get you back to sea, even if my Dad beats me for it.”
Mara crept out to offer the mermaid a shawl to keep her warm. She shook her head, but smiled her thanks.
That night Peter hardly slept, worrying about the mermaid, but Joel slept like a log and dreamed of bags of gold.
In the morning, Joel put on his best suit. He gave Mara and Peter strict instructions to keep the mermaid safe, and set off whistling a jaunty tune, his hat on the side of his head.
As soon as Joel was out of sight, Peter ran to fetch the wheelbarrow and with Mara’s help, lifted the mermaid into it. Mara and Peter were determined that she should go back to the sea, no matter what Joel said, no matter how angry it made him.
Carefully Peter wheeled her down to the shore and gently helped her into the water.
“Goodbye, lovely mermaid,” he said. “Take care never to get caught in my Dad’s net again.” He thought ruefully about how angry Joel would be when he found his prize catch had gone, but he thought it was worth it when he saw the joy in the mermaid’s eyes as she felt the water lapping round her.
With a flash of her green tail and a wave of her pear-tipped hand, she dived under the water and disappeared.
Peter sat on the shore and sighed, never expecting to see her again. But a few minutes later, she bobbed up and swam towards him. She beckoned and Peter waded out, waist deep in the water, to meet her. Smiling, she handed him a bag made from thick, ribbon seaweed.
“For me?” he asked. She nodded.
He looked into the bag. Inside were ten, beautiful, gleaming pearls. He stared in amazement, then he understood. She wanted him to give them to Joel so that he wouldn’t be angry. Peter looked up to say ‘thank you’ but the mermaid had gone.
Joel came home that evening in a terrible rage. The showman would not agree to pay him as much money as he wanted. When Peter told him he had put the mermaid back, Joel’s face went scarlet and he opened his mouth to shout. But when Peter handed over the reward, Joel’s anger died. The pearls were worth six times what the showman had offered.
Joel smiled at Peter and patted him on the head. He went straight upstairs to put the jewels under the floorboards. He brought down six silver coins which he gave to Peter.
“Here,” he said, “you’ve done well.”
Peter could hardly believe his luck. Never before had his father given him money to spend. Next morning Peter ran to the market. He bought his mother a dress of soft grey wool, to match her eyes and bought himself a pair of sturdy shoes with shin buckles. There was even a penny left over so he bought himself a stick of candy.
It was just as well Peter spent the money quickly. A week later, when greedy Joel went to gloat over his treasure, he found the gleaming pearls has changed into dull grey pebbles. His fury was terrible to see, and Peter and Mara hid until he got over it.
After that, no-one ever dared mention the word ‘mermaid’ in Joel’s hearing.
Lucy and her family lived on a farm. One market day, Lucy was in town to sell their eggs. Once she’d sold them, she tied up the money carefully in the corner of her handkerchief. She was on her way home when she overheard two farmers talking near the butter-cross. One of them was holding, in the crook of his arm, a very small grey dog, with tightly curled hair. It’s eyes had a knowing twinkle, but one was bigger than the other. In spite of this, Lucy liked the puppy right away.
“I dunno what to do with this wretched little tyke,” the farmer said to his friend. “He’s the last one in the litter and much smaller than the six others. I sold them as easy as kiss-me-hand.”
His friend laughed. “He’s too small for herding sheep or guarding the house, he’s too ugly for anyone to want him as a pet. You’ll have a job getting rid of him.”
“Well I don’t want to keep him,” said the first farmer. “I’d give him away, but I doubt anyone would want him.”
Lucy could hardly believe her ears. “Please mister,” she said shyly, “if you don’t want him, can I have him?”
“You want him?” The farmer was surprised. “Right then Missy, the little tyke’s yours. Take him and good riddance.”
Lucy thanked him. She tucked the little grey dog under her arm and ran all the way home in case the farmer changed his mind.
“Mum, Mum!” she cried, bursting in through the kitchen door. “See what I’ve got – a teeny, tiny dog called Tyke.”
Lucy’s mother looked doubtful. “He’s so small Lucy, and his eyes are crooked. What good’ll he be? How will he earn his keep? he’s too small for herding or guarding the house.”
“Please let me keep him,” Lucy pleaded. “I’ll work twice as hard to make up for him.”
“We’ll see,” said her mother. “I can’t worry about dogs now. The witch has put a spell on the well. I can’t get any water for cooking and the boys can’t get water for the stock to drink.”
Their farm was in a valley, on the hill above lived a horrible witch. Although Lucy’s family were poor, they were happy. This made the witch sick with envy.
Tyke had been sniffing around the kitchen. When he heard about the witch, he sidled up to Lucy and whispered, “I can deal with the witch.” But Lucy was too busy helping her mother to listen.
Lucy’s father stamped angrily into the kitchen. “That cursed witch put a spell on the gate. It won’t let me through to pen the sheep and it’ll be dusk soon.”
Tyke stepped forward, and spoke a little louder this time. “I can deal with the gate,” he said, but no one took any notice.
Lucy’s big brother Tom came into the kitchen, his cheeks flushed with frustration. “The cows won’t give milk, they’re too thirsty. Old witch has put a spell on the well.”
Tyke swaggered forward. “I can deal with the well,” he boasted, but everyone was too busy to listen.
Lucy’s little brother Peter came in looking sad. “Not one egg in the henhouse,” he showed his empty basket. “They’re so thirsty there’s no cackle from the hens nor a crow from the cock.”
“I can deal with the well,” shouted Tyke, having climbed on a chair. “Leave it to me.”
All the family turned to stare at the teeny, tiny dog.
“You!” they cried. “You’re a scruffy grey ball of fur, what can you do? You’re too small to fight and you’re not clever enough to deal with the witch’s spells. Get out! Get away from here.”
The teeny, tiny dog’s boasting had amazed and angered everyone except Lucy. She picked him up and looked into his mis-matched eyes.
“Could you, Tyke? Would you?”
“I could and I will,” he said firmly.
“All right,” said Lucy, “prove it.” She opened the door and let him out. Tyke ran to the gate.
“You can’t go through, the bewitched gate said importantly. “No one belonging to this farm can pass through.”
Tyke threw back his scruffy grey head and laughed, his little pink tongue hanging out. “But I don’t belong here, they told me to get out.”
“Then I’ll have to let you pass,” squeaked the gate grudgingly.
Tyke scuttled through, ran up the hill, rounded up the sheep and penned them in the fold. Next, he ran to the well.
“No water, no water!” cried the well. “No water for anyone belonging to this farm.”
“That’s all right then, because I don’t belong here,” said teeny, tiny Tyke. Then he hauled up the water bucket with the rope held between his teeny, tiny teeth.
Big brother Tom took water to the cows, little Peter carried a bucketful to the hens and Lucy took water to her mother so she could cook. In no time there was milk and eggs on the kitchen table and a stew bubbling on the stove.
Lucy picked Tyke up and gave him a hug. “Isn’t he clever?” she said to her mother. “Now he can stay, can’t he?”
Just then they heard the gate calling. “Look out, here comes the witch!”
Lucy was still hugging Tyke when her father, Tom and Peter ran in.
“Put me down, I have work to do,” said Tyke. “I’ll deal with the witch.”
“You!” said Lucy’s father scornfully, “you couldn’t outwit her – not in a million years.” But Lucy believed in Tyke and let him out.
The witch was so angry, she was spitting. Her temper had changed from sour jealousy to burning fury. Her broomstick knew better than to dawdle when she was in this kind of meed, it had brought her down so fast that the earth scorched where she landed. She began to walk around the farmhouse waving her arms and chanting a spell to keep everyone inside until she released them.
“And that’ll be never!” she cackled at her own cunning plan.
“That’s where you’re wrong!” said teeny, tiny Tyke. “I’ve followed behind you every step of the way, brushing your footprints out with my teeny, tiny tail. I’ve broken the spell.”
The witch’s face went rigid with fear. “You’ve ruined it, you horrid little grey mutt,” she cried. “Shoo, scat!”
“No – you go or I’ll bite you and drain all your power.” He began to run after the witch, snapping his teeny, tiny teeth.
The witch was furious, but she knew she was beaten. Muttering and grumbling, she leapt back on her broomstick and flew away.
“And that’s the last time she will trouble you,” said teeny, tiny Tyke.
“Well done, you clever dog, come indoors,” said Lucy.
“You said I don’t belong,” said teeny tiny Tyke.
“We want you to live with us,” said little Peter.
“But I’m ugly and scruffy, said teeny, tiny Tyke.
“A stout heart’s worth more than a pretty face,” said Lucy’s mother, “come, sit by the hearth.”
“But I’m too small to be any use,” said teeny, tiny Tyke.
“Good things come in small parcels,” said Lucy’s father. “You proved that.”
“I need a friend,” said Lucy, “please stay Tyke.”
“Oh, very well,” said the little dog, “I’ll stay for Lucy’s sake, and in case the witch tries to come back.”
But she never did. Teeny, tiny Tyke lived on the farm and made himself useful. He was Lucy’s best friend. He followed like a shadow when she was at home, he walked her to school and was always waiting when she came out. At night he slept curled up at the foot of her bed. He and Lucy were very content.
“This is the life for me,” said teeny, tiny Tyke.
This was piece of fiction created by my mother with editorial input by me
The strongest influence over every element in this book is an appreciation of beauty. Its inextricably woven around the passions of the people who live within its pages and it bursts out of the beautiful, vivid descriptions of art, horticulture and architecture which are intrinsic in telling the story.
It’s a rolling family saga, which begins at a pivotal, dramatic moment; feted artist Ned Horner, struggling with grief and the Spanish flu (which was sweeping the country) destroys his most famous painting, The Garden of Lost and Found, to the horror of his wife Lydie, and renders them bankrupt.
It leaps from early 1900s to 2014, introducing Juliette, Ned and Lydie’s great granddaughter. She’s a fine art expert whose life is made chaotic by the juggle of motherhood and work within the confines of a failing marriage. Barely keeping her own head above water, she is ill equipped to support her eldest daughter who is struggling with her own issues.
As the book continues, rolling back to Edwardian times so that the Juliette’s ancestry can be explored, it reveals a tight knit family bond is between two Desart sisters and their brother, pitting themselves against abuse at the hand of their twisted, vengeful governess. Yet despite some desperate moments love blossoms and their lives are touched with its beauty. Young artists and architects cling together, forming a supportive network, gradually eking out some success to enhance their lives.
Returning to the present, Juliette’s life changes quite dramatically as the result of events out of her control. On many occasions it’s unclear if she’s made sound choices for herself and her young family. However returning to the ancestral home seems to have a draw she’s powerless to resist, the house itself seems to possess healing properties for Juliette’s family, as does the gradual sweeping away of anything which conceals the real truth.
I loved the author’s descriptive passages relating to the beautifully detailed arts and crafts interiors and the gloriously vibrant borders and lawns which surround Nightingale House, finding them both soothing and uplifting to read. A counterbalance to witnessing Juliette’s struggles with choking weeds, heating bills and stopping tiles sliding off the roof in her efforts to restore the place to some of its former glory. What secrets will be uncovered and which relationships will survive the transformation?
This was an epic saga told with great pace and appreciation for setting as well as characters and action. I always enjoy stories which take the reader back in time to shed light on the present. This had plenty of likeable players with twists and turns to keep me entertained: giddy highs and crushing lows. However, with relatable inevitability, life moves on, love supports and secrets never remain entirely hidden.
Content Warning: This book contains themes of child abuse, social media bullying, and tragedy.
I listened to this novel on Audible but it can be purchased from booksellers too.
A Short Science Fiction story written by Guest Author: Pamela Cleaver This story was penned in the 1970s – more innocent times. Sci-Fi was in its infancy and much of the technology is out of date. Originally published in an Anthology entitled Space 2
Inspector Deeping was worried: it had been happening for a fortnight now and he couldn’t understand it. If Everington had been a big city, it would have been understandable. Muggings, vandalism and other crimes of destructive violence happened all the time in cities, but Everington was a suburban district which had only recently developed from a village to town status by the addition and accredition of various housing estates.
His first thought, when the crime figures for his normally peaceable area went rocketing up, was that some criminal element had moved onto one of the newer estates, but he had immediately checked and found it was not so. There were one or two bad eggs in the new batches, but they soon proved they were not involved in Everington’s new crime wave.
The other thing that troubled him was the description of the criminals; in the few cases where they had been seen, they did not appear to conform to any known group. Threee elderly people had been knocked down and rendered unconscious – straight-forward muggings, Inspector Deeping had thought, except that the victims had not been robbed and the crimes seemed gratuitous and motiveless. From the description of the assailants, seen in the half dark, he had built up a curious picture. It seemed they were young people (no-one was sure if they were boys or girls) their hair was long, the locks dyed a mixture of green and blue. They wore silver trousers, jackets and boots. It sounded even stranger than the usual weird teenage gear.
Then there were four telephone boxes that had been smashed up, and six automatic vending machines that had been battered. The blue and green haired boys seemed to be involved in some cases, but in others there were some even stranger characters : shaven-headed hooligans dressed in scarlet robes.
“Are you having me on?” Inspector Deeping asked Sergeant Peel severely when he brought the reports in.
“No, honestly sir, that’s what the woman said who saw them running away. I asked her the same thing. Thought she might have been …” and he tilted his wrist to signify drinking, “but she was sober as a judge, and swore that was what they looked like.”
Inspector Deeping sucked on his pipe sceptically, but put the reports in his file. If they were not logical, he wondered where the strangely garbed youngsters were coming from. He asked his car patrols whether they had seen any groups coming into Everington from outside the district on motor bikes or in jalopies. But they had seen nothing unusual over the past two weeks. Not really surprising, he said to himself cynically, Everington was the sort of place you went away from, not came to.
He decided the only thing to do was to consult an expert, and who would be more knowledgeable about teenage behaviour than another teenager? So after supper, he took Tim, his seventeen-year-old son, for a walk.
“I want to pick your brains,” he told him and Tim came willingly, flattered to be consulted. “I want to know about any groups round here who dress in a special way,” he said.
“What – like the Skins in their bovver boots, or the Angels in their leather jackets?” asked Tim.
“That’s the sort of thing,” said Inspector Deeping, “but we know about them, though. Are there any new groups?”
Tim shrugged. “The Skins have mostly grown their hair, they call them Suedeheads now, you know, and they don’t wear bovver boots, they’re into crepe-soled boots with wedge heels. The Angels are still around, but not much in Everington.”
“Most of the kids are into embroidered denim, but that’s general,” said Tim, “not any special group. There aren’t really any gangs in Everington.”
Inspector Deeping made much of lighting his pipe before he asked his next question. “What would you think of chaps with their hair dyed green and blue, wearing silver jeans, silver jackets and silver boots?”
Tim breathed a great sigh of admiration. “Wow, way out – like intergalactic, man!”
Deeping tried not to smile. “Intergalactic – that’s a new one on me.”
“It’s even further out than way out,” said Tim patiently, “it’s the ultimate.”
“I see, but do you know about this group with the silver gear?”
“No,” said Tim, “but I wouldn’t mind!”
“I don’t advise it,” said his father repressively, “they’re in big trouble. Look Tim, you don’t mind me asking all this?”
The boy shook his head.
“Well there’s another group even odder. They wear scarlet robes and have shaven heads. Do you know them?”
“Nope,” said Tim, “but they don’t sound very turned-on. Say Dad, are you really looking for kooks like this, or are you putting me on?”
The Inspector shook his head. “I said almost the same ting to Sergeant Peel when he told me about them. I really have got problems dressed in those clothes. Do one thing more for me Tim? Keep your eyes open at the Youth Club, will you?”
Henry Potstam was a very pampered dog. He lived in a large house in a smart area of London. His owners didn’t have any children, Henry was their baby and they made no excuses for that.
Everyday their maid would take Henry Potstam for a walk. His master and mistress worked and so this broke up his day until they were at home. It allowed him to stretch his legs and catch up with any ‘messages’ left on lamp posts and walls by other dogs in the neighbourhood. Henry was a west highland white terrier, whose sense of smell was very keen. His almost black eyes were bright and alert and he enjoyed sniffing the trunks of any trees planted in the pavements en route to the park near his home.
Because Henry Potstam was a ‘gentleman’, he had a coat which he wore when he went out. His dog jacket was tartan, it slipped over his head, covered his back and fastened round his ribs but, most importantly, it had a pocket. Henry was such a pampered dog that he had an allowance. So the maid would put one penny of this into his jacket pocket every day before they set off on their walk.
London parks can be very beautiful, with paths through grassy spaces and avenues of trees. There are often benches dotted about and large beds of flowers known as herbaceous borders. In 1950s London, when this story takes place, parks also looked good because litter was confined to ornate wrought iron receptacles and an army of gardeners kept the bushes and flower beds maintained.
The maid enjoyed her leisurely walk with Henry. As they left the house at the same time every day, they saw a lot of familiar faces. She stopped and talked briefly to a few friends but did not dawdle, as this was Henry’s walk and he was keen to get to the shop.
A bell rang once the heavy door of the tobacconist shop opened. Henry and his walker were well known, they visited every day. Henry walked around the counter to get his usual fuss from Mr Crawford the owner. Having bent down to greet the dog and issue an ear rub, Mr Crawford would enquire whether the maid needed any shopping. In those days shops were not self service and to serve her, he would have lifted down jars to weigh out dry goods: toffees or sugar or whatever she needed. Once the maid had made her purchases Mr Crawford could turn his attention to his 4-legged customer.
“So Henry, is it the usual?” he would enquire.
Not needing an answer, he would bend down to remove the copper penny from Henry’s coat pocket to exchange it for a bar of chocolate. A penny bar of chocolate was small and fairly basic, “marching chocolate” it bore a historical picture of a soldier on it’s foil wrapper. In the 1950s nobody knew that chocolate was not suitable for dogs and this was Henry’s treat.
If the weather was fine, Henry and the maid would leave the shop so she could sit on a park bench to feed him his chocolate. If there was rain or snow, then Mr Crawford would unwrap the treat for Henry and he’d eat it in the shop, before walking happily back through the avenue of trees and along the pavements to his home.
This is a true story, perhaps the names have been changed to protect the innocent! My mother worked for Henry Potstam’s owner and this was one of my favourite of her annecdotes, as she relayed it to me.
What to do when you don’t hear from a ‘virtual’ friend
We are more than a year into the pandemic that is Covid19, and sentenced to being housebound for months, many of us socialised virtually. Talking to friends through DM chats or using our screens and smart speakers to both see and hear friends and family from whom we were socially distanced filled a gap.
But what to do if you ONLY know your friend through social media and they go quiet, what do you do to find out how they are, if they are have caught the virus or become unwell in another way?
Some people do not use their real names on social media – Penguin44 or Book_crazy (fake examples). How do you check on them when all you have is their pseudonym, and your regular conversations with the person suddenly stop: everything goes quiet?
This has happened to me 3 times since the pandemic and it’s pretty worrying. Each time it happened, I tried every avenue through which I had ever communicated with my virutal friend (e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp). When I received no response I had to cast my net wider still – begging information from others who might know the missing person as well as or better than me. I shrugged on my Miss Marple cardi and twinned it with some creepy stalker tendencies and pumped their other friends and social media home pages for information.
The first friend who went silent, I’ll call Buzz. When I tracked him down it turned out that he had indeed contracted Covid19 – someone in his family worked in a hospital. Eventually Buzz felt well enough to answer e-mails and replied to me that he was recovering – which was a huge relief, although the poor guy seems to be suffering long covid, because he’s still not up to full energy.
Going AWOL at the same time as Buzz was another good friend I’ll call Meredith. I didn’t push quite so hard with e-mails to Meredith, because she had previously told me that social media sometimes overwhelmed her and so her response was to leave it alone for a while. Eventually I heard, through a mutual friend, that Meredith was fine. I assume she has cut a lot of her previous ties with virtual friends to maintain good mental health. It’s a shame to lose contact with her, but she must do what is best for her survival.
A more recent concern has been my transatlantic friend Hal, who I value greatly. One minute he was posting pictures and cheeky tweets, next minute silence. It was so out of character for Hal that others he knew slid into my DMs to ask if I knew where he had gone and was he ok?
I know Hal’s real name so I had the advantage of using 2 different e-mails to try contacting him, but the silence went on a long time. I looked back to when we had last spoken: I had been suggesting a writing prompt to him and he said “maybe later, I’m very busy at the moment.”
I wanted the reason for Hal’s silence to be that he was too busy to speak to me, or that he was visiting family without such good internet connection as when he was at home. I invented innocuous reasons why he’d gone incommunicado.
Unfortunately I discovered that Hal had been taken seriously ill. He’d been admitted to hospital and was surrounded by family but they were keeping things private. As he began to recover I assumed he was not yet well enough to use a tablet or other technology to chat with friends. I know I struggle to remember all my different logins and passwords, so I cant think how I’d manage if my health took such a sideswipe. That’s when I began to send him get well cards & cheery letters, thinking perhaps someone could read them to him, and they might boost his morale.
Despite the dire news, I gleaned small comfort from having the facts about why he was off line. Thank goodness I knew someone who had been trusted with his mobile phone number so they were up-dated and could pass messages to Hal’s friends.
Now from his FB account, I can see he is making gradual, but steady progress. He is working towards regaining the range of movement he lost. Hal sent me a message of emojis in the other day. A tiny thing like that made my heart soar.
My friends are very important to me, especially the close ones in whom I confide and who know about my writing and my pen name. I like to support and cheerlead them and believe that they, likewise, have my back.
Lets continue to be kind to one another, keep in touch and hopefully, now that the vaccines are rolling out to all age groups, we can look forward to seeing those friends (if they live within reach) in person very soon!
It is a fact of life that we will encounter death. Before our own time is up, we have to deal with losing people around us and it is a bitter pill to swallow. The loss of someone who you have loved, who’s been an positive influence and a cornerstone in your life is particularly hard, but your happy memories will buoy you up. Cling onto those memories, look back on good times and funny things they did or wise advice they gave to help move forward, gradually you’ll pull yourself out of the quagmire that is grief. You won’t forget and the gap that signifies their absence doesn’t close, but it becomes easier to bear.
At this moment in time, the house where my mother and father lived for the last phase of their lives, is up for sale. My siblings and I have taken away what is precious to us, pictures and papers and furniture to hold their memories safe. It has been hard to dismantle their happy home and consign it to boxes, especially as the Covid lockdowns have meant that we could not always be together during the process, but when we could the oral history was rich. We talked about incidents from our shared past and enjoyed looking back at our younger selves and the care and love our parents bestowed on us.
In the deep-clean of possessions that’s been forced on us, things have come to light which were forgotten or perhaps not even known by us. Some unpleasant, but many were good. I have now taken custody of my father’s scrapbooks and my mother’s diaries and photo album – their rich history will be safely stored.
I came across this message and an account in my mother’s words, shared with Jennifer Crusie‘s “Cherries” – a group of romantic writers – about how my parents met. I want to others to read it, because it holds so much positivity – we can all benefit from that.
— * — * —
Hey, all you youngsters of 50 and 60, I’m here to tell you that in your seventies, love and romance don’t stop – at least they haven’t stopped yet for me. (This was shared with the goup only a couple of weeks before she died).
— * — * —
Ok, this was back in the 50s, I was invited to a 21st birthday party, ball gowns and black tie. I wasn’t keen to go. In those days I was very shy and thought I wouldn’t know anyone. My mother urged me to go. I put on my favourite ball gown and the zip up the back broke.
“There you are, I can’t go,” I said to my mother.
She went to my cupboard and got out another dress, threw it over my head and zipped it up quite viciously.
“Yes, you can. You are to GO! If you hate it after half an hour, ring me and I’ll come and fetch you.” So I went. And stayed.
When I got there, this handsome guy was surrounded by a bevvy of giggling girls who obviously fancied him like mad. I did too, but I wasn’t going to let him see it. I asked someone who he was and was told he was the most fun guy in the room. I was determined not to be impressed.
When he asked me to dance, I said, “I hear you’re great fun, so scintillate.” Wind taken out of his sails. He grinned ruefully, and we kept on dancing.
Later in the evening he asked if he could take me home. Damn, I thought, I had already agreed to let someone else take me home so I turned him down. I was really disappointed because I would have liked to have gone with him. But as it turned out it was a good move. He had an old fashioned sense of honour and respected the fact that I wouldn’t go back on my word.
We started going out together and he was everything I ever wanted in a man. We married when I was 22 and he was 23 and have been together through thick and thin ever since.
— * — * —
My mother was evacuated from London to Exmoor to avoid the bombing in WWII. She was lucky enough to go with my grandmother and they lived on a dairy farm. Once my father retired my parents chose to settle in a very rural part of Norfolk and, with us four children grown up and making families of our own, she had more time to pursue her writing. This poem she wrote in 1993 celebrates the joy she found in this simpler life. We read it at her funeral in 2005.
BookReview : To Kill a Kindom by Alexandra Christo
I’m a fan of YA novels, I enjoy the fresher viewpoint and the additional turmoils that are experienced by a younger, less experienced protagonist.
This novel is based on a traditional fairytale but it takes a different direction from the outset. Mermaids are portrayed as calculating and vicious, to build their power they benefit from stealing human hearts. Using their mesmerising siren song, they lure their prey.
The Sea Queen is feared and revered by her subjects, choosing to channel her toughest challenges and most cruel punishments at her daughter, Princess Lira. When she transforms Lira to human form, robbing her of the ability to sing, Lira questions whether her agenda is to make her daughter the most feared Siren or to prevent her from becoming a rival?
Prince Elian is highly reluctant to shoulder his royal duties, preferring his life on the ocean with a motley crew whose loyalty is balanced by its ferocity. Despite being heir to the throne of the most powerful kingdom, he’s in his element hunting sirens, and despite the danger he uses his blue blood as bait.
This book’s plot is thick with political intrigue and danger, a challenging quest for an item which might only exist as legend. The Prince must barter and bargain; deciding who to trust will not be easy when most creatures he encounters have their own agenda.
Lira, in the hated body of a human, has much to learn about our values of loyalty and love. If she intends to be returned to her original form, she has a task she must complete before the winter solstice, which involves an impossible choice for which the clock is ticking.
I listened to this book on Audible, a 2-voice narration of the male and female protagonists really brought the story alive. I’ve downloaded another by this author, because I particularly enjoyed their treatment of the original folk tale.
A continuation from Ted’s story where we meet Madge and her new partner Ronnie entering a dance marathon- read it 1 here and inspired by some family photographs I recently found – the lady is my Great Aunt.
Madge felt she could sleep for days, and perhaps she would’ve if she lived somewhere else; instead she was brought rudely to wakefulness by the clanking sound of the plumbing, protesting at her neighbours’ requirement for water with which to flush, shave, bathe and cook. All around her, apartment doors were opening and closing, feet clattering on the winding staircase. The street door slammed frequently as those living hugger mugger, having made their morning ablutions, set off to work.
She threw an arm over her face, shielding her eyes from light streaming in through her narrow window, but even that limb felt leaden. Madge’s legs were worse, her knee and hip joints screamed from overuse while her feet were throbbing as insistently as when she’d slipped off her dancing shoes the night before.
But we won! She reminded herself, then rolled stiffly over to check the money was still stashed safely under her mattress, folded into her winter muffler.
Now she was wide awake, her mind began gnawing at the problem of their next competition. White City Amusement Park was a step up, but pretending to be married – that didn’t sit easily with her. Ronnie was a dreamboat, for sure, but what did she really know about him except that he came from Cleveland?
They were meeting at the diner for lunch, she could put him through the hoops then, find out his intentions and prospects. Pulling the thin blanket over her head to cut out the light, Madge was determined to grab another hour of rest now the building was more or less empty and the water tank was silent.
* * *
Yeah he was cute. Madge smiled at Ronnie as he approached her and slid into the booth.
“Morning,” he smiled, acting as bashful as she felt.
Strange, they’d danced together for nearly four days, held each other close, offering support to one another as fatigue made their limbs sag like cooked spaghetti. Now they were giving each other sidelong glances and there was a silly grin on her face she couldn’t wipe off.
“What can I get you?” Their waitress looked tired, her apron bore a splash of gravy from today’s special, Irish Stew.
Ronnie looked expectantly at Madge, ladies first his eyes said, and she awarded him points for politeness.
“A plate of the stew please.”
“You want that with potatoes or cornbread?”
She chose potato, mopping up sauce with bread seemed unladylike, and she wanted Ronnie to think of her as a lady.
Ronnie ordered the same, but with bread and collard greens.
“Coffee?” the waitress asked, and when they assented, she brought them large white cups which she filled to the brim.
Adding creamer and sugar, Madge found sipping at the hot drink revived her. It also gave her a chance to study Ronnie, to notice the velvet depths of his brown eyes and a cheek dimple when he smiled.
“So – what next?” she asked.
“Find a job I guess,” Ronald shrugged.
“What do you do?”
“I was training to be a butcher,” his eyes flicked to hers, gauging her reaction.
“So you’re planning to stay?”
“Why not? We’re good together, we got another competition coming up. We could make a go of this.”
He lowered his cup, leaning back as the waitress set wide brimmed bowls in front of them. The rich gravy steamed and settled round slow cooked carrots, beef and onions. Madge’s stomach growled loudly, and both of them laughed.
“So you plan to stay in Chicago?” she asked once she’d swallowed a few mouthfuls.
“Sure,” he nodded, “Can’t exactly travel back and forth.”
“What about what the promoter said – better if we were married?”
Ronnie chewed his mouthful maddeningly slowly, Madge’s toes curled in her shoes. Finally he raised his eyes to hers, dark brown meeting green with gold flecks.
“That wouldn’t be so bad.”
Her stomach gave a swoop worthy of a ride on the big dipper.
The sun was already at its height, yet they had put only 5 miles between them and danger.
Peelo, the dwarf, was beginning to tire: his short legs were not designed for running. Lisette was bronzed and fit but the scene at the stone sacrifice had shaken her badly and impaired her ability to think, she was relying on Peelo and Mikal to lead her to safety. Peelo knew the way to the castle and had promised he would take her there, Mikal had offered the protection of his sword. They all knew that on the way there would be many hazards.
“Let’s stop a minute,” Lisette said. “I’ve got a stitch.” She had seen the strained expression on the dwarf’s face and knew he needed a respite, but would be too proud to ask.
Mikal looked up at the sun doubtfully. “We ought to press on if we’re to reach the castle before nightfall.”
“Only a moment,” Lisette pleaded. She rested against a rock and watched the dwarf drawing deep breaths. What a fool she had been to get caught; although she knew that there was an ever-present danger of Trogues jumping out and stealing unwary maidens for sacrifice, she had never thought it would happen to her: it was something that happened to other people. But this morning she had been captured and carried to the stone of sacrifice before she had time to give more than a few frightened squeaks of horrified protest.
The sun had shone on the glinting knives of her captors, and she could smell the blood of the previous sacrifice, making her believe her last hour had come. She had found herself regretting all the things she would never do, all the sights she would never see, when Peelo had flung himself into the midst of the gloating Trogues. In spite of his tiny stature, he had wrought destruction among them with his burling stick and thrown the ceremony into confusion.
While the Trogues’ attention was concentrated on Peelo, Mikal the warrior had sneaked up to cut her bonds and pulled her off the stone. At that, the Trogues had set up a fearful outcry but, between them, Peelo with his burling stick and Mikal with the two-edged sword, had cleared a path, leaving a heap of dead Trogues. Mikal had pulled her along in Peelo’s wake as the dwarf led the way full pelt towards the mountains.
Peelo had got his breath back. “Come on,” he said, “we’ve got to go. We’ll take this path,” he pointed to a narrow ledge that ran round the side of a rocky outcrop and seemed to lead to the summit of one of the major peaks.
“Must we?” Lisette asked fearfully. “I’m terrified of heights.”
“Peelo is right,” said Mikal, “if we take the lower road, we’ll be waylaid by the helio-monsters. I’ve used all my magi petards and only have my sword. It isn’t much defence against a helio-monster, and neither is Peelo’s burling stick.”
“But the high road goes through the Blurdles’ lands,” Lisette protested, “they’re almost as savage.”
“This is not the time to argue,” said Peelo, “just follow me. You ought to be thankful Mikal and I were passing and saved you from the Trogues. Rest assured, Mikal’s sword and my burling stick are equal to most hazards we could meet on the high road.”
Mikal turned to her. “Have you no weapons for attack or defence?”
“I’ve a cloak of invisibility here in my pouch. It can only be used three times before it loses its power, so we must save it for a real emergency.”
The journey along the high road was as difficult as Lisette had feared. A lightning bolt came down but luckily missed them. Twice they were attacked by marauding Blurdles, but Mikal’s sword was more than a match for their tiny darts.
At one awkward place, the ledge dwindled to almost nothing. Lisette was struck rigid with fear and took a careless step which nearly caused her to fall, but just in time Mikal’s strong arm bore her up.
Light was beginning to fade but the castle was in sight when Peelo, who was leading, turned and put a finger to his lips. He whispered that there was a sharp-eyed Mindeldrayg lying across the path which, if it saw them, would certainly sting them to death.
Lisette produced the cape of invisibility from her pouch and handed it to Peelo. The dwarf donned it and crept past the Mideldrayg. Once safely out of reach, he removed the cape, carefully wrapped it round a stone and threw it back to his waiting companions. It was deftly caught by Mikal who repeated the manoeuvre and then threw the cloak back to Lisette.
The dwarf and the warrior watched in horror as Lisette fumbled the catch. The cloak flew past her and floated away, down the side of the mountain. Lisette panicked. She tried to rush the Mindeldrayg, but it was no good. As soon as she came within the grey scaly creature’s sightline, she was done for. Its long tongue flicked out, puncturing the skin of her upper arm, injecting venom. She staggered and fell, crashing down the mountain to her death.
“It’s not fair,” Ellen whined at her brother once the die rolled to a stop showing a score of 1, which meant her health dropped to zero. “You always make me be the rotten maiden and it’s really hard for her to win.”
“Don’t be a sore loser,” he said scornfully, “you were Peelo as well. I was only Mikal.”
“And game master,” Ellen sulked. “It’s about time we tried another adventure. I’m sick of this one. Let’s start a campaign with different characters – and this time I refuse to be the damsel.”