Tuesday, 30 March 2010

From Blood and Gore to Suits and Bore?

There is nothing like a touch of Norovirus for making you stop and take stock.

When I was a child it was referred to as sickness and diarrhoea or gastroenteritis or “I told you not to eat all that chocolate.”

Last Friday around the stroke of midnight I fell onto the bottom of my bed after yet another dash to the bathroom and told my beloved I was dying. I’d had enough. I didn’t even worry about how they’d manage without me. I just wanted to sleep.

The next day I stayed in bed all day. And the next. It seems ridiculous to be so exhausted, but that is why it is also known as stomach flu.

Lachlan has come down with it three times in as many weeks. He’d get over it, stay off school for at least the required 48 hours after last symptoms, go back to school, some other child would chuck up all over the classroom and lo and behold, he’d be ill again the next day then Imogen would follow. Why didn’t they close the school?

It’s been a horrible few weeks. The kids got it, their parents got it and I thought I’d escaped, but no. Today I read that the winter vomiting virus as it is quaintly known is growing more virulent and this year has been a bad one for it with about a million confirmed cases which is probably the tip of a very large iceberg.

When the virus first struck I took to my bed with a pile of books, magazines and DVDs I’ve been meaning to watch for years and thought I could savour the hitherto unexplored delights of daytime telly.


Did I read? Did I hell. Did I watch telly? Not on your nelly. How about the radio? I listened to it for about half an hour, but that was all I could manage.

How pathetic to not even have the energy to listen to the radio.

Weekends are my writing time. I lost the whole lot. I didn’t even manage any research. But – and there is always a silver lining isn’t there? – I planned out how I am going to redo my garden.

Languishing in a kind of sensory deprivation over the weekend, I started to write a novel in my head. Story ideas came to me, characters appeared and whispered in my ear and I walked through a summer landscape of buzzing bees and flowing meadows with coarse grass scratching my legs. No energy to write any of it down, but you can’t have everything.

And when I finally started to eat again yesterday it seems my taste buds have reawakened. Things taste so much tastier. Water tastes so fresh and clear. Oh and talking about silver linings – I managed to lose 6 lbs over two days.

A major worry has been passing it on to the other four in this house. So far touch wood I'm the only one. I hope it stays that way.

I made it downstairs last night to watch some telly with the family. I caught up with the recording of Embarrassing Bodies and then watched the Battle of the Chancellors which I hadn’t planned to do. From blood and gore to suits and bore?

Actually I found the whole thing very interesting although I’ve read reports that say it was boring. I think sometimes elections are not so much about who you like, but which party you think will do you the least damage as an individual and to the country as a whole. Watching the debate hasn’t changed my mind about who I shall vote for, but it has strengthened my resolve about who I will not be voting for.

And what about The Bill? I couldn’t believe it when I heard it was being axed. I don’t know the full details as I’ve been out of the loop since last Thursday, but I imagine it is to make room for more programmes like I’m A Has Been Let Me Get My Face On Telly Before I Fade Into Total Obscurity While I Dance With Someone Who Wants To Be In A Musical On Ice Before We Clean Your House Come To Dinner And Sort Out Your Finances After Painting The Bathroom And Selling Off The Family Silver.

Pah. I suppose there should have been some sort of punctuation in that. But I can't be bothered.

If I sound cranky it's because I am. I've got to have a filling tomorrow.

This is probably my last foray into Blogland for a while. My granddaughter Roxanna is coming to stay over Easter Weekend and I intend to enjoy every minute.

I hope it’s stopped raining by then and I hope you have a very Happy Easter whatever you are doing.

Friday, 19 March 2010

May I Suggest . . .

I’m being a lazy blogger and having indulged my need to tell Zulu’s story since it isn’t one for the women’s magazines, let me direct you to some interesting posts.

You may already have visited them, but if you haven’t, they’re worth a look.

First, Bridge House are bringing out a charity anthology, Gentle Footprints in support of Born Free.

Debz Hobbs-Wyatt has posted on the Gentle Footprints blog about Animals and the Travel Industry.


Secondly, Olivia Ryan (Sheila Norton) is asking for help with a poll – short fiction to long. Please pop along and visit her.


Lynne Hackles tells us about a charity Fresh Start Foundation which helps children in the Gambia.


One of the things I love about Blogland is the sharing of news, views and appeals for help.

My First Dog

When I was about 18 months old my mum heard of a brindle boxer (also about 18 months old) in need of a home. He lived with his father and the two dogs did not get along – in fact their owner feared the father might seriously injure the younger dog.

I remember sitting in my pushchair outside the house with my Aunty Emmy (not a real aunt but my godmother) as my mum walked up to the front door.

The door opened and a huge ferocious looking dog was barking and being held back. “That’s your new dog,” Aunty Emmy said. It wasn’t. It was his father. I think she may also have made a remark about my mum being out of her mind. She wasn’t!

Zulu was a gentle, loving, kind dog. I can still remember how it felt to hug him, how his fur felt, how he smelled, how soft and velvety his beautiful black face was.

When he was 5, Zulu started having fits. The vet came and told my mum that he had no hope of getting better and the kindest thing would be to have him put to sleep.

These days I am sure something could have been done for him, but back then there was no choice.

All I remember is seeing my dad cry for the first time in my life. My mum and my older sister were inconsolable.

I watched as my dad and Pop carried Zulu’s body up the garden wrapped in a white sheet. I wasn’t crying. I was confused.

I vividly remember everyone being so upset and I remember seeing them carrying his body away, but I don’t remember what happened next. Perhaps it was because what I found out was more traumatic than my dog being put to sleep.

Our neighbour was out in his garden and he saw me heading up the steps with my beach spade clasped in my hand.

“Where are you off to?” he said.

“My dog went to sleep and they’ve buried him and now I’m going to dig him up so he can wake up.”

He alerted my mum and I was stopped. It had to be explained to me properly that he was dead, he wasn’t coming back, he was asleep forever. Dead.

I still cry if I think about Zulu’s life being cut so short. It is no surprise to me that research by insurance company More Than has found that the death of a pet is akin to losing a close family member because to most of us, that is exactly what they are, a member of the family.

Monday, 15 March 2010

A Dark and Desperate Place

Harwich has a number of interesting and unique buildings and the Treadwheel Crane is one of them. As far as I know this is the only existing example of a two-wheel man operated treadwheel crane in the country.

It is known that the Romans used treadwheel cranes in 25 BC. And they were widely used in the Middle Ages.

It was built in 1667 when Samuel Pepys (who as well as writing lots in his diaries was also in his time MP for Harwich, Master of Trinity House, Naval Administrator and a bit of an all round naughty boy with the ladies) was charged with expanding the naval dockyard at Harwich ready for war with the Dutch.

1667. That is a year after the Great Fire of London when Mr Pepys famously buried his cheese. The year that John Milton sold the copyright of Paradise Lost for a tenner and the Dutch sailed up the River Medway burning Sheerness and raiding the Chatham dockyards before making off with the royal barge.

Charles II was on the throne fathering children willy nilly, posing for pictures with his spaniels and yet to meet the actress Nell Gwyn.

It was still in operation during WWI. The naval dockyard closed in 1928 and the crane was moved to Harwich green to stand on the site of the Queen’s Mount Battery.

It cost £392 to build and was in service for more than two and a half centuries. That’s pretty good value for money I’d say. But what about the other costs, the hidden ones?

The two wheels inside are made of oak and 16ft in diameter. They are attached to an axle around which the lifting chain is wound. The chain goes along the jib.

But what do I find most interesting about the crane? The fact that there is no brake. They had a piece of wood – a piece of wood! – to act as an emergency brake if required.

Of course this depended upon there being someone handy to use the piece of wood if needed. If the load took command – well you don’t need much imagination to realise what would happen to the man in each wheel.

When I was a child there was no fence around the crane – or if there was, it was easy to get inside (I was very young and can't remember if there was a fence or not). You can go in there now by prior arrangement with the Harwich Society, but the time I got in there as a child has lived with me and I have no wish to go inside again.

I still shudder when I think of it. And when I was there this morning taking photos for this blog, I still had the overwhelming feeling of darkness around it despite the bright sunshine.

Being blessed with an over-active imagination all those years ago I thought I could smell the sweat, feel the heat and hear the shouts of the men that used to work in the wheels. I still can.

It is an interesting thing, but for me it is a menacing place, the stuff of nightmares.

And for anyone with eagle eyes, you will see a tall lighthouse and a short lighthouse lurking in the photos. They are another pair of “leading lights”. The wooden predecessor of the short lighthouse was immortalised by John Constable in 1820 – that would be some 150 years after the treadwheel crane was built and more than a hundred years before its final retirement.

And the big cranes in the background of the first picture are at Felixstowe. How times have changed.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Real But Not Real

I have a story in this week’s Take a Break about a pushy granny. Regular readers of this blog may recall that I encountered such a woman last year. My beloved read it and said “I know what inspired that, but the real woman was much worse than the granny in your story.”

Yes, I think she was and I toned her down. But fiction isn’t real life. It has to sound real, but it doesn’t have to BE real. Sometimes real just doesn’t cut it – real is too unbelievable.

Fate gave me my character; all I had to do was provide her comeuppance.

Sometimes I am asked what inspired a particular story and it is unusual for me to be able to say precisely what it was, but Granny did – thank you Granny!

More about writing - my lovely daughter got me and my beloved tickets to see Julian Clary doing his Lord of the Mince tour again (she took me last May when he was doing a pre-tour show). My other half wore his best shoes in case he got called up on stage – he didn’t, bless him, but I think that even he, shy retiring soul that he is, would have enjoyed the experience. I know I would.

In the souvenir brochure – which has some pictures of gorgeous Julian that I could look at all day - Julian talks a bit about writing. He doesn’t plot his novels. He doesn’t know how they are going to end until he gets to the end.

When I read that I could have jumped for joy. I’ve tried plotting things in many different ways. Notebooks, large sheets of paper covered in lines and circles, index cards, folders stuffed with photos and profiles, folders containing folders on my desktop, even people cut out of catalogues!

All too often I find that if I know how a story is going to end, I lose interest. I work better without a plot. Yes and there are those who know me who would say I’d lost the plot years ago. It took me ages to find the ending for my granny and it wasn’t easy, but once it fell into place it was as if it had always been meant to be that way.

Anyway, something rather horrible happened this week. Not horrible in an earth shattering people died kind of way, but horrible in a gut wrenching it made me cry and I can’t stop thinking about it because it’s haunting me kind of way.

I was going to blog about it, but I’m working it into a story instead. In that sense I find writing can be very therapeutic. Sometimes it takes me years to write about something bad that happened. I still haven’t been able to write about my dog Sweep dying eight years ago. But something happened after he died and it is something I must write about one day.

Sorry if this all sounds a bit mysterious, but I find the minute I open my big mouth and start talking about a story, I might just as well dig a hole, bury it and forget about it.

And for no other reason than I’ve been thinking about him recently and I still miss him and he was one of my best friends ever this is Sweep.


Saturday, 6 March 2010

100 Stories for Haiti

What can I say. Six weeks after Greg McQueen woke up and decided to do something, it’s here. The book. It’s REAL. I’ve been dipping in and out and there is a fantastic variety of stories in there – all sorts and styles.

But six weeks! I still can’t believe it. From conception to birth in one and a half months.

I’d been watching the news when Greg’s call came – horrified, upset, wanting to DO something other than just sit and watch and feel guilty about moaning about a bit of snow that had caused – well no more than minor disruption. I suspect that’s how most people felt.

The images stay with us don’t they? Most of us will never see tragedy first hand on such a huge scale. And it’s easy to push those images to the backs of our minds as other news takes over. But in Haiti the tragedy goes on.

Estimates of how many people died vary, but the figure seems to be somewhere between 220,000 and 300,000.

Over 300,000 people were injured.

And over a million people are homeless and of those less than half have a tent or tarpaulin for shelter. And it is coming up to the rainy season. In about three months the hurricane season will begin.

You don’t need much of an imagination to think of people who have lost everything, not just homes, but whole families. And now they are living in crowded, unsanitary conditions. Just makes you stop and think doesn't it - after everything they've been through so many people still don't have the luxury of a scrap of material over their heads to keep the rain off.

It rather puts things in perspective doesn't it.

Okay, buying a book isn’t going to make it better, but as they say, Every Little Helps.

The book is available direct from Bridge House, in bookshops, online stores and as an e-book from smashwords.