Wednesday 29 July 2009

Trains and cows and trains

Had a lovely day out today with two of my grandchildren at the Colne Valley Railway at Castle Hedingham.

We’ve often driven past it, but never made the trip there before.

I wasn’t expecting to spend long there – I thought a steam train and a diesel train, one go on each and a look round the farm park and by then the kids would be bored and we’d be heading for home.


For the price of the entrance you have unlimited rides on the trains – true, they don’t go far, but it’s the experience that counts. And unlimited rides on the little miniature train too which was great fun.

What is amazing is that the whole thing has sprung up since 1974. It has a station, bridges – well everything you’d expect, but when they started there weren’t any buildings at all.

And what is lovely is how nice all the staff are. I didn’t see a single grumpy face and everyone was so nice to the kids.

We went round the farm park twice, watched pigs rolling in a muddy puddle and a frisky old bull wandering happily round a field full of cows!

I just wish I still had the energy/hips/feet to have spent longer.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Some Good News!

It was the last thing I thought of before going to sleep last night and the first thing in my mind this morning.

The five year old boy missing in Middlesborough.

They found him - eleven hours after he went missing. What his family must have been through in those eleven hours doesn't bear thinking about.

It is amazing the distances small children can travel and how quickly they can vanish.

I was reminded of a day at the beach when my two oldest children were aged 2 and 4. It was quite a busy day, lots of people about, but we found a quiet spot in front of the long row of beach huts.

I noticed a man leaning on the sea wall watching us. He made me feel uneasy. There was something about him at odds with the other people at the beach. I tried to tell myself he was just someone out for a walk, but he stood there watching my kids for far too long.

You just know when someone doesn't fit in don't you? When they don't feel right.

In the end I decided to pack up and go home. I dried my son off first and dressed him then I stood him beside his push chair and said, "Don't move." Yes I know, telling a two year old not to move - I should have known better.

I then dried and dressed my daughter. When I turned round, my son had gone. I ran up the steps just as he was about to walk through a gap in the beach huts much further along the prom - and right behind him was the guy who had been watching them.

That scene is imprinted on my memory like a photograph. I could even describe the guy to you, every thing he was wearing, his scruffy dark hair, his height - his caramel coloured leather jacket (on a hot day!).

I think everyone on the beach and prom heard me yell. Heads turned. Thankfully my son heard too - turned around and came back. The man hurried on through the gap and disappeared.

The thing is, if I hadn't looked up when I did, I wouldn't have known which direction he'd gone in or where to start looking. It makes my blood run cold when I think about it. And this happened when I was acutely aware of danger. I still managed to almost lose him.

Maybe the guy really was just an innocent bystander. But surely an innocent bystander on seeing a two year old wander off would have told the child's mother, not walked off after him.

Around that time a man had been approaching children outside my daughter's school. The police were "aware" of him.

Those few seconds have haunted me for years. The what ifs and what could have beens.

I was just so very glad when I heard the news that they'd found that little boy safe and well.

Sunday 26 July 2009

The Whitby Sheep

They shot the sheep.


I think it's a shame.


Maybe it’s just me, but the news seems to get more depressing by the day.

I’m not talking about the credit crunch or swine flu, but the seeming unwillingness of Anyone to do Anything these days.

The Whitby sheep is just an example. She’s stuck on a ledge on a cliff at Whitby where she has been for a month.

The Mail reports that locals have called her Aretha because Aretha Franklin sang “Rescue Me”. The Whitby Gazette told us a couple of days earlier that the crew of the ship that have been keeping an eye on her have called her Shaunetta. They seem to find it amusing!

So this poor sheep is stuck on a ledge – and who knows she may have been injured in her fall there. So who will rescue her?

The Coastguard and Lifeboat are waiting to be asked to rescue her by the RSPCA. The RSPCA – well they haven’t asked anyone to rescue her because although they are aware of her precarious position, they can’t do anything until a member of the public puts in an official complaint.

Yes, well I bet you’re sitting there with your jaw on your keyboard! I know I had to scrape mine up from the space bar.

And of course no one has come forward and claimed ownership of the sheep. I wonder why! That’s not a question by the way, I can well imagine why.

But what else can you expect from a country where it is considered acceptable to let people die while health and safety checks are carried out?

Never mind eh. Victoria Beckham has a new haircut, Katie Price has a new boyfriend and we’re all going to be taxed into oblivion if we can see a distant blob of sea from our bedroom windows.

Who cares about the plight of one sheep?

UPDATE: They are mounting a rescue operation according to the Whitby Gazette!

Wednesday 22 July 2009

In Memory of Cats

It is over a year ago since Sammy died. He was one month short of his 16th birthday and I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately.

Perhaps it was seeing the pictures of lovely cats on other blogs – or perhaps reading Claire Rayner’s autobiography where she talks about euthanasia.

I’ve always felt that we are kinder to animals than to people when it comes to the end of life. What happened to Sammy has made me think again.

He was named after Sampson the cat in the excellent Graham Oakley books about the Church Mouse which were a favourite with my kids – and me, and are now a favourite with my grandchildren.

This photo was taken the year before he died when for a brief period he was well and responding to treatment. It was the point when I thought he was going to be well again.

Until he was about 13 he’d never had a day’s illness in his life. He was one of those friendly cats who was happy to spend time sitting with other cats. He and his brother couldn’t stand the sight of each other though – they used to ignore each other most of the time and would give each other the occasional slap round the chops.

Then one day he didn’t come home for breakfast. Very unusual. He rarely went out at night at all and if he did, he was always home by the time we were up and about.

During the morning he came slowly up the drive, limping. We took him to the vet and she reckoned, judging by the tarmac under his claws, that he’d either been hit by a car or narrowly missed it.

We’d also noticed a small lump on his leg. It was decided to remove it and give his teeth a clean. I’d noticed too that he was getting skinny. He’d never been a plumptious cat, but he definitely seemed to be losing weight.

He got skinnier and skinnier and the vet suspected thyroid problems – common in cats of that age apparently. He was given blood tests and put on thyroid medication.

After about a year he started to get really sick. Stomach heaving, retching, throwing up, weight dropping off him. Again he went in to the vets and this time he was there for several days. They operated to see what was going on inside and found nothing.

One of the vets who had looked after him in the “hospital” told me she’d never met such a polite cat and how she was amazed that when they went to feed him, he would always offer his paw.

He was a gentleman. Gentle, sweet natured, not a mean bone in his body.

Over the months that followed I had to steel myself to give him his drugs. Thyroid medicine, stomach medicine, steroids . . . And anyone who has a cat knows how difficult it is. Trying to hold his frail body and put pills down his throat broke my heart – several times a day. Yet he never held it against me and never tried to hide from me. And he still purred.

I tried hiding his pills in his food, but he’d know and it would put him off eating what little he did eat. He got hiding them in his mouth off to a fine art and several seconds after I thought we were done, he’d shake his head, spit and I’d be dripping with half-dissolved Zantac.

Since he was diagnosed with an over active thyroid, he had been going to the vet for regular blood tests and to be weighed. He’d put on a couple of grams (celebrations!) and next time he’d have lost them again (misery). This became the pattern for the last year of his life.

He didn’t want to eat. I tried everything I could think of to tempt him. At his next check up, the vet found a lump in his abdomen. Once again I took him in for X rays. He had a tumour. Inoperable. He was put to sleep and when he came home, we buried him under the oak tree.

I often wonder about that last miserable year of his life. All those pills I had to give him which in the end made no difference, all the blood tests and visits to the vet he had to endure, the operations and X rays. He had no quality of life. He’d stopped going outside to sit in the sunshine and his life as it was consisted of sleeping, taking pills and nibbling half heartedly at his food.

Stupidly I kept hoping he would pick up and get better – that was certainly the impression I’d been given. That is what I thought it was all for. And I feel I let him down at the end - he should never have had to go through that final year. But hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it.

Eighteen months before we lost Sammy his brother Gizzie had died in his sleep. We came downstairs in the morning and it was just as if he was asleep, eyes shut, peaceful. It was a dreadful shock as he’d seemed perfectly healthy, but looking back I have only happy memories of him.

He used to run to greet me chirruping, then he’d stretch up on his back legs so I’d pick him up. He was cuddly and mischievous. He used to lie on the armchair waiting for a dog to walk past, then he’d reach out to catch a tail between his paws.

I have to look further back for happy memories of Sammy. Back to the days when he’d keep batting you with his paw so you’d stroke him. Or he’d play catch with a sweet wrapper and bring it back for you to chuck it again. He used to wrap his arms round my dog’s neck and kiss his face.
The day we first saw him when we’d gone to pick up two black kittens, he had come out from under the table and sat in front of my son swaying back and forth as if mesmerised.

I’ve always had a soft spot for ginger cats. I said to the woman I didn’t realise she had any ginger kittens. She said she hadn’t told me over the phone as she’d been planning to keep him, but . . . he’d obviously made up his mind where he wanted to be so she let us have him.

My first cat was a ginger cat. Leo. I can’t write about what happened to him now even though it’s been over 20 years. I’ve had just five cats in my lifetime and only had that final decision to make with one of them.

Leo – aged 13 – killed.
Star – lost at 1 year – missing.
Huggy – age unknown – went back to living wild aged 7 (he was born to a feral cat and never really seemed to settle to domestic life although he was very affectionate – he was called Huggy with good cause).
Sammy – age 15 – died at vets.
Gizzie – age 14 – died peacefully at home.

Will I ever get another cat? Probably not. There are other cats in the family so I still get cuddles. Do I miss having cats around the place – yes!

Am I in a sad reflective mood – you bet.

I have had this post drafted for a while, wondering whether to publish it or not. These aren’t the kind of things you can write about in a magazine short story – too downbeat. I agree. Who wants to read this sort of thing? No one.

And if you’ve got this far, thank you for listening to my miserable ramblings.

Saturday 18 July 2009

My Big Night Out!

On Thursday my daughter took me out for the evening. We went to the Colchester Arts Centre and saw Julian Clary doing his warm up for his Lord of the Mince tour which starts later this year.

I couldn’t believe it when she said she’d got tickets and was going to take me!

He is gorgeous! We saw him before the show without his make up and he’s even better looking in the flesh – and much taller than I imagined.

The show was brilliant. I didn’t stop laughing!

I’ve loved him since his Joan Collins Fan Club days when he used to appear with Fanny the Wonderdog. I warmed to him even more after reading his autobiography A Young Man’s Passage.

And his novel Murder Most Fab is a very entertaining read. I’m looking forward to reading his next one Devil in Disguise.

He’s very talented and not in the least bit up himself like so many celebs of his (and my) generation.

And I’m still smiling when I think of him!

Thursday 16 July 2009

Anti Plagiarism Day - 17th July

Read all about it on How Publishing Really Works –

My name is Teresa and I’ve been plagiarised – or perhaps I should say my work has been plagiarised.

Let me make one thing clear. I write for a living. It’s not a hobby or a nice little pastime; it’s a job of work. Okay, it’s a job that I enjoy, but it is a nerve twisting and precarious way to make a living, now more than ever.

And I know I go on about displacement activities, but I do work hard and when I found out someone else had earned money by passing my work off as their own, I was very upset.

Devastated in fact.

I won’t go into the rights and wrongs – well wrongs really because there are no rights – of plagiarism. There are others who can write far more eloquently about it than I can.

I was very lucky, I came out of the deal better off because I was able to prove it. But it’s left a niggling doubt behind. How many times might it have happened?

So you want to know what happened to me? I’m not sure of the ethics of naming names, so I’ll just say that about 8 years ago I received a magazine from overseas with one of my stories in it.

As I flicked through the pages an illustration caught my eye. It was a scene from another story of mine that had been published in the UK.

Wow, I thought, what a coincidence, that picture would perfectly illustrate my . . . by which time I’d started to read it and realised that the opening lines were very familiar.

I went cold. Then hot. Then cold again. I got out my copy and checked. Yes, it was my story word for word the same, but written with a by line I didn’t recognise. The thief (because that is what she was) had only changed the names.

I showed both copies to my husband just in case I was somehow imagining things (that is how much you doubt yourself!). He confirmed. Word for word the same.

Still I couldn’t believe it. There must be some mistake. I knew that I hadn’t submitted that story to the magazine myself because I didn’t submit stories I'd had in that UK magazine to that particular market.

So how had it got there? I had to read the whole story alongside my own copy before I convinced myself that it had really happened and wasn’t just some bizarre coincidence.

I actually felt sick.

And we writers sign all sorts of rights agreements. Luckily this one hadn’t breached any contracts, but what if it had? What kind of trouble could I have been in?

I’m a writer, of course I immediately start worrying about what ifs and maybes.

So what did I do? I emailed the publication concerned and told them what had happened. I should say I wasn’t angry about it – not with them anyway – I didn’t go steaming in all gung ho and oozing righteous indignation or anything like that.

I was worried more than anything. It doesn’t take much to worry me at the best of times.

They agreed that it was very worrying and asked if I could send them my copy of the published story, so I scanned the story from the UK magazine and emailed it to them.

They had other stories from the woman and sent them to me to see if I recognised them. I didn’t. When they contacted the woman she made a full confession and reimbursed what she’d been paid.

She’d sent in a lot of stories. All were suspect.

We agreed between us not to take the matter further as they felt it had been resolved and she wouldn’t do it again.

At the time I felt sorry for her. She said that she loved the stories so much she just wanted to write something similar.

Time has made me feel less sympathetic.

We all start out desperate to be published, but isn’t the whole point to have our own work published? I actually came out of it $800 better off because they paid me for a story they wouldn’t normally have even looked at.

I still remember her name. It’s imprinted on my memory!

Perhaps she subscribed to the idea that if you have a story published you are automatically made. Anything you write in future will be snapped up. Well it doesn’t work that way, love. If it was the case and I’d sold everything I’d written over the years, I’d be living out my retirement on an island in the Caribbean right now and not sitting here worrying about the ever increasing cost of living!

Well that’s my personal experience of plagiarism. And I can honestly say that it does hurt. I was lucky. I spotted it and I made money from it, but how can we be sure it hasn’t happened before and since – to any of us?

But what sense of satisfaction can the plagiarist have? Apart from the payment if they get any that is. All they have proved is that they can copy something. There’s no talent involved - none at all.

It must be so much worse when someone steals your unpublished work and passes it off as their own. At least I had concrete proof of what happened and I made on the deal.

So that’s it – my own personal experience.

Do link to HPRW where there are links to far better posts than this one!

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Liz Smith's Summer Cruise

Nanna in the Royle Family, Letitia Cropley in The Vicar of Dibley and if you want to go back a bit further through a long list, Mrs Brandon in I Didn’t Know You Cared. That is naming just a few of the programmes she’s been in.

Look her up on the IMDB and she is the first in a list of Liz Smiths. And I’m very glad they’ve put our national treasure at the top.

I caught the end of Liz Smith’s Summer Cruise on telly last night and I watched the beginning of it later on BBC iPlayer.

I don’t mind telling you I was in tears – but don’t get me wrong, she is not a sad lady at all. On the contrary. There is something about her that reminds me of my mum. She was born a year before my mum, so same generation I suppose.

It’s her dogged determination and her cheerfulness that got to me – that and watching her climb steps.

I read her autobiography Our Betty a while ago and found it (and her drawings) completely charming, just like Liz herself. She’s had it tough but there is not an ounce of self pity in her.

It’s sad that she had a stroke earlier this year and has announced her retirement. I would imagine during her time in hospital she was a perfect patient, unwilling to put anyone to any trouble and probably apologising for being a bother.

I’m now going to treat myself to Jottings: Flights of Fancy from Our Betty which is a book of her short stories.

Saturday 11 July 2009

The Youth of Today!

While walking my dogs, I have met some real nightmares masquerading as human beings.

Once I was shoved into a bush by the sheer volume of ramblers coming round a corner in the lane en masse. They were like an army of giant ants, striding along and they were not going to move to one side for anyone, least of all an innocent dog walker who wasn’t even properly dressed (sandals with no socks, a sleeveless top and jogging trousers – whatever next?).

It’s true! There is room in the lane to pass side by side, but you each have to give a little. I gave a lot, they gave nothing and they carried on walking past without even breaking their stride as I extricated myself from the brambles.

If nothing else they may have learnt a few new words that day!

I’ve nothing against ramblers. I daresay it is a pleasant pastime. You don’t see them round our way walking the paths when they’re knee deep in mud and overgrown with brambles and nettles though.

It is left to we dog walkers and the occasional hardy birdwatcher to walk the paths every day come rain or shine, keeping them open and walkable so that once a year a herd of ramblers can walk their walk unhindered by nature.

I’ll say it again, I’ve nothing against ramblers. It’s a free country so they say and they’re as entitled to their walk as anyone else. Individually they seem like very nice people, but together they seem to form some kind of collective – a bit like a rambling Borg and maybe if I hadn’t been pushed in the bush I would have been assimilated and be walking everywhere now with my trousers tucked into my socks and my map tucked into my belt!

Same with joggers. I meet some very nice joggers and I always put my dogs on leads so that they can run past without a dog attached to their bottoms. Occasionally they will say “Good morning,” or even “Thank you,” as they jog past. Sometimes they glare at you as you sink into the mud or teeter on the edge of the bank in your efforts to keep out of their way.

I am tempted so very tempted on such occasions to release the hounds and see just how fast the jogger can run!

I don’t particularly want thanks – one man was so grovellingly grateful it was downright embarrassing, but a smile or a nod as they pass by wouldn’t cost anything would it?

I’ve nothing against joggers either – I have on occasion jogged myself. But it’s the same with people on bikes . . . I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have been walking along the pavement with three dogs, a pushchair and a small child when one or more have come speeding up behind us making dogs and children jump! They don’t even slow down!

Again, nothing against cyclists. I used to cycle everywhere, but I used to do my cycling on the road.

Now see what’s happened? I came on here to write a short post about something that happened today and I’ve ended up having a long rant and I haven’t even got to the point yet.

I seem to be in Grumpy Old Writer mode!

And please if you ramble, jog or cycle don’t take this personally – I really don’t hold it against you for the rudeness of a few. I am all for live and let live and each to his own and all that.

The point is that today I was halfway round the big wheat field with the dogs when I saw two motorbikes coming up the side towards me. There isn’t room to pass side by side, but I managed to find a slightly wider spot and with the dogs on leads, stood out of the way.

Meanwhile, the motorbikes had done the same, pulled right over into the nettles and undergrowth and switched their engines off so as not to startle the dogs. So I hurried past them and they apologised for getting in the way!

It’s worth repeating – they apologised! And I thanked them – in fact I was in danger of being grovellingly grateful like the jogger . . .

They were two young lads. And when I come to think about it, most of those I’ve encountered on motorbikes have been very considerate, keeping as much out of the way as possible and even stopping to give me time to get my dogs on leads.

There have been a few scary moments with motorbikes, but they have been in the minority.

So this post is in praise of the youth of today! And it’s only taken me about 700 words to get to the point.

As this is supposed to be a blog about writing I’ll just mention a book I read recently.

It was The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell. It is a brilliant piece of social history with characters you come to care about. Written almost a century ago, it tells the story of working men - decorators.

The names of the characters are brilliant too. Almost picturesquely Dickensian. Names such as Councillor Didlum, Doctor Weakling and companies such as Smeariton & Leavit and Driver and Botchit.

It illustrates how much things have changed – and at the same time how some things will never change. I learnt a lot from reading it.

Writing? Yes, yes I know – it’s the weekend and my writing time – I’ll get round to it . . . eventually.

Friday 10 July 2009

Stop Me and Buy One!

Remember how the ice cream sellers in comics used to say that – or have it written on their bikes/vans whatever?

What’s that got to do with the price of charcoal briquettes? Nothing. I just thought it would be a good title for a post.

Anyway as usual this is going to be a bitty post because that best sums up how I’m feeling – bitty!

I spent part of last weekend away with my youngest son and his family which was lovely even though the little one had a virus, poor little mite.

Just don’t get me started on doctors wearing face masks and suggestions of swine flu . . . no really, don’t!

It was a normal week with Lachlan at playgroup for his usual four mornings. It’s his last week next week before the summer hols and then he’ll start big school in September.

I must just tell you. When I was on the park with the kids today a man cycled past with a yellow Labrador sitting in a box on the front of his bike.

He had another dog running alongside and when that dog stopped to do its business, he stopped too and I wondered how on earth he was going to manage to pick it up.

I still don’t know how he did it, but he managed to hold the bike upright with the dog still in the box, bend over and using both hands, picked up the poo (in a bag!)

As someone who struggles to handle three dogs and a poo bag, I had the greatest admiration for him. There’s no way I could handle a bike as well!

You see what happens when I hit the bottle on a Friday night? I start rambling and waffling. You probably lost the will to live after my mention of swine flu and went off ages ago to watch grass grow.

Just think yourselves lucky I deleted half of this before posting it!

Finally and if you’re still with me, watch out for Anti Plagiarism Day on the 17th July. You can read about it here,

I’m off to pour myself another big one, dig around in the freezer for a Cornetto and flop in front of the telly to watch House!

Writing? Yes, I’ll get round to it . . . eventually!

Sunday 5 July 2009

Very Little

Just a postscript (or maybe that should be postpost) to my last post really. I didn’t know until my son told me that thunderflies are thrips. I’d heard of thrips but never connected them with thunderflies.

And did you know that thrips is a word like sheep? Both singular and plural so even one on its own (as if) would be called a thrips.

I don’t mind them at all, even when they are in my photo frames and gathering in great numbers in the cobwebs (and thus drawing attention to them) – I don’t even mind the drifts of them on the window sills, but I do find it irritating when they are crawling about on my scalp and across my glasses. But they don’t bite or sting and as insects go are pretty benign.

They’re actually quite fascinating. I mean just imagine the size of a thrips egg for a start! And they have asymmetrical mouthparts with no right mandible. I looked them up on Google.

I also wondered how many we eat or inhale by accident and how many would you have to eat to get any nutritional value from them. Not that I should wonder about such things as I’m a vegetarian.

It’s still stiflingly hot. The trouble is we’re just not used to it – we’re programmed to sit huddled under umbrellas complaining about the rain and cold, particularly in summer! We could get used to the heat given time, but just about the time when we do, the weather will change and we’ll be moaning about having to turn the heating on again.

Which reminds me, I was reading reviews of some garden furniture on the Argos website and some reviewers were complaining that having bought their garden furniture, the weather had turned bad and they hadn’t been able to use it – and they had therefore had to give the furniture a low score.

We had a thunderstorm on Thursday night – I knew it was coming when I woke up with Tilly sitting on my head. For some reason she thinks she’ll be safe there. It gets very hot underneath 18 kilos of panting, panicking Springer spaniel!

And I have to pretend not to be scared for her sake. She doesn’t like loud noises bless her – unless she’s making them. There was a bluebottle in my bedroom this morning and while her brother tried to catch it, she hid under the bed.

I should get back to my story – the eleven lines I’ve written are looking a tad lonely.

Nothing Much

Before I even started writing this I was distracted by a pair of wood pigeons on a television aerial over the road. The male was doing all his stuff, putting on a show trying to impress the lady (and very showy it was) and she sat there watching him. Then as he moved closer, she hopped out of reach.

He didn’t give up though and kept on with his show, but just as he was about to cuddle up, she flew off and left him sitting there looking all embarrassed . . .

I ducked out of sight so he wouldn’t see that I’d witnessed it all. He sat shrugging his shoulders (he really was – either that or sobbing) then he had a good wash.

What was funny was that once he’d spruced himself up the female came back and said she’d changed her mind now he’d attended to matters of personal hygiene and he looked down his beak at her as if to say “I’ve gone off the idea now,” and flew off.

What does that have to do with writing? Absolutely nothing. Except that’s what I should be doing instead of sitting here watching the antics of the local pigeons.

Yesterday my computer overheated and didn’t just go on a go-slow, it refused to work at all. Wouldn’t even shut down. My husband opened it up this morning and attached another fan and touch wood it’s been fine.

He’s going to open it up again later and hoover inside – couldn’t do it when it was open earlier as the baby was asleep. He said it’s full of dust. Now where has that come from I wonder?

I have a fridge magnet that belonged to my mum. It says “You can look at the dust but please don’t write in it.” Wise words. If people left the dust alone it would just settle and wouldn’t find its way into computers . . .

But I know how the poor computer felt. I feel overheated and tired. There are thunder flies crawling about my computer screen and dark clouds on the horizon.