I love to watch the many TV chefs. They inspire me to try new foods or make different meals. Some impress, some overwhelm and some create dishes I could never hope to copy. But of all the cooks, the one I’d want to invite me to dinner is Nigel Slater. I love his simple suppers!
Dad coughed and sat back with a worried look.
He enjoyed the turkey, perfectly roasted and surrounded with beautifully browned potatoes, parsnips, sausages, cranberry sauce and herby stuffing.
Then came the dreamy pudding, with brandied flames and a choice of rum butter or cream.
But nobody warned him about the sixpence – and he’d swallowed it!
It was an old tradition to put a silver threepenny piece in a Christmas pudding, and whoever found it was supposed to have good luck throughout the coming year. When silver 3d were discontinued the tradition went on using a sixpenny piece. You can still buy them (even though they aren't legal tender any more) to put in your pudding if you want to.
This post is part of my advent calendar but also for The G-Man for his weekly 55 word challenge.
A very very happy Yuletide to all my friends Pagan, Christian or anything else. Celebrate whatever makes you feel good at this time of the year and be kind to one another. Light candles, eat hearty and drink your fill.
Blessed be all, throughout the coming year.
Play it loudly and enjoy:-
Now is the solstice of the year.
winter is the glad song that you hear.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Have the lads up ready in a line.
Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.
Join together 'neath the mistletoe,
by the holy oak whereon it grows.
Seven druids dance in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.
Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.
Praise be to the distant sister sun,
joyful as the silver planets run.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.
Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.
Ring on, ring out.
Ring on, ring out
The greeting Wassail, derived from the Old English waes hael, meaning 'be well' wasoffered by the bearers of the wassail bowl, which was carried from house to house in English villages to spread the yuletide cheer. The bowl contained a rich, ale-based, spiced drink that was given to the householders in exchange for sweetmeats such as mince pies.
So what do you have with your Christmas turkey? In fact, do you have turkey at all? We'll be having roast beef for our Yule dinner, with Yorkshire puddings and lots of horseradish sauce and roast potatoes and there have to be parsnips. I might do a few sprouts, because it's traditional, isn't it? And we'll end up having bubble and squeak for breakfast on the twenty second to use up the leftovers.
Christmas Day itself we're going out for a curry - albeit quite a posh one - so we won't be doing turkey at all this holiday season. That means we'll miss out on the stuffing, the chipolatas and the cranberry sauce. And does anyone still eat bread sauce?
December 17 was the Roman festival of Saturnalia, which has given rise to many of the traditions associated with Christmas today.
The Roman god Saturn
For example, there was always a huge feast at which masters and slaves changed places, with the masters serving the slaves. There is an echo of this custom in the Royal Navy, where officers serve the lower ranks their dinner on Christmas Day.
The day was a public holiday and even schools were closed. Gifts were exchanged and everyone was supposed to have fun. Everyone wore their best clothes and togas - a symbol of rank - were forbidden. Instead everybody wore the 'freedman' hat.
A Saturnalian prince was chosen from among the youngest members of the family and he ruled over the rest for the day.
The correct greeting was 'Io, Saturnalia!' (Meaning Ho - praise to Saturn.) It was pronounced Yo.
When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When Blood is nipped and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian's nose looks red and raw
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
A couple of days ago, I promised I would explain why the Icelandic Yule cat eats people with no new clothes to wear.
In Iceland a traditional way of earning a living was to raise sheep. Most people worked for a master and were paid with a proportion of the wool they managed to produce during the year. So, if you didn't have enough wool at the end of the season to make some new clothes for yourself, it meant that you hadn't worked hard enough - and that made you a target for the Yule cat.
Is this where the tradition arose of giving socks as presents?
One of the things that a lot of Northern Hemisphere midwinter festivals have in common is light. At this time of the year the days are getting shorter and many festivals are centred on the midwinter solstice - longest night. So it stands to reason that light in some form or another, candles, bonfires, etc, are included in the festivities.
In Hindu celebrations there is Diwali - the festival of lights - where small oil lamps are lit to represent the triumph of good over evil.
The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah involves lighting a nine-branched candlestick called a menorah.
In Iceland they say that 13 lads herald the arrival of Yule. From December 12 to Christmas Day (yes - they've christianised the tradition but still call them Yule lads) a new rascal arrives each day. They are the sons of the troll Gryla and friends of the hungry Yule cat.
The first to arrive is Stekkjastaur, the sheep worrier, and the rest of his brothers are just as naughty: for example there's the sausage stealer, window peeper, door slammer and lots of other wickedness. After Christmas Day they leave, one by one, until Twelfth Night, when Icelanders celebrate the end of the holiday season with bonfires and a party.
The Yule Cat, throughout the season, will eat anyone who does not have a new item of clothing to wear. And you'll have to wait for an explanation of why.
The traditional Yule log is a survivor of Pagan celebrations to mark the Winter Solstice, the time when the sun appears to stand still in the sky, before the days begin to grow gradually longer on the approach to spring.
It was extremely bad luck to buy a Yule log. It must either be gathered from the householder's own land, or be received as a gift. The most commonly used wood was ash, and the log must be big enough to burn for twelve days.
Once it was dragged into the house it was decorated with greenery and doused in ale or cider before it was set alight using a sliver from last year's log. Each day a little more of the log would be pushed into the hearth as it gradually burned away and, at the end of twelve days, it was put out with water.
These days, when very few people own their own woodland, and most of us have hearths that are far too small to hold a log that's long enough to burn for twelve days, we are more likely to represent a Yule log in chocolate!
Fifty five words of seasonal thoughts. What are the essential ingredients for this time of year? Turkey, mistletoe, pork pie, presents, egg-nog, tree, baubles, lights, mince pies, candles, cheesy songs, cranberries, crackers, paper chains, pudding,
stocking fillers, trifle, a pair of socks, wrapping paper, chocolate coins, wine, energy and patience!
The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud--and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
’Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.
Once upon a time the mistletoe was a tree that stood upright on its own trunk, like other trees, but I'll tell of how it became an outcast and dependent on others for its life.
Now the young god Baldur was the son of the goddess Frigga, and was the handsomest and most revered of all the gods. Frigga was so fond of her son that she made every living thing promise to protect him and never cause him harm. But the trickster god Loki was jealous, and persuaded the mistletoe tree to break the promise.
He made an arrow of its wood and shot Baldur, killing him instantly. When it saw Frigga crying, the mistletoe was ashamed and agreed with the other gods to give up its independence in return for restoring Baldur to life.
And when she saw her beloved son alive again, Frigga's tears dried into the white mistletoe berries.
Today is St Nicholas Day - and as you all probably know, he's the one who gave his name to Santa Claus. In the Netherlands he's known as Sinterklaas, and he'll be arriving in towns and villages all over Holland today with his assistant Swarte Piet (Black Peter - who is that colour from climbing up and down chimneys!).
He usually arrives by boat, surrounded by heaps of presents. He's dressed like a bishop, with a mitre hat and a golden staff, and he carries a book in which are written, in gold, the names of all the children who've been good. Piet throws sweets to children in the crowd, but anyone whose name is missing from the list is likely to be whipped with a bundle of sticks.
That night Sinterklaas will visit everyone's home and throw presents down the chimney. They will land (magically) into children's shoes, which have been left out to receive them. If any child has been naughty, but managed to escape the switch of twigs, they are more likely to find a raw potato in their shoes!
The Celts believed that at the end of December the sun stood still, causing the days to grow shorter. They lit candles and burned a Yule log to remind the sun what it was supposed to do and make the days longer again.
Every year I promise myself that I’m not going to go berserk in organising the yule celebrations and yet each time I wear myself out buying and wrapping presents, cleaning the house so I can put up decorations, trimming the tree, planning and cooking meals, and all the hundred other jobs.
So – mince pie anyone?
55 words for the G-Man. Go visit him to see what the rest have done.
To start off the countdown to Christmas (or in my case Yule) I'm giving you one last extract from my NaNo novel Seaviews. I finished the first draft a couple of days ago and do not plan to touch it again for several weeks, when I can give it a fresh eye. Here's a description of Santa. Not the real one of course kiddies - we all know he's far too busy at this time of year to attend children's parties!
Children’s entertainers are sometimes quite awful with kids and grown-ups alike. Some perform OK for parents but they actually terrify the tots. Sometimes they work wonders with children but they can't convert to an adult crowd. This guy gave fun for everyone. In fact I would go so far as to say he was great with the little ones, when we had youngsters around. He really seemed to love them. And his costume was a dream. It wasn’t shabby and thin-looking like some of them. He had a proper red suit made with what looked like a woollen cloth and trimmed with soft, white fur, that moved in a convincingly real fashion. He styled himself on the American style Santa, with trousers and fur-topped wellington boots and a wide belt with a huge black buckle, rather than the traditional British long-coated one, but that didn’t matter to the festive folks. Part of his act involved handing out presents to all the guests and he carried them in a real sack slung over his shoulder. His ‘ho-ho-ho’ voice reached deep enough to challenge that mountain climber-actor chap.
I just declared my NaNo at 50,430. I freely admit that a very large chunk of that is disjointed ideas and descriptions of places and people, and comments on life and general junk that I've been letting off steam with during the last month. Eventually I'll make a large amount of it fit together to slot into the novel. But for now I've hit the total.
Now I have serious editing work to do but not for a couple of weeks at least!
Have you ever read Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Do you remember Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, who was overcoming the boredom of immortality by working his way round the universe and insulting people in alphabetical order? (Arthur Dent? Arthus Philip Dent? You're a jerk. A complete asshole).
Well I've just found something that would have helped Wowbagger enormously. On a blog that I (used to) read regularly there is an opportunity to tick one of a set of boxes to give instant feedback on the post. I can only asume that it's for Farcebook or Twatter or one of these social networking things.
What are the choices I can tick? In the order they appear on the page they are:
I have to say that I'm appalled at the choice and sincerely hope that my (former) bloggy contact didn't actually choose those options herself. I think someone's trying to be funny. BUT IT ISN'T.
And if you don't know why it isn't funny, I suggest you rethink your standards.
Sorry to keep throwing bits of my NaNo novel at you - but it's rather time consuming at the moment.
Here's another of the cast from the Sea View Hotel.
He dressed casually and his general impression suggested tweed. His outfits gave off a sort of browny-green aura, as if he had been carved from a part of the landscape, and they had the kind of texture that conjured up pictures of moorland and bracken. Sometimes I swear I could hear grouse calling around him.
It's the usual Friday challenge for the G-Man. Go visit him to see more!
My narrator waxed a little lyrical yesterday. I think he might be doing that a lot over the next six days!
Of course they’ve been saying for years that a trip to the seaside does you good. They used to recommend a sea retreat for most things that ailed historic folks. All kinds of people were sent here for the good of their health back in Victorian times – the graveyard’s full of them. You think I’m joking don’t you, but I’m not. Just take a stroll up to the parish church and check out their inscribed list of renowned residents. Writers, musicians, people who were famous just for being famous, seems all very familiar really. These days they end up on a reality TV programme when their careers are dying; back then the less-than-great and not very good were sent away for a coastal sojourn when they were fading.
Some of them took the waters, as they used to say. That meant they draped themselves over plush couches in ornate halls and drank glasses of smelly stuff dripping out of a cracked cliff. They got around to putting a tap on eventually so it appeared more official but however you market the stuff you can’t alter the fact that it’s little better than untreated sewage. You can even try the cure today if you like, the tap’s still working, though no-one makes ludicrous claims about it any more. Those Victorians believed spa water would solve everything from a hangnail to the Black Death but the only thing it actually affects is your digestive system. The quacks and sawbones thought bloodletting and extracting other bodily fluids improved your chances, so they probably believed in beneficial effects of the water. It certainly clears out your system. I tried once. That was quite enough. They didn’t just drink grimy fluids, though, they bathed in them as well. Doctors told people their ailments would improve if they just lowered themselves up to their waists in ocean water; cold ocean water. Can you imagine suffering from consumption and coughing your lung linings out while you stood shivering in your undies and the tide lapped in around your personal bits? Gives you the creeps if you think too hard, how all those sickly types came for their treatments but never went home. Kill or cure must have proved fatal much more often than it offered a reprieve. I think we probably have the healthiest bunch of historic corpses in any cemetery up and down the country.
Thanks to Sandra over at Lines of Communication I've just discovered the Writer's Diet website and I've had five minutes of satisfying fun while I checked out whether my writing needs to take more care of itself.
I'm proud to say that my first sample (my current NaNo daily attempt - as written, no editing) said it was fit and trim overall, though my verbs could do with toning.
My second sample (an earlier NaNo daily input, which I've edited a bit) came out as lean. Completely lean!
My third sample (written by my boss, who's always trying to correct my writing) came out as needing toning, bordering on flabby.
OK - you all know what's going on by now so I'm not going to explain.Here's 55 words for the G-Man's weekly challenge, that tell you a little bit more about my novel's narrator, who was sent off to boarding school at an early age.
There were a number who enrolled at the same time, all very young, and dumped on the teachers and domestic staff for a variety of reasons. A few of the lads came from places where their parents genuinely could not look after them, but most of us shared the dubious honour of being simply unwanted.
Too busy to hunt for something else for you again. So here's a bit of history from the NaNo novel.
Crowds that turn up at the seaside these days aren’t the same as back in the old times. When I first started touring the coast doing summer seasons all you saw were families. Mum and dad and a couple of kids who spent their time on the beach doing innocent things like building sandcastles and shrimping in the rock pools and playing on the penny slot machines on wet days. It wasn’t until the nineteen sixties that you ever saw groups of young people out by themselves. You won’t remember because you’re far too young but there used to be gangs of lads called Mods and Rockers and they would arrive at the coast on a sunny day and turn the beach into a battleground. You could easily tell them apart so they all knew who to fight: the Mods were on scooters that had a hundred more mirrors than they ever needed to see behind them, and the Rockers were on motorbikes that were polished up so much you’d wonder that they hadn’t rubbed the chrome off. On the worst days the lot of them were armed with knives and happy to kill each other if they had the chance.
If I'm going to make it to the end of the month with 50,000 words I should be half way there by the end of today. I'm pleased to say that I'm 1,538 ahead of that, which is almost a whole day's worth. (you do the long division)
I've been feeling off colour for a couple of days though. I can't promise to be on target for long.
So I worked out that I was a bit behind on the NaNo. Since then I've been trying to write at least 2,000 words a day because the daily target is 1,667 if you do it every day from November 1. I am hoping by the end of today that I shall have caught up to the NaNo target. (Or the 'if you're going to make it to 50,000 words in 30 days you really need to have written this much by now' point.) My best so far has been 2,736 in a day, which was a chapter I LOVED writing. My worst was 2,027, which I thought I'd enjoy but in practice found much harder than anticipated.
Funny old thing, this writing lark.
I missed three days right at the start because I was arranging a big meeting in London. The meeting was a success. Several people have said it was good. The people who actually do the managing (ie. provide what I organise) said that my efficiency made their job much easier than it was with the other person who used to arrange it. Even my boss eventually got round to emailing me, although it took him five days and he didn't actually say well done. A message to say 'you did it' is what passes for praise in our office.
As you all know, I'm doing NaNoWriMo again and I'm typing furiously to catch up with the target because my day job got in the way and I started late. So here's 55 words taken straight from yesterday's declared 2080.
The book is about a guy who lives in a hotel because he's spent his entire working life as a theatre dresser and has travelled so much he's got nowhere that he thinks of as home. He's finally settled down, in retirement, in a hotel he stayed in while he was working at the local theatre.
There are a lot of advantages in living in a hotel, but it has its downside too. Take Christmas, for example. No sooner have we taken down the black and orange streamers and binned the pumpkin lanterns, than we have to declare the festive season and put out the tree and tinsel. People expect it.
Friday's 55 words are, of course, for The G-Man. Go visit him by clicking here.
I'm busy doing NaNoWriMo and I'm pushed for time to find you an extract this week. So here's a few words from my current NaNo project. The book's narrator is a former theatrical dresser, so he talks a lot about what people wear. I'm enjoying that bit, because it's not something I often do.
He dressed neatly but never sharply. His clothes were clean and well ironed, but were worn well past the time that less frugal people would have consigned them to the rag bag. A charity shop would have turned them down. He had a penchant for cord trousers and heavy cotton, checked shirts with a plain white vest or t-shirt under them. He always wore a narrow, leather belt and I don’t believe I ever saw him in a tie. When he went out he wore a dark jacket, even on the hottest days, and the whole lot was topped off with a tweedy flat cap. I suppose he was used to the heat down in the mine and his skin rarely saw sunshine, so he preferred to be well covered up outside. His face and hands showed signs of weathering; not a suntan exactly, more erosion by wind and rain, but the rare glimpses of arms and legs that his outfits afforded showed the rest of him was a very pasty white. And remarkably hairy. Over his shoulder he slung an old canvas bag on a long strap. It was the same kind he had used for years to carry his ‘snap’, as he called it; his packed meal to be eaten during his only break in a working shift.
NaNo aside, I thought I'd give you something a little different this morning, though a lot of you might know it. Can you read that word above? It demonstrates one of the challenges that people learning English can face.
Think gh as in 'enough', o as in 'women' and ti as in 'nation'. And what do you get?
I wrote like a mad thing yesterday (and to be honest the text probably reflects that) but I've caught up a day. I'm about a fifth of the way towards my total (which is good) but unless I can write a lot faster it means I need about 38 days in November.
30 days hath September,
April, June and ....... oh hell.
Sitting on a bench eating my packed lunch yesterday, I noticed that the rich colours of autumn have reached London. The sun was shining and the trees in all the royal parks were glowing: dressed in their new attire. But I have one important question. Why do they call it Green Park when it’s orange?
A boat with a ringed neck rode in the haven, icy, out-eager, the atheling's vessel, and there they laid out their lord and master, dealer of wound gold, in the waist of the ship, in majesty by the mast. A mound of treasures from far countries was fetched aboard her, and it is said that no boat was ever more bravely fitted out with weapons of a warrior, war accoutrement, swords and body-armour; on his breast were set treasures and trappings to travel with him on his far faring into the flood's sway.
But if the fight should take me, you would forward to Hygelac this best of battle-shirts, that my breast now wears. The queen of war-coats, it is the bequest of Hrethel and from the forge of Wayland.
Let Unferth have the blade that I inherited - this wave-patterned sword of rare hardness.
The eighth century English poem Beowulf is set in the time of the Anglo-Saxons: the time of the Sutton Hoo burial. Similarities exist between the excavated finds and some lines of the poem. In the fanciful tale Beowulf fights a series of monsters to save the kingdom of the Scyldings but there is also a wealth of description about Anglo-Saxon life and customs in the story.
Had another productive day - but I have to because I'm not going to get chance to write anything for about the next three days. (work and life commitments) I'm working on the principle that I need to do at least 2,000 words a day on the days I CAN fit in.
I freely admit that I have incorporated this character's story into the NaNo project because I didn't really have any definite plans for her when I wrote her. Now she has a proper home in the hotel on the cliff.
In case you're interested.... here's the first two and the last two paragraphs of chapter one of this year's attempt... Working title is Sea Views
Just take a look at that view out there and then question why I choose to live here. I mean, I know that a seaside town out of season is about as exciting as prunes without the custard but when you have the ocean almost knocking on your front door you can’t help but feel good about the world, and believe me, I have had some times when I really needed something to make me feel good about anything. I’ve had a tough life, when I think about it, but I doubt if I would have changed very much, not if I’m honest. It’s been interesting, in much the way of that Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times. When you lead the kind of life I’ve had you can’t just give it up though, not even when you retire. The thing is, I’m a people person. I have spent most of my life involved in other lives, looking after my charges, massaging their egos and soothing their fevered brows. Histrionics, mostly, of course, but that’s how it is with your average theatrical type. When you have to provide drama reliably on stage it’s hard to break the habit after you take off the costume and the make-up. The tales I could tell! Well, I will, if you like. Just stick with me.
So here I am, Lord of the Manor in a cliff-top boarding house on the wrong side of the country and the wrong side of sixty. I don’t own the place of course, it belongs to Elsie, but I am a permanent resident and I like to think I would be missed if I ever moved on, not that I plan to leave any time soon. I have been here the best part of five years now, not to mention one or two summer seasons in the past, and Elsie relies on me a lot. I act as Mein Host when she does her end-of-season, mini Oktoberfest; handing round the plastic beer steins and making sure the music isn’t off for too long when the CD runs out. I’ve used some of my influence in entertainment circles to find her a few of the old time stars who don’t mind doing a turn or two to attract custom out of season. We had a Sixties pop revival last February that brought in a few paying guests. Mind you, it wasn’t clear whether ‘Sixties’ referred to the era or the lower age limit on the guests. We booked a group who had a couple of top ten hits back in the day. At least one of the combo featured in the original line-up, although the guitarist died from an excess of high living about thirty years ago and the singer’s hair seemed to have gone in sympathy. The audience enjoyed it though, but they usually do when the lager tap’s running.
I rarely see any of my old associates these days so I can’t give you any celebrity gossip. A very few of my old clients still send me a card at Christmas and there is one dear old friend who visits whenever he is in the area, which isn’t often but we can’t have everything. I won’t name names because it wouldn’t be fair but you will have seen him on television unless you’ve been living in Outer Mongolia for the last twenty years. They might even get some of his shows there, you never know. You will have heard of him if I said who it is but my lips are sealed. I first dressed him when he just left school, learning the ropes in the chorus. He had a wonderful voice, almost angelic, and no-one knows because he’s made his career in a totally different field. Well, I’ve seen him grow from a member of the crowd in that film musical, you know, the one with all those young lads in it, to a face that everyone recognises, but fame hasn’t damaged him at all. He’s still a gentleman. Not like some.
So I could tell you some stories about the stars I’ve met but you wouldn’t be able to appreciate them properly because I won’t say who they are. No, what I’ve found out over the years is that you get some of the most fascinating stories from ordinary people, the type that stays here on their holidays. In five years I’ve heard some cracking tales and I don’t mind sharing them because the chance of you meeting that cast of characters is about as likely as a comeback by the Beatles, and, since half of them are dead, that’s no chance. I don’t miss much when I sit here observing and I’ve always been a good listener so I get told a lot of secrets. I promise that you’ll never miss the famous ones. Tell you what, let’s get a round in and I’ll show you what I mean.
NaNaWriMo starts tomorrow and I'm already wondering whether I should have signed up this year. November's a busy month already at work (I'm arranging a big meeting in London and will have no spare time at all for a couple of days) and I have a few other things coming up, like the Festive Season and running my life.
I enjoyed myself last year and was deeply pleased when I reached the 50,000 words target and even more pleased after I self published my novel. (So I've sold all of three copies. So what? I'm not in it for the glory.)
This year I have an idea that grew out of a three word week challenge I completed (and I freely admit most of that text will appear in the introductory chapter) and it basically consists of a string of short stories threaded onto the life of a central character. I love the voice (I can already hear him in my head from when I first wrote him) and I'm looking forward to being able to vent some of my natural sarcasm through him. I have about five reasonable ideas for chapters but I NEED 25!
Every year at Christmas my Dad used to buy me a teddy bear. It started with my first ever Christmas and just became a habit. As I got older he asked me if I wanted him to stop buying them but I told him I loved every one of them, and it didn't make me feel young and stupid to have teddies, it made me feel loved.
Sometimes they were in the form of jewellery, once was even a sweater with a bear worked into the stitches. But the ones I liked best were the proper, furry bears and I've kept every one of them because they are precious.
Read any kind of magic or fantasy literature and you'll soon find out that names have power. Knowing a person's (or being's or creature's or whatever's) true name gives you dominion over them. Think Rumpelstiltskin. Think Beetlejuice.
On the other hand, if you don't know a thing's true name you don't really want to make it angry either. (Think Incredible Hulk, or any other character who chooses to keep their true identity secret. Would you really like to piss off Clark Kent or Peter Parker?)
Lots of writers choose to use pen names, sometimes because their own names don't suit their genre, sometimes to hide their true identities (just like Superman). George Eliot, Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, J.K. Rowling, all chose to hide their gender behind their noms-de-plume.
For the purposes of blogging, I'm AJ. For the purposes of my profession I'm known by my given name. I am never known as Annie. Unless you want to make me angry. And you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.
How did it get to be Friday again? I love Fridays, but it seems that no sooner have I written my 55 words for the G-Man, then I’m trying to think up the next one. I know I tend to wish the weeks away to get to the weekends more quickly. Maybe that’s the problem.
When I am an old woman I shall wearpurple
With a redhat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wearpurple.
I'm working on it.
All colours, italics and emphasis in the above are mine.
Electricity pylons. Nearly 100 years since they were designed, and now they want to change them. Practical, efficient, elegantly supporting cables as they march across the land. Why do they need to be changed? Because some people think they are ugly. But they have a skeletal beauty, if only people would look at them differently.
A word of explanation. The UK's electricity pylon was designed in the 1920s and has done an effective job ever since. Now someone has decided that they are ugly and out of date, and that we should have a new design. There are some pretty ugly new designs on offer. I say leave well alone. They really aren't that bad!
With me along some Strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultan scarce is known,
And pity Sultan Mahmud on his Throne.
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse---and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness---
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
Doesn't matter where you are as long as the company's right. Yes - that is my hand, holding K's.
Verses taken from the FitzGerald translation.
Omar Khayyám (1048–1131) was a Persian philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and poet. Suffolk-born poet Edward FitzGerald (1809-83) translated a number of his quatrains from Persian and collected them together under the title The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.
“It’s like trying to communicate with the dead some mornings. It’s not even Monday but everyone in the office is behaving like their world’s coming to an end. Grumpy - monosyllabic at best. Where’s the point?”
The young man was clearly despondent as he flopped down onto the park bench beside me. To be honest, I was a little surprised when he spoke. I have been sitting in the same spot every day for many years and it is extremely rare when anyone acknowledges me. City life can be like that: nobody really wants to get involved with anyone else.
It was a pleasant change, to have someone start up a conversation. I turned towards him and smiled, in the hope that it might cheer him up a little, and it seemed to encourage him because he continued.
“I’ve been working there more than two months now. I've never really seemed to fit in, right from the start. I have no idea why. It can’t be an age thing, because we’re all pretty much of the same generation. It can’t be my tastes because I do my best to join in with the water-cooler conversations about sport and television and music and all that. But some days it’s like I just don’t exist, you know?”
I nodded. I could sympathise with him because I used to have the same problem until a friendly soul helped me out and taught me where I was going wrong. I wondered if the same advice would help him, but I hesitated before deciding to offer it.
“You might have more success if you did.”
“Necromancy: talking with the dead. There are enough of them and most of them are quite lonely.”
It was a mistake. It took a couple of seconds for the words to sink in, then the poor lad looked shocked, followed rapidly by uneasy. He stood up slowly and began to back away from me, all the time watching in case this madman he had chosen to approach made any sudden and threatening moves.
“I guess I’d better be getting back to work now,” he said as he turned and hurried away from me. “You take care of yourself.”
A little patronising, I thought, but replied anyway. “Yes, you too. Come back any time you feel you need a chat.”
He will come back. They always do. One day he will realise why the people around him behave as if he isn’t there: because from their point of view, he isn’t. He’s one of us – the dead – so necromancy is his only choice.
Of course, we just call it talking.
A very short story for Tuesday. Written because that's how the office feels this morning. Like I'm trying to communicate with the dead. And Hallowe'en's on the way. :)
The recent warm and sunny weather had a strange effect on me. I started spring cleaning again at home. I know it's October (it was late September at the time but not to worry) but I still felt the urge to remove things that were cluttering up my life.
Same applies here. It seems increasingly that I'm visiting other people's blogs and commenting but no-one's reciprocating. So I'm having a clean-up. I'm removing some links to people I never hear from, others whose blogs seem to have stagnated and a couple that have changed direction to something that doesn't interest me.
If you are a regular visitor and I've not been round to see you lately, let me know. I try to get to everyone as often as possible, but when you follow lots of blogs it's not always easy (and I run three different blogs, mostly with different crowds of bloggy links).
Meanwhile, if you're one of the people who never drops by, you won't be reading this and so it doesn't matter!
Hello to anyone who DOES visit regularly. And thanks.
If the world was ending tonight, how would you feel? Looking back over your life, long or short, would you be proud or ashamed; content or raging? We all have dreams when we are young, and some people achieve them. Some go out of their way to follow them, while others have them fall into their hands by happenchance. Others realise their desires are impossible and find new ambitions to take their place.
Some people’s worlds will end tonight. Lives will stop, suddenly or after a long fight, but always cruelly. Life is never long enough to fulfil all one’s aspirations. Even for those who wish that death would take them, there will always be something else hoped for but never attained. Happiness, a good job, a true love, a life well lived, a sense of completion.
Now imagine that your world will not end tonight. What will you do tomorrow to add to your store of goals achieved? You have only one life, long or short. So make it count.
Here's a little something from a project I have underway at the moment. Sorry it ends rather abruptly, but the real last sentence (which isn't the last sentence in the work, if you follow that) gives the game away a bit. She's not exactly Jessica Rabbit, but I have to admit the character was in the back of my mind as I wrote.
It was the voice that I noticed first. From somewhere over on the other side of the bar I heard: ”Just call me Gina, darling!” followed by a deep-throated chuckle. I looked across and saw a scene that wouldn’t have been out of place in a 1930s movie. She had one arm resting on a red clutch bag on top of the bar, and she was poised on a high seat, keeping her balance by means of a gracefully outstretched leg, whose red, patent-leather shoe ended the ballerina-esque pose with the slightest contact of toe and floor. The other foot rested on a strut of the stool to help push her upper body into a high stretch. She was dressed in a tailored white suit with a skirt that rode high on the thigh because of her posture.
Her back was slightly arched and shoulders pulled down and level to accentuate the shape of her small, round breasts; her elongated neck emphasised a strong chin and high cheekbones. Her flawless make-up enhanced her clear, green eyes and her golden-russet hair was swept away from the face into an elegant chignon. She leaned gently towards her companion as she offered him the unlit end of a cigarette that was nipped in a long, black, lacquer holder, the other end kissed by her flame-red mouth. The nail polish on the hand that clasped it matched her lips, which she pursed gently as he held up a lighter in trembling hands. She slowly blinked, then opened her eyes as she sucked hard on the lacquer tube, and I could see that the poor sap was enchanted.
“She’s having you on, mate, not to mention out of your league," I thought as I watched the pantomime.
There really was no option, she thought as she plunged in the sharp knife. It had to be disposed of completely.
She watched the blood ooze away from the serrations along the edge and smiled. She was good at this. There would be absolutely nothing left when she had finished.
Doreen just adored blue steak!
55 words for the G-Man. Go see what the others have done this week!
My answer was: I'm a trained journalist and did a year's specialist college course before a three-year apprenticeship serving under some tough sub-editors who drilled style, accuracy and speed into their charges. It was only after completing a gruelling four-exams-in-a-day test that I was allowed to call myself a writer. Since then I have worked to hone my skills (for 35 years!) both by writing and reading (not to mention listening to theatre productions, radio drama, lectures, etc.) I write because I cannot imagine doing anything else. I earn my living that way (now as a communications officer) and when I get home I hit the keyboard as a creative writer. I honestly think I'd die if I wasn't able to.
Die? Seriously? Well it wasn't until I wrote those words that I realised quite how important my writing is to me. It is all I have ever done and really all I ever want to do. I know that I get very depressed when I don't write regularly and that I probably would lose the will to live if I was ever told that I couldn't.
I've been getting despondent lately about my work because I entered a couple of contests and came nowhere. The winning entries were awful. Maybe the tales were good in themselves, but the writing was sloppy, the spelling was awful, the tense kept changing, there was very little technical ability in evidence. It was a bit like giving first prize in a baking contest to the best looking cake, even though it was burned under the icing and tasted of gravy.
But do you know something? It DOESN'T MATTER! Because I know I'm better than that, and if the judges didn't value skill I don't really care what they thought of my work. Why would I bother what someone with such low standards thinks? It wouldn't mean much, even if they loved what I do.
So there it is. I shall go on writing and self-publishing and being read by just a few of my friends and that's OK because, I WRITE because I CAN write.
I don't need to be the next Ian Rankin or Terry Pratchett. I just need to keep writing.
Michael's post was fascinating, by the way - about a writing contest for military personnel. Make sure you go over there and read it.
You might have noticed that a couple of things have disappeared from the Blog. If you don't know what they are, it doesn't matter. Think of it as a sort of online Kim's Game. (And if you don't understand that reference it REALLY doesn't matter).
If you HAVE noticed what's missing and you want to know why I'll tell you, if you insist. But otherwise I'll leave it at the fact that I'm looking after number 1 for a while. And I'm not going to beat myself up about it.
It had been a long and tiring hearing. The coroner said it was impossible to tell why the death happened, and so he had to return a verdict of misadventure. The evidence said he’d been cleaning his gun when it went off and shot him in the face. But we all know what that means.
55 words for The G Man. I know it's depressing, but it's kind of extracted from a short story I'm working on. It struck me that the paragraph was about the right length - and I edited it accordingly.
Me up at does
out of the floor
a poisoned mouse
still who alive
is asking What
have i done that
You wouldn't have
You know what I do for a living.
This poem, and a similar photo, appeared this week in a journal I read for work.
I recently had a mouse infestation at home that my lazy cats didn't seem to manage. (I still suspect it happened because Maisie thought I needed hunting practice and brought me a live one to work with!)
I use live capture traps and let the mice go a good distance from the house. (It has to be at least a quarter mile or they come straight home.) I don't use spring traps and I refuse to use these cruel things. They're called glue traps and the mouse gets stuck to the card and slowly dies from poison, or in the worst cases, starvation.
I don't care how much stuff was spoiled and how much cleaning I had to do to remove all traces. There's no excuse for this.