We didn’t have any pets as children which is surprising in a way because my mum’s family had carts, and my dad’s always had dogs – I heard so many stories about two of them, Sam an Irish wolfhound retriever cross, and Digger a liver and white spaniel. We lived in a flat and dad always told us that pets weren’t allowed… which was not exactly true, but I guess there were reasons why we never had a creature in our home.

… I say never, but in fact we did have goldfish – my sister who was the most cack-handed thrower managed to win seven goldfish at Midsummer Fair. (I just looked up the etymology of cack-handed, and actually, you probably don’t want to know what its origins are!) Somehow, and I can’t remember how, we managed to persuade the parents to let us have a budgie.

Our first budgie was called Twinch and was a real character, very aggressive, full of himself, but at the same time could be affectionate. Budgies don’t live very long and he was replaced by Brindie who was a much calmer bird with blue colouring but a yellow face. Our last budgie was mac,who was a great talker, but he did get a bit muddled with the different phrases he had learned, jumbling up the words to make his own sentences.

When we had children they too wanted pets, but in our case it just wasn’t practical, for various reasons we had to do a lot of travelling and we both worked all day. However, we did have two pairs of rats, who were the most delightful, intelligent, friendly and sweet creatures with impeccable table manners! Babe and Tallon, then Fifi and Sox – sadly none of them got much past their second birthdays. Then came the Ninja rabbit, Solo… she was a Netherland dwarf and very malevolent  lop-eared bunny; much as I tried to love her, she reciprocated with bites, growls and scratches.

Now we have no pets, only our visitor, and much-loved Smirnoff:

To whom it may concern: Dear Whom

To whom it may concern:

Dear Whom,

I’m writing once again about the problems with parked cars in our little village, cars belonging to other people not villagers or their friends.

To remind you: our village of Uphill used to be on the road going south from Weston-super-Mare, known as the Bridgwater Road because it went to Bridgwater. At some point within the last half century, the Bridgwater Road was developed, made wider and straighter, and no longer went through Uphill, although, if you choose you can go into the village and back out again further along as a picturesque deviation.

In case you’re not aware, in Uphill there are two churches, two schools – a primary school, and a school for children and young people who experience complex barriers to learning for a range of reasons. We also have a hospice, two pubs, a restaurant, a tearoom, a boatyard, camping site and marina, a village hall, a church hall, a village shop, a physiotherapists… and maybe some other businesses which have slipped my memory – and on the edge of the village is Weston General Hospital, a large regional hospital. Our population is roughly 8,000, mixed young, old, families, couples, singles living in every sort of accommodation – except high-rise flats, no high-rise in Uphill.

As you can see from the paragraph above, even if you don’t know, Uphill is quite compact and busy – we do have green places – the schools’ playing fields, the park, – oh and the beach and dunes and open countryside which attract lots, and lots of visitors.

So, to the point I’m trying to make; many if not most residents have a car, many have more than one car – it’s the way of the developed world. Most people accommodate their cars on their own property, in the village carpark, or on-street; if you wander around the village in the evenings or in the school holidays you’ll see that the streets are quite empty – a few cars here and there, but mostly they are on drives, parking places or in garages.

However, during the normal working day, every road, drive, avenue, tiniest cul-de-sac is jammed with cars. Anywhere within a mile of the hospital is nose to tail parked cars – all the people who work there, all the patients with one-day appointments, all the visitors.  The schools seem to have a lot of staff as there is a significant reduction in cars after the end of the school day;  an extra school-realted difficulty is the number of parents who bring their children to school by car, and then pick them up afterwards – even down our little road there is a lot of cars arriving at school opening and closing times! There is a carpark, but small and expensive. In the roads around the schools it is the same; so many are reduced to single lanes which means a lot of reversing and pulling onto people’s drives when confronted with oncoming vehicles. In a couple of places, the road has a bend in it – old village, old road layout, so it is impossible to see if something is coming towards you along the single lane available until you round the corner. In some of the more recently built roads, with wide drives for each house, parking is more erratic which creates a chicane – sometimes its difficult for a car to squeeze through – how would a delivery van manage… or an ambulance…

Which brings me to the point; this is all jolly annoying… however, I guess we could all put up with it with ill grace, except I am very aware of the potential danger involved in this amount of parked vehicles in narrow roads and streets. I’m not talking about the potholes caused by lorries, buses etc trundling along gutters because the narrow roads are narrowed by parked cars, but about access. Seriously, how could an ambulance, fire engine or other emergency vehicle get through? At eleven o’clock on a week day – how could they attend an emergency?

I mention eleven o’clock, because today I came home and trying to reach my house along the aforementioned bendy road, ahead of me I could see along the single lane available, a single-decker bus, a dustcart and a builders merchant’s lorry delivering something to someone, blocking the way. I managed to turn round (going up onto someone’s driveway) as did the person behind, and as we drove out, there was another single-decker bus turning in. I looped round the village and came back to the same road from the other end; I could still see the builders merchant’s lorry, and beyond it, no doubt, was the dustcart and two buses -oh and poor people in their cars trapped between. I could also see a double-decker bus to add to the competition… Luckily for me, I could get to my road – and then had to chicane down it, squeezing between the erratically parked cars…

There is a very clichéed phrase – ‘a disaster waiting to happen’ – but seriously, it is! A fire at the hospice or school for children with difficulties (some physical) a medical emergency for an elderly person, something dramatic involving the police – as far as i know nothing like this has happened yet, although we have had these emergencies they seem to have happened when access wasn’t too bad.

You may say there is no solution, ti’s the modern world etc. etc. so very etc.  Two things spring to mind; what seems a simple, helpful idea is to make certain areas of the village one-way; you may still have the same number of cars in the village – visitors and residents, but at least you wouldn’t have the nose to nose confrontations. Another idea would be to have residents’ parking – I’ve seen it so often in other places; not necessarily throughout the whole village, but just at those crunch points where parking causes a single lane thoroughfare. Another idea would be to make even the wider roads no-parking on one side so there would be two-way traffic. Another – impossible solution, would be to have park and ride for the hospital staff and visitors away from the village – or a decent bus service!

I know even these simple solutions are beyond you, Whom, and it’s no good trotting out the recession excuse, these problems have been here for years – to a lesser extent it’s true, but now I really see a disaster – but no doubt, Whom, you will evade responsibility!

Yours sincerely etc. etc.

We’re going to IKEA

I know it might not be the most sensible thing to do to go to IKEA on a Sunday, but when you’re working it’s not easy to squeeze it in at another time – we only work at home, so we’re free, but son and beautiful partner are both very busy people. So off we went this morning, and as luck would have it, it wasn’t too busy and we had an enjoyable wander around.

IKEA started in a small way, a very small way, with a little boy selling matches to his friends and neighbours; he worked out how to make more money by sourcing his matches from different places, and from those young beginnings his business brain developed. He was a small Swedish boy, Ingvar Kamprad who was born in Småland in southern Sweden, on Elmtaryd Farm near a little village called Agunnaryd. Moving on from matches he began to sell other small items, pencils, decorations, seeds… This boy definitely had a future!

He worked hard in school and his father helped him start a business, which eventually became I.K.E.A.,  Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd. In 1958, Ingvar’s first Swedish store opened, and five years later the first foreign store, in neighbouring Norway also opened… however it wasn’t until 1987, when there were lots of IKEAs all across Europe and in other overseas countries, that the first British store opened its doors, in Manchester, where I used to live!

IKEA has spread to every continent (maybe not Antarctica!) – not only are its products beautiful, functional, practical, useful, but the company is ethical and dedicated to being environmentally sensitive, using sustainable resources, being fair to all its workers, supporting communities and community projects – and not just by giving people employment but by starting other initiatives.

If you want to know more, here is a link – oh and we didn’t manage to walk out without buying anything, storage boxes, scented candles, rye crispbread and Swedish mustard… Sitting here writing, my computer is on an IKEA table, I’m surrounded by IKEA bookcases (the famous Billy bookcases) there are IKEA baskets, glasses, CD racks… and I’m smiling as I remember going from Manchester to Leeds for the opening of the store there, buying a huge flatpack piece of furniture which was on offer, and other things, and driving back with the four of us, completely squashed by all the things in the car, only my husband driving was able to sit comfortably… nearly every time we go, we see similar family situations in the car park as people try and get the gigantic thing they have just bought into the tiny car they have!


Word of the day… worth a repeat…

I used to regularly choose a word and write about it… maybe I should start doing that again!

Here is something I wrote four years ago:

I was writing a comment on an article about the The Deer Stone at the medieval religious site of Glendalough; The Deer Stone is a bullaun stone… which is a big stone or boulder with a man-made hollow like a basin in the top of it. The article mentioned that no-one really knew what they were made for, maybe as a primitive mortar to grind things; I’ve seen these stones at holy sites and just assumed they had been carved contemporaneously with the religious building as a stoup for holy water.
I spelled the word ‘stoup’ as ‘stoop’ and then that didn’t look right so I checked it and then was amazed to find how many different meanings there were for both spellings.
A stoup, which can actually be stoop, comes from Old English, and originally from Scandinavian and Old Norse (no, not Latin and French this time) and can mean a basin or even font for holy water in a church, or a drinking vessel like a tankard, or a bucket or pail.
Stoop which can only be spelt stoop is a very which means to bend down, which my very tall husband, 6′ 6 ½”, has to do very often. Stooping itself can be done for a variety of reasons, like my husband has to do to go through low doorways, to demean yourself by lowering your standards, to debase yourself to someone else, or – as with birds of prey, to swoop down on your victim. This verb can be used as a noun to describe the way someone walks ‘with a stoop’.
I have also found another meaning of stoop, which I would have known if I’d read it in context, but forgot about it, stoop as the little raised bit at the top of steps before the door… oh and one thing I didn’t know, a stoop can be a pillar or a post.
So there you are, stoop and stoup!

And if you want to know more about the Deer Stone, have a look at this excellent blog:

More weaving

I often think about what I’m going to be writing here when I am doing something else; I see something, hear something, get inspired by something, and then ponder on what I’m actually going to write. I was thinking a bout material – fabric, for some reason (I’ve forgotten why now) and looking at the woven pattern, I thought how like creating a story it is, and I decided when I got home I would write a piece about weaving…

I got home and came here… and found that three years ago, I wrote something along the same lines, even titled ‘Weaving’!

Here it is:

When I was at junior school I was lucky to be in the education system at a time when it seemed important to educate the whole child as a complete person, not to narrowly channel them into a career before they even knew what they were really good at or had any aptitude for. I have friends who struggled academically in their early life, but were given this broad background, learning how to learn, strong foundations for whatever future might present themselves… and a couple who had struggled at junior school, not only went on to university but went on to Oxford and Cambridge Universities…
Not only did my junior school education arm me with a wide general knowledge so useful in pub quizzes, but it taught skills and crafts too… and country dancing! We had craft lessons… knitting, sewing, making things out of balsa wood… and I’m sure we all did it, boys and girls. I made a skirt… good heavens I remember struggling over the placket… what a complicated thing for an eleven year old to have to do! We did embroidery, and I still have the needle case I made… typical me, I didn’t have roses or a pretty pattern, I had an elephant on one side and a blue whale on the other, the largest land and marine animals…
I think we had a student teacher come in and teach us weaving… I though this was exciting and different, and in the stories and fairy tales I read there were often weavers so I was very interested. I made a little mat, using purples and pinks and white and black I remember… I was very pleased with the effect and I think it was put under a plant pot on the sideboard…
My woven mat has disappeared but I thought about it today as I was writing, because now I do a different sort of weaving; I have a main plot and in this story it is my main character Thomas Radwinter trying to find out what happened between the two people who brought him up, Edward ‘Raddy’ Radwinter and Sylvia Magick, which led to such a catastrophic and difficult childhood for him… difficulties which went back to when the got married and maybe before, and only ended when Raddy left home. On her own, Sylvia descended into alcoholism and died prematurely…. Thomas wants to find out what happened and why.
So the story of Sylvia and Raddy is the main thread, but running along side it is Thomas’s story of his marriage to his second wife, adoption of her son and the prospects of his own child being born in the spring. Then there are other stories, which I have to weave through, the woman accused of trying to steal a baby who is not believed when she says a friend of hers has disappeared, a client of Thomas who is an elderly lady who seems to be under the influence of a mysterious Moroccan called Badruddin, an Armenian cookery book that Thomas is helping his friend to write, difficulties his nephew Otis is having with his relationships… and more…
Just as in our real lives different strands weave through, so I want these other story-lines to be threaded through the main story, not as a distraction, but because sometimes what happens in one area of life affects or enlightens something somewhere else… and also I want to intrigue and entertain without readers feeling that there are great chunks of sub-plot dumped carelessly into the body of the story…
I must get weaving…

Since I wrote this, there have been more Thomas Radwinter stories – you can find them, and my other books here:

Cordials… invigorating effect on the heart…

I have most of my cookery books old and new beside me here while I’m writing… If I get stuck with my plot, or my characters, or just in general, I’ll spend a little time distracting myself with recipes and articles about food and drink. The other day I wrote about the curious ingredients Ambrose Heath used in his wine-making recipes, in his little pocket-sized book, unambiguously called, Homemade Wines and Liqueurs. it was published in 1956 – which seems to have been a very good year for recipe book publications!

The little book, and its companion books, were published by Herbert Jenkins Ltd, a successful company founded in 1912, which published among other book, many of P. G. Wodehouse’s novels.  Herbert George Jenkins the owner was born in 1876;  he was a British writer but died very young at the age of forty-seven. he wrote comic books about a Mr Joseph Bindle, and detective stories ‘starring’ Malcolm Sage. He also wrote non-fiction, including a biography of George Borrow and  William Blake.

Back to cordials, which Ambrose Heath supposed to be so invigorating for the heart… I guess we tend to think of cordials as fruit syrups which are diluted with water, lemonade or soda; for Mr Heath, they were a basic ingredient infused in brandy.

I expected them to be fruits, and indeed some were,

  • blackberry (sounds wonderful)
  • black currant (ditto)
  • cranberry (and I thought cranberries were recent arrivals from America)
  • damson (lovely!)
  • gooseberry (interesting)
  • plum
  • raspberry

There was Highland cordial –  whisky flavoured with white currants, lemon rind and ginger essence, and then a selection which sounded more like cough mixtures:

  • aniseed
  • caraway
  • cinnamon
  • clove
  • ginger

I don’t think I will be trying to make any of them… in my experience such things don’t taste nearly as nice as expected! I was intrigued though, that in this section was a recipe for Athol Brose, which I thought was a dessert:

  • 1 lb runny honey
  • 1½ pint whisky
  • 1 cup water
  1. mix the honey and water, stirring with a silver spoon (what else??!!)
  2. gradually stir in the whisky, stirring rapidly until a froth rises
  3. bottle and keep tightly corked