Larks and owls

Some people are larks, some are owls… some people can leap from their beds as fresh as daisies… or larks, whereas others struggle to creep out in time to do whatever it is they have to do. Some people stay up late into the early hours or not so early hours of the next day, bright and alive and active, others are yawning and nodding off not long after dinner.

I am definitely an owl… and I always have been. When I was little I was never ready for bed, although bedtime was strict when I was young. I would lie wide awake for hours, hearing my parents go to bed themselves. My mum used to take me out for walks in the evening, we would walk into Cambridge, or along the river in either direction and I’d come home, and being a good child would go to bed as I was told, and lie awake, telling myself stories in the dark. When I was a little older – and perhaps when my younger sister was older too, we had a radio in the bedroom and listen way into the night… well I did!

I don’t remember having difficulty getting up once I was woken. From the age of fourteen I did a paper round, up at six every day without a problem. Through my working life, it has never been a problem getting up early after a late night, but I wouldn’t really say I actually was a lark. I wake early with the alarm not naturally – although now I no longer have an actual day job, we don’t bother with the alarm!

My dad was an owl and a lark, he only needed four or five hours of sleep and would wake as soon as it was light. In the summer he would go out and do the gardening while the rest of the household slept, and when the milkman came round delivering milk from the horse and little cart, dad would invite him in for a cuppa. My son has inherited the owl aspect, but is not at all like a lark… even now he has to be virtually dragged from his bed!

At night I feel very alert and write here way after everyone else is in bed. I usually watch something on catch-up before I go to bed, and then I read before I settle down, and even then it sometimes takes a while to drop off. I think I need more hours – my day could be about twenty hours long, or a bit longer and then my night could be about six – allowing for a leisurely get up now I’m my own boss… so maybe a planet which has a twenty-eight hour ‘day’… which I’m not going to get in our solar system – Mars has 25 hours and after that it’s 5,832 hours on Venus… too long even for a larkish owl like me!

Here’s an interesting article about this very thing:


Stillness of lilies

I’m sharing another poem by Walter Turner, born in 1886,  he  married Delphine Marguerite Dubuis in the spring of 1918; they had no children, and he was only sixty when he died, and Delphine died just five years later. It seems poignant therefore, that he wrote a poem about a daughter


When I have a daughter I shall name her Petunia:
Petunia, Petunia I shall call her;
In the rooms of my house she shall dance, her small face
So bright that no sorrow ‘ll befall her.
From this dark pot of earth, from this sun-clouded hollow
Like a rainbow she’ll spring and a blue sky shall follow,
Green trees shall blow in and gay fountains of water
Ripple the voice of earth’s last, fairest daughter.
And I’ll teach her the songs of Apollo.

The songs of Apollo that white-armed maidens
Sing in the soft dusks of summer,
In the gardens of Zante the sea-girt, the yellow
Where the black and gold bees hum and clummer;
Where the oranges glowing with sun-stolen fire
Lie in heaps for the galleys of Phocos and Tyre;
Where, orbed in clear water, languidly lying
In green, shallow pools the mermaids, faint crying,
To the Sun in the gold West quire.

In the green of their eyes, in the green of their tresses
The forests of ocean are blowing,
They glint with strange gleams of cold stone and of metal
Through the veins of the blind earth flowing;
Round those wavering, gold, orange-pyramids swimming,
The beading clear water their ivory breasts brimming,
They sing, and, faint-floating, the songs they sing
Through fields and cities and men’s hearts ring,
The glory of mortal life dimming.

From all small-mouthed shells on the shining wet sands
A shadowy roar is fleeting,
The roar of great oceans chained fast to the Moon
From the shores of the dark world retreating:
And the maids who to bright Aphrodite cry
Hear naught but the ebb-tide faintly sigh
Far-off in the dusk, see dark tresses drifting
And the sudden-flashed gleam of white arms lifting
Dim hands in the sable sky.

Warm earth-maids in groups with arms white as the stars
On the edge of the solid world crying,
Their faint shadows trembling in cold, salt pools
Where the Moon at the bottom is lying,
Cry out to the weeds on the bright sea rocking—
The dark-bearded gods in their moon-ships rocking—
On the beach their white bodies in moon-vapour limned
Pale shadows, on cliffs and on water dimmed,
To the bloom of the sea-foam flocking.

Aphrodite! Aphrodite! thou shalt touch and awake her,
She shall gaze on her body in wonder,
She shall bathe in thy foam, in her veins the great tide
Of the world beat its shadowy thunder.
All youth that, of old, lifted hands to the sky
By thine altars shall awaken, shall rise and cry
In her heart the songs by all lovers begun—
As the ghosts of all flowers rise each year to the sun
From where their cold shapes lie.

And wrinkled and worn I shall gaze on her face
And worship the God there sleeping,
The ancient glory that flows up at dawn
Out of earth’s darkness leaping,
I shall remember the beauty of water,
Of stillness, of lilies; in the face of my daughter
Youth’s vanished loveliness I shall find;
The frosts of Winter thy hand shall unbind,
Petunia, Petunia, my daughter!

The dark walls will crumble, the hills glow relighted
My spirit, that slumbering lover
Shall stare at the sky and once more and forever
The stars shall their beauty uncover.
The trees that droop crowding to see their dark limbs
When the dusk of that evening each clear image dims
In the lake of my soul shall quiver and gleam,
And depart—thou, too, Petunia—a Dream
As the earth fades out to its rims.

Walter James Redfern Turner
 Zante is now called Zakynthos  and is a Greek island, a popular holiday destination in the Ionian Sea.
Phocos, now Phocus was the son of Aeacus and Psamathe who was a goddess of sandy beaches; when she was attacked by Aeacus she changed herself into a seal. There are other mythological characters of the same name, so I’m only assuming it was the son of the seal! Phocids, by the way are seals.
Petunias originated in South America.
I have no images of petunias so I am sharing a picture of Tasmanian seals!

Cake tins

Like many people I’m trying to de-plastic as much as possible – of course it isn’t always possible. However, the other day I saw some tins of Christmas biscuits reduced and I decided I would buy them for the tins as well as the contents. Actual cake tins – tins in which to keep as opposed to baking cakes are really quite expensive so I figured I would get biscuits with a free tin, or a tin with free biscuits. Perfect. Then yesterday I saw an enormous square cake tin, with a cake inside it; it was an Italian cake, rather like a panettone in texture and flavour but a different shape and with big sugar crystals and almonds on top… I had to buy it for a bargain price, didn’t I?! I discovered after I got it home that it is a  colomba di Pasqua, an Easter dove cake, and that the sugar on top is sugar pearls.

This got me thinking about cake tins from when I was a child at home – and they were all tins, there wasn’t the ubiquitous plastic then. There were two tins that I remember, one was for cakes – sponges, chocolate cake, fruit cake etc, the other was for biscuits, cookies (actually melting moments)  Viennese shortbread – all home-made. There may have been another tin for pastry like jam tarts or mince-pies, or they may have gone in the tin for biscuits. Very little was thrown away, and I remember enjoying slightly stale things from the tin which no fussy child would eat these days… I particularly like stale mince-pies and stale melting moments… I was a peculiar child!

I guess that like me, mum got the tins originally with biscuits inside them – and that would have been a gift not something she bought as she did all her own baking. Or maybe she bought them at a jumble sale, I don’t remember! One of them was a reddy marron colour with painted flowers on the top, pale green leaves and white and red petals, and maybe some blue or some brown for contrast.  For a long time I had it and I also kept home-baked stuff in it. I think eventually it went rusty along the bottom and it was thrown out.

Now I have my newly acquired biscuit and cake tins, I’ll think of mum every time I use them!

Further pondering…

Over the last couple of days I’ve been pondering on various questions – which actually have no correct answer, only people’s opinions.

My character Thomas Radwinter does a lot of pondering – he is quite a muddled thinker and his mind wanders off in all directions, but in the end he always solves the puzzle, even if it is in rather a circuitous way!

Here he is wondering about his wife’s ancestors:

Back to the convalescing French people… tidying through my notes before snuggling down next to sleeping beauty, I notice I have jotted down that the inmates and patients were all sent from a French hospital in London, so I tootle off to look for information on that. Why would there be a special hospital for French people? I guess there must have been French people living in London, French servants to the French business people, and French diplomats and ambassadors… but was there a French community? Even as I pondered on this a little memory tugged at the corner of my mind. Ponder… I seem to be doing a lot of pondering recently, a funny sort of word, I wonder where it comes from…
Well, I find out that the word ponder came from the 1300’s and originally meant to try to estimate how much something was worth, or to appraise its value, and it comes from French apparently, from the Old French word (Old with a capital O) ponderer which meant to weigh… but that in turn came from Latin as you might guess and the Latin verb was ponderare which meant…. Well, actually it meant to ponder… so there you are… but I also came across ponderation – I like that, ponderation!

  • U or non-U? Did it ever matter, does it still matter?

I think manners and being polite and courteous to other people is important; I certainly appreciate it when people are polite to me! However I certainly don’t judge people by whether they have the same way of holding their cutlery as I do – it’s how people behave towards each other which is important. The terms U and non-U are overlaid with snobbery – people doing something differently is not merely different but wrong and some how inferior and ignorant… I really do not agree with that!!

  • Is it acceptable to dunk biscuits into tea/coffee/drinking chocolate?

Coffee, Eccles cake, giant custard cream

No… simply no.

  • Should privet hedges be banned?

Yes the smell of them in flower is nauseating! Privet is a popular shrub used as hedging in the genus of Ligustrum; apparently there are fifty species and they are native to Europe – and like many other pests, have been introduced to Australia and has become an invasive pest. My main objection is the stink of the flowers, nauseating!

  • Should St George’s Day be official?

I’m not sure St George’s Day should be an official national day but i do think it would be an idea to have a national day, just as other nations have. The trouble is nationalism has a nasty whiff of superiority over others rather than just a celebration of one’s selves.

  • Should there be a list of acceptable names for children in the UK, as there is in such countries as Germany and Iceland?


Of course not, people should be free to name their own children. At present the court can stop people call their children names which are offensive or would bring the child ridicule;  two years ago a woman was stopped from calling her child Cyanide.

Is it you?

I’m going through some notes for a talk I’m giving on writing… and one of the things that people new to writing don’t properly think about is who is actually telling the story. I know when I write a story I sometimes go back and change the narrator or the narrative for various reasons, and I know I have preferred ways of using a narrator – maybe most writers do!

The narrator is an important and vital aspect of your story and quite often who’s telling the story is established in the first few pages.

So, who is telling the story?

  • is it you? The unknown all-seeing narrator, who knows what is going on in every character’s mind and who can see it from everyone’s point of view?
  • is it from a single character’s perspective and if so is the character a main player or an observer? is the story told in the first person? Is the story told as if looking over a single character’s shoulder and seeing inside their head?
  • do several characters tell the story in the first person?
  • is the story told from several different points of view? If an incident occurs the different characters would understand different things, feel different things, maybe even see different things.
  • stories can even be told in the second person – this often happens in songs

Even in a short story, and more especially perhaps in a short story, all these aspects are really  important so the reader can properly understand and see what the writer wants them to see.

If you want to find out more of my thoughts on writing, here is a link to my little book So You Want To Write:


An extra P

When I was teaching, like most teachers I wrote material for my students. They were heading towards their public exams and in my case they were working for their English exam. I put my different bits and pieces together into a booklet for them, and later I pulled it all together and eventually produced an actual book which I called ‘So you want to write’ (no question mark because it was a statement!)

I outlined six specifics needed to write a story, which I called the six P’s –

Decide on the story line or action or series of events you are going to write about, and the order in which they are to be written (you can use flashbacks and other devices to make your story more interesting, intriguing or unusual) (think plot)

Decide on your characters, not too many of them in a short story; imagine what they are like and what they look like and how each fit into the pattern of events. Are the characters in some sort of relationship with each other? (think people)

Decide on who is telling the story, you, a single character, several characters, a detached observer (Think point of view – think POV)

Decide why they are telling the story; why is the story being told, the reason (think purpose)

Decide where your events are taking place in terms of a physical setting and in terms of when the action happened. (think place)

Decide what events take place to carry the story and your readers along. (think pace)

Remember the Six P’s

  • Plot
  • People
  • POV
  • Purpose
  • Place
  • Pace

Since then I have realised there is an all important other P missing! Polish! Think Polish!!

What I mean by that is what you do when you have finished your story or your writing; yes, you will check it over for errors, mistakes and typos – and yes you will read it through to check it ‘sounds’ alright, you might even read it through out loud for a real check to make it sure it actually does sound right… but then, before it is launched, share, published, it needs a bit of polishing. Work on it so that it’s the best it can be, look out for little things like repeated words or corny phrases or trite expressions or pretentious language or overused jargon. Sometimes you might have found a word you really like, numinous for instance, or paneremos, and because you like it you keep using it like a lovely little friend… but for your reader it will be an annoyance and a conceit.

I did include the idea of polishing your writing, but did not include it as a P

 A story has to be worked on and polished as a gem cutter might polish a precious stone, or a jeweller buff up a piece of jewellery, or a wood carver rub beeswax into a carving…

Yes, definitely an extra P!!

Household hints… dealing with pests, insects and flies… and nervous disability

I often look at old newspapers, particularly household recipes; I was looking through some one hundred and fifty year old editions of Australian newspapers. I guess many of the readers lived in places were common household preparations weren’t available, and ordinary things you might need had to be home-made. I was looking at an article which had ‘recipes’ for cheap puddings (one was quarter pounds each of  currants,  raisins,  flour, ground rice,  sugar,  suet, and a small teacup of warm milk and bicarbonate of soda, all to be well mixed, the other was a six-cup pudding of preserve,  sugar,  flour,  suet,  bread crumbs,  raisins, and the usual bicarbonate of soda) and then there were the helpful hints.  How to remove ink stains from canvas – hydrochloric acid, how to make tracing paper – Canada balsam, and  spirits of turpentine, and then a remedy for ‘nervous disability’. If you are disabled by nerves you need sulphate of quinine, homeopathic preparation No. 1… and the amount you need is as much as will cover a fourpenny-piece, not piled up… very precise!

I found another list of helpful hints – how to make pastry (very similar to how I make it!) and then how to keep insects from birds (I wonder if they mean chickens or pet birds?) which involves scalding the cage… a good idea I guess. Then came a problem I’m not sure many of us have these days, but how disgusting if you do – how to clean a cellar of flies… yuk!!! The answer is brimstone, two or three pounds of brimstone which we know as sulphur. If you should suffer a plague of flies in your cellar, you need to make it airtight and then burn the brimstone – wow, I bet that smells ghastly. You must keep the cellar closed for twenty-four hours and then open everything to ventilate it. At the end of the instructions is a helpful tip – must be burned in centre of room, and not on wooden floor.

After all the brimstone you may very well have a sore throat and the writer of the article helpfully adds a remedy:- a remedy for dryness of throat will be found in a small piece of muriate of ammonia, about ten or fifteen grains every two hours. Use the best quality, and allow it to dissolve slowly in the mouth…

And muriate of ammonia?

Muriate of ammonia – sal ammoniac , ammonium chloride, NH4Cl, a white crystalline volatile substance having a sharp salty taste, obtained from gas works, from nitrogenous matter, etc….

I think I will just take lemon and honey in warm water, thank you!