A smashing day at the races

Recently a few friends and I have got together for a’write-in’. We meet at someone’s house (usually mine) and just sit and write, fuelled by tea or coffee and biscuits. I’ve found it very productive… I would feel guilty slacking or faffing about with other stuff when my co-writers are busy working away!

It has been very useful for my latest book, another story of Thomas Radwinter…. here is a little extract. He and his wife Kylie have gone to a small hotel so she can discuss some projects with the owner, Sylvie. The hotel which is actually more of a guest house is called Saltern House.

There were four chaps sitting along the bar, definitely chaps not blokes, I could hear their plummy tones and braying laughter. In actual fact they were quite friendly and harmless and Sylvie introduced them as her friends. They had been to the races they explained, in fact they explained several times…  There were other guests sitting by the window, in what must have been a lovely seat to look out across the sea… Saltern House was not quite opposite the pub, so there was a wonderful view – at this time of night with a full moon reflecting of the ripply sea it was just gorgeous! In the distance were the twinkles of the lights on Farholm Island, and the regular sweeping flash of the light house at the end…

I got a bit on the muddle with the names of the men at the bar, it was a rather drunken introduction and there were nick-names and silly names, and other names were mentioned so afterwards I could only think of them as the kindly red-faced bushy bearded doctor (who bore an unfortunate resemblance to the mass murdering Dr Harold Shipman) a very thin bald man with a long lugubrious face who I think was called Weasel, although that obviously was a nick-name… well, I think it was, I must look up Weasel as a surname… unless it was German, something like Wessel, but he was also Stoat – and the old joke about the difference between a weasel and a stoat (weasilly distinguishable and stoatally different) was repeated several times so I ended up very confused. He had no beard at all but a rather long chin which may have been improved by a beard.

There was a very tall guy, (was he really called Syracuse or was that another joke?) – he was younger than the other three, and he looked a bit rackety compare to them, especially since they had been to the races and they were wearing suits. He was wearing black jeans and trainers and a grey jumper without a shirt, and a jacket which looked as if it might belong to someone else. However, he was the poshest, and I know I have a bit of a thing about people wearing glasses – I sometimes find them a bit sinister, well, he had very sinister glasses! Harold Shipman had glasses too, but they were kindly school master glasses (school masters in old films, not any teachers I ever had)

The fourth person was short but very bulky, quite powerful looking with a phenomenal beard, bigger than Harold Shipman’s bushy  face fungus and it turns out he was a yachtie and had a big boat in Strand… He was called Arnold, I think, and he asked  if I was into sailing, well, no, I wasn’t, I was a bit of a fatty for that – he laughed and slapped his own fine belly, and then all the others did too – a sort of juvenile horseplay which was a bit strange for blokes their age. Later in the conversation when I said we had children he said that his yacht club ran classes for kids, from quite a young age  if I thought they might be interested… well, actually that sounded quite a nice idea… they now had wet suits, they could both swim…

They were all very jolly, the yachtie was very drunk, and Syracuse (that can’t be his real name) may also have been, but they were all jovial and there was a lot of banter and storytelling. They bought another round and insisted on buying us another too.

“So, Thomas, what sort of line are you in?” asked Arnold.

I explained I mostly looked after the kids but was a part-time solicitor, which they all seemed to find interesting and funny and there was a lot of banter… I’m used to all the jokes, and as long as no-one is rude about Kylie I don’t really mind. I asked them what sort of line they were in; Harold Shipman was actually a doctor at the hospital, Weasel was an ex-teacher, Syracuse (I must have misheard that, they all called him Sy) had a removals company and yachtie Arnold was in logistics.

They were very friendly, but to be honest not really my type, all seemed a bit posh and ‘old boyish’ and I thought my old boss Gerald would fit in well here. They told me they’d had a smashing day at the races which was why they were all a bit ‘on the squiff’, as yachtie described it.

I suppose I had an OK evening with them, but hearty drunks with in-jokes are a bit wearying, and as some of the jokes might have been about me  which I didn’t quite get, it wasn’t an altogether comfortable way to spend my time…

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here is a link to my other books and you can find all the Thomas Radwinter books there as well as other things I’ve written:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_2_6?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=lois+elsden&sprefix=lois+e%2Caps%2C159&crid=34JGIWWL3WPQJ

Writing around and about here…

With the news that there is to be a literary festival in our town of Weston-super-Mare, I’ve been thinking about what I can do, and what the groups and other writers I’m involved in can offer… I was looking at literary connections here and in our county of Somerset, and there have been quite a few over the years!

As well as Jeffrey Archer, Roald Dahl , Hannah Moore and William Lisle Bowles  who lived or were born in Weston, here are just  a few writers/poets/dramatists i have come across with a Somerset connection:

  • Bill Bryson – Weston-super-Mare
  • Arthur C Clarke – Minehead, Bishop’s Lydiard, Taunton
  • Daniel Defoe – Battle of Sedgemoor, Westonzoyland
  • Elizabeth Goudge – Wells
  • Evelyn Waugh/Auberon Waugh – Combe Florey
  • Fay Weldon – Pilton
  • Henry Fielding – Walton
  • R.R.Tolkien – Clevedon, Cheddar
  • Jane Austen – Bath
  • John Steinbeck – Redlynch Bruton
  • Michael Holroyd and Margaret Drabble – Somerset.
  • Penolpe Lively – Roadwater
  • RD Blackmore – Porlock.
  • Robert Southey – Porlock, Minehead, Dnster
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Nether Stowey
  • Terry Pratchett – Bridgwater, Rowberrow, Wincanton
  • Thomas Hardy – Yeovil
  • TS Elliot – East Coker
  • William Makepeace Thackeray -, Clevedon Court,
  • William Wordsworth – Holford

East Coker

V

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

T.S.Eliot

Spell check… dystonian or dystopian…

Spell checks are marvellous – like lots of people I am actually good at spelling – in spelling tests and quizzes I nearly always get everything right. It’s nothing to do with intelligence, it’s the way I was taught at school, reading addictively, writing every day of my life – using dictionaries before computers, being a teacher when I had to teach spelling…  However, when I’m writing, my thoughts fly faster than my fingers and I have certain words which I always misspell, eg weird/wierd, Joseph/Jospeh… There are also the ordinary typos, double letters or letters missed out, repeated words, nonsensical sentences… you know the sort of thing.

So spell checks are marvellous, but they do offer some wierd/weird alternatives, even to words spelt correctly. For example, dystopia – an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one – is not accepted and it keeps trying to replace it with dystonia –  a neurological movement disorder syndrome in which sustained or repetitive muscle contractions result in twisting and repetitive movements.

I cannot imagine what a dystonian novel would be – I guess about some poor soul suffering from the syndrome. Maybe a different writer than I am could write about someone who suffers from dystopia… I have the feeling it might be a sort of black comedy sketch, maybe of the Monty Python school of humour.

I came across a list of ‘the best’ twenty dystopian novels, and i was surprised at how many I had read, ten of them – and yet it is a genre I wouldn’t have picked out as being on my ‘reading list’… Maybe I’m a secret fan of dystopia!

  • The Time Machine (1895)  H.G. Wells
  • The Iron Heel (1908) Jack London
  • We (1921)  Yevgeny Zamyatin
  • Brave New World (1932)  Aldous Huxley
  • 1984 (1949)  George Orwell
  • Farenheit (1953) 451 Ray Bradbury
  • The Chrysalids (1955)  John Wyndham
  • A Clockwork Orange (1962) Anthony Burgess
  • The Drowned World (1962)  J.G. Ballard
  • Logan’s Run (1967) William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson
  • Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? (1968)  Philip K. Dick
  • The Running Man (1982)  Richard Bachman (Stephen King)
  • Neuromancer (1984)  William Gibson
  • The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)  Margaret Atwood
  • Oryx and Crake (2003)  Margaret Atwood
  • Uglies (2005)  Scott Westerfeld
  • The Road (2006)  Cormac McCarthy
  • The Hunger Games (2008)  Suzanne Collins
  • Wind Up Girl (2009)  Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Article 5 (2012)  Kristen Simmons

If you want to read more about the above novels, and links to obtaining them, here you are:

https://www.shortlist.com/news/20-best-dystopian-novels/43969

 

Goose on the menu?

It’s Michaelmas today, the Feast of St Michael the Archangel; it is one of the quarter days of the year which mark the changing seasons, but I’m not sure it is much celebrated or even noted any more. No doubt this autumnal celebration dates back to pre-Christian times, but was grafted on to the Christian calendar. Traditionally it is the 29th September, but in Suffolk it’s the 10th of October, and in Norfolk the 11th of October.

Michaelmas is very near the autumn equinox which is of course, harvest time, and particularly in the Middle Ages and through to Tudor times, was a reason for great celebration. it was also when farmers paid their rents and tithes, when servants were hired or paid off,  and customarily  animals, including and particularly geese were given in part payment. The reason geese were exchanged in this way was that this time of year was when they were fattest, having been put out in the fields after the drops had been gathered. Geese weren’t just given as payment, they were eaten at feasts and this was supposed to bring luck to the household or farm:

He who eats goose on Michaelmas day,
Shan’t money lack or debts pay.

Goose fairs have been held in various places, including Nottingham, since these times

archive_7025_TheLloydGillGallery-1A painting by Frankie partridge of Goose Fair

There are other traditions and superstitions connected to Michaelmas; apparently 29th September is also called ‘devil’s spit day’ – after this day blackberries shouldn’t be picked or eaten as the devil had breathed and peed on them! Charms and amulets to ward off evil were best made at Michaelmas, as St Michael was the warrior archangel, and a protector against evil… This surely must be a superstition left over from pre-Christian times!

 

Do you remember ‘Fox’?

There are some TV series which make such an impact on you, that even though they might not be classed as a ‘great’ on any list they do seem to be of a quality and class above others which are.  One such was the 1966 version of David Copperfield…

  • Ian McKellen (David)
  • Christopher Guard (David as a boy)
  • Lila Kaye (Peggoty
  • Flora Robson (Betsey Trotwood)
  • George Benson (Mr Dick)
  • Bill Fraser (Mr Micawber)
  • Colin Jeavons (Uriah Heep)
  • Noël Johnson (Mr Wickfield)
  • Hannah Gordon (Agnes)
  • Barry Justice (James Steerforth)
  • Suzanne Togni (Little Emily)

What a stellar cast – I had forgotten that Ian McKellen and Christopher Guard played David, but I remember Barry Justice and Colin Jeavons as Steerforth and Uriah Heap – they made such an impression on me. To my delight, Colin Jeavons, the great actor is still alive, aged eighty-seven! I didn’t know that he played the part of Herbert Pocket in an early version of Great Expectations – you can’t imagine two more dissimilar characters! Sadly, Barry Justice died very young, aged only forty.

Back to the Fox family… Fox was a  marvellous ITV drama series from 1980. It had thirteen parts and was based around the Fox family, who lived in Clapham, in South London. It was one of the first TV series which had gangs and criminals as the main characters, and followed their lives. It was written by Trevor Preston, produced by Verity Lambert and directed by Jim Goddard. I remember watching it and being utterly gripped, and yet quite shocked that the people who were the ‘heroes’ were actually villains. Once again, not only was it brilliantly scripted, produced and directed, but it had a wonderful cast who went on to be ‘greats’ in many other TV programmes and films:

  • Billy Fox – Peter Vaughan
  • Connie Fox– Elizabeth Spriggs
  • Kenny Fox – Ray Winstone
  • Joey Fox– Larry Lamb
  • Vin Fox – Bernard Hill
  • Ray Fox – Derrick O’Connor
  • Phil Fox– Eamon Boland
  • Renie Fox – Rosemary Martin
  • Andy Fox– Richard Weinbaum
  • Nan Fox– Cindy O’Callaghan
  • Jenny Fox– Gail Shaw
  • Frank Fox– Sidney Livingstone

Other people who were in it, almost as bit parts…

  • Maggie Steed
  • Karl Howman
  • Alexis Walker
  • Dilys Laye
  • Graeme Crowther
  • Bill Nighy
  • Jim Carter
  • David Calder
  • Andy Secombe
  • Gretchen Franklin

It is actually available on DVD… should I?

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fox-Complete-DVD-Peter-Vaughan/dp/B000RJEIQG/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1506716351&sr=1-1&keywords=fox

Return to the Bone Cave

People often ask why do I blog… well, there are lots of reasons, but the simple one is that I like writing, and blogging is a way of practising, sharing, and having fun with my writing! I often find that things I use here become the basis for something else.

I visited somewhere very interesting which made a big impact on me. I wrote about it a couple of times, and now I have brought those different pieces of writing together and it will form part of something else… Here is the first draft:

The Mendip Hills of Somerset are riddled with caves, potholes, underground streams and lakes, created millions of years ago by the action of water on limestone. … no-one actually knows the extent of the system or systems, but each in its own way is a marvel. Tens of thousands of years ago some of them were inhabited by people; before that animals sought shelter within or came to die or had their bones washed into the caves by torrential rains or melting ice.

The minerals within the hills have been exploited for thousands of years, and in the Banwell area there are seams of yellow and red ochre; the yellow is a hydrated iron hydroxide known as limonite, the red is from iron. It was used as a dye and colouring agent going back to the earliest human activity when people decorated their caves and no doubt themselves with the brilliant colours.

In Banwell, near the end of the Mendip chain, there is a cave open periodically to the public, which is called the Bone Cave. The Bone Cave was called the Bone Cave because of the vast quantity of bones found inside it when it was discovered in 1824; it was an accidental discovery because a nearby cave full of stalactites which had been found fifty years before, was a popular tourist attraction; a charity dig was mounted to open it up into another part of the system, to raise money for the village school; a tunnel was dug and this broke into the Bone Cave.

The stalactite cave still exists but no-one can visit without proper caving. However the Bone Cave can be visited, and as you enter you will see it is just a big, roundish cave, but stacked neatly along the walls are piles of bones from the creatures which had died there. The eighteenth and nineteenth explorers working for the Bishop of Bath and Wells who owned the land, tidied it up for visitors to the caves. Outside there were gardens and buildings, grottoes, an osteoicon (bone house – museum) and tower, were all part of what might be called a Victorian ‘theme park’.

In the cave was found a wondrous mixture of skeletal remains of wolves, wolverines, bison, reindeer, other deer, and a bear; these had arrived quite naturally, washed in nearly a hundred thousand years ago during the Ice Age. Many of them had, as I mentioned, been gathered and neatly stacked to form exhibits for the nineteenth century tourists; however, many thousand upon thousand remain beneath the floor of the cave. The Bishop of Bath and Wells, George Henry Law, had a residence built there and he believed that the bones were evidence of the Biblical flood which had engulfed the world.

When I visited, I was led down into the darkness, treading carefully on roughly hewn steps. The cave is extraordinary, and extraordinarily atmospheric. Some of the bones had been left in a heap and the guide picked some up and I was able to handle and hold them. They were mostly bison and reindeer, but I also saw mountain hares, red foxes, otters and wolverines. These bones give an interesting picture of life then; wolves for example were less hunters as we think of them, and were scavengers; the predominant predator species then was the bear.

The guide handed me a huge, yellowing hip bone; a gigantic bear thought by scientists to be a not a cave bear but a species related to polar bears, and one of gigantic proportions. These creatures could be up to twelve feet tall… imagine that… a twelve-foot tall carnivorous bear…

As I stood in the flickering candlelight, holding this massive hip bone, I had a really curious, almost overwhelming sensation… which I can’t really explain. It was only a momentary sense of something, but I can really understand how people feel that objects contain power. Holding the bear bone in that cave was an unforgettable experience.

© Los Elsden 2017

And did those feet…

I have started a local history course in our town of Weston-super-Mare; the leader/lecturer is historian John Crockford-Hawley, one of our local councillors. It was the first evening and as a start Mr Crockford-Hawley went back 35,00 years to the earliest inhabitants of our little Somerset village of Uphill… Obviously there wasn’t a village here that long ago, well not a village as we know it. However people lived here, and no doubt had successful lives in their terms – an area with fresh water, plenty of birds and animals and fish, plenty of land and sea plants, relatively safe as it is by a hill, and with plenty of stone to use as tools and weapons. We travelled through the millennia up to about 1841, when railways arrived here in Weston. At first the people in charge insisted that the actual engines remained out of town and the carriages were pulled to the station by horses!

Uphill was the first part of the area which was inhabited, and although other areas soon had early peoples and then the Romans, Uphill is the place which can claim to be the oldest.  Although we have a hill, Uphill Hill, the village isn’t called after it; a pill or pyle is the local name of a small navigable channel – the pill here probably belonged to Oppa or Opo, hence Oppa/Opo’s Pill – Uphill!

There are many legends as well as true stories attached to our village  – my favourite I think is that St Patrick was snatched from the hill here when he was a boy tending his father’s flocks. He was taken to Ireland as a slave, and became a saint in due course, the patron saint of Ireland but maybe he was actually a Somerset lad! I also knew the legend that Jesus is supposed to have travelled to Glastonbury with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. However, I didn’t know that they were supposed to have arrived at the wharf in Uphill, and maybe travelled up our River Axe into the Mendip hills to the lead mines where Joseph, Uncle Joe who was a metalworker purchased some fine Somerset ore.

When William Blake came to write his well known poem ‘And did those feet in ancient time’, he was thinking of that legend – some think as I mentioned, that Jesus and his Uncle Joe went to Glastonbury, but why would they, there’s no metal there, no lead to be bought!

  And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green and pleasant Land.