Thursday, May 31, 2007

Festival season

I've always wanted to go to the annual book festival at Hay-on-Wye. I'm pretty sure we did once manage a flying visit to the town whilst on holiday in that part of the world with a group of friends, but it wasn't quite the same as going at festival time.

Then I read this report on the Fictionbitch blog and now I am less sure about the festival. Like so many other events I fear it may be losing its character through diversification and commercialisation. But I still need to get there myself to find out!

Years ago, we did spend part of a day at the Edinburgh book festival, where we attended a debate on female crime fiction between Antonia Fraser and Sara Paretsky, an author whose books I really enjoyed. I haven't read any of Paretsky's books lately, but this week I spotted the news that she has a book of essays just out, which sounds as if it could be fascinating as she is definitely a writer with strong feminist and political convictions.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Bullying is everywhere. It is not just something encountered at school, but also in the home, in the workplace, in society and now in cyberspace. It can ruin lives.

Please don't get me wrong, I am a great fan of online communities, which generally are informative, supportive and empowering. However online, like anywhere else, there are people who get their kicks from stirring up trouble and insulting others. There is a big difference between lively debate and personal insults or threats.

Usually we can deal with these 'trolls' just by ignoring them. But what happens when that unwanted attention turns into cyberstalking? Anyone who has ever received abusive comments on their blog or aggressive emails from a stranger (as I did once from an eBay seller) will know how disturbing it can be and how frightening an escalation of such abuse must become.

You may have noticed a small new 'stalker alert' button in my sidebar, just below the picture of Madeleine. Please click on it to see what I am referring to in this post and how you can help, then go straight here for updates.

Update 8/6/07: The cyberstalker is in custody and Rachel has asked that we all remove our buttons.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Rain, rain....

What a washout of a holiday weekend. Just bad luck or yet another sign of global warming?

When I was a child we always had our family holiday at this time of year. My father was a teacher, so holidays had to be taken during school breaks. We lived by the sea anyway, so it was no hardship to be at home for the whole of the long summer holiday and a week at the end of May often provided ideal weather conditions for a break in the UK ( my parents have never been travellers). I don't remember it ever being wet like this.

Luckily we had no special plans for this weekend and we have all spent the last two days indoors, watching the relentless rain through the window and dreaming of sunny days by the sea.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Growing up fast

What is the clearest sign that your angelic little boy is turning into a typical man?

The fact that, for the first time in his life, he has gone out and bought himself a newspaper and it is The Sun?

Or the fact that the TV seems to be constantly tuned into Top Gear on a digital channel?


Friday, May 25, 2007

Thinking about writing again

The novel has rather ground to a halt. Not because I have run out of inspiration, but because life has got seriously in the way, as it has a nasty tendency to do around here.

Knowing that the next two months are going to be a hectic mix of work (the sort that pays!), study for my OU course and of course my normal caring duties, which are increasingly complicated at present, I have decided to put the novel to one side until August. Or perhaps not completely to one side.

I still have confidence in my story idea and characters, but I think perhaps I need to do just a little more planning. In the light of that I may well go back and restructure the chapters I have already completed. I think now will be a good time to juggle a few more ideas around without actually having to commit them to paper.

In the meantime, I am doing some more reading on writing. I had heard so much about Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and even looked at it in Borders one day, yet chose to buy something else. Anyway, this week I got my hands on a cheap copy. So whilst waiting at son 1's clinic appointment yesterday I started to read it and it is so much better than I had expected. Slightly quirky, yes, but great fun.

Then today I received in the post a copy of 'Wannabe a Writer?' by Jane Wenham-Jones, Writing magazine's columnist , which promises to be just as good and is, of course, written from a British point of view. Full of not only Jane's own wisdom, but quotes from many other writers and publishing professionals.

I'm going to enjoy dipping into these books over the long bank holiday weekend.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Apprentice

Watched The Apprentice last night. What irony that Sir Alan had chosen to give the candidates their task standing in front of the Cutty Sark. It also showed how long ago the programme was filmed as the masts were still in place prior to being removed for the planned restoration which has now become a desperate salvage exercise.

I was sorry to see Jadine go. She was a contestant for whom I had quite a lot of sympathy, for various reasons, and I think she had changed and calmed down a lot as the series progressed. Sir Alan also seemed to have a soft spot for her, he definitely likes candidates who have risen above previous adversity, which in turn gives me hope for son 1's future. ( Not that I'm suggesting he goes to work for Sir Alan, but the general principle that you can be a survivor and embrace future success.)

Apart from that the episode was fairly uneventful. Katie was smug and flirty, rather than bitchy, which reduced the entertainment value no end. I can't even tip an obvious winner. Surely not Tre?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bl**dy computers

Son 1's new computer arrives today, after being on order for 10 days. No phone call in advance to say it was on its way, so it was lucky I was in, in fact had it arrived 10 or 15 minutes later I wouldn't have been.

He unpacks it carefully and a couple of pieces of plastic fall off the casing. I leave him fixing them back on and about to set it all up. When I get home a few hours later I find a note to say he couldn't get the computer to work, so has gone round to my friend's house. He is a teenage boy, so if he can't get it to work I know I won't be able to.

When he comes home, I take a closer look with him. The casing is clearly not is slightly lopsided and not properly fixed on one side. The drawer of the dvd drive won't open, even though there is power into the system. The monitor has been sent with a two pin continental plug, rather than a three pin British one.

I phone the company, which we have bought from before. The earliest mutually convenient day they can send an engineer is a week hence. It is lucky that son 1's old computer, although on its last legs, is still working well enough for him to play Guild Wars.

This was supposed to be a boost for son 1 after his difficult end to last week. Instead it has just depressed him further. What is more, it has kept up our unfortunate record of almost every desktop we have ever bought arriving with a defect. The only one that didn't was our original Amstrad. Sir Alan must have got something right.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Tourist attractions

The devastating fire on the Cutty Sark, the clipper built in 1869 which has for so long been a leading London tourist attraction, caught my attention yesterday. I am lucky enough to have visited the ship, but it made me think about the fact that, although I have lived in Greater London for almost twenty five years, there are still many tourist attractions I have not visited. Perhaps now is the time to start doing so, because, to quote Joni Mitchell 'you don't know what you've got till its gone'.

I've always been a cultural tourist, the sort of traveller who makes for art galleries and museums, churches and craftsmen's workshops. Yet we are just too busy to appreciate what is on our doorstep, not helped by the fact that due to our circumstances, family excursions are out of the question.

I think a few awaydays on my own might be in order. Surely I must be due some time off for good behaviour?

Monday, May 21, 2007


I wonder if Gordon Brown reads my blog?

Less than two weeks ago I wrote this.

Today this announcement is made.

So Gordon Brown is not Prime Minister yet, but he does hold the purse strings and whilst this is just a drop in the ocean, it is a start. Now please look at also ending the postcode lottery for service provision, Gordon.

For anyone who is interested in the plight of families caring for disabled children, do take a look at the website of the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


This morning I was walking along the main road to collect tasty fresh bread for our lunch from the local baker, as I do almost every Saturday. The sun was shining, life seemed good.

A little ahead of me walked a older lady. In a split second she fell, face down onto the pavement. As I ran forwards to see if she was hurt, she was already picking herself up, yet was shaking and clearly in shock. Blood was smeared on her upper lip.

There was no low wall for her to sit down on, so I stood with my arm around her as she tried to recover herself.

'Shall I call an ambulance for you?'
'No, I don't need one.'
'Is there anyone else I can call?'
'No thanks.'

A kindly Asian man stopped and asked the same questions, but the lady, who was about 60 and not infirm, resolutely refused all help. She had broken her two front teeth landing on her face. I offered to help her get home but she decided she might go straight to her dentist, as she thought he worked on a Saturday morning. I asked which one it was...about 10 minutes walk away, in the direction I was going anyway, so I offered to walk along with her, as I was not convinced she was fit enough to go on her own. There was no obvious reason why she had fallen and I was concerned she might have blacked out briefly. It was one of those occasions when I really wished I had some first aid training.

We had just started to walk forward very cautiously, when I heard a call from the other side of the road. An ambulance was moving slowly along in the traffic.

'Is everything OK?'
'She's had a fall and broken her tooth.'
'Shall we take a look?'

With that they did a U-turn and pulled up right beside us. Jumping out they asked a few questions. The lady repeated that she wanted to see if her dentist was around.

'Let us give you a lift there.'
'Thats a good idea.'

I said it quickly, thinking that if the dentist was not there they might take her on to hospital for a check-up. I left her in their safe hands.

When I emerged from a long wait in the baker's shop, I could see the ambulance still standing outside the dentist's surgery just a little further up the road.

Sometimes I really believe in angels.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A sad goodbye

Son 1 got divorced today. Not literally, of course, because he is not even old enough to get married. But today he lost the relationship which has been probably the most important in his life for almost 12 months. His wonderful mental health keyworker has left for a new job, in a new area.

We have known for weeks that it was going to happen. Two days ago we met the person who will be his new keyworker. But however much he tried to prepare himself, it is like a bereavement. His keyworker has pulled him back from the brink of suicide, has been a support and confidant, has helped to start the rebuilding of self esteem. He has visited our house up to three times a week and got son 1 back out into the community, he has been like a gentle giant of a friend.

I, too, will miss his professionalism and shy smile, while the regular arrival of a tall, dark, handsome young(ish) man at our front door must have done wonders for my reputation on our street!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Literary lists

I don't ususually take much notice of lists of books in the papers, but there have been two interesting book lists in The Times over the last two days.

Today's list comprises 'The 25 writers tipped to be literary lions of the future'.

Well, a couple of these I have read and loved - Jon McGregor and, of course, one of my favourites, Maggie O'Farrell.

Two more I have in my 'to be read soon' pile - Marina Lewycka and Naomi Alderman.

A few others I am aware of and interested in finding out more about - Charlotte Mendelson, Susanna Clarke and Jane Harris.

The others, to be honest, I don't think I have ever heard of.

Yesterday's list was of the 'Top 160 books for teenage boys'. Sadly, reading is not considered cool and far too many boys (including my own) never read for pleasure. Anything that can possibly help parents to find books which have appeal to the Playstation generation, is to be welcomed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Madeleine - a footnote

For anyone who may have been wondering whether it is right to blog about the abduction of little Madeleine McCann in Portugal on 3rd May, PLEASE read this post on Susan Hill's blog, which includes an email from Madeleine's family.

As a parent myself, I can only begin to understand the agony the family must be going through. The whole situation is unbearable but right now publicity is what the family wants and needs, to spread awareness around the world and keep the case in the public eye. Madeleine deserves any little help we can offer.

Madeleine's most recently released photo, together with the contact details for anyone who might have any information, however small, are below, here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Too tired to work?

Still a lot going on here and I'm tired.

I've slept fitfully for the last two nights, compounded by son 2 having early morning starts. After a supermarket trip this morning and a visit from a TV engineer at lunchtime, I really did intend to work hard this afternoon. But I just looked at the bookkeeping, sighed, put it away again and answered emails instead.

Oh dear.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Please keep looking...

The abduction of four year old Madeleine McCann from Praia da Luz, Portugal, has dominated the news media for the last ten days.

This weekend her family have issued this new photo which clearly shows the unusual marking in her right eye. This may now be the only way to positively identify a child whose other outward appearances could easily have been changed. Whatever we might feel about the circumstances in which this happened, let's hope someone, somewhere, can help to put her parents out of their misery.

Anyone with any information can phone Crimestoppers internationally on +44 1883 731 336 or within the UK on 0800 555 111.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Bookaholic alert...

I went onto Amazon this morning to pre-order the latest Maggie O'Farrell book in paperback and guess what? They have a sale, some books are as little as £1.

Well you didn't think I could just ignore that, did you? Then, of course, I had to make the order up to £15 to get the free postage.

7 books now on their way...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A new era?

So Tony Blair has finally announced the date he will stand down as Prime Minister. In the likelihood of Gordon Brown becoming the next Prime Minister, I wonder if we might dare to hope for more investment in services for special needs?

Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron, the Leader of the Opposition, have children with special needs. The second son of the Browns has cystic fibrosis and of course they tragically lost their first born, a daughter, shortly after her premature birth. The first child of the Camerons is profoundly disabled.

Services for children - and adults - with chronic illness or disability have been cut drastically year on year. Access to therapy is limited by budgets, most families have little or no respite care and help from social services is generally only available in crisis situations. Special needs education is a mess.

Maybe, just maybe, these two politicians will be able to identify with, and do something to help, families who need a little extra support. But don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Normal service....

...will be resumed shortly. Nothing traumatic happening, just a very busy week full of appointments and commitments. Lots to think about but I can't/won't bore you with all that!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Recharging the batteries

We have had a quiet weekend, with the last two days spent at home. I had good intentions of doing the ironing and some of my accountancy work, but in the end I decided to push those chores to one side in favour of a little down-time. Hopefully I will have prepared myself adequately for the rest of the week, which promises to be hectic (so what's new?)

Over the weekend I have been unable to get the news story about the abduction of little Madeleine McCann in Portugal out of my mind. All parents will, at some time, have experienced the heart-stopping panic when one of their children disappears, even for a few seconds. But something like this is a family's worst nightmare and I'm sure her parents, like most of us, never believed it could happen to them. I just hope she will soon be returned safely.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Faber's stories

My charity shop book buys yesterday included two by Michel Faber, an author who had somehow passed beneath my radar until recently.

I've subsequently seen interesting reviews of his 'Victorian' novel, The Crimson Petal and the White, so I am looking forward to reading it in the future. I also bought his first anthology of short stories, Some Rain Must Fall and made a start on some of the stories while Son 2 was in music therapy this morning. The tales seem to be very varied in subject and style and some, although beautifully written, are not perhaps what I would normally read, give that I am not a devotee of science fiction or fantasy. I thought, however, that the title story, which opens the collection, was devastatingly good. You can read it here.

Other stories by Michel Faber which can be found online include The Safehouse, shortlisted for the National Short Story Prize 2006 and Fish, which is also in the volume I am reading.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Overheard today...

So I was just standing in a charity shop, browsing through the shelves of books, when I couldn't help overhearing a conversation between the two assistants, both rather ordinary ladies of 'a certain age'.

Lady behind till:

'We were discussing in the pub the other night how men look much better half dressed than naked. Don't like to see it all.'

Embarrassed cough from lady tidying the clothes.

Lady behind till:

'Yes a man in tight jeans, that is what I find sexy. Top off is fine though. But then again I think women should keep some things secret too...'

'Yes, so do I dear.'

Exit one customer, trying hard to stifle laughter.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Time to read at last

After complaining about no time to read, I had an hour to myself in a waiting room this morning. I went back to 'What Was Lost' by Catherine O'Flynn, which I had previously only just started. So far it seems to be a wonderfully written first novel and I just wish I could write like that!

Son 1 has another appointment tomorrow and as I am on taxi duty I have should have time to read more. I can't wait.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Letter writing

You might have noticed that I have been rather quiet recently about what I have been reading and writing. That is because I haven't had time to do either.

I'm still struggling to get through the Sunday papers, which were kept back from recycling on Monday. I have an inviting pile of magazines I have yet to open. My books to be read are lined up neatly on the shelves.

As far as writing goes, this blog has become my only daily writing practice. Yet on Monday I encountered another writing challenge. I needed to write a formal letter to a difficult person and had to compose it in a way which would not be inflammatory, yet would hint at my true feelings. Icily polite is the phrase which comes to mind. It took quite a while and at times it challenged me as much as any piece of short fiction, but I was pleased with what I wrote.

Let's hope it has the desired result.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Nature v nurture

I'm rather interested in the nature versus nurture question. How much of our inherent personality is the result of our genes and how much depends upon our upbringing and environment?

Our children are of similar colouring, but quite different in physical shape and personality. Son 2 has inherited a faulty gene from me, along with my persistance and bloody mindedness, while son 1 is quieter and more easygoing. Son 1 has always been the spitting image of his father, so much so that I have often seriously wondered if he has any of my genes at all.

So why is it that when I look at his body language and facial expressions and listen to him talking, I now see his uncle (Hubby's brother) so clearly? He only sees his uncle about once a year. This can only be nature shaping him.