Monday, July 30, 2007

Psychic cats

A footnote to the story of Oscar the psychic cat which was one of my three notable things last Thursday. Nerd Bunny dropped in to tell me that there is a cat with a similar gift at the hospice where she works. There must be something in this. Does anyone else know a psychic animal? I wonder what these cats pick up on...smell or atmosphere, or are they really psychic?

I have decided to take a short Open University course in writing plays this autumn in preparation for the level three course due to launch next year, which will apparently feature scriptwriting as well as the more familiar fiction, poetry and life writing. The short courses are very enjoyable...I have already done the courses in fiction and poetry...and an excellent starting point for any aspect of writing.

Three notable things:

1. Contacting an old OU tutor via Facebook and getting a lovely note back.

2. Working on the blog which supports my fledgling work-in-progress novel.

3. Not losing my new titanium magnetic bracelet in a store on Saturday. I caught the catch and it fell off but I quickly realised it had gone and found it on the floor.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Silly season

It's school holidays again. I shall be largely confined to home for the next five weeks with just odd days off for good behaviour when son 2 is at playscheme.

This may be a Good Thing.

I may get lots written. On the other hand, the house will be noisy, very noisy, and the kids will demanding. So I may not.

So I started the holiday as I mean to go on, by wasting time creating a WeeMee which will become my new face on the web, as I hate having my photo taken. What do you think of it?

To make matters worse I have just opened an account on Facebook, which I fear could become another big distraction. Over the Christmas holidays I joined MySpace and have made lots of mainly writer friends there. Some of those are already on Facebook and I am sure that, with all the publicity it is currently getting, more and more people will be signing up. I used to think that these sites were just for kids but actually they are quite a good way to network, in a similar manner to the blogging world. So I can add social networking sites to various forums and blogs on which I seem to spend half my day. No wonder the housework doesn't seem to get done very often...

But...I need some more Facebook friends as Anne is feeling lonely. If any of you are on there, please come and say hello.

Three notable things:

1. Yet more book browsing and buying in town yesterday, followed by two free cups of Earl Grey tea in the Debenhams Goldcard lounge.

2. Son 2 bringing home an excellent end of term report. He is really making progress in most areas except reading and writing. So he doesn't take after his Mum then!

3. Son 2's video and dvd players both packing up at the start of the holiday. Hubby will have to go on a replacement mission to Currys tomorrow!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

My day

I'm feeling rather tired this evening, so I think I will just sum up my day in three notable things:

1. Reading a couple of good short stories by Rose Tremain and James Lasdun whilst waiting at the clinic for son 1. Both stories were shortlisted for the National Short Story Prize 2006 and the Lasdun tale won.

2. Having a lunch of lovely home-cooked Indian vegetarian food with friends.

3. Watching a news report about Oscar the 'psychic' cat in Rhode Island.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


WikidWords is a new blog of poems and flash fiction by a group of writers, both previously published and not yet published elsewhere, who were part of the first Open University A215 Creative Writing course last year.

Do go and take a look at just some of the talent of the class of 2006...and I'm not only saying that because Jude, the editor, has kindly published one of my own poems on it! I hope that in due course I will be able to produce more pieces of work good enough for this group. In fact I may even submit the poem I wrote yesterday when I have finished polishing it up.

Three notable things:

1. Realising that I had missed an appointment yesterday but being able to arrange another with no hassle.

2. Book browsing in charity shops this morning and buying Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes.

3. Having a poem published on Wikidwords!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thoughts on the floods

So I was inconvenienced by the floods on Friday. But at least I got back and had a dry home to return to. Watching pictures on the BBC news of the floods this summer, first those up in the north and now those in the west and south of the country, really started me thinking about how we, as a family, would cope in such a situation.

How would an autistic child, or adult, even to begin to understand what was going on? Son 2 would have no concept of the dangers of the flood water or the need to conserve power and drinking water. Son 1, being agoraphobic, would find evacuating the house very hard, even in an emergency. They would both be devastated to loose possessions.

It is a scary thought.

Three notable things:

1. Writing a poem today. I don't often get the urge to write a poem, but I was inspired by something I heard yesterday.

2. Sorting out a set of symbols for son 2 to use as a communication aid this summer.

3. It was a warm, dry day and I didn't go out at all. Why not?

Monday, July 23, 2007


I don't think my parents could quite believe my fascination with the wrecked MSC Napoli. To the locals in East Devon it is a nuisance, a source of beach pollution and a hindrance to the vital tourist trade. It has to go, yet earlier attempts to refloat it had been unsuccessful due to damage sustained during the storm which resulted in it being beached. It has languished distantly on the horizon surrounded by tugs and other vessels belonging to the salvage company, whilst on the beaches locals and opportunists fought to salvage the contents of containers which washed ashore. The whole saga made the national news media which is unusual for the often sleepy and insular South West.

On the day I arrived in Devon the Napoli was to be blown into two parts which could be towed away separately for safety. That evening we piled into the car and drove up to a vantage point on the cliffs to observe the results of the operation. The ship was resolutely still in one piece.

The next day I, along with many others, watched it from the promenade and tried to take photos...sadly it was really too distant for the zoom lens on my old camera ( the above is from Wikipedia!) That afternoon more depth charges were used. Still the Napoli remained intact. It must have been better built than anyone had anticipated. About an hour after I left town two days later, a third attempt was successful. See the Napoli being dismantled here. I missed it all.

I think my interest arose from the fact that, back in the 1980's, I used to lead a team auditing a shipbroker. My client introduced me to the world of merchant shipping and took me to visit the old Baltic Exchange, where brokers still matched ships with cargo loads by bartering on an exchange floor. A piece of history which has disappeared since the Baltic Exchange was blown up by an IRA bomb and city trading became electronic. It is such a shame that the historic building was not restored.

Three notable things:

1. Visiting a friend I don't see often enough and catching up with lots of gossip.

2. Buying the new, and final, Harry Potter book.

3. Making the most of the fact that Son 2's school holiday starts a whole week later than most other children's!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Devon interlude

It was a quiet, relaxing time. My parents live in a wellknown retirement and tourist resort with a promenade and attractive little shops and, in the distance, the intiguing sight of the beached and wrecked MSC Napoli. More on that later, but if you look very carefully in this photo you might just spot its shape on the horizon.

The two whole days down there were largely spent pottering around the shops and being taken out for coffee by my mother. Going out for coffee is a big social event in that little town. On the second day we all went out for lunch in a nearby inland village and then on to walk for a while in another tiny resort.

My parents are not getting any younger, so evenings were spent quietly at home. I had taken several books to read, yet barely started them. Instead our time was spent looking at old photos and family trees, trying to piece together my heritage, and just chatting.

Three notable things:

1. Enjoying being beside the sea once again.

2. Exploring the local charity shops and buying books by Lorrie Moore and Mary Gordon. In fact I could have bought several more books if I had been able to carry them back to London, but I like to travel light!

3. A lovely lunch in a restaurant where, for most of the time, I was the youngest client by at least ten years!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I'm back...but only just

It was warm and sunny in Devon. Honestly. You would never believe how the weather could change so suddenly causing terrible floods. I spent a few days relaxing with my family and sleeping a lot. I hadn't realised how tired I was until I actually got away.

The journey down on a First Great Western train should have been fine, but halfway there it was announced that the train was to be diverted via Bath and Bristol, due to a vehicle having hit a railway bridge, thus preventing trains using the normal route. This was to add 45 minutes to the journey. Bath and Bristol having been passed through, the train slowed almost to a halt and crawled along for miles in the Bridgewater area. This, apparently, was due to reports of people walking alongside the line. We finally arrived in Exeter about 75 minutes late, my parents having been waiting for me at the station for all that time. I was just glad that son 1 had decided not to travel with me, as he would have been very stressed out.

When it was time to travel home yesterday, I was relieved to see the train arrive dead on time at Exeter. I was disappointed to find my carriage noisy and dirty, crowded with teenagers returning from surfing holidays in North Cornwall. But that was just the start. About half an hour into the journey an announcement came over the tannoy that the train was to be diverted to Bristol, where it would terminate, due to flooding on the lines in the Newbury and Didcot areas. The train manager didn't know how anyone would be able to travel on to London.

At Bristol we all piled out with our luggage and sought information. There was already another London-bound train stranded there and nobody seemed to know what was happening. Eventually a rumour went around that there was one train due to go to London via a southern route, but it would take about four hours. It was a small train and by the time I got there all the seats were taken and people were fighting to get on. I managed to secure myself a standing space in the region of the door, with a piece of wall to lean against and my luggage at my feet. It was like the London Underground in rush hour as we all crammed in together and in typical British fashion we even managed to have a bit of a laugh about it, despite some fraying tempers.

It was a long way to London. I was glad that I had a bottle of water, some painkillers and a flapjack with me. By the time we reached London Waterloo station over four hours later, having taken the long scenic route through via Salisbury and Basingstoke, I was exhausted and feeling quite wobbly. I still had to cross London on the Underground and even that had delays due to the floods. I finally got home at about 8.30pm instead of about 4.30pm, just glad that I had been able to get back to London at all in the flood crisis.

I have travelled between London, Reading and Exeter many, many times over the last thirty years and these were by far the worst journeys I have ever had. To be fair the problems were the fault of freak occurrences rather than the train companies, though the level of communication provided to travellers, especially at Bristol Temple Mead station, was very bad.

More about my very short holiday next time, when three notable things will return!

Monday, July 16, 2007

School's out for summer...

K272 is done and dusted. I think the exam paper took most people by surprise as the questions seemed quite vague. Still, one of my favourite subjects did come up and I managed to waffle on for the whole three hours, so I did what I could, though I suspect it was quantity rather than quality. Now I am going to put the books away and hopefully never look at them again!

Anyway, to celebrate I am off to the seaside for a few days break. Back on Friday, though I might not be back on the blog until the weekend. Enjoy the rest of the week, everyone!

Three notable things:

1. Going back to old haunts...taking my exam at the Bishopsgate Institute where I took accountancy exams over 20 years ago.

2. Seeing how Liverpool Street station has been redeveloped and remembering standing outside it in the old days to catch the bus home to Hackney.

3. Looking forward to seeing my parents tomorrow, for the first time in almost a year.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

It's tomorrow...

The time has come. By 1pm tomorrow the exam will all be over.

I have been revising. I do broadly understand most of the themes of the course but I can't retain the names of any of the theorists. I know I haven't put enough work into this course but circumstances and, if I am to be honest, laziness have been against me.

Three questions in three hours. I will just have to hope that some of the topics that I have practical experience of come up so that I can waffle my way through.

Good luck to anyone else sitting the Open University K272 exam tomorrow!

Three notable things:

1. No more studying after tomorrow (at least until the next course!)

2. No exam nerves yet, because I don't give a damn. I've learnt what I needed to, the result is immaterial.

3. Planning a visit to my parents later in the week.

Friday, July 13, 2007


A fabulous new website called Bookarazzi has just been launched.

It is the public face of a group of nearly 50 bloggers belonging to the private BloggersWithBookDeals forum, all of whom have either published a book or currently have a book contract. The group includes a number of my own favourite bloggers, some of whom are also members of the Novel Racers group I recently joined, but for a full list and links to the individual blogs of the writers, see here.

The site contains articles, links and advice, a group blog and of course the opportunity for the members to promote their own work. I think it will be well worth keeping an eye on, so do go and take a look.

My new ambition is to be able to become a member of this elite group of bloggers, but I think I have some way to go yet!

Three notable things:

1. Looking forward to getting back to the writing next week.

2. Just avoiding most of the rain whilst doing a supermarket shop with son 1 this morning.

3. Son 2 coming home with two certificates from sports week, as he is the least sporty child you could imagine!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Writing dialogue

Today I was revising for most of the day. It actually went quite well, mainly because I was looking at topics I already know a bit about, namely mental health issues in childhood and old age and also in a dual diagnosis alongside disability.

So why was it that my mind kept straying to the totally unrelated topic of writing dialogue? I think it is because I spend quite a lot of time on various writers websites, where people post their work for criticism. Obviously some of this writing is very good, some less so. One of the things I have noticed recently from the work of others is how hard it is to write good dialogue and how hung up some people seem to get on supposed 'rules'.

Rules such as stick to 'say/said' as your speech tags rather than try to be clever, so as not to distract the reader. Don't use adverbs after your speech tags. Well to my mind there is nothing wrong with these suggestions, but they should not be prescriptive. I have seen passages of dialogue which were little more than short sentences with 'he said/she said' tagged on the end. Sometimes it just seems too choppy and infantile. Surely a little variation in structure and speech tags would be better? As for adverbs, yes in general it is not good to have too many -ly words. But I can't see anything wrong with writing '....he said quietly', for example.

Who has actually made these so-called rules and why do some novice writers feel they have to folllow them to the letter? Is this what agents/publishers are looking for in commercial fiction? I've done two university creative writing courses and the only 'dialogue rules' we were taught were in respect of the layout and punctuation of dialogue. It was recommended that remembering 'show not tell' will help avoidance of adverbs, but at no time was it said you should never ever use one in your writing.

Any writers out there got any views on this?

Three notable things:

1. Getting on well with the revision (as time is running out...)

2. Thinking about going away for a few days next week.

3. The sun has been shining!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How weird is this?

I confess that I am seemingly untidy and disorganised. But most of the time I do actually know where to find anything important.

Not this week though. I remembered receiving an examination allocation letter from the Open University several weeks ago. I knew I had put it on the coffee table and then into a cardboard box which currently stands beside the coffee table and contains an eclectic mix of books, magazines, correspondence, study materials and other things to be read or dealt with.

At the weekend I decided to dig out the letter in preparation for my exam next Monday. It wasn't there. I went through the box thoroughly, looked on the coffee table shelf and under the sofa, checked any other places I might put such things for safety. No letter.

I decided it wasn't worth stressing over. On Monday morning I phoned the Open University and told a little white lie about it probably having been lost in the post, because it was just too embarrassing to explain it had been lost in my lounge. A very nice lady said she would put a copy in the post immediately. It arrived this morning.

So why, when I came to sit down on the sofa just a few minutes ago, did I find the original letter, still in its plastic packaging, lying on the floor right beside my feet? Is it my mind playing tricks on me or do we have a poltergeist in the house?

Three notable things:

1. Coffee with supportive friends this morning.

2. Spotting a tiny wren sitting on our garden fence.

3. Finding the exam letter!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Wimbledon history

Wasn't the tennis great yesterday?

Apart from Tim Henman's matches in the opening week, yesterday was almost the first time I'd had time to watch much of the ball hitting. What a day to choose. A classic, nail-biting men's final between the record-equalling Federer and young Nadal, followed by a Brit actually winning something. How can that be?

Jamie Murray and his partner Jelena Jankovic did us proud in the mixed doubles final and looked as if they were enjoying it all. Almost too much. Which of course is how Wimbledon should be.

It reminded me of years ago when we had Centre Court tickets for Women's Final day and were privileged to watch Martina Navratilova win her final singles title. It was actually something of a one-sided match but we felt we were seeing history in the making. A wonderful experience, despite the painfully hard seats and the fact that I wasn't feeling too well, so couldn't indulge in any strawberries. It didn't even rain that day!

Three notable things:

1. Great tennis to watch on TV.

2. Managing to sort out what I am going to revise and actually do some revision today.

3. Receiving the correct payment for some teaching work done last month. It's not a lot but I do that particular work for experience rather than the money!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

A reminder

As every Saturday, Oxford Street was crowded with people out spending. I had come down to London for my final Open University tutorial but now I was joining the throng of consumers.

But this was no casual, aimless shopping trip. I had two goals...a white T shirt for son 2 who has sports week coming up and a waterproof coat for myself for a planned getaway. I managed to get what I wanted, stopped for a panini at about 2.30pm and then headed back to Bond Street station. The lure of Oxford Street had worn off. I did not want to be tempted by the enticing goods in the department stores, to waste money I don't really have.

Back at the tube station I was met by a huge crowd of people exiting up the Jubilee line escalator. There was no obvious reason for their numbers, except trains arriving from both directions at the same time, but my heart was in my mouth. Was there a problem on the underground? I had heard no announcements but there was a significant police presence in the ticket office. Something perhaps to be expected in view of the events of a week ago.

After a couple of minutes wait my train arrived. I was disconcerted, yet at the same time relieved, to see police in both my carriage and the ones on either side of it, yet I had never seen so many on a train before. Again I wondered what was going on. It wasn't until the train started to head northwards that I realised. The train would be passing through Wembley Park station and Wembley Stadium nearby was hosting the huge Live Earth concert that afternoon. That is probably where the police were headed.

I changed trains and got home without incident.We can't let the threat of terrorism stop us living our lives, yet at the same time I think that it is in the back of our minds at all times. Yesterday was the second anniversary of the bombings of 7/7 as well as the occasion of the Live Earth concert and some big sporting events. It was good to see the level of security around our city and transport.

Three notable things:

1. Our local town centre has a Starbucks. At last.

2. Controlling my spending!

3. An encouraging tutorial and meeting with a study-buddy friend I have made through this course.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Shopaholic strikes again

I was only going to the bank, honestly. Not my usual bank, but the one used by the local charity group for which I am treasurer. I had cheques to pay in.

Next door to the bank is an Oxfam shop. Well I couldn't resist, could I? So I came away with Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris and The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter for my bookshelf. I have never read any Angela Carter and I think it is about time I did.

I also bought this book, which I had never heard of before - Let the Crazy Child Write! by Clive Matson. My library of 'how to write' books is growing rapidly. Now all I need to do is apply the knowledge I am collecting!

Today's three notable things:

1. Finding good books in a small charity shop.

2. Laughing at son 2 covered in my make-up, just before his school bus arrived.

3. Doing no paid work or study and not feeling at all guilty about that.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A brave man

I woke up very early this morning and switched on BBC News 24, to be greeted by the information that the Corporation's abducted Gaza reporter, Alan Johnston, had been freed after 114 days in captivity. He had apparently spent this time in solitary confinement, unsure if he was going to be harmed. His spirits were raised by the realisation, through hearing BBC World service radio broadcasts, that he had not been forgotten, that people all over the world were demonstrating, campaigning and working for his freedom.

What was absolutely amazing was the composure he showed on his release, making live phone calls back to the BBC studio and speaking at televised press conferences. He had been through a terrible ordeal, yet seemed to have kept himself together remarkably well. I have always thought that to be a journalist one needs to be both brave and thick-skinned. To be a journalist in a place of conflict requires both in abundance. Alan Johnston today showed remarkable courage both as a man and a consummate professional.

Three notable things:

1. A squirrel running along the garden fence.

2. The jewel coloured floral sari worn by a friend.

3. The welcome release of Alan Johnston.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Exam stress

Two weeks today I am supposed to be sitting an Open University exam. I haven't done enough work for it. I haven't even started to revise. It will be nothing short of a miracle if I pass. So shall I even bother to turn up?

I keep telling myself that it doesn't matter if I fail to complete the course, after all I was taking it simply to increase my knowledge of mental health issues in view of our family circumstances. What I have learned has already proved useful in real life. The exam doesn't matter.

Yet it is a matter of pride that I have never yet flunked out of taking an exam or test. I've failed a few...driving test and a few of my accountancy papers...but at least I persevered and passed them in the end. So I expect two weeks today I will turn up at the exam hall, praying that at least one of the few topics of which I have some practical knowledge turns up on the exam paper. Who knows, if that happens I might just be able to get by.

Three notable things:

1. A young robin, barely able to fly, hopping around outside our front door and taking shelter under the cars from the rain.

2. Watching Take That on the TV coverage of the Concert for Diana, during which the rain miraculously kept away for six hours. (The only other segment I saw was Elton closing the show, though I would loved to have seen Roger Hodgson.)

3. Knowing that terrible tragedies were narrowly averted both here in London and in Glasgow over the last few days and wondering whether guardian angels do exist.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Competition angst

There have been strange goings on over at Susan Hill's Long Barn Books competitions. If you haven't been following the saga of the First Novel Competition on the blogs of Scott Pack, Dovegreyreader and Susan herself, then perhaps this will bring you up to speed. Now it appears that the publisher's 'Loo Book' competition has also hit a snag. Oh dear. I was hoping to be able to enter the First Novel competition one day!

So here are today's three beautiful things, as Sue and Anne have encouraged me to go ahead with the idea. Except that I am going to call them notable rather than beautiful, as a reference to the title of my blog!

1. Sunlight glittering in the leaves right at the top of tall trees, as the sun sets during a brief break from the rain.

2. Strawberry tarts from the local baker.

3. Making pretty bead bracelets.