Sunday, 30 December 2012

How was it for you? (Part 2)


After the End of the World according to the Mayan Calendar, the next event on our Gregorian calendar was...Christmas.  Did you survive it?  Despite my culinary skills being questionable, we are all still alive.

Not wishing to take a chance on Christmas Dinner going down the plughole, I had Aunt Bessie in to do the cooking.  For those who aren’t familiar with her, she also cooks for Asda, Tesco and Waitrose.  And she didn’t let me down.  Honey glazed parsnips, cauliflower cheese, Yorkshire pud and even gravy sachets were stuffed into my freezer to await The Big Day.  Suffice to say that I burnt her Yorkshires, turned her gravy to coloured water and forgot to put the wretched parsnips in the oven.  But dinner was edible.  The family put their knives and forks together and awaited dessert.  ‘Da-dah!’ I trilled and set before them a....treacle sponge.  My daughter frowned.  ‘Where’s the Christmas pudding?’ I tapped the plastic bowl (yes, a microwave jobbie) and looked from husband to daughter to son.  ‘Everybody moaned last year, so I thought we’d have a change.’  There was a slurping noise as the plastic bowl deposited a mound of syrupy stodge onto my reindeer plate.  The mess wasn’t too bad smothered in custard.  Aunty Bessie’s of course.

Boxing Day was a bit of a different matter.  This time family were visiting.  Mother and Father Bryant.  And sister and brother-in-law.  Including ourselves, it was a full house.  ‘What on earth have you cooked?’ asked my sister peering at the Red Thai Curry simmering on the stove.  ‘Don’t worry,’ I assured, ‘it’s a Loyd Grosman sauce and very nice.’  My sister was unimpressed.  ‘I thought we were having cold meats, jacket potato and salad.  Haven’t you any leftover turkey?’  Er, no.  On account of it being as tough as old boots yesterday and the dog dutifully finishing it off.  My sister stared at the vegetables in the pot.  ‘Are they organic?’  I should have said yes, but I’m rubbish at lying.  She rolled her eyes and served herself a spoonful.  I think sparrows eat bigger helpings.

The piece de resistance was my chocolate and coffee cake.  It looked impressive.  The icing was hiding a multitude of sins...a misreading of bicarb of soda (I could have sworn the recipe said two tablespoons), burnt sponge and charred coffee granules.  Everybody helped themselves to a generous slice.  For a moment jaws rotated.  Have you ever had a synchronised moment where everybody stops chewing at the same time?  The cake duly went in the bin.  My mother, always to be relied upon in an emergency, produced an M&S cheesecake from the depths of her handbag.  She has all sorts in her handbag.  Need a tissue?  A painkiller?  A teabag?  Something to eat?  I jest not.  As Loyd Grosman had failed to impress with his Red Thai Curry, I removed a vast cheeseboard from the fridge and told everybody to tuck in.  My sister informed me she didn’t do dairy.  ‘Oh.  Have some cheesecake instead.’ I pushed the plate towards her.  Ah.  She couldn’t because...she didn’t do dairy.  I couldn’t even get her drunk to drown her foodie sorrows because her husband had nominated her to be the driver.

So that’s it for another twelve months.  Next year I might check out the cost of caterers.  Which reminds me, how does Good King Wenceslas like his pizzas?  Deep pan, crisp and even...

Sunday, 23 December 2012

How was it for you?


The much hailed date for ‘the end of the world’ came...and went.  We’re still here.  Thank goodness, because I spent a bloomin’ fortune on Christmas presents.

I never thought the world was going to end.  My understanding was more along the lines of ‘new beginnings’.  Well let’s hope so.  Our Mother Earth could certainly use nicer human beings living upon her.  How wonderful would it be if there was no more war, terrorism or people going barmy with hand guns?

To celebrate the 21st December, my sister – who is incredibly spiritual – arranged an event with lots of other people who were (no surprises) also very spiritual.  I love to dip into this sort of thing, but on my own.  Group events always tend to smack of religion which I shy away from.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love God.  He’s fab.  Really.  But I like talking to Him on my own.  I don’t need somebody telling me how to worship, when to worship, or in what way to worship.  But my sister insisted I attend and support her.  So I did.

My sis sang a number of celebratory songs.  Now at this point I’d like to say my sibling should put herself forward for X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent.  For talent she has.  In shed loads.  So it was something of a rude shock when she introduced a lady following on who was going to give the audience a ‘sound bath’.  Anticipating another round of tuneful singing, I sat back ready to enjoy.  As unearthly wailing hit the microphone, poured out of the sound speakers and filled the small village hall, I realised what Simon Cowell puts himself through.  Except Simon gets an X button to press.  And I’ll bet Simon’s never listened to a contestant playing the gong.  As the gong went bong I had a terrible urge to giggle.

After twenty-five minutes of weird noise, there was an interval.  My mother, doddery on a walking stick, needed the Ladies.  ‘I’ll come with you,’ I said.  ‘Don’t wait for me,’ she said, ‘I’m so slow at walking.  You go ahead.’  So I did.  Inside the Ladies Rest Room were a row of uniform cubicles.  I chose one, went in and – not being a hoverer – layered the seat in loo paper.  As I sat down, I had an epiphany.  A very alarming one.  The sound bath had affected the toilet’s dimensions.  Either that or my backside had tripled in size.  If Mr V had been there I might well have asked, ‘Does my bum look big in this toilet seat?’

I leapt off the loo and roared out of the cubicle.  I’d ask my mother instead.  And actually, where was my mother?  She’d yet to make an appearance.  I found her wandering around a corridor looking bemused.  ‘Where have you been?’ I cried.  ‘In the Gents,’ she said.  ‘I see,’ I replied.  I didn’t.  ‘So have you used the loo?’ I asked.  ‘No.  A man re-directed me.  But I ended up in a cupboard full of carpet remnants.  Not a toilet in sight.’  I was starting to think the sound bath had sent us both doollally.  ‘The Ladies is this way,’ I took her arm, ‘and can I ask you something Mum?  Be honest.  Is my backside big?’  My mother looked at my denim clad bottom.  ‘No bigger than when we got here.  Why?’  I pushed open the door to the cubicle and pointed.  Behold.  Turned out I’d layered up a toddler training seat somebody had left behind.

So there we have it.  A new Golden Age has arrived and everybody has survived.  Which reminds me.  Did you hear about the enlightened dyslexic cow?  It kept chanting ooooM...

Sunday, 16 December 2012

What’s handsome, hot and makes you swoon? Jason Baca. And that’s no joke...

I recently met a gorgeous male glamour model (he drapes himself around women for romantic book covers) and just knew my readers would like to meet him too.  So let me introduce Jason Baca.  Take a peek at his website –  http://jasonaaronbaca.deviantart.com   – especially if you’re a writer of hot romance and need a sizzling cover for your next bestseller!

I defy you to stare at this vision and not have your jaw overcome by gravity.  Muscles...abs...pecs...whatever they’re called...by the bucketful and in all their bulging glory, plus chiselled cheekbones, and fab good looks.

At times like this you have to seize the...er...moment.  Would he agree to an interview?  ‘Absolutely,’ Jason said, ‘and I promise not to behave.’  Whereupon my brain emptied and I couldn’t think of a single thing to ask other than, ‘Do you have a calendar I can pin on my study wall?’

So I decided to turn to Facebook friends and fellow authors for help.  You asked the following questions – and likewise it would seem some of you can’t promise to behave either!  So, are you sitting comfortably?  Here we go:

Maddie: Where did you start modelling and how old were you?
Jason: I started my actual modelling career in 1997 on location in Bodega Bay, CA.  I'd been a body double for one of the main actors in the movie I Know What You Did Last Summer.  One of the photographers took me to one side and asked if he could take photographs of me. That turned out to be my first shoot!  He told me I was a natural, which was a wonderful ego boost.
As for my age...
well I’ll let you guess (winks).
Emma: Why did you become a model and what job would you do if you weren’t a model?
Jason: Great question Emma! Originally I wanted to be a baseball player. I played in the college level for 3 years.  Had I not found modelling, there is no telling WHAT I would have made of my life. I will say that the period between college baseball and modelling was actually a very dark and testing time. I felt in my heart that I needed to find what I was destined to do.

Liz: How long do you see yourself doing this for?
Jason: I haven't decided yet. The real key in determining this will be when my stock no longer gets used.  Then I will know that it needs to be put to rest. But before that happens, I'd like to be the one in control of my future.  If I see myself not 100% devoted to this, then that's the time to sit and reflect on what I should or shouldn't do.


Suzie: Do you think readers ever confuse you for the heroes you portray?
Jason: I've often wondered that Suzie – they see me on the cover so that is the only connection they have to that character's vision.

Paula: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had in your career so far?
Jason: Putting aside anyone else’s ‘path’ which includes their expectations of me. I have a vision for myself. I don't say to people, ‘How would you like me to live my life?’  Many a time there have been those wanting me to do this or that.  ‘Be normal,’ they say.  Well I'm anything BUT normal. I can't stand that word...it’s like the F word to me!

Mary: I like a hero who washes dishes. Do you wash dishes? In particular, do you get around the sides of the pots and pans and rinse them too? (Mary is clearly in a lather!)
Jason: Yes Mary.  I make sure that I do give my dishes a good, deep soak. If you don't let them sit in the warm soapy water and just jump right in and start working on them, you will not leave that dish sparkling. I have just the right technique that gives my dishes a scrub they won't forget.

Marie: (looking lustful) Do you oil your muscles?
Jason: Well actually, yes I do. I use a Vitamin E oil.  I massage it gently into my muscles to give my skin a healthy, supple look.

Natalie: Have you ever been propositioned and, if so, how far would you go for your art?!
Jason: Propositioned?  Hmm. Well I did do a shoot twice for Playgirl magazine.  But I knew what was coming before I flew down.  During one particular shoot a photographer asked if I could ‘do more’ and they’d pay me extra!  But I declined.  I'm a good boy!

Emily: What do you have for breakfast? (Asking question with very wide eyes)
Jason: Emily!  You can't tell I've been eating my Wheaties?

Lorna: (More wide eyes) Do you have big...feet?
Jason: Lorna, I have huge...feet and am very confident about them!

Caroline: Dare I ask, do you enjoy your job?
Jason: I absolutely love my job!  I enjoy every aspect – from preparing for the shoot to seeing the final book cover.

Elaine: Does your mother approve of your work?!
Jason: She doesn't approve or disapprove.  She's just not into it.  When the first cover came out she was like, ‘Wow!’  But now?  She'd rather talk about her own stuff! 

Hilary: Would you like to meet me? I may be 70 and on crutches but I still have a fabulous twinkle in my eye...
Jason:  Absolutely Hilary! I'd LOVE to!  Hopefully I'll be attending the Rom Con this coming season.  If you happen to be there, come right up.  Don't hesitate!
 
Thank you for dropping by Jason.  And for those ladies clamouring for a touch, form an orderly line – behind me...

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Round Robin Rage...


Never has my writing been so frenzied.  And I’m not talking about the latest novel either.  It’s the Christmas cards.  And writing the annual Round Robin letter that accompanies them.  My daughter hasn’t even started her cards yet.  She’s still on the Christmas shopping bit, as I know to my cost.  Literally.  Earlier this week she asked, ‘Can you take me to Bluewater this evening?  I need to buy stuff.’
          Now shopping is fun only when you are (a) spending money on you and (b) actually have spare cash to spend.  There is nothing more boring than trailing a teenager going into shops that are as interesting as...gosh...a football match (sorry Mr V).
          Having saved up a small fortune, Eleanor promptly blew the lot on her beau.  ‘What do you think of this?’ she asked holding up a polo shirt.  Now I’m not being funny, but in Primark I swear to God you can pick up the same polo shirt for a fiver.  The one she was holding up was indeed a fiver...plus fifty.  And all because it had a little motif hovering over the wearer’s left nipple that signified it was...let me drop my voice an octave to signify respect...designer.  The thing that really gets me about designer stuff like this, is that it’s still made in China, it’s still rubbish quality and it still looks ordinary.
          My daughter reverently picked up the garment and went off to the cash till.  Whereupon a man with umpteen piercings, fake tan and a hair-do that defied gravity grabbed it and stuffed it into a bag any old how.
          ‘Excuse me,’ I quavered, ‘but that piece of material cost fifty five pounds. Therefore I’d like it folded neatly.’  I tipped the bag upside down and deposited the polo shirt onto the counter.  Eleanor looked horrified.  Yes, embarrassing parent alert.  But frankly if shop assistants want to work in over-the-top shops, they should give an over-the-top service.  Never mind folding said garment neatly, what about a bit of bowing and scraping too?
          We eventually left the shop...Eleanor with a bright red face, and the shop assistant having the vapours.  ‘Are we done?’ I asked.  ‘Not yet,’ my daughter replied, ‘I need to find something to go with the polo shirt.’  Groan.
          An hour later a second purchase had been made.  And then, just when I hoped we were finally finished, I was dragged into Clintons.  Time to buy a romantic Christmas card.  ‘What about this one?’ Eleanor thrust a pair of billing turtle doves at my face.  ‘Lovely,’ I replied.  ‘No, it’s rubbish,’ Eleanor put it back in its slot.  ‘Ah.  This one is nice.  No it’s not.  Oh look, this one’s better.  Um, not sure about the words.  Oooh, now we’re talking.  Oh, perhaps not.’  And so it went on.  Until literally every Christmas card with the headline boyfriend had been examined and exclaimed over.  If I’d known she was going to take forever, I’d have brought my own Christmas cards along and parked up in a corner to carry on writing them out.
          Thankfully everything is now signed, sealed and almost delivered.  It’s just that wretched Round Robin letter that remains.  Which reminds me.  What do sheep write in their Christmas cards?  Merry Christmas to ewe...

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Tis the season to be jolly. Maybe...


Now that we have a big toe in December, I am ready to acknowledge Christmas is looming.  Up until now I’ve steadfastly refused to admire the fairy lights sparkling away in neighbours’ gardens or open Christmas cards that have come through our letterbox.  I don’t know whether folk are just trying to prove they’re super organised, or whether they just love Christmas so much they want to make it last twice as long.  But for me, nothing happens until 1st December.

Every year I look forward to Christmas.  And every year it fails to live up to my expectations.  This is usually because family members who rub each other up the wrong way are thrust together and have to suffer each other’s company for more hours than at any other time of the year.  I won’t name names, but last year a certain person moaned about everyone and everything.  Everybody waded through a very tense lunch, listened to the Queen’s Speech with an atmosphere you could cut with a knife, and finally sat around the tree exchanging gifts.  I say exchanging but in all honesty it was a case of policing movements so that presents weren’t used like hand grenades.  By four o’clock the culprit had overstepped the mark and another person (who shall also remain anonymous) finally lost the plot.  For five minutes our living room resounded with the noise of two people having the biggest wobbly in history.

At that point I busied myself collecting torn wrapping paper and told myself we were surely not alone.  That there must be other families all over the land riding tensions, dealing with outbursts, biting their tongues or drowning their sorrows with the Christmas pudding brandy.

Will this year be any different?   Well I hope so.  Because I have flatly refused to entertain anybody on Christmas Day other than immediate family.  In fact, such is my rebellion that I’m seriously thinking about foregoing the traditional turkey and pud and letting my son do the cooking.  He talks very animatedly about vegetarian stew and a chocolate salt tart.  I’m happy for the former but will pass on the latter.  The dog keeps looking at me and mouthing vegetarian stew?

But all that has yet to come.  First things first.  The Christmas tree.  My daughter has renounced my tried and tested method of dismantling the Christmas tree these past years.  This involves flinging a vast black sack over the tree – still dressed in baubles and fairy lights – and carting it off to the garage where it awaits the passing of eleven months before coming back into the house.  Da-dah!  Instant dressed Christmas tree.  ‘It’s no fun,’ Eleanor moaned, ‘part of the enjoyment of Christmas is unpacking each bauble and deciding which branch it should hang on.’  Personally I call that fannying about.  I can’t bear it.  I like instant results.  Patience is not my virtue.  I’m the same when out Christmas shopping.  All these shoppers s-t-r-o-l-l-i-n-g along just drive me nuts.  What’s wrong with power walking?  Anyway, I digress.

So to appease my daughter I agreed a new, bigger, better Christmas tree would be purchased.  Did she want to come with me to buy it?  Good heavens no.  Eleanor was far too busy watching I’m a Dimwit Get Me Out of Here.  So she could hardly blame me for shopping for a tree that...well...came with few short cuts.  ‘Where are the fairy lights?’ Eleanor asked rummaging through the shopping bags.  ‘It doesn’t need any,’ I said, ‘they’re built in.’  My daughter regarded me in horror.  She should be grateful I didn’t buy the upgrade – not just fairy lights but also spray-on snow and plastic pine cones.

 ‘What about tinsel?’ Eleanor asked. I shook my head and said, ‘Gold beads.’  She frowned and carried on picking up the new decorations.  Gold baubles.  Gold ribbon.  Gold angels.  Gold snowflakes.  Gold fairy to go on top of the tree.  Finally Eleanor passed judgement.  ‘Everything is gold.’  My goodness, you have to hand it to my daughter.  She knows her colours.  ‘Is that a problem,’ I asked.  ‘It’s boring,’ she replied.

So there we have it.  The first bit of Christmas tension.  Watch this space.  Come Christmas Day, instead of flying presents, there might be a flying Christmas tree complete with airborne angels.  Which reminds me.  What did one angel say to the other?  Halo there...

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Well Hello Dolly...


If somebody had told me last Sunday that seven days later I’d be blogging about a new addition to the family I’d have said, ‘You’ve lost the plot.’  Instead, it turns out to be me who’s lost the plot.  How else could I have agreed, on the spur of the moment, to throw the door open to an eight week old scrap of feline fluff.  We have a beagle for goodness sake!

Perhaps it was because my daughter caught me unawares.  At the time I was deep in thought bashing out ‘misery writing’.  I’m currently venturing into unchartered waters writing ‘seriously’ with The Ex Factor.  My mood, as a result, was down.  What’s the quickest way to elevate the blues?  Swap The Ex Factor for The Ah Factor.  Eleanor walked into my study.  ‘Look at this,’ she said.  An iPad was thrust in my face.  Filling the screen was a little black and white face with a tiny pink nose.  ‘Ahhhhh,’ I cooed.   It would take the hardest heart not to respond similarly.  I grabbed the iPad and found Mr V.  ‘Look at this,’ I parroted my daughter.  Whereupon the iPad was batted away and Mr V said, ‘No, I’m looking at this.’  His football team on the telly of course.  Perhaps it was also because of my husband’s reaction.  Certainly I found myself experiencing a surge of rebellion.  I flounced out of the lounge and back to my study.  ‘Can we have it?’ Eleanor pounced on me.  ‘Of course!’ I purred.  Pouncing and purring.  It was a sign...

Eleanor was in raptures.  Also thoroughly confused.  How had she managed to pull this off without a major battle of wills?  But she didn’t stop to analyse it.  Just got straight on the blower to her school friend.  ‘My mother’s agreed.  Yes, I’m sure.  I have no idea why.  Just stick a reserved sign on its head.  We’re coming over.  Yes, now.’

I abandoned my writing, picked up my purse and we drove to Pets At Home, the creature equivalent of Westfield.  Any animal worth its salt will have a field day in there if given free licence with its owner’s wallet.  Half an hour later we’d picked up a pink pet carrier, pink feeding bowls, pink litter tray, pink collar (yes, it was going to be a girly moggy whether it liked it or not), fluffy basket, scratching post, toy, kitten milk and food.  We left clutching a mile long receipt and an appointment card with the in-house vet for worming, vaccination and micro-chipping.  Eleanor shot me an anxious look.  ‘You are definitely feeling okay aren’t you Mum?’  ‘Never better,’ I assured whilst mentally thinking that Manchester United had an awful lot to answer for.

When Mr V came home he was greeted by the family hound that was a gibbering wreck.  Woof woof woof woof woof woof’, said the dog.  Translation:  Have you any idea what’s been going on here while you’ve been out?  They’ve only gone and got a CAT.’   ‘Geddoff,’ said Mr V and locked the dog in the utility room.  Whereupon my daughter, clutching the new arrival, greeted her step-father.  Mr V froze.  ‘What is that?’ he spluttered.  Meow meow meow meow meow meow,’ said the kitten.  Translation:  Fancy not having enough brain cells to recognise what I am.  You must be a Manchester United Supporter.’

The kitten was then named.  Several times over.  She started off as Jingle, became Belle, then Jingle-Belle, Flora, Ivy, Whisky, Brandy, Holly, Molly and Folly.  At one point we liked them all and pondered whether to call her, for short, JBFIWBHMF.  But we couldn’t pronounce it.  Folly was probably the most apt considering the madness of it all, but at exactly the same time my daughter and I cried Dolly!  So Dolly it is.

The dog remains unimpressed.  Especially as I’ve accidentally called her Puss a few times instead of Pooch.  Introductions between feline and canine house occupants are progressing.  The kitten has remained as cool as a cucumber throughout.  Not so the dog who initially went to pieces.  Day One she barked herself hoarse.  Day Two was better.  No bark.  But possibly because her vocal cords had seized up.  Day Three she just looked brow-beaten.  Day Four, she walked off in disgust.

So there you have it.  We now have a cat.  Which reminds me.  What is a cat’s favourite movie?  The Sound of Meow-sic...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

How to Write Good


Having proof read my last novel several times over, I gave the thumbs up for it to be converted into an e-book.  The lovely Rebecca Emin is absolutely ace at formatting for the likes of Amazon (http://www.rebeccaemin.com).  Certainly a techie pleb like me relies heavily on a clever clog like Rebecca.  However, before Rebecca sorted out the paperback version, I decided to run through Lipstick and Lies one more time.  Seeing your work in a different format can reveal previously unnoticed errors.  I downloaded my novel and began to read.

Along came the first howler.  My character Cass, mother to a six month baby boy called Eddie, was doing all sorts of wonderful motherly things...but not to Eddie.  Instead she was lugging Ethan around on her hip.  This wouldn’t be quite so catastrophic if Ethan didn’t happen to be forty years old and the boss of Cass’s husband.

I went screeching over to my computer and whizzed off an email to Rebecca.  Minutes later, the MS had been amended and re-uploaded.  My heartbeat quietened.  Confident that all was now well, I continued reading.  But...wait.  What was that?  The character Jamie had just exchanged a few noisy words with his wife.  He was upset.  So upset there was a tic going in his cheek.  Except for some reason I’d typed stick.  Since when did hacked-off characters go around with lumps of wood in their faces?  I went to pieces.  So much so I couldn’t think straight.  What was the correct word?  I began to doubt it was even tic.  Wasn’t that some sort of flea?  Perhaps it was tick...or weren’t those marks our teachers gave us?  Howling in frustration, I opted for the word nerve.  Another hasty email went flying through Cyberspace to Rebecca.

Thoroughly unsettled, I returned to the MS.  What would I find next?  I didn’t have long to wait.  The character Cass was deep in thought.  So much so, her mind was whirring.  Except Cass was so distressed it was actually her wind that was whirring.  Cue instant vision of my character staggering about clutching her guts.  Once again I raced to my computer and belted off an email to Rebecca.

So all I can do is sincerely apologise to those who downloaded a novel with more clangers than that programme in the early Seventies.

Which reminds me.  A writer died and was given the option of going to Heaven or Hell.  She decided to check out both places first. In Hell she viewed a steaming workshop full of writers chained to their desks.  ‘Oh my,’ said the writer, ‘let me see Heaven now.’  Moments later she ascended to Heaven.  Again she witnessed a steaming workshop full of writers chained to their desks.  ‘This is just as bad as Hell,’ the writer gasped.  ‘Oh no it’s not,’ boomed a mysterious voice, ‘here your work gets published...’

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Didn’t we have a luver-ly time the day we visited...Stratford-upon-Avon


Last Friday I waved good-bye to a very disgruntled pooch and set off, with Mr V, to the birth place of William Shakespeare.  Appropriately, our hotel was called The Mercure Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare.  I had Googled the place beforehand and was in awe of this historical building with its Tudor facade, stone floors and open fires.  Which is why, when we pulled up outside a small yellow building, I knew without a shred of doubt that Mr V had driven to the wrong place.  ‘But I thought it was called The Shakespeare Hotel,’ he said.  Clearly there are a few hotels in Stratford-upon-Avon that adopt the Bard’s name somewhere within theirs.  So after a bit of sat-nav tweaking and a drive through countryside with thatched cottages straight off the lid of a posh chocolate box, we arrived at our proper destination.

Now the thing about old places – and let’s face it, this was ancient – is that the minute you walked inside there was a shift in ‘atmosphere.’  Beamed ceilings dared you to bang your head.  Walls were lined with everybody who was anybody back in the sixteenth century.  Pious faces sporting pointed goatees or heavily coiled braids stared down at you.  Most of the faces looked aggrieved.  There were lots of ruffles and tight corsets.  No wonder the occupants of the heavy frames looked so utterly pained.

Our room was up two flights of creaking stairs, the second of which was narrow and winding.  Mr V stooped upon entering our room. He flung the suitcases down and immediately reached for the contraption where sixteenth century collides with twentieth-first.  The television.  More particularly, football.

Later, Mr V went to meet our friends in the bar.  ‘I’ll have a quick shower,’ I said, ‘and will join you very soon.’  The moment I was on my own – television now silent – I became aware of the building’s sounds.  Creaks, groans and tapping abounded.  I ignored it all and went to the bathroom.  Twiddling the shower taps, I stepped into the shower.  No water.  I twiddled the taps the other way.  Still no water.  In the end I pressed down the pop-up plug and tried the bath taps.  Hurrah – water.  I’d barely lowered myself into the foaming depths when the room’s smoke alarm went off.  Wrapping a towel around me I fled, dripping, onto the landing.  The smoke alarm stopped.  I ventured back into the room.  I’d got as far as lathering myself up when the smoke alarm went off again.  Exit one towelled female who this time gave an elderly couple a bit of a turn.  I was barely submerged in the water for a third time, when the smoke alarm went off yet again.  I ignored it.  It was only when my ears were literally ringing that the ruddy thing stopped.

Five minutes later, I was just pulling on a sweater when there was the sound of gushing water from the bathroom. Wisps of steam curled from under the door and into the bedroom.  I yanked the bathroom door open.  The shower was in full flow.  Reaching in I turned off the taps.  I’d barely exited the bathroom when the water started again.  And this time there was a little outbreak of goosebumps on the back of my neck.  Where was Derek Acorah when you needed him eh?  For the second time I switched off the taps.  ‘Okay,’ I quavered to thin air, ‘I’m going downstairs now.’

That night, I slept badly.  Whether this was because of strange noises that prevailed, or a little matter of the room’s sloping floor impacting on the bed, I’m not sure.  All I know is that I went to sleep with one hand hugging my pillow and the other grimly hanging on to the wooden side lest I shot out the bottom in the night.

Haunted hotels aside, it was a blissful weekend and I thoroughly recommend a visit to this historical town.  Mr V and I enjoyed an open topped bus ride which departed from the Pen and Parchment Inn and rumbled past Shakespeare’s birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, Mary Arden’s house, New Place, Nash’s House and Hall’s Croft, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the Holy Trinity Church and the old 15th Century Grammar School where Shakespeare was educated.

And did you know it was actually William Shakespeare who invented the knock-knock joke? Yes, really.  Which reminds me.

Knock-knock.               
Who’s there?
Iago
Iago who?
Iago to the store.  Do you needa anything?

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Remember Remember the 5th of November...

Actually I never remember the 5th of November.   Fireworks don’t ‘do’ it for me.  After years of having a dog that cringes at every bang, and reading horrific stories in the newspapers about firework accidents, I’d be quite happy to see them banned.  However, what Guy Fawkes Night does have a tendency to do is remind me that the Christmas season is edging closer.  And so the Christmas shopping has begun.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Mr V as he watched me, crouched on the bedroom carpet, huffing and puffing over cellotape that had adhered itself to everything other than the present I was wrapping.  Without waiting for an answer he began rummaging through the carrier bags dotted around the room.  This is an action which ever so slightly drives me potty.  ‘What have you bought me?’ he asked.
The dog appeared from nowhere, tail wagging expectantly.  Her eyes lit up at the sight of wrapping paper.  She joined Mr V and also began searching the carrier bags.  ‘Get that dog out of here,’ I said irritably.  The cellotape was now on the Christmas paper, but not in a straight line.  I pulled it off and promptly ripped the paper in the process.  ‘Oh for heaven’s sake,’ I cried.  I crumpled the paper up and prepared to start all over again.  Mr V had finished going through all the carrier bags.  ‘There are no Pro V1 golf balls,’ he said disappointedly.  I rocked back on my heels and regarded him.  ‘There’s no Father Christmas,’ I answered back, ‘but you don’t hear me complaining.’
The daughter came in.  ‘Oooh, Christmas presents.  What have you bought me?’  I stood up.  ‘Out!  Now!  All of you!’  I shooed them out and shut the door.  A quick check in the carrier bags had me opening the door once again and making a smart dash to the dog’s basket.  The dog looked at me as if to say spoilsport.  I removed the pack of chews and squeaky Father Christmas toy she’d swiped and took them back upstairs.
Meanwhile, I’m currently wrapped, stacked, ribboned and bowed and feeling tremendously proud of myself.  All that remains are the Christmas cards to write.  Which reminds me.  How do you know Santa is male?  Because no woman would wear the same outfit year after year...

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Home Sweet Home


For the last eighteen months I’ve been trying to persuade Mr V to downsize.  With only one child left at home, we do not need a big house with monster heating bills and a garden I struggle to find time to deal with.  I’ve rebelled slightly in the last couple of months by hanging up my lawnmower and employing a gardener.
The gardener’s skills are impressive.  Unlike me, he doesn’t hack shrubs about so they seamlessly blend into one another.  Oh no.  These days my shrubs are manicured.  Each one is showcased.  The gardener hasn’t yet reached the stage of shaping plants into peacocks, but that moment isn't far away.  After all, my previously wayward holly bush now looks suspiciously like a Christmas pudding.
Anyway, I digress.  Project Moving House was never destined to be something that would happen overnight.  Not with a man like Mr V in the equation.  Unlike my husband, I am a person who makes swift decisions and acts instantly.  Some people might call this impulsive.  Others (like me) call it not farting about.  I don’t know where that expression comes from, but it’s very apt.  Mr V is full of hot air about reasons not to downsize swiftly:  like parting with hard-earned money over stamp duty (don’t get him on that subject unless you have a spare couple of hours), estate agent fees (ditto) and removal costs (ditto ditto ditto).  His next pet hate is viewing a house in a street blocked with cars.  Nor must a potential property be by a main road, or out in the back of beyond, or near a telephone mast, or pylons, or gasworks, or a railway station, or a motorway, or a massive supermarket, or a....
Is it any wonder that I feel battle worn before we even ring the doorbell of a potential viewing?
Yesterday we spoke to three different estate agents and viewed three different properties.  I could have lived in every one of them.  Right area, right price, absolutely no revamping required whatsoever.  Mr V only liked the last property.  But when I say liked, I mean blown away.  The estate agents were eager to know our thoughts.  Mine were unhesitating.  I was having them all.  Whereas Mr V said, ‘All I need to do is...think about it.’  This is major progress. Another 18 months and we just might be on the move.
Which reminds me.  Did you hear about the estate agent who sent a complimentary bouquet of flowers to a client?  Unfortunately the florist delivered a wreath with a card that read Rest in Peace.  Furious, the Estate Agent complained to the florist.  ‘Oh dear,’ said the florist, ‘somewhere there is a funeral with flowers on the coffin and a message that reads Wishing you every happiness in your new home.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Swanley Village – the Soap Opera


There can’t be a Brit that hasn’t heard of Coronation Street.  As a child I was brought up on Corrie.  When I met Mr V he asked, ‘You don’t watch that rubbish do you?’  ‘Moi?’ I asked, eyes very wide, ‘Good heavens no.  Absolute drivel.’
In fact I couldn’t wait for half past seven on a Monday, Wednesday and a Friday.  I adored this soap opera.  Would Bett Lynch divorce Alec Gilroy?  Would Rita Fairclough ever find love again?  I am reliably informed that she did and is now known as Rita Tanner.  Apparently her name changed several times in between.  Rita might be knocking eighty, but she’s clearly a goer who has been round The Kabin’s block a few times.  Needless to say, I no longer watch the box.  And Mr V is now an avid fan of Coronation Street.
However, who needs to tune in to a soap opera when there has been one unfolding right on my own doorstep?
A couple of weeks ago there was a murder.  Right outside the village’s twee country pub with its frothy hanging baskets, cosy beams and lamplight.  Hundreds of floral tributes are still tucked into the hedgerows that border the narrow lane.  Shocked villagers put their hands to their mouths and whispered, ‘Things like that don’t happen here.’  And then earlier on this week, whilst walking my pooch with a fellow dog walker, my friend told me that the windows of her husband’s car had been smashed to smithereens overnight.
It has since transpired that two men have been arrested in connection with the murder.  Likewise regarding the car vandalism.  Regarding the latter, lads were driving around with a massive homemade catapult randomly firing large stones at cars, houses and even people.  It begs the question why?  Boredom?  Fun?  Born with a brain the size of a pea?  Oh sorry, I mean no brain at all (can’t insult peas).

Folk in my village aren’t used to horror.  The most outrageous thing to have happened in the last twelve months was somebody swiping the church’s lychgate.  Heaven knows why (no pun intended).
Hopefully village life will get back on an even keel without any more nasty incidences.  If not, instead of typing novels, I might be pitching a new soap opera to the Beeb.
Which reminds me.  Why are men are like soap operas?  Because they’re wonderful to watch but you mustn’t believe everything they say...

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Ring Bling


Next month Mr V and I will be celebrating an anniversary ending with a zero.  I can’t believe where the years have gone actually.
I’ve been married before (my first husband is deceased).  I met my children’s father at the age of 18.  It was a bit of a whirlwind thing and, back then, we didn’t have any spare cash.  My engagement ring came from Argos and cost ninety-nine pounds.
I didn’t think I’d re-marry, but life has a funny old way of telling you otherwise.  The great thing about getting married later in life is that finances are usually more solid.  So when I accepted Mr V’s proposal of marriage, instead of pouring over a catalogue for an engagement ring, I found myself walking the pavements of Hatton Garden.  At the time I was working for solicitors in the City, and Hatton Garden was just around the corner.  ‘Go along in your lunch hour and see what you like,’ said Mr V.
I defy any woman to turn her nose up at a diamond or three.  I certainly didn’t.  Rather my nose turned into that of a sniffer dog.  And I was off, tail up nose down, seeking out my ring.  I knew it was there, I just had to find it.
Hatton Garden was and still is mesmerising.  The pavements are lined with gorgeous brightly lit shops showcasing vast displays of jewellery.  Intricate, complicated, simple, fashionable, retro, traditional, contemporary... I’d barely gone a dozen paces when my nose twitched uncontrollably.  And there it was, nestling in a velvet cushion pad.  The shop’s ever-so-craftily-placed lights bounced off a diamond of which to be proud.  I pushed the door open and went inside.
‘Hello, do sit down; can I make you a tea?  Coffee?  Have a sweetie!’  A bowl of chocolates were pushed in front of me, and a plush chair pulled out.  I sank down, feeling like a VIP.  Which, in hindsight, I was.  Very Important Purchaser.  The ring was brought out.  The jeweller slipped it on my third finger.  A perfect fit.  It had my name all over it.  I glanced at the price tag.  That bit had Mr V’s name all over it.
I floated back to the office with my mobile clamped to one ear.  ‘I’ve found it!’ I sang.  Mr V’s response wasn’t as enthusiastic as I’d hoped.  ‘You’re not having the first ring you’ve clapped eyes on.’  There then followed a week of intense ring shopping with Mr V marching me into – I do not lie – every single local jeweller in the Kent vicinity.  Nothing compared to that first ring.  In time, I returned to Hatton Garden, this time with my fiancé.  The jeweller slid the ring on my finger and I fell in love with it all over again.  And the rest, as they say, is history.
Except Mr V promised me, all those years ago, that in 2012 he would buy me an eternity ring.  So once again I found myself back in Hatton Garden, standing outside that first jewellery shop.  I knew what I wanted.  A bespoke design to match my engagement ring.  The jeweller pushed a piece of paper across the glass counter.  On it was written a figure.  Mr V choked on his chocolate and nearly fell off his plush chair.  ‘Thank you so much,’ my husband’s larynx struggled for composure, ‘we’ll be back in a bit.’
We were meant to be going out for a romantic lunch.  Instead I found myself encountering déjà vu as Mr V propelled me along the pavement randomly diving off into different shops.  Once again it was time to suss out the best deal, the biggest bargain, the greatest choice.  Except I knew what I wanted.  And other jewellers said my design was either beyond their craftsmanship or too intricate for them to attempt.  The romantic lunch ended up being a very rushed tuna sandwich in Pret.
Meanwhile we’re waiting for a mock-up picture to be emailed.  Mr V can’t envisage the design I can see in my head.  So patience is required for a little longer.  But I really can’t wait to get my eternity ring!  Which reminds me...what do men call the three rings of marriage?  Engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering...