Monday, 31 December 2012

A summary


Hello! While I’m bustling around the blog with a yellow duster, squinting and squirting each element with Super Shiny Element Polish, let’s chat 2012. How was it for you? Did you accomplish many things and move forward towards your dreams? Or did 2012 rugby-tackle you from behind, and sploosh you face-first into a pile of cold mud?

I feel muddy but undaunted, oh blogger buddies. The word that sums up my 2012 is ‘emotional’. Losing my vibrant aunt to cancer earlier in the year was massively hard, and continues – of course – to be a huge sadness. If you’re lucky, then parents, nans, granddads, aunts and uncles – these form a protective but invisible umbrella over your world – people who love you unconditionally, just because you are you. When they go there’s a gap where they once stood, and you can always feel the draught, no matter how many years go by.

So that was the sadness – and it did stop my blogging, as grief does rob people of easy words, and replaces them instead with tricky ones that are hard to spell – like despondency (which I spell ‘despondancey’ - imagine Gene Kelly doing a sad soft shoe shuffle), melancholy (which I spell ‘meloncholy’ – someone suffering with cholera, chomping on a melon), and disconsolateness (a Mexican salad).

It didn’t stop me entirely working on redrafting my novel, though. Writing fiction can be such a gift when you wish to escape reality. Stories always give the writer, and reader, a gently swinging rope ladder to climb up and into for a while. So there has been progress, and I feel it is a much stronger story, and hopefully it will be ready to submit to agents in January.

This year has also seen moments of pure sparkly happiness, too. I was the bridesmaid for one of my best friends, who here I call Good Friend R, and it was such a wonderful and special time. R is my vintage partner in crime, and a lindy hop / swing dancer extraordinaire, so it was great fun to plan a vintage hen party, and her wedding was a complete delight. Lots of love and happiness to R and A.

I also attended another gorgeous wedding – one that was in OK magazine, no less – and this was my friend Kerry-Lucy to Lee Latchford-Evans, who you may know from the band Steps. It’s been so much fun sharing their pre-wedding excitement, and the celebrations.  Many sparkly congratulations to them. Kerry is also in a band – Concrete Rose – 2013 is set to be their year.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, nostalgia has been higher than usual on my radar. I am prone to a nostalgic wander or two, sometimes even the sort of wallow that would make a hippo proud. This year not only did I see My First Boyband (which sounds like a Fisher Price toy) – New Kids On The Block – but I also went to the Hit Factory Live, which was a Stock Aitken and Waterman concert-fest of pure pop memories.  Seeing NKOTB – well. For a heady teenage year they were plastered across my bedroom walls (along with Corey Haim, Christian Slater, and a random Home and Away actor. Even his poster looked bemused at the company he was keeping.) And then the world turned, and I left them behind... only for twenty-two years to pass, and here we are again. As for the Hit Factory – where to start?! I’ll start where I’ll end – with Kylie and Jason Donovan singing Especially For You. I tell you, Blogger friends, it was like Charlene and Scott had stayed together all those years, and the unseen episode of Neighbours – the one where Charlene cuts her hair and gets sexy with Michael Hutchence  – never happened.

Another nostalgia trip this year was visiting The House at Green Knowe. Hand up who knows what I’m talking about – which of you is smiling right now and thinking of the books by Lucy Boston, or remembers the magical BBC adaptation in the 1980s? Well – I’ll let you into a secret. Green Knowe is real! It’s a real place that anyone can visit – and Tolly’s room is completely as it is in the books and the show – and that wonderful air of magic and adventure from the stories is fully conjured by the house’s owner – the author’s daughter-in-law, Diana Boston. I went with another best friend, Good Friend A, and it has a special place in both our hearts.

A skip through my phone’s pictures and there are so many things I could tell you about but I can’t for fear of becoming that relative at parties who, after finishing the anecdote, goes on to repeat the same thing from a different angle unaware of the audience checking their watch and muttering ‘is that the time? I’m supposed to be calling into another blog’.

So all that it leaves me to do is raise a glass to you, dear reader, and wish you a very merry and productive New Year. May your 2013 sparkle bright.


Jayne x

Friday, 30 November 2012

Escaping on The Orient Express

I always find that the closer it circles to midwinter, the more myself and friends meet up, perhaps to let the warmth of our friendship alleviate the chill air and darkness. We gather in bright circles, in houses with fireplaces, in pubs with flickering candles, in cosy tea shops with china cups, in plush department stores where artificial lights bounce from each polished surface. We all whoosh into each others’ life in a flurry of scarves and hats like we’ve used one of Harry Potter’s port-keys, filled with stories from Away. It doesn’t matter if Away has been for a year or a week; each conversation will pick up from the last and expand to cover all corners. Every familiar voice is a boon and a blessing, the light of companionship a talisman to ward off the night.

And yet, perversely, the call of hibernation is loud. The gloomy days make me want to tuck inside and draw the curtains, turn on the lamps. I want to escape into books and time-travel to see Victorians in London, to follow action heroes tackling twisty crime thrillers in Miami, to listen to sharp-talking mods in Brighton, to dream about lazy days in Georgia, to wonder what life would be like on a boat with a tiger. I want to look at art, to lose myself in the contours of oil paint, the flat expanses of acrylic. I want to trace the outlines of faces in photographs, to memory-gather, to rejoice in all I love. I want to reflect upon the year and plot for spring. I find myself making lists (and checking them twice), and squirreling away buttons and fabric, ribbons and sequins. I flick the pages of recipe books and contemplate cakes, delicate iced flowers, spun-sugar butterflies. And in-between it all, back and forth I go to work, a piece of shiny glass being endlessly washed upon a shore, corners rubbed away by commuter-tough elbows and shoulders, until I am smooth, quiet, and uniform.

Unless I rebel, of course, a secret thought that often springs to mind when squished into an armpit on the Victoria line. One-day I shall trudge past St Pancras train station in my conformist clothes, and then I’ll fling off the dull overcoat, revealing a purple tutu and a red mohair jumper. Then, waving my passport, I’ll run away on the Eurostar to Paris. Paris! The idea also morphs into Venice! (said with exactly the same breathy exclamation-mark passion), and, also, sometimes, most-daringly, into The Orient Express! (Said with even more breathy passion, if at all possible, without degenerating into an all-out saucy pant.) Oh, how I’d adore to travel on the Orient Express. Let’s see, what would I need to take with me...

Clothes


If I’m on this luxury train then I’m assuming that I have a wardrobe budget to match. I’ll drip in art deco. I’ll shimmer in sequins. I’ll Charleston it up from sunrise to sundown. I’ll not step foot out of my cabin without an ostrich feather fascinator, and two small *chihuahuas named Fifi La Chew and Philippe La Mew.

Prabal Gurung at Harvey Nichols
Alexander McQueen at Selfridges
The Orient Express


Reading material


By my bedside, on a satin display cushion, will be a first edition of Agatha Christie’s classic book, Murder on the Orient Express. I’d read it wearing silk gloves, every so often discreetly sniffing the pages. Mmm. Book dust.

Both books pictured can be found via AbeBooks.com

Perfume



If not delicately dabbing my wrists in the finest book dust, then the deciding factor in perfume shall be whether the bottle looks either like a) the ‘Drink me’ bottle in Alice in Wonderland, or b) the bottle the White Witch uses to make Turkish Delight appear, as in the original text. In the film I believe she uses a wand – yawn. Wands are so passĂ©.

Alice illustration by John Tenniel
Vintage Perfume Bottles via Dee Devine, Pinterest


Handbag


My handbag on the Orient Express shall be a giant ball of exquisite fluff, hand-gathered from the back of Buckingham Palace’s sofas and settees. Should this prove unavailable, I’d go for either something vintage-inspired and chic, such as Diane von Furstenberg’s Fetish Box Clutch, or something that looks like a bling-covered Fisher Price toy for adults, such as Judith Leiber’s Carousel Miniature. Inside this I shall carry a compact silver mirror, a red lipstick, and a Liberty print silk handkerchief.

Diane von Furstenberg’s Fetish Box Clutch at Harrods
Judith Leiber’s Carousel Miniature at Harrods


Suitcase


This has to be a 1930s brown case of battered, but good quality, leather. The sort that muscular train porters can carry for me, considering the bastard bollocking thing has no wheels. *Note to self, never ever swear like my Auntie Shirley on the Orient Express*

The Dog and Wardrobe

Jewellery


Diamonds are a girl’s best friend... although of course a diamond is no good at texting ‘lol!’, sharing cupcakes, and gossiping at sleepovers. However, a diamond won’t also nick your first boyfriend, to put it in context. Moving on from teenage life, if I’m on the Orient Express, I’d like my fingers to be adorned with something sparkly, please. And my ears. And my neck. And my wrists. I might stop there. Maybe. (I have actually gone all Small and Solemn at the prices.)

Tiffany & Co
Liberty


Fifi La Chew and Philippe La Mew


La Chew and La Mew are Chihuahuas that fiendishly disguise themselves as cats. Did they fool you? They are the ginger master and tabby mistress of illusion.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Things to remember in November

Autumn days when the grass is jewelled...
November is traditionally a time of remembrance. We have Remembrance Sunday where we wear poppies, observe a two-minute silence, and think about the people who were killed during the wars. People like to say these brave souls ‘gave their lives’ but that sounds so graceful, like a present exchange. Romancing the world wars (or any war) glosses over how bloody awful they are for everyone. I always wear a poppy... and then realise halfway through the day that I’m wearing a pin... and then buy another... and lose it. Poppies are up there with pens, cigarette lighters, and umbrellas. They are all part of the grand Lost Item Shuffle.

In the UK we observe another act of remembrance in November, which is Fireworks Day. Here we traditionally burn an effigy on a bonfire and send fireworks into the sky, a custom held to remember that Guy Fawkes did not manage to blow up Parliament in 1605. We are basically having a nice evening out remembering a loser, folks. Don’t forget the jacket potatoes.

November is also that time of year when you must remember to pack your bag with all manner of warm items as the temperature plummets and sunny days prove a thermometer mirage. So far each day I have forgotten one of the following: hat, gloves, scarf, extra layer, umbrella (which classes as a warm item in my world as rain is cold). Forgetting a glove is particularly annoying. One hand is like a well-pampered Victorian, the other a shivering pauper.

I often find myself, after happily living off salads throughout spring and summer, trying to remember if I can indeed cook during November. You’ll see me in the supermarket, eyebrows in a knot, quizzically hefting a butternut squash, or prodding a pumpkin. There’ll be all manner of soup experiments and enthusiastic forays into recipe books – some meals successful, others bequeathed with love and best wishes to the cats.

The 11th month of the year is generally the time when I remember things that all year have been forgotten, such as dry-cleaning coats and wondering why I don’t yet own a pair of fluffy pyjamas, or slipper boots, or one of those enormous Snuggie Slanket things. Like a squirrel hoarding nuts, I take stock of all I’ve achieved (anything?), and launch tentative plans to finish This by December and That by January, vowing in the manner of Del Boy, that this time next year I’ll be a millionaire.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Author interview: Pamela Terry

Sometimes you read a blog and wish for that blogger to write a book. You know in your heart it will be the most magical book – the sort of book that you simply can’t wait to read, the sort of book you can sink into at the end of a long day, the sort of book that is pivotal to a lazy Sunday, a picnic by a stream, a favourite armchair in a patch on sunlight. And so you click on their blog and hope one day, one day – and now that day is finally here! Pamela Terry, the writer behind the lovely blog From The House of Edward, has turned her beautiful words into a book, and I’m so very pleased for her, and for us!

Pamela and Edward
I’m also delighted to welcome Pamela (and Edward!) onto my blog to celebrate. Let's find out more...

Can you describe your book to us? 
The book is a collection of essays on a wide variety of topics, but mostly centering on how taking notice of the seemingly insignificant bits of life can make the world turn in a more beautiful and meaningful way.   I really wanted the book to be something beautifully made, something lovely to look at and delightful to hold in one’s hand and I’m thrilled to say that I think it turned out to be exactly that.

Where would we be ideally sitting reading your book?
Snuggled up in a four-poster bed on a rainy night or under a tree in an ancient forest would be ideal, I suppose.  But I’m happy to think you could dip in and out of this book anywhere from the breakfast table to the train.

What made you decide to turn your blog into a book?
To be honest, it never occurred to me until I began getting letters requesting it.  Those letters got more and more frequent so I decided to pull away from the novel I’m working on and make it happen.  It was a lot more work than I expected but now that’s it’s done, I’m really glad I did it.

How did you choose what posts to be included – is there a theme? 
The book is divided up into seasons, but I wouldn’t say there is a specific theme apart from the joy of discovering beauty in the quotidian parts of life.  Of course there are stories about Edward, my big white dog, scattered throughout.  He is a sweet and constant reminder of all that is good and after all, the book is named for him.

Will there be additional material for a long-term blog-reader to discover? 
Actually, all of the pieces have been reworked a bit and there are a few new things as well.  The editing process took much longer than I anticipated.

Describe where you like to write? 
I have a big, fat chair in my library that is covered in a velvet floral that I love. I sit cross-legged in that chair with my laptop. The room is lined with books and a couple of favourite paintings.  There is a hand-painted mirror on the wall by the door that I purchased at a tiny little shop in Paris years ago and carried home in my suitcase wrapped up in shawls and sweaters.  There is a long window over the desk to my left that I like to leave open; I can’t see out of it from my chair so it’s not distracting, but I can hear the birds singing and the wind blowing.  Edward is usually asleep at my feet.

What’s currently on your desk?
Far too much, at the moment.  There’s a spool of antique velvet ribbon and a skein of blue-black wool.  Several journals and a collection of favourite pens that, sadly, I keep losing.  A framed photograph of Jacqueline Bouvier when she was a little girl.  Something about her direct stare into the camera serves to remind me that we are born with our essential natures, we only embellish or strip away as we get older.  Eyeglasses.  My property tax bill... evil thing that it is.  And a photograph of Shilasdair yarn shop on the Isle of Skye, the setting of which is, to me, pure heaven.

What gives you inspiration? 
Just about everything, I’m afraid.  The way a snowfall changes the light in the house.  The individual personalities of trees.  Wind.  The colour of a perfect strawberry.  The way grass feels on my bare feet.  The rainbow of book spines on a library shelf.  The Highlands of Scotland.  Edward’s smile.  Adele’s voice.  Cinnamon.  Wit.  Really, inspiration is constant in my life.

If you could time-travel for a day, where would you go?
I was completely besotted with Elizabethan England when I was a little girl.  To wander around Windsor Castle or Hampton Court on a day when the Queen herself was in residence would be amazing to me.  And let’s not forget, Shakespeare would be around somewhere as well!  If I were only there for one day, my chances of getting in serious trouble would be greatly diminished.  I’ve read Wolf Hall... I know how precarious life was then!

Like me, you are a big fan of autumn / fall. What does this season mean to you?
Perhaps it’s because the summers are so sweltering where I live, but autumn signals the start of a new year for me each time it rolls around.   I love everything about it - the fragrance of woodsmoke in the air,  the brisk weather, the colours, the clothes, the food.  It’s a very sensual season.   And it doesn’t hurt that Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are celebrated during this time as well.  Every day in autumn seems like a treat to me.

What are Edward and Apple doing right now? 
Edward is asleep on the floor beneath my chair, with his head resting on my feet.  Apple is in the window seat in the next room keeping a constant vigil for her nemesis, the dreaded squirrel.  Upon spotting one, she will let out a yelp that will bring Edward running.  That’s Apple’s job as she sees it.  She’s the sentry, Edward’s the enforcer.

What song always makes you get up and dance around your kitchen?  
Have you been peeking in my kitchen window??  My husband and I are serious kitchen dancers!  Our last slow dance in the kitchen was to Because by the Dave Clark Five.  I highly recommend that one.  For fast dances, which both dogs join in on by the way, you really can’t beat Bruce Springsteen’s Cadillac Ranch.  Oh, and Son of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield is especially good when you’re making soup.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Fresh flowers, pedicures, great old country house hotels and coffee ice cream.

If you could be an artist, who would you be and why?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to paint!  I’d probably choose Lord Frederick Leighton. I adore the romantic atmosphere of his paintings; I could stare at the folds of the lady’s green dress in The Painter’s Honeymoon for hours. And as a huge added plus, if I were Lord Leighton, I would get to live in that exquisite house of his in Holland Park.

If you could live inside a work of fiction, what book would you choose, and why?
It’s tempting to say Harry Potter, of course.  To ride into town on a broom is outrageously irresistible.  I’d love to work in Mulberry’s flower shop, like Miss Pym in Mrs. Dalloway.  I’d spend my days looking out the window at that perfect London morning, surrounded by lilies and lilacs.  Or living inside Swallows and Amazons would be delicious. And, if you could remove the crazy lady from the attic of Thornfield Hall, I’ve always thought Jane Eyre wouldn’t be bad.  But I think I’d have to choose Mary Poppins.  To live in long ago London with the sense of grand possibility that she provided would be wonderful.  Imagine jumping into paintings!

Thank you so much, Pamela! I really enjoyed reading your answers.

It's a book! A real book! Yay!
Book details

From The House of  Edward
Essays by Pamela Terry

Available now from Pamela's website: www.pamelaterry.net

Blog details

Follow Pamela and Edward's adventures...

From The House of Edward


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Book review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

I have a flurry of book reviews waiting in a line to be published. I chose The Age of Miracles to go first as it pushed its way to the front wearing a sparkly feather boa, tapping its watch.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: June 2012


I enjoyed this book so much that I let friends borrow it, and they in turn told their friends, and so the ripples of reader recommendation slowly widened like the hours of the day in this apocalyptic novel.

What would happen if the day grew longer than 24 hours? This is the question at the heart of this novel, and it is a very clever, original concept. I especially like the way the author told the story from a 12-year old child’s point of view, as in a way a child has to be more accepting – they have to fall in line with however their parents have chosen to deal with the situation. So we see life from our narrator’s narrow angle – how school would continue, how those all-important first romances still blossom, how the adult world strives to keep control. Perhaps using a child protagonist saved the author some headaches – as a child isn’t expected to understand or explain the scientific realities of such an event – and so we never know why this happened, what caused it, or how it can be solved, either. Like the child, we have to also fall in line with the part the author wants to focus on – the actual event, referred to as ‘The Slowing’.

As epic dystopias go, or even disaster fiction, The Age of Miracles is surely up there on a grand scale. I realised that halfway through I couldn’t remember the protagonist’s name – but it didn’t matter, really. This is one of those stories where the idea eclipses the characters. There is a part where the narrator feels the need to mark her name in wet concrete to show she was there – and this to me is allegorical of her character’s part in the story – I as a reader need to remember she’s there, too, despite my fascination with discovering how civilisation adapts to a precarious situation. But the author understands this, and so she gives her characters compelling but quiet parts to play – from skateboarding pragmatic Seth to Sylvia, the hippy pianist trying to continue on clock time.

There is page-turning build up of tension throughout this novel, although the inevitable ending swiftly becomes apparent – an idea so rooted in reality cannot conceivably support a fantasy conclusion. The movie rights have been optioned by River Road Entertainment (Brokeback Mountain, etc) so it will be interesting to see how they approach it, as there isn’t a hero, or a satisfactory Hollywood finale. Instead we are left to imagine what happens after, and as such the premise lingers for a very long time.

As a debut, this was a fantastic read, and I’ll definitely be looking out for the next story from this author.

The author's website: www.theageofmiraclesbook.com

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Desk stories

A Magic Door
My 9-5 work desk is totally chaotic, I realised.

To the left the surface is covered with various work papers, underneath which is my A5 planner diary, open on this week, a pen lodged down its spine. My iPhone is charging, my glasses case is abandoned (I don’t need glasses, ok? *squints*), my hair-band is escaping to a new land under the keyboard.

My monitor is propped higher on various medical books (work-related) and is also home to a calendar, a pencil sharpener, and a branded fluffy pink hippo key-ring with soulful purple eyes.


There are various post-it notes stuck around the monitor, some work-related reminders, some doodles. One is a magic door. I haven’t decided quite where it leads yet, but it's obviously been waiting there a while, since the date of the photo is saying April.

A Fortune Teller
Next to the monitor is an origami fortune teller. Let's choose our fate for today... Pink, 1, and number 4... 'A new opportunity is coming your way'. Oh, how exciting! I think I need one. Actually that is the nicest of the fortunes, I seem to recall. Others include developing a coffee-related facial tic, and being the office plant killer.

To the right of me are various pen-lids (who eats my pens?), fluorescent markers, Tippex, scissors, a stapler, and Pritt stick. There is also a slim bottle of Rescue Remedy (dusty), really ancient herbal teabags, salt, mustard, and Gaviscon. (Are they related?) A banana and a tangerine waits for tea-time. Headache pills lurk beneath a flyer for a vintage fair.

Discarded Metro newspapers litter the outer reaches of the desk, along with a doodle of an unhappy girl. A full glass of water and an empty mug are by my side - my priorities are always caffeinated. On the shelf two origami boats are filled with conkers (horse chestnuts). On the wall there are doodles – mainly of me strangling computers, a postcard telling me to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, various Nemi cartoons cut out from Metro, a Bauhaus exhibition leaflet, and Waterhouse’s Pre-Raphaelite Miranda, still waiting for her ship to come in.

I feel this desk is far too telling of my emotions!

What’s on your desk?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Menorca memories

Views like this make me dream of stories
Mr Snaffle Shorts

I watched Mr Snaffle Shorts sidle around the hotel’s breakfast buffet. He’d carefully secret rolls in napkins before slipping them into his trouser pockets, and a quick sleight of hand would make other things disappear the same way – fruit, foil wrapped butter, cheese and ham, mini croissants. Every morning he’d appear in his special snaffling shorts and would cruise the buffet with a smug little smile – happy to be getting ‘one over’ on the management. I stole a glance at his wife. She didn’t look quite so content. She was probably contemplating yet another lunchtime eating sweaty cheese rolls on the beach, and yet another evening shaking crumbs and ketchup sachets out of the Snaffle Shorts. I’m sure that if asked she would side with her husband – they’ve paid for that food so by gosh they would eat it – but I am equally sure that if one morning he turned to her and said ‘darling – sod the snaffle shorts! Today at lunch let’s find a restaurant!’ – that her face would grow young and her smile would light the room.

‘Si vous plais, per favor’

I was incredibly enamoured with the idea of being able to speak Spanish when I was ten years old. I pestered my mother for a ‘teach yourself Spanish’ book, and was rewarded with one that, although marketed to children,  contained the most bizarre exchanges I’d ever seen. Every phrase was oddly adult -  ‘Excuse me, can I have a safety deposit box?’ and ‘ Hello – I would like to do some laundry, please.’ Somehow out of poor beginnings I managed to cobble together some knowledge – how to count to ten, simple polite greetings, and how to say ‘I like...’ (but of course!). I never actually took Spanish at school, sadly – I stuck to French – but I can still remember that phrase book, so had fun unleashing my Norf Lahndon Spanish accent into Menorca. Luckily my lovely travel buddy, good friend R, is far more knowledgeable at Spanish, and could steer the way when I lapsed into French instead – most memorable being ‘si vous plais, per favor’. Still, I think people were happy we made the effort!



Oblivious sun-worshipers

Sketching on the beach

Art has taken a back seat over the years to writing, but this holiday I was determined to get back into it and start sketching – anywhere we paused for ten minutes or so, out came the sketchbook. It was easier to draw from sight than from memory and I really enjoyed letting my vision absorb the surroundings and pick out little details. When you write or work with computers there is barely any distance between your eyes and the screen, and so it was wonderful to gaze my fill upon distance and colour. I vowed to start carrying my sketchbook with me everywhere again, but oh how quick it is to fall back into city grievances – my bag is too small, there’s no room on the trains and tube, I’m too tired. Pah. Although I could buy a bigger bag... *eyes light up at a solution that involves shopping*



The beach at Cala Galdana -
good friend R is in the foreground
 The pre-school Greek Chorus

As we boarded the homeward bound flight, a high proportion of toddlers boarded with us (and with their parents, naturally). Our little Greek chorus expressed everyone’s most hidden flying fears by wailing as loud as they could on the ascent. Thankfully they quietened when the plane levelled, no doubt pacified by whatever sweet and chewy thing their desperate parents could shove at them, and the flight continued smoothly... for a bit. As we neared the UK we hit a bit of turbulence – and one member of the Greek chorus – a small boy of around three years old – didn’t like it at all. He began a steady sob as the plane started its wobbly slow descent, and then at the top of his lungs suddenly yelled ‘I DON’T WANT TO DIE!’ It’s not the sort of thing you want to hear mid bouncy flight, to be honest. Mostly, though, I felt really sorry for him – someone must’ve scared him about flying or he’d seen something far too adult somewhere down the line – as it’s an odd association for a little boy to make. His parents tried to comfort him, but we were stuck with repeated yells of ‘I DON’T WANT TO DIE!’ all the way to touch down. I’d never been so relieved to land!

A summary

Menorca is a lovely, lovely island – with white sandy beaches, lots of history, individualist housing, and beautiful winding city streets. I did lots of gazing out to sea, and dreaming about future plans, and pondering steps to make future plans part of the present plan, and wondering whether I have a present plan and does it actually involve treats? I also had a fantastic time with lovely travel buddy, as ever – we find the same things incredibly amusing, we like the same quiet moments, and we natter about everything under the sun – and the sun we were under was kind to us, and didn’t burn or disappear behind clouds. If only a week didn’t gallop and recede so fast – feels like a long time ago now!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

September sun

Hello lovely bloggers! I hope the summer has been good and kind to you, and you are all pushing forward with your creative dreams. Do you feel refreshed and eager to forge ahead?

September is my favourite month. It hides a birthday (nope! Not telling! But not a decade changer. *grins*) .

I always feel that birthdays are our individual New Year – the world does a personal pivot and everything and anything is possible. My favourite colours come out to play in September – the beautiful russet and gold-tarnished leaves, the smudged sunsets and chalky sunrises. The last display of the sun is always its most spectacular, reminding us not to forget as the year grows dark and gathers itself inside to crouch by the fire. The blues of the sky shine with a frosted tinge felt in the extremities of morning and evening. Blooms and blossoms are soporific with berries – a woodland walk during daylight hours smells warm and content. The natural world is slowly preparing its bed, although there’s plenty of time yet for one last waltz – Nature saves its best frocks for such an occasion, and dresses each tree and bush with extra garlands. There is so much potential in this magical time of year.

I’m having a bit of a slow dance with the novel at the moment. I feel like I’ve been precariously clinging to the side of commuter life but lost my grip earlier this year and got suddenly and rudely whooshed down the plug hole into the thick of it. There are no port-holes down there; it’s a whirl of Stuff, like a mini cyclone – all of it claiming panicked dominance one after the other after the other – no time to breathe, to take stock of what feels right, what feels important. Every so often I cling to a ledge and try to focus on my heart’s desire – at which point Stuff will shriek with laughter and tug at my arms until I’m back whirling again, all raggedly around the edges.

But occasionally a rope is thrown towards me from above - usually from Wise Lovely Friends, who know me very well indeed, and understand I’m prone to Stuff and Worries. Sometimes I even tear work shirts into strips and make my own escape rope – and  although that is a far rarer occurrence; it does happen, as eventually even a whirly person gets fed up of being whirled and decides to take control.

So I’m clambering up again. I’ve got a holiday booked – a real-honest-to-God-proper-holiday – with beach, sun, swimming, and relaxing. A chance to have a think about where I’m going and what I want to achieve. And I think blogging regularly again will help massively – I’ve missed my connection with authors and artists – from self published stars to wannabe writers, from people up at 5am to scribble stories to people making scrapbooks for their next artistic project, from stylish bloggers who inspire with photography to thoughtful bloggers who make me think, smile, and plan perfect interiors for my castle in the sky. I’ve missed you all! You’re a big part of my creative life.

I’ll be back from my holiday on the 15th September – and will hopefully bring tales of azure sea and sun-kissed sand, of ancient white-washed stone houses guarded by olive trees, of bustling market places in fountain-splashed courtyards, of glistening harbours and boats laying anchor, and of a girl, her friend, their sketchbooks, and possibly a few stray cat buddies.


x

Monday, 13 August 2012

See You In September


I’ve not gone away; I’m just being quiet
Too much turbulence caused by emotional riot
I’m thinking in September that time will start anew
Energy will flow once more and this blog will renew
But until then I’m collecting stories and ideas
Conjuring grand plans to karate kick wet sand into fears
I wish you all well in your artistic endeavours
And look forward to catching up in calmer weather

In the meantime if you've a hankering to chat or to witter
Please do click this link and you'll find me on Twitter

x

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Per aspera ad astra!

Through difficulties to the stars!

Where's me hands?!

It’s been very hard to write anything over the last couple of months, and testimony to that is the lack of blog posts. When you’re feeling sad your fingers are sad too; they droop and wilt over the keyboard, complain of headaches when they strike the keys, and refuse to type anything other than exceedingly bad poetry. But when writing stories is the thing that seems to complete you; that defines how you see yourself; that is at once relaxing and fun and provides escapism, then sooner or later it’ll be time to pick up the metaphorical quill again.

There is so much to say and perhaps I’ll soon catch up relaying marvellous events – there was a brilliant vintage hen party complete with Victory rolls and garnished by the Best of British Swing Ball (a dance, not a sport). There was an amazingly gorgeous wedding in a 15th century Royal Palace. There has been much riffling through vintage fairs to find gorgeous dresses (for above wedding), a visit to Somerset that sparkled through the rain-drops, a boy-band concert that was a nostalgic teenage time-warp, and dancing – much dancing, with a 1940s rock-step and Charleston happy feet.

But there have also been many moments of reflection and wondering about my Curriculum Vitae – my journey (course) through life. Oh, so much Latin today! Partly I’m excited for the future – all those possibilities – but equally I’m fearful, and that’s the problem. There’s a pesky internal scuppering that seems to go on behind the scenes and I’m sick of it! Begone, scampering scupperers.

And what about the never-ending story? What about The Novel? The good news is that I did a read-through a few days ago and like it more than ever. The better news is that I’ve booked two whole days off the 9-5 to write my fingers (and thumbs) off, which is coming up just around the nearest weekend-shaped corner. Bring it on, I say. Let's visit those stars.

Monday, 4 June 2012

The Facebook Friend


'I don't do Facebook', I said, laughing, when my Aunt Olivia asked. She tried to convince me, saying it was a great way to stay in touch, but I demurred. It didn't stop her from finding me on Facebook, though - an empty account set up so a friend could show me some photos - and sending me a friend request. It popped up in my email but I didn't confirm, and so got used to seeing a reminder each time Facebook tried to snarl me.

‘You have a friend request!’ it would say, and there my aunt would be, smiling out from her profile picture.

We were in touch in other ways, of course. She was the friendly face who understood me, the warm voice on the end of a phone, the person who always remembered what was important to me, who took time to ask about my life. We shared the same (rather dark) sense of humour. She got on with everyone – a practical, pro-active person who didn’t dwell in the past but lived for the moment, for the future.

Perhaps familiar with other families who have experienced a lot of bereavement, there is a tendency to look behind, to think that the best of times have already been and gone, something I found very hard to deal with as a young teenager still growing into her life. Olivia’s way of looking ahead was always a much needed breath of fresh air to me and yet she was incredibly thoughtful, such as suggesting that we hold a party on the 20th anniversary of my dad’s death to celebrate his life, and being there for me – and for my mum especially – in so many ways.

When we found out Olivia had cancer a few years ago it was devastating. She took it in her stride, and her positive outlook and strength sent it into remission. During this time we lost another aunt of mine, also to cancer. It felt like there had been some sort of impossible trade – one aunt had sadly passed away but that meant the other stayed, surely?

Sometimes answers to questions stay silent.

The cancer came back in March with frightening speed. Now the talk was palliative, not cure. Now we all heard the invisible clock relentlessly ticking. But we tried to bat that far, far away as we chatted around her bedside. She described her illness as ‘such an inconvenience’ and jokingly told me to ‘keep the receipt’ for the slippers I bought her. She stayed her upbeat, practical self, despite the discomfort and pain, surrounded by beautiful flowers and everyone who loved her.

She passed away last week aged 56.

I opened my email today. ‘Olivia wants to be friends with you’ says the Facebook reminder.

I hope my aunt realised that I was always her friend.


Aunty Olly
1955 - 2012




Monday, 21 May 2012

Author Interview: Danny Miller

Danny Miller's new novel, The Gilded Edge, is out now and I'm delighted to welcome him to my blog for a bit of a chat.

The Gilded Edge is the second book of a series featuring the rather gorgeous-sounding detective Vince Treadwell, set in 1960s London.

Danny's debut novel, Kiss Me Quick, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in the Crime Thriller Awards 2011. When not writing novels, he's a playwright and a scriptwriter.




Can you summarise new novel The Gilded Edge in a Tweet?
No. Yes. Doh! A stylish and sexy thriller set in London in 1965: fast, furious, and fun.

How would you describe detective Vince Treadwell?
Someone described him as “A hero men would like to be, and women would like to be with.” He’s a handsome young guy who’s smart and knows how to use his fists. He’s a little impetuous, which could be put down to his age. But Vince being a little hot-headed invariably makes the story more exciting - he jumps into the action and never gives up. He also has a dangerous habit of getting romantically involved with women he shouldn’t - the femme fatales, always more deadly than the male villains.

Both your debut novel (Kiss Me Quick) and The Gilded Edge are set in the 1960s. What attracts you to the decade?
I love film noir. And I have a strong image in my head of black and white movies and men in sharp suits and women done up to the nines. And I think the 60s was probably the last time that happened, that real suited and booted dressing up thing. Knowing that you’re a fan of vintage, Jayne, I think you’ll understand. It was also an era I felt that really belonged to England; it’s very recognizable and full of iconography. Great music, great films, great clothes - we won the World Cup! It was an exciting time. It was a time of classic English villainy, with daring robberies and cops chasing them in classic MK 2 Jags. It was also the height of the cold-war with lots of spies and intrigue in the air. So in terms of a crime series there’s a lot of fun to be had with the 60s.

How much research did you have to do for The Gilded Edge?
Quite a bit for this book, because a strand of the story is based on ‘alleged’ real life events. And I used lots of real life characters, like Michael X, a black gangster based in Notting Hill who went on to front the British Black Power movement; Billy Hill, a famous and powerful gangster of the day; and members of the ‘Clermont Set’, a group of aristos who gathered around the gaming tables of the Clermont Club, that included John Aspinall, James Goldsmith and Lord Lucan amongst their ranks. I’ve changed some of the names, but I still had to do quite a bit of research to get their characters right, which I enjoyed.

Did you always want to be an author?
No. At the age of 18 if you’d have said I’d be sitting at a desk writing 120,000 words, it would have sounded like a prison sentence. I wanted to travel and see the world, not sit on my arse all day. But I was living in New York and taking acting classes – like you do when you’re a waiter – and started keeping a diary, and then started to write monologues and plays. When I got back to England I had some plays put on, then got into scriptwriting for TV. But all my favourite writers were novelists, and the novel was always the form I held in the highest esteem.

Do you have a writing routine?
In the morning I tend to plough on with the narrative, the fresh stuff, from about 10am to 1pm. Then I re-write in the afternoon. On a writing day, and I try to have five of them a week, it has to be 1000 words plus, and usually it works out to about 1500.

As well as the computer, my desk is home to an empty mug, bottle of water, phone, notebook, and pen-lid (fate of pen unknown). What’s on your desk?
A pen, with no lid…mmm.

What are you currently working on?
The third Vince Treadwell book, about halfway through, and outlining the fourth. And just finished a bumper outline/treatment for a novel independent of the series, that I’m about to start. Also got some TV stuff I’m working on.

What advice can you give aspiring authors?
For me personally, I really love the process of writing. The planning, the plotting, the getting the words on the page. It’s that simple. If I found it hard work and just did it because I thought there was going to be money at the end of it, I probably wouldn’t do it; because I’m lazy. Bone idle. I watched a great documentary about Charles Bukowski the other night, and in his slow and low and lyrically booze smeared voice, he said, and I’m paraphrasing slightly, that he found  ‘Writing an easy and nice thing to do, and it remains an easy and nice thing to do, and that’s why I do it.’ That sounds about right to me. As for getting published, I’m not an agent or a publisher, I don’t know what they look for. But the bookshelves are full so read as much as you can.

Thank you, Danny!



The Gilded Edge is out now.

London 1965, and Vince Treadwell investigates the seemingly unrelated murders of a playboy aristocrat from Belgravia and a young black nurse from the wrong side of town. It takes the detective to the illegal drinking dens of Notting Hill run by the self-styled Black Power leader, Michael X; the nightclubs of Soho owned by the legendary gangster, Billy Hill; and the exclusive gaming tables of the Montcler Club in Berkeley Square, where the blue bloods and power players of England gamble thousands on the turn of a card. But as Vince Treadwell digs deeper he finds himself not only embroiled with a beautiful society girl, Isabel Saxmore-Blaine, but a world of espionage and corruption where the underworld mixes easily with the aristocracy, and no one is innocent.


Read more: The Gilded Edge at Amazon
Twitter: @DannyMillerKMQ



Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Impish ideas

The sound of silence is cloaking my blog at the moment. I picture it silver and dense; you can step into the billowing clouds and sweep away sections to reveal forgotten words and pictures, and then the fog rolls back in, obscuring and hiding all the features.

But it’s not a desolate landscape – silver shimmers with possibility and is the colour of slow moonlight on dark water, the slanted light of illumination piercing through a shadowed forest. Ideas crouch, giggling – they occasionally stick a foot out into the circle of hazy grey and admire their shiny buckled shoes, their elongated silhouettes. Mostly they play a frenzied game of tag and will stop every so often to tug my clothes and whisper in my ear. They think me a great, lumbering thing – such a human! – but clap their hands like proud parents when I correctly interpret one of their hushed communications. They also hand-on-hips scold when I get it wrong and disapproval makes me slink away for a while, but their wild games call to me from beyond the stream. I always turn my head and listen.

Can you hear them too?

Girl Beside A Stream, Arthur Rackham

Monday, 16 April 2012

A Saturation of Books

I reached a tipping point I never knew existed the other night. ‘Oh, what shall, what shall I read?’ I said poetically, twirling around my room, neatly avoiding all the Avalanches Poised To Happen. And then, akin to a Tim Burton film, all the books waiting to be read sort of leered at me from their shelves, spilled out of drawers, lurched out the wardrobe, and gurgled ‘me’, the way they would do if Tim Burton let Stephen King take over the script.

I backed straight off into PG Wodehouse’s Summer Lightning quicker than you can say ‘arghhhhhh - comfort read!’

I was out with good friend R on Sunday (yesterday in fact, although if you read this on a coffee break on Tuesday you might be confused) and we wandered into a vintage emporium. ‘I’m not going to buy any books at all,’ I said, in manner of one making a Stern Vow, and then added (quickly and softly) ‘apart from books that look good,’ in the manner of one sheepishly knowing they have introduced a get-out clause.

But this is my problem. I can’t stop buying books. I buy more books than I know what to do with. I get given books. I rescue books from second-hand stores. I keep ALL books. Pretty soon there will be one of those hoarder documentaries of which television is so fond, and it will be me peering fussily at the camera,  leading bewildered television presenters to worm and wriggle through my book passages. (Read that last bit carefully. No mucky minds here, please. And if you didn’t spot anything mucky, then count yourself on a far higher plane than me.)

The problem (and glory be that this should be a problem) is that I have an influx of hardbacks that want my attention. I am really looking forward to reading them – lots of debut authors, and many others who are established that I haven’t yet had the pleasure of an introduction. But hardbacks! It’s like lugging a breezeblock to work, which I haven’t tried, by the way. I haven’t ever lugged a breezeblock anywhere. But I can imagine it’s a heavy, tricky business.

Perhaps I need to invest in a sturdier bag. Mmm. I love solutions that involve shopping.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Surrounded by ghosts

It dawned on me the other day that I spend far too much time surrounded by ghosts. The films I love to watch are predominantly full of actors no longer with us. The authors whose books populate my shelves no longer breathe. The people who created the music I listen to are now eternally silent. The hands that made the art I adore are forever still. Even the house I live in is a constant reminder of other, happier days, when everyone I loved lived and their laughter filled the rooms. Slowly melancholia takes over until it fills my soul with its soft incessant murmuring. Time is going by, time is over, time is moving on. And am I? I don’t know.

The prompt for this latest bout of sadness was, funnily enough, the nicest feel-good musical known to mankind, Singin’ in the Rain. I saw the stage show in London's west end recently, and it was so fantastic it tipped me straight back into the film. Although I always delighted in watching Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor dance across the floors (and chairs, tables, off walls), it’s only now, as I have practised more dance myself, that I am thinking all kinds of holy wow at their talent. So I have been dipping into YouTube, watching clips from distant television specials and black and white films, and it’s so un-nerving to go from seeing Donald O’Connor aged ten tap-dancing with his brothers for an audition to – one click! – his last ever performance as an elderly man. One click – he was born! Next click – his obituary. A whole life – boom, bang-a-lang – and then that’s it, folks. Show’s over, and no amount of applause will coax an encore, not this time. Not in this life.

This sort of thing gets me every time – from well-known actors to people glimpsed in social history, from documented famous lives to unknown faces fading in second-hand photographs. I find myself looking at people coming to the end of their twilight years and thinking ‘how was it for you?’, hoping that the answer is good, as our journeys through living time are so relatively quick. One tick, here. Next tick, gone. And the meter keeps running no matter what. Who pays the bill at the end? I guess that stays a secret.

When melancholy gets too heavy I have to step out of the past and surround myself by my contemporaries, by people who breathe. And so I make a point to watch films with actors who see the same sunset as I do, and read books by authors who wake each morning to tackle a new page. I add new tunes to my playlists by musicians currently recording, and go to exhibitions by artists who are alive. Remind myself to look around every so often and see the world as it actually is – right here, right now – not a sepia reproduction but a living place with possibility.

Sometimes I spend so much time looking backwards that I forget about looking forwards. I have to surprise myself, take future-thinking unawares. I’ll make a sneaky plan and then jump ahead a little, and am almost surprised at getting a step closer to my goal. Deep down I really want to look ahead, but layered on top are years of conditioning that tells me to be wary, that unpredictable things are always bad, that if you do that you will fall, that if you take risks you will sink. But I’ve been working very hard to make this conditioning diminish – even if it doesn’t totally leave me, I can make it lesson, take its power away. And keep facing forward.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Sunday on the South Bank

Spring has come early to the city, and, just like the daffodils, Londoners are unfurling in the sunshine, willing to trust in the blue sky and hope that the weather isn’t playing an April fool. I, like many others, headed to the South Bank, and went to...

...a chocolate festival. Or, more aptly, a chocolate scrum. The thing is, thousands of people mill around the Royal Festival Hall on a sunny day in search of something, anything, to do that doesn’t involve listening to chamber music. So any little market that sets up around the back is pounced upon by everyone and their niece faster than a cheetah in Nikes, especially if it starts handing out free chocolate.

The best way to imagine the scene is to picture a stall covered in bunting, manned by shell-shocked chocolate makers. In front of them is a jostling, heaving wall of people, all seemingly absolutely desperate for a taste of dark chocolate and chilli. Occasionally the stall holder will gingerly hold out a free sample, akin to feeding ravenous penguins. I had this vision of me leaping out from the back, catching a piece of chocolate in a single bite, and then vanishing into the crowd with a self-satisfied ‘arf’.

I didn’t do this, good people. But I might have done, had I stayed there any longer. Instead I went and...

...watched some break-dancing. We sat opposite Shakespeare’s Globe theatre and were treated to a fab impromptu display from four guys and a girl, all throwing athletic shapes and spinning arms over legs on the dusty concrete floor. We clapped and we cheered; we threw money in the hat and marvelled at folk who go out dancing wearing a crash-helmet. I mean, you’ve got to be seriously committed to doing a head-twirl; it’s a tricky style look to pull off, otherwise.

We walked on and heard music drifting up from the Thames. A quick peer over the wall, and down in the murky water there’s a bloke in waders, playing a guitar. He sings to us, and we see that he has a blanket pegged on the strip of shoreline, covered in coins. We turn back and narrowly miss bumping into a bloke dressed as Oliver Cromwell, strolling through the crowds, his lady-friend nonchalantly carrying a trailing pennant. Following behind, we came to my favourite place...

...the long trestle tables filled with second-hand books underneath Waterloo Bridge. Five minutes later, and I’d already bought a 1963 Pan edition of Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie, and the 1968 book Poor Cow by Nell Dunn, author of Up the Junction. It’s too dangerous for my wallet’s health to linger so we did a quick flutter around the arts and crafts found in Gabriel’s Wharf before retiring to a secret place overlooking the river, continuing our evening inside while the sunset transformed the water into dusky pink and shot silver.

Chilly, chilly is evening time
Waterloo sunset’s fine...

The Kinks, 1967

Thursday, 15 March 2012

I wish...

I spend a goodly amount of my life wishing there were more hours in the day (although not when I’m at work. There are plenty enough hours in that portion of the day, thank ‘ee very much.). If there were more hours, I’d be able to:

  1. Put aside a chunk of time each day to write my socks off
  2. Go to the gym and get super-fit 
  3. Be groomed and fancy at all times, even if popping to the shop to buy milk 
  4. Spend more time with friends in search of the perfect cupcake
  5. Enjoy some down time to stare at the clouds now and again
But we’re all governed by the same 24 hours. No matter what time zone we’re in, we all rise, work, eat, sleep. Others can do it. So the answer must lie within me, young Padawans. I suspect the inability to do the things on my list comes mainly from the last item. I spend way too much time thinking thoughts like:

  • If the cartoon was called He-Man and the Masters of the Universe – who were the Masters?
  • What if Napoleon Solo was Hans Solo’s dad?
  • Do all foods taste good dipped in golden syrup? 

Although these thoughts are in a way perfect for being a writer – we’re inquisitive sorts – they aren’t very conducive for getting things done. The only problem is ‘getting things done’ slams down other words in my mind, which are:

Get Organised
DO IT NOW!
NOW!!!!!!!!!!

And every little last atom inside me goes into quivering melt-down. Small steps needed, I think. But progress is being made, because I’ve booked time off work to really get the novel shipshape and ready for action. It’s almost ready to go. (And breathe, Jayne. Breathe.)

Are you good at organising your time?

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Book reviews

I once decided to review all the books I read in a year

It was really fun - especially as my reading tends to wiggle from contemporary books to some real old treasures. I also enjoyed doing it – there is a nice art to reviewing, in that you share the essence of the book but don’t give away too many clues. This helps massively with synopsis writing, as you’re looking for the big themes within a book, not the minute detail.

So I’m going to start doing it again, here and there, and am looking forward to keeping a record of what takes my fancy this year.

Do you like reading book reviews on blogs? 
And what are you currently reading? 

Always good to have recommendations!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Herman the German Friendship Cake

‘I’ve got something for you,’ said a friend at work. ‘It’s a Herman.’

‘It’s a what?’ I asked, staring in bemusement at the tub of goo being pressed into my hands, along with a photocopied sheet of instruction.

‘A Herman!’ she replied. ‘It’s a German friendship cake. Follow the instructions and then pass it on.’

Ah. I thought. It’s like a chain letter, only one you can eat. A chain letter with no horrible consequences, apart from... I looked again at the mixture. What exactly was in this, again?

The instructions stated that he is a sourdough cake, and that you can't put him in the fridge or he'll die. If he stops bubbling, then he is dead.

I frowned. Herman’s immediate future didn’t look good. Still, with the greatest will in the world, I took him home, announced him as the new house guest and made him comfortable.

‘Here you go, Herman’, I said, popping him into his new bowl, aware that I was already making a fatal error.

You see, I’m not very good when objects are anthropomorphised. I get horribly sentimental and then refuse to part with them. And now, not only did I have to keep Herman alive, but at the end of his sojourn with me I was expected to eat him.

And so began a peculiar ten days of Herman related activity and enquiries after his health. Was he still alive? Just about. We’ll keep quiet about the day I forgot him. Has he been stirred? Yes, either very early in the morning as the cats clamoured to be fed, or very late at night (with the cats still clamouring. My cats default position is to clamour as soon as anyone steps foot in the kitchen. Pavlov would have saved himself an awful lot of time if he’d just shared his home with a cat.)

But Herman was a fairly easy addition to the household, I have to admit. He didn’t require any scales, for one thing. None of this two confuddled ounces and sixty confusing milligrams nonsense. Instead everything was a ‘cup’ of plain flour, a ‘cup’ of sugar. Marvellous. I was beginning to think that this Herman may yet live to be eaten another day.

Not only that, but you can easily make up a song about Herman, set to the tune of Madness’ Driving In My Car:

Herman’s hiding in his bowl / It's not quite a casserole.

On Herman’s Day of Reckoning, I felt a bit sad. Poor Herman, I thought, giving him a final stir. And then I tasted him (just as the cats default is to clamour, mine is to taste-test ALL cake mixture). Mmm, I thought. There was no denying it. My Herman tasted damn fine. And that was all the impetuous I needed to shove my weird cake pet into the oven.

Herman
The friendship part of Herman is that just before you cook him, you divide the mixture into three or four and give some to friends. So the Son of Herman also found his way to an oven (and again, tasted gorgeous.)

Herman Junior, photo from the lovely Kerry Lucy

I am now addicted to Hermans and volunteered to take the grandson of my original Herman home with me. I'm not quite sure where this will end, blogger buddies. I have the feeling Herman may always be found bubbling away under a tea-towel in my kitchen.

Bwhahahahaha! Herman Lives!



Instructions for Herman the German Friendship Cake

My Herman was soya-free - substitute olive oil for vegetable oil, and use apricots instead of raisins. Yum!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Sixth sense

I’m a huge believer in gut instinct. If my inner warning bell starts ringing, I listen. On Sunday I think it saved me from being mugged.

The driveway in front of my house only has room for one car, so I usually park my car on the drive and my mum parks her car in front of mine on the street, a bit like a ‘T’ formation. She uses her car more in the week than I do, so it works out easier this way, although if I want to get my car out I have to jump in both and do some manoeuvring.

Whenever I do this I like to pretend I'm in The Sweeney.

I’d returned from the supermarket so had moved mum’s car, parked mine on the drive, and moved mum’s car back in front again. I’d just jumped out of mum’s car and was locking it when I noticed a man slowly cycling on the pavement across the street.

He was a fair distance away but as I walked around the car my inner alarm bell started ringing, softly at first. I saw out of the corner of my eye that he had seen me and had suddenly crossed over to my side of the road.

I went to my car, intending to get out my groceries. This is when my inner alarm bell went off like a siren and my subconscious clocked seven things simultaneously.

  1. He’d sped up. Before he was aimlessly cruising down the road.
  2. There was also no reason for him to cross the road, no junction for him to turn down into, no obstruction his side that would stop his progress.
  3. The road was unusually quiet and totally empty.
  4. He was an adult on what looked like a teenage boy’s bike
  5. He had his hood up despite it being a sunny day
  6. I had the keys to two cars in my hand
  7. I look quite young

I quickly locked my car and practically bolted to my house. As I turned to shut the door I saw he had got incredibly close in a short space of time and was just passing my drive. We caught each other’s gaze and his look was so malignant that I knew my feelings were justified. And then he carried on down the street.

I’m not a paranoid person but there is a big problem with drugs (and knives) in the area that I live, with the gangs behind the trouble cruising the streets on bikes. So perhaps I’d clocked there was a reason to be careful from the moment I saw him. Whatever the case, I am so grateful to my internal warning system, and so very glad I listen to it. Please make sure you do the same with yours. x

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Out of focus

I am struggling a little these days. My focus has slipped and run away.

Run! Run for the hills!

Do you ever feel like someone else has your life? I look at others and think – hey! How come you’re living my life? That should be me over there, doing those things. Instead I’m here, doing... well, not much. Not much at all.

‘How can she say she doesn’t do much when her blog details amazing nights out?’

Yes, it’s a conundrum, but easily answered. Those nights are the rare stars twinkling high in a sky the texture of a course scratchy blanket. I arrange things to do because otherwise I’d bury my head under the blanket and never come out. I know my tendencies. I like to hide away.

The rewrite continues (well, I like to think it does. In my head it gallops. In real life it snorts steam and stares balefully from the stalls.) However, I fear it’s the wrong rewrite. I think perhaps there is a third, better, way to tell this story, which would mean yet again grabbing the edges of my Word document and giving it a shake, letting the sentences settle down again in a new pattern. I don’t want to do this. I’d rather lick the road, go on a five-mile hike on a hot day with a pail of defrosting fish, or ride a home-time bus surrounded by shouting territorial schoolboys with moustaches. But it’s an idea. A thought. A nasty, prickly, jabbing sort of thought, true, but it’s there all the same.

(I believe in the story, but don’t trust myself in the way I'm telling it.)


I know what’s wrong. The core of me is desperately unhappy, despite me shoring it up with bent lollipop sticks and cheap Primark jumpers. This is reflecting in my health, which has been annoyingly whiney of late, and feeling low is impacting on my focus. I know it’s all connected but still can’t seem to do what’s needed to make a change. It’s because dem big things, life-changes. But it’s getting closer for me to make some decisions and, really, it should be a simple one to make.

I have to choose to be happy.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Churchill War Rooms

Take my hand on this dark winter’s evening and walk with me down the wide expanse of Horse Guards Road. The black skeleton trees in St James Park stand tall on our left; the Portland stones of Her Majesty’s Treasury on the right seem to glow with their own ethereal luminescence. We join a group waiting in the night gloom, breath steaming in the air, faces cheerful with chatter. Big Ben in the distance solemnly chimes the hour. We are now allowed to scurry down the cold steps and enter the Cabinet War Rooms, Winston Churchill’s nerve centre throughout the Second World War.


Deep under the bustle of Whitehall hides an old sturdy rabbit warren of corridors. Let’s imagine for a second the uniformed men and women who worked down here. Their footsteps echo ahead of us, rushing important communications to the Map Room. The blue haze expelled from cigars and cigarettes cloaks the ceiling, making the rushing figures hazy and indistinct. We rush with them, a glance to the side revealing a stark room with a cot-bed, a desk, a lamp, a washing basin with a jug of water on standby. A telephone’s shrill demand for attention makes us jump; in the distance we can hear the rumble and shudder of distant bombs, the low wail of sirens warning Londoners to beware, to take care. Closer to us a BBC radio announcer’s clipped tones speak over the wireless; we hear the steady click-clack-click of typewriters, a faint floating burst of music, hastily muted. The hands of the clock on the wall point the way to midnight, 6am, midday. Time means nothing down here; it has been cancelled. The smell of sleepless toil, of urgency, of expectancy, soaks through the corridors. That was then.

And this is now. The books and charts in the Map Room have remained exactly as they were left in 1945.


This was Churchill’s bedroom. The walls are covered with maps. The last thing he saw on closing his eyes, and the first thing that greeted him on awakening, was the territory of battle.


One of the many telephones. Whose hand last held the receiver and what was the message?


Of course, we had to look the part...

Me

Lovely friend R

...courtesy of the 'vintage boudoir', which I was delighted to find consisted of Fleur at Diary of a Vintage Girl, and her Vintage Mafia! Thanks lovely ladies.

We spoke to museum curators, and followed the drifting sounds of music, past the group sketching caricatures of Churchill at his bulldog best, until we found the dance hall, manned by the London Swing Dance Society. Here we danced the Charleston and the lindy hop, and gathered in a circle for the Big Apple. All too soon it was time to climb the stairs and emerge back onto the street, blinking under the stars.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Secret Cinema presents...

It is now safe to tell you about an exciting mission that took me and two friends deep into the shady heart of 1940s Vienna...

‘Psst! Do you want to go to a secret cinema?’

This was the tantalising question that arrived with a ‘ping’ into my Inbox last November. I quickly tapped a resounding and enthusiastic ‘YES!’ and hit send, only later thinking to ask ‘what actually is a secret cinema?’ A few discreet enquiries revealed that it's the brainchild of a specialist event company who take great delight in creating a theatrical spectacle based around a cult classic film. Clues are sent in a series of mysterious email communications and half the fun is trying to guess what you're going to see.

We were given this dress code...

A rogue-ish dress code

…and were told to meet a man carrying balloons outside Barbican tube station. It was all incredibly exciting. We booked into the Powder Room in Soho for some vintage hairstyling, ready to play our part as 'Rogues'. Already some subterfuge was going on as my long hair was very cunningly disguised into a bob.

A quick bite to eat at Leon in Soho
We met our contact and soon were being hurried along the dark streets by uniformed officials shouting ‘schnell’, creating bafflement in modern onlookers. Our destination was the shadowed entrance to a former ‘lead and glass’ warehouse in Clerkenwell. Practically everyone had adhered to the dress code, and this styling, combined with subtle smoke and clever lighting, helped create the illusion that we had turned back the clock, had suspended time.

Checking ID at the entrance to the International Zone

This feeling became more apparent as we entered the yard. Everywhere we looked was perfect – the money exchange swapping our sterling into Austrian schillings, the decorative bars in all their faded glory, the secretive gambling club upstairs, the spivs trying to barter watches and nylons. Every new arrival brought a book to leave behind – later to be swapped or given to charity - resulting in a heaped table filled with treasure.

Posters tying the film with the era

The money exchange

A higgledy piggledy pile of books

Clever lighting helped set the mood for film noir
The audience were part of the play – unrehearsed but just as key. Our greatest compliment came when we asked someone to take our picture. ‘But I thought you were actors!’ he said. Vintage mischief managed!

Me, no doubt transfixed by the wandering balloon seller

Lovely friend S

Lovely friend M, one of the bloggers behind To Happy Vegans
In what must have been a feat of unseen project management, little groups were gathered and rushed away to be shown secrets and illusion, helping to create the atmosphere of suspense. We whispered passwords and were ushered behind the bar, down echoing stone steps into a smoky long cellar. Here we played follow the leader through a strange underworld - scurrying across planks of wood bridging water, ducking through tunnels - were we chasing or being chased?

The motif of the evening was the man in a trilby hat – he lurked in the shadows; he appeared in the smoke. Occasionally you’d look up and there he was...

The man with the trilby hat
You may have guessed the film by now. It was The Third Man. And it was the best cinematic experience of my life!

Take a look at the short clip below to find out more...





Read M's write up at To Happy Vegans
Read more about Secret Cinema

Thanks to M for some of the pictures included on this blog post