the sounds of silence

radioSilence.  I cannot write with the radio or television on, but I do like to write with other people around me so long as they are not talking to me.  I often work alongside my children as they do their homework.  Mutual encouragement perhaps.

I used to have Radio4 on pretty much all the time but recently I have taken to silence instead.  I wondered why.

As many of you will know I suffered from a sudden and severe bout of depression last year.  I have been on medication which is brilliant.  I also realised I had to slow down.  I have been practicing yoga for several years and recently have taken up meditation.  I make an active effort to be mindful of all that I do.  I don’t multitask, I do one job at a time and concentrate on what I am doing even if it is just putting the ironing away. I have a morning ritual that includes, prayer, Bible reading and meditation.  I have kept a gratitude journal for five years and write in it daily.

I am realising that I don’t need or want the background noise.  Previously it was my prop, or perhaps better described as my insulation.  Alone in the house with no radio I have to listen to myself, there is no insulation.  Sometimes, at first it was rather scary, I wasn’t sure I liked what I was hearing, who I was.  But I am getting to know me better, I know what makes me tick  (I’m nearly 50 so it really is about time).

When I think I am too busy to meditate, to write morning pages, to pray; when I skip a yoga class; it shows.  I tend to turn on the radio, I seek out noise and avoid silence.

I prefer the silence.  It tells me more.


house editing

I am editing the house.  It has accumulated far too many adjectives, they are quite surplus to requirements and need to be evicted.  I have moved everything into the Barn and Gin Gan which means that the rest of the house is more pared down, neat and exact in places.  Unfortunately open the door between the Barn and the Kitchen and the evidence that this is not true editing, that I have cut and pasted and kept all the extraneous stuff in another file “just in case” is plain for all to see.

I was forced to focus on this problem when it transpired that rodents have eaten yet another bit of wiring (I do hope they don’t have little wellington boots and they fry as they chew) and the lights in the Barn and Gin Gan were turning themselves off and on in the style of a fast moving Samba.  The lovely chap from Tom Hibbert Electricians return to inspect the damage and performed exquisite gymnastics over the carefully built obstacle course behind the Barn/Gin Gan door. The fact that the lights now stay on only highlights the severity of the situation.

In the manner of a master wordsmith I intend to edit this house from the kind of book you buy at an airport because it is three inches thick and will last the entire 12 hour flight regardless of the quality or storyline to something more akin to Julian Barnes.  Small enough to slip into your handbag to read at the bus stop or in a traffic jam.  Enough in a couple of paragraphs to satisfy.

chickens, questions and elevenses

DSC_0517There is a very nice small hotel on the A68 just before Edinburgh called The Stair Arms.  It is known to us as the Chuck up Inn. Not, I hasten to add because of their food, but because it was about here that the travel sickness brought on by the 300 mile trip from Durham to Ardgay usually resulted in an upchuck of some colour or other.  Pink (following a milkshake) was a particularly memorable one.  Especially as one child let rip on arrival necessitating the poor Boss to go in and ask for a table for five and a mop and bucket; and a second child revisteted the pink milkshake (I know it was our fault) on getting in the car and getting a whiff of her sister’s regurgitated breakfast.  Back goes the Boss to get another mop and bucket …

You may also know that for many years I was The Chicken Lady.  Latterly keeping poultry has become quite common.  But way back when the Boss persuaded the Dancer that she wanted a trio of Saxony Ducks for Christmas it was not quite so a la mode as it is today.  Our assorted fowl and poultry were excellent babysitters for all the little ones who came to play.  Pigs can do the same when they are small, they were a bit scary to anyone under 30 stone when they were fully grown.

Consequently when I first saw a blog called Vomiting Chicken  I could not resist.  Amy’s blog is a wonderful and very dry (I do love a good dry sense of humour) observation of the oddness and loveliness of life.  It is also the reason for today’s post as I have been nominated for a Leibster Award.  As the kind of awards I usually get are for the most green triangles from the Christmas Quality Street tin eaten in one sitting, this is a bit more upmarket.

The Liebster Award is given to “up and coming blogs,” and encourages the discovery of cool new blogs.

So here’s what is involved:

When you receive the award, you post eleven random facts about yourself and answer eleven questions from the person who nominated you.

Then you pass the award onto eleven other blogs (making sure that you tell them you nominated them) and ask them eleven questions. (One might wonder at the significance of the number “eleven” here, but that would probably be silly.)  You are not allowed to nominate the blog that nominated you!  So here we go:

Eleven random facts about me

  1. I am completely deaf in my right ear following repeated Cholesteatomas as a child (go on google it, you know you want to).
  2. I can burp the entire alphabet including W.  This was a great hit at one of my younger sister’s birthday parties and my mother was mortified when all the little girls went running out to their mummies saying how cool Katie’s big sister’s burps were.
  3. I have sat on John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s knees.  My father was the lawyer for Apple Records and they used to give a Christmas party for the child of every single person who worked with them from the CEO to the cleaners.  One of their artists was asked to play Father Christmas.  John and Yoko played Father and Mother Christmas…
  4. I love all offal except tripe.  I particularly love fried sweetbreads.
  5. My first dog was named after a wine – Figeac.  As I was only 3 when I got her you can imagine that it was not me who chose her name.  My father went on to have cats called Petrus and Yquem, no plonk here.
  6. I can sing all of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika in Xhosa.  I learned it whilst living and working in the Transkei in my gap year.  I cried all the way from Umtata to Johannesburg (it is a LONG journey by bus and train).  I didn’t want to come home.
  7. Just like Amy (see number 4 on her list) I am an official extractor of spelts, remover of wobbly teeth (and popper of spots if allowed).  I have also removed teeth from other people’s children at their behest.
  8. I have very flexible joints and can make my fingers do all sorts of weird bendy things.  When I stand up straight my legs curve backwards.  It’s hereditary and I will probably have dreadful arthritis but there is nowt I can do about it.
  9. My first car was a white Mini Traveller called Emma.
  10. I used to make tar lollipops in the summer when the tar melted and seeped into the gutter.  We would roll twigs in it and line up the “lollipops” on the kerb.  I ruined several dresses but the punishment was worth it for the fun.
  11. What I have to think of ANOTHER one?   Sigh.  I long to have longish nails .  I don’t bite them, I just don’t seem to be able to have a full hand of nails all the same length at the same time.

Now to answer Amy’s questions…

  1. What is your favorite meal?
    I’m tempted to say anything with food in it.  If I absolutely HAD to choose I would have bread and butter pudding, that bit was easy.  As for the rest oh heck….  Roast turkey with all the trimmings, lots of bread sauce, shed loads of sprouts and proper homemade orange and cranberry relish.
  2. Do you believe in space aliens? If so, how would you describe them?  No.
  3. How do you keep your house clean?  Really, I want to know. I need help in this area.  Ah well first I must confess to having the wonderful Lisa and Yvonne who do most of the  hard grind.  But I am a bit anal and organised when it comes to the house and that would be a whole post (or even series of posts).  Suffice to say you need a plan and you need to put things away and clean up AS YOU GO ALONG!  No dumping of stuff please, everything has a place and it should be in it.  Oh and wash the shower before you get out and give the bathroom a whizz as you clean your teeth.
  4. How do you stay fit when you spend much time at the computer?  Have you seen me?  I went for an excellent Swedish Massage last month and Jilly took one look at the apparently huge muscles in my back and asked me if I worked out.  I almost fell of the couch.  Work out?  Do I look like I work out?    Seriously, I do at least 2 yoga classes a week and walk the dogs a lot.
  5. What’s a dream that you hope to accomplish this year? To be taken on by an agent and get a publishing contract.
  6. Do you own a grand piano?  Do you play an instrument? No only an upright, though I have my eye on a baby grand (The Boss doesn’t know this).  I play the flute and piccolo, the piano (very badly) and started sax lessons a year ago, though they have been put on the back burner
  7. How will you spend your birthday this year? I don’t know about the day itself.  But on the Saturday evening following the day I turn 50 I am having 16 friends around for a wonderful dinner to be cooked and served by Andy from  Papaya Catering
  8. What are some of your favorite movies and t.v. shows? I am currently addicted to Broadchurch and as it is the final episode tonight and we find out whodunnit I will be glued to the screen ignoring all phone calls and fire alarms should they ring.  More generally I thought State of Play (the tv series),  The State Within and The Sandbaggers were all outstanding.  Filmwise I am a sucker for older films.  Battle of Britain, Twelve o’ clock High, Carve her Name with Pride, Inn of the Sixth Happiness,   The Longest Day, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, High Noon, A Night to Remember.  All films I used to watch with my father, who would then tell me who every single actor was and what else they had been in and anecdotes about working with them.
  9. What are you reading right now, book and magazine-wise? Struggling to be Holy by Judy Hirst and Oriental Vegetables by Joy Larkham.  I can’t recommend either of them enough.
  10. Are you a cat person or a dog person or a gerbil person?
    I don’t do small furry animals, mainly because we have three dogs who regard them as snacks.  However we have 5 cats, 3 dogs, 1 parrot, 2 goldfish, 2 geese and assorted chickens.
  11. Do you have a favorite Youtube video that you’d like to share with the class?  Loads.  But as I have been listening to this a lot recently I shall share my recent  musical earworm with you.  Bird House in Your Soul. 

Gosh this is hard work.  I thought this was an award not one of Hercules’ trainer trials.  Here are my 11 questions.

  1. Have you ever had a dream come true?  How?
  2. What was your most serious misdemeanour at school?  Were you caught?
  3. Do you snore?  Have you ever voluntarily or involuntarily tried any cures?
  4. What was the last song that stuck in your head?
  5. Tulips or daffodils?  Why?
  6. Do you prefer to cook or to eat?
  7. Are you a Townie or a Country bumpkin?  Not in reality but in your heart.
  8. What is in your handbag/briefcase/rucksack/pockets right now?  Chose one or more 🙂
  9. Do you think beauty is in the eye of the beholder or are some things inherently ugly?
  10. Do you have a party trick? (and what is it….)
  11. What do you do when faced with a big spider staring back at you from the bath?

And these questions I send on their merry way to:

  1. Donna at Lost and Found
  2. Seymour at Seymour Writes
  3. Homebaked at Homebakedonline
  4. Anna at Skin & Blister
  5. Caroline at Caroline Smailes (though she is so busy with the launch of her new book The Drowning of Arthur Braxton that she might not make it)
  6. Nettie at Nettiethompson
  7.  From a Country Cottage
  8. Zeb’s Mum at Zeb Bakes
  9. Amanda at Paper Pens Ink
  10. Catherine at Close Encounters, because she needs a break from writing her current book so that I can catch up!
  11. Ann at Singing in Paradise because her blog is wonderful and gets lots of visitors but nowhere near enough comments.

Now if you ever think of starting something like this, can you keep the numbers down.  Eleven of everything is an AWFUL lot.


Willow_Bird_House_2Earworms, those songs that drill down into your brain and just won’t go away.  Today I have had a little birdhouse in my soul  and in an attempt to move it on to a birdhouse elsewhere I put on this  .  Old I know, but I do know more of the words and I like the philosophy.  Now I have a free electric birdhouse flying free in my mind.  Not a great result.

However, it did get me thinking about the book that becomes the bee in my bonnet. Is it possible for bits of books to worm their way into your mind and take over for days at a time?  I don’t mean quotes, they are too specific.  That is the equivalent of knowing all the words and being able to sing the entire song from beginning to end complete with instrumentals.  No, I mean a visual of a scene that lodges just behind your eyes and occasionally blurs your sight.

One of my first wordworms was from Noel Streatfield’s autobiography A Vicarage Family .  The scene at the end of the book when John comes home from the war and meets Victoria in the garden.  The death of innocence.  It was the beginning of my fascination with World War One.  From the military strategies (I read Clausewitz On War in my early twenties, followed rapidly by The Seven Pillars of Wisdom ) to the personal testimonies both published and in the stacks at the Imperial War Museum and National Army Museum.

This was followed by Render Unto Kaiser.  I don’t imagine anyone outside South Africa has read this.  I went to work in The Transkei in 1981, I was 18.  I was naive and full of hope and optimism.  I left full of hope and optimism but it was tempered by reality, by poverty, by death and by a realism that my white, middle class, western ideals were not necessarily appropriate nor shared.  The book holds the distinction of being the only one banned by the Matanzima brothers.  Hardly surprising, it is an eloquent expose of a puppet regime.

The next was The Poisonwood Bible , to be honest the entire book reverberates around my head on a regular basis.  I think I bang on about it probably rather too much.  It is my favourite book, my desert island book.  It is both a tragedy and a beacon of hope.  I reread it on a regular basis.  I cannot let it go and it won’t let me go.

There is clearly a war/suppression theme going on for the final wordworm comes from River of Time by Jon Swain.  If the First World War fascinated me then the Indochina wars gripped me.  I watched every film (both good and awful), read every book, devoured every documentary and can still remember watching the news reports as a child as my father patiently explained who everyone was.  The chapter when he leaves his girlfriend to return to Phnom Penh knowing he cannot stay away is both heartbreaking and at the same time, for me an idealistic young girl who wanted to change the world – downright bloody fantastic.

So now I look at my own book (s).  Is there anything there that could worm its way into a reader’s mind for life?  Timesmudger – sadly not.  Dorothy, well there I hope there is.  She is in my mind all the time.  I can’t shift the bugger.  But will she hold the same power over anyone else?

fellow wordsmiths

As I file my latest rejection (actually quite a nice one, writing lovely don’t  like the book kind of one) I thought I would share with you some of the successes of my fellow travellers along the wordsmith’s path.

First up is The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes  which is currently waiting for me behind the till at my local (independent) bookshop.  This is Caroline’s sixth book and was published only last week.  So get your first edition now!

Arthur Braxton runs away from school. He hides out in an abandoned building, an Edwardian public baths. He finds a naked woman swimming in the pool. From this point on, nothing will ever be the same. The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is an unflinching account of the pain and trauma of adolescence, of how first love can transform the most unhappy of lives into something miraculous.

Then we come to The Night Rainbow by Claire King.  This is Claire’s first book and I can’t wait to read the rest.  Beautifully written, touching and very evocative.

During one long, hot summer, five-year-old Pea and her little sister Margot play alone in the meadow behind their house, on the edge of a small village in Southern France. Her mother is too sad to take care of them; she left her happiness in the hospital, along with the baby. Pea’s father has died in an accident and Maman, burdened by her double grief and isolated from the village by her Englishness, has retreated to a place where Pea cannot reach her – although she tries desperately to do so.

 Then Pea meets Claude, a man who seems to love the meadow as she does and who always has time to play. Pea believes that she and Margot have found a friend, and maybe even a new papa. But why do the villagers view Claude with suspicion? And what secret is he keeping in his strange, empty house?

And what about Rook by Jane Rushbridge which brings to life the Sussex coast I remember so well from my childhood.

Nora has come home to the Sussex coast where, every dawn, she runs along the creek path to the sea. In the half-light, fragments of cello music crash around in her mind, but she casts them out – it’s more than a year since she performed in public. There are memories she must banish in order to survive: a charismatic teacher with gold-flecked eyes, a mistake she cannot unmake. At home her mother Ada is waiting: a fragile, bitter woman who distils for herself a glamorous past as she smokes French cigarettes in her unkempt garden.

In the village of Bosham the future is invading. A charming young documentary maker has arrived to shoot a film about King Cnut and his cherished but illegitimate daughter, whose body is buried under the flagstones of the local church. As Jonny disturbs the fabric of the village, digging up tales of ancient battles and burials, the threads lead back to home, and Ada and Nora find themselves face to face with the shameful secrets they had so carefully buried.

One day, Nora finds a half-dead fledgeling in a ditch. She brings him home and, over the hot summer months, cradles Rook back to life.

Finally, though not a novel, this is the first book I bought by a fellow blogger and twitter friend.  I have cooked almost all the recipes and not one single one has been duff (something that in my experience thus far only Good Housekeeping, Delia Smith and a handful of other cookery writers can claim).Prepped by Vanessa Kimbell is one of those rare cookery books that is a delight to read and a pleasure to use.  I also love the way that it is divided up by flavour.  My copy is divided up by bookmarks for our favourite recipes!

To all the others, like me, collecting rejection slips I hope to be able to include you in the next list 🙂

inky keyboards

I am a fountain pen user.  It isn’t snobbery or a desire to show off.  I can’t write with a biro or roller ball.  My writing becomes squashed and flat and the loops of my bastardised copperplate resemble the squashed flies of a garibaldi biscuit.  In the absence of a fountain pen I use pencil, always.

When I write notes and ideas for books, stories, blogs, in fact anything at all including weekly menu plans, shopping lists and instructions to my children about feeding animals, watering veg. seedlings and waiting in for the electrician so that we don’t have to eat in the dark, I always write by hand.

When I write stories, novels or blog posts, anything that is going to leave my house, I type.  I am fortunate in that my mother was a very forward thinking woman.  I wanted to be an actress; my first job was with a small touring theatre company set up by an exiled black South African Alton Kumalo.  It was clear I was not going to make much of a living wage and wisely noticing that temps earned more than waitresses my mother paid for me to go on a shorthand and typing course.

I loved shorthand; I had speeds of around 90-95wpm.  Typing was less attractive.  We were made to copy type a foreign language we couldn’t speak (to avoid make assumptions about the letters that came next).  I typed in German and the girl next to me typed in Spanish.  Occasionally we swapped so that we could be out in time for an extended break in the Italian coffee shop next door.  The coffee was great, the waiters were better.

It never occurred to me that the ability to touch type would be so useful; this was an era long before computers.  Heck in my first job I had an electronic typewriter; I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  Shorthand remained incredibly useful, for taking notes, for writing things down I didn’t want anybody else to read and for generally showing off.  Then in 1991 we bought a pc.  Our translation business was taking off and we needed to be able to communicate directly with our clients in France.  We were the proud possessors of a CompuServe email address and I learned to send files by direct modem transfer (anyone else remember TTY?)  And so I typed more and more.

I have no idea what my speed is now.  I am long past the days when I have to go into an agency and do shorthand and typing test in order to garner a job to keep the wolf from the door until the next acting job comes along. Typing is second nature to me.  I do it all the time.

I cannot imagine handwriting a story or a novel, yet I cannot imagine typing the notes that I need for that story.  I don’t wonder why, I have stopped questioning.  Now I go with the flow, if it works then don’t fix it.

cooking the books

I love to cook.  It’s not just about the process of creating a meal it is also about feeding and providing succour to others.  It is about service, it is about love.

I could do with shifting a few pounds.  Actually if I am going to Turkey with three teenage daughters and meeting up with my sister in law and her two gorgeous daughters and I don’t want to wear a burka I will need to shift something akin to the lower reaches of Mount Everest.  In the pursuit of the summer body (which according to Singer 1 is earned in winter – a bit of a cheek from a lithe size 6 -8) I have been following the 5:2 diet.  It suits me perfectly.  My Protestant background approves of a spot of fast and denial and my Catholic background looks forward to healthy feasting on the other days.

Tuesday was a fast day.  This was supper.


Not bad for 240 calories, a slice of fish and some chilli and ginger?  It’s not about the ingredients but what you do with them.  Not unlike writing.  We all have the same words but not all of us can produce A Sense of an Ending or The Poisonwood Bible.

As I cooked, and listened to the news I thought of all the people I have cooked for:

  • My family – my first ever roast dinner aged 9, preceded by jam tarts, mince and onions, stovies and once and never again, tripe.
  • My friends – endless variations of Bolognese and chocolate fudge during my sixth form years.  Graduated to curries and slow cookers in my university years.
  • People I admired for their courage and their humility in letting me feed them –  Soup kitchens
  • My children – purees, boobs and bottles
  • My animals – post operative scrambled egg.

Cooking is not unlike writing.  Only you can make it.  My mother and I have the same recipe for baked beans but the results taste completely different.  Cooking and writing are also labours of love.  Special occasions aside, my family expect a meal every night.  They thank me for it (I dragged them up well, they clear the table and help wash up too) but they would be perturbed and somewhat put out if there was nothing.

People I have written for:

  • My teachers – all those weekends doing my creative writing for Monday morning English lessons.
  • My father – who loved to read anything I wrote and is still my biggest fan.
  • My children – written and oral stories, in the tradition of my grandmother, in that they are the heroines and the stories go on for years.
  • Me – there are so many stories I want to set free.  When I am asked where my inspiration comes from I am always slightly taken aback.  My problem is to stop the inspiration, the ideas.  I cannot keep up

So I cook and I write and I hope that both are appreciated.