Saturday, February 16, 2019

Cars, eh?!

I've come to think that the modern motor car is just too darned sophisticated. My Ford B-Max is a good car, and a max step up from my trusty old Honda Jazz - which I loved. But it seems that it's got many times more things that can go wrong. It's the same with Steve. Having driven old Fords for twenty years - and been able to service and repair them himself - he's now got an S-Max. He had to face the fact that his last car just didn't have the safety features - including the safer build - that modern roads demand.

So it came as something of an annoyance and disappointment when his S-Max developed an electrical fault which finally totally disabled the vehicle. It's been with the repairer for getting on for four weeks, waiting for the Engine Control Unit to be tested/repaired/re-tested.

My B-Max lost steering assist one morning. To cut a long story short, it turned out to be a failing battery, and didn't have to go in for repair. Though it almost came to spending £50 ("No sir, £49.99") on an "assessment".

Cars, eh? I can't help thinking what a good thing it would be for the planet and its population if we didn't have them.

But since I do have one, I drove us out to Milton Keynes the other day. Having been to the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral, we found out that there is one such in glorious MK (which is very nice to travel through by boat!)

It's very different from the Whipsnade one. It's more formal, more architectural, being based on Norwich Cathedral, with a west front, nave, choir, transept, alter, cloister, chapels, chapter house and so on, laid out to match the real building. This photo from the Parks Trust gives you the full effect.

The day after this, I published my novel on Kindle. It was a couple of months overdue, but it was worth it - well, I think it was! I'm really quite excited about it. It's my first published novel. (I still have two unfinished ones.)

As I write in the Foreword,
This is my first published novel. Having already published two travelogues – which are, of necessity, factual – I really wanted to move into the world of my imagination, and I had a great deal of fun writing it. Out of the Dawn is a fiction told against a background of narrowboats and canals. But they’re not what it’s all about. It’s about two people and a dog who choose to live on a boat. Well, the people do. The dog had no choice in the matter. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not he thought it was a good choice. They could have stayed in their jobs, with their flat and cars, and a cello and a tuba. They could have travelled the world, and their story would have been very different from this. But they chose a narrowboat, and canal life changes things. It changes people, too. And dogs.
 As with my other books, this one's available from Amazon for Kindle Readers or any other device (with the Kindle app). It costs less than a pint! (£2.50) You can read the first 10% (I think it is) before buying it here. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Out and about

While returning to Kantara is still only a vague plan (that is, we'll do it some time, dependent upon circumstances) I fill my time with as much leisure as possible whilst avoiding any kind of work like I'd avoid a rabid Dobermann.

The only work I've done - and thoroughly enjoyed - since my last post was helping to complete the Incredible Edible project we almost finished last week. After which there was an hour's tidying-up to do at their first, much smaller site. The loft cries out for more attention, but I ignore it. It can wait until next winter.

There was also work being done by someone else that required my presence and attention, viz. the installation of thermostatic radiator valves. What a difference they make! Why did we not get them decades ago?

Despite the snow and ice, which hasn't been particularly bad here, we drove out to Dunstable Downs a couple of days ago. Even though it's only a short journey away, it's a place we haven't visited for many years. The wind gnawed at our faces, so we didn't stay out for long. Much more tempting was the café, the cappuccino and the jacket potatoes with cheesy beans, and the glass wall gave us fabulous views while we enjoyed those.

A few days before that, we'd visited a couple of places even closer to us than Dunstable. We'd never been to either before, and we knew that the full enjoyment of both of them depended upon it being summer. And it's not. But in both cases it was a matter of giving them a reccy to determine if we wanted to go back when everything's in full leaf and flower. We do, and we shall.

First of all the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral.

This lovely mini-park was created as a memorial.
Born in 1898, Edmund Blyth served in the infantry in World War I and suffered the loss of dear friends Arthur Bailey and John Bennett, who died in the March retreat of 1918. He wanted to create a lasting legacy for his comrades-in-arms who were no longer with him. From 1930-1939, with the help of just one man, Albert Bransom (1872-1940), Mr Blyth began planting.
Next came the Stockwood Discovery Centre.

Not only did we discover lovely gardens that'll look even better in the other three seasons, but also a fabulous collection of ancient horse-drawn carriages.

And a few early motor-vehicles, too.

Notice the Roses and Castles on the side of this travellers' lorry.

I can't finish this post without mentioning the official launch today of the new line-up of Said the Maiden with Minnie Birch. The response in social media is phenomenal! Enjoy!

As the official Facebook release says,
If you don't already know our new maiden, Minnie Birch go check out her Facebook page or her SoundCloud  She's an incredible and much-admired singer/songwriter from Hertfordshire, a dear friend of ours, and also a member of The Company of Players.
We're really looking forward to seeing them onstage in the autumn!


Notice to my book readers! There's an update to "Chapter 6 – Miscellany" on the Addendum Blog for "Hints and Tips for life with your feet under water".

Monday, January 21, 2019

That sinking feeling...

...has gone! After a survey of the saggy floor, instituted by our insurers, then the finding of a plumber and carpenter to do the job after we were told that the problem was not covered by insurance, then the waiting for one or other of them - or both - to actually turn up when they said they would, the whole job was finally done in a matter of a few hours. Sigh of relief. Now perhaps we can go back to the boat!

Nope. Blood donation, car service and MoT got in the way. Then the plumber said quite unexpectedly that he'd be able to replace our radiator valves the next week - we hadn't expected that to happen until the weather got warmer, but you never say "no" to a plumber. Or carpenter, builder, electrician, gas fitter... Back to the loft. It's one of those jobs that never actually comes to an end, I think.

We had the privilege of listening to the new Said the Maiden line-up recording together last weekend. It sounds really good, and we're looking forward very much to following the Maidens' progress over the year. They already have gigs lined up for autumn this year and on into 2020, but they won't be doing any before then, devoting their time instead to building a new repertoire - though they'll be keeping a lot of the current one - and rehearsal. This first song will be posted on the web for free download when they announce their new member very soon.

I've just spent quite a strenuous weekend, working with Naomi and a couple of dozen or so of her FoodSmiles friends and other volunteers, clearing a patch of land close to the centre of St Albans and building raised beds for growing fruit and vegetables for the local community.

It's the second Incredible Edible community project Nome has launched in the city, and it's very much larger than the first, which was opened four and a half years ago and is doing very nicely.

The city-centre plot in its first year
The new plot has already attracted a lot of interest and excitement, and Naomi has great plans for its development.

Probably the most unusual Christmas present I received this year is this little book.
Michelle knows me well! It contains 642 writing exercises, and it's a lot of fun. My only problem with it was that it only gives the writer a very small space in which to write...

...and it does seem that many users take that to be a sign that they should only write a tiny bit.

That's not for me. I am not a concise writer! So, I bought myself a large notebook, and I write large. For example, exercise 7, Write about a time when you broke a bone, produced this.
I was seven. I had a dog. Don, a mongrel but lovely. Well, I say “I” had a dog, but officially he was Jill’s, Jill, my four-and-a-half-years-older sister. Why Don was hers I never knew. It was me who played with him, after all. It was me who crawled through the long grass with him as we (both Cheyenne Indians, though he without the headband and feather), stealthily approached the white man who spoke with forked tongue. I don’t think Jill could have brought herself to crawl, even if I’d told her that the headband and feather weren’t compulsory. It was me whom he knocked off the sledge every time I careered down the snow-blanketed grassy hill, jumping on me gleefully as I lay face-down in the drifts. Don was mine.
Because Don was mine, it was only right and fitting that he got used to being on the lead and being walked by me. So I stood on tip-toe to reach the leash down from the hook high up on the kitchen door, and I took it to him, took him outside and explained to him very carefully what was about to happen and why, and he looked very happy about the idea. I patted him on the shoulder in manly fashion and clipped the lead onto his collar. I think he nodded his approval. All was well. My ownership of Don had been sealed, had been signified by that simple act.
It was then that he heard the voice.
In one greased-lightning swish of movement he stood, and ran full-tilt towards the side gate. It took a fraction of a second for him to reach the fullest extent of the lead, at which moment my feet left the ground and I followed him at speed towards the voice. What Don hadn’t considered, however, was the actually blindingly obvious matter of the garage, the concrete home of my dad’s Ford Popular. It halted my progress with a loud thump as my skull met with it. Crumpling in a much distressed heap, I let go of the lead, something I should have done 1.7 seconds earlier. At that instant of freedom, Don became something of a self-seeking, callous brute, his whole personality upturned by the adrenaline rush of raw instinct. The traitor left me there. Unimpressed by all of this except the sharp corner of the garage, I lay sprawled out on the ground, my bloody head resting on the red-stained concrete, and my broken wrist bent under me.
I don’t remember much of what followed, except feeling eight stitches being pulled through the split in my scalp, the plaster being put on my left forearm, and the revelation from the back of my shaken brain that the voice that triggered this trauma was that of my dear sister.
Never had betrayal been so acute.

Who knows? It may become a book!

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Not looking back!

Well, I put away the Christmas music this morning. I played for the last time my compilation of seasonal music. You know them from your shopping escapades - Slade, Wizzard, Paul McCartney, Chris Rea, The Darkness et al. But then there are some family favourites we never hear in the muzakal hubbub of Yuletide shopping - Trans Siberian Orchestra, Jon Anderson, Enya, The Wombles, The King's Singers.

It's odd, isn't it, how shops and radio alike stop playing Christmas music as soon as Boxing Day arrives? Thus I had my last singalong/playalong for an hour or so before stacking the CDs on the shelf (within easy reach, lest I feel the need for a repeat performance) in favour of Joe Satriani and The Wanted, newly-acquired last week.

Christmas was a great time, as always. Michelle, Christine and Mike (as featured in my "feet" books!) joined us for a few days, along with Sarah-Beth, C and M's daughter who had enlisted her cousin Jess's assistance in preparing Christmas dinner and tea - and Boxing Day breakfast - for us all. They were both novices - nay, complete newcomers - to catering of that magnitude, but the result was excellent, and not even tardy! Nome and Ed were with Ed's family for dinner, but joined us around the Christmas tree for pressies and games later on.

Christmas morning church attended and dinner consumed, presents were opened, games were played, nibbles were nibbled and drinks were drunk - and not one of us was! And we all fell into bed happily knackered at some late hour. Oops, we forgot the washing-up! That became my task the next morning before anyone else was awake. (In fact, it did feel like one endless task for four whole days!)

"Before anyone else was awake" was actually closer to noon than to a "normal" waking-up time, but all of us - apart from SB, who had to go elsewhere, and Eddie who had to work - went for a good long walk in the lovely, nearby Heartwood Forest, and this did a lot to clear the cobwebs. I would have taken more and better photos if so much of my focus had not been of necessity on avoiding the mud and puddles!

And suddenly it's all over. Friends and family gone home; back to work, some of them. Lights still sparkle in front-garden trees, in windows - some of them all over the house!

But they'll all be gone soon, won't they? January 6th, twelfth night? Sad, innit?

I'm back to clearing the loft and coordinating "the fixing of the sagging floor" (which sounds to me like the title of a mystery story!) I've still got several hours of writing to do to complete my latest book, "Out of the Dawn". I had originally hoped to publish it this week, but "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley" (which is Robert Burns's Scottish translation of "shit happens")

And it's 2019. The Thames fireworks were amazing - all the better for being seen on the telly, warm, comfortable and accompanied by wine. The riverside crowd looked as though they were having a great time, but I would only have swapped with one of them if I had been paid a large sum of money! (No, it's NOT my age! I've always felt like that!) 2018 wasn't what we'd had in mind for it, but we're not looking back now. Only forward.

So what does 2019 have in store for us? Well, we got 2017 and 2018 wrong, so we're not going to be doing anything other than knowing what we'd like to do (a damned sight more boating than the past two years put together!) and pointing ourselves in that direction. We'd rather not have anything ganging oft agley, as best laid schemes are wont to do. (What schemes do mice lay, I wonder.)

A happy new year to you all!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A lot of a break

Last Thursday evening marked a major point in the almost-seven-year history of Said the Maiden. They played two fabulous sets at a packed Redbourn Folk Club, the club at which they started their folk-singing career together. On this occasion, they were saying goodbye to Hannah, who was leaving to concentrate on her musical partnership with her fiancé. It was a really good evening, with the Maidens on really good form.

Jess and Kathy have been rehearsing with a new third member for several months now, and her identity will be revealed in the new year. It's all very exciting, and Grace and I are very much looking forward to their first gig around autumn 2019. The past six years of our close association with Hannah, Jess and Kathy have given us a great deal of pleasure. It's been fun, and it's been a great privilege to have had them rehearsing in our front room, to have followed them around the UK for many of their gigs, to have been involved in small ways in the recording of their albums, and to have had the inside story of their experiences from Jess. This Thursday night saw the end of Said the Maiden's original line-up, but there are great things in store for the new trio. The best is yet to come!

Jess got some surprise news last week. Very good news! Without the members of The Company of Players even being aware that this was on the cards, their debut album "Shakespeare Songs" was included in the Sunday Times Magazine's top 100 albums of the year! Only the top 10 are numbered; the other 90 are just lumped together, though divided into categories - Pop, World/Roots (where CoP were put), Jazz, Classical, Contemporary and Historical. So the Players were up there with top orchestras, The 1975, George Ezra, Bodega, Ariane Grande... the list goes on! You can imagine their excitement!!

Last Saturday was our 45th wedding anniversary, and we chose to spend a long weekend in Peterborough. We needed a bit of a break. A lot of a break! I'd seen the cathedral on TV, and views of the old town with its half-timbered houses and quaint streets and passages. It looked interesting, and so it was, though the weather - damp with knife-like winds - tried hard to put us off.

We'd reserved a room in a central hotel, and were given an upgrade because their restaurant was going to be unavailable during our stay. Our top-floor window looked out over the railway, the River Nene and the edge of the town. Yellow brick railway warehouses are now Asda, solicitors, estate agents, and Pets Я Us. One morning we watched as a huge cloud of steamy smoke brought an old steam train past, hauling smart Pullman carriages. You don't see many of those these days!

Must-sees in town were the splendid cathedral in which a choir and orchestra were preparing for a major Christmas music concert that evening...

...the Church in the Square - the Church of St John the Baptist...

...and the River Nene.

Something of an oddity was an ancient Dutch barge, once a restaurant but now looking very neglected, which lies between two bridges, neither of which are tall enough for it to go under.

The same applies to a nearby floating Chinese restaurant.

Whilst shopping was far from being a reason why we visited Peterborough, it would have been foolish for us not to venture into the Queensgate Shopping Centre - not all of our Christmas shopping had been done. It was a very busy mall dotted with joyous groups of carol-singers and heaving with stressed shoppers. Joy to the world!

Our drive home was via Kantara - she was fine, of course - and Ikea. More heaving humanity. And now back to Christmas reality. We have a sagging floor under a kitchen sink. The worktop the sink is in is sinking in sympathy. It's an insurance case. Someone's coming tomorrow to start to dismantle a large chunk of the kitchen to find out what's going on. Fun!

It's panto time! We haven't been to a pantomime for decades, and this one seems to be exceptionally good. "Snow White" at the Harpenden Halls is Jess's baby. She was responsible for finding and engaging this particular company, and the show has been really well received. So we'll be seeing it on Friday. More fun!