Wednesday, 28 March 2012

That Great Cathedral Space which was Childhood*

Good Morning Dear Friends!

I do hope the grinning fool opposite doesn't ruin what, looking out of the windows of the study at Myrtle house, appears to be another fine and blue sky day; the photograph of Yours Truly gurning like a local cat was taken in another study, part of the lovely retreat in Cheese-shire where I spent my birthday . . . I also went for a walk around the environs of the river Weaver and saw for the first time in the flesh - or feather more like - a nuthatch, amazing! I still get a huge thrill when something like that occurs; it all goes back to when I was a child and would read about British wildlife in the Observer or Ladybird books but, growing up as I did on a 1960's new build local authority estate, these wonderful creatures seemed destined to remain just illustrations and live examples were rarer than rocking horse droppings! The only garden birds I saw were sparrows, thrushes, blackbirds and starlings; no blue tits ever pecked my gold tops . . . which isn't that surprising as we used to have sterilised rather than Pasteurised milk delivered . . . ah me, the good old days, eh!

What products of our childhood we are! I still find myself drawn to and seeking out those images which populated my early mind; if someone were to offer me a study with a piano and french windows looking out to an herbaceous border I would probably die with joy on the spot! Sadly, given the precarious state of authordom these days, even the far more humble splendours of Myrtle House seem tantalisingly difficult enough to hang on to; it's true I think that people always need stories but even more pertinent  that, when given the choice of paying even the smallest amount for them or spending their hard-earned lining the already obscenely bulging pockets of the utility companies, will always have to choose the latter. 

One of my favourite authors once said  - and, despite the obvious gender difference, it is one quote I hold close to my heart - "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction" and a 'room of one's own' is, to my mind, an absolute necessity.  Peace and quiet and the time to reflect without the tedious business of worrying about paying bills is something everyone should consider an essential given and part and parcel of being human, not merely a luxury to be enjoyed by the few. 
As an aside, in that vein I am considering squandering a few of my pennies on an evening with Stephen Armstrong which takes place this Friday the subject of which is his book "The Road to Wigan Pier Revisited", a revisitation of Orwell's journey some seventy-five years later . . . are we any better off, I wonder . . . 

Anyhow, back to the quote and, more importantly its author . . . it is 71 years ago today that Virginia Woolf set off from her home and walked down to the banks of the River Ouse, filled her overcoat pockets with stones and stepped under the surface; she was 59 and was, once again, drowning in life as her depression worsened and was afraid she was going mad. She wrote in her last note to her husband, Leonard:  

"Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier 'til this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been. V"

One wonders if, had she been born later and had access to the various therapies and medications available, she would have lived to write more or if, as seems so often to be the case, in exorcising devils we lose the angels too . . . In any case this is pure conjecture and the fact of the matter remains that we lost one of our finest writers on that day and I for one treasure her remaining words.  The last note to Leonard is such an incredibly sad letter; bizarrely it has become the inspiration for a new short piece entitled "The Note" which is not at all sad but illustrates I hope, our preconceptions of people and the way in which we each view our fellow man - deep, eh! Anyhow, it is written and sits with my lovely literary editor awaiting yay or nayness! 

It is now some hours later and the day has made me weary with lists of unenviable tasks to complete and sheer maddeningly annoying mindless drivel to deal with . . . ah me!  Where is my own room? Well, of course it is here and, here being the study, I am surrounded by my books with the words of a thousand voices falling like a light summer rain which do much to soothe my savage breast! 
In amongst the negativity of the day there have been some nice surprises: I met with Sister Cate a day earlier than usual and we had cake and tea and a lovely chat with Mine Host Sharon with whom we discussed diabolical plans to reinstate my favourite cake . . . plotting is such fun! Then I popped into Waterstones to see if they knew anything of the Stephen Armstrong event  - which they didn't  - but I left bearing both gifts and the pleasure of chatting with Sam and Rachel which is always nice; I then managed to get through to the event organiser and was told the event was free and I would also get a free signed copy of the book - most excellent! So I have a social engagement on Friday evening - which will be quite literally  a turn up for a book !

So now I should think of satisfying the inner man - or at least making a sandwich - and leave you good people to your evenings.  I do hope you enjoy the rest of the moderately unseasonal climes which I believe may leave us in time for Easter (of course!) and that your week is stress free and love soaked!

'til next time

Be Seeing You !

* Virginia Woolf

Friday, 23 March 2012

There is Still no Cure for the Common Birthday*

Good afternoon Dear Friends!

Welcome once again to the study at Myrtle House which is in a bit of a flutter today as I prepare to disappear until tomorrow and am trying to get the old homestead in a suitable condition for Sister Cate who has very kindly once again agreed to dog-sit . . . 
I'm off once again on a flying visit via the vagaries of various rail networks to the rolling green and distinctly ovoid basket-of-eggs-topography of rural Cheese-shire for the miniest of breaks where I shall spend a delicious few hours at The Barn in Deer Crossing, my favourite retreat, and where I shall celebrate the fifty-second anniversary of my coming into being.

The photograph above is of a Snufkin's Hat bag full of goodies  - presented to me earlier in the week by the ever lovely and loving Sizzle Sisters Sandra and Sam  - which was choc - olate full of scrumptiousnesses designed to tempt even the jaded palette of one such as yours truly; it was received with gratefulness and glee, and a lovely sit down amongst the fripperies of their tres chic etablissement with tissane and biscuits dutifully ensued.

This morning I managed to squeeze in a quick Costa Call In with Sam Gecko who presented me with a most delightful little ornament for my wrist and had a lovely chat as always with Sharon and Vicky, long suffering purveyors of tea, cake and giggles . . . just as I was writing that I had a visit from my postman (Hello Gareth!) who popped a fistful of cards in through the door; a mad dash downstairs meant that I managed to retrieve them from the jaws of death - or Sal as she is also known - and was suitably impressed and overwhelmed by people's thoughtfulness - of which more in the next post.

Time really is of the essence now and I must away and turn down beds, sweep chimneys and get the gardener to rake the gravel for the arrival of my beloved sister shortly - not to mention that beastly business of packing, how do I manage without a valet?  Anyhow, soon I shall be on my way and enjoying, I hope, the journey as much as the destination. There is definitely something about sitting on railway stations in weather like this; the sunshine flooding in the now almost desolate halls that were the celebration of dreams in cast iron from the industrial revolution, the breeze teasing the weeds in the tracks and the prospect of sleepy miles ahead with a warm welcome at the end of it . . . ah me! 

Right!  To work! I hope you have a wonderful weekend whatever you are up to and that the sun shines into every corner of your life and illuminates it with love

'til next time

Be Seeing You !

*John Glenn, Astronaut, who was a friend's neighbour, and once sent me a postcard when I was about 10  which amazed and astounded me !

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Time is a Great Storyteller

Good Morning Dear Friends!

A quite exceptionally hearty sláinte mhaith to you all on this, St Patrick's Day and also the very first anniversary of my move into Myrtle House . . . and quite a tempestuous year it has been too as you, my dearest companions on this journey, are only too well aware!  Yet, we are still here; the kettle is boiling, there are some celebratory and sinful dark chocolate hobnobs for breakfast and the study - albeit a little more crowded with volumes and possessing a genteel shabbiness that only comes about with a passage of time - awaits;  the sun peeping in at the windows with a promise of a blue sky day on its lips and the whispered prospect of Spring being nearly upon us on its slightly damp and still chilly breath.

I think one of the most abiding memories I have of that day which, after all is only one short year ago,  - besides stepping out of my front door for the first time and falling flat on my face - was the joy and excitement of the Old Duchess when I told her I was moving into Myrtle House; the house itself is no more than 50 yards from where her mother was brought up in stepped cottages in a courtyard behind the Old Pear Tree pub, and not much more to where she was born and brought up, surrounded by family as it always seemed to be in those days.  Whilst researching the family tree, I followed their trek from the rural landscape of Parbold in the 1600s, along the Douglas Valley and into the bustling metropolis where, of course, the work was and, with it, a prospect of a better life. Family groups set off and in their wake came other brothers and sisters and their families, all making the journey into the urban industrial environment in search of a few pennies more a week to feed their burgeoning brood.   The Old Duchess never forgot this area; it where she was born, grew up and went to school and a part of her always wanted to return so, when I took over Myrtle House it was, in a way, her chance to come home, at least for a little while.  I think she thought that at last her wayward son had settled somewhere nice and she could,  after fifty plus years, stop worrying about him. Sadly, she died three months later to the day, but in those few weeks managed quite a few visits and a couple of trips down her own particular memory lane. Ah me, time . . . I think it is so very true that it is a great storyteller and that, regardless of age,  you have to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was!

And so what's on the books for today? How will I be toasting the memory of my loved ones present and past, here and departed? Well, there's a better than average chance that today will see me, at some juncture, seated in my favourite repository of cakiness, watching the retail antics of the crowd below and, one hopes, as far removed as possible from the beer-swilling crowds who, I imagine, will be much in evidence, clad every man jack of them in large green felt top hats and ginger wigs in an effort to be considered "Oirish" and generally being uproarious . . . I must admit to having guzzled a fair amount of Jamesons and quaffed innumerable pints of Ales and Scrumpies in my previous life but have never worn a top hat with the moniker Guinness scrawled upon it, or a curly orange wig in an effort to emphasise my Gaelic roots  . . . that smacks rather of having fun, don't you think? And, after all, drinking is a rather serious business!

I'd like to also take this day and this blogging opportunity to thank all of my lovely and adorable friends, both seen and unseen, who read my scribbles on a regular basis and remark just how much they enjoy it; their kindness knows no bounds although their taste is to be considered somewhat questionable.  I do derive a great deal of pleasure from having this chance to spew my wordage 'pon a waiting and innocent world and your comments, when they arrive, bring cheer and warmth to the cockles of my heart!  It's interesting that both counselling and writing are essentially communicative professions yet intrinsically lonely ones;  I recall reading a book many years ago about lighthouse keepers -  I always imagined it would be an ideal way of life - and discovering that all of the ones in the book were considered loners and outcasts, difficult to communicate with and unhappy in the company of others . . . I hope that my willingness to communicate and urge to spread my thoughts before you like the hand at Belshazzar's Feast, goes someway to proving that I am not quite like that; although solitude, like honey, is a beautiful taste, too much of it leaves one feeling ill at ease and with nothing but memories of the summer on the tongue.

And so the morning wends on and I must be about my tasks; a small canine domestic quadruped is eyeing up the sunshine and imagining the number of unsuspecting squirrels she can - quite unsuccessfully - chase; a goodly amount of domesticity requires my attention and, unless I want to terrify the population of the Wigwam, I had better try and do something with my phisog before venturing forth into the world!

I hope you have a wonderful day and a fantastic weekend; thank you for popping by this morning and sharing my celebrations with me; May the hinges of our friendship never grow rusty!

'til next time

Be Seeing You !


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A Perpetual Astonishment *

Good Morning Dear Friends!

Welcome to the study at Myrtle House once again; it's Tuesday morning, fast approaching mid March and Spring is thrubbing and throbbing in rootstocks and wee small creatures alike - although the sky without looks grey and overcast, still you can't have everything, can you  . . .

So another week lurches slowly into being and with it the interminable round of paperwork and forms that seem to bedevil every attempt at creating a slightly better world for us all; grant applications, corporation tax (ha!) and the like sit on my desk, vague memories of the beautiful trees they once were and hooded spectres representing the land-fill they surely will become - unless I use them as bedding for the chickens first, that is!

So what does this week ahead offer us? Well, today would have been my father's 89th birthday had he not shuffled off this particular mortal coil half-way through his 56th year; I was a mere stripling of 19 years at the time, very strange to think that relatively soon I will catch up with his allotted span and hopefully pass it with flying colours . . . and with the foremost colour in my mind being green I intend to ensure that our new business venture is firmly in that camp; to this end I am researching the world of folding bicycles . . . 

As one grows older one tends to presume that the world holds little in the form of surprises; well, my friends, may I suggest that, if you are not already familiar with this particular form of transport, you spend an idle moment or two trawling through the world of compact velocipedes; it is undoubtedly one of the most confusing and bewildering I have yet to happen upon.  Not least is the wild variation in price - from as little as £89 to (so far) £6,500 - can you imagine how any bike could ever cost that much?   Anyhow, the seed is sown and I shall let you know how it transpires . . . the reason for folding by the by is that since my dear Claud Butler was filched with the subsequent loss in faith in human nature, I intend to ensure it never leaves my side! 

So what has occurred since last we met? Friday evening was spent in the company of a certain Mr Derren Brown and an amazing time was had by all; sadly the said gentleman asks that details of his show are kept secret so I am unable to reveal the marvels I witnessed - besides, it would spoil an amazing experience should you ever go to see it.  The tickets for the show formed a goodly percentage of my Birthday Treat for, as those of you with little else to trouble the millpond of your life will recall, my 52nd one is fast approaching and it had long been an ambition to see himself in person.  The rest of the weekend was spent in a somewhat somnambulant posture, with much relaxing evident and needed although, as today has already shown, pettifogging bureaucracy is always waiting to ensnare the unaware . . . oh hum! 

On Tuesday I met with the Sisters as planned and a cake-fest did indeed ensue; I did my very best to enjoy the Carrot Cake but it was not at all to my liking - I shall have to have words !  We were once again looked after wonderfully in Sharon's absence by the very giddy-kipper Vicky and long-suffering Liam who both ensured that we were treated magnificently... 
The rest of the week went by in its usual usualness - another meet up with Sister Cate on Thursday and another cake-related incident, this time a much more palatable Lemon which I preceded with a goats cheese and onion chutney panini - delicious!  

Then came Friday and the weekend and, whilst travelling back from Deer Crossing on Saturday evening, I decided to actually do some work and sketched out the opening paragraphs of a new story which I have now completed.

I intend to submit a trilogy of these short stories for the "Dying Matters" competition; this is aimed at raising awareness of dying which is not as bizarre as it may at first seem.  I had already written one called The Empress which I thought I had already told you about - although scrolling quickly through past posts it seems that this may be not the case ! - and this one, which came to me rather quickly and was finished yesterday,  called Shippea Hill.  Then, in a burst of creativity yesterday I did indeed finish the trilogy with a piece entitled Albert and I of which I am rather proud . . .  They all deal with " ... the author’s feelings and thoughts about the end of life " and, I think, deal with it in an unusual and thought provoking way . . . hmmm, we shall see !  As I continually say ad nauseam in these pages, all these stories will be available on the Myrtle House website (which I see to my shame hasn't been updated since August last year!) as soon as it becomes humanly possible for me to do so. 
In a rather bizarre quirk and turn of fate I have also submitted a few of my stories to an organsiation in the USA called  Sips; the idea being that when you order a coffee in a store participating in the scheme you get a card which contains a QR-code, you then use your smartphone to read the code and, hey presto, the story is there for you to read whilst you sip your coffee - rather neat, eh! You can read more about the scheme here should you so desire and, if you are planning a trip to the colonies this summer, please keep an eye out for work by yours truly.

And that, dear friends, appears to be that; I must away and begin the day in earnest (a lovely chap, I know) which later on consists of more business-like behaviour and web-site creation, in the meantime Sal and I are off to see the Sizzle Sisters to partake of treats and tea amid the splendours of their boutique de temps perdu . . .  I hope your week is Springy and Blossomy and all in all rather lovely!

'til next time

Be Seeing You !


*Every spring is the only spring - a perpetual astonishment.  Ellis Peters

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Sisters are Different Flowers from the Same Garden

Good Evening My Dear Friends . . . 

 . . . it's a little before midnight on Monday and I'm sitting in the study at Myrtle House, tapping out a few words for a number of reasons and people . . .

First on the list is Sister Eileen who rarely appears in these pages but who is celebrating her birthday on Tuesday 6th; also she has recently gone on-line for the first time so this will hopefully be a nice surprise for her !  There may also be an opportunity for the Unholy Trinity of herself, Sister Cate and Yours Truly to join together in a cake-fest at Costa - one can but hope and dream! I shall have to alert the lovely Sharon and the Costa Crew to the impending devastation to their sweet trolley!

Next a couple of mentions to people who may think that they have been forgotten but who I can assure rest firmly in my thoughts at all times; I refer, of course, to The Sizzle Sisters Sam and Sandra at my favourite retail haunt where I am fed, watered and loaded down with books and love in equal part . . . as surrogate Aunts to Sal they fulfill an important role and fill full her tum with treats!

A little further afield and a good few degrees colder to our next mentionee . . . in an earlier blog I spoke of a wonderful first chapter of a book I had downloaded from Waterstones and simply had to go out and buy . . . this I duly did and have now finished and reviewed it and have absolutely no hesitation whatsoever in recommending it to you.  The book in question is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey whose website you can find here and blog here and who seems loveliness itself! I should point out that the cover you see here is not the one you will see in the UK but I rather liked it - I presume it's the American edition.

And now another recent discovery from the Twitterverse: any of you poor unfortunates who suffered my ravings on FissBok or whatever it was called will recall that my avatar was a small velvety creature named Moomin; I have been a huge fan of their creator Tove Jannson for more years than either I, or my Ancestors who live under the sink, can or care to remember . . .
Anyhow, I have stumbled across a fellow Moomin fanatic - in fact she makes me seem positively restrained!  She is known as Moomin_Mania and her Tumblr site which displays all things Moomin in every know format is available here it is well-worth a look although it is perhaps advisable to give your credit cards to a responsible adult first.

Finally I want to plug a new story which appeared to me this week.  It came about as I was reading Writing Magazine and saw an item about Knitting magazine wanting articles . . . I'm not quite sure why this triggered off a burst of creative energy but it did and the result is a (I think) quite funny short story about an event that occurred in my childhood and which has, of course, scarred me permanently . . . well, not really, but it did make me laugh to remember it.  As with all these ditties I promise this one will be available on the currently stagnant but soon to be revived Myrtle House site in the very near future.

Goodness me, look at the time!  It is just past midnight and my work here is done . . . so to the small baby who was born in Kendel St, not a million miles away from the study where I now sit, I shall say once again Have A Really Happy Birthday Eileen  - I'm sure the rest of you will all join in with your own felicitations in your own way.

And so until we meet here again I shall wish you a wonderful week, full to the brim with all the usual amounts of love and laughter.

'til next time

Be Seeing You !

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Media Vita in Morte Sumus

Good Evening Dear Friends!

I know; I am indeed guilty of spoiling you and laying before your ever-ravenous eyes another fabulous feast of words and pictures but I've had such a nice, relaxing and sunny day that I thought I must share at least a little of it with you . . . hence the croci pic to the left, snapped as Sal and I meandered through Mesnes Park in the late afternoon sunshine. On at least two occasions today I heard it remarked how much better a little bit of sunshine makes one feel - and it's certainly true in my particular case!

As well as being St David's Day and  - to some, including myself, a tad more importantly - World Book Day, it was of course a Thursday which meant a meet up with Sister Cate in our usual  rendezvous Costa . . . however, today was an occasion tinged with sadness as I solemnly ate the very last piece of Walnut and Coffee Cake - ever! I am reliably informed by the lovely manager Sharon that hence forth I will be expected to consume carrot cake . . . I am in the process of convincing myself that it will in fact contribute to my healthy eating regime which - as anyone who has managed to glimpse my sylph-like figure as I float ethereally around the town - is so far having really positive results . . . well, at least the diuretic effects of Green Tea keep me on my toes - although a demonstration of my famous wriggle dance* attracted the attention, admiration and, it has to be said, hoots of derision of two young ladies as Cate and I made our way for the second time to the watering hole; a bit rich I thought since the  ladies in question had been responsible for selling me the first batch of tea in the first place!

As is often the case, amid the general pleasantness of such a golden afternoon, there was a genuinely sad moment when I learned that the mother of my close friend and business partner had chosen the last minutes of last night to slip away; she had been seriously ill for a while and had, perhaps, grown tired of the struggle.  My thoughts and love go out to the family with the hope that they can gain a little comfort from the fact that she is no longer in distress.  
Again, when the call came though the sun was shining, life was going on all around me and I was reminded of the moment in  "Lust for Life" where Kirk Douglas, as van Gogh, talks about Death coming to him in an August afternoon -  in this version of the story it is voiced-over after he has shot himself whilst painting in a French cornfield** - but the idea that death is always with us even in the midst of life is a very compelling one; as Jim Morrison once said "Death makes angels of us all, and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as raven's claws"

But fie! Let us not forget that we are still here - at least for the time being! So, I shall pop down to the kitchen and rustle up another cup of tea which should have me being considered as a serious contender to Usain Bolt  in an hour or so! As an aside and to prove just how utterly out of contact with the world of sporting activities I am, I must confess to  having resorted to Googling his name as the only one that my tired old cerebellum could come up with was Adrian Boult - one of my favourite conductors who died aged 84 in 1983!

Whilst I go about my business I shall bid you a very good night and apologise for the shortness of this post; I merely wanted to share a little of my day with you.  This particular Hare  - singular and non-achromatic as may be -  is bowing out for the evening and is off to take some tea ! 

'til next time

Be Seeing You !

*Not to be confused with the Waggle Dance which only bees can do with impunity  - especially in a public place!

** Nun:      "It doesn't seem a sad death . . ."
    Vincent: "Oh, it's not Sister; it happens in the bright daylight, the sun flooding everything in a light of pure gold"