That Difficult Second Book… #series #sequels

In one of those coincidences that probably isn’t I read a review of The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman (he wrote it; the review is by KL Carey, here) as I was thinking about this post. KL enjoyed it as I did. There’s a little bit of improbability but it’s a neat conceit and overall enjoyable. I was painting the utility – part of my ‘keeping sane in lockdown’ decorating plans – when I listened to it last year and I made a note that, if there was a follow up, I’d give that a go too.

That follow up is The Man Who Died Twice. It’s been out for a while to fairly good reviews and critical acclaim so I put it on my phone and gave it a listen.

*Sigh.

Without giving too much away (though if you are intending reading it, you may want to pass the next paragraph) Osman takes his characters and drops them into another mystery. But this time they are front and centre involved and, boy, are they involved. This is no Miss Marple more a geriatric James Bond for the ladies. And the more I listened, the more disillusioned I became.

It’s a thing, this need to ratchet up the ante to keep the punters happy. Every soap opera falls prey to it. Start on a human scale and eventually you end up with the most egregious examples of human behaviour all set in some twee West Country little village or London Square or Liverpool estate.

Happens in literature, certainly modern literature. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a decent effort, readable, page-turny even with some gratuitous violent sex. But the next two – The Girl With A Fly In Her Ointment and The Girl With A Pain In Her Arse or some such – were frankly ludicrous, over written and boring. Same characters but their jeopardy had to be bigger, their traps more impossible to avoid. What a waste of my eyesight.

It didn’t happen in Lord of the Rings; it didn’t happen in Harry Potter. Maybe because they were plotted as a trilogy/series from the outset. It’s this grafting a second and third book on top of a successful first that might be the issue.

TV’s not much better. I loved Broadchurch, part one. Part two was a waste of oxygen. Downton Abbey managed several series at an easy pace but the Julian Fellowes lost grip on the reins and, whey-hey off we went down rabbit holes of more and more bizarre storylines. Even Line of Duty, one of the great police dramas of the last twenty years fell into that trap with series six.

It takes a brave writer to give up when ahead and not let ego/flattery/the inevitable growth in the bank balance persuade them to write just one more instalment. Like cake and chocolate, there really is a point where ‘enough’ has been achieved.

And, having written this I shall begin the edit of Book Four of my Harry Spittle Saga. Hey, no one is perfect!

Posted in Book review, Books, miscellany | Tagged | 11 Comments

Walking The Dog #walks

This could be a post about my years as a pogoing punk rocker and the glories of Dr Feelgood circa 1979.

It’s not. It’s about art. Specifically something called strava art.

I’d not heard about this until a WhatsApp from No. 1 son. He’s in the midst of a fitness january organised by some friends. Every run, bikeride and swim gains various points allocated according to strict criteria. Ish.

‘I need points.’

‘Okay…’

‘Any chance you can come up with a strava art walk?’

We looked it up. This is an example

As you can see it is a mapped walk on these strava gizmos that creates a picture.

‘It has to be at least 5 kilometres. And the more complicated the better.’

No amebos then.

So she with two left brains and me with my map fixation had a ponder.

By Thursday we’d sketched this on our OS map that covers South London.

The questions were:

– would it look like this

– could we link some parts together

– and how long?

We guesstimated 15 kilometres and a close study of Google maps suggested it should be possible…

So on Saturday the Broker and I met up at Brockwell Park in Herne Hill a stone’s throw from his flat.

It was cold and gloomy but we pottered about carving the head and eye and ear before heading into the mean streets…

It was fun. I’d plotted each road and turn. He had his strava on, I had Google fit on my phone.

We visited some bits of South London we’d never seen before, such as the alphabet streets around the Church of Queen Mary in Streatham, built in the 1890s amongst early social housing (‘homes for tradesmen and artisans’).

And eventually we returned to Brockwell Park where, nervously we checked the apps.

Cool…

And if you don’t know those doyens of a melodic pop song…

https://g.co/kgs/qrJWJc

… it’s not this.

Maybe next week it’ll be a fish.

Posted in miscellany, walking | Tagged , , | 29 Comments

Week Three: 2022

Back in 2014, a rather amazing installation took place in the moat at the Tower of London. I imagine most of the readers know about the Tower which, like a lot of TV celebrities, is smaller than you expect. It’s ancient, has some ravens which aren’t allowed to leave because of some mumbo-jumbo about the British royalty falling into disuse if they do – though frankly some of the peripheral royals do a pretty good job without having to restrict the travel urges of a few ratty corvids – and is home to a quite extraordinary quantity of bling called the Crown jewels that it does make you wonder if it is actually real or some paste-based charade.

For all my sneery tone which might be the result of one too many school trips when I was a preteen it does get some stuff right. That installation of ceramic poppies was one such. I went back several times and had the honour to listen to my great uncle Willie Dyson’s name read out before the last post was played, he having been killed during WW1. I still have a couple of the ceramic heads of those poppies as garden ornaments.

This year, Queen Liz hits her platinum disc for surviving 70 years on the throne. Quite an amazing feat of longevity and we rightly will celebrate this modern miracle (which has had the incidental benefit of keeping that worzel, Andrew as far away from the throne as possible).

One such celebration is a superbloom installation which involves filling the moat with wildflowers. This week we’ve just acquired a couple of tickets to wander amongst the blooms in mid July (the exhibition lasts from June to September) and I’m looking forward to it already (after the last two years, any outing like this will be a real treat even if it rains, the trains are cancelled and England don’t improve at cricket, all of which are more likely than not).

https://youtu.be/5R4A7geO-CI

Beyond that and collecting the lawnmower which has had its annual service it’s been a quiet old walk. I’m reading a slightly weird book about this woman who turns into a flea – like a werewolve only without the full moon and ripping apart thing. I’ve watched a good Irish-Belgium drama called Hidden Assets and a grisly reconstruction of serial killer Stephen Port’s victims alongside the egregious hoophobic incompetence of one section of the Met Police. Four Lives  is worth a try, esp for the performances of Sheridan Smith (a new Judy Dench perhpas) and Stephen Merchant playing very much against his comic personas.  Have a look at the excellent Outlaws if you need confirmation of his comedic talents.

And watch out for tomorrow’s most excellent post about walking the ‘dog’.

Posted in 2022, miscellany | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

Limericks #limericks #poetry #poems

Some you may have seen before, some I’ve published elsewhere, some are new. See which is your fav…

When Percival Troon ate a curry

His bowels turned good food to slurry

With indecent haste

He began to lay waste

To Hampshire and large parts of Surrey

*

Last night, to the sound of a groan

We knew footie wasn’t on its way home

We’ll just have to wait

By the Praetorian Gate

As the cup spends its next years in Rome

*

For years, I could never find work

As my wink made everything jerk

But the prescribed medication

Has, to my consternation

Changed the wink to a continuous twerk.

*

Betty does not give a fig;

Our love, she says, is far too big.

But how will I teach her

About my alopecia

If I cannot unstick my wig?

*

As parents we parrot the mantra

‘Be good or you’ll miss out on Santa’.

But we know we’ll regret

Making good on our threat

If we morph from angel to gangsta.

*

Annually we solemnly resolve
Our past crimes to try and absolve
Yet we suffer conniptions
When our plans become fictions
And all hopes of success dissolve

*

Prince Charles, on a visit to Wales

Was persuaded to visit the sales

He bought some new suits,

A pair of dragon-hide boots.

And matching top hat and tails.

*

I really must get off my chest

The terror that follows ‘be our guest’

In my wardrobe, I stare

Wondering what I should wear:

The diamanté or the sequined string vest?

*

The naturist Basil Buxted
Brewed beer, in the nude, in his shed.
On his famed open days
He received special praise
For the taste of the ginormous head.

*

When young, it’s not done to keep score
And if you tell how it went, you’re a bore.
But with each passing year
You’re just grateful to hear
Something nearer a moan than a snore.

Posted in limericks, poems, poetry | Tagged , , | 29 Comments

An Aperture Of Love #writephoto

This week’s #writephoto prompt is

Harmony Plectrum and her boyfriend Frank-Lee Incredulous exchanged glances. The cough from Mrs Workaround brought them to the moment. The older woman essayed a smile. ‘You ready?’

Harmony quivered with excitement. ‘Oh yes please. Aren’t we, Frank?’

‘Yes well, I believe in being frank,’ replied Mrs Workaround. ‘No point not spitting it out. That’s what I say to my Runcible. Spit out, Runcie.’

‘Yes. No.’ In her confusion, Harmony looked rather desperately at her boyfriend whose expression suggested a level of bewilderment that she knew from experience might trigger something unfortunate and prove difficult to suppress. She moved to block him as she said, ‘We’re ready.’

‘Good.’ Mrs Workaround took hold of the doorknob. ‘This is the suite. It’s just perfect for you.’

‘It’s a long way up. All those stairs.’ Frank-Lee peered down at the hall floor some five stories below.

‘The view is perfect. That’s what you said you wanted, wasn’t it? An uninterrupted view of the river and forest.’ Mrs Workaround’s voice had the belligerent and passive aggressive tone associated with maiden aunts when offering offal pies to the preteens.

Harmony began bouncing again. ‘Oh yes! To be able to wake up and see for miles… it’s been our dream for ever.’

‘Right then.’ Mrs Workaround decided there had been enough dithering. To her dithering was one of those things to be best avoided like incest and Morris dancing. She turned the knob, pulled the door to her and stepped back, allowing the youngsters to go first. She half closed her eyes, waiting for the gasps of surprises, the squeals of delight, the clapping and excited voices. What she didn’t expect was the silence followed by a surprisingly dolorous tenor voice saying…

‘Shit.’

Mrs Workaround opened her eyes, ready to do battle. To her left Harmony had her hand over her mouth, her gaze transfixed by the unfolding magnificence of the Forest canopy. To her right, Frank-Lee leant out of the window and peered at the ground below. That young man, she thought, had an altitudinal attitude she did not care for. ‘Well, is it or is it not quite the thing?’

Harmony gulped and said, ‘It’s certainly uninterrupted.’

‘I told you…’

‘Where’s the glass?’ Frank-Lee tentatively pushed a hand through what would have been glass had there been any, apparently checking he’d not made some egregious assumption.

Mrs Workaround knew his sort. A smarty-pants. ‘If there was any glass it wouldn’t be an uninterrupted view, would it?’

Frank-Lee rubbed his arms. ‘It’d be a mite warmer.’

‘That’s your trouble, isn’t it?’ Mrs Workaround was quite prepared for a fight. ‘You talk about wanting a spectacular view, waking up to the breathtaking vistas that can only be obtained from this tower, yet when you’re presented with exactly what you’ve asked for, you quibble.’

‘Quibble? I’d hardly call expecting one’s bedroom to be protected against the weather a quibble.’

Mrs Workaround tutted. She was pleased with the variety of tutts she could call to her aide, one for any given situation. Feeble youth demanded a ‘disappointed but not really surprised and what is the world coming to’ two tone tutt which she delivered with both suitable decorum and just the right overlay of snark. ‘If it’s a bit nippy you can always pull the curtains.’

‘There aren’t any.’

‘They’re in the ottoman by the end of the bed with some nails and a couple of hammers to ensure they stay put.’

‘That’s what I mean. If we have to spend our evenings covering each of these apertures in cloth…’

‘It’s Burmese Taffeta.’

‘It might just as well be Nepalese neoprene, all the good it will do. We want a refund.’

Harmony, who had watched this exchange with a deteriorating sense of dread started at this. ‘Oh I’m sure we can cope, darling.’ She glanced anxiously at Mrs Workaround. ‘Do you have a step ladder?’

‘Yes, dear.’ The sweet girl deserved better than this Neanderthal numptie, she thought. ‘In the cupboard, with the leaf blower and awning.’

‘Awning?’ Harmony looked more than a little anxious.

‘Very occasionally a small squall might blow through and things can become a little damp. Just a precaution you understand. Now,’ she glared at Frank-Lee who had moved to the ottoman to see what the curtains comprised, ‘why don’t I show you the rest of the facilities. The twin beds and made from the very best…’

Harmony’s voice went up a couple of octaves. ‘Twin?’

‘Of course.’ Mrs Workaround folded her arms tightly across her capacious and petulant bosoms. ‘I’m sure you wouldn’t expect me to allow any hanky-parky.’

Frank-Lee looked up from his inspection, his jaw lolling like a somnambulant sloth. Harmony’s expression had begun to harden as if her foundation contained a slow acting epoxy resin. They looked at each other. The view was one thing but…

‘We need a refund.’ Harmony Plectrum may have given Mrs Workaround forty-two years in passive aggression but the idea that she had wangled a weekend away from her parents with Frank-Lee and it might not involve a supersized tub of chocolate spread and two nights playing with Mr Perky and his tubular bells ticked none of her boxes.

Frank-Lee met Mrs Workaround’s surprised expression. As he began to follow Harmony down the stairs, he added, ‘If you’re not sure what just happened, go and have a word with Runcible. I’m sure he’ll remember.’

Posted in #writephoto, creative writing, flash fiction, humour, miscellany | Tagged , , , | 25 Comments

Perfect Couplings #terriblepoetry #poems #poetry

Chel Owens is back with her terrible poetry prompt, here. This time it’s a sonnet which were encouraged to make romantic. But how much romance is there? This is my take…

Perfect Couplings

History is littered with perfect lovers

Like Ant and Cleo and Yoko and John.

But are these blokes and their significant others

Really as solid as they make out in song?

Did Emma’s beauty make Nelson one eyed?

And did Anne B lose her head to King Hal?

Or to Jose, ‘Not tonight,’ did Nappy cry?

Or Bogie tell Lauren, ‘You act like a gal’?

I really do question if they were so perfect

Or whether they were beset with doubts,

Because life tells me most pairs have defects

And each of her screams may be met with his shouts.

No, truly there’s only ever been one biggie.

Those enduring lovers: Kermit and Miss Piggy.

Posted in poems, poetry | Tagged , , , | 33 Comments

Oh Dog…

I was looking for a video clip of something completely different and went down a rabbit hole, chasing Dog. These are what I found…

Posted in dog, miscellany | Tagged | 32 Comments

The Garden: January 2022

No one’s garden, at least this far up the Northern Hemisphere, looks any good in January. There’s a bit of green, a lot of bare patches and an unconscionable amount of cleaning up to do.

That latter has kept us busy so far this month.

The wildflower and herbaceous beds were stripped, the few weeds removed and the whole lot raked and seeded with poppies. Some poppies are coming up elsewhere already.

Our vigorous apple has needed a bit of radical surgery for a while; one bough has been pulling it over so today we removed it and painted the end with a cauterising gloop. Horrible but I believe mightily effective.

Crocuses and daffs are poking through.

Hellebores abound.

And there are decent views to be had in the frosts and sunshine we’ve had recently. It’ll soon be a riot of colour again.

Won’t it, Dog?

Posted in gardening | Tagged , , , | 27 Comments

Dinner For Two

I felt a bit cooky yesterday. I have this thing about trying hard not to waste anything so some meals tend to involve whats in the fridge, freezer or cupboards. Dog was sceptical.

Yesterday that was a roll of puff pastry, some left over cauliflower cheese and mash and some bits of veg: tomatoes, a pepper, an aubergine, the end of some parsley.

I added a pot of ricotta to the cauli/spuds and having prebaked the pastry on a baking tray, spread the mix on the bottom and piled the chopped veg on top.

Voilà!

Languishing in the cupboards there was a bit of dried fruit. In thr freezer some small brioche rolls. Having soaked the fruit in boiling water I put in a trifle bowl, piled in the broken brioche and left to soak. Meanwhile I made a coconut milk custard with one 400ml can of the milk, three egg yolks, some sugar and cornflower (35g of each) and some soaked gelatine. That went on top, and after being chilled (the trifle, not me) another Voilà!

Because I was on a roll and the supermarket had some out of date raspberries and I had a tin of peaches I made a peach melba cake….

The top caught a little but trimmed and frosted today ot should be lovely.

Voilà.

That was fun. Not much writing though… not sure Dog approved…

Posted in cake, dogs, food, miscellany | Tagged , , | 47 Comments

Week Two: 2022

So there I was, wondering why the tax authorities refused to recognise me. They’ve taken enough tax from me down the years so you’d think they could put a name to a tax bill by now. After a week of grinding frustration the problem emerges. Welcome to the online world of super accuracy. Here’s the thing. Back in the way back yonder years, when a human looked at your tax matters, small slip ups could be ignored by the application of that amazing quality (which even found its pervasive way into the offices of the Inland Revenue) of common sense. But since we’ve grown an app and loaded it with all-seeing authority, every anomaly causes much grief. And of course, because of data protection, all you can do is keep failing until you guess the problem; no one can actually tell you what it is that you are getting wrong because you may not be you and if you’re not you then you shouldn’t access your details which, if you are you, you can access by proving your ID with a degree of accuracy that previously wasn’t required. If you want the best example of perfection being the enemy of the good it’s the effing HMRC.

So what, my already bored readers cry, was the issue?

My surname. It’s of a French construction. It isn’t French in the way that we’re not German or Roman either. It’s its own kind of anomallous. Le Pard. If you’re interested – and frankly why would you be – its Huguenot in its origins – thems the peeps what gave us the term ‘refugee’ when the French tossed them out for failing to grasp that transubstantiation wasn’t something solely designed for the semi finals of spelling bees. My ancestors popped across the Channel to get away from being poked with pointed sticks and headed for Northamptonshire to make shoes or something. Those who know me will not be surprised to find I’m related to a load of old cobblers.

Now the thing about the French, it is that they do like their definite articles. Cunning two letter words that have a life of their own. What they don’t do is attach themselves to the noun in question. It’s not LePard, Lepard or any derivative you care to mention. Down the years I’ve seen every version, I expect. Once, back in the days of written communications with the Gas Board, they managed to interpret my mother’s name – BG Le Pard – as Mrs Blytepad. One day the Blytepads will feature in a novel…

Anyhoo, what it took me painful hours to discern was that the HMRC had me down as Le-Pard. Yep, that little linky-dink of a line was what the tax people expected to find. And when I proffered my passport etc, which is “sans ‘yphen”, as they probably don’t say in Boulogne it was rejected.

To my surprise though, having discerned the problem the lady on the helpline was just that: helpful. Maybe, because she wasn’t an app or AI, she removed my rogue hyphen with very little pain. And today, having waited 24 hours for the updates to have effect, I found it worked. I was recognised. I can now pay my tax…

There’s always a cloud inside a silver lining….

I have become a bit obsessed with my Fitbit. I obtained it around my birthday in November and I find I’m somewhat in thrall to its blandishments. Have I done 10,000 steps, how much sleep did it record, what is my resting pulse, how many calories have I burnt?

I’m not sure why I take it so seriously. Already it had me enjoying 8 hours 23 minutes of sleep with twice awake last week, which set against my usual average of 6 hours 40 was pretty impressive until you realise it had me dozing off at 10.30 whereas I actually hit the hay at 12.30. Watching a documentary with David Attenborough whispering to trees was enough for the Fitbit to snooze itself. At least it noted I’d got up to actually go to bed, as well as a later quick trip elsewhere… ahem, cough. From now on I will wave my arms around every 20 minutes or so.

Which may not work; Mrs Le Pard also has a Fitbit. She was surprised to be told she had been swimming for 30 minutes last week. In fact she had been on her knees, moving various of her cotton and fabric collection around some crates. An easy mistake for a piece of AI to make.

What I couldn’t really understand was why my resting pulse rate seemed to move around a lot. That is until I discerned the obvious pattern; during the 5 days of a test match, with England being humiliated in Australia my resting pulse wasn’t really resting at all. Outside of those five day bursts, it settled back to something approaching normality. It may not be the most intelligent piece of kit, but it understands me well enough.

While on the subject of obsessions, we have a new toothbrush, something called an Io, which is vaguely interplanetary. This brush (which has detachable heads so management and I share the base) vibrates in a sort of hyper circular way. According to its instructions you should hold it against each tooth rather than brush (so old school). On the handle there is a coloured light. White means you aren’t pressing enough, green is the goldilocks position and red indicates you will shortly need dentures. There is a digital clock and a count down timer that shows you if you have done the recommended two minutes (not per tooth, per mouth). If you stop after a ‘2’ appears on the clock you receive a smiley face, which will upgrade to a smiley face with stars for eyes if you do something really special though I’ve not yet discerned what. I also read there is an app so you can log and compare your dental performance. I imagine there is also a dental community where you can share eye star stats and see who is best performing brush presser. It does make you wnder whether, when you connect to the app, the light on the brush will turn blue…

Blue tooth? Oh come on, it’s not that hard.

Mind you, one is inclined to ask when did tooth cleaning involve such tyranny? I fear the advent of intelligent toilet paper…

Posted in 2022, gardening, miscellany, news | Tagged , , , , | 44 Comments