Wednesday, 1 July 2015

I Love Jaffa

Last week I had a moderately large birthday and Daughter had her 'Major Operation First Year Anniversary' so we decided to leave the country. We went to Jaffa in Israel. This is the view of the Old Port of Jaffa from the beach:


And this is a view of Jaffa from our hotel balcony:



The Sea:

On the day that the photo on the left was taken, it was exactly a year since Daughter had been lying on the operating table but here she is lying on a lounger on a perfect sandy beach looking out to the Mediterranean. 

We had walked along the front from Jaffa to Tel Aviv. 

We had been into the sea. 

I had been knocked under the waves. 

We were soaking up the warmth. 

Bliss!



The Food: 

The food was amazing. My favourite places to eat were: 

Top Choice: Restaurant Ifrah where they filled our table with 'free' food - well, food we hadn't ordered but it was so delicious we ate it anyway. There were pots of humus and salads and freshly baked pitta breads, and after the meal plates of baclava and bowls of melon so sweet they tasted as if they had been infused with honey. On our last evening we strolled past the restaurant and the owner shook us by the hand and wished us a safe journey home. I know of no place in Leicester where they would even recognise me and I've lived here for... well... for all my life.

Second Top Choice: Dr Shakshuka. I am now in love with shakshuka. It's served in a skillet and has a tomato, onion and garlic base with two fried eggs broken into it. It makes my mouth water just looking at this photo:



The Shopping:

I had my first go at bartering. It's a good job that Daughter was with me or I'd have paid way over the odds for things.


The Hotel:

I would recommend The Market House Hotel, Jaffa, to anyone wanting to visit the area. The staff were friendly and helpful, everywhere was clean and the food was... sorry to be repetitive... the food was amazing! Here is just one of the two heavily laden breakfast tables. I love Israeli breakfasts:



But even more important than food is this, my final point:

Religions Coexisting: 

My abiding memory of Jaffa will be of the many religions living and working side by side and the feeling of being safe and welcomed. At one point we were walking along the sea front to the sound from the minarets calling Muslims to prayer, the sight of a Jewish wedding taking place under a chupah on the hill overlooking the port and a procession of Armenian Christians (I think they were Armenian Christians) walking with lanterns in their hands. Why can't the whole world get on together like that?

It was lovely to return to Israel. It was especially lovely to meet up with my friend Ann who you can visit on her blog, Anne Goldberg Writing. And yes, in spite of my wailings about the fear of flying, I rather suspect that I will be back.

(Most of the above photos were taken by Daughter. She is so much better at holidays than I am. She knew about the best places to eat and to shop and even which beach to go for a swim. She is also better at photography. And so to my lovely daughter I say, "Thanks for looking after us. Just like the food, you are amazing.") 



Saturday, 27 June 2015

Why Blog?

A Blog is a Vital Extension to your Business Card

This weekend the Leicester Writes - Festival of New Writing is taking place. Most of the talks are at the Phoenix Arts Centre with some at the LCB Depot. I will be on a panel tomorrow afternoon talking about the use of social media. It is at the LCB Depot if you're thinking of coming along. In case you can't get there, the following is some of what I will be talking about:

I first began blogging in November 2009. I had attended a session at the Leicester Adult Education College and the advice was that every new writer should start a blog and get a Twitter account. The blog must be kept up to date with regular posts that are lively and interesting and you should tweet with other like-minded people promoting your blog posts as you go. So that is what I did.

When you first start blogging it's hard to know what to write and what style to adopt. (These days I never have to think. I just write!) The month after I set up my blog I saw an online challenge. It offered to advertise my site in return for me blogging about a local independent bookshop. I took up the challenge. I blogged about The Reading Shop, our very own independent children's bookshop in Oadby, and that's how I first got talking with the owner and now also my publisher, Lynn Moore. You can read that blog post here.

Not long after this, Lynn was approached by a publisher asking if she knew any local writers who could write history for children. Thanks to the blog post that I'd written and the discussion that we had, she knew that this was the job for me and put my name forward. I received the commission to write The Children's History of Leicester.

By this time I had built up a group of online friends who visit my blog regularly and I also had quite a following on Twitter. I blogged about the book. I tweeted about the book and they retweeted.

My friendship with Lynn developed and when Richard III's body was discovered under the car park in Leicester she asked me if I would be writing about it. I said I would but when my publisher said they couldn't commit to such a book Lynn stepped in with the awesome line, "If they won't pay to get it published, then I will!" And she did.

Part of Alice Povey's illustration of the Battle of Bosworth
This was new territory for both of us but I didn't have to worry because there's every kind of advice any writer can ever ask for in the blogging world. Bloggers are amazingly generous, supportive and knowledgeable.

We needed an illustrator and, if it had not been for Twitter, I would never have heard about Alice Povey. Alice's mother tweets under the name @Richard1483. She is even more obsessed with Richard III than I am and that was how we got to follow each other on Twitter. I admired the art work on her blog and she told me about her daughter, Alice, who went on to illustrate my Children's Book of Richard III.

None of this would have happened without my blog and Twitter. I am now researching for my Children's Book of the Crystal Palace and, although the contact was made when I was doing a book signing and wasn't directly due to my Internet presence, people from the Friends of the Crystal Palace were able to check me out and look at my work by visiting my blog. This is why my blog has become a vital extension to my business card.

Do share your story in the comments below if your blog or Twitter account has directly created a publishing opportunity for you.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Ten reasons why honey is a super food


Honey's ‘super food’ status is not a new thing. The Ancient Greeks believed that honey helped you to live longer. Aristotle talked about its healing qualities and there's more...

Ten helpful honey hints:

1.  Honey possesses antiseptic and antibacterial properties.

2.  It contains vitamins and minerals.

3.  It is said to be better than cough medicine for treating allergy-related coughs.

4.  It helps with acid reflux.

5.  It can help bring down cholesterol levels.

6.  It is good for the skin.

7.  It can boost the performance of athletes.

8.  It helps maintain blood sugar levels and so can help people with Type 2 Diabetes.

My current supply of super food
9.  It contains phytonutrients, which can help prevent certain types of cancer.

10. It is versatile, can be put into drinks, spread on toast, added to cakes... The list is endless, but one thing is for sure. It tastes delicious no matter how it is served...

...so pass the honey pot, please! 






Monday, 15 June 2015

From National Smile Day to Diabetes Week

Special Days 

I’m sure that everybody, certainly living in the UK, will know that today is the anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, but what else is June 15th known for?

Today in the UK it is Beer Day Britain. Today we are supposed to celebrate Britain’s national alcoholic drink. I’m not sure that I feel amazingly excited about it. (I wonder if there is an Archers Peach Schnapps Day?)

Apparently in the US today is Lobster Day. I’ve never eaten a lobster. I don’t fancy trying one now and I don’t know why it needs its own day. (Anyone got any idea?)

Also in the US it is Nature Photography Day and National Smile Power Day. Now you’re talking! I can share a nature photograph…

A rose from the garden
And a smile, or better still two smiles from the grandchildren, always powerful enough to lift the heaviest of spirits…

My grand Grandkids
I Googled the list of 'special days' in Britain and I found that today is part of the following special weeks:

British Heart Week
Oxfam Water Week
National School Grounds Week
Diabetes Week

Diabetes Week has a special significance in my life because that lovely smile on the right of the above photo is my little grandson who was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes before his second birthday. 

To look at him you would never know that he has a pump permanently attached to his stomach to administer insulin. This means that at least he doesn't have to have four or five injections a day but he still has to have his blood levels monitored round the clock. He has to have all his food checked and weighed and when he gets overexcited his levels go crazy, which is sad because he tends to get overexcited every time we visit. 

Let's hope that one day they can find a cure for this awful disease. I know that the scientists are working on it but as with everything else, they need money. Here is the Diabetes UK website if you would like to know more. There is also the JDRF website which specifically raises money for research into curing Diabetes in children.


Monday, 8 June 2015

Breaking News

Today has been an exciting day for me. It is the 150th anniversary of the death of Sir Joseph Paxton and I have been to St Peter’s Church at Edensor on the Chatsworth Estate for a Commemoration Service. I talked at length with John Greatrex, Fellow of the RSA, who organized the event. I spoke with Canon Dave Perkins who conducted the service. I was introduced to the Duke of Devonshire. A film crew interviewed me. I bet you’re wondering why. I shall explain all.

Sir Joseph Paxton was a gardener, an architect and a Member of Parliament, but he is best known for designing the Crystal Palace, which was erected in Hyde Park in 1851 for the Great Exhibition... 

Here comes the really exciting bit... 

I have been commissioned to write The Children’s Book of The Crystal Palace. It’s going to be in the same format as The Children’s Book of Richard III and I can’t wait to get started on the research.

You’re going to be hearing a lot about Paxton and the Crystal Palace over this next year. It’s a fascinating subject and I will definitely be sharing with you glimpses of the book as it emerges, but for now I’ll share with you some photos of my day.

Inside St Peter's Church just before the service began. The children from Pilsley School took part of the service and you could feel their enthusiasm. 

Joseph Paxton's grave. The children had made flower baskets that they placed in front of the grave.

The cameraman from Sort of Films who interviewed me. He seemed to need a rest after the interview. Was I really that difficult a subject!

And last but not least, John Greatrex wearing his Joseph Paxton hat and declaring the start of his campaign to rebuild the Crystal Palace. The site has yet to be named so watch this space.


Monday, 1 June 2015

Distance driving...

...and why I hate it.

In the last two and a bit weeks I have been completely out of my comfort zone. The reason for this is that we have been visiting lots of family and I have driven almost six hundred miles this way and that across the country. I'm not new to driving. I passed my test when I was 17, which is more years ago than I'd like to admit to, but until recently I rarely ever drove distances and I don't like it one bit.
(Due to Mr A's eyesight issues, I am now the sole driver.) 

The mind is a strange thing. I can drive around town and not have to concentrate on, or even be aware of, what I’m doing, but when I’m driving on a journey I have to fight my brain to not think about my feet, about my hands, about keeping the car in a straight line. This last point mystifies me. I have never, to date, veered off the road or drifted into a wrong lane, so why does my brain start to worry that I might be about to do just that when I’m driving long distances? It's not only a motorway thing either. It's any roads.
This is an old photograph of me driving - before I went blonde!
I don't have an up-to-date one.
One strategy that seems to be working is to have music playing, music that I can sing along to! This may not be particularly relaxing for passengers but it does stop my brain from ‘over-concentrating’. As regular visitors to this blog will know, I do love listening to music, so having to work out a journey playlist isn’t exactly a hardship for me.




Yesterday's music of choice, to accompany my drive from Manchester to Leicester, was from a selection of Tamla Motown CDs.


What is your favourite music to drive to?


Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Pieces of Paper

Some of my current notebooks
I have many more packed
away for posterity!
In 2007 I attended a writing course. Yesterday I had a chat with the leader of that course and happened to mention that I still refer to her course notes.

“How exciting!” she said. “I’ve been through several computers since then and no longer have those notes.” 

My copy had survived because I had written them in one of my many notebooks - see photograph left. (And yes, I did type them up and email them over to her.)

Have we forgotten about paper as we tap away at our computers? I hope not. There’s no saying how permanent this digital form of writing is. We only have to look at the ancient books on museum shelves to see how comparatively permanent they are proving to be. What’s more, paper feels good, smells wonderful and can be tucked into a pocket, thereby preserving anything from a shopping list to a secret formula to a declaration of love.

Five snippets about pieces of paper:

1. The earliest mention of paper is from about 2,200 BC when the Egyptians discovered that overlapping layers of papyrus created a surface for writing on.

2.  Paper made in the last 50 years is more prone to deterioration than paper from about 500 years ago. One of the reasons for this is that modern paper is less likely to contain cotton or linen. It could also be due to the increased use of recycled fibres and colourings.

3.  A student from the University of Leicester has calculated that you would need 136 billion sheets of paper if you wanted to print out the entire visible content of the Internet. You wouldn’t, though… would you?

4.  The maximum number of times a piece of paper can be folded (regardless of its size) is apparently seven. I remember trying this with a class of 10 year olds and it seemed to be pretty accurate. (I now expect someone to post up a comment saying that they’ve managed more folds. I will require photographic evidence, you realise!)

5.  “Peace in our time” conjures up the picture of Neville Chamberlain in 1938 stepping off a plane after meeting with Hitler and waving a piece of paper at the waiting cameras. Some say that it was a convenient prop, possibly a bill for his laundry, but it was, in fact, a private accord signed by Chamberlain and Hitler expressing the “desire that our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.”  So much for pieces of paper!

To end on a more positive note, I still have recipes written on small pieces of paper, now going brown around the edges, in my Mum's handwriting. Precious treausure, indeed.