Wednesday, 29 July 2015

A Bit Black Over Bill's Mother's

A weather-related blog post

You've got to feel sorry for Bill's Mother this summer. For those of you who are bemused by this statement, it is the local slang for describing that darkening sky that precedes a downpour. I have no idea where it comes from and have found a number of conflicting explanations on the Internet. If anyone knows its derivation then please do tell!

So far this summer apart from one really lovely hot day, which, if I'm not mistaken, was a Wednesday some time in June, I've lost count of the number of times I've said,

      "Ey Up! It's a bit black over Bill's Mother's!" followed by a cloud burst of rain.

The scene shown below was the state of the sky from the kitchen window about half an hour ago. This was followed by rain which was followed by sun which will, no doubt, be followed by more exclamations of regret for Bill's Mother.

I wonder what we would talk about, here in the UK, if it wasn't for the weather.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Are You Influenced by Advertising?

I’ve always insisted that advertising does not influence me. I avert my eyes during the TV adverts and, when I look at my Twitter timeline, I ignore the obligatory advert flashing up just below the top tweet. Advertising passes me by, or does it?

I belong to a monthly discussion group and this afternoon the proposal was that advertising is evil. The discussion went something like this:

Surely we can ignore advertising. No we can’t. We might think that we are ignoring it but it works its way into our psyche.

Surely advertising can't harm us. Yes, it can. In the last century there were many adverts that would now make us throw up our hands in horror; adverts for smoking that involve babies (see left), adverts using the female body to sell cars, adverts convincing us that it is good to eat sugar as it helps weight loss.

We discussed the OXO family adverts, that ‘perfect’ 1960s nuclear family. We remembered the coffee romance adverts and the bizarre Meercat phenomenon. Without adverts there would be no newspapers as they rely on the revenue but then surely prices would be lower if companies didn’t have to pay such a lot for advertising.

We talked about how annoying it is when you click on a website about, for example, Spanish holidays and then get bombarded by adverts about such holidays. It’s this type of thing that is unnerving. Advertisers are delving into our lives, finding out things about us that maybe we don’t want them to know.

What do you think about advertising?

One of my favourite TV adverts (apart from Nick Kamen in the launderette, of course) is Maureen Lipman and the ‘ology’ advert for BT. 

What’s your favourite advert?

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Those Spammers

I have had to change my commenting facility on this blog. I have gone back to Registered Users and Open ID only. I apologise to all those genuine commenters who may be affected by this but I’m afraid the spammers have finally got to me.

I’m not obsessive about stats but I do occasionally look at my blog statistics. Usually there are five or six people on the blog at any one time. I don’t know who, of course, just the number of visitors. But every now and then there is a massive spike in the number of visits. I've shown an example below when some time late on 10th July my blog received 134 visits in the space of about half an hour.

This is not a cause for rejoicing, leaping around or patting myself on the back because I run such a successful blog. It is a sign that spammers have visited and I am about to be bombarded by spam comments.

Spam comments are illogical. Quite often they are no more than a string of disconnected words. I know that they don’t read this blog but if any of them do, can I point out that I refuse to allow myself to read what they say. I look at enough to establish that this is spam and then I delete it. I never visit their website and I would never, ever click on any of the links that they might include in the comment. In other words, Spammer, “You are wasting your time!”

It’s a shame that people trawl the Internet in this way. It’s an annoyance that they have affected my blog to such an extent that I have to change my security settings. I’m sure that most of my spammers are harmless enough. I wouldn’t know because, like I say, I’ve never visited, but there are, as we know, harmful people lurking, and that’s the biggest shame of all.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Take Off - a poem

My usual poetry writing is definitely the 'tee-tum-tee-tum' style. I enjoy writing it and, judging from your comments, you enjoy reading it. One of my favourites is Tomorrow but today I'm trying a different style.  (Apologies for the corny DJ link!) 

This is a piece of poetry that I'm planning to read out loud at a poetry meeting and so it could possibly be referred to as Spoken Word. Whatever the official title of its style, can you please read it in a kind of rapper's voice and all crit comments will be gratefully received. Thank you. Incidentally this really did happen, but not to me thankfully:

Take Off

Doors secure, engines roar, seatbelt light engaged
Life jackets, safety packets, demonstrations staged
Revs growl, wheels roll, runway now in sight
Nervous gasps, fists clasped, anticipate the flight

Ears vibrate

Engines slow, silence grows, the pilot says ‘regret’
Turning round, still on the ground, are we under threat?
From hostage takers
safety breakers
Anti-establishment fist shakers
Did air traffic say, ‘no’?
Would the lift-up thingy not go?
Was there the wrong kind of airflow?

To departure

Seat belt light goes out, passengers put out, sent out
Cabin staff regret, no threat, not yet but…

Next day’s papers, page four near the bottom on the right
“Mouse on board caused havoc to last night’s Madrid flight.”

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. 


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... pass the honey pot, please!