Wednesday 30 June 2010

Aims and objectives of a party

I don’t often do parties. They remind me of the scientific reports we had to write at school. You know the sort of thing; aim, materials, observations, results, conclusion. I know that a party is meant to be fun, especially when it’s to celebrate my big-zero birthday, but they don’t just happen. They require careful planning and hard work and I’m not sure that I was up to the job but here is my report anyway:

Aim: To ensure that all guests have a lovely time

Materials: (The planning, preparation, panic bit.)

  • Invitations sent (Will anyone turn up?)
  • Shopping lists made, food bought and prepared (with a lot of help from my best friend)
  • House cleaned and cleared, garden preened and pruned (Mr A regrets the lupins have gone over – This isn’t Chelsea! I remind him)
  • Waitress hired (Well I’m not getting any younger... apparently!)

Observations: (This is the actual party where I, as hostess, must keep a constant lookout.)

  • Are all guests happy?
  • Is anyone sitting on their own?
  • Has everyone got food and drink?
  • Is baby too hot?
  • Is Josh-the-dog hassling anybody and will he escape through an open door?

Josh not so cool

Results: (This is the bit straight after everyone has left.)

  • Most of the food has been eaten (but not all of it – this is crucial)
  • There are paper serviettes wrapped round Mr A’s prize fascias, a pair of discarded sunglasses on the grass and Josh-the-dog (who didn’t escape through an open door) is clearing away assorted food items. (With his delicate digestion too! We’ll suffer later!)
  • The kitchen sink has disappeared beneath assorted serving dishes, bowls, glasses, mugs, plates and a large vase that someone mistook for a water jug. (The waitress was paid off hours ago.)
  • Most of the photos seem to be of feet, grass and sky. (Who gave the camera to the kids?)
  • I need my bed but know I must clear away first and besides, there’s the rest of my scientific report to complete.

Conclusion: (This continues in my head for most of the night.)

Never again! It was too much work, too much worry, nobody enjoyed it, I didn’t get to speak to enough people, I allowed my best friend to over-work, there wasn’t enough of the right sort of food and I forgot to put the music on even though we’d gone out and bought a new CD player especially for the occasion...

...but then the phone rings. It’s Mum. She’s been sitting thinking about the day and had to tell me that she’s had a wonderful time. She’ll never forget it and thank you, she says, for bringing all those family and friends together, for having such a lovely gathering with excellent food and amazing weather. And at last I see the party through someone else’s eyes and decide that it was a good one after all so maybe there will be another party, another time... maybe!

Friday 25 June 2010

The Ups and Downs of a Big-Zero Birthday

This is going to be a very quick blog as today is my Big-Zero Birthday... hurray!
But we had to set the alarm early for Mr A’s hospital appointment... boo!

Family and friends are coming for the weekend... hurray!
But I have a shopping list that’s almost as long as the Isner/Mahut tennis match... boo!

The weather is going to be scorching... hurray!
But that will make guest babies, oldies and dogs fractious... boo!

We have people staying in relays, some on Saturday night, others on Sunday night. I’m so organised... hurray!
But I may well run out of clean sheets... boo!

Hang on! None of this matters because today is my Big-Zero Birthday and I’m going to enjoy my weekend. Next week I may even blog about it.

Sunday 20 June 2010

There once was a dormouse...

It’s that time of year again. The delphiniums are big, blue and beautiful and the geraniums, which should really be called pelargoniums, are starting to fill the window boxes with colour.

And every year I think of the poem about delphiniums blue

and geraniums red and it makes me smile.

I’ve always loved that A. A. Milne poem. It’s called ‘The Dormouse and The Doctor’ and it began,
‘There once was a dormouse who lived in a bed of delphiniums blue and geraniums red.’
I didn’t know what delphiniums or geraniums were when I was a child but it didn’t matter. The rhythm was enthralling. Mum used to read it to me at night before I went to sleep when I was very young... which is almost the name of the poetry book. The actual title of the book is ‘When We Were Very Young’. There’s a second book called ‘Now We are Six’. I had them both. I remember some of those poems so well that I can still recite them today.
The King’s Breakfast’... I just love the way he slid down the banister,
‘Us Two’... where, of course, there was always Pooh and me,
Vespers’... I too had a blue dressing gown but it didn’t have a hood.

Anyone who has never heard of A. A. Milne or Winnie the Pooh must think I’ve gone crazy. The point I’m trying to make is how important the bedtime reading routine was for me. It was the best time of the day, the most magical, special, well remembered part of my childhood. We didn’t only read poems. Mum read stories too. My all time favourite was ‘The Caravan Family’ by Enid Blyton. In fact I loved anything by Enid Blyton and once I could read I worked my way through every single ‘Famous Five’ and ‘Secret Seven’ book many times over.

I thank Mum for creating those special times and introducing me to the wonder of poetry and prose. How sad to think that not everyone has the chance for quality time and those precious moments with a parent at bedtime. Reading to kids ought to be compulsory.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Well done me!

This is not something that I’m used to saying. It almost feels obscene to praise myself... but then again why not. I have driven over 500 miles in the last week. We’ve been out and about visiting family and, as Mr A is continuing to have trouble with his eyes, he’s having to put up with my driving. I hate driving distances so I think I deserve a bit of praise.

I have two major problems with long distance motorway driving; boredom and lane discipline. As a passenger I’d often overcome the boredom by writing. Obviously this is not an option for a driver but I can’t even think about a current story plot while I’m behind the wheel. My mind is totally engaged and yet it is so boring.

Motorway driving

I know! I know! I need to drop my shoulders but somehow or other they always want to touch my ears when I’m on the motorway.

The other problem is anticipating which lane to get into. Why do motorways have to have left hand lanes that suddenly become a different road? One minute you’re driving along the M6, the next you’re being swept into the M56 and heading for Wales. How confusing is that? I do have a Sat Nav with a nice Irish man called Sean who talks to me in a gentle, reassuring way but even with his help I have been dangerously close to being swept onto the wrong road several times during this last week.

The reason we’re doing a bit of travelling is that Mr A has just completed a six-month course of chemotherapy but unfortunately the levels in his blood are continuing to rise and the doctors are concerned that the Amyloidosis will spread if no further action is taken. They want to refer him for a stem cell transplant but we’re trying to delay them... just a little. He needs a break. It’s summer. We’re going to get away, visit family, go to the seaside, enjoy some typical British ‘warm’ weather. The family visits over this last week are just the start of our summer of busy... although I have to say there’s busy and there’s busy.

Last Sunday was spent daughter-visiting. It was a lovely day so we decided to take Josh-the-dog exploring. Nothing too energetic. It was more of a stroll than a walk. We wandered, we watched the ducks, Josh socialised a little...

Josh socialising

...but everyone around us was so busy.

We were overtaken by joggers, cyclists, even canoeists – and yes that is a canoeist ‘shooting the weir’ or whatever they call it.


What is it with all this need for physical activity? Can it really be healthy, especially on such a warm day? The picture on the left doesn't quite show it but the joggers were passing us constantly. At one point I feared that it might become busier on that path than on the motorway... still at least there was no danger of being swept onto the M56 to Wales and I could do some of my Nosy Adam people watching and story-idea gathering without having to concentrate too hard on where I was going.

A note for other Nosy Adams/Parkers/Smiths/etc like myself: A project called Bugged has just been launched. There’s more information on their website but basically they’re asking writers to ‘go forth and eavesdrop’ on July 1st. We have to write something based on what we hear and send it to them by August 15th. There’ll be an anthology of the best coming out in October 2010.

Permission to be nosy… now that’s what I call fun!

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Blog or newspaper article... What’s the difference?

Leicester Mercury The Leicester Mercury is one of the largest local newspapers in the UK with an estimated daily readership of almost 200,000. It features a mix of local and national news plus items of local interest which, last Friday, included an article by me. It was my blog posting called Strictly Limited Experience but seeing it published on the pages of the Leicester Mercury made me feel uncomfortable and I’m not sure why. It’s not as if this was my first published article. That happened way back in the 1990s when The Lady published an article about my involvement in a local bird count. I admit I was ecstatic at the time but I’ve had many articles published since then so why did this feel different?

It could be because the piece was never intended to be a newspaper article. I know that this blog can be read by anyone in the word but it’s my blog and I can choose to talk about whatever I wish. When I received a copy of the paper I scrutinised the article for any social gaffe or misdemeanour that I may have committed. I’ve yet to find out if the mother of the boy who wanted to see a close up of the goal during his first trip to live football has recognised herself. It may be that she doesn’t mind being written about. Mum expressed surprise at being discussed in her local paper even though she had no objections to being mentioned in my blog. Maybe we’ve lulled ourselves into a false sense of security. I mean, I’m only talking to myself here and you lot don’t really exist... do you?

Hang on! You must exist because I can hear you all asking, ‘If it was never intended to be a newspaper article how come it was in last Friday’s edition?’ Good question and the answer is Twitter. I was tweeting away late Sunday night with several of my local Twittermates. They were agreeing with me about the issues of accessibility at that particular venue when the editor of the Leicester Mercury tweeted me an offer to publish it as a First Person article. Of course, I agreed but this was gone 11 pm and it was all rather surreal. I felt more reassured when he emailed me during working hours to confirm but, and here’s a note to all those friends who think I waste my time on Twitter, I certainly have Twitter to thank for it being published.

So, has the article reached a wider audience? The Editor promised that it would and I’m not disputing it but I have no proof. The good thing about a blog is that people who read and appreciate my words will spend a few moments adding a comment at the bottom. Non-bloggers can’t ever understand how much that means to a blogger. I wondered if the article would increase my local blog following but so far it hasn’t. Mind you, at Mum’s day centre a well-thumbed copy was being passed from table to table and it was suggested that, as it really did read quite well, I might think of becoming a writer. I smiled politely. They probably think that all writers walk around with a quill in their hand and a whimsical look in their eye... but that’s another blog story.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Local dialects – long live the difference

Do you have a regional accent, with words that are peculiar to where you live?

Do you enjoy reading a book with characters who have regional accents, or does it get in the way of the story?

There was a time when you could walk through Leicester market and every other stall holder would be saying ‘Ey up, me duck’ which roughly translated means ‘Good day, fine Sir.’ There are people who have taken exception to being called ‘me duck’ but I can assure any ruffled readers that no offence is ever intended. It’s just our local way of talking, or at least it was. I don’t hear the phrase anywhere near as much as I used to.

Dialect dictionariesWords fascinate me and dialects are just an addition to this fascination. Take the word for an alley. I walk Josh-the-dog down our local jitty when I’m going to the park but if I lived in York I’d go along a snickleway. In Hull I might cut through a ten-foot and then there’s a snicket, a ginnel, a jennel and they all mean the same. Good, isn’t it! I love regional accents too. When I was a child Liverpudlian was so unusual that it made me giggle and then the Beatles came along and turned it into the sexiest accent ever.

I sometimes find it difficult to distinguish between characters in a novel. I’m hopeless at remembering names and so I need some other way of differentiating them. A book I read recently had all the characters speaking with the same voice. I’m guessing that this was the author’s voice too. Needless to say it wasn’t a riveting read. One way of bringing a character to life is to get them speaking with a local dialect. It has to be a mere sprinkling otherwise it would get in the way of the story, but it’s a useful addition to all those ‘creating your character’ prompts for writers.

I don’t think it’s my imagination that regional accents are far less pronounced these days (although I still can’t understand a Glaswegian when he’s talking at full tilt). I blame the TV. Yes, I know, I blame the TV for a lot of things but only the TV and radio has the power to destroy regional differences. Accents are so easy to pick up. Within months of my cousin moving to London she sounded like a Londoner. She didn’t even realise that her speech had changed. So if we’re listening to a certain sort of BBC English a lot of the time then we’re all at risk of sounding the same which would be a shame.

On the radio the other day they were talking about language in Singapore. English is encouraged as the language of business but there is a dialect called Singlish. This is spoken on the streets but banned by Singapore TV. I hope nothing like that would ever happen here. The BBC has relaxed its rules since the 1950s days of clipped Queen’s English but I can’t help feeling that there are subtle influences towards centralised uniformity. Here’s hoping that we can fight them off and retain local dialects and accents. They’re part of what’s good about being English. Long live the difference.

I just wondered: Accents can denote class as well as regional differences, less now than in the past, but there is still a certain upper-class way of talking. Is it the same in the US, or in Australia or New Zealand? Or is this just a UK characteristic?