Tag Archives: Humour

Tom Fleck & The Black Caravel

31 Oct

My friend Harry Nicholson asked me to review his new novel, The Black Caravel. I helped proofread his last one, Tom Fleck, but I’ve had no hand in this book.

So, first impression: I loved it!  It’s quite a short novel but packed with incident and likeable and interesting characters.

The Black Caravel is a sequel to Tom Fleck.  The latter is fully titled Tom Fleck: A novel of Cleveland and Flodden, and is set in 1513.  The novel tells the story of 18-year old Tom and his adventures, which climax at the Battle of Flodden.  You can read more about it here; as well as the first chapter.  I highly recommend it.

The Black Caravel is set twenty-three years later, in 1536, when Tom is a happily married family man.  From the blurb:

1536 is a year of rebellion against Henry VIII’s seizure of England’s abbeys. Barbary corsairs raid northwards.  Despite the turmoil, Tom Fleck must journey to London.

You don’t need to have read the first book to make sense of the second – Harry reminds us of pertinent details quite seamlessly – but, as I might have mentioned, I recommend that you do, just for the joy of reading good historical fiction.

I confess to loving Tom Fleck.   He is brave, principled and adventurous.  He’s what is popularly described as a book boyfriend: the man I would marry (after Jamie Fraser) if I could somehow dispose of the Hub without going to jail, assuming of course that I could bring a fictional character to life and he wouldn’t object to my complete lack of skills that would fit me to live in the 16th century (me being no Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser).

What I love about Harry’s books, however, handsome hero aside, are the fascinating details he weaves into his stories.  I now know how to prepare a rabbit for the pot, making sure to steep it in brine overnight; and that gulls dine on dead men’s eyes first (despite that nugget, let me assure you that the books are not gruesome, although they don’t shy away from the unpleasant realities of their setting).  I discovered from reading the books that Harry has a real love of nature which is not something that appeals to me, and yet it was engrossing to learn for example of the herbs that freshen your mouth or which heal in some way. 

Harry has a background in seafaring and his knowledge litters the pages of The Black Caravel without showing off in any way.  He writes what he knows, and the books are better for it.  

Perhaps more importantly, Harry has a way of getting to the nitty-gritty of his subject matter, leaving us to draw parallels to today:

Tom watched them depart and wondered at the brave poverty.  It was a topsy-turvy world.  Such a struggle to live.  Hard knocks and cold drownings, and all the while velvet-clad folk in London’s great halls dined on swan.

Dining on swan aside, I couldn’t help thinking of the modern world with its food banks; it’s rich/poor divide; its drowning, desperate refugees.  A struggle to live indeed.

So, I’ll say it again, even though I’ve said it twice before:

                                                Tom Fleck and The Black Caravel:

                                                                               highly recommended!

Tom Fleck by [Nicholson, Harry]

The books are available on Kindle or in paperback:

Tom Fleck: Amazon UK, Amazon US

The Black Caravel: Amazon UK, Amazon US In the UK, this book is currently available free with Kindle Unlimited, so why not buy the first one at its very reasonable price of £2.24?

Incidentally, Harry is a gifted enamellist (I think they’re called).  Check his blog for some wonderful work; including the two originals which are his books’ covers.

*

And finally…

From Wikipedia:

Muphry’s law is an adage that states: “If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.”[1] The name is a deliberate misspelling of Murphy’s law.

Just so you know, although it wasn’t a criticism, when I wrote, I helped proofread his last one, Tom Fleck, I actually wrote: I helped proofread his last one., Tom Fleck.

There’s a reason Muphry has his own Law.

Freaked!

14 Oct

Image result for funny head

Image from http://www.dailyhaha.com/_pics/top-of-the-head.jpg

An email came to my inbox via my Kindle:

Wowchers for Linda: 3D Virtual Reality Heads

I’m not gonna lie, the thought of floating heads, real or not, freaked me out more than a little; but I had to check the email because I just couldn’t imagine how that would work.  And really, what would be the point of a virtual reality head?  Would you take it to work and say to your colleagues, ‘Look at the size of my pimple’? You’d have to pass it off as a pimple because who wants to work with a person with two heads?  Though it would come in handy during boring meetings, when the head could pay attention and you could doze off for an hour.  You’d have to ensure the head knew not to eat the biscuits, though…talk about messy.

I rather enjoyed meandering on the possibilities of my must-have future floating head.  It was a bit of a letdown, then, when I opened the email, to see that my Kindle had merely cut the title short.  What was really on offer were 3D Virtual Reality Headsets.

Sigh.

Reminds me of the Freecycle offer that once landed in my inbox.  I’ve mentioned this one before but it’s worth repeating:

Offered: One child.

Seems they’d pressed ‘enter’ too quickly because what they meant to offer was one child’s bicycle. 

I swear it’s a true story.

Talking of Freecycle, I can’t remember where  I read it but this story’s a little more apocryphal:

Saw advert on Freecycle this morning: “Wanted: hair dryer for my wife.”

Wonder how many emails he’ll get with, “Sounds like a fair exchange.”

 

Rogue’s Gallery

10 Oct

Happy birthday to the Hub!
IMG_3229

Such a cheerful man.  You can see why I’ve stayed married to him for so long, can’t you?

He was a good glass; a reliable glass...

Here's how I did react

A honeymoon pic.  He was twenty.

DSCN0832A barrel of laughs.

A silent Hub

A self-portrait he made which freaked the heck out of me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda pregnant 1996005When a man looks that good, here’s the inevitable result…

The Week Ahead

1 Oct

Image result for mr darcy lake

Read all about this creepy sculpture here

Here’s what’s on my calendar for this week:

Monday: Clean the windows; replace nets.

It has to go on my calendar or I simply won’t do it.  If it’s written down, it’s effectively an order given by me to me and I’m scary when I’m annoyed so I have to do it.

Tuesday: Shop for and visit (via bus) friend housebound with broken foot.

She makes the best cheesecakes in the world; I daren’t neglect her.

Wednesday: Day out with friend.

We’re going to Lyme Hall, where THE Pride & Prejudice was filmed.  Expect the lake to fill up with my drool.

Thursday: A.M.: Deliver a writing workshop for charity.

Of course it’s for charity: who in their right mind would pay me?

Thursday: P.M.: Choir

Those cats won’t imitate themselves.

Image result for mr darcy cartoon

Friday & Saturday are free.

So far.  I need to put in some time on my poetry collection as I’m now a month behind, so maybe I’ll schedule that (Monday refers).

Sunday: Stockport Writers.

I’m chairing.  Hm.  Maybe I can get them to write about their interesting week…

Every Day: Ten minute writing exercise as soon as I wake up.

An October challenge.  This morning’s scribbling made absolutely no sense (what I could read of it).  I may have to change it to ‘Ten minute writing exercise as soon as I’ve had my first cup of tea and washed my face and woken up a bit’.

Every Day: Cook, clean, walk the dogs, nag the Hub.

Yawn.

Today: Think up lame blog post so readers will feel less ignored.

Using my diary to tell you why I’m too busy to blog is inspired, I think.  Expect more of the same.

Hello?

Where did everyone go…?

In Which I Attempt To Smooth Over My Long Absence By Offering You Some Old-Fashioned Entertainment

22 Sep

Hey sweeties, how are you all?

Apologies for how long it’s been since I last posted.  In my defence, 2016 has been the busiest year of my life, one way or another.  I took a couple of weeks off in August to recharge my batteries but hectic life started up again in September.

Some highlights: as a volunteer, I now run a monthly creative writing workshop at a mental health charity here in Stockport.  I have also delivered other workshops elsewhere, including at the school where I’m a governor.  I’ve given a number of poetry readings.  I finished the holiday club script and dived straight back into editing my second poetry collection.  I have been up and down the country by train for various reasons, most of which – but not all – involved watching Alex perform in one thing or another.  We’ve had both boys home, together and separately.  And I joined a community choir (because I obviously don’t have enough to do).

I love to sing.  I have a pleasant voice; not great.  Naturally, if I’d had training, I’d be a massive superstar a la Kylie Minogue (same height) or Susan Boyle (same great looks), but instead, thanks to my parents’ complete lack of foresight, I’ve had to settle for a wobbly command of mid-range notes, sung in the my-dog’s-embarrassing-howl style.  Nevertheless, I love being part of a choir.

I especially loved it last Saturday, when the choir held its fifth anniversary concert, singing a collection of music down the centuries, from Mozart and madrigals to the Beatles, Coldplay and Adele (what is wrong with that woman?  Someone Like You…total stalker anthem).

Here’s my problem: I’m easily distracted.  If I sit in the middle of the Altos, I can sing the alto line-tune-harmony-whatever.  Place me anywhere near the Baritones or Sopranos, however, and I’m all over the place, and not in a good seeing-the-world-and-all-its-wonders way.  I’m the musical equivalent of a wrecking ball, bashing the closest notes in a frenzy of must-get-through-this-no-matter-what and taking down anyone within range before they’re even aware that the trill under the bridge has escaped to eat anyone unfortunate enough to cross its path.

Image result for free to use singing funny

This is not a case of false modesty: I cannot hold a tune if my neighbour wavers even a little from my particular party line.  It is for this reason I opted to sit near the back of the Altos on Saturday night, at the end of the row closest to the wall.  I was safe there; and everyone was safe from me…until three surplus Sopranos were moved to the only empty seats on the stage, next-but-one to me.  Ah well; I smiled a lot, sang the unison parts and mouthed the words when the tune overpowered me. The audience seemed to enjoy themselves all night so I don’t think they noticed; though the Mayor of Manchester did leave early…he said it was for another engagement, but he would say that, wouldn’t he?

The most exciting thing for me was that I got to perform with Alex!  Granted, he was a featured soloist and I hid behind my scores the whole night, but still, I performed with my baby!  He sang the lyrics to Billy Joel’s For The Longest Time and the choir sang all the backing ‘woh-woh’ bits. Thirty-six members of the choir sang the ‘woh-woh’ bits, that is; and one member kept getting distracted and forgetting where she was up to.

The harmony lyrics are basically, Woh-oh-oh-oh…For the longest time.  How hard can it be?

Pretty hard, actually, if you’re trying to listen to the child who once sat in your stomach like lead pillow stuffing sing like the angel who gave you stretch marks on top of your other angel’s stretch marks, and thirty-six other people won’t shut up so you can hear him.

Now for the promised entertainment: I’m not going to give you For The Longest Time because there’s some woman in the back out of time and out of tune; instead, I give you a little bit of Gershwin.  You may recall Alex’s frequent collaborator, Sam Gilliatt, who played Jesus to his Judas in Godspell; and Greville to his Bert in two separate productions of The Tree of War.  Here they are showing off their natural onstage chemistry.  You can thank me in the comments.  Incidentally, this performance came after one ten-minute rehearsal, thirty minutes before the show.  Both boys had been busy with other things and that was their first opportunity to rehearse together.

Fred & Ginger Fred

Postscript:

My favourite comment of the night came from the sweet geriatric lady who told Alex, ‘I’m one of your groupies.’

 

The £50 Sausage Roll

27 Jun

DSCN0150

I guess it’s up to me to start the ball rolling…two weeks ago tomorrow, I met up with three other bloggers.  You may recall my anxiety about it and your endearing replies, to wit: Stuff ’em if they don’t like you; we do and that’s all that matters.

Terribly sweet, thank you; if a little unfair to three lovely bloggers who would have written the same thing, I’m betting, if it hadn’t been them I was meeting.

Back to the ball: don’t you think it’s peculiar that we are all bloggers and yet no one has written anything at all about our day?  I can’t decide if it’s:

  • Fear of what everyone else might say so they’re exercising a little caution i.e. waiting for someone else to go first, to check if what they’ve written is nice/nasty/sweet/flattering/boring/complete lies, and then they’ll reply accordingly
  • Idleness
  • That they’ve been far too busy with their real lives to write about me, me and more me
  • That I didn’t provide enough Maltesers and now they’re punishing me
  • That they are still recovering from the horror of it all
  • Something else.  What do you think their something else could be?  Answers in the comments, please (bearing in mind that all three bloggers will read what you’ve written, so be nice/sweet/flattering/tell complete lies)

The day began, as all of my days seem to begin lately, with a train.  Specifically, the Stockport to London Express (similar to the very first express train journey in the days of steam from Stockton to Darlington, only not as fast).

When I booked the tickets (which is to say, every so often I would say to the Hub, ‘Have you booked my tickets yet?  Better get a move on; I’m going next week.  I wish I didn’t have to keep reminding you.’  And he would reply, ‘I will; just as soon as you tell me which day you’re going and what times you want to travel.  As I keep asking you.’  Such a nag) the Hub suggested I travel First Class as a treat, because they had an offer on: £96.  I could do First Class, I thought, Sure; why not?

Turns out, I can’t do First Class.  Not both ways, anyway.  And not even one way, I suspect my fellow passenger was thinking fifteen minutes into my journey.

I arrived at the station early enough to catch the previous Stockport-London train if I hadn’t bought an Advance Saver ticket, which is the only way I could afford to travel First Class.  I had to wait for the train  I was booked on, but this sign made me giggle for the time I had to wait:

DSCN0147

The train arrived; I ran to the back coach to board, terrified I’d miss it (hence the fifty minute wait at the station).  Horror!  A man had put his briefcase and jacket on my seat!  What to do?  What to do?

There’s this whole British embarrassment thing going on, you see, that says if someone behaves inappropriately on a train, you have to ignore it and not make a fuss.  It is best exemplified by an apocryphal story from back in the days of British Rail.  

***BRIEF WRITING HIATUS WHILE I LOOK IT UP ***

I was going to tell it and I thought I’d Google it because I’m a dreadful storyteller. That is, I’m dreadful at telling stories; I don’t tell dreadful stories.  I hope.  I tend to wander off down random alleyways, like Ronnie Corbett on acid, and this post is supposed to be a five-minute read; but clearly isn’t.  I don’t want to make it even longer.  

When I Googled the story, I discovered it’s actually true!  And, unfortunately, a little too blue for a family blog, so you’ll have to click on this link if you want to know the story.  And you should click on the link, because you’ll never read a more accurate example of true Britishness.

So there I was, British and embarrassed, but I had paid for that seat and First Class is a rare treat so I blushed from the hair on my head to the hair on my toes and whispered to the gentleman that I thought he might have – excuse me – put his belongings on my seat and would he mind terribly…?

He did not mind, being British and horribly embarrassed at his very public solecism; and he stood up to let me past (no squeezing past because this was First Class and there was tons of room) to my window seat, moving his belongings out of the way.  We smiled politely without making eye contact and then ignored each other as much as possible.

I got comfortable: Kindle out – hardly read a page when oh goodie! the tea came round – oops! forgot to message the Hub that I’m safe on the train – and should I message Al that I’m on my way?  Yes, because I’m really excited – get bag out – phone out – message them – put phone away – bag away – oh, wait – wanted to write something in my notebook – get bag out – put Kindle away – get notebook out – put bag away – write three lines in notebook – get bag out – put notebook away – get Kindle out – put bag away…and so on.  Then breakfast was served and I swear my neighbour had a mini-stroke.

I wish I was joking.  Sadly, I’m not: I am that annoying passenger you wish hot tea would spill upon.  I assure you it’s not deliberate; it’s nerves.  I’m an anxious – and therefore fidgety – traveller.  Sorry about that, multiple strangers I’ve annoyed in my lifetime.

To be on the safe side, I ordered something I could eat with a minimum of fuss i.e. no cutlery, so it was two overdone sausages on a dry roll instead of the full English I’d have ordered if I hadn’t been A. embarrassed at how irritating I was and B. worried that I might cause the businessman to have a heart attack if he had to sit through my sideways fidgets on top of everything else.  DSCN0148

The roll was dry, by the way, because I’m not used to being posh.  When I buy something on a bread roll from a shop, for example, I just expect the roll to be buttered, because it has never not been buttered.  The Other Half, however (and how I was wishing by this point that I wasn’t discovering how they lived), are offered butter and thus choose to have it on the bread roll or not, according to their dietary needs, I suppose.  Unfortunately for me, a surfeit of choice from some people having more money than sense means that ordinary working class women are left ignorant when offered butter and think it is extra butter and don’t want to betray their ignorance of the Ways of the Rich or their own on again-off again diets and so decline the extra pat which turns out not to be extra at all; just simply all.

And of course, being British, when I discovered I was down one butter pat and would have to eat a dry roll or ask for butter after all, I chose to eat a dry roll.

That drama over, I looked up from my half-eaten breakfast (would you eat an overcooked sausage on a dry bread roll?  Then stop judging me) and made the truly appalling discovery that there only five passengers in the whole coach…which meant I had made a stranger move his things for nothing!  

I wanted to crawl into that leftover bread roll and be served on a platter to The Giant Embarrassment (I believe you’ll find him in a fairytale about sex and trains and cigarettes), who eats idiot working class English women for breakfast.

I apologised profusely to my neighbour and then made him move so I could move to the other side of the table and stop crowding him with my blush.

I settled down to read.  Had a cup of tea.  Wrote in my notebook for a bit.  Read some more.  Drank tea.  Wrote some more.  Drank tea.  The nice thing about travelling First Class is all the free tea.  What I didn’t like was being asked to use the same cup again.  I’m a bit of a diva that way so I owned my temporarily elevated status and insisted on a clean cup each time.  As there were so few passengers, I used all of the clean cups around, to the side, and behind me.

Then my table mate asked for a second cup.  

Guess who had used all of the clean cups…?  

Kill me now.

When the train pulled into Euston two hours after setting off, I was seven pounds lighter from all of the nervous sweating I’d done.  No wonder my fellow passenger did a runner the minute we stopped.

But he did wish me a good day; he was British after all: there’s no need to be rude to the aggravating hoyden who took all the space, drank all the tea, fidgeted, unnecessarily moved him twice and – worst sin of all – left crumbs on her seat from her dry breakfast roll.  Why not use butter like ordinary people?

First Class…it’s not for me.  As I discovered when I obsessively checked my ticket before returning home that day: First Class had only been booked one way; the train company website had been rather vague when I booked my ticket and I hadn’t noticed that the home ticket cost £23 to the outward journey’s £73; which meant that my half-eaten and unappetising breakfast had, in effect, cost me £50.

I had to travel back in standard class instead of First.  I’ve never been so relieved in all my life.

*

More to follow on the lovely day I had with my fellow bloggers; but the post will probably be considerably shorter.

 

Departures: A Song Cycle

20 Jun

No, I’m not talking about tearful goodbyes to Al, Grannymar and Barbara last week (though there were, of course; especially when they realised I was taking all the Maltesers with me), but about Alex’s latest venture: he’s appearing in Departures: A Song Cycle at the Pleasance Theatre, Islington in London this week.

I will talk about hellos and goodbyes in my next post, of course, but for now I want to publicise this fantastic new musical by Joe Bunce and Matt Malone.  You may recall that it won a ton of awards at The Edinburgh Fringe last year and The National Student Drama Festival this year, only four of which are mentioned in the poster, but one of which was The Cameron Macintosh Award…yep, that’s right: that Cameron Macintosh…  

The plot, according to the Pleasance Theatre website

Nine strangers stand at a nondescript railway platform on an unremarkable weekday afternoon. As their train is delayed further, they put down their crumpled Metros, pocket their bleeping smartphones – and begin to share their secrets, hopes and fears.

The cast in rehearsal:

*

The Sunday Times said:

The lyrics have the contemporary bite, and the music the tricky wit, of a new Sondheim; the cast sing beautifully and the band play immaculately.

When it appeared at the Fringe, the Edinburgh Guide described it as:

…an exciting, innovative, intelligently conceived and choreographed show. Dramatic storytelling with a sense of realism is the strength behind the emotional heart of this modern opera. Remember the names Bunce and Malone – the Kander & Ebb, the Lerner & Lowe, the Sondheim of Musical Theatre of tomorrow.

If you happen to be in London this week, get yourself down to the Pleasance Theatre; tickets are very reasonably priced and I promise you an amazing night – but there are only five nights, so get going.

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mainly poetry, also quilts, pictures, life-writing and the occasional short story.

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