Wednesday, 9 November 2022

The Season for cozy reads and some musings on friendship

 Every year I put aside the crime novels I have on my TBR pile and get out my Jane Austen novels. I know them all by heart, or, to be, honest nearly all of them as I never could get into Northanger Abbey. I have just started Sense and Sensibility. It's like visiting friends you haven't seen for a year. I know what to expect and it is all going to turn out fine. We all need that feeling in our lives and there is no better time for calling it up than the dark winter months before Christmas.

Speaking or should I say writing of friends, made me stop and think for a minute. In my latest Christmas novel CHRISTMAS AT THE WISHING WELL writing under my Romance pseudonym Peggy O'Mahony, one of the characters says: "There are people for short journeys and people for the long haul. Knowing the difference means understanding friendship."

Short haul people are very often the people you have a good time with when you go out. You can chat to them at parties, wave at them across the tables at restaurants and know they will wave back equally enthusiastically. But they are not the people you confide in when life kicks you in the solar plexus. Someone once said that real friends are the people who, when you have made an atrocious horse's rear end of yourself, don't think it's a permanent job. Real friends, few and far between as we all know, are the ones who know you and still like you. Now that is a comforting thought.

Back to Sense and Sensibility. I sometimes ask myself why the novels appeal to me so much apart from the feel-good aspect. As a writer, I have a fairly critical eye. Jane Austen stays true to her characters. They don't change into something else. In Sense and Sensibility, Sir John, a warm-hearted type with not much brain, ends up promising a puppy to the villain of the story when he sees how upset he is over Marianne, although he is very fond of the Dashwoods. That makes him very human and very believable.

One thing I know, I never can write like Jane Austen and I don't intend to try. I expect every author writes what is in them to write and we all hope that our readers will like it.



Wednesday, 24 August 2022

SoloTravel with white hair

I'm a solo traveller and I have white hair. What does this mean? It means that airport security staff view me as senile- well some of them anyway - and are mildly surprised when I hop into that xray thinggy and assure them that I have only my (big) handbag and no I don't have any liquids or anything liquidy or explosive in there 'cos I did a bag drop with all that stuff in my suitcase - well apart from the explosives bit obviously.

At passport control I use the automatic gates. Very often a kind airport staff member will take my passport and present it for me and usher me through that gate like a reluctant greyhound into the traps. So I smile and say thank you even though I am quite used to doing this myself. 

On arrival at the airport, all friendly help dissolves as soon as my feet hit the tarmac. It's find the carousel with your luggage yourself and haul it off the belt as quickly as possible and don't get in the way of other travellers and their hundreds of heavy suitcases. Then a quick visit to the toilet and then it's find the exit for taxis. 

It's great being a solo traveller and doing it all myself. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for any help offered. I love every minute.

I'm just planning my next trip.

Friday, 5 August 2022

One of the Best Thriller Writers - Someone we shouldn't forget

 I have started re-reading Eric Ambler's A Passage of Arms. I must have read this at least a dozen times and I am still enjoying it as much as I did the first time. Eric Ambler was a master story teller. His thrillers were always about much more than the standard thriller plot. A Passage of Arms is set in Malaysia - Malay in those days and under British rule. It starts off by telling us about an Indian servant on a rubber plantation whose burning ambition is to start bus transport between a few important towns in the area. When the British wipe out a group of Communist rebels nearby, he realizes that there must be an arms dump somewhere and starts to wonder if he could use it in some way to bring about his dream. How do you go about selling arms? Into this mix is thrown a somewhat naive American married couple, tourists wanting to experience the area. They are unwittingly drawn into the "passage of arms". When the word page-turner is used for this book, for once it is not an exaggeration.

What makes Ambler stand out, in my opinion, is that his main characters are not heroes. They are ordinary people or people with problems of their own who are swept up in events which they cannot control. The first Ambler novel which I read was Journey into Fear written in the 1940's as far as I remember. Again, it tells the story of an engineer in a munitions factory whose knowledge is key in the production of a deadly weapon. When the ship he is on sets sail, he discovers that his life is in danger. Who can he trust among the passengers?

Ambler's main characters meet people who are decidedly louche, who all have their own agenda. Who should he trust?

In The Nightcomers or State of Siege as it is called in the USA, an engineer on his way home from an assignment gets mixed up in a revolution. Another nail-biter which I have just finished reading.

Any writer would do well to study his characters and how he portrays them. And to see how he develops the story, increasing tension in every chapter. His novels are short, probably not much more than 200 pages and they do not have any extra padding. He does fill the reader in on history relevant to the story or to help us understand a character better or to make them more mysterious. 

I can safely say that I have yet to find a writer who entertains me as much as Mr Ambler. I know his novels are a bit of out of date, having been written in the 1940's and 1950's but the reader still can identify with the main character and root for him through the story. I think it is a shame that he is not more widely read nowadays.

 


Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Conversations

 The other day someone asked if the art of conversation had disappeared from our culture. Dinner parties, they said, with lots of illustrious guests all talking about interesting things. It made me stop and think. We were enjoying lunch in a busy restaurant and talking our heads off as usual. 

"That couple over there hasn't said a word to each other," said my companion. "He has his nose buried in his phone and she's just sitting there. Wonder if they've had a row or does he really think scrolling through his phone is more interesting than talking to his wife, assuming she's his wife.?"

Of course, it was none of our business but when we looked around the restaurant, we saw that several couples were deep into scrolling their phones. It is too common a sight to cause much interest but when you think about it: what happened to the art of conversation?

Supposing you are attending an interview and the interviewer wants to size up you and your potential for the job. I believe they always check your social media posts. Too bad if you went off the deep end over some celebrity mash up and took the wrong side from the interviewer's point of view, even if it was two years ago and you changed your mind since. The thing about the spoken word is that it can be forgotten and not raked up ten years later.

Just imagine sitting down to a dinner with some of your favourite people - and all of them too busy scrolling through their phones to do more than acknowledge the arrival of the soup!

 


Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Reading FeelGood Novels

 Now that we are officially allowed out, mask or no mask, and now that the golden daffodils are smiling at us from every flowerbed, I feel as if I could take a break from grim stories, crime genre and co. and read some Romance novels. I am already halfway through Jane Austen's Emma. I usually read all her novels (except Northanger Abbey) in the run up to Christmas but this year I did not get do complete the list. 

It's so relaxing, though, to read a novel even if you know nearly every word by heart and know that despite the little perplexities as Jane Austen would have called them, there is going to be a Happy Ending. It is the best form of escapism.

Here's something I wrote some time ago. I hope my readers will enjoy it.

LITERARY VISITS

Outside the winter night is drawing in accompanied by gentle tap of rain on the windows. Time to snuggle into a deep comfortable chair by the fire and go on a literary visit. Who shall I call on tonight? 

Ah yes, the Dashwoods. I haven’t been to see them for quite a while. I’ll just take a seat in the sitting room of their little cottage and listen to Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor chatting about a likely visit from Edward. Marianne is playing the piano softly in the background and no doubt dreaming of that dastardly Willoughby. I expect Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, his garrulous mother-in-law, will call. Sir John with his na├»ve kindness has won my heart and, unlike Marianne, I don’t mind what she considers his lack of culture and polished manners. I like Mrs. Jennings, even if she and Sir John can be annoying with their silly banter about beaux. When Marianne was so ill, she really came up trumps and almost supplied the place of a mother. I’d like to see Colonel Brandon pop in too, although all his attention will be on Marianne. His conversation is always interesting. I’ll sneak away before he starts to tell Elinor his sad history.

Where shall I go next? I can be sure of a welcome from Emma Woodhouse at Hartfield and Knightley is as entertaining as Colonel Brandon. I’ll have to resist taking a basin of that “thin but not too thin” gruel with Mr. Woodhouse while I’m listening to the preparations for the ball at The Crown. I hope to meet Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill and I mustn’t miss that happy couple, Mr. and Mrs. Weston. It will be a fun evening and not even the presence of the vicar, Mr. Elton and his pushy wife can spoil it. I’ll just smile politely when Mrs. Elton goes on about her sister’s prospective visit in the barouche-landau.

 When I’ve left Highbury and the oh-so-happy Miss Bates, I’ll pop in to see Elizabeth Bennett and her family. Her father will be in the library and will no doubt have some droll remark to make. He is one of my all-time favorites. I’ll be at Rosings to hear Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth and her spirited refusal and then smile over her embarrassment at meeting him again unexpectedly at Pemberley. And I mustn’t miss the scene with Mr. Bennett when Elizabeth tells him she wishes to accept Darcy. I’ll stay in the library long enough to listen in to Elizabeth defending him against her father’s disapproval before sneaking upstairs to partake of her mother’s raptures at having a daughter well married. Maybe I’ll look in on Jane and Bingley, but I doubt I’ll visit the Wickhams. 

 On another night, I’ll slip across the Atlantic and take a peek at Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy round their worktable and hope that Laurie Lawrence will drop by. I might even go with Meg to the ball where she is so admired but so unhappy, or perhaps I’ll attend Jo when she goes to have her beautiful hair cut. I’ll cry over all their trials and little heartaches until their father comes home from the war and then I can bid them a fond farewell as they sit round the fire, united in tenderness.

 While I am on this side of the Atlantic, I’ll take a trip out West and drop in on the Denmeades.  The last part of the journey there has to be taken on horseback. I can almost taste the scent of pine and wild sumac as we ride through those deep woods. There will be a warm welcome at the homestead even with the hounds barking. If all the family is at home, it will be pretty crowded round the table for supper. Mrs. Denmeade and Ally will fix something wholesome for us all to eat and we might get some of Ed’s wild bee honey. I’d like to be able to stay in that tent the Denmeade boys fixed up for Lucy and her sister. It’s so cozy there in winter with the wood burning stove. Before we retire for the night, I’ll stand beside Lucy at the cabin door as she pays her respects to the towering red Rimrock and the stars glistening in the frosty sky above it.

 On very cold nights I’ll follow Mole, when bored with his sleepy companion Water Rat, he heads off to the forbidden Wild Wood. I’ll keep a respectful distance as he gets deeper and deeper into danger. I can hear the scuttling of other frightened animals and then the Terror of the Wild Wood, the dreaded pattering and whistling. I’ll drop down beside Mole in the hollow of that old beech tree and hope they, whoever they are, do not find us. What a relief when Rat comes to the rescue and we discover the door to Badger’s dwelling. I’m a child again as I revel in the feeling of comfort and security in Badger’s underground home. I love those down-at-heel slippers of his and his cozy living room and the little hedgehogs having breakfast in the morning.

 Yes, I’ve read these stories over and over again. Old books are like old friends, friends with whom one can slip off one’s shoes and stretch out by the fire. Friends who know you through and through and still like you! Friends to whom you’ve told your stories time and again but who still listen patiently. Friends who have told their stories to you over and over again. That is the lure of the literary journey, a journey to be taken at any time, but especially on cold nights in the winter when it brings back that feeling of warm security from my childhood.

 In order of appearance: 

Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Pride and Prejudice, all by Jane Austen,  

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott,

Under the Tonto Rim by Zane Grey and

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham

Saturday, 5 March 2022

Buddy, can you spare me 20 cents for the toilet?

 It is a beautiful, sunny day and I took a trip to the city of Cork. Spring is definitely in the air!

I mooched around for some time, just enjoying the feeling of freedom from all those restrictions, even though I continued to wear my mask, as indeed did a lot of people I saw on the street and in the shops.

And then it happened. I needed to go to the toilet. Not a problem, I thought. I knew that at the nearest mall (a somewhat fancy name for a restaurant and two shops on the ground floor and TK Maxx one flight up, but anyway) there were toilets downstairs. Last time I looked, entry was free, the lock had been removed, due to the pandemic, I thought. This time though, you had to cough up 20 cents in order to get inside. Now, I will admit that I always - or nearly always as it turned out- have a few 20 cent coins in my purse for just this purpose. Only, sadly, not today. So I stood there, jigging from one foot to the other and calculating how long it would take for someone within the hallowed toilet area to emerge and hold the door open for me. Lady luck - the patron of all would-be wee-ladies - arrived in the form of another woman who had the required coin. We bonded immediately!

My question to this mall and to all the other coin-spinning toilets is : who the heck is going to have the requisite small change? We nearly all pay by card not cash. That's what those malls wanted, remember? All easy peasy for them, no need to count money at the end of the day and have to bring it to the bank.

Use your imagination, shop and store managers. We are customers, we bring money into the city and into your premises and yet you don't think we merit the slightest consideration. And if you put someone in charge, someone who checks the toilets from time to time, it would give someone a job. In the above toilets, the locks on most of the doors did not work, so as you were doing a pee, the door would be pushed open and the usual "I'm so sorry"'s exchanged. Do we need this? Should we boycott these places until they have learned to provide a service which is as necessary as it is obvious? 

Don't get me started!

Monday, 24 January 2022

Loyalty Card Junkie

 I came across this article that I wrote some years ago and which I find is still relevant. For us "silver-agers", the fast world of internet business is becoming more and more of a mystery.

Anyway, here is the article again, just for fun:

Have you ever added up how many user IDs and passwords you have stored away in your memory – you wouldn’t be writing them down, now would you?  I was thinking about this the other day when I went to a restaurant in a Cork shopping mall and before I knew it, I was handed out a loyalty card with the lure of getting a portion of chips or half a chicken or something for free if I produced the card when I came again. I don’t know when I’ll be back to this restaurant but it bothers me to think of a possible freebie sitting there unused.

 I spend hours registering on loyalty card sites.  First you have to think of a suitable ID.  I suppose the sensible thing to do would be to use the same one for every site, only a friend of mine who happens to be an IT freak  warned me that this makes it easier for hackers to get into all your sites.  Well, I don’t want that.  Not that I think it would do a hacker much good to see how many Real Rewards I have at SuperValu, for instance,  since I’m not sure what to do with them myself.  The biggest problem though is getting the password right.  If I dream up something creative I’m always told that it isn’t very “strong.”  It has to be words and numbers and caps and what-have-you.  By the time I’ve fought through the whole process and registered correctly I’m exhausted and cranky. And there’s a very real possibility that when I want to check into the site again I can’t remember my password exactly and have to go through the “forgotten your password” process in order to get into my account.

Not that I’m against this loyalty card idea.  You can really save money or get yourself a treat.  And I don’t blame the stores and restaurants for trying to secure customers this way.  The small shopkeeper though doesn’t have the money for all this kind of publicity.  The only way they’ll get people coming back is if they provide the service the customer wants and keep the customer happy.  What I like most about small shops is the personal contact.  You see, that’s where big stores miss out and why they suggest that your loyalty card is your best friend.  But I can’t chat to my loyalty card, can’t complain about the weather or find out the latest juicy bit of gossip doing the rounds.  No, I just hand it over along with my laser card to a smiling employee who wouldn’t know me from Adam if she bumped into me five minutes later.

But next time I’m asked if I have a loyalty card and if not would I like one, I know I’m going to say yes please and start the online registration process as soon as I get home.  Don’t want any bargains slipping away now do I? In years to come, will there be a therapy for loyalty card junkies?