Friday 26 April 2024

Watch your language

 I love the English language. It has some wonderful words to describe events, people, places. Sometimes, though, I think that we are losing out on all it has to offer. Messages are shortened to the minimum: How R U? Does this question prompt me to answer in full or to just write back "Fine"? 

When I was going to secondary school - yes, a long time ago now, I'll admit - we had to write three essays in English, Irish (Gaelic) and French every weekend on a subject chosen by the teacher. Not only that, but we had what was sometimes called "comprehension" exercises. We read a passage from a renowned English writer or poet and we had to explain what it said in our own words. A very useful exercise for understanding text. I shall always be grateful that I learned this, learned to articulate and to write primarily in English (my mother language). I also learned to appreciate other languages. And my love of reading, formed at home and deepened in school, has never left me.

I'm not going to start comparing things today as they were when I was growing up. But I do wish that the expression "up for grabs" to describe an open job position, for example, was not used almost exclusively. Jobs are not up for grabs, they are open for applications. "Up for grabs" conjures up carnival with children scrambling for sweets tossed into the crowd from carnival floats.

Another term, now commonly used and no less eye-rolling to me, "so-and-so was slammed for..." Slammed? That sounds like something out of a wrestling match. Isn't the word criticised a better choice? Why don't we use it?

And coffee to go. Yes, grab your coffee in your cardboard container and run with it. Why relax and share a chat over a cup of coffee in a cozy cafe? 

Life is to be enjoyed wherever and whenever possible, so we don't need to jump and grab at job opportunities, nor do we need to slam someone when we don't agree with what they say. Let's bring back a bit of elegance to our daily lives.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Edge of the Seat Foreign Film

 I watched a film on BBC4 the other night, English title Full Time (A Plein Temps) and found it riveting. I'm not sure why it had me on the edge of my seat, it was in many ways simply a chronicle of how to survive: Julie is a mother of two, her ex-husband is late paying alimony, her child carer is starting to find it too difficult to take the children every day. The train strike which complicates an already fraught situation, is what makes this film so edgy. Julie lives in a small village on the edge of Paris. Every morning, she drops her children off at the carer's, an elderly lady in the village who tells her that her daughter considers the children are too much for her, and dashes to the train station, where an annoucement informs passengers that all trains to Paris are cancelled and will be replaced by buses. There follows the mad dash to find the correct bus to bring Julie to work. She is employed as head maid in a posh Parisian hotel. She needs the money to keep afloat. 

A university graduate, she is searching for a job more suited to her qualifications and which would give her more money. Meanwhile, her ex-husband is not returning her frantic calls to ask him why he hasn't paid any alimony this month. The hot water boiler works on and off so that having a shower or washing hair is problematic. The children play her up. And the transport strikes get worse.

Finally she gets an interview for a marketing job in Paris.  Getting to the interview is a mad juggle of her housekeeping duties at the hotel and besting the train strike, the congested traffic and the lack of taxis in Paris. Julie is not a heroine in the Hollywood sense of the word, she is blessed with that quality of pragmatism which the French possess in abundance and although down, she is never out.

Yes, I sat on the edge of my seat and rooted for Julie, my heart in my mouth in case she didn't make the train home or couldn't get to the interview or didn't get the job. By the time the film was over, I was a nervous wreck. That night, I dreamt I was lost in Paris and couldn't find my way home on the Metro.  You might argue that there is nothing remarkable about the story, but the acting is superb and the tension practically pulses through the scenes. Rarely have I been so caught up in a film.

I read that the film, released in 2021, has been a huge success in France, so I guess it's not only me who got hooked. At any rate, a film well worth seeing. In fact, a film which nearly every single mom will identify with. There - I've finished a sentence on a preposition. That's what watching French films does for you.


Tuesday 19 December 2023


 I have not done much writing this year and I don't really have an excuse for it. Never mind. That is the luxury of being a self-published author, I can stick to my own pace, I don't have an editor breathing down the back of my neck.

I am working on the second draft of a Sergeant Alan Murray crime novel. I hope to have it ready for publication by March/April next year. It is always fun when things come right, when the plot resolves itself into a twisted but logical finish and all is solved by the inimitable Alan Murray. I hope to be more active in 2024. A lot of readers have been complaining that I didn't write a Christmas feel-good novel this year. Sorry, sorry, everyone. I will try to do better.

I wish all my readers a very Happy Christmas and everything that is good in the New Year. It is a grim time in the world and we all have to work hard at projecting a warm light into our little spot on this troubled planet. Let's hang on to our dreams and wishes and all the love we have for family and friends.

Tuesday 12 September 2023

Talking to my Friends

'My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation,' says Anne Elliot in Jane Austen's Persuasion. And Mr Eliot replies 'that is not good company, that is the best'.

 When the world was very young, people gathered around fires on the long cold nights and listened to a story-teller who kept them riveted until it was time to turn in. There were no breaks for advertisements, no trips to the kitchen for more snacks. It was just loincloths and the crackling of the flames against the cold of night, keeping the wild beasts at bay.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, people were invited to elaborate dinners and if you were lucky you might find that mix of people who were entertaining, who were the "good company" as cited by Anne Elliot. There were several inns and taverns and gentlemen's clubs where a collection of men (yes, mostly men) spent hours chatting about everything and anything. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of these eminent men of whom Charles Lamb said he would "talk forever and you wished him to go on forever". Charles Lamb himself was a great essayist and presumably just as entertaining in conversation. Their Table Talk writings are still available today. Entertainment meant meeting other people, not sitting over a mobile phone or watching a television set.

With all the different modes of entertainment at our disposal in this technical age, I think we have lost out on the pure entertainment of engaging in conversation with other people. Dinner parties were very social occasions. Of course you still had the bores and the gossips - the gossips being as entertaining as the most intellectual dinner guest, I'd say.

I sometimes get the feeling that people don't want to listen any more. They are too taken up with their own lives and only have a tiny timeframe for listening to what you have to say. Of course, we all have good friends who are more than interested to hear us talk about all the little things which make up our daily lives. We are also interested in hearing them out as they tell us their stories. But they are in the minority. If you were to sit down at a dinner table with a bunch of strangers it can be hard to get a decent conversation going unless you are lucky enough to have a few guests at the table who are interested in other people. There are those rare people who can tell an amusing anecdote - usually  against themselves - to a group of strangers which everyone can relate to in some way. That is a gift, a rare gift and getting rarer, I sometimes fear..

I love listening to people telling me stories of things that happened to them or people they've met or places they've been. Many moons ago I worked with a girl very briefly in London and she could captivate the whole office with her stories. She gave a thrilling account of the film Play Misty for Me which was newly released at the time. Much later I tried to watch this on television and, you know what? it was boring in comparison to the way she'd told the story. I was sorry when I had to leave as she was in the middle of a romance with a guy she had just met in London. She'd told us every stage of it, starting from Day One and I really wanted to know how it turned out.

My one fear is, though, that these fantastic, gifted oral story-tellers are dying out. Yes, we have books and shows that hold your attention but in my opinion there is nothing more satisfying than sitting down with someone who holds your attention for an hour, someone you can talk to about politics, climate change, whatever, and get an intelligent debate going. If they have a different point of view, so much the better. The story teller, the raconteur who can keep you entertained into the small wee hours is worth their weight in gold, rubies and diamonds. I so hope they are not a dying breed.


Monday 12 June 2023

A book trip to Venice

 There is nothing quite like the feeling you get when you prepare to settle down and continue reading a good book that takes all your attention. Finding an author who will deliver feels like meeting a good friend. You know you are going to be entertained.

These were my feelings recently while in the local library when I spotted Give Unto Others by Donna Leon. I haven't read one of Donna Leon's novels for some time, so I was delighted to find this latest one. Having visited Venice on a number of occasions, I love to read about it and recall those trips. I remember being there as guest of a hotel chain the first time. We were invited to dinner across the lagoon, the hotel transported us there by boat. When dinner was over and we emerged into the October night, we discovered that there was a violent storm. We were quickly told that all hotel boats were cancelled and we would have to use public transport, i.e. the vaporetto. I can't swim and am scared of waves but I managed to jump on board, and I mean jump, inbetween the bobbing motion. And that's when I discovered that my thirst for adventure was somewhat abated, because when we got back to the hotel after a very choppy ride, a few of us opted to stay indoors over a nightcap while the more adventurous went out to sample night life in Venice. Looking out of my bedroom window that night, I could hear the storm and the creak of the gondolas rubbing against each other in the window. I can still remember it.

I returned to Venice once or twice in the summer and found it less mysterious in the July heat, I have to admit. There is something magical about the place, the fact that you walk along a pavement and turn the corner and then there is just a canal. But that stormy October was what made me fall in love with this city.

Love the cover of this book. It captures the atmosphere of the Venice I remember. A Commissario Brunetti mystery set in Venice, complete with mention of the palazzos, the vaporettos and the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo and of course Piazzo San Marco? Yes, yes, yes. Bring it on.