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.


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?

Thursday, 13 January 2022

What I'm reading in January

 I'm back home from Germany. I always pay my respects to the sea first thing and the weather has been so good, it has been a lot of fun walking on the beach. I watched a fishing boat heading for home with a trail of seagulls in its wake, a few ducks swimming about near the shore looking unimpressed with these antics. The sea a wonderful blue, mirroring the cloudless sky. Home. Wonderful.

Over Christmas I read The Secrets of Primrose Square by Claudia Carroll. I had not read any of her previous work and would not normally go for a novel of this type but I wanted something light and easy to read for the holidays. The book did not disappoint. It was a pleasant read with a (predictable) happy ending. The characters were endearing and had me cheering for them. A perfect holiday read.

I have now started reading Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers. This novel was longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2021. I am really enjoying it, it has an intriguing plot, I love Clare's style of writing. In fact, it is considerably better than other novels I have attempted to read which have been cried up as "fantastic, engrossing etc".

I have ordered books, of course, although I still have Mary Higgins Clark's Stillwatch and Robert Goddard's One False Move. I am a fan of both these writers, especially their earlier novels.

There is absolutely nothing like settling down with a good book. But I don't have to tell readers that!

I now have to completely revise my Christmas novel which I never got round to doing much work on. Just haven't got into the routine of regular writing yet. I'll start tomorrow.....

Friday, 17 December 2021

Happy Christmas 2021 to everybody!

I wonder if anyone else managed to cut a finger on a cinnamon stick while making mulled wine? Only me, was it? Oh well, it could be worse.

The mulled wine was delicious, at any rate, and everyone was asking for the recipe. I don't have a recipe, it is a process of pouring in the red wine, adding a dash - or is that a splash? - or two of port, some red (Irish) lemonade, slices of orange, cloves and the aforementioned cinnamon sticks. Warm everything up, turn off the heat and let it "mull" for an hour, then re-heat gently.  Delicious.

Mind you, drinking mulled wine at a Christmas market under a starry sky, feet turned to icicles in the frosty air, is what I call enjoying the run up to Christmas. I love the time from the first Sunday in Advent, usually the last Sunday in November, to Christmas Eve. I remember how excited the children were when we lit the first candle in the the Advent wreath. They would start to count off the days until school holidays. The Advent calendar was another hit, opening those doors the height of fun, even though there were usually only very indifferent chocolates behind them. 

As I write this, we are almost there. One week more and it will be Christmas Eve. I will be celebrating with family in Germany where Christmas Eve is the big day and the presents are distributed. Santa doesn't come, of course. St. Nikolaus comes on December 6th, although he does not bring the main presents. He is not the fat, jovial figure of the advertisements. He is a bishop with a bishop's mitre and crozier and he is quite slim, as befits a bishop, I guess. Children learn that he was a bishop in Myra in present day Turkey. Sometimes he comes with Ruprecht, who carries a stick to beat naughty children, although this is pure legend, whereas Nikolaus really did exist and was good to the poor.

Whatever you believe in, Christmas is a time of good will, a time for meeting up with friends, for visiting older family members.

I wish all my readers a peaceful, happy Christmas!

Monday, 30 August 2021

Where to find a good thriller - am I too hard to please?

 I am currently reading a thriller which has been cried up as being "twisty, scary" and was recommended in the Sunday Times and on its cover by another crime author whose books don't appeal to me. Perhaps I should have been warned. This was a random purchase because I recognised the title. The plot is, indeed, scary but regrettably that's all I can say for the book. I could not bond with any of the characters, two of whom were depressingly similar, it was hard to tell one from the other. And it all went on and on, the hand-wringing, soul-searching, conversations which didn't do anything for the plot. I daresay I am out of kilter with what is popular in this kind of fiction. I loved Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and I sometimes get the feeling I am reading bits of this novel when I try other work out there at the moment. 

Being a writer myself, I appreciate all the hard work that goes into writing a novel and I also fully understand that reading tastes vary widely, and thank goodness they do, otherwise we'd only have one kind of book available to us. However, I have to feel empathy with the main character and if I do not feel that in the first ten pages of the story, my attention will start to falter. "They can all kill themselves for all I care" I have thought on a few occasions. 

I am currently flicking through this novel but I just cannot read through another chapter. I'll keep turning over the pages and checking to see who did it and why before I drop the book off at a charity shop. 

Monday, 28 June 2021

Nearly there with the new novel

 Well, I have finished my sixth or seventh draft of the new Sergeant Alan Murray novel and just need to read it one more time to check for errors and omissions and all that kind of stuff. I have to psych myself up to do this because I have been reading, re-reading and editing for weeks now, or so it seems. I feel I know every word by heart - and that is not good. Familiarity breeds typos, incorrect names and backgrounds of the main players, to mention but a few problems. So I need to knuckle down one more time.

As usual, I have enjoyed writing the story, getting the characters to develop before my eyes and sorting out the whys and wherefores of the plot. Nearly there. I have the cover sorted (I hope). Next comes the blurb, the outline of the story which hooks the reader and persuades them to open the book or download to Kindle. I always find this the most difficult. What to leave out, what to put in? Basically, someone commits a crime (murder usually) and Sergeant Alan Murray has to find out who the perpetrator is and bring them to justice. Inbetween the crime and the solving of the crime, comes what the French so elegantly call the denouement, the unravelling of all those bits and pieces of information which I have scattered into the pages of the story. 

I have some loyal readers who are waiting impatiently for the novel to be completed and available. Readers are what makes it all worthwhile. So here goes.