I would give anything to be bored. Instead, I am a very busy housewife, mother, veteran, writer, business owner and employee. So with so much going on in my head, I thought I would share it with the world – you lucky ducks. I am the eternal administrator in all walks of my life, so this blog is, unashamedly and unapologetically, all about me. My hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, thoughts and projects. I hope to wow you, entertain you, make you think, amuse you, and perhaps let you see what the inside of my head looks like. But mostly, I want to write about the things that interest me. It may be about the domesticated world of being a mum, the pleasure and pain of owning a customer facing business, my recently acquired Pinterest addiction, or my thoughts on general niff-naf and trivia. It’s all new to me, so please join me on this learning curve of mine. I have no idea which directon we are going in, but isn’t that half the fun?
It may come as no surprise that I like to write. It is after all the reason why I set up a blog, and although I may not be a very prolific blogger, I write ‘stuff’ all the time. My flat and my Onedrive are full to bursting with little notes, musings, observations and general mutterings from my Scattered Brain, hoping that, like those miscellaneous bits in that special kitchen drawer, they will be useful for something someday – if only I can find them when I need them.
But I miss the act of holding a pen in my hand and actually physically writing. At school when I was 10 – which was a while ago, but not that far back in the dim and distant past (I’ve not reached my half century just yet, thank you very much) we were taught handwriting. Do they still do that now? We had to have fountain pens and jars of Quink ink to refill them. Then we would spend classes writing in our best handwriting on specially lined paper to get the curls and the flicks in just the right places, which may surprise you if you were to see my handwriting these days.
It’s probably because of these lessons that I have this romantic (but completely impractical) image in my head of myself as a writer, not with an old style typewriter, or banging away at a keyboard, but as a scribe, quill in hand, sitting in my library, scratching amazing anecdotes and awe inspiring work onto parchment, sporting ink stained fingers on my leather-topped oak desk which is littered with paperweights, inkwells, blotters and wax stamps.
Well I have an ink well, a couple of quills and wax stamps too. No blotter, oak desk or library yet though. Instead an old kitchen table and a pad of blotting paper work just fine.
I spend a great deal of my time at a computer of one sort or another. PC, laptop, tablet, phone or even the TV, and I realise that social media is a massively important part of getting to know others in the writing community. It is not my strong point, getting to know people, and especially online, but I do try with Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.
So I decided to look for Pen Friends again. Did you know that writing letters is now called Snail Mail? Back in my day it was just called mail. A quick Pinterest search for Snail Mail ideas and the amount of stuff on there is gob smacking. Since when did writing letters become such an art form, so expensive and so competitive? What exactly is washi tape anyway??
I had a few pen pals when I was a teenager, and some of them are still Facebook friends 30 years later, but we don’t write anymore. To be honest, we don’t even chat on Facebook now. We just like and share each others posts, which is quite sad really. I think I need to get in touch and see if they want to write again.
I found an online pen pal finder, which seemed to be legit, had great reviews and did their due diligence when it came to handling personal information. It was also free – a bonus for a skint would-be-writer – but also has the option to upgrade for a small fee. Everything is checked and verified by real people and no one gets your address unless you say so.
There is an option for you to decide how you want to correspond with people. Snail Mail, Email, Postcards, Pocket Letters, Mail-Art, Parcel Exchange, Candy Swap, Travel Buddies. I had no idea what half of these were, so I just plumped for snail mail and postcards.
In the last two months I have been in contact with three ladies. One each from Canada, Kenya and Germany. You can filter the people you are looking for by age, language, country, interests, gender etc., if you want to.
I received my first letter at Christmas and I have to say there is nothing quite like a little parcel from another continent dropping through your letterbox to cheer up your day. Diane had included all kinds of little gifts, a postcard and enamel badges, nail stickers, maps of her town and photo’s of her with her kids as well as a lovely long letter telling me all about herself. We are both really excited to get to know each other better and we seem to have hit it off really well, with common interests and outlook on life.
But I can now remember why it’s called snail mail. It can take a month to receive a reply to your letters, by the time it takes to get there, for them to find time to sit and write and for the postage back again, so patience is definitely a virtue. There is no instant gratification of the ping on your phone. But that makes it all the more exciting when they do arrive. And you can also write to more and more people and stagger when you write, that way you may have a more even flow of letters in return. You just need to keep on top of the writing and finding things to write about. And tracking what you’ve said to each friend is a task all of it’s own. For now, I think 3 is enough to get me back into the letter writing habit.
I did succumb to buying some washi tape and lovely stationery. The tape is easy and cheap to buy, stationery and address books less so. But they are out there, and there are plenty of online suppliers to suit all tastes and pockets – but I was trying to buy local and avoid the screen again. I even picked up a stationery set in a charity shop for 50p. I love a bargain.
The biggest expense is probably the postage, but the contents can be as extravagant and fancy as you like. Mine are not very fancy at all, but I do like to tart them up a little bit and include a few tit-bits to make them more interesting. Photo’s are also great. It’s good to put a face to a name.
I don’t write letters with a quill yet. It’s extremely messy and untidy in the hands of this amateur, instead I use a fountain pen filled by cartridge rather than ink bottle. And I don’t make my own envelopes and little knick-knacks to go inside them as Pinterest might have me do. Nice as they are, life, I feel, is too short and I am really not that artistic. They would look like something a 5-year old made for Mother’s Day, and although the thought is what counts, I’m not sure a 40 something lady in Kenya wants to keep that crap on her fridge.
Writing letters is a great excuse to talk about yourself. It is also an interesting and uplifting way for us introverts to get to know new people, to find out about other lives and cultures, and it’s a perfect excuse to sit at your desk (oak or otherwise) and write.
There was an old chicken named Gertie
Whose feet were incredibly dirty.
To increase her allure
She’d a fine pedicure
And now she’s fantastically flirty.
She wasn’t called Gertie as it happens. Her name was Scrat. Do you remember Scrat, the sabre-toothed squirrel from the Ice Age movies? He never has any luck, seems to always get himself into bother, and is obsessed with hoarding one single acorn.
We named our Scrat after Ice Age Scrat because she was an unlucky but likeable little chicken. When we first collected her, she could barely walk because her feet were completely encased in rock hard chicken poo. She had great big solid balls of the stuff on each of her toes. It took a lot of soaking her feet in warm water to finally get them clean, but then she could run around just as well as the others. Almost.
Scrat was accident prone. She had somehow lost the sight in one eye before we collected her, but we don’t think she’d cottoned on to this fact. She would get all excited and go hurtling around like a headless, well, like a headless chicken, only to crash headfirst into walls or trees or other chickens. If you threw food for her from the wrong side she couldn’t see it, and by the time she’d worked out that she needed to turn around, the other chickens had often scoffed the lot.
She was the very definition of bottom of the pecking order in our little flock, bullied by all the girls, especially Tikka, who was a gobby little madam. Even Kentucky the cockerel wasn’t as enamoured of her as he was the others.
But, after a little settling in period, she laid just as well as any of our ladies, she was soon in great condition, she was curious, she was silly and she loved people. The main reason we picked her up in the first place was because she ran straight to us, so she was easy to catch. (and the dirty feet helped.)
She was always first to greet you in the mornings. She was the one that sussed out where the back door was and would often wander into the kitchen. She was the one standing outside the kitchen window, just in case you felt the urge to throw out a few scraps, or under the bird table in case the wild birds dropped anything. She was the one that didn’t mind being picked up and stroked. She almost lost her head or a toe every time she dived in front of the spade because she’d seen a grub or a worm. She was the one that would come running up to you as soon as you stepped out of the house, head held to one side so she could see you from her good eye.
She was a clutz, she was a danger to herself, she was accident prone, and we never worked out if she was very brave or just very stupid. But her self-preservation skills seemed to be paying off, she trusted us and she was by far our favourite.
Our first five chickens came from a barn and had never stepped outside before. Next we rescued a couple of ex-battery hens, who were in a worse state. But watching them take their first steps on grass and grow in confidence and feathers was an absolute joy.
Times have changed and we don’t keep chickens anymore, we don’t have the lifestyle that would allow us to keep them right now.
But, if you do have the opportunity, the resources and the desire to keep chickens, I can absolutely recommend it. They are such characters with quite individual personalities, and they are a joy to have around. And the eggs are a delicious bonus!
Today I read a Tweet from QI Quite Interesting @qikipedia, that told a fascinating fact about the humble Haggis.
Apparently, in a 2003 poll 1/3 of American visitors to Scotland thought the Haggis ran wild around the Scottish moors. When I looked through the comments thread below the original tweet, it became quite clear that this is obviously complete nonsense.
- Many found it hard to believe that only 1/3 of Americans believed this fact.
- The Haggis’s (or Hagi) roamed the Highlands, not the moors.
- Haggis no longer roam freely at all and are now only found on private farms and bred exclusively in captivity.
Fascinating fact number 2 about the Haggis – as it lives on the sides of mountains the legs on one side of its body are shorter than on the other, so they don’t fall down the hillside. Then they will forever travel around the mountains either clockwise or counter-clockwise, depending on their legs. To mate, there needs to be a breeding pair with opposite short legs so they don’t fall over, and in order to catch a Haggis you need to get them to change direction so they fall and roll down the hill, where the hunter can then easily scoop them up.
Several years ago, a friend of mine took a French colleague to Scotland on a research trip. He had never been before so, my friend packed a picnic, they went for a boat ride and he told his colleague all about the Haggis.
Whilst they ate their picnic, he handed across a scotch egg. The French visitor had never seen one before and asked what they were. He was told that they were in fact, Haggis testicles. The skipper confirmed this fact. Our French visitor who is used to eating such delicacies as frog’s legs and foie gras, (no stereo-typing here at all) declared “That is disgusting!” and refused to touch it. Weeks later when they were re-telling the story to everyone at work, he was adamant, he would never, EVER touch a scotch egg in his life. He’d be no good in a Bush Tucker Trial, that’s for sure.
The story of the Haggis reminds me of a similar tale from a Celtic nation not too far from Scotland. In Wales there lurks the dreaded Perygl. On cliff edges, mountains and at the edges of bodies of water, you often find signs warning of the dangers of the Perygl. Schoolchildren and city slicker’s on adventurous holidays are shown these signs and told to keep a look out for the Perygl, particularly at night if sleeping in a tent, whilst also staying away from cliff edges, looking out for trip hazards and other dangers, of course. No one really knows what they look like, but they are rumoured to be small and ferocious creatures, and they populate the whole of the Welsh nation. None have ever been seen in neighbouring England, though warning signs can be found on the border.
Original tweet https://twitter.com/qikipedia/status/1087016907759185920
I know I’ve been a bad blogger of late. In my defence I have moved house and Christmas is coming, but even so, it’s about time I posted again, if only to get back into the swing of it.
So today I took a break from the stresses of the circus that is Christmas and had a quiet afternoon playing cards.
Hands up who plays Solitaire on their pc, laptop, tablet, or phone? How many of you own and play with an actual deck of cards?
When we were kids, I vaguely remember one of our teachers suggesting to my parents that playing games like dominoes and cards when we were little can help with maths, numbers in general and even telling the time. Likewise, Scrabble and Hangman were good for learning vocabulary and spelling.
I remember playing various versions of Patience – aka Solitaire – taught to us by my dad, and my favourite was the Clock game.
It is such a simple game to learn and is completely dependant on chance. Hence the name – Patience. There is no skill involved whatsoever, and so anyone who knows, or is learning, their numbers can play.
- Shuffle a deck of cards and then deal piles of 4 cards face down into a circle of 12 to represent a clock face. See picture above
- The Jack represents 11 and the Queen 12
- Place the final 4 cards face down in the centre of the circle, and this is where the King’s go.
- Take a card from the centre pile and place it next to the corresponding pile in the circle. For example if it’s a 6 place it next to the bottom stack.
- Take one card from the pile where you just placed your card – ie if it’s a 6 take a card from the pile representing the 6 on the clock.
- Keep doing this with the remaining cards. If you turn up a King, it goes into the centre of the clock and you take the next card from the centre pile.
- To win you need to turn over all of the cards before you turn up 4 Kings. And that is it.
To some, this may seem a pointless exercise. I hear the word “Boring” shouted from every teenager engrossed in a game of Call of Duty right now. But in a world where mental health issues and stressed out kids who are feeling lonely and isolated are becoming more and more prevalent, perhaps a game away from a screen, something that is calm and requires no thinking, could be a balm to a troubled mind. Heck, card games can even be played with other people, in real life, in your own actual living room! Too sarcastic? Hmmm maybe.
I despair sometimes of all the time people spend in front of screens. Something I am guilty of to, I am writing an online blog for goodness sake. So something as simple as a game of cards, dominoes or board games can be a great family bonding time. Or if your family is like mine – temper tantrums from the bad losers and gloating from the bad winners. Both of which are then ridiculed mercilessly and for all eternity. But it’s all a learning experience. Learning patience, learning to try and try again, and learning to slow down the pace. Finding time to breathe and relax and maybe even have some fun in the process. It can also be a great way to while away a cold and dark winter’s evening.
The deck of cards I’ve used are Pirates of the Carribean cards we picked up on a family holiday to Disneyland Florida years ago. There are some great packs of cards out there and are worth collecting in their own right. But for the cash strapped, you can pick a simple plain deck up for just a pound or two. You might even find a pack in a charity shop – just make sure there are 52 playing cards and maybe a Joker or 2 in the deck. I remember scribbling numbers on Jokers to represent cards that were lost, but you can only do this once or twice with a single deck.
Cards are also small, lightweight and portable enough to take anywhere. Pack them in your bag for a long flight or train journey. Great for a camping or caravan holiday too. When you have no signal, or your battery has run down, you can turn to the cards to ease the boredom.
If you’re looking for other card games to play, don’t Google it. Instead, walk to your local underused library and see if you can find a book on the subject.
And cards and dominoes are not just for playing games. You can also build a tower with cards and who doesn’t love tumbling dominoes?
I have never written a book review before, but this blogging lark is all about new experiences, so here goes.
I picked up ‘The Travelling Cat Chronicles’ from the Central Library in Liverpool a couple of weeks ago, and with moving house and general busyness I have only just managed to finish it. Why did I pick it up? Well as with most books I choose, I liked the cover. I know, I know – but it was soooo pretty. Blue covers seem to do it every time, but this one also had an oriental style painting of a cat on the front. It was a winner from the off.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles is the story of Satoru who rescues a stray cat and then takes him around Japan in his van to visit his friends, but we don’t why know until later in the book. I tried to finish it on the bus tonight but I knew I was about to cry, so I had to wait until I got home and then blubbed away to my hearts content.
It’s a gentle, warm story that you just can’t put down (unless you are about to embarrass yourself on the Number 82) and tells of friendship and companionship between Satoru and his cat Nana, but also between him and his childhood and university friends as well. Satoru has had a hard time, but he is never seen to complain or bemoan his lot in life, and the writer doesn’t dwell on it either. He is a truly gentle, kind soul and the story depicts that perfectly. The humour comes mostly from Nana’s side of the story, looking into the strange human world that he has chosen to live in. Anyone who loves cats will know that you do begin to wonder who adopted who. Did Satoru adopt a cat, or did Nana adopt a lonely young man?
It is also a great introduction to a country I know very little about. From the changing seasons, to the diverse landscapes and the understated customs, it is an interesting and evocative read.
The author Hiro Arikawa lives in Tokyo and her book is a massive hit in Japan. It was translated from the original Japanese by Philip Gabriel and has since become an international hit too – and rightly so. In Japan the story has now been made into a film.
I was half way through the book before it occurred to me that the cover I love so much shows a picture of a black cat, but Nana is a white cat with a black tail. When I reached the end of the story I found out why. The painting is a work entitled ‘Man and the World’ painted by Shuai Liu, a Chinese painter with cerebral palsy. They simply fell in love with the picture, so used it for the cover. It obviously worked on me. The internal artwork was created by Yoco Nagamiya.
If you’re a cat lover, you will love this book. If you’re not a cat lover, you will also love this book. At just 247 pages long it is a truly lovely short novel that will find it’s way into your soul. Buy it, borrow it, gift it, but absolutely, definitely read it.
In the December 1904 issue of Green Bag, Vol. 16,there is an amusing account through poetry chronicling the aftermath of a court case. When the Court of Clams passed a judgment in the case of Harvey Steel Company v. United States, by a majority of four out of five judges, the majority opinion was written by Chief Justice Nott while Justice Wright wrote a dissenting opinion. Lincoln B. Smith wrote the following poem as a dedication to Justice Wright:
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Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens.
In the immortal words of Julie Andrews, when she’s feeling sad she simply remembers her favourite things and then she doesn’t feel so bad.
For me it is always music and in particular the video of the the American Marine’s parody of Carly Rae Jepson’s video ‘Call Me Maybe’. Those guys are just so cute and some are clearly not as comfortable with it as others, but they always bring a smile. So cool.
The Brits in Iraq parodying ‘Is This The Way to Amarillo’ is next This one crashed the Army’s website because it had so many views when it was released. I particularly like the toilet humour – it is the British Military after all, I would expect nothing less.
Another good one is Bobby McFerrin’s video for ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ with Robin Williams and Bill Irwin. I can’t believe it’s from 1988 – that’s 30 years ago! And of course, more recently is ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams, that one is a little younger than Bobby’s.
Not seen them? Google them – right now – they’re a must. I’ve saved them in my bookmarks.
It’s a well known fact that music can shape your moods so I also have a Spotify playlist called ‘My Happy Place’ filled with over 300 merry tunes to turn up nice and loud and sing along to.
As well as music there was a lovely train guard one day that brightened my day and when I see this in my notebook it always makes me smile. He was a very jolly and flamboyant young man with a big beard. I ordered coffee from him from the cart and as he passed me my cup he said in a grand booming voice “And of course don’t forget the stick of destiny. All powerful … until … it … get’s … wet. Oh well, maybe next time.” He was referring to the wooden stirrer that he dropped into my coffee as he said it. I know – you had to be there – but he didn’t have to say anything and it really cheered me up on a long and boring journey where I hadn’t spoken to anyone for over 5 hours.
And finally, this sign outside a tiny church hall warmed the cockles.
“Feeling down in the mouth? You need a little faith lift.”
Add to this list my husband’s hugs, sunflowers, sunshine and the seaside, Kitty curled up on my lap, good friends and my kids banter around a dinner table and I think that’s me pretty much sorted for life.
So what is it that turns your frown upside down?
Red poppies worn proudly and tears left unshed
The white poppy scornful of those who have bled.
The last post they played and two minutes stood still,
Reveille revives them from November’s chill.
A wife and her son watch the vanishing crowd,
Together in sadness in their mist made shroud.
Their soldier returned from a conflict so raw
He just couldn’t cope and began to withdraw.
His day of endurance his fight to survive
One more like all others, his ghosts to deprive.
Another night darkens and street lights turn on
Awaiting the morning, bad dreams to be gone.
She wonders ‘Where is he?’ and checks the doorways,
Her son he looks at her with his father’s gaze.
She squeezes his hand, he has grown up so tall.
Now home to the medals and to the Albert Hall.
Whores, thieves and wretches they all step around,
His eyes, they all know, still see a battleground.
A hand on his shoulder revives and consoles
The hot soup designed to save many lost souls.
The big empty bed and a breakfast for two
An empty place setting – if only he knew.
When he was on tour at least bluies they’d write
But now there was nothing, the day gave no light.
Fitfully sleeping to block out the day
His beds behind stations are then moved away.
Out of the rain but not out of the cold
If only he’d known this when he’d first enrolled.
The school run and home, they can both feel the chill.
She takes down his photo from a windowsill,
Puts it in a bag with the rest of the gear
Then leaves once again to find one they hold dear.
He misses the structure of his army life
And can’t bear to think about his child and wife.
The pain and the guilt drive their faces away
His head choked with thoughts of that one awful day.
Hostels and soup kitchens, picture in hand,
They’re searching the desert for one grain of sand.
The city is packed with the homeless and lost
But they’ll keep on searching, whatever the cost.
A churchyard tonight, his bed lies in a lee
The bright shining poppies a welcome red sea.
His friends may be missed, maimed or dead, many gone
But here with the poppies their memories live on.
“I’m sorry my darling we’ll try tomorrow.”
“I’ll be here again mum, as always, you know.”
Footsore and dejected they turn to go home
The world a dark place of a grey monochrome.
A white poppy shines in the midst of the red
If he could just find some peace inside his head.
His heart scarce believes it, his mind it protests
As two friendly faces look down where he rests.
His son clasps his shoulder, his wife turns to say
“Would you like a drink to keep the cold at bay?”
Their eyes shine with love as they pass him some tea
And his tears fall unguarded on the white poppy.
He’s obliged to so many, his war has ended
His gratitude’s boundless for all that they did.
Two years have now passed and things have moved apace.
His family are comforted in his embrace.
Red poppies worn proudly for what went before,
The white for his family, the peace that they bore.
The Last Post they played and two minutes stood still.
Reveille revives them from November’s chill.
Please bear with me this week as I share with you two of my poems. I am not, in any way shape or form, a poet, but I was forced (kicking and often screaming) to write poetry for my MA in Creative Writing by the amazing and sadly missed Mr Nigel Jenkins from The Gower. A lovely man and an inspirational teacher.
I produced two poems over that time which I am rather proud of and so I have decided to share my favourite, a few days before Remembrance Day and the second will be posted at the weekend.
This one is called ‘Hourglass‘ and records the moment we lined the route for one of our comrades whose coffin was being taken into a Chinook to fly him home from the Gulf. This is, therefore, in Remembrance of several people.
- Sergeant John Nightingale for whom the poem is written.
- Lance Corporal Pete Mahoney who sadly took his own life soon after returning from Iraq.
- Flight Sergeant Anna Irwin, a truly inspirational person and the light of everyone’s life taken far too soon by cancer, and who was standing next to me during this parade.
- And also of course, to Mr Nigel Jenkins who made me write the poem in the first place.
Shoulder to shoulder
Dread, pain, sorrow and fear.
A thought, a sigh, the closeness of friends.
The bright flash of flag draped over
someone we hold dear.
The Chinook’s maw
Dusty desert boots
Six shoulder the load.
A stifled sob, gritted teeth, a silent tear.
The padre, the bible, the bugler, a sandstorm.
Two rows of uniforms
Left in silence
Autumn is by far my favourite season. Crisp cold days, beautiful sunshine and the gorgeous colours of the leaves falling from the trees. The last weekend in October was cold but filled with glorious sunshine, so I decided to take a walk around Sefton Park.
When the wind blew, sycamore shaped gold-leaf danced around my favourite part – the Eros Fountain. The fish squirted water in the faces of the little cherubs, and Eros himself, glistened in the sunshine. It was real brass-monkey weather, but beautiful all the same.