Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Romance of Travel

I have just finished reading They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie. It is one of the few novels of hers that I have not read. As always with Christie, it is an entertaining read. It did make me smile to realize how very different modes of travel were in her day. She wrote this around 1950 when air travel was not as common as it is now.  It got me thinking.

Sixty years or more ago, travel was a leisurely affair. People packed hampers with turkey and ham sandwiches, flasks of tea and bottles of milk, to take with them on train journeys because it took hours to get anywhere. Race-goers at Ascot and other racecourses around the country added wine and champagne to the hampers (as some do even to this day) and made a big day out of it. It was all fun. When you set out on a journey by train you felt you were taking part in an adventure. There was the sleeping car, the dining car, the carriage proper where you sat and watched the countryside roll by and very often you met interesting fellow travellers. You could have fun when the train stopped at railway stations along the way and you watched passengers embark and disembark

Nowadays, it is all rush, rush. We don't have time to wait or to watch other people, so many of us are glued to our mobiles that we bump into people rather than looking at them. At airports, we have to get through security, find the departure gate, find our seat on the plane (squeezing past those fellow passengers who suddenly remember they need something out of their hand baggage about one minute after they stow it in the locker), remember to put our phones in flight mode, pay attention to the safety drill, wave away the offers of duty free stuff we don't want.
Train journeys are only slightly less of a scramble. In the old days, a friendly porter would carry your luggage and see you safely ensconced in your seat. Nowadays you have to find the right platform, find a seat if you haven't booked one or even if you have and stow your luggage yourself. Oh, and keep an ear open for announcements in case the train you wanted to get has been cancelled or delayed. There isn't really an ounce of excitement or pleasure in it all.

When I was at school, many years ago now, we read some of  Robert Louis Stevenson's essays. The one that appealed to me most was his An Apology for Idlers, which is against very many principles which are held dear by so many today.  Stevenson maintained that "extreme busyness" was a "symptom of defective vitality" and complained that when waiting for a train, the "busy man" had a wooden expression because he did not know what to do with the time on his hands. Stevenson advocated being idle, by which he meant taking in our surroundings and, like the poet William Henry Davis in his poem Leisure watching Nature's feet "how they can dance".
Let's start doing this from now on.Every day will be a big adventure.






Monday, 29 May 2017

The Sweetest Words for an Author's Ear

The sweetest words that an author hears are when someone says "oh, you write those Romance novels I'm so fond of" or "Just read your crime novel and loved it" or anything in a similar vein. It just makes all the hours of hard work, editing, re-editing the editing, struggling with the plot, having a really bad day - or days - and having a really good day - or days, when all goes right and the writing flows.
These -ahem - deep thoughts cross my mind recently when I met two readers who had read both my Sergeant Murray crime fiction books (written under my pen name P.B. Barry) and my Sunshine Cafe Romance novels which I wrote as Peggy O'Mahony. It really did give me a lift, especially as I was having a hard time getting part of the plot of my third Sergeant Murray mystery to gel into a suitable shape.
Authors are very sensitive creatures, I think. We constantly need encouragement, we need to know that yes, there are people out there who enjoy reading what we write. It's the human condition, isn't it? the need for reassurance, even if, like me, I write for the fun of it and not for fame or fortune. Of course it would be nice to have a list of best-sellers to my name and to appear at book launches and sign my name on my books for all the adoring fans, but that isn't going to happen and I'm not sure if it would suit me if it did. Being a self-published author, I can choose my own time to write (no pressure!) or not to write. I am not tied to any deadline. I do work hard to make my novels as good as possible and I am a very harsh critic of my own work, but aside from that, I don't let it dominate who I am or what I do. It's just great fun to spin these tales and invent this little world inside my head.

But when someone comes up to me and says they loved my novel, well, that's a very special feeling and one I wouldn't swap for anything.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Love at First Sight - Believing in the magical things

It's OK to be realistic, practical, down-to-earth. I'd like to think that is what I am most of the time. But there are things I like to believe. Take love at first sight, for example. It's the theme of so many romance novels and most of us have fallen in love with someone the first time we've seen them. Scientists and researchers would have us believe that it is not love at all but an innate desire for survival. We estimate that this person would make a good mate, would provide for us and together we would produce strong healthy children. Apparently this all goes back to caveman times and the survival gene we are all supposed to possess...
There goes your romantic dreams! But only if you believe the scientists.

Vincent van Gogh is one of my favourite painters and I love his "starry nights". I have a copy of his painting of The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum at Arles hanging in my living room and love to look at it. It is so atmospheric, bringing memories of long summer evenings. Again, I recently read somewhere that the reason he painted those glorious starry skies was because he was taking some kind of medication at the time which produced a halo around lamps or stars when he viewed them.
Do I really want to believe that? No, I do not. I like to think that he looked up at the night sky and felt that awe we all feel on a cloudless night when the stars are twinkling and oh so far away and you wonder what it would be like to be up there....

Last weekend the dawn chorus was transmitted by multiple radio stations around the world until 6 a.m.GMT. I must admit that I did not sit up all night to hear it but did listen in to snatches during the night. It must have been a pretty awesome experience to anyone who did listen the whole time.
Next day I read a report which said that the male birds sing at dawn to declare their territorial rights and attract females. There was I, thinking birds sang to welcome the sunrise after a long night perched in a tree. Naive, perhaps? But I prefer my version. The dawn chorus, birdsong in the spring, are all delights of Nature and we should listen and be glad and not pay too much attention to all that scientific stuff. Life is for living and enjoying, after all.


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Shopping Demon bit me

I went to Cork today. It wasn't exactly planned. I needed ink for my printer and when I tried to buy it locally, it was no longer available. No joy in asking in the store. No, we don't have it in stock was all the answer I got. So, off to the big city to get some.

It is a cold day with a North wind that would take your eyebrows off but the sun is shining and I saw a solitary swallow this morning, so summer is hovering out there somewhere. Therefore, an enjoyable trip on the bus.

I still had a bit of trouble getting the ink for my printer but finally found a supermarket which stocks it and which shall be nameless but it starts with the letter "T", and I bought two double packs (black and colour), so I should be ok for a while now.  Why is it, that if you have something for a couple of years, it becomes nearly impossible to get the "bits" such as ink for my printer?  Sigh, sigh.

I had a cup of tea and a scone at the Roundy Bar which is a great place to go if you are on your own, or even if you are not. You can sit outside on the pavement or inside where the furniture is scuffed and worn. There is a nice relaxed atmosphere and I enjoyed the break. The tea was good, too.

From the Roundy Bar I went to the Franciscan church to thank St. Anthony for all manner of things lost and found and to increase my store of goodwill with him in case anything else gets lost and needs to be found in the future. I love that church, it is so peaceful.

Of course I should have gone home after that but I didn't. Instead I bought a lip brush, new make up, a new shoulder bag which is just what I need when I am at the races tomorrow, earrings and a matching necklace (also what I need for the races...), a special patchy thing for my sore toe (well it was half price - the patchy thing, not my toe!), two regional newspapers just to see if I can write an article for them about my novels; oh, and I stopped off at the Cancer Charity Shop and bought a Len Deighton book London Match (I read it years ago, it is third in his Game,Set and Match trilogy which I really enjoyed). Finally, my bank account caved in and I got the bus home.

Altogether an enjoyable day! Shopping is such fun when you don't actually have to do any.


Saturday, 22 April 2017

Earth Day - is anyone in?

Today has been designated Earth Day. What does that mean, exactly?  This is where we live, on this planet revolving in outer space with all the stars and satellites. There are other worlds out there at an unimaginable distance from our own planet. When I am house-sitting in the country I love to go out on the lawn and look up at the stars of a summer's night. There they are, glittering away, keeping their orbits, as they have been doing for time immemorial. Gives you goosebumps, if you think about it, doesn't it?

We miss so many things simply because we don't take any notice of them. The poets have been pointing this out to us for centuries. We inhabit this planet and we should treat it like our own living room. Somewhere to welcome visitors, to relax in, somewhere we cherish.  Now, that is a sobering thought.

Let's go for a walk today and see what new things we can discover. If we live in a city, we can watch for the signs of spring in the trees (every street has a few trees) or we can visit a park and smell the warmth of the grass growing in the sun.  Or we can watch a cat sleeping in someone's garden (there's one tortoiseshell one which I see on my walks). If we go shopping and pass a florists, we can breathe in that heady scent of all the flowers on offer. There is so much to be thankful for and today, on Earth Day, is a good time to recall it.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Things you never needed to know (probably)

To misquote Shakespeare : I am a snapper up of unconsidered bits of information which no one needs to know. It's just a habit I picked up I know not where. For example, this morning I learned that scientists may have discovered why shoelaces come undone. If you pull on your sneakers of a morning and prepare for your jog, you might find that, along the way, the laces open and passers by will call your attention to this or you'll stand on the trailing bit of shoe lace and nearly trip up.
Apparently the scientists at California Berkeley University looked into this "shoelace knot failure". And now you want to know the answer, right? It's what keeps you awake at night. Well, the answer is interesting: the forces of a foot striking the ground stretches and then relaxes the knot, while a second force caused by the leg swinging, acts on the ends of the laces like an invisible hand. The expression "may the force be with you" has even more intriguing possibilities than I ever imagined.

Here's another bit of riveting stuff - and then I'm done, promise! Researchers at the University of Sussex and University College London found that the word "please" was used nearly twice as much by the British compared to Americans. Not surprising from a nation which likes to form orderly queues or lines to use the American term. I have my doubts, though. Let's face it, if you travel on the Underground in London, the word "please" is used countless times as in "Please mind the gap!"

There is nothing like dropping one or two of these bits of information into your conversation the next time you are stuck for small talk. I remember telling someone that, according to statistics, it rains in England on Fridays more than any other day of the week. I was actually escorting this person from Reception to my (big) boss's office and was a bit desperate how to keep the conversation flowing and it was a Friday and it was raining...  Anyway, he was so amused that he repeated it to my boss who thought it showed remarkable intelligence on my part - but I won't go in to that.

Happy Easter / Happy Holidays to all my readers.

🐇🐑

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Toddlers and Travels

I read somewhere that the new airline regulation banning laptops and large smart phones etc. from cabin luggage on some flights was causing consternation with parents travelling with small children.
What can you do with a toddler on a 3-hour flight, say? There have been a lot of suggestions and tips and I would like to add my - not to be taken too seriously - three ideas to mitigate the situation.
Having been on flights with truculent three-year-olds before toddlers were au fait with laptops and tablets, believe me, I feel for the lone parent on such journeys. Kids never sleep when you want them to. I recall my daughter fretting all the way to Frankfurt and then falling into the Land of Nod as we circled the airport for landing, and being extremely irritated at being woken up.

Anyway, for what they are worth, here are my three little tips for the journey: Tongue in cheek everyone!

  1. Remember when you said you'd never ask your mother-in-law for a favour and you could get along just fine without her help/interference?  Now might be the time to re-think that rash statement, review your opinion of her parental skills (maybe your husband would have been like that anyway regardless of his upbringing) and ask if she'd take the kids while you fly off to wherever.
  2. Keep your little darlings up late the night before the trip. Oh, once on the airplane, they'll fight off sleep/drowsiness as if it were the plague and their voices will get really shrill but if you hang on to your patience they will eventually doze off, especially if you read them a story in a monotonous voice.  If this is the first time you have read them a story, of course, they might be so excited/enthralled that they stay awake and insist on more. Which is another way of keeping them quiet, so worth a try.
  3. Lastly - and this worked remarkably well for me - stuff as many colouring books and crayons as you can into your hand luggage along with a pack of cards and a few board games suitable for toddlers. They won't want to colour in pictures or learn anything but by the time you have exhausted your efforts to get them interested, you will have either a) engaged the attention of another adult who might help in diverting them or b) you will have arrived at your destination.
 Safe journey if you are travelling!