Sunday, 23 August 2015

Ducks, Bucks and a Bit of Sad News.

My brother-in-law, Andrew Hart, passed away on the 10th August.  He suffered a heart attack, following a stroke earlier this year.  His funeral took place on the 21st, at Southport Crematorium.  Andy was known on the northern club circuit for his singing, and in younger days for his musical contributions to Golborne Brass Band, The Philtones and the David Charles Dance Band.

Rapid sketches of ducks and geese, August 2015.
I was unable to attend the funeral, having started a new day-job all of nine days before this.  I've been talking to my sister Evelyn, though, and nagging her well-meaningly about eating decent meals and taking care of herself, making a joke of "sounding just like Mum".

There's not much anyone can really say at times like this.  It's instinctive to want to fix things for the person going through an awful experience, but really all anyone can do is simply listen.

So, I started a new job...  I'm still doing arts and crafts, and similar life-enhancing activities, but for a different company.  Having moved house in March this year, I wanted something more local to my new address as travelling to my old job added approximately three hours onto each working day - crazy, considering that I was only employed for four hours a day anyway.   Not only did I get my wish, location-wise, but I got a pay rise too - and I still only work four hours a day, which suits me fine as it leaves plenty of time for writing.  The new place seems like a pleasant working environment, and my new colleagues have been friendly and welcoming.

When I was still quite new to writing, I was genuinely surprised at how many of the other writers I met, either in person or through social networks, also held down ordinary jobs.  There was one  moderately well-known newspaper columnist and author of several non-fiction books - I won't name names - whose conversational, narrative writing style I'd admired for years, who still works as a postman as this, he wrote, is what actually pays his bills.  I know other writers, who have been traditionally published several times who also work as hairdressers, or with autistic children, as call centre operators or in sales, etc.  Unless they've retired already, or have a partner who is willing and able to support them, almost all the published writers I know also have day-jobs.  These aren't day-dreamers, the kind of writer who talks about writing but doesn't actually do much of it; I'm referring to skilled, imaginative, working writers, some of whose names you'd perhaps recognise.

Many well-known writers had day-jobs, such as in this list, or this list, or this list.  There are probably heaps more such lists, but that's enough Googling for me right now.

It's pouring with rain as I type this.  Last night, a tremendous thunder storm raged overhead, with huge, jagged forks of lightening cracking through the sky, making the sky look pink for a second before it plunged back to grey on black as torrential rain hammered down, turning the pavement into a stream.  Liverpool, usually visible over the river from our home on a hill, was engulfed in a thick bank of smoky-charcoal cloud.  This morning, the park smelled of wet soil and saturated leaves, and the pond banks were a muddy border flanked by dripping foliage, freshly patterned by webbed feet.

Speaking of ducks and geese, I've been doing a series of rapid sketches in the park using a very small pad and an ordinary fine line pen.  They fit into a pocket easily.  I've shared some of the results here.  I enjoy sketching - always have. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Missing Cherries

Orange  daylily - Hemerocallis fulva
Fabian: An Artisan-Sorcerer Story  is now being edited.  The novel will be published on 1st December 2015, all being well.

Today I had a wander round The Arno, a small park in Oxton which gets its name from fusing two Anglo-Saxon words:  'arne' (hill) and 'howe' (which means either the name of a person who was as strong as an eagle, or that this was a hill where eagles nested.  Linguists weren't quite sure which it was, apparently).  But a host of volunteer gardeners have been busy making The Arno into a lovely little hideaway usually known for its formal rose garden, but which also has a vibrant Long Border crammed with numerous and colourful cottage garden plants.  If any Wirral artists are looking for masses of flowers to paint, this would be a good place to head to right now, as you can see from this post's photos which I took today.  Click on the photos to see them larger.

The Long Border at The Arno, Oxton.
My own oil paints have finally seen the light of day.  It's been too long since I did any painting, so much so that in a way it's like beginning from scratch all over again.  I'm currently playing around with a landscape - mountains, big sky, cottage, stream.  Now the art room smells of linseed oil and turps, which I find oddly satisfying.  It makes me feel something artistic has been happening, even if the results so far aren't something I'd share with anyone but my dogs.

Friends Tim and Nigel dropped by the other evening.  Nigel's been clearing out his mother's house prior to finalising its sale, and remembering that we'd accidentally left behind most of our gardening tools - so much for my blogging that our house-move had been performed with military precision! - he wondered if we might find use for his mother's old spades, forks, hoes, trowels, loppers, compost bin, watering cans and a weird Poky Thing With A U-Bend which is supposed to be great at scooping out weeds.  All contributions were gratefully received!  Older gardening tools were better made than most modern ones, I've found.

Cherries from our garden!

Peter called by recently, too.  He's enjoying himself as the new Chair for Riverside Writers.  The group has attracted a couple of new members, which is good news.

 Having watched these cherries ripen, I harvested them from our tree today - otherwise the birds would have devoured even more of them than they already have!  Pigeons and blackbirds have totally denuded the upper three-quarters of the tree of all its fruit.  No prizes for guessing what kind of pie we'll be eating tonight....

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Paint and Poppies

Patio, June 2015.
Some of the lovely lilac and purple poppies which grew in abundance through the block-paved drive at our old house have managed to hitch a lift in the tubs we brought here with us.   They weren't deliberately planted in the tubs; their seeds must have been in the soil which came fresh from our compost bins.  The poppies hadn't been deliberately planted in the block-paved drive, either.  They were supposed to grow in the rose border.  Not one poppy grew by the roses.   But along the drive there were so many that by Autumn it was easier to run the mower over it to gather up the dried-up stalks than to clean it up by hand.

Anyway, here they are again, springing up with glorious abundance amongst tubs of plants around the patio.  I'll leave them to seed themselves as they wish.  They probably will, anyway.

Richard and I did some of this year's annual Wirral Open Studios Tour, which was great fun.  Artists and crafts-workers across Wirral throw open their studios to the public, giving people a chance to see original works and where they are created.  And, of course, you can meet the people behind the creations.  Some exhibit as groups, such as those using the Williamson Art Gallery in Oxton.  Others exhibit in tents, or pop-up shops as they're tending to be called.  Others simply throw open the front door to their homes and invite the world to drop by.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and visited as many studios around our part of Wirral as we could.

Art Room, June 2015.
We're toying with the possibility of taking part in next year's tour.  In the photo, you can see the cross-stitch peacock which I'm currently working on.  While the embroidery silks look dramatic against the black Aida, I've found it hard on my eyes.  Maybe I need new reading glasses.  Fortunately the quality of light in the room is very good, so this has made progress easier.

On the table, you can see an in-progress pen and ink drawing of Richard's.  The wooden storage box behind that, with the gondola picture on it,  was made by one of my uncles many decades ago when he was an apprentice carpenter/joiner.  It was passed to me by my mother some thirty years ago, with the promise never to repaint it.  Oh well, shabby chic is all the rage. 

Yesterday, I did battle with my art easel.  For the last few years its legs have been folded away while the 'body' of it sat on a 1950's TV table, which rested on painfully squeaky casters, in order to save space.  When unfolded, the easel's three legs take up quite a bit of room.  Anyway we have enough room here, and so now - after having re-mastered the mystery of exactly how the contraption unfolds, and after spilling the entire contents of its inner trays all over the floor -  the easel stands in all its glory in the corner of our art room.  There's even a small canvas sitting on the easel, its stretchers freshly hammered.  All I need to do now is actually paint something. 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Sugar and the Unexpected Iris

Poppi & Emily enjoying their new garden.
Yesterday was devoted to writing and little else, and as a result the first draft of Fabian is almost complete.  So it now looks like the novel will be available by December, which is good news for all those who've been emailing me to ask when it's likely to be out.

We've settled into our new house and absolutely love it.  The photo of Poppi and Emily, shown here, was taken on Thursday this week, when they were lounging on the patio area of the garden.  We've tidied up the previous owner's collection of patio plant pots, removing spent spoil and weeds, and we've been enjoying the gradual process of discovering what the collection holds - such as the lovely iris which burst into bloom this week, (see photo below).  The patio border has a fuscia, too, which we're glad to see; they're one of Richard's favourites but we could never get them to thrive in our previous garden.

It's not so sunny today but we had a lovely time feeding squirrels in the local park.   They're entirely used to people being around and will come quite close - not too close because of our dogs, and we always keep our dogs on leads so they can't chase the squirrels, (which they definitely would, given half a chance).  Some people dismiss squirrels as pests but I think they're incredibly cute.  We were watching one playing with a stick, pouncing on it, flinging it up in the air and skittering after it purely for fun.  Another group of squirrels were merrily playing tag among a tangle of sturdy old shrubs, chasing each other and clinging upside-down to sturdy branches, and making little barking sounds.

We were also watching three roach swimming near the lake's surface.  Maybe they were feeding on the swarm of gnats which were hovering over the water like a fine, grey cloud.

The unexpected iris...
Richard's been teaching himself how to use a laptop.  He's never used any sort of PC before, so it's a steep learning curve for him.  I've been using a computer since around 2001, when I did a Learn Direct 'Introduction to the Internet' course - and quickly got into playing RPGs on-line.  Some of the characters in the Artisan-Sorcerer series originated from those old RPGs.  Richard is much more interested in looking at old football matches or rooting out old blues and jazz artists who are new to him.  Earlier this week he was looking at old photos of our road, which suffered heavy bombing at the start of WWII when many of the houses were destroyed in the blitz.

This week he attended his annual check-up at Arrowe Park Hospital's diabetic clinic, where he was given full marks for maintaining his condition well.  He sticks rigidly to the prescribed diet, never drinks alcohol, is careful with how much sugar he has, etc.  The problem is, of course, that so much of our pre-made foods have hidden sugars in them these-days, so we try to avoid them to a large degree. 

Apparently the Tory government has just declined to tax sugar in foods, on the grounds that it isn't really an issue despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary. Taxing food may not be the answer, especially when so many people's pockets are already empty, or emptier, due to the seemingly-endless recession.  Cheap food often has higher sugar and salt levels.  A more practical approach might be to set legal limits on the amount of sugar - including sugar substitutes - permitted in foods, which manufacturers would have to abide by.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

We Moved House!

The Boathouse in  Birkenhead Park, April 2015.
Moving house for the ninth time in my life was organised like a military operation, and the task was completed smoothly with the help of Greens Removals of Chester, who I am very happy to recommend.  All they wanted us to do was keep out of the way while their team of five men loaded their two vans and then, once at the new place, tell them where to put things - which we did, and yet still felt exhausted by the end of the day.

Starving, we stood in the unfamiliar kitchen and stared alternately at the ultra-modern computerised oven and its instruction booklet.  The oven did not react as the instructions said it would.  To anyone even remotely familiar with instruction booklets this will come as no surprise.  Richard managed to get the thing going by accidentally pressing the 'wrong' button, which is actually the right button.  The instruction booklet has errors, which effectively undermines its whole purpose for existence - but, again, what's new?

Anyway, we ate - eventually - surrounded by boxes marked 'kitchen'.  The same helpfully-labelled boxes proved a minor stumbling block the next morning when we tried, and failed, to remember exactly which of the identical boxes contained breakfast bowls.  Richard looked sidewards at the dog's bowl but I said, "Don't you dare...!"  We ended up eating breakfast out of plastic sandwich boxes, which proved functional rather than aesthetically pleasing.  Cornflakes get stuck in the square corners.

We both love the house.  It was built in 1879 for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, and while the interior has been thoroughly modernised the Victorian character has been carefully preserved.  Architecturally it is a much more interesting building than our last place, and it felt like home immediately whereas our last place never did, despite having been there for fifteen years.

The dogs have settled well into their new home. They like the new garden, and they have been exploring Birkenhead Park which is quite extensive, with several lakes and ponds, two cricket clubs, tennis courts, a rugby club, large open grassy areas, old trees and newer ones, a cafe/information/conference centre, a childrens' play area, and a joggers' route which has gym equipment spaced around the circuit which anyone can make use of.

We're still waiting for a telephone and internet connection.  After three no-show appointments with an engineer, I fired the provider we originally planned to go with - and who still hasn't replied to my letter of complaint -  and now we're awaiting another engineer to arrive later this month.  Here's hoping this one shows up.  If she/he doesn't, the advantage is that I can easily go into the service provider's high street shop to sort things out, rather than have to try and communicate via a call centre via a public phone box.

Meanwhile, I'm using a £1 disposable mobile phone which does not operate like the instruction booklet says it should.  The menu button remains inaccessible.  Poke it, and nothing happens.  The little yellow icon says I have messages but, short of psychometry, I can't access them.

The serpentine lake in Birkenhead Park, April 2015.
Just before we moved, my old PC died.  Two and half chapters of Fabian were stored on there so now I've got the task of recreating them again.  I also lost around 6,000 words of a novella which I hadn't stored elsewhere, plus a bunch of photos.  But now I have a new PC, an Asus Viper, which seems a perky little thing.  I've been entertaining myself by playing mah jong, solitaire and spider solitaire on it.  Yes, I know I should be working.  Catch you all later, then.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Work and Play

Pen & ink drawing by Richard Cosgrove-Bray
I have just arrived home from an enjoyable walk with my dogs through the meadows between Hoylake and West Kirby, which stretch around Gilroy Nature Park.  The spring sunshine was bouncing off pools of water lying half-submerged beneath drooping tussocks of winter-bleached grass.  A small flock of goldfinches was flitting around the bare trees.  The birds are back early after wintering abroad.  On the duck pond were the usual mob of Canada geese, mallards, coots and moorhens, plus a large flock of redshank who prefer the pond in the flooded field on the other side of the public footpath.

Richard and I are still waiting for the conveyancing on the house sale and purchase to complete.  I went into our estate agents' office on Thursday to enquire into the delay, and asked if the process usually takes this long - 10 weeks and counting, now.  The delay has been caused by our buyer's buyer, who had to wait for a divorce settlement to be paid before her solicitor could begin acting on her behalf.  Her solicitor had only  received copies of the various FENSA certificates and assorted repair/alteration guarantees which UK home owners are obliged to exchange to prove that work has been carried out by a qualified professional.  Once these have been checked, so long as no issues are revealed, then the buyer's buyer should be ready to sign her contract.  Once that's happened, the various other people in the chain can also sign their own contracts.  At least things are slowly moving forwards, hmm?

Turtle by Richard Cosgrove-Bray
Richard has been creating some new items for Spooky Cute Designs.  You can see two of them illustrating this post; if you visit the website you can see more. 

I've completed an NCC Skills course which relates to my day-job, and now just have to wait for the certificate to arrive.  I felt the course would have been useful to a young person entering the workforce for the first time, but for an adult the academic content was too basic to have much meaningful value.  Still, it earns me a few more Credits.

I've now begun the NVQ Level 3 course and have finished three units for that already.  It's as pedantic as I anticipated but my tutor is a lively and pleasant woman and that makes doing the course more enjoyable.  I've always hated doing courses but despite this I've completed rather a lot.  I scored 97% in the English skills assessment, though I struggled with the Maths assessment and scored only 48% for that.  Maths always was my stumbling point, right from very early school days.  The pass mark is 50%, if I remember correctly.  As part of NVQs, all students have to take English and Maths too.  Even my own tutor had to take these, and she has two Degrees and is a qualified teacher.  Did I mention the "I hate courses" mindset? I will focus on completing the course and not on hating doing the course, especially the Maths.  I will.  Honest.

Doing courses has slowed down work on Fabian, but even so I have written more of this.  I've only got around 8,000 words to write, which really isn't much, and writing the final scenes is always fun.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Goals for 2015

For the last three years around New Year, I've created a list of goals which I hoped to achieve within the following twelve months.  This is one way to keep track of the progress of various projects and it's a bit of self-entertainment.

My goals for 2014 were:-
  1. Finish Fabian.
  2. Publish a 3rd free ebook anthology which will be called Travel Stories.
  3. Write one short story per month (minimum).
  4. Continue to collect dolls, swim and have more fun!
The bad news is that Fabian:  An Artisan-Sorcerer Story still isn't finished.  The good news is that there remains less than 10,000 words to go, and so the completion of the 100,000 word first draft is well within sight.

The proposed free ebook anthology, Travel Stories, has been cancelled as I'll be moving to another area of Wirral and so my involvement with Riverside Writers - the main source of contributions to the ebook - will be greatly reduced.  For the same reason I recently resigned as the group's Chairperson, a role I'd filled since 2003.

I did not write one short story each month!  I did, however, write several of them plus some poetry.  There is also a longer short story partially written, which may well evolve into a novella, (but I aim to finish Fabian before I return to this project).

I completed an NCFE Level 2 Certificate in the Principles of Business and Administration, finishing the last work for that back in July though I'm still waiting for the certificate to be mailed to me from Stoke-on-Trent College.  I am currently three-quarters of the way through an NCC Skills course relating to my day job, and have also begun a second NVQ Level 3 course in another day job related subject.

My doll collection has now includes three vintage 1960's "Dolly Darlings" plus two dolls designed by Mary Quant, "Daisy" and "Daisy Longlegs", along with a few more vintage dolls.  I've been swimming twice a week, and have thoroughly enjoyed it.  I'm not the world's best swimmer by any wild stretch of anyone's imagination but that's ok, and I usually manage 40 lengths of the pool each time.

2014 saw my husband's business fold after twenty-one years of trading.  Blame the recession; blame the changing face of Liverpool city centre which has left the Renshaw Street area looking like a Third World slum which people scurry to avoid; blame Liverpool One for hauling-in most of the custom; blame vastly increased competition; blame whatever, but the upshot is the same and blame changes nothing and contributes nothing of constructive value.  Richard went from being self-employed to being employed, and has now been able to give more time to his own art and photography again - no bad thing.

So, my goals for 2015 are:-
  1.  Move house - we're going through the conveyancing stage now.
  2. Finish Fabian!
  3. Write at least one short story or poem a month.
  4. Finish the NCC Skills course.
  5. Continue with the NVQ Level 3 course, (and hopefully finish it sooner rather than later).
  6. Fun stuff - swimming; doll collecting; photography; art.
Previous Goal Lists:-
Goals for 2012
Goals for 2013
Goals for 2014

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Gathering, Hunting and Letting Go.

Exclusive greetings cards from Spooky Cute Designs!

Temperatures have dropped today.  The wind has a sharp edge to it which wasn't there yesterday, when I was potting a few small plants and some bulbs to take with us when we move, and raking autumn leaves into piles before scooping them into our rusting wheelbarrow.  It felt odd tidying the garden, knowing someone else will benefit.

This garden did not exist when Richard and I bought this house in 2000.  The contorted hazel tree and cherry tree were lonely starting points in a mass of waist-high weeds.  Slowly, slowly, our garden was created.  And now we're leaving it all behind, hoping that the new owners will tend it and add to it and enjoy it for years to come.

The sale of this house and the purchase of our new home is, as of this morning, in the hands of our solicitors.  Here's to a swift and smooth settlement.

Over the last couple of months, we've visited several houses with a view to buying one.  Some proved that photos really do lie, as a wide-angle lens can make rooms look much bigger than they are.  We saw some horrors - immersion heaters and gas fires with back boilers (ancient!); miles of hedges to prune; a kitchen which fell to bits when Richard opened a drawer; a cellar fit for a Stephen King novel; dangerous wobbly staircases; trees growing from chimneys....  And then we saw the one we're aiming to buy, which I won't write about until all is signed and sealed.

This house has attracted a lot of interest.  A minority of visitors were time-wasters only out to feed their curiosity.  Several were from more southerly regions, looking to relocate to Wirral.  Most were already living in Wirral, wanting to move up the property ladder.  Some were first-time buyers with eyes bigger than their budgets; one of these put in a hilariously low offer which even had our estate agent laughing at the cheek of it.

Other news - On Monday 24th November, I officially resigned from my role as Chair for Riverside Writers, after having done this since 2003.  I've enjoyed my time with the group, and I've made some wonderful friends through it, but I've started two courses related to my day-job and have a couple of writing projects on the backburner waiting for me once I've finished writing Fabian, which won't be long now as I've only got around 8,000 words to go.  Also, once we've moved house I'll have further to travel to meetings.  Quite simply, I recognise that I won't be attending the group anything like as often as I used to, so it's only fair to hand the role of Chair onto someone else.

Fabian - 4th in the Artisan-Sorcerer Series - Due Out Soon!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Childfree by Choice

There is an interesting article in The Guardian today which discusses reactions to the decision not to have children. 

Richard and I do not have children and are perfectly happy that way.  We have never had any desire to become parents.  This was one of the first things we agreed on when we initially became a couple some twenty years ago.  We wanted to do other things with our lives and neither of us have ever regretted that choice at any point.

Now I'm 50, people have finally stopped insisting that I'll change my mind about not wanting children as I get older.  Instead, I'm told that I'll regret it when I'm elderly as there will be no-one to visit me.  I know plenty of elderly people with grown-up children of their own, plus grandchildren and a network of other family members, who rarely if ever see any of them for a host of reasons - geographical distance, economics and family politics, for example.  Clearly, breeding additions to your family tree does not guarantee that you'll have company from them, and also ignores the possibility of a person enjoying quality company from friends, who can often share a much closer bond than many blood relatives.

Only this week I was confidently informed that if only I had children I'd now be looking forward to celebrating Christmas, and being childless was obviously the reason why I don't celebrate the festival.  The fact that I'm not a Christian didn't enter this person's head - and that has nothing to do with not having children either!

It's ridiculous that people who choose to remain unencumbered by children are subjected to this tunnel-visioned hubris, yet it's a common occurrence.  I find that other women are the main culprits, as if they can't imagine that someone might make decisions which they did not.  The human race is hardly heading towards extinction due to underpopulation - on the contrary, one wonders how long an increasingly polluted Earth can continue to support our global population explosion.  Mass hunger, famines and draughts are no strangers to news bulletins. 

Relatives and friends on both sides tried to put pressure on Richard and me to start a family of our own because society is set up that way.  It's what women are 'supposed' to want.  Well, women are also 'supposed' to love shopping but it bores me silly, and women are 'supposed' to be enthralled by celebrity culture and fashion but I couldn't care less about those either.  It's disappointing to me that women are still so generalised, pushed into one cookie-cutter mould when it comes to maternity despite assumptions about this being a universal ambition being patently incorrect.  Around one in five women are childfree, and many of these are so by choice.

There is a double standard.  When a man says he's not a father, he gets a matey slap on the back and is congratulated.  A childless woman, however, is pitied or informed that her opinions are suspect.  Yet so many mothers have told me they envy me my freedom, and if they had their time over they wouldn't have had children even though they love the ones they do have.  Many others have had only one child, as one was quickly deemed enough.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to be a parent, so long as you're a good, responsible parent.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing not be a parent, also.  It's that simple.