a space for all those thoughts and ramblings that have nowhere else to go

Friday, 19 August 2016

One of those days ...

I started out the day with a simple plan - to dig a hole and plant this verbena which I rescued from the allotment yesterday; there they grow like weeds, in the garden they only survive a year or so.

I picked a spot - a different area to where the other verbena is struggling to grow through montbretia and michaelmas daisies - but quite near to a lilac bush which is about twenty feet tall and needs pruning ... so I thought I'd do that first ... 

A couple of hours later, and the pruning wasn't complete but I did have a huge pile of branches blocking the patio, plus insect bites on my arms and a lump on my nose from hitting myself with the tree-loppers.

My quick and simple task was turning into a mammoth one, and it was lunch time (and a late one, too!) I decided at this point to leave any more tree-chopping for another day, and instead concentrate on getting the pruned wood into a combination of dustbin, compost heap and bags to transport it to the allotment.
Another couple of hours passed ...
It's quicker, and definitely more fun, chopping lanky branches from the tree,than it is getting them tidied up. Eventually though by late afternoon, the patio was clear, and, guess what?
I dug a hole, and planted that verbena.
All day for one little plant. 

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

A novel on my phone; is it really possible?

Anyone who knows me will agree that I'm not one to bother with keeping anywhere near the front edge of technology. I've never owned a brand new phone - just my children's cast-offs. Similarly, I'd probably never have bothered with a Kindle if we hadn't been bought one for Christmas a few years ago, but I soon came to love it. It's more convenient to carry around, on holiday or just on dull car journeys, and about a third of the books I review are read on it, plus all those 'free download' offers that are hard to resist.
I couldn't imagine I'd make the swap to reading on my phone though.
Then, a month or so ago, I spotted a free i-book promotion for The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths - I couldn't download it to the Kindle but would I be able to read it on the small screen of an i-phone 4? As it was a book I really wanted to read, I decided to give it a go. After all, it was free!
It's the first of the Ruth Galloway series, published back in 2009, and a book I've intended reading for quite a while - in fact since I first heard Elly Griffiths talking about the series at a book event three years ago. But intending to do something and actually getting round to it are two different things and with so many other books demanding to be read I continued to put off ordering it from the library - and meanwhile the series grew, and is now up to Book 8, The Woman in Blue, with a ninth on the way. Anyway, I downloaded it quickly before I started having doubts about the possibility of reading anything longer than a text on a small, about 5 cm, phone screen. That might have been the end of the experiment with it sitting there for months, probably until I'd forgotten it was waiting (for this is a problem with e-books of whatever kind; there's no physical book pile as a reminder). Then one night I ended up sitting waiting for someone, with no book or wi-fi to amuse me, but at least I had my phone - and The Crossing Places downloaded and waiting to be read.

Too big?
Too small?
It wasn't easy at first. 

The text size needed to be tweaked to get as much as possible on one screen while keeping the font large enough to read, and sometimes I seemed to be turning 'pages' every few seconds. But once that was sorted, it worked surprisingly well, helped no doubt by this being a story that swiftly had me hooked. 

In a way, I'm surprised how much I liked this. I sort of thought this was just another gimmick to have on a phone rather than something of any practical use, and certainly never thought I'd say 'It's not a bad idea'. It's not perfect - those short pages in particular - but it's so easy to carry round! I'm not exactly hooked but it's certainly a method I'll consider in future. 

This isn't intended to be a book review, but you can read that here if you're interested. 

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Happy Camping

You might remember that a fortnight or so ago I was wondering about the sense of deciding to go camping, after all I'm at the sort of age when folk normally start taking things easy. I'm not going to sit and let old age creep up on me though, so, after a certain bit of dithering, I thought we should take the plunge.
We bought a tent, practised putting it up (and taking it down, which is harder!), eventually got it back in the bag and loaded the car. Dylan the dog didn't seem to mind sharing 'his' space with the luggage; in fact he looked quite eager to be off!

Our destination was A Curious Arts Festival in the New Forest and the journey took a lot longer than predicted by Google maps. Still, the weather was good, and, although things didn't go quite as easily as on the trial run, the tent was soon up and Dylan could relax. We'd bought a 'goat stake' to fasten his lead to, in case he looked like wandering off, but when we were both sitting in the tent he was fine just lazing around. Another thing we decided to not use was the groundsheet for the outer section. It was so noisy when walked on, that, as the weather was hot and dry, we managed with just a picnic rug.

So far, so good, but how about all the expected problems with toilet queues and dodgy showers?
Thankfully, the problems I'd expected didn't really arise. The toilets were the typical festival non-flushing variety, and a bit iffy in the mornings before a truck came round to empty them, but the showers were hot, and, though not luxurious, certainly adequate. Maybe I was just lucky but I never had to queue for either.

 I'd also been worried about how comfortable the inflatable bed would be. My visitors have always said it was fine, but then maybe they would out of politeness. Well, to be honest, Friday was a tiring travelling day followed by music late into the evening, and Saturday started early with seagulls waking us, then of course there were things happening all day, ending with music again at night, so by the time we were thinking of sleeping, almost anything would have seemed comfortable.

We were probably fortunate to have chosen a quiet,well-mannered festival for our first trip - there were no drunks stumbling over guy-ropes or singing in the middle of the night, no children playing football at first light. I'm not sure we'll always be so lucky.

The idea of having somewhere to retreat to during the day, particularly with Dylan, worked well - though I wish we'd had chairs to sit on rather than just slump on the bed. Something I'll put on a shopping list before the next trip - because I think there will be more camping expeditions, even if only to festivals such as this.

Friday, 29 July 2016

My First Festival

Nearly a week has gone by but I'm still buzzing from my first trip to a weekend-long, stay-onsite-in-a-tent festival - not, to be honest, a wade-through-mud, have your tent knocked over by a drunk, can-you-spot-someone-NOT-on-drugs style music festival but one with, thankfully, a bit more sense of style and taste.

Through OurBookReviews, I was invited down to Hampshire for A Curious Arts Festival, held in the grounds of Pylewell Park - a mix of literary, music, and comedy festivals, with a multitude of other things going on as well, and I had a wonderful, absolutely jam-packed couple of days, starting early with seagulls waking us about 6:30 and not finishing till I drifted off to sleep to the sound of ongoing music sometime in the early hours.

Lucy Rose
We set off in what we thought was plenty of time on Friday morning ... but google maps had been just a little (or a lot) over-optimistic, and a journey that should have taken about three and a half hours took over five!  Sadly this meant I missed the first event I'd wanted to catch  - author Deborah Moggach - but as the sun set there was time to grab a fancy cider and head along to the largest tent for the evening's musical entertainment head-lined by Lucy Rose. I didn't stay up till the end as music carried on after midnight and I was ready for some sleep!

Tea Sympathy

 Saturday morning we rose early, grabbed breakfast from the fantastically decorated Tea Sympathy tent, had a wander round the site and by lunchtime I'd seen three author events (Meg Rosoff, Andrea Wulf,and Renee Knight), followed by two more in the afternoon (Joanna Cannon and Harry Parker). I then had a bit of a break, before heading to the music events of the evening - Matt Maltese, Skinny Lister and Billy Bragg.

Although it would have been possible to stay another night, we'd decided that we'd head home on Sunday - but not before catching another couple of author events, including literary prize-winner Andrew Miller. 

Renee Knight being interviewed by SJ Watson
I definitely feel I pulled in more than two days worth of experiences, and, of course, most of this time my husband and teenager were off doing different things - a panel-style discussion of the morning papers, learning how to be a lazy guru, watching the early evening comedy acts.

Billy Bragg

Everything joined together to make a very special weekend, but for me the highlight was definitely Saturday evening. Billy Bragg was without doubt good, mixing political commentary and jokes in between his songs, but Skinny Lister set the night alight with their sea-shanty, folk-punk sound and infectious exuberance which had everyone bouncing and clapping along.

Skinny Lister

I'd written about this before we went, so did it live up to expectations? Definitely!

a distant view of the Isle of Wight

As you might guess, I had a fantastic time. As an introduction to music festivals I think it was rather on the tame side - but at my age I prefer that to something rowdier. 

I've been to book festivals before but even those held on a single site - such as Edinburgh and Hay - have people drifting in and out and don't have the same feel of everyone joining in an event together; it wasn't quite a community but after a while faces began to feel familiar. And, an important thing for me, Dylan the dog was welcome everywhere - he went into book events, hung out at the back of the marquee for music on Friday night, sat with us out of the sun in the tea tent and was fussed over by so many people!

The whole festival was quirky and quaint; a mix of garden party, literary salon and gig venue, with a definite family feel to it. I loved the way I could see a couple of author events before lunch, a couple more afterwards, have some down time with the dog and a walk to the sea, but then in the evening head off to the music marquee. And the food was great - everything from fish and chips to sushi and halloumi fries, via Higgidy pies and lamb tagine in a burger style cob, cake from the tea tent, and a choice of four bars, including the Nyetimber bus serving English sparkling wine. Isn't it SO cute? Sadly I didn't think the dog would like the steps.

sneaking in to Skinny Lister's sound check

There were still things that I wished I'd seen - I only briefly caught snatches of the Sonnetathon, didn't get to try the Fever Tree cocktails or the sushi tapas selection, have a good browse round the Waterstones tent, or join the talk about the gardens, but I did get to sneak into the Skinny Lister sound check and chat to vocalist Lorna after the show, meet friends I only know through social media, stroll down to the sea twice and even find a small patch of sand to walk on. If I'd put together my own private festival it could hardly have been better! The only thing I would change another time is to add in a few days in the New Forest itself either before or after.

If you go over to OurBookReviews you'll find more in-depth accounts of the author events, and I'll be blogging here soon about how my first camping trip went.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Camping? at my age??

Camping is something I haven't really tried - certainly not since my age ran into double digits.

I once, as a child, attempted sleeping out on the back lawn in an old tent - got woken by thunder and ended up sleeping indoors!

My parents, who'd been enthusiastic campers back in the 1950s, decided we've give it a go as a family one year - but I mainly remember abandoning the tent and checking into B+Bs because of the rain!

BUT ... this year is supposed to be about trying new things, accepting a challenge or two, and stepping out of my comfort zone, so ... how about trying a night or two under canvas (or whatever the modern equivalent is)?

A Curious Arts Festival, Pylewell Park
Through OurBookReviews I've been offered the chance to go to A Curious Arts Festival at Pylewell Park in the New Forest. It's part literary event, part music festival but a safe, sedate music festival, one that surely will be ok for a novice camper like myself. Anyway, I started looking at the various camping options available - bring your own, hire a basic tent or choose a luxurious bell tent fully equipped with camp beds, bedding, and carpets - and was seriously tempted by the 'glamping' option, but a niggling voice was still saying 'what about queues for toilets and showers?', 'how comfortable will that bed really be?', and 'how about looking for a nice B+B?'. At this point I was beginning to question the whole idea of camping; I like my comfy bed to sleep in, a hot shower in the morning and breakfast prepared for me. A B+B was starting to look tempting ...

Then instead of the downside, we started to think of the advantages of camping at the festival itself -
there'll be three of us going, different ages, different interests, so it's unlikely we'll all be going to the same events. Staying on site means some of us can sleep in in the morning while enthusiastic ones start the day early, rather than all having to be up and leaving a B+B at the same time. During the day, 'back at the tent' is an easy way of making sure we know where we're supposed to meet up. and with the door partially closed, the dog can have a little freedom from his lead, and peace and quiet for a snooze - and so can his people. In the evening, if not all of us want to stay up for the live music or the DJ sets which follow, or the late night organised bat walk, then sleepy ones can head to the tent, and, of course, there are no worries about drinking and driving.

Actually, I was beginning to see the sense of choosing to camp.

checking out his new home
Well, we've been out and bought a cheap tent - this way there are no worries about the dog traipsing in with muddy feet or ripping a groundsheet with his claws - and we already have a lot of necessary things, such as the inflatable beds usually reserved for visitors, so we're ready for the weekend! 

The weather forecast looks good, though thankfully not as hot as today. We've conducted a trial run of putting up the tent which was easier than expected, and Dylan the dog checked it out and seems to approve. I'm not sure how comfortable the bed will be, or how long the queue for the toilets in the morning, or even if we'll be plagued by insects inside the tent ... maybe I'll wish I'd chosen the safe option of a B+B but I'm going to give camping a try, if only for a couple of nights.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Top Ten Escapist Books

I think we're all in need of a bit of an escape right now, so here's a Top Ten to help you ...

Now some folk might be happy to escape into a crime thriller, and in part I can see the appeal - events are likely to be far more disturbing than anything in real life, and the perpetrator will get caught by the end of the book - but for me I'd rather have something more constantly upbeat, preferably with sunshine.

 The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim - this is my ideal book in which to get away from everything; it's short, easy to slip into, and ends happily. The four main characters themselves are heading off for a month of escapism, leaving behind wet, drab, dull London (and their personal problems) for sunshine, wisteria and 'a tub of love' in the enchanting gardens of an old Italian castle. I just wish I could join them!

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan - more Mediterranean sunshine, this time in France, with sea, sex and dangerously fast cars, as precocious teenager, Cecile, tries to break up her father's new relationship. I first read this as a teenager - the hard way, by reading the French original at school. Even so, Cecile's world, so far from a Midlands mining village, entranced me. It's an escapist read with bite - the sort of story in which someone is bound to get hurt, however it ends.

I think you could say the same about my third choice -The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh. This time the setting is Mallorca, and Jenn a middle-aged woman, starting to feel past her prime and no longer as desirable as she once was, is falling in love - or lust - with her step-daughter's boyfriend. He's sexy, edgy, passionate, represents everything lacking in Jenn's life - and you just know everything will end badly.

Weathering by Lucy Wood. A change of tempo, atmosphere and climate - a story about the relationships between mothers and daughters, told in stream-of-consciousness style, with prose that slips into poetry, capturing the reader, making them believe they are there as rivers rush, snow banks up against the doors, and an old woman refuses to believe she's dead. 

Back to the sea, Cornwall this time, for A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman - a story woven through with magic, with tales of mermaids and long-lost love. The setting is enchanting, and enchanted; a place of healing and peace where physical and emotional hurts can heal.

Another haven, of a very different kind, lies at the heart of Caroline Smailes'  The Drowning of Arthur Braxton. A derelict public baths building seems an unlikely place to find peace and solace, but inside The Oracle strange things can happen.

A move to something lighter and sillier - the first of Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series, and tbh I think the best. Becky Bloomwood is the supposed financial expert with no notion of how to manage her own money; fortunately she has friends to help her dig her way out of the mess she's made.

It's the longest of my choices so far, but Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd transports us back to time when the greatest of worries was choosing between three suitors! This story of rich, beautiful Bathsheba Everdene and her confused love-life is my favourite of Hardy's novels. On close examination, the setting maybe isn't as tranquil as it at first appears - farming has always had its problems (crops burning, sheep falling ill) and as a soldier, Sergeant Troy is presumably training for war - but seen from a modern perspective, it feels like a rural idyll.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett OK, this one is actually meant to be a children's book but I love it. Again, there's a garden, a secret, neglected one which orphan Mary Lennox and her new friends bring back to life, and in doing so heal emotional and physical ills.

...and lastly, something completely different - Smokeheads by Doug Johnstone. Four thrity-something whisky-nerds head off to Islay for a weekend of  whisky sampling which turns into a Scottish-island Deliverance style, mayhem-filled comedy thriller. It's not for everyone, but I loved it!

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Not ONE but TWO gigs at Nottingham's Chameleon Arts Cafe

It's a while since I've been to Nottingham's Chameleon Arts Cafe - back in December, I think, for one of the gigs promoted by my teen - then, last week, I went twice!

Lewis Bootle

The first time was to see a guy from London who goes by the name of Gecko, on tour with Lewis Bootle - and if you'd been at Glastonbury over last weekend you could have found them playing there.

The second gig was a slimmed down version of the first gig promoted by my teen - John Allen and Patrick Craig. Folk/punk singer-songwriter John may not be well known here, but in his native Germany he's opened for Frank Turner and played for thousands! 

Patrick Craig

Both were shows that I'd have thought would bring folk in - but they didn't. Both turned out to be intimate, friendly gigs, and all the musicians put on as good a show as if the room had been packed. I enjoyed both evenings perhaps better than if the room had been packed to capacity - but it doesn't pay the musicians' travel costs, nor cover the venue's overheads.

John Allen

Now, The Chameleon is a shy, secretive sort of place - down an alleyway off Angel Row, and then up a flight of stairs to the bar, and another to the performance area. Once you're settled in the bar, with its cafe-style tables and flickering tea-lights, there's a fabulous view over Market Square. Upstairs, the gig venue is more basic but has a great sound system and the biggest speaker-stacks I've ever seen (far taller than I am!)  But the snag about a venue that's so very secret is that people rarely seem to find their way there by accident. I just hope people DO find it, because I'd hate to see it close down, but also, if they're playing to empty space, musicians won't be coming back to Nottingham.