Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Join me on Facebook

I'm trying to get a little more focused in how I use social media. So I'll not be trying to keep up withe regular posts on this blog - or beating myself up for continually forgetting that it's here. But I am still around - and finding that Facebook is much more useful for me. So do, please, come and join me on Facebook.  You will be very welcome.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Leominster Bookfair

The Bookfair in Leominster's Grange Court today went pretty well, really. Sort of. The Bookfair itself, up in the John Abel room, was good - a great opportunity to meet and chat with readers browsing our stalls and with fellow writers. It is definitely something we should continue to build upon.

But the talks and readings were, er... well, not so brilliant really. Using the busy cafe - or, more precisely, the stairs leading out of the cafe and into the rest of the building - didn't work. And hand-held microphones are simply not suitable for doing readings. Come back next year, though, because I'm sure there are great possibilities here for a first-rate annual event.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Solomon's Magpie

Book titles and covers, I reckon, are two of the most difficult bits of the writing process. At last, though, I have mine finished in time for my spot at the Leominster Festival next month when I'll be doing a pre-launch feature at the writers' bash in Grange Court. Ordered some flyers from Vistaprint which should be ready in plenty of time. And now I have to get on with polishing that manuscript!

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Tales and more tales

A long time ago I posted the following on this blog about a story which I had come across whilst mousing around the cybers:

An old radio ham was lying in his death bed upstairs. His favourite food was chocolate chip cookies and as he lay there, gasping for each breath, he was sure he could smell freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. He crawled out of bed and slowly limped down the stairs. Sure enough, across the kitchen, there was a huge platter of chocolate chip cookies on the table. He finally made it to the table and he reached a shaking hand towards the cookies. Suddenly, his soon-to-be widow slapped his hand and snapped, "Leave those alone - they're for the funeral!"

What I found particularly interesting was that this looked very much like variation of a story which my Grandma used to tell - except that Grandma told the tale about her great uncle Manasseh. When the old man was lying on his death bed he heard one of the young men of the family who had just come into the house. Seeing a very appetising ham hanging in the pantry he said to the soon-to-be widow, "Let's have a piece of that ham."

"Leave that alone," the old lady replied. "I'm saving it for the funeral."

On hearing this, Uncle Manasseh came slowly and carefully down the stairs, pointed to the ham and said, "Get that down. I'll have that for my tea."

I had always assumed this was a true story since Grandma told it as if she had been there at the time. So I'd be very interested to find out whether anyone knows of any other variations.

That's what I posted at the time but since then, on reflection, I've become pretty sure that it was my Dad who told the story – as if recounting one of his mother's old tales. (Though Grandma did have a similar story of one of the young men of the family getting the better of the redoubtable Aunt Tanner, guardian of the kitchen.) And now I am beginning to wonder where my Dad found all the yarns he spun because I recently heard another which rang bells. It was in the final episode of the first series of Fargo. The law had caught up at last with Lester Nygaard and Molly Solveson, the police officer, told him this tale of puzzling relevance:

A man who had just got onto a subway train noticed, as the train was about to pull away from the platform, that he had dropped one of his gloves of the platform. So he quickly opened the window and threw the other glove out as well.
It caught my attention at once because it was a story I knew – it was one of my Dad's old stories and he told it of a friend of his - “Wincle Billy” - the son of a pig farmer from the village of Wincle in Derbyshire. One day Billy got onto a bus in Manchester and then realised he had dropped one of his gloves near the bus stop. So he opened the window and threw the other glove out as well. I had always assumed this was a true tale but, having watched that episode of Fargo, I begin to wonder.
And that's why I posted the tale a few days ago of squaddies trying to get away with an unofficial weekend at home. It was yet another of my Dad's old tales – and he was the young NCO who, for once, had an official pass for a weekend's leave. He was in REME at the time and was on a technicians' course in Bury. He spent all his weekends at home in Manchester but only once in a while actually had leave to do so. I often wonder if someone else somewhere ever heard a similar story from their Dad or Grandad.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Squaddies getting away with a weekend's unofficial leave

I would love to know if anyone out there has come across this story, or one like it. It goes something like this:

It is wartime and lots of soldiers are always on the move and frequently seen at major railway stations. There are always some who, being stationed at least temporarily close to home, take every opportunity to visit home whether they have official leave to do so or not. Mostly, the army turns a blind eye to what is going on. So long as every returns to barracks or billets when they are on duty, it doesn't much matter.

Once in a while, however, there is a crackdown and patrols of redcaps – military police – will be waiting to check the papers of all soldiers attempting to leave to station. On one such occasion a young NCO who was fortunately and coincidentally on leave with an official pass, spotted the plight of a group of squaddies whose plans for a night with their girlfriends were about to be thwarted. He marched up to them, barked an order to fall in, and marched them towards the exit. He saluted the redcaps, waved his own individual pass at them and marched the whole group off the station.

“Left turn!” he called when they came to the junction a short distance from the station. And as his troop marched one way, he hot-footed it the other way to the bus station and home.

If you have ever come across any version of this story or one like it, I would love to hear from you in the comments. And then, comments or not, I will post a follow-up telling you why I am expecially interested in this story – and one or two others as well.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

A Good Turn...

As you drive into Cardiff along the A48M, a short distance beyond the end of motorway regulations and the change to A48, there is a church on the right. A quite ancient church, actually – St Edeyrn's. What you will almost certainly not notice as you drive along is the subway underneath the road fairly near to the church, connecting the large estate to the left and Llanedeyrn village where the church is. A dozen years or more ago, in conversation with my colleague, the vicar of St Ed's, he mentioned a problem with vandalism. And it set me thinking – as off-the-cuff remarks very often do among writers. The result was the following story which I had lost until a couple of days ago. It has nothing at all to do with my old colleague, or with St Ed's or anything else really. It was just a bit of fun.

A Good Turn for Father Mike

Freddy said we could do it so that was it, really. I mean, he knows about these things, so if he says it’s OK, it’s OK. Simple as that. I would have to drive the trucks and he would bring a JCB, because Freddy can drive a JCB, you see. And he would get the rest of the lads to give a hand with picks and shovels. He reckoned we could do it on a Friday night before it got dark.

It was Father Mike wanted it done. He’s the new guy at St Brenda’s. Decent chap really, better than the miserable old geezer they had before and he deserves a break, does Father Mike. So Freddy thought we’d help him out as a nice sort of surprise for him. Sort the vandals out good and proper, that’s what the idea was. See, they are always messing around, smashing windows in the church hall, painting graffiti and leaving empty cans all over the place.

They come off the estate, you see. Through the subway underneath the motorway and get tanked up in the Griffin. Then they’re into Father Mike’s church yard where nobody can see what they’re up to. And afterwards, they bugger off back to the estate and nobody knows who’s done what. And I should know, cause my lad’s one of them. We live on the estate, you see. Anyway, Father Mike said, ‘If only they’d block up the footpath under the road, it would keep the little sods out and there’s be none of this trouble.’ Well, not in so many words, but that’s what he meant. And he was right, of course. It stands to reason.

Well, Freddy got it organised and we did the job on the Friday of bank holiday weekend. The two trucks were in the lay-by waiting for me when I got there. You don’t realise how big those things are till you get into them. Absolutely enormous they were, and both of them loaded up with huge great rocks like Freddy said they would be. I would never have thought we needed that much stone but Freddy knows what he’s doing so I guessed it would be all right.

Anyway, I left my Sierra in the lay-by and got into the cab of the first truck. It’s only really like driving a car, just a bit bigger, that’s all. Mind you, it was a bit scary, I can tell you. I think I must have demolished a couple of bollards on the way round the roundabout, but they can take a fair bit of banging about, those trucks. Getting along the footpath towards the subway was the really tricky bit. The ground was so soft it felt like I was all over the place. Made a bit of a mess, actually. But not to worry about that because the grass will soon grow back again. And the Council will come along and repair the fence eventually.

Freddy and the guys were waiting for me when I got there. After a bit of practice I managed to reverse the truck right up to the subway but I had to get Freddy to show me how to work the tip-up. My licence doesn’t really include these big things, you see. Actually, it doesn’t even include the Sierra. Well, it does, but not until I get it back in December. We got the stone dumped in a pile and Freddy started with the JCB while I took the truck back and got the other one.

By this time, I’d got the hang of driving the thing. So I got to thinking how we couldn’t possibly need all of the stone that Freddy had laid on for us, and how Sheila had been on at me for ages to make her a rock garden at the front of our house. I reckoned I could just nip home on the way back with the second load and drop a bit of stone in front of the house.

So that’s what I did. Maybe I left a bit too much because Sheila came out and started giving me some very bad earache about it, the ungrateful cow. But like I said, Dozy Mary next door would probably like a rock garden as well. It would be a nice surprise for her when she comes out of hospital. And once I’ve rebuilt the garden wall, it’ll be just perfect.

When I got back to the subway Freddy and the lads had already got the first lot of stone piled up with just a couple of feet of the subway showing at the top. Gormless Geoff was swinging at a big boulder with a pickaxe and some other guy was shovelling up the bits. ‘Hey, did you used to do this when you were in Parkhurst?’ shouted Gormless. I just ignored him, the stupid bugger. I swung the truck round and started to back it up and I would have got it right this time, but Freddy got down from the JCB and came across.

‘Do you know what I think we should do with this lot?’ he said.

‘No. What?’ says I.

‘We should drop it in from above.’

‘And how the bloody hell do you suppose we can do that?’

‘Easy,’ says Freddy. ‘Take it up on to the motorway and drop it down from the hard shoulder.’

Now I know Freddy’s the expert, but he can be a bit of a barmy git at times and I told him so.

‘No, come on,’ he says, ‘All you’ve got to do is get as close as you can to the barrier and tip it over the top.’

‘And he was right, really. Always is. Because the way I saw it was this - if we dumped it down below it would take all night to get the job done. Probably have to go and get a different JCB to reach high enough. But if we did it Freddy’s way we would be finished in time for a few jars in the Griffin. So we did it Freddy’s way, but I still think he’s a barmy git even if he does know what he’s doing. Mind you, I have to hold up my hands and admit that I wouldn’t even have thought of trying the job in the first place.

So back I went with the truck and on to the motorway. It scared the pants off me when I heard a police car coming up behind with its siren blaring. Luckily it went straight past, so I guessed that meant the motorway copper for that bit of road was going to be elsewhere for at least half an hour. So that was pretty fortunate, really. Father Mike’s Boss must have been smiling down on us.

I wasn’t too sure exactly where the subway went under the road. When I got to the signs for the next turn-off I realised I’d gone too far, so I pulled onto the hard shoulder and started reversing. Terrified one poor sod in an old Lada but I soon got the hang of keeping it straight.

When I got to the subway there was a problem. The barrier was right up against the hard shoulder so there wasn’t enough room to get into position to drop the load over the side without sticking right out into the second lane. I reckoned clever clogs Freddy would have to sort this one out so I called him to come up.

He took one look at the situation and then started trying to flag someone down. What the bloody hell is he up to now? I wondered. Well, it soon became clear. A couple of girls in a Fiesta stopped and he got them to reverse a short way in the slow lane, would you believe, and stop there with their park anywhere flashers going. That gave me room to angle the truck so that I could drop most of the stone over the barrier and onto the top of the pile below.

‘Perfect,’ said Freddy. ‘Won’t even have to do any shovelling. Nice work.’ He reckoned it would be OK to leave the few bits of stone that had fallen on the hard shoulder. Well, more than a few bits actually. Then he tried to fix up a date with the girls in the Fiesta before they drove off. OK, so they must have been a bit daft to stop in the first place, but they weren’t that daft.

Freddy said it was probably best to leave the truck where it was rather than take a chance on driving further up the motorway and bringing it back through the village. There’s one or two miserable old biddies who start moaning if anyone drives over their precious roadside flower beds. So Freddy said he would give me a lift back to the lay-by in the JCB and we’d meet the rest of the guys in the Griffin.

‘Like how the bloody hell do we get to the Griffin now?’ said Gormless Geoff.

‘OK, we’ll go to the Horseshoe,’ said Freddy.

But that was no good either because most of us have been barred from the Horseshoe since we made a new exit from the car park. So we ended up trying the Bluebell. It was a shame really that we couldn’t go to the Griffin because it would have been nice to have seen Father Mike so we could tell him he’d have no more trouble from the estate. But the job was done and that was the main thing.

‘Mind you,’ said Freddy, ‘if we were to get a load of ready-mix and pour that in from the top, it would stop the Council coming along and clearing all our stone away.’

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Venturing into Youtube

Well, here goes - my first attempt to make and upload a video to Youtube. My intention is that this should be the first of a short series of readings from my new novel leading up to the summer when I plan to publish it.