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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqxT6ZtmiaI&feature=share


Sunday, 20 December 2015

Looking for a title


As I come to the last long push towards finishing my novel, I need to be thinking about a suitable title. Well, I've been doing that all along and it has gone through lots of changes in that time. It started out as Whitaker's Basin which will remain my name for the basin on the Trent and Mersey canal where part of the story is focussed. But it doesn't really fit the novel. 
 

It could be some variation of The Girl in the Forest or The Picture of a Forest Girl. And as I write this very short piece an idea dropped into my mind: I quite like La Gitane et le Vannier. It'll have to be English, of course, but I think that will be where the final idea will come from.


And then there will be the question of a book cover.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Getting ready to start my second draft


Some folk hang around in the background and are very easily overlooked. They are not as exciting as the people in the foreground, at the centre of all the action. But then you look a little closer and realise that the nobody in the shadows actually has an interesting story of his own, and an important contribution to make to the events unfolding at centre stage.

That's how it is with David Whitaker. I have just come to the end of the first and major stage of my current novel which completes the basic compass of the story (and the story within). So now I am about to go back to the beginning and fill in the various holes which I left for for some hazily visualised episodes which I hoped would become clearer once that they had a more distinct place to fill. And there are a couple of supporting characters who can now show their mettle.

It wasn't clear to me how important David would become until late in the first draft when he seemed to emerge from the wings to take on a vacancy which I needed to fill. So I've had to spend a while thinking about him and what he has been getting up to while Judy has been, well, Judying all along. If I have appeared to be sitting around idling away the time, then the appearance has been misleading. I've been hard at work and the result is that I discover David had plans all along for taking over the family business. And Grandad wasn't just sitting in his empty bar and refusing to move while the pub became more and more shabby around him. He was making sure that the rest of the family wouldn't get their hands on the place until David was ready to step in.

Two characters who had been little more than shadows in the background are now clamouring for their stories to be told along with the saga that Judy has been disentangling for goodness knows how long. Looks like I've got work to do.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Remembrance

I'm re-posting this from last year:

As come to Remembrance Sunday I am reminded of the first Remembrance service which I conducted after being ordained. I was a recent arrival in a small town in the northeast of England, the new minister of the largest of the “free” churches, and soon after the various welcomes were done and boxes unpacked, I had a letter from the Town Mayor inviting me to attend a meeting of all church leaders at the Town Hall. The mayor's idea was that the town should have a civic remembrance service with all churches represented. What he wanted was for a short opening service in the Town Hall after which everyone would walk to the War Memorial to conclude with an act of remembrance. It seemed like a thoroughly good idea to me – though I would now want to bring in non-religious groups as well, but that's another story.

The only ministers who turned up for the meeting were myself (Methodist), the Baptist minister and the Salvation Army Captain. Both the Anglican clergy sent apologies, one to say that because the War Memorial was outside his parish he would not be able to take part. They had their own War Memorial inside the church and so, as always, they would do their own thing. The other Anglican wrote to say that as the Town Hall was outside his parish, he would not be able to be involved – but the War Memorial was inside his parish so he would lead an act of remembrance there along with other members of his church. And anyone else who wished to do so was welcome to join them.

I objected. Surely what we were proposing was unified thing, a single Civic Service beginning in the Town Hall and concluding at the War Memorial. The vicar shouldn't just say he's not going to be involved and then walk in and take over at the end. “Quite right,” said the mayor. “I will write and tell him so.” And so it fell to me, the new guy in town, to organise and lead the whole thing and conduct the Act of Remembrance. And the vicar didn't show up at all.

When we got home that morning, we heard something to put church territorial sensitivities into perspective. A newsflash on the radio said that a bomb had gone off at the War Memorial in Enniskillen...






Sunday, 4 October 2015

Meres and mosses restored


During our recent visit to Cheshire, we went to explore the meres in the Hunger Hill area of Delamere Forest, just to the north of Blakemere. Leaving the lane from Barnes Bridge gates, we went down to the small secluded mere tucked between the switchback road and the western end of Blakemere. Previously we had only seen this from the lane but we wanted to get down there for a closer look.




 

Carefully, we negotiated our way across the top end of this boggy area.




 

Having climbed above the mere at the far side, we then descended into another hollow where a very different scene presented itself:





It is may not be the most picturesque part of the Forest right now. Just a devastated hollow with all the trees felled and looking pretty bleak but I found it really exciting. Right down there in the centre you can see what is happening. This is the main drainage ditch which was dug a couple of centuries ago to reclaim the ancient peatbog in an ill-starred attempt to gain land for much-needed timber for rebuilding the naval fleet after the Napoleonic War. A major act of eco-vandalism, really, which is now being put right.





 

Using cut down scrub and barriers like the one in the distance here, the ditches are dammed and nature is left to re-assert itself. Already this ditch is filling up and it will not be long until this water draining into the moss and being retained recreates a renewed mere where the old wetland created by the retreating age used to be.

It felt quite strange to think that we had come upon this part of the restoration project almost by chance and were able to walk through the hollow from one side to the other. That was the last chance we would ever have. When we come back in the spring, the place from where I took these photos will be underwater and another mere will have been handed back to the wildfowl and the dragonflies.

This is a place which I shall have to keep coming back to, from now until forever, to build up a photographic record of an ancient mere coming back to life. 







Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Blain's Moss


Each time we visit Delamere Forest I make a point of taking some photographs of one or two of the ancient meres and mosses which are currently coming back to life as part of the exciting restoration project which has been going on for a few years now. This is one of the smallest of them all:

Blain's Moss is in a tiny hollow tucked away in the Forest near Hatchmere corner. I never knew about it until this restoration project began and the name caught my eye when I was looking at one of the information boards. It is named after one of the best loved characters of the Forest, Mam Blain who lived in this fascinating little cottage close to the moss and was a friend and foster mam of lots of children of my mother's generation.
Photo: (Tom Wright)

Mam Blain's story, though I know precious little of it, inspired the creation of Mam Tunstall in my novel, Leaving Gilead. So this Moss, named in her honour, is quite special for me.  


Saturday, 27 June 2015

Hard at work this week...

Writing always involves essential research. So, earlier this week Margaret and I took ourselves off for a couple of days for a trip along the Kennet and Avon Canal. This is Freddie, the boathorse, towing the barge at a leisurely pace along the waterway:





And here he is taking a break while we go through locks:
He's a lovely, good-natured animal who happily wanders quite freely around browsing on the grass and vegetation until he has to get back to work pulling the barge.


And now, back at my desk, I can see much more clearly how to write a short section of my novel in which Solomon Whitaker takes his empty barge back up the Weaver Navigation after unloading at Frodsham. I need more of these essential research sessions.


Friday, 19 June 2015

Always have your camera to hand...

...even when just sitting at your desk working. I looked up this afternoon and this character landed on my neighbour's chimney stack. A quick grab and shoot with no time to properly compose the shot or steady my hand, yielded this with a bit of help from Gimp:

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A photo to mark 2 centuries since Waterloo


It's 2 centuries now since the Battle of Waterloo which brought the Napoleonic wars to an end and I thought I should do an appropriate blog post to mark the occasion. So here's a photograph of Linmere in Delamere Forest – can you spot the link?



Something I didn't know as a child exploring and playing in the forest, was that originally Delamere Forest was pepper-potted with meres and mosses and peat-bogs. Didn't see much evidence of them as a kid. That's because they were hidden, almost destroyed. Because after the end of the Napoleonic wars, Britain's fleet was seriously depleted. Ships were desperately needed to replaced those which had been lost – and that meant there was a need for timber.

The meres and mosses were drained to provide land upon which to grow oaks for ship-building and local legend in Delamere has it that French prisoners of war were put to the huge task of ditch-digging. The land thus provided in this massive act of eco-vandalism was entirely unsuitable for its intended purpose, and now two centuries later in a truly exciting restoration project those ancient peat-bogs, like Linmere in the photo, are being re-wetted and are coming back to life.

This is the background of my current novel which traces the story of young Judy Whitaker as she tries to decipher Grandfather Solomon's tale of a shadowy foreigner lurking in the forest near his mother's home.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

A working break








I posted this photograph a couple of years ago as I was starting work on my current novel. It’s Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden and its relevance to my novel is that it is the place which I visualise as Radcliffe Court, the theological college in Cambridge where Judy’s uncle is Principal. And here I am, back in this lovely old building working on the run-down to a final version of The Picture of a Forest Girl. I chose to come here for a few days of uninterrupted writing simply because I love the place. It is not far from Delamere where my story is set, but that is incidental.

I didn’t fully realise until I arrived how much being here would help me to enter into how Judy felt whenever she stayed with her aunt and uncle as a complete unbeliever amongst a community of ardent believers bordering on the fundamentalist. Now that I’m here I can much more easily sit alongside Judy at Radcliffe Court. Not that the ever-changing community here is anything like the student population of Uncle Freddie’s college but there are sufficient correspondences to greatly assist the imagination. This was definitely the right place to come for a working break.

Judy’s grandfather owned a pub – so when I go out to the Glynne Arms this evening I will still be working. Writing’s like that!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Leaving Gilead reviewed

I just came across this lovely review of Leaving Gilead on Amazon.com from littlegirlietaylor:

"This was a wonderful read, I adored it and,I am quite sure anyone who reads it will feel the same. Sad and heartbreaking at times and then happy and wonderful at other times. My name is Sue, and I had a lot in common with Susan, I left a cult at 16 yrs of age, had a son, and went on my way, I would recommend this to anyone, especially anyone who has been in a strict religion or a cult, this is truly the way they are, the mother of Susan could have been my dad, and her dad could have been my mother. It so seems that the stories are the same, but the names just change. I have exchanged stories with so many around the world, and the stories, right down to the very words are the same, they have certain words and phrases that they use, and each person will present with them in their stories and they are also presented here very well also. This is how you start to realize that something is wrong and that your parents, children, grandchildren, brothers, or sisters might be involved in a cult type of atmosphere. Truly a wonderful read, cannot say enough for it."

Thanks, Sue, for that. I was very conscious whilst writing this book that I was really telling the stories of so many folk out there. Glad you enjoyed it.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Remembrance


As we approach Remembrance Sunday next month I am reminded of the first Remembrance service which I conducted after being ordained. I was a recent arrival in a northern town, the new minister of the largest of the “free” churches and soon after the various welcomes were done and boxes unpacked, I had a letter from the Town Mayor inviting me to attend a meeting of all church leaders at the Town Hall. The mayor's idea was that the town should have a civic remembrance service with all churches represented. What he wanted was for a short opening service in the Town Hall after which everyone would walk to the War Memorial to conclude with an act of remembrance. It seemed like a thoroughly good idea to me – though I would now want to bring in non-religious groups as well, but that's another story.

The only ministers who turned up for the meeting were myself (Methodist), the Baptist minister and the Salvation Army Captain. Both the Anglican clergy sent apologies, one to say that because the War Memorial was outside his parish he would not be able to take part. They had their own War Memorial inside the church and so, as always, they would do their own thing. The other Anglican wrote to say that as the Town Hall was outside his parish, he would not be able to be involved – but the War Memorial was inside his parish so he would lead an act of remembrance there along with other members of his church. And anyone else who wished to do so was welcome to join them.

I objected. Surely what we were proposing was unified thing, a single Civic Service beginning in the Town Hall and concluding at the War Memorial. The vicar shouldn't just say he's not going to be involved and then walk in and take over at the end. “Quite right,” said the mayor. “I will write and tell him so.” And so it fell to me, the new guy in town, to organise and lead the whole thing and conduct the Act of Remembrance. And the vicar didn't show up at all.

When we got home that morning, we heard something to put church territorial sensitivities into perspective. A newsflash on the radio said that a bomb had gone off at the War Memorial in Enniskillen...






Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Rather more than just a boat trip


Half a century ago when my friend, David Bowker, and I were yet-to-be-enlightened enthusiastic Jehovah's Witnesses, we began our time as “pioneers” - full-time knockers on doors – in Salford's Docklands area. It was a grim place then with row upon row of run-down terrace houses backing too closely upon each other and fronting directly onto the too narrow streets.

David and I had bought into the Watchtower illusion – we were brought up with it. Soon, very soon, this dismal dockland and all else would be swept away by God at Armageddon and the world would be transformed into a paradise for the sole benefit of Jehovah's Witnesses. Well, all these years later the old dockland is certainly different.

Last weekend, after a very long absence, I revisited Salford Docks. Or Salford Quays as it is now styled. And what a transformation! I had come with Margaret because part of her birthday treat for me was a trip along the Manchester Ship Canal to Liverpool. Our journey began near the Lowry Centre just across the water from Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium, and the site of W. T. Glover's long since vanished factory where I began my working life.



Perhaps the most notable symbols of transformation were the teams of rowers out on the water. Years ago I would not have dreamed of the possibility that anyone would ever want to go rowing on what was then very dirty, oily, smelly and polluted water. But there they were.



To do justice to the five-hour trip would take far long than I can devote in one post. Let me just say that, far from crossing anything off my to-do list, I found myself adding lots more things to it – places to visit for a longer and closer look, people with whom to share the experience, and episodes for my writing.

This bridge, distinctly reminiscent of Sydney's Harbour Bridge, is at Runcorn close to where the Weaver Navigation joins the Manchester Ship Canal – and not far from where, in my current novel, Solomon Whitaker began his final boat journey after unloading his cargo at Frodsham.



At last, we reached the end of the Canal. Beyond the locks here is the open water of the Mersey Estuary and, beyond it, Liverpool – similarly transformed from the place it was when I left the northwest for Cambridge thirty years ago.



The more I visit my old haunts in the northwest, the more I want to keep coming back to re-acquaint myself with a place I loved and to get to know the new place it has become.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

"Without my imagination...


I’m not usually a fan of coach trips,preferring to plan my routes individually according to my own inclinations. Last week had to be exceptional, though. We were in Iceland, so what better introduction to that amazing country could we have than with Reykjavik Excursions’ splendid tours?

First thing on Wednesday morning we set off for a day visiting some of the places I’d learned of years before in geography lessons and never seen in real life. The first stop, though, was for morning coffee somewhere quite unexpected. A tomato farm. I guess Ben, who had joined us from southern Spain, was familiar with tomato growers but probably not with one quite like this Icelandic establishment which brings together the organic and the high-tech – and releases a boxful of bees shipped in every week from Belgium to maintain the year-round pollination necessary to keep this place going.


Leaving behind the tomatoes we drove to Geysir. Cool mountain springs? Nope – quite warm ones. Most of the visitors gathered around the biggest of the geysirs and watched, fascinated as the pool surged and bubbled until suddenly it boiled over.



We couldn’t move on, of course, without first climbing the peak overlooking the hot springs. And, yes, the view was definitely worth it.



From Geysir we drove to the Gulfoss waterfall. An awesome sight.



The last leg of the day’s trip took us to the Thingvellir National Park where we were able to enjoy some walking in Iceland’s great rift valley where the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates of the earth’s crust meet. Or rather, don’t meet. They are very slowly drifting apart at a rate of about seven millimetres per year.


As we stood in  awe of the unimaginable natural power simmering away so close to us, we were very conscious of the fact that the volcano at Bardabunga was all the time threatening to erupt - and possibly close the airport by the time we needed to come home. It hasn't erupted yet, but  it could do so at any time.

Waiting for our return flight from Keflavik Airport, I spotted among the posters and photographs advertising the island's attractions, a quote from an Icelandic author which rang bells with me:
"Without my imagination I couldn't go anywhere." (Vigdis Grimsdottir) Iceland stimulated my own imagination and I want  to go back!

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Henry

This is Henry, our dear old greyhound who died this week:
When he came to us about seven years ago he had never lived in a family home and it took him while to get used to it. Bertie, our bearded collie who was still missing his sister, adopted him as his new best friend and Henry learned how to be a family member. Gradually he learned to play and have fun. He was a great companion to all of us, a very friendly dog who introduced us to lots of new people when me moved to our new home here in Leominster. We're going to miss him lots.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Back it up!


I've been working on the part of my novel where Solomon Whitaker begins the laborious process of learning to write. He is determined to master the art because he has an important story to tell which must not be lost to later generations.

So I was quite naturally mousing around the cybershelves for titbits about learning to read among the working classes of 19th century England when I came across this delightful quote:

They spent nearly three hours one evening preparing a letter to a far-away sister, the mother painfully composing the sentences, the lad painfully writing them down. The glorious epistle was at last complete, the first great triumph of a combined intellectual effort between mother and son. Proudly they held the letter to the candle-light to dry the ink, when the flame caught it and ...the work of three laborious hours destroyed in three seconds. It was more than they could bear. Mother and son sat down and cried together.
From a biography of Will Crooks (G. Haw, 1907)

Even in the early Victorian period the motto above every mantelpiece had to be, back it up now!

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Forgive our foolish ways - some odd prayer requests

During my time as a minister I received some strange requests for prayers but none quite so odd as those which began very soon after I arrived in one of my several different appointments. I never actually met the person involved. She was only ever a voice on the phone but she always spoke as if she knew me.

“Robert,” she said, “will you pray for me...” The requests at first were quite ordinary, if na├»ve, pleas for help with the normal difficulties of life and I soon discovered that a colleague had for a long time been the recipient of these requests. Until, perhaps, his prayers began to lose their efficacy, or maybe he just became impatient with her or began to suspect it was all an elaborate wind-up.

After a while the requests moved on from pleas for divine assistance with day-to-day living to something akin to prayers for healing. “Robert, will you pray for me? I've got a terrible headache so I've taken some paracetamol. Will you pray for it to start working?” And from then on it seemed that the normal routine for taking medicine was to follow the instructions on the packet and then phone the minister to ask for prayers for it to have the desired effect.

Until what was, I suppose, bound to happen sooner or later. “Robert, will you pray for me?” she asked one Saturday afternoon. “I've got terrible constipation so I've taken some Dulcolax. Will you pray for it to start working?”

The next morning I announced the hymn following the sermon and preceding the prayers of intercession. “Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways.” It was one of a small number of hymns that I was still reasonably comfortable with singing, being fairly light on doctrine and strong on poetic imagery. It was one which I used to choose quite frequently so there was no great coincidence that I had chosen it that morning. So, no, I did not pick it especially for the verse:

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of they peace.

The final prayer request I had from that person was one which, had it not been for all the others, I would have been sure was a wind-up. The phone call came through at two o'clock in the morning and, assuming there was some sort of emergency, I jumped out of bed and rushed to the phone. “Robert,” said the familiar voice, “I can't get to sleep so I've take some Nytol. Will you pray for it to start working?”


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

A procession of witness - or something


The photographs of Ubeda's Semana Santa procession which Ben sent reminded me of a British Christian procession which I took part in years ago. It was for Pentecost (June 8th this year) which has traditionally been the marching season in several English regions, and which has become a time for a public show of Christian unity.

So here's the setting: our Churches Together area included two separate urban areas on the outskirts of a modest city and those villages represented two CofE parishes, Saint Wendy's and Saint Aethelstan's. At the St Wendy's end was the Salvation Army and at the St Aethelstan's end were the Methodists. In between the two areas was a large park and playing fields – the ideal place for an open air service. We decided to organise a joint procession of witness representing the four churches.

A joint procession, however, was problematic because there was no logical starting point which would be convenient for everyone. We hit upon the idea of two processions which would converge for the final half mile to the park. The trouble with this, however, was that the St Wendy's crowd had the Sally Army and their band whilst we at the St Aethelstans end had, well, nothing. But no, we had Father Cornelius, vicar of St Aethelstan's who was, in his spare time, chaplain to the Sea Scouts so he knew a thing or two about marching and could take care of the music for us.

We of the St Aethelstan's and Methoes crowd assembled at the top of Gasworks Lane. We gathered behind Dave the Metho who was going to lead the way in his car – with the windows open. Father Cornelius arrived looking thoroughly ecclesiastical in his shabby cassock and even shabbier donkey jacket. He handed Dave a tape. Dave inserted the tape into his player, started his engine and moved off slowly as the music began to play. “A Life on the Ocean Wave.”

Eh? What? WTF? Is this really appropriate music for a Pentecost procession? As Father Cornelius pointed out, though, you can't march to “Come Down, O Love Divine,” or “Holy Spirit dwell with me.” Well maybe not – but military marches? Nobody protested too much, though, because there were probably some who would want to march to “Onward Christian Soldiers” or “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” if they were given half a chance.


We carried on marching to the stirring military music which Father Cornelius had provided but when the opening bars of “Colonel Bogey” sounded through the in-car stereo Dave hit the button and refused to play any more. And Father Cornelius never did understand what the problem was.

The two arms of the march met with perfect timing and merged for the final bit along Foundry Road. By this time quite a strong wind had gathered which was very fitting for Pentecost even though it added to the confusion as we tried to organise ourselves for our open-air service. The Sally Army at least knew what they were doing – must have done that sort of things before. Rev Pete, the vicar of St Wendy's, took charge because we were on his territory. He had said that he would organise the PA system for us and it took no time at all to set it up – all he had to do was switch it on because it was a megaphone.

Rev Pete addressed the Almighty through the megaphone and handed the instrument to me. I was doing the reading. The one from Acts with all the funny names which you are supposed to stumble over because it you don't, people will think you are being a smart-arse. I never colluded with the stumble-over-the-names thing because I didn't think they were all that difficult after all and, anyway, I didn't mind being a smart-arse. But I stumbled that day. Have you ever tried to do a Bible reading on an exposed playing field on a very windy day whilst holding a megaphone? Try it – it isn't easy. I should have known what the PA system would be and come prepared with a polythene bag to put my Bible into.

And then Rev Pete preached the sermon. I can't say that I am all that good at remembering sermons but Rev Pete's Pentecost offering that day was one which I can't forget. He gave a masterly exposition of the parable of the floppy glove. “What is this?” he asked through the megaphone as he held a limp glove aloft. “You can't see? No, of course not. It's just a limp piece of cloth. It does nothing. It just falls and flops about. Useless.” And then he put it on his hand, the non-megaphone hand. Raising his arm aloft, he continued, “Now can you see? It's a glove. A gloved hand. It's dynamic, powerful, ready for action. It has shape, it has purpose...” And this was an illustration of the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit by which Jesus would transform his lifeless followers into dynamic disciples.. You can fill in the rest.

And that, folks, is not a scene for a comic novel. It's a true story. It really did happen just like that. Only the names have been changed. I can imagine someone saying at a Churches Together meeting, “I've just come back from watching the Semana Santa processions and I've got some great ideas for our next...”

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Early May

I love the first week of May. It's the week when most of the trees are newly in leaf - just the late leafers like ash are still to catch up. So the week could not be allowed to pass without plenty of walking in the woodlands which are close by in every direction from our new home.
Queenwood on Dinmore Hill had long been one of our favourite stopping-off places on our many journeys between South Wales and Cheshire. Now that we live nearby, it had to be high on the list of places to visit last week. It looks great in every season but it is especially beautiful at this time of year.

I had a very treat in store this year. Almost invariably when walking in the woods during springtime, Margaret would be delighted to see the bluebells in flower, but I hardly ever noticed them until she pointed them out. For me, they always merged into the background greenery and become almost invisible. A short while ago, however, I'd had cataract surgery on one eye. So now, what was my bad eye is my good eye and the transformation is remarkable. I hadn't quite appreciated, though, how much better colours appear.

Suddenly, I could see the bluebells!
All I can say is, Wow! Just wow!  I go back early next month to have my second eye done. Then I am going to go around looking at things!




Monday, 21 April 2014

Semana Santa

Ben sent these photos of the Semana Santa procession as it passed near his house in Ubeda, Andalucia.
Those black hoods look distinctly sinister to me! The elaborate carriage bearing the figure of Christ is carried on the shoulders of the penitents and where they have to pass underneath overhead telephone lines they get down on their knees and shuffle along the cobbles. Great pics, Ben. Thanks!



Saturday, 12 April 2014

How is you memory?


“What were you doing on the night of... between the hours of... ?” If I'm being asked to remember a drama script that might be fairly easy, but if I'm being asked to remember what I was doing..., that might be rather different.

Last night, when we took our dog for his usual evening walk, there were police officers stationed at various points around the Grange, the park here in Leominster where we take Henry every evening. Apparently there had been an incident a week earlier which they were investigating.

“Excuse me, were you here at this time last Friday? Did you notice anything unusual or suspicious?”

“Yes, of course. Always here at this time. No can't think of anything. What about... no, can't be sure...” And then I said that if this was a drama script and the question was “What were you doing on the night of... eight months ago...? I would answer right away that we were at the theatre.

“And we'd have helicopters, sniffer dogs and lasers and wrap it all up in no time,” said the copper.

But we could only be vague. Couldn't say that we had seen anything note worthy.

Returning twenty minutes later, Margaret said just as we approached the officer we had spoken with, “Wait a minute – we didn't see anything. We weren't here. We were at the Courtyard Theatre in Hereford for a performance by Fascinating Aida.” Doh! (And they were pretty good actually.)

Friday, 11 April 2014

Crompton's Mule


It's revival time. Time to revive my other blog, Crompton's Mule which I started as a place where I could give an airing to some of ideas of Freddie Whitaker, a significant character in my current novel Heron and the Carpenter. Freddie's story didn't diminish so much as get overtaken by Judy's ferreting out the possible details of Grandfather Solomon's story. Inevitably, Freddie now plays a lesser part than I envisaged at first.
A lesser part in my novel, that is. In fact, Freddie's story grew until now it has become my next project to follow Heron and the Carpenter. Not as a novel, though. It will be the non-fiction work I thought I had left behind. More of that in due course, however. For now it's time to revive my other blog with an excerpt from The Gospel of Eleazar for Holy Week.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Moon is only about 40 minutes drive away

This was the view from Eddisbury Hill yesterday morning. Looks like those guys at Jodrell Bank have got the moon down there for a closer look.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Go Carefully into the Forest


I first discovered this lake about ten years ago when I returned to Delamere Forest after far too long an absence. I wasn't looking for the lake, I was looking for the dense and boggy hollow where I was sure my Gran used to collect wimberries. I followed the path which I thought led to where I wanted to go until coming to a sign saying Danger. Deep Water. What confronted me looked like large-scale tree felling gone wrong, resulting in devastating flooding. Around the margins tree stumps were left to rot in the encroaching water.
I soon learned that this was an exciting scheme to restore an ancient peat bog but my initial reaction was shock. It inspired my only attempt at poetry in recent years. And when I learned much later of the tales of an ancient bog drained by French prisoners of war, it conjured up a picture of one such prisoner and his brief friendship with... Well, that's the story of my novel in progress, The Carpenter and Heron.
In the meantime, here's a photo of the now well re-established Blakemere and the poem which it inspired:
 
Go carefully into the forest,
Leave the track carefully, warily, scarily,
Storybook people live in the wood.




Go silently into the forest,
Feel the breeze silently, whispering, whispering,
Trees telling stories, singing songs of the wood.




Go moonlit into the forest,
Wait in the moonlight when shuffling, snuffling,
Badgers are scuffling deep in the wood.




Go skipping into the forest,
Down the bank skipping, hopping and stopping,
Looking for mushrooms down in the wood.




Go slowly into the forest,
Round the bend sadly, wistfully wondering
How did it happen? Such a vast clearing, flooded.
And the path to my childhood ends at the water’s edge where trees are dying.


Monday, 10 March 2014

The Heron and the Carpenter


I have just completed part one of my current novel. It feels as if it has taken a long time to get to this stage, but checking back, I realise that it's only just over a year since I began. An excerpt which I posted right at the beginning, not intending it to be an actual chapter did, in the end, form the basis of my opening chapter. Judy, the central character soon began to emerge from my initial imaginings and has become more dominant than I expected at the start.
So how does it go from here? I'll leave it for a few days before starting part two and in the meantime I'll be thinking about a possible cover and title. Until now the working title has been Whitaker's Basin but that will have to change. Judy has been working through her ancestor Solomon Whitaker's laboriously written story so another motif has come to the fore. At the moment something like, The Heron and the Carpenter feels right. It'll be something along those lines.
My timetable? Full first draft to be finished by the early autumn. Editing, getting feedback, further editing through the winter. And then by this time next year it should be ready to launch.
Until then, here's a photo. It's Black Lake, a magical place tucked away in Delamere Forest near where a lot of the action takes place. Look closely at that photo. Can you see the heron? Or the carpenter? Judy can “see” them.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Anna's story


When I was writing Leaving Gilead I was all the time aware of the need to make my subject believable – and when that subject is a religious movement with beliefs and attitudes that are just plain unbelievable, it can be a bit tricky at times. The religion underlying my story was the Jehovah's Witnesses but I knew that if I showed things as they really are for many people, lots of readers simply would not believe it. The solution was a semi-fictional religious group, the Fellowship of Gilead, which I intended to be clearly based upon the Jws but which might appear realistic. And my novel traced the stories of Susan and Melanie as they freed themselves from the irrationality with which they had been brought up.

Since writing Leaving Gilead I have reconnected with the online ex-Jw community and many of the personal accounts I have heard have echoed what I portrayed in my novel. One which I read today stands out. If Anna Macaluso's story were offered as fiction who would say it is anything like reality? But Anna's story is not fiction, it is reality. It is scarcely credible that this young woman (and there are thousands of people like her) should be forced to resort to clandestine efforts to receive the medical treatment without which she would have died.

Anna'sstory had a happy ending. Many others do not. A religious movement which places its members under duress to make life-threatening decisions on behalf of their children is quite simply repugnant. Do read Anna's story and pass on the link.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Wesley House


In my plotting and scheming for Whitaker's Basin, my current novel in progress, Freddie Whitaker is preparing to leave Cambridge. He's been ousted from his dream job as Principal of a small theological college. He's quite simply too far over the liberal end of the spectrum of belief for the prevailing fundamentalist orthodoxy of his church. So it's goodbye, Radcliffe Court, for Freddie.

Meanwhile in the real Cambridge, it's soon to be goodbye for my own alma mater. The last intake of Methodist ordinands studying at Wesley House will complete their studies this academic year and then the House will cease to function as one of the Methodist Church's theological colleges training its next generation of ministers. A big chunk of the place will be sold and what remains will be used as some sort of educational resource for lay training.

(File from Wikimedia Commons) The window peeping out from the top right corner of the photo is my old living room window. And that big central part of the building is the library.


I loved my three years at Wesley House, especially my studies in the University and it saddens me that others will no longer have quite the same opportunity that I had. As a far over the edge liberal whom many would not recognise as any sort of believer, I rate my time at Wesley House as one of the highlights of my working and studying life.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Guest blog post..

...over on Lisa Mondello's blog:
http://lisamondello.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/on-conversations-author-robert-crompton.html

Lisa has lots of other stuff worth reading on her blog, so do hop over and take a look.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Which Gospel?


Religious themes have often figured in my writing, sometimes to the forefront and sometimes hovering in the wings. Even in Bunderlin I couldn't let it slip by completely so a couple of interfering vicars have brief walk-on parts.

In my short Gospel of Eleazar, I dip my toes in the water of a much larger pool which I hope to dive into once Whitaker's Basin is finished. And in the meantime, it's a pool into which my character Freddie Whitaker dips his toes and gets his fingers... er, wet.

This was my starting premise: Stories don't just get invented out of the blue. People don't suddenly decide to starting putting around a tale of someone coming back from the dead, for example, or being surrounded by angels and other mysterious visitors at birth. If they do, folk don't believe them. But if they have known someone really remarkable, they will often tell stories of what they know about them. And they might just embellish the tales they tell. And then someone else might chip in with their own memories. And they might just add a bit here and there to beef it all up. Then things that someone else altogether said or did get thrown into the mix. And eventually the original guy, still there underneath it all, is hidden. Except to the kid who isn't in on the con-trick about the emperor's clothes – that kid can see the original.

I tried to become that kid and I re-read the gospels. I was pretty familiar with them already but the guy underneath it all kept trying to show himself. Sort of. That's pretty much how my Gospel of Eleazar came about. Have a look at it, folks. See what you think. It's a free download at Smashwords.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Eve


It's Christmas Eve and I am just back in from walking the dog. And I am heartily glad I no longer have to turn out at the end of the evening to lead a midnight service. This always used to be the point where, having taken various Christmassy services all over the place for the best part of the month, the day itself was here and I had run out of ideas. All used up – and in one place where I worked the Christmas Eve service was a joint service with the parish church and, following a good old Anglican tradition, the Methodist minister preached the sermon.

We always had a fair smattering of rather boozy folk at those services and I have to admit to some sympathy with folk who found themselves sitting next to someone for whom it was a sort of extension of karaoke night at the Nags Head.

There was one occasion, however, when a young guy approached me as I walked up to the church and asked to have a word. He'd clearly been drinking heavily and would probably have struggled to follow what was going on. But that's not why I urged him to go home. What he specially wanted to tell me was that this was his first Christmas since his dad had died and he was suddenly overwhelmed with grief. He could barely hold back the tears. But he desperately wanted to be calm and strong for his mum and not let her see how upset he was.

I suppose I could have suggested that he come into the service and by the time it was over maybe he would feel calm and able to go home and be strong for his mum. But I suggested he should go straight home, never mind bursting into tears. “Just give your mum a hug and tell her how much you miss your dad. You will probably both have a cry together, but trust me, she'll appreciate that.”

It was one of many times when I never found out what happened next. But I would give the same advice again.


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Do they really want Christ in Christmas?

The Telegraph reports today about a vicar who objects to people who turn up at Christmas services but who are not otherwise regular church-goers.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10522230/God-is-for-life-not-just-for-Christmas-says-vicar.html

So is his message not,"Keep Christ in Christmas" but rather, "You just leave him out of this - we'll do the Jesus bits if you don't mind."

At one time it was common practice, in some Protestant traditions, to hold Communion services once a quarter. And during the week or so prior to those services the minister would issue tickets to those who, being regular attenders, were entitled to attend. Would the vicar like Christmas Eve services to go the same way?




Sunday, 8 December 2013

Moving House


A motif at the heart of both my previous novels was a character moving house. Bunderlin began with Martin Latham moving temporarity into a flat and waiting for his new home to be refurbished; Tom Sparrow set the story of LeavingGilead in motion when he decided to buy an old house in the forest.

Motifs can, of course, all too easily become cliches and I thought I had side-stepped the moving house one in Whitaker's Basin. But no, it's there in the section I am about to begin writing next week. Judy, my lead character, is setting out on several walks, partly in the real Cheshire countryside and partly, through her imagination, into those same places as they were in the early nineteenth century. She is trying to understand a story written by her barely literate ancestor, Solomon Whitaker, of his mother's encounter with a shadowy Frenchman, Jean-Luc Anquetil and the part he played at a distance in Solomon's departure from the forest (the same forest as the one in Leaving Gilead) and his acquisition of a pair of cottages beside the canal basin.

The motif is present in Freddie's story as well, as he prepares to leave Cambridge and return, perhaps, to Cheshire. Freddie's story, however, will probably have to await its own treatment in a separate novel. That would make four in a row.

Personally, having recently completely my eighth move of home in thirty years, I have no intention of upping sticks ever again. Leominster is a great place to live and I'm staying put. From now on I'll just write about other people moving.

So here's a pic of Leominster - the sort of place where I've always wanted to live:

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Leaving Gilead - free offer





Now extended until January 15th you can download Leaving Gilead free from Smashwords (in any e-format) Enter code DY25F at checkout to get a 100 percent discount.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A visit to Spain

I am refreshed and ready to get down to some serious writing, following a recent visit to Andalucia. We began with three days in Granada -

Of course, a few days stopover in Granada has to include a visit to the Alhambra





Then we drove on to Ubeda, where Ben, our son lives and works. Just a few days before we arrived he had moved into a newly rebuilt old house in the ancient quarter of the city. Just a couple of minutes walk from El Plaza de Vazquez de Molina




Ben had sorted out some great sight-seeing for us with visits to Baeza, Cazorla and the Sierras. I'll pick a single pic to represent it all (from the 400+ that I took). This is a gorge in the Sierras de Cazorla where the Guadalquivir flows through some truly amazing scenery:





Then, of course, there was wine and tapas in some of Ubeda's great bars. Just order your wine, folks. the tapas are gratis. I'll recommend the Torno de Monjas on the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.