Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone. And for those of you who don't celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a wonderful festive season and a very happy and healthy New Year.

In case you're not on Facebook, here is a link to my new blog in which I have posted a Christmas story I wrote recently.


See you in 2015, if not before!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Presents Past

The pun in the title was a terrible one and I apologise, but you can blame my dad. He could never turn down the opportunity for a word-play or a spoonerism and "Sass the pugar, please" was heard round our dining table on a daily basis, spoken in shades of Scouse.

As I wrapped up this year's presents - not nearly so many as in previous years and not because people have passed away, but because several of my close friends have declared that they have everything that they need and would rather have donations to charity - I found myself remembering presents I received long ago.

One of my earliest memories is being in a cot and tearing the wrapping paper off a small green wooden boat. I recall feeling hugely disappointed at this uninteresting gift, which was probably all my parents could afford in 1948, and putting it to one side and playing with the wrapping paper instead. At least the green boat was new, or newish. My only other toy at the time was a threadbare nightdress case and this is why I can pinpoint which Christmas it was, because the following one, I spent in hospital and the previous one I was too young to remember.

The nightdress case was called Spot. He was half a white (or rather, grubby grey) dog, with one embroidered eye, one black ear and half a mouth, and looked a bit like the dog in this photo I found on the web. The other side of the case, which is where the zip was, wasn't embroidered at all. I adored Spot and cuddled him in bed every night. The following December, I can still remember being sped to hospital in an ambulance with the siren going, as I had a bad stomach pain and a temperature of 105F.

Once at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, I was x-rayed and they decided I didn't have appendicitis after all. They didn't know what I had and so I was kept in for observation and was unfortunate enough to catch a dysentery bug that was sweeping the hospital. I then had to spend a month in an isolation room, my only contact with other humans being with the nurses who tended to me and brought my food, and my parents who could only peer through the glass window and blow kisses and wave to me. I was there till the New Year.

Even as a four-year-old, I knew I was being treated cruelly. I remember telling a nurse I was going to be sick. She did nothing, I was sick and I got slapped and shouted at for throwing up on the bed. As if I could help it! I felt a huge sense of unfairness. I had warned, her after all.

Another time, I was brought a mug of Ovaltine that was scalding hot. A nurse stood over me, ordering me to drink it. I couldn't as I would have burnt my lips, so, with a flash of childish logic, I folded the cloth napkin I'd been given over the top of the mug and sucked the liquid through it, protecting my lips. When the nurse noticed what I'd done, I got screamed at, had the mug snatched away and earned another slap. Can you imagine a child being treated like that today? But these were the harsh post-war years when nursing staff were hard to come by.

But back to Spot and the first heartbreak of my life. He was taken off me in the hospital and burnt, for fear he carried germs. I have never loved a toy so much before or since. When I was ten, my maternal grandmother gave me a big, beautiful doll called Rosemary which must have cost her a huge amount of money in 1955, but I refused to play with her and she was consigned to the back of the wardrobe forever. Just seven years ago, I found her in a box and put her on the bonfire, as I felt so terribly guilty about never having loved her. Too late, I realised she was wearing my Christening robe, so that got burnt as well. I can just imagine what my mum and gran must have been saying about it 'Up There'!

About fifteen years ago, I read an article by Beryl Bainbridge in which she recalled having been admitted to Alder Hey as a child and being terribly upset when they burnt the toy she had brought in with her, for the same reason that they destroyed Spot. It was such a coincidence that I wrote to her and received a lovely letter back.

As for the green boat... As I got older, I started to sail it in the bath and had it for many years, until the wood got too rotten and soggy with soap and it had to be thrown away. I honestly believe that the fewer toys children have, the more they value them. My friend's kids break brand new toys within hours of getting them. They certainly wouldn't have the same one for ten or more years. Except perhaps a teddy bear... Oddly enough, I didn't get my first bear until I was 25, when a boyfriend bought me one. He and I split up and I did a runner and forgot to pack my bear. I hadn't formed an emotional attachment to it - or to the boyfriend!

I bet I'd still have Spot with me now. Hand-me-down or not, he was the best present ever.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Mr Turner - bore, boor and boar!

I went to see Mr Turner yesterday. It was beautifully filmed and the sense of period was terrific, as was the acting, but... why on earth did director Mike Leigh think it was a good idea for Timothy Spall to play the great artist as a snorting, grunting hog? It was a very long film, too -144 minutes - and about thirty minutes in, I began to feel that if I heard one more snotty snort and one more set of wheezing, bubbling lungs, I'd throw up. 

Despite extensive Googling, I have yet to find any evidence that the real-life Turner was as porcine as he was portrayed. I read that Spall tried some grunts a few weeks into the filming, and it was decided that he should keep it in. In my opinion, it was a big mistake. There was just too much of it and it got a bit Tourette's-ish.

It was a pleasure to see a film that engaged the mind rather than just the eyes, but it would have been greatly improved by a bit of tightening up and the loss of fifteen minutes or so. For a start, the opening featured credits rolling silently over a blank screen, which got me thinking "Gerron wiv it!". Why couldn't they have been rolled over the opening shot of the Belgian (or Dutch?) dawn, with the windmill and the canal and Turner standing on the hillock with his sketchbook?

I would have omitted the long-drawn-out scene in the Ruskins' living room, which contributed nothing to the story (was the young Ruskin really so lisping and effete as he was portrayed by Joshua McGuire?) and would have shortened the ghastly, wheezing death scenes of both Turner Senior and Turner Junior. To draw them out so much was unnecessary and, like the grunts and snorts, smacked of overdoing things. 

Another complaint. The only sex scenes were the ones showing Turner claiming droit de seigneur over his poor maid (I thought the bookcase was going to fall over and crush the pair of them!). Why didn't they put in a gentle, loving one between Turner and Mrs Booth, as a contrast with the near rape of the maid? After all, Mrs Booth had spotted that Turner had a sensitive soul shining through the gruff, snorting exterior, so what would have been wrong with a little tenderness? Marion Bailey gave a luminous performance as landlady Mrs Booth, who accepted Turner for what he was and didn't care if he was called Mr Mallord, Mr Turner or Mr Booth. I think Bailey deserves an Oscar even more than Spall, as what she did seemed effortless, yet the love and amusement in her face and the play of emotions in her eyes are lingering in my memory far more than the stomps and snorts of boorish behaviour of Turner as portrayed by Spall.

I must admit that it was wonderful not to have one's ears blasted by a musical soundtrack. It was refreshing to hear birdsong and the clip-clop of hooves. I wouldn't go and see Mr Turner again, but, like all Mike Leigh films, it left me feeling challenged and with more questions in my mind than I went in with. Is that the mark of a good film? Whether it is or not, it is definitely the mark of an interesting one.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

NaNo, novels and desktop no-no's!

In just four weeks, ending on Nov 30th, I wrote 54,000 words, did my horoscope column and edited an 88,000 word novel manuscript. I am now geared up and inspired. I haven't finished my novel yet as I want to get it up to 75,000 words, a perfect publishable length.

That's only the first draft, of course. I shall then send it to a kind friend for some feedback, to see which bits need beefing up or changing. It will probably be February before it's anywhere near finished, but I would never even have started it if it hadn't been for NaNoWriMo.

I have recently bought some new specs especially for the computer, as my varifocals were giving me a stiff neck though the constant adjustments I had to make in order to see the screen through the right bit! The specs are great, except... I get up and forget  I'm wearing them and wonder why I can't see as I'm heading through to the kitchen to make a coffee. This means my tiny computer table, which only just has room for a keyboard, mouse, lamp and coffee mug (yes, very dangerous, I know, especially when teamed with a crumbly chocolate digestive biscuit...), now sports two glasses cases and the pair of specs I should wear to see my way across the room with!

It's very cold in the room I work in, which doubles as my bedroom. It was 7C when I woke up this morning and even now, with the radiators on, it's only 15C. I like to think being chilly serves a twofold purpose. 1) it keeps my brain awake, and 2) I lose weight through shivering. In fact, it's probably the equivalent to standing on one of those power plate things, and is cheaper than going to the gym.

By midweek this week, I shall have finished copy-editing a wonderful memoir by an ex professional dancer who is now a healer and yoga teacher. When it's published, I'll let you all know. Next on the work agenda will be a thriller. Nothing like having a bit of variety in one's working life!

Talking of thrillers, although I read lots of them, I don't think I could ever write one because I don't have the type of brain that can plot things out meticulously, or dream up big enough global threats and nasty enough 'baddies'. But then, I never thought I would tackle the issue my novel is about. So perhaps it's good to set oneself a challenge and tackle something new. Now, there's a good New Year Resolution!