Friday, 21 November 2014

Talking About Our Generation

I'm sixty-one now and grew up at a time when you were very lucky if you had a phone that plugged into a socket in the wall at home never mind a phone in your pocket on which you could tell the whole world what you were thinking instantly wherever you were, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. So, despite being fairly up to date with all the very latest gadgets and social media, I do sometimes worry about the storms of outrage that are kicked up on Twitter and other sites up when  people of our generation get things wrong. 

It's embarrassing to admit it today but, when I was a kid, children of mixed race were referred to as "coloured" by everybody. That's why I was not in the slightest bit shocked when Alan Hansen used the term on Match of The Day. He was not being racist but simply using a term that he had grown up with.

I was recently told in no uncertain terms that I must never use the word "negro" but, again, it was commonplace in our formative years and, indeed, in one of the world's most famous speeches ever, Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" he used the word Negro no less than sixteen times - not once in a critical or derogatory way - that's the way it was.

So what's all this leading to and why is it relevant today? Well, I was reading the sports pages in The Times and it reported that Mr Whelan of Wigan is in big trouble for being derogatory about Jews and Chinese. I have read his comments on Jews and they are indeed, extremely derogatory and he should have whatever book the FA can find thrown at him for them. However, his reference to Chinese as "Chinks", which, I know, looks completely wrong today, should be taken in the context of his generation.

In 1970 multiracial group Blue Mink stormed the charts with Melting Pot. This was an anti-racist anthem which encouraged the world to join together in a gigantic melting pot and, in doing so, eradicate racism and prejudice for ever. And what did they, in all innocence, call the Chinese in this song? You guessed. You can check it out below.

Or if you haven't got time here are the relevant lyrics

Take a pinch of white man
Wrap it up in black skin
Add a touch of blue blood
And a little bitty bit of Red Indian boy

Curly Latin kinkies
Mixed with yellow Chinkees
If you lump it all together
Well, you got a recipe for a get along scene
Oh, what a beautiful dream

If it could only come true, you know, you know

So, when you have a go at us oldies for sometimes saying the wrong things, bear in mind that when we were growing up this was an ultra-liberal and progressive song - let's get the Whelan quotes in perspective (he'll be 78 next week) . And yes, I just noticed the Red Indian bit in the lyrics too!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

In The Thick Of It

Our childminding in Rochester has thrust us into a hive of activity this week with by-election mania taking over the town as tomorrow's big event approaches.

Watching ITN News At Ten we had to laugh when, during an interview with the Labour candidate, Marion walked into view totally oblivious of the cameras.

The Loony Party is hardly running a no expense spared campaign with this A4 sheet on an empty shop window the only evidence of their presence.

It's a pity the same can't be said of UKIP who were all over the place today and touring in an open top bus (pity it wasn't raining). Their main point seems to be anti immigration, which, in a town that appears to be full of white English people, seems particularly bizarre. Perhaps they are all Polish and Romanians who have developed impeccable Kentish accents.

If you run a shop on Rochester High St a punning name based on the town's most famous past resident Charles Dicken is de rigueur. Sweet Expectations is no exception and they are asking customers to put a coloured sweet into the  jar of their choice from which you will see that UKIP appears to be in the lead (although there are plenty of don't knows). It looks like the Lib Dems may as well not bother turning up.

I wondered who this lot were supporting but it seems that the campaign has clashed with The University Of Kent's graduation ceremony.

We've been eating well and this leg of lamb from Hall Farm Butchers in Framlingham was delicious.

Our granddaughter helped us to bake a fish pie.

It turned out well.

Election fever will be all over by the time we head back to Framlingham tomorrow evening. We'll have to find something else to amuse us when we come back next week.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Humans At The Book Club, Some More Detecting Finds And A Boring Mike Leigh Offering

We've been cramming another week into five days and have managed to keep ourselves very busy again. We've been doing our spinning and circuit training up at the college, our weekly stint of shopping for the Framlingham Hour Community and we had a great evening at Framsoc's book club when we discussed Matt Haig's The Humans .

The story involves an alien who arrives on earth on a mission to prevent a mathematician's brilliant solution to a mathematical problem becoming public knowledge. That solution holds the potential for the human race to become a threat to the aliens' world. The alien's initial hatred of all things human gradually mellows as he forms relationships with the family into which he has become embedded and the book is a fairly gentle study on life and love and humanity. For once, all the book club members enjoyed the novel and we had a very enjoyable discussion over a glass of wine and some nibbles.

Despite some heavy overnight rain, the weather was kind on Thursday so I had a couple of hours out with the detector.

This was what I tipped out of the bag when I got back. It's a very small field that I've searched five or six times already but, with adjustments to the settings, I'm still managing to find things. The best this time were :-

This jetton made in Nuremberg in around 1580-1600 by Wolf Laufner.

A Post Medieval Lead Seal With Initials C I S

A Spur Terminal Fitting Post Medieval

A Clog Clasp From Around the 18th Century

A Tiny Pistol Ball And Possibly A Medieval Annular Brooch Fragment
I was happy with these finds in a fairly short time and will probably give the field another couple of visits before I decide that I'm unlikely to uncover anything else.

Yesterday we travelled to Ipswich for a matinee showing of Mike Leigh's much acclaimed Mr Turner. I was expecting great things of this film after five star reviews from almost every critic. Marion loved it and I can see why audiences have raved about Tim Spall's portrayal of a curmudgeonly, grunting, Victorian artist. Indeed it's a great performance from Spall, and the cinematic landscapes are breathtaking as the director creates on film near perfect reproductions of the scenes Turner painted - most successfully in a rowing boat trip to see the Temeraire being towed into port on its final journey - a masterpiece of atmospheric lighting. But in a film that is almost three hours long, those pluses are far outweighed by the simple lack of an interesting narrative. The film is, in my opinion, boring and I found myself trying (unsuccessfully) to stop nodding off. I don't think I was alone in my boredom as three other viewers left after a couple of hours and didn't come back. I typed "Mr Turner boring" into Google to see if I was alone in my view. It seems not and I find that I am, for once, in agreement with the film critic of none other than The Daily Star (oh dear).

We awoke to fog this morning with visibility down to a couple of yards. It wasn't important as we were off to The Lemon Tree for our regular Saturday Suffolk Breakfast (a real feast) and The Times2 Jumbo Crossword. Breakfast was excellent as always and, for once, we completed the crossword in full - hooray.

When we got home the fog had cleared and the spiders had created a very pretty network on our super seagull sculpture.

We're in Rochester for four days from Monday so we'll be cramming ever more into our time in Framlingham next week.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A Great Weekend Near Daventry And No Place For Old Men At Playgroup?

Today is Wednesday which means that we're back in Suffolk. We've had another busy few days in Rochester babysitting our lovely little two-year-old granddaughter. We took her to two groups this week. On Monday it was Little Stars playgroup. I was sitting on the floor there reading a book to Catherine who was alongside me when another two-year-old came along and promptly sat himself down on my lap to listen in. Years ago this would have been nothing to mention but in today's climate alarm bells rang in my head as I anxiously looked around to see that I had his mother's approval. It's not easy being a bloke in the company of children nowadays as that poor man who tried to visit a falconry centre in Somerset found out when he was refused entry on the ground of being a single male. 

There was no sign of his mum but as I as in full view of everyone I thought "what the heck" and continued to read. When I finished the book he ran off and chose another four and came back, snuggled onto my lap and listened intently as I read them all. It was perfectly natural to read to him and at the end of the playgroup his mum came over and thanked me for doing so. On the following day I was the only male again at the library's Toddler Boogie but as I was not the only grandparent I felt a little more settled. I really wish that men could be more accepted around children and feel more comfortable - perhaps so few go into primary school teaching for fear of the potential accusations.

Rochester was bright, warm and sunny again this week and I think this is the first year that I can remember seeing men out in the shops wearing shorts in November - but perhaps that's just a Rochester thing. 

The building in which the Gunpowder Plot was hatched

Before heading to Rochester we had a short break in Ashby St Ledgers in the midlands. No, I'd never head of it either but we were meeting up with old friends Dave and Jane Haworth from Lancashire and wanted a half way house. At just over two hours drive for both couples, this tiny village was just right and we discovered that it was the place where Guido Fawkes and his co-conspirators hatched their failed plot.

We stayed at the homely Olde Coach House which was pleasant, inexpensive and convenient for the motorway. The rooms were good and the staff were welcoming. Although the food was fine the fine dining menu which was promoted on their website was not available and we were left with homely but basic pub grub.

It would have been good if we could have stayed in the village's manor house but sadly Lord Wimborne owns this place. It was wonderful to catch up with Dave and Jane's news. It's been many months since we last met up and I hope we don't go that far in between meetings again.

November may not be the best time to promote what is essentially a summer read but I thought I would have a look at the results of the giveaway that I did on last month. I sent out twenty copies of the novel with a personal letter with each. I heard nothing directly from any of the recipients but three rated it (one at 4 stars and two at 5 stars) and two of those also reviewed the book positively. As the exercise cost over £230 including the books and the postage it's a fairly disappointing return as Goodreads suggested that fifty percent might review it. Perhaps they are just slow readers but a quick email saying "thanks for the book" would not have gone amiss. It's early days to see the effects of the free download but as that cost far less, any result will be a good result. 

We've now got a few days in Framlingham before heading back to Rochester. We've got plenty going on - there's rarely a quiet moment. 

Friday, 7 November 2014

Cramming It All In

As we're spending two days a week at the moment helping out with the family's temporary childcare shortage in Rochester we're having to cram seven days worth of home life into five  at the moment and boy did we cram it in yesterday.

I started at seven in the morning with a trip to the college for a spinning class. After that it was a quick trip back home for a shower and a bowl of porridge before heading back with Marion to the college for a circuit training class. Duly exhausted it was back home at ten for another shower before heading to Southwold.

We were in Southwold for the excellent Ways With Words literary festival and were fortunate enough to have front row seats for talks by Shane Spall (accompanied by husband Tim), Rev Richard Coles and Melvyn Bragg.

What a great line up it was. Shane Spall was a quiet and fairly diffident presence who spoke enthusiastically about her books whilst her husband Tim exuded bonhomie and an infectious joie de vivre - the Southwold audience loved his reading of a passage about a meeting with a Sole Bay fisherman complete with unintelligible local dialect. 

By complete contrast to Shane, Richard Coles was as confident a speaker as you are likely to encounter which is not surprising given his regular TV and radio appearances and his other job as a vicar. He spoke about his childhood, his coming out and his epiphany in Edinburgh but missed out the "searingly honest" bits of his autobiography which could have shocked his mostly silver haired audience.

At the signing afterwards, Marion told Richard that if he were the vicar of Framlingham she would go to church. I simply raised my eyes and wondered how on earth we could fit that in.

The afternoon ended with a talk by Melvyn Bragg. I've always considered Melvyn to be a serious and confident interviewer but his talk showed a fragile side to him that is rarely seen. He was talking about his novel Grace And Mary which is written as an autobiographical fiction. By this Melvyn meant that he used real people, changed their identities and then wrote fiction about them. The people in this case were himself, his mother and his grandmother who was sent away from her community for bearing an illegitimate child (true, but as the author said, hard to believe today). A third of the book covers the period from when his ageing mother developed Alzheimer's to her eventual death from this ghastly disease and Melvyn was too emotional to complete the reading of each of his chosen passages. It showed a truly compassionate side to his nature and I have great admiration for his ability to share this sensitivity with a group of strangers. He was annoyed at letting his feelings get the better of him but, as the interviewer on stage with him said, if your writing doesn't move you, it won't move your readers.

Framlingham Town Council. Photo courtesy of
There was no time to dawdle after the event finished and it was back to the car and off to Framlingham in time to get to the Town Council meeting. I believe that there are usually no more than three members of the public in the audience at these meetings but, due to current development proposals which could increase the town's population by over 30% at a stroke, the hall was packed with standing room only. I felt sorry for the town councillors who explained that they were all volunteers and, effectively, asked the audience not to blame them for anything. The most important part of the meeting - the discussion of the proposed development on Fairfield Rd - drew a huge response from members of the audience who repeated the many arguments against the new houses. The outcome of the meeting was, for me, fairly unsatisfactory as, although the proposals were not approved, they were not rejected but simply pushed down the road for further consideration when more information is available.

After the meeting we were home in time to catch the final episode of The Detectorists which was filmed here. As a detector user living in Framlingham the show has been a firm favourite with me and I've really enjoyed it. It was a very gentle and fairly whimsical show which is right up my street and I'm delighted that, with 582,000 viewers last night (way above the slot average), another series has been commissioned.

I enjoyed spotting the town locations. Here's Toby Jones outside our bookshop - the only bookshop in the country stocking my novel at the moment. 

Here's a nice shot of Castle St.

And here's the excellent John Bradlaugh Electrical on Fore St where we bought our vacuum cleaner - I must pop in and try and get one of those toy detectors that MacKenzie Crook's character bought in last night's show.

So that was a pretty hectic day and a pretty lengthy blog too (sorry). This weekend we're off to a pub near Rugby to meet our friends Dave and Jane from our old life in Lancashire. 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

A Thirty Year Old Toy And Some Eight Hundred Year Old Finds

We've had a busy but enjoyable five days in Framlingham. We got back late on Tuesday night and have packed loads into the time we've been home and are now getting ready to head back to Rochester for another few days of babysitting.

We've done a couple of spinning classes and a circuit training class at the college. We've been in the monthly quiz at The Railway too ; we won last month but this time we were half way down the rankings despite a very good score. I've also been writing letters to the district councillors about the reckless overdevelopment that's being planned for the town - that makes me sound like a NIMBY but I'm all for development if done sensibly and for the benefit of the residents and not just the developers. There are scores of arguments against the plans. Here's just one.

This was the scene in the Co-Op car park on Saturday morning with cars driving round and round before exiting without finding a space. Does this show that the town can cope with a 30% increase in residents (and their cars)?

Halloween was a non-event in our road. We stocked up with sweets but the bell didn't ring.

Meanwhile in Rochester, our two year old granddaughter was terrorising her neighbourhood as a bright red and very ferocious crocodile.

After another excellent Saturday cooked breakfast and a stab at the Times2 crossword at The Lemon Tree (finished all bar two this week), it was time for a look around the market and to pick up some food from Hall Farm Butchers and Leo's Deli. 

In the afternoon Marion carried on with her master plan for the garden and planted a superb specimen Mexican Orange Blossom from nearby Crown Nurseries of Ufford. Our neighbour David came and put up some wire trellis for me while I acted as his assistant. Thanks David! I'm a bit useless at DIY and don't possess much more than a screwdriver and hammer by way of tools and, having bought this custom made wirework to support a new rose, Marion didn't want it wrecked by my handiwork.

With the days getting shorter I didn't think I would have time to get out with the detector but David was so quick that I managed to walk down the road and have a quick try. It was a successful ninety five minutes and these were the better finds that I made. Apart from the small medieval buckle and the small pistol balls, there were two medieval to post medieval lace tags, a cut medieval silver halfpenny, a medieval harness pendant and a possible medieval to post medieval hawking bell. The "bell" might be simply a button with holes in it but the local FLO (finds liaison officer) will be able to tell me.

This harness pendant would once have been decorated with a coat of arms and been part of the decoration on a knight's horse.

This cut silver halfpenny dates from around the same period (13th century).

 One of the lace tags.

Our daughter Sarah phoned yesterday to ask if we could get to her old Sindy house easily. She got it as a present from her nana and granddad when she was three and was thinking of handing it down to her own daughters. Fortunately we spent four hours on Thursday afternoon tidying the garage so finding it wasn't too hard.

We fished it out of the garage and put it back together. It's in pretty good condition for thirty plus years old.

Here's Sarah with it on the day that she got it all those years ago.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Raving Loonies In Rochester (And On The Apprentice)

We're back in Framlingham after another stint of childcare in Rochester. We're getting into a routine now which will make it easier for us until the situation is resolved. We've got the suitcase ready and waiting early on Sunday evening and have most things packed in the car before we go to bed so as to ensure that the noise in the morning is minimal - I am sure that our neighbours won't appreciate too much door slamming at 5.30 a.m. 

This week the local Rochester playgroup was holding  a wellie walk so we had a very enjoyable trip to nearby Shorne Woods just outside Gravesend. Our granddaughter is always fascinated by throwing sticks into water and this activity kept her amused for ages. She had a good tramp through puddles and mud in her wellies before playing on the excellent playground. The weather was very kind and the whole group enjoyed two or three hours in pleasant autumn sunshine.

Back in Rochester things are hotting up for the by-election and there is a very strong UKIP presence with plenty of men who should know better wearing lurid purple fleeces and carrying placards. We even saw a dog dressed in a ridiculous UKIP coat. He and his owner looked as if they were canvassing for the Monster Raving Loonies and not a supposedly credible alternative to Labour or the Conservatives. And yet all the polls suggest that they will win. Let's hope it's just typical by-election madness.

My novel's five day free stint on Amazon certainly got it noticed and there were hundreds of downloads during the giveaway. As Lord Sugar rightly says on The Apprentice it's all about margins and any fool can be a successful salesman if he or she gives the goods away - so how can it be justified?

Well, as you can see from this screen shot, during the free period the book reached number six in the holidays category. By reaching this level it appeared on the front page of the listings in that genre and consequently was seen by far more people. Okay they were able to download it for nothing (and I know that may be galling to those who paid) but as a result of their downloads there is now a link beneath my book quoting "readers who bought this also bought ......" and a long list of books. Consequently, beneath those other books will be a link which reads "people who bought this also bought ...... " and, amongst the many titles will be Give Me Your Tomorrow . Since it returned to full price, sales have been encouraging. What really matters now is if those free downloaders now read the book and leave a positive review - we'll see how it looks in a couple of weeks.

The Goodreads giveaway of twenty paperbacks is also starting to bear fruit and I now have two five star and one four star review on that site. 

It's really time to get stuck into the new novel now and I'm doing my best to get it moving although time is in such short supply. It was never like this when we were working.

Having mentioned The Apprentice earlier I must say that last night's episode was an all time low for the show. Tasked with producing an amusing viral channel on YouTube the team's attempts were beyond derision. Lacking humour, skill, script and just about everything else I'm surprised that Lord Sugar didn't simply sack the lot and start all over again. If he does invest £250k in one of them at the end of the process, that's a quarter of a million quid he'll never see again.

Finally a word of praise for the wonderful Mary Beard. She's very active on Twitter and her tweets and blogs are always amusing and entertaining. What's more she's prepared to interact with her followers. I've commented on her tweets several times and she has always responded. Yesterday she was criticising some crassly sexist advertising in the Vauxhall Corsa brochure. She made a very good point that this sort of stuff (a leggy young woman draped across the car interior) is inappropriate in 2014 but in doing so, I felt she managed to give the manufacturers (and the page in question) more publicity than they would otherwise have had - so win win for Vauxhall. But don't stop doing it Mary, you're one of the characters who make Twitter worthwhile.