30 July 2011
29 July 2011
Daylight was fading. Shadows filled the room as one by one the street lamps came on. She adjusted her position, stretching her legs in front of her, mentally bridging the years. Past scenarios spun chaotically as she reminisced, but her stoical appraisal was soon disrupted by an insistent knocking at the door. It was time to be taken into custody, to be slung without question into filthy, black dungeons, clammy, like the shelters in the field, where her body would rot and her mind would shrivel.
Question: what is it?
Answer: it's the prologue to one of my books
28 July 2011
27 July 2011
The first typewriter I used wasn’t as old as the one in the picture but I did learn to type on a Remington. Once I started work though I faced such a variety of makes and designs that I’m hard pressed to remember which machine was at my disposal at the job I’m going to tell you about.
My years working in the Criminal Investigation Department of the local police force were filled with fun, excitement and intrigue, some sadness and some frustration. I worked there for ten years prior to the birth of my son and can honestly say that as jobs went mine was a fabulous experience.
The office I worked in was as long as your average street, with secretarial staff at one end (three of us) and an enormous amount of desks and filing cabinets in the middle. In addition to a vast number of desk phones there was a row of telephone kiosks at the far end of the room.
All calls to those kiosks were broadcast messages. Notes had to be taken at speed; you couldn’t say ‘hang on a minute’ to a broadcast message, and if you didn’t understand the phonetic alphabet you probably missed half it. In the first week of my employment I was instructed to take a call in one of the kiosks. Being a newly employed secretary it was scary to think I not only had to take the call but had to note everything that was said. Oh boy, did I struggle. It was like listening to double-dutch. I came out of the booth sweating with fear that I’d missed the most important bits and frantically hoping my memory would see me through. How on earth was I going to write it out in common English? I rushed back to my desk and started to write … that’s when I heard the men laughing. At me! I’d undergone an initiation test when a guy in the next kiosk had somehow broadcast a fictitious message (well it sounded like a broadcast) to the phone I was answering. Rotters! I watched the same scenario a few times when new people came to work in the office but of course I never let on.
I worked alongside two other secretaries, Ethel and Joan, in an office full of men. Every girls dream? I don’t think so. However the men, all detectives, provided the fun. We never knew what we would be greeted with when we arrived at work because the night shift always played tricks on us girls. There were no outward signs that the clowns had been up to no good so we had to be wary.
One morning after removing my typewriter cover and hitting the keys I was hit in the face by a wrapped sweet that had been nestling on top of the keys. I must have been heavy handed to hit the key hard enough to expel the sweet so high. An explanatory note found in the desk drawer stated ‘I was eating a bad nut and thought of you!’ … yeah, very nice. Thank you.
Joan copped for the heavy drawer routine. First time it happened she couldn’t get the drawer open. It was a big drawer, firmly stuck. I applied what bit of strength I had but it wouldn’t shift. Eventually she got the odd-job man to have a look. He was stronger than us females and managed to open the drawer and discover the problem. Someone on the night shift, having nothing better to do, had filled Joan’s drawer with house bricks – the ones retained for evidence, probably having been thrown through jewellers’ shop windows.
The day shift was the same. In a sneaked free moment one of the men would go into the cloakroom and sew the sleeves of our coats together, or put sugar in our pockets or coffee in our shoes. You had to have a sense of humour to work there!
We got our own back one day. Coming back from lunch, late as usual, Joan and I ran into the office. We would have made it with minutes to spare except our way was blocked by an open vault door. The room size vault was where we kept the evidence of crime prior to court proceedings. The door was massive, about two foot thick and extremely heavy. It took the two of us to push it back before rushing to our desks to start work before the boss, a very strict chief inspector, put in an appearance and discovered we’d been late. It was a punishable offence in those days.
Half an hour later I stopped typing and listened. I was sure I’d heard a tapping noise. Nudging Joan, I asked her what she thought it was. Then it dawned on us that the faint noise was coming from the vault. As one we dashed to open the door. Not an easy feat for us weaklings, it was easier to push it shut than to open it again. Yes, you guessed right, we’d locked someone in there, one of the sergeants, my favourite one as it happened. He walked out smiling as if nothing had happened although he did look a bit red in the face. It wasn’t until later I learned that shutting the vault door not only cut off the light but it also cut off the air. Oh dear! Well, the incident served us well because after that the jokes on the secretarial staff came to a rapid end.
It wasn’t all fun. There were serious sides to the job: preparing crime figures, circulating lists of retrieved stolen property, keeping track of suspected illegal immigrants, offering crime prevention advice, murder enquiries that demanded overtime, sometimes working in temporary locations near the scene of the crime, working hours longer than normal in our own office. Tasteless humour helped the officers cope with the more sordid scenes, for example when a decapitated body was found in a hostel someone quipped about the ‘mind your head’ sign over the door. A nauseous remark intended only to lighten a sordid situation.
I was completely fooled one day when someone came to the office reception area and confessed to a murder that was under investigation. It wasn’t true. The old gent used to confess to all the murders. Another time a woman came in complaining that her bottled milk was being poisoned by the neighbours. She did it often. Again, it was untrue. The sadness surrounding those incidents never left me.
Before, during and after crime investigations the secretaries were under as much pressure as the officers. Statements had to be typed, evidence and photographs logged, and eventually court documents had to be prepared. There was a certain sick pleasure in being the one that typed the statement that led to an arrest … a morbid and improper claim to victory but necessary to lift the spirit.
Under normal circumstances we worked five and a half days a week and we never moaned once. Working there was so out of the ordinary we’d need to be really ill to take a day off. We were too afraid of missing something.
25 July 2011
24 July 2011
23 July 2011
22 July 2011
- tools that had gone into hiding for fear of being lost by my beloved; you know the sort of thing, screwdrivers and scissors
- fountain and ballpoint pens (new and unused) that had been presented on various occasions (how many pens does one need to get through daily life?)
- pencils by the score
- craft items in the form of knives, paints, brushes, varnish, white spirit, glass paper, and glue
- copper bracelets and rings
- magnetic bracelets (these indicate how long ago the arthritis hit me – they obviously didn’t work!)
- floppy discs with recorded stuff from WI, now useless pieces of computer equipment
- hatpins on a card, inherited from mother
- and two penny coins: (1) dated 1831 featuring Gulielmus IIII who was King William IV from 1830 to 1837, and (2) dated 1853 featuring a young Queen Victoria. If
came to the throne in 1836 and King William in 1830 they had both done a year before these coins were issued. How strange that we now have a future king, Prince William who will be known as King William V. I have no idea where the coins came from, inherited from either mother or father. Victoria
- Another coin in this small collection was a ten cent piece from
East Africadated 1831. Another mystery.
I tried taking photographs of the coins but they didn’t turn out very well. However, here they are as proof that I’m not making this up… grins. The hatpins turned out reasonably well, don’t you think?
More boxes will be delved into when I have the energy to keep saying Ooooh and Aaaah.
21 July 2011
I worry about some of our emergency service vehicles and sometimes I worry about my own safety when they bear down on me, forcing me into a situation I find it difficult to get out of, then racing by with inches to spare before taking the paint of my car.
This morning I was in a tight situation, second car in a line-up at red lights. I had the radio on so I was inwardly singing along with one of the latest songs. Suddenly Car.No.1 at the lights shifted as if he’d changed his mind about which direction to go when the lights changed. In other words, he pulled his car sideways in front of me. That’s when I heard the sirens. I had to shift … fast.
Manoeuvring the car up the curb, narrowly missing a pedestrian, I was just in time to escape the onslaught of two emergency vehicles, ambulance and fire engine. At speed they squeezed through the gap that No.1 and I left between us and the traffic light system. Talk about sweating buckets! How my door didn’t get scraped I’ll never know.
At that particular spot I have known fire engines move to the wrong side of the road, crossing the lights in hazardous style. One of these days there’ll be a fatal accident at that section, I just hope it isn’t me.
Further on, travelling down a dual carriageway, I saw the accident. Two cars, badly smashed. I spent the rest of the journey thanking the good Lord for my safe journey.
20 July 2011
18 July 2011
Sometimes a person needs a break from cooking before it gets to feel more like slave labour. I can’t really complain though, for five years my guy not only did the cooking but the housework as well. Where was I? Otherwise engaged is the answer, 4 years running the country… sorry the county… for the WI and a year of poor health when Arthur Itis attacked all joints, including fingers. As cooks go, whilst exceedingly willing, my guy was not very adventurous and some of our daily bread came in the form of ready cooked meals from the local supermarket. Some were okay but some were distinctly mundane.
So now I’m back on track and struggling to find new ideas for a main meal.
Having sampled ready meals from supermarkets before it was with some trepidation that I went to browse round the newly opened Waitrose express store in the heart of the shopping precinct. The first thing that struck me was the smell of fresh bread as I walked through the door. It was a perfect greeting on a damp morning.
The décor in the store leant itself to a feeling of cleanliness, as it should, and the well stocked shelves revealed the most inviting goods.
To the right of the bakery section was the sandwich bar that sold, yes, delicious looking sandwiches with more unusual fillings, along with salads of all descriptions, and a sushi bar. I gave a silent cheer because there is no other shop in my area that sells sushi.
Further along was the ready-meal section, single meals to suit all nationalities. After that was the butchers department with divine cuts of meat all ready for the oven, and then I hit the ready-to-cook section with boxed food to suit two people. The offerings were unbelievable.
Forgetting my apprehension about buying ready-to-cook dishes, I purchased a box of chicken fillets, covered with whole asparagus and wrapped in wafer thin prosciutto ham, which I later served with roast potatoes, savoy cabbage and chicken gravy.
Not only was it delicious but for £4.99, for two people, I reckoned I couldn’t have cooked it for the same cost.
You can guess that I’ve been back to the shop since then. Here’s a few of those we’ve tried.
- Lean Aberdeen Angus beef steaks with chimichurri sauce … that’s a vibrant, punchy sauce of shallots, parsley and oregano with a squeeze of lemon
- Cured pork loin steaks with a crispy cheddar and cream cheese topping
- Venison and mushroom
. British venison with wild mushroom and juniper stuffing in puff pastry. Wellington
- Pesto chicken linguine with edamame beans, pine nuts, crème fraĭche and pesto dressing.
To name but a few….
So if you haven’t tried Waitrose and there’s a store near you take a tip from me and at least go and have a look.
17 July 2011
15 July 2011
Throughout the school years
When she was twenty she met the actor, suave and handsome
I married, of course. Twice. My first husband was Cedric Messenger. A gambler. He liked to bet on horses, football, the dogs, and the weather. He spent all our money and rarely won.
My second attempt at wedded bliss was better. Even
Whenever I worked overtime
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't jealous. On the contrary, I was pleased that
Panic swirled around my innards. I'm a stranger to excitement and unsolicited news terrifies me. I think it's with working so long at that dreary factory … there's never a happy face to be seen in there. Anyway, I pushed away my apprehension and waited to hear the news. I looked to
Manoeuvring his wheelchair to my seat by the fire,
Fingering the frayed edge of my apron pocket, I looked away and breathed deeply to quell the suspense.
'And I had the third,' announced
My voice croaked as I timorously asked what they'd won.
'A holiday ...'
'A hamper ...'
Roaring with laughter, they tried again.
'For Christmas,' said
I looked from one to the other, finding their news difficult to assimilate. It was
'It's yours,' she repeated.
Two months after our holiday, I totted up the expense sheet to see how much of the two thousand was left. I still felt indebted to
As I moved up the column a fourth time, I heard the front door slam. There was much tittering in the hall as
Clearing his throat,
'Don't tell me,' I countered, sarcastically. 'You were just kissing her goodnight.'
I closed my eyes, not wanting to know what Charlie and her were about.
'We want to live together.'
I stared at her. 'Repayment?'
'In kind. Your husband for all the gifts and loans and favours.'
14 July 2011
13 July 2011
You know it's 2011 when:1. You accidentally enter your PIN on the microwave.
2. You haven't played solitaire with real cards in years.
3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of three.
4. You e-mail the person who works at the desk next to you.
5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don't have e-mail addresses.
6. You pull up in your own driveway and use your cell phone to see if anyone is home to help you carry in the groceries.
7. Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the screen.
8. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn't even have the first 20, 30, or 60 years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it.
10. You get up in the morning and go on line before getting your coffee.
11. You start tilting your head sideways to smile :-)
12. You're reading this and nodding and laughing.
13. Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to forward this message.
14. You are too busy to notice there was no #9 on this list.
15. You actually scrolled back up to check that there wasn't a #9 on this list
11 July 2011
My latest read was a book by Douglas Kennedy called The Moment.
I waited ages for him to publish another novel but I didn’t mind because I knew when it arrived it would have been worth the wait. How wrong can a girl be?
Some authors get books published at a rapid rate and I often wonder how they do it. Writing itself takes time, not to mention the umpteen edits, on top of which there’s a life to live.
I remember being surprised on hearing about the way Barbara Cartland wrote books … well, in truth, it was a secretarial team that did the work. I suppose she set the theme of each book and let them get on with it. It killed the illusion of hard grafting.
You know the old saying ‘when you’ve read one you’ve read them all’ … for sure reading Cartland’s ‘much the same’ novels didn’t have the same appeal as a book someone had spent time on. The image of a struggling author bent over a desk, quill pen in hand, crumpled paper on the floor and not a secretary in sight does more to attract me to purchase the end product.
Barbara Cartland is no longer with us but she was not alone in saturating the market with reading matter. Nora Roberts is one of many more. I love her work but do wonder how on earth she gets so much stuff finished and published in record time.
I wonder if the transition to e-Books will be the same?
Copy and paste has a lot going for it so writing a book on a computer must be quicker than using laborious handwriting and reams of paper but that doesn’t mean the final result will be any better.
Going back to the latest Douglas Kennedy: the disappointment was acute. Tediousness was such that I found myself skimming whole paragraphs to try and get on with the story. Dialogue was undertaken with outrageously long words that would drive a true conversationalist insane. I’m sure nobody speaks that way in the real world. The background was historic, based on life in
The main characters didn’t get together until almost the middle of the book which made me wonder if the story would ever gain pace. Mediocre sex scenes were loosely described, mainly a lot of tumbling in and out of bed which failed to stir the senses, if you know what I mean.
Basically the story is a recap of an American writer’s romance in
The man meets woman situation was hasty; she was moving in with him within days. Their conversations, when they weren’t devouring each other in bed, were extensively geared to readers of the Chambers Dictionary. One chapter was devoted to the female character’s past life, conversationally narrated with interminable descriptions and almost page length paragraphs that made me want to skip the lot. I have yet to meet anyone who can relate a life story without interruption. I was taught that a writer should aim for space in order to give the reader breathing space.
One thing in Kennedy’s favour is the amount of research that was done; a history lesson in itself if written as such.
I have studied the reviews. Whilst first time Kennedy readers thought it was good, his regular followers did not. I wish I’d read them before chancing my arm, though I would probably have ignored them on the grounds that I’d always liked the author so wouldn’t be disappointed in his work.
So, Mr Kennedy, I’m afraid it’s goodbye from me. It’s unlikely that I will wait for the next one.
09 July 2011
08 July 2011
Pigeons are another of my pet irritations. It’s not so much them pinching all the bird seed I object to, but the mess they make in the garden and walkway. I used to hang the feeders near the house but the stinking mess on the patio and paths got too much. It took a water hose and much scrubbing of brickwork and slabs to remove the muck. I swear pigeons are the dirtiest birds on the planet.
There’s nothing they can’t get into. Pigeons and squirrels are adept at solving all problems when it comes to food. The most amazing is the way they contort their bodies to retrieve bird food from the small bucket that hangs inside an ornamental wishing well and from my lovely stone house where access is limited to four smallish holes.
Pigeons wedge themselves on the surrounding narrow water trough then stick their heads through the holes. They looked so funny I used to laugh but it’s no longer very amusing. As a result of all this we now can no longer put food in them. Okay, so let's see if they can master this one!
07 July 2011
06 July 2011
The white elephant stall was chock-a-block with lampshades and books, a strange combination of offerings from members of the Brookhampton Branch of Gardener's Forum.
Behind her a voice said, 'Afternoon,
'Not this weekend.' He grinned at
Moving to the front of the stall,
'Crikey, look at this.'
Sandra's ash-blonde hair swung like a curtain as she spun round to face Martin, who had his sturdy arm outstretched as if wanting to select a book but afraid to do so.
Forsaking her own search,
He pointed a stubby finger at a distinctive leather-bound volume, blue in colour with black lettering and a silk marker. 'Black Country Stories,' he said. 'Like Gran used to have, though if I remember rightly hers was thinner. This could be an omnibus edition.'
'Anecdotes about life in the industrial area known as the
'Don't be daft. He probably can't afford to buy it, that's all. Pity, though, I'd have liked it. It'll be worth a bob or two in a few years.' Suddenly,
'Who?' asked Sandra.
The following morning
While washing up at the sink,
Absorbing some of her urgency,
Emily took her in the kitchen and invited her to take a glass of squash but Sandra didn’t hear, she was already in full flight with an account of events rushing from her mouth like cascading utterances, each one rolling so close to the next it was impossible to decipher the arrangement. Eventually, after listening for a few minutes in complete bewilderment,
'Ooh, Miss J. Was I babbling?'
'Well, it was like this ....'
Apparently, by the time
The book had been stolen from
'You O.K. Miss Jenkins?'
'Course I am. Your news knocked me a bit off kilter, that's all.'
'He should be rewarded,'
'Oh, he was,'
Two thousand pounds! No wonder
Bustling into the dining room, she opened the sideboard drawer and withdrew the box of beautiful knives, the only item on the white-elephant which had taken her eye. Opening the lid, she selected one and took it to the window for a better view of it. The handle was so smooth it felt velvety and fitted her hand as though it had been specially crafted for her. She studied the tiny monogram. It wasn't easy to see, but she guessed it was the
Humming a cheerful ditty, she chose her best cardigan from those neatly arranged on the closet shelf. 'One day soon,' she muttered as she checked her appearance in the mirror, smoothing her hair and removing a speck of dirt from her chin, 'when
She felt exceptionally happy as she grabbed her bag and keys and stepped out of the front door. Numerous coveted items orbited her brain: bone china to display, silk sheets to lie on, Turkish carpet for the lounge. Pulling the door to with a bang, clutching the knife box to her bosom and singing, 'New coat, new shoes,' to the tune of