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Thank-you. So sad, but written from the heart. Bravery is going forward despite being scared. And you are still you – an amazing, wonderful large-hearted, honest and beautiful person.
I am bored and scared. Sometimes I’m a bit more bored and a bit less scared and sometimes I’m a bit less bored and a bit more scared. Sometimes I’m really really bored and really really scared.
I’m bored because I’ve had enough of scans, immunotherapy, consultations with Prof; I’ve had enough of breathlessness, wheezing and chest infections (six so far this year), trying to talk to the GP and get the antibiotics and steroids I need urgently (“No, a GP call back tomorrow is not acceptable!”), I’m tired of needles, I’m tired of never knowing from day to day how I’ll be. Actually, that’s not entirely true; I know that I’ll be even more wiped out than usual in the three or four days after immunotherapy; I know that after talking with people or doing anything social in the garden I will be exhausted. I get so excited when…
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A friend recently something like this: “I don’t want to read dystopian fiction. I mean, we’re in it!” So here is a list of cheerful fiction instead. These are books I’ve read recently that I have enjoyed, that are encouraging, that are well written and intriguing, and that don’t have awful endings. If you’d like to borrow any, let me know.
Lars Mytting: The Sixteen Trees of the Somme: it sounds like ‘yet another book about the World War One’ but it is more about Norway, families, people, the Shetlands, relationships, and flame birch. Growing up in Norway, with his grandparents, Edvard is astounded by the discovery, on his grandfather’s death, that his uncle had not been executed by German firing squad in 1944, but in 1979 had sent a perfectly made art-deco coffin of scintillating amber flame-birch, to be used for the his brother. This sends him on a quest to find out what had caused the death of his parents and a hunt to find his strange inheritance in the Shetlands. A very complex plot, with twists and turns, and an evocative sense of place.
Mrs Gaskell: Wives and Daughters. An obscure Victorian masterpiece: clever, insightful, fascinating characters, a complex plot based on a doctor’s second marriage and its effect on his daughter. Not a quick read, but immersive and emotionally absorbing. There are touches of witty irony from an acute observer of human passions. It was unfinished at the author’s death so the last chapter is missing, but a conclusion has been added giving her intentions. You may have heard of ‘Cranford’ by Mrs Gaskell: this is even better.
Susan Fletcher: Eve Green: A woman looks back on the events of her childhood, following the death of her mother when she is sent to live with her grandparents in Wales. It doesn’t sound promising, but it is! Sharply observed, subtle, mysterious, full of evocative family history, and – being in Wales – quite a lot of rain, mountains and sheep.
Joanne Cannon: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep: Set in the long hot summer of 1976, two young children start to investigate the disappearance of a woman from their street, and try to find God in their neighbourhood. As they do so, the events of the past are revealed. The heat, the sun and the emotions of that scorching summer fill the story. Beautifully written, with telling details such as playing clock patience and Monopoly, eating Angel Delight and Wagon Wheels. I loved the scene when the vicar comes to see the ‘face of Jesus’ that the locals have found on an old drainpipe and Mrs Forbes says, “I do hope we’re not going to be overrun with pilgrims. They’ll make a terrible mess.”
Francine Toon: Pine: Another book from a child’s perspective, and another brilliantly written novel. The author is also a poet, apparently, so writes superbly. The story, set in Scotland, was genuinely frightening at times and very dramatic, full of haunting atmosphere as the complex story unfolded. The start was very bleak, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it, but I was unable to stop reading towards the end, it was so compelling.
This gallery contains 6 photos.
Originally posted on The Red Wine Box:
On 11th March 2019 I was in St Cross Hospital in Rugby. St Cross is a small but excellent hospital and I’d managed to sleep in the night. I’d just had two nights…
We all make mistakes. What has been your most stupid/funny/embarrassing typo? Have you ever had anything published and then – too late – spotted some terrible mistake?
I’ve had my novel proof-read, and it was worth every penny. The proof-reader, Michael Jarvis, was excellent, and spotted dozens of tiny mistakes that I had missed time and time again. Most of these were because of ‘automatic typing’, many are due to the vagaries and subtleties of the English Language.
The main fault I had was over-use of a passive construction using a gerund e.g. ‘she was trembling’. This is much better as an active sentence: ‘she trembled’. I know this by now, but it was a prevalent fault in much of my early writing and the odd one still hangs around.
Internment not interment: I wasn’t even aware there was a difference until my mother pointed this out.
Using ‘thank-you’ not ‘thank you’: I find I automatically put the hyphen in, but there is a difference. For example: ‘He said a quiet thank-you’, ‘He whispered, “thank you.”‘
Discrete instead of discreet.
Alter instead of altar.
Dammed instead of damned.
Queueing or queuing: there seems to be some controversy here. I prefer ‘queueing’ but neither look correct.
Split instead of spilt: not an easy mistake to spot.
Using a name of a real organisation and then discovering that, six months after I wrote that section, it has rebranded with a completely different name that is unsuitable for my purposes. I have had to invent an organisation instead with a slightly different name.
And finally: when my protagonist got chocolates, he got ‘Diary Milk’!
In conclusion, my recommendations are: don’t trust your spellchecker, read your work out loud, and, better still, fork out for a professional proof-reader if you are considering publication.
We can barely understand how shocking it would have been for the Roman citizens to see a high-born, rich Roman lady embrace a slave. The new way, Christianity, turned the world upside-down with rumours of a God who dies and lives again, with news of a strange new concept: agape, promises of forgiveness and a new start, and, most revolutionary of all, the declaration of a new king. Nowadays it can be hard for us to realise the excitement and implications of the whispered and shouted proclamation ‘Jesus is Lord’.
Phoebe, by Paula Gooder, brings some of this excitement to life, in a story of a ‘deaconess’, Phoebe, who brings a letter from Saint Paul to the converts on the edge of Rome. As the stories, letters, whispers and discussions circulate, the new Christians wrestle with the astounding new ideas they are hearing. How can they understand these ideas? How can they solve the huge difficulties of merging high-class Romans, women, servants, Jews, gentiles; the poor and the rich, the important and the over-looked, the slaves and their owners, into a loving, sharing community? How can they deal with the real fear of being excluded, and becoming destitute, enslaved, tortured or killed if they embraced this new way?
Read if you want to know more about the early history of Christianity in an exciting and informative tale. Phoebe herself is a sympathetic and interesting narrator, with a moving history that is gradually unfolded during the story.
Paula Gooder is a theologian, not a novelist, but has still produced an approachable, encouraging and readable novel, which gives a wonderful flavour of the danger and excitement, as well as the theological struggles, of the early years of Christianity. There are also lots of interesting notes as well, for those of us who would like more depth and background and historical settings/details.
In light of the recent horrific fires in Australia:
The earth’s climate has seen dramatic change. Four and a half billion years ago, the earth was formed. Its atmosphere had massively high levels of carbon dioxide, and there was very little oxygen. Miraculously, life originated in this extremely hostile environment, and for the next one and a half billion years or so the cyanobacteria began cleaning up the atmosphere and enriching it with oxygen and allowing the formation of the protective ozone layer.
Over the next two billion years the beautifully designed process of evolution took those earliest forms of life and developed them into the staggering array of life that we take so readily for granted today. Darwin hinted at the beauty of the process in the final paragraph of his book “the origin of species” when he wrote “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a…
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During an election all parties make commitments to do things which cost money. Voters expect them to put a cost against each item. Commentators then add up the costs and say that this is what each party is going to spend. This process is way too simplistic to make meaningful comparisons.
Spend v invest
If I spend £5000 on a holiday, when I get home all I have left are the memories. If I spend £5000 on a car I have both the asset of the car and the cost saving of reduced bus fares. I have ‘invested’ in the car, instead of ‘spending’ on the holiday
If a government ‘spends’ on purchasing assets, particularly those which will generate revenue, then this is investment – and a saving for the future. The assets of the nation will have increased.
Similarly, if a government sells off assets and then spends the…
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Eighty years ago this nation was at a crisis. Politicians of the day worked together for the good of Britain and Europe. The monarch was respected and brought hope to the people suffering – visiting Coventry after the horrific bombings, addressing our nation and urging us to pull together to fight against fascist powers that were oppressing the poor, the weak and the scapegoat Jews. It was a time where national values and pride meant doing the right thing for our neighbours.
Fast forward to today. We have in power an unelected leader who is treating our Queen with contempt, as a tool to be used as he sees fit. We see those in high office treat our honourable institution of parliament with utter disrespect – lounging on the front benches. New scapegoats are created. Our traditions are trampled. Unelected oligarchs and manipulators hold powerful positions. The similarities with the…
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“You’re doing what?” yelled Jack.
Tom moved the phone further away from his ear. “Walking the Camino. You know, the pilgrimage to Santiago. In Spain,” he repeated.
“You? You’re not a pilgrim… Tourist, yes. Pilgrim, no. Huh. So that’s what you’re going to waste your redundancy money on. You lucky beggar.”
“Anyway, I just wanted to know if you could look after Princess while I’m away.”
There was a long silence. Tom could almost hear Jack grinding his teeth.
“I don’t believe it,” Jack said eventually. “Look after that pampered moggy for two months? What about Ollie’s asthma? And Ben’s allergic to cats, or had you forgotten that as well as their birthdays?”
Silence. He’d hung up. Tom frowned at the phone. That was a nuisance. Now he’d have to grit his teeth and pay kennel rates.
Two months later, standing in the sunny glare of Hondarribia Karrika street in Irun, the memory of that phone call still rankled. Jack had been completely unreasonable. Tom had only forgotten his nephews’ birthdays a couple of times, or maybe three. And he couldn’t be expected to remember all their health problems, could he? He pushed it from his mind, looked around for a pavement café. After his croissant and café con leche he took out a few coins for a tip, hesitated, put them back in his pocket, muttered “blooming tourist traps!” and strode out of the cafe and onto his first mile of the Camino Norte.
Santillana was full of prettiness, cobbled streets, touristy shops and crowds. Tom treated himself to a private room in a Pension, with a balcony overlooking a field with quiet grey donkeys. He felt he deserved it, after fifteen nights enduring creaking bunk-beds in dormitories filled with chattering or snoring people, scattered possessions and damp t-shirts draped over beds, and too many experiences of trying to dry himself with an inadequate travel towel after a lukewarm shower.
After exploring the Collegiate Church he wandered the streets and dodged the tour guides. On impulse, he went into the tempting coolness of a shop selling huge local cheeses and over-priced chocolate, and trinkets with pictures of the town stuck to them. At the back was an intriguing collection of hand-carved old wooden furniture, and among the fret-worked stools and dusty chests the varnished oak of a staff glistened. It had a cockle shell attached by a faded red cord. Tom flipped over the price tag. Twenty euros, 19th Century it said. He could do with a walking stick, he realised, so he tightened his lips and haggled. Eventually he agreed to twelve euros when the seller told him that it had belonged to a monk, Father Grigori.
“A true saint, he was, he walked the Camino every year for forty-seven years, with that very staff,” she gushed in heavily accented English.
Outside the shop, Tom bounced the staff on the street. Its ferrule rang satisfactorily on the cobbles. The staff was warm in his hands and exactly the right height. His thumb rubbed a smooth spot on top where the monk’s own thumb must have rested. It was a good staff, he felt. Sometimes, over the next few days, as he followed other pilgrims along winding roads through green valleys, and climbed narrow paths by the sea and along the edges of rugged cliffs, with blue waves gently breaking on golden sands below, that the staff was leading him. As he wedged the ferrule into the tumbled stones of the path ahead he could almost believe that it knew the way to go.
He started nodding to other pilgrims as they passed him, saying ‘Buen camino’, and when he overtook others, always with a pale cockle shell attached to their rucksack, and frequently with damp socks pinned to straps and swaying in the air in time with their steps, Tom would say ‘Buen camino’ and feel slightly encouraged when they replied with a smile. He met up with a cheerful and garrulous Irish man on his fifth camino and, as the afternoon heat grew, they stopped in a bar for a beer. Tom hauled some money from his pocket but the Irish man put his hand on his arm. “Never you mind that,” he said. “I’ll pay. Tis been good talking to you.” Tom remembered leaving only three euros at the Donativo Albergue the night before, because it had lumpy mattresses, and regret filled him.
At the bottom of a deep, green valley, he peered through wrought iron gates, set in high walls, at the red corrugated roof tiles, the pale stone and the high bell-towers of an ancient oratory set in the grounds of a Cistercian monastery. He wondered about Father Grigori, and what ‘being a saint’ meant. He imagined a wizened man; poor, tonsured, peaceful; touching his shoulder, saying, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.”
Climbing out of the valley along a road steep and winding enough to test the toughest four-wheel-drive jeep, he had to stop to catch his breath. The rucksack felt heavier than ever. Tom had thought that after so many days of walking it would get easier, but the hills were getting higher and the distances longer. He unhitched the rucksack, gulped lukewarm water from his plastic bottle, leant on the staff and gazed at the wide view of forested hills and tiny hamlets. A old Spanish woman, with wellington boots and a faded apron, came out of the door of a nearby farmhouse, nodded at him and said ‘Buen camino’ before carrying a pail towards a dozen scrawny chickens scratching at the yellowing grass of a field. ‘Buen camino’ – good walking. Was it a good walk? What would make it a good walk? Tom was no longer sure that just scenery and paellas made a good walk. He heaved the rucksack back on his shoulders and trudged on. At the next hostels he started to talk more to the other guests, and asked them why they were doing the camino, and what did they think made a ‘good camino’.
On the high stretches of the Camino Primitivo, he had to admit that scenery did help make a good walk. He stopped, again and again, just to stand and look. As other pilgrims passed him, they would stand or nod, in mutual agreement. Tom could barely believe how lucky he was, with the weather, the opportunity, the magnificence. Jack would give his right arm to see this, he thought.
After two days in Lugo, walking the Roman walls and exploring the museums and shopped, he walked on. In the afternoon he came to a wayside chapel where some kind local had left packets of biscuits and flasks of coffee in the porch. Tom poured himself a cup, dropped some euros into the donation box, found the ‘sello’ and stamped his pilgrim passport. Then he dropped his rucksack onto a pew and sat by it, one hand holding the familiar grain of the staff, and gazed at the altar, the coloured and ornate figure of a saint, and at the blue-robed Mary, crowned with stars and staring upwards. He remembered Jack’s bitter words from the phone call, so many months ago, and his grip tightened on the staff. Other words came into his mind: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive others.” As he came out of the cool, candle-wax scented dimness the heat and light was like a slap on his chastened face.
In the shade of the tall, blue-green leaves of a eucalyptus forest, Tom suddenly remembered playing at sword-fighting with his brother, when they were ten or eleven. At the memory, he swung the staff around his head and twirled round. “Have at you, you villain!” he yelled and thrust the staff forward, then paused at the astonished look on the face of another pilgrim coming round a corner behind him. Reaching Melide a few hours later, he bought a postcard showing the walls of Lugo then searched out a post office and managed to buy stamps for the UK, despite his atrocious Spanish. In a café, he wrote ‘I’m sorry, Tom’ on the back of the card, used his phone to order toy swords and shields for his nephews, finished his café con leche and the lemon-flavoured ‘bizcocho’, and left two euros for a tip on the table. He spotted a yellow ‘Correos’ post box, put the postcard in it, and hoped that Father Grigori would have approved.
On the thirty-seventh day, coming down the hill into Ribadiso, he paused and bounced the staff a few times triumphantly on the tarmac. “Nearly there, only two days to go. Looks like we’re going to make it!” he said and flicked the cockle shell dangling from the red cord. “Your forty-eighth time, mate, I know, but my first.” At the medieval bridge he looked at the cool water running over tiny stones and patches of verdant weeds undulating in the ripples, and watched the groups of young pilgrims paddling and chatting. Tom walked down to the waterside. His feet were hot, tired and pummelled. Sitting on a stone, he took off his rucksack, socks and boots, and, holding the staff for balance, waded into the cold water. It stung his feet with its chill. His toes and ankles glistened pale and white on the dark brown pebbles. He turned, slipped on a slime-covered rock, lent heavily on the staff, over-balanced, put his hands out and just saved himself a drenching.
“You all right, mate?” someone called. He nodded, stumbled back to the grass, and then stared at the staff. It had bent and splintered. He touched the sticky sap oozing from the un-seasoned fibrous wood. It was a fake. For a few minutes he stood, holding the fragments. Then he dried his feet, and put his socks, boots and rucksack back on. Gently he laid the pieces of the staff by the alder bushes along the riverside, smiled ruefully, and went to find a bed for the night.