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The formidable form

Believe it or not Lottie and I have spent the last two weeks drowning under a pile of paper, as we struggled to complete an official form. It is done now, but we reached growling point a long time ago, because the dratted thing was quite horribly difficult and was taking up all our time and keeping us away from novel 31 which is what we really wanted to write and was calling loudly to us.

I have never liked filling in forms at the best of times and this one was the worst I’ve ever tried to tackle. For a start it was twenty nine pages long, which is twenty eight pages too many for me and every single one of its horrendous pages required checking my medical history and the files full of my medical records and other boring things like that. After the first day I was wondering why on earth I’d decided to fill the damn thing in, in the first place.

So let me begin at the beginning, which I do try to do. It began with a kindly thought from my two daughters who had been considering the position I’m now in being ninety and had decided that it was about time I had some state funding for all the help I now need and pay for. It takes both my daughters and my granddaughter Lottie to look after me now, what with pills and dizzy turns, doctors appointments, hospital appointments and plenty else besides as – not to put too fine a point on it – I steadily disintegrate. I’ve tried quite hard not to let it impede on the things that Lottie and I are writing, like novels and these blogs, which are fun, but I have to admit that the day to day family running of an antique takes time and effort and money and my savings are now running low.

So we applied for the form and have slogged at it ever since it arrived in the house and now it’s done thank God and sent off to the Department of Work and Pensions so that they can wade through it and decide whether I’m a suitable candidate for assistance or not.

But it’s given me considerable food for thought. I can’t be the only, elderly wreck who has done battle with the formidable form and I’ve had three people helping me with it. There must be lots of other oldies out there who try to tackle it on their own, because they have no-one to help them. And I really don’t know how any of them could possibly do it and I suspect that most will simply give up after a few pages and therefore not get the funding to pay for the help they need. And that does make me wonder – cynical old boot that I am – whether the point of the exercise might not be to deter too many applicants. And that makes me wonder how the people in need can really be helped.

Or maybe we’ve just all got to sit at home and wait to be culled. As Jeremy Warner suggested in an article published in The Telegraph on March 3rd 2020, ‘COVID-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents.’ 

Ain’t it nice to feel valued!! Oh woe. But now at last Lottie and I can go back to the final chapters of our current book and finish it off, which is a lovely thought to end this on and we’ve just seen our favourite green woodpecker in the garden which has cheered us up no end.

Fun one next time, I promise!

This entry was posted on June 18, 2021. 2 Comments

“We don’t pay taxes.” – The Queen of Mean.

There is no doubt now, that we live in hideously corrupt times. Our politicians lie as easily as they breathe and are never pulled up short for it. Our rich men, politicians and business men alike, organise society so that they don’t have to pay any tax of any kind. That was the reason we were lumbered with Brexit. And we put up with it, over and over again and accept it as the norm.

So let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time there was a rich woman called Leona Helmsley, whose net worth was $8 billion and who was put on trial in 1989 for ‘three counts of tax evasion, three counts of filing false personal tax returns, sixteen counts of assisting in the filing of false corporate and partnership tax returns, and ten counts of mail fraud.’

In the course of the trial, her housekeeper gave evidence that her mistress had boasted ‘We don’t pay taxes, only the little people pay taxes.’ But in those days, the law was clear and the law had to be obeyed. She was found guilty and sentenced to sixteen years in prison. In the event her lawyers contrived to have the sentence reduced to nineteen months in prison and two months under house arrest. But however long or short the sentence, the message was crystal clear.

ALL CITIZENS ARE REQUIRED TO PAY THEIR TAXES, THE RICH AS WELL AS THE POOR.

Oh how times have changed. Now, the majority of us meekly accept that the rich are above the law. They don’t have to pay taxes and they can lie with impunity and there is nothing that any of us can do about it. The liars are now quite brazen, appearing on television with complete permission to lie as much as they like and never be corrected. Johnson, Cummings, Hancock, Gove, the list goes on and on. The big national newspapers with the possible exception of The Guardian and all the national television stations with the possible exception of Channel 4, are dumb to any faults.

It begs a lot of questions. Why are so many people cowed by the powerful? Why are so many people afraid to tell the truth? Why are so many people so utterly subservient to what is plainly evil.

Answers on a postcard maybe. If you have any ideas or any plans for improvement please don’t keep them to yourselves. Spread the word, ask the questions. Be noticed.

Over 22 million of us have watched Peter Stefanovic’s video, detailing Johnson’s endless lying. We have passed on the news about it and spread the word and yet the media are still playing schtum. Shelley though should’st be living at this hour.

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many – they are few.

This entry was posted on June 11, 2021. 2 Comments

June is doing its best to blaze

I think the Fates – if there are such things – are trying to have pity on us this month and giving us something well worth looking at, because they know how bleak and difficult our lives have recently become.

So here are a few photographs we’ve taken in the garden today and a lovely poem by W H Davies, who is a great favourite of mine and has put into words how pleasurable it is to find ourselves in the middle of Summer.

All in June


A week ago I had a fire
To warm my feet, my hands and face;
Cold winds, that never make a friend,
Crept in and out of every place.

Today the fields are rich in grass,
And buttercups in thousands grow;
I’ll show the world where I have been—
With gold-dust seen on either shoe.

Till to my garden back I come,
Where bumble-bees for hours and hours
Sit on their soft, fat, velvet bums,
To wriggle out of hollow flowers.

W H Davies

So let’s drink to the summer and be glad!

This entry was posted on June 10, 2021. 2 Comments

A sad, unexpected anniversary

I opened my WordPress this morning and found much to my surprise that somebody had already visited it earlier in the morning and that the two blogs they’d been interested in was a very old one called ‘Who remembers Violet Elizabeth Bott?’ which has been visited steadily by one person ever since I put it up, but the second one was different, this was called ‘Word of warning about Blake’s Cottage’, and it has been around for exactly four years. So I opened it up to see what it was about it was about this particular blog that was interesting my singular visitor at this late stage.

It made very sad reading because it was an account of a message that had been sent by the Blake Cottage Trust to the members of the Felpham Village Conservation Society (FVCS). It turned out to be an invitation to the members of that society to come to a meeting in the Memorial Hall, to listen to Stuart Cade the architect who was in charge of the restoration of the cottage, I kid you not.

It is upsetting to see that despite all the grand talk and the costly architectural designs, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING came of that meeting. In fact I don’t suppose any one in the FVCS can even remember it, although I did hear a rumour that a small group of members had been formed whose purpose it was to visit the cottage at regular intervals and report on its condition. I have no idea whether anybody ever did such a thing and I can’t tell you what sort of state the interior of the cottage is in now, although people passing it by can see from the outside that it is in very poor repair indeed. And STILL nothing is being done about it. It makes me despair.

Anyway, I have put a link to this four year old blog below. I suppose I have just a hope that someone will see both blogs and take up the cudgels on behalf of our poor old historical cottage, perhaps someone who belongs to the FVCS and believes their motto ‘Preserve, Protect, Promote’. I am too old to fight now, I’m sorry to say and I don’t have the strength or the energy.

A very public spat!

And highly unedifying. But it has to be admitted that Dominic Cummings has spilled a few very troublesome beans, which gave Thursday’s Guardian four telling and truthful headlines.

‘Tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die.’

Cummings on Hancock: ‘He lied to everyone on multiple occasions.’

On Johnson as Prime Minister: ‘I regarded him as unfit for the job.’

On Covid: ‘When the public needed us most the government failed.’

All of this is ugly but most people would recognise it as the truth, especially the twenty million who have watched Peter Stefanovic’s video in which he detailed some of Johnson’s endless and dangerous lies. When he first put it up he challenged BBC TV to feature it on one of their news items, pointing out that if the media wouldn’t reveal what was going on, then we would have to do it for them. And there are now well over twenty million of us and the number grows daily.

The Speaker of the House of Commons has tried to explain to us that he has to rebuke MPs if they call out another MP as a liar. Even when he’s plainly lying through his teeth. This is because the rulebook states that no honourable gentlemen in the House can be accused of being a liar because honourable gentlemen are incapable of telling lies.

It has to be said and said loudly, that rulebook is now long out of date and there are a lot of people who are now prepared to stand up and say so.

I put this tweet up on Twitter yesterday and it was retweeted and retweeted and retweeted.

High time the Commons Speaker took a long look at his rule book. It is no longer accurate to say that honourable gentlemen cannot call other MPs liars, because they are gentlemen & therefore incapable of telling lies. The evidence against this is screaming at us.

Of course, for the sake of balance, we should remember that Thursday’s truth teller was the same man who was the Leave campaign director, working alongside Johnson, Michael Gove, Farage and money man Arron Banks. And that campaign, as most people now know, was based and won by those two monstrous lies on that red bus.

All these fellers lie like troopers to get their own way. It will be interesting to see what happens next. Will there be an inquiry? A new election? Or will they simply offer Hancock up as the sacrificial lamb to please the electorate and then just get on with their lives as usual, lies and all?

Watch this space as we used to say.

This entry was posted on May 28, 2021. 4 Comments

Timeless fiction newsletter

I have to say I feel honoured to be given star billing in the Timeless Fiction Newsletter, especially as the interviews I had with the Publishing Associate at Agora Books were such fun. Thank you Peyton! And writing the book was fun too, although there was rather more hard work and effort attached to that, but many pleasures too as I hope my answer to the first question on her Q&A will show.

She asked ‘What is your favourite thing about writing historical fiction?

And here is my answer ‘My favourite thing is finding out about different times and different people, both of which are fascinating.

So I then looked out some of the things I discovered while I was doing research for this particular book and it’s predecessor and here are some of the choicer things I found.

Here is Octavia writing about the children she is trying to teach, very different children as you will see from the ones who are in our schools today. These were kids growing up in appalling poverty.

“Most of our children are underfed and poorly clothed, many are ill. They have head lice and adenoids and toothache. When the weather’s bad they cough all the time. And they truant. If they’re girls and their mother goes to work they have to stay at home to look after the little’uns. If they’re boys and their father is working he takes them along as an extra pair of hands. And who can blame him? They need the money.”

She’s quite critical of the teachers who toil alongside her our Octavia. Partly because she can see that they are actually making rods for their own backs by the way they treat their pupils.

“Why do people think it’s necessary to shout at children so much?” she says to her father. “You don’t have to shout at them. When they’re happy they will listen to a whisper. There are times when I think the others just want to punish the poor little things, they shout so much and cane them for so little… Sometimes I suspect that they’re just doing what they’ve always done, without thinking about it.”

By the end of the book she has discovered that there is a process to learning and by then she is being asked to speak to would-be teachers in teacher training colleges. Here she is again in full flow. Oh I did enjoy writing that bit.

“To begin at the beginning. We know that learning is a natural process, like breathing, feeding, sleeping and all the other natural processes that are necessary to us if we are to live and thrive. In fact in many ways it is almost exactly similar to the digestive process. Both begin with an appetite, for food in the one case, for knowledge and new experiences in the other. That is the first phase. Both are followed by activities which satisfy the appetite – eating and drinking on the one hand, questioning and dogged experimentation on the other. That is the second phase. It will go on apparently indefatigably and sometimes for a very long time. Both are followed by a period of digestion, when the child is satisfied and happy. That is the third stage. After that there is a fourth stage – and this may surprise you if your study of the learning process has not so far been much extended – a fourth phase when what is learnt seems to have been forgotten. Haven’t we all heard teachers who say ‘I tell them over and over again and they still don’t know it’? Take heart. There is a fifth phase and this one will encourage you. The fifth phase is a return to the knowledge or skill that has been learnt in phase two. And, lo and behold, when the child has learnt according to the natural process she has not forgotten, any more than you forget when you haven’t ridden a bicycle for a few days. You simply get into the saddle and pedal away. It is all beautifully modulated and beautifully simple. You wait for the appetite, you provide the child with the information and material it needs and the child learns.”

Of course I’m biased in her favour, I spent the years between 1952 and 1985 teaching, sometimes part time, sometimes full time and this was the theory I followed, having imbibed it from the pioneering educationalists of my time. I still think it has a lot going for it and so (not surprisingly) does the hero of the third book in the Octavia Trilogy. I’ve travelled a long road with Octavia.

If I haven’t put you off by all this stuff about the theory of education and you would like a copy of the newsletter, you can read it here.

What do you mean?

Somewhere between 77 and 78 years ago (I should be so old!) an English teacher I was very fond of and now to my shame can’t remember, in one of the ten schools I attended during the war and to my shame I can’t remember which one it was, gave us all some excellent advice which has rooted in my brain ever since. Even when you’re ninety there are some things you do remember. And this is what it was. ‘Always say what you mean,’ she told us. ‘And always mean what you say.’ It’s something in my ramshackle way I’ve tried to follow ever since.

And now this morning my younger daughter and I found a splendid example of gobbledegook words that didn’t mean anything at all. Let me tell you the story.

I always do the Guardian’s quick crossword as I’m eating my breakfast every morning and this mornings was a corker, because it had a clue in it that I simply didn’t understand. 22 Across ‘Exploitation to the point of diminishing returns (7).’ It said cryptically. I couldn’t make any sense of it at all. And when Caroline arrived to join me at the tail end of the meal and to see how I was getting on with my crossword I handed it over to her and she couldn’t make sense of it either, so she looked it up on Google and this is the answer we got.

“In economics, diminishing returns is the decrease in marginal (incremental) output of a production process as the amount of a single factor of production is incrementally increased, holding all other factors of production equal” – Wikipedia

I’m afraid we just sat where we were, side by side at my conservatory table and laughed ourselves silly, because neither of us could understand a word of it. When we’d finished laughing we looked it up on another site and got an answer of sorts, which didn’t make a lot of sense to us either, ‘overuse’. It was the intrusion of returns that threw us both off course, but it set me thinking about words being used to convey meaning.

Like all writers, I see it as part of my trade to use words as explicitly, honestly and powerfully as I can. I don’t always get it right but I always aim high.

My splendid English teacher all those years ago made me think and made me respect meaning. ‘Say what you mean’ and ‘mean what you say’ is a good motto to live by, especially now in our lie-sodden times.

As Hamlet says to annoy Polonius when that difficult old man asks him what he’s reading, ‘Words, words, words.’

Second book in the Octavia Trilogy, now out!

This is a bit of self promotion, so I’ll send it with an apology. But for the first time in a long while, I don’t feel embarrassed about pushing my work, because I know that this is a story that will give quite a lot of people the answers to some of the questions about World War Two that they’ve been asking on Facebook and Twitter.

For example ‘What was it like to be evacuated at the start of the war? A lot of people thinking about it now assume that the evacuees must have been frightened but in fact, we weren’t. It was all a bit of an adventure or at least it was to start with. I can remember dismantling my gas mask, which we had to carry in a cardboard box over our shoulders all the time. There were a whole gang of us who took our masks to pieces so that we could play ‘elephants’ having discovered that if all the filters were taken out of the mask, you could put a piece of paper down on a table and suck onto the end of the mask, just by pulling in your breath. And of course we had our teachers with us, good, bad and indifferent and that made things feel normal.

In this book Octavia is a headmistress and we see her caring for her evacuees in her inimitable way, making sure that there were always staff available to comfort her pupils when bad news arrived, as it inevitably did.

And on a more serious note, there are lots of people thinking about these things today who wonder how on earth they coped in a bombed city when their house had been blown to pieces. In this book Octavia’s niece and her family emerge from the underground, where they’ve been sheltering all night, to discover that their house in which they lived was just a pile of rubble and that all their possessions had been blown to smithereens. Naturally enough they went straight to Woking where Octavia’s school had been evacuated and, once in Woking, straight to Octavia’s front door.

And now here’s my Octavia being published again by Agora Books, for the second time in her career. I think quite a lot of people might enjoy reading about her, as much as I did writing her story. It’s is available on Amazon as from today here.

And because this is a trilogy, there’s a third book called Octavia’s Legacy which is due to come out later this year.

This entry was posted on May 13, 2021. 4 Comments

The Spring has sprung!

This one is just to cheer us up and God knows we need cheering with so much bad news to drag us down. Spring comes round regardless of what we foolish human beings are doing.

So let’s sing along with Thomas Morley, even if – like me – we are a very long way from being ‘merry lads’ or ‘bonny lasses’

Now is the month of maying,
When merry lads are playing,
Fa la la la la la la la la,
Fa la la la la la la lah.
Each with his bonny lass
Upon the greeny grass.
Fa la la la la la la la la, etc…

The Spring, clad all in gladness,
Doth laugh at Winter’s sadness,
Fa la la, etc…
And to the bagpipe’s sound
The nymphs tread out their ground.
Fa la la, etc…

Fie then! why sit we musing,
Youth’s sweet delight refusing?
Fa la la, etc…
Say, dainty nymphs, and speak,
Shall we play barley break?
Fa la la etc…

Thomas Morley

Or to put it another way…

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz
I wonder where the boidies is
They say the boid is on the wing
But that’s absoid, the wing is on the boid!

Anonymous.

The news the media tell us we are to ignore.

Let me introduce you to my nearest hero. It is perfectly possible that a lot of you know him already, but some might not.

He is a journalist and a very good one and he has made a video of our Prime Mendacitor telling lies to the House of Commons and put it up on Twitter, suggesting that people should spread the word because it is high time we pushed our media to start telling the truth about what is going on, as he says “if they won’t hold this Prime Minister to account.. we will damn well do it ourselves!”.

The message was taken up and viewed by no fewer then 15 million people, but the media are still doing as their bosses tell them and staying schtum. I find it horrifying that a compulsive liar should be a) the Prime Minister of this country and b) lying to the House and apparently getting away with it. But he is, and he is.

And that set me to thinking about deliberate lying and the terrible damage it does. It’s not a new thing but the scale of it is now, frankly, terrifying.

Compulsive lying has been brilliantly analysed in an article by http://www.psycopathfree.com, which I’m quoting here in full.

“Gleefully dishonest, intentionally ambiguous, eternally bored and unfathomably manipulative – pathological liars are the ultimate masters of deception. They always have excuses for their inexcusable behaviour and somehow it is never their fault. They cheat, manipulate and steal — but they still play the victim. They lie, even when it is not necessary – even when the truth would be the better story. They lie for sport, as proof that the recipient of their lies is inferior to them. However, believing in someone else does not make a person weak. It makes them capable of love, trust, compassion and kindness. These are all emotions that the pathological liar is incapable of feeling. In their attempts to manufacture superiority, pathological liars only reveal the pitiful nature of the emptiness that consumes their soul.”

And lying is nothing new. When I started to write this blog I remembered that I had written two poems about liars and lying a very long time ago, but when my lovely amanuensis found them I was shocked to see how long ago it was. 44 years no less. I should be so old!

So here they are as my sixpenn’orth to this debate. ‘Liars are Lovely’ could have been written about our Prime Mendacitor, although as you see, it wasn’t.

Is lying endemic in our political society? And if it is, what can we do about it?

Liars are Lovely. August 1977

A liar is a comfortable man. He’s right.
Easy to look at, in a well-placed light,
Where his stage make-up isn’t obvious,
His charm is sweet but rarely nauseous
His false teeth gleam, the toupee joins don’t peel,
The padded shoulders almost pass for real,
A twisted spine is hidden by his suit.
Truth’s such an ugly brute.

A liar’s a companion you won’t fear.
He tells you only what you want to hear
Good for a laugh to gloss the time of day.
Or a slick tale to chase your blues away
Where passion is not raw but sentimental.
Riot and rape, and all things elemental.
May tear the other harder world apart
He’ll keep such horrors from your placid heart;
Nothing he says or does will make you rue it;
He’ll talk of sex but very rarely do it;
And if you’re fifty make you feel fifteen.
The truth’s so bloody mean.

A liar is a politician, made
To keep all truthful thinkers in the shade.
He’ll mesmerize you till you feel you could
Give him your vote for each consumer good
You’ve ever dreamed that you could want or need.
Especially when he smiles into your greed.
He’ll chloroform your conscience as you buy.
Leave megadeath to his remedial lie.
To arm is noble; death is a release;
Carnage is colourful. And war is peace.
And if the bombs should chance to fall on you,
He’ll smile sincerely, “Nothing he could do.”
Knowing that in a bureaucracy, most politics
Are muffled in close carpeted statistics
Where truth is dull, deadly and repetitious,
And readily avoided by the ambitions.
What people need is just their daily lie,
The lie sensational, dull truth put by.
The truth’s so uninspiring; makes you bored.
Leave truth to artists. They can be ignored.

Good Guys Don’t Win February 1978

(with apologies to Ogden Nash)

The assumption of superiority
Is, without question, a No 1 priority
If you intend to have the temerity to compete
With all those pushing, shoving, crawling members of the new bureaucratic elite.
You can commit adultery, fiddle the books, con, borrow or steal
Providing you do it in secret, and hide it even from yourself,
Because if you are so stupid as to reveal
Anything to anybody, even the hairline fracture of a mild self-doubt
Then you shouldn’t be surprised when hordes of insecure bullies come screaming down determined to knock you out.
For quite the most dangerous of any commodity
Is honesty.
And really, if you’re going in for this game, for your own protection
It’s the first of the virtues you should jettison or hide away from any possibility of detection.
There may have been a few honest politicians but nobody has ever noticed ’em or missed ’em
Which is no surprise really, because you can’t expect natural justice from the British parliamentary system.
So if you want to be a success in our society you’d better try hard,
No matter how imperfect you may be, to acquire a façade
And if you’re thinking of kicking your way into the political scrimmage
Remember it’s not the personality that counts, nor the party, nor the issues – just the image.

Having got to this point in my diatribe I’m at a loss to know how to sign off, perhaps we should paraphrase Shelley, THOSE OF US WHO TELL THE TRUTH ARE MANY, THOSE OF US WHO LIE ARE FEW.

Strength to your arm Mr Stefanovic. There are 15 million of us cheering you on.