Sunday, 30 December 2007

A Cough and Cold Christmas

It is usually about this time over the festive period that my feet get itchy. I'm bored now with the fairy lights, tinsel and too much food. Now I want something more austere. I want space, clear rooms, new toys to be put away in their new homes. I need fresh, light healthy food, and I need exercise.

This Christmas saw us all fall prey to colds (if we're female) or flu (the one isolated male). We've been coughing all night and sleeping all day. Luckily the TV has provided plenty of entertainment to keep small, poorly children occupied while the adults nod off on the sofa. Christmas present DVDs have assisted too, but there's a chunk in the middle of Shrek the Third that I have yet to see - I slept through it when we saw the film at Theatr Mwldan and I slept through it again at home on Boxing Day.

The house reeks of Vick, we've used up bottles of Calpol and Tixylix Night and snowdrifts of used Kleenex are piling up in the cimne fawr. The main victim of this illness has been the food, which we haven't really felt like eating, so much of it has been cooked, picked at and then frozen.

But we've had nice visits from jolly friends too - most of whom arrived with their own version of the cold/flu, as well as gifts and bottles of wine. So we coughed and spluttered and picked at food together over convivial glasses of wine in front of roaring fires to warm our aches and pains.

So it is now time to think of 2008 and and make a few resolutions. Last year's were to lose weight, get fit and write my novel. For once I actually achieved two of those: The getting fit part failed, but I did lose a stone in weight and write the first draft of my novel.

This year's resolutions are to lose more weight (and get fit), rewrite my novel, tidy up the house and redecorate it, and tidy up the garden and plant it.

But there are still two days to go before I need embark on my grandiose plans for 2008. Two days of eating, drinking and being merry, although I'm not at all a New Year party type of gal. I prefer to be on my own or just with my husband on New Year's Eve. The days when I hauled myself out to the local pub to be forced to kiss God-Knows-Who drunk on Heaven-Knows-What are long past. I'm not the sort to join the throngs to watch the Big Ben bongs either. I'd rather do that from the comfort of my sofa.

Except when 1999 became 2000. I did venture out then to watch some fabulous fireworks, then returned home to watch the New Millennium being born on TV. But then, clutching my glass of champagne, I heard more bangs, and ran outside, into the field outside the house and upwards to the highest point of our land. All around me the sky was flowering with fireworks and I got an almost 360 degree panorama of a display, only the hill behind was blocking out all but the most exuberant rockets in the direction of Cardigan. Down below us, towards Tenby, Haverfordwest, Pembroke Dock and Milford Haven I could see hundreds of fireworks being let off. Then I realised it was raining, it was muddy and I was wearing my slippers. I was still carrying my glass of champagne too. I toasted the fiery sky, then headed back inside to my husband who rolled his eyes at my muddy socks and opened another Budweiser.

I'll leave the last words on New Year to Mark Twain:

"New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions."

Friday, 21 December 2007

A wintery walk

I thought I'd take you on my afternoon walk with my dog, Mido. The ground has been frozen solid now for three days and the frost glitters beautifully in the low, slanting winter sunbeams.

The garden looks a little untidy. Brian has been chainsawing trees and trimming bits of the hedge where needed. We are currently removing sycamores and replacing them with oak saplings that I have grown from acorns picked up from under our existing oaks. It's a long term project! The three white blobs in the left hand corner of the picture are our remaining ducks. They are looking a bit guilty as they have climbed over the bank and are where they are not supposed to be.
Our walk takes us past the garden, through double gates, across the yard and on to the bridlepath. Mido has to go on the lead because the sheep have access to the green lane and the ram is with them. This means it not a good time for Mido to 'play' chasing the sheep. Actually there's never a good time for that.

A quick pause to look at the sunlight on this beautiful tree. The picture does not show that the bank has been washed away from under the tree's roots by the rain and it is hanging precariously over the lane. But it must be fairly secure with its remaining roots, as it has been like this for years.

Time for a zoom about. This is Parc Maen Hir (Long Stone Field). It has a lovely steep slope which is perfect for tobogganing, but it makes me feel sad because my lovely and much missed horses are buried at the bottom of the slope under the shelter of the hedge.

The Preseli Hills are a bit hazy today. This is the highest in the range and often wears a shroud of sea mist or low cloud. They look a lot nearer to the naked eye, but the camera makes them appear much further away.

It's a really steep slope in this field. So steep even the dog grinds to a halt for a breather at the top. There's not a cloud in the sky and the moon is nearly full.

Pippin and Bullseye were both lying down having an afternoon nap in the sun, which actually feels quite warm, although the air is bitingly cold. They got up to see who was looking over the hedge at them.

Back out on to the green lane. This is an ancient right of way. The trees curve their branches over it and in the summer it is a tunnel of green. In the autumn we find little chewed hazelnut shells which could be from squirrels, but I really hope they are the remnants of a dormouse's supper.

Back home now and in the warm. This is the window next to the corner where my computer sits on a desk. I have just lit the woodburning stove, so there is a lovely woodsmokey smell. There's a cup of tea by my left hand and behind me Hannah and Rosie are sitting at the dining table drawing pictures.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

A slight technical hitch...

I've had a slight technical fault with my car. This morning the oil fell out and landed in a big shiny puddle on the driveway.

Most inconvenient.

Apparently the oil filter was loose. That would explain the drips of oil on the driveway under the car for the last week. Much-Maligned Husband fixed it, of course, then got to drive it to work by way of a reward (it has a CD player; the other car doesn't.)

The whole scenario, of course, signals the difference between men and women. Men, I'm told (by M-MH) would have spotted the drips of oil and fixed the leak. Women, according to M-MH, would have ignored the leak, hoping that it would 'go away' or 'mend itself'. He is also firmly of the opinion that, had the warning light come on during the school run, I would have carried on driving until the engine seized. Now, I know I'm not that stupid, but it's best if he's kept in the dark about that.

"Why have a dog and bark yourself?" I told him, handing him a jar to open.


So Christmas is nearly upon us. Cinderella and Beach Barbie (aka Hannah and Rosie) have performed their school show three times now. They only had small parts, being at the littlest end of the school, but had a thoroughly good time. Parents and Grandparents sat on tiny little chairs and clapped enthusiastically through the pain of our numbing buttocks. The show ran for two hours as every one of the 103 pupils at the school had to have their moment of fame, but it was two hours of solid entertainment, with some astonishingly talented young performers. We smiled proudly and mopped sentimental tears.

The children are so tired today though after two consecutive evening performances. They were due to have a day off school to recover, by order of the headteacher, but instead they have a seasonal visit by Jane Hutt, Assembly Education minister, so had to be coaxed from their deep slumbers and made smart. There will be a pretence of working at the curriculum which has been abandoned for the last few weeks in favour of show business.

Tomorrow is the big school Christmas party when uniforms are cast aside with the curriculum and the fun starts again. Sion Corn (Santa) is scheduled to visit, perhaps for final confirmation that every one of the children has been most exceptionally good this year.

Back at home the presents are (nearly) all wrapped and the fridge is beginning to fill with the necessities for a seasonal feast. I'm not sure if everything is ready, but for once I'm so full of the spirit of Christmas, that I'm not too worried about anything else. There are a few outstanding bits and bobs, but I haven't got to worry about braving the festive crowds: I've sent M-MH off with a list!

Friday, 14 December 2007

It's Christmas time!

I love Christmas! Only 11 days to go now and I am really beginning to feel festive. I think Christmas is even more fun now that I have little children of my own; like many parents I am conscious of making it magical for them (and me!).

We have "written" letters to Santa. The inverted commas are because we did them just before Rosie's fourth birthday and, although she can manage a passable 'Rosie' she's not quite up to a full scale Santa letter yet. So instead we took the Argos catalogue and other Christmas brochures apart, got out the scissors and the glue and did collages.

Last night we sent them to Santa via the medium of smoke. Brian opened up the wood burning stove and popped the letters onto its roaring logs. Hannah and Rosie told the resulting smoke that they had been good girls and mentioned the specific presents they would most like to have (Mummy took notes).

Then there was the tree. We built it together - because of the wood burning stove which, at full throttle, is hotter than lava - we have an artificial tree which has a central stem and poke in branches. It isn't the same as a real tree - but we tried a real tree once and had a naked tree standing above a pile of needles by December 2nd.

Once the tree was made the girls elbowed me aside and grabbed the box of decorations. I stood at a safe distance, just popping in to remind them to decorate the back too.

Meanwhile I fashioned a wreath out of holly, ivy and some rather voluptuous viburnum, added some fairy lights and baubles and hung it on the door. The icicle lights are up, as are the twinkling lights on the beech hedge and we're nearly ready for Santa.

All that remains now is to make some reindeer food (bird seed, loads of glitter, mix up, then sprinkle outside on the driveway on Christmas Eve - the glitter disappears eventually.) and hang up our stockings.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Road rage on the school run

I have just suffered from a bit of road rage. I'm not entirely sure if I came out of the encounter entirely well, either.

I was on my way home from taking Rosie to school at 1pm, when I encountered a shiny black car coming towards me. I slowed, but realised he was right by a large passing place, so I carried on, assuming he'd pull over. He didn't. He carried on. We stopped and eventually, with much huffing and puffing he reversed alongside the passing place, which was on HIS side of the road and beckoned me to pull off into it, so we would pass right side to right side.

Now, there are not many things that annoy me more than being told to pass right side to right side. I was brought up in Pony Club and at riding schools and on ponies you always pass left to left. That goes for cars too, especially in Britain, where we drive on the left. So I said no.

We sat and contemplated each other for a while. He waved for me to pull over to the right. I indicated back that I would drive on the correct side of the road, while HE pulled into his side of the road. Then he got out of his car.

If he had jumped out of his car and run down the road towards me, I think I would have wound up my window and reversed out of trouble. But he didn't. He climbed laboriously out of his car (which served him right for pulling in so close to MY side of the road!) and limped towards me. As he got to the front of my car he made very big and obvious gesticulations that I should pull over onto the pulling off place. So I stuck my head out of my car window and said (in my best Margot Leadbetter voice):

"In this country we drive on the left. I will pass you on the left, if you pull in."

He approached the window and replied (in a heavily German accented voice): "Since you made no effort to back up for me..."

"You were nearest the passing place!" I objected.

"Zo I zinc the least you can do is pull over for me," he continued.

"In this country we drive on the left!" I shrieked at his departing back.

He turned, shocked. (Perhaps he heard me the second time!) I pulled over into the passing place. I could see this was not an argument I was going to win. I had said my piece and by that time I was shaking with rage.

He seems to be the sort of man who thinks he can push 'little women' around. I have reversed for him on many occasions. He has forced me to pass him on the right hand side before too. I think that, since the passing place was a tiny bit muddy, he wanted to keep his shiny black car clean and it would be okay, as far as he was concerned, for me to get my car dirty.

And I have already been berated by my husband for saying this, but he was old enough to have been in the last war on the other side. He was certainly looking as if he wanted to order a firing squad for me! He wanted me to obey. I didn't want to and I am still angry that he made me obey eventually.

Look! He's made me go all non-PC! I know really, as a responsible citizen one is supposed to allow people like him their little foibles. The Barefoot Doctor says in such situations you should smile and allow the person to carry on and do their thing. But Barefoot's a Buddhist and I'm not.

What, I wonder, will happen next time I meet him on the road? I may have appeared racist towards him, but I didn't know he was foreign until he spoke. But we DO drive on the left, he SHOULD have pulled over on his side of the road.

Brian says he's going to get me the biggest 4x4 we can afford. Something with bull bars: a Nissan Patrol or a big Mitsubishi. I asked for a tank and was told to get my head out of the Second World War.

It seems, when confronted with a German, I turned into Basil Fawlty. Oops!

Friday, 7 December 2007

What's in a name - part 2

Thinking of the funny names people sometimes have - and I forgot the chap who is rather wonderfully called 'Friend Wood' - also made me think of place names.

I remember being delighted as a child when we passed a signpost pointing one way to Ham Sandwich, while Pea Green was in the other direction. We also lived near the delightfully named Wyre Piddle, Grafton Flyford, Libbery and Upton Snodsbury. The thing is, I never thought they were funny when I lived near them. Now, living in Wales, I think they are hilarious.

That part of Worcestershire has some lovely names. My primary school was in Himbleton, a lovely bimbling sort of a name, pleasant in the mouth, rather like Ombersley which isn't all that far away. Imagine a Grundy saying those on the Archers (and we are talking Archers country here) and you know why the rural Worcestershire accent sounds like it does!

Many of the names pop up in David Mitchell's wonderful book 'Black Swan Green' which is an evocative tale of a Worcestershire childhood. Here the author uses the village names as names for people, such as a Mr Ockeridge. It's a really good read anyway, but knowledge of that particular part of the world turns the book into an absolute joy.

Now I live in an area with names almost incomprehensible to the non-Welsh, such as Mynachlogddu and Eglwyswrw. I was once told by the manager (yes, we had got that far) when I rang the AA for insurance that my house name couldn't possibly exist. It isn't a word, apparently. What a cheek!

At least, in Welsh, the place names mean something. Maenclochog, for example, means stone (Maen), ringing (clochog). A lovely little cottage nearby is called 'Travel' which has evolved from 'Ty'r Efail'. In England it would be called 'The Smithy'.

And that is another bugbear. People do move into the area, which is fine. But when they then immediately change their house name from something Welsh, such as 'Felin', into the English 'Mill', they don't exactly win friends or endear themselves to the local people. A delivery driver called round last week with a parcel. He then was looking for somewhere in the village called 'Little Stream'. He had no idea. He then worked out that what he was looking for was 'Fynnon Bach'. Ah ha! He's non-Welsh speaking too, but speaks 'place name Welsh'.

I do feel a little sorry for friends and relatives, though, particularly at this Christmas card-writing time of year. They do their best. Poor old Grandad Bob, for example, sends his letters to a mish-mash of our address, ending in 'Penbrookshire'. Close enough. Most try to make English sense out of the Welsh by adding a vowel or two, here and there, to make it more acceptable to the English palate. Our postman manages to find us, although sometimes we get letters with blue biro notes on saying things like: "NOT Carmarthenshire" or "near Maenclochog".

I once did a news story about a letter which was delivered to a woman in Fishguard. It had come all the way from Germany, if memory serves me correctly. The front of the envelope included a head and shoulders photograph of the woman, and the words: This Lady, Fishguard, Wales. It took only a day or so to reach her. Clever old Postie!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

I'm plucking up courage...

I'm plucking up courage to post an extract from my NaNoWriMo novel on my blog.

The first step is to post some fiction I already have had published, so I have created a new blog, . I can park the fiction there, away from the more mundane stuff on here.

The story 'Like a Lamb to the Slaughter' was the first piece of prose I wrote when I joined a creative writing class about six or seven years ago. It was published in Cambrensis: Short Story Wales, issue number 48. Cambrensis is a small circulation literary magazine published in Wales (in English) with the support of the Wales Arts Council.

It was a huge thrill to have fiction published; I was then a reporter on the local newspaper, so I was well used to seeing my name and my new stories in print. Fiction was a different matter altogether. It was even reviewed in the paper I worked on. I remember the reviewer - a respected colleague - described my story as 'cynical', which I suppose it is really.

The story also features one of the characters from my NaNoWriMo novel, except in 'Lamb' he is called Matt. When he reappered in my novel he had changed his name to Nick, but he's definitely the same guy!

It's funny really, I had always planned to write slushy romantic stuff, as that is what I enjoy reading. What comes out is more like the Bourne Identity, all conspiracy and intrigue, but enjoyable to write nonetheless.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

What's in a name?

Talk of favourite names over on the Purplecoo site the other day reminded me that I used to collect a list of interesting names when I was a reporter.

My job of course brought me into contact with a diverse range of people and some had the most amazing names. One I remember vividly was a woman I had to ring for a story involving access to one of our local beaches. There was some dispute over whether it was sensible for people to be allowed to continue to drive onto the beach in their cars. The woman's name was Sandy Beaches. She assured me that it wasn't a joke!

Another time was when there had been a rather wild and windy night with heavy rain. The roof of a local nightclub had been damaged and the club had suffered flooding to its dance floor. The manager was called Ivor Squelch. I realised the significance of his name halfway through the phone call then spent the rest of the interview trying desperately not to laugh. At one point I actually snorted down my nose and had to pretend it was a sneeze!

I also remember the delightfully named Hope Lemon, who was a really lovely person, but I also remember encountering a Mr De'ath. I don't think that apostrophe really fooled anyone. I was reminded of him when I was watching Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman on 'Long Way Down' on Sunday night. They were travelling with Dai the Doctor, which is a name I am sure, that has the potential to be slightly alarming.

Doctor: "Hello, I'm Dai, the doctor. Where does it hurt?"

Patient: "No thanks, Dr Die, I choose life."

Names, for a reporter, are a minefield. It did not help that I had the habit of instantly forgetting the more mundane names, such as John Brown. I once spent the day on a feature about the local traffic police, being ferried around the county, sometimes at hair-raising speeds with the 'blues and twos' on. At the end of the day I realised I had forgotten the police officer's name. Then I had a brainwave: Ask him how to spell it. So I did.

"S. M. I. T. H." He dead-panned. I felt like the village idiot.

And then there was poor Mr Thoms. I wrote about him a few times, the final time, sadly, was his obituary. Every single time I put his name in, the sub-editors changed it to 'Thomas', despite notes to the contrary and a bit of foot-stamping in subs' corner.

I wish I'd kept the list now. By the time I left to go on maternity leave (never to return!) I had a substantial list of sometimes quite delightful names. Including, it is alleged, a girl called Jenny Taylor. It sounds innocuous, but try it a few times...

Monday, 3 December 2007

A sad day

Well, it was inevitable, I suppose. Three of our ducks are missing, presumed dead. We had six charming mostly white ducks. They are a cross between Appleyard, Call Duck and Mallard.

We had four drakes and two ducks, which was going to prove a problem when they were older; indeed we had even talked of the necessity of serving up some of the drakes 'a l'orange' but we didn't get that far.

Last night, as dusk fell, I went out to put them to bed. I've been training them: I say "bedtime duckies", they quack and queue to go into their pen, indian file. They were beginning to get the hang of it too. Last night there were only three to say "bedtime duckies" to.

I searched, as darkness fell, knowing all the while that it was a futile search. This morning we found a patch of forlorn feathers. The missing ducks are, of course, the prettiest. We only had one which had the typical call duck call: She's gone.

The missing ducks are the one at the back above, not in the water, with the coloured back feathers; the one nearest the camera in the water (the noisy one) and the one just seen beyond her.

I was heartbroken. I really shouldn't keep ducks, I get too fond of them.

Hannah, who is five, said something along the lines of: "Never mind, Mummy, I expect a fox and his family had them for their dinner. There was a daddy fox, a mummy fox and a baby fox and they all had a duck each." Every cloud has a silver lining, apparently. So we lost three ducks, but the foxes had something nice to eat. Gee, thanks, Pollyanna!

So we have three left. Today. But Mr Fox, Mrs Fox and Master Fox know there is another feathery dinner in my vegetable garden. Sitting there. Like ducks.