Monday, July 26, 2010

Somewhat damp apologies

Sorry, it's been an age since I updated this. I'm not sure where the last couple of weeks have gone, to be honest - I seem to have been working as usual, but the days have zoomed past and I lost track.

I do know where the last couple of days have gone, though, and they've been distinctly damp. During the week we'd noticed water dripping in our pantry (a long narrow space under the stairs) and thought we'd tracked it back to a badly-repaired joint in the main water pipe down there. By Saturday, it was significantly worse so we called out a plumber who banged and thumped and repaired the thing as well as he could (Saturday not being a good day for plumbing since all the builders' merchants tend to shut at midday). He left with profuse apologies for not giving us a permanent fix, and a promise to come back on Monday to finish the job.

On Sunday morning we awoke to find a pool of water on the pantry floor, and the ominous sound of dripping. Further investigation revealed that the joint in the pipe was bone-dry, which meant the water had to be coming from somewhere else - but where? It wasn't until I spotted a mysterious dark stain on the hall wallpaper that we realised the awful truth - it was coming through from next door. This takes some doing, believe me, since the party wall is nearly two feet thick. But coming through it was, and at an ever-increasing rate.

I gathered old towels, and sent Dave off on a neighbour-hunt. Our next-door neighbours themselves were away, but next-door-but-one had a key, and he and Dave went in to investigate. Seconds later Dave shot back, liberally sprayed with water, and hared off again with his toolbox. Turns out their boiler, which is in their attic, had burst, and water had quite literally been cascading down through their house for days. The men got the water turned off at the mains, which at least stopped things getting any worse. There was still an awful lot of water to drain away, though, and although it's slowly drying we've been left with a huge patch of sodden plaster in the hall, and a total mess in the pantry. It'll take weeks or even months to dry out completely and we're thinking of hiring a dehumidifier, to try to keep the damp, rot and mould at bay.

We're just grateful, though, that we discovered it when we did. Things could have been much worse for us, and a complete and utter disaster for our neighbours, if that water had continued to cascade...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In the style of...

This is a bit of nonsense, but fun - and a potential boost to your confidence if you're banging your head against the keyboard and the words won't come.

Enter a snippet of your writing in the box, press 'analyse' and hey presto - it'll tell you which famous author you write like.

I write like
Margaret Atwood

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I would love to know how this gadget works. I suspect it's completely random, since friends have entered different bits of text and it's come up with a different author name every time. On the other hand, it could be doing some impossibly complex calculations, based on common words and phrases...

I'm delighted with the result I got, but here's a word of warning. A friend of mine put a sample of her writing in and it came up with... Dan Brown. I'm trying to talk her down from the parapet of the bridge as I type. :D

Friday, July 09, 2010

Colourful sayings

Do you ever wonder where all those cliches and aphorisms come from? We seem to spout them on a regular basis and some of them are wonderfully colourful, even if their meanings have been lost in the mists of time.

It was usually the older members of my family who trotted these things out any time there was a gap in the conversation. 'It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good' was a favourite of one elderly great-aunt, along with 'it's a long lane that has no turning'; my grandmother preferred 'a little of what you fancy does you good' which is at least clearer, and a great excuse for a bit of quiet excess from time to time.

I don't think any of my family's sayings can beat this, though, taken from a quote on i-Google this morning: 'The black cat is always the last one off the fence.' The author, Solomon Short, adds, 'I have no idea what [my grandmother] meant...' No, nor have I, but I'd love to know whether she knew what she meant. And even more, I'd love to know where that saying came from, and which particular cats it was talking about!

Monday, July 05, 2010

Byker Books - ooops!

Anyone reading my blog post from last week about Andy Rivers' appearance on tv, and trying to watch the programme on Wednesday 6th July, will soon realise that either they're in an alternate universe or else muggins here got it wrong.

Well, as far as I'm aware we'll all stuck in the same reality, which means only one thing. Mea culpa! Sorry. Money Watch, featuring Andy Rivers, is on Tuesday 6th July at 8.00 pm on BBC2.

I'll be watching and, now that we've cleared that up, I hope you will be too!

All that jazz

For a complete change yesterday we gathered up a couple of friends, various chairs and rugs, and the makings of a picnic and set off for the 'Mostly Jazz Festival' in Moseley Park.

This is a brand new music festival in Moseley, which already plays host to the internationally-acclaimed Moseley Folk Festival each September, and whoever organised it clearly has some 'clout' in the music business because the line-up included Courtney Pine, Andy Hamilton and the Blue Notes, and several other luminaries of the jazz scene. (Whoever came up with the dreadful pun in the festival's name wants shooting, on the other hand...).

Moseley Park is the perfect venue for these smaller festivals - pretty, enclosed, intimate, yet large enough to house three separate stages, a food 'village', and space for several thousand spectators sat or laid out on the grassy slopes. Music, company and ambiance were all fantastic; sadly only the weather let us down. On Saturday it was sunny and around 26c. Yesterday iron grey clouds rolled across the sky and stayed there, stubbornly, all afternoon. A strong and surprisingly cold wind sprang up and by four o'clock it was drizzling. By five o'clock we were frozen to the marrow and decided, sadly, to call it a day. Of course, half an hour after we'd got back home the clouds cleared away, the sun came out and the temperature soared again, but at least we'd had four and a half hours of fabulous music and fun - which is better than most concerts when you think about it.

And our favourite 'act' of the day? Well, it had to be The Bright Size Gypsies, playing a range of 'gypsy jazz' and swing. They played brilliantly, and had the audience on their feet and dancing for pretty much the whole of their set.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Killing off dads

No, don't worry, I'm not advocating mass patricide, just pondering a fun little article on the BBC TV blog entitled 'Disappearing Dads'. To put it briefly, the author, Andrew Martin, realised that all his work to date showed fathers as 'mad, bad, just generally useless, or entirely absent' and that lots of other fiction followed the same pattern.

And you know, I think he could be right. A quick trawl round various classics reveals a trail of fathers who are missing, dead, or otherwise incapacitated. In The Railway Children the father is vital, but absent for most of the book. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo was an orphan and brought up by his older cousin Bilbo. Harry Potter's an orphan too, as is Garion in David Eddings' Belgariad series. Even where the hero is a (step)father himself he's absent in mind or body, like Dick in Daphne du Maurier's 'House on the Strand'. And in the two most recent books I've read, firstly the heroine was illegitimate and only discovered at the end of the book that her absentee father was the local lord of the manor; and secondly the hero's future father-in-law drops dead fairly early on. No exceptions to the rule there, then.

I'd love to know why this is. My immediate thought was that perhaps most authors have had terrible relationships with their own fathers and are either seeking revenge or simply have no experience of a good father-child relationship to write about. But Andrew Martin says this isn't the case for him, so it must be something else.

Is fiction simply mirroring the society of the time? In the past, lots of fathers were absent, perhaps because they were away fighting wars or exploring or setting up distant trade routes, and there must have been a good deal of 'seducing and abandoning' going on. These days dads are working away from home, or divorced from their kids' mother and living with someone else. There must always have been millions of fathers who've had a great relationship with their children, of course, but for some reason they don't seem to make it into fiction.

And me? Well, my relationship with my Dad wasn't particularly close and in much of my fiction I've realised to my shame that fathers don't really exist. Characters have doting mothers or bossy mothers or interfering mothers... but they might as well have been brought up in a test tube for all the mention I make of their fathers. Perhaps I should change that before it's too late, and actually write about a kindly, loving father for once.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Sheer brilliance in a book

Psst! Wanna read a book that's hilarious, poignant, intriguing and intelligent, all inside one cover? Then look no further than 'A Very Persistent Illusion' by L C Tyler, which is all of those things and more.

Blurbs can sometimes be vague or misleading but this one captures the book's tone perfectly, as well as summing up the plot: Meet Chris Sorenson - middle-manager, closet poet and co-inventor of the Sorenson-Birtwistle Revised Scale of Girl-Rage. He seems to have made a modest success of his life: he has a beautiful girlfriend (Virginia), two affable future in-laws (Hugh and Daphne) and a classic sports car with a genuine leather gear stick and one good wing mirror.

But Chris's apparently stable existence is about to be sent spiralling when Hugh dies suddenly. With Virginia in tow (as well as a certain French philosopher), Chris begins to uncover the truth about Hugh, Daphne, and his own dark past.

I fell in love with the very first line (Women have many different ways of showing disapproval, only some of which are immediately apparent to men.) and things just got better from there. Hardly a word was out of place and the sections of conversation involving historical philosphers (Descartes et al), which could have seemed awkward or out of place, were a scream.

I finished the book yesterday, after a marathon reading session in the afternoon. It took me less than a week, not because it's thin or because I was skimming, but because I couldn't put it down. I laughed, I turned pages, I identified with the hero, I even cried a little. I see from Mr Tyler's website that he's written several other darkly humorous crime novels. I'll be adding them to the 'to be read' list post haste. I love it when I discover a brand new author I knew nothing about, and they turn out to be this good.