Feb 21st

Chiang Mai Chronicles - a tale of two homes...

By ST

Life is cheap.

Monday, I had lunch at the Red Lion (trad English pub) with a few mates. All of us well past retirement date, plus a young-un from Norfolk who is going to sell his house, up sticks and retire to Thailand.

The elder at 83, I shall call him Harry, is mainly wheel-chair bound, but he escaped from his old-folks home in Perth (which he called cell-block H), and is going to see out his last years here with us in Chiang Mai.

As such, he rented a home two doors down from Jack at 3500 baht a month rent. Two bedrooms, lounge, kitchen, bathroom, and an outside balcony and parking space in a quiet village outside town.

Water and electric is minimal cost in Thailand - so say 4,000 all in. That equates to under £100. Add the cost of furniture, TV, bedding, air con, fan, and a second-hand fridge and he's set up. 

(Note: Rented apartments in town for ex-pats are around the 5-10k mark. Many working ladies pay less than this.) 

I'm the allotted driver for a while, but Harry has now bought an electric three-wheeler motor bike with a 50 hour charge. To get around - he says.

After lunch and after we all had a good moan about our ailments and medication, which caused a few raised walking sticks for emphasis, I took Jack and Harry back to the new home. On the way we stopped off at a poppa and momma's shop for a few beer bottles and cans so we could have a welcoming party, or whatever it's called.

It's a great place - roomy and light and a modern bathroom with electric shower. Now Harry wants Wi-fi and an Android TV box, and Jack is running (hobbling) around chasing up fitters.

We sank a few more beers until I had to get home before dark, while Jack, his family and Harry were going to a local village restaurant for steaks and salad.  

I wished them well. 

***

At home by 7pm, Tip talked to me about a new guy from Hong Kong that had joined their pickleball group (popular American ball-game like tennis but with a hard ball and paddles to hit it with).

Gay, she said, because he danced when he won a point. Also, he's rented out a one-bedroom condo in town for 20,000 baht a month (£500). At some point he found a playmate he liked and they talked accommodation here. This other guy said he rented a luxury riverside condo for 70,000 baht a month. (£1,750)

HK guy said in a high-pitched voice, with appropriate bodily actions demonstrated better by Tip, 'I want one of those...'

I shrugged my shoulders...

 

 

 

Feb 20th

Tuesday smile.

By Mezz

Blind as a bat Bert and Deaf as a post Des had been tasked with organising the mid-week afternoon entertainment at the 'Silver thread and steel band' over 70's club.

The committee had stressed;

"We just want something we can all sit round the table and talk about whilst we have our tea and biscuits."

The two men dutifully scoured the local ads and 'That bloody interweb thing.'

After much squinting and shouting they found what they were looking for.

Blind as a bat Bert and Deaf as a post Des reported back to the committee.

"Suitable for all in the group?" queried the Chair.

"Perfect," replied both Men.

"It's even done on a table so we can all see."

The Afternoon came and all the silver threads and steel bands settled themselves around the table.

 

There was a huge commotion at the door and a scantily clad woman with a sash declaring; "WHIPLASH WENDY." climbed onto the table and cracked her whip.

All eyes turned to Bert and Des.

"This is all your fault, Des, You confirmed the booking." Yelled Bob.

"You chose it to start with, I just made the phone call." Shouted Des.

The Chairperson asked in a faltering voice;

"What the hell did you two think you were booking?"

Blind as a bat Bert and Deaf as a post Des looked at each other and spoke in unison.

"Between us we thought we had organised a tabletop afternoon of DOMINO TRICKS !"

 

 

 

 

Feb 20th

A bubbling stream of consciousness and magic

By Jill

A bubbling stream of consciousness and magic

 

Sandra’s competition this month led me to think this morning, in my meandering way, of a stream through a wood in North Wales where my childhood imagination ran as wild and free as the bubbling, gentle waters which made their way down to the sea; to the beach where I met my aunty and uncle; where to my embarrassment, my aunty did not dress me in a full bathing costume, but just knickers to go splashing in the water.  She was childless herself and perhaps did not think, as my mother would have done, even though I had no breasts at that age to cover up discreetly.

It was a privileged holiday, for our usual family week at the seaside had to be cancelled when my younger sister became ill with measles.  I, the middle child, was chosen by my aunty and uncle to go with them in their small car to a caravan on a farm. The car was a novelty, for we did not have one and the farm was pure magic for a child, with a barn housing a dog and her newly born puppies.  I still remember the warmth and scent of that mother and her babies in the hay.  The wonder of birth.

In fact I remember much about that holiday: the sound of rain on the tin roof of the caravan; the little girl from another holiday caravan I befriended, although I do not remember her name; the wonder of sitting in the back of the car looking out on street and country scenes quite different from the magical scenes viewed from the steam trains which took us on family holidays to Devon with the first view of the sea being at Dawlish where the line ran parallel to the coast.  That is a place which was flooded by an extraordinarily high tide and winds a few years back, but it was repaired quite quickly.   

I remember my aunty and uncle laughing, good naturedly, as I broke into my boiled egg by tapping it with a spoon instead of slicing the top off with a knife.  I still use a spoon and peel away the shell, just as I slice bread in the opposite way to how one is ‘supposed’ to slice bread.  I suppose I have always been, deep down, something of an anarchist and definitely prefer to do things my own way.  Now that famous Frank Sinatra song is going around and around in my head, but I shan’t have it at my funeral ~ too naff methinks.  In fact, I think that although my living will specifies at the moment a preference for cremation (because, like my maternal grandma I have a great fear of being shut in a coffin, not really dead, but deeply comatose,  and buried under the earth), I am coming around to the idea of a woodland burial in a wicker casket with a tree planted in my memory in the place where the interment takes place.  Far into the future, I trust.

Sometimes my little friend in Wales and I would skip together in and out of the water and jump upon stones as we made our way through the thickly treed wood to the beach.  Sometimes I was alone, which is when my imagination took me into all sorts of different worlds.  I was never lonely when alone and value the state of being alone greatly still, like the majority of people I suspect.  Solitude: I have somewhere a card with an image of a man with a walking stick walking through a dappled wood.  I bought it because it reminded me of my father, then recently widowed.  Now the image, with a change of gender, could well be me at times when I need to walk with a stick because of aches and pains.  Thankfully, this is not a permanent state.

Perhaps writers have the quality of being alone with their thoughts even though they are with other people supposedly engaging in dialogue?  Call it daydreaming; call it thinking up storylines, but I know that I am sometimes accused of not listening because my mind is elsewhere.  Well, I am half listening and sometimes quietly annoyed that my train of thought has been interrupted.  Two sides to every story!

But, where I wonder, do these ideas really spring up from?   The well spring at the origin of a river or the depths of an ocean that is the unconscious/subconscious?  In the case of the stories for children I write, much does come from memories of my own childhood, playing mostly alone in my father’s garden until I went to school, for my older sister was almost five years my senior and was out playing with the big girls.  She loved me then as now, but did not want a little one spoiling her fun!

It was different when my younger sister came along over five years after my birth, for my maternal side came to the fore and I was like a little mother with her, even though I once accidentally tipped her out of the high, second hand carriage built pram my mother was so proud of.  I was either a little clumsy in my rocking of the pram or there was some sibling rivalry going on in the shadow side of my unconscious!

But most of all, I remember the happy times with baby sister sitting on my lap on the garden swing under an apple tree, when I would tell her little stories.  Under that apple tree was the small garden my father gifted to me ~ he gave us each a piece of Mother Nature’s earth.  There I grew night scented stock from seed and there was a clump of aubretia which was home to fairies in my imagination.

I tried growing aubretia in this garden, when feeling sentimental one year, but it did not last for some reason.  Plants seem to have a mind of their own whether they want to grow or not where planted. 

I love it when plants spring up all by themselves, self seeded or self propagated.  I have unfortunately had to dig out and put for compost quite a few saplings over the years in this garden, because there was no room for them to grow tall.  I wonder what I will find when next down on my hands and knees scrabbling in undergrowth?

The rain today is watering the garden and giving me an excuse to be totally indoors, which I need right now to take it easy, as my sleep was interrupted by some soreness.  However, it seems that my imagination was working during those wakeful hours doing little chores around the house as I needed to move around or perhaps it was during the spa bath I treated my soreness to at a more reasonable morning hour.  A water tank in the loft emptying its contents into the bath would have woken Mr J.    I expect many, like me, get inspiration or ideas during bath time alone.  Eureka!

This blog is not procrastination from the myriad writing projects I am intending revisiting and polishing and doing something with again. I am too tired today to do that.  However, I know that what I have written about here: what I have remembered from childhood here, will somehow find its way into stories for children.

The four elements of fire, water, air and earth (and a fifth in some cultures: space) are all, of course, important to life and fire and water in particular definitely have beneficial and harmful sides.  Water could be said to be my element, being born under the star sign of Pisces: those two fish swimming in opposite directions which I often emulate, and I am in awe of the others too.  Sometimes I wonder, when I finally leave this mortal coil whether I will end up floating around, disembodied among the stars and planet in space.  That is a beautiful thought to my mind.  My body will become compost to nourish growing trees.  That, too, is a beautiful thought to my mind.

‘Twinkle, twinkle little star’.  That was always a favourite lullaby of mine and, strangely is now also a favourite of our grandsons, who still like it as part of their bedtime routine.  We once visited a house in a Suffolk village where the lady who composed the rhyme had lived.  I cannot remember her name either.  Perhaps we will go there again one day accompanied by the children of this generation who so enjoy rhymes and books.

Not remembering names ~ no matter ~ 'a rose by any other name would smell as sweet'.  

 

 

Feb 17th

Me & Writing, Writing & Me (Part 2)

By Jenni

As writing communities go, Litopia was no utopia, but I learned heaps about the publishing industry, made my first writer friends - with whom I’m still close - cut my teeth on critiquing and grew a tougher skin.

One of the earliest comments on my stuff came from an American Rottweiler called Bill. “You can write,” he said. “You just can’t tell a story.” That knocked the wind out of me, not least because until then I hadn’t realised there was a difference. It took me a while to "get" what he meant, and I’m still not sure I’ve cracked it.

Like a reed bending in the wind, I responded to crits by tweaking one way, then another, and tried not to turn into a Born Again Tellophobe, Adverbophobe, Thatophobe ... and sporadically subbed to agents with no success. Zero requests for the full m/s.

At some point a guy whose novel I’d beta read recommended the Writers’ Workshop for editorial reviews. The review he’d had (by Debi Alper as it turned out), resulted in a minor rewrite, the snaring of a good agent and a publisher.

The review I received showed me just how far I was from snaring any agents other than dodgy ones. It came as a surprise to find I was writing something between psychological thriller and women’s fiction. A Dorothy Koomson/Sophie Hannah kind of story. Except that not even my writing, never mind storytelling, was a patch on theirs. Among numerous fatal flaws, the biggest was that my protagonist resembled an icy female operative from Spooks – which would put off most of my target market. This was best explained by the fact that I rarely read women’s fiction because for me there’s usually much too much navel-gazing and nothing ever bloody happens. Trouble was, since my natural style wasn’t “gritty, incessantly dark and all-action”, that meant bog standard crime genre wouldn’t be my thing. There was nothing for it; I would have to plunge deep into my heroine’s head and heart. God. I wasn’t a great fan of Koomson or Hannah, but could I write like them?

Over the next few months, in between bouts of self-flagellation with raw emotion, I began something else for light relief, which quickly metamorphosed into a ridiculous paranormal detective story. I hadn’t intended it to turn out that way, but by the end of chapter one had pantsed myself into a corner, from which the only way out was paranormal ridiculousness. And hey, this was more fun than I’d had in ages! Soon I was up to 20,000 words. Around January 2012, my best beta pals encouraged me to enter it - ridiculousness notwithstanding - into the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger competition (only first 3k words and synopsis – the novel didn’t have to be complete.)

Several months later I opened a letter from the CWA (who?), whereupon an eruption of raw emotion made me choke on my croissant at the news that I was on the shortlist. This surely couldn’t be true. But it was. No! Yes, look, it’s in black and white, you’re not hallucinating! Winner to be announced in July – along with all the other Dagger awards – at a posh dinner in London. Would I like to attend? Carrots would be on the menu, in the form of agents and publishers. Were I to win, reimbursement of bills for hotel and dinner for two would be part of the prize. Meanwhile, shortlistees got prizes too: 10 crime novels, a short critique from the judges and – ooh – excerpts and synopses would be circulated to top crime fiction agents and editors.

If ever there was an inciting incident, this was it.

An even bigger surprise came before the awards ceremony, in the form of emails from two agents, asking for the full manuscript.

The first said she was delighted to have found someone to follow for the first time since she picked up a shortlistee several years before. Was she for real? Did she seriously think there was potential in a story about psychic DCI Donald MacDonald and blundering sidekick DS Blunt, whose demonic crocodile boots would prove KEY to unmasking a murderous shape-shifting lizard person from a parallel universe? Oh the irony.
 
Not wanting to look desperate, I resisted emailing by return. 48 hours later I explained that the manuscript wasn’t quite complete and would they mind waiting? Meanwhile, could I possibly tempt them with a psychological thriller/women’s fiction-with-raw-emotion, whose rewrite was near completion following a professional review? The second agent asked me to email him the first 50 pages and synopsis. The first replied, “Let’s talk on the phone.” We fixed a date for her to call me - in a couple days, after 2pm UK time.

I trusted that the CWA wouldn’t circulate entries to dodgy agents but, having never heard of this one before, I did my homework anyway. She was a well-respected, experienced one-woman band, with a track record of picking up new talent from the slush pile. Her website was either new or “coming soon”, I can’t now remember which. I googled the shortlisted author she’d picked up previously. Downloaded and speed-read a couple of her novels – a detective series. Nothing like my style. The author’s website described her writing journey, including how she had flown all the way from Canada to attend the Dagger awards, at which she had “networked like crazy”. But she hadn’t met the agent she would end up with until two nights later, at a party. A party. Huh. I remember reading somewhere, possibly in the acknowledgements of one of her novels, her description of this agent as wonderful, if ... “pithy”.

On the appointed day, at 14:00 UK time, seated at the dining room table, I lined up biro, notepad, downloaded list of What To Ask An Agent and – in case my mind should go blank – blurb about me, my Debut Dagger novel and thriller. Oh boy was I prepared. Nervous as hell, but excited. This was my chance, mustn’t blow it.

I paced. Interviewed myself. Checked my notes. Rehearsed. Checked that the phone worked. Paced.

By 18:00, oh boy was I pissed off.

The following morning no email arrived saying sorry but something had come up. Was this woman French, or what? After giving her more time, I finally emailed and asked if she would prefer me to phone her. "Good idea," she replied. "Ring me tomorrow afternoon."

Our conversation went something like this:

‘... Is this a convenient time to call?’

‘Hello, yes it’s fine, I’ve spent the whole morning trying to find a manuscript sent to me a while ago apparently, but I’ve no idea where it’s got to, and I’m up against deadlines...contract signing...’ As she continued, I pictured a study crammed floor-to-ceiling with leaning towers of books and slushy subs; desk, computer and phone half buried under contracts, miscellaneous papers and post-it notes. I’d met her ilk before. She would know exactly where everything was – until she needed to lay her fingers on it. Would my Debut Dagger entry be conveniently to hand? ‘...but you don’t want to hear about my problems, do you? Tell me about yourself.’

And we were off. I talked about me, hoping this would give her time to riffle and rummage.

After a few moments we got round to the paranormal detective story. ‘... What did you like most about the excerpt?’ I asked. (Q nbr.1 on my list.)

Pause. ‘The confident voice.’

Cop-out. She couldn’t remember it.

I floated the idea of a series of Donald MacDonald adventures.

‘You see them as “adventures”?’ she asked.

‘Well, yes, no, maybe not adventures exactly...’ What the hell was the right answer to that one?

‘What’s its USB?’

USB? ‘Sorry, U.S. what?’

‘USP.’

Pause. Squirm. ‘Um, I’m not sure what you mean.’

‘Unique. Selling. Point,’ came the pithy reply.

‘Oh right. Yes of course...’ Shit. I must have missed those threads on the writers’ forum. But, dammit, this was a novel, not a bag-free Dyson. How the hell should I know what its unique selling point was? Demonic crocodile boots? Shape-shifting lizard people?

Seconds stretched, clocks ticked, sand ran out and, had Pithy Agent been able to find a pen, I reckon she’d have been tapping it on her desk.

‘The detective is psychic?’ I suggested lamely.

‘The last time I tried to sell a book about a psychic detective, I failed.’

Okaaay.

We moved on to the thriller I’d prepared earlier. I explained about previous submissions –

‘Why didn’t you send it to me?’ she asked.

Think. Think! ‘Oh, that would be because I was only targeting agencies that had websites.’ Ha! No lie. And I felt I’d scored a point at last.

Why did this feel like a contest, though? Why was I defensive and as articulate as a chimpanzee? I’d given talks to hostile audiences, de-fused exocet customers, talked down bolshy union reps, but this felt akin to when I was hauled in front of the headmaster for returning crayonfire to the boys on the other side of the classroom.

Neither of us inspired confidence, but she agreed to look at the opening chapters and synopsis for the thriller - once I’d finished the rewrite. ‘If I like it, I’ll want to read the whole thing straightaway.’ Fair enough.

In the meantime, I had an awards ceremony to attend.

Feb 16th

Is segregation really progress?

By SecretSpi

Prop posted a link yesterday (I think) about a small publisher (run by a man) who is going to publish only books by women in 2018. I came across this link today, about a forthcoming Penguin pop-up shop in Shoreditch which will rejoice under the name 'Like a Woman.' This is another one that will only sell books written by women.

I think this subject has been raised before, and it may be a potential can of (hermaphrodite) worms, but why? Back in the last century, boys and girls, men and women were segregated as far as books and learning went, in schools and in colleges. I count myself lucky, growing up when I did, that all that was changing.

I would have thought that, given the communication and empathy requirements needed to write fiction, women possibly have a bit of a headstart. OK, that's a generalisation but there must be a grain of truth there.

The Penguin spokeswoman witters on about 'women's voices being heard/taken seriously'. Whaaaaaat? How many years does that sort of comment set us back? Certainly, in my experience of the publishing industry in the UK, it's pretty much even and in certain areas women definitely have the upper hand. It's not easy to spot a male agent for children's books, for example.

I wonder if these kind of stunts on the part of the publishers are answers to a problem that doesn't exist.

Where there is a problem is in countries where through regime, religion or culture, women are suppressed. This won't be solved by a pop-up shop in Shoreditch. Why don't these publishers actively seek out women from those countries (and I don't mean comfortable middle-class third generation women living in trendy multi-culti parts of London) along with the risks and danger associated, to 'get their voices heard/insert cliche'?  

Feb 16th

A writer's wish...

By Jill

... to have time without Life Stuff getting in the way, just to write.  Late hours and early hours are no longer appealing to me, as a writer.  I am getting too old for that.  I wish all the Life Stuff at present, though essential, would just take a back seat and pander to my frustrations.  All part of the whole, I know well, but I so wish for space to write what I need to write.  A Writing Retreat: a luxury I am not able to indulge in at the moment... I will get there, I know, but I am tired now, no doubt about it.  Writing is a definite need in my life and Life has too often gotten in the way.  On the other hand, Life has also given me fodder for my writing.

 

Ring any bells?

Feb 15th

The Apophenia of Number 42

By Cissy

Seeing Mashie's question, a recycle of a dialogue I wrote a few years ago; just for fun.

 

The Apophenia of Number 42

 

‘42.’

‘Sorry?’

‘The number 42,’she said.

‘What about it?’ He sighed sinking deeper in his chair noticing he was almost out of beer.

‘I read it on a blog from a writer. It made me think what I thought of life.’

‘Who's the writer?’

‘Krister Fjelden.’

‘Never heard of.’

‘Not so uncommon, nobody ever heard of me.’

‘So what’s with the 42 then?’

‘It’s a Douglas Adams thing.’

‘Who the hell is he?’

‘Douglas Adams, also a writer.’

‘Repeating myself: Never heard of.’

‘No, you never read a decent book so you won’t know him.’

‘I do read a book, sometimes. I just prefer good newspapers. What did this Adams guy write so far?

‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. And he is dead now.’

‘The what?’

‘The Hitchhikers Guide, oh never mind. I liked the Long Dark Teatime of the Soul even better.’

‘Cute titles. What was he, a nutcase? ‘

‘Aren't we all?’

‘Speak for yourself, I am quite normal.’

‘The fact that you perceive yourself as being normal, indicates the dangerous level of your abnormality.’

‘No, I am perfectly normal with a perfectly normal life doing perfectly normal things every day.’

‘How utterly boring.’

‘No it is not.’

‘Yes it is. Haven't you ever heard what Goethe said?’

‘Oh I know him, poet’.

She sighed. ‘Amongst a whole load of other things, yes. He said: "Escape the insult of an ordinary fate". I intend to do just that.’

‘You are a nutcase.’

‘Yes, but a functioning one so quite harmless. Do you still want to know about number 42?’

‘Will I be able to stop you?’

‘No. Number 42 is supposed to be the answer to the meaning of life.’

‘42 is the answer to the meaning of life? That’s ridiculous.’

‘Well, do you have an answer then?’

 

‘There is no meaning. Do you think your dog thinks there is a meaning of life? He doesn't. He just wants to eat, shit, play ball, sleep and then eat again. We are just like that. This whole idiotic, spiritual idea that there is supposed to be a higher meaning for humankind, infuriates me. Nowadays everybody checks their horoscopes, gets their palms read or their chakras put right. I am getting sick and tired of this world of tea-leaf reading and fork bending. Just live, make the best of it and then die, preferable not too old.’

‘Why not too old? ‘

‘Because with everybody getting so old these days our whole system of national health is going down the drains. ‘

‘You are a cynic.’

‘No I'm a realist. And 42 is not an answer, just a joke or something.’

‘The writer himself said it was a joke, yes, or just something that he made up. ‘

‘Well there you go: He explained it himself. Simple solutions are always the best; Occam’s Razor, I’m not entirely stupid.’

‘Adams also wrote that reality was frequently inaccurate.’

He let out a snort. ‘His reality might have been.’

 

‘Did you know they found many coincidences with the number 42?’

‘42 coincidences, I guess.’

She ignored him. ‘It was a whole article in the Independent.’

‘God, that is supposed to be a not-completely-trashy paper! Are they spitting out this sort of rubbish these days?’

‘Haven’t you read it then? I thought you read newspapers instead of books.  Anyway, 42 also featured in the Valenzetti equation.’

‘Whose equation?’

‘I thought you were a scientist? Never mind. According to Wikipedia the Valenzetti Equation is the mathematical equation developed by the Princeton University mathematician Enzo Valenzetti. Its creation was the result of efforts made following the Cuban Missile Crisis by the United States and the Soviet Union to find a solution to the hostility and danger of imminent global disaster created by the Cold War. The equation was secretly commissioned through the UN Security Council and is used to predict the time of human extinction.’

‘I like the sound of that. Everybody dying at 42 so why don’t we?’

 

‘Oh shut up. The Valenzetti Equation are the numbers 4+8 15+16 23+42 and may have some sort of physical meaning. The numbers may be the predicted date of the end of the human race, and as the final moment nears, they become increasingly common in the most unexpected places. Apparently there are six specific ways that would lead to the end of Humanity. The specific numbers may refer to the amount of time there is left before that particular form of extinction occurs. 4 corresponds with “nuclear fire”, 8 with “chemical warfare”, 15 with “biological warfare”, 16 with “conventional warfare”, 23 with “pandemic”, 42 with “over-population”.’

‘Over-population is a problem. That’s why we have to stop becoming so old.’

 

‘And if you look up the Angel number 42’, she continued, ‘it says that you are looking for your divine purpose in life. Angel Number 42 is a message from your angels about pursuing your passions and life purpose.  When you do things you love, and put your heart and soul towards achieving your goals, the angels give you guidance.’

‘Don't go tea-leaf reading on me! I hate that and you know it.’

‘No tea-leaf reading, just the Internet and why do you hate it so much, scared it might contain a bit of truth? Facts are the only truths you care about. ‘

‘I trust my senses.’

‘Right, can you actually see electricity? Or what about magnetic fields? And you can’t “see” the Internet for that matter.’

‘You see things that aren't there.’

‘There are things you don't see.’

‘Now you are going to tell me that Stonehenge has 42 stones, the Twelve Apostles were actually with 42 before they started to drop in the ocean and we secretly have 42 world wonders.’

‘Elvis Presley died at 42 and cricket has 42 laws’.

‘How profound. And what happened in your all important year of being 42?’

‘I crashed my car and had to buy reading glasses but that’s beside the point.’

You are suffering from apophenia you know.’

 

Apophenia has been defined as the experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data’, she retorted.

‘Wrong: Apophenia is known as a Type 1 error the identification of false patterns in data. It may be compared with a so-called false positive in other test situations. Nothing meaningful or interconnecting in that.’

‘Whatever you say, number 42?’

‘Woman, you are insufferable! So how did this incredibly boring number become this huge answer in that book with the ridiculous title?’

‘42 was the answer of a large computer called Deep Thought especially designed to answer The Question.’

‘What was The Question actually?’

‘They forgot.’

 

He looked at her incredulously. ‘They forgot?! You are saying an actual newspaper published an article on this and you started a whole discussion knowing it was a futile one in the first place?’

She shrugged. ‘Be happy, I just proved your point: life is meaningless. Might as well live it, want another beer?’

 

 (apologies for the lay out, can't seem to copy it correctly from Word)

 

 

 

Feb 14th

Valentine Laugh

By Old Fat Prop

At the regular Sunday morning service, Rev Roberts announced that he was planning to leave for a larger church that would pay him more. 


There is a hush within the congregation. No one wants him to leave, because he is so popular. Colin, who owns several car dealerships stands up and proclaims, "If Rev Roberts stays, I will provide him with a new Mercedes every year and his wife with a Honda CRV, to transport their children!"
The congregation sighs in appreciation and applauds. 


Daniel, a successful businessman and lawyer, stands and says, "If Rev Roberts  will stay on here, I'll personally double his salary and establish a foundation to guarantee a free university education for his children!"
More sighs and loud applause.... 


Mary age 68, stands and announces with a smile, "If Rev Roberts stays, I will provide sex!"
There is total silence.... 
Rev Roberts blushing and asks her: 
"Mary, you're a wonderful and holy lady. Whatever possessed you to say that?"
Mary's 70-year old husband Mike, is now trying to hide, holding his forehead with the palm of his hand and shaking his head from side to side, while his wife replied,

"Well, I just asked my husband how we could help" and he said

"Fuck him!"

Feb 13th

Myths, Cock ups and Perspective

By AlanP

In Britain we have a history for heroic failure that seems to rely on the innate belief in some quarters that we are in some way a sceptred isle, blessed by god. Even when we win there seems to be a spirited effort to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Sometimes we don’t get that right even.

Let’s take, for example, the defeat of the Spanish Armada. In a foretaste of the Battle of Britain, of which more later, an overwhelmingly superior, large and heavily armed force approached the coast with military intent. Our plucky, well equipped lads inflicted a mighty defeat on Johnny Foreigner that day. Except perhaps not. It’s true that our lads were nippy, fast and very good at gunnery. Principally they were pirates, or privateers if you prefer, and so it was their stock in trade. In fact the leader of the navy, Sir Martin Frobisher, broke off from the hostilities more than once to take possession of isolated enemy galleons for profit, becoming rather pissed off when Drake sailed in, saved his arse and claimed a portion of the spoils. And really who can blame them? Queen Elizabeth wasn’t paying wages and in fact wouldn’t buy them enough ammo to do the job. It was because they were out of balls that they resorted to fire ships. Rather like our heroic cricket teams the weather came to the rescue and blew the Spanish fleet to destruction in unfamiliar waters. Later the navy was kept in port while they died of scurvy in order to avoid paying them off.

Consider Sir Robert Falcon Scott. Hailed as a hero for his heroic failure to beat that nasty cheating Amundson to the South Pole. Ripe for modern revisionism Scott declined to use dogs and did not wear furs. A revisionist view might say that he was quite correct, politically speaking. Furs were obtained from the slaughter of furry animals and ponies were more British than dogs. In reality Scott risked all on motor sleds, which subsequently failed and high tech fabrics which he was assured had better thermal performance than fur. There is more to this, obviously, such as that the ponies were never intended to haul them to the pole, they were quite unsuited to that task but needs must when your engine fails. The plan was to establish supply dumps for a return journey executed in stages and that was what the Ponies were for, carrying stuff. All very complicated with much that could go wrong. Most of it did. Amundson whipped his dogs to haul the sleds, shot and ate them as they became knackered, won the race to the pole and lived to tell the tale. Yet Scott was the hero and Amundson somehow became the villain (although more recently vindicated).

Eddie the Eagle. Where in creation did Eddie the Eagle come from? Well, literally he was from Cheltenham. He failed to make it as a downhill skier, in part because he was extremely short sighted (he was called Mr Magoo at some point) and his glasses used to mist up inside his goggles. But also because he was self funded, hard up and so couldn’t get anywhere decent to practice. In a leap (see what I did there?) of Olympic (and there!) proportions he switched to ski jumping. He was living in a mental hospital when informed that he was chosen to represent Britain, working as a plasterer, not as a patient, although…..  . Anyway, his practice routine seemed to be to launch himself from some kind of contraption in his aunties back garden. She had a long garden and sometimes he almost reached the fence. Quite naturally he came last in every contest he entered, but we celebrate him as a true British hero.

Queen Boudicca led the Iceni (and much of the rest of iron age Britain) in a rebellion against the forces of the Roman empire. There is no doubt that the Romans were a fairly nasty bunch, in the policy of governor Paulinus anyway. From the point of view of your average Brit at the time and by the standards of the age they had it coming. Yet, ultimately, the British forces were defeated, nay destroyed, at the Battle of Watling Street despite outnumbering the Roman force of some 10,000 odd by around twenty to one (according to Tacitus - who was Roman). Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, the victorious commander, is pretty much lost outside discussions between scholars of ancient Rome - he was told off by the emperor but escaped serious sanction at the time. His eventual fate is not recorded, but he was on the losing side of a rebellion later in the year of the four emporers. Boudicca poisoned herself there and then. Yet Boudicca (Boadicea) is a mighty heroine.

The Charge of the Light Brigade – let’s sum this one up quickly. The Light Brigade charged into heavy, enfiladed Russian artillery who shot the shit out of them. They suffered massive casualties and achieved no gains whatsoever. Why? Not quite sure. Someone told them to do it, but meant somewhere else seems most likely. Nevertheless an heroic failure celebrated by Alfred Lord Tennyson, and the nation it seems.

The Battle of Britain (and Dunkirk). Backs to the wall, having screwed up royally in Europe leading up to the debacle of Dunkirk where the army lost most of its kit we were let off possibly because of fuel shortages although some say Hitler thought he could negotiate with Churchill if he didn'd flatten us. Britain faced the bad guys pretty much alone. And this one we won, but there are plentiful myths about this, many of which are false. The Spitfire was indeed superior to the ME 109, but not by much. The ME 109 was definitely superior to the Hawker Hurricane, although the Hurricane was good at tight turns and carried more ammo and fuel. The ME 109 was fast and a stable fighting platform. In any event, they always talk about the Spitfire as winning the battle, yet there were about 27 Hurricane Squadrons and 18 Spitfire squadrons and the recorded victories are about in that proportion. Also to fly a Spitfire took a lot of training and skill. The Hurricane was a quick study and more forgiving in the air. The first myth – Hurricanes were decisive, not Spitfires.

The invading forces were trying to escort slow bombers which dragged them down in altitude. In any event once over Britain they could only manage ten minutes flying time before turning back. Whereas we were playing at home could stay up much longer and only had to attack, no escort duties. Nevertheless, despite those advantages it was a close run thing and not the great victory due to British fighting spirit and superior nerve that was, and still is, trumpeted. It was an accident of geography and a lot of good luck. They don’t talk about El Alamein, a genuine military victory, in the same way they do Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain. I wonder why.

And I could go on, but that’s enough for today. Any thoughts on why we celebrate failure so much?

Feb 11th

The Carol Olive Tree

By Jill

The Carol Olive Tree

(All trees are special, but this Olive is personally very special)

Sorting, sifting and clearing of late has brought up so many memories of all the lovely people who have peopled my life/our family life through the years, who are no longer with us.  I have been lucky, for I have come across very few people in life who have been unkind.  Photographs have brought tears and smiles.  My current profile picture shows Carol’s Olive, planted in her memory.

Life never runs smoothly and there have been unknown people who have not acted in the way one would have wished such as the burglars who broke in and stole all of my jewellery, including my engagement ring.  Break ins can feel like rape: a home violated, but one gets over these things if one is lucky and has a network of true friends and close family.  Worse things happen at sea.  I am lucky.  We are lucky.  Life goes on.

We met Carol and John through my husband’s work in Bristol and, right from the start I found Carol to be an interesting lady.  She was very creative and, to this day, I have gifts that she crafted: lace; crochet work and a polished tumbled stone, which now serves as a doorstop.

Carol and John had been in Cyprus on tour during the EOKA days and, as it turned out we had our first tour of Cyprus at the same time as their second.  I was still young and Carol became my mentor, as she knew the ropes, so to speak.  We women did not have paid work and had the leisure and pleasure of membership of a Wives’ Club, which afforded us many interesting outings and events.  It was a good time, until the Military Coup and Turkish Invasion put paid to all that.  Carol was at home in England visiting her sick mother at the time.  I gave birth in the midst of the cacophony, as has been mentioned a few times before in blogs...

Back in the Bristol/Bath area eventually, we all kept in touch and then we went back to Cyprus for our second tour, which was thankfully uneventful, though it made us sad that the island was divided. 

In the course of time (Tempus Fugit, as Carol signed off her letters) they upped sticks and retired to the Island of Love and we visited them there when we went on holidays once our son had grown and flown the nest.  More happy memories and then more poignant ones after John died and before Carol returned to England to be near her family once more.

One hot Summer’s day in England, we went to a garden centre and bought, at the bargain price of nineteen pounds, an olive tree in a pot.  It must have been a humorous scene to passengers in passing cars, as I sat in the back of our open top VW Golf (alas no longer ours as it aged as we have) holding an olive tree with the wind blowing in my hair.  Not so funny was the stone (not a tumbled one) which leapt up and chipped the windscreen. 

Shortly after we arrived home, we received a phone call from Carol’s daughter in law to say that she had died. 

That is the story of how the olive tree was planted in memory of a lovely olive skinned lady whom it had been a privilege to know.  As we put it in a bigger pot, we slipped in a piece of broken Bristol Blue glass.

The tree has long since been planted in the ground and has matured greatly, as I suppose have we.  It does bear olives, but not enough or none big enough to produce oil of course, but it has survived losing all its leaves one icy, snowy winter.  We thought it was dead, but were happy to find on returning from yet another holiday in Cyprus, green leaflets appearing as it rose from the ashes like a phoenix.

The olive branch is a symbol of peace and we think ourselves fortunate to have in our garden many olive branches and the memory of Carol.