Saturday, November 10, 2018

You wouldn't want to know.

When I was a teenager, I learned about both the 1914-18 and 1939-45  wars. After all, they both fitted succinctly into my personal family tree.

My father and my uncle and others I remember were in the RAF during the Second World War.

This weekend, as we remember the end of World War One, I think of my two grandfathers

 Frank Roff and Fred Smith

Both, fortunately, returned home (because if they hadn't I wouldn't be here) but both refused to talk about it to anyone, especially their garrulous granddaughter who wanted to know everything. The title of this post, "You wouldn't want to know," was what my paternal grandfather said to me when I asked him. That was it. He lit another cigarette and I never learned any more than that.

My mother's father used to like to chat about inconsequential things although, very deaf, he would make a big show of switching off the hearing aid, which he always carried in the top pocket of his jacket, when he was asked things he didn't want to hear. He spent much of his day when I knew him reading back copies of The Leicester Mercury in his kitchen. He never came to join the rest of the family who always congregated in either the dining room or front room to natter and drink tea. He always ate and drank in the kitchen alone.

That hearing aid is significant. In the conflict, he was a gunner. He operated one of those massive guns. On one particular occasion, he either didn't retreat far enough or it exploded too early. Whatever it was, he told me he was totally sone deaf for a whole day afterwards. His hearing was never the same after that.

What physical reminders did my grandfathers pass onto younger generations?  Fred sold his medals for far too little to a passing shyster in the 1970s who came to his door when my formidable grandmother was out shopping, much to her anger. My mother may have Frank's medals which I think my father kept until he died and she may still have them somewhere. I must ask her but her own memory is fading.

I could show copies of photos here if I was able to transfer them digitally as they're all kept in my Mum's precious family album in her bookcase. So no can do but then again, I am not someone who spreads my family over the internet.

It may be that inherited family quiet shyness that has prevented me from checking the records as to their regiments or even in which battles they were present. I may start to search but I am always held back by these words:

You wouldn't want to know 

But we can imagine and ponder man's inhumanity to man.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Settled at last

We now feel at home in our new (old) house. Not that it's totally free of builders of various description. There's an awful lot of metalwork outside that needs painting plus all the snagging in most areas. Fortunately, the current heatwave helps although the garden is still awaiting relandscaping and planting which is currently impossible. So we're holding tight and, like everyone else, praying for rain. The new conservatory awaits its tiled floor while we wait for the concrete floor is not yet ready - apparently. Even facing due south and the sun blazing for weeks, it could take another month.

Despite the usual niggles as we make this strange house how we want it, I love it here. It is on the very southern edge of Middlesbrough but with great access to country and town. Although the frontage looks very ordinary and so close to the road, at the back it is a totally different story with a skylark filled hay meadow and views over the Cleveland Hills which mark the northerly edge of our beloved North York Moors.

Many people have no concept of North East England unless it's Newcastle. But there's an awful lot of beautiful countryside around once-heavily industrialised Middlesbrough with its ship-building, steel and chemical works. Much of it is currently undergoing regeneration. Wildflowers, butterflies and clean water are now common-place. So here are maps and photos which may help you orienteer yourself.

Look for Coulby Newham - middle bottom. That's our nearest shopping centre and other amenities. South of that, where the blue shading stops is where we now are. Although convenient shopping is five minutes away, we prefer the traditional high street of the delightful Georgian town of Stokesley, North Yorkshire which is only ten minutes. (A bit about the location. The bottom of our garden is in North Yorkshire, whereas the house itself is in a suburb of Middlesbrough. According to Royal Mail, the postal address is Nunthorpe, Middlesbrough. But that's not as near as Coulby Newham or Newby. Because it has a long drive, the house next door is in Yorkshire!)

Stokesley High Street
River Leven in Stokesley

I don't want to be too precise about our house because this is a public blog. But I can show you some views of our back elevation which is not visible from the road.

Drone's eye view.

And an early photo of new unfurnished conservatory although we now have the outside flagstone path laid and flowers planted plus inside unpacked boxes and furniture from our previous house crammed at one end as it all awaits the floor tiles.

Roseberry Topping

I will update soon with the stunning view of the views south to the Cleveland hills that fill us with joy every day. Unfortunately, we cannot see Rosedale Topping itself from our house due to a small wood further east (not ours) which blocks our view but we can see the rest of the Cleveland Hills chain.

What about your writing, I hear you ask. (Well, I imagine I do!) I am still editing my much interrupted medieval novel with a view to submitting it to agents in 2019 but, in the meantime, I am cracking on with flash fiction,  my latest venture. It's a challenge I am loving. Various competitions nowentered, I'll have to wait and see...

Saturday, May 12, 2018


As you've probably realised, my blog has been dormant for far too long - well, it's been a long winter. 

Although this blog has been in hibernation, a heck of a lot has been happening behind the scenes. 

Not my writing - alas. That also has been dormant although I haven't abandoned it. No way. That's something I could never do. I'm still submitting. I am writing flash fiction which I do as a break from editing and re-drafting my current novel. I have been writing said novel for ages but am determined to get it done.  

Now to real life. We have been thinking of moving for quite some time. We absolutely love where we live and it is with a heavy heart that we're upping sticks within the next few weeks. This is for purely personal reasons and we hope it will make our lives less stressful. 

As a result, my blog will go quiet once more until we have fully settled in our new house. Only then will I blog in more detail about the area we are moving to.

I say 'new house' but it is in fact the oldest we have ever owned. You could say my life has been a long migration into the past - hence my fondness for historical fiction. Our first married house was built in the 1960s. Our second, where we lived for over 30 years and brought up our children who flew the nest some time ago, was build in the 1920s. Our current dwelling was built in the 1856 as a Wesleyan chapel. In a few weeks time we will live in what was originally 3 cottages for farm workers on a large farm that no longer exists but lives on in the bucolic name of the house. And the date? 1709.

What was happening then?  Queen Anne was on the English throne. 

The War of The Spanish Succession (1701-1714) was in full swing.

 The earliest known county cricket match was played between Kent and Sussex.  Samuel Johnson was born.  

So there's much historical background to a century of which I am pretty ignorant. It is, as you might expect, a quirky house and not attractive from the front elevation. However, when you see what's at the back you might begin to understand what attracted us in the first place: far-ranging south-facing views; large garden and paddock

Why on earth Middlesbrough? Once rated by Kirstie and Phil of Location. Location. Location fame  as the worst place to live in England,this is grossly unfair to my eyes. Like many areas in the North East the proud industrial heritage has been obliteration, creating awful deprivation. However, it is situated in a beautiful part of the world and its industrial past has given it a certain ironic character. Remember that Get Carter and Boys from the Black Stuff?  

Middlesbrough did not exist at all until a farm was bought in 1829 on the south bank of the river Tees by a group of Quaker business men who planned to name it 'Port Darlington.'  As the Tees estuary once divided the counties of Durham and Yorkshire and is situated roughly halfway  between the estuaries of the Tyne and the Humber it gained a variation on the name of the middle's borough.  Once cruelly dubbed a "Megalopolis" for its rapid expansion into a port and major ship building area and its major chemical works (mainly ICI) in Billingham,  it was not a good place to live. 

But all that, for good and for bad, is gone now, the once polluted air and water, it is rapidly reclaiming its former beauty with nature reserves and parklands.

There is a lot of history to explore and novels ahead for me. 

Captain James Cook is the most famous son of the area. Born in Marton (now a suburb of south Middlesbrough), his name appears locally in  an excellent hospital, a school and various museums and heritage centres along the coast from the town to Whitby and many places in-between.

Much more of him later on this blog. There there is also Robert the Bruce, believe it or not!  Then there's the River Tees, Roseberry Topping. You name it, I'll write about it ... 

Roseberry Topping

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking back; looking forwards

So it's that time of the year when we review what we did in 2017 and plan what we will do in 2018.

All I can say is that 2017 wasn't my best year. However, compared with many of my friends, real or virtual, it could have been far worse. So I refuse to moan. 

As for 2018. Who knows? I am going to help out in local Park Runs. They're totally free. If you haven't heard of this wonderful initiative, then read THIS.  It am unable to run anywhere but I will volunteer in any way I can, even if it's only by turning up at 9am every Saturday morning and encouraging runners, walkers, wheelchair pushers, young and old, lonely, sad or unmotivated - in fact everyone.

When it comes to writing, I have been very snail-like in my endeavours in 2017. But I am still writing although none of you will have seen my name bandied around anywhere.  But I've tried. I have one completed full-length novel under my belt which I am still determined to submit successfully in 2018. I have already got a fistful of rejections  - some of them not at all encouraging. Oh well. I'll fight on.

I am currently editing another completed novel which I hope to be in a fit state to submit in a month or so. I have been writing it for over five years. 

And how's this for a flash of serendipity?  I have been thinking about another novel for the past year. But my mind has remained totally blank. You may know I love historical fiction. However I wasn't sure which of my favourite eras or events I wanted to hone in on. I did know I wanted to set it north of Yorkshire possibly Teesside or Durham. Those who know me well will understand why.

So...only yesterday, an email popped in my in-box out of the blue. I subscribe to various websites wthat only post every so often. And there it was. A historical, geographical and geological factoid with links to Lewis Carroll, churches and folklore,  and bottomless lakes with a quotable name that would make a good title for a novel! I am now thinking of creating one from a series of linked events set in different periods, starting, if I remember in 1179. 

It's all very vague and have not even lifted a pen or opened a new file. It will no doubt change out of all proportion. I'm already thinking of research! I'm excited and am more than ready to charge forth into 2018 and beyond.

I will now take a deep breath and wish us all a Happy and Healthy New Year. May it bring you everything you hope for and nothing you fear  Kindness will again be my word of the year.

Oh and please do plenty of this. But then I'm preaching to the converted, aren't I?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

How Do You Take Your Christmas?

Is it traditional like this..?

Or this

Or maybe even these variations. Both as bad as each other!

Or do you prefer a traditional family Christmas?

However or wherever you find yourself in the next week or whether you are facing deep joy or profound sadness, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Christmas!

Nest week, a review of  my 2017.   

Saturday, October 14, 2017

October 2017

I have neglected this blog for quite a while. It is now October and summer has well and truly departed. The schools went back and my grandson began his more formal education although he had enjoying nursery. So off he went, an antonym to Shakespeare's boy, willingly.

I am also increasingly aware that blogs are not as popular as they once were, probably because most of us no longer have time to read long and prefer tweeting and texting or even, God forbid, preferring emojis.  In consequence I intend to use my blog just to talk about the books I have enjoyed immersing myself in recent months, about my small word jotting my thoughts about writing, publishing and my love-hate relationship with Amazon and anything else that comes my way.

The older I get, the more I remember those miscellaneous memories that pop up unbidden when thinking of something else entirely. My earliest memory is walking up and down what I thought was a vast long hall with a massive door at the end whilst my parents and invited friends were engrossed the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Quite how my parents could have afforded a television, I don't know. Maybe they rented it. I think not because they always abhorred hire purchase as it was known then. I remember very little of that flat. I was born in March 1951 in Leicester which is where my parents and most relations lived. My Dad worked for the Leicester Gas Corporation which soon after became part of East Midlands Gas (Emgas.) Promotion meant a move to Lincoln when I was a few months old. Anyway, the  coronation was in June 1953. I didn't know what this word meant that everyone was talking about. I kept being showed hanging baskets and flags in the streets and being told they were for the Coronation. I looked up and I saw flowers everywhere above me. (Remember I was in a pram or pushchair.) Dad must have grown carnations in the garden. or he bought two hanging baskets that Lincoln council were selling off cheaply to the public afterwards.

Therefore, for a long time, I thought the 'Carnation' and 'Coronation' were the same.

Memory are one's perceptions at various states in one's life plus an overlay of later experiences that alter them. Maybe memories are main transient fictions. And why the older one gets. the more one thinks about past experiences more vividly than what one did yesterday?

In addition, it is well-known that everybody remembers and sees things totally differently. This brings me neatly onto Amazon. No shouting, please.

I am very mixed in my thoughts of this vast behemoth. I agree that they shouldn't avoid paying tax. I know that Amazon is a vast shark swallowing up or crushing good small dedicated bookshops and publishers. But...but...but...If I want the latest novel by my favourite author I can order it and it arrives the next day in pristine condition. I no longer drive and cannot walk far plus I live in the middle of nowhere and there are no bookshops within 25 miles. And to muddy the waters even further, although I adore books, loved working in various bookshops over the years, but I have nowhere to put all my books now and now my eyesight is poor in low light, I find I am more and more drawn to reading books on my Kindle. I know. I know. You are probably telling me I'm a philistine but it has been a life-saver. I still prefer actual, real books, both fresh and crisp and those foxed around the edges. I particularly love to read the hand-written dedications. I am also overjoyed if a dried flower or card of any kind falls out. These are personal and intriguing and brings me closer to another readers. Who are or were they?

My current meditation on books, reading and working in bookshops and engaging with readers brings me to mention two books that have delighted me recently. However, both decry the use of a Kindle for reading. I understand them completely. They both have slightly different reasons for their hatred but both books dwell on the impersonal sterile format plus the inability to retain words read on screen.

What neither writers mention are people like me who for various reasons have had to forgo the pleasure of browsing in bookshops, whether independents, chains or second-hand treasure-troves. First of all, as I said, I live in the middle of nowhere and I don't drive. Plus by significant other is not interested in books, reading or writing. Lastly and more importantly, I am finding it increasingly difficult to read in anything other than very bright light. I can alter the brightness of my Kindle. It is a life-saver for me so although I smile to see that the Wigtown bookshop displays a mounted shield on which a Kindle the owner shot and killed, I would die if Kindles (or what might replace them) became extinct.

Increased age, a long- term medical condition and bad mobility is a real bummer no-one likes to talk about. We are all supposed to be super-healthy and  enjoying ourselves and if not we only have ourselves to blame. It's a lie.  But I refuse to be down-heated and will continue to use this blog for the occasional moan. But thanks God for my Kindle. It's keeping me same.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

What I did on my holiday.

Last week, we spent a few welcome days here: 

Where I hear you ask? The most underrated county in England. Yes, I know I am an adopted Yorkshire lass and love it to bits. Even so, the tourist-filled beauty spots can be wearing if you are trying to find glorious stretches of  empty sandy beaches and deserted heather moorland. Did you know it is the most sparsely populated area in England with only 62 people per square kilometre?

Northumberland is my true idea of peace, tranquillity and heaven on earth. As you may or may not know we have a motor-home and enjoy the independence it brings us. We prefer to explore the UK these days (as all the questions asked regarding health insurance makes it difficult for us to travel abroad at short notice).We rarely stay away from home for weeks at an end, preferring to look at the weather-forecast and make on the spot plans. This year there have been few opportunities. We may go away again next month. Where? Possibly north of the border. Watch this space.

So what a joy it was to find ourselves in Old Hartley, north of Whitley Bay last week overlooking the  sea and seemingly only a stone's throw from St Mary's Island to where you can easily (well, it still takes mer a while) walk to at low tide. Other times, you'll need a snorkel and wetsuit.

Manwhile back in Northumberland and Old Hartley and the small caravan site with its spectacular views of the sea. Turn your head to the north you will see the industrial port Blyth and to the south is the sea-side holiday resort of Whitley Bay. Both will be familiar for fans of the TV series Vera based on Ann Cleeve's brilliant crime novels. Gaze out to the horizon and watch the steady progress of container ships, yachts and ferries to Amsterdam and beyond. No wonder the Geordie accent has more than slight echoes of Scandinavia.

Just next to where we were pitched was this glorious orange Californian poppy. Nestling against a dry-stone wall, it grew proud and undaunted by the coastal breeze that buffeted it. Gloriously golden it even dimmed the shy pale yellow blooms that grow in my part of Yorkshire.

One day we visited Seaton Delavel Hall, a mile or two to the north. Devastated by a massive fire in 1822, it is a magnificent ruin but that makes it more exciting to visit. Its history is amazing. You wouldn't believe what went on within its walls in the 18th century. You can read all about it here

Photo opportunities abounded. And when Jon went off to climb the many spiral staircases, the rails of which remain twisted by that major fire...

...I spent some time alone  in conversation with a very old and battered large oak table. Oh the tales it told me: of a drowned sea-captain, his daughter and that formidable lady in the portrait! And so So I left Seaton Delaval Hall clutching the kernel of a short story which I hope will grow into something larger soon.

You wouldn't want to know.

When I was a teenager, I learned about both the 1914-18 and 1939-45  wars. After all, they both fitted succinctly into my personal family tr...