Jun 4th

Pig Racing...

By OFP

Close Ranks,  March.

 

Back in the days when professional armies lined up opposite each other, fired two volleys and then advanced to close, there was a command drilled into the men in ranks. The command was ‘Close Ranks and cover down!’ It is one of the first commands a recruit learns and even after you leave service, you may find yourself doing it as you walk down the street. It’s meaning is to align yourself with the man to your right and make an even space between you and the next person.

,

As the men marched towards enemy lines, several, often many, sometimes most and occasionally all of them would fall, wounded or killed. Those who didn’t fall would automatically close ranks and keep going.

To close ranks, was to take up the spaces of those fallen by those to the rear and to the left so that the front line remained intact and allowed the second rank to fire without having to shift.

The psychology was so that no man would march alone, even if the man to his left and right had been downed. It also denied the enemy the idea that their fire was having any effect on the advancing troops.

This concept and the similar naval doctrine built an empire, and love it or hate it; it defines us in our approach to more modern concepts such as dealing with the present climate of danger.

You don’t stop doing what you do.

Having returned from Cornwall this morning after a soul restoring reunion with long lost rugby mates, we are off to the International Pig Racing Festival at the Royal Oak, Bishopstone, Wiltshire.

Beer tent is already open. Food is all day.

Music starts at 16:00 with both kinds of music, Country and Western followed by a folk band.

 

The pig racing starts at 13:30. There is a tote and two local bookies will lay bets. The favourite of the first race is Tim Finney’s  Trotsky ... honest to God....

All proceeds go to the Prospect and the North Wilts Deaf Children.

 

Pub Review to follow.

 

So get yourselves out and especially today, do something fun and close ranks with those around you. 

 

Then come along here and tell us all about it.

 

 

 

Jun 2nd

Follow Me, Jack

By AlanP

I was in a pub back in February. This is not of itself an unusual thing and happens in other months too. I was there with my daughter and her bloke. I approve of this one and we get along. Anyway, this was Falmouth out of season; locals only. I am always careful to establish what local credentials I have; a mention of the satellite stations at Goonhilly Down usually serves me well. It doesn’t cause genuflection or anything, but I am not heeled and hided to a door, which is good enough for me.

“The” pub in Falmouth as far as many are concerned is The Chain Locker, but time has caught up with the Chain Locker and some major refurbishment is underway ready for the summer. It was closed. We were in a different place that I quite like, with sticky tables and good beer; they had Proper Job on draught that evening. It was crowded because of the works across the way. Jenny did her bit and secured us space in a corner, George did his part and weaved through the crowd to the bar - he won the silver medal at the Tang Soo Do world championships, a martial art that is about subtle moves not brute strength, (although I recommend not messing with him). He slid to the bar without anyone of the crowd noticing his passing. My part had a picture of the Queen on it.

Equipped we sat in our corner and chatted. I became aware that the centre of the room was becoming organised with tables being pushed together and a band of about seven forming up. A lute, a guitar and a harmonica became audible and they proceeded to play and sing in a raucous folksy style. Around the pub people were joining in. I was in something close to heaven – I love moments like this, when things just happen. I hadn’t heard many of the songs before, but you soon pick up the chorus. It’s probably something to do with beer, but they can move parts you didn’t know you had. Fortunately I didn’t have my banjo or I could have made a proper fool of myself.

In this country we seem to do songs about leaving rather well. Songs about the past, dispossessed peoples sailing off to America, Australia, etc. The Highland Clearances, Welsh miners are still discernible in Argentina, the Irish famine - to have Irish heritage in America is something they still claim with pride after five generations. And then there’s Cornwall. Cornish miners went all over the world as the tin ran out. They were in great demand and well respected. It's not quite as well chronicled as other migrations.

The “Cousin Jack” thing is genuine. You hear jokes that the further west into Cornwall you go the more fingers you get until after Penzance they become webbed. It’s a close families thing and may be true - just a bit. Every family is supposed to have a Cousin Jack, who is a useful handyman you call on to fix something you can’t do yourself. I heard about Cousin Jack in the eighties when I was an engineer at Goonhilly and one of the local construction blokes said he’d have to send for cousin Jack to give him a hand.

Songs about leaving, dispossession, loss. They are usually melancholy, melodious, vaguely desperate, always thoughtful, fare. The folks in the pub struck up “Cousin Jack”. I had heard it before, it’s relatively well known at least in Cornwall. Written by Show of Hands, a cracking folk duo from Cornwall, yes it’s melodious and thoughtful. But I don’t think I realised how deep this stuff runs until I looked around that pub with the roof lifting off and tears in the eyes of grown men. It’s about the decline in mining, the clay and the depopulation as their miners went around the world (and sent for Cousin Jack to follow them down), but it’s also about fishing and the English buying up holiday homes.

Until then I didn't realise how angry it is:

“Where the copper, the clay, where the arsenic and tin, run in your blood, they get under your skin”.

It’s not a question that they don't have to do that shit any more. It’s about pride, self-sufficiency and the fact that when they lost it there was nothing else to do. Mining, fishing, it’s all gone, even the smuggling. The money that the EU poured in helped businesses such as those George and Jenny work in to become established. But to many, it seemed like charity – or worse, invasion. Well meant but not what they wanted.

A little is more added to my deeper understanding of stuff outside my bubble. I’m getting out more these days and I suspect it may be good for me. Have a listen by following this link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgyRWKLkxvE .

It doesn’t have the passion of sixty odd over-beered voices belting out about hating Spanish fishermen in their seas right by the custom house quay in Falmouth Harbour – but it conveys a bit of the sense of it.

Jun 2nd

The Kingstone blog

By Squidge

Kingstone, my second novel, was published yesterday - hooray! - but this book's route to publication was very, very different to StarMark's.

 

StarMark hung around for about ten years from first idea, through numerous edits, to point of publication. The first draft of Kingstone was written in 74 days according to my version of Skylark's 'Write every day' chart, and was ready for feedback after another 60 or so of editing.

 

The writing of it was a lot easier. For the first time, I mapped out the whole story by hand in a notebook, adding notes and fleshing out characters, motivations etc before setting a single word of 'proper' novel onto the computer. I wouldn't say I planned it all out in minute detail, but at the end of the handwriting stage, the story had a complete shape. I just needed to flesh it out.

 

It flowed, too, probably because this was the first novel I'd written after finding my 'voice'. StarMark felt a bit 'cobbled together' by comparison when Bink and I worked on the final edits. It was fairly obvious in StarMark where I'd developed as a writer over the years and revisited certain parts of the story. Kingstone was written in one style, over a relatively short peiod of time, and had very little to edit (apart from exclamation marks!) as a result. 

 

Kingstone wasn't perfect, though. I took the opening chapter to York in 2015, and one of my book doctors, Julie Cohen, said 'Make shit happen!' Katia (the MC) had a lot of things happening TO her, but she wasn't really influencing the action. 

 

So I did - make shit happen, I mean.

 

I looked at what motivated Katia through the story; in the first few pages, I added a need to prove herself in the Temple she so longs to be a part of, and that need to do the right thing (something I can relate to personally) became the way I slipped into her head and watched her make the decisions she did which got her into deeper and deeper trouble... Shit definitely happened.

 

That was the turning point, when Katia's story really came alive. 

 

I submitted the MS to Bink around Easter last year to see if they were interested in picking it up; they said 'yes' last June, just a week or so after StarMark was published. One of the first people I told was Julie Cohen, who was delighted for me and whose tweet on the subject gave the Scribbles the biggest hit rate ever for a single day! 

 

There haven't been as many issues with physical publication this time round - StarMark was delayed when Bink began to work with IPG, because instead of controlling the publishing dates themselves, Bink needed to work to longer lead times which caused some unexpected issues. Kingstone's date was 1st June - and it was out on time in the UK and the US (and, I'm assuming, the rest of the English speaking world too.)

 

Kingstone has been picked up by the US school libraries distributor again, and this time Barnes and Noble have taken around 250 copies for stock in selected stores across the US (something which Bink tells me indicates that they think it should have wide appeal, as in the past B&N have stocked books in distinct locations for specific markets). In the UK, Blackwells Oxford apparently have 1 copy in store, so there's definitely more of a bookstore presence this time around. Course, they all might return the copies they've taken if they don't sell...

 

One thing I have noticed is that if you search for my books by just their titles, you will get some strange results. StarMark; you'll get an Indian pet food supplier. Kingstone; you get a lot of biblical texts, because I did not know that there was a Kingstone Bible. Interesting that, because my Kingstone novel does have a lot about faith at its heart. A fantasy faith, not my own Christian one, but you might spot certain similarities...

 

So there we are. Another book birthed into the world.

 

What worries me most at the moment is not waiting for feedback to come in from readers (the few reviews posted already by ARC readers are pretty good so far), but whether writing another story will ever feel as easy as Kingstone seemed to. I've already stalled on one storyline since, and am working on another. Of course, every book is like a different child, so I'm trying not to expect the same things third time round!

 

For now, though, it's back to writing. Effie Purse is making shit happen at the moment...Wonder where she'll end up?

Jun 1st

Politics

By mike

   

Re: political blogs, I posted some blogs at the time of Trump which I took off as someone objected.  But, as far as I was concerned, my intention had been literary as I was attempting a pastiche of Stoppard’s ‘Travesties’ .  The theatre promoted this play with a critic’s comment ‘ brilliantly bonkers’ so my aim was hardly political.

    I have no objection to what people write and support free speech.  I tried to check up the legal aspects of free speech and a newspaper editor’s comment: ‘Will they sue’ seems the most appropriate stance to take,

      This poem is included in a book that I am reading at the moment ‘The Lindbergs’ by Lynn and Dora Haynes.  The poem was written by Charles LIndbergh  - the father of the air-ace -  and he recited it at the climax of the first  political speech. He addressed  the American House of Representatives in 1908.  (He was the elected representative of Little Falls in Minnesota. )  My intent is only comic.  Well, I laughed when I read it!

 

 Fence our European rivals out,

      Keep the duty steep,    

    Save our honest working-man

      From foreign labor cheap.

      

      Build a tall old tariff wall,

      Thus produce a dearth,

       And make the honest workman play,

       Twice what things are worth.

  

      When his cheek is thin with want

    And thinner is his calf,

      Fill his place with an immigrant,

    Who’ll do his work for half.

      

        I enjoyed reading recent blogs by Hilly, Stephen Terry, Amoy, and a few others posts.  These  blogs describe the countries the bloggers  have chosen to live in with charm and humour and, as far as I was aware, no jokes are cracked.   I would  point out Bill Bryson  has done quite well.

      It took all week, but I finally got to the end of a Kingsley Amis novel - Take a girl like you’.   Kingsley Amis has a reputation as  a comic novelist but I found it his prose rather heavy  It is very much of its period - 1960 - but the comedy is in character and nobody cracks jokes.

May 31st

Word scales

By John Alty

Just something to think about as you enjoy your morning cuppa...

Word scales

When we write a story we start with words, build them into sentences and then build the sentences into paragraphs, then chapters. If we were writing a blues guitar solo we’d start with individual notes, build them into riffs and then put the riffs together to create the solo. 

The words of a sentence have to work together harmoniously, just as the notes of the guitar solo must. In music, we’d select notes from a scale to put into our riff. A scale is just a list of notes that sound good together. In writing we have no scales. No-one has put together groups of words that work together, sound good together. We must make up our own scales from the entire lexicon. 

In music, if we hit a wrong note it sounds bad and we know why – it isn’t in the scale, it’s misplaced, we’ve picked it out of the wrong box. If we use the wrong word in a sentence we might think it doesn’t sound quite right but we don’t know why. All the words come out of the same box. Only by trial and error can we find the right word. Some of us are more adept than others at selecting the right word, the one that works, the one that’s best on the ear. 

How much easier this writing lark would be if someone had built word scales for us to work with.  

May 30th

Squidge's School Reports: The early years.

By Squidge

Thanks to a reunion with some old school friends who I had not seen for thirty-two years, I looked out some old school reports. These are selected highlights from when I was in the Juniors (Y3-6 in current school years.)

So maybe I was always destined to be an author...?

 

1975:

'Her creative writing is imaginative and carefully expressed with colourful descriptions and good vocabulary.'

'Katherine works hard but fairly slowly.' (in Maths)

'She works hard and responds well in PE and seems to enjoy herself.'

1976:

'Her spelling and vocabulary are extremely good. She puts these to good use in her creative writing, which is always lively and interesting, and sustained at length.' (Teacher speak for 'she doesn't half go on!?)

'Katherine has a very fine singing voice, and a good sense of rhythm, and thoroughly enjoys music.'

1977:

'Creative English has been outstanding...She is able to express feelings and details and shows a sympathy for her characters. She writes lengthy stories...and her work is most enjoyable to read.'

'PE is more difficult for her. She is slight and has no great strength, but she does well in gymnastics. Games lessons she does not enjoy.' (I hated PE with a vengeance!)

'She enjoys making dramatic statements which produce a howl of protest from the class and enjoys tantalising them with some of the roles she assumes!' (I honestly have no idea what on earth I used to do to deserve this!)

1978:

'Katherine has worked carefully and methodically, if a little slowly, at Mathematics...'

'In her creative English work, Katherine is highly imaginative...Her stories are lengthy and follow a well developed plot. The excitement generated by the dialogue and the action shows that Katherine derives much pleasure from writing her stories...Her extensive vocabulary reflects her love of words and the depth of her reading.'

'She sang and danced with energy and flair in the Christmas play.' (Wonder if that was the wizard and beggar one?)

'...always works to the best of her limited ability in PE and games.'

 

Dodgy school photos are on the Scribbles if you want even more of a laugh.

May 30th

A visit to KOSOVO, 2000

By stephenterry

Background of the conflict that resulted in Aid Agencies being swamped with millions in donations - the largest ever at that time.

Diplomatic negotiations began in Rambouillet, France, in February 1999 but broke down the following month. On March 24 NATO began air strikes against Serbian military targets. In response, Yugoslav and Serbian forces drove out all of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians, displacing hundreds of thousands of people into Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro. The NATO bombing campaign lasted 11 weeks and eventually expanded to Belgrade, where significant damage to the Serbian infrastructure occurred. In June NATO and Yugoslavia signed a peace accord outlining troop withdrawal and the return of nearly one million ethnic Albanians as well as another 500,000 displaced within the province. Most Serbs left the region, and there were occasional reprisals against those who remained. UN peacekeeping forces were deployed in Kosovo, which came under UN administration.

I'd been with my humanitarian agency for a few months - a bit wet behind the ears - when my manager thought it an appropriate time to send me to Kosovo.

'See if we're spending wisely,' he said. 'Arrangements have been made.'

Air ticket to Skopje in Macedonia, an overnight stay, and then road transport across the boder to Prishtina, where I was to spend the next ten days, figuring out what the hell was going on.

Skopje, a city with one of the world's lowest crime rates (at that time) harboured one of our newer offices, set up to monitor truckloads of refugees/Aid workers/UN forces/US forces going in and out of Kosovo (plus another reason). I was put up in a quiet pension, and welcomed a relaxing evening before the trip, enjoying a sparse dinner and a beer.

It would soon change.

The short trip to the border in a Jeep was uneventful,until we came to a halt at the traffic queue. I sat in the front passenger seat, with a cloth sack under my seat for company. I had no reason to pry and no-one told me its contents.

At the head of the queue, Macedonia Immigration - armed soldiers who waved us through after examining passports. There was a no-man's land area where we were again halted, and my driver walked across to (what I think was a temporary permission to enter Kosovo visa office), and got my passport stamped.

That took about thirty minutes, and I spent the time watching armed soldiers of different nationalities who were pacing up and down, sometimes poking into vehicles, sometimes questioning the occupants. Our name-emblazoned Air agency vehicle was ignored. So was I.

As it happened, a blessing.

Finally another check-point, passports examined, and we were waved through.

And then the long drive to Prishtina through acres and acres of flat farmlands past an occasional deserted cottage, abandoned by the look of them.

Empty scenery, devoid of farmworkers - of life. 

Finally, late afternoon we breasted a hill, and there in the deep hollow was one of the most beautiful cities, I've witnessed. A panoramic view of Prishtina ahead - a backdrop of mountains behind. 

I was later told that the cloth sack from Skopje contained US $20K - the only way to get money in - I was an unwitting smuggler. 

Next instalment for anyone interested. Bizzare life in Prishtina.

 

 

 

May 27th

What's in a Home

By Catasshe

Fantastic new short story published on the Stories for Homes site. Check it out here:

https://storiesforhomes.wordpress.com/whats-in-a-home/

Congratulations on this excellent story to the talented Douglas Bruton. 

May 27th

Bric And Monica Go Mad In Montenegro

By Monica Handle

I used to hate the outdoors.  I was the person, on the friends’ day out to the beach, who stood gloomy and dressed in black at the point where the road ends and all the fun starts, smoking and wondering if it was time to go home.  I thought I had more luck looking enigmatic (though not much, in truth) in urban settings.  If I was persuaded to climb a hill, I would deliberately turn back before reaching the summit, and then enjoy ignoring the wheedling entreaties of my fellow climbers.  Remember the scene in Trainspotting 1, wherein Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and the One Who Dies take a train to a remote halt in the Scottish countryside?  The one with Renton’s fabulous rant about how shite it is to be Scottish, to be a nation that has allowed itself to be colonised by effete wankers?  They end up staring uncomprehendingly at all the beauty, take another swig of cheap vodka, and wait for the next train.  That was me, sort of, but obviously without the heroin addiction.  Renton, preferably, since you ask, but I’d have taken Sick Boy at a pinch.

Anyhow, sometime in the mid-80’s I was cured of my curmudgeonly and entirely pointless antipathy to fresh air, open water, sweeping vistas and biting insects by my then girlfriend.  She used what we now call ‘nudge techniques’; repeated, un-pushy, non-judgemental opportunities to choose life (as Renton would say) over smoky bars and always sitting in a darkened room with a difficult book.

Ever since then, I’ve been immensely grateful for her wisdom and patience. I’ve now tried just about all the various types of ‘outside’ and found that, if approached in a positive way, they are often very pleasant and sometimes quite instructional.  I was so grateful, in fact, that in 1990 I married said girlfriend – as a kind of ‘thank you’ – and we have continued to enjoy our adventures in the actual, real world.  I’ve even become that awful thing, an ‘enthusiast’, about wild swimming.

That’s where this piece comes in.  We’re shortly off to Montenegro for a week of Adriatic swimming, between islands, up rivers and across a lake or two.  We chose this part of the world simply because we don’t know it at all and it looks stunning – think warm Norwegian fjords.  But having opted for the Bay of Kotor, it occurred to me later that it might just be the location my wife’s been looking for, for one of her series of sexy chemical engineering detective novels.  I don’t know much about south east Europe, but I’ve managed to understand a few things: it’s relatively unknown to western travellers and famous for intrigue, banditry and ethnic tensions.  If you want to set your hero down somewhere volatile and a bit dark, it seems ideal.  I’m hoping that a future edition of The Chemical Detective will feature ludicrous super-yachts, mini-submarines, death by jellyfish, the largest aluminium smelter in southern Europe, delicious seafood and a daring escape by swimming across the border to Albania.  The latter, in particular, since that’s exactly what we’re doing on the final day: swimming from Montenegrin soil to Albania.  And back, I hope.

It’s all a bit daunting, in some ways.  We’re going to be in the company of some terrifyingly able fellow swimmers, including four Icelanders who have swum the channel and competed at high level, a chap who has done the Alcatraz and Bosphorus crossings, and someone who can swim literally three times faster than me.  Happily, there’s a group of slow-coaches as well, so we shouldn’t be swimming alone.

Anyhow, whether or not the scenery and local colour finds its way into future fiction is up to Bric, aka my wife.  It took her much more time to persuade me to join the WC community (five years, in fact) than it did to knock some ‘outdoors’ sense into me.   But, yet again, she was right – it’s hugely enjoyable and very worthwhile being here.   I may even try for an Adriatic blog or two.  Would that make me an enthusiast?

May 27th

Shakespeare re-imagined

By mike

Conflict management.

     The reconstructed Globe  theatre on the Southbank is one of my favourite places in  London and I had intended to apply for volunteer work there.  It had been visits to the Globe that re-kindled my interest in the theatre.  But I had also taken a redundancy package in order to write full time and this has been abandoned too.

    A month or so ago, I drew attention to a rather surreal production of  of ‘’Romeo and Juliet' which began this year’s season. I rather reserved judgment  on the play and intend to see it again.   It costs £5  to stand in the pit.   The play is still running, but  I could only book towards the the end of June - one of the last performances.

   The play is running concurrently with a new version of ‘Twelfth Night’ and the same thing might occur.   These are popular productions. I asked at the enquiry desk and I was told that the Globe does try to fit everybody in, and they do get returns.  So, if you are passing by the Globe, you still might be able to see the play but  I suspect, on occasions, the  Globe could be full up.

    Stage lighting and a sound system have been installed.   In this production of ‘Twelfth Night’ music is provided by a trio of, I think, bass, drums and electric guitar and the music occasionally drowns the text.   Feste is  a well known cabaret performer but I think burlesque might be more to the point.

   I became aware that had been a vacancy at the Globe and Emma Rice, the director, is leaving.  I only read a few newspaper articles that were posted on the Internet.

   I am no Shakespeare scholar but I have no problem in thinking up plots and ideas. I think I can re-imagine a  ‘Romeo and Juliet’ that could reconcile the opposing viewpoints of Emma Rice and the Globe.  I saw most of her productions last year. it might be possible to feed off ideas in these productions and construct a version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ that retains a certain authenticity to Shakespeare’s text.   But the idea might be obvious and either rejected - or performed  - on previous occasions.

     The Globe did stage an Indian version of ‘Measure for Measure’ a few years ago and I could not understand a word.  I suspect many Anglo/Indian South Londoners would not have understood either as their origins are in Bangladesh!

     I would set ‘Romeo and Juliet’ within the Indian caste system during the Raj. The music would be provided by a sitar player seated on the stage. The music is Prokofiev’s ballet score re-imagined for a sitar with drumming! The Prince and his retinue would be English officers.   

    Making Romeo a Muslem and Juliet a Hindu and setting the play before partition might be an option, but I don’t think this idea is supported by Shakespeare’s text. 

!.   The trigger is the friar. In Rice’s production, the verse of the friar is recited with an Indian inflection.   At least I think it is.  I was so confused. I thought when Romeo said  - ‘Father’  - the was referring to his own father.  The Anglo/English version would be recited in Anglo/English patois.

   Romeo could be an untouchable and Juliet a Brahmin but this might be a bridge too far!

   This is only out of interest and I had no intention of applying for Emma Rice’s job.   

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