Archive for category Non-writing
During lockdown social media has been full of pictures of banana bread, sourdough starters (whatever they are!) and other delicious things produced by the nation’s bakers. In between the chocolate beetroot cake and lemonade scones, I’ve been trying some of the free food that nature has to offer:
Nuts from the Monkey Puzzle Tree.
When we moved into our house 24 years ago there was a small monkey puzzle tree in the garden. Nearly a quarter of a century later, there is a HUGE monkey puzzle tree in the garden and, for the first time ever, it has produced nuts. A quick internet search confirmed that these nuts are edible if boiled for ten minutes. They taste a little like chestnuts and are very moreish …
Like most people I used to cook the green bushy broccoli top and discard the stalks. However, if you slice the stalks very thinly, they can be successfully stir-fried or roasted in the oven and there are even recipes specifically for broccoli stalks.
Obviously, blackberries aren’t a completely new food for me but I’ve never really taken advantage of the easily available abundance of this fruit until this year. Last week we picked A LOT of blackberries and now have stewed blackberries in the freezer and ten jars of blackberry jam in the cupboard. The pips are a disadvantage compared to strawberries and other jamming fruit but spread over toast they don’t cause too much of a problem.
What has all this got to do with writing?
Not a great deal, but it does nicely lead up to me telling you that the food and drink website pellicle.com is accepting paid pitches for its blog.
Tip: My wine-related pitch was turned down because they are stocked up on wine articles for the next six months – so you might want to peruse the website and come up with a different topic.
It’s just over a week since Boris Johnson put Britain in lockdown.
We all have our own worries and concerns at the moment: health, finances, job security, separation from loved ones, coping with isolation – the list goes on and on. To get through this period we need to focus on the positive things that are emerging from the current situation:
- An increase in neighbourliness. Many people are looking out for vulnerable neighbours and offering to shop for them. Our street has a What’s App group and the chat last night was how we might organise an outdoor tea party with each of us standing the required social distance apart on our driveways.
- An upturn in people exercising. Many people seem to have taken the single daily exercise outing as mandatory. I’ve never seen so many people walking the streets before (and most make an effort to keep as socially distant as possible). Hopefully, this will become a habit and improve the health of the nation generally.
- The opportunity to learn new skills. In the last week I’ve taken part in three Zoom conferences but I’d never heard of this video conferencing facility until the lockdown started. I’ve also filmed myself, via the laptop, for the first time. This was for the speaker bookings’ website Mirthy who are trying to find a way of continuing to to take speakers to older people during the lockdown. Other people are learning online courses, there are a selection of short, free courses from the Open University.
- Family able to spend more time together. This may be a blessing or a curse depending on the age of the children! With the daily commute gone and school cancelled, there is now the time to spend on bike rides, reading stories, arts and crafts etc. Many youngsters may remember this as a golden time of having their parents’ full attention.
- Time to play. We’ve resurrected a very old Swingball and my mum tells me she’s got out an old boules set.
- Time to stand and stare.
However, we have to remember that none of the above apply to our wonderful key workers across the caring professions, manning supermarkets, delivering goods and keeping our streets safe and clear of rubbish. They are working as normal or even longer hours. Thank you.
Finally, I signed up online to become one of the thousands of NHS volunteers that the government was asking for. Unfortunately I got an email back telling me it had not been possible to verify my identification. So, I may not be who I appear …
Park Runs are held all over the country at 9 am on Saturday mornings. They are free and anyone can take part. All standards of fitness are welcome and at Sutton Park there was a sign ‘Walking Group Meet Here’ – so there was no need to even run. The events are organised and marshalled by volunteers and there is a friendly atmosphere geared towards encouraging everyone to get outside and move more. The only preparation needed before joining a run is online registration. This is a one-off process which generates a unique barcode for each runner. This barcode must be printed, taken to the event and scanned once you’ve crossed the finish line in order to get a time for your run.
At Sutton Park there was a briefing just before the start for first-time runners. The course was described and I had second thoughts when ‘Hill of Doom’, ‘trip hazards’ and a ‘single file wooden bridge with a slat missing’ were mentioned. My aim became to get to the end without falling over.
With my eyes on the ground I successfully negotiated the hazards. The ‘Hill of Doom’ was short and very steep, so I have to admit to walking here. Everything became easier once the course hit tarmac and I became a lot more confident. It was downhill to the finish and to that lovely feeling of having accomplished something.
Park Run results hit the website later the same day. My time was 34:45 and my results emails says, “You finished in 272nd place and were the 78th female out of a field of 398 parkrunners and you came 5th in your age category”. I don’t know how many were in my age category but 5th will do me!
The similarity between writing and running has been pointed out many times before and my Park Run brought it home to me again. Writing and running are both hard work and we don’t always enjoy the actual process – but the ‘high’ produced by having run or having written can’t be beaten!
I’ve run a book group for several years and hearing several different opinions of the same book is always a fascinating experience. A book’s themes often lead to interesting conversations and we usually have a laugh too.
However, recently I’ve discovered an alternative type of group; Shared Reading.
Shared Reading is championed and supported by the charitable organisation The Reader. The charity “builds warm and lively communities by bringing people together and books to life”.
The groups are free to join and open to all. However many of the groups are located in places to help those living with conditions such as dementia, complex mental health issues and chronic pain, as well as those recovering from addiction or feeling lonely.
The groups meet on a weekly basis and all the reading is done out loud during the session, with both the group leader and the participants doing the reading. At appropriate points in the poem, short story or prose extract there will be a pause and the leader will start a conversation about the text. Group members might talk about the impact the words have on them, their interpretation of the text or simply whether they are enjoying it or not. No one is forced to contribute or to read aloud but it’s hoped that the groups’ inclusive atmosphere gives everyone’s voice and opinion a chance to be heard and appreciated.
This week I had the chance to shadow the leader of two Shared Reading groups in north Birmingham; one in a care home for the elderly and another in a community centre. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
The older people looked at two poems: New Every Morning by Susan Coolidge and Moon Compasses by Robert Frost. It was a lovely to hear the positive message they took from the first poem about each new day offering a new beginning. The second poem took more concentration but the description of love at the end pleased them all.
The community centre group were looking at the chapter, ‘Mother’, in Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. They had looked at the first half of the chapter the previous week but I was soon brought up to speed. We talked about the chaotic home over which Laurie’s mum presided and her constant hope that one day the husband who’d walked on her would return. The session finished with the poem My Heart Leaps Up by William Wordsworth and us agreeing that even though we are no longer children, it’s still lovely to see things in nature that bring us joy.
These groups are a million miles away from a school English Literature lesson. They are all about personal interpretations of the texts and how they make us feel.
All the Shared Reading group leaders are volunteers and have been specially trained for the task. I’m contemplating putting myself forward.
A podcast is a digital audio file which can be downloaded from the internet and listened to on a variety of devices such as a laptop, smartphone etc. It’s rare to find a one-off podcast, they are usually made available in a series. Podcast is a combination of the words iPod and broadcast.
This week I was the subject of a podcast which will form part of a series about agile workers, produced by the co-working organisation Dispace. An agile worker can work where, when and how they choose.
I’d never thought of myself as agile until Dispace invited me to be part of their project. For three days a week I’m employed by a multi-national IT company – which definitely isn’t agile; even though I’m home-based I work set hours and can’t take my laptop out in order to work from a coffee shop or wherever else I might choose. Into the remaining two days I fit my writing, occasional public speaking and anything else that comes my way; this is agile. Lucinda from Dispace was interested in these agile strands and how they fit alongside my ‘proper’ job.
The podcast recording took place at 1000 Trades in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. The microphone and camera (yes, it was filmed as well!) were all set up when I arrived. Lucinda had just finished an interview with Dan Braithwaite, a workplace trainer. Amongst other things, he goes into offices to help workers minimise the potential physical problems of sitting at a desk all day. Perhaps something that us writers could benefit from!
We started straightaway with Lucinda asking me about the different strings to my bow. She’d done her homework by reading Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners and we talked about Sutton Coldfield Speakers Club and public speaking in general. We went on to discuss why I write psychological thrillers, how to promote books, how I see the future of work, how I structure my week and my ‘writing’ days, plus lots more. The time went quickly, the space-age microphone (pictured) and the camera were hardly noticeable and the whole thing felt like a chat with someone who was very interested in me! By the end I realised that, for at least part of my week, I am an agile worker. The only question I stumbled on was: Where can people find out more about you? In the same way that I can never remember my mobile number, I couldn’t remember the website address of this blog. Hopefully that will be edited from the final take!
Conclusion: I enjoyed my first podcast experience and when the final edited version is ready I’ll share it here.
A defibrillator has been installed in my area and I went to a session run by Community Heartbeat on how to use it. A patient’s survival rate following a cardiac arrest is much improved by the use of a defibrillator rather than just CPR (from around 7% to 28% if I remember correctly) so it’s great that increasing numbers of these machines are appearing in public spaces.
The important takeaways from the session were:
- Unless you hit them over the head with it, you can’t hurt anyone with a defibrillator – the machines are programmed to only deliver a shock when/if one is needed.
- A defibrillator applies a current of electricity to the heart to stop it and thus allow it to reconfigure automatically. Our instructor said it was a little bit like rebooting a laptop when the screen has locked up.
- The defibrillator gives audible instructions on what you are required to do.
- When you dial 999 you will be told where the nearest defibrillator is and the code number to access it
- If the nearest defibrillator is too far away and you are alone, you will be talked through performing CPR only. If you are not alone, one person will start CPR whilst the other fetches the defibrillator.
- When the defibrillator arrives, one person should continue with CPR while the other sets everything up.
- There are scissors and a razor in the defibrillator pack. This allows you to cut the patient’s clothing (including the bra on a woman) in order to bare the chest. The razor is for shaving a square of skin on a hairy chest. The pads through which the shock is delivered won’t stick to very hairy skin.
- CPR must be continued in between allowing the defibrillator to monitor and possibly shock the patient. Give 30 compressions at a rate of 100-120 per minute followed by two breaths. You will need to press hard with two hands on an adult patient and you may break one of their ribs. I would prefer someone to break my rib but save my life rather than leave me to die with ribs intact.
- The defibrillator will tell you when to stop touching the patient so that the machine can monitor the heart.
- Do not stop CPR when you see the ambulance. The paramedics will always say, “You’re doing a great job. Keep going.” This is because they need a minute to set up and therefore need you to keep going just a little longer.
- You may or may not find out what eventually happens to the patient. Do not be disheartened if he dies. It does not mean you did anything wrong – look again at the survival percentages at the top of this post.
Every life is precious and deserves saving. Don’t walk by on the other side because you’re afraid of getting involved.
I was talking to a friend about the death of her partner’s mother and how the deceased lady’s husband was coping with the loss. This reminded me of some advice that a widow in my book group gave me.
She said that when meeting with a group of her friends, who’d also lost their partners, they all wished they could have their men back for just half an hour. They would spend those precious minutes asking questions like:
- How do you bleed a radiator?
- Where did you keep the spanner and screwdriver?
- Where are the passwords for all the online bank accounts?
- Where are the house insurance documents?
My book group friend was planning to watch YouTube videos to learn how to change the washer in her dripping tap because, “you can’t call a man in for every little job that needs doing”. She advised me to watch my husband when he was doing things like bleeding radiators and to film him with my phone so that, should the worst happen, I’d have instructions to follow.
In any partnership, there is bound to be a division of labour depending on the strengths and weaknesses of each partner. But make sure that you are each aware of the basics of what the other is doing, so that the survivor is not left helpless, should one of you die.
Now, the first thing I have to learn is how to use the video facility on my phone …
Which would you prefer to unwrap on Christmas Day, an Amazon gift card or a Book Token?
I’d go for the Book Token every time, for several reasons:
- A Book Token means that I have to indulge and buy a book. On Amazon there’s a danger of being ‘good’ and buying something boring that you need, like an iron or a set of saucepans.
- A Book Token promises me an outing to a real bookshop where I can enjoy the smell of new books. I can pick them up and read the blurb. I can sit in an armchair and try out the first few pages. And if I’m in one of the bigger stores, I can enjoy a coffee before deciding on my final book selection. ‘Looking inside’ just isn’t the same.
- Buying online means clicking straight through to the bestseller everyone is talking about or automatically buying the new release of an author I know I enjoy. A Book Token offers the luxury of browsing. Other authors, new to me, will be sitting alongside the familiar – and maybe I might be tempted to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.
- Book Tokens create business for bookshops. Do we really want a future where all our book buying has to be done online?
National Book Tokens began in 1932 when publisher Harold Raymond noticed that very few books were given as Christmas gifts because people were afraid of buying the wrong book. In 1982 the Queen attended National Book Tokens’ 50th birthday party and in 2010 National Book Tokens changed to a gift card format.
National Book tokens are not dinosaurs. They do have an online presence and they can be spent (on books not irons!) online in selected book chains. Have a look at Caboodle from National Book Tokens for offers, events, competitions and to buy tokens online (you can even design your own).
Which would you prefer to unwrap on Christmas Day, an Amazon gift card or a Book Token? Which will you be giving to family and friends?
Birmingham Literature Festival 2018 is currently underway and one of the first events was an edition of the BBC Radio 4 political panel show, Any Questions. It was broadcast live from Birmingham Repertory Theatre last night (5th October) and repeated again today. I was in the audience for the show (if you listen carefully I’m sure you can pick out my particular clapping!) and, although I’m not a political animal, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
When we arrived, the theatre was surrounded by men in high-vis jackets clearing away the security cordons (fences and concrete bollards) that had been put in place for the Conservative Party Conference – the theatre is only a few paces from the International Convention Centre. We were reminded of the conference again by the ‘warm up’ lady, Midlands BBC political journalist Kathryn Stanczyszyn, who did a great job of recapping the week’s main political events and taking us through the clapping warm-up. We did polite clapping, middling clapping and extremely enthusiastic clapping.
On arrival the audience were asked to write down any questions they’d like to ask the panel. Ten questions were chosen and the questioners brought down to sit in the front row. Then the chair, Jonathan Dimbleby and the four members of the panel were brought on to the stage, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, President of the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Saquib Bhatti, MP for Rutland and Melton Sir Alan Duncan and the SNP Health Spokesperson Philippa Whiford. With minutes to go before live broadcast, an audience member posed the warm-up question, “What is your favourite Abba track?” The panel’s answers were used as a sound check. We heard the 8 pm pips, the news headlines and then Jonathan Dimbleby was live on air introducing the panel.
Lively discussion followed on Brexit, Theresa May, austerity and the possibility of cyber rather than physical warfare. As opinions bounced from the panelists, the audience graduated through the three types of clapping and added shouts as well. The final question book-ended the warm-up question, “Theresa May came onto the conference platform to ‘Dancing Queen’. What song would you choose?”
Verdict on the evening: Very interesting and I was amazed at how calm the production team and panel were, given it was a live broadcast. I would’ve been a nervous wreck! If you get the chance, go along (it’s free!) or apply to host the show at a venue near you.
I recently walked the West Highland Way. This is a 96 mile path from Milngavie (a suburb of Glasgow) to Fort William, at the foot of Ben Nevis. The walk took seven days and on the eighth day we climbed Ben Nevis and walked in snow on a blazing hot day. All along the route the scenery was terrific: mountains, hills and lochs. We heard cuckoos and saw feral goats.
We chose to go in the middle of May, which is supposed to be the best time for both weather and minimum midges. We had sunshine and few insect bites but there was a lot of people. On the more open stretches of path they could be seen snaking in front of and behind us like a colourful bendy reptile. When the path was narrow and terrain difficult, there was a constant tapping of walking poles and a search for passing places to let those walking faster than us overtake. At first this unnerved me; I felt as though I was in a race and being overtaken by everyone else. I worried we were going to be last to finish the day’s walk and my competitive spirit kept trying to kick in and make us go faster. Eventually I relaxed and realised everyone has their own pace and there are merits to going slower and enjoying the views.
What has this got to do with writing?
Social media makes us all very aware of what other writers are doing. We know when they get an agent, when they sign the publishing deal and when the book hits the shelves. Or we know who’s on a winning streak in the womag short story world. Or competition winners are shouted from the roof tops. Celebration is good and, after the toil of writing, well deserved. But as a result we are constantly measuring ourselves against the success of others, just as I was measuring my walking speed and ability against the other boot clad walkers on the West Highland Way. This is not a good thing. Everyone’s path to success is different. We have different talents, different starting points and face different obstacles along the way.
Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on your own route to your goal. You may find it beneficial to take a detour into article writing or to pause and clear your mind. Domestic issues might slow you down or a surge of ideas might push you forward. Take the journey at your own pace without comparing it to others (but do give them a little cheer when they succeed!) and you’ll enjoy it all the more.
And when you stand on that mountain top we’ll all be cheering you and your achievement – however long it might have taken to get there.