About Me

Friday, 28 November 2008

Fallow Fields

That's my blog, fallow as the empty field. Maybe I'll grow some fine corn and tasty broccoli next year. Meanwhile, I'm feeling sorry for myself with a nasty virus, hopefully on its way out, with not much going on apart from reading Little Dorrit from end-to-end in bed.

Dickens was a genius. A totally friggin' bonkers genius but still a genius. Sentiment and social satire flowed with seeming ease from the end of his pen, though he worked really hard revising all his manuscripts. I once read the opening page of his manuscript from David Copperfield in the Bleak House Museum in Broadstairs, which was full of scribbly crossings out and overwriting. He was master of the serial form too and published his novels in installments, keeping the public on tenterhooks with teases and cliff-hangers.

Apparently, today's public are finding the televised version of Little Dorrit hard going. More fool them and their tiny attention spans and closed-up little hearts.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Collective nouns

Yesterday, I was out walking around Smithills with my good friends Tex, Liz and Ste when we saw a group of herons. What do you call a group of herons we wondered? In the evening I looked it up and discovered three definitions: a hedge, a sedge or a siege. Siege sounds mysteriously ominous: God protect the unhappy protagonist on his way to make his fortune or find his true love only to find his path crossed by a siege of herons. According to folk law Herons symbolise patience and stillness, which seems to be more in keeping with the nature and behaviour of this large, elegant bird. Hedge of herons sounds good and has a alliterative feel.

Collective nouns are fascinating. Where on earth do they come from? Who coined them? The evolution of language is a subject I find more and more interesting. According to Wikipedia (yeah, yeah... David Crystal just isn't to hand) "The tradition of using collective nouns that are specific to certain kinds of animals stems from an English hunting tradition, dating back to at least the fifteenth century. Terms of venery were used by gentlemen to distinguish themselves from yeomen and others and formed part of their education." Putting it crudely: "I know more big words and am more expressive then you are, mate, so fuck off back to the gutter." Or in this case, your pigs, your fowl and your ramshackle smallholding.

Collective nouns don't just apply to groups of animals. How about these for groups of professionals: a transcendence of metaphysicians, a lot of car dealers and a brood of researchers? And these: an ambush of widows, a flock of tourists and a thicket of idiots?

Not all collective nouns are quite so unfamiliar, however. Most of us will be familiar with the terms: a coven of witches, a gang of hoodlums and a band of brothers. Some of these nouns seem to have penetrated the popular imagination, while others are hardly used at all in everyday contexts. You may not have heard of a drifting of lecturers but will, no doubt, have described yourself as being in a crowd of people.

One website contains new suggestions for collective nouns: a blaze of pyromaniacs and a body of pathologists for example.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Shed Man

I once heard it said that every man needs a shed and from the moment my husband clapped eyes on the brick outhouse in the overgrown backyard of the house we were viewing, he knew he was home. Wired for electricity, this one time tool shed for a DIY fanatic would soon be reborn as a place to draw, sulk and get away from 'the wife'. Here was a place to smoke, create a makeshift artist’s studio and store the gardening tools.

The ivy we planted to soften the municipal exterior, has long since crept through the cracks of the crumbling brick work. Various unwanted objects have found a refuge here: a skeleton of a ram’s head, several ginger beer bottles, numerous cricket trophies, a ceramic lizard on a rock and three glass heads of various sizes. A heater, a gift from his brother to help him survive the winter months, is mounted on the opposite wall beneath a glossy brown papier-mâché pig’s head, with a huge snout and oddly feminine lips, made by our son when he was at primary school. The Pig gazes down, an animistic deity, protecting this outpost of gentle eccentricity.

Next to a battered garden chair are three cricket bats, several cricket balls, a stopped clock, a soft toy owl (a refugee from Top of the Form) and a framed photograph of Bolton Wanderers circa 1963. There’s an old tin plaque from a chapel of rest, dedicated by the Rev Eric Saxon, sometime Cannon of St Ann’s Manchester, a plastic sign stolen from the gents on a cross channel ferry and an ancient Palm Cross. On the door, opposite the garden chair, hangs a convex mirror of the kind you find on the stairs of a double-decker bus.

But ignore all this strange clutter. If you care to step inside you will soon discover that what we are really dealing with here is ten foot by five foot of concentrated spiritual and mental space. For once inside this tiny palace of wonder, my husband doesn’t just sit, think, scribble and smoke but, like a hundred-thousand other shed men across the nation, he crosses a portal into an entirely different world.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

A walk along the estuary

Friday, the sun was shining once again and, as I wasn't working, I caught the train to Lytham and walked from there to St-Anne's-on-the-Sea along the estuary.

It's not the most beautiful spot on the English coast or the most magnificent but it's the nearest stretch of coast to where I live and it has its own special charm. It has become one of my favourite places for walking: wide open space, sky, scrubby grass, mudflats and birds. The Ribble Estuary, managed by English Nature and supported by the RSPB, is one of the most significant places in the county for sea birds. Here you can find knots, plovers, redshanks, curlews, dulins, sanderlings, black and bar tailed godwits, not always easy to distinguish when in large groups, as well as merlins (yet to be spotted) and flocks of wintering finches including linnets with their warm pink breasts. You can also see meadow pippets, skylarks and whinchats over the year.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008


Lent, the season of preparation for loss, death and rebirth.

Time to contemplate the silence, the quietness. Time to be free from mental din and work-a-day pressure for just a few minutes before I get out of bed in the morning and, in the quiet, hear only the sound of my breath and the birds singing.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Little Old Narcistic Me

It's official, I've tried to cover it up for years, making sure no one ever spots me gazing into puddles, mirrors and shop windows, while attempting to avoid falling into the cold and empty depths of my pathetic little ego. And I'm not alone.

According to an expert in the Guardian, I'm one of many millions of sad bastards indulging myself in writing meaningless twaddle - which, incidentially, no one reads - who is sacrificing valuable time when she could be out and about doing community service or forging valuable relationships. Who can argue when faced with the truth? What can I say in my own defence?

Now't much.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Book Crossing

I've just spent a couple of hours registering books to give away at bookcrossing.com. Just shows what a slave I am to the virtual life. The Bolton Bookcrossers will be having their second meeting in Feb to swap and offload books at our new crossing point, which may be a pub in the town centre. Bookcrossing seems like a good idea being a way of circulating books locally, nationally and internationally, within a network of readers.

Monday, 21 January 2008


Maybe it's going back to work or because I have a dreadful cough but this blog's been abanadoned since New Year. How on earth do proper writers keep it up? Talent plus discipline, I suppose. Both of which are lacking.

We've just bought a new washing machine (the rattle of the wonky spin has now been replaced by a smooth whirl) and a new bed, which comes tomorrow. No more lumpy mattress. Yo, ho! But how will I ever mangage to rise every morning from its memory foamed comfort and make it to work on time?

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

New Year's Day

I'm no fan of Bono but the lyric from U2's 'New Year's Day' is earworming me. 'Nothing Changes on New Years Day.' I suppose what he meant was that New Year's Day isn't that much different than any other day. But it is. It does means something in terms of the way we mark time: personally and historically.

Perhaps it's the notion of New Year being a time for making a fresh start that pissed him off? Fresh starts don't work to order, they are dependent on two things, willingness to change and the right conditions. All we can do is to resolve to accept what the new year brings with grace and humility rather than starting off with unrealistic expectations? So there you go, Bono: shut uppa your face and get out of my ear.