Sunday, 2 October 2016

Autumn Ramblings - and a rant!

September was a frustrating month. For it, I’ve was without internet access and, to be honest, I felt like I’d lost an arm. I should point out here that although I have a smart phone, I don’t use it for Facebook or Twitter – if I’m honest, it’s because they would be too much of a distraction! Nor do I bank online.

Indulge me for a short time while I tell you the woeful story. Sometimes my connection was on, sometimes it was off – more often off than on. Numerous phone calls to my service provider, were frustrating, to say the least. Eventually, they arranged for an engineer to call – but it was a week and a half away. ‘But I can’t do without the internet for a week and a half!’ I squeaked. I had to, of course. Eventually, when the engineer came, he’d fixed the problem which had been, he said, because of routine maintenance work in the area.

For a day and a half, I had an internet connection. Then – nothing again. Knowing that the maintenance work wasn’t due to finish until 19th September, I deliberately didn’t phone my service provider again until Tuesday 20th September. I was assured that the person I spoke to would be personally monitoring matters for the next ten days to ensure that I had the best possible broadband service. Oh, and please, not to ring again until the ten days had elapsed. The call ended up with her saying ‘Have a good day’ to which I replied ‘I would do if I had an internet connection.’ Talk about being fobbed off!

On Saturday, 24th September, my daughter and son-in-law visited, bringing with them their no-longer needed router which had been from the same internet service provider which my lovely s-i-l connected. Oh wonders! I had an internet connection – and I still have it!

Why, oh, why wasn’t I asked how old my original router was? (It was ancient) Surely that should have been an obvious starting point.
Colchicum - Autumn Crocus

In the midst of all this kerfuffle, I had a phone call claiming to be someone from my internet service provider who said they could fix the problem over the phone. As they knew my name, address and account number, I had no reason to doubt them. I allowed them remote access to my computer and they did various whiz-bang thingies that looked pretty alarming. When they said they were going to give me £200 compensation providing I gave them my bank details, alarm bells started ringing. When I refused, the line went dead. The only consolation was that I’d wasted about 45 minutes of their time. I immediately switched my computer off and rang my pet computer chappie who came up within the hour to delete a couple of programs that had been installed. So no damage done. But just goes to show how plausible it all sounded. My heart goes out to those who have fallen for these scams because now I realise how easy it is to fall for the scam.

Two areas of concern remain, how did they know my account details and how did they know I was having problems? Is this a major breach of security? I have written a strong letter of complaint to my internet service provider and mentioned both areas of concern.

On a more positive note, I did manage to write a couple of articles, prepare an author talk for an event on 19th September, sort all my tax records out and started making notes about book number three.

All this has left me pondering though. Just how much of our lives are dependent on the internet, unknown 30 years ago? Today, most young people seem to live their lives through their smart phones. You see them at bus stops, restaurants and pubs, texting or scrolling through social media. What’s going to happen in 20-30 years’ time? Will any one actually be speaking to each other by then? Or will smart phones be a thing of the past? I doubt I shall be around in 30 years’ time to find out!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

A youthful revolution?

Me, late 50s, note the gloves!!

In preparation for an up-coming author talk, I’ve been giving much thought to that time between 1954 and 1960 when a momentous change seemed to be taking place. It was a time between the post-war austerity and a growing affluence.
              Up till then we were little more than an extension of our parents, almost but not quite expected to be seen and not heard. We didn’t question authority, instead we were taught to respect it. We were still expected to do what our parents told us. If we were working, we were expected to ‘tip’ up our wages to our parents and be allocated spending money. This didn’t change for me until I was about 20 and started paying ‘board.’
Even the clothes we wore were similar to those worn by our parents, including hats and gloves. Because of the severe rationing in the early 1950s, there wasn’t much choice either, or much money to buy goods. Make-up was very basic and limited to Pond’s Vanishing Cream, Max Factor Panstik, blue or green eye-shadow and red lipstick. Perfume was either ‘Evening in Paris’ or ‘California Poppy’.
              Despite the impact the television coverage of the Coronation on the nation, most people still stuck to their trusted wirelesses, as radios were known then. The latter had played such a vital part in people’s lives during the war informing the nation what was going on. In the late Forties and early Fifties, the wireless, especially the Light Programme, became the main source of entertainment for nearly everyone.
              I was brought up on a listening diet of Children’s Hour while Dick Barton, Special Agent, and Paul Temple brought excitement into our living rooms. Housewives’ Choice meant Ann Zeigler and Webster Booth as well as Victor Silvester and his strict tempo dance band. On Saturday mornings, we had Children’s Choice with songs like ‘Sparky and His Magic Piano’ while on Saturday nights, we had In Town Tonight, following by Saturday Night Theatre. Sunday lunchtimes were marked forever by Forces’ Favourites later to become Family Favourites, followed by The Billy Cotton Band Show with its clarion call, ‘Wakey, wakey.’
              We were all influenced, during the war and just after, by ITMA, It’s That Man Again, Tommy Handley, with the blurred-with-whisky tones of Colonel Chinstrap, ‘I don’t mind if I do, sir,’ and the doleful Mrs Mopp with her catch phrase, ‘Can I do you now, sir?’ This led the way later to wonderful comedy programmes such as, ‘Much Binding in the Marsh,’ ‘Take It From Here,’ and ‘Educating Archie.’
              Who can forget, either, the deep rumbling tones of the Radio Doctor, whom we later discovered to be Dr Charles Hill, one-time Postmaster General. He came on at breakfast time and for some reason, seemed to talk more about the need for ‘keeping regular’ than anything else.
              In the early 1950’s, music was still very much influenced by the music our parents liked, big bands and dance band singers like Anne Shelton and Dickie Valentine. Dickie had almost as much of a following as any of today’s pop stars and there were scenes of near riot when he married his wife at Caxton Hall in 1954. The prevailing influence of music can be seen in the choice of records Dad bought with a new radiogram (on the ‘never-never’, of course). They were Dickie Valentine’s ‘No Such Luck’, Eddie Calvert and his Golden Trumpet with ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, Ruby Murray’s ‘Softly, Softly’, and Mitch Miller’s ‘Yellow Rose of Texas’.
              In the later 1950s, Sunday evenings were marked with the ritual of desperately searching for Radio Luxemburg and the Hit Parade, which was then based on the sales of sheet music not records. How delighted we were to find the measured tones of the so-called football expert who would spell out ‘K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M’ for we knew then that we’d found the right station.
              We were so innocent too. Nor surprising, really, when one considers that film stars, one of the biggest influences of the time, were merely allowed discreet kisses and the only passion was in the accompanying music. The newspapers, too, were guarded, the only references to anything sexual were the scanty underwear of the Daily Mirror’s ‘Jane’ cartoon or a mention of ‘disarrayed clothing’ in the News of the World.
              We were unknowledgeable about the wider world too. The main source of what was going on in the world came in the form of Pathé Newsreels at the cinema, very often weeks behind the times. The fiasco that was the Suez Crisis in 1956 did impinge on our consciousness a little, largely because there was so much debate about it. Of course, everyone thought the gun-boats should go in to snatch the Canal back from the Egyptians. When they didn’t, it seemed only right and proper that Anthony Eden, the then Prime Minister, should resign. It took some time to realise that this was the point at which the once-glorious British Empire began to expire. It wasn’t until the late Fifties, when more people started getting television sets, that the immediacy of the news brought graphic details of events into our living rooms, making us less insular.
Ca 1960, Imitating Holly Golightly!
              Then, the mid-Fifties, in a sudden burst of primeval energy, Rock n’ Roll burst upon us young people in the form of Bill Hayley and The Comets from the United States. We first heard his vibrant sound in the film ‘Blackboard Jungle’, a film so violent that it attracted an X rating from the censors but young people who heard it went wild, causing an uproar in the usually sedate cinemas. The following year, the film ‘Rock Around The Clock, featuring Bill Haley and The Comets had us going wild and dancing in the aisles. Providing you could find a cinema that would show it, so great had been reaction to it. It was a phenomenon that had our parents clucking their tongues in disgust and forbidding their offspring (me included) to go.   
Bill Haley was closely followed by the gyrating hips and the sultry looks of Elvis Presley which shocked our parents even more. They shook their heads in despair at the haunting ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.
              Meanwhile, in a Soho coffee bar called the Two I’s, a lively young lad called Tommy Steele was discovered and within a year had become big enough to star in a film of his own life story. We all thought, if a 19-year-old ex-cabin boy can do it, so can we, and we all wanted guitars. Even I could strum a few chords to the tune of Buddy Holly’s ‘Peggy Sue’.     Commercial television came in with the mid-Fifties and, by the late Fifties, advertising had really taken off. The jingles of certain adverts became as well known to us as the Hit Parade – ‘John Collier, John Collier, the window to watch’; ‘Murraymints, the too good to hurry mint’; ‘You can be sure of Shell’; ‘You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.’ The advertising agencies quickly came to the realisation that we teenagers, a new word imported from America, had more money to spend than our parents and overnight, it appeared, we were a market to be targeted.
              This was reflected in the ascendancy of such programmes on television as ‘6.5 Special’ and later ‘Ready, Steady, Go’. Browsing through record shops became a favourite Saturday pastime, especially being able to listen to them in sound-proof booths before buying.
              The late Fifties, with more money and more choice available, saw the boys dressed in sharp Italienate style suits with winkle-picker shoes. We girls followed suit by changing from tight bodices and full skirts with starched petticoats to sack-like dresses worn with masses of beads and bouffant hairdos.
              We really thought we were ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ might be. Yet, though we were on the doorstep of the Sixties, we were still hemmed in and conditioned by our up-bringing. If ever a generation was ripe for the liberation which came with the Sixties, it was us children of the Fifties.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Wine and Chocolate Guest - Julia Ibbotson

The next guest on my Wine and Chocolate blog is a dear friend and fellow member of the Birmingham and Leicester Chapters of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Julia Ibbotson. Make yourself comfy, Julia, and help yourself to some wine. And chocolates too, of course!

Thank you for inviting me, Anne.  Mmm, Prosecco and dark chocs, yummy – how did you know my favourites?

 Didn’t take much guessing! You’re a writer! Tell me, how did you first come to write?

I don’t remember a time when I haven’t written: I wrote my first novel at age 10, in a stack of exercise books. It was called The Ravine and was about horses, dogs and farms with adventures and mysteries to solve. It was never published though! Subsequently I wrote research papers and texts in my role as a senior university lecturer but didn’t enjoy the formulaic structure and style. I published my first creative book (The Old Rectory: escape to a country kitchen) after a professional conference in Australia when the other delegates urged me to write about the period village house we’d just moved in to, and the ‘Midsomer Murders’ they decided typified the little English village. I loved getting back to creativity again. And the rest is history!
Dear friend and fellow writer Julia Ibbotson

What genre do you write in?

I mainly write historical and contemporary romance, time-slip, and children’s novels (9-14 age group). I’m fascinated by the concept of time, quantum mechanics and parallel universes. Even in Drumbeats, set in 1960s Ghana, I have a time-mystical element weaving through the story, the village drumbeats which haunt Jess’s dreams. That motif continues through the rest of the trilogy, Walking in the Rain and Finding Jess. And it’s especially evident in my latest book.

Ah yes, what are you currently working on?

I am completing the edits on my latest book, A Shape on the Air, which is a time-slip/ merging of worlds between the present day and the dark ages (499 AD). The protagonist, Dr Viv DuLac becomes embroiled in a quest to save both worlds 1500 years apart. I’m also working on finishing Finding Jess.

Sounds fascinating. I love time-slip novels! Tell me, do you have a dedicated working space?

Lovely place to write!
Yes, I have a study at the back of the house with all my bookshelves and filing cabinets but I prefer to work at my antique desk in our conservatory because I can feel that I’m almost outside as I look over our gardens and fields. I hate being indoors! I’m really an outdoor person. I take my coffee and lunch outside whenever possible. And I sustain myself with plenty of said coffee, herbal tea, and, of course, wine and chocolate.

Oh, I’d love a conservatory! Sadly, we don’t have space for one. Now, what sort of books do you read for pleasure?

Oh, I have so many I love. I grew up on Jane Austen, but I love contemporary authors too, like Jodie Picoult, Tracy Chevalier, Kate Atkinson, and Lisa Genova. I also adore the 17th century London books of C S Quinn, and of course the glorious Grantchester series by James Runcie with the delectable Rev Sidney Chambers. I like books that make me think and that are well written with interesting narrative structures, ones you can really talk about afterwards.

I enjoy the Grantchester books too, so quintessentially English, I always think. You’re obviously passionate about writing but what is your other passion? (Keep it clean, please!)

Many passions, actually, Anne! I love reading, hiking in the beautiful countryside around our home, swimming, hatha yoga, choral singing (I belong to Rock Choir and a local classical choir), and music. I like entertaining, cooking and baking for family and friends. I adore travelling, staying in our apartment in Madeira, where we walk, swim and sail, and exploring new locations around the world. There is so much to see and so many other cultures to discover.

Thanks, Julia, for sharing so much with us. It’s been lovely.

Thank you for having me, Anne; I enjoyed our chat - and maybe just one more glass of Prosecco …?
Links to Julia’s books: