Sunday, 24 March 2013

Easter is somewhere, just round the corner.

I know - it feels impossible, doesn't it, that it's the season of bunnies and daffodils while in reality we're huddled by the fireside in our thermal vests. (I'm writing of friends in the UK here - please, if you are somewhere hot and sunny, tell us. It's such a long time since we've been warm that we've forgotten what it feels like.)

But, foul weather or not, the shops are full of chocolate, schools are breaking up, offices shutting down for a few days, and families finding time to play together.

And I, too, will take a few days off. So this is my last post until after Easter.

For the committed Christian, this is, of course, a festival of hope and renewal. May it bring you joy. For those of other faiths, or none - well, we can have fun too. Let's hope the sun shines on us all (at last), and we can savour precious time with those we love. I shall eat cake, and think of you all.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Bloggers and the law.

Sounds like a band, doesn't it - And here we have Bloggers and the Law (cue screams) singing their latest ...

Back to reality. There's been a bit of a fuss in the UK about press freedom, and there will be a new regulator but it's very unclear whether it has legal teeth or not.

Surely this has nothing to do with us? We're bloggers; they can't regulate the internet. We might write in the UK but Blogger has its home in the US - so suing is difficult under British Law. But, if it has nothing to do with us, that doesn't mean we shouldn't take notice of the regulations - even if it only means we think more carefully before we write.

Those who write about cooking or gardening or knitting - I've no idea if it's possible to be controversial. It is possible to argue over asparagus?

But writers can get aerated about all sorts of things. We have ideas and opinions and throw them about on our blogs. But that doesn't mean we don't have an ethical responsibility to pay attention to getting facts right, nor the impact our writing might have on people's feelings.

For instance, I think it's fine to complain that a book is full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes and that this spoiled ones enjoyment. What's not okay is to suggest that the writer spent all day in bed, the evening snorting cocaine and wrote the book at two in the morning as that is the only justification for all the mistakes. We can (and should) challenge the writing but leave the writer's life choices alone.

So - if you agree with that (and you may not) - is it okay to write about one's ex-husband being a lying, cheating bastard who beat you up - when he's a weak man who chases a bit of skirt but has never laid a finger on you? (My ex-husband is none of those things.) Is it okay to suggest one's neighbours might be growing cannabis in the attic on the basis of them flopping about in the garden smoking joints?

We are bloggers. There is nothing to stop us but ethics. And ethics - that is what the new regulations are all about. They might not apply to us. But that does not mean we should have nothing to do with them.

Or do you think the internet is the place where we can, and should, be free to write whatever we like?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The farmer wants a ...

I love food, and not just the taste of it. I love that smell that seeps out of kitchens - think fresh bread; and the colours - rich chocolate, tomatoes all red and juicy... (I'm a rubbish cook, but that's another story.)

I woke at sparrowfart the other day, and turned the radio on to catch Farming Today. (For the benefit of overseas readers, this is a programme that comes on just as farmers will be settling with breakfast having finished milking the cows, so at about 6.30 in the morning. And it's all about, well, farming.)

The presenter and a farmer were walking through his fields, looking at what should have been spring crops. We've had so much rain the ground is waterlogged - many farms have had to let the winter wheat rot in the fields for want of the weather to harvest it. Agronomists (consultants to farmers) are telling them to wait before planting seeds for summer crops - if we have a few clear days the topsoil might be dry enough but it's so soggy underneath that one shower and the seeds will die. At the same time, supermarkets are pressing for harvest dates - they need to know there will be wheat for bread this summer, potatoes for barbecues, fresh salads with fancy lettuce.

And all the farmer can do it stand in the corner of his field, look at the film of water lying over everything, and know his livelihood might swimming down the river. Not just his job - his house, his lifestyle, his dreams.

I'm a consumer; I rarely think behind the supermarket shelves. But almost all our food begins life on a farm - somewhere in the world. There are millions of fields with farmers standing in the corner, looking at the sky, and maybe praying. They are willing to get up in the dark to milk cattle; to spend days in lambing sheds with frozen fingers to make sure their sheep are healthy; they sit on tractors for hours, planting and maybe spraying and harvesting. All so that I can have bread for my breakfast and potatoes for my tea.

Next time I stare across our low-lying fields ankle deep in water, I shall try not to think about the rising price of bread and spare a thought for the farmer.

One thought - to lighten the mood. I saw this outside a local cafe: Vegetables are good for you; trees are vegetable; cocoa grows on trees; chocolate is a vegetable ... it works for me ...

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Spam, wonderful ...

I know, I'm as fed up with it as the rest of us. All those anonymous messages in my inbox that tell me how wonderful the blog is and please will I check out their website for loans or a new penis.

And then I received these:

I am a regular visitor, how are you everybody? This article posted at this web page is actually fastidious.
(This came with a link to a dietary thing - do I look like I need a diet?)

You really make it appear so easy with your presentation however I find this matter to be actually one thing that I feel I'd by no means understand. It seems too complex and extremely huge for me. I am having a look forward to your subsequent publish, I will attempt to get the grasp of it.
(From a gambling site. I know I take the odd risk with tigers, but can't see me playing poker at midnight!)

Attractive part of content. I simply stumbled upon your site and in accession capital to say that I get actually enjoyed account your blog posts. Any way I'll be subscribing for your feeds or even I success you get right of entry so consistently rapidly.
(From a payday loan site. Like I'm paid?)

I loved as much as you'll receive carried out right here. The sketch is attractive, your authored subject matter stylish. nonetheless, you command get got an impatience over that you wish be delivering the following. unwell questionably come for formerly again as exactly the same nearly very often inside case you shield this increase.
(I think the colloquial term is WTF?)

Clamped Edging 3. Does Sizing the psyche of the penis.
(Last time I looked, I don't think I had one of those ...)

Yes, they are all gobbledegook - enough to make me smile. But it's still getting irritating. I deleted the capcha thingy as it irritates everyone (including me) but I'm getting these most days now. However, they seem to have found only a few pages at the moment.

So, the plan is to delete the labels from posts that are attracting a lot of spam, and see if that helps. If it doesn't, then I'll delete the posts themselves.

And then ... we'll see. I know I could approve all comments, but that would mean keeping two days a week free-ish to monitor the blog, and that's not so easy.

Any thoughts? Are any other bloggers wondering how long they can carry on being labelled as fastidious? Or presenting huge and complex ideas? Or have a penis with a psyche?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

65 Things to Do When you Retire - Travel

65 - only 65?

Well, there are 65 in this wonderful book, which includes a piece I've written on taking a gap year.

I know, you're thinking that the government wants you to work till you're 96, by which time you'll have one foot in the grave. But you've got another foot - and than one won't be ready to push up daisies for a while yet. There's a world out there, and it's getting easier and easier to get out in it. Go on,  dust off the suitcases, or the rucksack, or the campervan - and off you go.

(I know, your offspring say you shouldn't. You're wondering if your stomach can cope with too many culinary surprises. What if your knees give way? But you can, you know you can. And do it now, before the government asks you to keep going till you reach a century).

And I think you should buy this book first - it will give you some great ideas, and even steer you round a pitfall or two. Even better, the proceeds go to cancer charities.

You're in the UK - you can buy it here. And those in the US can find it here.

Read it and dream ...

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Life before tea.

Can you imagine life before tea?

If you're a writer (and I know a few drop by here from time to time) you're meant to be able to imagine these things. Go on, close your eyes ... picture yourself waking in the morning, maybe a bit of fur round you and the fire cracking at the door of the cave ... and ... no, there's no tea. Only water, and you have to trek to the river to fetch that. Bet you're snuggling back under those furs, hoping whoever is rolled in furs beside you will wake up and do the water-fetching ... maybe put the kettle on ...

We all know people need clean water, so I'm not going to witter on about that.

And I've travelled to places where it's impossible to find tea, or else it comes in unlikely shapes and flavours (I had a 'tea latte' in Bangkok, which was much tastier than it sounds). But, even when staying in the most remote corners of Nepal, a tiger on my heels, I knew that there was tea in the world - that, in time, I could settle down to a steaming mug of builders' and all troubles would fall away. Knowing the existence of tea makes tea-free days possible.

(For visitors from outside the UK - 'builders' is very strong tea, reputedly loved by construction workers.)

At home, in the comfort of my own bedroom, I have a little kettle (the kitchen is two floors down - too far on a cold morning), and make tea before I'm really awake. I read and drink and let my body adjust to morning. I have, twice, had to have a 'fasting blood test' (no food or drink for hours and hours), and had to crawl to the surgery without even a sip. The whole day was wrong.

It's such a small thing. An everyday thing. I joke about it - but take it completely for granted. I'll be honest, I can't imagine life before tea.

Is there anything in your life that is so much part of who you are that you fear you might fall off the planet without it?

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Grandmother's Angels

A few days ago I was enjoying a little twittering about angels, as you do, as a result if which I've been asked to post this. I hope the poem speaks for itself - and will say no more about my grandmother, since she's not here to defend herself!


My grandmother spoke about angels,
they stood at the foot of my bed.
They counted the sins of the daylight;
they counted the sins in my head.

They glared as I crept beneath bedclothes,
sought solace from teddies and dolls.
But they knew of the time when I ate all the sweets;
the time when I drew on the walls.

The time when I farted, blamed Great Uncle Ted,
who was quite unconcerned by the pong;
the time when I failed at my spelling,
the time my additions were wrong.

The time I was late down to breakfast;
when I left my bike out in the frost.
The time when I hid the crisp letters from school
that warned I was weaker than most.

Yes, they saw it all, these angels of mine,
that stood at the foot of my bed.
Did they count the sins of my grandmother?
The disappeared when she was dead.