Sweet Stuff

Today is National Marzipan Day. It’s an odd time to have a celebration of this sticky stuff. Most people are still recovering from an overload of sugar at Christmas and couldn’t face another sweet morsel. Besides, Christmas in England is one time when most people get their yearly sample of marzipan as a layer on a Christmas cake. For those who aren’t fans, and for those who have had far, far too much of the Christmas cake and marzipan fruits, it must be the last thing that they feel like snacking on.

I am not a huge fan of marzipan. I used to love it, but Father got given a bottle of Amaretto, and it went downhill from there.

My late father liked a drink. He wasn’t a drunk. He wasn’t drinking from a bottle wrapped in a paper bag on a park bench. He liked his Famous Grouse whisky with Seven Up (never straight lemonade) and he enjoyed it. When this story happened, he was in his eighties and took the view that he may as well have a little of what he fancied. What he enjoyed was his whisky, his football, his rugby, his crosswords and his Chinese takeways. He wasn’t a fan of anything sweet.

Then somebody gave him a bottle of Amaretto as a Christmas present. This is a very pleasant almond flavoured liqueur. It tastes of marzipan and it is sweet – far too sweet for Father. But he couldn’t get rid of it – it was a nice drink from a good friend who had kind thoughts. So he put it on the table next to me and told me to help myself. I agreed, thinking that I could have a nice glass later on.

A few hours later, Father nodded at the bottle. “It’s not gone down much.” I fetched a glass. I wasn’t sure what to mix it with and it didn’t look that strong, so I poured myself a neat measure and settled back in my chair.

Drinking Amaretto neat is like being mugged by an alcoholic Christmas cake, but in a good way. It wasn’t one of the fancier brands, but it was smooth, it hit my sweet tooth right on the spot and warmed me all the way to my toes. A small measure was just fine as I was watching the Christmas film. Father frowned. “It’s still not going down very quickly.” I poured another measure.

Amaretto is all very well in small doses, and I am sure that there are plenty who can drink it all year round. I can’t. I don’t think I will ever be able to drink it again as Father kept putting on the pressure with meaningful glances and I kept pouring myself another tot. I drank the entire bottle in three days. Father outpaced me with the whisky, but it was Christmas, after all, and he was fine. I wasn’t. Amaretto gives a foul hangover, especially if you are looking after an excited kid the next morning. I couldn’t look at Christmas cake and craved salty snacks for the contrast. I have never finished a glass with so much relief as when I had the last drop from that bottle. Father approved and was very happy to have given me such a treat. I felt nauseated.

So I will not be celebrating Marzipan Day today, except to remember wistfully the days when I looked forward to the Christmas cake and the traditional marzipan fruits. And for those who enjoy the stuff, Easter and the marzipan filled Simnel cake isn’t too far off.

Clean Up Your Computer

Did you know that January is ‘Clean up Your Computer’ Month? They suggest opening up the computer and clearing out any dust. I don’t dust anything unless I absolutely have to and I have a terror of opening up my laptop. What if it never works again? What if I accidently hack something? What if it all goes horribly wrong? There is stuff on my computer that is older than my teenage son and has followed me from machine to machine for years! I can’t risk losing that.

On the other hand, it isn’t a bad idea to have a sort of cyber clean up. I am desperately in need of it. I have three separate folders labelled ‘knitting patterns’ which lurk on my desktop or nestle within other folders. And I have all sorts of helpful snippets and useful guides stashed all over my desktop and in a swathe of folders. I wish I could remember to look at them. Perhaps I need a ‘clear up your memory’ month.

For example, I have a really cool guide about how to search using Google. I found it as I was rummaging. I wish that I had found it earlier when I was looking up the details for The King’s Silver (coming soon – watch this space!). It would have been a real help. It obviously looked good as I saved it in two different places, neither of which I checked when I was looking for the type of saddle used in Medieval Europe. I suppose I could create a new folder labelled ‘Useful Guides’. Then all I would have to do is remember to read it.

‘Create New Folder’ has not been as helpful as perhaps it could have been. I want to be organised, and I desperately need to be organised, but I end up having a gazillion and four folders nestling inside each other like Russian dolls holding ghosts of projects. Besides, which of these dratted folders holds the exact document I’m looking for?

An example is a story that’s been on my blog called ‘Cold Chills’. It features Rev Darren King, who has appeared in The Forgotten Village, Digging up the Past, Dinner at Dark, Tales from the White Hart, More Tales from the White Hart and Further Tales from the White Hart. He’s also in quite a few of the short stories that I use for my Monday writing gym session. I’m in the middle of collecting them into a book, so I can’t link anything, but I think that there’s around half a dozen stories where he is featured. This means that this short story could belong in any of five separate folders – I counted. Perhaps I need a folder that holds an index to folders?

When the nights draw in and it’s great to snuggle in with a mug of hot chocolate, scented candles, and some relaxing music, I suppose it is as good a time as any to spring clean the computer. I suspect that it could easily take me all month.

For those interested, I found while writing this that if I right click on the start button, I can go down the list and search for ‘file’. This is pretty good, especially if I can remember what I’ve called the dratted thing. And you can defrag my model of computer by going to the ‘Control Panel’ and following the instructions I found with an internet search. There are so many types of computers these days that I don’t feel qualified to give any more guidance than that, and I suggest that you take independent advice!

Happy ‘Clean up Your Computer’ Month!

And while I am here I thought I would add a copy of that guide for Google Searches before I lost it in the folders.

Still Need to Do Day

I look on the calendars a lot. Not to see what I should be doing or when an appointment is due. I just look to see what sort of day it is. I don’t mean Mother’s Day or Father’s Day but something more fun, like National Flip a Coin Day in the USA on June 1st. The world is a strange and wonderful place, and I love finding strange corners like that. Besides, flipping a coin is a useful way to make a decision. You find out what you really wanted when the coin lands and you are pleased or disappointed. Then you can go away and do what you actually wanted because the coin flip wasn’t legally binding.

If you go on the right sites, there are often a list of things that the day is for, some more serious than others. Today, 29th December, is the celebration of the Constitution of Ireland, which is important. It is also a day to celebrate Pepper Pots, which some may argue is also significant as it isn’t about the containers for pepper that are put on tables as I first thought, but about the soup, Pepper Pot, which is said to have won the American War of Independence. I found a recipe for it here, on allrecipes.com. I’m not going to make it. The last thing I need in my life is to start cooking tripe.

It caught my eye, though, that today is National ‘Still Need to Do’ Day and Tick Tock Day, both of them a subtle, or not-so-subtle, nudge to clear your ‘to-do’ list, and get moving to clear the decks for the New Year.

This is a great idea. I fully support it. I’m not acting on it today, though. If I sat down and wrote a list of all the outstanding tasks, half finished projects and looming deadlines, it would run to several volumes. I may spend the day making a start of a list…

One thing that I am learning, slowly and the hard way, is that it is easier to avoid entries like ‘sort out the disaster area called the dining room’ and instead have separate entries like, ‘clear one of the book shelves in the dining room’, ‘find a use for that cute tin or throw it out’ and ‘sort out the socks’.

I wonder about any ‘to-do’ list that my characters may have written. I wouldn’t touch any written by Mrs Tuesday or Lady Freydis. I think the ‘to-do’ list of Lord John Farnley could be full of engineering stuff and very short on things to do with his home or title. I may add ‘write to-do lists of characters’ to my to-do list.

One of the entries on my ‘to do’ list is learn Instagram. It’s mainly pictures and I don’t have the right way of looking at the world, so I struggle. However, in the spirit of the day, I have taken a picture of a to-do list, shown above. It is an authentic, true to life representation of the way I use to-do lists and my awful handwriting. Wish me luck on getting my list moving, and I would love to hear what you think about lists and your experience of them.

Feeling Poetic

My son is coming up to his GCSEs. For those who are unaware, GCSEs are the national standardised exams, usually taken at the age of 16 by everyone. Schools are marked on how well their students do, and funding is allocated accordingly. Students have access to further courses limited by their GCSE scores. I sometimes think that there is more pressure on these classes than the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

With most of the subjects I just nod, smile and encourage. It’s all changed since I was sitting the equivalent, back in the eighties, and I was never much good at the STEM subjects that my son enjoys. The only time that I would venture a slight opinion is on English Literature. I am deeply envious of the works that he has to study. My son has Macbeth (a lovely, meaty play), An Inspector Calls, A Christmas Carol and a selection of poetry.

I don’t head to poetry regularly. I have old-fashioned and, I suspect, shallow tastes. I do enjoy it, though. Years ago I had a huge tome of poetry that was mainly nineteenth century English poetry with a few outliers. It got me fascinated by Shelley, gave me an appreciation of Byron, and made me very comfortable with rhyming poetry – not necessarily a good thing. I suspect that I miss out on a lot.

However it did give me a few pieces that will always warm my heart. The first poem in the book was called ‘My Cat Jeoffrey’ by Christopher Smart (1722-1771). I believe he wrote it in a lunatic asylum, and he later died in a debtors’ prison, so it wasn’t the most logical poem to come out of the Enlightenment. On the other hand, it is awesome for all those owned by cats. The poem doesn’t rhyme, doesn’t scan and doesn’t entirely make sense. In other words – it’s perfect for cats. For me, the best line is – ‘For he can spraggle upon waggle upon the word of command.’ Every cat owner knows exactly what that means and it is a wonderful way to describe a cat turning itself inside out for the sheer pleasure of it.

I hope that you feel able to click on the link above, and perhaps even browse around the poems on the site. The poem is a little long for me to put on here, so I have made do with a link and added my somewhat inferior contribution to cat poetry. And thank you for visiting this page. After browsing around the poetry, I feel encouraged to spend an evening expanding my poetic knowledge, so thank you for giving me the opportunity to be inspired.

My Lion

My little lovely tabby is looking rather sweet.
The elegant and tabby tail is curled around her feet.
Expressionless she looks at me with bland and secret eyes,
Assured the plate of sausages was dinner in disguise.

I want to read the paper but my lap is occupied.
A tabby cat is dozing so I’ve put my read aside,
And though it’s really painful as the claws are sinking in,
The sound of cat contentment keeps me tickling her chin.

It’s as if a dozen devils are fighting on the floor,
And a screwed up piece of paper is tossed from paw to paw.
It’s thrown, bit and fought and then chased across the stairs,
Then the tabby runs in panic from a fright that isn’t there.

My cat lies soft in sunlight and her fur is golden bright,
Her eyes are slits of slumber as she turns into the light,
She stretches like a lion sprawled who drowses in the heat,
And dreams of Serengeti mice are twitching at her feet.

My tabby’s meditating and her limbs are all tucked in,
Her head is nodding forward as she draws herself within,
And. who knows, if she meditates to the fire’s gentle hum,
Her focus will reward her and a lion she’ll become.

My Favourite Author

shallow focus photo of pink flowers
Image from Unsplash, taken by John Wiesenfeld

I am a bad reader. I read a lot of non-fiction, especially history, as you may be able to tell if you read my books. I re-read a lot of my favourite authors as well. Sometimes I feel I will need dynamite to get out of my reading rut. I’ll be returning to reviewing in the new year to force open my horizons.

Unfortunately I have just found that they are releasing my favourite author’s books on kindle. This is not necessarily a good thing. I know a whole bundle of amazing and talented authors, but I keep going back to Essie Summers, the wife of a New Zealand minister, born 1912. She wrote romances with a Christian feel to them and I have been hooked for years. I read, re-read and re-re-read the books to tatters. Now that they are on kindle, I shall be reading them even more. And I don’t know why.

I could tell you that they deal honestly with people. That the characters have depth, the dialogue is crisp and that the world of her story has depth. I could talk about the wonderful descriptive flair that she has, the feeling that there is a continuation of life around the story. I could talk about some of the more complicated plots (trust me, some are extremely complicated with half sisters and adopted brothers and all sorts). Lots of other authors have those. I still keep going back to Essie Summers.

I suppose I feel comfortable reading them. I relax into them. They are wholesome and fun and speak of honest feelings. It reminds me that there are good people out there. But, to be honest, it’s still something of a mystery. I’m going to be buying them all as they come onto kindle, as soon as I see them. I don’t know why they call to me, but they do.

Thinking of why I like them so much has made me wonder. Are there some books that just call to you? Is it some sort of compatibility? Could you sort personalities by favourite author instead of star sign or that thing with the letters? Perhaps it’s like food cravings – a deficiency in real life means that you crave a certain type of book? If so, I can confirm that I am deficient in New Zealand. I am not going to comment on the romance aspect, as I have been married for over 30 years and he is awesome. I’m still going to finish here and settle down with ‘No Orchids by Request

I’d love to hear if you have any authors that call to you the same way. Comment down below, it would be great to see your thoughts.