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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

This is not an April Fool (if you know what I mean, like)

Would you like  to hear something awesome? 

The author of the latest Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage hates some of the 250 new entries he has included such as challenging, issue and, you've guessed it, awesome, all of which are classified as clich├ęs.

Even worse, says Jeremy Butterfield,  is the word like in a sentence when used as verbal punctuation.  'Many people below the age of 25.... seem incapable of constructing a single affirmative sentence without at least one 'like in it,' he says in The Times this week.

His entry for 'achingly' features a jibe at "superficial and gushy journalists" who use the word to describe someone's attempt to be hip, rather than something that causes actual pain.  And as for people who drop their aitches - well that's another story.

Whether he likes it or not, language is changing all the time and a dictionary without the latest 'in' words would surely not be complete.

I  still have my school version of Fowler's Dictionary but perhaps it's time I got the updated version? 
Published this week by Oxford University Press the book is available here


Sunday, 22 March 2015


Caitlin Moran, The Times Columnist of the year, can be very contentious. She can also be clever, canny and  openly supportive of  campaigns she believes in. In this weekend's Times magazine supplement she writes vividly about the fight to save  London's Soho from extinction - in words I  wish I had written myself:

'Where do you go, and what do you do, when you go to Paris, New York, Berlin or Dublin?' she asks. You don't just go to a place; you travel to see if you can see other times, too:you go to the old parts, to hunt echoes and ghosts.

'You look for footsteps and fingerprints of Bowie, Dickens, Gainsbourg, Joyce - the thrill of being able to stand on a doorstep and say, 'This is the doorstep they would have used. They came here for a reason and I have, too. This place (Soho) is a matrix, a melody, a curation - a carefully constructed and unique thing - known across the world. To change too much of it is for it to cease to exist.'

 Modern and forward-thinking as she is, Caitlin Moran believes that too much change would be a disaster for the metropolis and ultimately for mankind, especially when it  'blow(s )away those tiny streets of Soho - the sticky  basements, coffee houses, guitar shops and furtive corners...... and replace(s) them all with a new plan:executive flats and office space rendered in uniform International Architecture.

'If Soho goes,' she concludes, 'there is truly nothing left in this city that can't be sold.'

Any Londoners out there? What do you think?

Talking of the past, I'd like to congratulate Sharon Bradshaw on the publication of her debut novel The Monk Who Cast A Spell.

  Durstan, a 17 year old 8th century Monk at the Monastery on Iona, falls in love with Ailan, becomes involved with Beth when he thinks he has lost her, then is injured in a Viking raid. He doubts his Christian belief because of the magic of the old Gods whom people still worship in 794AD.....

 Follow the link to find out more:

The Monk Who Cast a Spell

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Very Courageous - the only woman to win the VICTORIA CROSS

Elizabeth Webber Harris is the only woman to ever be 'awarded' the Victoria Cross
Elizabeth Webber Harris
(Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail

This story caught my eye yesterday as I trawled through the  largely depressing news in a variety of daily newspapers, mainly because it had something good to say about war. And about women.


  Mrs Elizabeth Harris, pictured above,  is the only woman ever to be awarded the Victoria Cross - the  highest military honour in Britain - for bravery on the frontline.  A replica of her gold cross will be displayed in the Imperial War Museum next month in celebration of International Women' Day, which was held last Sunday

A lone woman serving alongside the Bengal Fusilier in Peshawar, Nurse Harris  was said to have 'saved more lives with her tender consolations than a surgeon did with his medicines.'
 Born in Kent in 1834,  Elizabeth married Webber Harris, a captain in the 2nd Bengal Fusiliers (later renamed the 104th.)  In 1869, the newly promoted Major General Harris took the regiment to Peshawar on India's North West frontier. The following year cholera swept through the country and by August many of the soldiers were seriously ill.
Many soldiers and their families had died from the disease and Mrs Harris  accompanied them to a temporary camp in the country.  Now in her mid thirties she spent three months 'nursing the sick and  keeping up their spirits' in the baking Indian countryside. One night she was attacked by two tribesmen who seized her horse in an incident she modestly described as 'alarming.'
On reading this story, historians  and feminists alike will realise that women were officially ineligible to receive the Victoria Cross until  1921.  But her regiment were so struck by her 'indomitable pluck' that, after gaining special permission from Queen Victoria, they had a replica gold VC made for her.
 A journalist in June 1921 wrote 'throughout their trying time in the isolation camp Mrs Harris remained with the regiment and it was largely owing to her indefatigable exertions that the losses of the regiment were not infinitely heavier than they were.'
Interestingly,  no woman has been awarded the honour since.  Isn't it time that changed?


Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A cure for Writer's Back

Three years ago when I'd injured my back I wrote a blog  entitled Why is my nickname Froggy?
My Writer's Back is, well, back so I thought I'd post it here again. It still makes me laugh ....

' I'm always being asked why my nickname is Froggy. (No it's nothing to do with the bulging eyes or the fact that I' m hard to get hold of.)  I could tell you the story but then you may fall asleep and then you would never get to see the strange collection of frogs that I keep hidden (or not so hidden) round the house and garden.( Mr GA is kindly taking the photos for me at the moment, so that's a bottle of his favourite red I owe him) . Please do concentrate, fellow bloggers,  I said favourite red, not off his head, though the latter is probably more accurate after looking after  me  for what seems like months now.

Anyway, it's not as if I'm any trouble to look after.  Once up in the morning (it only takes a couple of hours) and happily settled on the sofa (sitting not permitted, on doctor's orders, this is my spine we're talking about) I then compile a list of things for my wonderful partner to do for the day. I won't enlighten you on this, either, as it's almost as long as the frog story) and then we discuss in which order I, sorry,  we, think the things should be done.

Between clearing the breakfast dishes, cleaning, ironing and collecting prescriptions, he checks that I have written the right amount of words each day and records this along with the hourly medication which I'm sure he would over-prescribe if only he had the courage. Anyway, it doesn't take him long to pick up all the things I have dropped on the floor (pens, paper, reference books, Thessoorus (never could spell that word - I thought it was a prehistoric animal till I was around 12) and then prepare my lunch.

It's annoying, isn't it, now that Spring is here that insides of the windows look smeared in the sunshine and he does so hate me looking through smeared windows. Fortunately, he's a very patient man (which reminds me - why does the recorded message at our local medical centre say "please be patient" - what else do they think we are?) so he usually gets to do his own thing round about three o'clock.

I just called out for him (I've mislaid the hand bell I used to use) and then the phone went and it was my (former) friend.  She said she'd heard he'd gone back-backing in France (in search of grenouilles probably) and had left a message that he didn't want to be disturbed... Oh well, at least I won't be lonely.... animals (unlike humans) never let you down.'

And this is the one that started it all ...

N.B The above is on loan from my very special friend Lesley Davison in memory of Patricia Simister

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Born too late?

My mother always said I was born too late. Not too late for her, you understand, but too late for me. I have always been fascinated by the past and am never happier than when surrounded by the relics of another age...

Is it possible that I  have lived before? When I was little more than five-years-old my Mum took me to Newarke Museum in New Walk, Leicester, where I wandered into an authentic Victorian street setting complete with cobblestones and carefully reproduced shops. Fascinated, I scrambled over the low perimeter fence and stepped into the cobbler's shop.

Looking at the  man in flat cap and shirt sleeves working on an old last, I failed to notice the security man who appeared out of nowhere. 'Hey, you, little girl,' he shouted,  'Can't you read?' pointing at the sign that said 'No Admittance Beyond this point.'

Of course I could read - I'd been doing that since I before I started school - and I could certainly hear. He didn't need to shout. But I didn't say this out loud. Instead, I continued to stare in wonderment at the spectacle in front of me. 'I think I've been here before'  I replied.

Of course you've been here before,' he retorted. ' We have thousands of visitors every year, but the majority of them, I'm glad to say, obey the rules.' With that he picked me up by the scruff of my neck and deposited me back on the cobblestones.

'Can I go in one of the other shops?' I asked, innocently, determined to remain in this wonderful place for as long as possible.

'Ah, there you are,' my mother ran towards us, clearly out of breath.' I was just about to report you missing. What on earth were you thinking of?'

I was thinking of a time when horses and carts roamed the streets and women dressed in floor-sweeping skirts  like the queen, but somehow I knew this wasn't the right answer.

And that was the beginning of my love affair with the past.

Victorian Cobbled Street,
Newarke Museum, New Walk, Leicester

Image courtesy of

Thursday, 12 February 2015


While celebrities attended the Berlin premiere of Fifty Shades of Grey last night,  a mystery  middle-aged British woman was busy emulating the book's success.

The woman, from Wellington Women's Institute in  Somerset, forsook  the more usual Jam and Jerusalem  to pen an erotic short story along the lines of E L James' raunchy best seller.

According to The Times newspaper the short story,  published in a charity anthology,  has been 'described as filth by both delighted and appalled readers.' 

Retired writer  Bridget Hodges who set up the WI writing group -  called Monumental  Women's Ink after the town's monument -  wanted members to try a different style or genre every month. 'When Fifty Shades came out we talked about it quite a bit,' said the sixty-three year old. 'We thought we would all have a go.  Some didn't seem very keen. It's not for the faint-hearted.'

Titled 'The Conquering Gibraltarian Adonis' the  three- page story, about a husband's return after a long period working abroad, is preceded by a warning to those who may be of a delicate disposition.

One such person is WI member Enid Ray who told her local weekly newspaper 'One does not expect such smut from a group involved in the WI. I was wholly shocked when I read this section. I can't believe they had the nerve to print it.'

The author, according to Mrs Hodges, has asked to remain anonymous - because 'her gran would be furious!'

Meanwhile, the £4 book, a selection of poetry and fiction,  has sold  three quarters of the 200 printed to raise money for cancer treatment at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton.

After today's headlines,  no doubt that they will be needing a reprint very soon. What do you think?


Monday, 9 February 2015

When the past came calling...

Today I viewed a remarkable video that brought the past to life for me in a way nothing else could.
On May 9, 1945 the German Military Occupation of Guernsey ended after five long years.
The events of this day and the years before  had been recounted by my grandparents when I was a child until I felt I had lived through it all myself.
I never tired of hearing their stories, I always wanted to hear more.
Like many others, my grandparents lost a son in the war and never stopped grieving for him.
Eleven-year-old David was evacuated to Oldham, Lancashire in 1940 with his fourteen-year-old brother, Harold James Brown.
Harold arrived back on the island in 1945 married to my mother.
David died of meningitis in 1942 and never came home again.
My second novel, due out later this year, is set in the Occupation of Guernsey. I hope it will serve as tribute to everyone who paid dearly for the island's freedom - some with their lives.
It will be dedicated to you
David Richard Brown
The uncle I never met.
My sincere thanks go to Steven le Provost for allowing me to reproduce this film which was taken by Dr Richard Sutcliffe with colour film he had kept hidden from the Germans
throughout the Occupation.
Le Provost Films

To see the video please click on the link below.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Courage is her middle name.

I've always championed strong women. Their politics don't concern me but their courage does. So I have enormous respect for Alexander Litvenenko's widow, Marina, for continuing to say what she believes.

Last October I attended a literary evening in Southport, Lancashire, where Mrs Litvenenko gave a humbly moving speech about her late husband, a former Russian Federal Security Service officer who was killed in November 2006.

She was joined by Alex Goldfarb,  a close friend and  co- author of the book Death of a Dissident (pictured below.)

 Mr and Mrs Litvinenko and her late husband became British citizens more than eight years ago just weeks before Alexander, (whom Marina calls Sasha,) was allegedly poisoned.

Small of stature, this amazing lady has the emotional strength of someone twice her size, along with a stoic belief that she must never give up the fight.

At the time she told the Southport Visitor “I am coming to this event to help the fundraising for the Litvinenko Justice Foundation so that we can pay for the legal costs of the public inquiry of the death of my husband.
“I believe that it is in the public interest to find out what happened to my husband. I can not bring the people who poisoned him to court because they are in Russia, but I can try to find out how he was killed. '

It was here in England that Litvinenko wrote two books accusing the Russian government of committing acts of terrorism against their own people.

Mrs Litvinenko said: “I am grateful that I am here, in England, where I can speak out like this.
“People should be proud that they are from a country that allows you to speak out. It was a very special day for me and Alexander when we became British citizens.

She added I would of course go back to Russia if it was something serious, but right now it is so unpleasant, I do not want to go back.'

The  event was organised by  Southport  lawyer John Boydell.



Monday, 26 January 2015

Gingerbread Men and Hot Cocoa

A nine-year-old girl has turned the clock back almost seventy years to write a touchingly perceptive story about two young evacuees.

Anya's story

Anya Baxter, a pupil at Kirkham Grammar School in Lancashire,  wrote the delightfully titled Gingerbread Men and Cocoa when she learnt how World War Two affected the people of Britain. The story follows an eleven-year-old girl and her six-year-old sister as they leave their mother and father to live with strangers far from home.

The story evokes a difficult time in our country's history when  children were expected to behave like adults - and most of them, thankfully, did.

To me, Anya's writing and  thought processes are far in advance of her years. As someone who has a passionate interest in the Occupation of the Channel Islands - my father was evacuated from Guernsey with his younger brother in 1940 - I thought I would share this with you.

Gingerbread Men and Hot Cocoa
Anya Baxter
aged nine

I was feeling sick. Outside it was getting darker and darker. We were nearly there. The train went over a huge bump.  My stomach did too! I began to look out of the window to see my surroundings. All that was around me was trees bushes and green farmland. I wonder if I'll live on  farm, I thought. I started to fiddle with my long, brown hair. My mother had put it into a plait to make me look presentable. I took my plait out carefully and put the bobble around my wrist.

Eventually we got there. We all clambered off the train. My teacher told us to walk towards a small group of houses. There in front of us stood lots and lots of adults. I looked down at my little sister, she was only six. She looked as scared as ever. Her little black cardigan barely fitted her and her long grey skirt was too tight at the waist. I was eleven. I  knew my sister might be separated from me, but I knew she would be brave. One by one the rest of the children around me and my sister got chosen.  Every now and them my sister gave me a nervous glance.  Now the only children left were a young brown-haired girl, a small blond boy and my sister and me.  I stared at the adults who were left. Not one of them looked as nice as my mother. I began to wonder what my mother was doing at that moment.

A man pointed at me and my sister. My stomach did a flip! He didn't look very rich at all.  I felt a shove on my back. It was my teacher. Slowly and steadily we walked towards the man. He picked up our bags and beckoned me to follow him. The man lead us to a black van. He loaded our bags into the van and told us to get in. It wasn't a very long journey.

 My sister kept looking out of the window at the back of the van. Suddenly the van stopped. We arrived at our new home. It didn't look as I thought it would. We were told to get out of the van. Nervously I placed a foot on the smooth gravel and climbed out.  In front of me was a neat lawn and six symmetrical flower beds. We walked up to the front door and stepped inside the house. The man's wife was lovely. She had made us some gingerbread men and hot cocoa. They were delicious. The man's wife lead us through the old house to our bedroom. It was quite small, but quite spacious.  For tea we had fresh tomato soup and homemade bread. I thought, when I went to bed that night, about where tomorrow would take me and what would happen.

Do let me know what you think of Anya's story.