Thursday, May 31, 2007

Cash potatoes

I came across this while looking for a photo of crisps the other day.

I wonder was it the yogurt maker of its day...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Title revealed

I finally realised that the novel is called Cured with Death, of course. Duh! How did I not see that before now...

There's a graphic novel I haven't even started writing yet, and I know for sure that it's called The Town of Instant Karma. Titles and me, we have an on-off relationship.

The book title is taken from The Duchess of Malfi, "black deeds must be cured with death".

Back to work on that now, before coffee with the Codebreakers.

PS: photo of a 5-week old golden eagle hatched in Donegal. These wild birds have been extinct in Ireland since the 1920s, so this is very good news indeed. And just look at his little scrummy tummy!!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Supersize me

From this Thursday, it will be illegal in Ireland to sell cigarettes in packs of fewer than 20. The theory is that is will cut out the teenage market, who mostly buy packs of 10.

Isn't that like trying to get everyone to lose weight by only selling crisps in bumper 175g packets?

The sale of confectioneries that resemble tobacco products will also be banned. I would love to see some research on shapes of sweets eaten as a child affecting adult patterns: surely if there was a correlation, we'd all be eating huge marshmallow flogs and fizz bombs and enormous white mice.

Although now that I think of it, white mice would explain the 'sweet mice' pizza topping.

Off to ponder that one further...

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Summer Plot Thickens

I'll be doing a reading this July when I'm over in Dublin. The news so far...

Short Stories by Irish Women
Irish Writers' Centre, Dublin
Tuesday 17 July, 7.00pm

A Dublin booklaunch for the 2007 Fish anthology, with readings extracted from prize-winning stories. Orlaith (Fish-Knifey winner) will be reading alongside Kathleen Murray (winner of the Fish Prize) and Lane Ashfeldt (winner of the Short Histories Prize).

It's really great to get the opportunity. Yippee!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Tales from the Flat Space

There are three security guards down at the Flat Space. Each makes a unique contribution to the menagerie of people and animals gathered there on any given morning.

One (Territorial Guy) assumes a soldierly stance, arms folded, one foot planted on the running-around-path that I jog along. The second (Scented Man) ducks into his car to splash on the strongest cologne I have ever experienced. I mean, we're outdoors on a blustery day, and I'm still overwhelmed when I reach the space downwind of him. It's actually easier to breathe when he stands on the path smoking.

The third (Big Smiling Man) is the happiest cheerleader ever. He greets me every morning, watches the progress of the first few laps. When I pass him by he jogs on the spot, smiling encouragingly. And when I finish he raises his fists with two thumbs up.

A bizarre coterie.

In other news, you can now get blog entries emailed direct instead of hiking all the way over here. Sign up to FeedBlitz in the right-hand column and you'll receive updates overnight. The result looks something like this...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Beyond the pale

Yep, it's one of those days here where you just can't see the world beyond the white.

Curled up with laptop, typey-scribbling. The writing is going well, despite me wandering off on a tangent of old crime.

You can now read online the trial records of the Old Bailey 1674-1834. You can search the cases by crime (e.g. seducing from allegiance; keeping a brothel; assault with sodomitical intent), verdict & punishment (death: drawn and quartered; branding; pillory). Some of them are fascinating, like this one: lady suspects maid of theft, straps her to bedpost and tortures her to death. The jury issues a death sentence, lady reveals that she's pregnant, sentence is respited. It makes Moll Flanders seem tame.

Time to put on another pot of coffee. Have a good weekend :)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Operation: Walker

I was sent on a mission to get a walker.

It turns out there's a mini-physiotherapy/mobility-gear district in Funchal. The shop I was looking for was long and narrow, and empty except for the saleswoman, who was at the back of the shop on the phone. I smiled, pottered around, waited. For about seven minutes. Then she punched numbers on the phone, and transferred the call to the desk at the front of the shop.

So I loiter, play with the walking canes and crutches, look through catalogues of mobility equipment. By now there are another two people in the shop, waiting. Then saleswoman No.2 appears - No.1 asks her to help me (as she is striding back to the other end of the shop, where she's transferred the call again). No.2 goes to the cash desk at the front of the shop. No.1's call ends, and her phone rings instantly. She looks at the three shoppers, and answers the phone. By the time I turn around, No.2 is also on the phone.

So, I figure out that the walker department is downstairs, and go searching. By the time No.2 finds me there I've chosen a walker. She apologises for the delay, and is about to pick the walker up when her mobile rings. She wanders off, chatting. I bring the walker upstairs, find the price, get the cash ready. I'm close now, I can feel it. No.2 reappears, apologises for the delay, and goes to ring up the sale. She's keyed in two of the four digits when - you guessed it - the mobile goes. She steps away from the cash desk so she can talk and gesture extravagantly without impediment.

This is a shop whose purpose is to make life easier.

Anyhoo, I got out of there eventually. No-one's revamped the world of walkers yet - they're pretty much all grey. I found one with black leather trim, which we've dubbed The Batwalker.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The magic giving bowl

This morning I made some chocolate-chip muffins for the Codebreakers. And lo and behold, the bowl has reappeared, filled with chocolates and treaty things for me.

It's obviously one of those 'energy laws of the universe'.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The resonance of grief

I often think people are at their most unique when they grieve. It's a time when cracks appear in the social training, and the pain spills out (or not) - you can really get a sense of the individual.

Some of my friends had children who died. Each carries the loss in a unique way. Some are cautious about mentioning it, knowing that for anyone who hasn't been through it, mentioning the death of a child will just stop you in your tracks, leaving you clueless as to what you should possibly say. Others are remarkably open: when asked how many kids they have they say "Five. Four are with us, one's up in heaven", or "I had two. One was killed last year". They get the whole gamut of reactions, from people brushing over the subject to those who want to make it all better. And whatever the knee-jerk response - to ignore, to 'fix', to resolve, to pacify - something in turn is revealed about that person.

It becomes a 'window onto the soul' moment for both.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Beyond belief

An unbelievable story from Texas.

I've been trying to imagine someone lifting up a two-month-old baby, resting her inside a microwave, shutting the door and setting the timer for 20 seconds. Do you do something like that in a daze? Are you aware as you close your daughter inside a microwave? Are you feeling anything? It's unfathomable.

I've got to say, the "Satan told me to do it" line is overused these days.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Biscuits of the doggy kind

There's a dog on the way down to the Field of Dreams Flat Space - he's not one of the usual enormous killer dogs that fling themselves at gates as you walk by. He is enormous, but he's doleful. He's the saddest looking-dog ever. He lies curled up on a patch of dusty ground and looks through the fence at the outside world, where there's freedom to play.

As I was passing by I thought, maybe I'll treat him to some dog biscuits. My mind spiralled, and I pictured me in a supermarket queue internally chanting, "Don't eat the biscuits don't eat the biscuits". For I treasure Jonathan Carroll's blog, you see...

CarrollBlog 4.21
Waiting on line at the checkout counter, the woman in front of me is holding only a very large colorful box of dog biscuits. The man in front of her is buying many things. So it takes a while for the cashier to add up the cost of his purchases. In the meantime, the woman opens up the box of biscuits and starts to eat them. She doesn't take out one, nibble a corner to see what a dog biscuit tastes like, and then put the rest back into the box. No, she takes out a handful and eats them as if they were potato chips, one after the other. The biscuits are about mid size and she eats three very quickly. I smile at first but then stop smiling when she sticks her hand back in the box, takes out more, and eats these too. She moves forward in the line. Handing the open box to the cashier, she puts the last biscuit she's holding in her mouth and chews. From the bored look in her eye, the cashier seems unaware that this customer is eating the dog biscuits she's buying. For one second I think I've imagined the whole thing. Maybe I'm going nuts! Turning to the man behind me, I see him smiling. He raises his eyebrows and says quietly "Woof woof."

I haven't dared to go shopping. It would just end up with someone blogging about the crazy lady guffawing as she bought dog biscuits.

PS - for the long-overdue revamped website, see here.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Stops and starts

Madeiran buses are so humane.

We've already covered imaginary bus stops, which take the pressure off getting to a real stop if you see the bus hurtling down the road.

However, the very best thing about buses here is their pulling-away practice. This morning a little old lady got on the bus, and she had real trouble walking. The driver watched her in the mirror, waited until she had made her way to the back of the bus to find a seat. Only then did he pull away (and drive around corkscrew bends at high speed). So humane. And that's the normal practice - not just for the elderly and infirm.

You can always spot tourists because after the 'next stop please' button has been pressed, they cling to the poles by the doors, hoping the driver slows down enough for them to be able to fling themselves off. Madeirans, they stay seated until the bus comes to a full stop.

So very civilised.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I want this to go smooth and by the numbers...

Getting the summer plans sorted means that I now have a strict deadline(1) for finishing the book: 3 July.

My sunshiney nap this afternoon was scheduled. Yep, that's how organised I've become.

I see that the sands of my blog-time are just running out, so must dash on to the next thing on the list: pre-dinner drink.

(1) strict means that I have a little bit of research to do in Dublin, for fine-tuning, but that's it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Focus on travel

I've almost sorted out my plans for the summer. If all goes well, I'll be in West Cork (picking up the Fish Knife award), Dublin, London and Devon.

I also get to nip over to France, where I'll spend a week in, er, a monastery.
A zen buddhist monastery.
Where there's no alcohol at all.

I get jittery thinking about that.

Anyhoo, following will be four days of wine-guzzling somewhere around Bordeaux. Heaven :)
Off to book some more train tickets and have a sunshiney nap. Busy busy...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tangent Travel

I wonder what the word is for 'scribbling but using a keyboard not a pen'. Someone should probably invent that.

Anyhoo, that's what I'm doing. I'm typey-scribbling away, with tangential trips online to read about nineteenth-century fevers (relapsing, enteric - lots of fun symptoms there), eighteenth-century dresses (they were just heavy. Very very heavy) and the history of rabies (goes all the way back to the year Dot, but Captain Clever Louis Pasteur came up with a vaccine. Typical).

And speaking of tangents, this little guy swam off on a 3000-mile one...

Monday, May 14, 2007


In case anyone is worrying that Google might be cooking up plans for world domination...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Fancy feathers

Thanks to Sara for sending over this photo: white peacocks strutting their stuff at the Botanical Gardens here.

Al Pacino spoke at Trinity College a few months back, and part of the interview was broadcast. He recited - quite beautifully - this speech from Oscar Wilde's Salome. Salome has demanded the head of John the Baptist, and Herod is trying to wriggle out of his promise...

Salome, thou knowest my white peacocks, my beautiful white peacocks, that walk in the garden between the myrtles and the tall cypress-trees. Their beaks are gilded with gold and the grains that they eat are smeared with gold, and their feet are stained with purple. When they cry out the rain comes, and the moon shows herself in the heavens when they spread their tails.

Two by two they walk between the cypress-trees and the black myrtles, and each has a slave to tend it. Sometimes they fly across the trees, and anon they couch in the grass, and round the pools of the water. There are not in all the world birds so wonderful.

I know that Caesar himself has no birds so fair as my birds.

I will give thee fifty of my peacocks.

They will follow thee whithersoever thou goest, and in the midst of them thou wilt be like unto the moon in the midst of a great white cloud . . .

I will give them to thee, all.

I have but a hundred, and in the whole world there is no king who has peacocks like unto my peacocks.

But I will give them all to thee.

Only thou must loose me from my oath, and must not ask of me that which thy lips have asked of me.

Quite doomed.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Cloud fields

Today is even cloudier. I was down at the Field of Dreams flat space this morning, and the whole sea was covered in banks of white fluffy cloud. The usual suspects were hanging out there; it's a friendly atmosphere - we may start a bowling team or something...

Anyhoo, the writing is going well, so I'm getting stuck back in to that now. I have an episode of House downloaded, and have resolved not to watch it until this evening. That's right, my will is adamantine.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Upside-down weather

It's a little cloudy today, but the sunshine is unaffected since the clouds are er... rolling along the sea rather than floating up in the sky.

A bizarre sight to see.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

If you build it, they will come

Back to the subject of the new beach: the other cool thing about the development is that because it needed a car park, we now have a local flat space.

I realise that may not sound like a big deal. It really is. I stood looking at the smallish car park, with its little pavement along its perimeter, and immediately wanted to walk around it. I don't get many opportunities to walk quickly here - going downhill trashes your knees, uphill is reserved for wheezing, but here was flat space. Practically an expanse, except, you know, littler.

So I walked around it (at Malahide walking speed, for those from Malahide). Several times. Then the following morning I went back and jogged around it. Heaven. Already the news of the flat space is spreading: this morning there were people walking their dogs around it, enjoying the horizontalness of it all.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sniffly Spidey

I went to see Spidey 3 today (6 other people in the cinema). Oh dear, the cast of Schindler's List cried less. Even the closing credits had Snow Patrol singing some tearful number. There's only so much footage of huge watery eyes that you can take (I'm sure we all remember the hobbits climbing up that bleedin' mountain in the last LOTR; hour after hour of Elijah Wood's big blinkey teary eyes). The special effects were great, as was the camera-work, but the film was poorly-executed. Shame.

And here's a photo for Sara, who may be missing the flowers of the island...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Snorkelling season open

When I moved here last year there was loads of building work going on around Cristo Rei - a new beach was being created. Building anything here is a big deal, but particularly a beach: blast away part of the cliff, pour out some concrete plateaux, get a load of stones to make a pebble beach (no sand on Madeira), deck some areas, build some buildings (which will need water and electricity), oh and build a road to get there in the first place.

It's finally open! Well, kind of open: there's nothing inside any of the buildings yet, but the beach and the sea are there. And there is a cool cable car that makes a super-steep descent down from Cristo Rei to the beach.

I went down there yesterday, which was my first time in the sea since New Year's Eve (when there was, er, an incident involving an unobserved red flag. Anyhoo the point is everybody got out alright). The new beach is in the middle of the protected sea reserve, so there's plenty of stuff to see. There were no dolphins around yesterday, but a big boat has just breezed past my place with dolphins jumping in its wake. It crossed my mind to rush down and get snorkelling, but this key lime cocktail juice is so cooling...

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Tales from Orvis

[Blog road trip: back to Devon. Orvis is an olde worlde shop in Exeter that sells waders and stretch tweed shooting jackets and squeaky dog toys that look like mallards. You know, the basic essentials. The other Saturday night, Jenny wrote...]

So am at home today with a bad throat, the kind that feels like I’m trying to swallow razor blades. Watched Midsomer Murders this afternoon as my attempt at culture.

Unfortunately, my being ill meant that I was unable to help Andy out with the first Orvis Open Day of 2007. We were both a bit gutted; him because he’d been relying on me to meet and greet folk, and for my part, because I always find it such a lovely and relaxing place to work – the building is very old and the shop has a lovely feel to it, and also the customers are all so ‘kooky’! Usually these open days consist of cheese, wine and nibbles, but this one was whiskey tasting, so Andy brought home a full bottle of The Balvenie Doublewood, a life saver for me in my current weakened state…

But on to some classic tales about the kooky customers:

Lady walks into the shop and announces in an extremely loud voice “I bought a new skirt in here last week! I’ve spilt baked beans down it, and I want to know what you’re going to do about it!”

Lady customer asks to see the Orvis collection of walking boots. Andy explains that they don’t sell walking boots, and the conversation proceeds thus;
“We don’t sell walking boots madam.”
“Why not?”
“We sell clothing and accessories for fishing and hunting madam, we don’t sell walking boots”.
“You sell walking sticks don’t you, why don’t you sell walking boots?”
“If you require walking boots madam I would suggest you try Blacks, or Taunton Leisure.”
“Well you should sell walking boots!”
“Well I’m afraid we don’t madam.”
“Well why not?”
Needless to say, this continues in much the same vein until Andy loses patience and tells her to leave.

At the Orvis Celebration Day last year the first 20 customers were presented with a ‘goody bag’, which contained among other items a free watch. One Orvis customer - let’s call him Major Barmy - was one of the lucky customers who won. After being in possession of said watch for a year, and which had now sadly stopped working, Major Barmy demanded free repair, free replacement or a full refund… can you believe it?

The Raw Sewage Story
A most unfortunate incident occurred during one Friday night of last year, which consisted of a flood of raw sewerage into the basement of the shop. I arrived that Saturday afternoon just in time to see the council shit wagon parked outside, and the driver feeding the pipes through the shop down into the basement to extract said fragrant fluids, and an exasperated Andy who had just had cause to practically forcibly remove a lady customer from the shop.
She came in, despite the fact that 1) large notices were displayed outside to explain the reason the shop was closed, 2) the lights were off, 3) a standing ‘closed’ sign was placed right in the shop doorway (the woman had moved the sign so that she could walk into the shop), 4) there was a large Exeter City Council shit lorry parked outside, with large shitty pipes leading through the shop. Not to mention the extremely fragrant odour, which had completed bypassed her senses.

However, when challenged she refused to leave, complaining that she couldn’t see the merchandise as the lights were turned off. When Andy explained that the shop was actually closed, due to the fact that the basement had been flooded with sewerage, and that she was contravening Health & Safety rules by treading human excrement across the carpet, she exclaimed loudly that this was “typical of Orvis, never considering its customers” by which time he lost all reason and told her in no uncertain terms to get out.

[Brilliant Jen! So many of Andy's stories end with him turfing out the customers, I'm surprised Orvis has any left! Thank you SO much for the glimpse of Devon :) ]

Friday, May 04, 2007

All in the mind

This morning I was thinking "must nip over to Canico and pay that electricity bill" when Landlady appeared. We caught up (on ailments, stresses) for a bit, then she said they were off to pay their electricity bill - would I like them to pay my bill as well.

So I've been sitting here thinking "must go and get a salad, and perhaps some vinho verde". It's been ten minutes now and nothing.

I'm getting hungry.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

How does Devon make it so creamy?

[Blog Road Trip time: we're off to Devon, to see what Jenny's up to]

I’m alternating work between Topsham and Bovey Tracey markets on Saturday mornings. I enjoy going to Bovey Tracey as I do this on my own, and only sell cheese.

The customers are the funniest.

I smile and nod when faced with the sweet old dear who says, “Ooh yes my dear, I comes all the way from Exmouth, there’s nothin’ like your pasties you know, ooh yes…”

Folks come in and buy the butter because it’s labelled Farmhouse Butter, and it’s “the best we’ve ever tasted”. It’s the same with the eggs. “Are they free-range?” No (apparently you can’t get free-range at the moment because all the hens have to be kept indoors due to the threat of bird flu) but they’re eggs from barn hens. It’s amazing how many people have a problem with this…
Then some smart-alec points out the small paragraph on the side of the box which states ‘Eggs from caged birds’.

The pies originate from varying locations around Devon or Cornwall. It just gets a bit tricky when folk start asking the really awkward questions like, “What’s in the pie?” One of our regular customers, a lovely lady (luckily) who had purchased a supposedly chicken and ham pie, informed us that when they cut it up for dinner it contained beef. Oh well… life is strange.

[Thanks hon - mystery pies? Let it be said that the cheese from your stall is the best ever. More Devon Tales from Jenny later this week.]

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

In the name of the Father

Among last week's photos is this tiled panel from Monte Palace gardens.

We figured it was supposed to represent the Annunciation, but it's the most suggestive rendering ever.

If Mary wasn't pregnant before that angel appeared, she certainly was after...