January – and beyond

Two and half thousand words of blog post. Plus just under seven thousand words of WIP. That’s nearly ten thousand in the last week. An average of two thousand a day with weekends off for good behaviour. I’ve also been adding to my reviews of everything I’ve watched and read so that next month’s review posts will happen. I think I’ve been too ambitious. I set off, inspired by my daily music posts in December, with the intention of posting every other day, and didn’t really mean to get involved with very long pieces every time. But somehow, I invariably ramble and also need to look things up (like the names of authors or artists I like) and it all takes for ever. I suspect I could write more of my WIP if I was a little more laid back about the blog posts. So in February I intend to reduce the endeavour to a post every three days. Over the course of an average month that should mean four or five review posts, a meme, a couple of things that are bugging me, news about my writing (or a poem) and maybe a cookery post. That’s the idea, anyway.

When I post about cookery, be warned. I love cooking (though not planning a week’s menu, or shopping) but I’m a rather haphazard cook. My husband follows recipes religiously, and has been known to visit at least three supermarkets to get the right kind of kale. I tend to subsitute whatever I happen to have at hand. I don’t measure for a lot of things (though I do for baking) and I look for alternatives, short cuts, etc. As a result, after years of practice, I find most cooking easy, and will share my findings with you. If you want accurate quantities etc. please look elsewhere. If you want to feel confident about basic cooking – and some ‘party’ dishes, follow me! I also enjoy recipe books and will share new discoveries with you. Oh, and I cook in UK using scales that show grammes, a fan oven that uses centigrade temperatures, and most of my recipes are for two, with leftovers to freeze. Some of my recipes are vegetarian – we don’t eat meat every day – and where meat is in the dish you can substitute extra veg. I will give warnings etc. We are not, however, vegan, and nor are our extended family (though some are vegetarian). So expect butter, cheese, milk, etc. I have no idea how or whether the recipes would work with vegan substitutes.

The header photo is from my site header/banner/whatever. I created it using, as a base, a photograph of a violet in our garden. The violets could be out again soon!

Politics: second post of three in an ‘interests’ meme

We don’t often share our personal views on politics. Well, not in UK, anyway. There are all kinds of taboos. It isn’t just that there’s so much emphasis on the secret ballot. There are strong but unspoken social rules about not offending people by trying to discuss political issues. Never, we were taught (when I was growing up) talk about religion or politics. Never. It seemed almost as strong as the taboos surrounding sex – and made about as much sense. Even politicians seem to struggle to express beliefs rather than talk about e.g. numbers of immigrants or unemployed. Sometimes, on social media, I think those walls are beginning to crumble, but still, it’s hard to know where your friends are coming from. I don’t mind putting my cards on the table. They’re quite varied cards.

Over the course of my life I have voted for numerous different parties. When I first went to uni, a school-friend’s older brother dragged me into the Young Conservatives but I retreated fairly sharply. When I was first married we supported our local Liberal Party but were gradually disillusioned by the behaviour of various national politicians (including one who was on the board of the company I worked for). I joined the Labour Party for a short time but didn’t feel the local party was my spiritual home even though I share a lot of their socialist ideas. Whilst teaching, I was a union rep for NASUWT and was on the local committee. I was also a delegate at various TUC meetings and conferences – and at NASUWT annual conferences. Once I retired I joined the Pirate Party and definitely agree with their manifesto whilst rolling my eyes at their inability to organise themselves. I have never cancelled my membership but I have only once been to a conference and of course they don’t provide candidates to vote for in most places.

I have voted for all the main parties in both local and national elections, and once for the Greens in local elections. Sometimes I vote tactically. I suppose you could call me a floating voter but that implies shifting philosophies and being easy to sway. I don’t believe either applies to me. I’m quite cynical about politicians but eternally hopeful that socialist policies might prevail. I remember when I was working and someone was asking who would or wouldn’t man the barricades (I think we were discussing Les Miserables at the time) another colleague pointed at me and said I would have built them. I ought to point out, for the benefit of any American readers, that all our main political parties (with the exception of UKIP etc. and other right wing organisations) are well to the left of anything that happens in US. Our politics have more in common with the Australian variety except that they call Conservatives ‘Liberals’ and so on.

My career was largely in the field of anti-racist education, with a short side step into language teaching for a company (the one with the Liberal director). Again, I attended and organised conferences, went on marches, and read and read and read. I got interested in the politics of some of my students from countries including Libya, Iraq and Iran.

I follow politics avidly. I read New Statesman every week. I subscribe to Searchlight and read their magazine – I think it’s currently quarterly but it keeps changing its mind. I enjoy Private Eye but don’t subscribe so haven’t seen it during lockdown. I watch programmes like Dateline London, Peston, Newsnight, Hardtalk, etc. Our default TV channels are BBC Parliament and various news channels including BBC News and Al Jazeera. I read the Guardian daily, plus a Spectator email. I buy and read books about politics and economics. I get email news from organisations like Hope Not Hate, and Electronic Frontier Foundation. Sometimes I donate. Sometimes I sign petitions. Sometimes, as with EFF, Avaaz, the Refugee Council, and Amnesty, I subscribe.

I like to follow international politics, not just those of my own country. I’m no expert but I think I’m reasonably well informed. I’m particularly interested in Australian and US politics simply because I have friends in both countries and since their main language in both cases is English, the reports are easy to follow and I can then have discussions with my friends. However, I also enjoy information about e.g. Germany, Portugal, and Spain, garnered through media reports but also from friends who live in those countries. I have also read a lot of history dealing with western European countries in particular. I used to devour books about the Third Reich and more recently I dived deep into accounts of Franco’s Spain.

I enjoy fiction that centres round the history and politics of a country. I did a postgrad thesis on the uses of literature – written in English but from other countries – in the English classroom and read a lot of books dealing with India, Pakistan, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as well as US. I was fascinated – and then sad that the National Curriculum would not allow me to share my fascination. Again, I should tell American readers that American literature is currently frowned on or ignored in our high schools. I like films like Pride, Made in Dagenham and I, Daniel Blake.

I have been on numerous political marches, sometimes as a union delegate and with a group carrying a banner, and sometimes just for myself (usually with a friend or my husband). These have varied – memorable examples are the annual Tolpuddle Martyr’s March, the Live 8 Edinburgh event, and local anti-fascist demonstrations against e.g. the National Front.

I have always voted. I believe in democracy, and I believe in socialism. But I’m not a supporter of any particular party at the moment and apart from my somewhat distanced membership of the Pirate Party I can’t imagine joining one. I agree with the Martin Luther King quotation in my header, but would leave religion out of the equation. (The other taboo, religion, is for another day…)

So I’m very left wing without being a member of a left wing organisation. Nowadays I would be a physical liability on a march or demonstration of any kind, but I can still sign petitions, donate to causes I think worthy, and, as ever, read, read, read.

Lockdown and vaccination

(The cartoon is from yesterday’s online Spectator.)

I have an appointment for vaccination on Monday.

So far as I know this is simply because of my age. I fall into the ‘next cohort’.

I have been mostly isolating since last March. I shop online as far as possible. I have not been to a shop, or used cash, since then. Occasionally, my husband and my daughter have brought shopping to me and I disinfect everything. I cannot take advantage of the permission to go out for exercise. I walk, badly and slowly, with a stick, and need frequent rests on e.g. a park bench. I understand that this is currently illegal. The last time I left our house and garden was for a flu jab, in autumn.

I am not grumbling, or at least, only at the virus. I am no different from lots and lots of people and I know I’m better off than a lot. I have a comfortable house, a supportive husband who is good company, no money worries, and no health problems other than my bad back and some hay fever. All our extended family are currently well, even our son-in-law’s father who was hospitalised with Covid. However, I’m still, like many others, in a kind of prison and can only begin to imagine how dreadful it must be for people who live alone or in less than comfortable surroundings.

I am pro-vaccination. I believe in the concept and science of vaccination. I believe in the way vaccination protects the entire community including people who for health reasons can’t be vaccinated. I have some confidence in the new Covid vaccines. The researchers have worked very hard and the trials have been properly carried out. However, the results from Israel, which is ahead of most countries in rolling out the programme suggest that protection will be limited until the second dose has been not only administered but had time to develop full efficacy and it is still not clear whether the vaccine prevents transmission as well as protecting against severe symptoms.

I have no idea which vaccine I will be given or even if the appointment will go ahead. I was asked to make the appointment for the second dose at the same time I made the first and I did, but I have no idea whether that will go ahead either – it’s for 12 weeks’ time. There are rumours, half bits of information, lots of encouragement, and virtually no hard facts. Some areas and centres run out of vaccine or run out of staff. But the Manchester Etihad Stadium has not reported any problems so far. (I just hope I don’t have to queue or that if I do there is seating.)

So I ought to be excited about my appointment. I’m sure friends and medical staff will encourage me to express delight and optimism.

I will turn up for my ‘jab’, but forgive me if I am less than enthusiastic. People are talking as if we have actually reached the light at the end of the tunnel and guess what? We haven’t.

This is not a get-out-of-gaol-free card. It takes about three weeks for any protection to kick in, and then there’s the 12 week wait for the second dose and a further 3 week wait. So we’re looking at the beginning of May… I can’t imagine much lifting of restrictions before then in any of UK because it’s going to be at least then before most older people are protected. Even then, it’s only partial protection.

Meanwhile, we are all still in lockdown. I can’t see my family, even my daughter and grandson (last seen in August) or my friends. I can’t go out. I’ve mentioned the walking problem and of course I can’t drive anywhere for a change of scenery. I can’t stand and queue for a shop though I hate shopping anyway so that isn’t a real concern. Other than medical appointments such as the one for vaccination there is no legal way I can leave the house even once vaccinated. Dentists, opticians, hairdressers, etc. are still closed and will remain so. Besides, those are not exactly things to look forward to. We have been told not to plan summer holidays or days out, even in UK. The weather is cold, dark, and depressing. I live in a big house but I’m feeling slightly claustrophobic.

We are currently still in January – and I’m one of the lucky ones.

Also, it’s snowing, which is very pretty and very cold. We were invited (it’s random) to be on the ONS covid survey so we get tested regularly – they aren’t allowed to come in and they’re due today at 12.30 and that means having the door open for longer than I would like.

Can you cook?

A friend on Facebook asked if people could cook and gave a quiz. It’s a little US-centric so some of my answers show my Brit perspective. I love cooking – I hate having to plan a meal every day, but the actual preparation is fine. Anyway, on to the questions:

HAVE YOU EVER?

1. Made biscuits from scratch? Yes Both Brit biscuits (UScookies) and US biscuits (Brit scones)

2. Fried fresh okra? No. Not too much fresh okra here. I’ve had it but I think it was steamed.

3.Made sourdough bread? No – don’t like it much. I’d rather have multi-grain types.

4. Fried chicken? Yes although I prefer to roast it.

5. Made spaghetti sauce from scratch? Yes, Every time I make sauce it’s from scratch

6. Made any kind of yeast bread? Yes. Nowadays I have a bread machine and experiment with stuff (I can’t cope with too much kneading) but I’ve recently made Irish soda bread, banana bread, and pizza base from scratch.

7. Baked a cake from scratch? Yes.

8. Made icing from scratch? Yes – butter icing, frosting, royal icing…

9. Cooked a pot roast with all the veggies? Yes. I have a slow cooker, a tagine, a domed enamel roaster, etc. etc.

10. Made chili from scratch? Yes, but I go easy on the chili. Too much and I can’t taste anything else.

11. Made a meatloaf? Yes though rarely because it isn’t our favourite.

12. Made scalloped potatoes? Yes

13. Made mac/cheese from scratch? Yes. I don’t like the tinned or shop made kind.

14. Made a jello salad? I assume this is an aspic salad. Don’t like it much but have made jellied beetroot which is nice.

15. Made peanut brittle? Don’t like it so no.

16. Made fudge? Yes but it was a failure.

17. Made cookies from scratch? Yes see #1

18. Cooked a pot of beans from dried beans? Yes

19. Cooked a pot of greens? Yes

20. Made cornbread? Not sure what cornbread is.

21. Make a pie dough from scratch? Yes. Not always because I’m lazy.

22. Cooked a whole turkey? Yes but not often because I prefer chicken or duck.

23. Snapped green beans and cooked them? Yes. We grow our own.

24. Made mashed potatoes from scratch? Yes

25. What’s the most people you have prepared a whole meal for? 12 but I had help. Also, party buffet for far more.

26. Poached an egg? Yes

27. Made pancakes from scratch? Yes, always, but Brit pancakes, not US ones. I think theirs are what we call drop scones and if so I have made those too.

28. Roasted vegetables in the oven instead of boiling them? Yes, frequently and I never boil them, I steam them.

29. Made fresh pasta? No – don’t see the point. I can’t tell the difference in taste.

30. Made croissants from scratch? No, not keen on croissants and they’re cheap.

31. Made tuna salad? Yes – had it last night, in fact

32. Fried fish? Yes – I usually make my own breadcrumbs and fry with those and egg, but sometimes I bake fish in the oven (in foil) with herbs and/or e.g. chili dipping sauce.

33. Made baked beans? No though I know you can. But there are more interesting things to do with beans.

34. Made ice cream from scratch? Yes. Most recently, one with yoghurt and juice from our red currants. I have the kind of ice cream maker you have to freeze in advance but as a child I recall stirring the mixture in a cold double pan, with salt.

35. Made jam or jelly? Yes. I like using the microwave and making small quantities.

36. Zested an orange or lemon? Yes. I seem to have at least three zesters in the small equipment drawer.

37. Made grits from scratch? What are grits?

38. Made an omelet? Yes, regularly, but we spell it omelette

39. Lived in a house without a dishwasher? Yes, growing up, and when I was first married.

40. Eaten a bowl of cereal for supper? No – prefer it for breakfast!

The photograph shows our Christmas dinner 25th December 2020.

Roast chicken

Pigs in blankets (bought ready to cook)

Roast potatoes

Roast parsnips (bought ready to cook)

Sprouts (steamed)

Bread sauce

Cranberry sauce with port

Sage and onion stuffing (added extra onion to packet mix)

Red cabbage salad

Gravy (bought ready to heat)

The things bought ready to cook were all things I can cook, and have done in the past. The choice of ready items was just dictated by time, oven and stove top space, and pans. I should probably add that our dishwasher chose Christmas to die so the pan situation was crucial. The problem with a dinner that includes a lot of ‘trimmings’ or side dishes is getting everything ready, hot and fresh, to serve at the same times. I managed it, but only by judicious choice of ready-made ingredients.

The Four Places Meme

Once upon a time, DJ Jamison posted this meme on FB and I finally got round to playing! Only about a year late. I can’t find my UK photographs. I’ve hidden them so safely in the cloud that they’re inaccessible. So I’ve used a montage of Manchester (where I currently live) from the internet.

Four places I’ve Lived
1. Newcastle upon Tyne (UK)
2. Ilford, Greater London (UK)
3. Greater Manchester (UK)

4. Oliveira do Hospital (Portugal) – and no, I have no idea why Word and WordPress insist on a line space.

Four places I’ve worked:
1. Birmingham (North Birmingham Poly)
2. Durham College of FE
3. Tameside Multicultural Support Service (Greater Manchester) 
4. Redbridge Language Centre (Ilford)

Four things I love to watch on TV:
1. Spiral (French cops and lawyers drama)/Line of Duty
2. Scandinavian detective dramas 
3. BBC Parliament 
4. Grand Designs

Four places I’d LOVE to visit (but haven’t yet):
1.China (especially those spiked mountains)
2. Greece
3. Southern Poland (Krakow and area)
4. Japan

Four things I love to eat:
1. Chocolate (especially with salted caramel added)
2. Brie (and yes, I eat the white mould)
3. Avocados
4. Pasta

Four things I like to drink:
1. Coffee (espresso)
2. Ginger beer (with or without alcohol added)
3. Fruit tea (no strawberry, please, because I’m allergic)
4. White Port (chilled)

Halloween Gift: a gift story for Halloween

Happy Halloween everybody!

When I was at boarding school (UK) we made a big fuss of Halloween. We dressed up and told ghost stories, and the older teenagers put on spooky plays. We had candles and games like bobbing for apples. I have no idea how the staff coped with a lot of excited children in sheets rushing around a dark but candle-lit Victorian building. They must have been foolish or brave or both. I don’t suppose today’s health and safety rules would allow it! That’s the school in the header photo – imagine it with candles in every window and no electric lights on!

American trick or treat hadn’t crossed the Atlantic in those pre-internet days, so we didn’t do that, but in any case, trick or treating was associated with Mischief Night, the night before Bonfire Night in November. Everything nowadays seems to have been amalgamated into one end of October/beginning of November festival, no doubt to satisfy the demands of council-supported firework displays. And we got the American trick or treat bug, though Brit children mostly stick to spooky costumes, not princesses or supermen. In Portugal the older teenagers rush around with very ‘realistic’ ghoulish masks and I’m told by friends that Portugal has declared a 48 hour lockdown to prevent too much mingling this year!

Nowadays, I live in an old stone cottage (seventeenth century) with low ceilings, oak beams and a resident poltergeist. (A next door neighbour who has since moved away actually got her priest to come and do an exorcism.)

I don’t watch scary films – they make me jump, hurt my neck muscles, and give me a headache. But I like ghost stories, just for reading, not viewing!

You might recall my free story last Halloween which was based on our house’s history. The photograph that accompanies it is of our lounge window – where I write! And it’s clear that someone (not us) pebble dashed the front wall, presumably to stop it falling down. The modern facing hasn’t deterred the poltergeist in the slightest.

All of which leads to my free Halloween story for this year. It’s called Halloween Gift and is, like last year’s, in my ‘free stuff’. (See the tabs at the top of the page.) It’s about ghosts and witches (and a cat) but is ff and is (hopefully) cheerful fluff to offset the creepiness of the season.

I’d also like to link to some ficlets I wrote for an October ‘monsterfest’ run by a writers’ group I belong to on Dreamwidth (ushobwri). The ficlets are a mix of original writing and fanfic. They are interspersed with a few posts and poems you might recognise from this site. They can be found at https://archiveofourown.org/collections/Shoobie_Monster_Fest/works/27267490 and you could enjoy exploring the other contributions too.

Sorry this is so late in the day – possibly too late for friends in Australia and NZ – but I committed myself to posting on a FB group and that needed the first ‘publication’ of the freebie. I got a 3.30.pm slot UK time, so…

I don’t suppose many people will allow their children to go trick or treating this year. Greater Manchester, where I live, is in Tier 3 lockdown and visiting other people’s houses is illegal. I suppose you can knock at the door, but think about handing over coins or sweets without adequate hand sanitiser – not recommended!! So I’m going to curl up with some TV (not Halloween related) and then do my usual screen switch-off an hour before bedtime and read a couple of spooky stories.

Whatever you’re doing, enjoy the festival – and stay safe!

What are you reading at the moment?

What are you reading at the moment?

This, with variations, is a common question on social media. I suppose it’s due to the extra time some people are finding they have to read, during lockdown, working at home with no commute, etc.

The trouble is, I never know quite what to say. I usually have at least three books ‘on the go’ and sometimes more.

Let’s start upstairs.

The bathroom (with toilet) is dedicated as a rule to the week’s print magazines – at least New Statesman and New Scientist, with an occasional Private Eye (not at the moment because we’re random buyers and there’s a lockdown) or National Geographic (passed on by a friend and similarly absent). If those run out I have a carefully selected book: it must be something I can dip into and out of in between magazines. Not fiction, then. Mostly, books of art, poetry, etc. or perhaps things like Culpepper’s Herbal, or Harry Potter: A History of Magic (British Museum), a Dictionary of English Place Names. I’m sure you get the picture. I just finished The Making of the English Landscape and have given it five stars.

The bedroom has something non fiction but that nevertheless needs longer and more concentrated reading times. I don’t often read lying in bed – I find it uncomfortable and my glasses don’t quite cope – but I’ll sit propped up or on the edge. Currently I’m reading a fairly scholarly book about myth and gender. You’ll get a brief review eventually.

Downstairs next.

In the kitchen I often have two books. One will be recipes I have already read but need to re-read, finding and noting the ones I might actually follow rather than just enjoying in the abstract. The other might be fiction or non-fiction, in paperback. Something I can pick up while I’m waiting for things to cook, or take out into the yard with a cup of coffee. It should be something that can stand being abandoned when the potatoes boil or when the phone rings and I have to rush in. At the moment I’m alternating between Jamie Oliver’s Veg and Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. Both fascinating (both Christmas presents 2019) and I mustn’t let the pans boil dry. That happened with my previous kitchen book, Narrow Dog to Carcassonne.

Then there’s the lounge book which might be the one you’re asking about… It will almost certainly be fiction and equally almost certainly on my e-reader (though last week I had a Seanan McGuire urban fantasy paperback). It will stay in the lounge unless I’m going out (not likely just now) in which case it’s easy to slip into my bag if I remember. If I remember the book I will probably remember my mobile phone, and vice versa. I tend to ring the changes in my e-books. I like fantasy, crime, sci fi, mm romance, general romance, and some historical novels. If I find something that combines two or more of these, I’m really happy. Today I’m reading You Let Me In – a chiller that I’ve borrowed from the Amazon Prime Library. It’s very well written but I haven’t got far yet. I also keep dipping into an e-book about baking, written by one of those GBBO stars. I don’t really like reference books on e-readers because I worry about finding things again. I know there are bookmarks but somehow I’m not good at those till it’s too late. I just finished Keira Andrews’ Semper Fi which was a lovely mm historical novel. And I abandoned City of Brass even though it came highly recommended. It was another Amazon Library book so I had no qualms about giving up.

So there you have my reading habits. I should also say that I keep crosswords, sudoku and logic puzzles in the kitchen, bathroom and car, just in case…

And yes, I read the ingredients on sauce bottles, cereal packets, etc. In case you wondered.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Since most of you will be at home rather than at the pub…

 

 

SLÁINTE!

 

An Irish proverb quiz for St. Patrick’s Day.
Here are the first parts of five popular Irish sayings; you have to complete them.

 

1. The older the fiddle…
2. May your home always be too small to hold…
3. You’ll never plough a field by…
4. May misfortune follow you the rest of your life, and…
5. If you’re enough lucky to be Irish…

*************************************************************

Answers (don’t cheat):

 

 

 

 

(I only got one right – number 4)

…and… I also offered for Fandom Trumps Hate.

https://fth2020offerings.dreamwidth.org

will take you to the main site of the organisation.

It’s basically an American thing but as so much of the hate-speech on social media is generated in America and then goes world-wide I feel it’s a good cause to support. I’d be more than happy to support a similar movement in Europe but so far as I know, there isn’t one!
My creator page is:

https://fth2020offerings.dreamwidth.org/205038.html

And yes, I say between 5-10k but if a prompt really interests me I’m likely to write more, even a lot more! So length is negotiable!

I would also like to mention a friend’s page:

https://fth2020offerings.dreamwidth.org/214071.html

is MistressKat’s page. She’s a brilliant writer (you might remember my rave review of Vlarian Oath). (Totally off topic, last night she managed to fine tune this site of mine to remove an unwanted tag and re-establish my icon for commenting elsewhere. I ought to contribute to something somewhere for that alone but instead, I made dinner…)

As with the Australian site, go browse, and if anything appeals to you (not just our offers) bid!

Fandom For Australia

I write, and I write fanfiction, so when I heard about Fandom For Australia it made sense to sign up. I have a lot of friends in Australia and have been distressed by the recent fires. I’ve donated to a couple of charities and a couple of sponsored events but wanted to do more.

https://fandomforoz.livejournal.com is running a fic auction to benefit Australian charities for the relief of various issues arising from the fires.

I haven’t done this kind of fic auction before, but I’ve made a ‘creator page’ and I’m hoping for bids for me to write a fanfic. And that means, of course, that I’m hoping one of you will bid!

Any of my fandoms would be fine – you can get a full list by looking at my AO3 dashboard https://archiveofourown.org/users/moth2fic and clicking on ‘Expand Fandoms List’. But I’ve mentioned my ‘main’ fandoms.
I’ve promised at least 1000 words but knowing myself, any story is likely to be longer than that. So if you’d like me to write in a particular fandom or even to a specific prompt, bid for my services!
There was a viewing period, which I’ve managed to miss, but bidding starts today and my creator page is:
https://ffoz-offerings.livejournal.com/41619.html

If none of my offerings appeal, you might find others that do! Anything that raises money for the cause is welcome!