Pavarotti in the Pavilion (AKA Something Silly for Saturday)

Have I mentioned that I’m terrified of thunder? I am absolutely whimperingly petrified of thunder – not of lightning, which could do me real harm, but of the angry growly noise that follows. As a matter of fact I love watching lightning, but I have to clap my hands over my ears after the flash or resign myself to shrieking like Ned Flanders.

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Ellesmere, Shropshire. Photo by Stewart Mackellar, reproduced courtesy of BBC News.

Where I live, the last few days have been scorchio. My partner’s taxi recorded an outside temperature yesterday of 33 degrees Celsius, which is crazy hot for England. Unfortunately for me, hot = thunderstorms, and I managed to get caught out in one this morning while walking across the local recreation ground. In between pathetically begging the thunder to go away and leave me alone, I idly wondered if Pavarotti would be singing in the cricket pavilion.

Thunder over the rec

Thunderstorm over the rec. No lightning, just thunder

Guess what – he was there, practising his scales.

Pavilion Plaque

…And is frequented by opera singers

OK, it’s highly unlikely that the great Luciano himself makes a regular guest appearance in the cricket pavilion of a south Cambridgeshire village, but a tenor with a pretty good voice does flex his vocal cords on a regular basis in this humble location. I often hear him as I scoot around the village to clean various houses, and he always makes me smile. Our cricket pavilion has its very own opera singer. I love random things like that, and this morning, as I took shelter from the storm under the pavilion’s porch, he helped take my mind off the scary thunder.

Pavilion

Gimme shelter!

It was a sweet moment.

Here’s Luciano Pavarotti (not my pavilion tenor) singing the beautiful Nessum Dorma. Enjoy!

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The Monday Moan – Suffering and Cruelty Are NEVER Funny Things.

Those of you familiar with my Monday Moans will know that they are usually light hearted pops at the little things that irritate from time to time. Nothing major; nothing important. I hope I haven’t lulled you into a sense of security too much, as today’s post is somewhat different. The subject of today’s moan is something about which I feel very strongly, and as such it’s going to be an unusually serious post. Perhaps I should have waited until tomorrow and called it ‘The Tuesday Tirade’, because this post has the potential to turn into a full blown rant.

Deep breaths, and let’s begin.

Years ago, I regularly used to listen to a radio breakfast show. One of the features on this show aired listeners’ stories about some misdemeanour in their past to which they now wanted to confess. The stories (like my Monday Moan) were meant to be light hearted and designed to amuse, and confessions along the lines of ‘I painted my brother’s bike pink and blamed the milkman’ or ‘I ate all my mum’s prized strawberries and blamed the postman’ usually had the desired effect.

HamsterHowever, if the introduction involved an animal I knew that, far from making me chuckle, the story was going to make me 1/ seethe, and 2/ very upset. You see, the animal was inevitably going to meet an unpleasant, certainly painful, probably terrifying and simply NOT FUNNY death as the story progressed. Call me simple, but I cannot for the life of me see ANYTHING funny about the suffering and death of any creature. Furthermore, I think the portrayal of animal suffering as funny is irresponsible in the extreme. There are people in this world who will pick up on the idea that eating their sister’s goldfish or standing on their boyfriend’s hamster is supposedly hilarious, and will set out to impress their equally moronic mates by inflicting pain, suffering and premature death on a helpless creature.

Now, I appreciate not everybody loves animals as I do. However, whether or not you like animals they share our planet, they are essential toGoldfish nature and they deserve our respect. I’m reading a book at the moment, which on the whole is a good book, but I was very upset by a flippant, throwaway line about a cat being locked in a shed full of savage dogs. The tone of the writing suggested to me that at worst the reader should shake his or her head at this, maybe tut a bit then, wearing a wry smile, carry on reading. That didn’t happen with me. Instead, I stared frantically at the words for a while as I tried to rid my mind of horrific, unwelcome images of a defenceless, terrified cat being…

You get the picture, I’m sure. Cruelty and suffering are not things I find amusing. If the book had told of a baby being left at the mercy of the savage dogs everyone would be (quite rightly) horrified, so why is it ok, funny even, to treat a cat so appallingly?

‘Oh, it’s only an animal,’ someone might say. Well I’ve got news for you, mate – SO ARE YOU!

‘Oh, well I hate cats. Cats torture and kill small animals for fun,’ another might say. I’ve two replies to that:

1/ Not all cats hunt and kill small animals. I’ve had the privilege of sharing my home with six different cats over the years, and only one’s been a hunter. He’s merely acting on his instincts; he doesn’t realise he’s being cruel.

2/ Not all humans torture and kill animals for fun, but some do. Unlike cats, humans have the capacity to understand that torturing a helpless creature is cruel, cowardly and despicable, but they do it anyway.

BudgieTo be fair, most people do tend to react with horror when an animal victim of cruelty is a cat or dog. The radio breakfast show stories never involved either of these popular pets, but time and again I heard about the sad demise of mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, and all manner of birds and fish. The radio show in question was on for everyone to listen to at work, so short of running, screaming, to the toilet with my hands clapped over my ears I couldn’t get away from hearing. Yes, I did write to the producers of the show, interceding on behalf of small animals being sacrificed the length and breadth of the UK in the name of entertainment, but to no avail. The DJ has long since moved on to pastures new, and I can only hope that no small animals are being harmed in the making of his show these days.

Perhaps the day will come when everyone realises that suffering and cruelty are NEVER funny things. In the meantime, I’m going to do what I always do to counter the fury I feel about cruelty to animals: I’m going to find my cats and tell them how much I love them.

Bess and Mo on Sofa 1Ken on Sofa Long

 

 

 

Trains and Rituals

I like trains; I always have. No, I’m not one of the beings seen at stations around the UK from time to time, huddling at the end of the platform, wearing anoraks and frantically scribbling the numbers of passing trains into their notepads. Are trainspotters only found in Britain? It wouldn’t surprise me, and the fact that spellcheck doesn’t believe that ‘trainspotter’ is a real word rather compounds that belief.

The trusty OED says, ‘Trainspotter: noun, British (I knew it!), a person who collects locomotive numbers as a hobby.’

Really, I am not a trainspotter; I simply like trains.

Footpath to Cambridge 2

My favourite walk into town along the banks of the River Cam takes me under a railway bridge forming part of the busy line to the midlands, and it’s one of my ambitions (seriously!) to be walking underneath this bridge as a train goes over it. This would have to occur naturally, though. If I hear a train approaching I’m not allowed to hurry in order to be in position as it rumbles overhead, nor am I allowed to loiter if a train is on its way when I’m underneath the bridge. Today, to my dismay, a train passed over the bridge as I was only a matter of feet away; if I’d been a few seconds earlier my dreams would have come true, but no. Instead, I was left making a complete fool of myself, waving my hands at the train and saying ‘Oh, train!’ in my most admonishing tone as it trundled off towards Cambridge.

Railway Bridge

Grumbling, I carried on with my walk, passing under the bridge and emerging on the other side just as – you’ve guessed it – another train rattled over the bridge. I could almost imagine that the trains were laughing at me, but I’m not quite ready for the men in white coats to come and take me away yet!

About five minutes later I heard an impressive rumble behind me, and turned round to see a massive freight train going over the bridge. Oh what joy it would have been to stand underneath the bridge counting the wagons on that, but, alas, it wasn’t to be.

I wasn’t even close enough to spot the engine’s number.

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Randoms

According to Word’s red squiggly lines, ‘randoms’ isn’t a word. Ppphhh! It is if I say it is. I’m a copy editor. Trust me.

Apparently, ppphhh isn’t a word either.

The Alison’s Editing Service office conversion is coming along…

…very…

…slowly.

I have now acquired a cushion for my hard chair to save my poor posterior from becoming too uncomfortably numb. Isn’t it pretty? The cushion, that is, not my rump!

IMG_1830

The cushion I did intend to buy. What I didn’t intend was to return home the proud owner of a new lamp. I shouldn’t give in to impulse buys, but it’s so cute.

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I’ve now convinced myself I did actually need a lamp. It helps me see the keyboard on my laptop. No, really, it does…

On my way home from my slightly indulgent shopping trip I noticed this graffiti on a Cambridge wall. Balancing my cushion and lamp between parked cars, I risked life and limb in the middle of the road to bring you this photo.

Grafitti 11 June 2014

Priceless, isn’t it? If you’re old enough to remember pacman, that is.

Today has been beautiful in England: blue skies and blazing sunshine. We don’t get treated to many perfect summer’s days here, and it will probably provoke a ‘Phew, what a scorcher’ headline from the tabloid newspapers. Knowing how unpredictable the English weather can be, even in the middle of summer, I took an afternoon stroll over the meadows to make the most of it.

Ditton Meadows 12 June 2014

I popped into the local supermarket following a very pleasant walk in the sunshine, and happened to overhear the following conversation between a checkout assistant and a zombie usually seen pushing trolleys around the car park.

Zombie: ‘Hot enough for you?’

Checkout assistant: ‘At least you get to work outside and enjoy it.’

Zombie: ‘BRAINS!!!’

No, that’s not what the zombie said at all, because he wasn’t actually a zombie. Certain similarities, yes, but not a real zombie.

What he said was: ‘I hate it. It’s too hot for me. I’ll be glad when it cools down again…’

As I’m sure it will very soon. Good God, no wonder the Aussies call us ‘Whinging Poms’!

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Identifying a good editor is about chair placement

alisonjackauthor:

I agree with every word of this post, which is probably why I have such a good relationship with the authors for whom I edit. Well, one has to blow one’s own trumpet from time to time!

Originally posted on C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m:

I’ve worked with several editors over the years. Mostly, the experience has been good. If you work with enough people though, you get a horror story. The bad editors have one thing in common: they think it’s about them and they bleed self-importance. (Beware: at the editing stage, it’s not generally about the author, either. It’s about the reader.)

Bad editors are: 

1. Belittling, condescending and even angry.

Let’s face it, for some people, editing is a power thing. They love to tell people what to do and where they are wrong because it feels great to be right. Editors like this don’t have a lot of authors who return to the whipping room for another go, however. Life’s too short. If you’re looking for a fight, there are better ways to use that energy.

One person tried to be abusive with me once and their lure was a very low fee. “Wow!…

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The Monday Moan – Facebook

facebooklogoAh, poor old Facebook. It seems like everyone’s putting the boot into Facebook at the moment, and here I am adding my voice to the sound of the crowd. Why don’t I give poor old Facebook a break, eh? Poor, unloved social networking site that it is…

Hold it right there! Facebook isn’t particularly unloved, is it? According to Wikipedia (so it must be true!), as of September 2012 Facebook had over a billion active users, and I am still one of those users. The pros do outweigh the cons: I enjoy reconnecting with friends from the past, and sharing news and photos with friends and family all over the world. However, I have issues: issues shared by fellow Facebook users, bloggers and administrators of Facebook pages I like – the pages whose updates Facebook still allows me to view, that is…

I realise the people behind Facebook want to make money (who doesn’t?), but $10 a day to advertise a Facebook page is a tad beyond the means of most small businesses. It’s certainly beyond the means of the Alison Jack – Author brand! Even if a business can spare that sort of money, there’s still no guarantee its page’s followers will see its updates, so the words ‘waste of money’ spring to mind. As one of my Facebook friends pointed out, if he likes a page it’s because he’s interested in the subject matter. If it transpires that the page’s updates aren’t as interesting as he’d hoped, he has the option to unlike the page. This decision should be made by the Facebook user, a human being capable of independent thought, and not by Facebook, which is a bloomin’ social networking site for heaven’s sake! Am I ranting? Damn right I am!!!

So how do I make sure I can see updates from all the pages I like? Well, to start with Facebook seemed to make its censorial decision based on how much a person interacted with a particular page. If I were to regularly like or comment on the posts on page A but not page B, it would be page A’s updates I’d see on my news feed. However, no more. Being a tad weird, I count snakes among my favourite animals. I used to regularly click ’like’ under the stunning photos on the Facebook page dedicated to these amazing creatures, but it struck me recently that I hadn’t seen any such photos for a while. Had the snakes’ page administrator stopped posting?

No! Facebook had decided that I didn’t want to see pictures of snakes any more, and the only way to rectify this would be to receive notifications every time there’s an update. Er, tedious! I like quite a number of pages, and I really don’t want to have to set up notifications for each one when it would be so much easier simply to view the updates on my news feed.

Oh, and talking of my news feed, don’t get me started on the ‘top stories’ rubbish…ah, too late! Pretty much every time I log in I discover that Facebook has selected the posts I should be reading. It calls them my top stories. Most of these (ahem) ‘top’ stories are a: at least a day old, and b: things I’ve already read. Every day, I ask Facebook to stop doing this and show my friends’ most recent posts instead, usually while muttering expletives through gritted teeth, only to find by next morning that my news feed has defaulted back to top stories.

It’s…so…ANNOYING!!!

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Please forgive the overuse of the exclamation mark in this blog post.

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On a lighter note, do visit Cathy Brockman’s and Debbie Young’s blogs to see what they’ve added to the Susie Orman Schnall.

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And finally, on a sad note I’ve just found out that British comedian Rik Mayall has died at the age of 56. Rik was, and always will be, one of my all time favourite comedians. Thank you for decades of laughs, Rik.

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The Susie Orman Schnall Fortieth Birthday Swag Bag Blog Hop

Susie Orman Schnall, author of On Grace (US Link, UK Link), started the fortieth Birthday Swag Bag Blog Hop. You can read the original post HERE. I was invited to take part by Nicky Wells: fabulous blogger, prolific author of romance that rocks and all round lovely lady. Do have a look at Nicky’s swag bag HERE, and be sure to check out her novels as they’re all excellent reads.

So, the idea is I’m going to a friend’s fortieth birthday bash in an exotic island resort. Sun, sea and Sangria (if it happens to be a Spanish island!) here we come. I can’t wait, but in the meantime I need to think of a few of my favourite things to add to the birthday swag bag. OK, here goes:

FAVOURITE BOOK:

Oh my goodness, let’s start with a tough one eh? Like most authors, I am a voracious reader – one of my favourite pastimes is to curl up on the sofa with a good book. Another is to sit Hello, Darkness Coverunder a tree on a sunny day with a good book. Another is to snuggle under my duvet with a good book – you can see the pattern emerging here, can’t you? I’ve resisted the temptation to weigh the swag bag down with the complete works of Charles Dickens, or a collection of all the Sherlock Holmes stories, in favour of championing an author whose work I have recently discovered. Being a fan of the thriller genre, I have gone for the excellent HELLO, DARKNESS by Sandra Brown. Here are the purchase links if you’d like to read this wonderful book yourself: UK Link. US Link.

FThree Minute MiracleAVOURITE BEAUTY PRODUCT

Ah, now this is much easier than the last category. Much as I love my expensive perfumes, there is one beauty product I couldn’t do without, and that the Aussie Three Minute Miracle conditioner. Leave this in for three minutes (the clue’s in the name!) and even my unruly mop of hair turns to silk. It smells divine too.

FAVOURITE SNACK FOOD:Twiglets

Mmmm, I’m getting hungry contemplating this one. Again, it’s not a difficult choice. It’s got to be – ta dah – Twiglets. Oh, not just any old Twiglets, but the gorgeous dinky little Twiglets in the festive tubs that only seem to be available during the run up to Christmas. I suppose that’s because they’re festive, duh - and trust me to want one in June. Quite simply, though, these nibbles take snacking to a whole new taste level, so it’s got to be the Christmas tub of Twiglets.

Flogging Molly

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FAVOURITE MUSIC ALBUM:

WHAT?!!!! I’ve had to choose a favourite book, and now I’ve got to narrow my vast cd/vinyl/MP3 collection down to one? Again the classics spring to mind, as I never tire of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, but there’s one album that never fails to lift my spirits, and that’s the one I’m including. I first discovered this Irish/American band at Reading Festival a few years ago, and as I love Irish folk music with a rocky edge I fell in love with them immediately. Pour the Guinness; crack open the whiskey; tap those feet – it’s the brilliant Flogging Molly’s Within A Mile of Home.

And finally…

MY CHOICE:wakeboard

This one’s easy: a wakeboard. It might be a bit bulky in the swag bag, but as long as we could find a motorboat, and there’s a fair chance we could on a holiday island, we can get out on the water for hours of endless fun.

 

Next week the swag bag will be hopping over to two of my favourite bloggers.

DEBBIE YOUNG, an English author, journalist, blogger, book reviewer and book promotion consultant. Her entertaining blog, Debbie Young’s Writing life, can be found HERE along with information about her books. Debbie edits the blog for the excellent Alliance of Independent Authors, an organisation championing the cause of indie and self publishing authors of which I’m proud to be a partner member. I was lucky enough to meet her twice recently: once at Cambridge Lit Fest, then again two days later as she launched the book she’s co-written with Dan Holloway, OPENING UP TO INDIE AUTHORS (US linkUK link).

CATHY BROCKMAN will be taking the blog hop back across the Atlantic for her post. Cathy’s blog, Cathy Brockman Romances, is a thoroughly enjoyable mixture of author interviews, book reviews, sneak peeks at forthcoming book releases including her own ‘Love Bites: First Bite’, free stories, and anecdotes and observations about life in general. Cathy loves books, especially romances, and if there’s a touch of the paranormal or a few fit cowboys thrown into the mix she is in her element.

I follow both ladies’ blogs regularly, and always look forward to their posts. If you’ve enjoyed today’s post, do visit Debbie and Cathy in Blogland next week to see what they’ll be adding to the swag bag.