Note Number 29…Amsterdam for some but Kenilworth and Manchester for me…

Leaving from Crewkerne…arrival in Amsterdam (photo  credit MoreAdventure )

The Man cycled from London to Amsterdam last week. Leaving Blackheath early on Thursday morning the 4th May and arriving in Amsterdam on the evening of Sunday the 7th May. Well done him. The route was London–Dover-Calais-Bruges-Rotterdam-Amsterdam. He said that whilst the route was pretty flat, the wind was against them and the weather not as good as they had hoped but he’s done it! Next trip is just a short hop on Sunday from Watchet to West Bay. Coast to Coast to raise money for the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance – only 78 miles a snip for my man. Good on him I say.

While he was away, I spent a little bit of time in the garden putting in plants, weeding etc., and walking the dog.

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Loving the Meadows at the Moment

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The sight of this milk in the delivery crate reminded me of being a young girl. In the winter the birds always used to peck through the metallic cap and enjoy the cream from the top of the milk!

 Friday, I took Jpeg to the kennels and took myself to Kenilworth in Warwickshire. A visit to my lovely ex-mother-in-law who is almost 92. It was great to see her still living independently albeit not as lively as she might have been in her younger days, she’s still got a marvellous sense of humour and makes the most of  things.  I hope, if I live to be in my 90s I will be as game as she is. She is full of memories, as are so many people her age and it’s a pleasure to listen to her reminisce.

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Good old Mother-in-Law, always a smile and a story to tell. 

While in Kenilworth I met up with a writing colleague for the first time. Jo Derrick. We had communicated up to this point, only on Facebook, messenger, twitter and email for at least two if not three years. Often, when you eventually meet up, it can be awkward, difficult or just plain wrong but not in this case. We had a fabulous evening and there was hardly a pause in the conversation. We covered a wide variety of topics and discovered who our ‘mutual’ writing friends were. Can’t wait to meet up again. The writing fraternity are a sharing caring lot – on the whole.

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Fun with Jo Derrick…looking forward to the next meeting…

For the weekend I drove on up to Manchester to visit friends we had made whilst living in Italy. During May, I have now seen almost everyone from our little town in Italy who lives in England! It was a busy time in Manchester. Walking, eating, drinking and talking.

Beautiful Countryside at Styal Mill Grounds – and I loved this vibrant pink Rhododendron.

On Sunday evening we had a barbecue and were joined by a young French friend of mine, who could not relax until the results of the French Election were announced. Thankfully, the election of Macron was a relief – so the whole table cheered and we drank a toast.

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Macron…Let’s see what happens next…

The conversation inevitably turned to political situation in the UK and I don’t mind telling you that I have no idea what will happen to this country on June 8th. I have never before been so unsure of my vote. I do not know to which party I want to pledge my vote. I’m pretty clear as to who I don’t want to vote for but the choice of the others does not fill me with too much inspiration either. I reckon, we, the public, are constantly fed a load of rubbish by the government and the main opposition and I, like many other people, want hear some solid facts, policies and sense. But it seems that is not the way things are done. I didn’t want to come out of the EU and now that article 50 has been triggered, as I understand it, we can’t stop the inevitable even if the public changed their minds and voted to stay in, should they be given the opportunity. I believe, we would have to re-negotiate joining…what a palaver. Between now and June the 8th I will read as much as I can but how much can you believe? And when will the different political parties stop knocking each other and start telling us what their own party plans are for this country and how they intend to fulfill any promises they might rashly make? That is the question.

Happy Days.

Collected The Man from St Pancras on Monday night having driven down from Manchester and after a brief stay in the big smoke we at last arrived back in Dorset. It’s good to travel but it’s oh so good to come home…

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…and the dog agrees…

Note Number 26… My Husband is A Cyclist…

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My husband is a cyclist and says he’s not obsessed
He doesn’t have just one bike but a couple, more or less
There’s one for the winter with disc brakes and thick tyres
And another for the summer months when, with the effort he perspires
Then of course there is the spinner that he sets up here at home
When the weather is against him and he can’t go out and roam

He’s found himself some special shoes, three pairs of them he’s got
They each fit to different pedals and of those he has a lot
I don’t understand any of it, it’s way beyond my grasp
I only had a bike for shopping, in the dim and distant past
That had simply three gears for helping on the hills
Nowadays, there’s twenty-three, enhanced with little pills

The weight has dropped off by the stone and he’s looking young and fit
And now the lycra’s not so stretched around the lumpy bit
More padding needed round the back and butt cream, liberally spread
When he reaches home after 100k, he sometimes looks half dead
He really loves all three bikes, but not more than he loves me
It’s the Strava App he’s constantly on, that causes jealousy

He uses it for logging all the rides, with hills, and speeds,
His buddies upload comments on their each and every feed
It’s a bit like Facebook for those on bikes, or swimming or a run
They strive to beat their highest goals and say it’s all in fun
But underneath the jolly remarks there lies a green eyed streak
And woe betide the person who makes fun of the Strava geek

So, my husband is a cyclist, he rides the hills and vales
In the rolling Dorset countryside for miles, and miles of trails
I’m not a clinging wife which is probably just as well
And I’m happy to let him pursue whatever rings his bell
As it keeps him out of trouble and gives me quality time
To write a bit of fiction, or complete another rhyme

Ninette Hartley April 2017©

Note Number 15…Logs…Targets and Totals…

I have been trying to walk further with the dog, Jpeg (note number 16 will tell you why she’s called that) and The Man introduced me to Strava. It’s an App you can get on your phone and it’s really for people who run, cycle or swim but, he kept on at me, (as men do) because he uses it for cycling and he was convinced it would get me walking more. So I downloaded it to my smart phone. Strava logs your activity for you, making a little map, it gives you information such as the time you take to cover a kilometre or mile, how far you’ve travelled, etc., etc., Then you load it from your phone onto the Strava website and everyone can see what you’ve done. You get a little ‘personal best’ cup if you walk the same bit of road in a faster time and you can follow people and they can follow you, it’s a kind of Facebook for athletes. I feel a bit stupid on it really because I’m just walking the dog and others are swimming the channel, running 10k and cycling a 100k – sometimes all three in the same day! BUT, it has worked to a certain extent as I now think about how far I’m walking each week and trying out different places to go. So thumbs up to Strava…oh and other people can give you kudos so you feel good about yourself, which is always good for the self-esteem.

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Please note the Running shoe on the Icon…I am invariably in wellies or walking boots. See below.

welliesI don’t think Jpeg cares about targets except how many birds she can chase

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One of the many, muddy hills I struggle up, fighting against the strava clock ….phew!

I have also been trying to lose weight and get fit after Christmas, along with The Man, who is wanting to do lots of long cycle rides in 2017, some of which will take him over the Alps so he has to be ‘superfit’. Making a note of how much you lose every other day, and writing down what you eat is so helpful. Checking calories – it’s amazing how they add up, 50 here 50 there, soon become 200 or 300.  I haven’t got an App for this but I know there are plenty around.  But, the diet is going well, I’m 6 pounds down and The Man is 11 pounds down, going on a stone…so happy bunnies all round.

Things we’re not eating right now…

 

Things we are eating right now…note, no grapes The Man says, “They are sugar bombs!”

My other aim is to finish this novel ‘Oh, we’ve heard all that before!’ I hear you cry. But, honestly, I am getting down to it, aided by a programme that I have for writing called Scrivener. I love it and I can set my word target for the whole novel and a word count for each session that I type and watch it going up. I have it set for 2000 words a day, and when I’ve completed that number a message pings up on the screen – You have reached your target – which is a great feeling. Of course, half of what I’ve written is probably rubbish but, nevertheless I’m writing!

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Whoops! Look at that…not a singe word yet today…and my deadline for 85,000 words is the end of March. Now you ALL know about it,  I will have to get on with it!

Note Number 10…London Visit…

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Trafalgar Square in the Misty Afternoon (sounds like a title for a story)

We’ve just got back from a quick visit to the big city, London. It was surprisingly quiet for the time of year. I actually hate crowded pavements when it’s difficult not to bump into another body, especially when they have their headphones on and their eyes glued to their smartphones…there were a few of those. We were also not squashed like sardines on the tube, but it was busy enough. I find as I get older I get paranoid about being on the underground, particularly when the train grinds to a halt between stations, I immediately think something awful is going to happen.  But, I was saved any of these anxieties so a pleasant few days were had.

We strolled around St James’s. Walked to the West End, had a meal at Joe Allen’s, took in a show, the Carol King musical, Beautiful. Which was amazing and a nostalgic journey for me back to the 60s.  In general we had a wonderful time and the icing on the cake was the arrival of my daughter and family on Sunday. We had a meal at the Windmill, Clapham Common, a busy pub with excellent food and situated right beside the common and a convenient playground.  The build up to Christmas has begun and even The Man enjoyed himself, no doubt because of the absence of any ‘Christmas Music’ a part of the season he just cannot abide.  I’m inclined to agree with him but, I do like to hear a few popular carols and songs around the 24th/25th December.  It’s when it all begins in September that bugs me.

I’ll leave you with a few photos.

I was excited to see some young ballerinas entering the Royal Ballet School, which is opposite the stage door to the Royal Opera House.  The Bridge across the road joins the two together so that dancers can get from one building to the other without going outside. I imagined they were taking part in the Saturday Matinee of The Nutcracker.  What lucky young dancers.

Various shots of Covent Garden….

Left: A photo for my bro’. Centre: St James’s Palace.  Right: The Lamb and Flag, one of London’s oldest pubs famous for the battering almost to death, (but not quite) of  playright, critic and poet, John Dryden in the alleyway outside.  Also visited by many other famouse authors, poets and artists including Dickens. 

The lights on Regents Street and New Bond Street – The Man thought the one on the right was a fish bone. I told him it was a peacock feather, but I could see where he was coming from. 

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Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree

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Canadian flag for our Canadian friends worldwide…

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And Finally, Walking to the pub on Clapham Common on Sunday Ahh….

Note Number 6…Movin’ and a Shakin’…

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Photo taken from http://earthsky.org

I’m not writing enough at the moment so I’m behind schedule with my 90 notes but I do have a couple of good excuses.  If you’ve seen the Italian news then you will know that last week we had a couple of earthquakes here in Le Marche, 5.5 and 6.1 on the Richter Scale according to some reports.  The first was around 7 in the evening and I was about to jump in the shower when the three-tier Ikea wooden shelf unit began to wobble, the windows shook and rattled and my legs felt the earth move.  It took a few seconds to register what was happening but then I grabbed a towel – to cover my nakedness – and ran down three flights of stairs to find The Man and others in the house on their feet and looking out of the front door and windows.  The Petritolese were out in the streets as quick as a flash. Apparently that’s the right thing to do – or get under a sturdy table.  The shaking passed and we exchanged expletives and other words of comfort before going back to what we were doing before the quake.  It was immediately reported on social media with wild guesses of where, what and when etc., The epicentre was around 40k distant from our town.  It was soon established that this time, unlike the recent earthquake in August, there was some property damage but no casualties. I sent a messages to our children to let them know we were okay and then we all decided to continue with our plans for the evening which was to dine out at the wonderful I Piceni restaurant in Ortezzano.

On the short drive to our dinner destination the rain was torrential, thunder and lightning shook the already nervous dispositions of our Southern Hemisphere visitors, ‘Jeez! What kind of  country are you living in here?’ (say that in an Aussie accent please). Once settled at our table and having acknowledged the recent seismic waves with other diners we tucked into our delicious food and wine and were beginning to completely relax when another quake took hold, this time bigger than the first – and whatsmore we were closer to the epicentre this time.  All the Italians rushed from their dinner tables, the chef came out of the kitchen, ‘Calma, calma, tutta posto…relax, everything will be okay…’ One British chap strolled quietly towards the exit, glass of red wine in his hand, totally unperturbed a true example of British reserve.  This time my legs felt very odd and at the end of the 110 second shake the room seemed to move in a circular motion, the ceiling lamps swaying like spinning plates.  After a while we all went back to our meals and carried on eating and apart from a slightly tense atmosphere we continued on as though this was an everyday occurence.  When home we hit the computers, iPads and mobile phone devices on wifi to find out what we could.  There was a report of only two deaths but some big buildings had collapsed.  The main centres hit were Visso and then Ussita up in the Sibilini mountains. Nobody slept well that night, the after shocks continued and the house shook gently every now and then reacting to the tremours.  It’s now a few days on and calm seems to have set in once more.  The Man looked at the website for earthquakes where he learnt that Italy has something like 27 a day but most are not felt as they are below 2.5. Not sure how I feel about that.

My second reason for not writing is that we are leaving Italy this week to go back to England,  so I have been busy sorting and packing.  Every time, throughout my life, when I make a move I do a big cull of things collected but still, I have a mountain of useless paraphernalia, some of which is impossible to dump – tiny baby shoes, first school blazers, christening outfits etc., I had the help of a friend and we were putting things into piles, keep, rubbish or ‘give it to the poor people!’ which sounded awful but in the town there are big yellow containers where you can place unwanted clothing, blankets, shoes, bags etc., that are too good to throw away.  There are no charity shops here, not that I’ve found anyway and was told I wouldn’t be allowed to transport stuff back to the UK simply to take it to the charity shop.

I began writing this post yesterday afternoon  and this morning we had another earthquake at 7.40am, 30th October.  It was reported at 6.6 or 7.1 depending on which website you looked on. It was pretty scary, we were  in bed at the time, drinking a cup of tea and as soon as the house began to shake we leapt up and legged it downstairs to the ground floor.
‘I’ve got no clothes on!’ shouted The Man.
‘No worries, I’ve got our dressing gowns, I grabbed them as we flew out of the bedroom.’ I called.
On reaching the sitting room the dog looked suitably shocked, probably more by our nakedness that the shaking of the house.  As before, neighbours were soon out in the square, half-dressed or with blankets over their night attire. Being British, we just looked through the window.  They are saying it was the strongest recorded shock in over 30 years and it lasted around 3 minutes.  Three minutes is a very long time to be standing in a house that’s rocking. the pictures skewed on the walls and the lamps hanging outside on our terrace were swinging as though a gale were blowing. My hands shook and I felt queasy and to be honest, for the rest of the day I have not felt 100%.  A friend of mine posted on Facebook that there is such a thing as an earthquake hangover so I guess that’s maybe what I’ve got.

 

 

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I’ll be leaving Italy with mixed feelings, it’s been a great few years and the weather has been very kind to us.  We love the people, the sea and the mountains, but the bureaucracy can get you down a bit…

Note Number 4…Getting Involved with the Story…

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BBC Radio 4 ‘The Archers…’

 

What makes us become so involved with a story? I’m thinking here of the recent events in The Archers between Helen and Rob Titchener. Even if you don’t listen to the programme on BBC Radio 4, there has been much talk on the Internet about Rob’s ‘coercive control’ behaviour, Helen’s stabbing of him and subsequent trial by jury which found her not guilty of Attempted Murder or Wounding with Intent. I got to the point earlier in 2016 when I had to stop listening because I became so emotionally involved with the storyline and began to hate Rob so much (I’m not really a hating sort of person) and wanted Helen to speak up for herself even though I understood why she wouldn’t. I worried about her son Henry and baby Jack.  I couldn’t bear to listen to the lies Rob told and just desperately wanted someone to remove him from storyline and I didn’t care how they did it. He could have been run over by a slow moving rubbish truck or cornered in a field by a flock of maggot ridden sheep and trampled to death. I’ve always maintained that whatever the circumstances, I could never bring myself to kill anyone but…Rob must have stirred something deep in my psyche…

If this had been a novel, what would I have done? Stopped reading? Turned to the back of the book to see the ending or skipped a few pages so that I could see how the story might be trending? What I did with The Archers was to read the twitter feed and check the the full synopsis on the BBC website. All this before I dared listen to any of the episodes, and, if I thought it was going to be too horrible then I would give that one a miss.

As a writer, I do not have the same fear for my characters even though I become inextricably involved in their lives and I care about them. I get excited about what they might get up to. I don’t mind getting them into awkward situations, killing them off, having them lie, becoming murderers and all number of other horrible things. I know where they’re going and I know their motives and I can control them – to a certain extent. But, have I got the knack to move my readers to the extent that I have been moved by The Archers? Is it the acting, the script or the storyline that are pulling me apart?

I do know people who can watch/read/listen to pretty much anything fictional that’s scary/disturbing/ghastly etc., and not be concerned. ‘It’s only a story, what’s your problem?’ they say as I hide behind a cushion, run out to the bathroom at a crucial moment or distract my mind by checking my emails on my phone or making a cup of tea.

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What are you like? Do you become drawn into a story to the point of screaming at the book/screen/radio, throwing the book/TV/Radio, in total frustration even though you KNOW it’s just a story and that the people aren’t real? That’s the bit that worries me about The Archers. I know it’s all fiction but I can’t help worrying about Helen and getting exasperated with characters who can’t see any wrong in Rob and worst of all I want Rob DEAD and he’s not even properly alive! I wonder how much hate mail he has received? I’ve only written a couple of letters…

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Weather…

Out with the dog this morning...

Out with the dog this morning…

Whether the weather be fine Or whether the weather be not, Whether the weather be cold Or whether the weather be hot, We’ll weather the weather Whatever the weather, Whether we like it or not

Anon.

It’s been a long winter this year in Italy, even though we managed to escape for a couple of weeks to Thailand in December where the sun shone and the temperature was warm on most days.

The sun shining on me in Thailand...

The sun shining on me in Thailand…

Last week in Le Marche at the end of March the sky was blue and I thought the winter had ended. It’s now April and today is Easter Sunday…and…it’s pouring with rain, misty and cold…at least 10 degrees colder than last week.

Blossom and blue sky, March 2015 Italy

Blossom and blue sky, March 2015 Italy

I know it is widely said that the English are obsessed with the weather but the fact is the weather determines your mood – well I think it does. So during the winter or bad weather you have to work hard to make yourself feel happy. That’s what we’re doing today. I’ve been out with the dog, she got wet and so did I but the pleasure in that is coming back home, drying off, having a hot drink and being glad you are lucky enough to have a lovely home. I am very aware that there are many people in this world who are not as lucky as me so complaining about the weather is very petty.   You can’t change it so go with it… Now the lunch is cooking (slow braised lamb in red wine), the fire is lit and it’s time to relax, read, write, play cards and enjoy our one chocolate Easter egg – The Man and I are sharing; sharing is caring. The forecast for next week is changeable, so my mood will be too. Friday’s looking good! News on the writing front is that I was short listed in the Fish Publishing Memoir Competition – down to 90 out of an original 780. A boost to my confidence for sure. I’ve written lots of ‘bits’ of my memoir, the test now is to find a common link, join it all together and make a book of it. The novel is coming along. That’s what I plan to do this afternoon, at least 3,000 words…after lunch and chocolate of course… Happy April everyone, wherever you are and whatever the weather… PS I was in New York a couple of weeks ago and there it was still extremely cold..it even snowed! SnowNYC