About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Thursday 29 September 2011

WEEK 38--Finishing Writing a Detective Novel

If you are in a nit-picking mood, you could point out that this doesn't actually qualify as a New Thing, because I didn't nominate it in advance.  I have no time for small-minded pedantry of this stamp.  Go away and read the blog of the Apostrophe Preservation Society, if that's the kind of mood you're in.  And yes, that sentence did end with a preposition.

So, New Thing no 38.  You know what, I think that's a pretty big new thing--huge though the whole tartiflette episode was.  Obviously, I've finished novels before.  Many more than I've had published, in fact.  A lot of very kind people have asked me over the years why I don't write another novel.  Perhaps they thought it hadn't occurred to me.  But anyway, a detective novel is different.  Especially if it's a fantasy detective novel.

To tell the truth, I opted for a fantasy setting because I could not be arsed to research police procedure and the entire criminal justice system.  And I think you really have to do that, or your more well-informed readers are going to mutter their way through your book: 'That would never happen!  He didn't have a warrant!' etc.  Plus you probably have to set it somewhere gritty and urban, like Sheffield.  Which would mean visiting Sheffield.  (An observation, not a value judgment.)  The minute you try and set a detective novel somewhere like Lichfield, it tilts into slightly camp comedy of manners.  Deepest clergy-sleuth territory.  And it instinctively wants to be set in the 1920s, not 2011.

So there we are, it's finished.  Waiting to hear back from the agent.  I thought that would feel brilliant.  But somehow I'd forgotten what it's like.  Here's what New Zealand writer Janet Frame has to say: 'When the work is finished and the nothingness must be endured, the self may take a holiday.'  The nothingness.  That's what you feel at the end of a big writing project.  I keep telling the self to take a holiday, but it keeps fretting on, trying to do stuff.  So the self had a migraine instead.  That way the self could take to its bed with a clear conscience.  An afternoon in bed is a mini-break, if not an actual holiday.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

JUDO Self-Taught in Pictures

It's gradually dawning on me that my enthusiasm for judo is not shared by those around me.  The congregation of Lichfield Cathedral, for instance--not a very martial group of people.  Realistically speaking, I'm not likely to persuade them into the dojo for an introduction to The Gentle Way (laughingly so called).

So instead, I thought I'd share one of my favourite martial arts books with you: JUDO Self-Taught in Pictures, by Hubert Klinger-Klingerstorrf (2nd Dan, Instructor of Judo at the University of Vienna).  Published in 1952, 'the object of this book is to instruct the reader in the use of Judo in self-defence.'  There isn't a whole load of dense technical prose to wade through.  Instead the would-be judo distance learner is provided with helpful diagrams illustrating how to defend himself (this is the 1950s, so it always is him) against a range of attacks.  'Breaking a stranglehold whilst on the ground', 'defence against upward knife-thrust', 'defence against a blow from a cudgel'--yes, Vienna was a hard-scrabble place in the 50s.

Here's a photo of the page illustrating 'Defence against Thugs and Hoodlums', with special reference to the garotter:
Sorry it's a bit wonky, I've only just worked out how to use my scanner.  But you should get a flavour, and I hope next time some hoodlum tries to garotte you, you'll know what to do.  Admittedly, Lichfield doesn't have much by way of a grim underbelly.  Gangs of thugs are not generally found prowling the Close, unless you count the Lay Clerks.  Perhaps, more relevant--given the age demographic round here--is the section on 'Defence against Attack with a Walking-Stick'.  Klinger-Klingerstorff cautions that this particular defence should only be employed in extreme circumstances: 'If your pull is powerful enough and takes the Attacker completely by surprise, you could break his neck by this counter.'  Fortunately, anyone attacking you with a walking-stick is unlikely to be very mobile.  This means you will probably be able to employ the most effective martial arts counter of all--running away.

Sunday 25 September 2011

WEEK 37--Making Tartiflette

Here it is: tartiflette.  Do you know what tartiflette is?  The spell check doesn't.  It offers 'Tartuffe' and 'four-letter'.  I didn't know what it was until I got back from France and Googled it.  We'd driven past a sign advertising 'Paella, couscous, tartiflette.'  From this we inferred it was a kind of food.  Well, three out of four of us did.  My older son told us it was French for cushion.  He has never done French in his life.

Never done French!  At all!  These days there are huge swathes of the school population who don't learn French.  And there are many others who come through GCSE French unscathed by any knowledge of grammar.  Or indeed, by basic French vocabulary, judging by my younger son's French-speaking abilities.

Still, even the combined forces of two grade A O-levels from 1978 (mine and the chancellor's) weren't sufficient to crack the mystery of tartiflette.  Care to hazard a guess, based on the photo?  (No marks will be awarded for 'Dog's breakfast'.)  Here's the correct answer:

Tartiflette is a French dish from the Haute Savoie[1] region of France. It is made with potatoesreblochon cheesecream, andlardons.[2] It is also commonly found with onions.[3] A popular variation of this dish is to substitute the lardons with smoked salmon. The word tartiflette is likely derived from the Arpitan word for potatotartifla

There.  Saved you the trouble of going on Wikipedia.  I also seem to have bollocksed up the formatting.  If you can read this, as the bumper stickers say, you're too close.

Ah, sorted it out.  Back to tartiflette.  My valiant attempt at this 'palliative dish' (as one website oddly describes it) was hampered by a technical hitch.  The Close internet connection went down, so I had to reconstruct the recipe from memory.  I had the right type of cheese, mind you.  Bought it at the co-op after my visit to the mobile scanning unit.  On the strength of this, the chancellor has suggested I rename this blog 'Tits and Tartiflette'.  But I shan't.  Who knows what perverts would start following me?

The rather handsome le Creuset (continuing our French theme) casserole dish in the picture belongs to the precentor and his wife.  I ran across the Close to borrow it.  My own le Creuset pans are too small.  They are blue, though, so they are infinitely more tasteful.  Orange is such a Protestant colour.  I'm shocked the precentor has it in the house, to be honest.  Maybe I'll try and keep it.

Anyway, tartilflette: tasty, in a cheesy potato-y way.  Should have cooked it longer, but the family were getting restive.  If you only bake one cushion this year, let it be this one.

Friday 23 September 2011

WEEK 36--Visit to the Mobile Breast Screening Unit

A visit to the Mobile Breast Screening Unit.  At the beginning of the year this was not on my Must-Do list, I will admit.  But the opportunity arose, so in the spirit of this blog, I embraced it.  The invitation to go along for Breast Screening, the letter informed me, is sent to all women in South Staffordshire aged 50-70.

50-70?! How dare you.  I'm 49.  It's not the being 50 that bothers me.  It's the being prematurely hurtled into the 50-SEVENTY age group.  To me, still clinging to the last embers of my 40s, 70 is OLD.  Admittedly, in cathedral circles 70 is referred to as 'no age' (as in, 'A stroke?  But how old is she?  70!  That's no age!').  But in cathedral circles I'm still something of a fine young filly.

But I swallowed my pride and headed out across Lichfield to the Co-op carpark in Holy Boley (so called because half the cathedral congregation lives there), where the Mobile Screening Unit was parked.

NB. Just in case you've been confused, 'Mobile' refers to the unit, not the breast.  Breast mobility is an issue, of course, especially for the well-endowed jogger.  (I recommend wearing two sports bras, tethers everything nicely.)  

The South Staffs mobile unit is very pleasant, a bit like a tiny hotel lobby housed in a caravan.  Nice and warm inside.  Perfect for inducing those 'Is it just me, or is it hot in here?' episodes so familiar to ladies in the 50-70 category.  Lots of plush seating and glossy magazines.  Two little cubicles where you sit and wait, stripped to the waist, aiming for nonchalance but feeling like a prat, reading Good Housekeeping.  Or in my case, re-reading a Georgette Heyer novel.  La, Sir Peregrine!  It is too tiresome!  I must prevail upon you to wait outside while I have my bosoms clamped!

After a few pages, I was called through for my screening.  You know the score.  Stand right in the middle, pop yourself on the little shelf, stretch your arm over your head, bend double, turn yourself inside out, here comes the crusher! Aargh!  I'm just going to leave you trapped there helpless and in agony while I hide behind this radiation-proof screen and ZAP you.

No, of course it's not really like that, silly.  I'm a novelist.  I make stuff up.  Here are three things that are worse: root canal fillings, letters from HMRC, walking down the street with your skirt tucked in your knickers.  Get over yourself--these routine screenings save countless lives.  And the whole process was about 5 times quicker than the same malarky in hospital.  Very glad I went along.  Thank you, South Staffordshire BreastScreening Service, on behalf of all women in the 50-70 age group.

Saturday 17 September 2011

And back to Judo

First judo session today, after the summer break.  Oh dear, oh dear.  You think you're managing to keep fit by doggedly going running, but you're not.  Five minutes of uchi komi (repeat throwing practice, without the actual throw) and you're ready for a lie down.  Happily, this is easily achieved in judo.  Simply stop concentrating and your opponent will ignominiously dump you on your back.  Bingo!  There you are flat on the mat staring up at the leisure centre ceiling, and noticing that the football you first spotted wedged under a rafter 10 years ago is still there.

10 years!  More than 10, in fact.  I was thinking about that today as I approached the small hall where we train, and remembering how I went up to the coach with my small sons in tow and said 'Two new ones for you.'  The coach straightened up and looked me in the eye, and asked, 'Are you coming on the mat too?'  How different my life would now be if I'd answered, 'Are you MAD?  I'm a parson's wife.  Of course I'm not coming on the mat. Do I look like a complete masochist to you?'  Instead, I said 'YES.  If you bring me a kit, I'll come on the mat next week.'  And the rest is history.  (To find out more, read my book Fight the Good Fight. From Vicar's Wife to Killing Machine.)

Good to see the old gang again.  Numbers are down at the moment, compared with 10 years ago.  Why don't more people try judo?  I meet so many women moaning about being overweight and unfit, and how they hate diets and going to the gym.  Of course you hate diets and going to the gym!  These things are boring.  They are like housework.  You spend hours doing them, hardly anyone notices the difference, then you have to do it all over again.  For ever.  But judo is FUN.  (Ignore the references above to masochism and being thrown flat on your back.)  You get fit not by poncing about in yoga pants on a Pilates mat worried you're looking flabby, but as a by-product of fighting people.  

Honestlywhat's not to like?  Give it a go.  You'll be amazed how therapeutic it can be, scragging someone.

Friday 16 September 2011

Back in the Saddle

Well, not literally the saddle.  Back to karate after the summer break.  And back to some quite startling levels of incompetence.  Forgetting what the Japanese terms mean.  Losing the ability to do separate things with different limbs.  Kicking with all the force of large flabby teddy bear.  Not even an angry teddy bear, a useless one.

An angry teddy bear might conceivably be a force to be reckoned with.  Like Kung Fu Panda.  (My favourite line from that film: 'There is no charge for awesomeness!'  I quote it now and then to my sons, when I've baked an exceptionally fine batch of muffins, or something.  They look at me steadily for a moment or two, then go back to texting their friends with a little shake of the head.  Mum.)

Still, it felt good to be back.  The next grading is on November 13th.  Unfortunately, I may not have been to enough classes by then to qualify.  I need to have attended 25 sessions.  I told sensei it was going to be tight.  He replied that there's another grading in March, so not to worry.  I pondered his wisdom as I walked home.  It doesn't matter, I thought.  I do not have to convert this into some ghastly challenge that I'm locked into and must achieve at all costs.  I do not have to get another black belt before I'm 60, or be forever branded a worthless weakling and a failure.  I could just do karate (gasp!) for fun.

This is a character flaw of mine.  My life is rather nice; quick, what can I do to make it intolerably anguished?  Probably comes from being a northern European Protestant.  And an over-achieving people-pleasing Grammar School Girl, just to compound the problem.  Bad person!  I must address this.  Must have more fun.  Must relax and enjoy life more.  Must stop caring if I look incompetent.

See what I mean?  Dude, think I'm just going to go and smoke a cigar instead...

Saturday 10 September 2011

WEEK 34 & 35 -- A New Vice; Driving on the Right.

 Well, I assume you all recognise this famous landmark.  Le Mont St Michel, France.  If you are planning on visiting during the tourist season, get there nice and early to avoid the queues.  This year we were in France when the holiday season was almost over, and the narrow streets winding their way up the mount were not quite as packed with tourists.  The coffee was as expensive as ever, mind you.

We've been holidaying in Brittany for the past six years.  I dare say we'll look back on this period as the Brittany Years.  There was an elegiac feel in the air this time; partly because it was starting to feel autumnal, but also because this was probably our last family holiday, just the four of us together.   I'm amazed we've sustained it this long, really.  Many teenagers opt out of holidays with mum and dad after the age of 14, preferring instead to stay at home and trash the house with illicit parties that spiral out of control.

Now then, the new things.  Obviously going to France is not a new thing.  But as promised in an earlier posting, I did smoke my first cigar.  My first tin of cigars, in fact.  A new vice.  Comparable, I think, to drinking a tiny intense espresso in an Italian piazza whilst wearing Ferragamo pumps.  I have a pair of Ferragamo pumps, as it happens.  Got them in a Charity Shop in Shirley.  I'm glad I only spent £12 on them, to be honest, not £250, as they aren't very comfortable.  I'm determined not to be beaten, but so far it's 3-2 to the pumps.  The picture of a cow field shows you the view I contemplated while smoking my cafe creme each evening.

My other new thing was driving in France.  Driving on the right.  Shriek.  The experience would have been even more alarming had the car been a left-hand drive.  I can imagine myself fumbling in panic in the glove compartment for the gear stick each time I approached a junction.  In fact, it wasn't too dismaying an experience as it turned out.  French roads are generally pretty empty.  On the whole, I prefer to be driven, so that I can stare blankly out of the window.  Staring blankly out of windows is part of the writer's job description, and is not easily compatible with driving.  Still, the challenge of driving on the right was there, and I rose to it.  Nervously and timidly, but there we are.  I hope I'm a better person for it.