Two brickbats and a bouquet

So I had to go to England recently, and to get from Stansted airport up to central Lincolnshire. I seldom go to England unless there is a very good reason to do so, and am completely out of touch with how public transport works, or doesn’t work, as the case may be. When I lived there, if you wanted to go somewhere by train you went to the station and bought a ticket. Now, you buy on-line to get the best deal.

I wanted to go from Stansted to Place X. Buying one ticket from Stansted to place X would cost £56.60. But if I bought a ticket from Stansted to Place A, and another ticket from Place A to Place B, and another ticket from Place B to Place X, it cost less than £20. Despite the fact that it was the identical route, on the identical trains, at the identical time as if I’d been travelling on a through ticket. But hugely cheaper to book the journey in “segments” instead of as a whole. I expect there’s logic in it somewhere, but it’s evaded me. Do I need to understand the logic? No. But I do need to know the system for future reference.

As anybody who travels on Ryan Air will know, your luggage weight and capacity is barely sufficient to pack a change of underwear and a bikini, but I was taking with me clothes for a funeral. So I wore three pairs of thermal tights beneath my jeans; two thermal vests beneath one fleece beneath one heavy wool jumper beneath a heavy denim coat lined with fleece. I could barely fit into the unfeasibly narrow slow that passes for a seat on Ryan Air.

Arriving at Stansted with plenty of time in hand, I roamed around mindlessly for a while to recover from the effect of the halitosis of the passenger who sat on my right on the plane, and then went down to the railway station. It seemed suspiciously inactive. All the ticket machines were “Out of service”. A very nice man in a fluorescent jacket explained that there was “an incident” on the line between London and Stansted, and no trains would be running for a considerable time. But, he said, just pop up the stairs and go to bus bay 38, and they will take you to Bishops Stortford from where I could pick up my connections. And indeed there was a very jolly man at bay 38, also wearing a fluorescent jacket, and he herded a small and slightly bewildered group of us onto a little bus and duly deposited us outside the railway station at Bishops Stortford.

Bouquet, Greater Anglia.

I asked the gentleman behind the Bishops Stortford counter how I would get to Point A from Bishops Stortford. Unfortunately he had a slight speech impediment, it it took me a while to translate that I had to catch a train to Ely, but disembark at Cambridge, and get a train from there to Point A. Which I did and was then able to catch all my connections with no problem. All told it took 12 hours, two car journeys, one flight, one bus ride and four train rides to reach my destination. All credit to each train service which arrived exactly on time, was clean and tidy, if somewhat over-heated for a person wearing up to 6 layers of thermal clothing.

After a day to cool down and recover, I went to visit the attractive city of Lincoln, whose jewel is of course the splendid cathedral. I had a number of small errands to do, and although Lincoln is fairly small and compact, I thought a street map would be useful to make best use of my time. I asked a friendly man where the Tourist Office was. He snorted and said there wasn’t one, and bloody soon the way the sodding country was going there wouldn’t be anything left of it. I found a metal box mounted on a pillar. It said it you put a £1 coin in a slot, a map would come out. Ignoring my own advice, I put the coin in the slot. Predictably no map appeared. I pressed the “Coin Return” button, and no coin returned.

Brickbat, Lincoln.

On the drive to East Midlands airport for my return flight, I was struck with the beauty of the landscape in that part of the world, the open spaces, pretty villages, and stunning Belvoir Castle perched on top of its hill. But …. oh my goodness, what a mess the roadsides are. Mile after mile of litter. Plastic bottles, beer cans, paper bags, cigarette packets, food wrappers, old newspapers, bits of plastic sheeting. Here in France we almost never seen rubbish beside the roads, so what’s happening in England?

“It’s all down to the cutbacks,” I was told. “The councils don’t bother clearing up the roadsides any more.”

Well, I suppose I can understand that. You look around, read the papers, talk to people, listen to the news and cannot help but be aware that swingeing cuts are being made to public services. But what I can’t understand is the mentality of the people who are actually throwing their crap out onto the roads. Don’t they have any pride in their country? Are they too stupid or lazy to put their rubbish into a bin?

Brickbat, litter louts.

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Hot-footing across the Sahara

Vegan Fiona Oakes in the Marathon des Sables: Running 154 miles across the Sahara in 6 days, carrying all her food & supplies bar water, in temperatures up to 50 C / 130 F, up & down sand dunes up to 600 ft high … Impressed?

Please donate if you can to Fiona’s 3 charities – the 400 animals she cares for herself, her MdS team ‘Facing Africa’ & The Vegan Society – click here: to find out how.

Fiona is running the world’s toughest foot race to raise awareness and funds for the treatment of NOMA, a terrible, disfiguring condition affecting impoverished, undernourished African children.

Taking a few days away

I won’t be blogging this week, as  we have just lost somebody very, very special and I need a little time to myself.

Please therefore excuse me if I don’t respond to comments or flash fiction submissions immediately. Please keep them coming in though – there has been a recent flurry of very clever 50-worders and I know you are enjoying writing them.

Keep well, keep warm, keep happy, and see you again soon.

Three out-of-the-ordinary blogs

There are so many blogs I follow and even more I would like to follow, but there are only so many hours in the day and most of those are taken up with other pursuits. At the moment they are also much occupied with trying to cope with snow, ice, frozen pipes, and no running water.

Anyway, here are three blogs that are a little different, and where I always go when I am looking for a brief escape from reality.

The Cabin Goddess lives in Alaska in a wood cabin with the man-beast and a cat called Asrielle. The cabin has no running water. The Goddess writes about cooking, photography and writing. A very versatile and interesting lady.

About 5,000 miles away as the crow flies you can follow the indomitable Fly in the Web. Fly and her husband waved a thankful “Adieu” to France last year and moved to a new life in Costa Rica. Things are rather different there. Very different, in fact. There’s the evil neighbour, and the casual justice system, exotic foods and wildlife for a start. And that’s before Fly lets loose her dogs of war.

Thirdly, there’s the incredible story of the Hobos in France. A respectable retired couple, neither in the best of health, who bought a property in France for their retirement. Although they paid for it in full, complied with all the legal procedures, employed a notaire and did nothing wrong, they are unable to live in their house. Somebody else lives in it. But the Hobos are still responsible for all the taxes on the property, and I think they also have to pay for the water, too.

Their hell began almost five years ago and at the moment there does not appear to be any end in sight. They were reduced to living in a tent during the winter. One of them suffered frostbite which led to gangrene which led to amputation. They have been through numerous legal battles and have more ahead of them.

An Appeal Tribunal ruled that the sellers had committed fraud; however, the sellers were old, which seemed sufficient cause to exonerate them. The buyers are also no longer in the first flush of youth, but that did not seem to bear any weight.

They have had to go to the European Court of Human Rights to get French Legal Aid to continue their fight.

All that is just the bare bones of their situation; and it is not a situation unique to them, unfortunately. It is a shameful reflection on the French Judicial system, and by sharing their story the French-made Hobos hope that other potential buyers will take heed and be aware of how badly wrong property purchase can go in the home of liberty, equality and fraternity. Their story really does make you wonder if we are living in a world gone completely insane.


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Even though it’s only 99 cts. for a few days, do not buy this book yet!

Instead, go to this link between 12th and 15th February to purchase a copy of the above book, or choose from a selection of 19 other titles in different genres, all priced at only 99 cts for a limited period.  Each purchase enters you into a competition to win either a fabulous Kindle Fire, or a $200 Amazon gift voucher.

Remember, 12th-15th February, at 99 cts., from

Good luck! 🙂

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Forget about splitting infinitives, starting sentences with a conjunction or any of the other rules of grammar imposed decades ago by whoever it was who felt they were an authority on how people should write. I’ve had three very successful books published by Random House, and in them probably broke every rule of grammar ever written.

This is my very TOP TIP for any writer, whatever you are writing: ALWAYS SAVE YOUR WORK OUTSIDE OF YOUR COMPUTER.

Then when the cat pees on your machine and wrecks it, or lightning strikes and frizzles your hard drive, or the house catches fire, or somebody steals your computer, or the dog gets the cable wound round its neck and drags the machine to the floor where it breaks into pieces, or you lose it, or smash it to bits in a screaming temper, your work will safe.

I’ve experienced two of those incidents.

I’ve also saved manuscripts to CDs, in the day, and onto USB sticks, and variously lost both the media and the data. If it’s happened to you you will know there is no feeling quite as sickening as the moment you are forced to accept that 70,000 beautifully crafted (even if grammatically rebellious) words have vanished for ever.

I’ve been using Dropbox for the last two years.  The free version gives you 2 GB of storage, and you can upgrade to more if you need to. It’s also a great way of sharing documents rather than emailing them. There are alternatives – Google “On-line file storage”, but at the moment I’m completely satisfied with Dropbox.

When I tried to switch on my computer this morning (the temperature was minus 13.6 C and the house was rather chilly), I couldn’t get it to boot up. Pre-Dropbox days that would have made me physically sick. But this morning I thought, Well, worst case I’ll have to buy a new computer.

My manuscripts are set to automatically save  (note the deliberate split infinitive there!) to the Dropbox file on my desktop, from where they are continually synced and uploaded to my on-line Dropbox. A nice little icon on the bottom right of the screen let’s me know this is happening. It’s as comforting as a cup of hot chocolate. 🙂

I expect most people who write will already be taking similar precautions to protect their work, but if this saves only one person from the anguish of losing theirs, it will have been worth my time writing this.

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