Wednesday, 31 December 2008
This is a chapter in which Murphy’s character comes to the fore – he is gentle, smart and resourceful and he is soon the centre of the girls’ world. Schools starts, and Kate has a vehicular run-in with Marcus Moriarty. Kate is left with a lot of mud on her face.
Nick returns from another photo-assignment and he’s brought a gift for the family to coincide with Murphy’s arrival – their first video camera.
6½ pages : 1880 words
Tuesday, 30 December 2008
Murphy settles into life with his new family and he appears to be extremely happy in his new home. Murphy is very inquisitive and intelligent but one thing the Joshuas notice is that Murphy is very wary of water – this endears him to Bella who empathises with his fear of water.
Even though Murphy has settled he will not eat regular dog food. Kate phones the RSPCA and she is told that they forgot to tell them that Spike/Murphy appears to be vegetarian. The Joshuas are surprised that there are 'vegetarian' dogs and they investigate their vegetarian options.
It is the last weekend before the girls start their new school and the whole weekend is based around their family member, Murphy.
4½ pages : 1260 words
Monday, 29 December 2008
They speed to York and collect Spike. Bella realises that the dog does not respond to the name Spike and so everyone chips in with a name. But Bella suddenly says that his name is Murphy and the dog reacts positively. They head home and Murphy is acquainted with his new home.
2½ pages : 575 words
Wednesday, 24 December 2008
In between, we had two heavy snowfalls – the second fall resulted in five days of sheet ice and the worst driving conditions that I can recall in this country.
Worst of all, we were due to make the long trek south to Hove before my mother’s 80th Birthday, but illness prevented us leaving the house. Ho-bloody-hum!
Happy Christmas to all my readers!
Back to the novel.......
Chapter 8 concludes with the family returning to Beckside House; on the way home there is an involved and animated conversation about getting a pet – which pet, how many pets, what colour - is punctured by the car breaking down.
Chapter 9 has the Joshua family getting more integrated in village life. Nick has to go on a photo-assignment in West Yorkshire, and Kate takes the girls to visit Julia. Julia goes into a diatribe about her life in the Church, but it’s all finding members of the village who will swell the meagre numbers who go to the Church - and Kate, who likes Julia a lot, has put to put their cards on the table.
It is also time for the Joshuas to prepare for their girls to go to school. Hughesy, a postman, who delivers oppose at any time of day and night, arrive is and joins in the burgeoning conversation about pets.
Chapter 10 is long and important one. It is Bella’s birthday and presents are being opened. But there is one final gift which Nick and Kate tell Bella about – they will go to the RSPCA in York and Bella will choose a pet.
Within the hour they are in the car and heading south to York. The Joshuas receive an informative welcome but their feelings turn to anguish as they see the large number of dogs who are caged and yelping and barking – these are all unwanted dogs who desperately need an owner. But they haven’t come for a dog – of course Bella is dog-phobic – and they are directed to the small reptiles and small mammals department where the choices are between....a tortoise, two rats and two African snails. The family go to a local café to make a family decision.
After lunch they return to the RSPCA and have a family vote in the garden. But Bella has wandered off. She is attracted by a dog in a compound on its own. The next thing the family notices is that Bell is missing and they find her talking to this dog: they are astonished. They are even more astonished when they see Bella stroking the dog and she finally tells them that this is the pet that she wants!
The Joshuas are then house-checked by an RSPCA agent and they wait impatiently for the decision.
12 pages : 3680 words
Friday, 12 December 2008
Once at Robin Hood’s Bay the beach is stunning and populated by dogs and their owners and a few walkers. It is here that we discover that Bella dislikes dogs – she was bitten by one when she was 3 years old – so this could be a precarious outing.
Nevertheless, Kate keeps a close eye on Bella who begins to relax on the beach whilst the other girls roam wildly and enjoy rock-pooling. However, it happens to be Bella’s misfortune that she is the one who is blindsided by a large dog and sent flying, landing in the wet sand. Bella is tearful in the sand...until a kindly old Irishman, Francis, comes to her rescue. Kate mistakenly thinks that the miscreant dog belongs to Francis and launches a tirade at him.
Once Bella recovers and the true dog-owner apologises, Nick turns to apologise to Francis...but he has gone!
5½ pages : 1570 words
Thursday, 11 December 2008
Kate is starting to feel hemmed in by village life – the same characters day after day, the house will remain in limbo for months and they have no old friends to commune with.
Something’s got to give!
3 pages : 920 words
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
The 3 Hardstaff brothers – local builders extraordinaire – pay their first visit to Beckside House to discuss the proposed renovation work. Nick and Kate are very welcoming to the Hardstaffs and expansive and enthusiastic: the Hardstaffs in turn are taciturn, if not a touch suspicious, and quite uncommunicative. The meeting and tour of the house is progressively hard work for Nick and Kate, but they are buoyed when Raymond Hardstaff, the eldest brother, decides that they will be able to carry out just about everything the Joshuas want. Nick and Kate are delighted...until Raymond then tells them that they’ll be able to start on Beckside in about 8-9 months!
Kate particularly is deflated at the thought of waiting all that time and having to live in their ramshackle abode.
4 pages : 1050 words
Monday, 8 December 2008
Nick is told in stark terms that he is trespassing and he is directed home along the barrel of a shotgun. Nick trudges home as the snow begins to settle and fall more heavily.
As he reaches home, snowcovered and bedraggled, Nick meets Hughesy the postman who reveals the identity of Herman – gamekeeper to Marcus Moriarty, the local bigwig!
4 pages : 1070 words
Friday, 5 December 2008
Their walk has been wonderful but it’s nearing tea-time in the story and IN FACT so I had to leave the story in mid-chapter as....Kate takes the girls back home whilst Nick decides to flex his professional (photographic) muscles by pushing on northwards as the weather suddenly takes a turn....
2½ pages : 530 words
Thursday, 4 December 2008
The work is done efficiently and well and...the bills are certainly not London prices. Things start to look up.
3½ pages : 870 words
Monday, 1 December 2008
To distract the girls (and themselves) from the task ahead, Kate and Nick take the girls for a walk round the village and end up at the hub of the village – Much Bickering Stores. This is a veritable treasure trove of provisions run by a welcoming couple. On the way back they meet the nosiest of neighbours.
4 pages : 2000 words
Friday, 28 November 2008
So I broke from my original plan and I used the device – devices are great in writing – of a letter from the Rev Julia describing their main neighbours which Kate reads over breakfast the next morning – more of a filmic device but it should work in narrative form.
As a result, I spent a great deal of time and ingenuity getting the tone of this chapter right.
1½ pages : 440 words
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
The 3 girls however are very excited not only by the size of the house but also by the extent of the gardens and outbuildings and the sense of great space.
Throughout a long day’s unloading and unpacking Nick and Kate keep reminding each other, rather unconvincingly, of the ENORMOUS potential that they’ve bought.
With the departure of the excellent removals men Nick and Kate are ready to collapse where they sit, but they haul themselves up to their sparse bedroom and by 9 the entire family are fast asleep......
But within a few minutes Nick is awoken by intruders....who turn out to be neighbours – the Reverend Julia and her Scots boyfriend Archie – with a tureen of soup to welcome the Joshuas. (Nick and Kate realise that none of their doors have any locks)
At the end of my day I decided to sketch out a ground plan of the property in relation to its place in the village and the north York Moors.
4½ pages : 1180 words
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
This road scene is one full of placement of memory, finality, emotion and expectation. It also gives a physical description of each member of the Joshua family and their characters – with particular reference to Nick often up against the might of 4 different females.
The chapter ends descriptively with the Joshuas estate car rolling into the quiet Yorkshire village of Much Bickering – quite a polar opposite to the bustle and noise of inner-city London: it’s a shock!
4½ pages : 840 words
Monday, 24 November 2008
As I began again with a new opening line I also had new protagonists – Nick Joshua and his wife Kate. I managed half a page of descriptive prose about the Joshuas leaving their home in London. But as soon as I started on dialogue between Nick and his daughters I reverted to writing in ‘screenplay’ mode.
As a result I finished the day with a page of narrative, a half-page of dialogue and a lot of crossings through and scattered notes: in all a rather unsatisfactory first day’s work.
1½ pages : 350 words
Friday, 21 November 2008
What began as a one-word throwaway idea and then 8 simple sides of concertina paper has now become 11 complex sides of concertina paper. What started as 15 chapters is now looking to end up as 25-30 chapters. I’m happy with about 80% of the plotline and I hope to solidify the remaining 20% next week.
When I started out, there was one aspect of the project of which I had doubts – whether I could convert my natural instincts for ‘screenwriting’ into a narrative style. I’ll find out on Monday when I start Chapter One, the narrative, in earnest.
Thursday, 20 November 2008
There is then an inexorable 10-minute concluding scene with a dramatic, life-or-death climax.
Cue – Rainstorm...turbulent sea...villains...Sarah and Bella in peril...stunt persons...police...Nick missing...storm building ...lights...can we afford a helicopter...and of course Murphy – makeup...lights...crayfish sandwich ...cameras...ACTION!
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Originally, I saw some of Act 2 in act 3 leading to a fairly linear conclusion. Now, the villains bring in a new character who is delighted to get his mitts on Murphy. The introduction of this character throws a curve into the plot and adds another element to the outcome.
Monday, 17 November 2008
The action is cranked up during this Act and becomes more dramatic. Towards the end of Act 2 there is a large set-piece – the village summer fete – at which one of the girls lets something slip...and Murphy is put in potential harm’s way. I have 2 plot-points that look a little creaky but I’ll deal with those later. Right!?
Friday, 14 November 2008
It is May and the first few scenes of Act 2 involve Murphy’s integration with the Nickkates and the village. Murphy’s character is paramount. As Act 2 rolls along the plotline seems to be a simple sequence, but a revelatory scene puts a great deal of pressure on the family; this propels the plot in a different direction and towards further problems by the end of the Act.
Thursday, 13 November 2008
Murphy’s intro is the most crucial scene of Act 1 and the tenor of it has to be right. Murphy and his meeting with the Nickkates throws them off kilter. There is a great deal of family resistance to ‘rescuing’ a dog and it is Bella’s surprising insistence that sways their decision. That decision ends Act 1.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
I had intended him as a socio-cultural villain who is just a bit irksome in his lordly/xenophobic way towards Nick and Kate, which made the relationship between the family and Murphy difficult, but...now I have an extra plot twist which makes him dangerous. He also has a compliant footsoldier who carries out all the dirty chroes.
As Act 1 closes, in mid-April, so the villain’s intentions are ramped up.
Monday, 10 November 2008
Now that the 5 main (family) characters have been fleshed out, I’ve rewritten the supplementary characters and some of their characteristics. The plotline is developing with further details and character notes as I reach the conclusion of the Act 1 plotline.
Friday, 7 November 2008
I began by looking again at the 5 main (family) characters and I have now written out full character notes. So they are......
NICK, early 40’s, photographer
KATE, late 30’s, journalist
SARAH, 11 years old
BELLA, 9 years old
SCARLETT, 7 years old
I then spent time looking at the opening scene, which lays the foundation for the entire story. This scene runs through Chapter 1 and it needed to introduce the characters, it needed to explain the premise for the story and in needed to make an impact.
At the same time I had to look at the time of year for the setting of the story and that has to be the Spring so that the story concludes at the end of summer/beginning of autumn.
I also started to alter some of the peripheral characters. For example, the ‘retired reverend’ has departed to that cast in the sky and been replaced by a young female vicar and her boyfriend.
One character that I’m not happy with is the villain and I’ll have to deal with this next week. Do I really need a villain!?
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Today it was back to a lot of making tea, sitting and staring, thinking, making tea, staring, thinking intensely, making more tea.
It reminded me of a reply that Raymond Chandler gave to someone who asked him about his writing inspiration....... “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
Now, where’s that box of Elastoplast?
Monday, 3 November 2008
A leisurely day it turned out - I looked again at my 7 sides of concertina paper – much scrawled in pencil and red pen – and felt good about what I’ve done so far. Then, I started using my new Murphy-headed Exercise Book. On the first page I wrote out the 15 Chapter headings. Page 2 has a list of characters and 2-line sketches of each of them: the list includes a retired reverend, a know-it-all family, an elderly widow with cats, an emotional vet(!?), a goth postman, a local squire/landowner and 3 generations of a family of farmers....none of which may finally end up on the page.
Now, for a fresh sheaf of concertina paper and the REAL plotting will begin.
Friday, 31 October 2008
What has been important in completing the first draft of the plot is that the ENTIRE plot from Act 1 through Act 2 to the climax in Act 3 hangs together and is credible. So, I’m fairly satisfied that 90% of the whole looks okay. Phew!
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
It will mean transcribing any of my A4 sheets into the book...and I hope that it will work well. Writing in an exercise book will be the first time that I’ve done anything like this since I was at school.
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
And so it was today when I suddenly internalised 2 crucial scenes and then scrawled the action and dialogue on paper – my writing is too slow to keep up with my thoughts.
One scene that I wrote out took place at the end of Act 1 where Bella meets Murphy – a very simple scene but critical as to the manner of their meeting and suggestive as to the future.
The second scene that I wrote out was the dénouement in Act 3 – a series of action sequences underscored by a good deal of emotion.
In the meantime, I was now well into roughing out Act 3, which still needs one or two plotpoints sorting out so that the whole story hangs together tightly.
Monday, 27 October 2008
We arrived in London on Friday evening and found a city buzzing at the start of the weekend; whilst Saturday morning was a breezy, bright morning spent walking around autumnal Brockwell Park.In the afternoon it was a la recherché du temps perdu as drove the 2 or 3 miles up to Balham. What had been a run-down, seedy suburb in the 80’s and a villagey yet vibrant area in the 90’s has now been made over into a yuppified playground. And Mrs R and I were shocked and a little saddened.
Our arrival in Balham was met with a parking meter but also by our wonderful and unique postman, Cliff – much hugging and reminiscing of neighbours. We then walked around Balham and a few ‘old’ shops remained – second-hand books, hairdresser, Afro-Asian products, jeweller – but now there were also up-market restaurants and shops, Waitrose, As Nature Intended and numerous coffee bars!
Later we had tea with 2 sets of friends (way back from antenatal classes) and saw how their children had grown and developed and heard about the vicissitudes of local schooling.
The highlight of the weekend for me was waking up on Sunday morning – the sky was overcast and the drizzle was steady. My favourite evocation of London is rainy Sunday mornings – shivery, grey and peaceful apart from the sound of the rain. Oh joy!
Then we packed up and headed for South Kensington and the Natural History Museum via a wander along Knightsbridge. The museum was heaving, even at 10 in the morning, with half-term families and overseas visitors. Lunch was taken with my elderly and delightful aunt in Kentish Town, before we headed back up the motorway to Yorkshire again.
Both Mrs R and I reminisced about how little the atmosphere of London had changed and mooted how easily we’d like to live there again. The young Refugees had different ideas; they were – to a girl – steadfast in their desire to live in Great Bickering and away from the ugly, demon metropolis.
And my final conclusion about our visit – there IS a North-South divide.
Thursday, 23 October 2008
As a result, I’ve managed to complete the rough sketching of Act 2 and, as we’re heading to London for the weekend, Act 3 beckons next week – with all the complexities of tying up ALL the loose threads.
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
And so I have the main players.....
NICK and KATE, and their 3 daughters - SARAH, BELLA and SCARLETT.
However, I realised that I didn't have a surname for the family - so, for convenience, I keep jotting the surname down as The Nickkates. Please read on, dear reader.......
Monday, 20 October 2008
....dog name A,
....dog name B,
....ANOther dog name.
Unfortunately and sadly our dawgs were unable to vote.
I had instinctively gone for name A but I was interested in the Refugees’ opinions. When the secret ballot papers were returned to me – no Electoral College at Refugee Towers – we had a 4 to 1 majority for dog A being called MURPHY. (Dog B was Murdoch and Mrs R was the lone dissenting voice) And if anyone thinks that I may have nobbled the young refugees I have to say that they were not bribed by offers of strawberry laces or Green & Black’s choc or iphone!
I also have the title of the book but I can’t yet reveal it (as it will give away a lot away) so I’ll refer to the book just as ‘MURPHY’. I also have a visual of MURPHY (the dog, not the book title) as a lurcher-sheepdog-setter-mongrel, wirey but shaggy, with foxy yet floppy ears, black and charcoal and grey and cream with padded feet and twinkly eyes with a hint of steel!? But then again I do need some new glasses. But my trusted illustrator (Mrs R) may see him differently – yes, Murphy’s definitely male.
Saturday, 18 October 2008
If the complexities of Act 1 are important to get right, then Act 2 should be a relative romp. With the Act 1 situation set and the characters hopefully well defined and the 6th character introduced and offering a twist, we can then be propelled forward into a rollercoaster of events throughout Act 2.
At the end of Act 2 the main 2 characters will reach a stage whereby their fate is linked irrevocably and must be resolved in Act 3. At the conclusion of sketching Act 1 I was fairly clear as to how this Act 3 resolution would occur, but there are some issues around Act 2/Act 3 that need surmounting.
I need a head-clearing weekend to sort out some novel issues.
Thursday, 16 October 2008
As with previous screenplay plotting I envisage the story having 3 acts – in classic fashion. Act 1 is always the most difficult to get right; although I see the ‘situation’ clearly – London family transported to a totally different environment – there is a great deal to be set down in the matter of the various plotpoints and the secondary and extraneous characters to be introduced and explained.
Whilst the 5 family members – so far unnamed – are present in most scenes in Act 1 and can be introduced gradually, the minor characters are speedily introduced; at the same time the plot has to be pushed along when the 6th major character, the (as yet also unnamed) dog, is revealed towards the conclusion of Act 1.
As I wrote out each plot point in Act 1 I started to envisage each of the major characters in visual and verbal terms.
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
For reasons of a change of work circumstances, the (so-far unnamed) family moves from inner-city London to the wilds of the North Yorkshire Moors. They move into a dilapidated house in a small village and they struggle somewhat to settle into their new environment. That would be difficult enough but they then take on a pet, which completely turns their lives upside down.
The family includes 3 daughters (ages not yet fixed but in the range of 4 to 14), each with strong and different characters. Now, eagle-eyed readers might notice that The Refugees are a family of 5 with 3 young daughters), BUT....I wish to make it very clear that the novel’s family of 5 with 3 young daughters bears MINIMAL resemblance to my Refugees.
Monday, 13 October 2008
I’m not really against people dressing up in clothes for ‘fun’ but dressing up in military and quasi-military uniforms and pretending they’re clearly someone that they’re not, but.....some of the people who parade and flaunt themselves over this bizarre weekend are ripe for psychological evaluation. For example, why would anyone transform himself into a WW2 squaddie – with guns/grenades/ribbons/medals – or even a Nazi stormtrooper in FULL regalia? Rifles, grenades, Nazi insignia, ribbons, medals and more? This year the nearby town of Levisham was transformed into the French village of Le Visham and was then ‘captured’ by Nazis. What next year – a hospital full of amputees, the Luftwaffe strafing the railway station or even concentration camp victims!?
As a wonderful neighbour of ours – aged 94 – said to me yesterday, with great insight, “If there were a war this week, most of the people in this extravaganza would NOT want to be conscripted!”
I didn’t really want to include any photos but here are 3 examples....
On Saturday we were gridlocked for 4-5 hours as the ‘grand parade’ slowly snaked its way slowly through the town. Although the economy of the area is given a great financial fix by the influx of WW BUT the majority of Great Pickeringites dread the weekend, dislike the incomers and their gross behaviour and cannot wait for Monday...when the town returns to normal.
Now what do we do next year for War Weekend? Get out of town!!!
Friday, 10 October 2008
Our little town of GB is under siege from an army of GI’s, Tommys, Home Guard, Land Girls, Spivs, Coppers and Nazis! Great Bickering has a population in the region of 7000 but the hordes our pouring in to quadruple the number to about 30,000. If only there was someone, somewhere – of the stature of Mr Churchill – who could save us from the horrors of War Weekend!
Every year that we’ve lived in Great Bickering we have wishes that we were anywhere else but Great Bickering. This year we’ve failed again and we’ll have to tolerate the vehicles, the armoury and large number of people in a variety of uniforms completely taking over our town.
This morning whilst taking our girls to school I noticed a couple – man in army uniform, woman as a nurse – and their 2 children about 7 and 10 also in 40’s clothing. Why weren’t their children at school? And the main question.....just how bad will this year’s event be?
Thursday, 9 October 2008
From my first sketch for Newsrevue in 1983, through sketches for radio and TV, via stand-up material for a couple of stand-up comedians, through episodes for a radio sit-com to a script doctor job on a screenplay, my physical act of writing method has not changed.
My desk contains.......
An A4 pencil – HB or H – which is regularly sharpened by my invaluable Westcott iPoint electric pencil sharpener. The pencil is always topped off with a perfectly weighted waving Jesus. When the pencil is sharpened down to about 3 inches it is then discarded. Definitely NOT biro or gel-pen and never straight into a computer!
A rubber eraser – preferable long and thin, which is now difficult to find. Definitely NOT a plastic eraser!
A stack of (used/scrap) A4 paper. And NEVER prisitine double-sided blank A4 paper.
A smaller stack of A4 concertina computer paper.
For me, born in the 50’s, there is something very early-years about writing in PENCIL on PAPER.
I started using concertina computer paper when I wrote my first, optioned screenplay: as the story unfolds so the story unfolds chronologically unfolds on concertina paper to reveal a wavy flow charting plot, characters and some snippets of dialogue. As the days and weeks stretch out a very ‘rough’ draft of concertina paper is replaced by a more ordered draft of concertina paper. And so it goes until I might have discarded 3 or 4 drafts. The final draft will then be used as a template from which to write the script.
Whereas the plotting stage may take 6-10 weeks, the first written draft of the script may take only 4-6 weeks. This may go through 3 or 4 improved drafts before transposing the script to computer using the best screenplay software - Movie Magic Screenwriter; though, in this case, for the novel, I’ll be using Microsoft Word software.
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
This book throws up a couple of problems:
1. A great deal of the novel will come directly from my/our personal experience.
2. As I mentioned in last Friday’s blog I was never enthusiastic and confident about novel-writing, so I’m not sure how I can and will handle writing narrative.
These factors will become evident in the weeks ahead.
For now, I have 5 main (human) characters, I have a location, I have 15 chapter treatments and a nameless dog. This was followed by expanding upon the situations into a plotline for each chapter. This takes the form of staring at blank sheets of A4 along with intense thought whereby images and some dialogue formulate and then play like a film in my mind. Once an image or idea is transfixed and therefore feels right I go over it again and start to write sketchily and very fast – appending each idea or plotpoint with character notes and/or snippets of dialogue.
At this stage I’m fairly amazed, and quite heartened, that so much of the story is coalescing easily and quickly. My little grey cells seem to be in good physical shape.
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
So....much as I’d like to hand over lots of IOU’s to Mrs R for her possible full-colour and full-page illustrations, I’ve decided to alter and expand the form of the book. I now see that I have the fragments of a story that would be more suited to a children’s novella. In fact, I’ve now written out 15 thin sketches that would equate to 15 chapters – along with one or two illustrations per chapter. After all, one needs to feed a few of one's financial crumbs to one’s illustrator.
One of Mrs R’s recent works.....
Saturday, 4 October 2008
Initially, I imagined that the book would be in the form similar to Shirley Hughes’s excellent books – e.g. Dogger, the Alfie series. Hughes’s books have intricate and colourful illustrations along with a fairly simple narrative.
My book has a simple plot that revolves around a family in North Yorkshire whose life is dramatically changed when they rescue a rather unique dog.
Friday, 3 October 2008
For my 12 years writing comedy sketches for stand-up, theatre, radio and TV I was often asked if I wrote books. To which a reply might be...”What me, write a book!? Not so jolly likely!” It’s a mantra I’ve continued to repeat....until recently. And now......
Having mentioned at the beginning of the summer that I intended to write 'Murphy the ******' today is the day to put pencil to paper in earnest.
So, I’ll begin to blog the progress of 'Murphy', whilst also reflecting upon my southerner-up-north posts.
Saturday, 21 June 2008
By the time lunch was completed we retired to the sitting-room where the fire was roaring. We all sat around the fire warming ourselves....and wondering if and when global warming would reach North Yorkshire.
Monday, 9 June 2008
In the main (Swallow) Barn, there are 10 young.
In the garage, there are 6 young.
In the shed attached to the garage, there are 3 young.
Sadly, 3 young seem to have fallen from their nests and we are left with 16.
Saturday, 31 May 2008
As a result, I made the journey back to London for the day for Vic’s funeral. Though we’d kept in touch by phone and, ironically we’d arranged to visit them this summer, I hadn’t seen them since I’d help them move into sheltered accommodation just before we moved up to Yorkshire. It seemed that I was the only family member to attend the funeral.
It was a delight to see Audrey; she may be incapacitated by leg problems and poor sight but she remains mentally sharp with a wicked sense of humour. The service, both in English and Hebrew, at Golders Green was conducted well and there was much support for Audrey from her wide circle of good and warm friends. And it made me realise just how much ‘Londoners’ are a sociable and cohesive tribe.
The first thing I said to Mrs R when I returned to Refugee Towers was, “I’d really like to go back to live in London”.
Thursday, 29 May 2008
In the main (Swallow) Barn, there are 3 pairs.
In the garage, there are 2 pairs.
In the shed attached to the garage, there is 1 pair.
Amidst unbridled ‘activity’ from the swallows we await to see just how many young these 6 pairs produce. Now, if anyone would provide us with closed-circuit cameras!? Oh, that may be a bit voyeuristic!
Tuesday, 20 May 2008
They returned 3 hours later leaping and squealing about a trio of 6 month-old puppy brothers – Quibble, Quarrel and Quaker - that they had fallen for. My partial enthusiasm was doused when they explained that the puppies were Chihuahua-Patterdale crosses.
Me, with a Chihuahua – no, never, EVER!
However, a week of unquenched enthusiasm saw us travel into York on Sunday and check out the vertebrates on show at the RSPCA. I must admit that it’s a choking experience seeing so many animals unwanted, abandoned or under court orders; but the staff at York are fantastic – caring, hard-working, patient and helpful. Eventually, we came to the 3 puppies....except that there was now only 1. And what a little cracker he turned out to be. Mrs R had her heart set on Quibble but she came round to liking the remaining pup, Quaker.
So we went for a lunchtime pow-wow at our favourite York bistro, Café No 8, and ruminated over Quaker. Of course, being the inveterate softie that I am, I soon found myself lobbying for the addition to our menagerie whilst Mrs R remained dubious.
After lunch we returned to the RSPCA took Quaker for a ‘trial’ walk with our hound, Poppy....and that went remarkably well. The decision was unanimously made! We had ourselves a new addition to the family....a Chatterdale.
As I filled out the paperwork and collected the RSPCA voucher for Quaker to be de-nutted, the girls started thinking of a new name – the list started with Pip, Smudge, Dex, Carlos, Archie, Rocky, Mohammed until we finally anointed him...Woody!
By Jove, it’s good to have some more testosterone at Refugee Towers. So, here is Woody the Chatterdale with his step-sisters........
Saturday, 17 May 2008
IS didn’t shed any tears – as children in her class did – and IS didn’t have any sleepless nights – as some children did: however we did have FIVE difficult months.
What’s gone on?
SATS finished this week.
SATS are over for this year.
SATS are over forever for IS.
It seems that a chasm has developed between this government’s education ministers – Ed Balls, Jim Knight and Beverley Hughes – and this country’s educationalists. Jim Knight proclaims, “SATs are there to give pupils an understanding of how they're doing nationally, to give parents the opportunity to see how well their child is doing and how well the school is doing, and for the public to see how well schools generally and how the school system as a whole is performing." SATs results are part of the targets that the Government expects schools to meet, and which are published, and then ranked, by the media, into "league tables". Government-speak clearly translates into the government being driven by the misguided and obsessive ‘target’ culture.
But the tide is turning.
The tests have been slammed by everyone from politicians to children’s authors such as Philip Pullman, Michael Rosen and Jacqueline Wilson.
An influential teaching body, The General Teaching Council, attacked the government's policy of rolling out national testing of children from the age of seven - it says “the stress from over-testing is tainting perceptions of education” and it is calling for all national exams to be abolished for children under 16. The council says exams not only fail to improve standards, but also leave pupils demotivated and stressed.
Leaders of the National Association of Head Teachers are calling on the Government to scrap the tests on the grounds that the pressure of league tables is forcing schools and teachers to stay at the top of league tables by routinely "drilling" pupils to pass exams and is consequently putting children off learning.
The Cambridge-based academic Professor Robin Alexander has been studying the testing regime in England's state primary schools, the most exhaustive in the Western world. He says, “People do not like ‘high stakes testing’, with its league tables in the press and all the pressure that goes with that . . . I think there is a pretty clear consensus that change is needed...the evidence is so strong . . . it points in the direction of radical reform.”
And if tests are scrapped, how will parents know how well their children are doing, or which are the best schools? “There are Ofsted school inspection reports,” says Alexander, “Parents can read those.” Alexander’s final report is due out at the end of the year.
Scotland never introduced Sats.
In Wales SATs were scrapped in 2004.
When will England follow?
Our daughters go to a terrific local state school with great teachers and support staff and a marvellous Head Teacher, GB. Yet the constraints of the system mean that IS's class has seemingly done little since January beyond preparing for these narrow tests.
Compelled to regurgitate much of the English, maths and science they have been force fed in the past three years, these little automatons musn’t let the side down; yet they will gain no marks for sharing how much they enjoyed the few books they were able to read for fun, nor their delight at discovering a germinated sunflower seed, nor the sense of achievement from learning the importance of angles in a triangle.
Let the children have a more relaxed environment to learn and enjoy their subjects and plough the cost of SATs into supporting learning and teaching and trust teachers to assess their children regularly
A couple of months ago Mrs R was standing outside school and happened to talk to Head GB about the ongoing preparation for SATS. Mrs R thought that it might be a good idea that IS went ill over the week of SATS and very symnpathetically GB replied that that was our right if we so felt.
Then Mrs R turned to GB, “, G, what do you really think of SATS?”
G thought carefully, looked Mrs R dead in the eye and lowered his strong Welsh voice, “Bollocks!"
If you feel inclined please sign this parent-led petition on the Downing Street website: PETITION
Monday, 12 May 2008
By the time we arrived at 11 the temperature was rising gradually to the early 70°’s and the Great Bickering Showground was teeming. There are 2 activities that the young Refugees are on the lookout to do – speak to as many dogs as possible and spend money at the most interesting stalls (usually, animal- and food-related). I have never seen a Show such as this one for the amount and variety of dogs to remark about. Because of the heat, most of the dogs lounge around or sashay slowly with their owners and Poppy, our 7½ year-old Whitby Dog rescue hound, behaved impeccably. The vast majority of the dogs are labs, spaniels, terriers and lurchers as these are the dogs of choice locally but we also talked to and stroked poodles, staffies, peeks and Bedlingtons etc. Whenever we are unsure as to the breed of dog we turn to Is who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of dogs.
A great deal of my time is spent people-watching.
This is Alice from Doncaster. Alice is the matriarch of a gorgeous quintet of donkeys who, she told me with some wry truth, received more attention from her husband than she did.
And whilst the stalls with...50 different rifles, army fatigues from around the globe and hunting aids attracted vast numbers, this was our favourite stall – The Retired Greyhound Trust. There were 5 greyhounds selling their wares and Karen and Nick were a delight to talk with.
Please check out their website.......Retired Greyhound Trust.
Greyhounds are the most gorgeous of dogs – they have lovely faces, beautiful eyes and ideal temperaments.
I want a greyhound for Christmas!
If you haven’t visited the GBGCS then I would entreat you to make a visit – especially for those Southerners amongst you. It’s packed with a cast full of characters and animals and the odd celebrity now treads the Show’s boards – Worrall-Thompson showing off this year. It seems to be growing in ambition so 2009 promises to be even better.
Oh, and it’ll set you back a hundred quid.
Saturday, 10 May 2008
But here in rural North Yorks dawn in the cool, still air of May is an auditory spectacle. We are lucky to have a bedroom that collects sounds from front - tall trees and grass verges – and back hedges, bushes and lawns – and from 4 to 5 in the morning the Dawn Chorus begins. Invariably the chorus seems to start with a blackbird or two singing out their territorial song; this will most likely be followed by a gang of hedge-sparrows and the odd discordant rook or pigeon. Occasionally I may be able to decipher a tit, finch or wren amongst the throng and as the summer rolls out the swifts rise earlier and wheel the skies screeching wildly. At its crescendo this symphony must consist of 40 or 50 musical maestros in concert.
If I’ve had sufficient sleep I’ll be serenaded for several minutes before getting up and enjoy the sounds and sights of ‘our’ birds By the time I reach my workroom at the back of the house I’ll be lucky to hear a thrush singing beautifully on a high tree or in our ‘secret garden’ cracking open a snail shell. Just about the only bird that doesn’t rise for the dawn chorus is....the swallow. The swallow tends to remain a’bed in the early morning though I often hear ours chattering in the their nests until ready for their mid-morning aerobatics.
So....would I swap one of the natural musical wonders of nature at 5o/c in North Yorks for 5o/c in London? As they say round these parts, ‘Would I ‘eck!?’
Monday, 28 April 2008
I must have bought ‘If I Had A Ribbon Bow’ shortly after it came out – I had to wait a week or so until Sticklands record shop in Hoop Lane got it in for me (my treasured copy BELOW). ‘Ribbon Bow’ remains a quirkily terrific song with beautiful lead vocals from Judy, subtle jazz guitar, some nice vibes care of Tristan Fry and a longing sigh at the end.
The first, eponymous ‘Fairport Convention’ followed a couple of months later in mid-’68 and this strikes me now as a much underrated collection. The tracks were a mixture of classic American songwriting along with embryonic writing from Fairport members. Fairport’s coverage of US writers was never less than superb and in 40 years no other artists could cover Joni Mitchell, Cohen or Dylan like Fairport.
Taken purely on merits the songs could be broken down into interesting (The Lobster, Chelsea Morning, Sun Shade, One Sure Thing) and inspired (It’s Alright Ma It’s Only Witchcraft, Decameron, If, Jack O’Diamonds, I Don’t Know Where I Stand,
Time Will Show The Wiser). What makes the
selection so good is the seamless meld of folk to jazz
to rock to psychedelia to progressive.
I always thought that Ian Matthews and Judy (and then Sandy) was the perfect male-female blend; Tyger Hutchings' bass lines were brilliant and unobtrusive; Simon Nicol’s work underscored Richard Thompson’s flights from harsh rock to fluid brilliance and Martin Lamble’s versatile drumming was as near perfect for a young man of 17-18 years old.
Listen to the album and then listen again, more carefully – there is so much to treasure. Finally, listen to the great Harvey Brooks-Jim Glover track ‘One Sure Thing’ and then seek out The Conspirators recent version of that (and buy it) which.....neatly leads back to the Conspirators guest lead singer.....Judy Dyble, voice just as lovely as ever.
Journos and fans alike judge the 1st Fairport album harshly, especially in comparison to the legendary ‘What We Did On Our Holidays’. Well.....bollocks! After playing the album a couple of times over this past weekend and with riffs worming around my brain, I still LOVE the 1st album, it compares very favourably and it takes me back to the happiest 2-3 years of my life.........
The Holly Bush, Hampstead, walking on the Heath, smelly basketball boots, cotton paisley shirts, earnestly reading Huxley and Sartre, The Everyman, Hampstead, the 102 bus snaking its way through North London, buying import albums from Old Compton Street and....innocence!
Here's a clip of Judy with Fairport from 1967:
Enough of the past. Now, blogging back to the future.
Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Around the time of mid-range Beatlemania and Psychedelia I first heard fledgling Fairport Convention ‘live’ on my cheap Phillips radio, probably in late ’67 – on one of the David Symonds/John Peel BBC shows. Fairport played an eclectic mix of jug band/blues and West Coast pop which no other Brit group was playing (Butterfield, Joni Mitchell, Byrds, Love, Leonard Cohen, Jefferson Airplane) mixed in with some early self-penned songs. From my radio to my untutored ear they seemed unlike any other British group and I particularly liked their male-female lead vocals.
I remember thinking that this was…
So I turned up with my schoolfriends Roy and Piers to see and hear my first live gig! There couldn’t have been more than about 30 (probably all students and friends of the band) in the audience and initially we were all seated uncomfortably on a hard floor in the dark. They trooped onto a wide stage but kept close enough to one another - Martin back-centre on drums, Tyger Hutchings far left, Simon Nicol in the middle and Richard Thompson far right in the darkness, Ian Matthews front left, and then Sandy Denny front right obscuring Richard. (Sandy Denny had recently replaced the beautiful voice of Judy Dyble as lead singer and I knew nothing about the new addition)
In hindsight, I probably had no idea what to expect but what we did NOT get was any extroversion, cavorting or guitar-smashing. What happened was that I was spellbound throughout the show – I recall the set included Reno Nevada, Suzanne, Some Sweet Day, Morning Glory, Eastern Rain and Meet On The Ledge (Sandy: “Simon’s on violin tonight as they’ve repossessed our piano”) but 3 people stood out for me. Through knowing Martin I was impressed with his versatility as a drummer – moving from great rock drumming and then to imperceptible sensitivity. It was clear that Richard Thompson carried his guitar wizardry slightly under that curly fringe - Paul Ghosh once told me that he slept with his guitar.
But it was Sandy Denny who stunned me that night. She was the focus of a band that previously had no focus – Sandy supplanted Tyger’s prosaic intros with her faltering and nervous (unrehearsed) manner which was also jokey and self-deprecating. And Sandy’s stunning soprano voice lifted the band to another level – the standouts were an aching version of Who Knows Where The Time Goes and (I think Sandy said) the first live and epic performance of A Sailor’s Life.
At the end Helen got us to meet with the band in the way of the 60's when you'd stand around saying nothing much in particular and in my case nothing at all but.......
In 35+ years of watching and photographing concerts NOTHING compares to the magic of that very first concert - halcyon days.
I saw Fairport a half-dozen times in the next couple of years and each time was a thrill and a delight. After their bus crash in 1969, I went off to University, Sandy (and Tyger) left Fairport, and things were never the same again. The Fairport songs from that '67-'69 era were the most unique collection from a British band and have never been surpassed - songs written by Joni Mitchell, Jackson Frank, Dylan, Emmitt Rhodes, The Farinas, Eric Andersen, Leonard Cohen and gradually Fairport members themselves.
Looking back some 40 years now, it’s remarkable to realise……just how unique Fairport was, and considering the quality of the music, to realise just how young they were. Suffice to say that Sandy has left a wonderful body of work, which in the final analysis is the only thing that matters.
Today recalls the genius of Sandy Denny - the finest singer-songwriter that Britain has produced.
(This is a cut-down version of a chapter - on Fairport days - from a book that I’m currently writing)
Here's a clip of Sandy solo:
Here is a link to Bob Harris’s tribute on BBC Radio 2 tonight.....
Thursday, 17 April 2008
Our first swallow of the summer.
At 7.45a.m. I heard a swallow singing and looked around the garden to find the bird swooping and gliding around and then alighting on a neighbouring TV aerial. Having made that long journey from Europe/Africa (?) the swallow sat on the aerial for some minutes preening itself and occasionally singing. We now await the arrival of other swallows to inhabit our barn, garage and shed. However, there is one proviso - we have a number of pigeons 'take over' the barn during this past winter so the swallows won't have it their own way - but the swallows are more than capable at dealing with the lumbering intruders.
At the risk of being repetitive the viewing of the first swallow has been a happy spectacle of our time in Yorkshire; so much so that I can't recall having ever seen a swallow in our final 10 years in Balham - now, that would have been a sight!
(A few words of thanks for the Comments posting from Elisabeth from Chester County - enjoy your swallows for the summer ahead!)
On a comletely different subject.......
I've spent the winter working on a semi-autobiographical, semi-biographical book - the latter reflecting my involvement in music and latterly my 6 days managing Stephen Bishop's first live performances in the UK.
At present, I might back-burn this book and look at writing a children's book. All of which is fairly surprising as I said I would never, and could never, write a book. Well........
Our holiday last year in the Algarve – horribly over-rated – resulted in ES diving into the swimming pool and swimming around saying, "Look at me, I'm a ******" That one (asterisked) inspiring word gave me an idea for the children's book. And as Mrs R is the nearest and cheapest illustrator in the county, what serendipidity – an illustrated children’s book.
So, I intend to start the book, 'MURPHY THE ******' at the end of the summer.