Blog, Writing

Talking About Writing and Books…

…was the perfect way to spend my first week at the University of Gloucestershire.

It’s been brilliant. I’ve been lucky with the weather, too. Walking from the car park to my workshops rather than taking the campus bus means I can bracket my lectures with  exercise. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Pic from Pixabay

On my first day I picked up some ripe horse chestnuts and hazelnuts that had fallen from street trees on my route. I’ve planted them at Tottering Towers, as a souvenir.

Later, when I got to the campus, I was able to show a passing Design fresher the way to her tutorial room. She was impressed. I didn’t tell her I’d originally found her room while I was hunting for my own.

When I signed up for this course, I was pleased to hear there were lots of other mature students. I didn’t realise at the time that Further Education is a universe where anyone who has taken a gap year straight after graduating is termed “mature”. There are one or two students here who might be older than me, but in general I stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.  To paraphrase James Goldman’s Lion in Winter, I’ve got a decade [or two] on the tutors!

It’s the work that matters. All the staff are great, and my fellow students are a lot of fun.  We each have to produce a workshop piece within the next 36 hours, to be picked apart at the next session. I’ve got a feeling posts on here might become even more sporadic than usual…

Good luck to everyone who is starting at a new place of learning this month. Here’s a suitable soundtrack.*** In exchange for being awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Breslau, Johannes Brahms was asked to compose something suitably grand. He responded by weaving together several student drinking songs  to create his Academic Overture.*** The bit that everybody knows starts at 8:50. It’s the theme used by Marvin Hatley in his music for the Laurel and Hardy film “A Chump at Oxford”****, which was one of my late father’s favourites. I know exactly how he’d paraphrase that title today!


*Goldman, James The Lion in Winter, AVCO Embassy Pictures, Oct 1968. They’re teaching me how to cite and reference, but as always it’s the technology of application that defeats me. Anybody know how to add footnotes in blogs? 😉

** Brahms, Johannes, Academic Overture, Prom 1: First Night of the Proms 15.07.2011, 7.30pm, Royal Albert Hall, posted on YouTube by 2013brb87 on Feb 15th, 2015. [Retrieved 22nd September 2018]

*** John Suchet, 9am-1pm Weekdays, Classic FM, Recently. What do you mean? Of course it’s a reference!

****Hal Roach Studios, A Chump at Oxford, 1939. My referencing definitely needs more work… 🙁

Blog, Writing

If I’d Known Higher Education Was Going To Be Like This…

e51fd-mp900439527…I’d have signed up a long time ago.

Everything I know about popular culture could be written on the back of a Viagogo guarantee, while leaving room for a Game of Thrones synopsis from start to finish of the series. Never have I ever seen an episode of Made in Chelsea, Gogglebox, or I’m A Celebrity (the fact they have to tell their audience they are celebrities puts me right off that last one, for a start). Only last week, I discovered Honey Boo-Boo wasn’t an over-sweetened breakfast cereal. Most of you will have forgotten her, in the time it’s taken me to discover the child.

Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

Then last Tuesday Dr Martin Randall spoke at an induction evening for the course I’ve enrolled on at the University of Gloucestershire. While choosing my modules I’d steered well away from his Popular Culture course, but his presentation was inspiring. When he played a video from YouTube, I was almost converted to his cause.

Of course I had heard of the singer involved. Years ago, dear old Jackie magazine used to advertise bedding and pillowcases decorated with “Little” Michael Jackson’s face. I even recognised the tune. As a teen, I assumed Billie Jean was some weird offering to a tennis icon, and blanked out the lyrics. Now I know better. 

Dr Randall explained the background to Jackson’s appearance at Tamla Motown’s 25th Anniversary bash, which was fascinating. This film marks the seminal point when Michael Jackson changed popular culture forever, apparently. I can’t comment on that. Learning that Jackson had to be persuaded to perform at this event, and catching occasional glimpses of something behind his eyes, I’m inclined toward an additional view.  Perhaps it’s also the point where Michael Jackson the person became Michael Jackson the product, manipulated by money men. All you who crave celebrity, beware. 

Whatever, Jackson went out on stage that night—and this happened: 

I usually whistle Mozart while walking in the woods with Alex. It frightens the wild boar away (especially that bit from The Magic Flute, ho,ho). After Dr Randall’s presentation on Tuesday evening, the febrile, staccato Billie Jean was an ear-worm which lasted throughout my Wednesday morning. Any whistling was out of the question—but I had a lot more to think about than wild boar that day, anyway.

Blog, Romantic Novelists' Association

Romance, Cake and Tea…

Dancers—with world-famous Betty’s in the background!)

…what more could anyone want?

Last weekend DD and I went to the RNA’s York Tea. We got to the city on Friday, a day early. That gave us time to do some shopping and sightseeing. DD did a lot of her archaeological training with the York Archeological Trust, so we enjoy the sites as well as the sights!

On Saturday morning the city was extra busy, with teams of traditional dancers from all over the country parading and displaying in the rainy streets.

I managed to get some Christmas shopping done. It’s far too early to think about that, of course, but my excuse is that I live a  long way from the shops, so I grab any chance to pick up presents when I see them. DD did even better than I did. She found a dress she liked better than the one she’d brought with her to wear at the party!

A really warm welcome!

The RNA York tea was held at the Merchant Taylors’ Hall, a medieval guildhall. It’s very grand, filled with beams, stained glass and coats of arms. The building itself is so close to York’s ancient city walls, you can look up through the high side windows and see people walking along the ramparts.

I had a lovely time putting faces to online names, and catching up with friends I hadn’t seen since the RNA conference in July. I don’t need to worry about DD on these occasions as there are always plenty of historically-minded people around. Her speciality is Neanderthal culture, which is about as far removed from the Regency ton as you can get, although on Saturday afternoon everyone seemed to get on very well!

This was one of several beautiful cake stands on our table

We were served a traditional English afternoon tea in front of a wonderful and fragrant log fire. It was the  perfect antidote to the grey skies outside.  There were sandwiches in several varieties, scones with cream and jam, fresh strawberries, slices of cake and individual tartlets filed with fresh fruit and cream. An unexpected treat was the arrival of individual cones of pretend newspaper, each holding a small piece of fish in batter and a large chip! It was all delicious. A glass of prosecco each, with endless tea and coffee refills added the perfect touch.

Jean Fullerton’s great speech inspired us all to speak up for the cause of Romance writing. Our genre is usually rubbished in the media by people too lazy to find out the truth behind the art and craft.

I was so convinced by Jean’s argument, it almost made me wish my next book was going to be a romance, rather than a work of non-fiction!

Baking, Blog, Cakes

Let Them Eat Cake…

…and it’s all in a very good cause! Mandy is a lovely, generous person whose small business is an important part of Ross-on-Wye life. There’s some fantastic local baking talent around here, so why not join in this local charity baking competition? I know not everyone can cook, but we can all turn up and cheer (or act as tasters).

This Charlotte Royale pic is from the BBC Food website, by the way, although I have made it in real life. Covered in a thin layer of white fondant icing, it makes a great Christmas cake for DD the archaeologist—”Silbury Hill in Winter”!


Blog, Writing

Didn’t We Have A Lovely Time…

WRITING_pencil-918449_1920…at the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s 2018 Conference? Held at Leeds Trinity University over the weekend of 13th-16th of July, this is a perfect excuse to meet up with like-minded writers.

I’m a poor traveller, easily confused and frequently lost. Luckily the chairman of the local chapter of the RNA came to my rescue. She met me at Leeds station, and we travelled to the university together. Knowing that I was certain to get to the venue (and back to my homeward train after the conference) was a huge weight off my mind. I could sit back and relax.

The Committee and helpers of the RNA do a fantastic job each year, putting together a programme of talks, panels and entertainments that provide something for everyone. The only problem is, there are often two sessions I’d like to attend which are on at the same time. Lots of note-swapping goes on so it’s easy to catch up on handouts, but I really missed out on one session. I thought From Baby-Wipes to Burlesque sounded like a ho-hum talk about a housewife branching out into erotic writing. I left my friend to nod off in that session, while I went off to listen to rags-to-riches self-publishing story.

woman in white dress hanging on pole
Photo by Pixabay on

That was a BIG mistake!  Full of Sunday lunch and in a warm, windowless room, I was the one in danger of nodding off while listening to a cosy talk.  In contrast, the Baby-Wipes to Burlesque session turned out to be practical, rather than theory! My friend and the other delegates tumbled out pink and giggling after  learning how to dance alluringly. Balloons were involved. And glitter. If that wasn’t enough fun for a Sunday afternoon, they had a dressing up box, full of silk scarves and spangly things. I was so disappointed, I tried to get the happy burlesquers to teach me how to floss. I was so bad at it, flossing is something I’ll only do in the privacy of my bathroom from now on…