Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Texas Shuffle

You've heard of the Texas Shuffle, right? You're shuffling a deck, fumble it, cards go everywhere and you say, glibly, "Texas a long time to pick 'em up again."

Oh, the hilarity.

Husband, being an Englishman through and through, prefers the Leicester Shuffle. Less-ta-shuffle?

All poor jokes aside, you can picture the disorder, yes? Cards everywhere, in all orders, face up and face down - a mess. Now imagine each of those cards carries a paragraph of Taken's Chapter Two.

And we're only playing with Hearts.

Okay, so Chapter Two is in two Word files, not on cards, but you get the drift. It's in pieces. It's in a jumble. And I only need about half of it.

Which half?!

Funnily enough, I don't know which is scarier. The mess it's in, or the fact that given a few focussed hours, a decaf hazlenut latte, and a wheel mouse (don't make me scroll without one) I know I can sort it out.

But the prospect's a bit daunting, you know?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

And more Lucias

Continuing my impromptu introduction to my family, here’s Mum, sitting in my office with some of my scary plot-planning and a map of Cumbria behind her.

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Mum’s frankly incredible. A teacher all her life, she’s never stopped being a font of wisdom and knowledge. Her specialty was making boring lessons fun, and with an adult’s hindsight, I can look back at our childhood and see the effort she put into making sure we had fun, too, even when times were hard.

I’m a reader and a writer because of Mum. One of my clearest childhood memories is our weekly trips to the Library (four books, and only one picture book allowed!) I can still remember how that library smelled, how it was arranged, discovering Bottersnikes and Gumbles (sp?) and always pining for one… more…. Tintin.

When Mum and Dad retired, they moved into a completely new area. Within months, Mum was involved in the garden club, the W.I, the camera club, the local craft group, and the Shropshire quilters. She dabbled with patchwork and quilting, then settled on beading. She’s won prizes, shields, commendations, and one of her pieces was snapped up for an exhibition. And that's just some of the things she's won prizes for.

She does these incredible beaded Christmas baubles, that I crave owning, like I crave eating chocolate. But then I am a Christmas addict.

I'm a Mum addict, too.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

More Lucias...

... more exposure, more, well, publishing, actually.

This is my Dad. Although it doesn't say it, I actually wrote that biography, so I guess technically Dad's not the only published author in the family.

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This week Dad heads out to the Pyrenees (sharp, high, snowy mountains) again to do a further revision of one of his walking guides. He's doing walks in stages, and mostly by himself (alone in sharp, high, snowy mountains, like these).

Oh, and he's 70 this month.

I'm ninety per cent immensely proud, and ten per cent nervous. Take care, Dad!

A momentous occasion

I received a text today which informed me that my brother was reading my blog for the first time... and laughing a lot. (He guessed the cleavage incorrectly, for those that were wondering. I don't know what to make of that.)

So, to celebrate the occasion of my family first realising just how much I post on this blog, I'd like to present to you my brother....

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And here we have the advert again in its context, outside the busy Shrewsbury Railway Station.

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You see? I'm not the only Lucia with 'exposure'.

Hi Bro. *waving* Welcome to the madhouse.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

It's progress, honest

I just gleefully came in here, planning to update my word meter in the side bar... only to find that because I've deleted as much as I've written (if not more) there's no visible change to the little gold bar!

No fair! I shall have to just tell you, then, that I've just finished revising chapter one.

About effing time.

Mind you, five new pages and ten pages edited in two hours is NOT to be sniffed at.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Goal me no Goals...

A Day In the Life

People wonder why I fear plans. Why I run from targets, and cower, shivering, from goals.

Let me present today as a case in point.

My plan? Simple. Go to collect a parcel from the Royal Mail, go on to the office, sit down at my desk and work out what the heck I’m supposed to be doing with my week. I have a plan to… plan. Collect parcel; go to work; plan the week.

It’s not a terrible plan – it’s achievable, largely controllable, and realistic. “This,” I think to myself, stepping over the desiccated fur-ball I just discovered tucked away in my office, “I can do.”

And, at 8 o’clock, it looks like So Far, So Good. I’m almost dressed, there are no cat crises, Husband has been seen off to work. All I have to do is find my red shoes, and get out the door.

Red Shoes. Now. Where did I put the Red Shoes? Regular visitors may remember that one of my Frivolous Resolutions this year was to wear Red Shoes more often, and I’ve been very good. But they’re not to be found by the door, not in the chest where we keep spare shoes, not beside the bed. In desperation, I try on a pair of plain black shoes instead, but decide they’re just too… normal.*

Eventually I remember that Minnie had begun eating the Red Shoes, so I hid them in a cardboard box. The one I’ve been tripping over on the stairs every morning. Ah-HA!

Slightly Chewed Red Shoes found, donned, and I’m out the door, only ten minutes late.

Plan:- Collect parcel; go to work; plan the week.
Actual:- I’m running late.

The drive to the sorting office is, thank heaven, uneventful. I ease the car over the unfeasibly large speed bump in the drive, collect my parcel, and inch over the mini-mountain on the way out. Looking good.

Looking good… for about half a mile. Remember the unfeasibly large speed bump?


Hear that loud noise, a cross between a knocking and a b-d-d-d-dooiiing sound? Well, you don’t hear it of course, but I did. Loud and clear. I also know what it is.

It’s a snapped shock. Joy.

Plan:- Collect parcel; go to work; plan the week.
Actual:- I’m running late and have a broken car.

Now I’m about fifteen minutes late, parked up, and trying to work out if it’s safe to drive home (there’s a garage in the village where we live, and I trust him). I know! I’ll ask Husband! Husband is at work.

Let me draw a veil over this part, only saying that I phoned directory enquiries twice, my mother twice (getting her out of bed) a tourist information centre and a random business that may or may not be connected with Husband’s employer.

Phone Husband. “Nurse it home,” he says., “take it easy.” “Good luck,” he says.


I’m now driving a car, very slowly, in the opposite direction to the office. I’m driving a car that goes, b-d-d-d-dooiiing BANG every time I drive over a ripple in the tarmac. I’m driving, it has to be said, a car that wobbles more than a little when I steer left.

When it wobbles, I can’t quite help staring madly at the left hand wing mirror. With hindsight I’m not sure what I was expecting – smoke? Broken spars? A flaming wheel rolling off into the verge? When the car makes the, b-d-d-d-dooiiing BANG noise, I yell, “ShutUpShutUpShutUP!” The entire drive, I’m in the obligatory hunched-over-the-wheel driving position of the driver who knows their car is very, very broken.

Plan:- Collect parcel; go to work; plan the week.
Actual:- I’m anxious, running late (in the wrong direction) and have a broken car.

After a few miles of this, I decide I’m being followed. A Land Rover with one male driver has matched every turn I’ve made for the last five miles and six roads. So now when I look in the mirror expecting flaming wheels, I’m also expecting a madman with a tyre iron.

Plan:- Collect parcel; go to work; plan the week.
Actual:- I’m paranoid, anxious, running late (in the wrong direction) and have a broken car.

The miles tick by. My mobile bleeps. It’s a friend. He has good news.**

In fact, it’s such good news I gasp, start laughing at the top of my voice (which is considerable), hiccup once and burst into tears.

Plan:- Collect parcel; go to work; plan the week.
Actual:- I’m paranoid, anxious, running late (in the wrong direction) and have a broken car. And I’m having hysterics.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not seeing much correlation between the original plan and the actual activities. So, with only a mile or so to home, I find myself re-setting my goals for the day.

1) Survive
2) Deliver car to garage
3) If Madman following me interferes, scream at him hysterically until his eardrums burst
4) Walk home
5) Chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

In the interests of closure, I should tell you I’ve achieved 1 – 4. The ‘madman’ drove past when I turned into the garage (probably he was only wanting to point out that my car was broken, in the helpful way people have). I’ve had the usual one-sided conversation with the mechanic who communicates in grunts, and I believe the car will be fixed tomorrow.

As for goal 5…. There is no chocolate in the house. I could go to the shops… but my car’s broken.


*Yes, I really do think like this.
** Yes, yes I know – no mobiles while driving. Bad, Bad Anna. In my defence I badly needed distracting…
*** And yes, I am going to clear up the fur-ball. I promise.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Super Powis

What a lovely day we had on Thursday.

Husband and I were off visiting for the weekend, but as per usual, we tried to combine travelling with a visit somewhere... we hate to just waste a day in the car. But we struggled to find somewhere in the Welsh Marches that we wanted to visit, and hadn't done before. Eventually, we thought we 'might try' Powis Castle and Gardens and see if we liked it.


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It was beautiful. A Castle with its real atmosphere remaining, in spite of the usual and necessary, "Do Not Touch, Photograph, or Breathe Extra Heavily" type notices. The long Tudor Gallery, the peaceful, cosy bedrooms built into the thick curtain wall. Paintings of bored women, and men you'd have gone to war for. Rich furnishings, and half-hidden weapons (like the sword carried by Arthur, Prince of Wales, brother to the future Henry VIII)

All this and gardens that seem only an ordered foreground to a natural backdrop of breathtaking loveliness.

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The gardens were still in their 1700s italianate terraced style, untouched by the fashion for naturally landscaped parks of the 19th century. Layers of sun-drenched terraces, shaded yew walks, and 'wilderness' woodlands.

Then, of course, there was the gaudy and quite charming gentleman who flirted with me.

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But my usual luck held. He mooned me seconds later.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Time Travel in Durham

Today is one of those days that feels as if the border between the Now and the Then has worn a little thin. You feel that if you let go, if you closed your eyes for an instant and lost your grip on the present, you could be sucked back into times gone by.

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Little things do it. Little timeless things, a visual prompt, an audible moment, a sensory pause in the shadow of Castle and Cathedral.

The scent of wild garlic on the riverbank by the mill, the moorhen seeking in the weeds, and the jay threatening the blackbird's nestlings. The gentle scrish scritch of someone edging the lawns of Palace Green by hand. A glimpse of a cobbled alley, or vennel, medieval stone buildings leaning in close. A shower of rain splat-dotting mellow stone flags near the North Bailey, while a black-clothed clergyman scurries for cover, his robes flapping around his legs. The arhythmic chip and ring of stonemasons at work.

Utterly magical.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


You'll remember my telling you about a night out with old friends. Here is some of the pictorial evidence.

There was an old incident we remembered while we were together - a male student friend used to visit the house where we lodged, and once foolishly confessed to one of us that he loved coming there because we were all so.... well endowed.

On his next visit, he found we'd hung our bras conspicuously all over the house, and wandered around shouting to each other things like, "ANNA? HAVE YOU SEEN MY BRA? YOU KNOW, THE HUGE RED ONE?!"

Poor man.

But foolish. Very foolish.

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Your challenge - to put a name to the cleavage. Your choices are:-

Annagh, or

C'mon. Have a guess. ;-)

I get my kicks...

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

When you catch me on the straight, that's engine. When I catch you on the bends, that's driving.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Al fresco

I love cooking and eating outside. Now, I know that to many of you lurkers and commenters from the US, and certainly those from Oz, BBQing in summer is a way of life, not an occasional party. Slap a steak (or some shirmp) on the BBQ and dinner is served.

In the UK, it's a different matter. A BBQ is a sort of astounded, hurried celebration of unexpected sunshine. Or a sort of rain dance. It usually involves family and friends and neighbours, and the eternal promise of everyone piling into the house when it starts to rain half way through.

The food? Well, underdone chicken with burnt skin is traditional, and you have to have scorched burgers AND charred sausages. Maybe ribs. Sometimes steak, but more likely something made from the sweepings of butchers' floors shaped into the SHAPE of a steak. Other cheap cuts of meat soaked in some toxic waste designed to enhance flavour and create a nice, healthy, neon colour are often included. Seeded burger buns (white - because it would be a terrible thing if some fibre were to work its way into this veritable meat feast), limp lettuce, an ocean of ketchup and usually some gummed and processed version of coleslaw swimming in a milky liquid mendaciously called mayonaise.*

For someone who is aspiring to maximum healthy intake of red meat being once a week (I said aspiring, not achieving) and who strives for her 5 A Day, (again, note the strive) the BBQ as interpreted by many Brits is viewed with something approaching horror.

BUT. I love cooking over charcoal. I love parties.

So, here and now, I make two exceptions:-

ONE. A proper party. I have one coming up that I'm really looking forward to!

TWO. USING the BBQ, as opposed to HAVING a BBQ like the one outlined above.

And when I am USING the BBQ (lumpwood charcoal from managed Cumbrian woodlands, mark you *waves finger*) two of my favourite things to cook are fillet steak marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger and garlic (with a little bit of dark brown sugar) and fillets of salmon basted with hoi sin sauce.

What are your favourite BBQ specials? And side dishes? No blackened raw chicken, if you please!

* I would like to say that in spite of all my food views, I do, occasionally, enjoy a traditional British BBQ as much as the next woman. ;-)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Green Things

A truly beautiful day today. Driving through woodlands, past lakes and over mountain passes.

Everything's bursting into leaf, now. The oaks with a fine mist of yellow-green foliage, the birches shivering, shaking their catkins off to make room for their summer clothes.

The beeches were the most spectacular, tall and silvery, like haughty, smooth-skinned models displaying lime-green feather boas on slim, poised arms...

Topping Dunmail Raise and dropping down into the valley beyond, the road dips into the woods on the shores of Thirlmere. Here everything was so intensely green I thought it must be a trick of my sunglasses, and took them off, only to discover that the lenses were masking the true depth of colour... The leaves of the beech and oak, backlit by afternoon sunshine, were the brightest green I've ever seen, almost luminous.

Then it was back home and time for another BBQ - seared salmon and asparagus with herb butter.... Mmmmmmmmm

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Three things about Summer that you forget when it's Winter:-

1) How awful it is to be in work when the sun's shining and it's warm
2) The terrible irony of trying to lose weight for shorts or swimsuit when there's ice cream EVERYWHERE.
3) Bug Splat.

Three things about Winter that you forget when it's Summer:-

1) That the car is like a fridge for the first five miles.
2) The layers of dust a blazing open fire generates.
3) The mud.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Today's Lesson

Keep It Simple, Stupid.

The search for something simple gave me a writing breakthrough yesterday, that segued into this morning. I'd wandered again into equating good with complicated in plotting, and though complex is fun, and useful, and often breathtakingly good, I should learn never to seek complexity for complexity's sake.

This also meant that when writing friends at our chapter meeting today asked, "how's the writing going," I didn't feel the need to growl or swear while rolling my eyes madly.


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Queen Kate

There are a few, rare, special people in the world who can be both a mentor and a friend. They can be absurdly generous, take time to share their experience with you, coach and support you, but also tell you off when you've earned it, take you to feed the geese, and drool at hot men with you.

Kate Walker is one of those rare, special people. She is, at one and the same time, Queen Kate, and my Cymber Mum. Go and wish her Happy Birthday.

(Kate - Husband still wants to put a Blue Plaque on our house...)

Thursday, May 04, 2006


This morning I felt like a goddess of spring.

(as I typed the word ‘spring’, the phone call I was making put me on hold – to the sound of spring birdsong. Don’t you just love serendipity?)

After a couple of distinctly fraught days, I had ten hours sleep and wandered into the garden in my dressing gown, clutching a mango and kiwi smoothie in my hand.

Now you probably have vision of a woman drifting among the shrubberies of a vast, secluded garden, one hand round a glass tumbler of fruit juice, the other delicately lifting the ecru lace of her trailing negligee clear of the dew-soaked grass.

Let me disillusion you…

My gardens are vast only in my imagination, and in my ambition for them. In actual fact they are two patches in front of the house, each measuring approximately 10’ by 14’. The negligee was a shapeless mauve bathrobe, so attacked by overactive cats that the threads hang from it in tangles. The glass tumbler was outsize plastic beaker I blend my smoothies in.

Oh, and the village road (albeit, thank God, a mostly quiet one) runs right past the front of the house, so I get to startle the early morning drivers.

Nonetheless, the smoothie was delicious (100% organic, with fruit supplied by these people) the garden is bursting into life, loving the showers and sunshine we’ve been having recently, and somehow those scant ten minutes of pottering, plucking pests from the leaves, turning the arbour cushions to dry and encouraging climbers to cling made me feel on top of the world.

My garden may not be the world’s biggest, but I find the whole world in my garden.

Appearances can be deceptive.