Playground games anyone?

So there we were, standing in the market, miming throwing tennis balls against a wall and trying to remember the rhyme that went with it. Anyone watching us would have thought we had gone completely bonkers! (as opposed to just slightly bonkers – as they already know we are)

Hopscotch grid from Wiki Commons - by Paul Farmer

All this began with a song I’d heard on the car radio on the way in, it wasn’t one of those ‘game rhymes’ but it had triggered off one of in my mind – or rather a snatch of it and I asked Anthea if she knew what the rest of it was.

It wasn’t long before we were reminiscing about other playground games from our (long ago) youth. Unlike hopscotch, which is ‘institutionalised’  in primary schools by having neat grids painted on the playgrounds, ( where we’d had to find a stone that could scratched a line, or a nub of chalk) I suspect that many playground games that we played may have died out.

How about this one? Do you remember ‘ The big ship sails through the alley alley oo,  the alley alley oo, the alley alley oo, on the first day of September ‘ ? Played by a chain of children, one with her hand pressed up against a wall, the child at other end of the chain leads under the arm against the wall, then under the next pair, and so on until the whole group is knotted up, then to the continuing refrain, they un-sew themselves. (or all fall over – depending on where you came from)   Having looked it up since, I find it is thought to be one of the last survivors of the ancient ‘thread-the-needle’ dance games. I wonder if it still surviving?

Clapping games were also popular in our small rural primary school. The clapping game ‘Have you ever, ever, ever, in your long legged life seen a long legged sailor with a long legged wife?’ was the rhyme I was trying to remember, as we also played it as a ball game, juggling a pair of tennis balls, bouncing them off the wall and doing a ‘drop, spin, catch’ on every ‘long legged life’ part.

And I can’t go without mentioning skipping games – particularly the ‘long rope’ games requiring two ‘turners’, one at either end – and usually a queue of children ready to jump in at their turn. ‘Keep the kettle boiling, never let it stop’  – w here you must jump into the rope at ‘keep’ and out of the rope at ‘stop’ edging your way forward on the skips so that the next person has room to jump in. Anyone missing the beat takes the rope end.  Or  ‘Salt, Vinegar, Mustard, PEPPER’ – where the first 3 words have leisurely two jump skips and at ‘pepper’ the rope is spun really fast. When you trip up you take the rope end and the turner joins the skipping.

You know, we really did ‘make our own fun’ back then.  A long length of heavy rope, a few tennis balls or even just a wall and we could fill every playtime with fun.

What games do you remember?

How many do you know of that are still being played by the primary age children of today?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you all!

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What are YOU reading?

Do you like reading?  I freely admit that I love reading, and have done so from a young age.  And I guess, if you are reading this, you probably do like reading, though I am well aware that there are many people who, though competent readers, do not read for pleasure.

So, what do you like reading? I am a generally a fiction reader.  I love to lose myself in a good story, well told.  However, I will read a weak story if it is written well and I will read a well-paced and interesting story even if it is poorly written. Actually, if I start a novel I will almost always finish it, giving it every chance to impress.

My dead-trees 'To Read' pile (with glasses always to hand!)

Recently I’ve been reading a collection of newspaper columns put together by their author as a book. This was given to me, otherwise I would probably never have chosen to read this book, however, I was pleasantly surprised. Caitlin Moran writes columns for the Times that veer between the amusing, mildly eccentric and the serious point of view.  It all depends on what she can find to write about that week (as she cheerfully admits). She even wonders if the role of the columnist is to give the letter (or email) writers something to rail against, commiserate or laugh with, or, even, for certain men of a certain age to ‘get off on’.  I found myself agreeing with some of her serious columns and going ‘oh really, tehe!’ at some of her sillier ones – but they were all entertaining ‘tooth-brushing’ reads

WHAT? Tooth-brushing reads? What are they? Well, it’s one of the ways I find time to read (as a very busy woman!) Cleaning teeth, if done properly, takes TIME, so I clean my teeth and read at the same time. A book with short chapters is ideal for this. I know, weird, but works for me 🙂

On the kindle I am reading two books at the moment. One is a writing craft book and the other is Jasper Fforde’s ‘One of Our Thursdays is Missing’ .

This is a fantasy novel set in ‘book world’ populated by characters from all the books ever written, their scenery and stories. They have to be ‘on hand’ to be read whenever a book is read in the real world. Like other Jasper Fforde books, you just have to get your head round the concept the book works under – but they are very clever with many smiles of recognition. The more you have read, the more you will find these gems in any of his novels.  And reading lots and reading widely is very important for any writer – so I can tell myself that this is ‘work’ no matter how much I am enjoying it ;).

The writing craft book needs a bit more time – as it has exercises that I (sometimes) do.  So I read this one when I can see quarter to half an hour free and am somewhere where I can jot down a few answers. Needless to say this means this book is taking longer to read than the Jasper Fforde which I use for reading at any short gap – waiting in the doctors, a quiet moment at a market, waiting for something to cook (that I daren’t go off and leave) – all sorts of odd moments. And because it’s on the kindle I have the font set larger than normal so I don’t even have to go and find my glasses before I can read!!

I am a (relatively new) member of Goodreads (book lovers group on the internet)  and occasionally get my act together to update my reviews of the books I have read. On Goodreads you form book-reading friendship groups and can follow another member who you think shares your tastes so you can pick up good recommendations from their reading list too. Like I said – I almost always finish any book I’ve started and so can usually find something to say about a novel, and then, having written the review I may slide into the Amazon page for the same book and leave a review there too.

It’s not that I’m that keen of spreading my opinions about books – it’s just that I am very aware how important reviews and ratings are to the Authors (at least to those of us who are not mega already) .  Amazon will ‘grade’ a book’s popularity by how many reviews it has got (as well as the star rating)  – so I will try to leave reviews there too – and hope that my readers will do the same for my novels.

So what are YOU reading? What was the last book you read?

Do you review?  If so, do you post on Amazon or Goodreads or somewhere else?

Do you read the reviews of a book before you buy?

How do you find time to read?

Do share your favourite reads  – we are all blog friends here – and I love to hear from you

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A Bute of a Problem?

I was wondering whether to join in the ‘horse meat masquerading as beef’ debate. After all it seems to be on every other news item as, one by one, the food giants discover that, yes, some of their products contain meat ‘other than that described on the box’.

Just yesterday Aldi joined Findus in admitting some of its meat products contained up to 100% horse meat. (image: twitter @pukkapixels)

Ok, Ok! There’s enough comment around I thought – I’ll not blog about it… but listening to a discussion on the radio I found myself talking to the radio (usual occurrence I’m afraid) saying ‘but that’s not the point!’  or ‘but that’s not the REAL problem!’ as speaker after speaker brought up their concerns about the situation.

They said things like – ‘It s terrible because I would never eat horse meat normally – I don’t think of horses as food’

or ‘I love horses and they shouldn’t be eaten. Would you eat your dog or your cat?’

or ‘I wouldn’t mind if it had been labelled as horse – at least you then had a choice.’

or ‘What is the problem? The French eat horse meat – you can buy it in the supermarket there.’

or  ‘I remember when horse meat was sold in the UK (this from elderly people) Nothing wrong with it!’

Even the presenters were mostly concerned that people thought they were eating beef, when they were actually eating horse.

True, you might not want to eat horse meat if  it broke your personal food taboo, as others would not eat dog or cat – but ultimately it would not kill you.  (The same goes for the traces of pork found in the halal foods – deeply distressing but not actually life-threatening)

What worries me is the lack of traceability, because it is horse rather than beef, and the possible contamination of the product by phenylbutazone also known as Bute*.   And moreover – if these ‘suppliers’ have no qualms about providing horse when they were supposed to supply beef – what other basic food hygiene and food safety rules are they ignoring?                *(yes , sorry – dreadful pun in my title – more of which later)

Bute (phenylbutazone) is a chemical that has been found to be seriously harmful to humans and so is banned for human use – yet it is still used to treat horses and remains in the meat. The independent veterinary committee reported that they were finding a rate of about 5% of the sample of horses slaughtered in the UK (for export as meat for human consumption) tested positive for bute. It’s banned (in horses for food use), so the number of non-compliant samples should be zero. This is in the UK!  Most of the horse meat that has found its way into the ‘beef’ products has come from other countries, including France and Romania – what might the percentage of bute treated horses discovered be,  if these were sampled?

And the lack of traceability – there’s a good reason we have saddled (no pun intended – this time) our farmers with a vast amount of bureaucracy concerning their livestock – it is so we know what it is and where it comes from and what it has had in form of treatment. I know from running a small-holding what enormously time consuming and costly procedures are in place to make sure that every stage of an animal’s life is recorded. The tags, the movement records, the administration of any medicines ( wormers etc)  All this our farmers have to go through to make sure the meat for sale is safe and traceable. Beef, lamb, pork, goat. All of which adds to the cost of the meat – but at least you do know where it has come from and what is in it.

What is the answer? Does it mean never buying ready-made meat-based foods? What about minced meats or sausages? Perhaps, if it doesn’t look like a chunk of meat you can identify (ie if it’s minced up) buy local – where you know where the meat has come from. At least buy meat from British, born, reared and slaughtered sources, where they are more likely to be covered by full traceability and UK welfare standards.

It’s so Punny – the way we react!

The other thing that has struck me about this latest food scare is the speed at which the British public turned ‘the horse meat scandal’ into a great excuse for puns and fun.

There was a pantomime horse wandering round a Tescos in Wales calling for its mother… an individual horse-headed man politely asking where the burgers were at another … there were whole pages of puns in some newspapers and all over twitter.

To end this serious post on a lighter note – I quite liked this – it’s a round up of the first wave of puns – by a charming pair of Scottish sock puppets – I hope it makes you smile too.

How have you been affected by this latest food scare? 

Are you surprised?  What do you think the problem REALLY is with food production?

Is it all a plot by vegetarians to take over the world? 🙂 

Have you any really funny horse/beef puns to share?

I love to hear from you – join the conversation!

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Baby, you can drive my car …

 … except, no one drove my first car but me – I was very possessive about my first car!

This week we have been looking for a new car. Not NEW as in NEW NEW – just new to us.

Anyway, we swanned off to Totnes to look at and test drive this car. The salesman lifted the bonnet and there was this shiny looking engine squeezed into the space.  There was no space around the engine whatsoever and, as I understand it, no home-maintenance can be done to this car without upsetting the  all computer controlled, and diagnosed, electronics.

It made me yearn for the simplicity of my very first car – a Morris 1000 Traveller.

This isn’t the photo I was actually looking for, that one has JUST me and my car, without the current boyfriend getting in on the picture – and shows the iconic wood-framed back to the Morris 1,000 Traveller. The wood frame that had to be rubbed down, scraped out and filled if there was any rot, and re-varnished every summer!

The ‘Traveller’ was an estate car – and was great for cramming loads of stuff into the back, often extra friends.  This at a time when seat belts in the front had only just become mandatory (that is to have them at all – let alone mandatory to wear them).  When the seats were all full, to have a couple of extra lads rattling around in the back was commonplace, after all, not many of us had cars at all and we lived in a village!

 Beep beep’m beep beep yeah

Not only did it have woodwork that you had to care for, but it also had a ‘choke’ you had to pull out before you tried to start the engine. If the battery wasn’t too good it had a handle you could insert into the front and crank the engine with. You sometimes had to double de-clutch to get it to change gear. It rattled alarmingly when it went over 60 (which wasn’t often as you could only do that if you went up the motorway – and I didn’t need to go that way very much) And there was so much room around the engine it felt like you could reach every part with no problem.

I have fond memories of that car! It is there in the background of  my social life from seventeen to twenty two – it is just as well it couldn’t talk 😉

 Beep beep’m beep beep yeah

It scared the life out of me once, when the brakes failed as I came up to a huge busy roundabout near Staines, a nifty bit of double-de-clutching slowed me enough to tuck behind a lorry (rather than going into the side of it) and I completed my journey using the gears and the handbrake until got home safely. It took me to my teacher training college everyday for the first year (while I still lived at home) and saw me right through the following three years of my training and degree.  And I still prefer to drive estate versions. Ahh! Memories!

Despite this fondness for my first car I have not been particularly attached to any of my other cars, or interested in makes and models, and I notice that even when cars appear in my novels they are barely described. Even in Some Kind of Synchrony, when the story within the story is told whilst driving back and forth to work, the type of car is never discussed. Interestingly, other novelists, perhaps ones more fixated on cars, often go into fine detail over the vehicles their protagonists drive. I can see the value in that and it is something that I shall think about when I start my next novel.

Do you have fond memories of your first car?  What make and model was it?

What do you remember most about cars you have owned?  What does the car a character drives, say about them to you?

Join in the conversation – you know I love to hear from you.

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