Friday, 6 June 2014

Frivolous Friday: An English Obsession . . . Antique Roadshows

One of the most fascinating things about moving to a new country is learning the foibles and idiosyncrasies of one's hosts. And trust me, the English have plenty of those. But one of the quaintest I've discovered is the obsession with antique fairs, roadshows and TV programmes about antique roadshows and fairs. 

Now, in all truth, I never watch TV – it cuts into valuable reading/blogging/writing time – but I admit to being a little captivated by the box when we first arrived in the UK. (In my defence, it was winter . . .) 

So imagine my surprise when I discovered that just about every channel had at least one antique-hunting-buying-selling programme. I was enthralled for a time. 

The kids rolled their eyes every time they walked into the lounge to see me – the mother they thought they knew – watching yet another couple of bargain hunters scratching through piles of junk at an antique flea market.

Then our very own antique flea market came to town and Andrew and I couldn't resist a visit. 

Elbowing pasts at least two camera crews filming eagle-eyed bargain hunters sporting t-shirts displaying the TV programme they represented, we carved a path through miles and miles and miles (did I mention it was miles?) of bric-a-brac. 

After the first hall I was satiated. I've never seen so many tin boxes, kitsch porcelains, glitzy costume jewelry and child-worn toys under one roof. And this was just the start.

Andrew had to keep reorientating me as we left one hall and stumbled to the next. I was like one of those whales who loses its sonar and ends up beached in the shallows. I kept wanting to go back the way I came . . . I swear, every thing just looked the same and my senses were jangling.

The visit did serve one useful purpose, though . . . it cured my obsession for antique auctioneering programmes on TV. With nothing left to watch, I now do what I was designed to do – read. So much more satisfying.

Who would actually pay good money for this stuff?

Coffin brasses?
Yup. The seller assure me they'd never actually been used . . . 

Who still collects printer's trays?
Or thimbles?
The final word in kitch?

Happy weekend all from a gloriously sunny Lincolnshire. Long may the sunshine last!


P.S. Comments always appreciated. 
P.P.S They stop me feeling as if I'm writing into the great void. . . 

Friday, 30 May 2014

Frivolous Friday: Just When I thought I'd Died And Gone To Heaven . . .

The churchyard at St Firmin's church in Thurlby
About two weeks ago we had summer. It was fantastic. The days were balmy – a magnificent 20 degrees C – without a cloud in the sky. Not a breath of wind. Idyllic. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

And then there were the nights . . .  

As I wrestled with my sheets, I was reminded of my grandmother's mantra: Ladies do not sweat, they glow. Men apparently perspire. It's left to horses and other beasts of burden to actually drip salty water. Or something like that. 

Anyway – despite my brother's evil prognostications that it couldn't last – the weather was so blissful, I actually packed away my winter pyjamas – the ones with the colourful sheep on that I love so much. 

I even pulled out all my summer gear – shorts and t-shirts – and went so far as to wash them. Clothes tend to get musty, crumpled for nine months in storage boxes. 

(Is it really so long ago that the sun generated enough heat to be discernable on this soggy patch of planet Earth? Ah, well, let us not dwell on such gloomy thoughts . . .)

During that glorious interlude of sunshine and warmth, I actually managed to glow onto two pairs of shorts and two t-shirts. 

And then?




Incessant bloody rain. 

Piddling down like there's no tomorrow. 

All it needs is a howling gale and this could be Cape Town in mid-winter. 


They – the eternally optimistic English (did I mention how irritating all that positiveness can be?) – tell me all is not lost and we may still get another couple of warm days before Autumn set in . . . in September. 

I'm not holding my breath. All Hail The English Summer!

So, wherever you are, enjoy what the elements are flinging at you. It cannot be worse than the deluge we're having.


PS. Don't be shy to comment. Despite my acerbic humour, I don't bite. Much.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Deathmaker by Lindsay Buroker

Ah,  Lindsay Buroker . . .  
A lady who can spin a mean yarn!!!! 

This one is full of pirates, flying machines, and a sharp-shootin' gal who who can skin your nose with a rock from a hundred yards away. 

Set in a steampunk world complete with magic, war, adventure, plenty of escapes, and a good dollop of a fancy gooey concoction with remarkable metal-melting properties, it's brilliant stuff. I just loved it. 

In fact, my traitorous heart even thinks it prefers this little number to Lindsay's Emperor's Edge series!! 

How is that possible when I do love Amaranthe and Sicarius so much? (If you haven't read those books you are doing yourself a serious disservice, and I would suggest you rectify that oversight without further ado.)

But as much as I love A&S from Emperor's Edge, Cal and Tolemek from Deathmaker have absolutely stolen my heart. 

Cal is the ultimate impetuous shoot-first-ask-questions-later heroine. 

Tolemek - despite his dastardly nickname Deathmaker - is a smart, Captain Jack Sparrowish (Pirates of the Caribbean) hero with a penchant for making gooey substances (from snake and spider venom) with both deadly and benign properties. 

The chemistry between these two sworn enemies is fun to read, although, unlike Balanced on a Blade's Edge (the first in this series) this is more of an adventure than a romance. For those who loved Balanced on a Blade's Edge, Ridge, Sardelle and Jaxi also appear in this one. That said, Cal and Tolemek are definitely the show-stealers.

As we can expect from Lindsay, the action is fast-paced and riddled with her usual witty dialogue. There is even an unexpected twist at the end to keep it from becoming predictable. 

And . . . tara tara . . . no deluge scene! No water at all! To understand this reference see my Blade's Edge review

So, after this rave review, what didn't I like? 

Okay, I admit, this sounds shallow, but the cover . . . 

I know, I know, I did choose this one when Lindsay posted her options on Facebook for comment, but it was the best of a boring lot . . . 

Maybe it's just me, but I find the blue very dull. Tolemek deserves better . . .

So, if you haven't read this yet, I suggest you rush out and buy it. And in case you are wondering how much Lindsay paid me for this review . . . nada - other than a free copy for comment. 

But, let it be said, hand on heart, this is my honest opinion of a fantastic story. I can't wait to read more about these guys. 


Friday, 23 May 2014

Frivolous Friday: One Does Not Simply Drive Into Heathrow

No kidding! Especially if you are stupid enough to have booked yourself onto a 10am plane. But, innocent that I am, in the quest to be a good wife I have now fallen twice into the get-to-Heathrow-on-time-through-the-traffic trap. I must be either insane or I love Andrew very much. I haven't quite figured out which is which.

My first foray into the madness of the M25 highway happened a week or so ago when I had to get him to Terminal One for a 10 o'clock flight to the US.

I thought we had set off in a timely manner. Five thirty in the morning is flippin' early, if you ask me, especially for a trip that should only take 1 hour and 42 minutes according to Google maps.

They lied.

Try three and a half hours and you might just make it in time to witness them slamming closed the gate to your flight.

The problem? Forget about bumper-to-bumper traffic, you couldn't have slipped a playing card between the almost stationary cars stretched for about 30 miles ahead of us . . .

And the worst? I was desperate for the loo.

Ever heard that crude expression 'my back teeth were floating'? Yeah, well, they were. Just about.

But as the clock hands clicked relentlessly towards gate closure time, there was no hope of mentioning a pit stop to Andrew. He was grinding his teeth to the gums in frustration . . . We had stopped counting trucks carrying pipes and trucks carrying big cranes some hours back. . .  We do that to pass the time on long trips. (He won, by the way . . .)

I finally turfed him out the car at Heathrow a few minutes before nine, waited to see if he'd made the flight - he did. Just. And then I sped off to find the closest service station - only to discover it's about thirty miles from Heathrow . . . by that time I was driving with my legs crossed. Trust me, that's an interesting manoeuvre, but I think the subject for a post on another day.

So, walking into Mordor? Those black gates guarded by Orcs are nothing compared to the perils of the getting to Heathrow via the M25.

And as for the air? The poison fumes come from nothing more than ten thousand car exhausts. I added a blinding headache, even with the window closed, to my woes by the time I reached the terminal building. That airport sure guards its departure lounges well.

And to think I used to complain about a 40 minute drive in bad traffic to Cape Town International airport. We honestly don't know when we're spoilt!

Have a great weekend

Friday, 18 April 2014

Frivolous Friday: New Birth

Easter has always been special. Unlike Christmas, it's a more introspective time for me. Must be something to do with a real person - not just a book character - being willing to die for me. Pretty humbling that. And then there's the promise of new birth that comes with Easter Sunday that always fills me with joy.

Up until my move to England, all my Easters were spent in the southern hemisphere where the world is slipping majestically into Autumn. Now, I love Autumn, I really do. Little can beat the golds and reds as the trees turn, but as romantic as that is, Autumn still bodes death.

Spring, on the other hand, means life and new beginnings. Deep, huh! Yeah well, that said, this Easter in England has been a totally new experience as Lincolnshire bursts into life around me. I don't think I've ever seen such a profusion of blossoms of every hue. Every tree is laden with flowers, sending me into sensory overload.
My blossoms amid the blossoms

And then there are the daffodils - growing wild in places, exactly as Wordsworth saw them over two hundred years ago.

I wandered lonely as a cloud . . . 

How can I fail to mention the bluebells in the woods? My mind goes into overdrive, imagining fairies around every tree stump.

And then there are rape seed fields burning yellow as far as the eye can see. Set against the blue sky (yes, sometimes it is blue, even in England) and the emerald grass, the golden yellow is insane. Only a master creator could have envisaged something so magnificent. Pity my photo doesn't do it justice.

Rape Seed Fields

I  know Easter is for everyone, everywhere, but I can't help think there was a real significance to the tomb opening in Spring in Jerusalem. Here's wishing you all a wonderful Easter whether you believe or are just enjoy enjoy the bank holiday. May your weekend be filled with joy.



I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

Frivolous Friday: When The Fun Fair Comes To Town

When I was a kid I loved Enid Blyton's books, especially her adventure stories with the Famous Five and, maybe less so, the Secret Seven. Apart from thrilling me with exciting tales in which children did extraordinary things (that, in a day when kids were seen and not heard and adults controlled everything), she also introduced me to the wonder of the English countryside.

I was enthralled by her descriptions of secret islands, haunted castles, forbidding forests, and green meadows where sheep grazed and noisy dogs chased rabbits. But her most enduring legacy were the tinkers and gypsies. I still sometimes (often) dream of packing it all in and taking off in my horse-drawn caravan, complete with pots and pans dangling from the back bumper. Only today my caravan would be Andrew and my handcrafted, custom-built four wheel drive camper designed to go anywhere as long as the countryside is stunning and far away from people . . .

Reality check!

Part of the appeal of Enid Blyton's gypsies and tinkers was the fun fair that always accompanied them where young adventurers could get themselves into no end of trouble from shifty-eyed tambola operators.

The old and the new.
That church is about nine-hundred-years-old. I bet it could tell a tale or two  . . .

Travelling fun fairs were pretty much alien concepts where I grew up, so the idea of a hundred colourful caravans pulling into town loaded with thrill rides was utterly enchanting. I would dream of eating toffee apples (yuk) and candy floss (not much better) while winning that blue-eyed doll at the archery stand. Dreams are great . . .

So imagine my delight this week when the fun fair arrived unexpectedly in my town. (Okay, everyone else knew about it, but see my point above about getting away from people. My hermit tendencies often mean I miss out on the cool stuff.)

Back to my story.

Unfortunately, my discovery of the fun fair came when I was looking for parking. So, instead of being enchanted, I was just plain irritated. It seems that fifteen minutes spent inching along narrow streets - care of our medieval town planners - cluttered with colourful caravans and enormous thrill rides does that to me. What a let down.

Having teenage girls helps though, and E & K, my pair, where not missing out on a chance to have their teeth rattled from their heads while being shot a hundred feet into the sky by a giant hydraulic catapult, so we grabbed a group of friends and hit the fair.

Even though the weather was misty and cold (it is spring in England, after all) I'm happy to announce that my heart was warmed by the experience.

Enchanted, in fact. But to honest, I have to admit that was mainly the result of all the twinkly lights - another obsession of mine - sparking on every ride, luring us suckers in. Unable to resist the gaudy horses, I fell for a carousel. It was fantastic! I felt like a child again.

So, how do take a good pic of a carousel?
Because this certainly isn't one.

Did I see any shifty-eyed tombola operators? Nah. They must have all been off at some forbidden castle chasing banshees . . .

Enjoy the pics . . . and have a wondrous weekend filled with fun.

I couldn't resist this.
Every time I see a giant tea cup I am reminded of Lilith from Cheers telling Fraser to go an find his manhood on the giant tea cups . . .

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Balanced on the Blade's Edge by Lindsay Buroker

Lindsay Buroker is one of the few authors for whom I will rearrange my reading schedule, so when she called for reviewers for her latest book, Balanced on the Blade's Edge, I was there. Just like I stopped what I was doing on Facebook (mindless trawling, if I'm honest) to follow the link to her help-me-choose-a-cover-for-said-book post. Happy to announce that I picked the cover she finally went with. Don't you just love it?

So, all this might lead you to believe that I am biased about her writing and that you can in no way trust this review. Not so. I love Lindsay's work but I'm not totally blind to her quirks and foibles. To find out more, read on . . .

Balanced on a Blade's Edge is a gripping, fun read in which we meet two charming characters: Ridge and Sardelle.

Ridge is a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants colonel with more demerits than medals who is sent as a punishment to command a vital prison mine in a hostile environment. I loved him. Great character and I would definitely like to read more of his exploits. How about some novellas of his early days, Lindsay?

Sardelle is a sorcerer who went into stasis three hundred years ago and woke to find her world destroyed, and now a bunch of blood-thirsty, sex-crazed miners are rummaging through the rubble. Luckily the new commanding officer is hot and seems to have a interest in this strange new 'prisoner'. . . Sardelle has all the usual kick-butt qualities we expect from Lindsay's heroines. But what made her interesting was that although she has mega-power in a world of mundanes, she can't use any of it in case the numbskulls burn her at the stake for being a witch. Nice twist. It also made for a sizzling ending.

So with characters in place, what follows is a typical Lindsay Buroker extravaganza. Regular readers of her works will recognise - and love - the usual sharp-witted banter that flows so easily from her pen. They will also be familiar with another of her favourite plot devices . . . yes, there is another deluge scene. Lindsay does love destroying things with water, and it makes fun reading even if it is a bit predictable. There, you see, not a blind reviewer throwing out bouquets - there's an implied criticism there. I admit to an eye roll when the water came, and yes, it robbed the story of its fifth star. But maybe that's just me . . . The rest of her readers may still love the water.

What I did love, though, was the freshness of the:
1. Setting. A prison mine that was once the home to a dynasty of sorcerers. Good stuff!
2. The magic. I loved the concept of Jaxi, the soulblade who could speak in Sardelle's mind. To find out more about that, you will just have to read the book.
3. Flying. That was fun, but I would have loved to know more about the flyers Ridge flew. 
4. The ending. Coooool! And so unpredictable. Only trouble was, I was miserable when it was all over.

So, yes, I loved Balanced on the Blade's Edge and would definitely want to read more about these characters. I am sure that world has a place for a wild flyer colonel and a displaced sorcerer. 

How about it Lindsay?


Monday, 31 March 2014

US versus UK cover: Fateful: by Claudia Gray

First a quick review . . . 

The book blurb calls this a: A tragic tale about falling in love on the world’s most infamous ill-fated sea voyage as heroine, Tess, discovers darker secrets that lie beneath the doomed crossing… and a hidden brotherhood that threaten to tear her lover from her forever.

This  was a fun read that didn't tax too many of my grey cells. Tess and Alec, the two MCs, are very nicely sketched and Mikhail is great bad guy. Sadly, both Tess and Alec fell prey to that young adult nasty, instalove, but despite that, their love was sweet and believable. When confronted by seemingly insurmountable danger, Alec was even willing to step away from her to do the right thing. I rather like that about him. My only other criticism was that I found the Lisle family for whom Tess works as a maid to be a little stereotypical, which was unfortunate. In fact, Lady Regina harked back quite a bit to Rose's mother in the James Cameron version of the Titanic movie.

The really interesting thing about the book, though, was the setting. It was constantly in my mind that regardless of what was happing in the plot, everything was going to come crashing down when the ship hit the iceberg. After the crash, I again had visions of the movie which somewhat dispelled the scenes and the tension Claudia Gray was trying to create. It's mighty hard competing against a mega-buster movie shot in techni-colour. 

I did enjoy the ending though - especially as this book is a stand-alone and I don't have to wait years to get to the end of a series. 

So, if like a lightweight paranormal, then you will enjoy this. I gave it three stars. 

Now to the covers . . . 

How different are these?

This is the US cover. Pretty, but not as eye-catching as the UK version, although I have read on Goodreads that the lettering is embossed, which would make a difference if you were seeing it in a bookstore, I suppose.

This is the UK version, which I own. I'll admit, I think it's a bit garish and perhaps also a bit misleading. That dress doesn't look even vaguely Edwardian. I do like the moon, though.

So what do you think? Which cover is better? Leave a comment because I'd love to hear from you.


Friday, 28 March 2014

Frivolous Friday: The British Obsession With The Weather: Careful, It's Catchy

I come from a country with a reputation for year round sunshine. In fact, I grew up to the strains of a radio commercial (we didn't have TV back in South Africa then) that went like this: "We love braaivleis (barbecued meat), rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet.

Then I moved to Cape Town and all that changed. But Cape Town is in South Africa, I hear you say.

Windmill: Taken by Andrew White

True. But Cape Town has the worst climate in Africa. No contest. It's so bad that us Capetonians often claim that our beloved Mother City doesn't actually have climate. It has weather. Often four different types in one day.

When you add a winter of howling gales, horizontal rain, and miserable cold that starts in May and petters out at the end of November into the mix, you begin to understand why Capetonians don't boast about the weather. Much. You see, even in winter we do get the occasional  - and I do mean occasional - perfect, windless, sunny day that makes us forgive the other 240 miserable ones. That's when we really start bragging.

Come summer, the gloating stops because now Cape Town is at its magnificent worst. December brings more wind: Chilling gales that come howling off the Southern Atlantic, keeping everything decidedly cold. They also make a trip to the beach an exercise in endurance, dodging sandstorms. But by the beginning of January all that changes with temperatures now soaring deep into the 90s and often topping the 100s. Then, just when we think we will expire, Autumn comes, bringing March and April, two perfect months. And the whole cycle starts again.

But in all the years I lived there, I never had a weather app on my phone. (Okay, one comes standard on the iPhone, but I never used it) I also never hung out with people to whom the vagaries of the weather are the primary topic of every conversation.

Cape Town: The Mother City

So imagine my surprise when I arrived in England to discover that every conversation - whether on the radio, in the supermarket, at a friend's house, at church, anywhere - is proceeded by a loooong discussion on the weather. And being England - another country with positively foul weather - you can imagine how depressing those discussion can be. And the English absolutely relish it. I swear, nothing gives the weatherman more pleasure than to announce that: "It will be a dull day, with ice to start, gales by lunchtime, rain by tea, and, oh yes, don't forget to cover the plants because air frost will follow."

Worse even than that, my weather app now has scuff marks from the number of times I look at it a day. It's like the bodysnatchers came past, taking Capetonian me with them, leaving this weather obsessed shadow behind.

Ah, dear me, brain rot. I've been here way to long.

Have a fun weekend.


PS: My husband Andrew jokes that it's highly possible that the mapmakers got the shape of England wrong . . . Who can tell? There are so few clear days on which to check.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

What pet would you own if you lived in a faction from Divergent by Veronica Roth?

Let me begin by apologising to my readers who are not obsessed with the Divergent trilogy (Goodreads) by Veronica Roth, and really couldn't care about pets or factions, but today you have come to the wrong place. My daughters and I are definitely committed Divergent fans. (I'll leave it to you to decide exactly where we should be committed to. . . )

Sadly, we still haven't had a chance to see the movie because - bad mother that I am - I left booking tickets too late. (Okay, maybe I'm not quite as obsessed as Erin and Kate)

Anyway, this post grew out of my daughter Erin's complaints about the way her black jeans (getting a picture here?) attract Labrador fur (my Lab is molting at the moment. Scratch at the moment - she's always molting) But I digress. Again. Holley's deposits on Erin's jeans got us thinking about what pets we'd own if we lived in a faction in Veronica Roth's world. So here goes . . .

Abnegation: We wouldn't own a pet because that would be seen as self-indulgent.

Erudite: All the pets would be down at the labs, being experimented. I suppose we could keep a rat . . . I'd name mine Caleb.

Dauntless: Dobermans and Rottweilers. Don't try and pet them because they'll rip your arm off.

Amity: Anything as long as it's cuddly.

Have a fun day!


Monday, 24 March 2014

It's Amazing What A Plan Can Do! Review: The Author Training Manual

Since arriving in England seven months ago, I have been floundering. In my defense, moving countries is not for sissies, but still, for months now I've been treading water. (I wrote an evocative post entitled Living in the Twilight Zone about this, which you can find here)

I'm now pleased to announce officially that all that has changed. No, I haven't left Thurlby, and yes, every day still brings things that overwhelm me, but I am a new person, armed with a plan to kickstart my life. And by that I don't just mean my writing and blogging. Every part of me that matters - my family, my reading, my weight, (gained too much thanks to comfort eating) and my church callings - have come under the spotlight and I'm finally ready to move forward. So what happened to bring this metamorphosis about?

Like most wonderful things, my plan came in the form of a book, this one with the improbable title of: The Author Training Manual: Develop Marketable Ideas, Craft Books That Sell, Become the Author Publishers Want, and Self-Publish Effectively. (GoodreadsPhew, that's quite a mouthful, but it pretty much sums up everything the book is about.

The author, Nina Amir, covers everything from building a winning attitude, to evaluating your book and its market so you can publish successfully. Truthfully, a lot of the motivational stuff was very familiar, but it certainly didn't harm to hear it again - especially since my life has been petty grim, focused more on survival than success. 

What I really liked about the book, though, is that it comes with worksheets. Now I'm not a great 'worksheeter', lacking the necessary patience to make them sing for me. This time I have been meticulous, and guess what? Surprise, surprise, I got TONS from the process. 

So, deadlined-up in every aspect of my life that matters, I can now safely declare that 2014 will not only see me lose about half my body weight, (Just kidding. Sort off) it will also deliver three books ready for publication. 

Yes, three books. Not half bad for the OCD book editor! (see post here) By November 2014, I will have three books completed and ready for publishing, namely:
  1. Pledged, the re-edit of my young adult fantasy, 
  2. Sacrificed, the sequel to Pledged
  3. Torn Trousers, a totally unrelated memoir about escaping life in the fast lane. This one is set on a desert island in the Okavango Delta in Botswana 
You will be hearing more about these books in the coming months. 

Excited and motivated here, I'm rearing to go. I honestly feel motivated for the first time in months. That has got to be good. 


Friday, 21 March 2014

Frivolous Friday: Are we defined by what we eat?

Definitely. Food, that all important stuff not only keeps us alive, but it defines us too.  Huh. You maybe, but not me, I hear you think. Well, imagine this: An Indian without curry. Or the English without roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. The mind barely goes there. Even us South Africans have our favourites. What would life be without koeksisters, boerewors, bunny chow and All Gold Tomato Sauce? In a word: MISERABLE. And I don't even like boereworsBut there, I've said it: life is miserable without them because food is part of what defines us, telling us how to see ourselves. It provides us with home from which we then build our homes. Deep stuff. 

But as an aside, in case you think I'm being literal, I don't see really myself as a stukkie wors, exactly. (Translated from Afrikaans, a stukkie wors is piece of boerewors sausage. See glossary below. For the uninitiated, boerewors is a South African institution a bit like sunshine, rugby and Nelson Mandela. It's total sacrilege to admit to not liking it. People have been stoned for less.)

But, I digress.

Before I came to England, I had no idea how important food and shopping for food was. In the past, I would sally down to my local supermarket, grab a trolley (shopping cart, for my American readers), and breeze down the aisles, chucking in familiar products as I went. An entire monthly grocery shop for a family of five would be done in twenty minutes. Half an hour tops. I admit, I'm a very predictable shopper with a list in my head that I hardly ever deviate from. My world would collapse if they ever dared rearrange the supermarket shelves . . .

And that was the main problem when I arrived in England.

Picture Aladdin stumbling into the robbers' cave.
See his expression.
Hear his whoop of delight.
Then freeze the frame.
Now tell him he has twenty minutes to fill his trolley with everything he thinks he needs for a month. Sure, he'll just grab at the brightest, sparkliest bling. Who wouldn't? 
Fast forward to him getting home, parking his magic carpet in the garage, and unpacking his haul. Watch his delight turn to consternation.
Hear him gasp, "How in heaven's name am I supposed to live - feed a family - on this lot? Where's the pre-chopped butternut squash we eat once a week? Or those really useful packs of pre-made chicken ala king sauce that are always so handy when I'm in a rush?" 
Feel the slap from the cold hand of reality. 
Gone. All of them. 

Nothing in Tescos, or Sainsbury's or any of the UK stores look ANYTHING like what I used to buy back in South Africa. Even the Cadbury's chocolate tastes different. So now a twenty minute shop has become an epic - almost like trying to find the Holy Grail. 

In the beginning, I actually cleared my diary for shopping day. And then there's the humiliation . . . yes, the humiliation of standing for ten minutes staring at the peanut butter, wondering which tasted anywhere near as good as Yum Yum. The other shoppers would look at me like I was some kind of peanut butter pervert. I shudder to imagine what they were thinking exactly . . . 

When I shared my shopping nightmare with my sister-in-law, Kaz, she told me of a South Africa woman she knew who actually broke down and cried at the tomato sauce aisle in a store in Perth, Australia. I feel for you, sister! By the way, like half the rest of South Africa, Kaz and my bother moved to Perth, Australia a few years ago. 

But months on, I have to admit, it's not all bad.

We didn't have Bakewell tarts back home, or easily accessible Doctor Pepper, or really cheap Terry's Chocolate Orange. 
Bakewell Tarts. A very good reason for moving to England

I guess one must count one's blessings. Or, as as those people filled with annoyingly positive optimism would say:  Bloom where you're planted. 

My roots are still a little on the fragile side, but I'm getting there.

Enjoy the weekend. And for my South African readers - have a braai for me!

Glossary of Terms

koeksister: An amazingly delicious, super-sweet, deep-fried, plated doughnut dunked in syrup. Served chilled. To die for.

Boerewors: A greasy, highly spiced sausage, often barbecued - or as we say in South Africa, braaied - and usually served in a hot dog roll. The smell of braaiing boerie hangs heavy in the air over the suburbs of South Africa, especially over weekends.

Bunny chow: Another food designed to slam your arteries shut. Usually bought as takeout, bunny chow consists of a hollowed-out half loaf of bread - usually white - filled with vegetable or meat curry. Nothing beats coming back from a really long camping trip in the bush, stopping at the first take-away, (usually reeking of rancid cooking oil) buying a bunny chow and plunking down on the pavement to eat it with your fingers. Now that's civilization.

All Gold Tomato Sauce: The best brand of tomato sauce - ketchup - in the universe. No exaggeration.

Yum Yum: See comment above about All Gold Tomato sauce, only here it applies to peanut butter.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Hello, My Name Is Gwynn And I'm OCD

"Hey, wait! Me, OCD? What idiot wrote that title? That Obsessive Compulsive Disorder-thingy that has people washing their hands fifty times a minute is not me. You've got the wrong person."

"Really? Are you sure about that?"

"Of course! I mean, I would know, wouldn't I?"

"Maybe not."

"Listen, there's absolutely nothing obsessive about me except perhaps for . . . "

"Ah! Light bulb moment. Care to elaborate?"

"Not really."

"Growing old here."

"Okay, okay. I admit, one of my slightly more annoying habits could build a case for OCD."

"Build a case! Are you kidding? We could write textbooks."

All right, I get the message. I admit that I'm one of the most OCD people in the world with an affliction that goes under the all-encompassing label of 'excessive editing'.

Anyone one else suffer from that? Non writers out there will shake their heads, wondering what on earth I'm talking about. Writers, on the other hand, will nod their heads sagely, and some might even add, "Ah, poor girl. Spare a thought for her and her writing projects because they both died in the frantic search to eliminate that final adverb and to add that final coma."

Arghhhhhhhh. I could shriek until my throat bleeds.

At the moment I have five books sitting on my computer in various stages of 'editing' (my editing, not even my editor's editing, sob), but do you think I can contain the urge to tweak, and to retweak, and to retweak yet again to get the damn things finished? No. It's totally and utterly and irrevocably beyond my OCD capabilities.

So, time to call in help.

And for this I have to thank one of my favourite authors and bloggers, Lindsay Buroker. Lindsay is nothing if not proficient having written and published ten novels and a bunch of novellas in three years, so she seems like the person I should be listening to. In a blog post this week she recommended a book for suffers like me.

Convinced, as I always am by her prose, I rushed all out of breath across to Amazon and downloaded it onto my Kindle. I will be exploring its pages this week, and hopefully, prayerfully, pleadingly, I will soon be pumping out 10k of good words in day. Personally, I think that's a bit optimistic for someone as OCD as me, but then that might just be the black monster of negativity talking. Down boy!

The black monster of negativity? Ah yes, him. But that's a subject of another post. In the meantime, wish me luck as my OCD and I face each other for a showdown. High Noon all over again.


Friday, 14 March 2014

Frivolous Friday: The Difference between South Africans and the English.

I know, I know, political correctness says we should embrace similarities, not differences, but sometimes the differences are so glaring that to ignore them would be like pretending the freight train barreling down the track towards you isn't really moving. That's just daft and I try not to do daft. Too often at least. But still, here I go into the shunting yard of national quirks and idiosyncrasies of both South Africans and the English. (Please go easy on me in the comments section.)

In my last Frivolous Friday post I mentioned English accents and how unspeakably difficult it sometimes is to figure out what people are saying. Well, it seems the knife cuts both ways. South Africans have accents too, apparently.

Of course I knew that before I came to England. I mean, I can recognise a guttural Afrikaans accent thick with rolled r's and g's anywhere. Not to mention a quirky Cape Coloured accent filled with 'jay's' and 'nay's. Or a black accent peppered with 'wekers' and 'eishes'. But I never thought I had a South African accent. No siree, I was exempt, because back home most people asked if I came from England. Now everywhere I go people ask if I'm from South Africa. How weird is that?

But one thing that having an accent does do is open doors to interesting conversations. Like the differences between the English and the South Africans.

Did you know that the English think us South Africans brash? A bit like Americans and Australians apparently. In fact, just by writing this post, I'm probably being 'brash'. But you must understand, the English would never actually use the word 'brash'. That is far too in your face. 'Brash' is what South Africans would say. My English friends gently accuse me of being 'direct'. That is not necessarily a compliment.

That is not the only difference between us. There is another that has taken me almost seven months to figure out. You see, where a South African would use one word to explain something, the English will use seven. That is being polite. Longwinded, but polite. Back in South Africa, we say why use seven when one will do? See? Brash.

Now I'm in England I have become ever conscious of how I am perceived. After all, I do want to become part of the nation. So suppressing the urge to speak bluntly and to express strong opinions has become a daily quest. I admit, I'm not very good at it yet, but watch this space . . . who knows, one day I might even be as English as the English: self-depreciating, with razor-sharp sarcasm delivered with a deadpan face. That would be a fine thing.

Enjoy your weekend.


Friday, 7 March 2014

Frivolous Friday: Life In The Twilight Zone

Almost seven months have passed since I arrived in the UK with my family. To say those months have been tumultuous would be an understatement. True to the experience of all immigrants (many of them my friends and family who transplanted themselves to other parts of the world), my parcel of challenges – some expected, others complete whammies – was waiting for me when I arrived at Newcastle upon Tyne airport.

Yes, we landed in north where the accents are so broad we wondered if the people were actually speaking English. Check out this beauty told to me in a parking lot: ‘gan canny or you’ll dunsh summick.’ Translation: Go carefully or you’ll crash into something. As a generic observation, seven months in and I still struggle with some of the accents. Yes, I’m talking to you, the Brummie I met at the tyre fitment centre in Redditch . . .

Anyway, back to the beginning of my story.

For the first month here, my brother’s cottage in Frosterly in Durham County was our home – hence our arrival at Newcastle. Part of the reason we landed there was that, quite frankly, we didn’t know where else to go. Unlike many immigrants, Andrew and I brought an existing business – an internet-based one that knows no boundaries - to England, so we were not headed for a specific job in a specific town. This was the first challenge. Erin tells with some delight of walking into the lounge to see us throwing darts at the map of England. She’s exaggerating. We were poking it with teaspoons. The biggest splash of hot chocolate landed on Lincolnshire, so that's where we settled.

Did you know that the south-eastern parts of Lincolnshire, known as the Fens, are amongst the flattest places in England, maybe even the world? No? Well, we didn’t either. That was quite a shock after the mountains of Somerset West. But the worse was yet to come.

In our desire for village life, we rented a house in a hamlet (spot the mistake) named Thurlby. Now, let me describe Thurlby to you. If my grandfather were still alive, he would have said that it's the kind of town where they roll up the pavements and roads after six in the evening. He was of Cockney descent, so I’ll admit his humour was a bit dry, but that perfectly sums up life in Thurlby.

So it came as no surprise when Erin and Kate started muttering things like ‘old age home’, ‘morgue’ and ‘our parents have gone mad’ within days of arriving. A month in and we had a full-scale rebellion on our hands. My daughters, who have moved about ten times in nineteen years, were demanding that we pack up and leave. Instantly. London became the mantra, but when the cost of rentals in the Greatest City On Earth blasted that idea out the sky, they took up a new cry: 'please, anywhere but Thurlby'. But tied to a lease and their schooling, moving isn’t that simple. So here we linger, in the twilight zone that is Thurlby.

Still, hope beacons . . . Come June, when the schools close for summer, we’ll be doing the great migration again, this time to Worcestershire - the county that inspired the Shire in Tolkien’s Hobbit. How can that be bad?

Until then, I take pleasure in simple things . . . the lengthening of the days, spring blossoming around me . . . new bird calls . . . crocuses, seen for the first time, daffodils growing wild . . . the anticipation of bluebell . . . like I say, simple things.
The daffodils in St James Park, London

Crocus and snowdrops seen on the walk to the post office. Yes, Thurlby does at least have a post office and a tiny convenience store. We count our blessings . . .

Isn't that colour amazing? Crocus seen at an open garden near Thurlby

Daffies in Green Park, London

Now for those wondering . . . yes, my blog went off the air for a while, but now I’m back, hoping to charm you with short observations on life in England, the occasional book review, and the odd commentary on writing and publishing the perfect novel. I hope you will join me in my journey.

Until later

PS. Kate still thinks Andrew and I are as daft as a pair of brushes for not moving to London.  

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