A dreadful language?

How does anyone ever learn English?  I came across this poem in a magazine in the local surgery’s waiting room.  If I’d written it, I wouldn’t choose to be anonymous.  The poem-writer is, or was, very clever.   Does anyone know its history?

The English Language

I take it you already know

Of tough and bough and cough and dough?

Others may stumble, but not you

On hiccough, thorough, slough and through.

Well done!  An now you wish, perhaps,

To learnof less familiar traps?


Beware of heard, a dreadful word

That looks like beard and sounds like bird.

And dead; it’s said like bed, bot bead.

For goodness sake, don’t call it deed!

Watch out for meat and great and threat

(they rhyme with suite and straight and debt).


A moth is not a moth in mother,

Nor both in bother, broth in brother.

And here is not a match for there,

Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,

And then there’s does and rose and lose –Just look them up – and goose and choose,


And cork and work and card and ward

And font and front and word and sword,

And do and go and thwart and cast –

Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start.

A dreadful language?  Man alive,

I mastered it when I was five.     ANON



I’m horrified to see that there’s a hole in my website that’s letting in spam and seeping it through to Facebook, and probably other social media sites. I’ll spend this morning trying to plug the leakage. Back to LiveChat as per the cartoon?

Hours and hours

I’ve moaned about this before; that is, spending time on social media.  Engagement involves more than writing posts, commenting and replying to others. Hours and hours can be spent on polishing up your online presence. The other day I got into one of those tangles that involve clicking on the Help button. Most of us will have experienced that long wait for a response. Messages come up thanking us for our patience. They can’t see the demented person reading that message, displaying all signs of a total lack of patience.  It led me to while away the time drawing the scene.

How did I do?

There may be people  who never feel the need for feedback.  Perhaps even Trappist monks occasionally feel let down when they spend the day in prayer and no-one says at the end “Well done.”  If you cook a meal, and I don’t mean just heat up a readymade, you’re encouraged to repeat the performance if it’s greeted with appreciation.  Even as the daily cook in our household of two, I know I like to hear some kind of response, even if it’s just the question, “Is there any more?”

Yesterday, 26th April, I received the consultant’s report after a CT colonoscopy on March 31st.    During the wait, I’d felt reasonably confident the result would be clear.  Yet it is all too easy to fill silences with imaginary bad news.  So I was relieved to learn that the scan showed up nothing untoward.  Better than this was the consultant’s style.  His letter read like a kindly schoolteacher’s summing up of the term’s work:  “the bowel was well prepared” … “this is a reassuring investigation”.  It made me feel like a praised pupil and led me to think about feedback, how useful it can be, not just for morale but for guidance.

This morning I played around with something that turned up in the (possibly) haphazard way that happens when we log onto our emails.  Google suggested I create a form.  So I’ve come up with a feedback form for “White Lies”.  Whether this will be useful or not remains to be seen.  I’ve had good reviews posted on the novel’s Amazon page but many readers don’t bother.  Others are given the book or borrow it, so they are not ‘verified purchasers’ and therefore not entitled to post a review.

The form may be a way of capturing the response of more readers.  Or I might ditch that form and compose another one for all my novels.  Here’s the link: https://goo.gl/forms/IJoDTVzRVZJdNKwm1.  If anyone has a view on the questions I’ve chosen to put on the form, I’d appreciated feedback.

At the same time I became involved in a LinkedIn book group discussion.  Someone asked how he could get reviews for the short story he’d just published on Amazon.  His request was not worded well.  He wrote, “We’re there any funny parts.”  I found myself eager to point out how the apostrophe altered his intended meaning.  Later, I worried that I’d been harsh on a newcomer.  I hope he can accept what I consider was constructive feedback.


A kind of Aladdin’s lamp

Much-travelled lamp, now hanging in the summerhouse

I put this photo of our oil lamp on Facebook with a description of its travels from the flea market, Monistiraki, in Athens to our home on Amorgos in the Cyclades in 1967.  As I wrote, the story gathered names and places until the story and the lamp ended up in our present-day summerhouse.  One day I may write the story of our married life, using the lamp’s travels as the framework.


Stiff upper lip – and no moustache

Every so often people write about the psychological damage caused by the British uppercrust boarding school system as it was experienced until fairly recently.  The writers are men, describing the experience of boys, often sent away at 7 or 8 to prep school before going on to one of the big name schools.  Years of physical and sexual abuse was the lot of many.  The most recent book of this genre to be in the news (Channel Four, 11.4.17) is Alex Renton’s “Stiff Upper Lip.”  It took him forty years before he was able to talk about his school life, at Ashdown prep school followed by Eton.  Jon Snow interviewed him, sitting on a bench in the grounds of Ashdown house – now transformed and reformed, I must add.  The writer pointed out the window of the headmaster’s study.  Watching, one could only shudder for the child that had been abused within those walls.

In the studio was a psychologist.  She talked of boarding school syndrome.  A child removed from its home and immediately taught not to cry or object to any treatment is likely to become an adult who internally harbours a bereaved child, whose needs have never been heard.    The child part may not be recognised in the adult, by the adult or those in relationship with them.   But it will make itself known in behaviour.

When I was training to be a psychotherapist, I was led to consider childhood experiences, and the effects of boarding school on others but most particularly on myself.  Oh, I loved school, I used to say.  Then I remembered, with numerical exactitude, my first three weeks of nights spent soaking my koala bear with tears, hoping no-one in the dormitory could hear me.   At least we were allowed to have one soft toy, before we were shamed into leaving it behind.  Were there others gulping down tears?   Maybe not.   I joined the school in January when I was ten and a half, the only new girl in my house and form.  The rest had joined in September, at the beginning of the school year.  They’d long since learnt not to cry.  No-one came in the night to comfort me.  That would have been breaking a taboo as long established as the school, founded in 1864 and modelled on Arnold’s Rugby.    After 21 nights, I remember clearly coming to the conclusion that I must give up tears.

Alex Renton’s television interview prompted me to think again about boarding school syndrome, and the differences in experience for boys and girls.  Boys suffered physical abuse: beatings and sexual abuse.  What about us girls?  We are never part of this conversation.  Does that mean we weren’t abused?  I haven’t yet gone into this in any depth.  But I’m prompted to think about it today.

At my boarding school, we weren’t beaten and – to the best of my knowledge – no mistress ever sexually abused a pupil.  There was no sex education.  My mother must have thought the school would deal with this so I had no idea how babies were made.  I remember thinking that tummy buttons might be involved.  The novels in the meagre fiction library had been thoroughly censored, although there was something rather thrilling in ‘How Green Was My Valley’.  A girl admired her body in a mirror.  That was the sort of mild and innocent scene that excited a female boarding school inmate growing up without mirrors, without guidance.   On leaving school at 18, I was at sea, as keen to learn what sex was all about as I was frightened to learn.

This is a strange way to be brought up, but can it be labelled as abuse? I think so.  It was emotional abuse, a gender-compatible form.  We were brought up not to be ourselves, not to be fully feminine; in fact, to be sort-of-men, to have stiff upper lips but not – horrors! – moustaches.   At hunt balls and Scottish reels in village halls we met boys a little older than ourselves who’d been at the right sort of public schools.  We were as inept as each other at relating to the opposite sex.  Somehow most of us muddled through, despite that early damage.   But it’s well to be aware, as the psychologist in yesterday’s interview pointed out, that many of our ruling elite are, at heart, bereaved children, who – as children – silently suffered regular beating and/or sexual abuse.   How may that influence their policy-making?  The irony is that the system is continually reinforced by fathers sending their sons to their old public schools.   “Never did me any harm!”   Mothers have usually resisted, for a variety of reasons.

My schooling, for which my father paid more than he could afford on a retired army officer’s pension, left me determined not to send my children away to school.  We came home from our Greek island life so that our two could go to the local comprehensive, and we chose Devon as the best location for that local.  Peter and I get heated in any discussion about private education.  We think it is the single most divisive element in our society.    Worst of all, private education has become a far more widely desired goal than it ever was in the past.  In the days of empire, boarding schools were a practical necessity for people serving overseas.  They are still necessary for people whose work is abroad.  But goodness me, if you’re Chinese, African, or of any other nation, please don’t perpetuate an abusive system by propping it up with your offspring.  Even if boarding schools are not nearly as harshly run as they were, the private education system is not good for a child.   It turns out individuals with a false and dangerous sense of superiority; those that have boarded have the added handicap of being emotionally stunted.  How could they not be.

A growing number of people, who have ‘done better’ than their parents, want to give their children the education they didn’t have themselves.  They send their children to private day schools.   But in country areas it’s a case of taking, not sending.  They drive miles and miles, not just for the normal school day but for after-school activities.  The children have no local friends.   The parents consider they’re giving their children the chance of a good education.  But it’s not a matter of a better or worse education; it’s our society’s value system that’s askew.

In my utopia, everyone, girls and boys, go to the local school, to the great benefit of that local school’s standards.  If parents have to live abroad in a country where local schools are non-existent, then their children are fostered back home during termtime with a family in the local school’s catchment area.  It is inhuman to send a child to an alien environment without pressing cause.  In my utopian comprehensive system, streaming allows people of similar abilities to learn together, and practical skills are as valued as academic ones.  As my great-aunt Lydia Becker said, “Every boy in Manchester should be taught how to darn his own socks and cook his own chops.”  Lydia, a forerunner of the Pankhursts, founded “The Women’s Suffrage Journal” in 1870.   See page 111 in ALIVE IN WORLD WAR TWO, The Cousins’ Chronicle 1939 – 1945 and 2016.

Roll on, Utopia.  Meanwhile, I’ll order Alex Renton’s “Stiff Upper Lip” –   https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/12/stiff-upper-lip-by-alex-renton-review

Sometimes I feel my age

I remember my mother saying this.  It struck me as an odd thing to say.  It no longer seems remotely odd.  I know exactly what she meant.  It’s just that I’m years too late in having a good conversation with her on the subject.

The thing that’s prompted my thought is my present need to engage on social media in a far more energetic way than I’ve ever wanted to do.   I’ve used a computer since the early 90s, but I’ve barely bothered with Facebook and other such sites.  Now I must.   Today I penetrated into the nether reaches of LinkedIn and dared a post. I then linked it to Facebook and Twitter.  Have I ever tweeted?  I can’t remember.  Who on earth will see a tweet of mine?  You need followers.   Followers used to mean the young lads who would hang around a kitchen door waiting for a parlourmaid to come off duty.  Or so I picked up from novels of the early twentieth century.

Now it’s the 21st century, and even politics is conducted by tweet.   Very soon I shall retire gracefully from the fray.  I’ve just one more job to do: help promote “White Lies” among book bloggers.  See



Do you feel on the inside the way you look on the outside?

We get so used to the appearance of people – our family, friends, people in the public eye – that we think we know what they’re like.  But think for a moment what it feels like to be you, and match that against what you see in the mirror.  The mirror image may not be what other people see when they look at you.  And no-one else can possibly know what it feels like to be inside that face and body.

I’ve been contemplating the mismatch between appearance and inner experience, prompted by an interview I did with wonderfully exuberant Michelle Cornwell-Gordon, of the U.S. IndieReview Behind the Scenes programme.  Maybe there are people who come across this post who feel exactly the same inside and outside.  I don’t.  I had to ask my husband as we watched the video together, “Is that really like me?”  It wasn’t that I particularly object to the person I saw being interviewed.  It was simply hard to accept I am that person.


Nobody likes a braggart.  People of my generation in particular were brought up not to blow our own trumpets, as our parents’ disapproving voices phrased it.   So what does a writer producing a new book in one of the many independent ways that exist nowadays do about promotion?

When I was firmly bedded in the mainstream literary world, I never had to worry about PR.  The publisher and my agent would do what they could; it was in their interest, too.  The last novel that was published in the conventional way – Stephen and Violet, published by Collins – was launched with a small party at my agent’s office.  Two other writers kindly came: Jonathan Raban and Sebastian Faulks.  They were ‘names’ then but went on to become even better known.  Heady days, which I took for granted.

Today, without an agent, without a publisher, I must pick up, polish and blow my own trumpet.  Although it’s half a year since I brought out two novels and a non-fiction book with CreateSpace on Amazon, I’ve done nothing as yet.   But my reluctance to self-advertise has changed.  I’ve embarked on a publicity venture, thanks to Teddy Rose of Virtual Author Book Tours.  On Saturday I shall find myself in my study, facing my laptop’s screen, video-conferencing with someone called Michelle in the States on a Blog Talk Radio Show.   The book I will be pushing is “White Lies”.  I’d better leave this post and have a quick re-read to remind myself what on earth it’s about…