Gibraltar: Pillar of Hercules.


 I have been tricked. I thought Gibraltar was a rock, but discovered that in fact it is made of Swiss cheese, so presumably it’s a meteor made of the same stuff as the moon. Apparently there are 27 miles of tunnels through the rock, many of which were made with explosives. Finding, as I stood in a tunnel, that the Rock is riddled with holes and has withstood multiple explosions was not reassuring. Next time I visit them, I’ll take a personal airbag and an avalanche tracker in case the entire Rock implodes and I’m stranded, squashed and cross, in its innards.

Last week I was working in Gib at St Bernard’s Hospital which, since this is where the prescriptions come from, must be the pill-er of Gibraltarians society, although I believe that owing to Mediterranean diet that they take very few pills. More tomatoes and olives, longer lives. Determined to buy into this good health program, I brought home three tins of olives but decided against bringing back 3 kg of tomatoes as the airline might be suspicious of red liquid oozing out of my luggage.

On the flight over, the air stewardess decided to demonstrate her ability in two languages simultaneously. The safety spiel came out,  ‘In an emergency… elkfgjkdfuify… landing on water…eufihsfh…. explosion… efgkjsj… lifejacket… sdlfshfl…completely scuppered.’

Coming home was worse, as the air hostess gave the entire safety bit in English while demonstrating the exciting features of a lifejacket. After they had been put away, she then repeated it in Spanish, thus leaving it to a Spanish speaker’s imagination where the whistle, safety light or the re-inflation tube might be. Bobbing along the water, gradually sinking, watching the burning fuselage of the plane explode, one might be stressed enough to get them mixed up.  So you might attract a lot of attention, but drown as your lifejacket deflated; or be over-inflated but nobody could find you. It also means that should our plane have crashed, the English speakers would be fine and dandy, blowing on their little whistles, happily re-inflating their jackets, as the Spaniards sank silently without trace. The Armada revisited.

We chose to stay in Spain, walking across the border daily to the hospital. This system worked absolutely fine until the first morning when a bomb scare on the runway meant mucho delay. My husband was more worried about being late than blown up; clearly a man with a firm grasp of statistics and, luckily for me, a man well insured. We discovered several new terms on Gibraltar, including an Elderologist which appears to be someone who looks after oldies, not people from Eldorado.

Years ago my father, who died young, had worked in Gibraltar as a surgeon and a delightful Gibraltarian  lady told me that she knew many people who spoke of him kindly. What took me aback was not the shattering of a child’s view that a parent sets off in the morning in a work suit but actually spends all day reading, on the beach or shopping, but that she referred to him as Mr Gardiner. Being a surgeon, he was Mr not Dr, a tradition which dates back to the days when surgeons were all barbers and not medically qualified. By my father’s day this had thankfully changed entirely, thus neither my father nor his surgeon friends could cut hair. It seemed odd hearing him called Mr Gardiner as I had thought of him as a doctor and Gardiner and therefore Dr Gardiner, or perhaps, as he was known to the family as Fa, possibly Dr Fa. Mr? Nope.

 I discovered a fantastic clothes shop on Main Street stuffed with beautiful Italian silk and cotton drifty tops and trousers. They were completely fabulous, and entirely unsuitable for England, in equal measure. I felt that instead of saying ‘Oooh yummy, I’ll try that one’, I should be asking for some particularly shi-shi thermals or some uber-cool waterproofs. However, without a Wellington boot in sight and as each of the items were about 10 g each, I decided that neither customs nor the airport scales would care two hoots if I bought some stuff,  so cracked open the credit card. I was half right. Customs didn’t care. Ryanair pointed out that we were 2.5 kg over, so did we want to remove items or pay an excess baggage charge? Deciding against financial ruin, I removed five items, apparently at random, which made the bag exactly 20kg and not a gram over. Unfortunately, this overt display of psychic powers confirmed my husband’s suspicions that I am a witch. I’m fighting my corner womanfully , fiercely maintaining that I’m not, but if he continues to insist,  I’ll hex him.

Eating out was a joy. We found a restaurant on the beach, though perhaps it was not the perfect place to eat with somebody who doesn’t eat cold blooded animals, definitely including snakes and turtles. All the main courses were fish; the soup was cod; the rice dish, paella; the salad contained tuna. However, the view was spectacular so Adam decided to put his pesce-phobia to one side and have a crack at swallowing his pride and the fish with it. Unluckily, sea bass freshly cooked on the barbecue, presented on the bone with its head and tail still present, doesn’t count as beginner’s fish. It was downhill from ‘Where do I start?’

The name Gibraltar derives from Jabel Tariq, a general who lay siege to it in 771. It is deemed to be one of the pillars of Hercules on which was written non plus ultra, which means ‘nothing further beyond’ because it was believed that nothing existed beyond borders of the Mediterranean. However, after the discovery of the Americas, Charles V King of Spain had put on his coat of arms plus ultra or further beyond. In Gibraltar, Adam discovered that further beyond fish was a toilet. Unchained maladie.

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I’m beginning to get irritated by FAQs. Recently I bounced into a site’s FAQ section and got stuck reading them all. Compelling reading it isn’t, yet fear drove me to scan the lot in case the answer to number 63 would have made my life complete. It didn’t. I found nothing helpful at all. In fact, several should have been in different section such as the OCOTSSICOEHBAO: Oh Come On, That’s so Stupid It Can Only Ever Have Been Asked Once. A bit like The Ostrich FAQ website which contains the question How do you spell ostrich?

Why do we even go in to the FAQ section? ‘Search’ produces an answer quicker, unless you’re feeling vague, in which case FAQs would be correct as you get 15 answers and don’t have to think of a question. Or even think.

Some websites produce a terrific array of FAQ answers. From Practical Reptile Keeping:  Is it true that you can age a tortoise by counting the rings on it shell? (You want to know now, don’t you? Curiosity strikes. The answer was no, it’s not reliable). FAQs tell me that to be a Disney Princess you have to measure between 137 and 194 cm and be highly energetic (that’s me out; not height. Energy). The National Railway Museum, in response to the question Can I drive a train? says Yes which is news to me. Perhaps it was a bolt-on extra for my driving licence. Check it out for yourself and find out if you too can drive a train.

I do wonder if it be more useful to have a section on FAQs in life, such as how are you today? Have you grown or am I shorter? Did you come by the M1? Should I marry him? Perhaps there should also be website with impossible questions to get people thinking. What is the meaning of life? How much is in the pot at the end of a rainbow? Should bishops wear bunny ears at Easter?

Officialdom asking me FAQs is ludicrous. The government already knows my date of birth, where I was born, my mother’s maiden name etc. It would be nice to have a personal information page and on every official form a Suck it Across, Buddy button, to self populate the form. The frustration levels of the nation would halve.

I’m currently setting up my own website and feel that a section of FAQs would be fun, but I have a moral dilemma. The things I want to tell people about me may not have been asked frequently or even at all. If somebody’s asked you something twice but most other questions only once, does that count as frequently? Is it cheating to get your best friend to ask you a question and then ask it again?

I’m also considering having a style award in my FAQs. Be great to generate really interesting FAQs, although it might be difficult to get the same random, whimsical question asked twice. Best friend alert, or an OAO (Only Asked Once) page.

My most recent FAQs are Do I want more tea and Should I have breakfast yet? The fact that this blog ends here would suggest that the answer to both was yes. But I must confess, I cheated. I took the answer from the National Railway Museum website.


Alison Gardiner 2014

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Drowning in Zeds

I am in the clutches of Morpheus. No, not in the grip of morphine, or any other drug for that matter other than caffeine, but I am being overtaken by the God of Sleep. Doubtless  I have caught this Rip van Winkle tendency from my son who has recently arrived home from university. He never gets out of bed before noon and ever since he arrived my current situation has become noticeably worse. Yet it’s beginning to percolate through my foggy thought processes that becoming a dormouse may not be infectious, even if yawning is. My lethargy could be the strain of having three years of my son’s university necessities (sombreros, onesies, guitar, bike included) dumped into my front hall or even narcosis induced by the fumes arising from his mountain of laundry. His rucksack stayed in the hall for 12 days until he finally ran out T-shirts. Maybe he kept me awake by playing the piano loudly; no, not soothing. He’s now gone off to Thailand, but the malady lingers on. As does the malodoury.

 It’s appealing to believe that I might be ill with African sleeping sickness or a good solid dose of narcolepsy because at least then something could be done. Deep in my soul, however, I’m sure that I’m completely fine. Well, other than not being able to stay awake. I’ve not managed quite reach the levels of a friend of mine who used to fall asleep every night at nine o’clock no matter what was happening, which could be embarrassing in the middle of a dinner party. Or other circumstances.

I’ve discovered that although I don’t need to be horizontal to go to sleep, it’s definitely a case of the flatter the better. I can manage about 20°, on a sofa. Although  I’m convinced that my husband can fall asleep standing up, I think 45° might be my limit; at 50°, sleep would evade me. Presumably with a bit of practice one could add the odd extra degree or two until 90° did become an option. Yet however well practiced or committed, I feel that 100° would need to remain a temperature not a goal, although it might be funny seeing people sleeping with a slight overhang. I won’t be attempting the Increasing Degrees project as in being shattered by attempting, and presumably regularly failing, to go to sleep in differing degrees of steepness, I would give up the whole nightmare idea before I have made it past 47°.

Why is sleep represented by multiple zeds? zzzzzzzz sounds more like a bee or a lawnmower starting up. Sleep should be represented by something soft like ahhhhhhhhh.

My current state would make me an easy target for a hypnotist.

‘You’re getting sleepy.’



‘Sure I’m sure. I’m already sleepy. There’s no ‘getting’ about it.’

‘In that case I’ll put you deeply out when I count to…. hello… hello…you still in there? Right, as you’re under, act like a dog… no?… cat?…still no, huh? Elephant…nope…sloth?… aaah, there you are.’

There could be other non-medical causes for my somnambulant state by day, such as maybe I snore. No. Like just no. Absolutely no. I don’t care whether I do or not, I’ve chosen to believe that I don’t, so it doesn’t happen. The end.  No further discussion. I’ll stick to the scientifically proven concept of wishful thinking: if you don’t want something to be true it won’t be. So there. To verify this theory, ask any child younger than eight.

Dreaming is the upside of this. I’ve had some wonderful dreams like walking peacefully through fields or lying comfortably on a lake. Last night’s was a little unusual as I was travelling and somebody asked me to take a Serbian child called Horsa with me. I woke up still worrying about what Balkan children eat and balking at the prospect .

Half of the problem is of course that it is so delicious falling asleep. It really doesn’t take much for me to want to slump into the warm and welcoming arms of sleep which I envisage as sliding backwards into a large, black, fleecy blanket. Yummy. In fact, so good, why would I resist? …. ahhhhhhhhh…

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Woman or Wombat?

Currently I am in fully editing mode, as I wrestle my old school magazine to the ground. Last year I worked as half of the team, this year I am the sole editor. I was looking back affectionately over the last 14 months, when I recalled writing this for for our first edition almost exactly a year ago – don’t you love nostalgia?


I’ve just taken on the post of co-editor of a school related magazine (no, not impressive; relatively small circulation, voluntary – but fun.)

My new title is Editor@Large, not a soubriquet entirely to my taste. I’d much prefer being Editor@a-little-Juno-esque-but-not-too-bad-considering-her-age-and-four-pregnancies, but that would be quite difficult to fit onto a name tag or an e-mail address. The title would improve if the L in “large” wasn’t quite so big itself. Presumably it’s a capital letter to catch attention. The other way of achieving impact would be to have two lowercase ‘l’s. However, my concern is that on seeing a double l, the eye would naturally read what one would expect to see after ll, possibly making me the Editor@llama.

When Sasha rang to interview me, we had a general chat about my writing experience (extensive), with me stressing heavily my enthusiasm and ability to learn quickly (fairly extensive)  in the hope that she wouldn’t spot my limited editorial experience (extensive-R not-me). Maybe it was this elephant in the room that provided the title Editor@Large. Yet, I consider myself lucky; I could have ended up as Editor@Greyandwrinkly.

I enthused about how much I would enjoy the work. She then informed me that my rival for the post had been Delia Smith’s editor at BBC Books. I needed to fight for this job or walk away. Was I man or mouse? More accurately, woman or wombat? My best interview technique surged to the fore. “Take her. She’ll be terrific. Wads of experience. Completely perfect. Goodb…”

“Hang on,” said Sasha. “How would you feel about sharing the job?”

Happy as a wombat with two tails. I figured 0.5 of an editorial job was a definite improvement on the potential zero of a minute ago. Luckily, Viv was happy to have a co-pilot. She wanted to introduce a Cookery Section with us as self-selected quality controllers. Yessss! I wanted a blog section and to write a few pieces, so now all we need is someone to do the bits we don’t want to. ‘Wanted: worker-mutt to do all the dull bits.’ Response to that ad might be limited.

Viv and I spend so much time e-mailing each other, our thinking is now on parallel lines, like twins; we are Siamese, joined at the keyboard. I’m wondering if, for the sake of balance, Viv might consider changing her title to Editor@Little.

We’ve shamelessly plundered other magazines to find ideas that we can modify (ok, steal) for magazine. Because we’re worth it. Tosses hair. We hope people like it; if not they can send criticisms to westminstergasworks@10downingstreet.

Will we succeed? No idea. If not, at our launch party they’ll just be Viv and I, two balloons, one chocolate cake; so not all bad, thinking about it.


I’m off to boldly go where no mag has gone before.



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Remember the Good Old Daze?

I’m beginning to get tired of the Memory-Wipe Gremlin. Last night I was lying in bed, enjoying the next blog gradually forming in my head. I recall musing that this concept would be fun, my mind lazily wandering from this idea to drift on about that one.


By the next morning, the Memory-Wipe Gremlin had pressed the neuronal equivalent of the delete button, so all that remained was a haze of irritation and the results of the visit of the Bottom of the Birdcage Mouth Aroma Fairy.

Sometimes the morning light brings the Feeling of Dread Imp, convincing you that something ghastly is about to happen. The dread sticks during the first early-morning meeting of the china visit, through the shower, via breakfast and the second meeting of the china visit. However, since this Imp hangs out with the Memory-Wipe Gremlin, you can’t quite work out what the impending disaster might be. Finally, with the slamming of the front door, comes the realisation that today you need to be in work half an hour early and the time is..aaargh…

The one advantage of passing years is that you lose some of the night terrors that once beset you. I no longer have to leap from door to sheets to avoid the bears under the bed. But try explaining to a kid that when the light is switched off, nothing changes; everything’s the same, just dark. Clearly this concept is as laughable as the idea that babies are grown inside tummies or that rainbows are due to refraction. You’ll be telling them that stars are not tiny holes poked into the night sky next.

The first cousin of the M-WG is the Delayed Response Memory Gremlin. An idea comes to you, not when you’re sitting at your desk, but only when you’ve put down pen or keyboard and are 3/4 mile up the road with your pet turtle. At the exact moment you realise that you have a mobile phone on you, the idea evaporates like the morning mist. It’s the same as when you meet someone, open your mouth and a name crevasse appears. You’re either stuck with calling them ‘dear’ or ‘mate’,  or your entire opening conversation being confined to ‘Hello.’ As soon as you finish chatting and turn away, the name pops straight into your head, but too late to repair the damage; or with a swift riposte, too late to do some damage.

Unfortunately, reminiscing is more of a cerebral work-out than confabulation. A friend with a non-athletic brain, (atrophy through disuse or apathy, they tell me) used to do The Times crossword on a train, dashing it off in minutes with the occasional sardonic laugh. As he left the still-puzzling, frowning compartment behind, he kept the paper folded under his arm so they couldn’t see all the clues filled in with words like splatchock or xrrdpdfe.

With life experience I’ve managed to manipulate Murphy’s Law to a degree. If I need inspiration, I go somewhere as far away from pen, paper or my phone as possible. If I’ve lost something, I immediately replace it, knowing that then it will reappear instantly. A couple days ago I lost my diary, which is a crisis, partly because it’s extremely pretty but also as without it I exist in a hesitant, half-anxious state, worried that I might have missed something astonishingly important. This would make more sense if I did have a diary stuffed with Meeting with President. Fly to Zagreb. Interview with CNN . Butget cat food doesn’t quite cut it in the importance stakes. Having sweated over a new diary, searched e-mail trails, phoned dentists, agonised over whether I needed feline fodder, it appeared, presumably dropped by the Easter Bunny.

I’ve found out that the best way of working out what you had originally intended to say is to say something completely different, so only after I had got near the end of describing the seedier side of Santa and the Tooth Fairy’s close companions did I realise that I’d intended to produce a blog called Downturn Abbey. That bit of remembrance was undoubtedly athletic, producing a frenzied dash for the keyboard.

My service to mankind today is this blog; a dire warning about the Memory Wipe Gremlin.

If I remember to post it.

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Fifty Shades of Earl Grey

Writing this as my next book might suit me to a tea. Not that I’m copy-catting or stealing an idea. I like to think of it as capturing the zeitgeist.

The 50 Shades revolution has made me think hard about changing genre. I may yet write a book called 50 Shades in which I focus on light covers, particularly those of table lamps. The sequel, 50 More Shades, would feature the overhead light variety. However, I thought it would take an extraordinary amount of persistence, sheer cussedness and caffeine to be able to make lampshades thrilling for 50,000 words.

My next quasi-brilliant idea was 50 Shades of Black, a tome about depression. Difficult to research though, as many of my subjects would be disinclined to speak to anybody at all, even themselves, let alone a stranger blatantly band wagoning. An unfortunate, but fatal, flaw. Also, once I had written it, mood destroyed, I would be ready to jump off the nearest bridge as would anyone who had had the misfortune to read it. Thus my tome would become gradually extinct as more and more people suffered from terminal mood crashes having read it.  However well-known I became there could be no sequel as I had already hopped off aforesaid bridge. Dead famous. Not my intended career option.

The upside would be that more comedians would be required to try and offset the disastrous effects of my social commentary, which would help with the unemployment figures.

My other option was to stick more closely to the content and less to the title. As they say, sex pays, which I believe doesn’t only apply to the oldest profession in the world (yes, you’ve got it. Writing. Morals similar: giving pleasure as required to complete strangers, for money).

I would need a pseudonym so no-one could link me with my frisky frolickers. Being recognised as having spawned them would be inordinately embarrassing. Imagine standing at the checkout at your local supermarket and somebody saying. “Oh, I recognise you from the cover of Steamyreads Monthly. I love that scene where Lolita Amazinbod and Adonis Hunkofmeat frolic off towards those crashing waves …”

My son decided that I should be called Carmen Loveme. I thought Carmen Grabme had a more open, physical approach but he felt that the first was much more subtle. To the same degree as a blunderbuss.

The sublime beauty of the Carmen name is that it could be applied to any type of the genre, clearly giving an indication of what the book is about. Carmen Shoveastakethroughmyheart is clearly another vampire lookalike. The one by Carmen Findoutyou’reawizardonyour11th birthday should be a bestseller. I’m shortly going to write a culinary range of books by Carmen Cookwithme. Very shortly; about 20 pages each.

You’d be wrong if you thought that Carmen Playwithme was back to the frisky frolics. This will be a book aimed at the under fives, concentrating on 48 ways to decorate a snail, with advice on how to look after stick insects. The one following the adventures of a rock band will be written by Carmen Playwithmeohyeahbaby.

Branching out into other names could be descriptive of genre too. Venus Flowingheart would be a romance writer, unless spelled Venous Flowingheart, in which case we’re back to the vampire novels; the rather more lurid versions being Arterial Flowingheart.

My husband points out that if I morph to Carmen Shopwithme, he’s leaving. If only life was always so simple.

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Blog Hop


…although Blog Hog or Blop Hop sound better…

 The game is on!

 I’m delighted that this game of tag is of the sitting down variety as my skills at the physical type vanished when I was about twelve. I’ve been tagged by Boopadoo, a terrific writer who blogs here: Boopadoo  and on Writerlot.   

Blog Hop Rules

 Answer the following questions, then tag someone else (or someones elses; up to 5). So here are the contents of my cranium, answers dissected out, not necessarily neatly.

 What am I working on?

 The perfect murder: Frank’s dream, Izzy’s nightmare.

 My main work in progress is a MG medical detective story in which three kids stumble across a potential murder. Believed by no-one, not even the victim herself, they need to work out if they’re even right, then take a massive risk to try and save Izzy’s godmother before the final blow falls. A dying girl pitches in with them; a move which may ultimately save her own life. As the mists of uncertainty clear, they realize that they’re clashing with a mind as evil as it is brilliant.

 With the attention span of a butterfly, there are often several things rattling around my head at the same time which in writerly terms is a Bad Thing. Ignoring my own advice to try and concentrate on one thing, dear, I’m also converting my animated film script into a book. The script was co-written with my eldest son who luckily possesses the talent of being able to laugh and type the same time.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

 The progeny of my cerebral cortex, is, like the brain itself, totally original. Just like all other writers. A paradox; while original, exactly the same. One hundred people writing two sentences on a fried egg would produce entirely different slants; my egg would probably have a slimy adventure down a drain, engulfing rats, but I doubt everyone else’s would. Or even one person else’s.

 Even with my high octane adventures, I try to thread in humour as it makes it more fun to write and even a single laugh or wry smile can brighten a reader’s day. When my characters come to life inside my head, it’s like a voluntary multiple personality state. Maybe it’s Freudian that one of them is called Frank. The characters are strong, some of whom I’d love to hang out with, some I really wouldn’t. They reveal their personalities mainly through dialogue, to the extent that on occasion a character will say something that startles even me. Yes, they do drive the story; I think I’m more like the sat nav, giving direction.

Why do I write what I write?

 Because I’m curious. A story bubbles up in my head and I absolutely have to know the ending. As I write 95% by the seat of my pants and 5% by plotting, I don’t know what will happen next; every writing day is an adventure. It’s like living with a slowly evolving motion picture inside my head.

It’s been a fascinating path writing fiction, as my previous novel was fantasy, so I could toss in anything I liked. This desire to keep adding the bizarre and continue stirring took root on the school run. Rolling along, I’d be telling a tale about a girl who had created tartan ink and was using the spell on an aardvark, when a small voice from the back would ask, ‘And what about the fluffy pink dragon?’ ‘Of course, I was just coming to that.’ ‘And the flying yeti with three legs, who loves surfing and lives with his guitar playing, Olympic snowballer godmother?’ ‘What a coincidence. Yarold was about to enter, stage left.’

Reality has its clutches firmly in fiction, so the facts have to add up; frustrating, caffeine-overload inducing, but it undoubtedly keeps the brain in gear.

 How does my writing process work?

 Something drops into my head spontaneously. The timing is often dreadful; flying down the motorway, I have an idea and then as I let my mind wander closer, the adventure begins to evolve. The result is brain strain as I frantically try to hold onto it all until I can lay quill to parchment.

The idea is plotted out roughly, by hand, in a notebook, although the ultimate ending is usually not obvious. Mind mapping is great if I get stuck, as dropping wads of ideas onto an enormous piece of paper, allowing my thoughts to meander where they will, is an ideal way to nail a few sticky points as well as kickstarting creativity. My brain loves it- ideas jumping out like popcorn.

Then the skeleton needs to be fleshed out. Once they make having no typing ability at all a desired attribute, my worth will go up by at least two camels, from my current  two goats and a medium-size rabbit. I use six fingers to type, but the five on my left hand are wrapped around a cup of tea as the right index bashes the keyboard. Slowly. So I use voice recognition software, the joy of which is that I can get everything on a file at talking speed, ie that of machine gun fire. Once I start to write, it feels as if somebody’s telling me the story and all I’m doing is repeating it. The first draft comes out as a bit of a romp through, poor English, often with space savers, like one paragraph where ultimately a  two page fight scene will be implanted. It’s as necessary as scaffolding and equally pretty. Re-edit ad nauseam smooths off all the rough bits and adds in the odd gems here and there until it looks much more sparkly. And sparky. Also fighty and emotional.

 So on to tagging.

I would like to tag:

  Jean Naggar, literary agent, who has written a fascinating book which has received stunning reviews, Sipping from the Nile, describing her family’s years in, and eventual exile from, Egypt during a time of political unrest. Her blog can be found here

 Mark Lloyd who is the founder of Pillar International Publishing and an extraordinarily talented and funny writer. His blog is here

 Carolyn George, an entrepreneur with an enormously varied career.  Currently she is raising alpacas in the depths of southern France while she creates the follow up to Lies, Truth and Scandal. Her blog can be found here

 The baton has been passed. Pick it up and run my team (while sitting down). Another paradox.


May 2014

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Brain Fever

Exams loom, so I’m currently trying to help my 16-year-old revise. The main two problems are: A. He’s a boy, and B: Our brains are neither physically nor psychically connected, so I can read/talk/research as hard as I like, but his brain remains unassailed, or unsoiled, by my lovely gleaned knowledge.

I feel as if I’m gathering tufts of info, like wads of raw cotton, and trying to shove them, via his ears, into his brain. I can only believe that his cerebral cortex is already overstuffed as there seems to be quite a lot of resistance to my fascinating facts going in. Most of the time he is relatively polite about my efforts to help, until I offer to assist him with certain subjects which have faded with the passage of both time and my neurones.

Geography? Yeah, right

Yes, dearest son mine. I know a lot about Geography.

Like what?

Like meanders and deltas and where Africa is.

And how about… He lists a pile of concepts.

Well, maybe no, nothing specific about those. Is there anything else you need help with? Is there an exam question on amusing children on a wet Saturday afternoon? Or how to tell semi-structured stories about dragons while driving at 70 miles an hour through France? Or the essential equipment to take to a pantomime (a small child , to avoid the embarrassment of people thinking you’re there for your own sake, money, fluid (lots), plasters with polar bears on and a small jam jar with a screw top lid case aforesaid child needs to lighten themselves by a few fluid ounces on the way).

In a real exam I would, of course, bullet point these concepts, expand on them, reference in my research and put a full stop at the end, Charlie, just in case you’re reading this.

I had planned on helping him with business studies until I found out that he was looking into developing a new fragrance. In line with current product names, he was intending to call it i-Smell.

My cup ranneth over with despair, until I asked him why a particular bread company had called one of their loaves Super Seeded. I was wondering if he’d pick up a potential reference to superseded, but the cynic in me expected him to say ‘because it’s got lots of seeds.’

‘It’s because they’re using alliteration to try and engage the reader and make them feel an emotional contact with the product. It also creates images in the consumers’ minds and the rhythm or cadence makes the name easy to remember. However it’s funny because it suggests that another loaf has taken its place.’

Right, got that. It seems that the cotton wool is going in after all. Or, since we have been doing physics this morning, maybe simply osmosing.

Alison Gardiner 2014
Also posted on Writerlot

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Haggis Semi-urban

Following my last haggis blog, several people pointed out that my knowledge of haggii was clearly double that of the general population as I knew two facts about delicious meat and oat animals and most people  only know one. This vast increase in knowledge comes from the lucky fact that I have a small colony of bald (Kojak) haggii living nearby. They are shy creatures, but owing to extensive research and time input, comprising almost an hour, I’ve managed to capture the native haggis on film, illustrating where to look for them if you choose to join in with the annual August Haggis Hunt.

 The jumping haggis is a very rare breed and can be very tricky to spot as, although haggii have negative chameleon abilities, they are clever at finding trees that match their native colour. This one didn’t; he is now an integral part of Rover the Rottweiler.


 As a haggis’s legs are longer on one side, it jumps obliquely, so getting down from the tree presents a major problem. Their short legs mean very little spring either for leaping or landing, so they use the dangerous jump and roll technique, launching themselves out of their perch with a swift push, landing on one shoulder and rolling away; the SAS of the haggis world. Owing to the hazardous nature of this procedure, they usually dismount from trees at night when fewer natural predators are around. If startled when napping during the day, they may perform an accidental drop which, in urban areas, might result in a haggis road kill.


 On a happier note, they have found fame, although for each one only fleetingly, as Marilyn Munroe was very fond of haggis and ate tiny ones as cocktail bites, enjoying sharing the bigger ones at parties.



They are proud of this heritage, having seen parts of Marilyn Monroe that no one else ever has; some only oesophageal glimpses, the more acid resistant ones enjoying the full gastric experience.

The genetics of a haggis are strange and complex, but you can cross a haggis with a human in rare circumstances, producing a Humaggis:


 This particular Humaggis, Cerebrus Giganticum, had a very sad family history. Following an argument between the families of his father, Clyde McHaggis and his mother, Notso Bonnie, he ended up as an orphaned Humaggis, owing to a gangland shoot-out.


 The urban haggis is very wily, sneaking into dwellings or restaurants, rat-like, and can be found scurrying around, looking for food such as oats, onions or herbs.


 Some can be affectionate, suitable for domestication, even cultured: the Haggis Semi-Urbane. This bold one took up residence as a family pet, living with his best mate Albina. The relationship turned out to be as successful as that between the average fox and rooster: very satisfying, but only for one of them.


 Haggii with residual gills, leftover from primeval swamp days, may exist underwater, for example in a swimming pool or an aquarium (haggis pesces imitans) and can live peaceably side-by-side with most fish, although notably not the piranha.


 Haggii are complex characters: wily, bold, courageous, savage creatures. It has been said that you are never more than 6 feet away from a haggis. One may be watching you now, so decide quickly: fried or foe?



April 2014

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Haggis Vulgaris

We went out to dinner last night to an Italian restaurant which was very positive for my joie de vivre (or gioia di vivereaccording to Google translate) but also very positive for the calorie count. With a stab at being healthy, I ordered the seafood salad which looked fabulous but had an entire tiny octopus crowning the plate. The insalata di mare should have been called rigor mortis surprise.

I’ve never been very good at eating food that looks back at me, like whitebait. I have visions of its sliding down my oesophagus, glancing around with interest as if on a bizarre kind of potholing experience. The little fishlette would then float with the rest of the raft of whitebait on a pool of stomach acid before it set off round the rest of my intestines. Doubtless the ride would be better than at most theme parks, punctuated by squirts of bile acids while bouncing along the wrinkly bits, swirling and diving, massaged from outside, cosy at a constant 37⁰. If I attached a tiny camera to it, a whitebait could produce a series of extremely interesting selfies, until it finally landed at the great white china endpoint.

Yes, I know that whitebait is dead and thus not peering at anything anymore, but tell that to my imagination. It won’t believe you. My reluctance to eat whitebait used to give rise to irritating conversations with my mother.

‘It’s looking at me, Mother.’

‘No, it’s not, dear. It’s dead. Eat it up.’

‘But I can see its eyes and there’s a whole head.’

‘It’s all good protein, dear. Down it goes.’

‘But I don’t like the…


My mother was very robust about food and was fond of slightly strange things like pigs’ trotters, tongue, brawn andhaggis. Of that list, the only one I don’t have a problem with is haggis which is odd, as presumably it contains all the disgusting bits of the original haggis chopped up. I suppose I find it tolerable partly because it tastes so good and partly because it’s no longer recognisable as being Jimmy Haggis or Blossom.


Haggis DexterTibiae Brevis with a rare hibernating Haggis Albino Alopecia Tibiae Negativus. (photograph attributed to Emoscopes)

There are apparently two different breeds of haggis, the left leg shorter haggis and the right leggers. Sadly, the two sides can never mate as they generally consort nose to nose. If the male decided to mount, he’d need to turn round, thus with his long legs up the mountain, short down and therefore overbalance, potentially rolling to oblivion. This repeatedly unsuccessful behaviour has given rise to the Annual Haggis Rolling Ceremony carried out by single people in Scotland on February 14th.

Legend has it that the bagpipes were invented by Angus McTavish, inspired by him overhearing the haggis mating rituals, presumably of two lefties or both right (the haggis being the only animal known to maintain a relationship where both of the pair are always right.) In fact, the only animal that has ever been proven to have played the bagpipes is a haggis named Fergus who, on a dark Grampian mountainside, unfortunately mistook a forgotten set of bagpipes for his mate Jocketta, banging out a very passable rendition of Scotland the Brave.

So did I eat the tiny octopus? I hear you ask. No, although I did eat half of another one which I found lurking elsewhere, just to be sporting. The minipus rode the empty plate back to the kitchen and since no large Italian chef subsequently appeared waving a meat cleaver at me, I assume that either my reluctance to eat it was not too insulting or the octopod disappeared into the kitchen kitty. Seems right, somehow, that the octopus went down the throat of the quatropus.

Arrivederci and cherio the noo.


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