Gingerbread Children

Followers of this sporadic blog won’t be surprised at the two-and-a-bit months’ gap since my last post. It seems I go into hibernation more often than a narcoleptic tortoise.

However, in my defence, m’lud, this time I have been silent but working, as opposed to silent but deadly.

And the thing upon which my labours have been expended is this: my debut novel.

30 pc

Family secrets. 
An ancient curse. 
Confectionery.

Not quite what Dominica Tort is expecting when her friend dies. But then her friend was the most powerful witch in the country: the Matriarch of the University of Nature, where witches have been trained for longer than history can remember.

A new Matriarch must be inaugurated, but who will it be? Nothing is certain until the envelope’s opened – and not even then. Especially when one candidate disappears and suspicion falls on another.

And what’s the shortbread cottage all about?

As Vice-Matriarch, Dominica must save not only people’s lives, but the future of witchcraft itself.

For once in my life, modesty is not going to forbid me from saying what a cracking read this book is. It’s a witty and hugely entertaining tale of witchcraft, mystery, murder and baking. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the five-star reviews on Amazon.  It’s even been compared to the work of Sir Terry Pratchett, for heaven’s sake – and more than once!

The author is deeply flattered and thrilled by this comparison, and chuffed to little mintballs by the reviews. And she’d be even more chuffed were you to consider buying a copy.

You can even try before you buy: click here to read the start of the story, and then follow the links to get your hands on your own copy, or click here (to buy direct from the publishers).

Please buy a copy. I’ve told you my real name and everything; that’s got to be worth something, hasn’t it?

Plus, if you buy this one, you’ll be helping to not only fund the next one, but you’ll keeping myself and Mr Fanshawe in sausage and mash.

Many thanks.

 

What kind of life do they think I lead?

The alleged ‘targeted advertising’ columns at the side of many an email account layout make me think that occasionally:

a) someone else has been using my account

b) someone back at email HQ has lost a vital line of their code somewhere between user testing and system implementation or

c) someone back at email HQ has had a bloody good liquid lunch, decided to play an online practical joke and shortly after pressing ‘Enter’ has collapsed comatose under their desk and remained there snoring until smacked in the shins by the night-shift cleaner’s vacuum brush-head.

For example, sporadically the two online ads in my side bar are exactly the same ad, separated by a time-lag of about a second. Thus have I seen one hot-dog chasing after another to the right hand side of my screen, swiftly followed by two pints of stout doing the same.

Sometimes – no doubt when the advertisers haven’t paid their bills – I get ads for companies which patently don’t exist, as they are usually called ACME something or other and their telephone number is always 901234 56789.

Then there are the times when email HQ reroutes clickbait as an ad – usually the ‘1 weird tip to lose belly fat’ (usually accompanied by a vibrating banana or a guy repeatedly pouring what looks like a combination of cooking oil and urine into a glass), or the ’60-year-old insert location here mum looks 40 by using this’ (usually the location varies from Penzance to Elgin and is accompanied by a picture of a 30-year-old woman peeling off a prosthetic granny-face).

I’m often shown ads for things I’ve just bought, presumably in the hope that I’ll buy another one even before I get the confirmation email through from the first order.

I’ve seen ads for everything from baby entranklements to over-70’s life insurance, budget caravans to bank-account-busting cruises, self-help seminars to power tools.

But the most memorable occasion was when the ads showed quite a wide selection of basques, flirty corsetry and body control underwear accompanied, inexplicably, by one advert for brogues. What kind of life do they think I lead? Do they think I would like to be incredibly sexy and yet have comfortable feet?

Well, now you come to mention it…

 

The Policeman’s Visit

The following story was inspired by a cartoon by the very funny Tony Husband.  If I show you the cartoon now, it’ll spoil the story, so links to the cartoon and Tony’s website are at the end.

***

FROM MY VANTAGE-POINT behind the counter in my shop – a kind of general stores emporium – I could see through the window that the young police officer was approaching, so I poured a cup of coffee as he came through the door.

‘Afternoon, constable,’ I called. ‘You’re just in time.’

‘Oh, cheers,’ he said, and sat on one of the stools on the other side of the counter. ‘Any chance of…?’

I put a plate of doughnuts down alongside the cup of coffee.

‘Oh,’ he sighed, taking one. ‘You don’t know how welcome this is.’

‘Hard day?’ I asked, pouring myself a mug of tea.

He nodded as he bit into the doughnut. ‘You could say that.’

‘So what can I do for you?’

He brushed sugar and crumbs from the front of his uniform. ‘I’m afraid I’ve come to ask you some questions.’

‘Fire away, constable; I’ll tell you what I can. I always like to help the police wherever possible. What’s it about?’

He laid down the half-eaten doughnut, pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his hands. He slurped at the coffee, then took his notebook from his top pocket and laid it open on the counter. ‘We’ve got two sailors in custody who were picked up by the navy just off the coast yesterday.’

‘That couple from the round-the-world trip?’

‘Yes, those two.’ He picked up the half-doughnut and waved it at me. ‘They’re saying that you organised the whole thing.’ He took another bite.

‘I did, yes,’ I said.

He stopped chewing. ‘Interesting,’ he mumbled, cheeks full, and scribbled Admits to organising in his notebook.

I smiled and took a doughnut for myself.  ‘Is there some sort of problem?’ I asked.

He licked his fingers and wiped them on his handkerchief again. ‘Do you mind clarifying something for me?’ he asked. ‘When you said you’d organised the whole thing, just exactly what was it that you organised?’

I put my doughnut down and sat on the three-legged stool behind the counter. It’s very handy to perch on when you know you’re going to be discussing things with a customer – or a policeman. I cupped my tea mug in both hands. ‘Well…’ I said, ‘they came in here with a list as long as your arm, and I got the stuff for them.’

He wrote down Got the stuff for them. ‘And what kind of stuff was it?’

I let out a long breath. ‘Oh, you know – transport, provisions, maps, currency.’

He diligently wrote down what I’d said, then he looked up at me. ‘Did they tell you why they needed all this – this – stuff?’

I smiled innocently at him. ‘Oh, yes. They said they were running away together.’

‘And you didn’t think to question them further?’

I shook my head. ‘The thought never crossed my mind,’ I said, a little less honestly than was actually the case. ‘If they want to run away together, that’s their business. It’s my job to sell things, constable. It’s your job to question people.’

He took a sip of coffee and paused for a while, as if wondering whether to ask the next question or not. Eventually he took the plunge. ‘What did you think of them?’ he asked.

‘Think of them?’

‘Yes – what were your impressions of them?’

I took a deep breath. ‘I… thought… erm… oh, yes, I thought they seemed happy… from the looks of them I thought he was quite a bit older than her… and I wouldn’t have said that they looked  particularly well-matched, but it takes all sorts to make a world, doesn’t it?’

I took a bite of doughnut and waited for his next question.

He looked back over his notes. ‘So you provided them with their means of transport, their provisions, maps for the journey and currency for the destination.’

‘I did.’

‘Why? Why did you get all these things for them?’

I smiled. ‘You’re new in town, aren’t you constable? I got all this stuff for them because I’m the only person they could get it from. Nobody else runs an operation like mine.’

He made a note of Nobody else runs an operation like mine. ‘Did you get anything else for them?’

I had another bite of doughnut whilst I thought. After a while, I said, ‘Well, now you come to mention it…’

His face lit up. ‘Yes?’

‘I did get something else for them – a small guitar.’

Judging by the look on his face, this wasn’t the answer he’d been expecting. ‘A small guitar? What – like a ukulele?’

I shook my head. ‘No – a ukulele has four strings, and a guitar – however small – has six. Unless it’s a twelve string, obviously. Or a bass guitar, but you don’t get small bass guitars. Would you like to come through to the music department and I can show you?’

‘Er… not at the moment, thank you.’

I shrugged. ‘As you wish. But it was definitely a small guitar.’

Small guitar went into his notebook, then he dipped into his pocket. ‘Did you get them this?’ he said, brandishing a metal spoon. The bowl had three tines at the end like a fork, and one of them was flattened and slightly sharpened to act as a knife.

‘Oh, yes,’ I said. ‘I got them that as well.’

‘What is it?’ he asked.

I took a sip of tea. ‘There’s loads of different names for it. Some people call it a sporf, some call it a spife and some call it a foon. I call it a—’

‘What’s it for?’ he interrupted.

‘For?’

‘Yes, what’s it for? What would you use it for?’

Dear, oh dear, I thought. What are they teaching these young coppers nowadays?

‘It’s for eating with,’ I said. ‘It’s an item of cutlery.’

He looked unconvinced. ‘Are you sure it’s not drugs paraphernalia?’

I couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d asked me to dinner.

Drugs paraphernalia?’ I said. ‘Drugs paraphernalia? It’s a combined knife, fork and spoon for eating with. You’d slice your top lip or stab yourself in the snout if you tried to sniff anything off that. What makes you think it’s drugs paraphernalia?’

He sat up straight and took a deep breath. ‘Because the two suspects were found with their boat stuffed to the gunnels with cocaine that they were trying to smuggle back into the country.’

My jaw dropped open. ‘Cocaine?

‘Cocaine,’ he confirmed. ‘In a boat supplied by you, with maps supplied by you and with currency supplied by you. And with this – this – what do you call it?’

‘A runcible spoon,’ I said. ‘Its technical name is a runcible spoon.’

He put it back in his pocket.

I sighed. It seemed that my two former customers would be going to jail for quite a while. And they seemed such nice people, Mr Owl and Miss Pussycat.

***

For the cartoon which inspired this story, click here.

For more cartoons by Tony Husband, please visit his website by clicking here.

Last orders

I’ve had very few alcholic drinks this year. About eight, in fact. And considering the first part of the year contains my birthday, that’s not bad going.

I seem to have lost the taste for it. Yes, a gin and tonic is refreshing, but when you’re burning the cocktail cabinet to keep warm during the cold weather it seems counterproductive to knock back drinks with ice in them.

And I’m not too keen any more on that dull feeling in my head in a morning having had a glass of vino collapso the night before.

And do you know what? I don’t really miss the alcohol, I can remember what went off at parties and it’s saving us a fortune.  (Actually, the second thing’s not strictly true as I’ve reached the age where I can’t remember where I put my glasses and I can’t always hear somebody at the other end of the table, so if you want accurate reporting of convivial gatherings, you’d better give me recording equipment.)

All of which is a roundabout way of saying I’ve written some mercifully short drink-related cautionary tales which you can find by clicking here and that will magically take you The Reaper website to read them. Don’t let the fact that they rhyme put you off.

Thank you for casting an eye over them, and just remember – there, but for the grace of God (or deity of your choice) goes any one of us…

 

A barbecue in the cemetery

A marketing email from a supermarket urged me to ‘treat your Mum to something special this Mother’s Day’ and included links to recipes, food and goodies to buy.

Dear Marketing Dept.,

I’d love to make my mother a roast dinner, as you exhort, but I don’t think I’d be allowed to take a barbecue into the cemetery. Into the crematorium, maybe – from which remark you can guess that I’m not a particularly sensitive soul.

I’m not averse to marketing emails in general.  (Hey, you need to sell things in order to fund the business which allows me to go and park right outside its doors whilst inside them I push a shoulder-wrenching trolley filled with perishable foodstuffs past people who think that the aisles there solely for them to sprawl about as far as they can whilst catching up with half-a-dozen old friends.)

And I understand that you have to make the most of these ‘occasion’ days to boost your profits.

But please don’t exhort people to specifically buy things for their mum. And don’t exhort them to ‘Be there for Mum’ as one of your jolly images did. Their mum, like mine, may no longer be available.

Your email irritated me to the point of writing this; I should imagine that it caused distress to others for whom the loss is more recent, or who are more sensitive than I.

Have a care, please.

Fifi.

P.S. The pedant in me said to tell you it should be ‘mum not ‘Mum’. Contact me if you need an explanation.

 

Watching the telly can be injurious to health…

… and not just from your blood pressure rocketing during the news.  The simple act of watching the televisual hypnotiser can have drastic effects.

It’s all too easy to settle down in front of the box; if BBC Four were broadcast all day, you’d probably have to come in once a week to chisel me out of the porridge-encrusted sofa cushions and hose me down with Dettol.

Being a telly addict can have serious consequences. Your bank balance will take a thrashing as you wantonly order online another pizza to be pushed forcefully through your letterbox so that you can retrieve it using only an outstretched arm and an old hockey stick, and all without missing a single footstep of the iguana fleeing the snakes on Planet Earth II.

Your muscles will atrophy as you sit still, your lack of movement making Miss Havisham look as speedy as Usain Bolt. And remember the warning about getting square eyes? That could be just the beginning, as it was for one poor soul, Sarah.

Click here to read Sarah’s tragic story as told to The Reaper by a passing poet.

Reasons to be cheerful

It seems I’m just coming out of a blog hibernation which started at the end of last September.  Maybe I was worried I’d sound like a whinging old blogger because there’s here’s just so much to get angry about:

the NHS being dismantled

the necessity for foodbanks

everyone who’s aiding and abetting the right-wing coup that’s threatening peace in Northern Ireland and gorging vast amounts of the country’s money that could have been spent on the NHS, education, etc.

the continuing presidency of Donald Trump

(Not an exhaustive list by any means.)

So, setting aside the bigger problems of the world, I find there are still so many little things which irritate me, such as:

Why does my pc need another update?

Why does Twitter show me notifications which have nothing to do with me?

Why will my gas hob only ignite for Mr F? (And no, that’s not a euphemism)

When will somebody invent time travel so that we can go back and stop David Cameron calling that referendum?

However, there are also other things to cheer the soul, including:

Endeavour

Recording the ice-dancing at the Winter Olympics and then watching it at eight times normal speed

Getting tickets for  John Finnemore’s Flying Visit

The Article 50 challenge

But the main reason for me to be cheery is the publication of one of my stories by The Reaper as they kick off their new fiction section. So throw your hats in the air for me, please, and have a read of The Parting.  Thank you.

I’ll be back soon. Possibly.

Once upon a time there was a country

Once upon a time there was a country, and its dad didn’t want it to have a drink but some of his mates kept nagging at him to let it have a drink. So, for a quiet life, the dad said, ‘Fine, take the country out for a drink.’

So the country went out one night with the dad’s mates, and the dad only expected the country to have a couple of jars and then come home.  But the dad hadn’t reckoned with one of his mates trying to use this as an opportunity to take the dad’s place. The dad hadn’t reckoned with all the lies that his mates would tell the country about how everything that was wrong in its life was the fault of the neighbours who were pinching its money and eating its food and standing in front of it in the queue.  The mates got the country spectacularly drunk and it ended up mooning and shouting obscenities at the neighbours.

When the country got home again, the dad said, ‘I’m not taking care of the country’s mess – I never wanted it to have a drink in the first place. Let those who took it out sort it out. I’m off.’

But the mates also ran away, including the one who’d wanted to take the dad’s place.

So the country’s step-mum came along, rolled her sleeves up and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll sort this out.’

But instead of making the country a nice breakfast, patiently explaining the ramifications of what it’d done and sending it round to the neighbours with wine and chocolates and an apology, she decided its behaviour was not only acceptable, but desirable.  She stuck two fingers up at the lovely neighbours she’d lived next door to quite happily for forty-odd years and started smiling at the lunatic who’d moved into the big house on the other side of the pond.

One day she suddenly went out on the lash herself, saying, ‘I can handle this – I’m strong and stable.’ But she kept changing her mind on where she wanted to go and how much she wanted to spend.

Eventually, having gone through quite a bit of the housekeeping money by going out on the lash when she didn’t actually need to, she woke up the next morning with a massive hangover, but without a friend in the world apart from the strange characters she’d invited into her bed after bumping into them in the dark round the back of the pub.

Meanwhile the neighbours were saying, ‘Whatever happened to our friends? Do you remember? That well-off family that used to live next door?’

And the morals of this story are too many to mention.

 

 

Coincidence overload – Part III

I never realised how easy it is to lose months of your life to filling, sanding, emulsioning, glossing and rearranging your understairs storage (or understores stairage, as I have been prone to saying). Something comes to your attention and you think, ‘Oh, I must blog about that’ and before you know it the fascinating thing has been driven from your mind by a search for a sheet of wet and dry 400.

However, the painty tide of Magnolia Inoffensive Matt Finish has subsided and I now try to make sense of scribbled one-line notes about my summer of coincidences. I’ve already detailed Part I and Part II , so here is Part III.

Trust me. I don’t go looking for these coincidences; I have enough to do already.

28th May: Over breakfast I tell Mr Fanshawe about a dream I had involving David Tennant. I’m not sure what it says about Mr F that his only question was: ‘Was he in his Dr Who incarnation or not?’

We turn on the radio. Normally it’s set on Radio 2, but today it comes up with Radio 4 Extra which is playing Who Made Who, a slice of fine broadcasting all about Dr Who.  The programme includes Whatever Happened to Susan Foreman?,  a play in which agony aunt Claire Rayner has a small part. Upstairs, the door which I had painted the previous day was resting on pages torn from old copies of Radio Times;  on one page – in separate articles neither of which was anything to do with Dr Who – were photos of both Claire Rayner and David Tennant.

tennant-rayner

3rd June: Driving home from the in-laws, there’s nothing worth listening to on the car radio so we decide to listen to a podcast. Mr F suggests a reading of The Wind in the Willows. As I’ve never read the book, I think that’s a fine idea and it passes the time until we get home.

4th June: It’s our wedding anniversary and amongst the gifts from Mr F are a CD of the soundtrack to Mack and Mabel featuring Bernadette Peters, and a DVD of The Lady in The Van written by Alan Bennet and directed by Nicholas Hytner. Later that morning, listening to Graham Norton on Radio 2, one of his guests is Bernadette Peters. In the evening, we watch The Lady in the Van; in one of the ‘special features’ Nicholas Hytner mentions that his first collaboration with Alan Bennett was an adaptation of The Wind in the Willows.

Another of the gifts Mr F bought me was a book on Shakespeare. Reading it one evening I’m startled to see mention of Nathaniel Hawthorne, having listened to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Wakefield on the radio that very afternoon. Also in the book I read about Sir William Davenant, whose name is used by someone on Twitter who popped up in my timeline tweeting about Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks – a painting which I had given to my writing group as an exercise to write about.

During our home improvement marathon, one lunch break Mr F and I watch Railway Walks with Julia Bradbury (from 2008) and the programme tells of Robert Whitehead, inventor of the self-propelling torpedo; later, Paul Sinha’s History Revision on Radio 4 Extra also features the story of Robert Whitehead.

On a visit to Canterbury, I notice a plaque celebrating Mary Tourtel, creator of Rupert Bear, and from this I find that she and I share a birthday.

Listening to Radio 4, I hear the fifteen-minute plays in the series Unsuitable Men with Familiar Smiles. One of them mentions blues artist Big Bill Broonzy; within a week he’s also been brought to my attention via Michael Rosen on My Teenage Diary and an article by Paul Jones in Radio Times, completely unconnected with either broadcast.

I order something online and it comes to £10.41; when I check my account to pay for it, my balance is precisely £10.41.

26th July: On The Archers, Linda Snell was waxing lyrical about Diocletian’s palace for some reason. Three hours later, whilst researching wedding readings with a travel theme, I stumble across a blog post by Simon Calder’s wife in which she mentions: ‘Split, home to the marbled alleyways of  Diocletian’s Palace and world-class ice cream’.

Then there’s the occasion when The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner is an answer on a three-year-old episode of a TV quiz show in the same week that the play is being broadcast on Radio 4.

And  finally: another day, another lunch break and Mr F and myself chill out with an old episode of Frasier. I nearly took Mr F’s eye out as I pointed at the television and shouted, ‘Look! My baskets!’ (not something I’m prone to saying at any time).

baskets

That’s it. The gloss paint fumes have dissipated and life has returned to what passes for normal in Chateau Fanshawe, which I hope means that there won’t be another four-month lag before another blog post (bad blogger, Fifi). Now I can get back to using cosmetic face masks, rather than the ones that filter out dust and leave my less-than-elastic skin with as many lines as a week-old sheet or a Maori warrior.

Coincidence overload – Part II

Coincidence overload seems to be turning into some kind of natural state for me.

My previous post detailed the first string of coincidences to occur, and when Mr Fanshawe read it he said, ‘Well, if you have any inkling about lottery numbers, let me know.’ When one of my friends read the same post, she commented, ‘That’s a great read…. If you have any strong feelings about this weekend’s lottery numbers do feel free to share!

As previously mentioned, I like to catch up with Mike Harding’s Folk Show (www.mikehardingfolkshow.com).  In the podcast I listened to whilst chiselling up laminate flooring he mentioned The Flying Dutchman. The following day, Mr F and I watched one of his beloved spy thrillers, recorded about a week earlier: the 1965 Cold War classic film The Spy Who Came In From The Cold starring Richard Burton and Cyril Cusack. Richard Burton’s character disembarked from a plane, the name of which was written on the fuselage: The Flying Dutchman. (The day after that, we caught up with ITV’s Marcella, and who should be in that but Cyril Cusack’s daughter.)  Another day later I find myself up to the eyeballs in emulsion and for some unknown reason I break the habit of a lifetime and tune in to Radio 3. Within five minutes the presenter mentions The Flying Dutchman.

Last Sunday, director Peter Kosminsky vigorously defended the BBC in his Bafta acceptance speech. After breakfast on the Monday, I see on Facebook on my phone that someone has put up a video of it. I play the video and am slightly spooked to hear Mr F joining in because he’s reading the same speech on another website on his tablet.

On Wednesday, again up to the eyeballs in emulsion (there’s been a lot of that in Chateau Fanshawe lately), I listen to BBC Radio 4Extra and hear a trail for a forthcoming production of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. This was one of my favourite books in childhood, and I’d always pronounced it ‘brizzinGARmen’. Imagine my surprise to hear it being pronounced ‘briSINGa-men’. Imagine my even further surprise that evening when my rapidly scrolling twitter feed stopped on this tweet:Curtis Brown Books:

And following the link in that tweet takes me to a New Statesman article by Ali Smith, the first paragraph of which is her questioning how to pronounce ‘Brisingamen’.

Also on Wednesday I read a few pages of Bob Harris’s autobiography Still Whispering After All These Years. (I’d downloaded it to my Kindle in March, but hadn’t started reading it until the beginning of May.) In those pages  I read – amongst other things – the sentence: ‘I went to David Bowie’s party at Haddon Hall and out to dinner with Bernie Taupin’. That same evening, what turns up in my twitter feed but this:

Bowie Haddon Hall

So far, I can report no coincidences involving Bernie Taupin. Come on Bernie, you’re not trying hard enough.

On Saturday, Mr F and I went to see Henning Wehn in a small venue in Cambridgeshire with friends of ours, Johnny Dee (@johnnydee77) and Mrs Dee, who’d rung the venue on the off-chance that there were tickets left. It was a sell-out, but as luck would have it they’d had four tickets returned that day.  I proposed that before going to the event Mr F and I should first go to a nearby town and call into a local bookshop to complete a bit of business with the owner. Mr F convinced me that it was out of our way, so we didn’t bother. On entering the venue, one of the first people we saw was the bookshop owner.

Oh, and also this week Twitter recommended that I follow one of my own alter egos. I’ve never been recommended to myself before, although someone once did send me a poem thinking I’d like it, which I did because I’d written it.

Bugger! I forgot to buy a lottery ticket…