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Always nice to get a positive review for one of my books and even better when it comes from another 'ex-pat' Burtonian!  Carol post...

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Give Me Just A Little Of Your Time




To paraphrase the old Chairmen of the Board hit.  I'm taking a brief sojourn from my antipodean adventures to seek your help.

Today, my book 'Steady Past Your Granny's' received a review.  It was short and to the point.  It said 'GREAT' and gave the book 5 stars.  This brightened my day considerably.  Now, you may not really care whether my day has been brightened considerably or otherwise, and I wouldn't blame you, but it did make me think about this whole business of promoting our books.

I'm sure I speak for most independent authors when I say that very few of us have an advertising budget of any sort.  If we did have one, it would doubtless dwarf the meagre remittances from our book sales and make the whole affair pointless.  We are therefore forced to rely on the few, free outlets available to us (Facebook, Twitter etc.) as a means of attempting to bring our wares to the attention of the general public.  This can make us a bit of a nuisance at times.

However, if the readers would give us a bit of a hand, we could minimise our 'BUY OUR BOOKS' efforts and concentrate on producing more things that you want to read.  Can I suggest the following?

1.  Leave a review - there is no such thing as a book having too many reviews.  I can't speak for all authors but I read every one and I'm grateful for them all.  Even the 1 stars at least show that someone was sufficiently moved to make a comment.  I know when I'm looking for a new book, I always make a practice of browsing the reviews to get a feeling as to whether it will be my sort of thing, or not, and they're usually pretty accurate.

2.  Tell your friends - there's nothing more valuable than 'word of mouth' recommendation.  If you've enjoyed a book, let others know so that they can enjoy it too (or, alternatively, question your sanity and ask whether you should get out more) ;-)

3.  Tweet and Share - again, if you've enjoyed a book and you see something about it in the social media, please pass it on.  It's our only way of getting a wider readership.

We value every single read, comment, share and review, so please let us know what you think.

This is today's review, for which I'm very grateful:

'GREAT' review


Saturday, 23 April 2016

Giving The 'Rahlag' A Miss



Manly Beach


They're a sociable bunch, the Australians.

I know that this is another in my ongoing series of sweeping generalisations, and I'm sure that Australia has its own share of misanthropes.  It's just that I've never met any of them.

Take the other night in our hotel bar.  My wife and I were sitting, minding our own business, gazing at the rugby on the television but really watching the comings and goings in the bar and trying to get a feel of the Australian social culture.  Another couple of about our age came in and sat not too far away from us.  They were nursing a couple of green and brown concoctions which looked distinctly unappetising and I later learned rejoiced under the name of 'Tobleroonies'.

Now, in England, it would be entirely possible to spend an entire night within feet of someone else without ever acknowledging their existence but I had a feeling this wouldn't be the case in Sydney.  Sure enough, after a short while they found a reason to say something to us and a conversation rapidly blossomed as they moved over to join us.  I'm rubbish at being sociable, so I decided to do something useful and go and get some drinks.  As I made my way back from the bar, a couple of blokes sitting at one of those high tables you sort of perch at stopped me and said, with a grin, "you wanna watch it mate, our mate's moving in on your missus" Indeed, a tall strapping bloke, who I recognised as being part of their group from the previous night, was sitting talking animatedly to my wife and the other two.

It turned out that Gary, as he was called, had been out on the town with his two mates and had clearly had a very convivial evening.  I don't know if he was really trying to chat up my wife, although it would have been a nice vote of confidence if he was, but he was clearly in the mood for a natter and was greatly interested when we explained that we were here as tourists and only had a limited amount of time in which to enjoy the delights of Sydney.  We said that we had been for a walk down to Darling Harbour and were pretty exhausted after that.

"Ah, you want to go to the rahlag" Gary announced, in a manner that brooked no argument.  I did what the English do best, I tried to look as if I knew exactly what he meant whilst searching desperately in my memory for anything that would give me a clue.  "I always used to go to the rahlag with my old man when I was a nipper, used to love it.  All the animals and the stacks of fruit and veg." He continued with enthusiasm.

It was at this point that the penny dropped.  I had been reading the local paper, largely because it was free, but also because I think you can learn a lot about a country from its local press.  I remembered now that there was a feature about the ongoing Royal Agricultural Show currently taking place in Sydney, although I hadn't taken a great deal of notice of it.

"Nah, you don't want to go there" the woman of the couple chipped in, "it's boring.  You want to go to Manly, it's got a great beach"

This prompted a spirited discussion about the relative merits of both attractions.  Gary, it transpired, was on a three day 'jolly', along with his two mates (who were watching the conversation with interest from their perch on the table opposite) sponsored by their trade union.  Ostensibly it was to attend a union conference, but I think the eating and, particularly, drinking side of it was principally what it was about.

We, politely, said that we would keep our options open re our plans for the next day and Gary staggered off to bed, apparently satisfied with a job well done.  The other couple, who were in Sydney to visit their daughter who was about ten months pregnant and due any moment, laughed at the idea of anyone wishing to spend their precious holiday time at the 'rahlag' and extolled the delights of Manly.

The next day, we decided to take their advice and took the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly and had a brilliant time on a scorchingly hot autumn day.  Back at the bar that evening, Gary came in looking a little sheepish and considerably more sober than the previous night. 

"What did you do today?"  He asked.  We shamefacedly admitted that we had gone to Manly.

"I don't blame you.  It's a nice place."  He agreed, "You wouldn't want to go to the rahlag, it's just animals and veg."

f you've enjoyed this, you might well enjoy Philip's 'nostalgedy' series of books which contain numerous pieces in much the same vein.  Links can be found on the right of this page.

See also 'Wizard In Oz' and 'Time Flies (But Not In Economy)'

Friday, 15 April 2016

Time Flies (But Not In Economy)



This is a story which begins at Manchester Airport and ends in a cat litter tray.



When I was recently in Sydney (see Wizard In Oz) I saw a souvenir that I really should have bought, as it is a perfect example of Australian humour.  It was a snow globe containing something vaguely Australian within, but what amused me was the slogan underneath, which read "SYDNEY - IT'S A BLOODY LONG WAY'

It is a 'bloody long way'.  10,555 miles, as the crow flies, from Manchester to Sydney, although I would imagine most crows would have more sense.  Unless you happen to be independently wealthy, this vast distance is likely to be travelled in the Economy section of your chosen airline.  I live in the hope that more enlightened generations to follow will consign Economy class travel to the ranks of 'cruel and unusual punishment', but I doubt it.  I once worked with a rather grand lady who travelled by air frequently on business and she told me "I never turn left when I board a 'plane".  I pointed out to her that, if I did that on most of the 'planes I've flown on, I would be sitting on the pilot's lap, but I don't think she grasped my point.
I suppose that 21 hours in an aircraft would be just about bearable if you could sleep through it, but I just can't.  I'm acutely aware that there is 34,000 feet of absolutely nothing between me and terra firma and I don't find that a comforting though before I drop off (which is an unfortunate term, under the circumstances).  On the two occasions when exhaustion overtook me and I did nod off for a few blissful minutes, I was rudely awoken by being bashed over the head as someone walked down the aisle.  Cat-swinging is not an option in Economy.

The other problem, in Economy, is dining.  Not, necessarily, the quality of the food, although that can be variable, but the need to eat as if you are a praying mantis, elbows tucked in to avoid encroaching on your neighbour's personal space, wrists bent as if performing delicate surgery.  Of course, as soon as the meal has been served, clear air turbulence will set in with a vengeance and you'll be lucky if you don't arrive at your destination wearing most of your dinner.  Also, just as a matter of interest, if you're not allowed to bring sharp objects on to the aircraft (understandably) why are you then issued with metal knives, forks and spoons for your meal?

 Leaving to one side the cramped conditions, the duration of the flight and the difficulties in doing anything other than sitting in one place for hours on end, the thing that really messes with your head is the time difference.  We left Manchester at about 08.00 for a 7 hour (ish) flight to Doha and arrived there at 18.00, because of the difference between UK and Qatar time.  Boarding a 'plane to Sydney at 20.10 for a 14 hour (ish) flight, we arrived at Sydney at 18.05 the following day.  By now, if you're like me, you're hopelessly confused, but travelling to New Zealand makes it worse.  I had always thought of New Zealand as being to Australia what the Isle of Wight is to England.  It isn't.  It is, in fact, over 1300 miles away and you cross two time zones to get to it.  So, by the time you get to NZ, you are two hours further adrift from U.K. time and figuring out when would be an appropriate time to ring home would require the insight of Stephen Hawking.  To complicate matters further, whilst we were in NZ, they put the clocks forward one hour, as did the U.K. (but not, of course, on the same date).  Coming back to the U.K., you inevitably gain back all of the hours you lost on the way out, so we left Sydney at 21.30 and arrived back at Manchester at 13.15 the following day, despite travelling for 23 hours.  As a consequence, although I've had jet-lag before, I've never experienced anything like this.

On the day we returned, we decided to try to go to bed at roughly our normal time to attempt to get our body clocks back in some sort of order.  We made a decent attempt but it became more and more difficult.  You found that, if you allowed your eyes to close for more than a fraction of a second, you were instantly asleep.  I knew that I had to give it up as a bad job when I heard a loud bang as I was cleaning out the cat litter tray (you don't get this sort of detail with Bill Bryson, do you?).  The loud bang in question had been caused by my knee hitting the washing machine, as my leg gave way underneath me because I had fallen fast asleep in mid-shovel.

Now that's what I call jet-lag!




If you've enjoyed this, you might well enjoy Philip's 'nostalgedy' series of books which contain numerous pieces in much the same vein.  Links can be found to the right of this page.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Wizard in Oz!



I rather like the Australians.

I’m afraid that there are likely to be any amount of these sweeping generalisations in what follows.  Obviously, I can’t say that I like all Australians.  I’ve only met a few, and those that I have met have been invariably providing a service or selling goods of some kind, so were  hardly likely to be unlikeable, but still…

I suppose what I like most is their sense of humour, and that fact that they’re not afraid to use it.  Take this ‘for instance’.  We were in a pharmacy in Manly (a town which must have a sense of humour with a name like that).  I had an irritating cough (I’ve got an irritating everything, but the cough was excelling itself) and my wife had digestive problems.  We sought the advice of the pharmacist, who suggested a couple of remedies.  My wife, who likes to relieve awkward situations with humour, said to her “What with his cough and my problems, we keep expecting people to spray us with something”.  Now in England, that would either have raised one of those artificial and pitying smiles which say ‘poor old bugger, it’s a shame really, but if I keep smiling she may go away of her own accord’, or would have elicited no response whatsoever.  Here, the pharmacist said, “Nah” as she rang up the items on the till, and waited a perfect beat before following with, “we’ll just spray after you’ve gone.”

I should, I suppose, explain that, at the time of writing, we’re on a brief stop-over in Sydney prior to a cruise around New Zealand (which is the primary purpose of this holiday).  Hence the visit to Manly, because everyone has said we should visit there even if we do nothing else.  Although one large Australian gentleman, with quite a few beers under his belt, made a very strong case for the Royal Australian Agricultural Show, which we declined.

Coming back to the pervasiveness of humour, there’s the adverts.  In Sydney, there’s an anti-litter campaign ongoing at the moment.  All over the city, there are huge posters saying ‘DON’T BE A TOSSER!’ and, in slightly smaller letters, ‘put it in the bin’.  Brilliant!  But can you imagine getting away with anything like that in the U.K.?

Or there are the road signs, which are probably not intended to be humorous, but get there anyway.  At a particularly complex and busy junction in Sydney (and, I’m sure, elsewhere), involving multiple lanes winding around a city-centre block, there’s a point where four lanes emerge from a blind bend.  There’s no entry to these lanes for oncoming traffic, but this might not be immediately obvious if you were unused to the traffic flows in the city, and were perplexed by the junction.  About 20 yards down from the junction, along those four lanes and facing the oncoming traffic, there is a large red sign with white lettering which says ‘WRONG WAY – GO BACK’.  No diagrammatic sign or translation into other languages, just this stark warning in English.  And if you can’t read English? “Well, you’d better learn pretty sharpish, eh mate?” you can imagine would be the response.

It’s the same robust attitude that informs the small print of a meal offer at a restaurant on the waterfront at Darling Harbour, which read ‘This offer is not available on Bank Holidays, or any other day when we can’t be bothered’.

Of course, sometimes the joke seems to be on the weary traveller.  For example, Australians seem to have a somewhat ambivalent attitude to drinking alcohol.  They seem quite keen on it, but in a sort of slightly guilt-ridden way.  On Good Friday, I nipped down to the bar in our hotel for a quick pint (well, a ‘schooner’ actually, whatever that is.  Whether you get a pint, or not, seems to be in the lap of the gods here).  There were a number of people in the bar but I was surprised to find the door was locked.  I tried it a number of times, thinking I had made a mistake, at which point the bar tender came over and unlocked it, saying he could let me in for a last drink if I liked.  Another chap joined me (also English, recently arrived from Blighty and like all fellow-born Englishmen, pathetically grateful to be served anything by anybody).  When this other chap asked about the early closure, the bar tender explained that they were not allowed to serve alcohol after midnight on Good Friday.  We were now rather perplexed as the time was 22.05, so he went on to say that he needed the extra time to clear the place and do his paperwork!  I asked if I could buy another beer to take up to my room (a pretty standard practice in most hotels) but was told that I couldn’t because it would have meant walking through the Reception area with it, which was an alcohol-free zone.  Honestly, you couldn’t make it up.  I thought the local populace might at least kick up a fuss about being ejected from a hotel bar at 22.10, but no, they all filed out meekly, as did I.  Mind you, on our first night, they had shut off all of the draught beer pumps at 21.30, for no apparent reason, and that didn’t elicit a word of protest either.


It’s a funny old place, Australia.

Now try the second instalment of the saga - 'Time Flies (But Not In Economy)'

If you've enjoyed this, you might well enjoy Philip's 'nostalgedy' series of books which contain numerous pieces in much the same vein.  Links can be found to the right of this page.