Not forgotten

My Mum died on the 14th of March, 2012. Five years ago today.

I have written a lot about her on this blog, and have previously marked this anniversary of her death. I wasn’t going to do the same again today for some reason, but then I changed my mind. I don’t want her memory to be forgotten. Though I will never forget her, her life, and awful death, needs to be mentioned, if only once a year.

By her own reckoning, she was an ‘ordinary woman’. A Londoner, born into a working-class family, she left school aged just 14, to start work. Her youth was ruined by the Second World War. Long years spent terrified of the bombing, hiding in shelters, and having to cope with the loss of friends and neighbours lost in the destruction, or when fighting overseas in the services.

Despite all that, she got on with life. She married, raised me, and continued to be part of her large extended family too. She was a loyal wife, a devoted aunt and sister, a good cousin and caring neighbour. Above all, she was a wonderful Mum, who would do anything for her son. She also supported many charities, and loved her pets too.

The last years of her life were marred by illness, and problems with her sight. That final stay in hospital, receiving no treatment under the ‘Liverpool Care Pathway’, was one of the hardest things I have ever had to witness. Yet through it all, she only worried about me. My future, my happiness, my health. Never her own.

Violet Anne Johnson, 1924-2012. Never forgotten.

Reviewing your blog

If you go to the new-style wordpress stats page, you can choose an option that is marked as ‘Stats For All Time’. When you have published as many posts as I have, looking at the information provided here can be very interesting indeed.

You are presented with a list of your posts, in descending order of popularity, based on how many views that post has received. It cuts off at 39 views for some reason, and doesn’t show any posts with less views than that. On my list for this blog, the majority of posts seem to have figures between 55 and 80. This coincides with my own rough calculations, based on the numbers provided by wordpress when I log on every day. Of course some posts, those with photos especially, get many more than that on the day of publication.

As some of us have discussed previously, we don’t post articles to get views. We write for ourselves, and if others like what we write, then that is a bonus. But if you are a committed blogger, it can be very interesting to see which posts have proved to be the most popular during the time that you have been blogging. And it might well surprise you too.

With almost 1,300 views, my most-read post is ‘About’. People obviously like to know something about the blogger whose stuff they are reading. A large photo of myself with Ollie also gives them the chance to put a face to the name. A good ‘About’ page is something that many bloggers neglect to bother with, so my stats might go to show that it can be very useful.

It will be no surprise to my regular readers that the second most popular post is ‘Whatever happened to ?: Jamiroquai.’ This has had almost 900 views in a relatively short time, and is something of a phenomenon for this blog, as it continues to be read as regularly as ever. I would never have dreamt that a random post about a jazz/funk band would generate so much interest. But it has.

Three of my ‘living in Norfolk’ posts are next. ‘Dereham: A Norfolk Town’, ‘The driest county in England’, (once the most-read post here) and ‘Beetley Village’. These views are generated by people searching Google for information, rather than being interested to read my blog. Another post popular from Google searches follows. ‘What is the opposite of a Eulogy?’ is at number six, indicating how many people look for this information. Of course, my post is about something different, so the title may well mislead them.

Don’t worry, I am not about to carry on listing posts in order. This is just a snapshot of one blog, and may only be of interest to me. However, it does tell me a lot about what people are reading here.

I have published 1215 posts in less than five years. Despite adding the very popular photos, and continuing to write about my much-loved dog, Ollie, it would seem that local information and Google searches, alongside fans of the band Jamiroquai, are still the mainstay of my blog. Those hours spent writing fiction, recalling my years in the Ambulance Service with anecdotes, and reviewing films; all this is secondary to providing basic information about some Norfolk towns and villages, and the weather you can expect to find in this county.

Perhaps I should just write a local travel blog instead?

Harder to stay positive, in 2017

I met Brian in 2004. I transferred from West End Central Police Station in Mayfair, London, to the Diplomatic Protection Group, part of Special Operations, based near Trafalgar Square.

Brian was a constable there, something of an expert in communications. More than something in fact, a real font of knowledge. He had been in the group for over twenty years. During that time, he had accumulated an unparalleled knowledge of everything to to with that organisation. There was nothing he didn’t know about Embassies, and his wealth of contacts was legendary. In addition, his grasp of all the tiny details required to make our job work knew no bounds. He was our ‘go to’ man, in every way imaginable.

As a new joiner, I asked him many questions, and he generally answered them, though he valued his ‘secrets’, which were many. We established a working bond, although he was a few years younger than me. Over the next eight years, we also became firm friends, giving each other a lot of respect in the process. I got to know something about his wife and family, and we became close.

In 2011, he had exceeded his service requirement in the Metropolitan Police. After a long career, it was finally time to go. He and his wife chose to retire to a house in Norfolk, very close to the area that Julie and I had also bought our retirement home. Not long after we moved here, in 2012, we went over to see Brian and his wife, and they became our ‘local’ friends immediately.

Retirement started well for them. Good pensions ensured decent holidays, no mortgage, two cars, and a good lifestyle. Then Brian contracted male breast cancer, something most unusual. He went ahead with a double mastectomy, and made an excellent recovery. He got to enjoy numerous cruises, a comfortable life, and the companionship of his devoted wife, successful children, and the arrival of grandchildren too.

In the meantime, we met up now and again. We enjoyed meals at various local restaurants, and social time at each other’s houses. We also looked after each other’s dogs, and kept in touch on a regular basis. If we didn’t meet up for any reason, we communicated by telephone. We were each other’s local friend, and happy to be so.

This afternoon, I received the sad news that Brian had died. He had an undiagnosed bowel tumour, and this had caused him to attend hospital on Wednesday. By the time they discovered the problem, it had burst, and he died this morning. Younger than me, with a decent pension, and lots left to do in life. Children and grandchildren to cherish, a wife to love, and so many plans for a comfortable future. Yet he is gone; and I am shocked and surprised this evening.

I am really trying to stay positive this year, I really am. It’s not getting any easier though.

RIP ‘Big Brian’. You are sorely missed.

Staying positive, in 2017. (Just)

Cleaning the oven(s)

What’s this? A post about cleaning the oven? (I hear you cry)
Yes, that’s exactly what it is, so leave now if you have never cleaned an oven.
You definitely will not be interested, I assure you. And it’s not the first time I have written about this job, which shows how much I really hate doing it.

Today, I decided that the oven would have to be cleaned. Not only do we have a visitor this weekend, I can no longer see through the glass on the doors. This is my own fault, as I confess to not having given this oven a good clean since the latter part of 2016. (I know, shameful) I always have good intentions to clean it on a regular basis, but something (Anything. Please, anything) usually gets in the way of that. I do cook a lot, so regularly use both ovens. There is a small top oven and grill, and a larger fan-assisted oven. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t use one or the other, or both together.

This morning, I decided to try the chemical-free approach. I resolved to use baking soda and water, mixed with white vinegar. Mix into a paste and apply, and according to the You Tube videos, the grease just slides off. That sounded good to me, but I fell at the first hurdle. For best results, this should be left on for no less than 24 hours. That was never going to work. For one thing, I need to cook later on, and for another, Ollie sleeps in the kitchen/diner, so I don’t want him exposed to any concoctions overnight. So, I only managed to leave it on for two hours, as I soaked the racks in biological washing powder first. (That works, by the way.)

When I could wait no longer, I tackled the top oven first. The non-chemical process had worked well inside, and around the frame, but had hardly made a dent on the thick glass window. I had to resort to Oven Mate liquid, a seriously corrosive cleaner that can take the skin off of your fingers if you are not careful. Scrubbing away with this fluid made a hell of a mess, and I went through quite a few scrubbing pads too. But it was more than ‘good enough’, so I started on the large oven. Of course, the fan-assisted heat that cooks food so well also ensures that any spills and residues are also beautifully baked on. This second oven laughed at the soda/vinegar combination. If it could have talked, it would have said “Better luck next time, sonny Jim.”

I poured on the rest of the Oven Mate, then got ready and took Ollie for a long walk. Any excuse not to face the demon oven. On my return, I started again, having to reach awkwardly over the drop-down door in the process. My hands and arms were soon worn out from scrubbing, and though there was some improvement, it was only just over what I consider to be ‘acceptable’. I still have the extractor to clean, filters to replace, and floor to clear up too. I had to have a break, and what better way than to blog about this nightmare chore?

Another tiring day of oven cleaning has left me with two conclusions.
1) I have to make a concerted effort to clean the oven EVERY time it has cooled down after use.
2) I have to save up to pay a professional oven cleaning company to deal with it in future.

I think I will go with option two.

Just been watching…(31)

The Hunt (2012)
(Original Danish language, English subtitles)

***Spoilers avoided***

I had read good reviews of this film at the time, so was pleased to see it being shown by the BBC. Mads Mikkelsen is a Danish actor well-known to international audiences, appearing in such blockbusters as ‘Doctor Strange’, and ‘Casino Royale.’ In this film, his part is that of an ordinary man, a quiet divorcee living in rural Denmark. It is a small community, and Lucas (Mikkelsen) is a teacher at the local nursery school, popular with the children and staff alike.

Some scene-setting shows him out with his male friends; drinking, bonding, and hunting deer. He has problems getting access to his son, as his relationship with his ex-wife is a difficult one. His best friends Theo and Agnes live nearby, and their daughter Klara is a pupil at the school where Lucas works. Klara really likes Lucas. She often gets him to walk her to school, and asks to walk his dog too. Though she is too young to be out alone, Klara also wanders off, waiting around near the local supermarket hoping to see Lucas.

One day at school, Klara gives Lucas a present of a plastic heart, and tries to kiss him. He tells her that this is wrong, but she doesn’t understand. Later, she makes an accusation of sexual misconduct against him to the headmistress, Grethe. After thinking about what the little girl has said, the next day Grethe confronts Lucas. Despite his denials, she suspends him, informs the police, and tells all the parents what has happened too. Things start to get bad for Lucas, very quickly.

What follows is an all-too plausible scenario of the impact of this accusation in a very close-knit community. Events escalate as more children are questioned, and add to the first allegation. Lucas can only watch in disbelief as former friends turn on him, and his everyday life becomes a living nightmare. Mikkelsen is flawless in the role of Lucas. I managed to forget that he was an international star, and to become immersed in the pain and anguish of his character. The other actors are not so well-known outside of Denmark, but this was a positive thing, giving the film real impact that at times made it feel like a documentary. Tiny Annika Wedderkopp is simply amazing in the role of young Klara. She acts with a talent that belies her youth, and projects a range of emotions that also drive along the story. This is an important film about the way society reacts to a specific event, and I was riveted, despite the familiar theme.

Considering the subject matter, nothing sexual is ever shown, though there is some violence between adults. The assertion throughout that children are always believed; that they are not natural liars so any allegation must be considered to be true, leaves the viewer realising that Lucas is in a situation that could happen to anyone anywhere. This is where the film delivers the most impact, and started to remind me of the Salem Witch Trials centuries earlier.

Mikkelsen won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance as Lucas, and the film was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the BAFTA and Oscar ceremonies. You will understand why.

Here’s the official trailer.

Continuing positivity

Regular readers will know that I have pledged to be positive in 2017. After a lifetime of seeing my glass half-empty, I decided to change my attitude, and to embrace my 65th year by being positive at all times, about all things.

Some days, this is harder to achieve than on others.

I woke up this morning to bleak skies and torrential rain. Nothing that unusual here of course, but after a few bright days, the return to situation normal was far from welcome. This raised the prospect of a dog walk in driving rain, and more fresh mud to trudge through too. I could have complained, and felt pretty fed up. This was generally my reaction until now. But instead, I tried to see the positives.

I have excellent waterproof gear, so can walk though the rain untouched, save for my face. Rain and fresh air on the face is bracing and healthy, so that’s good, isn’t it? I also have new tough wellington boots, so as long as I watch my footing, the mud should not be a problem. No issues there then. And Ollie loves to go out whatever the weather, so that’s always a joy to see.
All good then
Embracing the positives.

Then the central heating system broke down. As I am sure you will agree, this is something that never happens in the summer. It is always a bleak and chilly day when the heating decides to play up, isn’t it? I went out to the boiler in the garage, and hit the red ‘RESET’ button. It fired up. Hooray!

Then it stopped again.

Three more tries, and it still kept stopping. If it is the main boiler, then it is going to be something very expensive, potentially. And this from a system only installed in 2012 too. Plenty to get annoyed about, on top of the bad weather. Instead of raging at the sky, I examined the situation with a positive mind.

We have an electric immersion heater in the water tank. So we can have hot water at least. A fan heater managed to take the chill off of the living room, and later on, I will light the wood burner, ensuring a cosy evening around the fire, and more heat than we can cope with. There is enough wood to keep it going for a few days, so that’s good too. Then I rang our heating man. Although he was out, I was assured that he will call back later, and try to fix it early next week. If it is expensive, at least we have enough money in our savings to cover the cost, and will just have to put it down to one of life’s little problems.

By seeing the positives, I was left mildly put out; but headache free, less stressed, and with a ‘One of those things’ attitude. No point getting all het up about something you cannot change, is there?

Staying positive, in 2017.

Positive rejection

It’s nice to have something else positive to write about.

I recently read this post about submitting stories for publication.

I then followed the link to the original post to read more here.
4 Ways Longshot Island Helps Emerging Authors

I liked the sound of this a lot, and decided to check out the publisher’s website.

They take submissions of stories from anyone, within certain parameters. If it is selected for publication, it is shown online, with some being chosen for inclusion in the printed magazine. Although they don’t pay the author, you do get five copies of the magazine mailed to you, so you at least get to see your work on the printed page. In the meantime, your story is out there on the website, to be seen by many more readers, as well as those on your own blog or site.

Feeling positive, I decided to submit a story, using their simple submission form.
I soon received a reply from the editor, Daniel. This was it.
“Hi Pete Johnson,
Thanks for sending your story, The Garden Shed, to Longshot Island.
We thought it was a little predictable. The ending was weak, too. That could be touched up.
So we’re going to reject this story. But please send us something new at your convenience. Do you have anything humorous?

I could have been downhearted. My first ever attempt at getting a story published had ended in rejection. But the advice was positive, expressed fairly, and I took the criticism happily. I also acted on that last but one line, and soon sent them something else. Once again, the reply came very quickly.
“Hi Pete,
Thanks for sending your story, Valerie, to Longshot Island.
It’s got a good twist, but still not what we’re looking for at this time. We’ll keep you in mind, though, if we should find a place for your work. You’re a solid writer and have a good future ahead of you.

Two rejections in as many hours. I might have just given up, but instead started to think of a story they might want to publish. I had been inspired to try harder, and I found that rejection was actually something positive, after all. Then I received this.
“Hi Pete,
I’ve just reconsidered and looked at your story one more time. Call me crazy, but it grew on me. Usually we try to have something a little out of the ballpark and your story fits the bill.
Is it still available? Could we put Valerie online?
Please send me your photo, author bio, and a link to a website (if you have one).

Of course, I was very happy indeed. Not only has my story been published on the website, it will be included in the next magazine, and they will send me five copies by way of payment. I found the whole process very exciting, even the initial rejection. They even sourced a very suitable image to illustrate the story, which you can read via this link. And I hope that you do.
Not only that, but I also have an author ‘bio’ now, and a photo too!
For many of you, this might not seem to be that big a deal. But for me, it was something quite wonderful.

From what I can see, Longshot Island is a bona-fide company, with no hidden ‘catches’. They have certainly not requested any fee, and although they do not pay for the stories sent to them, they appear to be up front, and honest and fair in their dealings. If this is not as it seems, I will let you know.

So, why not give it a try yourself? If I can do it, so can you!

Staying positive, in 2017.