Facebook Live - December 16, 2918 - Shame and the Glitzy Chocolate Wrapper The Winter Solstice

This time of the year – Christmas – just in case anyone hasn’t realized it’s already December 16th, I find myself moaning a lot. In fact in my family its become a tradition, rather like carol singing, except my family don't look forward to carol singing.
For example, I hate the fact that far too many people have to work on Christmas Eve which incidentally is my favourite day of the year. I believe at midday on the 24th every shop should close, allowing employees of supermarkets, retailers, enterprise parks, housing Garden Centres and Home Care, to relax and not be too tired the following day to eat their turkey. I also think Boxing Day Sales should be outlawed if it means setting them up on Christmas  Day night. It’s bad enough that the hospitals, police, fire brigade and other essential services need manning, without our aiding and abetting shops to open at the crack of dawn on Boxing Day for the annual sale … or a pint of milk. When isn’t there a sale?.
I also moan about the weather, and the dark nights and mornings, and de-frosting my car. And I wrote about it.

The winter solstice

December 21 should be deemed international brain day. This extraordinary product of evolution can sort red lights, green lights, blue lights, and yellow lights. Ambulance lights, police lights, fire-engine and traffic lights. Christmas lights, headlights, dipped lights, and fog lights. Cats eyes, street names, shop signs, and roundabouts. Junctions, road works, speed bumps and traffic calming. At the same time as listening to the radio, humming, deciding what to give your husband /partner/family for Christmas; mopping the windscreen, turning up the car heater, accelerating, braking, changing gear, and turning on the windscreen wipers.

Pretty good piece of kit, I'd say.

My story today is:

Shame and the glitzy chocolate wrapper

The engineer arrived at my house early this morning to take away my washing machine which had developed a loud clank, interspersed with a worryingly discordant thud.
To unplug it, he had to delve into the cupboard and there he discovered my stash of chocolate. As he pulled it out one bar at a time, I watched it multiply into a mountain range the size of the Alps or Pyrenees (the hills in the UK aren’t big enough).
Hastily I began an earnest prayer to some well-meaning deity asking if they would kindly shift time back to November. Then I might, in smiling and confident tones, explain that the chocolate was bought for the groups of small children who knock on my door at Halloween, chanting Trick or Treat. Then with dewy eyes and a change in tone remark, ‘Sadly, this year, there were fewer than usual.’
That’s when I remembered it was spring and with Christmas in between, it was unlikely he'd have believed me, anyway.
'I'm a children's writer,' I finally elucidated, my red-faced gaze focussed on the brightly coloured packages. 'I get very stressed if a book isn't going well.'
The engineer gave me a funny look, then turned his eye away from the mound of, shall we say it, "the stuff that lasts but a moment in your mouth and a lifetime on your hips." No doubt he was thinking - she either writes a lot of books or spends every waking hour in a state of extreme stress.

Then he pulled out the washing machine.

Sixteen years’ worth of frozen peas, peanuts, biscuit crumbs, and dried up raisins came with it, plus, a large handful of dead flies and spiders.
That’s when I fervently wished a hole of substantial proportions would appear under my feet.
I could have died with mortification.
After he left, I became so stressed at being found delinquent in the housekeeping department that I drank several cups of coffee and scoffed half my stash, whilst washing the floor and removing the debris.
Then I was struck by the most awful thought.
What if he had actually counted the number of bars in the cupboard before he left with my broken machine? Maybe I’d better hurry out to the shops and replace them, in case, when he returns with my mended machine, he thinks I’ve eaten them.

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Live Video - Dec 9, 2018 - Going Bananas

I’m a traditionalist – that is I believe in bookshops more than the web. Indeed, I still regard the web as something strange, like manna dropped from heaven. The fact that it is interactive blows my mind and I so wish I understood how noughts and crosses could connect you with someone several thousand miles away in less time than it takes for me to type noughts and crosses.  One or two generations down the line – the situation is very different. Yesterday, trying to decide whether it was worth driving to Glastonbury – it was raining at the time – my daughter and her boyfriend dialled up their phones to check the progress of the storm clouds.
I have proved equally inept at social media, despite hours of input and chat, liking and sharing, output remains desultory, as my royalty cheques from Amazon prove. Of course, I may well have shot myself in the foot by changing genres and age groups at such a late stage in my writing life. For that you can blame ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ and ‘The Minaturist’ So after 12 years or more writing for children and ya’s, I now write fantasy for adults/top teens. The Year the Swans Came – was published at the end of October, with Book 1 of the trilogy, Children of Zeus, in 2019
And so, since all other methods seem redundant, as the doyenne of classrooms and lecture halls, I have decided to talk my way into social media, hence Sunday night videos sessions.  Once, I get the technology sorted, I will pick out short stories from other writers and read those. So do stay with me!
Having said all that: my piece today is: Going Bananas.  

Did you know fishing is the most popular sport in Britain? I didn’t. When I did think about it, I found myself speculating as to whether an activity, which consists of catching a fish and throwing it back in again, can ever be called sporting.
Be that as it may; according to officialdom fishing is still more popular than golf. Although, if you really come to think about it, chasing a white ball for five miles is pretty silly too!
Nevertheless, I am convinced that statistics will support the statement that golfers consume more bananas than any other sporting group.
Golfers, the length and breadth of Britain, have discovered the magical properties of slow release carbohydrates which sustain them until they hole out on the 18th, while the skins, nonchalantly flicked into the bushes, provide food for birds or compost for the ground.
Among golfers, therefore, the commonplace banana has acquired an almost mystical reputation.
'Would you like a banana? I've brought two,' will follow a particularly nasty slice on the 10th, which lands your ball in the woods, and your partner trying to conceal his/her irritation.
And missing a 6ft putt on the fourth will initiate immediate consumption of a banana, since you are totally convinced that its healing powers will remedy your tendency to pull your putts. In which case, a similar distance on the 5th green will prove no problem.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, when faced with playing an Open on an unknown course in Cornwall, I decided to buy some bananas. At that point, little did I realise my search would take me the length and breadth of the county, before arriving at the inescapable conclusion that bananas have never been heard of south of Devon.


The reaction which greeted my polite enquiry was similar to that of a greengrocer in the Second World War, whose shop contained one orange.
Having discovered that the words, 'Country Store', which in Somerset heralds a roadside fruit and veg stand, related to corrugated sheds spewing out paving stones and lengths of wood (believe me I visited five), I decided to check out all the villages along the A392. Someone, somewhere, has to sell bananas.
Cornwall is to be complimented on the quality of its 'A' roads. Superbly maintained, they unfailingly indicate the whereabouts of a tourist attraction or village. Unfortunately, once off the highway you plunge into cavernous single-track lanes, guarded by tall hedges. And it is only when you come across a signpost to yet another village that you realise you have already passed the one you were seeking … it was those half-dozen houses you passed a while back with a pub, but no shop selling bananas.
Bloody-mindedly I fought on, politely pulling into narrow passing zones to allow oncoming traffic to proceed, from time to time catching an elusive gleam of water through dense hedgerows, becoming more and more convinced that I would stumble across a mysterious Frenchman, aboard his yacht, 'The Seagull' in some watery creek.
Finally, I gave up and returned to the main road.
Exhausted I drove back to St Austell, eventually passing through a proper village, which boasted a sub-post office selling comestibles but no bananas. Surely, there has to be a vegetable shop on the periphery of St Austell? There wasn't or if there was, I didn't see it.
In sombre mood I set off for the golf course – banana-less …

…and had a most disgusting round.

I did eventually discover Tesco who, as everyone knows, sells bananas, although that was not until I was heading back to Somerset at the end of this ‘never to be forgotten’ day, the responsibility for which I lay entirely on my lack of bananas. The store in question lay on the far side of St. Austell heading towards Liskeard, which was a fat lot of use.

Do you remember our alarmist cry when supermarkets first appeared: 'You mark my words, small shops will die out?' 

They have!
At least the ones selling bananas have.
The Machiavellian plot of Tesco, Sainsbury and the like, is almost complete. The only thing left to be done is for town planners to include a supermarket logo on all road signs: A392, Liskeard, Plymouth and Tesco Superstore. Otherwise golfers will never be able to find bananas in a strange town.

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Live video - Dec 2 2018 - Boats, Bungalows and B&B's

After each of my videos my producer-granddaughter has reviewed my efforts. Last week, rather like the Roman Emperor in Gladiator, her thumb remained firmly tilted down. ‘You must look at the camera.’ She rebuked Not easy to do, when reading a story unless you are a bluebottle, able to adjust your eyes for 360 degree vision or the possessor of a teleprompter. So today we are attempting the heath-robinson approach, although I have no doubt today’s children remain ignorant of that particular expression. To my granddaughter we are simply attaching paper to a rigid piece of card!
Yesterday, I announced I was reading Dug Up. Today, I’ve changed my mind. It wasn’t quite long enough. So Boats, Bungalows and B & B’s it will have to be.

Cornwall is unlike any other county in the UK and the only one to which I will never return. In fact my strength of feeling is so er … er … strong I am about to pen a letter to the County Council suggesting that before next summer they install electronic signboards on the A30 and A38, at their crossing point into Cornwall.
‘Why?’ I hear you ask.
Out of consideration for visitors.
Imagine their gratitude if, before embarking on the final sixty miles, they were forewarned about parking:

Perrenporth Beach - 2 spaces
Truro  -- good possibility
Mevagissy – no chance
or even
Cornwall – full to bursting – try again next year.

Besides which, it might just avert a bloodbath between motorists struggling to get into the same parking place, egged on by precocious children and an irritable wife, fed-up with spending two hours stuck in traffic.
Meanwhile, spare a thought for the poor residents. For them summers have to be pure unadulterated hell.

Which brings me to the English institution of Bed and Breakfast. I vaguely remember during a family holiday shortly after the war, my mother complaining most bitterly about the boarding house in Deal, where the landlady, despite having our food coupons for the week, had served up cornflakes with watered-down milk.
I am not stating that B&B's have not progressed in sixty years, I am only saying, my recent experience leads me to wonder if they have.
      First there was the parking.
On the side of a cliff, where no council official in their right mind would possibly have considered granting a licence for a ten room B&B where only five parking spaces existed; meaning , you either curtailed your day’s activities returning early to grab a parking space or wandered back and forth all night like a wailing banshee.
Then there were the fire doors.
The one at the top of the main staircase actually sat on the top step and since its spring was designed to increase the pulling-power of a weight lifter, this proved quite a challenge. Once open, you held it open with your bottom long enough to negotiate the first step. Otherwise, the door slammed into your back with such force you broke the eighty-yard indoor sprint record on the way down.
Then there were the bedroom doors.
All new, they should have been fitted with a can of WD40 taped to the door handle. As you pushed down the handle, excruciating squeaks, rather like a pig being slaughtered, emanated from the hinge, while the key turning in the lock, mimicked the sound-effects in a Hammer Horror Film. 
Tragically, I belong to the fraternity that has to get up at night to go to the loo. The cacophony of sounds, which accompanied my nervous journey to the bathroom, was of the ilk to encourage some ambitious teenager, had he heard them, into starting up a new pop group.
SCREECH-CLATTER went my lock, SQUEAK my bedroom door opened, BANG it shut. (My poor neighbour, who had been snoring peacefully, awoke with a start as the thin partition wall vibrated.) (How do I know this? I heard him click on the light!). THUD said the fire-door, through which I had to pass on my way to the bathroom, despite an inch by inch effort to close it softly, CREAK went the bathroom door, CLICK-BUZZ– the pull-on light cord resonated as with a WHIRRING noise the extractor fan started up.
Mouse-like, I CLICKED, CREAKED, THUDDED, BANGED and SQUEAKED my way back to my bedroom. (Have I mentioned turning the key in the lock?)

Terrified I might need the loo again, I lay awake. And guess what …?
Still, I dare not get up. No way could I face that again. Doubtless, twice in one night would herald a lynch mob outside my door at dawn waiting for me to emerge? Crossing my legs, I forced myself to endure and stay in bed, too timid to run the assault course again – even if I had paid handsomely for the room.
Then there was breakfast.
With neatly set-up tables in straight lines, every so often the door creaked open to admit a  series of couples who hovered awkwardly at the entrance, hoping a waitress would appear and direct them to a table, not already 'bagged' by the couple who had arrived two or three days previously. Once seated, they began a conversation in stilted whispers all about stuff they would never dream of talking about at home – such as Aunty Bessie going into hospital for a hip replacement.
The waitress appeared asking 'tea or coffee' before handing me an elaborate, leather bound, menu, extolling the virtues of the extensive and traditional English breakfast, including brown and white toast and several varieties of egg.
'Do you have any fruit?'
'Fruit? I don't think so.'
The second day, I perused the leather bound volume more thoroughly, and discovered the magical word 'yoghurt' tucked away under 'All-bran'. It was as if the landlady was saying somewhat apologetically: I have to offer it, you know, some people like it. 
Okay so the views are wonderful. Magical even. But once you've seen them, you've seen them. Next time I consider taking a holiday in England, I shall inform all and sundry I will be away for the week, stock up on fresh coffee and croissant, luxurious strawberry jam and peaches, draw the curtains and spend my days looking at all my old holiday snaps – full of wonderful views.
And have a great time.
Good night
Join me every Sunday at 6pm live on :www.facebook.com/BarbaraSpencerBooks