Friday, 13 October 2017

"Manana"

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The school summer holiday memories are disappearing as quickly as the summer heat. The thought of keeping children amused for six and half weeks is fading as quickly as the sun is now setting as everyone hunkers down for the colder, darker winter months that are approaching. I should not complain though about the school holidays because one of the benefits of being a writer is that I get to spend a lot more time at home than the average worker, and being your own boss also means you decided how you are going to use that time.


In fact, I am very grateful for this and appreciate how lucky I am to be able to enjoy the school holidays with my family while a lot of parents dread when the schools are closed. There is one major drawback though; I just don’t get any writing done what-so-ever. Not only just that, but I find it very hard to get back into any type of regular writing routine for three or four weeks afterward. I seem to get distracted by day to day things and I find myself becoming almost Mediterranean in my thought. Every morning I wake up with good intentions of closing myself off in the dining room while I sit at the table all day writing on my laptop; only to find myself by 10 am throwing my arms up in the air and saying “manana.”


Once they are back to school things do not improve too quickly. I spent a week painting the outside window frames with gloss before what little nice weather we had turned into winter. “I will do some writing tomorrow,” I always say to myself only to be distracted by something else.

So now we’re into October and as you read this I should be in full flow on the manuscript to Revenge, the third book in my Daniel Jones series unless of course you are reading this article during the 21st to 29th of October because it is half term again and I can already feel the “manana” coming on

Anyway here are a few pictures from the summer holiday to Skegness to warm the cockles of my heart as we head into winter.



All the fun of the fair on the Pirate Ship at Skegness seafront fun fair and a crazy ride of the good old fashion dodgem cars. 





All the Fun of the travelling Circus and the whole family getting soaked by the King of clowns.





Enjoying a day on Skegness beach with Pippen my Mother-in-laws dog, or as he is known to me and the children, The Pipster.





A day visit to Lincoln. A nice meal in a pub with the family followed by a visit to Lincoln Cathedral, the Castle and the old town.




Good night and God bless.

Regards

Mark

Saturday, 16 September 2017

It don't get any better

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After last month’s debacle with the dentist, I thought the family holiday in Skegness would help to relieve the frustration of being told I would have to hand over £3000 for my child’s brace. Well after seven days of basically miserable weather on the Lincolnshire coast it did not. The children still had a great time as we endeavoured to keep them occupied, but holidays are not just for children; they’re just as important for the adults, and for me to recharge my batteries I need the sunshine. Like a lizard first thing in the morning that basks on a rock, I need those rays of energy.


So a month has past and so has a wet Skegness but our disappointment with the level of service offered by the local medical services has not. It started with a nosebleed, well, in fact, a constant stream of them. One of the little ones has suffered from sudden bleeds for a year or two but then went for a whole week suffering three or four a day, especially at night and sometimes for up to half an hour. There’s nothing more ruinous for a nights sleep than having to change, and soak, blood-stained bed sheets at 2am in the morning then spend half an hour trying to rub blood out of the carpets. When the wife came down with an ear complaint as well the doctor’s surgery was phoned for a joint appointment.


There was no appointment offered. She was informed by the receptionist that the surgery could not deal with any ear, nose or throat issues and they would have to both go to the walk-in centre in Norwich city centre! She was tired, tearful and upset and eventually, the receptionist found a single appointment for the child only in three weeks’ time.  The wife had to trudge to the walk-in centre. It was made pretty clear that the G.P service was on the verge of collapse because of long-running staff shortages.



What is a sobering thought is that the area covered by this surgery has been allotted for new housing which is bringing thousands of new people into the community. If they can’t cope with who’s here now, how are they going to handle all these new comers? 

Regards

Mark

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Two and a half thousand pounds

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I remember as a child in the 70’s going to the local hospital to visit my grandfather. There were no parking charges and the trolley lady offered visitors a free cup of tea, or squash for the children as she did her daily patient round. Those days are long gone, as well as that local hospital. I’ve got accustomed to paying for the fringes of the N.HS like parking, and now the tea lady has been replaced by a Costa Coffee, but I’ve always seen it as a small price to pay if it helps to keep the National Health Service functioning as a free at use service.


But as Mary, one of the lead characters in my Daniel Jones series of books always likes to say, ‘there is always a but in life’, and this month’s but was a visit to the dentist. For the last five years during every regular check-up one of my children has been informed that they would eventually need braces once their final baby tooth has been taken away by the tooth fairy. Just before their thirteenth birthday this duly happened and after being on the waiting list for eight months we finally got an appointment.


We turned up at the appointed time and place and I sat in with my child as the orthodontist examined their mouth. I was then informed that the said child could do with a brace, and this is the but, but that the government has now classified this type of work as being cosmetic and it is no longer covered by the N.H.S for children, but we could pay for it! Then came the even bigger but, all £2500 to £3500 pounds worth of buts. Yes, the receptionist informed me it would cost at least two and a half thousand pounds to get braces for my child!


We have asked for a second opinion and have a date booked for early October with another Dentist surgery. One thing has been playing on my mind, when I first tried to book the initial appointment I was told there could be up to a year wait. When I enquired why it would take so long I was told by the receptionist that the company (community dentistry are private firms in the U.K) was only allocated so much money each half to carry out a limited amount of such work so when it was used up you then had to wait for the next trance. I have been wondering if maybe the dentist I was sent to had used up their quota and were thus trying to push me into paying for it instead of putting our child into the next allocation of funds! 


I was left flabbergasted by the whole experience. Are Parents in the future with children born with cleft lips going to be told that they have to pay because it’s only cosmetic! Or are children born with a missing limb going to be told they will have to pay for any prosthetics because it’s only cosmetic? Either way, it's just another example of how things have been changing and not necessarily for the better. It was an underlying theme of my first book FRENZY a Daniel Jones Story. I first got the inspiration when the government equalized the retirement age for women and men, and then increased it to sixty-six years before you could claim. Now it's been increased to sixty-eight for my wife which means I will be seventy-four before we can enjoy our state pension together. As life expectancy for men is seventy-three years (and especially as I've not only burnt the candles at both ends in my life, but also cut that candle in half and burnt those ends as well) I may never get to see that day. Just like Daniel Jones when he finds out the truth about his ruling class and the Achievement Centres, I get the feeling I am being lied too as well. 


Maybe the 1970’s weren’t so bad after all!


Regards

Mark





Friday, 23 June 2017

Six weeks

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 Six weeks, that's all it's been!

When I was a child the school holidays seemed to take forever to arrive, but now I'm an adult they seem to arrive ever so quickly. It's been six weeks since the family returned from our holiday on the Canary Islands and the children are off school for the half term holidays.


It's been just over six weeks since I badly twisted my ankle on that start of the holiday and I've made about an eighty percent recovery. It's been six lost weeks of training for the Run Norwich 10k  and six weeks of putting back on the weight I had lost in the weeks leading up to the holiday. The swelling has gone down although it still aches and feels stiffer than before I twisted it. I have only just started to run again; well I say run, but it's more like a fast walk. The few days I just hobbled around just a fraction of the normal circuit I cover as I tried to rebuild not only my strength, but also my confidence. At the present time, I do have a nagging doubt that I will be able to complete the Run Norwich 10k in early August.  I entered last year for the fist time and was so happy when I completed it that I boasted of my plans to be running a half marathon within twelve months.


As they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men! In my case, at the moment I feel more like a lumbering elephant. It is a shame because running is more than just good for your physical health it's also very good for one's mental health. Some doctors are even daring to recommend it rather just handing over a fist full of drugs and sending patients their way.  Of course, the large multi-national drug companies do not like it, but me personally I think exercise should be prescribed for a lot of illnesses before hooking people on a never ending stream of pills.


So I've started running, or hobbling as the case may be and only for half the distance, and speed, as I slowly try to increase the strength of my ankle, and my own confidence. If I make the Norwich 10k is another matter so watch this space to see if I do.

Regards

Mark     

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

From 26 degrees to 8

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As I left the runway at Tenerife airport and hobbled up the stairs to the plane it was a very warm 26 degrees, four hours later when I went slowly down the steps at Norwich airport it was a very chilly 8 degrees. I was soon ruffling in my hand luggage for my light jacket to put on as we queued for the door to the terminal building.  

It's always been traditional since the wife and I first met that we leave behind our phones when we travel abroad, and as electronic devices are very quickly taking over our lives that now means other things like note pads etc. We go off-grid as they say.  So as we locked our suitcases ready to take to reception early on the morning of our return flight we had no idea what weather to expect when we returned to the U.K. No one normally wants their holiday to end so I returned home in a pair of deck shoes, shorts, and T-Shirt; not the sort of clothing that keeps you warm on dull grey windy cold day.

The wife was more pragmatic on her return so dressed appropriately to cover most weather options, and as I shivered outside the entrance to passport control the wife gave me a look that only women seem to be able to give. I desperately tried to act as if the cold had no effect on me, but it was not going to fool the wife. She kept giving me that look while staying completely silent, knowing full well that no words were needed. If only I had listened to her back in the hotel room then I would not now be shivering. I knew she was right and she knew it too.


There’s only one thing worse than your partner being right and yourself wrong, and that is when they are proved to be right as well, and this was one such occasion. The problem though was that this was not the first time she was right during our family 2017 holiday to the Canary islands during the Easter half-term. In fact on the third night into our eleven days on Tenerife, I had an accident that nearly ruined the whole event. A year and a half of saving and planning nearly ended in disaster, and I nearly ended in the hospital!

It was a simple thing. The family went out for a walk after our evening meal and we stopped off at the pharmacy to purchase some more aftersun cream. There were two sets of steps to walk down. The wife and children went one way where the path was better lit by the street lights and I decided to take the other path. The wife did say it would be better to take the path she suggested, but did I listen? No, I did not listen and I had to pay for it. As I stepped off the last step and went forward my right foot slipped off a black rubber pipe that had been placed across the path and I went crashing to the ground, badly twisting my ankle. I heard the crack first before I felt the pain and as I cried out in agony and rolled about the floor, I thought I had broken my foot. 

Some stranger came to my rescue, quickly followed by my concerned family who heard my cries of pain. I was helped to get up and sat on a low wall so I could check the damage. I decided that although it was not looking good I did not want to go to the hospital yet as I knew I would end up with my foot, ankle, and lower leg in plaster. I thought I would give it twenty-four hours to see how bad things got. The wife shot back into the pharmacy to get some Ibuprofen gel, and the strongest paracetamol she could purchase. I limped back as she and the children held me up, and once back in our room a towel full of ice was placed over my already swelling ankle.

I knocked back some pain relief with a large shot of locally produced Canarian Honey Rum with ice dripping over my ankle as I lay on my bed. The overhead fan was whirling away keeping the room cool and I wondered what I would wake up too in the morning. Just before the wife turned off the bedside lamp, she gave me that silent look. Yes, that look that said, "I told you so, I was right again!"

As the light went out I was left with my throbbing ankle and my regrets.

Regards

Mark  

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Out smarted by a child

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I have the saying, 'I will try anything once and if I like it I will try it again, and if I don't, then I won't.' I have always tried to install this little piece of philosophy into our children. They have always felt encouraged to try anything new that takes their fancy, and if they like it, and we can help, then we do our best in whatever way we can to support them.

Sometimes this is through just verbal support and quite often it is financial, and then there is the constant mummy and daddy taxi service. Occasionally it's just basic encouragement to carry on with something they have started, but then decide they want to stop because of their friend, or friends, have decided to stop doing the same activity.

With this support, our children have grown up able to play musical instruments, have a love of sport and enjoyed being active members of the Scout and Guilding Movements . It can be hectic at times and drain family resources. As they have grown some of these extra activities have been tried and then finally dropped, but they gave it a go and we're happy with that. We found ourselves in such a situation in January. Monday nights have always been hectic for the children's clubs, especially for our youngest and he was struggling. After school, there is an hour and a half of football training outside on the all-weather 3G pitch, then straight to Cubs afterwards for another hour and a half. He would have to eat his supper in the car on the way to the scout hut, and then get changed in the car park before finally getting home at 8.30pm and way past his bed time. In winter it was just too much for the lad. Training outside when it's below freezing then running about inside with the heating blazing away was leaving him exhausted, and occasionally feeling unwell.

He had been asking for some months to give up Cubs on Monday nights. His school friends had slowly given it up and the only one remaining used to annoy him. He was always hanging off him and was very loud, and when you're worn out anyone would find that annoying. We knew it was too much for a Monday after spending all day ay school so the dear wife made contact with another Cub group that met on a Wednesday evening, and which more of his school friends attended.

He was not too taken with the idea at first and as Wednesday is the only night of the week none of us is rushing about I would have liked to keep this one-night stress-free, but like I say there is always a but in life, and this but was that the wife was determined he gave this other group a try. I think the fact that the Mother-in-law had only just purchased his new cub uniform for Christmas might have had something to do with it.

So she made contact and they had just one space left in the pack, but it would soon fill up. They said he could go along for one night to try it out without commitment, we just had to get him to agree. For three days she tried to persuade him and for three days she failed. The poor lad like his dad just wanted a night off and her motherly ways were not swaying his judgment.

So I stepped in. I used my tried and tested technique for such situations, bribery. If he tried out the new cub troop then he would earn something back. I thought to myself it would be a good opportunity for the boy to learn two important lessons in life. The first being the art of negotiation and the second being to learn to keep to one's promise. So on the way home from school, I did a deal. If he tried it out for one night and he did not like it, he did not have to go again, and he could give up cubs but I would treat him anyway for giving it a go.

'What will I get then dad?' He asked

'I'll double this weeks pocket money.' Not much of an incentive as he does not get a great deal,  but it was the opening gambit.

So the negotiations began.

'I'll do it for double pocket this week and ten packets of Match Attacks.'

For my readers who are not sure what Match Attack cards are, they're football related cards that children collect and exchange with each other at school. They cost £1 a pack so I thought to myself £10 on cards plus double pocket money was so just a bit too far.

So for the next twenty-four hours, the horse trading went on, but we still had not shaken on a deal. Then I thought my boy was relenting a bit when he changed track and said he would give the new cubs group a go for some Pokemon Cards. The negotiations came to a speedy conclusion and we shook hands on a deal. Five packs of #Pokemon cards and that was it. Now I know absolutely nothing about these cards or the game itself, other than when a version of the game people was playing on their phones hit the news headlines recently.





But I thought for £5 I had struck a hard, but fair bargain. So that Wednesday my son kept to his side of the deal and attended the new Cubs. When he was picked up he was smiling from ear to ear, stuck his thumbs up in the air, and he mouthed silently that he loved it.

Now it was my turn to keep to my side of the handshake and that's the easy bit I thought. How wrong was I? Very wrong! I went to the local supermarket where we always get the boys Match Attacks and where they sell all these types of card games, but they did not have any. So I drove to another supermarket and again they did not sell them. After four hours of driving half way around Norwich, I had visited three different supermarkets, three corner shops and the Co-op, and had failed miserably to locate a single packet of Pokemon cards. In desperation, I sat in the car with my phone searching Google for somewhere to buy these damn things. I had an hour left before my son came home from school.

The only place that might sell them, other than having to order them over the Internet, was a small independent toy shop on the edge of the city. When I walked through the door of  Kerrison's Toy Shop on Aylsham Road I was pleased as punch to see behind the till counter a row of Pokemon cards for sale. I put my hand in my pocket ready to pull out a five-pound note.

'Can I have five packets of Pokemon cards please.' I said to the lady behind the counter.

'No problem sir,' she said, 'that will be twenty pounds in total.'

'Twenty pounds I spluttered.'

'Yes, twenty-pounds sir, they cost four pounds a pack.'

'Four pounds a pack, but I thought they would only cost one pound per pack like Match Attacks!'

'Match Attacks cost a pound a pack, but Pokemon have always cost four pounds, would you like five packs of them instead?'

As I handed over a twenty-pound note and left the shop with my five packets of Pokemon cards I was mumbling to myself, and I will leave it to your imagination the words cussing from my mouth. When the boy got home the cards were waiting for him on the kitchen table.

'Thank you dad, you're the best,' he said and then had dabbed me. Again if you're not sure what dabbing is, it's a hand gesture which I think basically means you've been done and something footballers do when they have just scored a goal. So there you have it. I had been totally outfoxed. There was I hoping to teach my boy a couple of valuable life lessons, but it was me that learnt a lesson that day.

Never try to be clever if you don't know all the facts.

Regards

Mark

P.s, my boy has now been invested into the new cub pack and is still going.











Monday, 6 February 2017

Sir John Hurt

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I have to start my posting today in acknowledging the death of actor I have admired over the years in Sir John Hurt. He was a fellow lover of my home county of Norfolk, and someone who would have been the perfect actor to play the part of a new character who is introduced in the third book in my Daniel Jones series. There are fleeting glimpses of him in both Daniel Jones Frenzy and Daniel Jones Doom if you know where to look, but it's not until my new manuscript he finally appears.







Sir john Hurt played the lead role in the film 1984 from one of my all time favorite books by the author George Orwell. The story line has always affected my outlook on life, especially when it comes to the elites that hold power over us. I've always thought another book of Geroge Orwell's, Animal Farm, is the perfect example of how elites come to power and that 1984 then shows how they manage to hold onto that power. Even in western democracies, the three tenants used by all autocratic powers to keep the masses in check of mass surveillance, the constant fear of an outside threat, and the knowledge that most people will spout whatever is the controlling dogma at the time, is used, but in a more subtle way.






It was such a shame  George Orwell died so young because humanity has missed out on some possible wonderful books by a great story teller. At least Sir John Hurt lived to what would be called a good old age and he did do well to reach it. He would have been the first to admit, I would think, that he had a bit of a reputation for being a hell-raiser during his life, and that just makes me like him even more. I never got the chance to meet him and would have loved to have spent the afternoon with Sir John in my local pub sinking a few drinks and listening no doubt to some great stories of events in is life and the people that had passed through it.

One day it is my dream to see my books translate to the big screen or television and if it happens during my lifetime I would love to be able to attend the set and watch the actors playing the different characters in my books. It would have been even better if Sir John Hurt was still alive to be one of them, but he has gone from this world but he has left behind will be enjoyed for generations to come. I do hope the same will be said about me when my time comes for the final kiss good-bye.

Regards

Mark          

Sunday, 22 January 2017

The seal pup

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There are few free pleasures in life so over the Christmas holidays we decided to go see the last of the seal pups that had been born on Horsey Beach. We prepared a picnic and off we went.  There is a small price to pay for the car park, but it's worth it. It was a typical gorgeous British winter's day. The sun was out and the sky blue, but there was a chill in the air which had the family wrapped up in their hats and gloves.







Because of the seal pups, the main beach was roped off so we walked the scenic route at the back of the sand dunes with views across the marshes. Along the way, there are information notice boards with question and answers for the children about facts on seals. There were throngs of people walking back from the various viewing points, and dogs on leads that loved to be fussed over by anyone that gave them the attention.  Then we reached our destination and climbed the wooden steps to the top of the dunes.

The views on both sides were stunning. Sea views to the left with adult seals and their pups hidden among the sand grass, and views to the right across the flat landscape to the far horizon.






A volunteer warden was on hand to give information about the seals and are very informative. We found out that all of the pups are abandoned by their mothers after they are weaned, and the adults will return to the sea. As for the pups, well they are still shedding their coat which is not waterproof so they can not go into the sea to catch food. Eventually, after a couple of weeks, the pups will have their new coat and sheer hunger will force them into the see. Until then some pups will try to latch onto other mothers who are still feeding to sneak a meal, but will be rebuffed and driven away.






Then a seal pup appeared from behind a dune and headed our way. It started to climb the sand bank and did not seem afraid of humans. The family thought it would stop when it knew we were there, but it seemed to be attracted to us.





Closer it came. It would stop, look at the children then start it wobble again up the sandbank.






And closer it came. Then I realised it seemed to be attracted to my daughter. She had her hood up and around the edging it has white fur and probably for the pup she looked liked a mother adult seal. And then finally it came onto the path that ran along the top of the sand dune. There it laid and did not seem that bothered about the crowd that was gathering. 

The wardens kept people from getting too close as everyone wanted to take pictures. We decided to leave the seal, and go for walk further along the dunes until we found a more secluded place to eat our picnic. We found the perfect spot looking inland and laid out the blanket. The food was basic fair and we had hot chocolate in the flask to warm us up. 

The winter sun was now on its early descent to the horizon when we got back to the car. It was three o clock and getting dusky. We had all enjoyed a long bracing walk in the clean fresh sea air, enjoyed the beauty of mother nature and learned some things along the way. 

It was a simple pleasure for the family which cost four pounds for parking and about six pounds to make the picnic, and for me that was ten pounds well spent.

Regards

Mark