Update Oct 2019

Hi Everyone!

OUT AND ABOUT:

This month we spent a couple of nights at a delightful little place on Bodmin Moor. We’d happily return though we now know it’s three miles down an, at times, one car width lane. Wouldn’t put us off though we’d like to go in better weather. We were lucky while out and about, the purpose of our stay mainly to meet with friends. A couple of weeks later we attended a food market which is temptation itself. Two sausage rolls, two pasties, two chocolate brownies, two churros (eaten on the spot), two packets of cheese,  and three packs of sausages for the freezer later, we made ourselves stop.

FILM/TV:

Being as it’s October we’ve been watching a lot of old horror films, and a couple new. In The Tall Grass is an odd one based on a novella by Joe Hill and Stephen King (Joe Hill being his son) that’s currently only available on Kindle but will be out in a collection next year. I have to admit my first thought when hearing a kid screaming for help in a field of tall grass was I’m not going in there, could be a setup. I would have fetched help. It’s difficult to talk about this one without giving the plot away but the concept of being lost in a maze of grass unable to find a way out turned out to be watchable, with elements I appreciated but others I disliked.

Another Netflix offering was Eli, the story of a boy seemingly allergic to the environment (think Boy in a Plastic Bubble with a twist), whose miracle doctor/cure may not be all that it seems. I like this film for the haunted house elements which are so well done.

And we had to rewatch a few classics, which for me includes Fright Night, the original 80s film, where a teenage horror-film buff has a vampire move in next door and has to seek help from a washed-up television star ‘vampire killer’, Roddy MacDowell (always a favourite of mine). Also starring William Ragsdale, this film is now a cult but if you’ve not seen it on Blu-ray you’ve never seen it before. It’s wide, bright and clear, and the depth of distance is incredible. I recall watching it on VHS where we thought everything happened in darkness. I won’t leave with a mention of the remake which, though fairly bad, has its moments. I think Colin Farrell steals the film who seems to having a ball and enjoying being a vampire far too much, and, of course, the late great Anton Yelchin who died far too young.

READING:

The Doll Factory, Elizabeth Macneal

I have to admit the style distracted me at first but soon drew me into the world of Victorian London. The perfectly assembled cast delivers a tale of love, obsession, and atmospheric horror. The fair Iris who wishes to better her situation; her poor embittered sister, Rose; the exuberant Albie; the questionable love interest in Louis; and the infatuated Silas. I couldn’t help thinking of undertones of John Fowles ‘The Collector’ although if that in any way gave inspiration to this novel the author has enriched a basic idea and made it her own. Also, I think the comparison to various other titles is a pity as people like John Fowles are literary noteworthies (regardless of whether you like them) which promotes the book to a level difficult to attain. Some books are simply enjoyable. I’m uncertain whether to consider some parts of the story entirely historically accurate but the tone suffices to transport the reader into another era. The only real downside for me is that I was expecting something perhaps a little more gothic. Still, a fabulous debut.

Happiest Days, Jack Sheffield

One of the strangest things to read in this series is how people show up at school to register their children, something I never experienced. Such were simpler times portrayed so well by Jack Sheffield. Though simply written for anyone who recalls the 80s, these books, imbued with nostalgia, carry a cosy, leisurely ambiance that’s like walking through time with an old friend and made me stay with this 10 book series, of which I believe this is the last though the author has written other titles.


Dracula, Bram Stoker:

A re-read of a classic I’ve not touched for many years. A book of this type will always receive mixed reviews. A classic, by definition, is always a book of its time and will jar for a modern reader. Especially for a modern reader who has not read classic literature for most of their life. My childhood books included novels such as Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island so I have no problem with reading this. At such times when Dickens was popular, writers were paid by the word so if any such novels feel padded there’s a reason. This book does feel overlong, and if written/edited now would be much shorter. I’d particularly forgotten the peculiar way Van Helsing speaks which I read with a blend of irritation and amusing pleasure. In the 21st century the book has many faults, much of it reading like Victorian melodrama, and is far from horrifying, but in 1897 Dracula would have been petrifying. It’s almost impossible to review a book of this type so it’s important to understand how this novel was pivotal.

Though Stoker did not invent the vampire myth or write the first well-known story, he wrote the crucial novel, bringing us a vampire who would popularise the genre and creating a legend. Like the writing or not this book deserves its pedestal. Stoker touched on the darkest fears, not only of the time, but at the heart of terror, a creature capable of overtaking the human mind, of seducing, of changing shape and appearance, of ‘infiltrating’ the home, the heart, the marriage bond. Horror novels often reflect societal fears of the moment, and Dracula is no different though many of the same fears exist more than a century later. Stoker also puts into the mind unforgettable images — a wild country of superstition, Dracula’s towering castle, Harker’s slow realisation he’s a prisoner, Dracula’s vertical crawl, his intention to take over London, the crazed incredible Renfield, Dr Seward’s asylum. And, perhaps, for women today, the book represents the ultimate equality statement. Lucy and Mina’s story both begin with them represented as something beautiful and fragile, ‘creatures’ who can do nothing without their men and who require protection. The book ends with a gun in Mina’s hand. She has become a far different woman from the shy girl who did nothing more than look forward to a life of marriage. She wishes to protect Jonathan as much as he longs to protect her, perhaps placing Stoker as a realist and/or ahead of his time. Still, there are moments that sit uneasy with me, the worst of which is the historical error that anyone can provide a transfusion without blood-matching, a fact not discovered at the time but which cannot help making even this modern reader wince.

WRITING:

I’m delighted to say the pre-order release of my second Lethbridge-Stewart came out:

A new reality has been created by the temporal disruption ripping through the causal nexus. Welcome to 1978… with a difference.

Anne Travers, co-founder of UNIT, and her husband, Bill, are celebrating their wedding anniversary in France, which is the perfect opportunity for Anne to catch-up with an old friend; Madeleine Bonnaire.

At the institute owned by Madeleine’s father, one professor is more interested in his own project than any work for which Bonnaire has hired him. His need for secrecy and his attitude irritates his assistant, Paul Larousse, who would prefer to dwell on his feelings for Madeleine. Meanwhile, Victor Bonnaire is not at all happy to hear of Anne’s visit, not least of all because he’s always viewed Anne as a bad influence on his daughter.

What seems like a simple case of familial friction takes a bleak turn when a local unknown threat makes the news. Suspicion abounds and throws Anne and Bill into an unexpected mystery. What is the strange threat, and does it present a direct danger to anybody at the institute? Or to those who ask too many questions? Unable to walk away from her friend, Anne has no option but to investigate, little knowing she’s about to face the darkest shadow of her life so far.

http://www.candy-jar.co.uk/books/theshadowman.html

https://www.freewebstore.org/candy-jar-store/Bloodlines__The_Shadowman/p676602_20100089.aspx

And for anyone interested in getting a feel for the series there are free downloads, including my short story The Wishing Bazaar:  http://lethbridge-stewart.ne-dc.co.uk/downloads/

Stay well and be Happy,

Sharon x

The Best Popcorn

Something a little different today. I have to share my accidental best recipe for the lightest home popped popcorn.

I’ve a popcorn recipe book for both savoury and sweet flavours from which I’ve only tried a few recipes, but one stood out combining both sweet and salty flavours. It’s simple enough and nice enough but one day I replaced the oil used with another and came up with the lightest popcorn with the salty, sweet taste that works out cheaper than store bought and likely healthier because goodness knows we all need to question what mass-produced products contain.

Take two tablespoons of coconut oil, melt in a lidded pan. Once melted increase the heat, and drop in a couple of handfuls of popping corn kernels. Shake the pan intermittently and when the first piece of corn pops, quickly lift the lid and drop in a heaped tablespoon of sugar. (Tip: put the sugar into a saucer, or ramekin or pot ready as it’s far less likely to spill and makes it easier and faster to drop the lid back on).

Keep shaking the pan now and then until the popping slows and almost stops then remove from the heat. Tip corn into a bowl and then sprinkle on a little salt as you like it.

I found this a good substitute for salty, sweet corn and corn popped in coconut oil to be light and crisp.

Pre-order The Shadow Man

A new reality has been created by the temporal disruption ripping through the causal nexus. Welcome to 1978… with a difference.

Anne Travers, co-founder of UNIT, and her husband, Bill, are celebrating their wedding anniversary in France, which is the perfect opportunity for Anne to catch-up with an old friend; Madeleine Bonnaire.

At the institute owned by Madeleine’s father, one professor is more interested in his own project than any work for which Bonnaire has hired him. His need for secrecy and his attitude irritates his assistant, Paul Larousse, who would prefer to dwell on his feelings for Madeleine. Meanwhile, Victor Bonnaire is not at all happy to hear of Anne’s visit, not least of all because he’s always viewed Anne as a bad influence on his daughter.

What seems like a simple case of familial friction takes a bleak turn when a local unknown threat makes the news. Suspicion abounds and throws Anne and Bill into an unexpected mystery. What is the strange threat, and does it present a direct danger to anybody at the institute? Or to those who ask too many questions? Unable to walk away from her friend, Anne has no option but to investigate, little knowing she’s about to face the darkest shadow of her life so far.

Check out on the Candy Jar website.

Autumn

Though famous as a time of harvest, turning, and falling leaves, a drop in temperature, and arguments over when it begins (equinox on 22nd or 23rd September, meteorological on the 1st, or traditionally known to occur on the 21st), the season no longer seems to offer the chill but crisp and sunny walks among crisp leaves it once did. I’m tired of hearing ‘it’s typical autumnal weather’ on the news reports when the weather forecasters speak of the recent deluge. Still, I cannot help but love the colours of autumn, in clothes and in nature, and the fun of Halloween. The weather doesn’t always obey the dictations of my heart but still for me autumn shall always remain the best time of the year. For me, ‘Tis the season.

How does one sleep in a snow hotel?

This post is premature but there’s a decided wintery nip in the air that brought to mind a memory of my night in a snow hotel.

The hotel build begins by blowing up giant balloons. They then compact snow around them, and pop the balloons, leaving the hotel behind.

Then Chinese artists spend two weeks of the year carving fantastical shapes in the walls of the rooms under an art project—the only way which allows them to enter the country for the specified time for this purpose. With the right lighting these carvings are truly beautiful. The weather wasn’t right this time, leaving about 2 or 3 of the rooms unfinished. Local people completed the work, in a simple Norwegian style leaving them fairly plain. This upset a few visitors as the choice of a room is a lottery. We were lucky—we got room 12 with a beautiful ship on the wall.

So how does one sleep in a Snow Hotel? The easiest answer is ‘carefully’. The beds are mattresses on a block surrounded by ice. You don’t sleep on ice—that would definitely be too cold and impractical. The sleeping bags suit up to -35 so are more than adequate for the -3 to -6 degrees in the hotel. Also provided is a sheet (more on that in a moment), woollen socks if needed—your socks must not be thin or wet—and a balaclava. They also suggest you may wear your own hat.

So…to bed. Go to the toilet. Seriously! Even though we didn’t go to bed until almost midnight, and were sensible, I still needed to get up during the night. The information says you have to go outside. This is misleading. What it means is you need to leave the bed and your room and traipse along the hall to the door at the end that leads into the adjacent main building where the restaurant, lounge, and shower/toilet facilities are situated. You don’t go ‘outside’ at all. Still, as our guide told us, you go through the 5 stages of grief:

Denial: I really don’t need the toilet.

Anger: Why did I have that last drink?

Bargaining: (with God or whatever your faith) to please, please, please just let me make it through the night without having to get up.

Depression: There’s no getting away from the fact I need the toilet.

Acceptance: I have to get up.

Getting up isn’t as bad as it seems. Getting into bed is another story.

The sleeping bag is on the mattress. Put anything personal and valuable in the bottom of the sleeping bag. Visitors can keep an overnight bag upstairs in the lounge, but be careful what you leave there. So in the bag went my handbag including my phone, and the camera. Then comes getting undressed. First the boots. This is where you realise you’ve got to step onto the bed because you ‘must not’ get your socks wet and everywhere is ice. Off comes the clothes down to the thermals. These you sleep in. The clothes join the valuables in the bag’s base.

Now, in socks and thermals, you need to get into the sheet. My other half referred to this as a giant pillowcase and getting into it wasn’t easy. You’re trying to get into a sack on a wobbly base (the mattress) trying not to step on ice AND get you and the pillowcase into the sleeping bag. They had instructed us not to take the sheet until we were ready for bed because they’d get cold; we’re thinking they’ve got to be kidding, the sheet is cold because we can’t get into the bed! We don’t see that it made a difference and think it would have been easier had the sheet-sack been inside the bag to begin with. In the demonstration they told us that after you accomplish all this, you’d need to do some sit-ups to get warm. We weren’t the only one to say by the time you get into the bag there’s no need to bother—you’re warm enough.

At last inside the sheet inside the sleeping bag, it’s shuffle around time, making sure the sleeping bag isn’t on the ice and that the hood part is up over your head. On goes the balaclava. Now we both tried to wear them, but I could not cover my nose. First, I could smell soap powder and the scent drove me crazy. Second, it just didn’t work for me; I didn’t feel I could breathe. We wore our own hats.

We snuggled down and got the bags zipped. Bedtime. The DH is asleep at once. In fact, all the men seemed to do this and had a good night—the women all decided it must be a ‘man thing’. I stared at the ship. I closed my eyes. I opened them, looked at the ship. Closed my eyes, opened, ship, closed, opened, ship…you get my drift. I could not sleep. They gave the sleeping bags out by size but where the DH seemed to have some shoulder room, I felt like a worm, cocooned as if I would emerge as a butterfly come morning; and I reached a point where I couldn’t stand it. I wanted out, but leaping out into an icy room and giving up after ten minutes wasn’t really an option. We’d paid to do this. So the next best thing was to unzip my sleeping bag a bit, pull up the sheet, make sure my thermal was up to my neck, and the sides of the bag ‘around me’ and settle down. This time I fell asleep.

I woke up at 2, just knowing I needed to get up. Now the trick is not to go to the hassle of getting dressed. Put on your boots and coat and go off in your thermal gear. Decent enough. Back to bed it’s a much simpler transition of off with the boots, off with the jacket, and back into the bag. As the sheet is already in place, there’s no problem.

We went back to bed and to sleep and the next thing I know the DH is telling me it’s a quarter past six. I’ve apparently been snoring. Whether he did, I don’t know. There’s been a lot of snoring in the rooms and if you can get to sleep in the snow hotel, it’s apparently a good rest.

It’s a crazy thing to do when you think about it, but we’d thoroughly recommend it…the once; there’s really no reason ever to do it again. Still it was an experience we’ll never forget, not to mention incredibly artisitic and stunning.

Update Sept 2019 2/2

After our trip to Whitby, which I talked about last week, we went on to Center Parcs, Longleat, to meet up with family — a place we’ve not visited for years. Can’t claim we’re impressed. Amazed at the high ratings on reviews. Family had booked a 4-bedroom which turned out to be 5-bedroom villa with disabled facilities, a games room and sauna. I have to say none of us were pleased with the placement for a disabled property as Longleat is hilly. One has to wonder what designers were thinking as it would make more sense to locate the disabled accommodation near the Village Plaza where the Pinewood apartments are. The slope up to the nearest land train point would make pushing a wheelchair a considerable task, and, while I’m sure an official reply would be to order the park transport service for disabled visitors, it’s necessary to book it in advance. It’s not always possible to know what a person wishes (or is able) to do one minute to the next, particularly when a family member has difficulties. In additions, the décor was atrocious. Brown everywhere. Dark brown tiles in the bathrooms with dark grey trim made it feel as though I were walking into a cave. No exaggeration:

Bathroon in ‘daylight’.

Dark brown walls behind the beds. Brown carpet almost everywhere and laminate wood effect flooring in the bathrooms and downstairs added to the oppressive atmosphere. And I’ve never stayed in any place with such creaky floorboards which by the end of the weekend were driving everyone crazy.

Bedroom in daylight and with sidelights on.

Even worse was the food. We felt the dining in option okay but less than average food, the choice at Huck’s lacking, and while they ask about food intolerances, they should fill no menu with spicy food to the point where there’s little to no other choice. No Hassleback potato available. Really? At 7:45 on a Saturday night there are no potatoes unless they’re fries? The worst has to be Dexter’s, chosen for convenience and wanting to get on the road. If one wishes to eat the world’s worst burger at deluxe burger prices, then eat at Dexter’s at Center Parcs. My husband joked that ‘maybe we shouldn’t eat anywhere called Dexter’s’ — humour only those who watched the series will understand — but I think he had a point. I’m not sure WHAT was in that bun! While we didn’t try any other outlets this visit, we had the only good meal at the Pancake House.

The one thing I do like there is the spa, and we spent three hours enjoying the facilities in their refurbished suite of saunas and relaxation rooms — a place that would be more relaxing if other visitors understood the meaning of peace.

FILM/TV:
Welcome to Marwen is a great example of a story well told and special effects put to great use so I’m surprised to learn the film flopped, along with reviews calling Steve Carell’s performance icky, the story misconceived and misguided, and questioning its target audience. But then I’m often the odd one out in such things. Granted the way the female dolls are presented is perhaps a trifle unpleasant and overdone, and the way the antagonists take on the persona of Nazi soldiers unsettling, but as this is based on true events, without delving more into the facts I can’t comment. Based on the factual story of Mark Hogancamp, a man struggling to recover from a brutal assault that wipes away his memories, had anyone told me a blend of real life action and animation featuring dolls would be so engrossing, I doubt I would have believed them. While imperfect in places and not one I would wish to watch twice, sorry, I enjoyed it.

In preparation to watch the new Netflix series of The Dark Crystal, we watched the film, not having seen it since in the cinema back in 1982. Easy to recall the details as the heart of the tale is a simple story featuring many of the hero’s journey plot points. I don’t know whether I’m alone but the puppets for me were as grotesque as they’ve always been, and by that I also mean the Gelflings. Though I admire the artistry in all Jim Henson’s work this type of puppetry strikes me as repulsive…and possibly they’re supposed to be. Still, most of us, then and now, wanted a Fizzgig.

READING:
Jonathan Maberry while best know for his Young Adult zombie books also writes for adults and proves he’s capable of handling the vampire genre in V-Wars. I started this because the series is in production. The thing to stand out for me was I’ve never seen a multi-authored book arranged in this manner with the stories broken up into parts and a sliding timeline. I can easily see why and how this has been adapted for television.

Silent Night continues Jack Sheffield’s series featuring the headmaster, teachers, and children of Ragley school in the usual charming and gentle fashion, this one set in 1984. Followed by Star Teacher, the 9th book in the series set in 1985 and bringing more changes into the life of Ragley’s headmaster.

As I was on the road a lot this month I didn’t read as much as I hope and chose some lighter titles.

WRITING:
Working on a (possible) re-release of a book and two others to accompany it to create a trilogy. Also got edits (mostly to change my English spelling and punctuation to American) from Night To Dawn magazine for a short story of mine, a work of dark fiction entitled, Bead Trickling Laughter’.

Update Sept 2019 1/2

I know I’ve been quiet for two weeks but then I’ve been away for much of the time, and it’s a good thing to take time with the bare minimum of electronics or none. That’s left me so much to tell I’m breaking up this month’s news into two instalments. The first dealing with our main trip.

Of three stops we made, two with the family, the highlight was our break in Whitby and not because we didn’t wish to see relatives but because, if I had such a thing as a bucket list, I guess I’d have to say Whitby would be on it. I fulfilled a longed-for wish. Ridiculous when it’s in my country, and I find travelling more difficult now so wish we’d done this sooner. Take advice — travel where you can when you can even if it’s on your own doorstep and you ‘think’ you’ll get around to it ‘one day’.

We booked through Whitby Holiday Cottages, but had I realised we needed to collect and drop off the key from/to their office at Flowergate, Whitby, I would not have done so, a fact I told them on the questionnaire they provided to return with the key. I expected to collect it nearby or from a lockbox which is far more common these days. Parking in Whitby is a nightmare. The Endeavour car park is the nearest at a cost of £3.60 for the hour, so dropping off and collecting the key will cost £7.20. You may be lucky enough to park in the Co-op car park for an hour at just £1 but I’m unable to advise that — it’s the shop’s carpark and likely not appreciated. Though, if you need a few supplies, this may be an option to do a little shopping at the same time.

Either way, after a long journey when tired and all one wishes to do is get in and put the kettle on, collecting a key is the last thing one wants to do and is little better when in a hurry to leave at the end of the holiday. According to Google we could park at the property and walk to the shop in 15 minutes. More like 25 at a clip, adding an hour to getting into the place. The property… We couldn’t ask for a more fantastic view. Alas, it’s the best thing the apartment had going for it. Photos of holiday lets are similar to Estate Agent details: misleading. The house is old — built in 1790, but it boasted a 4 to 5 star rating by Visit England. I’d say the place was average and I wouldn’t award it more than a 3 star. On the first night the wind whistled through the old single glazed sash windows so much I thought we might freeze to death, but I could forgive this in such a distinguished building that comes with a fire and central heating. Still, the property could have been cleaner, and we discovered the electrical and gas certificates were 2-3 years out of date and there were no PAT stickers on any of the appliances, not a legal requirement but advisable and something we appreciate in any place we stay.

But let us get back to that fantastic view:

We went up to the Abbey on our first full day, and the visit was everything we hoped it would be. I took loads of photos in standard, black and white, and sepia. The differences in these options is surprising and the amount of detail still to see is amazing.

Whitby Abbey, though originally a 7th-century Christian monastery, later became a Benedictine abbey. The ruins still overlook the North Sea and is a major feature and attraction of visitors to Whitby in North Yorkshire, England. I’ve heard the town called a typical seaside resort and while in some ways this is true so would not usually appeal to me, I found the town well worth wandering around. During our week we visit Pannett Park with its rather bizarre yet intriguing museum and popped in the RNLI lifeboat museum to support such a worthy cause. It’s a must to buy a delicious smoked kipper from Fortune’s which has been there since 1872. We enjoyed the proverbial fish and chips, and spent a day hopping on and off steam trains choosing to alight at Pickering and Goathland, the latter used as Hogsmeade Station in Harry Potter and also seen in the series, Heartbeat.

Goathland Station

We also spent a (rainy) day in York, perhaps most famous for the Minister. For National Trust members I recommend a visit to the Treasurer’s House — a site we found by getting generally turned around and taking the longer route to, though it’s located close to the Minister. We also walked part of the wall and bought some goodies from the famous Betty’s Tearoom. If one wishes to eat there, I advise to book as the queue is out the door. Try a ‘Fat Rascal’ — their version of a scone.

Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms

We left a day early not because of boredom but because we met up with the family again at Center Parcs, which I’ll talk about next week.

The beautiful blue waters at Robin Hood’s Bay