Friday, 7 October 2016

Ex on the Beach

Yes, that’s really the name of the programme.

These people don’t even know what they’ve signed up for.  Makes me wonder what the ad must have said in the first place.  Gullible freeloaders required, perhaps.  Ability to behave like a rational human being a disadvantage.  Don’t get me wrong – I can see the attraction of an all expenses paid holiday in Mexico in a luxury villa, but shouldn’t at least a few of the applicants have the brains to wonder what exactly the payoff might be?   Apparently not.  Or maybe they don’t care, as they are young and single and up for anything.

And why, you may ask, would I want to watch this kind of messed up stuff in the first place…

The easy answer is that I like to do a bit of exercise biking in front of the TV.  And, yes, I tend to watch programmes that I would probably not watch in the normal course of events.  Things like, The Chase or, well it’s usually The Chase, actually.

This week, however, my husband is away and I’ve shifted my exercise regime to the evening.  It just seems more convenient.  The truth is that the satellite decided to stop receiving signals from any of the terrestrial stations and I was forced to use the cable option, which was also more or less on the blink – I hate BBC iPlayer at the best of times, but when the irritating red bobbles continue to circle ad infinitum, I hate it even more.  With my viewing options plummeting, I was forced to consider something new – and there it was – the complete set of seasons of Ex on The Beach.

Why not?  I thought.  No one will know. 

I soon realised that it didn’t matter which episode I watched as they were all the same – how could it be that a crowd of narcissistic swimwear aficionados with very little common sense and far too many silicone-enhanced body parts could allow themselves to be filmed making complete arses of themselves.

For those who have never watched this programme, which I presume to be most of the thinking British public (a harsh indictment of yours truly, I know), the premise is this:  jet off to a fabulous beach villa with a group of people you’ve never met in order to have as much sex as possible and (surprise, surprise) expect a visit from a random series of exes during your stay.  Be prepared to tell the world how many hundreds of people you’ve slept with, wear no knickers, get rat-arsed, and become aggressive when the new love of your life stabs you in the back and romance turns sour.  And I really do mean aggressive.  The swearing to ordinary vocabulary ratio is absurd.  If there isn’t an ‘f’ or a ‘c’ in it, it’s not worth saying. I’ve watched Eastenders in the past and I can tell you that the loudest and most frenzied shouting match between Angie and Den would be considered poetic in comparison.

The ‘men’ are all ‘players’ and the girls are either ‘slags’ or ‘babes’. And, horror of horrors, the more you watch, the more you become part of their world.  You begin to  have favourites.  For me, it’s Bear – a cheeky chappie who in real life is a roofer.  

He knows how to charm the birds, rip off a pair of panties and, dip his wick.  He’s also adept at subterfuge, and a friend to infidelity (if a crafty snog in the bathroom followed by an illicit shag with a neurotic Welsh girl counts as infidelity).  Bear also adores dropping his fellow housemates in the proverbial.  Doesn’t like it when the joke’s on him, though.  Who does?

So, I’m off to watch just one more episode before the arrival tomorrow of another fully sentient human being, who will never know how low I have sunk in his absence because he never reads my blog.

Happy Days.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Tales from Charente Maritime - My Terra Cotta Floor

I went to the local abbey at Sablonceaux yesterday.  Got there at just after two and read the notice on the door.  Beautiful hobbit door.  The shop would open at three.

Time to look around - it's a nice place.  Very tranquil and open to people with picnics in the summer. Today, there were a few people gathered at the archway, presumably on a visit.  I said hello then took some pics of the pretty bits of the abbey and the river.  I love rivers.

It was still early and so I strolled into the village, feeling as though I were the only person on the road.  I counted my steps, even though I told myself not to.  And when a vehicle passed by I told myself that the driver was not on the lookout for stray dozy tourists wearing silver sandals and garish nail varnish in October.

The village was deserted.  I wondered where everyone was - I often wonder that in France.  But it was relaxing to listen to the birds and the breeze in the trees and to look at the beautiful white stone buildings - the school, the mairie, the few houses.  What quiet lives the people here must live.

Back at the abbey, the shop was open.  I always think I won't be interested in gift shops - but I found myself paying attention to the biscuits and the herbal teas, then I saw a very beautiful figure of an alternative Jesus on the cross - he looked like a character out of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, wearing a long robe - his bare feet beautifully carved, his bearded face serene.  The price was reasonable, but I don't have that kind of money to spend on religious artefacts.  I was too polite to take a picture, but it was similar in style to this one, although far nicer:

I made my way around the shop, listening to a man humming hymns, apparently oblivious to how well his voice carried inside the vaulted building.

I found what I'd come for and took my purchase up to the lady at the counter.  She told me what I already knew about the wax I was about to buy.  I let her tell me, even asking questions to which I knew the answers.  It was a pleasant thing to do.

Home again and on my hands and knees to wax the grouting between my terra cotta tiles.  Whoever would have said I would be doing this one day?   I had doubts about whether the whole idea of waxing a kitchen floor would work.  After all, it was largely guesswork, based on a quick experiment - give a single tile three coats then pour red wine over it, leave in the garden for twenty minutes and see if it leaves a stain.  It didn't.

So now I have a terra cotta kitchen floor that shines and smells of wax made by the monks of Sablonceaux.

Happy Days

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Want to make the summer last a bit longer?

Just £2.99 for all three books until 2nd October!

(The Bev and Carol books are also available in paperback.)

From Book 1: The summer of 1979 was the best summer ever! Pretty, blonde and dangerously impetuous, Bev and Carol head for the sun, lucky beneficiaries of a generous university grant. 
They are full of enthusiasm and the dazzling spirit of adventure that only seems possible when we are young. Essential swimwear is selected and Lipton’s vegetable oil is perfumed with patchouli for the perfect tan. 
They end up in Argelès-sur-mer, on a campsite close to the coast and not far from the border with Spain. Every day brings new challenges: how to hold a meaningful conversation on a naturist beach, what to do about a precocious teenage stalker, how to transport a gallon of port on a moped… all of which they meet head-on, with dubious philosophy and irrepressible optimism. 
'One Summer in France' is a humorous tale based on a three-month study break the author took as part of her languages degree course at Keele University in 1979. 
‘Would you do it all again?’ asked Carol.
‘Like a shot!’ I said.
And I would. 

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Review: Silas Marner by George Eliot

England in the early 19th century, where folklore and religious belief shape people’s lives.  Silas Marner, a trusting soul and master weaver, begins a new life after he is betrayed by his best friend and is forced to leave the village and church he has grown up with.

A victim of his deteriorating appearance, unsociable attitude and growing cynicism, he lives as a hermit and collects his gold as though there were nothing else of value in the world.

One day, the unthinkable happens – he is robbed – and he is left distraught.  But, as in every fairytale, there is a turn in his luck and with the arrival of a child, orphaned on the road side, he begins to feel the love and joy that have been missing from his life.

The plot is balanced and satisfying without being sentimental.  The characters are portrayed convincingly – there are those we can detest and those we can admire.  But what I enjoyed too was the historical aspect of the story.  The setting is rural England, in the Midlands and the harsh climate and rugged scenery bring out the empathy we develop for Silas Marner as he struggles to escape his cloistered existence and find a reason to live.

Raveloe is peopled with an authentic mix of landowners, farmers and trades folk.  It’s fascinating to follow the various social workings of a small and largely principled village community.  What strikes the reader is the pleasing simplicity of the work/life ethic by which inhabitants are judged and valued.  Religion is the guiding star, of course, closely followed by superstition and folklore.  Life in Raveloe is hard, but there is an interdependence between the villagers and a generosity that would be difficult to find in a more modern society.

What I enjoy most about George Eliot’s very accomplished work is a feeling of proximity to the characters and their environment, both physical and philosophical. I sit by the fire with the protagonist and accompany him along the difficult road to his personal epiphany.  And this, without undue sentimentality.

The workings of the early 19th century mind are uncluttered by technology, travel or consumerism.  The people of Raveloe spend their time in search of a life that is both rewarding and, it seems to me, ethically justifiable.  Apart, of course, from Dunstan Cass – there has to be a fiend in a story worth reading, after all.

To finish, I have to say that the language of Silas Marner is at times a challenge.  As a linguist, I welcome the challenge of a syntax and vocabulary which is of the story’s era.  Reminiscent of Shakespeare at times, the proverbs and sayings are clichéd, but apt.  There are words that are no longer in use, although it is perfectly possible to infer meaning.  There is, as so often is the case with writers of this time, a fashion for writing in dialect to add colour and authenticity to the divisions in society.  All this, in my opinion, makes Silas Marner even more of a pleasure to explore.  

Monday, 29 August 2016

My French Life - A Bit of a Rant

I don't usually complain, but...

Last week we went out to eat at a local restaurant whilst holidaying in the family mobile home.  It’s always a gamble, especially in a holiday resort, where tourists line up to be disappointed by mediocre food and disaffected kitchen staff, and owners lose sleep over rents and retirement funds, vying with other eateries for customers.  Of course, bad experiences are rare in France – we were just unlucky I suppose.

It was to be primarily a social occasion. The meal would be of secondary importance.  There was Al, my husband, Alfie, my son, Sally and Paul, two friends, Ollie, Sam and Tom, their teenage sons. 

Someone had recommended a place. Sally checked out the menu in advance and judging it to be refreshingly different from the ubiquitous pizza or hamburger restaurants, booked a table for eight thirty.

I’ll admit, I’m always a bit nervous about eating out at the best of times – home cooking is generally so much better.  And, although French cuisine is more exciting than the local Beefeater Pub fare in England, one tourist resort is very much like another no matter where you are. You never know what you’re going to get, who will be preparing it, or whether it will provoke a violent reaction later.  But, as I say, it was all about the company.

The menu was ominously prolific.  Gordon Ramsay would have given it a severe edit.  We made our selections, some of us ordering a starter and all of us carefully selecting a main course from the modern wipe-down menu.  If only I had ventured into the back of the restaurant before the waitress came to take our orders.

Tom and I ordered cod in a sauce (unspecified, but which turned out to be largely flour and water), served with summer vegetables (cold sweet peppers tainted with curry powder).  Four of our party went for the notorious French entrecote and chips, Sally had moules mariniere, Al had sole.  The starters arrived and were eaten:  A few prawns served with a dollop of mayonnaise, a meagre fruits de mer platter that looked as though it had been in a can moments earlier, an underwhelming ‘chiffonade’ of ham for Tom, fish soup for Alfie (straight from a jar, complete with sludge), and enormous salads for Paul, Ollie and Sam (mostly lettuce, decorated with cheese, fish and ham respectively). We were struck by the variations in portion size and nervously fascinated by the oddity of the dishes. 

My piece of cod came skin-up.  It measured less than the size of a small bar of soap and had rather less to recommend it in terms of flavour (I imagine).  The chef had lavished four potato wedges on me and the afore-mentioned summer vegetables sat in a one-person earthenware dish, shivering.  I exchanged more than glances with the waitress, who offered to bring me another piece of fish, and vanished before I could stop her.

I apologised to the party, feeling churlish for being so negative.  This was no beachside café, however, and the prices had hinted at some element of quality, not to mention a warm plate and a few therms running through the food upon it. 

We drank more wine, tried to find something positive to say, but Alfie reluctantly admitted that his steak was mostly fat, as was Sam’s, Ollie's and Paul’s.  They ate the parts that were edible and looked miserable.  Al, affable and uncomplaining, had eaten half his sole before asking me whether it should be pink and frozen in the middle.  

In the meantime, our waitress returned with another miniscule piece of cod in a microwave-safe dish, only to meet my eye and hear that I would not eat it, neither would I pay for my meal, adding that Al’s fish was raw.  

His second sole was hot and delicious.   

By this time, the simple act of eating had become surreal.

The waitress placed her hands on her hips and adopted a conspiratorial air. Over the course of the next few minutes, various discoveries were made to explain her pained yet strangely gleeful expression:  The owner, she said, was not himself.  He was standing in for the washer-upper and, as a result, the ‘chef’ had been left unsupervised in the kitchen with his lack of passion running wild.  This meant, our waitress told us, that he was serving ‘n’importe quoi’ to the diners.  I asked my son what this meant (he’s fluent in conversational derogatory French, whereas I am more at home reading Moliere) and he told me that it meant the food was basically ‘bollocks’.  I could only agree.  As could the waitress.

Grumblings began to turn to calls for action and as the rest of the party had little French (my son was not confident enough to rise to the challenge), I asked the waitress to take me to the ‘patron’.  A light flickered in her eye and she led me to the open kitchen where I was met by two young men (one no more than a teenager) both evidently brimming with pent up emotion and unused to being caught out.  I told them that they should be ashamed to serve such food to their customers.  This seemed to hit home – they had been expecting a rather more aggressive attack, I think.  I felt no remorse for their embarrassment.  The food had been exceptionally inedible.

The waitress, who was now unabashedly delighting in the spectacle of their maroon faces, led me further into the restaurant to speak to the patron, who was hosing down plates and looking shifty.  On the counter, were the remnants of four entrecotes.  His first defence was to point out the edible bits, sorting through the leftovers with a fork, oblivious to my incredulity. I said that the meal had been awful and that our evening had been ruined.  What was he going to do about it?  I would have been satisfied with an apology, a reduction in the bill and a quick getaway.

To my surprise, he responded that his evening had also been ruined, adding with a petulant flourish, as though I should be pleased, that he had sacked the chef with immediate effect.  In a gesture of magnanimity he had removed the price of the meal I hadn’t eaten from the bill and offered to do the same for one of the steak and chips.

Paul was all for walking out.

I negotiated further, amazed that the man in charge could miss the point so completely. 

In the end, the bill was adjusted a little more in our favour, but the evening still cost us far too much.  Al and I went on the big wheel, just to add some frivolity to an otherwise sober evening, and because he had drunk too much wine.  After that, we went home and Al had cheese and biscuits while I made myself a lovely tomato sandwich.

Happy Days

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Bev Spicer's Novels

I have written a number of novels, all of which are character-driven and involve intricate plots that will hopefully keep you guessing.

My Grandfather's Eyes is my first published novel, although it was not the first I wrote.
I tend to enjoy creating flawed characters, and Alex is probably one of my most complex.  There isn't much to like about her, it's true, but she does have some serious issues to deal with.  Her single-minded approach to investigating the past so that she can move on with her life often has shocking consequences.  What has she done and what will she do next?  These are the questions that drive the story forward.
You can download a free sample of My Grandfather's Eyes to find out whether Alex is the type of character you might enjoy.  Just click on the link below:

A Good Day for Jumping follows the lives of Stephen Firth, a handsome, rich, promiscuous young man and Joyce Shackleton, a deeply surprising middle-aged woman. (No, they are not going to have a torrid affair - sorry to disappoint!  Their stories are linked in a much more subtle and interesting way.)
Set in Greece, where I lived for two years, there is a many-layered plot involving characters whose worlds collide in the most disturbing ways.  
There are characters you can really care about and others you may despise.  The world is not full of perfect people, after all.
Follow the link below and look inside - you will find yourself in the small town of Rethymnon on the island of Crete, where Stephen Firth is considering his options.

A Life Lived Twice is quite different in format to my first two novels, with shorter chapters and rather more well-balanced characters, who lead normal lives and whose interactions do not always lead to disaster!  However, there are the usual scandals associated with a close-knit society and there is also Claude Cousteau (the undertaker's son) to add a touch of evil that will undermine the pleasant comings and goings in the small French village of St. Martin le Vieux, where our heroine, Martha Burton, has bought a traditional Charentaise house, and has attracted the attentions of her handsome neighbour.

Follow the link and download a free sample to find out how the idyll of everyday life in a French setting has no bearing on a man who has grown up in an altogether more disturbing environment.

What I Did Not Say is my most recent novel.  Jessica Morley is on her way to meet with a man she hasn't seen for fifteen years.  In her bag there is a package she must deliver.  As she travels south, she remembers Jack Banford, a boy who captured her imagination as a child and made her believe in a future that could never happen.  Now it is time for her to set the record straight and finally put the past behind her.  If you like a good courtroom drama, you'll love part two of this well-received story of love and cruelty in all its forms.