Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Christmas Pudding

Cleaning up this morning after our Boxing day family party, I unearthed the remains of the Christmas cake – and ate it. What with that moment of weakness and the assault I made on last night’s lemon mousse, I feel a new fitness regime is in order even before the New Year bites.

Friday, 18 November 2011

A Moment of Modest Glory

Rumour has it that aspiring authors should avoid cliches like the plague, but at times like this I can’t see how they can be avoided. As with those mythical buses alleged to turn up in pairs, the moment you think getting one story into an anthology is excitement enough, another one gets published.
So please allow me to kill two birds with one stone; I’m so excited about my double moment of glory. I've had TWO stories published in almost as many weeks.
Okay, I’d be living in a fool’s paradise not to realise, two stories do not a writing career make and are a far cry from getting a complete book published, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
So it's time to start touting my newly finished novel around to an agent or two. (If you know of anyone interested in an upbeat romantic tale about a young woman gardener, please get word to me straight away.) In the meantime, should you fancy a good read, both anthologies are now available to order from your local bookshop or on Amazon:

Voices of Angels - Bridge House Publishing
It's Never Too Late To Fall in Love - U3A Press
And my apologies for all the cliches, I got a bit carried away in the excitement.

Monday, 24 October 2011

What a Sloppy Blogger

What a sloppy little blogger I am. Summer’s come and gone – again – and I’ve not posted a word on here since the start of August. No excuses, except life tends to take over when daylight hours are long. Next week the clocks change and, despite this morning’s warm sun, the frost of a few days ago has done for the birch leaves, and they’ve yellowed and scattered all over the lawn. If the wind keeps up, no doubt the beech leaves will be next. The few flowers left in my garden, the cosmos and a straggling dahlia or two, have taken on that cold pinched look that tells me it won’t be long now before they blacken and wilt.  
The chill in the air comes as a bit of a shock. A little over a week ago I was travelling up the Douro valley on a cruise ship, sun hat and sunglasses at the ready, a glass of port wine close at hand. No way am I a hot house flower. I like my weather cool, my mood melancholy. My usual holidays are taken in Scotland, but a friend and I got tempted and I’ve just spent a week with her in what is really a very luxurious holiday camp.
Trips out to view ancient churches stuffed with gold, three gourmet meals a day and all with on board entertainment as part of the package. At times rather surreal, but I enjoyed the experience just the same. Sometimes it’s good to do something completely different. I realise I spend so much time being earnest and trying too hard, that I often forget to have fun. So thank you little boat on the Douro river, thank you kind friend who came with me. I am grateful you reminded me how to laugh.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

What is the strangest thing you've ever had stolen?

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever had stolen? While not being exactly a ‘leave your back door open’ sort of place, where I live is hardly a hot bed of crime. The occasional upset does happen though, like the other week, when my next door neighbour’s bike was pinched from his back garden. Not a top of the range, mountain bike you understand, but a scratched yellow workhorse, he uses to tow a kids’ trailer to and from school. A doubly cruel blow as the bike and trailer, complete with his 5yr old twins, is the high-visibility part of the local bike bus. A scheme to encourage the local kids to be healthy and ride their bikes to school.
The theft of the bike was quite enough to make us all rather twitchy - and then soon after - there was the case of my missing sandals. Full of sand, I’d thrown them out by the back door, intending to give them a good scrub when I came back from a morning walk.  An hour later they were gone. Some pots, previously piled neatly by the shed door, lay scattered around. It was so obvious. The intruder had returned and moved the pots, hoping to find a hidden key and, as unlikely as it might seem, had also ‘borrowed’ my sandals. Our little row of houses was on the alert.
My man, a practical type, was spurred to action. We now have a new high security back garden fence, complete with gate and bolt, painted a tasteful light green. I’ve even bought a pair of replacement sandals. (The previous pair, though 10 years old, were tough ‘walking’ sandals, their replacement a truly eye watering price.)
Imagine my annoyance to discover another person who lives nearby, had found a Labrador puppy from the big house just down the road, chewing an old pair of sandals in his garden. Both puppy, and presumably sandals, were chased home.  
A prompt visit to the puppy’s owner. Yes, they said, a real puzzle, an anonymous pair of sandals had turned up in their hall, and yes, the same puppy loved to carry flower pots around. Wasn’t that funny?  I was not terribly amused. Their puppy had caused us considerable expense, not to mention the work and the worry of having a supposed intruder in the garden. I left with my sandals in hand, determined to be cross and unforgiving. Until this evening. An apologetic card pushed through the door, a bunch of flowers on the doorstep and all is forgiven.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Damnation to Faint Praise

I went to see Bridesmaids the other night and it’s ages since I laughed so much.  No need to tell you it’s this summer’s must see film – and well worth the ticket money - if you’re not too squeamish or easily offended. My man, one of only two males in the entire cinema, thought it hysterical too, so it’s definitely no chick-flick, more a film about female relationships, and despite a whole host of over the top, nigh on gross scenarios, the group of friends portrayed are a bunch of recognisable, if motley, real women. 

On a vaguely related subject. If a friend you’re meeting for lunch greets you with, “You look very modern in that get up,” what do you think it means? Is it a complement - praising an up-to-the- minute/wow that looks nice sort of dress sense - or a thinly veiled criticism? Behind the bright smile, could there lurk an unspoken agenda?
 Well, aren’t you the bold/daft/ridiculous one, to wear slinky leggings at that age/point in your weight loss programme or with that particular tunic top sporting horizontal stripes.  

Do women ever tell each other the truth about clothes?
Does all this matter?
Perhaps not, except I’ve recently got my manuscript back from the Romantic Novelists’ New Writers Scheme, and it didn’t get a second reading. The feedback is very thorough and not all bad news, but I’m feeling a bit over sensitive about faint praise. To crown it all, I've had a short story 'shortlisted' in one writing competition and another ‘highly recommended’ in another. So you see, I've had enough of faint praise.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Midsummer Dribble

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no fashion icon, to be truthful my idea of style is any pair of trousers that pull on easily, and a top that requires little ironing, particularly if I’m heading out for my allotment. Except earlier in the year, urged on by sunny April afternoons and what amounted to tropical weather in May, I went a little mad.
Languishing in my cupboard, still unworn is what can only be described as a tomato coloured string vest, for pulling over a swimsuit I’ll probably never wear, a khaki smock top, complete with tab detail - ideal if I ever go on manoeuvres in the jungle - and the silkiest, pretty cream blouse, all frills and ruffles, that modesty requires only to be worn with a very thick vest.
I seem to remember the same sort of catastrophe last year. Then it was the sexiest roman sandals, on my feet once before the constant rain set in. What a pity I chucked them in the back of the cupboard and forgot they were there, until I bought another pair last week – blue not brown this time, but remarkably similar.
Looking out at today’s drizzle and contemplating wellington boots before I go and fetch a lettuce, I remember it’s the longest day, midsummer, the summer solstice. Only weeks ago I was longing for rain – well now I’ve got it – in buckets. Be careful what you wish for... etc. Was it Oscar Wilde who said, “When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers”? 
Having moaned on a bit, I do have some good news. One of my stories is to be published in July, as part of an anthology called Voices of Angels. No doubt you’ll hear more about it in a later blog.  For now I’m just hoping the launch party will be indoors.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

A Few Days Away

Just got back from the very north of Scotland, visiting an aging uncle and sick brother-in-law, checking up on stressed out sister, so not quite as much fun as it might have been. Although Caithness is as ever, the most beautiful place on earth. A county not to everyone’s taste to be sure, but if you have a hankering for wide open spaces, that can change in a moment from hushed sunny stillness to blustery winds, a place of pounding surf on terrifying rocks, where grey/green horizons stop only when they reach mountains shaped like a maiden’s breast, it’s the place to visit.

Problem is, takes two days hard driving to get there in a car. Actually we were lucky to get out. The winds and rain came on so bad on Monday, that making it back down the A9 was a real adventure. Though leaving by plane must have been even more of a trial, with Inverness airport shut down for a while due to volcanic action in Iceland. Don’t let anyone tell you the ash cloud doesn’t exist. I phoned my sister to let her know I’m home safely and her car’s covered in a fine grey powder and her husband’s stuck in doors - advised to stay home with the windows closed - in case he breathes in the stuff.

It puts my moaning about a drought in the south into its true perspective.

(The pictures are of Lybster harbour)

Friday, 6 May 2011

Village Literary Life

I spent an entertaining few hours in a village bookshop last Thursday evening,
listening to Julia Crouch talk about her highly acclaimed debut novel, Cuckoo. The venue is so tiny, it was a bit of a squeeze to fit us all in, and such was the enthusiasm, and the crush, the owner had to run next door to borrow a couple of chairs. Well, it’s that sort of village.

To get her audience into the mood, Julia started off with a short reading from her book, an unsettling psychological thriller. Then, with our appetites duly roused, she went on to chat informally about what it feels like to have your first novel published, as part of a three book deal. (Pretty brilliant, I would say.)

Julia and I were once, very briefly, members of the same Brighton based writing group, so I was really pleased to hear of her good fortune. I came to that particular writing group as a complete newbie, my dabbles previously having been largely confined to writing blogs. I certainly had never been part of any sort of writing group before. She had already started what was later to become, Cuckoo. I’m glad to report, even on that early encounter, Julia’s novel seemed pretty damn good to me.

Not many weeks after my first session, that particular writing group folded - I swear neither of us were in the least bit implicated - it’s the nature of writing groups apparently. The keen remnants reformed, to make up the select few I now meet with once a month.

Julia appears to have given up the idea of writing groups after only one session, and went on to dizzy heights soon after, but from the four of us that formed the new group, one was quickly published, one is about to be published, one will be published as soon as her agent gets his finger out – and then there’s me – tapping away, getting impatient for my turn.

After the many casualties among bookshops in Southeast England, it’s a pleasure to see The Mint House in Hurstpierpoint flourishing under new and innovative ownership. Where else would you find a bookshop that, along with selling books in a real cross section of genres, houses regular book readings, signings and associated literary events, and is so far sighted as to organise not only a book group, but also a knitting group. A real community gem, long may it remain so.
(The Mint House, Hurstpierpoint, Nr Hassocks, BN6 9PX)

Monday, 2 May 2011

Come on Rain

Lately I find myself longing for rain. Not the discrete little sprinkles that have been
taking place so conveniently over the last few nights, but huge great downpours, enough to keep me trapped indoors during the day and make the house so gloomy I don’t even want to look out of the window. And round here we’ve had nothing but sunshine for what seems like weeks now. Days flash by and they are all fine, usually warm, often breezy, but sadly with very little rain.

My husband hates the stuff. It makes him grumpy and bad tempered, stops him from going out
on his bike or doing all the little jobs outside I’m just longing, and hinting, he should be getting on with. So why am I moaning about such perfect spring weather? Isn’t it great to loll around in the sunshine under trees bowed down with blossom?

Why on earth should I want the rain? Is it because I have an allotment and a garden that’s starting to dry out so badly I swear the cat’s likely to disappear down a canyon sized crack, unlikely ever to return? (If you read my recent post about what the little beast gets up to, you
might say that would be a good result, for the birds at least.)

Yes of course it would be nice for the flowers to last for more than a few days, and my seedlings are so parched, even if they bother to germinate at all, and many of them don’t, they hardly have the strength to grow unless I water, water, water.

But my need for rain runs deeper and it comes from guilt, sheer and utter guilt. When you are
trying to be a writer, with only a modicum of success so far, it’s very hard to justify all the time spent tap, tapping at a keyboard when all around there are jobs to be done. And it’s only when the rains bucketing away outside do I have a good reason for staying indoors.

What’s the latest weather forecast? Dry, sunny and with a brisk wind, the very best weather for being outdoors, and I can see through the window the hedge needs clipping. Bother!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Small Worlds

I don’t need the semi-circle of mess that surrounds me on the sofa to remind me how my world’s grown small. A few dry crumbs, a dirty cup, a newspaper left over from Sunday (in several pieces and none of them worth bothering with) a gardening magazine, still in its wrapper, sent to mock me no doubt because I haven’t even the energy to walk to the bottom of the garden, let alone dig it, a Joanna Trollop novel – the one about ‘Other People’s Children’ – a bit of a depressing read but the only book I have around, apart from a couple of large print Mills and Boon found in a charity shop, that I swear are for research purposes only.

And why am I’m sitting in the middle of all this detritus, because it’s my 8th, or is it 9th, day of having flu. Yes flu, during the best spring weather we’ve had for years. The garden is glorious, all frothy pear blossom and vivid polyanthus, but I really can’t bear to look. Too bright. And now I'm actually out of bed, I’m left with an intense need for something, anything, to distract me from these four walls. Today is the first time for a week that I’ve been able to bear to look at a computer screen without feeling a need for sunglasses. So what’ll I do – write of course – escape. Living within your head is as good as going on holiday, if only I could stop coughing.

Friday, 25 March 2011

The trouble with trying to write romance is you start seeing love stories everywhere

Am I letting this romantic novel writing business addle my brains? For the past couple of days I’ve been following a tragic story of doomed love that’s had me wiping away my tears on more than one occasion: Romeo and Juliette, Dante and Beatrix? No, more like an x rated version of Sylvester and Tweety Pie. The heartrending tale of two little blue tits who dared to dream of setting up a home high in the top of our birch tree. The villain of the story, as if I had to tell you, our old tabby cat, Bertie.

I swear the two little birds fell in love on Valentine’s Day. Well that’s the first time I noticed them, fluttering their wings and calling to each other, chasing in and around the branches of the old apple tree. Looking into holes and gaps in the ivied fence, they flitted and flirted - will she, won’t she - their love affair carried on for what seemed like weeks, before they settled on a home together in the des res nest box, way above cat height in that most romantic of trees, a silver birch.

Then it was beaks full of feather, cat hair, moss, anything they could find lying around on the ground beneath their tree to make their starter home comfortable. With eggs on the way, they’d no time to delay. All going so well, until yesterday.

A mewing cry was the first warning and Bertie dropped a still warm, blue and yellow bundle at my feet. Please not one of the birdie sweethearts from the top of the birch tree. Alarm calling twitters from outside told me the very worst had happened. One too many forays on the ground meant Bertie had done for one of my favourites.

With my bad cat locked upstairs, watching from a bedroom window and my heart near breaking, I carried the little body outside and, in the vain hope it was just in shock, laid it on an upturned flower pot under the tree, just in case... I waited as its mate sang even louder from a branch overhead, then flew down, in closer and closer spirals, singing its distress all the while. In vain the little bird flew in to tweak its mate’s feathers, pecking and pulling, each time becoming increasingly more desperate. Then in its own little birdie version of despair, it jumped all over its now stiffening mate in what can only be described as an avian attempt at resuscitation. (Okay, I know, this is stretching the anthropomorphism too far, but you weren’t there to see it and I was.)

Finally, unable to bear the little birds grief no longer. I fetched a trowel and with it hopping around my feet, I lined a hole with moss and buried the body of its mate under the birch tree. The memory haunts me as I type. The survivor’s out there now, still calling and calling from its lonely perch. Stopping only to drive off any other blue tit that comes near or to collect small scraps of moss and feathers, even cat hair, and carry them into its now solitary home.

Blue tit females have a reputation for infidelity, but not this one. I swear she's mourning the loss of the one and only bird for her, the very love of her life. Honest!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Let them eat cake (and soup)

It’s often quoted advice to never to volunteer, particularly when you don’t know exactly what you are letting yourself in for. Not long ago an acquaintance – known to me only as a fellow member of a committee I once served on - phoned to ask about my catering experience.

“Oh I’ve sloshed out the odd glass of wine in my time, Why?”

She was all of a tizz, she explained, having volunteered to make tea and biscuits for the forthcoming Village Environment Event, only to find this had morphed into providing a full on service of cake, sandwiches, with soup as well. She was calling me in a desperate hope I might be able to help, or at the very least bake a cake.

Now if this had been an answer phone message, I swear I would have ignored it, but there was an edge of desperation in the poor woman’s voice that had me saying, “Sure, no problem. Well, don’t ask me to bake a cake, not if you want to serve it to paying customers that is, but soup for forty or so, a doddle. Help all day? Love to...”

That’s why, despite my long held mantra of ‘real women don’t make the tea when there’s an able bodied bloke around,’ I found myself driving cautiously with two cling film covered cauldrons of lentil and vegetable soup (one hot and spicy, one Mediterranean style) sloshing around in the back of my car. Though I had to whip off the cling film pretty sharpish when I got to the village centre- very frowned on environmentally is cling film.

Despite my somewhat cackhanded teamaking skills, the Environment Event was a great success, not least because of the quality of the donated baking. All top grade stuff. (Well who wants to be known as the person who made grotty scones when you live in such a gossipy community as our village?)

Out refreshment stall raised a fair sum of money to aid the funds of our Local Flora and Fauna Bio-diversity Group, and I came home with an ‘eco-eye mini’. A wonderful little monitor that tells me exactly how much electricity I’m burning at any one time.

Now my buying this handy gizmo has NOTHING whatsoever to do with the charming salesman asking me for the recipe for my ‘simply wonderful’ lentil soup, no nothing at all. It’s simply because he assured me it’s the smart, eco-friendly way to save the planet. Okay perhaps it’s more likely to save me money, but every little bit helps.

I now have a cute portable monitor that tells me at a glance exactly how much electricity I’m burning and do you know? It takes hardly anything to power a radio all day, but simply squillions of kilowatts to run a vacuum cleaner, boil a kettle or do the ironing. So I’m saving a fortune just by sitting around listening to my favourite programmes and sipping red wine . Should you wish to join me, their website is http://www.eco-eye.com/

It’s pity the lentil soup needs cooking on a stove, but it is only in one pot, so I’ll post that below as well, just in case you’re interested.

Norma’s Lentil Soup serving around 6/8 people depending on how greedy you are

(I’ve done my best to put in some measurements as a rough guide, but it really isn’t that sort of soup. As long as there’s plenty of onions and garlic to start with, and some lentils of course, the rest you put in doesn’t really matter)

For the Basic Soup:

Approx 200 grams split red lentils (soaked for an hour and thoroughly drained)

2 large or 3 small cloves of garlic crushed

2 medium sized strong onions

2 medium carrots

2 sticks celery

About 1 small teacup full of chopped root vegetable, any will do, I usually use swede, but parsnip or even extra carrot will be fine. Don’t use potato though.

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 good quality veg stock cube

Approx 1 dessert spoon of stock powder (Marigold Vegetable bouillon is best – if you don’t have it use another stock cube)

1 tablespoon of good quality olive oil, or use butter – just don’t let it burn

Tiny bit of black pepper

Teaspoon of dark brown sugar

(Additions for spicy soup – Masala curry paste, creamed coconut, extra black pepper if liked)

(Additions for Mediterranean soup – 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, great big pinches of oregano and basil, with a handful of chopped parsley – fresh herbs if you have them, otherwise use dried.)

Method for the basic soup:

Crush the garlic and cut up the onion as small as you can, cook them in the olive oil until they start to go mushy. I don’t mean fry, more a sort of ‘sweat it gently’. Adding a couple of tablespoons of water will stop them going brown. Stir all the time.

Add the celery cut very small and stir and cook gently.

Add the carrot and any other vegetable you are using and cook gently.

Add the stock cube and stir it around until it melts.

Add the drained lentils and sort of stir them around for a bit.

Add the tin of tomatoes, the sugar, some water and the black pepper. Stir the whole thing well, while bringing the pan to the boil. Simmer on a low heat (stirring once in a while), for as long as you can, but at the very least an hour. This is a soup that benefits from being made in the morning and allowed to stand before using in the evening, that way the flavour develops. If it isn’t tasty enough mix the stock powder with a little hot water and add until you think it is right.

For the spicy version add a table spoon of Masala paste (or any other good quality curry paste you fancy) to the garlic and onion mixture. When all the final ingredients are mixed together add 2 walnut sized pieces of creamed coconut and stir in well.

For the Mediterranean version add the tomato paste, oregano, basil and parsley at the same time you add the tin of tomatoes. If you don’t have all the herbs, use any you have, the soup will still be fine.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Steam Punk and Mutant Zinnias

It’s been a demoralizing couple of months and not just because of appalling weather. Just when I was getting on well with the final spruce up and edit of my second attempt at novel writing, I spotted a question and answer session organised by the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Just the thing, I thought, a chance to hear what an expert panel of editor, agent and published author has to say, maybe even pick up a few hot tips from the real insiders.

A crowded basement room at the New Cavendish Club, a cup of tea, some bikkies and all the expected advice:

A useful reminder about what to put in a submission letter – keep it to the point, and check out the agent actually deals with your genre – complete with cautionary and comi-tragic tales of authors sending off huge packages of historical romance to agents who only deal in cyber punk.

What is required in a synopsis? Apparently these are seldom read, and are asked for only to prove you’ve actually written an ending. When I think of the hours I have spent worrying...

Which leads to why I am feeling particularly disheartened. A brave soul asked what was the coming thing in fiction, a sure fire route to getting published, like what was every publisher gagging for at the moment? What did their mutual crystal balls say would sell in these cash hardened times?

I crossed my fingers, please, please let it be optimistic fiction with a couple of twists, a sad bit, a few laughs and a happy ending. Was it hell – What do readers buy during hard times? Well certainly not cheery novels to see them through until their spirits are uplifted. Okay, it's no surprise ditzy chick-lit is currently way off the mark (do I hear you say ‘at last’ and ‘hooray’?) But apparently what the buying public wants is even darker, dark hard times, with grim escapist drama, and not just suspenseful, woman in jeopardy sort of stuff, but more Victorian Gothic meets Blade Runner on a particularly bad day, with a pinch of Wuthering Heights thrown in. And keep it urban, very urban. I swear I’d never even heard of Steam Punk Romance until that day, and it’s been taking the U.S.A by storm for simply ages and is catching on in a big way here too. Dr Who has a lot to answer for; it would seem his tardis is the perfect piece of steam punk kit.

So it’s time to wipe off my brass goggles and get my bionic parasol all buffed up. If I want to get published it’s into the ditch with my cheery plots about young women working in country gardens and making out in life. I need to get going with end of days, edgy, cyber chick noir and something nasty lurking in the potting shed, mutant zinnias perhaps or cyber chrysanthemums methinks. Then again, maybe not.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Two young men, the writer Paul Howard and his friend Tanzin Norbu, are about to start a trek up the frozen Zanskar river valley, in temperatures as low as -30ÂșC , through a gorge deeper than the Grand Canyon. This gorge has been the only winter link between Zanskar and the outside world for a thousand years. Because of the isolation, Zanskar is cut off from the rest of the world for nearly 7 months of the year, making education very hard to maintain.

To address this issue, Tanzin and Paul are developing a scheme to adapt the remote schooling techniques developed by the famous ‘Schools of the Air’ in the Australian outback for use in the valley. In collaboration with existing schools in Zanskar, the aim of this project is to use radio communication, along with written course materials distributed throughout the summer, to keep at least the flame of education alive in the winter months.

The first stage in the development of Radio Zanskar is for Paul Howard and Tanzin Norbu to visit Zanskar in winter via the Chadar, a trip funded by the Royal Geographical Society through its annual Neville Shulman Challenge Award. If you’d like to check out more, why not follow their progress on www.radiozanskar.com.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Service With Barely a Smile

I’ve been off on a short break in Southwold, Suffolk, so missed the last programme of Michael Roux’s Service on BBC 2. I didn’t see all of the other programmes either, just enough to make me particularly conscious of the type of service I was getting while away. Now Southwold is a trendy little Suffolk seaside town, full to bursting in summer, but delightful – if a bit windy - out of season, and full of tempting boutique style clothes shops. Sadly trying to buy in them left me feeling nigh on invisible. Having enticed me in by a 50% sale, the three members of staff in one were far too busy babysitting to even acknowledge my presence. The object of their attention, a small child reading aloud from a book.

“She’s sooo clever,” the owner cooed when I asked for help in finding a bigger size. A pair of blue eyes looked up for approval. Not having a heart of stone, I agreed, but left without buying the stripy tee shirt, to try my luck down the street. Here the assistant didn’t even acknowledge my presence at all. Just flicked her eyes away from her computer screen long enough to check the door was shut behind me.

Thus I came away from Southwold with no ‘little something’ to remember my trip. Actually that’s a lie. The Serena Hall Gallery opened its doors a few minutes early to let me in. We had a long chat about how art was selling, the problems of parking in a seaside town, plus how crazy it was to cut rural buses. I left with one of Lincoln Kirby-Bell’s signature ceramic bowls, just covered in the most wonderfully gaudy spots, swirls and spirals. Both my welcome in the gallery and the pot I bought were a rare treat.

No one wants servility, but politeness with perhaps a smile, along with an attempt to do the right thing, helps to make the shopping/eating out experience memorable or at the very least a pleasure. Even if sometimes a cheery approach can go too far. Breakfast in our hotel came accompanied by a running commentary. The woman who took our order went round the tables asking everyone where they were from and what were they going to do that day. Just by the chance of being in the same room, I found out a lot about my fellow guests. My breakfast kipper arrived via a stream of information as to where our waitress lived, both now and in the past two years, and where she was thinking of taking her own short break. Happily the details of her many ailments were saved for some of the other eaters.

So it may be good to take an interest in your guests, but it can go too far. I’m sure the whole dining room stretched its collective ears to hear the answer from one of the couples. She, a young woman in her very early twenties, he more of a father figure and from his demeanour most likely her boss. At breakfast they were asked if they’d enjoyed their stay and did they do anything nice the previous night. I can only say their joint reply, though barely audible, did seem a bit flustered.