The D Word Reviewed

It was a great privilege for a book club to read and discuss ‘The D Word’ my debut novel.

Ten avid readers who meet once a month gathered in a cramped front room in someone’s house.

There is a special reverence that seems to be bestowed on authors. ‘Wow, you’ve written a book’ people say. It’s an odd feeling to be in a room with ten people who have read your inner thoughts and feelings, your sex scenes, wondering where did she get the inspiration for this?

Everyone was incredibly positive. One lady congratulated me on my skill at portraying step parenting and divorce issues so well. The men in the group said that I dealt with erectile dysfunction very well; describing how it is for men in this situation. Another lady said she hated the main character but had to read on to see what happened. Another said that she loved the kitchen scenes which brought the book to life.

But it was the sex scenes that intrigued people the most. Did I use personal experience? Why was I so graphic? Did I need to describe oral sex in such detail? There was a prudish air to the room. These readers were all over 50; the majority over 60 so maybe they are not my target audience. It’s great to receive constructive criticism. Maybe sex scenes are not to their liking but I feel strongly as an author that I want to break new ground. Fifty Shades of Grey wasn’t graphic enough. It alluded, it left a lot to the readers’ imagination. Sex for me as an author needs to be raw, funny, realistic, dysfunctional because after all that’s what it is and we Brit’s have been too prudish for too long!

D is for Destination; Salt Lake City

This is the place. Or is it the place? How many of you, I wonder choose to live where you live? Would you rather live somewhere else? Maybe the traffic is bad outside your house, maybe you don’t get on with the neighbours, maybe you hate the weather but is it so easy to move? We have jobs and family that tie us to an area and can’t just move to another country so easily.  But look through the entire course of history and people have always been on the move; searching for better opportunities, fleeing persecution. You only have to look at the news of recent weeks to see the thousands fleeing war torn countries, pitched up at Calais, desperate to live in peace, to protect their families, their homes destroyed, prepared to get onto crowded boats risking their lives, clinging to lorries, parting with money to organized gangs offering to help. Migration is not a new thing. It never will be.

When I studied American history at university I was fascinated by the movement of people across the States and one group in particular: The Mormons, or Latter Day Saints. They were the largest migration in US history and 70,000 arrived in Utah from Illinois, having trekked across the Rockies, a journey of 1300 miles arriving on 24th July 1847.

It was a society conceived in the nightmares of 15 year old Joseph Smith. Living in New York in 1823 he was disturbed by an angel Moroni telling him that all previous religions were fraudulent and was told to unearth some gold plates in the forest of New York and translate them. This became the book of Mormon. The church grew but they were persecuted. They claimed to be the 13th lost tribe of Israel and said that Jesus had visited the Americas.  They were thrifty people and opened banks and their belief in polygamy resulted in accusations of them being adulterers and they were persecuted for their beliefs, moving on to Illinois where Smith was shot.

A new leader Brigham Young took over and led his people over the Rockies stopping at the Salt Lake basin flanked by the Wasatch Mountains. Brigham Young was very ill but leaned out of his wagon, told the driver to stop and looking ahead of him declared ‘this is the place.’ Of course he didn’t realise it was on a fault line but buildings after 1975 have been built using seismic technology. The city was planned on a grid system, the roads wide enough for a team of oxen to turn without the use of foul language. The Mormons were a hard working family focused people and still are. Unemployment is the 2nd lowest in the USA. The university is the only one in the country where students come out married in large numbers and Utah is now as the bee state because Brigham Young wanted the pioneers to be as busy as bees.

It is with great nostalgia that we look back upon this great migration of people; free to travel, free to move on and pursue their religious beliefs in peace without further prosecution. In today’s world that doesn’t happen so easily. Governments have rules, space isn’t so freely available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

D is for Destination Diary.

This is part 1 of the Warrington Destination Diary: our trip to America, 2015.

Day 1:

Peter my 16 year old son is the last to get up. He’s grumpy when I wake him; has that look of contempt. He’s moody because I say no to a burger at Gatwick. He suddenly comes to life on the train telling us that ‘Utah has freaky weather’ – snow in June etc. He says he’s read that Vegas is best experienced under the influence of narcotics.

 

We arrive to a splash of colour and bright lights in Gatwick’s duty free. The granite floor sparkles below. There are samples of strawberry Pimms and blood orange Southern Comfort and Malibu. A black man in a tropical hat is serving and I hand one to Peter. The man says ‘madam he said he’s only 16’ and Peter looks at me as if I’m stupid.

 

Peter is bored trawling the make up counters. I give him a tenner for the burger I had refused to buy. He stands there in his colourful planet hat and looks at me as if to say ‘is that all?’

 

We are like magpies around the make up counters. ‘Wow, owww, look at that, try this.’ Anna, my 19 year old is trying on all the sunglasses, stepping back, puffing up her hair, taking selfies. Tin Tins warns me that Anna will get me to buy all the makeup if I’m not careful. I ask Tin Tins what she thinks: ‘does this blusher make a difference.’ No she says. Anna says ‘wow mother that makes you look amazing, buy it.’

 

At security there’s a white board for people to write their opinions. People have written ‘aggressive rude staff, arsey. Peter says why be rude and draws a smiley face, ‘they were great’ and glares at me.

 

I make jokes to the staff telling them the clear bags you use to put your cosmetics and liquids in will make perfect sandwich bags and the lady chuckles but Peter tuts and says ‘did you hear what SHE said?’

 

On the plane…

 

We mention the mile high club and Anna asks where she was conceived; then shrieks ‘oh my frickin God’ and we both shriek.

 

Tin Tins (short for Tinika. She’s 11) tooth comes out over the Atlantic. She puts the tooth under her blanket. I tell her the fairy won’t be visiting because as we are not in a country she doesn’t know what currency to bring.

 

I spill my gin and tonic over Anna’s dress and she goes mental. Tears are in her eyes; she says she’ll never be able to wear the dress again.

 

We are served Fab lollies, pepperonis, alcohol but no bloody tea!

 

Peter is watching Cinderella and the parched landscape below comes into focus: its like a three dimensional map, bumpy, muddy coloured with crevices and canyons. We see the Hoover Dam – a deep sapphire blue. The houses look like square biscuits and the warehouses like Weetabix or pasta lined up.

 

From the airport…

 

From the airport we see the Luxor; a black pyramid under the bright sun. The road is lined with red rock, small boulders and palms. The gold of the Mandalay Hotel glitters and some buildings look like metal foil. I can see a statute of liberty, a Disney castle and a massive lion in gold.

 

The Luxor…

 

Inside it is like a theme park or massive shopping centre. Escalators take you up to a food court and to the right is the reception. I count 25 people serving at desks. I count 80 people in the queue which takes 30 minutes to go down.

 

As we leave the hotel we are hit by the slap of desert heat. The traffic lights allow 11 seconds to cross. It all looks like an upmarket Butlins. Peter refuses to take his coat off. He takes about 50 photos of my back with Tin Tins camera and she gets annoyed.

 

In the room the air con noisy; like a motor bike. I give it a bang. I ring reception and tell them we are in room 280165 and the lady says ‘how may I help the Warrington party?’

 

There is nothing on the news about the Greek crisis. The news is all about a shooting in Tennessee and teachers fighting for ‘raises.’ There’s a lit about the presidential campaign. ‘George Bush drives a Uber. The candidates want to look hip by arriving in a Uber.’ There are weather warning that it’s flash flood season… mind the road.

 

There are tons of medical adverts on TV: whooping cough; talk to your doctor about vaccination. Mega Red supports your heart. Hep C. All the side effects of each drug advert are read out in the advert.

 

The hotel has a Starbucks and I queue for 20 mins for a bottle of water debating whether to get a 700ml bottle for $15 but then ask for tap water. I also ask for tea and the server says ‘chai or iced tea.’

 

We walk to the Excalibur Hotel; a medieval castle hotel over the bridge. The Excalibur is tacky. It has dirty casino type carpet. Anna gasps and says its amazing. We eat in an area that looks like Dickens World in Chatham. There are streets of artificial houses and a cobbled street that glistens as if it’s been raining and Anna says it’s awesome but I think its the tackiest set up I’ve ever seen but she tells me to stop moaning, we’re here now.

 

Anna and Tin Tins go for a swim. I watch. Peter paces up and down bored. In the pool Anna pouts and poses like a dolphin waiting for me to take photos of her. She applies lipstick before she gets in.

 

 

Peter tells me it gets very cold in the desert at night because the air is thin.

 

We go to bed early the first night and miss the lights so I get up at 3am to look out of the window but we are too high up and it looks like a fuzzy xmas tree without glasses on. There is a giant sign saying ‘In Out Burger’ flashing with an arrow through it and another sign saying ‘budget suites.’

D is for Driving

D is for Driving… something we all dread.

Or is it just me? Am I becoming a middle aged grumpy woman who finds more things to complain about as the years roll by?

I don’t think so. I think we are all noticing, here in England the dreadful state of our roads. The daily nightmare we endure getting to work as we sit, bumper to bumper in queues, which stretch further than the eye can see, weaving around road works, contending with the M25 we have long called ‘the car park’ and having to now allow double the time to get anywhere.

I recently drove in the USA. Ok it was rural Idaho and Montana but I’ve bravely driven in LA and Washington too and quite frankly driving was a breeze over there. The roads are wide and straight, well maintained, the fuel is cheap, the cars are smooth and the parking was free in most locations. Jeremy Clarkson’s dream, in other words. Of course our population per square mile is much denser. In fact there is no comparison in that respect.

We wouldn’t be without our NHS and free education system and so we must continue to pay high petrol costs. About 15 years ago petrol prices reached an all time high. Did it deter people? Did it make them cycle to work or car share? Not particularly. Our roads are too dangerous (our weather too awful and hills put people off) for cycling to be an option for many and our governments simply haven’t been prepared to plough money into a national network of cycle routes. Several towns have tram systems but aren’t they ugly additions to the landscape?

What will change? I can’t see change on the horizon in the near future. Fuel prices in recent months have plummeted. We Brit’s carry on regardless, laughing at the state of the roads but nobody seems to be taking up the motorists’ plight with a big enough determination and until that happens nothing is going to change.

10 mistakes women make on first dates

I’ve talked to lots of people about first dates and I’m a battle scarred old timer in the world of on-line dating. Over the hill at half a century they’d award me a medal for my long service and dedication if this was the army.

For several years I clung to the hope that he was out there; the one. Personally I don’t like that phrase. It’s too like the Cinderella dream. I think a relationship is what you make of it in the same way a job is and the unlikely matches often work but the ones who tick all the boxes may turn out to be a nightmare.

On-line dating has received bad press in recent years: it’s an impersonal way of meeting someone, how do you truly know the person isn’t making false claims? Are you putting your safety at risk? Isn’t it better to meet someone ‘naturally?’

I have talked to lots of men about their dating experiences and these are some of their comments. The top 10 mistakes women make on first date:

  1. Don’t expect the man to pay every time. You don’t know what he earns. He may earn less than you. Show him you’re generous and offer to buy him a drink. Offer to go halves on a meal or take it in turns. A lot of men have been financially ruined by costly divorces, they feel bitter when it comes to money and women. Show him you’re different. Show him you’re not a money grabber.
  2. Don’t bang the point over and over that your children come first. He knows they do. You don’t need to labour the point and put him off.
  3. Don’t lie on your profile regarding your children. He’ll find out you have children. The fact you have children may put him off. If it does he’s not the one for you. But they are a part of you so you can’t deny their existence.
  4. Don’t run down your ex. What sort of message does this give? Praise your ex. Think about his good qualities and show the new man how you appreciate men.
  5. Take a interest in his career. Praise him for what he’s achieved.
  6. Dress to flirt: low cut top, flaunt those long legs or that curvy bum. A splash of perfume and a slash of lipstick tell him you’re keen to make an impression.
  7. Find something immediately to laugh about or amusing to say as you are ordering the drinks. Break the ice (excuse the pun) quickly. My best date was one was early Summer. I saw an advert at the bar for Christmas dinner.. ‘book now’ it said. We laughed about it and it got us talking about Christmas.
  8. Don’t sleep with him on the first date. I know most of you wouldn’t but the general consensus seems to be that men respect women less if they do. He’ll be thinking ‘if she’ll sleep with me so easily she’ll sleep with anyone.’ Sometimes it feels so right that slipping into bed is a natural and wonderful end to the evening but if you’re keen on him hold back.
  9. Try to relax if that’s possible. Men don’t like uptight women.
  10. Send him a text after saying you had a great evening even if you didn’t.

10 things men should do on a first date

As a veteran dater since time began I feel suitably qualified to advice you guys out there on what to do and not to do on a first date to improve your chances of a second date.

1. Women are impressed by the car you drive. Yes I know it’s very small minded but it’s just the way we are. If you drive a Panda, a Nissan Micra or another cringey small car give it a wash and a polish so that we notice the gleam not the make and model and preferably park it round the corner!

2. Always buy the first drink. It’s bad manners to let her buy the first drink. Why not push the boat out and impress her by suggesting a glass of bubbly to celebrate your first date.

3. To really impress her give her a bunch of flowers on the first date. Women love that. Even if they are cheap garage forecourt flowers. One man brought along a box of eggs laid by his chickens. It made me smile and broke the ice.

4. If you would like a second date don’t suggest your local or the same pub you went to on the first date. Women like a man with imagination who puts a bit of effort into dating. Say to her ‘I know this fantastic fine dining restaurant. I’d love to take you there.’ Or ‘I can get tickets for the theatre or a gig.. would you like to come… my treat.’

5. Don’t ask her what went wrong in her marriage or previous long term relationship. Instead ask her what she loved about her ex and what she misses. Think positive not negative.

6. Ask her questions and show an interest in her replies.

7. Lavish her with compliments. She’s spent time dressing, doing her hair and wants to see you’ve noticed. Tell her she’s lovely and slim even if she isn’t! Tell her ‘it sounds like you’ve had a really interesting and successful life’ even though you may not think so.

8. Don’t dominate the stage by going on and on about your own life for too long and most of all don’t brag about how successful your career has been. Be a little self deprecating. Admit to her a few of your career failings. She’ll love you for it.

9. Find out what she likes doing on dates but essentially take note and make sure on future dates it’s not always about what you want to do.

10. On future dates tell her you would like to meet her friends and join in any interests she has. She has interests too and it’s important you both learn from each others’ interests.

D is for Dessert. Top 10 that Brits miss

Every British expat living in Spain, France, Australia, New Zealand has a yearning for a culinary sticky treat they left behind in blighty. What’s yours? What memories of desserts in good old England make your mouth positively water? Well here’s the opinion out there:

1. Trifle. Tons of custard, cream, sponge, jelly and fruit. It’s been around, forever and conjures memories of Boxing Day with great Aunt Maud and Grandma Betty. Remember the Tommy Cooper gag? “A fella goes to the doctor, and he’s got jelly in one ear and custard in the other, and the doctor says, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Fella says, ‘You’ll have to speak up doctor, I’m a trifle deaf.’”

2. Eton Mess. Horrible name in my opinion. Traditionally served at Eton College’s annual cricket match against Harrow it consists of strawberries, meringue and cream and is very messy.

3. Arctic Roll. Invented in Eastbourne (and Banoffi Pie was too!) in 1958 it became synonymous with the seventies and was probably eaten by Alison Steadman starring in Abigail’s Party! Simple freezer swiss roll. Is experiencing a revival.

4. Jam Roly Poly. Remembered fondly with oodles of custard as the traditional British school dinner pud.’ (Before schools started closing kitchens and kids started taking yogurt tubes for a healthy pud’.)

5. Parkin. Can’t say I’ve tried it but if you are from Yorkshire, where it originated you may have sampled this gingerbread-like sponge.

6. Banoffi Pie. Origin again is Eastbourne, different inventor who has a plaque on the wall of the original restaurant building where it was served. (The Hungry Monk at Jevington). There were experiments with other fruit – apples, peaches etc but bananas proved more popular.

7. Bread & Butter Pudding. Dating back to the 11th century this pud’ began life among the poor as a way of using up scraps of bread but as experienced a revival in recent years; served in top restaurants with a luxury twist.

8. Knickerbrocker Glory. Possibly came from the USA in the 1930s although we aren’t certain. This fruit and ice cream dessert in a tall glass reminds me of Macaris in Tonbridge and Eastbourne. There was always a plastic one on display in the windows of Macaris gathering dust over the years! But when Macaris finally closed and with it that whole wonderful fifties decor and cuisine I was very upset.

9. Sticky Toffee Pudding. Extremely fattening and sugary, generally served with custard this pud’ was brought in by Canadian soldiers stationed in England during the war.

10. Spotted Dick. Which always makes me laugh because it sounds like a make genital disease. Again this pud’ conjures up images of school days and steaming windows and heavy bellies as we stumbled back to class after lunch.

But my signature dish; the dessert my kids will remember me by is an American delight – the Key Lime Pie – a recent import into the UK in our family we’ve renamed it ‘Heart Attack Pie’!