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The one where George commits murder

Croquet, not tennis

Croquet, not tennis

Madampe
July 10th 1900

Dearest Tommie

We’ve got three puppies! Such duckies, so fat, their bodies all much too heavy for their little legs at present and they can only sprawl. They were born last Saturday week while we were in Colombo, and the way in which Gretchen was prancing in excitement and importance when we arrived on Tuesday was too funny. She led me to the box where they were with an air as much as to say, ‘you can’t beat that!’. She had six but one died soon after it was born and George drowned two as five would have been too many for her to bring up. We have kept two black ones like her, and one brown, we hope they will take mostly after their mother, and not after their Pariah father. I have never seen much of tiny pups before and I am always watching these, they are so sweet crawling about their box. Their eyes are not opened yet but I suppose they ought to be today or tomorrow.

Thank you very much for sending the puzzle. I haven’t had time to do it much yet as I have been fairly busy. I have just begun the white silk blouse. I think I shall make it with a big collar arrangement, but have not quite decided.

Mr Clarke did not come after all as he could not get away but he is coming tomorrow. Mr Marshall just came down for the night with the money. We could not bring it as the banks were closed on Monday. He is such a jolly fellow, it is nice to have him in the house. I shall be glad when Mr Clarke has been and gone, as it is hanging over George and he is still rather seedy so things worry him more*. He has had two more attacks since we came back, one on Tuesday night and Wednesday, which I think was the result of the jolting in the coach which is enough to turn anybody’s stomach. He was very seedy on Wednesday and I kept him in bed till tea time and only gave him spoon food, then on Friday he seemed quite all right so began taking the Kepler but I suppose his tummy was still weak and it proved too much for it. He was very bad in the night and just lay on the sofa all the next day, quite worn out. However, he is much better now and I am dieting him and giving him little odd things so he will soon get his strength up again. I hope he will be able to take the Kepler presently if he begins very gradually, but it is beastly and I am quite sure would turn me up.

I am glad you beat Bessie but very sorry you and she lost the doubles. I am not keen on playing with Bessie myself; I never feel she is to be depended on. You know we played with each other too much, it has put us off playing with other girls. I like your frocks enormously, the holland is sweet, so cool looking. I am going to wear my black skirt and the lace bodice every night now, as the skirt is too shabby to hoard up any longer and I might just as well wear it as anything else and it is nice and cool. Mosquitos don’t worry me much now so I shan’t mind not having my arms quite covered up. I could not have borne it when I first moved out here. I really must be noticeably fatter as a man whom George introduced to me in Colombo did not recognise me the other day at the G.O.H. It was when I was having dinner by myself and I kept wondering why this creature stared at me, and the next night he saw George and I together and told him afterwards that he did not know it was me. He supposed it was because I was fatter. He was only introduced to me in the lift so he could not have had a very good view of me and I did not remember him in the least. Certainly my things have seemed tighter but I thought I had swelled with the heat and they had shrunk with the washing.

We have had such jolly breezes lately, and as the wind comes straight from the sea only 3 miles away, it is nice and fresh and has made my cheeks quite decently rosy again. They had got a little tallowy with the heat.

Fancy your having another pupil! I am very glad if it does not mean much more work, that is the only drawback. I hope you will have had a nice time at Lewes. I wonder if you will see the old lady with the nose again. I had not realised that the fete was so close. It seems only the other day that you were shivering with cold. I wish we had seasons here. It would be much nicer than everlasting summer. How I do hope you have won something in the tournament. It will be sickening if you don’t.

George, I think, is wrestling with a letter to the kids. It was quite his own idea and I have encouraged it, but I thought he seemed a trifle worried when the time came to write it. I must go down and see how he is getting on, so good bye.

Love and kisses to everybody

from Mab

*But still able to murder puppies

Such Stuff as Dreams are made on

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I’ve been thinking about dreams lately. I can usually piece together why I dream what I dream but sometimes they come right out of the blue. Last week I dreamt I was a surrogate mother for my niece (I have ten nieces so I won’t say which one). I am 47 and had a hysterectomy a few years ago, so I was a strange choice. But it felt so real. I wanted to keep the baby and breastfeed it (‘it’ was genderless) but it was taken away in a cruel way.

Why did I dream this? Because my children are growing up? Two have been travelling and are off to university in September. The youngest is off to sixth form college. Times are changing in our household and my place is less certain in the world as I know it. I suppose the dream was about letting go.

When the children were small – we had three children under the age of 4 at one point – I used to have vivid dreams about leaving one of them at home. Or one of them falling off a high building. I know this was a mother’s insecurities about taking good care of her children. But they were utterly terrifying.

I still dream sometimes that I am late for school – not as a pupil but as a teacher. There’s a class of 30 plus five year olds waiting for me, rioting on the carpet, and a fuming head teacher. Oh the shame.

I used to have the wobbly teeth dream a lot. I thought this was because of the heavy orthodontic treatment I had gone through but have since learnt that this is a common dream for people going through a big life event.

I try to avoid conflict in my daily life but I have huge rows in my dreams and have to work hard not to carry on my frustrations with the person in question when I wake up. But worse than these rows are the dreams of execution – my execution. I have a recurring dream where I have killed someone by mistake. I am on the verge of being hung but, thankfully, it never actually happens. I suppose this would be called a nightmare and it’s a relief to wake up after one of those.

On the other end of the spectrum, I very occasionally dream of my dad and it’s always hard waking up and realising it was all a dream. But lovely while it lasts.

Dreams are a difficult subject for writers to deal with as they can be cliched or a weak narrative device. Who can ever get over Pamela Ewing’s dream where she wakes up to find Bobby in the shower. This really made it tough for viewers to suspend their disbelief and it was downhill all the way for ‘Dallas’ after that. So you won’t find a dream in my novels and I will not be that person who bores you with their nightly wonders. But do let me know if you have any good ones.

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Happy Birthday, Pippi!

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Listening to Woman’s Hour yesterday morning, there was a discussion about Pippi Longstocking and what a powerful role model she is for girls. She is strong, eccentric and kind-hearted and doesn’t care about how she looks. (In fact she loves her freckles so much she wants more.)

Astrid Lindgren created Pippi 70 years ago and she has entertained generations of children and adults around the world. I sadly never knew about Pippi when I was a girl. It wasn’t until having my own children that I was introduced to her. And I fell in love. We all did. We had a cassette player in our Volvo (nice Swedish connection there) and our eldest was given a Pippi Longstocking tape, narrated by the amazing Sandi Toksvig. We played that tape over and over until it wore out. It was one of those rare things that you’d be genuinely engrossed in listening to – unlike most of the awfulness we had to put up with in that car.

If you have young children, I can’t recommend Pippi Longstocking enough. Buy the books and the CDs and set your kids free.

And while you’re at it, check out Astrid Lindgren herself. She was so much more than the creator of this iconic character.

Ten Observations on the Election Results from a Disillusioned Mother

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I must confess to being very down over the election results. I was hoping that people would use compassion when casting their votes. But no. So I thought I had better write some of my thoughts down to try and find a way out of the gloom.

1. Time to seriously consider PR.
36.9% voted Tory. 63.1% didn’t. This is the system we have in this country but that doesn’t mean it is right. If there was PR we would now have 25 greens, 50 ish LDs, a few less Labour and a lot fewer Cons. But we’d also have 82 UKIP MPs.

2. Embarrassment
4 out of 10 voters were embarrassed to admit they voted Tory hence the skewed polls (according to a Yougov poll). The question of the polls is still being debated. There is no doubt more to it than just this.

3. Memories of 1992
Remember what happened in John Major’s second term. He had a majority of 21.

‘Mr Major’s majority of 21 melted away completely after a series of by-elections, scandals and defections; Mr Cameron’s slimmer margin of victory, just 12, gives him even less room for manoeuvre, although the opposition he faces is more fractured.’ George Parker, political editor of FT, May 8th 2015

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/db4d60b2-f574-11e4-bc6d-00144feab7de.html#axzz3ZeG84yfh

4. Isolation
The in-out referendum will cause a split in the Conservative party. If we leave Europe, the SNP will push for another referendum. Then Britain will be smaller and more isolated.

5. Lies
The deficit argument was based on a pack of lies. The deficit is bigger now than in 2010. Why wasn’t this point hammered home by Labour?

There has been no increase in jobs – unless you count a zero hour contract as a job.

6. Newspapers

Is it just a coincidence that the men who own the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Times and the Sun are all non-Doms who don’t pay tax in the UK?

7. Young people

We have two sons going to university in September. By the time they graduate, they will have a minimum of £42K debt. Each.

8. Leadership

We’ve got to choose the right Labour leader – someone not tarnished by the Iraq war, someone who’s had real life experience. And yes, because we live in shallow times, someone with ‘charisma’. Charisma is obviously more important than conviction or compassion.

9. Always cast your vote.

10.’If you don’t do politics, there’s not much you do do.’

Talk to your children about politics. This generation have got it tough so they need to engage with the political process.

Actually, talk to anyone who will listen. Politics is not a rude word. Everything is politics.

5 Reasons to Offer Creative Writing as an A Level Subject

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I was honoured to be asked to run a creative writing workshop for the AS and A2 students at Exeter College today. I worked with two groups and came away feeling that this is most definitely a subject that 16-18 year olds should be offered nationwide. And Exeter College are doing it very well. From my perspective, even the initially reluctant students entered into the spirit of the workshop which was to, well, actually write. After all, if you want to be a writer that is what you have to do. And they gave it a go and were brave enough to read out their pieces. I was really impressed and encouraged.

These are my five reasons why Creative Writing should be an A Level subject:

1. Creative Writing complements either English Language or English Literature as an A Level choice. It allows students to reflect on the nature of writing, in the same way that a bi-ligual student has the upper hand when it comes to learning a language.

2. Creative Writing allows those students who are quirky and maybe off-centre to find a place that they fit.

3. Creative Writing allows those students who are quiet and introverted to have a voice.

4. We human beings have a primal need to tell stories. It’s what makes us human. Stories help shape our personal pasts and collective futures. Once upon a time and forever and ever.

5. The art of Creative Writing can be learned and honed through structured teaching, just like Fine Art and Engineering and Geography.

I wish I had been able to choose this as an A Level subject. I was 33 before I had the chance to study creative writing – an adult education class led by Jan Henley at Worthing College. I’ve never looked back.

Pause for Thought 2 (Radio Devon early show)- ‘Why I Write’.

sophieduffy:

The words of Simon Kettlewell

Originally posted on Simon Kettlewell Author:

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Why I write.

If I could have an artistic wish, it would be to be musical. I love music from punk through to many of today’s acts, but I’m about as melodious as a group of howling cats. The thing about music, is that it’s instant. When you write a novel it takes so long that sometimes you forget what it was you were writing about in the first place. After that you have to wait for people to tell you what they think. That’s a tough one if you wait for a year to hear it’s rubbish. It’s different for music. You can share music right away, and feel the impact it has on an audience. But I guess art is art. Whether you’re Banksy, Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran, or Ernest Hemmingway, or a child doing a painting, or even me slogging at a laptop, it’s still art. It’s…

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Anyone for Croquet?

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Madampe
Monday 28th May 1900

Dearest Tommie

Thank you ever so much for the A.C.C.* book. Now I shall be able to think of you on match days and wish I were playing with you. I hope you will be put with Maude, as I always think you get on so well together and she is so nice and safe. I suppose the two Mrs. are to the fore again. Is Ronald still keen on Muriel? I expect that is too much to expect after six months. Who is the latest? By the way, does that sweet youth do anything for his living yet or is he still in the band of loafers. I am so wondering how you got on against Croydon on Wednesday. How I do wish you could have licked them. Write and tell me all about the tournament, won’t you? Who are you going to play with in the Ladies Doubles? I hope Bessie will be nice and keen. Give her my love and tell her she is to buck up.

We have not got the monsoon yet. I’m beginning to think it is afraid and won’t come at all. It has broken in the outer places, so I suppose it must come in time. Last night it was dreadfully close, not an atom of wind. We could not get to sleep for ever so long. In fact I got up and promenaded about the verandah to try and get cool. There is more breeze this morning so it is not quite so oppressive. There are a good many clouds about, but I am afraid they are not rain clouds, so don’t feel very hopeful. Howsomeever I’m quite well, so I suppose I ought not to grumble.

We are having our bathroom attuned, the roof raised, and the room made longer, and also have invested in a new bath. We could not stand the other one any longer. Have I ever told you about it? It was a fixed one made of cement, very long and very narrow, with quite straight sides and a sort of dirty grey colour. George put me off it the very first time by saying it was like a coffin, and so it was. You felt when you were in it as if there ought to be a lid to go on top of you. And the worst of it was that we could never have more than about two inches of water in it as it took pailsful to cover the bottom. Now we have had that broken away and have got an ordinary zinc one, a huge oval tub. Of course we can’t lie down in it but we can have plenty of water and it is quite big enough for comfort and is altogether a great improvement. I could never feel that the other thing was clean somehow.

I am happy I’ve got a cat! It is a sweet little thing, mouse grey, with white front paws. Mr Van Dort sent it to me, his ‘boy’ caught it going after chickens. I don’t expect it has any home, but just lived on what it could pick up. I only had it on Thursday and it was very frightened at first, but has got quite at home now. I think it finds it very blissful having regular food. It was dreadfully thin, just like taking hold of a fish bone, as Jo would say, but it is already much fatter and George makes rude remarks about the tightness of its little tummy. It is too lovely to see it with the dog, we simply split over them. The cat is not a scrap frightened and rubs itself against Gretchen and plays with her tail in the most friendly way. Gretchen’s eyes nearly come out of her head, trying to look at us and the cat at the same time and the resigned expression she puts on is delicious. Cats in Ceylon are aways small and generally thin and leggy but George says this one is as good as any he has seen.

I am very sorry to hear of Mr Parkin’s death, coming so suddenly it must have been a dreadful shock to them. I suppose Maud is in the seventh heaven by this time. I imagine Mrs Gillespy was at Croydon when he arrived, wasn’t she, or is she still at Horwich?

We went out in the launch on Saturday and we got such jolly grass, rather like Pampas only not quite so fluffy. It grows to a tremendous height along the banks of the lagoon, quite 20 ft, and it looks awfully pretty waving about. It is a sort of bamboo and has very thick stems. I have got some standing in the corner of the room, like we put our bulrushes, and it nearly reaches the ceiling.

We have been busy planting things in the flower bed. We haven’t got much to put in yet. George is going to write to Nuwara Eliya and ask what English flowers will grow here. There is a florist there who has things from England. We have a row of arrow root plants, they are rather pretty, a little like Indian corn, only variegated, quite big white patches on the leaves. They throw out a funny sort of root, which is the part you eat. Then we have a few rather sickly begonias the boy brought from Nuwara Eliya, and some ferns, and a few odd things we are not sure of.

I do hope your tea went off all right. I think it is rather mean of the Justicans to give up the Club and forsake you just when I had gone.

I haven’t got much to tell you this week. Your letters are always so brimful of news, mine seems tame after them.

Lots of love and kisses to everybody

from Mab.

*Addiscombe Croquet club

My Dearest Mother

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Negombo Rest House
May 14th 1900

My dearest Mother

I expect you will wonder where on earth we are and what we were doing. I told you in my last letter that we were most probably going down to Colombo for the weekend to get money, but on Wednesday George had a letter to say they were sending someone over to us with it instead. Mr Marshall, the accountant, came – a very nice man indeed and easy to get on with. George went down in the launch to Negombo on Friday to meet him, that is halfway between us and Colombo. He came the first part by coach. Then yesterday (Sunday) we brought him back here in the launch and he went on to Colombo in a regular steamboat which goes backwards and forwards. We are staying here till tomorrow. We shall start away about 12 and get home between 5 and 6. We had to get up at 5.30 yesterday morning. Neither Mr Marshall nor I appreciated it. the water is rather low now so we did not get along as fast as usual and got stuck once or twice. It was very hot too so we were fairly tired out by the time we got here. I did not envy Mr Marshall having four more hours of it.

This is not a bad little place and has water nearly all round it, as the lake and the sea join here. The rest house is on the edge of the lake. I wish it were on the sea as it would be cooler. It was frightfully hot last night. Our room had only one window and as we could not very well have the door open, there was no draught through. George was so hot and sleepless that he got up and had a whiskey and soda which made him feel much better. I was too tired to notice it much and slept very well.

A rest house is a sort of inn which is under government. The man in charge is appointed and has certain regulations as to price etc. This is a fairly good one. The sanitary arrangements are rather unwholesome but they might be worse.

This afternoon we are going out in a catamaran. I must tell you my experience tomorrow. A catamaran is a boat cut out of a single cocoa nut trunk and is about a foot wide and then it has to have a huge out rigger made out of another log of wood to keep up the balance. You sit on a tiny narrow seat with your feet screwed into the trunk. The men paddle them along and they go at a tremendous pace. I can imagine your horror at the sight of one but they are very safe and, besides, the lake is quite shallow. I am very glad for George to have the days rest in between going and coming as Jeremiah is still ill so he has to drive the engine himself and it makes him dreadfully hot and tired.

Tuesday, 9.00 am.

We got home from our sail safely last night although we got drenched as it came on to pour when we were halfway home. It was very jolly though and a very novel experience. I was wrong about where you sit. I did not have to screw my legs inside the boat but we sat on a board put across the out rigger. We had a cushion on the board and rested our feet on the side of the boat. They put up a huge sail when we got into the wind and we simply spun along. It was lovely but I don’t think a nervous person would enjoy it much as you felt you were suspended on one frail board over the raging ocean.

We did get wet coming back. I was worse off than George as my sunshade dripped so much it was like a little torrent on my back. On my hips where the rain beat, I was wet to the skin. I had got another pair of combies, of course, but I unfortunately had not brought another skirt or petticoat as I only thought we were going to stay one night. I could not get my things dried as they don’t have any proper fires, only smoky wood things and my clothes would have got pitch black. I thought I should have to return to bed and have my diner there but George suddenly had a brilliant idea. I pinned my waterproof cape round me as a petticoat and wore my skirt above it and no wet could come through. I went to bed directly after dinner though as it was not exactly comfortable and George dosed me with hot whiskey and water in case I might have caught cold, but I am quite all right this morning.

The men were awfully funny on the boat. We could not understand a word they said as they spoke Tamil. One of them took off his skirt and put it round us to keep off the rain and then kept on jabbering away to me and laughing but as ‘lady’ was the only word I could understand I could only smile back at them.

We shall start off this morning about 12 o’clock. I hope it won’t be very hot, but the rain last night has cooled the air a little.

Tell Amy not to get excited if the moonstones drop out of her ring. They are so roughly made but what can you expect for 1 rupee, and besides moonstones always come out, George says, because they are so smooth and hard. I hope Tommie’s bruises soon got better after falling off the little bathroom steps. However much does she weigh? I always thought those steps were fairly solid.

I am afraid I have got used to seeing George walk about with his trousers inside his socks. He does it partly to prevent animals crawling up his legs and also because the sand gets so into the hems of his trousers. His moustache is quite a decent size now and he is secretly proud of it. I must say I don’t like it very much but then I never do like moustaches. But it was best to let him try as he wanted to and he will get sick of it himself presently and will shave it off again.

I am not writing to anybody this week but you as I have not had any time. The coach passed here yesterday with our mail in it; it was so tantalising not to be able to have it. I hope you will be able to read this, but I have been writing on the verandah in a long chair so it is rather difficult.

Lots of love and kisses to everybody

Your very loving daughter, Mab

Hope you got nice and fat while you were at Fairbank.

Last Post

Last Post.

Best Bits

It’s been a funny old year, 2014. Not particularly sorry to see the end of it as there have been stresses and strains. But there were some moments.

Best Book: Us by David Nicholls
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Best Television Drama: Broadchurch

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Best Television Comedy: Friday Night Dinner

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Best Reality: Gogglebox

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I didn’t see any decent films.

Most Inspiring Person: Malala Yousafzai

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St Ives: Me and my mum

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Glenda and Ben’s wedding:

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The Exeter Novel Prize: Inaugural award ceremony

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Trip to Israel (Silver Wedding treat):

Tackiest tourist trap – Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is supposed to be where Jesus was crucified and buried. What would Jesus think of the bling?

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Most peaceful place and such a contrast to the latter was the Garden Tomb – much more authentic and real.

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The Old City of Jerusalem where I felt I was treading in the footsteps of angels (whilst being squashed by tourists and pilgrims):

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Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane (that were there when Jesus was):

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Putting my hand where Jesus was supposed to have placed his, on his last painful journey, down the Via Dolorosa:

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Most breathtaking View: Masada

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Trip to Edinburgh:My favourite city

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My books: Seeing The Generation Game get to number 16 in the Kindle chart:

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And some exciting news to come…

My family. We said some goodbyes to dear relatives, Auntie Shirley and Uncle Lyman. But I discovered my great grandmother’s letters and I got to know Mabel through her writing to her mother and sister.

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I got to see my Canadian cousin, Susan. She’s serving in Lithuania.

I got to see my brother in Wales. He’s now American but Welsh in his heart.

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Seeing my children celebrate their 19th, 18th and 16th birthdays:

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Actually, I’m exhausted reading through all this. Thank you to everyone who reads my blog. It is a bit of a jumbled mess but I love it.

Bring it on, 2015.

Sophie x

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