Cheers for breakfast

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Phil: Since I don’t have a small child to get ready for school in the morning, if I’m so minded, I can take my time and linger a bit over my bowl of breakfast cereal. It’s a great time to catch up on some magazine reading, and since I prefer to work later, I don’t see any panic to be sat in front of a computer terribly early.

In the past, this would be accompanied by BBC Breakfast News. I suppose it’s useful to catch up on the various happenings in the world, but if I’m honest, knowing the weather forecast is probably more practical.

But, with Brexit, all this stopped. Yes, I might catch the weather and local news, but the rest of the time the airwaves were filled with people shouting at each other. And just as Brexit leaves the stage, along comes Covid, and the news editors decided our mornings should start with a blast of ratings-gathering doom and gloom.Even as this recedes in interest, we’re treated to more disaster with (currently) empty shelves, price rises, lack of power etc.

Enough!

For a very long while, there has been no TV. Telly snobs will say this is a good thing, but I grew up with the magic box and get just as annoyed with those who boast about not watching it, as I do with those who devote their entire lives, and a complete wall in their lounge, to the screen.

Idly flicking through the channels on a very relaxed morning, I found that I could watch the 1980s American sitcom Cheers with my cereal.

Set in a Boston bar, the show features a pretty static line-up of characters, very few of whom can be described as high-flyers (OK, Fraiser, but the rest). It’s warm. It’s cosy. As the theme song goes:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name

And they are right. We all want to find our little community, where we fit in and the rest are pleased to see us.

Of course, the other reason I enjoy watching the show over breakfast is it seems so deliciously naughty to do so. Grown-ups are supposed to want to know what is in the news, even if there is nothing we can do about it. Cheers, and other shows are for the evening.

Side-stepping the expected norm feels a bit like bunking off school, or deliberately taking a longer lunch at work when you know you’ll probably get away with it. Naughty, but in a safe way.

Best of all, the warm and fuzzy accompaniment to y Fruit’n’fibre probably puts me in a better frame of mind to face the day. Or reminds me that I might be happier sat on a bar stool, drinking beer, and watching the world go by.

As the theme goes, “Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot“.

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Missing deadlines!

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Candice: I have become a library convert in the last six month, as you know. However, I keep having a problem that I forget when my books need to be back!

I’m not sure whether its the lack of structure with the ongoing working from home, or the upheaval that has been going on in my my life but yet again I got a message the other day saying we’ve frozen your account!

This is unusual for me as I am a fast reader but this time I had only managed one and a half books in the three weeks. I suppose I did have the distraction of reading another book which wasn’t from the library, plus a long weekend camping where I didn’t get as much reading done as I would have hoped.

Anyway all renewed now until next time, and a note put in my phone to tell me when they need to go back (and I’ve just finished the second book this morning).

Is anyone else still finding this whole Covid weirdness is messing with their usual organisational skills? I am now back in the office one or two days a week but I haven’t quite got that down into a rhythm. It was really nice to be in the office yesterday but its still not ‘normal’ yet by any stretch of the imagination. We’ve got another winter to get through and who knows what fun that will bring.

Anyway, we’ve got this far, something I’m sure none of us thought we’d be able to do a year and a half ago. There are mutterings of Christmas party at work, something I really excited about. Would be great if that comes off. This weekend felt almost normal as I went to an outdoor pop concert and had a boogie. Loved that.

But the biggest missed deadline I have is my own – finishing the writing I started in July. I am determined to pull my finger out and get that big finish done. I have time this weekend so ‘focus Nolan’ and get your finger out on the writing. I know I feel better if I do.

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It’s all about telling stories

Phil on the micPhil: For the first time in years, I find myself having to give a talk to a room full of people tomorrow. It’s a work gig, not a literary one, but I’ve just remembered something.

I don’t like writing presentations.

I love giving them. Public speaking has never worried me, at least as long as I know what I’m talking about. Unlike my writing friend, I don’t suffer from stage fright. I’ve happily stood in front of a few hundred people using the magic of PowerPoint to entertain them. Generally it goes well. OK, there was this one time, but that’s another story.

Actually writing a talk though, is a bit of a slog. Even drawing up a spider diagram and try to work out the correct order for the slides, and exactly what should be on them doesn’t ease the pain.

Then, I had a brainwave.

First: Open a packet of Maltesers. I need brain food.

Second: The first half of the talk is a story. I’m explaining how I came to be in the hobby I’m talking about. With this in mind, the whole thing becomes easily linear. No need to work out diagrams, just tell the tale. With plenty of photos.

My presentations are always full of photos. The less words there are, the more I can busk it on stage and adjust the talk to the time and audience. And if there is one thing I really hate, it’s a presenter who does no more than read every word off every slide. I can do that, and generally, quicker than they can.

Thinking about this a bit more, most of my job involves telling a story. When I explain how to make something, I take the reader through things step by step until we reach a joyful conclusion. Along the way, there are diversions and even a bit of jeopardy.

In fact, pretty much every form of communication is a sort of storytelling. Maybe they don’t all start “Once upon a time”, but that’s how humans tell each other stuff.

And having been so profound, I better get back to writing my talk…

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Desperately Seeking Summer

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Candice: I’m reading a book at the moment called ‘Desperately Seeking Summer’. I haven’t finished it yet so the review will come in another blog but I have to say it encapsulates the summer we have had in the UK this year. I’m still waiting for it to come.

I am a sunshine loving girl. Yes I know it can do bad things to your skin if you are in it too much but I wear my factor 30. However, it can also do lots of good things, increase your Vitamin D levels but generally make you feel happy. I’m never happier when I am out in the sunshine, shorts and tshirt on, doing the garden or going for a walk. My particular favourite is eating outside, particularly for dinner. I love to go on holiday and have a meal outside, preferably over looking the sea, not having to wear a jacket or cardi over my outfit. If there is shellfish on the menu, even better.

But no, this year has been pretty awful. We had one week of scorching heat in July and then its been very up and down. I got my shorts out all week in Devon, but with a fleece on. In that case I was on holiday and determined to show I was by getting my legs out (but not the upper body, still too cold).

For most of August I have been wondering where the sun has gone as we have had wall to wall cloud. A few weeks ago someone at my gym class said there was going to be a heat wave in early September and I went ‘yeah’ but now they are saying rain for most of the month.

Of course without Covid I would have already had one foreign holiday and have another in the pipeline but now things are all up in the air. I may have to dream and just put the heating on instead. I wouldn’t mind, its just the sun I miss as much as the heat.

This week adds an extra factor in the fact my friend and I optimistically planned a camping trip before the kids go back to school. I haven’t been in eight years, so I have all the kit but have forgotten how much you need and all the palava attached. Its all laid out in my garage as we speak.

So fingers crossed for a sudden heatwave end of this week. If nothing else I have my head torch and I’ll be doing some night time reading, mainly finishing of this book where I can disappear into a world of hot summers on a Greek island even if I can’t be there.

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When did a holiday become a “staycation”?

Poppitt Sands

Grumpy Phil: I keep hearing that everyone is going on a “staycation” this year, because they can’t get abroad.

Somehow, staycation has come to mean taking your holiday in the UK. I’m not sure how this happened, but I want it to stop NOW.

When I was a kid, we went on holiday every year. For several years this was to my grandparents in Scotland. Later, there was camping in Kent. All of these were holidays.

I didn’t get abroad until I was 12 and that was a week-long school trip to France. La Nolan’s daughter has been out of this country more often than I have, and she’s less than a tenth of my age.

Calling holidays in the UK staycations suggests they are somehow worth less than a trip abroad. They aren’t. Given the choice of sitting in a small British town eating cake or “larging it” in Ibiza, I know what I’d be picking. Yes, I am boring, but it’s my b****y holiday so I can do what I like.

To me, a holiday is anywhere away from home. Away from the mental list of jobs we really should be doing. A break from the norm. If you want to qualify it, for the trip to be a holiday, you have to spent at least one night away.

A staycation is taking time off and staying at home. Your house. Where you live most of the time.

Look at it another way, in normal times, many thousands of people from other countries visit the UK. I know, they all descend on Stratford and Warwick. They are on holiday. If I decide to visit one of Britians’ many tourist destinations such as the Lake District, then I’m on holiday just like someone from Japan.

So, let’s get the words right. Don’t let some over-paid newspaper columnist, bitter that their month in a terribly nice villa in somewhere fashionable, has been cancelled, define the language. A holiday is a holiday even if it means sitting on  damp beach wearing a cagoule. Just enjoy it.

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Jay Blades – Making It

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Candice: For those of you who don’t know, Jay Blades is the guy with the flat cap who is the main presenter on the BBC show ‘The Repair Shop’. Affable and friendly he coordinates between the people who want their items fixed and the makers.

I do like the odd autobiography but don’t read that many, I’m more into escapism these days but Phil sent me this book to read a few weeks ago. He had really liked it and raved about it so I thought I’d give it a go.

Jay has a very varied life, growing up on a rough estate in London with a revolving door of men playing Dad in his life when his biological father leaves the scene early. He also struggles with racism, and undiagnosed dyslexia, leading him to talk with his fists rather than his mouth for many years. This escalates to the point he has to leave the area. Unfortunately for the next few years his life follows a similar pattern, he settles into area but things start to go a bit awry and then he has to leave because he falls out with the local gang. He will admit that he brings a lot of this on himself as he does have an eye for the ladies and ends up getting on the wrong side of people due to messing women about.

Along the way he does start to find he has a knack for helping troubled people and starts initially volunteering and then working for a homeless charity. Again his mouth gets in the way when the management changes and he tells them what he thinks of their new plan, and has to leave.

Finally after many years and nearly 40 he finds the woman he gels with and they set up their own charity supporting troubled children through remaking old furniture. And this is where the ‘Repair Shop’ Jay appears. He says he gets a lot of comments on social media about the fact he doesn’t make anything, but that is where his true rehabilitation started, in revitalising old furniture. But a chance encounter gives him the opportunity to try presenting and he is a natural in front of the screen, and suddenly a new career beckons.

Present day, and we all know him as the ‘Father’ figure in the show, the one to give someone a hug when tears appear. To be honest, reading this book I have mixed feelings about him as a person. Obviously he has worked hard and fought his way up from a tough background. And he has done a lot of good for those who have struggled like him. But along the way he has left two children and multiple partners to pursue what he wants. My definite impression of him from the book was Jay comes first.

An interesting read, especially if you have no experience of that kind of upbringing.

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Getting arty in the park

Phil: Team NolanParker are proper culture vultures when we want to be.

Artinpark_250Point us at a literary festival and we are there. Anything to spend a bit of time with other writers, or people who just love books.

And if you love books, can you spurn other art forms? Of course not.

Which is why we ignored the threatening rain clouds and headed along to Art in the Park, Leamington Spa’s premier arts festival. Not just La Nolan and me, but her 7 1/2 year old protegee too. A youngster who like nothing better than getting crafty making things.

First up, there was dancing. Not for me of course, I didn’t want to get my tweed jacket sweaty, and anyway, it’s hardly suitable for Streetdance! No, the dynamic duo found themselves taking part in a very vigorous workshop learning some bangin’ choreography. Good job they had stoked up on drinks and a double-chocolate muffin beforehand, although that last bit was the small ones idea!

After all their exertions, a quiet stroll was in order to the riverside looking at some of the art on sale. After a Covid-enforced break last year, the festival was back, bigger than ever and having filled the main park, spilled over to an new field with yet more stalls, food and music. For a free event, there was a terrific amount to enjoy.

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This time, it was a henna tattoo workshop while I went for wander. It’s amazing who you bump in to at these sort of events – I was browsing a decorative blacksmith stall and found that the other browser was an old boss. Well, I’ve always fancied having a go at metal bashing and it seems that we might both be signing up for a taster course!

Lunch was a mix of halloumi fries (new to me, and delicious), fish tacos and an excellent hotdog for the small member of the team. Well, you can’t do boring at this sort of event can you?

After that, more strolling and time to stock up on unusual cards, including Christmas ones. You never know when you need a nice card, and there’s nothing like most of these in the shops.

Best of all, you get to meet artists. People who create things. While gawping at a painting of sculpture, the person who made it is happy to chat. For me, this personal connection really matters. Owning a unique object that has been crafted by another human being is a pleasure.

Books are also crafted by people. It’s why I feel guilty when I abandon one – I know what I’m holding is the result of many, many hours of effort and imagination. Someone cares about those words, which is why it’s such a shame when I can’t appreciate them fully. But then, like art, you can’t love, or even properly appreciate, everything.

As we found in the park though, art comes in so many varieties and flavours, there will be something you love, it just takes a bit of looking.

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I can see the sea!

View from Puffin Cottage, Bucks Mills, Bideford

Candice: I’ve always said my spiritual home is by the sea. I feel the pull of the coast if I don’t visit it for a long period of time. The sea calms me and I can spend hours just looking out over the horizon. I think I find that a lot around water as even lying by a pool on holiday I find calming.

There has been a lot of change and upheaval in my life over the last couple of months. I have gone from a family of three to two. It has taken me along time to get my head round this idea and this holiday has really helped me see the wood for the trees.

It also hasn’t helped my writing brain as I just haven’t been able to think clearly. A week at the coast and for the first time in ages inspiration struck. Phil and I had had a brain storm a week or so before around what was missing from Book 3 and I had taken it upon myself to write the ending. We knew approximately where it needed to go, but just hadn’t fleshed out that big finish. In fact the first step of our meeting the other week was to realise that we needed a big finish.

So I managed to squeeze in two writing sessions and get off 2000 words. I would have done more but an exuberant seven year old needed my attention, but to be honest most nights I was shattered, all that fresh air and boogie boarding tired me out. She and I had a ball, we did loads of things I wouldn’t have done if we’d flown abroad on holiday, a UK holiday is just different. One of those things was sheltering under a non-waterproof beach tent for 20 mins while it threw it down, but hey that’s just UK holidays! And the other main one was swimming in the sea, something I haven’t done in the UK for years, buying a wet suit really helped. I not sure who enjoyed the boogie boarding more, me or her!!

Anyway, I have broken the back of the big finish. I now need to knuckle down and write the next bit. I remember now why we have only got to about 60k words. The finish can take up 10k all on its own. In 2000 I’ve only opened the door to where we are going, and at the moment I’m not even sure where that is, that is the joy of writing, I just know where it needs to end up.

Happy holidays and writing!

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Don’t let me down Carol

Img_5414Phil: I like Carol Kirkwood. She’s the nice weatherlady on BBC Breakfast. Always seems cheery, even when giving us bad news. So, when I find she’s written a novel, and it’s in the Parker reading pile, I am worried.

Let’s be honest, I’ve not had the greatest success with celebrity novels. They tend (IMHO) to suffer from insufficient editing. Plotlines that get the chop in anything written by what Jennifer Lopez would term “a civilian” make it to the page because the publisher knows only the name on the cover matters.

My worries aren’t eased by reading a Radio Times interview where Carol admits “I didn’t ever think I would be able to write a novel is the honest truth,” she says. “I was approached about writing a book by a publishing agent. I met with him and he said, ‘Would you like to do it? Do you think you can do it?’ and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know because I’ve never tried.’” – basically, a publisher spotted the chance to make some money by slapping the name of someone popular on the cover. Carol had no burning desire to write, but by dint of being famous was given a publishing deal anyway.

Yes I am jealous.

So, the book – it’s rubbish isn’t it?

No. It’s not. Sorry to disappoint you dear reader.

The plot revolves around actress Shauna Jackson. Early in her life, she enjoyed a magical visit to Greece, complete with some romance with the heir to a multinational shipping empire who for no reason I assumed looked like a young George Michael. Later, she has joined the Hollywood A-List, gets cheated on by her husband who promptly dies, and eventually heads back to Greece.

This is not inciteful. It’s not “proper” literature. What it is, is something to read on the sunlonger. And that job it does very well indeed.

As you bake in the sun, your brain won’t be too challenged, even the big twist is pretty easy to spot as it hoves into view. This doesn’t matter. We like Shauna. We like everyone in fact. Even the cheating husband has a good side – Carol doesn’t really do nasty. There are endless chick-lit style product mentions, most of which were fashion brands and lost on me, but it doesn’t matter.

It’s easy to be snobbish about books like this, but if you don’t like them, don’t read them. The story flows well enough and is enjoyable. If your reading tastes requires your brain to hurt after a few pages, then don’t buy books by famous people. And certainly not the nice lady who does the weather.

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Tea, cake and plotting

Teaandcake

Phil: Here’s a photo we haven’t shown you for a while – the essentials of a NolanParker planning session.

Sat in the sunshine, we discussed Book 3, and how we will manage to finish it. Discussions that were powered by tea and cookies produced by the Nolan’s fair hand. She is so multi-talented!

After a long break, the first job was to read everything and work out where we are. The good news is that the book is a lot further on than I remember it. And, more importantly, it’s pretty good. Loads of funny stuff balanced with some serious plot lines too.

Pondering on how we take things forward, we’ve decided to work on the endings – ‘dings because there are two strands to this novel and we need to wrap them both up. One in particular required much chat at at least 3 cookies each to plan out – but that’s the bit we really enjoy and something I’ve missed while we have been away from writing book stuff.

Now the hard work starts – turning those ideas into words on a page. Watch this space.

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