Today was the fortnightly meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. As usual, two weeks ago we were set a theme to which to write something: gardens/gardening or the like.

I chose to write a short story in a genre I have not tackled before. I called it:

The gardener

His speciality was potatoes. Every day he was out there, first digging deep trenches which he half filled with horse manure brought in enormous black plastic bags on his wheelbarrow. Then he shovelled the soil he had removed on top, forming long straight rows from within a foot of the back of his house to the end of of his garden. It was not unusual for him to be out there digging and shovelling long after dark. Later, I understand when depended on what varieties of potatoes he was planting, he dibbed holes in those long rows, dropped in a potato then shovelled a little soil on top.

Our garden was mostly lawn but I sometimes had a brief chat with him over the fence when I was cutting it. Joe wasn’t very talkative, but not unfriendly. I did ask him about the potatoes. He told me he grew so many to get some superb ones for the village show. Evidently his potatoes always won their class.

Once or twice he gave me some unusual ones, pink and odd shapes, but really tasty.

His wife Rose was not happy about it. We often heard them arguing on the other side of the garden fence which divided our two properties. “Why can’t we have some flowers like next door?” she’d ask, “just a few outside the house.”

I’m not good with flowers,” was his surly reply.

Over the two years we had been there the arguments had become more and more acrimonious. Rose had a habit of extending her finger, emphasising each complaining sentence with a jab in Joe’s chest. The arguments became so loud that we could hear them when they continued in the house. Then they stopped. “She’s left me for a bloke who grows championship dahlias,” he told me in one of our chats over the fence. I wasn‘t surprised, she’d surely had enough of potatoes.

He must have been taken into hospital when we were out as the first I knew of it was when I saw a woman I’d never seen before looking down the potato rows. A new girlfriend I thought. “Do you like potatoes?” I asked as a way of making her acquaintance. “Not especially and I prefer to buy them at the supermarket. I suppose they’ll rot now Joe’s not around.”

What, has he left too?” I asked.

Oh, you didn’t know? He had a heart attack last week and died in hospital. I’m his sister and am just here to clear things up. Look, if you want some potatoes just come and dig some up. Take as many as you like. The side gate’s open and there’s a garden fork outside the back door which I suppose Joe used.”

I don’t mind a bit of digging and the thought of those tasty little pink potatoes had me round there the next fine day with a large bag. Sure enough, the first fork lifted a clod filled with those ugly but tasty little morsels – fur apples I think they are called.

Seeing one, long and slender covered in soil left behind I bent down to pick it up. It didn’t come up easy. There must be a big bunch of them down there I said to myself, giving it another pull. It still wouldn’t come free. Grasping it tightly between thumb and first finger of both hands and giving a mighty wrench at last it was free, with something between a squelch and a dull crack.

The detached finger, a bloody bone projecting from the rotting flesh, was silent now, but just as angry as it pointed at my small haul of potatoes.

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Today is going to be full of chores so it’s a good opportunity to post something about our walk yesterday, our favourite short walk around our village of Menston. Cold with a biting wind coming up the valley but a  beautiful sunny day. I had hoped to catch Petronela’s namesake but she refused to play and hid herself somewhere in the bushes.

When we arrived Sue our friend was preparing Sunday lunch so we had a wonderful ‘catchup’ sitting in her cosy farmhouse-style kitchen while she peeled potatoes. Her son and his lady have just moved in while they renovate the barn next door to be their home (it’ll take a year) so we made new friends too. P enjoyed chatting with him, also a teacher, while I enoyed chatting with his lady (who said “of course”?). My camera for some reason refused to play ball too so unfortunately no pix of Sue or her offspring (man of the house Simon had lost himself in ‘the garden’) but I must at sometime do a post on this amazing couple, who always have us laughing. P was still giggling about one episode in bed last night!

 

 

 

 

 

I wasn’t able to post here for a couple of days but I must have a grump on a couple of themes, one from UK news on Friday, the other ‘news’ from the school in which Petronela is teaching. Those themes? The continuing treatment of women as second class citizens; the disgraceful state to which education in the UK has been ‘allowed’, or forced, to fall.

Women’s pay

The ‘news’ that, beginning this weekend, women are effectively working for free till the end of the year is a generalisation, a simplification, but it makes the point very well I think.

Women in the UK are, in general, paid so much less than men for doing the same job that half way through November men will have earned the amount that women will have to work till the end of December to achieve.

How on earth do we accept this over a century after Emily Davison was killed protesting at the Epson Derby?

Children in UK who cannot read or write at 11

On Friday Petronela began to teach a ‘low ability class’. Of course some children may be ‘brighter’ than others; whether they should be ‘streamed’ as such is an argument I will not get into, it’s basically the same argument as whether grammar schools should be reintroduced. I have mixed feelings about both. However, she was ‘warned’ there are children in this class 7 who cannot read or write. This after being at school, primary school, for six years.

I’m not suggesting that all parents should, or could, teach their offspring to read and write before they go to school – at five years old in the UK (as my mother did for me, for which I’m eternally grateful). What I am suggesting (not a strong enough word) is that children should not be moved from primary to secondary school without being able to read and write at some basic level at least.

That they are gives the high school teacher an impossible task and disrupts the learning of other students.

UK lowest literacy among developed countries

Way back in 2012 there was an article in ‘The Independent’ newspaper giving some reasons why the UK is lowest for literacy in developed countries (confirmed in recent OECD survey and report) which is still relevant.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-obvious-reasons-why-uk-literacy-and-numeracy-skills-are-among-the-lowest-in-the-developed-world-8871402.html

It is almost the same with numeracy, but I will not get too much into that, except to say that I completed the first five questions in a recent GCSE maths exam paper in my head in a very short time. I could not have done that with a GCE ‘O’ level paper, despite all the assurances that standards have not dropped.

I remember well when Petronela was studying English for GCSE so she could teach in UK (at the time she was working as a teaching assistant) she came home with the question “How do you spell ‘read’?” I was surprised as I thought she knew very well. She told me that a teacher had written something on the board with the instruction to students to ‘Reed this’! Since then we have had letters from school, doctors, hospitals, the local council, etc, with basic spelling mistakes and appalling grammar.

C’ grade is not, in my opinion, a high enough grade in the GCSE English exam to teach any subject, as is the case now. Again, I do not believe all the assurances that this is the same level as was needed to get a pass at GCE ‘O’ level. I am sure that it is not.

I sometimes, as a writer/blogger, indulge in some passages which are not grammatically correct but I know I am doing it, for effect. I sometimes indulge in some ‘journalese’ for similar reasons. I may well have done it in this post. But I would not do it if I were teaching a lesson in school.

I used to tell my students in Romania that you cannot learn to use correct English fluently in the classroom, and vocabulary almost not at all. To succeed with these you have to read, read, and read. What chance do those who cannot have? Little.

To add fuel to the fire libraries are being closed, or threatened with closure, across the UK. Our local village library has been rescued by a team of volunteers.

As I said, reading from an early age is one of the many things for which I am grateful to my mother.

A photo of the repro Dansette in the shop window

The ‘Dansette’ in the shop window

I set out this morning with the intention of resuming work on my ‘long short story’, yesterday having been taken up largely by ‘chores’. On the two or three hundred paces from where I can park the car to my ‘early morning’ haunt, Wetherspoon, I pass a few shops and was stopped by a ‘Dansette’ in the window of one of them, straight – it seemed – from the era of my story.

USBs and flip flops (bistable switches)

Of course it was not (though you can still buy the genuine article in Leeds market – I’ve often been tempted), the disguise pulled off by “allows you to record all your vinyl to a USB stick”. A USB stick has typically millions of little electronic switches, flip flops we used to call them; I remember being proud of making just one, the size of my little finger nail, at the request of my then director of research who asked for it to be “as small as you can possibly make it”. That was less than ten years before the time of my story, when I did own a model of this portable record player.

Picture of an original Dansette

The real thing

The Dansette features in my story; in some ways it is a principal character.

Now if the offer recently from my dear friend Iulia (teacher of English, poet, writer and blogger in Bucharest) to read a draft of my story when I’ve knocked it more into shape were not enough motivation to work on it (it is), then that ‘Dansette’ should set me off.

Daniel’s cafe/bistro Ilkley is not run by Daniel but by his daughter Miruna and her husband. The name is a tribute to Miruna’s father who runs a hotel in our other favourite place, the Romanian Bucovina, specifically in the spa town (a bit like Harrogate) of Vatra Dornei.

We decided to visit this small but cosy coffee shop by day, a ‘bistro’ in the evening, yesterday afternoon. The cakes are ‘interesting’, yesterday’s were with butternut squash or pumpkin, but neither is ‘my cup of tea’ as we say so I opted for the Romanian sponge with apple and plums, the only truly Romanian cake on offer. With the first taste it took me back to my ‘honorary grandmother’s’ house near Câmpulung Moldovenesc, about 30km from the spa town, where we twice stayed for a while during our summer break. She makes an identical ‘cake’ (in fact it’s more like a pudding).

If a new visitor to Ilkley don’t stop at the Cow & Calf rocks and a walk on Ilkley moor but continue on the moorland road for some wonderful views. Here’s as we decend into our village

Romanian chocolate cakes

Unfortunately, not liking anything with fruit Petronela settled for just one of the excellent coffees. It’s a pity there are not more Romanian cakes, particularly chocolate cakes of which there are many: chec negru (black cake), amandine, mascota and others. All excellent and any one of them would have suited Petronela. There had been brownies, sold out, but for me the Romanian version is better: boema, chocolate cake soaked in a caramel syrup and topped with a ganache and ‘frișcă’ – sweetened whipped cream. It’s certainly more indulgent for any chocoholic.

But the main reason for a visit to Daniel’s if you are in Ilkley is the Romanian (more exactly Bucovinian) welcome. You will not find a more hospitable, friendly people anywhere and it hasn’t been diminished at all by being transplanted in Yorkshire.

Something I particularly like is Miruna’s tribute to her father, posted on a window. That also is very typically Romanian. Having been lucky enough to meet him on a previous visit, we can confirm he’s a great guy.

Daniel’s cafe/bistro has a website:

https://www.danielscafebistro.co.uk/

Don’t miss it (not open every day – see website) if you visit this lovely small Yorkshire town. If you’re lucky Miruna will have taken my hint and have more Romanian chocolate cakes!

Photo of the largest pot of Marmite available - 500gOne of those tiresome days today. After answering a few emails in Wetherspoon and commiserating with my blogger friend in Latvia, Ilze, who was also having a ‘bad’ day, I began to look for the missing parts of my ‘long short story’ on the iPad.

The iPad wasn’t very well charged so with it about to give up, unable to search for the missing parts of the story any more, I moved to the library, where I can charge it. Then I found that I had not put the charger in my bag this morning. I couldn’t believe it. No more searching of the iPad possible.

Password protected – password forgotten

I then remembered that I had put some of the story on password protected pages on this blog. Maybe the missing parts were there. There followed a lot of problems logging into one of the library computers (haven’t done it for years) but when I finally succeeded the network was very slow. Then I found that the password to access the pages wasn’t what I thought.  Eventually I worked out I could change them from password protected to privately published so finally I was able to access them, only to find they didn’t contain the latest version when I left the story way back in June, I think.

Very frustrating. I needed to do a little shopping but having done that there was no more time to go somewhere more interesting and having fired myself up to continue the story I’m not motivated to do something else.

Then I realised that I had forgotten the main thing I went to the shop for – avocado for this evening. Fortunately I got a big pot of Marmite (I’m a lover, Petronela is a hater) so I consoled myself by putting an extraordinary amount of it on my slice of bread for lunch.

Now I’m back home so on the old MacBook while the iPad charges. A pot of tea (Yorkshire tea of course) drunk I feel fine 🙂 .

Books in some of the Brontë section of Keighley library

I haven’t touched my long ‘short story’ for several months, the writing urge being satisfied by a mixture of a daily journal on our summer trip to Romania, a couple of ‘fairy tales’ written specifically for ‘performances’ by our writers’ club and, more recently, posting almost daily on this blog. In the past few days I’ve felt an urge to resume the intertwined stories of Peter and Miranda but they wouldn’t speak to me, for me essential if I am to resume. As I commented to my writer/blogger friend in Slovenia, Kristina, maybe I should just write anything about them, even if rubbish to be ditched later, to get them talking with me again.

With that in mind I thought I would bring what I had written so far with me to read over my two double espressos in Wetherspoon then see if I could resume the story.

Inappropriate behaviour

I was almost diverted by one of the regular Wetherspoon old lags sounding off about ‘inappropriate behaviour’ towards women in the light of this morning’s news of the resignation of the UK Minister for Defence. In his view the current furore is, he announced loudly, a “witch hunt to stop ‘Brexit’”. There’s no point in trying to argue with such stupidity so, resisting the temptation to shut his mouth physically, I left for the library next door. I don’t know what Fallon’s ‘inappropriate behaviour’ was but evidently it was 15 years ago, when I often found myself a lone voice among both men and women when protesting about the acceptance of it. In fact, much more recent than that.

Inappropriate behaviour

What is odd, one of those ‘coincidences’ I don’t believe in, is that wrapped up in my story about the relationship between scantily clad, sexually provocative Miranda and the business suited ‘correct’ Peter is that it is a theme underlying the story, though perhaps not the major one. Should I make it one?

Reading what I thought was my story so far, about an hour and if I remember correctly about 25,000 words, it is now clear that I didn’t bring the complete draft. There’s a comment at some point ‘TO BE WRITTEN’ but I have a hazy memory that I did write this section so now I have to find it. What is more, I remember arguing with myself about how explicit some scenes should be and writing some which some people might argue border on the pornographic. I must find those now and perhaps I can take an objective view after the time lapse.

Visit the Brontës?

When I set out this morning I did have the idea to go to the Brontë sisters’ home in Haworth and see if being in the presence of their ghosts would prompt a creative outpouring, but though I’d still like to visit again I don’t think I need it now to resume writing my story. Anyway, I haven’t left myself time enough before picking up Petronela from school.

When I find those missing scenes and try to take an objective view, including or excluding them, maybe I need another view. The obvious answer is ask someone in our writers’ club to read it but apart from perhaps being too big an imposition for the working parents whose opinion I would find valuable, they are all much too ‘nice’ to give me real criticism.

So, for now I’ll pop upstairs to the Brontë section to get a picture so I can finish this post then the hunt will be on to find the parts I’ve ‘mislaid’.