One of the things I love about WordPress is how a ‘like’ from a previously unknown blogger can take me into new worlds and on paths I’ve not only not explored but never thought about.

So it was that a ‘like’ took me to the Ukraine (I have been there in the real world) and discovered an unlikely blogging couple, Ukrainian/Australian. However, what caught my attention, as someone probably best known in the local writers’ club for writing really short ‘short stories’ – I’m talking of down to 25 words – was that Tatania and Tony write 6 word stories. I just had to have a go, so set myself to write one on the sixth day of each week. Here are my efforts so far.

Friday 2 March:
He walked in, she walked out.

Friday 9 March:
“Shut up”. My fist followed, just in case.


The following story is not so short, about 350 words, but was inspired by a meeting of the writers’ club at which members played around with a ‘story generator’. I left before this so didn’t know the ‘story generator’ was not a computer app but to me that is not the point. I used the occasion to provoke a discussion on the club closed FB group page about using such devices.

I did not use one to generate the following, unless I consider, arrogantly, my brain to be a bit of a story generator. As a journalist I was known for ‘always being able to see the story’.

The Story Generator

That’s a cracking story you wrote. I read it last night – couldn’t put it down.”

Thank you; I wasn’t so sure.” Alan looked at his pal, trying to see in his face whether the admiration was genuine or merely polite.

I wish I could write like you,” Pete continued “I’ve always wanted to write something but I never know where to start.”

Well, if you really fancy writing something why don’t you try a story generator to get you going. It’s a kind of app, some are free. All you do is feed in some words, like names of your characters, what kind of situation they are in – things like that. It’s all prompted so not difficult. Then out comes a basic story for you to work on. It might get you going. I’ll send you a link to a good one.”

Sure enough, when Pete arrived home there was the link in a message from Alan. Forgetting food, he set about answering the prompts.

Name of protagonist?: ‘Pete’ was entered, after a quick diversion to Google to see what the hell protagonist meant.

Come on, come on,” Pete muttered, repeatedly hammering the V key on his ancient computer. Finally he managed to answer the second prompt with ‘Violent’ and the third with ‘Angry’.

Situation?: ‘F’ ‘i’ ‘r ‘e’ was thumped in, accompanied by a tirade of curses directed at the ancient PC.

Second character?: Maybe Alan? No, that’s too easy. I’ll put this bloody thing in he thought as he hammered in ‘Computer’.

§

The young police constable was clearly uncomfortable as he looked around Pete’s room, trying to ignore the smell, a mixture of Sunday roast and acrid smoke, eyes averted from the charred pile on the floor, hardly recognisable as a corpse. “What do you think happened?”, he asked the fire investigation officer.

Well, it looks as though the PC exploded so, overcome by fumes from the old electronics, he couldn’t find his way out. Strange though how the monitor survived intact, working even.” He read aloud the three words on the screen:

Stuff you Pete!”

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Women’s Day’ as a protest day is around a hundred years old, International Women’s Day on 8 March is far younger. Far older than either is the tradition of ‘Ziua Femeii’ – Day of the Woman – in Romania. Apart from my ‘feminist’ tendencies, well known to readers of this blog, it has special meaning for me as it was the day I first arrived in Romania. Over the years, particularly as a teacher, I became used to all female teachers staggering home with arms full of bouquets, including Petronela (my wife).

I wanted this year to mark this day in a different way on this blog having in previous years covered all the protests I could think of and the tradition in northern Romania, perhaps only in the Bucovina, of females receiving mărțișori from the men on 8 March, they having given them to the men on 1 March.

Favourite female authors

So I decided to mention one or two of my favourite female authors, two novels I have recently read and one I am awaiting since a blogger friend told me she had finished her second novel.

The Brontë sisters are no surprise as I was born and brought up near ‘the Brontë village’ – Haworth – and went to school even closer, thus being familiar with the Yorkshire moors evoked so well by Emily. She became my favourite of the sisters and later, as a would be writer, I became fascinated with how she evoked the atmosphere of my beloved moors without ever exactly describing them. The whole of her only novel does that, evoke rather than describe I mean. I must mention one of my favourite ‘detective’ writers too, though her only connection with Yorkshire was her infamous ‘disappearance’ to Harrogate, again not too far from my birthplace. Of course I’m referring to Agatha Christie.

Newer literature

Then, to more modern authors, starting with the novel yet to appear. I bought the first volume, ‘Equinox’ (still available on Amazon), of an intended trilogy by my fellow blogger, Kristina Steiner in Slovenia, prompted probably by the fact she was writing a romantic novel from a point of view on equality in a relationship. Anyway, I have great admiration for bloggers who write in a foreign language, English, in her case not only her blog but her novel. I now await the second book in her ‘Alpha series’.

The most read book in my bookcase is written by a woman, for women, “American housewives” the author declared. It’s not fiction. It’s a cookery book which should be familiar to long term readers of this blog – ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. Despite cooking recipes from this book for 45 years, I was not aware of the film related to it, Julie & Julia, until recently. Via a tortuous route watching that film led me to a review of another book – ‘The Art of Baking Blind’ by Sarah Vaughan – a book based in a way on cooking but not a cookbook. When the review said it was written “by a women for women” I was irritated enough to buy it. Anyway, it’s only 99p on Amazon so worth a punt.

I enjoyed it enough to buy Mrs Vaughan’s ‘new book’, ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ published this year. She didn’t disappoint and I learned a lot about the goings on on the other side of Fleet Street to which I worked, where I often wandered down to the Thames but never got into the innards.

The first book should delight any serious cook if only for the numerous cooking tips for classical recipes peppered among the emotional tensions winding us up. They were reminiscent of Julia Child’s authoritative ‘this is the way to do it’ in ‘Mastering the Art …’.

The obvious diligent research of her subject makes both books fascinating but what I would have expected of a journalist of my era. To find it in a journalist of today makes me want to pick up my pen.

I don’t like flash backs but, a feature of both books, I managed to navigate them without getting too lost. I struggled with so many characters in the first book; I was not alone as one reviewer said they resorted to making lists. I didn’t but I did find myself going back sometimes to clarify.

One feature of both books surprised me as Mrs Vaughan seems to be a happily married family woman with an interesting career path: the women in both books are overall strong women; the men are weak or ineffectual (including a Prime Minister).

Overall, four stars from me for each in my Amazon reviews for a good read.

International Women’s Day greetings

So, on this International Women’s Day I send greetings to all the women I follow or who follow me, especially those with whom I have built a closer than usual blogging relationship. They considerably outnumber the men bloggers. More than that, greetings to all women bloggers; keep up the struggle.

A magical day

Today was my ‘baba’, which won’t mean anything to non Romanians nor sadly to many Romanians but I’ll just say that, choosing to go along with this superstition, today was a great day. Magical snow, a fairy land, this morning, succeeded by a sunny blue sky day. Together with another extraordinary ‘happening’ which took me back a quarter of a century – another post in due course – it’s been quite a day. Basically, it means I should have a good year.

Don’t expect an extraordinary blog post from me today, that title is about other bloggers who I follow.

A recent photo on latvianmom.com

First, a blog which has become one of my favourites is celebrating its first birthday today. I didn’t find it one year ago, more like nine months, nor is it one I might be expected to follow – a daily run-down of life as a wife, mum of three delightful little girls and, more recently, a ‘rescued’ kitten. Nor is it because the mum is blogging in English from Latvia, a country I knew little about though I had visited it once, briefly, many years ago, though it has been fascinating to learn a little more. The blog has no particular theme unless you say that family life is the theme; it ranges from ‘what we’re having for dinner’ (sometimes with recipes), that mum’s amazing excursions into ‘do-it-yourself’ (eg, building a kitchen from scratch), creation of wonderful Christmas cards among other crafts, a rare ‘night out’ with her husband, some enticing photography in the ‘forest’ amid which she lives, how to pick wild fungi, or the antics of the three little ones, or, or, or … … . All delivered with an openness and not a little love, which is so refreshing. You’ll find the birthday post at:

https://latvianmom.com/2018/01/09/my-newbie-blog-1-year-old-already/

The second blog I was delighted to see ‘reappear’ today after close on a year, another which I enjoyed so much because of the openness, was begun by a 16 year old young lady living on the coast of Wales. I really enjoyed her insights into the life of an English teenage ‘girl’ and, not insignificant, how well it was written. Then she ‘disappeared’. As some of you know I had some serious health problems and when I was back into blogging she had ‘gone’. This week, now rather older than 16, she commented on my Sunday post and said she was about to get back into blogging and, today, there was her first post in a long time. Of course I went back to her posts written when I was in and out of hospital and found she also had been seriously ill. However, she’d done some amazing things in the time since she’d recovered, not least jump-starting her education with spectacular results. You can see her recent post at.

https://typingandthinking.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/how-things-have-changed/

I cannot leave this without mentioning another teenager’s blog, a Romanian posting in both English and Romanian, a similar age to the second blogger above but again much younger when she started. Again she hasn’t posted much recently, not since before Christmas, being tied up with ensuring progress of her education but if I say she’s entrepreneurial and ambitious (she has an ambition to be an airline pilot) you might gather why it’s been a pleasure to follow her for quite a time now. I’ve bought her two books, one of haiku (which you’ll know I try to write) and that on being a teenager. Well worth a visit:

https://lookaround99.wordpress.com

So, a 1st birthday, rebirth of a blog prompting memories of another great blogger.

Is it any wonder that all three are keen photographers, like me, though they don’t blog specifically on photography?

That’s why it’s “An extraordinary blogging day”.

First Christmas (part) with Petronela, 20 years ago. Just work colleagues then, as was Ana Maria on my other side – still a good friend

We are just two – my wife Petronela and me – for Christmas since my mum died. This year we are having our 18th Christmas together but it’s the 20th year we had a part of Christmas together. Twenty years ago I was living in the students’ hostel of the high school at which Petronela and I taught, she as history teacher and head of humanities, I as a volunteer English teacher (so living for free in the hostel). I invited some teacher colleagues for a ‘party’ in my little room and Petronela was one who came (my plan? 😜).

Stockings awaiting Santa

Even with just the two of us we like to make Christmas Day ‘special’, but a time of peace with no stress. So each year it becomes more and more simple. On the other hand, it always begins, after seeing what Santa put in our stockings (yes, we hang stockings like a couple of children) over coffee and (for me) tea, with the same ‘luxury breakfast’: smoked salmon (three different cures this year) with the ‘best scrambled eggs in the world’, as I learned from my mother, and ‘bubbly’ – Freixenet cava; it began by being the only ‘special’ bubbly we could find in Romania 18 years ago or at least one we could afford but, not a follower of fashion, I have not been diverted by the more recent craze for Prosecco (not as good anyway) nor champagne which we could now afford. Same with gin: the latest craze is expensive weirdly flavoured gins and expensive (in it’s true meaning, costing more than it’s worth) tonic; we both like gin and tonic but either Gordons or the excellent one at a good price from Aldi are good enough for us.

 

This year there was something new; usually we do not have any special meal on Christmas Eve but having received something very special from my dear Latvian blogger friend Ilze, and told they – grey peas – were a Christmas dish, I made to Ilze’s recipe, with onion and bacon, and had as the introduction to Christmas. Delicious! Ilze says they should be accompanied by kefir; having been to Marinela’s Romanian shop in Leeds a couple of days before that was easy to follow. Usually we buy the similarly tasting Romanian  ‘sana’ or ‘lapte batut’ there. 

Latvian ‘grey peas’ with onions and bacon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After breakfast we open little presents to each other, found below the Christmas tree. Petronela will always find a bottle of Bailey’s Irish cream and a bottle of Drambuie, I will unwrap a bottle of Scotch, among them and these will keep us going till it’s time to prepare Christmas dinner, not lunch but at about 7pm.

 

I titled this post ‘Christmas simplified’: gone are the days when I’d slave in the kitchen preparing classic French cordon bleu cuisine (neither of us much like turkey or traditional ‘Christmas pudding’). Now we rely on Marks and Spencer which has never let us down. So this year the starter was ‘king prawn and poached salmon terrine’, delicious enough to tempt us to eat two portions each! Main course was rack of venison, easy enough to roast leaving me only to prepare roast potatoes and parsnip, with lightly steamed brocolli, kaylettes, brussel sprouts and runner beans – easy enough. This washed down with the excellent Romanian red wine, from the fetească neagră grape grown in the Murfatlar region, ‘3 hectare‘, brought from Romania. Thanks to the double portion of starter neither of us could eat everything on the plate and needed a rest before the ‘Belgian chocolate and toffee sponge pudding’, an amazing creation with a chocolate flecked with gold dome being inverted over the steamed sponge and left to melt – very tasty if a bit too sweet, as I shall report to M&S, but a good finisher nevertheless.

Happy day

So, a lovely happy day, for the most part immersed in the astoundingly beautiful Romanian carols (I like to sing the English ones but most of these cannot match the Romanian ones for beauty), responding to some WordPress Christmas blog posts, sending and receiving Christmas greetings to dear friends in far off places (some made through WordPress blogs) by email or Messenger and chatting more, and exchanging photos, with one throughout the day – I won’t mention who so as not to embarrass her; let’s just say I’ve come to love her close immediate family though we’ve met only on the wonder of internet.

So, that was our Christmas ‘simplified’. Nothing special for today – Boxing Day – except to laze about, doing nothing special after clearing up the chaos in the kitchen (we don’t believe in ruining a good meal by clearing up after, not even loading the dishwasher!).

I hope you all had an equally happy Christmas Day as we did; I know some of you were not very well but I trust that despite this you had a day of peace and contentment.

Now, in our little household, we move on to New Year, a really big ‘celebration’ for most Romanians, made even more so for us as Petronela’s birthday is on New Year’s Eve so, following Romanian tradition, we have ‘open house’ with the table full of Romanian delights, of which more at the time.

Most people who know me know that I dislike Facebook intensely; I’ve said so on here several times. Nevertheless I have a Facebook account as it is useful for small ‘closed’ groups, like our writers’ club, a project I did with a group of teenagers in our village and even my ‘daily journals’ following our summer trips to Romania during which I had limited access to internet.

It’s also useful for ‘Messenger’ for brief communications with someone you know opens it regularly but otherwise, for anything important, it’s better to go to email as Messenger messages are often ignored.

As far as the Romania trip is concerned, I’ve begun to receive ‘requests’ to join the group from people whose names mean nothing to me. What is really strange is that, typical of Facebook, they say nothing about themselves. Consequently, such requests are ignored.

Facebook laziness

It could be they read about the group on this blog as I’ve referred to it a time or two but, if so, why on earth don’t they say so? Facebook inspired laziness I think; now, for so many things you just ‘push a button’ not needing to write a word. Yes, it’s good to have a reminder of a friend’s birthday but for heaven’s sake write a personal message to them! (But take care, they may be telling a ‘porky’ in their profile 😳).

’Publicize’

For quite a while the ‘Publicize’ facility of WordPress was turned on on this blog, putting a short summary of posts on Facebook and Twitter (I never selected the other options). A few posts ago I turned this off. One of the problems with this facility is that Facebook may choose the least relevant picture if there are more than one, people putting a ‘like’ on that having never read the post. As pictures I put on a post are always an integral part of the post the ‘like’ doesn’t mean a lot. I reckon if anyone is really interested in what I have to say they’ll follow the blog.

Very occasionally I may turn ‘publicize’ on to tell the tightly restricted group of ‘friends’ on Facebook (who may or may not be friends) of a particular post which may be of special interest to them, excluding those who, for whatever reason, I don’t want to point to it.

Of course a ‘like’ from someone I don’t know on this blog is always welcome because, as I said in yesterday’s post, it often sets me off on a journey to other realms as I almost always follow up with a visit to the blogger’s site.

WordPress reader

Nevertheless, I have noticed a similar problem to that with ‘publicize’ with the WordPress reader. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that some of the ‘likers’ have not read the complete post, just putting a ‘like’ on the introductory few words and the one picture which accompanies it. If I put a ‘like’ on a post you can be sure I’ve pushed the ‘visit site’ button, read the whole thing and seen all the pictures.

As I’ve said before, the above comments may not apply to anyone using their blog to promote a business, whether it is declared as such or not (eg, those asking for a donation in some way, or promoting a book they have on Amazon).

I can’t remember when I last stayed in bed on a Sunday morning; it’s quite a while ago. Maybe it’s the edge of storm Brian blowing outside, though we are on the edge of it so it’s not severe here. Mind you, many people might consider the present hour, 9am, early for a Sunday morning! I’ll do no more than start this post here, waiting to see what the day brings.

It already took me off on a journey, following up on a ‘like’ from a new-to-me blogger in the southern USA (these journeys are one of the delights of blogging for me). Though I can relate to much of what this young woman writes, it it is the excellent writing which, primarily,  has prompted me to ‘follow’ her.

Of course, before that I ambled through my usual blogger friends to see what was new, commenting when appropriate, my usual first-thing-in-a-morning activity. Now, being Sunday, bacon and eggs calls.

2.45pm

Healthy breakfast!

Well, that was so far a lazy day. I didn’t start the bacon and eggs immediately after writing those first three paragraphs. I was diverted by a quote from poet Denise Levertov, posted under the title ‘Wear scarlet’ (the first two words of the quote) by my good blogger friend Iulia which, after a brief  ‘blog chat’ with her during which I couldn’t resist pulling her leg about my ‘healthy’ breakfast, sent me into a contemplative mood.  Breakfast became brunch, at about 11am.

The quote came as a bit of a shock, another of those ‘coincidences’ I don’t believe in. As the result of the ‘like’ from the blogger I had not previously known , referred to above, I had been reading her blog. She seemed to have decided to “wear scarlet”, as you will see if you visit her blog.

I knew as we were now out of bread I should make some but although it’s hardly an onerous task I just couldn’t jerk myself out of contemplation. I decided to watch a film (‘Buried Treasure’) which I have been meaning to watch for a while  on catchup, before it expired. With John Thaw in the principal role, an actor I admire greatly not only as Inspector Morse, I wanted to watch it but I knew the subject matter was likely to upset me (which may be a subject for another day, or never). It did, so now I’m back to the bread-making.

Endeavouring to assign a category to this post I’ve found it impossible, which suggests I’m ‘rambling’. So I’ll stop right there.

My Latvian blogger friend, Ilze, who I mentioned yesterday, said in answer to a comment I made on her blog that she was surprised by how much she had learned in a year of blogging. Not only can I say the same, though with me it’s just over five years, it is for me one of the delights of blogging.

Before I ‘met’ Ilze I knew almost nothing about Latvia, although I did once visit Riga briefly when the country was part of the Soviet Union. I can’t even remember why I went though it was on a trip which also included Helsinki and St Petersburg (then Leningrad). All I remember of the Latvian capital is the architecture.

Daily life

Not that Ilze writes specifically about her country; her blog title, a day in the life of a Latvian mum (though she uses the American version ‘mom’), sums it up perfectly. One day you’ll get a recipe, another her craving for a piece of porcelain, another preparations for a birthday party, another a blow by blow account of her constructing her kitchen, etc, etc. Overlaying all this is obvious love of her immediate family, husband and three delightful daughters (I’m a sucker for little girls!), and her extended family. It just gives me a warm feeling to read it each day.

I’m not looking for information

The point I’m making is that I don’t read/follow blogs for information, in fact if they’re too specifically informative I rapidly tire of them. Yet on the way I seem to learn a lot.

I could have picked quite a few of the bloggers I follow, writing on apparently different subjects, to make this point but it was Ilze who prompted it by her comment about learning. A small number I now sometimes correspond with on email, or Facebook messenger. Some have set the number of comments in a thread low (eg 3) so I have to resort to email if I have an address.

Females dominate

Also interesting, to me, is that among those I follow the females outnumber the males maybe by as much 10:1. The males that there are have something in common with the women: few of them are writers as such; they just write from the heart and it shows.

As most of my reading of blogs takes place early morning, UK time, it invariably makes my day.