Our English Pre-Christmas Miracle

One of CNN’s “Top 12″ places to spend Christmas, is just up the road from us:

BathChristmas

CNN opens its explanation about Bath this way:

There are few cities in the world where you can celebrate the birth of Jesus and the birth of Jane Austen with the same amount of fanfare, but Bath happens to be one of them.

The Theatre Royal, which Austen mentions in “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion,” is home to a musical celebration accompanied by mince pies and mulled wine in honor of the literary doyenne….

Indeed. Just yesterday we decided to have a wander around downtown on Monday or Tuesday. Clearly we’re in a good general Christmas location this year. ;-)

If you’re curious, here is the link to the Bath “Jane Austen Centre” site.

* * *

We also had something of a Christmas moment last night. We decided to splash out and buy a real tree for the first time in years. We needed some new Christmas decorations too: some are packed away here, but most are in America.

So last night we went shopping. At a B&Q, we bought the decorations (many on discount because it’s so close to Christmas now) and a tree (there were still a few nice live ones). We were feeling really good.

Then we abruptly discovered getting a live tree stand was going to be quite a challenge 5 days before Christmas.

Had we stumbled on “The Great English Live Christmas Tree Stand Shortage?”

It sure seemed so. B&Q still had live trees, but no stands at all. “It’s the end of the season for us,” the cashier said. “I think we sold the last one earlier today.” She recommended Tesco. First, we tried three nearer places, and struck out at all those too. Finally, even Tesco failed us.

By now, it was approaching 8pm. There was nowhere else in the immediate vicinity. We figured ordering via Amazon would be the last resort.

On the drive home, though, Mrs. Nello noted, “We had a live tree stand years ago. We must have it. Where is it?”

“I know. I’m thinking,” I mumbled, as we drove, our tree in the back of our small SUV, but with nothing to put it in yet. “Give me a sec. We had real trees when we first got married. Godmanchester. Then in London. Never Christchurch. Remember when I threw the dead tree out the Juliette balcony window after Christmas in Enfield one year after it dropped its needles early? We were so annoyed, we went to fake trees after that.”

“Oh, yeh,” she agreed.

“That must’ve been around 2003 or 4,” I continued. “The fake tree is in America. The live tree stand didn’t go to the Catskills. I didn’t give it away to anyone. It must be upstairs in an attic box. I didn’t throw it out. I never throw stuff like that out.”

“Don’t look at me,” she replied. “Christmas storage has always been your department.”

When we got home, I plunged into a small bedroom we use for storage. At the edge of a floor to ceiling pile of moving boxes full of “unnecessary” items, I found an unopened loft box that was taped shut. It hadn’t been touched in years.

I opened it, and found a few more lights, decorations, garlands and …. there it was! First go. First box. There it sat, looking up at me: our live tree stand, unused for over a decade!

I felt like I’d hit the lottery. I rushed to the top of the staircase and shouted down to Mrs. Nello, “Got it! I found it! It took me ten seconds!”

“A Christmas miracle!” my wife laughed and yelled up to me.

Have a good Saturday. Andy Williams goes on later, and the LIVE tree gets decorated. :-)

Fly, Let’s Fly Away (Unless There’s An Air Traffic Control Computer Breakdown)

Hi everyone. I scribbled this post on Friday evening, at about 7:30 PM, waiting at the gate for my British Airways flight to London Heathrow. As I had no internet access, I could not post it until this morning, UK time.

* * *

An airport service driver met me at my parents’ Pennsylvania house. We had a two hour drive to Newark Airport. The roads around Newark are absurd. I understand now why New Jerseyites have among the highest car insurance rates in the U.S. I feel sorry for them. Lunatics are responsible for the road layouts of the likes of I-78, I-287 and Route 24. No wonder so many people crash into each other.

What might have been a long flight delay – until 2 am Saturday – due to the London area computer breakdown, mercifully became only one hour for my flight. That, as we know, is no big deal in air travel terms.

We all know the drill once we get to an airport. BA staff at check-in were pleasant and helpful. No wait at the bag drop.

“So we’re going?” I laughed to the woman behind the counter as she took my printed boarding pass and passport.

“Oh, yes,” she smiled. “Just about an hour delay.”

I got here so early, I treated myself to a couple of slices of pizza from (I think it was called) Famiglia Market. Pretty good, actually. Schwarzenegger had apparently been there. His photo is displayed prominently behind the counter. “I’ll be back” …. for pizza again, he said.

At Security, a British woman immediately ahead of me in the line (queue) left her passport and ticket next to the bins into which you put objects to be screened. I noticed them when I looked down to grab bins for myself. She was immensely relieved I’d seen them and said something before she’d gone through the metal detector.

My good deed.

A people-less moment, at the gates at Newark-Liberty Airport's Terminal B. [Photo by me, 2014.]

A people-less moment, at the gates at Newark-Liberty Airport’s Terminal B. [Photo by me, 2014.]

There is not much to do at the gates at Terminal B at Newark. BA Terminal 7 at JFK has lots more duty free shopping and places to eat. Newark has most of it before Security, which isn’t always convenient.

I did buy a bottle of Gordon’s for my father-in-law, though, and wished the guy at the shop a good night. He replied that he would be working well into the night. “There’s a China flight that goes off at 2 AM,” he groaned.

A Paris-Orly flight is boarding at a nearby gate. A couple of passengers are being summoned for “document checks.” The PA announcer calling out some passenger names is having trouble pronouncing a couple of the French names….

Another Dreamliner flight awaits. I’ll probably sleep the whole way across – after a vodka and Coke. Next stop Heathrow Terminal 5.

* * *

Now it’s Sunday morning in London. I made it. I’m back. :-)

Author Cool

When only Passports was available, I hadn’t bothered much with the Amazon Author Central pages on .com and .co.uk. But now, with Frontiers out there too, I decided I should do them up somewhat. (I’m now trying to get Amazon to combine the paperback and Kindle pages for Frontiers, which they will hopefully manage shortly.) This is a grab yesterday of my Amazon.com page:

image

Not bad with those sunglasses, eh? You may remember them from the summer – when we were visiting Charleston; that’s Fort Sumter in the background. Hey, clearly I can do “cool.” ;-) (But, wow, that day was also seriously “hot.”)

Doing the pages reminded me to have a check of the Kindle Frontiers, “Look Inside,” free sample. I see it begins at, uh, naturally the beginning, which is Chapter 61. (Passports is chapters 1-60.) The sample runs well into Chapter 65. It stops here, at what makes for an inadvertent “cliffhanger”. Thanks Amazon guys!:

She felt herself shaking. Fear was too strong a word, but she did feel increasingly uneasy about this situation. The hall was empty, and she hoped that someone – anyone – would emerge from a room.

“How will you get to know me if you, you don’t let me talk with you?” he stammered and kept at her….

Of course I’m not gonna say here who “she” is. Or let on who “he” is. Or explain where they are. You could find out from reading more of the sample.

However, ahem, if you want to know what happens after that blurb above, well, umm…. ;-)

Have a good Saturday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Hey, He Got A Fire Started

I’ve been unwinding post-Frontiers publication. It snowed a bit late yesterday here on the Catskills, uh, “frontier.” I snapped this from our house just before dusk:

Dusting of Catskills snow yesterday. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Dusting of Catskills snow yesterday. [Photo by me, 2014.]

I got a fire going too. (And yes, yes, in the fireplace!)

Our fireplace. [Photo by my, 2014.]

Our fireplace. [Photo by my, 2014.]

And I messed around on Twitter for a while. After polishing off a nearly 100,000 word novel, my brain currently feels like mush. 140 characters at a time on Twitter is about all I can manage. ;-)

My Twitter page yesterday. [Screen capture by me.]

My Twitter page yesterday. [Screen capture by me.]

By the way, if you use Twitter, feel free to follow me (if you’d like to). I’ll follow you back. I ramble on about, well, just about everything on Twitter (not just writing), and I also enjoy chatting and just having a laugh on it.

I then finished with a pizza. In the background, for a time some Sir Paul McCartney played. After, I watched the NY Islanders defeat Ottawa in overtime. (No matter where I live, having been young on Long Island when they were NHL champions four years in a row in the early 1980s, and never having forgotten that, I will always have a soft spot for that since mostly underachieving team.)

Yes, and as you can gather I really know how to live it up when the wife is not in town. ;-)

Have a good Wednesday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

Shopping Till They Drop

Our house in the Catskills has no internet. (When we’re in Britain, I suspend it.) That should not have been a problem. We knew we could rely on T-Mobile wifi.

But when we got there Sunday, T-Mobile failed for some reason (although it has worked before). Over the few days we were there we managed to get flashes of internet via our “suspended” line (and I have no idea how that could have been), but that was all. So I was “silent” on here for a few days. Sorry.

Although maybe you liked the quiet? ;-)

With a snowstorm due today, en route to my parents’ in Pennsylvania yesterday we did some Christmas shopping among the Woodbury Common crowds pre-Thanksgiving…. alongside half of Europe and half of Asia:

Screen capture of NYC tourist's Woodbury Common page.

Screen capture of NYC tourist’s Woodbury Common page.

Many of those shoppers are seen wheeling around newly bought luggage with which they will carry their purchases home. I’ve always found it hilarious: the existence of those shopping outlets in a non-descript location off of I-87 in upstate NY, about a hour and a half from our house. It is about as “international” a location you can find north of Manhattan. (A niece of a friend in Ireland has even been there during a visit to the city.) Hearing an American accent among shoppers is something of an oddity.

We’re now back with my parents in Pennyslvania. I may well stay for my Dad’s December 8-9 surgery. We are still talking about that…. as the forecast 12 inches of snow begin to fall.

With no internet of consequence at our house, I couldn’t publish Frontiers as I’d hoped. Moreover, it still awaits my toughest critic’s final approval: we’ve been unexpectedly busy and she has been unable to read the finished product, but once Mrs. Nello has given her nod, and now with internet again, I can wrap it up. I’m hoping to do that over Thanksgiving…. while we remain trapped visiting with my parents during a snowstorm. Ahhhh! :-)

“Good grief, that’s just embarrassing….”

Writing, you are your best critic in some ways. If something bothers you as you re-read, it’s definitely not quite there. As in everything in life, listen to that little voice inside you.

I had a moment like that yesterday. It was only a few lines, but it just didn’t read quite as I wanted. Arrgh!

So, on the verge of publication, yep, yesterday I rewrote some of a Frontiers love scene.

I’ve discussed this problem previously. “Intimacy” is so difficult to write well. A real pain. There’s the narrowest of lines between “Got it! That works!” vs…. “Good grief, that’s just embarrassing….”

That issue off my chest (again), how about a “romantic” landscape photo for midweek? Iford Manor, Wiltshire:

Iford Manor, on the River Frome, Wiltshire, last Sunday. [Photo by me, 2014.]

It’s not a “Carson, would you please ask the new chauffeur to bring the motor around,” Downton Abbey type of manor. However, the house is thought to date originally to the late 1400s. Its garden was used a few years ago for a wedding in an episode of the TV series Mistresses.

Have a good Wednesday. :-)

English Countryside Views

I spoke with my father in Pennsylvania last night after he’d gotten the results of his heart test on Thursday. In August, he had been ambulanced to the hospital with only 15% heart function. It is now, three months later, up to 26% – thanks to medication, exercise, a much reduced salt intake, and totally following doctor’s orders.

His cardiologist was impressed at how he has done EVERYTHING he was asked to do, but 26% was not enough to satisfy the doctor that he was out of danger; he wanted to see at least 35%. He said that after 3 months’ recovery that 26% is likely the peak the heart will ever reach on its own, so recommended an implant.

On December 1, my Dad will have put into his chest a 3-wire, tiny device that helps the heart squeeze, which should take him to about 50%. (My Dad said the cardio had previously explained that “elite athletes” like runners tend to be at about 60%.) The device should end the chance his heart will simply slow to a stop. He will have it implanted the rest of his life.

All told, that’s a huge relief. So I thought, for this post, how about some beautiful views?

We had taken a long walk last Sunday – 7.9 miles, to be exact; distance marked courtesy of an iPhone app – up and down hills around Bratton Camp, which borders on the Salisbury Plain Defence Training Estate. We finished at the Westbury White Horse. My legs ached for 24 hours afterwards!:

Bratton Camp and White Horse, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Bratton Camp and White Horse, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Sign noting the bridleway as well as the next door military firing range, part of Salisbury Plain Defence Training Estate, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Sign noting the bridleway as well as the next door military firing range, part of Salisbury Plain Defence Training Estate, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Don't open that gate or cross that fence! Edge of Salisbury Plain Defence Training Estate, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Don’t open that gate or cross that fence! Edge of Salisbury Plain Defence Training Estate, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Quiet, solemn, St James's Church, Bratton. [Photo by me, 2014].

Quiet, solemn, St James’s Church, Bratton. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Westbury White Horse [Photo by me, 2014].

Westbury White Horse [Photo by me, 2014.]

Being new in the area, it was naturally a new hike for us. Sadly, though, we didn’t encounter a pub en route. So besides its unexpected length (we’d taken a wrong turn and walked about a mile out of our way), that was the only big disappointment. ;-)

Have a good Saturday.

______
UPDATE: November 17:

Bratton does have a pub: “The Duke.”

It’s an attractive one too. We drove by it yesterday. On our walk last weekend, we hadn’t wandered into that part of the village.

“Are You Italian?”

Time Magazine tells us that a New Zealand newspaper tried its own “catcalling” experiment:

Remember that video of a woman getting catcalled more than 100 times? The one that took over the entire Internet and launched approximately 87 million think pieces, tweets and blog posts? Well, the New Zealand Herald decided to test out a similar experiment, but in Auckland instead of New York City…

You have to watch the 2 min, 22 second video:

Model Nicola Simpson is spoken to exactly twice. Once a man asks (seemingly innocuously) directions. Another, however, does try this:

image

Ah, Europeans.

Well, at least he wasn’t American.

Suppose that’s one way to, uh, try to start a conversation: “Are you Italian?”

If you’ve been to New Zealand, you may agree: I felt it was one of the most polite countries I’ve ever visited. Stress seems non-existent. That video was shot in Auckland, but I’d bet the same would have been the case in Wellington (I’ve not been to Auckland): I will always remember it as the calmest, most relaxed, national capital I’ve ever seen. :-)

That’s enough now! Back to work! All of you, stop messing around on the internet! ;-)

Genius Will Not Be Rushed

One of my proofreaders emailed me last night asking, essentially, “Where’s the book?” She wants it. Actually, she wants it “yesterday.”

I tapped back hurriedly that it’s almost ready for her review. Really!

I will admit here I was at one chapter again tinkering last night. I’ve extra-wrestled with this one, and fought with it, and struggled with it for months. It’s a “dream sequence.” I have redone it several times after each version read to me, quite frankly, as ridiculous.

Please don’t suggest it. A vampire swooping down cannot solve this problem! No! No! No! ;-)

I’ve finally gotten it now, methinks. It’s subtle enough, but a bit of a shocker. My main problem all along has been I don’t want it to read “like” a dream for the overwhelming bulk of it. I want readers to think it’s “real”…. and then, at the last second, in the manner of our own dreams during the night…. WHAM, when we awaken we realize we aren’t living it and it was all in our mind. And then it dawns on us what had led our mind down that “weird” route while we’d slept.

For readers, during the dream clues are also cagily dropped in…. and they have to seem innocuous, and similarly “real” too. Eventually they create an “AH, HA!” moment later in the text, when what had led to the bizarre dream becomes clear.

So if you’re reading this post (and YOU know who YOU are), the book’s nearly there.

Narrow street. Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Narrow street. Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

It’s also pouring outside the cottage here in rural England this morning.

Time for more coffee.

Have a good day, wherever in the world you’re reading this. :-)

The Local Library

Technological evolution is a constant in our lives, of course. For example, we all well-know how writing and publishing has been changed dramatically by the appearance of e-books. That newest technology, we are also told, seems sure to end print books as we know them.

But I remain skeptical. Yesterday, we happened to stroll by the local library here in Turleigh. It is in space vacated by the disappearance of another piece of one-time cutting edge technology:

The Village Library, Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The Village Library, Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The English sense of humo[u]r is often really second to none. :-)