Monthly Archives: August 2012

It Started With A Kiss

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Writing in The Telegraph today, Hannah Furness urges women to think carefully before routinely ending a text or email with an ‘x’.

Apparently, research by a dating website shows that many men interpret this symbolic kiss as a flirtatious advance; while 9 out of 10 women just routinely sign-off that way. Over half those who’ve admitted having relationships with colleagues said it started with an ‘x’ at the end of a text or email.

Misunderstandings such as this can make wonderful material for stories – especially if you’re writing romantic comedies. It’s a device that’s been used by writers throughout the centuries and hilarious examples can be found from Shakespeare to Mrs Brown’s Boys.

In real life, I wonder how many relationships get started through a simple misunderstanding and, on a more sinister note, how many people have died as a consequence of their innocent or naive remarks being (accidentally or deliberately) misinterpreted?

If you know of any and you want to share please feel free to comment.

That’s all from me for now.

Bye x x x

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Something for Nothing

There’s rightly been a lot of praise and gratitude from Olympians and politicians alike for the work of volunteers during the Olympic fortnight. Laura Trott, double Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist, is quoted as saying: ‘‘Sport can’t exist without volunteers. The coaches I had never got paid. The guy who runs Welwyn Wheelers, the club where I started, doesn’t get paid. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am.”

But while I agree that volunteers give their time freely, it’s wrong to suggest that they’re doing something for nothing. They may go unpaid and sometimes unappreciated but never unrewarded. Imagine how great it must be to feel passionate about a sport you love and then see a protégé of yours go on to win not one, but two Olympic Gold medals! There are some rewards you simply cannot put a price on.

I’ve been a volunteer hospital radio presenter for a little over 10 years and, on hearing this, people sometimes say how marvellous I am to give up my time for nothing. This usually makes me feel guilty because actually my reasons for volunteering are not purely altruistic – I enjoy myself so much I feel privileged to do it. If you could measure personal satisfaction and pleasure then I most certainly receive as much, if not more, than I give. During my time with the station I’ve made lots of good friends, met some fascinating people and overcome personal challenges such as appearing in public at outside broadcasts.

There have been tragically moving moments, like the time a crowd of bikers asked me to play Metallica (not your usual hospital music fodder) for one of their number who was in intensive care and, it was thought, unlikely to pull through the next hour. There’ve also been moments of pure joy like the time a teenager recovering from a suicide attempt came to the studio and asked to be allowed to sing on air. The resulting ‘A Capella’ version of a well known song would, I’m sure, have earned a ‘Yes’ from all four X-Factor judges! And then there’ve been moments of pure comedy like the time some builders requested Simply Red’s ‘Holding Back The (Y)ears’ for one of their mates who was recovering from an operation to have his sticking-out ears surgically pinned back.

For writers, who spend so much of their time in solitude, volunteering can provide so many benefits: You get to meet real characters, many of whom might be described as ‘larger than life’; you gain insights and understanding of the challenges some people face just to get through their day; you get to see life through the eyes of others who may be less fortunate than yourselves and have the added bonus of knowing that you’ve achieved something truly worthwhile at the end of the day. How can this wealth of experience and material fail to do anything other than enhance your writing skills? And your life for that matter?

Most of the writers that I know have to deal with a lot of rejection in their work but a few hours a week doing something that is truly appreciated is a wonderful counter-balance. So, if you can spare the time and are able, find something you’d like to do and please give volunteering a try – I promise you, you’ll not regret it!

Just one word of caution – be sure you only volunteer for genuine bona fide organisations. Unfortunately there are a lot of charlatans out there. I’m sure that whatever country you’re in there will be organisations that can help you find the right thing for you, similar to this one for those living in the UK.

http://www.ukvolunteering.org/

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Sex on the Beach (and other one-sided conversations)

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As I mentioned in my last blog, Maeve Binchy once stayed on a bus to eavesdrop the remainder of a conversation. I love listening to conversations myself – especially those glorious one-sided mobile phone conversations where one has to imagine the other side for one’s self. And just to make it easier for us eavesdroppers, people tend to talk louder on a mobile phone. The other day, while on holiday, I was walking along the promenade at Broad Haven when I heard a young girl’s voice loudly proclaiming: “I love you loads and loads too…” Nothing extraordinary about this until she added in fine and full voice: “…and the sex was great as well!” Now I’m not someone who is easily shocked but I was rather surprised (and secretly delighted!) that she should want to share such intimacies with the whole of Broad Haven in such an unselfconscious way!

At work, especially in open-plan offices, people often dash into meeting rooms to take their personal calls in privacy. Others misguidedly rush for the stairwells. Do they not realise how far voices can carry in a stairwell? I was moving between floors the other day when a voice drifted up from below saying: “Do you think we did the right thing telling him last night? I felt awful about it afterwards.” I never did discover who the owner of that voice was but I spent the rest of the day wondering who the unfortunate bloke was and what he’d been told that made the speaker feel so bad about it?

And finally, on a crowded street in Cardiff, a young Asian girl obviously forgot her surroundings when she yelled emotionally into her phone: “I don’t care what he wants, Mehmet, it’s my life and I’ll do what I want with it, not what he wants!” I felt like giving her a spontaneous burst of applause for that line but then she would have known I was listening! What might she have been talking about? An arranged marriage with someone she didn’t fancy perhaps? Or is that too obvious and stereotypical of me? Whatever it was, it certainly fired my writer’s imagination and prompted me to go home and write a short story about an overheard snippet of conversation.

But be warned! It’s true that eavesdroppers don’t always hear good things. I was in a hospital day centre earlier this week, having had to starve myself for a day and a half, for a colonoscopy procedure. The two nurses, oblivious to my hunger, were calmly and coolly discussing the merits of the beef burgers they ate the night before… That should teach me not to tune in – but I know it won’t!

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In Memory of Maeve Binchy

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Like millions of others, I was very saddened by the news of Maeve Binchy’s death as over the years I’ve enjoyed her writing so much. I met her once briefly at a book signing in Bristol and, as many people do in the presence of their idols, I became instantly tongue-tied. The twinkle in her eyes while she met her fans was something to behold – clearly she was someone who loved people and this love shone through in her work too.

She took her inspiration from the life that was going on all around her and was avidly interested in the lives of others. In an interview with Michael Parkinson, she once admitted staying on a bus long after her own stop because she found the conversation of the two women sitting behind her so fascinating! One of the many things I admire about Maeve is the way she brought her characters to life on the page. They quickly became like real people in the minds of her readers and I often found myself still wondering about them and how they were getting on long after I finished the books. Only a rare few authors have such a gift.

I don’t make a habit of bothering celebrities with letters but I broke my own rule and wrote to her once; within days I had a charming and hand-written reply. I was thrilled!

She has a new novel that was due to be released this October – I don’t know if this release will be delayed but whenever it comes out it will, of course, be another runaway best-seller and it’s such a shame she’ll not be around to witness its success. I look forward to reading it.

Rest in peace you lovely lady.

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