Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How I Write: Confessions of a Procrastinator

Side-tracked? Moi? I could procrastinate for England.

Yet another morning wasted on all those seemingly essential tasks which get in the way of the real job in hand - WRITING. But I am smug, I am satisfied that at least one small corner of our loft now looks much, much, much tidier than it did this time last week. That wasn't a waste of time, was it?

And that jolly hour spent yesterday going through the recipe collection - and we are talking a serious pile here - seeking inspiration for a starter to impress Saturday's dinner guests. Not to mention the mouth-wateringly fun time spent repeating the exercise on the Internet.

I comfort myself in the knowledge that I am by no means alone in finding excuses for not tackling the serious business of writing in a more disciplined way. Successful, published authors of best-sellers have admitted as much. They'd rather do anything than sit in front of that computer screen or typewriter and earn their living.

Maybe that's my problem: I don't actually have to write to earn a living. I had a secretarial, not a journalistic training, so perhaps can be forgiven for my cavalier approach. I have, however, read enough about the serious business of writing and the complicated range of techniques it demands to want to continue with the challenge of some day, one day, being able to produce that perfect piece of prose.

English Vivace

A large part of what I call "writing time" is, in fact, "thinking time". Walking the dog; doing the ironing; peeling potatoes: they are all activities which do not require great intellectual skill. The brain can go into standby mode and let the imagination take over. Simply sitting and staring at a blank computer screen will not invoke my stubborn muse.

Therefore, to give an honest answer to the question "How do I write?" I suppose I must sum it up as a collection of adverbs: spasmodically, occasionally, whimsically, reluctantly, erratically, lazily, chaotically, but I hope also passionately, sincerely and seriously. And above all, because when I have been able to put words together creatively, nothing beats the satisfaction of typing


© MWD 2011

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Living in France, we are constantly amused by the efforts of
restaurateurs to translate their menus into English. They employ so-called
'professeurs d'anglais' (teachers) to render their delicious dishes
irresistible for the visiting tourist. My list of howlers is open-ended but I
think my favourite so far was the dish described in French as 'gigot de lotte
panée' which came out as 'roast breaded leg of angler'. I won't labour the
semantics; suffice it to say that 'gigot' is the usual word for a roast leg of
lamb, but 'gigot de lotte' is so-called because of the resemblance in shape.
'Lotte' is, of course, monkfish in English but, alas, the clever 'professeur'
who'd supplied the translation only had a dictionary with American equivalents,
hence 'angler'.

Our tourist office in Le Lavandou has a splendid website
but, when we clicked on the English version we found that 'venant au Lavandou'
had been rendered as 'coming in Le Lavandou' instead of 'how to get there'. I
paid a discreet visit to the office and politely explained that their
translation undoubtedly had a double entendre connotation for most Brits
brought up on the Carry On films.

However, today we've unearthed another delight. Recommended
by a friend to a weather-forecasting site called Mété, we checked
on the predictions for the south of France for the next few days. Google
helpfully translates if you ask it nicely, so I reproduce below one sentence
from the original French forecast, followed by the Google version.

'Après une nuit calme, les gelées sont de retour dans le
Grand Sud.'

'After a quiet and starry night, the jellies are back in
the Deep South!'

Which only goes to prove, in my estimation, that no computer
technology will replace the intellectual capacity of the human brain. 'Gelées'
can, indeed, be translated as 'jellies' but it is, of course, also the usual words for 'frosts'.

© MWD 2012

Sunday, February 5, 2012


George Street Primary School was a typical Victorian red-brick institution. George Street itself was one of the old thoroughfares of historic Hemel Hempstead, a small Hertfordshire market town which is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The bottom end of the street passed under the arch of an ancient pub, the Kings' Arms, which boasted an outside galleried balcony overlooking the pub's backyard. Once through the arch and in the High Street, the old Town Hall faced you on the opposite side of the road, and behind that you could just catch a glimpse of the spire of St. Mary's Parish Church. An unusual piece of architecture, since the church's origins were Norman, built with the traditional square tower - the spire had been added at a later date.

The old historic High Street has mostly been preserved. The Town Hall is now used as a performance and arts venue, the old Market Square has become a car park, and the lower level of quaint shops and houses found fame as the location for 'Pie in the Sky'.

We lived at No 19 George Street: we had moved there from No 11, my parents' first home, when my paternal grandparents died and Dad inherited. It was a double-fronted detached house, set in a road of other, unremarkable houses, but its most attractive feature was that it was virtually
opposite the gates of George Street School. I am one of life's 'owls', early mornings do not agree with me, so on many a school day I would be seen making a quick dash across the (fortunately quiet) road and through the school gates as the bell rang!

Sixty years ago the school curriculum was centred firmly on the three Rs, with music, artistic expression, nature study and plenty of physical exercise thrown in for good measure. On fine summer afternoons, whole classes would be taken on 'nature walks', out into the countryside, which started at the top end of George Street. But my best memory is of those Friday afternoons when the class would settle back in the little wooden chairs and an inspired teacher read to us from great children's classics. Here it was I first became entranced by Tom and the Water Babies, both Alice books and many more. Miss Jarman brought Ratty, Mole, Toad and the rest alive for us; she was at all other times a strict disciplinarian, but with a book in her hands, she let
loose her hidden talent for acting and each character was given a distinctive voice.

And it was standing at assembly in the little school hall on the morning of 6th February 1952 that I and my schoolfellows learned of the death of George VI. When it came to singing the final hymn, I remember my neighbour urging me in a whisper: 'You mustn't sing, don't sing, the King has died!' The radio played solemn music all day. The State Funeral took place 9 days later, on my birthday.

© MWD 2012