Know yer onions

My onions are now pickling away nicely in the fridge ready for Crimbo.

I have managed to fill one large Gold Blend jar, two Branston jars and a beetroot jar with them.  The place – and my hands – still reek of onions vinegar and salt.




Birthday dinosaur bones, sea monsters and onions

We had a lovely time on my husband Nathan’s birthday yesterday.  We both booked the day off and went to Thinktank, Birmingham’s science museum, like a couple of wide-eyed kids on a school trip.

It’s such an interesting place.  Thinktank houses many of the exhibits we both vaguely recalled seeing on school trips to the old science museum in the city have been retained there.  These include relics from the city’s incredible industrial past: the City of Birmingham steam locomotive, the Smethwick Engine, a tram, a pair of robots from the Jaguar factory and machinery from city factories.

There are also numerous more modern, interactive displays, and a wildlife gallery featuring a triceratops skull and dinosaur crocodile skeleton.



Although this worked out rather pricey, we decided to splash out and also get tickets for the IMAX Cinema and Planetarium, which are also within the complex.

The IMAX was unbelievable.  We watched a short film called Sea Monsters in 3D on a 50ft screen.  The effects were stunning; it was so beautiful and serene to feel enveloped by the ocean and surrounded by shoals of prehistoric sea creatures.  You felt as though if you opened your mouth the fish could swim inside.

The Planetarium was interesting too.  The talk we attended was on climate change, accompanied by images projected on to the overhead domed screen.

A group of immature idiots behind us started to mar this experience by sniggering and talking over the guide.  My husband, a normally gentle, placid man, was driven mad by their schoolboy-ish behaviour (this lot looked too old for school) and ordered them to‘Shut the **** up!’  It actually worked – we heard not a peep from those wallies throughout the rest of the talk!  Perhaps my hubby gives off scary vibes!!

I mean, what kind of people pay for tickets to something like that when they are going to take no interest and spoil things for the rest of us by acting like second-years in a boring school lesson?

It was a longer day than we’d anticipated.  There was so much to see.  We were there a good five hours, spending most of those on foot, which proved tiring.

I finally submitted my eTMA on Wednesday night.  I had such a tummy ache all evening – often the way relief manifests itself with me, following a period of worry.  I couldn’t believe how tense I’d been about the whole thing.  Going to tai chi definitely calmed me that night.

I had today off too, and got seriously stuck into the next block of the course, which deals with plot, narrative and time.  After living and breathing the assignment for the last week or so, working through the shorter activities and reading through the accompanying material came as a relief.

This evening I made a start on my Christmas pickled onions!  I peeled 2kg of the things (cue lots of tears) and am soaking them overnight in brine.  If you desire a jar of these beauties as a Crimbo pressie, do shout up!!

Vicars, Croatians and suicide

My three eTMA 01 pieces – Flying Like Superman, the Ellery Crisp character sketch and Sretan Božić Bruno – are complete to what I consider to be the best of my ability.  I am now sick of looking at them.

I hate to sound pretentious, but creativity genuinely takes a lot out of me.  I feel sapped after living and breathing this assignment for what I can’t believe has only been a week.  I find it all very intense and headache-inducing.  I can see why I never went to university (among many other reasons).

In terms of difficulty, I struggled most with the Croatian story, the one based on a radio story.  One of the requirements was to write this one without dialogue, which to me felt very unnatural.  I enjoy writing conversation, and without it I feel this piece is flat.  The character sketch was OK, as I was recycling a character I’ve written of before, but as I said earlier Flying Like Superman surprised me by being fun to do.

I am not anticipating brilliant marks, yet don’t feel I can add anything further to the stories.  They meet the word count and my name is at the top of the page – hopefully I shall at least get marks for those things!  During GCSEs and A-levels, I was always paranoid about scrawling my name at the top of every sheet.  Having worked so hard on the creative side of things, I would kick myself to death were I to be penalised now on such petty points.

Sretan Božić Mr Sanader

For the benefit of non-Croatian readers, the above means ‘Merry Christmas Mr Sanader’ – Ivo Sanader being the Prime Minister of Croatia, who due to the credit crunch has taken the decision to ban public sector workers in his country from having office Christmas parties and exchanging Christmas cards with their colleagues!!

So now you know.

It is also going the title of my final piece for the OU eTMA, the ‘fictionalise a story you hear on the radio’ one.  I’m going to write from the point of view of a disappointed civil servant whose Christmas party plans have been scuppered.

I have never been to Croatia, and until an hour ago knew next to nothing about the country.  My preparation for this story involved a spot of online research, about common Croatian names, attractions and landmarks, and even Croatian working hours.  It just goes to show the level of background work that needs to go into even the shortest of fiction.

2 down, 1 to go

To my surprise, I completed my ‘busy street from a child’s point of view’ story, which I’ve called Flying Like Superman, this afternoon.

I would LOVE to gain a respectable mark for this story, as I actually feel rather proud of it.  I was, as they say on X Factor, well out of my comfort zone, but sometimes these more challenging stories can end up proving pleasurable to write.

I won’t post it on here just yet – perhaps I’ll wait to see what mark I get first.

Tomorrow I shall make a start on the ‘news story’ one.

eTMA Nightmares

I finished my ‘character sketch’ part of the eTMA and have made a start on the next part of the assignment, set in a busy city street written from a child’s eye view.  The story is supposed to kick off just after something has happened in this busy street.

It sounds gruesome, but for my ‘thing that has just happened’ I have decided to have somebody commit suicide by jumping off the roof of a multi-storey car park.  Bear with me, I think the idea could work.  There will be no gore, the little girl narrator sees a grown man apparently fly off a roof and wonders if he’s Superman.

This was the piece I was probably dreading writing most of all but, as is often the way, I am surprising myself by getting into it.  A story from a young child’s viewpoint is something I would never write by choice, but for a change it is actually quite freeing having to use simple language.

I’m going to finish this piece over the weekend, then from Monday to Wednesday work on the fictionalisation of a radio news story.

The official eTMA deadline is a week today (Friday), but the OU really like you to submit at least 24 hours in advance, in case of computer problems.  Only next Thursday is Nathan’s birthday.  I do not intend spending my husband’s birthday on the computer, so will have to submit it Wednesday evening instead.  Aarrghh, panic!!

I will be so glad to get the assignment submitted and out of the way, though.  I’ve had the same stressful feeling I used to experience while revising for my exams at school.  I actually used to grow bored of feeling nervous, and desperate to get the exam done and dusted.  Unfortunately the panic used to take over and prevent me doing myself total justice in the exam.

I really hope my silly nerves don’t scupper my chances on this course.  It means so much to me, and is certainly a hell of a lot more pleasurable than bloody A-levels.  I set out with the aim of attaining wonderful results, though I suppose in practice I will be happy to simply pass.

That’s the trouble, I suppose, with this issue of mine with my nerves taking over.  The need to complete the task starts to outweigh my perfectionism.  I do not always respond well to pressurised situations.

Rev Crisp Revisited

I have completed one part of the first OU eTMA, the 500-word character sketch, which I did first as I thought it might be the (relatively) ‘easy’ bit.  I have chosen an existing character of mine, the Reverend Ellery Crisp of Gap Year fame.  He is pretty fun to write about.

I feel I have done the best I can with the ‘talents’ and limitations at my disposal.  At school I was never the type to achieve runs of straight As and I am scared of having worked marked again.  I would be over the moon to attain a high mark – say 80% or over – although in practice am sure I will be relieved to simply pass.

This eTMA has three parts to it, each one a 500-word task.  For the others we are asked to write a story from the point of view of a child, set in a busy city street where something dramatic has just happened – and then turn on the radio and write a piece which fictionalises an event mentioned on the news!

Another busy Sunday

I feel absolutely drained again after another day doing coursework.  Much as I like the work, I am starting to hate this aching, tired, irritable feeling I get at the end of a Sunday (for some reason I seem more raring to go during the week).  It sounds pathetic, but I actually ache, I suppose from leaning over the laptop for such long periods.

For today’s tasks I wrote a 200-word description of a character’s bedroom, which is supposed to reveal character, and then two 250-word views of a supermarket, from the point of view of firstly a woman who has just received a promotion at work and then the same woman who has just ended a love affair.  They were good exercises, and I have posted them here, under the ‘OU Activities’ heading.

Tomorrow I must start work on the first eTMA, which I admit I am absolutely dreading.  It has to be handed in by a week next Friday, so I can’t hang about.  I hate this panicky feeling I get when I have a deadline.  I want to do so well in these assignments; I am so afraid of rushing and blowing my chances.

When things like this happen…

…they serve only to reinforce my atheism.

Religions preach of peace and love, whilst most of the world’s wars, genocide, misogyny and general evil are committed in its name.  And people wonder why I’m a non-believer!!

Mon and Woyfe

Write 500 words in the voice of a character retelling a story from their childhood. Try to make the narrator come to life by showing their individual conversational style and mannerisms, their point of view.   Perhaps highlighting the different way in which children and adults perceive events.

(OK, I admit I cheated slightly for this exericse and used a passage – of which I am still very proud – from my first novel Classmates.  It just seemed to fit very well, and was conveniently close to the word limit too.  I have tweaked here and there, to improve on what I wrote five years ago.)

Mon and Woyfe

I married Karl on a July afternoon when the sky was the flawless blue and the sun the flamboyant orange my junior school paintings insistently depicted.  The crisp, salady scent of freshly mown grass wafted through the hall windows – a summer aroma that forever evokes that day.

Vacuum-packed into an organza frock as stiff and creamy as an Angel Delight, and clutching a posy of pink plastic roses, I bobbed from foot to jellybean sandal-clad foot, lisping my vows behind my net curtain veil.
Bradley Round, the pageboy, was intently picking his nose; my bridesmaid, Samantha Potter, was just as becomingly absorbed, extricating her billowy petticoats from her knickers.

Karl, tall, windswept of hair, snub of nose, in his waistcoat and velveteen shirt, was, as ever, the picture of impish self-confidence.  Nothing has ever fazed Karl Corbett.

There were titters from the enormous congregation as the vicar, Shane Ashcroft, pronounced us, in broad Black County, ‘mon and woyfe.’  (‘Yow may now kiss the broyde’ was an entreaty mercifully omitted from Rev Ashcroft’s sermon.)

To compound the indignity, one congregation member was a Dudley News photographer.  My mother still has his yellowing close-up of ‘the happy couple’ in her scrapbook.

The caption croons beneath it:

LESSONS IN LOVE: Holly Lane Primary School pupils Karl Corbett and Zoe Taylor, both aged six, in costume for their Royal Wedding project.

I have not seen it for years as I, sadly, can recall my piteous appearance without pictorial aids.  Absent front teeth; punkish hair, so incongruous with frills and posies; chubby little body straining for freedom from the chafing dress.

A confirmed tomboy, I abhorred dresses – especially ill-fitting ones exhumed from bottoms of dressing-up boxes.  I remember my wild longing to tear that cream monstrosity from my back in exchange for my usual uniform of either dungarees or a velour tracksuit.

It was 1981.  With Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s nuptials days away, Class 1F was in the grips of joyous, red-and-blue-streamer, commemorative-mug-and-tea-towel fever.  It was the delightful idea of our teacher, Miss Flint, that Karl, Shane, Sam, Brad and I re-enact a wedding in mildewy fancy dress costumes for the whole school (sardonic, comp-bound eleven-year-olds included) on the final day of term.

My casting as bride was down to Miss F also – influenced by my blonde pageboy cut which entertained vague Diana-like pretensions.  Or rather it had until the week preceding the mock marriage.

My poor mother had found me, on precarious tiptoes at the mirror, studiously hewing away with her nail scissors.  A flaxen pond encircled my feet, leaving a crest of anarchic tufts and fronds like a very early Bart Simpson prototype.

‘What – have – you – done?’  Mom yelped.

‘I thought it would look nice.’  Contrite tears were already gurgling up to mirror those dismayingly glazing her kind eyes.

My ragamuffin image did not excuse me from conjugal enactments, but that hideous newspaper snap proved a fantastic deterrent against DIY hairdressing.  I have never so much as lopped off a split end since.

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