What is it with Public Toilets?

(That’s Rest Rooms, America – though personally, I go elsewhere to rest.)

Oh for the old days of MEN/WOMEN or LADIES/GENTLEMEN, and locks displaying ENGAGED/VACANT.

That’s all much to easy and obvious for the modern world. The way to tell whether the toilet at my local Costa is occupied is by way of a hole the size of the Higgs-Boson particle, deeply set so that the colour is hard to see without a magnifying glass and high-intensity light. And the colour is either red or white – not green, mind but white. Quite what those not familiar with the system are supposed to make of a white sign when first coming across it, I’m not sure. Many a time I’ve seen people bending forward to try to ascertain whether the toilet is engaged or not, only for the door to open and for them to look like some sort of keyhole peeping tom.

But you’ve got to find the toilets first. Motorways service stations have taken to using abstract symbols that look like they were designed by Jackson Pollock, with a barely perceptible difference between the pictures for the two sexes. I believe the worst ones are Milton services on the A34 and Strensham on the M5. At the latter of which on one occasion, I was on my way in to the toilets (having studied the pictures for a few minutes to decide which one I dare enter) when I was passed by an elderly woman scurrying out rather rapidly. I’m not quite sure what she saw in there,  but she looked dazed and shaken and was mumbling ‘Oh, dear…’



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Writing with Snoopy

In many ways, I look upon the little beagle as my writing mentor, so here is another example of the master at work. Permission from Charles M Schulz to reproduce this was channelled by my spirit guide Geronimo (which was pretty generous considering how much in demand he is in the spirit world).



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It’s Here!

Panic buy! Rush out of the house semi-naked, but with your purse/wallet! Knock people out of the way!

It’s the latest issue of Aquila, the children’s educational magazine.  Actually, you can remain safely indoors because it’s not available in the shops – you have to subscribe – but it’s well worth it. And it’s a Harry Potter special this month!

Most commentators agree that the standout article is the one about alchemy and the philosopher’s stone, by yours truly, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

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Remain Calm

I saw this in my local paper:



Personally, I think it’s something of an over-reaction. I’d have gone for German Shepherds, or maybe Dobermans. (Or should it be Dobermen?) Armed, of course.

Or it could be referring to the local ice hockey team…

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Anne Lister

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating historical diary – The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister. This was roughly the era of Jane Austen and the Brontes, but the added twist is that she was a lesbian and talks about her relationships and feelings about other women. (Rather like Samuel Pepys, she wrote those parts in a sort of code she had devised.)

It is predictable that she would be seen as some sort of heroine by feminists, but trust me girls, she wasn’t. She was simply a lesbian at a time when it was impossible to be open about it and coped the best she could. There is some nonsense in the blurb by Jeanette Winterson extolling her as ‘a woman exercising conscious choice. She controlled her cash and her body” etc. She controlled her cash because…well, she was rich. She controlled her body by not getting married because she was rich enough not to need to.

She wasn’t open about her lesbianism, but in fact reading between the lines it seems clear that everyone realised that she was one (one obituary euphemistically referred to her ‘masculine singularities of character’) yet it didn’t seem to cause her any problems.

The fact is that she wasn’t any sort of trailblazer (but then, why should she be?) and in fact I was surprised that far from being an outcast, she wasn’t shunned because of her sexuality but because she was clearly a terrible snob, who constantly refers to people of a lower class (ie most people) as ‘vulgar’, and who missed out on the chance of a relationship because it was beneath her to visit her family.

But she was fascinating, it is a great read, and I would have loved to have met her – though she would have considered it highly impertinent that someone of my class should try to engage her in conversation!

Apart from the business about her sexuality, it’s the little things about daily life that I love about diaries like this. Take this from 10 Jane 1824:

Washed and scaled my teeth with my penknife (in previous similar entry said she was sure she’d got rid of all the tartar with her trusty blade). And on another occasion she had a tooth extracted – no anaesthetic of course – and although didn’t come out easily, she tells us, it went very well considering –  he only took a little of the jawbone with it.

On the 12 January she recounts two stories. The first concerns  ‘Cockle Dick of Halifax’ – His wife used to drink & he sent the bell-man [ie the man who walked the streets ringing a bell and declaring the time, and perhaps also acted as a town crier regarding news] to give notice that he would not pay her debts. He turned her out of the house, & being summoned before Dr Coulthurst [probably a magistrate] to take her back, he declared he would not for she would be the ruin of him.

Then there is the tale she was told of wives being Cried [ie the bell-man again] two market days at the market cross & sold the last day & ‘livered in a halter. He said Phoebe Buck, the leech-woman still living…was sold in this way & bought by Buck, the man she lived with ever after.

Beats online dating, if you ask me.

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Amazon Reviews

It’s time for more helpful Amazon reviews. The ones in this latest short collection are all book reviews, and they do raise a more serious point, particularly from my point of view as an author. If you’re not a best selling author you are unlikely to get many reviews in the first place, so it only takes one or two numskull offerings which have nothing to do with the writing itself (like the ones below) to lower the overall rating and quite unfairly give the impression that a book isn’t very good. The first one is particularly ironic in from that point of view! (And as ever with these sometimes semi-literate offerings, I’ve left the spelling as it is.)

I haven’t started this book yet hence only on star. I bought it on the strength of the reviews so I’m looking forward to reading it soon (1 Star)

Can’t say as bought as a present for someone else (3 stars)

Described as in good condition but sruffy (2 Stars)

The Wind in the Willows should have been in Helvitica font, not Garamond – NO STARS, MR GRAHAME!



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Financial Matters

Well, a major royalty cheque has flooded in today and I thought I ought to alert my hordes of regular readers. I want to reassure you all that it won’t change the nature of these blog postings, but I may well be taking someone on and dictating to them to in the near future.

I’m planning to set some money aside for good causes, and will obviously look after family and friends, but I welcome suggestions from my loyal followers as to how best to dispose of the rest.

(Knowing my fans as I do, I must point out here that I won’t responding to begging letters.)

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