The Books of Love

I’ve been a bit quiet on the old blog front recently but I have managed to do some nice colouring…

I read an article about the work of Tom Phillips, an artist who uses pages from one particular book to create an ongoing story, called A Humument, which is a ‘meditation on unrequited love and the struggle to create and appreciate art’ (apparently).  He began it in the 1960s and is still producing updated editions of the same book.  Lots of other artists do similar works, which is often called Found Poetry, to create poems or an entirely new story.

The basic idea is to take an old book, circle all the words that take your fancy and do some nice pictures over the words you don’t like.  I remember doing something similar as a child, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.  It goes without saying that I endured much artistic angst and suffering during the creative process and, obviously, there is an underlying deep meaning behind each piece of work.  Plus, it’s something nice to do with your hands in front of the telly if, like me, you’ve got five seasons of Breaking Bad to catch up on.

I call this piece Love & Meth in Miami in homage to Walter White

I call this piece Love & Meth in Miami in homage to Walter White

Coffee for an Angel is a political comment on the lack of refreshment opportunities for heavenly beings

Coffee for an Angel makes a political comment on the appalling lack of refreshment opportunities for heavenly beings

United Love examines the correlation between the decline in sales of traditional tea-bags such as PG tips and rising divorce rates in the UK

Cheer Up Missus is an ironic work on the futility of life and ironing

Cheer Up Missus is an ironic statement on the futility of life and ironing

You CAN Always Get What You Want

Recently I’ve been reading a lot about the benefits of gratitude and kindness on our health, happiness and getting what you want out of life.  I used to be a bit of a Cynical Cynthia and poo-poo any hippy dippy ideas about the power of positive thinking or the law of attraction.  It was all too Oprah for me.   But, gradually I’ve come to see the light and, like a Cyberman, I’ve been converted and now I’m Barb the Believer.   So, as part of my commitment to happiness, I am attempting to speak more (barbed) words of kindness and be grateful for all the wonderful things in life.  Here’s my thanks for the weekend:

Thank you…to the bar in central Rome that allowed us to take a welcome break from the heat of the day.  It was so good of you to allow us to sit undisturbed for twenty minutes, without hassling us about ordering drinks or food.  In fact, you were so determined to make us feel comfortable that you firmly ignored all our attempts to catch your attention.  What a pain it was when we were rested enough to move to another bar where the waiter greeted us warmly within 30 seconds of taking a seat.  What’s his problem??

Thank you…to the Rolling Stones for an amazing show at Circus Maximus last night.  I am seriously in awe of Mick’s fitness; he hardly stood still for two hours.  I don’t know where he gets the energy.  Also, I don’t know where he gets his hair – surely it can’t be real??

Thank you…to the audience, who not only smoked incessantly but also filmed the entire concert on their iPhones/iPads, thus obscuring what would have been an awesome view of the main stage.  Fortunately, we were next to the bridge and mini stage so, despite the sea of technology, I was able to get a close up look at ol’ craggy face Mick.

Thank you…to the lovely group of Italians next to us, who told us how much they disliked English people and that, ‘You fucking English break my balls’. Really? Why have you just forked out €100 to watch a fucking English band then?

Thank you…to the lax parking rules in Rome which enabled us to park directly in front of the venue.  Usually I complain about the ‘Park anywhere you like/don’t worry if you’re blocking another car or driveway/double parking is fine, why not try triple parking for a change?’ attitude but last night, as we drove off ten minutes after the concert had finished, I was all for it.

Thank you…to the builders who are scaffolding our apartment block in preparation for repairs to the building.  I particularly appreciated the scaffolding being delivered by tossing it from the lorry onto the road at 7am this morning, thus waking me up on one of the very rare mornings when both my children were at sleepovers so I didn’t have to be up early.  Mind you, I should probably be more concerned that half the building is now being held up with steel supports, which makes me a tad nervous to step onto my balcony.

Not sure if I’ve quite got the hang of this gratitude thing…I’ll try harder next time.  Will I become too annoying if I become too grateful for everything?? Anyway, thank you…to you for reading my blog and just, y’know, being you :)



Check Out

Another short story this week, in lieu of a report from Rome…


The car swerved across the highway as Henley fought against the steering wheel to bring the Chevy under control. He narrowly missed the truck coming the other way, its horn blasting through the silence of the desert. Henley rammed his foot hard on the brake and the car skidded to a halt on the gravel verge. His heart pounded and he struggled to catch his breath as he unpeeled his shaking fingers from the steering wheel. He opened the window and let the cool wind freshen his burning face.

Henley had been driving since 8am, after a disappointing breakfast in a diner that was nothing like the cool, hip ‘50s diners of the movies. This one was unwelcoming, served bitter coffee (but free refills..) and cooked hash browns he could have built a house with. It hadn’t set him up well for the 400-mile drive to his next destination: Barstow, a small town on the edge of the desert, to pay homage to the great Hunter S. Thompson.

His journey had taken even longer after several hasty unscheduled stops to empty himself of his crappy breakfast, crouched nervously behind scantily thorned bushes or the occasional sign, hoping a rattlesnake didn’t attack him while he was incapacitated.

The motel the previous night hadn’t provided much sleep, thanks to a retro vibrating mattress that shuddered at random points throughout the night, usually just after he’d finally dropped off from the previous quake. This lack of sleep, combined with the violent bouts of diarrhoea, had exhausted him and he had only feebly resisted as his eyes had grown heavy, hypnotised by the road stretching for miles in front of him and the lights of the cars driving towards him.   He’d descended into the deep cavern of sleep, until the blare of the truck’s horn had violently yanked him back into consciousness.California postcard

Driving from New York to LA was a lifetime’s ambition for Henley. He wanted to see the real good ol’ US of A, get his kicks on Route 66, taste mom’s apple pie. Live the American dream. The reality, however, was turning out to be slightly different.   Any kitsch places that he was lucky enough to stumble across had seemed staged as if they were just cashing in on an old legend that had barely existed in the first place. Also, he hadn’t realised just how great the distances were and how dull much of the scenery would be. Ok, so the Grand Canyon was impressive and it was cool to see Las Vegas all lit up and imagine himself in Ocean’s Eleven, but there had also been a hell of lot of long hours’ solid driving in between those scenic bits. Long hours. On his own. With only an iPod full of classic rock to keep him company. He still had another 90 miles to go to Barstow and darkness had fallen suddenly.

It was time to stop for the night.

Henley slowly pulled back onto the highway.   He needed to find somewhere to stay; surely there must be a place soon. He kept the windows open, the warm smell of wild sage rising up through the air.    He had been driving for ten minutes or so when up ahead in the distance, he saw the shimmering light of a neon HOTEL sign. He drove into the almost empty parking lot and stopped next to an old white Mercedes parked in front of the reception.

The hotel was an incongruous sight to find in the middle of the Californian desert. A huge, three story building, it had a brooding, black facade, pointed arches and four tall towers reaching to the sky.   Gargoyles leered down at him, their hideous faces mocking him. What was it with Americans and their theme hotels? In Vegas he’d stayed in an Egyptian one with mummies and a small pyramid in his room.

Whatever. All he wanted was to go to sleep, no matter what the hotel looked like. The reception was in darkness, the door locked.   He tugged on the old-fashioned bell pull, its chimes ringing out in the cool night.   No-one answered, he rang again. Oh for god’s sake, he’d have to keep driving.

He moved away, heading back to the car. “Welcome,” came a voice behind him. “Are you looking for a room?”

No, I’m here for architecture tips, thought Henley as he turned back to the door. A tall, slim woman with long blonde hair stood in the doorway, holding up a candle in a Tiffany-style glass candlestick. She wore a full length, flowing dress.

“Yes, are you open?”

“We’ve had a power cut, there’s no electricity. We haven’t had power for ages. God knows when it’ll be back on.”

“I just need a bed, something to eat and drink.”

“You can always find that here. It’s $60 for the night.”

Henley hesitated – was this a good idea or was did it look too weird? – before exhaustion won out and he followed her into the dark building, through a maze of corridors and stairs, the light from the candle briefly lighting myriad doorways and passages leading god knows where.   He could hear the faint sound of music mingled with laughter and the occasional excited shout calling from far away.

“Sounds like fun,” he said.

“Oh, that’s just some friends. They like to dance in the courtyard. Do you dance? It’s very therapeutic. Helps you remember, helps you forget.”

Christ, she didn’t only look like an old hippy, she spoke like one too.

The woman showed him into his room: a huge black cast iron bed stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by lit church candles in tall candlesticks. A bottle of pink champagne cooled in an ice bucket on the bedside table and beads of condensation twinkled in the candlelight.

“Ummm, is this the right room? Looks like someone’s already in here.”

“No, no. This is for you. We like to make all our guests feel welcome.”

Welcome? More like a health and safety nightmare.

“Oh, well, thank you. I don’t really drink champagne though, more of a Budweiser man myself.”

“We don’t stock beer. No call for it. Haven’t done beer since ’69. I’ll leave you to get comfortable. I’ll be in the bar if you want to come down.”

She left and Henley lay on the bed with relief. He yawned loudly and gave a large, exaggerated stretch feeling some of the tension in his back dissipating. As he looked up, he realised he was staring at himself in a large, smoked mirror on the ceiling. He sat up with a jolt, suddenly wide awake. Maybe he should go for that drink after all.   It might help him sleep then he’d head off first thing in the morning.

Henley picked up one of the candles and blew out the others.   No point letting the place burn down, even if the owner was one can short of a six-pack.   His route back to reception was complicated by the darkness and the vast number of corridors and staircases. He didn’t pass any other guests but he could still hear the shouts and music from the party.   He tried to head towards the sound and eventually found himself outside a room on the ground floor, from where he could hear the music blaring. He opened the door and entered the room with the candle held high.

Henley froze, staring at the scene in front of him. His brain told him to turn and run as fast as he could but his legs were unable to obey the instruction.

A huge reptilian creature, at least twelve feet long, covered in red scales lay on a table in the middle of the room.   It was encircled by figures dressed in white, flowing robes, screaming and frenziedly stabbing at the beast with steel daggers, their blades plunging into the creature’s body as blood splattered through the air. Their robes were patterned with the bright crimson of fresh blood and their faces dripped with sweat.

The monster’s white fangs glinted in the candlelight as it snarled and shrieked. It thrashed its head from side to side and attempted to lash out with its long talons and whip like tail but it was spread-eagled across the table; thick rope around its legs and tail held it tightly anchored to the table legs. Its stomach and chest were swimming in blood and its guts were visible through the slashes and wounds.

The beast lifted its head off the table and stared at Henley with its glittering black eyes. Henley desperately wanted to look away but the monster’s glare held him transfixed.   Although he could feel the pure evil emitting from the monster, he felt that the beast was pleading with Henley to help him. Surely nothing deserved to die like this?

At that moment one of the figures in white caught sight of him standing in the doorway. “Friends, behold. We have fresh blood!”

Henley’s body finally caught up with his brain and he leapt back though the doorway, slamming it shut behind him. What the fuck had he stumbled into?   He began to run towards where he hoped the reception and the hell out of here were but the candle’s flame went out and he threw the candlestick to the ground. He put his shaking hand against the wall and groped his way along the corridor, trying to block out the horrific images of what he had just witnessed.

Henley progressed slowly in the darkness, trying to quell the panic he felt in every inch of his body. Behind him was the sound of hushed voices getting closer and closer.   He thought he could see a faint light emitting from the end of the corridor.  Oh Jesus, please let it be the way out. He turned the corner into the reception area, where more candles were placed on the desk.   A sob of relief caught in his throat and he sped up towards the door. He pulled down on the handle and pushed against the door but it refused to open.   He frantically rattled the handle up and down, throwing his shoulder against the door.

He screamed as he felt a hand on his shoulder.   Tears flooded down his face and the air disappeared from his lungs as he sank to the ground, his hand still clinging to the door handle.   He finally lifted his head to see what fresh hell would face him now.

A short, tanned man, dressed in a porter’s uniform, looked down at Henley and smiled.

“Help me, please help me,” Henley begged.

“Relax,” the man said in a deep, reassuring tone, “you can check out any time you like.  But you can never leave.”

The classic rock fans amongst you will find this easy: can you Name That Tune??  No prizes for the first correct answer but you can feel smug all weekend. 



Paperback Writer

Thank you to the very funny Jim at Gingerfightback, who was not only kind enough to read the first draft of my children’s novel and give me some great feedback, but has now invited me to take part in The Writing Process Blog Tour.  The tour asks writers to answer a few questions about their work.  I don’t normally get involved with all the blog events that do the rounds (I shudder at the word meme) but I’ve been suffering with a bad case of Blog Bleh recently and have been a bit slack on the blogging front so I thought this would be the kick up the backside I needed.

  • What am I working on at the moment?

Flitting around quite a lot, instead of just concentrating on getting one thing finished…I’ve been:

1) Revising my children’s Time Travel novel

2) Writing a short story about a writer whose wife goes missing and he’s the main suspect

3) Writing a comedy diary about a character who keeps getting involved in robberies and murders – the lovechild of Miss Marple and Adrian Mole

4) Waiting to upload a blog post about the Italian Lakes as I can’t access my photos from the external data storage that HWW (aka The Geek) has installed

5) Reading crap on the internet

True dat...

True dat…


  • How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Who knows?  Does it differ?  Should it differ??  If I’m reading a thriller, I kinda like to know what I’m getting.

  • Why do I write what I do?

I guess I like to read fast-paced, fairly light novels so that’s what I aim to write.  I tend to skip description when I’m reading (apologies to all those authors who poured their heart and soul into building beautiful images with their words…I just don’t read ‘em) so I don’t go overboard on the description in my writing.   I like good ol’ double-entendres so I always like to squeeze one in if I possibly can.

  • How does my writing process work?

If you know me, it might not surprise you to hear that I can be a tiny bit disorganised…

I plan best on paper with drawings and mind maps so I’ve got hundreds of bits of paper and notebooks full of ideas and notes.   Then there’s lots of random stuff on my computer – including some stories that I lost for about a year.   I tried writing my novel saving each chapter as a separate file but kept getting muddled with which version of which chapter I was on so I put the whole thing into one huge file.  Then I email myself regular copies in case of computer failure.


I find it difficult to write if I’m hungry, tired or stressed – which in Italy is quite a lot of the time.  There’s also the fear of failure to overcome which is really at the heart of most writer’s block and procrastination.  As Stephen King says, ‘The scariest moment is always just before you start.’

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

And now I nominate a couple of writers, whose blogs I always enjoy and are really worth checking out, to participate in the tour:

Claire @ The Grass is Dancing 

Jackie @ Jacqueline Cango

Samantha @ FarmerFarthing

MM @ Multifarious Meanderings

If you accept my nomination, please use the questions below to prompt a post and nominate a couple of bloggers to continue the tour.  No worries if you don’t want to do it, I totally understand!

What am I working on at the moment?
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Why do I write what I do?
How does my writing process work?


Venice Queen

Venice was amazing.  It was just like being on a film set – I kept expecting Casanova (David Tennant version, obviously) to appear or James Bond to drive past in a hovercraft gondola.

Every time we turned a corner, I had to snap away with my camera as the bridges and canals got more and more ridiculously picturesque.  It was almost impossible to take a bad photo (unless I was in it; which is why I won’t be sharing those with you).

How did Venice compare to Rome?   Let’s see…Venice had all the historic atmosphere and beauty of Rome but without dog poo, overflowing street bins or graffiti.

Best bits?  The tranquility that comes with the lack of cars, friendly locals, dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe (yep, I’m that person but I don’t care…the pulled pork bap was awesome) and discovering Spritz, my new favourite cocktail.  Apparently, Spritz is so 2012 but I’m no trailblazer so I’m making it my drink of summer 2014.

Worst bits?  Nothing.  I loved everything about it. Ok, maybe paying €72 for a day’s water-bus pass was a tad pricey and the serenity of a beautiful piazza was slightly spoilt by the resident drunks singing You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling at top volume but apart from that, everything was wonderful.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

And, of course, I couldn’t stop singing this everywhere we went:

Hooray Hooray, It’s a Holi-Holiday

I’ve just got back from a week’s holiday Oop North, staying in places where Wi-fi is obviously just some crazy-assed technology from the future.  No Facebook, no emails, no news and no Big Bang Theory.  Did I miss much??  Quick Google search…nope, not a lot.

Organising holidays is so stressful.  Once I’m there, I’m fine but the planning and booking part turns me into Mrs Grouchy.  For this holiday, we stayed in four different locations in four different hotels.  Which meant four times longer than usual planning the holiday and doing one of my least favourite occupations: searching the internet for accommodation.

It’s even worse since the inception of websites like TripAdvisor and  I find a hotel or apartment that looks good, isn’t ridiculously expensive and has vacancies.  Excellent.  Then I look at the reviews.  It doesn’t matter that there are fifty great reviews, there will always be some guests that weren’t happy: The room was noisy; The bathroom was grubby; Breakfast was dreadful; The male escort I ordered didn’t look like his online profile…. And once I’ve read a bad review, I’ve gone off the hotel.  But finally, after several hours and plenty of ‘gentle’ discussion, we had booked four places: three of them turned out to be fabulous and the other was so-so.

Fawlty Towers

This is where I usually end up staying…

But once the accommodation’s sorted, that doesn’t mean that the pressure’s off.   Just like New Year’s Eve has to be the most awesome party night of the year (or in my twenties it did; now it’s all Baileys and board games), a holiday is expected to be the most relaxing, adventurous, spiritual week ever.  The location has to be stunning, the food fantastic and the local people welcoming.  Hmmm.  My holiday experiences have included:

  1. A severe case of the squits whilst stuck on a twelve-hour bus journey in Thailand…where the only ‘toilet’ was a bucket in the back of the bus.
  2. Erecting a tent in the dark after arriving late at a campsite in Florida, and waking up the next morning to discover an alligator sunning itself six feet away from the tent.
  3. Opening the bedroom window at a B&B in Weston-Super-Mud and having to cling on for dear life as the entire window frame fell out of the wall.
  4. A driving trip of the Australian Outback where our car windscreen was smashed by a rock thrown up by a passing road-train, the front wheel fell off as we navigated a roundabout, and, after a night sleeping under the stars in, literally, the back of beyond with no towns or houses for hundreds of miles, we awoke to find that someone had thrown up on the car bonnet.  Plus, on the same trip, we had our credit cards stolen.  The thieves used them to buy flights to Tasmania, which was particularly galling because we’d missed out Tasmania as we couldn’t afford the airfare.

However, apart from falling up a flight of concrete steps whilst giving my daughter a piggy-back, a few complaints about boring Italian food, breaking my sunglasses and getting stuck in the middle of hundreds of cyclists taking part in the Giro del Trentino on Lake Garda, this holiday really was wonderful.  Honesty.



Dear Adrian Mole


Dear Adrian,

I was so sorry to hear about the death of Sue Townsend, the comic genius who brought your diaries to a wider audience.  I know you felt that she was the one who profited from your private life, passing it off as her own work of fiction, but without her, the world would not have been exposed to your life, family and unenviable range of problems.

Your writing may not have been quite as clever or as intellectual as you believed it to be, but I loved it anyway.  I loved your intellectual posturing, your teenage angst and even your snobbishness: ‘Perhaps when I am famous and my diary is discovered people will understand the torment of being a 13¾ -year-old undiscovered intellectual.’

Your poetry had a simplicity and naivety that, unlike the work of your arch nemesis Barry Kent, went unappreciated:

 The Tap by Adrian Mole

The tap drips and keeps me awake,

In the morning there will be a lake.

For the want of a washer the carpet will spoil,

Then for another my father will toil.

My father could snuff it while he is at work.

Dad, fit a washer don’t be a burk!

But beneath it all, you were kind, loyal and brave, as you proved when you saved your sons from a burning house: ‘I have often wondered how I would stand up against fire, flood and tempest. Would I run in panic and try to save my own life?  Until tonight I suspected that I would do exactly that. But when I woke to the exploding glass and the choking smoke and the sharp flames on the stairs, I found that my own life was unimportant to me. Nothing else mattered apart from removing my sons from danger.’

Your diaries have been my most constant literary companions over the years.  During times of sadness or grief, I always turned to their familiarity, their easy humour and warmth for distraction and comfort.  You had the gift of making me laugh out loud: ‘I have just had the most humiliating experience of my life. It started when I began to assemble my model aeroplane. I had nearly finished it when I thought I would try an experimental sniff of glue. I put my nose to the undercarriage and sniffed for five seconds, nothing spiritual happened but my nose stuck to the plane! My father took me to Casualty to have it removed, how I endured the laughing and sniggering I don’t know.   The Casualty doctor wrote ‘Glue Sniffer’ on my outpatient’s card.’

I loved Sue Townsend’s other books too, but your diaries were the ones that resonated with me, that every teenager in Britain read during the ’80s.  You embodied the last thirty years with your experiences and opinions (often hilariously wrong) of social and political events.  As an adult, re-reading your diaries, I realised how much of the humour had gone completely over my head: ‘I have just realized I have never seen a dead body or a real female nipple. This is what comes of living in a cul-de-sac.’  Many of the references were also lost on me – who were Dostoyevsky, Sakharov or Malcolm Muggeridge?

Now, I feel sad that we’ll never hear from you again.  Would you be have embraced social media; tweeting and snapchatting, instead of writing your diary?  Would you have fathered more children with different women?  Would you have finally found love in the arms of Pandora, the love of your life?   I like to think so.  Surely she couldn’t refuse the man who could write: ‘Pandora! I adore ya. I implore ye,
 Don’t ignore me.’

Thank you for allowing Sue Townsend to share your life with us,

I’ll miss you,

Barb x