Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Last Lampeter Blog

My last day tomorrow. As soon as we finish at four I have a four hour drive over to Cheltenham to take a few creative writing workshop sessions at the Cheltenham Ladies' College on Thursday and Friday so this is my last blog. As I sit here typing this the two druids are sitting opposite me checking their emails. The female druid has blue and purple hair - where it isn't shaved to the scalp - and the male druid, who is in excellent shape (since he works out assiduously), assures me that he has some sort of tailed animal tattooed somewhere on his rear(the tail is important because it dangles provocatively below his trunks, apparently, but no doubt the entire animal was visible when he plunged into the very cold pool underneath the waterfall on Saturday). I have never encountered druids before and I have to say I am very impressed - I think there should be more druids in the world - they make the place a lot brighter.

Today we had another hard session with our pronouns and have a huge amount of homework for tomorrow. We all agree that our brains hurt - druids and non-pagans alike. The day finished with a short play about the origin of the Welsh National Anthem which John Redwood so memorably failed to sing some time ago. We then gave a short rendition of the anthem led by our tutor Morina who has an excellent voice (and much patience when her language, which was her only language until aged 14, is mutilated by people like me).

The course has been exhausting, but I also feel a little exhilerated because I have learnt so much - I have quite a few more ideas for my novel now, particularly for the dialogue, and it's been good to have time to just think and read and visit the places around me. I have come to understand more than just the language - I think I understand more about what it is to be Welsh too.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Lampeter Blog - Part 6

Only a couple more days to go now. We have done three tenses in five days, and although I just about understand what we have done and why words mutate in the way they do (well at least I think that I do) I am very, very slow. I have to think hard before uttering a sound which is no way to conduct a conversation. Every time I am expected to speak something happens to my brain - a bit like a gate going down - and I am left standing or sitting there, my mouth open and nothing coming out but variations on er um ah...

Over the week end I had to learn the poem about colours, and then another one about the months of the year, do some exercises and of course work through a heap of flashcards in an attempt to learn vocabulary.

Also we prepared ourselves for the inevitable question - what did you do over the weekend? Well, for me it was an excursion around town and then a trip out to Strata Florida and then on Sunday I went down a bronze age gold mine. I'll go back to these later when I can load in my pictures. I have to report that my fellow students, though, had a more adventurous time - the two druids (who really are druids, more on that later too) managed to take in three castles, an abbey, a chapel, a museum, a trek to a fountain (whereupon one of them stripped off and submerged himself) on a single day; while another quite casually - or so it seemed to me - set off for the north in a quest to find various fatures mentioned in the Mabinogi (more on this later too)and seems to have circumnavigated the whole of Snowdonia.

I also have to report that at the same time they managed to learn and do all their homework. This just goes to prove my Welsh-expert-with-an-implanted-microphone-theory (see blog one) because all this was clearly impossible without some sort of help.

Ah well, time's up. I have to go and do more homework. We have to do a composition this time, so I am quite excited. Even though I am not the greatest Welsh-learner I have to admit to signing up for the on-line course. I am determined not to forget what I have learned, and I think without more practice I shall do very quickly - and anyway I have warned a Welsh poet that I know to beware - next time I see him I intend to attempt to practise what I've learnt.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Lampeter Blog - Part 5

The week ended in bright sun shine and singing - which seems pretty natural for a course in Welsh. Everyone was in great voice and of course we sang in parts. The songs were pretty good - action songs about plucking a hen which incorporated the parts of the body - and a kind of hokey-kokey, so we be came familiar with 'up' and 'down', 'backwards' and 'forwards'. Excellent stuff. I kept thinking this is good, I am sure I am learning a lot here, but now I can't think of anything. This happens a lot, I find. I think I know stuff but when someone asks me to say anything I am immediately tongue-tied. Ah well, I guess the only answer is to keep practising...

I am now looking forward to having a rest over the weekend ready to start again on Monday. One of the members on the course is doing an MA in archeology next year and has been on a dig in a place called Strata Florida - which I have heard of before. She is going to show me where this is and other places nearby that are of historical interest. I shall be taking my camera of course, and intend to make a full illustrated report when I return at the end of next week.

I still can't get onto my email. I have no idea why not. I think it must be something to do with the university firewall. I had no trouble at all accessing it from the Patagonian Andes - but deepest Ceredigion is another matter entirely.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Lampeter Blog - Part 4 - (Welsh) Words and Poetry.

Today we had to choose a favourite word in Welsh - ah, so many to choose from, so many to exercise the tongue. There is Ysbyty (hospital), or nagio (to swim) or eira (snow) - all of which I like for different reasons. I like 'Ysbyty' because of the way it sounds, 'nagio' because of the sound and the meaning, and 'eira' because of the meaning most of all - it used to be the code word to radio stations to tell them to broadcast the message that all the schools in Flintshire were closed for the day because there was too much snow. So once it meant unexpected holiday to me.

Welsh, I think, is a language that is naturally poetic. Today we had a rhyme to remember the names of the colours. There was 'du' meaning black - as a crow, and 'llywd' meaning grey - as a squirrel, it was quite beautiful and I am going to try and use this for a poem myself today - since it is Poetry Thursday and the theme is favourite words. One word I like is helios. I started off with that and then extended it using colours. It has turned out sad. I wish it hadn't but it has.


To me, my friend,
you sometimes seemed white-hot.
you burnt all in your path
- shining
as if you would never go out.

I didn't know then
how quickly you could fade -
orange then
- a raging giant
some might say,
or a dwarf,
- smaller and smaller
until all you that you were
was hidden within.

Black, now.
That is all there is
- every shadow hidden
behind others
- a space
as if all of you is gone.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Lampeter Blog - Part 3

Yesterday I really felt like giving up and coming home. My brain, I decided, was like an overstuffed mattress and the straw was starting to leak out of the sides. But today is...better, well a bit better. The stitching is holding. Not exactly good, but not not so bad either.

Anyway...I have discovered that there are some good points about the Welsh language. First the present tense seems to consist of just the infinite and the present tense of 'to be' - which although irregular isn't that bad. Second there are only about five irregular verbs in total. Well, that's what my teacher told me...but I suspect that she was trying to be encouraging.

However the mutations are worse than I though - occurring not just after certain vowels but when they kind of sounds right, which includes a lot of negatives. And the written form is different from the spoken form in many ways, particularly in the past tense so we are having to do both.

Also if you face west it is necessary to add 'o' to all nouns, and if it is raining the circumflex accent over the y in nouns such as ty should be ommitted. You should not attempt to speak Welsh if your name contains the letter sequence 'ain' or if you can trace more than three Normans or two Anglo-Saxons in your immediate (last twenty generations) ancestry.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Lampeter Blog - Part 2

Aaaargh. Bad head. Very bad head...

Today we did mutations - both nasal and soft - and apparently there is going to be a different sort tomorrow. This is where the first letter of a word changes (or sometimes disappears altogether - particularly cunning, I thought) depending on what has come before. So the Welsh word for Chester - 'Caer' - becomes 'Nghaer' and furthermore the 'yr' (meaning from) becomes 'yng'. At the moment feel like I'm wallowing around in thick gooey mud and have no idea what I'm saying. So no change from normal, basically.

I would also like to comment that the other people in my class are clearly either cheating (with a microphone implant and a Welsh expert feeding them information at the other end) or have in fact already got a degree in Welsh and are just pretending to be beginners in order to humiliate real beginners like myself.

Either that or my brain is smaller than I thought.

Finally would just like to point out it is cold, windy and wet and the sheep are keeping thier heads down.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Lampeter Blog - Part 1

Greetings from Lampeter. I have to report it is raining - an almost constant drizzle since I have been here. The sheep are looking sorry for themselves and I can hear them bleating from my room.

Lampeter is a small place - I reckon it takes just about ten minutes to walk through the 'town centre' which consists of a just a few small shops: a chiropodist(also a reflexologist), a couple of 'new-age' type shops selling scented candles (and I suspect spells and potions), a carpet shop (some I imagined had that worn, well-travelled look), a couple of boutiques (probably specialising in crinolines, corsets and bustles as well as space suits), several chapels (the door of one of these suddenly flew open as I passed and some glum-looking people carrying large irregularly-shaped boxes came out) and two takeaways(which had a strange exotic smell of incense). Well, that is what I spotted in my walk though last night. Apart from this it was very quiet. Except.. as I walked under one window there was a sudden fit of raucous screaming, and then from another open window on a first floor, laughing which was obviously drunken, manic, or both. I wanted to knock on the front door and ask if I could join in. One house had balloons tied to the railings but I think they had been there some time because they were partly deflated. I also found a recent small stone circle and an ancient rugby field claiming a proud and illustrious history.

That was last night. Today I had my first day of Welsh. It is of course, difficult, but I was expecting that. I wasn't really expecting to enjoy it - but so far I am - although my head hurts.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Lingham's Bookshop

'Have you just taken a picture of me?' asked the young woman in the photograph. I had a vague feeling that she had a child with her. She smiled when I nodded and told her what I was doing.
'Well this is my favourite place!' she said, 'I'm always here.'

This is the back of Lingham's Bookshop in Heswall at the end of the Wirral (the small tongue of land between two rivers - the Dee and the Mersey - that divides north Wales from Liverpool). It is very popular.

I went there last Friday (to pick up a book by Margaret Murphy (her latest, NOW YOU SEE ME)I had ordered back in November but forgotten about) and thought I would take the opportunity to try and find out a little more about life as an independent bookseller.

Although the exterior is fairly modest step inside and the place seems to go on and on, a passageway through books, enticing you inwards. Maybe it is the low dark ceiling or the subdued lighting or maybe the way the place is packed with bookshelves and stands, but I always feel I am entering a different world - somewhere I used to imagine when young - a cave packed with wonderful things.

At the front is fiction, including - great joy - my book! In the wild! Then there is a children's section, packed with cuddly toys, games as well as books, which children seem to love and then, at the back, a very good cafe, which was fulsomely praised by Michael Winner in the Times when he came here for an event, where you can take your time to decide what to buy to read next.

To me Linghams is the ideal bookshop - it is independent so the manager can choose which books to stock, and the staff have worked hard to make it is a centre for people to meet. They encourage an interest in books and the arts in general. Every Thursday there is an event called First Thursday which is an excellent evening and I have been a along a couple of times. There are poetry readings by guest poets, also lectures on poets, as well as a musical group and someone discusses a painting - a different group and presenter each month. There are refreshments available and the evening ends with readings from the floor. They are well-attended as are their other events - i have been here for two of Margaret Murphy's book launches and I have also given a couple of talks on my books. These are approximately monthly and have a loyal following - about fifty to eighty people attend each event. Since these occur in the evening it must be a lot of work after a full-working day.

While I was there the manager, Sarah Browning, kindly answered my questions before dashing off to collect her children from school.

CD: How long have you owned this shop?
JB: I don't own it, I wish that I did. The shop was started in 1987. The previous owner sold it last year, but nothing has changed. I've been here thirteen years and things are carrying on as before.
CD: Was it difficult to achieve a clientele?
JB: No, there seemed to be a bit of a demand for books.
CD: Is it difficult to compete with the larger chains?
JB: Yes, particularly the local ones like there's one at Birkenhead and another in Cheshire Oaks.
CD: What do you think causes a book to ‘fly off the self’?
JB: Good publicity. Once a book appears on Richard and Judy for instance, there's a demand. Also local newspapers like the Liverpool Echo have an effect.
CD: Which sorts of books do you sell the most of?
JB: General fiction.
CD: Are there any sorts of books you don’t stock?
JB: Can't think of many - perhaps very academic highbow books - but we have educational books for GCSE for instance.
CD: Are there any books you like to promote?
JB: Depends on time of year. For instance we've made a display in the window for Father's day. We display new fiction on tables.
CD: What are your favourite books?
JB: Fiction, especially American fiction.
CD: Which events do you have here?
JB: Lots. First Thursday, author signings, talks. At the end of the year, for instance, Judith Miller is going to come along and price antiques, and we have Margi Clarke coming to sing books and give a talk.
CD: Why did you start having them?
JB: For people who had something to promote and also as a shop and community event.
CD: Which famous authors have you had in the shop?
JB: Oh lots. Jilly Cooper, Michael Winner, Joanna Trollope, Gervaise Phinn, Terry Pratchett.
CD: Do you have any people who are just personalitites?
JB: No, just authors.
CD: What was it like having Michael Winner?
JB: (Laughs) Very nice. He he liked the canapes and swore a lot - there were a few sharp intakes of breath in the audience.
CD: Which is your favourite type of event?
JB: Author signings.
CD: Which sort of people do you attract?
JB: Local people from the Wirral
CD: How long have you been providing food?
JB: Since 1999
CD: Do you think this encourages people to buy books? Why?
JB: Yes, because they have to walk through the shop to get to the food, and they can browse and eat - but have to pay for any book they get food on!
CD: Tell me about the award you recently almost won.
JB: We were runners-up in the Independent Bookseller of the year. We were nominated by the wholesaler for independent booksellers, Bertrams. We had a black tie dinner in the Natural History museum and Sandi Toksvig gave a speech - it was a great evening.
CD: How many staff do you have?
JB: 16 altogether, mostly part-time.
CD: What sort of person do you look for when you recruti?
JB: Someone who is interested in and likes books. They've had to mention it in their cv!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The First Redraft

Apparently, when a caterpillar goes into a cocoon to turn into a butterfly inside is a fairly slushy mess, a soup of cells, and Aydin Aördin answers the interesting question of whether or not this slush is still alive. The answer, which he explains very well (on his blog and in New Scientist), is yes.

The reason that I mention this is that over the last few weeks I have been in my own cocoon redrafting the novel, I have barely gone out - only when I had to - a walk by the river while I was waiting for a new set of keys to be made, and of course the obligatory hunting and gathering at Tescos. But now it is almost done, apart from the epilogue, which I may or may not write. It is 117 000 words which makes about 400 pages of double-spaced lines, and I am exhausted. As I have commented before, this exhaustion I find fairly inexplicable since I have only been moving my fingertips throughout.

Now I guess I have to emerge - maybe not as a beautiful butterfly but some sort of winged creature, a bleary moth maybe because I prefer the night, and stretch the limbs that have gone unexercised for weeks, and on Sunday relocate to Lampeter for a fortnight to learn Welsh.


Every year, when the weather is hot, crowds of youths climb onto this suspension bridge and urge each other on to jump into the water. Inevitably, since the water is not very deep and the bridge is quite high, one of them dies or is badly injured. Last Friday afternoon they were there again their voices clear and loud even on the river bank. People tell them to stop but of course they take no notice - they are young and invincible. So for POETRY THURSDAY I wrote this on the listening theme. In it I tried to capture the voices that I heard.


I cannot help but hear,
you shout it to the world:
'Watch me,' 'Follow me,' 'See me,'
and I do.

You sit crouched
on the top rail
looking down,
I cannot help but hear:
So you do.

Down to where the water
is not quite...
Where the bottom is...
'Daz, man?'
Where there are hidden...
'Daz, stop mucking about.'
And you do.

There are swans here now
and girls in peddle boats.
'Look at me,'
You jumped.
You landed - badly.
And if you could
you would take it back
-each cry,
each 'Look at me,'
each time a clutch of lads
mucks another one up
for the hell of it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Geology of Languages

Jonathan Wonham has written an extremely interesting post on the history of languages and the way Lyell related it to geology on his blog Connaissances here .

Monday, June 12, 2006

Margaret Murphy shortlisted

I am delighted to report that Margaret Murphy has been shortlisted for the DAGGER IN THE LIBRARY AWARD. This is an award for authors of crime fiction selected by librarians who have brought greatest enjoyment to readers - and I can't really think of a better award than that.

Unfortunately she has to go to the Waldorf in London for a dinner. It's a tough job but someone has to do it.

The Anchorite Cell

Some people write in sheds, others write on the kitchen table. I am lucky enough to have a study, but I am going to show you what I think could be the writer's perfect den.

In my opinion the prerequisite for an ideal den for a writer is isolation with few distractions except, perhaps, to have the option of looking out onto something beautiful...

This is the river Dee, and that is the old Dee bridge. The village you can see on the other side of the river is called Handbridge, and because it is on the south side of the bridge and therefore nearer to Wales, it was frequently 'razed to the ground' by marauding ancestors of mine when the mood took them.

Along the river there is part of the city wall which dates from Roman times -as you can see made from a fine old red sandstone which is quite soft and is frequently worn away so that the mortar stands proud.

This wall goes right round the city, which has been very handy for keeping out my marauding ancestors and it is still the law that it is perfectly acceptable to shoot by arrow any Welsh person caught within the walls after the gates are shut - so I am careful to play down the accent and have cunningly got rid of my Welsh surname by getting married - all part of the great plan.

Nowadays, of course, thing are deceptively peaceful, and it is all right to risk bringing out your child for a stroll,

go for a trip along the river in a boat,

or listen to a virtual band concert with no band playing.

Opposite the bandstand is an enticing little path,

and further along it is possible to glimpse where it leads. This is the Anchorage Cell which was in the chapel of St James close to St John's church - all of which are now in (rather picturesque) ruins. According to Gerald of Wales (1146-1223), a scribe and historian, this is the place where the wounded King Harold II spent his final years after being wounded in the battle of Hastings (after being shot in the eye with an arrow, though I don't think he was Welsh). This is dismissed by many as folk lore and most people think this place was built as a hermitage - a place for solitude and contemplation - and in the fourteenth century there are several records of it being occupied by monks, which makes me think it would make an ideal writer's den.

There are also reports of ghosts - a monk which can be seen as a grey shadowy figure crossing this bowling green when the time is right (or you've had too many -most of the sighting of ghosts in Chester ('most haunted city in the UK') occur in pubs, I've noticed).

I like the way this building seems to grow out of the bedrock, and the way it seems to have continued to grow into the land around it, as though it continues to be part of it - a comfortable, harmonious place. I also like the idea of somewhere small being built so long ago just for the business of contemplation. Not that being a hermit seems to have been so very contemplative, or lonely or at all austere. During the fourteenth century there are references to several anchorites attached to various chapels in Chester, so it must have been quite a popular and normal activity at the time, and in 1300 a maidservant of an anchoress was involved in a lawsuit - so domestic drudgery was not involved either. Things seem to have gone further downhill in the following century when John Benet, a hermit of St James in Handbridge (the village across the Dee mentioned above), was accused of 'receiving robbers, sheltering common malefactors and keeping a brothel'. So not much contemplation going on there then, either.

However today it seems so peaceful and quiet, tucked away, a small place, just enough room for one - so there would be absolutely no excuse at all not to get on with it, and the words would just pour forth, I am sure.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Writing Frog Acrobatics

Obviously it has taken me ages to train them to do this, but I like to feel it was worth it.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Writing: a comment.

Why is writing so tiring? I can never understand it. All I'm doing is sitting here, hardly any movement involved - except at the end of my fingers - and yet I feel exhausted ...and my head feels as if I have been injected through one ear with something like wallpaper paste.


Silver fish swim on our kitchen floor
their motion
a suspicion
of swishing scales
of turning tides
of warm and cold air
of tails flicking
of voyages
to a subterranean depth
of space between
wall and floor.

The light fixes them
for a moment
holds them fast
-assuredly there now
like commas
or fat dashes
- holding their breath
then dissolving
with a click of a switch
back into dark
and something
less certain.

Silver fish are indicators of damp, and although we had our house damp-proofed when we moved in twenty years ago (and all the walls replastered) we still seem to have a thriving colony. Hodmandod Senior thinks this is because of the gap between our new skirting board and the floor, which gives them an ideal place to hide. I think it is just because the house is still a bit damp.

However silver fish are harmless, apparently, so we just let them be. We see them mainly when we switch on the light in the night, and it is a bit like when the music stops in that children's party game - they stop still where they are, as if by remaining motionless no one will see them.

It struck me the other evening that this behaviour reminds me of something I learnt a very long time ago - Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle - that idea that position and movement of a particle cannot be ascertained at the same time - if you know one, you can't know the other. So it is only when the light is on that I know the silver fish's position - and only when the light is off do I know that it moves.

This seems to me to be an ideal basis for a poem, so I've had a go at one for Poetry Thursday. I've been reading about this on various people's blogs now, but notably Chiefbiscuit's, Susannah's and Sarah's.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Threatened Words

Auke Leistra has finished the translation of my book now. We had some interesting email conversations. Dutch seems a more precise language than English in some ways. For instance when I said 'room' he wanted to know what size it was because there are various different alternatives in Dutch. So he asked me how many chairs and tables there would be in this room, which I suppose is better than asking for the measurements, because it gives a better idea of the room and its function.

Auke is from Friesland and his parents speak Frisian. A few years ago I heard Melvyn Bragg interviewing some Frisian people on his programme about the English language. Old Frisian is related to Old English, so hearing a Frisian talk gives an impression of how the monks who wrote down Beowulf around 1100 might have spoken. (The phrase 'butter and green cheese is good English and good Friese' is 'Brea, bûter, en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk' in Frisian and sounds similar in both modern languages today).

Of course the two have since developed along paths of their own; language to me seems to be much like biological evolution - once isolated a new species gradually develops - and I wonder now if perhaps there is a relationship between how much change there is between two related languages and how long they have been separated. In some ways it might be like hedgerows - counting the number of different plants in a hedgerow gives and idea of how old it is - so counting how many words are different in two related languages might be an indication of how long they have been growing apart.

An example of this is Breton. The Breton language was brought to Britanny (from Wales via Cornwall) in 300-500 AD and there are still similarities between the two languages today. It was with this in mind that my father (whose first language is Welsh) decided to seek out a friendly Breton when we went on holiday there when I was a child. For some time we travelled along high-hedged Breton roads (oddly similar to the roads in both Cornwall and South-West Wales - perhaps there is something about rugged high-cliffed places that is of special appeal to this particular Celtic personality) searching for 'a Breton' until we eventually came across an elderly gentlemen who was quietly walking alongside the road. The resulting conversation was quite animated and many similar words were found. My father returned to the car extremely happy.

However, unlike Welsh, which is one of the official languages of the United Kingdom and actively encouraged (Welsh is a compulsory subject in Welsh schools), and Frisian, which is spoken by 350 000 people and is one of the two official languages of Fryslân (in the Netherlands) with the numbers able to speak it increasing, Breton is not officially recognised by the French government. Although 500 000 people can still speak Breton today, I suspect that without any official encouragement it is in danger of dying out in the not-too-distant future - rather like Cornish, the language to which it is most closely related, did in the twentieth century. This seems to me to be a shame.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Friends and Social Capital

Our milkman, Arthur, a lovely chap, who delivers our milk to our doorstep in all sorts of weathers, was informed of THE GREAT HANDBAG ROBBERY last time he came to collect his money. Now Arthur usually has some interesting tale to relate, and this time he told me about pensioners who ask him to fetch his money from their drawer, or give him their purse and tell him to help himself. He hates this, he says, makes him feel responsible for them in some way, and highlights how vulnerable and trusting these elderly people are, and indeed he knew several who had been duped - the usual tactic of distraction by one person while the other person helps himself to the contents of the aforementioned drawer.

According to the most recent edition of the happiness programme this generation of people who were born before the second world war are the most trusting in society - and the most happy (except, presumably, immediately after being burgled). And, strangely enough, it is the war that is the cause. The campaign of mass bombing did not cause society to break up (as planned) but caused it to come together. The incidence of civilian neuroses decreased and there was a greater sense of community as people supported each other. Several people who lived during the blitz (including my mother-in-law) say it was the happiest time in their lives. This sense of community spirit continued during the post war years of austerity in clubs, societies and institutions, and only petered out when society became more affluent - and unhappy. The number of people claiming to be happy has declined from over a half in the post war years to just a third now.

Another name for community spirit is 'social capital' which according to this programme depends on the number of social ties that we have. The sum of the number of ties that we have - both social and those within the family - are, apparently, a good predictor of happiness. Since the post war years people have spread out, left the places where they were born - which destroyed one set of social ties - and began to commute - which prevented the formation of new ties. It is calculated that every ten minutes of commuting cuts social ties by ten per cent. So commuting makes people less happy and 'getting on your bike' to find work - the advice meted out by the governement of one Margaret Thatcher (AKA milk-snatcher - she withdrew an important free source of nutrition from school-children at the beginning of the seventies) is one way of making a more miserable society.

Another way of making people more miserable is to introduce television. I have remarked before that I have noticed that it is possible for people to confuse soap operas with reality because the soap opera might be the only source of social contact that they have. But according to the government of Bhutan I have this the wrong way around and the soap opera itself can be the cause of unhappiness and isolation. When TV was introduced to the state in 1999 they found that people quickly became addicted to the Indian soap operas, watching them in preference to interacting with the people around them because it is easier to watch than interact, and community spirit was lost. So they cut out some TV channels - notably the wrestling and many of the soaps - but kept the ones they found were of some good - the discovery channels and the news programmes.

So, I guess the main message from this programme is one way to increase happiness is to 'make friends rather than watch Friends', and work hard to establish your own social network - which these days may include a web of virtual friends as well as real ones perhaps.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Frog Party

What can I say?

It is Saturday night, half past midnight, and the frogs have had rather too much Pinot Grigio. Very bad frogs.

I am going to try and write something sensible tomorrow.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Frog Saga

Let me introduce my writing companions - the frogs. I don't know why, but they have ended up on my desk. When I am stuck in my writing I rearrange them into different patterns that mean something to me. Today I have rearranged them a lot.

This one I call frog orgy - I like to think that it is their favourite. It is reminiscent of our pond in spring time. Sometimes one of the small males sits by the side of the pond and croaks triumphantly - or it might be hopefully, I am not sure. Hodmandod Senior and I have spent many happy hours watching them in the evening. Their throats actually expand into a fleshy bubble underneath the chin; it is quite fascinating. Then they sit on top of each other like this for hours not doing anything much, so it seems to us, just clinging onto each other making frogspawn.

We didn't get much of a batch of frogspawn this year, it was quite a pitiful little lump. A couple of years ago there was much more so we took some inside so we could see the frogs developing from tadpoles for ourselves. The most interesting thing we noticed was that the legs of the frog develop internally and only after they have fully developed do they spring out and start kicking. When they started jumping around the kitchen we decided that it was time for them to go back into the big wild world.

I know frogs are the enemy of snails and slugs but I do love them even so.