Monday, 28 May 2012

Awards....with a catch!

Just the other day Chuck, a regular visitor to this blog, bestowed upon me a 'Kreativ Blogger' award.

Stunned as I was, I have to say I am thrilled to be thought worthy, so thank you Chuck! :-) (Please duck over to his blog Apocalypse Now and see what he's up to!)

The usual thing with these awards is to answer some questions and share random facts about yourself. That much I can do:-

What is your favorite song? - Of the moment - 'Till I hear you Sing' from the stage musical, 'Love Never Dies' (if you are unfamiliar with this, go here and be enlightened/bewitched!)

What is your favorite dessert? Eton Mess 

What ticks you off? Arrogant/bad drivers

When you're upset what do you do? Depends what/who has caused it. Mostly, I'll give myself some TLC!

Which is/was your favorite pet? I've loved them all, but our last dog, Bruce, was rather special. If you can imagine a real-life Pluto (Mickey Mouse's cartoon dog) then you're about spot-on!

Which do you prefer to wear, black or white? Black conceals a multitude of sins...... (but not ideal in the current UK heatwave!)

What is your biggest fear? Anything that might be seriously detrimental to well-being of my nearest and dearest.

What is your attitude mostly? Make-do and 'just get on with it'!

What is perfection? A beautiful sunset, a craftsman at work, ........and Eton Mess! ;-p

What is your guilty pleasure? Red Wine (but I have no guilt about it!)

And now - Ten Random Things About Me:

1. I once worked on a Vincent Price Horror Film set
2. I've had breakfast with the Bishop of Peru
3. I did a Stunt-driving course a couple of years ago (Don't believe me? Look here !)
4. I love poking around old churchyards (the genealogist in me)
5. I like most crafts (except scrapbooking and card-making!)
6. I can play the piano (by ear, never had lessons)
7. I used to play guitar (until my son 'appropriated' mine!)
8. I have an eclectic taste in music - anything from rock, to jazz to classical (except Bartok - can't stand it!)
9. I 'promenaded' at the Last Night Of the Proms! (that will probably mean very little to anyone outsie the UK!)

10. I used to work for the Financial Times - I was there the day after the Falkland's War ended and picked up a call from the international telephone operator who said the immortal line, "Would you like your call to Goose Green now?" (this was after all public link with the islands had been severed)

The other aspect of this award system (which is rather like a chain letter!) is to pass the award honour onto other bloggers. Well, three or four people I'd have chosen have already received this award in the last couple of weeks...... !?

Anyway, taking the word 'Kreativ' (or Creative, if you prefer!) I've decided to share it with people who 'make' things, being it crafting artisans or, indeed, wordsmiths - who create fiction from their imaginations!

Herby, I bestow the honour of 'Kreative Blogger' upon:

Cloudberry - Crafting and news from Norway

Hookin', Knittin' and Livin' Wool-crafting.....and life in general, from another perspective!

Life on the Muskoka River - Cathy's take on 'life' - an eclectic, uplifting blogger; never a dull moment!

Serenity and high spirits - Yes, nepotism! But this young lady has tapped into the simpler issues of 'living' life!

JF Juzwik's Blog -  wordsmith extroadinaire! Don't let Joyce's home-schooling exterior deceive you...!

Poems From The Middle - another wordsmith - this time a writer from my locale!

Nothing to See Here - a (fairly) 'newbie' blogger, but her creative video-blog entries for the recent April A-Z Challenge were a delight!

Right, my work here is done! Please take time to check these folks out!

Monday, 21 May 2012

F3 Cycle 80 - 'MUSICAL CHAIRS'

It's been some while since I joined in the F3 challenge but after my last blog-post here, about musical theatre, the three words for this weeks' challenge: FRENETIC, HOBBIT and CUMMERBUND just conjured up this orchestral piece! 

As always, feel free to comment, good or bad - it's nice to know who's called in. (and what they have to say! ;-p)


Agitated was not the word.This was the seventh interruption in as many minutes, but in the safety of the third row violins I could at least bob down behind the music stand and share a scowl with Eloise beside me.

“No. No. NO! Again. Again. This is supposed to be one of the most romantic pieces of music and you are treating it like a Saturday night fumble on the back row of the movies!”

Maestro was not amused. Maestro was decidedly determined we should repeat and repeat the same half dozen bars of Rachmaninov’s 2nd piano concerto.

“The hair!” whispered Eloise, deftly marking her outburst as an attempt to clear her throat. The accompanying movement of her eyes directed me towards the torrid figure manically tapping his baton on the score laid out before him. A sheen of sweat was breaking out on his top lip and his artistic mane of hair was scattered about his head as he feverishly raked his fingers through the mid-brown tresses. Hopping about on the podium he reminded me of a rather frenetic hobbit. Perhaps it was the hairy toes that coloured my judgement.

Among his many peculiar foibles, Maestro would always conduct rehearsals barefoot. It was one of those eccentric absurdities that added to the mystique of his character. Even during performances, he was frequently spotted wriggling his feet out of his Italian leather loafers between movements. After the first few times one grew used to it, but it always caught out new members of the orchestra. We thought of it as a sort of unwritten initiation test; to see how well they could restrain themselves from laughing out loud as Maestro counted time with his wiggling digits, resplendent in his dress tux and scarlet cummerbund.

“And again, if you please…..!”

I eased the violin into place on my shoulder and lifted the bow ready.  The smirk pulling at the corner of my mouth was becoming harder to conceal and I blessed my good fortune at being several rows back from the front.

Then I caught that odd twinkle in his eye as he cast his gaze over the assembled company. Music in our souls fused together in perfection as each instrument added layer upon layer of nuance to the main theme. Whatever his peculiarities, or his diminutive stature, with his free hand outstretched as if to draw out of us the rapture of the music we were captivated; willing supplicants to his Svengali-like hold over us.

Well, supplicant in the pursuit of musical perfection, at any rate. Many stars had burned brightly under his tutelage and guidance but I had not been sad to relinquish my place in his affections, nor with my demotion from the 1st violins. I was content with my place on the third row; it brought a useful but regular source of income, without the stress of having to constantly fight for my place in the limelight, unlike the current favourite acquiescing to his every whim and insecure in her place next to the leader.

Thinking back over the years I counted myself fortunate. Our brief dalliance at the start of his meteoric career served to remind me that I could not have lived with the highly-strung ego such a perfectionist necessitated. Or with the sight of those hairy toes each morning, I thought,  supressing a stray giggle in my throat as I leaned my chin into the rest and settled the bow onto the strings.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Music and theatre and shiny lights...!

Some of you will know that I love 'live' theatre, especially West End musicals. Mind you, they cost an arm and a leg,  (hence we usually go in the 'cheap seats'!) and then there's the journey down to London and the late-night trawl home (we opt for matinees where possible) - so it really is an 'event'!

However, living in the Midlands we have access to so many local theatres and with some productions doing regional tours we can usually pick up a show that's more convenient to get to, if not slightly cheaper!

Last night we went to Birmingham Symphony Hall, (pic. above) which is fast becoming our go-to venue, especially for orchestral music - I think we'll give the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall a miss this season!

The show was part of a tour by singer, Ramin Karimloo - he of Phantom and Les Mis fame; also a previous 'Chris' in my favourite musical, 'Miss Saigon' which, if there is any common decency, Cameron MacIntosh will speedily reconsider his negative judgement regarding re-staging! Oh, let's have a little look at what we're missing, shall we.......

Anyway - we had a grand time last night, so here's a link to give you an example of what you missed! (excuse the adverts on these clips - I can't get rid of them!)

Next up on the stocks, is a trip to London in a couple of weeks (daughter and I let loose while hubby has a work meeting there!) and we are considering which show we'll try to get stand-by tickets for....! Although, so many shows are closing at the moment and many do not have a very long run anyway. We shall have to see....

Before that, we girlies (me, daughter and four of our friends) are getting together to watch 'Love Never Dies' - the sequel to 'Phantom of the Opera' (Ramin and Sierra Boggess created the roles of the Phantom and Christine for this) which daughter, hubby and myself saw several times before it left the West End. An Australian stage production was filmed so it's the nearest we can get to seeing the real thing:

Purists may hate me, but I actually prefer LND to POTO........and if you can stand another clip - here's the original London cast - kick it, Ramin!!!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Post-challenge time-out

The challenge may be over but I'm still picking my way through the April A-Z bloggers and their reflection posts - I may be at it for some time!

This, of course, saps the creative instinct. Plus, Mother Nature is behaving in a seasonal manner, which means the outside vegetation needs some attention (see pic - my current view from the conservatory) - so there will likely be a hiatus before I write anything fictional for a while!

Meanwhile, here are a few bloggers you might like to take a look at:

Arlee Bird's 'Wrote by Wrote' - just one of the blogs by this chap; he has a very interesting background - from being in a travelling family juggling act to......organising the A-Z challenge!

lizy-expat-writer - a fellow 'scribbler' who lives in Tenerife

Life on the muskoka river - Cathy Olliffe-Webster's blog on family life and absolutely anything and everything in (what, to me) seems a paradise setting in Canada - this woman has me in hysterics! No facade with Cathy - definitely WYSIWYG!! 

...and finally, (for this session of recommendations, anyway!) Calling Shotgun - Laurita Miller is another 'scribbler' but her posts are varied and informative ( and addictive!)

Please give these guys a look (and a comment if you want them to know you called by while they weren't looking!)

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Reflections - after A-Z 2012

Well, all done and dusted for another year........but not quite!

To all who called in here to catch up on my daily serialised story, I would like to say a hearty THANK YOU! As promised, I have posted 'Approaching Zero' in full here (and I'd still value your comments!)

Last year I arrived at the sign-up for A-Z 2011 with barely a few days before the challenge commenced - hence my posts were an eclectic selection of various ideas and formats.

For 2012, however, I decided to be more organised and have a 'proper' theme and all that! Having chosen to write a story that was broken up into 100-word sections required a planned approach rather than the ad-hoc arrangement of last year.

To some extent, having all my 2012 posts pre-scheduled took a little of the breathless excitement out of things, although it did mean I had more time to visit more blogs, despite family commitments and holidays being added to the mix. Needless to say, I merely scratched the edge of the surface in that regard - SO MANY PARTICIPANTS!

The upside to the challenge - many new blogs visited and followed! (and much entertainment derived, too!) Also, now following other bloggers on Twitter! :-)

The downside - commenting was sometimes hampered by 'captcha' and (my personal bug-bear) the 'comments displayed after approval' variety. Having tried to write an engaging/witty comment in appreciation of a post, it's a tad annoying to have it whipped out of sight for later blog-host approval! Personally, I always like to see that my comment has displayed properly (yes, I know that's what the 'edit' feature is for....) but on at least one occasion I thought I had left a comment only to find later that it had never registered at all.  :-(

Trying to visit everyone will take months - I hope to manage that! The 'surprise me' button was great fun as I had no idea where I'd end up - it was like a magical mystery tour.

Did I enjoy the challenge this year? Yes.

Will I do it again next year? Yes, indeed!

Will I be promoting it to all my blogging buddies? You betcha! (and actually, I did manage to persuade a new-to-blogging friend to join in at the last minute and  her daily video-posts were a delight!)

Thank you to Lee and all the hosts for a sterling job - it cannot have been easy managing the great influx of blogging participants, but my goodness - what a tribute to you in seeing so many people taking part in this challenge together!

And now, what shall I think of for 2013.......?   ;-p

Saturday, 5 May 2012

A-Z 2012 'APPROACHING ZERO' - the full story!

Well,  the April A-Z challenge for 2012 has finished and with it the end of this story! 
'Approaching Zero' was a WW2 thriller, broken into 100-word daily bites, beginning and ending with consecutive letters of the alphabet.

By popular demand (well, a few commenters enquired, anyway!) I'm now presenting the whole story as a standalone piece with the daily break-off points defined by bold type.

As for where this story goes from here....well, let's just say I've been doing some background research to check some of the historical 'facts' with a view to setting this little episode as part of a much larger 'whole'!

Anyway, without further ado, here you go - enjoy! (and as always, I'd love you to leave any comments, whatever you make of it! Thanks!)


A simple flick of her wristwatch told her he was late. Time confirmed itself as she patiently waited under the clock. The station was busy with commuters, day travellers and life in all its variety passing her by. Still she waited, plotting all manner of retribution for his tardiness, growing more vivid and sinister with each passing minute. Slowly, anger morphed into anxiety, imagining accidents belying his delay.

Just as she turned away resigned to the time she’d already wasted, he walked hurriedly towards her and instantly she knew something was not quite right. His eyes stared at her but she could see from his gait that he walked with a limp. Even through the crowds that swirled between them, passing in a blur, her eyes locked on his. Silent questions demanded answers as he closed the distance between them, dodging awkwardly around luggage dragged along behind weary and confused travellers. Her lips opened, forming words that would see her curiosity satisfied but his stern look silenced her.

“Not here!” he hissed, his eyes flicking across the myriad faces as he grasped her arm, propelling her through the crowd in front of them. Fear rose in her throat, choking the very breath out of her as they slipped through the crowded plaza. From behind, urging her along, she felt the weight of him dragging on her arm. She glanced back, noting the sweat across his face and the determined set of his jaw. Looking down she noticed a dark shadow that started at the hem of his jacket, it traced a little way down the front crease of his trousers. He caught her glance, silencing her unspoken questioning with the narrowing of his eyes and a slight shake of his head.

Speed became her adversary as she danced her way past advertising hoardings and street vendors, looking for a safe exit. Presently the crush eased and she reached back blindly, grasping his hand and taking the lead as they made their way towards the gate. Once in the daylight they stumbled along the crowded pavements until he dodged left into a side street, pulling her after him. In the dim sanctuary he rested back against the wall, breathing hard from his exertion.

“A simple apology will do, “she commented jokingly, fear and adrenaline augmenting the panic that was already evident in her thumping heart.

“I’m sorry, Evie, but I guess that won’t cut it as an apology, right?” He smiled through his stertorous breathing, giving in to a cough that made him wince in agony.

She glanced down and saw the reddening shadow had grown, accompanied by droplets of vermilion on his shoes. As she peeled back his jacket the gasp that conveyed her fear was evident.

“Jack! What the hell have you done? How….”

He pushed her hand away, trying to straighten his stance against the wall but his legs refused to accommodate his wishes and he sagged down to his haunches.

“We’ve been fooled.”

“What d’you mean, ‘fooled’? Jack , what went wrong? What happened?” She squatted down and peered into his face, then realised her questions were useless as his chin rocked forwards onto his chest. Scrabbling in her bag she found a handkerchief and tried to staunch the bleeding that spread across the whiteness of his shirt.

The bullet had done untold damage, more than could be remedied in the dark alleyway. He needed a doctor but she was in no position to get him to a hospital. Even if she could get him there, how would she explain a gunshot? Weighing up the options she realised she didn’t have any. The plan had changed and now she knew there would have to be a different outcome. Whatever had happened they were staring at a deadly conclusion.

“Jack, we have to move. We can’t stay here. Can you hear me, Jack?” Her anxious words were answered with laboured breathing as he rolled forward and tried to stand. She struggled to get him to his feet half dragging, half carrying, him along the alleyway trying to keep her thoughts ordered. Staying in the shadows until the evening seemed their only hope; beyond that, Evie could scarcely think. At the end of the alley they came to a halt and Jack lifted his gaze momentarily, muttering to her to turn right; a small dark passageway suggested shelter.

Easing him to the floor, Evie rested back on her haunches. She was tired, physically and mentally and glad of the brief respite, but curious how Jack seemed to know exactly where they were. How much of the plan had been concealed from her? Jack’s words whispered across the still air, with their accompanying rhythm of gasping breaths.

“You didn’t expect this, I imagine?”

Back in London, when she’d volunteered her services, she had only been privy to certain elements of the plan, ‘ prevent you from giving away information, in case you’re captured...'. Her instructor’s words echoed in her head; she had been too caught up in the excitement to give much thought to that possible outcome. The ‘romance’ of SOE had lulled her into a state of over-reaching commitment to the war effort, at whatever cost.

There was an all-knowing air about this man, this stranger, she’d known only a few days. Evie eyed him suspiciously.

“Who are you, Jack?”

He smiled, wearily raising an unsteady finger and tapped the side of his nose.

“Shh…walls have ears, even here in Panama City!” His voice trailed off into a muffled cough and in the gloom she could hear the bubbling, guttural sound of his life ebbing away. She shuffled forward, examining her earlier futile efforts to stem the flow of blood.

“This is no good, Jack! No good!” She peeled off her jacket and proceeded to undo her blouse.

“Getting fresh with me, Evie?” he whispered, watching her pull her arms from the sleeves. She turned away, suddenly self-conscious, kneeling with her back to him.

“A gentleman would turn his gaze,” she said, lightly, as she struggled out of her blouse. The absurd propriety of the situation made her smile.

He didn’t answer but the rasping breaths from behind snatched the smile from her lips. She pulled her jacket back on and bundled up the discarded garment and turned back to face him. His eyes were dull and lifeless in response.

“Jack? Look at me?” Grasping his jaw she turned his face sharply towards her. “Don’t you dare die on me!” She slapped his face, stirring him into life. He coughed; it was still not a pleasant sound but far better, she thought, than an ominous silence. She peeled back his blood-soaked shirt and fished out the sodden handkerchief. Her instinct was to toss it away but she remembered her training and the necessity to leave no clues. She laid it aside and eased the balled up blouse into its place. Jack wheezed his thanks and relaxed, his gaze settling on her open jacket.

“Better do that up,” he hissed. “Don’t want you taken for a loose woman!” That would be the least of her worries, he mused. The mission was clouded in secrecy, but it involved the Royal family, which made ‘Operation Regal’ more than a play on words and that the stakes were of national importance. He knew well enough that protocols would have to be breached to get this pretty little thing to some place of safety.

As for himself, he was a dead man; had been since he’d discovered Simpson’s true identity and found himself on the wrong end of a bad deal. Perhaps the rumour was right after all; the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were not merely puppets of the Nazi’s, they were fully siding with Hitler in the hope of regaining a kingdom they’d turned their backs on.

He looked up at Evie, struggling to see her face in the gathering dimness as he tried to reach into his inside jacket pocket. The exertion made him cry out in agony and he slumped back against the wall.

“Pocket,” he winced through clenched teeth, making vain patting movements to direct her. She slipped her elegant fingers inside the folds of his jacket and pulled out a leather wallet.

“Inside,” he continued. “It’s the crown jewels.” Slowly she flipped it open. Amongst the folded banknotes there were travel documents in Spanish, a British Subject passport and a couple of photos. She saw herself in one, posing like a tourist standing by the gates to an enclosed villa, in a nearby town.

“Is this the place, then?” she asked. It wasn’t a great photo of her but then, she wasn’t the real subject.

“Background,” Jack rasped back, his breath growing more shallow than before, and pointed to the left of the photo. A quick glance would have seen her as the object of the portrait but there were two people standing behind her.

“They look so – ordinary,” she commented. “Do you think they know we were watching?” Their inconspicuous clothing failed to conceal the familiarity of his stance and the trademark coquettish tilt of her head. Jack’s silence made Evie look up, his face was still and his eyes half open. In panic she shook him.

“Jack? Can you hear me, Jack?”

He blinked slowly and tried to swallow. “Evie, you must get the photos back to London. Proof….” His voice trailed off into an ominous gurgling sound as if he was drowning. “It’s the answer to the question!” With a soft, long sigh his jaw relaxed and blood coursed from the corner of his mouth, a crimson snake following the contours of his chin.

“Jack!” Evie screamed, horror masking her need to remain concealed. She grasped the lapels of his jacket in her clenched fists and shook his inanimate body as if to elicit a response.

Eventually she sank back despairingly onto her haunches. She’d met him three days earlier and trusted him with her life, yet she knew nothing more than her briefing from London. Now he was dead; she was alone and on the run.

Evie’s mind swirled with momentary indecision. Their mission so far had been to locate these people but now things had taken a sinister twist. Jack’s death had taken her by surprise but more unnerving was the fact that her final training now began to make more sense.

She picked up his wallet and flicked through the contents, withdrawing the travel documents. Her cover was that she was Jack’s wife, travelling to meet him in Panama and journeying onwards to Caracas. Now that was all changed. She needed to stay and see things though. It was a plan, of sorts, but she’d be pretty much making it up as she went along.

Taking stock of practicalities she searched Jack’s pockets, removing anything that might identify him. The concealed pistol she found in his jacket was quickly relocated to her bag. She stood up, brushing the dirt from her suit and buttoned the jacket. Without a blouse, she was glad of the warm Panamanian evening. The open-necked design would not look so out of place; it gave a sensual, bohemian edge to her character which might come in useful if she came up against bureaucratic officials. A lone woman, travelling in a foreign country was inviting trouble but she had little choice.

Looking down at the man’s body Evie wondered again exactly who he was; stripped of his false identity papers he was even more anonymous. Jack, or whatever his name was, had died knowing elements of their secret operation that were denied her; likewise he’d been precluded from certain facts she held. Briefly, she pondered over the family who would never see him again; the lover whose arms would remain empty, oblivious of his final, squalid resting place. Was that her fate, too? To die alone and unknown? She gave a last glance backwards then turned away, retracing her steps carefully through the gathering gloom until she reached the main thoroughfare.

Taking a deep breath, Evie stepped out into the evening crowds; like any cosmopolitan city, this place never slept. Unlike war-torn Europe, however, there was a piquant sense of freedom here. The notion of simply disappearing into the shadows was enticing; to be presumed missing in action, a footnote in secret government papers that would never see the light of day. But the job wasn’t done yet and it was a train ride to the villa. She turned in at the station and searched the timetables. There was barely time to purchase a ticket from the booth but soon she was making her way anxiously through the inbound crowds, down the steps to the platform.

The heavy weight in her bag was her back-up plan; the pistol she’d taken from Jack’s body rattled against the snub-nosed firearm she’d been issued in London. Being a crack shot, if she had to use one she’d already decided his Ballestar-Molina was a sturdier option. Like a few other details, Jack had been ignorant of her skill with weapons; there was a reason for subterfuge and not all on a ‘need to know’ basis.

She stepped neatly onto the train, weaving her way along the narrow corridor until she found an unoccupied compartment and seated herself as a shrill whistle announced the departure. Once underway, she fumbled in her bag and withdrew Jack’s passport and her own.  Realising she was at the point of no return, she tossed them out the window.

Then, reaching into her stocking-top, she retrieved a similar document.  The forged exit papers were good but, she wondered, did she really look like a ‘Xaviera Santos'?  She tossed that, too, from the window. The game had now changed and with it, her escape route. 

Jack had been a casualty of war, a pawn sent to track down an errant Duke and Duchess. Having slipped the leash from their bodyguards in the Bahamas he’d discovered them here in Panama. But London wasn’t merely ‘babysitting’ the Windsor’s, as Jack had thought; they were feeding them false information, hoping it would get back to Berlin.

Evie looked at her watch again and saw it was past midnight. So much had changed when Jack had met Simpson yesterday. It was a flimsy alias David Windsor had employed to lure Jack in. Maybe HRH was more astute than he’d appeared; the once-reckless monarch who’d relinquished a kingdom, now prepared to protect himself by deadly means. If the Duke had realised he was being played for a fool he had to be stopped before he could communicate that to his friends in Berlin.

Evie tightened her fingers around Jack’s gun, concealed in her bag, prepared to do her duty and mused that she would indeed have to fulfil her final instructions as time ran out, her options approaching zero. Disaster loomed if the Duke of Windsor warned Hitler and his cohorts they’d been misled by London.

The suburban train pulled into the station near the Windsor’s villa. Mary Reynolds closed her eyes, thinking about home and a life she would never know again. Sorry Jack, she sighed; even ‘Evie’ was a lie. As she stepped down from the train she knew her one-way mission was at an end. She was the fail-safe, the backstop; expendable.

A story that could never fully be revealed was at its deadly denouement and none would ever know she was a Royal assassin.