Monday 30 June 2008

Armchair Travelling

My head’s been in China all day. I’m trying to write about Shangri-La and realised I hadn’t done enough research. Lots of questions as I draft, so it takes a long time. But I so love doing the research.

I’ve been to the top of Lion Hill at dawn and seen the sun rise over Lijiang and snow-topped Jade Mountain. I’ve watched a hunted tiger escape its pursuers by leaping onto a mid-river rock and then to the far side of the lowest set of Yangtse rapids in Leaping Tiger Gorge. Then I strolled through the rock tunnels on the path beside the river before climbing a multitude of steps up the steep side of the gorge without getting the least bit out of breath.

I’ve trekked to the Three Rivers Project with the conservationists, and recognised the diverse micro-climates and the multitude of different wildlife on the slopes of the mountains between the rivers. In the Napahi Nature Reserve I saw rare black-necked cranes feeding in grassland that used to be a huge lake.

I’ve been touched by the holy atmosphere of the Songzanlin Monastery, and marvelled at the plentiful azaleas in the meadowland around it. Nearby I was introduced to a man who had opened a hotel, without knowing anything about how to run it, just to show off the beauty of the place where he grew up.

And all on the same day without leaving my office. Through the wonders of modern technology, this armchair traveller can double and triple check everything.

Of course I haven’t finished drafting my piece. That will continue tomorrow.

Friday 27 June 2008

Writing Blues

I'll have to get my finger out tomorrow. Apart from my blogs, I haven't written anything new all week. True I had family commitments that knocked out 48 hours at the beginning of the week, and I spent a half day taking photos for a planned article. I've also reworked and submitted two pieces, had several ideas and started researching them. But I do need to get back to where I was earlier in the year, blogging 5 days a week AND writing and submitting three new articles each week. I also need to do some house cleaning and prepare a room for overnight guests. So that's my Saturday sorted.

Hope you all have a great weekend.

Wednesday 25 June 2008

What are they doing up there?

If you'd like to find out what the goats are doing, read to the end of my article excerpt at Constant Content.

I took the photo a few years ago on a visit to Morocco. I had a very crappy camera then and it's not a good picture, but a bit of playing around in Photoshop Elements means you can see a little more than black silhouettes.

Monday 23 June 2008

We'd fully intended to visit the national collection of old English roses yesterday. I had been trying to get there in June when they are in their full glory. I wanted the experience and to take some pics to illustrate and article idea.

But it was not to be. Something came up and hubby had to work in the morning. The trip would have been too long a drive after that. We compromised and went to a nearer National Trust garden at Tintinhull. I took these pics there.

Friday 20 June 2008

How do you Humble a Super Model?

How can Naomi Campbell do 200 hours of community service in the UK?

For anyone who hasn’t heard, this alongside fine of around £2,000, was the sentence meted out to the super model for attacking police who were doing their job when called in to evict her from an aircraft. She had apparently been excessively abusive to the cabin crew and pilot when she was told that some of her luggage had been lost in the fiasco after the opening of Terminal 5 at Heathrow.

It wasn’t the first time she had been given a community service sentence. According to the BBC news programme this evening, she’s also had to do it in New York where she was expected to clean toilets. The programme carried a still of her turning up for her final cleaning session wearing the most inappropriate clothes – a full length evening dress, full make up and earrings dropping to her shoulders. It didn’t exactly portray the attitude of a penitent wrongdoer making up for the error of her ways.

In my humble opinion, the current sentence is crazy. Of all the people who lost luggage or were inconvenienced during the Terminal 5 shambles, she was probably the one who could most afford it. A fine of £2,000 probably won’t even dent her pocket. It was less than half the cost of her first class air fare. Two hundred is a lot of hours, but no doubt the authorities will arrange to fit it round her schedule. And the media circus that will surround the community service is likely to displace any benefit to the community.

Assaulting the police is an offence that can carry a jail sentence. A spell inside might have made her think twice about such behaviour in the future. On second thoughts, that would have the tax-payer forking out again. Trouble is, I don’t think the law would allow a big enough fine to hurt the likes of Miss Campbell. But putting a large amount of money into a public pot would go some way to making things right.

Should the law allow magistrates and judges to select a level of fines appropriate to the perpetrators as well as to the crimes they commit? Do let me know what you think.

Wednesday 18 June 2008

The Arte y Pico award

I am thrilled to receive this award from A Postcard A Day, which is one my favourite blogs. I only found out yesterday because I’ve been away for a few days and busy getting ready beforehand, and afterwards catching up. I’ve no idea why you gave me the award, but thank you, Sheila.

The rules of this tag are as follows:
1) You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also for contributing to the blogging community, no matter what language.
2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.
3) Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.
4) Award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of "Arte y Pico" blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.
Make sure you visit the link above.

So, in my turn I tag:

Happy blogging, folks.

Monday 16 June 2008

Le Weekend 2

I had a great weekend with my family, but found my birth town, of which I am normally so proud, a little disappointing. There is so much work going on at the same time, and much of it without an end in sight. Part of the promenade beside the marina is still fenced off waiting to be made safe again. It’s been like this for a couple of years, with only a small portion of it finished. I haven’t been able to find any reference to this work on Torbay Council’s website.

The serenity of Rock Walk, the cliff and footpaths across the road from the sea, the pier and the Princess Theatre, has been completely defaced and denuded. Where once we could stroll or climb through the wooded slopes, highlighted at night with pretty coloured lights, all is now boarded up and apparently in danger of sliding down into the road since all the vegetation has been removed.

The website states that the project to remove unsafe trees was to begin in January 2008 and take about three weeks. Did those responsible for initiating this not consider how safe the cliff would be afterwards? Last week’s press release informs us that a council committee is now considering which companies to ask to tender for the work to make it all safe again before it can be replanted, so it will obviously be quite some time before anything starts to happen. After I wrote the above, I found this blog about it all.

Thank goodness I didn’t accept the offer to place our memorial seat for my parents in there. That sits on the seaward side of the front, next to the sunken gardens they liked to wander past.

Torre Abbey has been closed for renovation with Phase 1 due for completion later this year. And to crown it all, in the tranquil gardens of the Abbey sits a monstrous white balloon looking like a giant version of the ones in the old TV show, The Prisoner. Only this one, so I’m told, is just waiting for a complement of punters willing to pay £14 for a ten minute ascent over Torbay to the length of its tethering rope. See it in the picture above.

One local person was so incensed about it that she proclaimed, “We should send the mayor up in it and cut the rope.” I could only agree that it seems a completely incongruous attraction in Torquay, spoiling what genteel beauty is still left to the sea front at present.

The Imperial Hotel was also a bit of a let-down. Apart from a glorious stained glass dome above the entrance hall, and a couple of very large earthenware urns in a corridor, the interior was very mundane. Its redemption lay in the views across Torbay from the terrace and the gardens below. But, despite its grand history, it is now no better than Torquay’s other hotels, and many of them could beat it hands down for their interior design.

However, I had a good couple of days with my sister, and enjoyed a great pub meal with a new section of the family (by marriage). And it was all spiced up by the fact that my nephew’s wife’s mother and I went to school together when we were both five years old.

Friday 13 June 2008

Le Weekend

I'm off to the seaside again. See you Monday.

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Miraculin from Miracle Fruit

I've been writing about Miracle Fruit today. It's a bit of a gift for bloggers and journalists and has been likened to something out of Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory, and other flights of fancy. But to sell as a content piece, it just has to be factual - and still fascinating, or at least, interesting.

For anyone who doesn't know, Miracle Fruit produces miraculin, which sits on the human tongue and interacts with the taste buds to make practically everything taste sweeter. For all the mums out there who are trying to get their offspring to take their nasty medicine, it could be a godsend.

And because it's not sugar, or any of those rather iffy sweeteners, it could benefit lots of other groups as well. If you want to lose weight, for example, or if you are diabetic, you could eat only the things you need to eat after making them taste like the things you want to eat.

I only found out about it last night when hubby came home from the pub. He'd picked up a discarded copy of The Sun which had a piece on it. I found lots more info on the web, and you can too if you start here.

Monday 9 June 2008

Winged Distractions

These days my biggest distraction is watching the birds my back garden. When my sister gave me a decorative bird table/bowl last Christmas, I put it away thinking I'd put it to use at my next house. But a month or so ago, because this one has still failed to sell, hubby and I pulled it out and set it up in the garden. Now we try to keep it filled with leftover wholemeal bread and other things the birds fancy.

Hence all the distraction. I'm fascinated by the sparrows and blackbirds, and the starlings who have taken to bringing their young to be fed there as well. Just this morning I saw the first young sparrow hopping around and opening its beak wide whenever one of its parents came anywhere near. The sparrows are also the only birds light enough to hang from the netted nuts that are dangling underneath, although I have seen a starling hanging onto the metal post of the bird table and lunging with its beak each time the net swung close enough to it. Every so often hubby bashes some of the nuts out onto the top of our little wall so that the bigger birds can get some.

We've also attracted the attention of a pigeon who sits on the garage roof debating whether to fly down. I haven't seen him actually in the garden but hubby told me he had. we don't really want him because he'll probably scare off all the others, but there's not a lot we can do about it. My sister lives on the Dveon coast and she tells me she can't feed the birds at this time of the year because the seagulls are so aggressive when they are rearing their young. At least we don't have that problem at the moment.

Every morning our garden is alive with smallish birds. If they can't get onto the table they'll hop around the lawn searching for worms. Or they keep popping out from under the shrubs to see if it's their turn yet. It's all quite inspirational and I can feel a poem bubbling up and ready to erupt sometime soon.

I do keep trying to take photos but it's usually been too late before I have the camera pointing in the right direction. Today I just caught this little sparrow by leaning out of a bedroom window with the camera and then cropping the wider pic I got. One day perhaps I can show you more.

Friday 6 June 2008

A Japanese Western

This is quite a turn up for the books. I actually got my hubby interested in one of my projects this week. It happened like this.

I followed up an ad on the JustMarkets newsletter and was asked to submit some sample material on Akira Kurosawa, who was a Japanese film director with an international reputation. As part of my research I ordered a VHS of one of his old films from Amazon. It arrived yesterday.

When hubby asked me what it was, I was able to tell him it was called Seven Samurai, and it was the film that inspired the making of The Magnificent Seven, one of his all time favourites. So we sat down and watched it together this evening.

The story is virtually the same if you substitute cowboys for samurai and Mexican farmers and bandits for Japanese farmers and bandits, but Kurosawa's film was made in black and white in 1954, while the western version, directed by John Sturges, came out in full colour in 1960. The plot has been reused a number of times since, even the computer animated, A Bug's Life of 1998, is reminiscent of it.

This research has taken up quite a bit of my working week, which has also been eaten into by things like GP surgery visits, sorting out insurance and payments for our holiday and preparing the house for a viewing by potential buyers (sadly, still no takers).

The readership that the sample writing was for is 13 to 15 year old students in Taiwan who need shortish, simple or compound sentences in basic American English using words from a supplied list. Not so easy. Anyway, I finished it and sent it off and now have to wait to see if I get the lucrative assignment I'm hoping for, which might be to continue writing about this film director.

If not, the research won't be wasted. I'm half way into a different piece on him that I will showcase at Constant Content.

Wednesday 4 June 2008

Almost Wordless Wednesday

This is what happens in my home office when I am babysitting. Isn't it amazing what four year olds can do these days?

Monday 2 June 2008

An Uncertain Future for Dartington

I was in Devon for about 24 hours last weekend, visiting friends of long standing. These visits usually involve a bit of ‘culture’ and lots of pubs.

This time the culture was almost all in gardens, as it was the National Garden Scheme Open Gardens weekend at Bovey Tracey where I was staying. We did slip into the Great Hall at Dartington on Sunday morning, where we learnt about its first owner, John Holand, who was a half brother of Richard II. The estate was given to him in 1388 and the size of the Great Hall, which still survives with its minstrels’ gallery, and is often used as an event venue, gives an idea of how grand it was.

Ownership changed to Champernowne family in the 16th century. They held the estate right up to 1925, when it passed to Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst. They set up the Dartington Hall Trust, and enthusiastically researched the history of the estate so that we owe much of our present knowledge to them.

I’m quite fond of Dartington. My mother told stories of being in service there in her youth, and I enjoy the peaceful ambience in the magnificent gardens. So I share the anxiety of locals who have recently learned that its College of Art is to close as it has been merged with a local university. Noone seems to know how this will affect the buildings and the gardens, and the trustees are not being publicly forthcoming.

I wonder if we will see the death of its famous Literary Festival. It is still due to take place this year and you can find it here. I note that my college pal, Mavis Cheek, will be speaking about her new novel, Amenable Women.

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