Surprise festival

Slightly peeved (and hungover) I loaded up the car on Saturday with a ton of beekeeping stuff, quite a lot of honey cake and my wonderful folding table to go to Woodland Valley Farm for what I thought was just a country fair and a day of boredom.
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Far from it. We had avid listeners for beekeeping talks at our rather well-put-together stall (gazebo and information displays part-erected by yours truly with only a bit of whingeing about the bad design of the gazebo). Mike, my beekeeping mentor, stayed stoical and good-humoured despite my help. The free honeycake I was giving out may have helped.
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Lots of people are very interested and concerned about bees and beekeeping and several went away with information about beekeeping courses with the Cornwall Beekeepers Association. The kids gasped and thrilled to the horrific news that:
* all bees are girls
* except for the drones who are boys
* the queen lays about 1500 eggs a day at the peak laying season
* when a drone mates with her on a mating flight, he dies (happy).
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And then in the evening I bopped to Bands in the Barn, and wolfed down excellent barbecued sausages and salad and some very good home-brewed ale.
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No, I didn\’t do any coursework over the weekend. And no, I\’m not doing it now. I will. Honest.

PENRYN WEEK COMMUNAL POEM – FULL ENGLISH

I must go down to the kitchen again,

To the lonely stove and the fridge;

And all I\’ll eat is a slice of toast.

Or maybe a rasher or two…

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A couple of eggs, a tin of beans,

A Cornish sausage or three,

And mushrooms, tomatoes, black pudding, fried bread

And bubble-n-squeak from last night.

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We need coffee and tea and freshly-squeezed juice,

(Vodka to pep up the juice)

I want ketchup, HP and Worcestershire sauce,

Marmelade and… oh yes. The toast.

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Shall I wake up the others or eat it myself?

No. Today they can all lie in.

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A triumph of group poetry, I feel – we had a great time at the Poetry of Food evening on Friday. Many thanks to all who turned up, ate cake and made it such fun.

Ranking Fever

Last night I entered a pub quiz with some friends and thoroughly enjoyed myself – it was part of Penryn Week Celebrations. On Friday 22nd July I\’ll be doing my own event for Penryn Week – a literary evening about The Poetry of Food at which I\’ll be reading poems from my new book \”The Poetry Diet.\”
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It was the quiz that really interested me. Here\’s a question for everyone. When I was young (back in the late Cretaceous period), competition was quickly going out of fashion. We went from being ranked in classrooms (first, second, last) to not even being officially streamed. Sports day became a points exercise with no overall winners – although everyone knew who was best. Even prize day turned into something else – just as long and boring but with no prizes.
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This was because the fashionable socialism of the day held that anything elitist was wrong and wicked and all must be equal no matter what. Also that children were easily traumatised by coming last in a class and if no one could be allowed to come last, it followed that no one should come first either.
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The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail ran regular snorticles* about how banning competition in school would lead to woe, destruction and the end of Life As We Know It.
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Since then a couple of decades… er…. some time has passed. The end of the world has not come, I notice. However it seems that there is now an absolute obsession about competition and ranking and who\’s best and celebrity. The effect of banning elitism and competition in school has been horrors like the X Factor and a huge quiz-show industry. So another predictable own-goal there.
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And I think pub quizzes are part of that ranking fever, in a small way. The Arts Alive Penryn team came third. No, that\’s fine. It\’s OK. The better team won. Only 6 points in it, mind you, but…

* A Snorticle. Any opinion article in which the writer can almost be heard to snort. Also known as a \”why-oh-why\” piece [Finney Lexical Expansion Service]

The Wit of Number 1 Son

I was having a general moan about all the coursework I have to do for my Trinity CertTESOL course (which I\’m thoroughly enjoying, by the way). Number 1 Son was standing next to me by the sink. As I whinged to a halt he looked sideways at me.
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\”Mum,\” he said, totally straight-faced, \”You don\’t know how happy it makes me to hear you saying that.\”
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And he patted my back understandingly.

Roast Beef Dinner

Traditional English Sunday lunch – my mother used to produce one every Sunday, including a wonderful pudding, very often exotically Hungarian and always delicious. I do it occasionally, when I find cut-price joint of meat or buy something lovely at the Truro Farmer\’s Market on Saturday.
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I have to fit in with the Sunday TV – especially Top Gear. I refuse to do it for lunch because then the entire afternoon is wiped out (as it was when I was a child). I don\’t usually manage a pudding because… well… I refuse to do a pudding in addition to a roast.
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No Yorkshire pud either, although I love Yorkshire pud and I actually have a really good and reliable recipe for them.
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Note for USA readers: Yorkshire pudding, interestingly, is exactly the same recipe as what you call popovers. Except instead of splitting them and putting on jam and butter at breakfast, we put them next to slices of meat at lunch or dinner and pour gravy over them. And they\’re delicious, really. Very traditional. Divorces have happened over aspersions cast on Yorkshire pudding prowess.
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So. There it was – it took about an hour and a half to make, not including the time number 1 son took peeling the potatoes.
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We sat down, I carved slices and… We\’d finished in half an hour. I\’d hoovered my food again as I struggle not to do. It was very nice, especially the gravy. Speaking with no due modesty at all, my gravy is bangin\’ (I believe is the term). My roast potatoes are good too.
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Finished in half an hour. Hour and a half of work. Half an hour of eating.
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That\’s why I don\’t do it very often.

The Writer\’s Manifesto

Everybody wants to be J K Rowling, and so do I, obviously, because her books are brilliant. It chokes me to admit this, but she truly deserves her millions.
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Everybody is shocked when they find I\’m a writer – though not because I\’m an unlikely person to be a writer. Actually, they usually look quite relieved, as if they finally made sense of this mad noisy person.
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No, what shocks them is the fact that I\’m not rolling in money. I have to explain that most writers, like most actors, aren\’t paid vast fees for their work. Most actors aren\’t in the Tom Cruise bracket and most writers aren\’t J K Rowling. Writers write because otherwise they would crack up: sometimes I feel that my head is actually going to explode with all the ideas clamouring for me to write them.
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Actually managing to get published is usually a bonus – something that publishers know very well and have been ruthlessly exploiting for years. Which is fair enough – after all they\’re businessmen and in the business to make money. I was lucky enough to get started before all hell broke loose with the internet and eBooks and so on.
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Unfortunately, at the moment the big corporate publishers have pretty much lost their nerve. There are brand new ways for writers to find their audience and more coming every month. Publishers are looking at their normal business plan and finding it\’s broken and they don\’t know what to replace it with.
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It doesn\’t matter. Writers like me will just carry on writing. We may have to get dayjobs so we can eat (even writers eat, especially me). In fact, I\’m a big believer in dayjobs – they keep us from disappearing into our own heads.
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We may have to get together with enterprising friends and find new ways of sneaking past the self-appointed corporate gatekeepers – so that\’s what we\’ll do.
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Watch this space. The Financial Hack and I are plotting. Corporates, you have been warned.

*** Find the Financial Hack here – www.williamessex.com.

Why do we keep buying these rags?

Rupert Murdoch has chucked the News of the World off his fleeing sled as flocks of horror chickens return home to roost on his head… So the first time I bought the News of the World in my entire life was on Sunday, as a souvenir – its last edition. The feebly gasping carcass, covered in fowl poop…
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Hmm. Perhaps I\’ll just leave that metaphor to die.
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I never buy the Sun either. I don\’t buy the Daily Mail. Occasionally I read somebody else\’s copy to have a laugh at it. The Daily Express… nope. I just don\’t find anything they say at all interesting. I don\’t care what Posh names her unfortunate child. God help me, in my freelance journalism days I wrote features for most of the tabloids, only not the Sun. I wasn\’t skilled enough for the Sun.
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I wrote a weekly TV preview column for the London Standard for two years and features for other papers. To be honest, I wasn\’t a very good tabloid journalist: I can write and I\’m congenitally nosey, but I found it very difficult to pretend to be someone\’s best mate, get all their secrets and then shaft them in public in my printed article. On several occasions I happened upon an outstanding story but kept it quiet because it was nothing to do with the public interest and I valued my friendships more than a scoop.
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The reason why newspapers flail like starving zombies to get The Story of the day is because they know that\’s what people will pay for.
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I wish I had the foggiest notion why.
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Jon Stewart can have the last word.

The philosophical sayings of teenage son no. 2

\”Yeah, mum, I\’ve thought how you could get a camel through the eye of a needle. You could liquidize it, mush it up really well, and then…\”

After I\’d annoyed him in some mum-ish way. \”If you weren\’t my mum, I\’d beat you to death with a statue of the Buddha just for the effing irony of it.\”

After a conversation about going to church. \”Apart from the thing about believing in God, I\’m an agnostic.\”

\”If tomato\’s a fruit, does that mean ketchup\’s a smoothie?\”

The teaspoon put.

Why do we do it? We make a cup of tea or coffee. We stir it.
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Then, with great care, we put the teaspoon down, still wet, on the counter or the draining board, less than six inches from the sink and we pick up our mug and leave it there.
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Why? Seriously? It makes a small sticky puddle on the counter which someone – quite possibly ourselves – will have to wipe up and it instantly untidies the whole counter. It would take less time and less effort simply to chuck the spoon in the sink. I moan about it when other people do it and yet I do it myself. There\’s no world shortage of clean teaspoons and even if there were, I wouldn\’t use someone else\’s dirty one, I\’d wash it first.
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So why do we do it? In comparison, war is a relatively rational activity. Could some clever psychologist find out, please?

Ooh! What a punch-up!

I\’m sorry but I can\’t resist wading into the glorious Carolyn Bourne v. Heidi Withers cat-fight. It\’s been another outstanding silly-season media brawl with opposing factions sneering, wagging fingers and making v-signs at each other, over nothing very much.
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Poor CB – she walked right into it, didn\’t she? Poor HW, what a ghastly mother-in-law!
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Poor CB – she gets labelled the mother-in-law from hell when her prospective step daughter-in-law is quite clearly an oblivious manners-free zone. She did nothing wrong – she was just trying to help the poor girl with some helpful hints on how to behave when not slobbing out with her mates.
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Poor HW, all she did was send her ghastly mother-in-law\’s snotty email round to a few friends and finds herself in a media storm. She did nothing wrong – she was just behaving the way she normally does at someone\’s house and nobody\’s ever told her not to do that before. What\’s wrong with being careful about what you eat? What\’s wrong with having a lie-in? Can\’t they take a bit of a joke? They\’re obviously loaded, why not have the wedding in a castle? What\’s all this about not starting before everyone else and not having seconds until invited to – she\’s never heard of any of that before.
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She probably hasn\’t which is more her parents\’ fault than her own. On the other hand, she may well simply not have been listening.
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My own mother-in-law probably itched to send a very similar ticking-off to me after the first few times I stayed with her. I knew the rules about eating – but had been raised in a house where 9.00 am was early for Saturday. I was also a walking chaos nexus and both my parents-in-law were extremely tidy, efficient and early-rising. I was a bit younger than HW and equally oblivious to the havoc I was causing. I think back to what a nightmare I was then and am astonished at the forbearance of my future parents-in-law.
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My mother-in-law is far too smart to have sent any kind of admonishment to me – which would have done no good at all at that age. The problem is, in the absence of the strict etiquette script that our parents and grandparents were forced to learn, we have to become genuinely considerate sensitive people. And that takes time (which was why the etiquette script was invented in the first place).
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Perhaps we should reinstate it?