The Sideshow … … found on the boardwalk, set up on a grassy field, a Detroit rave, a darkened alley, or on the plains of a blasted future America, tantalizing, forbidden, electrifying beyond imagination. It is everywhere and every-when. And at some point, everyone gets a ticket. The Sideshow … … a mirror to the blackness inside the human soul. How dark is your shadow?
Rob M. Miller, C.B. Doyle, Jody Neil Ruth, Phil Hickes, Leigh M. Lane, Shawn Pfister, Carole Gill, E.A. Irwin, Tina Swain, S. MacLeod, and me! The illustrator is Melissa Stevens.
One reviewer said:
A good scary anthology! I love the illustrations which give this book a very vintage circus feel. There is a good variety of psychological horror, monsters and gore and supernatural mystery. My favorite stories so far at Punch and Judy, Tattoo and Karma Carnival. It just keeps getting better each story I read. Especially recommended for fans of American Horror Story Freakshow. It has a lot of the same throw back feel but even more horror!
I killed a spider tonight and now I sit alone and stare up at the empty space on the ceiling where it should be. Where it had been for the past three days and nights, disgusting me and fascinating me in equal measures.
And now it’s gone. Quickly. Cheaply. An ignoble death, knocked from its flawless, warm web and crushed beneath the sole of a dirty once white trainer, laces frayed and leather cracked. A weapon used in panic, in defence of my self in the end although I know – I know – that a spider, a tiny little spider sitting alone in its web and waiting with such patience for something to come along so that it could survive, could not hurt me. I know that. But I couldn’t bear it being there. I could not share my space any longer with that monster.
Shocked at myself, skin crawling with revulsion and stomach squally as though to suggest I had done wrong, I hurled the shoe away, my hand contaminated just by holding the thing that had touched the furry body of that spider. And as for that body… I left it there, crumpled, folded in on itself, legs in pieces on the carpet, hardly daring to walk past it for fear of… What? For fear of what? It was dead, very much so, I had seen to that. Yet the idea of being near it still sent shudders through me, my limbs dancing their own funeral jig, backing away from the broken thing that had, moments before, lived.
Just as I had watched it for the past three days and nights, making sure it didn’t move or, worse, disappear completely, building my cowardly courage to the point where I could finally get near enough to kill it, I watched it now. To make sure it was dead. Hoping it was because if it was not then surely even a thing such as a spider must feel pain and I hated that thought more than I hated the thought of leaving it where it was, to give it free reign and to let it, possibly, crawl over me as I slept.
Its body is much smaller now, trampled and beaten, lesser in defeat. And as I watch the empty, broken web wave in a breeze that I cannot feel, I wonder why I waged war on it.
I’m afraid of pandas. Don’t laugh, it’s the truth. Oh, they may look cute and cuddly, they may seem soft and soppy, but they are, in actual fact, cruel and creepy. They are evil.
I don’t say this lightly. I say this with a heavy heart and a troubled mind. But, you see, the thing is… I have had first hand experience with pandas. With a panda. And it was not pleasant.
I was four years old, and that is long enough ago that I really shouldn’t be able to remember it, but I do. The entire episode is as clear to me now as it was then.
I should probably explain…
One night when I was four, I had a nightmare, as children often do. I’m sure that I had many a nightmare at that age, many before and many since, come to that, but this one was so vivid, even though it made no sense in any way, that it’s never left me.
I awoke – in my dream – to find a giant panda sitting on my bed, watching me. There was nothing unusual about this panda (apart from the fact that it was there in the first place). It wasn’t some demon creature, it didn’t have bulging red eyes or scales or horns, it wasn’t holding a knife or even baring its teeth. But it was terrifying. It didn’t blink. It barely moved. It just watched me, and the part that worried me the most was that I didn’t know how long it had been there before I woke up.
Even at four that unnerved me.
To think that it had been waiting for me, silently, patiently.
I wanted to cry out for my mother, but I was too scared to make a sound. I wasn’t sure it knew I was awake.
So I lay there, paralysed with fear, my heart slapping against my ribs, my eyes mostly closed but just open enough to watch the panda watching me.
We stayed like that, the panda and I, for an eternity.
And then, out of nowhere and for no discernible reason, the panda plucked a cigarette out of the air, lit it with an unseen match, and smoked it, right there, in my bedroom. On my bed. It’s large, furry rump nudging up against my stiff, sweating legs.
I found my voice.
It was meek and weak, trembling and far too soft to attract any attention, but I called out anyway, desperate, needing to do something; “Mummy! Mummy! Help!”
Now the panda looked at me. It turned its head and stared into my eyes, smoke curling from its snout. It was angry. Its eyes narrowed and it hunched backwards. And then it was gone, I could feel its weight lifting from the mattress, and I saw it bolt.
The dream becomes hazy after that. My mother appeared in the doorway and I think I must have woken up by then because she was really there. She remembers it still, remembers me calling out so pitifully, so quietly, and yet waking her anyway. But what she doesn’t remember, and what I can’t explain, is that she passed the panda on its way out.
It ran out of the door as she ran in.
She never saw it, but it saw her. It growled at her.
She took its place on my bed and told me not to worry about it. It was just a dream, after all. Just a panda, and it was just smoking a cigarette. Nothing else.
I believed her then. But in the morning I cried out for her again because in the dawn light I could see something that we had both overlooked the night before.
There was a cigarette burn on my duvet cover.
We still talk about it. Every now and then it comes up in conversation. And neither of us can explain it.
I’ve been trying to exorcise that demon ever since.
Recently there was a news story about an Oklahoma teacher who ‘forced’ a 4 year old boy to write with his right hand rather than his left. Investigations are ongoing, but it seems as though the teacher was concerned about associations with left handedness and unlucky or wicked behaviour.
Whilst this may sound strange today, it wasn’t so very long ago that making left handers write with their non-dominant hands was usual in schools. But why was (and, as it now appears, is) being left handed such a problem?
Throughout history, the left side of the body was considered to be a negative influence. In fact, the Latin word ‘sinistra’ meant both ‘left’ and ‘evil’ or ‘unlucky’, so the idea was well ingrained in society. Today, ‘sinistra’ has become ‘sinister’, so the wicked connotations remain. This, along with the idea that the word ‘right’ also means ‘correct’ and ‘proper’, reinforces the belief that anything on the left side had to be influenced by evil in some way.
Superstition has us throwing salt over our left shoulder when we spill it. Why? To blind the devil that sits there. A devil on the left shoulder is counterbalanced by an angel on the right, so turning to the left, using the left side of the body, working with the left in anyway is seen as working or using the devil. Bad stuff indeed. Whereas using the right side of the body is seen as working with the angels, which, of course, is seen as a much better option.
There are always studies going on to discover why some people are left handed and others (the majority of society) are right handed, but as yet there is no conclusive evidence for anything. Maybe one day we will understand, or maybe – as I believe is most likely the case – there is no reason. It just is.
I’m a left hander, and so is my daughter. So far so good for both of us – we’ve not yet met the devil. But I suppose I’ll keep throwing the salt just to make sure…
It happens to us all. That sinking, shrieking, sudden moment of realisation that we simply cannot go on. No matter what. No way. No how. It doesn’t matter what the goal is, what the reward is, why we have to do it, we just hit that figurative wall (not Pink Floyd’s fabulous album) and that’s it. Done. Finished.
We slink away, defeated, feeling terrible, wishing we had the energy or the will to carry on, but knowing that if we even attempted it, we’d fail miserably.
You’ve done it. I’ve done it. Bill Gates or David Beckham or J.K. Rowling (insert role model of your choice here) has done it. And the thing of it is, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s natural and normal and it’s the ones who just keep going that we really ought to worry about… After all, they’re only going to hurt themselves, right? Right.
So rather than panicking when we hit the wall, we ought to embrace it. Or at least take the opportunity to step back and reassess. Perhaps there’s another way around that you hadn’t considered before. Instead of barrelling straight ahead, why not change direction, go sideways, under, over, even backwards. It’s a wall, not a mountain. Walls are scalable.
Walls are also a bit like bullies. There they stand, big and bold, basically laughing at you and your efforts to get through them and find whatever it was you wanted on the other side. Despite their nastiness of them, we do all know what it is we’re supposed to do with bullies, don’t we? Yes. Ignore them. Ignore them and they’ll go away. And it’s exactly the same with walls. Ignore the wall that you’ve suddenly come up against, and turn around. Leave it. Come back after a rest and a think, and you might find that it’s disappeared, crumbled away leaving your path perfectly open.
What if it hasn’t, you might ask? Not a problem. If it’s still there you have two options: either ignore it some more, or try the alternative route.
You’ll never have to hit a wall again. It’s a pain we can all do without.
Could it be a specific talent? The same barber? A liking for peanut butter sandwiches? The link between Ian Fleming and Sting sounds like a truly unanswerable riddle, but there is actually a solution – and it is a rather surprising one.
Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond novels in Jamaica, sitting at a certain desk. Decades later, that same desk was used by Sting to pen his famous song, Every Breath You Take.
Finding this out made me wonder whether creative talent can be passed on. Not necessarily through inanimate objects (although why not? Why shouldn’t a desk or pen or chair or anything else become infused with creativity? We don’t know what causes it in the first place, so we can’t dismiss anything when it comes to skill and talent, and I may just use this idea in my next short story… we’ll see if it has legs (pardon the pun)), but perhaps through being in proximity to someone.
According to some scientists, everyone has some kind of talent, even if it’s hidden in most people (that’s what it’s only a handful in the grand scheme of things who can sing, compose, write, paint, draw, and so on). But what if, simply by spending time with people whose talent is most definitely out there, we can soak up some of that creativity and be better at the things we want to do?
Talent by osmosis certainly has a ring to it; and could this be why some children follow in their parents’ footsteps, or some siblings go on to be just as talented as their brother and sisters, even though the law of averages would say it should really be possible?
It’s an experiment I’m willing to trial… Now, where would I find J. K. Rowling?
Don’t complain. It sounds like a simple philosophy for life, a mantra that can be repeated over and over until it sticks and no more ungrateful, complaining words come out of your mouth.
It sounds like bliss, and at first glance the above quote does seem to be a good one. Don’t like something? Change it. Don’t complain.
On second glance, thinking about it, changing a situation isn’t always possible without a bit of complaint.
But it’s okay, because of the second part of the quote – if you can’t change the situation that’s making you unhappy, change how you think about it.
Only, actually, I don’t get it at all.
I can’t suddenly make myself like something that I didn’t before. If I don’t like it, I don’t like it. I have my reasons. It’s not just a matter of looking at whatever it is from a different angle and realising that my original thoughts were wrong all the time (oh look! Actually the fact that my car broke down and there are no buses and I have a broken leg so I can’t walk anyway is actually fine! It’s great! I was just looking at my situation from the wrong angle! Now that I’ve changed my attitude all is well!).
I think complaining is essential in life.
I don’t mean complaining for the sake of it, just for fun, but if something is really wrong, and no amount of attitude changing will right that wrong, then a complaint may well help you. And, although it may not feel like it at the time, if the complaint is aimed at you it can help you too. Don’t just assume that whoever is doing the complaining is wrong – they may have a point, and if you think about it, that point may help you grow and succeed.
So, yes, if something is bringing you down, change it. If you can’t change it – and sometimes you definitely cannot – then by all means complain. You never know, the situation might change after that. It could even get better than ever.
If you want some help writing a complaint letter, just ask. As a freelance writer I’ve often complained on other people’s behalf!
Moira Kerr is something quite special, not only in terms of her writing, but in terms of her humanity as well. The freelance journalist who hails from Oban won both the feature writer of the year award (this was thanks to three articles written for the Daily Record) and journalist of the year award for her diverse portfolio of articles, news reports, and features at the Highlands and Islands Media Awards.
Moira said that she appreciated the awards, and was excited to receive them – but that it was all down to her contacts, kept in her Smartphone, who kept her up to date with everything that was happening all across the Highlands and Islands. She called these contacts her ‘phone-a-friends’, which caused a laugh, but which is also absolutely true!In her spare time, Moira is a volunteer fundraising secretary for the Oban RNLI Lifeboat, and so she decided to donate the majority of her £500 prize money to that cause which is clearly so dear to her heart. She gave away £300, and it went towards buying the volunteers at the Lifeboat some Wellington boots which, they say, were much needed and very happily and gratefully received.
If you need any freelance articles, news stories, or blogging done, please contact me; I’m happy to help.
Lisamarie Lamb| 9th March 2016 0
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I started writing in my late teens but it was only with the birth of my daughter that I decided to write more seriously, with the aim of publication. Since that decision in 2010, I have had over 40 short stories published in anthologies and magazines.
There is a feeling that steals over me sometimes that I’ve left it too late to be doing this. That I should have started writing earlier in life, a decade earlier, 15 years earlier… If I had, I wonder where I would be now?
And then I remember two things. The first is that I didn’t start writing earlier because I wasn’t ready to. If I had, my writing would not have been of the right standard, and I might have given up after a few rejections. Secondly, I’m not alone. Many writers had other careers first before moving on to new and exciting things.
So here are a few of them to illustrate my point. It’s quite an impressive list.
Author of the wonderful Angela’s Ashes, McCourt didn’t start writing until he was 65 years old. On top of that, he left school at 13 due to his family’s poverty; he had to start work.
No matter whether you love or hate the Fifty Shades series of books, no one can deny what a phenomenon they became, spawning movies and many copycat versions. EL James was 44 when she began to write these books which began simply as fan fiction.
Mario Puzo, the father of The Godfather was 33 when he began writing. Whilst that’s not ancient by any means, it is still a lot later than many famous authors – Stephen King was just 12, for example, and F. Scott Fitzgerald was 23.
The Fight Club author was another of the 33 year old club, picking up the pen to write down his incredible stories in his fourth decade of life.
Although Bukowski wrote for most of his life, he didn’t get his big break until he was 49 when he submitted Post Office to a publisher. It was published two years later, and at 51 Bukowski’s life changed forever.
Donald Ray Pollock
Donald Ray Pollock had a variety of different jobs in his life, but writer came relatively late. He published a collection of short stories when he was 55, and when he was 58 his debut novel, award-winning The Devil Of All Time, came out.
Helen DeWitt spent most of her life in academia until she almost had a breakdown and realised she just couldn’t face it anymore. With 100 different novels in fragments around her home, she took some time off just to write – with no interruptions. She would, she said, ‘write until the money ran out’. At the end of that time, she had her impressive novel, The Last Samurai written. She was 44 years old.
So there you have it. Many of the writers who are now household names didn’t start writing until they were 30, 40, 50, even 60. And even if they had been writing for longer, being published took the time. So I can relax and enjoy what I’m doing – just write and the rest will follow.
It doesn’t matter whether you hate your job with a passion, or whether you have the best career in the world, that feeling of going back to work after a little time off still fills us with dread. It’s back to reality. It’s back to the daily routine. No more home time, no more holiday, no more freedom. The grindstone is waiting, and your nose has to be put right back on it.
No wonder we all get a little sad about the prospect of heading back to the office.
But guess what? There are ways to combat this terrible feeling and get straight back into the swing of things without too much distress…
Why Are You Feeling Like This?
That’s an important question. Ask yourself why you are feeling so down about going back to work, and you might get a surprising answer, but one that will help you make some decisions, and help you feel happier about things too.
It could just be that you’ve enjoyed your time off and the idea of having to go back to the office (or wherever) and get your brain in gear doesn’t appeal. And that’s perfectly normal. But a few hours – or even minutes – into your first day, and for the majority of people that’s all forgotten and you’ll wonder what you were worried about in the first place.
For some, however, it’s a deeper problem than simply enjoying a bit of freedom. Could there be something about your job (perhaps even the job itself) that you dislike enough to make you not want to go back at all? If this is more than just a form of the Sunday evening fear, it’s time to take stock. If you’re not enjoying your job, you might consider moving on. If not immediately, then at some point, once you’ve done all the sums and weighed up the pros and cons of it all. There is no point in going to work for eight (ish) hours a day if it’s not something you like. There are many forms of deathbed regrets, and working too hard in the wrong place ranks right up there at the top.
If it is one aspect of the job that is making you miserable, why not speak to your boss? They might be able to help, and it could turn out that it wasn’t such an issue after all once it’s out in the open.
Have You Made A Work Plan?
If the feeling of dread doesn’t dissipate after a little while, if it’s there every morning and you’re coming home more downhearted every day, you know what you need to do. Finding a new job isn’t something that can necessarily happen overnight, especially when you’ve got commitments and a family to provide for. So make a plan. Give yourself a time frame to get it completed by (three months is a good one – just long enough to feel comfortable, but short enough that you have to get on straight away). Create targets to meet along the way such as applying for a certain number of jobs each week, or tidying up your CV by a specific date. You might even want to invest in some evening classes to top up your skills.
Me, Me, Me
If your job isn’t the problem and you’re happy doing what you do, where you do it, and the people with whom you work, then it could be a problem within yourself. If you’re not feeling 100 percent, book an appointment with your GP and chat to them about what ails you. It could be a physical problem (lack of sleep, a weight issue, general aches and pains), or it could be a psychological one (anxiety, stress, depression, for example). Either way, it’s good to discuss these matters and hopefully do something about them once and for all. As soon as you fix your body and mind, everything else will fall into place.
And for those who are simply feeling a little run down, you need to schedule some me time. Book a fancy spa day, go for a long walk on your own, read a good book, watch a terrible movie, it doesn’t matter as long as you can relax and zone out for a while. When you come back down to the real world you’ll hopefully be feeling a whole lot better for it.
When you apply for a job, no matter what it might be, you will often be asked to send not only your CV but a cover letter as well. Even if you aren’t asked for one, sending a cover letter is always a good idea; it certainly can’t hurt, and it might just make your application stand out above someone else’s.
The cover letter is all about giving the employer more information about you than your CV – no matter how interesting and varied it might be – can do. It’s an insight into who you are, rather than what you can do and how long you’ve been doing it. And when an employer has to read many CVs to fill just one role, giving them more information to show them that you can do what they need you to do is important.
Here are some tips on how to write a cover letter that will get noticed.
Make It Specific
Once you’ve written your cover letter, you can re-use it time and again when you apply for jobs, to a point. It’s important to not just copy and paste the exact same letter every time. Instead, you should change it for each job you apply for so that it is much more specific. Although this will take extra time, it is worth doing – it will show the employer that you have read the job description properly, and that you understand what the role requires. You may also want to include some details about why you want to work for the company you are applying for, and show that you know who they are.
As well as this, it will help you determine whether or not the job really is what you are looking for. Since you will have to read the advert for the job more closely, you will be able to make sure you are comfortable in applying for the position. If you aren’t, move on to the next job. If all checks out, then send your CV and cover letter to the employer.
Write A Great First Paragraph
Just as an employer is going to read a lot of CVs, they are also going to read a lot of cover letters (although not as many, as some people just don’t bother with them, which is always a mistake). So you need yours to stand out. The best way to do this is to make sure you have a great first paragraph.
Start with a strong statement right at the start that tells the potential employer that you are pleased to be able to apply for the job. Mention the role’s title, and the company’s name. Then go on to explain why you are applying; what is it about the job that excites you? What is it about the company that makes you want to work there? If you can, try to match your tone with that of the company (you can check the website for this – are they casual? Formal? Conversational?).
One of the most important elements of the cover letter you’re writing is the part where you explain why you are the best candidate for the position. Although your skills should be listed out in your CV, adding them into your cover letter in a more specific way can really cement the idea that you are the person who should be hired in the employer’s mind. Go into a little more detail than your CV allows; this will give the employer a good idea of who you are and what you can do, but it will also help you to prepare for the interview when it comes. It will help you to remember past successes and will put them at the forefront of your mind.
Finishing Up Your Cover Letter
To finish the letter, you should summarise why you are the ideal candidate for the job, and try to write it in one sentence.
This is the ideal time to invite the employer to get in touch with you; show that you are confident in your abilities and your fit for the job without being arrogant or cocky.
Finally, think about how you are going to sign the letter. Something like ‘cheers’ could be seen as too informal. ‘Yours faithfully’ or ‘yours sincerely’ might be accurate but too formal. ‘Best’ or ‘best wishes’ may be something you would write to a loved one, rather than a potential employer. Although how you sign off might not seem important, it is the last impression you leave with your potential new employer, so it is worth taking time over.
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If you need a little help writing your cover letter, please get in touch – it’s one of the many writing services I provide.
The origin of phrases can be absolutely fascinating. We use them on a daily basis, but not many of us ever stop to wonder why – why the words we say are part of our language, and what they really mean. Here are a few great examples of that – and their origins.
Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bath Water
Back in Victorian times, the practice for bathing was for the ‘man of the house’ to bathe first, then the wife, then the children in order of birth. Therefore, the baby would be last in the queue. By this time, so it is said, the water would be so dirty (people only tended to wash once a month) that it was entirely possible (apparently) to lose someone in it. Hence, when emptying the bathtub, the baby might be thrown out too!
Raining Cats & Dogs
When the majority of houses had thatched roofs, they were made by literally piling straw up – there was no wooden structure underneath. Now, due to straw being nice and warm, a lot of animals used to climb up and live in there, or at least sleep in there when it was chilly. But, when it rained the straw became slippery, and the larger animals (such as cats and dogs) would be washed right out. It would therefore be ‘raining cats and dogs’.
Bringing Home The Bacon/Chewing The Fat
If you were doing well in your profession, you might have been able to afford some bacon to go with your diet of (mainly) vegetables. If you could literally bring home the bacon, you would most likely hang it up to show it off hen guests came round. And because it was pretty expensive and a rarity to have it, it would be used sparingly. When friends came over for a chat, the fat would be cut off first, chopped into small pieces and handed out. You would ‘chew the fat’ with friends.
Holding a wake for someone who has passed away has become something of a tradition, but it has a very practical origin. Whiskey and ale was served in pewter cups which contained lead, and this could have the effect of knocking someone out for two or more days. They might even be thought to be dead. But before arranging the burial, mourners would hold a wake – sitting around the ‘body’ with food and drink to keep watch in case the deceased woke up.
Dead Ringer/Saved By The Bell/Graveyard Shift
People were just not that great at knowing whether someone had actually died or were just pretty unwell. Premature burials were a definite thing. So rather than the trauma of worrying about burying someone alive, a bell would be attached to a piece of string, which would be attached in turn to the body. The bell would remain above ground, and, if the person in the coffin awoke, the bell would ring. They were known as ‘dead ringers’ who had been ‘saved by the bell’. And who would hear the bell ringing? It would be the person whose job it was to sit in the graveyard, on the graveyard shift, to listen out for it.
Due to overwhelming demand, Neil Oliver, archaeologist, historian, author and presenter of the TV series Coast, brings his hugely successful theatre tour The Story Of The British Isles in 100 Places to the Churchill Theatre in Bromley on Tue 19 November. Neil who will be sharing his love of Great Britain and Ireland with audiences on this leg of the tour – first took to the stage in 2018 with a 38-date tour which coincided with the publication of his book of the same name.
Neil was appointed as President of the National Trust in Scotland in 2017 and is also known for his television series A History of Scotland and Vikings. Whilst filming Coast Neil “fell in love all over again with the British Isles. From north to south, east to west it cradles astonishing beauty. The human story here is a million years old and counting.” Oliver comments.
Born in Renfrewshire in Scotland Neil Oliver studied Archaeology at the University of Glasgow and freelanced as an archaeologist before training as a journalist. In 2002 he made his television debut with BBC Two’s Two Men in a Trench which featured Oliver and his close friend Tony Pollard visiting historic British battlefields. Since that time he has been a regular on our screens.
Discussing the tour Neil commented “Everything makes more sense when you study history. The more history you read, the less judgemental you become. All the things that are happening now have happened before. Countries reach a high point, and then they go through low points. That’s all explained by history. Like everyone else, politicians can have a better understanding of what’s happening by appreciating that there are patterns in history”.
The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places will give audiences the opportunity to share Oliver’s enthusiasm and unique perspective of British and Irish history. In his amusing and entertaining way Neil Oliver will explain what it all means to him and why we need to cherish and celebrate our wonderful countries.
Neil Oliver: The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places
Agatha Christie… who was she really? Famed for her murders (in print, of course) and in particular for two of the most famous literary creations in history – Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple – her name is known the world over. But who was she? It is this question that is at the heart of Murder, Margaret & Me, a fantastic, funny, dark, heart-breaking play by Philip Meeks.
Although the main story of the play revolves around two legends meeting, slowly becoming friends, and unravelling one another’s secrets, it begins with Agatha Christie. It has to. She, after all, made it all happen. Yet at this point in her career she has become ‘a brand’. She is losing her name (and herself) thanks to the demands of the tax man, and it scares her. It is forcing her agree to making her beloved Miss Marple into a motion picture, heaven forfend, and – worse still – rather than the birdlike, diminutive Miss Marple of her imagination, it is screen legend Margaret Rutherford, a large and loud lady known for her eccentricity and comedic turns, who is taking on the role (albeit reluctantly – murder is, after all, a sordid business). Why is she doing it? The tax man, of course.
So this is the set up of Murder, Margaret & Me. Two older women forced to become colleagues due to money, both doing something they never thought they would.
And then comes the murder. And the mystery. And, perhaps inevitably, Jane Marple is on the scene. Literally. She hovers over everything, never quite explained, a figment of both women’s imaginations perhaps, and it is in ‘The Spinster’ that they finally agree. They both know what Marple should be like, what she would say, how she would look, and it could indeed be this spectre at the feast (a gentile one who misses nothing and knows everything) that brings them together, pushes them apart, and then makes them friends once more.
Both women have a secret, you see, and neither wants the other to know about it. The difference between them is that Margaret Rutherford is quite happy to know nothing of what happened when Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days in 1926, whereas Christie is unable to let go of the mystery surrounding Rutherford’s family and its dark past.
I know a lot about Agatha Christie. I have read the books, seen the films, the plays, the television series… so a lot of what was revealed about her was no surprise (although very nicely done; Lin Blakley does the famous writer justice), but I had no clue about Margaret Rutherford other than she played Miss Marple and that Christie wasn’t overly impressed with the idea at the start. Now, thanks to the play and to Sarah Parks’ impeccable performance, I want to know more. Much more. How could this legend of stage and screen, this tragic heroine in real life, have passed me by? This is the power of Murder, Margaret & Me – it has opened up new worlds and I have to explore them now.
Special mention must also go to The Spinster (who needs no introduction) who manipulates and pushes and pulls our two ladies in the direction they are meant to go in. Played by Gilly Tompkins, she is the Miss Marple we all know and love.
66% of Brits’ want mood lighting fitted in their bathtub.
69% of Brits’ dream of digital controls for precise temperature, spray and timing in their shower.
Sanitising bathroom accessories tops list of bathroom technologies homeowners are dying to try!
A good lather and soak in the bath is the perfect antidote to stress, which is why more and more of us are turning to our powder room as a place to relax and unwind.
Accordingly, homeowners are seeking technologies to heighten their bathroom experience, taking lavatories, restrooms and water closets from humble necessity to the highlight of the home.
Interested in learning more about the relationship between homeowners and the latest smart bathroom technologies available, bathroom and shower experts Showerstoyou.co.uk surveyed 1,424 British proprietors to identify the tech features that most appeal to them.
It may come as no surprise when it comes to the toilet, homeowners most desire a self-cleaning feature (83%), followed by a self-deodoriser function (55%) and the ability to generate a heated seat (31%.)
69% of Brits are vocal about digital controls for precise temperature, spray and timing as the tech trend they most desire in the shower, followed by mood lighting (55%) and built-in sound – ideal for those that enjoy a shower-sing-along – at 48%.
Similarly, mood lighting (66%) tops the list of features British homeowners would most like to see fitted in their bathtub, followed by a built-in scented mist dispenser (62%) and a built-in heated backrest (41%); perfect for those sumptuous soaks.
In terms of general bathroom tech, a vast majority of Brits’ surveyed by Showers to You selected temperature control/thermostat smart control as the “general” feature they would like to see in their bathroom – at 62%.
Water conservation technology came second (41%); highlighting homeowners are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious within their homes; a trend which will likely ascend.
Wall-mounted, touch-panel interface was voted the third most-desired general smart bathroom technology (34%.)
The 5-bathroom technologies homeowners dream of trying:
Elsewhere in the bathroom tech universe, emerging technologies are tempting homeowners everywhere with the promise of sanitising, warming (and cooling), health-conscious solutions! Fairly new to the market, oftentimes underpinned by a hefty price tag, these technologies aren’t commonplace essentials… Yet!
Showerstoyou.co.uk asked homeowners which of these emerging technologies they’d most like to try in the future. Here’s the top 5:
Sanitising bathroom accessories – 59%
Gadgets that use UV light to disinfect items like damp towels – leaving them fresh, fluffy and clean!
Warming drawers – 52%
Think heated towel rack but in drawer form! The perfect place to store towels, robes and slippers.
Fitbit Wi-Fi scales – 48%
An advanced set of scales, which track weight, lean mass, body fat and more – and sync data wirelessly and automatically to your Fitbit account!
Virtual reality showers – 45%
This feature enables homeowners to project serene scenes – such as the beach, jungle or somewhere peaceful – within the washroom.
Cooled cabinetry – 28%
Essentially refrigerated bathroom cabinets, which allow you to keep medicines cool (should you wish to), as well as store drinks!
I write all sorts of things; flash fiction, poetry, short stories, novels… And these pieces of writing are in various genres; horror, romance, children’s, literary fiction, mystery… With over one hundred different projects, either completed or in process, I like to think that I’ve managed not to repeat myself when it comes to plot and characters.
I try not to anyway.
But there is one thing that I do mention a lot, and I’m completely aware of it. It’s not always intentional (although at times it is integral to the plot), but whether I mean it to be there at the start of a story or not, ‘the woods’ often pops up.
What do I mean? I mean actual, literal woods. Deep, dark places full of trees and animals and scary things. Or peaceful places full of beauty and clearings of dappled sunlight and twinkling, tinkling streams that lead on to adventure.
I love to read about them. When I was younger, The Faraway Tree was one of my all-time favourites, and the two poems that are stuck on the wall by my writing desk are “The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare, and “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.
I love to write about them too. Sometimes my stories are set within the trees. My children’s horror entitled The Waldgeist of Wanderal Woods, focuses the entire story in the magical world below a lush, green, leafy canopy. Another of my short stories is called “The Woods Today”, and is about a rather nasty teddy bears picnic. And another, “Miles To Go” details the shock and confusion of a man who awakes naked in a snowy wood.
Equally, some of my stories just touch on the woods. In “Fairy Lights” the protagonists camp by the edge of a wood, not daring to enter. “One Man and His Dog” has the eponymous man looking towards the woods, but eventually going in the other direction. “Careful of the Castle” involves a woman sitting on a hot, sandy beach; but she wishes she was wandering through the shaded woods of her home town.
There is something so fascinating, so elemental, so mysterious and exciting about woods, inside or out, that I find myself drawn to them. Of course, it helps that I’ve lived near one for almost all of my life. Or rather, near a few of them. The very first house I can remember backed onto woodland. I have a distinct memory of playing in the garden, sitting on a swing that my dad made and which hung from a big old apple tree, and staring, hard, hard, harder, over the back fence and into the woods. I wanted to see something move. I never did, unless wind-waving leaves counted.
A few years later we moved, and this time the garden was bigger, and at the bottom of this one was a large meadow on which horses roamed. That was nice. That was fine. But it was what was beyond the meadow, just on the horizon, that delighted me – a patch of trees that I was happy to call a wood. I even climbed over the back fence on a few occasions and ran across the field, dodging manure, to reach the trees. But fear of what (or whom?) I would find forced me back home. I never did go in.
And then I found a reason to go into the woods. The geocaching adventures I go on now mean that I have to enter the trees and I have to search amongst them. Now I love the woods even more.
Soft snowflakes began to fall. “How funny,” she thought, “that winter should come on the very day my heart began to melt.”
“How funny,” she thought, “that winter should come at all.” She pondered this as she sipped her warming wine and tried to ignore the hunger pangs that accompanied every swallow. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten. Not today. Not even yesterday. The day before? Possibly. If that was the day she had left the hospital then definitely. But that could have been a week, a month, a year ago. It seemed to her that she had been sitting in this window seat waiting for the snowflakes, drinking wine and tucked up against the world for decades. For centuries. For eternity. Little wonder, then, that she was feeling light-headed.
There was a sound, but she couldn’t place it. It was familiar, like a well-used door opening or a creaky stair being stepped on. A comforting sound. A safe sound. A loved sound. And that sound, and her knowing that she would soon hear it no longer, made her suddenly weep. She lowered her head to her raised knees and sobbed for the sadness of it all, for the unfairness. Her wine glass dropped, the red liquid cooling and spreading along the cushion she had re-upholstered herself in happier days.
The sound came again and she knew it through her grief. It was her husband’s key in the lock. Her melting heart, dwindling and dripping away, bit by bit, made an effort to pound harder, but failed. His key in the lock. It wasn’t possible, of course she knew that. She had left him, all those eons ago, dead from a heart attack. She had left him in the hospital, alone, and she had returned home, alone. And she was still there, and he was still there. Nothing had changed. But that sound…
She didn’t, as many would, rush to the door, fling it open and find nothing. She didn’t move at all. She reached down, picked up the almost empty bottle and refilled her glass. She watched the snow fall and listened as her heart melted.