Is it me…?

Just outside the Limehouse Link tunnel there’s a big sign that says what is – and isn’t – allowed on the road through the tunnel.

It lists ‘Inflammables’ and ‘Explosives’.

Erm, isn’t petrol inflammable and, erm, explosive?


Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast…

do you know how many people misquote that erm quote and say savage beast? no, me neither. but it’s got to be a big number…


Last night’s drive to the house in Brixton was accompanied by Smokers Outside the Hospital by Editors.

When I say accompanied I mean the whole trip.

It’s brilliant (Ted).

So brilliant that it’s only surpassed by this morning’s dose of Sigur Ros.

Back to Smokers Outside the Hospital.

I loved this track the first time I heard it on Mark and Lard Radcliffe and Maconie on Radio 2 a couple of weeks ago.

The track has a slow build but makes it to an anthemic hook that could have been written by Embrace, U2 and Snow Patrol had they met on a boozy night after a large quantatity of McCafferey’s had been put away.

The vocalist is reminiscent of Brad Roberts of Crash Test Dummies (the Canadian group who had a stormer in 1993 with Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm).

And that’s the thing…

Is Smokers Outside the Hospital so notably good because it’s as different from the bulk of the pap that’s in today’s charts as Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm was different from the stuff that was around in 1993?


It’s a brilliant track.

Book review – Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

This novel was the set text of a book group I attend.


I struggled with it from the outset.

But because it was a set text I kept up my struggle, battled on with it long after I would have given up on a novel-of-choice.

From the very first page I found it difficult to frame.

Suite Francaise is a fictionalised story of a group of characters set against the backdrop of the early days of the Second World War in France.

I tried to read it in the mental setting of the novel that it purports to be, but felt uncomfortable with it in this light.

My head kept trying to position the work as if it were a factional narrative, something along the lines of a ‘Diary of Anne Frank‘ kind of work…

But this too felt uncomfortable.

There is no doubting the sheer horror of the story of the persecution of the French Jews (by the French, implicitly, as well as by the Germans) that lies behind this fictionalised account.

There is also no doubting the sweeping vista that the authoress had intended Suite Francaise to become; five distinct tales set within the framework of a classical symphony, each with a differently paced-movement, Allegro, Andante…

We shall never know the pace of – or melody behind – the other movements because Irene Nemirovsky perished in an entirely predictable, tragic manner, long before she could finish creating her planned scenes, characters and settings.

I did wonder if it was the fictionalisation of the tale that made the book such a difficult read.

And then I slept on it and the next day remembered the two versions of ‘War and Peace‘ I’ve read.

The first was an early translation that had the feel of an old black and white move: strong atmosphere but stiff characters, stilted dialogue, seemingly cardboard-constructed settings.

The second – and much later – translation felt far more comfortable. Yes it had depth and character but it was as if the scenes somehow had removed their corsets; they became softer, less wooden, not as formal.

This makes me wonder if a different translation of Suite Francaise might find what, for me, this version is missing.

History repeats (wiser heads than Bush and Blair)

General Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz (01/06/1780 – 16/11/1831) wrote between 1816 and 1830 his acclaimed and (even now in the 21st Century) influentially pivotal text ‘On War‘.

On War‘ is the strategic thesis that effectively dictates what will win and what will lose the modern military battle.

Von Clausewitz’s thought-provoking exploration in to the logical rule of war is required reading at most modern military colleges – the Army college at Sandhurst is no exception.

The learned General makes it plain that ‘a war should never be fought on two fronts’.

Book 6, Chapter 7 – The Offensive Battle – is particularly interesting in the following observation of the flanking/outflanking manoeuvre:
‘To be able in turn to operate with success against the flanks of an enemy, whose aim is to turn our line, it is necessary to have a well chosen and well prepared position.’

Indeed Von Clausewitz’s contemporary, the Prussian Field Marshall Alfred Graf von Schlieffen sought to ignore this rule when he put forward a plan to fight a campaign on two fronts.

Von Schlieffen’s plan was later executed by the advancing German forces in the early stages of the First World War and resulted in a massive, costly (in human terms) and unbelievably painful period of trench warfare in which the better-armed, better-fed and better-equipped Germans comprehensively lost the battle.

It seems that two modern-day Generals haven’t read von Clausewitz’s definitive philosphy on warfare.

Bush and Blair.

It was a huge error in military judgement for Bush and Blair to commit a massive amount of military materiel to the open-ended and undefined ‘War or Terror’ which has resulted in the wilful slaughter that now defines the US-led invasion of Iraq.

But this error was compounded and magnified a hundred times when taken in the context of the other two military fronts that the US and UK were already fighting.


Yes, the war in Afghanistan is being fought on two fronts – and that’s something worth reminding ourselves of:

Afghanistan is currently host to the NATO-led military force which includes a large number of US forces.

Outside of this deployment – and external to this military structure, chain of command and communications model – are the US-led forces (almost exclusively composed of US ‘Special Forces’) who are fighting the local ‘War on Terror’.

So we have two distinct military operations in Afghanistan:
* The ‘regular’ forces that comprise the NATO operation and,
* The ‘special’ forces that comprise the ‘War on Terror’.

And in Iraq we have a third military operation; tens of thousands of staff fighting under the US-led ‘War on Terror’ (Iraqi Chapter) banner.

So the ‘alliance’ is actually fighting a war on three fronts.

I wonder what von Clausewitz would have said about that?

Having a break, having a Worcestershire Walkabout…

It’s lunchtime, it’s so quiet that a veil of complete and utter silence hangs over the valley.

Except for the twittering of the birds in the wood over there.

The view on three sides of me is green and arable; open fields stretch down and away from the hill I’m standing on.

Behind me is the American Barn (stable block) and the lorry park.

I’ve taken a half-hour lunchbreak (even though it’s 15.00) to check on the health and wellbeing of my boys – Beech and Vin.

The fly that’s been stalking me since I climbed out of the car is in for a shock if it gets too close.


Beech is fed up.

He doesn’t understand why he’s shut in his stable as though he’s a naughty schoolboy, grounded for overstepping one too many marks, when he hasn’t done anything naughty and it’s wonderful weather outside.

So I tried to explain that having a fractured leg meant no running, jumping or larking-about outside with Cousin Vin, but it does mean he has to stay in and try to not move too much… but he doesn’t get it.

He’s adopted an expression of puzzlement crossed with frustration; it suits his mood very well.

But he’s wearing a couple of sliced apples.

On the inside.

My fruit-based gesture of goodwill seems a little pathetic, particularly when I see him stumping around his stable with his floor-length Robert Jones Dressing on his near foreleg.

Vin was also pleased to see me.

As I walked down to his field he lifted his head, pricked his ears and made little whickering noises as he strode purposely towards me.

He looks good; keen, fit, healthy, raring to go and he shows no ill-effects from Saturday’s workout at Hilltop Cross Country.

I’ve trotted him up in the field, just to check he’s not lame after suffering the cut to his coronet band on Saturday.

Thrilled to see him move with his customary athleticism and no sign of tenderness.

Vin too is internally wearing a couple of sliced applies.

There’s a dressage competition over at Swallowfield on Saturday that I’m taking him to; Prelim 10 and Prelim 18.

Two more dressage tests to learn.

It’s very hot this afternoon.

Vin now has a sheen of fly repellent but my stalking bluebottle doesn’t seem to be particularly repelled.

I think I hate flies.

I need to go now.

I’ve been super-productive, got lots of work done today that I would still be struggling with, had I been in the office.

But I’ve got lots more to do.

The temptation to tack Vin up and school him in the arena for 20 minutes pops in to my head but I look down at my running-short-clad legs and dismiss the idea instantly.

I get in the car, start up, put the air-con on full blast and pull slowly out of the yard.

Bugger me.

That bloody fly’s in here!

Be afraid, be very afraid…

Short shorts, medium shorts and long shorts…


I’ve just finished the SciFi short that I’ve been working on for a few weeks.

Yeah I know, shorts shouldn’t take a few weeks, I should be knocking them out the way a chicken produces eggs (but perhaps with a little less straining and a lot less blood on the finished product).

But other things get in the way…

This evening I spent an hour and a half writing up documentation for a work-project. I have lots more documentation as well as analytical outputs to produce in the next couple of days…


I have the germ of an idea for another short story which, in theory, has a ready readership through a print magazine (rather than a magazine of the ‘e’ variety).

I’d like to sit down and work on this idea but I can’t see me having the time to even rough-out a draft synopsis for the next three to four weeks.

I’ll play with it in my head while I’m on the road, instead.


Sticks and stones (2)…

The title proved to be prophetic in a way.

This morning’s timing got changed; I rang William at 08.00 and said I was still up for the session but was going to be late down to Hilltop.

He said they had a cancellation overnight and did I fancy a slot at 11.00.

Did I?

Is the pope a Catholic?

I jogged back in to the barn and broke the news to Vin.

He looked at me inscrutably over his haynet, paused mid-munch, thought complex equine thoughts then continued munching.

I fannied about the yard, had a hot chocolate, did a final run through the checklist and went to get Vin.

Getting Vin was incredibly tough.

I walked past his stable – no large orange-coloured head looking over the door at me.

I did a comedy double-take and walked right up to the door.

He was in.

Lying down.

Fast asleep.

And I mean fast asleep!

I’d already groomed him but Vin (bless!) had got down on to his knees, rolled over on to his side, curled his legs underneath him and fallen fast asleep.

In a pile of specially laid (oh yes, I have no doubt of this!) horse poo.

He had a green stable stain right up his belly, left side of his barrel and left shoulder.

I called him.

His body language said ‘La la la I’m not listening’.

He wasn’t.

He was actually fast asleep.

I walked up to his slightly snoring form, slipped the head collar on and started calling him.

He looked up at me as if I were out of my head, turned and rested his head on a foreleg and closed his eyes again.

Sue and Laura were wetting themselves.

I eventually got him to wake and with a little (lot) more coaxing got him to stagger to his feet.

By now I was running out of time so I just loaded him, closed the lorry up and at 10.10 we drove out of the yard and headed down the A38, M5, M50 and on to Ledbury.

We arrived in good time, I unloaded a very settled-looking boy and set about getting him ready.

His stable stain brushed out as did the bedding shreds that were still all over him.

With Vin tacked up and booted and his rider wearing the customary degree of protection I mounted up and hacked down to the start of the cross country course.

We were late starting our session (we being three females aged between late teens and mid-thirties), late because one horse in the earlier group had lots of problems and William doesn’t like to give up on anyone.

When our group started Vin’s initial canter-lengthening scared the living daylights out of me; he slipped straight in to racehorse mode and tried to tank away with me.

I brought him back to the pace I wanted and we established a smarter rhythm and began popping over the warm-up fences in a short-course.

William called on us to give a lead to one of the other competitors several times – I couldn’t decide if the horse or the rider was having the problems.

We soon moved to the next field and Vin was absolutely brilliant, confidently jumping tree-trunks, shark’s teeth, helsinki rails and railway sleepers – light in to dark, dark in to light; my nerves long since vanished, Vin and I working together as a determined team with an objective at every fence.

It was brilliant.

We were brilliant.

It didn’t last though; we didn’t approach one set of steps with sufficient impulsion and he clattered the first element with his near fore.

The blood was flowing pretty fast; he’d cut himself on the coronet band – a very small cut but I don’t take chances, our day out ended there.

Sarah (bless) walked back to the lorry with us to make sure we were ok; it was nice to have a little chat with her.

Vin seemed fine, I flushed the cut with eight gallons of water, inspected the wound then flushed it some more, just for good measure.

Then I gave him a bath; he loved that!

We loaded up and made our way home.

Back at the yard I flushed his cut some more, groomed him then turned him out, then I went and snuggled Beech before cleaning the lorry out, putting the tack away and parking the lorry in its bay.

And then I got in my car and drove home, as high as a kite on adrenaline – despite Vin’s little mishap.

A brilliant day!


… and words will never…

Sitting at my desk this afternoon.

My boss quietly walked up behind me, said “Hi” and sat down in the vacant chair.

Are you going to be ok with that thing we spoke about earlier?

I looked at her for a moment; she took my silence as an affirmative.

It’s a very tight timescale.”

I stared at her for another few seconds and then said, “Yarp.”

Her turn to sit silently and stare.

Obviously  not seen Hot Fuzz.

But inside I was peeing myself.



Sticks and stones…

I have these two horses…

They’re lovely boys, a couple of real characters – and look almost like a matched pair.

Beech has been with me for about eight years.

I bought him for meat money – to save a good-looking ex-racehorse from being turned in to dogfood.

Which is kind of ironic really because in temperament he’s very similar to a dog; he loves me to bits, follows me around the field, likes to play – we play ‘tag’, and ‘chase’.

He likes to go out for a hack around the countryside and likes to school – flatwork and a bit of jumping, likes a little cross-country for fun too; he’s given up competing now though.

I retrained him from being a mentalist racehorse in to being a steady, controlled Eventer – and we had a couple of good seasons in the sport.

So he’s semi-retired now.

And on three legs.

Because a couple of weeks ago he got kicked by his companion; it wasn’t malicious and these accidents sometimes happen.


The vet rang me last night – 21.35!

She’d just had a set of x-rays developed and guess who is now showing a fracture in his leg?

Well OK, it’s not me so it must be…



So my poor boy is being forced to stay in during the grass peak months; at a time when he should be shovelling weight on he’s actually shedding it.

Dropping weight because he doesn’t like being ‘in’, doesn’t understand why everyone else is out 24/7 and he’s stuck in jail with no chance of parole.


We hope that the special Robert Jones (no relation) dressing he’s wearing, together with his enforced incarcaration,  will allow the bone to knit.

If it does then in a couple of months he can begin to be introduced to the great outdoors in a controlled way.

If it doesn’t knit…

I don’t want to think about that right now.


Anyway the other half of the bookend twins is Vin.

Vin’s much younger, half Beech’s age, and because he’s a recent addition to the family he’s still going through training to get him from ‘nutter ex-racehorse’ to ‘sensible’ Eventer.

Yep, Vin’s another challenge.


He doesn’t have half as much character as Beech – but Beech, it must be said, is exceptionally full of un-horselike, very humanlike behaviours.

What Vin does have is native talent.

Vin could go far in theEventing world, he has effortless ability, tremendous physical scope and a natural sense of balance that would shame most other horses I’ve ever met.

The trouble is what Vin doesn’t have is…

Common sense.

See? It’s swings and roundabouts.

Beech has wheelbarrow-loads of common sense, little ability and almost no sense of balance.

Vin has ability and balance equal to 10 to the power of Mexico’s overdraft but slightly less than a thimblefull of common sense.



Anyway Vin and I are out training tomorrow; cross-country schooling at Hilltop, Ledbury in Herefordshire – with William, my trainer.

And I’m starting to cack it.

It’s 19.30 and I’m starting to poo myself over a thing that’s not even going to start until 09.00 tomorrow morning.

Of course there’s a lot to be done tomorrow morning before the really scary stuff begins; I have to struggle out of bed for a start!

Then do bathroom stuff, lurch around the kitchen making tea and eating breakfast, getting appropriately dressed and driving to the yard.

Once there I’ll start the lorry up, pull it out of the parking bay, get it ready, load Vin’s tack and water, check everything we’ll need are in the correct places and make sure the human and equine first aid kits are fully supplied.

Then I’ll fetch Vin out of the field, groom him, load him in to the lorry and set off down the M5.

I didn’t always get this nervous about jumping cross-country – I should explain.

I broke my leg about six years ago.

Well, when I say I broke my leg what I mean is I broke my knee.

And tore my antecruciate ligament, postcruciate ligament, medialcruciate ligament and vaporourised the miniscal cartilige from the kneecap.

That happened while I was going cross country – on another horse, neither Beech nor Vin; Ash, if you want the perp’s name.

And since then, every time I’m less than 24 hours away from either going cross country or from competing in a full-on One Day, Two Day or Three Day Event…

I cack myself.

Right now – 19.34 Friday evening – the butterflies in my tummy are doing a fair impression of The Red Arrows.

Look, I know it’s going to be fun.

I know the moment we’ve popped over the first practice fence I’ll forget the stress of it all, settle down in to the rhythm of the sport and Vin and I will, for the duration of the clinic, become one single organism with two hearts, two heads, one-and-a-bit brains and six legs.


And we’ll both love the experience.

But right now?

Right now he’s over there in his field noshing his head off…

And I’m cacking it.


Child’s play

Yesterday evening the lovely S was telling me about an American childrens pony club-type book she had started reading.

In a nutshell she’s disappointed.

It seems that the cover and the blurb were better reads than the content.


I say ‘unsurprisingly’because I’ve read many American childrens pony club-type books and without exception they’ve all been rubbish.

Perhaps I should say trash?

Two reasons.

Firstly the language.

Wilde was right when he said of the US and UK two nations divided by a common tongue.

The technical terminology in the two equine worlds is different; what should be obvious similarities, umm, aren’t.

The foreign language leaves this reader cold. Or out in the.

Secondly the writing.

It’s as if the Americans can’t write quality fiction for children.

This, I believe, is why the US in particular has gone Potter Mad when even the Harry Potter books aren’t brilliantly written.

So having finished speaking with the lovely S I went hard-disk mining.

Sure enough, tucked away in a dark, dingy and very dusty corner of my laptop I found a small file containing two complete short stories that I wrote for my daughter in November 2005.

I’ll admit that neither is award-winningly written but, in mitigation, they were hastily created for a noisily demanding, frighteningly bright (too bright!) eight-year-old.

The first story (little more than an introduction to the two main characters) is just over 200 words.

The second (the two friends go on a holiday and have fun) is around 1,200 words.

There’s a third but it’s unfinished.


Now I’ve found them…

What do I do next?

I ask this question because I’m so completely overburdened with all this free time I have don’t have.