Friday, November 16, 2012

The Challenges of the English Language

Even though I'm English, there are still words I struggle to pronounce correctly. Nothing is ever what it seems and pronouncing certain names phonetically doesn't help much either. Here are some examples:

Althorp = all-trupp. 
Beauchamps = beecham
Berkley = barclay
Cockburn = co-burn
Derby = darby
Hertfordshire = hart-fordsheer
Leicester Square = lester square
Magdalen = maudelen
Pall Mall = pal mal
Saint John = sin jun
Thames = tems

I have often thought how confusing it must be to learn the English language and can't think of a better example than the following poem from Dutchman,  G. Noise Trenite.

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.(
Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Fe0ffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

I am so grateful I never had to learn the ropes!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

In Flanders Fields

It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month that marked the signing of the Armistice on November 1918. The guns on the Western Front fell silent after more than four years of continuous warfare. More than one million men and women from Britain and the Commonwealth died in World War One between 1914 and 1918.

My grandfather was thirty years old when he fought in the trenches. He was invalided out in 1916 stone-deaf and suffering from shell-shock that meant he would never work again. With eight children to feed it was up to my grandmother to hold the family together.

I never met him. Since my mother was the youngest of eight, Grandad died years before I was born but I think of him often—and always on Remembrance Day or Veteran's Day as it's known in the USA.

Queen Elizabeth II lays the first wreath of poppies at the Cenotaph in Whitehall for all those men and women who have died in warfare. But wreaths are also laid around the country at War Memorials on village greens and in town squares.

It's often asked why the red poppy became the symbol of remembrance.

Flanders—the western part of Belgium—saw the most concentrated and bloodiest fighting in the First World War. There was complete devastation. Buildings, roads, trees and natural life simply disappeared. Where once there were homes and farms there was now a sea of mud. Only one other living thing survived. The poppy. It seemed to bring life, hope, color and reassurance to those still fighting.

John McCrae, a doctor serving with the Canadian Armed Forces wrote this well-known poem.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
Though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Comfort of a Good Book

My mother was nine years old when she was evacuated from London to escape the bombs in World War Two. As the youngest of eight, Mum was sent away without her siblings. She was gone for four whole years during which time her father only visited a handful of times and her mother not at all. 

In those days, getting to Surrey from London—which now takes about an hour by train—was incredibly difficult. Apart from the fact that my grandfather fought on the Western Front in The Great War and was severely shell-shocked, neither of my grandparents could drive and besides, petrol was strictly rationed. 

During my trip to the UK this summer I was lucky enough to combine a book tour and spend time with my mother. The two of us traveled around England. It was a wonderful trip—especially when my daughter was able to join us for the odd weekend. Girls on tour! But most of all, it was the first time as an adult I could really question mum about her life as a wartime evacuee. 

She stayed with three different families—one woman, "Olive" was particularly unkind to her (mental note to self, potential murder victim) and Mum was incredibly lonely. My grandparents did not have a telephone and although they wrote to her, letters were slow in arriving. 

I asked Mum how she survived and she said by reading a book called "The Twins To The Rescue." 
 On returning to the USA I set out to track down a copy of that book and was thrilled when Abbey Antiquarian Books came up trumps. The wonders of the Internet!

The first thing I did was read the book myself.

Published around 1937, author Joyce Bruce tells the story of twins who are sent to stay with a distant relative in a manor house far away from home because their parents are going abroad for six months. It was easy to understand why the book struck such a chord for her.  

Abbey Antiquarian Books said they are "Purveyors of nostalgia." I began to think about the books I loved when I was age 9. Enid Blyton's "The Famous Five, Michael Bond's "Paddington Bear," and my all-time favorite, "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe," (oddly enough I only read that book at the time, not the others in the Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis

I also started thinking about times when reading a book brought me great comfort during difficult times. Books have helped me escape from reality when I’ve suffered through many a broken heart, a divorce, bereavement, unbearable anxiety and just plain nerves whilst waiting to interview for a new job. But I’m sure none can equal the fear of a nine-year old sleeping in a strange bed so far from home over seventy years ago.
“The Twins to The Rescue” was published with Girl Guides in mind (at a cost of 3s 6d). Throughout the story the twins are governed by Girl Guide Law No.8.

“A Guide smiles and sings under all difficulties.”

And my darling Mum still smiles and sings under all difficulties to this day. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The British Empire's Pink Bits

It's been almost twenty years since I set off for the land of milk and honey with stars in my eyes. Not once have I ever forgotten my roots. I subscribe to Country Life magazine, watch BBC America, listen to BBC World News and, without fail, drink tea at 4:00 PM every afternoon. In fact, with the close of the Olympics, I've never felt more British. Team GB was brilliant.

Bearing in mind that our little island (including Northern Ireland), is smaller than the state of California, Team GB—per capita—were really the overall winners (just kidding). But of course "we" used to be much larger.

The British Empire reached its peak in the early 1920s. With the additions of the League of Nations—mandated territories in the Middle East, Africa, and the South Pacific, one-quarter of the globe was pink! Hence the phrase "the pink bits."

So what are the pink bits and where did the phrase come from?

Traditionally, pieces of the British Empire were colored pink on maps. This was a bit of a compromise because red was really the color associated with the Empire. But if the colonies, protectorates and mandates were also printed in red on a world globe, it was tricky to read the place names within them.

Even though we no longer talk about the Empire (apart from my mother), Queen Elizabeth II is still the titular head of state of Canada and Australia.

Here is a list of our current overseas territories ... Anguilla, Bermuda, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands (we fought a war over these), Gibraltar (just the rock), Montserrat, Pitcairn Island (remember the mutineers of HMS Bounty and Captain Bligh?),  Saint Helena—including Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands.

And ... Independent States with our Queen as head ... Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts-Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

And finally ... Crown Possessions ... Channel Islands, including Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark (in the English Channel) and The Isle of Man (in the Irish Sea).

Hmm ... gosh. Maybe my mother is right. The Empire still lives on!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Pitman Shorthand

During my travels in England last month, I stumbled upon Collards, a tiny bookshop tucked down a narrow road below the ruined castle of Totnes, Devon. It was filled with all kinds of unusual books from first editions to a collection of the "Lilliput" monthly pocket magazine.   But what caught my eye was a slim book on Pitman Shorthand published in 1919.

Developed by Sir Isaac Pitman (1813-1897), Pitman Shorthand is a form of phonetic speedwriting. The symbols do not represent letters but sounds. The words are written as they are spoken using a series of strokes, loops and hooks that differ only in thickness and length and where they are placed above, through or below the line. Vowels are light or heavy dots, dashes or dipthongs. It looks mind-boggling on the page but I love it. 

I'm particularly fond of Pitman Shorthand because without it, I wouldn't be a "Resident Alien" and wouldn't be working in the USA.

It was Pitman Shorthand that gave me a "special" skill when I applied for my Green Card many years ago. Who could have possibly imagined that these little squiggles would open a door to a new chapter in my life!

I first learned Pitman Shorthand when I was 19 on a sandwich course (as they were known back in the day) in Cardiff, Wales. We took dictation every day for three straight hours. It was excruciating and I resented it at first.  But gradually, my speeds picked up and by the end of the first month I was writing 120 words per minute—that's pretty fast. The average writer writes longhand at 20-30 wpm. A good typist is 50-80 wpm at a push since we're all so keyboard savvy these days. Apparently the fastest shorthand speed attained in a test was 350 wpm by Nathan Behrin in 1922!

Three decades plus later, I can still read my shorthand (I wrote an entire diary one year - obviously not wanting to let my mother read it) - and I still remember how to write the basics though I'm not that fast anymore.

Here is an excerpt from the little book that I purchased for £1.50.  I still find shorthand beautiful to look at.

If you're really interested in learning more, check out this fabulous blog called Long Live Pitman's Shorthand and sharpen your pencil.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Back in La-la-land

Yes! I'm here at last. What a grueling few months! I have neglected this blog horribly but I've returned from my six week trip to England full of a gazillion resolutions—losing weight, never eating sugar again, exercising every day, keeping a clean house, wearing a permanent smile at work with a "Yes of course, I'd love to do your expense report"—and writing a regular update on my blog. Giving up wine is not on this list.

I also turned in the first book in a new series for St. Martins Press. Writing a new series is always a challenge especially when other things get in the way e.g. breaking my hand last November, having a very demanding full-time job and finding windows of time to promote Vicky Hill in England. I'm also a wife, a daughter, a sister, a mum, an aunt, a great-aunt and a slave to my cat Mr. Tig. Life has never been so busy. 

England was glorious as always but gosh, the weather was atrocious. I've lived in California for nineteen years (can't believe it. I was only coming here for two). I'm used to sunshine even though I don't have time to really enjoy it (see above paragraph). It's good to wake up to a blue sky every morning but it can never beat the beauty of the English countryside. 

The book part of my trip was lovely. There are so many bricks and mortar stores still standing. I had a great launch party at the Torbay Bookshop (thanks Mum for buying six copies and boosting my sales). I also did interviews with the amazing Judi Spiers on BBC Radio Devon and with the wonderful David White on  BBC Radio Cornwall which will be posted on my website in the next few days.

The last part of the trip ended with a ten day family holiday in Trebarwith, North Cornwall. There were twelve of us. My sister and I have been going to the same place for fifty years. It seems to be the only place we know that has never changed and hopefully, never will.

The headland is owned by the National Trust with glorious walks. Like this one ... a six mile trek—mostly in the pouring rain—from Trebarwith to Port Isaac. It took us four hours and it took my hiking boots four days to dry out.

Along the way is Barrett's Zawn and the entrance to an old tunnel that runs through the cliff down to the beach. It's very steep, narrow and dark and was supposedly used by Cornish smugglers in the nineteenth century. The locals call it The Donkey Hole.
Tunnel Opening

Daphne du Maurier's famous novel, "Jamaica Inn" is set locally and tells the story of Mary, a young orphan sent to live with relatives who are the landlords of Jamaica Inn. Mary soon realizes that her uncle's inn is the base of a gang of ship wreckers who lure ships to their doom on the rocky coast. Jamaica Inn is still there and reputedly haunted (of course) with regular Overnight Ghost Hunts.

Opening from Beach
There is something magical about Cornwall—the legend of King Arthur, Merlin's Cave, the Knights of the Round Table. Perhaps that's why I continue to go back year after year ... it's certainly not the weather.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Uninvited Guests!

Having thoroughly enjoyed ten days with my nephew and his girlfriend staying in our apartment, the subject of uninvited guests came up. I’m not talking about acquaintances begging a bed for the night en route to the airport, but guests of the supernatural kind.

Our apartment has a long, narrow hallway—ideal for playing skittles—at the end of which is our bedroom. For the past few weeks I’d felt a curious heaviness outside the bedroom door. I didn’t think any more of it until my nephew (age 21) said, “I know you might think me a weirdo but you’ve got a ghost in your apartment.” He then told me where. You’ve guessed! At the end of the hallway! AND THEN … my husband sheepishly admitted that he’d felt a “presence” looming over him in bed and a very cold draft. He’d not been able to sleep for weeks.

A quick chat to our friend Ben Scuglia aka pet psychic and medium (hey! I live in LA) who advised us to lay down a few house rules—no visiting whilst we’re in the shower etc.—and our uninvited guest disappeared. I never found out who it was.

This experience reminded me of something that happened in England when I moved to a 16th century cottage next to the churchyard in Chailey Green, Sussex. The photo here was taken before my time in the early 1900’s. However, not much has changed—except for the cow.

My eight-year-old daughter and I lived in the left cottage and a lay preacher lived on the right. He told us quite cheerfully, that if we “saw a shadow” floating about at night, the shadow’s name was Thomas Jeffery who used to be the butcher there and to say “hello.” Thomas was actually buried in the churchyard. Here is his epitaph:

To the Memory
Thomas Jeffery
Who died 18th October 1852
Aged 18 Years
When pursuing his trade as a butcher
His knife slipped and
Severed the main artery of his thigh
After which he lived only one hour.
Thus suddenly in God’s providence
Was this young communicant taken
To his rest.

I thought no more of it. Two years went by until one dark and stormy night, I had just been unceremoniously dumped by my boyfriend at the time and was vacuuming furiously at midnight, cursing, crying, flinging myself all over the furniture etc. Thinking back, I must have disturbed something in the ether.

At exactly 4 am (I checked) I was awoken by a curious yowling sound coming from my daughter’s bedroom – she was away at the time. Believing there was a rogue cat inside my cottage that was tormenting my own kitty, I went to investigate.

The room was so cold that I could see my breath. Rosie, my poor cat was terrified. So much was her fright that she had suffered a chronic diarrhea attack and was utterly paralyzed. She was staring into the corner that used to house the original staircase. Rosie’s eyes were bulging and her fur and tail bristled. When I followed her gaze I thought I’d die of fright myself.

A shadowy form filled the doorway. It was a fuzz of black molecules in the outline of a tall man that I can only liken to the energy pattern depicted in the transporter chamber in Star Trek. I knew immediately it was Thomas.

I prayed. It was all I could think to do—forget about having a friendly chat! Finally, after a good half hour (yes, I checked), he vanished. I never saw him again but he stayed around.

For the next three months, strange things started to happen. All the taps would turn on throughout the cottage at the same time; lights would flip on in the middle of the day and cupboards, dry with no water pipes anywhere, would have inexplicable pools of clear liquid on the floor or even soak a piece of clothing on a coat hanger.

After a while, I couldn’t handle it, nor could my daughter or my cat. Eventually, I called in the help of a spiritual group who conducted an exorcism of sorts with beautiful songs and soothing music. Thomas left.

Up until that experience, I never believed in ghostly visitors. It was a life changing experience for me and one I think, now makes me receptive to uninvited guests just passing through. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

My Early Morning Mews

The other day a friend of mine asked me about my morning writing routine. I explained that it was really boring but she insisted that I tell her all the tiny details.

So here it is ... I set my alarm for 5:15 AM. (It will be moved to 4:15 AM next month as I get closer to my mid-April deadline). I don't have any problem getting up at all mainly because I used to keep horses when I was a teenager and was always getting up early. In those days my alarm clock was the old-fashioned clanging bell variety that used to throw me out of bed in a state of numb shock. At least now my BlackBerry alarm is a gentle ocean sound that slowly gets louder. Usually I'm awake before the alarm and find I am already thinking about my plot.

Next, I throw on my old green sweater on top of my pajamas. It's my lucky writing sweater and full of holes but I don't care. I add thick socks and fingerless gloves and creep out of our bedroom to Mr. Tig's (the cat) "room." It's actually my husband's office but has been officially taken over by the real man of the house. Mr. Tig is a notoriously light sleeper and at the first sound of me stirring, he's waiting by the door grumbling and complaining as usual. I know it's cruel to keep him closed in at night but he's impossible to sleep with and believe me, my husband and I have tried.

Mr. Tig and I pad into the kitchen where I give him his breakfast, take my supplements (I told you this is boring) and make a cup of coffee. A few months ago Nikki Bonanni who runs The Killer Coffee Club suggested I buy a Keurig coffee maker, a classy Krupps coffee grinder and reusable K-cups. The K-cups are perfect to satisfy my early morning coffee addiction - fresh every time! I'm very particular about my coffee. French Roast is my favorite.

THEN Mr. Tig and I go to The Rug. This is his very own rug (torn to shreds) that the lovely Joanne O'Brien who runs Sittin' Kitty in Los Angeles had to give him after his last stay with her. I brandish The Love Glove and give Mr. Tig some serious loving for about ten minutes.

Mr. Tig and I then retire to our pretty yellow love seat where I sit with my laptop and he snuggles next to me kneading a scrap of sheep fleece from Yorkshire. I write for a good two hours before jumping into the shower and going to work.

And that's my morning routine. I really couldn't do it without coffee or my cat. 

And this is why we do not sleep with Mr. Tig. Remember to turn up the sound.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Keeping A Stiff Upper Lip

My pins are out but my thumb and forefinger seem to have gone into rigamortis. For some reason I assumed I would be able to drive, cook, dress myself and type feverishly on a computer keyboard.

I have weeks of horrible physiotherapy ahead (and those exercises really hurt) - but I am back at work and keeping a stiff upper lip in true English fashion.

What is the definition of a stiff upper lip?  "To face misfortune bravely" or "to suppress the display of any emotion." In my case, it's the former and not the latter. Ask my husband.

The origins of the stiff upper lip date back to the 1800's. The phrase traditionally has been used to describe an attribute of the British people (the class above stairs if you are following Downton Abbey). However, rumor has it (thank you Wikipedia) that its earliest known example came from a publication called the "Massachusetts Spy" for 14 June 1815. "I kept a stiff upper lip, and bought license to sell my goods."

So why just the upper lip and not the lower? Maybe it had something to do with the enormous mustaches most men sported in those days making the top lip more noticeable when quivering.