Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

Just putting the bin out. Can’t be too careful

Staying Alive. In it for the long haul.

Marigold says…

G said he feels like a hunter gatherer now. I said you are only ordering bacon and 4 chicken fillets from the butcher. The only thing you hunt is your glasses and then gather the rubber gloves to bring the delivery in off the step.

The role of ordering delivery food he has nominated to himself. Just as well as I aren’t very organised. I have never had such weird food and treats. I have noticed he has emptied his sock drawer which now contains lots of liquorice, dark chocolate and very cheap midget gems which he says are the best.

I really can’t imagine enjoying a meal in a restaurant surrounded by Perspex. It would be much easier and cheaper to get a takeaway and sit in the car which would be a similar experience. You could even have a conversation with the none existent people in the back or an imaginary dog. Think we will manage with neither of those options.

G Says…

I've heard that hard work never killed anyone, but I say why take the chance?” ― Ronald Reagan

People I know only through social media - ie not ‘real’ friends and for all I know not even real people – do seem to have some very strange misconceptions about me in the Lockdown Era.

Surely you’re lonely? No, I’m not and never have been.

Marigold and I must be getting on each other’s nerves? Oh, come on. We only ever fall out on those very rare occasions I am slow to realise my culpability in a dispute. I apologise, order is restored. Marigold adopts the Queen’s motto: never apologise, never explain, and who am I to argue with either of them?

I suppose you’re busy learning a new skill with all that free time? Another language, perhaps? Oh dear. These strangers who’ve surreptitiously invaded my life know nothing.

After moving to France, on a whim, the whole process took about three weeks from Marigold asking ‘do you fancy living in France’ to turning up with our entire possessions in a van I soon suspected to have been an MOT failure parked in the wrong slot by the Van Hire company.

The house was vast with equally massive outbuildings, the nearest neighbours were a mile away, the house was unliveable having been abandoned for the past thirteen years and we lacked both construction skills and the ability to speak French.

Learning the language by association only with the staff of builders’ merchants isn’t recommended, but we managed and after ten years I reckoned I’d ‘cracked’ one language and was ready for a fresh challenge when we moved to Spain.

I genuinely thought learning Spanish would be a doddle. It wasn’t. Learning a language requires tremendous feats of memory and there’s the first problem. I know ‘lots of stuff,’ but dredging it from the bottomless pit of my memory when an instant response is required, that’s not as facile as it used to be.

I could win Mastermind, I keep telling myself, if only they’d relax the rules a little. Instead of relentlessly firing questions at the contestants, why not allow a reasonable period of grace to allow those contestants who ‘know’ the answer, but need a little longer to come up with it. About twenty minutes between questions sounds about right. No, I wouldn’t watch it in that format either, but at least I’d stand a chance of winning.

Learning Spanish, as with any language, isn’t all that difficult. Learn a thousand words and you’re in business. Leaving aside the inconvenient niceties of grammar and perceived pronunciation for now, that thousand words will get you well past the ‘me Tarzan, you Jane’ stage, but won’t ever get you presumed to be a native speaker. Fluency is reserved for the very few.

Add in my slight deafness, bad enough in English but seriously limiting in another language and I knew I’d got problems. Our only neighbour on the remote goat track that formed the access road to our ruined finca was an elderly man named Candido. He spoke to us every time we saw him. We never understood a word he said.

He was often the worse for wear after an afternoon sampling the (vile) spirit he distilled in his bodega/shed, which didn’t help our understanding and his Andalusian dialect was pretty much indecipherable. About a year later, a Spanish friend who spoke excellent English called to see us and confided he couldn’t understand anything Candido was saying either.

Marigold never sees the absence of linguistic skills as a barrier. She can ask for and receive food, drinks, directions anywhere in the world without using any words at all. I remember making an utter fool of myself in a Chemist shop in Croatia, or may have been Romania, floundering around with phrase book in hand while asking if they stocked knee bandages. When the woman produced a packet of Viagra I gave up and handed over to Marigold. She rolled up my trouser leg, pointed to the swollen knee and within seconds an elastic bandage was offered.

I really don’t know why I bother.

So, no I haven’t learnt a new language during lockdown. Just one more opportunity scorned. When we first hit Lockdown I realised I would be forced to find a substitute for the daily exercise routine my ailing, substandard and barely fit for purpose heart demands. No more ten mile hikes, yomping across moorland with a rucksack full of bricks on my back, no more pre dawn plunges into the ocean and absolutely no chance of ever breaking a world weightlifting record for the clean and jerk.

When I broached the subject to Marigold she looked a tad bemused. ‘I didn’t know you’d actually started an exercise routine,’ she said. ‘I remember you saying you were intending to start one. Sometime.’

‘I need to exercise,’ I said. ‘The Health Minister and Boris himself are worried about me’ and proffered in evidence my first ‘vulnerable person at death’s door’ letter advising me to avoid people, places and impure air at all costs to try and ensure my survival for another week or so.

Marigold was actually quite supportive of my plans. I can walk outside, up and down the path, without ever coming into contact with anyone else. It’s not much of a path, a return trip, there and back, takes about thirty seconds, but the only other alternative is to repeatedly walk up and down the hall which I can’t imagine is beneficial to either heart or floor coverings.

I have an exercise bike housed in what an estate agent would try and persuade a putative buyer was a second bedroom. With the bike in situ there’s not much room for anything else.

Marigold saw the bike for sale on Gumtree a while ago, long before the onset of a pandemic, and noticed its listing dated back eight months. ‘They’ll take an offer after all this time,’ she announced and we set off for a viewing.

On arrival at the house, with Marigold navigating this took quite a while, my initial impression was one of surprise. I hadn’t expected it to be so big.

‘It cost £450,’ the seller informed us as we crammed together in his hallway with the enormous orange contraption taking up most of the space, ‘but I’ll take £25.’

The owner (verbally) demonstrated its ability to record times, duration and, most importantly in his view, cadence by pointing at the large dial mounted on the handlebars.

‘I don’t think it’s working just now,’ he said, ‘Probably needs a battery.’

Marigold offered him £20, he was happy to accept, and we carted it back home.

Did I mention it weighs about as much as three fridge freezers? The magic dial didn’t work and still doesn’t. I doubt it ever will now as I knocked it off its mounting on getting it through the front door so my ‘cadence’ will be forever a mystery.

There are eight settings, varied by turning a knob on the frame. Setting number one is virtually free wheeling- a gust of wind will set the pedals spinning – while setting number five requires the rider to have thighs like Sir Chris Hoy to budge the pedals. I have no idea what the other settings are supposed to do as the knob only works on setting number one and setting number five.

‘Twenty quid, eh?’ I said.

‘He wanted twenty-five,’ Marigold pointed out, ‘until I beat him down.’

Hmm!

I use it, not every day but most days, pedalling away furiously (high cadence) until exhaustion point or five minutes, whichever comes first. Usually the former. As with my walking regime the key to success has been a smart watch, busily recording steps and heart rate. I need to keep an eye on my heart rate – enough to do good but not so high as to risk harm – so having a contemporaneous record is vital.

Knowing how many steps I take is of little value as I walk for a set time, twenty minutes brisk walking up and down the path at a time is all anyone could reasonably stand, but Marigold expressed an interest in the data so she bought a wrist band to record her own steps.

Now it’s a competition.

A one sided one as even someone as competitive as me draws the line at step counting. It’s 24 paces, end to end, along my marching route, 25 if I concentrate, while Marigold takes about 85 steps to cover the same distance.

Or so it seems. Does she really walk like a gheisha? I hadn’t noticed it in the past.

‘Eight thousand, three hundred and seven,’ Marigold announces, flopping red faced into her chair.

I nod and try to look impressed. I hadn’t even noticed she’d been out. For all I know she’s only been out there for ten minutes. I try not to look at my wrist, but just have to do it. It’s only half eight in the morning, I’ve not even got my shoes on yet, not even considered going out for a ‘walk.

‘How many?’

‘A hundred and eight,’ I say. Marigold doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t need to. It’s another crushing victory.

I was glancing through a copy of The Spectator published on 15 October 1954 recently.

What, you mean everyone else doesn’t hang on to their ‘stuff’ like me? Okay, it’s a fair cop, I found it while doing what some people call online research, but Marigold and I say is just us being nosy.

The subject of my far from prurient interest was Compton Mackenzie. Let’s be fair to him, Sir Edward Montague Compton Mackenzie. I was convinced he founded the Scottish National Party - even though he wasn’t Scottish he identified as Scottish – and it turns out he did.

Result!

I knew he’d been a prolific author, about 100 books, even though Whisky Galore and Monarch of the Glen are the only ones most people will have heard of and only then because of the film tie in. I didn’t know he had been President of both the Croquet Association and the Siamese Cat Club. Now, that’s much more interesting than founding a Nationalist Movement.

Getting to the point, finally, I’ll offer up this quote from the great man of letters taken from his correspondence with Sir Harold Nicolson who had ‘declared recently that the novel was dead.’ Compton Mackenzie wondered if this were indeed the case ‘I should presently be called as a witness in a murder trial’ and took issue with Nicholson’s conclusion.

He did add, however, 'While I would not say that the novel is dead yet, I often wonder whether anybody will be writing novels fifty years from now.' This was written in 1954, remember, and novels are still being written. More than ever before.

We will always need forms of escapism. In the present day, however, newspapers and magazines are in decline and the written word, if not doomed to extinction, shows every signs of morphing into very different means of communication.

Marshall McLuhan prophesied in the 1960s that people would eventually stop reading paper based print completely and henceforth communicate instead through electronic media. I was just one of the multitudes who mocked this sacrilegious subversion.

His words back then, ‘the medium is the message’ resonate rather more vividly today. McLuhan’s chief concerns were radio, telephone and television. If he’d foreseen the arrival of the Internet Age he’d have spontaneously combusted.

'But, what are you doing with all this free time? Explain yourself,' they demanded and after much prevarication I decided I’ll give it a go. If this ends up as a boring essay, please forgive me and the blog will be back in light and frothy mode very soon.

If you’re bored, please blame me and not Marigold who couldn’t be boring if she tried.

So she doesn’t.

The acceptance of routines can be very important for many people because they offer a safety net, safety, security, an impression of predictability. The outside world shrinks, becomes less of a challenge. Bad things happen, but only on television. Yes, burying one’s head in the sand is a massive con job, but reality is much harder to live with.

I decided I need to keep busy. After a week’s thought the best I could come up with was to take another look at a book I ‘finished writing’ about a year ago. When I say ‘finished’… Editing, formatting, all the technical fiddling that takes a scribbled manuscript and knocks it into shape takes up a lot of time.

Far too much time. Once the laborious, tedious, seemingly sisyphean task has begun it takes over one’s life. Everything else stops, but as I remind myself every day now, I have plenty of free time for a ‘project.’

 

Of course my project had to be connected to the written word. Recently I sent that rough draft manuscript out into the scary world of agents and publishers, a world I imagined (hoped) I would never again allow to concern me.

It’s a novel aimed at a teenage readership, a very different genre to everything I have written before, but I realised its time may have come as the central theme of the narrative is surviving a world wide pandemic. I wrote it long before coronavirus was ever heard of so it turns out to have become topical by entirely serendipitous means.

It’s not been snapped up and I’ve allowed the publishing world an entire month to dash in with offers of a hefty advance and suggestions of film rights to follow. Four weeks, nearly five actually, is a mere nanosecond to the publishing industry, but I wasn’t ever bothered about tying myself down to a publisher again anyway.

‘How long is a nanosecond anyway?’ replied Marigold, reading over my shoulder like an annoying commuter. Other than being aware it was not very long at all, I hadn’t the faintest idea. I looked it up.

I’ll be with you in two seconds,’ in our house is a pretty inaccurate measurement of elapsed time. Anything from a couple of minutes to half an hour. The next time I am accused of offering misleading information as to how long it would take me to finish the (undoubtedly) vital task in which I was engaged and sprint off to do something mind-blowingly trivial instead I will offer up, ‘if I’d said I would be there in a nanosecond, would that have been soon enough?’

A nanosecond, apparently, is one-billionth of a second, but time can be measured by increments far shorter. A picosecond is three orders of magnitude shorter, one-trillionth of a second, and a femtosecond is shorter still at one-quadrillionth of a second.

It’s pretty unlikely any of these measurements will ever find a place in my daily routine.

Getting back to the book project I’ll publish it to Kindle myself. This time around I will have zero expectations and thus avoid disappointment if (when) it sinks without trace. Leaving it unpublished, however, written but not sent out to a wider audience, has a bizarre attraction.

The concept of being unpublished has perhaps been understated and undervalued. As a writer, my work is done. The book is written. Does it really matter if anyone other than Marigold ever reads it?

It mattered once. It mattered a great deal. But, maybe no longer. There’s a certain kudos in being a deliberately unpublished writer. I may set a trend. I really liked being an ex writer. So much more interesting than just being a writer.

I never said ‘I’m a writer’ anyway if asked how I spent my days. Much easier now when asked ‘what do you actually do’ to say ‘I don’t do anything. Nothing at all’ or if the enquirer is a tiresome stranger I mutter, ‘I don’t do nuffink.’

That keeps supplementary questions at bay.

Once a book is published, it cannot ever really become unpublished. I think occasionally about my previous books. If I were writing them now, would they be different?

Better?

Well, I’d hope they’d be better. I imagine most writers would like to go back and rewrite their own published novels. I know I would.

A friend who is an artist – not in the urine sense, but an actual painter – faces the same dilemma as does a novelist: when to say ‘enough.’ One more brush stroke, one more edit, there has to be a time to say, ‘that’s it, finished.’

A painted canvas or a novel, they’re never really ‘finished’ in the eye of the painter or author, but there has to be a completion point. Our artist friend – it was inevitable we should call her Arty-Farty - says she doesn’t regard her pictures that leave to go and hang on gallery walls as a ‘finished project’ but as an ‘abandoned project.’ It’s a fine distinction but encapsulates perfectly my own feelings when I declare a work ‘finished.’

I know only too well how much any subsequent re-readings of any of my published novels irritated and annoyed me. I could have described that scene better, made a better fist of that section of dialogue, but it’s far too late now.

In a sense, after allowing a period of contemplation, I have already done this. Taken some of my old books in hand, tidied them up, changed any style elements that subsequently irritated me and reissued them under a new identity in one of my many different pen names.

Unheralded, different author name, different title, amended content, they won’t take off and become best sellers again as once I imagined was the be all and end all of being a writer, but I’m happier with them now and that’s all I wanted.

Writing a novel is rather like climbing Everest; much better as something that’s already been done, or even better claimed to have been done, than on a list of things still to do. Achievement is so much better in hindsight. Better still in plausible absentia, I imagine.

I walked the walk so can safely talk the talk as a writer, but hypergraphia, the overwhelming compulsion to write has never been much in evidence with me. Overwhelming compulsion to eat, that’s very different.

This last book isn’t what I call a novel. It’s certainly been easier to write. Shorter, that helps, lighter in tone and content, the Young Adult readership make far less demands on a writer so, obviously, I thought it would be a good idea to make life as difficult as possible for myself. I’m not, never have been and (unless there’s more to reincarnation than I think) I suspect I never will be a fifteen year old female.

That’s a difficulty I could have avoided by choosing a male lead character, so why then compound the problem even more by writing the book as a First Person narrative? This compels the writer to include the narrator in every ‘scene’ with all the plot restrictions that brings to bear and I try to avoid using First Person narratives from choice.

Evelyn Waugh once wrote ‘the writing of novels in the first person is a contemptible practice’. The fact he later wrote his most popular novel, Brideshead Revisited, in the first person still doesn’t mean he was wrong. So, why make life difficult? Well, I can’t speak for Evelyn Waugh – I thought he was female for an embarrassingly long time in my younger days - but with me it’s the challenge, you see?

If I am to escape accusations of ‘dumbing down’ for a more youthful audience, no swearing, no graphic violence, no torrid sex*, I need an escape route. The alternative is succumbing to a mind numbing sense of ennui which is bad enough in normal times but in lockdown would be unbearable.

*Although several of my previous books contained all these elements, I have never been asked if the sexual content is prompted by personal experience. Gruesome murders, yes, but gymnastic sex never. I’m rather offended by that presumption of those activities being entirely imaginary.

Obviously, the sex scenes are just like the actions and thought processes of serial killers which people so readily attribute to my nature, I make it all up.

Amazon know me as Gulliver Smith in this latest incarnation. I’ve been known by many different names, been called a good many more uncomplimentary ones as well, over the years and Gulliver Smith is as good a substitute as any.

I’ve now added the Young Adult (as the teenage readership must now be called) book, Staying Alive, to Amazon Kindle store. There may well be a paperback version in due course, but I have some formatting snags to sort out first, otherwise known as not applying myself.

Staying Alive is a book I wrote on a whim, a desperate attempt to ease myself back into writing by choosing an unfamiliar genre. I have slight concerns that readers who liked my other books will find this one rather tame while appreciating the reverse effect is even more likely.

Anyway, if you’re interested in the mysterious effects of involuntary confinement on creativity, Staying Alive by Gulliver Smith on Amazon Kindle Store is the place to go.

There’s a few other Gulliver Smith books on there too. They’re very different in the main and perhaps not ideally suited to a teenage/young adult readership. I’m not remotely interested in going back to mainstream publishing and selling humongous numbers of books so I tried very hard to persuade Amazon to make all my books free to read.

After all, they’ve earned rather well off the sweat of my brow over the years.

They agreed to make them free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers but sadly can’t be persuaded to extend their largess to everyone. Hence the lowest available price point of 99p is the best I can do.

Here's a direct link to the Gulliver Smith Author Page on Amazon. Just click on  this link:

Gulliver Smith Books

 

 

Really? I saw this in San Francisco. No wonder Americans are so dumb. No, obviously I don't think that

Is this my books on 'display' in Waterstones. I once ignored the advice of their chief buyer. Regrets, I've had a few.

Bread pudding day. Like a red letter say, but much tastier.