Thoughts on being locked down

Typically, I try to avoid this sort of thing on my blog – I try to keep it to topics connected to writing, but maybe it’s time for a bit of a break from my just writing about writing, and to talk about myself a little. If anything here strikes a chord, and/or inspires you to write about your lockdown, please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

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Lichfield Cathedral, taken from the east end – a path running round Stowe Pool, literally 5 minutes’ walk from where we live.

First off, for someone who’s self-employed and typically works on their own, even if it is for other people, a lockdown isn’t that much of a change. I can usually start work when I like, and finish when I like, and there is no reason to change that way of working.

Even so, there are changes to our lifestyle and the way we are living our lives, so here are a few things that have affected us (my wife Yoshiko and me).

Life generally

In many ways, the combination of staying in and good weather has helped produce a sort of timeless feeling. Someone described this lockdown status as being like a permanent time between Christmas and New Year – everything is in suspended animation, and time really is almost irrelevant. What day is it? Hardly matters, except that my sister and I are working a rota to visit my mother for a few days each week, and we participate in the cathedral’s Sunday services.

Facebook has been a great way to keep in touch with people, and the Internet generally is my way of keeping in touch with the world – TV news is slow and repetitive. I can make my way through the main stories of the “qualities” in much less time than I can tolerate sitting listening to talking heads repeating platitudinous lies.

In common with quite a number of people, it seems, I have also started having some very vivid dreams recently. Not nightmares, but not unpleasant, either. Last night I opened a bottle of champagne and presented a glass to Yoshiko together with a bowl of cashew nuts (in my dream, anyway).

City Council meetings are due to start again in Zoom format, starting next month. I look forward to seeing how this will work out – it won’t be the same as the “real” meetings, of course, but I am glad we can do something to keep going.

Out and about

There are sometimes days when I will speak to no-one except Yoshiko face to face, but when we go out together for our daily ration of exercise, we are almost guaranteed to meet someone we know, and we can stop and have our two-metre distanced chat with them.

These are the really good things about living in this little city – it’s small enough for us to be able to walk from side to side in much less than an hour, and meet people we know who are out doing the same thing, but it’s big enough for us to be able to find lots of different places for us to walk and discover somewhere or something that we haven’t seen before.

Church

In normal times, we are regular worshippers at the cathedral – and the services and sense of community there are things that we are missing. However, the clergy and team at the cathedral have risen magnificently to the challenge, with services being put out on Facebook and YouTube three times a day.

Although it is not possible to receive the Sacrament physically, the Church of England prayer book does allow for Spiritual Communion, and indeed, even when watching the live-streamed services on YouTube, celebrated by one of the priests in his or her home, there is still a sense of communion.

Shopping

Tesco-Extra-Lichfield-cbias-700x522-1We live only a few minutes’ walk away from a very large Tesco. We used to go every day, doing a daily shop of necessities (there’s also an Aldi close by which we prefer for several things). We’ve changed – not that we ever went in for filling up a trolley with three packets of 24 toilet rolls and all the tinned tomatoes off the shelves. However, we shop only once every two or three days now, rather than every day, and I think we are buying slightly more expensive foods (the price has gone up as well) than before, maybe as a compensation for not going out.

The supermarkets have responded to the lockdowns quite professionally, after a shaky start. Though Tesco is trying to enforce a one-way system around its aisles, people don’t seem to notice the one-way arrows on the floor, but they do manage to keep to the two-metre rule. The “discount corner” where food close to its sell-by date is sold at a reduced price often resembles a good-natured non-violent rugger scrum, but now people are keeping a respectful distance from each other.

There are a few restaurants in the city operating home delivery/takeaway services (Italian, Thai, Indian) but we haven’t used them yet.

Making bread

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A successful loaf – kneaded. 100g starter, 300g water, 450g wheat, 50g rye, 10g salt.

Like the supermarket shelves in so much of the rest of the country, our supermarket shelves are flour-free. However, Our local baker is taking orders for 1.5kg bags of strong bread flour (white and wholemeal), though it is expensive. Just before lockdown started, I learned how to make sourdough bread (coincidence in timing, really) – and very happy I am that I did. Bread making is therapeutic as well – there’s a sense that you are actually doing something, and with sourdough there’s a sense of magic that s1omething that is only flour, water, and salt can produce something that ends up being so wonderful.

My basic recipe is based around this page – but I use less water than suggested here, and I’ve started kneading for ten minutes, rather than the no-knead folding she suggests. On a good day, this works out really well. On a bad day, it sticks to the banneton and I end up with a semi-risen very flat loaf.

I’ve also done a fair bit of other cooking (I don’t eat meat, which ends up being a bit of a challenge at times) which I enjoy. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes not.

Reading

I got a stack of books out of the local library before lockdown (they generously allowed us to take out as many books as we wanted, and no overdue fines) and I am still making my way through them. The last one of these I finished was a biography of Cranmer, and I am still in Tudor England with a Shardlake clone.

TV

Yes, I’ve watched a bit Even started King Tiger, but got bored after about three episodes. Didn’t see where it was going, even though I like true crime stories. Enjoyed Quiz and Hatton Garden, though. And we have been watching Mastermind (for obvious reasons) and University Challenge, among others.

Building model aircraft

IMG_6151Well, I haven’t actually started yet, but I have ordered a kit (a Revell DH Vampire MkIII if you’re interested) and some of the paints, tools, varnishes, primers, etc. that one needs to make these things to at least a decent standard.

It seems that these kits have become much more complex than the last one I built, getting on for fifty years ago (and the prices also reflect this!). Looking forward to getting all the stuff together and starting, but I feel that a level 4 may be too much for me. We will see.

Music

I’m also trying to improve my Hammond organ technique (using a Studiologic Compact Numa 2X as my keyboard) and continuing to doodle using hardware synths for the first time ever. Unfortunately, something on my computer means that the automatic fan speed system is bypassed with a 3rd-party hard disk, and the software meant to cure the problem seems to freeze the computer. Not too happy about the noise from the fans at full speed – rather like trying to concentrate while standing on a runway at Heathrow. Maybe I will put some music here in the future. Or maybe not.

…and writing

AutumnfrontI have already produced one novella in lockdown, written a large part of the next, based around the characters from E.F.Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels. As well as it being available as a paperback and ebook from all the usual places, I have recorded the book, and it is available as a (paid) download from this site.

I am also about to start editing a friend’s book, due out soon. Jim McGrath (check him out on Amazon) has written the fourth book in his Collins and Clark series – what he calls “police non-procedurals”, featuring two Birmingham policemen solving crimes in the 1960s. The books tend to be a little violent and explicit at times, and the characters have a good line in Black Country repartee.

The covers for all of these books have been painted by Dave Brown, a local artist and former police officer.

And so that’s me for the moment…

 

If Only They Didn’t Speak English (John Sopel) – REVIEW

A book that looks at America and Americans – the premise of the title is that the USA is a very foreign country indeed – very far away from the UK in many deeply fundamental ways, but because they speak English, we think of them as slightly eccentric siblings, rather than distant relatives with very different  worldviews to those we have in Britain.

Continue reading “If Only They Didn’t Speak English (John Sopel) – REVIEW”

Apologies (and a free gift)

I’ve been settling into a new role for the past month or so. On May 2, much to my surprise, I was elected as a City Councillor. It sounds very grand, but in fact the City of Lichfield is really a parish, and most decisions are made by the Lichfield District Council, and matters concerned with roads and education are largely decided by Staffordshire County Council.

However, being a City Councillor, although it is an unpaid position, does carry some responsibilities, and there is a learning curve attached to doing the job properly – and I certainly intend to do that. So far it’s been interesting and exciting, and even though the novelty may wear off, I will always consider this to be a serious and responsible position to hold, and I will do my best to represent the people of Garrick Road Ward.

There are minutes and agenda, the details of how meetings of planning committees, etc. and a few rather nice quaint historical ceremonial events such as the Lichfield Bower, the Sheriff’s Ride, a world champion Town Crier (Ken Knowles, pictured above), who also acts as sword-bearer on ceremonial occasions together with two mace-bearers, and so on. But… learning takes some time, and my writing, including my blog, has been affected.

By way of a little compensation, let me give you a short (untitled) story that I wrote for the Lichfield Writers:

Yes, I was frustrated and annoyed. We’d got on like a house on fire for the whole evening, and I was ready to go home with her, or take her home with me, when she looked at her watch and told me she had to be up early the next morning, so goodnight, thanks for the drinks and see you soon.

So I needed something to cheer me up. Didn’t feel like the chippy, and we’d had an Indian together before we’d settled into the pub for the evening. I knew I’d had enough to drink – too much, if the truth was told, so that wasn’t an option. And then it started raining, so I turned my up collar and kept walking.

It caught my eye from some distance away. A hand, sticking out of the skip outside the department store they were doing up. What looked like a woman’s hand and arm, bare to the elbow. Visions of lurid headlines spun through my mind as I approached. “Lichfield man’s macabre midnight find” was a good one, as was “Grisly garbage in city centre”.

I actually laughed out loud when I got close to the skip. The arm was a mannequin’s arm, plastic or plaster, or something. I pulled at it, and it came away, leaving me holding it like a trophy. “You look armless enough to me,” I said to the now dismembered body in the skip. “Nice of you to give me a hand.” (Don’t worry, I get a bit like this after a few drinks. It could be worse – I could turn into a raving violent monster)

So there I was, walking back home, hand in hand in hand with my new friend (or part of her). When I got in, I put the arm on the table, and noticed for the first time that there was a slim chain round the wrist, which looked like gold. Not only that, but there were three pieces of glass, two red and one white, in gold settings halfway along the chain. Pretty, but not my style. I decided to take it along to my friend Julie who runs the antique and curios shop to see if she’d give me anything for it.

I left it for a few days, and took it in to show her. To my surprise, she didn’t immediately dismiss it as junk.

“Where did you get this?” she asked, peering at the glass with a jeweller’s loupe screwed into her eye. She sounded suspicious.

“I just sort of picked it up somewhere,” I told her. Well, that wasn’t a lie.

“I’m not going to take it,” she said.

“Why? Not worth your while selling it?” I asked.

“Out of my league, dear. If I were you, I’d go down to Birmingham and go to one of those little shops in the Jewellery Quarter and see what they have to say.”

And that was the end of that conversation.

As always happens to me with this sort of thing, I left it alone for a month or two, but one day I was going into Birmingham, and I had a few hours between meetings, so I decided to use the time to do what Julie had suggested.

I had no idea which shop to go to when I got off the train at Jewellery Quarter, but picked a small dingy little place – something in the way Julie had talked had made me cautious about going into one of the bigger more glossy stores.

The man behind the counter asked the same question as Julie had done.

“Where did you find this?” His tone was more accusing than curious.

“I found it on the street,” I said.

“And you didn’t feel you needed to hand it in to the police?” If the tone of his voice was anything to go by, he didn’t believe me.

“A cheap bracelet and a few pieces of glass?”

“They’re not glass.” He handed the chain back to me. “Now bugger off, and be thankful I haven’t called the cops. I’m not touching this.”

I buggered off, as requested, the bracelet burning a hole in my pocket. The next shop I went to was a little more helpful.

“Hmmm… Two rather nice rubies and a very pretty diamond. Nice setting. Are you selling?”

“What’s it worth?”

“I’ll give you a couple of thou.”

Wow. Two thousand pounds for something I’d found in a skip? Which probably meant he could sell it for five. “I’ll think about it.”

“Two five, and I’m not asking any questions about where it came from.”

I had a sudden thought. “Tell you what. I’ll give you five hundred if you do what I ask.”

“Go on…”


 

All this happened fifteen years ago. The two rubies and the diamond now adorn my wife’s custom-made engagement ring. And yes, she was the one who left me in the pub that night I found the bracelet, telling me she had an early start the next day. She really did have an early start, and she called me that evening to apologise for running away. By the time I’d found out the truth about what I’d discovered in the skip, I’d decided, and she was on the point of deciding, that we were going to get married.

The ring clinched the deal.

“How on earth did you manage to afford this?” she asked me when I gave it to her.

“You really don’t want to know.”

But what I really want to know is what happened to the person who threw out the mannequin with that expensive bracelet still on its wrist. Let me know if you find out, will you? I won’t tell anyone else.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of correction fluid…

I recently discovered yet another site which listed many of my titles as being free to download. The site itself does not appear to be hosting the titles but seems to be aggregating content from a number of pirate sites, many of which are listed as hosting malware (browser hijackers, etc.).

At least ebooklibs.co has a page devoted to the steps that anyone alleging infringed copyright can take – so I took them.

Important Note

DO NOT attempt to download the books from the site mentioned here. It links to some very dubious places, and unless you want to spend half a day scraping malware off your hard disk and re-installing software (and/or sending all your credit card details to Eastern European mobsters, I do not recommend downloading from there. By all means use this site here (HughAshtonBooks.com) or any reputable retailer to download my books, but don’t put your digital health at risk by supporting piracy!

Dear Sir

The following titles, whose copyright is owned by me and by my self-publishing operation, are listed as being available on the eBookLibs site as being made available:

Tales from the Deed Box of John H. Watson MD
The Darlington Substitution
Beneath Gray Skies
Secrets from the Deed Box of John H. Watson MD
More from the Deed Box of John H. Watson MD
Without my Boswell
Notes from the Dispatch-box of John H. Watson MD
Further Notes from the Dispatch-box of John H. Watson MD
Red Wheels Turning
At the Sharpe End
The Deed Box of John H. Watson MD*
The Bradfield Push
Tales of Old Japanese
The Reigate Poisoning Case: Continued
The Death of Cardinal Tosca
1894
The Trepoff Murder
Keiko’s House
The Last Notes from the Dispatch-box of John H. Watson MD
Sherlock Ferret and the Missing Necklace*
The Adventures of Sherlock Ferret*
The Untime
Leo’s Luck

These titles may be listed by using the following URL:
https://www.ebooklibs.co/book/search/hugh-ashton/

I hereby declare that I and my self-publishing operation j-views Publishing own the copyright to all these titles, following the reversion of copyright from the now defunct Inknbeans Press. No permission has been given for these to be freely distributed through ebooklibs.co, including from some sites which are recognised by security professionals as being vectors for malware infection (e.g., UIrbookdownload).

Please also note that the metadata information is incorrect, and many of these were published as ebooks, but are no longer available as such, and furthermore titles marked with a asterisk were only published in paper format and were never released as ebooks – they have therefore been scanned and reproduced illegally. In addition, these were never offered for sale in PDF format, which is the format in which they are offered from your site.

I therefore await your speedy confirmation that links to downloads of these titles have been removed from your site.

We will see what effect, this will have, if any. Unfortunately, this is a whack-a-mole business – there are hundreds of these pirate-supporting sites (even if they are not pirates or fronts for pirates themselves, they are actively supporting theft). Please do avoid them.

 

Assistance needed …

I would very much appreciate a few more reviews for Balance of Powers – while I realise that it is not the world’s greatest novel, and will never be in the running for a literary prize, there are still elements of the book that really pleased me when I re-read it recently. I find it hard to believe I’m the only one who likes it.
If you haven’t read it already, and wonder what a house for sale notice has to do with a thriller featuring a Colt 45 on the cover, read on …

Continue reading “Assistance needed …”

Bee-bee

Just finished a 3k+ word short story which ventures into new territory. The protagonist is a youngish woman, and the situation is one I have never personally experienced.

It’s all from a very intimate third-person POV, and though there are flashbacks, the majority of the action occurs in one small room and one person’s mind – it’s quite claustrophobic.

There’s a lot of swearing and four-letter words at one point. Still not sure whether to leave them there, but they do fit the character and her mood at this point.

The style is closest to my Tales of Old Japanese – a very sparse style –  not too many adverbs, and very little in the way of physical description.

There’s an element of the supernatural here, but there’s also ambiguity here – I hope, and I also hope that it’s quite scary from a psychological point of view (as opposed to people being eaten by zombies or chopped up with chainsaws, etc.).

Oh, and the title, and the image I’ve chosen to decorate this page with? All part of the story.

…she kept coming back to Bee-bee, as she had done for over thirty years.

Bee-bee was six months younger than Anne, and she had been given to Anne by her grandmother, who had died less than a year later. From the start, Anne had instantly fallen in love with the rag doll, who seemed to always have been called Bee-bee. No-one could remember who she was called that, or why.

Now on her fourth set of button eyes, and after many major surgical operations to repair almost ripped off limbs, severe abdominal lesions, and general old age, Bee-bee went everywhere with Anne, whether Anne was on her own or not. Bee-bee was always there to listen, sitting at the head of her bed, whenever Anne had doubts, or when her heart was broken as yet another man walked out of her life.

Now, what to do with what I’ve written… Any agents or publishers interested?

Slapped wrist time

Oops! Naughty me. Just discovered that I was meant to give a copy of all my books to the British Library within a month of their publication. Haven’t done that.

Wonder if they will adopt the Basil Fawlty method of dealing with recalcitrant publishers and cars?

So that’s actually 25 titles in hard copy format to go off (I can dropship them from the printers), and I must then look at what to do with the ebook-only titles.

 

Christmas Gifts for Sherlock Holmes fans

Doctorfront.jpgMy wartime (that is, the Great War of 1914-1918) adventure of Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Deceased Doctor”, which first appeared in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Part V, and was subsequently published in Notes on Some Singular Cases of Mr. Sherlock Holmes (j-views) is now available as a free download from here in both Kindle (MOBI) and iBooks, Kobo, Nook, etc. (EPUB) editions.

But wait, there’s more!

If you’ve already read, or bought this story, but are missing some of my other Sherlock Holmes adventures, from now to Christmas 2018, there’s a 25% discount on all my other Sherlock Holmes titles (excluding the box sets) bought through this site. I’m using PayPal as the payment method, and a service called SendOwl to ensure secure delivery of the books.

See them at:

Simply use the code SHER-UN-LOCK-2018 when you check out.

And please let me know if you encounter any problems with the purchasing or payment process. I will never take over from Amazon, but it’s very nice to be able to offer a small-scale alternative to the big boys, and I want it to work as well as possible.

If you’re not sure how to “sideload” an ebook onto your reader, click here for instructions.

(the original of the header image from Aussie~Mobs is to be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/hwmobs/16698026584/ and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 licence)

Let’s do the time warp again

I have often felt myself (and described myself) as a Rip van Winkle character – someone who’s been asleep for a long time and wakes up to find the world has changed around him. This is due to my having lived in the isolated Galapagos Islands (aka Japan) for the best part of 30 years.

This has meant (for better or worse) that I never lived in the UK under John Major, Tony Blair, or Gordon Brown, and under David Cameron for one week only. My British cultural life has likewise been circumscribed (not that it was ever up to much in the first place). For example… Continue reading “Let’s do the time warp again”

On a small island

I am currently on an island smaller than the one where I usually live. Quite a bit smaller, in fact. And it’s a very interesting experience. Something is different. There’s a sense of isolation here, and almost one of pride, in being rather cut off from the world. I get the feeling everyone knows everyone else (of course, they don’t) and that it is indeed a small and self-sufficient little world (again, it’s obvious that it’s not self-sufficient).

And at the same time, it’s very cosmopolitan. I’m surrounded by English and French voices, and even street and family names, and there are a lot of Flemish/Dutch speakers around. So I’m intrigued by the whole concept of an island community – and in a sense, this is a great place for a locked-room mystery – on a very large scale.

I might not want to live here, but I’d be fascinated to spend a little more time here watching and learning.

 

The future as seen from the past

Two years ago I was invited to talk in London about science and literature. Being someone who lives in the past (at least in a literary sense), I decided to talk about Jules Verne and H.G.Wells, and if possible to bring in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

3men.png

It seemed a fairly straightforward sort of thing to be talking about, but in the end, it turned out to be a little more complex than I had imagined.

Continue reading “The future as seen from the past”

Secrets known to a few…

I don’t watch many films, but when I do, it’s usually on planes. Why I don’t watch many films is a mystery shrouded in the mists of time… Actually, it’s more to do with attention span and imagination, I think. I prefer, on the whole, to read for myself (fast) and imagine action, rather than to watch it (slowly) on screen. It was the same at college – I preferred to read my lecturers’ books rather than attend their lectures which basically only rehashed the books.

Anyway, back to films… the few I have seen recently seem to be more along similar lines. I tend not to choose to watch romances, remakes of classics, or action movies. Historical, yes, and various kinds of “other” productions, including childrens’ films (I like the Minions and Despicable Mes, for example).

A few that I have watched recently all seem to fit the same pattern, though, and I think it is a reflection of the current state of affairs in the world. Or maybe the world is being influenced by them, and people are emulating the stars and the plots of these films, but I think this is Hollywood doing what it has done for a long time – providing viewers with the realisation of their fantasies.

Continue reading “Secrets known to a few…”