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Bertie Crampsey

My mum’s cousin Bob Crampsie, known in the family as Bertie, died this week.

He was 78 and suffering from Parkinson’s, so it’s not a huge surprise. What was a bit of a surprise (but not really) was that the papers were full of tributes to him and that everyone proclaimed him a genius and a really nice guy. It’s not every day one of your relatives gets his obituary in The Times!

I’ve grown up hearing stories about “Cousin Bertie”, who was that humble thing, a History teacher (and if you know me, you know I have my tongue firmly in my cheek there, having been heavily influenced by several of them). But he was also a virtuoso pianist, like his mother and aunt (my gran), a football expert and commentator, and a Brain of Britain (literally), amongst other things.

One day, not long after I had met my husband-to-be, he was talking about football and, on a whim I said, “Oh, so have you heard of Bob Crampsey?”

He immediately launched into an impersonation, since another of cousin Bertie’s quirks was a highly distinctive voice.

I was amazed. I had had know idea he was so well known. (My father is not your typical Scottish man i.e. he has less than no interest in football.)

I’m not even sure if I ever met the man, but I feel like I knew him, largely because of his memoir, “The Young Civilian: a Glasgow Wartime Boyhood” which is a great read, full of detail and the family humour I recognise so well. It’s also full of details about my grandmother, since she was a big influence on him. Oh, and there’s a picture of my mum as a two-year old — or the back of her head, anyway.

So now I’m pestering my mother to write a ‘memoir’ post of her own about her big cousin. Over to you,


Ford Truck

Yesterday, on the radio, I heard these words,

“While Ford is largely thought of as a [pick-up] truck company here in America, in Europe it’s different…”


I’ve lived here for 14 years and I consider myself fairly fluent in American culture but it’s the deep, ingrained stuff, the assumptions, that still trip me up. Even after that ad a few years ago, that will stay with me until I die, in which a butch country singer declared that if he had money, he’d tell us what he’d do: he’d go downtown and buy a Ford Truck or two. Crazy ’bout a Ford truck…

I still think of Ford as the company of the Fiesta, the Escort, even the Ka, although it launched after I left the country. In other words: the ‘small’ car. And the Escort was one of the larger cars bombing around on the road when I was growing up. You aspired to a Ford car. You bought Sunbeams and Hyundais and dreamed of the day you could upgrade to Mondeo. Then I went back for a visit one day and they’d invented the Smart Car, which made even me do a double-take.

When I moved here, the Honda Civic was the mockable small car, which still seems strange to me even after years of seeing my Volkwagon Passat WAGON dwarfed by most other ‘cars’ in the parking lot (see? I speak Merkin…)

But apparently the oil prices mean that I’ll be seeing these cars again (although not the Escort, since it’s now the Focus, isn’t it?).

In fact, I drove past a garage on the Main Line the other day that was stuffed full of Smart Cars.

I still want a bike.

Technological Woes

I’m trying to work on a project.

All was calm with the children and I reckoned I could probably count on half an hour of peace and quiet before things started to deteriorate. I know, thinks I, I’ll work on my project.

It’s not something complicated, just formatting some text so that it is all consistent. I should be able to rattle through it and make some really good headway in a whole half-hour, thinks I.

(You know where this is heading, don’t you?)

First, I considered working in the office. Seems reasonable. The computers are there, the files are on the computers in there. But Number One Son is also in there, and every time I sit down he tries to tell me all about the trading card game that he LOVES and which has a stupid online site too, to feed his addiction. Even after I point out that I’m working on something else and can’t look at his screen everytime he wants me to (which is every two seconds), he can’t stop himself from say ‘Look, Mum, look Mum’, and he IS only five, so I take the high road, and hightail it out of there.

Not to worry, thinks I. This is why I have an expensive laptop and a wireless connection. It is also, in anticipation of just this kind of thing you understand, why I have emailed myself a copy of the template via Gmail. Of course, I should be able to just pick all the documents up over the wireless network, but I can’t. I don’t know why, but my computer is not allowed access to the desktop files and even computer-whizz Husband, who actually understands the system as nearly as anyone can, can’t figure out why and keeps suggesting I reboot. Uh-huh.

So I start up my laptop. I have remembered to look out the power cord, plug it in and even to make sure that there is power flowing to the outlet (which has one of those tricky ‘on’ switch things…).

Things start to churn. All is good. My desktop appears, with its cheery cherry blossom background. Then the sidebar starts to load, and I try to get a jump on things by clicking on Open Office (my word processing program).

Its loading screen hangs. And hangs. And hangs.

I roll my eyes and open Notepad. It is my cheap date, my standby, my ugly little friend who is always available in a flash if I need it. It has no ego and I love it for that alone.

I type.

I save. (Hooray)

After all this time (we’re almost ten minutes into the whole enterprise at this point) I see that Open Office has loaded. (What? Ten minutes of mostly-uninterrupted time is A Lot to a mother of small children!)

Now I click on Firefox so that I can go and retrieve the template that I had so cleverly forwarded to myself.

Firefox, apparently, DOES have an ego. It keeps me waiting for any date, but today it has decided it needs to both wash its hair and wax its legs before it will let me see it. I sit glowering at its immobile ‘progress’ bar for a good three minutes before it finally descends the stairs and lets me take it out for a drive.

I get my template.

Only this computer, it turns out, does not have one of the fonts installed. Oh well, I reason, I’ll send it back to myself and open it and print it from the computer upstairs after the children have gone to bed.

I cut and paste and format and correct. It is twenty minutes past when-I-sat-down, but I’m working. I’m going to shake off my frustration and get down to it. The boys are still quiet, I might squeeze out a few extra minutes.

I’m just trying to get Open Office to format my fractions properly (not as au fait with OO as I was with Word, but for some reason — ethical I think, or was it security? — we switched to Open Office) when things start disappearing.

First my sidebar flickers up and then is gone. Then my documents flick out of existence. What? I haven’t even done enough to warrant saving the document yet (barely cut and pasted.

I know what’s happening but I can only repeat to myself “But it can’t! There was no warning, no warning at all!” like the recipient of some tragic, life-altering news.

But it was.

Windows had barged in on my little tech date and, without a by-your-leave, had decided to sweep all my programs off their feet, with its fancy upgrading and installing and rebooting. How dare it?!

Adding insult to psychic injury, it hung on the ‘shutting down’ screen for at least five minutes until I flounced off in disgust. Actually I flounced off to break up a fight…exactly 30 minutes after I had sat down “to get a quick half hour of work in.”

Well, at least I know my boys.

(Incidentally, after I got back from playing referee, the computer started up quickly, as if it was ashamed of its earlier behaviour, and I forgave it just as quickly. Open Office even started to retrieve my lost documents.

Then I tried to log in to Gmail again to grab some more data.  

My wireless connection to the web —the one that, once it goes down requires a reboot to reestablish — was down.


Oh yes, you’re reading a post that was written in Notepad and saved to the desktop for posting at a future time and place, assuming I didn’t just thrown the whole lot on the compost heap, organic gardening be damned…

I think I’ll go and knit now.

Reading Binge

I’ve been on a bit of a reading binge recently. Can it have something to do with the gift of my Kindle, I wonder? Well, possibly, but I know it started before that.

Earlier in the year I picked out two mysteries from the shelves based on not much at all. Aunt Dimity’s Death was a lot of fun since I liked the main character a lot, and A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander introduced me to a new series as well, albeit in the middle (again).  I bought the first one and read it second. Probably would have liked it better had I read them in the right order. And then I picked up another Aunt Dimity book just for good measure.

Then I read Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, carrying on my Gaiman kick. Lovely writer. It was a dark book, but not without humour. I wish he wrote science fiction though. I get a bit fed up of magical stuff. I’d rather have a plausible in-this-world answer (says the card-carrying Catholic…). But what he writes lets him tell great stories beautifully, so it’s a small nit to pick. Very blokey. (oh wait, I remember him saying that he felt books have genders and that some of his are female and some are definitely male. I’m not going to check, but I’m betting that Neverwhere and American Gods are male in his mind.)

When I got my Kindle I immediately downloaded the third in the Tasha Alexander series and devoured that.  That was mid-June.

Since then I have read World Without End by Ken Follet, which is a monstrous 1024 pages long and is the follow-up to Pillars of the Earth. Pillars is both a book and a board game and I love them both. To be honest, I think there were sections in World Without End where his editor had dozed off, but it kept me turning the pages, and I love the historical tidbits. I raced through that in a week or two.

Then I downloaded Stardust by Neil Gaiman and read that in about two days. Different from the film, and different from Neverwhere. I’m betting this is one of his female books, and I really enjoyed it. And in the context of a romantic adventure of course there should be magic…

Yesterday I went to the library and checked out A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle, which I had never read but which gets rave reveiews.  I like kids’ books a lot and I never get out of the children’s basement in our library, so it works out fine. As it was, I really loved A Wrinkle In Time. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. It takes science and the children seriously. Sci-fi for kids that doesn’t include any “fantasy” (No magic! No elves! Actual science!)? I would love it even if it wasn’t that well written, which it was.  I found the character development a little light compared to some adult books, but that’s hardly a criticism, and not something I would have missed as a younger reader. And it’s not like the characters weren’t ones you could care about (I admit it, I teared up at one point). But there was action, action, action, and that’s what I was all about as a younger reader. I loved the 2-Dimensional world she threw in there, too.

(I’m still trying to remember the book I read as a kid that took place in three different time periods, and in each period a young girl living in this old house would see a ghost and there was a great twist at the end, and I thought maybe A Wrinkle In Time might be it, but it is SOO not that book.)

And that’s not counting the non-fiction I have on the go, like this and this.


The library has a summer reading program for adults as well as children. You’re supposed to read 15 books by the end of the summer. I was laughingly telling friends about this the other day and we all (moms and dads of young children) guffawed and wondered where we’d find the time.

Maybe this is why I feel like I need more sleep…

Joss Whedon Love

Oh dear.

That Joss Whedon.

I hadn’t seen anything new of his for a while and I had started to think that maybe I had over-rated him. With the resurgence of Doctor Who and my discovery of Stephen Moffat and Neil Gaiman, I had begun to believe that maybe Whedon had been a pale stand-in for the entertainers who would really start to fill the gaping void left in my happiness-zone by Douglas Adams (with apologies to Terry Pratchett fans. I’ve tried.) And they still have a British wit that makes me very happy.


I sat in bed last night and watched the first two parts of:

Doctor Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog. (Get it free until July 20! Third episode comes out tomorrow! Or buy it for $4 entire from iTunes!)

Grovelling apologies to His Jossness for my moment of weakness.

Also, I’ve liked Neil Patrick Harris ever since I saw him in Starship Troopers and it became clear that he, unlike most of the young actors, was very very good at his job. I loved him in the short-lived Stark Raving Mad, and would have watched How I Met Your Mother just for him…except I didn’t.

There’s a moment about half way through the first episode where he makes just a tiny gesture that gives away everything you need to know about the character. Love it!


I have a bit of a hangover today, but it’s not what you think.

Granted I DID have two glasses of wine last night, but it’s not the wine that has left me feeling jittery this morning.

It’s a socialising-hangover.

I had a lovely morning  yesterday in one neighbour’s yard, kids splashing, good conversation, very relaxing and it was lovely to feel a part of things. Then, in the evening, I went to my Weight Watchers meeting (down 2.2lbs, woo-hoo!). THEN, straight after that, I was ‘scrapbooking’ at another neighbour’s house with some of the folks I’d seen that morning and a few extras. Again, it was nice and we were there for a good cause (to make a scrapbook for the daughter of our neighbour who died), and I had a nice time.

But this morning I just felt all out of sorts. I was disgruntled and uncomfortable and unsure why.

When I looked at my calendar and realised that nothing I have to do today involves talking to anyone (except my children), my mind heaved a tiny sigh of relief. It almost got past me but I caught it and examined it, and then let it go.

It’s not that I’m anti-social. It’s just that that was more than enough.

One of the reasons I left my job was because latterly I sat, essentially, in a corridor and everyone walking by said ‘hi’ or stopped for a chat. A lot of it was fun, but there was no way to turn it off. There was nohere to hide. There was no peace and quiet. I spent all day feeling jittery and anxious and overexposed. Also the work had changed and I hated it and the management had changed and I hated them (not really. OK partly true. I liked one of them. But I did cackle a bit when the rest of them got fired a couple of months after I left…), but a lot of my discomfort was due to my poor little inner introvert who was being rubbed raw, with no respite.

So today, for now at least, I’m holed up in the house, unwinding. I might venture out later, but I think today will be a day of nodding politely and passing pleasantries. If I have anything to do with it.

I’m glad I got to have a good old natter yesterday.

Just don’t make me do it again for a day or two. ;)

Never Lets Me Down

There are some blogs I read because I have things in common with the writers. There are others I read because the writers are fabulous writers who never let me down. They are storytellers and a good blog entry from them can fill in for the dearth of good short stories out there in the printed world.

Among these writers I count The Yarn Harlot, my sister and this guy.

I recommend subscribing to his blog if you don’t already. He gets himself into all kinds of scrapes and then he spins a yarn that will have you laughing and crying (possibly both). Part of his skill is to build suspense almost from the first sentence. Now that he’s been doing this a while, he can count on his readers to know that if he says this is a story about how he crossed the road, there are going to be contusions, misunderstandings and possibly a ten-car pile-up with him at the bottom, groaning. And he can capitalise on it and have you roaring with laughter because he hardly needs to foreshadow at all.

Tonight I read this entry from the Magazine Man,  and am eagerly awaiting the next development!

He may think of himself as a superhero but he puts me in mind of (in the nicest possible way) Wile E. Coyote…

Well-Fed Writer Blog

Peter Bowerman has launched (lunched?) a blog to support his Well-Fed Writer empire.

I think his books are excellent for someone who wants to get started in freelance writing and wants to make lots of money.

Sadly for me, money is not my main motivating factor and I have the luxury of not needing to support my family (at the moment), so I find it difficult to motivate myself to go after business clients. When I tried it a few years ago, I did get some work, but I didn’t find the best-paid stuff. I didn’t get momentum going so that lots of people were coming to me with writing gigs, although I did get a little of that. Again, not the best-paid stuff.

Most of what I was doing was very much marketing and advertising and I neither loved it enough nor made enough money to work as hard as I should to find more work.

It’s entirely possible that there is business writing out there that I would love (I like the idea of case studies) but everything I fancy has the ring of magazine-writing about it. Which makes me think that I really need to stick to trying to get magazine and (du-duh-DUH!) book writing gigs, about which I CAN get excited.

But I’m going to subscribe to Peter’s new blog because you never know. He is infectiously enthusiastic and his newsletter was always stuffed full of good ideas, if a bit voluminous. I’m assuming the blog will be too. I’m also hoping he’ll start updating it with more frequent, shorter tidbits. He’s been writing newsletters so long that I think he’s trying to do a newsletter article each week, but the real value of blogs (for this kind of thing) is the quick update, like Seth Godin’s blog. That’s why it’s a (we)b-log, not a journal (which, a-hem, this is).

Because I Don't Have Enough Hobbies…

And because I have so much spare time, I’ve just ordered a copy of a book about how to draw caricatures.

Hey, I never knew that knowing how to make balloon animals would come in handy but I’ve used these skills in a theater show, at a boring barbecue and at my own son’s birthday party.