Rejected by The Oldie – Article on Satnavs


I love driving and I love the access to distant areas of England that are pretty much denied to the slaves of public transport, who are abused and fleeced by the operating companies whose sole mission seems to be to keep the population in the cities.

Unfortunately my enthusiasm is counterbalanced by some serious character flaws.  I have no sense of direction, I cannot read a map and drive at the same time, I can’t remember a route until I have driven it at least twenty times without deviation of any kind and I frequently get lost coming out of my own bathroom.  For years I travelled from Somerset to Northamptonshire via Stoke on Trent because I simply could not remember that the M42 had restricted junctions.

Previously, I had relied on my husband and his encyclopaedic knowledge of England and its roads to take charge of our frequent excursions around the country with the children.  But when we parted company, I was back to square one, loping from county to county with hot tears of bitterness and failure coursing down my flushed little face as I added fifty miles to every journey through cartographic confusion and ineptitude, blood pressure soaring, mildly asthmatic lungs letting the side down from anxiety.

But then, one happy, happy day my step-daughter gave me a birthday present that changed my life.  I tore off the wrapping paper to discover a SatNav device.  A talking map that will not only give me directions but will re-adjust my route should I hit traffic or roadblocks.  A still small voice of calm that can take me on the fastest, or shortest route, can wilfully avoid motorways or toll roads and can be instructed to detour Basildon or Stoke without demur.

I ran through the choice of voices and quickly settled on the southern Irish male labelled, somewhat disappointingly, ‘Sean’, and we have been together ever since.  Not for me the flattened vowels of Tim the Kiwi or the slightly high-pitched RP of Kate from London – no thank you.

I am in love with Sean.  He speaks softly to me in his delicious Irish accent, he rarely lets me down and, in his company, I travel from one end of England to the other with confidence and joy in my heart.  He takes me from the one-way systems of Leeds to the B roads of Somerset with calm and equanimity.  He never shouts, he never swears and not once has he suggested that my ineptitude is bordering on a medical condition.

Thanks to Sean the SatNav,  the world outside Northamptonshire has become my playground and I guffaw at the six-exit roundabout and the confusing contra-flow.  I have seen the wilds of Lancashire, the endless planes of Heathrow and, I have even gone north of the wall to Scotland, without fear or incident.  And I have never, ever ended up in Stoke on Trent.

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Sunday Poem 230

I’ve been thinking a lot about consumption recently, as one does, so thought a bit of Keats might be in order.  And sleeping is one of the things I like most in the world.  But without the laudanum, obviously.

Sonnet:  To Sleep – by John Keats (1795-1821)

O soft embalmer of the still midnight !
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleased eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine :
O soothest Sleep ! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn, my willing eyes,
Or wait the amen, ere the poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities ;
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes ;
Save me from curious conscience, that still lords
Its strength, for darkness burrowing like a mole ;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And sealed the hushed casket of my soul.

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Deep, deep filled

Today I went to the dentist.Dentist sticker
I was good and brave when he drilled near the nerve
I didn’t cry when he told me off for leaving it three weeks
But I didn’t get a sticker – I would have liked this one.

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Sunday Poem 229

I know this is a bit longer than I would normally post but it’s so good I didn’t want to deprive you.  Thanks to Stuart Kendall for alerting me to this one.

Under the Table – by Barnaby Wilde (b. 1947)

There’s a sort of springy wire underneath my dining table,
That’s in a kind of runner down each side.
It should go round a pulley thing in order to enable,
Each of the extending leaves to smoothly slide.
But I think the springy wire must have fallen off the pulley
As the metal slider thingy doesn’t work.
Instead of sliding smoothly it no longer opens fully,
It just judders to a stop in little jerks.

So now I’m lying on my back underneath the dining table,
Trying to work out what’s gone amiss.
But the metal covered runner thing that holds the springy cable,
Is preventing me from seeing what it is.
I prod it with my finger and I pull the springy cable,
But I can’t see far enough along the track.
And the rail that runs from end to end that’s underneath the table,
Is digging rather sharply in my back.

I think that maybe if I took off both the wooden sliding panels,
I could re-attach the wire thing again.
As long as I could poke it back along the metal channel,
I might hook it round the pulley with my pen.
But, is it really worth it? I can feel my will desert me,
When I see it’s held each side by seven screws.
That’s twenty eight in total just to get the beggar free,
And twenty eight to put back in once it’s been loosed.

Thirty minutes later and I’ve unscrewed twenty seven,
But the last one’s gone and got a busted head.
I wish I hadn’t started and I’ve lost the will for living,
But eventually I free the broken thread.
Now I’m studying the cable that’s fallen off the pulley,
And I’m blowed if I can see what holds it on.
But I poke it down the channel and I hook it back on fully,
Can’t help thinking that it won’t stay there for long.

Now if you think it wasn’t easy taking out the bloody screws,
It’s ten times harder getting them to go back in.
Because gravity’s against me and I’m really not amused,
Indeed my patience now is wearing rather thin.
But, finally I’m finished and that springy wire cable,
Is back around the pulley wheel again.
However, when I pull the leaf out to extend the flipping table,
Nothing happens to the one the other end.

So, was it all a waste of time dismantling the slider thing,
Two hours discomfort lying on my back?
Well, there is a tiny benefit from all that disassembling
No wire now hanging down beneath the track.
And the other little consequence of this minute adventure,
Is that I went out and wrote this little song.
So if you’re feeling musical, while I have your attention,
Why don’t you clear your throat and sing along …

…There’s a sort of springy wire underneath my dining table, …

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Identity Crisis

At the end of a busy day at the Steampunk Market at Frome, I was sitting in the cafe enjoying a mug of tea and a delicious slice of Victoria Sponge.

Biff in bathing suitNow then.  I travel all over the country doing Steampunk Markets; this year alone I’ve done New Malden in Surrey, Leeds, Northampton, the Nene Valley Railway in Lincolnshire, Frome in Somerset and this weekend I shall be in Burnley in Lancashire.  I meet a lot of people whom I schmooze unmercifully in the interest of selling stuff.  I am also unspeakably short-sighted.

As I looked up towards the door, cheeks bulging with sponge cake, I noticed an affable looking bearded man coming into the hall.  I stared at him very hard and he stared back.  I cocked my head to one side, quizzically and he smiled at me nervously.  I swallowed my cake, stood up and approached him.  I would also like to point out that I was wearing an over the top blonde wig and the Edwardian bathing dress.

The exchange went something like this:-

ME:     Now then.  We’ve met before.  Were you here last year?
HIM:   No.
ME:     Mm.  Are you a local boy?
HIM:   Relatively.
ME:     Do you go to Glastonbury?
HIM:   I’ve been to Glastonbury occasionally
ME:     I definitely know you from somewhere.  What’s your name?
HIM:   Julian.
ME:     Ah Julian of Glastonbury.  As opposed to Julian of Norwich – ha ha ha
HIM:   No, I’m not Julian of Norwich… (nervous laughter)
ME:     That WOULD be remarkable!
ME:     Have we slept together?
HIM:   (deadpan) Oh no – I would have remembered you
HIM:   Do you like archaeology programmes?
ME:     Very much
HIM:   (diffidently) Perhaps you saw ‘Meet the Ancestors’?
ME:     Oh bloody hell.  You’re Julian Richards.
HIM:   Yes (laughs)
I get up and put my arms round and kiss him firmly on the cheek
ME:     At last, we finally meet!
HIM:   Indeed.

much laughter.  He leaves and I return to my cake.  My friends stare at me in disbelief.

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Supper time in the Raven-Hill household

Boy the Younger: What’s for supper, Mother?
Me: Chilli
Boy the Younger: Oh brilliant! You make the 2nd best chilli in the world!
Me: 2nd best? Who makes the best?
Boy the Younger: Lucy (his sister)
Boy the Younger: You make the best banana splits though
Me: There are no banana splits
Boy the Younger: Oh.

Exeunt all pursued by a bear

And I’ve just realised that I’ve never given you my recipe for Chilli Con Carne.  It will be remedied.

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Biff Moves House Yet Again

Oh my dear, dear readers, my landlord is selling up and my little household has been obliged to move house AGAIN (again, again, again).    I also wrote my car off and have had to scramble around with some urgency to find another vehicle.

I allowed myself ten minutes of abject, breast-beating, garment-renting self pity and much gnashing of teeth before I pulled myself together and started hunting.  I have found a house two miles down the road which is lovely and I shall be moving in on 20th June.  Also, thanks to the First Wife of the Father of My Children, I have acquired  a rather beautiful, lipstick-red Ford Mondeo in immaculate condition.  Now to start packing up the possessions of three many-book-owning, obsessive collectors.

Now I’m going to ask you a question.  In view of my manic state, would you prefer it if I say that I shall be simply absent until July or would you rather I post the occasional thing when I can, but in a haphazard and sporadic fashion?  Let me know… and wish me well!

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Sunday Poem 228

This poem is taken from an anthology by Cardinal Cox entitled ‘Edge Rows’.  This super little book is a tribute to the poet, John Clare and includes some very moving and unusual work in equally unusual verse forms.  I have featured more than one Clare poem in the Sunday Poem section and this acts as an interesting counterpoint.

Watermark – by Cardinal Cox

At Wansford, where rested coach horses
And Byron slept beneath the Haycock thatch
Water diverted from river to turn
Rag to paper that would welcome
Pen to birth words upon it
Rough sheets as might be salvaged
From wrapping to become nests of verse
When drawn from hat’s crown
To have fresh sentiments from
Scenes around sewn through
With lead pencil

Later, much later, hard on railway station
By gasworks and hotel
Arbourfield Mill drank Eastwell
And Ram Dike to press wood pulp
Into deckle frames – as would
Have been recognized in China
Or Samarkand a thousand years before –
Into finished sheets as filled
Penny post with kind thoughts
Too late though for a silenced poet

Author’s note:  Poor John, with paper manufacturers so close and yet he had to salvage what he could for his own use.

More from John Clare:
Sudden Shower
Open Winter
Evening Schoolboys

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Practical Hints and Trade Secrets – by Albert Cronkshaw

I found this book at a flea market in Hebden Bridge at the weekend and if there was ever a book more suited to this website, I challenge you to find it.  It was originally printed in 1920 and revised and self published by the author several times consequently.

Cronkshaw appears to be a Lancashire name, specifically Rossendale, which is just over the border from Hebden Bridge.  I had to smuggle the book out in my underwear.  However, I have failed to unearth any information whatsoever about Albert except that, in his foreword, he expresses the desire to
“Assist the enquiring man or woman in their search after useful knowledge.”
Well done that man.

Practical Hints and Trade Secrets - Poisons

Practical Hints and Trade Secrets - Physiognomy


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Books – Their Part in my Downfall

british-library-london-2005The problem with buying books is the tendency to fill one’s head with ideas that need to pour out, but struggle to get out in the right order, to say nothing of the need to dispense with furniture in order to accommodate bookcases.   I have bought several books recently in response to things I’ve heard on the radio, subjects I’m researching and matters arising from subjects I’m researching.  I have re-read books that I’ve read before and which are appearing to me in a new light.

The four books causing me such difficulties at the moment are these:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
This is probably my favourite book and the edition I’m reading is a beautiful volume given to me by my lifelong and beloved friend, Heather Coombs for my 19th birthday.   I must have read this book twenty times or more since I was introduced to it at school, aged ten.  At the time I was at boarding school and identified strongly with Jane’s loneliness and sense of abandonment, and  I understood her pent up rage and her inability to express it.  Unlike her, I broke out and became a Naughty Girl, but I was always aware that her quiet strength was an inspiration and that her moral integrity was hard won.

It is only reading Jane Eyre again now, that I realise quite how hard her separation from Mr Rochester was and how wretched and despondent she must have felt.  I felt a pain in the pit of my stomach when she left Thornfield and her journey into the wilderness, signifying her third phase of development was equally heartrending.  Maybe because of my age, my own progression and my own attitude towards relationships, I feel as though I’m reading this book with cataracts peeled from my eyes and a sense of wonder at the modernity and enduring relevance of the Brontes.

The Invention of Pornography Ed. Lynn Hunt
The Vagina:  A Literary & Cultural History by Emma Rees

I am soon going to have to write a well-informed and entertaining essay on female body image and the difference between pornography and eroticism and I am therefore working my way through the Gender Studies section of my library.  And yes, I genuinely have a Gender Studies section in my own house and despite this, I have no official diagnosis.

‘Pornography’ is a wonderfully researched series of essays, putting the subject into historical context.  The pleasures, dangers and social attitudes towards sexual expression are explored in a fascinatingly human way that sheds a great deal of light on our current sex-obsessed society.

‘The Vagina’ on the other hand is an absolutely essential read for anyone who has every contemplated women and sexuality in any context.  The book is terrific fun, learned and joyful in equal measure and by the end you will never be frightened to say the word ‘vagina’ again.  And by golly, folk is frightened of  fannies….

Practical Hints and Trade Secrets by Albert Cronkshaw
Who wouldn’t hand over money for a book by someone called Albert Cronkshaw?  It is so up the Wartime Housewife’s alley but it covers a very peculiar range of topics from how to make paint to a section of general knowledge facts to trot out in the event of your having an argument about the year in which the first Atlantic cable went into operation.  I’m not sure that I have ever sat in pub, my fifth gin and tonic warming my gizzards, without entering into fisticuffs with my needlework chums about the date of the first sewing needles or the maximum age of a baobab.  But that’s how we roll in Northamptonshire.

Tomorrow, I shall share some of Albert’s wisdom with you.  General Rules of Poisons anyone?


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