Saturday, March 24, 2018

On a Whim and a Prayer


I’m not a stream of consciousness sort of writer.  Talker yes, writer no. But since it’s approaching the witching hour, and I have yet to write anything for tomorrow’s blog, I’ve decided to risk it, and let the stream take me wherever it chooses.  Hopefully, not anywhere near tragic mudslides once again threatening California, flooding in the heartland, or another Nor’Easter out this way. 

Thank God there’s no such thing as climate change.

Speaking of thanking God, I’ve got a big thank you out there for some good news I just received about a dear friend.  Sometimes the good guys (that’s gender neutral) do get a break.  YAY!!

I’m slowly getting back to typing—it’s almost five weeks since my rotator cuff shoulder surgery—and so far so good (puh puh puh).  I’d like to say my typing is of the sort likely to yield a new book, but alas it’s tied into an IRS audit, and preparations to moderate a panel at CrimeFest in mid-May, just before my return to Mykonos.

Sadly, I had to miss Left Coast Crime this year—it’s going on in Reno as I type this—but my doctor said a definitive NO on traveling so soon after surgery.  Oh, well, hoist a few rounds for me, my friends, you’re sorely missed by Barbara and me.

Another thing I sorely miss is Fred Rogers. 

It’s the 50th anniversary year for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, having debuted nationally on February 19, 1968 on WTAE public television in my hometown of Pittsburgh (actually, it originated locally in 1963, with roots back to 1953).  He was a fixture on local TV, though I was a bit too old for his target audience. Later, after I’d moved away and had children, my kids fit his demographic perfectly, and from time to time I’d watch with them, reminiscing about how I remembered him from earlier days. 

Like one of his trademark cardigan sweaters, Fred Rogers became more comfortable with wear.  His ever-calm demeanor brought his seminal message of love and understanding to bear on bitter issues others feared addressing, and he did so in a way that made you feel good about yourself for sharing the world with someone like Fred Rogers.

In the mid-1980s, I was walking home from my law office on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, when for some unfathomable reason I felt compelled to stop outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Anyone who knew me would have assumed I meant to go into the building just south of it, Saks Fifth Avenue.  But they would have been wrong.

I felt drawn to leave the hustle and bustle of the day and street, and go inside. Permit me to pause and offer my compliments to the Cathedral’s architects for having created a structure that achieves its purpose of luring in the heathen.

As I stood inside the sanctuary I noticed a man sitting alone a few rows from the back, staring straight ahead.  Even from behind I recognized Fred Rogers instantly from his distinctive head, neck, and shoulders.  I sat at the very back, not wanting to disturb him, and we each sat quietly thinking whatever we were.  I left before he and we never spoke, but I felt as if I’d gained a spiritual soul mate in that time we’d shared together in Saint Pat’s.

I know that sounds hokey—at best—but in this world of suppressed hopes, bartered faith, and a paucity of good examples for our children and grandchildren, I feel blessed to have that personal memory of a simple good man (gender neutral again—Fred would have wanted it that way). He passed away in 1997.

And oh yes, my father’s name was Fred, and he too was good man. Also from Pittsburgh.

As for thoughts about Greece, I’d prefer not to think about that situation.  Between Turkey holding two Greek soldiers hostage and making claims to Greek islands, Greece’s Prime Minister in a brouhaha over the use of the name “Macedonia” by its neighbor to the north (FYROM) while pressing corruption charges against his immediate predecessor Prime Ministers from rival political parties, worsening economic situations closing in on many, and continuing horrors faced by refugees—one set himself on fire today in the Moria Relocation Center on the island of Lesvos (the focus of my latest book, An Aegean April)—it’s enough to make one lose heart.

Thankfully, things are all wonderful back here in America.

I think it’s time to get out of this stream and make myself a hot chocolate.

God Bless, and March for Life.


Friday, March 23, 2018

Words Of The Year 2017

Here’s blog I have had  tucked up my sleeve for  a few weeks now. The fact I lost the list it was based on   had nothing to do with the delay.

We are back to thinking about the new words than came  into our consciousness  in the year 2017.  As far as 2018 is concerned we only have five words to deal with. The Beast From The East.

Yes, we are having some more weather.

                                               Jim, the gender neutral cabin boy from Carry On Sleuthing

Anyway,   manel is a panel, crime writing or otherwise,  that is made up of those with the XY chromosome combination. Equally the fanal, is  similar but made up of the XX variety. The XXX are probably incarcerated or avoiding Olympic chromosome testing   and the YYY are all called Delilah.

A sausagefest is a male centered gathering which will be full of manspreaders  broflaking.  ( Blokes sitting with their legs apart – not a common thing here due to kilt mentality- while they grumble about being on a shaky powerbase )   And a  snowflake  are those folks easily offended  by … well anything  you care to mention.  Scotland is now a breeding ground  for snowflakes  and they are not all due to the beast from the east. Or the pest from the west.

Hepeated is an interesting one. That’s when a XX says something and it’s ignored  until a XY  repeats it  and then everybody pays attention. I do wonder what planet the people who invent these words live on, I mean WHO pays attention to anything an XY says unless it’s ‘Shall I take the bin out?’  or ‘Here’s this fiver I owe you.’

Mansplaining is that thing XYs do when talking to XXs and thinking they do have to EXPLAIN it.  Well to be fair, there are somethings that men do have to explain, like lager, the offside rule and the fascination  with  gigabytes.
                                                           fluent in covfefe during Frisbee destruction

Of course there has been the influence of He We Shall Not Speak Of;  Kompromat- a word for  compromising material that has been around since the 30’s but is having a resurgence.  And Covfefe of course which I know to be the noise a Staffordshire Bull Terrier makes when a piece of Frisbee lodges up a nostril. It’s like three quick sneezes in succession. Equally, the old English word Dotard is making a comeback due to increase in dotards in power.

Hygge, a Danish word for contentment and appreciating the moment which has now been hijacked  by interior designers so it now means profit and dollar signs in front of the eyes. In 2018 it might be Lykke (happiness and fulfilment). I am likking lykke.

Lagom is going to be the word of 2018 ( decided nobody yet) and that means having just enough in a fairer society kind of way. And there’s Hebrew word coming up in the outside lane ‘Firgun’ meaning taking pleasure in the pleasure of others, the opposite of McSchadenfreude which is Scottish people smirking at anything.  

Gorpcore is an interesting one. It’s when outside clothing becomes fashionable shorts with leggings underneath, or a snood over a cap. For those of us from colder climes, our outerwear tends not to be a fashion statement, it keeps the water off!

And I’m kind of through with non-binary. You are XX or XY or vary between the two. You can be all if you want, but you can’t be neither or, to quote Douglas Adams,  you are in danger of disappearing in a puff of logic.

I mean, they (who??) want to introduce Mx instead of Miss, Mrs, or Ms. And that is supposed to mean my gender is not your business. Fair enough. In Scotland Miss means, none of your business, legally I mean. The Ms has no significance at all. Mrs means married but Miss means all of the above but it’s not pertinent. Hence why professional ladies ( Doctors and lawyers I mean not err… yes indeed well..)  are still Miss after marriage.
                                                       Another bloody unicorn

We have suffered the  mermaid smoothie and the unicorn coffee – all  multi-coloured and sparkly food and drink. That  includes toast, I kid you not. This is supposed to cheer us up.

I was talking to a person the other day who looks after a very famous place where lots of American men like to hit small balls around a field while avoiding a small hole with a flag in it. This place has a secret. They have  a very rare sub species of white deer roaming  over the area.

                                                                 A real unicorn

When  the aforementioned Americans report back to the bar after 18 holes, sitting  sipping a malt and explain to the barman about these ghost like, flitting creatures, the bar man looks shocked and asks them not to tell anybody. He turns and lifts the phone to the office. ‘‘The unicorns have escaped again.’  
                                                        Or a real unicorn?

Caro Ramsay XX Non Snowflake  23 03 2018

Thursday, March 22, 2018

We are what we drink


Last week, Stanley mentioned that we were in the last throes of writing our stand-alone, Dead of Night. I'm pleased to report that on Tuesday we added the final full stop to the last sentence, and sent it off to our agents and our editor in the UK. Stanley pointed out that the book was already available for advance purchase in the UK on Amazon. Who knew Amazon sold books that hadn’t even been written yet?

If anyone is concerned that we have shelved Kubu in favor of our new protagonist, Crystal Nguyen, don’t worry. Kubu will be back next year. We’ve just accepted a two Kubu book deal with Orenda, and at least the first will feature a younger Kubu trying to find his feet in the CID, working under Assistant Superintendent Jacob Mabaku. And he’ll be back in the US, too—we’ve just signed a deal with Poisoned Pen Press and we are absolutely delighted to be joining them!

All this is by way of introduction to the fact that my mind is now quite blank—emptied of Crystal and not yet reloaded with Kubu. (Some may say that that is its usual state anyway. Thought I’d get in with that one first.) So that is how I sat down to write this blog.

Usually something has happened in the news during the week that intrigues me, but the last week was totally swamped with the news of Cambridge Analytica. I don’t think anyone wants to hear more about that.

There was one thing though. Genetically modifed beer. A research student at UC Berkeley thought of it. Students think a lot about beer anyway (probably second only to that business that takes two of them), so why not? His idea was to splice mint and basil genes into yeast in order to cut out the hops. Hops are expensive, hard to grow, and drink gallons of water. The idea is to replace the bitterness/yeastiness introduced by the hop flowers by adding it directly in the yeast. The London Times took a somewhat tongue in cheek approach with a headline: Abandon all hops.  After insulting the Royal Family or criticizing Football, it’s hard to imagine anything that would get the English more upset than messing around with their beer.

However, in a blind taste test, a panel was convinced—the new yeast made decent beer that matched the hop flavors. Interesting, because the genes spliced were from mint and basil. Sounds more like something you might meet in the southern states than in California. But even the researchers are a bit dubious about the commercial viability of their discovery; brewers are very conservative people apparently.

Most drinks seem to be going the other way—organic wines, handmade craft beers, niche spirits. People have strong feelings about what is best, the right way to do things, and so on. Some of this goes almost to the occult with biodynamic wine making involving buried cows heads and harvesting at full moon.

From my rather limited experience, I can say two things about these types of wines. One, they are usually expensive, and two, they are often very good. The expense clearly comes from all the extra overheads. You start off with insects eating the vines, progress through people having to wake at midnight at full moon (overtime), and end up with the wild yeasts spoiling multiple barrels. The fact that it’s often better may be a result of all these things, but it will be the result of all the extra care and commitment that the vineyard manager and wine maker put into the process.

And organic means different things in different places and different industries. Even quality control regulations vary from place to place. In Burgundy you can chaptalize wine (add sugar). That would be anathema in South Africa (mainly because our problem is too much ripening and so too much sugar). In Burgundy you can’t irrigate vines. (Why would you? Have you been there in winter?) Here it’s completely standard.

All this, of course, interests people at the top end of the market. The vast majority of wine sales go to people who want just three things (1) alcohol, (2) something that isn’t repulsive to drink or produce an instant migraine, and (3) alcohol.

So how about GM beer? In my opinion, all it needs is a catchy name and an appealing label. Suggestions can be sent care of UC Berkeley.

At the end of this stream of subconsciousness, I realize that I still haven’t got anything to write about this week. Well, maybe in a fortnight…

Monday, March 19, 2018

2018: Flights over Africa

Annamaria on Monday

My month in Africa involved twelve flights, including my first on Qatar Air, Rome to Nairobi via Doha.  Two of the smaller hops within Africa were very memorable.

On the flight that took me from Arusha Airport to Lake Manyara, it turned out that I was the only passenger.  Yet I had a boarding pass.

Boarding also involved my going through security and putting my bags through a scanner.  Okay.  That made sense.  It was when the security inspector asked me to take off my shoes, that I began to wonder about the need for all this.  It's not that I have not been asked that before, but the request, under those circumstances, gave me pause.  Before I sat down to take off my shozies, a question escaped me.  "Are you trying to protect the pilot from me?" 

Before I had the first shoe off, the inspector thought better of it and told me I didn't need to have my shoes scanned.  

After that, Harry the pilot and I were free to go.


Your reporter and all the other passengers on the flight!

The flight from Lake Manyara to Dar es Salam via Zanzibar was memorable for the opposite reason:  it was so full that I had to sit in the co-pilot's seat. 

How I boarded, a long step up for a short person and on
arrival, what felt like an even longer step down.
My seat mate
My fellow passengers' reaction when I announced to them that if something
happened to the pilot, they could not count on me.
Here's a few seconds of close-up video of the view from my seat:

And some sights along the way from my special viewpoint.  

The foothills of Kilimanjaro

The Indian Ocean on the way to Zanzibar

Our first glimpse of Zanzibar
Dar es Salam, city of blue roofs.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Why I'm Glad That Cherry Trees Can't Read

--Susan, every other Sunday

I've been in Tokyo for a week, to sign and await the filing of my visa application. If it's granted, I'll return to Japan in May (along with my husband and our two cats) to spend the next year living, writing, and climbing mountains in Japan.

I had to come over now, despite chemotherapy, because of the Japanese immigration rules. Long story short, I had to be here personally when my visa application was filed, and I had to come this week because I'm in between chemo treatments.

My oncologist approved the trip, and supplied me with a list of restrictions: avoid public transit, avoid crowded spaces, outdoor activities only whenever possible, and wear a face mask at all times. (I'm allowed to remove it at restaurants, while eating.)

When I booked my flight I noticed the sakura (cherry blossom) forecast (yes, it's a real thing--and an important one in Japan) called for the Tokyo blossoms to appear on March 22 or 23. Sakura last only a day or two, and the forecast is highly accurate, so I resigned myself to missing them yet again.

I've longed to see cherry blossoms in Japan since I learned about them in kindergarten. One of my fellow students was the daughter of a Japanese couple on sabbatical in the United States. Her name was Yoko, and our teacher (shout out to Mrs. McConnell) used Yoko's presence as an opportunity to teach the rest of us a bit about Japan, including the importance of cherry blossoms in Japanese culture. 

Forty years and multiple trips to Japan later, I was still waiting to see them in person.

This morning, I took advantage of the lovely, if chilly weather and headed off to the Imperial Palace Gardens.

Ruins of Edo Castle, Imperial Palace Grounds

Last December, I started what I plan to be a four-season photo shoot at the Imperial Palace Gardens, and today I set out to shoot "spring"--minus the cherry blossoms, of course, though I hoped I might find a single early flower.

Unlikely, but a girl can hope.

The gardens were lovely. The plum trees and flowering hedges were in bloom:

Yellow flowering hedges. Not sure what kind.
And some of the other flowering trees were also budding.

Sadly, not a cherry tree.

Although the gardens have many cherry trees - including a large grove near the ruins of Edo Castle, they showed no sign of the world-famous flowers.

At least, almost all of them showed no sign.

Someone didn't read the forecast.

As we approached the castle ruins, I noticed an explosion of pale pink at the far end of the cherry grove. A single tree had blossomed - most likely, this morning - its branches covered in pale, delicate flowers. A lifelong dream fulfilled at last:

Cherry blossoms in bloom, Imperial Palace Gardens, Tokyo

Cherry blossoms last, at most, a couple of days. Their impermanence, and the fact that they fall and die at the height of their transitory beauty, are part of what makes them such an important and enduring symbol of life. In Japan, the sakura is a reminder that life is breathtakingly beautiful, tragically short, fragile as gossamer, and to be loved and appreciated at every moment.

After waiting for more than forty years, I have finally seen the sakura in bloom - and the experience was worth every minute of the wait.

The forecast said I could not hope to see a cherry blossom in Tokyo today, but fortunately, cherry trees can't read. As a point of note: dreams and fortune don't read forecasts either. They come to those who pursue them, despite the odds.

If you had told me a year ago that I'd be planning a sabbatical move to Japan, to pursue my dream of climbing the hundred famous peaks and writing instead of practicing law for a year, I'd have told you it was impossible.

As impossible as cherry trees blooming too early.

Which only goes to show you that the impossible might not really be that impossible after all.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

I'm Baaack


It’s been three weeks since my rotator cuff shoulder surgery, and I’ve decided to take a shot at typing with more than the index finger of my left hand.  I feel I must take that risk—painful as it may prove to be—in an effort at breaking a horrid addiction contracted in the course of my recovery. 

No, it’s not to the dreaded oxycodone pain medication. I was well aware of the risks of that, and avoided it except on the few occasions when, on a scale of 1 to 10, pain hit 12.

No, I fell victim to an insidious hallucinogen that preys upon the innocent in their most vulnerable of moments, such as when one tires of balancing a book or e-reader on one’s belly with one hand. 

I’m talking about our singular national narcotic, competitively produced and distributed nationwide to generate profit and power via the exploitation of our disparate tribal urges.

Yes, dear reader, my name is Jeffrey and I’m addicted to Cable TV News.

It started off simply enough, with the teaser of a “breaking news” headline, followed by commentary from folks with distinct agendas.  Whether or not I agreed with what they said did not matter, for the game was to hook me into the personalities, and bristle or cheer while they added partisan spin to seemingly objective facts.  Soon I was jumping from channel to channel to catch how networks with polar opposite political views were handling the same state of facts…or ignoring them.

You find yourself in swoon, one that has you turning on the news when you rise in the morning, and falling asleep to it at night.  Then comes delusion, for you think you’re well-informed, on top of things.  But you’re not. You may know a lot about a half-dozen titillating tales, but you’re woefully out of touch with the world, for those news networks universally neglect almost all but headlines.

You’ve become myopic, endorphin-driven, and out of touch with the real world. You’re dulled by the stories, think that what’s debated is actually being resolved by the process, and, thus, do nothing but impatiently wait for the next big headline to break across the screen.

Congratulations, you’re now addicted to the reality TV world of Cable TV News.

Thankfully, not all have fallen victim to the scourge.  There are those who realize that if you wish to change the real world, you must participate in it, and bust your hump at making things happen.

Like, for example, the students and families of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, and the hundreds of thousands supporting them, in their efforts at spearheading the “March For Our Lives” on March 24 in Washington, DC.

Yes, I watched that horrible tragedy unfold on TV.  I watched the analysts, watched the looping videos, and watched the partisan interests roll out their spin.

Then I listened to classmates and families of the victims speak from their hearts with poise, intensity, and truth.  Their words have inspired a movement, if not a generation. They give me hope for our future, and reason to end my voyeuristic addiction and return to the parapets…

Right after I catch the latest update on the Stormy Daniels affair.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.


Friday, March 16, 2018

From the mouths of Babes...

 Twitter was wittering this week about those dreadful situations when the brain is working hard, maybe multitasking and the mouth suddenly gets involved and blurts out something inappropriate and often hilarious…

Like the man who said a confused  "Many thank you" to a woman in a shop.”
Or the young gentleman whose colleague asked very politely if she could ask a question.  His brain was thinking along the lines of  “fire away” or “go ahead” but his mouth said  “go away”.

 And we feel the mortification of the cat owner walking along the street. A woman, walking her dog passed and the dog stopped to have a sniff. The cat owner said, ‘I bet he can smell my pussy.’
Or in a bistro in France, a young English lady was having some pea soup. She didn’t  think she’d like it but  she really did, she loudly declared “you can really taste the pea-ness.”

And asking for a packet of smokey bacon crisps….  but actually asking for a  "smacket of pokey acon"  . And a kid who asks for ‘cock prawntail crisps.’  Or maybe you might fancy some  “stiffy cocky pudding”.  Somebody actually did go into a cinema and ask for ‘Large Cockporn.’  Maybe that was the name of the film… but I wouldn’t know. I think that one might stay with me, as has the word minnellium  when I mean millennium. And irrelevant can become illrevelant.
A common one on the twitter thread was replying ‘You too,’ when somebody wishes you a happy birthday.

Or the poor man who  said ‘Congratulations.’  At a FUNERAL!
We did have a boy at school who once said  ‘Thanks Dad,’ when the physics teacher handed him a Bunsen burner. ( They weren’t related ) In a similar vein, some poor sod has a terrible habit of getting off the bus, waving and saying ‘Bye Mum.’
Imagine answering the phone at work and thinking ‘Can I help you’ or ‘Please hold for a moment’ when the mouth goes into motion and says  ‘Can I hold you’

And how much concentration does it need to answer the phone correctly.  Imagine answering the phone at work and saying ‘Hello. Can you help me?’
And when the plumber comes to your house and comments 'I've got the same wall tiles as you'  and you reply… 'I know'. That’s kind of spooky and could maybe lead to a rather good crime novel…

A great one on twitter was the young man who caught sight of a female ex boss. From across the street he wanted to make himself known and as his brain tussled between Hi and Hello,  his mouth settled the issue for him and came up with a shout of ‘Ho.’
Dearie me. Imagine leaving the office on the Friday of a bank holiday,  and as you go out the door  your brain is thinking ‘Have a nice weekend,’   or’ have a nice bank holiday.’  And settled for ‘nice bank holiday’ but substituted  a 'w' for the 'b'.  Ouch!

Here’s a quote from the tittersphere..’This thread is hilarious. And this one reminds me off the time I asked for £200 worth of Friss Wanks in the Post Office.’
And we can all empathise with the man who was spelling out his rather long  surname over the phone  and  began with "M for millipede...".. then, instead of his name, he  proceeded to spell out 'millipede'.

I guess it’s easy to be in a shop, choosing a birthday card., The brain is saying birthday birthday birthday so when the card is purchased and the change is handed back over, instead of saying ‘thank you,’ the mouth says ‘Happy Birthday.’
Aiming for the words Cheeky Piglet, I once called a puppy a peeky chiglet.

Caro Ramsay  16 03 2018