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Smoking – the universal language

Courtesy of Stockvault
Courtesy of Stockvault

Before I get into this post I am not proud of being a smoker nor would I encourage anyone to start. This is just an observation of those unfortunately afflicted smokers of the world.

Standing outside Rome’s Fiumicino airport braving bitter February wind and rain a few weeks ago, gratefully drawing in a nicotine hit between an international flight and a domestic flight, I was approached by a short middle aged lady holding out a cigarette and tapping the end with her finger. ‘Si, senora’ I said and obliged her with a light for her cigarette.  Immediately the bond peculiar to smokers was struck up although she spoke no English and I very little Italian.  We persevered to swap family information, our respective travel arrangements and other details before we eventually went our separate ways.  I considered this exchange and realised how often this had happened before.  In Malaysia, Greece, Turkey and many other countries with the same language difficulties in broken English or the smattering of the native language I made it a habit of picking up.  I’m quite pleased with the fact I can say ‘thank you’ in some eighteen different languages but ‘no’ in only three or four.

More often than not the common ground was smoking.  Then another factor came to mind which was that of the smoking rooms and areas in offices and companies.  the exchange of information there almost invariably spread communications quicker than email and formal meetings.  There was also a better quality of exchange and trust that could only be down to the universal bond of our common malaise.  Normal procedures within the companies often failed to come to successful conclusions.  Whereas successful dealing with problems could be achieved in between hacking and coughing and braving foul weather conditions in the ‘fresh’ air.

One of the interesting benefits is that smoking is not generally specific to one department therefore inter-departmental liaison is fostered in a way that could not be achieved in the parochial environs of an insular department. Maybe companies should look into this phenomenon and the potential benefits that could possibly be replicated in some other way that did not involve the downside of the health issues.  Every cloud (even a smoke one!) has a silver lining.

Time of Christmas Cheer?

The festive season is approaching fast

Perhaps it will be better than the last

With drunken uncles their cheeks all aglow

Lurching round, behind their backs, a sprig of mistletoe

Ancient aunties breaking wind while still fast asleep

And raucous children with toys that flash and bleep

The simmering arguments coming to the boil

Among the women in the kitchen at their toil

‘We would baste the potatoes with oil in my day’

‘Well, I don’t care.  This year I’m doing it my way’

Betty Windsor on the box talking to the world

With the noise coming from the kitchen of something being hurled

The cat noisily throwing up beneath the Christmas tree

 The boy’s latest girlfriend announcing loudly ‘My food must be gluten free!’

The smokers in the garden braving the cold

Back in the kitchen the melee reaching fever pitch ‘You just will not be told!’

Eventually, without UN intervention, the meal was laid out and the feasting did begin

Apart from Scottish Auntie Mabel who had overdone the gin

Although it wouldn’t have been much use

‘I hav’nae got my teeth. I left them in the hoose’

Two people wanted the Parson’s nose and four a leg apiece

The resultant scramble covering the tablecloth with grease

Slowly the overloaded table was cleared of its stress

The stomachs now feeling the unaccustomed press

The dishwasher on its fourth load, working overtime

Auntie Mabel on her second wind and tenth gin and lime

More drink consumed, arguments began before it finally diminished

Until everyone agreed that the day was finished

Soon enough it was over and all had gone to bed

Everyone totally sated and very over fed

Yes, let’s hope it will be better than last years

But just at this minute nothing will allay my fears!

Location as inspiration (2) Sicilia


Mount Etna is erupting in the distance and wild seas are pounding the breakwater of the marina but with my sailing yacht snugly moored in a calm spot – where better to start writing the sequel to my first novel? Sicily as a whole has a fascinating history where almost all of the important nations in the world have trodden across its soil. Greeks, Romans, Moors, Vikings, Germans and the British to name but a few. All have left some legacy on this rugged landscape forged by consistent volcanic action over millennia.
The modern Sicilians will point to a map of the world and the fact the their island sits practically in the middle and refer to their home as the navel of all the lands.
The air is thick with influences that remain and the effect on the consciousness required to write has to be better than any drug.
Now with a Word document open and a virgin page filling my laptop screen I only have to begin typing to find the inspiration to take advantage of the riches surrounding me.

Are the conspiracy theorists part of an overall conspiracy?

As Henry Louis “H. L.” Mencken, the renowned American journalist, essayist and satirist(September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956) was quoted as saying – 

‘The central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy against his common rights and true deserts.  He ascribes all his failure to get on in the world, all of his congenital incapacity and damfoolishness, to the machinations of werewolves assembled in Wall Street, or some other such den of infamy’ 

A veritable blogger of his day, or at least he would have been if he had lived to see the advent of the Internet, he was accused of hating everything.  In his defence he said, 

‘It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency.  This makes me forever ineligible for public office’ 

I think most of us, well those of a certain age, are familiar with the silent movie theme of the frail damsel in distress tied to the railway line in the path of a thundering express train as the wicked landowner, dressed in black, twiddled his moustache looked on from afar.  In the nick of time a brave stalwart and hero of the piece leaps forth and rescues her. (Perils of Pauline, film serial, 1914) 

I think this is why the conspiracy theorists catch the public eye in ever increasing numbers. 

For the damsel in distress, read the hoodwinked public standing in harm’s way.  For the wicked landowner, read secret departments of the government and ruthless corporations.  The conspiracy theorists are, of course, the stalwart brave souls standing up against City Hall or Wall Street on our behalf. 

All very public spirited you might think but in their eagerness to enlighten us mere mortals, disinformation creeps in to make stories more sensational, thereby driving their point home.  Sometimes the disinformation reaches total fabrication. 

Conspiracy theories abound and I’m sure we all know at least two or three.  The most prevalent are that Fracking, to release lots of cheap and badly needed energy, causes earthquakes and contaminates water supplies and that chemicals are being sprayed by untrackable aircraft into our skies in an attempt to mind control and subjugate the masses by corporations or governments. 

Now, other than saying I don’t believe the conspiracies above, I do not intend to waste my time and blog space in discussing these stupidities.

I will, however, quote Mark Twain who said, 

‘A lie will travel half way round the world before the truth has put its shoes on’ 

These theories can be positively harmful, particularly in the case of Fracking’, where some states in the US have banned the practice and this has spread to other countries, denying the people readily available and cheap energy to help the world’s beleaguered economy. 

The concern I have is the speed at which the theory arrives and the rate at which it spreads.  My own conspiracy theory is that there a central intelligence base, run by the Illuminati (Google it! There no room in this post to explain!), where there are teams of people scouring the news on a daily basis and then triggering the seeds of the next conspiracy.  Their end is to destabilise the world to ensure they maintain their control.  

That is something of which the KGB in the old Soviet Union would have been very proud. 

Picture the scene: 

‘There has been no real news today, the government must be suppressing the story that lizard aliens morphed into the shape of Elvis Presley are secretly building flying saucers disguised as Loch Ness monsters in a hidden base at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.  A previous accident in the manufacturing process at this secret base blew off the wellhead that caused the big oil leak…..’. 

The most disgraceful of these appeared on my Face Book page the day after the Boston Marathon bombing which claimed that the attack had been carried out by the FBI to mask the fact that George W Bush and Barack Obama were to be indicted for war crimes!  This was the one that initiated my present rant.  Low life imbeciles! (The conspiracy theorists, I mean!). 

However, remember this, even if you’re paranoid there could still be people out to get you – but if they are don’t tell me about it!



Location as inspiration – Venice, Italy.

Thanks to Jackie for her post on ‘Like Strawberry Tea’ On a short break to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary a few seconds looking out the window of a Venetian hotel and a large chunk of my next book formed almost instantly. On first sight I thought the canal was a backwater but it proved to be on the main gondola route, dozens passed every hour despite the weather. Now consider their individual stories and a myriad of ideas spring to mind. So wherever you are don’t just look but see, don’t just hear but listen. The muse should flow naturally from that!

An Invitation to go Virtual Sailing! Part 1

marmaris comp

The wind is howling through the marina in Marmaris, Turkey and even in the shelter of the harbour walls the yacht is tugging at her mooring lines restlessly. She seems keen to get out and face the elements again. I know it will a more settled day tomorrow with a fair wind to sail along the coast to a beautiful anchorage at the end of the peninsula. The bay is sheltered and has several restaurants with the prospect of good food, a few drinks and a peaceful night gently bobbing round the anchor. This idyllic spot also provides a respite from city traffic as no cars and indeed no roads spoil the tranquillity.

But there is a problem, I have no crew. I could go by myself but the voyage would be more difficult single handed and what fun would it be to visit this beautiful spot without someone to share it with?

Now, here’s a thought, why don’t you join me? You don’t know anything about sailing? Doesn’t matter, everyone that sails had to start somewhere and it might just whet your appetite for it.
You’re up for it? Good! I think you will enjoy it. See you in the morning about nine thirty and we’ll set off about ten. Sleep well, remember to bring some warm clothes it can be cool in the wind on the open sea.

Small gg

Morning, come onboard. I’ve set everything up ready to go. I’ll talk you through a few things over coffee.
You can swim, can’t you? Excellent! Otherwise you would have to wear a lifejacket. If the weather gets rough I may ask you to put one on anyway as a precaution. Don’t worry, the weather forecast is fine for sailing today but the Aegean Sea can be surprising sometimes.
I have no intention of leaving you on your own on the yacht but accidents can happen so there are a few things you need to know. This is the radio and it will be on all the time until we anchor and this switch turns on the navigation lights. The instructions are here on how to put out a distress call. Should I fall over overboard, stop the boat and I’ll show you how to do that when we move off.
If I can’t get back onboard or you can’t see me, put out a distress call and turn on the lights. There are lots of vessels around that can come to our assistance. Don’t look so worried, these are all just precautions better than trying to find out on your own. As they say on airlines ‘In the unlikely event…’.
Now, try on this life jacket and adjust it to fit. Comfortable? Okay, we’ll stow it away again.
I’ll just start the engine to let it warm up and we’ll tidy away any loose gear that can roll around when we are moving.
Any questions so far? No? Remember there is no such thing as a stupid question there is only a stupid answer.
You’re going to let off the lines at the dock end and I will do the same at the other end. We’ll take this one off now and coil it up. It goes in this locker here. And when I wave to you from the cockpit you do the same with the other. Bring the line onboard and make sure no ends are trailing over the side as they might get caught on the propeller and then the boat will be without power in the confined space of the marina!
When we get moving I would like you to watch out for any boats we come close to and push us off with the boat hook. Please don’t use your legs to fend off the boats as there is a good chance you will get trapped. Anyway I’ll do my best not to get too close to anything.
Ready to go? Okay, let the other line go your end and then sit down on the cabin top so I can see.

My end is now free so I will drive backwards and then turn towards the harbour mouth.
So we managed to get out without hitting anything. Come back into the cockpit and relax. We can now see Marmaris bay open up in front of us.

To be continued with Part 2 – The open sea.

Titanic to sail again!

Recently in the news an Australian billionaire and a Chinese shipyard are joining forces to build an almost exact replica of the Titanic which will, in 2016, sail the previous route taken by her ill fated predecessor.  A staggering 40,000 people have already applied for places on this trip at astronomical prices.  The ship has a family connection for me and the author DJ Kelly with whom I share a Great Grandfather who had worked on the construction of the original.  The thought came to today as I lazed in the cockpit of my considerably smaller vessel in Turkey, what sort of people would be attracted to such a journey? Can it be a fun thing to do considering that 1,502 people perished in the icy waters of the Atlantic on the first trip? Or is there some sort of closure if the Titanic eventually sails past the Statue of Liberty in New York?

There is obviously a few books in the making here if any aspiring author wants to consider this as inspiration (Denise?).  The media coverage will be immense should all the plans come to fruition.

Maybe one or two of the prospective 40,000 will chance by this blog and throw their hat into the ring.  I’d appreciate your input!

Until the Fat Man Sings – another 5* review but with a cloud!

The following 5* review appeared for a short period on Amazon then was removed.  Anyone any clues as to why?

A thoroughly gripping adventure story. I hope that we hear more of Mike Balmayne in the near future. I am an avid reader and critic but this is a new genre for me, stumbled across accidentally. I am certain that all the male readers of this novel, will be envious of Balmayne not least for his long suffering and wonderful wife Caroline.           

H. Clayton.