Books On Writing

From writing courses I find that I have various book recommendations.

Some of these I have actually read.

If I find any that are any good I will include a review at some point.

I suspect that this list will grow with time:

Book Author ISBN
Creative Writing: A Practical Guide

Bookfinder

Creative writing a practical guide

Julia Casterton 1403942633
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Bookfinder

on writing

Stephen King 9781444723250
The Writer’s Block: 786 Ideas To Jump-start Your Imagination

Bookfinder

block1

Jason Rekulak 0762409487
The Writer’s Voice

Bookfinder

The Writer's Voice

Al Alvarez 0747579318
What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers

Bookfinder

what if

Anne Bernays 0062720066
The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

Bookfinder

situation and story

Vivian Gornick 0374528586
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Bookfinder

writing down the bones

Natalie Goldberg 9781611803082
Grammar Guide – the way the English Language Works

Bookfinder

grammar1

Gordon Jarvie 0747513856
Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Bookfinder

eats shoots leaves

Lynne Truss 1861976127
Writers Handbook

(A different one is published each year)

Writers' Handbook

J. Paul Dyson 1909935131
Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook

(a new version is published each year)

writers and artists

A & C Black Publishers Ltd 9781472935052

Hopefully you will find some of them readable and/or useful.

I welcome suggestions for other books that I have not included.

Beginnings

One of the exercises that I practiced on one of the writing courses was to create beginnings.

The beginning is important to any writing.

There are different styles of beginning this one – the “Third Person Objective.”

The Third Person Objective depends upon a narrator overlooking the proceedings (from outside the story).

This narrator having no interest in any of the characters. He can describe each without bias and has a great insight into the entire proceedings.

This is a style that is hard to do well. In fact I can’t recall reading any fiction written in this style.

One problem is: if the reader is receiving the story via a disinterested messenger it is hard for them to have sympathy for any of the characters. This can result in reduced emotional involvement in the story.

Without any attachment to the story, why keep reading?

My beginnings all involve what was my favourite character for a long time “Dave the Effective Detective”.

Unfortunately whilst I loved the character I couldn’t find a suitable story for him.

Perhaps he’ll pop up as suitable for something in the future.

The Third Person Objective Beginning

There lies our hero, as unlikely a hero as you are likely to meet. Forty, chubby, unadventurous; such is the stuff that the fates have to work with.

Right now he is slumbering, dreamless, drooling a little into his pillow. His equally chubby wife snoring loudly at his side.

But – on awakening, the story of the rest of his life will begin.

Dave Cooper an accountant with Huntchett and Spendler. (An old and quite prestigious firm).

An accountant of some respect among his peers.

Never failing to make taxation savings for his clients. Never-failing to disguise the true extent of earnings using some clever legal loophole. Never-failing to make a healthy salary.

So, how is it that Dave still drives an elderly car? How can it be that Dave has never left this three-bedroomed semi (purchased twenty years ago)?

Why are the suits, hanging in a neat row in his wardrobe, both worn and unfashionable?

Why is it that today, his fortieth birthday, he will see that his whole life has been a waste of the breath that he expended?

How can a man so respectable sit this very afternoon hunched in his car trying to end his own life?

Why should Dave, an accountant (let’s not forget) of little imagination, become a mumbling simpleton of little use to anyone.

More to the point, how does this make him the hero of our story?

 

 

See my next post on beginnings here:

https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/01/09/beginnings-pt2/

Character

Over time I have attended various courses on writing.

These have not had any lasting effect on my ability to actually write anything.

As an after-effect of these different efforts I have various short pieces of work with no home to go to.

I can’t see that any of these will be the foundation of some best seller.

I am gambling that displaying your old work has no deleterious effects on future writing.

On that assumption I will put them out there warts and all.

On the basis that it is possible someone might get some small pleasure from reading them.

From some old writing exercise I have this short piece of writing that did not make the grade.

The idea was to describe a character. But the feedback was that the character was one-dimensional.

In fact the reflection was that he was a little shit and that this made the end satisfying to read.

I was very sympathetic to Mike and I quite liked him. In some aspects I felt an affinity with him. So it is sad that he did not make the grade as a character.

Anger

Mike gripped the Momo steering wheel, his knuckles pale. Petite hands, not like a man’s at all, slender wrists and puny forearms, which are currently in tension. So that the slim muscles are clear.

His acne scarred face reddened with aggression.

Mike barks out “Move you bastard!”

He weaves his lowered Vauxhall Nova towards the right-hand side.

The darkened purple interior vibrates in time to a huge subwoofer behind his left ear – “50 Cent”. Mike adjusts the baseball cap forwards a little and leans forwards. His nose inches from the screen; he revs his engine with a whoosh of the dump valve.

The ash from his fag is forming a scree slope down the front of his T-shirt. His clothes are market-stall “designer”; all sportswear accented with gold jewellery from Argos. Today Mike wants to look cool.

Finally, he has passed his test at the ripe old age of 18, old for a license. He would have to tell them he passed months ago. They couldn’t know he was a new car virgin.

He’d had to be nice to his god-awful parents for a whole week now. He’d finally persuaded his dad to give him the money for this real bitching car. He could tell them it was all his own work – they’d think he was cool then.

His face ape-like in concentration screwed up. With ears stuck out at right angles beneath his close-shaven hair.

He looks for even a minute gap in the traffic “Fuckin’ Wankin’ Granddad, why not fuck off and die”

He edges his lurid green front spoiler close to the boot in front and flashes the four-way headlights. His laceless trainers describe a dance on the “custom” pedals until the unbalanced car slews sideways.

He leers, “Hope that scared the old bastard!”

He wanted to arrive like a star in “2 Fast 2 Furious” in a rush, lights blazing. He wanted to impress (particularly Roz – she looked great in that pink mini skirt last week). But this idiot was holding him up. He felt his heart beat faster – he wanted to kill him in a serious way. He could imagine ripping out his still beating heart. Kicking the gagging corpse around until this feeling ran cold.

He hit the horn hard and then zigzagged out until he was parallel, nothing would stop him now.

What was this? The old guy was accelerating, fucker, he would have him. Mike plants the accelerator hard into the purple carpet. He feels the blood pumping past his calf muscle as he exerts great pressure to keep it there.

Sweat springs from his forehead as he looks ahead at the oncoming bend.

He won’t give way; this git will never take him. Every muscle in his 5’ 7” frame taut he grits his teeth. He will win this or die, the evil fucker.

The Speedo needle crawls upwards, the corner, not past yet, he won’t brake, never. He turns to give the guy the finger as the Volvo truck rounds the bend.

Using Online Tools to Improve Your Writing Pt 2

After Part 1:

https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/01/23/using-online-tools-to-improve-your-writing/

We are still embarking upon the journey of testing out editing tools based upon the article:

http://nybookeditors.com/2016/02/instantly-improve-your-writing-with-these-11-editing-tools/.

Part one concerned AfterTheDeadline and did not exactly blow my pants off.

This time we are looking at Autocrit. Health warning the NYBookEditors article describes this as a pay for option and if there is no free trial option then I will not be exploring it. (On the basis of being a lifelong cheapskate).

The location is https://www.autocrit.com. (https reassures my IT Security bones – I’m feeling better about this option already).

In addition on browsing to the page I find that it states that you can paste in some text for free

Autocrit page

For those who did not read the last post:

https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/01/23/using-online-tools-to-improve-your-writing/.

Here is the text that I am analysing – filled with errors which several people have pointed out.

He stopped the car at the style gate.  The handbrake was still a bit dodgy; he gave it a hefty pull and said a silent prayer that it wouldn’t run away down hill.

The “Great Park” spread out before them – old stained post and rail fencing, long grass, the occasional tree dotted randomly.  Zones of poor drainage where the marsh marigold was already showing saffron flower heads.  He felt his heart quicken just slightly – he hadn’t done this sort of thing for years.

Mandy was here for the “rare mushroom” or that’s how he thought of it.  Mandy had tried patiently to remind him that it was a fungus.

“Russula Pseudo-affinis” his ticket to pleasure land.  This boring little brown-capped fungus had only been seen in one other place in the UK.  Derek had found it surprisingly easy to convince her that he had seen some sprouting in the corner of the Great Park.

It’s amazing what a night spent with G.J Keizer’s “Encyclopaedia of Fungi” can result in.

A keen mycologist like Mandy Briggs couldn’t resist, he’d offered to drive, pretended he was as interested as she in the damn mushrooms.

Mandy – she was tall, bookish and appeared totally plain, no one ever saw Mandy in male company.

Derek knew something they didn’t.  It was Mandy’s love of lose pullovers; they hid her body so well no one knew the joy beneath.  That and that lengthy awful brown skirt, the one that was always heavily stained from studying the ink caps and wax caps on hands and knees.

Hands and knees, yes that’s how he’d seen her, examining a “White Spindle” fungus beside the car park; that over large pullover and the absence of underwear – a revelation.

He determined to introduce Mandy to the delights of male company as quickly as he could bring it about and he had no scruples about the use of subterfuge.

He steadied Mandy as she stepped over the style, gaining a glimpse of shapely calf as she did so, this was better and better.

Down the grassy slope, slipping and sliding in the dew-heavy grass his leather shoes unsuited to the terrain; the grass here a darker shade from the constant dampness.  At the base of the slope a tiny copse, mainly ash and hawthorn but with the occasional oak tree.

He had planned for the “use of” a drier area beneath one stately member – it would be ideal for his carnal destiny – a blanket was too obvious for this “field trip”.

She was braced against a tree – back to him.  This would be too easy.

She turned as he approached to indicate a spiny coral fungus.  The contour of that bum beneath the plain cotton so wonderful; he reached forward to run his fingers lightly down the obvious parting of those two cheeks.

The impact was sudden, violent.  He couldn’t believe the pain.  He’d thought it a lie – it surely couldn’t be this painful?  He folded like an emptying balloon cradling his soreness.

I’m hopeful if we keep the text the same that this gives the editing software chance to do its job. In addition it enables accurate comparison between the effectiveness of the tools.

Initially pasting the above into Autocrit caused the entire page to freeze completely (At least in Microsoft Edge). So I killed it and started again.

I tried again but the page didn’t even acknowledge that I had entered text – assume something to do with my choice of browser.

So start again using Internet Explorer.

Sure enough the tool kicked into touch and clicking analyse text took me to a page that asked for my email address (I have a throwaway email address for just such a purpose and I recommend that you do the same).

Once you complete the process it appears that you can keep going back to the same page and select from each of the options available, which are:

options available

However a quick review of the output reveals that it is the same in each case so it is not clear why the options are offered.

(Potentially it is a way to target the marketing of the solution to you via the email address that you supplied – you did use a disposable address didn’t you?)

This is the output that I received:

results 1

results 3

results 4

results 5

results 7

results 8

results 9

results 10

results 11

results 12

Sadly the free version of the report does not actually point out where in the text the problems occur. So it is a case of looking carefully at the text using the prompts given and attempting to identify areas that need work.

This gave me this as an output:

He stopped the car at the style gate.  The handbrake was still a bit dodgy; he gave it a hefty pull and said a silent prayer that it wouldn’t run away downhill.

The “Great Park” spread out before them – old stained post-and-rail fencing, long grass; the occasional tree dotted randomly; zones of poor drainage where the marsh marigold was already showing saffron flower heads.

He felt his heart quicken just slightly. He hadn’t done this sort of thing for years.

Mandy was here for the “rare mushroom”. That’s how he thought of it.  Mandy had tried to remind him it was a fungus.

“Russula Pseudo-affinis” his ticket to pleasure land.  This boring little brown-capped fungus had only been seen in one other place in the UK.  Derek had found it surprisingly easy to convince her he had seen some sprouting in the corner of the Great Park.

It’s amazing what a night spent with G.J Keizer’s “Encyclopaedia of Fungi” can result in.

A keen mycologist like Mandy Briggs couldn’t resist, he’d offered to drive, pretended he was as interested as she in the damn mushrooms.

Mandy – she was tall, bookish and appeared totally plain, no one ever saw Mandy in male company.

Derek knew something they didn’t.  It was Mandy’s love of lose pullovers; they hid her body so well no one knew the joy beneath.  That and the lengthy awful brown skirt the one that was always heavily stained from studying the ink caps on hands and knees.

Hands and knees, yes that’s how he’d seen her, examining a “White Spindle” fungus beside the car park, the over-large pullover and the absence of underwear – a revelation.

He determined to introduce Mandy to the delights of male company as quickly as he could bring it about and he had no scruples about the use of subterfuge.

He steadied Mandy as she stepped over the style, gaining a glimpse of shapely calf as she did so, this was better and better.

Down the grassy slope, slipping and sliding in the dew-heavy grass his leather shoes unsuited to the terrain.

The grass here a darker shade from the constant dampness. At the base of the slope a tiny copse, mainly ash and hawthorn but with the occasional oak tree.

He had planned for the use of a drier area beneath one stately member. It would be ideal for his carnal destiny – a blanket was too obvious for this field trip.

She was braced against a tree – back to him.  This would be too easy.

She turned as he approached to indicate a spiny coral fungus.  The contour of her bum beneath the plain cotton so wonderful; he reached forward to run his fingers lightly down the obvious parting of those two cheeks.

The impact was sudden, violent.  He couldn’t believe the pain.  He’d thought it a lie – it surely couldn’t be this painful?  He folded like an emptying balloon cradling his soreness.

 

 

I am not an editor (that is why I was using a tool) and so this is not going to be sufficient for what I need.

No doubt the paid for version of AutoCrit is ideal in this respect, certainly the feedback is much more detailed than with the After the Deadline tool I evaluated last time.

https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/01/23/using-online-tools-to-improve-your-writing/

Next time CorrectEnglish:

Gravatar

For some time now I have found my blog decorated with something that detracted from the look of the site.

When I create blog pages I see this in the blog page:

Gravatar

This seemed to me a waste of space and I wanted to get this removed from the page.

I made an enquiry with WordPress technical support.

The feedback was that this was part of the theme design and only a custom design (at some cost) would get rid of it.

On setting up the site I spent a disproportionate amount of time selecting the “theme” (which for me is 2016).

Having spent a long time with the theme choice; I was not keen on a redesign or for the cost of having a custom design done.

If I was stuck with this – could I make better use of it than I have done to date?

It turns out that the icon is a placeholder for a Gravatar:

https://codex.wordpress.org/How_to_Use_Gravatars_in_WordPress.

Gravatar is a Globally Recognised Avatar. Wherever you make a posting an icon will appear identifying that posting as belonging to you.

Given my posting history consists of one blog; this is overkill. But I have an icon on my page which I need to do something about.

The above article states that WordPress.com allows access to the Avatar through the settings part of the site:

site

In fact I access by clicking on the tiny icon at the top of the page:

icon-stroke

Selecting this enables access to my profile and to change my Public ID and picture:

Profile

I reasoned that if I was going to do this then I should put some things about me as well:

my details

After which my blog site now appears like this:

icon-concluded

 

Audiobooks

Not that long ago I decided that I would explore the world of audiobooks.

Some of my friends use audiobooks.

I spend a reasonable part of each week driving. I thought having something playing in the background would allow me to make best use of that time.

To me the obvious place to start was an audiobook download from Amazon.

After a while I had listened to the book and I thought that my niece might like to listen to it after me.

I own the book and I reasoned that this should present no problem.

I determined that there was no way to export the book from the playing interface. I couldn’t record it or indeed to pass it on by a method such as via email or file sharing service.

I contacted Amazon support and they told me it is forbidden to do what I was proposing.

Amazon control what you do with your audiobook.

When I owned a CD I could package up the CD and send it on to someone else. The CD belonged to me.

When I owned a book, I could take it to a charity shop and they could sell it; that was my right because the book belonged to me.

I discovered that in the world of downloads you do not own the item that you have bought. The closest relationship I can equate it to is a rental agreement in which you make a one-off payment.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/05/digital-media-licensed-not-owned

This seems a shift in the power of ownership which few people seem aware of.

So far I have not met anyone who is trying to fight it.

I have decided that I will continue to buy physical media such as CDs because, at present, they belong to me.

What I want to do is to rip the CD to digital audio such as MP3. This convoluted approach is inefficient but at least I own the audiobook.

This means that I am not downloading audiobooks.

Recently I have discovered that there are some services where you do not pay for the audiobooks. Such as this one:

http://www.openculture.com/freeaudiobooks.

For those who love eBooks there are also free download services for these such as:

https://www.bookbub.com/ebook-deals/free-ebooks.

If large companies constrain how you use something you own there are ways to fight this.

One approach is to gain access to digital media for free.

Any stance which resists this trend seems to me appropriate.

If, for example, you decide to keep purchasing physical items companies would adapt to maintain their profits.

The alternative is to resign yourself to a future where your behaviour is controlled.

 

The Apology

I can remember as a child being forced to apologise to people when I hadn’t any feelings of being sorry. In some cases I actually believed the other person was at fault.

I found that apologising has to come from within. Apologising when you do not mean it is empty and encourages feelings of revenge.

Research indicates that refusing to apologise is as beneficial as apologising. Refusing to apologise allows a person to feel more powerful and energised. The worst position is to sit on the fence and do nothing.

Some research shows that people who fail to apologise are happier than people who apologise.

In some circumstances apologising is damaging for the other person. For example if you reject someone with an apology this is more hurtful than plain rejection. The person is feeling both hurt and the need to forgive in the same moment. They need the time to process the hurt before considering forgiveness.

There are some benefits from choosing to apologise however. People prepared to apologise are viewed as more trustworthy. (Even where they apologise for things they cannot be responsible for – such as the weather).

Choosing to apologise may not be without consequences. These can range from embarrassment to admission of guilt. Admission of guilt can lead to other consequences: job loss, imprisonment, court cases and so on.

Every apology has to be considered. If you decide to apologise then at the very least you want your apology to be effective.

A recent counselling article indicates that apologies should contain the following elements:

  • Acknowledge the offense clearly – for example I did drive your car without your permission.
  • Explain it effectively – for example I waited until you went to work and took your keys from the dresser.
  • Restore the offended parties’ dignity – for example – it’s your car and I understand you will be mad that I used it.
  • Assure them they’re safe from a repeat offense. – I will not take your car again.
  • Express shame and humility – I feel very bad that I did this to you.
  • Make appropriate reparation – I will pay you for using the car and for the petrol.

Research indicates that apologies should offer assurances that the behaviour will not reoccur. They should contain sympathy for the victim. (An acceptance of responsibility coupled with a request for forgiveness).

The request for forgiveness may need to be withheld in some cases – when the victim needs time to process feelings and may not feel at all ready to forgive yet.

The timing of the apology is important. Apologising too soon may not have left the victim time to process feelings. Too late and the apology might appear to be insincere.

The key to a great apology lies in 6 key components:

  1. Expression of Regret I’m sorry I ate all the French fries
  2. Explanation of what went wrong I was hungry and ate them all
  3. Acknowledgement of responsibility It was entirely my fault
  4. Declaration of repentance I am really sorry
  5. Offer of repair I will buy you some more French fries
  6. Request for forgiveness. (However this is not applicable in every case – see text) please forgive me

These can be summarised as:

  • Tell the person how you feel I feel bad about what I have done
  • Admit the mistake and the impact of the mistake I ate the French fries and you went hungry
  • Repair the situation I’m going to buy you some more French fries

There are several examples of apologies that did not contain these key components. These have made the situation worse and/or made the victim(s) feel worse than prior to the apology.

A poor apology can lead to a desire for retribution by the victim. This could lead to a worse situation than if no apology had ever been offered.

The best apologies take into account the needs of the victim. This will require humility and empathy.


https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/02/how-to-apologize/470457/
https://theconversation.com/the-science-of-saying-sorry-73298
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/the-best-way-to-apologise-discovered-science-a6982966.html
https://news.osu.edu/news/2016/04/12/effective-apology/
https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200207/the-power-apology
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/good-thinking/201304/are-you-big-enough-apologize
http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/Brooks%20Dai%20Schweitzer%202013_d2f61dc9-ec1b-485d-a815-2cf25746de50.pdf
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/advantages-of-not-saying-you-are-sorry/
https://blog.frontiersin.org/2017/09/14/frontiers-in-psychology-sorry-apology-social-rejection/
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/people-who-never-apologize-are-probably-happier-than-you-12584567/
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_three_parts_of_an_effective_apology
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/making_peace_through_apology
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_make_an_apology_work

 

EXIF

People share their location, by uploading images to the Internet, and in most cases do not know they are doing so.

For example, “I know where your cat lives”: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/i-know-where-your-cat-lives-feline-photo-mapping-website-exposes-how-easy-it-is-to-track-the-owners-a6743621.html

And:

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/vvb7yx/this-guy-is-cyberstalking-the-worlds-cats-in-the-name-of-privacy.

Every image taken with a modern camera (or smartphone) has embedded in it the location where it was taken.

If you take a photograph in your garden – tools on the Internet can reveal where your house is:

https://www.pic2map.com/.

For other data that is embedded in photos read this:

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/3-ways-to-remove-exif-metadata-from-photos-and-why-you-might-want-to/.

Wherever possible I like to recommend tools that are free or low cost.

One of my favoured image editors is a tool called GIMP:

https://www.gimp.org/.

This is both free and open source (all the code used to write GIMP is freely available).

The Gimp interface currently looks like this:

Gimp Interface

If I take a screen shot (an image with no embedded metadata), paste this into GIMP and select File – Export:

Export

Give the file a name:

name-file

Click Export (the name of the file determines which options you see here – I will show the options for JPEG).

advanced options

Expand Advanced Options.

save EXIF data Gray

The “Save EXIF Data” option is greyed out (the screenshot contains no EXIF data).

However, if I open a photograph with GIMP and follow the above steps, the “Advanced Options” looks like this:

save EXIF Data normal

The “save EXIF data” option is available (this is because the image contains EXIF data).

To remove the EXIF data from an image before uploading it to the Internet, follow the above steps. (Ensure that you export the image with a different name to that which the camera gave it by default – to avoid overwriting that original image).

Take the tick out of the “Save EXIF data” box as pictured above and click the Export button.

Your image now contains no information that can be used to identify you or your camera. The image is therefore safe to upload to the Internet.

There are of course alternative methods of removing EXIF data. This article details some of those:

https://www.howtogeek.com/203592/what-is-exif-data-and-how-to-remove-it/

 

Fifty Special Things – Thanh Binh Restaurant Cambridge

When: 03-11-2016 and 10/01/2016

Where: Thanh Binh Vietnamese Restaurant, 17 Magdalene Street, Cambridge CB3 0AF, United Kingdom
Tel: 01223 362 456
Email: info@thanhbinh.co.uk/thanhbinhcambridge@gmail.com http://www.thanhbinh.co.uk/

Price: Free first time (50th birthday present), £20 second time

Review: Excellent Staff. A tiny place in which to treat yourself.

Tip: If you want to drink take your own wine – small corking charge applies.

Next in the task to have 50 great things happen in my 50th year.
See the previous account in this series:
https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/02/12/fifty-special-things-brampton-wood/.

A suggestion from a counsellor and a great suggestion. Why does the celebration end with the birthday – why can’t it carry on all year?

One reason is making enough time available to do the things in life that you always wished to do.

The next is that, having achieved this hoary old age, remembering all the dreams that you once had becomes a lot less easy.

However I have taken this up like a new religion and so I am trying to make fifty great things happen before I am fifty one.

I think of this restaurant as being on Bridge Street. On the first visit it was a treat from my sister and had that air of specialness that comes from being the focus of attention. My sister drove me to Cambridge and I walked with her to the restaurant with the normal Phil air of complete obliviousness to geography.

On the second visit I was with people from work and I told them to meet me on Bridge Street at the bridge. Only to find the restaurant is on Magdalene Street and the meeting place was a bit beyond the restaurant. (The restaurant is up near the traffic lights and St Giles Church more than down near the Cam).

Of course people have become used by now to my species of woolly-headedness and so after some leg pulling we set off back up the hill.

The restaurant has online booking and in contrast to some places I have tried in the past it is effective. I had confirmation within a few hours of registering interest in a table for four. It is also a relief that having entrusted the booking to mouse and keyboard when I attended they were expecting me.

I had attended with my sister and brother in law for an after-50th birthday meal at the beginning of November. (I was in Borneo for my actual Fiftieth birthday. Accounts of which will be in this blog in the not too distant future). We had a great time in November.

It was with this fond memory that I had recommended it to a couple of friends from work. I was confident in the place: in that it was enjoyable; I wouldn’t have to fight my way through hordes of eager eaters, and the staff were courteous and attentive.

Importantly I would be able to find stuff for me to eat. Given I have IBS (and have a diet slightly less restricted than a vegan) this can make for some entertainment.

Details of the IBS and how it developed will no doubt hit this blog at some point as well.

Of course anything in Cambridge is going to involve some parking negotiations.
When I had come in with my sister she had driven in and very kindly paid for the parking. On that occasion we used the Park Street car park:

https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/park-street-car-park

Not what you’d call cheap, not what you’d call fragrant but had the advantage of being close. I could not recommend much in the way of parking in Cambridge. Cambridge majors on the historic or even quaint but not much on the car city. Bicycle yes, car no.

On the second occasion (taking into account that I am a cheapskate) – after arrival I drove round for some on-street parking. This left a bit of a walk down Castle Hill.

On street parking is a bit of an endangered species in Cambridge. Resident’s parking bays are apparently procreating.

Very soon parking without fee will involve the kind of expedition that would bring a gleam to the eye of Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

It is pointless recommending anywhere because as soon as this blog item is out the parking will have disappeared.

Given the distance from the venue and my encroaching portliness I was late, again.

My two friends were waiting with that patient air of someone who’d dearly like to say “where the hell have you been”. They limited themselves to mentioning that they’d decided to wait at the appointed place.

The bridge is picturesque in that tiny “I wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out” kind of way. But given the outside temperatures lingering on it was likely to have been diverting for all the wrong reasons.

Despite having attended in November, by the time I attended again in January I had forgotten where it was. A fact that caused some amusement to my companions.
Although not that exceptional for me I have to say.

If you’re as far as the bridge on Bridge Street you need to retrace your steps some way towards the traffic lights. A disconcertingly long way when you can’t remember where the place.

In fact if you are opposite Magdalene College you’re just about there.
Oh and if like me you forgot to look out for it on the way down the hill and walk past it then this is a cue for more ribbing behaviour.

It is tiny.

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I felt like I was sitting in the comfort of someone’s front room the whole time I was there.

The staff are friendly and welcoming. In that fashion which does not involve them fussing round you whilst you’re trying to have a conversation.

On each occasion it has been quiet like the low murmur of somewhere refined.

Maybe the more restricted areas of some gentleman’s club but without the wing backed chairs (and the prostitutes).

The first time we took wine to celebrate (they don’t serve wine but allow you to take your own). This is a top tip if you want to drink – they are quite happy for you to bring some.

There’s a small charge for this but cheaper than getting wine in a restaurant I thought.

The drinks available are appealing even if the lack of alcoholic ingredient may deter many.

Although Vietnamese and therefore chopsticks provided as standard fortunately cutlery is available. This is useful considering that I am a Luddite and have the finger dexterity of two large lumps of concrete.

Although chopsticks make a very effective projectile. (As I discovered; I caught one with my sleeve and sent it down to the lower ground floor level – with a resounding clatter which caught everyone’s attention).

The toilet is on the lower ground floor beside the kitchen down a winding staircase. This means having too much to drink is not too great an idea in any case (you might arrive on your backside).

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They have both chrysanthemum tea and jasmine tea so I was a bit torn opting for jasmine through habit.

For those who can drink tea which has camellia sinensis in it they have green tea but I saw no evidence of the fermented variety.

The food is to die for and semi IBS friendly. Although I tend to find no matter how careful I am after I go out – being close to some facilities (and away from people) for 24 hours afterwards is a good thing.

The fish I had a couple of times (once on each visit) because I liked it so much. (In a former life I must have been a marine creature given my love of all things seafood).

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Mostly you go out for the company. This is a place where you can have a conversation and not have to compete with the hubbub. Neither will you find it necessary to shrink yourself down to a skinny person – to avoid elbows, back or bum intersecting with someone else’s’ eating space.

The first occasion with family was a very uplifting experience – helped by being made a fuss of.

I can’t speak on behalf of my friends but personal view was that the second visit was also a success.

I imagine that at intervals it must become busy and I can’t speak for the experience then. Both occasions where I have attended there hasn’t been need to elbow back the crowds or to join some tiresome queue whilst you “wait to be seated”.

They have some interesting desserts too. Although after my experiences in Malaysia I would not recommend anything containing durian.

They have durian ice cream but after the face shrivelling experience of trying some on an open market in Kuala Lumpur I can’t say I was tempted this time.

The first visit I opted for the standard ice cream which given November wasn’t too shabby temperature-wise just about made sense.

January it turned out was a bit stiffer in its resolve to bring draughty. Everyone agreed dessert was not what we were looking to do.

If you’re coming in and do not fancy car park negotiation one of my companions pointed out that Shire Hall is now pay and display at £1 per hour (at weekends). Compared to some multi storeys this is a disgraceful bargain. But if you’re a cheapskate could be considered ruinous. Consider it a contribution to the good works of the local authority…

I recommend this restaurant for a visit. I’m hoping that my recommendation will not ruin the special atmosphere through increased demand.
Perhaps the thing is to get in quick before the rush starts.

Fifty Special Things – Brampton Wood

When: 30-10-2016

Where: Brampton Wood http://www.visiteastofengland.com/Huntingdon-Brampton-Wood/details/?dms=3&venue=0211398

Price: Free

Review: Not at its best in October; go when it’s warmer

Tip: follow the satnav in this case it makes a better job of finding it.

Brampton wood and the start of many wood visits.

Communing with nature is restorative: http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/we-know-nature-makes-us-happier-now-science-says-it-makes-us-kinder-too-20160312.

So to start with this appeared to be a great choice.

The Wildlife Trusts’ guidebook states that they have managed the wood since 1992. They bought it from the Ministry of Defence.

Guidebook:  Bedfordshire Cambridgeshire Northamptonshire guide: “Where to See Wildlife in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire”.

I was attending the Bolnhurst Steam Fair http://www.bolnhurstrally.org.uk/ when someone came up and sold me membership. This is not an organisation I would have thought of but I am supportive of any group that puts trees before house building.

They have a good little guide to local woods and also a website worthy of a visit: http://www.wildlifebcn.org/.

Brampton Wood has been a site of Special Scientific Interest since 1954.

But it turns out that spotting wildlife is somewhat more difficult than on some of our trips abroad.

The wood is home to dormice (which were re-introduced in 1992) but so far all we seem to have seen in our woodland visits are species of canine on and off leads.

It is the second largest woodland in Cambridgeshire at 132 hectares (327 acres). The largest is Bedford Purlieus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedford_Purlieus_NNR.  (Which might be the subject of a future visit/blog item).

The Wildlife Trusts organisation have a good leaflet on Brampton Wood: http://data.wildlifetrusts.org/sites/default/files/Brampton%20Wood%20Leaflet%202015.pdf.

But the wood majored less on the picturesque and more on the damp and cold the day that I went.

The guidebook states there are more than two miles of wide mown pathways and some minor pathways and follows: “pathways maybe muddy” – read will be very muddy. Take wellies (and a small tractor to drag you out).

Brampton wood appears easy to find. But where it appeared to be on the map was not where the satnav wished us to go. We went with our own judgement, and got lost. (OS Ref is TL 184 698).

If you want to find it Google indicates that it is here:

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Brampton+Wood+Nature+Reserve/@52.3166644,-0.2744105,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x4877c3cb62522f8f:0x491c3106c976241c!8m2!3d52.3166644!4d-0.2722218.

Directions are: From A1, take A14 exit towards Huntingdon. Take the first exit off A14 to Brampton (B1514). Go straight at the first roundabout then right at the second roundabout. Turn right at the T-junction on to Grafham Road. Follow Grafham Road through the village and over the A1. The reserve is on the north side of the road – 1/2 mile out of Brampton. A brown sign indicates the entrance to the wood. Park in the small car park. (When they say small they are not kidding).

Following the satnav lead to a tiny left-hander off the A1. This looked to need the sort of deceleration which the Beagle Lander attempted on Mars.

As a result we took the circuitous route. This required navigation of a narrow road with enough oncoming traffic to provide diversion. After many wood-related trips we found this was typical.

Being a virgin of wood visits I anticipated a car park devoid of vehicles, our journey punctuated by some kindly gamekeeper (with a discussion of pheasant breeding practices or some such).

But turning into the most bijou of car parks I found it already well inhabited with vehicles which could have labelled modern, shiny, and family.

We squeezed in at the end of a row of these.

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Vehicles distinguished by large rear load areas. Every one of those vehicles contained inhabitants which you could call “Rover”.(Second piece of education of the day).

All varieties of fur – caked in material which was going to need more than a small towel to remonstrate with.

Each one of the human car inhabitants turned out to have a species of cheeriness, this associated with bobble-hat, fleece, and large rangy hound.

We had snaffled the last space (or so we thought). Yet another shiny Tonka-toy-thing burbled in behind. The driver did not resort to shouting or fist-waving so I assume found somewhere to slot it.

The ground was that species of compliant which one will be familiar with if embarking-out barefoot on a wet evening and murdering a large slug in darkness with one’s toes as the offensive weapon.

Phil’s recommendation: go when it’s warmer. Although given how popular woods turn out to be with dog walkers you are always going to have a lot of company.

It is a top site for bluebells in the spring so that may well be worth a try. I wouldn’t bother with October. Unless you have a 4×4 and something large with waggy tail which doesn’t smell great when it’s wet.

Fortunately the ground was well furnished with leaves. Rainfall sufficiently far in the past that waders were not a necessity.

The Wildlife Trusts’ booklet informs me that the wood is at least 900 years old. And so had a mention in the Domesday Book.

I’m sure in the summer it is a goodly place. But the day we went it had the kind of sombre air usually reserved for death and religious buildings. (Or some combination of those).

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The link above http://www.wildlifebcn.org turns out to be the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife trust – check out their website for further details.

We decided to do a circuit (starting at the noticeboards).

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The link above http://www.hffs.org.uk is for the Huntingdonshire Fauna and Flora Society – check out their website for further details

And so embarked on a journey around what one imagined to be the circumference – just inside the tree line.

Diverting at intervals to have privacy from the next bobble-hatted group.

In places there were stands of conifers – planted when the Government managed the wood.

These are being removed for the wood to re-establish.

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The circuit seemed too brief to me and convinced me that we must have taken the wrong route.

I’d only said good morning to 1/2 dozen people or so and I estimated the population at that time to be several times that. So where had they all gone?

After reviewing the map of the wood we realised that we had only circuited part of it. So there was a lot left to see on future visits.

A little of a good thing convinced me that more of this experience would prove more fulfilling. So decided that this wildlife idea was for me.

Gazing between the trees gave me brief memories of Borneo. It was with sadness I realised that we would see no macaque this trip. (Nor catch our clothes on any rattan).

Back to the car. The surrounding shiny and four wheel drive had swapped about a bit but not reduced in number. So lesson of wood exploration wood=popular=pooches began to form in my mind.

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Stately homes seem to be the places where frazzled adults take their small person. Woods however are where red cheeked outdoors people range about with carnivores.

Well there’s a learning point.

Brampton as we found out later was remarkable in its tidiness (i.e. no dog faeces).

Despite the car park it also proved to be unrepresentative in its lack of population. Subsequent woods were to prove much more popular.