Where Does It Hurt?

I came across a short poem the other day by Warsan Shire, the Somali poet. Her words really touched me.

Warsan Shire

Warsan Shire

Later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

Sad though that is, it has always been the case. Out of interest I ran down the list of the 20 audio book titles that Crimson Cats publishes and found that 7 out of 20 dealt with or included references to war. Some are obvious, Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, War Girls – the poems and prose written by women in the 1st World War. Some are less obvious, My Life and Times which includes Jerome K Jerome’s experiences as an ambulance driver with the French army in 1916, or Gods and Fighting Men – The Fianna – the legend of Finn McCool fighting to keep the foreigners out of Ireland.

Private Rawson's War7 out of 20, that’s a third of our titles. My first response was “Ouch” but then I started thinking about it. None of these, (except possibly the Nelson who has moved into the realm of legend) glorify war. They are more about individuals responding to difficult situations. In Private Rawson’s War, Tony Rawson who was conscripted into the army in 1942 found himself in the Middle East. He used the opportunity to learn about the history and culture of the places where he was sent, he learned Arabic, he visited historical sites and wrote home about his experiences to his mother in Watford. We learn more about Tony from his letters than we do about the war and that is how it should be.

In the 1st World War Jerome K Jerome was considered too old to serve by the British so he volunteered as an ambulance driver with the French army and ended up at Verdun. The experiences of Brian Wright’s various Great-Grandads (with varying amounts of “great”) in My Grandads and Afghanistan bring all the Afghan wars Britain has been involved in down to the level of individual experiences.

And it’s individual experiences that make good story telling, whether it’s coping with huge disasters like a war or simply handling some level of personal problem. A good story needs a problem or a difficulty of some kind. If Cinderella’s step-mother had said: “Of course you can go to the ball, darling, I’ll lend you a dress” we wouldn’t have the famous fairy tale. If Goneril had gone to King Lear and said: “Father, Regan and I have been talking and we want Cordelia to have everything” then bang goes one of Shakespeare’s best plays. And if the opening line of Samuel Becket’s play had been: “Oh, hi, Godot, how you doing?” it would have been a very short evening in the theatre.

Stories need conflict or problems so we can explore how individual people deal with them. I don’t feel so badly about our 7 titles now.


What? Christmas Already?

Img_3685- cropped webNext Saturday, 7th November, Dee and I will be standing at a stall at the Pennoyers Christmas Craft Fair wearing our Crimson Cats T-shirts and Santa hats. Pennoyers is the wonderful community and arts centre in Pulham St. Mary, the next village along the road from Starston, and we are not there just to look silly but to try and sell some Crimson Cats CDs on the run up to Christmas.

When you are a very small business – as we are – marketing is a major headache. As someone once said: “You can’t sell, if you don’t tell” but the problem is who do you tell and how? We don’t have a marketing budget that runs to full page colour adverts in the Sunday papers. (Well, to be honest, we don’t have a marketing budget at all). We have a mailing list, of course, but most of the people on that have bought all the titles from our range that interest them so, although we do send out regular mailings, we are probably preaching to the converted.

These days we probably sell as many MP3 downloads as we do CDs but Christmas is always a good time for selling the physical products. CDs make good presents, they’re not expensive and they’re easier to post. That’s what we say anyway and previous years seem to bear out that statement.

The range of our titles is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The fact that they’re all different means that there’s probably something for everyone in the range but it also means that you can’t really market Crimson Cats as an entity. Just because you like some of them doesn’t mean you’d like them all. Fair enough, but we reckon that anyone who enjoys audio books will find something to like, whether that’s gardening (Every Lady A Gardener), literature such as Jane Austen (The Beautifull Cassandra), biographies of people like Gerald Durrell (Stories Of A Corfu Childhood) or Jerome K Jerome (My Life And Times), anthologies which could be cats (How To Own A Human) or 1st World War poetry and prose (War Girls). Then there is the beautiful memoir (The House on an Irish Hillside) or a range of interviews with sporting personalities from the past (Sporting Legends).  The full range of our titles can be seen on our web site where short audio clips from each title can be heard: www/crimsoncats.co.uk



So next Saturday we’ll be “talking the talk”, trying to interest people into trying at least one of our audio books. From experience we know it will be a long day, on our feet for several hours, but, hey, it’s fun, we like talking to people, there’s a ready audience for some of our (bad) jokes and all taking place in Pennoyers, a wonderful building.

crismas cats

What’s not to like?


Have you bought your Christmas presents yet? We do have some suggestions.




For Michael and Dee… With Some Surprise…!

Adria and Victor

Adria and Victor

That’s the inscription inside our copy of Everyman’s England by Victor Canning, a collection of essays about various people and places in 1930s England. I first met Victor when I worked in radio drama at the BBC. He was very well known as a thriller novelist and I wanted him to write some plays for Afternoon Theatre. He was quite a bit older than me but when we met we instantly became friends and subsequently in the early 1980s Dee and I spent several happy weekends with Victor and his wife, Adria, at their lovely home in Herefordshire.

Then one day in a second hand bookshop Dee found a copy of Everyman’s England. We took it with us on our next visit and Victor was astonished. The book had been published in the 1930s but had gone out of print before the war and he thought it had vanished without trace. He inscribed it for us though and we still have it.

Scroll on to 2005 and the launch of Crimson Cats audio books. Victor, and indeed Adria, were long since dead but casting around for an interesting travel book we thought of Everyman’s England. Nice idea, but the book, although long out of print, was still in copyright. At that time copyright lasted for 50 years from the death of the author (these days it is 70 years) so it had to be cleared before we could use the text. I spoke to the agent who handled Victor’s estate. She had never heard of the book but promised to pass on my request to the copyright holder.

A few days later I had a call from an actor called Charles Collingwood. I knew Charles, again from my BBC days and because he plays Brian Aldridge in the long running British radio soap opera, The Archers for which I had written scripts in the mid 80s. I couldn’t think why he was ringing me but then he told me he was Victor Canning’s heir. Adria had been his godmother, Victor had left his estate to Adria and when she became ill Charles had taken care of her, so she had left the estate to him.

You couldn’t make this up, could you?

Everyman's EnglandI asked Charles if he was happy for us to produce an audio version of this book (abridged of course) and he said yes. I then said that as it had been out of print for so long I wasn’t prepared to pay anything up front for it but would pay him a royalty on sales. He agreed to that too, so while I was on a roll I asked if he would also read it for us. After a pause he said: “Would that also be on the royalty only deal?”

“Oh, yes,” I said. Another pause and then he said, “Oh, why not?”

In fact it has sold well over the years so it has been a win-win situation.

Everyman's England Book Cover - webBut there’s yet another twist to the tale. In 2011 our audio version was bought by someone who worked in print publishing. He was very taken with it and asked about its provenance. We told him the tale and the outcome was that a publishing house called Summersdale decided to re-publish the original book in its entirety. So the literary story came the full circle. We have a copy of that too, old and new side by side.

I think Victor would have been pleased.


Back To Normal – Whatever That Is.

Img_3433eAnd so we’re back in Starston – tired but happy – and one little black and white furry thing was very glad to see us. In fact she is currently following us around everywhere and won’t put us down. It was a wonderful trip but after a month on the road, (strange beds, restaurant meals each night, can we find a laundry before we run out of knickers), it is good to be home.

Starston is a lovely village. A team of neighbours looked after Holly (that’s the cat), watered the plants, sorted the post, dealt with Crimson Cats orders. One friend in particular took us to the airport and collected us and when we got home we found she’d been shopping for us as well. She’d bought a range of items so, arriving home late afternoon very tired and body clock all over the place, we had the wherewithal to have breakfast, lunch or dinner – whatever seemed appropriate. We did the unpacking then chose brunch and very good it was too. Wonderful friends.

Pigeon Post CoverWe were straight back into things, of course. I am one of the team which produces the monthly village magazine, Pigeon Post, and press date for the November edition is the 12th October so I am having to jump around a bit. For the curious you can follow this link http://bit.ly/1GBhPbV to read Pigeon Post on line. Dee writes the gardening page of the magazine and in November she will be featuring one of the lovely gardens we saw on our travels, Ruthie and Kevin’s garden in Maine. Incidentally, I’ve mentioned before that Dee was the inspiration behind our audio book Every Lady A Gardener. She is a very keen gardener herself and has decided to start a gardening blog of her own. So watch this space and we’ll let you know when it is up and running.

Img_0184eWe had fun blogging as we travelled across America and a number of you have very kindly said how much you enjoyed the vicarious travel. I have also been asked if the Blogs can continue so I will do my best. I will try and link them, either to Crimson Cats itself or some aspect of the creative arts. We have many friends who are writers, poets, painters, artists in other genres, so we’ll tell you about some of them too.

And so ‘normal’ life resumes, though we’ve often been told that our ‘normal’ bears no relation to other people’s ‘normal’. That’s how it should be – as Thoreau said:

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”


I’m Leaving On A Jet Plane

So we’re sitting in Atlanta airport waiting for our flight to Norwich (via Schiphol) and looking back over the past 4 weeks of travelling through the eastern USA. It’s been a great trip, we’ve seen some wonderful scenery, visited some very interesting places and met a lot of lovely people. A few random thoughts to round off the travelling Blog.

I love the sign beside some interstates: “Speed checked by aircraft.” It conjures up a picture of a squadron of Spitfires circling over the road. “Tally ho, chaps, there’s a bounder down there doing 5 miles an hour over the speed limit. Let’s take him out. Rat-a-tat-tat.”

In the USA you can often turn right on a red light if nothing is coming. Memo to self: don’t try this at home.

Nubble Lighthouse

Nubble Lighthouse

Would it be so difficult to make bank notes of different denominations a different colour? That would lessen the chance of leaving a $50 dollar tip for a $20 dollar breakfast.

I could now write a thesis on “Taps (faucets) I Have Struggled With.” Some of the ones we encountered were clearly built with an eye on design rather than functionality. I don’t want to get a degree in engineering just to obtain some hot water.

Christmas shops fighting it out with Hallowe’en products. Christmas will win as it comes later but is there really a market for that number of plastic musical reindeers?

And speaking of markets, the dozens of flea markets everywhere. Who are these people who want to buy all these fleas?

Oh, another road sign we like: “Do No Pass”. We call this our ‘Verdun’ road sign in memory of Marshall Petain who held Verdun against the Germans in the 1st World War saying: “They shall not pass”. Don’t think there were any double yellow lines at Verdun though.

Intrepid driver in the mountains

And so our road trip comes to an end. A lot of our friends can’t quite get their heads round the unplanned nature of our trips. We know where we are landing, we know where we have to take off from, the rest we invent as we go along. We have covered 4,200 miles on this trip but, hey, remember Robert Louis Stevenson:

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

We’re with you, RLS.


PS:  This journey is over but the blogs will continue. Watch this space.

Help..! Where’s The Bathroom?

Having been on the road for a month staying in a different hotel/motel every night it is easy to get disorientated. You come back from dinner with only one of those plastic magnetic key things trying desperately to remember your room number. Is it 212? No, that was last night.303? No, I’m sure we were on the 5th floor in this place, but the long anonymous corridors don’t help. Fortunately I have a secret weapon for this problem. She is called Dee, whose powers of recall far exceed mine these days.

But she can’t help me at 3.00 am when I stumble out of bed needing the loo. Which direction is the bathroom? Left? Right? Straight on behind a partition? I could put the light on but that would disturb her. Mind you, by the time I’ve fallen over a suitcase and walked into a closed door, the light would probably have been the better option.

We left Gatlinburg in the pouring rain but were not sorry to go. Gatlinburg is basically a resort with all the negative connotations that implies. I would probably have loved it when I was 8 years old but now we just found it tacky. Reminded us of Atlantic City without the casinos and the sea. Pigeon Forge a few miles up the road was even worse, at least 3 miles of solid tat.

rsz_img_4384The rain got worse as we headed for Oak Ridge and the American Museum of Science and Energy. The museum was very impressive. Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Los Alamos, New Mexico, were the two main centres for the development of the atom bomb in the 1940s. We visited the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos last year on our journey from San Francisco to South Carolina so it was good to see its counterpart this year. There’s a very wide range of exhibits in the Oak Ridge museum and we lost 2 hours there very easily. We also met Corvin, a keen bird watcher, but that’s another story.

rsz_img_4396We stayed the night there, (in a hotel, not the museum) and the next day, the weather having vastly improved, we headed north to the Kentucky border and the Cumberland Gap. Singing the Lonnie Donegan song as we went, (older friends will remember this and will understand why we began singing when we were just 15 miles from the Gap), we made our way to the visitors’ centre to learn how Daniel Boone explored this pass through the mountains in the 18th century, thus paving the way for white settlement in Kentucky. We also met Margaret busily weaving cloth on her loom but that’s another story.


Daniel Boone National Forest

Daniel Boone National Forest

We stayed that night in Middlesboro and met a delightful couple at breakfast who know England well, though last time they were disappointed on a visit to Lincoln. But that’s another story. We then spent Monday wandering through the Daniel Boone Memorial Forest. Trees to the left of us, trees to the right of us, above us, below us, all around us. Magnificent.

And so to Rogersville for our penultimate night of this trip. This hotel, like most we’ve stayed in, is very comfortable. Nice room, so let’s get this sorted. Out of bed, turn left, 3 paces forward, turn left, 9 paces forward, turn left. Aah! Blessed relief. Of course if I drank less of the local beer none of this would be necessary but that would be too high a price to pay to avoid a bit of 3.00 am stumbling.


Keep Right On To The End Of The Road…

Well, we did it. In spite of the weather we have driven the full length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, all 469 miles of it. The Parkway links 2 national parks in the Appalachians, the Shenandoah National Park in the north, and the Smoky Mountains National Park in the south. We’ve done those as well.

rsz_img_4358We don’t normally go in for taking “selfies” of ourselves against beautiful backdrops, the backdrops themselves are usually more attractive on their own, but when we reached the highest point on the Parkway, 6053 feet, we could not resist it.

So we have achieved the aim of this trip which was to explore a bit of New England and to drive down the line of the Appalachians from north to south with a planned diversion to Cape May. There have been a lot of unplanned diversions, of course, because that is the way we travel.



Fall Colours

One bonus – we were too early for the fall colours in New England but in the southern Appalachians they are in full swing. Beautiful.

We go on having ‘brief encounters’ with all sorts of people wherever we go. A week ago, at breakfast in Front Royal, we met Steve and Sally. They had lived for some time in England, near Rickmansworth as Steve was a civilian contractor for the American navy doing something interesting around Watford, (sounds like a contradiction in terms). They were headed for the Grand Banks in North Carolina for a holiday with friends. Hope they’re okay, that area is being battered by wind and waves, courtesy of hurricane Joaquin.

my-adventures-as-a-spyThen at Linville Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway we met Pete and Cindy. Pete and his son are very involved in the Scouting movement and he is very proud that he has visited Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour in Dorset where Baden Powell started the Scout movement. We told him about our audio book “My Adventures As A Spy” which tells of Baden Powell’s spying experiences between 1880 and the 1st World War. We gave him our card so there may be another sale there.

Linville Falls

Linville Falls

Also at the falls we met an English couple heading for New Orleans. Keith is a retired barrister and when they planned this trip he ordered an open top Mustang from the hire company. What he actually got was a convertible VW. He was disappointed, his wife (not into cars) thought it was funny.

At Gatlinburg where we stayed when we came out of the Smoky Mountains, we met James and Jennifer and their daughter. We’d had a swim in the hotel pool and a lovely soak in the hot tub and were just getting out when they arrived. They live in Tennessee and have rarely been out of the State though James wants to go to England. They loved our English accents and said so (as many people do). They had very broad southern accents: “Makes me sound like a hick,” said James. We did not agree. ‘Hick’ is more about attitude than accent and he seemed like a nice guy.

And so it goes on. The guy behind the deli counter in the supermarket who once had an English girlfriend, the waitress at a restaurant whose friend had been to Wales, the lady in a gift shop whose son studied archaeology at Sheffield. We have an amazing range of conversations with an amazing range of people.

That’s what makes travelling such fun.


The Rain, It Raineth Every Day

The only topic of conversation along the eastern side of the USA at the moment is the weather. Hurricane Joaquin is heading this way from the Bahamas and already much of the east coast, including many of the places we visited in the last 3 weeks, are suffering severe floods and storm surges. We are currently in Asheville, North Carolina, having driven the Blue Ridge Parkway, (sun, drizzle, mist, downpour), popping off each night to stay at Bedford, Martinsville and Boone. It is now clear that we (personally) will not be directly shaking hands with Joaquin but the weather is appalling. We tried swapping the hire (rental) car for a boat but no joy so instead I will talk about gardens.

Every Lady A GardenerGardens never meant much in my life – at least not until I met Dee. As a child they were places to play cricket, (or cowboys or pirates). Initially as an adult they became a pain in the neck (or rather the back), mowing the lawn, struggling to keep weeds at bay so the neighbours didn’t sneer. Then Dee came into my life and I began to realise the pleasure of growing things for beauty and sustenance.

Our first home together had a shady yard about 12 feet square. Dee’s answer was window boxes. From there she moved to an allotment (yum yum), to a bigger garden and now we have the lovely gardens she is creating in our Starston home. It was Dee who came up with the idea of our audio book “Every Lady A Gardener”, writings by women from the 19th century about gardens and gardening. I raised a sceptical eyebrow but she was right. It is now one of our best sellers read by the wonderful Marilyn Cutts.

Ruthie's Garden in Bethel

Ruthie’s Garden in Bethel

I have also learned to enjoy other gardens and we have seen some wonderful ones on our journey down the eastern side of the USA. They range from the tiny imaginative plot beside Ruthie and Kevin’s motel in Bethel, Maine to the magnificent gardens of Thomas Jefferson’s house, Monticello on the edge of Charlottesville, Virginia. How to use the space at your disposal, whether it is a bit of waste ground beside your house or a plantation of 5000 acres, it is only those with imagination who will create something that makes people stop and stare rather than just walk on by.

Monticello vegetable garden

Monticello vegetable garden

As a writer, imagination is my most important tool, (well that and being able to type). One of my favourite quotes is: “Imagination is the only exact science.” It is people with imagination who give us the best stories, music, paintings, sculptures, poems, gardens and many other such things. Talent and skill are also needed of course but it is imagination which sparks something creative that others will also enjoy.

As a non-gardener I have learned to love gardens. As the husband of an enthusiastic gardener I can only be grateful that I am not asked to weed or dig, just help with the occasional bit of “hard landscaping”. Dee reads my books and plays. I enjoy, admire and appreciate the work she does in our garden, though I suspect she is grateful not to have to handle 5000 acres.

Still raining – time to move on. Last stretch of the Parkway today – if we can see it.


Always Have A Plan B

Good advice but most of us place a lot of faith in Plan A so Plan B doesn’t always seem important. When we were planning this USA road trip the idea was to fly to Boston, explore a bit of New England then drive (very roughly) down the line of the Appalachian mountains to Georgia. We talked enthusiastically about travelling along the Skyline Drive in the Shendandoah National Park, then following the Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia down to the Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.

Well, if you’ve been following this Blog you will know that last week we did the Skyline Drive in beautiful weather to Front Royal. We stayed there 2 nights, spent a day at Harper’s Ferry, a significant place in the American Civil War. The next day we wandered through the mountains and backroads of West Virginia before crossing back into Virginia, staying at Harrisonburg.

Skyline Drive in mist

Skyline Drive in mist

The next day was when we needed Plan B. The weather suddenly changed. We went back up onto the Skyline drive intending to head south and pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway but the Skyline drive had changed since our last visit. The mist had come down and visibility was down to 50 yards. Views? What views? By the time we reached the junction with the Blue Ridge mountains it was worse. No point in going on.

So, a hastily contrived Plan B. We turned back east towards Charlottesville and went to Thomas Jefferson’s house at Monticello. It may not have been Plan A but it was well worth a visit. rsz_img_4228Jefferson was one of the signatories of the original Declaration of Independence and also the 3rd President of the USA. He designed this house himself and it is impressive.

We stayed in Charlottesville that night but the next day the weather was still bad. Blue Ridge Parkway still a no-no. So instead we took the old route 11 down through the Shenandoah Valley. The weather cleared a bit and at Lexington we chanced going up onto the Parkway. Not bad, clear in places, swirling mist in others. We crossed the James river, one of the main transport routes of early Virginia and headed to Bedford for the night.

And now it’s Tuesday 29th September and the weather is apparently set to get worse, much worse, especially in Tennessee and the southern Appalachians which is where we are headed. They are forecasting extremely heavy rainfall here and floods on the coast. The prospects for our last week are not hopeful.

Time to think about Plan C perhaps. Unless anyone knows an anti-rain dance.


Well, It’s A Start

rsz_1img_0230Today has been a good day. Dee and I walked the Appalachian Trail and it was wonderful. Well, let’s be honest, when I say “we walked the Trail” I don’t mean we did the whole thing. In fact the bit we did was not quite 2 miles long so we just have another 2,166 miles to go to complete the full trail. Don’t hold your breath.

Since our last Blog we left Cape May and crossed the estuary of the Delaware river by ferry, (roughly – very rough – the equivalent of the Dover/Calais channel crossing), then stayed at Rehoboth Beach, a delightful seaside resort in Delaware. From there we drove down the Delaware peninsula, across a corner of Maryland to Chincoteague in Virginia. Wonderful bird watching here apart from the nasty biting insects that surrounded us. We’ve both got more bumps on us now than a Norfolk road surface.

The next day we drove on and over the Chesapeake Bridge-Tunnel that took us across the mouth of Chesapeake Bay to another – very different – Norfolk in Virginia.

rsz_img_0207That is a very easy sentence to write but the reality is something else. First the span across Chesapeake at this point is around 20 miles. That would be amazing in itself if it were only a bridge but it is actually a bridge with 4 road lanes and 2 tunnels. You’re tootling along across this amazing structure perched on pillars above the Atlantic and suddenly the road dips, you drop below sea level and enter a tunnel. Then you pop out again back onto a bridge and the a few miles later you do the same thing again.

Chesapeake Bay is vast. Ocean going ships come in from the Atlantic and go up to places like Baltimore and Washington, and Norfolk itself is the main base of the US navy. It’s not too easy to get an aircraft carrier under a bridge, hence the tunnels. All very well but think of how much water there is above you as you come off the bridge and disappear under the sea. Halfway across there is a rest area and restaurant. We had lunch there, poised in space above the Atlantic ocean. Quite an experience.

rsz_img_4090And so we turned away from the sea and headed towards the mountains. We stayed the night in Louisa and then we drove the full length of the Skyline Parkway in the Shenandoah National Park, around 3500 feet at its best. We did our token Appalachian Trail hike at Blackrock Summit but long before the day was out we had run out of adjectives to describe the experience. You’ll have to make do with ‘beautiful’ and ‘stunning’.

You’ll be pleased to hear we’re getting the hang of the language. If you want a scone you ask for a biscuit. If you want a biscuit you ask for a cookie. If you want to speak to the cook…. Well, the situation hasn’t arisen yet so we don’t know.

Have a nice day… (Now this that expressing a hope or is it an order?)