Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Olympics are coming! New sport announced.

This summer John and I are going to the Olympics--not as competitors, but spectators. A friend has lent us her house in London and we're going to be part of that crazy atmosphere, while watching the very few events we actually managed to get tickets for: tennis, women's soccer, badminton and water polo. No track and field and no swimming. Call me cheap but I am not prepared to pay 800 pounds to watch Michael Phelps swim up and down the pool twice when I can see it on TV.

But the snippet of news that has tickled my fancy is that a group has petitioned to make YOGA an Olympic sport. Yes, yoga. I can hear the commentary now:  "Yes, Dan, I believe he's going for the ultimate lotus position with his ankles crossed behind his neck. He is! Well done. And I remember at the world championships last year he held the position for three weeks without twitching a muscle...."
"We may be handing out one gold medal after the games have ended, Frank."

Not the ultimate spectator sport. They'll be introducing chess next.

I've been to two Olympics and got tickets for track and field at both of them--saw the finals of the relays, saw Sebastian Coe win the mile in 1984. I'm thrilled to have seats for the tennis semi-finals and I'm also glad that we have access to a good TV set.

So are there any sports nuts out there? What sport would you like to see introduced at the Olympics?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Downton Withdrawal. Why do we like it, anyway?

So many friends, on Facebook and in the real world, have told me they are suffering from Downton withdrawal and don't know how they are going to get through a whole year until season 3 starts.
In this world of fast paced action thrillers it's interesting to me why this series has grabbed so many people, especially in America--a country that threw out royals long ago and prides itself on it's "I'm as good as you are" mantra.

I suppose it has something to do with being fascinated with something we've never had. The big house, the rituals of dressing for dinner, going hunting, garden parties and oodles of servants. It all sounds so impossibly glamorous, if one were of the right class. Getting up at five to carry up the coal and light the fires wasn't such fun, as my heroine, Lady Georgie finds out in the book Her Royal Spyness. For those of you who haven't read it yet, she decides to escape to the family's London home, without servants, for the first time in her life. It is a steep learning curve as she wonders how the milk arrives on the doorstep, how to light a fire (and how to get into the dreaded coal hole) and how to make even the most simple things like tea and toast.

We love the luxury and the glamor of Downton but obviously it is the inter-personal relationships that have gripped us this season. Star crossed lovers, (Mary and Matthew, Anna and Mr. Bates) evil schemers, and the heightened atmosphere of war and then the great flu epidemic. I have long been fascinated with World War 1, fascinated and horrified, that is. It robbed England of a whole generation of young men. Those who survived were often badly damaged physically and mentally. The war was the most inept fight in the history of mankind. Generals who had commanded cavalry charges directed soldiers as if there were no modern weapons. 50,000 men were lost in ONE DAY as they were ordered over the top and were cut down in wave after wave.

The other thing that was so horrifying about that war was that it was so close. The major battles were fought just across the Channel. Young men could be home on leave, eating strawberries and cream, one day and back in hell the next. It's no wonder there were so many mental breakdowns.
I wonder how they will keep up the intensity next season when there is no more war? Obviously Irish independence will come into the story, and then the general strike of 1926  Will they get as far as the crash of 29? The Great Depression?

This is the time I write about and again find so fascinating because society hangs in the balance. In England they have already experienced the 'war to end all wars' and yet nothing has changed. In the 1930 census the largest employment category was "domestic servant." It would take WWII to finally make Downton Abbey impossible to continue as power and coal shortages make big houses impossible to heat and returning servicepeople refuse to go back into domestic service. The only stately homes that have survived have done so by turning themselves into tourist attractions, adding amusement parks, zoos to their grounds and opening the place to the public. Never more will that class be shielded from the real world around them!

And if you are having those withdrawal symptoms, do check out my Royal Spyness books. There are plenty of great houses, beautiful people, intrigues as well as an old Cockney policeman and the worst lady's maid in the history of servants.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Have a Nice Day!

I've haven't had time to blog this week as I'm the host at Jungle Red Writers, ( where we have been having a travel week with our most memorable experiences, worst experiences etc. Tomorrow it's memorable travel meals so do come on over and add yours."
But I do have time today for a short gripe. It's about current slang/phrases/topical parlance that annoys me. I've had a couple of restaurant experiences recently where the wait person has really bugged me. At one place the server was trying so hard to seem willing that she said "Absolutely" to everything we said.
"Could we have some more bread?"
And I'd like the crawfish please."
This was cute to begin with but seven hundred absolutelys lately we were ready to hit her.
And the other waitperson experience was the opposite. Everything we asked for was "No problem."
I felt like saying, "It should be no problem for you because HEY IT'S YOUR JOB! "
I felt much the same when "have a nice day" first appeared. Nobody really wanted me to have a nice day. Nobody cared if I was about to have a tooth pulled or a mammogram. It was just the current expression.

So which expressions bug you?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dishing on Downton, Final Week

WARNING: If you haven't seen last night's episode, do not read this.

The last episode of the season was a doozy, wasn't it? All leading up to the moment when Matthew decks the horrid Sir Richard, who stalks off saying he'll never come back, and Maggie Smith says sweetly, "Promise?"

And we've left enough cliff hangers to keep us wondering: Bates still in jail for life and no hint yet as to who the real murderer was. (I'm still thinking it was Sir Richard. If it had been O'Brien we might have seen more emotion from her in the witness box)
The despicable Thomas hiding the master's dog and being rewarded for it. He will have to get his comeuppance by the end of season 3 or I'm not renewing my support of public television!
Lady Edith making overtures to her old suitor and being rejected.

So what do you think will happen next season? Obviously Bates freed at the last moment (which was something I predicted before he was arrested). Thomas and O'Brien getting what's coming to them. Daisy becoming the cook (or going to live at the farm with her father-in-law. I like the way she is growing up as a character, don't you? In fact I like the staff interactions more as the series goes along.

Will Mary and Matthew finally marry?  I bet Sibyl's husband becomes a big noise in Irish politics OR is killed in one of the final struggles before independence.
Will the imposter Patrick appear again at the last moment with proof of who he is? He went away far too quickly and easily.
Will Sir Richard really publish Mary's sordid story? It will only make him look foolish, I should think, for choosing a bride who was tarnished. And when one thinks of how the men in those days behaved, leaping into bed with the housemaid. Yet Mary is punished for one foolish encounter, in which, as I remember, she resisted his advances for a long time... in fact it was a semi-rape.

An interesting fact to me is that I'm handling this very subject in the Molly Murphy book I'm currently writing: a young woman cast out by her family because of an illegitimate child and the inequality between the sexes. Young men were supposed to sow their wild oats. Young girls were ruined. We've come a long way, baby!

So your predictions for next year, please: And thank you for all your comments. I've enjoyed dishing with you.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Catching my breath

Sorry for the silence this week. It's been a week of adjustment, packing up and driving from California to our condo in Arizona and then getting the condo up and running. And my week as host of Jungle Red Writers starts today so I had to write six blogs for that as well as my usual writing schedule (5 pages a day to complete the first draft by April).

So I've been a busy bee. And to cap this, Penguin have asked me to write an e-story to come out at Halloween to work up interest for my upcoming Christmas book, and they want it NOW. Ah, the tranquil life of a writer.

On a lighter note, I always have to smile when I write Penguin wants. I have a vision of the penguin waddling toward me going "oink". I checked into a hotel last year when I was on book tour and on the envelope was written "Room reserved for Penguin." I was intrigued.

And on a happy note: I heard this week that Naughty in Nice had been nominated for an Agatha Award. So all in all a good week. Hope you had one too.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Our weekly Downton Dish.

Warning... if you haven't seen this week's episode of Downton Abbey, DO NOT READ THIS POST!

Are we brilliant or what? I think either I or those who commented predicted every nuance of this week's episode. The Spanish flu killing Lavinia, Jane the maid and Lord Grantham, Bates being arrested, O"Brien trying to make up for past sins. The only thing that hasn't happened yet is Richard dying of something horrible. But he has to stay around to torment Mary for a few more episodes. What do you think--they will be going in to their wedding when Matthew declares he has never stopped loving her and she rushes into his arms? Or will we have to wait for another season?
Maybe it is as some of you suggest--Richard killed Mrs. Bates and that will come to light just before Bates is to hang and Mary is to marry Richard.

I'm beginning to think my books are rather undramatic. I need more cliff hangers, nail biters, long pregnant pauses, evil villains.

Although I am absolutely hooked--I came into our condo in Arizona after driving for 12 hours from San Francisco and the first thing I did was to turn on the TV to catch Downton,  I have to say one thing that bugs me--well, several things bug me, but the one I'm complaining about tonight is the long meaningful stares. Those long periods of silence when people look at each other, in close up, or give thoughtful stares into the distance. It's almost become a cliche.

What I liked about this week was the theme that one doesn't have to be noble to act with nobility. The Irish chauffeur who is marrying Sibyl, the maid Jane and the young woman who refuses to give up her baby behaved better than Lord Grantham.

So let's hear what you thought--and speculations for next week. Thomas after the butler's job?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Royal Scandals--why the press is never fair.

By Alyssa Newcomb
Jan 15, 2012 6:40pm

Fearing Arrest, Sarah Ferguson Cancels Travel Plans

gty sarah feruguson jt 120115 wblog Fearing Arrest, Sarah Ferguson Cancels Travel Plans
If Turkish prosecutors have their way, former royal Sarah Ferguson could spend the next 22 years of her life in jail, and that has the jet setting Duchess of York reportedly putting her travel plans on hold for fear she could be extradited.
Turkish prosecutors this week announced that Ferguson, 52,  is wanted on charges she allegedly violated the privacy of orphans and illegally obtained footage when she made an undercover documentary called “Duchess and Daughters: Their Secret Mission”  in the country in 2008. It is unclear why it has taken three years to bring charges.
Ferguson’s friend, reporter Chris Rogers, is also wanted in Turkey.
“We just really felt that the world really needed to know what was going on inside Turkish institutions, and the only way we could do that would be to trespass and secretly film,” Rogers told the BBC.
The documentary showed deplorable conditions inside of Turkey’s Saray orphanage, which houses hundreds of disabled orphans. Ferguson’s cameras  captured children dressed in rags, tied to bed posts, and living in unsanitary conditions.
The United Kingdom has declined to extradite Ferguson, however it’s possible another country could if she chooses to travel, Bruce Zagaris, an international law expert, told ABC News.
“It will be risky for her to travel outside of the UK,” Zagaris said. “Especially in those countries that have an extradition treaty, and that’s most of the world.”
A statement released by Ferguson’s spokesperson said she is fully cooperating with UK and Turkish authorities.
The duchess said she is “happy with courage to stand by the film”, the BBC reported.
This time I'm on Sarah's side. She did what any investigative reporter does and the press should applaud her. This is a great example of how the press can cause royal scandals, taint reputations unjustly and generally make life difficult for those in the public eye. I think I'll stay humble and loveable.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Downton, episode 3. Who killed Mrs. Bates?

I'm feeling powerful. I ended my last post by saying someone should kill Mrs. Bates and they listenSed to me. So whodunit? My guess is Bates didn't do it but he'll be arrested for murder and they'll come up with the real murderer at the last minute. What do you think?

And what about Patrick's reappearance? Is it really him or his friend Peter Gordon who gleaned all the info on the family from him? Several things that were no realistic on this--if he'd been fished from the ocean after Titanic, he'd have been speaking with an upper class British accent. People would know immediately that he was not a Canadian and be able to trace him fairly easily. As to the Canadian accent now--you do not change your accent so completely once you're an adult. I've lived in California for years and still sound completely British.

And another thing: I come from an old family and I wear the family crest on my signet ring. So do all the other family members. Patrick would have worn a similar ring, I'm sure. So unless it slipped from his finger in the cold water, they'd have identified him by his crest instantly.

So sorry, Patrick, you're an imposter. (and if he's not, then it's bad writing)

Loved Maggie Smith being able to trick Matthew's mum into leaving Downton alone. The middle class just don't get the whole stately home thing, I'm afraid.
I've decided I have to have a delicious dowager in my next Georgie book!

So what do you think about Patrick and Mrs. Bates?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dishing on Downton Abbey again

Are you as hooked as I am on Downton Abbey. I'm not sure how good it is or whether I really like it, but I can't stop watching. There is something wonderfully intimate about following the life of one family. I used to love Upstairs Downstairs and this has the same feel--except that Upstairs Downstairs felt absolutely real to me. The characters were rounded and we cared about them. In Downton we have moved from a kinder, gentler era to one in which sensationalism is king. And it shows in the story lines for season two.

It's very close to soap opera in period costume. Mr. Matthew losing his manhood. Lady Mary will obviously stick by him, no matter what, and what is the betting he miraculously learns to walk again... maybe not until season three.

The evil characters are really evil. Someone should have bumped off Mrs. Bates years ago. If Bates had strangled her everyone would have cheered. And O'Brien the evil maid. How awful is she? Remember she caused Lady Grantham's miscarriage in the first season. The writer Julian Fellowes is an upper crust chap himself and frankly I think he's not quite as good at writing 'them below stairs.'

The characters that ring completely true to me are Lady Mary and her grandmother--the glorious Maggie Smith. What wouldn't I give to play a part like that? I'll just have to create one in one of my books some day, then I can walk around adopting that attitude all day.

World War One is of course a story of grand drama however the characters are involved in it. I remember vividly the WWI scenes from Upstairs Downstairs. Remember when Georgina nurses James in the field hospital in France and his wife Hazel goes to bring him home and the two women fight over him (in a most genteel way of course). That was heartbreaking drama. This series intrigues me but doesn't touch my heart in the same way. Maybe because it is played for sensationalism rather than reality.

So what do you think about it and about what will happen next?
Oh, and I had the perfect solution to the family's problem of inheritance. Matthew inherits the property and the money, but being a nice chap he says "I don't need all this. Why don't I give you most of your money back and you can live in the house for as long as you want. It does have 100 bedrooms, after all. No need for series three!