Thursday, January 28, 2016

More happy howlers to brighten up the dull days

Last year I wrote a post about some of the hilarious mistakes our international students have sometimes made when writing assignments for us. We teachers share these around as it gives us some (often) much needed relief from the grind of marking endless assignments on the same topics.

I was reminded of this recently when my publisher, Sunpenny Publishing, shared the post (I guess someone's been reading my blog then...that's nice to know) and I had a good chuckle all over again. So I thought it might be fun to let you see some more of them.

The students generally write a number of assignments during this particular course. The howlers I posted last time were all from job application letters, but they also do reports, proposals, minutes and Executive Summaries. Listed below are a few absolute peaches from each of these (my predicted reaction follows in brackets). I just love them!

I should confess I took them all from a list we collected and put in last year's course Reader as examples of what not to do, so apologies to my colleagues for plagiarising. However, since I helped to compile them, I don't feel all too guilty. So without further ado, here they are, starting with reports:

From a report on sick leave /absenteeism
The year can be divided into four extinct periods.... (Oh my word, did climate change finally get us?)
There were a number of employees missing in action (Come on, the job's not dangerous, is it?)
Employees without presence numbered 45% (Now that will never do...we want all our staff to stand out!)

Describing the trends of the sick leave/absenteeism (I am speechless about these. Still. No comment even possible)
The company experienced dropping sick leaves
There were employees with up and down fluctuations 
In January, there was an increasing amount of sick
Sick employees peeked in December
The number of
diseased personnel plummeted
There was an abrupt
plunge in sick sending numbers of employees plummeting down to ... 
This picture is depicted by the sluggish movement of the graph.....

(See what I mean...there really is NOTHING I can add to those...)

Proposal to senior management:
First of all, a Department of Red Tape should be created...  (Nooooooooo, not that!!!)
You should know better! (Um, I thought this was a proposal? Whatever happened to 'upward' communication. And yes, the student really did write that...)

Minutes of meeting:
The chairman claimed the meeting started at 14:00 (So where's the evidence then?)
No matters were aroused... ( item then. Quickly!!)
Mr T. exposed himself to the team.... (Oh my goodness, was that really necessary, Mr T?)
.....all those at the meeting were
inanimate... (I'm not surprised! They were shaken rigid by Mr T's exposé)

An Executive Summary about starting up a funeral parlour (I mean who would even think up such a business in the first place?)
Being dead is part of life... (No...really?)
We take care of every aspect whilst the deceased bids farewell (So being alive is also part of being dead?)
We need to encourage mouth to mouth advertising (Well, I suppose if you are trying to revive a dead business...)

That's the lot then - until next year maybe, but I'll keep collecting them. They are, after all, part of what makes my job worth doing, if you can believe that.

Do you have any happy howlers that you've come across in your line of work? I'd really enjoy reading them, so all contributions will definitely be welcome - the funnier the better!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The chilling truth

Once upon a snowy winter in the Oude Haven (2010, this was)

Last weekend, I posted about the rain on my roof, and I think someone up there must have heard me and decided to teach me a lesson. If you're listening...yes you up there... I promise never to complain again...well, not for a week or so anyway!

The thing is during this past week, the rain dried up, the skies cleared (this I did like) and the temperature plummeted (that's the part I wasn't so keen on). For several days in a row, it dropped down to minus something ridiculous, which meant that even though well-insulated and heated, my barge never made it above chilly overnight and only to sort-of-warm during the day.

As chance would have it, I spent an afternoon at home on board last Wednesday. The fact that it was only at the sort-of-warm stage, which was not enough for me to sit in comfort, prompted me to embark on a few jobs. They were all small tasks - what the Dutch would call 'klusjes' (the 'j' sounding like a 'y') - that I'd been intending to do for a while and never quite got round to. But wanting to be active to get warm was a pretty good incentive to get on with them.

First, I hung a couple of pictures on the side panels above my new storage unit. I've been meaning to do this for a few months and am so pleased because they make such a difference to the homeliness of that part of the barge.

Then I fixed a small movement sensitive strip light by the entrance hatch. It's one of these led-light thingies and works on batteries. It also means that when it's dark and I want to get in the barge or get up in the night, the light will come on without my having to fumble around and break a few bits of myself in the process. Actually I also have one of those wind-up lights, but I still have to grope around to find it before I can turn it on. Now, with my amazing new wonder leds, I won't have to worry - one wave of my magic hand and said small strip light will spring into action.

Lastly, I screwed a small latch onto the inside of the entrance hatch. Again, this is something I've been meaning to do forever as without it, the only way I've been able to lock myself in at night has been by looping an old dog lead through the handle and tying it to the coat rack...effective, but not very efficient - or easy to explain to the insurance inspector when he checks my safety and security measures (erm, see, it works like this, Jan). But...all I have to do now is flick the latch open and out I can go. Jan (or Joe Blogs as he would be in English) will see it and nod his approval.

So, by the time I'd done all these things I was toasty warm, the more so because the old diesel stove had started to make more impact on the frosty atmosphere.  This of course proves the chilling truth that if you want to get things done, you have to ask a chilly person. After all, busy hands make ice walk (as they don't say in China)... sorry...

For Carol: Snow on the hatches...
What do you do to keep warm at home when the outside temperature makes outdoor activities less than attractive?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The rain on my roof

The last few days in Rotterdam have been wet; so wet I was beginning to work, live and sleep in my Wellington boots. Not that I mind that; they are a very natty tartan and I love wearing them. But, I have to confess to hating rain with quite a passion, so sitting in my barge of an evening has seen me glowering at the ceiling and being volubly stroppy with Mother Nature, although I'm sure she can't hear me above the cacophony.

But why do I dislike it so much? Let me explain...

On the hatches of my hold, heavy rain positively clatters and sounds much louder and more intense than it really is. Honestly, it's deafening at times. I find it an immensely depressing noise and with the dark skies and looming clouds, it makes me feel very shut in. My barge doesn't have many windows, so even in bright sunlight, I have to open the entrance hatch to appreciate how lovely it is outside. Since this hatch hinges upwards rather than out, I can't, for obvious reasons, have it open when it's raining (well, I hope it's obvious anyway). It's dark enough outside, but on wet days it's even darker inside and more than a bit cave like.

But that's not the only reason. I've loathed all types of precipitation involving the various forms of H2O since I was a child, I really have. I can remember a particular day in the winter of 1962 when I was walking home from primary school with my sister. I would have been seven at the time and my sister was nine. It was snowing and my little grey wool school coat was soaked. My feet, in my school lace-up shoes, were so cold I felt as if I'd got marbles on the end of them instead of toes, and yet at the same time they hurt like crazy.  I was a very unhappy young bunny and to support my protest, I remember crying all the way home. In fact, I believe it was that day that sowed the seeds of my desire to live in a warm country, something I achieved for nigh on twenty years in South Africa but much later on. of the dreaded forms of H2O that I loathe
Talking of that beautiful, but challenging land, one of the points very highly in its favour was that it didn't rain in winter and very rarely snowed either. From April through to September, it was not unusual to have no rain at all on the highveld and I just loved the winters there. Many of my friends used to long for the spring rains, but I never did, not once.

If that makes you wonder why I live in rainy old Holland now, a country with more water per square kilometre than almost anywhere else in the world, I will admit I sometimes question my sanity too. The thing is, because of all this water there are all these barges, which I do love - my own Vereeniging especially - despite the gloom in bad weather. It was also how and where I met Koos, who is the reason I stayed here in the first place.

So going back to the beginning again, the pelting rain gets me down, but if I want to live on a boat, then it sort of goes with the territory (or the water).  Added to that, the benefits in good weather far outweigh the downsides...remember my waxing lyrical about spuddling on a hot and sunny afternoon?

Spuddling with the big ones. Okay, it doesn't look hot, but
you get the idea.
So what do you think of rain? Do you like the feeling of being cosy indoors while it's pouring outside, or do you find it depressing and inconvenient? Feel free to vent...I won't mind!...

Monday, January 11, 2016

So promos do work!

As many of you now know, my publisher reduced the price of my book The Skipper's Child to 99p for ten days after Christmas. This was part of a programme of promotions they are running to increase the exposure on many of the books on their list and to try and reach more readers in the hopes of garnering more reviews. We've all been told that more reviews mean better and more sales, and apparently this is particularly true when it comes to Amazon who (I understand) will only advertise books with over 25 reviews. Given that the vast majority of e-books are sold by Amazon too (unfortunate as I hate their monopoly, but true), this tells its own story about the future of books with no or few reviews.

The author makes virtually nothing out of such promotions, but I was curious to see whether the reduction would work in terms of reaching more readers. Well, I can say with a big smile on my face that it does! For the ten days my Skipper's Child was on special, it reached the number one spot in its category on several days on Amazon UK and went up and down in the top fifteen on Amazon US for the best part of a week. I don't actually know how many were sold (my publisher has those figures) but it was very gratifying and really exciting to see.

What has excited me even more - and yes I am a child about these things - is the number of new reviews I've had. Now bear in mind it's taken about three years for the book to collect ten reviews on each of the two main Amazon sites, the fact I've now got seven more in the space of two weeks is cause for lots of whoops and big cheers of delight. And I think my personal hope has been realised in that people now appreciate it's not just a teenagers' book.

It's about a family, yes, and there are no what you might call 'x rated' elements in it, true, but I really wanted anyone of any age to be able to read it. In so many senses, I wrote it for myself. The reader I was at twelve is to a great extent the reader I am today. My parents never restricted what I read and I could dive into any book on their shelves, so the Skipper's Child was the sort of book I would have read then and still like to read now - a period novel about a way of life I knew nothing about until I came here. Writing it taught me what I would have wanted to know from reading it.

So there it is - a ten day flurry of activity, promotion and sales that was fun to do and has produced some rewarding results. It worked! Like all authors, I love to know people have enjoyed what I've written and so far it seems they have. I'm prepared for those who haven't though, and my skin's been thickening up over time. That's something all writers have to work at, but for today at least, I am basking in the glow of knowing those who have reviewed it have liked my Skipper's Child and his stowaway friend, Dmitri. I've been asked if I will be writing a sequel, and the answer is 'maybe'... if I have time. But the prequel is coming first!

Friday, January 08, 2016

A Whisper in your ear

Over the past couple of years I've got to know a lovely author on Social Media whose novel and memoir are set in Italy, a country I just love (well, who doesn't?).

Tonia Parronchi is one of the most generous hearted and lovely people I've come across, and her writing really reflects her sunny, warm nature. As an English woman married to an Italian, she has a lot of experience in dealing with the differences between English and Italian culture, and her blog is always an interesting read. She often writes about these cultural challenges and I am always intrigued by features of Italian life that I had no idea about before. Just for example, did you know the Italians were so conscious about wearing the right clothes for the time of year? No? Well, I didn't either. Apparently it's absolutely not done to wear shorts in spring even if it is blisteringly hot! No, no, you keep your cool weather clothes on until it is officially summer! And the same goes for all the other seasons. Fascinating!

I've read both of Tonia's published books: The Song of the Cypress, her novel, is a lovely lyrical book full of the romance of Tuscany and steeped in local lore and legend too. It also happens to be a love story too and the setting just adds to the dreamy quality of the story. I'm not a great reader of romance novels, but her beautiful writing and descriptions make it much more than that. I loved it.

In a more light hearted, but equally Italian vein, is her marvellous memoir, A Whisper on The Mediterranean, published by Sunpenny Publishing. It describes how Tonia allows her adventurous (and very charming) husband to persuade her to go sailing for an entire summer complete with a baby still in nappies. How she survived and with so much humour still astonishes me. They experienced horrendous freak storms, dreadful seasickness and numerous nail-biting adventures on the beautiful but unpredictable Mediterranean. On the other side of the coin, they travelled to the most stunning islands and basked in the bliss of a unique kind of freedom. The book is also full of yummy Italian recipes, so you get two for the price of one!

Whisper on the Mediterranean is available on Kindle this week and for two weeks for 99p at the UK store and something just over a dollar at I can highly recommend it, and then of course her gorgeous novel too!

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Favourite reads of 2015

I read a lot last year. I thoroughly indulged myself in fact as 2015 was the first year (well most of it) I'd had since 2011 without having to focus on studying. The trouble is I read so much that I can't really remember clearly what the books were and when I read them, but a few books really stood out and I thought I'd post these here.

I always read a lot of memoirs and one of my favourite writers is Jo Carroll, whose lovely account of her recent visit to Nepal, After the Earthquake, was an immediate favourite when I pounced on it in December (don't forget the proceeds of this book are also going to the rebuilding of a house there too, so if you buy it, you'll not only have a great read, but you'll also be helping a Nepali family). After the Earthquake is quite short, so at the other end of the memoir scale is the long, but totally riveting Of Foreign Build by Jackie Parry. I absolutely loved this book. It was so inspiring, so heartfelt and really quite breathtaking in its exuberance. I can highly recommend it for lovers of sailing and escape-from-it-all adventure. I also adored Homer's Where the Heart Is by Marjory McGinn, a wonderful memoir that just confirmed and cemented my lifelong desire to go to Greece.

I read a lot of detective fiction too and Deborah Crombie is still my all time favourite. This year found me buying and gobbling down her two latest. Now I'll have to wait for the next ones to come out, so I'll be twiddling my thumbs for those. In the meantime, though, I've thoroughly enjoyed Carol Hedges' excellent Victorian murder mystery novel Death and Dominion (only paperbacks available at the moment as the ebooks are being republished), Stephanie Parker McKean's  gripping Bridge to Brigadoon, the fourth in the Miz Mike series and a sort of Texan Agatha Christie heroine who is delightfully bonkers, and Christina James's rather dark and very complex The Crossing, a classic detective partnership involving DI Yates and his partner Juliet (which I've just finished).

Then comes another category that I enjoy and that's WWII novels. Earlier in the year, I read both The Book Thief and All the Light we Cannot See, two stunning award-winning novels that have lingered in my mind ever since.

Less well-known though are others that I've really enjoyed:  A Boy Off the Bank by Geoffrey Lewis, set on the English canals in wartime, and a Maiden's Trip by Emma Smith, about women bargees during the war. Apart from these, I really liked Don't Pass Me By and The Mountains Between by Julie McGowan, both of which are set in wartime Wales and also the gritty, gripping Pattern of Shadows by Judith Barrow.

Then finally, there are a few books that are hard to categorise, but stood out for all the right reasons: Terry Tyler's Last Child and her latest, The House of York, two contemporary family sagas based on the history of the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses family. Both books are completely compulsive and quite unputdownable. In an entirely different genre is the edge-of-your seat action thriller Sheer Fear by Geoffrey West from his terrific Jack Lockwood series. At the other end of the literary scale is Song of the Cypress by Tonia Parronchi, a beautiful, lyrical novel that immerses the reader in Tuscany.

And last, but absolutely not least and quite possibly my favourite of all because of their wonderful French atmosphere and beautiful crafting, the 'French' novellas by Peter Davey: Marielle (the latest), Love and Friendship, and Simone Simone. I actually read the second two in 2014, but I read them again last year. If you like French films, you will love these novellas. I do and could read them again and again.

All that said, these are not the only books I read last year. The upside of ebooks is that you can try new authors out for very little outlay, so there have been many, many others: some I've enjoyed, others I've started and left half way through never to return, and still others I've read but not really thought much of. I may have missed one or two good ones out here, but as I say, these are the ones that stood out for me in 2015. If any of them inspire you to buy and read them, well I can only say I recommend them all!

Friday, January 01, 2016

Our annual visit to the beach

We only ever go to the beach at New Year. It's the only time I really like it. Although I hate the cold, there's something special about getting wrapped up in scarves, woolly hats and gloves and tramping across the sands with a biting wind in your face. I also like it that whole families do what we do and take their dogs too. It's one of the few times everyone can share the beach - animal and human, grown ups and kids - and all have fun. Even people with horses seem to love a New Year's ride along the shore, and everyone shares the space without any tension or upset. For once, no one minds the sand in their faces and hair, and there are no smoothly oiled limbs to step over, or in my case, trip over.

Today was no exception and we went to the same beach we go to almost every year. It's between Breskens and Catzand on the north west coast of what should be Belgium but is actually a small sliver of Holland called Zeeuws Vlaanderen.

It may interest you to know that the Dutch and Flemish fought a short but violent conflict over its southern border with the Netherlands for four days in 1830 during the Belgian revolution when Belgium gained its independence from Holland. The Flemish wanted to include Zeeuws Vlaanderen as part of their country, but in the end, the Netherlands retained control of the province meaning they could tax shipping going to Antwerp as it had to pass through Dutch territory. Canny businessmen these Dutch have always been!

Anyhow, we love it there because it's generally considered too far for most Dutch people to go except on holiday in the summer and the Belgians tend not to like the area simply because it's Dutch - unless they are cyclists, in which case, they love it because the roads are so much safer for racers than they are over the border (Holland has all those cycle paths!).  But I'll stop rabbiting now and post some of my photos, which I think give a good idea of how cold and hazy it was, but also how beautiful.

Hoping you've also had a great start to the year!