Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Friends and a Farewell

Your blog,’ admonishes my dear friend, Julia, gently, ‘is appearing far less frequently. I settle down for a bit of ‘Chris Time’ and you’re not there!’. It feels a bit limp to say I’ve been busy when everyone’s busy now. A glance round the table at The Thursday Girls - my lovely friends of twenty-eight years - gives a snapshot of what we’ve been juggling between us; family illness, ageing parents, grown-up children, separations, reconciliations, bereavements, a house move, a house renovation, job applications, careers, new relationships, new babies, weddings and every emotion from the depths of despair to utter joy. 

Today though, the five of us are making the most of this rare opportunity to get together. After a lunch filled with laughter, Ann suggests a walk in the bright sunshine. The bright perishing-cold sunshine, as it turns out, in a truly bitter wind along a path which is suddenly crowded with hulking great schoolboys on a cross country run! Defeated by the savage temperature and the pounding of enormous feet, we retreat inside for a quick cup of tea before returning to our normal duties. I say goodbye with an armful of presents, a head full of memories and a heart grateful for the presence of these women in my life.

I’ve been in London attending a Romantic Novelists’ Association committee meeting followed by the Winter Party. To be honest, I used to feel daunted by RNA parties, but these days I realise that my fears of being a wallflower are groundless as someone is always happy to chat. On this occasion I was delighted to meet on-line friends for the first time, like new Choc Lit author Kathryn Freeman. It was lovely too, to catch up with friends who were so supportive on my journey to publication, writers Debbie White  and – for the first time after seven years of on-line friendship - Norma Murray.

Thinking about friendship has reminded me of Hong Kong and these three little maids from school one of whom drew the short straw of running up to ask very shyly but in perfect English whether Tom and I would take part in their survey. In return I asked permission to take their photo – isn’t it lovely? I wonder if they’ll still be friends in twenty-eight years’ time.

Another postscript from Hong Kong follows my trip to the fortune teller who having cast several sideways glances at Tom and checking three times to make sure he was really my husband, foretold that he would be a professor… well, perhaps that is written in the stars but this week Tom did get his exams results ... and, I’m very proud to say, gained his MA with Distinction!

And finally, to a friend who’s no longer with us, taken far, far too soon by cancer. This blog is dedicated to the memory of author Richard Masson. Richard and his wife, Margaret, and Tom and I met when we were taking shelter from gales and big seas at Ramsgate. Richard and Margaret were kind enough to admire our wooden yacht, but theirs, Hephzibah, was a real beauty. Richard and I were aspiring authors then, dreaming of being published. We both got there in the end, but I’m saddened that Richard didn’t have longer to enjoy his success. Thanks for all your support, Richard. May you rest in a peaceful harbour.

Our boat, Veryan, at Ramsgate

Friday, 1 November 2013

香港日記 Hong Kong Diaries. Shaking a Stick at Wong Tai Sin

After the studied serenity of the Chi Lin Nunnery and the drift of dark-robed nuns sliding silently to prayer, Hong Kong’s Wong Tai Sin Temple feels more like a grand bazaar with so many stalls selling aids to help prayers on their way. Bundles of incense sticks are best-sellers; clutched in hopeful hands, they send spirals of smoke up through spherical red and gold lanterns, past the terracotta flying eaves of the altar and towards the soaring white verticals of modern skyscrapers to touch the windows of everyday lives.
Before the altar, querents, me included, rattling our fortune sticks in bamboo tubes, seek answers from the oracle.  ‘You’re supposed to let one drop out,’ laughs Tom when embarrassment forces me to beat an early retreat. Ah. I decide to pick a stick myself instead. I mean, it’s not as if I believe in fortune-telling, I’m just curious to try something new.

But before rushing off to the soothsayer, we visit the Good Wish Garden where a notice expressly forbids the release of terrapins into the pond. No one seems to have told the terrapins though as there are plenty here already. Three of them skim the surface, blinking at a woman who crouches to croon at them. A baby one floats up close by, like a tiny green pork pie with a petit pois of a head, before submerging in the shadow cast as I lift my camera.

Pick a stick - but mind the floor!

‘English Spoken’ says the sign at one of the booths where the palm readers wait to interpret Wong Tai Sin’s predictions.  This, however, is not immediately apparent when the fortune teller and I try to communicate.  My luck improves with the return of her husband who has good English and a very kind face.
‘Three hundred dollars,’ he smiles.
Hmm. Tom and I only have two hundred between us.
‘Two hundred dollars,’ he nods, taking my hand.  ‘What do you want to know?’
‘I’m a writer,’ I tell him, ‘how can I help my career.’
‘Never give up,’ he tells me.  
Hmm. Sixteen quid’s a lot to pay for being told the bleeding obvious.  He continues, probing my hand with something that looks like a knitting needle and with many a murmuring of ‘beautiful’ and ‘good’ and other promising pronouncements.  Taking my other hand, he squeezes a fold of skin and tells me I’ve had a ‘little contact lens’ problem.  My startled reaction amuses him; I’ve recently suffered a troublesome bout of contact lens conjunctivitis and thought I’d be doomed to wear my thick specs for this trip until it cleared up at the last minute.
The good news is he can see I've got a novel coming out next year.  Even better, it's going to be hugely successful.  The bad news is that my nose is far too small for me to hang on to any money.  ‘Easy come, easy go,’ he tells me, smiling.
‘Well, that’s two hundred dollars gone already,’ says Tom as we walk away.

A few more dollars go up in smoke.