Does Anyone Know the Way?

the sweet

Boris Johnson doing what he does best

Got any song lyrics stuck in your head that you find particularly apt for the current times? I’m not referring to a chest-swelling anthem or a tear-jerking ballad crooned from the side of a Hollywood swimming pool. No, what I can’t shift from my head is the profound rhetoric contained within the 70s glam-rock classic Blockbuster by The Sweet.

‘Does anyone know the way? There’s got to be a way… to block Buster!’

Who is Buster? Is he a blustering, blithering, blond blowhard who causes mayhem when he appears, but for the most part is strangely elusive? I always kinda had that picture in my head. Now, years later, I realise it’s a totally apt description of our current PM!

Oh, and now he’s finally showing his sorry face again (albeit briefly) maybe he’ll utter that classic – and very apt – line:

‘We haven’t got a clue what to do!’

Talking of UK politics… I’ve put two of my books The Rachel Redemption and The Rachel Revolution together in one thrilling and explosive package. It’s called  The Prime Minister’s Wife is Missing… Presumed Dead.

The story focuses on the PM’s wife – whose death has been faked in order to benefit herself, the PM and various other individuals and organisations. It’s fictional, of course.  If it had been fact-based it could have been called something like The Prime Minister is Missing… Presumed Brain Dead!

 

 

 

 

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Memento Vivere

We all know the story of the origins of the phrase ‘memento mori’ – whispered in the ears of Roman emperors to remind them that – whatever your status, power or wealth – you’ll end up the same way as the lowliest slave. Dead. In other words, we’re all equal in the end. One crucial aspect of that jolly little reminder, however, is figuring out when and how ‘the end’ is. It’s one thing when it’s all done and dusted, and you’re past caring – maybe then you could argue there’s a level playing field. The act of dying and the period before is a whole different ball game.

Being old, being poor, having ongoing health issues – add to that the belief you’re a burden and everyone wishes you’d ‘get on with it’ – and you can understand why so many older people have stated a desire for a DNR (do not resuscitate) during these Covid-19 days. This situation didn’t start with these plague days though, it’s been going on – and getting worse – for years. Look at this way – the government has just realised it has to shovel a sh*t-load of money towards the NHS but is still doing its usual schtick of social care? What social care? Exactly…  Too many governments, over too many years, have ignored the huge and inevitable issue of long-term care of the elderly and the vulnerable. And this current crisis is also shining a big, bright light on how little care there is for the carers themselves. Will this change in the future? I’m crossing my fingers, but not holding my breath. And whilst not at the age threshold to be deemed vulnerable, I’m getting there so maybe not a good idea to be holding my breath for too long…

So, these days when there’s little need for ‘memento mori’ maybe we should practise a bit more ‘memento vivere’. Oh, the irony then that I should seek comfort in classic episodes of Columbo which is all about murder and not getting away with it. The way I see it though is – ‘death goes on’ and ‘murder doesn’t stop’ – perfect Columbo titles, don’t you think? I recently, especially enjoyed the classic ‘Try and Catch Me’ featuring the staggeringly brilliant Ruth Gordon who was 81 at the time. In it she was mischievous, murderous and totally marvellous! If you want true inspiration for your memento vivere – check out this woman’s work, particularly the later stuff.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Gordon

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Green Shoots… and where to find them

green shootWhat can I say about this awful situation that isn’t being said by a million others? I have to admit I’m generally a glass-half-empty type of gal who definitely tends more towards an Eeyore disposition than that of a Tigger. But – now more than ever – I’m forcing myself to look for those green shoots. And – lo and behold – I came across this wonderfully hopeful story from The Guardian the other day. It strikes a chord with me because:

It features my ‘home from home when in Rome’ – Pigneto.

It demonstrates two wonderful examples of green shoot recovery for the future:

People deemed to not have much in the way of market value becoming the real heroes of the hour.

That being resourceful, keeping it local and being GREEN works!

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/01/a-beautiful-thing-the-african-migrants-getting-healthy-food-to-italians

Top Tip: There’s no doubt economic green shoots are going to be hard to find in the foreseeable. So even more important to keep a bit of greenery growing in your life right now. But even that’s fraught with problems right now – from the politics of whether you have a garden or not – to the ethical dilemma of is a flowering plant an essential item on your shopping list? Look, if the supermarket has plants in stock – they want to sell them, right? Pick one up (even if it’s just one of those growing herb plants), take it home and nurture it. If they’re not available – start growing from apple seeds, carrot tops… And even if you don’t achieve food self-sufficiency, I guarantee it’ll provide a little green shoot of hope.

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Trust a Woman to Do It

Do what exactly? Everything and anything, in my book. Sadly, 90% of people don’t agree with me. According to a recent global survey, 90% of respondents said they were biased against women (follow the link below for the fuller depressing statistics relating to the different regions of the world).

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-51751915

And you don’t have to be a statistical genius to figure out that 90% must include a considerable number of women. Very depressing indeed. What’s going on? Have we all been brainwashed? Essentially, yes! Told often enough you can’t do something, you will start to believe it and convince everyone else as well. And as this image has been reinforced over millennia, it’s a big ask to turn it round over a mere century. Rome wasn’t built in a day, though. Talking of Rome…

When in Rome… kill me is my very first Mary Dollar mystery Mary is just a regular, Scottish, working-class woman in her fifties who’s become invisible. Invisibility being a great attribute when becoming an amateur sleuth!

 

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Brexit, finally… really?

‘On the 31st of January 2020 across the British Isles there was much joy, matched by an almost equal amount of sadness. For many, however, there was an overwhelming feeling of resignation and acceptance. The one thing that united everyone was a desire to go back to how it all was before. But even if that had been possible, no one was able to agree on when was the best time to go back to. All was lost in half remembered memories and a multi-handed grasp of history. None of this was important though, compared with what was to come. After 2020 there was much wrangling, aborted deal-making and gnashing of teeth behind the putting on of a brave face. As a result there was a lot of recrimination and bad feeling and ‘I told you that’s how it would be’ plus price rises and shortages of food. The discontent simmered along, and – in 2025 – came to the boil with the Great British Break-Up.’

So goes the introduction to my dystopian-future take on the whole Brexit debacle (am I allowed to still use a French word?). I wrote Brexit Wounds way back in 2016 just after the Brexit decision was taken. And yes, it’s sadly true that an embarrassingly high number of folks believed that on the 23rd June 2016 a magic wand had been waved and it was all done and dusted – we’d left the EU and become fortress Britain once more. More than that – every single person not a pure-bred, native English speaking Brit would have done the decent thing and ‘gone back home’. Yes, I know, that’s pretty dodgy logic when we were supposed to only be leaving Europe and not the entire world, but there you go. Anyway, in those three and half years plus ca change, plus la meme chose (Mon Dieu, I just can’t help it!). We’ve dithered and wrangled and pussy-footed about so much, even staunch remainers (like myself) are pleading ‘for Christ’s sake, just get on with it!’

Have I stopped worrying and learned to love the Brexit bomb? I can’t say I have, but I’ve learned to stop banging my head against the Brexit brick wall. Will it be wonderful? Will it be a disaster? Somewhere between the two, I imagine. Not much will change and we’ll end up wondering why did we bother in the first place?

Any road up, if you fancy a piece of dystopian-alternative-future-history (updated for 2020-30) with lots of humour, action, bad language and North of England settings – Brexit Wounds could be just what you’re looking for. And – to commemorate this next (but far from final) step in the Brexit saga – Brexit Wounds is available as a free download from today until this Sunday. Enjoy!

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When in Rome… kill me

When in Rome Kill me 2

Here it is at last – my very first Mary Dollar mystery. As far as introductions go, I’ll let one of the other characters describe her:

‘I can see you as a funky Miss Marple sorting out crime on the streets of Leith.’

It’s not the way Mary sees herself though, working for a slightly down-at-heel investigation agency in Edinburgh.

‘Well, the job title isn’t exactly private detective and the job’s not exciting at all. It’s better than being a civil servant though – I’ll give you that. Working for Ranald Associates, it tends to be mundane divorce and fraud cases – a lot of hanging around with not much happening, you know? People would think it’s all murder mysteries but it’s far from it.’

What’s the Rome connection?

Jez McCullough is an Edinburgh author who was hugely successful and could be relied upon to create a bit of controversy back in the day, but whose star has dimmed a bit of late. In order to rekindle some interest, Jez’s publishing company organise a promotional trip to the trendy Roman suburb of Pigneto. Ranald Associates are hired as security, giving Mary the perfect opportunity to investigate claims of plagiarism made against the company. It’s not long before Jez goes AWOL and it falls upon Mary to sort out a cryptic set of clues which might – or might not – lead to his whereabouts. The clues reference Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Suicide Club and suggest the existence of a real life version – The Pigneto Suicide Club. Mary soon has to work out whether she’s being targeted as part of an elaborate advertising campaign or if – indeed – sinister forces are at work.

Funny, cryptic, with a cast of colourful characters – it’ll keep you guessing until the end!

Available now

 

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Trump the Unifier – you’re having a laugh!

Trump balloon

Unity is the big buzzword of the moment. But where to find it and can we get it in time to glue together our fractured (dis)United Kingdom? Look yonder over the hill – is it a monster? Or is it a giant tube of orange coloured Evo-Stik?

First rule of international relations is don’t get involved in another country’s affairs. I’m not sure if Donald Trump ever got that memo, but if he had – probably would have flushed it down his golden toilet super smart quick.

What’s the consequence of ignoring the above rule? Well, in the most extreme cases it’s means invasion and subjugation. Less extreme is when an opinionated blowhard tries to stick in his tuppence worth – as in Trump pontificating on who should be the new British PM.

If he had any idea of basic psychology, he would know that a family can fight and argue within itself but when an outsider dares to get involved – that’s the time for closing ranks.

So thank you, Mr Trump for doing what our politicians can only dream of – uniting the four nations of the United Kingdom. From Stornoway to Southend, from Orkney to Oldham, from Lisburn to Llandudno – we stand together in resisting the orange menace through our right to protest. Childish, ineffectual, unstately? Well enough about Donald Trump

There are other things that unify and typify the UK though. Britain is a wonderfully creative place and Brits have a great sense of humour which can sometimes seem a bit baffling to others. The giant, baby-Trump balloon floating above London – for example. Okay, it’s decidedly not subtle and could possibly reinforce the image of the smug liberal elites having a good old snigger/snicker at a (possibly) democratically elected politician. It’s a good laugh at the time but ultimately meaningless… perhaps, perhaps not. Either way, the great thing about British humour is we have plenty of different types to choose from. We’ve always done satire very well – from Alexander Pope and William Hogarth to Peter Cook and Chris Morris. And we can do subtle – which brings me to my own modest contribution to the anti-Trump creative industry.

As a Scottish woman, I was inspired to write a tale imagining how the decisions taken by another Scottish woman – over eighty years ago – could have such a seismic impact on our life today.  Letter from America is a Twilight Zone type fantasy which has elements of Back to the Future, Terminator and Brigadoon. Hopefully people will find it humorous but also a little poignant. The whole idea of people having to leave a land they love for whatever reason – to make money, chase a dream or perhaps because their own land isn’t fit to live in anymore. So it is anti – Trump but it’s also a valentine to immigrants, the LGBT+ community, all those who stand up to bullies – in the past and in the future… and of course the beautiful Western Isles.

** Get a free download of Letter from America 21st – 22nd April 2020*

 

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Brexit Wounds

 

 

Brexit Wounds – a warning.

We are where we are…  29th March 2019 has come and gone and Brexit still hasn’t happened. It’s almost like I had a crystal ball! Okay, I got the triggering of Article 50 wrong but, y’know… Hopefully I’ll also be wrong about the future disintegration of the UK, but who can say… ?

Brexit Wounds is my dystopian take on what could happen in the very near future.

What’s the story?

2026 – ten years on from the EU Referendum result. The result was meant to lead to a thing called Brexit which never happened. What did happen was the break-up of the United Kingdom and a relatively ‘civil’ war between the two sides: the ‘Europs’ and the ‘Britters’. However after ten years people are getting angry, leading to open warfare on the streets of the major cities owned by the Europs and in the badlands territory ruled by the Britters known as the ‘Field’. With foresight the Europs have trained their new generation to be tech-savvy soldiers ready to fight and protect. One team from Manchester Metropolitan University – lead by Scot Jenny Carstairs – is given the mission to recapture Media City in Salford and put an end to fake news broadcasting. However after they are forced off course and are left to survive in the Field they have to decide where to go and who to trust. Soon Jenny and her team start to question their orders and their beliefs as they embark on a wild and dangerous odyssey across land once known as the north of England.

It’s a novella-length read so considerably shorter than May’s Deal and hopefully more entertaining!

**Hear an extract on Soundcloud**

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Improve your life in 7 (easyish) steps

smile

‘Happy, darling?’    ‘Yes, before I started my digital detox I read that everyone’s turning vegan.’

This year Blue Monday falls on 21st January. It’s the one day in the year when you have the perfect excuse to be miserable. The experts have calculated that debt + weather + time since the festive season + time until the next holiday = misery. And in the UK we could add the Brexit factor (other countries can add their own political cock-ups!) Instead of wallowing though, how about taking steps to improve your life for good? Here are my top tips for getting your life back on track.

1. Get your nutrition sorted:

Why is everyone talking about veganism and being plant-based? And why are a lot of people being all evangelical about it? It can’t be fake news and it can’t be big business trying to sell their stuff – that’s on the other side of the argument. I will concede there is an element of hype going on but the beautiful thing about going down this road is you never want to turn back. The benefits are that good! Of course you can be an unhealthy vegan – chips, crisps, a lot of mock meat products and various vegan friendly cakes and biscuits do not a healthy diet make. Ditch the lazy convenience, get into the kitchen and rattle those pots and pans! Yes, listening to music or podcasts or even having Netflix on in the background can make it less of a chore – or even a joy! The result? You’ll feel better, look better and you’ll save a lot of money – what’s not to like?

2. Ditch the Social Media:

Or at least limit your use or take a break. Most importantly – keep it in perspective. In the main it’s a virtual world pretending to be real, too full of its own importance with sinister elements thrown in. It’s a world that’s been predicted loads of times in science fiction and it never ends well there…   Yeah, okay –  I have a bit of a cheek telling you this on a blog. And while I do appreciate your visit and everything, I’d encourage you to turn off and discover a world that existed before the online one.

3. Get out in nature:

Any form of exercise is good but being outdoors with the sun – or even the rain – on your face, hearing the birds singing, feeling the crunch of dried twigs and leaves under your feet, looking at a view from the top of a hill are all simple but special pleasures. They must be special – think of all the artists, poets, composers and writers these things have inspired over the years. And you can be part of it – it’s out there and it’s free.

4. Interact with real people:

Just think of all the ‘friends you haven’t met yet’ out there in the real world. So get out and meet them. But – let’s be truthful – there are also a lot of arseholes out there too. Don’t let that put you off though. The advantage of interacting face to face is you can recognise an arsehole or a bully pretty quickly and then decide how to deal with them (being nice is usually a good disarming strategy). In the virtual world the arseholes and the bullies are trickier to deal with. They may seem powerful but – like the Wizard of Oz – pull back the curtain and a sad little person is exposed. How to deal with arseholes and bullies in either world? Be polite, move on, get on with your (real) life.

5. Enjoy your own company:

If you’re finding it difficult to find friends or that ‘special one’ – don’t despair. You’ve always got you – so get to work on you! Read and get knowledge, be creative, get fit, hone your cooking skills. You can do all these things on your own, right now. In the process you’ll become an super interesting prospect for a relationship/friendship. But hey – you’ll be so self sufficient and enjoying your own company so much you won’t care!

6. Know That Nobody’s Perfect:

…Despite the impression all these ‘perfect’ people strive to give on social media. As I’ve said before – it’s not the real world so don’t waste your time engaging with it. You can ponder – briefly – on why so many people do that kind of thing. Over compensation masking a deep insecurity? More than likely. Anyway, you’ll be doing your digital detox and becoming your own idea of perfection so that’s all that matters.

7. Stop Worrying:

Okay – you’ve become this self sufficient, well adjusted super being thanks to following all of the above. BUT – there is still a niggle of doubt, that little dark thought that lurks at the back of your mind. Why is it there? Why do we worry? Most importantly – how to deal with it? Whenever I’m in that place, I remind myself worrying is a ridiculous waste of time – summed up by the classic saying: ‘You die if you worry, you die if you don’t worry, so why worry?’

 

 

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Best Ever ‘Sonsie’ Vegan Haggis Recipe

‘Sonsie’ can mean a lot of things: pleasing, cheerful, buxom – even. I think this vegan haggis has all those things going for it, and with no animal by products is suitable for vegans or people who would just rather not think about what goes into a traditional one!

A lot of manufactured vegan/veggie haggis has a smooth, pudding-y consistency which can be a bit stodgy. With its rich combination of lentils, nuts, oatmeal and tri colour quinoa this recipe has a more pleasing ‘rough’ texture and is very easy to make. The quantities below make enough haggis for 6 hungry people and – as (nearly) all the ingredients can be sourced from Aldi – the cost is super tiny! Under £2!!!!!

This vegan haggis isn’t only for Burns Night (or St Andrew’s day/night) – the basic recipe makes a super versatile meat substitute. You can make in bulk (it freezes well) and it can be fried up, baked up and served up in a number of different ways: cut and shape in place of sausage type meat or rough it up for vegan mince (great for stuffing veg). You can make it classy by serving it en croute (a la vegan sausage roll) or in a filo parcel. Cut into squares, it’s just great to snack on cold. It also fries up very nicely and it’s the perfect star turn in a naughty but nice vegan brunch or part of a healthy salad. It’s protein and fibre packed too – what’s not to like?

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Ingredients:

30g salted peanuts

30g hazelnuts

80g medium oatmeal

1 teaspoon mixed spice

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

600ml vegetable stock

55g tri colour quinoa

55g green lentils

55g red lentils

1 tablespoon cooking oil of choice (olive, groundnut, rapeseed etc.)

1 medium sized (100g) onion

1 medium sized (100g) carrot

100g mushrooms

130g red kidney beans

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon lemon juice

OK – let’s get to work!

1. Whizz the nuts up roughly.

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2. Add the whizzed nuts to the oatmeal, mixed spice, herbs and nutritional yeast. Give it a good old stir.

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3. Rinse the green lentils and the quinoa in a sieve. Add both to the vegetable stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 20-25 mins. Rinse and cook the red lentils in a separate pan (red lentils cook much quicker – 5-10 mins – so it’s better to do it this way). DON’T let the lentils go mushy OR boil dry. A good tip is to put the lids on the pans and turn off the heat 5 mins before the end of the cooking time and let the steam finish the job.

Exif_JPEG_4204. While the lentils and quinoa are bubbling away, prepare the veg. Peel/clean the onion, carrot and mushrooms. Cut into large chunks and then whizz up to a finely chopped consistency. Saute in the cooking oil until starting to brown. Rinse and whizz up the kidney beans.

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5. Ingredients assemble! We’re nearly there…

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6. Mix everything together in a large mixing bowl. Add the soy sauce and lemon juice. Check the seasoning and add salt & pepper and possibly more soy sauce if you think it needs it.

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7. Pile your wonderful haggis mix into your favourite baking dish/tin. Bake in a moderate oven (180 deg C ) for approx 30 mins. You might need to cover the dish/tin with a lid or foil for the bulk of the cooking time and then remove 5-10 mins before the end.

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8. Ready! Delish!

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Slainte! (cheers!)

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Serving tips:

The above photo shows what a traditional haggis supper should look like. It’s always served with mashed swede and mashed potato (‘neeps and tatties’) and a glass of whisky (of course!). You can mash it up with different root veg mash-ups (celeriac, turnip, sweet potato, parsnip). Experiment! Go wild!

The baked finished product lends itself to being cut into squares or any other shape you fancy so you can go all food art and make neat little constructions with the veg layered on top. Personally, I like to go with the traditional look.

Talking of which – on the plate the haggis should have a rough and dark look (think of a pre-Bond Sean Connery… ) My top tip is to make and bake the haggis in advance and then scoop it out and rough it up in a frying pan, with a bit of oil, over a medium heat.

What’s not to like?

I’ve said it before – but I’ll say it again – this recipe is staggeringly cheap to make. I calculated around the £1.80 mark. Stick on another £1.50 for the root veg and you have a vegan Burns Night Supper for six folk for little over three quid!!! All the more money to spend on the whisky (which is also vegan)!

At the time of writing – and shopping at my local Aldi here in Edinburgh – I could get all the ingredients in one shop apart from the oatmeal and the green lentils (I got those in a nearby Home Bargains where they were super cheap but you won’t have to spend much, wherever you buy).

Alts & tweaks:

If you really, really want to spend more money and pimp the basic recipe – Beluga (black) or Puy (dark green) lentils work a treat. NOT from a can or pre-cooked in a packet though as mushy is no good! Also, many people think chestnut mushrooms are a bit more sonsie than their pale cousins but I don’t know if they bring that much extra to the party. If you can lay your hands on them at a good price (Aldi usually stock them) – go for it!

Cheers! Slainte! Enjoy!

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