Saturday, December 29, 2007

A giant nativity.

Today I visited the Helen and Theresa again. We went to see the local nativity scene, which is life size! I've scene this sort of rag doll at Fiesta de la Cruz, but never in a Nativity before.

They hope to finish the room they're working on by the end of the year. So far they've smoothed the walls, sanded, sealed and painted all the window frames sanded, sealed and varnished the roof beams, plastered and painted the roof between the roof beams, fitted a skirting board, and sanded the floor. It still needs the walls painting, but here's Helen varnishing the floor. I think they're two impressive ladies.

Friday, December 28, 2007


Today is Holy Inocents Day, which is the Spanish equivalent of April Fool's Day. Last year I amazed myself by fooling my husband. This year I couldn't resist having a go at Helen and Theresa. Fair do's, I'd told them about the Spanish tradition yesterday.

And this afternoon I phoned them and asked if they'd seen the local news? Because their Town Hall was suddenly full of policemen investigating allegations of major fraud, like Marbella, but obviously on a smaller scale. And the really awful bit for them: they'd announced a moritorium on all planning permissions for the forseeable future. Which presumably included their permission for a bathroom.

Poor Theresa fell for it completely until I got the giggles (which was only a couple of minutes). As she said, a corruption scandal was only too plausible at the moment. Unfortunately I worried her far more than I intended to. She's forgiven me, thank goodness.

Memo to self: This is fun but I really have to stop before I do real damage to someone.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas to Both my Readers

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and Merry Whatever-you-celebrate to the rest.

On La Palma they have really elaborate nativity scenes, often showing a whole Canarian village. This picture is from one just down the road, last year.

I'm cooking turkey today for the first time in twelve years. You see in Spain the big party is Christmas Eve. So the first Christmas we were married we went to Mum-in-Law's and partied until about 2 a.m., and then I had to get up at 7 a.m. to put the turkey in the oven. I'd invited all the observatory batchelors, but only one
came and he was a Muslim, so presumably he wouldn't have missed it all that much anyway. We had a good time, but for the last eleven years I've settled for just the Spanish party.

This year Helen and Theresa are coming over for turkey, but we're not eating it until about 5 p.m. So I'll have plenty of time to cook it.

I collected the turkey yesterday. It was 66.61€, but the man on the till read teh label upside down and charged me €19.99.

Oh lord I was tempted, but I pointed out his mistake.

He said, "No, it's 19.99€."

So I pointed out the writing on the label was upside down when it said 19.99€.

He might have said thank you!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A sale!

Last night I submitted a story to Escape Velocity, and this morning there was an email waiting for me, accepting it. I think this is a new record for a high-speed acceptance.

And since the story features the Sardine's Funeral in Santa Cruz de la Palma, which ends Carnival every year here, I put up a photo essay on my main web site.

I feel like Father Christmas came early.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Lottery

Today was the biggest lottery of the year in Spain, "the fat one", with a first prize of 3,000,000€ and loads and loads of minor prizes.

I didn't win spit. This is probably because I didn't buy any tickets, because I prefer to make my own luck. I also know enough about probability mathematics to know that the house always wins.

My brother-in-law thinks he's won about 250€. But then he bought about 15 tickets, and that cost him 300€.

See what I mean?

Friday, December 21, 2007

The sorting engine

Today my husband got a Christmas card from the union, togather with a letter dated 10th December, 2008.

As a Terry Pratchett fan I instantly concluded that Santa Cruz has bought Bloody Stupid Johnson's postal sorting enginer from Ankh Morpork.

If you haven't a clue what I'm talking about, you need to go and read "Going Postal".

Like all of Pratchetts books, it's hilarious.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

DON'T use couriers to the Canaries

Friends of Helen and Theresa decided to send them one big Christmas parcel instead of lots of small ones. They sent it via courier, thinking that it would be cheaper, and I agreed to do all the phone conversations.

The first time the courier company phoned, it was to say that there was a charge of 50€ to clear customs.

"What???" Consumer tax here is 4%, and I really didn't believe that the contents were worth 1200€.

So I phoned Helen and Theresa who were also gobsmacked. But they really wanted the contents. So I phoned back. It turns out that about 14€ is customs tax (on a gift?) and the rest is an administration charge.

I wasn't thrilled either, but I said we'd pay.

A week later I phoned back to ask where it had got to. I was passed onto the "local agents" in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

Nope, they didn't have it, the reason being that they only do the other Canary Islands province, Gran Canaria. Somebody in Madrid doesn't know the difference between La Palma and Las Palmas, even though there work at a couriers. Not impressive.

So I phoned Madrid again, and got the right number, and the parcel was on La Palma. But when I phoned the local delivery man the echo on the line was so bad that he sounded like he was talking through a long metal pipe. So I said I'd phone him back.

When I did I got somebody who didn't seem to remember talking to me. Yes, he had a parcel for me. All I had to do was come "here".

And where was "here"?


Whoops, wrong number.

And then the man from La Palma phoned back. I explained that he parcel was for Garafía, over an hour from his depot. But Helen would be at my house, five minutes away, all afternoon. He explained that his workload was frantic, and he'd have to pass the opportunity. The parcel would have to wait for a few days.

So I popped down to their warehouse and collected it myself, dammit.

It turned out to be worth it. Today was Theresa's birthday, and there were birthday presents in there too, which she was very glad to have.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Music in the street again

Today was the Ruido 4 launch party for Santa Cruz. Again, I didn't really have time, but I went - and anyway it was a lot closer to home this time.

The first act had to cancel at the eleventh hour, which left my friend Norma with a mad scramble to sort out the sound equipment. She managed.

And then the students from the Mareando Association did us proud.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Winning - slowly

I'm getting there. I've finished both jobs for the Tourist Office, and got the bills in. I caught up with critiques in time to get my own story critiqued. And the house is a whole lot less grubby, although it's still very disorganised. I even got some Christmas cards in the post, and made a good start on updating the Ruido website.

We had a weather alert yesterday, but all the rain went to Tenerife. We had sunshine.

And tomorrow there's another Ruido concert int he street, this time in Santa Cruz. I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ruido issue 4

Today was the Los Llanos launch party for Ruido 4. This time they held it in the street at midday. I didn't really have time, what with the tourist office job and the state of the house, but I went anyway.

I was glad I did. We had music from local musicians, Jonny Acosta, Tomimoto and Aida, followed by a jam session. And I even found a good birthday present for my sister-in-law.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The dentist again

Well my son now has a brace fitted to half his top teeth. 200€ please, and that's just for the first month.

Which explains why I've taken on another rush editing job for the tourist office, even though I'm absolutely shattered after finishing the last one on time (and the fiction edit and all the critiques.) And the house is still grubby and the ironing pile is even higher.

It'll all get sorted out eventually.

Although I'm beginning to wonder if I'll get the Christmas decorations up before the New Year.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Poor kid

It's getting near the end of term, and my son's having his coursework marked. How times change! Last year it meant a panic as he tried to catch up on missed work in every subject at once. This term the only problem was French. So a good bit of the weekend went on that, and I helped as best I could, being almost recovered from the lurgy.

The one thing we didn't do was to pack his bag for morning.

So we had a panic trying to find the stuff he'd sweated blood over. It wound up with both parents giving the poor kid a loud lecture on keeping track of his stuff.

And it was in the bag all the time, hidden behind a folder.


He really could have done without that.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


I got behind with everything while I was ill. For one thing, my story These Eyes is supposed to go out at the critters workshop on Wednesday, but it hasn't been edited and I'm waaaay behind with my critiques of others' stories.

Now the Tourist office want their editing job by yesterday, the house is decidedly grubby, the ironing pile almost reaches the ceiling, and I have one urgent edit and five urgent critiques to fit in by Wednesday.

And people expect to eat.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

A school excursion

My son was supposed to go on an overnight school excursion last week, but it was postponed because of the rain. He finally went this week. The bus collected him early Thursday afternoon and took them all to Roque Faro in the north of the island. They walked downhill all the way to the lovely village of El Tablado, where they spent the night in a new hostel run by the island's government. Then on Friday they walked and walked along the old coastal path to Santo Domingo, where the bus met them after lunch and brought them home for tea time.

The bus and hostel were free (great!) but I had to provide lots of packed food and some sheets, and of course waterproofs and boots. That meant I had to get out of bed and sort it out, flu or no flu.

As soon as the bus had gone, I collapsed back into bed. I surfaced long enough to eat the pasta my husband cooked for dinner (so much for our planned romantic evening), and slept almost through to lunchtime on Friday, when Helen and Theresa arrived.

They took one look at me, bought in lunch, fed me, cleaned the kitchen, and left me to sleep. Good friends indeed.

By the time my son got home I felt human again.

I'd given him a disposable camera, and I was looking forward to seeing shots of the magnificent scenery.

What he actually took was three landscape photos, and twenty-something shots of the boys dormitory. But the main thing was that he had a great time.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Well, I've recovered enough to do useful things in the space between naps. Like tell you the traditional Scottish cure for a heavy cold.

You will need:
One hat
One four-poster bed
One bottle of whisky

1) Put hat on a post at the foot of the bed.
2) Crawl into the bed.
3) Drink whisky until the hat moves.

Your cold will not trouble you for the rest of the day. And you won't be thinking about the cold next morning either. You'll be thinking about your hangover.

Monday, November 26, 2007


I don't know why people say they've got the flu. The flu's got me. In steel-hard talons.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Nearly Christmas already

I spent a good bit of the afternoon asleep. Then this evening I designed the Christmas card I'm going to send out to friends. I try to get the international cards in the post on December 1st, but I rarely manage it.

Only a month to Christmas, my goodness!

70,000 reasons to celebrate

I promised myself I'd get the novel up to 70,000 words before I stopped for Christmas, and I did.
So last night I went out with my friends to celebrate. We found a new restaurant in town that was very good, and stayed until about midnight.

This morning I feel a bit rough, but I made a rum cake, mostly as an excuse to put the candles on. If I don't pat mysaelf on hte back, who will?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


It's been raining a lot lately.

Yesterday the Classroom assistants had a meeting in Santa Cruz, so I decided to do my errands in town and see my old collegues when they broke for coffee.

In spite of the Canaries's reputation for endless sunshine, it poured. The first thing I bought was an umbrella. Then I had breakfast and went to the bank. I met Helen, who was also in town since Theresa was at the meeting, and we did some paperwork for her bank account and driving license.

It was still raining, and you can only drink so much coffee in bars, so we squelched up the hill to see my friend Ana, whom I'd been neglecting, and then squlched right across the top end of town to the bar near the teacher's centre.

We timed it just right, and I had a happy fifteen minutes catching up with old friends, plus collecting Theresa's signature for yet more paperwork.

At that point, Helen agreed with me that it didn't really make sense for her to stay soggily in town, so she came back with me (via the gestoría and post office, just in time to tidy up the kitchen (bless her) while I fetched my son from school. By the time I got back, Theresa was there too, and we all had lunch.

Today the rain is easing off, and I caught this shot of a rainbow over the ridge int he centre of the island.

Oh, and the novel's at 69,800 words.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Basic Qualification for Writers

An email friend pointed me at an article at

"In essence, 77% of UK readers reread books they like. Compare that to the US where the average reader only reads four books a year, and one of every four Americans admits to not reading anything in the last year. They don't just read UK material, either. The list of the most reread books follows the article to include many US authors.

According to another report from the Jenkins Group, 33 percent of American high school graduates do not read another book once they leave school. The same for 42 percent of college graduates. Fifty-seven percent of books, per the same report, are not read to the end.

However...80 percent of Americans want to write a book."


Have you ever heard of a professional musician that never listens to music, or a chef that only eats at McDonalds?

If you want to write you're going to have to read, and read voraciously. I'm currently reading:

"R is for Ricochet" by Sue Grafton (re-reading it, actually).
"Cities of te Red Night" by William Burroughs
"Writing Crime Fiction" by Lesley Grant-Adamson
and a bunch of old New Scientist magazines that a friend gave me.

Oh, and my own novel's reached 69,000 words.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Life's been rather boring lately. All I seem to do is work: if it's not the novel, it's polishing a guide for the Tourist Office or - horror of horrors - housework.

But last night I went to a belated San Martin party. They promised me that some of the chestnuts had maggots, but I only found one. It wasn't a particularly exciting party, but the company was good and the magician was great. He was showing the kids (and me!) how to do some of the more simple tricks.

And the novel's up to 68,555 words.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Free Rice

Like most writers, I've always loved words. Here's a free game where every correct answer donates food to the world's hungry.

There are 50 levels, but I've never got past 49.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A huge ship

We often get cruise ships visiting Santa Cruz. Today we had a particularly huge one, the Navigator of the Seas. Apparently it holds 3,000 passengers and over 1,000 crew.

So the Santa Cruz's population went up by around 15% while it was in port.

And the novel's got to 66,024 words. I do love seeing another thousand roll up.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Yet More Paperwork

H&T have a Spanish lesson in town in Fridays, so I met them afterwards, and we went to the Police Station to get something called Certificado de Ciudano de la Comunidad Europeo or something similar. Basically it means they're EU citizens, and they needed it to get Spanish driving leceses. It took the rest of the morning, but we succeeded. The only real problem was that my body had mysteriously flat batteries, and it was a real effort to walk even short distances.

Then they came for lunch. I cooked the easiest thing I could think of,a nd then rather rudely went for a siesta while they washed up and supervised my son's homework.

They'd brought a game for my son as a thankyou for loaning his Mummy the day before. So once the dreaded homework was out of the way, they all had a good time playing together.

And I managed to drag myself to the computer for my usual 200 word stint. So the novel's up to 65,402 words.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Garafia again

This morning I went to Garafía to help H&T with paperwork again; this time paying the annual bills for the house and getting a fresh certificate that they live there. So I dropped my son off at school, and carried straight on to Franceses. For once I got there well before ten, and we had time for a cup of tea before we set off for the town hall in Santo Domingo in good time.


The road was only blocked by a digger that had fallen on its side. My first thought was that I didn't have time to go all the way back to Barlovento to take the old road to Santo Domingo. But we worked it out, and decided we could just about do it.

The trouble is that the old road is full of blind bends, and frequently only one car wide. And we were in a hurry, so I went as fast as I could (which wasn't very) and saw nothing of the spectacular scenery.

We got to the town hall, and went upstairs for the certificados de empadronamientos which basically says that they live in Franceses. Success. WE went to the planning office to ask if they had permisison for their bathroom roof yet. Nope. And we went downstairs to pay.

We paid for the certificados easily enough, but the woman who does the bills was on her break and we were out of time.

So I popped to the loo before we went back.

And while I was in there, the woman who does the bills came back.

Well I didn't really have time, but I did have a back up in place in case my son got out of school before I got back. And it would only be five minutes, right?


Just befcause they bought the house in March, it doesn't mean that the Town Hall has them registered as the owners yet. Thank goodness I was there, because Helen's Spanish really isn't up to this sort of thing yet. We paid the bill -- 16€.

That seemed very cheap, even for Garafia. So I asked whether it included water and rubbish collection.

No it didn't. Did we want to pay that?


After some fiddling about, we got it clear that the previous owner still had land in Garafia, but not a house, so it was logical that Helen pay the water and rubbish too.

By the time we got it all sorted out, it was very late. But Helen had a great idea? If the road was stil blocked (and it was) instead of taking her home, why not drop her off near Theresa's work. It would save a good half hour.

So we did that. And I was only five minutes late for my son.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sir Carlos, Knight of the Shining Gas Bottle

My friend Norma lives in a converted water mill. She has a terrific view and low rent, because you can't park anywhere near the place. You leave your car near the football stadium and walk up a very steep track for about ten minutes. The first half is steps, which are slightly steeper than the stairs in my house.

It's a marvellous house if you want to get fit. It's also a very nice house for a musician, because you don't have many neighbours, and as I said, the rent is cheap.

It's a dreadful house when you live alone and you have flu. Norma has flu. On Friday she told me she had real trouble getting home with the shopping. In the early hours of Saturday morning she had a plumbing failure and a flooded kitchen and living room. As you might imagine, but then she was feeling pretty uncheerful.

The water heating is electric, but the cooker is gas. On Saturday her gas bottle ran out. She has no microwave, or camping stove. Not even an electric kettle or toaster. So no gas means no hot food and no hot drinks. And a full gas bottle weighs about 40 kilos (88lbs). So my lovely husband took one up for her.

And here's the embarassing bit. He was carrying 40kg of gas bottle, and I had my little handbag, and I couldn't keep up with him. I arrived about three minutes later, gasping, to find the gas bottles switched and the kettle on. That man is well fit.

And then we zig-zagged down that steep, bumpy path in the late dusk, which felt rather adventurous. But we left Norma feeling much happier.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A party at last

We went to a late kids' halloween party yesterday. It was fun, and as it turned out, the start of a new romance.

I had planned to spend most of today catching up on very overdue housework. All I actually did was the ironing. And a bit more of the novel. I'm now at 64,309 words.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

All Saints Day

In Spain people decorate the tombs of their relatives on All Saints Day (November 1st) . Here's a couple of photos of our local cemetery.

For the last three days I've concentrated on giving a short story a major edit ready for an anthology deadline. In the end I wrote 3,000 new words in three days. Now I'm shattered and the house is a mess, but I'm pleased with the story. So no progress on the novel. Still at 63,287 words.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Nothing's gone to plan tonight.

My son wanted to join a party of kids Trick or Treating around Cancajos without an adult in sight. Now Cancajos is full of bars, and now and then you get some dodgy people around. Sin City it ain't, you understand, but nor is it somewhere we could letave our son unsupervised. So I was going to supervise a party of two.

Then the other girl insisted on going with the unsupervised party, her parents said, "Oh no you don't," so she announced they'd ruined her life and she wasn't going out with us either.

Luckily my own son wasn't too fussed, but if I'd known we wern't going out, I'd have organised something at home.

A vampire for Halloween

The green threads wrapped around this parsley are dodder (Cuscuta). It's a parasitic plant without any leaves or roots of it's own. It finds a living plant, wraps around it, and digs sharp spikes into the victim plant to suck the juice. Other names include devil's guts, devil's hair, devil's ringlet, goldthread, hailweed, hairweed, hellbine, love vine, pull-down, strangleweed, and witch's hair. Essentially it's a vampire, and the dang thing's found its way into my garden when I wasn't looking. What's worse, it's flowering. I only hope to goodness I got to it before it set seed.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Sailing Boat and a Rainbow

I saw this boat from my balcony. I think it was trying to get to the harbour before the rain started.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Inferior

I just finished reading "The Inferior" by Peadar Ó Guilín.

I loved it.

This is Peadar's first novel, but I've admired his short stories for a long time. They stick in my memory them for years.

Although the novel's SF, it begins like standard fantasy dystopia, with the protagonist, Stopmouth running for his life, chased by intelligent animals who want to eat him. Then he turns back to help his brother, who escapes, leaving Stopmouth in mortal danger. When Stopmouth finally makes it home, he finds that his brother has grabbed all the credit.

Ó Guilín keeps up this pace all the way, with the surpises jumping out at you like marauding Bloodskins.

Stopmouth is my kind of hero. He doesn't think he's special - just the reverse - because he has a stutter and a charismatic older brother. But he's not stupid, and he has one plausible talent - he runs fast. He has to win through by his own efforts, so I cared. The other main characters are distinct and plausible too, from the brutal Crunchfist to the enigmatic Varaha.

It turns out that in Stopmouth's world there is no plant food. Apart from the insects, there are many intelligent species, and everything hunts everything else for survival. At this point I started thinking, "Hang, on, this ecosystem doesn't work," but this is indeed SF, and Stopmouth's world isn't what he (and we) thought at all. The truth is much nastier than that.

My only real problem with this novel is that it's the first of a trilogy, and I'm going to have to wait far too long for the next installment. No wonder it's coming out in eight (count 'em!) languages.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Driving Licences

I met Helen and Theresa in town this morning, to see if there was any progress on sorting out their Spanish driving licences. Nope. The man at the gestoría (paperwork agency) explained that the first thing they do is to contact the UK and see if it's a real UK driving licence, and he thought they did them in batches. Anyway, they hadn't done it yet.


But I went looking for some new plates. Now I'm not a great consumer, but we've had the same plain white plates since we were married - in fact I had them before we were married. And I was just plain bored with them.

While our son was little I felt that new plates wouldn't be worth the worry, but he's 11 now. But somehow most designs here don't appeal to me.

And I found just what I wanted - very dark brown on the underside and yellow shading to red on the top, and just 22€, so I wouldn't cry if they smashed anyway.

Now I got Helen and Theresa a set of crockery as a wedding present when they arrived on the island, and I remembered that getting the heavy, heavy box to the car half killed me. So this time I left my friends sitting at a pavement cafe beside the shop, minding the crockery, and I went for the car.

Here's the surprising bit. I drove through four green traffic lights, and the last one, beside the cafe, turned red as I arrived and stayed red just long enough for Helen to put the crockery in the car.

And after we got home the gestoría phoned to say that the police had confirmed that Helen and Theresa's UK licenses weren't fake, and could we come back to sign something.

So it's back to town on Monday.

And the novel's up to 62,916 words.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Scream Quietly

My story "Scream Quietly" is available in Escape Velocity Magazine - issue one. You can buy it at Lulu It's 156 pages of A4, or a download (which is cheaper).

And the editor said: "By the way, your story is the BEST one this issue, without a doubt. It is listed on the front cover. Unanimous vote by the staff. "

Of course now I'm grinning like a maniac.

Novel Progress

The rest of the day went fast, but I did manage some more work on the novel. I wrote myself out a timeline for what happens when, and things are much clearer. Plus 260 new words.

61,156 total.

I'll get there.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Cleaning up

Not financially, alas! I've done very little housework for over a week, so this morning I've been catching up. No fun, but I suppose there's a certain satisfaction.

With all the other stuff going on, the novel's still only 60,896 words. But there's a lot of the day left.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Franceses again.

Today I went to see my friends in Franceses, together with my son, Norma, and her friend. We stopped off at the mirador La Tosca to admire the dragon trees.

We admired their progress, had a nice lunch and went for the usual walk.

They have an enormous spider in the garden.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Cool Music

My friend Norma has her music up at Into Music. I think it sounds great.

A long week

It's been a rather long week. On Monday I gave my friend L a lift to the doctor, because she'd hurt her foot and couldn't drive.

On Tuesday I gave her and her little son a lift to the doctor's again, for his routine checkup.

On Wednesday I went up to the observatory with Norma and her visitor. That wound up taking all morning because I'd stupidly forgotten to get petrol beforehand, so we had to turn round, come back down, and fill up. Then when we got to the Galileo telescope, my husband wasn't there. He'd had to go and sort out a one of their diesil cars which somebody had filled with petrol! Luckily, we were able to go and see the Isaac Newton telescope instead.

And yesterday I went to the doctor's with another friend. We thought we were just going to get her registered on the health service computer, but there was a chance to see the doctor, so we grabbed it.

I seem to have spent most of today chilling out. But tonight I'm off out for a drink with Norma, Helen and Theresa. I feel I've earned it.

The novel's got up to 60,828 words.

Monday, October 15, 2007

60,000 reasons to celebrate

Yay! I wrote 50,000 words of a novel in November 2004, and one way and another, it got stuck there. By March 2005 it was still only 54,500, and I stopped again.

Well since late September I've been trying to write every day, and I've usually manged 200 words or so. At the weekend I finally reached 60,000 words.

There's still a long way to go, but at least it's moving, and I've found a technique to keep moving.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


We've got a rally going past our house today. As usual, I forgot to move my car before they closed the road, so I can't go and see my friend.

I really enjoyed the first few cars, then I got bored and worried about sunburn, so I went in. Now I'm getting heartily sick of the noise, and there's still at least half an hour to go before I can drive anywhere.

If you want to know how to take a photo with the rally car sharp and the background blurred, see the article on my website on panning.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Traditionally the chestnuts ripen in time for the Fiesta de San Martin (Martinmass)on November 11th. This year they're already falling from the trees, which I suspect is one more sign of global warming. I picked a few to try a still life, just for fun.

The bowl is a replica (from ancient Babylon, I think) that I bought ages ago from a museum catalogue.

Monday, October 01, 2007


My son's homework takes up most of the afternoons, so we've been neglecting his Godmother, Ana. On Saturday we finally got there and had a good time. Here's Ana's daughter, Nayra.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

And Another!

The editor of A Cup of Comfort has bought my non-fiction essay "The Whole Kitten Caboodle" for A Cup of Comfort® for Cat Lovers which will come out in July 2008. I knew I was on the short list, but I'm delighted to know I'm definitely in.

I don't suppose this sales streak will last, but it's marvellous while it does.

And now I really must go and do some cleaning. If I leave the stairs much longer I'll be able to plant potatoes in the dust.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Another Sale!

Yippee! Escape Velocity have bought the reprint rights to "Scream Quietly, which appeared in Fathing in June 2005.

It's not a lot of money, but it feels Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreat!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Traveller

My friend Norma has just found herself on YouTube, in a short film called "The Traveller" by David Hill for BBC2 10x10 series from 1993. Norma plays the protagonist.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Doctor's

This morning my friend Helen went to the doctor's. Seeing as it was the first time since her move from London, I went to, to translate her medical history. They measured her height and weight. Now Helen is a very tall girl, and standing on the scales made her even taller. The nurse is tiny. She was actually jumping up and down trying to get the bar horizontal across the top of Helen's head.

Eventually she climbed up on the examining couch, and then it was easy. Helen is 1,78 metres (5ft 10").

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Robert's Wall

Yesterday I had another group to show around the William Herschel Telescope. I had to drop my son off at school at 8:30, and be at the residencia for 10, which didn't quite leave enough time to make it worth going home. So instead I went straight up the mountain, and had fifteen minutes to take photos at Los Andennes, where you get a specatcular view into the Caldera.

From here you can see a dyke called La Pared de Roberto (Robert's Wall). It's about four metres high (13ft).

[Volcanic dykes are formed when moulten lava fills a crack in the rock and solidifies slowly into very hard rock called basalt. Later on the softer, surrounding rock is eroded away, leaving the harder basalt sticking out like a wall.]

The story is that Roberto was madly in love with a girl who lived the other side of the wall, and he couldn't get through. Eventually the devil appeared to him and promised to carry Roberto's body through in exchange for Roberto's soul.

Roberto was daft enough to agree.

With a great flash of light, the devil blasted a hole through the dyke and left Roberto's dead body on the far side. He'd already taken the soul.

Monday, September 17, 2007


I've been editing a story in which my protagonists have to dash for a plane. There's a lot more to the story than that, but maybe that's why I spent most of the night dreaming I was dashing round a large airport, missing planes after plane. In any case, I woke up tired.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Today we went to see our friends in Franceses. It's the first time my husband's been there, and he was impressed at what they've taken on and how much they've done so far.

They've now almost finished their entertainment room, and it looks great. I'll have to sort out some "before" photos to post. It's going to be a lovely house when they've finished, but of course they have a long way to go.

We had a great time watching "Mythbusters" in the newly-done-up room.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Papers, papers, papers

This morning I went with Helen and Theresa to try to sort out paperwork, seeing as Theresa has just started her first job in Spain. I thought we'd manage the tax office, and maybe Social Security. To everyone's surprise and delight, we got Theresa registered for tax and social security, Helen registerd for Social Security too (no translation of wedding certificate needed) and we even managed to set up a savings account for them at the bank.

We still need to get them registered with their local Health Centre (which probably means a trip to Garafía) and at some stage we still need to sort out their driving licenses, but the end of their immigration paperwork is in sight, thank goodness.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pizza at last!

We finally got to the pizza restaurant last night, and it was great. We'll definitely be going back.

A Great Day

Today was my son's first day back at school. He wasn't at all keen to go, because last year he had a personality clash with his teacher, and in Spainish primary schools, you keep the same teacher for two years at a time. But this year he's been moved, oficially to even up class numbers. But I suspect that I'm not the only one who felt a change would benefit him (and probably help last year's teacher's blood pressure as well).

I got an email from the Cosmos website offering to buy a story. I wrote "Infant Colic" in 2001, and it was almost immediately accepted for an anthology which was delayed and delayed and delayed... Eventually I pulled it, rewrote it using everything I'd learned since, and put it back on the market. It's so nice to finally sell it for real.

My husband has been searching for a cable that he'd spent four days making, only to have it disappear in the workshop clearout. He phoned at lunch time to say he'd found it.

So tonight we were all happy. We decided to celebrate by trying out hte new pizzaria in the village. Off we all went, hungry and excited, only to find that they shut on Mondays.

Ah well. We'll eat pizza another day.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Up in the clouds again

I thought the guiding work had dried up, but I was asked to show the Herschel to a group of German amateur astronomers on Saturday.

To begin with, it was embarassing. They already had a guide with them who a) spoke German and b) had guided people around telescopes in Hawaii and Chile and c) had done a heck of a lot of homework on the Internet. So I welcomed people to the telescope with my smidgen of German, apologised for not speaking more, and stood around like a spare part while he reeled off chapter and verse with great enthusiasm. After a while I realised that some members of the party were more interested in my anecdotes than in numbers. So we split into two groups.

On the way down I had a great time photographing first butterflies, then the trees and clouds. It's a subject I never get tired of, as the combination gives you a chance to capture the scale of subject.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Happy Birthday (part 2)

Wednesday was my son's birthday. He'd already had the official party at the swimming pool, but for the day itself I took him and a bunch of his older cousins up to the Roque to see telescopes.

I had hoped to show them the Herschel and maybe GranTeCan, but neither was possible. But I did manage to get them into the MAGIC telescope and then the Galileo.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Happy birthday!

Yesterday we held my son's birthday party.

It's a bad time of year to get hold of school friends, and he's not all that popular (and neither was I, or most of my friends come to that) so in the past we've had very small parties but had fun anyway. This year we went to the local swimming pool with 6 kids. I took charge of the girls in the changing room, while my husband looked after the boys. But to my surprise, once we got to the pool, one of the lifeguards took charge of the kids while we just chilled out. The kids had a blast trying to walk on a floating mat on the water, or sliding down a ramp.

Of course swimming gave everyone an appitite for the party tea, which we had in the cafeteria upstairs. By the time we got up there, his godmother and her little daughter were waiting, along with our friends from Franceses, who'd brought the cake. Luckily they also got some pictures of the kids in the pool.

Friday, August 31, 2007

This week disappeared fast.

I took my son to the dentist, and he needs to wear his brace a lot more. So I've spent a lot of time standing over him, nagging.

We also went to the optician, which was very fast, but he needed new glasses.

Apart from that I've just got on with assorted projects and housework.

Boring week, boring post. But the next one should be better -- it's my son's birthday party tomorrow.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Yesterday I hiked up the hill to see my friend Norma for lunch. She lives just above Santa Cruz, but you can only drive to the bottom of the steep hill -- then it's time for about fifteen minutes of nice healthy exercise.

I'm sure it did me good. And leaving the family behind for some me time did even more good. It was great. We talked about music, books, politics, writing, finances for artists, cabbages and kings.

She played me a couple of half-finished tracks from her work-in-progess, which is quite an honour. I know how much I have to trust someone before I show them anything other than the final draft. I loved them.

And somehow or other I started rearranging Norma's house to take photos. I'm not sure what it is about the place, but the lighting's gorgeous. I think it's partly that there's a lot of light coming in through the windows, because it's on top of the hill, and partly that walls and ceilings are quite dark, so that the light drops off dramtically.

I was taking liberties like opening and closing shutters, cleaning mirrors and making space on a worktop for my behind while I held the camera steady. And Norma was really cool with it all. Bless her!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Warp speed 9

I got all the photos from the wedding edited and written to CDs -- 9 CDs! -- and gave them to the bride on Wednesday. I spent the rest of the day relaxing and catching up with housework. On Thursday I took my son into town to buy a new bicycle helmet and video game. While we were there, I got a ton of fresh veg from the market, to cook for the freezer.

Then the bride emailed to say she couldn't read some of the CDs, in spite of trying on several different computers. Eek!

So that afternoon I bought a pen drive and copied most of the photos onto that. Of course I still had to cook all the darn veg because there was too much to fit into the fridge. So I finished the day pwned again.

But the next morning I got a lovely email from the bride: "These pictures, exactly,
are the pictures of our wedding we have always dreamt of. More than that."

And the CD writing problem turs out to be nothing more than my impatience. If I write CDs at a slower speed and don't run any other programs while I do it, they're fine.

So today I'm really relaxing.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


I've learned a new word.

My son is a video games nut, like most 10-year-olds, and this morning he informed me that he'd just been pwned online. Apparently it means to be soundly thrashed in a game. I looked it up on wikipedia, and found that pwn also means to take control of someone else's computer.

Meanwhile I'm editing the photos from last week's wedding. A lot of them need minor exposure tweaks -- after all, you've got a white dress next to a black suit (which tends to fool exposure meters) and I was using a flash gun I'd only had for three weeks (see The Wedding of the Year). A few need cropping, which takes a little longer. And I'm putting my name discretely in the corner of each one. I'm also new to Photoshop, but I'm using the same small set of commands every time, and my friend Helen showed me how to get one key press to do a whole bunch of commands. So I'm averaging about two photos a minute.

589 down, 672 to go. I'm pwned.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Spread thin

Today I went to see my friends in Franceses, and to translate for them at their town hall. It's always nice to see them, and the new progress on their house. They've done wonders with the room they were decorating.

It's a good thing I enjoyed the visit, because the town hall trip was a washout. Everyone we wanted to see is on holiday. But we did get an email, which ought to save at least one future trip.

On the way back from Santo Domingo, Theresa commented that I was like warm margerine - "Spread very thin."

My middle name is Marjorie, so I was called Margerine at school. When the bullies weren't calling me something worse. So I told Theresa that no, I wasn't spread thin like margerine; I was spread thin like caviar, thank you very much.

She's absolutely right about my being spread thin, though.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Magical Perk.

Yesterday I was guide for another two telescope visits. Unusually, they were afternoon visits. First I showed a sick boy and his mother around, and then a group of British amateur astronomers. The best bit was that after the amateurs finished seeing the Herschel, they were going to visit the MAGIC telescope.

I hadn't seen that one yet, so I tagged along.

MAGIC stands for Major Atmospheric Gamma-ray Imaging Cherenkov Telescope. Instead of one big mirror like the Herschel, it has over 1,000 mirrors 50cm square to form a compound mirror 17m (56 ft) across.

It's not an optical telescope. Instead of observing visible light, it's looking for gamma rays. The snag is that gamma rays don't get through the earth's atmosphere, so it's actually looking for the cascade of particle in the upper atmosphere caused by the gamma rays.

MAGIC looks like a basket on its side, doesn't it? But the whole basket weighs about 60 tons and can slew to point at any part of the sky within 20 seconds. This is important, because the bursts only last for a few minutes.

I got to go up the green platform on the left of the picture above, and then I could see myself in the huge mirror.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sleeping with my Best Friend's Wife

Sunday night was the peak of the Persaid meteor shower, so the local astronomical amateurs were going to meet at a viewpoint ont he ridge of the island. I was keen to see the shooting stars and keen to get to know some more amateur astronomers, so I decided to go, even though it was an hour's drive away.

Then I remembered that I'd promised to take my son camping some time this summer, and there was a camp and BBQ site nearby. Great! It would get him away form the video games and perhaps get him interested in astronomy.

I suggested to my friends from Franceses that they might like to come too, since they're keen amateur astronomers. Besides, they have a good tent and we have a grotty one. They accepted, and my husband cried off, since he had to work on Monday morning. And then Helen felt unwell and had to cancel.

So in the end I set off with Julio and Theresa, rather later than we'd planned as usually happens. We had hoped to drive above the clouds as we went up the mountain. Instead we found the camp site was just below the cloud base.

We got the tent up well before dark, and headed over to the BBQ area to cook. They have lots of these on the island. This one has maybe 20 BBQ pits built out of local stone with roofs and chimneys, and there are taps and climbing frames for the kids and a toilet block. It's a really nice place.

Someonne had left a BBQ burning, so we added more fuel. The trouble was that the cooking grid was well above the embers, so our chicken cooked very slowly. As the light faded, we switched to the camping gas cooker and wound up eating tandoori chicken and salad by torchlight.

Then it was time to go to the viewpoint an attempt to see shooting stars.

It was very cold. There were perhaps ten cars there, most with headlights on ruining any chance of night vision. There was a TV camera, also with a spotlight. And there were people taking flash photos, with the flash pointed towards the crowd.

It takes at least 20 minutes to get full night vision back after something like a camera flash.

Not that it made much difference, since we were in the cloud. In fact the headlights sweeping through the mist were spooky, especially when there were people standing in front, casting long shadows.

Most people gave up and left, so we at least had some night vision again.

We had a couple of good conversations. My son was interviewed for the local TV. The cloud swept back a couple of times and we had a brief, glorious view of stars. During one of these clear intervals, we did see a shooting star.

We gave it up and went back to the tent. By now I was sorry we had a tent waiting for us, as I'd have much preferred the drive down the mountain. So in we got, with Theresa and I sharing an air matress, and Julio on a duvet.

"Um, Sheila," said Theresa. "If I accidently put my arm around you when I'm asleep, just poke me in the back or something, will you?"

That's when I realised I was about to sleep with my best friend's wife. In separate sleeping bags, of course.

Talking of sleeping bags, I looked at our old, thin sleeping bag beside the two super-dooper ones Thesea had brought, and my misgivings grew. I insisted that Julio have one of the good ones.

Thank goodness I did, because he slept like a log and I woke at 2 a.m. frozen.

I coped by imagining I was sitting in an arm chair front of a huge log fire, drinking cup after cup of imaginary hot chocolate. Since the calories were imaginary too, I had whipped cream and marshmallows with it.

Even so, the time dragged. By 4:30 I wanted to pee, but I couldn't see any way to get out of the tent without waking Theresa.

At 5:30 Theresa muttered, "I wonder what time it is?"

It turned out that she'd been awake and wanting to pee for ages, but didn't want to wake me up. So we went outside and found a bush. At least the sleeping bag felt comparatively warm when I got back in.

I think I managed to doze a little, but it was a huge relief when we got up and made some tea. As we drank it, I discussed with Theresa how much we'd need someone to pay us to use the shower - given that it was obviously draughty and presumably colde water. I said I wouldn't do it for 100€, but I might consider it for the price of a wide-aperture lens for my camera. Theresa said she doubted if she'd get in there for 1000€.

When we finally got home I treated myself to a bath to warm myself up as well as get clean. I fell asleep in it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Wedding of the Year

Lourdes (my friend and student) and Luca (my husband's friend and work colleage) got married last night.

I was chief photographer. I'd been rather nervous about it, beause I hadn't done a wedding for about ten years, and this would be the first one with my new digital camera. Worse, the flash gun I'd ordered in May specially for this wedding hadn't arrived until mid July. After using it for only three weeks, I still wasn't 100% confident with it. Now that sort of thing doesn't greatly matter when you can go back and take the photos again, but weddings are special, and I was really keen to do a good job.

It didn't help that I'd used it at the hen party (see Saturday, August 04, 2007) and found the batteries ran down pretty fast. This meant that the flash recharge time went from about 2 seconds to about 20 seconds.

Twenty seconds is a heck of a long time when people are exchanging rings.

My husband, bless him, came up with an external power pack which plugged into the battery compartment without damaging the flash and thus invalidating the guarentee. It meant I had to have a bag over my shoulder the whole time, but the flash recharged faster than the camera could re-focus all night long. I was impressed and very grateful.

I had some minor glitches using the new flash, but it's nothing I can't fix with Photoshop, thank goodness.

Once I relaxed a bit, we had a great time. It was a really nice wedding.

Friday, August 10, 2007


On Friday I showed another group of tourists around the William Herschel Telescope. Afterwards they were going on to GranTeCan, which is the huge telescope the Spanish are building at the Roque (see Thursday, July 26, 2007). I managed to tag along and finally see inside.

I've seen a lot of telescopes, and I knew it was huge, but I still wasn't prepared for the sheer size of the thing.

This is the dome floor, which is 32 metres (93 ft). You could fit a full sized tennis court in there, and only the corners would be outside the rotating area. The huge red thing is the bottom of the telescope, with the main mirror (10.4 m) just out of the picture to the top.

The telescope isn't finished (one reason why they allow so few visits) and they were working on the azimuth drive - the one that moves the telescope about a vertical axis. It's silent, partly because it's one, huge, linear motor.

I'd have loved to climb up inside the dome, but I was delighted to see this much.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Although our garden is tiny, our balconies are large, and this year I decided to see if I could grow a little bit of organic veg in containers. For one thing, there'd be no food miles involved.

My friends from Franceses gave me three pea plants. When we went on holiday, they were about a foot high. When we came back they were about four feet high, and caterpillars had chewed all the leaves into lace. I picked off the caterpillars, but it was already too late.

Last night we ate the entire crop - 15 peas each. Theyw ere very nice, but I don't think I'll be getting the Nobel Peas Prize this year.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Hen Party

Last night I went to a hen party - my first in 16 years of living in Spain. It wa great fun of course. Here's the bride-to-be with two of the entertainers. And I'll leave the decoration on the cake to your imagination!

All in all, I'm really not sorry that my tour-guiding job today was cancelled. It meant that I didn't have to go easy on the drink and leave at midnight.

I had a great time, and I got some much-needed parctice with the flash and difuser, but I couldn't do that every week.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bad news

We've had a heatwave, and I've been busy.

On Monday afternoon as I passed through town with my son, the thermometer outside the port read 40C (104 F). In that sort of heat, you don't feel like doing much, although I did continue my battle against the fleas.

On Tuesday my friends Helen and Theresa finally collected their Spanish number plates, so later that morning I went with Helen to sort out their car insurance. The office had aircon, which was lovely. The girls stayed for lunch, and the day just disappeared, with nobody feeling like making much effort. Meanwhile massive forest fires raged on Tenerife and Gran Canaria. There's a rather spectacular satellite photo here.

On Wednesday it was a little cooler, thank goodness. My friend had to go and deal with a family crisis, so I acquired a temporary daughter. I took her and my son to Franceses to see Helen and Theresa. For once I didn't take any photos because it's all so dried up at present. Their vines look sick, which is probably the heat, but they've been doing wonders in the house.

Today the fires are both out, but the beautiful village of Masca on Tenerife has been burnt, and a missing teenager has been found dead on Tenerife. It seems all the news is bad today.

I'll just have to hope tomorrow is better.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Simplify your life

Today is the start of "Simplify your life" week.

Great idea.

But how?

I suppose we could all become nudists, so I'd have less ironing to do.

I did all the easy simplification years ago, like always putting the car keys down in the same place so I can find them when I want them.

Actually I did the best bit simplification when I stopped worrying about being cool. It saves so much time not to worry what other people think about my car, or my clothes, my taste in music, or my housekeeping. If anybody wants to pity me because I don't drive a Mercedes, fine. I can pity them for doing the 1,000 hours of overtime to pay for it, or pity them for the nights laying awake staring up at the ceiling wondering how they're going to pay for it.

My life, my rules (just as long as I don't hurt anyone).

You know, if everybody stopped buying stuff just to impress other people, we'd have a lot less global warming.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

More paperwork.

Today was busy. This morning I went to El Paso with my friend Helen to collect the paperwork from the technical inspection of their van, and then take it to the agency in Santa Cruz. When we got to the agency, the door was open and nobody was there. So we went for a coffee and cameback. Still nobody there.

We went to the bank. I've had people phoning me, saying they were from the bank and offering me a new credit card, but it was "Caller ID withheld" an I wante to check. The bank couldn't say for definite either way, but they told me if it really was someone else, then they'd know my details without being told, so DON'T TELL ANYONE. I'd assumed that anyway.

When we went back to the agency. Still nobody there.

So we went and bought a birthday present for my friend's daughter, who'll be three on Saturday.

And when we got back to the agency, they were both there. We were told the local car tax will be 40 Euros for half a year, and we should be able to pick up the Spanish number plate on Tuesday, maybe even Monday. That just leaves insurance, which only takes about half an hour, and then they'll finally be able to drive the thing again!

Of course they'll still need my help with other things, but it'll be good to have that out of the way. And they'll be delighted not to have to pay for a hire car any more.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Whyever not?

The Roque's been in a state of some excitement lately. This is GranTeCan (Gran Telescopio Canario), the new Spanish telescope on the mountain top. The photo doesn't really give you a sense of scale, but it's huge, with a main mirror 10 metres (33ft) in diameter. Look for the door at the base to get an idea. On July 15th, they had the first light ceremony for it, with the star guests being the crown prince Filipe of Spain and Brian May.

First light doesn't mean that it's working yet. It means that they opened the dome at night and got starlight falling on the mirror. I heard on the grapevine that the optics are extrememly well aligned, better than anyone hoped for, but the telescope can't track stars as they move across the sky yet, and there's certainly no instruments on it yet. It should be open fully in 2008.

And we missed the whole thing because we were in Wales.

And then we found out that Brian May was observing at the Galileo telescope, where my husband works, on Monday and Tuesday this week. I got him to ask for an interview for Ruido , but Brian refused before my husband had finished his sentence. Apparentely he was interviewed and photographed almost to death at the First Light ceremony. But we now have Brian's signature on our CD of "Back to the Light".

I seem to have spent most of the last few days cleaning the house and restocking the freezer, with ocassional writing. Yesterday evening Norma came around, and we updated the Ruido website together.

And today I was tour guiding again - this time for a group of 60 scouts from 7 to 17. Now 60 is too many to take all at once, so we split them into two groups and took the little ones first (because a lot of them needed the bathroom rather urgently.) The questions started while most people were still doing what nobody could do for them: How big is the telescope? How much did it cost? Can you see aliens with it? What was my name? Had I ever been to the moon? What was the name of the dog that went to the moon?

Eventually I got everyone together and took them into the telescope dome. They were very impressed. Everyone is, but most of these kids had been expecting something a tenth of the size. And they were actually quiet while I explained how it worked. Luckily I found someone who could move the telescope, and they were even more impressed. Some of them found it hard to believe that the dome was moving, not the floor we were standing on.

And then the questions started again from a hard core of about ten kids. Are the planets hot or cold? Is Pluto a planet or not? Will the telescope see an asteroid before it hits the Earth? Why don't they just send a spaceship to look at the other planets? Is it true that if you go very, very fast in a space ship, then you get younger?

I asnwered as best I could. I even made a stab at explaining Einsteinian relativity for 7-year-olds. And the questions just kept coming. Are there any aliens? Could a microbe really evolve into something like us? Why can't we see stars with the telescope in day time? Couldn't you make a rocket out of diamond or something, so that it was very hard and could go very fast, so you could get to another galaxy before you died?

And my prsonal favourite: why don't they build bigger telescopes so they can see the little green men on the moon waving at us?

Whyever not?