Saturday, March 31, 2018

It's One Big Holy Week


Last night (Friday) was the first Passover Seder, tomorrow is Easter in Western Christianity, and next Sunday is Orthodox (Greek) Easter. In the middle of it all falls my granddaughter’s fifth birthday,

Passover or Pesach always takes place around the same time as Easter or Paska because the holiday of Passover, commemorating God’s liberation of the Jewish People from slavery in Egypt, was the occasion for the Last Supper.  In fact, before the year 325 Easter was calculated upon the lunar-based Hebrew calendar and all one had to do to determine the date for Easter was to “ask a Jew in your community” when Passover was celebrated.

All that changed in 325 when the First Ecumenical Synod calculated the exact date of Easter from the more modern cycles of the sun-based Julian calendar.  That became Christianity’s generally accepted method for calculating the date of Easter and continued to be so for more than five hundred years after the Great Schism of 1052 separated the Church of the West to Rome and the Church of the East to Constantinople (Istanbul).

Then, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced what is known as the Gregorian calendar for the express purpose of correctly calculating Easter, something the Julian calendar was not believed to have achieved.  Today, the Gregorian calendar is the world’s officially accepted civil calendar (except in Greece’s 1500 year-old monastic community of Mount Athos—see Prey on Patmos), but there still is not agreement among the Christian world over whether it correctly fixes the date of Easter. 

Indeed, as recently as 1997 the World Council of Churches proposed a method of using modern scientific knowledge for precisely calculating Easter and replacing divergent practices.  It was not adopted.

As for how Passover fits into all this, Julian calendar Easter always falls on a Sunday after the first day of the eight-day Passover holiday and generally within those eight days, though at times more than a month later.  Western Easter, relying on the Gregorian calendar, also generally falls within Passover’s eight days, though three times in every nineteen-year period it falls a month before Passover.

Yes, that’s why Easter is considered a moveable feast, as opposed to Christmas that always occurs on the same date.

I guess you could say that, of all these celebratory springtime occasions, the only certainty is that my granddaughter’s birthday always falls on April 4th

Happy Birthday, Rachel.

Portrait by Barbara Zilly

And a Happy Easter, Kalo Paska, and Zissen Pesach to all. 


Friday, March 30, 2018

A sign of the times

I have a kind of Buddist approach to life. And death. That's why I am building a hut in the garden for the mice that have infested my house during the beast from the east. I am catching them, feeding them, watering them and then giving them a good talking to.
They are house mice and it's minus 3 outside but a little hut, thermally lined, will surely help them to survive.
We are putting them out in bundles of six.
I think word has got out and they are coming back in bundles of five.
I am sure I recognised one reprobate from  this morning's catch  - he was in on Sunday. He's cheeky and almost tame.
It's all about signs in life.
And being kind. 

That age old question; do you want to be a full time writer? or less politely, Why don't you just give up the day job.
Indeed, why do I have two cats that are mouse friendly. Do you get Bhuddist cats who really believe in live and let live.

And there are pitfalls to be wary off, in all paths in life.  One of my full time assistants has taken a 6 month sabbatical to go round the word, coming back at the end of June to think about buying the practice over the next few years.

I think this sign might be a Scottish road sign. I call tell by the heavy cloud.

And there are times when I fell I am being urinated on from a great height. My FPA ( faithful personal assistant) has tearfully resigned from her post. She's a single parent, two teenage boys, testosterone, police, bad exam results and worse attitudes. Their computer games at the moment are hidden in my loft.  We have relocated the FPA within the company.... but I have nobody to do the paperwork of the writing career.

Last Tuesday I started work at 8am, and finished at 10.20. My final patient was a dobermann who had fallen down a flight of wooden stairs. One of four in the house- Dobies I mean. not four flights of stairs. The owner- a human patient of mine was beside herself  in tears. They live in a ---inset here what amount of your currency  means pure minted/well off/ not short of a bob or two--- house.
Her and her hubby both commented how cheap they thought the treatment of the dog was on a home visit as, the man said, most folk see the house and double the price. Indeed an ex colleague of mine had charged 5x's her normal rate. 

But where does that take us? As a career? As carer? Am I devaluing myself?
Nope. It was on my way home and I got paid for hugging a big stupid dog for half an hour and the owner made me a veggie lasagne (non vegan -sorry Leye) to take home for my tea.
we lived off that for a week.
the dog was running around on facebook the next day.

I have noticed within the last week that mice do crap in their drinking water. I think these mice are the Jerry Springer kind of mouse, the Jeremy Kyles of mus muculus.

So the patient workload is huge, I am out of contract with my books and  the person who deals with all that stuff is no longer there.

There are about 30 folk at work. When asked how many people work for me, I answer about half of them. I  spent all my time in a room with a patient, I know NOTHING about my business. I can't even use the answering machine.

I have this sign at work, with a red line drawn through the word staff.

Then a receptionist who has been with me for 20 years resigns for 'looking after grandchildren reasons'.  

Ok I think, I will interview for another. Then the practice manager says her job is really far too stressful, she's not keen to work with the assistant if he takes over as she's too old to change her ways. So can she step down and work on reception.

I know that rats leave a sinking ship but mice do not. Jerry Springer mouse has just reappeared in the peanut butter humane trap and wants to chat about a tenancy agreement.

So neither of my jobs now has a sensible person in charge.
I am out of contract on my books.
I am writing nothing because of the hours I am working.

So many hours in fact that my left hand becomes inflamed and swollen.... accelerated degenerative change due to overwork- the death knell of my practising career.

My career options look a little like this picture. So much change in a few weeks.
What is going on?
Where do I go from here?

It would seem that I stop writing, stop treating patients, sit in the back office, consult on difficult patients  and live a terrible life looking at spreadsheets then coming home at 5pm to evict mice.

I saw this sign in a book. I thought it looked like the ideal isle for a serial killer to do their shopping. They could pick up some gaffa tape also.

Then I got an email from my publisher- who has merged with another publisher. They had been speaking to my agent - who has merged with another agent - and I think my agent said my life was pretty hectic until June. So my publisher has some pretty fantastic plans for me.
After June.
That I can't do if I stay treating patients.
But I can't do that  with my hand anyway.
So what is the universe  telling me now?
And guess what, the business manages just fine without anybody running it....

I am going to talk to Jerry Springer Mus Musculus. He seems to know what he is about.

Watch this space....

Caro Ramsay...30/03/18

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The silent now speak

As you probably know, Jacob Zuma was president of South Africa until recently.  His corruption, arrogance, and lies eventually got more than his political party could tolerate.  The African National Congress (ANC) recalled him, and a new president installed.  Cyril Ramaphosa has brought an optimism in the country not seen for many years.  He is smart, affluent, and hopefully, sensible.  So far, the indications are good and the country is experiencing what is called Rhamaphoria.

Cyril Ramaphosa - President of South Africa

 At the same time, many Whites are in an uproar about a debate taking place within the ANC to expropriate land without compensation - a policy that Ramaphosa endorses, as long as it doesn't disrupt the food supply.  If this were to happen, it would necessitate a change in the constitution, which now stipulates that owners have to be compensated at fair market value.  I think this change is likely to happen.

Many Whites think this is the first step of South Africa becoming like Zimbabwe.

I have become despondent about the reaction to this proposed change in policy.  Facebook and other fora are filled with comments from Whites deploring the possibility.  Many Whites are thinking of emigrating.

Two things are causing my despondency.  First, there is no doubt in my mind, without a more equitable distribution of land ownership, there will be increasing unrest.  At the same time, it is understandable that Whites fear they may lose everything.  What is missing, is a willingness of many Whites to acknowledge the unfairness of the current situation and to be willing to help craft a transition. 

Jonathan Jansen, an astute commentator of the South African situation, had this to say to White South Africans in a recent article in Times Select:

It would really help if you acknowledged the past. From before the Native Land Act of 1913 to the Group Areas Act of 1950 blacks lost their land on a massive scale in favour of whites. We are not even talking about the systematic conquest of native peoples under waves of Dutch and English colonialism. In other words, the fact that whites as a demographic minority own so much of land and impressive housing across the nine provinces, and most blacks live in poverty and ramshackle housing, is not an accident. It is a consequence of a past that favoured whites over blacks. If this simple fact about dispossession eludes you, then stop reading this article; no amount of education will help you. 
Therefore, in the heat of the land reform debate, do not make silly arguments like “my parents worked hard for their land” (everybody does, if they have land) or “I was not there personally” (you benefitted and are better off as a result) or “we bought the land lawfully” (because others could not, given those same laws then). A good dose of humility would help you and advance the debate. It would also enable you to listen to the other side and to respond in a responsible way.

The second cause of my despondency is hypocrisy of so many of the people who are outraged by the land proposals.  If the people who are so vocal now had not been silent when the apartheid government took land from Blacks without compensation, the country may have been in a different place today.  In addition, it is sad to see how many of the comments are tinged with both with racism and a lack of acknowledgement of how much better off the country is now – free press, independent judiciary, millions of new homes for people who previously lived in corrugated iron shacks.

I, by no means, believe everything is rosy – there are huge problems, including the aftermath of rampant corruption under Zuma, unemployment (probably around 35% or so), a poor education system, and so on.  But there is none as big as the land issue.

It has to get resolved.  And it will.

But, as Jansen says, if the Whites don’t listen to the other side of the issue, and if they are not willing to accept that the current situation is both inequitable and unsustainable, they will not like the resolution.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Writer's Lament, Revised

Sujata Massey

A ragged, handwritten sign has been taped to my study wall for about a year.

I love this job!

A quarter-century ago, I was working full-time in university public relations and desperately longed to be a fiction writer. It seemed like an impossible dream, to stay home all day and use as much of it as I wanted for fiction. I thought I'd use each day to the fullest and greet my husband every evening with a smile and a reports of many pages written.

As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

I did leave that job, and began writing full-time at the age of thirty-two. And here I am, twenty-two years later, in the same job, but with the rose-colored glasses removed. With the sale of my first book came a lifestyle where I pretty much always have a deadline. It's a lifestyle in which I can work every day but never be finished.

When I'm struggling with a chapter that's going slowly,  it's hard to remember that I once longed to be in this place. In a writing day--for me, that's three to four hours--I write 500 to 1000 words, when in the old days, I could do 3000-4000. Is it because my brain has fewer cells? Probably.  Tat and the fact I'm writing historical mysteries, which make dashing off scenes and casual conversations more of a complex effort.

I am grateful to be published, and I love meeting readers and understand that my books are a fun escape for them. I wish I wasn't looking for my own escapes within my writing day--activities like cooking, reading, napping, aqua aerobics, yoga, walking, lunch with a friend. Actually, all of these are healthy things to do. But they are methods evading the hard business of thinking, which is Part A of writing. That's the worst thing about writing--thinking up the sentences that I consider worthy of keeping rather than deleting. Sometimes, I feel as inexperienced and awkward as before I was even published.

A lot of writers say that they enjoy "having written" more than the writing itself. But I think that if I want to keep going at this ten or twenty more years, I'd better start enjoying the writing more. It would mean closing my laptop and moving on to dinner and evening activities in an upbeat mood,rather than a frustrated one.

We want the life that is just beyond us. Perhaps the idea of escape is something I can work with.

 What if I reversed my thinking what my responsibilities are? Could I tell myself that I am working full-time again--but for needy dogs and people? What if the act of writing could be transformed into a kind of sanctuary? It would mean pretending that I didn't have a deadline.

Okay, I'm game.
From this point forward, I am doing things that make it seem more like that. If I want to write snuggled up in bed for a couple of hours, I will allow myself to do that.

There is beautiful sunlight in my third floor study in the mornings, and that's when I want to be there. Only then. On dark mornings,  I can sit in my dining room and look straight across the hallway to the gas fireplace and two sweet dogs napping nearby.

Then there are times I am restless and know I will wind up in the kitchen making toast. In that case, I will pack my laptop, drive five minutes, and sit among the students in the Eisenhower library at Johns Hopkins University, where I was once a student.

Moving on from place to page. One strategy is to approach my work with curiosity. Surprises will come as I discover the story that was waiting all along.Why don't I play with words rather than task myself with hammering them out? Can I try to enjoy my characters as if they're in a film (or a really terrific BBC historical miniseries) playing before my eyes? Does the line of dialog I've written truly show anger, humor, or tenderness?

Being mindful about writing could make the process feel more like pleasure reading. Which is what it's all about, isn't it?

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Left Coast crime follow up with Annamaria at the signing table.
While at the conference word came out that Philip Kerr, the brilliant writer and author of the well known Bernie Gunther novels set pre and post war Berlin passed away. His latest novel Prussian Blue is nominated for an Edgar for Best Mystery novel. Meanwhile his next book - set in postwar Greece it seems, Jeff - comes out at the beginning of April. He's one of my favourite authors hands down and I've ordered his next from my local bookstore. But the news gutted me. I'm a total fangirl and met him at signings.
His writing about a time and place he was passionate about inspired me to write. I've heard him say he didn't follow that adage of write what you know but to write what he wanted to know.  A very generous, witty man who even gave me a blurb and asked his publisher to send me one of his books.
Here's his upcoming and what I thought would be his last Bernie Gunther novel.
His novels are to savour and it saddened me to think after this there would be no more. However, his editor has said he was working on edits of the next Bernie when he passed. A gift for next year.
I don't like to think he's gone, just having a drink in  Berlin with Bernie.
Cara - Tuesday

Monday, March 26, 2018

Left Coast Crime: 2018

Annamaria on Monday

At the risk of incurring Jeff, my blog brother's wrath, I have to say that LCC is my favorite conference.  It has the best of the biggest and the best of the smaller ones: high levels of discourse, lots of accomplished colleagues, but an intimacy that allows people to connect more than superficially.

But I am, this time, remiss in my documentation.  I have to admit that I had been having too good a time to remember to take pictures.

Here are the photos I have.  They will not do justice at all to the pleasures of being there.

I flew into San Francisco airport the Tuesday before the conference, and after a visit with a friend, went by car to Reno.  A path that took me over the Donner Pass.  I did not see Hannibal Lector anywhere in the vicinity.


The venue for this year's LCC was unusual, to say the least—a Reno casino.


On our way to and from the hotel restaurants, we passed phalanxes of slot machines, which until Friday evening were largely vacant.

My first event was early Thursday morning—Author Speed Dating, in which forty writers work in pairs.  They visit tables where readers are sitting and have a minute and a half apiece to sell their stories to the folks seated around the table.

Authors setting up before the Author Speed Dating event
At LCC the  hosts of the event are Les and Leslie Blatt , the most delightful couple in crime fiction fandom. Les made the announcements and Leslie rang the bell for starts and stops of author presentations. 

The Book Room, like all the others venues, was huge. When I checked the stock of my books, I found that the copies had not arrived because of weather delays both on the  East Coast and in the Sierras.  Thankfully, they arrived during my first panel and so were on sale in time for my signing.

On the panels, the audience was treated to the wisdom of both sophisticated New Yorkers —like my buddy Charles Salzberg (center)—and Texans in cowboy hats. 

I moderated a pantser vs plotter debate that was lively, to say the least. 

The banquet on Saturday evening was a huge success.  If I had not had the pleasure of dining with my fans, I would have wanted to be at the Tim (Hallinan) and Jim (Ziskin) table.

Leaving unlovely Reno, I   had a glimpse of its beautiful mountains on take off.

A great foil for all he neon loaded slots that “graced” even the airport.

The trouble started at the change of planes in Phoenix. The cabin crew did not make it on time from their previous flight.  The sign you see here is a bit optimistic.  We took off about 3:30, nearly a four-hour delay.

It looks like I will get home around midnight New York time. I hope I have the strength to fix the problems with this post when I do. I am struggling to write on an iPad mini, with in-flight WiFi.  They charge passengers for it.  They ought to pay us to use it, and provide free tranquilizers.

Update:  I arrived at home 11:45.  I've cleaned this up as best I can in my current depleted condition.  Forgive me any flubs.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Springing Forwards: Daylight Saving Time

Zoë Sharp

When I woke up this morning, my phone and my laptop both knew that the clocks had gone forward by an hour to herald the start of British Summer Time, or Daylight Saving Time, whichever you prefer. It's a novelty to have old-fashioned clocks you still have to reset by hand.

Only the British weather itself doesn’t seem to have cottoned on to the fact that we’re supposed to be heading for summer, with forecasts of more ice and snow for Easter.

I suppose the advantage of calling it Daylight Saving Time is that it doesn’t get our hopes up for an actual summer, which might include shedding our great coats and being unpicked from our winter underwear.

Sadly, most of us fail to look like this in our winter underwear.
And it's a sign of my age that my first thought it, 'Ooh, he'll catch his death, lifting his vest up like that!'
We have been fiddling with our clocks, spring and autumn, in the UK since April 1916, when it was part of an effort to save fuel for the war effort. Before this, it had been a localised affair, with the inhabitants of Port Arthur, Ontario (now Thunder Bay) resetting their clocks by an hour in July 1908.

Three years prior to that, a British builder by the name of William Willett suggested adding 20 minutes a week to the time on every Sunday in April, and subtracting it again on every Sunday in September.

William Willett
Member of Parliament, Robert Pearce, took Willett’s plan before the House of Commons in 1908, but it was opposed and didn’t make it into law until eight years later. Sadly, this was a year after William Willett’s death, so he never saw his idea make it into reality.

Robert Pearce, MP
The idea of altering time according to the seasons dates back to the Romans, however, who used solar clocks. A sundial shows the true solar time, because the earth’s rotation varies.

Human sundial. (human not included)
Around 70 countries currently switch to DST each year, and this alters the name of the time zone they happen to be in, usually adding the word ‘daylight’ or ‘summer’, which can have the effect of different time zones appearing to be operating on the same time. In fact, they are on the same local time, rather than the same time zone. Confused? You will be …

Time itself is calculated from the prime meridian at Greenwich in London, which is the starting point both for the International Date Line, and Co-ordinated Universal Time (UTC). For every 15 degrees of longitude away from Greenwich, the time should alter by one whole hour.

However, this doesn’t always follow, as various locations around the world use more specific time zones. North Korea is UTC+8:30, for example, the Chatham Islands in New Zealand are UTC+13:45, while French Polynesia is UTC-9:30.

Right, I’m off back to the scribbling. After all, thanks to a British builder, I’m already an hour behind today!

This week’s Word of the Week is haruspication, meaning the use of sacrificed animal entrails for divination. Also called extispicy.

For more information on anything to do with times and dates, check out