Felice anno nuovo…

…might well have been the greeting to you all at this time of the year, but that would have been from the time when retirement plans were angled very much towards La bella Italia. Having bought a des res on about 0.6 of an Irish acre (about a quarter bigger than one of our English ones!) – complete with a barn and the solitude of the most beautiful Tipperary countryside (even in lousy weather) – the greeting should now be bliain nua sásta. Anyway, in Italian or Irish, I hope 2018 is a good one for us all.

Our Tipperary view from the front of the des res. The River Shannon is only some 3km away.

The thing that attracts us most to Ireland is the simple fact that people seem to move a lot slower that the frantic “rat-race” our modern British society has become. Who in modern, angst-ridden Britain has the time to give you the time of day or – and this is the scary one – even just to smile at you or even acknowledge that you exist? Who amongst you has not held a door open or – following the Road Code – pull in to allow another vehicle to pass and been “thanked” with nothing – not even the slightest nod of the often over-imperious head. The three-point turn has been dropped from the driving licence requirement; given the generally inconsiderate use of our badly-pitted and potholed roads, perhaps they have scrapped the Road Code, too. We would probably be the last to know…

The Irish do not seem to be scared of being involved in a conversation – none of that “I’m sorry, we haven’t been formally introduced” sort of attitude. On a recent trip and in a well-known supermarket, a tramp was buying his nightly bottle of the hard stuff and the people in the checkout queue were actually talking to him, not trying to shy away. Going into the local store, petrol station, post office or even hardware store – where you can still buy just about anything from just 3 screws or a single light bulb (EU approved, of course) to a complete bathroom suite – often provokes a lengthy discussion into the relevant parties’ health, the weather or the state of the flocks or crops (it’s a very rural locality). The latter could possibly prove a little daunting, given that the veterinary knowledge possessed between the two new ones from England extends to knowing that one end can have horns and the other doesn’t! Still, my point is that they – the Irish – still maintain a sense of the value of the individual within time, which makes for a refreshing return to a less frantic way of co-existing. We were also encouraged by the revelation made by our sole immediate neighbour, Michael by name, that we “weren’t to be having anything to do with the worry” while we wait to move to Tipperary permanently. Apparently our neighbour on the other side of the valleyette – “sure, ‘tis a true gentleman he is,” – has been known to accost unexpected strangers with a rifle sticking out of his driver’s door. By now, we are certain the Michael has spread the news of the new residents-to-be throughout the far-flung homesteads, so security, as graphically outlined to us, shouldn’t be an issue!

No, not the lake on the top quarter acre! These are the gardens at Johnstown Castle, near Wexford. There is an agricultural museum there, together with an excellent Famine Museum. Fingers of blame are not suggested or pointed in any way, but the exhibit does make you feel very uncomfortable, because of the then government’s lack of concern over what was a national (and, for that matter, Europe-wide) catastrophy!

Then there is the small matter of national pride, something once tangible on this Fair Isle, but now mocked as being non-PC or – even more hysterically – as political extremism. The Irish seem to know exactly where they have come from (including what is turning out to be a spectacular recovery from economic disaster just a few years ago) and, more importantly, where they would like to go. Putting “Proudly Made in Ireland” and the tricolour on local produce seems to be the done thing. Something similar in feeling to what Prince Philip did decades ago, when he promoted the “Buy British” campaign. How unfortunate (or perhaps significant?) it is, then, that nowadays in “directionless” Britain, it seems that the retail outlets with the highest “British is Best” type profiles are both German!

The first concert of our German tour in the fabulous concert hall in Bad Ems. The Kaiser and Wagner, among others, were frequent visitors.

In addition to now being a house owner again after a great many years, the other significant milestone for me in 2017 was to “retire” as music director of the East Grinstead Concert Band. After 8 years at the helm, during which time the Band’s playing developed to often equal that of a service band and the membership list from which we could draw our players soared to the high forties, I felt it was the right time to hand over the baton, particularly with retirement to Ireland on the agenda. We had completed an extremely successful tour of Germany in October, so, after the November Poppy Appeal concert, it seemed a good point at which to bow out on a high. I plan to return to the Band and try and get my clarinet playing up to strength again, which is something I have really missed. You can’t wave the stick out front and play the clarinet at the same time – not enough hands!

My final appearance as MD of the East Grinstead Concert Band during our Poppy Appeal Concert in November.

Writing continues apace, with the fourth “An Eccentric In Lucca” well on the way, the third “Rupert Winfield” nearing completion of the proofreading process and a new children’s book, “Daydreaming Dillon” almost half way through. It’s all go at the keyboard!

 

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All singing and dancing…

…down 42nd Street up in London’s West End. Fantastic show and well worth the effort of going up to town to see it. In fact, by the end of the overture and opening number, I was feeling quite exhausted just watching all the tap dancing. Great stuff!!

The singing and dancing doesn’t stop there – well possibly just a tiny bit less energetic on the tap side, but the excitement was just the same. I received my pre-launch copy of FAMILY CONCERNS and the Book Guild have done a great job with the production side of things. Copies should be on the bookshelves or in the ether on April 28th.

It’s been a week for new releases. Many moons ago, when I had given up secondary school teaching to write, I switched to supply teaching at primary level. During one of my daily placements I met a fellow teacher, who also harboured an ambition to write. We got chatting in the staff room – as you do – and I left him my contact details. I was thrilled to receive an email from him telling me that he has finished his first book – great to be remembered and even greater to be sent a signed copy, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading! I’ve always admired the likes of Amy Johnson, but finding out a lot more about Amy the woman has extended this admiration considerably: a driven feminine go-getter in a man’s world.

unto the skies

Being Book Guild published authors is also a pleasant coincidence. Speaking of which, I have now been given an author profile on the Book Guild web site: https://www.bookguild.co.uk/stuart-fifield/

Just to emphasize the idea of our ever-shrinking world, I’ve also been contactd by a book readers’ group from sunny, down-south-Australia. They have been reading the Rupert Winfield series and – from reports – have thoroughly enjoyed them. Number 3 – THE CLOTH OF DESTINY – is already finished and should be out around this time next year.

In the meantime, you might be interested to have a look at a “meet the author” video we’ve posted on YouTube:

 

Other good news this week is that my cousin in South Africa has just re-married, after a long spell of widowhood. She looks very happy, so we wish her all the happiness possible.

Down side of the week (the yin and yang of the pendulum) is that we had to say good bye Boris, our blue Burmese. Still, you can’t win them all – onward and upward.

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The year marches on…

…and so does the indomitable Contessa and her often less-than-happy band of singers in the Chamber Opera Group of Lucca. “Family Concerns” will hit the bookshelves in the next couple of weeks…

COVER DESIGN with Hannah LBF webpic

This year’s London Book Fair seemed to be even more busy that in previous years, with strong representations for the far east and central Europe. Thanks to Hannah V. for her support and for holding the first copy of the new novel!

We have taken up Tai Chi and attend a class once a week. It has certainly helped with posture and balance and it also has an almost soporific effect in that it seems to slow things down to a more comfortable pace of existence. How many times do we hear people complaining that the modern rat-race of our society is far too frenetic and just plain wearying? Although conceived as a martial art, Tai Chi is a series of gentle body movements that has developed the defensive aspect of the art into an almost balletic series of movements. One of the flautists in our East Grinstead Concert Band spent some time on the Far East and recalled going to his office every morning past parks filled with people doing their Tai Chi “form”. I am inclined very strongly to agree that there is definitely something in it, otherwise the parks wouldn’t be full of people doing it!

We recently attended a performance of “AMADEUS” from the National Theatre in London, but via the streamed link to our local theatre in Tunbridge Wells. Well, despite misgivings about seeing it “second-hand”, the whole experience was terrific. Excellent performances all round, including an orchestra on the stage (who played from memory and kept popping up as and when required) and closeups of the cast that would have been impossible “live” in the auditorium. We’ll definitely do that again next time there is something on that appeals. Anything to save the over-priced and overcrowded schlep up to London!!

As I write I am listening to J.S. Bach.s “Christmas Oratorio” – yes, I know it’s long-past Christmas, but Johann Sebastian is “any time and always” music, which brings me to my final question for this post: what is it that makes someone a genius, the lack of which makes someone else simply mediocre? J.S. takes off with such energy and enthusiasm right from the first beat, whereas poor old Salieri (Mozart’s nemesis in Amadeus) – despite being the court composer to Joseph II or Austria – never actually gets going in my opinion. Both were talented, well-trained and musical and yet J.S. has that mysterious something that makes you want to listed again and again. I once had a CD of Saleri’s music and never really got past track 3! Poor chap….

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Time marches on…

…and so does the indomitable Contessa and her often less-than-happy band of singers in the Chamber Opera Group of Lucca. “Family Concerns” will hit the bookshelves in the next couple of weeks…

COVER DESIGN with Hannah LBF webpic

This year’s London Book Fair seemed to be even more busy that in previous years, with strong representations for the far east and central Europe. Thanks to Hannah V. for her support and for holding the first copy of the new novel!

We have taken up Tai Chi and attend a class once a week. It has certainly helped with posture and balance and it also has an almost soporific effect in that it seems to slow things down to a more comfortable pace of existence. How many times do we hear people complaining that the modern rat-race of our society is far too frenetic and just plain wearying? Although conceived as a martial art, Tai Chi is a series of gentle body movements that has developed the defensive aspect of the art into an almost balletic series of movements. One of the flautists in our East Grinstead Concert Band spent some time on the Far East and recalled going to his office every morning past parks filled with people doing their Tai Chi “form”. I am inclined very strongly to agree that there is definitely something in it, otherwise the parks wouldn’t be full of people doing it!

We recently attended a performance of “AMADEUS” from the National Theatre in London, but via the streamed link to our local theatre in Tunbridge Wells. Well, despite misgivings about seeing it “second-hand”, the whole experience was terrific. Excellent performances all round, including an orchestra on the stage (who played from memory and kept popping up as and when required) and closeups of the cast that would have been impossible “live” in the auditorium. We’ll definitely do that again next time there is something on that appeals. Anything to save the over-priced and overcrowded schlep up to London!!

As I write I am listening to J.S. Bach.s “Christmas Oratorio” – yes, I know it’s long-past Christmas, but Johann Sebastian is “any time and always” music, which brings me to my final question for this post: what is it that makes someone a genius, the lack of which makes someone else simply mediocre? J.S. takes off with such energy and enthusiasm right from the first beat, whereas poor old Salieri (Mozart’s nemesis in Amadeus) – despite being the court composer to Joseph II or Austria – never actually gets going in my opinion. Both were talented, well-trained and musical and yet J.S. has that mysterious something that makes you want to listed again and again. I once had a CD of Saleri’s music and never really got past track 3! Poor chap….

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Time Marches On…

…and we all have to do our best to keep up with it. Or do we? Surely, the truth of the matter must be that time is our master and, no matter what we do or don’t do, it will always march on regardless. The problem of our modern world must rather be one of our misconceptions that we perceive as having to keep up with something as intangible as time. As it is, on New Year’s Eve, the boffins controlling the world’s time will add one second to the global system to keep up with the earth’s rotation. Such a minuscule thing as a second becomes globally important!

In my opinion, all of this becomes even more to the point when you hear of someone retiring after very many years of loyal service and the milestone being regarded as “just the end of another day”. Perhaps those who used to be called “couch potatoes” were on to something. Is it so bad to sit down and do nothing for a stretch of time? Is it so wrong not to fill every passing second with activity of some sort (sorry Kipling)? Life would surely be richer for us all if we just side-stepped the escalator of time once in a [regular] while and took the time to just listen to the beat of nature or to the non-materialistic world about us. Thank goodness Christmas advertising is now behind us (endless pushing of what you really don’t need to be buying for that perfect, over-commercialized Christmas experience). But wait: January 1st could well herald the start of Easter advertising. Perish the thought. All of it rolled into an anthem for lost innocence and the disappearance of just about everything that actually meant anything. Do we really need electronic reminders to go home, eat lunch or even breathe?

We spent the week between Christmas and New Year in Belgium. Plucky little Belgium, where we always seem to be happy. The whole concept of time is thrust into sharp focus over there, by virtue of the simple fact that for so many hundreds of thousands, time suddenly and irreversibly stopped as they were blown off the escalator.

The Royal British Legion have launched a scheme whereby you buy a poppy lapel pin made from brass fuses and shell cases recovered from the Somme battlefields; the central dot of red enamel also contains grains of soil from the Somme. With your pin, you are invited to remember a soldier killed during the Somme. We went and found ours on the Thiepval Memorial; both of them have no known grave. I found the experience very emotional and penned these thoughts as a result.

Do You Hear?

Do you hear the rolls of the drum –

Two sets, mechanically even, with an unblocking break between?

Do you hear the shouted orders to form up and become

As smart a line as any parade ground has ever seen?

And then, rising up the hill from the lower land below, the pounding of the big bass drum

that shakes the ground before stilling the chattering tongue.

Listen, as the sound increases with the familiarity and expectation of martial sound.

Do you hear? The march, triumphant, thunders: The Voice of the Guns!

And the wind, freezing, unending, blows up that same hill,

for every mother’s husband, brother and son.

  

Do you hear the constant, unending rolls – too mechanical to be human?

The ominous thump of the bass drum, grown even more deafening in its authority.

And we wait atop the hill, in silent expectation of the regiment’s appearance with

band playing and bayonets fixed, parading for the thrill of the uniform

and the menacing grandeur of the march!

Or is it just the wind, laughing – or sighing – among the trees; but what trees?

There were none then.

The march, triumphant, thunders: The Voice of the Guns!

In the cacophony of the parade, a three-striped voice seems to whisper against the rhythm:

“23029: Bramhall, Edgar!”

For the shortest moment the biting wind is still, but there is no reply.

 

Do you hear the suggestion of a discordant melody, one at odds with that well-known tune?

Could this be something unwritten, or something already too sadly known?

Atop the hill the parade seems thinned and the pulse of the big drum dimmed: the wind knows,

but is not telling, sighing woefully as it blows over mud and wire,

the mire of the regiment, the remains of the smartly-assembled ranks.

The march, triumphant, thunders: The Voice of the Guns!

Over all, the staccato beating of the drum never falters – pausing only for a second

to load another belt or to cool the barrel.

Such is the cold message the wind blows up the valley from the lowlands below.

Do you hear that voice again?

“4931: Crabtree, Ede!”

For another grudging second the haunted wind is still, but again there is no reply.

 

Do you hear the mournful wind about the erected stones: but what stones?

There were none then.

The biting, unrelenting wind that plucks at the names when the roll is called

and sighs at the silent answer, known even before the question is uttered.

The beating of the drum, too, is broken, as if the drummers’ arms can bear it no longer;

The unending beat now a vacuum-like silence,

as the rhythmic pulse that once was life now only sporadically fills the air.

Only occasionally does the bass drum speak, weary to the point of stillness.

The march, triumphant, thunders less: The Voice of the Guns!

Do you hear that? The heavy voice does not reflect the glory of the music.

“13571: Waude, J.C.!”

This time, amongst the whining wind, is that a voice that begins to answer, wearily?

But no – still, there is no reply.

 

Do you hear that? Voices confused in the wind, muttering that they got things wrong?

How the biting, numbing wind plucks at the names on the stones and sings an immortal song!

It moans that these are the best of men, who turned out for that promised parade,

When the bass drum first boomed and the staccato drum first played.

Don’t blame them – they gave their all and now stand proud as their regiments pass from –

But where is it they pass from?

They parade through the very air itself and that is why we stand atop the hill,

Chilled to the bone in the biting wind, remembering their song

as the beat of drum echoes through their incised names that will live for evermore.

The march, triumphant, still thunders: The Voice of the Guns!

Do you hear that? The voice sounds proudly defiant, reflecting the glory of disorganized futility.

“30506: Waugh, A!”

Against the wind comes a faint reply. This name is not among the missing on the

Stones of Thiepval.

 

Getting back on the escalator, the news on the book front is that book no.5 is due out around March, 2017. This is what the cover will look like:

 

The cover of An Eccentric in Lucca 3.

The cover of An Eccentric in Lucca 3.

Book no.6 – the third Rupert Winfield Journey – is almost finished proof reading and will go into the publication process once book no.5 has been released.

Other news is that we have bought a house in the middle of the countryside of County Tipperary, Eire, and yes, it has been a long, long way getting there! Trees, fields, bird song, detachment and tranquillity. Bring it on!

Still waiting for the Irish Land Registry to confirm to property boundary. such thngs take a lonftime over there, but the slower pace of life is the big attraction!

Still waiting for the Irish Land Registry to confirm to property boundary. Such things take a long time over there, but the slower pace of life is the big attraction!

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Progress…

…is just one step at a time!

FATAL TEARS, my first published novel, has just gone into a second e-book edition with a brand new publisher and a great new cover!

The new cover for Rupert Winfield's first Journey.

The new cover for Rupert Winfield’s first Journey.

Thanks to Emily and all those involved at SilverWood Books of Bristol. On the writing front, the third novel in the AN ECCENTRIC IN LUCCA series is just 6 pages from completion of the proofing process and will then go to SilverWood to commence the publishing process (hardback and e-book). The third Winfield Journey is also finished and over half way through the proofing process. This was planned to be the final novel in this series, making a Winfield Trilogy, but another idea has been “bubbling under” involving rocket testing in the Libyan desert just before 1939…hold that thought!

A new crime series featuring Inspector Balantyne-Rhodes and set in 1920s Cape Town is well under way and I’ve taken the opportunity to use my class a guinea-pigs to trial yet another strand of writing, this time involving a 10-year old with a very fertile and interactive imagination – Daydreaming Dillon.

Apart from all of that, there are blackbirds singing in the garden and there is some feeble sunshine as well, so Spring must be on the way at last. Hold that thought, too…

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‘Tis the Spirit of Christmas…

…but in an increasingly secular offshore island, what exactly is the Spirit of Christmas? Is it one of increasingly intrusive materialism, where the “essential must have” items cost a fortune and reflect the latest and, in my opinion, often pointless “advances” in modern technology, or is it to be found in a litre bottle of spirit, offered at heavily-slashed prices by all the supermarket chains, eager to either outdo their opposition or simply survive in an increasingly competitive world? We count ourselves lucky to know young children who still write their letters to Father Christmas and send them up the chimney. Quite apart from the belief in any religious dogma, isn’t that what the innocence of childhood is all about? Working with 9- and 10-year olds, and allowing for some of the challenging backgrounds from which some of them come, it occurs to me that most of them seem to have progressed from the womb to pre-pubescent, without allowing for any of the stops we of the older generation remember about our own childhoods. The affection we feel for our memories is one thing; I wonder what the next generation will value about tradition when it comes to their turn to sit and think as I am doing?

What I see as social decline is also reflected in the radio and television broadcasts in the UK. We have access to over 150 television channels and – more often than not – for us, the best and most appealing entertainment to us is found in watching shop-bought DVDs. Only occasionally does BBC 4 have a series of programmes that actually teach and inform which, after all, is part of the BBC mission. The same can be said of the radio, where the myriad stations – including those of the once-hallowed BBC – are often worse than the television programmes on offer. It says something when, with some holiday time on hand, listening to a CD of Paul Temple (recorded 50 years earlier) is more appealing than the rest of the fare on offer over the airwaves!

At least the Queen’s Christmas Message is still what it was: Her Majesty, at the age of 89, still manages to bring a touch of reality to the time of the year through an informal “chat” which, nonetheless, contains a very real message to everyone who chooses to watch it.

HM The Queen during her Christmas Broadcast.

HM The Queen during her Christmas Broadcast.

That’s Christmas sorted!

In October we endured the chaos at the UK Border (hardly confidence-inspiring!) and went back to Belgium for a week to visit Waterloo in the bicentenary year of the battle. We are very fond of “plucky little” Belgium, even if General de Gaulle reportedly thought of it as “a country invented by the British to annoy the French”. Historically and totally inaccurate nonsense, of course…

The "Fallen Eagle" monument, honouring the last soldiers of Napoleon's Imperial Guard, who fought at Waterloo.

The “Fallen Eagle” monument, honouring the last soldiers of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard, who fought at Waterloo.

There is a brand new museum at the battlefield, built underground and so totally hidden from view. The vital Hougoumont farmhouse has also been restored and contains a brilliant audio visual presentation that is well worth the visit. The whole “Waterloo 1815” concept is possibly the best museum(s) we have ever visited and is well worth a (lengthy) visit the next time you’re in the vicinity (!)

Waterloo1

The Butte du Lion mound on the British/Allied front line. I always thought it was the British Lion with his paw on the globe: Pax Britannica. Apparently not. It is the Dutch Royal lion with paw on a cannon ball. The crown prince of the Netherlands was wounded on this spot during the battle. Still very impressive and yes, we did climb all 220+ steps to the top!

We also took in Brussels and were once again forcibly reminded of just how comfortable, inexpensive and reliable Belgian Railways are in comparison to some. Hmmm…. Belgium being a small country, we also drove across to Brugge. Beautiful city, not to mention the chocolate shops…

Brussels on the left, the romantic canals of Brugge on the right, not to mention delicious orange slices dipped in Belgian chocolate....

Brussels on the left, the romantic canals of Brugge on the right, not to mention delicious orange slices dipped in Belgian chocolate….

Earlier in the year we lost Ben, who had been with us for 12 years. Sadly, an intestinal tumour developed and was untreatable without causing the chap a lot of discomfort for probably no positive outcome. So now we have treasured memories of his company.

New kid on the block, Boris. He’s already taken control of Baxter and also, interestingly, shows an interest in literature (!)

Baxter was pining, so now we also have Boris, whose energy levels make us wonder if we are just a bit beyond the child-rearing stage! Anyway, he comes from the same breeder as Ben and is settling in – taking over! – quite nicely, thank you.

Books 5 and 6 are now in the final stages of proofing and a new line of writing is well-advanced, too. I also have a new publisher for Fatal Tears, which is in process of a second edition. All very exciting…

And on that happy note, it’s time to put the kettle on and wish you all a prosperous, peaceful and successful New Year 2016.

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