Friday, 30 September 2011

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known

My job for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission involves a lot of research. I start off in one direction, trying to find out as much as I can about a subject and very often end up finding out a great deal about something completely different and generally much more interesting.

That's why my job is one of the best in the universe, mostly. The only other job I'd give my right arm for (only then typing would be tricky) would be as a Q.I. elf.

" The QI Elves research and write questions for the BBC television programme Q.I. and attend recordings to clear up any stray panel questions, loose factual ends and green room drinks."

That would be Quite Interesting.

SO...I was researching the Indian Army's involvement in the early part of the Second World War. This is pre-partition India, so involves what is now Pakistan and many other countries too.

I came across a fascinating story - the story of the Mule Companies of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps - yes, mules were still used, transported all the way from India. They were 'de-voiced' so as not to alert the enemy to their presence. I can hardly bear to think about it really.

Indian Muleteers and mule wearing gasmasks, February 1940

Some of the Mule Companies were evacuated at Dunkirk when the allied armies had to retreat. The men, not the mules. They had to leave the animals behind and were heart-broken.

My research trail continued to Cornwall, to Wales, where a few died in a flu epidemic, and finally to the north-east coast of Scotland. Some of the men who survived Dunkirk, with new mules brought over from the US, were engaged in training exercises with the idea that they may be sent to Norway. NORWAY?

There's a little cemetery called Proncynain near Dornoch on the N.E. Coast of Scotland...about as far removed from the sunny climes of South East Asia as you could get.  I wonder how many people pass by and are surprised to see the grave of Ghulam Nabi from Dhir Kot, Hazara, Pakistan...


and that of of Abdhul Rakhman from Butigaram, Hazara, Pakistan

That's the something incredible that was waiting for me to know yesterday.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. "

" That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. 

There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” 

A long quotation today, because it's worth it (much like a L'Oreal commercial) (that was a joke.)

Me and my blatant stereotyping...I expect magicians to speak with mysterious words, to enchant and beguile me, but I'm afraid, Merlin, that speech is just downright common sense.

 This was all brought about by Absurd Idea #1 - see yesterday's blog -  and the realisation that to make something of it would entail me learning some new skills.

First thought - can I be bothered? (Exonerating circumstances - I'm still on antibiotics for The Infamous Ear and feeling very much less than 100% fit.)

Second thought - HOORAY! I love learning new things and even if Absurd Idea #1 comes to nothing, I won't have wasted my time because I'll have added to my knowledge.

I'm hungry for it!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

“If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it”

It's very comforting that Einstein could say something like that. Good old Einstein. Here he is aged 9 months.

I have an absurd idea, you see, (one of many) and I'm building up to...


I can't decide whether or not to explain it in this blog. It's not that I'm worried about it being stolen, it's more that if I do it will commit me, in public, and won't I look such a fool when it all turns to dust? I should say IF, shouldn't I?

I think I'll just call it Absurd Idea #1 and leave it at that.

Image by Princesse Cam Cam
From my extensive research (5 minutes) I have discovered that there seem to be two schools of thought about ideas.

First, from the French philosopher with the pseudonym Alain (wonder if he's a girl in disguise? ref. What's in a name?)

"Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have."

Second, Swami Vivekananda (YOU know, that extremely famous Indian Hindu spiritual leader that I've never heard of)

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life - think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, that is way great spiritual giants are produced"

Thinking about it, I suppose the two statements aren't entirely conflicting... 


Tuesday, 27 September 2011

" err is human. To blame it on someone else is politics."

Politics or simply more of being human? Hubert H. Humphrey said it so I suspect he means politics. I think...human nature.

Here is a saga.

I ordered a present for my friend Grace from (the) Amazon.

No, it wasn't a rubber tree or a poison dart (I wish, in the circumstances...) but a book about horse anatomy. And Alfie and Poppy were curious.

To cut a long and very annoying saga short:
  1.  The book failed to arrive within the allotted time...The vendor said she couldn't be held responsible for the deficiencies of the Royal Mail 
  2. Grace left for university so now I'll have to post it on to her instead of giving it to her...The vendor suggested I give it to her at Christmas instead to avoid incurring extra cost
  3. Finally, I received a card saying the package had been sent with insufficient postage. I had to drive into Uckfield to the sorting office and also pay £2. 23p in order to collect it. There was no postage on it at all...The vendor says it was the fault of the people on reception at her place of work who must have sent it without putting a stamp on it.
  4. The book was advertised as being 'new' - the edges of every page were stained with rust marks and it had clearly been read...The vendor said it was 'in perfect condition when she sent it,' and asked for photographs of the stains because she didn't believe me, which I sent her.
Apparently, the vendor 'doesn't like my attitude or accusations'...

As for me...

 And the moral of this story books from  bookshops.

Postscript: I have been given a full refund (which doesn't actually cover all my out of pocket expenses, but hey...)

The vendor states: "I was bought up to look after my books and only decided to sell them at a friends suggestion" 

Ah, so the book WASN'T new then.

Monday, 26 September 2011

I will lift up mine eyes unto the pills.

Goodness, reading a quote by Malcolm Muggeridge takes me back to my distant youth. He's described as 'the gadfly columnist of Britain's New Statesman' in an August 1962 issue of Time Magazine. He was a brilliant satirist but rather lost my respect at one time for criticising Life of Brian in a debate about blasphemy...

Anyway...that's rather beside the point, as is much of my blog writing.'s a very neat link.

See, a link between blasphemy and medication.

The fact of the matter is that I am ill (again) - the third bout of terrible earache in the last six weeks. It's no good. I can't go on any longer telling myself that if I carry on horse riding/road running/circuit training as normal and pretend it's not there IT WILL GO AWAY.

IT HASN'T. Excuse me for shouting but I'VE GONE A LITTLE DEAF.

 Yes, I realise this is boring, but it's not quite as boring as having earache.

I have an appointment with the doctor this afternoon.

I am hoping she will say something dramatic. Something better than 'you have earache' - because I could have told her that.

In the meantime, I'm going back to bed. There, I've said it. I'm a snivelly little weakling after all.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

“Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy: the mad daughter of a wise mother”

Oh Voltaire...I think you maybe right (touch wood)

Going to the cinema to see 'Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy'  last night brought to mind childhood superstitions. But first, the film...

The film event of the year? A masterpiece? Yes, I think it is. Such beautifully taut, underplayed acting from a stellar cast - no egos here, no one actor upstaging any other. Most of all, the cinematography, the muted colour palette, the tiniest details in the remarkable sets. It made me ridiculously proud that it was a British film.  No, I should say European. The director, Tomas Alfredson, is Swedish and he is swiftly becoming my favourite director - Let The Right One In was the best film of 2008, in my opinion.

I've put a link to the trailer of Tinker, Tailor... which, I think, illustrates quite well all the reasons I thought it was a great film.

The trailer

Back to my childhood. My dad loved to make stewed plums and custard. When we'd cleared our plates, we'd line up the plum stones and count them to see who we'd marry (the girls) or who we'd become (the boys).

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief...

Not one of those plum stones mentioned 'physicist'. (I married one.)

Pah! It all goes to show you can't trust a plum stone...

Saturday, 24 September 2011

“The opposite of creativity is cynicism”

Esa Saarinen, Finnish philosopher said this - probably in Finnish. Vastakohta luovuus kyynisyyttä - in case you're interested. 

(I wonder if Google Translate plays dreadful tricks and 'Vastakohta luovuus kyynisyyttä' actually means 'Your mother has the face of a hamster run over by a dustbin lorry' - which Google Translate claims to be 'Äitisi on edessä hamsterin ajaa haltuunsa kaatopaikka kuorma.' I'll never know...unless...)

Mercifully, there was no picture of a hamster run over by a dustbin lorry on Google Images. I did check. This will have to do.

 Back to the idea that the opposite of creativity is cynicism.


To me that's like saying 'the opposite of happy is tulip' or 'the opposite of enormous is strawberry jelly.'

I was thinking about cynicism in the following context...I've written a (very creative) screenplay called 'The colour of her scream' for which funding is not forthcoming. In order to give it more exposure, I'm entering it into some contests. I just heard it got through the first stage of the British Short Screenplay Contest.

At one time, I would have been shouting that from the roof tops. Now my attitude is 'Oh yeah. Along with the hundreds of others. I suppose that means it's properly formatted and the reader got out of bed the right side.' 

Cynicism is the opposite of being disappointed.

Creativity is the opposite of...atrophy? Or, as Esa Saarinen might say 'Luovuus on vastakohta ... atrofia?'

Possibly. That's if you're not cynical about Google Translate.

Friday, 23 September 2011

“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”

I've learned a lot about the sort of bravery Thucydides refers to in my work for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission this week. It's left me, yet again, feeling humbled and very fortunate to have such a fascinating and rewarding job.

I've been researching the stories of soldiers from the Indian Army who were awarded the Victoria Cross in the Second World War. This is for a website which honours the contribution of undivided (pre-partition) India in both world wars.
Sher Bahadur Thapa, 1/9th Gurkhas, Italy 1944
For two hours, in the open, Sher Bahadur Thapa held back the enemy so his platoon could retreat in comparitive safety. Then, in full view of the enemy, he rescued two wounded comrades.

I've been working for the CWGC for eight years now. There is always the possibility, I suppose, that I could become inured to the horrors of war, the sacrifice, the selfless courage of so many, writing about it as I do on an almost daily basis.

I haven't. How could I?

Sher Bahadur Thapa died in a hail of bullets when he had carried out his second rescue. He was twenty three years old.

 The word 'hero' has been so badly devalued over time. Wayne Rooney is a hero because he scores a goal for the England football team? Please.

I know who my heroes are. No matter for whom they fought. I'm only writing about thirty or so exceptional human beings. There are countless millions more whose bravery will go unrecorded.

Just so you know, I'm a pacifist. International Peace Day was on Wednesday. To write about Sher Bahadur Thapa isn't to glorify war. Neither is remembering him. It's honouring the sort of personal courage and self-sacrifice that allows others to live.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

What's in a name? Especially when it belongs to a woman.

 The other day I made an interesting discovery. Well, it MIGHT be interesting - that's if it's true. I was searching for information about charging realistic rates as a freelance writer (yes, I DO undercharge...) and came across an excellent article about this very subject on a website for a company called Men With Pens.

Men With Pens? "What a sexist name! Who in their right minds would want to avail themselves of the services of such a company?" I thought. A little research revealed that the CEO is someone called (actually NOT called, it transpired) James Chartrand. A little more research revealed that James Chartrand is in fact, the pseudonym of...


She changed her name and then her business began to take off in a big way, in a way it never had when she was calling herself by her own woman's name. Go figure, as they say in the US of A and possibly elsewhere as well.

Perhaps I should change my name then?
I found a site which generates pen names...How does Claude Herkenratt sound to you? No, don't answer that. Or what about an anagram of Caroline Coxon? Colin Croonaxe?

Well, it worked for the Bronte sisters in the 1840s. It worked for whoever James Chartrand might be...

Hmmmmmmm. I'm caught in the horns of a dilemma now.

Read all about James Chartrand HERE (as long as you promise to come back)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.

This could have been said yesterday - especially if the word 'book' is changed to 'screenplay.' But no, it's attributed to Cicero (106-43 BC) I expect he used Latin. Damn clever, those Romans.

Young Cicero reading
I won't say anything about disobedient children or even about times being bad but I do know lots of people who are writers. Real proper grown up published writers. Frustrated wannabe writers. Full-time writers. Part-time writers. Not hugely surprising really in my line of work, when all's said and done.

One thing my fellow scribes talk about A LOT is writer's block.

Don't bother to trot out that quotation that writer's block doesn't exist. That would be about the same as saying that 'the wall' doesn't exist when you're running a marathon. As a writer and as a marathon runner I can confirm that the block and the wall DO exist. Not as physical entities, of course, but sometimes it can feel very much like it.

There are loads of tips on the internet for getting over this thing called writer's block. Loads of books. There even seems to be some software.

I've just thought of a new idea. When you can't write anything else, write about how to get over writer's block.

Sheer brilliance!

Modesty: One of my many great attributes.

(You know I'm joking, don't you?)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time

 G.K.Chesterton - a man who was plainly NOT in a hurry, judging by his physique and general mien. P.G. Wodehouse once described a very loud crash as "a sound like Chesterton falling onto a sheet of tin."

This morning I AM in a hurry. I have someone coming round at 11.30 and shedloads of work to do. So... early to the yard and completed my duties in double-quick time...see, I have control over that.

I don't have control over the way my horses choose to behave. This is quite an admission from someone who claims to be an experienced rider.

Today it was Poppy's turn to be exercised. She has a philosophy. "Your lack of planning is not my emergency." Or to put it into current speak, "Am I bovvered?"

I set off with great vim and vigour. It lasted about a hundred yards. By the way, I'm absolutely NOT a physical weakling. "Come ON, Poppy. I'm in a screaming hurry today." One of her ears twitched. "Are you? Well I'm not."

I struggled up to the end of the lane and back with her. A cunning plan evolved. I'll take her in the field. That field where she bolts and gallops and bucks. So we slogged back.

In the field she...just about managed a few strides of canter. At the cost of me needing oxygen. Another by the way, Poppy is in great shape, well-cared for, properly fed, regularly exercised.

I gave up then. Poppy One. Caroline Nil.

On the way home I stopped off at Hurstwood Feeds and bought something called Propell Plus. Giant sized bottle. I'm not quite clear who will be taking it as a food supplement.

I'm STILL in a hurry with shedloads of work to do. Now I'm in a hurry with shedloads of work to do and also completely worn out and it's only 10.30 in the morning.

Poppy probably has it about right.

 Am I bovvered?

Monday, 19 September 2011

Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar

I thought I'd wake you all up on a Monday morning. Well, most of you. And, by the way, the 'no hay' part of the quote has nothing to do with Alfie De Horse moaning about lack of breakfast again.

To save you time, if time is needed: Traveller, there is no path; through walking the path is made.

I love this quotation. Antonio Machado is now on my list of People I've Never Heard Of Who Say Remarkable Things. The list is pretty long.

I'm not going to go into endless up-my-own-backside philosophical interpretation about it, you'll be relieved to hear. All I will say is that I found it comforting. So often I'm tussling with the dilemma "Should I go this way or that way? Which is the better path for me to choose?"

How wonderful to think that I don't have to tussle. All I need to do is set off.


Sunday, 18 September 2011

Life is simple but we insist on making it complicated

Confucius says so.

Confucius is right. Caroline says so. She is an expert on making simple things complicated.

Yet, sometimes, for short periods of time, I get it just about right and wonder why I don't do it more often.

Yesterday, after a ride on Ashdown Forest when Alfie and I got caught in a violent rainstorm, I took my tack home to clean it. Alfie usually does it himself but I thought he deserved a break.

It all turned out to be the happiest of afternoons. There I was, at the kitchen table, soaping Alfie's saddle and bridle. There was Peter, checking the base of his beehive for varroa mite, using the magnifying glass I bought in Beijing. There we both were, listening to a crime drama on Radio 4 Extra.

Simple pleasures.

There is peasant blood coursing through our veins, I'm sure of it.

I must schedule some time for being a peasant onto my iPad calendar...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Wherever the fates lead us let us follow.

Alfie De Horse has been studying Virgil again.

In group lessons, he simply WON'T take the lead. Yesterday, my lungs were sore. Not from shouting but from gasping for air so violently while making such tremendous efforts to get him out from behind Milton.  (Not Milton the poet, but Milton the horse)

Alfie can be very stubborn and very strong. And he has no nerve-endings. I'm not comfortable with kicking him or thwacking him with a riding crop, but I might as well be a mosquito on a rhinoceros for all the impression I make.

How much am I like my horse, though?

Pretty stubborn, yes.
I think I'd notice if you kicked me or thwacked me.
Do I resist being in front?
Do you know what?...I'm having to think about that one.
In a work context, I'm happy to lead. Socially...forget it.

Meanwhile, I'm enlisting some help with Alfie...

Friday, 16 September 2011

I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.

Last night, Woody Allen, if I had been drinking milk, I suspect it might have done just that. The rosé wine I drank in the interval very nearly did. It was a new experience - not the drinking of rosé wine, but going to our local cinema to see a live screening of a National Theatre play.

I was curious to see how a theatre production would translate directly to the screen. I needn't have wasted a single second worrying about it. It was completely brilliant. It was as though we were there, best seats in the house. Not that I'm suggesting for a moment that actually going to the theatre could ever be replaced - but this made something accessible to us that we might have missed otherwise.

I swear I have NEVER laughed so much in my life. It's impossible to pick out one performance above all the rest. Of course James Corden was wonderful, and worked so hard, pouring so much sweat I can't imagine why he's still so...plump... (I can't see how anyone could replace him really) but if I were forced to choose, it would be Tom Edden, who played 87 year old waiter, Alfie.

I was hurting from laughing so much.

For us, it was an extra treat that it was set in Brighton, a place we know so well. Several scenes took place outside and inside a pub we have frequented many a happy time - The Cricketers Arms.

It cost us £25 plus wine, which wasn't compulsory after all - and was a ten minute drive from home. For us to go to the theatre in London...what with train fares, ticket prices, food and drink, the need for Peter to take time off work, the fact we don't get home until the wee small hours...honestly we don't see much change out of £150...

I see One Man, Two Guvnors is being screened across the world again on Thursday, 22nd and 29th of September.


Thursday, 15 September 2011

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

I won't insult you by telling you that Oscar Wilde wrote that.

So what is it about me? Why can't I just be MODERATE? I seem to be incapable of accepting my limitations. This is what they call a double-edged sword. Whoever they are.

Note: I have no intention of killing anyone. Except possibly myself, with unfulfilled expectations.

Double edge = Good? Does it?

This is me. I start to jog for gentle exercise. Then I want to run marathons. I learn the violin - Suzuki method - and I want to play the Brahms violin concerto, preferably at the Albert Hall. I write screenplays. I want to win a BAFTA. I learn to ride, starting at the ridiculously late age of 47. Hickstead Derby here I come.

One edge of my sword. Good - very high level of motivation, always striving, always daring...

The other edge of my sword. Not So Good - (though I have run a marathon) - sometimes, I have to accept that I am unlikely to achieve my ambitions.

The thing is to keep the Good Edge sharpened.

Isn't it?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

You must look within for value, but must look beyond for perspective.

That's the sort of quote you might expect from someone who's written books called The Psychology of Winning and Psychology of Success. He's called Denis Waitley, by the way, and I must very grudgingly admit that he's right and that I should listen to his words of wisdom.

Yep, Flimsy is my middle name.

I think it's partly to do with working from home. Some days I don't speak to anyone at all from the moment I sit down at my desk until the time Peter gets home from work.

My brain is a fertile place for growing doubt about my competence. There's no one around to tell me to stop.

That's why it was good, yesterday, to go into work, to meet with my boss, to discover that my writing was valued, to be offered more work, to be told that it was lovely to see me because I smiled...

So, Denis, I failed, didn't I? Actually, I HALF failed because I sought acknowledgement from someone else but that did have the result of giving me some perspective about myself and the way I keep hold of the idea that I'm useless.

Perhaps if I had Jellymeat Whiskas for lunch (other brands available) I might begin to think like that cat?


Tuesday, 13 September 2011

“History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.”

I shall draw a discrete veil over Mark Yost, who said this, due to the fact that he is spending 6½ years behind bars for defrauding investors and banks out of $10.8 million. (Well, look on the bright side; you'll have plenty of time to think up some more quotes, won't you, Mr. Yost?)

His views about history are mine. Or mine are his, whichever way you like to look at it.

I hated history at school and gave it up at the earliest possible opportunity. 

Here are the only two facts I can remember:

1. We used to call our history teacher Prehistoric Bunny.


The poor woman (Miss Smith) had buck teeth and a twitchy nose. Her expression was often one of 'rabbit caught in the headlights', too, when faced by hordes of merciless little girls like me.

 It wasn't until I became a teacher myself that I realised how cruel we had been. Sorry, Miss Smith.

2. I got into dreadful trouble for defiling a text book. Each year we were issued with our new volume then we were expected to cover it. To protect it. On this occasion, while cutting the brown paper I accidentally hacked through the book at the same time. If you've never seen a Prehistoric Bunny get Very Angry, then Don't Bother. It was scary. It must have been, because I still remember it.

So...that was history at school....

But now, my main main job as a writer - one that I'm paid for, that is - is all about history and I love it.

I love it because it's about people. Ordinary people who found themselves caught up in a world war and displayed extraordinary courage, sacrificing their lives for their country.

I work for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, producing their educational material for them. Yesterday, I was researching the story of Indian mule companies being evacuated from Dunkirk. The distraught men, who had accompanied their mules safely all the way from Bombay, had to leave them behind on the beaches. My heart bled.

I love history! If only I had known it was about ordinary people (and animals) when I was at school. I thought it was about dates and battles and kings and queens...

Perhaps Prehistoric Bunny has something to answer for after all?