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2 December 2021

JEAN’S WAR

I was sad to hear that in May 2021 Jean Pratt (nee Mabbett) died at the age of 89, just one week short of her 90th birthday in Cahagnes, near Caen. Twelve years ago, Jean’s daughter, Alison, contacted me to say that during the Second World War, Jean and her sister were evacuated from Southampton to Wincanton. At that time, our house in Bayford was owned by two farmers – the Creed brothers who had a small 12 acre farm near Wincanton with cows, chickens and eight beehives. The evacuees arrived at Wincanton train station and the kindly Creed brothers and their housekeeper, Minnie Day, took the girls to their new home at Bayford Hill Farm. The house in 1940 was freezing in Winter with only one fire allowed to be lit on Sundays. There was an outside toilet (now the potting shed). Nowadays, even with central heating and solar roof panels, it is a difficult house to keep warm.

Bayford Hill Farm in 1965

This is the account written by Jean about her evacuation and war years in Wincanton:
‘On the 1st September 1939, at the age of 9, I along with my sisters aged 11 and 13, said goodbye to our family, with our gas masks and labels tied to our coats saying who we were and where we were from, and joined hundreds of others in what is now known as “Operation Pied Piper.”
Unfortunately, there was no merry Piper leading the way with music, but plenty of misery from the children. We did not know where we were going, when or if we would see our parents again, or when we would return. It all depended on Germany, who, as we all know, ignored the ultimatum to get out of Poland.
We had left Southampton via Mount Pleasant School from the Terminus Station, and arrived not long afterwards at Christchurch, Hampshire, only twenty-five miles away, but unlikely to be bombed.
And so on the 3rd September, as we were all packed in to Christchurch Priory for the news & a service, we heard the announcement that the country was at war, and we knew we would not be on the next train home!
My older sister Gwen & I were billeted with a young couple, who had a boy of 4 and a girl of 2. It was a semi-bungalow of two bedrooms, so we were packed in a bit tight, but we were treated very kindly by the couple who were from the Isle of Man. We ate a lot of fried food & went out regularly on the couple’s motor boat which was a novelty.
One Sunday we all piled into the family car, an open top Austin 7, and all seven of us went to see our parents at Southampton for the day. Two of us sat on the edge where the hood came up. No ‘Health & Safety’ in those days!! Not much point with bombs about to fall.
By Christmas, as nothing untoward had happened, we all returned home to Southampton, and life resumed.
Until June 1940, after Dunkirk.
One day, my sister Cynthia and I, along with my father, went along to the nearby school where dirty, exhausted French and Belgian soldiers lay on the floor of the hall. We gave them some chocolate bars. We were a very poor family, but I don’t remember any others who could afford it coming in with anything!!
When France surrendered, it was time to leave again, as Invasion was imminent, and the South Coast was the most likely to be invaded first.
On 28th June 1940 Cynthia and I assembled at Mount Pleasant School once again, with gas mask & label, and we went this time from the Central Station.
Our train arrived late afternoon at a small country town station called Wincanton, which is in Somerset.
Leaving the train in a neat line, the town was lined up to stare at us as if we had come from Outer Space. Complete Silence!
We were taken to the small school at Stoke Trister, a hamlet three miles away. We sat in the playground on the grass, waiting like cattle to be picked by locals. This time it was just the two of us, and we were to go together as were other couples. An elderly man picked us and we went off with him in his car.
He lived with his older brother (they were both retired farmers) in a large Victorian house on Bayford Hill, with quite a lot of land, including an orchard, chickens and a house cow.’

‘A housekeeper ran the show but she could be very unkind. She was, however, an excellent housekeeper, but not so hot at cooking!
The two men were very kind and treated us very well. We both had bicycles and, had it not been for the housekeeper, we would have been very happy.
After two years, most of the evacuees had returned home, so the rest of us had to attend a school at Wincanton.
We were not liked, especially as our education was ahead of theirs. This meant we had to sit back doing old work so that the others could catch up.
There was a lot of fighting – nearly as violent as across the Channel!
By 1943 the Americans had arrived, and it meant cycling to school amongst the Sherman Tanks, which tended to skid on the road if it rained.
Rationing was unheard of where we lived in Wincanton, and at Christmas we had a huge turkey, and a table groaning with food.
My sister, at 14, started working in a solicitor’s office, and our hosts paid for her to have Shorthand & Typing lessons, while I had piano lessons.
Our time in Somerset gave us a wider experience of life and the countryside.
I learned to cook, make butter, clotted cream, cheese, milk cows, prepare chitterlings, eat sheep’s head, hearts, offal, etc. Using an outside toilet in a stone building, with a bucket under a wooden seat for two, was a novelty.
As was apple picking, harvesting and drinking raw cider with chunks of bread & cheese by the side while the men worked the threshing machine.
In November 1943 we returned to Southampton, and it was not easy waking up and seeing chimneys and roofs.
Meanwhile, my parents and three siblings had a horrendous time, and several times my mother cooked stews in the garden on a makeshift cooker of bricks and wood, when the Gasometer was bombed.
No one thought as to what would happen if they had been killed, and the two of us orphaned, and it is something I could never do.
My schooling had suffered, and in a final exam in 1944 prior to leaving, I was 39th out of a class of 42! Quite a dive from top to bottom!!
We kept in touch with our hosts until their deaths in 1948 & 1953. In their wills, my sister and I were each left £75, which was small fortune to us.
Southampton was bombed regularly until 1943, and then spasmodically.
630 people were killed, and over 900 properties destroyed.
In 1944 my sister and I returned to Wincanton for a short stay, and on the 25th June we went in to the garden to pick some strawberries for tea.
I, being the smallest, was delegated to get under the strawberry net and pick the fruit. I was on my hands and knees when there was a terrible commotion above, and I looked up to see a large bomber on fire and breaking up, falling out of the sky.
The family were running in all directions!
As I was trapped under the netting, I could only flatten myself amongst the plants and cover my head with my hands. It was terrifying.’

The B17 ‘Old Faithful’ which crashed at Snag’s Farm, Wincanton

‘The aircraft crashed two fields away in the yard of Snag’s Farm, but just missing the farm house itself.
All the nine crew were killed.
The aircraft was an American B17 Flying Fortress named ‘Old Faithful’ from 401st Bomber Squadron based at Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire.
The aircraft had been severely damaged by flak while on a diversionary bombing raid on an airfield near Toulouse, France.
The raid drew away German fire from other B17s who were going to drop supplies to the French Resistance.
A memorial to the crew is located on Bayford Hill.’

Old Faithful’s crew members killed on 25th June 1944 in the crash at Wincanton. The gunner, Sgt Cyril Powers, 4th from left in top row survived as he was not flying that day.

14 October 2021

A VISIT TO SCALLOWAY

The sleepy town of Scalloway on the Shetland’s main island is 6 miles west of the island’s biggest town of Lerwick on the east coast. A good network of cheap buses connects the rural communities. The bus from Lerwick to Scalloway takes 25 minutes at a cost of £1.80 and drives through stunning scenery of rolling hills and rugged Shetland ponies. Scalloway is a small town, population of 1200, with unassuming houses bordering the fishing port. Shops are few but include a traditional butcher selling local Shetland delicacies, including reestit mutton and sassermeat as well a range of black, white and fruit puddings alongside local butchered beef and lamb. As a sideline, the butcher sells toys for children.

From previous visits, I recalled a couple of pubs and an interesting museum dedicated to the wartime exploits of the Shetland Bus. This was a joint venture started in 1940 between the Norwegian resistance and the British Secret Service to conduct raids into German occupied Norway. Their efforts ferried in arms and supplies, rescued partisans or conducted saboteur operations. The Norwegians based on the Shetland Islands used Scalloway as their base for daring raids across the north sea in small fishing boats. The museum in the town has now moved to a larger premises just outside town. It is only open in the Summer months (closed October -April). However, the original HQ for the Norwegian resistance still stands beside Prince Olaf slipway, where the boats departed on winter nights for their raids. Many of the boats and their crews never returned and they record their names on a memorial stone in the Main Street.

Prince Olaf Slipway


The guide books mention Scalloway Castle built in 1600 by the evil Earl Patrick Stewart, notorious for his cruelty and oppression of the local population. Folklore stories record the last witches of Scotland, Barbara Tulloch, and her daughter Ellen King were imprisoned in the castle before their execution on Gallows Hill in 1690. After hanging, they incinerated their bodies to make sure no evil could persist. By inference, Earl Stewart seems to get the blame for this, but unjustly. The Stewarts got a bit too powerful and annoyed James VI and the church so much that the evil Earl was tried for treason and executed by beheading in Edinburgh in 1615. With such a dramatic past, it is no wonder Scalloway now enjoys quiet times with just the occasional visit from a few tourists.

Out of town a rewarding but long walk leads via a single track road, the B9074, alongside the lochs of Tingwall and Asta. You may encounter an occasional car, but the grassy fields furthest from the loch are full of huge numbers of grazing whooper swans and greylag geese. By the loch are eider duck, cormorants, oyster catcher and ringed plover. In the damp fields tired looking Shetland ponies stand still as the chilly wind snaps their patience.
Between Lochs Tingwall and Asta is the Asta golf club, Scotlands’s most northerly 9 hole course. Beside the road is a prominent standing stone 2m in height, which is a Scheduled Monument. Historic Environment Scotland believes it to date from the second or third millennium BC, possibly even older than Stonehenge. Local legend has tagged the monolith ‘The Murder Stone’ because, some claim, it is the spot where Earl Henry of Orkney and his followers killed his cousin Malise Sperra in 1389 during a skirmish. One account maintains they erected the stone after the murder to remember the dastardly deed which puts the age of the stone thousands of years later than that claimed by the archaeologists. Was there an 14th century tradition of erecting huge granite memorial stones? Or was it more likely that Henry of Orkney sent a message to his cousin to meet up for a friendly chat at the big stone near Tingwall loch?

Mesolithic Standing Stone near Tingwall Loch

Heading north up the road to Loch Tingwall, there is a spit of land extending into the loch with a pile of stones. This is said to be the site of the Shetlands lawthing or parliament where the local tribes congregated on neutral land to plan laws such as trade sanctions against the Orkneys, land disputes, attitude to immigrants – in fact anything that worried them until 1570 when someone had the idea of shifting to Lerwick where the weather was better. In the 1700s ruthless land owners tore up all vestiges of the Tingwall parliament, that early cradle of democracy, and the land returned to the sheep. One can only hope a similar fate awaits our present lawmakers.

Abandoned site of Old Norse Parliament at Tingwall

Close to the old parliament site is an old church at the top of a hill called Tingwall Kirk. This peaceful and atmospheric building dates from 1790, so it is quite new. The previous pre-Reformation church of St Magnus stood on this site and dates back to the 12th century. The ancient graveyard staring out over the desolate landscape must contain the remains of all previous worshippers. Clearly the deceased now out-number the living. On the day of my visit, the church was locked. The website shows it still runs a Sunday service.

Tingwell Kirk

23 September 2021

FREE BOOK PROMOTION SITES. ARE THEY WORTH IT?

Since the Covid pandemic and the associated lockdowns, most retail businesses have endured great hardship and a struggle to survive. In the bookshop sector there has been a decline in sales of hardbooks and paperbacks but, in contrast,  sales of ebooks have surged with sales up 17% this year to reverse the downward spiral of six years of declining sales.

Sales of devices to read ebooks on Kindle or tablet have also shown a growth spurt with 19% of adults now owning an e-reader, so this is no longer the preserve of millennials.

However, many of us still prefer to read from an actual book with pages to turn and lull us to sleep. Persistance to complete a chapter is a milestone. Is the book driving us on to read more? Or is our attention wandering as, with a tired yawn, we give up the struggle?

During the Covid pandemic,  the option to order online and have an ebook downloaded or to wait for your order to be delivered to your door has been a lifesaver for many unwilling to leave their homes.

To boost orders for my book ‘Hostage to Freedom: The Search for the Siren’ I enrolled in Amazon KDP Select, which allows authors to give away free copies of their ebook for a period of up to 5 days over a three-month period. Various reviews claimed that orders for free stuff lead to astronomic demand and a rise to the top of the Amazon best-sellers list! Having booked a 3 day run in mid-September, I then realised that no one knew about my free promotion. Even my family was in the dark,  but they all had copies of my book already (Free author issue) and I did not want to endure the humiliation of emailing all my cousins and friends yet again. Same story with Facebook and Twitter – you can’t keep boring people with pictures of your paperback even when you add clever graphics and music.

Help was at hand with loads of sites, happy to feature my free promotion. Many offered a free listing featuring my book description, author bio and links back to the free Amazon posting for the 3 day promotion. However, in most cases, the details were hidden away and extra payment was required to be listed on the website or mentioned in the daily listings and newsletters. The extra cost of guaranteed listing or prominent publicity varied from an extra  $5 – $10  to more expensive packages. For example,  TCK Publishing promised a newsletter promotion to 175,000, emails sent out to 15,000 and active subscribers to their website of 100,000,000 readers who would all see details of my book for a special promotion price of $29. It sounded brilliant. What could go wrong?

Clearly, they did not want to waste time  with newcomers such as myself with just 3x 5 star reviews and  1x 5 star global rating on Amazon. The entry level requirement to accept my business was a requirement for 10 reviews on Amazon, with an average rating of 4.0 stars. No problem- I will be back.

Next I did notice that many of those sites keen to feature my novel  had strange names like Pretty-Hot.com (Home to the Hottest Books on the Planet), Awesome gang, and BookBongo. In fact, most of these sites did have some  good-looking novels amongst the YA, Science Fiction and Dystopia, Fantasy, mild erotica and Christian content.

I fine tuned my selection down to sites that were truly free and had a well presented, easy to navigate website with some decent-looking offerings. The best of these feature a free listing plus the bonus of keeping your book posted for 6 months at the full retail price.

I only discovered two UK sites claiming to offer free promotion.

Book Angel at http://bookangel.co.uk   features ebooks from Amazon Kindle on their free promotion days. Their newsletter has 9,684 readers and 5,047 trade subscribers. If you list your book, they may review it for free and say they will be utterly truthful and sometimes harsh!

It is very easy to submit your book for a free run. Besides your name and email address, they request the books ASIN, dates of free listing and genre. They posted the details online very fast.

I also tried Hellobooks.com at https://www.hellobooks.com  which is a UK site based in Salisbury. However, they failed to complete my listing in time and were pushing for $25 a week for promotion.

The other  sites who featured my book prominently on their website included:  

The Book-Circle at https://www.book-circle.com. Offers a free listing on their homepage to those they decide to feature. They claim to only select  5 ebooks a day for the homepage,  but they listed me along with 28 other books. They also offer various promotion packages, which include listing in their newsletter and on Facebook. Certainly worth a try.

BestbookMonkey.com at https://www.bestbookmonkey.com listed my book under literary fiction and I accepted a $3.95 promotion deal to be included in their newsletter.

Indiebooklounge.com at http://indiebooklounge.com featured my book immediately for free and listed my book under Suspense and Thriller.

Awesome Gang.com at http://awesomegang.com allowed a very long book description but featured it under a New Book  section on their website rather than free ebook deal . They  featured various promotion deals and discounts. A bit pushy.

Discountbookman.com at http://discountbookman.com  is part of the awesome gang family. They featured my novel on the first page of their website with a very good listing.

If you have money to splurge and want guaranteed results, look no further than BookBub.

Other paid promotion sites worth a try include Goodreads, TCK Publishing and many more.

 The result of my 3 day free giveaway was interesting:  Orders were placed from U.S.A (80%), U.K (12%) and the rest from Canada, Australia, Denmark and Brazil. If a few reviews result, it will have been a worthwhile exercise. The first day of the promotion was very good, the next two not so good. It is useful to check sales every hour or two on KDP Reports and push some publicity on Twitter and Facebook but I was away at sea at the time and the internet broke down so I was out-of-touch with progress which was very frustrating.

25 August 2021

SINGLISH

Singlish is the everyday conversational language used in Singapore. It has roots in a mixture of language and dialects with contributions from English, Malay, Tamil and the many Chinese dialects, including Mandarin, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and more.

The result is a vibrant, living language which has evolved despite the Singapore Government’s desire for everyone to conform and speak  ‘correct English’ .

The list below is an introduction to some of the more common words, although it is important thing to realise Singlish cannot be learnt as though it is in a tourist phrase book. The patois is a dynamic, spoken language which Singaporeans bring to life.

I use many of the words in my book, ‘Hostage to Freedom: The Search for the Siren.’

To discover more, including many humourous and vulgar expressions, refer to:

http://www.mysmu.edu/faculty/jacklee

Or why not delve into the novel ‘Sarong Party Girls’ by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan to see how Singaporeans really talk amongst themselves!

Act blur:  used by Singaporeans to describe people who are stupid, confused or slow to catch on.

Ah Beng:   a youth perceived to be loutish and uncouth who follows fashion trends. We use Ah Lian as the girl counterpart. Both groups can be clannish and threatening.

Ah Chek:  a middle-aged or elderly man. Often called ‘uncle’. An Ah Soh is the female equivalent more usually referred to as ‘Auntie.

Ah Gua:  used to describe effeminate, gay behaviour.

Aiyah/Aiyoh:  an exclamation used at the start of a sentence to express consternation, dismay, or exasperation.

Ang Moh:  a Caucasian, a white person. In Cantonese, a red-haired devil. But not meant as an insult.

Atas:  arrogant, snobbish or highbrow, sophisticated.

Babok:  an effeminate male.

Bo Chap:  an indifferent type who cannot be bothered.

Bogay:  a person with missing teeth or toothless.

Bungalow:  in Singapore, a bungalow is a detached house, regardless of how many storeys as opposed to the English usage of a single-storey house.

Chao:  dirty, rotten, foul smelling.

Char Siew rice: Chinese boneless lean pork seasoned with five-spice powder, soya sauce, rice wine and barbecued or roasted. Served with rice as a staple meal in hawker centres.

Chicken rice:  Hainanese chicken rice poached in chicken stock , or roasted and seasoned with soya sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil and served with the stock, chillies, soya sauce and sliced cucumber. Singapore’s best known dish.

Chio:  good-looking, attractive.

Chiong:  to rush or hurry.

Chop chop:  Singlish term used to hurry people up.

Five-foot way:  a covered corridor or walkway in front of a row of shophouses, typically five feet in width.

Five-spice powder:  a mixture of star anise, fennel, clove, cinnamon and black pepper used in Chinese cooking.

Guniang:  a young woman.

Gwailo:  an insulting  Cantonese term for white people meaning ‘foreign devil’ or ‘ghost man’, but in modern usage it is less derogatory.

Hawker centre:  an open air location or covered structure containing a variety of stalls selling food and beverages prepared by hawkers to a shared seating area. We term ones within shopping centres, Food Courts.

Hiau:  Hokkien for sexy. As in ‘Wah, she damn hiau’. Also means vain.

Ikan bilis:  dried and salted whitebait. Often served with salted peanuts as a snack while drinking Tiger beer.

Jalan-jalan:  to take a leisurely walk. Useful phrase when accosted by copy watch sellers to show you have no intention of buying.

Jelak:  full up feeling from over-eating to the point of repulsion such as having too much coconut milk.

Kailan:  a delicious young species of Chinese kale stir-fried in soya or oyster sauce.

Kampong:  small Malay settlement in a rural area with a cluster of traditional houses, now mostly destroyed in Singapore to make way for HDB tower blocks.

Kopitiam:  refers to an old style coffee shop selling coffee, tea, beverages and breakfast items such as char kway tiao, Hokkien mee and nasi lemak.

Kiasu:  someone over-cautious and selfish with reluctance to take any risks. In extreme cases, kiasuism overcomes the individual.

Lah:  used at the end of words or phrases for emphasis. Don’t worry about it, lah!

Mabok:  an intoxicated person. ‘If the mabok ang moh causes trouble,call the police.’

Makan: food, a meal or to take a meal. ‘For makan I want to get extra fishballs lah,

Pasar malam:  a night market with a large range of stall holders. Mainly restricted to official tourist focused events by the Singapore River during festival periods.

Sarong party girl:  a young woman who is a keen and frequent part-goer. Branded SPGs because of their brazen lack of attire and pursuit of expatriates.

Satay:  a delicious Malay dish comprising pieces of meat (chicken, beef or lamb) marinated in spices, placed on wood skewers and barbecued over a charcoal fire. Served with satay sauce made from ground peanuts and ketupat (a compressed rice cake wrapped in a banana leaf) and served with slices of cucumber and red onion.

Shiok:  damn attractive, pleasing, delightful, delicious, bold, brazen, superb, desirable. Applied to both people and food.

Singlish:  colloquial English as used in Singapore. A mix of Malay, Chinese, Tamil and Pidgin English.

Wa  lau:  a mild expression of annoyance like ‘oh dear!’

Wa  lan:  a vulgar expression of Hokkien origin.

Wayang:  a puppet theatre or Chinese operatic show.

Yum seng:  an exclamation before downing an alcoholic drink; Cheers! Bottoms up!