Random ramblings

One man’s meat…

One time when staying at Thierry’s house in the foothills of the Pyrenees, he decided to further my culinary education after hearing that I had never experienced steak tartar – and an experience is exactly what it turned out to be!

I’m not a great meat-eater although by no means vegetarian, but I’m very wary of meat dishes served in France as pretty much everything goes in. During one hangar meal on an early visit to the gyro club, one of our small group of English friends remarked on a particularly chewy morsel that he was having difficulty with. Further delving into his generous helping of cassoulet, he was shocked to fish out a pig’s ear! Personally, it’s the pinkly oozing cuts of meat bleeding into the gravy that turn my stomach, as French companions eagerly set to with knife and fork. Meat is invariably served rare, which to English sensibilities is practically raw. Inversely, a request for bien cuit (well-done in carnivorous terms) is regarded with horror by the French as burnt! So when Thierry decided that I was to be introduced to this gastronomic wonder of steak tartar, I was somewhat apprehensive, envisaging a bloody slice of some unfortunate creature with all the fat and gristly bits still attached and flash-fried in a pan for the briefest of brownings. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The kitchen was a hive of activity later that afternoon with great preparations afoot, much to my dismay. They were taking so much trouble to do something nice for me, how could I get through this without causing offence? The table was set beautifully in front of the wide-open hearth where a pile of logs burned merrily in the grate. It was witching hour. The four of us took our places in the warm glow of the firelight – three French diners relaxed over aperitifs in genial anticipation of a good meal – and one cowardly English gripping a fruit juice in a state of mild panic!

Well the melon for starters was delicious and I would have quite happily called it quits right there. Imagination had been working overtime but I had no idea of what was coming, so when Thierry proudly arrived with plates bearing mounds of raw mince and onion, each crowned with the golden yolk of a raw egg, I sensed a practical joke in the offing. He had to be kidding, didn’t he? My companions set about their mounds with a flurry of seasoning and sauces, which they proceeded to mash into a pink and sticky mess. Whaaat??? Seeing my confusion, Thierry explained that the blend of onions, sauces and seasoning would ‘cook’ the meat and egg after a few minutes of mixing. Okaaaay… I applied salt and pepper to my unappetising mound as instructed, passing on the fiery selection of chillies and pimentos, and mashed everything into a pink and sticky mess of my own. It didn’t look any better. After a few minutes pause, presumably to allow the ‘cooking’ process to do its thing (wouldn’t want to over cook it now, heaven forbid!), my friends tucked in appreciatively.

I didn’t want to be rude after all the work that’d been done on my behalf, but I couldn’t help but think of salmonella and other such unsavoury microbes associated with raw meat and eggs – or maybe that’s what the chillies were for – to nuke the bugs into submission. I sent my mind out for a stroll around the block to keep it occupied, and scooped a blob of pink goo onto my fork. Admittedly, it wasn’t as totally repulsive as expected in a raw mince kind of vibe, but ‘delicious’ was not a word that was immediately apparent. I failed to achieve the same sense of enjoyment as my fellow diners, who were obviously in gastronomical heaven and clearing their plates with enthusiasm. I managed to keep a few mouthfuls down before they took pity on the callow anglais and graciously polished off the remains between them, while Thierry very kindly conjured up a plate of fried eggs for me instead. France 1, England 0.

Snails. Why would anyone willingly eat snails? How deep would the hunger pangs have to run before throwing a snail in the pot? Strangely, slugs are not revered in the same way as far as I’m aware. Slugs presumably return home after a hard day in the vegetable patch, whereas snails park up wherever the fancy takes them – the caravan clubbers of the mollusc world. In terms of food, snails are filed under the same pointless category as oysters. And are those unfortunate creatures still alive when they get swallowed? Doesn’t bear thinking about.

‘You have never had snails!’ came the cry of disbelief. Oddly it was Thierry again. ‘Cover them in garlic butter, mmm delicious’ he enthused. Right, so clearly the garlic butter provides all the flavour to detract from chewing on a slimy garden mollusc with the consistency of a rubber tyre. Fine, so we can dispense with the snail and I’ll just take the garlic butter, please. ‘But you must try them, they are a delicacy!’ Oh god.

My French friends are the best in the world. Thierry disappeared that afternoon on a special mission to provide a banquet of l’escargots for my delectation. I was mortified. If the steak tartar had made me nervous, the thought of chewing on a snail filled me with horror. How could I swallow it without throwing up! Now I have no problem at all with snails in ordinary every day life: I pluck them from harms way lest an inattentive boot or tyre shatter their leisurely progress, and cringe with genuine remorse at the sound of an unseen shell cracking beneath my foot. I’m fine with snails – just don’t want them on my plate is all.

Thierry was gone for over an hour, leaving me to stew queasily over the impending rubbery feast. I really wasn’t happy, fixated by the thought of their eyes, those oozing stalks extending like periscopes from the slimy body – ew! But salvation was at hand. My good-hearted friend returned empty handed, lamenting the lack of suitably fresh molluscs with which to expand my gastronomical education, and although frozen specimens were readily available (the mind boggles) they just didn’t cut the mustard in comparison. I hid my disappointment with some difficulty. What a relief, that really wouldn’t have ended well!

I’m not sure Thierry was being completely honest though – I reckon he just couldn’t catch them…

Random ramblings

Vive la différence

Driving down through the back roads of France, I never fail to be struck by just how massive a country it is. You can literally go for miles (or kilomètres) and not see a soul. Tiny communities appear without warning, widely scattered in the vast rural countryside. Narrow streets deserted, tightly bordered by higgledy-piggledy houses with windows invariably shuttered to the outside world. A cloud of dust hanging in the air marks a distant tractor at work, the only hint of life. Fields stretch as far as the eye can see, a rich palette of colours packed full with nature’s bounty. The bright scarlet of wild poppies enhance pale golden swathes of cereal, a timeless memorial to the blood spilled for this now peaceful land. The vine-covered slopes display every verdant hue, and the vibrant yellow of hemp and sunflower adds a joyous touch against a wide canvas of the bluest sky. And everywhere you look, there’s food.

No space is wasted. Plump cattle and goats graze serenely on lush grass, while hens, geese and ducks waddle and scratch freely in contentment. Woods and forest shelter plentiful game: pigeon, rabbits, pheasants and elusive deer. Scars of raw earth attest to the transient foraging of wild boar. Trees and hedges offer fruit, nuts and berries, and rivers team with fish – food just comes up and taps you on the shoulder. It’s no wonder the French take such pleasure from dining. How different to my tiny sceptred isle, bursting at the seams with a population it can no longer sustain. It’s said that any society is only a few meals away from anarchy, but while the proud and volatile French never shy from protesting their rights, they have no fear of starvation in this abundant land.

So when a scrawny 48 kilo anglais arrives in their midst, chaos naturally ensues. Not programmed to eat multiple-course meals at set hours, I (like many Brits) graze on the hoof when prompted by a demanding stomach. Not hungry, don’t eat. This causes total bewilderment to my French friends (and I love them dearly!), but when time is as limited as mine always is down there, I don’t want to waste it sitting around eating, especially if I’m still stuffed to the gills from the previous meal. There’s no such thing as a quick snack!

This is actual heresy. Twice I was rounded up from the flight line where I was happily filling my camera with unique and wonderful rotorcraft, and herded protesting to the dining table to fill my poor tum instead. Five courses halfway through the day when temperatures were hovering around the high end of the twenties was more than I could – er – stomach. Consequently when corralled for the evening meal, I just couldn’t manage another morsel. Quelle horreur! This was beyond all comprehension bless them, they just didn’t understand. Was I ill? Did I not like what was on offer? Would I prefer to have something else cooked? Some cheese then? Perhaps a slice of apple tart? I absolutely know they meant well, but it was relentless. It was mealtime – how could I possibly not want to eat?

The last day of my stay before heading north coincided with a large family function, a feast to which I was also kindly invited. Not wishing to intrude and having been under their feet for two weeks already, I thought to slip away early and leave them in peace while I spent the precious final day with my gyroplane. Caught in the act of escape that morning, I was actually pursued down the length of the driveway by a frowning countenance scolding me not only for missing breakfast, but declining to take half the contents of the fridge with me for lunch! Munching a snack with one hand while engaging in something more useful with the other is a totally alien concept to my friends, and I – their only experience of a captive anglais – am disturbingly alien at times.

Eating in France is a very sociable affair. Everyone gathers round à la table for several hours to share the pleasures of dining – and to which I conform to please for most of the time. While they really appreciate their food and make great effort over the most casual meal, that’s not to accuse them of gluttony in any way, shape or form. It’s just a very different culture to the heathen British, whose idea of a picnic is a packet of supermarket sandwiches and maybe a bag of crisps, washed down with a can of pop. After 14 years, I’m still amazed by the amount of food we routinely hike up a Pyrenee as my biannual treat when visiting the gyro club. It seems absurd to my culinary-uncultured English mind to haul the weight of a large loaf, boiled eggs, lettuce, shredded carrot, sardines, cheeses, tomatoes, ham, sausage, cake, biscuits, pots of yoghurt or crème dessert – and don’t forget the two bottles of wine, flask of coffee and two bottles of water! Cups, plates, cutlery and condiments are crammed into any remaining corner and lugged up a mountain for an average three and a half hour trek by the four (and occasionally five) participants. The first time I helped them pack for a pique-nique, I genuinely thought they were joking. To be fair, on the last hike they did limit themselves to one bottle of wine. Like I said, I love these guys! Scrambling up a Pyrenee aching in every limb to feast beside a thundering waterfall of purest melted snow – in an avalanche zone with several hundred tons of rock poised overhead – it really puts life into perspective. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Great friends, I’m so lucky. They are comical though and no doubt, I unwittingly am as equally entertaining to them! The opportunities for misunderstanding are endless, especially with the strong regional accent which I’ve now learned to differentiate from the northern tones of my audio language lessons. In one particular instance, I was slightly confused by Pierre inquiring if I ate mice, as he proffered a rumpled paper bag. All became clear as he unfolded the top to reveal not a seething mass of rodents, but a wealth of crimson cherries freshly gathered from his garden. To me it sounded like souris, when he was actually saying cerises. It’s a minefield! The boot was firmly on the other foot one evening, when two pals dissolved into laughter after asking me what I was doing outside the hangar. I was sure I had replied correctly that I was watching the bats (chauve-souris), but what they heard was not bats – but chaud-souris – hot mice! It just adds to the fun.

A breathalyser is kept at the gyro club to be produced before heading home of an evening, should the conviviality have surpassed itself. Often they have to wait around and drink coffee for a bit until the levels of alcohol subside. Jean Marie was among those who failed the test one evening after an impromptu session, although none of them were drunk by any means. After half an hour of coffee, he was still considerably over the limit and it was already past midnight – so he handed me the keys. Me who doesn’t drink, but me with no insurance for his vehicle, and me who had only driven a left-hand drive very briefly once before. Despite being half asleep and unsuccessfully (yet repeatedly!) trying to change gear with the window winder, we made it home through the dark at snail’s pace, remarkably unscathed. I was more of a liability than he was, but the logic was exquisite.

I never hoped to find the same camaraderie and grass roots gyroplane enthusiasm again after the loss of St Merryn, but the lovely folk of Bois de la Pierre have accepted us unconditionally which I find extremely touching. It’s an absolute privilege to be with them.

And never fear – they always get their own back!

Random ramblings

Travels with my satnav

May 4th 2008 was the day that I first ventured onto foreign shores in my own vehicle. As usual, gyroplanes were the cause of all the trouble! Three times previously I had visited the annual gyro meet at Bois de la Pierre, near Toulouse in the south of France, and was seriously inspired to make the trip with my own gyroplane one day. It’s heck of a long way down by road and never having driven abroad in a language I can barely speak, I thought it best to see if I was actually capable before exposing my precious flying machine to continental traffic. It went something like this…

After leaving Portsmouth at 23.00 for an exceptionally smooth Channel crossing, the Norman Spirit arrived bang on time in a sunny Le Havre, at 8am Sunday morning. Having passed a somewhat restless night randomly sliding out of my reclining seat, I was an excited bundle of nerves as I watched the ship manoeuvring herself into the dock. The nagging thought occurred as I took in my first view of a deserted France, that here I was, alone on a huge continent hundreds of miles from home, and still many hundreds more from the few people I knew in-country, none of whom spoke English! Matters were not improved when reunited with my little van down in bowels of the ship, I tried to get a fix on the satnav to help us find our way back in twelve days time. Not surprisingly, shielded as we were by several tons of metal, not one satellite made itself known before we were unceremoniously swept into France on a tide of disembarking vehicles. It was all I could do to concentrate on staying to the right side of the road and avoid any turnings that would potentially lead to motorways. I had no idea which way to go – my carefully prepared route out of the city bore no relation to anything I could see. Momentum and fear alone took us through empty streets, until by chance I spotted a nearby park and headed towards it with the desperation of a drowning man to a straw. We’d only been driving for a matter of minutes, but already I felt completely wrung out and seriously doubting my ability to make this trip.

A few people were starting to appear on the streets and dog walkers strolled through the park in the early sunlight. No one paid us any attention but strangely I felt very conspicuous sat there, obviously a foreigner with our UK plates and right hand drive. I ate a few biscuits for breakfast and tried to calm down, mentally taking myself by the scruff of the neck to either sort it out, or spend two weeks in Le Havre and miss the highlight of the year. Well – when I put it like that! We were close to a main trunk road and I could see a big sign, from which I deduced that we were in a suburb called Harfleur. The satnav tried again to find some satellites to talk to and after a worryingly blank few minutes, finally locked on to some healthy signals. I gathered what remained of my shattered wits and began to pick out a route on the map. Given the mind-bogglingly massive size of France, along with its metric measurements, I had no clear idea of timescale other than to arrive at Bois de la Pierre on Thursday evening, preferably via Millau to see the new bridge if I could find it. It looked heck of a long metric way away.

Somewhat calmer now that we had satellite assistance, I took inspiration from a certain book and decided to take it stage by stage (or rather page by page) and tackle the journey in short hops, giving wide berth to any area that looked large, urban and complicated. Three years earlier as a passenger along with my companions, we’d followed a mainly motorway almost due south route which I still basically remembered. Now I was pilot in command, I wanted to stick to smaller quiet roads and take a more easterly track than before – but we had to start somewhere. I programmed the satnav for a Rouen direction avoiding motorways like the plague (the actual option available was somewhat less explicit, unfortunately), took a deep breath and gingerly pointed the van back towards civilisation.

I’ve never used a satnav before, but then I’d never driven outside of the UK before and had been really worried about forgetting to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, especially at roundabouts and junctions. After the initial terror of disembarking, however, I settled relatively quickly into the new regime and tucked the offside wheels into the right hand kerb with determined intimacy – I wasn’t going to overtake for anything! There were plenty of other hazards to worry about. The satnav was purely an audio aid, as being fully occupied with trying to remember speed limits in kilometres and concentrate on the inner dial of the speedo so as not to lapse into mph, I didn’t dare risk the distraction of trying to follow the display. Overhead traffic lights were a new and startling concept – never expecting to see them up there – and frequently didn’t! It was a good thing that the roads were still quiet as I began to learn about continental driving the hard way.

We wound our way through a housing estate, bouncing over speed ramps and gradually emerged into open country. A huge modern concrete bridge towered above us carrying the motorway towards Paris. I began to feel a bit better as we left the ‘burbs behind, taking it steady, totally dependent on the satnav to guide us. So it was, about an hour later that we found ourselves directed into a small and lifeless industrial estate and ordered to ‘Take the ferry’ to which the immediate response was what ferry??? I drove round the block in all possible directions, but there was a definite lack of water and no signs to indicate anything remotely nautical, so I parked on some waste ground next to a cluster of recycling bins to have words with my navigator. Further requests for a Rouen type course were met with repeated instructions to ‘Take the ferry,’ but the onscreen directions didn’t seem to know where this mythical vessel was either. Faced with implacable computer logic, I studied the map once more, chose a different aiming point in the same direction as Rouen and what d’you know, the obsession with imaginary ferries vanished.

It was not yet mid morning but the heat was relentless. Making our way into a deserted narrow town, I stopped at a T-junction where the main traffic lights had been replaced by a temporary set. A red light was showing and suddenly a flashing amber lit up beneath it. There was no green light. I remembered that flashing amber meant proceed with caution, but red for stop and flashing amber at the same time could seriously confuse a stupid person! Fortunately the only other car on the road appeared behind us and its impatient beep was encouragement enough to proceed.

A love/hate relationship began to develop with the satnav after being directed the wrong way up several one way streets, or catapulted onto a peage when I’d programmed to avoid motorways: my stress levels rocketed as we were funnelled into a row of automated barriers from which there was no escape, and all naturally arranged for the convenience of left-hand drive vehicles. I grabbed the keys and ran round to the machine on the passenger side, which spat out a ticket and immediately raised the barrier as I scuttled back to start the van, expecting a karate chop to the roof in punishment for my tardiness as we squeaked through. Then I had to do it all again to get off at the next exit! Imagine that with the gyro on the back as well.

Street markets (of which there are many in France) and diversions completely flummoxed the satnav, eliciting repeated demands of Turn around when possible in a tone that seemed to get more and more irate. The stubborn device was determined to herd us back to the barricaded road, until I learned to head off in the nearest available direction until the querulous voice finally fell silent after several miles and grudgingly worked out a new route. No doubt the total mileage was substantially increased by frequent unplanned excursions into the wilds, trusting to the whims of my electronic companion – I had no idea where we were most of the time – but I would never have made it by map reading alone. My little van has been in places it was never meant to go!

I copy the following from notes written on my very first evening alone in France, under my own steam…

After the fear and stress of today, my first solo journey in foreign lands, a simple lay-by provides a tranquil oasis and I feel completely at ease now. Clear bird song echoes all around and only the occasional grumble of passing traffic disturbs the scene. The sun’s rays are gentle now after the searing heat of the day and I’m sitting at a concrete picnic bench bathing in its warm glow, watching the birds busy feasting on the insects that swarm all around. Beautiful trees shade my little van; not tall but bushy with small, dark crimson leaves shaped like the Canadian Maple. To my left, a thick green wood runs down the valley. The river Cher maybe ¾ mile away, like a swathe of the palest blue silk winding its way through the fields. Pastel shaded meadows are lined with verdant woods of rich deep greens. A town on the opposite bank provides the only eyesore of industrial units. A wonderful old manor house nestles at the foot of the hill below me, almost Cotswold stone in colour, but classic French style. A row of arched Gothic windows and one large round one like a Tudor rose makes me wonder if it’s a priory of some sort (driving on next morning, I find a nearby signpost – it is indeed, an abbey). A grand avenue of sturdy trees line the drive, their foliage and lower branches all neatly levelled bringing to mind a row of fair weather cumulus. Heavy white cattle graze the meadows, and bright yellow patches of hemp in the distance recall the day’s drive down through northern France, and the huge open fields of startling yellows and greens. Are those trees Copper Beeches, I wonder. Mum would’ve known – and how she would’ve loved this adventure! A terrible waste to have all this beauty to myself and no one to share it with. The grass is thick with buttercups and daisies, and just a touch of warm breeze brings a scent of pollen to the nostrils as it ruffles their delicate coloured heads. The sun is slowly working its way around to the west, but any fiery display will be hidden behind the hill down which we came to rest. Very tired now, a stressful day but here we are 300 miles on fuelled by fear and momentum alone, yet no major carnage so far. At least I have some idea of what to expect now – unlike this morning! I almost chickened out in that park, I was so scared.

I well remember how terrified I was that first day abroad all alone – and the huge sense of achievement on arriving in Millau the following day, seeing the delicate web of the viaduc spanning the gorge above the town. After a few days of exploring, we finally made it to Bois de la Pierre – my little van, the satnav and me – and the next year we did it all again with my gyroplane hitched on behind. I was so chuffed with myself!

We’re going again next week. My little van, the satnav and me…

Random ramblings

Enjoying the moment

Another one from the archives…

Sitting here on a deserted Cornish airfield, I feel totally at peace; deeply connected to those who have gone before, their echoes never leave. The sky above is deep blue, gently fading to paler shades towards the horizon, decorated by a few feathery wisps and blobs of cloud. The faded windsock barely stirs in the warm breath of air and hangs limply from its pole like a wilted flower. Directly overhead, the sun is briefly filtered by a passing cloud, a fierce white orb burning through the depths of downy fleece. All is quiet except for the drone of insects going about their business, the cheerful twitterings of skylarks feeding on the wing and crickets chirping in the grass. Hay bales dot the fields between the runways, silent sentinels waiting patiently for collection. Rabbits creep into vision from burrows deep inside the bramble thickets, cropping the sun-browned grass ever shorter. The brambles that shield their homes are heavy with ripening blackberries, almost covering the blockwork of the old air raid shelter in front of me.

Delta-J is parked beside me, her bright red pod a splash of colour amid the late summers day. Her tank is full and she’s all checked out ready to go, but I’m in no rush to fly, happy just to be here in the place I love beyond all other, enjoying the solitude. The old tower building which houses our hangar stands tall behind me, empty sightless windows gazing out into the infinite blue. It’s too nice to spoil the moment with engine noise, the spell would be broken. Respect the silence while it lasts. I hate the thought that one day this precious oasis of mine will be gone, all the history destroyed by voracious construction, buried under carpets of tarmac and concrete. Greedy eyes covet this wonderful open space and dream of filling it with caravans, holiday homes or supermarkets. Sacrilege. Leave it alone, true to the purpose it was made for. What it is with humans? Ravaging the Earth, hell bent on destruction, never satisfied until the last square inch has been plundered and desecrated, lost forever. I hate my species.

Around the side of the tower, a microcosm of time triumphs over us puny creatures. It restores my balance and I treasure it, a shield to ward off the inevitable fate. Nature has all but reclaimed what was once the signal square, a thick carpet of ivy bars my path, choked with briar, gorse and nettles. A hurried rustling in the undergrowth as rabbits take fright at my footsteps and bolt for the safety of their holes. Rusted iron rings that once secured the bracing wires of the signal mast are still embedded in the concrete beneath the derelict red brick tower – if you know where to look amongst the foliage which has encroached a good ten feet over the past few years. Homo sapiens are insignificant in the great scheme of things, our existence a mere blink of the eye, a virus on the face of our planet to be shrugged off like a dose of the flu. Nature will prevail, time is on her side.

St. Merryn sky

It’s hot now. The turbines on the hill overlooking the airfield turn half heartedly like unwound clocks, each one pointing in a random direction as if uncertain of which way to go. The huge blades move lazily as if the effort of turning is all too much. St Eval church squats on the horizon to the right, the spider web of aerials marking St Merryn’s wartime twin, not yet under the threat of destruction – not since the war anyway. Fields of russet and green patchwork the land in between, rising up to meet the perfect blue of the sky. Lines of golden hay bales dot the landscape like giant swiss rolls. It’s too peaceful to fly today. Let it be.

Random ramblings

Just when you think it’s safe…

So you put in years of effort slaving over a hot keyboard, trying to decipher pages of hastily scribbled notes on what seemed like good ideas at the time – if only you could remember the context. Seasons pass by unheeded as disjointed paragraphs are battered into submission, rounded up and herded into chapters that begin to form something vaguely resembling a manuscript. Life is confined to the margins of the page, scrutinising endless lines of type for elusive errors until the familiar pink elephants begin their march across the screen, trampling the remains of your sanity and failing eye sight.

But you hung in there and now it’s done! The elephants have packed their trunks and the pigs have taken wing, performing joyful aerobatics in celebration. Sacrifice a large chunk of the bank balance for the cause, and the moment has finally arrived when all the labour pains and swearing produces the small wad of tightly bound paper wrapped in a crisp new cover, clutched proudly in your hot little hand.

Do you become the author’s equivalent of a baby bore? Can’t resist touching it, admiring it from all angles, bombarding family and friends with photos of your name on the cover, and regaling them for the umpteenth time how you cleverly resolved Chapter No-One-Cares after weeks of suffering from a particularly obstinate writer’s block. Nah.

Or were you somewhat disappointed that the end result wasn’t as perfectly formed as you had hoped? An important part of your cover design compromised to meet a deadline; the photographs not arranged to their best advantage, another compromise dictated by time constraints. So it wasn’t love at first sight, unfortunately.

The overwhelming sentiment in my case was relief that it was all over. Two months since publication, I still can’t bring myself to look at my modest tome for fear of finding yet another defect slipped between the pages beneath the radar. Post-publication stress disorder – is that a thing? There were times when I feared the book would never be ready, heartily sick of reading and re-reading my own words to catch unexpected mistakes that weren’t even mine, introduced at various stages of the publishing process.

When the first of the several ‘final’ drafts was sent for my approval, completely devoid of any caption to describe the twenty-nine photos, I was pretty much at the end of my tether (quite an exceptionally long and unflappable tether too, I might add). The buffers were comprehensively hit when the amended ‘final’ draft was returned with captions randomly inserted, bearing no relation to the photos that were in the wrong order anyway. Presumably I got the short straw.

But what the hell, the deed is done. I’ve written the thing and there it is warts and all, filling several boxes that represent a large portion of my life savings. Now what? Simply persuade the unsuspecting public that this unique and brilliantly written tale is worth parting with few pounds to enrich their lives with. Advice on how to do such a thing is plentiful, and for those – let’s face it – vast majority of writers who aren’t hampered with chronic shyness, all perfectly feasible suggestions. Yeah, no problem! Bring on the book signings, line up those interviews, preen and pose for photo shoots and splash them liberally over social media. Me, I don’t even have my name on the cover.

So what’s left for the introverted author who communicates better on paper than in person? Interviews are not for me. I’m very uncomfortable being placed in the spotlight like some strange specimen to be gawked at until something more interesting comes along – which wouldn’t take much to be honest! Who cares what I might think, I can’t take myself that seriously. Having suffered a few such meetings for the autorotational cause when first qualified as a gyroplane pilot, I view journalists with extreme suspicion. Why bother to ask questions, take notes, or even talk to me at all when the resulting articles bare no resemblance to anything that actually happened. One report by a regional rag stated that I liked to ‘land in a field and go for a walk.’ Utter fictitious twaddle! Walking can be done anytime anywhere, whereas every airborne moment with my gyro is a rare and precious gift not to be squandered. And as if I’d leave my little bird parked alone in some random field. Honestly.

Invest in a professional photographic portrait for promotional purposes. Yep, can’t think of a better way to scare people off. What a challenge for Photoshop! Airbrush all the character that is now perceived as imperfection from my ugly mug, and there’d be nothing left. My face isn’t a pristine show home, it’s been lived in for 57 years and the cracks are showing. Imagine the waiting audience deceived by this glossily polished creature displayed on the poster – and then I turn up! They’d all want a refund. No, HD wasn’t made for faces like mine; it frightens horses and hens stop laying. I feel stupid signing books anyway, never know what to write and why deface a nice crisp new copy with my scribble. Next.

Inevitably there’s no escaping the ubiquitous F word: the dreaded Facebook. I don’t want to put myself out there. I like my privacy and fail to understand the relentless urge to publicly broadcast every mortal mundane moment of existence to people who have no idea who they’re reading about, and care even less. Anti social media, that’s me.

But authors MUST have a website! It’s a fact, engineered into genetic code and carved in tablets of stone. An online presence to promote themselves and their scribblings, somewhere to be followed, linked, shared and connected to by other unknown forces floating in cyber space. The lesser of two evils (possibly), only time will tell. So here we are, albeit warily in truth: reluctantly dipping a digital toe into the ether, poised to flee at the first hint of approach.

Sorted. But wait, there’s a catch! Not only must you promote yourself, your book and further scribblings – now you have a website, dear unsuspecting little author – you have to promote that as well! Where does it end? Do I need another website to promote this website to promote the book, ad infinitum etc. etc.

Oh dear. The pigs are on finals…