Wednesday 28 November 2007


cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Monday 26 November 2007

Improve your vocabulary - feed the hungry

Thanks to Susan at Green Chair Press for this quirky new way to do a tiny bit of good in the world while munching your lunch.

Play the Free Rice Game to test your vocabulary, and for every word you get right, 20 grains of rice are donated to the United Nations World Food Program. There are various levels you can aspire to, and you can play as many rounds as you like. It will save your score so that next time you spare a few moments to play you can check that you're improving.

As well as providing a salutary lesson on how few of the words from the bubbling cauldron of the English language most of us employ in our daily lives, it may even inspire us all to eat a bit less lunch - or at least to give more thanks that our chargrilled aubergine and hummus wrap or steaming mug of soup was so readily available the instant we fancied a chomp.

20 grains per word doesn't sound a lot, but the Free Rice game began on 7 October and by 23 November had raised 3,664,079,450 grains of rice.

Give it a try, fellow blog-scribblers!
Tell your friends, work-mates and blog-chums and let's all fill those bowls with rice.

Sunday 25 November 2007

Win a signed copy of West From Paddingdon!

Do you ever travel by train between London and the West Country or Wales?

If so, and you'd like to enter a free prize draw for a signed copy of West From Paddington, the indispensable new guide for rail travellers on First Great Western, then simply go to Julian Roskams' Etica Press blog, leave a comment and your name will go into Julian's hat.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure what kind of a hat your name will be going into. It might make a difference, and I think we should be told.

Come on, Jules, show us your hat!

Friday 23 November 2007

Sometimes, while trudging along with a fat Labrador . . .

. . . it's not a bad idea to look up, instead of down.

Thursday 22 November 2007

West from Paddington

Now here comes the most shamelessly biased Muddy Island Book Review in the history of this blog!

Actually, it's not a review at all. What follows is some publicity blurb that I wrote myself for West from Paddington - a book published by longstanding publishing chum Julian Roskams (he of the sadly neglected blog) under his Etica Press imprint.

The book was designed and typeset by the Other Half of Doyle & Co , and though I shouldn't blow the family trumpet too loudly, I must say that it's all turned out rather impressively well. Our hot-off-the-press copy arrived here today and I'm convinced it's going to be a winner with railway enthusiasts and train travellers from London to the West Country and Wales (NB I don't have a stake in the profits, so I can say this entirely without bias!)

West from Paddington is the essential companion for every traveller on First Great Western Railway. Packed with information on all the landmarks, railway history, geographical features and places of interest that can be seen from your window as your journey unfolds, this indispensable guide covers three great routes

● Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads
● Reading to Penzance
● Swindon to Carmarthen.

A route map for each section of the journey highlights the features described, and the book includes hundreds of specially commissioned colour photographs giving a ‘traveller’s-eye’ view. Each entry indicates on which side of the train the place or item of interest described can be found.

Based on an historic railway map dating back to the 1930s, West from Paddington is full of fascinating facts about everything you will encounter as you travel, mile after mile after mile:

● railway stations
● railway landmarks – engine sheds, branch lines, sidings
● churches, castles, country houses, hotels, the Millennium Stadium
● geographical features – landscapes, wildlife, white horses
● bridges and tunnels
● factories and dockyards

Clearly laid out and easy to use, West from Paddington will turn your journey into a voyage of discovery.
Stuart Cole is Professor of Transport and former Director of the Wales Transport Research Centre at the University of Glamorgan, and a lifelong railway enthusiast. With over 30 years of experience in transport, he has undertaken numerous transport studies covering transport strategy at a local and national level, public transport and investment appraisal.

Pop impresario and TV star Pete Waterman OBE, who wrote the Foreword, is a former fireman on steam locomotives. An ardent railway devotee, he is founder of Just Like the Real Thing – a model railway manufacturer - and the Waterman Railway Heritage Trust – a body that has to date preserved 15 engines for the nation.

"This book will revolutionise your journey so get your head out of the newspaper and look out of the window - you will be amazed! We'll be waving as you flash past our house." - Christine Hamilton (whose house is one of the landmarks listed)

Seasonal sailing boats

Just a quickie, for the benefit of my Muddy Island readers, to say that Leafy's Christmas Cards are now available at the Art Café, the Mersea Gallery and (soon) at the Company Shed .

All images © Leafy Dumas.

Thursday telly musings

I really have nothing to add to the loud and universal acclaim which has greeted the new BBC production of Cranford . It is an absolute gem – easily on a par with the brilliant Bleak House two years ago.

The Observer ran a feature on Sunday called ‘Hang on to your bonnets and bustles . . .’ , in which writers, directors and actors picked their favourite TV costume drama ever.

Not many surprises, and three mentions of my own personal favourite, Roger Michell and Nick Dear’s Persuasion, with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds (the latter in his full and gorgous prime). I have to declare an interest and confess that I fell very deeply in love with Mr Hinds’ Captain Wentworth in 1995, having already been long infatuated with the character since my first reading of the book. Never has a Jane Austen adaptation been so real and rooted – the clothes are clothes, not ‘costumes’, the women have wayward hair (no hairspray) and no makeup, the men’s coats are caked in mud around the hem, and the interiors have a lived-in feel to them, rather than looking like a carefully styled National Trust property.

The others were the usual suspects – all much loved and fondly remembered (by people over a certain age): The Forsyte Saga; the Alan Bates Mayor of Casterbridge; Brideshead Revisited . . .

The Barchester Chronicles (which brought Alan Rickman so brilliantly to our attention); Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth, white shirt . . . lake . . . sigh . . .); Testament of Youth and the recent Bleak House, so wonderfully aired in short soap-length instalments to reflect the way that Dickens wrote and published the novel.

I’m sure we all have our favourites – possibly some not on the list above. The Observer wants to know what we all think and is asking that we pick our favourite British TV costume drama (their definition is that it must be set before 1950 - a tad scary for viewers more than a decade older than me to discover that their early years have been consigned to the 'Costume' section of the Wardrobe Department!).

All you have to do is email the Observer with your nomination, writing ‘Costume Drama’ in the subject field. As with the World Book Day poll, by nominating your favourite, you will automatically be entered into a prize draw – in this case the winner gets the top five costume drama boxed sets of DVDs. The closing date is 5 December.

Spooks on Tuesday, so was glued to the small screen again. It’s tosh, but it’s such hugely compelling and thought-provoking tosh that I love it. Lots of people seem to be landing on Musings because they’ve Googled the words ‘Rupert Penry-Jones’. Well, I can well understand why anyone might Google those words, or indeed murmur them wistfully from time to time when they think nobody’s listening. If I write them twice in one post, maybe I’ll get twice as many hits? Let’s give it a go: Rupert Penry-Jones.

Finally, don't forget to watch The Genius of Photography tonight. It's quite a testament to the genius of good television documentary programmes.

Wednesday 21 November 2007

Books to talk about

Received an email from crime writer Pauline Rowson today, with the fantastic news that her new novel In Cold Daylight has been selected as one of the 100 ‘Books to Talk About’ for World Book Day 2008 .

I haven’t read In Cold Daylight yet, but am looking forward to doing so next week, once my copy has arrived, and will post a Muddy Island Book Review here as soon as I have finished it.

The publicity blurb describes In Cold Daylight as ‘a hard hitting thriller inspired by a tragic true story of fire-fighters killed in the line of duty and a potential cover up over their deaths’. With an artist, rather than a cop, as the central character, this sounds like an unusual variation on the traditional crime novel, and having read Pauline’s Tide of Death, I’m sure there will be many layers of clues and unexpected twists awaiting me.

The idea behind the Books to Talk About list is that from these carefully selected, interesting, often ‘undiscovered’ titles by contemporary writers, you can vote for the title that you think will really spark discussion in you book club, on your blog or amongst friends, and add a comment about why you’ve made your choice. And there’s even a chance to win £100 worth of National Book Tokens as well.

A shortlist of the ten titles with the most votes will be published in early February 2008 and The Book to Talk About will be announced on World Book Day – Thursday 6 March – when the winning author will receive a £5,000 prize.

There are lots of other books in the list which look well worth investigating, too – it’s quite a treasure trove. The whole enterprise is like a kind of ‘instant book group’ for bloggers everywhere. I’ll start the ball rolling with a review of In Cold Daylight – and perhaps others will be inspired not only to read Pauline’s novel but to select another title from the list to read, review and get talking about.

World Book Day is always taken very seriously in my household. My Boy’s school pulls out all the stops in its ‘dress up as a character from a book’ competition. And though I shouldn't, I will just mention here that My Boy has won a prize for his/my costume every year for the last five! I can assure you that it is the only day in the year that my very dormant domestic goddess tendencies are flexed and I get out the sewing machine with serious intent.

Here are photos I’ve dug out for a couple from recent years: The Pied Piper of Hamlyn and Biggles (the latter caused major problems when the car wouldn’t start that morning for the 9-mile journey into school, but luckily a generous landrover-driving island friend came fabulously to the rescue and the day was saved and Biggles Flew to Victory!)

Price tags

Monday’s ‘Quote of the Day’ – my latest widget, and an uncontroversial one, I sincerely hope, though please note that the others are still there and will remain so, despite the ardent objections of some of my (erstwhile, I hope) readers – was unfamiliar to me:

“A work of art that contains theories is like an object on which the price tag has been left.”

Sounds contemporary, doesn’t it? In fact it was written by Alexander Pope (1688-1744) Great stuff – words as apt today as they were 300-odd years ago.

Monday 19 November 2007

Nautical Noel

Further to yesterday's post about Leafy's lovely Mersea Island Christmas cards, I'm now pleased to report that they can be purchased with Paypal direct from Leafy by sending her an email.

The p&p charges are:

Single card: 50p

2-5 cards: £1

6-10 cards: £1.50

11-20 cards: £2

For bigger pics (which you can click on to enlarge even more) and further details, click here.

All images © Leafy Dumas.

Sunday 18 November 2007


Mud is Beauty in the making,
Mud is melody awaking;
Laughter, leafy whisperings,
Butterflies with rainbow wings;
Baby babble, lover's sighs,
Bobolink in lucent skies;
Ardours of heroic blood
All stem back to Matrix Mud.

Mud is mankind in the moulding,
Heaven's mystery unfolding;
Miracles of mighty men,
Raphael's brush and Shakespear's pen;
Sculpture, music, all we owe
Mozart, Michael Angelo;
Wonder, worship, dreaming spire,
Issue out of primal mire.

In the raw, red womb of Time
Man evolved from cosmic slime;
And our thaumaturgic day
Had its source in ooze and clay . . .
But I have not power to see
Such stupendous alchemy:
And in star-bright lily bud
Lo! I worship Mother Mud.

(Robert Service)

Compare the photo above with the similar view taken on the day of the surge tide. In the distance is Mersea's historic Oyster Packing Shed.

Another bad Brent geese photo, though slightly better than last night's because taken half an hour earlier. Small snappy camera still couldn't cope, however. I will try to get out and capture them in proper daylight soon!
For a perfectly amazing 'TBTM' photo - taken while I was still tucked up in bed with a cup of tea, reading - see Sam's blog.

Christmas Greetings from the Muddy Island!

Here’s a treat from the Muddy Island – Christmas cards by friend, neighbour and talented West Mersea artist Leafy Dumas.

Leafy is well known here for her gorgeous paintings, prints and greetings cards. Her passion for sailing and the sea is reflected in the boats, fish and watery wildlife which often feature in her work.

These are her suitably nautical cards for the festive season. So roll up, roll up, I’m taking orders for these (and don’t worry, I’m not on commission – all proceeds will go direct to the artist herself!).

They’re £1.25 each + p&p, measure 4 x 6 inches, are blank on the inside for your own greeting and each one comes with (gasp at the generosity) its own envelope too. Bargain. To order, send me an email.

All images © Leafy Dumas (click on the pics to enlarge).

Saturday 17 November 2007

A dull, grey day

The sea is flecked with bars of grey,
The dull dead wind is out of tune . . .
And overhead the curlews cry

(Oscar Wilde)

This very poor photo was taken at dusk - 4.40 pm - with my unsophisticated little snappy camera. I'm only including it here because it shows the largest number of Brent geese I've seen at this end of the Muddy Island so far this year. As regular readers of Musings will know, I've got rather a thing about these birds. The noise was tremendous. I took some more snaps as they flew overhead, but those were even worse than this one (can this be possible? unfortunately, yes).

Four of the geese who decided to go for a twilight swim instead of returning to the fields with the rest of the flock.