Monday, 13 December 2021

Battenberg, Bats & Bright Romance

 I've always rather liked Battenberg cake, a peculiarly British confection made from alternating squares in pink and yellow, the whole surrounded by yellow marzipan. Heart attack on a plate? Perhaps, but like all treats it's a jolly splendid one, in moderation. 

Photo by Jennifer Pittam

From my writer's notebook I see that Battenberg cake was created for a royal wedding over a century ago, when the late Duke of Edinburgh's grandmother married Prince Louis of Battenberg. Apparently the sponge featured 9 panels at that time, but was simplified to four panels in the 1930s when bakeries began mass-production.

It's had a sudden resurgence in popularity of late, with stylish versions in pink and green, posh-looking slices in lemon and poppy seed and even a Blue Battenberg 'just because'. My own favourites are  the batty Halloween offerings, the more lurid the better. 

What a strange nation we are.

Glorious Halloween Battenberg by

I've a voracious appetite for reading. I read books on London history, baking, wildlife, oddities, peculiarities, health and spirituality of every kind. In our family the wide-ranging spirituality section of the bookshop has, for some inexplicable reason, been known simply as 'Shamanism' for years. When we enter a large bookshop and split up for our individual fave rave shelves, we've always agreed to 'meet you in Shamanism'. 

Photo by Jennifer Pittam

My mother was, famously, once propositioned by a ritual magician in 'Shamanism'.  He offered to take her, without benefit of either of their physical bodies, back to his seminar in South London, just to show that he could. She refused, apparently, not so much because she doubted she could do it (intrepid sort of woman, my mother), but because, she said, 'it would have meant 'going south of the river' which as a North Londoner, would have been quite out of the question.

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 In addition to non-fiction I devour fiction books. All types of fiction book. Not without discrimination, but without prejudice against any particular genre. This week the Sunday Times published its much-awaited 'Best Books of 2021, in every genre' list. Amazingly, it excluded the genre 'Romantic Fiction'. Apparently, in the year 2021 it's still acceptable to enjoy, even venerate, books that examine, depict and delight in murder or despair but not those that depict a love story. 

Photo by Jennifer Pittam

I just don't understand it. Milly Johnson sold 7000+ books in the week her genre was not featured at all by the Sunday Times, yet the British Heart Foundation has a 'Romance Stand' prominently displayed in every bookshop. The manager of my local shop told me: 'People like it - so it makes money. You have to know what sells when you run a charity shop.'

The fact is, best-sellers remain the financial backbone of the publishing industry. Learned dictionaries on Jazz Music do not bring in sufficiently large revenues, nor does the latest, beautifully written bildunsgroman - at least not on its own. I know this, having worked in publishing, and been a proud member of the editorial team on both. 

Well, in a few short days now the Winter Solstice will be with us and with that moment of stillness, celebrations of Yule, of Christmas and other winter festivals of choice. 

Photo by Jennifer Pittam

Wishing all of you the very best winter festival in these troubled times.

Count your age by friends, not years
Count your life by smiles, not tears

John Lennon 1940-1980

Fancy a little love story set in WWII? To download a copy of my best-selling Christmas tale, 'I Remember Very Well'  - set in London's East End - and a dozen other Christmas stories set in WWII, please go here 

(free on Amazon until 6 January 2022):

Monday, 5 April 2021

Live From Staffordshire (on Zoom)

Who would have thought that a year after Lockdown we would still be in it? 

Photo by Jennifer Pittam

Still in Lockdown, Human?

We've had some easements, true, but in essence, I am writing this from home in London, with currently 127,000 deaths in the UK. A tragedy to 127,000 families, naturally - but as with war and other tragedies, there is incidental progress in science and technology - new treatments for acute respiratory illness, the painstaking work to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, the development of every possible kind of face mask and even a much more user-friendly form of video-link software called Zoom.

Photo by Shutterstock

As a Clerk of the Court I used the video-link only for vulnerable witnesses before 2020, but now it's routine in courts all over the land. I also attend classes in literature and creative workshops on Zoom. This week I got out my writer's notebook read from my short story, 'I Remember Very Well' at a World Book Day event hosted by Staffordshire Poet Laureate, Mel Wardle Woodend and her adorable guinea pig, Scruffy (though Scruffy kept clear of the camera on this occasion).

World Book Day Event Live From Staffordshire

It was an inspiring 'Meet the Authors' event, in which poets and novelists read from their published work to an attentive audience.  In the day job I regularly commanded the entire court to 'All Rise' and read the charge directly to the accused's face, but this was different, somehow, and a tad nerve-wracking. Still, it was a great night; poems and fiction extracts that were vibrant, contemporary, poignant and mystical. 

'I Remember Very Well' is a historical fiction piece set in WWII (yes, controversial to call any time within living memory 'historical' I know; but I subscribe to the view that if it's a time that's gone, then it has a historical perspective).

My story is set partly in London's East End and partly in wartime France; it was published as one of an anthology 'Christmas Wartime Tales' (seasonal, you would think, but these short stories are varied and fascinating, and the volume still popular with readers). I'm now working on a series.  

Photo by Shutterstock

To download a copy of 'I Remember Very Well'  and a dozen other short stories set in WWII, please go here: 

Jennifer Pittam has been published in: Aquarist & Pondkeeper, Astrology Monthly, Cosmopolitan, Ether Books, People's Friend, Prediction Magazine, Romany Routes, The Lady.

Competitions won: Coast to Coast Short Story Competition, 2nd Prize; Writers' Village Flash Fiction Competition, 1st Prize.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

The Bug From Hell - June 2020

Photo by Jennifer Pittam

Masks on Public Transport, June 2020

So early in February I spent a weekend with my father, who had recently been in hospital with a strange virus that we came to know as 'The Bug From Hell.' Like a kind of influenza, it seemed to have no runny nose or other cold symptoms, but jumped straight from high temperature, via loss of taste and sense of smell, to a barking cough and the most severe chest infection within 10 days. After a short, concerning period in hospital, he threw off the bronchitis. Feeling well but with an ominous scratchy cough, I left him and flew to Belfast for a long court case.

Photo by Jennifer Pittam
My Last 'Normal' Picture before Lockdown

Photo by Jennifer Pittam
The River Lagan, Belfast - View from my Bedroom Window

How strange it seems, 12 weeks later in #Lockdown, to be working as a Clerk of the Court from my front room in London, hearing bail applications on Zoom instead of travelling all over the British Isles for work. How utterly indescribable that as I write, 41,000 British lives have been lost (that we know of) to a virus no-one had heard of before the Christmas holiday.

Photo by Jennifer Pittam
Snowdrops Emerge During my Long Court Case

My trip to Belfast was long and drawn out because that was the nature of the court case. The days when court rose early, allowed me, at first, to seek my bed as I grew more and more sick, merged into those when, still untested but gradually recovering, I explored that beautiful city.

Photo by Jennifer Pittam
The Murals ~ A Feature of Belfast City

From the day, several years ago, that I started work as a Clerk of the Court and knew that my specific role would take me all over Britain, I resolved that I would not look back on that period remembering airports, train stations, hotel bedrooms and nothing else. As soon as I check in I always ask for recommendations, things to do, places to see.

Photo by Jennifer Pittam
Depict or Conceal ~ A City's History & Grief

 In Belfast I discovered an app on my phone - 'every visitor's guide' which mentioned the Botanical Gardens, the City Hall and the Titanic Exhibition. After that, it suggested, I should 'take a wander' through the streets to look at the City's famous murals.

Photo by Jennifer Pittam
The 'Irish Language' Mural

It was certainly a privilege to wander first around the obvious tourist spots but the murals? Barely 40 years ago, Belfast was a city engulfed by a brutal civil war. That's only half as long ago as World War II. Like many Londoners I have only to go back three generations to reach my immigrant Irish, Scots and Welsh ancestors. I have the stories my grandparents told me, passed to them by their own grandparents. Practically within living memory then. Making a sideshow out of the misery of others, especially when I have the family stories for added poignancy, does not sit well with me at the best of times.

Photo by Jennifer Pittam
The Loyalist

Still, with advice and directions from a kindly  and knowledgeable court transcriber, I did take camera and writers' notebook and go, respectfully I trust, to see some of the pictures - stunning, heart-breaking, beautifully executed. 

Photo by Jennifer Pittam
The Crown Bar ~ Once at the Centre of the Troubles

Which brings me to the artwork that's been springing up all over Britain during the Corona Virus Pandemic - the ubiquitous rainbow.  Rainbow pictures originated in Italy, the first country outside China to be hit, in a most devastating way, by the virus. A spontaneous sign of hope, they were accompanied by the slogan 'andra tutto benne' (everything will be all right). For whatever reason, the idea caught on, and spread to the US, Canada, Spain and here in Britain with amazing speed. They're everywhere now, and very pretty they are. But the scars of Covid19 are likely to be deep, and wide. Will the rainbows be enough? 

Photo by Jennifer Pittam
The Ubiquitous 'Stay Well, Stay Safe' Motto 

It's great to stay positive, but who knows what the hidden casualties of the Corona Virus pandemic will be.  JoJo Thomas drew this to our attention in one of her superb creative writing workshops this Sunday (Zoom, naturally).  She finished with this great quote , which I've been using as my creative mantra all week:

Don't bend;
Don't water it down; 
Don't try to make it logical; 
Don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. 
Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.

Franz Kafka 1883-1924

To find out more about JoJo Thomas's Creative Writing Workshops go here:

Jennifer Pittam has been published in: Aquarist & Pondkeeper, Astrology Monthly, Cosmopolitan, Ether Books, People's Friend, Prediction Magazine, Romany Routes, The Lady.

Competitions won: Coast to Coast Short Story Competition, 2nd Prize; Writers' Village Flash Fiction Competition, 1st Prize.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Birmingham, Oscar Wilde & Nana's Pure Filth

This week I've been in Birmingham for a huge court case.  For those unfamiliar with Britain, Birmingham is a city in what we call the Midlands - quite literally, the middle part, geographically, of the British Isles.

Photo by Jennifer Pittam

The view from my hotel was tranquil and uplifting, unlike the court case which was gruelling and difficult to listen to. Safeguarding my own mental health, I took my writer's notebook to the Birmingham Museum of Art. Here I learned far too much about the punishing air-raids of World War II, when the city was reduced to rubble by enemy bombing.

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Birmingham Blitz, WWII

 It was very moving to see the black and white photos of the civilian population, who continued to work and maintain the country when their homes and businesses had gone. Many were mothers, left at home whilst husbands and sons served in the armed forces. As always in war, the civilian population in  the enemy country suffered in exactly the same way, as people are doing in war-torn countries today.

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Mothers & Air Raid Wardens, both...

Once I'd thoroughly depressed myself and could read no more sad history of heartbreak and valour, I came, quite suddenly, upon this glorious statue of the Archangel Lucifer.

Photo by Jennifer Pittam

Archangel Lucifer, the Bringer of Light

Lucifer was referred to in the book of Isiah, known as the bringer of light and most beautiful of all the angels. The sculptor, Jacob Epstein, was a Jewish refugee and had a cottage in my own part of the world, Epping Forest. Epping Forest has many glorious, ancient oaks and gnarled hornbeams.  I was fascinated to learn that he used an entire tree, one that had been brought down in a storm, to create the first impression of this glorious bronze which stands at least 20' or 7 metres high.

Photo by Jennifer Pittam

Hornbeam Trees, Epping Forest 

Epstein gifted the statue to the people of Birmingham in 1947, when virtually the entire city had been reduced to junk. Epstein was a controversial character, like so many artists of genius. Most of his greatest works were both loved and hated when they were first revealed. Statues of classical figures had always been carefully posed, standing with their private parts discreetly concealed with drapery or a fig leaf, before Epstein. Not only did he create massive artworks that were anatomically explicit, but he had them leaping around or flying, displaying their bits with abandon.

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Bits on Display

An anonymous benefactor paid Epstein £2000, a fortune at that time, to carve a tribute for the tomb of Oscar Wilde, to be erected beside the chaste crosses and simple stones in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Almost immediately, the French police rushed to to drape a tarpaulin over the offending item, which was not that large compared with its owner, but certainly considered a danger to the crowds looking up. My Nana, viewing it on her first holiday abroad famously reported, 'well, it IS pure filth dear'.

Photo by Jennifer Pittam

Oscar Wilde's Tomb at Pere Lachaise

The Archangel Lucifer may be filth, or at least well-endowed, but for me it's a truly glorious work of art and I completely understood, as I returned evening after evening, why the people of Birmingham had welcomed that particular bad boy into their hearts.

Photo by Jennifer Pittam

Epstein's Archangel Lucifer, Back View 

Returning, exhausted, on the train home I dozed and, in the early evening, woke up to a glorious sunset and a huge murmuration of starlings. Starlings are a common bird in the UK - black plumage, bright eyes, large communities. In autumn time they are joined, rather mysteriously by European cousins and huge numbers can be seen, swirling in bilingual delight, on the wild Fens in middle Britain.

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No-one knows exactly why they do it - some scientists claim it's a defence mechanism against birds of prey. Doesn't quite wash with me - there's something, moving, enthralling and I might say, mildly scary about a murmuration comprising many thousands. Pity the poor red kite that tried to tangle with that lot - maybe they just do it for the joy of living. How about that...

'To live is the rarest thing in the world' 
Oscar Wilde 1854-1900

Jennifer Pittam has been published in: Aquarist & Pondkeeper, Astrology Monthly, Cosmopolitan,  Ether Books, People's Friend, Prediction Magazine, Romany Routes, The Lady. 

Competitions won: Coast to Coast Short Story Competition, 2nd Prize; Writers' Village Flash Fiction Competition, 1st Prize.