Prague by Night

Ever been to Prague? Me neither. But as a reluctant traveller I enjoy reading the accounts of more adventurous souls. It has been a while since I read Britt Skrabanek’s semi-autobiographical Everything’s Not Bigger. It’s a lovely story but I particular like the way it climaxes with Britt’s alter ego Jaye’s non-date with Milan, by night in Prague. Here are a few samples. Britt’s book is now available in paperback as well as Kindle at, Amazon, or indeed all other Amazon online stores.

The chocolate melted on her hot tongue, its decadence thrilling her taste buds. Luminosity reflected in her eyes as they lifted open. 
It was a breathtaking sight.
They stood in between a far-reaching row of crystal shops. Bohemian glass competed with the moonlight, shining ferociously, instilling awe and brilliance in the antique windows. Jaye chewed the bittersweet morsel, sea salt sprinkled dark chocolate encompassing a creamy caramel.
It was the most incredible treat she’d ever tasted. It was the most incredible sight she’d ever seen.Prague1

They continued their journey through the serpentine streets, guided by charming street lamps. Crystal luminosity morphed into night life on the next block. Neon signs from pubs and bars welcomed pedestrians with cartoon images of frosty mugs and foamy beers.Prague2

Jubilant waves splashed against the barriers, serene and constant. Beautiful boats and historic buildings bordered the Vltava River, sprinkling the navy palette with hints of gold. The moon highlighted Jay’s sullen eyes.Prague3


Women in baseball, and beyond

This side of the Atlantic we don’t know much about baseball. There are pockets of interest and indeed there are a number of clubs making up the British Baseball Federation, and a league structure. At European level the Netherlands are the strongest nation.
At school the girls used to play rounders (maybe they still do) and softball goes through high and low spells, but is generally thought of as a social sport.
But Major League Baseball in North America is the stronghold. It is the quintessential American game, its history intertwined with that of its country. Even us Brits can reel off its legends – Joe diMaggio, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Joe Jackson (‘Say it ain’t so’).womens baseball1
And women play, *gasp*, always have done. Whatever next? As in most sports the women’s game has never commanded the attention that the men get. Its high point was reached in 1943 and the years afterwards by the formation of the All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League. This was at the height of American participation in WWII which left a vacuum to be filled.womens baseball2
My fellow writer Britt Skrabanek has captured those heady days in her captivating novel Nola Fran Evie. She portrays three of the gum-chewing women with attitude that made the grade and some money before drifting back into civilian life. Thereafter they team up again in 1950’s Chicago – they’re changing and so is the world.
One passage that has stayed with me – Fran realises that the man she loves is rejecting her – their forbidden love can’t last.

She dropped her hand from Roland’s face and hugged her knees to her chest. She sobbed quietly, her head bowed, suffocated by grief the likes of which she’d never known.
‘I must be off my rocker here,’ Roland said finally.
She picked her head up. ‘Huh?’
‘It means I must be out of my mind. ‘Cause baby you’re right,’ he said, holding her knees. ‘Damn the rest of it.’
Immense relief flooded Fran’s body. Their lips joined together for the first time in truth. They recognized their love would continue being difficult, that they would endure battles other couples could never imagine. But their love was iron clad, the kind that could handle that kind of thing. So Fran and Roland didn’t surrender. They chose to show the world that not only was their love something to tolerate, it was something to be revered.womens baseball3.png

Get Britt’s book, now in paperback as well as e-book, here or at your national Amazon store.

Female spies of WW2

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was set up in 1940 by the Ministry of Defence. Its purpose was simple – to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in Occupied Europe. Of necessity, it was a shadowy organisation.

But, after the War, tales emerged of the heroic deeds of those involved. And many of them were women. Here are the brief stories of two of them.

VIRGINIA HALL, the ‘Limping Spy’, was probably the most famous of the SOE women. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Hall was aged 34 at the outbreak of war. A gifted student, she followed up her US college life by continuing her studies in Europe. She became fluent in the French, Italian and German languages whilst obtaining a diploma in economics and international law.

Following a shooting accident in 1932 her left leg was amputated below the knee. Thereafter she wore a wooden leg. Thus thwarted in her diplomatic career ambition, after the outbreak of war in 1940 she worked as an ambulance driver in Paris, but was forced to retreat before the advancing Nazis. She was quickly recruited by the SOE. Re-entering France under the guise of an American news reporter. She quickly established a secret network of resistance workers whilst training other SOE recruits.

Virginia Hall1

Receiving the DSC

With the Germans determined to capture the Limping Spy, she escaped to Spain. Soon after she joined the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and returned to France and once again began to create difficulties for the occupying forces with numerous acts of sabotage by herself and her team.

Virginia Hall2

In later life

Returning home after the War, Hall was awarded highest honours by France, Britain and the United States. She continued to work as a CIA analyst until her retirement.
Hall died in 1982 in her home state and is buried at Pikesville.

My long-time blogger friend Britt Skrabanek took this theme of female spy and created Alina who awakes to find herself under cover, in wartime Berlin, and in the bed of a high-ranking Nazi. She soon learns that she has been in Berlin for three years and is on a dangerous mission. Certainly a neat way of skipping lots of back story!

‘Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you supposed to be here on a clandestine op for the United States War Department?’ He pounded his fist on the wall and began pacing again. ‘I realize three years leading a double life as a spying lounge singer must be taking its toll on you. I understand you’re working against your own country, risking your life for another. Hell, you’ve been here longer than anybody else we’ve got, delivering intelligence that’s saved countless lives.’

Britt uses Alina, and the backdrop of wartime Berlin to craft a great story. But there comes the time she needs to do her night job – and the lounge singer nearly blows her cover, she can’t do the songs.

‘Is it me or is it hot in here?’ Alina touched the microphone, winking at the audience. The crowd whooped and whistled. ‘Why don’t we see if we can heat things up a little more? Welcome to Café Rouge, babies.’ She stuck out her hip, slapped her thighs, ran her hands up the side of her body, then reached her arms high overhead to show off her red, satin gloves.
More applause erupted and the band struck up.
Alina didn’t recognise the melody. Her arms floated down, slow and unsure.

Beneath the Satin Gloves

See how Alina gets out of the fix by getting her book Beneath the Satin Gloves – shortly to be available in paperback as well as e-book – here or here.

Read my 2012 review here.

VIOLETTE SZABO (née Bushell) was born in Paris in 1921 to an English father and French mother. After her parents moved to London, Violette and her younger brother lived with their aunt in France until they were reunited with their parents in London when Violette was 11. From age 14 Violette worked in shops and stores in both London and Paris.

After the outbreak of war Violette worked as a Land Girl. She met a French officer, Etienne Szabo, and they were quickly wed. She gave birth to a daughter, Tania*, but her father never saw her, being killed in action. Spurred on to gain a measure of revenge, Violette Szabo was soon accepted into the SOE


Violette Szabo1

Etienne & Violette

The tales of her exploits and courage behind enemy lines in France are legendary, but her story was not to end well. She was captured, interrogated and tortured. Szabo was taken to Ravensbruck in August 1944. By every account she continued to resist ill-treatment and interrogation, and was a tower of strength for her fellow prisoners.
On or before 5th February 1945 Szabo was taken to ‘Execution Alley’ at Ravensbruck, made to kneel and was shot in the back of the head. She was just 23.

Violette Szabo2
*Tania lived and worked in Jersey for many years. She now lives in Wales.

Researching a Jersey Tragedy

I thought that I’d give this old post an airing. It relates to another scene in A Jersey Midsummer’s Tale. I’ve not progressed the matter since, maybe I won’t.

Back On The Rock

In A Jersey Midsummer Tale I incorporated a tragic story – that of the death of a young lad. He was wiped out by a plane which was attempting to take off from the beach at Jersey’s West Park. During the 1930s – until the airport was opened in 1938 – the sands on Jersey’s south coast were used for all aircraft movements.

Although the novel was set in 1935 the actual incident took place in August of the previous year. For a long time this has been nagging at me. Did the lad (I’ll leave out names for the present though it is of public record) have any relatives still alive in Jersey to this day?

Well, tracing descendants is harder than tracing forebears. However the excellent Jersey Archive Service gave me a lead. Indeed the young boy had an older brother. And, cutting the story short, I was…

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Lucille in Wonderland

My second book, ‘A Jersey Midsummer Tale’, isn’t very good. It just doesn’t work and several times I’ve thought about unpublishing it. What’s stopped me from doing so is the fact that there are some pretty good bits in there (if I might say so).

When I was writing it, it had dawned on me that writing has no boundaries; it was my book and I could put what I wanted in it. It was thus that I came up with Chapter 10, spotlighting Lucille, a simple Jersey farm girl. The year is 1935 and her head is filled with images from magazines and films of the day. She’s a dreamer. And one day she has a dream. Aeroplanes were still a novelty but Lucille found herself on one.

The plane dipped and turned and she saw now with surprise a coastline with blue sea shimmering in the sunshine. The plane circled low over the sea and now there were yachts and smaller boats and a harbour and a town.


Then, after the plane had landed

‘I’ll take your bag Madame, if you’ll step this way.’ He gestured towards the car.
‘Thank you, but…can you tell me where I am?’
‘Why Miss Lucille, this is Monte Carlo Airport.’

After checking in to the poshest hotel in the town, Lucille went for a walk.monte carlo

Through the hotel grounds and into the busy streets she strolled, turning left towards the harbour. People smiled at her as she walked, ladies envied her, men admired her and she smiled and blossomed at the occasional wolf whistle. She walked tall, shoulders back as she examined the goods in the unfamiliar shops. A flower seller stepped out from his stall and presented her with a red rose with a little bow. She passed on the kindness by bending down and handing the rose to a little girl who followed Lucille with her big eyes open as she clutched her unaware mother’s hand.

She met a couple of familiar-looking women at a waterfront bar.greta garbo

mae west

I don’t think we’ve met,’ her neighbour went on. ‘Of course I know who you are. But my name’s Greta and this is my friend Mae. Mae, this is Lucille from Jersey.’
‘Hello!’ said the lady the other side of Greta who Lucille noted for the first time. She was blonde with remarkable red lips.
‘We’re in the movie business Lucille, but maybe they don’t show us in Jersey?’
‘Oh but they do! Only this morning I was at the pictures watching John Wayne…’ she paused, momentarily puzzled. Was it this morning, or yesterday, or did she just dream it?

Lucille is invited to a grand dance by the Prince of Monte Carlo. Getting ready, she encounters a shower for the first time.

Cautiously, she stepped into the contraption and twisted a knob. Nothing. Then she pulled down a lever and a freezing jet of water shot over her pale body. Squealing, she hopped out of the shower a lot faster than she had gone in before turning to regard it with suspicion.

And at the dance

Then they danced to the band, the other couples leaving the floor to the Prince and the lovely Miss Lucille from Jersey. After this they edged off the dance floor and, still waltzing, made their way onto the balcony overlooking the town and harbour.
‘Lucille, I think I’m falling in love with you.’
‘No, that cannot be. I am but a humble farm girl and you are a prince!’

And there’s finally a dream within a dream. After the dance Lucille awakes to find Lillie Langtry, the famous Jersey socialite and actress who lived her later years in Monte Carlo, by her bedside. They chat, and Mrs Langtry tells Lucille that, despite her extensive travels, she always loved Jersey best.lillie langtry

‘Why don’t you go back to Jersey then?’
‘Oh but I have gone back, Miss Lucille. And now I think that’s it’s time you also went back.’
‘But I don’t want to go back!’ wailed Lucille, tears starting to fall.
‘My beautiful girl, you’ll find that your dreams will come true of their own accord if you’ll just let them and don’t force them. Now let me help you back’.

A bit Alice in Wonderland, isn’t it?

My Running in 2018 – a review with pics


It’s been a funny old running year. For much of it I just couldn’t get going. It was a struggle. On two successive Sundays I bailed out of my long runs and got the bus back home. I felt sluggish.

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Our glorious west coast


Everything hurt. Although I continued to lead groups on Saturday morning, and Wednesday evenings during the summer I stopped enjoying it so much. I didn’t feel up to entering races. In fact I entered four half-marathons (Southampton, Winchester, two in Jersey) but didn’t make the starting line in any of them.



Stirling Castle


Rozel Harbour

I started wondering if it was time to pack it in altogether.




Fishermen’s Church, La Rocque

JJ group Radier

At Radier Farm

At which time I considered my diet again. Not for the first time in my life. I dusted off the juicer, hit the fruit and vegetable shelves, started following my own preaching about avoiding processed foods.





At Queen’s Valley Reservoir


South-western rockscape

And what a difference it made, almost immediately. My body reacted joyously, I felt loose again, less achy, a spring in my legs. The enjoyment came back.




Once more I started to look forward to running. Early morning runs before work became a habit. The miles built up. I happily ran in the last few races of the year, the highlight being a 52-minute Autumn 10k, the age-equivalent of my best time set eight years ago. I hit my 1,000 mile target which, at one time, was looking hopeless.


Petit Port


Overlooking sand dunes


Harbour, St Brelade’s Bay


Neolithic passage chamber, St Ouen


Bouley Bay


Misty evening on the dunes


Super Slow run, St Lawrence


View up to Portelet Common from Ouaisné


Old Smugglers Inn


Railway bridge, St Clement


Site of former Mont Mado quarry


St Martin’s Churchyard


St Catherine’s Woods


Windmill, St Mary

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Dappled sunlight, Grantez




A break from jogging the trails at Grantez


One more of our west coast

So looking towards a good 2019 with renewed enthusiasm.

A gift of dreams – a short story for Christmas

I’m not that much into Christmas. I’ll therefore let my blogger friend Andrea deliver to you a bit of magic this Christmas Eve.

Harvesting Hecate

My food ran out days ago and there’s no prospect of rescue up here at the top of the world. I try to put up my tent, but the arctic wind bludgeons and tears at the fabric. My compass is gone, my GPS is behaving strangely and the whiteout obliterates the stars. I no longer know which direction to walk in. The next time I fall, I stay there, slumped in the snow, ready to give in to sleep at last.

I drift, watching flurries of snow dart past my goggles. The snowstorm cancels out any differences in the landscape. When my eyes close it’s darker, but that’s the only difference, it seems, between being awake or asleep.

There is something tugging me. Something rough and insistent. I try to shrug it off but it gives me no rest. I open my eyes to a blur of dark movement. It…

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I thought a few of you might like to see this excellent blog post describing the celebration of Lucia, the Bringer of Light. It is chiefly celebrated in Sweden and is told by Annika Perry.

Annika Perry's Writing Blog

My Three Lucia Figurines

TODAY (13th December) nearly every home, school, hospital, factory, workplace, church, hotel and restaurant in Sweden is celebrating LUCIA.

Lucia is the Bringer of Light and is celebrated on what, in the old almanac, was the darkest day of the year. The day is one of light, hope and love. The tradition has its roots in St. Lucia of Syracuse who died as a martyr in AD304.

Whilst the dark holds its firm grip on night, households across the country waken and quietly prepare. The long white gowns will have been carefully ironed the day before, the red sash belts laid out, candles and matches placed at the ready.

Lucia herself carries a crown of candles on her head. These are often now battery powered but not too long ago normal wax candles were used. The crown was placed on a damp handkerchief on the head…

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