Ruth Rendell, creator of the popular Inspector Wexford Mysteries, has died aged 85 and England has lost another literary treasure just months after P D James, who brought poet and police commander Adam Dalgleish to life passed on. Both ladies of crime had strong Suffolk links and Rendell, who suffered a stroke in January 2015, adored her adopted home in the country county. Both authors created “detectives” who became popular on the small screen as well.
When I first moved down here in the real desert, the lizards were these teeny little dark shadows that flitted over and around small rocks and pebbles. Now the little fellers are getting bigger and longer, and scrambling over stones and the odd smallish boulder. They must also be that bit slower as I can see them easily.
The tiny shadow lizards moved so quickly that they seemed to be an optical illusion. A lighting fast streak of shade that disappeared before your eyes could focus on the small creature. Now they stay in view long enough that even without glasses they can be seen.
These are not the only desert denizens that are making regular appearances. Something that looks like a rat, but prettier, darts across the roads and can be seen very easily. These bold creatures will stay in the shade of a small bush and watch you pass. Monsieur Rat, or mouse, is around six to eight inches long, not counting his tail, and while not as cute as the chipmunks that scramble over the boulders that line the road, they are not ugly by any means.
After being here for a couple of months, where there has been no previous sign of them, buzzards are now regularly circling the hard pan on either side of the road. One persistent chap kept dropping down to the scrub brush along the washes. Presumably the “dead” animal he was going after was not quite ready to be put on the menu. There are, however, a great many new items alongside, and on, the roads from rats to lizards and the occasional rabbit.
As it is spring, baby bunnies are hopping around the area. The cute creatures are not as numerous as the ones back in Suffolk. In the English countryside, there were always plenty of the tiny things clumsily jumping here and there, wide eyed and (sorry) bushy tailed learning about their world. The desert bunnies are obviously the offspring of the huge jack rabbits that call the hard pan their home as even though they are “babies” they dwarf their British relatives.
The appearance of the buzzards, or vultures, I can never remember which of these huge carrion loving creatures live in this part of the world, is a reminder that death is never too far away for denizens of the real desert.
On the way home from town yesterday, as the sun dipped slowly behind the surrounding hills of Quartzsite, I found the police had closed off the only road open to a bicycle. The cars could take the alternate route via the Interstate, but my two-wheel self-propelled vehicle could only take the route in front of me.
One of the on-scene officers explained that the road would be closed for at least another two hours. Looking ahead I could see two motorcycles on the right hand side of the road. One looked as though it had been damaged, the other did not. Pointing to the left side of the pavement, I asked if walking my bike through on that part of the road’s narrow shoulder was acceptable.
As I pushed my bike up the small grade, the two motorcycles came and went whilst I tried not to be too morbidly curious. Glancing over, once or twice, I could see that one bike had hit the boulders on that side of the road with enough force that it buckled the front wheel and twisted it to the left; until it was almost completely back under the petrol tank.
A lone helmet lay on the small shoulder of the two lane road just in front of the large rocks. On one big boulder in front of the abandoned safety item a blue arrow had been spray painted. It pointed up. At a wild, and most likely over-imaginative, guess? It looked like the rider went airborne at the point of impact.
Later, as I neared my destination, a couple who had been driving pulled up beside me and asked about the blocked road. I explained about the bikes and added that I would not be surprised if the accident had ended in a fatality.
They were not impressed with the thought of a dead biker but then, they were both of an age where impending death is not so much a concern. To this older couple, death looked to be just another all too close step in their own personal journey. Being a sprightly young thing in my late 50s, I still struggle with the inevitable advent of my rapidly approaching mortality.
It may well be that along with the lizards getting bigger in the real desert, that living in this hot and harsh climate is not just about surviving, but also about dying. The manner of death for the creatures that are native to this environment is often a quick visitation under the blazing sun. Cause of death: A speeding car, an ATV, or a hikers boot. After all, living is also about dying. As the late Katherine Hepburn once said, “Of course life is hard, it kills you.”
Waking too early this morning brought the news via Twitter from an Australian chum who tweeted that the great Bob Hoskins had passed on at 71. The first thought that flew into a half-asleep brain was that Smee would sail off one last time for Neverland. This natural actor will no longer thrill, excite, entertain or amuse audiences in new projects, but Hoskins will always live on in his wide range of roles in films. His career, which started at the ripe old age of 26 was an impressive one and this short Cockney actor brought a believability to every role he played, with the possible exception of his Mario Mario in the 1993 film Super Mario Bros. A film, he personally detested.
*Looking over my previous post I was reminded of the last time I submitted a demo tape and the consequences.*
I used to read The Stage newspaper religiously for the job advertisements and auditions that were going. I wasn’t interested in the Stage acting portion of the paper. I had two reasons for not even considering stage work: 1) It had been years since I’d performed live anywhere and 2) The only decent paying jobs were in London and I lived a good hour and forty minutes away.
The Stage did have ads for the telly and for film auditions; they also featured voice-over companies that were “desperate for new blood.” Despite the rather ominous tone of the advert, I rummaged around and found my last ever demo tape.
I generally checked all my “demos” before I sent them out; listening to them from start to finish. For some odd reason I decided to only listen to the intro and not the rest of the tape. Satisfied that all was well, I popped it into a cassette posting envelope and sent it to the company. I enclosed a short CV and a covering letter. With my current lack of response, I did not expect to hear back from them.
And I did not; at least for a long time at any rate.
Coming home from work one day weeks later, I noticed another cassette envelope on the table. It was addressed to me. I opened it and there was my tape and a short letter. The letter went something like this:
You sound like an incredibly talented man. I would recommend that the next time you send a demo out, you get it professionally done. When you’ve had a proper tape made, please send it to me. I am sure we’ll be able to find work for you.
I went mental. “Nobody,” I shouted, “Nobody sends the tapes back. How insulting is that?” I carried on in that vein for some time. I was furious. Professionally made? What did she think that was? Chopped liver? I’d spent a fortune getting those damn tapes mastered, reproduced, and packaging them for posting all over the place…
I grabbed the offending tape, envelope and letter and tossed them in a drawer in the wall unit. I did not look at them for over a year.
A friend that I’d done some scripting work for and the odd training and promotional videos rang me out of the blue; he’d lost my demo tape and wondered if I had another one as he had a client who was interested. I answered in the negative; I’d sent the last one out last year. Ringing off, I remembered the tape I’d gotten back the year before.
I searched for the damned thing everywhere, until my then wife reminded me about the wall unit.
Found it. I started to ring Phil when I spied the letter that had so offended me. I popped it into the player to see if it was alright. Sure enough 45 seconds into the tape it started messing up; skipping and dragging. It was uselessly buggered up and the only tape out of the entire batch that was.
I ripped the tape out of the machine and flung the damn thing across the room. So the lady from the company was not being rude or capricious, she meant what she said; the quality of the tape was not “professional” at all. And she’d left the door open over a year ago to send in another tape.
I sat down with a cigarette in one hand and a coffee in the other. I knew I didn’t have any other tapes left. I’d lost Pat’s number and he’d moved his studio a year or so back and I’d lost the address. Pat wasn’t “in the book” so I had no way of tracing him. I’d misplaced the Master DAT and to this day have no idea where it is. The reel to reel, which just took up space, was relegated to the bin.
As I sat there smoking and drinking coffee, I decided that anything that worked so hard against me was not an obvious career path. Despite my rave reviews from the AFN community (a few of the adverts I did for them won awards) and my doing little projects like fronting videos and training tapes; fate or karma or something really did not want me to succeed in this area.
The last thing I ever did was to read a magazine for the blind onto tapes produced and distributed by the East Anglian Daily Times newspaper. And that voluntary job, like all the rest, ended too soon; future magazines were read by a group of “lovie’s” from the local theatre group.
I decided to concentrate on my acting and signed on with two agents in Norwich for extra work. Suffolk was the location for a lot television programs at that time and I figured I could at least get my mush on the telly screen.
I mean, really; who wanted to set in an air conditioned sound-proof booth with a bottle of water and a script anyway. Who cared if it was “money for old rope?” No one got to see you and you weren’t acting anyway. In what seemed like a good sign, I got a call just one week later from one of my new agents.
I was to be an extra on Lovejoy and the filming location was just about a 45 minute drive away. It paid the princely sum of 75 pounds for a half day’s work and I’d get to meet Ian McShane and the rest of the cast.
Well, so far in our experimental voyage into Quorn territory we have made a few discoveries. Firstly we’ve found that Quorn make really good fake chicken and fake hamburger (mince). The jury is out on their pork products as the bacon was not really a full “fail” but damned close. We haven’t tried their ersatz sausages yet. The sausages might be great thus increasing their score on the fake pork front.
For the record we’ve enjoyed everything that was chicken or mince related. We had the coujons the other night and they were a run-a-way success.
Although we got robbed of one coujon. Our packet only had seven. I can only assume that someone on the assembly line got hungry. We tried the chilli again last night and it too was just as tasty and satisfying as the last time we cooked it.
Tonight we are trying the chicken style and leek pies with rice and vegetables.
So far so healthy.
We’ve got two more Quorn products in the freezer patiently waiting for their culinary debut. Hamburger patties and “pork style” sausages. Those will be eaten later in the week and I’ll report on whether or not they passed the taste test.
In terms of cooking I know that the kitchen doesn’t smell of grease and when I do the washing up — by hand of course, we must be the only house in Suffolk that doesn’t have a dishwasher — there is no greasy residue left in the wash bowl. Another by-product of our new diet is the absence of that, “I’m so full I can’t move,” feeling. You know the one, where you have to let your meal settle before you can even think of moving around.
And apart from the beans in the chilli having their usual effect, indigestion has vanished from the Smith household. In the stakes of cutting down our meat consumption and increasing our vegetable intake we are definitely winning. But just the sight of the word stake, makes my mouth water for a medium rare steak.
As we continue our trial and error attempts at eatinghealthily via the Quorn route I’ll continue to pass on any new recipes and products that we try and like or don’t like.
Whether Quorn turns out to be our main non-meat product is open for debate. I had at least one suggestion by a reader about trying some of Linda McCartney‘s non-meat products. So far I have resisted the urge to try the late Linda’s fare. I do have my reasons.
I have noticed over time that whenever a product has a celebrity’s name on its packaging, the price rises accordingly. That’s not to say that the McCartney products aren’t worth it, but I know that most of their “vegetarian” substitutes for meat are made up of glutens and other cereal products. Not to mention good old soybean.
To be honest if I wanted to eat soybean, I’d just cook everything with tofu in it. At the risk of sounding facetious, I’m not changing my diet because I cannot bear the thought of “poor innocent animals” dying so I can eat. In my opinion that’s what animals are here for (some of them anyway) and I like meat, damn it.
But for health reasons I’m forced to change my dietary habits of a lifetime. Anything that at least tastes like meat and looks like meat is going to come up trumps in my search for a sinewy substitute. But I don’t want to chow down on a plate full of glutens and cereal and soybean. Not unless I have to.
Besides I am not cutting out meat entirely. I still plan on having the odd rump steak sans fat, of course. I want my arteries to stay as open as possible but I don’t want to eat like a monk to get them that way. I’ve given up some of my favourite things, sour cream being at the top of the list.
Luckily I have always liked most vegetables, with the exception of eggplant or aubergine if you have a university degree, so increasing my consumption will not be too difficult. Just as cutting down on the richer deserts will not pose too much of a problem. I do have a sweet tooth, but not a “sickly sweet” one.
I’d love to go on about my inner thoughts on Quorn and whether or not it’s the answer to my culinary quest for heart healthy repasts, but I’ve got Quorn pies in the oven and must keep an eye on them.