Friday, 13 December 2013

Slightly damaged street cred

The taxi sped importantly up the impressive gravel driveway to the main entrance of Ransom's. Seldon felt massaged by the school's reassuringly disdainful facade, which exuded an effortless patina of success and kudos. Under the circumstances, therefore, it was rather unfortunate that the Head chose this precise moment to pull up in her brand new, disconcertingly nouveau-riche sports cabriolet. It was incongruous. Seldon had somehow envisaged the Head of Ransom's owning something rather more low-key and substantial - a Volvo estate perhaps. As it was, her car seat was so close to the ground that she could not extract herself from the depths of the vehicle without treating the observer to the unsolicited privilege of two spindly, flailing legs, reminiscent of a large spider trying to wriggle out of a crack in a wall. The indignity was enhanced on this occasion by an unexpectedly generous viewing of a white cotton gusset. Not so much Volvo estate as vulva-in-state, chuckled Eva to herself, although she was practiced in keeping her humour well hidden from parents, even prospective parents, such as Seldon
Excerpt from MOLDAVITE, 88% off Kindle ebook today!

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Monday, 9 December 2013

The Voca People

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For my Dad

Today would have been my Dad`s birthday. He died when I was fourteen, which is a long time ago now. The problem with losing a parent when you are still young is having to deal not just with the loss itself, which is bad enough, impossible actually, but with the accumulative effects of the loss on the rest of your life. It`s not just that he`s not there for your birthday. It`s that he`s not there for every birthday after that, ever after, or for every Christmas after that, or for your graduation, or for your wedding, or for the birth of your children, his grandchildren. Loss is not just a one off agony – it`s an exponential chasm that grows ever wider. When one of your parents dies you fall off a cliff into your own mortality, and it`s a fall that never seems to end. And yet sometimes, somehow, that fall becomes like one of those dreams where one second you are falling, and the next you are flying.

It all really hinges on one thing. As parents we agonize about whether we have done things right or wrong. We regret our mistakes, our failings, our inadequacies. But our children do not see us like that at all. Children are incredibly tolerant of quirks and traits. They see us mainly as either loving or not loving. Loving parents expect a great of themselves and very little of their children.

When I was twelve years old, my Dad, who was already dying, turned to me one day and said, out of the blue: "Never worry what other people think about you, because they are always wrong." It may have been the best piece of advice anyone ever gave me. At the time I didn`t have a clue what he was talking about, but I certainly do now. It isn`t the loss alone that is so hard to bear: it`s the contradiction between the chasm and what we fill it with.


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Friday, 6 December 2013

Power to you!! The truth about your bills

Dear Customer,
Just a little note to let you know we understand your anger in the recent price hike.
But it should be noted that you have no choice.
We are a big company and you will pay what we tell you.
We have the power, you need the power. So sad...too bad.
We have enclosed a little picture to help outline our response.
Have a nice day and keep those cheques coming!


Your Electricity Supplier

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Monday, 2 December 2013

Christmas Present

"Christmas Present", a new collection by Meira Eliot, Roger Hicks and O.D. West with original illustrations. Some rather unusual Christmas tales for grown-ups and two delightful tales for children of all ages by Roger Hicks and O.D. West. Out today on Amazon Kindle

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Sunday, 1 December 2013


"By some exquisite twist of grammatical irony, the German word for feminism, der Feminismus, is a masculine  noun, and deservedly so. In the Berlin of the early eighties you would have had to scour the institutions of hard-core Third World fundamentalism to find anything as deeply misogynistic, or blatantly paternalistic, as institutionalized feminism. Before you dismiss this statement as a piece of reactionary tosh, allow me to tell you a little story." Excerpt from KUNG FUK YU, by Meira Eliot. Kindle Countdown deal still running!
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Sunday, 17 November 2013

"African Tales" by O.D. West is now live on Kindle!

I am proud and excited to announce, on the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution of 1989 in the Czech Republic, my translation of O.D. West`s wonderful sell-out children`s book, "African Tales". It is now live on
"African Tales" should also go live on by tomorrow morning. Enjoy!
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Saturday, 9 November 2013

Friday, 8 November 2013

The Ironing Board Technique: 3 Easy Steps for Getting Back Control of Your Social Media Time


Social Media Overdrive? The Ironing Board Technique. 3 Easy Steps to Managing Your Social Media Time


If you`re anything like me, you log in to your email account first thing in the morning, the first dose of hot caffeine still steaming in your hand, and find dozens of messages from Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest tempting you in all directions. You, follow up your leads, click on your links, start following new folk, and before you know it, half your morning is gone and you haven`t even started to do what you actually switched on your laptop for!

Welcome to Social Media Overdrive. In its most severe forms, this can actually lead to mental illness. But even in its milder forms it can be stressful and a black hole pulling in whole days of your life.

As a writer with a Day Job, I can`t afford to waste a single minute of my precious writing time, and even hours I spent legitimately promoting or marketing my work often feel like time stolen away from my writing.


 One day I got to think about how I do my ironing. I actually don`t mind ironing at all, as I do it watching my favourite shows on TV. The stupid thing is, I used to keep putting it off! I just couldn`t seem to take control of this stupid basket of laundry and get it done – even if there was only a few items in there that would only take 15 minutes to iron.

Then I discovered a mental trick, and it`s worked for me ever since. I found that if I told myself "I will now iron for 30 minutes", I stopped putting the task off, took control of it, and got it done effortlessly, as if by magic. Often I don`t even need to spend the full 30 minutes ironing, but that doesn`t really matter, because I find that once I have taken control of the time slot, the work does itself.

With my social media time, it`s actually the other way round: I don`t have a problem starting my Facebook and Twitter tasks, I have a problem stopping. But the principle is the same: once you take control of the time, the tasks just fall into place in the time available.

Here`s how it works:

1)   The "Laundry Basket". This is the list of social media tasks you have to do for today. It might be consolidating your social media activity through Hootsuite, it might be joining Facebook groups that link in to your interests, it might be replying to Tweets or following new Twitter accounts. Phase one is: jot down a "laundry list" of your social media tasks for today only, in any order, just like your items in the laundry basket.

2)   Now, look through your list and highlight the tasks that are your priorities for today`s social media session. It should be no more than 3, but ideally only1 or 2. This forces you to prioritize, which gives you clarity about what you are really trying to achieve.

3)   Now, set a fixed time-frame in which to do what you have set out to do. This should be no more than 30 minutes, tops, but ideally only 15 minutes, or even less. The fixed time frame is the key to keeping you on task, and will stop you from getting side-tracked. If you`re tempted off your assigned tasks for today` session, you`ll have to ask yourself whether you actually have time for this lead/contact/ in the few minutes still left in your time slot. If you do, fine, if you don`t, drop it and move on.


That`s it. Job done. And you still have the rest of your day ahead of you!

Meira Eliot on

Meira Eliot on


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Saturday, 17 August 2013

Friday, 16 August 2013

Sunken Egyptian City of Thonis-Heracleion

There is something so poignant about a find like this. It`s a treasure trove of past glory, and yet a reminder of how even the mightiest and most glorious can fall:
Sunken Egyptian City of Thonis-Heracleion
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Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Are we protecting data or protecting people?

On Sunday, my confused and flustered 85 year-old mother fainted in church and was admitted to the local A&E. They checked her ECG and blood pressure, but did not test her for a urinary tract infection (one of the chief causes of sudden confusion in the elderly). It also did not occur to them to inform her next of kin or a neighbour, or to ask her how she was going to get home, or even if she had the fare for a taxi home. On being discharged, this confused, vulnerable, elderly woman somehow WALKED the two miles home, where she went to bed, exhausted. Quite by chance, her next-door neighbour happened to bump into someone who had seen Mum collapse in church. He rang the doorbell. There was no answer. So he phoned my sister, who discovered, TEN HOURS after the event, that Mum had collapsed. When my sister went round, Mum had absolutely no recollection of any of what had happened. My sister has taken two days off work to chase our excellent family doctor to find out that Mum has an infection. When my sister rang the hospital for information, a curt staff nurse informed her that she could not pass on any details of Mum`s case even to her next of kin, on the grounds of data protection legislation. Wonderful! So we can protect our data, but we can`t protect vulnerable people?
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Thursday, 1 August 2013

Darwin Awards for customer service, a little rant

You`d think the state of the economy in recent years would have taught businesses to value their greatest assets, their customers. Not so, it seems, at least not with one or two of the better known dinosaurs. But then the dinosaurs probably had no idea they were going to become extinct, right up to the moment that meteor hit! Here are some suggested Darwin Awards for customer service by companies that could have been expressly designed to send their customers running to the competition. They are in no particular order. They all deserve to go extinct! Darwin Award No 1: A London theatre ticket booth that considers it way beneath them to given you directions: Arriving in London for a matinee performance of The Mousetrap, I got off my bus a stop too soon and missed the street where St Martin`s Theatre is tucked away. Obviously, Chinatown is not the ideal place to ask for directions, so I ploughed through to Leicester Square and thought, "Why not ask someone at a theatre ticket office? They must be able to give directions," I thought. I thought wrong, at least at this booth:
"Could you please tell me how to get to St Martin`s Theatre? I`m a bit lost," I said. "No," said the charming young customer service dinosaur sitting in the booth. And as I walked away, he shouted after me for good measure, "I`M NOT A MAP!" Fortunately, the nearby competition at
took a rather more positive view of their customers. The young lady sitting in this booth not only gave me helpful directions, but actually gave me a little map with the theatre marked on it! I found it in three minutes. Thanks SBO! Darwin Award No 2: Curry`s of Scarborough:
. On a visit to my very elderly Mum for a couple of weeks in Scarborough, I discovered that her fridge freezer and microwave both needed replacing, so off I trotted to Curry`s, as Comet had gone out of business (You`d think Curry`s might have learned a lesson from this, but apparently not). The first thing I noticed was that there were no staff around in the upstairs showroom. I had to go and look for someone to come and help me. You wouldn`t get that in John Lewis, that`s for sure. Knowing the measurements of Mum`s fridge space, I had picked out a fridge in a couple of minutes. A salesperson who looked like a walking sleeping tablet reluctantly slouched over to a computer and looked up the model. This was a Sunday. "We`ll be getting some of these in next Friday, he said." "Can I reserve one now and pay for it and get it delivered later?" "No, he said. "No." "I`ve also chosen a microwave I want to buy. Can I pay for that now and have it delivered at the same time as the fridge freezer?" "No," was the reply. "You`ll have to get a taxi." (I had got there by bus). If all this hadn`t been for my 86 year-old mother, I would have given up right then and there, but I needed to get all this sorted before I left in six days time. "So, I`ll have to come back next Friday then?" "Yes," he said, and went back into his Curry`s hibernation, while I sloped off. So the following Friday after work, I went back to the Curry`s store, went through the same rigmarole of trying to find someone interested in serving a customer, and found the same hibernating sleeping tablet upstairs. I had a printout of the fridge freezer model I wanted and handed it to him. With a zombie-like expression on his face, he looked up the serial number onscreen and announced in a dead-pan voice, "These are not due in for another two weeks." "But you said you were getting a delivery today." "They`re not due in for two weeks," he repeated. "In that case I`ll go and buy my fridge freezer somewhere else," I said, and walked away. "OK," said the salesperson. And that was that. From Curry`s I walked into town to Victoria Road, found a private local electrical goods dealer, saw exactly the size fridge freezer I was looking for, for the same price as at Curry`s, paid for it, and got it delivered the same afternoon. "I`ve just come from Curry`s," I said to the man. He burst out laughing. "Don`t tell me!" he said. "I get so much business from them, it`s ridiculous!" "Good for you," I said. "It is," he said. So congratulations to Curry`s - a Darwin Award definitely goes to you for supporting local businesses! Darwin Award No 3: Southwest Trains Having spent nearly half my lifetime living outside the UK, the price of train tickets in this country, and the cramped, dirty conditions of the trains, amazes me. It must be the most expensive place for rail travel in Europe. In most parts of Europe, if you buy a train ticket to and from an airport, there is a logical assumption on both sides that you are probably going to fly somewhere, and back again. This implies the possibility of delays, which are allowed for in this kind of ticket. In most countries, you can also just turn up at the station on the day and buy a ticket to where you want to go, without having to take out a mortgage. But not in the UK. It`s cheaper for my son at university in Glasgow to fly to Bristol than to get the train. But anyway, last week I flew in to Stansted airport an hour later than planned. This meant that instead of getting the 20.20 out of Waterloo I didn`t get there till nine and had to take the 21.20. As a result of the delay, and even though I explained to the conductor that I had had a delayed flight, he insisted on my paying £34 for a new single ticket from Waterloo to Sherborne. Now where I work I am expected to give value for money, and I do. I`ve always taken the view that if you offer good value, and added value wherever you can, you can`t make a mistake. Somewhere down the line it will bring rewards. So, having coughed up my £34 for a second fare, I`m sitting there on the train thinking to myself, "Here I am, squashed into what is euphemistically called an airline style carriage, with virtually no legroom (and I`m not tall), a dirty smelly toilet at the end of the carriage, and a conductor whose mission in life seems to be to take money for nothing. The idea that you only deserve value for money for a rail ticket if you buy it months in advance and bind yourself to a specifically timed connection is, frankly, a lousy idea of customer service. So I`m sitting there thinking of all the things I could have done with that £34. I could have saved myself the rush and stress of belting across London to catch the last direct train to Sherborne from Waterloo,and stayed the night at a private house I know that offers B&B for £25, and then done an exhibition or some such the next day. For under £34 I can get a RETURN fare to London from Sherborne on the National Express coach. So, the next time I popped up to London two days ago, I did just that. I took the coach. And as I boarded the coach back from London at 4 pm yesterday, one of the dispatchers at Victoria Coach station got on the bus to check that a lady who had missed her coach an hour earlier had found her way safely on to the next connection. Now that`s service. I`m planning to go up to London again in the middle of September, and I already have my coach tickets. So another Darwin Award for customer service, this time to Southwest trains. Being of a certain age, I`m old enough to remember the Christmas rail strike of 1984. I`ll never forget what a grand job the dispatchers did then of making sure that all that extra volume of traffic got in and out safely.
And finally, after all these tales of woe,a Darwin Award for an award-winning company that has raised the benchmark for customer service, not alas, in the UK, although they do run coaches here from the Czech Republic. I`m talking about the legendary international coach and travel company
. Compared to the journey described above, picture this: a 400 kilometre journey on a luxury coach with plenty of legroom and the facilities you would normally expect on a long-haul airline flight - stewardess service, with free newspapers and magazines handed out at the start of your journey, onboard loo (of course), free hot drinks served by the stewardess during the journey, and low-cost cold drinks and snacks for sale, as well as a screen in front of every seat, where you can watch a selection of films in either Czech with English subtitles or in original English, play computer games or listen to up to seven radio channels. And all of this for 400 kilometres for the price of a National Express ticket to London, or less! Where the Darwin Awards are concerned, I`m sure that I am not alone. What`s your story?!
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Thursday, 24 January 2013

There`s Beer, and Then There`s Beer

There`s Beer, and Then There`s Beer

Flying from Stansted two days after Boxing Day I landed at the little rural airport of Brno in the southern part of the Czech Republic. It was my first time back in six months. The first thing I noticed as I stepped out of the plane on to the staircase outside was that the sun was shining. It was a crisp, frosty, Christmassy day with traces of week-old snow. I had flown back to England on 2nd July and since then it seemed to have been raining incessantly out of endless cloud cover. As I breathed in the crisp, pine-tinged air, I remembered how much I missed being in a place with four real seasons. Cross-country skiing in the forests in winter, apple and cherry trees burgeoning with blossom in the spring, the heady scent of linden trees, canoeing and drinking beer chilled in the river during the summer, fermenting wine and walnut picking in the autumn.

Helena, my sister-in-law, picked me up from the airport and took me back to her house, just a five-minute drive away. I had Christmas presents for all the family, but had been instructed to unwrap them all from their gift wrap to take them through security at the airport. That rather took the edge off the belated Christmas celebration, but I tried to make the best of it by putting things in little gift bags that I had bought at the last minute.

“What would you like to drink?” Helena asked me. “We`ve got tea, coffee, wine, spirits...”

“Have you got any beer?” I asked, looking up at her with a glint in my eye. “Of course!” she said, and poured me a glass of Pilsner Urquell, the King of Beers. Pilsner is the original lager brewed in the city of Pilsen, in Western Bohemia, and the only beer brewed with alkaline water, which means it is medicinal. So medicinal, in fact, that it is prescribed by doctors for flushing out the kidneys and restoring the appetite after surgery involving general anaesthetic.

I can`t describe that first taste of beer as I washed it down. There are other beers I like, many of them brewed in the Czech Republic, but there is nothing to match the perfect balance of Pilsner Urquell`s bitter, but not too bitter hops, its clear golden colour and fresh flavour. It`s as if there is a special thirst only for this beer. Nothing else will do.

There`s a zone you can be in, where something feels and tastes right. The potatoes taste of potatoes, the wine tastes like wine, the colours hit the eye just right.  And the odd thing is, more of it isn`t actually better. It`s right partly because it`s enough, and no more. I had other glasses of Pilsner in the five days that followed, and they were good glasses of beer, some even Pilsner, but none of them tasted as good as that first taste the day I landed.,%20Meira/results/1.html


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The Peace of Fontilles

The Peace of Fontilles

There are places, and monuments, that have such a remarkable effect on you they stay with you until you die. For me, they will always include Michelangelo’s statue of David in the Academia at Florence, the city of Prague and the Sultanahmet mosque in Istanbul. Since recently they will also include for me a little known village called Fontilles in the Costa Blanca region of Spain.

Tucked away in the hills only a few kilometres inland from the popular resort of Denia, the turnoff to Fontilles is easy to miss, in fact you pretty much have to know it`s there to find it at all.

As you drive through the arid, stony landscape, you may catch occasional glimpses of a stone wall running high up along a ridge. Finally, you turn down into a scented, wooded valley and realise that the wall you were just now outside of, you are now inside.

The buildings are of varying sizes and designs, some elegant and imposing, if unpretentious, rather reminiscent of European spa complexes. Indeed they do date from much the same era. Others, as if resting against the steep, wooded hillsides, are smaller, more like small villas or even bungalows.

The three of us arrived by car during the siesta, so that for half an hour or so we were the only people there, giving the place the air of being somehow suspended in time. There was a strong sense of people around, but no sound, apart from a gentle, fragrant breeze through the pines. Parking, we walked slowly along the pathways, which were lovingly dotted with statues and grottos with little fountains and watering places. The whole place seemed to have been planned for the purpose of peace.

I had often thought of peace before as being an absence of discord or conflict, or of noise, but this was something different. The stillness at Fontilles was so pervasive you could not have spoken in a loud voice if you had wanted to. It was difficult to speak at all. This was a place for listening to the quiet. Even, as the afternoon wore on, other people appeared in small quiet groups, our greetings to one another were wordless smiles.

Bathing in the silence, we walked slowly back to a monument near the information office, still closed for the siesta, and read the inscription. Founded in 1902 and opened in 1909, run by the Jesuits, Fontilles is one of the last two leper colonies in Europe. The other is at Tichilesti on the Danube delta in Romania. When the Fontilles colony was first opened, the local people were so outraged and horrified that they built a wall round it to protect themselves from the lepers. Lepers are still today in some ways the ultimate symbol of the outsider. Outside the wall are fear, outrage and indignation. But inside the wall are healing and peace
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