Keeping in Touch – Chapter 1

Sheila Walker sat at her desk in an office cubicle surrounded on three sides by her colleagues. On the fourth side was a common corridor which was mainly used by people when they were hurrying off to begin private phone conversations. Sheila had worked for the same firm since leaving secondary school in 1996.

At least they let me go home in the evening,” thought Sheila on bad days when the drudgery was especially unbearable.

Sheila entered customer data into her firm’s insurance system. Time dragged. Today, it felt like 3pm already and yet the clock on the wall, the digital clock, said 11:45 a.m. Sheila was spending her lunch break reading her emails aloud to herself, a habit she found difficult to stop.

What is this person talking about? I have never been on E-bay let alone started selling things. I have never owned a plasma TV…”  Sheila was puzzled.

People were walking by talking on their phones as she continued to read…

“It’s totally, like, well yes it is – yes, like totally…”

“…I have already contacted you once and have sent you the money…” read Sheila

“…with Denise in Accounting? Was he drunk or something? Put the pictures on Facebook…”

Sheila continued: “Please get me back to me as soon as you can with further information about the shipping of the plasma tv that i have bought from you. I am looking forward to get your reply. Thanks in advance. The item is a Samsung PS50A457 50 Plasma TV + 3 Year Warranty. Member since 08-Feb-12 in United Kingdom Location : West Midlands, United Kingdom. This is bizarre – I am going to ignore this.”

Someone holding a phone and smiling came into Sheila’s cubicle

Sheila looked up, smiled, and said “Thanks Dermot…is this for the insurance system?”

Dermot made the sign of the phone and pointed at his ear. He left smiling.

Sheila looked at the file and decided it could wait as she was on her break. She looked at her next email, which she thought might be from a customer. Sheila said to herself ‘Donald Smith – I have never heard of him – I wonder what he wants?’

A young woman listening to a blackberry then appeared at the entrance to Sheila’s cubicle. The girl spoke in a monotone voice devoid of any emotion “Are you coming then Sheila?”

“Hi Liz – where are we going?”

“I sent you an email – we’re going to the Indian for lunch to celebrate Barry’s birthday. I’d have texted you too but you don’t have a mobile.”

“I didn’t get that email unless it’s in my spam folder.”

“So are you coming then or not?”

“I’ve brought my lunch, sorry, but I only sit 6 yards away you know, you could have walked over and asked me – face to face.”

“It’s easier to send an email to everyone and I did put the lunch date on Facebook and LinkedIn. I texted everyone in the office too with directions and the GPS location if you’re driving. I tweeted the details and also wrote about it on my blog. Twice.”

“It’s just around the corner though Liz, who’d drive?”

“The forecast on the weather network, the BBC, and MSN was for rain, so I thought I’d cover all eventualities. Anyway, I must be going the others have gone already – talk to you later.”

This book is on sale at a discount between 22nd February and 28th February here

Chasing Cats

For less than $1 you can read This book  which describes 40 made-up traditions similar to the real ones in England.

All the stories are distinct and can be read independently; this is a book for the busy individual who has a spare five or ten minutes to discover the secrets of Biscuit Rolling.
Excerpt: Cat Chasing from Barton-in-the-Beans:

Barton-in-the-Beans is a village in the county of Leicestershire in the heart of England. In the Middle Ages it was believed that there were more cats in the village than in any other village or town in the country. This could only mean one thing in those times: witches.  Lots of them.

            There was no lake near the village. The local chalk soil drained easily so even after heavy rain no large puddles formed. Thus deprived of his best known method of determining who was a witch, the local Witchfinder-General Roger Boydell hit upon a novel method for searching out the local witches. 

            He determined that witches are very attached to their cats; at the equinoxes and the solstices he told his henchmen to round up all the village cats and place them into a large pen. At his signal, a man would allow three of the creatures to escape from the pen. These cats would be chased by the Witchfinder-General’s fitter cronies around the village. If any woman chased after the man chasing her cat, especially on a broomstick, she was determined to be a witch and sent off to Leicester for burning on the High Cross.

            This tradition lasted for 400 years, comfortably outlasting the role of Witchfinder-General by over 300 years. In the mid-20th Century, as people became aware of diets and exercise, it was noticed that the cats of Barton-in-the-Beans were the leanest, fittest, and most athletic cats in the whole county.

            Gradually from all over the country owners of fat, unfit, and lazy cats brought their animals to the quarterly cat-chasing extravaganza. However, some of these owners refused to chase their cat through the village and both owner and cat were sent packing.

            Other owners forgot their witch costumes and were disqualified. Distracted by the local mice population in the surrounding fields, some cats were lost forever. Sadly, some owners were as unfit as their animals and finished up at Leicester’s High Cross hospital.

            The Barton-in-the-Beans Cat Chasing is Leicestershire’s largest group event and is held four times a year with around 500 cats participating over a long weekend. The sponsors of the event include Which? magazine and the Egyptian Embassy.  

Bio: I am a writer. I love writing creatively especially about subjects such as British traditions, where my made-up traditions are no less ridiculous than the real thing. A list of my books, both fictional and factual (about travel), can be found here.

Keeping in Touch – Chapter 3

Sheila opened the front door and shouted “Hello everyone I’m home.” The silence was almost audible. All she could hear was the cat miaowing.

Sheila took off her shoes and went into the kitchen. Her husband, Walter, was sitting at the table pressing his Blackberry with a pointer. He was frowning with concentration.

“Hello Walter, how are you?” asked Sheila.

Walter sighed and replied “I’m busy Sheila, just finishing off some things for work.”

“Did you feed the cat?”

“What?”

“That furry thing we bought from the shelter six months ago.”

“Oh that, no I didn’t have time, no, I’ve been busy since I got home.”

“Where are the boys?”

“In their rooms I think, I really didn’t check.”

“You didn’t check?” Sheila was alarmed at the lackadaisical attitude of her husband on some occasions and this was one of them.

Walter waved his hand vaguely in the direction of the bedrooms upstairs “Well, I looked in and they were on the Internet, so I left them to it. As I said I have some things to do for work, emails to check, and a couple of meetings to set up.”

“Walter, when did you leave work?” asked Sheila.

“At about five, I drove home and then started working again.”

“And did you talk on the phone when you were driving?”

Walter looked guilty as he said “Just a couple of conversations yes.”

“So how many meetings did you have today?”

“Four, just four.”

“Are you interested in what I did today?” enquired Sheila.

Walter wasn’t concentrating and was going through the motions of being ‘interested’ as he replied “Of course what did you do today, darling?”

‘I entered the customer details for fifteen insurance cases on to the system and I must have heard the snippets of around sixty different phone conversations from people walking by my cubicle…”

“Sixty phone calls – you should get an i-Pad and then you could store them all so you can access them later.”

This book is on sale at a discount between 22nd February and 28th February here

Keeping in Touch – Chapter 2

Sheila waited at the bus stop. After 10 minutes the bus arrived. There were a few seats available. Sheila sat next to a young man wearing headphones. The bus started off. Immediately, he stood up and stared at her.

“Do you want to get off?” asked Sheila.

The youth stared at her. Sheila gesticulated at the aisle and the youth started to push past her. She hurriedly got up.

“You could have asked. Politely.” Sheila spoke to no one in particular.

The youth stared at her and then walked to the front of the bus.

It’s like he’s in a video game, where you just move around and don’t have to speak to anyone, just follow your instincts and do as you please. If someone gets in your way, you just zap them.” thought Sheila as she moved to the seat by the window vacated by the youth. She looked around at her fellow passengers.

On the seat in front, one male passenger was staring at a screen, watching something, Sheila wasn’t sure what. The female person next to him was playing a video game, vigorously using her thumbs. Around Sheila various conversations were going on with distant people.

“Yes, I’m on the bus. I’m on my way – I’ll be there in 10 minutes. Yes, I’ve got the milk and cabbage.”

“I’m on the bus, yes still on the bus like I was the last time I phoned you.”

“The cat’s done what? How did it even get in there I thought it was locked?”

Sheila looked at the seat opposite her. A young, good-looking girl was smiling as she spoke into her phone, quietly murmuring “Yeh, can you feel me touching you– is that good for you?” In front of this girl, a schoolgirl was using a small plastic pen to press buttons on a matching pink keyboard.

“No, just on my way home – I’ve not heard that no, why – your parole officer said what? That’s out of order, so when will you be going back to prison?”

Sheila reflected that she was on the bus too and was going home, but she didn’t feel the need to tell anyone. She took her book out of her bag and started to read.

“Hi, is this seat taken?”

Sheila ignored the voice as she has tuned out the background noise.

“Excuse me is it OK to sit here?”

Sheila looked up and replied “Oh yes, it is, sorry, I thought you were talking to someone else. With all these mobile phones you never know if someone is talking to you or not. I assume people aren’t talking to me.”

“That’s fine. I haven’t got a mobile.”

Sheila looked at the passenger, a young girl of around 21 who had a couple of bags.

This book is on sale at a discount between 22nd February and 28th February here

Keeping in Touch – Chapter 1

Sheila Walker sat at her desk in an office cubicle surrounded on three sides by her colleagues. On the fourth side was a common corridor which was mainly used by people when they were hurrying off to begin private phone conversations. Sheila had worked for the same firm since leaving secondary school in 1996.

At least they let me go home in the evening,” thought Sheila on bad days when the drudgery was especially unbearable.

Sheila entered customer data into her firm’s insurance system. Time dragged. Today, it felt like 3pm already and yet the clock on the wall, the digital clock, said 11:45 a.m. Sheila was spending her lunch break reading her emails aloud to herself, a habit she found difficult to stop.

What is this person talking about? I have never been on E-bay let alone started selling things. I have never owned a plasma TV…”  Sheila was puzzled.

People were walking by talking on their phones as she continued to read…

“It’s totally, like, well yes it is – yes, like totally…”

“…I have already contacted you once and have sent you the money…” read Sheila

“…with Denise in Accounting? Was he drunk or something? Put the pictures on Facebook…”

Sheila continued: “Please get me back to me as soon as you can with further information about the shipping of the plasma tv that i have bought from you. I am looking forward to get your reply. Thanks in advance. The item is a Samsung PS50A457 50 Plasma TV + 3 Year Warranty. Member since 08-Feb-12 in United Kingdom Location : West Midlands, United Kingdom. This is bizarre – I am going to ignore this.”

Someone holding a phone and smiling came into Sheila’s cubicle

Sheila looked up, smiled, and said “Thanks Dermot…is this for the insurance system?”

Dermot made the sign of the phone and pointed at his ear. He left smiling.

Sheila looked at the file and decided it could wait as she was on her break. She looked at her next email, which she thought might be from a customer. Sheila said to herself ‘Donald Smith – I have never heard of him – I wonder what he wants?’

A young woman listening to a blackberry then appeared at the entrance to Sheila’s cubicle. The girl spoke in a monotone voice devoid of any emotion “Are you coming then Sheila?”

“Hi Liz – where are we going?”

“I sent you an email – we’re going to the Indian for lunch to celebrate Barry’s birthday. I’d have texted you too but you don’t have a mobile.”

“I didn’t get that email unless it’s in my spam folder.”

“So are you coming then or not?”

“I’ve brought my lunch, sorry, but I only sit 6 yards away you know, you could have walked over and asked me – face to face.”

“It’s easier to send an email to everyone and I did put the lunch date on Facebook and LinkedIn. I texted everyone in the office too with directions and the GPS location if you’re driving. I tweeted the details and also wrote about it on my blog. Twice.”

“It’s just around the corner though Liz, who’d drive?”

“The forecast on the weather network, the BBC, and MSN was for rain, so I thought I’d cover all eventualities. Anyway, I must be going the others have gone already – talk to you later.”

This book is on sale at a discount between 22nd February and 28th February here

Broken Umbrella Menders Association (BUMA)

An extract from the book 40 Strange Groups which is currently on sale for $0.99

After a rainstorm the one guaranteed sight is a profusion of broken umbrellas strewn around on the wet ground. Most of the time these items are thrown into the rubbish. However, in Leeds this is not the case. Members of the local BUMA collect these discarded umbrellas and fix them with a combination of welding gear and hammers, so that the brollys are stronger than they’ve ever been.

The head of the Leeds BUMA, Brian Farr, explains: “Some of the umbrellas are inherently weak, so we strengthen them with wire and occasionally old stair rods and then they wouldn’t turn inside out in a hurricane. The best thing is we then sell them in our shop and we know we sell the umbrellas back to the very people that discarded them, but they don’t recognise them because we’ve changed them so much. 50% of our profits go towards providing bus shelters around the city and so far we’ve helped build 14 of them.”

BUMA started in Leeds and has since spread to Motherwell, Pudsey, Barnsley, and Dundee. It’s estimated that BUMA has rejuvenated over 14,000 umbrellas since its inception, 15 years ago, a number which provides a solid amount of work. As Farr says “We’ve had one or two of the lads retire, but their sons, and in one case their daughter, come into the business and carry on the family tradition. Long may it continue to be rainy and windy – that’s how we like it.”

The Eight Wives of Henry VI society (EWH6)

An extract from the book 40 Strange Groups which is currently on sale for $0.99

This society, known familiarly as the “The Eight Wives”, is an umbrella organisation for groups who believe a number of conspiracy theories regarding English history, including the theory Henry VI had eight wives, a record that Henry VIII tried to break without success. Other theories include one where Elizabeth I was really a man called Ethelbert, which is why she/he never married as she/he didn’t want her/his secret to be revealed. Another interesting theory is that Alfred the Great was really called Alfred the Grate and was a baker who killed Alfred the Great when he burnt the cakes and assumed his identity.

Roger Evans is the co-chair of the society and believes that it provides a valuable outlet for people’s doubts about history: “We never suggest to any proponent of a new theory that it is total rubbish. We ask how this idea came about and suggest ways its case can be further improved. Alfred the Grate is an interesting one because the skeleton people are searching for will be of the impostor baker, not the real king, Alfred the Great. The descendants of the real Alfred the Great will provide DNA samples, which come from the king’s line, not the baker’s line, so how will we ever find a match with any of the skeletons found near Winchester, when one of the skeletons is of Alfred the Grate and none of the skeletons will be of Alfred the Great, because according to the theory, Alfred the Grate threw Alfred the Great into a river and drowned him – his body floated off downstream? The longer no match is found, the more the theory gains credence.”

The secretary of “The Eight Wives” Heather Randall talks about Elizabeth I and the theory about her being a man: “We believe she was a man and that’s why there were no babies and no records of her ever having intercourse with another man. The heavy white makeup covered any remaining bristles after shaving. A woman’s body was substituted in the coffin after he died, just to preserve the myth of Elizabeth. We are combing through the records trying to find proof, but people have been very careful in the past to cover the tracks. We will keep searching until we find something proving our theory.”

Hindu Reincarnation Memory Club (HRMC)

An extract from the book 40 Strange Groups which is currently on sale for $0.99

Reincarnation – known as Punarjanma – it is one of the core beliefs of Hinduism that is generally accepted by many of its practitioners. Reincarnation is the natural process of birth, death and rebirth. Hindus believe that the Jiva or Atman (soul) is intrinsically pure. The HRMC attempts to provide their clients with information about their previous lives via a series of hypnotic trance sessions, where the client speaks about their previous life experiences.

These sessions are quite intense and should last no more than half-an-hour as the emotions that come to the surface can sometimes be disturbing, especially if the client finds out they were something really ugly in a previous life such as a snake or a camel.

One client, Rohit Ganguly, spoke about his session: “I was hypnotised and then I just remember a series of flashes in my mind as my previous lives as a fly, worm, crab, tree, and fish came out – I am not sure why I was a tree, but I was – and then I became bigger and bigger fish, before becoming a fly again. This upset me at some deeply subconscious level and I awoke from the trance. I will be back next week, because I have to know why I went from a tuna to a fruit fly. I must have done something really bad when I was a tuna – what could a tuna do that was so bad? Did I attack a fisherman that was trying to catch me? ”

The Camel Appreciation Society (TCAS)

An extract from the book 40 Strange Groups which is currently on sale for $0.99

Most people dislike riding on camels due to the animal’s terrible attitude, bad breath, and yellow teeth. Some people overlook these obvious problems in favour of the smooth ride offered by these idiosyncratic animals in the hotter climates of the world.

TCAS has linked up with holiday firms across the globe to promote camel safaris in remote parts of the world such as the Empty Quarter in Oman, the Gobi Desert, and The Sahara.

Their longest trek is the 51-day crossing from Zagora in Morocco to Timbuktu in Mali, where twenty camels are needed to transport the tents and food supplies for the ten travellers on the trip. Travellers on the longer trips report that their attitude towards camels changes during their time together, which may well be the traveller’s equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome.

Madeleine Stokes of TCAS explains the attraction of camels: “Camels have a similar attitude to cats and yet people love cats, but dislike camels. I don’t understand why that is, given camels can actually help you enjoy a trip across a desert. I wouldn’t want to rely on a cat for anything.”

The Edward de Vere Society (EdVS)

An extract from the book 40 Strange Groups which is currently on sale for $0.99

The Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship holds that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare. It is recognized by Oxfordians and Stratfordians alike that writing about royal courts, Italy and law required a certain prerequisite level of education.

Edward De Vere fits the bill here since he is known to have graduated from Cambridge University at age 14, becoming master of arts at age of 16. Furthermore De Vere studied law at Gray’s Inn and had an extensive library underlining his qualifications to write as knowledgeably as Shakespeare about Bohemia, Denmark, and Scotland. At court, Edward De Vere was nicknamed “Spear-shaker” due to of his ability both at tournaments and because his coat of arms featured a lion brandishing a spear.

However, some conspiracy theorists maintain Edward de Vere wrote far more than just Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. They believe he wrote Christopher Marlowe’s plays as well as the early poems of Ben Jonson, Edmund Spenser, and John Milton.

William Wimpole, a member of EdVS, understands the problems these ideas raise: “The evidence for these assertions is rather thin on the ground other than an educated man wrote the poetry and that Spenser’s and De Vere’s first names both begin with ‘E’. What is known is that Edward de Vere was a very quick writer and didn’t need much sleep, giving him many hours to write those wonderful pieces of high literature. It’s extremely difficult to prove this and naysayers always show how different all these writing styles are, but what they don’t understand is that Edward de Vere was a brilliant man who was capable of astonishing changes in literary style at the drop of a hat. One day he’d be Shakespeare, the next Spenser, and then Marlowe.”