Author Archives: Margaret

About Margaret


One for the Road?

Coronavirus, or political ineptness in tackling it, turning you to drink? Frustrated by restricted travel and closed pubs? Ever thought about the number of phrases there are to describe someone who is drunk?

Some are obvious, if euphemistic. They describe the physical state of the person – tired and emotional, legless; or the location as a result of their intoxication – under the table*.

Several are more specific, often begin with a ‘p,’ and are not suitable for a family blog.

Some words and phrases are clearly associated with imbibing more than is entirely good for us, but we don’t necessarily know why. We know, for example, that to be plastered is to have drunk more than we can properly handle, but not necessarily that the term came from plasterers using alcohol to stiffen their mix for plastering ceilings. After several hours of working close to the ceiling, breathing in the alcoholic fumes, they would descend from the scaffolding decidedly squiffy – in other words, plastered.

To be steaming, or the less well known steam boats, are terms for drunkenness that come from Scotland. At the turn of the twentieth century, day trips on paddle steamers became popular with working people who couldn’t afford holidays. On the ships, alcohol was readily available and many indulged, and were steaming by the time they returned to port. Later in the century, with cheap travel via the railways, and later via plane, becoming available, the fashion for steam boat jaunts declined. Not the fashion for overindulgence as a holiday pursuit, though, but I’ve jet to hear the term ‘easyjetting’ or ‘ryanairing’ to replace steaming.

Keeping with the nautical theme is the term three sheets to the wind (originally three sheets in the wind). A sheet is a cable, not a sail, and a tally of the number of sheets, was widely used by sailors to describe how drunk their shipmates were. Three sheets in the wind meant they were falling over drunk, but one sheet in the wind (or a sheet in the wind’s eye as Long John Silver says in Treasure Island) was to be merely tipsy.

*Talking of the term ‘under the table,’ I’m not that fussed on martini, but I do like Dorothy Parker’s cautionary ditty re over-indulgence:

I like a drop of martini

Two at the very most

After three I’m under the table

After four I’m under my host.

And that’s it for this week. Cheers!

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(A version of this blog appeared in August 2016)

Whipping up a storm.

A woman lost a tribunal case recently. Her boss, when giving a motivational talk to the team, had used the phrase to crack the whip and the employee accused her of racism. The ruling however was that the term was not derived from the exploitative slave / slave master relationship, but from managing horses. The whip hand is the hand the horseman holds the whip in and, by extrapolation, can also refer to a person who has an advantage or dominance over another. Both phrases have since been used in other contexts, including sexual.

A whipper-in is someone employed by huntsmen to manage the hounds, and no doubt in the past whips were used liberally on the dogs. In one part of Britain where I used to live, whipper-in was also the informal name given to the council worker employed to chase up truants and get them to go to school (and I am confident that during my time working in the same area no whips were actually used on any children).

Cartoon re the parliamentary three line whip

In the UK parliament the whips perform a similar role to horse handlers and whippers-in with regard to the members of parliament for their respective parties. I am just reading the memoirs of Alan Johnson and have reached the section when he first becomes an MP. He describes receiving the weekly ‘Whip’ – the document that sets out the workload for parliament for the following week. If a proposed bill etc. only had one line under it he could vote as he wished. Two lines meant that the party leader expected him to vote along party lines, but if he was unhappy with this he could arrange with a member of the other main party for them both to be off so their two (non) votes would cancel each other out. THREE under-linings however meant that he should appear in person and vote as the party leader directed. Failure to do so would result in dire threats from the whips and possible expulsion from the party. I had often wondered how the term three line whip had come about when hearing it mentioned on the news. Now I know.

A whip-round is an impromptu collection of money, often in an office setting for someone’s leaving present, or the like. In theory contributions are voluntary – though woe-betide the skinflint who refuses!

The word whip probably comes from thirteenth century Middle Dutch wippen (to swing) or wipfen (dance)

Links to my books and social media

You can find all my books and short stories on Amazon Books (@amazonbooks)

or via my Facebook page:

At least one story always free


Fact versus Fiction in a Pandemic

And the people stayed home.” This is the opening line of an untitled poem that went viral during April and was shared 1,000s of times by people moved by its words. A note with the poem says that it was written in 1869 by a woman called Kathleen O’Mara and resurfaced during during the 1919 Spanish Flu Pandemic until again lost in obscurity. The note implies that what we are facing now, with the coronavirus, is nothing new – we’ve been through, and come through, just as bad times in the past.

But, like so many things that get passed around our digital media, you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

It would seem that the poem is not a profound voice from the past that’s indicative of how history repeats itself  – and some of the language and idioms in the poem offer a clue to that being unlikely. Rather, it was written as recently as March 2020 by a  former teacher and chaplain from Wisconsin called Kitty O’Meara who was trying to process the worsening news about the catastrophic spread of the coronavirus.

If you haven’t read it already here it is.

And people stayed at home

And read books

And listened

And they rested

And did exercises

And made art and played

And learned new ways of being

And stopped and listened

More deeply

Someone meditated, someone prayed

Someone met their shadow

And people began to think differently

And people healed.

And in the absence of people who

Lived in ignorant ways

Dangerous, meaningless and heartless,

The earth also began to heal

And when the danger ended and

People found themselves

They grieved for the dead

And made new choices

And dreamed of new visions

And created new ways of living

And completely healed the earth

Just as they were healed.

Picture based on Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year 1665

Links to my books and social media

You can find all my books and short stories on Amazon Books or via my Facebook page. They may not heal you, but will help you pass the time.


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Words in Lockdown

Writer and event organiser,
Jenefer Heap

Twice a year the Warwickshire writer, Jenefer Heap, organises a popular event for local authors and members of the public in a congenial setting (i.e. a pub). The Words Live Lit events are where poets, dramatists, short and long story writers can read selections from their work that comply with an agreed theme. This can be loosely interpreted (sometimes very loosely), but the individual time slots are strictly adhered to as pubs, even in Warwickshire, do have to close at some stage.

Well, the coronavirus has put paid to such bibulous and convivial evenings, at least for a while. Instead Jenefer has ventured into new territory and organised a virtual event with nine of the regular performers. There was no particular theme for this event – beyond a request that contributions should be ‘up-beat.’

You can find the YouTube video here:


The poet, Gwyneth Box, one of the contributors.

It lasts about an hour, and gives a real taste of some of the talent in this part of the world.  I can say this without being accused of self-promotion; although I have participated in a number of these events, my work is not being showcased in the video. If you want to read anything I have written you need to go to Amazon books, or click on one of the links below.

Links to my books and social media

You can find all my books and short stories on Amazon Books or via my Facebook page:

At least one story always free


Blunden’s V DAY Poem in Full

On Friday May 8th we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the day that the Nazis were beaten in Europe. An important anniversary as there are still a number of people, now well into their nineties, who played an active part in this victory, and we could honour them whilst they are still alive.

As promised in my last post, here in full is the poem to mark the end of the Second World War that was written by the First World War poet, Edmund Blunden. It has just been put online by the Imperial War Museum. Blunden had no illusions about the ‘glory’ of war. But he was glad this war had ended – ‘once more we have come through.’

Now, from the sublime to the more mundane – Links to my books and social media

You can find all my books and short stories on Amazon Books or via my Facebook page:

At least one story always free


War Poet’s ‘Lost’ poem to be revealed on VE Day.

May 8th is VE (Victory in Europe) day and 2020 is the 75th anniversary. The day is special as it marks the end of the Second World War in Europe and was to have been commemorated by a bank holiday and a range of military themed events. Alas, Corvid-19 has put paid to all that, and celebrations will have to be a lot more muted.

One such quiet marking of the day is the revealing of a ‘lost’ (or, rather, hitherto unpublished – it has been available to researchers) poem by the First World War poet Edward Blunden (1896 – 1974). Blunden joined the army in 1915 straight from school and served until 1919 with some distinction. He was awarded the Military Cross for acts of bravery and unlike many comrades, he received no physical injuries. Mentally though he never recovered from his experiences, despite managing to lead a very active civilian life as an academic, a writer, and a critic.

On May 8th in 1945, when the Second World War was declared to be over in Europe, he wrote V DAY. It begins ‘Now the great vision which we dared believe / Through slow and savage years … And concludes ‘Thence shall the victory ever new / Sing in the lives of all that live “we have come through.”’

The main body of the poem is to be revealed on May 8th by the Imperial War Museum which now owns the poem. If I can track it down on the museum’s website, I will include it in my next blog. Meanwhile I have attached another of Blunden’s poems. It’s not a war poem, as such. It was written in 1936 and is his anguished – sometimes hazy, sometimes acute – recollections of what it was like to be a soldier in the front line. For many, by this time, another war seemed inevitable and, as he looked back at his own wartime experience he had no delusions of unalloyed glory in the prospect: it was ‘kill or be killed.

Can You Remember?
Yes, I still remember
The whole thing in a way;
Edge and exactitude
Depend on the day.

Of all that prodigious scene
There seems scanty loss,
Though mists mainly float and screen
Canal, spire and fosse;

Though commonly I fail to name
That once obvious Hill,
And where we went and whence we came
To be killed, or kill.
Those mists are spiritual
And luminous-obscure,
Evolved of countless circumstance
Of which I am sure;

Of which, at the instance
Of sound, smell, change and stir,
New-old shapes for ever
Intensely recur.

And some are sparkling, laughing, singing,
Young, heroic, mild;
And some incurable, twisted,
Shrieking, dumb, defiled.

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You can find all my books and short stories on Amazon Books or via my Facebook page:

At least one story always free


Theatre in the Age of Coronavirus.

Many writers will be finding unexpected opportunities for writing in this period of lockdown: fewer distractions and an even smaller social life than usual. Painters and composers may feel the same way. But actors are not so lucky – no plays are being performed, so no rehearsals. And no phone ringing to offer you a part as there is no date yet for when the theatres can open.

Alan Bennett

Unless, that is, you get a call to do a monologue – the only plays possible to stage whilst maintaining social distancing. Eight of Alan Bennett’s original Talking Heads, and two new ones, are scheduled to be staged for the BBC in the coming months. Bennett himself is in agreement and has made some minor adjustments to his scripts.

The stage and screen director, Nicholas Hytner, is in overall charge. Individual monologue directors and stars have been appointed, as have the necessary studio crews. Rehearsals are underway via video links between actor and director, the composer for the background music is working from home, and the crews will, one by one, be preparing the studio scenery and lighting at Elstree.

Imelda Staunton

The first rehearsals in the studio will be for technical purposes only, with a stand in for the actors who include Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, Maxine Peake and Imelda Staunton. The performers themselves will only go to the studio for one day when the staging for their monologue has been fully set up. They will bring their own coffee mugs, do their own make up under remote supervision, and take their comfort and meal breaks (as well as perform) whilst keeping two metres away from everybody else, including the director and camera crew.

No date has been fixed yet for the plays to appear on television – so much depends on actors and crew remaining well. But someday soon(ish) the only form of ‘live’ theatre possible at the moment will be coming to a small screen near you.

Links to my books and social media

You can find all my books and short stories on Amazon Books or via my Facebook page:

At least one story always free