Thursday, May 22, 2008

Living with a twelve year old....

... has its ups and downs.

For a start you have HORMONES. So a child who is normally quite calm and collected will get temperamental and teary for NO REASON AT ALL.

Then you get the whole, I don't want to grow up/take responsibility for anything, but you treat me like a child type thing. Treat you like a child? Now there's a thing...

And on top of that as Mum, you are expected not only to know EXACTLY what said child needs at any given moment in the day, and drop absolutely everything to deliver it (lucky I work at home, huh?), but the lack of responsibilty thing also extends to remembering where you have left keys/homework/phone/take your pick.

Thus it was Monday morning found no 1 barging in when I was on the loo (if I do that to her all hell breaks loose) demanding to know where her hoodie was. No idea, I said, why? It's got my phone it, she wailed, and you're bound to have put it in the wash. Dearie me, how thoughtless. I might have actually CLEANED some of your clothes????

Well it wasn't in the wash.

Have you tried your bedroom? I suggested helpfully. Cue lightbulb moment. I never thought of that, she said... Why would you when your mum does all the thinking for you?

Two minutes later, Found it! she says triumphantly (oh and thanks, Mum for helping me - oh sorry was that a pig that just flew past?), not in her hoodie of course, but in her bag.

By now it is time to leave for school.

Where's my black folder?

Which black folder?

You know. My black folder? My English one? You've moved it haven't you?

Now let me think... did I perchance move all the folders you dumped on the hall table to your bedroom WHERE THEY BELONG, so we could have a tidy house for your birthday party yesterday? I really am the most inconsiderate mother in the world...

I remember moving some folders, but not a black one. Cue hormonal moment, twelve year old collapsing into tears on hall chair because she clearly has the cruellest mother in the world, and me abandoning sandwich making (which I was supposed to be doing) to search her bedroom, where there was nary a sign of a black folder.

Was that the one you took in on Friday? I asked, trying to be helpful.

Nooooo, she says in her best Kevin manner, that was my red French file.

Of course. Silly me.

By now it's five to eight, and she's going to be late, so like the sap I am I offer to give her a lift to school, but give her a stern lecture about taking responsibility and that this time I am not planning to bail her out with her English teacher by writing a note to explain the inexplicable temporary mislaying of the file.

On the way to school she suddenly announces that she may, perhaps have left her folder in her locker...

I think my response was very restrained considering.

Having put me through all of that before 8.30 on Monday morning, I have to say things didn't bode well for the week.

But then. Like I say, life as the parent of a twelve year old is full of ups and downs.

Last night she took part in a school concert for Year 7. For years I have watched no 1 in shows and concerts, and she's had, maybe one or two lines. She's never been chosen for a lead, or asked to sing or anything. But this time she not only was asked to sing a solo, she also played the piano too.

The piano playing, I have to say was not exactly of the highest standard as she lost her place a bit, thought she did recover well eventually.

So when it came to her solo performance I felt really nervous for her. I hear her frequently practising the piano and guitar which she has recently taken up, but I never hear her sing, though I know she has a nice voice.

Actually, she doesn't just have nice voice, she has gorgeous voice. And she stood up and sang Second Star to the Right beautifully, without putting a note wrong. I was reduced to jelly natch, but it was wonderful to hear her doing something with such confidence. She's had to grow up a lot in the last year and it hasn't always been easy.

Being the parent of a twelve year old is full of ups and downs. But the highs when they come are very high indeed...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Dr Who and the Great Dame

Oh dear, could there ever have been a better fit for me in a Dr Who episode? I fell in love with genre fiction aged 12/13 when I first encountered Agatha Christie. I used to read her voraciously, and thought I'd read everything she's written (but I've just gone on to wikipedia and I clearly have missed a fair few). So to match the Great Dame with Dr Who was just like sending me to heaven really.

I know know the plot was utterly preposterous:

Alien from another world, who just happens to take the form of a giant wasp - why??? - impregnates posh lady who gives birth in secret, and baby/wasp is given up for adoption unaware of his parentage, till a fit of fury makes him discover it, so from being a mild ginger haired vicar he turns into a buzzing hornet who goes round murdering people who piss them off. He does this in the manner of an Agatha Christie novel, as by chance his mother has been reading one and fingering the telepathic necklace her waspy lover gave her which has a mental connection to our stripy friend, who then goes around thinking that he has to reenact Agatha Christie type murders...

It was gloriously stupid, in a way that only Dr Who can be, and I enjoyed every minute. I especially enjoyed spotting Christie references (By the Pricking of my Thumbs/The Mirror Crack'd/Murder on the Orient Express... and I'm sure dozens I missed), the fact that Donna gave her Miss Marple, and the way the Doctor admitted he'd worked out the mystery in nearly every one. The thing about Agatha Christie is, it's not really the crimes you read her for - the bit they got spot on was that she was a wonderful observer of people and I think it was that as much as anything else that drew me into her world. And I also have belatedly realised, that she also was a huge influence on my latent romance writing tendencies. There are always star cross'd lovers in Agatha Christie, and I enjoyed that too. And in this Dr Who episode, that aspect of the great Dame was gloriously subverted into a doomed homosexual love affair.

I think they could have gone for another Agatha Christie book for inspiration though (Appointment with Death? Death on the Nile? They Came to Baghdad anyone?) - because Death in the Clouds is probably the silliest of her novels (murderer goes round popping people with a blowpipe and a wasp sting... I kid you not) So this probably made for the most silly Dr Who episode ever,which may have been the point. And I enjoyed it enormously, so what the hell...

I don't get round to reviewing the good Doctor every week as I don't always have time, and I know from others who do there has been a mixed reaction to this series. But I have to say I think I'm enjoying it more then last time, and Catherine Tate is really growing on me.

And we haven't had Stephen Moffat's episodes yet...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Romantic Novelist's Association New Writer's Scheme Winner

This time last year, I was up for a book award. It's open to anyone who is a member of the RNA and has been through their New Writer's Scheme. Sadly, I couldn't attend the Summer Party where the award is announced, and even more sadly I didn't win. (However, I do know last year's winner, and she deserved it so I don't have any sour grapes, honest...)

Happily this year my friend Giselle Green was up for the prize. Again, I couldn't make the party as it was no 1's birthday, but I was delighted to learn yesterday that Giselle won it with Pandora's Box. Which is nearly as good as winning it myself.

Giselle and I both share an editor and an agent, so I am doubly pleased as it's great for them too, and they both deserve it. She is also the mother of six boys (count them. I did say six) and I really don't know how she does it.

I haven't had a chance to read Pandora's Box yet, but I did see an early draft of the beginning and it was brilliant, so I know this is a thoroughly well deserved win, and I can't wait to read it in it's entirety.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Out of a Clear Sky by Sally Hinchcliffe

As promised, today I am hosting a leg in Sally Hinchcliffe's virtual book tour to celebrate the publication of her book, Out of a Clear Sky. It seems like an interesting virtual experiment, and who knows, I may try the same for Strictly Love when it comes out in September....

My contribution to the tour is a review of the book followed by a question and answer session with Sally about her inspirations, for what frankly is one of the most unusual settings I've ever come across for a thriller.

Out of a Clear Sky is a tense and sometimes claustrophobic thriller, set in the rather unlikely world of bird watching. It starts with the heroine, Manda, alone in a mountain bothy. We learn that she was not alone orginally: at the foot of the mountain, lies the body of a man who was stalking her, and as she destroys the evidence of why they were both there, we are left wondering, how someone, who by their own admission, "had never killed anyone before", came to be in this postion. As the story unfolds we gradually learn what brought Manda to the mountain, and how the secrets of her past have bled uncompromisingly into her present.

Manda is struggling to come to terms with the fact that her boyfriend, Gareth, has left her, and their mutual birdwatching friends, no longer seem to want to have anything to do with her. She is also made uneasy by the presence of a fellow birder, David, who mysteriously appears every time she goes out birdwatching. What at first seems mere coincidence, gradually becomes something more sinister as Manda realises her computer programme is being hacked into, her garden is being infiltrated, and she is being watched.

Slowly, she starts to unravel as the pressure from the present brings back memories from the past she has tried so hard to suppress, and she realises that she is a dangerous person to be around.

This is a brilliant and absorbing thriller, tense and uncompromising, and often very uncomfortable to read. Iwould thoroughly recommend it, and look very much forward to Sally's next book.

Interview with Sally Hinchcliffe:

JH Bird twitching is something I tend to associate with Bill Oddie and Springwatch, so it was a big surprise to find it at the centre of your novel. Are you a twitcher yourself, or did it just strike you as an interesting theme?

SH I do enjoy birdwatching, or birding ('twitcher' is a little derogatory...) and so it made an obvious background to the book. The fact that programmes like Springwatch and so on are so popular has helped - people I think are a little more open to the idea of birdwatching now, whereas it was bracketed with trainspotting when I was younger. And when I was doing my MA I road-tested a few chapters on my fellow students and regardless of whether they enjoyed watching birds or not they were all enthusiastic about the bird aspects of the novel. The best thrillers always take you into a different world, I think, and using something I was familiar with and other people weren't meant that I could write about it from within, without having too much heavily-worn research.

JH It seems to me that each chapter has been carefully chosen with a particular bird in mind. The ravens in chapter one are a fairly obvious choice, and I can see the connections with the more exotic birds (the parakeets/the kingfisher) with Manda's past, but is there some meaning in dunnocks, skylarks and starlings? And did the story come from the birds, or did you weave them into it?

SH How a chapter got its bird (or a bird its chapter) was an organic process. Sometimes it was hard to choose one bird for a chapter title, and interestingly enough this was often those chapters that weren't working very well themselves. Once I sorted the chapter out, the bird would as often as not just drop out nicely as well. Mainly I tried to choose birds that people would mostly have heard of and which had some sort of cultural resonance as well as a resonance with the plot. In all cases (except for the firecrest which, like Manda, I've never seen) it was a bird I myself knew well and had observed. Some of the birds - swifts for example - are simply among my favourites and I've self-indulgently included them. Others, like the dunnocks, were important to the plot, because of their exotic sex life (and if that doesn't sell the book, I don't know what will!) and some, like starlings, are under-rated birds which people overlook and I wanted to give them a little moment in the sun.

JH The descriptions of bird watching are so vivid and intense, at times I felt I was almost there with the characters. Is this something you have experienced at first hand, or did you have to do alot of research?

SH A bit of both. I've drawn most of the observations from life where I could, but I also went back and checked the facts, particularly for things like breeding times and details of calls and habitats. There was a lot of stuff that I thought I knew, but I wanted to be certain and make sure I was as accurate as possible. My feeling was that Manda herself was a very accurate and precise person when it came to birds, and I needed to have the confidence that I was getting my facts right.

JH The lushness of the African part of the story forms a wonderful contrast with the alien landscape of England to which the teenage Manda is sent - is this also drawn from personal experience? And if so, did you, like Manda come eventually to appreciate the English countryside?
SH I did spend part of my childhood in Tanzania, yes, and remember the shock of the cold after the warmth of the tropics. I had at least lived in the UK before, so it wasn't quite as alien to me, but it took me a long time before I really felt properly at home in this country. And, like Manda, learning to appreciate the birds has been part of that journey
JH What drew you to Manda's story? Was there one specific starting point, or did it evolve over time?

SH In a sense, I started with the ravens, that whole opening scene on the mountain, although it's hard to know just when an idea for a scene like that crystallises into one for a book. From there, the story unfolded - both the main stalking plot, which was there from the start, and the back story which came later.

JH This is at times a claustrophobic and uncomfortable novel to read, did you experience any of those feelings while you were writing it?

SH The finished book is in a way a distillation of what I originally wrote in my first draft. The editing process has boiled it down, sharpening up the plot and concentrating on the essentials of the story. So the claustrophobic feel sort of crept up on me during the rewriting process, rather than being there from the start. But I did find that Manda's voice made its way into my head and was a constant presence especially in the later stages. It's quite nice now to be able to go birdwatching without her...

JH What drew you to this genre? Is it one you read yourself?

SH Yes and no. I have always devoured straight crime novels - from Josephine Tay to Ian Rankin, and all points in between. But I'm an omnivorous reader and enjoy Nicci French, for example, and some of the other more thoughtful psychological thrillers. It's a genre that crosses over most easily into literature, I think. Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, for example, is one of my favourite books, utterly gripping and compelling yet fascinating too. And Ronan Bennett's books which are both thrillers and something much darker and bleaker. And of course with the plot I had, it was crying out to be written as a thriller, so the book in the end dictated the genre.

JH What are you planning to write next? And will it feature bird watching...

SH It's a bit early to say at this stage, although it won't be about birds. It will be in the same genre though - pacy and plot driven but hopefully a little thoughtful too.

JH I look forward to reading it, and wish you every luck with this one!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Race for Life

For the last two years I have been taking part in a Race for Life event on the racecourse. Last year Nos 1&2 joined me, and this year, we're doing it again, with the littlies who are going to be walking with a friend.

I appreciate there are lots of calls on people's money, but if anyone perchance felt like sponsoring us, I've set up a webpage here at:

I have been a bit iffy about running of late, because the last two runs I've done with my running mum chums for last year have been terrible, but this morning I actually managed just over ten minute miles, which is quite miraculous for me, and I'm feeling better about it.

I have also decided (subject to Spouse's approval) I am finally going to pluck up courage to do a triathlon. There's one in Ardingley on 1 June, and I reckon I could manage the sprint distance now (500m swim, 24k bike and 10k run), though the swimming will be my best bit. But lots of people find the swimming tough, so it may give me a minute advantage. There's also one in Brighton I'm extremely tempted by as it's a sea swim and I love swimming in the sea. But again, I need to consult the oracle first.

It's taken me two years to crack it, but from being able to manage two lengths of crawl when I started I now regularly swim 70 on a Monday evening when I train. If I only had a bit more time I might get reasonably good for my age at it, though I'm never going to be super fast. But it has been a satisfying experience learning a new skill at my age and just goes to show - you're never to old too learn...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Virtual Book Tour

A blogging friend of mine, Sally Hinchcliffe, is having a virtual book tour over the next few weeks to launch the publication of her debut novel, Out of a Clear Blue Sky, which publishes next week. I'm always interested by the possibilities of online viral marketing, so I have offered to host a day here next Wednesday, 14 May.

Not only is Out of a Clear Sky a very fine, tautly claustrophobic thriller, Sally wrote it as a result of taking a Creative Writing Course at Birkbeck College. By happy coincidence, this is where my father took his English degree many eons ago, so it has been an added bonus in taking part in a really interesting experiment.

I will be reviewing the book here next Wednesday as well as posting an interview I've had with Sally about the motivations and inspirations of the novel, which rather unusually (but brilliantly) is set in the world of birdwatching.

If you want to follow her progress, Sally's book is also going on tour on the following blogs:

Writing Neuroses
Caroline Smailes
Roger’s Plog
The Man Who Fell Asleep
Down by the River
My Boyfriend is a Twat

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Meet the new boss...

... Who actually IS rather different from the old boss at the moment, but let's see what four years in power will do, eh?

Bloody hell, though. BORIS as Mayor of London. Who'd have thunk?

I think Political Umpire and are I are the only people on the planet who seem at all pleased by the demise of Red Ken, but there you go. As a Londoner by birth I'm not even sure that we need a mayor - we seemed to manage quite well till eight years ago, but in the interests of democracy I think it's a good thing that Ken has been voted out. Whether the Boy David will be so grateful come the next General Election remains to be seen. Boris could well end up stymieing the Conservative surge and giving Gordon his best ever opportunity to be the Comeback Kid, but we won't know that for at least two years.

In the meantime I sympathise with all the labour voters who are no doubt feeling thoroughly bruised after the events of last week and rejoice in the return of cut and thrust politics. At last, we're going to have an election where unless something changes drastically we should have a decent fight on our hands. And I do hope if the Tories do make it back to Downing Street next time, they don't get a huge majority. The story of politics in this country since 1979 has been governments having too much of a mandate, and it makes them think they're invincible and detaches them from the people who brought them into power.I'd really like to see an end to the arrogance of the people who've governed us since before I was old enough to get the vote. We need to keep our politicians on their toes, I think. That's where true power to the people lies...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Won't Get Fooled Again...

I love election nights, even if (as last night) I can 't actually vote. (We got to vote for Surrey councillors at the last General Election, and for own local council last year).

Being a sitting on the fence kind of girl, I am I suppose what you'd class as a floating voter. Instinctively I'm with the Lib Dems - well I was before they turned into a bunch of liberal fascists, and I've not really got on with them since Paddy Pantsdown left. Had Vince Cable gone for the leadership, I think I might have been tempted back, but Nick Clegg hasn't yet convinced me.

I have actually voted for all the three major parties on different occasions. I used to vote Lib Dem automatically, then moved here and realised the sitting MP had such a huge majority it was pretty much a waste of a vote. I could, I suppose, have spoilt my ballot paper, but given the struggle so many people endured (particularly women - I live up the road from the hospital Emily Davison died in, it concentrates the mind rather come election time) to get me one, that always goes against the grain.

So for a couple of elections I half heartedly voted Tory - so half heartedly in 1992 I do remember standing in the poll booth for about half an hour trying to make my mind up - because though I wasn't a fan of Margaret Thatcher or John Major, Neil Kinnock never seemed a credible alternative either. I did have a moment in 1997 when I thought I could vote Labour, but thinking that was a wasted vote in my area, I voted Lib Dem instead. To my amazement when the results came out the total of Lab/Lib Dem votes would have voted out our horrendously out of touch Tory MP, which would have been an upset on a similar scale to Southgate.(coincidentally where I grew up. How I cheered when Portillo went...)

Locally I tend to vote Lib Dem, but more recently have also voted Labour as several of my neighbours have stood for the local council, and I'd rather have them in then the arrogant Resident's Association lot who inexplicably keep getting voted in here, and seem to think it's their right to govern.

We also now have a brilliant constituency MP in Chris Grayling (Shadow Secretary for State and Pensions), so I regularly vote for him, less on Tory policies and more because he is incredibly effective locally, you actually SEE him in the town, and he has pursued an energetic and determined campaign to retain our local maternity services and children's ward against huge odds.

Last night, like I say, I couldn't vote. But it was bloody exciting none the less. I know it's not a general election, and anything can change between now and 2010, but I think the Labour party are exhibiting the same arrogance and dismissive attitude towards the electorate that the Tories showed in 1997. It is time they were booted out, and if the Boy Dave can do it next time, I will be pleased.

A very troubling by product of the catastrophic failure of the Tories to become electable again has been that their natural voters have become disenfranchised, and have been tempted towards the extremes like the BNP (who would have EVER thought the BNP would get any votes, let alone seats on councils). I think at a time where the British sense of fair play and tolerance has been stretched to breaking point by this government's determination to skew things in favour of every minority going be they pink, yellow or a three headed alien from Mars, this is an extremely dangerous development. A resurgent Tory party gives the disenfranchised voters somewhere to go to register their protest. This can surely only be a good thing, even if you hate the Tory party.

So I must say I found watching the country turning blue, and seeing things swing away from Labour to the Tories, was dead exciting last night. At the last General Election I was so depressed that despite Iraq Teflon Tone looked set to stay, I retired to bed early and listened to Jeremy Vine's analysis of the situation on the radio instead. He even played Won't Get Fooled Again, and I thought but sadly, we seem to have been...

Last night Jezza was taking up his newish role of filling in Peter Snow's shoes. Awful Texan accents aside, I do enjoy his mix of the lighthearted and serious in his approach to politics, and his analysis of the results as they came in was highly entertaining.

More entertaining still was seeing Polly Toynbee (she of the mirthless grin) squirming, first on Question Time (the only one on the panel apart from Des Brown,trying to defend the indefensible, namely the 42 day detention law), and later trying to make out it wasn't a bad night for Labour.

In the end it got late and we went to bed, but had the telly on as we watched what was happening. I dozed off but woke around 2.30 to hear poor Pol (I did almost feel sorry for her at that point, but then I remembered she'd evaded Richard Littlejohn's pertinent questions about where she sent her children to school earlier on, and stopped) miserably rubbing her hands at the thought that the country was turning blue, and Boris was looking very strong in London. I actually thought in my sleepy state that Boris HAD won at that point (I still think it's too close to call myself), but was sadly disabused of that notion when I woke up this morning.

I would like to see Red Ken out, because I think he treats London as his own little kingdom , shows scant regard for the voters, and has dubiously moral tastes in some of the people he's prepared to meet in his mayoral capacity. But I also have serious doubts about Boris, much as I like him. In order to win this race, he's had his wings clipped horrendously by the party machine - what we all like about Boris makes him unelectable, so that's had to go, which is a shame I think.

Having said that, even if Boris were allowed to be Boris, I don't really think he has the capacity or the ability to run London, and despite his carefully chosen black spokesman speaking earnestly about his accessibility last night, I don't really buy it. The only thing that he'd probably do is get a bit more sympathy for the Home Counties - this Labour government seems to think anyone living out here in the sticks must be a rich, several home owning, capitalistic bastard (class envy, alive and well? Discuss.) - when actually that is so far from the truth as to be risible.

Yes, we are lucky out here, we have in the main decent schools (though one local one I have mentioned before has been put in special measures - SIX years after they implemented a policy of only being open four days a week because they couldn't afford the staff - would this scandalous situation have been allowed in Hackney? I think not.), we have a good hospital (which this government has done everything in its power to close), but housing is hugely expensive, and to be a first time buyer around here for a two bedroomed house, the like of which we bought for £84000 twenty years ago would now set you back a tidy £350000. People here do struggle. Although I know many people, who are fortunate as I am to be able to live a good standard of life, I also know many more living in rented accommodation without any expectation ever of owning their own property. If Boris gets elected, maybe those people's needs might start to be taken into consideration.

Whoever does end up sitting in the Mayor's seat at the end of the day, at least the contest has been closely fought. I don't want Ken to win, but if he comes back with his majority significantly reduced, he might actually have to start listening to the electorate. Boris is an unknown quantity, who might be a lot of fun to have around, but I'm not really convinced he'd do much for London. Whatever happens now though, I think last night was a good day for democracy, because people have gone out and voted with their feet. One hopes Gordon Brown might actually start listening now...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Hour of the Pig

I realise I have been a tad quiet of late... This is mainly as a result of the late Spring holiday this year, coupled with an urgent need to finish the second round of rewrites on my next book, Strictly Love (about which more over on the other place shortly).

Anyway. Recently BBC4 have been running a rather brilliant mediaeval season, which unfortunately I keep missing due to other commitments.

I was however rather pleased to come home from my swimming session on Monday night to discover that a film which Spouse and I have only ever seen once, but has gone down in legend among a select group of friends for being rather barkingly brilliant. It's called The Hour of the Pig (or The Advocate in America), and stars Colin Firth as a city lawyer from Paris who goes to a small French village for what he thinks is going to be a quiet life, only to discover that life in the country is anything but. There's murder, intrigue, lots and lots of raunchy sex (this film is not for the faint hearted, and I won't be recommending it to my mother as I mistakenly recommended American Beauty without having seen it...), a whole lot of corruption and Colin Firth in his prime. What more do you need?

[Spoiler Alert]

The first time I saw this film, was one Boxing Day in the early nineties. At the time we were living in our first home, in that prehistoric age before we had children. So we'd invited a whole gang of our mates from our fine local hostelry (which makes an appearance in Strictly Love in not very clever disguise if you're interested), for a drinks and nibbles thing. Of course we all drank far more then we nibbled and I ended up watching the film in a rather drunken haze. In fact, I realise now I must have been so drunk I think I fell asleep as a lot of the film when I watched in Monday was completely new to me.

The premise of the story is that Richard Courtois (Colin Firth) is the defence lawyer for the village. It is based in part on genuine mediaeval cases where lawyers had to defend animals, and Courtois's introduction to the village is to see a donkey being let off a charge of having had sex with a villager, on the basis that as a dumb animal she had no opportunity to say no and therefore technically it was rape. This sets the scene for the whole film. Like I say, it's not for the fainthearted...

Initially Courtois feels he can run rings round the prosecuting lawyer, Pinchon (played brilliantly by Donald Pleasance), getting his first client off a charge of murder. But when he has to defend the local witch, he discovers a very dark side to the way law is meted out in Ponthieu. Courtois' horror when he realises that rather then getting her off as he had assumed, the witch is going to hang, is extremely well observed. Before too long he is uncovering all sorts of nefarious goings on, as he seeks to find justice for a pig accused of murdering a young boy. The pig happens to belong to a group of Gypsies and though Courtois initially refuses to take the case, his curiosity about the secrets of the town and his attraction to the engimatic Gypsy, Samira (Amina Anabi), leads him to take the case.

My main memory of the film is of waking up in all the rude bits, of which there are many. Courtois not only gets to shag Maria (Sophie Dix) the maid at the inn he is staying in (which isn't actually an inn - he belatedly discovers courtesy of his more knowing clerk (Jim Clark) it's a brothel), but he also tumbles Samira too. Not only that, he's being set up to get married to the daughter of the local seigneur (Nicol Williamson), who has an annoying braying laugh, and of whom Willamson delivers the immortal lines (which have remained as legend to this day, among the select group of friends with whom we watched the film originally)"she's moist between the hams".

Watching it all the way through, and not in a drunken haze, I was actually really struck both by the brilliance of the script and the wonderful performance of Colin Firth. He is about a thousand times better here then he is as Mr Darcy. His character starts off as an idealistic and rather callow youth, a little full of his own self importance, but as the film unfolds he emerges as the only person of integrity in the town, standing up always for the oppressed and the poor. Though Samira offers him a delicate choice - as an Egyptian she is seen as almost less then animal, and Courtois struggles with his attraction to her - in a scene that sends shivers down my back he rescues her when the seigneur is about to let his soldiers loose on her. I never really bought into Colin Firth as Darcy heroic, but boy is he heroic here. It's absolutely fabulous. And the way he works out a cunning plan worthy of Baldrick to get the pig off at the end is hilarious.

Ultimately of course, he can't stay with Samira, because as she points out to him, she is just too different and almost animal like to him, despite his ability to look beyond the prejudices of the other villagers. And Pinchon makes him see that if he stays in Ponthieu, Courtois will end up as corrupt as the rest, so in the end, he heads back to the city wiser, his integrity still intact.

There's a great twist at the end, which was also one of the key things I remember . The witch doesn't curse the town before she's hung, but tells them a great blessing will come in the shape of a knight in armour. So when a crusader rides into town, everyone rushes to greet him, only to discover he carries the plague...

It is often the case that you watch something again and it disappoints, but this didn't. Watching it sober, meant I actually saw the whole thing and understood what had been going on. I have no idea how accurate it is historically, but it's great fun and gives a wonderful flavour of the times.

The only annoying thing was having waited all those years to see it come back on tv (it is quite hard to get a DVD version that isn't American), we'd saved it on our dvd player, only for me to wipe it accidentally.

Guess who's going to be trawling Amazon then...