A Christmas Wish is Finally Fullfilled


After I first read about the original sets of Ivory chess pieces found in the vicinity of Uig on the Isle of Lewis sometime around 1831, I’ve lusted after a full-sized set of my own. 

With the worldwide ban on collecting Ivory thanks to the CITES convention, the only sets available are made from resin like mine pictured above, or maybe cattle bone. Although I’ve yet to hear of any in the latter medium…

The main difference between this set and others is that the pawns look like grave markers and the queen is decidedly masculine. The pieces are massive in comparison to traditional chess sets. Take the King for instance. He measures in at 2 inches wide by 1and a 1/4 inches deep by 3 and a 1/2 inches tall. As a consequence I’ve had to order a much bigger chess board – 19″ made from Mahogany and Sycamore to accommodate them. It’s scheduled to arrive later today (Friday 22nd December 2017).

To be any good at chess you need to have a tactical mind, something I’ve never had. Which is probably why I’m so hopeless at the game. Years ago I taught my mother all of the moves. Never once did I win against her. She was ruthless. She never went easy on me. Had she lived I suspect she would have reduced the Chess Grand Master Garry Kasperov to tears. Having said all that, it doesn’t really matter, I still love the game and my new replica Isle of Lewis chess set.

Writing this brought back a childhood memory. I forget how old I was at the time (probably eight or nine), but I do remember stealing a brand new stick of white chalk from the teacher’s desk. Thankfully I got it back home in one piece. For several nights using a modelling knife I slowly transformed it into a Viking warrior, complete with his axe and shield. I was so proud of it, even if it didn’t last long. From memory his head fell off…

Merry Christmas from this old scribbler, and a happy New Year to you all.


Sally Cronin’s Book Reviews 2017 – My recommendations for Christmas Part One – Mary Smith, Judith Barrow, Cynthia Reyes, Kristina Stanley and Jack Eason

More from our Sally 😉

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

As part of promoting books for Christmas, I thought that I would share some my book reviews from 2017 that I featured on the blog. These are books that I can recommend personally and I hope that if you have not read the work of these authors you will head over and check them out.

I have not read nearly enough books this year and I still have some reviews to write that will appear after Christmas. My intention in 2018 is to maintain book and author promotions but also ring fence some time for my own writing and reading. I will be featuring one review a week which is my target of 52 books reviewed for next year.

Anyway I do hope you enjoy my personal selection over the next two days.

My reviews and recommendations for Christmas Part One.

No More Mulberries by Mary Smith was a treat…

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Least favourite film adaptations of novels

Some thoughts from Pete 😉


Following on from my recent post about excellent film adaptations, I come to the opposite. We all have books we have loved to read, and perhaps treasured over the years too. Very often, it might seem impossible to bring them to the screen, as their plots are too complex, and the characters too many. Then one day, we hear that a film is going to be made, and we hope that it will do the book justice, even though we cannot imagine it on screen.

The trip to the cinema, or opening the DVD package, is filled with trepidation. We have our own idea of how it should be filmed, and many of us have put imagined faces to characters we found fascinating. Can that fantasy landscape ever be fully realised on film? Will the cast have the acting ability to get that horror across, or gain the sympathy of…

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Creativity – the cruellest of all mistresses

Remember this post???

Have We Had Help?

For those of us who worship at the feet of the goddess Creativity, we willingly give ourselves over to her. In our bid to placate her, we sacrifice everything else which to most people seems essential like a normal life, if we are at all serious about what we do, or should that read obsessive about what we do. Why? Because she demands it – simply as that, nothing more, nothing less!
Most, she ignores – be thankful that you are one of the large majority of humanity she simply passes by you lucky people. But for those of us who are gripped with a strong desire to create something for others to enjoy like a book, short story, film, photograph, poetry, sculpture or painting, once Creativity has seized us by the throat, we are hers to command forever more.
Creativity doesn’t give a damn about what passes for normal…

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I’ve been working on this for days…


I came up with this short fiction as my Christmas present to you all, while taking a much needed break from my endless researching of the Merovingians. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it for you…


The Discombobulation Effect

The entire town was gathered in the square forced to attend on pain of death by Raymond VI – the Count of Toulouse, in his capacity as the leader of the Albegensian Crusade, appointed to the task by Pope Innocent III.

At the square’s centre stood three stone pillars, set in a triangular formation. Around them a wooden stage had been constructed by the Count’s mercenaries, with faggots of oil soaked wood stacked beneath it.

The crowd parted when Raymond and his entourage arrived on horseback accompanying a small carriage bearing the Papal insignia. Adalberto, an elderly monk had been sent by the Pope with the blessing of Dominic Guzman, the founder of the Dominican order, to minister to the Count’s religious devotions, and to root out what the Pope and his college of cardinals considered to be heretics in this part of Europe.

The Cathars throughout the Languedoc region completely rejected the corruption of the Catholic hierarchy, reminiscent of the behaviour of ancient Rome’s former emperors and senators. They preferred to be far away from the influence of Rome here in the solitude of the mountains of Southern France.

The monk was protected by a contingent of the Count’s mercenaries wherever he went. He alighted from the carriage and made his way towards the pillars. He inspected the chains and manacles attached to them as well as the stage and faggots. Satisfied, he commanded, “bring forth the heretics!” No one dared protest. To do so meant that the Pope’s Inquisitor would force them to join the three Parfaits who were about to die.

While they were being taken to the place of execution, no one took any notice of a young monk in his black habit, standing in the deep shadows on the eastern side of the square while the Sun beat down on the scene in front of him. His dark eyes missed nothing. From where he stood with his cowl covering his head and face and his arms folded across his chest, with his hands thrust deep into the voluminous sleeves of his habit, he watched everything going on and the faces of everyone in the town square.

As the time of the Parfait’s execution drew near, the mood of the assembled townsfolk changed from one of fear to resentment towards the Count and the Dominican Inquisitor. No one living here considered the Cathar’s religious beliefs heretical in the least.

Once the Parfaits were manacled, Adalberto cleared his throat to read out the trumped up charges against the pious leaders of what the Pope decreed was a heretical sect. Earlier, when his legate Pierre de Castelnau was murdered, Innocent III finally had the excuse he had been looking for to wage an unjustified holy crusade against the Cathars, ostensibly as a favour to the French rulers for their continued support of the Catholic church, but in reality because the Cathar doctrine was spreading far and wide across Europe, much to the Catholic Church’s great dismay. The fact that Pierre had been killed by someone other than a Cathar sympathiser mattered not…

From where he stood, the young monk’s hidden fingers flexed in anticipation of what was about to happen, deep inside the sleeves of his habit. Having read out the charges, Adalberto briefly look towards Raymond. The Count nodded his assent to the monk who then took a burning brand from one of the mercenaries and threw it at the faggots.

Before the flames had fully taken hold, terror and panic seized everyone assembled there. Both Raymond and Adalberto rose into the air before briefly being dashed against the buildings surrounding the square, before their unconscious bodies headed for the pillars. The majority of the town’s citizens had already fled in every direction together with the mercenaries. While the Count and the Inquisitor were still hovering in mid-air, a handful of the citizens released the three Parfaits and spirited them away to safety.

The young monk’s fingers continued to work unseen like an expert puppeteer as one by one he lowered both men onto the stage. As if by magic their hands and feet were held fast when the manacles miraculously closed themselves around their wrists and ankles, moments before the fire finally took hold.

With the last agonising cry uttered by both the Count and the aging Inquisitor, the young man quietly left the square, content that his plan to free his fellow Parfaits was successful…


PS – If you don’t know what discombobulate means after reading this story – look it up!!!

That’s yer lot for now folks…






The Belly of New York

The Belly of New York

More from Malta…

The Champagne Epicurean

We need to start talking about why you look Mexican.

Being Maltese I am – we are – sufficiently mixed with Latinate blood to pass, especially with the right facial hair, for something resembling a Mexican. Buy, my daughter, why you have to look like an Aztec princess gazing down on a queue of sacrificial victims, I don’t know.

But I have a right to know. Even though you were never born, never got to see the light of day, the whirring planet, the libidinous roller-coaster that is civilisation – you are still my daughter.

And for me, your miscarriage gave birth to the American Dream.

* * *

When your mother and I went to New York I found work as a commis chef in a decent, busy French restaurant in Midtown. My daily commute to work took me past the places even you have heard about; the Empire…

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Ani’s Advent Invitation – You are never too old to be loved by Sally Cronin

More from Ani – and her human Sue 😉

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Well, it snowed a bit here yesterday… not much, not even long enough for me to play out…and then it all disappeared. It is all very well her heaving sighs of relief, but I was looking forward to a long snowy walk! Still, she says that mysterious ‘they’ say we may have lots of snow this weekend. Mind, she says they often get it wrong too… But she’s got her hat and her boots by the door and that big fluffy coat that makes her look like a short-legged yeti… so I think she thinks they may be right this time…

I love playing in the snow. Quite apart from the fact that it might save me from having to have a bath before Christmas, it is really good fun. She plays out for ages when it snows and we walk miles. And while she throws snowballs for me and…

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…Bahrain National Day celebrations by an ol’ Scots interloper…

More from that man in Bahrain 😉

Seumas Gallacher

…celebrations are celebrations, regardless of wherever they take place… in Scotland, we have the much-lauded Hogmanay New Year’s Eve tradition, much of which, it must be confessed, as a young man in the days when I imbibed the ‘electric soup’ were lost in a mist of distilled fumes from gurgly bottles… we also have the St Andrews Day with much wheeeeching and birling and skirling of bagpipes, accompanied by lashings of wild haggis (a much better taste than the domestic variety), and we expatriate exiles from North of Hadrian’s wall are adept at adapting to our adopted environments… witness this month, in the Middle East, the National Days of Abu Dhabi (December 2) and now upon us, Bahrain’s festivities (December 16)… the event falls during the weekend in Bahrain this year, and many locals have already held events to mark the day… on Wednesday, my friends at Bahrain Islamic Bank

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What Do You Wish To Be|آرزوداریدچه بشوید

What Do You Wish To Be|آرزوداریدچه بشوید

Yet another of Laleh’s gems 😉

A Voice from Iran

There was an assignment given by a third-grade teacher to her kids in an Elementary School.


They all had to write about one subject which was: “What do you wish to be?”

The teacher collected all of her students’ assignments and took them home to read and mark them.


When she started reading and marking, one assignment engaged her attention and made her cry.


Her husband walked in and saw her crying and asked for the reason.

She said: “Read this essay please.”


Her husband started reading the essay loudly:

“Today I would like to wish in a very different way. I know it may seem strange to you but I wish I was a TV. Because everyone likes TV and they gather around it. They pay attention to the TV and listen carefully to hear it well. Everyone stays quiet to catch what the TV is saying. My father…

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2017 – the other Best Books I read this year!

The other half of the list 😉

Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

I have already posted a list of some of the authors whose books I read this year and found to be outstanding. You will find that link here.

But I read so many books in 2017, and many were great reads indeed, so I’ve divided the list into two: that first list covered authors I have promoted on my blog,
Reading Recommendations; this second list is everything else.

Because I tend to be an eclectic reader, you will find on this list: old books and newly released books, fiction and non-fiction, children’s picture books, graphic novels, memoir – even a couple of political biographies, and many books about books and reading (because I’ve been researching a series on Reading for my blog). What I have not listed are the classics and cookbooks (yes, I even read cookbooks!) that I read this year. And I read all of these…

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