Monday 31 January 2011

Waiting in

I am waiting in. For the gas man. For the second day. He's very nice, apologetic when he doesn't make it in time etc etc. But there are things I want to do, and I can't do them.

People spend a lot of time waiting in - I have a rich friend who seems to spend most of his time doing it - and it occurred to me some time ago that there is a gap in the market for an organisation called, say, It doesn't exist yet; at least I hope it doesn't, because if the writing comes to nought, then I might start it myself. You phone up, and a nice person with excellent references and a hitherto blameless existence turns up, and waits in. For the new fridge, or the gas man, or the very large parcel, or even the visitor you're hoping to avoid ("I'm so sorry. She's been called away urgently, and won't be back for a fortnight"). A good idea, don't you think?

It might even make a plot for a novel, or a sit com (

You saw it here first.

Saturday 29 January 2011

The quest for eternal youth (or sausages)

John likes to buy things he's seen "written up". Books, vitamins, The Knife*, even sausages - anything highly recommended by what he considers to be a reputable source - come winging their way to us through the post, at considerable expense. We(yes. I join him. After all, he's paying) take/use/eat whatever it is for a while, then because we aren't living any longer or being less tired or whatever, he forgets to re-order, and another life-enhancing idea bites the dust.

Yesterday, four little parcels arrived from Switzerland containing a magic (and I suspect very expensive) liquid claiming to contain all the elements, minerals etc he needs (and which he's probably already getting). He has to weigh himself to calculate exactly how much he needs to take, and then off he goes on another quest for eternal youth or whatever (he's forgotten what this stuff is supposed to do because the journey from Switzerland has taken so long).

I shall not be joining him in this. Life's too short (with the magic stuff, it may be a tad longer, but I'm prepared to risk that), and I can't be bothered to do all that weighing and measuring. But I wish him luck.

*The very expensvie Knife, mentioned in a previous post and without which apparently no chef would dream of taking to his chopping board, and which lurks at the bottom of the washing-up bowl and has already bitten me three times.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

That baby again

Time for another baby pic. A cheery thing for a January day. I hate January because (a) it's a horrible month and (b) February comes next, and with it, my birthday. I have a friend who never tells anyone how old she is. Even her son doesn't know. I think this must be wonderfully liberating, because she just is.

But I know how old I am, and I'm not pleased.

Monday 24 January 2011

The joy of shorts

No; not the clothes sort. I look awful in them, but wear them on holiday if my legs are brown enough (cue fake tan). I'm talking about short stories.

While plotless and waiting, I've returned to short stories, and the sheer joy of completing something quickly*, and not being so emotionally involved, makes a wonderful change. I wrote a story on Friday, sent it to my (short story) agent on Saturday, and she replied on Sunday ("Thank you for sending your marvellous new story"). Okay, it may well not sell (it's a highly competitive market), but to get such quick, positive feed-back is a wonderful boost.

Talking of short stories, I've been reading some by Alice Thomas Ellis (by mistake I have to admit. I thought the book was a novel). Highly recommended..

*I realise that people who write literary short stories take a lot more time over them, and I respect them for that. But mine are for fun (mine and, I hope, the readers').

Saturday 22 January 2011

Useless information

I'm not sure that there's any such thing as useless information, because if it's not something you need to know, or even want to know, then it may come in handy for a pub quiz, or perhaps as an opening gambit at a dull party. You just never know. And besides, the more you think about it, the less useless it seems to be (to me, anyway).

For instance, how about this. I learnt (from the radio this morning) that the shearwater can hear fish underwater. Hear fish? Hear fish? It got me thinking (no bad thing at the moment, still in waiting mode and with agent abroad for the next two weeks). I'm not entirely sure what a shearwater is (some kind of bird?), but whatever is is, hearing fish has got to be an accomplishment, and any accomplishment has to be admired.

Here's another. An Italian man was apparently recently shot in the eye, but sneezed the bullet out through his nose. This is a story with a happy ending, so that's not useless, either (although at first glance it may seem to be). And then there are all the ones saying that if you laid all the boy scouts/matchsticks/disgraced politcians or whatever end to end, they would stretch all the way from... etc etc. There are those, too. Not useful at all, since no-one will ever do all that laying, but oddly entertaining.

Friday 21 January 2011

Canine crosses

Aliya has a springador (labrador cross springer spaniel). Lots of people have labradoodles (we once made some by mistake. Rather beautiful). All of which got me thinking. Springadoodle, terradoodle, labrawawa, beaglador, lurchation, puppit (pug/whippet)... Someone must have a lot of fun making up all these names. Any more suggestions?

Oh dear. I obviously haven't got enough to doodle...

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Naughty step

Meet Geoffrey, my daughter's dog. He's still only a puppy, and he's on the naughty step for chasing the cat.I've put him here to brighten up what has become rather a dismal blog over the past week or so. Oh - and because he's very cute. (And I'm not really a dog-lover.)
But I have an interest in Geoffrey because I found him for her. My daughter wanted a labrador ("so that it can put its head on my knee and gaze up into my eyes,"said she, who knew nothing about dogs, least of all large ones, but who had been watching that very soppy film Marley and Me). But now she has Geoffrey, who is a miniature wire-haired dachshund.
Geoffrey is ideal for a beginner because (a) he needs very little exercise, (b) he doesn't shed his coat and (c) he does very small poos.
What more can you ask?

Tuesday 18 January 2011

The private life of the writer

My family all seem to be performers. My mother was an actress, my sister trained as one, my brother's a pianist. But I think I'm temperamentally different. Although I studied 'cello for a while, I now realise that one of the things that stood in my way (apart from lacking sufficent talent!) is not liking to be the centre of attention. Which got me thinking.

Is this one of the reasons we write? Is it because, while being creative, we can stand back from what we do, and don't necessarily have to be around when it's meeting its public? One of our number has recently been upset by a rather nasty review, and I know we all sympathise with that. But at least that writer wasn't there when the criticism was made; didn't have to show their hurt and distress. I think perhaps many of us are quite private people. We scribble (or tap) away on our own, and send our offerings out into the world without having to go with them. We get news of them, and we rejoice (or not) over their progress, but we don't have to be there. We are that little bit removed (although it doesn't always feel like it).

I'm currently reading the latest novel by Andrea Levy - the Long Song (wonderful!). At the back, there's a Q&A section in which she says the worst part of being a writer is having to promote her work (although it was comforting to know that even a writer as successful as she is has to do it at all). Quite. I've yet to meet any writer who enjoys book signings. For me, they are the stuff of nightmares!

Sunday 16 January 2011

Sad end to a bad week

Las week was a bad week, for lots of reasons (I won't go into them; too depressing at this time of year). The culmination was a visit to my 94-year-old uncle David, about whom I've written before.

But to start at the beginning (of yesterday). Being a bad week, yesterday had to have a bad start. We got into the car to find the battery was completely flat. Jump leads. That's what we needed. So I went into into the pub, and asked the nice landlord. Yes. He had jump leads, he said, reluctantly putting down his bacon butty, and fetching them. We weren't at all sure how to use them (I know. Sad, isn't it?) so Andy from the antique shop brought his van round. Then we couldn't find the battery (tho' we did manage to open the bonnet) - even sadder - but pub landlord and Andy managed to, after a brief seach (it was hidden under a kind of lid), and off we went.

Long, tedious journey. Only 56 miles, but it takes 1 hor 40 minutes because of country roads, sheep all over the road (some of it was New Forest, and the sheep were not it a hurry). That kind of thing. And we finally arrrived, having missed the pub lunch we'd promised ourselves, as we'd run out of time.

And my uncle....Is there anything sadder than seeing a bright, forceful, proud man reduced to a state where he has little idea of who we are (and not much idea of who he is, either). He is also very deaf, so conversation was limited. I always take a thick felt marker and lots of paper, so that I can write things down, but he had trouble reading and understanding what I'd written. Once or twice, there were glimmers of the old David; of humour and mischief and authority. But mostly it was a matter of trying to follow his thread and stay with that, whatever it was. Last week apparently people came from the church with guitars and tambourines and flags for the residents to wave. David refused to wave his flag. Good for him. What makes people think it's ok to treat adult human beings like small children, whatever their mental state? This is a man who as a boy sang in the choir of St. George's Chapel, Windsor; who was sometimes taken up to the castle to sing to the king and queen in private. He still knows what music he likes and what he doesn't. He is not a different person; just the same person changed, which is not at all the same thing. His tastes and his basic inclinations are the same. I know these things are kindly meant, but they are not appropriate. It is all so desperately sad.

There is no solution. We - and he - just soldier on. I have no idea what goes on in his head, but whatever it is, it is fragments of what he was - of committees he was on, of people he once knew, of experiences he once had - not an entirely new state. So I shall continue to treat him as the uncle who used to give me half-crowns, and who, later on, took me to Glyndebourne, made a speech at my wedding, took my small sons to buy smart jackets for their father's funeral. And hope, for his sake, that he doesn't have to carry on like this for too much longer.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

A grumble

I have just received more spam (the computer kind) about " losing those extra pounds" after Christmas, and this infuriates me.

I really resent the assumption that we all gorge ourselves over the festive season, and struggle to shed it afterwards, and I find the whole idea of see-sawing up and down (Christmas, up; get into-your-bikini-by-June, down) rather obscene.

But it seem that we are fascinated by diet and obesity. There is a proliferation of TV programmes about very fat people. Some of these have apparently been bed-bound for years, and that begs a rather obvious question that no-one seems prepared to address. Where is all that food coming from? For behind every beached, obese person, there has to be another (thinner) person with money and a shopping trolley and a handy supermarket. In other words, an accomplice.

A grumpy post, but that's how I'm feeling at the moment. I need sun.

Monday 10 January 2011

Winners and losers

While I am (still) delighted for Phoebe's triumph (see below), I am a bit against the whole voting-for-form-captain thing. I am all for winners and losers. After all, that's what a lot of life is about (and as writers, don't we know it!), and kids need to get used to it. I think the new custom of having neither winners nor losers at school sports days is ridiculous. Kids aren't stupid. They know when they can't run fast, jump high, or whatever. I was so bad at all sport at school that I was dispatched to a far corner of the sports field with two similarly untalented friends to - wait for this - throw the discus. How useful is that? (And what would Health and Safety say about three clumsy schoolgirls mucking about unsupervised with a potentially lethal weapon?) But I survived (pysically and emotionally), and learnt to make lovely daisy chains.

But form captains are different. If your fellows are voting, then it's a measure of how popular you are, and this matters far more to a child than the ability to leap over a pole. I remember with dread those Christmas post boxes we had in our classrooms - my grandchildren still have them - into which children posted cards to each other. I didn't care a hoot who had sent me a card; it was how many cards I received. They were like votes; a measure of poularity. One small grandson received just one card one year. I think he will remember that far longer than the fact that he wasn't picked for a team.

So while Phoebe deserves her success - she is a kind child; she notices when people are upset; she is sociable and chatty and fun - I can't help thinking of the child who longs to be form captain but who will never - perhaps merely through shyness - get that little badge to wear.

Friday 7 January 2011

Good news

On checking my emails - again - I came across the following:

"hi granny i am form captin bye"

A timely reminder that there are lots of kinds of good news. Congratulations, Phoebe!

My book of the year - 2010

I have recently finished Helen Dunmore's The Betrayal, and have decided that it is/was my book of the year for last year.

The novel is set in in post-war Stalinist Russia, and is the story of Andre, a young doctor who is asked to treat the son of an important government official. As soon as Andre takes on this patient, the net begins, very slowly, to close around him, for the boy has cancer and is very sick, and if the worst happens, someone is going to be blamed. To add to the mix, Andre has a pregnant wife and her young brother to look after, and if things go wrong, what will happen to them?

Dunmore's prose flows effortlesly, as always, and the story unfolds with an awful inevitablity. It is gripping from the start - a book I couldn't put down, but didn't want to end - and has all the ingredients for a memorable read. I was disappointed in The House of Orphans - her previous novel - but for fans of The Siege, this will not disappoint.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Still waiting

I wasn't worried at all. In fact, I hadn't given it a lot of thought - after all, it's been barely a month - until I received an email from my agent including these words:

Just to say I didn't hear a squeak out of anyone about the book before Christmas so I will chase them all this week. I think it was simply a case of having too much to do before Christmas hit them and it doesn't reflect on the book at all.

NowI'm seriously worried. No-one likes it. Of course that's what this means. In fact they probably all hate it, and have tossed it aside until they can bring themselves to break the news. There will be no bidding war, no huge success, no Booker Prize* nomination, no final recognition of my genius. Okay, so I'm a glass-half-empty kind of person, but this, on top of the Archers' pathetic denouement (and the fact that I don't know how to dispose of the Christmas tree), is simply too much.

*Talking of the Booker Prize, has anyone else read The Finkler Question? I'm reading it at the moment, and my jury is still very much out.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

The Archers' birthday bash

What a let-down (in every sense). We were promised life changing (well, Ambridge-changing) events in the 60th. anniversary episode on Sunday, there was all that hype, a half hour - yes full half hour - episode. We waited by the radio with bated breath (we usually only listen about once a week, if that. It's all you really need). And what happened? Helen had her baby.
And it was fine (Alis and I were wrong there), and Nigel fell off his roof.

Ok, so Nigel is dead, but that's not really enough, is it? It doesn't begin to compare with Coronation Street's tram crash (yes, I am a fan. Have been for years). The tram crash was wonderful. Fires, people buried in rubble, three dead (although admittedly one had already been murdered), the lovely Becky going on a pillaging spree. Altogether enough material to keep them going for years. But the Archers... Oh dear. Of course, Elizabeth (the widow) will never forgive David (her brother, who was up there on the roof too), and everyone will be very sad. But let's face it, it's hardly ground-breaking stuff. The only person I feel sorry for is the actor who played Nigel, for what on earth will he do now?

Monday 3 January 2011

Dame Edna Everage

I am a huge fan of Dame Edna Everage, and for anyone who missed it, here's her recent interview with John Humphreys on the Today programme. I think she's quite brilliant (I know I should say "he", but when she's a she, that's what she is). This is my favourite kind of humour, not least because a lot of it is off-the-cuff. And how lovely to be that successful, but not necessarily visually recognisable (I'm talking about Barry Humphries now. Sorry, Dame Edna).

The press - too much freedom?

I have several problems with the reporting of the murder of the Bristol woman, Joanna Yeates.

Firstly, the media's preoccupation with this particular case. As I recall, there was a young boy shot dead over Christmas, but nothing was made of that. So why focus so much attention on the case of Ms Yeates (tragic as it is)?

Secondly, what gives the press licence to refer to her as "Jo", as though she were a friend, or someone we all know well (or feel we do, like Princess Di)? Most of us don't know her at all, and it seems to me that it would be more respectful - especially under such devastating circumstances - to refer to her by her full name.

And lastly, there is the appalling trial-by-media of her landlord, who has been granted police bail and released. Perhaps he is guilty, but there has been no trial, and he may well be innocent. People have been interviewed and have described him as odd, or weird. But there are lots of odd, weird people around, and that doesn't make them murderers (never mind the fact that these are subjective opinions, and one person's odd may be another's interesting, or just a bit eccentric). This man had had his reputation ruined for the forseeable future, whatever the outcome. Should he even have been named at all?

As far as this last is concerned, I'm all for the freedom of the press. Up to a point. But there's always a price to be paid, and quite often the person paying it is both vulnerable and, more to the point, perfectly innocent.