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Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Oh the Humanity! Nativity Plays

For those with children - it's that time of year again. Off you trot to the school hall, breathing in the curiously familiar smell of disinfectant and piss (or maybe that was just my old school) and sit down to watch The Nativity Play at 9.30am in all its comforting familiarity. The most popular boy gets to play Joseph and the cutest girl (or the one who has the scariest mother in the PTA)is Mary. But all this has changed. No longer do the most prized parts go to the future little Masters of the Universe while everyone else with their shy, spotty, incontinent offspring have to contend with being Third Shepherd on the Left. They all gather onstage, sometimes having to be prodded by an exhausted teacher. One of the shepherds cries loudly or wets himself. Then they all shout: "Behold a Star!" and point upwards in different directions like actors in bad sci-fi films pointing vaguely at a spaceship. I was too speccy to be Mary, and instead had to contend with being the Angel Gabriel. I clambered onstage wearing a cut-out sheet, minus my specs, shouted "I am sent from God" and fell off the stage. "Sent from the pub more like!" shouted a parent. I was only six!

Anyway, all that has changed, according to the Telegraph. It's the shy kids who get the best parts, not those annoying confident ones. One parent argues that the whole point of a nativity play is children weeing and crying and doing everything wrong, not a load of irritating acting prodigies. Quite right too.

My daughter's school, instead of a traditional nativity, put on a show called The Smallest Angel. It was fab! Loads of children forgetting their lines, singing Away in a Manger off key, and in one memorable moment, Mary dropped Baby Jesus and said: "Oh shit." But like all parents I only had eyes for The Girl who kept waving at me. "That's my mummy" she shrieked to the small boy next to her. "No - that's my mummy" said the boy. They kept this up throughout the entire show. She's such a little scene stealer . . . .

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Bagpuss

I was saddened to hear of the death of Oliver Postgate, creator of Ivor the Engine, The Clangers, and Bagpuss (which was voted the most popular children's television programme of all time)

You know you're getting old when you start on that 'things were better in them days' routine, but children's programmes are a bit like nursing and parenting; eulogised but there's no money in it. And like parenting, children's telly is done by committee nowadays. You have to run things by producers, senior producers, executives . . . everyone is so worried about offending someone. When I co-wrote a small radio programme for children, we weren't allowed to have a 'weeing sound' in case Myrtle from East Cheam rang in to complain that her little 'Mango and Edgar didn't tune in to hear the sound of urination!' (true) Our plaintive appeals of 'small children like naughty sounds like wees and farts fell on deaf ears. Oliver Postgate was part of the generation of children's programme makers who had a great idea and were allowed to get on with it, without scores of suits checking every five minutes. What hasn't changed is there's still bugger all money in it.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The Blank Page

Last week I had lunch with a very nice producer who expressed an interest in a sitcom idea I've had flapping round my head like a hyperactive budgie. We talked about things like television format rights, and I nodded sagely, thinking Oh my God he wants to buy the format rights hmmm this noodle soup is good. It was the first time somebody has offered me MONEY for something I haven't yet written. He was even nice about my inability to write a proper treatment. "I've never known a writer who could write a really good treatment. Go and write a few scenes instead. That's them best way of showing the telly people you can write." Oh no - that means I have to actually do something. I would have floated home on air, only there was that tiny little gremlin nugget of bollocks I have to write something now. Something funny.
There was nothing else to do but research all those wonderful software programs like Final Draft, and Script Smart, that make your pathetic amateurish ramblings look professional. They do all the formatting for you. It's wonderful. I've just spent at least two hours going 'wow' like a madwoman as TITLE appears in the centre of the page, and SCENE 1 goes zing!!! with a quick stab of the return key. Now all I have to do is write.

Fuck.

Speaking of the black hole of hopeless despair, I watched Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe last week which was all about writing for telly. Really interesting and useful. I'd heartily recommend it - inspiring and practical. And while you're watching you don't have to be writing - even better! He talked to Russell T.Davies, Paul Abbot, Sam Bain, Jesse Armstrong and Graham Lineham. I was particularly heartened that Graham Lineham admitted to procrastinating like mad. Only he's Graham Lineham.

Back to the blank page. Quick cup of coffee first.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Hairy


The other day I climbed into bed wearing my sexy combo of Barbara Cartland pink leggings, and lilac fluffy, bobbled vest, plus non-matching socks and a dab of toothpaste on my chin (there was a zit on the way which The Girl had kindly pointed out: “Mummy you’ve got a spot. If you get lots of spots it means you’re ill.”) As I fell into bed, Husband looked up from his i-Thing which features a dancing Santa telling him it’s only 39 ‘sleeps’ till Christmas and said: “Jesus you’re hairy!”

I was very upset and clambered immediately onto my feminist high horse. Why should I wax and prune mid-winter . . . I wasn’t that hairy . . European women blah blah blah. Remember that fuss about Julia Roberts showing up to some film premiere with hairy pits? “I was just saying you’re hairy” Husband said with that infuriatingly smug/innocent tone of voice he’s got down to a tee. Bastard. (That’s the last time I’ll affect a sympathetic tone when he’s moaning about hair sprouting out of his nose like a free range welcome mat.)

The thing is, I mind. I don’t like being overtly hairy. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.

I go to the gym twice a week and lift weights so there is now a pleasing definition to my upper arms, and my stomach muscles can now do their job and support my back. So I’m in reasonably good shape. But it’s just not enhanced by er natural foliage. And now I can see it everywhere! How can my leg, underarm and lady garden hair be so dark? And stubbly? Why is there a large hair growing out of my belly button? Worst of all, why is there a (cue Disney cackle) witch hair spiralling out of a tiny mole on my cheek?

I took myself off to the local salon, got slathered in wax and had it all ripped off. Anyone who says it hurts worse than childbirth has clearly never had children. It stings a bit but I was reading a fascinating ten page interview with Geri Halliwell explaining ‘how fame no longer feeds her soul.’ And lo! I looked down at my now wonderfully smooth and gleaming legs, and thought, hmmm, do I feel like a passive tool of the patriarchy? Nope. Just nice and smooth. Then I went home and took that witch hair to task too. I smothered it in Extra Gentle Depilatory cream, only how gentle can something be if it burns off hair? The witch hair was gone when I wiped the stuff off, but in its place was an ugly red mark. (“Mummy you’ve got another spot!” said The Girl very helpfully).

Oh and the exercise? I was exhausted this morning, turned up late to my exercise class and sulkily flung my arms and legs about, ignoring my very fit teacher’s exhortations to “Get Those Knees Up!” What’s the point of that anyway if you’re like me and have to wear 200 layers of clothing just to keep warm? There was a cartoon in a paper yesterday of a woman going into a sports shop, with a pile of running shoes, dumbbells and a skipping rope. She says to the owner: “Can I exchange all this for a big baggy tee shirt?” I sympathise.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Guess what - it's cold!

My neighbours are nice. We wave at each other in the street while smiling nervously and thinking, Who the hell is she? A friend of mine once confessed that when driving, he used to sometimes parp his horn and wave energetically at a stranger while shouting: "Hello!" Nine times out of ten the poor person would wave feebly back and look very confused.

Yesterday The Girl who has that four year old habit of saying absolutely everything in her head(a habit that sadly some people never grow out of)- regal led Mr Next Door with a long tiresome monologue about her new pink gloves. "They have pink hearts on them and I've got a matching scarf and my best friend is called Shania." What is it about four year olds that they never draw enough breath for you to run away or interrupt? I watched as Mr Next Door's smile became more fixed. Then when The Girl offered to show him her matching pink knickers he suddenly decided he was in training for a marathon, and sprinted off up the road as though the pink hounds of hell were after him.

But most of the time like all English people I talk to my neighbours and local shopkeepers about the Weather. "Cold isn't it?" "Ooh yes. . .freezing." A moment of silence. "I wouldn't mind that so much but it's damp as well." "Oh yes. Damp. Terrible. So cold and damp."

Another silence. Then one of us ventures:

"Must go. I'm really cold." And off we go again. "Yes I don't remember it being so cold last year."

One of us really ought to say: "It's nearly December. Of course it's fucking cold!"

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Rows and Collapsing Buildings

Yesterday The Boy and The Husband were both contentedly watching When Buildings Collapse Noisily. I was reading a book about Pensions. Yes, it's just crazy non stop action in my house. I glanced across at the boys. Thud thud thud music underscoring each scene, like in psycho movies when you hear the thud thud of a heartbeat to increase the tension. "Any second it's going down!" shouts someone. BOOM! The building unsurprisingly vapourises. The Girl toddles in with her knickers on her head. "Wow" she says.

You'd never guess that two hours earlier we were having a screaming row with the Boy about his failure to do homework. He's had nine detentions this term all for not doing homework. It's never his fault of course. The homework is boring. "It's meant to be," I say sternly. (Is it?) He's doing Macbeth (terrific, short and full of violence) and his homework was to read Act 4 sc 2 which is where Lady Macduff and her son are murdered. I suggested he watch it on YouTube. "Watch it?" yelled The Boy in tones of outrage. "It's meant to be performed" I said, trying and failing not to sound a) superior and b) patronising. I'm struggling not to say it . . .arrrghghhh . . .here it comes . .FUCKIT. It's So Much Easier For Kids These Days. All I had was a copy of the sodding Shakespeare play. The only chance we had to watch it was some clunking O level version performed on a budget of £1.99. Now you can click on YouTube, type in Macbeth act 4 sc 2 and lo! Trevor Nunn's fantabulous production is there for the watching. Or Polanski's! We sat and watched a few clips of Polanski's Macbeth and I tried to explain that Polanksi had made this film shortly after the murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate. The Boy looked bored. "It wasn't a film!" I suddenly snapped. "His wife was murdered by a ghastly bunch of vile drugged up hippies."

Suddenly The Boy and I were having a huge row about nothing and everything. I can't understand why when I try so hard to be aware of his feelings, to listen to him, to respect his views, that he seems to treat mine with utter contempt. Probably because he's a teenager. Anyway I started acting like one too - I threw his stupid book across the room and slammed the door.

Anyway after we found out about the detentions, Husband stomped up and down telling the Boy he wasn't applying himself to anything. "What am I . . Glue?" said The Boy sarcastically. Sometimes I wish he wasn't so good at answering back. The Boy was banned from going out all week and we're taking the x-box away for a month.

Later on peace was restored as everyone watched footage of buildings falling down. Then as I was brushing my teeth before bed and gloomily realising that yet another line has appeared on my forehead (Thanks Boy!) I realised I had a spot as well. It's not fair! How can I have lines and a spot? And it's one of those ones that won't just go away - it'll swell up and mock me. "That's why I have a beard" said Husband smugly. I wish they made a programme entitled: Husbands Standing Underneath Buildings that Collapse Noisily.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Stinky Worrywart

Sounds like a CBeebies character doesn’t it? A small furry purple thing whose tail goes boingggg! and puffs out a farty cloud. Except it’s me. During a particularly stressful moment yesterday I realised, to my intense embarrassment, that a bayaaaaad smell was wafting up from my armpits, impervious to triple strength deodorant, a good showering, or the fact that it was -10 degrees outside.

This, along with other unpleasant physical symptoms (racing heartbeat, lack of appetite, spots and boring my loved ones stupid by obsessively going over and over the source of my anxiety) have appeared on and off throughout my life. You see, as well as being prone to depression, I also get very anxious and jittery. Yes I know – I’m a real prize.

This stinky worrywarting though – I noticed it first a few years ago when I was temping. I sat in a tiny, crowded office, and the Office Manager insisted on giving me an hour’s training even though I was only going to be there for a day! Then as I sat trying to type, I realised that a stinky pit smell was wafting up from my armpit. Specifically my left armpit. Horrors! I’d only put deodorant under my right arm!

It was dreadful. I sat with my left arm clamped to my side like a secretarial Quasimodo, struggling to type, feeling myself get redder and redder in the face. And stinkier in the pit. It crept up into the atmosphere like a miasma of evil. At one point someone stuck their head round the door, furrowed her brow, flapped her hand in front of her face and glanced at me. That was the longest afternoon of my life and I’m sure my name in that office will be forever writ large as The Stinky Temp.

I get particularly anxious when I feel undermined and attacked. I'm doing some creative writing teaching, and having been on both sides of the fence, know how it feels to have your writing criticised. But I wasn't prepared for the fact that some people take the slightest hint of criticism as a full on attack. Unlike the real world where people will either ignore your work, or that one time at Random House when my irascible boss picked up the phone to an unpublished writer and shouted: "Your book is utter shit sir!". However, I’m expected to examine minutely and frame comforting but rigorous critical feedback on work. But there will always be those who equate constructive criticism as a personal attack, just as there are also those who believe that their exclusion from the Booker shortlist is due to the massive conspiracy against new writers. As W.B Yeats said: “The best lack all conviction, the worst are full of a passionate intensity.”

But not only do I stink when wracked with anxiety, one half of my brain is metaphorically wringing its hands and getting into a state, while the other half is sternly admonishing and pointing out that this is ridiculous and it will all blow over. Don't be ridiculous I shout at myself. It’s like one half is worrying and the other half is telling me off about it.

After a few days of calming emails, gentle encouragement and Super Strength deodorant I’ve stopped smelling. And started to think of how one person’s mild anxiety is a nervous breakdown to another. My mother rang me. “I’m so glad I’ve done my Christmas card list” she sighed. “It was really bothering me.” I mentally rolled my eyes. Then I thought of Barack Obama, who always seems cool and collected. With the whole world on his shoulders.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Evil Aided by Incompetence

The philosopher Edmund Burke said that for evil to triumph, all that is needed is for good men to do nothing. In the case of Baby P, it's wise to remember that the actual perpretrators who inexplicably have only been sentenced to fourteen years in prison, are the ones who carried out the appalling treatment of the child. But perhaps here, evil has flourished aided by incompetence and secrecy. There is a very good article by Camilla Cavendish who recently won the Private Eye Paul Foot Award for Journalism. You know proper journalism where you look under rocks, question the official version and keep going, past all the lies and obfuscations, till you find out what's really going on. Where all you gather are enemies in high places, not baubles and free lunches.

She believes that "social workers jumped to the conclusion early on that Baby P's mother was inadequate but not a physical abuser. They then stuck to that in spite of the staggering and mounting evidence to the contrary."

I've tried to imagine myself in a roomful of experts and everyone is telling me that I'm overreacting; that the mother is co-operating, that all the evidence shows that chldren taken into care do very very badly. Would I have the moral courage or just the stubborness to press forward and keep arguing that no, mother is not just inadequate, she is an abuser. I wouldn't have had the confidence to do this in my twenties. And groupthink is very powerful and so hard to fly in the face of. When the whole group is telling you that you are wrong, even if instinct and mounting evidence tells you otherwise, what do you do?

Charles Percy Snow said that "There have been many crimes committed in the name of duty and obedience, many more than in the name of dissent." When it comes to the failings of the social services this couldn't be more true.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Baby P

A terrible case like Baby P brings out the mob-wielding-flaming-torches hate in us. Well it does in me. My thoughts swing between musing that you never see a newspaper headline saying: Prompt Intervention of Social Worker Saves Child!!! or Long Term Support Keeps Vulnerable Family Together. Then they swing back to Anyone Who Wouldn't Look Out of Place on the Jeremy Kyle Show Should be Fucking Sterilised.

There's a reasoned and thoughtful response in the Guardian that flies in the face of the understandable baying for blood and reprisals. Ian Johnston Chief Executive of The British Association of Social Workers points out that "many of our critics would not dream of going into the situations with which we deal."

He is right of course. I couldn't imagine going into a freezing house, the boyfriend screaming abuse at me, dogs barking, the toddler has just wet the bed and there's no washing machine. All credit to them for the impossible job social workers do. And yet . . .SIXTY VISITS. Did nobody pick the child up? Or draw conclusions when he was cared for outside the home and his 'clumsiness' suddenly stopped as did the injuries?

But then again, you need life experience to know these things. Maybe you need older social workers. Better paid social workers. We are a culture that romanticises and venerates those who work with the poor, the sick and the young, but we don't actually believe in paying them a decent wage. No wonder teachers are crushed with stress. And social workers buckling under impossible case loads. I just can't stop thinking about it.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Hiding Chocolate

Something strange is happening. As the mother of a four year old Girl and lolloping Teenage Boy, I find myself behaving very oddly. If I'm not answering surreal questions at 7am like 'Why do we have elbows?' or 'What happens if one legged people get tired?' I'm hiding food. I can't quite believe I'm typing that - it strikes me as the kind of thing a quasi-anorexic obsessive would do. Yeah - or the parent of a Boy who seeks out and scoffs anything remotely nice like a heat seeking Exocet sugar seeking missile.

At first we tried hiding the kitkats in the vegetable drawer because as Husband reasonably surmised, 'What teenage boy is going to look among vegetables?' But Boy soon sussed that one. Then we put packets of biscuits in the DIY cabinet along with light bulbs. That was quite successful for a while. I know it all sounds ridiculous. But really if I ever want just ONE lousy biscuit or the occasional packet of crisps, I have to squirrel them away in cunning hiding places. Yesterday, the DIY hiding place was discovered in an unguarded moment. As I removed a nutty bar chocolate thing to add to the pile of lunch stuff for the Boy, a look of peasant cunning came over his face. A look that said: 'Ah! I have found your hiding place for confectionery mother!'

After he went to school, I decided the only place left to hide the chocolate was in a few of the antiques, and so far he hasn't clocked it. We have in our possession on of those antique Egyptian things that used to store a dead person's heart. Now it contains something even more precious; ten snickers bars. Ha!

Sunday, 9 November 2008

They fuck you up your mum and dad . . . .

They fuck you up your mum and dad
They may not mean to but they do
They hand on all the faults they had
And add some extra just for you


Yesterday my sister and I had lunch with an aunt we hadn’t seen for over twenty years. She’s my dad’s sister and as with many families there’s a habit of referring to relatives mired in the past – oh he’s the mean one, she’s the chatty one . . .each relative defined by one action that stuck in my parents’ memory and was handed down intact. Alas, looking at the photo of me that auntie brought with her, I may well have been enshrined as ‘the butt ugly one’. Aaah! There I was age 9 or 10 wearing hideous specs, my hair in what I can only describe as a ‘middle aged geography teacher’ style. This particular auntie was ‘the divorced one’ as though it defined her. In some ways it had. We sat in a restaurant and talked with auntie for hours, about family history.

My dad was one of five children, brought up in Ireland in the forties, and my auntie was one of his sisters. I heard about how my dad’s mother had been bullied relentlessly by her own sister. I’ll call her Mrs Nasty. This woman’s life mission had been to revenge herself on her sister for marrying the man she wanted. Let me be precise. My granddad chose my grandmother. She was attractive but he was very handsome. He was also a survivor of the notorious Christian Brothers, and shortly after his marriage to my gran, he joined the army and was abroad a great deal. So gran was bringing up five children single handed. Sadly the constant undermining and bullying she received from her ghastly sister, served to reduce her to a cowering wreck who in turn bullied and undermined several of her own children. My dad was given a bike once, but Mrs Nasty said he would kill himself on the roads. This was a small Irish village which probably saw about two cars a week on the road, remember! But granny, terrified of her sister, took the bike off dad and locked it away.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.


My dad, a very clever boy grew up unsure and unconfident about his abilities. My other auntie was forced to leave school early in order to help out Mrs Nasty in her shop – a bit of cheap labour. Can you imagine you, a parent, telling your daughter age 14, “Er you’ll have to leave school because my sister wants you to work in her shop.”

“But I want to stay on at school mum.”

“Sorry but my sister wants you to help out in the shop. You’ll have to leave school.”

My grandmother was totally unable to stand up to her own sister, taking out her anger and frustration on her own children instead.

Man hands on misery to man
It deepens like a coastal shelf
Get out as early as you can
And don’t have any kids yourself


Years later after my nice (childless) auntie went back home to see her mother, and Mrs Nasty was there, she made a snide reference to my auntie’s divorce. But auntie wasn’t scared of her and shouted that she should mind her own business. “You’ve had enough practice minding everyone else’s for the last thirty years!” she shouted to a stunned silence. All that anger and misery and bullying rooted in Mrs Nasty’s sexual jealousy.

I came away glad to understand why dad was always so unconfident, and why he had unwittingly handed it on to my sister and myself. I really really hope I haven’t handed this all pervading fear onto my own children.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

And my heart melted. Until . . .

Last Monday I had to rush out the door when Husband came home. Not, alas to go out on the razzle or to meet my secret lover, but to go to Marking Meeting for the creative writing course I'm teaching. This is where a group of us sit in a room with a pile of writings and try to come to an agreement about what kind of mark to award them, so we're all on the same page. Yes it does doesn't it?

Before I ventured into the cold, stinky night The Girl asked me if I was coming back and she would miss me. So thinking I was being creative and clever, I gave her one of my most precious possessions, not a book I'm afraid, or a bracelet but my sunglasses. The ones that cost a packet and miraculously I've neither sat on, nor lost. "You take them" I informed my solemn daughter "and then you'll know that mummy is coming back." It worked. She took the sunglasses in their case and promised to take care of them. Off I went, belted across London, and sat in a room with other people and tried to think of nice things to say about the students work. One lecturer was very scary indeed as we dissected a very bad piece of work.

"It just doesn't have any function" she drawled. Function? What the fuck was she on about? But being a Lecturer it doesn't do to say that, so instead I just furrowed my brow and wrote: 'what the fuck is she on about?' while a man with long hair tied in a ponytail added that this piece of work "defined chick-lit at its most banal". That particular man was a poet. I could tell because he looked like Jesus. And he said he was. A poet that is. I wondered how many people make a living from poetry and could only come up with . . .that Poet Laureate . .Andrew Thing? Maybe Benjamin Zephaniah? Pam Ayres?

Got home an hour or so later, chatted to Husband for a few minutes, and then like a small ghost, The Girl drifted down the stairs holding tight to the sunglasses case. "Here you are mummy - I kept it safe for oo". Oh my heart! I just folded up, held her tight and carried her up the stairs. She'd kept my sunglasses safe. Oh I love you! Tuck you up and kiss you goodnight. Hang on . . . you gave me the case. But where are the actual sunglasses. My expensive sunglasses?

"I don't know mummy," says The Girl with a Gallic shrug.

Three days later, I'm the proud possessor of a plastic sunglasses case and no fucking sunglasses! I've turned her room upside down! Bollocks! That's the last time I'm entrusting ANYTHING TO A FOUR YEAR OLD.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Could Do Better

The only time I've ever cried at work was when I worked at Random House Publishing and the printer kept breaking down. Five of our computers were linked to it, and every day without fail, it would refuse to print, then vomit up sixteen versions of a manuscript you had tried to print last Tuesday. It became a little anecdote, with the sharp bits filed off. "Oh the irony - a publishing house where the printer didn't work!" Ha Ha. Except when it was actually happening you wanted to firebomb the fucking useless piece of shit printer. And that time where I wandered up to the seventh floor, the Grown-Up floor (I worked in children's publishing) where the walls were lined with portraits of literary giants like A.S Byatt and Ian McEwan, the air redolent with cigar smoke and intellectual endeavour, and piles of books softly nestled in every corner. There, standing over the photocopier, his face bemused and bathed in green light was the journalist John Pilger. Quite reasonably he couldn't understand why after pressing the right buttons, nothing related to what he actually wanted printing, was spewing out of the machine. A man can take on global corruption but it's software that drives you mad in the end.

One day, after a particularly bad incident with the photocopier (deadline + stuck copier - anyone coming to help + me thumping the machine = me running to the toilet and crying) I swore I would never allow software to make me cry again.

All last week was half term and I found myself taking on more students at the Open University due to tutor illness. This I didn't mind at all, but in order to mark things I had to download three separate bits of software, save them in the right place, then . . sorry fell asleep there, I'm boring myself. Yes dull and dreadful but it HAD to be done or I couldn't mark them in the right format. The Husband found me, pale and wild haired at 12.30pm trying to get to grips with it. He kindly told me to go to bed and deal with it in the morning. I was choked with failure and rage and misery at my endless downloading and clicking only resulting in Error Message: 244 What? What? Or Cannot Compute. Or Your Computer Has Performed an Illegal Action. "FUCK OFF FUCK OFF FUCK OFF!" I shouted helpfully. And yet my spitting stream of profanity had no effect. For a second I thought of those black and white films where somebody is talking on the telephone and gets cut off. And they immediately start pressing uselessly on the disconnect button while saying: "Hello? Hello?" in a posh voice.

And yet when I did manage to download it properly, I felt an absurd sense of achievement. "You're too hard on yourself" said Husband kindly. No it's not that. You can't be emotional when you're doing IT. But it always makes me cry - nothing makes me feel more useless.

It didn't help that Husband and I had a row on the day I was dragging myself into town to carry out a face to face Tutorial. I had Given Out My Home Number, so if there was a problem my students could contact me. Bad Idea apparently. What if one of my students got all stalkerish? "It hasn't happened in thirty years" I said. Am I wrong? Is he paranoid? I think if someone wants to find you they will. And I can totally understand not handing out your personal details if you don't want an abusive ex to contact you, but I thought he was overreacting. However, I responded in a very mature manner. I stormed out the door, slammed it shut very hard and then slammed the gate shut too. Bad week really. Software and rows. And rain. And it's nearly Christmas.

Monday, 27 October 2008

It's Half Term

Which means I can spend quality time with my children, while my husband hares out the door at 7.30am pretending that he doesn't know the clocks have gone back. Later he rings me from a child free cafe to tell me he's eating beans on toast with bacon AND reading the paper at the same time. Bastard! "So how's the diet?" I enquire. Mean yes, but I am irritably scrubbing out a porridge pot having tried and failed the two kittens to eat the rest of it. The Boy slithers out of his room like a grumpy vampire. He is developing posture like a question mark.

To celebrate the first day of half-term I am taking the children to the dentist. The sun is glittering, so walking along in the fresh air, one drooping teenager keeping up a low level grumble on one side and a small girl twittering away about bees stinging with their bums on the other, is less soul destroying than usual. Then we get to the dentist and I realise I've gotten the day wrong. The Boy forgives me when I offer to go to the video store while he attempts to claw back some money for Zombie Crusading Throat Slashers V. These games are insanely expensive but I try not to say anything as it will make me sound very old and sad.

The Boy gets some money back and immediately 'invests' it in Zombie War Hell Disemboweling or something similar. In the middle of this, I get a call from my supervisor at the Open University. I'm trying to get one of my students off the course without her losing any money as she's going through a personal crisis. As we talk about this, The Girl starts shouting that The Boy has told her to "bog off". The Boy vigorously disputes this while managing to wangle a tenner out of me at the same time.

The Girl and I wander home and have lunch. All is calm until I see the kittens prodding something in the garden. When they corner something, they work together, the furry equivalent of the veloceraptors in Jurassic Park. It's a little mouse. It's alive. I can't bear it, shriek and hare out the door, grabbing the ginger kitten by the tail and with a swift shake he drops the tiny creature. (And yes I know the mouse will probably die of a coronary and yes I do know it's in their nature. It's just I can't watch while the two of them stalk and swipe at their terrified prey). The other kitten now dives at the inert mouse but I'm too quick for her. I yank both of them out of the way and hustle them into the kitchen, pulling the bin in front of the cat flap. Both kittens sit under the table and glare at me like that devil dog in The Omen. I half expect to hear evil choral music.

It's nearly 2pm and I haven't done any work. What have I done? I've taken my children to the dentist (on the wrong day) bought socks and cheese, gave money for a horrible computer game, and saved a rodent. Marvellous.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Creative Timings

According to a report in The Guardian, we are at our most creative at 10.04pm. It's something to do with a mathematical equation. Maybe done by the same person who invented the fame equation. Remember that? E + appealing to grannies x cute and nonthreatening = bland to the power of 100.

I can remember exactly what I was doing at 10.04pm last night. I was sighing and thinking: "God this is boring. Although it's nice to see Pam Ferris with dreadlocks." (I was watching Children of Men on DVD).

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The secret is to be a long term asset

Pat Kavanagh, esteemed literary agent, died yesterday and her friend and client Clive James has written a warm tribute. She seemed to belong to a different world of publishing where the mark of success wasn't so much screwing a massive advance out of a publisher, but ensuring her clients had long term success. "The secret", she told James, "is to be a long term asset."

I thought of that when my husband and son were watching the X-Factor and playing armchair executioners. "Nah, nothing special" they yelled as one trembling kid after another wearing a tight shiny dress, or poofy sequins, and about three hundred tons of makeup, warbled their way through a Very Famous Song. They seem to have turned that lovely boy Austin (the one who cries a lot) into a spiky haired Marc Almond ladyboy. Then last year's winner, a nice Scottish lad, came onstage to rapturous applause and sang something very ordinary to more pant wetting screams. By this time next year, nobody will remember who he is.

The secret is to be a long term asset. I think it's true.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Celebrity Children's Authors

What is it with celebs and writing children's books? Well it's quite simple really. Children's books are short, you can always 'co-write' them (co-written will be in teeny tiny letters and means 'written by someone else') hire a good illustrator and whay hay! Instant cred. Possibly. I can't see legions of small children rushing to Waterstones to pick up a copy of The English Roses where Madonna, one of the richest women in the world, exhorts how money doesn't make you happy by dreaming up a character called Lotsa de Casha. If the parents are fans maybe. But apart from a few exceptions, which I actually can't think of - are there any? - children's books written by celebs don't sell that well. Because children don't give a shit that the author looks great in a leotard at 50, or is married to a famous chef. They just want a good story.

No - this is what annoys me: If Geri, Madonna and now Jools Oliver were to simply say: "Children's books are a bit shorter and easier to write and by writing one myself I may just scrape up a bit of literary kudos and as I'm famous it's bound to get published by some fame dazzled publishing house," then I would give nary a toss. But it's the 'we're actually doing YOU a favour' routine that fucks me off. Big time.

Madonna wrote her execrable series of preachy-screechy books because she wanted to share her spiritual wisdom. And show that "we are all connected to each other on a soul level." And now Jools Oliver is going to write a children's book because she "couldn't find enough good simple stories for children." Has she been walking into greengrocers or butchers shops by mistake? "Could I have a great, simple story for children?" "Er I'm sorry madam. We only serve fruit and veg here." That's the only way I can imagine she missed the literary ramblings of Roald Dahl, Babette Cole, Melvyn Burgess, Phillip Pullman, and J.K Rowling. Thank God you've come along to save our little ones from this stream of literary dross.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Sick

I was hopscotching on the interweb (as my mother calls it) before starting work and my eye was caught by the headline: 15-minute short breaks the silence on key mental health issue and garners worldwide praise. Curious, I clicked on an extract, watched, and felt tears streaming down my face. A few minutes captures the hopelessness, the guilt, the anguish, the sense that nobody knows how bad things are except you. I do hope this film does as well as it deserves. Depression is still such a stigma, and so misunderstood. And once you have it, it's like a coiled serpent, lurking in the depths, curled up, waiting. A nudge, a whisper of memory or just a bad day and you feel it beginning to writhe again. "Remember me?" Sometimes when you've had it, and recovered, you recognise the signs early and consign it to the depths again. But sometimes you're not so lucky. Depression is slippery and silent and occasionally it uncoils while you are barely aware and by the time you are, it is there again, choking you.

After I had recovered from PND, a friend mentioned that she was so glad I was happier as I'd spent a long time "feeling a bit sorry for myself." I was stunned and ashamed. Stunned that she interpreted a deep clinical depression as me feeling sorry for myself and ashamed that in trivialising my feelings, she had trivialised me.

I wouldn't wish the malignant sadness of depression on my worst enemy and I'm cheered that this film has been received so positively. And anyone who feels the cold waves of depression lapping at their edges, I urge you to get help.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Tomato Soup

I've just had the following conversation with The Boy:

Boy: Mum I'm starving! Can I have something before dinner!

Me: Er . . there's a big jug of homemade tomato and basil soup. Have some of that.

FX: THUNDERING ADOLESCENT FOOTSTEPS ARE HEARD RUSHING DOWN THE STAIRS. IF NONE AVAILABLE, SUBSTITUTE AFRICAN WARTHOGS THUNDERING TOWARDS A WATERHOLE

Boy: (OFF) Where is it?!!!

Me: In the fridge!

Boy: (OFF) What does it look like?!

Me: It's a big jug filled with red soup and is sitting right in the middle of the fridge.

Boy: (OFF) Can't find it!

brrrrr . . .buzz . . .ping!

I think I've got PMT. Here I am, head on one side, left elbow digging into my armrest, listening intently to my laptop. You see, just before I get an email, my laptop sort of buzzes and hums. And then I hear a little 'ping!' and my heart races just a little in case it's an Interesting Email. Maybe from a friend? Or a comment on my blog? In which case I can stop what I'm supposed to be doing and craft a witty response.

But all too often it's from bloody Amazon, exhorting me to buy stuff or from Her Precious High Majesty of Nigeria, telling me that my relatives in Nigeria have inexplicably left me a huge sum of money. Occasionally it's from someone in Wyoming I've never heard of who wants to be my Facebook friend. Maybe it's something to do with my joining the Facebook group called: I know more about foreign policy than Sarah Palin. I once ordered some vitamins from an online pharmacy and now I'm deluged with offers to extend my penis and buy blue pills. But soft! I hear buzzing! And humming and - ping! An email from The Girl's school lunch provider. Apparently I owe money.

I need to get out more.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Productivity

This is what I did yesterday:

I get up, empty the dishwasher, feed the kittens who are squealing and headbutting me, say "hello" to the Boy who stumbles into the kitchen, grumbling about his "so-called life", make him porridge, make his lunch, including a bar of chocolate from a packet, cunningly hidden in the salad crisper. ("He'll never look there" surmises the Husband, correctly. Actually - the Boy is terrible at covering his tracks. He took out a chair yesterday in order to reach the biscuits I'd placed on a high shelf. Except when he'd taken the biscuits he forgot to put the chair back. His life of crime would be very very short.) Anyway, the Girl pads downstairs, gleaming, chubby legged and tousled, demanding milk and saying that Joseph at reception class "won't be my friend." Can't deal with playground politics at this hour. Can't face changing the minging cat litter either, which I've left outside. Think twice and change it. Charlie Cat immediately sniffs it and has a massive poo while his sister, Lola Cat, watches intently. Lovely. Go upstairs, get The Girl dressed, while The Boy shouts "BYE!" and stumbles out the door, grumbling about some "'tard who teaches". Who?

Girl chatters away while I dress her. She loves school. Husband stumbles downstairs, stopping off to say hello, and I hear the sound of coffee being made. Feed the Girl. Then go upstairs, shower, dress, take the Girl to school. Come home and clear up. Get started on this new book am abridging for BBC7. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankel. Apparently he's the most successful writer in Sweden since Strindberg. And we all know what a laughter merchant Strindberg was. Book is difficult to abridge. It's about a morose Swedish copper who has a messy private life. I have to get it down from 81,000 words to 23000, which means a lot of plot cutting. Wonder why all coppers have to have dysfunctional private lives. This cop is called Kurt Wallander and he's a right old Swedish meatball of a mess. But Kenneth Branagh is both playing him on telly and reading this adaptation. Can see it. He has a vulnerable ordinariness.

Half-way through morning, Grazia mag rings. Would I like to be interviewed about whether I was the favorite child? "No, I wouldn't unless it could be anonymous". "We could take your picture from behind" suggests Megan oddly. What? "I'll check with the editor". Five minutes later she phones back. Apparently the editor wants emotional guts spilled all over the magazine, plus a photo. I was the Favoured Child and it Fucked me Up. Or My Mum Hated Me. Will I do it? "No chance". "Why?" "Because I don't want to upset my family". Megan seems slightly surprised at my objections. But considering the headlines in some of these mags like Take a Break (My husband raped my Twin Daughters but I forgave him and married him - My Baby was born with Three Heads - I'm 197 Stone and Looking for Love), I don't think they'll have too much trouble finding someone. People will spill their guts about anything these days.

Then I get an idea about an idea I've been nursing. A graphic novel. Filmed? Like Posy Simmonds. I fiddle about with it for a bit. Then I read The Corner (originally Cunts Corner - to which I occasionally contribute - good outlet for pointless rage btw) on HolyMoly which makes me choke with laughter. Sigh. Back to the morose Swedish detective. Feel like I've been leaping from project to project, not making headway on anything.

Pick up The Girl at school. "What did you do today?" Her reply is brisk:

"I drawed, I painted, I eated up my dinner and I ran away from a bumblebee."

Hmmm. I think she had a more productive day than me.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Halifax - The Revenge!

Last month, I ranted at great length about what happened when my account was plundered in a continuous and multiple fashion at the Halifax.

Finally I sent a long, furious email to The Guardian who intervened on my behalf like a good, liberal, avenging angel, printed my story which makes the Halifax look like incompetent tits, and suddenly the problem got sorted out. Although I haven't actually received the compensation yet. Maybe it's been stolen from my account. Again.

(The above feeble joke will make sense if you read the piece in the Guardian.)

(If you have to explain a joke it probably wasn't very funny in the first place.)

(But it's my blog so I don't give a fuck.)

Better

Some lovely responses to my recent post on depression. Makes me think there's a lot of it about. People struggling with the bleak, the sad, the greyness. I do feel though, that the more we talk about depression, the more its shame and stigma are chipped at. Only this morning I was talking to a friend who said that her mate's brother had tried to hang himself. Shocked, I asked if she'd talked to him. "Oh no - I wouldn't know what to say." Well did anyone talk to this man? "Erm . . apparently nobody realised anything was wrong. He seemed to be ok." What the fuck does that mean? Seemed ok? It was particularly hard for this man because he came from a family where talking about your feelings, much less mentioning that you felt sad, was unequivocal proof that you were a big poof. I found myself scribbling down the number of The Samaritans "They don't offer advice, they don't tell you what do to," I said. "They just listen." Which they do. And they've saved many lives.

She took the piece of paper and I hope she gives it to him. It's shocking that we live in a culture where a man can't ask for help, or admit he can't cope without feeling less of a man. Follow that line of thought to its ultimate end and you've got men who shoot their entire family and burn the house down.

But I felt the clouds lift a little in the past few days. I bundled up the first half of my novel and sent it off to a literary agent, and tried to work my way through the massive pile of reading I have to do for this Open University course I'm teaching. Went to Milton Keynes at the weekend for a OU Induction Course. (Ever been to Milton Keynes? Don't bother.) I stayed at the Hilton Milton which featured a delicious tropical swimming pool, nestled in lush greenery on the website, but when I actually went swimming there on Saturday morning, looked more like the place where the Remedial Swimming class go to splash with the OAP's. But the induction was fun. You can always tell the teachers of Creative Writing - they generally have hennaed hair and bright, swirly scarves. "You get a lot of nutters on this course" said one stalwart OU teacher. "What, teaching or learning?" I asked nervously. "Oh both!" she said cheerfully. "Most of them think they're going to be Ernest Hemingway after doing a writing course. They are in terms of the alcohol but not the talent."

But apparently the only course which attracts a higher proportion of nutters is the psychology course.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Grey

It's been a terrible year, work wise. Apart from teaching a course at the OU which I think will be fun, and stretch me a bit, it's been the Year of the Knockback so far. No nobody asked me to do this and nobody owes me a living but repeating that stuff to yourself doesn't help. Neither does 'it's not personal'. If managing to make a living in the creative field (said in poncey voice) is about climbing a ladder, last year I steadily climbed without looking down. This year, it's as though somebody slathered the ladder rungs with Vaseline and my legs are dangling.

It feels much like the current weather. Grey and dull and sluggish. I remember reading one of Dorothy Rowe's brilliant books on depression and at one point she suggested describing the depression because by giving it a feel, a name, a tangible sense of being, it could help recognising its encroaching tentacles. I thought about this and decided my form of depression was greyness, a sense of being frozen and immobile. It's one of the reasons I try to keep moving, both figuratively and literally. Going to the gym, or if you hate that, go for a walk. I don't count my blessings but I do, on the advice of a mate, keep a Nice Things File. Very simple - you write down every single nice thing anyone has said about you or your work. Sounds cheesier than Welsh Rarebit but it's funny how we can always remember with startling clarity the rotten, shitty thing that spotty Alan in primary school said: "Eurrghh - I wouldn't go out with her if you paid me!" (acned little turd - and he was only 9) but we dismiss the really great things that people say.

The other thing is The Boy. When he was a baby, I was racked with PND. As a result I think he's very attuned to my moods. If I'm feeling low and he asks how I am, I try to tell him the truth. Why lie? If you do, you're telling the child to mistrust their own instincts. My mother used to retire to her room with 'headaches'. Both my sister and I knew there was something else but we didn't have the vocabulary and there was far less information and understanding about depression. But even when we were tiny, we knew it was more than a headache. And we were left feeling confused because mum would say she was fine but she looked so bleak and sad.

So I say I'm feeling bad, give as few details as possible and we hug. I think it's better than putting on a brittle smile when it's obvious that I'm not happy. That's not to say I burden him with it - I'm always careful to reassure him that it's got nothing to do with him. And it usually works because a few minutes later he's usually his normal stroppy self.

Just flicked through my Nice Things File and both that, and writing this has made my mood inch up. But then I look out the window and see the sky, the off white grubby shade of ancient knickers, and it sinks again. Never mind matching your underwear to your clothes, my mood matches the sky.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

First Day of School

If your first day at school is akin to getting into a bath, The Girl has been gently, gingerly one-toe-at-a-time carefully placed into a warm bubbly tub with dolphin taps and fluffy towels. I've met her kind, wise, down to earth teacher who asked me if she had any phobias, or particular likes or dislikes. The Girl goes to school for a few hours a day to get her used to it. Of course she's having a ball. Drawing, painting, water splashing on tap! Friends with names like 'Rocky' and 'Gabriel' and 'Tylen'! Really good food with carrots cut into sticks!

But walking into the playground brought back a load of memories for me; a not uncommon occurrence. Suddenly your sophisticated adult self is wearing clothes that are too big, sucking your thumb and clinging onto mum's leg. The powerful feelings of fear, anxiety, desperation to fit in. My first day at school in comparison was like being thrown into a freezing bath. In fact my primary school did have an outdoor swimming pool which I later suspected was used by Scotland Yard for breaking the spirits of stubborn suspects. That pool was fucking ICY! And I learned to swim in it! You had no choice - it was either swim or calcify with cold and die. And for all this effort I received a small piece of white felt in Assembly. "Congratulations Jane, you're still alive. Have some felt."

Ah - the first day of school. For some reason my father dropped me off very early. I stood in this giant, empty playground feeling utterly abandoned. Now when I look at photos of the school, it seems very small. But then, age five, it loomed like some Gothic ghost house in Scooby Doo. Nervously I crept in, and stood in a long long corridor that smelled of sick and disinfectant. A very tall person suddenly appeared in front of me. It had droopy clothes and long grey hair, and resembled Gandalph in drag. "What are you doing?" he/she boomed. It was our Headmistress. "Go outside and play!" Terrified, I fled and hid behind the school bins.


Of course I survived and got used to it. But I remember feeling anxious most of the time; afraid of getting it wrong, being found out. It's not good for a child to teeter in a state of anxiety. If you can't mentally relax, you can't think or play freely either. A lot of that may just have been how I was made. But I look at the way The Girl rushes into school and sees it as an adventure and it pleases me that her teacher wants to understand her little quirks and respect her individuality.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Paperwork

Took the Husband to see Chris Rock on Saturday, at the Hammersmith Apollo. Having not been to a young-persons-popular-type-night-out-thingie for a longgggg time, I forgot that you have to queue for two hundred years, then queue again to get to the toilets. After that you sit in your hot, squashy, sweaty seat designed eighty years ago when we were all a lot thinner, standing up every six minutes to let people by to get beer, go for a wee, get more beer . . .

But it was worth it. Chris Rock is brilliant, even though he gets a bit unreconstructed when it comes to women. Thing is, that's what 'comics' like Jim Davidson and that twat with the Biggles headgear don't get. They're always accusing their detractors of being 'politically correct' but that's not the point. I don't laugh at their material, not because of its lack of political correctness but because it's Not Funny. Rock is very very funny.

Back down to earth now. I'm teaching creative writing at the Open University and I'm DROWNING in paperwork. The course hasn't even started! I'm scared . . . .

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Unsolicited Manuscripts

Fascinating piece in The Guardian about the 'albatross of publishing' - the great pile of unsolicited manuscripts that sit in every publishing house, teetering and wobbling, threatening to engulf the floor. The news to all the talented but yet unpublished is as depressing as ever, but Harper Collins is launching a website where authors can upload their work to be commented on by readers. But what struck me was the bit where the Knopf publishing house archives revealed readers' reports rejecting Anne Frank's diary ("A dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotion"), Borges ("utterly untranslatable") and Sylvia Plath ("There certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice").

Could Do Better

My four year old daughter is about to start school but she's been going to nursery so I'm not too worried about having to peel her off my legs, and run out of the playground, to her fading cries of: "Don't leave me mummy!" But here's the thing: yesterday one of her nursery minders gave me her report. What - now four year old preschoolers get reports? But my sardonic smile soon died. What if she'd failed sandpit? Couldn't tell the difference between right and wrong? Or was unable to pull up her own knickers without assistance? (As happened to me not too long ago and no, I'm not going into details).

Of course The Girl was fine. 'A happy little girl who shows understanding of other cultures'. ????? I'm not sure what that means but I'm glad. Her first test. And the first of oh so many.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

First Draft of Comedy

I've written a first draft of a telly comedy. And my ginger cat Charlie has already shown his opinion by sitting on it, and leaving behind a suspicious brown smear on the title page. Apart from writing sketches, all my major stuff so far has been in radio, and with television you have to think in the opposite way - visually. (DUH) I've got to read it and see if it's . . well I was going to say 'any good' but now I'm thinking more of 'salvageable'. I have written stuff in the past and returned to it months later, and thought it was better than I realised. Or blushed with shame to think that I was even considering inflicting such toss on the public.

It was like that with my teenage diary - one long moan about my so-called life, and full of great thoughts and original insights. The Prophet for modern teens. I read it years later and was convulsed with hysterical laughter at my naivety and teenage pomposity. "I feel we have a spiritual bond" I wrote about the man I was seeing - the thirty five year old who sprayed his mouth with Gold Spot breath freshener before he stuck his tongue down my throat and lived with his mother. And later on when I got bored and dumped him I wrote "I will never love like this again", only to fall in love a few weeks later with a gay man. How could I not see the comedy in this? Because I was a teenager. But at least life and age, (though mainly age) have taught me that sometimes you have to put something in the bottom drawer for a while to settle before you can really appreciate it. Or realise that it's shite. Pity you can't do that with people.

And that's another thing. With writing, acting, art there's grey areas. We all know of famous actors who have less range than a brick or artists for whom we feel our dog with his tail dipped in a bucket of paint could do better. But with singing - specifically the X-Factor, you can either sing or you can't. So why do we constantly hear the plaintive cry of "Singing is my life" and on they come and open their mouths and out comes the sound of two cats fighting in a bucket? It's a level of self-delusion that leaves me baffled. And highly entertained. Watch this audition while I stop bloody procrastinating and read the script.

Run Bristol Run!


Ooh isn't he delightful - that Levi Johnston? Yer don't have to be smart if yer good lookin'. Oh hang on - that's someone wearing BillyBob teeth.



HERE'S Levi who proudly proclaims himself a 'fuckin' redneck' who 'doesn't want kids'. Spin THAT one, Republicans. Wonder why I keep hearing that banjo solo from 'Deliverance'?

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Happy Families

I was reading about Sarah Palin's teenage daughter, seventeen years old, five months pregnant, and about to marry. Throughout all the media flurry of a Republican right wing candidate's - shock horror - daughter up the duff, but she's getting married so it's ok, I haven't heard what Bristols (?) herself thinks. And nor will I. I've looked at the photo of the Palins' all, beaming and gleaming like a Mormon dental convention, and it reminded me of those ghastly pics you'd see of a conservative politician who'd just been caught shagging a topless dancer, so a hastily arranged 'happy family hanging over the garden gate' photoshoot would be arranged. "Smile Mrs Politician! Yeah I know you've been humiliated in front of millions but keep that rictus grin a-comin'!"

If it's Bristol Palin's choice to have the baby and get married, well good for her. Only a wishy washy liberal would suggest it might be something she's been pressurised into. Because I don't know about having a baby or an abortion at seventeen but I certainly think it's far too young to get married.

On another note - I'm going to be teaching creative writing at the Open University next term. Husband keeps making remarks about black stockings and mortar boards. Honestly . . . .

Friday, 29 August 2008

Catching up on celeb gossip

Just got back from my lovely local hairdressers after a delicious wash and blowdry. They have nice sinks where you don't get up with your spine cracked in three places, and the 12 year old hairdressing assistant doesn't scald and freeze your head alternately before sighing and saying: "Where you goin' on holiday?" She just shuts up and washes your hair. Neither do they specialise in giving you vile head massages that leave you feeling your skull is in a vice.

I love sitting in my chair, drinking tea, letting Carrie do magic things to my hair (ie make it look presentable. I can't do a proper blowdry and that's that. I'm not an eight armed Hindu Goddess which is what you have to be to hold the hairdryer - but enough of that). I love to catch up on the celeb magazines. Apparently Kerry Katona is bankrupt! Blimey - she earned £750,000 on Iceland ads and £400,000 on a magazine column. (What magazine column? Where?) And still, she's as poor as a second term student. And that husband of hers - he looks exactly like a Toby Jug. Maybe that's why he's always buying cars. Oh and Demi Moore once squirted breast milk (her own I presume) at a group of lesbians. Also Danielle Lloyd (one of the bullies in Celebrity Big Brother) is on the up because her boyfriend bought her an expensive handbag. Nice to know you can carry your self-esteem on your arm. And there's loads of tips on how to get a Hot Body. Apparently it has nothing to do with taking Ketamine and diet pills but eating lots of egg white omelettes, fish and vegetables.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

How to Write Jokes

Scroll down to find a great step by step guide to writing jokes, from comedian Jo Caulfield's blog. It's nice when successful comedians share their tips. Forces you to rethink the offheld notion that all comics are mean spirited depressives who'd rather lose a kidney than acknowledge anyone else's talent.

Fleas!!!!




We have fleas! Those fucking useless shitty gravied chunk guzzling kittens have brought them home from the cat hotel where they've been lazing around for the last couple of weeks. Despite dripping them with toxic anti-flea medication before and after, several suspicious little black things jumped off my leg yesterday. "You're obviously not very nutritious" said a friend of mine who obviously doesn't have fleas so felt compelled to give me advice and laugh at me. I wanted to send him a few in an envelope. I bet, like cockroaches - cat fleas would survive a nuclear holocaust.

ARRGGGH!!!!!!!!!!! Even as I type this, having sprinkled powder everywhere, boiled bedding and vacuumed (all while the BOY snored in bed) I'm itching.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Abridge too Far

One thing I do sometimes is to abridge books for Radio 4. It's a slightly more grown up version of school precis. You just cut down the words. But when you cut a book for Book at Bedtime or Book of the Week, it's slashing the entire thing from about 70,000 to 11,000 to fit into five episodes. The very first one I did was Pierre Boulle's Planet of the Apes. It was easy to abridge because the hero keeps wandering off on philosophical musings as to the nature of man and ape. 'Yeah Yeah' I'd mutter, slashing page after page of rambling ape thoughts, anxious to get back to gorillas chasing the hero round the field. I've learned that the better written a book, the harder it is to abridge because there's so little fat on it.

This time I was abridging a new thriller called Perfect Night by Peter Grimsdale who's married to a close friend. So it would have been very embarrassing if he'd hated what I did to his book. Especially as despite him being allowed ten episodes instead of the usual five, I didn't do so much a nip and tuck as a full Frankenstein job, slashing, cutting, and restitching; desperately hoping the joins didn't show. Or the end result wasn't slow and stumbling with a bolt in the neck. If it had been a crap book, full of blithering and blah, it would have been a piece of piss. But Peter wrote a very tight, pacey narrative and it was a total arse to abridge. I would cut a bit, then realise my decision impacted in about five separate chapters, like ripples in a pond.

Jamie Glover's reading it, and doing a damn fine job. Imagine reading a story to your kids which goes on and on and on, and you have to do about ten different voices, really subtly. It's really hard! I listened to him delicately colouring the text and suddenly having to read The Smelly Book to my daughter for the ten millionth time didn't seem so tough.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

There is a God!!!

I read today that the head of HBOS, Andy Hornby had his account ransacked, and 7K neatly removed. Staff had the unenviable task of phoning him on holiday to say his accounts had been frozen. There is a God!

However, I doubt that Mr Hornby will have to deal with Nick at the Halifax Call Centre telling him that his account "has been fraudulentleh accessed" and by the way they've lost his Fraud Claim form and can he send in another. Bitter? Moi?

Saturday, 16 August 2008

RIP Sydney




We had our very old cat Sydney (nineteen) put down this morning. This was for several reasons.
1. He had arthritis
2. He had stopped grooming himself properly and his fur had matted into dreads.
3. He was beginning to poo all over the house.

But it was still awful. Sydney has always hated travelling by car, and on the way to the vet, he let out a bone chilling yowwwllllll that nearly made Husband crash the car. Once there, the vet pointed out that he would have to shave Sydney's leg before injecting the vial-ful of blue liquid into him. Sydney did not appreciate being shaved and yelled his head off, baring his teeth in yellow-hued rage. I just stood there, stroking his head and crying great snotty tears. Eventually the vet gave him a sedative. Sydney dribbled all over the table and then threw up his breakfast (gourmet cat food; we'd been giving him the sort of cat dinners that don't make you gag when you open the tin).

I came up very close to Sydney, tickled him behind the ears and whispered "Goodbye." And then he was gone.

He was a great cat. The Perfect Cat. Friendly but not needy. When the Boy was born, he would sit by his baby seat, purring. He allowed the Boy to pull him about with incredible grace. Even when the Boy went too far and pulled his tail, Sydney politely retreated his claws before giving the Boy a quick biff with his paw. Everyone on the street knew him. He would lie on the ground, like a huge furry speed hump, so anyone passing by would have to bend down and give him a pat. I would often look out the window and see crowds of children gathered round him, stroking him while he wriggled about, furrily, revelling in the attention.

Now he's gone. Even though it was the right thing to do it hurts terribly. We're going to scatter his ashes under his favorite tree.

RIP Syndey.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Halifax Bank - The Tenth Circle of Hell

I haven't written much recently because my life has been eaten by a series of multiple frauds on my account. This has resulted in a series of phone calls where I trembling on the brink of hysteria explain over and over and over and over again to a call centre person that my debit card needs to be cancelled and then I hear a voice on the phone informing me that: "Your account has possibleh been fraudulentleh accessed." NO SHIT SHERLOCK.

Whoo-hoooo-hoooo-wavy lines to indicate going back a few weeks . . . .

On 24 July I logged onto my account to find that some thieving bastard had somehow stolen £1000 from my account. I cancelled the card immediately having been told that "my account has been fraudulentleh accessed".

A week later I got my new card and a crime declaration form which I filled in and photocopied. (NOTE - When dealing with banks always always photocopy stuff and always send it back recorded delivery. That way the incompetent twunts can't pretend they didn't receive it)

And something else! If some thieving cunt ransacks your account you have to arrange an overdraft with the fraud department. Not the call centre - they apparently can't do it! And the fraud department is only open till 5pm and shuts at the weekend. That's good because fraud never occurs after 5pm or at the weekend does it?

And then on 1st August, after arranging an overdraft with the Fraud department of £1000 – (the same amount that had been fraudulently removed from my account) I was puzzled to hear that although I had about £200 in my account I was unable to take out any more money. Again, I phoned the Halifax to discover that I had GONE OVER the £1000 overdraft! Because once more my account had been plundered and I had several Debits waiting to come out of my account – NONE of which I knew anything about! And weird amounts like £70.09 to Autoglass and £43.15 to Tmobile.

I had just been sent a claim form for the previous £1000, and while filling it in I noticed it said: CARDHOLDERS NAME: Ms L C Purcell. My name is Jane Purcell and it always has been. Where did the L C come from? Another account?

I then spoke to Sophia at the Fraud department who was very helpful, but she couldn’t find a Ms L C Purcell. Again, nobody knew why this could have happened or why at the top of my claim form had the words:

Account holder name: Ms Jane Purcell
Cardholders name: Ms L C Purcell

Sophia was as baffled as I. "However, I have to say that unfortunateleh your account appaears to have been used fraudulentleh." You don't say.

On Saturday 2 August I checked my account again to discover there were MORE fraudulent transactions and when I phoned up again, learned there were yet more pending!

This time I spoke to Donna who told me that I had shedloads of transactions about to go through on my account. We worked through all of them and they amounted to nearly a thousand quid. This on top of the £1000 that had already disappeared. But nobody could explain why a card that I had cancelled on 24 July, still had fraudulent transactions coming thorough on it a week later. Donna at least said she was very "sorreh".

On Aug 2nd I filled in the Crime Declaration form which had been sent by the Halifax fraud dept.

It said on the second page that if there were any additional frauds, I should add them on. As by then there had been at least seven more, in addition to the original 2 x £500 frauds, I printed out a copy of my recent statements with all the frauds clearly ringed. I added a letter to this explaining what was happening, and took copies before sending it all back to the Halifax Fraud dept.

On 11 August I phoned the Fraud Department, hoping that my fraud claim had been received and processed. This time I spoke to Nick who pulled up my details on screen and said the claim hadn’t been received. His exact words were: “We haven’t received it.” followed by a long silence. I had no idea what to do and while I’d kept a copy, noted that it said at the bottom that if Halifax hadn’t received it within 14 days the claim could be cancelled. What was I meant to do? Nick said I could re-send it or fax it and “they only put the threat in to make the customer get a move on.” Sadly no such system exists for Halifax staff. He was spectacularly unhelpful, and monosyllabic. He was a little shit frankly.

Five minutes later I rang Halifax again (the call centre, not the fraud dept) and spoke to Claire. I asked if there was any chance if my fraud claim had ended up in the wrong file and with a little judicious searching she said that it had been. Because I had included a letter and a printout of my account with all the fraudulent transactions ringed, along with my fraud claim, it had been filed in the ‘complaint file’ instead. In a few minutes Claire found that my fraud claim HAD in fact been received and put through on the system. I had this conversation literally five minutes after speaking to Nick who told me that the fraud claim had NOT been received. I don’t believe that he would have had less access to my details than a call centre member of staff. So why couldn’t he click a few numbers and find out what had happened to my claim? It's not my fault that he hates his job and is very short (probably).

Claire also said that there was another card in circulation ending in a 00 which had ‘now been cancelled’. This was news to me. I had never received such a card.

As far as I was aware I had a card ending in 3601 which had been used in the original fraud and had been cancelled on 24 July, and then I was sent another card ending 3608 which I now use. I had never received a card ending in 00. Had it been sent out to me and intercepted somehow?

Could this be linked the mysterious L.C Purcell? Nobody could tell me. Claire put a note on my account, (whoo-hoo another note! I’ve had a series of notes on my account, variously saying – ‘urgent’ ‘really urgent’ ‘even more urgent’) and was about to put me through to the Fraud dept but it was then 5pm, so they were closed.

On 12 August I phoned the Fraud department again to find out whether they had my Crime Declaration form (as Claire said) or not, (as Nick said.)

This time I spoke to Andrew. He told me that they had received my Crime Declaration Form, but it had been put in the ‘complaint’ queue instead of the ‘fraud’ queue. I asked: “Could you move it to the fraud queue instead?” Andrew then said that the only frauds they had marked down were the two £500 frauds to Mint Classic. We had a conversation that went as follows:

Me: But what about the list of other frauds? I sent you a list with them all circled. There have been at least TEN other frauds on my account since 24th July.

Andrew: Yes but the only ones on the crime declaration form are the two £500 Mint Classic Frauds.

Me: But it says clearly on the Crime Declaration form that if there are any other frauds, to add them. Which I have. Didn’t you get them?

Andrew: Er yes. We’ve got your letter, and your printout of statements with the frauds ringed.

Me: So why haven’t they been included?

Andrew: I don’t know. I’m going to have to send you another Crime Declaration Form.


So here I am on 12 August right back at square one. Waiting for another crime declaration form. I can only hope that this time it will include all the multiple frauds on my account. But given the track level of incompetence so far, I’m not holding my breath.

I’ve had no explanation AT ALL as to why this happened, or why there seem to be two cards floating about with my name, or who is this mysterious L C Purcell. Neither have I received any money back. My direct debits have been thrown into chaos.

The very worst thing is that although I haven’t done anything wrong here, it’s me that has to chase, constantly ask questions, and repeat the same story over and over again to a succession of call centre staff.

There has been multiple fraud on my account and it has been handled with utter incompetence and obfuscation at every level. Nobody can seemingly do anything except ‘put a note’ on my account and send me forms with other people’s names at the top, which then get filed in the wrong place.

So BEWARE. Keep copies of everything and send all your correspondence by recorded delivery.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Not Guilty

Really sane and balanced piece in the Guardian actually written BY a working mother rather than a) a harpie who is spouting whatever her editor is telling her to spout or b) a non-working mother whose corporate megabucks earning husband can afford to keep her in cashmere and vitriol.

Melissa Deanes gives us the upside of working and mothering. That it can be FUN. Oh yes - the joy of earning your own money can't be understated. That working outside the home can make you a more interesting person. And that no, your brains don't turn to mush after having a baby. It's bollocks.

So is the tiresome cliche about working mothers feeling guilty. I've always worked, full time and now freelance. It's been really knackering sometimes. But I've never felt guilty. Been told and read often enough that I'm meant to feel guilty. I haven't. Never.

The women who are anti-working mothers have a curled lip attitude towards us. They speak of 'career women' and 'selfishness' and 'If we want a career why can't we be childminders'. (Actual quote). Hah! I think they see us as having it both ways and if they didn't why should we? They can all fuck off.

All the working mothers I know do their very best for their families, and work to pay mortgages and put food on the table. Also it's nice that they don't have to ask their partners for money to buy a lipstick, like a child asking daddy.

As can the men who are anti working mothers. This breed are always the conservative types who also believe that cooking and cleaning have nothing to do with them. They're the ones who need women to 'look after them' and minister to their grandiose egos. I went out with one of these types once, years and years ago. He believed strongly that a woman's place was in the home. He was also shit in bed.

My daughter seems fine so far and as for The Boy, I barely see him these days. Occasionally I peek into his room in case the smell of his own feet has rendered him unconcious, but am usually reassured by a friendly grunt.

It all boils down to the fact that if you earn your own living, nobody can tell you what to do. As Dostoevsky said, 'money is coined freedom.'

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Best Script Meeting Sketch Ever

Fleas

If anyone has ever seen Ed, Edd and Eddie on Cartoon Network, you'll remember that one of the characters is surrounded by a miasma of fleas and general humming nasties. I was reminded of this when The Boy announced that two of his friends were coming for a sleepover. Delightful boys, all of them, but all with the same relaxed approach to personal hygeine. Having suggested they leave the bedroom window open so as not to corrode their lungs, I left them to killing zombies on the X-Box. The next day when they went home, The Boy's bedroom smelled as though it had been occupied by an army of giant, sweaty hamsters.

And now Boy has just marched into my bedroom and announced that one of the kittens has fleas. This is surprising given that I've just doused all three of them in Frontline, the number one catty flea killer on the market. "I keep seeing black things jumping off my legs" said The Boy in tones of utter outrage. There are three possible reasons for this:

1. The kitten does have fleas (unlikely since I 'frontlined' them three days ago.
2. The Boy is taking whatever drugs that cause visions of black spots.
3. The Boy has fleas.

Oh dear.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Pushing On

The last few weeks have been really rough. Having work rejected sucks. And it's no good telling yourself over and over: "It's not you that's being rejected." It's your work, your ideas, your presentation of the ideas that's being rejected. And yet it's not you being rejected? Erm . . .yes it is.

And it keeps on happening no matter how high you climb the ladder. After Russell T. Davies had written 'Queer as Folk' he'd have been forgiven for a tiny assumption that his next project would be received with open arms. Instead, it was rejected. And after being assured that her series 'Hetty Wainthrope Investigates' would run for a fifth series, Patricia Routledge was understandably angry when it was dropped without anyone bothering to tell her.

Rejection is crushing. So what can you do to lessen the blow? This is what I've painfully learned:

1. Never put all your writing/acting eggs in one basket. Rely on nothing until you get a contract or a cheque. Keep looking for other work.

2. Diversify. A good friend of mine said she was sacked without reason from a journalism job and went into tv instead. Then she headed towards books. Get as many strings to your bow as you can.

3. You should have at least three projects on the go at any one time, particularly in the early stages of your career. Of course there will be times when you have to concentrate on doing one thing, but try to make sure there isn't a great black hole when that particular project ends.

4. Feel it. Acknowledge how shit you feel but don't punish yourself. Be kind. Take a bit of time off and lean on friends.

5. Try not to get too pissed.

6. Don't write an angry email to the bastard tosspots who turned down your brilliant idea. Particularly if you've ignored point no 5. I know someone who did this and while she was justified and the actual email wasn't particularly vituperative, the recipient didn't change his mind and now she's the person who sent the angry email.

7. Also if you get really abusive in your angry email you could end up looking like a bit of a tit like Giles Coren.

8. Keep going. All writers, all freelancers are rejected. You are not alone. It just feels like you are.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Scandal

The Daily Mail is postively quivering with outrage over Sienna Miller's alleged affair with Balthazar Getty, and predictably, the comments on Ms Miller's hussiness have been vintage Daily Mail. But the one that made me laugh and jerked me temporarily out of my gloom was something along the lines of: "Why couldn't she leave a married man alone . . .blah blah . . won't be seeing any more of HER films . . .huff huff . . I've got ONE WORD to sum her up. Home Wrecker".

That's told you Sienna. The Mail has Spoken.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Eating a Discreet Doughnut

Probably the best Smack the Pony sketch ever about how to eat discreetly while at work. I wrote it of course.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Brick Wall

I haven't posted for a little while because I've been feeling like shit. The three ideas I offered to the BBC have all been rejected. But it's not just a quick 'no' - it's been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and 'possiblies' and now 'NO'. I offered something on the back of a series I wrote last year. I've been working on it for a long time and did that thing of twisting myself inside out to give them what I thought they wanted. And it has been rejected on what feels like a whim. Along with two other things that they wanted, then they didn't want. I know it's not the end of the world. But right now I really feel like it is.

It would be great if my hide had grown a little tougher. But it hasn't. It's like the past few months have been a total waste of time.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Writing on the Wall

Yesterday The Girl was standing pinkly in her bedroom, post bath, one sock on, one sock off. She looked mighty pleased, faintly guilty and was holding a red marker pen in one hand. Didn't bode well. "I've writ my name!" she said. Hmmm. Writ large as I saw she'd written her own name on the wallpaper. I stomped off to the bathroom, grabbed a handful of wet wipes, hoped that the marks would come off, marched back to the Girl, opened my mouth to Admonish when it struck me. She was four years old and she'd written her own name. I should have been more pleased. Instead, I just sighed at the thought of something else to wipe up/clean off/scrub.

Or maybe I was jealous. Because she's being more productive than me. Going through a real writing slump at the moment. You know those jars of peanut butter where you have to turn it upside down and use a knife to scrape out the last vestige of peanutty gunk? That's my head that is.

Bad Hair Day



The Boy came home from school yesterday wearing a hat and looking furtive. “You know me and my mates were discussing how to raise money for charity?” he muttered. "Well . . ." and he took off his hat to reveal a NUMBER ONE SKINHEAD. I couldn't help it. I screamed like a girl for two seconds.

I hate to see the Boy distressed. But it's the only time that he's likely to listen to me without rolling his eyes and/or leaving the room. I have to say something reassuring, wise and kind.

His head is like a cue ball. He looks vulnerable, his eyes large and dark, his eyebrows defiantly bushy. A hint of the bald Mysteron in Captain Scarlett, and a touch of Jake Gyllenhall in Jarhead. My little boy, all grown up and shaving his head for charity. I have to say something. He's looking at me.

"It'll grow back" is all I can muster.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Presentation

I used to work at Random House Children's Books where part of my job was to read the Unsoliciteds, a massive, heaving, living, breathing pile of desperation and hope. Very occasionally a story would leap out and smack me in the face, like good writing does. And equally occasionally, I would get The Card. This was when a hopeful author, rather than just sending the bloody manuscript, would try to stand out, by sending an announcement of the impending arrival of the manuscript. Watch out for Stunty the Organic Apple and his trials and tribulations as he tries to find acceptance among the genetically modified apples! Or Caspar Carrot and his Carroty Friends. (We went through a phase of receiving stories about vegetables in existential crisis). Alas, far from warming the cockles of my heart, I would usually swear loudly and make a mental note to puree Stunty the Apple when he arrived on my desk. Oh and you know how comedy writers are always told never to try and make their covering letter funny? It's the same with children's books. When you write a covering letter, don't put teddies in the margin, or pictures of your cat. And do try not to enclose pictures of yourself stark naked along with your heart warming tale of a lonely woodlouse.

The Card would be followed the next day by a leather bound manuscript, (yes, I mean leather bound) beautifully presented, perfectly typed and always always absolutely 100% terrible. Always. These were the children's books with titles like Jesus Bear, Two Boys and a Ferret and Hell and Damnation (Illustrated). It seemed so cruel to reward all this effort with a rejection slip but given that we received 20 - 50 manuscripts per day, it got easier.

My point is that it's terribly easy to get caught up in presentation. I was talking about writing books but it's the same with scripts. There's a really great post here from Jobbing Scriptwriter about the proliferation of EXPERTS who can tell you the 'secrets' of scriptwriting. That you should always use a particular style or font which naturally only THEY can tell you. And when you Google this supposed expert, you can never work out what films they actually wrote, and what their real hands on experience actually is. You do Google them don't you? You don't just accept their word that they are a 'world famous scriptwriter'?

Of course a script needs to be presentable and professional but a great story isn't going to get rejected because the font is wrong. All that matters are the words.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Make Love Not Warcraft


Yes yes, it's the title of that Southpark episode where the boys become obsessed with a massive online game, where they don disguises, and fight a massive sword of doom. Or something. Meanwhile, in the 'real' world, they're all becoming obese and acned from eating junk and never going outside. Now that's what I call satire.

The Boy is OBSESSED with Warcraft. So are his friends. They all play for hours. Two of his best friends came round for a sleepover on Friday, both carrying their computers. I opened the door, and having reeled back from the feral whiff, noticed that the Boy's bedroom was so full of computer equipment it looked like the headquarters of NASA. The boys were all playing fiercely. We barely heard them all evening, apart from the odd shriek of: "Kill him with your sword of Aragon!" and "Use the lightning rod of destiny!"

The next day, the Boy emerged, looking like Stig of the Dump. But he was beaming. Apparently, he's earned enough points to get a mechanical chicken for a pet. This is considered a good thing on Warcraft, although I doubt if Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall would agree as it doesn't constitute the Five Chicken Freedoms; freedom from fear, hunger, pain, distress and looking really stupid in an online game.

Friday, 27 June 2008

CRB Checks

According to Frank Furedi, we are creating a nation of adults terrified to approach children for fear of being labelled paedophiles. He thinks our discretion should be used when it comes to hiring adults to work with children instead of CRB’s which people find ‘intrusive’. Wouldn’t it be awful if a brilliant football coach didn’t come forward because a CRB check would reveal his pot head past? Perish the thought!

Esther Rantzen who was also on the programme simply said that if someone applied to work with children or vulnerable adults they should have their background checked for any record of attacking children. No it’s not infallible. But given that paedophiles tend not to have PERVE tattooed on their forehead (although I’m sure the News of the World is working on it) as well as habitually seeking out ways to come into contact with children, this CRB check seems very reasonable to me.

My four year old daughter is about to go to school and I want anyone who comes into close contact with her to have a CRB check and if they whine about it being 'intrusive' they can fuck off.

But the fact is, she is more likely to be attacked and abused by someone she already knows. Because far from there being armies of paedophiles roaming the country, statistically the most dangerous place for a child is their own home with people they trust to care for them.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Bad Lyrics!!!

Just listening to Radio 2 and 'Angels' came on. Arrgh - the second verse has the lyric:

When I'm weak
And my pain walks down a one way street. . . .

WORST LYRIC EVAH!

Apart from that horrible song by someone I can't remember which has the lyric:

Sometimes when we touch
The honesty's too much
And I have to close my eyes
And . . .

Puke? Scream? Hit myself over the head with an anvil?

. . .Cry. You're not the only one pal.

Yes. I should be working.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Heinzgate continues

Before I did the Jeremy Vine show yesterday, I phoned a gay friend of mine who works in marketing. What did she think? She said: "Heinz is all about variety (57 in fact), so a sprinkling of gays shouldn’t hurt anyone. And failing that, the complainers should shove the beans up their arse".

Yup - Heinz have managed to piss many many people off. And today I've learned that
over a thousand people have signed an online petition to get the Heinz ad reinstated.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Beanz Meanz Gayz!

I've been asked to appear on the Jeremy Vine show today at 1.30 ish to discuss the horror of an advert which features two grown men kissing. Apparently some parents are very upset at the idea of their evening being ruined and having to explain to their offspring why two men are showing physical affection.

I watched the ad and am slightly confused by it. A small boy comes into a kitchen, sees a grown man in a deli outfit and calls him 'mum'. So does the small girl who follows. So is the message that Heinz mayo can blur gender boundaries?

It's enough to get the anti-gay lobby in a stew of course. Personally I think you're born gay and that's that. But I intend to sit the Boy in front of a whole season of Derek Jarman movies this weekend, just to see if exposure to such rampant homosexuality turns him gay. Hey, it might mean he tidies his room up occasionally.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Tellings Off

A good friend of mine is a bit upset because her editor 'told her off' about edits and rewrites. I commiserated and reminded her of the Doris Lessing quote about writers:

"Without me the literary industry would not exist: the publishers, the agents, the sub-agents, the sub-sub agents, the accountants, the libel lawyers, the departments of literature, the professors, the theses, the books of criticism, the reviewers, the book pages - all this vast and proliferating edifice is because of this small, patronised, put-down and underpaid person."

On the same theme, The Boy has managed to download a mega Trojan which has culminated in billions of pop-ups of girls showing their tits and arse on screen. Have had to totally wipe his hard drive. And administered severe telling off about downloading dodgy music videos from Estonia and allowing them past the security system (Kaperksy, which is like having a maiden aunt in charge of Internet security. Even emails from my mother are labelled PROBABLY SPAM!!!!). But I don't think the Boy was paying much attention to my telling off, as yet another Estonian perky arse popped up on screen.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Little Voice in Your Head

(I'm not talking about the one that tells you to stockpile an arsenal of guns).

You've written a script. You know it's good. You send it off to various companies. But nobody knows who you are. You're an untried writer. Back it comes again and again. Still you keep sending it out. Because you know it's good. The little voice in your head is hurt but unbowed by the rejections. All your friends and family keep saying: "You're not still sending out that script?" You ignore what everyone says.

Then one day, somebody reads your script and finds it funny. It's bought. It's produced. It's a massive hit. You're flavour of the month. Now everybody knows who you are. And knows how good you are. They want you to write another script.

Now you have the opposite problem. Everyone tells you how great your new script is. Your friends and family are falling over themselves to look at it. Everybody wants it to be great; they need it to be great. Only the little voice in your head tells you that the script isn't so great. It needs work. Or it needs to be scrapped. You ignore what everyone says.

The point is that as a writer you need to develop a little internal critical voice. A voice that is impervious to criticism or flattery. Of course as you develop, you also (hopefully) will have a couple of people whose opinion and advice you respect. But ultimately, you will still need the little voice in your head. The voice that you listen to.