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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.


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


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.)


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


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


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 . . . .