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Tuesday, 31 March 2009


Am feeling very tired and grumpy at the moment for three reasons:

1. I've received a letter from The Boy's school. From his PE teacher who writes that he is 'extremely concerned by the lack of progress being made by your son in physical eduction this term' Why? Because he is wearing 'incorrect socks'. This particular PE teacher roared at The Boy,'And what would your mother think of you not wearing the right socks for PE?' and The Boy responded, 'Actually sir, I don't think she'd give a shit.' And got a big detention.

Poor Boy. He's right about me not giving shit about his socks. But it's also because some PE teachers can be strange people. I had one who was obsessed with sport - carrying a long pole with a hook on it to prevent any errant (drowning) students in the pool from clambering out. She also had a fun game of screaming that the last person out of the changing room lost a House Point, so we all had to rush like mad, struggling into our wet clothes, so as not to be the one who let down their House by losing a House Point.

I'd be worried if The Boy was being bullied or a bully himself. I'd be worried if he was depressed. And I'd be worried if he was a lazy arse. But am I worried that his socks are incorrect? No I am not.

2. I've been doing a lot of marking at the moment. And it's exhausting trying to be honest but constructive and kind at the same time. I opened a short story where the author announced they were writing 'in the style of Sylvia Plath'. And succeeded. In the sense that after I'd read it I wanted to stick my head in the oven. Why can't writers develop their own voice?

3. The Girl has started reading her Key Stage One book, and I'm supposed to make comments in the notebook. I read one note from her teacher saying: 'The Girl has difficulty in recognising some words. She should try harder'. For some reason that comment really hacked me off. What words does she have difficulty with? Existential? Erroneous? Patronising Twat? Now I know how hard it is for teachers having to push children towards targets all the time but she's five years old. I'm going to read to her and let her listen to audio stories so she grows to love words and books, at her own pace. I restrained myself (just) from writing, 'Piss Off Teecher' in the comments box.

Told you I was grumpy. Off to eat steak and watch some bad telly. Less grumpy tomorrow.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Princess Party Hell

Actually I’m being dramatic (she says dramatically) as The Girl’s party wasn’t hellish, although it was tooth rottingly, bone achingly Princessy. And although I’ve read that the real hell can be other parents, who ignore the bit on the invitation that reads: Parents Fuck Off, and sidle their way in, so you have to get them drunk too, they all seemed happy to drop their children on us and run.

So it kicked off with The Girl already being hopelessly excited by 5am (the party began at 2pm) and The Husband enquiring if it were possible to get Valium to put in her milk. Anything to stop her rushing round the living room bursting balloons and giving heart attacks to the cats. I finally got up and took her out for a walk, while he made piles of sandwiches. I discovered we might need extra bowls for the pudding. We had to get plastic bowls for the multicoloured fruit jelly I’d made. You actually worry about these things when you plan children’s parties. The Girl and I then trotted off to the party shop. Do you know that those poxy branded throwaway bowls that probably cost 0.2p to make cost 3.50 EACH when you have a Disney Princess on the front? Luckily The Girl was too busy having a tantrum trying to get me to buy Disney Princess napkins at £5 a bunch to notice.

Home again to find Husband had cut up lots of carrots and cucumbers in the hope of providing one thing on the tea table that wouldn’t immediately cause Type 2 Diabetes. I worried about whether I'd put decent presents in between the layers of the parcel, in Pass the Parcel. It's not Done to just let the children fight and sulk while they unwrap; you have to provide in-between presents now! A phone call to a veteran parent on emergency games only resulted in the advice: "Send them out to the park and give £10 to the child who comes back last." Great. Almost as good as his adult party game. "Two people each drink a whole bottle of whisky, then one of them goes outside and knocks on the door. The other person has to guess who it is." Anyway 1.30 arrived and our Professional Princess showed up, with a music system. The poor woman was barely in the door before The Girl, pink with hysteria started bombarding her with questions. But Tara (her real name) was brilliant, keeping 14 little girls wrapped up in the Princess fantasy -complete with jug eared Prince, numerous affairs, and high speed death in a Parisian tunnel - yes yes I'm kidding. It was all Disney Princess Lore, far healthier as role models. All The Husband had to do was take pictures. There was one bad moment when a little girl arrived and started to cry. “I want to go home!” And the mother just managed to get her foot over the door before I picked up the girl and said in my best bossy PE teacher voice: “She’ll be fine!” and lugged the wailing child into the living room where I plied her with sweets and cuddles.

There was a fair bit of nose picking and knicker showing but no vomiting or pooing and thanks to Tara, they all had a fantastic time. At one point, remembering primary school and weeing myself because I was too shy to ask to go to the loo, I shouted the location of our bathroom above the din, which prompted a Mass Girly Toilet Visit. Fourteen little girls thundered up the stairs at once. The Husband started worrying about taking pictures of little girls. I told him to get rid of the one of the sweet little blonde girl showing her knickers and grinning broadly. It’s a shame the things we have to worry about these days. She obviously had a great time. As did The Girl. Which was the main thing. As Frances Hodgson Burnett says in 'A Little Princess' - "All little girls are Princesses!" They are. Happy birthday my little Princess.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Princess Party

A panic last night as The Girl suddenly announced she had to 'dress up for school'. I was struggling to get her out of the bath at the time, and said 'mmm' in that awful way you do when you're not really paying attention and are not thinking that one day your child will grow up to be one of those insufferable people who Never Stop Talking, because they weren't listened to as a child. But as I was drying her, she repeated that she had to 'dress up'. So I rang a proper mother, one who actually reads the school newsletter and turns up with homemade chutney to the School Fayre instead of a bought jar with the label steamed off. "Oh yes, the children have to go dressed as a book character" she told me." Fuck.

I ran through The Girl's wardrobe. There was a Chinese costume her dad had brought back from Hong Kong. "How about you going as Chairman Mao?" "NO!" Come to think of it, was there a book called Chairman Mao? Probably. But The Girl seemed curiously unwilling to dress up as a communist dictator. Tch! After a long series of rejections, she finally settled on Lola from the Charlie and Lola books. All I had to do was part her hair in the middle and stick in two clips and put her in a dress. Phew!

And now I'm up to my eyes in making jellies and cakes for her party tomorrow. A Princess Party. Our house will be swarming with sixteen sugar crazed little girls. Wish me luck . . . . .

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Elisabeth Fritzl

Among the unbearable horrors perpetrated by Josef Fritzl, for some reason, the image that sticks with me is of Elisabeth, aged 18, giving birth alone in a dark cellar, in pain, with nothing but a pair of rusty scissors and an old book on childbirth to help her. Fritzl didn't even bother to visit her for ten days after she gave birth. She must have been absolutely terrified. Under these nightmarish circumstances, it would have been understandable if she had ignored the baby or been unable to care for it. Instead, in the confines of her prison she taught that child and the others she was 'allowed' to keep, to read. She told them about life outside. She somehow managed to love them and be a mother to them. Instead of wallowing in the repellent details of Fritzl's behaviour, maybe we should also consider what an extraordinary woman Elisabeth is. He may have enslaved her for twenty four years, but he did not destroy her humanity.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Radio 4 Offers Round

Right. As anyone who reads my blog is naturally deeply intelligent and creative, I thought I'd give y'all a heads up. The Radio 4 Offers Round is now open - it runs twice a year, so you get the opportunity to get your feelings stamped on, not once but twice! Here's a link to a more detailed blah I gave on it:

Anyway, you have till 24th March to come up with An Idea. What happens is you think of a book you'd like to adapt or a fantastic comedy idea or an Afternoon Play idea, and in the first instance what they want is this:

A maximum 100 word paragraph summarising the plot.
("Brilliant 17th century Danish Prince seeks to revenge the mysterious death of
his father and in so doing loses his mind, destroys his family and overturns the
state of Denmark. Renaissance tragedy. Period verse drama." would do for
Hamlet. 35 words.)

A maximum 200 word paragraph telling us why you want to do it, how you want to
do it and why it would work for Radio 4. Do not use the second paragraph to
continue summarising the plot. Some information about the author would be
useful, especially if he or she is a first time writer for radio.

I'll pass the ideas on to my lovely producer. Radio 4 then sifts through the ideas and decides which ones they want to develop further. You then get to go through the whole thing again, only in more detailed form. I should warn you the odds are horrible, and my producer is an independent so he only gets to bid for about 15% of the total radio 4 output. If you really want to write for radio, you'd be better off getting an in-house producer. Having said that, I've had two series, some sketches and a play through indie producers. But having said THAT, even with a slight track record I'm no better off than a newbie - they rejected everything I suggested last year. Bastards. So it's all about the idea.

Oh and on the very very small off chance of you getting a commission, the pay is shit too. A couple of grand for an Afternoon Play, and about £5000 for a Woman's Hour Series.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

My so called life

It being Saturday means that The Girl has to be escorted to yet another of her f***king parties (that child has a better social life than Paris Hilton) and The Boy is planning to go to Kingston to "buy some doughnuts". And speaking of better social lives, I had a phone call from a neighbour telling me that "Charlie and Lola visit quite a lot and Lola left her collar behind". Lola is my recently spayed and sulky cat. I went round to see my neighbour. "Oh yes" he said - "Charlie and Lola pop in quite a lot. Lola grabs some biscuits, hisses at Charlie and rushes out, and Charlie just sits in a patch of sunlight. They're quite friendly with our two." These are cats we're talking about. I also learned that Lola has been "waggling her arse at the male cats". The little slapper. We clearly got her spayed just in time. I also discovered that the black and white one who I named Mrs Robinson on account of her advanced years and the fact that our male cat Charlie seems to quite fancy her, is in fact a male cat called Freddie. Shows you how much I know about cats. Come to think of it, does this mean that Charlie is a metrosexual cat? Gay? Or just deeply dim? I fear it is the latter. Whenever I put him out of the kitchen to stop him eating Lola's food as well as his own, he just sits, staring in the wrong direction, for a minute before realising he is no longer in the kitchen.

The Husband and I have no social life at the moment but our children and pets obviously do so that's all right. Oh and five minutes ago I asked The Boy to help me with some housework. "I just flushed the toilet!" he shouted with the wounded air of one who had just vacuumed the house from top to bottom.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Yes but no but yes but no!

I promise this will be my last post on the subject. But being a writer and having a teenage son, I've been a bit consumed with the Myerson affair.

Remember Vicky Pollard? Of course you do!

Yesterday someone advised Julie Myerson to hit back and appear on Newsnight to answer accusations of exploiting her son for literary (read financial) gain. This is what happened when she was hauled up in front of Paxman.

It's exactly like watching an upmarket Vicky Pollard! Everything from the impenetrable rant to the wavering off subject and self-justification to the flapping hands. I haven't been so embarrassed for someone since I saw Sarah Brightman in a negligee wafting round a piano playing Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

More Plundering

Been reading a lot today about Juliegate. Opinion seems to fall firmly into two camps; those who are taking her discomfiture as a good ol' opportunity to give her a right kicking, (I never liked her, I hated her on Newsnight, I hate journalists who use their family in columns etc) and those who feel that unless you've had a teenage skunk addict in the house you don't know what you're talking about.

There are loads of cannabis websites that are firmly of the opinion that skunk is harmless and just as many unhappy parents who are equally firm about how skunk destroyed their child. Those who believe that skunk is harmless skip over the details of Jake Myerson's horrible behaviour at home, dismissing it as the whinings of a privileged successful woman who has somehow got her comeuppance. Ever since online papers introduced comments from readers you have to keep reminding yourself that you haven't wandered onto the Daily Mail site by mistake. You wonder what would happen if you became well known and then something went wrong. All those people lining up to say how much they always hated you . . . . .

I still don't think she did the right thing in making this particular batch of family laundry so public. Maybe Jake's real 'crime' was dropping a huge bomb into the family life she spent so much time and energy constructing, having had such a miserable childhood herself. Even Jake admits that his "childhood was idyllic."

And I think of The Boy who being a teenager Knows Everything about Everything. Tch! And think of Myerson's anguished description of Jake's growing paranoia, hitting her so hard she ends up in A&E, then being ok the next day, then chucking pots of plants through the front door, until Jonathan Myerson, hands shaking dials 999. How would I feel calling the police on my own son? Desperate and Shit in equal measure. I can't believe she's made this stuff up. And what do you do? You don't stop loving your boy - even if you hate his guts.

On the other hand there's Jake acting as though he smoked a few spliffs and his parents go nuts and chuck him out of the house. The kind of grandiose behaviour that only a teenager (mostly) is capable of.

The other day, The Boy forgot to take his lunch (prepared by me) out of the fridge. It was pretty damn obvious, a large box filled with food sitting in the middle of the fridge. Alas, there was no label on it reading LUNCH FOR THE BOY. So he forgot it. I was upset and on the point of driving to school to drop it off when Husband pointed out that he wasn't going to learn to switch his brain on in the morning unless he learned consequences. "Put the car keys down woman" he finished, sternly. I did. But when The Boy came home he squawked that he "couldnt' find his lunch in the fridge!" How could he not have seen it? "I. Just. Couldn't!" yelled The Boy, absolutely secure in his rightness and my unequivocal wrongness.

I thought of that conversation today and his utter conviction that he knows everything and I can teach him nothing. How would I cope if it was about cannabis and not his inability to find his lunch right in front of his eyes? Badly I suspect.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Plundering your life

The novelist Julie Myerson is in a whole load of trouble for using her son Jake's drug troubles in her new book. She pleads that old chestnut about doing it to 'help' other parents who can't understand what happened to their ordinarily grumpy teenager and have suddenly been landed with a smacked up extra from Trainspotting.

This all happened three years ago. Jake is now 20 and brands his mother 'insane'. She claims he became violent and abusive while on cannabis, and after several warnings, she and her husband changed the locks and threw him out. But whether or not the book is a success, or whether it helps other middle-class parents, it's unlikely that her relationship with her son will ever be properly repaired. It's not just the writing about the drugs - she used some of his poetry. Teenage poetry. I'd never live that one down.

To be fair to Myerson it must have been hellish to deal with an angry stoner. She says it "hit us out of nowhere" and being a writer you deal with it, by writing.

This mining your family - well, a lot of people do it. Including me. I put a spin on the essentially mundane; blither about the various doings of The Boy, The Husband and The Girl. And all writers dig about in the cesspit of their psyche. I'm writing something now about adolescence precisely because its a time that we never forget. It shapes us like red hot metal in a furnace. Adolescence brands us. I don't think I'd want my teenage idiocies (and there were many of them) forever emblazoned in print. But I was watching telly this morning as a friend of mine, Stephanie Calman who has written a book about her difficult relationship with her mother, called How (Not) to Murder Your Mother was appearing with another mother who had set up a website to deal with the misery of her son's skunk addiction.

Stephanie pointed out that we all have our own reality, and Jake's reality may have been very different from his mother's. The other mother spoke movingly of her utter despair at her son's change of personality, and her total isolation and inability to help him. (She used pseudonyms to avoid recognition). But what struck me was that both Stephanie and the other woman were both upfront about what they were writing; it was factual. Whereas with Myerson, the story of Jake crept in to a novel she was already writing and began to take over. Fact and fiction can oh so easily blur and other people's lives become mere grist to your literary mill.

There is also the uncomfortable question of writerly arrogance. If you're a really good writer, and Julie Myerson is, it's again very easy to assume that any hurt you're inflicting is transcended by your talent. That old chestnut - the talented don't have to abide by rules and can trample in a cavalier fashion over others.

I don't know what the answer is. If The Boy suddenly developed a skunk habit, would I blog about it? And if I were offered a publishing contract to write about it, would I?

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

I love having written. I hate fucking writing

Says writer Tony Jordan (Eastenders, Life on Mars) and I know exactly what he means. It’s different depending on the kind of writing. Been doing a lot of marking recently. I like coming up with a pertinent, helpful phrase that sheds light, or discovering a kind way of explaining why something doesn’t work, without really hurting the writer. I have to write at least a page where I engage with my students and make constructive remarks that help them to get better. So it’s useful and sometimes my students say that an idea has been triggered after something I suggested. I used to secretly worry that the more time I spent marking and teaching, the more resentful I might feel that ‘creative’ time (better known as surfing and staring out the window drinking tea) was being eaten away. I’ve learned, however, that teaching creative writing does feed into my own work. Not in a wafty romantic way, more that I'll read something I've written and mentally scribble: Could Do Better. Where's the structure? Where's the arc of the story? Go to the back of the class you useless twat. So yes the teaching is very constructive.

There’s an interesting piece in the Guardian where several writers discuss whether writing is a joy or a chore. I find it comforting that opinions vary wildly. Sometimes writing is like wading through concrete, or just boring. Other times though are magic; your brain flies open, you are unaware of hunger, thirst, or your chronically bad posture, your children’s huffy reminders that it’s Dinner Time are ignored. It’s just you in wondrous rapture as your fingers, brain and words fly along in perfect synchronicity. I think they call it being in The Zone. It doesn’t happen very often, or not with me, but when it does, it makes it all worth it.


Lola, the Spayed Cat, has finally forgiven me for inflicting a shaved patch on her flank, and after two days of feline sulking and grossly overpriced gourmet cat food, she is snoozing in my in-tray. I daren't move her. The mortgage application will have to wait.
Been having a busy few weeks, marking lots of creative writing, re-writing a comedy script that was suffering from a lack of comedy, tunnelling into The Boy's room to check if he was still alive, and organising The Girl's Fifth Birthday Party (It's going to have a Princess theme - she just wasn't interested in the Emmeline Pankhurst one.) More later.