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Friday, 17 December 2010

I heart my Babyliss Big Hair

I've spent years having hairdressers telling me 'your hair is a bit like that seventies cartoon girl . . . what's her name?' 'Crystal Tipps,' I'd reply dully, knowing that only the most determined professional could smooth my hair into the shiny swingy curtain I longed for. And the second a drop of rain hit my bonce, it would be transmogrified into a foaming Bet Lynch bonnet in seconds. My hair is wavy, thick and like a sulking teenager, only needs the slightest excuse to go ballistic. My sister who is much less cack handed than me, says that half an hour with a round brush and hairdryer keeps her similar hair in great nick till the next wash. I get that but I can never get the back bit right. So I've done what I can, and relied on a good blow dry for special occasions.

And then a few days ago I came across India Knight's Posterous site where she was enthusing over the Babyliss Big Hair Rotating Brush. I had a look at the reviews which are mostly ecstatic. So I chased one down and bought it - on eBay for £41.00. And I've just used it.

Gentle Reader, it's the Holy Grail of hair dryers if you have thick, wavy hair. Just section off bits of hair, and the rotating brush winds up your hair as tight as you like. You can release it automatically. If you close your eyes and say: 'We do a serum for stressed hair - only £25.99,' in a camp voice you could be in a hairdresser.

I'm not sure what it's like if you have very fine hair and want to create body, but if I can end up with salon smooth hair with no tears, swearing or four extra pairs of hands so can you.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Gillian's Masterplan Fails - World Sniggers

I was phoned today at 7.20am by an earnest sounding young man from LBC. 'We understand you have a teenage son,' he said. 'We wondered whether he would be taking part in the protests today about raising university fees.' I thought of The Boy snoring in bed. 'Only if the protests take place after 2pm,' I said.

Now I know that the hike in fees is far more serious than my chosen subject, but I can't help myself. We all know that any celeb who appears on I'm a Celebrity . . . does so to raise a shrinking profile, although what they usually say is 'I want to show the public the real me!' Alas, Gillian McKeith has done so in spades. Big goji berried aduki bean covered spades! She has shown herself to be a Victorian fainting maiden a salt sneaker and generally as mean spirited as she appears on those horrible programmes of hers.

I've got no sympathy for her. She shouts at fat people on television and gives them impossible, Calvinistic diets to follow, she attacks anyone who politely disagrees with her batshit theories,namely Professor John Garrow (a real trained doctor and Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of London) and even when Dr Ben Goldacre eviscerated her in The Guardian, she described it all as 'lies'. All very good reasons to revel in a bit of schadenfreude. BUT, what amazes me is that Ms McKeith looks so pinched! So underfed! Apart from wanting to strangle her, you also want to feed her pies first. Or maybe that's just me. I will say that if you get the face you deserve at 50, does Gillian really deserve to have the face of a freeze dried ferret?

Oh yes.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Prince William 'affianced' . . .world stifles yawn.

The Daily Mail today, took a break from what it does so well - latent misogyny loosely disguised as 'research' and suspicious looking foreigners (probably Benefit Thieves) receiving money for fussing about torture and illegal imprisonment - to announce minute-by-minute of the Engagement of William (he of the sadly receding hairline) and Katherine (nice looking girl but what does she do? Oooh quick Mr Dacre, didn't you do a mean spirited piece about that mother of hers? Looks like the pushy type - a few years ago? Well they're ENGAGED now so get rid of it.

So they're engaged. And it looks like a 'dream wedding' for no-longer Waity Kaity. In the ever deepening nastiness of this recession (a friend remarked that he's seriously thinking of telling his elder son to emigrate as there are going to be so few jobs around for young people starting out) us ordinary folk can doff our caps and cheer loudly as an attractive girl is sucked into that unpleasant archaic institution that like a bad tempered teenager, costs us a fortune to run and gives fuck all in return.

William and Katherine will be married next spring or summer - 2011, exactly 30 years since Lady/Princess Diana stood on the royal balcony and kissed that jug eared bloke, to roars of approval. I watched it on telly and tried to write an essay at the same time. I also watched astrologers twittering on about 'how well suited they are'. But 1981 was also a time of deep recession, thanks partly to the deregulation of the Banks, the savings and loan crisis and nearly three million unemployed (that particular 'record' was achieved in January 1982) - thank you Mrs Thatcher and Mr Reagan. Notably Reagan is now viewed as some sort of cuddly bear who made Americans proud to be Americans, and Thatcher's dismantling of Britain as some kind of gesture worthy of Elizabeth 1.

The Royal Wedding then in 1981 was a distraction - a brief one. And this will probably be a brief distraction too. I just wonder if our attitude towards it all has changed? Will we line Pall Mall doffing our caps? Or buy commemoration cups? Or this time will we just shrug?

Friday, 5 November 2010

Sayings of The Girl part 235

We're in a shop, The Girl and I, spending twenty minutes quality time with a plastic shopping basket, me dully repeating 'no no no' to increasingly whiney requests for:

String cheese
fruit shoots
muffins the size of a child's head
magazines stuffed with plastic shit
fizzy drinks with 'added antioxidants'
doughnuts topped with penicillin pink icing

'But the TV says it's good for you!' cries The Girl with increasing frustration. Just as I'm running out of responses that don't involve swear words, we make it to the top of the queue to pay, and The Girl spies a charity box for the local hospice. And in a sudden about turn, she asks if she can put all her pocket money in the exciting little hole at the top. 'All of it?' I ask. She nods firmly. Even the lady at the till enquires, 'Are you sure you want to put all your pocket money in there love?' The Girl is firm. She takes her money, slots it in and I smile benignly (it probably comes across as smug though). 'Her grandmother died recently', I whisper to the till lady and we exchange smiles at the wonder, the purity, the generosity of children.

Alas, when she gets home, The Girl counts her piggy bank money and bursts into sobs. 'I thought I had five pounds!'

I am bewildered. 'But you gave this week's pocket money away.'

She cries even harder. 'I thought it was YOUR money!'

Monday, 1 November 2010

Dad drove me to be a Muslim

The writer Lauren Booth has announced that she’s becoming a Muslim and has been roundly lambasted for it. Personally, as an ex-Catholic, another religion that regards Women with Opinions as deeply dangerous, I’m bemused. She was brought up in the Catholic faith, a religion where a nine year old rape victim was recently excommunicated for having an abortion. (Her stepfather who had also been accused of also raping the child's older handicapped sister was not excommunicated.) Not oppressive enough? Apparently not. How can she square ‘this shot of morphine, just absolute bliss and joy’ with a religion which has no qualms about stoning thirteen year old rape victims is beyond me. And yes, I know that there is a difference between the Koran and its interpretation. But to embrace a religion surely means you have to accept how it is practised? However, I feel a twinge of sympathy for her because around the same time she announced her new found beliefs, her father, the actor Tony Booth, blithely said in an interview that he doesn’t love her and is 'ashamed' of her. This 'character' has such a crass disregard for his children that he lauds his successful golden girl Cherie and forgets the names of his other seven daughters. Maybe it’s because I’ve recently lost my own mother but how can a parent say such a thing, loud and proud? Even if he feels it, to say it? And then to accuse her of trading on her relationship with her half-sister, Cherie Blair, when he himself has been doing exactly the same thing. You can only imagine the chaos he must have inflicted on his children. And yet, like so many utterly rotten parents he expects their support and loyalty. Which apparently Cherie gives and Lauren doesn't.

It struck me that what Catholicism and Islam have in common is a defined set of rules about what makes a ‘good’ woman. The Catholics hold up two types of women, the virgin mother and the reformed whore (Mary Magdalene) You don’t have to wear specific clothing but a good catholic woman eschews contraception, abhors abortion and considers her primary duty to bring up her children and make her family the centre of her life. Islam requires a woman to 'lower her gaze and guard her modesty'. It's always about the terrible power of female sexuality isn't it? Maybe it’s easier to think of yourself as ‘good’ if you follow a set of preordained rules, written by men, and view the world in black and white terms. But I think that it’s a mark of maturity to accept that the world is not black and white and perhaps you need a bedrock of self confidence to work out how to be good yourself without subscribing to a set of rules in order to do so.

I’ve never met LB but to have your father say such a vile thing about you, says far more about him than it does about her. Maybe it's not so strange that she has embraced the strictness of Islam to find some peace. But I'm wondering why isn’t he being criticised for such a wretched attitude about his children?

Friday, 29 October 2010

Giving up Smoking

Oh God, I feel as sick and dizzy as a pissed granny at a sherry party. It's because I'm wearing a nicotine patch - a clear, sticky thing that sends nicotine coursing through my middle aged veins. It's Day Two of my not smoking, so Serve Me Right. I'd like to say that I stopped because I was worried about lung cancer. Well I am anyway, especially as my lung capacity is a bit rubbish anyway. I once had to breathe through one of those tubes which measure it and the monitor shifted about half a centimeter.

I once asked a friend why he had given up smoking and he said: 'Because I was tired of being a slave to the weed' which struck me as a very sensible thing to say. You are a slave to it. Many is the time I've lit up and felt an overwhelming sense of disgust. I would smoke outside in the cold, shivering, feeling pathetic and ashamed. It seems so ridiculous as well as monstrously dangerous. My wise friend also said: 'Don't wait until you really want to stop smoking because that day will never come.' Oh I know all those smokers out there, including me, will sometimes wake up, headachy, breathless and chock full of guilt at the sight of full ashtrays and the rank smell and vow there and then to Stop. But the addiction comes creeping back, overriding the self-loathing.

To be honest, the real reason I'm giving up is superficial vanity. I've noticed a few thread veins sliding out of my nose (oooh sexy) and think that if I keep this habit up I'll soon have a nose like W.C Fields.

So this is it. And maybe feeling like a sick granny is a small price to pay. Any tips or advice from former smokers out there?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

I wish I'd never had children . . . .

‘I wish I’d never had children!’ shrieked the ex wife of a friend of mine. Trouble was she shrieked it at her children. I don’t know what the situation was but suspect it was an end of her tether one and not something she bellowed at her kids to get them up in the morning. But her now ex husband occasionally repeats the phrase as though it’s a summation of her rubbish skills as a mother. ‘Can you imagine saying that to your children?’ Well pushed hard enough – possibly. I told him that once, years ago when The Boy was about five, he yelled ‘I hate you!’ at me, and instead of responding in a mature Penelope Leach like manner, I yelled back: ‘Yeah well I hate you too you little shit!’ He laughed but insisted that his ex wife's comment was a far worse thing to say because it was so damaging. I'm not sure about that. I think a one off horrible remark is less destructive than the drip drip of emotional abuse.

Parents, in particular mothers though, are not supposed to ever express the negative side of parenting, except in a jokey way. If they do they invite a landslide of hatred, usually in the form of ‘why did you bother to have children you selfish bitch?’ The writer Anna Pasternak once wrote a piece about how dull babies were and oh so many mothers wrote in to tell her a) what a crap mother she was and b) what stimulating company their own babies were. Yeah I remember discussing Wittgenstein with my babies and them dribbling in response. Happy days.

Shouting at your children that you wished you hadn't given birth to them is a pretty terrible thing to say, but I found myself feeling a twinge of sympathy. I don’t need to tell you parents out there that there a) there is a dark underbelly to parenting that sometimes comes out in flashes of hatred and fury and b) we all have days where the sheer endless never ending endlessness of it makes us want to step out in front of the nearest car. The people who are the most shocked and horrified by this dark underbelly are always those who haven’t spent much time around children themselves.

I’ve been thinking about all this because The Girl and I are currently staying with my dad as he’s not coping too well with bereavement, and it’s taken a while to get The Girl into a local school (an exciting tale I’ll bore you with another time) but in the meantime The Girl and I are spending a lot of time together. Most of it is fun but sometimes oh God . . . . .I wish there was an off button. I can’t get a minute to myself. And yes, I’m making sure she goes to interesting places, classes, new activities. It’s the endless stream of questions – the fact she says ‘Mum . . .mum . . .?’ before asking a question and will keep saying ‘mum . . . mum . . . .mum . . . ‘ whether I’m on the phone, on the toilet or with my head in a cupboard trying to locate the gas meter. No time off. No respite. And there's only one of her! Full time single mothers are heroines! How do they not go mad?

Today I took her to children’s yoga and had a whole forty five minutes to myself. And no I'm not being sarcastic. It was joyous. I paid a few bills online and listened to embarrassing music on my ipod. Bliss. Ah say the Experts, so why can’t you do that with your daughter around? Because the point of the child free space is the sheer luxury of being alone – you revel in it – stretch out in it like a warm bath. And you don’t need that much of it, to gather your fractured self back together again and return to the fray.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Sayings of The Girl part 234

The Girl is spectacularly messy, which I try not to make a fuss about but I am beginning to insist she picks up after herself. It’s like pulling teeth. Yesterday she constructed a shanty town in the living room – consisting of huge piles of cardboard boxes and cushions. It wouldn’t matter so much except that she and I are currently staying in Broadstairs so I can keep an eye on dad. The house is small so I seem to spend most of my time picking stuff up off the floor.
After I admired the town I demanded she tidied up the living room floor. She sighed and said, ‘Do I have to?’ ‘Yes’ I said firmly and came back to check a little later to discover she’d done absolutely nothing. It would have been easier to pick it up myself but as we all know this starts a pattern and ends up with you asking your hulking teen to empty the dishwasher, only to be greeted with a shocked stare as though you’ve just ordered said teen to run naked down the High Street.
‘You’re so messy!’ I snapped helplessly at The Girl. She considered this. ‘Moles are messier.’
Moles? How did moles come into this?
‘Moles can’t see very well. So they never remember where they put stuff so their houses must be in a terrible mess.’
You can’t argue with logic.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Making a Meal of It

Yesterday afternoon I heard shouting, swearing and crashing noises in the kitchen. Was Gordon Ramsay cooking for the Queen? Or Marco Pierre White gutting squid for a state dinner? No – it was The Boy making lunch: pasta with tomato sauce.

I found him in the kitchen, crashing about, ten saucepans littering the work surfaces, moaning and clutching his head. ‘What happened?’

‘I banged my head on the saucepan and slipped on an onion.’

It was difficult to see how he’d banged his head on a saucepan since they’re kept in cupboards at knee height. At my confused look he explained sheepishly that in frustration he had hit himself over the head with a saucepan. Ah right. ‘I’m trying to make tomato sauce’ he grumbled.

I suggested a can of tomatoes would be a good idea. He put on the pasta. He heated the tomatoes. Then he decided he’d give the onions another go and chopped them into large lumps. After a few seconds he started crying and swearing. ‘My eyes are watering and the lumps are too big. Why didn’t you tell me to fry the onions first!’

‘You didn’t ask’ I said tightly. He got out another saucepan and I showed him how to fry onions. I could hear Husband’s voice saying: ‘Don’t bloody do it for him.’ I ignored it – he was in a nice clean office with grown-ups and not a tantrummy teenager. ‘Do I have to keep stirring it?’ The Boy huffed. Then he decided to add some garlic and spent a good fifteen minutes trying to peel it but his nails weren’t long enough or something. Meanwhile the pasta was overcooked and clinging to the bottom of the saucepan like those rubber bands in massive bundles, collected by thrifty types. I snatched the garlic, pulled off the skin and showed him how to chop it.

‘Euggh! Now my fingers smell of garlic!’

Christ – this was turning into some Japanese endurance test. Taking a deep breath I told him to tip the garlic into the onions, stir and cook for five minutes, and then add it all to the tomato mixture, taste it and add salt and pepper.

‘Stop stop – you’re going too fast for me!’

Finally he tipped the tomato pasta mess into a dish. I was going to suggest he grated some Parmesan over it but was worried his brain might explode. How does he manage to get his trousers on in the morning?

Monday, 6 September 2010

The Funeral

Twas the night before the funeral and all through the house
Relatives huddled to drink and to grouse
The suits and the dresses were hung up that night
While sis and I grumbled our hair looked like shite.

Yes - the night before the funeral, was a bit like a surreal version of Christmas – mum and dad’s small house heaving with relatives and children. Irish uncles were plonked in the living room exchanging ribald stories about ‘this feckin’ idiot’ and ‘she became a nun’ all fuelled by copious amounts of whisky. ‘They all look like Father Ted’ said Husband in wonder. The Boy looked like he’d been put through a car wash he was so fluffy and clean. 'Dad won’t let me wear his pants' he grumbled. The Girl was bathed and pj’d and she too was moaning that 'daddy brushed my hair TWICE.' Normally her hair looks as though she’s been brawling with a giant hedgehog.
The following morning sis and I rushed back from the hairdresser r (‘Going anywhere nice? To a funeral.’ SILENCE), the black car arrived and we all piled in to collect mum from the undertaker. Then dad panicked about not having flowers for mum’s coffin. I thought about a similar situation on my wedding day. I’d paid £15 for each corsage and within five minutes dad managed to sit on his. So on the way to the Registry Office dad rushed into a florist and had a rose plus a bit of greenery pinned to his suit – all for a fiver. Mum pursed her lips and contented herself with rolling her eyes and muttering ‘eejit’ under her breath. Now I was watching dad choosing roses for his wife’s coffin.
At the crematorium everyone was waiting. I saw my dearest friend who’d schlepped down from London, and took her hand to come in with the family. The service was short – I read a eulogy to mum and then sat down shakily. The Girl was weeping silently and I cuddled her and fussed with a tissue. ‘I’m crying like a grownup mummy’ she explained. ‘So water comes out of my eyes but I don’t make lots of noise.’ Then the blue curtains whisked shut and mum’s coffin slid silently into the crematorium. We were ushered outside to look at the flowers, and then my sister and I had to receive a line of guests. I started to feel seriously sorry for the Queen – what do you say? My level of conversation was reduced to: 'Are you coming to the wake? Yes it is a shame' and 'Who are you exactly?'
I had to shake slippery hands with several ageing representatives of the Legion of Mary. One elderly lady gripped my hand and said: 'I hope she’s in heaven before the devil knows she’s dead.' Er – me too. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw The Boy playing with The Girl who was telling everyone: ‘I have a granny but she’s dead.’
On we rolled to the wake where everyone was starving. I sat next to my motor mouth Auntie V. Kind, but obsessed with gossip and dieting, she started on me at once. ‘Do you have a diet sheet? I’m trying to get my daughter on one – she’s the size of a feckin house.’ I explained that I didn’t have a diet sheet and wondered how I could tell her politely that she was probably projecting her own body issues onto her daughter. Realised I couldn’t. And that I didn’t care. So I went and ate three sausage rolls instead. Auntie V looked at me with the amazement of someone who has always regarded food as though it were a pipe bomb.
I’m wearing mum’s pearl bracelet and one day I’ll pass it on to the Girl. Dad is surrounded by friends who have promised to keep an eye on him. Life goes on. But I’m still waiting for something to hit me.

Monday, 30 August 2010

The song is ended but the melody lingers on

So said Irving Berlin. I'm trying to write a funeral eulogy for mum without using the phrase: 'She touched all our lives' or 'She will continue to live in all of us' (what - like herpes?) and I'm finding it very hard. How do you sum up someone's life? But what I really want to do is give an idea of her as an individual - not just 'wife of' or 'mother of'

Here's a picture of her looking serene while my sister and I (both going through a terrifying Axl Rose lookalike phase sit either side of her).

Meanwhile I've found a poem:

All Is Well

Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used
Put no difference in your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,
Let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It it the same as it ever was, there is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near,
Just around the corner.
All is well.

By Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918)

Friday, 27 August 2010

Death and shit poetry

Well the funeral has been arranged for next Friday and I'm deep into arranging invitations and wondering who is going to provide a few dodgy sarnies and sausage rolls for the mourners to scoff afterwards. I've already mentioned the farcical moment when my sister and I realised we'd thrown away all mum's clothes, leaving nothing,literally nothing for her to be buried in. Apart from a swimsuit.

There have been other moments too. Like the deluge of shitty poetry we've been getting through the post. On pink swirly cards. The worst one so far has been:

We saw her fading like a flower
We could not make her stay
We tended her with love and care
Till the Lord God took her away.

'Gobshite' as dad muttered.

Nobody knows what to say. Well there's nothing you can say to make it better. The relatives and friends with brains have said that they're very sorry and left it at that. Others have come out with: 'You must be so pleased she's at peace.' Oh yeah - thrilled. And 'God wanted her in heaven.' He told you that did he? And 'Sorry I can't make it to the funeral - I have a dental appointment. You do understand don't you?' Of course. By the way - I hope the drill slips through your jaw.

I'm trying to write a tribute to mum and wondering what kind of poem to quote. Any ideas?

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Death and Paperwork

On Sunday in the middle of lunch with the in-laws I had a phone call from my mother's nursing home. 'She's very poorly with no pulse. I've called an ambulance.' I couldn't go straight away so my sister drove down and spent the night at the hospital, holding mum's hand while they tried to make her comfortable and wait for the inevitable.

The next day at 1pm she died from a stomach infection. I tore down the motorway and arrived at the ward. The curtains round her bed were closed and a nurse took my hand. 'I'm so sorry - your mother passed away ten minutes ago.' My sister was sitting next to her bed stroking her waxy limp hand. 'She wouldn't have recognised you. Her eyes were fixed and dilated all night.' I was too late. Dad had gone for a walk. He had to be doing things. I didn't blame him.

It was very quiet. My sister was red eyed and pale from her vigil. Mum was curled up on her side, one hand resting under her chin like a sleeping child. She was so thin. Still warm, but growing cooler. Skin buttery soft and waxy pale. Hands small with long fingers. A wedding ring that she said we could use oil or soap to pull off her finger. Neither of us wanted to do that. We left the ring on. One of us on either side of the bed, listening to voices, shuffling feet.

I could hear her voice. Her words in the will she made before having a hip operation. She wrote: 'Get a WRITTEN QUOTE or they will rip you off. And don't bother with an expensive casket - cardboard will be fine. If you waste money on my casket I'll come back and haunt you.'

I pulled a beef sandwich out of my bag for my sister - her favorite. She couldn't eat it. A young doctor arrived and pronounced her dead. He told us about how to get hold of the death certificate - the first in a blur of instructions about what to do next. We drove back home to find dad in the middle of a series of calls. 'No tears' he said. 'She's not in limbo anymore.'

Today in a frenzy of activity, we rang people, spoke to a funeral director and went through mum's clothes. Her engagement ring which I put on. My sister took the bracelet she wore on her wedding day. We packed up her clothes and took them to a local charity shop. We answered calls.

Then we realised we'd given all her clothes away leaving her nothing to be cremated in. The only things we hadn't given away were beach ware. Visions of mum in her coffin wearing a swimsuit floated in front of us and we began to laugh.

I haven't cried much yet. There's too much paperwork to do. I'm glad she's released from the limbo, the half life she was living. But the finality of it hasn't hit me yet.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Eat Pray Procrastinate

It's me again - not working. So this morning I was allowing myself the usual faff time before settling down to wrestle with the script that I'm growing to HATE with every fibre of my being (it's supposed to be a comedy - it's not funny - or maybe I've just been looking at it for too long - I want to strangle myself etc) and I watched the trailer of Eat Pray Love. Now I love Julia Roberts. I think she's a really good actress as well as being gorgeous in an individual way. She brings a zingy freshness to her roles. And I admire how she took time to step back and bring up her family. Yes I know it's easy to do when you have tons of money but still, I admire her for stepping back while she was at the top.

But despite all this I think I'm going to hate Eat Pray Love. Based unreasonably on the trailer:

1. I hate it when Hollywood tries to understand women.
2. The brief scene when the heroine is in Italy and gasp - eats a plate of pasta. Oh I get it. She's so outrageous - she eats carbs! Wow that's really finding yourself.
3. And cake - she eats cake! Carbtastic!
4. On her journey across an astonishingly poverty free India and Bali, while eating carbs and finding herself she meets a rough hewn man. He doesn't shave and looks like he's no stranger to garlic. And he's Javier Bardem.

The End (I bet)

I'll probably still see it though.

Monday, 16 August 2010

The Girl doesn't stop talking!

The Girl doesn’t stop talking. I really mean that. She’s six and from the moment she sidles into our bedroom in the morning and watches for the slightest eyelid flicker, to when she’s put to bed at night, she doesn’t stop talking. It’s a long stream of chatty fizzy high on life blither. What’s a wagina mummy? When you die what happens? Why is the sky? Is that lady fat or pregnant? Why should I shhh? But mummy I don’t want to go to sleep I’m not even a little bit zzzzzzzzzz . . . . .

Her chattering has become more intense recently and I think it’s because I’ve been running back and forth to see my mother, and working a lot. And in The Girl’s little group of friends at school, I’m the only mother who works.

Is that it? I asked her once if she minded that I worked and she said: But you don’t work mummy. You sit at home and write. That’s me told. But I do go into the school and take part in cookery lessons. I show up to assemblies. My involvement with the school isn’t as intense as some other parents but I am involved (she says defensively).

I’ve googled to find out what to do about a chatty child and on the US sites, the possibility of Autism and Aspergers comes up (hello medicalisation) and on the UK sites, the advice ranges from a shrug to gin and earplugs.

We all know at least one adult who suffers from verbal diarrhoea – the one whose conversation consists of a never-ending monologue of their day. If you do try to get a word in edgeways to say: Hey I’ve been diagnosed with an incurable disease, Verbal Diarrhoea will listen for 2.3 seconds until you pause for breath, and then dive back in with: Oh I know just how you feel. When I was diagnosed with flu I thought I was going to die too – I felt so bad and I was in bed didn’t eat anything but I did drink this lemon drink have you tried it very low in calories oh and it was so funny . . .

I have this theory that people who never listen and speak as though if they stop speaking they will literally stop existing, are those who were never listened to as children. Perhaps they were dismissed or half listened to. I think of this a lot with The Girl. I know I’ve been guilty of half-listening sometimes. So I’m trying to spend big lumps of time with her – just her and me. When she has a bath I sit with her, cutting my toenails. Gross I know but bless her she doesn’t mind. Then we have a girlie pedicure which consists of me wincing while she chooses toenail polish in Slaaaag Red and then manages to paint her entire foot and the carpet in it. And I remind her about not interrupting and praise her when she doesn’t interrupt.

Any ideas?

Friday, 13 August 2010

Confession Time

Walking past Space NK yesterday (honestly even the name hints at pretentious – overpriced ness. Its full name is Space NK Apothecary. Apothecary! Like a combination of Witchcraft and early Harry Potter.) Still it’s no good me scorning since I invariably go in and admire the insanely overpriced produce. I’ve managed to resist for a long time. But yesterday I was feeling a bit frizzy and lumpen.

Any girls out there with wavy hair that goes all foamy in damp weather will know what I mean. We are forever in search of the Holy Grail - the product to calm the frizz into a tumble of luscious curls and we will pay practically anything to get it.

So Space NK had this little corner devoted to a New Product by ‘Living Proof’ which according to the saleslady was ‘flying off the shelves’ and salespeople never lie do they? So basically I paid £18 for a 4oz bottle of leave in conditioner. I’m an idiot.

Still it’s better than last time when buoyed up by a drunken lunch I bought a ‘lip plumper’ (I’m blushing as I type this) the price of which I’m not going to tell you because I’m so embarrassed. It made my lips sting like a bastard. It didn't make them plumper just really sore and scabby. I might as well have squashed an angry wasp over my mouth. At least it would have been cheaper.

Confession number two. I started smoking again. Yesterday I caught myself squashing out a cigarette then eating a nectarine. As though the toxins from the fag would be somehow nullified by eating a piece of fruit. But I am going to give up. I’ll be a frizzy haired clean lunged grumpy moo. Do you still fancy me? Thought not.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Manuscript evaluation - is it worth it?

I’ve had a few emails recently from writers who have finished a book or script and want their baby professionally evaluated before sending it into the shark infested waters of publishing. And is it worth it?

One of the crappy things about sending out a manuscript is that even if it’s almost there and needs just a bit of work, editors don’t have time to respond individually, so the ‘almost there’ books tend to get the same short shrift as the ‘never in a million years’ books i.e. a form rejection. If you’re lucky, you might get a hand scribbled note on the rejection letter suggesting you send it somewhere else or offering a bit of advice. Don’t be offended by this – if the editor has taken the time to write a few words of encouragement it’s good. It’s hopeful.

But there you are with you rejection letter, feeling hurt, rejected, pissed off. Most importantly, not knowing why. Is it that the character you fell in love with may not be as loveable as you think? Bits of plot may not make enough sense? Overwriting? As a writer you are often so close to your work you can’t see the wood for the trees. It’s like having your nose pressed so close to the glass of the shop that everything is blurred and you can’t see the layout, the structure, the overall impression. This is where a good manuscript evaluation service can help – if you’re prepared to listen.

It’s my view that all good writers doubt their work. I don’t mean that they go around in a fug of despair, but criticism is taken on the chin and recognised for what it is; a tool to improve the writing.

I’ve been teaching creative writing for a couple of years and in every group I teach there is at least one person who has clearly signed up to the course for an audience or for validation. But not to learn anything. These are the students who are making the same errors at the end of the course as they are at the beginning. And no, I’m not saying I don’t get precious and fractious about my own work but I’m (hopefully) grown up enough to realise that flattering words don’t help me to improve as a writer. These students are likely to come out with the following:

You don’t understand what I’m trying to do. Well as a writer you don’t have the luxury of sitting next to you reader and saying – this bit here – I wrote it because I wanted to show how self-destructive she gets when a relationship goes wrong. If it’s not on the page it’s not there.

Publishing is a conspiracy to keep new writers out. No it’s not. New writers get published all the time – we only hear about it though, if the advance is spectacular.

The gatekeepers of publishing are an elite bunch of snobs. A few years ago with the advent of e-books and self-publishing like Lulu, there was a feeling across the blogsphere that publishing was now fully democratised, the reader would decide what they wanted, and no longer was publication in the gnarled hands of evil publishing gatekeepers. What has actually happened is the realisation that not only are there millions of e-books, novels, poetry and other creatives, a huge amount of this is really really bad. So the gatekeepers are not snobs – they may decide what they think will sell, and yes it’s a question of taste sometime, but without them – just look at some of the dross available out there.

It’s not what you know it’s who you know. It does help to get your manuscript read. I got my first break by having a friend suggest I send my script to someone he knew at Radio 4. But had the script been utter cack, would it have been commissioned? Er . . no.

Editors in commercial publishing spoil your work. This is an odd one and often cited by the determined self-publisher. Self-publishing is a possible route, for the determined, and those who are prepared to ruthlessly edit their own work and market it and sell it, literally door to door sometimes. Not to say that it can’t be done, but I doubt if any self-published writer would choose this route over a contract with a mainstream publishing house complete with their own marketing and sales division. Some SPA’s some oddly proclaim the fear that a mainstream editor would wreck their book, so the self-published author remains more in control. That’s news to me; the relationship between writer and editor is a partnership, not a Victorian Dad standing over the writer with a big stick.

If you go to the excellent Self Publishing Review run by Jane Smith, she will review a self published book and praise it generously if it’s good. But one of the common reasons she stops reading after fifteen pages is because of the numerous spelling and grammar mistakes. It may be your book, untinkered by an editor, but it’s a book littered with errors too.

I can totally understand why unpublished authors become angry at the amount of celebrity dross being published, often with stonking advances. I read the ‘autobiography’ of a certain pop star recently which comprised mainly of photos of him looking manly and sensitive. The opening paragraph read: 'I suppose you could say that my life has been a bit mad.'

Why would people buy this stuff? Well most of it is written by ghost-writers anyway, and publishers are finally beginning to realise that the public are not that stupid and don’t really want to read a ghost-written book about Grade Z celebrity ‘lifestyles’. The top selling celeb autobiography in 2007 was Peter Kay’s and he wrote it himself, so maybe the tide is changing. I hope so. But even so, I don’t think of that as real publishing but branding.

Back to the original question. How do you find a good manuscript evaluation service? What do you look for?

Look at their track record. Have they helped authors actually get published by real publishing houses? Beware of services which are tied to e-books or self-publishing companies.

If their banner line reads: Helping you to get published – or any guarantees like that – again, beware. There are no guarantees.

If you send in a novel you should get feedback from a published novelist in your genre. They should be looking at specific elements such as structure, plot, and characterisation and offer advice and suggestions as to how you can improve it. The word is specific. No vagaries. And if with your feedback there are further exhortations to put you in touch with a freelance editor they happen to know who could really get your book published – red flag. Unscrupulous evaluation services will encourage you to keep sending your novel to be tinkered with, edited, and polished (all for a fee of course). A good one will be straight and tell you exactly why your work is not quite ready to be sent out into the market.

I’ve done some reading for The Literary Consultancy several years ago and one of my stipulations was that I wasn’t going to encourage a writer whose book was not publishable, to keep sending it back for more changes. If your work is fundamentally flawed, no amount of tinkering will turn into a publishable book. You would be better to take the advice on board and use it to write a better book.

Victoria Strauss has some fantastic advice for anyone thinking of using a freelance editor or evaluation service.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Remember that time your husband tried to run a bath? And burned the house down?

Says Father Ted to a middle age woman whose husband is domestically helpless. I’m thinking of this, because I’m currently staying with dad while mum is being settled into a nursing home. Dad is in his mid seventies. He enjoys his food and has been ‘spoiled’ (his words) by forty years of mum’s excellent home cooking. It’s always been her domain and he rightly points out that whenever he tried to help she would irritably shoo him away. Once when I mentioned that The Husband was away for a few days, mum sighed and said: ‘Isn’t it grand not to have to cook a dinner when they’re away?’ The idea of wanting to cook a nice dinner for yourself or even more radically, asking your partner to cook for both of you was unthinkable to her.

But despite knowing all this, I find the combination of learned helplessness and the unspoken expectation that because I’m female, I’ll take over the domestics, incredibly irritating. Yesterday when I suggested he cooked dinner for The Girl and myself, as I’d been working all day and racing round nursing homes, he looked shocked, before producing what looked like a plastic packet of cubed brown stuff from the fridge. ‘I could cook this,’ he said hopefully, waving the noxious bag under my nose. It smelled like curry coated poo. ‘How are you going to cook it?’ I asked.

‘Don’t know,’ said dad.

Years ago, I had a boyfriend who invited me round for dinner and produced two salmon steaks which he ‘hoped’ I could cook. I laughed but he was serious. Shortly after I left him with his salmon steaks. He didn’t understand why I was so annoyed.

But my dad is from another generation, so maybe I should be more patient. Yesterday I made his favourite pork chops with a mustard sauce and he stood in the kitchen, shuffling about, and hands behind his back like Prince Phillip, as the chops browned and I whisked them onto a warmed plate, poured a glass of wine into the sizzling juices, and added some mustard and a small spoon of cream. When I turned round to ask him to give it a stir, he was fumbling through the cutlery drawer cursing because he couldn’t find the forks. The forks were obviously hiding from him, purely to get at him. Like the plates yesterday. They were hiding too. Bastard things. His frustration at inanimate objects goes from 0 – 60 in ten seconds.

Later I typed out the recipe for him and suggested buying a simple cookbook. Jamie Oliver? No – he can’t stand Jamie Oliver. It’s the mockney accent. What does that have to do with cooking? Nothing – but he can’t stand Jamie Oliver. What about Two Fat Ladies? No – they’re fat. And fat women only appear on television to annoy him personally. I take a deep breath and mention that Robbie Coltrane is also very large but he doesn’t rail against him. Veering between compassion and the desire to throw something at dad, I finally suggest Delia Smith. He agrees.

Of course, dad can manage to feed himself – even if it’s just packaged stuff with the vegetables he grows in his allotment. But such is his fear of failure/trying anything new, coupled with a low tolerance of frustration that I fear he’ll give up too quickly at putting together nice meals for himself. Even if there’s nobody to witness his efforts much less eat them. But I do wish he’d try. He loves food and once he’s mastered a few recipes, he’ll grow in confidence. I tell him this and he kisses me and says he couldn’t have gotten through the last few months without me.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Buying clothes for The Boy

It's The Boy's birthday on Saturday, so I popped (arggh - middle aged word) into a store called BENCH, which describes itself as an urban lifestyle brand, thus explaining why they charge £25 for a tee shirt. Was fingering a mud/poo coloured top that he might like when a spotty teen sales assistant shuffled over. We had the following conversation:

HIM: (IN HIGH PITCHED SQUEAKY 'MY VOICE IS BREAKING' VOICE) Can I help you wiv anyfink today Madam?

ME: I'm looking for a t-shirt for my son.


ME: Er right. I need it in a small.

HIM: I don't fink we have it in a small.


HIM: Where?


HIM: Oh. Please let me know if there is anyfink I can be of more assistant wiv?

ME: Thanks.


ME: You're in my way.

But it was worth it to see that momentary light of love appear in The Boy's eyes (or it might have been avarice but never mind). There were several anxious moments while he tried it on and said: 'This isn't a pyjama top is it?' and I assured him that it wasn't. He then nodded and said: 'Not bad mum. Thanks' before adding, 'Don't tell anyone you bought me this.' And then he gave me a hug and I felt his long bony chest against mine and remembered how when he was small I would say: 'Hold onto mummy like a monkey' and he would wrap his arms and legs round me as though he were trying to climb back inside me.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Fat Kids

When I was about 9, there was one fat child in my class called Ellen. Or Ellen the Melon as she was known. She would stand next to me in cookery class and scream hysterically when we we were making sausage rolls because my mum gave me sausage meat with lots of garlic and herbs mashed into it. 'Eurrgh I hate garlic - Miiiissss!'

When I was invited to her party I asked mum for some chocolates as a present and she, with characteristic diplomacy spluttered: 'I'm not giving chocolates to that big heap!' But growing up, I don't remember even thinking about whether I was too fat or thin or even considering my body shape until well into my teens. The word 'slim' was used, not 'thin' and several relatives and teachers commented on the fact I was a 'bit too slim' even though I ate like a half starved gannet. Being thin was not a worthy goal.

It sure as hell is now. And The Girl, even though she's just six, and built like a twiglet is acutely aware of 'fat' being 'bad'. To be honest I'm anxious about her growing up in a world with so many toxic messages about acceptable body weight for girls. I've hidden my scales and she has never ever seen them. I don't use the word 'fat' at all, and I've threatened The Boy with death if he ever teases her about her weight. I've told my dear dad that the word 'buxom' is not acceptable. 'But buxom is great!' he says, bewildered, having grown up lusting after real women like Ava Gardner and Sophia Loren.

I was disturbed though to read that parents who fail to help their obese child, and ignore all advice could be considered guilty of neglect. Now come on - we've all seen the lumbering children pouring vast packets of monster munch down their faces as they heft along the street. And don't tell me you don't tighten your lips when you see a small child drinking some fizzy crap drink in their pushchair. Oh yes you do. Just before you check yourself for snobbery, a little part of you thinks: Coke!? For breakfast?! You bad bad parent.

The thing is, this proposal will target the very poor because the poorest sections of the population are the ones who feed the most processed food to their children. Add to this, the fact that we have a generation that seem unable to cook (doubly ironic when posh restaurants are serving up the cheaper cuts of meat our grannies would have knocked up in their kitchens blindfolded), and you have a generation of children less healthy than their parents. Remember that boy Connor McCreaddie, eight years old and weighing 14 stone who was briefly in the news because the council were considering taking him into care? Legions of middle class journos sped up to North Tyneside to lambast his mother. But I'd like to have seen any of them put together decent meals on benefits, with the nearest superstore two bus rides away and a fast food outlet on every corner. No greengrocers, no butchers - all driven out of business by the Superstore.

Sure there are parents you want to slap round the head (or maybe it's just me) and shout: 'You are condemning your child to a lifetime of obesity and health problems you drongo. Put that doughnut down!' But these initiatives seem to do nothing but stigmatise and blame the poorest people which is perhaps simpler than tackling the deeper malaise of obesity; the massive power of the Food Standards Agency, the fact that the likes of Tesco are driving small foodshops out of business and fast food is cheap and tastes good because it's so pumped up with fat and sugar, and teaching children to cook.

Actually teaching The Boy to cook was like pulling teeth until he realised that girls are impressed by a man who knows how to chop an onion.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Mel Gibson - a giant (racist and misogynistic) toddler

I find it very funny when female celebs put their post-pregnancy body down to running round after the baby. Because one of the advantages of babies is a tendency to stay where you put them. It would be like saying, oh yeah I stay superfit by running round after my cat.
Even when babies turn into toddlers they waddle furiously, then plomp down on their bums, but still not fast enough for you not to be able to catch up in a couple of strides. Toddlers are exhausting though – maximum mobility, minimum sense, zero tolerance for frustration and a marked tendency to scream when they don’t get their own way. Add homophobia, racism, and misogyny to the mix and you’ve got Mel Gibson
If you’ve been living in a cave the past week, this story may have passed you by. Gibson has been taped by his ex partner Oksana Grigorieva while he tells her she deserves to be raped by a pack of ‘ni....s’ and he’s going to kill and bury her in the rose garden. And it’s all her fault . . . .she made him do it, the classic clarion call of the violent. Meanwhile, defender of powerful child rapists everywhere, Whoopi (it’s not ‘rape rape’) Goldberg jumped to Gibson’s defence saying that he wasn’t a racist because he’d spent time with her kids! Wow – so he didn’t march into her house and say, 'You didn't tell me your children are black too!' so he’s not a racist. But he is a ‘bonehead’. And Grigorieva is a ‘gold digger’ and shouldn’t have made the tapes in the first place. What a harpy. No wonder he threatened to burn her house down and punch her in the face while she was holding their baby. Maybe if he does break the restraining order Grigorieva has taken out and ends up killing her and burying her in the rose garden as he threatened, then Whoopi’s summation of his behaviour might be changed from bonehead to ‘jerk’.
How do you get to be like this? Gibson is a hugely successful actor and respected director. He is hermetically sealed off from day to day normality in a world where the only things that really matter are power and money. He is no doubt surrounded by lackeys who never say ‘no’ to him or ‘that’s a crap idea Mel’ or ‘pick it up yourself’ or ‘Don’t talk to me like that you shortarsed wanker’. His every whim is anticipated and attended to. It must be like being a Roman Emperor. And didn’t a large proportion of them go stark staring mad and ended up assassinated by their own soldiers?

After Gibson’s last rant where he was pulled over for drink driving and after calling the female police officer ‘sugar tits’ he said that the Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world, there was a collective intake of breath. But his film Apocalypto came out, went down a critical and commercial storm and the rant was forgotten. This time I would imagine he’ll stay in therapy, make a public statement of attrition, announce he’s stopped drinking and probably send a few cheques to everyone he’s offended. I really hope this doesn't happen. I hope Gibson is arrested. But I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, 9 July 2010

I can’t talk now. My daughter is sitting on the toilet dressed as a cat

And The Boy is skumbling (a heady mixture of skulking and stumbling) around the bedroom mumbling: Where’s the hairdryer?

You’re holding it, I reply testily. Then I go back to the phone conversation I am trying to have with my sister about finding a suitable nursing home for mum. It’s 8.15am and I’m trying to get dressed and talk on the phone at the same time.

Wipe my bum mummy! The Girl is perched on the edge of the loo, cat ears askew, her costume unzipped and pooled round her ankles. The Boy stops loudly drying his hair and mumbles something at her. She yelps with feline rage.

I’m not licking my own bum! I’m not a cat. Oh. I am. I’m still not licking my bum. Muuuum he said I should lick my bum! The Boy shrugs. She’s supposed to be a cat! Where’s the hair stuff? The Boy needs products, lots of them, to achieve that carelessly tousled, just got out of bed look. The products that are Right in Front of Him. He’s supposed to be attending a college interview today, while Husband and I are dropping off Cat Girl at school, (It's Alice in Wonderland day) then dropping him off. I wipe Cat Girl’s bum and zip up her costume while she chatters away. But soft! In comes husband, red with rage because The Boy is Not Ready.

We’re going in eight minutes he shouts. Why can’t you get up earlier? Because my body won’t let me counters The Boy. Where’s the blue hair stuff mum?

Is my phone invisible?

I point out that I’m on the phone having a serious conversation. Husband points loudly (I don't know how he does this but he does) at his watch. The Boy considers for a second.

Yeah but where’s the blue stuff?

Meanwhile there’s a wail from The Girl and she holds up the tail she has managed to pull off. I struggle to keep my voice level. You’ll have to be a Manx cat.

My sister and I agree to talk later.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Mourning Mum

The Girl is at primary school and regularly brings home books along with a parental notebook which is supposed to be filled in, to keep track of her reading. Myself or Husband, or occasionally The Boy listen to her picking through Camping Adventure, or Birthday Adventure and then fill in the book with comments like: Brilliant Reading or Read Well or in the case of The Boy, Rubbish.

I looked through the book yesterday. My mother had looked after the children while Husband and I were in Singapore. I saw mum’s handwriting: Exemplary reading from my clever granddaughterr. The day after she wrote that, she travelled home, and while standing at the top of her stairs, had a cerebral hemorrhage, fell down the stairs and sustained serious brain damage. She won’t write a word like exemplary again, or say it. She won’t sit up or walk or look at us and have a conversation. She won’t cook or snap at dad or send me cuttings from the newspaper about osteoporosis, cancer, or other illnesses to brighten my day.

Mum is being sent to a nursing home because there is nothing more the hospital say they can do. For the last couple of months, myself, my dad and my sister have been ringing, arguing, asking for a second opinion and trying to fight our way through NHS bureaucracy to get her the best possible treatment. It’s like knitting fog. Speaking to the same person twice in a row is almost impossible, so I’m used to hearing phrases like: Sorry I don’t have the notes – I wasn’t at the meeting – I’ve only just been assigned to this case – I don’t know – I don’t know – I don’t know. I ring the hospital switchboard and it has this bizarre system of you speaking the name of the department or person you want to talk to. It goes something like this:

Hello – you are through to the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother switchboard. Which department or person would you like to speak to?

You say loudly and clearly,

Minster Ward

The machine replies,

Putting you through to Dr Klalid Abdullah

It’s funny the first time.

Mum isn’t technically dead but the woman who brought my sister and I up, fed us the home cooked food that has given us a lifetime of good health and stable weight, been a brilliant grandmother who sent parcels and letters to her grandchildren, and once asked: Is Freddie Mercury gay? (Is the Pope Catholic? replied dad) is gone for good.

I miss you mum.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Kathryn Blundell

There are some things mothers are never supposed to say. That the idea of childbirth fills them with disgust and horror and they want to be either drugged off their tits or anaesthetised and c-sectioned. Odd because in every other area of medicine, the absence of pain is seen as a Good Thing. In childbirth though, it's generally seen as a cop out. My second labour was only eight hours long. I never felt in danger and the midwife was great. Unfortunately the epidural didn't work. I’d have taken a bullet the pain was so bad. No I didn’t feel empowered. You try splitting in half and feeling empowered about it.

Once the baby is born, the next taboo is mentioning that small babies are really really dull.
Anna Pasternak got it in the neck for saying just that. The debate ‘raged’ as women phoned radio stations to explain how rollercoasterly thrilling it was to have a small baby.

Kathryn Blundell deputy editor of Mother & Baby magazine is now in deep nappy doo after using the word ‘creepy’ in the context of breastfeeding. The deluge of rage in response centres entirely around the use of the word ‘creepy’. Oh and referring to her breasts as ‘funbags’ which is up there with Gok Wan’s ‘bangers’. But she says other things too – useful things like women should not be made to feel guilty if they can’t or don’t want to breastfeed. Her real crime was not prefacing her shameless formula feeding with lots of handwringing about how ‘guilty’ she felt, or that her nipples were cracked and bleeding after nights of desperate attempts to feed. If she had – then the comments would have been more of the saintly condescending variety. Oh what a shame. Poor thing. Maybe she should have tried just an itty bit harder? Needed more support etc etc. No, this rotten, evil mother decided she couldn’t be ‘fagged.’ The selfish, sociopathic, useless, vain monster. Yes, she’s been described as all those things.

The other comment that comes up again and again is the fear that ‘vulnerable’ new mothers might read her article and decide not to breastfeed! What a load of patronising crap. Like never using the word 'pain' in the context of childbirth in case it puts women off having babies. Oh hang on - the anti-drug birth bullies still do that. It's not pain - it's sensations. Or waves. Or an orgasm if you're Sheila Kitzinger.

It was probably ill advised to use the word ‘creepy’ about breastfeeding. But I don’t think one article is going to put new mothers off. And frankly, the utterly vitriolic, poisonous and self-righteous nastiness from the blogsphere is far far creepier.

There is a small section of militant mothers who seem more interested in policing other women's behaviour than trusting them to make the choice that's right for them and their child.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Suits You Sir

A shaft of light pierces my Blog of Gloom, or rather a shaft of irritation since it involves The Boy, but hey, I'll take irritation over blank misery any day. It's nearly the end of term, the end of exams, and time for the School Prom. Husband tells me that in his day, you had to have a date, a car, and an expensive outfit so anyone who didn't have a date, or enough money to hire a ridiculous dress and flash car could celebrate getting through their exams by feeling ugly and unwelcome.

Over here though there seems to be more emphasis on having fun. The Boy's class are hiring a boat and there have been several stern letters about it being a No Booze Cruise to which The Boy smirks. But firstly we have to get him a suit. You'd think it would be quite easy - just measure and hire. You can even hire online and they deliver! But The Boy is currently ensconced in online Troll World and every time I point out that he needs to be measured he rolls his eyes and waves me away as though I'm a mosquito. I'm tempted to hire him a Gold Lame Gayboy suit or the t-shirt. That'll learn him.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Another catch-up

Since April my mum has been confined to hospital following a fall, suffering from firstly a bleed on the brain, and suspected broken neck, then a flurry of infections, then a really nasty e-coli one and another UTI. During all this she has been shunted from hospital to hospital, so forgive me for being very remiss with the blog.

I used to read about elderly people dying from dehydration or starvation in hospitals and not believe it. Imagine – an elderly person lying stupefied from drugs and the £3.50 an hour orderly wheels a food trolley past their room. ‘Want dinner?’ he or she says. There is no reply because the elderly person is either asleep or doesn’t want much. So the orderly moves on. The nurses are supposed to keep a record of what the patients eat and most of the time they do. But if the elderly person doesn’t have an interested family to say: ‘Hang on I was here and there’s no way dad had a whole plate of spaghetti and a banana’ then that person can so easily slip quietly into malnutrition and. . . . .

I ring the hospital to ask what kind of medication she’s on and the nurse has usually ‘just come on duty so can’t tell me anything’ but ‘she’s looking very cheerful today’. At first that made my sister, my father and I feel a little better but now it just seems like bullshit. We are going down to the hospital tomorrow to see if they are still considering her for the physiotherapy ward where she might get a stab at getting her life back – with intensive physio and speech therapy. But it all depends on beds, and the longer she stays mouldering in hospital, the less ‘suitable’ as a physio patient she’ll be. It’s all very well talking about age discrimination but behind the scenes, decisions have to be made about who is more suitable. What my sister and I are not going to allow is for her to be shunted off to a nursing home without a fight.

I’m sorry – my sense of humour has gone a bit AWOL recently.

On another note, yesterday I had a glimpse of The Girl as a teenager after I asked her to brush her teeth. ‘What – ev –er’ she snapped.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Chin Up

Not a good day. I’m still down in sunny Kent and I believe there is something going on called an election about which I couldn’t give a shit because my mother is still very ill, and not getting better. Although I did bark with laughter when I read that David Cameron had said: ‘Every time I go to Afghanistan or Iraq I’m blown away . . .’ It was also funny when he was doing his Man of the People bit and went to see the fishmongers whose livelihoods he will no doubt ruin if he gets into power, followed by a school where the first comment by one of the kids was: ‘You smell of fish.’ Oh and the description of him having a face like a single buttock with two eyes stamped on was highly amusing too.

In the middle of all this guffawing at Dave, I went to the local hospital where mum’s jewellery had been left behind (she’s now in Canterbury Hospital) and they asked me to sign a form reclaiming her stuff. At the top of the form it read: Relationship to Deceased. I winced. Matron looked apologetic. ‘I’m sorry it’s the only time it’s mentioned.’ I looked down the form: Name of Deceased, Relationship to Deceased, Cause of Death.

After I’d claimed the belongings of my still alive mother, dad, my sister and I drove to the hospital. Mum was lying still, milk white, her bottom dentures out. ‘Ooh she ate a good dinner!’ said the physiotherapist and added ‘bless her heart’ for good measure. ‘Doesn’t look her age does she?’ My sister looked like she wanted to punch her. Perhaps mum was pretending sleep to avoid this well meaning but asinine drivel? The physio went off beaming and my sister pointed out that it’s possible to have a good appetite when you’re practically brain dead.

Dad promptly went off to get us tea – too overwrought to engage. Mum stayed asleep.

Then we noticed that mum’s fingers and hands were encrusted with what looked like brown cake but turned out not to be. The nursing staff didn’t seem too bothered so my sister and I scrubbed and disinfected her hands before talking about whether we should make an official complaint and if that might affect mum’s care. Instead I marched off and tried to find a doctor. Nobody to be found.

The next day they told us that mum had contracted a urinary infection – 'very common when you have a catheter'. Probably quite common if you get shit all over your hands too. But a doctor was around and to be fair, very busy so I pinned him down for an appointment tomorrow – hopefully one fluff and bullshit free.

Drove home today feeling very glum. Then I noticed a young student marching down the road wearing a Nazi storm trooper leather coat, Tomorrow Belongs to Me shorts, ankle socks and a pork pie hat. He was singing ‘Are you Going to Scarborough Fair’ off-key. We all looked at him.

‘I suppose that’s what the students are wearing these days’ I said in the silence.

‘Yeah’ said dad, ‘The same ould utter shite that you two wore.’ My sister and I looked at each other remembering the spray on jeans and Axl Rose tribute hair.

‘Still’ said dad, in the words of Brendan Behan, ‘every dog has his own vomit.’

And on that philosophical note I’m off to watch the election.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Reasons to be cheerful

My mum is currently in the ICU but will soon be moved to a neuro rehab unit to assess the long term damage. Today, I felt a great weariness overcome me - as life seems to currently consist of going into hospital, cooking, hanging up laundry, and trying to give a shit about work stuff. A few nice things have happened, however. I've been deeply properly humbled by the amazing staff at the ICU. Warm, friendly, inclusive, non-patronising, they gently encourage, cajole, lift, clean and treat my mother with utter tenderness. I arrived today to find her complaining that the weetabix was 'too sweet' although she managed to trough down a large portion of chocolate sponge without complaining. Worried that she had lost feeling in one hand, I placed a beaker of tea in her grip and asked her if the tea was hot or cold. 'What kind of a question is that?' she snapped, not unreasonably. I felt my heart lift a little.

Later I heard dad telling a friend that 'it's great that the kids are down,' and I thought well - it's a long time since anyone referred to me as a kid.

Dad is normally kept by mum on a low fat, low salt, low blood pressure diet for excellent reasons so he’s taking to my more nonchalant approach like a starving man. I made pork chops in a cider/mustard sauce last night - with chips. Chips! He had tears in his eyes! He practically ate the plate. I thought I was the only person with the disgusting habit of plate licking. Tonight it's asparagus risotto. Next step is teaching him how to cook the stuff.

One other nice thing. I wrote an adaptation of Lynne Reid Banks's Indian in the Cupboard earlier in the year and it's being broadcast on Radio 4 this Saturday 1st May at 2.30. I doubt if I'll be able to listen to it, so tell me what you think. I've managed to get one or two crap jokes in there and a poke at Kevin Costner.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Out of Nowhere

We flew back from Singapore end of last week, just as restrictions were being lifted over Heathrow. Arrived home to find my parents who had been looking after The Boy and The Girl had scrubbed the house from top to bottom, made friends with all the neighbours and managed to lure The Boy out of his fetid pit of a room by constantly cooking his favorite food.

Home they go and I marvel particularly at the way my 76 year old mum is so zippy and fit despite the hip operation and is it down to her good diet or the vitamin pills she has taken all her life or or or . . . .

Two days later dad calls. Mum has fallen backwards down the stairs and is in the Intensive Care Unit with a fractured bone in the neck and bleeding on the brain. It's quite serious he says somewhat unnecessarily. My sister and I throw a few things into a suitcase and belt down to the coast.

The ICU is surprisingly noisy and very bright but staffed by lovely cheerful people who tell us the truth yet manage to keep an optimistic air. Mum is a mass of tubes and machinery, her head encased in gym mats to keep her neck still. The only broken bone is in her neck and it's a 'good break'. She may have been unconscious when she fell. It might have been a cerebral hemorrhage or a stroke. I think of those stairs, wooden and steep and shudder.

Dad keeps getting up to do things, arrange things, fetch things. We stroke mum's hand and speak to her loudly. It feels stupid and patronising. The nurses say she might be able to hear us. After a while we go back to the house for a few hours sleep. The next few days are taken up with sitting by her bed. I talk to one of the doctors about the crash trolley. They use plasters not big brick like defibrillators. We drink tea and burble to mum. I've brought my laptop and stare at it.

On day three, Rachel, one of the utterly brilliant nurses is trying to persuade mum to drink more juice and mum mumbles what we think is Feck off. This cheers us. Her first swear word! And mum hardly ever swears. Then they take her off for another head scan. Later we are told it could go either way. I long to put mum's dentures back in but they keep slipping out. And yet her face is smooth and baby soft. She looks so young. And I can't help thinking that after a lifetime of endless and unnecessary dieting she'd be so pleased to be losing pounds. The nurses are fretting about her lack of appetite but she would be delighted. If she knew where she was.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Happy Feet

I'm stranded in Singapore in a nice hotel. Yes I know - it's terrible. I'm trying to be brave about it *sniff*. Actually if we don't get a flight within the next few days we'll be kicked out of the hotel and everywhere, even the local dog kennels are booked solid. One flight left today - going to Barcelona and it was jammed.

But what I really want to write about is the fabulousness of foot massage - once you get over the pain. This sounds a bit S&M but . . (ooh I must just tell you about the Fish. You can go to these spas in Singapore and sit with your feet - basically in a fish tank and they swarm around your feet and nibble away at the dead skin. A bit like aquatic maggots. Apparently they leave the healthy skin alone but since the fish haven't put that in writing we only have the spa owners word for it). No I haven't tried it - I've got ticklish feet. But I did have reflexology with the world's angriest therapist. He pushed and thumped at my feet snarling: You walk a lot! Foot stiff! I gritted my teeth which made him push harder. Crack crack. I watched as he twisted my feet into origami. I was too scared to protest. But afterwards my feet were like two pads of air.

And tomorrow I'll be telling you all about the durian - a fruit which smells like rotting flesh and which the Singaporians like to eat in pancakes.

Friday, 16 April 2010

In Singapore

I’m in Singapore for a week, ostensibly working but on a short jolly with Husband who really is working. Currently in the hotel, I feel right at home because the skies are grey and it’s chucking it down outside. Later however, after doing some work I’ll step out into tropical heat and again, just like being in the UK, after five minutes, start moaning about the heat.

A rare treat – flew business class with Singapore Airlines which meant a whole spacious cubicle with a wide seat and lots of little buttons which opened up various nooks and cupboards. Despite the flat bed however, I didn’t sleep – never do on planes because just as I start to relax, the plane goes through a bit of minor turbulence and I’m jerked awake and the plane is plunging to a fiery doom. Also because of the fear of one of these cursed headaches, I stuck to water. Very British again. Would you like champagne on takeoff Madam? No thanks – I’ll have a nice cup of tea. Pathetic.

The sunrise though! Pulling up the shutters at 5am, as we headed over the Indian Ocean, I saw tongues of flame drifting across an azure sky and the sudden emergence of a fiery ball in the east.

Singapore is a well-ordered-to-the-point-of-bossy city. It starts when you walk through Arrivals, noting the lush plants and pristine glossy marble floor. Wandering over to Immigration you notice a Big Red Line and lots of Singaporeans in uniform. Going through UK immigration, they usually take a swift glance of your passport and wave you through. Here they scrutinise the photo and stare at you with their best Are you Bin Laden or even worse, Are you carrying chewing gum glare before suddenly smiling and waving you on. But if you’re waiting and bored and so much as put a toe over the red line, a Singaporean huffs up to you and points angrily which means – Get Your Fat Idle Arse Back Over That Line. It’s your first taste of a culture that strongly believes in rules and order. The fact that Singaporeans are short may not be unconnected to this.

It’s become popular to dismiss Singapore as a kind of Asia lite, bland, safe and almost militaristically ordered, where citizens are robbed of their freedom to chew gum and gob on the street. As though the poverty, danger and choking traffic fumes of Bangkok or Jakarta make the travel experience more real. So far, I’ve found Singapore to be a safe city, very clean, the food is fantastic, and the parks lushly dot the city landscape. And the food! As soon as it’s stopped raining and I’ve done some work, I’m nipping out to stuff my face explore the cultural diversity.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Attack of the Fifty Foot Parents

I’m off to Singapore tomorrow and it will be a good flight because kind, lovely Husband (working out there) surprised me with a business class ticket. And it’s a single seat next to a window so for once in my aviation life I won’t be stuck next to someone who has just undergone bowel surgery and wants to tell me all about it. Slit me from front to back he did. Doctor said he’d never seen anything like it in forty years. Don’t snigger – it always happens. Either that or one of those people who just can’t take the hint that you don’t want to talk. You turn away, you snore loudly, you get up and bang on the emergency exit shouting Let me out! and they still don’t take the hint.

My parents are looking after The Girl and even though The Boy insists he doesn’t need looking after – him too. They are both quite religious though so there was a tricky moment when out of the blue – always always out of the blue – does she have some sort of controversy radar – The Girl said loudly: When Jesus was deaded did he come alive after three days?

Yes of course he did said my mother with all the conviction of someone who had she ever expressed a different opinion would be excommunicated and smacked round the head by a nun.

I don’t believe it says the Girl with equal conviction. I think when Jesus was deaded he stayed dead.

I wish I’d sent her to be auditioned for Outnumbered.

Off to pack. I’m bringing my laptop so I’ll tap away in the lounge and on the plane trying to look like I’m being important but in fact blogging and reporting any celebs or weirdoes on the journey with me. What do they call that? Bloggernecking?

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


Weird things happen when you neglect your blog. Firstly, spam tumbleweed rolls by – a morass of dodgy grammar and strange requests. Like this:

The diameter can include often not the program, but too the bar of the guy above the making scale. Ozone machine health risk: applications are n't in the efforts of an torque, filing on the cyphacyphathe cell.

I mean – what??

The other thing that happens is life and blogging carries on perfectly well without you. It’s like being sick and hearing life chugging outside your window, with no regard for you lying in your bed, reeking but too ill to do anything about it. And that is a very poor link as to why I’ve been so neglectful of my blog. A bout of work followed by a kidney infection.

It happened like this. A minor bout of what I thought was cystitis, followed by a strange lethargy. Went to yoga class, came home, fell asleep for three hours. Next day, staggered out of bed and fell back into it, only to get up to be violently sick. And then the strange part. I had these psychedelic dreams, featuring Kelsey Grammer from Frasier. My head was spinning in my sleep. I rolled across great waves. Blood poisoning apparently. Husband said I would fall asleep in the middle of sentences. He got me antibiotics and checked on me every three or four hours. “I knew you weren’t dead because you changed position,” he chortled but he was worried. I ate nothing, drank nothing, could keep nothing down. One night he was checking on me and I rolled over. My face was thin and puckered from dehydration. “I had a glimpse of what you will look like when you’re seventy,” he said. Vaguely I thought of that birthday rhyme. You look like a monkey and you smell like one too. I did and I did. Amazing how quickly the carapace of respectability falls off. I was milk white with hair darkly greasy and black smudges under my eyes.

Hospital beckoned. But I stayed home because eventually I managed to get some liquids down. Husband changed my tee shirts and sheets, and placed a bath mat by the side of the toilet so when I was kneeling down hurling foam I wouldn’t get sore knees to add to my woes. What a nice man I thought as my stomach went into spasms for the umpteenth time. Then I crawled back to bed, listened to domestic noises from downstairs and amused myself by counting the veins on my wrist.

Husband brought The Girl to see me. Something odd happened to my sense of smell. Either it had sharpened or I’d turned into a werewolf. She smelled of sweet stuff and fresh air – I couldn’t bear it. I hugged her but felt a rush of nausea. It was terrible – I was revolted by the smell of my own daughter. The Boy nervously sat by my bed and rubbed my arm. He smelled of cheap aftershave. I dreaded to think what I smelled like.

Thank God for antibiotics. I took pills that looked like genetically modified bees, all stripy and huge, but they worked. I ate lots of protein, stopped drinking alcohol and began to put on the stone and a half I’d lost. Yeah I know – boo hoo. But I’m on the mend now just in time for Spring.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Marry him or be eaten by your cat!

Another week another book that tells us that unless we get married we’ll be alone apart from excess chin hair and smelly cats. They seem to pop up at the rate of about one a year – these don’t be so fussy books – despite every single mental health study from the beginning of time rating single women as happier and healthier than married ones.

First we had The Rules which told us valuable husband choosing lessons like Never Accept A Date For Saturday After Wednesday, and Don’t Put Out Until He’s Spent Loads Of Money from two loud women one of whom is now divorced. It would take a heart of stone not to snigger. Then came If I’m So Wonderful Why Am I Single? Followed rapidly by Lori Gottlieb’s new tome of doom: Marry Him Or Be Eaten by Your Cat. Well that’s not exactly the title but Lori Gottlieb’s new book Marry Him! The Case For Mr Good Enough preaches that very message. Apparently if you’re a woman in say, your late thirties and unmarried you should be musing over whether you might have settled for that bloke with a ponytail who never stopped talking about himself and expected you to remember his mother’s birthday, or Barry who asked you to stop moving about during sex because it ‘put him off his stroke’ or that nice man who was so dull you’ve forgotten his name. You fussy bitch!

Here’s the really creepy thing. Lori Gottlieb is keen to hammer home the point that it’s not about being happy – it’s about being socially acceptable. Ms Gottlieb is a single mother at 40. Nothing wrong with that but she seems to have a curiously Victorian view of herself: 'After all, wouldn't it have been wiser to settle for a higher calibre of "not Mr. Right" while my marital value was at its peak?'

Marital value? Has she just stepped out of a Jane Austen novel?

But what really pisses me off is that you never get the equivalent books for men. It’s men who do better mentally out of marriage, so why aren’t we reading more books with titles like: Nobody Else Will Put up With Your Farts And Stupid Jokes and Guess What Mr Baldy Saggy Arse – You’re Not George Clooney(Even in a bad light)

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Old and Beige

There was a picture of Susan Sarandon in the Observer over the weekend. She was lounging against a wall, dressed in a fantastic jersey dress, soft red curls tumbling round her face. She looked stunning. She’s sixty bloody three. Yes, yes the lighting was good, the makeup and hair perfect and there was probably a teeny bit of photoshopping afterwards but even so. Gorgeous. Thing is, she doesn’t have that awful frozen at thirty five look, she just looks like a beautiful mature woman.

It’s not much fun getting old. Er. I’ve been in writing purdah for the past couple of months, juggling work for the Open University and struggling to write an adaptation at the same time. Yeah boo hoo. I dunno about you but when I’m really busy, appearance takes a bit of a back seat. Apart from the basics of personal hygiene. So I had a GOOD LOOK in an unflattering bathroom light the other day and noticed several bad things.

1. A proliferation of grey hair. This doesn’t matter so much if you have warm skin – grey can look silvery and sexy. When you’re a redhead with pale skin you just look like a beige blob.
2. Red veins round my nose, just to add a splash of colour. Not quite a W.C Fields alco nose but definitely red veins.
3. A WITCH HAIR sprouting from my cheek. Like a long pube curling outwards – shameless. It was practically shouting: ‘Here I am!’ I can’t believe I’m admitting this but I SHAVED IT OFF. I’m shaving. I know this because the Girl wandered into the bathroom (her timing is immaculate) and said: ‘Mummy I thought only daddies shaved their faces.’ She did redeem herself later on the way to school by saying: ‘Mummy when I’m a grown up I’m going to try and stay out of jail.’ A laudable ambition.

It didn’t help that when my sister and I visited my parents over the weekend, mum gave us our overdue Christmas presents, which included among other things, a bottle of sterilising hand gel (!?) and a pair of slippers that my sister says, are the kind that ‘105 year old ladies wear’. Sis has banned me from wearing them saying that if I do, it’s a slippery slope and before I know it, I’ll be considering a cauliflower perm - so very practical, or looking at beige leisure trousers and thinking oooh they look comfy. She’s right.

Although I think that doing what you love is the best anti-ageing device. That and a fuckload of hair dye and botox. So bugger ageing gracefully – I’m off to the hairdressers

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Smacking for Success

Once, in New York I saw a man wearing a t-shirt which proclaimed: Hit your kids! The Bible says it's ok! I thought of it when I read that studies have shown, (doesn't your heart sink at the phrase studies have shown . . .when I worked in magazines, that was tantamount to saying evidence for the spurious opinion I'm about to spout is very very thin so I'll say something vague about experts and opinions and hopefully nobody will double check)

Anyway. According to research at the University of Michigan, smacking a child before the age of six makes them perform better at school when they're teenagers. It's not clear how much better - I mean if you're going to create a frozen, frightened child who behaves well because they're living in fear of physical pain, humiliation, and rage I would at least be expecting a teenager heading for Oxbridge grades. And it was a study of 179 teenagers. Big deal.

I don't think parents who slap their child in a fit of rage are monsters - if your child runs into the road or has a massive tantrum in the supermarket, I totally understand why you might slap. But hitting a child is not imposing boundaries or discipline, it's you losing control. I've done it. I slapped The Boy when he rushed into the main road to pick up a ball. I yanked him back, inches away from being hit by a bus and whacked his bum. I certainly wasn't thinking hmmm maybe such a slap may produce braininess in my boy - I think my thoughts were more of the argggh bus death splat arrrrghh red mist kind

It's parents who talk about 'loving discipline' that really creep me out - the ghastly ritual of it - the deliberate fear. The parents who wait to punish their child - wait till your father/mother gets home types. They're the sadists. And as for the theory that slapping children produces brighter more well adjusted teens, perhaps a tour round our UK remand homes would prove otherwise. They are full of young men who were slapped, kicked and beaten regularly.