Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Are you sitting comfortably?

Well, you shouldn't be.  According to the Guardian, tv presenters and almost everybody on the English speaking planet it is 'sat comfortably.' I must stop trying to wince as the language goes down the drain. 'Twice ' has disappeared. Everything now is  'two times' which is very odd. Your floor is not 'twice as clean' because of the environmentally devouring wretched stuff you are cleaning it with, it is 'two times' as clean. I thought  'two times' was in maths tables only but since we don't seem to have those any more either it has disappeared.
I am assured that such things don't matter. I shall try to be more mature and rise above it. However after a bank holiday weekend where the rain never stopped and we were all so stressed to hell that we wanted to kill one another ( insert 'each other' here if you agree with the tv presenters and the Guardian) I am feeling grumpy.
The tv adverts drive me potty. That one where the couple have a white carpet, a baby and a large dog and then start trying to take the deep dirt from their carpet with some vacuum that throws hot water at it leaves me in despair. They are then sat comfortably and their floor is eighty eight times as clean as it was yesterday when they hoovered until the carpet was threadbare. Why are people so obsessed with germs? If your house is that clean your child and your dog will have no immunity.
I remember someone telling me that my house was so dirty that my child, who was crawling around on the floor with the dogs, would never get anything. Consequently she rarely did succumb to infections. Can I spell succumb,  or am I turning into other people and don't care?
But as an older person I now want clean floors and for my daughter's dog not to take food off the table and not to make muddy paw marks. Life is hell when it's clean and also when it isn't. I mind about so many things that I didn't used to. I wish I could say I was turning into my Mother except that my Mother never cared about germs and floors and an older age hell which I seem to be entering.
Grumpy old person here. Living on my own has turned me into somebody who would have insisted on having ironed newspapers if such things still existed. I am like somebody's great aunt who had a complete weed free drive. Perfection is my aim. How awful.
I hope you are now all sat comfortably because you had a better bank holiday than we did or perhaps you were sat in Stansted airport for hours instead of sat in the sunshine on the Costa del Sol. I shall now take ' sat ' and shove it where the sun don't shine. Oh dear.  I have a feeling that that ought to be 'doesn't' but of course colloquially  - and is that the correct spelling - it don't really matter none, folks.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Drops Dripped (Kapli kapali)

I'm about the embark on War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest of all books. I have been put off by the length, by the fact that I didn't think I would understand it, by all kinds of prejudices which I cannot explain. I thought it would be dull. There now.
My cousin read it last year and I have never heard anybody say a) that they finished it or b) that they enjoyed it and she is not the sort of woman who would piss you about for form's sake so I duly bought a copy and put it away. Coward! Or maybe just what my favourite psychologist says is procrastination and sometimes procrastination takes you to a better place to begin something.
This afternoon I sat down in the summerhouse and began looking at it. I don't know why I thought I wouldn't like it. I love Victorian novelists, Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Trollope. I adore Edith Wharton, I'm gaining on Henry James. There was something so fascinating about their books. Their plots are big and wide and complex and so are their characters. Best of all women feature largely. I don't know about Dickens I think I had him thrown at me at school and therefore don't care for him but that doesn't seem fair. I will give him another shot. Yes, some of his heroines were clots but that was the way some things worked at that time and he does character building like nobody else.Writers are of their time.
My cousin told me that I had to get a good translation, this was the key to success and I think I have. Also I have done some reading and now know a great deal about the man himself, his problems and his failures and his triumphs.
There is great argument about whether it's a novel and about the kind of language which he uses. Apparently in translation, which has many options, a lot of the repetition which he used is scrubbed out or changed. We are taught not to use repetition. The funny thing about it is that last night I restarted my current working effort and the first page is full of repetition, as I meant it to be, it's all about mood and atmosphere.
Tolstoy works on many levels. For a start he writes in Russian, French and German. Then he is actually a historical novelist whereas most people of the nineteenth century seem to write about their own times but he chose the Napoleonic wars. Or it chose him. I'm never quite sure how that kind of thing works.
So it was a new kind of book in that he weaves in and out of the story, he talks about all sorts of stuff, they call it authorial intrusion, I love to use it but generally it's not done. I like that he does it and I look forward to all the methods he makes use of. There are no rules, only some people would like to make them. I remember reading Smilia's Feeling for Snow and it's a mess of a book and blindingly brilliant. I always loved it, all prose and poetry and ideas, weaving in and out all over the place and that's really all that matters. If you are caught up the ideas, then the writer has a successful book be it novel or no.
Tolstoy's parents died when he was a small boy and obviously he needed a good kick up the arse when he was young and lost the family house, a country estate I think, playing cards. I would have clipped his lugs all round the house but of course if I'd been there as his mother he wouldn't have owned the house and couldn't have lost it because I would have sorted it out so that he couldn't. He became a soldier and finally at thirty five ( which is when most men grasp the idea  ) he married and settled down and spent five years writing this book. That's what writers need, a place to be, somebody who loves them, the space which becomes vacant that you write into when you have peace. So it may have been war but Tolstoy was at peace and I'm looking forward to sitting in my summer house over the next few weeks getting to know the joys of this man's prose and poetry. I'm sure he speaks my language.
By the way the title is the translation, literally, of kapli kapali  The bit goes
'Drops dripped. Quiet talk went on. Horses neighed and scuffled. Someone snored.'
Isn't that beautiful?

Monday, 29 January 2018

Would You Marry a Genius?

I'm talking to women here. I don't think any man marries a woman more intelligent than he is. Or maybe they do and I'm missing something.  I'd like to hear all about it.
I suppose it depends on what you mean by genius.  I have a feeling that Richard Branson's wife said she didn't like go out to dinner with him because he was impatient to move on within half an hour. But he does own an island and that would go a long way with most women because it conjures up white beaches, blue sea and constant cocktails.
Genius has become a very loose word. Einstein was a genius. I suspect Richard Branson is a very clever businessman, not the same thing at all.
I went to Vienna for a few days last week and there encountered some of the work of Klimt. Oh dear. Talk about an old goat. He had fourteen illegitimate children mostly by his models who were probably poor and weren't allowed to say no. He wore nothing under his painting outfit. He also had a lifelong lover and had it off with many other women. Also he was just ugly. Sorry. Ugh.
Do women still marry for money and prestige?  Does power attract them? Are very intelligent or powerful men more fascinating than a man who can make you laugh and remembers what kind of champagne you like? And if you were married to a powerful rich man would you be upset when he slept with other women, i.e. his secretary for starters.
Power is passing. Money - well, you can only eat, drink, wear one thing or one outfit at a time. Or is his mind so fascinating that you aren't terribly worried about what he does with his body? I doubt that. Most women have too much self respect to share their man.
Men who make a lot of money or invent something tend to be workaholics, bores or just absent most of the time and therefore less than entertaining.
The truth is that women don't need to marry to be rich, have prestige or put up with any man for any reason other than that she cares very much for him. And feels as though she cannot live with out him and of course the other way round.
You do hope men don't marry for beauty. I'd rather a man liked me for my lentil stew. It wouldn't be the first time.  I like men who surprise me, who are funny, clever in different ways and, Lord forgive me, six foot tall and slender. So what do you like in a man?

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Pedant reigns

Okay I'm going to go all old lady on you because I'm feeling lonely and grumpy and I've spent my afternoon watching Four in a Bed and Come dine with Me.  I do hope you have found something more useful or entertaining to do. I did plan to go to a bird watching RSPB place on the coast and then decided that considering it's bloody freezing and I would be either walking around or sitting in a hide, changed the idea, went to the co op and a lovely new green grocery and then I spent time considering pit disasters.
 I know, it isn't much of a way to spend your morning.I need a pit explosion, usually caused by firedamp or carelessness. In older times owners didn't give a shit. The men died, the women and children starved and how many days did they spent trying to get people out?  Often they had to give up because the pits were so hot and hundreds of men and boys died and not all of them straight away. It has limited appeal but I have to sort it out because I need it in the novel I'm writing. Yes,  I have written about problems with pits a dozen times but I need something new.
I got to thinking about words. Well, you do when you write novels and you are tired of another episode of Come Dine with Me and I thought of all those words I'd have banned if I could. the first would be the phrase 'it ticks all the boxes' Ouch. The second would be people saying  'you know ' instead of breathing and letting the pause take it.
Then I would ban all those pedants ( like me ! well, worse than that ), who spend their nights worrying about where the inverted comma should be. All I have to say about that is that language is fluid and Shakespeare didn't put his inverted commas and whatever the hell else in the same place as we do. Language is meant to go forward or we'd be stuck forever with people ticking boxes and not able to articulate past 'you know'.
I've got nothing against the word fuck but I look at it the same way as somebody who once said that a man walked up the fucking street, opened the fucking door, ran up the fucking stairs and found his wife having intercourse with somebody else.  Yes, please people, can you not litter your pathetic sentences with fuck It doesn't mean anything when it's every other word.  It's paucity of language or summat like that.
Jilly Cooper once said that the word pardon is worse than fuck. You say  'what' if  you don't hear or don't understand.
Just think about what you mean, breathe first, weigh it slightly and if you can't be original or funny just try to be interesting or ask somebody whether they are reading a good book. That is what conversation is meant to be about, at least it is when it ticks all the boxes.
It's January and everybody is dieting and taking lots of exercise. What about a little exercise for the mind?  Read a decent novel. You can always quote it afterwards. Brighten up the world with good conversation.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018


I hate January. I hate diets and thinking about what we eat and all that stupid stuff. Drink less, Live longer. There is an age old joke about people who don't drink. They don't live longer, it just feels like longer. The new diet I saw today in one of the top newspapers was that you can eat carbs but you must give up red meat. I'm not quite sure where the science is in this but you can know for sure, somebody is making a whole lot of bucks out of it.
Mary Berry shows us how to eat cake, while remaining about six stone and she's posh and a national treasure.  All those biscuits, cakes, sweets and puddings we feel obliged to indulge in while not giving a shit about Jesus. There is something less than wholesome about it all. Okay, I'm going to be smug now. I lost weight over Christmas. No, I didn't diet, I walked my daughter's labrador for miles and ate just what I always eat and that never did include crap like mince pies. Christmases like this were for feasting We don't need to have a festival of feasting, we do it all the time. When was the last time you didn't eat what you wanted? The whole thing is ridiculous.
There were four young people on breakfast television the other day and they have all written books about giving up alcohol and yes, it would be lovely if we didn't need such addictions but there they were, all thinking about the money they'd make and it wasn't as if they'd been alcoholics. Just smug bastards out to make a buck because you are worried about your liver. Ferraris all round.
I suppose the only good thing is that I'm now too old to die young of assaulting my liver or not taking enough exercise or loving butter.
I want to live forever, of course, as long as I'm not pissing my knickers in a nursing home or have lost my marbles but only if my friends are still here and they are not bedwetting, thinking they are Henry the eighth or like my poor aunt, continually knitting without needles or wool until finally their bodies give out.
I'm amazed I got this far. Widowed young, cancer at forty nine, shit on by my family, a difficult job and other people boring the shit out of me over and over again. God save me from other people.
So I will carry on as usual, drinking red wine and eating red meat, hoping I don't expire of a sudden cancer or that my liver disintegrates but let's face it, sooner or later the reaper comes for you.
There is a lovely cartoon which I found on Facebook when on Halloween he comes to the door for a man's soul and then sees chocolate and gives up on the idea. Where would we be without all the things we aren't supposed to be and do and live for? We'd be fucking bored stiff.
Jack Kerouac once said that he grieved over all those years his teachers had stolen from him. I feel the same. My life is for me now and whatever I choose to do with it I'm not going to live forever and I'll be sorry, if I can still be anything.
Shakespeare died in his fifties. And he was the most talented playwright who ever lived and he has given more joy, more pleasure, more fascination, horror and love than possibly anybody else whoever lived to other people, millions of them so if he can die then what does the rest of it matter? He gave us huge bounty, endless incredible words. I even managed to sit through Hamlet last time I saw it.  Three and a half hours. It's glorious, it's what life is all about.  I must have seen Hamlet a dozen times and there it goes again, there it is reinterpreted and shining brilliantly.
One thing I love in January. I go away to some wonderful city and listen to music and this year I am going to Vienna. I have always wanted to go to the opera house and my wonderful wonderful daughter has bought tickets to the opera. Mozart's Don Giovanni. Now that to me is what Christmas and celebration is all about. Music and being with the people who love you, who don't bore you or judge you or expect too much. She's taken me to Prague to the ballet, and to Milan where we couldn't afford the opera and to Athens where we had a hotel room which looked out at the acropolis. She took me to Budapest where we plodged about in hot pools and there we had the opera and the ballet. We went to Paris, which was ghastly, I got the flu and to Rome where she found the most gorgeous restaurants in tiny back streets. We take her labrador to beaches in North Wales and Northumberland and we walk her in Cheshire in the big posh parks and in durham by the railway line. And this is it. As somebody once didn't say a person is  not just for Christmas but for life. To love and be well loved is what it's all about and it doesn't really matter what time of year it is.
Happy January, whatever you are doing. The green shoots of the bulbs which Howard planted for me last autumn are already showing in the garden. He planted lots and lots of crocuses and there are daffodils and tulips. On we go, regardless. Enjoy!!

Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Four Marys

Yes, I know I just did a post the other day but it's nearly Christmas, I am as stressed as hell, God knows why, because my daughter does most of it but I am trying to work as well as send cards, be sociable, go to various lunches and such and all those stupid things I forgot about like the car insurance and the, oh, I don't the hell know but anyway I am really rather pleased about one thing in my life.
When I was a small child I had very few friends.  I went to school with the children of men who worked at my father's steelworks. I don't think I should blame my lack of friends on that, maybe I was just hopeless at making friends but it followed me through school and into adulthood and was even worse after my husband died. Talk about being dropped like a hot brick. If I had been Marilyn Monroe I could have understood it but I was fairly ordinary. I think in some countries the name widow is the same word as prostitute so maybe that has something to do with it but my husband left me money and a good house so I've never been called upon to do anything I didn't really want to do but there you are.
Anyway, things got better. It only took about twenty years of criminal loneliness, having nobody to hang out with and work. I had friends, other writers but I didn't have friends personally if you see the difference and then I moved to Durham and made friends and now I have three wonderful friends.
All we have in common is that we are widows. But one worked at the university, one was a nurse and the other was in education, mostly teaching adults. We make each other laugh. We must have the same kind of humour. I have no idea what it is but we are a pack, a team.  It reminds very much of a comic I used to get every week when I was little. I think it was Bunty and there was a story in there about these four girls who were all called Mary. I have a feeling that they were at boarding school. That didn't seem unlikely to me, there were lots of boarding school stories about at the time, I have no idea why but that's what was are. We are the four Marys. Post war children with extremely different backgrounds but somehow there we are in decent pubs if I plan it, or awful cafes if the others do. They don't drink wine!!  Something else we don't have in common. I think the point is that we all understand loss, we all understand loneliness. We all have children, we have all been seriously ill and there we are, laughing our heads off, hanging out like teenagers and giggling.  I am gaining a great deal of happiness from my friends. Long may we last, agreeing and disagreeing and holding loneliness at bay. I think the thing that my three friends have in common is that they are gutsy women. They have intelligence, nerve and having been smart and gone to good schools they have made good lives for their children. And for themselves. The world is a better place for you, Joan, Jo and Pat. Thanks.

Friday, 8 December 2017


I love Snooker. It's by far my favourite sport. I'm not into team games. As the bloke in Snow Angels says, 'I am Collingwood's.' He is the shipyard. Okay so behind every successful person lies a whole load of other people propping them up but to see the snooker players at the table is just bliss. They are so clever and yet so unworldly. That sounds awful and patronising but it isn't meant to be. That's what I'm like. All I know is my trade and I understand how it works and how when the book is finished or when you are facing the camera you have to be the best  because people are sitting there taking pot shots at you. Luckily they are all former snooker players so you stand it.
There is nothing more delightful than a mind against a mind. The commentators are stars, they really are. Even at their most critical they are calm and soft voiced and just, well, the sort of men you'd have a drink with.
And there are all so different and they all seem to be married and to have children. Maybe I'm glazing this over a bit but the whole world of snooker seems encapsulated in what we see on screen. I know it isn't, I know I'm rose petalling it but the tension is just so exquisite. You play the table and it's a game of nerve and skill and endurance of every kind and there is nowhere to hide, just like when your book is published and people pour scorn on it. I know, I do it. I criticise books and television. I don't criticise sports stars, I just marvel that they do it. How do they do that?  How do they come back again and again?
Two of them this week, Ronnie O'Sullivan was the first and the implication was that he doesn't care about the politics any more. He has a good life, he has made it for himself and he doesn't have to worry about the money and so he plays and he enjoys it and he has a life.  And then Mark King. They are so frank and he said on camera that now he has made enough money to pay his hotel bills he plays differently and yes, of course you do. It takes tremendous character to get to that stage, huge guts and then they can concentrate better but it's different than when they started out and were all enthusiasm and couldn't see the pitfalls. The joys of being young. You don't worry, you just want the prize so there is joy and problems in all of it. Some people live for this.
Ronnie O'Sullivan said, 'you drive your own car.' Well I just hope his car is a Ferrari, at least one of them, just for the hell of it. There is nothing more elating than watching a good snooker player work several steps ahead so that they know what is going to happen. It's one of the joys of life watching people perform magic and it happens all the time in so many different places. Sport is the top of how things should be. Men and women competing instead of fighting, it's gladitorial in the best possible sense, and that's how it should be. Always.