Sunday, 7 May 2017

Somebody's Great Aunt Lives Here (Two )

I had a rare visit from a friend yesterday. Since she lives in lovely Weardale on a sheep farm I tend to visit her and just to prove how long it is since she appeared in the hallowed halls of chez moi she gasped out,
'Oh, New kitchen?'
It has been there for five years!!
I do try not to envy people. It's a useless thing and I keep on reminding myself that other people's lives are just as difficult as mine and how lucky I am and so on and so on but yesterday I did find it difficult not to envy her her rich full life. It's a hard life running a sheep farm,  know that and she is incredibly good at all those things I would be useless at, like the financial problems, the business problems, the -  0h dear, I'm trying hard for  negatives here, some help would be nice.
She has a lovely husband, I went to school with him before I went to school with her so we have been friends almost forever.  I used to go and stay on her parents' farm. Her dad who had been captured at Dunkirk and whose hair had turned white then, was lovely, funny and used to dance her mum around the kitchen.
Her dad used to come to the mart at Tow Law where I lived with my family and she used to come with him.  I don't remember much any more, my feelings are all caught up in the hurts of my life and the joyful times tend to come second or third or so far  back that I can't find them. So we sat and chatted and I could not put from my mind the view from  her dining room window over the land I love best and hows she lives there in one of those lovely longhouses with her husband. Her two sons work on the farm and they hire out farm machinery and themselves to drive them to keep everything going. One of about to marry, the other has two small children, one of each. They have a huge network of friends, they love their lives, they never want to retire and they have each other.
Who wouldn't envy her?   As you all know too well by  now I live alone and after she left I looked out at my perfect pots, my neat lawn and the folded knickers in my drawer and I envied her so much that I could hardly breathe.  I thought finally I really have turned into the Great Aunt in one of Bertie Wooster's lovely stories.  He goes to tell her that her nephew is in gaol and when he walks up the drive everything is perfect and I thought yes, she was on her own and weeding her flowerbeds had become so important.
I got over myself of course. I looked to see what I was having for dinner and it was chicken in a spicy sauce with very fresh vegs, and I opened a bottle of wine and I sat down at my little table in my little back room. I had just been outside and changed the water in the birdbath and as I sat down at my desk five starlings landed and began bathing together.
I've been trying to find a new title for the book I'm working on and as I sat there and the starlings did their spa bit I thought of a new title and I could see the cover and all of a sudden I remembered who I was and what I was doing and how lucky I really am. I have so much. Other people's lives wouldn't suit me and mine wouldn't do for them.
Today I'm having lunch with another friend, one of my best friends. She has been divorced once and widowed twice and boy do we have things in common, north country women, alone and all together. She's one of the gutsiest people I've ever known and yes, I have room in my life for all my friends whoever they are and however they live.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Shall I stop?

I keep thinking I'm not going to do this any more and obviously I didn't last month. Can't think what happened to last month, it so obviously disappeared so I thought I'd better just sign off. I can't think why anybody would read this after all this time, it's just nice to blow off steam occasionally and I don't really care if nobody reads it. Why would they?  Who has time to read such stuff anyhow. I just like writing and always have, I like the physical act of the keys or the pen in my hand and I do like looking back over this stuff to see what I was doing so I suppose it costs nothing,  don't have to do it and nobody expects anything so I can perhaps trundle on if I feel the need.
It's Easter weekend and I have plans. I'm having lunch and dinner out today and the kids and the dog are coming tomorrow. Howard had sorted out the garden and I have sorted out the house and the work is on going.
Nothing new then for me except that the politics of the world have gone mad and we could all be blown to hell. Strangely it doesn't bother me that much. The idea of being badly injured and being in awful pain as so many people are in so many countries is much more horrific so maybe I'll just put in an Easter prayer, not in great hope that anybody listens, that we are still here next Easter. Fingers crossed

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Roes are Red, violets are blue. Bugger off Valentine

My Auntie Janet, who was the scourge of the family, once had a lover who lived in Jersey. He gave her some exquisite pearls, evenly matched, for Valentine's Day and she passed them on to me.  I wore them when I went away with the company I was working for when I was twenty two. This was Coats Patons, the wool and thread company who had their head office in Glasgow. They put me up at a posh Victorian hotel and there I was in the bathroom with one of those enormous baths ( I have one, don't get one whatever you do, the water never stays hot ) and as I tried to take off my pearls they broke and all at once it was raining little white bombs.  It took me an hour to find them in the corners of this huge dark room.
On Valentine's Day the world goes mad, courtesy of Marks and Spencer and Clinton cards for bunches of dreadful red roses and huge cards with hearts all over them. Excuse me while I throw up.
When I was happily married, in what, in light of Trump, Brexit and a world gone mad, we can now clearly talk of as the good old days, we didn't bother with St Valentine or any other saint to be fair. My husband as a good Catholic had had a bellyful of saints and besides we had a good time almost every day.
Time has moved on and now St Valentine is all over the sodding place. Pity the single woman or should we?  Who was that stupid bugger who said that love was woman's whole existence?  What a stupid arse.  It never was so. For thousands of years before contraception and education women had to put up with marriage because they needed keeping. Single women have always been a butt for jokes and you were seen as failing if you didn't have a sweetheart. I spent my teenage years in various states of embarrassment because I was 'not courting'.
Women don't need red roses. They don't need a saint. What they need is a decent partner who cares, or a dog that cares, or children or a fulfilling life through their work.
What we really need is choice and independence. We need education and contraception and for men to stop bloody telling us what to do with our bodies.
So this Valentine's Day I spare a thought for hundreds of thousands of women throughout the world who are poor, abused or lonely.  It has never been easy for any of us and the way things are going it looks as though we may never have equality, we may never be loved or respected but we have to fight always for independence, the right to earn the same money as men, the freedom to walk the streets safely, the say over our minds and bodies.  We deserve our own place in this world, the one we choose and work for.  And for daughters and granddaughters we need to give them better than what we have now and most of it has fuck all to do with St Valentine.
So on Tuesday I shall wear my aunt's pearls and drink champagne and toast you all. To women everywhere, we deserve the best.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Fish climbing trees

Saying that I am bad with computers is like saying that fish aren't very good at climbing trees. I have the feeling that Einstein said that before I did but I'd be happy to take credit for it if that isn't so.
Writing is a full time occupation and I'm not talking eight hours a day. Every living flaming breathing moment it rears its head so I try to get away from it. I can't do that when walking, cooking or listening to music but I can usually keep the thoughts at bay when I attempt computer games.
I started a long time ago with Angry Birds and bought every one which came out. I have now run out of options, I'm so sick of it. I did play solitaire, spider solitaire, and freecell but this week I came to the end of my patience and decided that I must brave the Apple store and find another game to play.
I therefore downloaded Leo's Gold which is meant to be suitable for six year olds. I did think it was a bit advanced for me and this proved to be so because having paid for it and downloaded it I couldn't get it to start.
I went into Stormfront and they told me I needed an appointment.  I have spent two and a half thousand pounds with these people and I can't even get email on my main computer and the last three times I have bothered them - this is over a number of months, I don't think I'm a bloody nuisance - they have made life difficult for me. So I thought I should ring Apple and maybe they would help because I had convinced myself I had paid for something which was not working and it was nothing to do with my sheer bloody incompetence. I kid you not!  Talk about self belief.
After fifteen minutes I got through to some lovely American guy and we had a discussion during which he told me that he didn't have time for games. He had no idea what I was talking about, I think it was my lovely northern accent that defeated him. We did eventually get to the point where he said that he was the billing department and if I was not happy he could refund my £4.99.  My daughter thought I had lost my mind, fussing about less than £5. She was right of course but I cannot let go.  Eventually Michael put  me through to a lady whose accent I did not understand.
She tried to take control of my computer and either she failed or I failed because eventually I let her off the hook.
I couldn't really complain about this service because Apple rang me back three times the following day. In the meanwhile I had figured out how to work the game, cancelled my appointment so reluctantly made by the people in the shop and ignored their calls until they gave up.
I was very happy for the next two hours which I spent trying to get Leo anywhere close to his sodding gold and failed. Every time I picked up a gold coin and got fed up I had to start at the beginning again and I couldn't for the very life of me get past the first few obstacles and the trouble was that the skill was a stupid one - though presumably not by six year old standards. It was just a case of wiggling buttons until you got what you wanted and so on and so on.  And so on.
Bored.
So I tried for other things. I found a lovely game offered by Michigan university which is Grumpy Snowmen, that was fun but quite short so I got past that. I tried to download Krabby Kats and didn't understand a word of it and then a game with Birds. You are meant to get them safely to rocks and not on to the ground. I have never met anything as annoying. I wanted to throw my laptop through the window which is the whole point. They want you to buy to skip levels. Understandable and I would have considered this if I had been offered something similar at school.
So, I don't know what to do now. I could learn to play the piano which I seriously considered except that we're back to music. I could read. I do so much reading. I'm left with replaying Angry Birds while watching Eggheads and sighing that I may never get any further with my games. They look pretty, they are in full colour, how enticing except that I am bored with them.
At five o'clock this morning I woke up not feeing very well, shivering and blowing my nose and yet there it was, the first thought of the day and it was all the do with the book I am writing. Is there no escape?

Thursday, 5 January 2017

PTSD and what happens afterwards

If there is an afterwards. The trouble with mental conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is that the majority of people have never experienced it and I do think coming secondhand to these things is difficult. How could you imagine any of the huge experiences in life if you have never come through them?  How does any writer ever cope with stuff like childbirth, grief, sex? Yet our experience of such things is always unique.
I have used all my experience in my books and yes, secondhand and with observation many other people's experience too and I suppose that's what I writer does and that's what makes it so exhausting.
So should I  be sorry for all the things I have gone through?  How could I be when hopefully it changes and enriches my writing but the cost has been huge and almost killed me.
My agent said that one of the men in Nobody's Child, my book which is out at the moment is good. He has come back from the first world war with PTSD, of course it wasn't called such at the beginning but the reason that I write about it with confidence is that I've been through it. I know what's like when you cannot walk downstairs, when you look up at staircases and think you can never go up them, when your bed is the only place you feel safe, when the world is huge and full of terrors and you have panic attacks even in your own home which you thought was your defence against the world.
I know what it's like when your physical symptoms agonise you night and day and where the only place you feel anything positive is in your dreams. And that isn't necessarily typical. Many people have no refuge in their dreams.
In my new book The Guardian Angel the main bloke in it ( I hate the word hero) he's just an ordinary kid when he goes to prison for fighting with and inadvertently killing another lad or was it inadvertent, since he hated him?  The reader is left to decide which I think is only fair. Being born under the sign of Libra, even though I claim to hate such daft ideas, I have a balanced view or like to think I do of life.
I didn't know when I began writing that he was going to be a convict, I didn't know there would be a series of letters between Zeb and Alice, who owns the sweetshop in Stanhope. It was only when I read about what prison life was like then and it was so horrific ( this is in 1855 ) that I actually had to water it down to get what I wanted which was the idea that this man could actually start again.
Up to now I haven't been in prison, except two visits to launch books of somebody else and this was women in prison but I have no doubt that it is still a horrific experience. Back then people were hanged, transported, starved, beaten and died and nobody seemed to care very much.
Durham prison is just up the road from me so I used what I read from there and it was so awful that I couldn't imagine people doing such things to others. They still do of course, we live in a stone age, no matter how we believe that we are civilised. We abuse one another, kill one another, steal in all kinds of ways.
Hundreds of millions of people have no clean water. The most basic of human rights I would have thought. We lived in a ghastly horrible place in a ghastly horrible mess.
Writers try to interpret this. I found it very difficult writing about Zeb and his prison experience, what was left of him as a human being when he got out. He didn't understand freedom, he had forgotten kindness. He was only alive because he was very young when he went in. You can say what you like about fortitude in such instances but it's sheer bloody genes which ensures most things and so he came out alive but a mere scrap of a human being.
He is saved by other people and mostly by Alice Lee, the sweetshop owner, who is a decent woman among all the idiots around her. If it hadn't been for Alice Zeb would have chucked himself in the river and the river is so convenient in Durham.
He leaves behind him his friend, Eli, the rat and as Zeb says later, 'Rats are better than men.' Eli in some ways is the best person in book. He doesn't  betray anybody, he doesn't kill anybody, he would steal bread if he had to but Zeb shares. When I think about this book I think about Eli, sharing Zeb's bed in a tiny prison sell, and listening when Zeb pours out his woes. Eli sits there polishing his whiskers, no doubt grateful not to be a ghastly shitty little person as we all are.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Christmas is like haemerroids

God is it really that long since I found the strength to come here. I was away for most of November, let that be my excuse.  And now, deep breaths like in meditation, now it's Christmas. Christmas is like haemorrhoids, bloody, uncomfortable and always there. I used to love that saying, Oh God, it can't be Christmas already, I haven't finished paying for last year yet.
There we are queueing in shops,buying hundreds of things we don't need, watching the Salvation Army on telly scraping up the homeless, folk in Australia sweating over their barbies and then I hope for snow while I slosh around in the endless rain and the last of my roses gives up and makes a mess in the front garden.
Meanwhile we empty our bank accounts, buy a succession of baubles and wrap stuff and wrap stuff and wrap stuff. There are lunches and dinners and all those people who keep away from alcohol during the year think they are doing you a favour by giving you disgusting concoctions like sloe gin and ginger wine and they crowd into the bar swhile the serious drinkers stay at home, with endless cups of tea and take a few sighs of relief as new year retreats and the rest of the world goes on diets, exercises and gives up alcohol as though it was some kind of new hobby or golden life when half a bottle of wine would get them under the table on Boxing Day.
Morning television is debating whether people still make decorations. Excuse me?  When was this?  And whether we have traditional Christmas dinners and whether we like to snooze afterwards. Still, it's better than the alternatives, watching Donald Trump blow up the world and Nigel Farage with that smile which looks like glue has run out of its tube.
I talked to a woman in the co op yesterday who had spent £43 on cards. She could have gone to Spain for that price and sat by a pool for a week. Only indoors I suspect but still. I have whittled down my Christmas card list and now sit by the letterbox as the postman never stops because people have sussed me and think  If that bitch isn't sending me a card she ain't getting one. Okay. I don't care that much.
The trains are full of fat guys with big luggage ( and I don't mean Santa ). The toilets are blocked because people spend the journey drinking lager, the trolley has gone walk about and the seats are filthy when folk have apparently thrown up on their way back from yet another bloody party.
If it snows for Christmas I might forgive it at least for a few days but as one friend pointed out to me the other night it never snows at Christmas, whereas it always does at Easter when I'm trying to open up the caravan and sit outside contemplating the joys of sunshine.
I went to Nova Scotia in November and had thought they might have lovely sunny cold weather instead of which they appeared to be having a heatwave and I was sweltering. Meanwhile at home in Stanhope there were lovely snowy scenes. Now I'm at home its 13 degrees and minus 6 in Nova Scotia!!
I shall toddle off and heave sighs of relief as I wrap my last Christmas gifts and hope no enthusiastic bugger starts singing in the Bleak Mid Winter or I shall cry this afternoon. And a merry Christmas to you too.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Goats , Stirks and Beehvies


When I came to write my new book, Nobody's Child, it was all about the things I did as a young woman, how I lived on a farm and kept animals.My husband was a the kind of man who looked on the world as something to be enjoyed and if not that at least started on . He was a lover of new ideas and doing things he knew very little about and had not come across before.
So he bought a goat.Not being one to do things by halves we ended up with several goats. I suppose it was the age we were. Things like that make me want to run back to the city now but we lived in an old farmhouse seventeenth century and had a lot of room, five hundred acres which nobody told us we couldn't move across ( we bought a trials bike and rode up and down the fields on it), huge buildings with nothing in them, so many that if the house took up one side, the buildings took up the other three sides. It was a complete square with a huge duckpond out the back.
I loved it right from the beginning. it was the happiest time of my life. When I was twenty nine Richard's father died and that was when things changed.  He had adored his father and found him dead in his workshop. He had been having heart problems but neither of us had lost anybody we loved up to then. It made us into adults. It also made us want a house of our own and a child of our own and things became very complicated.
We were happy after that but we had lost the innocence of youth. We also, I think, lost a lot of the ineptness of youth. Thinking back we made horrible mistakes with our animals and put them through pain through ignorance but we also tried to give them a good life in the country.
In my new book there is a big scene where Jake and Kath, the two main characters, acquire beehives which I knew a lot about because that was another of our ventures. They put them in the garden in the right spot ( it was so long since I had kept  bees that I had to read up about it ) but then a stirk leaps over the fence and knocks them over. In our case it was a goat and it was our own fault because she was on a long rope, as far as I can remember, and she managed somehow to get near the hives and knock one of them over.
We laughed about it so much later but the scene in the book is exactly what happened. She has long hair and the bees get caught up in it. He runs to the river with the dog, she goes after him and they have to wade through to the other side to get away.
The bees have to be brushed, dead, from her hair and for several days afterwards nobody can go anywhere near the beehives because the bees were so cross with us they would sting us.
It was difficult, we were living in a big caravan, building a house and couldn't leave the caravan for days. For the people in the story it was less serious. They managed to get the hive turned upright again.
Writing this was such joy. Also in the story they take the bees to the heather and we did this, we took them right up to the top of Weardale so that they could make heather honey. These are joyful memories and although I'm not taken to reading my own books I do like to remember where these  scenes came from and how happy we were and how much we had. We were young and rather stupid but our lives were filled with joy and goats and bees, ducks and sheep, pigs and hens, dogs and cats.