Thursday, 16 November 2017

Country Lizzie goes to town

I congratulate myself that I am now a city girl, having lived with cars, pollution and nearby theatres, restaurants and university for fifteen years but having gone down to London this week - I know people call it up to London but there you go - I realise what a naive little soul I am.
 You'll love this because it sounds terribly impressive. I went to London to see my agent, meet my new editor, have dinner with writing friends at a club which was built in Georgian times, and generally be seen.  I was looking forward to the dinner, then having afternoon tea with my editor and agent the day after and winding up at a writers' party in a library. How very apt.
I got new clothes to go. What a good excuse to spend money. I traveled first class otherwise I would never persuade myself to the station and when I got to London I walked around the corner to the Premier Inn at Kings Cross.
 Could anything be  handier?  Yes, I almost choked at the price but hell, London is all like that and it has to be the best Premier Inn in the world and that's saying something. There are few places better than a Premier Inn. The staff knock themselves sideways for you, their beds are so good I always wish I could smuggle one out in my suitcase and the food is well, at least edible and this one was particularly good. The wine is excellent and not terribly expensive. If you like red go for  the beefsteak Malbec. Seven quid for a huge glass. Also Premier Inns are ideal for single women. You don't have to go outside in the darkness, there is always at least one restaurant on hand and there was also a Costa coffeeshop and a big foyer or entrance hall or whatever you call it where you could sit and read, talk, work and in my case read George Gissing and enjoy  my wine.  The staff were lovely and asked me if they could help without being a pain about it. Wonderful people. I hope that next time I have the flu I can stay in the Premier Inn at Kings Cross, everything is at hand and I don't suppose they would turn a hair if I went downstairs in my pyjamas, my pyjamas being black and by Calvin Klein.
I always forget what hell London is to get around in and since I've hardly been in five years it has gotten so much worse. You really would be better off walking and I hadn't seriously considered it or buses or tubes and I had taken no shoes which would be suitable so my agent despaired because she has lived there almost forever and knows what a gridlock London is.
The dinner was lovely though being partially deaf I hate wooden floors and the kind of tables where you sit in rows facing one another. I can't hear anything past the person I'm sitting next to and if she has a soft voice I'm lost and end up like one of those daft nodding dogs in the back of cars. Nobody knows how limiting deafness is unless they have experienced it. I did try not to embarrass myself and to make reasonable conversation but I fear they just thought I was losing it mindwise.
The following day I had nothing to do until three o'clock. Now an intrepid traveller would have gone to an exhibition, gone shopping ( though to be fair the shops here are just as good) but when my agent asked me how I had spent my morning I had to admit that I sat in the foyer and read. Nothing would induce me to walk about in London. For God's sake, all that pollution!!  My view also these days is if it's a decent exhibition you can't get close and if it isn't then what the hell are you doing there?
So we set off at three, were meeting my editor at four. My agent had already implied I was a complete clot for having no suitable footwear and since there was a student demonstration in London it took is an hour and a half and even then we didn't get to the right place.
We ended up in a little pub near the house of commons eating ham sandwiches and being incredibly cheerful. Luckily my  new editor is absolutely lovely and didn't seem at all fazed and then we went to the party.
I can't remember the last time I went to a party and didn't wish I was at home.  There were hundreds of people shouting at the tops of their voices, it was so hot it could have been a sauna and there again yes, I couldn't hear!!  I baled out and spent the next hour getting back to the joys of my Premier Inn. God bless the people who thought up such wonderful hotels. I could have wept with relief as I staggered into the bar. The staff remembered me from the night before and brought me my lovely wine so George Gissing and I spent two hours in the foyer where it was light and comfortable, nobody bothered us and I read my kindle with glee.  New Grub Street.  Brilliant book!!
This morning I almost cried when the bloke on the train back had a Newcastle accent. I know it is very tiny of me to be so prejudiced but I can't help it. When I got off the next lovely bloke was the man who looked after the local stations and he carried my bag for me. He said they hadn't finished revamping Durham station and he said it was his favourite station and I said it was my favourite station too and neither of us was lying. I always want to weep when I come home. The views from the train of my lovely little city are all there below me, the houses all different colours, the cathedral and the castle and the river. I feel about Durham like Londoners feel about London. How could anybody live anywhere else?
I will go back. I need to make London mine again. It's where my work is, where the books are produced, where the agents and the editors have to live, God love them and I don't think they would want it any other way, at least if they hadn't lived in Durham so I will take London by the scruff of its neck and next time I pass the great big church all lit up near the bridge I won't have to say,
'What a pretty church,' and my agent with admirable aplomb said,
'Yes, that's Westminster Abbey.'
And I was generous enough not to say - and it costs sixteen quid to get in -
'It isn't a patch on Durham cathedral. And the cathedral is free.'

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Retirement, scariest word ever

I was going to entitle this 'Find me a man so that I can retire' but on hearing horror stories from my married friends - very comforting when you are sitting on your own with nothing more attractive than the sight of a good dinner - it has put me off.

Not on the list

Old men. Dear God. Just fancy if he was ill, I mean really ill. Even my daughter complains that I am bloody useless at such things and either order her to the doctor or tell her she will be okay. All I have in my medicine drawer is fresh air and sticking plasters.
So nobody who will get ill.
Also nobody who has no money. I am used to good things. I have made it so.
Don't need private medicine.I'm happy with the NHS, so those who might apply take note. I do live near the hospital and am on very good terms with the staff and with my doctor and also the lovely guy who looks after my hearing.  And my teeth. Very good people there. Brilliant.
I did go on a couple of dating sites years ago and carefully filled in all the things i was and wasn't, all the things I liked and disliked and they laughed in my face and said, 'You'd be lucky, Missis,' so I haven't gone back or thought seriously about marriage.
Besides, having done it once and been rather good at it I would hate to damage my record.
Also nobody who shouts at the telly and nobody who doesn't like Eggheads and nobody who doesn't like Coast and nobody who doesn't like Frasier and nobody who plays golf.
Nobody who likes football and nobody who doesn't like tennis and snooker.
I have to have my own newspapers, untouched every day. This includes the I, the Guardian and the Times.
Then he has to like going to nightclubs and dancing and he has to move well on a dance floor.
He also has to like drinking cocktails and lots of wine and going out to restaurants.  No vegetarians.
He must love Shakespeare, live performance, classical concerts, good restaurants and a house in the country so that I can be called Lady Liz and entertain various exciting interesting people to dinner.
But he mustn't hunt. I'm not into killing small animals. It implies lack of brain and that I cannot stand.
He can shoot. I have nothing against dead pheasants as long as it's not one of those ghastly driven pheasant shoots when buggers who can barely hold a gun shoot spaniels and game keepers by accident and wouldn't know a woodcock from on ordinary one. Or something like that.
He can't be short. I don't do less than six feet tall and I don't do stomach over the top of trousers.
I'm sorry. I know I am caught in a time warp here but there you go.
I do like fishermen. I have a real thing about them and dream of living on the Northumberland coast and getting the pan ready on the fire for when he comes home with trout. I did used to have that, the pan ready on the fire and the husband walking across the way about fifty yards to catch the fish. I thought everybody lived like that until he died and then realised that it wasn't so. God love him, he'll have been dead thirty years next summer. No wonder I haven't married again.
He was tall and slender and funny and had exquisite blue eyes like his father. He laughed so much in cinemas that I was always digging him in the ribs. He took sandwiches because he got too hungry to get through without. We went to see a film when a woman was raped and he jumped up out of his seat to murder the bastards. I had to calm him down and tell him it wasn't really happening.
He never came home from a day's hunting without a pheasant. He used to take the dogs up on the fell all day and come back with one pheasant, like a really decent hunter. The local blokes used to call him 'pot man' because he knew that if he caught it I would cook it and we would have a decent bottle of wine between us and talk as happy couples do.
He adored his child.
He loved dancing and he loved wine and he loved good food. We had a beautiful house in the country. No wonder I live in the town. Even now I hear his laughter and when my daughter looks up I can see him in her face and also in her bravery, her determination and her ambition. She is so like him that it warms me.
Now I am snivelling. Stop it you stupid pillock. Things could be worse. So I will go on working and I really like working. I'm lucky that way. Even on a bad day I can get up, watch Frasier, go to the spa and float in warm water, go out to lunch or dinner with friends, have chocolate and wine and cheese for lunch, read until my eyes ache and indulge my current passion for Suits. Suits, you know. The American guys who don't go to court. I have whole afternoons of Suits.
Just got to keep on working.  In my little town house with my lovely garden and my stained glass windows and my gorgeous fireplaces I have a good life. I have to keep reminding myself how very good it is.
And I have a three book contract. So there.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Nobel Prize

No, I haven't damned well won it. For what? Making soup?  I have made three different kinds of soup this week.  This is about Ishiguro Kazuo - I have problems even spelling the guy's name. No, I don't know him. I wish I did. He looks like the kind of bloke you would ask to dinner. I have only read The Remains of the day. I didn't understand the damned thing at all and yet I did, it's a bit like Hamlet, you have to read or see it several times to understand stuff, don't you? It had that quality, like a good handbag or a decent bottle of champagne. Unmistakable.  And lots of layers to go at, like unpeeling a large onion.
It seems to me that there are an awful lot of very talented writers in the literary world and no doubt twenty or thirty of them could have qualified nicely for this. Seeing as the whole damned world is clever these days I would give it to the most decent person so I wonder if that's what happened.
And I wonder because I read a lovely piece about how he wrote The Remains of the Day and it's just totally charming. He speaks about his wife with love and she obviously puts up with him - I'm sorry but anybody who lives with any kind of writer puts up with them. So she told him or they decided that he would write the Remains of the Day in a month - just first draft but something telling, something he could work with because the year previous to this he had done lots of promotion. Let nobody tell you promotion is fun. People think writing is glamorous, it's about as glamorous as piles. I'm saying piles because I'm not sure how you spell haemorroids. Is that about right?Anyway, it isn't glamorous.
 Lots of people asking the same questions while you just wish you were at home watching Strictly or something else that doesn't require mental stretches. Saying the same things, smiling a lot, staying in hotels and putting up with those dreadful sandwiches they find for you at eleven o clock at night or worse still you have to go out with the people who are important so you can't drink in case you say the wrong thing, you can't hear because there are wooden floors, low ceilings, background music and dozens of people with loud voices. The white wine is warm and third rate, the sea bass is dried out and you just wish to hell you were at home.
And literary festivals. Dear Lord. Big discussion lately between authors about whether they should be paid for such.  Oh no, you are promoting your books.  Yes, well, just tell that to the plumber when you have a leaking tap. No, I'm not paying you. I'll tell the woman next door how good you are.
Very funny.
So he sits down and spends a month writing this first draft and after the first week he and his wife think he has completely lost it. As you would in those circumstances. God love the woman! But after a month of going nowhere and doing very little else except having time off for meals ( I was glad to hear he had two hours for dinner!) and there it is, the beginnings of masterpiece.
Lovely pic of him talking about an old hobo song that inspired him and with a guitar. All hail the man who seems so usual. So ordinary and yet so obviously not. Dead chuffed for him.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

There's a Lizard under my bed

Perhaps it's apply named after me. It sneaked in during the hot day as I closed the doors on to  my terrace.  I have been on holiday in Cyprus, staying at a plush hotel called the Annabelle but for some reason I am bugged by well, bugs and animals.  The first day I made friends with several cats. There are a lot of them about but I did not expect to be followed back to my room by a very large black, grey and white moggie.  It marched in as though it owned the place. I put it out and went to bed and there it was crying outside the door like some long lost soul. When I woke up it was still there as though we had been living in the same house for years.
The next day I had moths flitting in and out during the day, well, not so much out, they couldn't find the way and then a large grey butterfly. There were flying ants of varying sizes which became so attached to my glass doors that I couldn't shift them. The cat returned again on the third day and every time I opened the doors in it came. It had a look around the bathroom, walked around the bedroom and then settled itself on the cool floor. Five minutes later it was on my lap and when I got up it settled itself on my chair. In fact a take over bid.
The lizard settled itself happily under the bed and since I was assured they like dark places I couldn't blame it. It was certainly dark under there and nothing I could say would induce it to leave. To be fair it was so tiny I couldn't see it but I was half convinced that it would wait until I was asleep and then walk into my open mouth as I snored or set up a bed on the pillow or on my face. Or even, God forbid, get into bed with me.
To be fair I've had worse things trying to crawl into bed with me and it is tiny and to it I am ginormous but I fear its fear.  Doesn't it have a home to go to?  This can't be love, we barely know one another.If anything the big moggie has a prior claim.
I went down to dinner with my Best Buddy who is the only person brave enough to go on holiday with me and will eat late and not tell me I drink too much or that my sudden Tigger impressions are irritating but when I complained as bugs attached themselves to me yet again said,
' You're wearing yellow. Bugs love yellow.'  And right on cue two small black beetles landed on the back of my neck. What they were doing there I have no idea so I had to admit as I ineffectually swiped at them that she was right.
We have three days to go. What other animal horrors lie before me and more importantly beyond them -  Imagine something the colour of Lurpak and a thousand times bigger than you, smelling of garlic with a loud voice and an outrageous laugh - well, I've been told its infectious but then so is measles so pity the poor lizard under the  bed.
To be fair I always let things out, if I can get them to go. I didn't realise I was so fascinating. I don't eat them. I did have a cat who ate bluebottles but it's never appealed to me.
The lizard and I had an indifferent night, the conversation wasn't up to much. I had already fed my meaty meal to Mr Whitebait, a red and white moggie. The first night we gave him the whitebait because neither of us likes it but after that he had lamb chops and piri peri chicken. He refused underdone meatballs but one of his friends scoffed those.
The following morning I went out on to the terrace and there was the moggie asleep under the chairs in a shady spot. I gave him milk and then some water. When I turned around there was another lizard standing by the doors. What was this, a lizard party?
The one who was inside scuttled out from under the bed and joined its mate on the balcony. I am not that fascinating after all then, I have cool darkness, a milk supply, bottled water and they can follow me to buy meals as we have eaten three times a day outside.  Here come the moggies, a long haired grey, one the colour of marmalade, one white and marmalade, one short haired grey and several elegant ones which look like models out of Vogue. I would say thank God they don't drink wine but then several bugs have managed to drown happily in my pink wine. What a way to go!

Friday, 25 August 2017

I'm full up with education

It's a quote or probably a slight misquote from Bertie Wooster. Thinking about the kids and their exam results this week it astonished me how different people think so differently about this. Most of my friends were working class children who were given grants, having gone to a newly free grammar school which being bright they had passed to attend. In the nineteen forties you no longer had to pay for education, at least most people, I think you still did have to pay if your parents had money but when we all went to university ( I say that generally, I didn't go) we got grants. Every person I know who did that got a good job which lasted a lifetime. They all paid back for their higher education with their industry and I'm sure that their parents were very proud of them. They all lifted themselves out of relative poverty and are prosperous today and have been able to give their children good lives and isn't that what it's all about?
Three of us were sitting in my summerhouse yesterday talking about this and I suddenly realised that my family wasn't like this. We were business people and prided ourselves on being non academic. It was in a sense a let down if you had to rely on education. We were sent to private schools but we didn't go on to university and even if you did you didn't talk about it.
My father went to public school and then to night classes. My mother left school at fourteen and worked but when my daughter turned out to be academically bright not only was I gobsmacked but she was such a little swot! I wanted to keep her off school sometimes for fun but she wouldn't. She used to say 'I can't. I have a test in the morning.'
I remember when she came home and proudly told me that she was being made head girl. I rang my sister and she said,
'Don't tell anybody, for goodness' sake.'  We had been wild children who hated school and teachers and homework. The only time we were happy was when we were on holiday trying to flood the back kitchen or burn the garage down with a car inside or try to derail the local train or chucking big stones across a car outside to see whether we couldn't get them across it.
My daughter was accepted into St Andrews university and I was stiff with pride but my mother said,
'We don't do things like that in our family,' which was not quite the response I was looking for.
I would have loved to have gone away to university but I had no memory and was bored stiff at school. School just doesn't fit all of us. Whether I would have become a writer had I spent three or four years studying other writers ( and for God's sake, a thousand times as good !) is another matter.
Somebody said on Facebook this week that writing for a living was like being given very difficult homework every day.
It can't be or I would have never have lasted this long. Writing is wonderful and awful and as necessary to me as breathing. I love notebooks and pens and have hundreds of books from classics to research stuff and I read and read and read.
I have become an expert on so many things but having no memory when the book is finished so is the expertise. I love the idea of doing research on something new and there is nothing so thrilling as having an idea pop up in my head from a newspaper article, a talk I have been to or something on television. I get that quick fire rush like a couple of glasses of champagne.
So, no, education isn't for everybody, any more than fish can climb trees. I think Einstein said something about that and he was right. We are all clever, we can all achieve but either we have to acknowledge our own strengths and be confident or have the kind of education which suits us.
I don't think you can teach writing but you can give somebody a pen and a piece of paper and some space.
My father bought me a typewriter when I was eleven and I taught myself to touch type. Thanks, Dad, that was the kind of encouragement I really needed and I'm sorry that my eight years of expensive school did not help but I have used it all in my books. When you are a writer everything helps.I'm grateful for the childhood you let me have.  We were prosperous, well loved and made to feel as though we mattered. it made me into the bloody difficult person I am now.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

To diet or not to diet, that is the question

I stopped writing this months since, I thought, nobody reads it, why bother but then occasionally somebody does and anyway, maybe it's good for me. As I get older I worry  more about what is good for me which is why I got up this morning, remembered the amount of wine I drank last night and the heaviness of the meal - it was only lemon thyme chicken and a couple of small pieces of cheese, but hey, I was determined to have a bad morning so I did.
I made myself go on the scales. Well, and isn't that the worst thing. it never makes you feel better unless you are eating cardboard and drinking water and that's enough to make anybody upset.
So I thought I won't have toast and jam for breakfast. I had half a grapefruit.
My lovely gardener came to sort out the flowers and cut the lawn and I thought I will make myself a very healthy lunch so I proceeded to make tomato soup, simple, just tomatoes and olive oil and stock but then Elizabeth David said that you need this amazing thing to go with it that bakes in the oven so I duly drenched my two supposedly healthy brown spelt bread slices in butter, slathered them in parmesan and stuck them in the oven.
Then I had to wait so I thought a small glass of fizzy won't hurt so I sat there in my summerhouse and read the Times and did the quick crossword - or tried to and listened to Radio 3 and when I went back and took the crostini or whatever from the oven, it smelled fantastic.
Two big bowls of soup and two lots of whatever it is and a small glass of white wine I was finished. Had to go to bed.
It's now nine in the evening and I am eating salmon with potatoes and salad because having eaten virtually nothing for breakfast and gone mad at lunchtime I am now not that hungry.  I have left off the Hollandaise sauce which usually covers the salmon, so it tastes dry and I don't really want it but I am now two glasses of wine down and if I don't eat that won't be good for me so I'm struggling here and I couldn't help but think that if I had stuck to my slice of toast and jam for breakfast, had a small lunch and not collapsed in the middle of the day and had Hollandaise with my dinner I would be all the better now.  Too late. The salad is thankfully laced with decent olive oil and garlic. Just make sure I don't bump into anybody I know tomorrow of if we embrace they will asphyxiate.
The point of all this is that if I hadn't worried about having put on three pounds I would have had a better day.
The whole thing is ridiculous. I'm beginning wish I had been born sooner, despite bad contraception, the idea that cabbage was a good vegetable and a woman's place was in the home. These days a woman's place is bloody everywhere. I'm not convinced it's an improvement. Nobody ever told my mother she drank too much gin. I can't find anybody to drink with. Please apply here. Nobody eats any more, nobody drinks any more. Nobody dances any more. We have sunk into a Puritan hell.
I have now given up on the salmon and potatoes. It's going in the bin.  And I don't bloody care and I am having another glass of wine and when I get up in the morning I am going back to toast and jam. So there!!

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.