Monday, 30 December 2013

The Latin Class

I'm dreaming about being back at school. I wake up covered in sweat and lie there, thankful that I don't have to find my panama hat, my green and yellow uniform or the lovely briefcase which had my initials on it in gold letters. I remember saying to a writing friend once that under pressure I felt like I was back in the Latin class and that's how I feel now, I have a book due soon, I don't feel as if I've done enough and the whole thing looks like an impossibility. It's no use telling myself it will be all right, myself knows damned fine that if I don't get off my ample backside and work the worst will happen.
I always say that I hated school and it's a grossly unfair statement though huge chunks of my rather patchy education were stingingly humiliating because I have very little memory and no understanding whatsoever of how language works or maths., I hate games of any type and I would rather die now than be in a room all day with other people.
My education has been of huge help to me throughout my writing career. I went to the village school in Tow Law and never fitted in there because I was the boss's daughter.  I came top of the class with excruciating regularity and learned a good many lessons which had nothing to do with with reading, writing or arithmetic.
At ten I went to private school, my father had loved boarding school and educated four of us. We were as unacademic as we could possibly be. We were wild children from a wild place and couldn't sit down all day and do as we were told. I sat at the back and wrote poetry, my sister adored her horse and longed for it and my brothers liked being in Tow Law and the freedom of the fells.
There were a lot of bright children at Durham High School and I couldn't remember what the Romans or the Greeks did, where Istanbul was - or whatever it was called then - I couldn't do Geometry and the very last thing I wanted was to spend my Thursday afternoons making an apron or putting paint on to paper.
I tried to leave school as soon as I could, being offered work on a local newspaper but my father had other ideas and I stayed on to do A levels. I managed to wangle myself a year off at a boarding school in upstate New York. I didn't fit in there either but it didn't matter, that was more or less the point of it, one of the best schools in the world. Then I came home and took my A levels so in the end I did more schooling than most people and hated about seventy per cent of it.
My education has been hugely important to me in my writing career, the very diversity of it has been so useful. I write often of the lovely building where I went to Durham High School which had gardens down to the river and looked out at the cathedral. I wrote a short story for Christmas based on my experience there and also on a book I had read which gave me the idea. I read far and wide, that and an ear for rhythm of language have done me good service.
I just wish I didn't dream that I was late for school, that we were doing gym, that I was wearing my aertex top and my huge green knickers. Thank God for waking up and being a writer.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

A lettuce leaf and a tomato

Does anybody else get that Christmas feeling?  You know, round about now when you think if you have to queue again to get a space in Sainsbury's car park, watch another Christmas advert or have to listen to another set of people singing Hark the Bloody Heralds Sing or whatever they're called, that you may throw up?
Christmas has become obscene. And yes there is a fine argument which all the supermarkets make that people have had a very bad year and deserve a blow out and I know it's true for a great many people but there again if you look coolly at it almost everyone I know has grieved over a loved one at Christmas, a lot of us wish we were kids again so we didn't have to write the cards, shop forever and take the full responsibility of Christmas without it even being called Mother Christmas and most people are just glad of a rest, if they get a chance. If you work in any essential service your chances of this are slight. If you work for a jeweller, a toy shop or you are selling any kind of foodstuff let us stop now for cynical laughter from the back.
People are more bad tempered at Christmas, there are more family rows at Christmas. A and E is littered with sick and blood because the alcohol intake is damaging not just livers but whole lives. Alcohol poisoning, lovely.
We're all fat. The last thing we need is days and days of more food. This has been relevant in the past but dear God, the majority of us do okay for food most of the time. Did you know that the average Christmas Dinner has 7,000 calories?
So what are you going to do, stuff yourself solid for a week and then diet making January darker and bleaker than before?
I came home on the bus yesterday and there were big signs up already saying would you like a dry January?  Well, no actually, I bloody wouldn't, any more than I intend to stuff my face with cake, mince pies, Christmas puddings and discover that my new swanky green dress doesn't seem to fit me so that in January I rid myself of what little pleasure there is when its freezing cold and dark and all I want to do is put a decent pork chop and an apple and a few potatoes in the oven and enjoy the smell.
My mother, who would never do a thing because it was polite or fashionable or because it was the done thing ate a lot of salad at Christmas and lowered her intake of alcohol because the excitement was all gone when it was offered freely.
The other argument about Christmas if you like is that people give to charity now. Well, hello, most decent people give all year round and damn it they wouldn't stop giving to child cancer, guide dogs for the blind, war heroes, the life boats and a hundred other absolutely brilliant charities. I give to musicians in the town because they make my day, especially the lovely old guy who plays classical stuff on a penny whistle and the chap in the market place who sings hymns. I love all that. I love living here and being a part of it and trying to help.
Also I do understand that here in Britain many people are relying on food banks more and more. There are a lot of people in need and we are all out there helping but all year round.
I do think that the government and the energy companies and the banks should be ashamed of themselves. How much is enough but I didn't intend this to be a political rant. We all do our best. So just remember, people who have had a bad year financially, be they old or young need your help all the time, not just now. Like a puppy or a kitten is for life so are the rest of us so if you want to do something nice for Christmas go and see your elderly neighbours, clean the snow from someone's drive, smile at the poor buggers at the checkouts in the supermarkets who are paid low wages and have to be nice to you. And sing. For God's sake, anything but more bloody carols.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Gentleman John, the master at work

Last night I went to listen to John Williams with two friends. People of the same kind tend to hang together and my three dearest friends are all widowed. The best thing of all is that unlike a lot of people we can get out, we make merry when we do and there is nothing like a decent play or some lovely music to make my night.
The people on my right were holding hands, the people in front were holding hands too and the couples kept looking at one another and I thought I hope they've been married for a long time.
We started off at the Champagne Bar, Ann and me, but Jack was coming late so we left there and went to the Fat Buddha which is just across Millenium Square in Durham City where I have my home. We ordered a bottle of wine and three glasses and then I went to the Champagne bar John had also a bottle of wine but this one was opened.
Now I'm partly deaf and so is Ann. I had to make a quick decision and the champagne bar is hell when its full, I can't hear anything. So I took the bottle and the bloke and headed out, much to the amusement of the bar staff. I never do subtle and I was wearing a pink coat and a hat with feathers. Anyway we went back to the Fat Buddha, sat down and sank the open bottle, amidst much laughter.
The manager appeared and told us that we shouldn't bring wine into his restaurant, they would charge us corkage. I smoothed the man's feathers, I don't want to be barred from there. I haven't been thrown out of anywhere for four years, so I was terribly nice to him and we took the other bottle to the gala and I kept it in my bag.
We had ice cream and I forgot about the incident. The music was soothing but I thought afterwards how strange, that I have been going to the Fat Buddha regularly for five years, at one time I was drinking there three nights a week, I go and eat there six or seven times a year and yet the only time I have seen a manager was when he had something nasty to say.
This is what is wrong with part of our society today. It's the letter of the law which counts and in very small matters. I should have known that manager, he should have been aware that I spend a great deal of time in his restaurant and at his bar. I did tell him of course and it is a very good restaurant and yes, we were in the wrong but he should have been more sensible, he should have said nothing. And that is what management does today, it carps. Among all my hates one of the top ones is small mindedness. I shall continue to go to the Fat Buddha, where the young staff are lovely and they know me. Places like the Fat Buddha and the Champagne bar are the few places where I get to talk to people the same age as my kids and I love them.
The opposite of small mindedness is a man like John Williams, sitting there on the stage, dressed like he would be at home, the guitar caressed against him, he is a gentleman. Genius is a combination of talent and work and people who work at that level are the best of us all. He has a lovely sculpted face, a shock of white receding hair, a mouth all smiles. He has knowledge and manners and when you have worked all your life and are the best you become humble, the sort of humility which gives everything to other people and yet your heart sings.
So thanks, Gentleman John, you gave me joy.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Women Driving Or Surviving?

I know there have always been many jokes made about women drivers but seeing the news this morning that women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive, well okay, so it isn't the biggest problem women have had but every day we learn of women like the one in Kenya who was sixteen, raped by six men and left unconscious and the police made the men mow the lawn outside the police station and she is in a wheelchair. Yeah, it's different but it's the same. It's a power game.
I remember Germaine Greer saying thirty years ago  that women have no idea how much men hate them. It's a great generalisation of course but it's no surprise to me that a lot of the clever out going, out spoken and independent women in our society live alone.
I'm tempted when I hear about women being persecuted in other countries to say that they should be armed. I don't think it is going too far and I can't stand the way that people forgive one another for atrocities. How could you not hate somebody who despised you so obviously? I'm not a great believer in forgiveness. I think it damages the person I am. I'm sure it ought not to. It  should make me stronger but it doesn't. I feed my anger because it keeps me going. Hate is so useful, it can be turned into energy and directed constructively.
There is of course another side to all these things and one of my early memories was of my mother learning to drive when I was very small. My father had never bought a car, he drove his parents around in their enormous Austin Shiline - what a car that was. As children all four of us could sit on the floor in the back and feel the bumps in the road. He was so pleased about the Austin A30 which he bought for my mother - she didn't work outside the home so it had to be his money. No worse for that.  The little car was green and it was hers entirely. Nobody else ever drove it. I even remember the bloke who taught her to drive. He was called Donald and what a nice chap he was.
My husband used to mend cars in secret and then give them to me. I had a dark blue MG Midget and then a Scirroco - is that the right term?  He painted it bright yellow and it was an automatic and to quote his words 'it went like shit off a stick'. I had a summer car and a winter car, the summer car was a bright yellow MGB GT and the winter one was deep red and four wheel drive.
That's love. That's when men really love women, making them cars, being proud to give them cars but most of all respecting them enough to let them buy their own. I remember after my husband died one car salesman asking if I would like to bring my husband along to help.
When my daughter buys new cars we go together and woe betide any salesman who tries to do my kid down so you see some of us have come on a long way but spare a thought for those women who are driving in Saudi Arabia in defiance of the law and for all those in countries where women are still abused. And it's not just far away places. Two women a week here are killed by their partners. But also I keep in mind the lovely men like my dad and my husband, Richard. I wish they were still here, they would both have been so proud of my daughter and the woman she has become and all the others of her generation, out there, driving, loving, getting on with their lives.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Cads, blighters and bounders!

 In my favourite Georgette Heyer book, Cotillion, there is a lovely hero, a burbling not very bright man called Freddie.  He is aristocratic, impeccably dressed but most of all he has the best manners of anyone in the world. Manners maketh the man so they say, or woman of course and at one point in the story Freddie is being critical of someone and he says 'kind of fellow who behaves scaly to waiters' and that is the point.
I have just been to Athens and stayed in two five star hotels. It being the close of the seasons these places are cheaper than when the season is in full throttle during July and August. It's my birthday and it has become customary for my lovely daughter and me to spend the days around it doing something wonderful.
The only blot on these things is rude people and hush, dare we say it?  Some of them are British.
Why do people leave their manners at home when they go on holiday? I'm presuming they don't behave like this at home but then maybe they do, maybe they are just so full of themselves that they are rude all the time. I don't think this is to do with culture or customs. I addressed several English people and was ignored. I'm not easily ignored. My daughter tells me I can be very loud so perhaps they don't care for my bouncing Tigger impression or perhaps to be put crudely they are so far up their own backsides that they don't notice other people.
By October the people who work in the hotels are finished, knackered. They've put in many hard hours early and late and they don't need the hassle.
Standing in the foyer of the wonderful Grand Bretagne hotel in Athens, waiting to be checked in, people pushed past us, told us they were more important than we are, that they had less time than we did and their designer clothes presumably were there to show how very much they mattered.
Nobody speaks unless it's to get themselves somewhere. I'm embarrassed for them.
The thing about manners is that it's all about making things easier. The reason you're supposed to spoon your soup away from you is so that it doesn't end up in your lap. You can put a napkin on your lap too and that stops you needing a dry cleaner. You wait in line because it means everybody gets a turn. You can even think of it as better for you. Unless somebody's rude to you first you don't do it to them and most importantly of all you never ever humiliate anyone who is hard working and doing his best. You don't start eating before other people because it means you're finished when they are halfway through and it mucks things up if you're having three courses and in any case why would you want to?  The best dinners of course are those you share.
So remember, folks, do unto others as you would have them do to you and as Bertie Wooster might say, What ho, old bean.'

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Oh, my hat!

I bought a new hat in Stanhope the other day at a lovely shop, which you must visit if you go there, because they have exquisite things to buy, gorgeous handbags in different colours of suede and leather, jewellery, scarves, those lovely smelling candles and the kind of clothes which make women of my age look better than they are, good materials, pretty colours.
It was a winter hat that I wanted. I lose hats.The first one I lost was a lovely black cloche hat which my daughter, Katy, gave to me. They have to be the same style, it's the only one I suit.
Well, I went to the opera at Castle in the big hall which incidentally has no pictures of women on the walls, which makes me want to spit anyway but I think I left it there. They said they didn't have it and I went to the other places I had visited that evening and nobody had found it.
So, as you do when you're in Milan, the last outing I had for my birthday, I spent 45 Euros on an exquisite black cloche hat but when Malcolm was so damned ill at the beginning of the year I was distracted and left it somewhere. I was going to go back to the restaurant where I thought it was but they seemed always to be closed and Malcolm was dying and Joan was nearly out of her mind with worry so I didn't get it back.
However, this spring I acquired another hat from TKMaxx. Purple straw. Katy says that  I must not go out in it, it's too bad. Too late, I wore it constantly when I went to Marjorca and it comes with me to the caravan at Stanhope all the time. But yes, I lost it.
I left it at the Gala theatre and this time I managed to get back for it the following day. They said they didn't think they had it and I said,
'Nobody's going to steal it,' and I was right. My daughter may have wished it a long way from us but to her chagrin it's now back at home.
So, considering the winter is coming I needed a new black cloche hat and I bought it the other day in Stanhope. It fits me perfectly - I have a very small head would you believe -  and has little black and white feathers to one side. Delightful. And only £14.95.  It will go with my two winter coats, one of which I have had for fifteen years, bought it at Next for a hundred pounds, well worth the investment, full length and it goes in the washer, the other is my pretend purple fur which my kids bought me for my sixtieth birthday. ( I get to hug a lot of men because they like my coat! Very good. )
I look forward to a lovely autumn and winter, three nights at the opera, good concerts at St Oswald's with the university orchestras and good meals and drinks with my friends. I shall try not to lose my new  hat but when I said to the lovely woman who sold it to me that it could not expect a long life with me she said,
'Stuff it in your handbag when you take it off.'
She was right. Better a rather dented hat than no hat at all.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Best

What must it be like to be the best writer the world has ever seen?  Of course he didn't know it at the time but he became wealthy on the back of his talent and was also an astute businessman. I like to think there were many sides to William Shakespeare as there are to all of us. He was a big family man, he directed what he left to his children. He like the rest of us had his horrors. His son died young and there are many twins in his stories. You use what you have, except that you are the best wordsmith the world will ever know. You don't carry that on your back but the world is left with your legacy and it is rich beyond our dreams.
Stratford was bliss to me. I went there with my lovely daughter who did English Literature at uni and adores the stage and everything to do with it. Her husband takes her to Stratford for her birthday each year and they stay in a gorgeous hotel and dine in good restaurants and enjoy what Will has left us.
One of the things which struck me was that because his father had a business, he made gloves and helped to run the town council, that William went to grammar school and studied Greek and Latin.
I'm not with Michael Gove on such matters, I think it helps if a child and read English before she's eleven before moving on to such things but for writers Greek and Latin are a huge help. I only wish I had had the kind of brain which takes on such things. Latin was good while I could see the connection with English but I couldn't do it, I kept getting left behind.
In the little house where William was born there is a big window where many writers have scratched their names and it made me feel so humble that writers, who are not usually known for being generous to one another, had gone there in homage to him and enjoyed it.
William's birthplace is the same kind of dreadful little house as Wordsworth's house in the lake district and makes you glad you weren't around when there was no electric, no loos, well, nothing really, tiny rooms and too many people. Ghastly.
I did like Nash's house and the garden  but Anne Hathaway's cottage was one of the saddest places I have ever been. It didn't help that the rain poured down on the lovely garden or that we had a wonderful guide who told it like it was but to me it seemed that Will and Anne's lust got the better of them and that house is full of sorrow.
We stayed in the Falcon Crest, very old and had afternoon tea at the Shakespeare. We saw A Mad World My Masters, a Jacobean play by Thomas Middleton which was wonderful and we had dinner at Oppo's and best of all I had my kid with me. Thanks, Will.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Heaven and Hell

Once upon a time there was a beautiful island off the coast of Spain. It's still there of course but it has an interesting history which has changed what might once have been paradise into a mixture of money and greed, sexism and tourism. The island is of course Majorca.
Majorca was on the wrong side when the Spanish civil war raged.  And when they lost Franco decided that Majorca did not need any money, any input and you can still see the effects when you start off in a bus from Palma airport.  There are empty houses in the dry fields, there are long stretches of nothing much at all. As you go north the climate is wetter and there are wonderful trees, lots of olive groves, vines. Almonds and oranges are harvested here. There are two factories on the island which make pearls and in the north there is prosperity and when you get to Alcudia, right at the top, there is a contrast which startled me.
To the east there are 30,000 beds and the tourists from Scandanavia and Europe flock here because of the mild Spanish climate. But the old town of Alcudia is still there. The locals call it heaven and hell and it is easy to see why. From the enormous hotels which stretch forever only eight kilometres away there is the charm and the history which stretches back to the thirteenth century.
The hotel where I stayed. Gorgeous, good food, lovely rooms, excellent wine, if you are going with small children the perfect place to stay. Iberostar Albufera Playa.

I took a taxi to the old town. There is a wall which still stands most of the way around the little town. It was built in the thirteenth century by James II to keep out the pirates!  As you do, of course. As walls go this is the best and beside it one of those unforgettable churches, all blue and gold and full of the kind of pictures which you love at the time but you are glad don't follow you outside into the sunlight.

The beautiful wall.

The story becomes even more interesting. Small farms were given to the children when their father died, the boys got the good fertile fields, the girls received the fields on the coastline and so I thought how hard for a girl who doesn't marry or who is obliged to marry a man who is not a farmer's son and we all know what happened after that, don't we?
So which is heaven and which hell and perhaps greed depends on what you do with what you are given and a bit of luck and the times. I look at all those hotels and I think good luck to those girls who made their fortunes and to the boys they had their farms and so you can have both if the times are right, you can have the sun and the sea and the sand and then you can have Alcudia with its history and its tiny shops and its lovely lovely wall.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Little Miss Righteous

When my daughter was a small child her favourite book was Little Miss Neat, one of Roger Hargreaves' wonderful stories for children. Before she could read Katy could recite Little Miss Neat and how she found a puddle in the middle of her garden path, sorting it out with a duster after which she washed the duster, folded it, ironed it and put it into the drawer.  Little Miss Neat was a big part of my life but she has been overtaken by Little Miss Righteous.
I fee like the poor woman in Hilary Mantel's book, Beyond Black, who has her own spirit, a horrible sort of thing which plagued her, criticizing, never letting her think anything good about herself.
Little Miss Righteous nags at me if I don't hoover the floor. She makes lists where everything achieved has to be crossed off and more damned things get on to the endless list every day. She even points out where a few grains of salt have been spilt in an otherwise spotless kitchen cupboard.
She doesn't like me eating chocolate or drinking wine. She is so smug that I don't smoke. She hates my large bottom and my one breast and my twisted toes. She makes me be polite to people I don't like who bore me. She is even now going on about the unweeded front garden. I feel sure that if she had her way I would be in some very boring job, married to a man who spends his weekends ironing shirts.
At the moment every time I see her I thump her over the head with a frying pan, otherwise she takes control of my life. She loves a clean car, she likes long walks and lettuce and sensible shoes. One of these days I'm going to take her on a car ride and drop her off the end of a pier and come back and enjoy myself all the time. In the meanwhile I have to keep her happy and am off to pull a few weeds out of the garden.

Monday, 10 June 2013

A Man Desert

Coming back from the caravan, after a week of work, I was listening to Radio 4 and they were talking about how one in four families is now a single parent family with a mother around but no father. It makes me shudder the way that the government makes single parent families out to be something a great many of them are not but the thing is they have this in common - no bloke.
One of the hardest things in the world when you are alone with a small child is to find a suitable parent. Either the man doesn't like the child or the child doesn't like the man and we all have baggage. He may have children too. I once met a very nice teacher, when my daughter was eight, but he spent his weekends with his children who were both under five, so I scarpered.
It's hard enough finding a decent man. The good ones are married, apart from those who tell you they aren't married of course, single men who have been dumped by other women are a very difficult area. Men dump women for other women, women dump men because they aren't shouldering their responsibilites and/or are still behaving like they are twenty.
Then there are the men who can do everything, so what do they need you for, and the ones who can do nothing, so what would you want them for? And the hobbyists. My God, golf, painting tiny soldiers, shooting, fishing, sailing. It's okay if they regard this as a hobby but to so many of them they have work and a hobby and everything else is lost.
Some women have a tendency to hide their husbands. I can quite honestly say that although I have envied my married friends sex, companionship, somebody to help pay the bills and sort out the kids I have never ever fancied any other woman's husband. Marriage is not sexy, not to single people as they get older.
As for role models, there's not much you can do about it. The world is very unfair and for most women in many countries, men have taken everything and it's a fight even for decency, never mind education. So we bring up out daughters to get on with things and no point in hanging about waiting for a decent man. What you need is a good job with a decent income and some reasonably priced child care.
As for the single parent who is left alone once the children have grown up and gone -
the view I take is of the card I once bought - apologies to the genius who thought it up. I have no idea who it is  On the front there is a very smiley old woman and the caption reads,

I have a computer, a vibrator and a pizza delivery man.  I need  never go out again!
  Perhaps the future isn't so bad after all, out in the desert.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Cop Shows

For me it all started with Dixon of Dock Green. I love cop shows. Z Cars, Inspector Frost, my special favourite Morse. I have watched Morse until I can recite pieces of it, a dubious talent, I realize. When I am having a bad day I reread the Rebus books. Now I have discovered a new talent, well, new to me.Mari Hannah. Boy, can this writer plot. The fun for me is that it's set in the North East of England and I am so prejudiced about the place but I don't think it would matter to anybody who loves crime stories.
Half the fun for me reading this kind of thing is that the whole thing is as mysterious to me as a film. I could never write crime.
The cops in these shows are always Mavericks and we love a Maverick best of all. The kind of person who doesn't fit in, or is smarter than the rest. I still love Rebus best with his faults and his failings but I love Frost, I'm reading Frost at Christmas and there he is the scruffy little man and all the characters I knew first from television and I haven't read any of the other Frost books yet. Oh joy.  Also Wycliffe, which again I watched on television first and I loved those but I can relive them again.
I suppose in a way all stories are cop stories, the goodies and the baddies, the goodies winning usually in some unobvious way and the baddies getting their deserts and a whole load of wonderful characters we want to see again and again so thank you, Helen, my friend who lives in Consett for mentioning Mari Hannah to me. For the first time I'm in on the ground floor here because she doesn't seem to have a huge backlist. Usually I am at least fifteen years later than everybody else in getting to these things. I'll be able to lie on my sofa and listen to the rain pattering on to the patio and go off into a world where Kate Daniels is looking out for us here in the north. Happy days.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

I Need A Hero

This week it all got too much. I felt like flinging myself on my chaise longue ( yes, I do actually have one, I'm that precious), finding someone to put a cooling palm to my fevered forehead and lots of other bits of me which would be comforted, and telling me that I didn't have to deal with any more.
I can't think where it started now but the computer began playing silly buggers, the car tyres went down, the roof leaked so much in the back bedroom that I could hear the sound of the rain plopping into my favourite pan from my own bed with the damned door shut. The damp proof course in the hall has given up and  has yellowed the walls and all the paint is peeling off. I went to Sainsbury's for my present drug of choice, Prosecco, came back and some bugger chipped my lovely little car's windscreen.
Actually I am thinking of getting rid of the lovely little car but I cry when my cars go to the great garage in the sky so I'm putting it off.
Then I went to London to see my editor and my agent and my writing friends and somewhere in among all the work and play I turned into the sort of thing which makes a burst balloon look like a jumbo jet. I wilted. I moaned over my friends, I moaned over my daughter.
My daughter is a manager. She managed me so beautifully.
'Regroup!' she said. 'Sit on the sofa, watch films and eat pizza.'  Actually she didn't tell me to eat pizza but I'm sure she meant me to.
'Stop the social networking, put the work away.'
I retreated, pyjama clad. I watched John Wayne Films.  John Wayne was my childhood hero. There is something about a man who is six foot three or four or whatever which makes me melt  like chocolate in hot weather. I spent a lovely part of my childhood sitting in the living room with the curtains closed on warm afternoons, ignoring the world and there with my dad I entered the door of cowboy land and never came home. My dad used to take me to the pictures, buy me sweets and then fall asleep. He worked too hard. I got my love of films from my dad. When I was younger I wanted to be a film director. I don't know what happened to that, just that there was another part of me that said 'why not spend your life alone in a little room, staring at a screen and being relatively poor?'
There I go, moaning again. My job meant I was here when my kid was little, when she was ill. I got to walk my dogs in the mornings and afternoons. Now I am here for all those workmen who come and go, I am here when the Ringtons man comes and the guys at the door try to sell me things and those cold callers who think I might listen to them and sometimes I feel so sorry for them that I do. I can talk to the bloke next door and hear the little kids over the fence playing in the garden on the few dry afternoons we have had this year. I can choose when I work, and my friends put up with me being a whining moaner.
Rio Bravo is at present my favourite film. It has everything, John Wayne being the sheriff and Angie Dickinson, the girl who comes to town, there is a drunk who comes good and a grumpy old man and a young gunslinger and its set in one small town. The plot is wonderful and the dialogue is to die for.  The acting is brilliant.There is music and tension, it never slips for a second. Good old Howard Hawks for doing it and for giving me such pleasure. Best of all, for the first time, yesterday I noticed in the credits that it said, 'from a short story'. I don't remember who wrote it but all of a sudden I remembered what I did and why I did it.
Stagecoach, another John Wayne film, came from a short story by the best short story writer of them all, Guy de Maupassant. All you need for a good film is a brilliant story, fantastic actors, the best director and somebody with a lot of money. And that's why I watch John Wayne in the afternoons. Because only the best will do.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

My Wok Cradle and other necessities

Four or five years ago, before I got my new job, my pension and my insurance cheque, money was a bit tight and I thought, I don't need anything so what does it matter?  I can just afford to pay my bills, I have a decent social life, the car is still working, the central heating boiler is okay, I hate going on holiday, what more do I need?
Just after this Lakeland, who sell superior kitchen stuff, opened a shop nearby and I went in once and I thought 'who on earth buys all these things', who needs a special floor polisher and a cup cake maker and all these new bright shiny pans? All this has changed now that I have a few bob. I want everything.
I went to Lakeland this morning and my eyes were opened at all the wonderful goodies and they have put me on their mailing list. I had to buy a special drainer for the dishes because my new kitchen has exquisite wooden tops which must not have wet things or hot things or possibly anythings at all anywhere near them. I have turned into the kind of person who says,
'Don't put that down on there!'
Many years ago I bought a beautiful three piece suite for my sitting room in pale pink and a carpet in pink and white and after weeks of warning people not to drop anything on either I spilled half a bucket of red wine over the whole thing and I thought to myself, as we used to say in Tow Law,
'That'll learn yer!'
Perfectionists should keep themselves well short of money. Now I am haunted by the possibilities of my life descending into chaos because I care about things that I didn't used to. I can have my day ruined by a hot bottomed frying pan.
I want to go and buy a new car and woe betide anybody who puts a dent in it.
The source of all these problems was the wok cradle which came with my new cooker.
I said to Ian, the kitchen fitter,
'What on earth is that?'
and being very cool, as you are when you fit kitchens, he showed me how the wok cradle sat over the flame so that the wok could sit nicely in it and that is what my life has come down to - a wok cradle and a future where everything can go wrong.

Friday, 26 April 2013

The Magic of Kitchenworld in Durham

I came back from M&S today to find Ian, my lovely kitchen fitter, hoovering up the dust in the hall. I say 'my' because I have become a bit like this about the men of Kitchenworld in Durham. They were recommended by my most discerning friend. She's the kind of woman who is very scary if you don't know her and she would never recommend anybody who did not get things exactly right. In this mood, plus my insurance cheque, I went boldly up to the Arnison Centre where George runs Kitchenworld and employs wonderful professionals to help him. Smart guy, George.
The kitchen designer, David, gives you the impression that he has all afternoon to spend waffling around in your kitchen but beneath the polite exterior beats the heart of a real pro.  He had my kitchen sorted out in five minutes, he knew what I wanted, he dangled before my eyes the kitchen of my dreams. Yes, another smart guy.
Then came the army of professionals, Ian the perfectionist kitchen fitter, Jimmy, who has been plastering for twenty years and another perfectionist, Stuart who sorted out the gas for my lovely new cooker, the smashing guy whose name I don't know because he never hangs round long who carries the appliances in his huge van, Carl who did the flooring and the electrician, whose name I don't know because he sort of dashes in and out, whom I accused of mucking up the telly. I got Jimmy to go in and look at the telly the following day and typical of a bloke, he got hold of a piece of wire and back on it came. Why can't I do that?
Dave, the painter, is coming on Monday morning and soon after that the whole thing will be over. I have enjoyed it. I did get rather tired of ready meals and may never eat instant porridge again but I'm definitely going to get them to come back and sort out the bathroom and possibly the bedrooms when I have some more money. Must work harder!

Monday, 22 April 2013

Between books

Last week I had a new kitchen fitted. Actually it's still being fitted and may still be being fitted next week. It has become the norm. It's worked in quite well as I finished the rewrite of my second novel for Quercus books on the Monday when the kitchen fitter arrived to be followed the next day by the plasterer and then after that by the plumber, the electrician and the guy with the big van who brings the appliances and the cupboards.
I deliberately planned it this way. I did not plan to have a nasty bug which is now in its fourth week. Nor did I plan to have the weather so bloody cold that I have all the stuff which should be at the caravan downstairs in my house, getting in the way of all the stuff which I emptied out of the kitchen into the dining room and sitting room.
Howard came to sort out the garden and today we finally got a guy from British Gas to mend the boiler. The kitchen fitter discovered what was wrong with it. What talents people have.
Now I'm fussing. I didn't realize that this was what I did. My daughter says it's because I have nothing to do. That isn't true, I am hard at work on my third novel but she's right in a sense. I spent two days going back and forth to Homebase trying to decide which colour between cream and grey ( the cupboards are cream, the floor is grey and the stove, microwave and enormous American fridge are black ) would go on the walls. She did point out to me that since most of the walls are covered it isn't terribly important but since ( it was her idea) the little garden room beside the kitchen where I spent my evenings, writing, drinking wine and attempting to dash back into the kitchen before my culinary offering turns into a cremation, is now going to have the same flooring and wall colour I have turned into Kirsty Allsop and that Sarah woman who goes around sorting other people's houses out. I do appreciate that it is their job and they get paid for it. I don't appreciate that I am being ridiculous.
'You usually say that people who fuss on about their kitchens have nothing worth thinking about,' my daughter told me.
This is true. So what I need to do is get back to doing more writing and forget all about the kitchen. As my daughter said also, 'You'll  never use it anyway, so why worry.'
She's right. Never more so than now since I have spent ten days eating M&S food three times a day, the kind that has to be microwaved and am beginning to wonder why people ever bother cooking at all.
So here I am with a beautiful kitchen which I have spent thousands of pounds on whereas I would probably have been just as well off like those new flats in New York which apparently don't have a kitchen at all.

Saturday, 20 April 2013


Joan and Malcolm a week after their wedding at the tea party for Water Aid in the kitchen at my house

I don't have many men in my life. Being a single woman and sixty has an awful tendency to be like a convent. My life is filled with other women. Let me say now to my fantastic female friends, I love you all, I couldn't manage my life without you but I miss men.
Most of all at the moment I miss my friend, Malcolm who died a few weeks ago. Malcolm was big. He was six foot six and incredibly handsome. He had gorgeous blue eyes and a shock of hair and his skin tanned when it got half a chance. You could disappear into Malcolm's cuddles but best of all,  his wife Joan and I long since decided, that Malcolm really liked women. He was the same with everybody. To Malcolm everybody was a friend and everybody who knew him misses  him so much but I had a special relationship with Joan and Malcolm because we spent a lot of time together. Couples don't do this. They don't take you to concerts and ask you to go with them to outdoor versions of Shakespeare but even if Malcolm just saw you in the street or through the window of your favourite coffee shop he always came in and then you got to disappear into the warmth and generosity of the loveliest man I have ever met. I don't understand why God had to have Malcolm when we needed him so much.
I am very angry about it. God should have more respect than to take away such a big part of my life when I'm so bereft of men generally. When Malcolm was ill in hospital and the specialist came round to see him he said to Joan and me,
 'Are you his family?'
and she said,
'I'm his wife,'
and I said,
'I'm his girlfriend.'
I loved being the other woman in Malcolm Thurman's life and I daresay a lot of his women friends would say the same.
When my husband, Richard, died, it'll be twenty five years this summer, I remember one of his friends saying to me,
'I know you've lost a husband but I've lost a bloody good friend,' and that's how I feel now.
Malcolm Thurman was my bloody good friend and I miss him.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Woman who went to Bed for a Week

I recently read Sue Townsend's book about the woman who gave up and went to bed for a year and we've all felt like that but it took a woman of her calibre to write about it so compellingly. I didn't want to go to bed. Life is quite exciting at the moment and I want to get out there and make waves.  I am busy rewriting my novel, worrying and working and beavering there. I was away for a couple of days with my lovely daughter and she said,
'Why don't you come for Easter?'
Well, I had planned to work over the Easter weekend. It's not that I deserve a halo, it's just that bank holidays are one of my pet hates, having lived alone for so long it's boring at bank holidays and things were too frozen to go to my lovely caravan which saves me from such things. I also had my book on my conscience so I did try hard not to go to Cheshire. But in the end my daughter persuaded me by means of the kind of blackmail which included huge amounts of wonderful food, including roast lamb which is my favourite and visions of outings to places like The Chesire Smokehouse which is a lovely very posh little place - well, they are all posh in Cheshire but this is food par excellence or whatever you call it. We could go for walks at Dunham Massey and take photographs of the deer and I could have the lovely little bedroom in her gorgeous tiny house and - you get the picture.
Well, I didn't feel too hot on the Friday but on the Saturday I really wasn't very well. I had to go and give a presentation to the music society I belong to and I managed that but by Saturday night I knew I had cold but I didn't want to disappoint my kid so I duly got up on Sunday morning and drove to Cheshire. It was a lovely day.
I did get through most of the afternoon and then collapsed into bed, more or less and stayed there beyond three very small and unsuccessful outings during the next week.
Going downstairs was a huge adventure. Getting in the car made me feel sick because my ears were blocked up. I was wheezing and coughing in equal measure.
My daughter is the kind of woman who makes things. She made breakfast buns, and soup and dinners. I lay in bed and went on to Facebook and Twitter through my Kindle, read Kate Atkinson ( brilliant book, a mix of Downton Abbey and Sliding Doors only  better ) and then downloaded Comfort Reads, Ian Rankin. Thank God.
I finally decided I could get in the car and drive home on Saturday and the roads were empty, the sun was shining and I fell into my door four hours later. Since then I have been out only for necessities and am still coughing and blowing my nose.
Apparently half the area has this stupid bug. I only wish they had a lovely place like Cheshire to be ill. If I had been here in Durham alone I would have been a shadow of my former self by now, not being able to make a cup of tea or venture downstairs into the unknown for several days.
And as Edina said on Absolutely Fabulous, well she didn't quite say this but here goes 'If your children can't make you breakfast buns then what is the point in having them?'

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Bellybuttons are like opinions

I read it somewhere last week. Bellybuttons are like opinions, everybody has one which is fine until you discover that people are writing reviews of your books and you don't like them. At first I thought, gosh, somebody has read it and as Abraham Lincoln said, 'you can please some of the people some of the time and the rest of the people the rest of the time but you can't please all of the people all of the time'. It's wise to remember this before worrying about the reviews where somebody didn't like your book.
All right, so you sweated blood and guts and spit and whatever over it but after all, it is only a novel.
You've heard 'This novel changes lives' well, believe me, I don't think any novel ever changed anybody's life. It might have made them feel uncomfortable or ecstatic for a couple of hours but lifechanging, I don't think so. People read for pleasure. If they don't then dear me, what are they doing it for?

Which is not to say that I was happy to hear that one of my books was deemed to be 'predictable', at least parts of it. Ouch. 
'A good beach read.'    It wasn't intelligent then?
'Has a happy ending'    It ain't literary folks
'I wanted to bang their heads together.' ( hero and heroine and after all they went through and I went through with them. Oh dear)

Actually I am not grumbling, I am really bragging because I never thought I'd get so far that people cared enough to say what they thought about any book I had written. I love writing. After my kid it's the most important thing in my life and it pays the bills which is great, something has to and there's only me around.
Lots of novelists are thought worse of because they appear to be writing the same book over and over. We do. We don't get it right so we have another shot at it. Not necessarily a better shot just a different one.

Iris Murdoch said  'Every novel is the traincrash of a good idea.' Actually she didn't say that, she said something slightly better than that, I just like the word  'traincrash' but it means the same.  You finish it and then think it's okay and then you decide it isn't and then you have another idea and you think, if I could just have one more go at this I might get it right so in a way I hope I never do get it right and I hope readers keep on caring about whether it's a decent beach read because I really care that somebody bothered to to buy it or borrow it, took it with them, sat down on their holiday and read my book by the pool or under an umbrella and then they wrote a review about it. God love them every one. ( And that's close to something Tiny Tim said and he knew about these things.)

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Demise of the Dining Room

This week there was a short and interesting discussion on Radio 4 about the fact that people don't have dining rooms any more, or rather they don't use them and they are not advertised by estate agents.They had two people discussing why it was and inevitably a discussion of  table manners.
I am reading one of Jennifer Worth's books which led to the television series, Call the Midwife. This book is Shadows of the Workhouse. It made me want to cry. There are photographs in the middle of what the workhouses were like, of people without hope, children in despair. A lot of them are sitting at tables in regimented rows. The children are ragged, shoeless and miserable.
The workhouse as she says was the first stab at welfare and stab is the right word. Such places were run by bullies and sadists.
I read a lot of history for my work and I know that a hundred and fifty years ago - and let's face it that's only two lifetimes ago, many people in big cities like London didn't even have a fire. Their houses had no fireplaces.
Tables at that time were saved for those were rich and perhaps that is why we baulk against such things.
Does the woman who has just done a stint on the checkout at Sainbury's come home at nine, cook pork parcels  and gather her family around the table at ten?
My daughter and son in law work in retail. Yesterday he was at home in the evening. She was working until ten. This happens almost every day. People's lives don't fit around dining tables.They never did.
On the programme we had this myth about how people's table manners were getting worse and how one should stop one's children coming to the table with mobile phones. When I was a little girl I would watch men pour their tea into their saucers and drink it like that because they didn't want to wait for it to cool. You don't see it any more but that's not to say it wasn't good manners at the time.
In fact manners are really how you treat and consider other people, not about whether you spoon your soup away from you.  I can remember my mother once going to stay in a good hotel and one of the woman with her dropped the silver salt cellar into her tomato soup. The waiter apologized and then fished it out with a snowy napkin. Mother was appalled. But really it was a matter of common sense. A fresh dish of soup was the point.
Food has become such a contentious issue. I wish that for a month nobody would preach at me about how much or what I should eat. The best meal I have had lately was to celebrate my daughter's birthday.  We went to the coast, bought fish and chips and sat in our car ( it was freezing outside with a howling gale behind it) and ate them from the paper and she had brought glasses and a bottle of pink champagne. Now that's what I call a meal. As for good manners, the lady in the fish and chip shop was all smiles and that's the best kind of good manners of all.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Getting away


I took my laptop with me, of course, I was determined to write every day, until I got there and determination became a thing of the past. As writers we are always on duty.  I feel as though I have to be a writer every minute of every day, it's like a chocolate ball and chain, it's always there and no matter how much you eat, the bloody thing's still there but you love it so much it doesn't matter, most of the time but it did last week.

I have one book just out, and one book which needs a lot of editing and one book I have just started. Now I know this seems an enviable place to be but it scares the hell out of me. Will it last?  What will I do if it doesn't?  What wil I do if it does?  I've been catapulted into social networking and everything that goes with it  and to my horror this week I bought the most beautiful telephone the world has ever seen.  I have never fallen in love with a telephone before but this is happy valentine's day for me and my new phone. It weighs nothing, it is supposedly pebble blue. I never liked blue before. Now I am a goner.

I had decided to go away. It's always a bad idea. I should be at home, I should be working. The laptop case is not that reassuring and anyhow I don't need a break. My book is out and I'm grateful and - dear God, I was tired.

The lions and the walkway which lead to the garden and to the two golf courses and to the view of the several hundred acres which belongs to the house.

Fifty minutes into the north here is lovely Northumberland with its endless fields and big stone farmhouses and best of all, a hotel which I had not heard of before now, the home of the Blackett family, Matfen Hall. I didn't know such places existed. Please God let me go back.

But really it wasn't just the hotel, it was the feeling of not writing. I took my new Kindle, that's another thing I am enslaved to and I read in front of a log fire. What I did the rest of the time I'm not sure but none of it was constructive. A lot of drinking and a good deal of eating and passing the time with the lovely staff and saying what a wonderful place Hexham was. I ventured into the village which is about two dozens steps away behind the church and had hot chocolate in the village store and I went into the church on Sunday to discover nativity scenes just this side of the altar. I think they were marble, half a dozen figures in each one. I really wanted to bring them home and also the two paintings in the hall of Matfen which were of shooting dogs but the Blackett family were very fond of the dogs so I didn't but I did bring home a semi renewed me and now the sun is shining and the snow has gone and I think oh gosh I am still a writer and I like it.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Inspirational Animals

My dogs, George, my labrador, pictured here when old and Timmy, springer spaniel and Jasper -I'm going to put him on now,  half and half

were  the inspiration for Hector and Ulysses the two black labradors who are big characters in Miss Appleby's Academy.  They play a very important part, well, Hector does anyway, he's one of the main characters, just as my three dogs were main characters in my life. I dedicated my book to them, they made us so very happy.
When I was a child we had dogs, cats, chickens, cattle, mice, rabbits and probably others which I have forgotten. I have not forgotten the day that my mother's cattle invaded the main street. There was only one big street. How they got out of the field we do not know. And the people who lived in the bungalows nearby were always complaining that our hens wrecked their gardens.
I hadn't known that such a rich childhood was going to be so very useful for the books I am writing now. I have had animals in my books before but none which played a major part and Emma Appleby understands dogs because she too had them in her childhood.
I can also remember one particular day when I was walking Timmy around the fields beyond the school where Katy went and there was an irish setter chasing some sheep in a field and the woman, its owner, was saying something like, 'Come to Mummy,' and instinctively somehow I stood there, all five foot four of me, let my voice fall as far as my boots and I shouted across the field,
'Come back here, you bloody dog!' and the dog got such a shock that it stopped immediately and came over and sat down beside us. I felt so clever, not something that's often happened.
Emma Appleby, my heroine in my new book, knows such things.  She knows that when a dog threatens you you don't run, you get down to its level, look it in the eyes and beckon in a soft confident voice. You get it to come to you. I've never known this to fail. It isn't a trick, it's knowledge. I saw my husband do such a thing a dozen times and people always thought there was something special about it and I suppose there was, he always adored dogs and understood them.
I was bitten twice when I was a child because I used to go up and cuddle other people's dogs and sometimes the dogs weren't too keen on it and my mother told me repeatedly not to and here I am in Durham City and every time I meet a dog I can't help being happy and if you give them half a chance they like you too. I get down and talk to them. Dog owners never mind and we are such doggy people here it probably takes them hours to get anywhere when they go into the city. And the dogs love all the attention.
It made me very happy too to revisit my dogs in Miss Appleby's Academy. They have been dead for a long time and my life has moved on but Hector and Ulysses restored just a little of it as I remembered how dear they were to me.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Publication week, er fortnight

It was never like this for Jane Austen. She didn't have to say, 'I can't come for dinner yet, Mother, I'm busy tweeting.'  She never had her blog refuse to upload her photos or worry that she would be an egg on twitter forever. She can't have hesitated over requests from strange men wanting to be her friend on facebook.
Did she have to create a Facebook Fan page?  No, she definitely did not. Her constant interruptions were probably things like 'Jane, what did you do with the pink vase?' and  'hurry up, we've going to have tea with Mrs Composmentus' who was ubdoubtedly the most boring person in the world.

Links have become the very bane of my life, sometimes they land, sometimes they disappear between Facebook, me, twitter and wherever the hell else they should be. I am hopeful that sooner or later I will upload a picture of one of my books which is the right size. At the moment they are either so small that they can't be seen like postage stamps or so big that my friends on Facebook feel obliged to make comments because they can't see around the image. The small ones people are tactful about, God love them. I have never been quite so grateful to my friends and keep ringing them, asking stupid questions and I can hear the patience in their voices as they think, 'can this woman not do anything on her own'?  I can milk a goat, so there. Very useful of course.

This is the problem, all my skills are old. I touchtype, I can light a fire, I know how to gut mackerel. I should be doing one of these programmes on telly where people go off into the wild and live off the land. Okay, so I live in the middle of town these days and never venture further than M&S. Is it my fault I have to try and live in the modern world? I was so good at the old one.

My computer is objecting hugely to the way I am now spending hours a day sitting in front of it demanding it go back and forth to internet sites like something demented. My back isn't terribly happy about it either, now we come to mention it. Last night my computer kept assuring me that if I didn't want to look at stuff it wanted me to look at it was going to close down forever. The only thing which prevented me from throwing it out of the window is the fact that the window has been there since 1927 and has stained glass in it.

I did once build a house, with help of course. I had a child, let's not go there. Won't  be doing either of those things again. So why do I just not get technology?  I'm not that old, I think really there is no techie in me. And as being idle I don't do that. I think what I need is to become rich so that I can get somebody else to do all these things - oh, and the housework and pay the bills, and take the car to the garage and plan holidays. Don't you just hate that? All that detail.

Writing novels is all about detail and the hardest thing of all is editing where you go back and forth and back and forth among a hundred thousand words, wondering how long a character has been pregnant, whether Mr Standalone really did have brown eyes and why the important scenes have been put in twice or totally disappeared and that a certain character was introduced at the beginning and not mentioned again for a hundred pages. Then there is the problem when you write historicals as to the year Peter Pan came out, I got it wrong by a year when I wrote about it but some eagle eyed editor found it, thank the Lord.
Or which street in St Andrews had plane trees on it in 1900?  And as my agent pointed out just a couple of weeks ago, people in Durham did not sit outside tower houses on the river and drink chilled Chardonnay in 1910. Well, most of them anyway. On that note I shall leave it and no, I am not going back to the internet, I'm going into town probably to pick up a bottle of nicely chilled Chardonnay. Some things about the present are definitely good.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

My Six Ebooks

Out today, published by Quercus books my six big sagas that ruled my life for several years.
The first one, The Singing Winds, named after a line in an old folk song, is set over on the Durham coast not far from Sunderland.  I was inspired to write it after I visited Seaham, the old pit town where my grandmother and her family lived before she left the bakery in which she worked and travel to Weardale. There she met and married my grandfather who was a tenant farmer.
Seaham, when I knew it, years ago, was a very dramatic place, the pit wheel set beyond the little town, the rolling sea crashing up the beach and three big pits close together. The man in the book is called Jon Armstrong. I rang my sister, after I finished writing it, I told her, 'I have created the perfect man'.

The second, Far From My Father's House, is named after a line in an old Irish poem and tells of the Lowe family who were tenant farmers and of their joys and sorrows before and during the second world war. How things changed there  because of the war and how the death of their loved ones affected their lives.

The third book is called Under A Cloud Soft Sky. The title came from a poem by a local man, George Leslie Lister.  It's set in Tow Law, the tiny pit town on the Durham moors where I was brought up and is about two boys and two girls. When it was first published my daughter and her friends read it because it was about people their age. My teenage novel!  It's also about an love affair which an older woman has with a young man and how a beautiful girl is seen as nothing more than a pretty face.

The fourth book is The Road to Berry Edge and is set in the steel town of Consett which was originally called Berry Edge and is the story of a young man who comes home to put right the steelworks and how he feels that he has to to marry the woman his brother couldn't because his brother died and Rob feels responsible for his death.

The fifth book is called Snow Angels and I got the title from the children's game of lying down in thick snow and pushing your arms and legs to their furthest extent. When you get up the imprint looks like an angel.  I worked so hard on this book. It's set in Newcastle upon Tyne where I was born and is the story of a shipbuilding family.  I did huge amounts of research for it, as I do for all my books.

The sixth book is Shelter From the Storm, originally Black Prince and is the first of a trilogy but it stands alone as well.It tells the story of two young women who marry the wrong men and of men who are outsiders in insular society.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

What Not to do on Facebook and Twitter

I feel I haven't met up with half of them yet but the first problem I found was that I accidentally let some man on my facebook page, who will be nameless, actually it probably wasn't his name, trying to tell me his wife had died and he had a little girl and he obviously knew we had so much in common. I thought oh-oh, how very odd and wrote him a very polite note, saying how awful for him and how I hoped he found somebody nice and then I got another message and talked to friends and realized this happens all the time.
So, point one, be vigilant but you can get rid of people
Point Two  Don't write on other people's timelines. I wrote a long piece and then realized I was in the wrong place and quickly deleted it.
Point Three.  We all know publicity is useful but try to not to brag too much, it makes people mad. Me, me, me darling. Yes, well we all have that problems and it's rude to muscle in on somebody else's space. I'm big on my own space.  I keep dreaming other people move in with me and wake up covered in sweat.
Point Four. Other people might not be interested in facebook and twitter. I've only been here a fortnight and already I'm boring on about it to the people I see.
Point Five.  It can take over your life.  Help!
Point Six. Too late.
Point Seven. It isn't mean to be a contest. How many friends have I got? My daughter says you are supposed to stop at five thousand so I have long way to go.
Point Eight. I am supposed to be writing books.
Perhaps I should stop now and go off and do that.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Open Mouth, Insert Both Feet

I had lunch with Joan and Malcolm the other day and we got to talking about what people say to those of us who are widowed or have cancer. Two of us have had cancer, all of us have been widowed.

So to people who have cancer try not to say

How long have they given you?
How is your cancer?
God is with you. ( Not in my case, I'm an atheist.)
Positive thinking helps. ( no, it bloody doesn't)
You are very brave ( like it's optional )
It could be worse. (Thanks)

The best thing I got from my surgeon was
This was not your fault.

I think this is increasingly rare as we are blamed for cancer, strokes, heart attacks.

And my Macmillan nurse when I telephoned, panicking about what I should and shouldn't do, eat etc.
Go out and enjoy your life.

For those who are widowed don't say

I know how you feel. My wife went on holiday for two weeks without me.
You'll find somebody else. ( Joan and Malcolm did. I'm still waiting for Brad Pitt.)
We had sex three times the other night.
Can't your friends find you a nice man?
Haven't you got over it yet ?( this was after six months What is grief, a stile?)
Do you want to go to bed with me?  You must be missing sex.
My wife and I haven't slept together for years.
Come and have dinner with us ( I fell into this trap a couple of times and had excruciating evenings with men I didn't want who didn't want me.)

And things you wish people would say

Save me the last dance.
I've bought you a bottle of pink champagne.
Can I walk your dog/do your shopping/take you out for an hour to a nice cafe for tea and buns?

And of course the worst thing of all that you can say is nothing.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Internet Man

I wish my dad had lived to be involved in the internet age. He loved gadgets. We had a dishwasher in the early sixties. It used to sit on the draining board and the water would come back into the sink where my mum would dump the pans so that they too were washed.
He bought us a tape recorder, big square grey thing when we were quite young and he just let us play with it. We had one of the first record players where the towers sat apart from the thing itself and he was not mean, it was a Bang and Olfsen set up and must have cost a great deal.
My dad was essentially an engineer which is possibly why I have a weakness for men who build things but he had to be many things because he ran a steel foundry single handed and had sixty men working for him.  He wasn't an easy man. He could go for hours without speaking, he only said something when he really had something to say, my mum was the garrulous one and he let her get on with it.
He was the only boy in his family and went away to a small public school called Scorton Grammar School in Yorkshire as a small boy.  He loved school. I think my daughter takes after him that way, we were all rather horrified that she took to school in such a big way.  We were brought up in a pit village and were quite wild so we didn't like sitting behind desks ( God help me, what am I doing now? ) and being told what to do.
As I grew older I learned to hate the confines of a pit village and to long for other places and other people. We were sent to middle class private schools and my God it was awful. He thought he was doing the right thing, I suppose you would if you had liked school but none of us was academic, we were the kind of children who camped out and played cricket and walked miles to dam streams. Our friends were the village children, we went to school with them for a few years and I am so grateful now that my education was all over the place, because as a writer I feel I can move between the social classes having lived and been schooled among most people.
My mum was the very opposite of my dad and it was just as well. If he had married somebody like himself we would probably have all left home early out of frustration. My mother was a farmer's daughter from Weardale. She was good with children and animals and apart from anything else she was stunningly beautiful. I look like my dad's side of the family. Sad really. Now if I'd had his brains that would have been worthwhile. I think he was so disappointed that his children were no good at school.
I think these things miss a generation and that if my daugher ever has a child that child will dislike school and run off to spend time with unsuitable people and generally let the family down as every good child does.
My father certainly let his family down. Mr grandma was so disappointed when he chose not to be a vicar. He hated the church with a passion. I don't remember ever seeing him there unless it was a wedding or such. And best of all on Sundays we put on our old clothes and got on our ponies ( borrowed from the local travellers ) and spent our days screaming up and own the field behind the house or building bonfires or cooking rhubarb in tiny pans or  throwing turnips at passing trains to try and derail them. We set the garage on fire, we wrecked my father's car by throwing stones at it, we flooded the back kitchen more than once. I remember when we had a glass door at the front and my sister, in a temper, had put her fist through it and when my dad came in from work at dinner time in the middle of the day, he didn't even comment, he just looked at it, had his dinner, smoked his capstan and called in at the glazier's on his way  back to work.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Twitter ye not, Missus ( with apologies to the late great Frankie Howerd)

Well, I made it, sort of anyway, I am now on Facebook and Twitter.  Officially of course this is all for work but I have lovely photographs of my daughter and me in various gorgegous places from last year so that every time I turn on Facebook it makes me smile. I don't think I've quite got the hang of Twitter. It's like working down a mine, I can't see anything and am not quite sure where to go. I feel like just staying in bed and pulling up the duvet and saying, 'I can't do this.'
Have you read Sue Townsend's book, The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year? I bought it for Katy for Christmas. I haven't read it yet but I take the sentiment to heart. Bed is the place for me. Some years ago I bought myself a large expensive bed and a large expensive mattress. When all else fails I do the Marian Keyes bit and have duvet days. The joys of working at home. I remember hearing about one guy who used to do his ironing naked while doing a radio show. You could be playing Angry Birds, I know I do. It knocks all the aggression out of me without involving anyone else.
Also I listen to Rebus.Does Bill Paterson have the sexiest voice on earth or is it just that I am a sucker for  his northern accent, having one myself though not nearly as attractive as his. Edinburgh ain't Durham. I think we speak here what they call low Scottish. Do other people notice these things?  Writers do of course, even the slightly deaf ones like me.
 When Katy was little we used to play a game when the adverts came on television. Whose voice is it?  I alter my voice all the time. Not necessarily consciously, I just pick up the cadences of other people's speech. I wish it meant I could speak other languages but it doesn't seem to work that way. Six years of french at school and I have about two dozen words.
When I go back to Tow Law, the pit town I grew up in, I'm indecipherable to the world beyond. In London I'm being professional and upgrade it a whole load. When I give talks I try to be their writer. I can be pet and love and ducks and even darling but not flower. I hate flower.
When I was a journalist at twenty I had a horrible boss and he had this awful sarcastic way of making me feel incompetent by referring to me over the telephone as flower. I wasn't the world's best journalist but I was not much older than a kid and could have done with a bit of encouragement. However, I did learn later that he left journalism and went off to run a post office and somehow that made me feel better, at least he wasn't bullying some other cub reporter.
I went off journalism, I hated the way it went round and round. My writing goes round and round too but since I have no idea how the process works I'm still fascinated and glad to be in the circle and glad now to to be in the facebook circle and the twitter - can you call it a circle?
Pigeons fly round and round. When I lived in Crook which isn't far away from here I used to go down to the river with my springer spaniel Timmy and walk him there and on sunny days the pigeons would be out of their crees and flying in circles in the sunlight white and silver. I love the sound of pigeons cooing and of gulls crying. It makes me think of my favourite places,  countryside and seaside. And pheasants up in Weardale where my family comes from, they make that lovely hoarse sound as they strut about the fields. the most incongruous or birds, they look like exotic visitors. I love birds so yes, I think I'm going to like Twitter if I ever get the hang of it.