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.