Thursday, 27 March 2014

Mothering Sunday

That's what it used to be called. It was the day when the servant girls got time off to go home to see their mothers. Now it has turned into a Retail Fest where the shops take money from our hot little hands from guilt. Move over, Valentine's Day, Easter Chocolate Bunnies and even wretched expensive Christmas. Why did such lovely festivals turn into such a travesty?
The trouble is that I can remember my mother being cross with us when we fussed and I didn't get it. Now that I am a mother I am angry at the shops and those who sell us this day as being the one day in the year when we regard our mothers as special.
My mother and I'm sure yours was always dear to me and I see now why she thought it was such a bad idea. None of my friends likes it. We want our children to know that we are aware they love us without flowers and chocolates. I adore my daughter and I know how much she loves me but even so, even though she is stressed in her life and at work and only gets one day off she was ready to belt up the M1 for the sake of a few hours with me. Perhaps these things are unexplainable. We have Guy Fawkes and Treat or Treat and even Baby Showers, and Stag and Hen does which last four days and cost a fortune and the Prom at school. Dear God. Let's blame America, they get blamed for most other things.
Here I must confess an interest. My book is promoted in Asda this week as a Mother's Day special priced at £2. Perhaps it's a case of if you can't beat them join them but I am going to drive my Fiat Panda, Pumphrey, down the M6 so that my daughter doesn't have to come to me and the money I spend on my journey will hopefully be paid for the books that sell on Mother's Day. Money makes the world go round or was that love?

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Dad's Army

When I was a small child we had what we called The White Cupboard just outside our bathroom. It had in more snobby days been the linen cupboard but my family had stuffed this place with all the things they didn't want. It was to me at seven a treasure trove. It had shelves and I could stand on them and reach up to the top, I think at one time I even climbed into the top of the cupboard and there I discovered riches. My aunt's Queen Alexandra nursing uniform from when she was in Greece during the second world war. My dad's sergeant's uniform for what became the home guard.

On tv tonight was a fast talking Victoria Wood introducing a programme all about the making of Dad's Army. My dad was in the home guard because he was in a reserved occupation, making steel for the ships. When I was a little kid people were that damned glad to be alive they didn't talk about the war.

By the time Dad's Army was made thirty years ago war was a memory but I didn't realise that so many of the cast had been in the second world war and some of them had bitter memories of it. How lovely to be able to make comedy about such a hard thing, how intelligent, how superb. The writers of course had been through the war and it was their inspiration. War makes good copy. Victoria Wood didn't actually say that but a people in crisis is a good place for art and she also said very pertinently that writing about the past meant that it didn't date, so even now, thirty years on from the making and even though many of the cast has died there it is fresh and lovely. Isn't that what writers do best for us?  They make us laugh and cry about the hardest times of our lives?

Ian Lavender who played Pike said that people would shout across the road to him the week after the writers had coined their best phrases, 'Stupid boy!' and my own favourite which we still quote to one another 'Don't panic, Mr Mannering'.

I also like how when they went on location people knew the weather would be good and booked their holidays. There were shots of the cast and their wives. Wives were wives those days, sitting about, bringing cups of tea and what the cast really cared for was 'the cheque at the end of the week'. Isn't that what we all want, to do something which we think is fine and good and be paid for it?

Lately I have been watching Sherlock. I know, I know, everybody else saw it when it was on and knew it was brilliant but I write in the evenings and missed it. It has all the same characteristics as Dad's Army. It's witty and innovative and the best thing I have seen in years. The writers are fearless, obviously having such a good time and revelling in their talent. And it too is about war, good versus evil.  I liked best the episode of the Wedding. Wow, minds at large. The construction was so good I shall watch it again and again, just like I always watch Inspector Morse. Some things never die. And unlike old soldiers and thankfully for modern technology, they don't fade away.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

A book is a book is a book.

Philip Pullman was on Radio 4 this morning being asked whether children were being encouraged to read 'serious' books. God, I hate that. Philip Pullman replied that it would have been a great help if we still had school library services and if other libraries were not closing and it makes me boil. Why does the government think children are getting fat and not reading? It couldn't have anything to do with the fact that the leisure centres and libraries are closed. Hello!
Philip Pullman is too nice to be rude, especially on Radio 4 so I'll be rude for him. Stop talking about 'serious' books. Children know what they want they want to read, what is right for them. Reading is supposed to be a pleasure.
The hardest thing about being a child is how powerless you feel. People spend your whole life telling you what to do. It's awful being a child, being shoved about while adults crap all over your life. For God's sake leave the the children alone, let them read what they want.
I can remember being eight and my teacher Miss Bainbridge reading us a Famous Five book. Wow. I thought this was the best story in the whole world and promptly read all of them and then the Secret Seven. There are no adults in these books. Enid Blyton knew her stuff. She got rid of them all at the beginning and best was that George had her own island. I wanted one.
I remember the little library in Tow Law which I joined when I was seven, tiny, so exciting, choosing for myself.
I remember discovering Winnie the Pooh. Has there ever been better dialogue?  And I had aunties and friends and they would buy me hard backed books. Nobody ever told me what I should read, they didn't check on me, I devoured book after book. On Saturdays, Min, who looked after me would take me on the bus to Bishop Auckland and we would buy books from the market and pens and  notebooks from Woolworth's. Reading was and is always for me escape from the awful things that life throws at me. Books are for  whatever you want. That's you, the reader, whatever age you are.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Spring has sprung, the grass is riz

Well, not quite but I do have a mat of crocuses - you can't call it a carpet because apparently I have mice in my garden and according to Howard, they were hungry and ate my crocuses. Did they have shovels, since the crocuses had been nicely covered with soil and turf ?  So here and there a nice little batch of yellow, white and purple and in other places nothing. Crocus bulbs. I wonder if it's anything like onions? So now I probably have mice with bad breath in the back.
Better than rats. We did have a rat at one point when the new school buildings were in construction across the way. I don't know whether the builders or the children left food around but one took to sitting on my patio like it had stopped at the drive in at Mcdonald's.
And one night there I was eating dinner and drinking Shiraz and writing on my lap top in my little garden room and eager eyes gazed at me from the double glass doors. It was a fox. I think it was badly hurt, perhaps it had been run over. When I opened the door it retreated to the back of the garden so there was obviously no way I could catch it, take it to the vet. So I went to the fridge and took out two cooked M&S chicken breasts and put them on the patio and it came and ate them and limped away. I still keep dog food in, hoping it may come back.
Am I the only person in the world who never sits in the garden? It's very pretty out there, lots of grass, the flowers I chose and Howard makes it all so pretty. I sit inside and look at it from there. I did buy garden chairs and a table and a parasol but somehow when you're on your own it seems so bloody daft to sit in the garden. When I'm in it it has the same appeal as a morgue.
When I go to my caravan I sit on my balcony but only when the people in the caravans in front and to the side are there.  Mostly they are and it's a lot more sociable at the caravan. In Durham I have to go out for companionship. At the caravan I can see my neighbours around.
Living on your own is hard work but I would kill before I lived with anybody else. And let's be honest nobody has offered!
My caravan site is opening this month and I am very excited about going up there and cleaning and setting up for the summer. I get pheasants outside and sheep and cattle when the grass is thick and long. There are blackbirds and blue tits and wrens and Jake, the little Jack Russell who lives next door.
Every year I plan to do lots of things and then all I do is sit on my balcony and read and drink tea or cold white wine. I don't read half as much at home. There my caravan waits for me. We call her Ruby. I have a library, most of them books from the charity shop in Stanhope. People in the dale are amazing readers. You can get everything.
I'm hoping for a good summer, so that I can sit and dream while the pheasants plod through the fields and the summer evenings are pink and purple when the sun sets and I think about my mam and dad and their families, the places where they worked and the pub where my parents met and the days when my dad's motorbike used to roar up the dale before they were married. I feel closer to them when I'm up there, almost like time is endless.