Tuesday, 19 September 2017

There's a Lizard under my bed

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

Friday, 25 August 2017

I'm full up with education

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

Saturday, 19 August 2017

To diet or not to diet, that is the question

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

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Somebody's Great Aunt Lives Here (Two )

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

Friday, 14 April 2017

Shall I stop?

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

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Roes are Red, violets are blue. Bugger off Valentine

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

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Fish climbing trees

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

Thursday, 5 January 2017

PTSD and what happens afterwards

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