Monday, 28 December 2009

This is How it's Supposed to be

A seven-year-old boy I know said to me:

"This is how it's supposed to work: Men look after babies and women do all the cleaning. But in this house it's the other way round."

Me: "Well actually, some people say women should look after the babies AND do all the cleaning AND do all the cooking."

7-yr-old: "Eh? But that wouldn't be fair!"

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Quite Striking

I was handed a book last night, and challenged to find a single paragraph that made explainable sense.

I tried, and I failed. But I did find this gem of a sentence, which I read out loud several times because it was so tongue-warmingly nonsensical:

"Liberal cultural studies' enthusiastic misrecognition of the media-marketing apparatus as the supplier of malleable symbolic material to an autonomous, creative plurality external to itself - a theoretical development that occurred at the same time as the countercultural icon of the 'cool individualist' was replacing the responsible collectivist - is quite striking."

It's the pay-off that I love the most. "- is quite striking!" We were all in agreement that something was most definitely striking, we just weren't sure what. Granted we were a little drunk on tequila, pomegranates, port and stilton. I expect we could have made some meagre sense out of it if we'd tried hard enough. But that would have spoilt the fun.

Friday, 11 December 2009


Like the great big sugar-coated fool that I am, I volunteered to "help out" with a local production of a musical, and suddenly find myself in charge of all the blimmin' music. Help!

It's called Ocean High and is a Grease-a-like with a soundtrack consisting entirely of 80s pop songs. They were all in the charts when I was a teenager, or in some cases even younger, and I am becoming awash with nostalgia. Material Girl, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Footloose, all get me gazing into the middle distance and remembering the excitement, the angst, the sheer giddy giggliness of being 13. And then the other day, preparing for a rehearsal, I clicked through to a YouTube recording of Video Killed the Radio Star, and found myself in tears. It's just such a great song, and I loved it so much when I was ten. And I'd just been (rather foolishly, I suspect) looking at a satellite pic of my grandparents' old house, which hosted so many happy childhood memories and has now been turned into a sock factory (a sock factory!).

I was ten!! It's so long ago. 30 years ago. THIRTY YEARS! And what really gets me is that when I was a kid, various pop songs from the 50s and 60s made comebacks, and they were great (all that Motown and Atlantic Soul) but very old. Very much part of the past - the kind of thing that old-fashioned people once listened to. And now there's a whole new generation thinking that way about me and my youth, and I just can't get my head round it. Partly because I was quite sniffy about the 80s when I lived through them and I still can't think of them as cool, not in the same way that the 50s and 60s seemed cool to me. How can shoulder pads, big hair and rara skirts compete with teddy boys, leather and psychedelia? But partly because... it's not old! It was only yesterday. Wasn't it?

Monday, 7 December 2009


There's a bunch of rather lovely and unkempt women over here on being, well, unkempt.

I recommend.

Personally I am permanently unkempt, to the extent that my employer gave me a mild ticking off about it today. How I manage to get washed and dressed at all is a bit of a mystery. It's not unusual for me to drag myself up after four hours' sleep (and I'm a woman who needs her slumber). My baby son is teething, and I'm struggling to remember why the hell I'm putting myself through all this.

I think it's known as challenging. And it'll get even harder in the new year.

Being unchallenged is looking a lot more attractive than it did before. This is the hardest thing I've ever tried to do.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Suspicious Requests


I have a client for whom I'm looking to purchase advertising from quality websites. I've had a look at your site at and think that it would be a good match for our client, whose target demographic is similar to your own.

We would be interested in purchasing advertising in the form of a text-based link on your site. To reduce unnecessary administrative costs we prefer to pay a fixed annual upfront fee for such advertisements. Once the ad has been placed, payment can be made quickly by PayPal or check.

Please let me know if the above is of any interest to you. Thanks in advance."

How odd to send a request like this without even hinting at what the product in question is. Surely nobody would say Yes without knowing what they were going to be advertising? And how likely would it be that, given that I currently have no advertising at all, I would want to have just one advert for this product? It would surely make it look as though my blog was a cover, whose real purpose was to advertise this thing (whatever it is), which would just make people suspicious and unwilling to read on?

People are funny. I won't be taking them up on their offer. Not that I even have a clue what it is.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Bad Squirl

I am a bad bad squirrel. There you all are, visiting my world-wide-web-log in your dozens, saying delightful things in my Designated Commenting Area, and I am ignoring you all.

I don't mean to, and I don't want to, it's just that my new career is living up to all the dire warnings I was given. Rather impressively, in fact. It sucks the very marrow from my bones.

It's still the right thing for me to do.

But it is also all-consuming, and I am consumed.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Chaos Hour

There is this hour every day, after the kids have come home, before their dad appears, when suddenly everybody is shouting in my ear, wanting stuff which I struggle to provide.

The baby wants boob and a cuddle. The child wants his tea. The dog paws at me with her unclipped claws, demanding moist chunks of meaty goodness. The phone rings, the doorbell clangs, and all of this waits until I am changing a stinky nappy, about which the baby is complaining vociferously. And then the sausages / fish fingers / unhealthy chunks of easily-cooked junk catch fire, just as my fingers are covered in poo.

I don't like that hour very much.

Smells of Wee

I got knocked off my bike this morning. I'm fine. The bike wasn't, but the car driver gave me a wodge of cash, which I gave to the bike shop, and the bike now has a shiny new wheel.

The driver also arranged for her husband to pick me up from work and take me and the broken bike home again. He had a van, which was handy. But it smelt of wee.

I was intrigued by this wee-smellingness. Why did his van smell of wee? Was he incontinent? Did he know someone who was? Was he an alcoholic? Was he in the habit of giving lifts to random smelly strangers? Or maybe...

What if he and his wife were Manchester's answer to Fred and Rosemary West? She lies in wait on side roads, waiting for women cycling to work. She drives into them, slowly and gently, careful not to harm them. She gives them money, then arranges for her husband to pick them up later in his van. He wouldn't really take me home at all. He would take a sudden wrong turning and drive me to his house, or one of those desolate industrial wastegrounds of which there are so many, and then he would do horrible things, so horrible I would piss myself in fright.

He didn't though. He took me home, and was blessedly silent throughout. We listened to the radio. And smelt the wee.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


I have identified a pattern. I'm pleased. I like patterns.

Thing is, I like the idea of being good at stuff. I want to be good at stuff.

I also like making lists.

So when I'm learning how to do something, I take notes. I make lists. For instance: Lists of things I need to remember / pay attention to when writing a first draft. Lists of things to do when editing. Lists of things to include in submissions. And so on.

So... guess what I have in my New Job folder? Yup. Lists of things I need to remember / do / include in order to be Very Good at my job. It seems so simple. All I have to do is follow my rules, and I will be brilliant!

But there are so many items on these lists. And it's one thing knowing I should be doing these things. I may even know how to do them. In theory. But in practice... well, that's just it. You can't carry hundreds of balls without practice, and lots of it. Which is fine and good and pretty bloody obvious really, but I'm impatient and keep forgetting that just because I've written everything down in a list doesn't mean I can do it all.

I pick one ball up, I drop another.

And then I look at my list and I say to myself, Look at that! Look at that list! It's enormous! How will I ever master those things? It's impossible! I'm rubbish!

And yes, I do think in exclamation marks.

Time to pat myself on the head and say such things as "There there," "All in good time" and "Chill out gel."


Saturday, 7 November 2009


Me and a 7-yr-old I know were playing the game where you have to try and trick your opponent into saying the word "Yes". He had held out for ages, then he said: "You'll never catch me out."
"Are you sure we can't catch you out?" said I.
"Yes," said he.

And a little later...
"You do me now," said I.
"No, you do me," said he.
"Oh go on, do me," I said.
"No me," he said.
"Oh all right then," I said. "So I'm doing you then, yes?" I said.
"Yes," he said.

Hahaha. I love that he's old enough now for me to play proper games with him and not have to make concessions!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Stopping Anxiety Attacks

Advice on beating anxiety attacks.


A question for you: What is the thing you are most worried about, in terms of how others see you? What do you think that others think is your worst trait?

For me, it's being annoying. I guess that's a bit vague. I'll try and pin it down. Whenever I meet new people, I'm convinced that the majority of them find me annoying. Mainly because I have very few powers of self-censorship. I open my mouth, and stuff comes out. Loads of it. Constantly.

It's not that I'm particularly offensive. I do possess some powers of tact, some social skills. But there are two problems: (a) I get terribly enthusiastic about things that I've thought of, and once I've thought of them I have to express them. And I have no self-consciousness about speaking up in the presence of strangers. (b) The whole thing is magnified when I'm nervous. If I'm new to a bunch of people, I want to impress them, and I feel like I should do this by saying lots of stuff. And I forget to stop talking.

I do it in print too. If I join a new internet forum, for instance, rather than doing what most people do - which is to lurk for a while, get to know the feel of the place, build up the confidence to say a cautious hello - I just jump in with both feet and write a million long posts in quick succession.

In one spectacular recent example I alienated a whole internet forum, and my name is still quoted as a prime example of their worst member ever (I can't help it, I still lurk there - and recently someone said of another annoying member "He might be a bit bad, but he's no Beleaguered Squirrel"). It wasn't quite that simple - it was actually rather a horrible place, with a nasty culture, and I got picked on by the resident bully. But if I hadn't done that thing of leaping in at the start, shooting my mouth off and not censoring myself, it never would have happened.

Recently I've started a new job, and the usual paranoia is kicking in. In lots of ways it's gone really well. I've made several friends, who seem to genuinely like me. But I have this lurking suspicion that the majority of my colleagues regard me as intensely annoying. I don't even have any proof for that, apart from one email. I tried to organise a Friday night curry, suggesting that it would be nice to meet up for food and a natter - and got one response which simply said, "What's the point? You'll be the one doing all the talking." And then when I asked to join a Facebook group several colleagues belong to, I didn't get an instant response (by email) and was suddenly thinking, "Oh no, they don't want me to join because they've all been using it to moan about me!" Of course I then got the email inviting me to join and was obviously wrong about that.

But the worst thing about this kind of paranoia is deciding how to deal with it. Sometimes I tell myself, well duh. Rather than constantly agonising about this, why don't you start censoring yourself a little better, and remove the issue altogether? But other times I think, it's just paranoia. You're irrepressible, it's who you are, and it would be a shame to take that away from yourself. Yes, there'll always be people who are annoyed by you, but that would be the case whoever you were. Most people don't find you annoying, or not unbearably so, and those that do are obviously not the best choice of friend for you. And anyway if you were to ask people what they hate about you most, they'd probably come up with something completely different, that you hadn't even thought of.

The problem is that, as long as I keep vacillating between these two mutually-opposed positions (change yourself, accept yourself), nothing will ever be resolved.

So what about you? What is the thing about yourself that makes you wince, when those unwelcome memories pinch you in the small hours?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

One More and Then I'll Shut Up (Maybe)

Nicola Morgan has written a great post here about my situation in particular, but also in general about the life of the struggling author.

In attempt to wrap it all up, I'd say that money was the biggest killer for me. Writing gradually stopped being something I wanted to do after it became something I was trying to earn a living from. That's a simplistic view because there was other stuff going on, but I do think it was the main factor.

Also I think it's very tempting to imagine that your life would be wonderful if only you could spend all your time doing your hobby - particularly if your day job isn't making you happy. I was trying to be a mother, a writer and a full-time worker-in-an-office and I couldn't do it, so I thought I could remove one of those and then everything would be all right. I thought I needed more time alone, more time at home, less busy-busy stress. I've since realised that I rather thrive on getting out of the house and being busy. I was just in the wrong job.

And for me, for now, writing is something that ought to be a hobby and nothing more. I do suspect that most artistic endeavours suffer from having to provide an income, but I know many writers who are full time and happy that way, so I won't push that one.

Right. My new job - which I rather love - involves a lot of late nights at my computer, so I'd better get back to it.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Wrong Focus

That Debi Alper, she's very wise:

"I think you're focusing on the negative aspects of being an author - and there are plenty, but as with anything in life, if they become too prominent EITHER something practical has to change OR you need to switch internal focus.

Seems to me from this post that writing had become (whether by accident or design) a means of seeking money - always a Very Bad Idea - you know that only a tiny number of ostensibly successful authors actually make a living from selling books. And also, because of everything else that was going on, a means of seeking validation. But the problem with that is that it's out of your control. It means you're relying on others to make you feel good.

All of that stuff is not a good reason for writing and I'm convinced they weren't your real reasons but it all started getting mixed up so it was impossible to see what was really going on.

I DO believe you're a good writer.
I DO believe that if you ever come back to it (not gonna say I'm sure you will cos that will really annoy you!) you would eventually achieve a deal. Look - you already had a book published here, another in a foreign country, and (no matter what happened) impressed an agent enough to take you on.

There are plenty of writers who would give teeth for that amount of validation."

She might have a point.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A Cautionary Writer's Tale

Hmm. My mind has been hijacked by Being A Writer mutterings, and I want to unpick it all. So here's an attempt to describe the thing, and where it all went wrong.

I started writing ten years ago, at the age of 30, with little warning. Along with millions of others, I'd always thought I might write a book (but probably wouldn't). And then... I dunno. My life was stagnant, my job was boring. I wanted to stretch my creative muscles. I arranged a weekly day of spare time, and started to write.

I expected it to be harder than I expected it to be, and it was. Often like trying to pull a dead cat through my own gut. But I'd said I was writing a book, and I'm stubborn like that, so I kept going. I didn't know what I was writing about, I started from scratch a gazillion times, I took a year out to have a baby. But eventually I had three good-ish chapters, which I sent to a few dozen agents and publishers. Who, of course, sent it back. They were the worst, or the best, kind of rejections. The "you're talented, but..." kind. I got a bit fed up, and slowed down. But then I thought, sod it. What the heck. So it'll never see the light of day, so what? I've started so I'll finish. And I did. And rather spookily, within 24 hours, I got The Call. From a (small but well-regarded) publisher I'd long since given up on, asking to have my book.

It was the best thing that ever happened. Validation of the highest order, and I floated around on an I'm-so-great cloud for well over a year after that. I threw everything into publicity. I had two launches. I started a blog. I founded a small community of fellow writers. I started the second book. Which was, of course, more difficult than I expected. I rewrote several times. But eventually, it was ready.

And then came the hard part again. The first book was out of print, as the publisher had ceased trading. I needed an agent. I sent the book out to dozens of them, and the responses were similar to the first time around. "Shows great potential, but..." I got further this time though. Some of the reasons for rejection were good ("I'd really love to but I already have a client with a similar book"), and then finally I found someone who loved and adored my baby, and was raring to show it to the world. Woohoo!

I was never convinced the book was that great, but I never am. Sometimes I thought it was pretty cool. And somebody who appeared to know what they were talking about was telling me it was only a matter of time.

So I waited. And waited. And a year later, I got the call... to tell me the book was being published... in another country, translated into their language. This was good news, and I was pleased, but it wasn't the main event. The real prize was publication in my own country, and I was assured that this was close. In the meantime there would be more foreign-territory deals. I laughed at how funny it would be, if my book was never available in its own tongue. I laughed because I didn't think it would happen.

When I was younger, I had various creative interests. Music and acting were the big ones. I knew many people who didn't attempt to get "proper" jobs, and threw everything into trying to make it big as actors, artists, musicians. They never got anywhere. I scorned them. I was highly practical, hated uncertainty, got on with the serious business of getting an education and a job. Being sensible.

And then I was published... and started to dream of being a full time writer. My job didn't fit well around my writing career, and then I had a kid and it didn't go well with that either. My shorter working hours meant that the best work was always given to someone else. Maybe... if I got a decent book deal or three... maybe one day I could make a living from my art? Wouldn't that be something?

I wanted another child, I didn't want to face motherhood AND financial insecurity... so I hatched a vague plan. I decided to finish the second book before trying for another kid, in the hope that it might find some lucrative publishing deals in the meantime, and by the time the baby arrived I might be in a position to give up work. If not, no problem. I would go back to my job.

And then it all went wrong. I had a miscarriage. I was made redundant.

Suddenly I found myself, jobless and babyless, unwilling to look for new work because I knew I might get pregnant again, and with a large redundancy payment burning a hole under the mattress.

So I thought... well, I do have this foreign book deal after all. It might not be much, but it's something. And the agent says there are bound to be a flood of other deals coming through any minute now...

I did it. I became a full time writer.

But it wasn't planned. I didn't know what I was doing. I was grieving for a lost baby. I was trying to get pregnant. I couldn't decide what my priorities were. Should I be working on book three? Trying to get freelance work? If so, what kind? Journalism? Short stories? Erotica? Live blogging? I had a spreadsheet listing ways I might earn money from writing. It contained over 20 items, and none of it seemed urgent because of that redundancy money and the fact that I might have to drop it all if I got knocked up (at which point previous health issues were likely to kick in and prevent me from working).

So I faffed and fiddled and did fuck all, and then I was preggers again and it all faded into the background for a while.

Until I found myself, nearly 40, with another baby and no job or income, supposedly a full time writer, but still with no clear idea or plan, and no new effing book deals.

I arsed about some more, flitting from one project to another, trying to do all the peripheral writing stuff (networking, self promotion, the stuff you can spend your whole life on without seeing tangible benefits).

There was so much uncertainty.

Promotion. For my first book I plastered myself everywhere I could think of. I did book tours, book festivals, multi-media launches, the internet. My Great Moment was when I hit the mainstream media in a big way, myself and my book presented positively to an audience of millions... and as far as I can tell, it resulted in less than 10 book sales. Possibly none at all.

My time and effort were impossible to quantify. What was worthwhile? Was anything? It was paralysing. I would spend a week researching women's magazine fiction, only to realise that success would take months or even years and might not happen at all. The same applied to everything I thought of. And I still wasn't earning.

The publication date in the foreign country came and went without anyone notifying me. There were no author interviews. This was standard, according to my agent. There was nothing I could do about it. There was no feedback at all, no validation, nothing like the stuff I got with my first book. It felt like I didn't exist.

And I was running out of money, and I was suffering from mild post-natal depression, and I didn't know who I was.

And then I lost my agent, after months of rumbling problems.

I made some attempts to find a new one, but nobody was interested in flogging a book that had already been shown to most of the UK publishers, who - again (it's getting familiar) - said many nice things about it... followed by "No", "Sorry" and "No."

A couple of Amazon reviews appeared. They weren't positive. I'm not a person who pays that much attention to reviews, but this is the only feedback I had. Nobody I knew could read the damn thing. Nobody could stroke my ego*.

I couldn't even blog about it. I had to remain upbeat for the sake of all those publishers (from all over the frickin' world) googling me. Constantly trying to sell myself, constantly failing... it doesn't do much for your ego.

And then I rebelled. Fuck it, I thought. I've had enough. I need an income, I need validation, I need structure to my life, certainty... I need to know what I'm fucking well doing.

So I gave it all up, switched careers entirely.

The new path I've chosen makes it impossible for me to write, or even admit that I'm an author. Was this some subconscious decision? Burning my bridges? Running away from it all in a massive great sod-you sulk?

Yes. It probably was.

And it still makes me sad, when I think of what I've lost. But what I've gained - for the moment at least - is better than what I had. And I know I'm still bitter and smarting, and I know I'm acting like a spoilt child, but the publishing industry can be a horrible, life-sucking beast. And though I miss being able to think of myself as A Writer, I also don't miss it at all.

*Before any polyglots start offering to read the book and say nice things... don't. Because I no longer believe in it. And I suspect the translation is bad. And it would be so horrible if you read it and hated it.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009



I dunno if it's cos I been ill this week and am having that post-ack downness thing, or because I found a one-star review of my book on Amazon (to accompany the three-star one, and between the two of them adding up to the only feedback received from the reading public), or because despite my best efforts to gag myself, I keep scattering pessimistic little moaners all over the web about how rubbish it is being a writer and how glad I am (which is clearly not true) that I no longer am. Or temporarily amn't. Or whatever.

Are you following me? Probably not. I do think that becoming a full-time writer was a bad decision, that I'm better off not doing it any more, that it wasn't doing me any good. But I'm also prepared to accept that my ongoing bitterness re the whole subject may be a tad subjective, and there were other life factors involved in me giving it up. And I really don't think it's fair of me to keep harping on about it to other writers who are quite happy doing what they do, and why the hell shouldn't they be? I'm just in a massive childish sulk about not getting a UK book deal and, crucially, not getting attention.

I do feel I can't write, that my books got progressively worse instead of better, that I won't ever feel motivated to properly finish my third book and go through the wearisome slog of finding an agent and a publisher and then selling my soul to the devil for the price of a cup of tea.

I find myself hollow-chuckling whenever I see writers expressing optimism. Ha, I think. You'll learn. I hate myself for thinking like that, and even more for expressing it. Whine moan whinge. Shut up, woman.

But I have a tendency to make dramatic statements and decisions, to throw infants and waste H2O merrily in the same direction without a thought as to whether they'll have a soft landing or not. I'll probably write again. I'll probably stop sulking at some point. I might even reconsider the whole publication hamster wheel. But I do suspect that the happiest writers are those who never even contemplate publication, and only do it for fun.

If only that were me.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Let Me Entertain You

...or maybe not.

I've been noticing for a while now (I suspect since having my second child, though I might be wrong) that my capacity to write entertaining blog posts has seemed... diminished. Not that I can't do it, but that it takes more effort, happens less often, is less likely to be spontaneous. I've also noticed that my comments on other people's blogs have become much less humorous, much more procedural. Responding literally and directly to questions asked, making helpful points, but not being as entertaining as I believe I once was. Or maybe I never was. I dunno.

I was thinking about this because recently I've joined Facebook (under my real name), and suddenly find myself updating it, and checking it, much more than the blog. And I notice that some people are witty / entertaining / erudite on Facebook, whereas I... just give very factual - and not particularly interesting unless you're my friend and want to know about my life - descriptions of what I'm up to. And this seems to be how I want to use the internet at the moment. Not as a way of getting attention, just as a way of keeping in touch.

And as for my ability to entertain... it seems a bit lacking. This may be because I've lost my mojo. Or maybe I'm just too tired. Or maybe all my creative energies are going in a different direction (the new career). Whatever. I dunno.

I discovered (I think - it may be a namey-likey) someone I knew on Facebook today, and sent them a friend request. But afterwards I thought... what did I do that for? Because when I say I "know" them, I lie. In fact they are a prominent blogger whose blog I admire and occasionally comment on, but apart from that we have minimal interaction and I know very little about them. Likewise they me. They're the kind of person I'm eager to impress, and they'd have no reason to be interested in the kind of updates I tend to put on Facebook. This reinforced for me that Facebook is the first internet tool I'm not using as a look-at-me-aren't-I-clever device. It's more of a don't-look-at-me-but-i-just-ate-a-cheese-sandwich thing.

I suppose this was a very long way of saying this blog is liable to stay dusty indefinitely, and if you are my friend and want boring factual updates on my life, feel free to do the Facebook friend request thing, but be warned - I'm keeping it private and am trying not to add people as friends unless I know them quite well. It's a funny balance though. Not easy to get right.

Update: Haha, I should know by now that whenever I write an "I'm not going to do much blogging" post, I end up doing loads of blogging.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Split Life

This afternoon, I'm experiencing an unexpected break in my Hectic New Life. I had a weird 12-hour illness yesterday which sent me straight to bed without passing Go, and although I managed to get myself to work today, I've had to accept I wasn't capable of much else, so instead of the usual Get a Million Things Done In All Spare Moments attitude, I'm chilling out and catching up on the internet. Which means getting to really savour not only Mike (Troubled Diva)'s posts about his stint on the Trafalgar Square plinth last week, but watching / listening to the whole thing while simultaneously writing a blog post. Seriously though, you should watch him. It's inspirational. It's made me both grin (very widely) and cry.

But what about my Hectic New Life, I hear you cry? Well. It's pretty brilliant, actually. Hard-ish, but nowhere near as hard as it's going to be later in the year. It's great to be getting out of the house every day, to have a structure and purpose to my life again. I really don't think I'm suited to the freelance life, cerrtainly not when it mostly consists to being on my own at my desk. The weird thing is that I always knew this, and never attempted to send my life down that route, always preferring to have a job and stating very confidently that I wouldn't enjoy being self-employed. What can I say? I was probably right. And, just in case any of you out there are contemplating it... I do think that it's a particularly bad idea to set yourself up as a freelance immediately after having a baby. It seems as though it would make sense, but really it doesn't. After childbirth you need to get up, get out, move on - not hang around at home. But anyway. Lesson learnt.

And the new career... arrrgh. I know it's sensible not to write about it in public. I know that in the long run - or even the short - I could get myself into trouble. I also know that for similar reasons it was the right decision to keep quiet about being a novelist when chatting to new colleagues. But it's so odd. I've split myself in two. And yes, I feel negatively abotu my writing career at the moment, but it's not a healthy negativity and shouldn't be encouraged. But this business of not even telling people about it just reinforces all those negative feelings. It's a part of who I am. An important part. It's not good to have to bury it like this. When people ask what I've done up to now, I tell them I was a software engineer for twelve years, then took a couple of years out to have a baby. When people express surprise at my ability to write many words fast, I can't explain the one big reason why I'm well qualified to do just that. And here, where I can talk about being a writer... I can't talk about the new career. Even though it's dead interesting and I've proud of it (which is also how I feel about the writing, on good days)... well. Argh.

I keep toying with the idea of making this blog private, or starting a new completely anonymous blog, but either one of those could easily backfire, and anyway I don't really have time for blogging much any more.

Oh well.

Mike is still boogeying in the background, but I'll have to pause him now while I walk the dogs. Hmm. Pausing two separate things simultaneously: Not really possible. Never mind, will create an interesting phase shift on resumption. I have to see that water bottle moment!

Sorry I haven't been around much lately, but apparently blogging is dead anyway so I guess it doesn't matter! :O) Everybody else is Twittering and Facebooking and Spotifying and YouTubeing and all that other stuff I never have time for. I'm such a dinosaur.

This was a very floppy blog post. Everybody do a Floppy Dog Dance in tribute.

Friday, 11 September 2009

The Poking Stick

7-yr-old: "What's this, Mum?"

Mum: "Oh, blimey! Oh! Er... It's a toy. But it's broken. I need to throw it away."

[Mum puts it in the bin]

7-yr-old: "A toy? What does it do? Can I see?"

Mum: "Oh, er, no. It's broken."

7-yr-old: "Is it for poking people?"

Mum: "Um... Yes. Yes, it's a poking toy. But it's broken. And it's only for grownups."

7-yr-old: "How does it work? Does it do tickling too? Can I have a look?"

Mum: "Oh dear, this bin's full. Actually they're all full. I need to empty the bins."

[Mum empties the bin, hiding the poking toy in the process]


7-yr-old: "We're making milkshakes."

Mum: "Oh, really?"

7-yr-old: "Yes, look. We're using your toy! Did you know it vibrates?"

Mum: "Oh dear."

7-yr-old: "Look!"

Mum: "Yes, I see. Er. Um. Now... You see, I was going to talk to you about this. The thing is..."

[whirr, whirr, splish, splish]

7-yr-old: "Yes?"

Mum: "You know how I have periods?"

7-yr-old: [silent] [all whirring has ceased]

Mum: "You know, once a month, when the lining of my womb, where babies grow..."

7-yr-old: [silence]

Mum: "It sheds. And sometimes I have to plug it up..."


[that night]

Mum: " I told him it was some kind of vaginal stopper."

Dad: "Ha!"

Mum: "Do you think I went too far? Is that too close to the truth?"

Dad: "Or maybe just close enough."


7-yr-old: "I found my mum's plug."

7-yr-old's friend's mum: "Oh, really? What kind of plug?"

7-yr-old: "Well, it's white and it keeps the blood in."

Mum: "Ah, I see."

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Bum Byage

"Bum byage," said a 7-yr-old I know recently.

There was a pause, and then he continued.

"I don't actually know what that means," he said.

"Neither do I," I said.

"I think it's something sailors say," he said.

"Oh!" I said. "You mean bon voyage."

Another 7-yr-old I know was with me in the car as I drove down windy country lanes after a rainstorm, gleefully speeding through all the largest puddles and aiming to make the biggest splash possible.

"This is fun," he said. "Can I do it again?"

"Yes if you want," I said. "I've got to go back to get the others anyway."

"No," said the first seven-year-old. "He means come on holiday with us again."

"Oh I'm sorry," I said. "I misunderstood."

"People always misunderstand me," said the second 7-yr-old.


"Yeah, it's cuz I don't really actually got the words to mean what I mean."

Monday, 31 August 2009

The Future Begins Here

I start my new career tomorrow.


In other news, I have decided to stop whingeing about my writing career, after a few conversations which went something along the lines of...

- How are you?

- Oh well, you know, my life is a disaster, I'm a failure...

- How so?

- Well, I got published in a foreign country, and it's all really awful...

- But you got published?

- Well yes, but it's all in foreign, and...

- But people can still read it?

- Yes, but I have no money and I have a baby and now I have to go and start a completely new career and I won't have any time to write at all and I'll have to give it up...

- Forever? You're saying you'll never have time to write anything, ever, in your whole life?

- Well, I can probably start again in a year or two, but I failed to make a living out of writing, and yadda yadda money... numbers of book sales...

- Is that why you write? To make money and sell thousands of books?

- Well no, but if you want to do it full time you have to make a living out of it, and...

- But don't most creative people have to make money via other avenues? Isn't it better to do it for fun? Doesn't it ruin it to try and make money from it? Isn't it a bit arrogant to assume you ought to make a living from it?

- Er...

Saturday, 8 August 2009


Behind me in the queue at Netto, I heard a voice...

"Oh come on, some of us have got things to do."

I assumed he was referring to the woman in front of me, who was having some kind of issue with her receipt.

Then another voice chipped in:

"It's not my fault, it's that Kevin, he's always doing it."

OK... so it's nothing to do with the woman in front. It's two people having a conversation with each other.

The conversation continued - the first guy complaining about various stuff, the second guy making various justifications.

After I'd packed my bags and was leaving anyway, it was easier to turn round and look at them both. By now I was intrigued.

They were both on mobile phones. They weren't talking to the woman in front. They weren't even talking to each other.


Friday, 7 August 2009


I just found a pile of unopened mail which must have got buried under a load of crap when my other half cleaned the kitchen while I was away cycling with my son...

...and in amongst it was a royalty statement, dated 30.6.09, which is only three weeks after the foreign edition of my book was published... and after a bit of head-scratching over what any of it meant (cos it's mostly in foreign, and they do weird things with their decimal points and their commas)... according to the statement, at that point 3,186 copies had been sold! Eh?

Of course then I remembered what happened with my first book, which apparently earnt out its advance in the first 6 months and I got paid £43... only to get a negative statement 6 months later, when the bookshops returned all those unsold copies. So it might just be that 3,186 copies of the book have been sent out to bookshops. Who might not have sold any at all. Certainly it's not doing well on Amazon.

But still. It's kind of good news. I think. 3,186 copies! My first book only had a print run of 3,000 and sold less than a third of that.

for the benefit of rss and feeds and all that

I'm never quite sure how the feed stuff works, but just in case you don't get told when an existing post is updated... I just updated the previous post. So much so that you may as well call it a new post. Cos it's got, like, millions of new words in it an' everything.



Go back and read it again.

Cos it's different.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Beat This

Hmm. I haven't time to write a new blog post, but I didn't like the fact that this post was sitting at the top of my blog in its current form, so I've decided to edit it.

It started off like this:

"This made me cry, several times. In a good way. It's great."

...followed by this:

...and then I wrote this: "I got it from a new blog I discovered today called Vacant Wind. I like."

...which was true.

So why didn't I like it being here at the top? Two reasons, I think. No, three. And I reserve the right to come up with more as I go along. The first was that I'm not a big fan of blog posts which contain minimal original content and are mostly just links or references to stuff done elsewhere by others. So. Well. Here you go. I'm adding some original content, innit? Although not making any claims as to its quality. But anyway, moving swiftly on...

The second reason is almost the same as the first, but not quite... it's some kind of anti-sheep thing, I think. I baulk slightly at the idea of being identified as a fan. A fan of anything, I suppose, but particularly anything really really popular. Except that... I also get really annoyed by people being sniffy about stuff, just cos millions of other people like it too. Like when people refused to read Harry Potter purely on the basis that everyone else was reading it. Fine if you read it and then decide you don't like it, but sometimes, you know, when things are popular? It's cos they're good. So, um, I seem to have argued against myself on that one. Oh. Hmmm. No. Maybe I haven't. Because the point is that I don't tend to be a MASSIVE FAN of anything much, cos it seems to require suspending critical faculties. But I also don't like people taking against things purely because they're popular. Yes, that's it. But anyway, I was never a massive MJ fan. You know, I thought he was all right, and now that his best stuff is being aired all at once I realise he was really rather good, but the reason I posted that vid was nothing to do with being a Jackson fan or not. And that's not why I cried, either. And neither did I cry cos he's dead. It was the togetherness of it that made me cry. Lots of people, doing stuff together and making each other smile. People doing what people do best, which is cooperating. Entertaining. Making something bigger than the sum of its parts. And there were kids involved. People doing stuff together in large numbers, particularly spontaneous stuff... often makes my eyes water. But if there are kids involved? Sob city. But in a nice way. I have been known to go to other people's kids' nativity plays, just so I can do happy-sobbing. I guess I'm weird like that.

But anyway... the third reason of not liking the MJ vid staring me in the face every time I logged onto my own blog (not that I'm forever reading my own blog, just that I use it as an easy way of checking which of my favourite blogs have been updated)... the third reason was, that he may well have been a great musician and even though I wouldn't have called myself A FAN I still thought he was pretty talented and all that, BUT he was probably, almost certainly, a child abuser. And that's about the worst thing anyone could be, I reckon. And I didn't want anyone to think I was even slightly condoning that, in any way at all. Which I doubt anyone did. But, you know. In case you did. I don't.

Glad we got that cleared up. Now, where was I...

[wanders off with giant to-do list trailing behind her]

Then Again...

You could of course say that the reason my book hasn't been published in English is cos it's rubbish. It's a possibility. Or it could be the economy. Or maybe my agent was rubbish. Who knows? I certainly don't. But look at the lovely packaging!

I Have a Dream

So there I was, all miserable and Down With Writing and I'm Not Going To Be A Writer Any More Cos It's Rubbish, and Nobody Can Read My Book And I Don't Care, and then I went on holiday and had a nice time and my lovely not-quite-aunt was all nice to me and made me feel good about myself and I started thinking, maybe...

It's a dangerous word, I've been caught out before. I start out with maybe. I move on to a few perhapses, then a sprinkling of what-ifs, and before you know it I've got another Grand Plan. They start out small, and then get bigger...

It's like pushing a snowball uphill. I heave and I heave, and it gathers more material, and we get close to the top of the hill... and then two things are possible. I might stop to look at the view and get distracted while the plan goes over the top and down the other side. Sometimes I watch in dismay as it destroys itself and everything in its path. Sometimes I remain distracted and never find out what happened to it, wandering off in a different direction instead. But sometimes I find a little dip at the top of the hill, and roll it in. Then I surround it with smaller snowballs or pebbles, or maybe shore it up with sticks. I use fridges to keep it cool, and I start building it higher, making a face with lumps of coal or turning it into a giant snow tower. Finally I have something I'm happy with, sitting up there all nice with a spectacular view.

Anyway. What I thought was, it's a shame my book can't be read in English. There are plenty of people who want to read it. And maybe, in the tiny bit of time that's left before New Career, I could whack the book up on, give it a basic cover, and produce something basic for people to read? Just so they can?

But then I thought... if I did that, it would look pretty rubbish. And Lulu books in general, although handy for some purposes, are not the greatest quality. The covers are low-grade card and have a habit of curling, and there are often errors in production. So perhaps... I could create separate dust covers, on good quality paper... yeah, and I could make them really snazzy, with holes in strategic places to reveal the Lulu cover beneath in imaginative fashion, and I could wrap them in magic ribbon... cos the book is about the way magicians convince people of silly things... I could say that if you stroke the ribbon you'll become telepathic... because after all, if I'm going to produce the book myself, why not go to town? Why make something shoddy? But if I really went for it I'd have to have a proper book launch, cos it'd be a waste not to...

Hmmm, but this will take time and effort and money wot I haven't got... but to hell with it! Why not go All Out and make something really special! Why be in a rush? Wouldn't it be a shame to create something crap? Doesn't my book deserve more than that?

One of the problems with Being Published is that you have little say in what goes on. This makes sense to some extent: Marketing, cover design, typesetting etc, are all skilled areas which the author probably knows fuck all about. But you're also in competition with all those other thousands of writers, and it can be frustrating when your book doesn't get the attention or resources you think it deserves.

But... given that I've abandoned the idea of making a living from writing... and I'll soon have a proper income again... more than I need, in fact... why not put proper time and effort - and money - into producing a beautiful thing? Why not forget any notions of money-making or High Sales and focus instead on giving an enjoyable aesthetic experience to a small amount of people? Just for the hell of it? Selling thousands of copies is important if you're trying to make a living, and if you want Big Fame. But beyond that, what's the point? You can't get meaningful feedback from a high number of readers. The worry about sales figures bites deep into the fun and satisfaction of writing in the first place. Wouldn't it be better to forget all that and focus instead on making something lovely?

What if I set up a website called, somewhere people could come to help each other make Wonderful Things, with no attempt or expectation to make any money at all - indeed, with the assumption that it will cost them time, money and energy? Just because they can?

The ball was gathering so much snow, I was struggling to reach the hilltop. This website,, would take a lot of maintenance. It might become a draw for all those people so desperate to be published that they've lost sight of how to monitor the quality of their output, and would get pretty headachey very fast...

OK, let the snowball melt a little... go back to the core...

...which is the following two ideas:

(1) I wrote a book, I put a lot of effort into it, significant numbers of editors and agents liked it, it did get published after all (albeit in a foreign tongue)... and I think it's rather good. And I'd like it to be accessible, to people who speak my language. People I know.

(2) If I do it, I do it properly. It won't get big bucks spent on it by anyone else. The only chance it has of being beautifully packaged is if I do it. And why short-change it? If I'm in control of the process, why not make the most of it?

So, here's the plan: Over the next year or two, I'll design a beautiful object. I'll need help. I might have to pay people. But the priority will be on Making A Lovely Thing. And then when it's ready (in one year? two? who knows) I'll have two massive parties, just like I did for my first book. One in my home city and one in London. I'll tell everyone. I'll sell a few copies. I'll enjoy seeing them in people's hands. I'll make a massive loss, but I'll go to bed happy.

Will I reach the top of the hill? Will the snowball fall backwards and squash me flat, go careering in the wrong direction with my hands, feet and chin protruding at comic angles, dump me broken in a ditch with nothing to do but wait for it to melt? Will it go nowhere much at all; disintegrate on the first sunny day?

Fuck knows. But it's a nice little dream to smile about at bedtime.

That's enough for now.

(Then again...)


UpDown With Spam

I have a few short days of children-in-childcare left before some FullTimeMumitude, which will be followed by The New Career and busy-busy-busyness, so I'm trying to clear the decks and remove all commitments.

One small part of this is to reduce the volume of spam that lands in my inbox, so I don't have to delete it every day. I've done this by disabling the email address that gets the scam / penis-enhancing / weightloss-product rubbish, and then wading through all the unsolicited "newsletters" from people who once sold me some widget or other and clicking "unsubscribe". This in itself is a bit of a revelation: Every single one of these emails had a tiny-print unsubscribe link hidden somewhere within them, and they have all promised faithfully to remove me from their mailing lists. Whether they do or not will become evident in the next few days, but if they act on their word... who knew it was so easy! I should have done it months ago. Except...

Now I have no emails. None at all.

I feel lonely.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009


Thankyou for buying Dance Your Way to Psychic Sex.

Now. There was a time when skies were blue and grass was green and I had a snuggly thing called my smelling nightie, and I couldn't sleep without it wrapped around my nose, and sometimes it smelt of bacon, and... oh, sorry. Start again. There was a time when I had lovely plans to make all clever and fancy and get it to automagically tell you how many copies had been sold... but then my son got ill and my bones got tired and... whatever. I'm just not that clever, OK?

So please please please leave a comment below to tell the world that you have bought a book / some books. And then jump up and down and go on about how excited you are and how you can't wait and how you are running off now to tell all your friends to buy my book.

You can miss that last bit out if you want.

Feel free to be anonymous.


(NB if you are seeing this post via some kind of fancy rss wotsit, please ignore. This is for people who buy my book via, from 5th August onwards)

Friday, 24 July 2009


Incredibly, I don't have swine flu. Yet. But I do have several friends with it, so it's probably only a matter of time. So I am holding my breath and holding my breath amd hoping hoping hoping but not quite daring to hope that tomorrow morning I will be able to go on a months-ago-planned cycling holiday with my son and my dad. A generational velocerous sandwich, if you like. But... me and plans, lately... [squeezes eyes shut tight and hopes very hard]

I don't have swine flu but I do have a gardening bug, which sees me going to bed - well, all right then, bath - aching, tired, covered in mud and very happy each night. So I don't have time for much else. But I do have a garden bursting at the seams with green waste which is stupidly hard to get rid of so I'm going to BREAK THE LAW (eek, oo-er, etc) and have a bonfire tonight. I expect I'll catch fire and become horribly disabled and unable to go on my cycling holiday. Or I'll create a gigantic smoke cloud which will coincidentally fell all train drivers in the vicinity and make it impossible for me to reach my destination, or I'll start a huge city fire, the worst since 1066 (no, that sounds wrong. 1466? 1664? ah feckit, it was in London, quite a long time ago, the number six was involved and possibly the number four), the houses will all burn down and fall on the train tracks...

...but if THAT doesn't happen then I will be travelling the country for the next week or two while Mr Other Half Man guards the homestead. Hurrah!

Right. Time to climb a ladder. Have secateurs, will create more green waste. Enjoy your swine flu. xxx

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The Life Begins

Well, that's it, I'm 40.

Funnily enough it feels pretty much like 39 did, only slightly better cos I had a brilliant weekend away camping in the countryside and am feeling the benefits. Loads of people turned up, I went swimming in the river, and I have discovered the definitive answer to the question, How To Do Camping With Kids? The secret is to choose somewhere reasonably close, and (crucially) accessible by train. Then one parent (the one who is a bit weird and gets untold satisfaction from packing bags and cars, unpacking bags and cars, pitching tents, dismantling tents, packing, etc) (ie ME) goes down in a car jam-packed full of STUFF in the morning, spends all day chilling out in the countryside, drinking champagne, putting up tents, blowing up beds, making everything organised and tidy. Then the kids and the other parent arrive by train. Everyone has fun for a few days. Then the kids go home by train and the anal parent packs everything away at her leisure and plays a live Stone Roses CD very loud all the way home. Sorted!

Of course, on our return we discovered that one of the happy campers now has swine flu. I spent yesterday afternoon with my older son in a rammed health centre, queueing for tamiflu for the stricken friend, who is under house arrest. It was weird. Giant signage everywhere directing people with flu symptoms to another part of the building where some poor soul sat behind a desk with a face mask on. We, on the other hand, were peered at before being granted admission to bored-looking staff who herded us all under a "Flu Friends" sign. I am a friend of the flu. There were sandbags too, but they looked a bit abandoned. I suspect somebody picked up the wrong URGENT SITUATION guidelines and panicked in the wrong direction for a while before coming to their senses.

I'm assuming we'll all get it some time this week, but it makes a change to anticipate family illness instead of being taken by surprise. I'm just not making any plans for the next few weeks, and working on the basis that those already made will probably come undone.

In other news, I dreamt last night that I had a new agent, which was very exciting, except that she insisted my book should be called Memento Ravia, even though neither of us knew what it meant - or even how to spell it - and she hadn't actually read the damn thing. Still, it was exciting for about five minutes. She was blonde, flighty, posh, young, and called Jemima. Or maybe Felicity. There's a surprising number of them in publishing.

Oh, and a couple of Russian speakers have emailed me and duly had signed copies of the book posted off to them. Fuck knows what they'll make of it, but it's kinda nice.

Right, I need to get my third novel into some kind of abandonable shape before the swine flu gets me.




Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Birthday Begins

This evening my friend insisted on coming round and giving me 40 birthday presents, because they couldn't easily be brung to the Birthday Proper.

Because I am Very Stupid Indeed, it took me several texts and several presents before I finally rememberd that, in the context of this birthday, the number 40 was significant. I thought she just happened to have acquired 40 presents for me, cos she's a bit prolific like that and is the manager of a charity shop. So anyway. For every present (they were numbered and had to go in a particular order, and every single one was wrapped, and had a numbered tag with a clue on it) I had to remember what I was doing for that year of my life. Which was mathematically confusing, because we were drinking beer and I am a bear of little brain and I was born in July on the turn of the decade, so every year of my life encompasses exactly half each of two of your earth years, and one of them ends in (Age minus one) and the other is (Age plus one) but I can never remember which way round it is, so we spent a lot of time saying things like "When you were 28 it was 2007, no 2008, no..." until we reached 39, at which point I screwed my face up yet again and said "Well, it must have been 2009..." and Ally said, "you opened lots of presents..." and I said, "I had a baby! Three days after my birthday!"

...and when I was 40 my life suddenly came together and everything made sense for the first time in ages.



Well for fuck's sake, how do [i]I[/i] know???

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Filmy Stuff

I've been feeling guilty. Because I wrote a not-altogether-good review of a book written by someone I sort-of know, and I never normally do such things. It felt like it was all right because I didn't believe the person in question really existed. Except that he does, of course he does, but then again he doesn't, probably. But he does. But... etc.

Well, anyway. This kind of blog post doesn't really help. Blah blah holes, yadda yadda digging. But in some sort of vague attempt to redress the balance, I'd like to draw your attention to this film review blog here, cos it's rather good and nobody seems to have noticed it yet.

We Easily Believe...

I've just been watching Big Brother, where one woman has already been the unrequiter in two love intrigues. I love watching human interaction played out under such a microscope. The set-up may be artificial but nobody can act for that long, so the stuff that happens between people is very real. But anyway...

So there's this bloke, fancies a woman, she doesn't fancy him back. But he won't see it. He keeps finding evidence that she must be interested in him, and refuses to accept anything else.

The obvious reaction as an observer is to laugh and call him a fool. Everyone else can see what he's blind to. And having watched this happen so often to women I know... a man who won't take no for an answer... is boorish and demanding and then sulky when he doesn't get what he wants. I get impatient and annoyed with selfish fools such as this.

But the other thing which drives me mad is when women encourage the delusions by being a little too friendly, bestowing the occasional chaste kiss, generally giving just enough encouragement that the idiot can convince himself of whatever he wants. Having been close to women who do this kind of thing, I know they often don't mean to tease or manipulate. They just don't want to hurt, don't want to disappoint, are hopeless at saying no or being frank about how they really feel, but mistakenly believe that the chasteness of their responses is enough of a hint that they're not really interested - rather than the clutched-at straw it inevitably becomes.

But then. I suddenly remembered this weird 'relationship' I had with a bloke, back in the early 90s. We worked together as service chefs, at a pizza / pasta restaurant in Manchester. I was besotted with him. He was all quirky and enigmatic and he had good taste in music and a lovely purple cord jacket (isn't it funny the things that stick in your mind?). I was forever inviting myself round to his flat and just kind of... hanging around. We had various odd sexual encounters, and he kept me at arm's length... but not far enough that I gave up the chase.

I knew he wasn't in love with me or anything like that, I knew it was all rather one-sided, but he gave me just enough rope that I thought it was worth tugging away at it.

Poor man. I was like a kitten that's found the end of a tampon, somewhere inappropriate.

One time I insisted it would be a good idea for me to stay the night, and we could just cuddle. Which we did, me of course in as little clothing as possible, but next thing I knew he was sucking my elbow. Which quietly led to even more delightful stuff. But this was the least ambiguous of our encounters. Another time he had given up trying to get rid of me, so suddenly announced he was having a bath. And I of course invited myself into the bathroom, and next thing we were flicking foam at each other, and in any other circumstances this would be obvious flirtation... but nothing happened. He got out of the bath, put his clothes on and we ate toast. Once he came round to my flat, submitted himself to a certain amount of finger-sucking and then abruptly announced he was going home. At which point I became all whiny and disappointed, so somehow we ended with me naked in the bed, him kneeling by its side, with his coat on, and basically shutting me up before going home.

Looking back, it's pretty effing obvious that he never fancied me. But he was rubbish at saying no, and I was determined to snatch at the tiniest piece of positive evidence or encouragement and ignore everything else.

There's a quote I use a lot, it's from a 19th century mentalist called HJ Burlingame, and it forms the basis of my second novel. It goes like this:

We easily believe what we ardently desire to be true.

Oh deary me, don't we just?

Monday, 6 July 2009


Yuck. I don't like it much, but I think it's probably sensible to make my non-anonymous website a little less new-career-unfriendly. Which means removing anything to do with sex or drugs. Including this double dactyl, but it's one of my favourites and I don't want to lose it altogether so I'm putting it here instead. So there.

Jessica Parker can't
Act her way out of a
Brown paper bag.

Co-actress Kim says that
Sarah can't come unless
Aided, the slag!

I should probably point out I don't have anything against Sarah Jessica Parker. Or people who bear resemblances to horses, or indeed slags. I mean actual slags, rather than people who bear resemblances to slags. Not that I have anything against them, either. In fact I've been known to be a bit of a slag myself. And proud of it. Right. Glad we cleared that up. I'm not that keen on Sex and the City though, I have to admit.

Sunday, 5 July 2009


Hot weather and an awareness that inactivity will soon cease to be an option, have combined to make me super-lazy. Hence lack of posts.

But I just thought I might mention I've got less than a week of under-40-ness to go. It's my birthday on Friday. I'll be celebrating all (next) weekend with somewhere in the region of 50 close friends and family. Rah me.

Friday, 3 July 2009


Hello new people.

[waves at new people]

If you stick around, I may write about cat poo, cancer, neighbourliness, cultural differences and Islam.

Then again I may not. You'll just have to take your chances.

But hello anyway. It's nice to see you here.

Friday, 26 June 2009

In Mourning

Ugh. I’m crying again.

The good news is that my new career has been confirmed. I have a future.

The bad news is that I’m in mourning, for my old career.

It was a small thing set me off. Well, it seemed small. But the more I dwelt on it, the bigger it got.

I was reminded of a sentence I’m particularly proud of. I like the way that happens, the way all my books have particular lines which stand entire in my head. So, anyway. I went off to the Russian translation, to see how that bit came out.

Butchered. That’s how it came out. It went from one gloriously-rich analogy to three bare words. Which do you prefer: “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun” or “It's her, innit”? It was that kind of thing. Not that I’m comparing myself to Shakespeare. I’m not Shakespeare, I know that. That’s part of my problem. I know I’m not a great writer, that even the original in its native language is no literary masterpiece and unlkely to set the world alight. If I thought I were a misunderstood genius I’d be a lot happier. I could sit here muttering at those bastards holding me back, or go down arms aflailing, shouting to be heard and ignoring the just-not-quite-good-enough truth.

But anyway. Every time I look at a particular line in the book, the translation comes up lacking. I know, I could be wrong. It may be language, or culture, or the English was overwritten and the translation is stripped back and elegant.

Or perhaps it’s a crap translation.

If this were just one territory among many, it wouldn’t matter too much. But this is the only version of my book available. My book, that I slaved over for four years. That I edited and rewrote and rewrote again. Every line pored over, tweaked, perfected… and now it’s gone. And somehow I managed to lose my agent, at the exact moment when I really needed one, and there’s little chance of anyone reading my words, the ones I wrote, rather than someone else’s approximation of what I maybe sort-of meant.

And I have to let it go. Because I have a new job to start very soon, and it’s going to take all my time, and this is the wrong moment to be looking for a new agent or writing a new book and I just have to wave goodbye.

Yes, it’s only temporary. I can come back to it, in a few years’ time. Maybe one day in the future I’ll find another agent and they’ll fall in love with the book and find people other than Russians that want to read it. But for now… it’s over.

And I’m grieving.

And Another Thing

And the whole stupid mess turns me into a blubbering self-pitying tedious one-track wreck, which is fucking annoying to say the least, for me as well as you.

Poor bloody me.


Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Let Life Begin

[apologies for wonkiness - and copiedness-from-comments-boxness-ness - i have a baby on my lap. will attempt to come back later and tidy up a bit]

Lucy's talking about a list of things to do before she's 40. I'm going to be four decades long in only three weeks, and the very thought of such a list makes me want to jump back under the duvet and not emerge for at least another month.

But I have a good excuse: I (possibly rather sillily with hindsight, but there you go, I had little control over the timing) went and had a baby when I was 39, and that rules out most pre-40 excitement.

I was thinking last night, though, that although I disapprove of age-related moaning, a lot of my recent miserablism has been exacerbated by pre-40 jitters. I feel as though I'm about to be Officially Old and haven't achieved a whole load of stuff that's only going to get harder - if not impossible - with age.

I'm having running battles with myself these days about a giant banner I've erected above my psyche. It reads Failed Writer. My second book is only available in Russian. My first book is barely available at all. Neither of them are much good. And crucially I'm about to stop writing altogether, before I manage to finish my third.

It's all bollocks, for many reasons: I'll return to writing in the future, the Russians are perfectly capable of being discerning readers, and crucially writing is something that tends to mature with age, not get harder. There are few skimpy bikinis involved in the life of your typical writer. But still. I'm not where I wanted to be, where I thought I'd be.

But still but still. It's basically bollocks. So I gave me a good stern talking to and reminded myself that life begins at 40 and there's a load more excitement ahead. So that's all right then. And fuck lists.

Here's my list of things I'll do before I'm 40.

1. Whinge.
2. Cry.
3. Whinge a bit more.
4. Sob.
5. Eat cake.
6. Nurse a crying baby.
7. Eat chocolate.
8. Make a massive To Do list containing items like "sort out broadband" and "hem trousers" and "make a squillion doctors' appointments for every member of the family".
9. Eat chocolate cake.
10. Fail to do any of the items on the To Do list.
11. Fail to do any of the items on this list, and then get swallowed up in a giant existential feedback loop.
12. Cry.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Globe and Jerusalem

Oh artichokes, the baby's ill again. It's so utterly mundane and yet it takes me by surprise every time. And every time I despair at how utterly wretched it is to spend a significant chunk of time in the presence of a baby - my baby - who won't stop crying. It can destroy my psyche within hours.

I think the problem is I'm just not very good at giving all of myself. I can give bits of myself, that's fine. But I need to keep some back. I'm just not martyrly enough. It must be that rogue testosterone (the finger thing, you know). But that's not really fair. There are men who can give all of themselves. I'm just not one of them. Hmm, that came out wrong.

I look forward to Tuesday mornings, because I get glorious delicious time to myself, just me, the house my oyster, after three whole days of Full Time Mum. So it's doubly frustrating when maladies wait until then to manifest themselves.

If only I could get used to it, but I guess evolution has relied on that not happening. Ho hum. Oh well. Could be worse. I'm not properly depressed. Not yet, anyway.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Coming Clean (or wiped with a damp cloth)

Just cos I mentioned this elsewhere and have no real reason to be cagey, the nuts are books. Novels, to be specific. I am a novelist. Currently a slightly frustrated one, given that my latest has only been published in Russian and shows no signs of coming out in English any time soon.

Oh, and yes, of course I'm jealous of Bete de Jour's talent/success... that's no secret. But I'm also quite open about liking the book and hoping it does well. I just don't believe it's real.

But anyway... I might carry on talking about nuts, flimsy analogy though they represent, out of sheer perversity.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Russian Nuts

Oh yeah, and my Russian nuts have come out. Which is just bloody weird. I received my very own basket, and they look quite like English nuts, only they're all in foreign.

So... being as how the nut analogy is pretty much falling apart, cos unlike real ones my nuts can't be truly enjoyed in anything but their consumers' native country... it's all just totally odd. Nobody I know can eat my nuts, or admire their aesthetic splendour. Noone whose opinion I crave will ever know whether my nuts are any good.

Which means I can pretend they're the best thing ever, and you can't disagree.

Also I got paid. Which was a total shock, cos payment is normally slow. So, I have incomprehensible nuts but money in the bank, which is better than a dunk in a frozen pond. So I win.

The Mind Murders

My mind's been at it again.

You know, now I think of it I often dream about having dead bodies to dispose of. Just the other night I dreamt that I was visiting my grandmother and accidentally killed some bloke who was hassling her. I bunged his body in a clothes chest and hoped for the best, then days later realised it would smell. I started to panic, but couldn't decide whether removing it would make things better or worse.

Well, anyway. Last night I dreamt that a close relative - let's say my brother, cos I don't have one of those so I won't upset anyone - died. It gets hazy at this point, in the way dreams do. I don't know whether I or my father was responsible for the death, but for some reason we felt we had to hide the body. So we dumped it in a pond in my parents' back garden. The pond froze over. All fine. Until the pond thawed, and the body - still frozen - floated to the surface. So we dragged it out and defrosted it, in the faint hope that... oh my God, there was my brother, in front of my eyes, coming back to life. I can still see it. He sat up, opened his eyes, hugged his knees and looked a bit bewildered. And for a moment, for my father and me... there was such delight: The person we loved, who we thought was dead, had come back to life... and then there was guilt and horror. We slung him in a pond when he wasn't even dead. But my brother went grey and rigid again, and it was all just a horrible reflex, awakened by the thaw.

Then a friend called round wanting to do something suitably incongruous like visit an art gallery. I hurried them upstairs to my bedroom so they wouldn't see my father with the corpse. Meanwhile my father had been listening, and had rushed upstairs with the cadaver... leaving us to walk in on him, bending over the stiff and looking decidedly dodgy.

And if that weren't enough, I then dreamt I was given a pampering spa day as a present by a friend... only to find that colonic irrigation was part of the package, and when I protested they got all sinister and started showing me the slimy worm-like products of other people's bowels. Apparently the process involved taking a pill and then suffering from extreme vomiting and diarrhoea for a couple of hours... but feeling marvellous afterwards. And being me and not liking to complain, I tried to convince myself this was a good thing and maybe I didn't mind so much.

So, psychoanalysis: I think I've done something terrible and am desperate to hide the evidence, even if it means shitting it out on some health spa bog. Which will be good for me in the long run. Yeah. That'll be it.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Too Good to be True

Gah, I agonised over whether to write this or not. But I was encouraged to by the subject himself, so here goes.

I mentioned the other day that I'd been reading - and enjoying - Bete de Jour; Intimate Adventures of an Ugly Man. I've been following the blog for ages, and this is the most engaging blog-turned-book I've read. He reveals details he only hinted at online, and I was dying to know the truth. The writing, as on the blog, is a delight. He's erudite, ascerbic, funny. He has a turn of phrase to love (for the entertainment) and hate (because you're jealous).

The blog is called Bete de Jour. The blogger uses the name Stan Cattermole, and claims to have a face like a bag of elbows. Having suffered all his life from the label "ugly" - not least at the hands of his parents - on the eve of his 30th birthday he made a decision. He was fat and flat-bound, had never experienced a loving relationship and was determined to put things right. So he started a blog, and to a large extent it worked. It brought him sex, recognition, friends, confidence and a book deal. The book itself is a moving, self-aware, honest account of the whole experience.

But... there's a problem. It's been doing my head in, and here it is: I don't believe Stan Cattermole exists.

At first I was too battered by emotion to think critically, but as soon as I did the doubts appeared. His parents, spectacularly inhuman bastards who never even smile at him, are two of the most two-dimensional characters I've seen in fiction, never mind real life. Of course there are hideous child-abusing monsters who ruin their own children's lives... but they're complex human beings, full of contradiction and confusion. Not these two. They get drunk, throw plates, watch sport and jump from one cliché to the next. And then... well, I won't spoil the book. But it has an everything's-all-right finale which is really hard to believe, on so many levels it's like a giant Scooby Doo sandwich, with layer upon layer of saccharine, cliché and poorly-researched lie.

There are many other less-than-believable aspects of the book. The neat narrative arc of the year he chose to blog. The fact that he moved from book deal to review copy in less than six months. The online sex encounter which, although hilarious and brilliantly written, has been done before, in similar shape, by online comedians. The porn-film rape which reads like an urban myth. The modern classical concert enhanced by a fire alarm, which is an urban myth. The way he lost his virginity.

The details of his family were apparently too raw to be blogged. But he describes how he wished his online readers would tease it out of him, craving their friendship and support. I emailed him after reading that part of the book - telling how, when I read the hints on his blog, I didn't push for more out of respect for his privacy. If only I'd known! I would have been there for him!

But as soon as I started doubting, the whole thing felt wrong. And the author is anonymous, so none of it is verifiable. Yes, he has a real-life friend with a blog of his own, but who's to say either of them exist?

I wasn't sure whether to write this review, because I might be wrong - in which case it could appear downright mean. And because... for a long time I believed in him. I had my doubts when he first published the porn-film encounter on his blog, but I pushed them to the back of my mind because I loved the idea of the tragic man with the massive heart. And the wit, and the intellect, and the great writing ability.

Does it matter? If it's not real, hasn't he just written a great novel? Didn't I enjoy reading it, and isn't that the point? Well, maybe. Sadly as a novelist he's got great writing style, but the plot... is a bag full of elbow-shaped clichés. And as a blog-reader who offered support and advice, I feel daft. Gullible. Cheated.

But for all its flaws, it's a great book and he is - in some senses at least - a brilliant writer. I hope Bete de Jour does well, and I hope this review - if it has any effect at all - will encourage more people to read it. As long as Stan refuses to confirm anything, the whole thing becomes a deliciously post-modern game: Read the blog, read the book, and decide for yourself if it's real.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Good Stuff

The baby, bless his little being-looked-after-by-someone-else toes, has gone to nursery today. I think yesterday was all about the teething. I don't know though. You never really do.

So today I'm all on my own in my delightfully-quiet house and I'm preparing for something Very Important I have coming up, something which will probably determine whether I can do my new career or not. And joy of joys, I'm so enjoying myself. It's using skills I haven't used properly for years, and I'd forgotten how much I like this stuff. To have a job which involves doing it all day every day feels like bliss at the moment. I know it won't be that simple - nothing ever is - but for today I'm feeling positive, which is a brilliant thing.

And it's all very well talking in riddles but it does get a bit wearing after a while, so I'm thinking I might start a new Totally Anonymous blog where I can write properly about the new career. Sadly it really does need to be anonymous. Properly anonymous, rather than this place, which is only halfly anonymous. Speaking of which, given that many of you know who I am anyway and the original reason for talking nonsense about nuts has now disappeared... I should probably stop talking in squirrel riddles too. Except that... I'm getting rather fond of the squirrel thing, ludicrous though it is. And I'm worried that there may be some other reason, which I haven't thought of yet, for being a bit circumspect. I have a terrible history of opening my gob (wielding my pen / keyboard) at inappropriate moments and letting all the wrong stuff fly out. So, hum. Dunno.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

So Fucking Hard

It's just so fucking hard. I got less than four hours sleep last night. Because I stayed up late reading this guy's book (and it's a great book, and you should all read it, and some time when I'm not sleep-deprived and at the beck and call of a screaming baby I'll write a proper review), and then my baby kept waking up, kept waking me up, wouldn't settle. And then when we finally got up at 6.30am this morning, less than four hours after I went to bed, he wouldn't stop crying.

He keeps getting ill, and God it's just the worst thing. Not just because I love him to bits and it breaks my heart to see him in distress. Not just because I have a cold and a headache and every time he screams it pierces my brain. But also because of planning, and feeling like I have even the tiniest modicum of control over my life. In the last three weeks I've had to cancel two trips away, one visit to a friend, several trips to my yoga class and the swimming pool, and several days which were supposed to be spent deisgning nuts. Any of the things I might do to keep me sane - getting out of the house, getting exercise, seeing other people, being creative - might be snatched away from me at a moment's notice, and suddenly here I am again, screaming baby in my arms, unable to even go to the toilet or get myself something to eat without making him scream even more or have to have a baby - crying or otherwise - on one arm.

Somebody once told me that depression and anxiety are all about lack of control. That's how torturers work. Flashing lights on and off, refusing to allow prisoners access to basic facilities or choice over what happens next or sleep... it fucks people up.

It seems like everyone else manages to cope with these things. There's something wrong with me, I'm not wired right to be a mother. But then apparently that's a classic symptom of post-natal depression. The belief that everyone else is coping better than you. Nobody finds this stuff easy.

Ah well. He's asleep in his cot for now, but it won't last, and in the meantime I have a Really Important Interview for my new career next week and the preparation time available is dwindling fast, so I better go do some swotting. Just thought I'd have a moan here first.


Friday, 5 June 2009

Yoyo Rollercoaster

I had a good day, sorting out a lot of boring but urgent tasks. The pile is smaller and I am no longer sitting on it. I feel a lot better. I might even get to some nut-designing next week. I might even feel good about it. Fuck knows though - anything could happen, and it's a while since I managed to predict the shape of a day or week with any accuracy at all.

Just, you know, I don't want people worrying about me. I'm all right.


Depression is a strange thing. Sometimes it involves conscious "oh woe is me" type thoughts, but most of the time it's a weird chemical sludge. I can feel my brain chemistry changing. I feel drugged, even though I'm not on any medication and would rather stay that way. Some of the time it feels like PMT. I get clumsy and grumpy. I can't think straight. Tiny things like my baby son wriggling so much I can't get his dungarees on, or my other son jumping up and down and shouting "bibbidy bobbidy doo" repeatedly, make me snap - the result being an apparently interchangeable growl or sob.

There's a slight buzzing in my head, hidden behind a wall of treacle which makes me wander around in a permanent fog. Of, er, treacle. OK, so I'm mixing my metaphors, but anyway...

I can see that the sun is shining and my sons are super-cute, I can see that objectively I have nearly everything I ever wanted, but all that does is make me feel inadequate, for not being able to enjoy these things.

It's not constant. I have good days, good weeks, but the sludge can return in an instant, and I forget it ever left.

I think I should just pull myself together. Sometimes I even can. I know I should think positive thoughts. But I never know whether I should be trying to control it and fight it, or just give myself a break, cut myself some slack, accept that sometimes I feel sad these days, and that's just the way it is.

I could summarise my whole life like that: It's been a constant tension between chilling out and fighting. I'm never sure which one I'm supposed to be doing. This is what you get for being a lazy control freak.

It's always afterwards that it hits me. I once suffered from acute anxiety. For a while I stopped functioning altogether. I had an anxiety attack that lasted a week. I was ill, on and off, for about a year. And it kicked in, as anxiety often does, just after a prolonged period of stress in my life. I fought the fires, and once they were out I fell in the hole they'd left behind.

This time it's depression instead of anxiety, but it's a similar situation. Over the last two years I've faced miscarriage, redundancy, debilitating illness, childbirth. More recently there have been smaller things: a baby with a high temperature that wouldn't respond to mdeicine. A car that died and needed to be replaced. A professional whose services were vital to my career, but who let me down when I needed them most - and had to be sacked. And now here I am, everything is calm again, the house is in some sort of order, I have my lovely baby who I went through so much to get*... and I feel rubbish. As long as I was still aiming for that new-baby goal, I had to hold things together. Now that it's all over, I can fall apart.

I knew it was a risk, having another baby, particularly so soon after a miscarriage. I knew it would be hard. I worried about what effect it might have on my mental health, but I went ahead it with it anyway. Maybe I shouldn't have done it. Maybe I should have left more of a gap. Maybe I shouldn't have tried to go self-employed after the redundancy - particularly when I knew there was no immediate prospect of any significant income, and home-based isolation is the last thing you need when you've just had a baby. But regrets are pointless, and sometimes you just have to go for what you want and hope for the best. Maybe if I'd held myself back I would just have got depressed sooner, rather than later.

Maybe I need to let the misery happen, get it out of the way and then move on. Or maybe that's tantamount to wallowing, and will just make it worse.

That's another symptom: A pathological inability to make decisions and then stick to them.

At least I've got September sorted. I'm not changing my mind about that.

*"get" seems like the wrong word for another human being. I got my baby. But I did. I wanted him, and then I got him. It always makes me laugh when people throw the accusation of selfishness around in respect to parenthood. It's selfish to have lots of kids. It's selfish to have none. Both things are true. We have, or don't have, children... entirely for our own benefit. But that's fine. It's how the human race survives. Although it's ironic that both having and not having children can also destroy someone.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Sad Squirrel

I'm not a happy squirrel. If I'm honest I've been sad, on and off, for a few months now. The good news is that I'm not sad all the time. The not-so-good news is that one of the main things which pushes the sadness aside is overwhelmedness. Life keeps hitting me over the head, and then I get so busy defending myself from the blows that I forget all about happy or sad and just do hectic instead. Or maybe that's not a bad thing. Maybe it's better to be busy. I dunno. I just know that whenever things slow down again, I find myself on top of a giant pile of crap. And it needs sorting out, but it's really hard to organise a mound of chaos when you're sitting on it. And I'm a control freak, and I have a small baby, and I keep forgetting that people with small babies are supposed to take it easy and not keep trying to sort everything out.

Today I am having my first Spare Day for about three weeks, after various tedious fires (ill children, broken cars, weddings to attend, yadda yadda) needed fighting. It's not spare at all, of course. I'm sitting up high on this heap, and I'd like to be down on that floor with no mess in sight.

It overwhelms me. It depresses me. It tires me out.

The future looks both better and worse. On the one hand it contains a sort-of cure to one problem and a total cure to another one, but it also promises a whole new pile of crap.

The sort-of cure is for the problem of My Career. I feel like a failed nut designer. I know the Russians are launching one of my nuts next month... but they're in Russia, speaking Russian, and now that they have their very own Russian nut-polisher who has converted English to Russian, they're not very interested in me. I'm not even sure they'll give me news on how it's doing. It all feels very remote. I've been paid, and my part is over. My latest nut won't be ready before September, I have no deals in the offing and no advocate to find any new deals, and I'm about to embark on a brand-new career which will completely fill the next two years of my life... so there'll be no more nut-designing for a long time, and I'm waving goodbye to that part of my life for a significant chunk of time. But it's a sort-of cure because this new career is something I know I can do, and do well. So it will (hopefully) bring success back into my life... but via a different door.

The problem it totally cures is the one of What Happens in the Future. I was facing nothing but failure, bankruptcy and uncertainty. Now I have an income and Something Rewarding To Do to look forward to, so that's very good.

The whole new pile of crap will be caused by the new career, which will be time-consuming and exhausting and will leave me with even less spare time to sort out the daily detritus that life and babies create.

I'm assuming that I'll pick up in September. It's exciting and I am looking forward to it, and I'm hoping that being busy with something I like will create a much better daily mindset than being busy with domestic crap whilst watching my erstwhile career dribble away through my fingers and down a large smelly drain.

People who like my nuts don't like it when I get all defeatist about the nut-designing. They try and tell me that success may be just over the horizon, that the Russian nut may lead to bigger and better things. They tell me off when I talk of failure. They hate it when I suggest that I may be done with nuts for a lot longer than two years. Maybe forever. Maybe I'm just not cut out to be nut designer, I say. Rubbish, they say.

They're probably right. I probably can't stop even if I want to. But I look back at my nuts... and I think they're a bit crap. And I wonder if I have the time, the commitment, the energy... or the ability required to improve my craft and make better nuts. I'm depressed, so of course I think this way. But the practicalities mean that I have to put it aside for a while. Maybe when the kids are older it'll get easier. Maybe I can save up some money from my new career, then take some time off and design a beautiful new nut. Or maybe I won't even want to. Maybe I won't miss it, will be happier without it and all its tedious ups and downs.

But as for the Russian nut suddenly taking off... this is what all nut designers live on. As well as fruit designers, tree designers... everyone who creates something new and hopes that someone somewhere might notice it and go wow. They live on hope. They have to. But for most, the hope is misplaced. Most nuts die in relative obscurity, most designers are never noticed, were mediocre to start with and even if they weren't don't have enough luck or spark to get anywhere much. I know I'm not supposed to talk this way... but that doesn't mean it's not true.

I just know that I feel tired and grey, and currently want nothing to do with any of it. I'm gradually reducing my commitments, as well as contact with the nut designing community, which if I'm honest just depresses me even more (sorry), in preparation for September.

I have an appointment with a doctor next week. Maybe they can help.

Monday, 1 June 2009

The Wedding Bead

We went to a wedding on Saturday night. We were told not to bring presents or money... just a bead. Preferably one with a story behind it.

When I was in my early twenties I lived in a flat of my own, in a run-down area of Manchester. My main preoccupations were politics and parties. If I'm honest the parties got the most attention. Most of my friends lived within a half-mile radius and we spent a lot of time in my shambolic flat, talking nonsense and admiring pretty things. Various flatmates drifted in and out, one of which was Rachael. She’s still a close friend now, and a funny caring ballsy woman.

I had a patchwork coat she coveted, and she had a necklace made from incredible beads. They appeared to be made of turquoise foil, surrounded by swirls of coloured resin. They caught the light like tiny crystal balls. If you stared into them hard enough you could see whole movies unfolding in front of you.

We agreed to a swap. She got the coat, I got the necklace. Even though it was very small and choker-like, and there's something about my neck and chin and ears that doesn't suit chokers, I wore it a lot. I would stroke the satisfyingly-smooth beads, and invite people to stare into their depths. There was one bead that was flawed, with a rough scarred surface on one side. I turned it around to hide the injured side. A friend noticed what I was doing, and it became Our Special Thing. Whenever he saw me wearing it he would find the flawed bead and turn it around for me with a ritualistic solemnity and a twinkle in his eye.

My patchwork coat has long since died, and I've discovered that the distinctive twisted links which connect the beads are made of red gold. The whole thing is rather valuable. I should really give it back. Occasionally we agree that I should return the beads, and I promise that one day I will... but I never do.

It broke one time, and a link was lost during the repair. A bead had to be removed. I still have it. I still wear the necklace. I may have worn it at the wedding. I'm not sure, as I'm writing this post before the wedding but posting it afterwards, and I haven't decided yet... but anyway. The bead will be my gift, and this is its story.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Lucky Penny

My 7-yr-old son and I spent the day at Blue Planet, which is an aquarium near Warrington (or somewhere like that; God knows - it's one of those junction-10-on-the-M53 jobbies). They have proper real sharks, with teeth and everything, and an ever-so-clever perspex underwater tunnel in which you can stand and watch giant fishes wiggle their teeth inches above your head.

But never mind all that. They also have a Penny Press machine, which allows you to turn a big wheel which itself turns several cogs and a steel mangle-like affair, taking your penny and squeeeezing it out into a warm elongated flattened thing with the design of your choice imprinted on it.

I squatted down and peered at the workings while my son turned the wheel. I tried to see where the switch took place: A kind of person-free magician's act. But you could still see the queen's head faintly on one side, and it was warm, and I know I've been told before that it's all fake, and it's not even a very convincing-looking output, but still... the magic worked for me.

As we got into the car, my son was holding tightly onto his "Lucky Penny" - which was the design he chose. A little while later as I drove along the motorway, I was aware of my son footling about with something at my elbow. I looked down to see a plastic fruit drink container in the drinks holder at my side. My son's fingers were groping about somewhere nearby. "It's definitely lucky," he said. "Because when I've got it in my hand, I can reach the Fruit Shoot bottle, but when I haven't, I can't. Don't you think that must be luck? Or I suppose there could be some other explanation..." which led to a serious discussion of what other factors might impact on his ability to reach between the front seats.

Then he dropped it and couldn't find it for a while, which made him wonder whether it was so lucky after all. But then he found it, and started tossing it. The imprinted side was the "lucky" one, and the faint queen's head was the blank. He declared that if the coin was truly lucky, it would land on its lucky side more often. After a few throws he was slightly disappointed that the odds were behaving mathematically rather than mystically.

For the rest of the afternoon he took very good care of it and found many reasons to believe it was lucky, as well as the opposite.

As he was going to bed he said to me, "Do you believe in luck?"

"Not exactly," I said. "But it sometimes feels good to believe in something, even if you know it's not true."