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."

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Coco Rescue!

I'm traumatised. Tesco appear to have stopped stocking my favourite drink. Which presumably means not enough people are buying it. So I'm starting a campaign, because it's obvious people just haven't tried the stuff. Any discerning chocolate lover, having drunk Coco Direct, will find that hot chocolate is never the same again. Once you've experienced the incredibly-ever-so chocolateyness of Coco Direct, every other brand of hot chocolate - and I mean every single other brand - will be a terrible disappointment.

People keep yapping on about how wonderful Green and Black's drinking chocolate is. They shut up when I give them a cup of Coco Direct. The two are as different as a massive shiny clever thing and a tiny dull useless thing. Green & Blacks make great chocolate bars, but their drink tastes of nothing - NOTHING, I TELL YOU - compared to Coco Direct.

I don't work for them. To be honest I'm not a great fan of sales or marketing and all that guff, because the job of those peeps is normally to use every trick they can possibly think of to make you buy their product and spend pointless pennies, whether or not it's any good. But I'm not trying to make anybody money here. It's just really great stuff and the world needs to know, dammit.

Coco Direct happens to be a Fair Trade Be Nice To People kind of product, and that's very nice and pleasing and all that, but to be horribly honest my only motivation in going on about how great it is, is that it's FUCKING BRILLIANT and I get very annoyed when it's not available. It may possibly be slightly addictive, but so what. IT'S THE BEST ADDICTION EVER. My motives are entirely selfish: I could claim to be making the world a better place or giving you a beautiful gift, and indirectly I'm doing exactly that, but really I just WANT MY DRINK.

So I need everyone to buy it, cos that way it's more likely to remain something I can easily add to my larder without a big angst-fest about whether they'll go out of business and the product will disappear and I won't have my Best Quick Chocolate Fix any more.

Y'see, most chocolatey drinks (and yes, that includes Green and Blacks, and Twinings Luxury Chocolate Drink, and every other product I've ever tried, including the really expensive ones), have a shockingly low cocoa content. Coco Direct, on the other hand... When I've been up all night with the baby and I have Jobs To Do and Things To Think, do I drink coffee? Do I fuck. I drink Coco Direct. It gives the best buzz ever, it wakes you up, it tastes SUPER-YUMMY, it hits all your chocolate buttons AND it's warm and cosy and slurpy... it's liquid chocolate. It's amazing. And nothing else - NOTHING ELSE - touches it. Not even slightly.

This does confuse me, I admit. Why does nobody else recognise the value of liquid chocolate with a high cocoa content? Why are the others so bloody insipid? Why doesn't somebody make something similar and package it really expensively and charge a bloody fortune for it? I'd buy it. It's one of those weird mysteries.

But anyway I don't have to pay through the nose for a fancy box and a brilliant chocolate fix, cos I can buy Coco Direct and get everything I want AND be vaguely-sort-of helpful to cocoa-growing types on the other side of the world. Or I could, if Tesco started stocking it again.

Well all right, I have found someone else who stocks it - and in bulk, at that - so all is not lost. But I'm worried. There's a credit crunch on. People are going bust. What if Coco Direct ceases to exist? I shall be bereft! Tesco need to start stocking it again!

So here's the plan: Buy some. Club together and buy it in bulk, have chocolate-drinking parties. Drink it. Be amazed. Then try any other chocolatey-drinky thing you like and marvel at how utterly inferior it is. Be converted. Spread the word. Ring Tesco up and shout at them for not stocking the Best Drink In The Whole World Ever.

And then I will be happy.

Thank you.

Help Salt Publishing

From elsewhere:

"Salt Publishing are the most fantastically run independent press, very, very good at selling literary short fiction and poetry. They ought to be becoming the Bloodaxe of the 21st Century, but the recession's hit them hard and they're in financial trouble. They're asking everyone who can to buy just one book from their website, which would really keep them afloat."

Personally I recommend Tania Hershman's book and also Elizabeth Baines'.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Icky Strangeness

I had this dream last night.

I know other people's dreams are generally the most tedious thing in the whole history of tedious things (which let's face it, is long), but... It was one of those dreams that was so weird, you feel the need to talk about it. But it was also pretty disturbing. And I'm worried I might scare you all off.

One of the most disturbing things was not the content, but my reaction to it within the dream.


OK, so there was this guinea pig. A small cute tortoiseshell thing...

And I was eating it. Alive. Munching away quite happily as though it was one of those snacks-on-the-go, while I was in the midst of doing other stuff. Going to a pub with a girlfriend, in fact. But after a while I got fed up. I was full up, I wasn't enjoying it, and I was slightly worried about the fact that I was eating a live animal. I thought I should make sure it was dead before abandoning it, because it would be rather cruel to leave a half-dead half-eaten animal alone to its fate. So, you know. I wasn't totally evil. But I wasn't as upset as I ought to have been.

I thought it must surely be dead, seeing as I'd eaten a good half of it. From the bottom up, all the way to its middle. I'll spare you the details, but it was a graphic dream.

I tried to get rid of it, even though it didn't appear to be dead. But I was hoping the apparent non-deadness was due to death throes, like headless chickens or chopped-in-half worms (they don't really split in two, you know) (I saw it on QI).

I then embarked on the kind of thing that happens when you have something embarrassing and inconvenient about your person and are not very principled about ditching things in inappropriate places, as long as nobody sees. I wrapped it in a bag, then a box, then just... um... dropped it on the floor, in the corner of a nightclub (which was in itself an exceptionally weird place - was more like a gay booze-fuelled Indiana Jones adventure playground, with tunnels and ladders and obstacle courses - but there's a limit to how much dream-relaying I can get away with here).

The guinea pig kept seeming to be dead, then turning out not to be. That was my dream-creating consciousness playing with me, as though I were the audience in a full-of-false-endings film. You know the kind. Is there a technical term for it? I don't know. Like this: "Eek, massive climax! Big stuff happening! And... there you go. Phew. All resolved. ... But hang on, you haven't had your money's worth yet. There's still time to fill. Let's bring the monster back to life! Watch out beind you! Argh... eek... aaah. Phew. ... But no, you deserve more than that... this film ain't over yet, come on now, we were only just getting started, we're not done yet... etc" ... as though my dream-creating self wasn't ready to wake up yet and was finding simple resolutions too boring.

I'm all ashamed of myself, embarrassed to admit that I wrapped a half-dead half-eaten (by me) guinea pig in a bag and a box and dropped it in the corner of a night club... as though you might think that if I could dream it, I could do it. Whereas in reality the worst thing I'm likely to drop in the corner of a nightclub is a half-eaten sweet, and even then I'd feel guilty about it and go back later to find it and pick it up. I'm the kind of person who unblocks toilets in public places, because I worry about them spoiling someone else's day. Even though they weren't blocked by me in the first place. That in itself is a slightly embarrassing admission... but I do wash my hands. Thoroughly. Because I'm a stickler for hygiene.

Particularly when it's guinea pigs for tea.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The Age of Imminence

I've been thinking about age, after reading Little Red Boat. I'm going to be 40 this year, and it's made me all age-aware.

It's such a weird thing, time. Mostly you don't notice it. It's just there in the background, ticking away, quite straightforward. There's stuff that was, stuff that is, and stuff that will be. All very neat. But throw age into the equation and it's very confusing indeed.

Am I young or old? Was I young last week? Last year? Last decade? If not, when did it stop? Or when will the youngness stop? Anyone who's got more than a few birthdays under their belt knows: You can easily be both old and young, but it still confuses the hell out of me.

I'm young because I can remember being five and I laugh at silly stuff and damn it, I just know what it's like to feel young. But I'm old because those other people over there, those ones who are officially* young? They're so damned young! And they do really stupid stuff like have their trousers fall down on purpose, and they run about all full of energy and don't even notice me and damn it I just don't get them. But I'm young cos see those old people over there? They're slow and wrinkly and grey and parochial and a bit paunchy and laughable and I'm much younger than them. But I'm old because... see those folk over there? The slow-parochial-laughable ones? They were born the same time as me. But I'm young because I'm less than halfway through my life and I have effing ages to go yet, and I'm damned if I'll be old for the rest of my days. But I'm old cos I use words like "damned". But I'm young cos I have young children. But I'm old cos I have young children. I'm a mum. I'm in the next generation up. And I'm knackered.

I'm old because the stuff I did when I was young, the stuff which still makes me feel young... it's so old it's been right out and come back in again. When I was officially young, stuff from the 50s and 60s was making a comeback. And then it was the 70s' turn, which was my own childhood, but that was fine cos it all happened when I was a baby which was ages ago. But anyway, that 50s and 60s stuff? It was dead old. But cool. And now... there are new young folk, thinking and feeling the same way... about the 80s! My time! Which was surely never cool?

I went to a 40th birthday party a couple of years ago. It was in an Irish club. You know the kind of place. A glorified village hall with a tiny bar, beers on tap, boxes of crisps. A bouncy dance floor and flashing disco lights. People took small quantities of ecstasy and danced to Leftfield, just like they did in the olden days. I got a sudden flashback to when I was a teenager and got taken to a Grownup Party, where the grownups were paunchy and did Dad Dancing, and thought they were cool but weren't. And here I was now... one of them.

I was watching Coronation St the other day. Steve McDonald was getting married to Becky. Which all seemed perfectly reasonable. Single bloke falls in love with cute woman, gets married. And then I realised... Steve McD is the same age as me, more or less. Slightly younger? Slightly older? That's the first problem: I don't know. And Becky. She's quite young, I think? In her 20s? Not sure about that either. Apparently people past a certain age are particularly bad at recognising people the same age as themselves. But anyway. What does this look like to other people? Does Steve McD seem really old? Are we supposed to be amused and slightly disgusted? Sometimes it feels as though the whole world has aged with me, and where once the "main characters" in soap operas were the 20-somethings, they're now the 30-somethings and 40-somethings... but that's how soaps work. They provide a range of characters and you focus on the ones you can relate to the most. In Eastenders, Billy is 50. 50's quite old, isn't it? Does that mean there are viewers out there who think of Billy as essentially an old man? But he isn't! He seems about my age, and that's not... oh.

When you're in your teens and early twenties it's all very simple: You are young, your parents are middle-aged, and your grandparents are old. But from then on, the goalposts leap about so much they're more like Magical Jumping Goalposts from some bastardised version of Quidditch. My parents are in their mid 60s and have recently become pensioners. But they're only middle-aged, surely? And my grandparents, who are still alive... they're old. Occasionally people have suggested that I might be middle-aged. Me? Middle-aged? But... but...

I could go on and on, but I'm sure you get the point. It's confusing, that's all. It's just so bloody confusing.

*Somewhere there should be a government agency whose job it is to assign official ages. You would get a letter in the post: "Congratulations, you are now officially middle-aged. We have enclosed your complimentary packet of Werther's Originals."

Where I am

I'm in a strange place right now. Readers may have guessed that I used to blog elsewhere. I stopped doing it because...

I'm not even sure why because.

I was depressed. I didn't like myself, therefore I didn't like my blog. I didn't like the pressure of readers wanting to be fed. I didn't like the Internet Arsewipe (it's a technical term) who quoted huge swathes of my blog out of context, making me look like the horriblest person in the whole world ever and convincing me that I was indeed the horriblest person in the whole world ever. So arsewipey was this arsewipe that the things he said/quoted wouldn't have had the same effect on anyone else. They would have just thought he was being mildly mean. But by reading my blog he had winkled out precisely my most weakest tenderest self-loathing vulnerable spots and exploited them to the max - carefully picking out the parts of myself I hate the most and then writing them on the internet in foot-high letters: SEE WHAT A WANKER SHE IS! Ahem. So anyway. That put me off my blog. And myself. At a time when I already didn't like myself much.

There was other stuff too. I was thinking of starting a new career (still am), which wouldn't be forgiving of non-anonymous blogging. In a weird sudden turnaround, I got twitchy about baring my all to the world. In the past, when other non-anonymous bloggers worried about being exposed... um, hang on, tangent. I don't want to keep typing "non-anonymous". I'll just say NA from now on. Although I may as well have typed it another twenty times or so rather than tap out this stupidly-long aside. But anyway. I used to tell people not to worry. That the world is mostly nicer than you think. That honesty is a good thing, particularly if you're a writer, and that anyway it all acts as a form of therapy. And then all of a sudden, with no warning and based purely on the actions of one Internet Arsewipe (I won't be abbreviating that one though - it's satisfying to type) and a new career, I changed my mind. I don't want to be exposed any more.

It's a life-douche thing, too. I have a tendency to extremes. Whether philosophical positions or life-problem solutions, I like to go WHOOSH! and replace everything old with something new. So I got rid of my blog. Except that I didn't, cos what I actually do is get a load of new stuff, but never chuck out the old. I keep it in a cupboard somewhere. The old blog still exists. I'm not sure why, but you know, just in case (just in case what? I don't know).

But I'm doing it again now, aren't I?

I thought that was it. No more blogging, blogging was the past. In the future I would be unfettered and free, and all my angsting and communicating and therapy would be done in the real world with real people. If I felt the need to write down the crap in my head, I'd write a book instead. Or a diary, or a short story, or a letter.

And then I started this blog. Doh.

I also thought I'd be all enigmatic and never tell that I once had another blog elsewhere. I'd let people guess it for themselves.

I've always been crap at mysterious.

Well anyway. It's not definite cos I still have to do interviews and stuff, but I'm hoping to start a new career in a few months, and by all accounts it's going to turn my life upside down and I won't have time for blogging, so this blog may be a very temporary thing. Or then again... maybe I'll need an outlet for expressing and coping with all the upside-downiness and this will be it. Maybe when you find yourself and your life suspended in a wrong-way-up position (from what? will I end up landing on my head?), you need to reach out and hold onto something to stop yourself swinging about. Maybe this will be it. Maybe not.

Right now, this place gets less than five visitors per day. Some days there's none at all. It feels manageable. The first few posts - which got deleted after an attack of the sensibles - may never have been read by anyone. Which is kinda cool. What I should do is make this a private blog, not invite anyone at all, and just sit here talking to myself. But that would involve me at least pretending that blogging isn't about having an audience (it so is).

Maybe I won't blog for a year or so cos I won't have time, and then I'll finally lose the bug and think what a weird little blip in my life that was. Supposedly, people with no time to blog do twittering instead. But I don't believe that saves you time. I bet the opposite is true. And anyway I'm too old for Doing The Latest Thing. On which note, I might have to start another post. Seeya in a mo.

Saturday, 2 May 2009


I found this blog where this woman posts the answers to each week's Take a Break puzzles. I object! I spent at least an hour working out the answers! That's cheating!

I'm not linking to it. It shouldn't be allowed.

Take a Break

I've developed an addiction to Take a Break magazine, or more specifically the puzzles therein.

They're all easy but mostly satisfying and you get to win stuff! Big stuff! Like, thousands of pounds and stuff!

But I'm already becoming dangerously obsessive, doing things like methodically reading through a list of 100 winners from a former issue, just so I could work out whether there were any duplicates (there weren't, but it didn't half make me cross-eyed, as did the Spot the Difference puzzle), and whether this meant you shouldn't enter for the smaller-but-more-plentiful prizes (e.g. 50 x £25 Next vouchers) because if you won one, they'd remove your name from the draws for the better items. According to their website, they draw the prizes "in value order." This is not helpful! Not unless they state whether that order is descending or ascending. They don't.

I even tried to win a holiday in Benidorm (on the grounds that it's in Spain, and we have a friend who lives in Spain, and she's always mithering us to go and visit her, although apparently Spain is a big country and Benidorm and Valencia are not close (who new?)), though I rejected one in Tenerife. But now I'm told that Tenerife is better than Benidorm, but I don't care anyway cos I have a child who would love me forever if I took him to Benidorm for a holiday, and I can think of worse things to do. But I probably won't win it anyway. You're allowed to send multiple entries, and millions of people read the bloody thing, so it's probably just my version of the lottery. Unless I enter multiple times... I could become a "comper" like Norris in Coronation St (whose going to break that poor girl Mary's heart now that Rita's heart has been broken and she therefore needs him - it's like a Terrible Heartbreak Spiral, and that's without even mentioning Ken and his boat-dwelling fancy woman (who is terribly alluring - I think I'd fall in love if I met someone who lived on a cute boat too; it's obviously a very effective seduction tool)).

Also, I watched Paul O'Grady the other week and he told Maxine Peake she ought to win Best Actress at the Baftas, and he did a little "Sorry June" aside, but then the other day he was going on about how June Brown wuz robbed cos she was by far and away the best candidate and obviously should have won. Those luvvies, they're so two-faced! I don't actually know who did win, I missed that bit.

Anyway this is what my life is like. You should either be jealous or sneering or both.