Friday, 28 December 2007

The Gimble Returns

Slightly troubled by the lack of connection between the word gimble and its function, I emailed the inventor to find out where it came from. 

I can't believe I didn't make the connection sooner, when the word is taken from the only lines of Lewis Carroll's The Jabberwocky that I know off-by-heart:

Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabes,
All mimsy were the borogroves, and the mome raths outgrabe . . .

The inventor of the Gimble, this perfectly useful boomerang-shaped thingummy, found that all the book-related names had already been nabbed, so he decided to go for a nonsense word instead.

I think I could get used to it.

Panic over.

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Thursday, 27 December 2007


I'm very fortunate to be reading an advance copy of A Vengeful Longing by R.N. Morris (the second in his Porfiry Petrovich series). Early next year I'll be reviewing it for Vulpes Libris, but the reason I mention it now is because it is currently test-driving one of my Christmas presents: the Gimble, which is a wonderfully simple device for holding your book open. 

It was a very thoughtful gift from The Australian. He knows better than anyone that most of my reading gets done while I'm breastfeeding The Boy, because it's the only time I'm not occupied in the important business of Stopping Him From Doing Stuff (climbing the stairs/emptying the cupboards/nutting himself on the coffee table while bobbing up and down to music . . . sorry, this is The Boy I'm talking about here, in case that wasn't clear). But lately The Boy's sheer size as well as his inability to keep still except when in a deep sleep has meant that reading has become even more of a challenge, involving contortion, determination and very achey wrists. With the Gimble, I can put the book on one side and use both hands to restrain my child. Perfect! Almost. If someone could invent a device to turn the page using only my mouth, then it would be perfect.

But I am troubled by one thing. The name. Gimble? Really? It's a kind of bendy, hooky, plastic thing for books. Does that say Gimble to you? Surely a case of nonomatopoeia, like pulchritudinous, or . . . err, some other words that don't mean what they sound like. Admittedly, it does sound like a 'small, simple object that does something very useful', but it does not sound like a book-hooker-opener-thingummybob, to me.

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Friday, 21 December 2007

Christmas Tips

1. Never leave your only winter coat in your partner's car on a Sunday night

2. With your keys in it

I was still drowsy on Monday morning when The Australian whipped out his wallet, bizarrely Del-Boy-like, and produced a tenner:
'Do you want to give this to the bin men?' he said.
'Umm, do I?' said I. Despite having thought about my bin men tip dilemma approximately every half hour since the previous Monday, I'd failed to work out a definite strategy. The Australian and I hadn't discussed it, since these days he mainly finds out how I am by reading my blog, and I mainly find out how he is by . . . yes, I must ask him later. His assertive offer made me feel all 1950s and I decided to let him take charge of the situation. (Unfortunately he put his wallet away again without giving me a few more notes to 'buy myself something pretty'.)
An hour or so later, when I was properly awake, I realised that he'd driven off with my coat/keys in his car. Stranded! I called my dad to ask if he could take The Girl to nursery.
'I'm in Yorkshire at a funeral,' he replied.
I took that as a 'no' and broke the news to The Girl that she wouldn't be going to nursery today because we'd be locked out in the cold if we left the house. Her little legs crumpled underneath her like newborn Bambi and she sobbed her little heart out. 
'Oh no! Okay! I'll take you!' I said, and grabbed everything I'd need for an arduous tube journey to retrieve my keys from The Australian accompanied by a teething, will-only-sit-in-pushchair-for-bribes, one year old: aka The Boy.
Anyone who's taken a large pushchair on the tube will sympathise with me - while anyone who's been smacked in the leg by a large pushchair on the tube will wonder why people like me don't just stay home and keep out of the way of the important commuting folk. Two hours later, The Boy had finally eaten his weight in rusks, thrown every toy we own out of his pram, forced me to put on a show that would make Mr Tumble jealous, and fallen asleep - I'd collected the keys and was dashing back to fetch The Girl, and I was so worn out and pissed off that when I reached into my jeans pocket and felt something papery, I thought: 'Sod the bin men, I'm using their Christmas tip to buy a latte.'
Ironically, the local council saw to it that it wasn't possible for me to commit such a crime against Yule by putting so many roadworks outside Cafe Nero that I couldn't get near it. And so it was that I found myself back home, weary but basking in the afterglow of martyrdom . . . 
DING DONG! I leapt up. It was them! I could hear the grinding of the wheelies. I stood up and danced about a bit. 
'Who's that?' said The Girl.
'Um, err, it's the bin men, err . . .' I reached for the tenner and stuffed it in a small brown envelope and scrawled Happy Christmas! on it, and then added our house number and fretted over whether or not I'd done that for purely cynical reasons. Then I danced around a bit more, while both children looked at me as if what little respect they had was finally fading away. It would have been so very Me to go through all this only to let the moment pass.
I opened the front door - sod it, the truck had passed by at least ten houses! I waved the envelope about a bit and shivered, and said 'Hi!' very very quietly, and jiggled on my doorstep. Then I saw an old man in a white vest opposite - he had come out with his Christmas tip, too, and calmly handed it to the approaching bin man as if it really were perfectly normal and expected. I felt vindicated and started shouting 'EXCUSE ME!' over the roar of the truck.
After several of these, one of the crew looked over and I waved my little envelope. It seemed to take him about a week to walk over to my front door, which obviously called for more jiggly-dancing, but finally he got there and I said 'Merry Christmas!' and there were smiles all round and it felt good and festive and nicely old-fashioned, and just as I was shutting the door:

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Wednesday, 19 December 2007

idontwantoneofthose dot com

Chimpanzee Head
It might be freaky as hell, but at least it's really expensive.
Good one. 
A phobia I didn't even know I had.
I just feel that this is disrespectful to dogs. See also: Cat Arse Sharpener.

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Tuesday, 18 December 2007

R.I.P. Miniature Cheese Muffins

Some people might say I am one to hold a grudge. Hold it, stroke it and give it little treats, even. But at least I am fair in my grudge-holding - two thirds of my grudges are against myself.

One of the grudges that has reared its resentful head recently is over some miniature cheese muffins. At the end of the Summer term this year, The Girl's nursery invited all parents to contribute a dish for the party. I dutifully ticked the 'Savoury' column - being a total square - and went about researching healthy but tasty options. I decided on cheese muffins, which I'd never made before, and then I decided to go for the cute factor and make them teeny, in the sweetest little muffin cases you ever did see. The children were going to LOVE me. The parents would ADMIRE me. I would get a GOLD STAR.

Just to be sure that nothing went wrong, I made 56 miniature muffins and picked the best 40. I made The Girl eat about eight of the rejects to make sure that even the duds were child-friendly. She made yummy-noises and I packed the Good Ones away in a tupperware (yes, I had to do this several times before I got it right) and went to bed that night anticipating parents and children swarming to me with empty miniature muffin cases and appreciative smiles.

In the morning, I handed my tupperware to the nursery manager and felt a small stab of pain when she dumped it nonchalantly with the other covered offerings without asking what was inside. I could have volunteered the information, but unfortunately I am a bit of an idiot. Still, I felt sure that once she'd opened the lid and caught a delicious cheesy waft, I'd be back in business.

Upon entering the party later that day, my little world was shattered: it was a grander spread than I could ever have imagined. It was a feast of tasty treats from around the globe - eye-catching, mouth-watering and plentiful.

And there, shoved in the back corner, was my sad little tupperware of 




Alone. Discarded. Almost out of sight. On the line between the savoury and sweet tables, because no one was really sure what they were supposed to be.

I tried not to mind. I tried not to look. But as they piled their paper plates high, I saw not one child or parent gasp with delight at a muffin of mine. It was a wash-out. I stood by the sweet table stuffing my face with gummy bears to numb the pain.

On Thursday, it's the nursery Christmas Party. The Girl is playing an angel in the play. Help me, dear blog reader(s?), become an angel in the kitchen and a victor in the finger food war: what shall I make?

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Monday, 17 December 2007

Misery Loves Company

I like reading other people's grumbles, especially when they are this funny:

The entry on the word "Ramekin" is my favourite.

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Saturday, 15 December 2007

Best Of . . . Both Worlds

Tree up, festive spirit guaranteed to be in full flow on this most rare of nights (I'm going out! Without the children!), and although I didn't quite achieve my writing goals for the year, some crazy beautiful stuff has happened and I feel a list coming on . . . and so to my Best Of . . . categories for 2007.

Best Writing Moment:
Being invited to write a picture book with no brief other than ‘farmyard’. Freedom! (See sneak preview above.)

Best Reason To Give It All Up:
Geri Halliwell

Best One-Liner, Guaranteed To Cheer Self When Writing Career Goes Tits-Up:
Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 5: “Those big vagina ladies get away with murder.”

Best One-Liner By A Blood Relative:
(To a young boy in Homebase, who was wearing a kipa)
“Oh dear, little boy, your hat is too small!”
(The Girl, aged 3 - we have now explained the whole deal with head coverings in various cultures)

Best Awww Moment, Guaranteed To Get Things Into Perspective:
Watching The Boy pucker up and crawl over to give The Girl a sloppy kiss.

Best Blog:
The Road To Hell

Best 5 Novel(s):
The Kite Runner* / Khaled Hosseini
Prince Rupert’s Teardrop / Lisa Glass
Mothernight / Sarah Stovell
A Gentle Axe / R.N. Morris
Queen Mum / Kate Long

*yes, I know I was a bit late to the party on this one

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Thursday, 13 December 2007

Domestic Blisters, No.3

If I ever decide to do away with The Australian, I can guarantee that the murder weapon will be a tea towel, if only because it is very likely that there will be one to hand when I finally flip.

The humble tea towel has become a powerful symbol in this household.

When I was growing up, my parents were keen to explain the importance of eating 'appropriately', as in 'using the correct tools'. So from an early age I was taught how to use chopsticks, how to twirl spaghetti with a fork and spoon, which hand to eat curry with (though we were only allowed to do this when our friends from Karachi came to visit), and that you do not eat a hamburger with a knife and fork. Ever. Even if it's a gigantic stack and all the extra bits are squeezing out the sides. Even if you recently had your jaw wired and can only fit tiny morsels in your mouth. Even if you have a knife and a fork welded to your hands after some freak accident. But The Australian, well, he doesn't like to get his hands dirty, with, y'know, hamburger dirt. Five years of my derisive comments haven't swayed him. I've tried pointing it out to his mates in the hope that their ribbing would have an effect. Nothing. 'This is how I eat,' he says.

So, okay, I can live with the knife and fork on the burger. Just about. I've an open mind, I can compromise. But who the hell can't eat sandwiches and toast without a TEA TOWEL BY THEIR SIDE?

A chicken sandwich, say.

He takes a bite.

He wipes.

Picks the sandwich up, takes a bite . . .






Is that another bite you're taking there?

Oh well it must be another wipe you're after!

Does that seem like a normal way to eat a chicken - or any - sandwich? Does that not suggest the mind of a man with something to hide? WHAT THE HELL IS HE WIPING? Huh?

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Monday, 10 December 2007

Rockin' Around The Wheelie Bin

I thought I had Christmas under control (and by that I mean that I've strung up the fairy lights and put the wondrously tacky Singing Christmas Mice on the mantelpiece). But a jolt this morning has sent my mind a-festive-boggle.

There was a ring on the doorbell. Great, I thought, it'll be one of the books I accidentally-on-purpose ordered by pressing 1-click on Amazon. But when I opened the door there was a bin man standing on the pavement a few yards away, fag-in-mouth, sack-in-hand: "I just wanted to say Merry Christmas," he said, and gave me a cheeky wave before throwing the sack in the van.

I said 'Thanks!' and shut the door, and got that awful feeling you get when someone says 'I love you' and you can't say it back. (When I say 'awful', obviously it's slightly worse for the person who's feeling the love.) They had caught me unawares - I haven't even done my cards or bought the tree yet, and here suddenly was a new Christmas dilemma: do I tip the bin men?

Feeling alone in my fretting, I asked Google. Lo and behold, it's actually a proper problem to have, it's not just me! There are online forums filled with comments like "yeah, I'll give them a tip - stop going through my rubbish or I'll brain yer!" and "if you don't tip them, they'll tip your rubbish - all over your front garden!" and "bin men are really well paid so I see no reason why I should", and also "It's a tradition in this country, and one which I intend to uphold - come on, we haven't got many traditions left, and this is a good one."

I suppose it is a good one, as traditions go, but then I started thinking about the service they provide: on the one hand, I am really glad that someone else does that for me, because phew do those things stink; but on the other hand, every Monday they leave this enormous, usually wet, wheelie bin right outside my front door instead of in the place they found it, leading to a very awkward pushchair v. wheelie-bin face-off. So I am not really feeling the Christmas love for them. Should I lie and tip them anyway, hoping they'll give me a better service next year if I'm generous?

And where does it end? Do I tip the postman? (There's a different one nearly every week.) What about the poor sods who put pizza leaflets and cab cards through my door? And say I did decide to tip the bin men, is hard cash the only option? What about a bottle of wine, or some chocolates? That seems more gifty and festive. Slippers? Russell Brand's new book? A novelty bottle-opener?

The final aspect of this dilemma will keep me awake at night - how do I actually give them the tip? Do I run out into the street, babe-in-arms, waving a fiver at them? Or do I leave it in a (waterproof) envelope, sticky-taped to the wheelie-bin?

Perhaps the local council could spend some of our taxes putting together a helpful leaflet about this.

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Sunday, 9 December 2007

Time. And Time Again.

Two conversations with The Girl this week reminded me of how Time is a concept with completely different meanings for writers, on the one hand, and agents/editors on the other.

1. Time According to Agents and Editors

The Girl: Mum, when can I have my ears pierced?
Me: When you're 14.
The Girl: But Mia has her ears pierced and she's only four and I'm three and three-quarters.
Me: That's up to Mia's mummy. But you can have them done at 14.
The Girl: But I want to have earrings when I'm still at school.
Me: You'll still be at school when you're 14.
The Girl: (wide-eyed) Really??
Me: Of course.
The Girl: Hooray! OK, Mum, I'll wait till I'm 14! (Skips off happily as if she thinks a decade will pass in the blink of her big blue eyes...)

2. Time According to Writers

The Girl: Can you read me this book, Mum?
Me: Sure, just as soon as I've finished this sentence.
The Girl: How long?
Me: Five minutes.
The Girl: Is it five minutes yet?
Me: No, that was about five seconds. Go and play for five minutes, I'll call you when I'm ready.
The Girl: I'll wait here. (Leans on my arm as I type; puts face very close to mine and stares intently.) Is it five minutes yet?
Me: No, it's not even one minute. Go in the wendy house until I call you.
The Girl: No.
Me: Well wait then. You've got four more minutes.
The Girl: Is it four minutes yet?
Me: NO! Oh please just let me finish. I will read you that book and any other books you like if you just give me a few minutes peace.
The Girl: What's a few?
Me: Four.
The Girl: But it's already been four.
Me: AAARGGGHHHH. OK, give me the book.
The Girl: Thanks, Mum!

This post is dedicated to any writers out there who are waiting, and respectfully to any agents or editors who are currently in the process of putting us (and hundreds like us) out of our misery.

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Friday, 7 December 2007

The Arse of Christmas Shopping

Why traipse around the shops when you can sit back and browse the many wonderful and varied book reviews on Vulpes Libris? Something for everyone.

Come on, Santa's not going to do it for you.

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Wednesday, 5 December 2007

The Real Seven Signs of Ageing

(There’s nothing like a whole month of putting your novel before your ablutions to make you look like a geriatric bushpig . . .)

1. Going out to buy a pair of sensible winter boots and coming home with your first pair of heels in nearly four years (heels and buggy-pushing are incompatible to my mind). Blue leather, wedge-heeled, adorable – still in the box, of course, because where the hell am I going to wear them? Totter up the high street to nursery? Stumble all round the supermarket, gripping the handlebar of the buggy for dear life? That’s why I popped into Primark this week and bought the £8 Sensible Pair. They are currently upside down on the heater - £8 doesn’t buy you waterproof, apparently.

2. Feeling too stiff to bend down and scrape off the fossilised Cheerios from the kitchen floor. Smirking at the sight of The Boy attempting to pick them up; sitting back with a lovely cup of tea as he continues to do this for ten minutes.

3. Buying some Olay night-cream (with age-defying pentapeptides!) – but still calling it Oil of Ulay. Running to the bathroom mirror every morning, like a hopeful child towards a Christmas tree, to monitor the improvement of fine lines, etcetera

4. Turning round to check the width of your bum in the mirror but instead having a sharp intake of breath at the state of your elbows. Vaguely remembering your mother telling you to moisturise them from an early age. Cursing her. Cursing yourself for ignoring her sound advice. Covering your elbows with a cardigan.

5. Doing a complete about-turn on plastic surgery as you catch sight of yourself braless in pyjamas. Cursing Mother Nature, gravity and your children.

6. Forgetting what number six is, but knowing it’s something fairly depressing.

7. Having this conversation in the first place.

Feel free to add some of your own.

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Tuesday, 4 December 2007


There are two very different options for me when I step outside my front door. 

If I turn left I end up on a high street where . . . 
A loaf of extremely hard, do-good bread costs just under a fiver
The boutique calls out, Siren-like, with dresses that cost more than my entire wardrobe
The bookshop is independent and does a roaring trade
70% of the shoppers have joined the War Against Plastic Bags, and wield their organic hemp versions with pride
Scrubbed-faced, beautiful women, dressed in their finest shabby-chic, call out to children named Hetty and Georgie and Connie and Orlando
The local park is like the set of I'm A Celebrity, minus the witchetty grubs

If I turn right, I end up on a high street where . . . 
Breakfast costs £2.95 and almost certainly involves tinned tomatoes
Hair flies at Primark as they fight over £6 jeans
There is a lot of stuff for sale outside shops, in big buckets, like Imperial Leather soaps (packs of 3 for £1), enormous jars of Nescafe, and lurid beach towels.
You might see two very drunk men try to help another very drunk man do a wee in the street. At 9am.

I am halfway between these two high streets in every sense. Turning left means I have the right kind of pushchair (Phil n Ted... a.k.a. Arm n Leg) but the wrong kind of boots (Primark! £8!!). Turning right means holding onto my bag a bit tighter after dark, being aware that I might sound like a bit of a posh twat, but also not having to self-flagellate in Sainsburys for forgetting my damn organic hemp shopping bag, again.

I have the same feeling with my writing - unwilling, or unable, to commit to a single genre or even age group. I can't stick to one because I haven't worked out where I belong. 

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Monday, 3 December 2007

What Readers Say, What Writers Hear

NaNoWriMo is over. For some, like my dedicated and amazing friend Luisa Plaja, it was another successful year - she romped home with 51k words at 3am a day ahead of the deadline. But for others it ended a week early in a pool of self-hatred and mucus from a bad head cold, at only 30k. None of the 30 came easily, I must confess, for although I have been evangelical about the beauty of Nano and its ability to vanquish your Inner Editor, I overlooked one crucial factor in this year's effort:

I was writing it with my mother.

Disclaimer: my mother is funny, warm and hugely supportive. She is also one of the worst liars I have ever known. 

A week in, My Nano became one of those jokes you get spammed with every so often about 'What Men Say' and 'What Women Hear'. Eg. 'No, darling, you don't look fat in that,' becomes 'Not only do you look enormous, you are also stupid and a nag and I'm doing your best friend.' Ho ho. That kind of thing. It went a little something like this every time I handed over a chunk for Mum to read:

What She Said:
It's good. I like it.
What I Heard:
It's not nearly as good as I thought it would be. You are a disappointment. I've never really liked you.

What She Said:
It's getting a bit serious; I thought we were writing a comedy.
What I Heard:
You have always been a bit of a Sarah Bernhardt. Why do you take yourself so seriously? This is why I've always preferred my other children.

What She Said:
Just have a break from it. You're not well. We will finish it eventually, won't we?
What I Heard:
You have failed. Again. Now you have ruined my chances of becoming a bestselling novelist. You've always been selfish.

And so on . . . 

The point being, of course, that my Inner Editor is fed and clothed by my mum, so it had no intention of moving out for a month while I partied guilt-free. It's not that mums mean to do it, but there is a reason that I put some slap on and have a bit of a tidy up before she comes over.

The good news is that we might just have something in those 30k words, but me and my Inner Demons are having a bit of R&R before we get back on the Bucking Bronco that is: Writing A Novel With Another Person, Especially The Person Whose Approval You Most Seek.

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Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Funny, Scary, True

As NaNoWriMo looms, and the prospect of co-writing a book with my mum in the space of a month thuds like a mallet on my brow, this made me laugh (and then seriously reconsider the whole idea).

(With thanks to my friend, Ross).

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Friday, 26 October 2007

Do I make myself clear?

This morning my WPC (Wonderful Polish Cleaner) came to the new house for the first time. She arrived much later than usual but as I am to Polish cleaners what doormats are to feet, it wasn't mentioned. I made my usual attempt to explain to her which bits I wanted her to clean, and she nodded and said 'OK' a lot, and we both knew that she was going to clean the bits she wanted to clean anyway.

After a good hour of 'Dog' - the game where I pretend to be . . . a dog (who speaks with a gruff woofing voice, eats plastic food and is patted quite heavily by saliva-covered hands courtesy of The Teething Boy), I decided that the novelty of having a newly-moved-into fridge that didn't contain past-it food was wearing thin because we actually had no food at all, and so we got ready for Sainsbury's.

On our way out, WPC managed a fantastic mime of "You need kitchen towel" and sternly told me to "Buy Viakal." It was our best conversation in weeks and I left the house with a spring in my step.

In the cleaning products aisle, I had a flash of guilt remembering that before WPC we were almost chemical free - I'd even managed to convince The Australian that Ecover products were just as good, not too expensive and much nicer smelling (he's more a Cillit Bang sort). But the thought of returning without the Viakal, and attempting to explain why I don't want WPC to use it, despite the twinkly-shininess... It was the last bottle on the shelf, so I promised myself that this would be our last bottle - after all, we'd just had an almost-conversation so who knew what I'd be able to communicate in a few weeks.

On the way home, I bought the children a small present to say well done for moving house and not grumbling or whining all week while I unpacked and only played very short bursts of Dog. "But we didn't move house," said The Girl. Shit, I thought, she hasn't got the concept, she thinks we're on holiday or something, she'll be horribly traumatised. "Actually," she continued, "our old house was stuck down to the ground too hard so we couldn't move it, so what we had to do was put everything in boxes and take it to a new house." You can't argue with that.

Later, as WPC was leaving and the twinkly-shininess was on maximum glare, I tried to mime "How is your daughter's arm?" (She broke it a fortnight ago.) WPC looked confused. I tapped my arm, "She broke her arm?" I said. "Oh, 10 o'clock, maybe," said WPC. "No, no, I mean her arm, your daughter's arm," I said, smacking my arm quite hard now. "Umm, 10.30?" she said, and drew 10.30 on the shiny workbench. I realised she thought I was jabbing the imaginary giant watch on my arm to tell her off for being late, and that it was possible her daughter had never broken her arm at all and I'd just misunderstood something and might make it worse by continuing my shitty mimes, so I let it go. Now she thinks I'm a hardnut clock-watching employer. I will lose sleep over this.

After tea, while I was out of the room trying to convince The Boy that stair-climbing is not a milestone, The Girl decided to do an elaborate felt-tip drawing on the white dining table. I told her off with my gruff Mummy voice (which sounds a lot like Dog, incidentally) and confiscated her bucket of pens, waiting for that sorrowful look as I relegated them to the top cupboard. "Never mind!" she piped up with glee. "I'll just go and play with something else! Isn't that a good idea, Mum?" And she skipped away, leaving me to wonder what Viakal's like on table-top felt-tip works of art.

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Friday, 19 October 2007

Lose Pounds! Fast!

The "Moving House" Diet

Guaranteed and Safe(ish)*!

This week I have been trying to shift some excess fat, FAST! The results are AMAZING**. 

Packing up your house in the presence of small children is not easy - they want to get in the box, they want to get everything out of the box, they want to put things in the box that you don't want in there, they want to draw on the box (fine), with peanut butter (not fine), they want you to play doctors/teachers/dinosaurs with them and no they will not accept a variation of those games (doctors-who-are-packing/teachers-who-are-packing/dinosaurs-who-are, ok, you get it). I've spent my entire week trying to pack. More crucially, I've spent my entire week trying to get rid of things so that I didn't have to pack them. 

It's typical of me to focus on one tiny detail of a grand plan (I'm like this with my writing, too - detail, detail, detail, oops, lost the plot), but I didn't realise I was doing this until after I'd become so obsessed with clearing the food from the fridge that I'd consumed most of a jar of (Belgian) chocolate spread, a dangerous amount of lime pickle, and a lot of cheese. There wasn't much else in there because I'd purposely not been shopping all week - I've been feeding the children by scraping off that stuff that always ends up at the bottom of your store cupboard (a mixture of spilled golden syrup, porridge oats, caster sugar and fish sauce).

I became fixated with the notion that eating chocolate spread on toast for breakfast (breakfast at 7 and breakfast at 10 - the first one doesn't count because I'm half-asleep), and high tea (suddenly high tea seemed like a meal to introduce to the family), and dipping my finger into the jar every other time I passed the fridge would really help the packing-up process. I mean, if we didn't have to carry that heavy jar, our moving problems would be over! Right? Just another lick, ooh some toast crusts to dip into it, come on, come on, you're doing yourself a favour finishing this. In between I ate lime pickle and cheese sandwiches (washed down with lots of milk owing to the generosity of pickle - well, there was only a third of a jar left so there was no point packing it, might as well empty it...).

Mission complete. All of the boxes are filled to capacity so I was right: there was no room for a jar of chocolate spread. 

"Now that she's got rid of that excess chocolate spread, we're all a lot happier." The Australian
"Mum never lets me eat chocolate spread." The Girl
"Mah." The Boy
"If anyone needs 17 assorted tupperware lids, call me." Me

*long-term use not advised
**subject to interpretation

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Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Squeezing the Hours

Over on Emma Darwin's blog, her thoughts on the mechanics of writing and how free writing allows you to 'let go of the outcome' reminded me of how suited I am to extreme writing processes - intense deadlines and slightly ridiculous circumstances. (If I weren't shielding the screen from The Australian he'd be scoffing: "You? Going to extremes? What a surprise.")

Two years ago I took part in a writing marathon to raise money for Children in Need, during which flash fiction prompts were sent on the hour, every hour, from 9pm-9pm. At the time The Girl still woke a couple of times a night (I'm not exactly Gina Ford, shall we say), so it went: crappy sleep, normal day, stay awake all night writing a piece of flash every hour (popping in to feed the baby a couple of times), attempt to continue writing while looking after the baby all day, feel sick with tiredness and start to lose the ability to speak, almost pass out, admit defeat, crappy sleep.

Despite being shouted at by my mother and The Australian for making myself sick with fatigue, it was a blast. (OK, I quite enjoyed being shouted at - I was giddy by then.) I ended up with one of my pieces in the Leaf Books anthology (a piece that inspired my second novel) and more importantly with a feeling that neither looking after babies nor sleep deprivation were valid excuses for not writing. 

So last year, the month before I was due to give birth again, I decided to take part in NaNoWriMo. I had scoffed at the idea before - writing a novel in a month seemed a bit cheap. But I was missing the point. NaNoWriMo is the most exhilarating and freeing extreme writing exercise. It was the first time I had really allowed myself to write a first draft - without to-ing and fro-ing over every single phrase, doing my nut. There wasn't time to fret, what with 1677 words to bash out every day. Yes, bash - not very glamorous, is it? What I learned is that first drafts don't have to be - I learned to shove a sock in the mouth of my mean Inner Editor and tell her to come back later and clean up the mess I was about to make.

It's nearly that time of year again. Things are different - I don't have a bump (well, apart from a digestive biscuit and too-many-takeaways bump) getting in the way but I do have an adventurous crawler who discovered today that the front wheel of the rain-drenched-just-traipsed-through-filthy-London-streets pushchair makes a decent teething ring, and a three year old who wants a grown-up to play with "because this is a grown-up game, not for babies, sorry". And I want to do NaNoWriMo, so I think that fact alone will carry me through, but right now I'm thinking - how will I squeeze the hours? What will suffer? (Who will suffer?) Will I clean less (even less), cook less, make us run out of wearable clothes, let the children watch (more) television, take them to the park less, talk to the Australian less, sleep less . . . sleep less

I'd better stop here before I talk myself out of it. This must be my longest post ever, and the first one I just sat down to write without giving it a second thought. I should probably wake my Inner Editor and let her loose but I think I'll let her snooze a while longer - she's going to be very busy indeed come December.

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Friday, 12 October 2007

The Girl: Telling It Like It Is For Three And A Half Years

Scene 1

Me: Who's more clever, Mummy or Daddy?
The Girl (without hesitation): Daddy.
Me: Really? You're sure?
The Girl: Yep.
Me: How come?
The Girl: Daddy can juggle.

Scene 2

Me (in a flap): Look, you've got to stop running away from me in the street. My job is to take care of you, sweetheart, and keep you safe and I can't do that if you keep dashing off so please listen, I need your help to do my job so don't do that again. OK?
The Girl: But Mum, that's not your job, your job is writing.

What the hell is she going to be like when she's a teenager?

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Thursday, 4 October 2007

The Colour of Money

Today I received my fee for the picture book to be published soon by Parragon. I performed the Dance of the Happy Writer, and then filed the cheque . . . and when I say filed, I mean I dumped it on my desk alongside the old mugs of tea, and phone charger, the curry menu and the fifty other bits of admin I'm currently ignoring. And then I went about my day.

When I next looked at the cheque it had several squiggly additions in fat blue crayon. Unfortunately The Girl hadn't managed to add any convincing zeros but I'm sure the bank will appreciate her jazzing it up a bit.

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Sunday, 30 September 2007

Dig A Little Deeper

You know that t-shirt, the one you always reach for when you're feeling blah? You thought you'd left it in that dreadful hotel with the pink bedspread that cheered up The Girl, and the gloopy cherry jam for breakfast, and the caged bird that was your only wolf-whistle in years. You'd hung it behind the bathroom door and promised yourself you wouldn't forget it. But you did, didn't you? You've been mourning it ever since. Nothing else makes you feel as comforted as that t-shirt.

Have you still not done all of your holiday laundry? Christ. You're an even worse homemaker than I thought. Hang on . . . what's this? Look, it's the bloody t-shirt! It's been in the laundry basket all this time. You just needed to dig a little deeper.

That lost novel. You know the one. The one that felt like an almost-perfect fit. You can't pretend it's hanging on a hook in a run-down bathroom in Boulogne and just buy a new one. You can bury it under a pile of other stale crap if you like but one day you're just going to have to dig it out and put it on a warm cycle. 

p.s. But I think you should firmly maintain your stance on ironing.

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Saturday, 29 September 2007

Domestic Blisters (No.2)

Before we bought our first home together, the closest The Australian got to DIY was replacing a lightbulb. Now he has a deluxe toolbox and can name all the different types of screws - all well and good, you might say, but deluxe toolboxes come with the following freebies:

The Builders' Heavy Sigh (in every size from Mildly Solemn to Gravely Tormented)
The B&Q Twitch (an inability to let a weekend go by without popping in for something useful he hasn't got yet)

And it is this last one that has formed my second blister. Wall-tapping starts out fairly harmless - I used to think it was quite sweet when he'd follow a builder around the flat, tapping in the same places the builder had tapped and trying to be in the gang. But even after all the walls had been tapped, all the facts about said walls verified, and all the building work complete, the wall-tapping continued. Tap-tap-tap. And still continues to this day, even though we're moments from moving out - he doesn't care whose walls he taps these days, tap-tap-tap, it's a compulsion.

Tap-tap-tap. If you look closely there are tiny knuckle marks all over the place. When I challenge him about it he gets very defensive. "I do know what I'm doing!" he insists. Tap-tap-tap. "Do share," I urge. "I'm . . . checking for something." "For what?" "You're not interested, never you mind." "Tell me." "No." Tap-tap-tap. "Is it a secret? Are you sending Morse Code to all the other builders in the world?" He generally leaves the room at this point, and resumes the tapping in private.

I suppose it could have something to do with him growing up on Ramsey Street, where entire houses topple over if there's a slight breeze let alone a tap-tap-tap. He must be overawed by our ancient but sturdy brickwork. It's when he does it during one of our serious and thought-provoking discussions that I get most annoyed. It's the equivalent of randomly grabbing his crotch while I'm saying something important. Then the tap-tap-tapping speaks volumes: "Whatever you are saying should not be getting in the way of my serious man's work, little woman."

It's mental torture, is what it is.

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Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Oi, You, God-Breath

I am a VIP. It says so here on my first-ever invitation to a perfume launch. There will be champagne, a chance to meet the perfumer, have a "bespoke fragrance consultation" and buy limited edition engraved bottles of . . . 

"Breath of God"

BREATH OF GOD? What?? Why on earth would I want to dab a little god's-breath behind my ears? I can just imagine the conversation (between me and The Australian, not me and God - he's not spoken to me since I excommunicated myself):

Him: Mmm, what's that smell?
Me: Come a little closer.
Him: Mmm yes, it's you. Very nice. 
Me: I got it today at a special launch. It's very exclusive.
Him: Nice. Put the laptop down and let's get cosy.
Me: Wow, okay then!
Him: Mmm, it's so good, what's it called?
Him: What?
Me: Yes, God has been breathing down my neck. It's God's breath.
Him: That is so not sexy.
Me: I know. Give me back the laptop.

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Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Domestic Blisters (No.1)

It is five years to the day since The Australian's prolific wooing of me finally paid off. Not in the biblical sense - please! - I'm talking romance, here. To mark the occasion (other than with gifts and cards, which we exchanged like children on Christmas morning at about 6.53am) I thought I'd start a new series for my blog about all the things he does around the house that really get up my nose. Romantic, see?

And so to my Domestic Blisters: the things that really rub when you've been living together for some time . . .


Why does he always have to use the biggest knife imaginable, no matter what he's cutting? I ask him to slice up some kiwi fruit for The Girl, he produces some sort of Samurai Warrior sword. A few herbs to sprinkle on a salad? Hmm, this is a job for my 16-incher, thinks he. He says he can't cut with small knives. He also wonders why it bothers me so much, and then I point to the huge great shining blade he's left overhanging the kitchen counter and then to the small, inquisitive child.

Ah, but I love him anyway. Happy Anniversary, Australian Smith.


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Sunday, 16 September 2007

Leave It To The Professionals

I am the proud owner of a new haircut, my first in 18 months. I was scared to go in case Paolo gave me a speech about neglecting myself and did that awful picking-up of rat-tailed clumps with a disgusted look on his face, or smoothing it down from the roots to expose my unsightly regrowth. But there was none of that. The only time I was told off was when I asked for advice:

Me: What do you think I should do about the colour, Paolo?
Paolo (with beautiful accent): Well-a, for a start-a, next-a time-a, don't-a do it at home-a. Leave-a it to me.

I deserved that, as anyone who has witnessed what taking peroxide off too soon can testify. We can all have a go at our own hair, but that does not make us all hairdressers, which leads me to a point you may have missed in the comments below 'Small, Sharp Objects'. My good friend Ross posted a link to an old but still very much relevant article on celebrities writing children's books: Critics, authors chafe as more celebrities join ranks of children's authors . Of particular interest - in the sense that it made me want to dig out my old 'La Isla Bonita' 12" and stamp on it - was this passage, about Madonna's reasons for doing us all the massive favour of branching out into writing:

In her typical fashion, Madonna ignited a storm of controversy last year when she explained her reasons for becoming an author.

"I'm starting to read to my son," said the Material Girl, once famed for her sexual escapades and pointy bras. "But I couldn't believe how vapid and vacant and empty all the stories were. There's, like, no lessons. ... There's, like, no books about anything."

There's, like, so much I could say to the woman who 'gave us' Shanghai Surprise and The Next Best Thing, not to mention more vapid songs than you can shake your pointy breasts at. But as I'm pushed for time and you no doubt are, too, I shall limit it to this:

Madonna, love, leave it to the professionals.

Particularly on-the-ball readers of this blog may have noticed that this is the second draft of this post.

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Thursday, 13 September 2007

Pain? I'll Give You Pain...

In between reading the highly absorbing, moving and funny Queen Mum, by Kate Long, and what promises to be a thrilling debut by Lisa Glass (Prince Rupert's Teardrop), I've been dipping into James N. Frey's How To Write Damn Good Fiction. Because I'd like to. Damnit.

It was all making so much sense until I read this line (on empathy):

"Sometimes when a wife goes into labour a husband will also suffer labor pains. This is an example of empathy."

Pardon-sorry-what? Surely this is not an example of empathy but an example of bad gas. I tell you what, James, I've give you some examples of the type of pain a man might experience during labour:

1. A mild ache in his hand while it is being squeezed by the woman WHO IS PASSING SOMETHING VERY LARGE OUT OF HER HOO-HAR.
2. A bit of a twinge in his lower back as he supports the woman FROM WHOSE DELICATE PARTS A HUMAN HEAD IS EMERGING.
3. A sharp sting on his cheek from the woman WHO IS HAVING HER NETHER REGIONS LACERATED when he mentions that he is also suffering labour pains.

James, you'd better have a damn good explanation for that.

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Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Small, Sharp Objects

As well as being nice to look at, The Girl and The Boy give me constant small reminders of the golden rule of writing for children: remember that children are at least one step further ahead than you think they are, (or sometimes one step ahead of you). They show me this in a range of ways - some of which make me swell with slightly stunned pride (like yesterday when The Girl told me why we should buy Fair Trade bananas), and others which make me growl a bit with the inconvenience and then sniff a little at how fast they grow up (like this morning when I realised that I could no longer put my coffee on the coffee table because The Boy has learnt how to pull himself up - amazing how he learns these things overnight . . . especially when he wakes up so damn often).

At a dinner party a few years ago, a woman asked me what I did and when I said "Write books for children" she kind of snarled "Oh that's such easy money," then nudged her husband and said "We should do that." "You really should," I urged, as the grudge frothed up inside me, turned solid and vowed never to leave me. I tried to think of a nasty comeback about one of their jobs but . . . I couldn't remember what either of them did.

Not only is it not easy money, it's not easy - or not very often, anyway. And getting the balance right between not talking down to the reader and not going over their heads is the trickiest part. I'm just glad I get these small reminders, even if it means I can no longer reach my coffee.

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Sunday, 9 September 2007

You Can Read Me Like A Book

Kill a minute / discover what your inner book is. I'm:

You're Prufrock and Other Observations!

by T.S. Eliot

Though you are very short and often overshadowed, your voice is poetic
and lyrical. Dark and brooding, you see the world as a hopeless effort of people trying
to impress other people. Though you make reference to almost everything, you've really
heard enough about Michelangelo. You measure out your life with coffee spoons.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

And you?

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Wednesday, 5 September 2007

You're Never Too Old...

A friend asked me what the highlights of my holiday were, and I felt obliged to think of something profound, cultured, or at least grown-up. When nothing came I admitted that the best bits were:

1. Leaping with gay abandon on a bouncy castle.
2. Swooshing down a water slide. Thrice.

And this week I've discovered another thing I'm not too old for:

3. Teething. Unless I'm such an Earth Mother that I'm having sympathy pains for The Boy, I do believe I have a wisdom tooth coming. I'd gnaw on a Bickipeg if I could shove it back far enough, and if they didn't smell of dog biscuits.

So now I'm wondering whether I might also be young enough for:

4. Those shoes that have wheels on the bottom.

And I'm also heartened to learn that the oldest first-time novelist was 101 when his book came out. George Dawson was born in 1898 in Texas, and didn't learn to read until he was 98. And he died a year after his book was published (by Random House) so he didn't even have to suffer from the dreaded second-book syndrome.

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Tuesday, 4 September 2007

You Know You've Had Your Quota Of Children When...

1. You return from France without a crate (or three) of cheap-but-very-drinkable wine because you couldn't fit it in the car.

Enough said.

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Monday, 3 September 2007

Official: Housework Bad For Health

I've had writers' hands from a very early age. Or at least Writer's Finger - an affliction similar to Housewife's Knee - caused by Catholic nuns at primary school standing over me to make sure I was holding my fountain pen at exactly 45 degrees and making me so nervous that I held the pen tight enough to form a permanent callous at the top of my middle finger and a misshapen nail. I should sue those nuns - I could have been a hand model (were it not for the chippolata fingers and nail-biting . . .) which I'll bet is a lot less stressful and better paid. On the other, er, hand, I like imagining that I'll get better at writing as I get older, but those poor hand models are probably washed-up by my age. 

Speaking of washing-up, my writers' hands took a battering on holiday, but it proved to me once and for all that cleaning is very bad for my health. It was Day Two in our little campsite cabin and I came over all 1950s and decided to hand-wash some clothes. By the time I'd finished, I could practically see my knuckles! I'd rubbed so hard the flesh was raw and every time I bent my fingers was agony. And not just that - The Australian had to take over all the washing-up and hand-washing for the rest of the holiday . . . 

Top holiday tip: if you park your car in the St Louis car park in Boulogne on a Saturday night intending to drive to the ferry in the morning, you will find that in very very small writing it says that the damn thing is closed on Sundays so you will have to locate a police station and beg them to call the car park owners to come and open up and they'll do so very kindly (you won't even mind the look of mocking disbelief or the fact that you're the laughing-stock of the local cop shop) and you'll race off to the ferry terminal to find that you've missed boarding by, ooh, two minutes and then you'll have to sell a kidney to pay for that Chunnel thing.

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Thursday, 23 August 2007

This Week I Will Be Mainly...

See you early September!

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Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Beautiful Collision

I was checking out my blog-stats on Google Analytics. The pie charts and percentages have trouble penetrating my thick skull but it amuses me for three or four seconds at a time to see how many people have accidentally stumbled upon my little blog while searching for something a whole lot more sustaining. It tickled me to learn that the top stumble is caused by people Googling my very talented writer friend (writer, friend, and writer-friend), Sarah Stovell, whose novel Mothernight I am itching to read (March 2008, Snowbooks), OR people trying to find out where they can buy Viakal.

The literary and the domestic collide once more.

(I still don't know what the Viakal is for, but the lovely Polish cleaner has been away for three weeks and I'm beginning to suspect it might have something to do with making things shiny...)

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Tuesday, 21 August 2007

You Know You're In The Middle Of A Big Rewrite When...

1. Your partner asks what's for dinner and you reply: "Err, there's a baguette somewhere, and some shortbread."
2. You use the shortbread to bribe your 3-year-old to sit down quietly for 10 minutes while you "just fix this paragraph".
3. The laundry basket is buried in a pile of clothes that won't fit inside it.
4. The children can now hum the entire theme tune to the Baby Einstein dvd.
5. You succumb to buying one of those herbal sleepy drinks for your wakeful baby. Now you want your money back.
6. Your blog is woefully neglected, so you redirect people to your Very Funny Friend's blog:

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Friday, 17 August 2007

My Life Is A House . . .

The edging towards Oz continues, and The (Highly Excited) Australian has been sending me links to houses we might one day live in. None of them seem real to me - I like the look of them but it's a bit like sending me a picture of a moon crater and telling me we'll holiday there next year. He obviously thinks I have a sense of humour about it all, as he also sent a link to a fake windmill for sale just outside Melbourne - a fake windmill packed with some of the most hideous furniture and carpet I have ever seen. It actually hurt my eyes to look at it.

Meanwhile, I'm being really helpful by producing a drawing of my ideal house. And you can too, here:

Mine says: You are sensitive and indecisive at times. You are a freedom lover and a strong person. You are shy and reserved. You always want to live alone. (OOPS!) Your life is always full of changes. You love excitement and create it wherever you go. You see the world as it is, not as you believe it should be. You added a flower into your drawing. The flower signifies that you long for love. It also safe to say that others don't see you as a flirt. You don't think much about yourself.

I think what mine really says is: You suck at drawing. Don't draw. Leave the drawing to those who are less cack-handed. Haven't you got a novel to be rewriting?

What does yours say?

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Tuesday, 14 August 2007

It's Still a Small World (After All) And Now There Are Weird Noises In It

The Girl has drawn me a picture of 'The Whole Wide World'. It consists of: our street (a.k.a. "England"), DisneyLand Paris, and the two bakeries down the road (one does good bagels, the other does good croissants).

In a rare quiet moment earlier (I think she was gouging out my lipsticks with her fingers under the kitchen table at the time) I heard some very strange noises coming from somewhere in our building. It sounds like:

(a) A very brief Gregorian Chant
(b) Faulty pipes
(c) An old man calling for help

But I am reluctant to think it might be (c), owing to a previous attempt to save the life of someone whose life did not need saving. For more on 'Rescuing' please see the Mock Duck.

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Sunday, 12 August 2007

Suspicious Minds

Keris Stainton’s Smug Married column about couples not listening to each other rang a few bells (not wedding ones, Mother). While chuckling away I vaguely wondered what important thing The Australian has been trying to make me hear this week (I studiously ignore anything about finances, organising stuff, DIY, and Steve Jobs), and today I found out what it was.

Me: Why are you still on that laptop?
Him: What do you mean? I’m trying to find us somewhere to stay on the way down to the campsite – all the hotels in France are booked, I’ve been telling you this FOR WEEKS.
Me: No you haven’t.
Him: Are you kidding? What do you think I’ve been doing every single night for the last fortnight?
Me: Erm, picking your nose and reading tedious articles on
Him: *withering look*

To stop him blathering on, I told him I’d sort it. I regretted the promise immediately but managed to hide my fear by packing him off to the Farmers’ Market to purchase very hard bread, mud-encrusted vegetables and extortionate butter. And then I set to work…

Approximately six and a half minutes later, I’d booked a room. Considering the fact that he has been Googling auberges for about a fortnight and had no luck at all, I think we can assume that one of the following has occurred:

1. I’ve booked it for 2008
2. The hotel is an utter dump
3. It was a bogus booking form and I’ve just handed over my credit card details to a bunch of scammers
4. I’m a genius

I so badly want it to be 4 but with my track record it’s unlikely. Once, we nearly made an emergency phonecall to the building manager because of a ‘strange buzzing noise’ in our flat – turned out I’d left my ‘revolutionary’ Gillette Venus Vibrance on the glass shelf in the bathroom, ‘on’. And earlier today I poured an entire glass of water into the bin: I do these idiotic things with alarming frequency so I can’t have booked us a nice place on the right date for a decent price in under ten minutes . . . can I??

Also, I’m becoming increasingly suspicious of things that happen too easily. For example, it was very easy for me to secure my first agent. I didn’t even have to write a whole book to do it. And where did that get me? Wailing over a Dear John letter and back to Square One.

On the other hand, take birth – the one thing I can say I’ve done really well in recent years (though my mother is still complaining about ‘All the muck’ that apparently shot out of me and onto her nice new top during the most recent delivery). When I was pregnant with The Girl I went to a birthing class where I was told that Pain Is Positive. Bollocks, I thought, but now I know the midwife had a point. You just can't beat the elation of 14-hours of excruciating pain finally coming to an end- the knowledge that you did it, even though it seemed impossible along the way. And there's a baby too, which is nice.

This weekend, I managed to push out a small but healthy picture book (we’ll call him Finley), and I’m pleased to say that there was pain involved, and that the only medication I used was Earl Grey tea brought regularly by The (Very Obliging) Australian. My new policy is that if it’s not difficult, it’s going to bite me on the arse eventually. And with that in mind I've got a rewrite to be getting on with . . .

Meanwhile, The Australian showed the utmost faith in my hotel booking abilities upon returning from the market. He said 'I trust you, of course I trust you!' and looked me in the eyes while his fingers madly Googled the booking details. And to think that touch-typing was one of the first things that attracted me to him.

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Monday, 6 August 2007

Jam and Bread

I've never been cool, but I think I've hit a new low - I'm addicted to jam. I didn't even like jam until I had children, but apparently I needed to replace the gin and fags and this is it: Tesco Finest Williamette-somethingorother Raspberry Conserve (I'm strictly Class B with jam). This morning I took The Girl's leftover toast crusts and dipped them straight into the jar - I'm like an animal! No one else in the house likes it (or rather, The Australian is having a Vegemite Revival because he's scared of turning British, and I've told The Girl she won't like it until she's "about seven" so my only rival is The Boy - but he can't reach the jar). With summer here, I'm dismayed to find that jam is probably not going to get me bikini-fit. Why can't I just be satisfied with bread and butter?

This got me thinking about my writing life. The bread-and-butter stuff is going really well (with one glitch that I'll blog about shortly), but it's the jam I want and for a couple of years now it's as if someone's been holding an open jar right under my nose and letting me have a good sniff but then whipping it away before I can dip the knife in. And sometimes I wonder whether I should just wean myself off the jam and learn to be happy without it.

I asked The Girl recently what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said 'Really big,' and stretched her arms as wide as they'd go. 'Me too,' I said, snuggling up to her and longing for that kind of simple yearning and optimism. 'But you are really big, Mum,' she assured me.

You see! It's the bloody jam!

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Monday, 30 July 2007

Mummy, Interrupted

The Girl reached another milestone yesterday: she woke up calling me 'Mum' and continued all day. It makes her sound about fifteen. This may not seem like a big deal - it's not as if she's got to the stage of calling me 'You-bitch-I-hate-you-I-hate-you-I-didn't-ask-to-be-born-anyway', but I'm used to the cuter Mama or Mummy and it seems so sudden. After the twentieth-or-so 'Mum' I politely enquired about the change, and she said: "Mummy starts with Mum" and gave me that same "Don't you know anything?" look.

Meanwhile, her obsession with how old people are and what they're allowed to do in relation to her continues to interrupt the reading of stories, singing of nursery rhymes, and . . . well everything.

Me: Polly put the kettle on, Polly put the-
Her: How old is Polly?
Me: Umm, not sure, why?
Her: She's using the kettle. She must be bigger than me.
Me: Yes, she is. [continues singing] Polly put the-
Her: How old then?
Me: Umm, thirteen.
Her: No she's not. [Gets book illustrating the rhyme] Look, she's young. She looks about three and a half.
Me: Well she can't be, or she wouldn't be using the kettle and drinking tea.
Her: It's peppermint tea, so it's okay.
Me: Right. Do you want me to sing the rest of the song?
Her: No thanks. I'm doing a puzzle now.

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Friday, 27 July 2007

Hope, Thy Name Is Primo

Last night I heard the wonderful news that my friends' shy, endearing and not-very-streetwise cat, Primo, has been found after being missing for seven weeks.

In all that time, although it seemed hopeless to the rest of us hardened cynics, my friends never gave up. The amount of missing cat posters they stuck around the neighbourhood probably borders on illegal. They had hoax calls, and genuine calls, and identified cats (some quite rigid) that were not theirs, and still they went out of an evening with Primo's milk dish, bashing it in the hope that he'd come out from wherever he was hiding . . . and last night, from underneath a car, crept a much thinner but instantly recognisable Primo. SEVEN WEEKS!

I'd like to say congratulations to my friends. And then I'd like us all to say a small, final prayer for something of mine that has been missing for almost as long: my shy, endearing and not-very-streetwise novel has been held hostage by some literary agents. I've done everything I can: checked my email every thirty seconds, kept the phones close by, pounced on the poor postman and tipped his bag upside down looking for a sign, just one bloody sign of where my long-lost novel might be.

Come home, Novel - but bring a contract with you, okay?

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Monday, 23 July 2007

Chip off the Old Block

Clearly inspired by her mother (happy to have inspired something other than prima donna outbursts), The Girl has produced this masterpiece:

Snow White and the Nine Comparatively Large Dwarves
(they look a bit scary but don't worry, they're 'armless)

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Wednesday, 18 July 2007

It's a Small World, After All

Our umm'ing and ahh'ing about moving to Oz has reached a conclusion. He says: 'Umm, we'll go after Christmas.' I say: 'Ahh, you can tell my mother then.'

It seems only fair that we give it a try (if I grit my teeth any harder my jaw will snap). He didn't mean to live over here for more than a year - well, that'll teach him to make eyes at English girls - and recently he's started to eat Marmite without pulling a face, so he feels it's time to get back to his roots. Mate. More importantly, his side of the family have mythical status for The Girl (they are the Senders of Gifts and the Blurry Faces on the IMac), and have never even met The Boy.

Meanwhile, The Girl is growing curious about the size of the world, though I feel we've scuppered her understanding by taking her on the 'It's a Small World' ride at EuroDisney. 'Are we still in England?' she says, on the way to nursery. 'Yes, nursery is in England,' I reply. 'But we live in London,' she tells me. I explain about London being part of England - she'd assumed London was just our street - and throw in a comment about how big everything is, which by the look on her face confuses the situation and deepens her suspicion that I, in fact, know nothing. Then I mention Oz, and the mythical grandparents and so we get side-tracked talking about how daddies have mummies and daddies, too, and about how nice it will be to see them again. And after all that we arrive at nursery and she says: 'Are we still in England now?'

Yesterday, we had an estate agent over to give us a valuation. He was a typical sort: over-tanned, bejewelled, so-pleased-to-meet-us-what-a-lovely-home. He was dripping with smarm; I had to leave the room at one point (I have a very low smarm threshold). On his way out he stopped to grin inanely at The Girl and seemed reluctant to leave until she had smiled back. Which she didn't. She seemed to want to say: 'I'll see your grin and raise you a really filthy look.'

But afterwards she said to her father: 'Was that man your daddy?' 'My god, no!' he replied. She explained: 'Oh, well he was wearing brown. All daddies wear brown.' She seemed pretty relieved. It was another nail in the Oz coffin for me.

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Tuesday, 17 July 2007

One For the Kids*

News reaches me that these fairytale retellings are doing well, with Three Billy Goats and a Gruff Troll in the lead (which is my favourite, as it happens! The song is particularly catchy. It's possible we dance around to it in this house a fair bit.). Later this year: The Princess and the Frozen Pea and Three Little Pigs and a Pinny**

**titles subject to change...aren't they always?

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Saturday, 14 July 2007

Quirky? Moi?

How does that famous saying go? Everything comes to those who wait around on the sofa a lot, propping up a feeding baby with one arm while holding a Dr Seuss book with the other. Or something. This week the work came to me: Parragon would like me to write a picture book for them. They thought of me because they want something with "lots of humour" and possibly "a bit quirky". I'm quirky! I do humour! Someone else other than me thinks so and wants to pay me for it!

Ah, happy days.

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Friday, 13 July 2007

Crap Mop

Today, the part of the dopey middle-class twit will be played by Me, while the part of Monica, the fairly stern Polish cleaner, will be played by Herself.

Act 1

Me: So, here's the cupboard with everything in it. This stuff is for the floor.
Herself: (looks at floor, looks at Me as if to say - Then why have you never used it?)
Me: These dusters are for . . .
Herself: I know these.
Me: OK! Great. And this is . . .
Herself: (flapping me away) Is ok, ok, I do now.
Me: OK! Great.

Act 2

Me: Thanks, everything looks really good.
Herself: You buy Viakal.
Me: Viakal? I've heard of that. What's that for?
Herself: Buy Viakal.
Me: OK!
Herself: Buy mop. This mop no good. Crap mop.
Me: (guiltily) Oh, sorry, really? OK, I'll get a new one.
Herself: Vileda.
Me: Right. OK then. Vileda and Viakal. Thanks.

(Herself leaves. Me dashes to sink and sighs at how shiny it is, and then writes a huge note for the fridge: BUY VILEDA AND VIAKAL!!)

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Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Hausfrau Avoidance

This week it's not so much the pram in the hallway causing me strife but the hoover in the hallway . . . or Hoover, or vacuum cleaner, or that thing that's supposed to suck up the bits and dust only mine hardly ever does because I'm too lazy to change the bag so I just leave it plugged in and go off to do something else and there it stays for three or four days until I can't remember what it's like not to have to step over it every time I leave the room. It becomes like a faithful dog. So I put it away in the really awkward cupboard (where faithful dogs go, obviously), and then I look at the rug and sigh at the trodden-in raisins and the odd grain of rice from last week's takeaway and briefly contemplate getting it out again.

But recently I've discovered two reasons to stop avoiding the housework: one good, one bad. And I've been at it quite a lot.

When the flat is tidy (in a rumpled kind of way) I'm like Mary-bleedin'-Poppins with the children. Earlier this week we had an especially good day - made-up songs, interesting wildlife spotted on a long walk (fortunately ladybirds and slugs count as interesting when you are three), biscuit-making (with pink icing) and pumpkin-seed-planting. It was textbook. A spoonful of sugar? Not 'arf. But as the week went by and the flat went from gently rumpled to definitely disheveled to A Right State, I started to act more like Cruella de Ville* (only without the cool hair, and wearing not a fur coat but carrot-puree-stained jeans). Even though I hate housework, I also hate living in a tip. It makes me itchy (not literally - we're not at vermin level yet).

Housework might be a displacement activity for the novel I'm supposed to be rewriting. (I always intended the novel to be the displacement activity for the housework!)

I've also noticed that I tackle housework alarmingly similar to the way I deal with rewrites. I enter a room (chapter), chuck a few things, move a few things, push a few things under the bed, have a satisfied glance around and tell myself I've done a grand job, and duck out shutting the door behind me. Only deep down I know there's a layer of dust on the skirting-board, and a mug of old tea on the mantelpiece, and the character's motivation is still a bit oblique and that metaphor a tad over-written.

I need more and better housework, but I also need more time for the rewrite; I can't have both. I've got to take the flat/novel to pieces, deep clean them and put them back together.

The answer?

Well, she's Polish and charges £8 per hour. Now I have no excuse . . . Only, guess what I did today in preparation for my new cleaner starting tomorrow? Reader, I cleaned.

I have turned into a dreadful caricature.

*Thanks to Ross for his photoshop skills!

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Monday, 9 July 2007


I have identified in myself a new shortcoming. Tuppunawareness is the inability to select the correct-sized Tupperware for a particular purpose. It's a little-known but hideously embarrassing disease, with far-reaching side-effects that include:

1. Having to witness the smug look on your partner's face as he watches you pour a small amount of soup into a Tupperware that would comfortably serve as a paddling pool.
2. Needing to rearrange your entire fridge in order to accommodate a plastic box that mostly contains air.
3. The thud of disappointment as you realise that you have far less than you thought you had.

On the other hand, maybe it's not lack of spatial awareness, but optimism. Writers' Optimism - now there's another condition I suffer from. More anon . . .

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Saturday, 7 July 2007

The Opposite of Sleep

I asked The Girl to choose a bedtime story. ‘The Noddy book!*’ she said. ‘If you like, but it’s not really a story, it’s just about opposites,’ I pointed out (doing a piss-poor job of concealing my desire to read Mrs McTats and her Houseful of Cats). ‘I know what it’s about, Mummy, I want to do opposites.’ Five minutes of the day left and her little cogs are turning until the very last. Sheesh.

We had hot / cold, up / down, in / out, and then: ‘Noddy is young. Like you,’ I said. ‘And Big Ears is?’ ‘Old! Like you, Mummy!’ she said, so proud that she was getting them all right that I hadn’t the heart to explain that thirty-two isn’t actually that old and these are laughter lines and anyway I’ll look a lot younger and fresher when I’ve have more than three consecutive hours of sleep. So I smiled, sweetly.

She reeled off some more opposites, though as I was holding a silent grudge I was only half-listening, but when I came round she had taken the concept to a new realm – and when I say realm, I mean a borderless land of pointing out that every object, action or feeling in the world has an opposite.

There she stood in her over-sized Cinderella pyjamas. ‘The opposite of shopping is . . . no food! The opposite of wardrobe is . . . clothes on the floor. The opposite of my drink is . . . a cup with nothing in it.’ And so on, and on, and on . . . So I flicked to page fifteen of Annoying Parental Wit and said, ‘And what’s the opposite of awake?’ ‘Asleep!’ she trilled. ‘Right, and that’s what you should be right now.’ It was another twenty minutes, including a heart-warming off-the-cuff story about the beetle she’d found in a raspberry that day, before she got the hint and closed her eyes. Watching her, I wondered what thoughts rippled through her mind as she finally wound down.

If there’s one opposite that’s crucial for anyone trying to fit writing in between other, more dominating things, it’s on / off. Off is the one giving me trouble. My writing time is now confined to evenings; some nights I write until I can barely hold my head up, and then crawl into bed and siiiiigh at the chill of the pillow and the comfort of the dark and the sleepy little breaths I can hear alongside me (that’s The Boy – the breathing on my other side tends to register on the Richter Scale, for which he receives regular kicks in the shin). But even though everything is in place for sleep, and I’m so tired my eyes are stinging, and I know The Boy is going to wake me up in an hour or two, I’m thinking – wilfully thinking about the work-in-progress, or the imagined rejection I’ll receive in the morning, or the imagined contract I won’t receive in the morning, or . . . I could go on, and on, and on, and the writing thoughts are regularly interspersed with: did I lock the back door? what time is my dentist appointment next Wednesday?

I need an off-switch.

Like daughter, like mother.

*the new, sanitised kind

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Friday, 6 July 2007

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Ear Whacks

(Look away now if you hate it when parents tell you about the Really Funny Things their children say . . . )

The Girl: Mummy, I have a whack in my ear.
Me: A what?
The Girl: A whack.
Me: (checking her frantically for signs of a beating) Did someone hit you? 
The Girl: (looking at me as if I'm crazy) NO! A WHACK!
Me: Ohhh, you mean wax.
The Girl: Yes but there's only one. One whack, see? (produces one tiny yellow ball of wax)

One whack, many wax.

Tomorrow: how the concept of Opposites has started to dominate our lives . . . 

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Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Cyril, meet Josh

What with being rushed off my feet (and sometimes rushed off my backside, what with all the sitting around lactating I find myself doing - which would be the perfect opportunity to write a novel one-handed were it not for small but perfectly formed three-year-old hanging off my neck) and not having enough time to research Our Cyril, I'm very grateful to a clued-up writer-friend who informs me that Connolly's book, Enemies of Promise, from which the 'pram in the hallway' quote comes, is: 'a piss-poor exercise in excuse-making'. 

(Anyone who writes a sentence that long cannot possibly put a claim in for time poverty.)

Did Cyril think that having children simply left no time for writing? It can't be an accident that several female writers I know (using the term 'know' about as loosely as my old maternity knickers) didn't really get started until they'd had their first child. The same is true for me. I spent my twenties intending to be a writer - a process that involved drinking a lot, smoking a lot, and talking a lot (of hooey). But it wasn't until I found myself with a baby instead of time on my hands that I wrote anything whole and (hopefully) credible. 

What we do is cling tightly to the tiny spaces between changing nappies, rocking to sleep and pureeing papaya. We're already sacrificing sleep and socialising, so what's a bit less sleep, what's a bit less socialising when the prize is Doing What You Always Wanted To Do But Never Quite . . . Found The Time?

During the writing of this post, I've been interrupted three times by The Boy, who may or may not be teething / have eaten too much yoghurt / be suffering from night terrors about me singing Incey Wincey a little too vociferously this afternoon. Would the post be better without the interruptions? Possibly. But without The Interrupter, it wouldn't exist in the first place.

US humourist Josh Billings said: 'Time is like money; the less we have of it to spare the further we make it go.' 

I'm with Josh.

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Sunday, 1 July 2007

Cyril Says...

The writer Cyril Connolly once claimed that 'there is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hallway'. He could have meant a number of things:

1. Pregnancy makes us stupid.

2. We don't have a minute to spare because we're too busy doing fingerpuppet shows and creating nutritious meals from scratch while making sure there are no sharp or small objects within easy reach.

3. Long-term sleep deprivation renders us incapable of anything more complicated than watching CBeebies.

He could have meant a number of other, cleverer things but (a) I'm not (cleverer) and (b) I don't have time to find out who Cyril is or what exactly he meant and (c) I'm so tired I'm starting to dribble. 

So let's get the first one out of the way. Does pregnancy make us stupid? A recent study (a real one, in a university, with proper scientists) revealed that brainpower actually increases during pregnancy. Neuroscientists found that pregnant mice, rats and (rather more significantly unless we're talking about mouse art) humans experienced greater mental acuity while the bun was in the oven and when the bun was baked, put in a pre-washed babygro and plonked in front of a Baby Einstein DVD. The mice and rats had more energy, were more curious, ran mazes more quickly and retained detailed information for longer. Let me think, was I like that with either pregnancy? More energy . . . well, I somehow found the strength to give birth on my living-room floor without so much as a paracetamol (which apparently takes as much energy as running a marathon, though I have to say I'm still waiting for my medal . . . and waiting . . . ). More curious . . . yep, I was curious as to why the hell I thought I could handle two of them when one of them was already running rings around me. Ran mazes more quickly . . . do the narrow aisles in Mothercare count? Retained somethingorother . . . yep, probably.

The neuroscientists therefore found that, no, I have not been rendered so stupid by two pregnancies that I may not pursue my dream of becoming a published author. So far, Phil n Teds in the Hallway: 1, Cyril: 0.

And so to bed . . . 

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