Friday, 28 December 2007
Thursday, 27 December 2007
Friday, 21 December 2007
1. Never leave your only winter coat in your partner's car on a Sunday night
Wednesday, 19 December 2007
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
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.
Monday, 17 December 2007
Saturday, 15 December 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:
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.
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
Thursday, 13 December 2007
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.
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?
Monday, 10 December 2007
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.
Sunday, 9 December 2007
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?
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.
Friday, 7 December 2007
Wednesday, 5 December 2007
(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.
Tuesday, 4 December 2007
Monday, 3 December 2007
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:
Tuesday, 30 October 2007
Friday, 26 October 2007
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.
Friday, 19 October 2007
The "Moving House" Diet
Tuesday, 16 October 2007
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.")
Friday, 12 October 2007
Thursday, 4 October 2007
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.
Sunday, 30 September 2007
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.
Saturday, 29 September 2007
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.
Wednesday, 26 September 2007
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 . . .
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
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 . . .
No. 1: KNIVES
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.
Sunday, 16 September 2007
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:
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."
Thursday, 13 September 2007
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.
Tuesday, 11 September 2007
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.
Sunday, 9 September 2007
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.
Wednesday, 5 September 2007
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.
Tuesday, 4 September 2007
Monday, 3 September 2007
Thursday, 23 August 2007
Wednesday, 22 August 2007
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...)
Tuesday, 21 August 2007
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: ross-robinson.blogspot.com
Friday, 17 August 2007
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: http://www.drawahouse.com/TakeTheTest/
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?
Tuesday, 14 August 2007
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.
Sunday, 12 August 2007
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 mac.com?
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.
Monday, 6 August 2007
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!
Monday, 30 July 2007
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.
Friday, 27 July 2007
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?
Monday, 23 July 2007
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
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.'
Tuesday, 17 July 2007
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?
Saturday, 14 July 2007
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.
Friday, 13 July 2007
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.
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.
Me: Thanks, everything looks really good.
Herself: You buy Viakal.
Me: Viakal? I've heard of that. What's that for?
Herself: Buy Viakal.
Herself: Buy mop. This mop no good. Crap mop.
Me: (guiltily) Oh, sorry, really? OK, I'll get a new one.
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!!)
Wednesday, 11 July 2007
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.
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!
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 . . .
Saturday, 7 July 2007
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
Wednesday, 4 July 2007
(Look away now if you hate it when parents tell you about the Really Funny Things their children say . . . )
Tuesday, 3 July 2007
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'.
Sunday, 1 July 2007
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: