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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