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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