Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And lo...

... it came to pass that they all vomited eventually.

Actually, that's not quite true. The bug confined itself mainly to the young and old, but just to make life really interesting it operated on a Just When You Thought It Was All Over No It's Not approach. So it was that, having delayed a trip up north to spend time with my family because it got mil, five minutes before we were about to leave it got no 1. After a heavy night involving rather too much port and red wine then was good for me (what can I say? Christmas was rather stressful to say the least), I woke up on Sunday feeling like death warmed up. Despite Spouse's ridicules, I don't think the resulting day spent collapsed on the sofa was entirely due to alchohol. To make my cup of happiness complete, we were woken at 4am Sunday night to the dulcet sounds of no 2 succumbing to the bug. So far, it doesn't seem to have got Spouse, but I reckon there's still time.

Things I have subsequently learnt about this particular variation on the winter vomiting bug...

1) it has a two day incubation period
2) it is just possible to avoid throwing up if you have enough will power, stay in bed and keep your eyes shut for a very long time. The result is you spend two days feeling like crap instead of one. So maybe it isn't worth it...
3) given that we have probably given it to every member of my rather large family who are now dispersed the length and breadth of the nation, it's probably soon coming to a town near you...

Sorry about that.

Hoping your Christmas was somewhat less eventful then ours, and wishing anyone decent enough to have come by the blog and read my witterings, whether you've joined in the chatter or not a very Happy New Year. Life in our household has held a bit too much excitement of late, so I wish you, as I wished Spouse last night, an uninteresting 2009. Interesting times are overrated I think...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time...

...or not.

The most stressful Christmas I ever spent was six years ago, when no 4 was hospitalised with asthma the week before, and only came out about two days before the day itself. At the same time Spouse was down and out with tonsilitis, so unable to share hospitalbythebedsitting duties (our local children's ward seems to think that parents of patients only ever have one child). I was allowed out of prison for a couple of hours to finish my Christmas shopping, and I remember a hideous experience of standing in M&S heart so firmly in mouth I thought I might actually be sick from the stress, and just frantically grabbing anything I could without even looking at it, just so I had something to wrap up for people. I call it bulimic shopping. Don't try it at home.

We had six people for lunch that year, including aged mil and fil. Fil was very very poorly at the time (in fact he died six weeks later), and sil and I had hysterical conversations in the kitchen over the turkey about whether in fact he would make it through the day. He did hang on in there, choosing to depart on no4's birthday instead, which I suppose was marginally better...

Ever since then (I hadn't even bought vegetables, so bil and sil provided them already peeled on the day), I have refused point blank to stress about Christmas. As far as I am concerned, it is a day to be spent with loved ones, anything else is a bonus.

It's just as well I have adopted this approach, as this year, I can feel a sense of deja vu coming on.

Last week I went round to see mil to find her sitting on the floor where she'd fallen, going to answer the phone to me. She's ok, but coming on top of a dizzy fit she had the other week, this has prompted a trip to our saintly GP (the model for Ben in Pastures New if you're interested) who wryly reassured me he will be working over the festive season. Hmm...

On Sunday no 3 came in looking pale and wan and then spent the day throwing up. We were going out to sing Christmas Carols in our local pub, but decided not to risk passing the bug to mil. No3 is now recovering, but no 4 has taken her place. and mil is coming to us today, so she may get a Christmas present she wasn't expecting after all.

I was planning some last minute shopping today, but will have to defer till tomorrow when Spouse will be here. I've just realised we've run out of vegetables and are about to run out of washing powder (which in view of the vomiting is NOT good news), so I may well be putting in a repeat performance of last Christmas and experience trolley rage in Sainsbury's tomorrow. Oh joy.

I've also just taken the turkey out of the freezer and realised it needs 48 hours to defrost...

On the other hand we might get all the vomiting out of the way by tomorrow, my credit card could do with a rest, and I could always provide Christmas dinner instead of lunch, and unless I'm sitting in A&E I should get to see David Tennant on Christmas Day.

Whatever happens. I ... AM... NOT... GOING... TOO.... STRESS....


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Talking of nativities...

I won't reveal what my perfect nativity is, cos otherwise you might not buy the book, but it's loosely based on this.

20 odd years ago I was lucky enough to take part in the Nativity Play part of the Chester Mystery Cycle, which takes place every year outside Chester Cathedral over three successive nights. We were on the first night, after a rather arty farty depiction of Genesis. God was on top of a tall tower I seem to remember, and there was a lot of dancing with scarves.

I played a midwife together with my actress friend who is very funny and brilliant, so I spent most of the time trying not to giggle. Particularly as the director (who was also one of our lecturers and had translated the Cycle into modern vernacular) took it upon himself to dress us in Red Cross uniform and hide us in the audience. Joseph at one point calls for a midwife so my friend and I had to start some chatter about, Did he say midwife? Does that mean us? etc - it was always entertaining to see the audience thinking we were proper hecklers and start telling us to hush.

My other chief memory from the experience was of the two lads playing Octavian Caesar's messengers going out to the pub while the dreary Genesis dancers did their stuff, and staggering back on pissed. This infuriated the director who had a hissy fit of such magnitude we ended up dumping him out of the minibus on the way home. Ah. Those were the days...

Anyway. That's where the idea for my nativity has come from, minus the pissed messengers.

But I've also gone out seeking ancient carols, as I LONG LONG LONG to go to a carol concert where they sing some of the really old stuff. We have a fabulous tradition of carols in this country, and certainly my experience of attending Christmas shows over the last ten years leads me to suspect that a lot of that tradition maybe lost on the next generation who never get to sing anything much which isn't modern.

For my ideal nativity, therefore, the most modern carol I've chosen is In the Bleak Midwinter, which I love for the tune. (The words frankly are quite weird Victorian sentimental nonsense, but the tune is lovely.)

So here it is, sung by Gloucester Cathedral Choir:

And here's the King's College Choir singing Adam lay y bounden, which I may have forgotten to put in, but will do when I get my next round of rewrites.

And here are the fabulous Mediaeval Baebes (whom I discovered thanks to my lovely ebuddy and fellow RNA member, Elizabeth Chadwick) singing I syng of a Mayden that is Makeles

My last two choices are probably my favourite carols.

The first is The Coventry Carol. Here's a version with Aled Jones and the Royal Chamber College of Music. This sums up Christmas for me, and I never can hear it often enough.

Last but not least, is the beautiful Ballulalow, the words of which are ancient, but here comes from Britten's fabulous Festival of Carols. I love the harp in this, but the whole thing gives me goosebumps. And it's the perfect accompaniment to my ideal nativity (should I ever get to see it of course...)

So I've told you my favourites. What are yours?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

And Lo....

... Mary was a rap artist.

No, I never knew that either.

I have today sat through two performances of no 2/3's nativity (no 4's was last week) as I took mil and me ma in the afternoon and everyone else was going this evening.

Over the many many years I have been watching nativities I have seen all sorts I can tell you: from a ridiculously over the top one at the nursery no 3 attended, which featured Father Christmas. lots of toys, fairies, elves, mice and oh yes, that staple of the Christmas story Mary and Joseph, to a blink and you missed it moment with no1 when she had three lines and forgot to say them. (And yes the OTT one has gone in the book). I've seen the Infants do Ambitious and fail, and the Juniors do Dull and succeed. I've watched all of my children being angels, and managed one year to have sprogs in four different plays (that took some stamina).

And in all those years I have yet to see the nativity that I really really want. Namely a traditionally told, simple tale with PROPER carols wot I can sing along too. (I have been so disappointed in this modest ambition, I have in fact made up my perfect Nativity in Last Christmas. One day maybe someone will read my mind and show it to me. )

Both schools tend to go for trendy modern stuff, and the Infants generally aim for a big show that normally falls flat on its face. The Juniors have in the past taken a Get It Over And Done With As Quickly As Possible Kind of Approach. At best we might get to sing one or two carols, but I am greedy and as well as Once in Royal David's City and Hark the Herald Angels, to feel properly Christmassy I want: Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, In the Bleak Midwinter, O Come All ye Faithful, The Coventry Carol and God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.

Sadly enough (as no 4 would say) I didn't get it this year either.

However, I did get a rather sweet nativity last week in which no 4 was the narrator. Normally the narrator doesn't get to say a lot, but in the past the narrators have tended to be the teacher's pets. Nos 1&2 clearly weren't the chosen ones as they never narrated anything, but during her time it the infants no 3 got to narrate an embarrassing number of times - it got a bit tiresome going to school plays with my head down to avoid the backstabbing. I was rather hoping to end my tenure there as modestly as I started it, but at least I was comforting myself that she wouldn't have much to say. Got much to do? I asked her. Oh no, was the glib reply. Thus reassured I arrived last week to watch her in action, only to discover that the Infants have gone completely against type this year and produced a SIMPLE Nativity, with mainly groups of children singing the story so everyone got a turn rather then having a huge long play to learn. No 4 had to do inordinate amounts of reading and is still proudly boasting that she managed to say traditionally and tradition.

After nine years at the school, this is my last Infant nativity, and I have to fess up to having a pang (but not a tear) at the thought that part of my mothering life is over. Luckily it didn't last long as I was ducking to avoid the brickbats from other mothers jealous that their little darling wasn't a Chosen One again. But I was pleasantly surprised, having sat through some really dire events, that it was actually rather sweet. Nice to go out on a high as it were (and such a relief to know that I'll never have to sit through a dire one EVER again).

Scroll forward to today and I was once more in front of my offspring watching them perform. Now, like I say, if the Infants have put on ambitious productions in the past, the same cannot be said for the Juniors. What parts there are always minimalistic, and no 1 got all the way through without doing anything more then light a candle in her last year (and that only by default as someone was ill), and up until this year no 2 has never had a part either. The service is held in the church that the school belongs to, and it is the most useless place to have anything like that. It tends to get packed out so most of the time I spend an uncomfortable hour craning my neck round a corner to catch a glimpse of the children who are always tucked away in an inaccesible corner somewhere. In fact there have probably been years when I haven't seen them at all.

However, that has all changed. Because after years of having an indifferent attitude to the music, the school finally has a decent music teacher. And boy has she made a difference.

I still didn't get my traditional Nativity (maybe they'll have come back in fashion in time for my grandchildren), but it was rather fun.

Each year group got to tell a bit of the story (which incomprehensibly featured two burglars and some talking animals who apparently were supposed to be arguing at the beginning but I couldn't understand a word they said - I still didn't get it second time around), interspersed with songs. For the first time ever we had a band, with trumpets no less, and a rather (inevitably) scratchy violin.

The afternoon's performance didn't go quite according to plan, and there were some unintentionally hilarious moments when the wrong people came in at the wrong time, or the instrumentalists carried on playing when they shouldn't have, but for the first time EVER at a Junior Christmas play all the kids looked like they were having a blast, and even the ones who didn't have anything much to do were involved.

Mary of course was fantastic. Actually I realised after I started boasting about it, that Mary is usually the most rubbish part because she doesn't usually do or say anything. However in this version of events Mary had quite a few lines. Which I couldn't hear this afternoon as her head was below the microphone. Luckily they'd sorted that technical hitch by the evening. My favourite moment though was when she said to Joseph, The baby's coming and he started running about in a paddy calling for towels and hot water. No 3 then sat down, and a minute later triumphantly stood up holding a baby, saying Here's the baby. You probably had to be there, but considering her own birth was an epic event, I couldn't help laughing at the ease with which Our Lord made it into the world...

All in all it was a fun and enthusiastic performance, if a little rough around the edges, but my favourite bit was a Gloria Rap, during which all the children donned sunglasses (presumably dazzled by the angels' brightness????), including Mary who wore pink ones. As one of my friends said, that was the coolest Mary she'd ever seen...

So there you have it. I thought I'd seen it all as far as nativities go, but Mary rapping in sunglasses will take some beating...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Well I never...

As anyone who has ever had small children taking part in a nativity play can attest there is always much excitement in the maternal bosom when your child comes home with the dreaded piece of paper announcing their starring role in this year's event. Apart from anything else, this particular maternal bosom tends to droop rather when sewing is suggested (one year no 2 was a star and the request came back for a white shirt with stars sewn on it. I was rather pleased with my pathetic effort till I sat next to the mother whose child had a whole galaxy sewn neatly onto hers), it usually droops further to discover that yet again said child is playing an angel (that's what happens when you have fair haired girls) and has to be cheered up because she's not Gabriel or Mary.

What every maternal bosom of course wants to proudly declare is that this year their daughter is Mary - there is such hot competition for the part sometimes I swear there'll be blood spilt in the playground. However, I am a woman of common sense and I know that my children have no more chance of being Mary then flying to the moon. Besides, given that I always got to be a shepherd, I think they should be bloody grateful for being angels myself.

So imagine my surprise when no 3 came home from school yesterday with a big announcement.

Yup. After nine years of trying and watching more nativities nearly then I've had Christmas dinners I've finally achieved maternal nirvana. I have a Mary.

Better watch my back in the playground then...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life...

Watching It's a Wonderful Life was one of the pieces of research I did when writing Last Christmas (I've even pinched a bit). I am currently supposed to be doing rewrites, but have hit a bit of a hitch. Given that this is probably the busiest week of my year so far (cf last post on same subject) I suppose it is fairly typical of my own wonderful life that I have managed to put my back out. I did it yesterday cleaning the wretched hoppers out (weekend too busy for the offspring to do it, grr). I have so far resisted the urge to turn Dandelion into a pie, but revenge is much on my mind at present...

I managed to get to the physio yesterday who ascertained nothing more dramatic but a pulled muscle, but one which hurts enough to preclude long spells at the computer. Or sitting down anywhere. Or picking anything up. Or lying down. So I am wandering mournfully about the house wondering what the fuck to do with myself.

This is also on top of a slightly more interesting birthday party then we'd planned, as my mother in law was taken ill before it started. All well now, but we did have a couple of nasty moments on Sunday and we kept her with us till today. Unfortunately I am now so cronky I couldn't get her home, but luckily she only lives up the road, so she staggered off with her zimmer this morning, while I retired to mournful wanderings round the house. Honestly, it's like the blind leading the blind - there was she trying to help me out who was supposed to be looking after her. They've got a lot to answer for those pesky hoppers.

So in the interim, and absence of anything else I can constructively do, I propped myself up on a chair with a bag of frozen peas on my back and have just sobbed my way through It's a Wonderful Life.
I'm rather hoping mine will feel a bit more wonderful tomorrow...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly....

Tra la la la la la... NOT...

Be careful what you wish for.

You know what I was saying about the run up to Christmas being helpful for the old creative juices? I hadn't realised quite how helpful it was going to be...

I hadn't given much thought to it being December next week till Spouse suddenly pointed out what our timetable for the first week of December actually is.

The fun starts this weekend as it is bil's 60th and not only are we out with him on Saturday night, but also hosting a party on Sunday. (Which is one reason December hadn't yet featured on the radar).

In the meantime the children are developing far too interesting social lives/have too many activities.

This term they've all been doing drama at our local theatre, and sweetly they're all taking part in a show. Aaah. How lovely.

No 1 is a singer/dancer in Fame, Nos 2&3 are in Peter Pan (Nana and a pirate respectively. Do you KNOW how difficult it is to get hold of a dog costume for a ten year old? No, I didn't either...) and No 4 is driving the rest nuts by reciting that poem about stirring the Christmas pud.

What I hadn't factored into the equation of seeing my little darlings perform is how many rehearsals they're going to have.

So on Saturday Nos 2&3 are out for the afternoon rehearsing, while I have to get no 4 to a party. I then have to get No 1 to Reigate for a party at 6.30 before going out myself at around 7pm. No 1's party inconveniently ends at 9.30 (I can feel this is the start of Spouse and I spending all our weekends driving the offspring about), but fortunately I've managed to do a lift swap. On Sunday she is then going to miss the birthday party as she is at rehearsals from 12-7pm. I don't think she has a single line but the dancers/singers are in virtually every scene.

Next week her rehearsal schedule goes:

Mon 6-9 (bang goes my swim then)
Tues 6-9
Wed 7-9.30
Fri 6-11

I'm not QUITE sure how she's going to fit in any homework into that.

On top of that no 4 has her star turn in her drama lesson on Wed 5-6 (so at least we'll be at the Playhouse but No 1 won't get any tea), No 1 has her school carol concert on Thursday night, and Spouse suddenly announced last night his work Christmas dos take place on Thursday and Friday.

On the Saturday the middle two have their show at 12pm - I'd bought no 1 a ticket and then realised she needs to be in rehearsal at 12.45pm (as they clearly won't rehearsed enough by then) - and no 1 has a show at 3pm and 7.45pm. Forgetting all about this I some weeks ago accepted a dinner date in the evening. So for the second weekend on the trot I have been scratching my head working out how to be in two places at once.

Fortunately when I went to do the Brownie pick up last night I found a friend who couldn't pick up on Friday night but could on Saturday, so now have arranged a convenient swap, as well as doing some lift sharing for the rehearsals. I can see in years to come Spouse and are going to be turning down invitation after invitation as we split ourselves in two trying to be in three places at once...

On the Sunday no 4 is having her Christmas Fair (the last one I'll ever have to attend. Result!) While no 1 is going out (again) for a celebratory after show Pizza...

(We've decided to skip No 1's Christmas Fair, clashing as it does with her rehearsal this Friday evening and no 6's school disco...)

So that's next week sorted then.

I haven't dared to look at the week after, but at least I have plenty of material to plunder for the book...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

PS Music

I'm also finalising the soundtrack for the book...

Currently I have for my married hero and heroine Noel and Cat:

Let's Stick Together, Bryan Ferry - their marriage is in difficulties but they're trying to remember they still want one another.
Your Love Alone is Not Enough Manic Street Preachers - Love itself doesn't save the world, you have to work that bit harder...
Put the Sun Back Coral - where ahs all the joy gone in their life, if only they could find that out, everything else should fall into place.

For my my other hero, Gabriel's s musings on his ex wife and how he is unable to help her:

Other Side of the World KT Tunstall

For Gabriel and Marianne, the other heroine (with huge thanks to Persephone for tracking it down for me), for that joyous tumultous early love feeling:

She's Got You High Mumm-Ra

For Noel's midlife crisis:

This is Where I Came In by the Beegees
and the fabulous brilliant
Pretty Amazing Grace by Neil Diamond which is the heart of the book.

Last minute additions from writing the last few chapters are:

Angel by Robbie Williams for the relationship Cat has with her mother.
Streets of London Ralph McTell for a scene which owes not a little to A Christmas Carol.
I Can See Clearly Now Johnny Nash for an epiphany moment for Noel, but also probably a bit for Gabriel and Marianne at different points.

There may be a few more where those have come from. Am thinking I need a song for both Marianne and Gabriel about mending broken hearts, but it hasn't quite found me yet...

Back to it....

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I have been rather chatty in the last two weeks. In fact there have even been days when I have written more then one blog post. This is mainly because I had finished the first draft of my next book, Last Christmas (which is coming out next Christmas).

I use the word "finish" advisedly. This is the fifth novel I've written (seventh if you include two unpubbed children's books) and over the ten years I've been plugging away at this I've come to realise that my MO tends to be to get the story out as quickly as I can, and then go back and fill in all the gaps, insert a bit more depth and spend lots of time polishing. When I first started out I used to revise as I went and it nearly drove me demented, as well as having the unfortunate effect of editing out any of the energy and impetus of the original version. Plus I usually hated it when I came to look at it again. This way I throw the story out warts and all and then take a long hard look at it when it comes winging its way back from my editor and agent.

Good news this time is editor and agent both like it (What, said Spouse, would you do if they didn't????), phew. Other good news it's coming back in time for me to be in the proper pre-festive mode suitable for writing a book about Chrimbo. I can't TELL you how hard it was writing about Christmas in July. I kept all the kids' nativity bits and pieces and letters to Santa (have been hiding them all year, they've just written new ones which is handy), have got stacks of Christmas books to look at, lists of Christmas carols to choose from and last year's Argos catalogue. But there is absolutely nothing like having that sinking feeling I got to today when I realised there's a month to go and I've barely started, to dig deep into what it really means to plan Christmas in all it's glory(which is vital for one of my characters).

For this book I have created a village in Shropshire called Hope Christmas, which is loosely based on the town where my mother lives, and where I got married. Hope Christmas is both like and unlike my mother's town as I have picked and chosen the bits I like best. I spent a few days with me ma and the sprogs over half term, really trying to get the geography and location really fixed in my head. It was quite weird in a way as I have been visiting my mother's town for twenty years and there were some views I felt like I was looking at for the very very first time. I tried to keep a very strong picture of the places I visited in my head, so I can write them properly into the book, but I also took lots of photos as an aide memoire.

So here are a few of the locations for Hope Christmas, which I like so much now I want to live there...
One of the locations I've made up in the environs of Hope Christmas is a place called Hopesay Manor. It doesn't look quite like this, but Stokesay Castle picture below was a great model.

Here's an outside view

Here's the mediaeval entrance, unchanged apparently since the 12th century. Fabulous.

And here's the Great Hall

I have also drawn huge inspiration from Walcott Hall which has a wonderful drive way and lake in front of it, for the outside of my manor.

Plowden Hall provided me with my initial inspiration, having as it does a mediaeval chapel, which I have used as the basis of the chapel in Hopesay Manor which is a vital part of the plot.

I also scoured the area to find various houses that my characters live in. Two of them live up a lane by a stream, which I found here, just outside my mother's town.

This is the track to my hero's house

And this is the track that leads from his house to the hills where he farms his sheep

And the stream near where he lives, which has a vital part to play in the story...

And finally, here is a valley which my heroine walks in constantly. It's also somewhere I have walked more times then I care to remember over the last 20 years, and for which I have an abiding passion. Every time I go there it looks different, depending on the season, the weather and whether the heather is in flower, or the gorse is going golden. It is the most wonderful magical place, and has had a hold on my imagination since I was a small child and first read Malcolm Saville's brilliant Lone Pine Adventures which are partially set in this area. My parents very conveniently chose to retire here so not only could I have my wedding in the most wonderful location,but also come and visit regularly and use it for my own inpsirational purposes. Thanks parents...

So now it's back to the grindstone. Doing a lot more research to make sure I have got things right. Trying to pull out the depth of emotion I'm after. Making sure my character's dilemmas feel real and true. Having actually the best time of my life, and best of all getting paid for it.

I can't wait.

Monday, November 24, 2008

It's Your BBC

Is it just me, or do you think the tabloid press is acting more like a rabid dog running out of control wildly intent on causing destruction whatever the cost, then normal?

I only say this because we've had a spate of mad media events in the last few weeks staring with the Ross/Brand affair and culminating last week with the John Sergeant debacle. (I have blogged ad nauseam about that at the other place, so won't witter on about it anymore). In the middle of which we had the seriously tragic story of Baby P, which has had the tabloids howling for blood. Unable to actually say the people who did this are the ones we should blame ,the tabloids have been wildly lashing out at any one who had anything to do with the case. Sack 'em all I say. And then there'll be no one to look after the next Baby P that comes along.

Baby P probably deserves another post entirely of his own, but the Ross/Brand and Strictly stuff has really made me stop and think about whether there is a really malevolent campaign underway to destroy the Beeb (mind you Auntie's ridiculous responses to these situations don't really help her). As each of these (tabloid manufactured and totally over the top) "scandals" have broken there is an inevitable howling about what we pay our license fee for.

We can all complain about the relevance of the license fee in this day and age of free downloads and iplayer watching (now you can watch TV on your computer how the hell are they going to enforce it?) and TV as we know it is clearly changing frantically fast, so the license fee may well be an outmoded way of funding the Beeb.

However. We don't subscribe to Sky because we quite frankly find it hard enough to keep up with what we do want to watch on the terrestrial channels, but if we did, I wouldn't have a problem paying for it. And equally I don't have a problem paying for the BBC.

As it happens I think I get my moneysworth.

As a regular listener to Radio 2 (and Five Live when I'm on the school run - Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo are worth the license fee alone, I reckon) - I get a huge amount of pleasure from my radio. Given that I spend most of the day on my own while the sprogs are at school, I find the radio a great source of stimulus and comfort on lonely grey days like today when otherwise I might be contemplating slitting my wrists.

So the radio makes it worth it for me, but I'd say the TV does too. Since the launch of BBC3/4 there've been a whole host of interesting programming because suddenly the commissioning editors have slots to fill, which means they've had to come up with something other then reality tv and cooking programmes.

In the last year on BBC3 we've enjoyed Pulling and Gavin and Stacey , as well as the one offs like Being Human (yay! they're making a series) and the fabulous Mrs Inbetweeny (which deserves a series) and are currently watching Spooks a week ahead because I go out swimming when the BBC1 episode is aired. On BBC4 we also loved Stephen Fry's programme about the Guttenberg press and the rest of the mediaeval season (including a rare rerun of The Hour of the Pig which we've only seen once) and I am sure I will enjoy Edington and Einstein when I get round to watching it.

On Saturday night I was torn between videoing Edington and Outnumbered (maybe the latter is only of interest if you have more then two children but I think it is the best funniest depiction of modern parenting I've ever seen) as I am sadly obsessed with I'm A Celebrity at the minute. Outnumbered is repeated on Wednesday (damn, just realised I'm going to be out) so I videoed Edington. We had earlier watched Strictly (despite being very cross about John Sergeant - I have to say I am on the verge of quitting on the Strictly front, well done BBC), and Merlin, which is great family viewing. I wasn't sure about Merlin to begin with, but it's really grown on me and this week's episode was cracking. And later on we saw Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Given that we don't often get out on Saturday nights these days,that made for an entertaining evening in - I can remember a veritable famine of good evening entertainment a few years ago when the sprogs were all small. Now I'm more likely to feel I'd rather stay in.

Last night there was an equal feast of riches. We watched the Strictly results show while videoing Top Gear and then watched the first episode of Survivors, which though a tad uneven in places was sufficiently gripping for me to want to return to it next week. Nos 1, 2 and I have also been glued to Little Dorrit,which is helpfully repeated on Sunday in case (as we keep doing)we've missed it.

So I'd say that the Beeb actually offers rather good value for money. And however we have to pay for it in the future, I don't begrudge them the money if they keep providing such topclass entertainment as this (even the dross on the Beeb is better then dross elsewhere).

I have a feeling if the screaming tabloid hacks who are currently baying for the Beeb's blood did get their way and we didn't pay for it anymore, we'd really live to rue the day.

Yes they get it wrong a lot. Yes, there is too much inhouse backslapping camaraderie about the place (I like Jonathan Ross, but sometimes it seems he's just interviewing his mates), but on balance I like what Auntie has to offer.

So I'm going to keep watching (though maybe not Strictly Come Dancing anymore...)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A sliver of ice in the heart

Apparently this is a phrase that Graham Greene used when describing artists/novelists. (I know I have read the full quote before, but frustratingly can't seem to find it on the internet this morning). According to Greene the "true artist" possesses "a sliver of ice in the heart" which enables him/her to portray in some way/write about the human condition. It's that little bit of detachment (which to be honest we probably all have to a degree in moments of high stress) that enables the writer ( I think in the main he was thinking about writers) to bank experiences and draw on them later, even if it seems exploitative to do so.

Now I wouldn't claim to be anything as grand as an artist or a novelist,(though I am beginning to think I can call myself a writer now that I've had two books published. ) but I do completely get what Greene was talking about.

I'll give you an example. The day my father in law died was possibly one of the most stressful (and at times unintentionally hilarious) days of my life.I had a phone call from my mother in law to say he was ill while I was in the middle of icing no 4's birthday cake (it was her first birthday). I ran up the road with two small children and spent a very odd half an hour having tea with my mil while she wouldn't let me into see fil as she kept telling me he was resting. My first instinct had been that he'd died, but she covered it up so well I thought I must be imagining things. Suddenly she announced I could go and see him, and I walked into the room and immediately saw he was dead. Don't know how, as apart from seeing my dad's body in the funeral parlour (which was completely different) I'd never seen a dead body before. I was just panicking about wtf I did next when there was a ring on the doorbell. The District Nurse had come to visit him. "Thank god," I said, "I think my father in law's just died." Which was probably just what she wanted to hear...

Now obviously I was in a state of high stress with all this going on, but do you know, even at that moment, a bit of my brain had detached itself and was taking notes and turning it into a tale to be told later. I could even hear Fil's voice in my head, Saying "There was poor old Jules, with Mum, and the children and my dead body." To this day that makes me laugh. (I hasten to add Fil, to whom I was utterly devoted, would also have laughed, he was that kind of person). And I know I tapped right into that experience when writing a scene in Pastures New.

I mention all this because I am about to start a new book. I know it's going to be about weddings. And I have four characters forming in my head. Up until relatively recently though I had envisaged writing a bubbly frothy kind of book. But I am rapidly coming to the conclusion I can't write that kind of story. The more I've been thinking about it, the more I want this one to celebrate friendship - and specifically female friendship, of the sort I have been lucky enough to share with several people over the course of my life. The sort of friendship where you casually trade details of your boring domestic life, but underpinning the crappy boredom of your daily dross is a much deeper bond. I know I've been fortunate to have that kind of friendship at several different points in my life, even of sometimes the friendships haven't for whatever reason stood the test of time. I also know at the moment I have several friendships which are so rock solid I could probably just pitch up on the door at midnight in trouble and each one of the women I am thinking about would calmly put the kettle on and ask how they could help.

So that's what I want to write about. But since I've finished book 3 (well not finished properly -this is the lull before I get to do rewrites) and I've given it more thought, my subconscious appears to be playing havoc with my creative synapses (not sure that sentence makes sense, but I hope you understand what I mean) and I am finding myself drawn to a difficult period in my life which happened some time ago, which I never ever thought I'd write about. It was painful and sad and I don't particularly want to go back and revisit it, besides which there are other people who might be affected by what I write, which is something I'm also not sure I want to do. It's also the only time in my life when I couldn't have found the necessary detachment to write about it.

But suddenly the sliver of ice bit of me is taking hold to a quite alarming extent, and I am feeling quite compelled to write some of this stuff in a way I could never have imagined before. So now I am trying to find a way to harness all this emotion in a positive way, because whatever I may think I want to write, I feel the book will be a shadow of what it could be if I don't let some of this stuff out.

Interestingly, I also wrote the first rough scene yesterday, which actually I didn't write. It kind of wrote itself. It's a wedding day scene which seems a good way to start a book about weddings dontcha know, and features the bride tensely waiting with her father for the wedding car to arrive. I freely admit to plundering my own wedding day experience here, though my heroine's reasons for being tense with her dad are somewhat different to my own. I can't recall ever having felt so gripped with the need to write something down. It was most peculiar.

Then last night I had a very long complicated dream which featured long walks in the country in different locations, with various members of my family, and some of my children. I ended the dream in a house opposite where our walk had started, and I was worried that the rest of the family who were behind us wouldn't catch up. Then the door opened, and I went expecting to find the children. Instead I found my dad. Which was weird and unsettling because in all the years since he died I've only dreamt of him a handful of times, and never have I seen his face. But here he was facing me. It was him in the flesh. Something I've subconsciously wanted for the last thirteen years.

And yet.... my subconscious is unfortunately far too realistic. "You're not supposed to be here," I said. Which wasn't how the planned reunion was meant to go. I think I told him that twice and he crumpled and fell. So I felt a heel and went to hug him. Now, when my father was alive he gave the best bear hugs going, but here he was dead, in my dream, and the hug was completely insubstantial. And I knew as I hadn't noticed before that I was dreaming. And I felt a howl of anguish such as I haven't felt since he died, and I was fighting, fighting through layers of filmy water to reach the surface and wake up. And I knew. Absolutely, categorically that somehow somewhere, that experience is going to find its way into a story (my parallel universe one will do nicely thank you) - so it's as if for me the sliver of ice is still operating even when I'm asleep.

And in a funny kind of way it solved my dilemma about the current book. I am going to tap into the emotions that are calling me. And I'm just going to see where they take me. Because I have a feeling where I'll end up is somewhere a long way from where I started, but the story forming in my head just wants to be told.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Things you think you'll never do.

I was five when David Cassidy shot to fame. I can (just) remember the Partridge family, but I have never ever got the teenyboppyer adulation which so many of my peers fixated on him in my formative years. And I've certainly never got into his music which is far too saccharine for my tastes (if you have to have your hair long sing, Bed of Roses or Dead or Alive. That will do it). So things I thought I'd never do included going to see a concert by David Cassidy.

However. My very lovely friend who bought us tickets for Stratford is a fan. And some months ago she bought two tickets to David Cassidy. She was having trouble (I wonder why) getting anyone to go with her, so in the interests of girly friendship (and quite frankly when someone buys you tickets to see David Tennant a girl will be obliged to go a very very long way to repay that act of extreme generosity), I said yes. I was rather assuming she'd find another fangirl to go with her, but sadly she didn't.

Having said all that, I also think it is beneficial from time to time to go and do/see things you wouldn't normally do to break down the barriers of prejudice that form in your mind. I have discovered in the last year that Neil Diamond who I had hitherto regarded as churning out the same cheesy crap as DC is actually fabulous. I loved his last album, have used Pretty Amazing Grace as a key soundtrack on my latest book, and even discovered I liked Love on the Rocks. So anything is possible...

I have to say I haven't had a Pauline conversion to DC's ouevre, NONE of which I even recognised (how odd is that? Going to a concert and not knowing a single hit, apart from the covers he did). I realise that this is partly because I was too young (I was 7 when he had most of his hits), partly because I didn't hear him at the right hormonal moment (though I was a late developer in that area - it was Sting who turned me onto music and by then I was 13), and partly because his hits are the cheesy crap I thought they were. However, it is quite clear that though I don't get it, thousands of women (mainly middle aged and older then me, phew) obviously do. So like Mills and Boon which I don't read or write, but I know lots of talented people who do both, I accept that David Cassidy is a strand of the music industry who entertains royally, which is just fine and dandy. I don't have to listen.

What I will say though, which was a bit of a revelation, was that 1) DC was highly entertaining, keeping up a constant patter throughout the show 2)He was quite daring (well if he wasn't full of bullshit anyway), taking himself out of his comfort zone and (allegedly) playing songs he hadn't rehearsed, trying new stuff for the first time and 3) he has a great voice, plays guitar AND even went and did the drums when his drummer (a really foxy chick) got up and sang Brass in Pocket.

So despite the fact that I have a rotten cold, didn't know a single song, and still think his hits are rubbish, remarkably, I had a really great time...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ashes to Ashes meets Top Gear

Somehow we managed to miss this in Friday night.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Children in Need

Tomorrow is Children in Need Day. I know it's tacky and cheesy and Pudsey is a mushy sentimental little bear, but on the plus side you get to see newsreaders doing things you'd never ever imagine they'd do, we're getting an extra Dr Who episode and fans of Strictly Come Dancing can finally see Tess dance(and Terry Wogan for that matter - do you think he'll be as good as John Sergeant?).

We always watch every year as the kids love it tacky and all as it is, and despite the tack it also does an enormous amount of good for charity. Not least my favourite one, Tadworth Court's Children's Trust who do amazing work with children with very severe needs. I hadn't realised till today that Tadworth Court benefit from Children in Need, but if you go here you can find out all about it.

So I know it's credit crunch time, the economy's in a downturn etc etc, but if you even if all you can do is spare a few coins tomorrow, do it. So many children are helped as a result of CiN every year and despite the cheese I think it's a fantastic cause.

As sadly I couldn't afford to take part in the Things That Money Can't Buy (I don't think Spouse would have been happy for me to pay ten grand on The Strictly Come Dancing experience somehow) I am planning instead to get hold of a copy or two of this as well as phoning in a request the 24 hour music marathon on Radio 2 tomorrow ...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lest we forget

Ninety years ago at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the Armistice was signed to end the war that was meant to end all wars, but which of course sadly did no such thing. I think whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of war, it is important that we do take this time to remember and honour the dead from all wars, and particularly the ones being fought currently.

Like most people in this country, I suspect, if they dig a little into their family background, I feel a strong connection with the men who went to both world wars. Both my father and father in law fought in WW2, and my maternal grandfather was taken prisoner in WW1. Not only that my children are probably very lucky to exist at all, given that their great grandfathers on their dad's side faced each other across the Somme (when they met after WW2, they got on famously and compared gun positions).

So it is of them I think on Remembrance Day. In our immediate family we were very lucky as my father and his two brothers both came home from the war unscathed, and my grandfather probably owes his survival in WW1 to having been taken prisoner. Spouse's grandfather was also incredibly fortunate to be wounded just before the Great Push on the Somme, therefore missing the worst of it.

But scratch the surface and tragedy does lurk underneath. My maternal grandmother lost two brothers, as well as her fiance.

I am fortunate enough to have in my possession a letter from the padre to my grandmother telling her of the loss of her fiance, which moves me to tears every time I read it.

His name was Jack Towns and having been hit in the stomach in a battle (I don't know which) on 26 March 1915 he was left on the field by the captain who bound him up, as there were no stretchers to bear him from the battle field.

The padre who wrote to my grandmother later went back on the field to look for him in the dark, and despite numerous enquires couldn't find a trace of Jack. I think it's the sparseness of the prose, and the total unsentimentality of it that affects me. The padre speaks of the men he talked to "Some wanted water, others a smoke, others just a few moment's talk. So you see, I walked up and down the whole fo the field. I spoke to as far as I can make out every living soul there. Dead men I did not examine for time was valuable, and there was no light." The next day he returned to what he describes as "the continuation of the strafe"where he describes things as being "a little hot". Obviously at this point he was unable to continue searching for Jack, but when things got calmer he continued to make his enquiries and drew a blank, and so the padre concludes that Jack is dead. The letter ends: "The only chance would appear to be that he might be a wounded pensioner; but one point which I have not mentioned settles that . 1000 men were extended line upon line across a battlefield on the night of the 26th. They linked hands & walked slowly across the field picking up every living man. After they had passed only the dead remaned. And the Turks supplied us with a list of wounded prisoners. Jack was not one of them. I optimist as I am, am absolutely convinced that poor old Jack died where he fell."

My grandmother went on to marry my grandfather, who I think I am right in saying was one of Jack's friends. I'm glad for her that she found that peace and happiness, but this year more then ever, I think about Jack and honour the memory of the man who might have become my grandfather, but who like so many fell too soon and too young.

Anthem for a Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
--Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of silent minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen

Monday, November 10, 2008

Of course, I forgot to mention...

Barack Obama is of course, Irish....

Historic victory indeed...

Silly Money

If you are having trouble understanding the current credit crunch, who better to explain it then Bremner Bird and Fortune. Last night they hilariously turned their attention to China and the unholy financial alliance the West has made with the Chinese. Bird and Fortune did a fantastically uneasy skit on the morality of cheap goods both here and in the States being available as a result of the exploitation of people in China. I couldn't find it on You Tube this morning, but I will keep looking. But in the meantime, if you haven't seen this and didn't know what the subprime nonsense was all about, here Bird and Fortune explain it in their inimitable and brilliant style. Satire at is very very best. Enjoy

I realise I am totally behind the times...

... but have been very busy finishing off Book 3 and therefore didn't have time to blog as I'd intended to about the US election last week.

As it's all over bar lots of photo ops of Barack meeting Dubya (how weird is that? Since when has the outgoing incumbent been so friendly to the incoming one?) at the White House and whole rainforests have been cut down in the reams of copy various hacks throughout the globe have been filing about this "historic" occasion ("historic" - most overused word of the week. Discuss.), I'm not going to say too much.

Except this. While I do think it was a great day for America last week (and more importantly a FANTASTIC day for democracy. Would that people would turn out to vote in such numbers in this country. Would that we had a politician who could inspire us to turn out in those numbers), I don't think Barack Obama is the Messiah, and I also think he is possibly too inexperienced to lead the world's largest democracy. On the plus side, he's not Dubya, and he also has the opportunity to rebuild bridges that Dubya and his cronies have burnt in their squandering of the world's goodwill towards America during their two terms in office. He also represents the best of America. If a country that forty years ago was segregating its citizens because of their colour can overcome its problems sufficiently to produce a black president (though technically of course he is inconveniently half white but its more dramatic to present the black heritage of course), then that can only be a good thing. However, I doubt very much the troops are coming home from Iraq any time soon, despite what Obama would like to do, and there's a hell of a financial mess to sort out when he's got time.

It will be interesting to see how quickly the US public fall out of love with Obama when he demonstrably fails to deliver (well he'd have to be superhuman to sort all the problems out in his lifetime let alone in four years), and whether he can manage to make a difference at all. Saying "we can" and actually effecting change are after all two very different things.

Still. It was a great day for the world last week, and here's hoping things turn out better then the cynic in me imagines they will. A president who actually turns out to have as much integrity as it appears he does, and can actually bring about positive changes in his society and to the world at large. Now that would be historic.

Monday, November 03, 2008

And another little bit of news I missed...

I really picked a bad week to go away...

I suppose it wasn't totally unexpected that David Tennant was going to leave Dr Who, but, sigh... rather like Rose (and Donna for that matter) I wanted to travel with him forever. I suppose I've got a year to get used to the idea...

But on two utterly more positive notes...

Paula Radcliffe won the New York Marathon again. Hurrah. I wish she could get it together for the Olympics, but hey, at least she's back on winning form...

And double hurrah, Lewis Hamilton is the youngest formula one world champion EVER. By the skin of his teeth admittedly, but what an exciting finish... A world championship decided two corners from the end. Fantastic. (And fantastic sportsmanship from Massa who thought he'd nailed it, then realised he hadn't).

I love Lewis Hamilton. He appears to have riled lots of people in the notoriously competitive and ruthless world of F1 (that's because he's winning y'see, they HATE it), but he deals with all the stuff that comes his way good and bad with politeness and dignity and never lets any of the crap get in the way of his singlemindeness about winning. When we have so much bad press about young black men, Lewis Hamilton is a welcome relief from all that and a great role model for the young (particularly in the light of the appalling racism to which he's been subjected this season). I couldn't actually watch the race because it was so close to the wire anyway I couldn't stand the tension, but hurrah, hurrah. It was a close run thing, but this year, the right guy won.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Boys will be boys

I've been away since Wednesday and only caught the periphery of the scandal that has engulfed the Beeb and most specificially Radio 2 this week.
I am as readers of this blog are probably aware a big fan of Radio 2 (such a big fan it features rather large in Pastures New), and part of the reason I started listening to it in the first place was Jonathan Ross' Saturday show. Yes, he's rude, he's edgy and often puerile, but he does (usually) make me laugh. I generally enjoy his chat show as well, though it does sometimes appear he's just interviewing his mates, and he can appear arrogant. Despite that, I think old JR can be quite engaging when he's interviewing someone he genuinely admires. He's such a fanboy and you can almost see him pinching himself that he is actually interviewing whichever idol it is, though to be fair this tends to be more evident on Film 2008, where his love of film is genuine and his reviews (though never as good as Mark Kermode's) are always worth taking note of.
I am not, it has to be said a huge fan of Russell Brand, and I did rather groan when I heard that Lesley Douglas had hired him - someone chasing the young vote, methinks. (That being said I did actually find his turn in St Trinians rather sweet because it was so against type that he couldn't chat up the head girl).
I therefore have never listened to Russell Brand's show, but figured it wasn't for the likes of me anyway, and was reasonably happy to have it on the edges of Radio 2, as he clearly has an audience, even if I'm not it.
Having said all of that, I think his and Jonathan Ross' behaviour towards Andrew Sachs was totally inexcusable and the pair of them (particularly Jonathan Ross) showed a lamentable lack of judgement in thinking that their "prank" (which I have seen defended in terms boys will be boys type terms) was funny. It wasn't. It was crude, offensive and utterly puerile.

BUT.... apparently before the story broke, only two people actually rang in to complain. After it hit the Sundays over 30 000 did, fed and whipped up by an hysterical tabloid media who clearly can't forgive Jonathan Ross' joke about earning more then they do. (Yes he earns silly amounts of money, but more fool the BBC bosses for giving it to him). Furthermore, there does appear to be some misunderstanding as to whether Andrew Sachs had given his consent to the programme going ahead, the producer was only 25 (poor cow, I hope her career isn't stifled at birth), and Andrew Sach's granddaughter has sought the offices of Max Clifford to tell "her side of the story". Said granddaughter also appears in a band called The Satanic Sluts, which is of course her right and doesn't mean she or her grandfather should be subject to abuse, but is it cynical of me to think that this publicity can't exactly be harmful to her career? Without all of this no one would even heard of her.

My feeling now is that the whole thing has got a bit out of hand, and I cannot STAND it when politicians start pontificating in a self righteous manner about this kind of stuff - when was the last time a politician took the flak and resigned as Lesley Douglas has done? I think she showed integrity in doing so - this did, as she said, happen on her watch, and she appointed Russell Brand and apparently didn't reign him in - but by all accounts she has been a brilliant Controller of Radio 2 and responsible for most of my favourite listening over the last four years. It seems a pity she's had to go as a result of this debacle.
But the thing that sticks in my craw most has been the gleeful malicious joy with which the tabloids have greeted Wossy's fall from grace. Maybe his fault for alienating them, perhaps, but I personally find it distasteful. (I saw a headline yesterday screaming its outrage that the Disgraced Star had dared to have a Halloween Party with his Showbiz Chums. Erm - why shouldn't he???)
I don't for one minute condone what Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand did, and think their punishment is probably fair. But hell. There are far more important things to worry about right now. This could and should have been resolved with an apology by both of them to Mr Sachs and Miss Baillie. The self righteous howlers should have shut up and left well alone. And I really really hope that Terry Wogan isn't right in saying as he did yesterday, that the damage to Ross' career is terminal. He has made a very very bad error of judgement, but he is certainly paying the price. One hopes that in time the great British public might be able to forgive him.
But I also hope that the result of this isn't the Beeb playing safe with everything. Comedy should at times shock and disturb us. Maybe we've had too much of that of late on the Beeb (I like Little Britain, but am growing tired of the insatiable need to shock), but it would be a great pity if the output becomes more anodyne as a result of this show. Auntie hasn't come out of this too well, either it has to be said, having first tried to ignore the problem then (in my view) added to it by navel gazing ad nauseam (they did the same after the Dr Kelly affair). There are lots of problems with the Beeb - not being regulated by Ofcom being one of them, but it still represents broadcasting at its best, and I for one would hate that to change as a result of this nonsense.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Lord Snooty and chums

This is a subject that had my good blogging friend Political Umpire not sadly decided to retire from the blogosphere (we hope not forever), is one I'm sure he'd have tackled.

Earlier this year, Spouse and I got into watching Headcases - if you haven't seen it's a Spitting Image de nos jours. Celebrities and politicians alike are lampooned in a grotesque (and as befits satire) often cruel, but mostly very funny way.

So we have Angelina Jolie employing a basement full of orphans to make golden hair extensions to rival Jennifer Aniston (unbeknown to a dumb Brad Pitt who sits in his lounge watching TV), the geriatric heroes, Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford and Sylvester Stallone who face their nemesis Snakehead oldman hating Heather Mills, Dames Judi Dench and Helen Mirren who turn into chavs when off camera, and so on.

The politicians (quite rightly) get in the neck - with Gordon Brown being depicted as a grey soulless character who lives in some kind of Dickensian version of Number 10 with Alistair Darling skipping around him saying, We're Doomed, We're Doomed.

The Tories haven't got off lightly either. David Cameron is portrayed in a caring sharing kind of way, until he gets behind the scenes and turns into a twisted version of Lord Snooty who bullies poor little fag George Osborne mercilessly.

If you haven't seen it, there's more here to give you a flavour.

I only mention this in the light of the recent "Yachtgate" affair.

I have been pleased this year to see a resurgent Tory party and watch Gordon Brown flounder. Not particularly because I'm a Tory voter (actually hand on heart I'd be Lib Dem again in a flash if only they'd vote Vince Cable in as leader) - although I do vote for our local MP who happens to be a Tory, I do so on the basis that he actually gives a damn about the community I live in. The reason I've been pleased to see the Tories rise again, though, is because I don't think it is at all good for democracy when the party in power has little or no opposition. The Tory party of the 80s became out of touch, arrogant and thought power was their right. The current Labour party are in my view in the same position. So come the next election, whoever wins I want it to be much closer run, so that our next government might actually be grateful to be there and make a better fist of running the country to benefit the people who put them in power. (Ok, ok, I know that's a pipe dream, but one can but hope.)

One thing that has troubled me from the off though with the Dave and George team is they just seem like a Tory version of Blair and Brown - all smoke and no trousers. And George Osborne whom I had difficulty taking seriously anyway thanks to the fact that he shares his name with Amelia's weak husband in Vanity Fair, just seemed like a baby to me. There's nothing wrong with being young and talented in politics (didn't do Pitt the Younger any harm), but it is quite hard to take as serious contender for running the economy someone with such a babyfaced look about him.

But dear oh dear. It's much harder to take him seriously now. What on earth was he thinking when he went on that yacht? Were they at the passing the port stage when he threw caution to the winds and decided it would be a really good idea to discuss party donations with a Russian mafioso? Or worse still, was he sober when he said it? Whichever way you cut, it showed a woeful lack of judgement, which he compounded by then making bitchy comments about Peter Mandelson. Had he not done so, no one might have found out about his idiocy. And this is a man who wants to run the economy?

Arguably, it could be said he won't make a worse fist of it then the previous and present incumbents (I can't see my bank going for it if I went along, and said ok, I know I owe you billions but don't you understand, I need to spend my way out of my overdraft) - but it doesn't actually fill me with that much confidence to think that come the next election our financial future is in the hands of someone who seriously didn't twig that it was wrong to talk about being funded by a foreigner (and a distinctly dodgy one at that) till he got found out. Makes you wonder what else he's got up his sleeve doesn't it?

Vince Cable is about the only Chancellor I could feel any confidence in. Maybe I will be voting Lib Dem after all...

Monday, October 27, 2008


I do believe if you look in the centre of this particular paper today, you might find me masquerading as a dancer. I'd like to find the online version, but sadly I can't so am off to buy up our local newsagents' supplies so I can send them to all the aged rellies I possess...

Friday, October 24, 2008

It gets better...

Not only have I been a radio star this week, I've also become a top model.

Well not quite.

But if you want to know what I was doing with him.

a dress like this

And shoes like this...

Dance on over to the other blog and ALL will be revealed...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Radio Gaga

As I didn't realise that Southern Counties only keep their programmes up for 24 hours, and Pierre L kindly asked if I'd report how it went, here I am, reporting how it went.

I don't know if anyone out there has ever done a radio interview, but the few times I've done it, I've always found it weirdly surreal. One of the themes of Strictly Love is that you should dance like no one is looking. Well, when I'm doing radio I always talk like no one is listening, because actually it feels as if no one is.

SCR is based in Brighton which is a bit of a schlep for me, but luckily they have a studio at Guildford University. I've been there once before talking about the marathon book a couple of years ago, so I knew where to go, which is always a bonus when you're feeling a tad nervous (as I was).

I was supposed to be doing some work before I went, but couldn't settle to it. Spouse then rang me to ask me to bring in his digital radio as the one in his surgery was broken. Thinking I had plenty of time, I said, yes of course, then somehow it was five to eleven and I had to be in Guildford at eleven twenty. So I did a mad dash to the surgery, dropped off the radio and drove like a lunatic to Guildford, managing to arrive about ten minutes before I was due on. Nothing like cutting it fine...

Now here's where it got seriously wierd. I rang the doorbell and someone came out, and I suddenly realised that of course the production person who'd set it up was also in Brighton so no one here probably knew I was coming. After establishing which show I was on, I was shown into a little box, where there was a desk with two mics set up and a telephone. Damn I was in one of these ghastly self operating studios. Like I said in my previous post, my last experience of such a studio involved me being cut off in mid flow and missing the end of the programme.

I was told to put on the headphones and wait for further instructions. Feeling a little like I was about to face the firing squad, I did so, extremely grateful that I had been so late. It would have been horrendous to sit there for twenty minutes...

Eventually the friendly production lady said hello to me through my earphones and told me to wait till the end of the next song when Gordon Astley would speak to me.

What? That was it? I still had no idea what questions I was going to be asked, and I was panicking about how far I should sit from the mic - it said your mouth should be four to six inches away, but spatial awareness have I none, so I just hazarded a guess.

The next song was Love of the Common People by Paul Young. Have you any idea how long that song is? Nope, me neither. It went on, and on, an on....

When it finally finished, they played the theme tune for Strictly Come Dancing (big thumbs up from me in Guildford. Great great pr, linking my book indelibly with SCD in the minds of the viewers. Thank you Gordon Astley!)

I was expecting some questions about SCD, but instead Gordon asked me about what inspired the book - going to salsa classes initially, but thanks to my canny editor I changed it to ballroom dancing. I realised later I never got round to telling him the other inspiration which was Spouse's miserable experience with the nutty patient who complained about him (probably just as well, really with Spouse listening).

I got a fair amount of ribbing about my suggestion that if you're a single bloke going dancing is a great way to meet women as Gordon felt this suggested a predatory kind of behaviour, which I don't think it necessarily is. He clearly wanted me to say that Rob who starts off as a bit of a lothario gets his comeuppance, but as Rob is my favourite character I wasn't going to do that to him. In fact I'd say he goes on a bit of a journey - well I hope so anyway.

We talked about the research I'd done (missed a trick there because I forgot to say I've blogged all that on the strictly blog), and Gordon was curious as to whether anyone could learn to dance from reading the book (which was a GREAT opportunity to say if you're in Tesco's you can pick up a copy with a free learn to dance book). I don't think I could possibly claim that, but I hope the enthusiasm and love I have of dance has worked its way into the story, and that if you like dancing it will encourage you to go out there and dance like no one's looking yourself (though I can't guarantee it will bring you success in the romantic field, I do write fiction after all...)

After that Gordon wrapped it up with another mention of SCD and Strictly Love (oh how we love Gordon), and that was er - it. Friendly production lady said thank you, I said thank you, I put my coat on and in half an hour I was home.

I do know at least three people who did in fact listen, but for all I know they were the only three...

Still all grist to the mill, and it can't do any harm.

But rather a funny way to spend a morning nonetheless.

With many thanks to Gordon Astley and the team at SCR

Monday, October 20, 2008

Video Killed The Radio Star

I like doing radio interviews. No one can see me and I always imagine that there's no one out there listening...

If perchance you want to hear me prattling on about Strictly Come Dancing and booky type of things, you can by tuning into Southern Counties Radio at 11.40. (104.0–104.8 & 95.0–95.3 FM and 1161, 1368 & 1485 AM, if you're interested) I hope I will have something to say and don't say um too much. In fact I'd better not say um too much otherwise Spouse will never let me forget it. Very tempted not to take the digital radio he's requested so he can hear it, round to the surgery when I do go out...

Still charging towards the finish line, but slightly disrupted this week by the radio interview today and another very exciting development on Thursday which I will be blogging about over at the other place. Hoping I will be typing the End on Friday. Otherwise I will be in big trouble...

One of my characters is morphing into John Sergeant because I love him so much on Strictly and I love this character too. No 2 and I cheered when he got through last night.

My hero is still stalwartly remaining Richard Armitagish, though David Tennant has popped up distractingly at times, so it's probably just as well I'll have finished this BEFORE I see Hamlet. Much as I'd like to, I can't have ALL my heroes being David Tennantlike.

I was pretty braindead at the end of last week thanks to the effort of flinging so many words on the page. I was figuring they must be all rubbish, but then I got a brochure through the post from The Globe and there's an article about the way Elizabethan playwrights did that, so I felt much better. I am unfortunately a Leave It To the Last Minute kind of writer. But that doesn't matter. Because as it turns out, so was Shakespeare, and it hasn't done him any harm...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An interview with me...

For anyone interested, the lovely people at Trashionista asked me a few questions...

You can find it here

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Galloping to the finish

Am a little bit time poor to say the least at the moment as a combination of pr opportunities (expect to find me all over the internet opining about Strictly Come Dancing shortly), and a fast approaching deadline means blogging is falling by the wayside.

If anyone is remotely interested I shall also be waffling on about same on BBC Southern Counties Radio on Monday at 11.40. You can tune in at: 104.0–104.8 & 95.0–95.3 FM and 1161, 1368 & 1485 AM, and their website is here. I'll be in their Guildford Studio on the other end of the line, and hoping not to have a repeat of my very first radio experience when I was in a self operating studio at BBC's Portland Place studios, trying to defend why I was promoting horror novels to teenagers to a bunch of Christian Fundamentalists. Someone pulled the plug when I was in full flow, and by the time we got reconnected it was the end of the programme. Most disconcerting. Generally speaking though, apart from a slight concern that I might ramble onto much (chatty, qui moi?)I really enjoy doing radio as it is nearly impossible to imagine that anyone is actually listening to you, which makes the whole thing quite liberating.

As a result of all this I haven't got round to mentioning the financial crisis, but I'm finding it's worming its way into the wip instead, which means my book will be dated before it's even come out. Hmm. Some heavy pruning needed there at some stage, I'd say.

All I would say though vis a vis Icelandic banks (and due sympathy to those who invested in good faith), is that it seems to be the common consensus among my friends in the Know (and I would hastily say here I know nowt whatsoever about how the city works) is that the interest rates they were offering were Too Good To Be True. Since I learnt that all I can think of is The Real Hustle, a programme much beloved by self, Spouse and the sprogs. If you don't watch it, they end every episode with this salutary warning, If it seems to good to be true, it probably is. Quite. Wish someone had mentioned that to the powers that be at Surrey County Council...

Anyway to keep you cheerful amidst all the gloom and doom, I thought I'd post here something which according to a friend in Singapore is doing the rounds on Wall Street.

If anyone has difficulty understanding the current world financial situation, the following should help....

Once upon a time in a village in India , a man announced to the villagers that he would buy monkeys for $10.The villagers seeing there were many monkeys around, went out to the forest and started catching them.The man bought thousands at $10, but, as the supply started to diminish, the villagers stopped their efforts.

The man further announced that he would now buy at $20. This renewed the efforts of the villagers and they started catching monkeys again.Soon the supply diminished even further and people started going back to their farms.

The offer rate increased to $25 and the supply of monkeys became so little that it was an effort to even see a monkey, let alone catch it! The man now announced that he would buy monkeys at $50! However, since he had to go to the city on some business, his assistant would now act as buyer, on his behalf.

In the absence of the man, the assistant told the villagers: 'Look at all these monkeys in the big cage that the man has collected. I will sell them to you at $35 and when he returns from the city, you can sell them back to him for $50.'

The villagers squeezed together their savings and bought all the monkeys.Then they never saw the man or his assistant again, only monkeys everywhere!

Welcome to WALL STREET.

Friday, October 10, 2008

For Persephone (mainly)

And anyone else who wanted a glimpse of David Tennant in doublet and hose...

Reviews that I've read of LLL have been (rightly) positive. Came across one which described DT as "mercurial" - yup, that's a word I'd use. I also wanted to compare him to quicksilver but couldn't find the right sentence - and noticed a reviewer of Hamlet saying the same. Definitely definitely more then just a Time Lord (if indeed that was all he ever was...)

And then I found this...

I have to say DT sitting in that tree was one of the highlights of the play. Be still my beating heart...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Competiton winners...

I've been that over excited about seeing DT in the flesh I shamefully neglected to mention that over at Rob's blog the competition winners have been announced. My thanks to everyone who entered, and especially to Rob for hosting. If you haven't gone trundling to his blog before and are interested in all things tv, I can thoroughly recommend it as a diverting way of passing the time and (in my case) a big big reason to procrastinate on a daily basis.

Talking of which, had better stop doing the same. My characters need me!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Love's Labour's Lost

We've just had an incredible weekend. Thanks to the offices of a very good friend Spouse and I went away without the children (a treat enough in itself) to Stratford to see Love's Labour's Lost. LLL isn't a play I'm familiar with, and it could easily feel like not going to the main event, namely to see the wonderful Mr Tennant in Hamlet (which fortuitously we're also going to do in December). But it wasn't at all. If anything, I think on Saturday I had one of the best theatre experiences of my life.

It's a long long time since I've been to live theatre (apart from taking the sprogs to musicals the last couple of years, which is an entirely different experience.) This is mainly because theatre going and small children aren't very conducive, but also because living just outside London as we do, your lovely theatre experience can often end up utterly miserable thanks to the stress of getting home late at night. (I can remember one miserable trip to the Barbican with my parents many years ago, which involved us arriving at the theatre by the skin of our teeth and having a mad dash across London to get the last train home. Any enjoyment of the play had completely dissipated by the time we got home.)

However, having visited the Globe twice in the last year my latent interest in seeing Shakespeare live has been revived, and now the sprogs are old enough to see plays like A Midsummer's Night Dream, I was determined I was going to get us all there this summer. For a variety of reasons (ok, one, I didn't realise how quickly it would sell out) I failed dismally, but the two big ones are coming to Hamlet, and next year I am going to get to the Globe if it kills me. Particularly after having my appetite for the Bard whetted in such a wonderful way.

The RSC are currently treading the boards at The Courtyard Theatre, as their main theatres are under redevelopment. As this is a temporary venue, from the outside it looks like one of those corrugated iron warehouse where they store lockups with dead bodies in them. Anything less like a venue for seeing great theatre couldn't be imagined. But once inside all such worries are put to rest, because it is a wonderful fabulous, intimate space for theatre. It's also in the round, so you have people appearing from your left shoulder (DT did exit stage left of us at one point, sigh.), which I always enjoy. There's something about Shakespeare who frequently teases the audience about the artifice of it all, which lends itself well to be being shown in a small intimate setting like this. You feel almost as though they're doing a private show just for you.

And what a show it was.

I didn't know this play at all and toyed with reading it before I went, but a) I ran out of time and b) I thought it would be more interesting to go and see something where I didn't know the end, which it was.

Love's Labour's Lost isn't performed very often, and I can see why, because in a way it feels like a work in progress, as if our Will was in a hurry and said, Here, haven't quite finished it, but put it on tonight boys and I'll tidy it up for tomorrow. Without giving away the ending, it almost feels as if there's an act missing, though Berowne does make a joke about a year (which is the deadline the men get given) being too long to fit in a play. And the subplot though very funny feels as if it's tacked on, and could quite easily not be there.

The joy of this play though, to me was in the language, which is dazzling and brilliant and you wonder how on earth the actors all manage to say the lines without tripping over the words. The great thing about this performance as well was that it was incredibly accessible. It is very easy to watch Shakespeare and glaze over from the effort of trying to understand what is going on. I don't usually have that problem with plays I know, but I certainly have done with ones I'm less familiar with, and Spouse was sure he'd miss half of the references. We needn't have worried though, because without exception the cast delivered the lines so clearly and concisely it was impossible to miss the meaning.

I did find it rather distracting to watch lovely Mr Tennant at first, not just because he is just as lovely in the flesh as he is on Dr Who, but mainly because it is quite disconcerting to see someone you know so well in one role doing something so completely different. However, he is such a consummate actor, after a bit I stopped thinking I was watching Dr Who acting with a Scottish voice, but seeing Berowne. I was actually a little worried that he might not pull it off, but I needn't have been, because he was brilliant, funny, sexy, quixotic, and for the rare serious speeches he had to give he held the audience in the palm of his hand. Without a doubt he is one of the finest actors of his generation and it was an absolute joy and privilege to watch him in this.

Having said that, Love's Labour's Lost is not the David Tennant show. It really feels like a group effort. Nina Sosanya who played Rosaline really lit up the stage every time she was on it. You genuinely felt she and Berowne were meant for each other and the rather odd ending left me deeply frustrated for them. Kathryn Drysdale better known (by me anyway) as Louise in Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and a hilarious turn as a chav in St Trinians, was a huge revelation as she was funny (expected) but showed a depth I wasn't expecting. Definitely a talent to watch that one. The funniest character was undoubtedly Joe Dixon as the Spanish count, Armado, who preened and pranced his way across the stage and brought the house down when he came on playing a guitar, but Oliver Ford Davies was also hilarious as the pompous schoolmaster, Holofernes, and Ricky Champ was a memorable Costard.

The cast all seemed to be really enjoying themselves and the whole thing felt like a glorious joyous romp (well it did till you get to the odd ending, but that's Shakespeare's fault not theirs.) Time was when you went to the theatre, you used to only clap at the interval and at the end, but this felt like an audience participation event, in that the funniest moments were applauded wildly, without the thing becoming a riot.

LLL is a gloriously rude play and the sight of the milkmaid churning the butter, to Armado saying, "But I loooo-ooof her" will stay with me for a very long time. I also really enjoyed the masque where the men pitch up disguised as Russians (no I don't quite know why either!) and the women all pretended to be one another to test their love - David Tennant in a red beard doing a cossack dance was one of the highlights of the show, particularly when he put on a Borat accent.

We sat outside in the interval even though it was raining - but as I said to Spouse it was such fine rain, it felt like theatre rain, so wasn't real. It just felt magical and wonderful to be there.

Afterwards we tottered round the corner to an Indian (surreally called Thespians) and ten minutes later the whole cast walked past, though Spouse neglected to tell me he'd seen David Tennant till he'd gone by, so I only glimpsed the back of his head. You wouldn't really see that in London. Nor would you be able as we were, to totter back to our hotel and be home in ten minutes. As a theatre going experience, whatever you go to see, I'd recommend seeing it in Stratford, and am just trying to work out how I can wangle another trip...

And as an experience of seeing Shakespeare, I'd have to say that Love's Labour's Lost has to rate as one of the funniest plays I've ever seen, and my most magical theatre experience. Ever.

With grateful thanks to lovely friend who bought us tickets and looked after the children. No greater love doth a friend have etc etc. You've restored my faith in human nature.