Thursday, March 27, 2008

The wonders of You Tube

Now you see it, now you don't...

You might have noticed a You Tube video of a couple doing the rumba appearing randomly on this blog. It was meant to go to the Other Place but turned up here by mistake, so I've sent it packing...

However, I thought I'd share this with you instead.

a) in honour of the new series of Dr Who returning to our screens on Saturday April 5 -woohoo! The Maniac Family can't wait...
b) with thanks to Persephone who found it for me
c) by way of explanation of strange conversation with aforementioned lovely Persephone in my comments section about a song called She's Got You High.

I have mentioned before that I use songs to get me in the right mood for certain scenes when I'm writing. At the moment I am gathering my playlist for the next book, which is going to be (I hope) a bit of a Christmas fairytale. The starting point for a book is always more joyous then the endpoint I find, because you still imagine that the ideas in your head will be realised in exactly the right way, whereas there is always a certain disappointment about seeing them transferred from your head to the page. Or that's been my experience anyway...

But this early bit, it's great fun, and I am having lots of ideas floating in and out and around my head at the moment in between ploughing on with the line edits of Strictly Love.

As my ideas float in and out, I find certain songs stick in my head as being just perfect for different aspects of the story/different character's theme tunes, and as I'm in the car rather alot I tend to listen to the same songs ad nauseam. The kids have now joined in with this, with great enthusiasm, so the playlist in our car goes something like this at the moment:

CD1 Track 1 (shouts no 3) - Worried about Ray, by the Hoosiers. Now I shared this rather batty video with you a while back, and I can't for the life of me see how a song about someone who made bad monster movies in the fifties can possibly have anything to do with the story I'm writing, but the tune is catchy and it's in my head, so maybe it will work its way in there somewhere.
CD2 Track 6 (is no 2's favourite) Your Love Alone is Not Enough by the Manic Street Preachers. It is not uncommon for you to see Maniac Mum driving her offspring between afterschool activities and for us all to be singing at the top of our voices, "When times get tough, they get tough, they get tough, they get tough..."
CD4 Track 9 (Mummy's favourite) Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones - I have a manic depressive in the story. So that should work...
CD2 Track 5 (No 1's favourite) The Other Side of the World To Me, KT Tunstall, which is the perfect song for all sorts of dynamics which I intend to be going on.
Not on any CD in the car, but absolutely spot on for one of my heroines is Bryan Ferry's fabulous Let's Stick Together - an anthem for all long term relationships if I ever heard one, and Coral's Put the Sun Back which is going to be her theme tune.

But there's been one song driving me absolutely insane.

CD1 Track 12 It's a bright, uplifting, optimistic song about falling in love almost before you know it and is just perfect for my other heroine and her love interest, but I knew neither its name nor its provenance. And as the CD player is in the car that Spouse normally drives, I couldn't find the box with the titles on either. I searched google and You Tube to no avail, and was beginning to tear my hair out in desperation. I mentioned this in passing on Marie Philips blog last week as she was talking about songs to which you can't remember all the words to . And blow me, Persephone not only found out - it's She's Got You High, by Mumm-Ra - but also found this Dr Who fest of Martha's best bits, that someone has put to the song. God, people are clever. I can't work out how to download stuff from You Tube and put it to muisic (hence my interactive experiment on the other blog) - but I think this is great.

No 1 was away all weekend on a trip to France and didn't get back till gone midnight on Tuesday. So I had a party of one and sat in the car listening to all of the above, along with Kinks live from Kelvin Hall (I LOVE Ray Davies). But I sang loudest of all to this... So anyone who was parked in a Surrey Sainsburys' car park the other night, yes, the mad woman singing to herself was indeed me...


(And many thanks Persephone!)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Stop Press!

I am doing my very first book event EVER at Blackwells in Oxford as part of the Oxfringe week. So if you're in the area come along from 1-2.30pm next Monday, 31 March. I have done events for children, I have spoken about numerous other authors books, and indeed today have taken part in a Book Week at no 4's school, but nothing dear reader seems nearly as intimidating as spending fifteen minutes reading from my own work and answering questions about it...

So with any luck I shall find a suitable passage of this to read from:

And if time permits, I may talk about the inspirations behind book two, Strictly Love which though not directly inspired by this picture, certainly shares its sentiments. But if you want to know more about that (and take part in an unique interactive blogging/YouTube/music event) you can toddle over to the Other Place now for more on that...

So, if you're in the Oxford area next Monday, why not pop into Blackwell's, and if you're a reader of this blog, do come and say hi....

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sport's Relief

I'm a bit late blogging about this, but as you're probably aware it was Sports Relief Day on Friday.

I have banged on tediously before about the need for kids to become engaged in sport, which sadly doesn't happen at all at the schools my offspring attend. Indeed, no 1 is depressingly replicating both mine and Spouse's experience of sport at school. If you are crap, as Spouse and I were, and she is, you get swiftly demoralised as no one is very interested in your achievements.

I have been working very very hard to counter this negativity. Since I did the marathon three years ago, the girls have all taken a keen interest in running - no 1 like me is slow and steady but she does possess stamina, so I am dragging both her and no 2 out onto the downs again for this summer's Race for Life. We three are all also planning to do the Swimathon in April. No 1 is keen on swimming, so while I could stop her swimming lessons now on the basis she is perfectly safe and able, I am keeping them going for a bit longer, just so she gets some exercise she enjoys. I have also got her enrolled at our local gym where, hallelujah, some bright spark has had the wit to put on a programme for 11-14s. She loves it and can go at her own pace, and not feel as she normally does in school that she is bottom of the class. On top of that, there's tennis, which was my sport growing up, and looks like it's going to be hers too.

I have tried to drum in to all of them the importance of exercise for its own sake. I do agree that sport should be competitive (something sadly missing from my childrens' sport experience), but I also think that just because most of us are never going to be champions that shouldn't preclude us from making sport an essential and enjoyable part of our lives.

Since doing the marathon, which I can honestly say is something I never ever thought I could do, I have joined a triathlon club. Although I have always been a keen swimmer, I was never taught how to do it properly, and my technique sucked. Two years ago I went along as a novice and learnt crawl from scratch. I spent eighteen months in what is laughingly known as the baby lane at the club, where the brilliant coach, broke down the stroke, and built itup again, till I eventually graduated from the baby lane last summer, and can now swim 1500m crawl (not fast, true, but I can do it) without any problems.

I mention all this, because over the last three years I've discovered something about myself and my ablities to improve my fitness and stamina and technique in ways I could never have imagined before, and I wish someone had let me in on the secret earlier.

Which is why I was delighted that the school nos2 & 3 attend put on a Sport's Relief event on Friday. It was supposed to be a mile but the weather was crap so they held it indoors (less said about that the better - every hint of rain and they get them indoors.Elf and Safety insists, just in case someone slips and hurts themselves. My lot were out running round the tennis club in the pouring rain on Thursday to no harm whatsoever. Grrr!!!!).

I was pretty cross about this at first, as I had given up my afternoon to marshall, and I thought the event would turn out to be a damp squib. But hats off to the brilliantly energetic woman who organised it, each class got a fifteen minute, very vigorous work out, which they thoroughly enjoyed. It was such fun, myself and several other mums joined in. I had been swimming in the morning, but found myself able to keep up, though I was flagging by the end of the third session and my muscles still feel achy even today.

The great thing about it was though, was that ALL the kids enjoyed it and were engaged. You could see even the plumper less athletic ones really going hell for leather. It was fantastic, and just what sport in schools should be about (which isn't too say they shouldn't do organised games like football etc), because it is the first time in the eight years since no 1 started school that I have actually seen kids doing sporty stuff and really enjoying it.

So hats off to Sport's Relief, which is a good cause anyway, but is also I think on the quiet providing a really really good means for children everywhere to get the feeling for once that sport really can include them...

Another peek through the Looking Glass...

Yesterday I saw my newsagent friend, and apparently the police are now saying the matter is closed. Which is big of them. I also read this in the local paper on Thursday, where they denied they had asked him to take down any signs. (So where are they? He doesn't have them.)

They still have to tell him in writing he faces no threat of legal action in regard to this matter, but have warned him that should he put up other signs which cause offence to someone who complains the whole debacle can start all over again. Apparently (PU, perhaps you can put me right on this, because it sounds horribly depressing if it's true), if my friend for example were to write something derogatory about me, say (Local Author Makes It All Up), and I don't give a hoot (all good publicity say I), but a passerby who loves my books is offended on my behalf, he/she is entitled to make a complaint. Which strikes me as bloody silly, and more evidence of the looking glass world we inhabit.

Hilariously a barrister has offered to defend him for nothing should he need it - I say hilariously, because the barrister in question is black, although the solicitor who's volunteered the same is white. Yesterday when I was in his shop it was full of white people joshing him about his incipient racism. This is what we should all be big enough and ugly enough to be able to do.

So now my friend is in a catch-22 situation - can he resume his humorous posting about the news, or will he forever live under the shadow of risking another visit from the boys in blue for causing a myopic, one legged bandit from Mars offence for mentioning that men are from Mars and women are from Venus - given that calling a Martian a human is the worst insult on Mars?

In a world where apparently Basil Brush is being castigated for making a truly awful (all BB's jokes are truly awful and always were) joke about gypsies, anything can happen.

Personally I think we should all lighten up and learn not to take offence so readily.

And take a leaf out of my friend's book.

A notice now proudly proclaims that the IR are imposing a 25% laughter tax on anyone entering the shop, and another politely suggests that if you are likely to be offended by anything you read in the shop window, you might perhaps like to shop elsewhere....

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The State We're In

O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
William Blake

I've had a bit of a thing about William Blake ever since one of my English lecturers pointed out that Jerusalem is in fact a rebel song and wondered what the good ladies of the WI (this was pre the days when they barracked Tony Blair you understand) would have made of it if they'd really understood what he was on about.

I mention Blake now, because a) I think the above poem has huge relevance to the state of our nation (to my mind it's in pretty poor health) and b) I also see him as someone who embodies the spirit of what I think most right thinking liberals would value in our native Isles.

We live in very strange times. Where once (as per my previous post) it was taken for granted that the British values of freedom of speech, liberty and fair play and the ability to stand up for the underdog were a Good Thing, now it almost de rigeur for such values to be sneered at as having no place in multi cultural Britain. Mulit cultural Britain. The very phrase makes my toes curl (I much prefer Hanif Kureishi's cheery assumption on Front Page the other night that he is English). I also hate political correctness with a passion - to me it is the antithesis of free thought. Any right minded person would detest racism in all its forms, but redressing the balance by loading it in favour of people because of their race, sex or creed is just wrong in my view. I came to this conclusion twenty years ago, when working on a playscheme for kids with learning disabilties (or in those non pc days, mentally handicapped children). I made a complaint against a co worker because I saw her threaten an autistic kid with a shoe, and was accused of racism because the worker in question was black. No matter that the kid involved was also black, this was 1980s Bernie Grant Haringay, and the fact that I, a white woman, had the temerity to complain about a black woman, automatically made me racist. I couldn't have given a fig for her colour. I did, however, care that a vulnerable child was potentially at risk.

I have thought long and hard about writing this post. In fact, I have been thinking about it for nearly a year, which makes me realise how far we have let the notion of freedom of speech be eroded. We are not quite in an Orwellian world of a doublespeak, but we are not I think, far from it. Because for a middle class, middle aged white woman to write about issues of race without feeling anxious she is going to get a charge of racism levelled against her (which is what so far, has stopped me writing this post), suggests to me that to paraphrase my hero Ray Davies, it's a crazy shook up mixed up world. So shook up and crazy, in fact, that I frequently think we are living through the Looking Glass, as common sense on so many issues seems to have gone out of the window. There are so many nutty things reported in recent years I scarcely know where to begin, but one story that has really stopped me in my tracks, and made me think it is time to stand up and be counted, is something that happened to a local shopkeeper recently.

The chap in question is a wonderful example of how a newsagent can be at the heart of his community. He is vocal on local issues, supporting recent campaigns to save our hospital, and prevent Tesco's building a superstore in an inappropriate location. His shop is also a focal point for discussion and dissemination of local information. But more then that he provides us all with a huge laugh on a daily basis by writing up banner headlines every day based on the news of the day, given his own particular twist. No one is safe from his witty ripostes, and he takes regular pops at the government, the media, Islamic fundamentalists and more recently the Archbishop of Canterbury. I'm not terribly good at remembering jokes, but his funniest diatribe was about Gordon Brown becoming a suicide bomber for Hezbollah, and ended along the lines that they were all a bunch of Hammasses.

It's all very harmless, and extremely funny.

Not apparently, though, to Surrey Police. On Valentine's Day I passed my friend's shop and he had posted up a hilarious piece about the Archibishop of Canterbury's ridiculous opinings on sharia law. My friend took it one stage further and suggested that people should get discounts for Valentine's Day stonings. It was, as all his "news" items are, a joke. A passerby came in and took offence. The aforementioned passerby was aggressive and rude to my friend's wife, and also totally missed the point and thought my friend really was calling for the introduction of sharia law. He stormed into the local shopping centre and demanded that security guys come in and remove the offending posters. Getting no joy there he went to our helpful boys in blue.

In an ideal world (or perhaps, better then that, if we could revert for five minutes to Gene Hunt's world) the boys in blue would have treated this with ridicule it deserves. However, thanks to the powers given them by our busybodying government, stupid targets which mean it's easy to bully local shopkeepers, and( if local rumour is to be believed) an over zealous new police commissioner who wants to make a name for herself (not sure if the last is true), our local boys in blue covered themselves in glory by not only removing all the offending posters, but threatening my friend with prosecution under the incitement to religious hatred laws.

The police have been to see my friend five times in a period of twelve days about this very important matter. They have yet to respond to his calls for their help when twelve year old boys from a local school are abusing his wife when she won't let them read porn mags.

Although our local paper reports that the police are planning no further action in this matter they have yet to bother to tell my friend and his wife. Which is nice of them.

So inundated have national papers been by my friend's customers who have been outraged on his behalf, you may well be reading his story in next week's papers. He understandably is a bit anxious about putting himself in the public spotlight like this, but I think his story is important because it tells us something vital about the fragility of free speech in this country, and also the nonsense of so much politically correct thinking.

You might think as I live in a leafy Surrey market town the chap who has caused all this offence is a your typical middle Englander, white bigoted card carrying member of UKIP, but not a bit of it. My friend is a British Asian, and as such should be the sort of person who ought to be being held up as a prime example of how integration can and should work in this country, not being subjected to this low level bullying. He is big enough (and outrageously funny enough) to be able to take all sorts of flak thrown at him, and the flak he throws out at others is harmless and funny and not at all offensive (unless you are the sort of sad person who takes offence at anything).

In these strange times in which we live, my friend's humorous approach to often difficult subjects should be applauded not berated.

Whether Blake's vision of Jerusalem being built in England's green and pleasant land was ever a realistic one I don't know. But I do know that what my friend has just been through is an unedifying example of just how small minded and intolerant our nation is becoming. If we are ever to build Jerusalem here, I think it's time for the silent majority to make their voice heard.

In the meantime, if you feel as outraged by this story as I do, please spare five minutes to write to the Commissioner for Surrey Police to let them know. It seems to me it is too damned easy in this looking glass world for the minority to bully the silent majority. And I reckon it's about time the silent majority started standing up for itselfa bit more...