Wednesday, 27 October 2010

My Garden

I’ve not yet had a garden to call my own, so I like to improvise.

My trusty corkboard has been my garden for over ten years. I change the photos depending on the seasons. I often take random ‘stock’ photos, if you like, of shapes and scenery which pleases me, a habit that has lasted since I was an Art student. These now live tucked under the bed in various collections, waiting for the day I bring them out for a moment of corkboard glory.

My cat Abigail rather likes gardens and doesn’t mind if they are fake. She will sit in them, or in front of them, regardless. She considers any surface to be hers, especially if I am taking an interest in it, more so if there is a keyboard on which to lounge.

Once parked, so to speak, Abigail will survey her kingdom (or is that queendom?) until I move her away. Then she will give me A Look (and cat owners especially will know the one I mean) and retreat until the next opportunity presents itself.

So sorry I have not been around much recently. I would like to blame it on the following: crisp autumn days, dark mornings, busy bee work, lindy hop, the Victoria line, the silly new trains on the Victoria line that break down if anyone breathes on the doors, collecting conkers, a preoccupation with walking, Hi-De-Hi, Agatha Christie on the Telly, dark evenings, lack of Twirl bars, rubbish home computer, searching for various items in the Room Time Forgot, Disaronno, and eating cupcakes in Westfield shopping centre. Normal service shall resume soon.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Seeds as Snacks

I really feel I need to explain about the seeds.

Usually one would not have leftovers from the budgie as the only sustenance to last through a morning until lunch, but I have recently signed up to a company who, once a week, deliver a little box full of healthy things to snack on. These healthy things are in small little portions, designed to stave off hunger but keep you slim.

Of course, it probably doesn’t quite work like that if you tick the box to receive flapjacks. But they are good flapjacks! And they are tiny little bite-size bits of flapjack. So really it is a lot healthier than me buying a Twirl bar every day or being seduced by the twisted genius of franchise cookie sellers.

Along with flapjacks, there are portions of dried fruit, olives, and crackers. Usually one little portion in the box will be of seeds. Mostly I take them home to add to salads. Seeds are only snacks in extreme desperation.

While we are talking office snacks, have you heard of Feeders? Beware the office feeders my friends. These are slim folk who bring in an awful lot of cakes and biscuits to ‘share’ and never seem to tuck in themselves. It is all part of an evil plot to make them the slimmest in the room.

Then there are the office swoopers. I am afraid to say that I can be, on occasion, a swooper. We have three kitchens in our large office building, and me and my fellow swoopers will migrate anywhere for a coffee should there be a rumour of sweeties. We sidle in, exclaim in pretend surprise at the cakes, swoop, and then exit with a little clutch of goodies. We don’t care whose birthday it is. We just want cake.

I think I would actually go on strike if sugar was banned. I wouldn’t do the same for seeds, which defines their importance in my snack world.

What is your office snack?

Monday, 18 October 2010

Miserable Mugs

The only mug left in the office cupboard was one printed with ‘I Love Spreadsheets’. You can rather see why it was unloved.

Why are all office mugs so bloody miserable? Open the kitchen cupboards of any establishment and you will see mugs printed with corporate messages, mugs with patterns too hideous to go in normal homes, chipped mugs, stained mugs, and mugs with evil falsely jocular work-related slogans. These are the sort of mugs I would like to see:

Mugs with the number for Saneline
Mugs printed with ‘Cheer up, it’s not forever’
Mugs with flower patterns
Mugs that say ‘Think of the money’
The ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ mug

Do you reckon there is a shop out there that only sells sad mugs? And don’t get me started on the office fridge. Every time I put yoghurt in there it disappears from view, only to re-emerge slightly swollen three months later. I swear there is a false door, a secret draw somewhere in its grubby white interior that gobbles my things and spits them out past the sell-by date. Also someone always tries to cram their week’s worth of shopping in there, don’t they?

I’d also like to mention that the most pointless office snack of all is seeds. Yes, you heard it right, a little mixed bag of seeds that makes me a) feel like a parrot, and b) scatters everywhere each time I go for a handful. I may yet be the only person who manages to grow sunflowers around their office chair.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Hello World

I picked up my new glasses yesterday morning and have spent most of my time since then knee deep in books. Oh books! Glorious books! The weekend hours have so far found me slouched in various places reading, occasionally with a cat, equally slouched. But now I have to emerge and do some writing work, as there is an Exciting Thing afoot.

This is all good as I started the week feeling terribly dejected – one of those Why-Is-My-Life-So-Sucky feelings that were last seen flailing around when aged fifteen. It involved a fair amount of flumping around the house until I forced myself to snap out of it/go to bed early and sulk. But then Exciting Thing popped up and made me smile at everything - despite work challenges, London transport, and woollen jumpers with annoying elbow-length sleeves.

I won’t say anymore about Exciting Thing yet in case it doesn’t go ahead, but it is amazing how a week can turn itself around. However, you do have to keep putting yourself out there in order for things to happen, exciting or not, so today I am polishing a short story in order to submit it to a magazine. I am also polishing off a tin of Roses. It seems one form of polishing cannot take place without the other.

In other exciting news, while out yesterday I bought yet another random plate to add to the various items of ancient crockery lurking under my bed. I don’t know how it happens – I go to the shops on a perfectly straight-forward normal exercise and return with a tea cup. I sleep at night on a bed of saucers, uncomfortably aware that in Narnia sleeping on treasures turns one into a dragon. But that was gold and silver… would 1960s china do the same? Perhaps I will become a ferocious tea maker.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Kew Gardens in autumn

Sunday was a perfect day for a picnic at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (which we all know as Kew Gardens). Although don't spend so long admiring the plants and trees that you lose track of time and end up getting accidentally locked in. Whoops.

Friday, 8 October 2010

First-time buyer in London

Estate agent’s blurb: ‘Property has its own door’. Now there’s a relief. What next – ‘delighted to say property has its own toilet’, ‘proud to present this car parking space that could be converted into a three bed if you are all really, really good friends’?

I desperately want a little pad to call my own, somewhere I can feel settled, paint the walls, dig in a garden (or window-box – let’s be realistic), put up shelves, have a desk (oh the dream), and just potter about surrounded by everything that makes me ‘me’. So I have been saving desperately and foregoing treats for what seems like years. I now think I may be able to buy a potting shed. If I’m lucky.

I find myself clicking through property websites, and think that copywriters for estate agents have a really hard job. All the cheery exclamation marks in the world cannot hide the fact the property they are trying to market is a dump. ‘Look at the wondrous views,' they trill bravely as they try to flog a high-rise flat. ‘Close to all transport amenities,' they say about properties choking in fumes alongside the busy North Circular ring-road.

And why do they all ‘boast’ or are ‘proud’ to present properties? Why just settle on those two adjectives – they could brag, declare, even swank a little (we are swanking with delight to tell you about this flat). Actually I don’t know if I want to think about estate agents swanking with delight. Do you?

Sometimes I get bored with the sort of results my price range throws up in the London areas that I am looking in, and extend the search to Cornwall. I then look longingly at the sort of place I could get if I wasn’t attached by a monetary umbilical cord to a job in London, and sigh. Of course, it is thanks to the fact I am so attached that allows me to even dream of owning my own place. I’m in a weird catch-22 when all I really want to do is live like an artist and skip around with a leaf.

Do you think we ever grow up and become the people we want to be, or do you think people settle for less than ideal? Gosh that is philosophical for a Friday. Let’s go back to talking about swanking.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The October Plan (amongst other things)

For some reason today I have re-strung the words from annoying song ‘Bad Babysitter’:

I’m a real bad blogger
Get my ideas in the shower
(Whoop Whoop)
Forget them the next hour

I often think of blog posts when I am nowhere near a computer and am scampering from Place of Work A to Home B via C, awful commuter experience. Today’s ACE (the aforementioned awful commuter experience) involved a game of sardines. Twenty-three people and a buggy were crushed into the little space on a train by the doors. Not even in the aisle of the train (fifteen people were squished standing up along there), but between the doors. I know the exact number as when you are propped upright in a stranger’s armpit the only thing you can do is count heads as a distraction.

I often feel that wannabe authors should use their commute time to scribble down ideas. However, this depends if you can move more than your eye-lids on a day-to-day basis. National Express trains and the Victoria line are ruining my opportunity! The highpoint was when one disgruntled commuter who couldn’t fit on the train told us all ‘don’t you know I have places to go?’ which was greeted with a burst of sardonic laughter (appropriate for human sardines) throughout our squashed little corner. Like the rest of us were just there for the morning thrill!

The last thing I managed to scribble in my battered shorthand notepad was my October Plan. I often come up with a monthly plan, which could have anything on it from the nicely vague ‘write more’ to the greedy ‘buy flapjacks’. My October Plan is as follows:

  • Write up article idea (Oh yes, I Haz One)
  • Research magazines and papers for article idea (as article will need an article home)
  • Research magazines that accept unsolicited short story submissions (as I Haz One of those as well)
  • Open new bank account (most marvellously practical)
  • Don’t let desk look like a chemist’s shop (Ah. Oops.)

My desk, at work, is turning into a mini outpost of Holland & Barrett. H&B, for those who don’t know, sell HEALTH in all its glowing forms – juices and potions and vitamins and oats. I am addicted to H&B. Somewhere in those aisles is surely a magic elixir that will make me:

A) Energetic and bouncy (like Tigger. Full of the joys of Spring. In Autumn.)
B) Keen to Get On (The Mantra being Every Day is a Day of Joy)
C) Not eat chocolate (It must sell something that looks/tastes/smells like chocolate but has zero calories)
D) Thin-calved (Oh come on – something must surely work?!)
E) Focused (as opposed to Very Easily Distracted).

The problem with VED (being Very Easily Distracted) is that... sorry... train was going past the window. What was that? Oh yes. Veg.


This is how the day begins with a plan to get things done and ends coming home with a cauliflower.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Book reviews: Bernard Ashley, Stephen King, William Trevor

These are overdue reviews from books read way back in July. It seems July was a book-reading bonanza month for me!

Break in the Sun, by Bernard Ashley
The Running Man, by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman
The Children of Dynmouth, by William Trevor
More of Milly-Molly-Mandy, by Joyce Lankester Brisley

Break in the Sun, by Bernard Ashley
Illustrations by Charles Keeping
First published by Oxford University Press, 1980
This edition published by Puffin Books, 1981

‘Break in the Sun’ was serialised by the BBC and shown in schools, at least I watched it in my junior school. Thirty years later, I buy the book. Is it because the story stayed with me throughout those years or because I saw the cover and felt nostalgic? In a way it is a curious combination of both.

The story is about Patsy, an eleven-year old girl who feels displaced living with her mum, step-father, and their new baby. Her step-father is cruel and lazy; her mother harried and exhausted, and they have recently left behind a nicer life in Margate to live in a small flat in London. Walking home from school, Patsy gets into conversation with the theatrical owners of a barge. They need a young girl for a touring stage play that is heading to Margate. Patsy sees a chance to escape and convinces them she is a budding actress. When she runs away her step-father is forced to look at himself and re-evaluate the real reasons for his cruelty.

This story is a kitchen-sink drama updated to the 1980s, reflecting those troubled times of unemployment, as well as new family dynamics and the universal issues associated with being eleven-years old. Patsy is gutsy and fearless, and you feel for her so much, struggling to find a sense of belonging.

The Running Man, by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman
First published by New American Library Inc. 1982
This edition published by New English Library 1988

Stephen King’s Richard Bachman books usually concentrate on a dystopian futuristic society. (Or should that be Richard Bachman’s Stephen King books? The author himself would probably like that sentence!) ‘The Running Man’ continues in this vein, twisting elements of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ alongside a scary vision of gruesome reality television shows aimed to subdue the masses. These shows in the book play on people’s desperation, greed, and fascination with horrific spectacle - akin to those who picnicked around the gallows on the day of a hanging. Sadly the reality shows on our television screens now don’t seem a million miles away. Maybe this book should be read in schools alongside George Orwell.

It is the law that every apartment has a ‘Free-Vee’ – a television bolted to the wall – and every day it shows big money game shows such as Treadmill to Bucks, a show that only accepts chronically ill patients in the hope that they will die on air before the payout. But the real prize money can be found on ‘The Running Man’ contest – where contestants run and are hunted down, by both officials and members of the public. Forget the image of the muscle-bound Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film version of this book, the real ‘running man’ is lanky, lean and clever enough to realise the truth behind the shows.

The Children of Dynmouth, by William Trevor
Cover designed by Zandra Rhodes, part of Penguin Decades celebrating seventy-five years of Penguin Books.
First published by The Bodley Head, 1976
This edition published by Penguin Books, 2010

This book follows awkward teenage loner Timothy Gedge on his wanderings around the seaside town of Dynmouth. Timothy enjoys spying on his neighbours, who only realise the true purpose of his interest when it is too late.

The story is delightfully unsettling. You feel deeply sorry for Timothy’s lack of social understanding and yet at the same time appalled and repulsed by his selfishness, his single-minded view of life. He is so desperately alone and that is the crux of the matter – as without this you would hate him, and yet with it he is curiously vulnerable. The neighbours, several of whom he blackmails, each emerge from their encounter with him saddened by the mirror Timothy holds up to reflect their lives. Tension builds throughout the book but the quiet finale is not what you’d expect, leaving the disturbing notion of having glimpsed the under-belly of real life, where a million Timothy Gedges await, as opposed to a dramatic film.

This novel won the Whitbread Award in 1976, and reading it you can see why – brilliant characterisation and description every step of the way.

More of Milly-Molly-Mandy, told and drawn by Joyce Lankester Brisley
First published by the Christian Science Monitor, 1929
This edition published by George G Harrap & Co, 22nd impression, No 2.
It’s a hardback with dust jacket, but I cannot find a date. I suspect 1962 or earlier.

Milly-Molly-Mandy books have a special place in my heart. I have written before about the author, but this collection follows again in the small-village adventures of a small girl and her friends. What is lovely is that the adventures are the sort that means so much to a five-year old – getting stuck climbing a tree, going for a picnic, going to the seaside. Joyce never talks down to her small audience, either, but seemingly captures their delight for the small pleasures in life and her stories feel like such an antidote to our materialistic society.

Scanner broke, so am missing two pictures! Will add them if I can fix scanner. *ponders scanners innards*
Update - November. Fixed printer!