Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Life Without Writing?

When I remember the past, it comes in a series of snapshots, which (rather like a 'Harry Potter' photograph) begin to move when I select one, bringing to mind details that I can never be sure I have not added over the years.  There are some that keep coming up, like a picture of me on a Greek beach at Christmas wearing a royal blue jumper and a pink skirt with my arms stretched out to the side. I look happy, my head tilted, a big smile on my face.  I look as though I am on the point of taking off and gliding over the sand.  Another comes to mind, forcing out the girl in the blue jumper.  I am at the zoo with my daughter.  She is not much older than one and she is grinning because she has just counted to three, or I think she has. I see her face close up and wonder where this version of her has gone. Then there is the jolly camper van I used to have and the adventures that went with it. I recall the smell of grass and the dripping of the rain as I boiled a kettle and made tea on the tiny stove.  The interior was orange and green, but I didn't care. All these people.  All these places.  All these moments.

Today, at my desk, I listen to the birds outside my window and I wait for the sound of my children returning from school, as they have done so many times before.  A collection of returnings - I can't remember the first time and I don't really want to think about the final time, which is surely nearer than the first?

I should go down and do something useful.  Make some tea, or hang the washing out.  But I came to my desk because I was wondering about the way my life has turned out and whether I should change it.  There must be stuff that I'm missing and stuff that I would do better without.  Perhaps I should write a list?

There are things I wouldn't miss.  Like housework and going to the doctor's or the dentist's.  I don't much like shopping, either.  I wonder what the children would say if there were no milk in the fridge and no clean pants in the drawer.  I wonder whether everyone's teeth would go brown and fall out without regular checkups. I consider whether I could get used to internet shopping.

When I think of giving up these things, it's just a kind of madness, obviously.  I play my part for my family's sake, just as they play theirs.  They expect me to do these things and lots of others that I was not made for, just as I expect them to be polite, pass their exams, earn a salary and love me.  It would be no good messing about with the everyday things. Not until we found a world where there were new rules, allowing us all to pursue our creative ideals, and where food preparation had become redundant.

What then should I change?

I think of the books I have written, published and sold or given away to people who either read them or didn't. Liked them or found them unremarkable.  Could I give it all up? Should I go out and find a 'real' job that pays better?  Increase my teaching hours?  Do some fruit picking? I might survive for a while, after all, the world is a lovely place, with lots of things and people in it that I haven't seen yet.

But I'm pretty sure I couldn't stand it for long.  Not writing, I mean. I know it is a luxury, a self-indulgence, when considered against the horrendous stories in the news.  I could go and help those worse off than myself, sell my house and give away my possessions.  Maybe I will one day.  Who knows?

The fact remains that, for now at least, I write because it seems to me that writing is what I was made for, above all else.  And I am constantly delighted that it should be so.

Life without writing?  Not an option.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Carol and Bev on 'Why does cake taste sooo good?'

Carol and Bev are characters from 'One Summer in France' and 'Bunny on a Bike'.  They like to answer questions left for them on Bev's blog.  This one comes from Carol Hedges http://carolhedges.blogspot.fr/

Carol:  What's the question today, you lovely tart?
Bev:  Today's question comes from Carol Hedges and is: 'Why does cake taste sooo good?'

Carol:  That's a stupid question.
Bev:     I don't think so.  It depends how you look at it. Anyway, that's very rude!
Carol:  God! You always have to be complicated.  There are questions that are scientific and stupid ones.      Simple!
Bev:    Okay.  Then let's be scientific my little Devonshire piranha.
(Carol sighs)
Bev:    Shall I start?
(Carol sighs, again)
Bev:     It's not completely to do with taste buds.  I did a lesson on it once in Greece, when I was teaching.
Carol:   What?
Bev:     I did a lesson-
Carol:  Yes! I know! I was just wondering how grateful your students must have been, and how anything you ever taught in Greece could be said to be scientific. 
Bev:    Well, they were, actually, and it was.  It was in one of the English text books.  Can't remember which one.  There were some pictures of food.  I remember, there was blue soup, some red gravy and a big green cake... it was to show us that our food has to look appetising for it to taste good.
Carol:   Something to do with not eating manky soup, or mouldy cake.  Do they have gravy in Greece?
Bev:     Yes!  Exactly. And no, they don't. But that's not important.
Carol:   Astounding. (Carol yawns).
Bev:     Well, I thought it was, because the cake actually tasted really nice in the tests they did.  They made people taste blindfolded and unblindfolded.
Carol:   That's not a word!
Bev:     I know.  Anyway, the ones who couldn't see what they were eating thought it tasted nice.  And the ones-
Carol:   -who could see that it was green, didn't, obviously.
Bev:     I was just trying to say that taste isn't just to do with taste buds.
Carol:   You know you already said that?  Did you know we have 10,000 of them? 
Bev:     Yes.
Carol:   And that they die as we age, until we have none left at all and can't be bothered to eat anything, so we die.
Bev:     That's not true.
Carol:   They harden and detach themselves, roll off into our stomachs and turn into marbles.  The rare, blue ones.
Bev:     Really.
Carol:   Then you can fire them out of-
Bev:      -I think we get the picture!  Finished?

Carol:   My granddad tried to eat a washing up sponge once.  Thought it was a cod in butter sauce.  Said it was a bit chewy.
Bev:     Did you stop him?
Carol:  No, he was enjoying it to start with.
(Bev stares.)
Bev:     Anyway.  Getting back to cake.  It only tastes good if it's the right colour and you still have some taste buds left.
Carol:   And a sense of smell.
Bev:     And a sense of smell, granted.
Carol:  And someone who knows how to make a cake.
Bev:     Anyone can make a cake!
Carol:  Now, that's where you are sadly mistaken.  My auntie Doris turns butter, sugar, eggs and flour into shrapnel.  Uncle Horace had no teeth left by the time he was thirty.
Bev:    Anything else?
Carol:  I'm sure I can think of something...

Bev:    Tea?
Carol:  Any cake?
Bev:    Better ask Carol Hedges to send us one, she always has loads hanging around.
Carol:  Be doing her a favour.
Bev:    Exactly.
Carol:  Tell her any colour except green.

If you have a question for Bev and Carol, please feel free to leave it at the end of this post.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Sample Sunday. 'One Summer in France'.

Excerpt from 'One Summer in France' (prequel to 'Bunny on a Bike' - humorous memoir of a Playboy croupier).

I started reading Lolita, which I had found at reception, on a small bookcase filled with reading matter left by holidaymakers, for other holidaymakers to borrow.  I had already read it, but this time I noticed the internal lyricism of the text.  It was beautiful and at the same time mildly distasteful.  I pictured Humbert Humbert clearly and found him to be more of a slime ball, as now I could see the wetness of his licked lips when he spoke.  Lolita was of course a lisping trollop of the first order, but even so, I still believed her innocent, to a certain degree.  I looked around the pool at the middle-aged men and the children playing.  The book had made my fellow poolside malingerers into monsters so that, in the end, I was forced to put it away. 
I thought about asking the woman nearest me for a read of her Cosmopolitan, just to take my mind off Nabokov and his filthy preoccupations.
‘Excuse me!  Would you mind if I had a look at your magazine?’
The woman took off her sunglasses, tilted her head and smiled in an overly genuine way.  ‘No, of course not.’
Her name was Barbara and she was a dancer.  He daughter, Beatrice, was in the pool and she was a dancer too.  I expressed great interest for five minutes and then snuck back to my lounger for a quiet read of some entertaining nonsense.
I was half-way through an article on whether it was wrong to use your feminine wiles to get round your boss, when I was aware of a shadow between my beautifully tanning thighs and the sun.
‘Hello.  I’m Beatrice.’
It appeared that Beatrice had no sense of other people having a life that did not include listening to the teenage musings of a girl who had opinions on most things and wasn’t afraid of voicing them.  She declared, almost immediately, that my hair was not natural, my bikini the wrong colour for my skin and my nails not shaped properly.  She went on to explain why these things were important and what I should do to put them right.
‘I hope Bea isn’t disturbing you,’ said Barbara, who looked as though she were leaving.
Don’t you dare bugger off and leave your precocious daughter for me to look after!
‘No, not at all!’ I assured her.
‘Well, I’m just going for a coffee.  If you need me, Bea, I’ll be just-’
‘All right, Mum!’ replied Bea, rolling her eyes at me.
Think of something!
It turned out that I had been struck dumb and was stranded.  Even when, fifteen minutes later, I gathered up my things and said that I was going back to my tent, Beatrice followed me.  She wanted to know where I was staying so that she could come and see me whenever she wanted, she explained amicably, taking my unproffered arm.
I took a circuitous route, hoping that she would get bored or scared and go back to her mother.  I stopped at the toilet block and, once inside one of the cubicles, wondered whether I could climb through the window and escape before she noticed.
‘Which one are you in, Bev?’  she cried, pushing the doors.  ‘Ah ha!  Found you!’ she said, sticking her foot under my door.
‘I think you might need to go back now,’ I said.
‘We have dinner at 7.00,’ she replied, obtusely.
It was only 5.00.  My internal scream mechanism was on overload.  What could I do? 
‘I’m going for a wee, too,’ she said.
Quick!  Run away!
‘Okay.  Good.’
‘Wait for me.’
Not likely!
I wove in and out of a few emplacements, crouching behind an occasional tent to see if she passed by.  The campsite was quite big and I was pretty sure I had shaken her off.

‘Why didn’t you wait!’ said a voice, behind me.
‘Oh, sorry.  I thought you were with me,’ I lied.
She looked at me.  She knew I was lying, but she didn’t care.  Young girls are like leeches; they want blood and won’t fall off until they are satisfied.
So, for the next hour and a quarter I was forced to answer questions about everything under the sun and was treated to several displays of her flexibility and forced to admire her dance moves.  She would casually put a leg behind her head and tell me that she was going to be a famous dancer one day.  She could do the splits, stand on her hands as well as she could stand on her feet and pirouette until I was dizzy.
I could feel the mass of the Earth’s core dragging me towards it and, given the choice, I would willingly have succumbed to an increase in gravity that would suck me underground and allow me to hide with the worms for a while.  My brain hurt, my eyes were bored with looking at her, I wanted her to evaporate, and did everything in my power to will her sudden disappearance by any and every possible means.
Go away!
I heard the thought getting stronger.
Go away!  Go away!  GO AWAY!
The sentiment glowed like white heat inside my head.
‘I think you should go, now,’ I said, reasonably.
Beatrice was sitting cross-legged in front of me telling me about another girl in her dance class who considered herself, apparently erroneously, to be the best dancer.  At my suggestion, she stopped talking and stood up gracefully. 
‘What time is it?’  she asked.
I looked at the alarm clock in my bag.  It was 6.15.
‘Coming up for 7.00,’ I said.
With that, she did a sort of skip and ran off in the direction of the centre, calling to me over her shoulder, ‘See you later!’
‘Not if I see you first!’  I muttered, deciding there and then that I would never have children.

When Carol and Dave got back at 8.00 I was playing dead in my tent.  I heard their approach and stuck my head out, making sure the coast was clear.  Carol laughed and said that I was a dullard and I said that she mustn’t leave me alone with Beatrice under any circumstances.
‘We’ve got some chips and a funny kind of sausage for you,’ she said, handing over a polystyrene box.
Dave was wearing a beatific grin and a little smear of ketchup on his upper lip.  He lay down on the grass and closed his eyes.
I watched as Carol got out her makeup bag and bent over him.  The result was rather fetching in a pantomime dame kind of way, although I would have preferred her to have taken my advice and done a Malcolm McDowell eye.
At precisely nine o’clock, we heard Beatrice arrive outside our tent.  And, a few seconds later, we heard her scream and run away.
She wouldn’t be back.

Dave didn’t find out that he had green eye shadow, pink cheeks and ‘KILLER’ written in black eyeliner across his forehead until he went for a shower much, much later.

If you would like to read more of 'One Summer in France' there are links to all my books on Amazon at the top of this page.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Bev and Carol answer your questions.

(Bev and Carol are characters in my two humorous memoirs: 'One Summer in France' and 'Bunny on a Bike'.)

Today's question is from Tony in Bristol:  'What is dark matter and why can't we see it?'

Bev: Okay, Tony.  That's a good question.  Let's get a comment from Carol first, shall we?

Carol: Don't know.  Don't care.

Bev: Right.  That's okay.  Well, I think I can have a go at answering this one for you, Tony.  You have to think of the universe as a really big place.

Carol: Brilliant!

Bev: Just giving it a context.  Do you want to try?

Carol: Nope.

Bev:  So, all the stars and planets and, indeed you and I, are made up of visible matter.

Carol: Some more visible than others.

Bev: We can measure the mass of visible matter and calculate the forces implicated in the movement of the stars and various other physical bodies through space.

Carol:  Let's do another question. Please!

Bev: Just let me finish, will you?  It's quite simple really.

Carol:  I thought you were an English teacher, anyway.

Bev:  I am.  But I like astronomy, too.

Carol:  (Carol shrugs and closes her eyes sighing loudly.)

Bev:  So, the thing is, the movement of the stars cannot be accounted for by the amount of visible matter.  There has to be other matter to explain the gravitational forces exerted throughout the universe.  So, dark matter provides that extra matter.  And because it is made of unknown, infinitely tiny particles, we can only 'see' it indirectly - when it arrives at a given point and causes a reaction that produces particles that are visible.

Carol: Have you finished?

Bev: Yes, I think so.

Carol: Can I say something now?

Bev: Yes, of course.

Carol: Dark matter is probably not even there at all, anyway.

Bev:  Thought you didn't know or care about dark matter.

Carol:  I lied.

Bev:  So?

Carol:  It's rude to say 'so'.

Bev:  Do you have any comment on dark matter, or not?

Carol:  If you'd let me get a word in, you lovely tart, I'll say my piece... Dark matter probably doesn't exist.  I heard it on the radio this morning.  All the physics we were forced to study at school is probably all completely wrong and will have to be changed.  Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, Mr. Smythe - all dunderheads!

Bev: Who's Mr. Smythe?

Carol: Physics teacher. Bald and too brainy for his own good.  Useless. Nice hands.

Bev:  Great!  Well, thanks for the question Tony. 

Carol:  I was just getting interested.  Has Tony gone? Is he a looker?

Bev:  Yes. And I don't know.

Carol: Oh. Fancy some toast?

Please feel free to leave questions on any subject for Bev and Carol to answer. Note: answers may contain made up bits and may be of no practical use.

Bev and Carol can also be found in 'One Summer in France' and 'Bunny on a Bike' - links at the top of this page.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The drive from La Rochelle

The road is not busy this morning and the radio station plays songs that bring on quiet thoughts of love. 

Inside the car, it is warm. Outside, the sun is a pale glow behind the white sky.  But it will burst through later and let me see the blue.

I drive.  Muse.  He can sing, this chap. I follow the melody and shiver at the nuances in his voice, relaxing into the random contours of the road. The bends go with me.  The scenery is familiar.  It could be the fens, flat and barren looking. 

A motorbike passes and a speed camera flashes.  This affects the rest of my journey although I try to keep it out.  Will I get a ticket?  Will the photograph show only my car?  It will not be fair.

Robbie Williams sings in French and tells me that RTL2 is his favourite radio programme.  I wonder if it is true, remembering the rising intonation, flippant or sincere?  It’s an advert!

I don’t like Bonnie Tyler.  Bette Davis’ eyes hold me for a while and I remember a film – she ran over her sister and put her in a wheelchair.  ‘Whatever happened to Baby Jane?’ I may not have remembered the title correctly.  Her voice is good.  Professional.  Bonnie Tyler.  Who would have thought I would listen with pleasure?

I come to the lights and turn towards home, pass by Ferme de Magne with its camels, and come into Nancras, where the street is narrow and you have to have your wits about you for people and cars who see you and don’t care.

I drive along the sloping avenue of trees.

Then open road again, until Balanzac and its red and white limit.  I slow and cruise through the village.  Houses flat against the road, shutters back.  Lived in. And leaving, a field, ploughed and beautiful – it always gets me, looking at the bare earth.

Past the Pepinieres and left at the roundabout, behind a parody of a van, made of spare parts, with curtains.  Bumping over the terrible road surface and past the school, the stop where my boys go to catch their bus to college.  Around the corner and into the square.  No sign of anyone I know.  The bakery is open.  Do I need bread?

Into the house and I see my husband in the garden with his chainsaw.  I do not go to tell him I am back.

Instead, I have come straight to my laptop to write about my drive from la Rochelle to take Ruby to the airport.  As I must.

I am back, but the colour of her hair and the whiteness of her skin at the check in, the warmth of her, the smell of her, keep me there, where we shared a last, casual look.

Go!  I did.  But not completely.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Bunny on a Bike

Excerpt from 'Bunny on a Bike' (humorous memoir of a Playboy croupier).

So, croupiers were not allowed to accept tips or fraternise with the clients.  By fraternise, I assumed the management meant that we should not swap saliva and/or other bodily fluids with the punters.  I can tell you that this was not something I would have been tempted to do in the first place, preferring to keep myself (metaphorically speaking) at the other end of a very long barge pole, whatever that was. Being me, though, I occasionally imagined snogging some of the men at my table, despite the fact that I didn’t want to.  Once a thought got inside my head it took a long time to get it out.  I would look at a pair of dry scaly lips, sometimes with an opaque pearl of spittle nestling at one corner of the mouth, and notice a white carpeted tongue flicking around in a presumably foul smelling orifice.  Then, I would not be able to stop myself imagining kissing that mouth, clamping myself to it and investigating its festering cavities and receding gums, reaching for its swollen tonsils.  No matter how much I concentrated on the cards, my daydream would run its circular course and leave me with an expression of profound disgust on my face that rarely escaped my supervisor’s eagle eye.  I can only assume that she had done the same thing herself.  I wondered whether there might be a cure for it and whether she might know what it was. 
Carol said that I was a twisted pervert.

So, as I might have mentioned, we were not allowed to accept tips.  Ah, yes, you may say that I am repeating myself and you would be right.  You may also think this simple fact would not have bothered us all that much after a while and you would be right, most of the time.  But, just consider for a moment, a rich punter riding his luck and winning hand over fist.  Imagine the good will amassing around him like candy floss, sweet and fluffy, too sickly-sticky to keep to himself.  Picture his confident fingers caressing the mounting pile of chips in front of him and then put yourself in the position of the quietly salivating croupier, dreaming for a moment of such sweetness.  Oh, to be on the other side of the table!  Just for once.  Gathering her treasure and scarpering with her windfall.  And then, in the midst of her bitter-sweet dream of wealth, shopping sprees and breast augmentation, visualise the slow-motion smile of the conspiratorial punter and the wink of his gluey eye as he places a separate bet, which, he says, is for her. Yes, for her.  She will share in his good luck and bonhomie.  She deals the cards, suddenly implicated in the drama of his game, hoping for a blackjack or even a split, and she finds that the cards in her box have beaten the house and will receive that wonderfully brittle kiss of chips, worth more than she earns in a week, a month, a lifetime… And then, as Lady Luck’s smile starts to fade, she feels the breath stop in her throat as her supervisor leans forward, as she knows she must, and graciously thanks her generous, affable punter, but points out that tips are not allowed.  That, I can tell you, is when you are bothered.  You are so bothered that your smile freezes and you stare distractedly at what might have been, whilst picturing your hands closing around the neck of your supervisor, who is not allowed to accept tips either.  You are very bothered.  Life seems cruel and unfair.  You want to put your case, defend the right of the client to offer a small gift.  And then, to make things worse, you observe a strategically placed waitress stepping nimbly forward with a tray of premeditated beverages, for which she receives a large part of your winnings, just for the briefest of moments catching your eye and knowing that you would like to do her harm.  

If you want to read more (there are lighter times too!) you can download a free sample here: http://tinyurl.com/bps8k3o