Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Year In Non-Review

I've spent the last half hour browsing through this year's pics, trying to fish out at least one shot that I particularly like or that perhaps encapsulates emotions I've felt throughout the months. This sounds like one heck of a simple exercise, but I can assure you it's only deceptively so. The more I looked and the less I found what I was seeking, until I stumbled upon dead leaves and flowers, both taken on a run-of-the-mill autumn day a few weeks back. My 2009 has been like this:

one hell of a steep staircase taking me nowhere. Distinctively nowhere. I conclude the year broken and tired, not one inch closer to anything I had worked (and planned) to reach, too exhausted even to be saddened by it all. I don't even care any longer.

I hope that my 2010 will be like this:

in technicolour and bright and happy, building on what has happened this past month and living in the present. I am looking forward to tomorrow like I've never looked forward to a new year before. And from then on, it's the new red diary and a change of tune. Have a good night and thank you for reading, today and any other day.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Trickles Of The Year

I love a still, foggy landscape. Have I said it already, that I love the fog? I remember being caught in it many months back, but that wasn't the type of fog I am thinking about right now, this fog right here:

I shot that in Knutsford, down at The Moor, where the paths were slabs of ice and the water was a bigger slab upon which seagulls pattered slowly and carefully and from which they took flight at the sight of us, just in case we had brought something to eat.

I spent the last few days doing pretty much nothing, again as I reported on Christmas Day. Playing games, going out for walks, hopping from place to place without real aim, nor real reason to go there seems like a great way to while away the days when Christmas winds itself down and the New Year starts rearing its head. In fact, there is something that is making me ridiculously happy and excited: the prospect of cracking open my brand new red Moleskine diary come Friday and to turn dreams into reality. I know that much introspection and pondering will take place over the next twenty-four hours: for some reasons that is what the last day of every year inspires me to do, but then it will be all systems go and hopefully onwards and very much upwards. To infinity and beyond. And to hell with 2009.

Friday, December 25, 2009


It's been a misty, foggy Christmas Day, spent opening a couple of presents, eating a little bit at lunchtime, finally tucking into the cheesecake that I bought two days ago and generally doing nothing. Like... nothing at all. Suits me fine. Merry Christmas dear reader and thanks for visiting and for all of your emails throughout 2009.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Time Off

I spent the last three days having a bit of a blast doing nothing other than walking around my usual digs and snapping away like a tourist.

Monday, December 21, 2009


It's half past midnight and I am toying with the idea of making myself a latte with whipped cream, a sprinkling of brown sugar and maybe a dash of Irish cream. But it seems like an awful lot of hassle and noise when I've already brushed my teeth and the house is asleep. Pity I still have to go and pick my parents up from the airport.

They were due here over three hours ago but their flight got cancelled, so they boarded one for Birmingham instead, where they waited for their luggage for one hour and are now about to get onto the bus that should bring them here at... I don't know, say 2 am? Maybe a little earlier if I am lucky? I am absolutely terrified of going through an unexpected sleepy patch just before I am due to don the puffa coat, scrape ice off the car and get going. Good job I am only three miles off the runaway. Maybe I should leave now? Surely, I won't fall asleep in the terminal?

As Kathleen from You've Got Mail says: 'I lead a small life. Valuable, but small.' I am not entirely sure whether my life is small or big, and certainly I would find it near impossible to define what makes a life one or the other. But what I do know is that my life never entails wild nights out that end at the crack of dawn. In fact, apart from a few freak occurrences at university, not even then did my life develop on the wings of such excesses. And so to be up at this time of night is a bit of a shocking thing really. I guess I too lead a small life, at least in this sense.

Maybe I could kill time by visiting that Tesco that is open 24 hours. Imagine that! I detest food shopping at the best of times, as documented elsewhere, imagine firing up the Shaguar now to have a stroll around the place which I detest even more than food shopping itself. Or I could catch a late movie, couldn't I? Well, scrap that. I just had a look and the last showing started hours ago anyway.

I feel surprisingly perky, all things considered. Now I feel more like eating than when I first sat down here but the thought of clicking the fridge open is sending shivers down my spine. It would prompt The Beasts to hurtle in the darkness and poor Rick, who is planning on getting to work early in the morning, setting off at just past 6 am, would be jerked out of the dreams he has been catching since 11 pm. But then maybe William really is asleep... He is curled up into a tight ball in the bed by the radiator, eyes squeezed shut... Maybe if I am really, really, really quiet and if I move in slow-mo he may not notice...

Sunday, December 20, 2009


They say that it never snows in Cheshire and that, if it does, it never sticks. Well, that’s true to some extent: Cheshire is England’s wettest country, always ready to welcome a piss-down while the sun is shining, just think of April and May everyone. Only a couple of weeks ago I was driving home under two rainbows stretching all the way to Heaven. Today is a different tune though and my house too is covered in precious white stuff, despite the day having started crisp and very blue.

I look out of the window at the roofs and at the steps that lead to the grass and it seems odd that the entire country is in disarray over what I call a ‘dusting’ of snow. Maybe it’s down to one too many North American holidays in the midst of blizzards; maybe it is down to walking-to-school remembrances when show was five feet deep until March or maybe it’s just down to a reasonably unfazed attitude that accompanies me everywhere I go. By which I mean... according to me it ain’t really a problem until people die... And of course, six-hour delays from New York when on hols, three-hour delays from London on a weekly basis, -25C in Illinois, the East Coast blizzard of 2003, the Buran blowing from Russia in 2002 and a habit to wear three pairs of wooly tights because you-don't-understand-I-am-going-out-anyway-the-sale-is-on-at-Saks do one heck of a job at making one impervious to snow. You look outta window today and go: 'What snow?'.

Whatever it is, I like to stay holed up at home, even though I must confess to having spent half an hour defrosting the Shaguar this morning because I sure as hell wasn’t gonna be stranded for no cataclysmic reason. So I went out for light bulbs and some extra anti-freeze, for some biscuits and two sticks of bread and because it seemed fair enough to try the road out before I go to the airport to pick my parents up tonight. If they manage to fly over, as it’s -10C at their place although not that unusual, as they live near the Alps. I am looking forward to having them to stay so that I won’t have to worry about one damn thing for three weeks and so that I will put this Royally Shite Year behind me in a feast of Monopoly City and tea and Irish coffee and stollen. And maybe a little something from Harvey Nichols as well...

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I spent this week contemplating and regretting. I know, odd way to commit one’s thoughts to a diary, isn’t it? I spent the day regretting today. I contemplated many things and I regret them all. Well, it didn’t work out exactly like that but sometimes life really does make me feel like crawling away to Tibet, where everything seems serene, nobody has to worry about what to wear because they all go around in orange robes and where there are no earthly issues of mortgages and car oil because all they do is bettering themlseves spiritually, and they do not need a house or a car to do so. If only!

I should have made the choice years back and not now that the world has yet again spiralled out of control and I find myself re-wound back to ten years ago, in more ways than one. Meanwhile, the house is warm and cosy, the tree glows by the widow, my dogs don’t want to go out and I with them. I find myself once again muddled with the past, while life scoots by, shouting: ‘HEY! You comin’?!’. I’ve got a new diary, by which I mean a paper one. It smells clean like air after a snowfall, it sounds crisp like autumn leaves under my shoes, it looks ready, enticing me with the promise of adventure, novelty and possibility. I can’t wait to crack on I am telling you.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Unexpected Guest *WITH SPOILERS*

A few days ago, I was working on the sofa, by the door that looks onto the garden. I saw a black cat passing by, a little guy whom I have seen before. He reminds me of Gobbolino, the Witch’s Cat, which was one of the old tapes I used to listen to when I was small. I tapped my fingers on the window and he came back, tentatively looking in. So I opened the door and after much coaxing he stepped in and took a tour of the lounge.

Well, good job I had yet to place the tree skirt under the tree. He proceeded to the glass door that leads to the entrance hall and saw William in bed by the radiator. I kid you not dear reader, the little cat turned around and scooted off without a second thought. But what does he know of my dogs? It is Victoria he should fear and not William, who looked up at me from the bed, bemused, probably wondering what that black moving thing was a second ago and was there a black thing anyway? Good luck to you little guy... winter is expected to be long and cold around here. Oh and, by the way, you know the unexpected guest, I mean, the real Unexpected Guest? It’s him who did it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Job Done

Right, all my decos are duly sorted and now it's time for more coffee. And more chocolate. I am telling you, at this rate I won't be able to fit into my knickers by the end of tomorrow, let alone into my dresses by mid-January.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's Beginning To Feel A Lot Like NYC

For the past few days I’ve lived on a diet of chocolate coins, chocolate fudge, chocolate Santas, chocolate biscuits and skinny Starbucks. You see, the skinny part is necessary, so that I can offset some of the calories. Saving 50 or so on the coffee makes me feel very virtuous indeed, especially on days such as today, which I spent walking around and then plonked at the IMAX for A Christmas Carol (preceded by a cheese pretzel, my only savoury concession in quite some time, and followed by another Starbucks).

But life is great when Rick is around because it always feels like we are on holiday, even when we’re just at home. And did I ever tell you that the newest bit of Manchester, Spinningfields, is looking almost as good as The Rockefeller Center? Yeah well, oooooo-k, minus the skyscrapers and the stupendous shops and Prometheus and Saks and St Pat’s and Atlas and Fifth Avenue and an observation deck on 70 and minus many other things and yet, plus a merry-go-round set upon a backdrop of glass and steel and a peculiarly blue sky. And, for today at least, that’s more than good enough.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Challenge For #best09

When some time ago I read that Gwen was starting a Best of 2009 string of prompts for December, I grinned and clapped, thinking how very fabulous, I am gonna do them all. Then the prompts came and the problems started.

There was no Best of 2009 for me; there was just one heck of a supermassive black hole filled with disastrous memories, with internal struggles and ferocious recriminations, with tears and rejections, with wading through black treacle up to my waist. 'There ain't no BEST OF!' the disenchanted me boomed from deep inside, there have just been non-developments, call that best of anything if you can! Rararah-dirahrarah! Self-pity? Anger? Stalling? Sadness? Shock? Yes, all of these and then some, tenfold.

Yet, late last night I noted that today's prompt was going to be CHALLENGE and some flicker of recognition lit itself somewhere within eyeshot, in that uncanny way that attracts us like the sales at Harrods and repulses us like the stench of vomit. You see, over time I've grown to hate the word challenge. It happened because of my cubicle nation years of leveraging integrated solutions of key enablers that were to be thought of as out of the box whilst the objections were to be raised off-line in a pre-meeting. In those days, everything was called a challenge (except understanding corpo-lingo which, really, was ironic).

There were challenging timescales, challenging budgets, challenging clients, challenging bosses, challenging timezone differences, challenging statements, challenging validities, challenging coffee machines, challenging tokens and challenging parking restrictions. Everything we had to do was labelled a challenge, even when it was self-imposed, such as queuing for the Starbee while balancing a laptop. That's not a challenge, it's over-inflated self-importance. The result yielded a workforce de-sensitised to challenges proper; refer to everything in your life as a challenge and I can assure you that you won't be able to recognise one when it meets you with an axe.

Not only will you be unlikely to recognise it, you will also find yourself incapable to navigate the no man's land without a precious compass you never knew you needed. When I woke up in 2009, free as the proverbial bird, finishing my PhD at last, ready to take flight in any direction I wanted, I soon enough realised that I must have looked (and felt), like hummingbirds immortalised by wildlife photographers: flapping their wings fast and yet forever poised by the same flower. Where do you go when you discover that the crossroad you wanted to reach has no directions? How do you get to there when you don't know where there is or what it looks like?

This was my Best Challenge of 2009, and, in fact, the best challenge I've ever faced. It has left me a little shaken, a lot more weary and worse for wear but has empowered me in ways that I never expected. I went from over-paid corporate git to skint writer in a flash and a hundred doors have now flung themselves open. I've been working on my new pro site for a while, a site that will be complemented by a YouTube channel. I am taking steps to improve my visibility to the world and to blossom into the person I had already become through years of study, research, travel, education and damn hard work. Now I feel on the cusp of something great, less fearful and more excited than I've ever been. But do you know something odd and even a little annoying? I myself was holding the keys to the now open doors, all the time. There were right here, right in my pocket. I guess I never reached deep enough.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


It is no mystery that I keep this diary for me. It started out as a way to get me to write often, at some point every day, and to spur me onto the completion of my PhD. As of late, it has become a place where I record the everyday so that I don't forget about it. Today, however, I really would like to put up some pics that will delight regular readers from afar (especially the Yanks) who seem to operate under the delusional radar that suggests England is all pretty and quaint and vintage-looking and infested with Hugh Grant-esque characters (Hugh Grant circa 1995 that is).

Generally, I would scoff and snort at such preposterous, romanticised visions (even though I do exactly the same for the US); they only come from people who never had the pleasure to come across Tesco, Poundland, the ever-ghastly Primark or underage chavs pushing prams, reasons good enough to send everyone screaming for the Cheshire countryside for ever more. But today I feel all Crimbo-fuzzy and mellow and so I give you one little gem that looks right out of an English movie shot on a cardboard street at Universal Studios. Except this shop is real.

As are these other shops.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Food Evils

It's past 7 pm, Rick will be home in approximately one hour and there's nothing to eat. Why is it that this food shopping thing always sneaks up on me? What part of food shopping don't I understand? Deep down, I know what the problem is: I detest it with passion. It just shouldn't be called shopping at all. I can liken it to tampon shopping or car oil shopping or light-bulbs shopping or pumping gas... that sort of inescapable crap that you must tend to but that doesn't give particular elation in any shape or form. In fact, both Halfords and B&Q are two of the places that I detest the most.

They are followed by the supermarkets, by which I mean all of them, from Waitrose down to ASDA. A friend of mine says that the more depressing the supermarket (Lidl or Aldi for example), and the harder food shopping becomes for someone who already hates it. I agree. You may as well start waxing your bikini line rather than getting into the car for a trip to a discount shithole. In fact, I'd take the bikini wax, front, sides and back any time over a trip to Lidl (or Ikea, but I am about to digress). Still, I don't find Waitrose any more fascinating. In fact, I was just leafing through one of their leaflets trumpeting THIS CHRISTMAS THERE IS ONLY ONE PLACE TO BE. Are they kidding me? And that place would be a Waitrose supermarket? Spare me.

Tempers tend to flare even when I stumble upon the Harrods Food Halls. Now there is a difference here: while at Waitrose (and everywhere else) you will come across some of the most disgusting pies, cakes, and dinky appetisers, Harrods doesn't sell anything that isn't at Jamie Oliver (or above) level. So that definitely plays in their favour. However, the mere calculated cutting through their food section so that I can reach the Egyptian escalator makes me speed up as if I were in mortal danger. I can cope with chocolates, coffees and teas, naturellement, but not with veggies, fish, bread, meat, herbs. In short, I cannot cope with the mundane, no matter how good it is.

Double-yuk, just thinking about the humming of fridges makes me sick. Yet... it is now 7.30 pm and there is still no food. Because, of course, food doesn't tend to materialise itself when you need it. You need to go out and get it or you need to be so fantastically organised to sit down and order it. Even that is too much trouble, even that requires cell-power from one side of my brain that hybernates at the mere thought of food shopping.

I suppose this explains why years ago, I returned to the flat in London to be greeted by my friend shouting from the kitchen: 'Steph, your Sainsbury's delivery has arrived, but why did you buy all of these bananas? Are you making something?'. There were bananas all over the sides, the table, on top of the fridge and the microwave. I had ordered eight KILOS of bananas. Well, no, I actually thought I had ordered eight UNITS, while in my irritated haste, I had not scrolled to the right option. That's what happens when you just can't get excited about food shopping. Not even the supposed convenience of the net will save you. But, of course, at least we had bananas to eat.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

You Can't Make That Yourself For Less

You can always tell whether a person is an artsy pants if you are out together, you point at a particularly lovely object (and this could be anything, from a felted flowers garland, to a textured canvas, a wooden sculpture, an embroidered napkin) and the person with you recoils in horror at the pricetag and spitefully tells you that: ‘You can make that yourself for a lot less than that’. Shops, advertising, marketing and 'stuff' do not catch this type of Sherlocks out I am telling you.

The ‘you can make that yourself for a lot less than that’ brigade is usually constituted by tightasses who do not like to part with money as a general rule. These are the sort of people who will gorge themselves to sick point on free sarnies at the church festival but who will quite happily go hungry for 24+ hours if those same sarnies are for sale at 50p each, or even less. They hand out cards instead of posting them and they conveniently forget birthdays. These ain’t people who are patrons to the arts or artists. I recommend avoiding them at all costs.

Most importantly, they are people who have never ever tried their hand at making anything. Whether the item in question is a knitted scarf or a clay spoon does not matter; only the tight and the clueless, the hopeless, the arts-uninitiated ever say ‘you can make that yourself for less’. This is a fact, not an opinion, and I am going to show you why.

A few weeks back I started work on an advent calendar. I am very passionate about advent calendars you see, because it seems to me like the possibilities are so varied that one could spend a whole year making advent calendars while using items as unrelated as fabric and cork, tin and wood, paper and glitter, stone and glass and so on and so forth. In fact, I can think of many more things off the top of my head: melamine and dead leaves, yarn and ribbon, pegs and hooks, paper butterflies and papier marché birds, buttons and pins, tags and stickers... It just thrills me to bits.

One day while walking around Knutsford, I had an epiphany involving a cork pinboard, some Christmas fabric and lots of little numbered bags held up by ribbon hooked on silver pins. I went off and started buying my supplies. I was even a little smug when I left a local stationery shop with the cork pinboard for which I had only shelled out a miserable £ 3 (please note: it was on sale at 50% off).

Three weeks, and many hours of cutting, sewing, gluing and finishing later, and I have a unique advent calendar that I very satisfactorily hung up on Monday evening in preparation for The Big Day, today. But has this calendar cost me less than anything similar I’ve seen in John Lewis, Laura Ashley, House of Fraser, Selfridges, Paperchase or the ubiquitous charity shops? Has it heck:

cork board, half price £ 3
cotton thread £ 1.50
backing fabric £ 5
bag fabric £ 7
gold glitter £ 5
glue £ 4
ribbon £ 5
pins £ 3
chocolates £ 3

not budgeted for because I already had them:

hot pink backing fabric for bags
one other reel of cotton thread
silver thread for embroidery of numbers
green felt for numbers
special glue for back of pins
Heat-and-Bond reel for stitch-less hems and borders
needles, cutting mat and rotary cutter

So the total for my home-made advent calendar is £ 36.50, with my time, naturally, unaccounted for, as I regard the process as a free add-on to the pleasure of the making. Yet, I saw beautiful advent calendars made of felt and with tons of embellishments yesterday for only £ 10. The wooden ones at £ 25 and £ 30 are cheaper than mine.

If I were to continue this joyful pastime at the sewing machine and were to make, say, a small stocking, I would spent another £ 10 worth of fabrics, probably felt, and extra for a couple of embellishments, perhaps a hole-punch that could create a motif around the folded-over edge and a thick ribbon that would run lengthwise and across the top for hanging. How about a lovely two-coloured longline cardigan with belt? Or a small quilt to throw on the sofa? How much do you think the crochet blanket I am making will have cost in the end? £ 30? Yeah right.

The other day I was leafing through the Brora winter catalogue, ogling a beautiful cashmere blanket that only costs £ 350. Yes, I am saying only for a purpose there. If I were to knit myself the same in, let’s say, Debbie Bliss’s pure cashmere at £ 10 a hank, and with one hank measuring a very modest 41m, I would need hundreds to hit blanket-size, even in the very simple stockinette stitch. My ‘you could make that yourself for less’ cashmere blanket would cost me more than a Hermès one.

So, no, there is not much out there which you can make yourself for less. In fact, while I concede that there may be something, quite frankly, I cannot think of anything. And next time you hear that stupid litany... just roll your eyes and buy whatever it is you want to buy.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Confessions Of A Semi-Successful Author

I, like Foucault, have always thought knowledge to be power therefore I don't want to hear whinings about this one. Take a look at what this semi-successful author has to say about publishing and keep on writing nonetheless. We, like The Watchmen, do it because we are compelled. There is just no other rational explanation out there. There cannot be.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Envy

Thanksgiving is that one occasion in the calendar that makes me wish for somebody else's traditions to be my own. It is such a huge thing in the USA that, by default, I want to participate too. I, too, want the long weekend, the family around the table, the special food, the celebration of all that is valuable in my life. But I live in England, not in the USA, and so I have to make do with watching from the sidelines, wishing a happy day to my many Yank-friends and checking out news and blogs from the other side of the pond while they showcase their food, their decorations and their good times. So many are writing about what they are grateful for, which prompted me to think about my life and my immediate surroundings without, for once, wishing for something other than what I've got. But today, above all days, I am just really grateful I am not a turkey.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Starbucks Guy

I do not recall when I first noticed him, except I do remember why. He was sitting opposite me, hunched on a book and a notepad, drinking an espresso and toying with a tall latte to-go. What struck me, of course, was neither the espresso, nor the latte, but the intent look with which he was reading and taking notes. In fact, was he taking notes? I couldn’t tell. Perhaps he was getting inspiration from that book or perhaps he was doing what I do, writing quotations so that he could get back to them later. Maybe he was reading the book but writing about something else entirely. Perhaps it was just a to-do list or, worse, a supermarket one and I am just romanticising it all.

But then I resolved it couldn’t be just a list because this guy is coming to Starbee almost daily to write lists while reading a different book each time. I know it’s none of my business but you must understand that when I see someone who gives me an inkling that he could be even vaguely just like me, my antennas start twitching. Who is he? What does he do? What does he like to read? What has he got to write all the time? I am interested. No, I am not interested, I am dying to know.

Notably, I caught his eye too. It could be all down to my staring, of course. As surreptitious as I may think my gaze to be, in truth it poses itself on him and tends to stay there and then moves from book to notepad to espresso to him back to book back to him and so on and so forth. It is thus that our eyes have met on more than a couple of occasions. There I am, thinking that he may be a stifled creative and there he is, probably wondering why the fuck is that woman staring and why is she in here every day, hasn’t she got a job?

Last week I resolved to talk to him. In fact, I even asked for advice from Rick who, as any other straight male out there, just isn’t very good at advice. ‘Talk to him’ was the suggestion, as he obviously doesn’t understand the ins-and-outs of male/female dynamics. I have often stricken passing conversations with women at Starbucks.

Only last week I gushed over somebody’s ‘fab teal coat’ which I squealed in her direction and sure enough I was informed that it was a great buy, and three years old to boot and a pure cashmere one at that and doesn’t it still look great? Doesn’t it just, it was lovely. But now imagine that there is this man sitting next to me, someone I see often for he comes to Starbee for his lunch, often accompanied by an older colleague. Yes, imagine this guy sitting next to me, reading the news on his phone like he was doing today and me edging over to quip: ‘I love your pinstriped suit’. Pwhoooar. Are you smiling at this point? Maybe even laughing? Well, MY POINT EXACTLY. You just don’t strike a convo with members of the opposite sex if you’re a woman. Period.

What am I supposed to do with my guy? Sidle over and whisper: ‘I was just wondering what you’ve been writing for the past four months?’. Now that’s a possibility, even though I concede that I may scare him off and he may never return to Starbee at lunchtime which would then suit everyone involved. But I just don’t think this would be the case because something of note happened last week, when I left Starbee and him in it, went to Waterstone’s for a mindless browse and crossed paths with him as I was leaving. At that point he smiled at me, in that I-am-not-sure-whether-you-noticed-but-I-also-always-see-you-in-Starbucks-and-I-am-not-sure-whether-I-should-have-smiled-at-all-because-I-don’t-really-know-you way.

I left Waterstone’s grinning to myself. This guy also wants to talk to me. So it was that on Monday I plonked myself there early in the morning to work. By the time he arrived, some bastards were sat in the table next to mine and he couldn’t sit anywhere. Waving at him with a grin and pointing at the free chair at my table seemed a little forward considering that we don’t even know each other’s names. Heck, I’ve never even heard his voice. So he left with his to-go and that was that. Yesterday I skipped and today he skipped. And that’s that about The Starbucks Guy for now.

I am still kicking myself over that one occasion weeks ago when we were sitting next to each other and he was reading and writing... but I was so immersed in the crap I was editing that by the time I realised it was him, he was packing his stuff and going. Well, whatever it takes, I am gonna have to do as Rick says and just talk to him. Watch this space.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


You know how numerology associates subliminal meanings to numbers? The number 3, 7 and 23 spring to my mind, but I am sure that those experts can come up with earth-shattering revelations about every single number out there. As far as I am concerned, my magic number is 1348. It all started months back, when I was trying to build a PhD-writing routine. How do I snort even now! To think that, not so very long ago, I still thought that PhD and routine could seamlessly come together beggars the proverbial belief.

This is the work of hindsight though; then, I really did think it was possible and so it happened that for a week or so, I ended up sorting out my life in the mornings in order to sit down at the desk, free as a bird, in the afternoon. The time was always 13:48 according to the Mac. Even today, which I have spent holed up with a dog and a brush, then with a mop and a bucket, then with an iron and a board, and then with a cheese toastie and a cup of tea, I sat down at 13:48 exactly, fingers poised on the keyboard as my eyes darted to the top right corner where they were met by the magic number.

I must have developed a biological writing clock that goes off at 13:48 every day, as I can quite safely report that writing rarely crosses my mind in the mornings. I am one of those people who hankers after an early spell at the keyboard and a daily finish at midday sharp while, in reality, I am saddled with an ability to come up with something coherent only between 2 pm and 5 pm. This span is always interspersed with the need for a coffee, a tea, a biscuit, a cheese-and-Marmite toastie, an online browse, a pat to a dog, a phone call, a row of knitting, a trip to the toilet, an urge to do some yoga, one to re-arrange the kitchen cupboards, one to clean the bathroom, one to arrange my knickers by type, and another one to sort all the VOGUEs in month-year order every single time. In fact, it’s a bit of a miracle that I get any writing done at all.

But then I have found that the magic number gets me into gear, if only for a minute spell, and we all know that some writing is better than no writing at all. Late yesterday afternoon the urge to make some chocolate rice crispies descended upon me like a pack of ravenous wolves and I had to give in. As I always do. I am very, very well-practised to giving in.

200g dark chocolate
50g rice crispies
50g butter
2 tsps Golden Syrup

Melt the butter, the chocolate and the Golden Syrup together in a double-boiler if, like me, you’ve yet to enter modern times and still haven’t got a microwave.

Remove from heat and fold in the rice crispies. Drop a tablespoon of this mix in paper cups and place in the fridge to chill.

The upshot of these is that they are terribly, terribly tasty and can be whipped up in fifteen minutes flat. In fact, I made mine right in the middle of writing. Works every time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dark and Stormy Weekend

It's been a dark and stormy weekend and now it's Monday afternoon and it's cold and miserable and nothing has really changed. On Saturday, I busied myself with an advent calendar I have been making and so busy and so curved was I at the table that I ended up with another semi-acute phase of back-ache that landed me in bed for the whole of Sunday. Now I am just glad I've been well enough to crawl outside, buy myself an extra pack of painkillers and take a walk around the local the bookshop. Not the best way to start the week but, hey, at least I am moving.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Spot The Problem

Notice anything that should not be on the bed?

Friday, November 20, 2009

On Friday

I think that, no matter your work status, no matter the relationship you may have with the office/the school/the shop/your own home, there exists a built-in programme intrinsic to most humans not unlike a sacred fire that goes off like a firework at some point on Friday afternoon. I am off the rat race as I knew it, and yet I am not immune to an explosive desire to fist-pump the air come 3 pm on Fridays, even if my 3 pm on Fridays are no different than the 3 pm on Mondays or on Wednesdays or on any other day.

The daily treat.

This is a curious development for me. When I used to leave the office at 3 pm on Fridays on the way to Euston station or Heathrow, I was too tired for words, too tired even to be happy that another week was in the sack. The weekend itself was a blur of narkiness and recriminations, mostly aimed inward. You just haven't got a clue as to what the dreaded grind can do to you until you are hung out to dry, no matter the weather. No wonder so many colleagues got ill and were off for ages, even in their early twenties. Nothing they can teach you anywhere can prepare you for a working environment that couldn't be further from your wildest nightmares.

The other day news reached me that one of the big dogs at my ex firm has been made redundant. I re-read the email wide-eyed; partners don't get made redundant, especially not when they have spent every day of their working lives ass-kissing the partners two steps above them in the hierarchy, do they? How could this guy have been made redundant when he embodied so well all that was prescriptive about his role? He didn't really speak to people: he always seemed to be reading off a well-rehearsed script, always referring colleagues to policy 1234 or whatever. He was a living Arnold J. Rimmer, quoting Space Core Directive 34124 (34124: No officer with false teeth should attempt oral sex in zero gravity) at any given opportunity, except John wasn't funny. In fact, he didn't even seem self-aware.

Gosh, I cannot imagine what life must be like for him right now, getting the boot just before Christmas. I am shuddering. Bloody hell, by the time he gets his head out of his bottom he may even realise that blackberries are also eaten and not just used in the real world. How will he cope without the company-provided wheelie bag for the laptop, without the bodyguard-like headset, without the revolving flashing sign above his head advertising to all and sundry that he was a corporate git whose days were spent blue-sky thinking and leveraging the key enablers that would talk-track the up-sell of the value-tracked restructuring? It doesn't bear thinking about really.

As I was pondering on his sad state of affairs, I resolved never to be an employee again. Yes, yes, I know that I have been talking about work an awful lot on here and about the necessity to have a job, at least for some of us. Yet, I think that I was misplacing my efforts, misconstructing my needs, misunderstanding my mission and an awful lot of other mis-. And it's all crystal clear now: I shall never be an employee again.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How To Make A Journal Of Your Life

At some point last year I came across Danny Gregory, the author of one of my favourite books, The Creative License. Via Danny, I then found another great guy, Dan Price, author of the modern classic, How To Make A Journal of Your Life, a little book first published in 1999 and still riding high among stifled creative types.

Go to Amazon and click to look inside.

Here Dan talks of walking the path, finding the way, wondering about things and finding one's bliss. I cannot quite tell you what it is that makes me feel so strongly about this book in the way I can with Danny Gregory's. The Creative License is all about allowing yourself to be creative. How To Make A Journal is a bit about that, but is also very much about how to proceed and how to have fun, if indeed you have forgotten what fun is. And, let me tell you, if you are reading this book or even considering buying it, it is because, deep down, you know that you've lost your way.

The back cover reads:

Has your intuition been telling you to get an empty journal and begin filling it with all those interesting events in your life? Well time is racing by. All those neat things that happened just last week have quickly become the past...

I read these few lines the other day, as I was rummaging through my bag (also known as the Bottomless Pit) and the scattered pages of the book came out in pieces, as they often do when I am searching for something else entirely. They rang true to me then as I had been thinking about updating my diary for some time (this diary, this one you're reading, yes, this is my diary). I was working flat-out on the editing of a book, the formatting of some plays and then some and no matter the good intentions, I always ended up shattered and brain-fried at night, unable to sit down for an extra ten minutes just to record: 'And today I did this'.

And do you know why I am telling you about this now? Because Dan is right as right can be: time is racing by, all those nice things that happened to me since last Saturday have already become the past. And I have forgotten about them already. What did I do on Monday? Yes, sure, I worked on the plays but... did I work at home or at Starbee? What was the weather like? What did I eat? Well, exactly, I don't remember and the older I get, the more urgent the need to record everything I do makes itself felt. You may think that only interesting people keep journals (define 'interesting person' please) and that you are not an interesting person (to you maybe, not to me) and that you haven't got the time (oh you so bloody have) and that what is the point anyway (why are you reading then?). Just try removing the set of blinkers from your eyes and try and see the world again as you used to when you were little. Everyone could use and enjoy pencils and crayons and stickers then. You still can.

I shall leave you with a little extract from Dan's book and Dan, if you are reading this from Hawaii... thank you. To the rest of you: time is racing by... go start a journal!

You see, your mind will be saying obnoxious things like this:

1- What makes you think you have anything worthwhile to say?
2- There's nothing special about your old humdrum life that warrants documentation.
3- Who said you were a writer anyway? Don't embarrass yourself.

Well, well, that's all really interesting, Mr Brain. Fortunately we have decided to send you off on sabbatical for a while and will instead be using our hearts to fill these pages. Heh. Heh.

In hearing this news your heart may begin to beat wildly. It will greatly appreciate you considering it worthy. Goose bumps may appear up and down your spine. And given this new task, the heart says things like this:

1- My thoughts, deeds, and doings are who I am trying to be, and each one is a gift that does warrant recording.
2- If I grow tired of self-examination, all I need do is lift my eyes and behold the beauty of our glorious world.
3- Writing down my thoughts will be the easiest thing in the world to do because I'll be expressing my own innermost feelings, and only I know what those are.

So go ahead and scribble. At first you may dislike your seemingly pretentious babbling. But, hey, great novels were not written overnight. Try to do some writing and remember to listen only to your hear, not your head. Then have a cookie.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Things They Don't Tell You About Dalmatians

If you are the owner of a Dalmatian, you will be well-used to hearing passing comments aimed at undermining your dog and, indirectly for having chosen such a vain canine specimen, yourself. For a start the Dal is supposed to be stupid, although nobody will ever say to your face that your dog is a retard. That only happens behind your back. Euphemisms are used, so that your Dal will be ‘not very bright’, perhaps ‘daft’, also ‘not blessed with intelligence’, or maybe ‘a little bit slow’, very often ‘particularly goofy’, sometimes ‘not really there’, naturally ‘difficult to train’ and finally ‘with a bit of a small brain’. I am sure you can add your own variations to the stupid theme; over 10+ years of Dal ownership, I’ve heard them all.

Dals in their natural habitat

Despite their supposed intellectual deficiencies, my Dals understand the following commands: sit, stand, lie down, come, go, paw. Pretty standard non-deficient dog fare there. They also understand: find!, find Richie!, let’s go for a gravy bone, where is Richie?, inside, outside, dinner, breakfast, stop, off, back, leave, what do you think you are doing!, to your bed, let's go, come ooooooon, pee, pooh, pizza, fucking hell William!. Can your dog also stand on two legs and understand the difference between inside and outside when given as a command? No? Oh.

My Dals (William especially) are so in tune with us people that they will come to the bed in the morning as soon as they hear an ‘awaken’ sound, such as a stretch, a yawn or a deep sigh. William is an absolute master champion at this. He does it at night too; if anyone is awake, chances are that William will come over and have a sniff, especially if he is considering a trip to the toilet. Catching you when you are awake makes it infinitely easier.

But that’s not all, because my Dals are also mind readers. Whenever I consider moving off the bed and surreptitiously reach the kitchen, they will be right on my back. They don’t do this if I go anywhere else, I must be thinking KITCHEN. A subtle change in my heartbeat at the thought of food followed by slight over-salivation sets them off. Your dog can’t read your mind as well? That’s odd, maybe your next one.

Alien Dal

Of course other things they don’t tell you about Dals is that they could be right in the middle of a bark-off and then sound asleep, complete with dreaming and yapping to themselves, within fifteen minutes. Victoria is a big dreamer, William is a big snorer.

The Dal rarely sulks and never holds grudges. It will always want to be right in the middle of the action, even when it looks like it’s gone away to its bed. Don’t trust a sleeping Dal; unless it is snoring, it is wide awake while keeping his eyes closed, ready to leap out of bed and rush across the house taking ornaments, tables and chairs with it whenever your thoughts of food, fridge, drink, lead or garden waft in the direction of the invisible canine satellite dish pulsating on its head.

Dals activating satellite food tracking system

Dal activating stronger satellite food tracking system

On paper, the Dal needs many miles worth of walks per week; in reality, you could end up with a Dal (or two) that barely acknowledges your departure at the front door, especially if it is wet and miserable, or warm and humid, or nippy and frosty, or anything in between. The Dal likes to rest, even when all it does is resting.

Busy Dal, only seemingly decapitated

The Dal likes to eat. A lot. Pizza and bread are favourite things, although radiator caps, stones, golf balls, hats, gloves, books and bedding are known to satisfy the appetite under the right circumstances. If you want a slim Dal, feed it very little and ensure that fridge and cupboards are shut at all times. If you want a miniature cow, feed the Dal often and lots.

Blinded Dal

The Dal is fitted with an internal biological clock that goes off every day of the year at breakfast, dinner and pee time. The Dal can be left alone around these times, but be prepared to deal with extreme situations upon your return, most notably full-venom requests spitted at you while jumping on the spot until you snap to the job. You won’t be able to talk nor think when this is happening, but that’s the price you have to pay for having left the house at the wrong sort of time.

Finally I should suggest that, if you want a companion that is reliable, constant and does what is told each and every time no exceptions, get yourself a BMW.

If you want your breakfast in bed, the slippers brought to you at the door and the paper fresh from the printers in the mornings like they show you in the movies, get yourself a butler. The added bonus to that is intact news and no dribble.

Laughing Dals

Thursday, November 12, 2009


This week has gone swoosh, like weeks do sometimes. I began work on something that had to be put aside on Monday as another book needed a good purging in no time at all. I delivered it earlier today, a full day ahead of my schedule, which means I should be able to rest my back now. I find it so annoying to have to regulate what I do and how much I do it for, lest my discs will make every other single activity, no matter how insignificant, impossible. In fact, I believe not to have recovered completely from the last bout of acute pain that crushed me sometimes at the end of September. Gosh, that feels like such a long time ago.

My physical ineptitude stroke again only a month ago as I sprained a toe for no particular reason. Yes, you read that right. I was changing my trousers and hit a dog’s bed. I wouldn’t call that a cause for A&E concern but it bloody was. I soldiered on instead and this stupid toe is still sore, still swollen and still high-heel unsuitable, even though I persist, oh, how much do I persist! I limp from car to Starbee to shops back to car because I haven’t got flat shows anyway, not unless I want to go out in a pair of wooden clogs. And I don’t. I’ll tell you what, there are ridiculous people around in plastic flip-flops in November but I am not one of those. On we shall limp.

The best thing about this week so far has been this pic I took the other day:

Note how gigantic and lean I look, my shadow stretching ahead forever. That’s another fab thing about autumn and winter around these parts: the light hangs so low that you can find Dahl-esque proportions at every corner. You just have to keep your eyes peeled to the possibilities and it is easier to find stuff when you limp along instead of rushing, which often makes me wonder... why is everyone always rushing? Where are they all rushing to? The same place maybe? I don’t have anywhere to rush to and it’s the best time of my life (after the uni, of course).
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