Sunday, May 31, 2009

And Shit Too Happens

I never thought of my household as an accident-prone one, the way in which families with little children or really stupid people can be (those that warm baked beans in the oven in sealed cans for example). But now I am starting to wonder whether I should reconsider and should add some form of insurance cover for my idiocy.

Over the past six weeks I’ve fallen over and cut my knee open; I’ve slipped while taking a shower and have fallen over and backwards outside of the bath onto the slate floor and not only is it miraculous that I didn’t rip the shower curtain off its rail and the rail off the ceiling but that I didn’t end up on a wheelchair paralysed from the neck down. Only a week ago my trustworthy blender opened at the bottom as I was whizzing hot soup, landing my left hand in boiling green slime (it was pea soup) and subsequently iced water until I stopped crying.

I would have thought that enough for the time being, except it is so true that you just never know when shit is going to hit you, neither are you gonna know the direction it’s going to come from, the speed it will hit you at, nor how much the flying shit will cost you. And so one second you’re celebrating a writing success by knocking down Pimm's,

and the next you’ve got a cone on your head, a bootie on your foot and £ 150 less in the bank.

Finishing - Stage One

I’ve nailed it right down, I am on schedule, I’ve sent my last piece, I’m off the hook. I have ticked box a, also known as Finishing - Stage One. Most PhDs go through a few degrees of ‘finishing’, whereby you first finish the argument, then the editing, than the conclusion and finally the re-editing. At that point, you will waltz (although I will tango) into a binding office with a wad of paper and waltz out (or tango out) with one little book (and me with a crimson rose to stick among the pages, obviously).

For me though, the highest hurdle had always been represented by the finished argument. I think that most people can cope really well with editing and re-doing more of the same, with adjustments and cross-references, but starting from zilch is a very different matter. It’s all at full speed from now on, the difficult bit is over, hurrah! And from Monday I will have some time to myself without having to think the same stuff over and over. Blimey that feels incredible already.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Miracles Happen

I am sure you’ve all heard that Jacko has moved some of the first few dates at the O2 to some other time. My tickets fall within one of those dates, to be precise one which has been moved to March next year. If this isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is. I was clinging to those tickets tooth and nail, praying that some windfall would come from somewhere so to be able to go in July and now I’ve been given over half a year grace period, by which stage I am absolutely certain I will have some sort of job and the funds to blow on The Jacko Trip. Thank you God, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. And enjoy this fabulous video, also starring Iman, Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson. I know I said it before but this too is Jacko at his best.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Counting Down

Ages ago I heard that you know when you are finishing your PhD because instead of just thinking about it, you're actually writing it. Seems obvious, doesn't it? It isn't though, not until the thinking process has ended. In a way, it never ends. Whether your gathering of data stage takes place in a lab or in the library, and whether your companions are molecules or poems, you can never quite disconnect from the creation of the argument which, really, continues right until the very end.

It is true though that something really special is happening to you when you're just doing your research to the exclusion of everything else. And everything else is not just something you like to do, such as knitting, cooking or riding, but something that you'd rather do in lieu of writing, such as dusting, re-arranging books or sharpening pencils. These are procrastination activities which every researcher is well acquainted with, as Procrastination is to a PhD what Life-in-Death is to Death; an inseparable companion that wakes up and goes to sleep with you, always present, always there, always ready to pounce and shrill: 'Hey! Wouldn't it be really fun to clean the kitchen shelves? Hey, wouldn't it be really fun to scrub right behind the toilet? Hey, wouldn't it be really fun to iron those six stones of ironing you've left for weeks?'

You'd be surprised what Procrastination likes to tell people. No matters what it says, it always manages to go long ways, much longer ways than even an eight-hour writing stretch could ever take you. Procrastination wins when all good intentions are reduced to a speck of dust on a far-away shelf that needs to be dusted right now, right this second.

But then something changes when you know that you are suddenly counting down to your words, no longer adding numbers to make up the first, second, third chapter, but taking them off a tally that is getting smaller and smaller by the day. Mine currently stands at a miserable minus 4,500 which is really small when pitted against 80,000 to 100,000, which is the accepted length of a PhD, at least here in the UK.

All I've done for the past week has been my research, if we discount two extraordinarily exotic trips to get some food and put a cheque in the bank. At this stage I am perhaps expected to whine that it hasn't been easy but in reality, it has. If you really knew how quiet and sheltered my life is at present, you too would agree that summoning up concentration and The Muse isn't hard at all. I don't even receive post anymore. My dogs do, but I don't.

Dear William, we are very sorry to hear that you have not been well recently, please find enclosed yet another settlement cheque, which brings your lifetime expenditure to £ 11,234.72. We thought your owner would like to know so to appreciate how good we have been to you both although she may want to consider getting a goldfish next time around. We insure them too. Happy 10th forthcoming birthday!

Dear Victoria, it is hard to believe but it has already been a year since your last vaccinations. Please show this letter to Steph in order to remind her that she should book you in for your routine check and don't forget that by introducing your doggie friends to our practice, you will get a 5% discount on your booster.

And more yada, yada, yada. Nothing for me, for weeks, which is just as well because I usually get nothing other than bills I've already paid (just) by direct debit. Meanwhile, the writing continues, even though I must confess to be running ever so slightly behind schedule. I should be at minus 2,000 while it looks like I may have to string in a little bit of work this weekend in order to have everything I wanted on paper before the end of May. But you know what, that will be the last of the weekend work as I am about to crash through the ceiling of Finishing - Stage One, and that is a fabulous feeling no matter what.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Just To Clarify

A palate is in the mouth.

A pallette is a selection of colours.

A pallet is something that is used to transport items.

Doesn't everyone know that? Why do I keep receiving emails from illiterate morons who mix these three things all the time? And most importantly, why do I get so many emails containing one of these words? Is somebody trying to wind me up?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Remember Your Duty To Your Make-Up

I think there is only one thing I can claim to know for certain besides the obvious 'one day I will die': there is no woman in the world that does not benefit from wearing make-up. And it doesn’t matter whether the woman is a cleaner or a super-model, every woman looks better with make-up than without and that’s a fact of natural life. I don't care if you think it doesn't apply to you because, flash news, it so does. It applies to me, to you, to my mum, to Claudia Schiffer, to Linda Evangelista, to Michelle Obama, to every woman. It is, of course, no news whatsoever, as Winifred Watson, who wrote Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day in the now distant thirties, epitomised so well Chapter VII.

They moved her from the mirror. The most important moment of the day had arrived. ‘The face,’ said Miss Dubarry, ‘Can you do anything with it?’ asked Miss LaFosse nervously.
‘With that to start on,’ said Miss Dubarry, ‘I’ll do a job.’

She stood away and regarded Miss Pettigrew. She walked around her. She cocked her head on one side. Her brow grew corrugated. Miss Dubarry, in her professional guise, was a different woman. No nervousness, worry, or indecision. All gravity, firmness, competence: the expert at work.
‘Look at that jawline, ‘ said Miss Dubarry. ‘Clean as a whistle. No mass of fat to be massaged away. Look at that nose. Perfect. You can do a lot with a face.... but a nose! That takes a surgeon, and there’s not many will risk that.’
‘Beautiful,’ agreed Miss LaFosse.

‘When you’re over thirty-five,’ lectured Miss Dubarry, ‘make-up must be sparing. There’s nothing worse than a middle-aged woman with too much make-up. It accentuates her age, not lessens it. Only a very young, unlined face can stand the lavish emphasis of too many cosmetics. The effect must be delicate, artistic, the possibility never strained that it can, after all be natural, so that the beholder is left wondering which it is, art or nature.’

Miss Dubarry set to work. Miss Pettigrew had her face pommelled, patted, dabbed, massaged; cream rubbed in, cream smoothed off; lotion dabbed on, lotion wiped off. His skin tingled; felt glowing, healthy, rejuvenated.

‘Well!’ said Miss Dubarry at last, ‘it’s the best I can do here. It’s not like my own place. But you can’t have everything.’
She looked consideringly at Miss Pettigrew. Miss Pettigrew glanced back nervously. She felt a little guilty, as though, somehow or other, she should have wafted herself into Miss Dubarry’s shop, though it was beyond her comprehension that any more bottle or jars could be needed.
‘You see. I haven’t blackened the eyebrows and lashes. I’ve merely delicately darkened them. Would you say they weren’t natural? No. You wouldn’t.’
‘Can’t be bettered,’ agreed Miss LaFosse. ‘You’re a genius, Edythe’.
‘Well, I’m pretty good in my own line,’ acknowledged Miss Dubarry modestly.


Miss Pettigrew stared. She caught the back of a chair for support. She felt faint. Another woman stood there. A woman of fashion: poised, sophisticated, finished, fastidiously elegant. A woman of no age. Obviously not young. Obviously not old. Who would care about age? No one. Not in a woman of that charming exterior. The rich, black velvet of the gown was of so deep and lustrous a sheen it glowed like colour.


She, Miss Pettigrew, elegant. That delicate flush! Was it natural? Who could tell? That loosely curling hair! No ends, no wisps, no lank drooping. Was it her own? She didn’t recognize it. Those eyes, so much more blue than memory recalled! Those artfully shaded brows and lashes! That mouth, with its faint, provocative redness! Was it coloured? Only by kissing it would a man find a satisfactory answer. She smiled. The woman smiled back, assured, composed. Where was the meek carriage, the deprecating smile, the timid shyness, the dowdy figure, the ugly hair, the sallow complexion? Gone.


A lump came into her throat. Her eyes became misty.


‘Guinevere, ‘ gasped Miss LaFosse. ‘Control, I implore you. Your make-up. Remember your duty to your make-up’.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I don’t think there is a writer out there capable to ignore reviews. Not long ago I was talking to a guy who has written a highly engaging and effervescent work of non fiction and do you know how he met my praise? With this: ‘Oh thanks Steph, that’s good to hear, especially after those awful reviews on Amazon’. I hadn’t seen these reviews, so I had a gander after he referred to them.

He only has ten, six of which are written by seemingly illiterate people. I told him that he should know better than agonise over a moron who spells plagiarism as pleggiarism and yet I understand his deflation, because putting your work out there for the thrashing makes one feel figuratively naked and completely vulnerable. And how do you respond to criticism without sounding like an embittered lunatic that just cannot let it rest? You don't, that's how, which means that you seethe over it instead.

But if my friend was worrying about a couple of misplaced comments left online by someone who is, and will remain, a nobody, in the grand scheme of his life, he will probably feel better once he stumbles on this entry. Today I was writing about one of the most scathing pieces of criticism ever to make it into print and one that can sink AA Gill’s remarks without even trying. It makes my own criticisms, literary or otherwise, sound like the strangled cry of a three year-old that pricked her finger on a hairslide.

I am referring to Hazlitt’s review of Coleridge’s BioLit, as quoted by Richard Holmes in the second volume of Coleridge’s biography, Darker Reflections. Think your life as a misunderstood writer is so hard? You’ll feel better after reading this one.

The reviews of Coleridge’s new books began to appear in the autumn of 1817. They were as bad as he feared, or rather worse. Hazlitt immediately set about the Biographia in an enormous 10,000-word assault in the August issue of the Edinburgh Review, calling it a “garrulous” production from “the maggots of his brain”. Hazlitt concentrated his fire on what he regarded as Coleridge’s well-established weaknesses: obscurity of style, shifts of political opinion, “maudlin egotism”, “garrulous” reminiscences, and above all the passion for metaphysics which “have been a dead weight on the wings of his imagination”. Hazlitt simply did not engage with the great strengths of the Biographia. The story of the philosophical pilgrimage was a “long-winding metaphysical march”. The emerging theory of the Imagination was “unintelligible”. The superb critical dialogue with Wordsworth was “not very remarkable either for clearness or candour”. The memorable psychological accounts of how a poet’s mind works, and how poetry is actually composed (with all its arresting imagery) were “mawkish spleen in fulsome eulogies of his own virtue”. It was the most unrelenting of Hazlitt’s attacks, giving no quarter, and returning again and again to the charge of intellectual charlatanism and political apostasy. His old mentor was now “a disappointed demagogue” who kept up, in vain, “that pleasurable poetic fervour which has been the cordial and bane of his existence”. “Till he can do something better, we would rather hear no more of him”.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Vive Le Pancake!

Who says that pancakes are for Pancake Day only? I even skipped it this year but I made up for it today when I started off with a little stack, and bananas and copious caramel sauce. To food!

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I think I may be the only person in the world to have captured an idiom on camera. This is what it looks like:

Once upon a time, that mass of shredded paper was known by the name of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria. Although an old edition, this one held more sentimental than actual value for me, as I bought it on 18th Feb 2003 (I know because I still have the receipt), in a little second-hand bookshop in Lower Manhattan, on my way back from Strand and Books of Wonder, in the middle of a blizzard that pretty much stopped the city in its tracks. But believe you me, if there’s a will to shop, there’s way to get to the shops. BioLit is one of my favourite books because it applies philosophy to literature and because I love the way in which Coleridge refers to his good friend and colleague as ‘Mr Wordsworth’ throughout.

Above and beyond all this, BioLit has featured prominently in my writings as of late and this is precisely the reason why it laid bookmarked on the rattan trunk at the bottom of my bed this morning, when I left the house and forgot William’s door open. It wasn’t William that entertained himself with it because William does not do these things. It was the seemingly innocuous Victoria that did it, sinking my heart and potentially jeopardising the end of my piece in one swoop. I returned to a floor covered in torn pages, the book itself only recognisable to the trained (and affectionate) eye and to the nose that many times enjoyed a whiff of its 1906 ink. There may be a bit of an adjustment to be made to next week’s schedule but at least now I’ve got a picture of a spanner in the works.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Home To Mommy

Remember this post about my broken Prada shoes? Well, the lime beauties have returned home to mummy looking as good as new. I am so thrilled with the result of the repairs (you cannot even tell where the problem was) that I am going to give you the details of the shoe doctor (or I should say plastic surgeon) that performed the miracle:

George on 0207 387 2234

I love you George! There's more to come!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The End Is Nigh

Good grief, it’s awesome. Awesome like it’s never been before. I am steam-rolling through pages and pages of writing. I keep recalculating my word limit and, I am not joking on this one, I’ll be done before the end of the month. I just am. There is nothing stopping me now, this Muse has woken up from hyper-sleep and we obviously have a lot to catch up with. Of course he is male and is sitting on my left shoulder and, if you must know, looks a little like Christian Bale. No, actually he looks a lot like Christian Bale, minus the swearing. But then, it can’t really be him, can it?

Monday, May 11, 2009

On Fire

Not long ago I was paranoid about jury duty, absolutely convinced that it would have interrupted the flow of my research and broken God only knows what mystical quality I think I possess once I am, finally, writing. Yes, of course it did interrupt the flow because, instead of reading and writing every single day for two weeks, I was elsewhere, away from all books and papers and not quite thinking about my ideas and their development at all.

Yet, I also did scribble a few notes between court takes and consolidated them at the end of last week, when they appeared to flow incredibly well within a piece that, I must incense myself, I had thought, up until that moment, a little stilted and not very good. Now it’s Monday and I am on frigging fire. I rolled out 1500 words in less than one hour and a half. I then sat back and stared for a while wondering what every creative person wonders in those rare occurrences when you enter The Zone and work as if possessed by an alien entity (whom is really called The Muse): why is it not like this every single time?

There is no answer to that. There never has been and never will be, even though Twyla Tharp, whom I mention often, as you may recall, is adamant in stating that you will enter The Zone at will provided you build The Creative Habit. I’ve always been a little sceptical about that one, as I was saying not long ago when I concluded that there is a middle way bang in between The Zone and the lingering no man’s land when things Just Are Not Working.

But today I started wondering whether the fire can be re-ignited at will provided one has reached a certain intellectual maturity and reassurance. I know it’s easy for me to say so, as this PhD has been part of my life for years and therefore, in its entirety at least, it really isn’t something new to conjure up out of nothing. Yet, of course that is not entirely true either; even though the project itself has existed for a long time, what I wrote today did not come to mind until the precise moment I sat down and pulled the words, and eventually the argument, out of nowhere.

It may sound incredibly conceited of me, but the truth is, I didn’t know I was going to write what I did when I sat down. I’ve never been big on note taking, plotting out and planning, mostly because I’ve always worked under the assumption that it just happens and that writing is not like taking figures from a document, inputting them on Excel, writing a macro and running it. That’s a step-by-step process, writing isn’t, and certainly my writing, which I’ve often referred to as off the cuff, isn’t. I don’t know where this inspiration is coming from and I don’t know why it is coming right now and didn’t four weeks ago. Whatever it is, wherever it is from, I really hope it sticks around.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

When Do The Flowers Go?

It’s not that I ignore the basic life principles but every year in October I always watch in awe as the pears are on the tree one day and gone the next. I have never made a mystery of my dislike of spring summer in favour of autumn winter but there is one spring phenomena that always fascinates me, because it reminds me of watching pears fall in October and wondering where the hell they have all gone one week later.

And that’s the flowers on the trees, all pink, cream, white, candy-flossed, frothed up one day and gone the next, with only a shower of petals in between. Sometimes I even miss that because, really, unless I am sitting outside waiting for the wind to take them away, the flowers always seem to have a knack to perform their disappearing act when I am not watching.

Only two weeks ago the cherry tree was all little soft creamy stars on thin wicks. I snapped a few branches and took them in the house. Now I don’t know what happened; no, of course I do know what happened, it’s when it happened that eludes me. It’s all droopy new leaves, not a flower or petal in sight, same with the apple tree and same with the pear tree. And I suppose that’s the end of the spring fascination insofar as I am concerned.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

To Do Or Not To Do

Today I met a friend in the morning but I left our meeting on a bit of a downer, my heart jumping about in my chest. This often happens when I sense that I should be more supportive but do not know how to show this deeply felt empathy. Sometimes I am under the vague impression that my opinion, even if specifically requested, may not be taken into consideration. Perhaps this is down to my overly-friendly attitude to people, or at least that’s what I was told once. ‘Cut the crap, be like everyone else, act like you prefer to hear yourself talk rather than enjoy listening and you will soon find that people will stop bothering you’, he said.

At the time, it made me giggle, as it very much sounded like a Wildean truism: ‘You’re always talking nonsense! Well, it’s better than listening to it’. But then I know I couldn’t be any different, for, when someone speaks of life ailments, I am always invested. Fact is, I care, so there, shoot me for it. I’ve got enough going in my life without thinking over others’ issues too; yet, when I try and do so, I realise how easy it is to get lost in the proverbial teacup. Heck, sometimes I get lost in a teaspoon or on the tip of a cocktail stick.

I don’t know whether it’s down to the recent forced absence from my notes or whether it’s down to a sudden spark of inspiration. Whatever it is I don’t care to intellectualise it; I am steam-rolling through a lot of work at present which means that in a few weeks’ time I should be able to look at the world while completely free to take on new opportunities. As I was leafing through my notebook earlier I came across a baffling entry that sits right between a set of bullet points about Frankenstein and Northanger Abbey and another one about Milton. It is dated 19/04 and reads as follows:

Things I’ll buy when I get a new job and money’s no longer a temporary drag:

A set of Elemis facials, approximately £ 120;
A Dyptique candle, the John Galliano one, £ 36;
A pair of shoes from Harvey Nichols, up to £ 300;
A Chanel bag, quilted, possibly black or maybe red, up to £ 1200 depending on size and materials;
A Diane Von Furstenberg dress from Matches or NaP, although not a priority, £ 370;
A sturdy ironing board and a really good iron, probably £ 100 and a priority.

Underneath the list I also scribbled, WHAT? This is less than I used to make in a month! Why did I not buy all this stuff when I could?!

Reading this list made me smile, even though I recall being rather annoyed when I then set pen to paper. Now I am wondering how on earth the ironing board and the ‘really good iron’ made their way there, considering that even a moron can tell that all I am seeking is a dash of reckless frivolity. And really, I use bags and candles far, far more and more often than I use the iron and the board.

I am also baffled to read that a Diane Von Furstenberg dress was not considered ‘a priority’ only a few weeks back. Strange that one; it surely is now, as I must have spent about two hours on Matches and Net à Porter only three days ago filling up my wish lists with different styles. But isn’t that what everyone does when the most exciting post to come through the door is the occasional Help The Aged plastic bag? I call this forward planning. Wading through a transition, as I like to say, does not mean that I’ve stopped aspiring.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Greatest Comic Book Of All Times In Lego

Last year I linked to some fabulous Dark Knight trailers posted by some very dedicated (and talented) people. Today I have been thinking about Wolverine and, as you do of course, started browsing for a really good Watchmen spoof instead. And here it is.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Who Is It?

Who knows whether I will be able to make it to the Jacko concert in July. I sure as hell have tickets but unless I manage to fly there and back by spreading my arms, I am unlikely to be able to afford to travel and stay over. Still, stranger things have happened to less worthy people; a miracle may always rescue me. Meanwhile, I wallowed in nostalgia with this song. This is Jacko at his best, squillions spent on videos et al.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Good Form

Lest I forget we live in England, May started off in good form, throwing down bucketfuls of rain. I haven’t got a camera good enough to capture the juxtaposition of emerald green on the ground and gunmetal up in the sky and so there is no point in posting yet another mediocre picture. And of course I also think that not taking pictures is really good sometimes; it allows us to romanticise reality and to imprint our memories without ever fearing a computer crash and the loss of the entire contents of iPhoto.

Today I organised thoughts, things and to do lists and I have officially returned to normal. And, what the hell, I am happy for it. In fact, I surprised myself humming that fabulous song, Pocketful of Rainbows, because I don't worry whenever skies are gray above, got a pocketful of rainbows, got a heart full of love.
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