Saturday, 31 January 2009

How to dig an allotment patch (without realising it)

Those of us who toil the land in pursuit of growing our own food and finding slugs for chickens with a protein deficiency (more on this later) will know how soon one becomes 'connected with' and 'at one' with their patch of garden/ allotment/field/large grow bag. And when I say 'connect' I don't mean wellies connecting with huge great clods of mud which are then distributed over what was once a really nice rug in the front hall. No, I mean the sense that you are somehow working in harmony with the land, that there is an understanding where each party gives and receives in turn in a mutually compatible symbiotic relationship.

Yeah right! Our allotment has got us sussed. The balance has tipped in favour of our nine and a half rods. Our allotment has developed sub-liminal thought powers.

With snow being threatened every half an hour on the local radio news I had the urge to stock up on winter veg so, come the blizzard on Monday, I would be in a position to force feed lost travellers piles of stew and dumplings and hearty winter soups with home-made bread. So I dragged Andy kicking and screaming to the allotment. Andy has this fear that we're going to get to the allotment one day and find it has been taken over by the Amazon jungle as we are BAD AT WEEDING. This has never happened and, as it is winter, the lotty looked remarkable tame (i.e 'dead'). I suggested that as we were there and the sun was shining we could have a bit of a 'tidy up.' Andy pulled a face. I said okay, let's just get the parsnips, swedes and leeks and go. Andy stopped pulling a face.

The leeks were easy to find, mainly because they are green and stick up above the ground. The swede were easy to find, too, despite being the size of tennis balls (don't laugh - they would have been all the rage in the '80's when restaurants were serving up those 'mini-veg' at ridiculous prices. We just missed our market, that's all. By twenty or so years.) But the parsnips? Where were the parsnips?

Having established that no-one would be likely to steal a parsnip we realised our allotment was having a laugh at our expense. We knew the rough vicinity of the parsnips. We knew we had planted three rows next to the blackberries and gooseberries and about two yards from where the potatoes had been before we harvested the last of the late crop in November. But were there any signs of parsnip tops? No. they'd all died back in the cold. And had we put label markers in the end of the parsnip rows? Of course not. That would have been far too simple and then we would never have had the fun of digging over a substantial patch ground in order to find the bleedin' veg.

Once home with our bag of veg I turned my attention to the problem of Mrs Slocombe's protein deficiency. Now, part of her issue is that she tends to turn her beak up at the layers pellets so she misses the protein they provide. And the other part of her problem is that she is very excitable and although she will allow me to carry her around and pat her, she can be very skittish and probably burns up twice as much energy as, say, Mrs Pumphrey who is still chillin' on her sunlounger in the greenhouse. So I have decided to put her on a high protein supplement i.e tuna. Not because I want to pump up her muscles so she can enter the Miss Heniverse competition but just so her comb stops looking so floppy and she desists in feather plucking.

I invite her in for elevenses.
'Have some tuna,' I say, casually shoving a bowl of Sainsbugs tuna in spring water under her beak.
'I'd rather have a slice of that Madiera cake spread with homemade raspberry jam like you and Andy are having,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'No you wouldn't,' I say. 'It's protein you need, not carbs. Now eat the flippin' tuna.'
'I don't want to,' says Slocombe. I decide crafty and underhand tactics are called for.
'None of the others girls are getting tuna,' I say.
'In that case, bring on the fish!' cries Mrs Floppycomb, and wolfs the whole lot in thirty seconds flat.
Job done!

(P.S I would like to apologise to my regular readers for the rather lack lustre feel of today's blog. I would like you to know this error is beyond my control as the moon is in the last throes of waning and us creative types can't possible work effectively under these conditions. Abnormal service will be resumed as soon as I get a good publishing contract. Or tomorrow.)

Friday, 30 January 2009


There have been many reports over the last day or two that SNOW IS ON THE WAY THIS WEEKEND. Apparently, there will be a RAPID FALL IN TEMPERATURE over the weekend and SNOW is VERY LIKELY on Monday.

So today, I rose with a purposeful plan of action. I went swimming (50 lengths today! Although perhaps not such a good idea in hindsight as I can now feel my eye balls growing heavy and the sleep fairy is whispering 'go to sleep, you know you want to.') Then I yomped into town (a 3 mile round trip) and purchased ITEMS NECESSARY IF YOU ARE THREATENED WITH SNOW. These included toilet rolls, bananas, apples and butter from Sainsbugs, and a HUGE piece of belly pork and a chicken from my lovely butcher. We are fully stocked already with flour for the making of bread and there's loads of milk in the freezer. And of course, just outside the backdoor is a constant supply of eggs. ('If you think we're laying in three feet of snow, you've got another think coming,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Yeah,' says Mrs Poo, who is experimenting with teen vernacular, 'I is gonna be in da eglu wiv a good book, a mug of Ovaltine and me legs crossed, innit though?')

Back home and the weather is sunny and bright. No sign of snow yet. There are a couple of tiny wee buds on the apple tree. Mrs Pumphrey is flat on her back on a sun-lounger in the greenhouse with one of those reflective sheets you tuck under your chin to get an even tan over your whole face. She's also wearing a pair of dark glasses, although they are completely the wrong shape for her face and make her look like Roy Orbison rather than Sophia Loren.
'There won't be snow,' she says, 'and if there is, you won't see me for dust.'
'Is that because snow is white and you are white and you'll blend seamlessly into the background?' I ask.
'No,' says Mrs Pumphrey, 'I have a stand-by ticket booked on the Eurostar and I'll be off to Bruges for a 'chocolate 'n' diamond' week.'

Next, I write a list entitled 'USEFUL INDOOR ACTIVITIES FOR OCCUPYING MYSELF IN THE EVENTUALITY OF SNOW ON MONDAY.' Or at least I would have done only my paper wasn't wide enough so I scribbled it out and changed it for 'THINGS TO DO' instead. The list includes :1) complete final edit of Nearly King Jimbo in case an agent/publisher requests to see the entire script 2) paper downstairs bathroom with all the rejection letters I've received thus far (and yes, there are enough of them) 3) plan second half of plot for novel I have started writing and got so far with and now I'm stuck 4) make cakes 5) eat cakes and read more books 6) watch 'Darling Buds of May' DVD with view to making this my specialist subject should I ever decide to enter 'Mastermind' (Andy is keen for me to do this - I don't know why) 7)make stuff on my sewing machine now I am no longer afraid of it 8) try and decide what to get Heather for her 21st birthday which is in just over 2 weeks' time 9)lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling as I wonder what it's all about and 10) make more cakes to replace the ones I ate earlier.

This is a good list, I think. I toy with the idea of doing one for Andy who will obviously be snow-bound with me but he'll be outside tobogganing and making snowmen and won't need occupying with indoor stuff.

So there we go. I am ready for the SNOW that will be arriving on MONDAY. In the meantime, I'm off into the garden to join Mrs Pumphrey in her sunbathing.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Poo the Fearless

It's countdown to 'Tiger Day!' I am very excited! In fact, just thinking about it has caused me to choke on a piece of apple I'm eating in lieu of a big piece of cake because I am STILL trying to shift my post-Christmas bulge. It's okay, though. Mrs Miggins arrived and administered the Heimlich Manoeuvre.

'What you need,' she says as she picks me, choking and blue-lipped, from the kitchen floor, 'is a big piece of cake. The sponginess will mop up any stray bits of apple as it goes down.' She sounds so wise, so experienced about these things that I feel I should take her sage medical advice.
'So what's all the excitement then?' asks Miggins. She takes her hankie from her handbag and wipes a blob of chocolate butter icing from my face.
'Well,' I say, 'Andy is taking me to see some tigers. I'm going to write a story about them. I love tigers! Tigers are great! All that stripey fur and those fluffy ears...'
'Yes, yes,' says Miggins. 'I get the idea. You've been trained for this, I take it?'
I shake my head. Mrs Miggins tuts.
'You can't go visiting tigers without proper training,' she says. 'You need to speak to Mrs Poo. She'll get you fit and ready to visit a tiger or two.'
'Mrs Poo?' I ask.
'Oh yes,' says Miggins. 'She had to study a module in 'Mixing With Tooth and Claw Mammals' for her degree in stunt henship. I believe she got a distinction. I'll give her a shout.' And Miggins goes to the back door.
'POO!!' she shouts.
'I wish you wouldn't do that,' I say. Mrs Poo appears from behind the eglu. She is wearing a pair of science goggles and is holding a steaming test-tube with some tongs.
'WHAT EXPERIMENT?' yells Mrs Miggins.
Mrs Miggins turns back to me and sighs. 'She thinks she's going to take up Formula One motor racing. She says that Massey Fergusson have approached her to drive for them.'
'Don't they make tractors?' I ask.
'Quite,' says Miggins.
Mrs Poo has appeared at the door. The steaming test-tube smells foul and I comment as such.
'That's because it's got chicken dung in it,' says Poo. 'Ahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!'
'Shush!' says Miggins, 'and tell us about how to deal with a tiger visit.'
Mrs Poo gives Tybalt the test-tube and a glare that says 'if you drop this, cat, I'll haunt you in your dreams.'
'Tiger visiting eh?' she says. 'What've you been told so far?'
'To wear wellies and take a camera and some chicken drumsticks,' I say.
Mrs Poo nods. 'Same old myths,' she says.
'What are chicken drumsticks?' says Miggins.
'Never mind,' I say.
'They're very ineffectual, chicken drumsticks,' says Poo. 'I mean, even if you stand on a chair so you can poke the tiger in the eye, a small stick isn't going to save you against all those teeth. And they're never the same for playing your drums with after, you know. I think it upsets their fine balance.'
'I have no intention of poking a tiger in the eye with a drumstick or any other sort of stick,' I say.
Mrs Poo shrugs. 'Your limbs, I suppose,' she says. 'Personally, I'd feed Mrs Slocombe to a tiger if it meant saving my own feathers.'
'That's not nice,' I say. There's still a bit of tension in the air between Mrs Slocombe and the other three girls due to the feather pecking incident. I'm encouraging Mrs Slocombe to study the Elizabethan period at the moment in the hope she'll get fixated with the fashions of the time and take to wearing a gi-normous ruff around her neck. (The theory being that she won't be able to get anywhere near the others to get at their feathers. It's a thought.)

'So how do you suggest I approach this tiger visit?' I ask. Mrs Poo sits at the table and scribbles a few things on a piece of paper.
'Do you mind?' I say. 'That's part of the script for my latest best-selling novel.'
'It won't do you much good when you haven't got any arms left, will it?' says Poo. 'Trust me, you'll need to follow these instructions very carefully if you are to come out of this experience in one piece.' And she takes a piece of sellotape and attaches the paper to my forehead.
'Thanks,' I say. Mrs Poo nods, takes the test-tube from Tybalt and trots back into the garden to continue her experiment.
'What does it say?' asks Mrs Miggins. 'I left my glasses on my bedside table.'
'It..ouch...says...eek,' I begin, peeling the paper from my forehead, 'DO NOT VISIT TIGERS. THEY ARE CATS. WHAT HAVE WE TOLD YOU ABOUT CATS. WILL YOU NEVER LEARN, YOU MORON???'
'That was helpful then,' says Miggins.
'Wasn't it just,' I say.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Publicity Stunts

The animations for 'Nearly King Jimbo' are gathering apace. Andy is rapidly proving himself to be a creative genius in this field and I have suggested he sets up a company called 'Andy Mations'. Or possibly 'Andy Matronixs'. Or possible neither, he said as he politely declined my suggestions.

Over the last few evenings he has been working on the piece of cartoon to go with the episode where the character of King Andy is revealed to have a bee living in his ear. It is very entertaining. There are frisky feelers, wax and a drumkit, all inside a real ear. It looks very convincing! The piece to accompany the Archbishop of Titbury von Streudelheim making a right Royal cock-up of the Coronation also looks good, with clever use of light and shade. Neither of us are sure of the shot showing the Archbishop sitting in an armchair watching cricket on the TV though. From a certain angle it looks as if there is some dubious activity happening in his lap region and I'm not talking crocheting doilies for the communion table here. Andy agrees he may have to review this piece of cartooning before we 'go public.'

And going public got me thinking about my own performance of the script. Now, I used to be a great fan of 'Jackanory' when I was a child. I liked it best when the storyteller sat and told you the story from the book and there were camera shots of the illustrations. I liked the voices the storyteller used for the different characters, too. But I would become agitated when the story teller started getting up and walking around whilst they were speaking. I especially remember Rik Mayall performing 'George's Marvellous Medicine' by Roald Dahl. He was all over the shop! And he had props. What was he doing? What was he trying to prove?? Very disturbing and I never felt the same about Jackanory again (even though I was an adult when this happened - I think I must have been watching it with my children when they were small.)

But I think I must be realistic about how I shall have to present my material to the children of today. I need to remember they have the attention span of a frog on a hot-plate so in order to hold their attention I need to 'perform'. Luckily, I was a drama teacher in a previous existence so have experience of how to keep 30+ children alert to what is going on before them. Obviously, some techniques do not lend themselves to the media of You-Tube, so throwing props or whiteboard marker pens at them won't be any good. But I can do voices. And mime. I once conducted 25 minutes of a lesson completely in mime. Admittedly, I did at one point end up head first in an upended stage block, but still the students kept with the spirit of the experience and mimed laughing at me.

And it occurred to me I'll need a gimmick if I am going to be a visual performer. Something that will become synonymous with my work. Like Terry Pratchett has his hat, Barbara Cartland had her pink things and Martin Amis has a chip on his shoulder. 'Oh, I wouldn't have a chimp on my shoulder,' says Mrs Miggins who has just dropped in to borrow the Stylophone. 'I said 'chip' not 'chimp',' I say. 'Besides, do chickens have shoulders?' 'No,' says Miggins, 'which is why I wouldn't have a chimp there.'

Actually, there's an idea. I could perform with a chicken on my shoulder. Or maybe I could gather them all around my feet and they could gaze up at me adoringly whilst I read the adventures of Nearly King Jimbo to them. Or I could make a pompom bee and have it sticking out of my ear as though it is flying around for a bit a fresh air. I could wear a crown and pretend to be the Queen. I still have the tiara I wore when Andy and I got married. I could sit on a little yellow tricycle like Mr Jobble - Tybalt could sit in the basket and pretend to be Mick the Dog. If only I could persuade him to bark it would be perfect. Or I could pretend to be Alice and bake real biscuits as I told the story and then I could use them as merchandise and sell them on e-bay or bid tv...

'I think you're getting carried away,' says Miggins. She starts to play 'Eidelweiss' on the Stylophone in an attempt to calm me down.
'I have to think about these things,' I screech as my office becomes a trying on frenzy of tiaras, hats, scarves, novelty t-shirts and scuba diving outfits.
'How long is this film going to be?' asks Miggins.
'About 40 minutes,' I say. (I don't know this for certain - it was the first portion of time to come into my mind.)
'And how much has Andy produced so far?'
'About 12 seconds,'
'I rest my case, m'lud,' says Miggins.
'You can't,' I say. 'I used that as a sign off yesterday.'

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Microsoft is making me fat

In the papers yesterday there was an article expounding a theory that fatness is caused by a virus.Of course,I poo-poohed this idea (although secretly I thought the idea was fab and would like nothing better than to tell people the reason I've battled with my weight all my life is not because I like food and hate exercise but because I have a 'virus').

But I can now announce that, due to an experience I had today, I am able to endorse this theory with cold, hard, factual EVIDENCE! Oh yes! This is what happened...

Every morning I listen to the Dominic King Show on Radio Kent. He chunters away in the background as I write, keeping me company with his banter and the occasional bit of proper music. Sometimes, the show makes me laugh, sometimes it makes me think, but most of all it provides me with the sense of being in a cheerful office environment, thereby making me feel as if I am decently employed in proper work and not just faffing around pretending to be a writer.

So, at the end of today's show Dom asks for people to send him information about their blogs. 'Great!' I think. 'I'll do that then the BBC can see what a fantastically entertaining and original wit I am and commission me to write for them. Or something.'

So I crank up the Internet and start to compose an eye-catching e-mail listing all the incredible entries on this blog like the adventures with the chickens and the cats and my rantings and musings about every day occurences such as making sausages and getting mown down by toddlers pushing dollies in miniature push chairs. I even mentioned the making of the hens' perfume advert, 'Poulet by Pumphrey', even though I could get into contractual doo-dah with Mrs Pumphrey's corporate lawyers for doing so.

Devoted readers, I did this FOUR TIMES. FOUR TIMES!!!!!! And three quarters of the way through every attempt, Microsoft froze, then said it had to shut down for some reason and then it shut down without so much as a bye your leave, meaning I had to start all over again.

As you can imagine, this caused me much distress. So much distress in fact, that I had to eat many Brazil nuts and a couple of bits of shortbread in order to re-stabilise my temper, I mean, blood sugar. I also took quite a chunk out of the polo neck jumper I was wearing and because it's a bit fluffy I'm going to spend the evening coughing up fur balls.

In the end, on the fifth or possibly sixth attempt (I'd given up the will to count by then), I had to rattle off an e-mail in double quick time that said words to the effect of 'This is my blog. I am told it is funny but a bit weird. Microsoft are being stupid,' before it shut down again.

So it's all your fault I'm on the plumptious side, Microsoft. It's nothing to do with emotional issues, or the rigours of daily living. Oh no! It's all the result of a techno-virus.

I rest my case, m'lud!

Stream of Knittingness and Tigers

A magazine I bought a few weeks ago contained a lovely pattern for a knitted jacket type cardigan thingy. The more I looked at the picture, the more I liked it. So I sent away for the pattern which arrived at the end of last week. I looked at the pattern again. I didn't like it any more - no, I loved it. I adored it. I was very keen to start knitting this jacket type cardigan thingy.

'I know,' I thought. 'Before I go into town and buy the wool I'll have a look on the Internet and see if I can get it cheaper from a stockist. So I typed in Rowan Scottish Tweed DK. Lots of links appeared for places that had 'discount', 'bulk', and 'saving' in their titles. I found out this wool comes in a delightful array of gorgeous colours and it is made in Britain and is very woolly. I also discovered it cost anywhere between £5.25 and £5.85 a ball.

Now this would be okay if I was planning to knit, for example, a pair of baby bootees, or some winter drawers for Mrs Pumphrey and would require only one ball. But I'm not. In order to knit my lovely jacket type cardigan thingy I would need 17 balls. I got a pen and paper to do the maths because an initial calculation in my head made me feel a bit dizzy and to the point that I thought I'd made a miscalculation because wool for a jacket type cardigan thingy couldn't possibly cost that much, surely?? But I was right. My brain maths co-incided with my paper maths and this jacket type cardigan thingy was going to cost me nearly £100.

Blimey, I thought. I could buy a whole sheep for that. I sat contemplating how I could get around this fiscal dilemma. If I lost another two stones I could knit a smaller size thereby requiring less wool. My jacket type cardigan thingy would look lovely but I'd look like a sour-faced, scraggy skinbag because I'd be bad-tempered and underweight through lack of eating which is one of my favourite things. I could use a different type of double knitting wool from the one recommended but then would it be the same lovely jacket type cardigan thingy as illustrated on the pattern? Would I love it as much? Or I could buy a sheep, feed it, shear it, learn the art of spinning and dyeing, make my own yarn and have a truly 'home-made' experience. Or, and this one really made me shudder, I could go back to teaching and money wouldn't be an issue but then I would no longer have the time to knit the jacket type cardigan thingy.

It's still a dilemma although I have reached the spiritual stage that this jacket type cardigan thingy is a want rather than a need and isn't really intrinsic to my overall happiness. I'm going into town today to post a batch of Nearly King Jimbo scripts to various agents so I'm going to compare and contrast various brands of wool to see what I can get away with. Perhaps I'll look at sock patterns whilst I'm there. I've never knitted a sock before. I hear the skill is in turning a heel. Sounds fun...

And just in case you are worried that all this working from home is turning me into some kind of recluse with a wool fixation, something very exciting maybe happening in a couple of weeks with some tigers! Oh yes! There is a big cat charity in Kent and I may be writing a fund-raising story for them about one of the cubs. So we are going to visit! Andy revealed this to me this morning (I don't think he realises how excited I am by the prospect of this visit or he would have told me last night). He said that we had been invited to go during his week off, but not on feeding day. 'I don't know why we can't go on feeding day,' he said. 'Wouldn't it be better to go the day AFTER feeding day?' I replied. And we had a little laugh.

So tigers and lions here I come! More news as and when it happens...

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Book worms

As a writer, I am also obliged to read a lot which I don't mind in the least as reading is one of my very favourite things of all time next to Brazil nuts, cats and a good strong Cheddar. I have read eight books so far this month and have another four on the go at the moment. They are: the Diaries of Kenneth Williams; a socio-political tome called Affluenza by Oliver James; Friday Nights by Joanna Trollope and Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth. I like to think I've broadened my reading spectrum in the last few years and moved away from the works of Enid Blyton and this latest batch certainly seems to indicate a swing in the direction of the eclectic. (And yes, I did eat a dictionary for breakfast. They are a very low calorie yet highly nutritious food for the brain. I also had scrambled eggs on toast made from an 'experimental' bread recipe I tried yesterday. It wasn't a wholly successful experiment but once toasted and covered in scrambled egg, butter and black pepper it was okay.)

I am afraid to say that Kenneth Williams is starting to grate. He was clearly a depressed soul who strove to achieve the best by his art. He also looked after his family and had many friends but he is also coming across as a hypochondriac egolomaniac who could be rude and waspish and developed an annoying religious cant as he tried to make sense of the dichotomy between his own beauty as a human being trying to do his best in the world and his homosexuality. And quite frankly, I want to slap him. He wrote his diaries for thirty plus years on a nearly daily basis and it got me wondering about my own diary keeping. I've kept a daily record for nearly five months now and I wonder 'Will people think the same about me when I am dead and my diaries are published?' 'Corr,' they might say,'didn't she go on about the weather a lot?'

The Oliver James book, which is also a thick tome has required much concentration on my part. It's not the sort of book you can read with half an eye on the telly, or with 'Round the Horne' on in the background and Kenneth Williams singing a song as Rambling Sid Rumpo. It's about how we, as a Western Society, have been infected with the Virus of Consumerism and how it is causing us to become sick and unhappy. It's very good but there's a lot of evidence from various global studies to plough through. Luckily, this is mixed with anecdotal interviews that Mr James has conducted in various countries (Denmark, it seems, has remained relatively unscathed - Hurrah for Denmark!) so as a book it remains generally digestible.(Unlike the dictionary I had for brekkie. I've just burped up the word 'scurrilous'). I've just reached the point where he is offering anti-dotes to the Virus which basically boil down to 1) stop buying 'stuff' 2) do things that make you happy and 3)find enjoyment in things that are free (I presume he means things like rainbows, kittens, the warm sun on your face as you watch your chickens frolicking in the garden etc). I feel happy that I might just be one step ahead of this race already!

The Joanna Trollope was purchased a) because it was half price and b) because I had read one of her novels previously and quite enjoyed it. I wish I could say the same about this one. All I keep thinking is, 'If she can get this tripe published, then I can get some of my tripe published too.' Of course, it helps with her that she's written so many books she can probably sell her shopping list to a publisher no questions asked but where's her artistic integrity??? And she's got a character in it called 'Blaise' which is irritating me for some inexplicable reason. I think it's because I associate it as a man's name so it startles me when I read things like 'Blaise strode across the room, red stilettoes clipping the floorboards.'

I am reading Shadows of the Workhouse because I liked the first of Jennifer Worth's books 'Call the Midwife.' It also provides a counterbalance for my rose-tinted viewings of 'The Darling Buds of May' complete series boxed set DVD Andy gave me for Christmas. Both set in the '50's and conveying the lives of working class people they offer stark contrasts between what it was like to live in the towns and cities and in the countryside. I know which I prefer. Jennifer Worth also happens to be the cousin of a friend of mine so I am hoping some publishing- by- association magic might happen!

So that's what I'm reading at the moment. I've got the latest Rose Tremain lined up but I'm a little scared to start it. This is because the writing group I've joined seemed split down the middle in their opinions of it. It's like Marmite - they either love it or hate it. But I like Marmite, so perhaps I'll just be brave and plunge in regardless. And there's always Enid Blyton if things get a bit too heavy.

Saturday, 24 January 2009, two, three...

Breakfast this morning was two boiled eggs on toast with black pepper. Read the papers. A calm and measured start to the day. Then Andy disappears into my writing room.
'Do me a favour will you?' he yells in a tone of voice that suggests a mild ticking off. Oh, oh, I think. What have I done? Left my toe toaster heater on? Malfunctioned the new printer so it has used up an entire cartridge printing random pages from the internet? Grown a fascinating new fungus in my waste paper basket after inadvertently throwing an apple core in there two months ago? I brace myself.

Andy reappears holding the first three chapters of 'Nearly King Jimbo' in one hand and his mobile phone in the other. 'Read a few paragraphs into this,' he says. 'I want a voice recording to go with the opening sequence of animation I've already done. Ah, that's all right then!

I obliged with the reading, a la Jackanory style. Andy works out that in order to animate the entire first chapter (about 4 pages of A4) he will need to produce 7,500 drawings. No, honest, I kid you not. And as 'Nearly King Jimbo' runs to 22 chapters we are talking in the region of 165,000 drawings altogether for the whole book.

Andy turns apoplectic at this point and ends up on the kitchen floor in a dead faint. He is resusitated with a cup of proper coffee from his proper coffee making machine and we have a think about other ways of providing visuals for the project. Now a while ago, Andy and I made a short film using some toy ducks and stop frame on a camcorder. It didn't take us long and was highly entertaining. So I say 'How about we make plasticine models of each of the characters and do it in the style of Wallace and Gromit?' 'How many characters are there?' Andy asks. 'Well,' I say,' there's Nearly King Jimbo, the Queen, King Andy, Alice, Farmer Seed and his wife Annie, Mr Jobble and his dog Mick, Lord Endov-Terrace, Tractor the Horse, the angora goat named Prince Jimbo of Titbury von Streudelheim, the Archbishop, the Lord Chancellor, Mrs Bobbinflaxenfluff, Lady Farqueharrison-Snood (pronounced Fartybottom-Food), Miss Delilah Snibbins and Mr Frankly Revolting.'
'I didn't ask you to name them all,' says Andy, a hint of weariness in his voice.
'Seventeen,' I say.
'Right,' says Andy. 'Seventeen plasticine models.'
'Some of them are animals,' I say. 'We'd need to do some pigs and hens and cows, but they are non-speaking parts. Except for the two pigs who talk about pizza at the end of chapter 10. And we'd also have to do all the people who attend the gala award evening at the end. It's a crowd scene,' I add, unnecessarily.
'Would you care to revise your estimation for the number of models we'd have to make?' says Andy (he is very patient, especially as he's had a traumatic couple of days at work).
I have a think.
'About 300??'
Andy rewinds the recording of my reading and plays it back. I sound like Barbara Windsor and Janet Street-Porter's love child. Only considerably less intelligent.
'Im going upstairs to my office now,' says Andy. 'I may be gone some time.'

Friday, 23 January 2009

Team building

I mentioned last week that Andy and I have been able to procure an old Manor house in the village of Much Malarkey thanks to the huge earning capacity of our cat Tybalt who, it transpires, is the real Charles Dickens and is raking in the dosh, especially with all the BBC costume drama royalties.

Well, Much Malarkey Manor comes with staff so we decided to take them out for a meal in a 'getting to know you' manner before we move in and start bossing them around with unreasonable demands. An invitation was extended to meet them at Pizza Express and so, in our best bib and tuckers (i.e T-shirts without holes and jeans devoid of paint spatters) we went out for dinner last night with 'our staff.'

They're a funny bunch, we discovered. (You're a fine one to talk,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Don't you have a cardigan to crochet or something, ' I rejoinder, which is my word of the day.)

The sitting tenants are Lady Matilda Organza-Curtain and Sir Oliphant Dreadnought who arrived at the Manor 87 years ago for a children's birthday party and forgot to leave. They are not wholly to blame for this oversight because they were only children at the time and were supposedly in the care of Nanny Gnu (with a silent 'G'). Nanny Gnu still takes it upon herself to look after them even though she is 105 and can't get about without the aid of a couple of strapping farm-hands. However, Nanny Gnu proved to have the constitution of an ox as she polished off an entire Etna pizza (the clue is in the name) which caused beads of sweat to form on Andy's brow within two mouthfuls when he tackled one.

The Manor kitchen is run by Mrs Heavensabove Fudge. Apparently, Heavensabove is her real baptismal name. Something to do with an escaped pig at her christening and the vicar's loose cassock. I didn't get the whole story because she'd removed her dentures in order to eat her ice-cream sundae thereby rendering her completely and dribbly incomprehensible. Mrs Fudge is assisted in the kitchens by Daisy the Maid who also deals with other household tasks including washing, ironing, dusting and polishing, blacking the grates, laying the fires, buffing the firkins and dubbing the leather sofas. I noticed she had remarkably soft and unlined hands for one who spends her day toiling with housework. Either she's religious about wearing her Marigolds or someone is telling porkies. Daisy spent a lot of time under the table helping the Music Master, a Mr Boom Penguin, retrieve his errant napkin. Mr Penguin wears his trousers far too tight and Andy has promised to have a manly (grrrrr) word with him about them later.

I had a long discussion with the gardener, Versatility Peat, about the planting and growing of vegetables, especially courgettes. I said that four plants would be more than adequate given how prolific they were at producing fruit but Versatility insisted you can never have too many courgettes and he'll plant 47 like he did last year and all the years before that. I said that as I was now in overall charge I thought he ought to listen to me, epecially as I know a bit about veg growing myself, and he said 'Ha! You'll mickle the muckle before the truckle if you take that attitude,' and stormed off into the night with some excuse about having to string his onions. Andy re-assured me that Versatility Peat would come around to my way of thinking eventually because most people do. In the mean-time, we're going to hide his dibber just in case.

All in all it was a very successful evening and there was hardly any mess on the floor when we left. As we said our goodbyes, Lady Matilda took my arm. 'I'm very sorry that Viscount Improbable and Lord Darkly Dangerous couldn't join us. They both sent their apologies. Well, the Viscount did. Lord Darkly never apologises to anyone.'
'And what do the Viscount and Lord Darkly do at the Manor?' I asked.
'Viscount Improbable is the Butler. He also maintains Sir Oliphant's train set in the attic. And he scares children at Hallowe'en. Actually, he scares children all the year round but it's Hallowe'en when he really comes into his own. And he isn't really a Viscount but he can get a bit tetchy if you don't humour him.'
'I see,' I say. 'And Lord Darkly Dangerous?'
'He never leaves the Manor,' sighed Lady Matilda. 'He lives in the Undercroft, looking after the extensive wine collection.' I think, Andy will be pleased to know there's an extensive wine collection.
'How extensive exactly?' I asked.
'Oooh, fifteen bottles at the last count, I think,' said her Ladyship.'And, of course, he'll never leave Gasil on his own.'
'And who is Gasil?' I asked.
'Why, his ventriloquist dummy of course. They've been friends for simply years,' said Lady Matilda. 'Au revoir.'

As we walked home, Andy said 'Do you think we've done the right thing, buying Much Malarkey Manor?'
'Of course,' I said cheerfully, trying to ignore the sense of impending doom that was muttering in the back of my mind. It'll be fine, I thought. You reckon so? said the voice of doom. Shut up, said Mrs Miggins.

Where did she come from??

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Cats on a diet

Recently, Andy has been taking manly charge (grrrrrr!) at work, mainly because 'things' have occurred there which have caused him a huge amount of distress (resulting in much comfort cake eating at home) and in order to preserve his sanity he has been trying to make daily life as simple for everyone as possible until 'things' are resolved and normal service is resumed. Ha! I say 'Ha!' because I would have liked to have marched in there ages ago and 'git fings sortid' in my Cockney Eastenders Philippa Mitchell kinda way. In fact, when the 'thing' first occurred and Andy was in danger of taking off into space under the power of his super-high blood pressure, he had to tie me to a chair each morning in order to stop me coming with him. He'd then make a dash for the car and by the time I'd struggled free from the ropes he'd be well on his way and I'd need three cups of tea and a shortbread just to recover from the struggle.

'What has this to do with cats on a diet?' I hear you cry. Not much actually but I feel better for the rant especially as I experienced a moment of lane rage whilst swimming this morning but that's another story and I'll tell it when I've reguritated the 3 litres of water I managed to swallow.

So, Andy being manly at work has had a knock on effect at home and he's decided that Phoebe and Tybalt need to go on a diet. Now I can see that Phoebe could lose a kilo or two. Currently, she is modelling the 'I've swallowed a whole melon' look. She registered 53 steps on her pedometer yesterday and 40 of those were from her bed to the food bowl and back again. She is thirteen years old. I'm not sure how old this is in human years - you'll have to ask Andy; he's a vet and knows the formula for working out these things. So yes, Phoebe does need to slim. But Tybalt? Okay, so he does have a baggy underhang but that's down to a hernia he had when he was but a likkle ikkle fluffy kitten. (No it isn't,says Andy. Yes it is, says Denise. Who's the vet? says Andy. You are, says Denise, but do you want any cake in your lunchbox tomorrow? Okay you win, says Andy. Thanks darling, says Denise).

And Tybalt is active. Although he is a house cat, he races around, darting up and down the stairs like a gazelle on speed. We have kipper wrestling sessions. He plays 'pat-the-pasta-shape.' He dances with Mr Light in the kitchen (only not today because it's raining and Mr Light doesn't appear without the sun). But no, Andy has declared my cat is getting fat so I agree to supervising their calorie intake in an attempt to tone them up.

This is how it has gone so far. I rise in the morning and put a measured amount of dried cat food in the bowl. Phoebe and Tybalt both start breakfast. Tybalt eats about four kibbles, drops one on the floor, loses interest and goes into the front room for a surreptitious chew on Terwilliger, our gi-normous potted fern (yes, the plant has a name - you got a problem with that???). By the time he comes back, Phoebe has eaten all the food so he sits and stares at me until I put some more in the bowl. And when I say stare, I really mean STARE. Phoebe is conditioned to go to the bowl every time she hears food landing in it (dried cat food is very noisy - perhaps that's where we're going wrong? Perhaps she needs ear-plugs??) So she joins in for breakfast number 2. Then, at regular points during the day, Tybalt will stare at me and I will put six or seven kibbles in the bowl which he will eat, then wander off only to return half an hour later to do more staring and so the cycle continues.

IT'S DRIVING ME NUTS! I know what they are thinking, these cats of ours. They are thinking, 'We refuse to be starved like this. Let's make such a nuisance of ourselves that she'll go back to filling the bowl up properly, like in the good old days, so we can help ourselves whenever we want.' And then Phoebe added that perhaps Tybalt could do the half hour staring thing because she is getting old after all and it's a bit of a slog walking around with a whole melon in your stomach.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Ear-wigging and thinking

It's amazing the things you think about when you are swimming. And it's amazing the things you hear, too. I've fallen into the pattern of swimming every other day, forty lengths first thing in the morning and I've found I have to take my notebook and pen poolside so when I have an idea I can write it down immediately rather than having to try and remember it for when I return home AND count my lengths at the same time(I find I get confused around the 16/17 length mark and have to do 2 extras at the end just in case I've miscounted). I don't know what other swimmers think about me bobbing in and out of the pool but then, without my specs, I can't see their faces, so I don't care.

I think it's the water. It's meditative. Many of my best ideas happen when I'm near water. Washing the dishes, in the shower, swimming, walking by the lake in the park, on the loo...(okay, maybe too much information there) but I do find when the wet stuff is flowing, so do the writing ideas. Like the other day, on length number 8, I had an idea for a story/book title. It was 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue.' I had a stern in-depth dialogue with my internal voice about that one, I can tell you.
'What's sort of a title is that to spring on someone?' I said. My internal voice shrugged. 'I dunno,' it said. 'You're the writer. I merely supply the ideas. That'll be a tenner please.'
'I refuse to pay for my own ideas,' I said. 'Come on, give us a clue. Who's the main character?'
The internal voice went very quiet at this point. Typical.

And then there's the domestic details I hear from old lady swimmers. Yesterday, for example, there were 4 old ladies swimming up and down in a line holding, from what I could work out, 4 separate conversations about the various shortfalls of their respective sons. They didn't shut up. Natter, natter, natter they went. It was non-stop. But I found out that Allan had a problem with a cat and a wheelie bin, David's wife hasn't a clue about boiling a pudding and she's STILL putting parsnips in everything, Jim and Freda took their mum to a Chinese restuarant for her birthday but she'd much rather have had one of those M & S 'dine at home for £10' meals, especially with her allergy, and Lily had her operation last week and did her son visit her? Did he heck. And it's all her fault (whoever 'she' might be).

It's all good stuff. And also, yesterday (it was a VERY productive writing day yesterday. So much so that I was still typing away when Andy got home from work and we ended up having masses of scrambled eggs and beans for tea which is okay as we have a backlog of eggs at the moment thanks to our industrious chicken girls but means that today I'm feeling a bit 'blocked' so a dose of syrup of figs might be in order and ...what? Too much information again? I do apologise) I had the urge to use some of my previous life experiences as fodder for a couple of short stories. And then I was flung into a bit of a dilemma. Would the people involved recognise themselves and sue me for defamation of character? No, not if I handle the content with sensitivity and respect. Could I get away with just changing names and appearances? Probably. Well, I just got on and wrote regardless. It was cathartic, if nothing else. Perhaps it could be start of my autobiography, I thought.

And then I sat and stared at 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue.' For a long time. And I still haven't got it. Perhaps I need to go for an extra swim.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Going live!

With many copies of 'Ginnungagaps' winging their way out to various publishers and agents at the moment (and many winging their way back with letters saying things like 'This is engaging but...' etc), my second children's book 'Nearly King Jimbo' is complete and ready to go, go..GO! this week. It's hard work putting aside the disappointment of the rejection encountered so far and zizzing myself up to inject renewed energy into Project Number Two, but I am finding the process easier which means one of two things; that either I am becoming inured to the sting of rejection and am treating it as one barrier out of the way between me and publication or I am turning into a hard-nosed writing machine.

Excuse me a moment, I need to rescue a rather lovely lemon sponge from the oven....

Now, where was I? Ah yes, 'Nearly King Jimbo'. Now, I am rather fond of this story. I have enjoyed writing it very much and I enjoyed reading it to Andy. I did voices and actions. I would have put on hats if I had hats. The hens provided sound effects for the episode in the farm-yard. It has been an extremely fulfilling writing journey. Characters such as Alice, Mr Jobble and his dog Mick and to a certain extent Mrs Bobbinflaxenfluff (although I'm still not 100% certain of her - wouldn't want to meet her up a dark alley way at night) have become part of my 'life- in- fiction'. The Queen is very much me and there are elements of Andy in King Andy. Many were the times during the story that I wanted to slap Nearly King Jimbo for being an idiot but he turned out all right in the end thanks to my subtle character development so I forgive him. So I am anticipating that rejections for this book could hurt a little more than they have for 'Ginnungagaps.' Perhaps that's why it was my second project? Perhaps my Guardian Angel has been toughening me up in readiness by getting me to complete Ginnungagaps first? Shall I stop asking rhetorical questions?

When I was thinking about marketing 'Nearly King Jimbo' last week and I was writing my synopsis I thought, 'This is very much a performance piece. Perhaps I could perform a reading on U-Tube, or You-Tube or Yew-Tube or whatever it's called. That way I could maybe trap an audience who will demand publication of the book. 'Give us Nearly King Jimbo in the written form!' they would cry (hopefully not because they would be appalled by my performance). 'Give us a whole series of 'Nearly King Jimbo' adventures! Author! Author!'

Oh yes! This was a plan. And then, spookily, Andy leapt into the kitchen yesterday morning like a man on a mission to bear marvellous news. He doesn't do leaping very often and even less so since we had the floorboards replaced with lovely but rather slippy tiles. He had a look of evangelical excitement on his face. 'Hello,' I thought,'have the BBC changed their mind about who they want as the next Doctor Who?'
'I've had an idea,' he announced. 'About Nearly King Jimbo!'
'Good,' I say because I like to see him all lit up with enthusiasm, 'what idea is this?'
'I'm going to find an animating programme on the internet and draw some animations and you can perform a sample chapter and we can record the performance and animations and put them on U-Tube, You-Tube, Yew-Tube as a marketing device!'

And that is why I said 'spookily'.

'Excellent!' I said, because I am always keen to try out things that we think of separately that manifest themselves to be the same idea. (I believe superior forces are at work on these occasions. So does Andy - he calls it 'co-incidence.')

And so that's what we are going to do. It may take a while. Art does. Especially good art. Andy took himself off to his animation studio aka the box-room that is known as 'Andy's Study'. Four hours later he calls me to come and have a look at the 'work-in-progress-so-far.' It's fantastic!! Andy doesn't believe he is very good at these things but in truth he is a talented artist. I am very excited about this project. The hens are very eggcited. The cats want to know when they can have a tin of tuna to share.

Watch this space...

Saturday, 17 January 2009

A day out...

Today we went to Canterbury for three reasons 1) we had some Pizza Express vouchers which were due to expire in 2 weeks so needed eating up 2) I had some M&S vouchers given to me for Christmas and I wanted to use them up because I am paranoid that M&S may go to the financial wall as a lot of retailers seem to be doing these days and 3) Maidstone is becoming more pants by the day due to all the shops closing and the Borough Council's complete inability to see that what the town really needs is a decent theatre and NOT MORE B****Y RIVERSIDE APARTMENTS.

Ever hopeful, I went into M&S in Maidstone yesterday following a trip to the Post Office to post Ginnungagaps, the novel, off to five more agents. Everything in there( the shop not the Post Office) was grey or black or brown or sludgy green and I wanted something BRIGHT and CHEERFUL. I knew Canterbury M&S would come up trumps and they did. In fact, there is only one M&S that I consider superior and that is the one in Stratford -upon -Avon and I didn't think Andy would countenance a trip there and back in a day just so I could buy myself a bright pink jumper. After my M&S vouchers had been spent in a satisfactory manner (do not worry, I did not make Andy follow me around whilst I assessed the goods on offer. He took himself off to the Oxfam bookshop and returned with a Harrods bag full of all sorts of sci-fi rubbish, I mean, intelligent fiction), we went to Pizza Express and had a leisurely, delicious and extremely cheap three course lunch whilst reading our book purchases from Waterstones.

On the way back to the Park and Ride we passed by the Edinburgh Wool Mill and this is how I know I have become middle-aged. Ten years ago I wouldn't have given its tweedy, shortbread- in-a-tin exterior a second glance, but now I find I am unable to pass by without having a 'quick visit to see if they've got anything nice in wool.' Plus there is the added frisson in the Canterbury branch of the whole shop being on a steep tilt with surprise steps here and there.

So in I pop whilst Andy zips up the street to Curry's to assess printers. Our printer is starting to play up but then I have worked it hard since I began my year as a writer. It's starting to eat the pages half way through printing which means I can't leave it to get on with a job now - I have to stand and supervise to make sure it behaves itself and be on hand for immediate chastisement if it doesn't.

Before Andy leaves me to my EWM thrill he gives me a warning look as if to say 'Please don't buy me anything from this shop. Remember I am a quite bit younger than you.' Inside, I find there is a sale. 'How marvellous!' I think. And then I make a purchase of an item that I never thought I would be seen dead in. A hoodie! A bright red, fleece hoodie! It has been reduced by 50% and I think, 'This will be perfect for wearing when I go swimming on cold, dark, windy mornings. It will fit into the wholly inadequate locker space and I can wear the hood over my wet hair for the walk back home. Then maybe I shall avoid catching pneumonia.' I toyed with buying the navy blue one but decided on red because if I were to be set upon by a fellow hoodie at least they wouldn't steal my conspicuous top.

You see! I have finally become my grandmother! Or maybe my son?? Because back home I demonstrate wearing my new hoodie purchase to Andy. This includes hoodie 'wicked' poses and slouching around the house like a dysfunctional teenage. Although I drew the line at wearing the crotch of my jeans half way down my knees and exposing my pants. Andy is highly amused. But then he is also highly amused by my Ronnie Corbett/Colin Jackson/Ricky Gervais impressions.

A most satisfactory and highly contented day all round.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Whoolio Coolio??

I don't have the time or patience to watch reality TV. 'Big Brother', 'I'm a Celebrity...', 'Pop Idol', they all pass me by like a dose of syrup of figs. I like Strictly Come Dancing but I don't count that as reality TV. Don't ask me why - it's my rules okay?

Anyway, checking my e-mail today I noticed on my server's homepage that there is some issue going on with Celebrity Big Brother at the moment involving someone called Coolio. I didn't read the article - I was far too excited about going on to Puffin Post's website to claim my free book (I had to masquerade as a 15 year old fictional person called Phoebe in order to become a member of the Puffin Club because when I tried to register with my own date of birth I discovered I was too old. Too old????Ridiculous! I was a member of the Puffin Club when it existed first time around in 1975 ish - nothing's changed since then. Much...anyway I digress....)

Back to Coolio. What sort of a name is Coolio? Who is Coolio? I thought, I know, I'll ask Tybalt. He's a hip 'n' happening cat, he'll know what occuring with the Coolio.

'Coolio is a rapper,' says Tybalt. He is bent over his laptop working on his latest novel under the pseudonym of Charles Dickens.
'What, like in a warehouse?' I say. That would at least explain his name. Perhaps he works wrapping meat in a coldstore, hence 'Coolio.'
'No,' says Tybalt. 'He's a musician. You know, gettin' on down an' in da house type thing. How do you spell pseudoantidisestablishmentarianism? I can't find it in the spellchecker.'
'Look it up in a proper dictionary,' I say. 'One that spells 'colour' c.o.l.o.u.r and not c.o.l.o.r.' I try desperately not to get involved in any anti- American diatribes even though I'm in the mood for a good diatribe having just returned from town where I nearly met a nasty end at the top of an escalator because two idiot women got off ahead of me then didn't move away to let other people pass by. 'Where do you want to go now?' one of them asked, oblivious of the pile up they were causing. 'BHS or Clinton's?'

I was very good. I didn't tut or swear or even give them a hard stare as I leapt out of the way of certain death, or a nasty twisted ankle at least.

Back to Coolio. How did he come by that name, I wonder? Did he think 'I'm really cool, I am. I am in wiv da kidz. I need a cool name to do ma rappin' from.' And perhaps he had a mate with him as he thought this thought, a mate with baggy trousers, the kind where you wear the crotch somewhere around your knee caps so your pants are showing, a mate with lots of bling and a hat that's not on quite straight. And the mate might have said 'Hey, Aloysius,' (I bet that is Coolie's real name) 'how about calling yourself something like 'cool' but not quite?' And Coolie said 'Hey man, don't like call me Aloysius, coz that's like after da bear in dat Brideshead Revisited crap, innit an' I don't want no fans finkin' I got no teddy bear or nuffin'', and his mate said 'Like that's a double negative, man, so you is saying that you has got a teddy bear innit?' Then I expect there was a bit of a punch up and after the bruises and fat, no hang on, phat (!) lips had gone down they made a list of names that were like 'cool' but not.

And from the list - cooler, coolant, coolish, coulis, couliflower and coolio - they chose the one that made people laugh the least.

Personally I think it was a mistake. And if Mr Coolio wants to get in touch I am more than happy to help him out of his current social shortcomings. And so is Tybalt. He thinks 'Tybalt' is a jolly good name. He's willing to share it. For a price.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Rock- a- bye Andy

Ask Andy how he slept last night. Go on. He'll say 'Ooh, not very well/ badly/ awful,' and such has been the case since I first met him over seven years ago now. He professes to be a poor sleeper. I say he sleeps very well. He has the amazing ability to sleep at all sorts of odd angles on the sofa/floor/at work and at the strangest of times (8.32, 11.11, 1.56, 9.19). He merely has erratic sleeping habits and that's what's given him what our GP has termed T.A.T.T syndrome (Tired All The Time). (And you can stop rolling your eyes at me, dearest. You know this to be the truth and you know you won't win the argument. So shush!)

In an attempt to re-balance his sleeping patterns I purchased Paul McKenna's latest mind suggestion tome 'I Can Make You Sleep.' It's being serialised in the Daily Mail this week and you can send away for the book and CD for £10.99 but as I am not in the habit of paying full price for anything if I can help it, a quick hike into town procures us a copy for £5.49. Hurrah! I present it to Andy when he gets home from work. I can see he is thrilled with this gift. We quickly dispense with the jokes about how it will work - 'Shall I hit you with it repeatedly until you lose consciousness,' and 'It's probably so dull you'll fall asleep from sheer boredom,' and Andy settles down to read it. He then transfers the CD to his phone and so the process begins.

I am very impressed with Andy's resolve to follow Paul's advice. We've already got 'I Can Make You Thin' and Paul's advice is oft repeated when we treat ourselves to, for example, fish and chips. 'Paul's telling me to stop eating now because I'm beginning to feel full.' 'Shall I take your plate away then?' 'No way! I reckon if I chew loud enough I can drown out the sound of Paul's voice.' Still, the thoughts are there and if you persist, certain things do stick in your brain in a subliminal way. When I listen to the CD I rarely hear half of it because I doze off, only to wake to the sound of Paul saying 'and three, two, one, you're back in the room.' I just hope I don't find that I've been indoctrinated into voting Labour next General Election.

Part of the sleep process is to avoid caffeine after 2 p.m. Now, Andy likes his tea and coffee. He'll never turn down the offer of a cuppa, and spends much of the weekend saying 'Do you want a cup of tea?' , putting the kettle on then wandering off to do something else. So I am impressed that he hasn't been having his tea in the evenings. Admittedly, he says he makes sure his caffeine stores are good and full before 2 p.m (I imagine his colleagues have no end of fun with him in the afternoons when he's on a coffee-fuelled buzz) but in the evenings he follows La McKenna's instructions to the full. No caffeine, no eating within 3 hours of going to bed, going to bed only when tired, no tv/reading in bed etc. But last night was a bit tricky.

Having avoided caffeine and food and anything that would over-stimulate his brain including watching Eggheads and getting riled at the stupendous arrogance of CJ de Mooi, Andy was winding down for bedtime. And then a friend telephoned just after 9 p.m. I heard his conversation building to an animated buzz. He requested via a series of interesting hand signals for me to bring him a mug of hot chocolate. And when beddy bye time arrived he was in no way sleepy. I tried to help. I simulated a series of exotic yawns: this is something Paul recommends as they are catching (never mind me feeling a complete idiot, then). I engaged him in a gentle game of 'Doctor Who Top Trumps' which I won (this on the premise that if you can't sleep you have to do something boring). I got him to unload his work day worries so he didn't harbour them for 2.30 a.m fretting sessions.

And finally he felt ready to don his earphones and listen as Paul lulled him to sleep with heaven knows what sort of subliminal auto-suggestion.

And me? I was buzzing, me. So it was off to the kitchen for a cheese scone. I could hear it calling me. It was saying 'Paul McKenna says you don't need me, but what does he know? Go on. You know you want to...'

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Get Fit!

We live three minutes walk from a leisure centre. We often drive past and say 'We should go to the leisure centre and take some exercise, it's very convenient, only three minutes away . We could even walk there.' We did join the gym when we first moved here more than four years ago. I'm not keen on gyms so I lasted only as long as it took me to get tangled up in the cross trainer and fall off the exercise bike. Andy did slightly better but he's more tenacious when it comes to repetitive exercise. But even he fizzled eventually.

So on Monday I wandered into the leisure centre and inquired about a swimming membership. I can do swimming. Mostly because you don't have some eighteen year old gym instructor who is the size of a runner bean shouting at you and telling you can pedal harder, faster and longer when you know that if you do you'll fall off the bike and give up gyming altogether (see above). I asked about the financial aspect - all you can swim for £18.95 a month - the best times to come and swim and avoid having teenagers jump on your head - I was provided with a completely incomprehensible but very colourful timetable - and then I signed on the dotted line, handed in my attractive passport size photo for my membership card ('It'll be ready for you in a day or so) and went home feeling very smug that I was doing something to improve my fitness.

I was up and out the door at 8 the next morning, having shaved my armpits and checked my cozzie fitted. It was only slightly baggy round the bottom as I have lost a considerable amount of weight since I last wore it but not baggy enough to justify purchasing a new one. I just won't do any diving in, I thought. Off I went, bag packed with towel, undies, brush, shampoo and conditioner specially formulated to get chlorine out of your hair, talc (because no matter how much you try and dry yourself, it is a well known fact that swimming pool water is much wetter than any other kind of water), my spectacles case and a pound coin for the locker.

Once there, I headed for the changing rooms where there were a couple of large, old ladies, completely starkers, towelling off after their swim and discussing the price of novels these days. I avert my eyes and nip into a cubicle just as their conversation turns to the best way to cook mackerel.

Now, the biggest problem I have with swimming is that once I remove my glasses, everything becomes a bit of a blur. I make it to the poolside without crashing into anything, leave my towel and shampoo on the bench and get into the water. There are various blobs swimming up and down. Some of them are, like me, focused breast-strokers intent on doing their 30 or 40 lengths. Some swim in pairs, very slowly, chatting and getting in the way by veering unexpectedly to one side or stopping suddenly. There are a couple of blokes splashing like wild things and making dreadful grunting noises which don't sound quite right but I assume from the lack of response from the lifeguards that this is normal for blokes of a certain age and they aren't, as I thought, drowning.

I finish my 40 lengths. I get out, shower, hair wash, and leave feeling very virtuous. I get home at nine o'clock and feel like I could sleep for a couple of hours. I fight the urge and have a very productive day. I sleep well. I wake up this morning. With a stinking cold.

Keep fit? Pah!

(p.s I apologise for changing tense half way through this blog but I am feeling far too weak to go back and do anything about it. Ditto spelling errors...)

Monday, 12 January 2009

MMM Part 2

'You've done WHAT??' screeches Mrs Miggins when I happen to mention in passing that Andy and I have signed on the dotted line to purchase Much Malarkey Manor. 'You are aware that things of a suspicious and ghastly manner have happened there, aren't you?'
'Yes I am,' I say, 'but luckily I am not, touchwood, superstitious about these things.'
'Well as long as you know what you're doing,' says Miggins. 'Put the heating on will you? My bum is frozen.'

Mrs Slocombe is still feather pecking. We've tried telling her off, sending her to cognitive behaviour therapy and spraying everyone's bottoms purple in an attempt to put her off but nothing is working so far. 'I can't help it!' she cries excitedly as she goes in pursuit of one of the others. 'It's like a mad compulsion.' 'Well,' I have warned her, 'if you don't stop you will leave me no option other than to get Paul McKenna involved with his 'I Can Stop You Pulling Out Other Chickens' Feathers' CD. ' Mrs Slocombe doesn't look remotely scared. 'I'm not susceptible to hypnosis,' she says. 'Ask Mrs Poo.'
'It's true,' says Mrs Poo who is also a poet and doesn't know it. 'I tried to hypnotise her once on stage but all she did was walk around flapping her wings and making a noise like a chicken.'
'Isn't that standard stage hypnotist fare?' I ask. 'Oh yeah,' says Poo. 'P'raps it worked after all.'
'Anyway,' I say, getting back to my favourite subject of the moment which is our impending move to Much Malarkey Manor, 'you'll like the gardens. They're much bigger than what we have here. They even have grass.'
'Is that old groundsman still there?' asks Miggins. 'What's his name now?'
'Versatility Peat,' says Mrs Slocombe through a beak full of feathers.
'That's the chap,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Any relation to Tango Pete?' I ask.
'No,' says Mrs Miggins, 'he's much grubbier.'
'Really?' I say.
'Yes. Just keep your begonias well away from him, that's all I'm going to say,' says Mrs Miggins. 'I don't suppose you could knit me some pants could you?' She has noticed I've got out my knitting needles in preparation for my next knitting project.
'I should think so,' I say. 'What colour and what type of wool would you like?'
Mrs Miggins looks at me. 'There' is only one colour and one type of wool for pants,' she says.
'Orange mohair it is then,' I say and take a couple of measurements.
'Oooh, can I have some?' says Mrs Slocombe. Now I'm all for bribery and here seems an ideal opportunity to employ some.
'Yes,' I say. 'As soon as you desist in this feather plucking habit.'
'Make 'em out of barbed wire,' says Mrs Poo, giving her own bald undercarriage a bit of a scratch. 'Then she'll appreciate how itchy we've all been feeling.'
'Now now, 'I say. 'Just think how happy we'll all be when we move to Much Malarkey Manor.'
'You reckon?' says Mrs Miggins.
'YES!' I shout.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Much Malarkey Manor

Since discovering that Tybalt the (poor as a Church mouse) Cat is in fact, Charles Dickens the (hugely wealthy) Writer, he and I have come to a mutually agreeable arrangement. Basically, he will pay a huge amount of rent in return for me opening the cupboard that contains his cat food and continuing to feed him on a regular basis. I did lose one of the bouts of arm wrestling on which the majority of our negotiations was based which unfortunately means I will also still be responsible for cleaning out the litter tray, but it's a tiny price to pay for what I consider to be a win-win situation for myself.

Our improved financial situation has meant that we have been able to sell up our three bed semi with ground floor extension and purchase a property I've been after for a long time now - the gloriously atmospheric and ever-so-slightly pretentious Much Malarkey Manor. Situated in rolling countryside just outside the village of Much Malarkey, it has been on the market for a couple of years now, following an incident that was reported in the local newspaper as 'suspicious' and 'ghastly'.

'Doesn't it bother you that this place has a history of strange and peculiar happenings?' asks Andy as we look around. I am already choosing wall paper for the day salon, so no, it doesn't.
'You know that the local rag is prone to exaggeration about these things. It's media hype,' I say. 'This is a great place. We can do great things here.'
'I wonder why it's so cheap,' says Andy, for even taking into account the rumours, it's still very very much within the budget of our new-found wealth.
Behind us, the estate agent coughs. 'Well,' he says,' the Manor does come with a number of sitting tenants.'
'Staff, you mean,' I say. I've finished decorating the day salon and am wondering if I can get away with putting 'Lady of the Manor' onto my business cards.
'Yes!' says the estate agent. 'That's right. Staff!' He says this a little too keenly. I think he has got a whiff of the snob factor that is emanating from me as I have visions of opening the local village fete in a very big hat.
'I thought so,' I say. Of course, we'll need staff. It's a big manor. Twelve bedrooms, four receptions, many bathrooms and enough acreage to keep a herd of cows. So excited am I that I voice this last thought out loud.
'Heard of cows?' repeats Andy. 'Of course I've heard of cows.'
I have to punch him several times before he stops laughing.
'You know what I mean,' I say. I wave the brochure of particulars at him .'Look, it's even got an undercroft. Somewhere to keep your home made wines.'
'Oh yes,' says Andy. 'That's jolly good.'
'So shall we buy it?' I ask. I already know the answer, the question is hypothetical but I think it only fair I give him a chance to have an opinion.
'Yes!' he says. 'And let's take the staff out for dinner shall we? A kind of 'get to know you' evening of fun and frolic.'
'Excellent idea,' I say. 'Where shall we take them?'
'Have we still got those vouchers for Pizza Express?'
'Yes,' I say. 'And they must be used up before the end of January.'
'Perfect,' says Andy. 'Pizza Express it is.' He turns to the estate agent. 'How many staff are there, exactly?'
The estate agent consults his clipboard. He looks like he is trying not to laugh. 'Eight and a half,' he says.
'A half?' I ask. 'How can you have half a staff member? Are they part time?'
The estate agent shakes his head. 'Oh no, ma'am,' he says. 'Gasil lives in the Manor. It's just that he's And not what you might call fully human. More of an extension of a human really. But he's a member of a union. He has asserted his rights to human status.'
'I see,' I say, but I don't really. 'Oh well, eight and a half it is for Pizza Express then. Will you extend the invitation my good man?'
'Of course,' says the estate agent. 'Just as soon as you sign on this dotted line.'

Friday, 9 January 2009

The Writing Blues.....te dum, te dum, te dum....

I had a horrible thought today. What if my writing talents aren't recognised until after I'm dead? It happens, you know, to us artistic people. How many writers, poets and painters didn't make their money from their craft until after they were too dead to enjoy it? I know that's not the right way to be looking at it (unless you are looking at a giant gas bill at the same time in which case I believe it is a justified approach) and that artists should develop and hone their talents because they enjoy what they are doing. Financial gain should not come into the equation really. But I can tell you now, I shall be well hacked off if that turns out to be the case with me and I shall also have quite a lot to say to God when my time comes.

I share my fear with Tybalt as he pauses for a builder's break whilst supervising the renovations to his pad under the stairs. He's throwing himself into the project with great gusto and has even taken to wearing his trousers half way down his bottom in order to display a builder's bum cleavage. 'Oh, I know,' he says, biting into a bacon sarnie. A dribble of ketchup finds its way down his chin and he wipes it away on the sleeve of his checked shirt. 'I felt exactly the same when I started my writing career.'
'What do you mean?' I ask.
'Well, when I completed my first novel I had to send it away at least four times before it got into a bidding war between two major publishing houses. Might have been five times, thinking about it.'
I stare at my cat in amazement. It's taken me a day or two to recover from the knowledge he is conducting major renovation work in the cupboard under the stairs. And now, it seems, he is a published author.
'You've had a book published?' I ask.
'Of course,' says Tybalt. He sounds truly surprised at my question, as if I'd just asked him if he'd always been covered in fur and walked on four legs.
'When?' I ask. 'And how come I haven't seen it?'
'Them,' corrects Tybalt. 'And you have read a couple, actually, although I've had to bite my tongue when you've given your opinion on my work. Some of your comments have been quite hurtful, I'll have you know.'
I give a hollow laugh which sounds a bit like this 'AHAHAHAHAHahahahahahha...ha..ha...a.aa...a'
'I think,' I say, 'that I would know if I'd read a book by Tybalt the Cat.
'Not when I use a nom de plume,' says Tybalt, going all French on me.
'And what's your nom de plume?' I ask.
'Charles Dickens,' says Tybalt, without missing a beat.
'Don't be ridiculous,' I snort. 'Charles Dickens has been dead for nearly 140 years.'
'Look, I know I can smell a bit funny sometimes,' says Tybalt, looking offended, 'but I think I would know if I was dead.'
'So you're telling me that you are responsible for writing some of the most classic works of fiction in the English speaking world?'
'Yes,' says Tybalt. 'Although I think some of them are better than others. Looking back on my early work, I can see some of the prose is rather repetitive. But that's because I used to serialise them.'
'I'm sorry,' I say, 'but I don't believe a word you're saying. You are not Charles Dickens. You aren't old enough for a start.'
Tybalt shrugs. 'Urban myth,' he says. 'My publisher suggested it. It's my unique selling point. Pretend you're a beardy Victorian with a train phobia, they said. The public'll love it. Traditional values coupled with the enigma of facial hair and a fatal character flaw and Bob's your Cratchit.'

I decide this is all too much. 'Look,' I say. 'I don't know what planet you're on at the moment but I think you ought to get some help.'
'My thoughts exactly,' says Tybalt, finishing off his sandwich and draining the last of his mug of tea with six sugars. 'My pad is never going to get finished at this rate. Where's the Yellow Pages?'
'In the living room,' I sigh. 'On the bookshelf. Between 'M' for moron and 'F' for fool.'
'Ah, now you see, that's where you could be going wrong with your writing,' says Tybalt. 'You're never going to get published until you get your alphabet in the right order.
'Thanks Charlie,' I sigh.
'You're welcome, Miss Havisham,' says Tybalt.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Tybalt's World

He's been driving me mad this morning, my cat Tybalt. In and out the cupboard under the stairs he goes. In 'BANG!', out 'BANG!', in 'BANG, BANG!', out 'BANG!', 'BANG! in again and so on and so forth.

'I'm trying to be a writer out here,' I yell from the kitchen where I've taken up residence for the day because it's freezing in my study and, I've discovered, very difficult to type when you're encumbered by a duvet. I quickly hide the game of patience I am playing in case he rushes out to check.
Tybalt appears in the doorway. 'And I,' he says, 'am trying to organise my builders.'
'What builders?' I ask.
'The ones who are doing the renovations to my pad under the stairs,' says Tybalt.
'You've got a pad under the stairs?' I ask.
'Of course I have,' he says. 'What do you think I do when I go under there? Check the gas meter? Sit in the dark and eat spiders?'
I don't know what I thought really. I just assumed he liked going through the door because it bangs and he knows it annoys me. And now it seems he is merely using his own front door. So, as soon as he goes out to get 'saveloy and chips for the lads', I am on my hands and knees in the hall looking in the understairs cupboard.
Previously I had been under the impression the cupboard contained nothing more than various utility meters and a collection of manly power tools that Andy plays with occasionally when he wants to make a noise and scare me (or himself). But oh no. How wrong I have been. Sitting in the cupboard under the stairs is a small, square chap, arms folded across his luminous jacket and sporting a yellow safety helmet. He holds up a hand.
'I'm sorry, Miss. You can't come any further,' he says, politely but firmly.
'And why not?' I ask.
'Site regulations, Miss,' he says. 'Don't want you gettin' run over by a forklift, do we?'
'A forklift?' I say. 'You're telling me there is a forklift truck operating under the stairs of this modest semi-detached house?'
'Well, two actually. We've got a lot of four by two to shift.'
'What exactly are you building?' I find myself asking although the sane part of my brain tells me I shouldn't.
'Ah. Now I'm not at liberty to say,' says the little man. The badge on his jacket suggests he is a Mr Bettawan, the deputy assistant site manager (temporary). 'Client confidentiality.'
Okay, I think to myself. There is building work going on under the stairs in my own house by a dwarf called Mr Bettawan and he says he can't tell me what exactly. I decide to get tough. Or stroppy. Or both.
'Now look here,'
'Call me Ivor,' he says.
'I'd rather not,' I say. Once you get on first name terms with tradesmen, you don't know where it'll end. 'This is my house and I demand to know exactly what is going on.'
'I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to refer you to our client for further information,' apologises Mr Bettawan. 'Lord Tybalatian the Third. Nice chap. Gone out to get me and the lads some chips. He'll be back soon. You can ask him then.'
'Lord Tybalatian?' I splutter.
'That's right, Miss. And if my nose is not mistaken here he is now,' says Mr Bettawan. And sure enough, the door opens and Tybalt arrives laden with bags of chips. They smell delicious but I don't allow myself to be distracted. Gone are the days when I was anyone's for a bag of chips. All I need to do now is work on the issue with buttered toast.
'Tybalt, I demand to know what is going on,' I say. 'What are you doing in the cupboard under the stairs?'
Tybalt looks at me. 'I thought you were writing,' he says.
'I was, but I can't all the while I know there are forklift trucks under the stairs.' I can't believe I've just said that.
'I told her it was client confidentiality,' says Mr Bettawan.
'Well done, Ivor,' says Tybalt. And they disappear behind the door, slamming it firmly behind them. BANG!

Phoebe wanders up behind me. 'I told you he'd be trouble,' she says. 'I'd send him back from whence he came if I were you.'
'What? Liverpool?' I ask.
'No,' says Phoebe. 'Tybalatia.'

Big decisions

Yesterday, there arrived in the post some details for a lovely stone cottage in Cornwall. It is tiny but has planning permission for a substantial extension. It has half an acre of land which is ample for a few chickens, a massive fruit and veg garden, a polytunnel and a couple of pigs. It has a stone barn, ideal for goats. It is in the middle of nowhere, well, on the edge of the estate belonging to an historical manor. There is a small rent for the land and the property itself is £100,000.

Theoretically, we could sell our current house, pay off the mortgage and buy this house outright, leaving us mortgage free and living in a pokey wreck of a hole. But it would be our pokey wreck of a hole, debt free. We'd have to work part-time to pay daily bills and the small rent. And we'd have to take out a mortgage to do the renovations and build the extension. Which would put us back at square one debt wise. Only in the Cornish countryside (lovely) with some land for growing and stock keeping (lovely) and hopefully a slower, less stressful way of life.

But...the details then went on to say that the rent 'might rise' (meaning definitely will rise) with the completion of the renovation and extension and, with the ground lease having only 20 years remaining, we wouldn't exactly be securing a home for our old age. So, on balance, would this be a good move for us? It depends on your outlook. If you live for the day, then yes, go for it and let tomorrow look after itself. I've already told my children not to expect a big inheritance from me as I intend to spend as much of it as possible on loose living and more cats. And you never know what's around the corner. So half of my brain is saying 'GO, GO, GO!!!'

However, the other half is saying 'WHOAH! Hold your horses, Calamity Jane! Look at what you've got already. A home that is well-buffered from negative equity, an allotment, a garden with chickens and a glorious husband who has such faith in your writing abilities that he's supporting you whilst you try to get published. Why would you want to change this? ARE YOU MAD???'

I'm blowed if I know. I'm going for a lie-down. In the living room. Out of the sight of Mrs Poo, who is still wandering the garden with her acustabbing needles, just waiting for her moment to pounce...

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Alternative therapy

I've been very fortunate during my life in that I've never really suffered with backache. Until around a year ago that is, when I happened to bend over in the shower, something went 'ping' (no, not a microwave, thank you Mrs Miggins), and I spent a week hobbling around with a trapped sciatic nerve. Since then, the nerve will occasionally make itself known to me and it did so last night resulting in much thrashing around as I tried and failed to find a comfy sleeping position. I reckon it's twinging because I've been doing a lot of walking this week. This proves exercise isn't as good for us as we are led to believe. Or perhaps it's got something to do with me practising the splits. I don't know.

'What's up with you?' asks Mrs Miggins this morning as I hobble into the garden to serve breakfast (croissants and jam, followed by porridge and honey) and break the six inch thick ice on the water bowl. She spreads some butter on a croissant as I explain my sciatic nerve story and, to her credit, she only yawns twice. 'Hens never suffer with sciatic nerve trouble,' she says. 'Oh really?' I say. 'Is that because hens don't have sciatic nerves?' 'No,' says Miggins, 'it's because we don't bend over in showers. Do you think you could soften the butter before you bring it out next time? It's very hard to spread when it's solid like this. Look.' And she shows me her croissant which, admittedly, does look a bit of a wreck.

'Right,' I say. I want to say 'and thanks for the sympathy but I don't because one of my New Year resolutions is to avoid unnecessary sarcasm. Just as I turn to go, Mrs Miggins says, 'Why don't you have a chat with Mrs Poo? I'm sure she could help with your trapped nerve.' 'Really?' I say. 'In what manner?' 'In the manner of her being an alternative therapist,' says Miggins. 'Of course, it depends if you believe in all that twaddle, but it might be worth a go. She sorted out Mrs Pumphrey's back when she wrenched it at one of Tango Pete's Extreme Tango classes.' 'What sort of alternative therapy?' I ask. 'Acustabbing,' says Miggins. 'Surely you mean acupuncture?' I say. 'You've got a blob of jam on your beak by the way.' 'I know what I mean,' says Miggins, darkly. ' She takes a cotton handerchief embroidered with violets from her handbag and dabs the corner of her beak. 'Gone?' she asks. 'Gone,' I confirm. 'What's acustabbing?' 'Well,' says Miggins, sprinkling some brown sugar atop her porridge, 'it's like acupuncture only with slightly bigger needles.'

I'm not sure I like the sound of that and I say so. 'Oh, don't worry,' Miggins reassures. 'Mrs Poo is a highly skilled acustabber.' 'I bet she is,' I say. 'She trained under a Tibetan monk,' says Miggins. 'He also taught her how to use inflexology, odourtherapy and shi -tat -zu which I think involves small dogs with stupid hair-do's. Oh yes, and she can also read rissoles. You can learn alot about someone's health from the state of their rissoles. Apparently.' Mrs Miggins raises an eyebrow which suggests she isn't wholly convinced of Mrs Poo's alternative therapy skills herself. Then, without warning...

'Oi, Winnie!' yells Mrs Miggins, 'I've got you a customer for an acustabbing session.' Mrs Poo's head appears from the Eglu. She's been taking breakfast in bed the last few days on account of the fact she's not keen on fresh air when it's below freezing. 'Who's that then?' she shouts back. 'Old hopalong here,' shouts Miggins, 'she's got a twinge in her not insubstantial backside.' 'Excuse me,' I interrupt. 'Do you have to yell details of my medical condition across the garden for all the neighbours to hear?' 'No,' says Miggins, 'but Mrs Poo has got an ear injury so she can't hear very well at the moment and I'm not getting up and going all the way over there to talk to her.' 'How did she get an ear injury?' I ask, unaware of this latest hen health issue. 'Self acustabbing, coincidentally,' says Miggins. 'She was trying on a pair of Mrs Pumphrey's diamante chandelier earrings and it fell inside her ear so she used one of her acustabber needles to hoik it out and then she sneezed, the needle slipped and went right into her ear and there was a lot of squawking and blood and...' 'STOP!' I shout. 'How could she have lost a whole earring in her ear?' 'I know,' says Miggins. 'I was impressed, too. I'm sure Mrs Poo will do a demo if you ask her.'

'What's that?' asks Poo, appearing behind us. Her head is bandaged a la Vincent Van Gogh. She is carrying what looks like a set of enormous knitting needles. 'I was just telling her about your accident with the earring,' shouts Miggins. 'I sneezed,' says Poo. 'There was a lot of blood and...' 'I KNOW!' I shriek. 'AND WHAT ARE THOSE?' 'My acustabbers,' says Poo. 'Pop up on the garden table, there's a dear, and I'll see what I can do for your back.' It might be my imagination, but Mrs Poo has a wild and excitable look in her eye. I make a run for the house and lock the door behind me.

Mrs Poo looks at Mrs Miggins, who shrugs her shoulders. 'Doesn't seem to be having any trouble moving now, does she?' remarks Poo. 'Another triumph for the miracle that is acustabbing,' admits Mrs Miggins. 'Perhaps there's something to it after all.'

Monday, 5 January 2009

How to get Published

So, in the paper last week was a FANTASTIC OFFER to book tickets for a Masterclass at the London Book Fayre in London (bizarre, but true) on 'How to Get Published - a Masterclass in 93 easy to follow parts.' Great, I thought. I'm a writer, I want to be published in order to justify my existence as a kept woman and this seems an IDEAL OPPORTUNITY to discover the secret of preventing my work from finding its way back to me with alarming regularity marked 'thanks but no thanks' (moving house seems a bit of an extreme alternative option). So I zip onto the appropriate website, carpe diem and all that and it said on the booking form 'If you wish to book more than one ticket please call the LBF booking line on 12345 54321 etc.' So I call the LBF booking line and am greeted by a recording of a nice young chap informing me that they're all out of the office at the moment recovering from Christmas and New Year excesses but will be back, bright and ready to go on 5th January between 9 and 5. Good job I don't still teach I think. I wouldn't be able to book tickets otherwise, not during those hours.

I tuck the details in my diary so I remember to call on 5th. I want to book 2 tickets - one for me and one for Andy. It is imperative Andy comes with me because a) I have no sense of direction and am bound to get lost as soon as I leave the end of our road b) I hate London, you have no idea how much it freaks me out and don't even get me started on the Underground c) I have recently been diagnosed as agrophobic and might need a slap if I get hysterical d) I like hanging around with him because he's great! And e) he will persuade me to eat all sorts of crap whilst we're out which, if I went on my own wouldn't happen because Matilda, my alter ego would be constantly on my case about not being able to do the splits on New Year's Eve if I eat that chocolate muffin and that's no fun, is it?

Today being 5th, I telephone the LBF number. A lady answers. She sounds a bit pre-occupied, like she is doing her nails or playing blow football with Maltesers. 'I'd like to book 2 tickets for the London Book Fayre Masterclass on How to Get Published,' I say in my best telephone voice. 'You can book them on-line,' she says. 'I know,' I say. 'But it says, on-line, that if I want to book more than one ticket, I have to call this number.' 'Does it?' she says. 'Yes,' I say. 'Oh, well, all you have to do is fill out the form twice if you want 2 tickets,' she says. 'It's just the same as we would do here in the office if someone telephones.' 'Oh, right,' I say. There is a bit of a silence. Call me old-fashioned but I was thinking, in the manner of good customer service that at this point the lady what answered would say 'Can I take your details, madam, and I'll see that 2 tickets are sent your way forthwith.' I even had my credit card ready in my hand.

'So, ' she says, ' are you okay to do that?' 'Do what?' I ask. 'Book on-line,' she says. I pause. 'I suppose so,' I say, a little hesitantly. 'Lovely!' she chirrups. 'Thank you for calling! Goodbye!' And then she hangs up!

I sit on the stairs clutching my newspaper cutting, my diary, my pen and my credit card. I don't know why, but I feel like crying. Instead I concentrate for a moment on the piece of carpet Tybalt favours for scratching his claws with which has become more fluff than actual carpet. And then I go downstairs and book two tickets, using two separate on-line forms to the 'How to Get Published Masterclass.'

'This had better be worth it,' I mutter, as two separate e-mails arrive to confirm that a not insubstantial amount of money has just been debited from my credit card twice and I shall receive my ticket pack times two in March. In light of my telephone experience I try to think of a clever phrase for the initials 'LBF'. Unfortunately, the 'F' is in the wrong place.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Doctor Whom??

Andy showed only mild signs of irritation last night when people kept bobbing in front of the telly during the 'We're going to reveal the new Doctor TONIGHT!' programme. I thought this was very good of him given how much of his existence centres around Doctor Who but he is also a very kind and patient person and there's always BBC i-Player isn't there? (Is that what it's called? I'm never sure about these things.)

Any who, it was hype, hype, hype all the way through Christmas and into the New Year. Who will be the new Doctor? David Walliams? Too camp. David Morrisey? Too pudgy. David Cameron? Too Tory. Do we have to choose someone called David? Nah, let's try another name. Jeremy. Now there's a Doctor Who name if ever I heard one. Jeremy Vine? Too clever. Jeremy Fisher? Too froggy. Jeremy Beadle. Too dead.

Okay, what about someone really, really famous., Michael Parkinson. Or George Clooney. He'd pull the ladies in. What about Victoria Wood? She'd be great! What? No ladies allowed. Why? Wouldn't understand the sonic screwdriver. Okay, yes good point. And she'd probably want a cat as a companion. Called Feel-ine. And that would never work.

Okay, what about Basil Brush. Suave, witty, good with kids yet with enough double entendre to entertain the adults. too. What do you mean he isn't real? Of course he's real. You'll be telling me that the Clangers aren't in charge of the government space programme next.

So who did they choose? Who did the writer, Steven Moffat pick to be the 11th Doctor (see, I know that much!). Someone young. Daniel Radcliffe? No. Someone who manages to look young yet old at the same time. DAME EDNA EVERAGE!!! (I've reached fever pitch at this point. Can you tell???) Andy tuts. 'It'll be that guy from doo-da,' he says. I have no idea what he's talking about but the cheese on my jacket potato is very lovely. It's a strong cheddar with onions in it and it's crumbly and....

'Oh,' says Andy. I can tell he's disappointed. In the brief moment I looked at my cheese, the new Doctor is flashed onto the screen without so much as a toot or a whistle. He looks like a potato, actually. With massive hair. Unkempt hair. 'Who is that?' I ask. 'Matt Smith,' says Andy. 'Matt Who?' I ask. 'No,' says Andy. 'Doctor Who.'

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Winds of change

Such a beautiful, beautiful day today, I thought 'I'll go for a walk later, in the park.' 'Go for a walk NOW!' shouted my Inner Self, whom I shall refer to as Matilda. 'Go on! Get out there now. You know when you say you'll do something later it 's likely not to happen.' Matilda is very bossy and in this case, I think, rather unfair. Generally I am good at doing things when I say I shall, but because I know she'll be yelling in my ear for the rest of the morning if I procrastinate on this one, I put on coat, scarf, gloves and boots and away I go.

It takes me nearly an hour to walk all the way around the park and that's with me legging it some. During this time I am greeted cheerfully by many people walking their assorted hounds; occasionally I am attacked by said hounds, but only once do I have a near death experience when a black labrador puppy flings itself at me and nabs the end of my scarf for a playful tug-0-war. Most people in the park appear to have a dog or five with them. I think 'Do I look like a weirdo, walking purposefully around the park sans pooch?' I think, maybe I should have a dog so I don't look so suspicious and, well, in a pointless pursuit. My other option is to don exercise gear and then people would look at me say 'Ah, she's power walking to keep fit.' ('GET FIT YOU MEAN!' shouts Matilda. Is she still here?)

Then I think, I could take other people's dogs for walks, earn some money, kill two birds with one stone. I could take a couple of dogs a couple of times a day, get fit ('Thank you!' trills Matilda) and assuage the guilt I feel that I am not bringing any money into the household coffers at the moment and am therefore a 'kept woman.' I think, when I get home, I'll research dog walking services.

I get home and there are three pieces of mail on the mat, only one of which is actually for anyone in this house. The other two are addressed to a Mr Allen and a Mr Smith, offering discount cars for car dealers via an auction house in Essex and membership to a money saving voucher club. I don't want Matilda to start so I add notes to both letters to the effect of please remove this address from your file - Mr Allen doesn't live here and neither does Mr Smith and then I march up to the post box by the corner shop and return them to sender.

Back home (having walked at least 5 miles by now) I am just putting the kettle on and Mrs Poo knocks on the back door. 'Has the postie been?' she asks, looking over my shoulder at the hall table. (She has to stand on a step ladder in order to do this). 'Yes,' I say. 'Right,' says Mrs Poo. 'Er...was there anything for a Mr Allen, by any chance? Or a Mr Smith?' I frown. 'Yes, actually, there was,' I confirm. 'I've just reposted them.' 'Oh,' says Mrs Poo. She looks a little annoyed. 'Were they for you?' I ask. 'Of course not!' says Mrs Poo. 'My name is Mrs Polovitska. Why would I get mail addressed to, for example, a Mr Allen or a Mr Smith?' And she marches off, dragging her step ladder behind her.

Why indeed, I think. Unless you are up to something. Which, knowing Mrs Poo, is highly likely.

Friday, 2 January 2009

An accidental resolution

New Year's Eve - we've just finished watching Kung Fu Panda and polished off the last of the 'Party In for a Tenner' offer from Marks and Spencer. Andy has drunk a whole bottle of Cava and is being highly entertaining. We decide to watch the extras on the Kung Fu Panda DVD one of which involves learning basic Kung Fu moves. Now, given that this is a film for children I should have known better than to try any of the moves myself. I am at least 30 years too old for most of them and lack the required elements of agility and flexibility. At one point I tried a high kick which was okay and didn't hurt too much but it got me thinking about whether I could do the splits. So I had a go, like you do.

'Which way are you going to do it?' asks Heather. 'Back and forward or side to side?' I hadn't considered there were options. I try both. The backward/forward style works best and I get to within 6 inches of the ground. All I can say about the side to side method is that I am glad I do my pelvic floor exercises fairly regularly and had popped to the loo ten minutes beforehand, because by now we are all laughing so much it could have gone horribly, and damply, wrong. Andy tries next and proves himself even less limber than me but a lot funnier. Heather is in danger of asphyxiation by this point. And she makes a comment that there is no way I am ever going to be able to do the splits, i.e implying I am way too old for such malarkey.

'Ha!' I say and in doing so reveal my fatal flaw. I do not like to be told I can't do something (in that respect I am still a bit of a child). 'I shall prove you wrong! This time next year, I shall perform, on New Year's Eve, a full splits and then you'll be sorry!'

Andy and Heather agree they probably will be and thus is born my New Year's Resolution - to practise doing the splits for grand performance at teh end of 2009. Now, my only dilemma is shall I try to achieve both methods? Heck, might as well give it a go. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, least of all a hernia.

So now it's all high kicks in the kitchen, stretches on the stairs and bending in the bathroom. I've got 365 days to try and persuade my ligaments they can reach that little bit further. Mrs Pumphrey has offered to train me. 'Come to dance class with me,' she said. 'Once Tango Pete gets you on the barre you'll loosen up like a dose of diarrhoea.' I'm not sure I like the analogy but I'm secretly pleased I spelt it correctly without having to look it up in the dictionary!