Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Simply irresistible

My youngest son - now 12-years-old - gave me hell this weekend in the way only he and his oldest brother know how. Sheer bloody-minded unreasonableness mixed with a good dose of contempt and belligerence, and seasoned with a liberal smattering of swear words. I declined into that feeling of absolute maternal desperation - the one where you don't know whether to murder your offspring or yourself. Luckily, I had a trip to London scheduled, and escaped on Sunday morning with two days to calm down.

Said son phoned my mobile while I was recuperating in my favourite Japanese restaurant. After enquiring whether I wanted him to go up and see the dog, he then apologised for hie earlier behaviour (that is where he and his elder brother differ - the latter has NEVER apologised for his verbal atrocities). Then he said, and I quote: "Can you ever find it in your heart to forgive me?"

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at this quaint turn of phrase - what has he been reading recently? - but it had the desired effect. I forgave him instantly.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

The best things in life are free

Actually, I feel the need to sing the praises of craigslist a bit further. I've spent a lot of time on the net - some might say an inordinate amount - and I really feel it's the jewel in the crown. Yet almost no one I know has heard of it.

Here's a bit of the blurb about "24 Hours on Craigslist" - the film of the concept (no, I am not kidding) Anyway, it will give you the general idea. Basically craigslist:
  • Is responsible for billions of dollars of interpersonal commerce—more than any other stop on America's internet.
  • Provides the majority of housing and jobs for the nation's urban population.
  • Has hooked up more people than ALL other dating sites combined.
  • Has grown in web traffic 100% a year since it's creation over a decade ago.
  • Is 99.99% FREE to use and 100% FREE of banner adds, pop-ups or any other annoying internet advertising which you are probably seeing out of the corner of your eye at this very moment.
Since Craig Newmark founded the site in 1995 simply to "help out, in a very small way" he has resisted an onslaught of advertising offers, multi-million-dollar buy outs and even the courtship of national TV shows and Hollywood studios.

Now that is my kind of guy. And craigslist is my kind of site. I've used it to arrange houseswaps in NY, rent rooms and apartments, make friends and find dinner dates (back in my halcyon single days). Not to mention just entertaining myself reading people's ads - the personals alone will keep you amused/bemused for hours. The 'Best of' section on the left contains some of the funniest prose I have ever read. Anywhere.

So, if you've not discovered it, don't waste another moment. Check out the NY site (newyork.craigslist) to see how good it can get. Then find the one for your local town and get posting. Grass roots participation doesn't get any better than this.

Friday, 28 September 2007

The definition of writer's block - when you'd rather fill in your tax return than work on your novel.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

What a wonderful town

September was a bad time to go to New York. Not in terms of the weather – Manhattan was bathed in glorious sunlight for almost the whole week we were there – but in terms of timing. We came home to the beginnings of autumnal gloom, along with all the hassles of the new school year, marginal progress on the building work (yet another missing ceiling), more financial problems, and a foot-and-mouth crisis that threatens to devastate my partner's business. What with the jetlag, and ensuing queasiness and marathon migraines, I have not been in the best of spirits.

Not that coming back from New York is ever easy. I have an inexhaustible passion for the place, having been swept off my feet on my first visit five years ago. It was truly a case of love at first sight. The moment I set foot on Manhattan tarmac I knew there was nowhere on earth I would rather be. I just love the energy and exuberance of the place, the diversity and chaos. The busy-ness of it all. I love the way the city fosters contrast and paradox, eccentricity and extremes. I know of nowhere else with such an abundance of life.

I thought maybe I’d get over it eventually, like you do most infatuations. But this trip proved that time doesn't always heal. The moment we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge I was bouncing off the walls with excitement, drinking in everything I’d missed - the constant blare of horns and sirens, the avenue-long vistas, the downtown dinginess, the ubiquitous smell of vanilla, the streaming yellow taxis, the iconic skyline. Oh, and the cheesecake.

Everything about New York makes my pulse race and my heart sing. It's the only thing on earth that ever made me wish I could live my life again and do things differently. Yet I know that even if I could go back and live out my life there, it wouldn’t be enough. Even a thousand lives wouldn’t really get you under the skin of the place.

As it is, I’m confined to all too infrequent weeks out there, and occasional meanderings around the wonderful New York craigslist ( - check out the 'Best of' section on the right when you need a few belly laughs). I know I don’t have much to complain about in life. I’ve been exceptionally lucky in the greater scheme of things. But still, it’s a hard thing when your heart belongs in one place, but your body is stuck in another.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

It's a dog's life

I am suffering from a bad case of dog envy. Basically, I want to be the dog. I don't care about the fleas or the endless diet of cardboard dog biscuits. I don't even care about the halitosis. I would still the be the dog in a heartbeat. Why? Let me count the ways...

1. The dog doesn't have a to-do list or a diary.
2. The dog never worries about whether it's putting on weight. Even if it is, it doesn't care.
3. The dog isn't concerned about finishing its novel or getting it published.
4. The dog never has to wander around Tesco wondering what the **** we're going to eat night.
5. The dog doesn't have to cook it either.
6. The dog doesn't get spots.
7. The dog never loses its car keys. Or its phone.
8. The dog only has two periods a year.
9. The dog never worries about keeping fit. It just is.
10. The dog doesn't feel guilty when it sees the growing pile of ironing in the utility room. It lies on it.
11. The dog isn't wondering how it will pay the latest request for a large amount of money from the builders.
12. The dog doesn't have to enter into protracted negotiations with the children over every single insignificant decision. It just looks bored and walks away.
13. As far as I can tell, the dog doesn't get three-day migraines.
14. The dog doesn't have to speak to someone in Delhi every time it has a query on its credit card.
15. The dog doesn't notice when its having a bad hair day.
16. The dog never, ever has to go to the dentist.
17. Nor will the dog ever have to consider Botox. The effect would be lost under all that hair.
18. The dog gets to lie around dozing all day, either in the sun or out, depending on its mood.
19. The dog thinks that a walk around the scraggy woods up the road is the nearest thing to bliss.
20. The dog seems to actually enjoy running until it pants.

Mind you, the dog isn't going to New York next week for a good dose of urban indulgence. Sucker.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

A little light relief

This is taken from a little plastic pinball game we bought in a French supermarket some years ago, for a few francs. The kind where you pull back a little springed piston and shoot little coloured balls into numbered baskets. The instructions were on the back: Chinese on the left, an English 'translation' on the right. I have reproduced the English version exactly as it appears, including spelling, spacing and punctuation. Enjoy.

Intelligent Marble and Color Wheel
Intelligent and Lucky

- Marble and Color Wheel is a kind of game that is very mordennow. It collects excitement,fascination.It's a very interesting game.It can not only train lover's skill and intelligence but also is a best way for lover's to make friend. It's an intelligent game for a family to be a happy field. Spring your miracle,competite your level.
-Play ways: 1 The two parties of intelligent competition must own themselves "Marble and Color Wheel".Within the fixed time if you shoot the five provided plastic teased pearl early or late,you'll get a grand tolal. If the last digit of the grand total has an "EIGHT",you'll get an "Auspicious seat".If the last digit of the grand total has a "FIVE",you'll get a "LUCKY SEAT".
2 Other, the two parties willjudge winning or losing,according to the highest grand total. The one who get the hightest grade is a big winnet. 3 Before a game begins,players may also engage to shoot the five provided platic teased pearl early or late,getting a grand total.We winner according to how manypoints it can reach.
-Where there is a will be your best ladder of success. it is your best training of will,intelligence,skill will be best ladder of success. It is your best training way of defeating everying.

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Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Back in the USSR....

Just spent three days in Estonia, in the company of one of East Europe's new entrepreneurs. Aside from the fact that he talked incessantly - and I mean ceaselessly - and only had two topics of conversation - business, and himself - it was all a little depressing. Shocking to see how huge the gap had grown between the mega-rich and everyone else. And how unreservedly they had embraced consumerism. The relentless march of McDonalds and Coca-Cola, top brand cosmetics and Versace T-shirts.

I spent a month in Leningrad back when it was still Leningrad, nearly 25 years ago. I was learning Russian, and it was a fascinating time. I had mixed feelings about communism. I could see the problems, and like everyone I was relieved when its demise meant I didn't have to assume that every siren that went off was the four minute warning. But I also feel that its failure was a defeat for all of us. The Soviet Union, back then, at least offered an alternative to the rampant consumerism that has now spread across most of the globe. The Russians I met had real character and soul, and I can't help wondering how much of that was due to their not spending most of their existence planning their next trip to Bluewater Mall or when they'd purchase their new Wii.

And much as I concede that communism had some very undesirable outcomes, I still feel that democratic capitalism that now predominates across the Western world is fraught with problems. Two stand out for me. The first is that party politics means that no government can afford to make unpopular but necessary decisions, and short terms of office mean none can take a truly long term view. Unfortunately, we need governments which can do both. Our inexorable appetite for more of everything - food, luxury, lots and lots of things - has brought us to the brink of environmental catastrophe, and only some very unpalatable decisions will bring us back from it. Assuming it's not too late.

Secondly, the rise of the multinationals and immensely wealthy corporations means they can employ legions to bully, cajole, and derail any governments that dares to go against their interests. Oil companies, sugar manufacturers, tobacco peddlers - you name it, these companies are very adept at getting their own way, and rarely is their own way aimed at the greater good of individuals or mankind. Just their shareholders.

I can't help thinking of my new testament lessons at school. Jesus overturning the tables of the money-lenders in the temple. His warning that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. A wise bloke, the messiah. But who's listening now? We've got our new religion, and its name is shopping.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Still sniffy

Another day, another box of tissues. Will I never shake this off? Mind you, at least one nostril has now made itself available for the mundane process of inhalation and exhalation. Which means I can now close my mouth when I eat. And possibly taste my food.

Tried to put in my daily quota on the book. But my willpower just wasn't playing ball. It simply refused to apply itself to the suddenly very unappealing task in hand. The voices kicked off, the usual litany of 'why are you wasting your time... everything you write is shit'. Yeah, yeah, I know, a true writer never listens to the pixies of doom, but today I simply caved in. Succumbed ...tut,tut.... to a major bit of surfing instead.

What with the builders banging and sawing incessantly overhead, Radio 1 blaring away (are there really only ten songs in the whole universe?), several children downstairs wondering when I shall ever emerge from the bedroom and actually do something with them, yet another day of cloudy skies, and the ever-present burden of what to put in all our mouths next, I am having one of my caged-desperation moods. This mainly involves running a line of Larkin - "Beneath it all desire for oblivion runs" - on a continual mental loop and fantasising about getting in the car and driving until the petrol tank runs dry or I fall off the edge of England somewhere.

Oh bugger it, I'd better go and see what they want for lunch....

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

I've been in bed for three days with what seemed, at first, quite an innocent little virus. Just a minor head cold, a slight sore throat. Not much more than in inconvenience, so I thought. But the next day I felt myself gradually sapped of energy, and then of appetite. My nose would run suddenly, entirely without warning, like someone had just turned on a tap. All I could do was lie in bed with a box of tissues, playing Spider solitaire and loitering around, feeling increasingly sorry for myself.

Mind you, I also got a fair bit of reading done. "Just in Case" by Meg Rosoff (Verdict: started well, then floundered through lack of satisfying plot) and "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield (Verdict: storytelling at it's best. Absorbing, escapist, and exquisitely written). I listened to the latter on my ipod, courtesy of If you've never tried audiobooks, I can't recommend them highly enough. There are few stories that aren't enhanced by being read aloud, and there's nothing like being able to immerse yourself in a novel while doing something 'useful' at the same - in my case, walking the dog, ironing, or simply lying in bed feeling like shit.

Back to Setterfield. I read her bio on the net. She's a veteran of two Arvon courses, which cocks a snook at anyone who thinks that creative writing tuition is a waste of time. But I can't help thinking about her tutors, and how they must have felt when they heard that one of their students had managed to snare over £1,000,000 in her first book deal.... ouch!

Monday, 13 August 2007

Terrible weekend. My father paid one of his hit-and-run visits. Just long enough to stir up the viper's nest of nastiness that is our family history, short enough to ensure nothing would ever be resolved. How I wish one could divorce one's family once and for all. I'd cite mental cruelty.

I finished Michel Houellebecq's "Atomised" this morning. Hated it so much I dedicated an hour to giving it a good pasting on Amazon. Here it is, if you're interested:

"Les Mots Unjustes"

"It's a long time since I disliked a book this much. Not since I read Iain Bank's "A Song of Stone", probably ten years ago. Perhaps if I had been a) male b) adolescent c) experiencing an existential crisis I might have enjoyed it more. But frankly I thought nihilism died a welcome death with Sartre et al. I tired very quickly of Houellebecq's preoccupations - sex devoid of emotional connection; violence; the ascendence of intellect, individualism and appetite over any of the more 'feminine' values such as compassion, hope, faith, commitment and community.

We are given four characters living at the margins of life, obsessed by ageing and sexual decline. Three of them commit suicide, one goes mad. Unless Houellebecq is some kind of literary double agent, subtly satirising the very beliefs he seems to expound, we’re supposed to accept that these people represent all of us, and the purported malaise at the heart of the human condition, at least in the West. But these narrow caricatures, these bundles of obsession and neurosis are not real people and they are not representative of how most of us live. Which makes "Atomised" less a trenchant and encompassing analysis of life in the latter half of the 20th century, and more a silly, one-sided, obsessional uber-masculine polemic, clearly shaped by the author's own proclivities and persona. It isn't groundbreaking, or even stimulating, but dull, like being stuck next to a vain, ageing academic, tipsy and tedious, at a Parisian dinner party, grinding on about his own fixations, mocking everything he doesn’t understand. There’s no plot or story to speak of - just endless exposition, intellectual posturing, cynicism and pessimism.

I’m left wondering if there can really be anything more arrogant, more short-sighted or sollipsistic than a middle-aged male author, who assumes that the whole of Western civilisation is going down the pan just because his own body, his own faculties are beginning to fail him? That kind of thinking smacks of the self-obsession of adolescence. But then Houellebecq's real subject, his genuine area of expertise, is undoubtably men who have never grown up."

I like to think of Houellebecq reading it, chain-smoking Gitanes in a fit of pique. Well, I can dream....

Friday, 10 August 2007

Here we go.....

This has to be something of an inauspicious start.

a) I am very tired (less than seven hours sleep for two nights running - bad news for a nine-hour-a-night sort of gal)

b) I have absolutely no idea what to write about or why on earth anyone would want to read it (but then again, I just saw that 514 people have read my Favourite Books list on Amazon so clearly there are a hell of a lot of people around with nothing much better to do)

c) I should be doing some proper writing (but I am too knackered for that (see above)

But hey, it's a sunny day, and I too have nothing much better to do. And if you're reading this, i guess the same goes for you too.