Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Service Wash

I've never used a service wash at a launderette although I suppose it's a bit like being a minor whose parent does their washing for them. The problem is that you don't appreciate the service you're getting until you're the one doing it for someone else.

In our house, it's getting trickier to determine whose are who's as my two sons have started buying clothes from the same shops and are roughly the same size. Of course, I'm supposed to know the difference between two seemingly identical items of clothing. You only have to look around the streets outside the local college to see that whilst there are wild variations in the styles of clothing, they tend to gather in clusters of those with a like-minded sense of fashion.

As you get older, clothes seem to be a more individual affair. My own are not those I would choose to wear; they are more of a collection of things which have stood the test of time and the tumble drier. They don't represent me, they're just a convenience to stop me from being arrested. If I had a little money, I probably wouldn't buy clothes but if I had a lot, I would.

At my counselling course, we were discussing making observations of how people look in order to gauge their mental state. This is worrying. That would make me an unco-ordinated, faded, worn-out, outdated heap of rags. OK, that's maybe a bit strong but it is enough for me to vow to buy some new clothes at the first opportunity.

And so I have been paying a little more attention to people and what they are wearing. On my way back from dropping my son off at college, I keep seeing this man on foot crossing the railway bridge. The first thing I noticed was his dark eyebrows and white hair, chin length and blowing like sheets on a windy day. His face is bony and he's so tall and his strides so long that I imagine office workers being lost in his inside leg. His coat, a navy blue quilted anorak flaps open in time with his hair and he moves so lightly as if hastily gliding from cloud to cloud in order to avoid falling through to earth. The thing is that he looks out of place, from a different time and doesn't fit the demographics of your average Horsham person. All that and I'm supposed to be concentrating on the road and if making observations for writing purposes wasn't enough, now I've got another excuse to do it.

It seems that it is inescapable for us to judge each others' appearance. So I'd never use a service wash. I couldn't face going back to collect my clothes.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Pussy Paranoia

I'm all for giving those on the fringes of society a voice. And no one lives more on the edge of things than Tiger. Therefore, despite the libelous content and sly insinuations of his little soliloquy, we have decided to let me have his say. Marmaduke, has not only put up with the cat-cursing and clicking of claws on the keyboard but permitted him to publish it there so thank you to him for his cool co-operation.

Thursday, 25 September 2008


On Saturday, when I should have been doing other things, I entered Sarah's competition in honour of National Speak Like a Pirate Day. So, if you've got time, go to Sarah's posting for today to see the result!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Today's posting

Marmaduke has decided to write today. I'm surprised that he's managed to stay awake long enough.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Jobs you have no chance of getting

I think that most of us would consider ourselves extremely lucky if we ended up with a career for which we were both ideally suited and enjoyed. I think that most of us settle for the best we can get to get by the best we can.

Sarah's prompt for today set me off thinking about making lists of things in reverse. Reverse lists could be useful and could tell us more about ourselves that the conventional sort. Here are some of the jobs I would have no chance of getting:

MP: My knowledge of current affairs is sporadic ranging from watching Newsnight every day for a fortnight to falling asleep at 9pm after a glass of wine. Also, I never have time to read a newspaper.

SALESPERSON: I'm too honest. This was proven when I showed prospective buyers around the house and I ended up telling them how I'd like a smaller house and a bigger garden. I think they came around to my point of view.

TEACHER: I enjoy intellectual debate and challenge. The trouble is, I'm not sure I want to share it with anyone.

AIRLINE PILOT: I tend to avoid crowds and or queuing for ages to park. I also like to sleep and watch films whilst flying.

Clearly, this list has infinite potential. As does my shopping list. Therefore, next time I go shopping, I will make a list of the things I don't want and it will be shorter. I will honestly be able to say 'Look, there's not much on my list, please come with me'. Problem solved.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

So this is the beginning. No, wait, this is. No, actually this is ...

They say that life begins at 40. I'd like to pretend that this little milestone is something to look forward to but unlike my husband who is soon to celebrate this momentus point in his life, it's something I look backwards at. Actually, my 40th was really quite a non-event given that I had only given birth to our youngest son 2 months beforehand and that he was 10 weeks premature. Around the time of my birthday was the point at which he should have been born so it marked a new phase whereby people no longer stopped us in shops to marvel at his tiny form and exclaim 'I've never seen one that small before' and instead we became a normal family rather than a travelling circus.

Beginnings are not just about newness, that's the easy bit;they're about having the energy to enthuse, perhaps to inject a new life and hope into what has become staid (at this point, I hope that my husband doesn't think that I'm describing him in this way) and start over again.

I'll soon be back at uni, resuming my MA studies and that's another beginning because if I'm honest, I've managed to switch off from it almost entirely with all the moving house business. But I can only face it if I sit down with my books spread around me and a new resolve, an attitude that says 'Right, I am now a student again' and this magical vow will transform my thought process from one belonging to a harangued mother into academic genius. If only.

With the children, we have beginnings all the time. When the morning routine slips into a cacophony of chaos (as it frequently does), when just getting them to brush their teeth seems to be the most unachievable goal in the universe, I think up a new scheme to encourage their co-operation. A new beginning in the form of a star chart.

Well, I must go now. We're expecting a man. My mother's getting a new car which means I'm getting her old one. It's the same old one I've been borrowing regularly for the past 6 years and yet, to have it given to me makes it new again. I'm even going to clean it. It will be born again....

Monday, 15 September 2008

My mind is swimming

As I flop onto the sofa after a manic Monday morning rushing to clean the house for the estate agent and prospective buyers to visit, my mind is swimming. My mind is swimming with the 'what if's'; whether they'll like it, if they do, will we get the house we want? If we do, how long will it take? Will we be here or there for Christmas? And what was it we were going to have for dinner tonight? Ah, roast beef. Mustn't forget to put it in the oven before we go to gymnastics.

Watching gymnastics feels very un-sporty. In the dingy cafe, sat upon spindly aluminium high chairs overlooking the sports hall, it is stuffy; the smell of warm rubber from the squash courts, and the plastic exercise mats mixes with the cappucinos sipped at by harrassed mothers trying to keep awake through the hour-long session. I wish that by watching my daughter at gymnastics, I could absorb the essence of fitness by osmosis or something. I wonder whether attending sports centres has a positive effect upon your health or if even just parking outside can be beneficial in some way. Some hope.

There are always posters in reception inviting you to tone up your body for the summer, although now it will probably have switched to ski fitness classes and taunts to 'get into that xmas party dress'. It's not that I don't like exercising, just that I've been there and done that about 20 years ago and it probably explains my arthritic condition now. Plus, unfit as I probably am, it may well kill me.

Whilst my daughter is learning forward rolls and cartwheels, my mind briefly flirts with the idea of just one last game of squash. And then I remember how my knees have never fully recovered from the skipping incident. So I'll have to stick to walking the dog which is probably as good an exercise as any and at least you get fresh air. However, I think that we all like to feel part of a movement, a rhythm, (if you'll pardon the pun) and that the sense of belonging to a group of people committed to improving themselves in some way is the finest reminder of our continued existence in the world whether it's through an activity such as writing or indeed exercising. Well, I've got the writing bit sewn up but I don't think that this spectator sport business is going to work on my middle-age spread. Perhaps I should try swimming again. Actual swimming. I think I'll have a cup of coffee and think about it.

Friday, 12 September 2008

A new arrival

Marmaduke has just started his own blog. He doesn't say a lot but we're hoping to get a little insight into the cat world.

Virginia Woolf brought me breakfast in bed today

In 1929, Virginia Woolf wrote A Room of One's Own (1929), with its famous dictum, "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

Let's take a room of one's own in the first instance. I've tried having a room of my own for writing purposes and strangely, I have settled for the busiest room in the house, the sitting room. I can sit on the sofa with my feet up on the coffee table to avoid the spider underneath the chest and look out to the garden through the patio doors. I've got somewhere to rest my coffee cup, the television's there if I want to put it on and I've got the dog for company. It's not idyllic when the children are around but aside from school holidays, I'm usually busy running about with them anyway. So it's not about rooms, it's about spaces in which you feel comfortable.

And money? I've just been trying to find out who first said that you can never be too rich or too thin but I've decided to give up on that one. I think to be comfortably well-off and comfortable with your size is the best you can strive for; I'm a bit doubtful of being either but it's always good to have a goal in mind even if its achievement is constantly deferred. I digress.

I've been rather preoccupied with thinking about living spaces because we're moving and in this dreary market, waiting for an offer on our house, at least we do have time to think about what we want. Something smaller, for a start. Something older, definitely. Our house is very nice but it is a mish-mash of different styles and this disturbs me for some reason. There are certain practical considerations; we need four bedrooms, one of which must be large enough for the older boys to share when they're both at home. There are other matters to consider but I won't bore you with those right now. Because I've had time to ponder, I've come to the conclusion that my preference is for houses that are authentic to their period. I don't want the latest style in kitchen or bathroom; there is something really appealing to me about original fixtures and details. But, of course, the next question is, just how far do you take it?

We've looked at one or two houses built in the 1920's - 1930's. We're not going to dress in clothes of the 1920's or dance the Charleston instead of watching TV in the evenings. By its very unprogressive nature, it would be self-defeating to embrace modernist values so it's not about that either. It's not about identifying with a particular era, or a process of re-enacting. And yet I know that there is something wrong in not recognising that each generation will leave their contribution to the house. This is only tolerable to me when it's been done a long time ago. For instance, it's fascinating if the original house was built in the 1500s with additions made in the 1700s. However, a house built in Victorian times with a 1970s double glazing thrown in is less desirable. If it's recent, it has to be sympathetic (Estate Agents' speak) but if it's history then it's OK.

A friend of mine has a house built at exactly the same time as ours, 1959. The main difference, between them in terms of style is that hers has original fixtures and not only that, they're in a wonderful condition. I think that as a nation of DIY-ers we've probably ruined most of our houses by now. I don't disagree with change when it's real progression such as replacement windows and heating or redecoration as an expression of creativity. Anything else and you can save yourself a lot of money because sooner or later it will come back into fashion. Your newly purchased whatever-style kitchen/bathroom won't have the enduring spirit of the original.

And talking of enduring spirits, I didn't really have Virginia Woolf bring me breakfast in bed today - I think she may be a bit too full-on first thing in the morning - but it was Sarah's prompt and it set me off thinking about why I want a period house. See how bad my obsession's got?

Thursday, 11 September 2008

What are you waiting for?

Yesterday, I met a man who was waiting; he was frustrated, exasperated, apologetic. What was he waiting for? A computer. In my experience, it is not unusual for there to be an association between waiting, computers and frustration but I always try to remind myself what wonderful creations they actually are, how my life would be so totally different without them. They are almost like magic to me, in the real sense that I will never understand how they work. I know that I could not do the things I do without one. But then I'm a writer and it is my tool.

Yesterday, the man I met was a consultant at a hospital. The source of his frustration was that he had a computer sitting on his desk that had been there for 4 weeks and no one had come to make it work. He said that in all probability it would sit there for another 4 weeks before anything happened. Apparently, the NHS computerised things 8 years ago and this added to his exasperation that the investment hadn't been there previously in this very nice private hospital (if anyone wants to lecture me on the immorality of going private then I probably deserve it). The point is that he was obviously as lost as I might be if I had to permanently resort to writing by hand, not being able to Google things and all the other really useful things I do like open accounts, fill virtual baskets with purchases and then empty them again before closing down for the night.

Anyway, my GP is wonderful as are all of those at the surgery but I have noticed a growing trend for note-taking on the computer whilst you're talking. I'm not suggesting that I necessarily get an impression of them saying a silent 'Are you still here then?' (although this is entirely possible) but that somehow I'm bypassing the doctor and speaking to the computer. This is more of an observation of the natural progression of things rather than a criticism. Of course, the doctor is not Googling my symptoms.

There was something very reassuring about sitting opposite the consultant who scribbled away on a sheet of paper as I talked; the magic of technology didn't intervene. Not even once.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

A Week Without Speaking

It is perfectly possible to imagine a week without speaking. Obviously, it would be completely impossible to stop those around me from speaking (particularly those under, say, 4 feet tall) and decidedly risky to suggest to anyone over say, 5 feet 11 inches tall that they should not speak as there is a very great danger that it may be irreversible (I'm referring here to teenagers and husbands). That aside, I will now plan my week of silence.

Best to start on a Monday. Probably about 9ish when the children are off at school/college/university. I can vacuum, dust, clean the bathroom. I'm not sure that I can tidy bedrooms without outwardly cursing the fact that I'm picking up wet towels off the bed yet again with the certainty that they'll be back there again tomorrow morning. I will practise silent cursing. I can order my grocery shopping on the internet. When it comes, I'll have to accept all the substitutes.

I could text people. Perhaps even improve my texting skills. I don't usually send texts because it takes me too long which is odd because I can touch type very fast. I suppose that I'm not used to the ordering of the keys on the mobile phone keypad and as we get older we become reluctant to change our ways of doing things.

I could talk to people on MSN or whatever is the in thing at the moment. Except that most people are out and about in the world, not sitting in looking for non-verbal communication. I could look through Facebook, think of witty things to write on people's walls about the exciting things I'm up to but I only joined to keep up with my eldest son and not many grown ups are into that sort of idle chit-chat. Not in writing, anyway.

I could watch television but most of the programmes shown in the daytime are repeats so this would be short-lived as an enjoyable pastime. I could search for houses or clothes on the internet but I did that yesterday.

I could do some cooking, read a book, stroll around the town. Without being able to speak, I would be limited to the thoughts bouncing around inside my head. Which brings me to my point. I've been planning an exercise for a Communications Group for stroke survivors, some of whom are limited to a handful of words. Sometimes we can't find the right words but imagine never being able to find the words. And so we have to look for alternatives to speaking, a new way of communicating ideas and enriching lives. I don't think I couldn't speak for even just a week. Some of them belong to the older generation, some don't but they all have to learn a new way to communicate and that must take a lot of effort. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Monday, 8 September 2008

Something to get me going again.

I feel like a rusty old car that needs cranking. I can almost hear the creaking as the rust and moss that's grown in the workings is sheared off by the promise of the creative wheel. And so I turn to Sarah's prompt for today: The smell of my grandparents' house. I'm not sure where it's going but that doesn't really matter; it's just a little exercise.

Not unusually, I had two sets of grandparents. I only knew my grandmothers as my grandfathers died before I was born. Actually, that's not true; one of them died when I was three weeks old. When my father died, my dentist, with whom I had an appointment the following day, told me that he believes how when someone dies a new life fills their place. There has to be a certain amount of logic going on here but I don't think it should be taken too literally. Otherwise, we'd all be shouldering an awful lot of responsibility. Anyway, back to my grandmothers' houses.

I'll deal with the one in Cumbernauld first. I've already written about my visits there (albeit briefly) in my contribution to the Your Messages anthology. However, if we're talking about smells, perhaps we'll go in a different direction.

I can't just tell you about the smell in her flat; it's more of a journey. We always flew there. Because my father was a pilot, we were always standby. I'm probably giving away my age by saying that behind the check-in desk was a board with seat numbers. We would hang around at the back of the queues of fare-paying passengers willing the little oblong pieces of card to stay there until the last minute and then be stapled firmly onto our tickets. This didn't always happen but the smell of rushing and waiting somehow blended into one. Waiting, rushing, the transience of mixed perfumes and clacking heels on the shiny floor, the walkways became tunnels, the tunnels leading to the gate, brightly coloured, plastic seats arranged in squares. A door opens behind the desk and the whistle of jet engines (see, I'm not THAT old) pushes aside the fight between the warm air of the waiting area at the gate and the crisp air from outside.

On board, a creamy plastic aroma streams down onto the parting in my hair; adjusted to the 'off' position, I am stifled by the leather briefcases and glossy in-flight magazines but 'on' and I am chilly. I smell coffee brewing and breakfast being warmed. I look forward to my round, grey, palid, salty mushrooms and tinned tomatoes. The jagged, plastic knife is surprisingly sharp and even saws through the bacon. And gouges a groove in the foil container. I panic and try to check underneath to make sure I'm not losing valuable tomato juice. The foil burns my fingertips and I recoil, knocking my impossibly wide coffee cup. Now, I will have to be careful how much whitener I put in there. I could save some anyway in case they come around with refills. I realise that I haven't added salt and pepper to my meal. They're like tiny daleks, one blue and the other mustard yellow, the colours of the airline. How organised. I'm intrigued by the the salt and pepper pots; once you peel off the little round stickers sealing the holes in the top, there's no going back. Either you stick them in your handbag there and then or you use them. I don't add salt and pepper at home so I may as well use them now.

And now I've run out of time and we haven't even got as far as the diesel trains, bacon rolls, meat pies and shoe racks in the department stores. Oh well, you've been spared. This time. And just before I go, my other granny had a bungalow. I don't remember much except hydrangeas, stuffing and silver polish.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Coming soon ...

Today, I delivered my eldest son back to university. Tomorrow, my two youngest will both be at school and by Tuesday, the last remaining one will be back at college.

My mind is brimming with little writing ideas that I am anxious to commit to (virtual) paper before they die alongside my brain cells. Therefore, I am hoping to resume blogging in between tidying up the house for selling it, writing a novel, reading for my MA and the many other things I am supposed to be doing; the point is, that the summer is over and something near to normal service will be resumed shortly.