Monday, September 28, 2009

Jam and Jerusalem via Brighton

I've been watching The X Factor from between my fingers. People's capacity for self-deception is breathtaking. OK so you're homely, three stone overweight and can't hold a tune. Oh, and truth to tell, you're not that interested in music. Which of these things do you chose to ignore when you're in the privacy of your bedroom gazing at yourself in the full-length, fitted wardrobe mirror thinking about whether you should go along to the auditions infront of a live audience of 4,000 people and a national TV audience of squillions? One, two or 'all of the above', on the grounds of "What-the-hell-I-deserve-to-be-famous"? I think it was The X Factor anyway. There was something about "living the dream" and "I don't want to go home when I've come this far" and "there's absolutely nothing else I want to do" and "I just hope they'll see how much I want this." There's a chance it was the Labour Party Conference.

Either way, I've a lot of sympathy with Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole since my own experience of being a judge last week. I did a reading at the Women's Institute (Cheviot Group). This involved my husband taking the kids to swimming and then onto football since I was driving round in circles trying to find the right village hall. I did my performing monkey bit feeling slightly nervous - as Tony Blair can tell you the WI can be a tough crowd. I certainly didn't think it was the time to tell them how as a young journalist sent to cover a WI meeting, an enthusiastic lady had explained to me how much she'd learned about preservation and conservation. I thought she meant history. She meant jam. Anyway after they fed me tea and cream meringues, they called me up from one of the long trestle tables framing the auditorium to judge three competitions.
The first: a picture of Northumberland contest for which the ladies had ransacked their walls for the nicest view of the county. I chose sheep milling on the Cheviots.
The second: the decorated stone contest involving large pebbles upon which were delicately painted posies, a thatched cottage and a slightly spooky baby girl's head complete with knitted bonnet and dummy. I definitely chose the cottage. Or the posy. I quite regret not chosing the baby.
The last: the savoury flan. There were at least 70 ladies in the hall. How many flans had they mustered between them? Two. Talk about pressure. I looked at the flans. They looked back. I tasted them. I tasted them again. I chose one and left quickly. I've another WI meeting in January - I'm asking to be paid in cake.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Es gibt hier keine Baeren."

Am very excited. Wife in the North came out in Germany last Wednesday (courtesy of a brilliant translator called Cornelia Holfelder-von der Tann) under the title Stadt, Land - Schluss and is about to hit number 15 in their bestseller charts. (Bearing in mind it sank like a stone in the US and we speak the same language - what's German for "hooray!"?) Even better my publishers have tweaked the book trailer so I now know how to say "There are no bears" in German.

What's happening in Germany is a real pick-me-up because the thing about getting a book published is you want another published after that, and then another, and chances are that might not happen. Me and my nose are writing away on Book No. 2 without a contract, which means without money, which means shedloads of guilt for not earning anything, and the acute suspicion that I'm playing at being a writer and really I should snap out of it and do something useful with my life. Of course, if I finish it and someone buys it, me and my nose are vindicated. But the last real writer I spoke to told me that the first novel she wrote never made it out of the drawer and went down as a "learning experience". I hate "learning experiences". Generally speaking they are unspeakably horrid and misery-making and give other people the chance to say things like "I don't think so" and "I'm afraid you're just not good enough."

The other night I went for supper at a friend's and before she'd allow us to eat we all had to troop out to the dusking lawn to play croquet. Croquet brings me out in a cold sweat. I'm a working class girl from Leeds. I wasn't brought up playing croquet. I don't even know how to hold the racket and I've never liked jumping through hoops. I'm short but even for me, it's difficult. I associate it with being a teenager and having lunch with the family of my then boyfriend. I could be wrong (these are only memories after all and what are memories made of?) but I have always laboured under the opinion his mother disliked me. In my memory then, the sun blazed, and I opted out of the game of croquet in the garden to sit in the shade. Later that afternoon, rowing in a boat along the river, the sun still shining, a girl (staying with the family on some sort of exchange) told me that my sweetheart's mother had asked her what she thought of me; and a victory of sorts - she said she liked me very much. I have always wondered how a grown woman could ask one child what she thought of another. The realisation that not everybody likes you - a learning experience.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Don't hesitate to get in touch"

As a journalist, when press releases came in, you would skim the first couple of pars, roll them in a ball and shoot them into the nearest bin. Alternatively, someone called something like "Izzie" would ring when you were on deadline and say "Hi-this-is-Izzie-from-Bright-Light-And-Sunny-Days-I-just-wanted-to-check-you-got-our-fax-about-our-fantastic-all-inclusive-merino-goat-herding-vacations-in-Snowdonia-which-train-you-to-knit-as-you-ramble." About this point Izzie would break for breath and you'd say "Got the fax. Got your number. Have to go" or "Let me give you the number of a goat-loving colleague who might be able to help you" depending on your mood. I never resented such approaches. They were an occupational hazard but then I was being paid to deal with them.

In blogging - more particularly in the world of the mommy blogger, I'm not paid to deal with them but still they buzz round anxious to get something for nothing. A whole social media industry is being built on the back of bloggers apparently fuelled by the conviction that mommy bloggers are laptop patsies with floral aprons tied round our midriffs and too much time on our floury hands. They think we care about whatever it is they are trying to get the word out about. They expect us to care. I for one don't. I have an advertising column and am more than happy to take an advert (see Sony and Northumberland Tourism for instance), but the PRs don't want to take an advert they want it for free. They want me to embed a YouTube video about pushchairs or a banner about soap because they think I'm a mummy and this is what I want to do with my blog.

Occasionally a quid pro quo, or what is otherwise known as a "freebie", is offered. Now this is fair enough although I have so far taken only two things from PRs - Kipper books and a phone. Both of which I would probably have written about. I am a big fan of Kipper (unlike Spot the world's most boring dog) but I never got round to it.(Sorry, Kipper.) The O2 phone I felt bad about because it looked great but I used it a couple of times and then completely forgot the code to open up all the high tech functions so it hangs around my office reproaching me, a technological dodo. In all conscience, I didn't feel I could write up "Am mommy blogger moron and forgot code so cannot use phone though it looks very pretty " on the special high-tech geek blog they set up for it.

The latest such approach is from a nice man who works for Sainsbury's who starts off telling me that Sainsbsury's wants to "reach out to you". This he tells me is because I'm an "influential blogger" (I suspect he wants to make me feel good.) He wants me to attend a meeting at Sainsbury's Head Office "a completely closed meeting" to offer 8-10 bloggers a preview of something or other. (A "completely closed meeting"? I'm a blogger - why would I go to a closed meeting?) This invitation was later withdrawn "Unfortunately we didn't give everyone enough advance warning to be able to make it on the day."
However, the nice man assures me they really do want to work with "important bloggers like you" and "yes, we have been reading your blogs for a while now. We see:
*Depth of thought in your posts
*How much conversation is generated both in commenting and others externally from your blog".
Impressed as they are he tells me he will be giving me a £75 voucher to use when goes live with an extended range of products. All I have to do is let them know what I think of the site.
Five days later, my price has dropped. The nice man tells me the new site is now "LIVE" and that he has £50 for me to spend. £50? What I wonder did I do in the intervening period to make my price drop? I contemplate emailing him but it seems pushy doesn't it. "I'm wondering what happened to my other £25 - is it the stock market? Did I become £25 less "influential" when I wasn't looking?"

Still, at least it is a better offer than Haliborange with their "exclusive" trial of new Kids Multivitamin Fruit Softies. "Strawberry shaped with a delicious strawberry fruit flavour". I don't know how I held myself back from that one. Particularly when it came alongside the offer of a video for my site on how to paint icecubes. Or then again, there was the Carex offer of testing and reviewing a selection of products along with a lightbox to help my kids learn to wash their hands and a parent information pack with a "number of fun activities" for me and my daughter to try. Presumably the conversation would go something like this - "I know kids - don't just lie there and watch television, let's all go wash our hands again." Even better was the offer of a hoover. Not a whole hoover to keep, just one I could push around for a few days and then write about. (Tsk. If only I hadn't got that pesky RSI. A visiting hoover - what's not to blog?)

Message to social media PRs: Don't patronise. Don't flatter. Don't send me a press release about something that's been in the papers the week before - I read the papers. Don't invite me to a meeting to pick my brain and pay me with a cup of coffee. Don't waste my time.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Arms and the woman

The thing is when you stop blogging for a while, you lose confidence you can blog at all. I came down with a bad flare-up of RSI or tendonitis or whatever you want to call it - something that makes you say "Ow" a lot and drop things. So I stopped, stopped blogging, stopped writing the next book, stopped all that hoovering I do to unwind (yeah right). And let's face it, it's fatal to stop. I decided I wasn't really worth listening to after all, and that's probably true, but I'm going to start again because otherwise I may go mad. The RSI is better than it was, I've got some voice recognition software now anyway, and, if all else fails I'll type with my nose. My nose can't spell of course, so prepare yourself for some really bad spelljng in the days ahead. And I'd really better not get a cold because that could play hell with my syntax. OK - brace yourself for summer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wifey 1: Stoats 0

The guinea pig eater turned out to be a stoat - 16 inches long in a furry tan colour with a urine-yellow belly and a dark tip to the tail. It didn't look happy, but then I couldn't blame it - it was dead. I wouldn't be happy if I was dead. I like animals. I just don't like animals that eat my animals. I felt a little bit guilty gazing at its still and skinny body bearing in mind the stoat was only acting according to it's feral nature, but mostly I felt pleased it couldn't eat anything I have a naming ceremony for in future. The gamekeeper came back yesterday to check the traps in case the stoat had a stoat friend but I'm hoping that's it. He has promised to build me a super-secure run and turn the hutch into the guineapig equivalent of a maximum security holding facility in the Arizona desert. Nothing's getting out and nothing's getting in. Unless the next stoat's got wire-cutters, and a helicopter, and a friend on the inside of course.

Meanwhile, talking of weasels and pest control, I am beginning to feel sorry for Julie Kirkbride. Alright, she pushed the expenses a bit. A lot of bit. Well, her and virtually every other MP out there. And alright, she's patently got terrible what-does-she-see-in-him taste in men. She's done that classic female politician thing of ending up with a very embarrassing husband. But why out of all these blaggards and rogues is there a "Julie Must Go" head of steam building? There's national outrage over the expenses debacle as revealed by the Daily Telegraph - we should have a general election, and start again. But there's always that extra frisson of pleasure when a woman is punished for her misdemeanours isn't there, and she's pretty - even better. When I was reporting on politics, I once arranged lunch with her and there was a mix-up in the bookings. She turned up at the National Portrait Gallery restaurant and I waited at the National Gallery restaurant. Forty minutes and several phone calls later, we managed to meet up. She took it with good grace - many of her self-important colleagues wouldn't. Or, maybe she was hoping for two lunches, one in each restaurant - who knows? But I don't think so. She cocked up on the expenses - along with many others. I imagine she's going to end up having to announce that she's standing down at the next election. If she doesn't, she seems certain to lose the seat anyway. I wonder what would happen if she took a deep breath and gave a proper apology. Not an explanation. A real heartfelt apology - and not one of these Hazel Blears "I understand why everybody feels so angry" apologies for an apology either. One of the things that is making people most angry is the idea that our politicians "just don't get it". People can hear the difference between "I understand why you're upset" and "I'm really, really sorry - I've done something entirely wrong. I admit it. I don't know what I was thinking. Please. Forgive me." Some of our politicians think they are the same thing. They are not. Julie might say sorry, she might think about filling up with tears and even spending one or two on camera. She might mean it - it might work.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Weasels 4: Guinea pigs 0

Something really bad happened - and I'm not talking about the collapse of faith in our British parliamentary system.

After Holly and Daisy disappeared, I did that thing that mothers do and attempted to buy my way out of hysteria. We got new guinea pigs. They weren't pretty balls of fur like Holly and Daisy. In fact, truth to tell, Fernando and Jake were ugly. They were the only guinea pigs left in the garden centre - for a reason. One was grey and white and one was tan and white. One had really red eyes and one had quite red eyes. The words "scraggy rat" jumped to mind when you saw them, but hey, they were guinea pigs and hey, my three-year-old daughter wasn't crying any more. We bought them on Tuesday and put them in Holly and Daisy's hutch. We started to love them. "Looks aren't everything," I told the children. Yesterday morning, I dropped the kids at school and when I got home went out to feed them. At first I thought they were asleep, lying on their sides. With their little red eyes open. No such luck.

This is the thing that Liz Hurley failed to mention in her recent steamy ravings about life in the country - it can be bloody. A weasel killed the new guinea pigs. Which can only mean that a weasel killed Holly and Daisy, somehow managing to drag their little bodies through the bars of the hutch. Fernando and Jake were bigger so their neck-nipped bodies were left, a testament to nature. I'm saying weasel - conceivably it could have been a stoat but we saw it a few minutes later as it tried to come back to get the bodies again - a streak of brownish fur with a long tail. I'd have shot it if I'd had a gun. We're like that in the country.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Guinea pigs keep low profile

Our guinea pigs had two homes. They had their hutch on the concrete terrace and their run on the grass. Holly used to go between the two on her motorbike - often Daisy would ride pillion. Occasionally Daisy would use her chauffeur driven car. It was difficult to keep track of which home was their primary home what with the furniture vans arriving all the time and unloading chandeliers and top range chew toys. But I sort of expected them to keep their own accounts and not take things too far on the expenses front. Admittedly when Daisy mentioned a moat in the last submission and started pushing for a swimming pool, I wondered whether they had forgotten what real life was like for ordinary rodents. We talked but they kept blaming the "system" - explained they were a special case. I felt responsible for them. They were our pets. We'd put them into power, and they were always going to eat hay while the sun was shining. And now something's happened, I think the publicity got too much. I went out this morning and they'd done a runner. I checked out the hutch and their home in the country and apart from the poo pellets and the Sky camera crew, there's no sign. The motorbike's gone too. I'm presuming they've done the decent thing and disappeared into the undergrowth. Maybe they're heading for Southampton. I'm upset obviously. Gutted really. And God knows what I'm going to tell the children. I thought we were good together. Turns out they were in it for themselves after all.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

This little piggy

We bought two guinea pigs. They are tiny - babies really - with swirly fur. One of them has motley caramel and black and white sworls and we have called her Daisy. The other one is ginger and white. I would have called her Hazel but frankly I expect some loyalty from my guinea pigs so we settled on Holly. I am trying to bond with them but ever since my husband took a good look at their twitching whiskers and said: "They really are rodents aren't they?" I've struggled.

I told my friend we were getting them and she offered us a hutch. This is the friend with the world's most fabulous house complete with "box" room (full of boxes ready to send gifts to godchildren) and dead tigers on the floor. She said: "Really it's a hen house, but there's nesting boxes in there they could use." I agreed and she said she would bring it round on Saturday night. We waited and waited. No sign of a hen house so my husband rang her. It turns out that our "guinea pig hutch" was 10 feet by 4 feet and they couldn't get it into their horse trailer. These eight-week old guinea pigs are the length of my palm, I can only think that when I said: "We're getting guinea pigs", my friend heard the words "We're getting Afghan hounds."

We borrowed a cat box for their first night and resolved to revisit the garden centre the next day to buy a real guinea pig hutch. It was just as well because a variety of guinea pig fanciers up for bank holiday weekend had convinced us that "Daisy" was suffering from gender misidentification. "Daisy-or-maybe-it's-Donald" went back in her box and back to the garden centre. I'm no expert on guinea pig genitalia, but "Daisy-it-could-be-Donald" did not look like "Hazel-You-Tube-If-You-Want-To-Holly". The assistant who sold us the guinea pigs had already said breezily as she ladled them into their cardboard boxes: "We can't be sure but we think they're both girls". "We can't be sure but we don't think you'll get pregnant" - it's not a marketeer's dream for condoms is it?

There was a different girl in the pet section this time and she was ready for us. She took a look and shook her head. Daisy was definitely Daisy. Perhaps I seemed sceptical because she asked: "Do you want to see what a boy guinea pig looks like?" I don't know what I expected - perhaps I thought she might say "Do you see, they've got longer tails" or "You can always tell a boy guinea pig by the shape of its ears." Instead, she scooped one up, flipped him on to his back and splayed him as if she was cracking the spine of a paperback. There, in all its glory, was a guinea pig penis popping out to say hello. It was tiny but I have not been able to shift the image from my head since. I may have been permanently damaged. Perhaps this girl thought I had never seen a penis - I have no idea how she explained the three children with me. I said something like "Right. OK. Well that's definitely a penis then" just to reassure her I could recognise one. After that, we went home.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The last 100 days

I've been considering my last 100 days as you do. They've not been among my best, but then they've not been among my worst - testing I'd say. And providing you don't insist on living in the present, there's always the future to look forward to.

There's the economy of course - I didn't earn any money between January and March and that can't be good. It makes shopping a real bore for one thing. Friends and former colleagues have been made redundant, and I'm thinking I should maybe do something to bring me in a steady income - deal drugs perhaps? Something regular that will see me through the recession. I could sell knitted jumpers, but then I don't knit - sweaty hands. I could make jam, but then I can't afford to buy all the jars of Tiptree's finest I'd need to put my own jam in. I could revive my flagging journalistic career, but I'd have to revive my flagging mental processes first and I think I may be heading into the menopause because my shortterm memory is utterly kaput. Initially, I wondered if it was Alzheimer's, but I can spell world backwards so it can't be that. I'm figuring it's hormones because I've had four "hot flashes". At least, I think they are hot flashes. It's either that or my husband has taken to pouring white spirit over my sleeping body and setting light to it like some flaming sambuca. The other thing I'm doing is jumbling words. As we are heading out the door to school, I'll say "Put your banana on right now" to a mystified child. This is happening so often, they've taken to translating for each other. "She means coat," one said to the other yesterday.

Earlier this week, I went into a health food shop in a nearby market town where they have supplements and homeopathic remedies. There was a nice man with a beard behind the counter (although there's a chance the homeopathic remedies have side-effects they don't tell you about). I waited about 35 minutes for the old lady in front of me to stop telling him about her aches and pains, and then asked for something for the headaches. I said "I think I'm pre-menopausal." "Are you getting night sweats?" he asked. I think that's what he said. My memory is so bad at the minute, he might have asked how I felt about Alistair Darling's handling of the economy. He went to get his colleague who was at least another woman and she decided to ask about my periods. Periods! We are still standing in the shop and the nice bearded man is still standing there with us. Anyway, you don't necessarily want to talk about whether your womb is withering when you're in a shop selling youghurty raisins and halva. I said something elliptical that could have meant anything and she told me I was too young for the menopause. I'm 44 - I'm not, but it was nice of her to try and make me feel better.

Anyway, so what with the fact I'm broke and heading into Menopause City in a truck, I've had it better. On the upside, we're getting a guineapig.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Kippers and the new world order

So there's the G20 when as Gordon Brown put it "the world came together, to fight back against the global recession", and there's Northumberland where we're fighting it one job at a time.

This is the story of an ordinary man.
Once upon a time, there was a man (let's call him Andy,) who had two kids to look after on his own. Working as a single parent can be difficult, so he got hold of a catering van and a licence to park it in a village (let's call it Craster) and serve food. Craster is famous for kippers so he served hot buttered kippers in buns, and haggis and bacon in rolls, and home-made cranberry scones. He gave away fresh fruit to the health conscious, and dog food to dogs and those with strange snacking habits. He brought in tables and chairs for the weary to rest while they ate their haggis baps, and primroses in pots because there can never be too many flowers in the world. He worked for two years feeding the lads in the kipper yards, and the fishermen who work the harbour, and of course the walkers in woolly hats and laced-up boots. Andy made a living, not a fortune, but enough to feed the kids and feel himself a working man.

But heroes of stories never have it easy, their paths are never smooth and dragon-free. Time moved on and it came to pass that Andy rang the council (let's call it Alnwick District Council) and asked whether he'd have to tender again for his pitch. Six weeks passed as Andy rang and rang again. He got a councillor involved to find out what was going on and word came back (bearing in mind Alnwick district council was to be swallowed up in a new unitary authority on April 1st) that his licence would be extended for another year.

(Let's have a time line shall we. Let's not stint ourselves on time at least in a recession such as this.)
* On Monday March 16th, a council official confirmed his licence would be extended - there'd be no tendering. Huzzah. Huzzah. Thrice times huzzah. But wait. Oh No! Our hero is in peril yet.
* On Tuesday March 17th, another official explains the council does want him to tender. A sealed bid please to be in by Monday 23rd March.
* On Thursday 26th March at 4.30pm, an official left a message that Andy had been unsuccessful with his £1001.50 bid. An ice-cream van wins. Such a shame - Andy cannot trade past Tuesday 31st March. Game over for our working man.

And this could have been the end, would have been the end had bureaucracy triumphed, as bureaucracies are wont to do, when pitted against the Honest Joes and Andies of this world.

But what bureaucracies forget are the people they're supposed to serve. Local people outraged at the treatment of this Honest Joe sign his petition - 300 of them in a weekend, and the media gets involved to film Andy lamenting on his bagpipes (an unusual weapon of choice for a hero agreed,) and letters are written, and councillors think "Hmmm?" and an MP says "I don't think so." And there are meetings where Andy's friends (let's call them Sarah and Jeremy) explain in no uncertain terms how this hero needs a happy ending. And eventually, bureaucrats who'd said he had a "gripe", agree he has a point, a case perhaps. Andy gets his licence (the ice cream man does too). There's a new world order don't you know - thank God for the G20 is all I can say.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lamb stew

I know it's spring in Northumberland - not so much because of daffodils' blare, nor that the chill air is rinsed in gold before you breathe it in, then out, then in again. Nor even because a woodland close is carpetted blue in stars enough to wish for winter's end a thousand times and more.

How I know it's spring is that a friend made me lie on top of a sheep while she did squishy things at the business end, pulling out three long and slimey lambs. They lay there tumbled, bloody in the straw while their triumphant mother licked them clean and woolly, persuading them to breathe. Sprawled across the ewe, trousers wet with sheep pee and waters from the floor, I enquired: "Can I get up?", and glancing at my three-year-old just stopped myself from warning: "This - this here - is what happens if you ever kiss a boy."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Schlepp and slap

I foolishly agreed to chair a poetry event. I agreed to do this because an old friend asked me to, and not because I know anything about poetry. The old friend is one of those persuasive enthusiasts who say things like "Really, you'll be great". Deep down, you know they are thinking not so much of your "greatness" but of your "convenience" and the fact that if you say No, they'll have to spend a week finding someone else to sucker. So I said Yes but in reality, I get far too nervous for these events ever to be a good idea.

Worse - when I arrived at the railway station, I realised I'd left the house without my overnight bag with all my make-up. I'm 44 - standing on stage without my make-up infront of 200 people was not a goer. Instead of going straight to the venue as planned then, I had to schlepp into the centre of London for emergency slap. I tried getting a professional to "do" me (possibly I would have been better staying in King's Cross for that) but it turned out it was too close to going-home time. Instead, a charming girl at Space NK in New Bond Street waved me towards their make-up displays and said that I was welcome to use what I wanted. I just resisted stripping to my bra and knickers and getting the curlers out. I settled instead for ambling among the products transforming myself (or at least covering up the eyebags and trying those eyeshadow colours you'd never buy in real life.) I considered myself morally obliged to buy a few bits and pieces though I'm supposed to be on a credit crunch budget and there is no expenditure column in my Excel spreadsheet for "General Incompetence". I'll file them under "Groceries."

My second problem was that I now looked OK but smelled bad. All the burrowing into and out of rush-hour tubes in magic knickers and a Barbour Jacket had left me a sweaty mess. I had to buy two different types of deodorant, one for me and a posh Channel jobbie to spray all over my cardigan because I had to sit really close to the poets on the stage and I didn't want them thinking bloggers were smelly. (The deodorants are going under "Emergency Personal Hygiene".)

The idea was I gave a ten-minute introduction and then welcomed each of the Big Name poets. Two people (I know because they introduced themselves to me afterwards)- three if you count my friend, four is you count his partner and five if you count his mother, knew who the hell I was. The audience was not interested in hearing my witticisms, and they were particularly uninterested in hearing my announcements on "feedback forms" and how to book tickets online for the next event about "Poetry and Mental Health."

They wanted the red meat of the event - they wanted the poets. They loved the poets, they laughed heartily at all their jokes, bought their books and waited attentively for them to be signed. Noone asked me to sign a book afterwards. At least I got to stand at the bar looking as if I just happened to be there, rather than sit behind a table being ignored. (And Thank God for the nice couple with the holiday cottage in Northumberland who talked to me.) It was one of those character-building experiences - I've written one book, one of the poets the brilliant Sophie Hannah has written seven novels, two children's books and her latest poetry was nominated for some massive prize. She's 37. Another of the poets Kit Wright has written 25 books. Jackie Kay may be the next Poet Laureate and has an MBE. Wendy Cope is a legend and Paul Farley's use of words could have me writhing on the floor, shrieking and possessed by jealous demons. My name is the Wife in the North and I blog. It doesn't even rhyme.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Spot the Difference

I'm sorting through the newspapers looking for landscapes and robots for a school assignment, and find one of those commemorative pull-outs on Obama. Captive audience. Opportunity for quick current affairs lesson. I turn the pages and speak to the photographs. These are all the people who turned up to watch the inauguration/ these are his little girls/ this is the former President. I find two columns of thumb-nail pictures of former Presidents. I say to my boys "Can you see any difference between these men and Obama here?" and point to a large picture of Obama on the same page. The boys look down the columns and across to Obama. My six-year-old nods. He points at Obama: "He's got bigger ears."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hail to the Chief

I wanted to be black yesterday. If I couldn't be black, it would have been good to be American. Ideally, of course a black American. I was in London - I only just resisted saying "You're black - so Obama then? What a guy, eh?" to the girl in the newsagent at King's Cross. I settled instead for: "No thanks - I'd only eat it" when she offered to sell me a brick sized bar of chocolate cheap.

The past few months have been great - a political soap opera with Clinton and McCain, the good guy winning through, and he's clever and he wants to change the world. Who could resist? We've all wanted to share in America's prize. Fair do's, we get to wallow in the pain of Iraq and financial ruin. In any event, our best and brightest new hope is Ken Clarke - so noone should begrudge us.

But, we can only share so far - all those stars and stripes, the "God Bless America", that feeling of acute discomfort when he told the world America was "ready to lead once more." Really? That's a good thing then is it? It's a bit like when your best friend gets married, or your sister. You love the guy and you really hope it's going to work out for them, but ultimately it's not your wedding. Still, he's a gem and raising a glass here, wish you all the best guys.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Prince and the President

America is gearing up for its first black President. Generally considered an all-round good thing. I hope he never gets to meet Prince Charles. I particularly hope he doesn't get to meet him and develop a warm and close friendship with him. Barack Obama is deciding between ties for his big day, while our heir to the crown is explaining how perfectly OK-yah it is to call property developer Kuldip Dhillon "Sooty." "Sooty"? You could not make it up.

At the weekend, we learnt Prince Harry dubbed his former Army colleague Ahmed Raza Khan "my little Paki friend"). He's 24 - fair do's. When you're 24, you often behave like a blithering idiot. He is a soldier and hopefully there are many, many other soldiers who call him a right royal ginger knob, or some such. Most people give him a break because there is a general feeling it is tough to be the younger son, he is not allowed to do what he wants to do, and in any case, he is not necessarily the sharpest knife in the box. Prince Charles however? Come off it.

Said "Sooty" has described his nickname as a "term of affection". In a statement, he reassured us: "I have to say that you know you have arrived when you acquire a nickname. I enjoy being called Sooty by my friends, who I am sure universally use the name as a term of affection with no offence meant or felt. The Prince of Wales is a man of zero prejudice and both of his sons have always been most respectful."
Dhillon's been described as a multi-millionaire property developer and a leading figure of the Cirencester polo club. Does he have a term of affection for Prince Charles I wonder? Maybe something like "Your Royal Highness"? I figure, if you're mates with a load of toffs who fall on their heads a lot, you get what you deserve.

Does Charles live in the real world? OK, stupid question. In any event, bear in mind, Charles is the son of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, whose gaffes are the stuff of legend. What's not to love about this family? "Paki" son of "Sooty" son of "slitty-eyed "Chinese. Now Obama has already referred to himself as a "mutt" - that's what you call giving Charles a nice wide open door to ride his polo horse through. Though stop a minute he doesn't play polo anymore. In any event, his own website makes it clear he didn't so much play polo as "raise money for charity by playing polo." Either way,he's retired. I can think of another thing that should have retired - words like "Sooty" and "Paki". Yah-di-yah-di-yah, the Prince's people have harrumphed loudly, poured themselves a pink gin, reached for the Bakelite phone and denied HRH is a racist. I'll believe you. He's not a racist - he just occasionally forgets that this is 2009 and he's not a character in an Evelyn Waugh novel. Yeah gods - Obama could end the war in Iraq just in time to start one with the UK. Let's keep it simple - let's keep Prince Polo away from The Man, shall we?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Happy days

Hurrah! It's nearly all over. Thank God. Christmas has come and gone, you can almost stop saying "Happy New Year", and no more children's birthdays till November. Our problem is one boy has his birthday on New Year's Eve and the other's was yesterday. And now that's it. No more presents. No more treats. Call me a party pooper but I've been on my knees here with the "welcome to our lovely home" routine with friends and family, making endless cups of tea and meals, spending money I haven't really got, and being "happy, happy, happy".(OK, I know I said I was going to be positive. It's just the relief. I'll be positive tomorrow.)

Friday, January 02, 2009

The History Woman

The thing about blogging is you are writing history. Not the big stuff history, all war and Presidents, but the little stuff history like what resolutions you made last year. I just went to look...
Wifey's resolutions 2008
1*to shout less and be more patient.
2*to revise the blog and make it more whizz bang (this one might take a while).
3*to revise my life and make it more whizz bang (alternatively to get more sleep).

Hmmm. Verdict
1.absolute failure, need you bloody ask
2.absolute failure though did manage the odd podcast and book trailer
3.absolute failure on both whizz bang and sleep counts.

Moving swiftly on.
Wifey's resolutions 2009
1*eat less chocolate. Have bought new diet book. Have not yet read it. Slight problem this one as feel morally obliged to eat my way through the nine selection boxes my children were bought which would certainly rot their teeth if only they were allowed any of the chocolate inside.
2*be more patient.
3*acquire a more positive turn of mind. Engage. Commit. Look on the bright side. Go get (something, not quite sure what.) Abandon negative, depressive side of personality that runs screaming from sport, parties, dinner parties with more than four people round the table, etc.
4*make the blog more of a community, rather than just a read. Not entirely sure what this involves, but basically "let's talk guys".
5*write a book. A made-up book. This may be a toughie, but has to be worth a shot.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Read This Before Pressing "On" Switch

Never all that keen on Christmas, for a start it usually involves instructions you are supposed to read. I never do read them which means that I spend the rest of my life knowing I am only using said item to 5% of its capacity, which is incredibly irritating. So far, I have failed to read the instructions for
*a little handheld organiser thingy which meant I couldn't ever get it set up properly. It sits half in and half out of its box on the top of my shelf a constant reproach.
*every mobile phone I ever had. These phones are apparently so clever they can make dinner for you then email a picture of it to your best friend who's on a diet just to make her feel bad. This means I am about the only person in the whole world who uses her phone to ring people rather than write messages, surf the net, take photos, record music and play video-games when stuck on trains.
*iTunes. I have just about managed to download a TV show, but it is locked in my notebook when I want it in my laptop. I have the same problem with the digital camera and getting photographs out of it and onto the computer.
*the new Wii the children got for Christmas. This could get embarassing - tonight I tried to turn it off because my sons were squabbling over it(when I say "squabbling", the big one was lying on top of the little one while the little one screamed and went purple) and I couldn't, which undermined my parental authority somewhat.
Why don't I read the instructions? Why, when I am faced with a small closely printed booklet, or even worse, a large glossy manual, do I toss it over my shoulder saying "I'm sure I'll pick it up as I go along." Of course I don't. In the same way, I don't pick up Swahili or the basic principles of electrical engineering - why would you? That's why they write the manuals - for idiots like me who need them. And I really do know that I should read them, but some boredom siren kicks in, drowns out common sense, and I think "No, life's too short even to skim these Frequently Asked Questions or this Troubleshooting section, I'll see how I get on." I hope Barak Obama is the sort of guy when he gets a new Teasmade at Christmas, takes it carefully out of the box, puts it to one side, reaches in and pulls out the manual, then reads it word for word. If he's like me, we're doomed.