Thursday, 27 October 2011

iPod iRony

So, I've climbed up onto one of the rickety kitchen chairs. I'm balancing precariously, screwdriver in one hand, freshly ironed curtain in the other and lips grasping a row of tiny screws. The iPod (set to 'shuffle') chooses that moment to start playing a particularly tinny and soul-destroying version of "Bah Bah Black Sheep" which seems to go on forever.

Why does that always happen?!

Just another one of life's little jokes I suppose.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Pictures, Candles and Cushions

Sometimes I use the hecticness (made up word) of everyday life as an excuse not to update my blog.

But no more excuses! *punches air determinedly*

I am back. It has taken a fair amount of time and a long process of mental workouts to force me to ‘pull my finger out’. Recently I realised it might be useful to make a list of things that would get me back on track. I’ve kind of veered off in recent months onto the lumpy, bumpy dust path that runs alongside. So, my list has - amongst other things - included getting back into blogging and decorating. Yes, the time has come to turn my tiny living space back into something resembling a cosy chillout zone rather than somewhere to store toys.

I feel better for it too. Granted, it's not much of a life change but at least I’m grabbing back a little control in a world where too often nasty things can creep up behind you and pull the rug out from under your feet.

So far the decorating is going well. I’m afraid I can’t take the credit for that. It’s all thanks to my wonderful Dad who, despite being pretty crippled with wrist/elbow pain has once again come up trumps. He never lets me down me ole Dad. (My goodness, I complain so much about life’s difficulties but I never lose sight of all the wonderful things too).

For once I have steered away from my beloved red and opted for something completely new. Turquoise. Well, 'Duck Egg Blue' to be more accurate. It’s fresh and cheery and quite a dramatic change for me. Perhaps this is symbolic of the U turn I intend to make... (can you tell there’s a BIG birthday looming?)

Ooh, and I have lovely new curtains which I can’t wait to hang. To be honest, I’m a little impatient. I can’t wait for it all to ‘come together’ so I can put all the finishing touches to the room – pictures, candles and cushions, that sort of thing. One of the downsides to decorating a tiny house is there is nowhere to put anything while it's all happening. It’s like one of those puzzles where you have to move the little squares in order to make sense of the bigger picture. Let's just say I hope I don’t need to make a quick exit out the back door because everything is stacked up rather precariously in front of it.

Junior is away this week. Spain with my lovely sister. It feels weird (and quiet) without him here. And bizarrely I can feel it in my bones that he is somewhere far away. But he’s having the time of his life and I am getting to bash on with the painting without having to worry about duck egg footsteps on the stair carpet. I would have liked to have had it all finished before he got home but that’s not looking likely.

I think Junior and Baby will miss the fact that for a while the living room resembled a squash court (see short video below).

Anyway, it was nice chatting with you again. It’s been too long.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Space: The Final Frontier

This morning Junior and I were discussing the solar system, his current topic in environmental studies. It’s great to see him so fired up about a school project. I was explaining to him that the planets are actually much further away from one another than most pictures show (for example the illustration above) and in actual fact Mars is, at its closest around 35 000 000 miles from Earth. The immensity of space is a difficult concept to grasp so I started telling him about a brilliant exercise which can help people understand the size of the universe and our infinitesimal place in it.

“First you find a large field” I began “it has to be really big, even bigger than the swing park. Place a football in the middle of the field to represent the sun”

Junior nodded thoughtfully.

“Now take ten big steps away from the ball and drop a pea. That’s Mercury. Take another nine big steps and drop a peppercorn for Venus. Seven more steps and drop another peppercorn for Earth

I continued to explain the entire process right up to (the recently demoted) Pluto which would be a small pinhead about half a mile away from the football.

Junior looked utterly engrossed as he stared up at the sky with a look of intense concentration on his face.

Great! He’s really listening to this; I’ve got him eating out the palm of my hand.

"Mummy" he said when I finally stopped to draw breath.

He’s going to ask me a challenging question! I thought with a satisfied smile or offer me some of his own knowledge on the subject.

“I’ve got a really itchy bum”


Perhaps it might have been better if I had just shown him this wonderful video on YouTube.

(“The Size of the Solar System” exercise is taken from Chapter One, The Inquiring Mind: Raising Freethinkers

Monday, 25 April 2011

Cats versus dogs

"Cut my fresh salmon into tiny morsels immediately"

"Love me. Love me...please"

"In order to keep a true perspective of one's importance, everyone should have a dog that will worship him and a cat that will ignore him” Dereke Bruce

I was once asked during an online interview whether I preferred cats or dogs. As a lover of all things furry I found this question tricky to answer. It’s like being asked to choose between purple and green, or Maltesers and Salt & Vinegar Pringles. So different and yet both wonderful in their own ways. Forced to make a decision I had to admit that for me, it’s cats all the way. And here’s why.

I’m lucky to have both a cat and a dog in my life. Firstly there is Baby, my zany puss who has a penchant for used teabags and bites my nose when he’s hungry (which is pretty much all the time). And then there’s Abi, my sister’s adorable boxer pup who has come into our lives like a miniature tornado. She’s going through a bit of a naughty stage at the moment, the four-legged equivalent of a teenager. My Dad’s raspberry bushes have taken quite a hammering over the last few weeks. On more than one occasion I’ve had to stifle my giggles as he chases her round the greenhouse trying in vain to grab the leafy branch that’s poking out of her mouth. Feisty as Abi is, I can see that deep down she just wants to be loved. I think that’s where it goes a bit wrong for me. Are dogs simply too needy? I suppose I’ve always liked a challenge. While a dog will do anything to win your love a cat’s affections really have to be earned. You know you’ve got something pretty special going on if you can make friends with a cat. Wasn’t it Charles Dickens who said “What greater gift than the love of a cat”?

In the movies the lonely, single woman is often portrayed as being the ‘cat woman’. Her man has let her down, strayed, not given her exactly what she wants. He is self-absorbed, lazy and not ready to settle down. So what does she do? She gets a cat, the animal least likely to love her unconditionally! Cats are the furry equivalent of the most roguish male you could find. They are irresponsible, idle and disloyal. They show a total disregard for authority and are mean just for the fun of it. But I love them regardless. If it’s true that humans like their pets to have the same qualities they possess then I guess that says rather a lot about me.

Much as I adore and respect dogs I simply cannot imagine myself being a dog owner. I’m definitely more of an Agora Burton, the eccentric old lady with the 93 cats who appears in my first novel Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket. I have loved our family dogs but I have had the privilege of loving them from a distance. As Auntie Hazy I get all of the poochy fun and none of the hard work. And boy, are dogs hard work! Cats are so self-sufficient. Give them a cosy blanket, a jingly ball and a bowl of biscuits and they’ll happily amuse and cater for themselves for the rest of the day. Cats are a million times easier to look after than dogs. No long walks in all weathers, no drool in your shoes and no need for baths. Cats come with a self-cleaning function. Baby actually pees straight down the plughole in the bath. How clever is that! Not only is it super clean but it saves me a fortune on cat litter. I know of more than one dog whose idea of personal grooming is to roll in cow pats. And they eat their own sick for goodness sake. Cats would never dream of stooping to such levels.

There are fewer things more heart-warming than a welcome from a feline friend, even if it is only cupboard love. I’m well aware that Baby only really loves me when I’m near his food cupboard. He’s pretty indifferent to me the rest of the time. He’s not all that keen on giving kisses but he will offer them willingly if some chicken paste is on offer. I know it’s a bit pathetic to resort to bribery just to get some affection but I do get some good head butts when I hold the jar up to my face. Doggie welcomes are pretty great too to be fair. Abi is still at the stage where a little bit of wee comes out when she sees you coming. My mum is forever mopping up yellow puddles off the laminate flooring. And kisses from puppies are special - although I was put off recently after catching Abi eating a poo out of the cat tray. The litter was stuck around her moist jowls like glitter on glue, bless her.

Any self-respecting writer should have a cat around, even if it is someone else’s cat that only comes to visit. Barbara Holland once wrote “A catless writer is almost inconceivable. It's a perverse taste, really, since it would be easier to write with a herd of buffalo in the room than even one cat; they make nests in the notes and bite the end of the pen and walk on the typewriter keys” So true! Baby loves snuggling up next to the vent in my laptop. I’ve seen me typing with one hand while he snores contentedly in the crook of my other arm. How could I possibly disturb him when he looks so cute? So what if it takes me twice as long to write my third book. Cats will always find a way of finding the spot that will cause maximum inconvenience. They’ll also find the warmest place in the house, sometimes following the sunbeam around the room. Anywhere warm will do. Someone once said that a dog will sit on your lap because he is fond of you, a cat will sit on your lap because it’s warm up there. A friend of mine was recently contemplating getting under floor heating in her bathroom but decided against it. She reckoned the room would end up as one giant cat bed. That says it all really.

It simply doesn’t do to get too sentimental about a cat. Let’s face it they’re pretty selfish creatures. Independent and utterly self- interested. But I think that’s why I like them. You get what you see with cats. There is no hidden agenda. They make it clear right from the beginning that life will revolve around them and everything will be on their terms. Whilst a dog would lie beside your deathbed, shrivelling with you until you took your final breath, a cat would step over your dead body to get to the Munchies. Those stories about dogs that have saved their owners lives always astonish me. Faithful pooches that have rescued a family from a fire, frightened off burglars or dialled 999 with their paw when their master has fallen down a well. It makes me chuckle to imagine what a cat would do when faced with a similar emergency. I’m pretty sure Baby would turn a blind eye to a burglar, unless of course he had come armed with some wafer thin turkey. “Mate, take what you want” he would say as he filled his face “I won’t tell her if you don’t

If a cat decides that breakfast is at 3.30am then that’s when breakfast will be. In the small hours of the morning you could tell a dog to lie down and be quiet and they would, albeit reluctantly. Try this with a hungry cat and you’ll be the loser. If I don’t get out of bed on Baby’s demand he’ll do anything he can to get my attention – chewing my nose, throwing himself at the bedroom door, pulling out the contents of the airing cupboard and if all else fails jumping from a great height onto my bladder. When Baby came into our lives I was told that the training process might take a while to work. It didn’t. He had me trained in less than two days.

Baby is confident that I’m always going to run around after him with treats even when he’s shredded the toilet roll during the night or left a poopy parcel on my pillow. One fishy kiss or a trusting, velvety paw on my lip and all misdemeanours are instantly forgiven. Every cat owner knows that you never own a cat. They own you. It’s just the way of things. They weren’t worshipped as gods in ancient times for nothing.

Despite the more selfish qualities in a cat there is something about their presence that just takes the sting out of being alone. I know it’s the same with dogs but in a different way. Cats are such relaxing animals to be around. It’s impossible to watch a sleeping cat and feel tense. I think writers like cats because they are such quiet, introspective and wise creatures. Perhaps cats like authors for the same reasons.

I personally don’t care what Baby’s intentions are when he sprawls out on my lap. The warm weight of his wee body and his soft, rhythmic purr is enough to soothe my soul and make my heart melt. Who would have imagined so much pleasure from one wee ball of fur? Cats are great healers. Anaesthetic for the soul. They don’t even have to try too hard, they simply have to ‘be’ and in doing so their whiskers seem to find their way into even the deepest cracks of a broken heart. I have realised that whilst helping Baby to recover from his less than perfect past he has somehow managed to do the same for me. I desperately want to prove to him that it is possible to trust and be happy again. To never hear another harsh word and to feel completely safe. But in order to do this I must first believe that all those things are possible for me too.

Yip, I’ve fallen hook, line and sinker for my furry little Baby and after too many catless years my house finally has a soul again. Dogs are great and I will take my role as Abi’s Auntie very seriously. But there’s no denying, I’ll always be a cat girl at heart.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The peapod incident

If ever there were two words that put the fear of death in me they are Fancy and Dress.

I actually shuddered writing that.

Whenever I get an invite to a fancy dress party my first reaction is to hide under the duvet and wait for it to pass. Call me a killjoy. I’ve never liked them. I used to think it was because I am a fairly introverted person who doesn’t like to be the centre of attention but this evening my mum reminded me of something that happened in my dim and distant past. Something so horrible that I had buried the memory along with my satin blue ra-ra skirt, 'Fame' legwarmers and wheelie-boppers (which I once wore all at the same time and thought I was the bees knees. No wonder Adrian Fowler never wanted to snog me.)

I was telling mum about the up and coming street party that’s being held at my friends to celebrate the Royal Wedding (thankfully only the children are required to dress up so my panic is over for the time being) The theme is “The Best of British” and Junior is going as Levi Roots. I was showing my mum the woolly rasta hat that he’ll be wearing and she looked a little anxious.

What’s wrong with it?” I asked, worried that she might think it a bit unconventional.

Well, it might be a bit warm for this” she replied.

He’ll be fine” I scoffed, carefully untangling the black dreadlocks.

You obviously don’t remember the peapod incident then” said mum, ominously.

It all came flooding back to me in a horrible rush.

Gala Day, Summer 1979. Not just any summer. The hottest on record – or at least the hottest I had known in my eight short years. My mum had had this brainwave to dress me up as a peapod for the fancy dress competition. It was a brilliant idea – me dressed all in green with three plump, green balloons tied down my middle in a vertical line to represent the peas. There was only one tiny hitch. The outfit consisted of thick, woollen tights, masses of crepe paper draped over a thick jumper and the pies de resistance – a heavy, woollen teacosy hat, decorated with sweet pea flowers fresh from the garden.

I can remember standing up on the settee while my mum fiddled with the hem of the flowing crepe paper dress so it sat nicely on the rim of my (fur-lined) wellington boots.

I’m a bit hot mum” I moaned, as I scratched a leg through the 800 denier tights.

Just another minute or two” said mum through a mouthful of safety pins.

Layer upon layer of crepe paper kept getting rolled around me until I was completely mummified. Then the hat went on but the sweet peas still had to be woven in. It felt like I stood for an eternity while mum carefully threaded the stems into the wool. My face was thumping with the heat and beads of sweat were trickling down my back. I started feeling desperately unwell as I watched my mum blow up the first of the balloons, her face alight with pride at her handiwork.

You look fantastic!” she squealed “I think we’re onto a winner” but her voice was all warbled and distant and funny little pinpricks had appeared before my eyes.

Just as mum stepped back to admire her creative masterpiece I collapsed onto the floor in a sweaty, limp heap.

Of course we had to abandon the entire thing.

I remember, later that afternoon standing watching the prizes being handed out for best costume. First prize went to a girl in my class and her little sister who dressed up as “A pint and a half of milk” They looked rubbish if my memory serves me well but the crowd were laughing and cheering at the wittiness of their idea. As I sucked on my ice pole I thought about the plump green balloons, now redundant on the living room floor and all I could think was that should have been me up there getting the prize.

Story of my life really.