Saturday, 26 May 2012

How to get my new blog emailed to you...

I've had a few people who used to follow this blog say they can't find the button to enable them to follow it now that I've moved it over to my website ( It is very hard to see unless you know it's there, so forgive me for posting this if you've already found it, or decided that you no longer want to have posts emailed to you as and when I write them, but if you do, then go to my webpage and at the far bottom right of your actual screen (NOT the grey-blue of my content) you will see an oh-so-very discreet button with the word 'Follow' on it and a little yellow daisy. If you click on that it brings up a box for you to add your email address. Fill that in and Bob's Your Uncle (perhaps, or maybe he's Fred, or James, or maybe you don't have an uncle...sorry, sidetracked in the detail).

With love and thanks,
Amanda xx

Monday, 30 April 2012

Blog Recincarnation

It is with a heavy heart that I announce the death of Juggle, Juggle, Toil and Trouble aka Three Girls and a Pen.

I still have three girls and I still have a pen and I'm still blogging. However, I now also have a website.

With my book coming out soon it seems a good idea to have a point of contact and information for anyone (will there be anyone?!!) who might be interested. It also seems silly to have two sites to maintain, so I've decided to amalgamate the blog into the website so that all my eggs are in one basket, even though old wives tell us absolutely never ever to put all our eggs in one basket, but then again, some of the old wives I know are utterly insane and most definitely should not be listened to. In any case all my eggs - or words in this case - are now in one place. I'm still going to be blogging each week. There's an email subscription link on the new site, so do please add your email address if you would like to have these posts delivered, lovingly, each with a kiss and a grin, straight to your inbox.

Having started blogging in October I have quickly grown to love it. At the beginning I was unsure, wary of this strange and unknown territory. Before this point I hadn't ever read a blog and I certainly didn't think anyone would be interested in reading mine. But I've taken to it like the proverbial duck to a wide open pond, not only to the writing of blog posts, but also to the reading of other people's. There are so many interesting folk out there blogging about all sorts. Some posts are funny, some informative, some ranty, some irreverent, many of them unmissable, and all of them adding to a rich online tapestry of opinion, comment and observation.

I do hope - if you want to - you will switch over to my website and continue to read and comment. Even if you don't subscribe to the new blog address, you can always catch up with me by visiting the site. I hope you do...because...well, I'd miss you if you didn't. It's the truth. I love you. Yes you. I do, man, really, I do.

RIP Three Girls and a Pen, 2011-2012.
Reincarnated to

Monday, 16 April 2012

Lucky 7 Scan

I have three children. I'm not talking about my daughters here, no, the children I refer to are my paper ones. The ones that have a beginning and an end and about a hundred thousand words between. 

Number One, I am sad to say, I'm greatly ashamed of. In fact, I'm so embarrassed by her I can't even bring myself to look at her. I had her when I was much younger, when I was naive and clumsy, when I wrote before I thought. I wasn't really ready to have her, and well, she wasn't quite right: poorly formed, over-excitable, a bit simple, and on occasion deathly boring. I had to shut her in the attic and lock the door. As the old adage goes, out of sight out of mind. Don't feel sorry for her, for all our sakes, it's best this way.

My second child, Number Two, I love very much. She's special to me. All my hopes were once pinned to her and for a while I thought she was 'it'. My glory girl. The one who'd look after me in my dotage. Finally, I thought, after all those years spent nurturing her and her attic-bound sister, I would get some reward. She was my X-factor auditionee. She did well in front of the panel of agent-judges. One was particularly taken with her and picked her for her team. After a fairly extreme makeover (a head-to-toe edit, two rewrites, and a lot of spit and polish) she was perfect in my eyes. Sadly, she didn't make it through to the live final. Now she lives under my bed, her beauty gathering dust, her voice ignored. I know, I'm a dreadful, neglectful mother, but what could I do? By then I had a new baby and I didn't have time for both.

I'm not supposed to say this, but Number Three is my favourite. We shouldn't have favourites, should we? It's just this one is that much more successful than the other two, and well, I find it difficult not to love her the best. Her debut is in August and we're both terribly excited. I'm nervous too - though I would never say this to her face - and every now and then (in fact, more often than not) I panic: I worry she's not that great after all, that, perhaps, when paraded in front of the world she might let me down. But my fingers are crossed. 

I'm right behind you, baby! 

Good luck, poppet!
And now I'm pregnant again. I know. I know. What was I thinking?! Don't I ever want to sleep? I've just got my life back and, BAM!, I'm doing it all over again. What can I say? I'm a floozy. I can't keep my pen in its lid. I just love the creational process. (And innuendo, I love innuendo, too.)

So when my friend, and talented writer, Cathy Dreyer tagged me with the Lucky 7 meme, which asks authors to provide an extract from their current work-in-progress, I thought, what better opportunity to share the first peek of my infant child. This is the equivalent of a twelve-week scan: 50,000 words in, narrative structure in place, and if you look carefully you can see a tiny heartbeat.

[The rules of the Lucky 7 meme are:
Go to page 7 or 77 of your current manuscript
Go to line 7
Post the next 7 lines or sentences, exactly as they are - no cheating
Tag 7 other authors to do the same]

He drew his eyes away from Jess and locked them on Will. Will's heart thumped, the heat of the midday sun beat down on him; he felt faint. It couldn't be him, could it? But there he was, standing right front of him, infecting this easy Sunday lunch with that darkest part of Will's past. Marcus smiled and held out his hand. Will didn't move.

"What a coincidence!" Amelia said. "When did you last see each other?"

I know, she looks like an alien mush - there's a lot of growing left to do - but I hope (fingers crossed) that she'll be pretty and healthy when she arrives. 

If not, there's lots of space in the attic with her older sister...

Monday, 26 March 2012

Sleep Thieves

I know, I know, lovely light evenings, barbecues, kids playing in parks and gardens after school and not messing up the house for the umpteeenth time. I get that Summer is grand. What I don't get is why the Powers That Be have to take a precious hour of my sleep?

Did you know there's a sleep bank? And that sleep debt and sleep deficit are actual real-life, honest-to-Betsy terms? The Sleep Bank, hereafter the Royal Bank of Slumber or RBS, works like any other bank. If you withdraw a period of time - for example when you get one of those baby-things that wakes you constantly with demands for food and cuddles - you never get it back, unless you re-deposit the exact amount of time you borrowed. You actually have to sleep back any hours you spend, you know, on those baby-things, or tequila-soaked parties, or, um, the baby-things, or that sleep is gone. Vanished. For ever and ever, Ayawn. Some studies state that if you don't pay the time back and your balance ducks below your over-draft limit, your body and mind begin to suffer.

So what does some bright spark do in an effort to keep the mornings and evenings light in our varied seasonal time-zone? They decide to steal an hour. From me. From us all. Straight out of our accounts at RBS. Sleep is a precious commodity, like gold or oil. I sleep next to a man who is, to say the least, a fitful sleeper. By fitful I mean he will often wake me up, in a disconcerting wakeful sleep, to inform me, for example, that the roof of the coal face is about to crush me and the baby chickens and we need to leave the lagoon IMMEDIATELY!! At which point I thump him, then roll over, harumphing, bemoaning another precious few minutes stolen from my RBS account. I used to be kinder to him, by the way. I used to sit up, stroke his hand and wait for him to wake, reassuring him that everything was fine, there was no tarantula the size of a saucepan marching up the bedcovers, no army of Italian-American gangsters stealing the chocolate biscuits downstairs, but thumping and harumphing ultimately has the same effect and uses up fewer sleep minutes. So forgive me if I huff a bit, if I stand against all you British Summer Time enthusiasts, but stealing this hour upsets me. I mean Monday morning is bad enough without quarter to seven o'clock becoming quarter to six o'bloody o'clock.

There is significant debate over the issue of British Summer Time. I read a bit about it but, probably because I was tired because of the hour taken from my bank, I didn't understand it. Options appear to be: we could switch to a system of Single/Double Time, which sounds like a Thai prostitute's after-midnight rates (Hey Mister, I love you single/double time), but this would apparently plunge Scotland into winter darkness until 10.30am. Or we could keep the clocks on GMT all year round, which sounds sensible to me. Or we could keep time with Europe, but that's probably all together too unified for us Brits. Maybe we should just hibernate from October to April and be done with it? At least we could all get our bank accounts in the black again. [Pauses to daydream lovingly of hibernation...]

Worrying about my sleep bank is a moot point really, because of all the baby-things I have found myself responsible for. There's been such extreme fiscal tightening for the last 14 years that in these harsh times of recession, cutbacks and striking, quite frankly, it doesn't matter how many goddamn hours are or are not taken, one thing remains the same, I'm knackered. So knackered I'm forced to turn to the coffee shark, who rubs his evil, caffeiney hands together, waiting for desperate, sleepbankrupted people to turn to him. If it wasn't for the coffee shark I'd most likely fall asleep all over the place without warning, like River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho or the Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland.

Yep, thanks to the state of our banks, the black coffee market is thriving. Coffee. Black Gold. The second most valuable global commodity after oil. The world's single most traded commodity. Without it there'd be snoring piles of debtors curled up on pavements, in conference rooms, in warm, cosy cupboards. Oh dear me, all this talk of economics and warm, cosy cupboards has me feeling...really...rather sleepy.  Excuse me while I pop the kettle on and crack into yet another jar of pure Gold Blend.

PS As a post-script to this post - added a day after the orginal writing when I'd slept a bit more and had a gallon of remedial coffee - I must add that I know we actually get paid our hour back in October. So it's not thieving in it's literal sense. Merely long-term borrowing. And on this day in October, when I'm snuggled under my duvet enjoying what feels like a free hour in bed, I must admit to feeling total, absolute, blissful happiness.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Tantrums and Paper Hearts

My eldest daughter has never had a tantrum. That's not 'she's never had a tantrum apart from that one in the sweet shop when I said no to the Haribo eggs'. She's never had one. My middle daughter made a few pathetic attempts, but they were really rather useless, more of a wobbly bottom lip and a look in her eye that said I'd somehow disappointed her. They blew over in a matter of minutes - she's easily distractable. I spent the first ten years of my mothering life thinking I was awesome. I thought I had it nailed. I'd look on as mothers hoiked screaming children out of playgrounds and supermarkets, dragged or carried under an arm, kids so angry they were puce in the face. Smugness pervaded. I was good at this! My eldest would ask for sweets and I'd explain, no, not before supper. "Why?" she'd ask, her irritation beginning to rise. "Because, if you do, you won't eat your supper." "Oh, okay," she'd say, nodding sagely, disappointed, but in full understanding, her irritation ebbed, and then I'd give myself a smug little pat on the back.

Oh you foolish, foolish woman!

How unwise to be so very pleased with myself. How unwise to think myself skilled in all matters maternal. When my third daughter hit twenty months I discovered something. I discovered I was never a great mother; I'd merely given birth, by twist of genetics, to two rational, placid children to start with. These two fooled me, lulled me into a false sense of my own capability, left me belly-up and unprepared for the volcano of rage that was to consume our peaceful home. The Beast had arrived. (Mr J and I semi-affectionately call her The Beast behind her back. The Beast or The Tyrant or The Fascist. I wouldn't call her these names to her face. Not yet, anyway - I'm a believer in self-fulfilling prophesy when it comes to telling children what they are and aren't, what they're good or bad at - and frankly I need to play this one down. I can't take the risk of her living up to her own hype). She's a ball of fire, igniting at the slightest thing, and never backs down. She'll storm up the stairs, scream until her throat is sore, stamp her feet, thump the wall and slam a door, and if the slamming doesn't get the desired attention, she'll open it and slam it again, and that's all because I said no to Cbeebies. Don't get me wrong, it's not ALL the time. This same child loves to make people laugh, she chats, helps, and is gentle with the animals. She's angelic at school and loves to please. It's by no means a done deal that she'll end up in Borstal (though I have to say, after tonight's outburst, I might drive her there in the dead of night and deposit her on the doorstep with a label tied about her neck saying: 'Please look after this Beast'. From this point on, like Paddington, she will be adopted by a kindly family called Brown, who will name her after the place they found her, and then send their new daughter, Borstal, to eat sticky buns with Old Mr Gruber next door). She is five and already I'm worried for her husband, a man who might not even be born yet. He's got a whirlwind ahead of him. The wedding list will be plastic plates only - that or a heap of smashed Wedgwood to recycle. Yes, plastic plates, no knives, and a shed with a lock on the inside where the poor boy can take refuge while the cyclone is raging. We will hand her over with a health warning like the cute little Mogwai in Gremlins.

This said, there's something strangely exhilarating about watching this mite fight her corner so gamely. She will take all four of us on if she feels she must. Her courage is admirable. I know she'll never take any crap. I know she won't be walked over. This little fighter will grow up to by one helluva feisty don't-mess-with-me chick. Would it be wrong to admit I'm secretly proud of her? That with every slammed door and screeched: 'You're ruining my LIFE!' I feel a burst of admiration? I was a reasonably placid child. I wonder whether I missed a trick. In fact, I'm wondering whether to have a chat with the other two. Perhaps it's about time they both learnt to slam a door and stamp their feet, fight for what they believe to be right, even if that's 24/7 access to Mr Tumble.

Ten minutes after the final door-slam tonight my daughter appeared. She solemnly walked over to me and handed me a paper heart. Crudely cut out, with a single misspelt word on it. Sometimes the making up is the best bit, right?

Monday, 12 March 2012

Great-Granny Was a Ninja

Last Thursday saw International Women's Day grace our calendar. I have mixed feelings about this. I like that it's an ear-marked moment to celebrate the distance women have travelled on the journey of female empowerment in the last century, but I also find it depressing that in this day and age there are still so many women across the globe who have such a raw deal that we need a 'day' to recognise their struggle against, and the achievements made in the face of, extreme subjugation, oppression, and misinformation. [A sobering fact: 1 billion women globally are the victims of violence against them. That's one in three].

I am fortunate to come from a long line of stellar feminists (and by feminist I do NOT mean crazed ball-crushers intent on the emasculation of men and the toppling of the patriarchy, but people who view women and men as equals in both opinion and worth). My mother, an architect, both worked and looked after my sister and I. We grew up playing on building sites in piles of orange sand and drawing on the floor beside her with fine-liners and cool, curvy rulers. Though she undoubtedly turned her back on large, high profile projects in order to be at home with us, she did so because she chose to. There is a fabulous picture that hangs in her office showing a group of kick-ass women gathered around a drawing board. It was the early '70s and they'd formed a company called Women in Architecture. My mum is right in the middle, beautiful, empowered, bucking the male-dominated system, shouting loud-and-proud that women can do this work shit too. My great-grandmother was the first woman to qualify as an optician in the UK back in the late 19th century. My grandmother - also an optician - worked full-time until she was 84, at which point she lost her sight (oh, cruel irony) and was forced to stop. My sister and I grew up in a feminist environment, but it was never spoken of in those terms, it wasn't labelled. It was a pervasive atmosphere that surrounded us as we developed, an unspoken given that if it was possible for a human to do it there was no reason why we couldn't do it. Application, hard-graft, a little luck, and all things were possible. Gender never came into it. I got a pretty hefty shock, therefore, when I moved from my girls' school to a mixed sixth form and then on to university, and began to hear expressions like: 'That's not bad...for a girl'. There are other statements that grate, of course. Here follows a few of the worst:

"Girls can't throw." Girls CAN throw! You just have to teach them. Children learn by watching their parents. Boys aren't born knowing how to throw. Dads take their sons into the park or garden with a ball as soon as the kid can sit up. They're out there, day-in/day-out, throwing, catching, praising, criticising, giving tips, demonstrating, teaching, if not consciously then subconsciously. Once, a friend of mine - surprised I could throw -  said he thought it was physiologically impossible for a girl to throw: 'Because of their boobs...' WTF?!! Dads, throw a ball to your daughter. If she picks it up and throws it back she wants to learn. Teach her. If she looks at the ball like it's an alien covered in snot it's likely she's not that bothered. Let her go back inside and put on a tutu if she wants, don't force her, but my suggestion is teach her anyway. Even if it's just an hour one weekend, it can't hurt to learn the mechanics of it.

"Women aren't funny." If I hear someone say this I will tie them to a chair, wedge their eyes open with matchsticks, and throw funny at them until they laugh, or I die trying. 'Women aren't funny' because men aren't that bothered about funny, most of them tend to prefer breasts and vaginas, and when push comes to thrust, laughing is low on their agenda. This has been so since prehistoric times: 'Wo-man has va-gi-na, man not care a-bout laugh.' Men clap when women take their clothes off. This is why there are more women strippers than male. But just like men can strip, women can be funny. Women are a more generous audience than men when it comes to laughing. We went to a comedy club recently and there was a man on stage who was dire. The men in our group sat there, folded arms, giving nothing. The women forced out laughs because we didn't want to hurt his feelings. Men have had hundreds of thousands of years of this ego-bolstering. I mean, truthfully, how many times have you sat next to the dullest man on earth and politely laughed at his rubbish? If a man thinks a woman is dull he stares at her breasts. If she's still dull, even with the breasts, his eyes will wander off to find a different pair of breasts to stare at. Keep on with the funny, girls. Even if it's not always top of the list, most men love a funny long as she also has a vagina of course.

"Another girl? Oh...I am sorry." You wouldn't believe the number of people who said something along these lines when our third daughter was born. I cannot begin to articulate how much this kind of comment angers me. A couple of years ago, Mr J said to me: 'Why does everyone keep asking me if I'm upset I don't have a son? What could be better than to be surrounded by four beautiful ladies who love me?' Bless him for this.

"Brazilian or Hollywood?" I'm jumping onto the Caitlin Moran/Anna Richardson (The Sex Education Show) soap-box here, but my goodness I feel blood-boilingly strongly about this. TEENAGE GIRLS ARE REMOVING THEIR PUBIC HAIR BECAUSE TEENAGE BOYS THINK PUBIC HAIR ON GIRLS IS ABNORMAL. Teenage boys have been taught this. This is akin to some American schools denying evolution and teaching that the world was made in a matter of days by an omnipotent Being who also buried dinosaur bones to confuse us. Boys have not learnt this at school or from parents, but from grubby porn directors on the internet, the type of slimy bloke you'd cross the street to avoid. Aside from abuse, I can think of little more damaging for a girl's sexual self-esteem than if she's about to have sex for the first time, takes off her underwear, and sees her boyfriend recoil in disgusted horror at the hairy gargoyle leering at him from between her legs. Mothers, I beg you, you owe it to our daughters, to your fellow human beings, to the SISTERHOOD, to tell your sons that a gorgeous, womanly bush is normal and the sign of a sexually-mature girl. Bare bots are for children. Girls, trim it, shape it, give it a fucking perm if needs be, but do it because you want to and WEAR YOUR HAIR WITH PRIDE.

And lastly. The classic, leather-armchaired 'gentlemen's club' clap-trap. "Women are the weaker sex." This actually merits no more than an impolite 'fuck off', but for blog's sake, I'll be more verbose. It is absolutely NOT okay for us to perpetuate male superiority over womanhood. I love men, really, I do. I love my husband, my dad and my friends, and Jared Leto and Damian Lewis and Moriarty from Sherlock, but men are not our superiors. Men are, after all, creatures who freely and happily admit to thinking about sex every ten seconds. All day, every day, every ten seconds. Picture Obama considering whether or not to invade Iran or Cameron and Clegg debating university fees or Trevor Macdonald reading the news. All of them apparently simultaneously thinking about boffing. Every ten seconds. That's a serious amount of time spent drifting off-topic onto something technically not on the job description. Women don't give over the same headspace to the consideration of rutting and this is in our favour. We are talented, creative, intelligent, funny, tough, gentle souls, who can also give birth, nurture, and love unconditionally. ALL of us - unless told otherwise - are perfectly capable of driving in all weathers. We can fix a shelf and change a light bulb, boil an egg and read a book. We can even make a nativity costume out of loo rolls and tin foil. If you tell a child they cannot do something, they will believe you. Women rock. Tell your daughters they rock. Tell your daughters they can do anything they want to. In the long-term it will help. In the long-term we might not need International Women's Day to remind us we're fully paid-up, equally valued, equally wonderful, citizens of this planet.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Le Blog, Le Chien et Le Pout.

As a confirmed Francophile there is little I don't love about France. The wine, the food, the art and architecture, and also the language. Sadly, I don't speak it as well as I'd like to, and, according to one friend of mine, the paltry bit I do speak, I speak with a ridiculous 'French face'. (Picture a sort of bastard hybrid of Keira Knightly's poutiest pout with a heavy dash of Serge Gainsbourg phhffft. By the way, you need a French face to speak French. It's a proven fact that if you're English and you try and speak French without your French face it's almost impossible for a Frenchman to understand.) With or without the pout-and-phhffft, the language is undeniably beautiful. Even the English words they've adopted, like le Big Mac, le weekend, and, the oh-so-sublime, le blog, which in theory should sound totally ludicrous actually sound, well, kind of fun. Everything sounds better in French.

Even the animals sound better.

Picture the scene if you will: an English Setter, Cyril St John Smythe, is on holiday in France. He is feeling lost and befuddled, and is more than a little horrified by the toilet facilities ("It was dreadful, Henry. Nowhere to go at all. They just do their business on the pavements. There was...faeces, everywhere. EVERYWHERE, I tell you!! Those Chiens are utterly filthy!) But Cyril has heard how good the food is supposed to be and he's hungry. He wants something authentic. He sees a local, a Bichon Frise - Jean-Jaques Le Grange - watching a game of Petanque beneath the shade of a tall lime tree in the square. He approaches and, with a tight clearing of his throat, announces his arrival. "Woof Woof," he says politely. "Woof woof woof. Woof. Woof woof, woof." [Roughly translated: "Excuse me, my good man, would you mind awfully pointing me in the direction of the nearest eatery? A local rubbish tip, perhaps, or the back door of a butcher?]
Jean-Jaques pulls hard on his filterless Gitanes. Then he shrugs and phhfffts, and in a gutteral Gaelic growl says: "Waouh, whaouh. Whaouh. Whaouh whaouh whaouh." [Roughly translated: "Zere iz no dermp around eeaiir. But zere iz a bar where zee leedle poodle, Fifi, she sings like zee laarrvbard flying on zee breeezze of liiife.]

Woof versus Waouh? No contest. In the language stakes 'waouh' wins paws down.

Likewise, the human being, Vanessa Paradis, scorched her way through Joe le Taxi, mesmerising middle-England with her raw, burgeoning pubescent sexuality. Our equivalent would be the young Billie Piper in stage-school leg-warmers and a hoodie singing Joe the Cabbie. Not quite the same ring. We shouldn't be surprised, of course. French is the self-proclaimed language of love, the Big Daddy of Pillow-Talk, romance and passion soaking every syllable uttered. Take the rather racy Soixante-Neuf. It sounds like something seductive, something adventurous. We have the literal translation, of course, but there is nothing remotely exotic about it. "How about a 69, love?" sounds more like a bloke ordering sweet and sour prawn balls from the local chippie-cum-chinese than, ahem, well, a Soixante-Neuf.

So back to poor Cyril who eventually located the bar. He found Fifi and in his best French he asked her for a lamb chop. He waouhed and waouhed, but she just stared blankly. In the end he gave up and went home. He missed Blighty too much. He needed a clean tree to pee against, he craved a crispy bit of bacon rind, he wanted to be back where the dogs go woof and the cats go miaow. I think the problem was his French face. It lacked pout. Cyril, my dear boy, if you want to speak French it's not good enough just to learn the've got to do your French face.
Jean-Jacques Le Grange
Cyril St John Smythe

Monday, 27 February 2012

Ruadh Gu Brath (Redheads Rock)

So Ed Sheeran did quite well at the Brits, didn't he? I felt a bit old watching him perform though, like my mum or gran, wishing aloud he'd put a smarter shirt on, brushed his hair a bit, maybe even shaved. Anyway, the boy seems sweet enough and plays the guitar nicely, in that kind of way a sixteen year old would want her boyfriend to, you know, meaningfully, around a bonfire, probably through a haze of Barcadi Breezer, in front of her friends, who she knows are trying to ignore their own boyfriends crushing beer cans against their foreheads and wishing he was theirs.

Now Master Sheeran has red hair. This fact seemed vitally important to those watching the Brits and recording their thoughts on Twitter. For example I've now learnt that Ed is Prince Harry's brother, most likely related to James Hewitt, and undoubtedly Geri Halliwell's long lost great nephew. Oddly, quite a bit of this redhead nonsense was hurtful. For God's sake, people...stop with the ginga-bashing!! Red hair is bloody gorgeous! So naffing gorgeous that twice a year I spend money - money I could have spent on shoes - adding red hues to my own dull thatch. My middle daughter has red hair - the natural kind rather than chemically enhanced. On the Scale of Red (dark auburn through to strawberry blonde) she is at the darker end, conker-coloured in the winter, lightening to copper in the summer. She has pale skin with cappuccino freckles that pop out like stars at night when the sun winks at her. Along with the generalisations - the fiery temper, for example, (my own little red has the sweetest of natures and literally wouldn't hurt a fly. In fact, if she found an injured fly she would make a Fly Hospital very quickly out of a yoghurt pot and nurse the fly back to full buzz) - what I will never understand is hatred/teasing/bullying of people with red hair.

A few facts: there was a group on Facebook which called itself Kick a Ginger and campaigned to establish a National Kick a Ginger Day. It had 5000 members. Tesco were recently made to withdraw a Christmas card which showed a red-haired child sitting on Father Chistmas' lap with the strap line Santa loves all kids. Even ginger ones. In 2010 Harriet Harman - who is a grownup - called the Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander, a ginger rodent. Mick Hucknall often complained he was called ugly because of his red mop (nothing to do with the snake-hipped dad-dancing or the cringe-worthy proclamation he had sex with three different women a day, then...)

Red hair rocks! We know this. Artists, the translators of beauty into a record of contemporary culture, know this. Titian, Klimt, Modigliani, Botticelli, the entire pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, they all knew this. Perhaps this is why I have such love for red hues in a barnet; it goes hand in hand with my love of art, all that passion in those pensive, lustful, romantic images, tumbling red hair and milky skin. The first painting that stirred me, Toulouse-Lautrec's La Toilette, depicts a flame-haired woman in the process of washing herself, a black stocking adding a flash of the illicit. This painting drew me in, touched me; I was desperate to know what she was thinking about, looking at, what she was smelling and hearing. Lautrec was an aristocratic artist whose growth was stunted by a genetic disorder. Mocked and shunned by many, he steeped himself in alcohol and sought solace in the bohemian lifestyle of Montmatre where his homies were other artists, writers and prostitutes. Lautrec loved women and painted them in a manner that ignored academic convention, that focussed on their inherent femininity and laid their humanity bare. They nearly always had red hair too. He celebrated the copper-top. Revered their russet tresses. The man was a ginger groupie.

La Toilette, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1889 (Musee d'Orsay)
It's time to put the gingerism (racism for the follicly-ignorant) behind us. Consign it to the days when we didn't know better. Leave it to the Loose Women to discuss alongside the likening of breastfeeding in public to a pervert flashing his meat-and-veg at old ladies (yes, a woman on the telebox really said this.) Let's make like artists. Let's love this genetic miracle with a passion that only a true redhead could muster. Let's kiss every one of their precious freckles (maybe only do this if you have a redhead in the family.)
Middle when she was little.
And for Mick Hucknall and his moaning that we think he's ugly because of his ginger locks. I have two words. Damian Lewis. Now there's a RILF...

Monday, 20 February 2012

There's No Place Like Salted Butter

The trouble with holidays is they come to an end. We've just arrived back from the French Alps. A week of breathtaking scenery, fantastic skiing, loads of family time, great friends, lots of laughing, too many vin and chocolat chauds, pommes frites, baguettes with French butter (how can another country's butter taste so sublime?), and not a utility bill, Tesco queue or traffic jam in sight. Heaven. We were all sad to leave, flatter than Flat Stanley, wistfully watching the mountains disappear behind us. On the flight home I did some thinking. Could we sell up? Could we move out? Eat baguettes and unsalted butter forever? Bask in the sunshine, breathe the air, feel the tang of snow-chill on our skin, throw out the television, declutter, downsize, choose the simple life? It would mean sending the girls to a French school, of course, which they would fight against. But we'd convince them. We'd argue the importance of language skills in this day and age. Fluency in a second language would set them up for life...sod leaving all your friends and having to learn the French for you're it and no you can't have my kit-kat get your own. Combine the language proficiency with fresh air and healthy living and what better gift could we give them?

This type of post-holiday thought process is not unusual for me. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't considered moving to Majorca, the Dordogne, Tuscany, Naples, Cornwall, Devon, even Norfolk, in the time spent travelling back from these places. But then again, I spend most my life living in imagined unreality. I'm under no illusion that this character trait (flaw?) is the principal reason I write fiction - hiding in fanciful other-worlds, immersing myself in a crowd of made-up friends and enemies, spiriting myself away to a wordy haven of anywhere other than the-same-old-same-old. I am, it has to be said, a professional starer into space.

By the time we walk into our freezing house I'm feeling the full impact of a serious case of the holiday blues. What seems like a hundred suitcases now block the hallway, all of them stuffed with grubby clothes (good intentions to work the washing machine in the apartment went out the window amid a flurry of those-socks-have-at-least-another-day-in-them and let's-have-another-gin-and-tonic-instead). We have six dead house plants, a towering pile of post heralding the return of life-mundane, and the spectre of Monday morning school run drudgery looms large. 'That's it,' I state. 'We're moving. We're really doing it this time.'

Before I get on the internet to search for houses in the snow, however, I do what any self-respecting Brit does when they've been away from the homeland for any length of time. I make a cup of tea. When I take a sip I let out an unfettered sigh. It's the best cup of tea I've had all week. Then I hear my youngest daughter squeal with delight as she rediscovers the toys in her bedroom. My middle daughter is cooing over her hamster who seems genuinely pleased to see her (though I must admit, I'm not an expert in reading small rodent body language), the cats are purring, and I have a surge of warmth as I think about how pleased the dogs will be to see me tomorrow - tails wagging so frantically I'll worry the silly creatures will dislocate their hips.

Mr J shouts through from the living room that he's lit a fire. I glance at the suitcases and decide it won't do any harm at all to leave the clothes unwashed for a day, or maybe two, and instead I make a plate of toast, suddenly remembering how delicious a toasted slice of bread is, and how, when crowned with lashings of melting salty butter, it tastes like nothing else on earth. Mr J and I sink into comfy, familiar sofas with the younger two, and turn the television on. It's Ski Sunday. Maybe promising to give up the telly was a bit rash...

Then my eldest wanders in to join us, grabs a piece of toast and stretches out on the floor in front of the fire. 'That was a great holiday,' she says, her mouth full of toast. 'But I have to say, it's cool to be home.'

Monday, 6 February 2012

7 Things About Me...

A blog tag. This time to reveal 7 facts about myself as done by We Love Peas (who tagged me). This is without doubt self-indulgent, but here goes...

1. I hate raw tomatoes. This isn't necessarily a secret, everyone who knows me well knows this. But I consider this fact to be fundamental to who I am. Raw tomatoes are the Food of Beelzebub. They make me wretch, hurl, and heave, even just the memory of them, you know, when the offending thing has been removed from a sandwich for example, and leaves it's tinged-red foulness soggying up the bread. What I love about hating tomatoes is the number of others I meet with the same aversion to this is-it-a-fruit-or-vegetable abhorrance, and the equal number who suggest my loathing comes from not having experienced a 'proper' one. A beef one for example, full of Mediterranean sunshine and joy, bursting with glory, lovingly sliced, then sprinkled with salt from a virgin's armpit and drizzled with seventeen-times pressed olive oil. Or a little cherry one? Apparently 'they're delicious'. Apparently nobody could possibly hate these scarlet balls of loveliness. I CAN. They're VILE. Cooked tomatoes, however, maybe on a pizza base, or in a vongole sauce, even sundried, I LOVE!! This is the wonderful idiosyncrasy of my hatred. Cook the little fecker and it's suddenly divine. (There's an enzyme that breaks down with heat, for anyone who's interested. It's this enzyme that spikes my vitriol. Kill it and all is well with the world).

2.  I would love to be a Blue Peter presenter. I've wanted to be one since I was seven. It looks like the best fun ever: cooking fridge cake, making Barbie a living room out of yoghurt pots and sticky-back plastic, setting fire to tinselly coat hangers, and being crapped on by baby elephants. Awesome. And you get paid for it. And when it all finishes, perhaps in drug-fuelled shame, perhaps with a job on Countrywide, you get to go on Strictly Come Dancing.

3. I played the flute for two months aged eight. I gave it up because I found the way my spit collected inside it disconcerting. I didn't tell my mum about the spit. I made up some rubbish about not liking it as much as the piano.

4. I cheat at liar dice. Using sneaky 'magic' fingers, and while people are looking elsewhere, I flip them. This gives the impression I possess the Luck of The Gods. It's wrong. But, then again, sometimes in life you gotta make your own luck...

5. I was nearly an architect. My mother is an architect and she always seemed pretty happy with it, and I loved art and being in a studio, but wasn't good enough to be an artist, so I thought 'why not?' From the first day on the course I knew why not. I'm not cool enough. You need to have a special sort of cool to be an architect, a sort of conservative kookiness, a laid back north-London chic. I possess nothing close to this. So, after a year, I changed to History of Art and I'm now a writer. You don't need to be cool when you work all alone.

6. I share my first name and  birthday, 16th February, with Amanda Holden. We are both married to a (different) Chris. We both have a daughter called Lexi. We lived in Richmond at the same time. Mr J and I spent the night of our first anniversary at the same hotel she got married in. When my friend Vic left Sheen Amanda's daughter got Vic's son's place at Monkey Music. None of this I knew until about a year ago. I am still in shock. I'm also expecting to be a judge on Britain's Got Talent by the end of the year. Simon, call me...

7. My favourite piece of art is Auguste Rodin's The Kiss. I've seen it three times in real life, and every time I've been moved to tears. Even writing about it makes me feel excited. I get a physical buzz when I touch it (I'm not sure you're supposed to, but whetevs). Carved from a chunk of marble, capturing an almost-moment (the lovers' lips never quite meet), filled with passion and longing, with the ability to move people for generations past, present and future. How clever is that?! I was a piece of blinking rock! It's said that Rodin's portrayal of women was in homage to them and their bodies, that he had no interest in depicting them submitting to men, but as fully participating partners. Its eroticism made it unsuitable for public display, so it was hidden away in a back room, only for the eyes of those given special permission. Thank goodness our social sensitivities have dulled enough to bring it out for us all to admire and enjoy. All I need to do is persuade someone to take me to Paris for my next fix...

Please feel free to comment and add a random fact about yourself...especially if it's an aversion to tomatoes.
Now I have to tag another blogger. My lovely friend Ed who has just started blogging DELICIOUS recipes. Let's see how he copes with a bit of chatting about himself... One Man and his Whisk

Monday, 30 January 2012


It's my birthday in a couple of weeks. I'll be nearly-40. I'm not sure if being nearly-40 is any worse than being nearly-nearly-40. I've not minded being nearly-nearly-40 much. I mind being wrinkled and saggy, having sore knees and a back that twinges when I sit cross-legged on the floor. I mind having to hold my arm out straight to read a menu, but at the same time I appreciate I can do this without glasses. According to a friend of mine, 42 is the age when one's arm is no longer long enough. Anyway, I was reading one of a friend's blog a few days ago. In it she writes a list of things she wants to do before she's actually-40. She doesn't actually need this list because the beatch is only 33 and in 7 years time some very clever Scienceygeek will have invented a pill you can take that makes you 28 FOREVER!!

It's unlikely this pill will be ready by February next year so I do need the list...

By this time next year, when I'll be literally-nearly-40, I would like:

To still be an author.

To have resisted with every molecule in my body the chronic, aching, BURNING desire to add a fourth mini-J to the family. Resisting is currently taking up most of my, and Mr J's, energy. Yes, I know, we're off our trollies. Yes, I know how lovely sleep is. How nice it is to go out for a meal without expressing gallons of milk from size 36G boobs first. How lovely it is to play a board game on a Winter's afternoon, in front of a guardless-fire, as a family, without one of the players eating the dice. And, yes, I'm fully aware of how wonderful it is that I no longer need to wipe any bottoms other than my own. But then again I miss a babe on my hip like a lost limb...oh, bugger, please, someone, give me strength to resist.

To start riding horses again and then convince my husband that owning one would be a good idea. They're small and cheap and you just need to throw them a biscuit once a week, honestly, darling...

To be fit and toned and finally lose the baby weight that I've been waxing on about losing for the last five years. Bejezaaaassssss. Please, you weak-willed so-and-so. JUST DO IT.

To play tennis with (and win a point off) Djokovic.

To share fondue and red wine with Tim Minchin, Dara O'Briain, Ernest Hemingway, Sandi Toksvig, Boudicca, Moriarty from Sherlock and Frida Kahlo.

To get dropped at the top of a very high mountain, K2 or Everest or, um, another very high one with my sister and husband and some skis, and then shout: 'Last one down buys the beer!'

To find Jared Leto at the bottom of that very high mountain with a cup of rummed hot chocolate (Chantilly cream on the top) and some massage oil. And my husband not to mind.

To have got drunk, and survived, on Absinthe.

To have finally used the pasta making machine that I insisted we add to our wedding list (another classic Jennings argument) that is still inside it's box gathering dust.

To be told by the World Health Organisation (I did just write WHO, but didn't want any muso-confuso) that smoking is actually good for you, then take it up again big-styley - 40 filterless Gitanes a day - whilst continuously drinking thick black coffee in a freezing Parisian garret and agonising over my Most Important Work Yet (which will be handwritten and 1200 pages).

To stay at the Ice Hotel, ride a Husky sled, see the Northern Lights (maybe with Motherventing cos it's on her list too) and drink vodka out of a glass made of ice and not get my tongue stuck to the glass made of ice.

To have beaten Jimmy Carr in The Star in a Reasonably Priced Car round the Top Gear track.

To have managed not to Tweet/blog anything libellous or universally offensive.

And, lastly, to have the girls, my husband, friends and family, safe, well, and constantly around to reassure me I'm not totally ridiculous. Oh dear. That sounds needy, doesn't it? Hmmm. Ok, scrap the above list...

By the time I'm actually-40 I hope I can be totally ridiculous and not give a monkey's uncle.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Sticks and Stones and King Cnut

I have a confession. I love a good anagram. My husband on the other hand thinks they're 'a bit twee'. But what can be sweeter to the pun-tuned ear than Mother-In-Law turning into Hitler Woman? 'Eleven plus two' equalling 'Twelve plus one'? What can be neater than Guns and Lies combined being Ugliness? Or Election result becoming Lies - let's recount?

If you take the theory of anagrams and apply it to etymology, the study of words, it takes on a new slant. Take the word 'cnut', either a random arrangement of letters, or the name of an English king of Scandanavian origin, also spelt 'Canute'. I can write these four letters - c, n, u, t - and cause absolutely no offense. I can write the following: 'The man leaned out of the window and shouted, "you look like a right cnut!"' You might read it and wonder momentarily whether to prounouce the 'c' or leave it silent, or maybe pronounce it like the King's name. But you wouldn't struggle, I wager, with offense. Yet rearrange the letters and we stride confidently into the realms of shock and outrage. If you reinsert the new word into the example sentence it becomes immediately unacceptable to some ears (not mine, I hasten to add. I'm in full appreciation of this old-English word). I'm fascinated by the fear of letters and words. I can write vagina, muff, even twat, and not cause a fraction of the offense that the other word causes, a word that was perfectly acceptable for hundreds of years. Why the change? Association perhaps. Association with aggression, with misogyny, with hatred. But as a word, said without malice, said in jest, should it really carry the burden of being one of the most heavily tabooed of all? Surely we should be more concerned with sentiment and intent rather than the arrangement of letters of the alphabet. If a scary man came up behind me in an alleyway and called me a 'nasty little vagina' I'd be terrified - no more or less than I would be if he used the other word. When I hear a comedian say the-word-I-am-not-allowed-to-say-because-my-mum-reads-this-blog in the midst of a joke I refuse to take personal offense. It's not intended therefore I won't assume it.

Pianist, songwriter, and comedian, Tim Minchin, made this point beautifully when he observes that newspapers cannot write the word 'fuck'. They can, however, get away with writing it if they replace a letter or two with an asterisk. Therefore, 'the man said fuck and jumped' is not allowed, yet 'the man said f**k and jumped' is. This baffles me. The word has the same meaning. The same context. We know the two asterisks stand for a 'u' and a 'c', we even read the word 'fuck' in our heads, the meaning hasn't changed, but by substituting two small letters we suddenly adhere to standards of decency. (It's all your fault 'u' and 'c'! Naughty, naughty letters...) I would urge people to consider the fear of language. By all means keep the words you find offensive, request people don't use them, feel shocked if you read them, but do remember that sentiment and context are the significant considerations. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me...the sentiment those words carry, on the other hand, can hurt more than anything else in the world.

And a final thought for my husband, for when I come to you with yet more anagrams: Desperation? A rope ends it.

Lord Cunt - King Cnut's little brother

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Tiger Who Came to Tea: a Mum on the Edge

While reading The Tiger Who Came to Tea to my daughter recently, it dawned on me that it's actually the allegorical tale of a Stay at Home Mum who's had one of those days.

I've been that woman. I know how her day went. October half-term. Raining. She's run out of let's-have-fun things to do with her daughter, Sophie, who's been playing the part of spoilt little witch perfectly since she woke at 5.30am. The man who came to fix the broken floorboard hammered a nail through the mains water pipe. Now the water's off 'til next Wednesday 'at least'. The milk's off too. No tea! She has the energy of a dead battery and can't face Tesco. She certainly can't be arsed to tidy the kitchen. She feels frumpy and tired, and she's just listened to a voicemail from school-friend, Clare, who's been nominated for an award from the Society of International Journalism for her gripping account of the plight of three freedom-fighting, cave-dwelling female rebels who've overthrown a vicious dictator using only pointy sticks. By now it's clear she's made the wrong life choices and if someone offered to buy Sophie, right now, she'd do it for a packet of grapes and fifty pence. She's at her wit's end and finally resorts to 'just one of Daddy’s beers'. When six o’clock hits she realises with a thump to her stomach she's polished off all four. Now she can't even drive to the garage to pick up some pasta and pesto for tea. She slumps on to the kitchen table and bursts into tears. 

"Mummy?" says Sophie quietly. "Why are you sad?"
Mummy lifts her head and tries to smile. Sophie wipes away her mum's tears with her little pudgy hands. "I love you, Mummy."

And then Mummy remembers that even though her mind is jelly, her body is shot to pieces, and she'll have to pick up the phone and congratulate Clare in a minute, she loves Sophie with all her heart. So she straightens her shoulders, forces a smile, and pulls Sophie on to her lap. She tells her the reason she is sad is because the house is a tip, there's no food, and no water in the tap, and this is because a huge tiger, who plays a trumpet and walks on his hind legs, came and ate and drank it ALL! He messed up the kitchen and rumpled the bed covers. He even drank all of Daddy's beer. When Daddy comes home Sophie rushes up and tells him all about the tiger. He steps into the bomb-site of a kitchen and sees the madness residing in his wife's bloodshot, puffy eyes. He sees her fists, clenched at her sides, knuckles white. Then they both notice the bread knife on the kitchen table. They re-lock eyes. He thinks for a moment, and then, because he's seen this look before, and because she's closer to the bread knife, he pops his hat back on, grabs Sophie's coat, and suggests they go out for sausage and chips. What a sensible man. 

(On their way home he stops at the off-license and buys a four-pack of Carling. Never let it be said this sensible man is a selfless saint...)

Monday, 9 January 2012

Please Don't Laugh, It's Vintage Stuff...

For those of you who know me, you might well be confused by the title. What? Amanda writing about fashion? Vintage fashion? Odd indeed. It's another tag gauntlet.

Right, vintage clothes...

Well, I can safely say I know nothing. Nada. Sweet feck all. To me vintage fashion means old Gap jeans and a skanky misshapen t-shirt. Yep, holey, stained, and out-of-date, that's Amanda. Classy vintage, I am not. I spent an hour rummaging through drawers and wardrobes yesterday afternoon, and managed, eventually, to find three things to write about. NB: my bedroom still looks like a war-zone, so thank you Fivefingersonly for that... (It was he who tagged me. Little so-and-so).

1) My old rowing top. Twenty years ago, on arriving at Cambridge, a new friend and I signed up to row. That's what everyone did, didn't they? Rowed. Like Hugh Laurie,, others. Anyway, they shove newbies on the river at five am in the morning, in the winter, in sub-zero darkness, presumably to weed out the pansies who can't cope (I lasted a pathetic term). After our first training session my friend and I went for a restorative hot chocolate and then, when we'd thawed enough to move, went shopping to buy the college rowing hoodie (which, incidentally, cost our entire Liebfraumilch budget for the year). We wore them out of the shop and it felt gooooood - we'd frozen our ample boobs off and now we had our badge of honour.  When we got back to college we were met by a mob of oar-wielding boaties from the third year. They approached us, whites of their eyes rolling, and in no uncertain terms told us to remove the tops immediately. Why had we bought them? We were merely first year scum. You had to earn the right to wear the top. You had to be in the First VIII, the top boat, to wear the top. For the love of all that is right in the world, you had to have cried tears of BLOOD into the Cam itself before you were worthy of this Divine Garment... When they finally stomped away, huffing and puffing, incredulous at our blatant disregard for the Law, we sat and laughed 'til tears poured down our cheeks. I will never throw this hoodie away. Despite it being old and saggy I wear it all the time, and every time I do it reminds me never to take the small things too seriously...

2) My rug. Rug was my world from birth. He - for he has gender - was the only thing I cared about for the first seven years of my life. When I was about five I noticed a small rip in his seam. It grew and grew. I was pretty cut up about it at first - watching your best friend gradually tearing in half is traumatic to say the least. But as the rip grew I discovered I could wear him. From that moment, if possible, I loved him even more. Suffice it to say, I wore him A LOT. Rug is as old as I am. Rug is Vintage.

My five year old modelling Rug

3) My necklace. It isn't strictly vintage. It's new. But as I'll still be wearing it in fifty years (I intend to wear it forever) it's Prospective Vintage, so makes the list. My husband gave it to me. He chose it all by himself. I love that he knows how dark I really am. It's bling, it's whimsical, and it's deeply twisted. I HEART IT.

Right, I'm tagging Janet (who writes about pregnancy and childbirth) and Chrissie  (Mediocre Mum)... Over to you ladies!


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Husband v King

I've just reread Stephen King's On Writing. I've now read it four times start to finish. It's simply one of the best books I've found on the writing process and being a writer. King chats with his reader, as if over a coffee and slice of Victoria sponge, generously imparting his immense knowledge and encouragement. It's an inspirational kick up the jacksie for all of us - writers or otherwise - highlighting the importance of persistence and hard work in achieving your goals. His own dedication and tenacity is impressive. He started sending bits and pieces he'd written to magazines when he was very young, and by the time he was fourteen, he says '...the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of rejection slips impaled on it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing'. You might be the most talented writer in the world, but without graft (and the hide of an elderly Italian socialite) you'll struggle.

In his book Stephen King discusses the 'ideal reader'. This is the person you write for, who you imagine reading your words first, before they go anywhere near the harsh judgement of an agent or editor. In any creative pursuit it would be unrealistic to expect to please everyone simultaneously. There is huge disparity in how individuals react to a film, book, or piece of art, etc. Is Titanic the best film of 1997? Or an over-sentimentalised load of tosh? Blimey, even professional critics disagree (and generally vociferously). If you write (or indeed live) with a trying-to-please-all mentality you will not only short-circuit your brain with the effort, but risk losing your vitality. My ideal reader is my husband. I know. Isn't that sweet? (Puke, puke, cringe). But it's true. It's my husband I try to shock or move, make laugh or shudder. It's he who can tease my writing from sub-standard to acceptable, push me, stretch me, pose questions, raise doubts. He makes me a better writer.

Unusually, perhaps, he reads as I go along. I need him to vet the first draft as it unfolds. I need to know I'm on track. That I'm not shooting off on ridiculous tangents. The moment he walks through the door from his long day and longer commute, I'm there, leaping around him like an irritating spaniel, waving pages of printout beneath his nose. Poor thing. There'll be no supper, the kids have turned feral, the kitchen's a bombsite, and there I am flapping around, as good as shouting forget you, forget them, it's all about ME, ME, ME!! I wish I didn't do this, but I physically can't control myself. So I wait for him to read, biting my nails with nervous energy. If he thinks it's good, I'm over the moon. If he thinks it's crap, I'll tear the words up.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not some kind of namby-pamby '50's housewife [chokes on tea at the thought]. I don't do whatever he says. In fact, mostly I tend to do the opposite of what he says. We can argue about anything and everything. Tired or bored enough, we could have a full-blown-smash-the-plates argument over who likes chocolate more (obviously, it's me). We've had many memorable (and risible) arguments. Once, whilst on holiday in a Spanish apartment, we had a particularly pointless, vicious row, the subject of which is of course forgotten. He'd had enough, and mid-shout marched off to the bedroom. He appeared with a blanket wrapped around his stroppy shoulders.

"I've had it with you. I've had it with this. I'm leaving!"
"Don't be idiotic," I snapped. "It's dark. Where are you going to go? We're miles from anywhere. It's a bloody forest out there."
"I'd rather sleep in a forest than here! With you!" 

And then spitting with rage he flounced (this is literally the only word I can use for it) out of the the door. I grabbed at the remote and snapped through channels, ending up on a French shopping channel where a plastic woman with neon-pink lips tried to sell me a turquoise Velor tracksuit. Then I heard him at the door. I set my mouth into a grimace. Narrowed my eyes and fixed on the television. As he stomped past me on the way to the bedroom, he announced, with a totally straight face, chin in the air: "It is actually VERY scary out there."

And this is the man with editorial control.
Which is why I read Stephen King's On Writing...a lot.

High and Lows of 2011

This morning I was tagged. I didn't know what tagging was. The person who tagged me is a new friend.  I've only known her for a few weeks. She makes me laugh daily, but I wouldn't recognise her if I passed her on the street. I met her on Twitter. Yep. I know, how odd, for actual grown-ups to...what is it...Tweet?! But Twitter is a modern phenomenon, and before I started Tweeting I, like many, believed it to be a vacuous hole of inanity, concerned with statements of digestional intent, proclamations of bowel movements and celebrity stalking. None of this goes all... Okay, it might a bit, but Twitter is also a glorious melting-pot of quick-fire banter, breaking news, bizarre viral films, unbiased and biased opinion, open debate, and a large smidge of celebrity/politician lampooning, plus live X-Factor talk, and a lot of rude words, smut and innuendo. What's not to like..?!

Anyway, I met this girl. She blogs funny stuff at Motherventing (warning: she does OCCASIONALLY write about muff and getting the horn when watching Sherlock...). Anyway, bless her, she tagged me today, which is the blogging equivalent of 'it'. Except there's no homey, and no risk of falling over and skinning your knees. You must accept the challenge. Blog's Law. I usually blog on a Monday morning, but now I have to blog today, on a Friday, in the afternoon. So wrong. I'm panicking mucho but, the Law is the Law. This tag is a Q and A regarding last year and what it meant to me:

There have been oodles of things that have made me happy, the usual I-have-to-say-this-or-else-I'm-a-bad-person-headed-straight-for-hell stuff such as family and friends doing scrummy things. But one of the happiest, from a purely selfish point of view (I DO possess other points of view, I promise) was seeing the cover of my book, Sworn Secret, for the first time. Suddenly the book-dream became real.
One of our oldest friends, Myles, who C and I were at university with, died. Myles had the spirit of a thousand men - fiercely bright, funny, kind, a mighty athlete with a smile that literally lit the room, and the best looking dude you ever laid eyes on. This all-round modern-day hero finally lost his battle with cancer, leaving his wife and small son without him. His funeral was a tragedy, and watching one of our dearest friends carrying one corner of his best-friend's coffin is the most poignant memory of last year. RIP Big Man. x
Blogging! Until the end of October 2011 I thought people who blogged were weirdos. Ok...most of us (see? I belong to a new club! Squeal with excitement and belonging) are a bit weird. Whatevs. I'm really glad I started. It's uber-fun and uber-rewarding. Especially when people comment. (Did you catch the wee hint there? No? *hits you in the face with a brick*)
The only person who let me down Ahem, ahem. Everyday. On the hour... Sometimes the half hour.
It's important for your health to laugh every day. I think doctors prescribe seventeen laughs a day, MINIMUM, for basic well-being. However, I can actually think of one particular moment. Me, on a plane, watching Bridesmaids - a film I'd resisted for months because I thought it looked crap. It isn't. Kristen Wiig is a comic genius. I sat, earphones in, tears rolling down my cheeks, guffawing as other passengers looked on in abject alarm, which of course made it even funnier.
I cry every day. Today I cried because I stubbed my toe. Yesterday I cried because I thought my book was a pile of cack. The day before I cried when two babies were born on One Born Every Minute. It goes on, the crying, every day, right back to the day I was born, when I cried (as newborns do) and everyone cheered - because back then that meant the baby was alive. Maybe the cheering is to blame?
Can I tell you one thing that made me proud of someone else instead? Thank you. My sister, Melissa, being awarded an RHS Gold Medal for her phenomenal conceptual garden at Hampton Court Flower Show. She had no budget and a big idea, and boy, was it sensational. She's amazing. Reeeespect, lady.
I assembled a dressing table. It had screws and everything, and those instructions you can't read. And an Alan key. What's that? Oh, it's an Allen key? Ahhhh, well if I'd known THAT, then maybe it would have been easier. I did it anyway. Whoop whoop me.
No, and I am thankful for this every day. I wish you, one and all, the very best for the year ahead. I think it's going to be a good'un.

That'll do. Motherventing, I picked up your gauntlet. And now, I tag, right? Cool.
Off you go @bryony32 and @cathydreyer.

Mwaaaaaahhhh. xx