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