Monday, 29 December 2014

I see dead people.

They’re flickering on the screen in the faded colours of an old polaroid, as real as you or me despite the shaky camera work and the muffled sound.  But then they are you and me.  You with your dandelion hair in a dark aura around your thin face, hardly recognisable from the man you are now, all padded and bearded and jowled.  You look more foreign somehow than I ever thought you were, finer featured, like and exotic girl with a too-big nose.  I gasp when I see myself.  Twenty years younger and twenty pounds thinner, my arms bare and defined, the flesh impossibly tight, and I’m so pretty.  So very, very, gaspingly pretty.  I never knew.  I have my hair up and seem to be wearing a dark lipstick though the seventies were long gone by then, and a top with roses round the neckline that I still remember buying in Portobello Green.  And the children are all there too, the oldest about 7 in a Laura Ashley dress that makes her look like a little shepherdess, The boys achingly beautiful, as was she, both still babies at 4 and 2, the youngest in a red velvet shorts and bib suit that his grandmother bought for him, and the elder smiling sweetly at the camera with not even the ghost of the tentative, guarded man he has since become, visible on his happy, infant face with the wide chocolate drop eyes brimming with happiness.

They seem to always be with you whenever the camera swings towards you, finding you in the same place, unspeaking, zoned out, separate from everyone else.  How did I not see this when I was younger.  How did I not notice you were withdrawn, awkward and antisocial?  And I’m funny, making jokes, laughing, grinning, when I’m not listening to my cousin George murder a country and western song, and quite rightly look bored out of my mind.

It tears my heart into little pieces like its no more than an old tissue stuck in the pocket of a rarely worn coat.  Those dead people, you and I, and our little babies.  Dead without a proper funeral to mourn them.

And as the camera pans around the room, I see the rest of the dead.

My mother, risen again to sing a Scottish song that I learned at her knee, her face animated, her arms joining in the chorus.  She’s in her element.  Gone several years now.

My father, singing One Enchanted Evening, his theme song, his every gesture so familiar to me that I feel him in my bones.  Gone two years before my mother.

My dear brother in law, my cousin Irene, her husband Peter, Arthur, Annie, Uncle Tom, the other Uncle Tom, Aunt Ella, their son Tom (don’t call Tom in heaven or you’ll be trampled in the stampede).  All gone.

We’re sitting watching dead people sing, smoke, get drunk and celebrate, recorded on grainy film so we can watch them briefly resurrected twenty odd years later.

My kids are delighted by their younger selves, enchanted by seeing themselves as babies.  But I can’t look for too long.  Those babies are dead and in their place are pretty nice adults who, to varying degrees, tolerate me, though the beautiful boy in the waistcoat whose eyes jump with devilment hasn’t been home for two years and hasn’t sent me as much as a birthday card in that time.  I preferred being the girl in the video to the woman I’ve become.  i knew my place then.  I was the centre of something.

It strikes me I know more dead people than those left alive.  And you and I will never celebrate another wedding anniversary with our family around us, at least not to each other.  We made it twenty five years, half of what my parents managed.

On the one hand it’s nice to see everyone again as they were in life, but on the other hand, watching these videos are like being put on the rack and tortured.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Another first

First holiday in three years that nobody has googled 'I'm Lonely' and felt the need to reach out to me.  That's a good thing.  Not that I mind, if you happened to have done this.  You can write.  I'm always happy to hear from you.

Busy work

Ooh how I cried at the Golden Wedding video.  I got through most of it with only a slight biting of the lip until we reached the end and there was a tenor singing 'Time to Say Goodbye' over snapshots of my parents taken over the years, then I burst into painful tears.  It hurts.  Loss is unendurable, and yet endure is the only thing you can do with it.

I read Ruby Wax in a sort of half formed blog on Huffington about activity being her antidote, her escape almost from depression; her drive to do, do, do, to achieve.  I sympathise and recognise that.  Of course I don't have the big house in Notting Hill and the career in television to show for all that drive.  Instead I have kitchen cupboards with empty jars covered with chalboard labels, and painted furniture, and christmas plates with initials painted on them.  I'll wake up in the morning and think, 'yes, I must refinish the kitchen table' and get busy acquiring the kit (I do love kit) and start painting.  Currently I'm driven by the urge to change the world by tidying the study and organising all the kit for the various craft projects I undertake, then make a button box as a present for my bf's mother, and make paper flowers out of music scores for the husband's gf (why?).  But, unlike Ruby, I don't feel that this is necessarily a bad symptom of escaping from my problems and not facing up to my inner turmoil.  In fact, it calms my inner turmoil.  It's a natural tranquiliser for me, to do something with my hands and let my mind go into that 'flow' space, while at the same time creating something, albeit something frivolous, or even downright naff. 

I've been manic with it too, so I do understand the Wax frenzy.  I think I'm in a better place now and that my activity now tends to me more meditative, more nurturing, more therapeutic than juggling knives.  It's all about balance.  However, yes, it's still an escape.  But escape isn't necessarily a bad thing is it?  Hiding from danger is survival.  It's knowing when to hide, how to heal, and when you have to come out fighting.

She's also right about how depression is being not able to do anything.  To be frozen.  And this, when your identity is wrapped up in the things you do, that make you you, is a loss of self.  Who am I if I can't paint, or write, or clean a cupboard?  Just a bag of anxiety, fear and grief?  And if so, does that negate me further?  Of course it doesn't because it's what we do with our lives that makes us who we are, that colours our personalities - not in terms of achievements and goals, just in what makes us tick.  And what makes me tick is clearing out the craft cupboard, and making a box out of papier mache.  It makes me happy.

Blue Christmas

it's over.

Christmas and its overindulgent, overcrowded, overspent, overeaten glory.  I wish I could enjoy it more without the constant shadow of Christmas past looming over me.  Not only the bittersweet nostalgia of lost years and once happy memories with a sting in the tail, but with the resonance of the more recent events that clang in my ears, sometimes all too familiarly.
And then there's the family.  Real families, lest there be anyone, anywhere, still left in any doubt about it, are messier than their Hallmark Channel counterparts (and after my winter of madness when Christmas 24 kept me company through the wee small hours, I am something of an expert on this).  They are a blessing that takes you for granted, and seem to generate a Linus-like miasma of 'stuff' around them as they move through the house, sorry 'their' house, whilst still managing to make you feel like they'd rather be almost anywhere else in the world.

Despite, or possibly as the cause of my own stressful time, I still have this imagined rosy glow of Christmas with the family, where we all sit around toasting marshmallows and each others  like we're re-enacting Little Women, and I'm the beloved Marmee, but it never turns out like that.  It's still pretty marvellous, and an all too fleeting, precious, time that I know is borrowed from an uncertain future, but let no-one say it is easy.  Four, five, six personalities all crammed into two over-furnished, over-heated rooms, burdened by the idiosyncrasies of a lifetime of bickering and real and imagined slights, fanned by the undercurrents of the things nobody says to anyones faces (he always uses my mouthwash, she always wears my pants, she's nicer to the cat than me, the house smells of bum), and it's a wonder that I've only landed in the nuthouse once.

This year, for the first time since we decided to get married, Christmas of too-long-ago to remember - 31, 31 years? - I did not spend the holiday season with my husband.  Instead, he and his new partner took their new baby off to introduce her to her non-Christmas celebrating Jewish relatives in New York where the little mite can be inducted into the schizophrenic world she has been born into; the world of rewritten history:
Husband:  Well we never really celebrated Christmas
We have celebrated Christmas enthusiastically with all the trimmings for the past thirty years and his mother, celebrated Christmas with more pomp than Mrs Claus, with a bigger tree than Harrods, a turkey and canned Cranberry sauce, despite being Muslim.
But, no, now we don't and never have really celebrated, he maintains as his new partner lights her Hanukkah minorah which, presumably, they're not really celebrating either.
And whoosh, thirty years of my life, conveniently forgotten to make way for the new reality.
So he didn't come.
And what a relief it was.
I'm not going to say I didn't miss him a little, for a fleeting moment, since he's been as much part of the tradition as the hijabi woman at the top of the tree, and the Mexican creche, both of which he outdoes in terms of silence, but I didn't miss the itching to get away, the suffering through the three, four, five hours as though it was some sort of ordeal to be endured, like dental surgery, and the false jollity of everyone else trying to make up for his unease.
On Christmas day we watched an old DVD of my parents Golden Wedding Anniversary, shot when my now thirty year old daughter was six, and her brothers four and two respectively.  And everytime the cine camera caught him, he was sitting in the same place, either by himself or with the children, talking to nobody.
How could I have been married to him for all those years and not notice he didn't interact?
Anyway, presumably he's off sitting in someone else's house not talking this holiday season, though the baby as the specialist subject du jour, at least provides a focal point - like a fire in a cold room.  She is adorable, and her every movement is commented on like a sign from an oracle.
We were probably like that too with our first little baby.  It seems odd that those days are long behind me now and he's reliving them all again with someone else at the ripe old ago of 65.  God.  Life is funny and full of unimaginable surprises.  What's scary is at my age, some of those unimaginable surprises are likely to be of the ominous variety!
So, we broke with tradition.  Halleluyah.  What a blessed, blessed relief.  Never, ever again will we spend Christmas together and it's okay.  It's fine.  It's better than fine.
Soon the kids will have families of their own and drift away - already one son has a quasi-wife and hasn't been home for two years, or incidentally sent a card or a present in that time either.  Next year the 'kids' as they still insist on behaving, may be scattered across the world.  Last year my other son was in Brazil.  My eldest daughter will run like the wind, the first time she finds a crack in the door to escape from.  It surely can't be long when it's me and the cats, the BBC, and I don't bother putting up the tree any more because there's no point, and I start volunteering for Crisis at Christmas to give myself something to do.
Doesn't sound that bad.
Glad it's over.
Bah Humbug.
But I'll still treasure the memories, and fold them all away in tissue paper and cotton wool with the tree decorations and store them carefully.
And throw out all the silly annoyances with the uneaten food in the tupperware at the back of the fridge.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Please Release Me

I am an intelligent woman.  I’ve raised four kids, I manage the day to day of a small company, I run a house, a home, an office.  I’m efficient.  Okay, so why the hell can’t I make this damn diet work?

I know the principles.  I’ve done it before.  Twice.  And each time it worked.  But three weeks in - eating chicken, salad, low fat everything, no sugar everything else, in other words nothing with taste – I stand on the scales and the weight loss in all that time is four pounds.  Although I seem to have gained back one of those pounds, so grand total: three.


Three is a not-particularly bad bout of stomach flu.  It’s a diuretic.  It’s the difference between pre and post menstrual.  IT IS NOT THREE WEEKS OF RUDDY CHICKEN.

When I think of all the things I’ve denied myself:  the football mid-match potato wedges, the pre-match ice cream.  The toast in the morning.  The butter on the toast in the morning.  The crumpets, the scones, the tea and biscuits. The pasta.  The pastry.  I mean, I have no trouble knowing why I gain weight, but having cut all that crap out, why isn’t the fat dropping off me?

It’s not that the science of dieting is all 0% fat Greek yoghurt to me.  I know what to do – eat less, move more, cut out the carbs, check the fat and sugar content in foods.  I could do it as my specialist subject on Mastermind.  So I eat the dreary omelettes and walk an hour a day.  I cheer myself up (the term is relative) with a 10 cal jelly.  And yet.  The bum remains visible from space.  The muffin top continues to spill from the top of my ‘fat’ jeans, which in turn cling to my legs like they got a fright in the drawer.

It’s not the worst thing in the world to be overweight.  I can still go outside without having to hire a marquee to cover my bulk.  My wrinkles are nicely padded, and the second chin is only visible when I slump on the sofa with the laptop on my stomachs.  I look, to a kind person, comfortably chubby,  and to the hater like a Hallowe’en pumpkin (cos I’m wearing an orange dress), but I can suck that up, and my belly in at the same time.  I’m not hiding away in the Obese Witness Protection Program.  I’m out in the world, large and proud.  I can live with this.  But I’d rather not.  And so having taken the measures to eradicate a bit of blubber, why the hell isn’t it leaving?

Everything else has (kids, husband, youth, thigh-gap. memory, natural hair colour, my credit rating), so what is wrong with the fat?  Why doesn’t it go?

I would give up in a heartbeat, and embrace my curves, but there are two problems with this.  One:  due to my appetite for saturated fat, let’s face it – I won’t stay at my current size.  While it’s hard to persuade the chubb to go, like that last guest at the party who hangs around in the doorway, chatting, it’s easy peasy to gain more weight.   Fat is like the people who never invite you to dinner but are only too happy to turn up to your place when you issue an invitation, and who don’t bring a bottle.  So, if I can’t lose the weight when I’m dieting it stands to reason (reason?  Where is reason in all this craziness?) that if I begin eating like a ‘normal’ American Mid-Westerner again, it’ll pile back on.

But the second reason is the real one behind my search for a waist.  Clothes.

I have loads of them.  And I love them.  They’re hanging on the rail in my walk-in closet saying; ‘wear me, wear me…’ and I can’t because they don’t ruddy fit.

So I have this picture in my head of  myself wearing the ‘pumpkin’ dress and looking more like, say a squash or a speciality courgette,  with thinnish legs sprouting from the bottom.  Maybe some ankles even.  I don’t care about health, particularly.  I don’t care about having my arse look big in jeans.  What I care about is simply being able to wear my frocks and look… - well I’d settle for nice.

It’s not too much to ask is it?

So please.  Fat.  Just Flab Off.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Malice in Chunderland

I am not real.  I am a fantasy.  My own fantasy, admittedly - I think, let's be frank, nobody with a real, interesting life, would dream up someone as banal as me.  Even the fantasy of myself is pretty lame.  And this is it:  I collect objects that correspond to a spurious alternative universe where I have dinner parties, appreciative family meals, friends even, and grandchildren.  I may well have written here before about the wardrobe; the wardrobe that exists for a life I do not and never will lead, in which I have opera coats for the opera I go to once every two years (and don't enjoy), and evening wraps to wear with the evening dresses I don't own at the gala dinners etc that I never attend.  I have a drawer full of lingerie for the sex life I no longer even aspire to, and nighties for nights in which I will never wear them.  I have gardening clothes - and yes, I do garden, but I do that in the nightie that I don't wear at night, but slip on in the morning.  I have decorating clothes, but tend to paint in whatever I happen to be wearing at the time that the notion to redecorate hits, and then once they're splattered in paint (along with my hair, skin, and all surrounding surfaces - because I never put the old sheets down that I keep in the 'decorating' cupboard for this purpose) I either keep going until they're ruined and become 'new' decorating clothes that I'll never wear, or take them off and do it naked.  Yep.  I admit it.  I am a naked decorator.  I also have DIY clothes.  But I don't ever do DIY.  I have aprons.  They hang on a peg unworn.  In fact the only garment from my speciality wardrobe that I do actually use is my 'football' gear - leather trousers and longjohns that keep me snug on the terraces.

So that's the reason for one walk in wardrobe, four storage boxes and three chest of drawers.  Oh and because I'm at the top of my weight spectrum none of the 'normal' clothes fit me either.

But this isn't about frocks and costumes.  This is about props.  This is about 'Eric' the foot high bunny cookie jar that in my imaginary universe, one of the unborn as yet, imaginary grandchildren will at a future date, reach their chubby little hand into, and remove a homemade cookie from, and love me that little bit more.  This is about the collection of fruit shaped jam jars, that the same imaginary grandchild, or one of its siblings, will demand to have on the table when I'm making them breakfast from scratch when they come to stay in Granny's non-existent house in the country, and have a boiled egg from Granny's non-existent chickens.    This is about the ice-cream sandwich maker that the self-same grandchildren will crow over when I give them the star shaped one, made with my own home made ice cream from the ice-cream maker, and...  well you get the picture.  And if you don't, I have them all on facebook.

None of my children even want kids.  And you can guarantee when they do, those chubby little grandchildren will not be allowed sugar, and probably not allowed anywhere near evil granny.

And still I dream.  I can immediately envisage the dinner party where I take the lid off the new cheese plate that I bought this week on Columbia Road.  Who eats cheese any more?  Who isn't lactose intolerant, or gluten-free (which puts paid to the sweet Indonesian bread baskets with the net cloche lids)?  Who has dinner parties?  Who has friends?  I don't.  I can't even get my children to have dinner with me, without watching them pick over the food like it's impregnated with americium-241.  But, nevertheless the cheese plate is bought.  As well as a jelly mould (ground up bones anyone - oh you're a vegetarian?)   Big daughter is leaving for a couple of months to travel to Japan to acquaint herself with real radiation, and in my innocence I decide, well I'll cook her a farewell dinner.  Who needs friends when you have family?

Of course, it's all a ploy to use the cheese plate.  The meal has a centre piece, and it's green with a mouse on top and cats frolicking around the side.  (In life as well as ceramic.)  So I go to Waitrose and buy a nice hunk of something Italian.  I buy a jar of pickled pears to go with it.  I get some asparagus (I have an asparagus dish too - but in the end I forget to use it - another of the casualties of the kitsch collector is memory) and I make a pie.

It's to be torta da porro.  Leek pie - a Tuscan dish according to google.  Big daughter is a vegetarian so there can be no meat.  Bf is also a vegetarian but will eat sand if you assure him no animal has died in it.  Small daughter is just picky and doesn't eat anything.  But I'm inspired.  Leek pie it will be, except neither Waitrose nor Marks and Spencer have leeks.  Tesco is out too.  Okay so torta dei zucchini then, because everyone has courgettes.

Courgettes, however, are mostly water.  Water that keeps on coming.  I am surprised they don't export them to arid countries as an alternative to digging a well.  I add eggs.  I add a bit of cheese.  I think it's going to be like spanakopitta, but courgettapitta.  I lay out the filo pastry and scatter toasted almonds between the sheets, spoon in the filling, bake and voila - 35 minutes later it is ready to flip.  This method has worked well with chicken twice over the past week, but today - no siree.  It looks good until I turn it over and sauce oozes out, all over the bottom of the oven.  The eggs have not done their job and bound the pie together.  Rather the eggs have gone off on holiday and left the filling to run amok - home alone.  It's a pie in three parts.  Pastry.  Filling.  Liquid.

It tastes okay.  It does.  The daughters poke it with a fork and leave it on their plate.

This was not part of the fantasy ladies and gentleman.  This is not the stuff dreams are made of, neither culinary nor maternal.   In none of my alternate universes do crap meals made by mother feature high on the aspirational list of things to do before I die.  I know there are things more soul destroying that having your kids exchange knowing glances over the kitchen table, before they run out to the corner shop and buy the ingredients for brownies, which they have for supper instead (and don't bloody offer round), while one can only imagine glumly what they are saying about your cooking to your detriment.

Bf ate it.  He said it tasted nice.  I ate it.  It was ok.  Just ok.  Not horrible.  Bf wouldn't know a good meal from a three-legged donkey unless it comes curried, but he did like it.

Still, I did get to use the cheese plate.  Though now it's tainted with memories of inadequacy and failure.

That's the thing about imaginary lives.  They are just that.  Made up.
delicious tomatoes from the greenhouse on the revamped tea tray for the imaginary tea parties

bad pie

cheese cloche

good pie

fantasy summer dinner parties will have these troughs full of ice and cold beers

oh granny, what lovely jam jars you have

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Lonely Bloody Marion

So I swore on Radio 4.  Sorry wimmin.  I'm a bit of a curser.

My hands are still shaking, though I wasn't nervous beforehand, but I realised afterwards the hand tremor is from the coffee as much as it is from outing myself as a saddo on National Radio.  But I’ve always wanted to do Women’s Hour and if that was the price I had to pay, then I was happy to cough it up, along with my angst.

I’m not so lonely these days, but I feel the specter of it, always, lingering there, just as one does with depression when one has suffered from that, which I have too.  But as the women on the program before me were saying, depression is a symptom, and often a result of real sadness.  To those people who think – oh you’re not lonely, you’re depressed, well yes – because loneliness is bloody depressing.  It’s horrible feeling isolated, horrible feeling that nobody is holding you in their mind, and that you’re one of the ‘forgotten’ despite being surrounded by people.  I often think of that poem – I wandered lonely as a cloud, and think it should read ‘crowd’.

I gave the woman who spoke about taking Citalopram which I also take, a big hug, when she came out of the recording suite.  I’ve felt too, exactly as she described, and maybe if more of us hugged those with whom we empathised, we’d all be less sad, less lonely, less isolated with our troubles.

And to the woman who said you have to learn to (and I quote) LIKE YOUR OWN COMPANY.
Well, I DO.  But, frankly, I’m not that much fun to be with 24/7.  I actually love my own company, but in response to not having to endure it all the time.  It’s wonderful to be alone, to loll in bed, to get on with things without interruption, but as a way of life, it’s a bit one dimensional.  I like people.  I like being liked.  I enjoy being enjoyed.  I love laughing with others.  Laughing on your own is a bit of a one way ticket to the loony bin, and I’ve been there.  It’s not funny.

And there are a lot of people in there talking to themselves.  Not a great place for conversation.  Though they are generous with the drugs


Monday, 23 June 2014

Lonely, I am so Lonely

Oh, oh, lonely girl, lonely gi i i rl...
don't know the rest of the woooooo ooo ooords
hey there lonely girl...

I'm on Woman's Hour tomorrow.  Not telling anyone here, as I'm embarrassed.  Though it's the achievement of one of my dreams, I was perhaps not planning on it being because I'm a lonely old bag with not enough friends.

Still, enjoy it anyway, Marion!  It's not like it's a secret...  And since I don't have many friends, then it doesn't matter what they think of me.  They already know.

Friday, 20 June 2014


100 days of happiness taking a serious bashing today with the first agent rejection of which promises to be a trend, I feel.  I'm not the most optimistic person at the best of times, but when you already don't have a great feeling about something, it's hard to talk yourself out of feeling despondent.  Disappointment is such an horrible, crushing feeling that is much underestimated as a source of pain.  And yet it leaves one feeling drained and bruised and full of failure.  It's hard not to compare yourself to other who've had agents banging on their doors and just think that you're a talentless has-been who never even was.

But I've been down the road before and I know that it's a very long one with no guarantee of success at the end, even if you get the agent, and then get the publisher, and then get the book out there.  People still have to buy it, read it, like it, tell their friends and I'm better placed than anyone to know what a thankless trek the whole thing is.

Every day the in-boxes at work are full of stories, good stories, great stories, and many, very many adequate stories.   Let's forget the bad ones for a second, and concentrate on those others that are all easily publishable.  But they aren't.

They are dismissed by page five, or even not read at all.  Why?  Because we can only publish a few books a year and there has to be some type of criteria for filleting them out and it’s often as vague as a dopey sounding heroine, or a plot you don’t like the sound of in the submission letter.  Or it can be spelling mistakes on the first page that put you off, or something that by page 5 hasn’t grabbed you.  It’s as random as that.  So someone who has spent a year writing a book, editing, and changing, and getting their friends to read it, and tweaking the plot just so, is dismissed in a second.

Does this mean that the book isn’t any good.  No it doesn’t.  It just means that it’s not one that jumps off the page and ensnares you, and just like men, if you’re lucky enough to meet them on the bus, there are few books that do that.  There are many that are perfectly fine, and even enjoyable, but with such a narrow space to publish them within, fine, nice and enjoyable, don’t cut the mustard.

And then you get to the books you do publish.  Several people have liked these.  Several people have read them in their own time and decided they were worthy of the next step forward.  They are copy edited, and desk edited, they are sent to printers, covers commissioned, typeset, printed as proofs, printed as final copies, and touted round the bookshops and Amazon.  And then the orders come in – 10 from Waterstones, 20 here, 100 there – even Amazon don’t order big if you’re a first time author, or indeed just an author without any marketing spend behind them.

But if your publisher believes in you enough there will be a marketing spend – and basically they’ll pay a bung to Amazon to promote it, or another to a supermarket to put it on the best seller list at no 6, or another to the highstreet to put it in a certain place on a certain shelf, or to add it to a ‘summer read’ promotion – if it is lucky enough to be picked.

People still have to buy it.  And people are annoying.  They don’t.

The number of lovely books we publish at work, with lovely authors, and lovely artwork, and lovely stories, and poof 1000 copies sold.

This is what the writer is up against.  Why bother?

I’m not sure I can answer that.  As a person who has spent the last year and half writing a book and a half that I think probably nobody wants, I’m really not sure why I bothered?

Not for the pain of rejection and the sting of failure that inevitably follows somewhere along the line.

Not for the feelings of inferiority when other people do better

Not for the embarrassment of ‘working’ in publishing but not being able to get my own book published.

Just because, well I like writing, and I like stories, and I really would like someone else to like my stories to, to be my audience, to be entertained.  To engage with me, albeit second hand.

For us Amazon, the demon Amazon, with it’s possibility of self-publishing is probably the only option left.

So as I flick through the latest submission that’s sent round the office and think, ‘ach, it’s a bit ordinary’, or ‘I didn’t like the writing’ or as I toss the unsolicited manuscript into the wire basket behind my desk with nary a glance at it, or if I have glanced at it, a dismissive shrug when I read ‘I  was abused by my stepfather’ or ‘I spent many years teaching in Lewisham/Burma/Borstal’...  I can’t help think that I’m getting back my own bad Karma.

I’m the author nobody wants to read.

I should probably give up and put my time to better use, feed the homeless, or do a degree in physics (despite not being able to count).

But I’ll keep on churning the words out, because I like the sound of my own voice on paper.  And I’ll give myself my own pep talk.

Life, Marion, is not about success or failure, it’s about living it, doing what you’re good at and enriching yourself with your endeavors.  I’ve published a book before that people liked and it didn’t change my life one iota.  I had no more friends.  No more confidence.  No more opportunities.  What I had was £30K (very nice too) and a book in a shop (even nicer).

But here I am five years later and one and a half books under my belt and I’m actually further behind since the agent I had then has totally lost interest in me, and it seems, I may not find another.

But I still have the stories and the invisible people in my head.

Oh and Amazon Kindle Self Publishing.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Fanning around

Friday afternoons in the office are like one of those sci fi films where a mysterious illness (in this case called seniority) has stuck down the rest of the population, but left some unwitting survivors toiling away at their desks who missed the bolt of lightening, or the toxic rain, or whatever...  The place is deserted.  No cats, fat or otherwise (unless you count me, and though I rank pretty high both on the scales and in terms of service, in terms of authority, I'm pretty slim) and several mice.  And you know what mice are supposed to do when the cat's away?  That's  right, poop all over the desks and sprinkle incontinently wherever they roam.  In fact the real mice do that in the office whether the Boss Cats are here or not.  We worker mice, however, well we're a tad more fastidious.  We do a lot of slow strolling between one office and the others.  Generally some communal food appears.  There is a surge in tea and coffee making activity, and 'what are you doing at the weekends?' crop up as the question du jour.  There are late starts, and early coffee breaks, there are little jaunts to the coffee shop to buy the lattes which we have to work about the twenty minutes it takes to get them, to earn enough to buy them.  There are long lunches and I believe the wine often comes out at around 4, though by then I'm long gone, on my 'early' finish.

Currently there is not a sound in the office.  Not a tap on a keyboard, just the whirring of the fan which is bringing me home from the Island of Menopause to the City of Normal.  With everyone but me gone for lunch I'm beginning to wonder if everyone is dead, and I'm the only one left.  Just think.  I could wear trackies all the time and eat bread again, get stupendously fat.  It actually doesn't sound like such a bad result.  End of civilization? - bring on the buttered toast.  And annihilation would surely be only a fitting result for all those who are mysteriously and continuously busy 'working' at home on the days the rest of us carry on without them.  That's what I'd call Karma.

As well as my sister in law.  Well, because that's her name.

Brief Encounter

So I woke up this morning and the sky was as blue as contact lense cleaner.  I jumped out of bed and put my Spongebob Squarepants shorts and shirt on, so that I looked like a walking block of cheese, and I danced downstairs.  And then I smelt it.  Cat poo.  Then I saw it.  Darn that ginger cat who seems to think that the corner by the front door is a supplementary litter box.  Yeuch.  I went to the loo to get some paper to swab it up with and discovered nothing.  No rolls of paper, no spares on the door, nothing by the side of the computer, nothing anywhere.  Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr   I stomp upstairs and burst into son's bedroom where a full loo roll sits by the side of his bed.  A little fact he can't seem to comprehend is that his nose is not as important as the person whose bottom is perched on the lavatory.  Or the person who needs to hurriedly pick up poo.  Protestations ensue, as I grabbed the roll and went into cleaner mode.  Double Yeuch.  It's at times like these I wonder at the pleasure of cats.  Ten minutes later after I had bleached the floor, my hands and all surfaces within touch radius, and I watched my bus trundle past as I left the house.

Not a great start to the day.  Not much better when at Oxford Circus the bus decides it is terminating and I have to get off.  But the sun is still shining, and though I exchange a rueful smile with the man in the seat in front who gets off at the same time as me.  And then the smile turns into a sentence, and the sentence turns into a conversation, and the conversation turns into a smiley walk up New Oxford Street, as we fall into step with each other.  Can't remember the last time I spoke to someone who was not a candidate for care in the community.  Can't remember the last time I spoke to a man within ten years of my age who was actually deliciously attractive.  And this man was.  Tall, broad, gorgeous face, sweet smile, little touch of the Mills and Book grey at the temples.  Oh swoon.  Reminded me I had a heart.  I smiled at him all the way along the road and only thought I might well have lipstick on my teeth after we'd shaken hands and he'd left.  Lovely, lovely man.  I wonder what it feels like to be the sort of woman that men like that find attractive.  It used to be me, when I was about twenty and didn't know it, so I can't even look at past experience.

Anyway, sailed along the street the rest of the way to Russell Square, walking on air, a little boxy walking cheese, with a big cheesy smile...

Friday, 23 May 2014

Day 34? of the Happiness Project

I say 34, but actually it's a ball park 34 as I've lost count.  But give or take a day or two, that's a whole month of HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY.  Picture me chanting and clinking little cymbals, dancing down Oxford street - but no, it's not like that, it's more of a quiet pleasure.

Mindfulness, people keep saying to me, as in 'isn't that mindfulness?' and it is, I guess, sort of, kinda, though I see it more as just old fashioned stopping to smell the roses, and making more time to hang around by the rose bush, but doesn't it say something about modern life that in order to enjoy it, we have to have a special noun to describe something that should be the whole basis of our existence. What are we alive for, and what do we do all the struggling for, and the chores, and the angst and the routine, if not to take pleasure in our lives?

It's true I had got out of the habit.  I spent more time worrying about everything and anything, as though my troubles (real and imagined) were beads on a rosary that I had to pick off, one by one, every day and obsess over, instead of realising that tackling your problems is not the same as be at them.  So I swapped the beads, and now I just try to count the good moments, and there are suprisingly many of them.

Badly Drawn Wummin

According to Selfridges windae display - 60% of people are ashamed of their bodies.

I'd say, most of them are standing in a changing room.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

20th of May, long, long ago

In another world, parallel to this one, if things had gone differently, I would be celebrating a mammoth 31 years of being married to the same person.  Thirty one years.  Such a long time.  Even if you subtract six from it for the length of time it's been since the marriage ended, it's a long time; a lifetime, literally.  The lifetime of all four of my kids.

It makes me so hugely sad.  Desperately, achingly so.  Even after six years, the sorrow chokes me still.  I want my dream back.  But then, if I try, I can remember too the horrid days at the end of the road - the grief, the agony, the pain, and that's not something I want to hold on to.  But it's funny, isn't it, the way when you reminisce that it's often the cream that rises to the top - the happy times, the good days, the special moments, and not the dross of petty betrayals and more serious wounds.

So, on facebook, that bible of human endeavor, my friend posted this:

and I realised that I'd failed singularly at the last point.  Sorry Buddha.  I was, and still struggle to let go of the past, which was patently not meant for me.  I've tried to be gracious and 'realistic' and in all outward appearances, I probably have been, but inside, and here, I am like a kid with a lolly stick, unwilling to throw it away because I want to eat it again, despite there being nothing left but an orange stained bit of wood.   And so I hold it in my sticky fingers and wail.  Wah wah.

This, despite knowing that I'm better, happier, nicer, more content, more centred, more fulfilled now than I ever was when married.  But.

that's what I'd add to the Buddha list.  a big fat 12p courier bold but

there are no buts in Buddhism though. 

Oh well.  Tomorrow is another day of no significance to anyone
(except we actually had the Muslim ceremony on the 21st, so...)

(and don't even get me started on the dead dad thing!)

Friday, 28 March 2014

Jellied Delight

In praise of jelly.

Rule one:  Do not think about gelatin.  Just don't.  Now, I've reminded you, your head will of course be full of the glutenous stuff, and your thoughts may drift towards where it comes from, but I say, don't go there.  Just pull back and concentrate instead on jelly moulds and children's parties of yore, or in my case, vicious orange wobbly domes enshrining day-glo mandarin slices from a tin, which might still put some people off, but to me is a happy memory of childhood, gullaped into a bowl and smothered with evaporated milk. Yup I was a babe of the fifties and a child of the sixties where love and vitamin C came steeped in syrup from a can, and jelly from unsavory sources, by way of Chivers.

But begone those days.  Step forth Agar Agar and other forms of 'vegetarian' gelatin that leaves the lambs and calves frolicking about in the field, toes intact:

  • Agar, agar-agar, or kanten: Made from red algae, agar is often used in Asian desserts and firm jellies. It's flavorless and has a firmer, less jiggly texture than gelatin. The powdered form of agar is easiest to measure and use; bars and flakes should be dissolved in water first. See this post for more tips. → 1 teaspoon gelatin = 1 teaspoon agar powder→ To set 1 cup of liquid, use 1 teaspoon agar powder or 2 tablespoons agar flakes or 1 agar bar
  • Carrageen or Irish Moss: Carrageen is a flavorless seaweed that can be used for soft jellies, puddings, and mousses. To use the dried seaweed (look for whole, not powdered), rinse it well, soak it in water for about 12 hours until it swells, then blend it thoroughly with your liquid. A carrageen extract called carrageenan is used in some vegan Kosher gel products like Lieber's Unflavored Jel. → To set 1 cup of liquid, use 2 ounces dried carrageen
  • Vegan Jel: Faith highly recommends Unflavored Vegan Jel by Natural Deserts. It's made with vegetable gum (we're not sure what kind), adipic acid, tapioca dextrin, calcium phosphate, and potassium citrate. As Faith wrote in her panna cotta post, Vegan Jel "sets softly, melts in the mouth, and is by far the closest thing to regular unflavored gelatin that I have found." → 1 teaspoon gelatin = 1 1/2 teaspoons Vegan Jel (
When my sis was visiting recently I happened to catch A LOT of daytime TV, which as any one lucky (or unlucky - dependent on how much you actually want to watch overweight chaps running around the country in a sports car buying junk) enough to be shut-in on the sofa will know, is the home of cookery shows and antique hunting.  And so there was James Martin, comfortably cuddly, knocking up an elegant jelly terrine using home-made cordial (sugar and fruit boiled and strained - another story, my dears) and fresh raspberries.  Oh how it wobbled and shivered and shook, and oh how my tough old heart trembled in anticipation.  Instantly I wanted jelly.  Jelly and ice cream...  and so I set forth - first step - washing the grime out of the old jelly moulds I currently use as decoration on a shelf alongside the 1001 other bits of kitchen kitsch I never get around to using...  

Next step - cling film.  I always have trouble getting the jelly out of the mould which is part of the reason I don't use them (as well as the need to scrub them first).  Yes, as pointed out by a fellow mould-collector (who also never uses her) 'but then you get indentations in the jelly' - this is true.  But if you're that much of a perfectionist, you can do it your way and just hope the plop out by themselves, or after dipping in hot water (last time I tried that, the jelly melted).

Furthermore, if you're going to add fruit, it's not going to show so much that there are a few creases in the side of the jelly (a bit like the ones I get from the pillow on my face when I wake up in the  morning).  Promise.  The proof of the pudding etc...  So here goes.

Cling film draped loosely inside the mould, then press some fruit into the dimples - very satisfying.  Dissolve the agar agar in the fruit syrup (or alternatively the cubes of Chivers, eat gelatin and turn off your imagination jelly), and pour just enough over the fruit.  Leave to set.  Put it in the icebox to help it along.  Once set, you can add the rest of the jelly in layers with different fruit if you like...  Here's one I am going to make later: