Friday, 8 December 2017

Snooker

I love Snooker. It's by far my favourite sport. I'm not into team games. As the bloke in Snow Angels says, 'I am Collingwood's.' He is the shipyard. Okay so behind every successful person lies a whole load of other people propping them up but to see the snooker players at the table is just bliss. They are so clever and yet so unworldly. That sounds awful and patronising but it isn't meant to be. That's what I'm like. All I know is my trade and I understand how it works and how when the book is finished or when you are facing the camera you have to be the best  because people are sitting there taking pot shots at you. Luckily they are all former snooker players so you stand it.
There is nothing more delightful than a mind against a mind. The commentators are stars, they really are. Even at their most critical they are calm and soft voiced and just, well, the sort of men you'd have a drink with.
And there are all so different and they all seem to be married and to have children. Maybe I'm glazing this over a bit but the whole world of snooker seems encapsulated in what we see on screen. I know it isn't, I know I'm rose petalling it but the tension is just so exquisite. You play the table and it's a game of nerve and skill and endurance of every kind and there is nowhere to hide, just like when your book is published and people pour scorn on it. I know, I do it. I criticise books and television. I don't criticise sports stars, I just marvel that they do it. How do they do that?  How do they come back again and again?
Two of them this week, Ronnie O'Sullivan was the first and the implication was that he doesn't care about the politics any more. He has a good life, he has made it for himself and he doesn't have to worry about the money and so he plays and he enjoys it and he has a life.  And then Mark King. They are so frank and he said on camera that now he has made enough money to pay his hotel bills he plays differently and yes, of course you do. It takes tremendous character to get to that stage, huge guts and then they can concentrate better but it's different than when they started out and were all enthusiasm and couldn't see the pitfalls. The joys of being young. You don't worry, you just want the prize so there is joy and problems in all of it. Some people live for this.
Ronnie O'Sullivan said, 'you drive your own car.' Well I just hope his car is a Ferrari, at least one of them, just for the hell of it. There is nothing more elating than watching a good snooker player work several steps ahead so that they know what is going to happen. It's one of the joys of life watching people perform magic and it happens all the time in so many different places. Sport is the top of how things should be. Men and women competing instead of fighting, it's gladitorial in the best possible sense, and that's how it should be. Always.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Extra Post. Don't read it if you have something better to do.

Fed up!! Fed right up!!  Internet goes off. Email goes off. Edits don't go off when they should and I worry in case they are dreadful so that the book which I have spent the whole year writing will be appallingly awful. The bills are huge and it"s nearly Christmas. Rats and all those other things.  It's too icy to go out in case I break a leg for Christmas. I don't want to have to be grateful for having a downstairs loo. Can you imagine?  Six months of ready meals and having to ask Waitrose to bring a hundred bottles of wine with my order?
I try to think of other things I can do so that I don't have to sit here hours a day trying to think of something to write!!!  I can drive so I could work for Domino's except that I can't see in the dark and have no sense of direction.
I can walk dogs. Well, not very well any more, since I have a knee which keeps collapsing. I kid you not. I fell off a stool in the kitchen the other night while standing on it, scouring the cupboards. I know I shouldn't get on stools but with no other bugger here to do it I had to look for bay leaves. I couldn't get the outside door open because of the bloody ice and although there are hundreds of bay leaves out there they were of no help. I cannot eat risotto without bay leaves. It would be, well I don't know what the hell it would be but it wouldn't do. Luckily, after having done no more damage than sitting on the floor with bruised knees I found some slightly dried up bay leaves which were lurking on the window ledge in the kitchen.
Note to self. Must move things down from top shelves but no more getting on stools so perhaps not.
I could work on the checkout at Sainsbury's except that my daughter who has worked in food retail for years says they wouldn't have me. I mean, would you?  I can chat to you about literature, history, nuns, feminism and Weardale. Not what you really want for conversation. My specialist subject is the industry of the north east. Boy, I'm good at it. Shipbuilding, house building, mines, iron foundries, steel foundries and also keeping hens. And goats.
I could teach creative writing. Oh, not again. Hard work. I could write short stories. Dear God, groans from all over the area. I'm not good at short stories and talk about a flooded market.
I could sell my beautiful house and move to -  God knows where. Everywhere is so expensive. Even places you don't want to live.
My friends, knowing I am fed up say, 'ring me' and I think how can I when they have real problems and my problem is just that I should have gone away this autumn and didn't. I am a very lucky woman but I don't feel like that right now so if you are reading this and you think how stupid, yes, you are right. I am stupid.
Worst of all I see myself in a cottage with a fire up in the dale or by the sea with lovely cats and dogs. How dim is that?  Think of the cost.  Think of hauling all that wood into the house and where to get it and who would pile it up? Think of the cats tearing my sofa to pieces. Think of them getting old and having to be put down. Believe me, I am the expert. I've put down more animals. Well, let's not go there. Think of them howling all night and throwing up and doing other disgusting things. Dear God. You see I am lucky. I don't have to do anything but put up with me.
Sometimes, believe me, that is no picnic. I keep telling people I used to be a nice woman but no, I'm afraid not. I was always a cantankerous cow and am getting worse so pity the people I am seeing this Christmas because they have to be nice to me while I complain about the dreadful telly they watch and get drunk every evening. Pity my daughter. Bless her little heart, she has to put up with me.
She organises Christmas, she plans everything, she buys the presents and then she has me, swilling back the wine and criticising everything.
I shall just have to keep on writing as long as somebody keeps on paying but I must go away next autumn. I cannot bear the soul I am when I sit here ranting. Awful.
And anyway if you are reading this poor you, and how kind. Don't you have Christmas cards to write, and Christmas presents to buy and wrap and even a tree to put up.  I hope you have a lovely Christmas. Pity my poor daughter who has almost a week of me. Ah, the joys of  having children.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Country Lizzie goes to town

I congratulate myself that I am now a city girl, having lived with cars, pollution and nearby theatres, restaurants and university for fifteen years but having gone down to London this week - I know people call it up to London but there you go - I realise what a naive little soul I am.
 You'll love this because it sounds terribly impressive. I went to London to see my agent, meet my new editor, have dinner with writing friends at a club which was built in Georgian times, and generally be seen.  I was looking forward to the dinner, then having afternoon tea with my editor and agent the day after and winding up at a writers' party in a library. How very apt.
I got new clothes to go. What a good excuse to spend money. I traveled first class otherwise I would never persuade myself to the station and when I got to London I walked around the corner to the Premier Inn at Kings Cross.
 Could anything be  handier?  Yes, I almost choked at the price but hell, London is all like that and it has to be the best Premier Inn in the world and that's saying something. There are few places better than a Premier Inn. The staff knock themselves sideways for you, their beds are so good I always wish I could smuggle one out in my suitcase and the food is well, at least edible and this one was particularly good. The wine is excellent and not terribly expensive. If you like red go for  the beefsteak Malbec. Seven quid for a huge glass. Also Premier Inns are ideal for single women. You don't have to go outside in the darkness, there is always at least one restaurant on hand and there was also a Costa coffeeshop and a big foyer or entrance hall or whatever you call it where you could sit and read, talk, work and in my case read George Gissing and enjoy  my wine.  The staff were lovely and asked me if they could help without being a pain about it. Wonderful people. I hope that next time I have the flu I can stay in the Premier Inn at Kings Cross, everything is at hand and I don't suppose they would turn a hair if I went downstairs in my pyjamas, my pyjamas being black and by Calvin Klein.
I always forget what hell London is to get around in and since I've hardly been in five years it has gotten so much worse. You really would be better off walking and I hadn't seriously considered it or buses or tubes and I had taken no shoes which would be suitable so my agent despaired because she has lived there almost forever and knows what a gridlock London is.
The dinner was lovely though being partially deaf I hate wooden floors and the kind of tables where you sit in rows facing one another. I can't hear anything past the person I'm sitting next to and if she has a soft voice I'm lost and end up like one of those daft nodding dogs in the back of cars. Nobody knows how limiting deafness is unless they have experienced it. I did try not to embarrass myself and to make reasonable conversation but I fear they just thought I was losing it mindwise.
The following day I had nothing to do until three o'clock. Now an intrepid traveller would have gone to an exhibition, gone shopping ( though to be fair the shops here are just as good) but when my agent asked me how I had spent my morning I had to admit that I sat in the foyer and read. Nothing would induce me to walk about in London. For God's sake, all that pollution!!  My view also these days is if it's a decent exhibition you can't get close and if it isn't then what the hell are you doing there?
So we set off at three, were meeting my editor at four. My agent had already implied I was a complete clot for having no suitable footwear and since there was a student demonstration in London it took is an hour and a half and even then we didn't get to the right place.
We ended up in a little pub near the house of commons eating ham sandwiches and being incredibly cheerful. Luckily my  new editor is absolutely lovely and didn't seem at all fazed and then we went to the party.
I can't remember the last time I went to a party and didn't wish I was at home.  There were hundreds of people shouting at the tops of their voices, it was so hot it could have been a sauna and there again yes, I couldn't hear!!  I baled out and spent the next hour getting back to the joys of my Premier Inn. God bless the people who thought up such wonderful hotels. I could have wept with relief as I staggered into the bar. The staff remembered me from the night before and brought me my lovely wine so George Gissing and I spent two hours in the foyer where it was light and comfortable, nobody bothered us and I read my kindle with glee.  New Grub Street.  Brilliant book!!
This morning I almost cried when the bloke on the train back had a Newcastle accent. I know it is very tiny of me to be so prejudiced but I can't help it. When I got off the next lovely bloke was the man who looked after the local stations and he carried my bag for me. He said they hadn't finished revamping Durham station and he said it was his favourite station and I said it was my favourite station too and neither of us was lying. I always want to weep when I come home. The views from the train of my lovely little city are all there below me, the houses all different colours, the cathedral and the castle and the river. I feel about Durham like Londoners feel about London. How could anybody live anywhere else?
I will go back. I need to make London mine again. It's where my work is, where the books are produced, where the agents and the editors have to live, God love them and I don't think they would want it any other way, at least if they hadn't lived in Durham so I will take London by the scruff of its neck and next time I pass the great big church all lit up near the bridge I won't have to say,
'What a pretty church,' and my agent with admirable aplomb said,
'Yes, that's Westminster Abbey.'
And I was generous enough not to say - and it costs sixteen quid to get in -
'It isn't a patch on Durham cathedral. And the cathedral is free.'

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Retirement, scariest word ever

I was going to entitle this 'Find me a man so that I can retire' but on hearing horror stories from my married friends - very comforting when you are sitting on your own with nothing more attractive than the sight of a good dinner - it has put me off.

Not on the list

Old men. Dear God. Just fancy if he was ill, I mean really ill. Even my daughter complains that I am bloody useless at such things and either order her to the doctor or tell her she will be okay. All I have in my medicine drawer is fresh air and sticking plasters.
So nobody who will get ill.
Also nobody who has no money. I am used to good things. I have made it so.
Don't need private medicine.I'm happy with the NHS, so those who might apply take note. I do live near the hospital and am on very good terms with the staff and with my doctor and also the lovely guy who looks after my hearing.  And my teeth. Very good people there. Brilliant.
I did go on a couple of dating sites years ago and carefully filled in all the things i was and wasn't, all the things I liked and disliked and they laughed in my face and said, 'You'd be lucky, Missis,' so I haven't gone back or thought seriously about marriage.
Besides, having done it once and been rather good at it I would hate to damage my record.
Also nobody who shouts at the telly and nobody who doesn't like Eggheads and nobody who doesn't like Coast and nobody who doesn't like Frasier and nobody who plays golf.
Nobody who likes football and nobody who doesn't like tennis and snooker.
I have to have my own newspapers, untouched every day. This includes the I, the Guardian and the Times.
Then he has to like going to nightclubs and dancing and he has to move well on a dance floor.
He also has to like drinking cocktails and lots of wine and going out to restaurants.  No vegetarians.
He must love Shakespeare, live performance, classical concerts, good restaurants and a house in the country so that I can be called Lady Liz and entertain various exciting interesting people to dinner.
But he mustn't hunt. I'm not into killing small animals. It implies lack of brain and that I cannot stand.
He can shoot. I have nothing against dead pheasants as long as it's not one of those ghastly driven pheasant shoots when buggers who can barely hold a gun shoot spaniels and game keepers by accident and wouldn't know a woodcock from on ordinary one. Or something like that.
He can't be short. I don't do less than six feet tall and I don't do stomach over the top of trousers.
I'm sorry. I know I am caught in a time warp here but there you go.
I do like fishermen. I have a real thing about them and dream of living on the Northumberland coast and getting the pan ready on the fire for when he comes home with trout. I did used to have that, the pan ready on the fire and the husband walking across the way about fifty yards to catch the fish. I thought everybody lived like that until he died and then realised that it wasn't so. God love him, he'll have been dead thirty years next summer. No wonder I haven't married again.
He was tall and slender and funny and had exquisite blue eyes like his father. He laughed so much in cinemas that I was always digging him in the ribs. He took sandwiches because he got too hungry to get through without. We went to see a film when a woman was raped and he jumped up out of his seat to murder the bastards. I had to calm him down and tell him it wasn't really happening.
He never came home from a day's hunting without a pheasant. He used to take the dogs up on the fell all day and come back with one pheasant, like a really decent hunter. The local blokes used to call him 'pot man' because he knew that if he caught it I would cook it and we would have a decent bottle of wine between us and talk as happy couples do.
He adored his child.
He loved dancing and he loved wine and he loved good food. We had a beautiful house in the country. No wonder I live in the town. Even now I hear his laughter and when my daughter looks up I can see him in her face and also in her bravery, her determination and her ambition. She is so like him that it warms me.
Now I am snivelling. Stop it you stupid pillock. Things could be worse. So I will go on working and I really like working. I'm lucky that way. Even on a bad day I can get up, watch Frasier, go to the spa and float in warm water, go out to lunch or dinner with friends, have chocolate and wine and cheese for lunch, read until my eyes ache and indulge my current passion for Suits. Suits, you know. The American guys who don't go to court. I have whole afternoons of Suits.
Just got to keep on working.  In my little town house with my lovely garden and my stained glass windows and my gorgeous fireplaces I have a good life. I have to keep reminding myself how very good it is.
And I have a three book contract. So there.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Nobel Prize

No, I haven't damned well won it. For what? Making soup?  I have made three different kinds of soup this week.  This is about Ishiguro Kazuo - I have problems even spelling the guy's name. No, I don't know him. I wish I did. He looks like the kind of bloke you would ask to dinner. I have only read The Remains of the day. I didn't understand the damned thing at all and yet I did, it's a bit like Hamlet, you have to read or see it several times to understand stuff, don't you? It had that quality, like a good handbag or a decent bottle of champagne. Unmistakable.  And lots of layers to go at, like unpeeling a large onion.
It seems to me that there are an awful lot of very talented writers in the literary world and no doubt twenty or thirty of them could have qualified nicely for this. Seeing as the whole damned world is clever these days I would give it to the most decent person so I wonder if that's what happened.
And I wonder because I read a lovely piece about how he wrote The Remains of the Day and it's just totally charming. He speaks about his wife with love and she obviously puts up with him - I'm sorry but anybody who lives with any kind of writer puts up with them. So she told him or they decided that he would write the Remains of the Day in a month - just first draft but something telling, something he could work with because the year previous to this he had done lots of promotion. Let nobody tell you promotion is fun. People think writing is glamorous, it's about as glamorous as piles. I'm saying piles because I'm not sure how you spell haemorroids. Is that about right?Anyway, it isn't glamorous.
 Lots of people asking the same questions while you just wish you were at home watching Strictly or something else that doesn't require mental stretches. Saying the same things, smiling a lot, staying in hotels and putting up with those dreadful sandwiches they find for you at eleven o clock at night or worse still you have to go out with the people who are important so you can't drink in case you say the wrong thing, you can't hear because there are wooden floors, low ceilings, background music and dozens of people with loud voices. The white wine is warm and third rate, the sea bass is dried out and you just wish to hell you were at home.
And literary festivals. Dear Lord. Big discussion lately between authors about whether they should be paid for such.  Oh no, you are promoting your books.  Yes, well, just tell that to the plumber when you have a leaking tap. No, I'm not paying you. I'll tell the woman next door how good you are.
Very funny.
So he sits down and spends a month writing this first draft and after the first week he and his wife think he has completely lost it. As you would in those circumstances. God love the woman! But after a month of going nowhere and doing very little else except having time off for meals ( I was glad to hear he had two hours for dinner!) and there it is, the beginnings of masterpiece.
Lovely pic of him talking about an old hobo song that inspired him and with a guitar. All hail the man who seems so usual. So ordinary and yet so obviously not. Dead chuffed for him.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

There's a Lizard under my bed

Perhaps it's apply named after me. It sneaked in during the hot day as I closed the doors on to  my terrace.  I have been on holiday in Cyprus, staying at a plush hotel called the Annabelle but for some reason I am bugged by well, bugs and animals.  The first day I made friends with several cats. There are a lot of them about but I did not expect to be followed back to my room by a very large black, grey and white moggie.  It marched in as though it owned the place. I put it out and went to bed and there it was crying outside the door like some long lost soul. When I woke up it was still there as though we had been living in the same house for years.
The next day I had moths flitting in and out during the day, well, not so much out, they couldn't find the way and then a large grey butterfly. There were flying ants of varying sizes which became so attached to my glass doors that I couldn't shift them. The cat returned again on the third day and every time I opened the doors in it came. It had a look around the bathroom, walked around the bedroom and then settled itself on the cool floor. Five minutes later it was on my lap and when I got up it settled itself on my chair. In fact a take over bid.
The lizard settled itself happily under the bed and since I was assured they like dark places I couldn't blame it. It was certainly dark under there and nothing I could say would induce it to leave. To be fair it was so tiny I couldn't see it but I was half convinced that it would wait until I was asleep and then walk into my open mouth as I snored or set up a bed on the pillow or on my face. Or even, God forbid, get into bed with me.
To be fair I've had worse things trying to crawl into bed with me and it is tiny and to it I am ginormous but I fear its fear.  Doesn't it have a home to go to?  This can't be love, we barely know one another.If anything the big moggie has a prior claim.
I went down to dinner with my Best Buddy who is the only person brave enough to go on holiday with me and will eat late and not tell me I drink too much or that my sudden Tigger impressions are irritating but when I complained as bugs attached themselves to me yet again said,
' You're wearing yellow. Bugs love yellow.'  And right on cue two small black beetles landed on the back of my neck. What they were doing there I have no idea so I had to admit as I ineffectually swiped at them that she was right.
We have three days to go. What other animal horrors lie before me and more importantly beyond them -  Imagine something the colour of Lurpak and a thousand times bigger than you, smelling of garlic with a loud voice and an outrageous laugh - well, I've been told its infectious but then so is measles so pity the poor lizard under the  bed.
To be fair I always let things out, if I can get them to go. I didn't realise I was so fascinating. I don't eat them. I did have a cat who ate bluebottles but it's never appealed to me.
The lizard and I had an indifferent night, the conversation wasn't up to much. I had already fed my meaty meal to Mr Whitebait, a red and white moggie. The first night we gave him the whitebait because neither of us likes it but after that he had lamb chops and piri peri chicken. He refused underdone meatballs but one of his friends scoffed those.
The following morning I went out on to the terrace and there was the moggie asleep under the chairs in a shady spot. I gave him milk and then some water. When I turned around there was another lizard standing by the doors. What was this, a lizard party?
The one who was inside scuttled out from under the bed and joined its mate on the balcony. I am not that fascinating after all then, I have cool darkness, a milk supply, bottled water and they can follow me to buy meals as we have eaten three times a day outside.  Here come the moggies, a long haired grey, one the colour of marmalade, one white and marmalade, one short haired grey and several elegant ones which look like models out of Vogue. I would say thank God they don't drink wine but then several bugs have managed to drown happily in my pink wine. What a way to go!

Friday, 25 August 2017

I'm full up with education

It's a quote or probably a slight misquote from Bertie Wooster. Thinking about the kids and their exam results this week it astonished me how different people think so differently about this. Most of my friends were working class children who were given grants, having gone to a newly free grammar school which being bright they had passed to attend. In the nineteen forties you no longer had to pay for education, at least most people, I think you still did have to pay if your parents had money but when we all went to university ( I say that generally, I didn't go) we got grants. Every person I know who did that got a good job which lasted a lifetime. They all paid back for their higher education with their industry and I'm sure that their parents were very proud of them. They all lifted themselves out of relative poverty and are prosperous today and have been able to give their children good lives and isn't that what it's all about?
Three of us were sitting in my summerhouse yesterday talking about this and I suddenly realised that my family wasn't like this. We were business people and prided ourselves on being non academic. It was in a sense a let down if you had to rely on education. We were sent to private schools but we didn't go on to university and even if you did you didn't talk about it.
My father went to public school and then to night classes. My mother left school at fourteen and worked but when my daughter turned out to be academically bright not only was I gobsmacked but she was such a little swot! I wanted to keep her off school sometimes for fun but she wouldn't. She used to say 'I can't. I have a test in the morning.'
I remember when she came home and proudly told me that she was being made head girl. I rang my sister and she said,
'Don't tell anybody, for goodness' sake.'  We had been wild children who hated school and teachers and homework. The only time we were happy was when we were on holiday trying to flood the back kitchen or burn the garage down with a car inside or try to derail the local train or chucking big stones across a car outside to see whether we couldn't get them across it.
My daughter was accepted into St Andrews university and I was stiff with pride but my mother said,
'We don't do things like that in our family,' which was not quite the response I was looking for.
I would have loved to have gone away to university but I had no memory and was bored stiff at school. School just doesn't fit all of us. Whether I would have become a writer had I spent three or four years studying other writers ( and for God's sake, a thousand times as good !) is another matter.
Somebody said on Facebook this week that writing for a living was like being given very difficult homework every day.
It can't be or I would have never have lasted this long. Writing is wonderful and awful and as necessary to me as breathing. I love notebooks and pens and have hundreds of books from classics to research stuff and I read and read and read.
I have become an expert on so many things but having no memory when the book is finished so is the expertise. I love the idea of doing research on something new and there is nothing so thrilling as having an idea pop up in my head from a newspaper article, a talk I have been to or something on television. I get that quick fire rush like a couple of glasses of champagne.
So, no, education isn't for everybody, any more than fish can climb trees. I think Einstein said something about that and he was right. We are all clever, we can all achieve but either we have to acknowledge our own strengths and be confident or have the kind of education which suits us.
I don't think you can teach writing but you can give somebody a pen and a piece of paper and some space.
My father bought me a typewriter when I was eleven and I taught myself to touch type. Thanks, Dad, that was the kind of encouragement I really needed and I'm sorry that my eight years of expensive school did not help but I have used it all in my books. When you are a writer everything helps.I'm grateful for the childhood you let me have.  We were prosperous, well loved and made to feel as though we mattered. it made me into the bloody difficult person I am now.