Monday, 29 January 2018

Would You Marry a Genius?

I'm talking to women here. I don't think any man marries a woman more intelligent than he is. Or maybe they do and I'm missing something.  I'd like to hear all about it.
I suppose it depends on what you mean by genius.  I have a feeling that Richard Branson's wife said she didn't like go out to dinner with him because he was impatient to move on within half an hour. But he does own an island and that would go a long way with most women because it conjures up white beaches, blue sea and constant cocktails.
Genius has become a very loose word. Einstein was a genius. I suspect Richard Branson is a very clever businessman, not the same thing at all.
I went to Vienna for a few days last week and there encountered some of the work of Klimt. Oh dear. Talk about an old goat. He had fourteen illegitimate children mostly by his models who were probably poor and weren't allowed to say no. He wore nothing under his painting outfit. He also had a lifelong lover and had it off with many other women. Also he was just ugly. Sorry. Ugh.
Do women still marry for money and prestige?  Does power attract them? Are very intelligent or powerful men more fascinating than a man who can make you laugh and remembers what kind of champagne you like? And if you were married to a powerful rich man would you be upset when he slept with other women, i.e. his secretary for starters.
Power is passing. Money - well, you can only eat, drink, wear one thing or one outfit at a time. Or is his mind so fascinating that you aren't terribly worried about what he does with his body? I doubt that. Most women have too much self respect to share their man.
Men who make a lot of money or invent something tend to be workaholics, bores or just absent most of the time and therefore less than entertaining.
The truth is that women don't need to marry to be rich, have prestige or put up with any man for any reason other than that she cares very much for him. And feels as though she cannot live with out him and of course the other way round.
You do hope men don't marry for beauty. I'd rather a man liked me for my lentil stew. It wouldn't be the first time.  I like men who surprise me, who are funny, clever in different ways and, Lord forgive me, six foot tall and slender. So what do you like in a man?

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Pedant reigns

Okay I'm going to go all old lady on you because I'm feeling lonely and grumpy and I've spent my afternoon watching Four in a Bed and Come dine with Me.  I do hope you have found something more useful or entertaining to do. I did plan to go to a bird watching RSPB place on the coast and then decided that considering it's bloody freezing and I would be either walking around or sitting in a hide, changed the idea, went to the co op and a lovely new green grocery and then I spent time considering pit disasters.
 I know, it isn't much of a way to spend your morning.I need a pit explosion, usually caused by firedamp or carelessness. In older times owners didn't give a shit. The men died, the women and children starved and how many days did they spent trying to get people out?  Often they had to give up because the pits were so hot and hundreds of men and boys died and not all of them straight away. It has limited appeal but I have to sort it out because I need it in the novel I'm writing. Yes,  I have written about problems with pits a dozen times but I need something new.
I got to thinking about words. Well, you do when you write novels and you are tired of another episode of Come Dine with Me and I thought of all those words I'd have banned if I could. the first would be the phrase 'it ticks all the boxes' Ouch. The second would be people saying  'you know ' instead of breathing and letting the pause take it.
Then I would ban all those pedants ( like me ! well, worse than that ), who spend their nights worrying about where the inverted comma should be. All I have to say about that is that language is fluid and Shakespeare didn't put his inverted commas and whatever the hell else in the same place as we do. Language is meant to go forward or we'd be stuck forever with people ticking boxes and not able to articulate past 'you know'.
I've got nothing against the word fuck but I look at it the same way as somebody who once said that a man walked up the fucking street, opened the fucking door, ran up the fucking stairs and found his wife having intercourse with somebody else.  Yes, please people, can you not litter your pathetic sentences with fuck It doesn't mean anything when it's every other word.  It's paucity of language or summat like that.
Jilly Cooper once said that the word pardon is worse than fuck. You say  'what' if  you don't hear or don't understand.
Just think about what you mean, breathe first, weigh it slightly and if you can't be original or funny just try to be interesting or ask somebody whether they are reading a good book. That is what conversation is meant to be about, at least it is when it ticks all the boxes.
It's January and everybody is dieting and taking lots of exercise. What about a little exercise for the mind?  Read a decent novel. You can always quote it afterwards. Brighten up the world with good conversation.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018


I hate January. I hate diets and thinking about what we eat and all that stupid stuff. Drink less, Live longer. There is an age old joke about people who don't drink. They don't live longer, it just feels like longer. The new diet I saw today in one of the top newspapers was that you can eat carbs but you must give up red meat. I'm not quite sure where the science is in this but you can know for sure, somebody is making a whole lot of bucks out of it.
Mary Berry shows us how to eat cake, while remaining about six stone and she's posh and a national treasure.  All those biscuits, cakes, sweets and puddings we feel obliged to indulge in while not giving a shit about Jesus. There is something less than wholesome about it all. Okay, I'm going to be smug now. I lost weight over Christmas. No, I didn't diet, I walked my daughter's labrador for miles and ate just what I always eat and that never did include crap like mince pies. Christmases like this were for feasting We don't need to have a festival of feasting, we do it all the time. When was the last time you didn't eat what you wanted? The whole thing is ridiculous.
There were four young people on breakfast television the other day and they have all written books about giving up alcohol and yes, it would be lovely if we didn't need such addictions but there they were, all thinking about the money they'd make and it wasn't as if they'd been alcoholics. Just smug bastards out to make a buck because you are worried about your liver. Ferraris all round.
I suppose the only good thing is that I'm now too old to die young of assaulting my liver or not taking enough exercise or loving butter.
I want to live forever, of course, as long as I'm not pissing my knickers in a nursing home or have lost my marbles but only if my friends are still here and they are not bedwetting, thinking they are Henry the eighth or like my poor aunt, continually knitting without needles or wool until finally their bodies give out.
I'm amazed I got this far. Widowed young, cancer at forty nine, shit on by my family, a difficult job and other people boring the shit out of me over and over again. God save me from other people.
So I will carry on as usual, drinking red wine and eating red meat, hoping I don't expire of a sudden cancer or that my liver disintegrates but let's face it, sooner or later the reaper comes for you.
There is a lovely cartoon which I found on Facebook when on Halloween he comes to the door for a man's soul and then sees chocolate and gives up on the idea. Where would we be without all the things we aren't supposed to be and do and live for? We'd be fucking bored stiff.
Jack Kerouac once said that he grieved over all those years his teachers had stolen from him. I feel the same. My life is for me now and whatever I choose to do with it I'm not going to live forever and I'll be sorry, if I can still be anything.
Shakespeare died in his fifties. And he was the most talented playwright who ever lived and he has given more joy, more pleasure, more fascination, horror and love than possibly anybody else whoever lived to other people, millions of them so if he can die then what does the rest of it matter? He gave us huge bounty, endless incredible words. I even managed to sit through Hamlet last time I saw it.  Three and a half hours. It's glorious, it's what life is all about.  I must have seen Hamlet a dozen times and there it goes again, there it is reinterpreted and shining brilliantly.
One thing I love in January. I go away to some wonderful city and listen to music and this year I am going to Vienna. I have always wanted to go to the opera house and my wonderful wonderful daughter has bought tickets to the opera. Mozart's Don Giovanni. Now that to me is what Christmas and celebration is all about. Music and being with the people who love you, who don't bore you or judge you or expect too much. She's taken me to Prague to the ballet, and to Milan where we couldn't afford the opera and to Athens where we had a hotel room which looked out at the acropolis. She took me to Budapest where we plodged about in hot pools and there we had the opera and the ballet. We went to Paris, which was ghastly, I got the flu and to Rome where she found the most gorgeous restaurants in tiny back streets. We take her labrador to beaches in North Wales and Northumberland and we walk her in Cheshire in the big posh parks and in durham by the railway line. And this is it. As somebody once didn't say a person is  not just for Christmas but for life. To love and be well loved is what it's all about and it doesn't really matter what time of year it is.
Happy January, whatever you are doing. The green shoots of the bulbs which Howard planted for me last autumn are already showing in the garden. He planted lots and lots of crocuses and there are daffodils and tulips. On we go, regardless. Enjoy!!

Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Four Marys

Yes, I know I just did a post the other day but it's nearly Christmas, I am as stressed as hell, God knows why, because my daughter does most of it but I am trying to work as well as send cards, be sociable, go to various lunches and such and all those stupid things I forgot about like the car insurance and the, oh, I don't the hell know but anyway I am really rather pleased about one thing in my life.
When I was a small child I had very few friends.  I went to school with the children of men who worked at my father's steelworks. I don't think I should blame my lack of friends on that, maybe I was just hopeless at making friends but it followed me through school and into adulthood and was even worse after my husband died. Talk about being dropped like a hot brick. If I had been Marilyn Monroe I could have understood it but I was fairly ordinary. I think in some countries the name widow is the same word as prostitute so maybe that has something to do with it but my husband left me money and a good house so I've never been called upon to do anything I didn't really want to do but there you are.
Anyway, things got better. It only took about twenty years of criminal loneliness, having nobody to hang out with and work. I had friends, other writers but I didn't have friends personally if you see the difference and then I moved to Durham and made friends and now I have three wonderful friends.
All we have in common is that we are widows. But one worked at the university, one was a nurse and the other was in education, mostly teaching adults. We make each other laugh. We must have the same kind of humour. I have no idea what it is but we are a pack, a team.  It reminds very much of a comic I used to get every week when I was little. I think it was Bunty and there was a story in there about these four girls who were all called Mary. I have a feeling that they were at boarding school. That didn't seem unlikely to me, there were lots of boarding school stories about at the time, I have no idea why but that's what was are. We are the four Marys. Post war children with extremely different backgrounds but somehow there we are in decent pubs if I plan it, or awful cafes if the others do. They don't drink wine!!  Something else we don't have in common. I think the point is that we all understand loss, we all understand loneliness. We all have children, we have all been seriously ill and there we are, laughing our heads off, hanging out like teenagers and giggling.  I am gaining a great deal of happiness from my friends. Long may we last, agreeing and disagreeing and holding loneliness at bay. I think the thing that my three friends have in common is that they are gutsy women. They have intelligence, nerve and having been smart and gone to good schools they have made good lives for their children. And for themselves. The world is a better place for you, Joan, Jo and Pat. Thanks.

Friday, 8 December 2017


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.'