Monday, 3 August 2015

Time Out (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


It has been, as they say, a quiet week. You must be mad and Little G are currently away on a family summer holiday in Devon. First exposure to sea and beach for the baby. Sand in, sand out, as they say. So I have had time to breathe, stand back and take stock.

Things I like about minding a small baby

* The use of totally legal weaponry in the form of a purple buggy with 'edges'
* Unconditional love
* The challenge of avoiding collateral damage when removing unsavoury objects from mouth
* The feel of two little arms around my neck when I pick her up
* The company of somebody for whom a trip to the swings is cause for massive celebration
* Realising that I'm not quite as unfit as I thought
* Reading books with VERY simple plots and LOTS of pictures that I don't have to review on Amazon          
* Hosting lavish 'tea parties' which never end in unacceptable weight gain

Things I don't like about minding a small baby

* The 'missing her terribly' feeling when she goes on holiday




To be continued .....    ......

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Calais.The Swarm

Calais 2015: The Swarm Prays


May you never see children hungry
May you never hear parents dying
May you never hold out your hand
And plead for help from a turned back.

May you never have hope taken from you
May you never have dignity denied you
May you never hold out your hand
And plead for help from a turned back.

May there always be food on your table
May there always be blankets to warm you
May you never hold out your hand
And plead for help from a turned back.

May your children grow straight and strongly
May they live to be wise and kindly
May they never hold out their hands
And plead for help from a turned back

c. Carol Hedges 2015

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Twitter Outrage for Writers


It is a sad fact of life that there are people who like nothing better than to stir up trouble as in: ''have stick, will poke it into this hornets' nest'' and Twitter seems to be the perfect forum for such people to indulge their proclivities. I have witnessed some right car crashes unfolding in the three years since I joined Twitter as a fledgling.

It seems to me that there is something about an impersonal forum, where one can hide behind a screen and a manufactured identity that suits the mentality of certain people, as it permits them to throw out what in the real world might be seen as sheer and unmitigating unpleasantness.

So how do we respond to the snarky comments, the tantrum-throwing and the frankly agenda-laced aggressive nutters that patrol Twitter and other forums? Are there unwritten rules of behaviour? Because if we are writers with books to sell, we have to put ourselves out there and then we are going to meet individuals whose opinions and stances and behavioural 'norms' differ radically from ours. How should we deal with this?

I believe there is a difference between disagreeing over a particular issue, and launching a personal attack on another Twitter member and their tweets. I undergo the latter every now and then, so I can completely understand why, in such a circumstance, one would want to create digital distance by unfollowing or blocking the attacker. After all, if it was real life, you'd certainly cross the road to avoid their company in future.

Blocking/unfollowing someone with whom you happen to have started a lively dialogue over an issue, however strongly you or they feel about it, is in my opinion the equivalent of stamping your foot, storming out and slamming the door. I did it at 13. Maybe you did it too. I don't do it now because I hope I'm more grown up. Thus I am happy to say: 'OK, let's agree to differ on this one. Thanks for the chat,' and drop out of the discussion, which is what I chose to do in a discussion about Calais migrants I got involved in recently.
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Also, I always remind myself, whenever I am sorely tempted to let rip, of what happened when I spoke at the Edinburgh Festival a few years ago. There I witnessed a nasty row take place, in public, between two very well-known writers. I remember thinking at the time: if that's the way you behave, then I don't think I want to read your books. And I never have. Twitter can seem like one's front room. It isn't, and it's important to realise that anybody can and will read what I tweet, and see how I react.

So what do you think? Do you speak your mind - whatever the outcome? How do you deal with Twitter outrage? I'd really like to know.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Unselfie (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)



There are many unexpected outcomes to minding a small baby. An increased appreciation of alcohol at the end of a 10 hour shift is one. Upper arm definition from pushing a purple top-of-the-range buggy and lifting a top-of-the-range baby is another.

But the least expected, and most appreciated is the complete acceptance of me. Little G does not see the wrinkles, eye-bags, elderly skin, flab and general decrepitude that I see in the mirror every day. To her, I am Mammar (portmanteau word Mummy + Grandma).

I am the provider of fun, snacks, meals, outings, songs (she doesn't even notice I can't carry a tune in a bucket, bless her). Her values are not those of the world around her. In her world, love is the only thing that matters, and those people who give it to her get it back. In spades.

Given that it is all too easy to let social media amplify anxieties and set ridiculous new norms, to be in the company of someone who simply couldn't give a stuff is very liberating.

I was reminded of this the other week when we were hurrying home to avoid the rain. Passing a shop window, I caught sight of myself. And what a sight it was: my coat collar was crooked, my eye makeup was making a bid for freedom and my hair stuck up in a strange way.

My exasperated sigh must have attracted Little G's attention. She looked up at me, 'Mammar!' she crowed, eyes shining with love. She gave me a smile of infinite sweetness. And all at once the hashtag #elderlybagperson stopped trending.



To be continued ...    .....


Saturday, 25 July 2015

Barking At Barclays

Money,money, money:always sunny, in the banking world

To Barclays Bank the other week to close a very small savings account that had now matured, and to transfer the money to our joint bank account in a different bank. I needed the funds to pay a builder. Ever mindful of the red-tapery that now exists in all public organisations (even those I own 48% of), I brought all the original documentation to prove the account existed.

But. The very young bank person, who could have been a Year 10 pupil in disguise, after asking me a heap of questions about my mother's maiden name, my date of birth, my shoe size and how many beans made 5, fiddled on her computer, studied the documentation, and then handed it back and told me I needed formal ID with a current photo of myself.

I produced my pensioner bus pass, which has a photo and serves as ID for practically everything. Not today. Drivers' license or passport were the preferred options. Sadly, I still have an old paper driving license, and my passport application was still lost in transit somewhere in the Passport Office.

Breathing slightly harder, I pointed out that WHY in the first place would I have the paperwork from the bank IF I was a scammer. And WHY, if I wasn't me, did I want to transfer the money to an account WHICH ALSO HAD THE SAME NAME AS I DID. As did my bus pass, my debit card, my library card, my John Lewis card and my CRB certificate.

Brick walls. It dawned on me that, given the bank's absurd parameters, I couldn't actually prove who I was, and therefore might never be able to get my money out. Arising with as much dignity as someone who does not exist can, I said I'd be back at the weekend. With relevant proof.

Saturday morning I returned, accompanied by BH, his driving license and passport. The Two Grumpy Old Sods were back in business! In his best official voice, honed over years of dealing with local government idiocy, BH informed the woman that HE was prepared to identify me, and HE had the right ID. He also had a wedding picture of us in his wallet.

We are both past masters at this sort of stuff, and can do threatening silence to Olympic standards, so eventually after a Higher Person was consulted, the sum of £1,250 was duly transferred from one bank to another. Reluctantly.

The irony of all this was that, had I banked online, I could have done the whole transaction without any hassle whatsoever. But I don't trust the bank's security. I still don't. But for different reasons.








Monday, 20 July 2015

Last Babe Standing (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


It is a paradox but 'constant change is here to stay' as far as small babies are concerned. When I first started minding Little G, she was a year old, toothless and verbally maladroit. Fast forward seven months and the changes in her are amazing.

Teeth have appeared - not many admittedly, but enough to make me less willing to stick a finger into her mouth to fish out some stray object she is trying to choke herself with. She is starting to speak, picking up new words all the time, and I am painfully aware of the bad language she hears in the street as we go about.

Alas, in one area of development, she has been resisting change: she is still not walking. It is driving You must be mad crazy. All the NCT babies are walking, apparently. All the babies we meet down at the little playground are walking - and many are younger than Little G.

This week however, the nursery reported excitedly that Little G had stood unsupported for the first time. Being a true sceptic, I decided to try it out on the first of my minding days, so I waited until she had bum-shuffled onto the carpet. Then: 'Stand!' I commanded. Mirabile dictu! She stood.

I gave her the sort of rapturous clapping and yelling that a teenager might give their favourite boy band. Encouraged, she stood again. On her return, I told You must be mad ... who also went through the same procedure. Several times. A milestone had been reached. We rejoiced.

Next day, flush with my ability to control a baby, I asked Little G to stand. She refused. I tried again. She shook her head. I decided it was probably just one of those things. She was tired. Eventually compliance would return. A short time later, I heard crowing and loud clapping coming from her room, where she was having some solo play time.

Creeping upstairs, I peered round the door. Little G was standing in the middle of the room, giving herself a huge round of applause ... and standing again. Whoever said you should never work with children or small animals had it absolutely dead right.



To be continued ...    ....


Saturday, 18 July 2015

The PINK SOFA meets writer Lesley Cookman


Lesley is another of the delightful writers I've met since I joined Twitter. Lesley writes crime fiction - as do I, though in different eras. Hers is firmly set in the modern day. The PINK SOFA loves modern crime fiction, and spends a lot of its time hunting for bodies under the cushions so is overjoyed to be hosting a real live crime writer.  I asked Lesley to talk about how she became the prolific writer that she is today .....  and here is her story.

''I’ve been dying to get onto the Pink Sofa for ages. I’ve always liked the look of the cake. And is that red wine hiding behind the chair?

First of all, I’d like to hark back to a previous guest here – Beryl Kingston. I was so pleased that her post had such a terrific response because, you see, Beryl and I have quite a lot of connections. I can’t actually remember when we discovered these, but it was during a phone call years before social media (or any sort of media, actually!) that we suddenly stated saying “No! Really? So did I!”

To start with, we had both lived in Tooting, London, as children. And we had both been – wait for it  - Tooting Carnival Queens! Even odder, Beryl had been teaching at my Grammar School up until I started in the first form. It still strikes me as strange that had it not been for an accident of timing, I could have been taught by someone I now regard as an inspiration and a friend.

As for Carol – years ago, I lived in St Albans, where my eldest daughter was born, and one of my best friends lived in Harpenden, where I used to do my weekly shop in Sainsbury’s. That’s about it as far as we’re concerned.

My own journey to publication – or, rather, novels – is rather mundane. I wish I could present you with a picture of the struggling artist in the attic, but I can’t. Like many writers, I started writing as a child “making” my own books. When I got to about 11 or 12, I was filling Woolworth’s exercise books with pony stories. It never occurred to me that I could make a living writing – I wanted to  be an actor! I started well, debuting on the London stage at the age of 15 playing Laura in The Glass Menagerie, things rather fell off after that. I drifted through modelling, demonstrating, (Kent Hair Brushes, since you ask) disc jockeying in a posh nightclub wearing a silver catsuit and eventually becoming an air stewardess for British Airways in the glory days. At least, I’m told they were. I’ve managed to inveigle my way onto The One Show and The Alan Titchmarsh Show on the back of that.

I married a professional Musician and we duly starved. This was the St Albans era. Eventually, the Musician, who was art school trained, went into magazines. And one day he came home with a large cardboard box, told me to open it, assemble it and write on it and how easy it was. It was one of the first desk top computers, long before Apple or even Amstrad. The magazine was Which Computer, and the Musician was the Art Editor. I was launched on a career as feature writer.

Many years and a few more children later, having discovered a penchant for writing pantomimes (still produced all over Britain each year) and short stories for magazines, I decided to go all highbrow and do an MA in Creative Writing. They were still very new then, and I picked one as far away from home as possible, in Wales. On the same course was a woman called Hazel Cushion, and at the end of the course we decided to produce a charity anthology for Breast Cancer, called Sexy Shorts for Christmas. We did everything between us – I commissioned, edited and typeset, the Musician designed the cover Hazel did everything else and proved to be a very good business woman.

And that was the beginning of Accent Press. Which, of course, is now going strong as a small independent publisher with a number of bestselling titles both in print and ebook. I’m no longer anything to do with the organisation, I simply sit back and write Libby Sarjeant books – up to 15 now – and thank the Lord and little green fishes I met Hazel, as I can afford to eat for the foreseeable future.

Thank you for having me, Carol, and please may I have a top-up? You what? You said you didn’t like red wine... ''

Finding Lesley

Twitter@LesleyCookman

http://www.lesleycookman.co.uk/

Monday, 13 July 2015

Wonder Woman (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


It is becoming clearer every week that passes that in taking over the care of Little G from You must be mad, I am morphing slowly but inexorably into Wonder Woman. To give you just one example: I spend a lot of time wondering where all the dropped kerbs are.

If you have ever tried pushing a top of the range purple Stokke buggy with wheels that do non-cooperation to industrial strength and can suddenly tip sideways without warning, you will know the trauma of trying to cross roads that do not have dropped kerbs. Sometimes Little G and I have to walk in completely the opposite direction to where we want to go, just to find a dropped kerb so we can cross the road.

Then, I wonder why most shops site their kids department on the first floor, which means locating a lift and engineering the reluctant buggy into it. That's when the lift arrives and isn't out of order. And allowing for there being no more than one other buggy also waiting, because I am to manoeuvering what bricks are to para-gliding.

Also, I wonder why there are so few mother and baby rooms available. Little G and I frequently have to dive into a disabled loo when a quick nappy change is required, only to emerge to face the indignant stare of some poor soul on crutches or in a wheelchair who has been waiting cross-legged for us to finish.

And all this wondering comes on top of the inordinate amount of time spent wondering where my phone, lip crayon, wallet and You must be mad's house keys are, because I have failed to notice that Little G has done her Raider of the Lost Bag act and hidden them somewhere. See what I mean? Not so much Amazon Warrior Princess as Amazed & Worried Pensioner.


To be continued ...     ....

Saturday, 11 July 2015

9 Really Useful Writing Tips



1. If possible, write on something that is NOT connected to the internet. That way you aren't tempted to check Facebook/Twitter every 5 minutes.

2. If you are writing on an internet-free laptop, make sure it isn't in the same room as the internet connected one (see 1).

3. If you can't accomplish 1 and 2 for physical/financial reasons, try to allocate yourself specific times of the day to Tweet/update your Facebook. Do not weaken.

4. Unless specific, dickering about on Google is not research.

5. Checking your Amazon rating and sales figures every two days is liable to lead to suicidal feelings.

6. Reading the 'I wrote a whole novel today - go me!' claims of other writers on Facebook
ditto.

7. There is no such thing as 'Writer's Block', it is just a posh excuse for not writing.

8. The only way to write a book is to write a book.

9. If you are not constantly awash with doubt/fear/insecurity/self-loathing/envy/anxiety/panic, you probably aren't a writer.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Being Cool (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)


We are in the midst of a heatwave. Day after day of shiny sun and blue skies. Sadly, Little G and I belong to that worrying category: the elderly and the very young (in reverse order) and the government has issued guidelines for our health & safety.

We are supposed to stay out of the sun from 12 - 3 and keep cool. With this latter aspect in mind, I purchase a paddling pool for Little G. It is shaped like a pirate ship, with a skull and crossbones flag, a canopy (see previous post about the non-wearing of sunhats) and stick on inflatable fish. 

We go over to You must be mad's house after Little G is in bed and blow up the pool, placing it on the balcony as the ''garden'' is a work in progress. We fill it with water. Next morning as an afterthought, I fill the washing up bowl and place it next to the wonderful pool, for sub-baling operations.

As soon as she is up, I take Little G out, strip her off and show her the pool. She spends some time crawling round it murmuring oooh. She un-velcroes the various sea creatures. She takes all the pouring toys out and arranges them in lines. She does not get in.

I realise she hasn't got the idea, so I strip as far as modesty will permit and with some difficulty I fold myself into the pool to show her what she should be doing. Little G regards me thoughtfully. Then she climbs into the washing up bowl.

I am reminded yet again that life is both infinitely more complex, and yet very simple at the same time. But at least we are both cool.



To be continued ...    ...