Monday 29 February 2016

Nursery Nasties (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Little G has got a book of traditional nursery songs and rhymes with an accompanying CD (or as she calls it: an ABCD). Listening to it the other day, and joining in on an inaccurate and ad hoc basis, as we do, I was struck by the violence and nastiness of some of the songs.

Admittedly, they are not as bad as Struwwelpeter, the dreadful infant reading matter that I was brought up on: here is no Big Bad Scissorman cutting off the tiny digits of children who suck their thumbs (the pictures actually showed blood dripping down!), but there are still some that raise the odd eyebrow at the potential outcomes.

Old Mother Hubbard: cruelty to canines.

The Old Woman Who Lived in A Shoe: child starvation, emotional and physical abuse.

Rock A Bye Baby: parental/designated carer neglect culminating in potential fatal child injury.

Sing A Song of Sixpence: wildlife crime followed by avian attack resulting in acute facial deformity.

Goosey Gander:  religious intolerance and elder abuse.

Humpty Dumpty: accidental fall off boundary structure, leading to horrific demise.

Jack & Jill: health and safety issues around drinking untreated non-tap water.

We have also noted the same tendency to violent outcomes in the Beatrix Potter books: Peter Rabbit's dad was MADE INTO A PIE when he was caught by Mr McGregor in his garden. Meanwhile at Baby Rhyme Time we are all so culturally sensitive that we have to sing a 'vegetarian' version of 'This Little Piggy' so as not to offend the non-carnivores.
Luckily it all goes right over Little G's head, for now.

To be continued ...   ....

Saturday 27 February 2016

Life-Editing for Idiots

A difficult week at Hedges Towers.

The primary culprit was the fridge. It had been over-iceing for quite a long while, so that every time I opened the freezer compartment, I expected to find David Attenborough and a camera team filming the next series of Frozen Planet. On Saturday night, while watching Trapped, the fridge started making alarming noises best described as a rhythmical throbbing coupled with grinding its teeth. I applied the usual technical response ... kicking the door, which shut it up. Next morning, I discovered that it had shut up permanently and ice melt was occurring in its northern hemisphere.

So to John Lewis, where we discovered that they don't make small under the counter fridges with freezers in them any more. Or rarely. It seems that the 'modern' way now is to have a 'larder fridge' and a separate freezer. We don't understand this at all. Why on earth would anyone choose to have two gadgets? We don't want two fridges. We don't have space. We don't have a larder (take me to your larder...). Nor do we have room for the gigantic American-style fridge freezer keep-a-body-in-it units that seemed to be the main items on show. Eventually after much searching, we narrowed it down to a choice of one Zanussi model, which we bought. Hobson's choice.

Were that not disaster enough, the cheap why-did-I-buy-it Nokia phone suddenly went on strike and refused to pass on texts. Which I didn't know until a friend rang me to ask why I hadn't replied to one. Tried the usual method - turning it off and then on. Didn't respond. Finally levered the back off with a knife, took the whole thing apart and reinserted its bits. Phone wouldn't start as it insisted there was now no sim card. Even though there was, and I showed it the sim card to prove it.

So to the phone shop, where the kindergarten-aged assistant informed me accusingly that I had the wrong sim card. Thus apparently it was my fault. New card inserted, the other Grumpy Old Sod and I decided to test it, so he rang me and lo and behold the phone worked. Trouble was, we then got so engrossed in having a good moan that we ended up walking the length of the high street side by side ranting to each other on our phones. Must have looked very odd.

On Wednesday, the new fridge will arrive. We are crossing our fingers that it fits into the space under the counter. We did measure the space, but who knows, perhaps since then someone has redesigned centimetres to make them more ''modern'', so possibly it won't.

(I'm saving the Le Creuset coffee cups incident, the mice and the mislaid bus pass for another occasion. You can only handle so much.)

Monday 22 February 2016

Birthday Letter (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Dear Avalyn Grace

Tomorrow (Wednesday 24th) you will be 2 years old. I wrote to you when you were born (here)  and again when you were 6 months old (here), so I guess you are due another letter.

I know you are looking forward to your birthday this time round - unlike your first one, when you cried the entire afternoon of your party, bewildered by the number of people and small children who had suddenly invaded 'your' space. Now you are older, you know you are going to be two, and are anticipating 'candles' and 'presents' and I am quite sure you will have both on your special day.

Unbelievably, we have been on our journey together through your baby world for almost a year. I started looking after you last March for two days a week, full of trepidation at the responsibility, and the purple buggy and very unsure of what was going to unfold. I need not have feared.

From the get-go, you welcomed me into your small life. We have developed a close and loving bond. We are friends, allies, conspirators. We share laughs, songs, books, silly jokes, we ride buses, we tease each other constantly. I love you to the moon and back.

As we slowly approach, perhaps, the end of our adventures, and you embark on the next stage, with a new baby brother arriving soon, I cannot tell you what a joy it has been to watch as you develop, and to have been a close part of your growing up.

I will always love you, and always be proud of you, wherever you go, whatever you go on to achieve. I will always be here for you, an encourager on the sidelines, a listening ear, or a shoulder to cry on. You have brought so much happiness to all your family, my precious little girl. Every blessing to you on your second birthday.

All my love


Thursday 18 February 2016

Make a Million from Writing!

Yes, I thought that would get your attention.

Over the past few weeks I have seen several requests on social media forums from new writers or self-published ones asking if anybody knows a good agent, or can advise on submitting to top mainstream publishers.

Loth as I am to discourage anybody from launching their little boat out into the choppy waters of the big publishing sea, there are a few caveats that one needs to take on board before relinquishing the tiller. (See what I did there?)

I have blogged before about my experience of literary agents. Basically, they are there to make money for the agency, not you. They will take 10 -15% of your earnings, and unless you have an exceptionally good one (I am told they exist), they may well not bother to submit your stuff if it is not taken quickly. Small agents are in competition with the large established ones in a field that is decreasing all the time as publishers shave their margins and take fewer risks to stay in business.

Agents are certainly useful for sorting out publishing contracts and making sure your rights are protected: pre-agenting, I had a very bad contract from OUP (yes!) which my former agent was disgusted at. BUT the Society of Authors - well worth joining, can do that. And few publishers nowadays make you sign rip-off contracts - we are all too well lawyered for that to happen.

So, let's move on to the mainstream publishing trade. Forget all those 'X signed a 3 book contract and has been offered eight squillion in advances and a film contract with a top Hollywood director!! I now see these in the same category as those 'teaser' rates offered by big banks.

The sad truth is that 0.00000006% of writers submitting to 'one of the Big 5' will be taken.
These lucky souls are probably:

1. Very young, very attractive and with a very heart-tugging backstory (see JK Rowling)

2. Have an MA in Creative Writing from a university where one of the publisher's top writers tutors.

3. Is a friend, girl/boyfriend, employee of a publisher or is in the media business already.

4. Is a celeb.

5. Has just happened to write something that the publisher feels they can put out to compete with a rival's book that is just taking off.

6. Has been 'discovered' in one of those 'competitions' where the lure of publication is offered to  unpublished writers. This is a useful way of getting round paying agency fees or having the hassle of dealing with them.

Then there is the issue of Royalties. This is the money you get as a % of each book sold via bookshops or other platforms (note: I am talking print books, not ebooks). If you are a new author, signed with a mainstream publisher you start at the bottom.

The Royalty rates offered by most standard (UK) publishers are:
10% on the first 5000 copies
12.5% on the next 5000 copies
15% over 10,000 copies
(Source: Society of Authors: Guide to Publishing Contracts)

Yep. You are shocked. I checked my Usborne contract the other week and sure enough, 10% is the amount offered. Bear in mind that my then agent took 10% of that, which left me with 8% ...about 60p on every £6.99 book sold.

So why bother?

I return to my title. IF your only reason for writing is to make money, then go find a job in your local supermarket. Or do the National Lottery. Or find yourself a rich partner. If, however, writing comes in the same category as oxygen for you, then keep at it. Enjoy what you write, marvel at your luck in having such a wonderful gift. Start a blog. Enjoy chatting and sharing with other writers on social media. Try whatever route you want to bring your work to readers, but do not hope or expect to make a fortune from it.

Monday 15 February 2016

Reading the Signs (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

When I was a year older than Little G is now, I apparently taught myself to read. There is absolutely no evidential proof of this; it is purely based on an ability to recite Orlando the Marmalade Cat word perfectly, while turning the pages at the correct point in the story. By the same token, You must be mad was reading at an early age as she could distinguish words like Exit, Pull & Push because we did a lot of shopping together. A lot.

Fast forward to today and upon such dodgy premises, I am pleased to announce that Little G can 'read', age nearly 2. OK, we are not talking War & Peace here, but something more basic: an ability to recognise most of her letters coupled with some of the words that she encounters regularly.

Generally, these words are associated with our weekly bus trips to Baby Rhyme Time. The bus has a big screen which lights up showing the next destination, and a friendly voice repeating it. Little G enjoys watching the screen light up and imitating the phantom bus voice. Cat, dog, cup may pass her by on a page. Childwickbury Estate, The Ancient Briton and Chime Square are old familiar friends.

She also recognises Stopping ... which comes up in red whenever the bell is pressed, and she will announce it out loudly, naming the 'S for snake ...and G for Grandma'. I am not sure if this really does constitute reading, but she takes great pride and enjoyment in what she can do, and gets very excited about it.

And that's the important thing, isn't it? I hope that when she is sucked into the dreadful Govian world of primary education, with its tick box approach to rote learning, and reduction of everything to 'modal clauses, noun and verb recognition', that she will not lose her lovely joy in words and stories.
I shall certainly do my level best to make sure she doesn't.

To be continued ...     .....

Saturday 13 February 2016

iPhone, you phone ...

It has been indicated by several wiser, though not necessarily older friends that if I intend to maintain my successful presence on social media, I need to get myself up to date, gadget wise. Apart from the office laptop, less accessible now that the other Grumpy Old Sod is using it to job hunt, I also need the sort of mobile that does 'sent from my phone' stuff. As most of you know, I have a cheap Nokia rubbish phone, recently updated from the previous cheap Nokia rubbish phone when the back fell off and subsequently had to be held on by elastic bands.

So, ever eager to please, not to say gullible, I trekked to the XXX shop (not sure whether I can advertise, so pretend you don't understand that last bit), and asked the 14 year old behind the counter whether I could Tweet and access my emails on my current mobile. Showed him mobile, and when he had stopped laughing, he pointed me to the sort of sleek, scary looking devices I should be using and proceeded to explain how they worked. I stared at them for a while, making 'Uh-huh, mmm' noises indicating (erroneously) that I understood every word of his explanations. Then I left. Do they not do subtitles for the bewildered in these places?

Interestingly, this also coincided with the Year 11 Mock GCSE school exam season - I work as an invigilator at a rather affluent local secondary school. It's better paid than stacking shelves at Asda, and you get a nice green lanyard with your name on it and a card to activate the carpark barrier, though sadly, my boss has not yet bought into the concept of a high-viz jacket with Invigilator on the back in raised studs. One of those, and I could do door work in the evenings. ('If I say you're not coming in sir, then you're not coming in. Do not mess with me. I'm an Invigilator!')

Anyway, halfway through an exam, someone's mobile went off. Crime of huge magnitude. I took the box of collected mobiles outside, located the offender (an iPhone 6) and fiddled with it to make it stop. I was watched by one of the ground staff. 'Look,' I remarked, waving the offending item. 'A Year 11 with an iPhone 6.'  He replied : 'You want to check out Lost Property; they've got a whole draw full of them. Kids just lose them, and their parents buy them another one.'

I am trying not to go down the logical pathway on this because I am, at core, an honest person, but oh my, it is very tempting ......

Monday 8 February 2016

Timesheets (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Every day, Little G's nursery gives You must be mad a written summary of what she has been up to during her day. This is my version.

Name:   L-Plate Gran                                     Date: 4th Feb 2016

Breakfast: Banana

Amount Eaten: All, though at high speed as late leaving house due to earlier eyeliner mishap.

Lunch: Ginger chicken udon at Wagamama.

Amount eaten:  Not much. Most of chicken filched off plate by Little G. Noodles ditto.           Allowed to eat the bamboo shoots as she doesn't like them.

Tea: Peanut butter toast.

Amount eaten: Leftover crust after Little G gobbled it all.

I need more: Food, drink, sleep, energy, time management skills, hand:eye coordination first thing in the morning.

Today I have enjoyed: Laughs, smiles, cuddles, kisses, songs, rhymes, chats, walks, dancing in the kitchen, reading books, silly jokes & watching Clangers together on the sofa.

To be continued ...    .....

Saturday 6 February 2016

The PINK SOFA meets Jo Carroll

There are some people in this world to whom the word 'special' seems to adhere like sticky bits of sellotape to the edges of kitchen tables. Jo is one of these people. Traveller, raconteur, writer, supporter and friend of others, she sets off on her own to see amazing and far-flung bits of the world and then shares her experiences with the rest of us. Recently, Jo has become a drum-beater for the plight of people in Nepal, and together with one of her good friends out there, has been fund-raising to build houses for those stricken by last year's earthquakes.

''I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by the idea of Nepal – I first climbed Snowdon when I was eight, and I’ve been enthralled by mountains ever since. And Nepal has magnificent mountains!

When I was struggling with a PhD, I decided that if I ever finished the wretched thing, I’d go to Nepal. My first visit was in 2002, with a tour group – and that’s when I first met Tika. So when I gave up work to buy a rucksack and go round the world, it made sense to contact him and ask him to travel with me for a few weeks while I got the hang on independent travel in South Asia. We had five weeks together, travelling from the mayhem of Kathmandu to the mayhem of New Delhi, via mountains and temples (and a man with a gun in Lucknow). He began as my guide, but after all that we were close friends.

So back I went, a few years ago, and he arranged for me to visit more remote parts of Nepal, collapsing with laughter at my encounters with cyclones and tigers, and somehow keeping me safe in spite of it all.

I was appalled by the earthquake. I had so many friends in the country by then, and the thought of them surviving the monsoon in tents was almost too difficult to think about. Even so, I was reluctant to visit too soon. They had enough to do without looking after me. But Tika was there, at the end of countless emails, insisting that they wanted to see me.

How right he was. We’ve all seen photographs of the trauma of the earthquake. But few journalists have returned to record the rebuilding. Yet in a country with an economy that is dependent on tourism the lack of visitors has been as devastating as any earthquake damage. The hotels, the restaurants, the mountains, the Nepali welcome – they are all still there. But without tourists those working in the industry are suffering.

As I write this, the situation is made even more difficult by India’s blockade of Nepal’s southern border. It’s a complicated story, but seems to be India having a hissy fit that Nepal has dared to initiate a new constitution without consulting her big sister. It is also contrary to international law as Nepal is a landlocked country and all her imports need to pass through India. It means that there are shortages of fuel, cooking gas, and some foodstuffs.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, by the time you read this, the blockade is over!!

Jo's book can be bought here
I’ve written a book about this last trip: After the Earthquake. I wrote it partly because I wanted to remind everyone what a wonderful place Nepal is, with its mountains and rivers and crocodiles (oh yes, there was a crocodile …). Partly because I met some extraordinary people: Bishwo and his plans for self-sufficiency in the mountains, Ajay and his wonderful food, the kindness of Tika and Shobha in spite of all their hardships. Partly because the crocodile made such a good story …

And partly to raise money to rebuild just one of the many homes that has fallen down. It’s easy to be overwhelmed in Nepal, and end up doing nothing. But it is possible to rebuild one house – to give one family a secure place to live. Every penny of profit from this book goes to them. Maybe one day it will be in print, but for now it’s an ebook – it’s short and so uneconomic to print.''

Find out all about Jo's travels here: 

Or there’s always Twitter: @jomcarroll

And if Jo's story has inspired YOU to help rebuild the house in Nepal, here's the link for donations:

Monday 1 February 2016

Bribery & Corruption (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Little G has a new hobby: drawing on walls. She started doing it while visiting New York and personally, I blame MOMA for giving her the idea. Be that as it may, You must be mad is not happy, given that Little G is not Banksy, and she always manages to chose a colour that doesn't go with the rest of the room.

At the moment, she is being actively discouraged, though in the future, should she become a famous artist, we might all look back and wish we'd saved her juvenilia for posterity. Which brings me in a total non sequitur to the tricky subject of bribery, or as my friend Sheila, minder of Slightly Older Grandchild calls it: rewards.

Sheila uses rewards copiously because as she rightly points out, we are not here to waste our time arguing and negotiating and dealing with strops - that's the parental job. We have been down that path and now, in our old age, we are here for fun. Her rewards consist of packets of raisins or small apples - a cunning choice as they take a long time to eat.

I also use these, coupled with small packets of cheese biscuits and the odd chocolate penny to smooth our path through the day. It works well, though Little G is very canny about rewards and reminds me if one has been promised. With each reminder, the reward increases incrementally in size and importance.

Thus a casual mention in passing last week that some ice-cream might be forthcoming if all her lunch was eaten, rapidly developed from 'some ice cream' to 'I like ice cream' to 'I have ice cream for pudding' to 'it's ice cream day at Grandma's house tomorrow!'

In the end and as promised, she did indeed have some ice cream. And then complained that it was too cold to eat which sadly is a prime example of the triumph of experience over hope, and something one is never too young, nor too old, to learn.

To be continued ... ....