Tuesday, 6 October 2009

A very moving makeover

My lovely darling readers,

Don't tell anyone, but I've had the odd nip and tuck, and now, well, frankly I'm gorgeous. You'll find the new me at http://www.dulwichdivorcee.com/.

Please update your URL thingies, and come and join me for more adventures.

Lots of love,


Writer's Block

You know you have writer's block when:
1. You do little sums in your head to work out how many words you've already written and how many you still have to go before you hit the target of 500 a day.
2. These little sums get more and more complicated and start to involve calculators, square roots and counting long words as two or, in the case of antidisestablishmentarianism, as three. And that's a word that crops up surprisingly often in my book. Which is a little odd, as it's chicklit, not a critique of the 19th century High Church movement.
3. You find yourself welcoming the Ocado man like a long-lost friend and try to start a long chat with the words, 'lovely weather we're having!'. Then you notice it's raining.
4. The idea of clearing out the cellar becomes curiously compelling. That spider phobia? Yep, it's vanished.
5. The very act of opening up your novel gives you an irresistible thirst for tea. Then you realise that, whoops, you're out of teabags and, before you know it, you're in the middle of Sainsbury's studying the, erm, white wine section. Is it chardonnay o'clock yet?
6. You tell everyone not to ring you between 9 and ten. Then, when the phone goes, you leap on it and chat away to the double glazing sales lady. Eventually, she puts the phone down on you ....
7. You spend the whole day on Twitter, telling everyone you've got writer's block. But that doesn't seem to appy to those 140 characters, now does it?
8. You actually encourage the cat to come and sit on your computer keyboard. You can't possibly disturb her now she's settled down. She looks so cute!
9. As it's raining outside, her little wet paws short-circuit your ancient computer and blow the whole lot up. And you're glad!
10. You're just thinking of your 499th word, once the computer mender has left, when you catch sight of the clock. 3.20! Yikes, got to get the girls. Damn, and it was all going so well today too .....oh well, there's always tomorrow .....

Monday, 5 October 2009

Underlying health issues

My heart goes out to the parents of the poor 14-year-old girl who died after her cervical cancer jab last week. I can't imagine how awful it must be to face the death of a beloved daughter. My own Child One, on the cusp of 14 now, is such a delight all of a sudden that I can hardly bear to part with her for the obligatory every-other-weekend. The idea of eternity without her gentle smile just makes me cry. Though she still has (deeply) childish moments, I can see the lovely young woman she'll become. And she has a fabulous figure, waist-length blonde hair and endless legs, grrrr.

The whole cervical cancer injection thing is a worry, as Child Two is coming up fast to the jabbing age. The girl who died (I don't want to include her name as, if she were my daughter, I don't think I'd want it bandied about by unknown bloggers) turned out to have 'underlying health problems,' a favourite Government phrase which I find deeply sinister. In her case, it does seem as though the injection had little to do with her tragic death, but of course it's made me question the whole business.

Has the Government really tested this innoculation thoroughly? Is it using a generation of 13 and 14 year old girls as guinea pigs? A lot of girls at Child One's school seemed to suffer side effects. I did put it down, at the time, to girly-girly hysteria, though Child One herself did complain of a sore arm for days. At the time of the second injection, she had a slight temperature and had been staying with Mr X. He urged her to tell the nurse she wasn't well, and the injection was postponed - to my fury at the time, as Mr X had gaily left me with the lovely job of contacting the local NHS Trust, finding the right person, setting up an alternative appointment within the statutory 6 week period and, of course, chauffeuring Child One to and from it. In the end, I managed to wangle an injection at the school with some year 10 girls, who were much less prone to shrieking, and as a result she had no residual soreness after the jab.

While I cursed Mr X roundly at the time for messing things up, I now look back and am hugely relieved that Child One didn't have the injection while she wasn't 100 per cent well. Who's to say that she couldn't have become the first statistic, with a Government spokesperson intoning solemnly that she had 'underlying health issues'?. Will Child Two be having the injection next year? I'm not sure.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Banking on it

Eventually I had to fight myself out of the cosy embrace of the Dog Who Came In From the Cold and trudge to the Barclays &*$%£ Bank in the Village, to present myself in person to be chastised for forgetting my codes, my mother's maiden name and my full postal address - and also to beg for a cheque book so I could actually spend my own money on such essentials as Child One's bassoon lessons (Why? Why am I putting the neighbours, Child Two, the cat and the neighbours through this? Why??).

The door to the bank now has a special entry portal, like the transporter bay in Star Trek but much less interesting, so even getting in took some time and patience. I then joined a queue which seemed to be made of all the misfits in Dulwich - I had no idea there were so many - and I spent a while wondering if I was becoming one. We all shuffled round, and I thought I was nearly, nearly getting to the front of the queue, when the man before me produced a great sheaf of small plastic bags from his ruck sack, each containing, of course, a selection of one and five penny pieces with which to pay all his utility bills. I was sinking into a glazed-eyed, slack-jawed pre-coma phase by the time he seemed to have finished, having got through gas, electricity, water, phone, telly .....and it took some effort for me to regain enough consciousness to plod forward a little, when he suddenly got out a note, to which Blu-Tack had been pre-applied, and proceeded to stick it to the cashier's window. It is a measure of how deeply bored I had been that I was actually quite excited at the prospect that this might be some sort of hold-up. Did the note have 'put all the money in a bag - Unmarked Notes only!' written on it? All the dispirited queue perked up. Instead of dying of queuitis, we all now had an outside chance of getting on the London round-up at the end of the News at Ten. I had already pictured it all, the headlines in the Standard, 'plucky divorcee raises alarm at bank heist,' 'brave well-preserved 40-something mother of two floors armed robber,' even my acceptance speech as the Queen presented me with an OBE, 'it was just instinct, I did what anybody else would have done .....' I would only wince a tiny bit as she pinned the medal on my plaster cast ....

Alas, it soon became all too clear that the putative bank robber was just another nutter. The cashier peered hard at the note, then said, 'and did you just want the last two statements, then?' which rather rubbished all the customer's brave, though eccentric, efforts at discretion. He nodded, and we all sighed and went back to contemplating our shoes or the long list of not very exciting insurance services Barclays £$%& offers.

Mind you, by the time I finally got to the cashier, I had cheered up a bit. There's nothing like a display of bona fide oddness to perk me up, and I wondered whether the clerk would mention it. Of course, in true English style, she did not. She heard my tale of codes and surnames in sympathetic silence, absorbed my request for a cheque book, pressed two buttons on her computer and told me one was already on its way automatically and would be with me the following day.

So I needn't have abandoned my reading, my fireside or my beloved cupboards after all. But I'm rather glad I did, as it's not often you nearly participate in a bank robbery in Dulwich. Oh, and needless to say, the chequebook did not arrive in today's post.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Load of bankers

I'm settling down to read my next five chapters of The Dog Who Came In From the Cold, next to my cosy little fire, and right in front of my delectable alcove cupboards which are CLOSED and hiding the hideous telly. Things simply couldn't be much better .......except, of course, that as ever, a vile bluebottle has flown into the pale pink ointment of my life. This time, it's Barclays &*$£^! Bank.

I simply wanted to order some cheque books. Granted, I am probably the only person in the known universe still using these, and only because the girls' school continues to demand cheques for the most piffling sums (£3.50 for a Bollywood dance workshop! £7 for a trip to the British Museum! But doesn't it all sound bliss? And Child One is going on a visit to Cadbury World soon, I'm so jealous I may have to embarrass her terminally by stowing away on the coach and eating the place dry).

Ok, so there I am attempting to get a new cheque book, to keep up the steady stream of small payments to an educational establishment that clearly doesn't need them. First, I scrabble through the cheque book itself to see if there's a tear-off request stub, as in days of yore. Nope. Then I log in to my account online, no mean feat as Barclays requires a Krypton Factor-like row of hoops to be jumped through, including sticking your cashpoint card into a hand-held 'pinsentry' machine to get a unique code to key into the right bit on the computer screen ......yawn, the whole procedure seems to go on for days. And if you slip once on the keyboard, it's right back to the start with you.

I scan the whole of the online bank, and there's nowhere to order cheque books. Right, it's time to speak to a real person. I ring the telephone banking service. The automated voice asks for my 'five digit registration code.' What? Another code?? If I ever knew this code, it was in a different life. I'm a bit worried that I'll simply be cut off, as a substandard account holder, but I press on, and eventually get through to a genuine voice. But, as I have flunked the code test, I am treated like a naughty schoolchild who's produced inadequate homework, or possibly like a rather ineffectual bank robber. Two security questions are fired at me - my mother's maiden name and my full address. Well, finally, I think, I really can't go wrong now. I may be useless with codes, but I can certainly remember my own address and the maiden name which I had a lucky escape from.

'I'm sorry, madam, but you've answered one of those questions wrongly. No, I can't tell you which one. But you'll now have to present yourself at a branch. No, you can't ring in again, as you've failed the security test.'

Failed a test! Moi? The shame. I may never live it down. I shall have to slink into the branch in the Village and hope no-one sees me. I wonder what they'll do to me there? The dunce's cap? Standing in the corner for half an hour? Even, yikes, the naughty step?

So, yes, I am taking my mind off the ordeal in store by reading lovely Alexander McCall Smith's latest gem. Already, I've warmed to the MI6 agent, Angelica, as she went to my university, St Andrews, though of course I feel rather miffed that no-one, during my four year career there, ever once approached me to be a spy. Perhaps my well-known tendency to blab uncontrollably after half a glass of Leibfraumilch (these were the dark days before I discovered Chardonnay) worked against me, or perhaps it was simply that I wasn't studying Russian, like Angelica. But I manage to get over my chagrin at this snub by the mighty forces of Intelligence, and I read on.

I am loving the way that the cast of characters has already started to entwine a little, reminding me slightly of Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music Of Time, though Dog does it with a sense of self-depracating humour and a slightly shuffling, snuffling, doggy gait, unlike Powell's stately, rather terrifying pavane. Possibly it's the reference to Poussin in chapter 5, A Nice Boy that's made me think of Powell. There is, as yet, no glimpse of a character as unique and truly memorable as Widmerpool or even of Pamela Flitton on the horizon, though it's early days.

Hmmm, Dog is proving a delicious distraction from care, just what we all need these days. Highly recommended. Do have a look online. And let's all keep our mind off bankers. Grrrr ....

Friday, 25 September 2009

A dream come true

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a dream.

It's not about peace and harmonee for the whole world, I'm sad to say, though I'm perfectly happy to get behind that as and when. No, it's a simpler, purer dream.

My dream is to shut my TV inside a cupboard.

I've always had a thing about the ugliness of tellies. When they stuck out a mile at the back and weighed four tonnes, I truly hated them. Now that they have gone all flat screen and slinky, I still hate them. When they're turned off, their dense blackness, usually framed in silver, reminds me of the sinister, matt nothingness of a Malevich canvas. When they're on, they dominate the room and it's impossible to look elsewhere.

I've always had a sneaking interest in those bits of furniture you can buy to shut tellies away in. While we were married, Mr X firmly quashed any notion of buying such an item, proclaiming them vulgar. I'm sure he was right, though nothing, surely, is as vulgar as a telly itself.

It's not that I'm pretending for one second that I'm not addicted to telly. Every evening I can be found, Chardonnay in hand, watching hours of crap, my eyes as big and round as Mia Farrow's at the end of Purple Rose of Cairo. I'll watch anything and everything - Holby City, To The Manor Bowen, Desperate Housewives, Neighbours .....really, I'm not fussy. It's just that I sort of want to pretend that I am, and having the telly in a cupboard would really help. A large part of me wants to live in a Jane Austen fantasy parlour, embroidering daintily away while engaging in sparkling repartee with, of course, Mr D.

Obviously, I am a sad, deluded woman, but luckily these days I am free to pursue my delusions to their logical conclusion. Oh, the joys of divorce! These are so sparse that, whenever I come across one, I know I have to celebrate it.

Enter Julian, of the London Fitted Wardrobe Company. Julian was recommended by a friend, after he built beautiful alcove cupboards in her sitting room. She said excitedly, 'he did a great job - and he's nice to have around!'

Five days into the job, I can confirm that she was absolutely right on both points. The house has been chaos, with books, dust, nervous cats, odd bits of timber and grumpy children lying about the place. Normally, for someone with my compulsion to tidy stuff away before even I have finished using it, this would involve sky-high stress levels. But Julian, with a lovely sunny nature, a way with wood and an attention to detail that makes even me look sloppy, has made it all so easy. I knew he was the man for the job when he prised a bit of paint off the wall (in a spot that wouldn't show!!) and took it to the paintshop to have the exact same shade made up.

Julian used to be in IT in the City, but after a year off travelling with his wife, decided commuting was for suckers. He launched three potential new careers; IT consultancy, wedding photography and cupboard making. The cupboards have won out. In recession-hit Dulwich, which is now embracing the staycation and the idea that paying for a lick of paint beats shelling out thousands on stamp duty, Julian is suddenly more popular than eyebrow threading and is booked up till I don't know when.

We have had our moments. When I showed Julian the doorknobs I'd chosen, he lifted an eyebrow, 'girly knobs! Your husband didn't have much of a say, did he?' he said. I wondered for a second. Did I want to go into the whole Mr X/divorce/True Love business? Erm, no I didn't. But, as the week wore on, things came out ....Julian laughed and said it reminded him of the time he told a client her husband would be really pleased with the cupboards, only for the lady's lesbian lover to arrive home ....

As we speak, the last coat of eggshell in the precise shade of the walls is going on the cupboard doors. The girls hate the idea of a telly in a cupboard. So, probably, does True Love. Mr X would doubtless see the whole project as further proof of my utter insanity, not that he needs it, of course. Even the cat is eyeing me strangely. But I am very happy. I have a dream. It's not, perhaps, the dream I once turned my life upside down for, but who cares - it's my very own dream, and it's coming true.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

'And the winner is ............'

*Blush* The adorable Brit in Bosnia/Fraught Mummy has lavished me with the Zombie Chicken award. Dearest Fraught, you shouldn't have, but I'm so glad you did!

For the very few out there who are not yet aware of the true significance of the award, I reproduce its mission statement: "The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken – excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all."

Well, obviously I would not wish to antagonise a pack of zombie chickens. A very frightening prospect and, as I suspect they are not organic chickens, it could easily cause riots in Dulwich Village. I shall, therefore, as quickly as I can, pass on this tremendous honour. Who better to receive it than English Mum, who actually keeps chickens and (whisper it softly) also makes a delicious chicken pie? I would also like to award it to Rural Villager, who I'm sure has had a few brushes with chickens in her time, to Exmoor Jane, who has made a fantastic success of country life (unlike a few Mail on Sunday columnists we wouldn't dream of naming), to Hadriana's Treasures, who probably lives quite near a chicken or two (see my sure grasp of geography) and, lastly, but not leastly, to the fantabulous Linda, who could eat a live chicken for breakfast and I'm definitely not even going to mention plucking.

It was the lovely Linda her very self who sent me this "Call Yourself a Writer?" meme:

Which words do you use too much in your writing? Well obviously, I over-use obviously, obviously. And, of course, there's of course, of course.

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read? I love other people's words.

What's your favourite piece of writing by you? Would have to be my novel, Hot Chocolate to be published in March in German by the uber-wonderful Ulstein, with the title Schokohertz. I don't believe I've mentioned it for, oh, a month ......other than that, I did do some fabulous interviews when I worked on the Daily Express, though I say so myself.

What's your favourite piece of writing by someone else? Nothing equals the first naughty sentence of Pride and Prejudice. That Jane Austen, she was a one. Otherwise, anything, any day, by my Disney 7 chums. Six different approaches to life, every single one brilliant.

Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn't written? Oh, gosh, yes. I'm a terror for replying in haste and repenting at leisure. Worst is pressing 'reply all'. Shudder. And that's just email. Many, many a text should never, ever have been pinged across to True Love.

How has your writing made a difference? What do you consider your most important piece of writing? If my writing has made a difference (which is a point for debate), maybe occasionally it's cheered people up when I've made a joke that has worked. Someone did once say they'd wet themselves after reading one of my tales and that did give me a very warm glow of pride. I may ask Tena to sponsor me.

Name three favourite words Can I please have four? Serendipity, sussuration, cellar door. ...And three words you're not so keen on 'But you promised ....' (accompanied by hours of whining).

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration? I had a fantastic English teacher at school, Mrs Lindsay, who had very thick, wavy dark hair and quite an air of mystery. I loved the way she would take great bunches of her hair and throw it behind her to emphasise a point. I've modelled myself on her ever since, with absolutely no success at all.

What's your writing ambition? To finish my second novel and get both books published in the UK.

I'd like to pass this on to other blogger/writer friends: Pottymummy Dulwich Mum Crystal Jigsaw Kate Morris Half Mum Half Biscuit