Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Writers have no imagination. Discuss.

“You need to read this review of the new Tennessee Williams biography,” says Husband, walking into the bedroom with my customary morning cup of tea and the Saturday papers tucked under his arm, “it explains a lot.” 

A few nights before Husband and I had attended the live screening of A Streetcar Named Desire, beamed straight from the Young Vic Theatre into our local cinema, and he still hasn’t got over it. He only gallantly agreed to attend because a group of my mum-friends were taking their touchy-feely husbands along with them and there’s a limit to the number of invitations my non-touchy-feely one feels he can refuse.

I loved it. Gillian Anderson was amazing. That woman can act. Hers was an utterly mesmerising Blanche DuBois, plus a triumph of memory and stamina. So much so that when I got home I googled her to see if she has children (surely not) and she does. Three! AND now I know where the line, “Stella!” comes from, which our two older boys have been shouting to each other recently in high-pitched, strangulated tones before collapsing into hysterics. (Referenced from the play in both Sienfeld and The Simpsons, I think.)

Husband didn't enjoy it quite so much. In fact, as the play progressed, with Blanche unravelling inch by painful inch, his fidgeting and eye-rolling correspondingly intensified so that by the time we reached the play's denouement (it was long), with Blanche carted off stage to the looney bin, Husband had assumed the air of someone who needed to be congratulated for having borne a terrible ordeal.

“Congratulations,” I said, as we stood up and stretched our cramping limbs in front of the rolling credits, “you made it to the end without falling asleep.” And then I said I wondered what had happened to Tennessee Williams that he should want to write such a play. But Husband wasn’t listening to this, he was muttering darkly about P G Wodehouse. “Give me any day,” I think he said. What Ho Jeeves! was the last play we saw together in the West End. And by the way I still haven’t forgiven Stephen Mangan for being ill that night.

I don't know anything about Tennessee Williams, despite having an English degree, (it’s surprising how little you can get away with reading on an English Literature degree course and still manage to obtain a degree at the end of it. I can vouch for this), but I was willing to bet that something of T.W.’s own life had found its way into that play. Not that all writers draw inspiration from their own lives. And I can vouch for this too, because when I was about fifteen I wrote a play about a teenage girl with an alcoholic mother and a criminal father, who was left to bring up her band of squabbling siblings alone. There weren’t a lot of laughs in it, as I recall. 

For some unknown reason that play won a competition, probably because there wasn’t much, competition that is, and the prize was that it should be performed by proper actors at the local arts centre. During the rehearsals, which I was invited to attend and where I developed massive crushes on all the male actors who happened to cross my path (plus ca change, see Stephen Mangan), the playwright in residence pulled me aside to inform me earnestly that all writers write what they know, before cocking his head to one side and waiting, presumably for my emotional floodgates to open.

They didn't. I fixed him straight in the eye and I told him I’d made it all up, and watched the disappointment steal across his face. For a moment I thought he might actually snatch my prize from me, cancel the upcoming performance, and escort me from the premises, but he didn’t: he merely dug a little deeper...

Yes, but were my parents divorced? No. Did I have siblings like the character in my play? Yes, but only one younger brother, and he wasn't a cripple. Did my mother work? Yes. Ah! She’s a teacher. Oh. What about my father? He works too. What does he do? He’s at the university. At the university? Yes. He’s an academic? Yes. What subject? Sociology. Sociology! That’s it! The playwright was delighted. Apparently it explained everything. It probably still does.

Any road up, as they say where I come from, I read the review of the biography, by John Lahr, about "a playwright whose work was entirely and pitilessly autobiographical," as I sipped my tea in bed, and it turns out that T. W. came from Mississippi, just like Blanche and Stella in the play, and that his mother was Edwina, a ‘southern belle’, who married beneath herself and was prone to hysterical outpourings and that his sister, Rose, suffered from mental illness and got carted off to the looney bin from time to time. So maybe that writer in residence was right? A bit.

Now, where did I put that manuscript I’ve been working on? The one about the middle-aged mum, trapped at home in South London, blogging her way out of obscurity.

Love E x

Here's The Times review that Husband was referring to. You won't be able to read it unless you subscribe to the paper online so I've also pasted one from The Independent as well.



Tuesday, 16 September 2014


Milk and one. Milk and two. Milk and three. Milk and four. Strong and black. Strong and white. Black with no. Just some water. Do you have fizzy? Have you got a biscuit to go with that, love? Hahahahaha. 

Directed at my boobs not at my face. Flirting. Joking. Friendly. Moody. Condescending. Sarcastic. Lying. Educated. Rude. Polite. Not educated. Good English. Bad English. Helpful. Not helpful. White. Black. British. Polish. Italian. English. Crap at spelling.

Late. Postponed. No reply. Just coming. On the way. Terrible traffic. Looks bad. Worse than I thought. Cost you more. What a comedian. Parking permit. Bum crack. Beer belly. Dirty boots. Loose rubbish dumped in the bin/garden/road. Just nipping out for supplies...

If any of that is familiar then you too have had builders in. I've had a bellyful in the last year. I could write a book. Lucky for you this is only a blog post, but still, you can count it as therapy. My therapy. For free.

Builders at the top of our garden having a nice sit down.

Are we unlucky or are all workmen in London unreliable porky pie merchants who can't look you in the eye and tell you the truth for toffee? Or even for a nice sweet cup of tea and a load of tax-free cash stuffed in an envelope?

Maybe that's a bit strong, like most of the tea I've been brewing. I know I annoyed someone by writing that all builders are wankers on Facebook recently but in my defence I was at the end of my tether, and I'm not even friends with any builders on Facebook, unless some of my 'friends' are moonlighting behind my back, which they could be I suppose because God knows there's money in it. Loadsamoney.

On that particular occasion a builder decided to charge us extra for tidying up the mess he made of our neighbour's wall. He'd already been paid a princely sum for the job which, it turned out, took him only a couple of hours and not the whole day he predicted. So did he reduce his price? Did he hecklers like, he charged us more.

And that is a mere trifle compared to some of the cock ups, like getting the main load-bearing steel wrong for the new kitchen extension. Twice. And lying about it, to the building inspector, and us. Or laying a concrete floor that wasn't level and didn't set so it all had to come up, all 50 square meters of it, back through the front door because we live in a terrace. I reckon most of that floor is still in my lungs, which is why I succumbed to asthma at the time and have since had a bout of bronchitis.

Then there was the decorator who was engaged to paint the woodwork on the house who out-sourced the job without telling us, didn't watch what was going on, and was responsible for our beloved Virginia Creeper being ripped off while we were away, when we expressly asked for it to stay, and then the front door key went missing. When I asked for the key back pronto in a text message, he sent an instant reply that said… actually I'll copy and paste you what it said because it's priceless - 

"Key, no, need to pick up from epsom hospital. The last decorator had an hart atack on Sunday he has it on his key ring with him… Will getnit back as soon as visiting hours are alawed." 

All sic by the way, and English is his first language. He comes from Guildford. Went to private school.

The good news is we are nearly at the end of it all, for now. We moved here seven years ago and are nearing completion of the first pass: where every inch will finally have been painted, carpeted, mended, wired, plumbed or generally renovated and brought up to scratch at least once. Then we will need to start again with what we did at the beginning. 

And finally, after all those builders and scaffolders and roofers and plumbers and electricians and carpenters, we have just hit upon someone who is actually good. Really good. Someone who ran a tidy team, operating like a silent disco for decorators, all of them listening to Radio 4 individually on their headphones, discreetly creeping from hall to stair to landing, brushes softly stroking walls in unison with glistening pristine emulsion, who when I asked if they wanted a cuppa variously replied: not really, no thanks, that's okay, er, do you have any Red Bush at all?

I have glimpsed the future of workmen and it has no workmen in it. It is a future that is tidy, reliable, quiet, intelligent, considerate, not in the least flirty and tidies up after itself at the end of the day. A future in which if you put a pile of washing on the bottom of your stairs to go up, one of them notices and takes it up for you. Yes, that's right, you guessed it: it's a team of work-women. The future, my friend, is FEMALE to a man.

E x 

So shoot me if I'm being sexist I don't care. I am the mother of three sons. They are wonderful. I adore them. Do I ever want them to decorate my hall and stairs? No. 

Newly painted book shelves on the landing.



Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Someone of my close aquaintance gets a job.

The master plan to stay in London for the sake of the children has paid off as one of them lands a full-time job working for a company in Soho for a year. 

I won’t say which one, for all you know I could be talking about Youngest, or Middle One, except of course that the law requires them to be in full-time education. So let’s just say I'm referring to an 18 year-old of my close acquaintance. An 18 year-old who just did very well in his A’ Levels and has decided to take a year off before going to university. One who will not now be lounging around on the sofa all day playing guitar, watching endless re-runs of Top Gear, getting under my feet, deciding to fry himself bacon covered in brown sugar for lunch at four in the afternoon, just after I’ve cleared and swept and put the rubbish out and the dishwasher is quietly humming to itself and I'm having a moment of fleeting domestic satisfaction. So obviously this is an 18 year-old of my very close acquaintance. 

He could be a lodger or a nephew who happens to be living with us because his parents are posted abroad, say, or one of those sad homeless types who comes round selling rubbish cloths and dusters at exorbitant prices on the doorstep and who, out of the goodness of my heart, because I am exactly this sort of impulsive philanthropic Dr. Barnardo-type, I have decided to take in off the street, give bed and board, and allow to raid the family fridge at will. Just use your imagination.

Anyway, I am now free to have such moments described above, all to myself. In fact, I reckon I am freer now I have been since June 1996, when I had my first baby. Sorry, the baby I found on the doorstep and took in. 

Think about it. There are no pre-school children at home. No primary school runs. No children on ‘study leave’ (if ever there was a misnomer that is it), just the hilarious Middle One and Youngest comedy duo, who head off to secondary school together each morning, one nearly 6 foot tall, long hair, loping gait, the other less than half his height, shaggy mop top, cheeky rejoinder, a recent example -  

Me: "And that is the end of my pep talk for today.
Youngest: "I think I missed the beginning."
Me: "Well he can fill you in on the way to school."
Youngest, to his brother, just as door clicks: "Please don't.

And now, of course, there are TWO workers leaving the house: Husband and this 18 year-old I speak of, heading off in the opposite direction, one on his bike, one to the Tube, leaving me to get on with my stuff – lots of staring out of the window then.

No, actually, not so much of the staring at the moment, some real work. And not just writing articles and blogging, which inexplicably those around me don’t seem to regard as work, probably because I can do it in my dressing gown. 

I have some of the other work I do, in fact it's possible I am constrained from mentioning it due to client confidentiality or something, so let’s just say that my lovely mate Pat and I are currently charged with making a stirring video, all hearts and minds stuff, for a very large national organisation dealing in health. Well it's national at the moment, just about.

A Polaroid, remember those? Taken on a shoot with Pat, rather a long time ago.

I think this is the work I am charged with anyway, I'm waiting for the full brief, currently living in that happy limbo when you know you have paid employment, indeed you have spent the fee already in your head, but don’t have to do anything yet. At some point people are going to expect stuff: ideas, emails, recces, etc, and then I will start waking at five in the morning wondering what I have got myself into - but not yet.

Interesting that this 18 year-old I speak of has 
a job working in this same profession and wants to study Film at university in due course, and fortunate that he can take a low paid job on the bottom of the ladder to learn the craft in his gap year because he is still living at home. Things were very different for Husband and I when we first moved to London in the late 80s. Then we struggled to find somewhere affordable to live, taking soul-sapping temping jobs to keep the wolf from the door as, in my case, I tried to find a way in to TV. 

It was a lovely theatrical agent who let me pretend to type in her hilariously ramshackle office, high on the corner of Cambridge Circus there, overlooking the entrance to Leicester Square Tube, who took pity on me and herself - I think she really needed a competent assistant who could actually type - and found a proper job for me to apply for, in publishing, which in due course led to a job at BBC Enterprises, which led to applying for a training attachment as a director in the children’s television department, which led to… well, you get the picture.

First job. At a work do. Even longer ago. Tbh I've only included this because I look nice. 

For a while Husband and I shacked up (his term) in a couple of rooms in large house in Herne Hill. We paid rent in cash, a week in advance, to the live-in landlady who was the mother of a friend from uni. When Husband was posted to France for a year as part of his degree and we had to leave, we did a mid-day flit to avoid paying the whole of the next week's money. I thought we left the place immaculate, but it turned out Husband had left our half-eaten Sunday roast chicken behind in her oven (that's not a euphemism). She wrote to my mother to complain. We knew how to eat well even then. 

And so began a tricky itinerant phase for me, which briefly included moving in to The Royal Free Hospital doctor's wing (I had an ex-boyfriend who was a medic there and he didn't need his room), when my entire 'vinyl' collection got nicked as Husband and a mate left it unattended propping open a door. To be honest I've never got over that.

Because we found it hard so to get established in London, both home-wise and job-wise, Husband and I thought if we ever managed to have a house here, we should cling to it for dear life so our children might be afforded the luxury of living in it while trying to sort themselves out. 

It's nice that occasionally things go according to plan, and very nice that we have one more full year with this 18 year-old of our very close acquaintance. We've grown rather fond of him over the years. Almost as fond, you might say, as if he were one of our own.

Love E x

P.S. Thank you to all you lovely readers, especially the new ones. I try to blog weekly but it's not always on the same day so do keep looking, or follow me on Twitter to find it.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

How To Be A Wife.

September 2nd 1995

Today is our 19th wedding anniversary. Only 19 years? I hear you say. Yes, but that’s 19 years married, 29 years together. Next year will be a big one for us: twenty years married and thirty years together. Thirty years! As Husband says, you get less for murder. We will have to have a party. Want to come? You’re all invited.

So, with 19 years under our belts, what is the secret of happily married life? I have no idea because I only have this marriage to draw on. Ha Ha. No, really, there must be something that makes it work, apart from sheer laziness on our parts to do anything except stay together. 

Well, for a start, the fact that we have been together for so long becomes one of the reasons we stay together. You know, we must be doing something right, look, we’re still here. I can’t speak for Husband (well I can actually, I do it all the time) but I can’t imagine NOT being married to him. 

Somehow, despite the rather random way we got together (I'll come to that) and the fact that we have virtually nothing in common (and I'll come to that too), we have made a life together and, more importantly, a happy family unit that feels like a solid thing. I cannot imagine wanting to break or re-form that unit into anything else for anything in the world. I know people do it all the time, they meet new people and they move on and their families become ‘blended’ (horrible word) and they seem happy about it, for the most part, and I don’t want to tempt fate or anything, I remember Paula Yates wrote a book about how to make a marriage work when she was with Bob Geldoff, and look what happened to her. But that's it in a nutshell for me. We've created something which ain't broke after all these years, so let's not try and fix it. Not very romantic, but apparently people who take a more pragmatic view are more likely to see their relationships succeed than those looking for everything to be perfect with ‘the one’, that and having a joint bank account or something.

But one thing I can attribute our success to is Husband's helpfulness. Our marriage may have unexpectedly morphed into a 1950s cliche somewhere along the line, with me at home putting dinner on the table and him bringing in the bacon, or the biggest slice of it, but his willingness to roll up his sleeves the minute he gets in from work, helping with all things domestic, from loading the dishwasher (I think it's true that men who do this get more sex) to picking up a child from tennis, has made him deeply loveable and - I think this bit is his strategy - apparently irreplaceable. Anyway, enough gushing, here are a few ways in which Husband and I are completely different. 

We have never read the same book, except maybe The Diary of a Nobody, and possibly Frankenstein. He reads a lot, probably more than me, but mostly history and other stuff written by men, and French. We don’t like the same music either, except maybe for a few classical things. He has very unusual taste, American R & B, pre-Fifties a lot of it, and a vast knowledge of classical music. He and the boys hog the devices that make music happen in this house, and they know how to get them to work, so I don't get much of a look in. I love The Beatles, Husband doesn’t, to me this is nothing short of tragic.

I like art, going to art galleries, interiors, design, the theatre, films. I especially love films. I like TV and fashion and Italy and romance and candlelight and hand-painted tableware and dinner parties and friends and chatting and socialising and Radio 4 and The Guardian and organising stuff and gardening and holidays and writing. Mmm.

Husband doesn’t like any of that much. He hates films. He doesn’t really watch TV. He would never go on Facebook or Twitter let alone blog, I don't even think he's on LinkedIn. He’s not interested in interiors or fashion, although he knows what he likes. He does like architecture and Italy, I suppose. He’s happy to travel in Europe, particularly western and central Europe but has no desire to go further afield. He is crazy about his retro push bike (it’s a Pashley Guv'nor, don’t ask me), so much so that I find him chatting to complete strangers on online forums about hubs and sprockets - now if it was porn I would understand it.

We met at a student house party in Norwich in 1985. I had just split up with my boyfriend from home, everyone was ‘getting off’ with someone except me, my friend Manesh said, “Is there no one here you fancy, Liz?” and I looked around and saw a guy leading a group of wide-eyed freshers in his game of ‘let’s see if we can keep ourselves up off the floor’ in a narrow corridor off the kitchen. They all had their feet on one wall and their backs on another and now I come to think about it this is exactly the sort of silly, immature, pointless thing that girls looking for nice boys should be wary of. It smacked of a lack of seriousness, it foretold of boy-children who would get up to the same sort of shenanigans in years to come, it was, almost literally, the writing on the wall. And I chose to ignore it because he had a great Nick Kamen quiff.

in 1985, shortly after we met

He was a first year French student and I was second year English Literature and Film Studies student, which makes me sound like a cradle-snatcher when I wasn’t because he had taken several years off before coming to UEA, living an exotic independent life. Not travelling around South America as youngsters do nowadays or building huts for destitute villagers in Borneo, but bunking down in a high-rise block of flats in Catford with a Jive and Rockabilly DJ called Rohan, learning how to perfect the aforementioned quiff. In my defence this was the 80s. Plus he had a south London accent and rather uncouth manners and was therefore the antithesis of what my mother would have hoped for, or so I thought at the time, which was all that mattered. 

I was disappointed to later learn that he’d gone to a posh boarding school. I very nearly had to ditch the whole project for this reason, since it didn’t fit with my high-minded socialist principles. But luckily it turned out he went on a full scholarship because he was penniless and came from a broken home. Hooray.

Anyway, that’s it. That was 29 years ago this Autumn. We have been together ever since. We have a few things in common. We are both homebodies, we love our house. We also love to cook and eat and drink, family meals are a big thing for us. We love to stay in watching The Great British Bake Off or Strictly Come Dancing, which I think surprises Husband even more than it does me. We love London, and parks and the countryside, and walking in all of them. We like to read newspapers, even if they are not the same ones. Family life is everything. We are both devoted to our three boys and would do anything and everything for them, and often, it seems, we do.

And today we're off out for some lunch together in Chelsea, where Husband is currently working. If it feels a long way from Norwich in 1985, that's because it is.

Love E x

going to a 40th

Follow me on Twitter @DOESNOTDOIT