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Wednesday, 20 July 2011


my Twitter chums alerted me to this and while every word is undoubtedly more than true and long over-due I can't help being very pleased and very touched and very grateful. For this dear site PlayPennies loves me and this is what they said:

This week PlayPennies loves… Country Lite.

I’m not really sure how to describe this blog to you but I properly LOVE. IT!

It’s an anonymous one so I can’t tell you much about the family who star in it, but I do know it’s written by ‘Milla’ and she’s a Pisces.

“What’s the point then?” I hear you wonder?

Well, for starters if you want to read some fabulous writing then you can tick box number one – heck, you might even have to refer to the dictionary now and again if you weren’t brought up in a big word obsessed and ‘look it up!’ household like I was.

I never thought I’d read the words ‘maelstrom’ or ‘homunculus’ in any of the blogs among the Tots 100 index, but there they were; joy and rapture filled my heart.

Agony, pain, laughter and empathy also featured alongside the joy and rapture, as I read the 'Beep' post featuring ‘maelstrom and homunculus’ – don’t be put off by the words, you’ve been in exactly the same situation and you too will feel the author’s pain, as I did.

I love slave-driving, and clearly an entreprenurial visionary, F12 (I CAN tell you that F12 is ‘the son’), who, judging by his head for figures and business profits in the 'Work' post, could be a Lord Sugar of the future!

This blog is like a collection of observations and fleeting life situations, told with such witty eloquence that you 1) wish you could write like that and 2) resolve to try, immediately!

And as a result I should already have been in Milton Keynes a couple of hours ago, mooching around the shops with my teenage daughter, musing on whether we should get an ice cream even though we’ve only just had lunch.

Be warned, this is a blog with magical time machine powers; hours feel like minutes and when you’ve finished reading, you’ll have no idea where the time has gone.

So, that was nice.

Friday, 15 July 2011


I idly asked F12 on our journey into school this morning what he thought the publican in my novel (ha!) should be called. We had had a bit of a tense time getting out of the house – over which I’ll draw a veil – and some neutral territory was a must.
“I was thinking of Alan Tutt,” I said, “Something non-descript.”
“No,” F12 said dismissively, “Vasily. Vasily Hutz.”
“Vasily?!” I said, “He’s not Russian, he’s just an ordinary English bloke.”
“Ah, so you’re saying English people are just ordinary and you have to be Russian to be interesting, are you?”
Need I say I sighed.
“No, I’m saying that if you suddenly have a Russian chap running a pub in an English village, then people are going to snag on that detail and he’s going to become more important than he deserves to be.
“Why shouldn’t a pub man –?”
“Enough,” I said, “He’s not Russian. He's just there to wipe glasses and he’s called Alan and he’s got a surly son in the North.”
“Vasily wears a trilby and a checked jacket and brown loafers and beige trousers. He got fed up in the Homeland with cocaine being brought in over the borders in lead-lined coffins.”
This was me told. Alan faded into the background.
“And he’s got a double barrelled shot gun and is from a noble family and is going to become a Duke. And an Earl. And a Lord.”
Alan negotiated to move back in with his ex-wife and re-commit to the surly son.

I should have dumped it there and moved onto something uncontroversial like gay women vicars or the siting of industrial incineration but I found myself musing on my heroine and what she should do. She needs to be at home (don’t we all) but the practicalities of funding the Riley lifestyle had to be addressed. I asked F12 for suggestions.
“She makes flower barettes,” he said with absolute certainty.
“What? Hairslides?” I said, “how have YOU heard the word barettes?”
“I just have.”
“Too much MI High,” I said, referring to a presumed crap TV programme.
“No. Not MI High at all, I just have, OK.”
“Alright, so she needs to make a lot of …. barettes …. to earn her money,” I was worried that she would be bent double over her desk and not be able to do all the things she needed to do, like be a heroine, like not actually work at all, just earn enough to warrant occasional trips to the pub to be served by Vasily. Alan. Vasily.
I had wanted the work to be a vague detail. Again, don’t we all.
“How long do people have to work each day?” he asked, “12 hours?”
“Hmm, a bit steep,” I said, “more like 7?”
“We’ll say 12,” the task-master said, deaf to my Union Rep. “So that’s 12 times by 7 makes 84. Now, if she makes one every 3 seconds …”
“Steady on,” I said, “Give her a break, one every 3 seconds! It’ll kill her. No way. One every five minutes, max.”
“SShh,” he said, irritably, “I’m Working It OUT!! She can make one every 3 minutes then. But she’s very organised,” he added, clearly displeased with the downturn in productivity, his fingers twitching like a turf accountant’s. “OK, so she can make 240 a day, that’s 1,680 a week and sell them for £5 each, that’s … that’s …
“£5!” I squeaked, “she’ll be lucky to make 19p and that’s pushing it and there’s profit and time spent buying all the stuff, and she’ll have to post it out and do her accounts and advertise .…” I was quite impressed with my business acumen here but he greeted it with a
“SSHHH! I’m counting, she can buy rhinestones for £10. That’s £8,400 a week. Less the £10. Cool. That’s good. Why don’t you do that?”

Why indeed. It was a relief to get to school.
On the way home, my heroine tossed aside, I thought, hmmm, barettes; cool. And if I could just up that productivity, haggle on the rhinestones …

Friday, 8 July 2011


Finally, finally, the lights turned to green, signalling that our lane could turn right. Not a big ask. My erratic heart was lulled into hope that something as crazy as actual movement might be on the cards. I was almost hysterical with what betrayed me as misplaced relief. Silly me.
Late and stuck in traffic, I had just spent half my life behind the most impossible old man.

The car at the front of the queue might have looked disconcertingly empty but it was headed up by a shrivelled homunculus consisting of a ropey cardigan and a flat cap and a sackful of crappy driving habits. I know. I was there. A plume of smoke and the irritable shucking of the fag ash out the window was all that proved that someone was putatively alive behind the wheel. Normal life form was undetectable in terms of things like motion.
The lights had changed, and his car stalled. Again.
The long tail of vehicles behind bobbed about cartoonishly, heads within craning for a look. Salesmen revving.

His engine retched into a kind of life, plunged forwards and died again. I weakened under a wash of adrenaline and panic, twitching with impatience. The driver’s door opened and a bony, shiny shin, topped off with a loafer, poked out, followed by the creature himself. Age shall wither him and custom soon staled. Bloody hell. I’m sympathetic to a T, but.
Bent double he shuffled, slipper slow, cardigan sliding from his shoulder, down to the boot which he opened with a hopeless arthritic paw.
There’s nothing in the boot, I seethed, nothing. Get back behind the bloody wheel.

The lights slid through green to amber to red. I sat back in my seat and wondered about weeping. The junction involved a four million way combination of goes and stops and filters, ten seconds of which came our way, finishing off with a completely unnecessary free-for-all half an hour stop for pedestrians, of whom there are always none. None. Not one, ever.
We sit there, aging, heading towards death, our petrol leaking from our tanks, obedient to coloured bulbs.

A bicycle – oh, woeful sight – then wove its precarious way past and popped itself comfortably in the red zone ahead of the old chap, bang in the middle. Vicious vibes (mine) made their way sharpish through the ether and the woman turned her headscarfed head, blinked, took in the queue and, wonder of wonders, wiggled obediently to the left.

The old man meanwhile stared blankly into the boot, like Lolly at her empty bowl; you could see him thinking, “Oh?” Then “No.” Then “What brings me here?” He gave a theatrical shrug, slammed the boot with unlikely strength and lurched back to the car. He sat down – need I say ‘slowly’? sinking into what had to be a pile of cushions to give him the requisite height to see out. His right leg was hanging still out of the door. Shut the fucking door, I was seething. Shut … The….

The lights changed to green. He pulled his leg in; reluctantly. It bent in slow motion. He then reached for the door handle without looking for it, his hand just batting blindly in its vague direction.
I thought I might scream. I did, inwardly, hurting my throat.
There was no movement.
The old fuck, I thought, snarling; my conscious being a maelstrom of rage, my unconscious part busily replenishing the adrenaline levels on a second by second basis. No movement: the car sat stock still, but I sensed the seat belt being subject to some sort of play, a half-hearted tugging. The green light shone bright. Not the fucking seat belt, COME ON!!! I didn’t dare beep, knowing it would occasion a slow, slow, puzzled turning of the head.
Nan wobbled off on her bike, some freakish cousin of science keeping her upright. Knowing the sequence of lights, I knew we were into the home run, the few seconds allotted for us, presumed reasonable drivers, to turn right was about to expire.
Cars started beeping behind me, in the mirror I could see hands thrown up in the air. The slow tortoise head began to make its interminable turn. I fell on my car horn almost sobbing with rage. He started the engine. And the car bounced away, coughing and spluttering. I revved like a boy and threw the car into gear ... as the amber light came on. Was the flow in traffic flow again to be denied?

The old man finally noticed Nan weaving about like a pisshead and slammed on the brakes, guessing that just the ten foot clearance wasn’t sufficient in Senior Land. Anything might happen in a world where headscarfs and flat caps are part of the uniform. It would be me ending up with the liability but I managed to avoid ramming into his vile beige boot and the lights swept from amber to red leaving the three of us blocking the route of the oncoming traffic whose turn it now was, all three lanes of it with their left and their right and their straight ahead priorities.

A volley of horns and flashing lights came our way. Nan panicked and put her foot down on the ground to steady herself on the bike. The old fucker stalled. I thought it would be easier to die, just to have a heart attack and let some nice chap in an ambulance take us all away – at least we’d get a blue light right of passage, but I swung my way out and round past the pair of them, glared at a white van man bold enough to dare think he might slide ahead of me and stormed down the road, giddy at attaining 29mph.
At last!

And ahead of me, encouraged by the surprising absence of traffic, a tractor had edged its way, sliding happily in to burble down the road, king of the road, dragging his clattery thing noisily and enormously and painfully slowly behind him. Within seconds the convoy built. I hovered behind him, tight and close, eager for a chance to overtake. None. My mirror told me that Nan was drawing near on my inside.
The tractor was going slower than Nan. The tractor driver was presumably reading his paper and eating his sarnie.
I was spared direct line of ole Tortoise in my mirror, by dint of Van Man having shoved his furious way in between us.
We were a grim line, a mix of rage and incompetence.

A hundred yards on were some pedestrian activated lights. Oh joy. A trio of hoodies slouched by, one hand of one little bastard reaching out idly to set the lights to change. They did. The tractor driver could have sailed through, I would surely have done the same, but no. And so we sat there, my insides rotting, my hope of a timely arrival dying on the vine, awaiting the crossing of no one until the last second, the very last second, when the thing was beeping and my hand was pressing on the gear stick.

At which point a sturdy lass, sense dimmed by sleeplessness, trudged into view leaning on a pram and dragging a toddler. Her expression brightened at spotting the lights on green. Technically not green at all, let it be known (indeed I would have welcomed the chance to deliver a quick lecture), but flashing, which meant red for her.
Her thinking was clear: surely this long line of friendly motorists wouldn’t mind while she took her time in crossing? After all, what’s the hurry? Who would begrudge Mum with her pram and a little one, too? And if the little one dropped his Bunnie and burst into tears and Mum had to set the pram on the brakes and do a comedy trot, remarkable for its tardy inefficiency, back to pick up Bunnie and squander a few seconds in comfort and reassurance, root around in her too-tight trews for a grubby hanky, well, who’s to mind?

Further down the road, my future lay in the form of more of the same, fresh but familiar hell, a comforting sight, that of motorised nerves, of a learner driver, lurching from the left jerking into the traffic, grateful for a long gap in which to execute such a tricky manoeuvre. The tractor pulled in to a bus stop and wearily waved us past and I pulled up behind the learner.

There was a sign. “Watch Your Speed!” it growled. “30!” Chance would be a bloody thing.