Wednesday, 18 March 2009

phone silence

I was wondering aloud in the office about someone who had sent me several emails at the beginning of the week and then suggested we meet up for a drink one night after work. I replied saying yes and...

well nothing.

Not a peep.

No thing.

Was it something I said? I reread the email to see if I had unwittingly mentioned a membership for the National Front, but my reply seemed okay to me.

'Oh don't worry, he's probably just gone away on business,' said one. Yep, to a country where there is no internet access.

'Or he's busy.' How busy can he be - is he running UNESCO in his spare time?

'You don't go to the trouble of asking someone out and then just go quiet (Oh yes - in my world that's exactly what you do). Give him a chance.'

'It'll be fine.'

'Yes, it's fine.'

'Yeah, you'll hear from him.'

and then in unison: 'Well, unless he's read your book.'

If he has - he's the only ruddy one!

Friday, 13 March 2009


Everybody's wading  into Julie Moanerson which can only bode well for her book sales.

Someone at the Standard rang me up and asked me if I wanted to don my wellies and jump into the shallows and  recount the terrible goings on of my own feral kids for a modest fee and a little plug for my book.

I used to read her Guardian weekend column the way some people enjoy porn – relishing the all-too familiar aspects of dysfunctional family life with a sense of horrified relief and schadenfreude, while guiltily acknowledging that other people were being exploited for my viewing pleasure.

But I still wouldn't want to enter into a kicking competition with her - frankly, I don't have a welly to stand on.  I have to sheepishly admit that I too have pimped out my family in print – but those days are long gone. At dinner the other night my youngest daughter fixed me with her gimlet, black-lined eyes and announced that people who write about their kids without telling them are disgusting.  I had a horrible suspicion she was talking about my Weekend Guardian Article which, gulp, I hadn’t actually mentioned .

'Don’t worry, you didn't say anything remotely Meyerson about the kids though,' my ex admitted, grudgingly - it was after all about the futility of trying to date as a single parent who lives with children - I don't think he feels it should be an option.  Idid try very hard not say anything that would be too humiliating for anyone concerned.  Unfortunately, I didn't reckon on the sub's idea of a supposed ironic headline.

So much for that, then.

Having a dig at your kids for profit or therapy is an  unequal fight and one in which the parent-as-hack can too easily become a bully to a child who has no voice and no platform and who has put you in a position of trust.   But it’s so tempting  As a writer –you hit the mother-lode when it comes to material – especially if you’re looking for black humour.

The family is supposed to be a safe place in which we learn about fairness and injustice and how to behave in the wider world – how to hate, how to love, how to forgive, and how to fit into society.  It seems a betrayal when this supposedly safe place becomes a stage on which our every foible is illuminated  It’s like living with the Stasi if everything we do is recorded and then, worse, relayed to the not-so great British Public. If  my parents had chosen to broadcast my own reckless adolescent behaviour I would have been mortified, and as a supposed adult with all my own hideous secrets and mistakes – I certainly wouldn’t like to be scrutinised in a column called Living with Crap Parents as written by my kids.

When I saw some or my ‘family sayings’ on my son’s Facebook page under the headline ‘Mother’s PC Moment’ I wanted to die of embarrassment.  I learned quickly – quotations work both ways.  I still itch to write about my teenage kids, but people in glass houses really should put up curtains and be careful when they open them. If I don’t want to read about my own less than textbook behaviour in a newspaper – why should they?   My eldest daughter has also two unpublished novels under her bed.  I really don’t want to be one of the characters.

In any case the Standard pulled the proposed story after the second shooting in Germany.

I can just imagine the next phone call.

‘Marion, I’m just wondering - do any of your kids have access to firearms?'

Absolutely not, but either way – if they did it seems like a jolly good reason not to write about them…

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Sober words

Last Thursday saw me jetting up to Glasgow on National Book Day where I was due to meet with some book groups who had been reading my novel in Hillhead Library.  I was deathly afraid that nobody would come and it would be just me, the librarians, and a man in a bunnet asleep in the corner sheltering from the cauld.  Being Scotland there was, at least, a wide range of baked goods of the Mr Kipling variety being served with tea - which was probably a bigger draw than me - but I still kept counting the chairs anxiously, praying that someone would turn up.

A friend who lives nearby rolled and I became so excited I was chattering on as though I had been wound up and had to recite 10,000 words before the next crank, quickly filling her in on the events of the two years since we last met.  Babies (hers) were displayed on iPhones, husbands (mine) and their absence (yup, me again) were discussed,  and my nerves were further jangled by the addition of. caffeine in a frighteningly smart cafe that would rival Ottolenghi.

Thankfully a few other people did arrive - a very nice group of variously aged middle-class Glesgie women, a clutch of librarians (despite being one, I don't know what the collective noun is for the species - a carrel maybe, or a shelf?) who filled the chairs nicely and one man - who I eyed cautiously as, of the few men who have read the book and not married me (very small sample) most of them haven't liked it.

Then I had to read aloud.

I haven't read aloud since my kids were small and they weren't a very tough audience.  Mostly they were held captive under severely tucked in sheets and duvets (it's the Scottish way - you are pinned to submission under blankets, escape unwise due to the absence of  central heating) and were bored to somnolence within ten minutes - or pretended to be, just to get rid of me - even when I did the voices.  Especially when I did the voices, come to think of it.  I know the Scottish accent is supposed to be reassuring and ideal for call centres but it doesn't go down that well when you're doing bed-time stories and trying to sound Swiss for Heidi.  Two of my favourite books as a child were the very old fashioned Children of the New Forest and The Little White Horse (the latter having been made, or murdered, into a film called The Secret of Moonacre last year).  Oh God, the mangled vowels as I tried to sound English while my kids, who had books on tape dripped into their ears like warm almond oil from an early age narrated by actors with fully dramatised sound effects, and further handicapped by old fashioned language that they didn't understand:

'He was one of those who had joined the king's army with the other verderers and keepers.'
'Ma, what's a vederur?' 

'Why is he in an army?'

'What's he keeping?'

Sigh.  The expression on their faces was akin to those being tortured by Vogons.

Do you want to practice on me?' asked my film director friend who trains actors.  'Three words a second and don't speak for any longer than five minutes would be my advice.'

I passed on the free voice coaching, did the maths and chose a Scottish chapter, to make the diction easier.  At work I locked myself in the loo and muttered as I timed myself while people stood outside the door thinking that a homeless person had holed up inside with half a bottle of meths.  Now there's an idea...

At least with a home crowd they do speak the same language so an interpreter was not necessary, but I was still strangled with fear. After about two years I finally came to the end of the passage, eyeing the audience warily, hoping that none of them hated the book.  I was particularly worried about the man.

But we Scots do have manners and they gave me a polite round of applause and we all drank tea and ate Garibaldis.

It was difficult to know who was the more relieved.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Photo Shot

I'm having a day of  arts and crafts which was supposed soothe me and drag me away from the television that, as my friend Rosie says (and I have ripped this off from her) is beginning to mock me and so has lost the ability to comfort me, but then the darn paper won't stick and the end boards have warped and the guillotine has, like me, lost its edge and so I have ended up abandoning the project for the moment.

I had a photographer from the Guardian here yesterday morning taking a picture that's supposed to accompany an article they are publishing next week about the difficulties in 'dating' (God I hate that word) when you live with your kids.  It's not that it happens very often that I get the chance to say casually to someone: 'Oh why not come round for a drink.'  However, even when it does I'm never here alone, though I always seem to be here alone the rest of the time.  Or as good as.  The youngest rarely leaves her bedroom except to roll her eyes at me and maybe slam a door or two, but that doesn't mean that even if I had someone to drag into my own bedroom and lock the door that I could.    It's a moot point in any case.  Never going to happen.  Not even looking.  But it made a funny article.

So there's the photographer at 11am asking me if she can take a picture of me lying on my bed.


I haven't made it.  It's pink and the sheets are orange, so No.  I am not Paula Yates.  And NO.

Okay then, apparently it's me posing at a table set for a romantic dinner for two looking glum.

A romantic dinner?  What you mean like the one I had at the Godfather's place last week with the champagne and the candles that was followed 8 days later with an email saying he was spending the weekend with his 'long-term squeeze'?  (I seem fated only to meet men who are already involved but like to keep their balls in the air anyway which, I can only assume, is the only way they seem to know they have any).

We set it up.  I got out the bottle of Bolly from the fridge where it will be vinegar before there's an occasion sufficiently celebratory to merit opening it, and I stood at the table looking glum.

Erm, you look too happy.

I modified my expression.

Now you look suicidal - can we go for something in the middle?

I tried again.

Nope, radiant.  She showed me the picture at the back of the camera - if I looked that nice in real life I would definitely be opening the Bolly.  It's a lovely picture.

Yeah, but it's not glum.  Try again.

Nope even more radiant - lovely supper in the oven and you're going to eat it all yourself, sod men, who wants them...  Try rueful.

How the * do you do rueful?  Acting is not my forte...  I thought about the missed weekend in the Cotswolds due to two tablespoons of snow.

Pissed off, really pissed off.  You want to try for glum but pretty.

I posed again.

Nope truly radiant, couldn't give a stuff that you're eating alone, perfectly happy, not a care in the world.

I started to laugh.

Now you just look delighted.

I couldn't keep a straight face and all subsequent pictures made me look deranged.

Let's have one final crack at it.  Think of something sad.

Plenty of choice there, so I did - the phone never rings.  I'm looking at another weekend sitting in the house with a teenager who hates me.  I have no life.  I have no money.  I have no cleaner (she quit two days earlier).  I have a hole in my ceiling.  My ex-father in law has been in town for a week and never expressed an interest in seeing me despite having been my family for 25 years. It's like the Wheel of Misfortune.

I think we've got it, she said, finally.

Do I look glum enough?

No, she said, You look wistful, but that'll have to do.

She packed up her camera and I drove her off to the tube station and I took myself off to work.

The minute I arrived in the office I took off my coat and hung it in it's usual place on the back of my chair.

'Oh, look at you in your red polka dot dress (new from LK Bennett on its first outing).  You look just like Minnie Mouse,' said Fran.

If only the photographer had been there to capture that moment.

Glum.  Definitely, absolutely, positively really, really glum...