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Monthly Archives: February 2011


Pippin arrived today. He started purring even before we’d let him out of  the carrier and hasn’t stopped, four hours later. He is definitely a human-friendly cat. Half an hour in, he was following us round the house, chirruping. No hiding in awkward spaces, hissing.

To help things along, I went to the library and got out two books on cats.
And one on Peter Mandelson.

On a completely different subject: I volunteer once a week as a receptionist for the Citizens Advice. I committed to the end of Feb because we might be moving (we’re not, it all fell through) and arranged to alternate with my replacement for a few weeks.

I found myself forgetting names, procedures and how to enter basic data. The house limbo, moving to sporadic freelance work instead of full-time, adjustment from central London to rural Suffolk and all the emotion-sifting and introspection that comes with doing a beginner’s creative writing course… all this has stripped me of self-confidence and left me feeling like a paranoid 16 year-old who doesn’t want to go to school.

So I was looking forward to ducking out of the CAB, even though the people I work with are very friendly and very helpful. Then my replacement was hit by back problems and won’t be taking over, meaning I’ll be there until someone else is found.

Something tells me this is a good thing: to be given the chance to overcome the life change wobbles and truly engage, especially in such an interesting and warm environment, with some intelligent and interesting people; instead of sciving off life for a week and having some duvet time (which I think is completely valid in life sometimes).

All the things I mentioned are changes (who likes those?… actually, lots of people thrive on variety, just not me!) for the good, not life’s serious problems (ill health, death, divorce etc etc). Sometimes those adaptability muscles need exercising to prevent atrophy!



Last month, I switched from Vodafone to The Phone Co-op. I was unhappy that Vodafone had been let off £6 billion in taxes, at a time when care homes, libraries and schools are all being hacked at.

Twice I checked – once by e-mail and once over the phone – that I wouldn’t be charged for breach of contract. Of course not, I was reassured.

Then today I get an e-mail telling me my bill’s ready to view online (access now defunct since the account’s closed). I call up and they tell me it’s…  charges for breach of contract.

I’m afraid I gasped a bit like I’d been confronted by the pantomime villan, maybe a bit of a melodramatic reaction. But they cancelled the charge there and then, so quickly and without a whisper of a row that I was very suspicious.

It’s frustrating that companies seem to try to slip in odd payments in the hope customers don’t notice.  It’s unforgivable that companies with big profits can’t act ethically and pay taxes they owe which benefit everyone.

If you are thinking of changing phone companies or your contract’s about to end, I’d recommend The Phone Co-op. They use the Orange network , so aren’t entirely independent, but they do plough their profits back into some worthwhile causes.

Watch out for extra charges from your old company, though.

Jo and Jilly

Just finished reading Jo Brand’s autobiography. An engaging read with a light touch. I’d like to have her as a friend: down to earth, compassionate and funny.

I also borrowed Jilly Cooper’s latest, Jump. I don’t think anything she writes now can rival, well, Rivals, which has to be one of the top five most touching and fun love stories. I felt the characters in Jump were a bit two-dimensional compared to some of her other creations. And there were lots of them.

But there’s a strong heart beating in all her books. I’d like her as a friend, too.

Good news!

Nocton Dairies has withdrawn its application to build an enormous indoor cow factory in Lincolnshire. It would have been the start of a real battery cow farming industry.
Great news that Nocton have responded to the campaign against it.

Dickens on Hanway Street

One of our exercises on the OU Creative Writing course I did was to choose a character in a murder case and focus on point of view, writing in either past or present tense.

I really enjoyed playing with a Dickensian omniscient point of view, and focusing mainly on my Spanish witness.  I went for present tense to make it more immediate.

I found I was using old-fashioned vocab and probably fell between two stools in wanting a contemporary setting but using an archaic tone.

It was prompted by Hanway Street, behind Oxford Street: a tiny, hidden road with lots of Spanish bars and restaurants, which is packed with Londoners and Spanish people after dark.

Some streets away from where white-collared workers swagger and late night shoppers slowly shuffle, a blue and white polythene crime tape shimmies in the chill breeze. An impatient gust points one loose end of this tape like an accusing finger at two figures eschewing the slippery pavement and walking unsteadily down the middle of the icy but gritted road.

Such movement in this, the city’s louche Spanish quarter that calls unceasingly to the free spirits and the freaks, is unremarkable. Indeed, it is not to this duo – which, as it approaches, we now see comprises two hunched and shivering policemen – that I wish to draw the reader’s attention. Rather, we travel back along the tape to the watcher of the scene – an old man of 70, or 80, perhaps. It is his concentrated stare at the couple which is singular to this setting.

The Spanish quarter is his home and by day he sleeps and by night he sits outside the Tapas and Flamenco bars, tolerated by most, liked by fewer. His gaze ordinarily is languid and wide-ranging, alcohol curbing the desire or ability to focus. On waking or on stumbling upon the anomalies or allurements of his terrain, his eyes – as now – will stop their idle sweep and fix on the object of his interest. Then he stares out unsparingly from his wrinkled face, its once Mediterranean tinge now ruddy and decayed from the rawness of the wind and the excess of beer.

‘Uh, buenas noches, senor!’ Jesus Martinez  – now addressed only as hombre or Viejo in Spanish, mate or old man in English – can tell that the younger and clearly stupider of the two English policemen is proud of his bold linguistic adventure. Jesus feels random emotions of gratitude, contempt and anger when the English try to speak his native tongue. But a miniscule twitch of his raggedy grey beard reveals nothing of his thoughts on this occasion. What’s more, he knows the policemen are here to ask if he saw anything yesterday, and will be revealing nothing about that, too.

He observes the slightest of twitches of the second policeman’s nose as he glances along the street. There is satisfaction in the sensibilities of this lanky culo being offended by the rank, stale smell of urine, booze and debauchery. He lets out a quiet fart.

‘Ahem! Well, you must know why we’re here, Mr, er… Senor. You speak English, am I right?’

pre-spring blues

I went a bit stir crazy this Winter, too many snow-ins and dark afternoons. I don’t usually get like that, but Winter in the countryside is more full on than it was in London.

Today the sun’s colouring everything green rather than grey. I planted some gladioli bulbs (residual homage to Morrissey – sad, I know) and tried not to tramp on too many crocuses. (Croci?)

I’ve also been procrastinating, my favourite energy draining, pointless hobby. Admittedly, the boiler man had to be made a cup of tea (I’m definitely putting off  addressing the idea of a new boiler – £600?? surely not??!). And the car had to be dropped off to the garage before the exhaust fell off.  Plus I had e-mails to reply to and Verboticisms to create.

All this patching up of domestic equipment that’s been worn out by Winter is fuel for my creative writing prompt (to write about a home) for my local writer’s group. I managed to write a three page piece which was all over the place in tone and had a strong sense of place, but lacked insight into the character. I loved writing it, but it needs a re-write before I’d take it to read out to the group.

If any other ex-Open University students (or other budding writers) are reading this, I’d love to read your take on that exercise.  And I’ll post mine (when I’ve written something I’m happy with).

I never thought…

..that I’d write about cats.

I promise I won’t send links to kittens playing the ukulele on YouTube.

It’s just that all day while  J’s been in London I’ve been fantasizing and obsessing over this sharp-looking cool cat . I’ve wanted a cat for ages and never could cos we lived in a flat in central London and went away a lot.

Now we’re living in the middle of nowhere and the Cats Protection League are trying to find a home for Pippin who’s six months old and likes laps and is meant to live with us, I just know it. Even if he is named after a hobbit.

I’ve arranged to meet him, booked a guy to come and install cat flaps and cleared out all cat-level dangerous items.

J doesn’t know yet because he’s having meetings at the Groucho about writing horror film scripts.

Yeah, I know, I should be writing about that instead, right?

Well, sorry. Pippin wins out over films for today. I’ll blog about the frock I’ll be wearing when he’s won the Oscar.