Sunday, August 31, 2008

Happy Anniversary B

Cast your mind back to 31 August 1991 – if you were a minor then, kindly keep quiet about it - this was the date Husband and I got married. We had a lovely wedding which I don’t doubt looked incredibly expensive but it involved many, many talented and generous friends.

Lovely Alan let my Dad, Husband-to-be and I loose, the morning before the wedding, in a hop field with a pair of secateurs. We took home several bines which were used as decoration in the marquee and in the house. They were used alongside Sally (from over the road)’s skills as a trainee florist; her husband Peter collected vintage cars and offered with a friend to drive the bridal parties to and from the church in a variety of different cars …

My Mum’s friend Brenda made cakes. How innocent and hobbyish that sounds, but really she made incredible, bloody marvellous cakes that would have cost hundreds of pounds to buy from a specialist company. Ours was five hexagons (which was representative of chemistry symbols as this was what Husband did) and was decorated with handmade sugar tiger lilies, gypsophila and ivy. Here’s quite a crappy picture of the cake (remember, photography wasn’t so good in those days):

Anyway, post wedding, my Mum – ever wishful – put aside the top tier for the first grandchild.

Fast forward three years to 1994 – we need the first tier of the wedding cake to eat at Son’s christening. Where is it? Uhm, it’s safe … somewhere … but so safe, no-one is quite sure where it is. No matter, Brenda offers to make us another cake. The cake is a single cake decorated with handmade sugar acorns, blackberries, brambles and autumnal leaves. This time, photography has moved on a bit:

Now, fast forward again – seventeen years from the wedding date - to the summer of 2008, big strapping Son and less strapping Daughter are staying with their grandparents in Kent, the very same house in which their Mum and Dad celebrated their wedding. About 5am in the morning the household is woken by an alarm; the power has gone out. My Dad diagnoses that the chest freezer in the pantry in the basement is responsible and in the subsequent hours and days a mass excavation of the chest freezer and the storage around it, follows.

And, guess what is found? Yup, the top tier, some fourteen years too late, of our wedding cake. This is when I arrive in the UK. My mother is delighted to have found the cake and wants to invite Brenda – who she has sort of lost touch with – for tea. Can you imagine, my sister and I whisper, how horrible it will be?

My mother is persuaded that the risk is too great so when Husband arrives in the UK, there is a presentation of our cake, and we are asked to cut it. I push the knife hard into the icing, through the marzipan and into the cake at a most amateur angle and big gust of brandy engulfs me. The cake looks marvellous, it smells out of this world and it tastes incredible.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bottoms up to Calistro

I was going to come and talk about orchids and packaging today…

…and then I read Calistro’s post and now I can’t be bothered to tell you the drivel I had planned because it’s not nearly as exciting as …

…Calistro having an agent who ‘absolutely loved’ her book and I’m really, really excited for her.

I do feel a warm glow at predicting at Manchester Novel Racer meet back in … April/May I think, that Cal would be next and it feels particularly good to say ‘I told you so’. I know there are no hard and fast rules to these things, but it seems to me that Cal did it right. Of course, there’s not a right way to do it but if there were, this would be it.

Serving one’s apprentice in the short story market: selling, being placed and getting commended, demonstrates writing ability and seriousness to one’s attitude (despite the fact that the short story is such a different beast to the novel.)

Fantastic news.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Care in the community

Yesterday I was a disgrace. I spent all day alone in the apartment reading (until the children got home from school). I lay on my bed all day, reading (even when the children got home). I ate lunch on my bed, reading. The book? It was ‘Over You’ by Lucy Diamond. I finished it by bedtime and really enjoyed it. I can’t believe she made me laugh out loud at the bottom of page 111, just after that happened.

But I decided this morning that I really needed to get out or I might get institutionalised. I’ve been looking at chapter one it on screen for ages, and in order to break the habit of ‘opening document, looking, huffing and then closing document down again’, I decided to head off to Starbucks with a paper copy. Sometimes it fools my simple brain into thinking it’s seeing something different, rather than the same old drivel. I’ve been dealing with the first half for ages now and every time I read the transitional bit between first and second half, I lose the will to live. So I thought I’d ignore that bit and deal with the second half.

It was rather marvellous, not the writing, but the change in my mode of attack. I saw lots of stuff that was wrong and stuff that could be improved. Some conversations came into my head which I scribbled down. And I saw things in my head. I might’ve appeared like care in the community anyway.

I rushed home to write, but got caught up in the banners I’m designing at the moment – I do so ♥ playing with Photoshop. I’ve sent six banner examples off to the Chairman to see which one she likes (fingers crossed I don’t get the answer ‘keep going’). But it’s Friday night, the kids are happy, Husband leaves the UK for BK tonight so I shall write tonight instead.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The mighty jungle

Just when you think you’re getting a handle on this parenting lark, someone throws a curve ball at you. It starts really early too. You bring this tiny bundle home from the hospital and all hell breaks loose as you try to learn everything you need. Just as you get the hang of it, baby starts crawling; then walking; then discovering its own will and verbalising it. It seems to me to be one long phase after another.

When we came to Bangkok Son was 11 and about to move to secondary school. At the end of the summer we moved he would’ve been taking himself off on the bus to the local town. Therefore both children were being carefully trained for some months to go short distances alone. This was fine. There was something sort of timely about it: Son wishing to stretch wings and mother, biting her nails to stumps, watching him out the window as he made his way into the village and finally disappeared from view. Mother: totally relaxed at growing Son’s desire for some independence … tearing hair from roots until he reappeared in sight from the village, hopefully clutching pint of milk/loaf of bread…

However, the ‘allow the children some independence’ programme came screeching and skidding to a halt on moving to Bangkok in summer 2005. Mother, in her new territory and not having the lie of the land, kept her cubs close. Cubs, used to a certain level of freedom, were most unhappy at this change of pace; they growled and lashed their claws.

Three years along it’s possible to say with the arrival of mobile phones in the children’s lives and a sense of balance and knowledge of the city for me, that things have reached normality again. And so it continues. We allow, in incremental steps, a little bit more freedom most times that it is requested. I consider this my job as a parent. They will leave home (whether that’s in Asia or Europe) and I want them to be independent, confident, well balanced young people.

They are both showing every sign of being so. Just yesterday Daughter achieved a First …school bus to sky train and travelling on her own to our stop, where she alights and walks home: an incremental step for most, but for a 12 year old and her mother, a giant leap. I don’t want to sound smug (I think I do) but my nails are no more, and I keep looking out the window to spot my cub even though it’s an hour too early to expect her.

And then today, another curveball: a demo at Government House may spill over into other parts of Bangkok, and it is advised to ‘exercise caution’ when being out in the streets. I spent the morning rearranging her travelling timetable and contacting school to try to inform her of it.

Blimey, it’s a jungle out there.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dear Lord ...

I’ve been opening up my WIP, finding my place - which is still about half way through the funeral – and finding myself in desperate need to do anything else. I’ve been doing that for about 4 or 5 days. Harrumph.

Now that I’ve recognised what I’m doing (because I was in denial for a few days) I am determined to push through. Although I’ve still gone off to make more tea than I want to drink, and then rewarded my four new words with a game of Bejewelled. The problem is I’m getting my knickers in a twist about the various parts of the funeral: the gathering; readings and sermon; prayers; commendation and farewell; the Committal and the Dismissal. They all sound straightforward, but not all of the prayers in my reference material need to be used. And if someone does a tribute … where in the service does it come? And when the vicar does a sermon … is that about the dead person or something else entirely?

The lovely vicar at home gave me lots of help, and I’ve got photocopies of things and handwritten notes which made loads of sense at the time… He’s very kindly told me I could email him, which I’ve already done to thank him and I included three more questions and in addition he’s told me he’d happily read it. But, well, I don’t want him to harrumph at me for asking too often, too much, or whatever. And it’d be better for me if he can read it all … not part way through. (Though I think I probably shouldn’t include the filthy swearword at the end of the chapter…)

Anyway, I am pushing through … in between Bejewelled; tea and mineral water and lots of weeing …

Now that I am actually making progress, I’ve got another problem: I’m accursed in my head with the hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, Forgive our Foolish ways!’ Here, go and listen. It would be much better for me if it was in your head and not mine.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I heart sleep

Three days the children have been back to school and I’m trying really hard to consider it a privilege to see dawn in Bangkok each morning. It is beautiful but every morning?

The children’s bus leaves for school at 6.40am so we – by that I mean I, their mother - wake at 5.50am Monday to Friday. Husband continues to slumber because somewhere along the way, this is the deal we struck. Sometimes, I regard getting them up for school as occurring in the middle of the night and I return to my bed, when the bus has gone, to sleep until morning starts properly. I think this is where the deal is fair: even if he wanted to, Husband could not decide that his morning is too early!

I wish that I could make use of the early morning time, but I’m a bit useless without enough sleep. I’m thinking that I might have to do without a social life in the weekday evenings – wouldn’t be hard, I’ve hardly got one now. But it’s embarrassing waiting until the bedtime of 14 year old son, just so I can go to bed too.

As Husband and I approach our seventeenth wedding anniversary I often wonder at the fact that we’ve lasted so long. His bedtime is often four hours later than mine - my morning often starts four hours after he came to bed. He can function on five hours regularly a night while I’d be committing serious crimes if I have two nights in a row of five hours sleep.

Still, maybe it’s Jack Sprat and his wife, eh?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Still in the 70s

Moving swiftly on from yesterday’s contentious subject matter, I have been delving in those boxes again.

Today’s post is more from my letter writing days; the purpose of which was always to get some booty back.

As a child I didn’t watch much television (I made up for it later in life – though I’m back to ‘not much’ in Thailand – no point!) but I did watch and love the BBC children’s television. I was around ten/eleven years old when I wrote to Blue Peter (twice) and to Johnny Morris of Animal Magic fame.

This is the Blue Peter team that characterized my childhood. Looking back, I loved John Noakes for his humour; the way that he personified Shep the dog always made me laugh. And Johnny Morris’ humour too was much of the attraction although the animals were a big appeal too.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Unusually topical

Some time around 7am BST, Paul Gadd lands in Britain. Paul Francis Gadd is his real name; most of us – over a certain age - know him as Gary Glitter, the 1970s glam rocker. Since his release from a Vietnamese prison last Tuesday, where he was serving a sentence for child abuse, he has been refused entry twice to Thailand, and once to Hong Kong.

It’s 1974. I am seven years old. My parents are together; I have a brother 11 years older who barely registers on my scale, and a sister, 20 months older than I am. She is close enough in age to be my friend, but old enough for me to know my place.

My sister and her friend, Stephanie, love the Bay City Rollers, an emerging Scottish band who are soon to go stratospheric. I feel the pressure to worship but I am told the Bay City Rollers are off limits: particularly Woody.

Around this time, I begin my juvenile hobby of letter writing. (This hobby continues through my adolescence and then somewhat erratically into my twenties until the emergence of email.) My letter writing habit belongs to me. I write letters of complaint; letters to multiple pen friends, I send off for holiday brochures for pony trekking camps and activity holidays. I am rewarded with Post. My sister is envious of my post, but she can’t be bothered to make the investment of writing; perhaps she’s too in love with Woody.

Maybe I plotted. It’s possible I consciously attempted to outdo my sophisticated 9 year old sister but I wrote a letter to Gary Glitter, asking for a piece of his silver lurex jacket. At the beginning of April 1974 I received a reply; stapled to the top left of the letter was a small bolt of silver lurex material. It was a standard letter telling me how to join Gary Glitter’s fan club with a red ink PS, which reads: ‘Here is a piece of Gary’s silver lurex jacket.’

A few weeks ago, while in the UK, I was sorting through two large boxes at my parents’ house when I found it again.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Stolen from Debs

I found this on Deb's blog and it made me chuckle because I think it's spot on. Although I have to say that the last comment 'you just have high standards for who you hang out with' I would only say with a tongue firmly in my cheek.

I was out having lunch with some friends last week and we were talking about whether our mother-in-laws liked us and I said 'I think my mother-in-law quite likes me. Although, I think, she thinks I'm a bit of a 'Lady Muck.' All three of my friends looked dead pan at me, paused and then said in unison 'Jen, you are a Lady Muck.'

So that's cleared that up for me then.

You Are Courier New

You have a deep appreciation for tradition and history.

You don't eschew modernity, but you do have a deep reverence for the past.

You are very literate. It's likely you enjoy writing and reading.

Some people may feel you're a bit cold, but you just have high standards for who you hang out with.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Summer's over

I guess you’ve all got a couple of weeks to go – at least – before your children are buying pencil cases, pens and sharpeners and heading back to school. Mine go back tomorrow. (We broke up at the end of June.)

Son had done the great disservice of growing upwards and outwards several inches and his last term trousers look ludicrous so yesterday I made the long trek out to school to buy new uniform which is only sold at school and not in town anywhere. I still have the sewing in nametags to do tonight!

Today’s shopping was fun stuff first at MBK (Mah Boon Krong) followed by the most serious issue of school shoe shopping. We were off to Emporium, where the men’s shoe department has a section of one wall in the whole floor devoted to shoes. Just as it should be, the women’s shoe department is a WHOLE FLOOR in the basement. We decided to start at the bottom of the department store (with women’s shoes) and but when we saw it, I envisaged having to peruse every single table of shoes (there were hundreds of pairs and while this is fine when it’s for myself, at the end of a full day’s shopping I was beginning to droop.) I told Daughter to look round, find the right shoes and wait for us to return from buying Son’s. I guess that was my first mistake.

Son’s shoes were chosen in 3.62 seconds; finding the right size (45!!!! good grief) and paying took a bit longer. When we got to the basement again, I plopped Son on a sofa with our bags and went looking for Daughter. She was trying on a most unsuitable pair of shoes with a heel of about 5cm (she’s 12). When did I turn into this horrible fun spoiling mother? OH NO, I’ve always been like this. Lots of reasonable natured negotiating started in which she assured me everyone had shoes just like these… I told her I thought they were unsuitable, but if the school rules allowed a heel of this height (knowing perfectly well they wouldn’t) I would buy them. I rang Husband to get on the school website, couldn’t remember my password so had to ring school.

“They must be black all over, and must have a reasonable heel.” Miss Prim told me. “Do you have a number, a figure … a cm height,” I asked “that is considered ‘reasonable’ only Daughter and I seem to have a difference of opinion about what is considered ‘reasonable’?”

Of course the shoes were a no go – thank god - or I would’ve been in big trouble. Then we had to scour the whole of the basement floor again for a new pair that weren’t ‘eeeuuur, revolting, Mum.’

But, you know what? I’ve forgiven her because in the drawer I found some ‘iron on’ name tags, and she begged me to let her iron them all on the clothes!

Monday, August 18, 2008


I’ve just finished reading Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. I really enjoyed it. You’ll all have seen it on the shelves, but it’s a biggie at nearly 700 pages. I’ve read much more widely since I’ve been a member of a book club so I probably wouldn’t describe Labyrinth as being my first choice genre, but I read it because she’s a tutor on the Literary Consultancy’s Literary Adventures writing course that I’m going on next month. The minute I finished it I had that lovely/horribly reaction of feeling bereft of the new friends I’d made.

My children flew home to Bangkok on Saturday and I went to meet them at Suvarnabhumi airport (pronounced Soo-van-a-bhum). Son got to me first, gave me a big hug and whispered ‘We flew business. We got upgraded.’ His ‘Na-na-na-na-nah’ patent in the warm breath in my ear … I wasn’t at all envious …

There seems to be a correlation (for me, anyway) between writing and blogging: the more I write, the less I blog. I’ve got stuff to blog about, but I appear not to need to say it quite so desperately when I’m writing elsewhere. My word count isn’t escalating dramatically, but I’m reworking Chapter One. I know I should just get the story down, but there are several reasons for what I’m doing. If there is any chance to show any part of my embryonic novel to anyone on the writing course, then I don’t want it to be just plonked down without any further thought. Secondly after the wonderful conversation with the vicar about funerals I can now add stuff in and change errors I’ve made.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Death or Survival

I’ve been working today on my novel. I don’t have many words to show for it – 300 or so - but I have made progress. Now I’m tired, but I DAREN’T sit anywhere too comfortable as I simply cannot be trusted to stay awake… Yes, even now, nearly a week later.

So instead, I thought I’d start the first, in possibly a series of posts, about the boxes that my Dad made me sort through while I was in the UK.

I come for strong ‘keep it, it might come in useful one day’ stock, which accounts for the boxes still being there after twenty five years but I married a ‘chuck it, it’s rubbish’ man. I was tempted to throw out the lot without looking through it, (how proud Husband will be to hear that) but there was something specific that I was looking for. Sadly, I didn’t find it but I did find some hilarious treasures to tell you about.

The first treasure was a copy of a novelette that we had to write for homework in my first year at Grammar School. It was called: Death or Survival. I don’t believe it was my first attempt at a novel, but it still makes entertaining reading: it’s so dreadful I can hardly bear it.

Before I introduce you to some of its charms, let me take this moment to apologise to Irish people everywhere – I’m so, so sorry…

It opens with a drunken Captain of a ship, his Oirish deck hand Seamus and Seamus’ immortal line: “Oh Begorra, you been at it again, ‘Sorr.’”

It’s the story of four children: Philip, John, Charmaine, Jessica and their dog, Bongo (yes, really). (Obviously Philip is the oldest; John is his sidekick; Charmaine is vain and a pain and Jessica is wet but will win through…) Because the Captain is drunk the ship is involved in some kind of accident the night after leaving port and the four children and their dog are marooned on a desert Island. Quite which port they’ve left, I don’t specify but clearly, it’s not the Isle of Wight… It’s in the flavour of ‘Lord of the Flies’ and Enid Blyton’s adventures. Clearly I read way too much Blyton.

My teacher’s comments include:
Don’t exaggerate too much – your story loses credibility otherwise.’ Hmm, you think?
Your characters are described well – they are very believable.’ Though cliched.
The characters are very convincing.’ In Enid Blyton's world.

Illustrations by the Author, it says.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I must stay upright

It started out well yesterday – I woke and leapt out of bed at nearly 7am. However, after a cup of tea and some blog surfing (I’m astonished HOW many blogs are started and never touched again) I had to have a little lie down with my book on the sofa and it went downhill from there. I slept from about 8.30 to 1pm. Not much of a coincidence that 1pm here is 7am in the UK…

Anyway, despite completely screwing up my body clock, again, I’ve been strangely productive. I’ve done some paperwork that’s been hanging over me for some months and all that’s required now is to post it.

I wrote a blog post this morning that I’ve been planning since I was in the UK and all the while I was thinking ‘it’s ever so quiet out there at the moment, it’s a shame to post this one when no-one’s about…’ Just as I finished it I wondered about scheduling it for a date in a couple of weeks that it would be good for … then, rather like being hit on the head, I realised it would make a perfect premise for a short story for the women’s mags … I emailed Leigh asking what she thought and then I looked up some guidelines and now I’m scared. So many submissions …

Now I think about it, I wonder if this strange productivity is anything to do with procrastination … oh gawd. Still, I promise no more blow by blow accounts of JJ’s jetlag… This is the last one.

I must stay upright; I must stay upright; I must stay upright; I must stay upright.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I’m getting there

I managed to stay awake all day yesterday – even through Batman – and sleep on and off last night.

Today I’ve got my contact lenses in which is testament to the fact that the narcolepsy symptom of my jetlag has eased. I’ve emptied the suitcases; onto the floor. The dirty washing has made it into the basket and the books and the clean clothes are in a neat pile … on the floor.

I’ve been on the phone to Carol for two and a half hours to catch up with what I’ve missed here. And I’ve written 630 words for an article which I reckon I can record in 100 words a day. (Did you see? I'm first today; first... no matter that my day starts six hours earlier than yours... I was first.) With that off my back, I’m free to do some novel! Except, now I’m tired and I’ve got piles of books on the floor to fall over in the night when I’m awake again.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Back in Bangkok

I arrived yesterday and am suffering physical and bodily chaos while I try to adapt to the change of time zone. When I’m awake I want to be asleep and when I’m asleep I really should be awake. Two big suitcases and a large piece of hand luggage full to bursting with books, clothes and other paraphernalia, sit on the floor waiting to be emptied. I can’t seem to sort them out.

I’ll be back blogging as normal in a day or two.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


When I came over to the UK three months ago, my father said (about three days before I left) ‘there are a couple of big boxes of your stuff in our bedroom… we’d really like it if you could go through them to see if you want to keep anything.’

He wasn’t wrong; they were big. I peered inside … *sigh.* I moved a few things about. There was a university hall of residence year book. I was on the ‘Editorial Committee’ for this publication - at least that’s what my curriculum vitae said. I think in retrospect I was just sleeping with the Editor … (now Husband). Everything was covered with a crunchy layer of indeterminable crumbs.

I didn’t mention the boxes again. I hoped Dad would forget too. He didn’t.

About a week ago, Dad said ‘Any idea if you can get to look in those boxes, this time, Jen?’ Dad’s turn of phrase belies his meaning. This time it meant ‘would you bloody well get rid of those boxes of crap this time…’ though he wouldn’t ever say that to me. Well, he might, eventually.

OHMYGOD. Well. I went through the first box last night and what a rich supply of bloggable/writable research material. Oh I can hardly wait to tell you about it, but my friend L and her girls are due any minute to spend the day with us, so I shall have to wait.

I will leave you with a picture of the layers of books I found at the bottom of the box.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Bits and Pieces

I can almost touch the end of my holiday now; I fly back to Bangkok on Friday.

What I really want to write about is my notion of home, which is being seriously questioned in some part of my heart. I tried yesterday to write about it too, but I can’t get it down or correct or something ... so instead, let's go on with other, less enigmatic topics …

The last few weeks have been proper holiday with Husband here: no work and too much food. I’ve been extremely naughty about 100 words a day but I shall get back into it when I get home. I’ll be reporting in every day with my word count.

Yesterday I talked on the phone to a woman at a local prison … about one of my characters who has been inside. He has to have done something, been punished and served the right length of time to fit in with the rest of the story … I’m hoping to see the vicar this week about the funeral and my sister has dug out a contact that deals in antiquarian books, so all the research is coming together too.