Friday, January 29, 2010


Do you remember the other day that something exciting dropped into my lap? And I flatly refused to tell you what it was? I think I just ignored your pleas in the comments. I am hard of heart…

On Wednesday I promised to come by and tell you about my adventure when I went ‘off piste’ in Bangkok, into Thonburi, where the maps remain oddly blank.

The thing is, I can’t tell you about my adventure… It wasn’t just to chase away the blues. It was also a research trip for a commission. I’ve been asked to write four personal essays on adventures I’ve had in Thailand to be included in a book to be published this year. And I have to say, I’m very excited.

Other good news on the writing front is a blog post, Virtual Coffee Mates, that I’ve written for the Writers' Hub is online. Do please go and look at that – comments are very welcome.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I'm going on a bear hunt...

There was a black dog scratching at my door yesterday.

It was my sister’s birthday and I didn’t get to speak with her because of the time difference and her being at college.

I found out while on the ‘phone to my Dad that someone else has died. This makes three since the beginning of January.

So today, I am going off piste; I am going on an adventure into parts of Bangkok not covered by the Nancy Chandler map because I am feeling in need of change. I need to get lost in my head, see new things, embark on a mission to nowhere; an artist’s date if you will.

I am already feeling cheerier.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Queuing anxiety

Queues make me very anxious.

Of course I'm English so I spend a lot of my time worrying about them; it's important that we get the protocol right.

We found it very difficult and occasionally, hugely amusing, in France (while I wasn't skiing) that the French have... uhm, such relaxed attitudes to queuing. Relaxed might be the wrong word; they have positively feisty attitudes. There might be quite normal looking groups of people in queue-like formulations until, say, the chair lifts opened and then they would lose all good manners and surge forward, digging sharp, French elbows into anyone who dared to get in their way. I was bruised, emotionally and physically.

In Thailand I get equally nervous. When I came here I read that in Thai toilets people don't queue in one line for the loos - plural. They queue in front of the individual stall they wish to use. Jeez, as though squatting isn't stressful enough! On top of the squatting issues, then, faced with multiple queues... you know what happens, don’t you? I always choose the wrong line… the one that moves most slowly.

To make life more complicated, I've discovered that the more Western a loo, as well as having a higher chance of having non-squats (hurrah), there are also good odds that the Thais will form one queue and not multiple queues at all. So the rules get broken. How am I to know what method of queuing to adopt?

This ‘queuing anxiety’ came about because I had to go and collect Daughter from school tonight. There was a huge long line for the taxis, and a couple of itty bitty Thai girls trying to jump the queue. The woman in front of me managed to get the taxi… but as my turn came, these flighty little girls start waving for the cab to stop in front of them instead of me. So I’m all of a flutter, wondering if I’m a cab driver, would I stop the Thai girls or the hefty farang that probably can’t tell him where to go? The driver, bless him, passed them and stopped next to me. He was rewarded with my very fluent Thai directions… They, the diminutive girls, looked very surprised, until in the international sign language of pointing, I indicated the queue to them.

Friday, January 22, 2010

No Friday Photo and metaphor madness

Ha! I thought writing the first draft was the mountain.

I’m laughing at myself now, only a little bit in desperation, because here I am standing on top of that peak and I see there’s another one, even higher up, in front of me. It must have been hidden by the clouds.

Of course I knew there would be hard work to do after the first draft… but I’m only just beginning to see HOW much.

I remember in the early days of learning to drive how difficult it was just to turn left. (I wasn’t one of life’s natural drivers.) I had to look in the rear view mirror, signal, press the brake, change down a gear with clutch and hand, start turning the wheel to the left to hug the edge of the road, look both ways on the road I was turning into… all within a split second. My driving instructor made me go around the same block about six times because I couldn’t do all those things at once.

Maybe it’s the same for everyone; perhaps I think too much about process. Anyway all I could do with the first draft was write chronologically – to consider anything else was madness.

Now, as the time lengthens between finishing the draft and the present, I’m beginning to think about structure. My thoughts are beginning to crystallise. Now that I can see the whole in my head I might be able to work out a plan.

But before I start rewriting, something else exciting has landed in my lap. I think an extra month away from the novel is probably quite a good thing.

Happy weekend everyone.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


The Birkbeck Writing Programme has just launched Writers Hub, a new website that covers fiction, poetry, features, reviews and opinion on the world of writing. Membership is free and open to all but if you want to post comments, create a profile, access their archive of resources and/or submit work for potential publication, you’ll need to register.

Go on then. And pass the word around please.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Happy Birthday!

Tea Stains is three years old today. I wrote my first uncertain post here and was rewarded with a comment from a spammer and one from Husband. I was equally excited by both.

I needed a blog to join the Novel Racers so Tea Stains was set up to chart the writing of my novel.

I struggled. In the early days it charted the mostly not writing of my novel.

I grappled with theory as I read endless ‘how to’ books; I tussled with voices in my head telling me … well, all sorts of horrible things: you can’t; you won’t; you haven’t…

And here I am three years later, with 107,257 words - the first draft of my novel, sitting in a drawer waiting for attention.

I want to thank everyone who has ever come to read – even those who found Tea Stains by searching for ‘nude people.’ (*sigh* follow the link, if you must.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blog famine

You know, this won’t do. It simply won’t do.

Why the blogging famine here at Tea Stains?

I am unable to put together a coherent post so here are some bullet points for you.

• I enjoyed Mystic River.
• I’m enjoying Incendiary - which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy Heartburn.
• I’m wondering why shop assistants need to stalk customers.
• What would have happened if the deadline had come around and you still hadn’t done it?
• I’m confused why tourists come to Thailand without having done a teeny weeny bit of research. It’s not okay to wear a skimpy and flimsy white dress with spaghetti straps and conspicuous black underwear. Save it for the beach.
• I am sad that one of our guests is flying home today and the other will go to Koh Chang on Thursday.
• I am beginning to feel something (other than confusion) about starting work on my novel again!

I hope to find my blogging mojo over the next few days.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Photo: Mooo

I called and called. "Kor-tord Ka!" I said, "Excuse me!"

But that cow was on a mission.

It ignored me.

Perhaps it didn't speak Thai?

Anyway, it seemed to know where it was going.

Is it just me, or does it look like it needs the loo?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Busy busy busy

I was reminded of a conversation with my seven year old Daughter by Crystal Jigsaw’s comment on the last post (she said “your home looks immaculate, a bit like a hotel room or a show home.”)

Anyway, CJ’s comment rang a bell with me… of Daughter one day watching me doing some housework and then saying, “Mummy? Are we having visitors?” “No,” I said. “Why?” “Oh because you’re tidying and cleaning…”

What can you say?

That explains two things: why the shot of my sofa is so beautifully clean and tidy (It’s amazing what poofed cushions can do people) and the intermittent blogging.

Yogi David’s been with us since Sunday (It’s not too late to book his yoga classes this weekend! See here for details.) And Julia’s flight from London has just landed.

So our living room – sofa and tv plus dining room table just in the sofa shot – are immaculate. Our bedroom, on the other hand, looks like a jumble sale. If I can locate the floor, Daughter will join us in our bedroom tonight to let Julia utilise her room… A new room rotation will occur when Yogi David moves to his friends on Friday.

I had the loveliest time on Monday. I spent three hours in Starbucks at Chitlom with blogger Yvonne and soon to be husband Dan. We couldn’t stop talking. It never fails to surprise me that you can meet such lovely people through blogging. I was touched that they made time to see me on their honeymoon.

I’ve spent today in the slightly less exciting occupation of tidying our bedroom. I sorted my To Be Read bookshelves. Hurrah! But, rather alarmingly, I found two copies of Anita Diamant’s Good Harbour, two copies of Rebecca and two copies of Love in the Time of Cholera.

Don’t tell Husband, please…

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Random post

Okay, as requested by DJ, here's a photo of the funky sofa that I talked about here

We both fell in love with the sofa when we saw it and we were just as pleased when it arrived. It looks great in our big room... and it's always admired by people when they come to the apartment but it's so uncomfortable (because it's round?) that I hardly ever sit on it - only to watch TV.

Daughter spends most time on it. She appears to have found a solution to its lack of comfort. She rearranges two thirds of the cushions (the orange and the cream ones) to support her back and under her legs which are thrust out in front of her. So if anyone else shows up wanting to watch TV with her... well it's suddenly it's even less comfortable than it was before Daughter got there.

Once, many years ago, just after we were married, we inherited a sofa from one of our parents. We were most grateful for it because we had no money at the time. The sofa was the most hideous looking thing ever, but OMG, it was comfortable. I think that piece of furniture might have been the one where the sofa became the place that I loved to read.

I think there might be such a thing as the perfect sofa: one that looks beautiful and is dreamily comfortable too. One day, I hope to own one like that.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Some science...

So with a lack of substance to my days (the odd meeting but otherwise a pretty quiet week) the jetlag continues to manifest itself.

It makes reclining a very dangerous occupation. And I do like to recline.

I used to read on the sofa but since moving to Thailand my favourite place to read is on my bed. (We have a very funky sofa that everyone admires but which is deeply, deeply uncomfortable.)

So I set myself up on the bed. I might pinch another pillow to pretend that I’m going to sit upright but give me a couple of pages, the chance to drain my mug of tea and I’ll be prostrate before long.

Alongside inducing temporary narcolepsy, the jetlag has affected my judgement. I’m sure if I could be bothered to look it up, I’d find research to that effect. According to the investigation I did make the effort to do, the amygdala is part of the basal ganglia, and situated in the temporal lobe of the brain and is critically involved in computing the emotional significance of events.

Well the jetlag has buggered mine up.

I got the kids up for school and they both seemed fit. Well, as fit as you can be at 5.45am - the middle of the night whatever time zone you’re in. I sent them down to their bus and almost instantly I had misgivings about sending Son.

After returning to my bed to read, I was hit with another episode of jetlag induced narcolepsy. I was woken by the ‘phone at *ahem* 9.30 by the school nurse informing me Son was poorly and requesting that I come and collect him.

I am officially a waste of space. I shall be so until at least the weekend.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Nearly back to normal

Oooh it’s nice to re-enter normal life; I’ve been at Book Club this morning where we started and finished with a gossipy catch up and some book talk in the middle. It went on into the afternoon.

A couple of years ago, at our January Book Club, we met to discuss Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. Because of travelling, entertaining guests or other Christmas mania, nobody managed to give it the attention it deserved. So the following January we introduced a ‘pot luck’ meeting where members bring whatever they’ve been reading and enjoying over Christmas. We each get the floor to tell the others about our book choice.

It always provokes discussions and is often an opportunity to be able to say ‘if you liked that, you might like this…’ I like it because, being fundamentally nosey, I want to know what people choose to read when they aren't being told what to read by Book Club. It has introduced me to books that I might not have considered. Last year there was a lot of debate about Engleby by Sebastian Faulks – it seemed to be a love or hate it read so that was one I followed up with (I loved it.) Today I was reminded of Barbara Trapido, whose work I’ve often meant to read. Can anyone recommend which of her novels I should start with?

One slight hiccough to the ‘back to routine’ is that school started today without either of my children in attendance as both of them are feeling a bit sicky today. Hopefully all will be well tomorrow.

My own hiccough for the day is that I went to sleep when I got home this afternoon. Pah! I berluddy hate jetlag.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Hello 2010

Hello 2010; sorry I’m a bit late.

Switzerland and France were great but I’m culturally confused.

Every year that I’ve lived in Bangkok I’ve found it tough to accept that Christmas is on its way; the most important sign of all - the weather - is wrong (I am British… remember?) There might have been carols playing since Halloween finished; there might be thirty foot Christmas trees in all the malls, holly and snowflakes on the sky walk, but with a constant temperature of around 34°C, well, I can hardly believe Father Christmas is due.

But if real Christmas weather was what we wanted… this year we certainly got that.

We opened our presents on 23 December and then we flew to Geneva. Cor blimey, it was cold. Actually, ‘cold’ doesn’t begin to do it justice: it was ab-so-bloody-lutely freezing. What a total wuss I’ve become since living in Bangkok.

On Christmas day (the real one) we donned Michelin man type clothing and wandered about a mostly closed Geneva. It was probably just as well because boy was it expensive. We spent a couple of hours in Starbucks and then narrowly avoided lunch in MacDonalds by discovering an Italian restaurant in the city centre… See, crazy?

I was able to access the foreign language centre in my brain. At one time this contained quite a bit of French and German, a smattering of Latin and Thai, plus a minute amount of Spanish, pretty much for the ordering of beers only. Unfortunately, in Geneva, every time I opened my mouth to speak, a mad mixture of French and Thai emerged. In the end, I decided it was better to keep quiet and gesticulate a lot.

I didn’t ski – have I told you how MUCH I hate skiing? Still the family – and the chosen family, with whom we went – have all survived the Alps again without any broken bones.

We got back yesterday. The really awful thing about being British is that I'm already moaning about the weather. It’s hot here - even though it's the coolest time of the year - but we have air con... I can’t quite get it set right so I’m still sitting in a perishing cold wind… And I’m still wearing a cashmere hoodie and sheepskin slippers.

Friday, January 01, 2010

In 2009 I read

In 2009 I read:

• The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
• Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden
• Thinking Write by Kelly L Stone
• Eyes Without Sparkle by Elaine Hanzak
• The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson*
• Women fly when men aren’t watching by Sara Maitland
• The Believers by Zoe Heller
• The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
• Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez*
• Thin Blue Smoke by Doug Worgul
• Heaven Can Wait by Cally Taylor
• The Private Patient by PD James
• The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters*
• Time Out 1000 Things To Do in London
• Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
• The Other Hand by Chris Cleave
• The Children's Book by A S Byatt
• We Are All Made of Glue by Marina Lewycka
• The Whole Day Through by Patrick Gale
• Black Orchid by Gillian Slovo
• The Room of Lost Things by Stella Duffy
• Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer*
• England Our England by Alan Titchmarsh
• The Finest Type of English Womanhood by Rachel Heath
• The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCullough
• Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill
• The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne*
• The Letters by Fiona Robyn
• The Outcast by Sadie Jones
• The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley
• The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling
• A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve
• Testimony by Anita Shreve
• Never Enough by Joe McGinniss*
• A Prayer For Owen Meaney by John Irving
• Beyond Chocolate by Sophie and Audrey Boss
• Tangled Roots by Sue Guiney
• The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower
• Jumping the Queue by Mary Wesley
• The Dead of Summer by Camilla Way*
• Harm's Way by Celia Walden
• Wild Mary: The Life of Mary Wesley by Patrick Marnham
• A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini*
• Write Away by Elizabeth George
• Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett
• Life Class by Pat Barker
• Looking for Enid by Duncan McLaren
• Engleby by Sebastian Faulks
• The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

*Book Club