Monthly Archives: October 2010

Catch-Up Notes

Friendly pigeons and my main view of Madrid

This post is not going to be linear. It’s a mish mash of all the things that have been happening lately that have meant I haven’t been updating my blog like a part-time blogger should. I keep sending people text messages saying that I am spinning too many plates, or that I have got too much on my plate. The only genuine plate-related problem I have is the stack of dirty ones in my sink. Being houseproud is the last thing on my mind right now.

When I was a teenager and I didn’t write in my diary for a couple of weeks (i.e.  there was temporarily no boy on the scene. Whenever there was, I wrote plenty.) I used to do a double page spread with ‘CATCH-UP NOTES’ scrawled across the top then a load of bullet points. I still have my diary from 1997, it’s great. The catch up notes I can write here said things like:

  • I went to Preston and got in Tokyo Jo’s – really good.
  • I still smoke.
  • I skive PE and Physics every week.
  • There was a massive bitchy row but we’re all friends again now.
  • I bleached my hair and it went yellow.
  • My room is still a mess.

I will find a moment in the middle of the night to write a proper blog post soon. Until then, here are my October 2010 Catch Up Notes:

  • I took Tom to Disney on Ice and reviewed it here.
  • I went to  see my friend in Madrid but discovered at the airport that I had no money whatsoever. We had a raucous Friday night out on supermarket rum and spent the rest of the weekend in bed, listening to the eclectic sounds that echo around the courtyard of her flat: Latino music, cooing pigeons, fighting dogs, two Spanish ladies rowing loudly about cooking.
  • I had a birthday. “How old are you?” asked Tom. “28,” I said. “Oh no, if I say that many hip-hip-hoorays, I’ll be late for school.”
  • The cuts are ridiculous and the oxymoron that is a Liberal / Conservative coalition Government continues to baffle me. I will find time to write about this soon because it is very important.
  • I missed loads of the Manchester Literature Festival, including clever fellow plate-spinner Jenn Ashworth doing a reading with her boy tucked under her arm at the launch of eavesdropping book Bugged.
  • It was the Manchester Blog Awards again already. I was a judge. I also did a reading. Congratulations to everyone who was shortlisted and won. Click here to see..
  • At the Blog Awards, I announced the fact that the wonderful Salt Publishing will be publishing the book to go with this blog next year. I have a lot of work to do but it is all very exciting.
  • Salt also published the Birth Machine by Elizabeth Baines. I went to the relaunch the other night. The cover is stunning and disturbing and the content that I have managed to read so far is brilliant.
  • I sleep little and drink lots of coffee.
  • I bleached my hair and it went yellow.
  • My room is still a mess.

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About a Gerbil

“Mum, were you afraid of dinosaurs when they were here?”

“I wasn’t alive when dinosaurs were around.”

“Where were you?”

“I didn’t exist yet.”

“Were you in Heaven?”

“No, I hadn’t been born.”

“Mum, do we exist forever?”

After that conversation, I found Gandhi the gerbil looking like he would die by the morning. I rang my Mum.

“I don’t know where I’ll bury him,”

“I think people put them in the bin.”

“You always told us you buried our pets in the garden.”

“We did,” she said, “but I think a lot of people put them in the bin.”

“Well I am not just putting him in the bin,” I said. “I can’t bury him in the garden. I mean, we haven’t got a garden – I can’t bury him in a pot.”

Tom loves those gerbils. He’s always collecting the tubes from loo rolls for them to chew. When he had to fill in the gaps on his lopsided family tree for a homework exercise last week, Gandhi and Duncan had their own places. He said his teacher said pets didn’t count. I think they do though, to keep the numbers up when he is talking about who he lives with, so it’s not just me and him. My sister tries to wind me up by saying we are like the family in About a Boy because I am a vegetarian and I once bought Tom a Peruvian cardigan when he was a baby that had llamas and cacti embroidered on it.

“Jesus,” she said. “He really is going to look like the boy in About a Boy in that.”

With hindsight, having a gerbil called Gandhi probably makes me sound like the nutty woman off About a Boy. And Tom probably sounds more like the boy from About a Boy when he tries to make out the gerbils are bona fide family members.

Gandhi didn’t die anyway. Every morning, he was still lying there huffing and puffing with his brother Ducan grooming him. The man in the pet shop near us hates gerbils and he doesn’t often smile.

“They chew everything,” he once said, deadpan. “And one day, you’ll come downstairs and they will have chewed each other.”

That was a worry, so on the third night, I separated them. Gandhi was so painfully thin, I could still feel his spine on my fingers for ages after I had put him in his own little box. In the morning, he was still alive, but I had been asked to go to the assembly at school because Tom was going to be presented with a surprise award. He actually got two awards*; one from his teacher for ‘wicked work’ and the Headteacher’s award for being polite and cheerful. He stood at the front with his hands in his pockets and his mouth wide open like a gormless 14 year old.

Afterwards, Gandhi was still alive. I found a vet who did euthanasia for £10.21. I put Gandhi in a bag with a hot water bottle because I didn’t want him to get cold. When I got there, they said it was best if I didn’t go in, making me think they were going to break his neck, not give him an injection. They wrote ‘Ghandi’ on the consent form.

“It’s G.a.n.d.h.i.” I said. People always get it wrong.

I didn’t get really sad, because I had to go to the funeral of  a close relative of my best friend. That was sad – my friend and her sister were brave and beautiful and I couldn’t hug them hard enough.

After the wake, I picked Tom up in a taxi and told him about Gandhi.

“Oh, my little boy’s gerbil lives in Gerbil Heaven, so they can meet each other there,” said the taxi driver. Handy that.

“Gerbil Heaven is brilliant,” said Tom, “It’s got all of gerbils’ favourite things, especially loads and loads of toilet roll tubes.”

And that was that. Tom was alright and I was exhausted.

*I also won two awards, last year at The Manchester Blog Awards. This year I am judging them. It will be a good night, at the Deaf Institute on Wednesday 20th October. There is a category for music blogs this time, which is good news.


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Right: Write

I wasn’t going to go to Glastonbury this year, but a very good friend arranged a last-minute pass and I found myself bombing down to the West Country as the sun set on that hot Friday. A few hours earlier, I had found out I had a book deal. By the time we had arrived and settled in, the sun was begining to rise. It was a magical moment and it all hit me at once: the general feeling of freedom that comes with being at the best festival in the world, coupled with the fact that my life ambition to write a book was about to come true. Glastonbury 2010 was basically the best three days of my life. Then I came back and reality set in. Other stuff happened that made me question how good I am at being a mother. I worked on the book, but began to feel nervous about writing down real life. I worried that people would criticise me for writing so openly about mine and my son’s life, but what is the point in trying to disguise the story as a novel?

As it happens, I am very open with Tom about our situation and he is mature for his age and seems to ‘get it’. He is my son and I know him best. He is loved unconditionally by me and the rest of the family and I would never write anything that would hurt him. With that in mind, I need to stop worrying about what people think and just get on with it.

The book is going to be out next June. At the moment, it feels like a lot of pieces that need fitting together. I have got a lot of work to do. And on Sunday morning, I managed to secure a ticket to Glastonbury 2011. I have got a couple of trips and a couple of weddings lined up between now and the end of the year, but from now on, my social life stops. It stops and I write the book. And every time I feel stuck or scared, I am going to look at this photograph, which I took on a crappy old camera phone in that moment, sunrise on Pennard Hill, when it hit me about the book.  Keep my head down and stick with it and I’ll have that view again the same time next year. Surely the only thing better than a weekend at Glastonbury having just found out you’ve got a book deal is a weekend at Glastonbury having just published your first book. Now it’s time to stop writing about writing and write.


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