Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A few things about hair

  1. Curly locks, curly locks, wilt thou be mine?
  2. Da Vinci drew it curling and running like water flowing.
  3. Hair floats in water. It feels soft and free when you are swimming. But when you get out, it is heavy and sticky and prone to tangling.
  4. When the wind gets in my hair, it sets into hard sharp points that whip my face. It doesn't do this when I'm blow drying it.
  5. Hair in the plug hole is disgusting. I don't even like to think about it. It is also disgusting when it gets mixed up with dust and blows into the corners of the bathroom.
  6. I don't like hair that gets caught in a hairbrush. I hate the grey fluffs I find among it. But I like to comb out my hairbrush and then wash it. The bristles become shiny black again, and the hairbrush looks very pleased and proud after a wash.
  7. On a dry night I like to brush my hair in the dark because I like to see the static. It is marvellous to hear it crackle. In the morning, I like to see the strands fly out -- I am extending the reach of my head.
  8. I like to twist a hank of my hair, moving back from my forehead towards my temple. I pin the ends above my ear. The bundle of hair feels smooth and hard.
  9. I don't like to see an old woman with greasy, dirty hair. I feel angry that she has neglected herself, and then sorry, because she might have problems reaching her head, or perhaps her shower is not working and no-one will fix it for her. Her family has decided she is too difficult and grumpy.
  10. There is advert hair, which gleams like a french polished table, or a tumbled stone. I imagine technicians wearing headphones rubbing and buffing it until there is nothing left of the real hair. Advert hair is hair that I can never achieve -- but I expect myself to try.
  11. There is newly washed and dried hair spread over the pillow and a whispered: "You smell nice."
  12. There is hair that looks better than it should at 3pm on the third day since my last hairwash.
  13. It is lovely to have, on a hot and bothersome and frustrating day, your hair brushed off your face by a cool hand.
  14. When hair gets in the way, it is a great relief to tie it into a pony tail, or to pin it back, or trap it under a tight hat.
  15. Hair can be one thing (a single hair) or lots of them.
  16. It is very satisfying to pluck out a single stiff hair that has been sitting invisible at the corner of my lip.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

List of things that will not help

  1. Putting another knot in the rope.
  2. Hitting it.
  3. Swearing at the fucking thing.
  4. Hitting someone with it.
  5. Using your teeth.
  6. Pouring petrol on it and setting fire to it.
  7. Running it on an empty tank.
  8. Pushing it into a smaller space.
  9. Rubbing it with a solvent.
  10. Using an abrasive cleaner.
  11. Adding more salt.
  12. Putting it through the blender.
  13. Shouting at the call-centre worker.
  14. Bleach.
  15. A boil wash.
  16. Leaving it in the sun.
  17. Salt and soda water.
  18. A brisk rub-down with a rough towl.
  19. An emetic.
  20. Rubbing with grease.
  21. Buying a newer model.
  22. Trying to raise the nose cone.
  23. A piece of kitchen roll.
  24. A small square of foil.
  25. A weak borax solution.
  26. A repair man.
  27. The fire brigade.
  28. Consulting a physician.
  29. Marker ink.
  30. Dusting with flour.
  31. Plunging into iced water.
  32. Washing it with cola.
  33. Boiling it in vinegar.
  34. Selling it on Ebay.
  35. Static mats.
  36. A copper bracelet.
  37. Reporting it to the authorities.
  38. Filling in a form.
  39. Taping it shut.
  40. Replacing sprockets.
  41. Hanging it in a damp place.
  42. Placing in a cool oven.
  43. Sending it by courier.
  44. Never speaking of it again.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Ten pleasures that don't cost very much

  1. The chance to be creative: Now that spending is out, I have to be a bit creative about how I get my jollies. That in itself is a pleasure, as sometimes it feels as if the things I make are beautiful, but rather useless.
  2. Books I didn't know I had: I go through the bookshelves and discover a pile books that I haven't yet read. Now I have the time to read them all if I like. I feel as if someone has just handed me 20 free books.
  3. Stretching: Body in Balance is a free-to-view channel which broadcasts exercise routines: including a variety of yoga styles.
  4. Cheap video games: There's a branch of CEX in town: it's a shop that will take back your old games, and give you credit which you can put towards new (or secondhand) ones.
  5. A mint plant next to the front door: Every time I brush past it, I smell it.
  6. Fleece blanket: I'm so glad we bought a fleece throw last winter. It was only £15, and I bought it to go on the bed. As winter comes on, I spend most of my writing day wrapped up in it.
  7. Languid beauty: I was amazed by all the beauty products I had stashed away. I guess that when I had an income, I didn't have the time to enjoy them. Now my morning routine (more like a mid-morning routine) is about twice as long and feels very luxurious.
  8. Finishing food: I've got time to use up the leftovers, so there is much less waste in our household now. I also have the headspace to come up with ideas, and the energy to carry them through. Last week we got four beetroots in our veggie box. I can just about manage one beetroot in salad (I like them raw and grated into long, earthy-tasting magenta strips). But the rest? Then I remembered chocolate beetroot cake, and the rest is history. A rich, reddish chocolatey history.
  9. Charity shops: To get the best out of charity shops, you need to have time for a regular run. Which I do. If I have clothes that I don't wear, I try to imagine what would make me wear them: they often just need a top or jumper to take them into Autumn. I carry in my head those missing-piece outfits whenever I go to the charity shops. Most of the time I find something -- not always what I expected. Tanktop the colour of redcurrants, anyone?
  10. Having a lie in whenever I want: Even more fun because Nick has to go to work. I don't do it very often though, because I really like eating breakfast with him.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

10 Activities for a naughty housewife

I am presently not entirely employed. I spend a lot of time at home doing chores, looking for work and scribbling. But that doesn't fill all the hours that stretch between Nick turning to wave as he turns the corner at the end of the drive and him startling me at 7pm by tapping on the window as he comes home.

Here are some other things I can do:

9am: Fail to empty the compost bin.
10am: Return to bed with my Ninendo DS.
11am: Eat Nutella straight out of the jar.
Noon: Take a shower and use large quantities of beauty products.
1pm: Watch a Warner Brothers cartoon DVD.
2pm: Coffee with a friend, followed by shopping-but-not-actually-buying-anything.
4pm: Cook a complicated and untidy supper.
5pm: Nap
6.57pm: Race round hiding all evidence of Nutella, make bed, plump cushions, putting ribbons in hair.

Monday, 5 October 2009

My favourite stories: Number four: The blue radio that may have come from space

I was moving out of my first flat because I'd quit my job to go travelling. It was a happy occasion, of course, because I was very excited by the adventures that lay ahead; and I was glad to get out of a damp old concrete box. But it was a sad occasion, too: I'd been happy there; it was a huge leap into the unknown; and I was anxious about flying alone to Pakistan, meeting the group and starting the journey.

So all these feelings were sloshing around inside me as I cleaned the flat for the last time before leaving. Most of the boxes had already gone, including the one containing my stereo. As I washed the windows, I thought "I wish I had a radio to give me something else to think about."

At that moment, there was a cheery "Good morning" from the open front door. It was the postman. He had a small parcel for me. "Lucky I caught you," he said, handing it over.

I pulled off the wrapping. Inside was a small blue radio, and three batteries. No note, no packing slip to give a clue as to who sent it. I stood there astonished, feeling as if somebody, somewhere really did care about me. It's a bit of a leap of logic, but it made me sure that this travelling wasn't all a terrible mistake.

I still have the radio. It's a reminder that the world is full of wonders, and to look out for the signposts.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

My favourite stories: Number three: I learn about the fate of the earth, without fully understanding astronomical timescales

I was given a fat book of science knowledge when I was about five. It explained atoms, and why nails were hard and water wasn't; and how life came out of the oceans; and how homo sapiens evolved from a monkey bush that also grew gorillas and chimps.

One day I came across a sequence of pictures describing the life of a star, in particular, the Sun. It showed how billions of years in the future, the sun would turn into a red giant and expand to swallow up the inner planets (most importantly, Earth), before winking out into a tiny frozen ball.

"But luckily," said the final caption with breezy confidence, "This won't happen for billions of years."

Later that night, my father came up to check on us all. I was still awake, eyes wide in the dark. "What's the matter?"

"This book says that in billions of years, the sun's going to turn into a red giant and the seas are going to boil away into space, and we're all going to burn up."

"So I've heard."

"How long ago did they write this book?"

He took the tome from my hands and looked at the printing data. "1977."

"Is that billions of years ago?"

"No. It's the year you were born."

"Is that nearly billions of years ago?"

"No. It just bloody feels that way. Now go to sleep."

Monday, 28 September 2009

Stitch Watch: Come into the garden

I'm working on a Di Van Niekerk design, flowers using a variety of different threads, and Di's beautiful hand-dyed ribbons. I get a big smile on my face every time I open the project bag because of all the goodies that burst out.

Friday, 25 September 2009

My favourite stories: Number two: Rosey's purse comes back

The staff at the hostel in Cape Town didn’t like guests going out for the evening: they went so far as to suggest that if we went out, we would probably be stabbed. “We’re having a 70s night in the bar: you don’t want to miss that, do you? Half price shots.”

But our group leaders had heard about a free jazz festival in town, and we were determined to go.

The other thing the hostel staff warned us about were the minibus taxis: they shuttle around set routes, and are a popular alternative to public transport. The hostel staff said the drivers were lunatics. And that we’d probably be stabbed.

Our group leaders told us they were fine and about a third the price of a taxi. This made them hugely attractive, as we were coming to the end of a ten-week tour round Africa so funds were a bit low.

So the ten of us hailed a minibus from the street outside the hostel, paid our fares to the driver’s mate and bundled in. The driver beetled us all the way to city centre (not driving much like a lunatic) and we hunted down the festival… when my little sister let out a cry of woe. “My purse. I think I dropped it in the minibus.”

“Oh Rosey, was there much in it?”

She hadn’t had much cash on her, but there was a card, which was a bit more worrying. We went into a large hotel and asked to use the phone. The concierge was sympathetic: “Need me to look up the number for you?”

The 24-hour emergency number for the bank led us into automated message hell: “What is the number of the card you are reporting lost?”

“I don’t know, I’ve lost it.”

“I didn’t understand that.”

We resigned ourselves to a damage limitation exercise in the morning.

“It’ll be all right,” I told her. “They haven’t got your PIN, and I’ll buy you supper.”

“I feel so stupid. And I was really looking forward to buying presents for everyone tomorrow. ”

We enjoyed the music as well as we could: but Rosey’s heart really wasn’t in it; and I felt bad for her. She’s normally the careful, sensible one who never loses anything, so she was taking it particularly badly. The group split up because some of us wanted supper while others wanted to stay and listen in the square.

We ended up picking at snacks in a lively bar. Rosey was thinking about going back to the hostel, and I supposed I ought to go with her, when the other half of our group appeared. “Rosey, you’ll never guess what!”

“My purse!”

“The minibus guys heard us talking about the jazz festival. The driver’s mate came and walked around until they found us.”

The money was still there. “He wouldn’t take a reward,” they told us.

And best of all, not one of us got stabbed.

Cape Town photo by Rosey

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

My favourite stories: Number one: Mr Ishigawa's Glasses

It was show and tell night at Tunbridge Wells Fortean Society.

Fossils, blurry photographs and things in jars lay on the table among the pint glasses. Articles from Bob's collection dominated: he was an engineer who had lived all round the world and had plenty of curiosities.

A battered pair of glasses caught my eye. They looked as if they'd spent some time buried. I put them on, and observed the members through the almost opaque lenses.

"What on earth are those?" asked someone.

Bob put down his pint, wiped his moustache and said: "They're Mr Ishigawa's spectacles. I found them while I was dredging a canal in the Solomon Islands."

He explained that the islands are still littered with wreckage from the war.

"But how do you know they belonged to Mr Ishigawa?" I squinted at Bob over the rusted frames.

"Well he might not have been called Mr Ishigawa, but they were still attached to his skull."

He smirked as I swiftly removed the glasses and put them at arm's length on the other side of the table.

Picture of glasses from Stock.xchng

Monday, 21 September 2009

50 Things I Remember about Cranbrook School

This is part of my 50 things I remember project. Here is a list of all the 50 things posts.
  1. Mr Badcock's "Now boys, bring the brains to bear."
  2. The smell of preserved creatures in jars in the biology lab.
  3. Mr Gunn telling me off during A Level biology for staring out of the window... messing around with Nick Robinson... weaving with strips of paper when I should have been cutting and gluing.
  4. Always being cold in winter because we weren't allowed to wear t-shirts under our school blouses, and no-one in their right mind would ever sink to wearing a vest.
  5. Runching our grey school socks down - because who the hell wears their socks pulled up?
  6. Feeling as if games lessons were specifically designed to humiliate: the boys standing at the sports hall window to watch us getting into the swimming pool; being forced to do a dance routine to some stupid Madonna song; aerobics; mixed volleyball.
  7. The nailpolish smell of esters in chemistry.
  8. Doing a rubbish physics practical called 'The Great Heat Race' - each team was given a substance to heat until it boiled. We had washing-up liquid. Clearly not going to win.
  9. I must have wasted literally years of my life waiting for mother to come and pick me up at the end of school.
  10. Looking around the Queen's Hall during assembly and wondering how many of us would get out alive if there was a fire because there were 200 more people in the room than was permitted by fire regulations.
  11. The teachers sweeping on to the stage in their gowns. They looked the teacher in the Bash Street Kids.
  12. PaulV walking me and Katie through the churchyard and carrying our bags.
  13. Telling my tutor I wasn't happy, then feeling betrayed when she told my parents.
  14. Being afraid to use a school labcoat in case someone had put something disgusting in the pocket.
  15. The PCs in the computer room were 286s (the monitors had red, blue, black and white). If you were really lucky, you'd get to use a 386.
  16. Mrs Kerten was guaranteed to break the computer room. There was a printer that brought the entire network down if you switched it off.
  17. The cheese and bacon whirls at lunch still are one of the nicest things I've ever eaten. Also, the treacle sponge. I still miss them.
  18. Afew times a term our house was on duty. When we were in the fourth year, this meant replenishing the salad bar in the dining room. There never was anything to replenish because they put it all out at the start of lunch. But we still had to go and do the duty - we got in trouble if we didn't.
  19. Making a chocolate cake with yoghurt icing in home ec. Katie, Miri and I ate mine because the lunch queue was so badly behaved that the prefects sent us all away.
  20. Being scared to queue up for lunch because some of the boys were so rough -- they used to run at the queue so that you were crushed against the wall.
  21. We had a French teacher who thought that Alex Lightstone was actually called Alex Lighthouse. "Aaaalex, chewing goom, poot it away, dans la pourbelle." She told my parents that we were the loudest, rudest, nosiest, cleverest class she had ever taught. She was a very good teacher, too.
  22. During a year nine experiement to measure the amount of carbon dioxide exhaled by maggots, one of our class' maggots managed to crawl into a capillary tube. GROSS.
  23. A girl in our class sitting, head bowed so her straight blonde hair fell like a tent over a biology text book, while the rest of us dissected ox lungs.
  24. During the dissection of the ox lungs, we were told to use a tube to blow into them to see them inflate. One boy inhaled by accident.
  25. My brother putting his hand through a window during a fight while waiting for the bus.
  26. The monsterous unfairness of us having to wait three quarters of an hour after the end of school because our bus was used by another school first. I can't believe that no-one tried to negotiated a better service for us. Or, indeed that it never occurred to one of us to make a fuss about it.
  27. Mr Gunn said that today he was going to give us some notes on coitus. Nick Robinson whispered "What's that?" and I said: "Bonking." Mr Gunn heard and said "...coitus, or indeed bonking as Clare rather earthily puts it."
  28. Dying bits of cloth bright yellow in chemistry.
  29. Discovering during art that nothing awful happened when I used a sewing machine. I had a lot fun embellishing with silver thread a batik design inspired by tomatoes, oranges and peppers.
  30. Wednesday afternoon activities: rambling was an excuse to get out into the countryside and walk very quickly back to school.
  31. Swimming sports caused all the girls to get their periods simultaneously.
  32. The tuckshop lady said: "Don't worry about that now. Your figure will come through when you go to university." And she was right.
  33. I really liked a girl called Celia because she had thick round glasses that were forever falling down her nose; and because she carried her pencils in a round shortbread tin. I don't thinks she was very happy boarding, though.
  34. Marvelling in year nine woodwork when, following the teachers simple instructions, a pencil box appeared under my hands.
  35. The overwhelming urge to yell "Fire" in a crowded between lessons corridor.
  36. In year nine, the labs in the west wing were brand new and really beautiful. I loved the bright cleaness of it, and the generously sized rooms and corridors: the rest of the school sometimes felt as if it had been made for pixie people who were afraid of daylight. I liked being told to be CAREFUL of the lab benches in the west wing: they were made from single 15m slabs of wood.
  37. Feeling secretly jealous of the guys in the CCF because they got to go on camp and mess around in a hovercraft. I never joined because I thought I'd be rubbish at parade (I still can't tell left from right).
  38. The endless, endless poetry -- both taught in English and written by me. Endless.
  39. A teachers told me I was let down by my Godawful handwriting.
  40. I was mocked by my classmates for suggesting that in the future school children would all carry small computers round with them.
  41. The boy who sat next to be in geography pushed his homework over to me the day I forgot mine.
  42. Mr Hartley leaving the classroom through one door and returning through another. He used to tell us stories of the things he used to be allowed to do to pupils (mostly throwing board rubbers and chalk at them). He boasted that he could leave his classes alone for long periods because they never knew when or from where he would return.
  43. Sitting in the lecture theatre on a rainy day - I thought that it must be a bit like that bit in Catcher in Rye where he talks about going into the museum.
  44. Discovering that with computers, you could do things that you'd been able to do since you were about ten, and people would think it was wonderful. For my GCSE project I built a little point-and-click adventure using Visual Basic, and illustrated it with my own pictures done in Paint.
  45. Trying to add rude books to the library catalogue in the name of a teacher I didn't like.
  46. The lobby in the library would always be crowded at break with small boys: there was a copy of Encarta, with a general knowledge game on it.
  47. Seeing a crowd of boys filling the pavement and a smart-looking lady trying to edge past. One of the boys accidentally spilt his can of drink on her. She looked appalled and told him watch it. One of his friends shouted after her: "His name's David."
  48. Spending Friday lunch times at choir practice because we'd been told it was important to have interests outside schoolwork.
  49. We were each given an element - we had to produce an A4 sized poster about it to be stuck on a giant periodic table. I got iron, but swapped it with another girl for one of the rare elements because it sounded more interesting. But what the fuck do you say about a metal so radioactive it can't exist for more than a few moments. I still wish I'd kept iron.
  50. The crunch of a mercury thermometer breaking, and Dr Lewis sending to the prep room for some flowers of sulphur. "Don't use it as a stirrer!"

Friday, 28 August 2009

Fifty things I remember about my time at DCPS

This is part of my 50 things I remember project. Here is a list of all the 50 things posts.
  1. Building homes for tiny creatures in the roots of the oak tree in the Upper School playground with Diana Ward.
  2. Miss Ware's sausage machine -- she told us that the year above us had been so naughty that they'd worn it smooth, and it was now used as the tunnel in the Upper School Playground.
  3. The new art room in Lower School smelled of bread and honey.
  4. Mrs Cardwell, who wore pink and grey, and sometimes jade green.
  5. Horrible reading lessons in the sick room. It smelled of puke, and the curtains were drawn so we didn't look out of the window. Mrs Bea kept telling us that we -- and all young people -- were rubbish for saying 'somethink' and 'drawring'; and the others read so slowly that I wanted to shake them, and I always got told off for reading ahead. Miss Ware's group sounded much better. They were reading Willard Price's Lion Adventure. She said it was so silly that they couldn't stop laughing long enough to read it. "People just keep getting eaten... chomp."
  6. The headmaster took us one a week for drama, and he made a huge fuss of learning our names. It made me feel tremendously important.
  7. Seeing bunsen burners on the yellow flame through the window of the science lab, and being scared of using them next year.
  8. I put my name down for puppet-making, but somehow Olivia and I ended up in popmobility. Olivia almost cried. I was totally bewildered. Luckily, we were able to move across.
  9. One hot day, Guy Oxley climbed over the wall and fell out of the tree house. I saw it happen from the other side of the playing field. Later, I saw him being comforted in the library by the headmaster's wife. She was giving him a drink of water.
  10. Climbing through the hedge at the end of the playing field to escape -- but then I didn't really know what I would do next, so I climbed back up the bank.
  11. Writing secret messages and burying them under the hedge. Later, we dug them up, and all the writing had vanished!
  12. During swimming sports, Paul V and James Smith wrapped towels around their hair and strutted around.
  13. James Parsons saying that he looked forward to showing off his legs in shorts when the summer uniform came in. "They're so suntanned and sexy. My shorts, I mean."
  14. Finding dried peas in the pockets of my tracksuit -- we used to have games right before lunch on a Friday, and it was always fish, chips and peas.
  15. The horrible roast dinner on a Wednesday with dark green, bitter cabbage -- where do you find cabbage like that? -- and slices of grey leathery meat, and gravy that tasted of dusty white pepper.
  16. Reading the rude messages scratched on the desks in Mr Clark's classroom: Bone can't f*** and Bone loves Miss Liverton.
  17. Wondering what Mrs Stickland would look like if she did a forward roll. She was wearing a bright pink towling tracksuit and full make-up.
  18. My friends telling me that I would probably be offered drugs at the state school I was down for.
  19. There was a girl in my class who had the same swimming costume as me. She sometimes liked to duck people. Once I sank myself under water and saw the costume above me. I thought she was swimming over me to be spiteful -- but was just my own body reflected on the surface of the water.
  20. Mr Clark saying that so long as we were in the right place at the right time doing the right thing, everything would be OK. And that if any teacher ever told us to do something that contradicted something we'd already been told, we should come and talk with him about it.
  21. Going up the stairs to the art room felt like going into another world -- it was so messy and comfortable.
  22. We were evacuated from the CD room during high wind -- they were afraid trees would fall on the nissan huts and squash us flat. We crowded in the art room with another class and did our work on our knees.
  23. A girl from the year above ate her brick of icecream between the two wafers.
  24. In Upper School, always feeling cold during break on the dining hall playground, and being too scared to join in the running around games because it was so noisy and crowed, and I was afraid of falling over.
  25. Tennis balls flying overhead, the whole length of the playground, and wondering how boys could throw them so far, and why girls couldn't do the same.
  26. Being told off for taking off our shoes during break in the summer.
  27. Putting a large plastic spider on Mr Hendy's chair. He didn't notice.
  28. Outside Mr Hendy's classroom was a large sandbox, which he used to teach us about erosion. It was very effective -- you could see the progress of a river from young to old in a few minutes.
  29. During break, always wanting to go somewhere that the teachers couldn't see. Once we escaped into the shrubbery that surrounded the tennis courts. We wanted to do a rain dance to ensure cross country would be cancelled.
  30. Letting Latin vocab tests ruin the whole of Tuesday morning. Lucky they weren't in the afternoon, really.
  31. Gale Betts folded a piece of paper, licked the fold and it tore neatly in half. I thought that was an amazing trick. I still use it today.
  32. The rough red bricks of Moat -- we waited for the school bus outside that building, so I became very familiar with them, and with the crunchy white mineral that gathered in the holes.
  33. Always wishing that I had better kit than I did: my canvas hockey boots should have been football boots; and my tennis racket should have been graphite not wood; and to have proper school sports socks instead of plain navy ones.
  34. Sitting on the grass eating the stalks of clover leaves.
  35. Beetroot juice staining my macaroni cheese on salad day (usually Monday); and the crispy cheese on top.
  36. Sitting in the quiet playground and knitting.
  37. One day a week, our year could play boardgames in Mr Oborn's classroom -- there was always a scramble for Downfall. We used to play a lot of Cheat, but our cards kept getting lost because people would stuff them into desks.
  38. Our playing field was on the site of old orchards, and there was a tree that produced the most delicious apples: they were crisp and sour-sweet.
  39. In Lower School, trying and failing to climb trees -- I just wasn't strong enough to pull myself up the grey apple trunks.
  40. I was asked to pick up the netball bibs at the end of games; but I had to run to catch the school bus, so my friend offered to do it for me. The games teacher told me off -- even though she KNEW I caught the bus, and that it was always a scramble to get dressed at the end of games and she'd told me off for being late the week before.
  41. A little blonde girl who was so plump and pink and white and pretty -- until she opened her mouth and you could see her teeth were black and rotten.
  42. A few girls in Lower School had the grey school uniform hats. Once, some boys took one and peed in it. We heard about it in Upper School.
  43. There was a treehouse in the Upper School adventure playground. It used to have a deathslide running from it, but by the time we got there, it wasn't working, and the treehouse was supposed to be out of bounds (so naturally we tried to get up there as much as possible.
  44. Collecting scented barks and resins and leaves to make incense. We worked on it in the playground, grinding and grinding. We kept it wrapped in a handkerchief between breaks, a bristly lump in my pocket. Later, Priscilla Parish came round to my house and we wrapped it up in birch bark and burnt it. I think it smelled better before we burnt it.
  45. There was a small tree and on the bare earth under it, a spot where the ground bounced. We had a lot of fun bouncing up and down. And then one day someone decided to dig down and find out what made it bounce. It was just treeroots; and it never bounced again.
  46. A boy dropped his dinner tray because he was hurrying. He went back for more, and dropped it again.
  47. The greyish, slimey feel of the water we used to wipe the dining room tables.
  48. We were talking about what we would like for Christmas with one of the dinnerladies. She said that the only thing she really wanted was her husband (who had died earlier in the year) back.
  49. On his first day in Upper School, my brother arrived late for the bus. The teacher on duty asked why he was late. I explained that he'd lost his trousers after games, and the teacher replied dryly: "Well you should have looked after them better, Clare."
  50. Miss Ware rode into school on a motorbike, and wore turquoise nail polish. I thought she was wonderful (and still do).

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

50 things I remember about Mrs Hollins' Nursery School at Great Pagehurst

This is part of my 50 things I remember project. Here is a list of all the 50 things posts.
  1. The builders found a mummified cat in the attic, and we buried it by the pond. We had to be careful to only throw earth -- and not grass -- into the grave.
  2. The minnows in the sink by the french windows died in the frost. Some of the other children took them from the compost heap and pretended to fry them in the wendy house.
  3. The chimney of the stove in the wendy house was always full of sand, and so was the rug on the floor.
  4. They brought out a giant blue paddling pool one day. We took off our clothes, folded them and left the bundles in a line on the lawn. Priscilla said: 'I'm going to put my clothes next to yours, because you're nice.'
  5. Running across the lawn on a cloudy day with Claire chasing me. She was wearing green dungarees, and her long hair was flying.
  6. Mrs Hollins wore a large timer -- the colour and shape of an orange lentil -- round her neck so she knew when to take the bread out of the oven.
  7. One day, I was brave and asked for hot milk with Ovaltine. It was one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted.
  8. They took us up into the attic to look at some very old toys. There was a red cloak draped over a trunk, and I thought it might be a ghost. We found a very old gollywog doll, and Georgina liked it so much, and was so good and careful with it that Mrs Hollins said she could bring it downstairs.
  9. A boy called Ned (who had red hair) made a set of traffic lights out of painted round margarine tubs, a piece of wood and some little bulbs.
  10. Tapping nails through bottle tops in the woodwork room, and sawing bits of wood to make a rattle.
  11. The sound of wind in the poplar trees, and the smell of them.
  12. One day, we played with shells. Mrs Hollins said that she liked to arrange little ones in the bigger shells and pretend they were food.
  13. A girl called Lisa who was a bit naughty. She painted over someone else's art.
  14. At clearing up time, washing purple paint off a brush in the sink.
  15. Making tiny cottage loaves to eat at elevensies time.
  16. Warm bread, spread with butter and marmite and a mug of cold milk.
  17. Sitting in a circle and playing musical instruments.
  18. The musty smell of the dressing up box -- which was in the dining room.
  19. Hamish and Georgina and some other children made masks and dressed up as the Scooby Doo gang. They wanted elastic to hold the masks on, but Mrs Hollins only had thread.
  20. Mrs Hollins could hop round in a circle on the square paving stones by the door.
  21. There was a picture of a girl with a hoop on my peg. I shared it with Anna. It was the first peg next to the door. Claire had the next peg along -- it was a blue-green picture of a child holding a dove.
  22. I took a seat for elevensies, and Saskia said that she should have my seat, as it was higher, and she was older. I said that I needed the higher seat because I was younger.
  23. Walking down the crunchy gravel drive.
  24. Mrs Hollins had a lady to help her who was called Molly.
  25. There was a bouncy horse that made a wonderful squeaky-squeaky noise.
  26. Going on the royal blue trampoline.
  27. Wondering at the air wobbling over the heater.
  28. The smell of the old yew tree on the terrace.
  29. Playing in the snow -- a boy hit Mrs Hollins in the face with a snowball, and she helped him to say he was sorry. I thought he was very grown-up, and that she was very kind.
  30. Vicky the black and white dog who lived near the back door and barked a lot.
  31. Claire sitting on the back step and stroking Vicky -- I thought she was very brave.
  32. Going to the top of the climbing frame.
  33. The dining room carpet was grey, and the furniture was black oak.
  34. There was a secret compartment in the coffer where the dressing-ups were kept. It had necklaces in it.
  35. I liked the dry sand indoors -- it was in a baby's bath.
  36. We played in the indoor wendy house, and Anna said that she should be the father, because she had short hair.
  37. Remembering not to leave the lids of the empty perfume bottles so that the smell didn't escape.
  38. There was a red bicycle.
  39. We went to visit Mrs Thomas -- but I didn't fancy it, so when we walked past our house, I escaped from the end of the line with Claire, and we went and hid round the back among my father's cuttings. We heard my mother come out to the dustbin, but I was too scared of her seeing us. I told her later, and she was cross and said I shouldn't run away.
  40. Dipping my hands into the sink of minnows on the terrace to feel how cool the water was.
  41. Georgina taught me, with a grass seed head: "Here's a tree in summer, here's a tree in winter, here's a pretty flower and here's an April shower."
  42. The smell of poster paint in those safety posts with the slit in the top of the lid.
  43. Remembering to wash our hands before we made bread buns.
  44. Hoping I would get a pretty mug at elevensies time.
  45. The hall where the rocking horse and the sand tray was had a polished wooden floor and seemed to stretch out forever into darkness -- but if the kitchen door was open, there was a rectangle of daylight at the end of it.
  46. There was a door out of the woodwork room into the parts of the house weren't nursery school. And another door out of the dining room. I always wondered where they went.
  47. Priscilla saying that her brother was big enough to throw me where the monsters were.
  48. A boy called Kevin playing with an old saucepan in the sandpit. He had a coat with a fur-lined hood.
  49. The garage was in a barn, and when there were no cars in it, you could see bright dots of light shining through the black back wall.
  50. Sitting on the window seat in the dining room and watching all the mothers pulling up in their cars to collect us.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Cut it.

I've been playing around trying to cut some of my stories down to 100 words, and then to 25 words.

It's a fascinating exercise -- a little like writing a headline. It might seem impossible at first, but if you practise, it gets easier.

I write a 30-word description of a walk I take regularly over at Once Around the Park. I've found this almost-daily practice fun; and it trains me to remember that there is always more than one way of saying something. It helps me to look for the essence of an idea, or an impression, or a thought.

One of the things that inspired me to try this was a stray comment made by one of my lecturers on a poem by the Roman poet Horace. This particular poem is a description of a journey, and one section has a long list of places that Horace's party passed through, each tagged with a little description. One town, however, is not named. It's described along the lines of 'That place which cannot be named in verse.' The lecturer explained that although the verse form Horace was using followed strict scansion rules (scanning Latin poetry is very much like doing equations) it was unlikely that there really was a city that could not be named in verse. Horace was having a little joke at the expense of less dedicated poets. It might have been difficult to work the name in, the lecturer said, 'but these guys could do anything with words.'

The idea of being able to do anything with words appeals to me, so I keep practising.
  • There's a contest for 25 word stories over at Robert Swartwood's blog. I'm posting a link to get myself a third entry.
  • And if you want more 30-word descriptions of walks, try Lucy at Out with Mol.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

A list of things of which I am afraid

  • Deep cold water
  • Being stung by or even brushing jellyfish while swimming
  • Jumping into a swimming pool
  • Plug hole hair
  • The mocking laughter of strangers
  • People who describe the plots of horror movies
  • Clowns
  • Crocodiles
  • Angry herds of cattle
  • Getting lost in a mangrove swamp
  • Loud dogs
  • Men who walk as if a large space belongs to them
  • Women with scraped back hair, grey faces and hard eyes
  • Adults who shout angrily at their children in public
  • People who want to be noticed in a bad way
  • Meeting a person with whom I used to go to school, and finding that they have not moved on
  • Being misunderstood because I've made a too obscure reference
  • Accidentally plaigiarising
  • Editors of all kinds
  • Having 3BT ragged by AA Gill and Giles Coren
  • Bits of tissue blocking the sinks in public lavatories
  • Putting on more weight and not being able to find any clothes that fit
  • Debt and penury
  • Being crushed by the cogs of bureaucracy
  • Never finding another job
  • The government's attitude to motherhood
  • The power of doctors
  • Falling from a high place because I indulged the temptation to step over the edge
  • Sea mist when the tide is coming in
  • Being too cold to light a fire
  • Falling through ice
  • Dark footpaths
  • Clicking 'submit'
  • Not making it as a writer
  • Failing to write anything good ever again
  • Causing a road accident because I was not paying attention while crossing the road
  • Going upstairs in the dark
  • The house catching fire because I've left the oven on
  • People shouting outside
  • Walking along the top of a mountain ridge when there is a strong wind blowing

Thursday, 16 July 2009

A list of things that I didn't like as a child, but do like now

  1. Alcohol
  2. Needlework (thank you to Miss L and Mrs S for that!)
  3. Going for walks
  4. Strong cheese
  5. Charles Dickens, the Brontes and Jane Austen.
  6. Treasure Island
  7. Having a lie in
  8. Buying clothes
  9. Getting my hair cut
  10. Massage
  11. The radio
  12. The scary bits of Dr Who
  13. Not living with my parents
  14. Getting married and having children
  15. Traveling on a train by myself
  16. Nail polish
  17. Stockings
  18. Having a nap in the afternoon
  19. Sunday papers
  20. Chili
  21. Ginger
  22. Spring onions
  23. Talking to strangers
  24. My siblings
  25. Filing my nails
  26. Map reading
  27. James Bond
  28. Star Trek
  29. Kandinsky's Cossacks
  30. Robots
I made this list in response to Jem's comment on the Three Beautiful Things post Museum pieces, the expert and prescription.

Friday, 10 July 2009

What I like in fiction

I don't like horror and torture and dark cruelty.

I do like female characters, and a fascinating world.

I like to wonder about a character's past -- and their future.

I like stories with some science that is indistinguishable from magic.

I like stories with an idea that I can explore and carry round in my teeth to worry at, bury, dig up, chew on and bury again.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Putting glitter back on your good intentions

Sarah Salway's sad tweet yesterday inspired this:

Emergency measures in case of coffee spillage
  • Turn to a new blank page
  • Build in a reward later in your day so you’ve got something to look forward to
  • Move on to the next item
  • Wash your face and brush your hair
  • Take a snack break
  • Wear the tiara
  • Break down your day into baby steps
  • Well begun is half done
  • Stop if it’s really going no-where and achieve something else instead
  • Tell someone where you are going, and when you’re going to be back
  • Shoot for the moon: even if you fail, you should be able to grab a handful of stars on the way down
  • Apply bum to seat and words to paper
Long-term measures so you don’t get into this situation in the first place
  • Write down your goals, and make them SMART (stated, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed)
  • Why are you doing this again? List ten things you get out of it
  • How important is it that you do this now? On a scale of one to ten… Anything less than an eight – why are you doing it? What can you do to bump it up to a ten?
  • Make a list of everything that might stop you achieving your goal – and the things you can do to manage them
  • Celebrate your achievements – tell people; treat yourself; enjoy your success
  • Keep a list of everything you have achieved; and read it often

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Stitch watch: Hardanger

I haven't been posting much recently, but I have been at work. These pictures are bits and pieces from some hardanger samplers -- the patterns are in The New Anchor Book of Hardanger Embroidery Stitches.

I'm using a mixture of left over perle thread from other projects and some skeins of Anchor multicoloured perle -- hence the slightly eccentric colour schemes in some pieces.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Stitch watch: Mushroom

A few weeks ago at the drawing class I attend, we did mushrooms. I traced my sketch with a transfer pencil, ironed it on to a piece of cotton, and made this:

The brown marks are where the iron burnt the masking tape glue -- next time I'm using pins to hold it all together. The pink marks are the transfer pencil -- I gather they'll wash out, but I'm a bit wary of trying this... Better luck next time :-)

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Stitch watch: scissors case

This is a scissors case from Sue Hawkins' range. I've never done much canvas work before, and this little project was a very pleasant introduction. I love having something pretty that I know I'll use, too. I particularly liked the nubbly rhodes stitch (left side of the front of the case).

The colours glow much more in real life -- I'm not sure if the warmer picture shows this better than the cooler picture of the back of the case. The satin stitch (top of the back) feels lovely.

Stitch watch: Buttercup Lane

This is Buttercup Lane from Rowandean. It was great fun to do -- even all that straight stitch grass. I need to work on my stem stitch, though, as it looks a bit knotty, as you can see in the close-up below.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Things which are only pleasurable because of the unpleasantness which went before.

  • The burning tingling of cold fingers warming up.
  • Feeling better after throwing up.
  • Once back at home, thinking about eating a tangerine and drinking very cold water from a rinsed-out milk bottle while sitting on a stone behind a low wall, the only shelter from the wind on the top of a cloud-bound mountain.
  • Waking up with no headache after falling asleep while ill.
  • The engineer has visited, and now it works.
  • Coming into a cool, dark building on a day when the light and heat burn my head.
  • A stuffy warm office after a walk on a morning when a knife-sharp wind is blowing.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Twenty Things That Stimulate Creativity

  1. A vegetable box
  2. A walk
  3. Something that needs repair
  4. A list
  5. A new stitch
  6. Planning an outfit I've never worn before
  7. Having a clear out
  8. Writing in my notebook
  9. An art class
  10. Listening to a radio play
  11. Walking round a market
  12. Following a how-to of a craft I've never tried
  13. Doing a writing exercise
  14. Art galleries and museums
  15. Reading a few art or craft blogs
  16. Sitting and thinking
  17. Reading or looking at a source book
  18. Setting a goal
  19. Thinking about a problem
  20. Trying a new recipe