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