Tuesday 18 December 2012

Chuffed at the duff

Yuletide is upon us like a great chocolate log waiting to be devoured. It is also the season to reflect: what has been jolly, what has been a load of old wally? My year has been a mixed bag of sweeties, with far more liquorice in it than I can safely spit out here. The worst bit: My teenaged son going to live with his father, who, to put it kindly, is an evil monster. The best bit: A new son is on the way. Not that the old one can or ever will be replaced. Exhausted, I have simply given up the battle. And a new baby brings joy! Husband and I laugh a lot, as do the in house kiddies, so why not have one more to adore seeing as we are able to love and support it in every way?

So what is it like to be up the duff at 43? Almost 44 now. Well, husband and I are chuffed, as for everyone else, it's that mixed bag again, because, dear readers (yes, I know you are out there, I've seen the hits, please identify yourselves by commenting on my posts!) our culture is not only sexist, it is ageist too. I will let you into a secret though. Not everyone who is 44 is actually 44. Health, fitness and mental attitude have a lot to do with it. And for anyone out there who believes in God and is not, in this fervently religious atheist society afraid to admit it - as I am able to have children as easily as I do (without help, apart from my husband's) perhaps God is not as ageist, sexist and so on as vast tracts of society. 

You'd think I was standing naked before them brandishing an Uzi given the reaction of some folk. Some are silent. Others turn a whiter shade of pale and then come on all Moody Blues with their tales of woe betide. One woman on the bus warned me to put a stop to it. "Think of the possible chromosomal problems," she said. "Well you have managed despite your mental problems," I almost said. One male relation said this:
"You can't keep having children." (Same reaction as last time).
Me: "I intend to buy a plot of land, build a giant shoe and keep having children until I am sixty." (Joke) 

People registered similar shock when I married my good-brained, young in years (32 and a half) yet old in wisdom, husband. He is adept at ignoring a person's bad traits and fishing about for the good bits to focus on and does not care a jot what people say, but me, though I usually smile sweetly in the face of negative comments, do occasionally like to haul people out of the dark ages and beckon them into the age of enlightenment. "Cradle snatcher," has been an oft-quoted cliché that has been offered to me. Often from people married to grave snatchers - I have been known to point this out.

Well-intentioned types thoroughly enjoy telling me about all the horrors I am going to encounter with my children given my great age. They like to point out how old I will be when the little three will be at 18 or 21. They do not go above 21, assuming, I suppose they think, that I will be dead. As for me, I am delighted at my second, third and fourth chance at happiness. This second time around has been bliss compared to how tough it was being a single mother for a decade and more, while studying for my degrees, running businesses and writing a book with no financial support or actual parenting input from my son's erratic father and no family around to help. And my ‘other’ and me are still laughing.

Saturday 10 November 2012


Last Monday, my husband began working weeks in Manchester doing things with wires at the new ITV studios. Apparently his flat overlooks the new Coronation St studios which may be exciting for some but I am inCorrigible. I would rather he was overlooking me while I sleep soundly during the night watches that are characterised by screaming, shouting and nonsensical talking with occasional bouts of walking around and crashing into things - no not me, the small children, actually me as well to be truthful. He, bless him, gets to sleep all night if he wants to, though he says he misses us dreadfully. I don't think he actually misses us between 11pm and 7pm though, call me dreadful, but I wouldn't miss any of us during those hours as I would be asleep, not even 'perchance to dream', just mouth-a-gape (with witless wonder) conked. There's the rub.

This week I didn't shower for 3 days. Golly she must reek like an over ripe hippy I hear you think. No actually, amazing what a hasty yet thorough wash can achieve. Why, people have coped down the fruity centuries! Yes the water was on, but so were the kids, full on. When I did finally make it into the shower - I planned it so that the three year old would be in nursery and I would just have to deal with my one year old (who follows me every where and will not be left alone for two minutes, not even for a loo visit) things became feral. As soon as I got in, now beastie, one year old, tugged the shower curtain near off as I struggled to remain deft footed standing in the slippy bathtub under water that was too cold. Then he tried to climb in after me, but I fended him off. When that failed, he began launching missiles into the tub - plastic tugboat, rubber duckie ( a high throw - I ducked) a bra and finally most of the loo roll. Two minutes later,  and possibly even days later, it was worth it, even though I went through L'orea-hell to get there. I even managed to shampoo my hair during the last of the loo roll wars.

Come to think of it, I think I may have worn the same clothes for 3 days too - those ones over there dancing at the peak of clothes mountain in my bedroom - was that a flashback? - no, I am hallucinating from tiredness. I really must get another wash on - the clothes this time.

Every night this week, both children have ended up in both senses in my bed - think toes in my ear and a small body draped across my head like a right royal Philip Treacy creation. As dwelt upon earlier, and as per my obsession, sleep has been staccato, interrupted, like an uzi firing, by teething induced cries from the one year old and protest shouts from the three year old: "When is Daddy coming home?" In five sleeps, I reply. "I want him to come in five minutes." So do I, I reply.  This week we have all relied a bit too heavily on the square babysitter. Thank you Mr Tumble, you soothe our tiny minds.

Monday 8 October 2012


Have you noticed how much more we are exposing ourselves as a nation - as a world? Of course you have. You do not stagger from pillar to post playing blind woman in the buff, do you? Perhaps you do. I wouldn't like to spectate, but would I have a choice? Let's get naked shall we? On Twitter we generally have celebrities of both sexes sharing pictures of themselves in their pants or announcing their break ups to the world whilst publicly fighting with their exes. Seemingly desperate once upon a time celebrities lay themselves bare twenty four hours a day for the cameras and an audience who would need to be stoned to watch them for very long. On Facebook there is a new trend. Women have literally been turning themselves inside out for all to see. By this I mean, I have seen countless pregnant bellies of women at various stages and lately, foetal scans loom up on my computer screen as the little mites float, happily ignorant, in their dark world, little negatives not yet fully exposed. But it is only a matter of time...

Time was when we British (I am half-British so I feel half-qualified to comment) were so buttoned up that men got collar chaff and women were suffocated by their corsets. It didn't take much to make them swoon. This level of containment was probably not such a good thing and often led to unseemly spillages. Now, we see everything! I have nothing against the comeliness of the female form nor of the sculptural beauty of the male form (I am thinking of my husband of course) it's just that I do not want naked folk splashing around in my cornflakes first thing in the morning as soon as I flip my computer lid to the newspaper pages or briefly check out Facebook, which as we have already uncovered is likely to be full of people in their briefs or not as the case may be. I know I do not have to look, but it is hard not to come across this stuff when it seems to be everywhere.

I am a believer in freedom of expression but feel we should have some level of choice as to what is foisted upon us. My friend recently went Nuts when she went into the local newsagents with her young boy. The topless magazines were on the counter at her son's eye level. She demanded that the magazines were moved and to the credit of the newsagent they were. It disturbs me that my sixteen year old son can access hardcore porn at the touch of a button should he choose to. The sexualised images of teenage girls that are constantly sent to him online and via Blackberry have become the norm. I suspect many of these girls are drawn into this kind of behaviour and probably agonise about it afterwards, but electronic messages are all too easily sent. My husband has carefully advised that I should never send e mails when wound up - ooh the regrets! Bring back the lost and dying art of the considered letter - but who has the time to send them any more?

I too expose myself to some extent, through words - in this blog - and somewhat distilled - through my books, and I am grateful for Facebook as it is the only marketing mechanism I have at the moment. It galvanises people for positive reasons - I am thinking of the mustering of volunteers to look for the little missing girl April this past week - as well as for the less so (the galvanising of rioters in London last year for instance). To some extent I wager, most of us get sucked into this ethereal soup for good or ill - the electronic world seems somehow intangible, but its effects are very real. There does seem to be an undercurrent to all this exposure that seems to me best negotiated due to risk of drowning. I know I need to be careful not to look too long or too often at the glossy fashion or 'celebrity' images of other women otherwise I find myself comparing or worse, commenting.

For women, too much peeking can lead to confidence crises that have a huge knock on effect in terms of us being productive human beings. Apart from anything else too much viewing dulls the brain and can be incredibly time wasting. I know too many young women who have experienced reduction in terms of the self, who, bombarded by increasingly impossible images, feel compelled to project something that is not authentic - they waste life-time trying to be something manufactured by someone else instead of producing something from the quintessential self that is creative and satisfying: a book, a painting, some lucid thoughts perhaps.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

The Power of Art

I went to my second set of excellent 5x15 http://www.5x15stories.com/ talks at the Tabernacle last night and was blown away for want of a more appropriate way of putting things, by Ahdaf Soueif's talk on the art of the recent revolution in Egypt. She showed us a series of powerful slides, many of which can be seen here in this piece by Mona Abaza: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/4625/an-emerging-memorial-space-in-praise-of-mohammed-mThe graffitti art shows how martyrs (Ahdaf was careful to state that she used the term 'martyr' in the Arabic sense, so I hope I will be forgiven for using the English word if any Eyptians happen upon this piece) of the revolution were depicted on the walls of Cairo, initially in stencilled images that became more and more decorative until they began to be shown with angel wings or with garlands of flowers around their necks; the martyrs then began appearing in groups, as more and more simple yet profound statements about the revolution appeared alongside them.

The artists reacted very quickly to the death of a martyr. Groups of artists would swoop in with ladders and immediately begin painting the graphic images on the walls. The work drew on Egyptian Pharaonic art history as it developed and progressed. One of the most beautiful images shows women, their eyes kohled in the ancient Egyptian way, marching towards their oppressors like wingless avenging angels, scrolls in their hands. A woman with her head shaved has her questioning arm raised, palm heavenwards. Above the women is a buraq drawing of a winged horse. Particularly mocking of the barbaric and primitive acts that were perpetrated by the military is one that shows two animals fighting in the style of primitive art, the genitals of the attacking beast (horns to soft belly) are on display. Others show winged martyrs, against a hellish backdrop of dark tear gas, in clashes with their oppressors. Murdered footballers appear in their teams shirts, their stylised angelic wings rising above them. Later, as the regime tried in vain to divide the revolutionaries, by claiming that some were noble, but others were good for nothing layabouts (who presumably deserved to die?) occupations such as 'architect' began to appear above the icons.

The humanity in the work, and the bravery of those who made the work, is astonishing, and is of course fitting, given the subject matter. As their blood cries out from the walls of Mohammed Mahmud Street, these martyrs continue to speak of the revolution despite the terminal silence imposed upon them. The power of these images put me in mind of the iconic photographs of the children of the Soweto riots of 1976. https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=soweto+riots&hl=en&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=UVdYUNXxIpPL0AX4roC4Cg&ved=0CDYQsAQ&biw=1440&bih=700 When I woke up this morning, the images were with me, provoking me, reminding me that none of us ought to stay silent when the plight of others demands that we speak up. It seems a long time ago that I came up against the police in South Africa in a relatively and comparatively mild way, or experienced the choking fear of tear gas, not that I am, for a minute trying to align myself with what the Egyptian people have suffered, only that I have looked and I acted when I saw (when many others, for whatever reason did not). Here too, my eyes have been seared with these images, but I am grateful for it, this work is testament to the power of art to point up truth and beauty in the spiritual sense, and to condemn, by merely holding up a mirror to the activities of those that would crush the spirits of those that cry freedom.

I would have loved to have chatted to Ahdaf Soueif about the impact of the work on individuals. Certainly I would like to read her book: Cairo: My City, Our Revolution. As someone who has taught art to vulnerable groups and has seen the healing and hope and the sense of the eternal power of truth that it brings, I hope, and imagine (having not seen any interviews on the  response to the work) that these images have brought hope and healing as well as no doubt, a powerful sense of sister and brotherhood to those that stood together to bring about change in Egypt for the good of all.

More from Ahdaf Soueif can be seen in her work for the Guardian here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/ahdafsoueif

Thursday 6 September 2012

Perks from a former jerk

Disclaimer: There are 700 odd words here rather than the 500 odd or the odd 500. If this fact drives you battered and fried in advance, skip to the final paragraph that begins with 'the point.'

"I don't eat butter now that I am a big girl. I am big and I'm fat, and I'm not like you. Just marmite." Then she studied me quizzically for a moment a (my face this morning is grey and looks like it has been rudely fashioned out of the inner tubes of ancient bicycle wheels, so I expected her to say something particularly insulting yet honest.) "Oh and I have white (blonde) hair, you have dark hair and I like salmon and you do not..." and so she went on. This was my three year old's response to my asking if she wanted butter on her toast with her marmite. She is so whimsical when it comes to food, that I need daily updates. She is neither big nor fat, except on the cheek front. She is slim. But boy is she sassy and confident and big on personality. The above statement was delivered to me with chin down and eyes raised, forefingers stabbing the air in front of her to emphasise her points. What I like about this child of mine is that she is so sure of herself and her own opinions whether they are nonsense or not. She has an opinion on everything and is not afraid to deliver them. I hope to help her to stay this way, minus the nonsense of course. As a kid, I had plenty of opinions, but I was afraid to deliver them, although I often did, but usually only in outbursts. Likely due to a fractured early childhood (I am not blaming here, just stating) I had a fractured sense of self. It was not until I went to university as a mature student that I began coming to a place of understanding and confidence, which led me to stop taking **** from men in particular in any way, shape or form and ultimately led to my becoming mentally robust enough to write my book "After the Rains."

For a number of years, I taught creative writing and art in a healing context, as well as straight courses in creative writing and art. I have also run workshops using the arts, meditation and scripture to help facilitate healing and bring about a move to a more spiritual, balanced state. I believe we are body, mind and spirit, but you can believe whatever you like, the 'spiritual' aspects of the workshops worked for the hard core atheists like most of my friends, as well as for the person trying to be a Jesus follower (or someone else's) in a stopy-starty and sometimes stroppy fashion like me: the 'god' part was what you made of it or experienced. The courses were helpful to many and I am still asked years later if I will start them again. I have had therapy myself and studied and took to the poetic language of psychotherapy very well at university. As such I wrote courses for the college I taught at for five years based on my understanding of therapy and the arts to bring freedom and release to the mind and heart. Along the way, I had a kind of spiritual awakening and realised that what works is Biblical too and has been there in the ancient texts all along. Why am I telling you this? I miss communicating what has worked for me and learning in return. The years I spent teaching women freedom through the therapeutic power of art were some of the most rewarding I have experienced. Not least because I learnt so much from them. Most of these women were in recovery from addiction, many had been through prison and some were coping with mental health issues. I had battled many of the issues that they had dealt with, so there was an innate sense of understanding with these women that helped to facilitate the work.

The point: As I cannot go out to work, joyfully and sometimes screamily surrounded as I am by little ones as well as a great, hulking GCSE tackling big one, I have decided to begin teaching women again via skype and e mail. I will be offering one to one coaching for women who would like to begin working towards a state of equilibrium - or work towards this ongoing mission in life - through writing. I do not want to make out that I am some kind of guru scribe, my family will attest to the fact that I am a 'work' in progress. But I am no longer the jerk in transgress that I once was. Pipe down peanut gallery in my head. For women who feel ready to begin writing their first longer piece of creative work, I will provide coaching and editing support for their projects. So if you have a book inside you and you would like that book to come out readable, or you want to laugh your way out of a hole, or reach a deeper place of understanding your own complicated internal universe, I would like to join you for the ride. Check out my website from next week. Things will be clearer there. There will be offers. There will be perks from a former jerk. http://www.emilybarroso.com/

PS I will try to go back to the 500 odd or the odd 500 next time. I need to do more writing...

Monday 13 August 2012

In theory

In theory, I am trying to pass my driving test at the grand old age of what I shall not reveal except there is a 4 in it. I have been practising the theory test multiple choice questions online. Which are hilarious. One such option: “You are angry before driving. Should you A. Have an alcoholic drink to calm down.” I imagine in the 1970's this was the done thing. Knock back a Babycham before slapping the man with the handlebar moustaches and setting off in your Hillman Minx to misjudge a roundabout. This one was a hoot too: “You are approaching a pelican crossing. The lights are green but some elderly people are still crossing. Do you A. Rev your engine to get them to move faster? B. Hoot at them and wave your hands?” Thereby causing them to not be able to move on. Ever. This one made me laugh like a loon: “You are driving in the countryside. A man herding sheep asks you to stop. Do you A. Drive on because he has no authority?” Honestly no one has any respect for shepherds these days. I know, it’s childish, but I don't get out much. And I don't sleep so my brain has shrunk. My teenage son is always leaning down from his eyerie to tell me how childish I am.

Then there is the hazard perception test. In theory everything is a hazard. All pedestrians are likely to walk out into the road even the ones who are chatting or jogging along a path. Peds are like the enemy. Their every move must be anticipated. You have to hit your mouse button every time you see a hazard developing. A ped is a hazard who may develop into part of the road. Period. Hit that mouse. My husband usually drives hard at them and they run away. Being a parent requires 24/7 hazard perception, so I should be well trained. Look out! There is a ball rolling across your path, you may roll with it. Look out! You have had no sleep and therefore you have no spatial awareness nor awareness of any kind. Lookit! The baby is trying to crawl under the safety gate, he may become enmeshed! And so on. But most of the time you don't notice these things because you, yourself are actually in the throes of being a hazard.

It remains to be seen as to whether I pass this theory test. In theory, I will pitch up there early in the morning with 2 nippers in a buggy and a nervy au pair who is afraid of the buggy and frankly a little afraid of the kids. Turning up at all under these circumstances will be a pass in my eyes or a pass out. Operating the mouse in the correct way, rather than in a nervy jumpy cancelled out for pressing it too much when it was just the lack of sleep how did I get here jitters will be my second personal pass. Lookout!

Tuesday 31 July 2012


Space. I grew up in Zimbabwe on two acres and spent my days riding my bike and swimming, with school taking place along the way. I was a daydreamer and I was free to roam in both senses. There was a war going on outside the city, (I was still too young to fully comprehend its ramifications) but I inhabited vast spaces of freedom (at a time when freedom was not freely enjoyed), both in my mind and also physically. I left Africa when I was seventeen and came to London. I remember sitting on the tube and then the bus when I first arrived and marvelling at how all the houses were joined together.

Soon I began living in smaller and smaller spaces, during one rough patch I lived in a hostel in Kentish Town. My baby son and I lived in one room for fourteen months, before we were given a two bedroomed space of our own. We are still here now, only now there are two more children and a husband here too. I do love this place, though we have become like trees whose roots are being forced out through the ceilings and floors. My son who reached my knee when we first came is almost a head taller than me now. I was always able to touch the ceiling on my tiptoes. When I first came I would lie awake imagining the sleeping people stacked above me. The rooms in this flat have been painted and rearranged many times and now most of them are multifunctional apart from son one's and the bathroom (apart from in the usual ways) but I still inhabit vast spaces in my mind and I am still a daydreamer.

"There is sunshine in the moon too," my small daughter said, as we travelled home to London from Wales on Sunday night and the moon began to shine in the darkening sky. Her comment made me think of the imagination and its projections which are no less 'real' though they are dislocated - dis-located. From my moonscape bedroom in my small central London flat, I managed to produce a novel that is African because I am. African because I was born there and my imagination was birthed and raised there - I may not be black, but I consider being told I am not African a type of racism. My novel was produced in a small room in a flat in central London, but it still took me roaming to the sunshine spaces of my youth.

I still dream of and often long for more space. Zimbabwe is with me all the time, sometimes just in snapshots: a green mamba whipping across the road, the sharp tang of granadilla fruit, the silken feel of silkworms in silkworm season, the taste of sun-warm over-ripe mulberries. There are other frightening, bloody memories too.

Would I be more creative, if I had more physical space (given I had time-space too!)? We are still working towards living in Wales, which to me, for now, is an alternative to Africa. The Welsh landscape is as spiritual to me as Zimbabwe. No wonder there have been so many spiritual revivals in that singing land.

Space to roam, space to dream, the sun and the moon, places been and become, and places yet to go.

Saturday 7 July 2012

Spiralling out of control in the lingerie department

How is it that when you are meant to save money you suddenly find you are forced to spend more? We are trying to save every spare penny to scrape together a deposit so we can relocate to Wales The Great. Things had been going quite well thanks to a good amount of freelance work, taking in a lodger and some diting work. I just typed 'diting' instead of 'editing' which sounds like a new verb for doing something that you should not be doing - like spending when you should not be. 'Yes, I admit I was diting at the taxpayers expense.' 'John was caught diting on the job.' 'Diting should be avoided when operating heavy machinery or doing 80 mph in a 60mph zone.' Perhaps I should not be editing. back to skiing on piste (spending and saving) as it were instead of appearing pissed - which I am not. Take cars and bras for instance. Our Ford has never broken down. The night before we were to view a potentially life changing property in Wales, Fordo the stallion popped his rubber clogs, leaving us stranded on a beach called Going Nowhere. That saga has ended with something we cannot afFord - the spare parts for starters - plus lots of zeroes followed by lots of **** and ****.

Now to bras. Following on from the birth of my ten month old, I haven't had any. Bras that is. Unless you coult, yes, I just typed 'coult' instead of count. Now that could be a verb for something like courting disaster. 'Her hair was coulted by the espresso machine, which made her previously permed hair appear straight by comparison.' 'Following her fifth divorce, Moira had to face facts. Coulting at rodeos would have to stop.' Back to bras. Unless you count the manky pregnancy bras, which would require another alphabet in sizing, I have been braless - not in the hippie sense but in the wearing of a bra that makes sense given my current physical state of being. Imagine my relief some months later - the other day in the lingerie department of a large department store - when I discovered that I had returned to a 36 D. I can handle my ABC and D. But those other letters on the feeding ones were confusing.

In store, I had to be taken into a small cubicle by a lady in a white coat (it was black really) brandishing a tape measure which terrified me. Then I was told to strip to the waist and the tape measure was wrapped around my upper regions. I felt like a tree in the grip of a surgeon. I was made to count the black numbers...veery, veery, I mean very slowly. And then she thrust a voucher into my hand and set me loose on the shop floor, with only a bit of plastic - our bankcard - for company. Before long I was spiralling out of control. I needed a strapless, a black one, a white one, a cotton lace one with no wire that looked like it should have been on the tennis girl in the Athena poster where she shows her bum, a blue one like Madge would have worn in her Erotica days and so on. I came home laden with bits of fabric and lighter in cash.

Which brings me to that bit of plastic who accompanied me on this mad spree. There is something nebulous about the spending that takes place when armed with plastic. Impressed by a veiled lady in the queue of the lingerie department who took out a wad of cash to pay for her heaps of neon-coloured scraps, this week I am drawing out hard cash to pay for stuff. Plastic money acts like it is drawn out of the ether. Which may be fitting for me in one respect, but not in another.

Hours of sleep last night: 2 and a half.
Time wasted diting today: 3 hours.
Coulting disaster due to lake of sleep, yes I typoed lake instead of lack, but I am leaving it. I am having a lake-sized lack of sleep.
Bra size: A comfortable (and intelligible) 36 D.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Laughing like a hyena at a stag do

I am nearing the end of the bend (having almost gone round it as usual) where I can say "My second book is finished," before laughing like a hyena at a stag do, whilst somehow remaining married to The Prince. As such, I am wondering whether to demurely try the traditional route to publication again or just make off in a VW convertible with cans trailing after it and get number two published myself again. The first time (with After the Rains) my agent valiantly tried to sell it to the big wigs (think Mozart in that frippery movie), who all refused it, though some did not appear to know why. Some had already bought what they termed 'a colonial' novel that year. There was not a rejecting note in any of the rejection letters. Most asked to see the next book and adjectives like 'wonderful', 'brilliant' and 'powerful' were bandied about like powder (wig powder). Gosh Roger, I don't think I put that full stop in the right place. If I go baldly for the DIY option will you monitor the commas for me? Dash it all, I still struggle with the squiggly bits.

You see self publishing is not the vanity it used to be, though having said that, it satisfied my vanity well enough that my publisher, Matador, 'select' their manuscripts and seem to have a pretty good reputation, though I would have selected it myself one way or another because I know I do not write in vain, not in both senses anyway, which is probably nonsense, but I am addled from my three year old's party today which saw me take part in some nonsensical antics, that were definitely not for the vain. In fact, we may be coming to a place where the vanity part of publishing becomes a thing of the past. What I mean is, I think we can now say, and not in vain (parp!) that many self published books are rather splendid (!) and are attracting readers all by themselves, that is, without a big marketing machine behind them. I have had to flog my book like a fisherwoman at a teeming sardine market on a hot day, with nothing but a plastic whistle fashioned to look like a trout, but I am now seeing it (the book) do reasonably well. It is also gratifying that one can finish a novel and get it published pronto rather than waiting a year for a big house to get it done, by which time you have forgotten what the book is about and gape like a guppy at interviewers because life has got squashed between the lines.

I also get to do what I want with my book. I give a quarter of my book sales from my online shop to Zimbabwean charities (hopehiv, http://www.hopehiv.org/,plug; SOAPhttp://www.hiz.org.uk/SOAP.html, plug) and I get to raise awareness (yes, right here! right now! - I do have my thinking cap on - for the charity and the book!) through it. Currently it is on sale at Nguni and Ngwenya https://www.facebook.com/NguniNgwenya in Harare, Zimbabwe, where proceeds after costs are going towards helping the Dorothy Duncan Centre's Rehabilitation Unit remain open. Most exciting of all for me personally, I have given Worldreader the right to use my book (e book format) as part of their mission to make digital books available to all in the developing world, enabling millions of people to improve their lives, http://www.worldreader.org/what-we-do/. Thus, my book 'speaks' in more than one way, becoming (I hope) a catalyst for change on more than one level.

Saturday 19 May 2012

Get into the Gove

I was very interested to hear Michael Gove's views (here) on the dominance of public schoolboys in "every prominent role in British society as being "morally indefensible". The lack of egalitarianism in education in this country bothers me very much. The road to power for public schoolboys starts when they are very young. My eldest went to a state primary school in a 'good' area. There was a boy in this class who is gifted. He is a talented musician who plays by ear, and who possesses an unusual musical memory; he is a brilliant visual artist, excellent actor and debater, a gifted poet and an outstanding writer. He is also academic with an objective and analytical mind, and is the possessor of a cutting wit. This young blade, whom we will call Tom, was also the child of a single mother who lived in social housing. It was a very competitive environment at the school. Some of the playground mums were murderous in their desire to see their kids come first. Black comedy sketches with lots of strangling and buckets of blood tossed around could easily have been written.

Up until year two, Tom easily outshone his peers. Around year two, many of the kids began to be tutored. They began to catch up, quickly. Over the years, Tom, began to get bored and stared out the window a lot. His mother took him abroad for a few months, which enlarged his understanding of the world, but caused him to fall behind in maths and lose confidence. By year 4/5, all of the children (though not the estate kids) were being groomed by their private tutors for the top London schools. This child was not tutored as his mother could not afford him to be. She applied to all the secondary schools in her borough apart from the failing one. It became clear however that the failing one was the only one that would be taking him because of where they lived, so his mother panicked and against her principles, and reasoning that given his high ability, he might crack it, she put him through the exams for two of the private schools.

Tom did not even finish the exam papers as he had not had the training, particularly in timing. He did not get into any of these public schools. A clutch of the tutored boys, none, apart from one (who went to Westminster) were a patch on Tom in terms of raw talent and original thinking. Tom is now in an academy in a borough he has to travel to, and where they are aware of his academic potential. His predicted grades are all A/A* and he is on track to getting them despite the fact that he is in a school where many of the kids are more into music about guns and violence and being cool or 'sick' or whatever the current adjective is, than learning. Were Tom amongst peers who applauded academic achievement he would be flying, his wings being sharpened by coming into contact with others unashamed to fly.

Tom is often bored by the lack of debate or in depth topical discussion at school, but he is often too scared of not appearing acceptable to his peers to spark up a debate. He depends on his photographic memory to get the grades and still fit in. He has already had two trips to Cambridge and his teachers have high hopes for him, despite his 'getting in with the wrong crowd' for a spell (a ghastly one for his mother) and a brief foray into drugs. Tom has been reasonably fortunate, thanks to the support of the school and his mother, and his achievements are all his own, but what of all the other 'Toms' from housing estates and lower income families around the country? What is the country missing out on as these kids lose confidence, pop out of their groove, or use their good brains in ways that may not benefit society? How to make the playing field more even? Comments s'il vous plait. 

Friday 11 May 2012

Honking like a duck in The British Library

In the British library, I am trying not to cough and thereby incite annoyance in the studious and further distraction the not so studious, who are whispering to each other and fidgeting with each other and on their phones. Yes, you over there. I have lost my voice, so I am in the right place. Everyone whispers here. Mostly when they shouldn't. My little daughter is intrigued by non-voice. Where has it gone? Will it return? I see her little mind ticking over. Has it gone shopping? What was its mode of transport? Did it fly to its goneness or take the imaginary pink car (a box) stuffed with Barbies, some headless, some limbless, some who have had their faces chewed by the baby, who are always going to the palace, often early in the morning before I have had my coffee (I am always invited) and frankly, given the state of the Barbies, I would probably fit in quite well because I don't mean to honk on (the only other mode my non-voice does is honk like a duck) but I am more dishevelled than usual, and if my face was chewed off I probably wouldn't notice. The baby regularly gnaws at my face and it is usually not until his new four teeth have touched bone that I cotton on, given that the appearance of those teeth caused a sleep deficit that took me beyond being in the red to total witlessness.

Cinderella has lost her head and doesn't even acknowledge that dishes are necessary at all, neither the ones in the dishwasher, nor the piled ones that are becoming interesting sculptures in the corner. Food can be prised from the fridge and emptied directly into ones face. Prince Charming has become Prince Alarming - he rises at dawn to the sound of an alarm, breakfasts with the nippers, giving me some time in me slippers (thank you my prince! I love you more than the prince I loved that was purple and made doves fly. Do-be-do-be-do! Much, much, more) before bursting out the door and turning into a pumpkin or something. Honestly what he does with those wires is a mystery to me. They do make vast pretty patterns on those boards though and apparently make television studios function. Hardworking Prince and I are not functioning so well, though we are laughing as much as ever, though I suspect our laughter is tinged with lunacy. He is working over time, under time and all around time, to raise a deposit for our house.

Chugging on A40 air at home, I fantasize about this new house and this new life and how we will have a whale of a time in peaceful, lilty, Wales. But am I addicted to The Vortex of Chaos in which I live? What will I do with Peace and Quiet? Who are those two? Will they be two monster fellows that bellow SILENCE! in my ears? Yesterday, the two littlies slept SIMULTANEOUSLY! I literally did not know what to do with myself. Obviously, I should have written more of this very serious, literary and life-changing work of art that I now no longer have before me because I am writing this. No. Overwhelmed by choice, I sat there for a good ten minutes staring into the middle distance before falling asleep on the sofa. And now I am in the British Library. A serious place. For serious stuff. Blogging. It is fast becoming my serious stuff. Oh stuff it. What can I do? It seems its all I can do.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Curious Cactus

My mum has come to look after the kids so that I can have some writing time, but oh how I have been blathering about. It took me about half an hour to leave the flat. I dither over coffee places. The ‘S’ place down the road is too noisy. The hotel (beds! sleep!) seems posh and intimidating, but I go for it. Then I flibber-flabber over the two coffee shops in the hotel. The first place is too vibey and the second place too dark. Like the sleep-seeking missile that I am, I go for dark.

Now I am sitting incognito at the local hotel in the piano bar that looks like a faux-velvet-swathed brothel. No one is playing the piano; rather, music of the Euro-pop variety is being played too loudly through the speakers. The lights are dim, which is helpful, because I am too, for all the usual reasons (mini-folk keeping me up all night with teething problems and requests for the loo mummy.) A waiter who resembles a Flamenco dancer has just served me an expensive espresso coffee. Having not been alone for so long, I hardly know myself and am concerned I may start jabbering in silly voices as I do with my usual small companions. On the way here, I was hooted at by a bloke in a car. His eyes swept over me several times like windscreen wipers, while I smiled dumbly at him, convinced I must know him or that I had done something unwittingly, before I realized that he was simply perving.

Sitting on this ornate chair, like a maiden aunt at a ball, I am observing the men and women coming in and meeting each other. Are they all having affairs? In the middle of the day? I can’t help catching snatches of the conversation instead of working. A man, presumably some kind of life coach, is saying this to a client on the other end of the phone: “Even though you are drier than a cactus, you have the ability to access your own wise self and find the water. The water that you saw in your dream is the life. There are many people inside of you who you are yet to meet.” (Crikey, how many people? And the person is paying for this?) "One you have not met is the one who sabotages your life. But don’t worry, you will meet him soon.” Deux actes de sabotage? And then there are two men across the way, whispering to each other. The one man is recording the conversation of the other on his phone. They are speaking pointedly and cryptically. “I will shackle Nick,” the one man is saying. “Well David will help as well,” the other responds helpfully. Are they plotting a murder? Gosh, I really must get out more, this is awfully exciting. Perhaps I’ll write a thriller instead of the deep and meaningful yarn I am supposed to be writing. Darn, time is up, I need to get back to the little folk.

Friday 16 March 2012

Folks as tired as me should be kept in sheds

Away again in Wales for a 'break,' though I come to this tireder than a sixteenth century inter-town cartless vegetable trader. My six month old has been playing wake up tag with his two year old sister since three am. The game went on until it was time to 'get up.' This trip, my mum is with us. I suggested she might like a break and now she may be going home today in a breakable state, though I am relying on her fortitude to carry her sanely back to Warwick. During the times when they have not been half mast, being in the same house as my mother for the first time in ages, has been an eye opener. I thought I was scatty and generally bonkers because of lack of sleep; but I fear it's genetic. Apart from our marbles, Mother and I lose the same things every day (brushes, coats, hats, children): we don't know if we have not made the tea or just drunk it (we are taking it intravenously). Mum put couscous on Grace's cereal, mistaking it for sugar. I dropped my smart phone in a deep hot bath. Happily the phone is so darn smart that it is still with me, though its red eye blinks manically and accusingly at me all night, probably like my own livid red eyes do when taken out in the world by my sleep-hollowed head or possibly all night long.

I was in the Welsh Boots, which is more lilting and friendly than the barky one back in London. This little seaside place is awash with friendly retired people. I have no idea how else to put that. 'Old folk' sounds patronising in a jolly way, or jolly patronising; senior citizens sounds 'trying too hard to be deferential.' I could go on but I daren't. Folks as tired as me should be kept in sheds. During my last visit I was having a scary allergic reaction to drugs - not those kind, penicillin, no not that kind, anyway, this visit I left my regular medication in London. All important things are 'left' when you are crazed with tiredness. I probably wouldn't be surprised to wake up, or not wake up, as the case may be, without my left arm or leg. Severe tiredness is a kind of leglessness, but armless it is not. In fact it can be down right dangerous. Many times I have had to pull myself back from stepping off the kerb into afters. On more than one occasion I have offered the baby my own food instead of his. Don't worry, I pull back at the last minute! I have told stories about other people that were about other people. Who knows what dreadful dramas I have begun? I don't. I don't remember.

Back to Boots. There, I've landed. As I queued, old ladies (old-er ladies?) took it in turns to pacify my yelling baby as I tried to make myself understood to the pharmacist without yelling above the noise. One lady performed the most animated peek-a-boo routine that I have ever seen. Me and the baby were both mesmerised. Afterwards, when she was paying for her prescription, the Boots lady asked her if she was 'alright for a bag.' She then launched into a further comic routine about being 'alright for a bag,' which involved her face and her tatty handbag. It was hilarious and not something that is likely in London. Ladies like this do not seem to occur in London at all. Where are they? There is a call for more entertainment in queues. In London people are generally swearing under their breath or stamping their feet in a huff. Situations like that are priceless. As priceless as sleep.

Friday 2 March 2012

Emily's Writing Life for World Book Day

Emily realized she could write until the cows were slaughtered and turned into biltong from an early age (goodbye vegetarian readers – no please don’t flee that was a joke on carnivorous Zimbabweans). There was no television to speak of in 70’s Zimbabwe, so she read all the Enid Blyton’s (well nothing was politically correct in Africa back then) and then gobbled through her parents bookshelves. She particularly enjoyed Wilbur Smith and Reader’s Digest compilations. At school she discovered that making up stories was impressive to teachers and she won some national poetry competitions. At secondary school she doctored essays for her friends and wrote scathing commentary on the government.

Then she left school and took a dark path punctuated here and there by bright flashes of writing. There followed angst ridden journal writing for a number of years, which, when found and read as they occasionally were, caused widespread chaos. There were songs written in the middle of the night aided and abetted by substances best left untampered with, given the writing that emerged, that was often as fuddled as the writer. Then Luca arrived and life had to become serious and so did the writing. One day, Emily realized that she needed to go to university, it was quite literally, life or death, but the less said about that the better. She rung up the faculty who refused to take her because her South African university entrance exams were not the same as ‘A’ levels. So, drawing on her long lost ability (she was now no spring chicken, but more jaded hen) to impress the teachers with lyrical waxing, she wrote a passionate essay on literature and writing and they accepted her on the BA (Hons) in Literature course.

Her creative writing tutor at the university advised her to do an MA in Creative Writing, and afterwards she was nominated the university’s writer of the future (picture her in a silver spacesuit riding on a giant rocket-pen) in order for her to be put up for the Jerwood/Arvon young writer’s apprenticeships, a national award, one of which she won. Following on from this she read from her work at a literary café attended by agents, several of which approached her offering to represent her. She went with the one who seemed most keen, and began the arduous task of writing After the Rains, which seemed to take until the cows were…

After the Rains is available for £5.00 until Sunday 4 March in honour of World Book Day. Emily realises WBD was 1 March. Please contact author@emilybarroso.com for details

Friday 24 February 2012

Winging it at Waterstone's

I had "An Evening with Emily Barroso," as Waterstone's Hampstead billed it, last night. I was so tired having been kept awake all night the night before by mini-sprog, that I might have been someone else. My new friend from over the road did my make-up, so I looked like someone else. I was forced through the Northern Line after many delays, and with so many people, that I felt like an inside member of a clogged artery and not myself at all. When I arrived, my out of body experience continued, I was ushered upstairs by a bookish fellow into a room, where I was seated and given a large glass of wine (good for de-clogging arteries) which I necked as I was feeling rather nervy at this point, as everything, apart from me, had come over all professional. I was briefed on what I needed to do: discuss 'After the Rains,' take questions from the audience and then answer them (presumably in a way that made sense). Had they mistaken me for someone else? I thought I was going to read from my book, have a few laughs at my own expense and then whizz off to the pub sharpish.

As I waited for the audience to be seated downstairs and the evening with myself to begin, I eyed the books on the bookshelf. 'Winging it,' and 'Disgrace,' were at the top of the pile. Soon, the booky Waterstone's man returned and I was taken downstairs clutching my glass of wine. I was warned the alarms might go off unless he went through the downstairs door first. I made a quip about Bob Mugabe and the Wailer's and then had to explain it. He made a joke about the Queen (clean) and didn't have to explain his. Before long I found myself seated in front of the audience and reading (in regional accents) from my book. Who was I kidding? Emily Barroso. I discussed the birth of the novel (painful) the labour (elephantine) and so on, I discussed Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and managed to plug the Zimbabwe projects of hope.hiv.org, the charity I support through my books, and generally made sense in a rambling rather than a sprint sort of a way, after which I signed books with my spider scrawl, and the kind folk who had bought them pretended to comprehend what I had written - just as well I used a word processor for the rest of the book. The evening with myself ended as it had begun, with a glass of red wine at the pub across the road, where I settled back into my body for a spell before squeezing myself back up the Northern Line to come home to my frazzled husband and three children all still awake. And it was only half past ten.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Indiscriminate mirrors

“You blinking thing Mummy!”
“Get me out of this flipping high-chair.” Don’t speak like that Darling. “OK, get me out of here, baa baa black sheep.”
“Yes, I know, Mummy, this is not a good idea.”
“Stop that nonsense, man, Mummy.”
“I’m freaking out alright? I’m freaking out now!”
You may be wondering why I have listed the above quotes. They have issued forth from the mouth of my daughter in the last ten days. It is astonishing, and in some cases, downright alarming, how one’s two year old can hold up a linguistic mirror to oneself and thereby reveal one’s state of mind. Children are indiscriminate as to when they hold up the mirror. My girl likes to hold mine up to me in shopping centres for the amusement of the general populace, or in church, or in the packed confines of a doctor’s surgery. I suppose I should be grateful that I no longer use the kind of language that would make an army sergeant blush. Having observed my daughter waving her arms around like a maniac while uttering the final quote above, I realised I have indeed been ‘freaking out’ due to a flat move (sort of) an extensive work load and the usual lack of sleep. Last Sunday, I decided that a week-long sabbatical to Wales was in order, from whence I write these words. Has it been a sabbatical so far? Put it this way, I almost revisited the expletives, but for fear of public humiliation. More to follow.

Friday 6 January 2012


It’s 2012! Marvellous. I’m staggered to be here. Not to be alive, I don’t take my living and breathingness lightly, but just staggeringly discombobulated to be in 2012 already. 2011 was pacy wasn’t it? Then I had a nice slow time from the eve of the 22nd until New Year’s Eve, a sedate affair in Wales apart from the whisky, and the moany teenager; and now it’s full-tilt again. It’s like the running game my two-year-old and I play in the park – run like the wind and then stop, run, stop and so on. The stop for me began on the eve of the 22nd, which was, as far as I was concerned, my official birthday. I downed my writing pen and prepared to down a glass or two with the lady from the flat upstairs. This merry making came to a stop when the lady from upstairs fell asleep after a few glasses. This was fine, as I was exhausted and during her wake times she was highly amusing, rather like my speedy two-year-old. On the 23rd, my actual birthday, my fifteen-year-old was dutiful and kind and not at all argumentative, he indulged me by looking at ‘dream homes’ with me on the internet and did not mock me once! We had quite a laugh. Later, some exhausted and even quite fraught friends came by for cocktails and canapés. I nearly burnt down the kitchen, setting fire to the popcorn and the show off cashews in turn. Everyone laughed. I wore a lurid pink Stetson given by my friend. My daughter laughed. Previously, my husband made me a splendid birthday dinner and was courtly and charming. On the 24th I drank too much champagne at my sister-in-laws and went to bed with a headache. My husband laughed – probably at my hypocrisy to do with his ‘office’ party. I forgave him instantly because he was very funny with it. On the 25th – as I was having it small (it was just us five), I made the dinner in my own sweet time – roast beef and fancy accompaniments made up as I went along – followed by meringues with cream and blackberries in rum (my mum gifted those a few days before and hey presto they became the dessert!) I did chocolate mousse for the kids, made with the cooking chocolate I found in the back of the fridge and the egg yolks left over from the meringues plus more egg whites; and I didn’t get in a fluff once. In fact I laughed at my own culinary show-offiness. I then tortured my husband by listening to Neil Diamond (husband said he should be entertaining the elderly in Blackpool or ruder words to that effect) and others sing Christmas carols via You Tube. Johnny Cash singing ‘The Little Drummer Boy,’ was sublime. Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum.