Thursday 4 December 2014

Home hairdressing is like novel writing (probably) best left to the professionals...

This is a post about DIY hair hacking from a few years ago. I re-read it as a warning to myself as I contemplate shelling out for a pro hairdresser...

Me about ten years ago - when did you wed Robbie? At my brother's wedding. The last time I had long, natural, rather than luridly coloured hair.

I have been wearing my hair scrunched into something resembling a knot (a not?) for some time now. Mostly because with the terrific-ten-week-old, the tremendous-two-year-old and the teenage-cash-demander-stand-up comedian there is not much me time, never mind ‘hair-time,’ left. I exist in a vortex of activity in which ‘me’ doesn’t often come out - except via the occasional shout. Today I decided that I needed a sea-change and it was my hair that was going to make waves. 

Brandishing my bluntish hairdressing scissors; the ones that have attacked the locks of my fifteen-year-old for years, and latterly my trusting husband and a few brave (drunk?) friends, I set to. The only thing sharp about my scissors have been my words to my son hovering above them like blades Just lift your chin off your chest before I cut off your ear. Yes, I transform into a Van Goughian madwoman when the subject is my son and my canvas is his hair. Anyway, I stood in front of my bathroom mirror in the gloom (the light obscured by the hanging – yes it looked dead – washing that dried three days ago). First of all I layered the sides. I could still see at this stage. Then the thought occurred to me that I might try layering the back. It was like playing blind-man’s-bluff with my hair as the opponent, as I groped around the back of my head, pulling up layers and hacking away. Before long (there was short) I was in the bluff. Scissor-happy, I liked what I saw – at this stage my hair had gone from long and lank to mid-length and nicely layered. 

My two-year-old, who was taking full advantage of my distraction by emptying ‘things’ into the bathtub and over the floor, said that I looked ‘gorgeous’ and that she ‘liked it,’ I think she may have been ‘liking’ my ignoring her activities with the perfume bottle, canny kid that she is. This tick should have been my cue that the session was over, but the scissors were hot in my hands and I thought I could ‘style’ it some more. Pause for a moment (as I should have) and imagine a sped up film of a person cutting their own hair. This was to become my mode in the minutes that followed as I lost all sense of time and proportion. Soon I had cut a wedge from the right-hand side that had to be paid for by the left and so it went on for some time like a bizarre hair politics show, until eventually my daughter who prefers to play than eat demanded lunch. My hair, like a novel, or rather now, a short story, was forced into conclusion by events outside my control, which was just as well, otherwise I may have continued cutting, cutting, cutting, shaping, shaping, shaping until someone said stop.

*Happily that novel has now shifted over two thousand copies - all word of mouth too, apart from some good reviews/press early on - yes, I know I am mouthy and a bit trumpet-blowy. But not bad for a girl who ditched (nicely, she was lovely) her agent and the publishing industry (when they asked her to change the ending) to go it alone...I have to remind myself about previous successes when I feel a bit down that the current one is not finished yet...

Monday 1 December 2014

Jingle Bells, Christmas Smells...

Just back from London where Christmas is already in overdrive with the major stores on Flashy Street falling over themselves to seduce customers with their fabulous window displays and in store tricks, I mean, treats. The shopping vibes are not especially nice. Last Friday, Black Friday, appropriately named, the scenes were Halloween scary. In Asda, people literally fell over themselves, and each other, as they fought over cut-price tellys and more. At Tesco, in Greater Manchester, three men were arrested and a woman was hit by a falling television. Had she died, the death jokes would have followed her through the annals or should I say, anals of history. The telly was on her. And then she was on it. Oh dear. 

In the US, it's even worse. There is a Black Friday death count website. Oh yes, here it is: 

I cannot verify the veracity of the deaths but it says something about US society and ours. Speaking of US society, why are we buying into this black Friday guff? Can't the British maintain some semblance of dignity? 

At the other end of the spectrum, socially, but not politely speaking, things are not pretty in a different way. I usually frequent supermarkets that begin with 'A' and 'L' but I do like the occasional 'W' and not just for their free coffees. Their stuff and their staff are great, but their clientele are from hell. Okay obvs not all of them, I go there sometimes and so does John Snow, apparently. On occasion, I frequent a certain ‘W’ shop in London (thanks for the free coffees!) and marvel at the rudeness and arrogance of the customers and their general sense of entitlement. Nobody smiles, if you have to say 'excuse me' expect a glare. Looking down ones nose is a pose that grows, like the queue - no one, apart from me, uses the new, DIY tills. And don't take a buggy with a chirruping child. Children should be left with the help or at least steered around, petrified in one of those buggies that looks like a slingshot with privileged offspring as missile about to be launched in your startled face. The kid is so high up and ‘out there,’ that the word 'status' and 'symbol' vanish into thrusting orbit. The staff at ‘W’ however, are the antithesis of their customers, they know how to Wait and they know how to waft: Odeur De Rose. Hats off to Mr J.L. They really do know how to treat a punter. As for the shoppers though, they're punts.

My grandparents would never have bought anything they could not afford. And they would have stood in line, and had a chat to get it. As a society, how did we become so uncaring and generally gobbly and greedy, at the expense of others? I think it's a cultural malaise. Enough, never seems to be enough. At the upper end of the scale, there is entitlement in that there is an attitude of ‘we are better than everyone else and we expect servitude from those around us.’ At the other end of the scale there is this rapacious need to have everything that is advertised (in, on and off the telly) despite the consequences: debt, death even. Of course I am generalising, and I know that Britain has a wonderful record (no, not that one) on charity giving, but on the streets of London, shopping is a menace and it points to a deeper lack, and I would say that lack is an emotional and a spiritual one. 

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Something has to give, apart from my waistline

Something has to give, apart from my waistline. I have got into the habit of surviving on caffeine and feral snatches of sugary things and bread dipped into whatever's nearest - no, not that. Square meals do not seem to appeal, spiky unmeals have become the thing. I know I must not do this, but like a Smartie-fueled kid on a trampoline, I just can't seem to get off (on anything healthy). To this end, like a pendulum at full swing or a see-saw at full tilt, I have bought a juicer. Husband and I have stripped the apple and pear trees bare, and now I can drink coffee and be virtuous at the same time! I do know that it has to give, and like a bad friend, it does. The jitters for instance - it's not instant. Husband has suggested I give up coffee for next year, given I gave up alcohol for this year. What does he think this is? Grade one, grade two, grade three? What will I have left in my crutch bag? Yes, he is still alive.

I still feel out of whack (and whacked out from lack of sleep - why do my 1 and 3 year olds still play the wakey-wakey game like jack-in the boxes at all times during the night?) with the seasons given the transitions we as a family have been making, and unable to catch up with the fact that it is no longer summer, though, in an autumnal fumble I did put tights on for church last Sunday, my body going through the motions while my head cried that it was still beach weather, whilst eyeing my daughter's pink sandalled feet as evidence - she refused to acknowledge that it wasn't summer anymore either, but in quite a different, and more vocal, way.

The house is emerging from the stuff we dumped on it when we partly moved in a month or so ago. Previously we could not tell that it was remotely house-shaped, though we perceived that there was a garden into whence we could tip the children while we tried to make their interior habitat less dangerous. I still avoid ladies with organised houses. I can't take the shame. I don't let them in anymore.

Another fact that I can't get my head around is that my eldest is eighteen on Sunday. He is now older than I was when I left home (17), but I will be holding onto his ankles for as long as I can, and believe me I am Elastagirl.

So this is how I am rolling at the moment: slow mo in some areas and way too speedy in others. Let's hope I all catch up. Was that ketchup I just dipped into?

Tuesday 30 September 2014

As September Slip Slides Away

Slipping in a little post before September slides away. Much has been happening. Spending more time in Wales, though necessarily in London too as big son completes A Levels. We have had some lovely sunny late September days with visits to the beach where we have marvelled at wobbly jellyfish and the knee (and hip) highs have grown braver at sparring with the waves. Having a garden - and more space generally, has been sublime, the kids are wellied up and turfed out to play before school each day. That majestic beauty, Regents Park, in London, is still a corner to go around, but to have ground outside the door is a joy over the threshold. Watching my husband chop down a tree with the kids (armed with plastic golf 'axes') was one of the more amusing sights of my day today.

I am now in the ninth month of my year of teetotalism and have given birth to new things...

I am studying the Bible through 'Unlocking the Bible' with David Pawson, a new and fascinating journey.

A children's story and poem competition was 'judged' by me today. What a joy it was. How wonderfully exuberant and creative kids are. Us writers should read more kids work to keep the spark alive.

Writing Workshops begin in London and Wales next month: a new Hillman Publishing venture that I am excited to teach. We will look at aspects of story telling and craft. Can't wait!

Home schooling has begun and I am really enjoying teaching my son and daughter. People react in their various ways and ask me why I have chosen to home school.

Here are some reasons:

I get to spend most of the day throughout the year with the ones I love.

It's a privilege and a joy to teach them.

The teaching is academic, but there is an emphasis on creativity and spirituality too.

The teaching is tailor-made to suit them.

It does not take as long as usual, so there is much time to explore and learn: on the beach, in the woods, in museums and more.

It is a gift that I can give and to watch them learn and respond is a gift to me.

There are many more reasons and many more days. I am enjoying the journey thus far.

Friday 1 August 2014

On Gaza: Show. Don’t tell.

Those of us of a literary bent know that in our work we must show, and not tell. I can still hear my MA Creative Writing tutor – an elegant English writer – reiterating this to us all time and again as students during our course. Amongst other points pertaining to literary discourse, to show and not tell is to demonstrate through the work: don’t spell it out, repeat or over describe. And for goodness sake, don’t lecture your reader.

With all the feeling that is being poured out left and right (pun intended) on Facebook and other sites regarding the current Israeli/Gaza conflict, and as a basic principle, this course of action may well be heeded. We are all entitled to our opinions, though I think we all need to try and do our research as much as possible, myself included. An emotive response of moral outrage before gathering all the information available to us – though we are all at the mercy of journalists to some capacity and their inevitable biases, to some extent – should be the normative course of action.

We need to apologise when we get things wrong and move on, though I have no desire to be ironic and sound ‘lectury’ myself, or sound ‘holier than thou,’ I often get things wrong and am as passionate about my beliefs as the next person, but perhaps a deep breath, and a count to three before taking the plunge might help – I am learning to take this advice myself - happily I have someone in my life who dispenses wisdom in this area, without being patronising – a skill in itself!

When engaging in debate, I suggest we show – by demonstrating with facts, (alongside our well thought out argument - not fighting!) why we support as we do. Attacking, demeaning and, the most silly of all – ‘de-friending’ on Facebook, does not help support one’s argument and does not encourage serious debate  it may even make you look like a silly banana with a wonky cap on with scribbles for features. Inevitably, mistakes will be made – what with all the inaccurate statistics and photos from other wars and so on being circulated willy-nilly in the press and online.

This is not a war between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys,’ there are good people being caught up in the conflict and paying a price too high, through no fault of their own as with the recent Malaysian Airlines MH17 tragedy, and the plight of the Christians (and others) in Iraq; and there are ‘bad guys’ and ‘good guys’ involved on both sides. There are as ever, very many grey areas. I am firmly ‘on side’ with my beliefs, though I try to be clear-eyed when ‘my side’ acts disproportionately or unfairly - in my view, -which I have to admit, is limited as I am not on the ground, as it were. And though your view may be different to mine, I respect your right to air it, however cloudy I might suspect it; I respect freedom of speech and I respect democracy. I do not want to live in a dictatorship where I am told ‘believe as I do’ or you are 'a dimwit, a moron, or even dead,' if some folks get their way.

Having said that, I am all for good-natured satire, but there is no need for further hostilities. There is enough of that already.

Monday 16 June 2014

Cleaning out my cupboards

Hello blogster pals! Thought I'd let you know what I've been up to since last month. We have been back in London, painting and decorating our flat and making sure the existentialist (What's the point of exams? Where will they lead - to debt? I don't believe in the system, I am leaving school to become a tattoo artist...) seventeen year old stays at school to complete his exams - it has been a twisty-turny time - but exams have been written and porfolio submitten (I know that's not a word, but it works) although at one point, reinforcements in the shape of his inimitable English teacher with back up from the French (teacher) had to be brought in on horseback (not really) to expel his doubts - Eng. teacher is more doughty than Mrs Doubtfire - every school should have one. All is quiet on the work and home front now: not even a rumble. Until next year. But for now, the 'future' is a foreign country and 'things will be done differently then' (apologies for messing with L.P Hartley's quote).

We are preparing for Wales and much re-evaluating has been going on given the change of lifestyle we are gearing up to, which will include homeschooling and various mountains to climb - literally (Snowdonia) and figuratively: new home businesses and so on. Eminem wrote a song called 'Cleaning out my Closet' and this is what has been taking place in my life at this juncture - a clean up of heart and mind, past and present; mentally, physically and heartily (as in vigour but also as in the attitudes of the heart in the Christian sense). If you feel to look up that Eminem ditty on YouTube, please note that there is a really rude compound word to be discovered therein, MF is the clue, so don't look it up if you don't want to hear it - or the F word for that matter. Eminem is something of a modern bard so I excuse him the occasional ear-blistering word. Questions have been asked, in our flat: How do we want to live our lives? How should we be spending (as in value) our time? Is this friendship mutual and healthy? How can this body/family be healthier? Do I really need all these magazines/books/clothes/things and so on. Do I even want to 'be' a writer any more (how the Dickens can one be a writer in this day and age anyway, everyone's a writer now, it's passe - that's pass ay as in the French, I don't have a doofy dab French apostrophe thingy on my incompetent comp), or do I want to move on to other things? Making amends and tying up loose ends. Taking stock, examining the functional and removing clutter; looking at the route on the life map and making sure we are moving in the 'right' direction and throwing off all that hinders.

It has been six months now since I gave up drinking alcohol, and apart from the occasional 'Crumbs a beer would be nice with this Thai,' (curry, not bloke) or, 'A nice glass of Shiraz would spice up this casserole quite smartly (and quite possibly, my life, at this moment),' when in a restaurant with friends, I have not missed it at all. I have given up soya milk too - I gave up milk a while ago - and find I drink less caffeine as a result (it's not as nice) and possibly behave less like someone who appears to be semi electrocuted and more like a normal person whose jaw does not chatter when she is silent.

Bring on the future! My face is set like flint as Isaiah (the OT, no not over the top, OT as in Old Testament) the prophet has said.

Friday 2 May 2014

An unedited life: More musings on Truth.

My husband has just read excerpts from my last blog out to me in the kitchen whilst various small children swarmed about amidst the toast missiles. "What did you mean by this?" he said, quoting a phrase I had initially written in French, most likely phonetically (I'm too embarrassed to check - that adjective has half my forename and most of my writing surname in it!) and hadn't bothered to check because I deleted it on the read through before I published it as I decided it was pretentious given I do not even speak French remotely properly and nobody but me would be able to see the recalled face of my my garrulous Gallic friend uttering it in my head. And the previous post was about high truth! Jesus truth! I snatched his smartphone and upon seeing the uncorrected grammar rushed to correct it - which I have - I haven't the gall (or the Gaul, as my bad French emphasised, and as in Asterix, I must punctuate correctly!-  and pun muddle as I go along) to post something that just isn't right. Now I'm concerned I am being politically incorrect to the French - forgive me French friends and folk generally.

Which gets me thinking about how we present ourselves to the world. We all have to present some kind of edited version to society or barbarism - or at the least more 'bloody noses' would result. And we don't want to hurt people's feelings, but I really think the world would be a better place if more people 'told the truth in love' as the Bible puts it (Ephesians 4:15) I just checked. I for one would be less confused. And we would all save so much time! Particularly women who seem to agonise more over 'having said/done/written the wrong thing' than men. Apologies if I appear sexist, sisters. I speak/write from experience. I posit there would be less confusion and more intimate, real, and truthful communication.

Such as this:

"Does my bum look big in this?"
"Yes, Darling, but I love big bums."
"I don't believe you..."

Okay that did not work - but I had to tell the truth as it popped into my head.

How about this.

"What did you think of my last blog post?"
"I preferred the unedited version."
"Oh okay, thanks."


Or (an alternative convo between me and Peter Tatchell)

"Can you help me understand how you feel? What has your personal experience of church been?"


"They said that to you! How awful! Us Christians really do need to watch our language. I'm sorry you were made to feel like that..."

And now me and Pete are friends and he is reading my latest book about revival, and we are dialoguing about it and he is even thinking of coming to our revival conference in the summer! (Not really, but you never know). Anything is possible when you tell the truth in love, and at least we would all know where we stood, however shaky that ground.

Thursday 1 May 2014

Jesus has always wound people up Mr Cameron

There has been a lot in the press lately about David Cameron's extolling of his Christian faith. Some eminent humanists have accused him of being alienating and divisive for suggesting that Britain is a Christian country, though none of these clever people have grasped the irony of their own divisive letter writing. Why is the word 'Christian' so offensive? A Christian is simply a follower of Christ and therein lies the problem. Christ wound up the religious and legalistic folk in his day, just as his followers wind up (to the letter) the religious and legalistic folk in the present, for following (admittedly often lamely and sometimes admirably) that teller of the truth, Jesus Christ. There is no religious zeal more potent than that I have seen in atheists such as Richard Dawkins or Peter Tatchell, whom I once went to talk to as he demonstrated outside All Soul's Langham Place. He insisted to me that "You Christians hate homosexuals." I assured him that 'we' or at least I and the 'we' I knew, did not. "Well your leaders do then," he said. I assured them, that 'my leaders,' who are not Anglican (so perhaps not recognised?) did not hate homosexuals. 

There is a lot of confusion in the public arena about what Christians actually are - and some confusion in actual Christians too, but we are all evolving Mr Dawkins! - science not being incompatible with religion (another confusion!) by God's grace (and the indwelling power of The Holy Spirit, but let's keep things simple). As far as I could tell at the demonstration mentioned above, the hatred was not coming from the Christians, and so it has been, down the ages. I spoke to Peter in a loving and peaceful (I hope), though frank way, I felt genuinely sad, apologetic and somewhat puzzled (though I am not ignorant of the debate) that he felt like this. After this brief exchange he complained that I was in the way of the cameras. I invited some of the placard carriers to church - they haven't been yet. Perhaps if we sat down together more often and got to know each other better that might be a start. One of my dear friends who is in a lesbian relationship told me that she was abandoned by her church after she met her girlfriend. This is very sad. There has to be a way forward for all of us who seek to follow Jesus – He is The Way forward.

Back to Christians winding people up. Why do people get so hot under the collar about Christians? Is it because Jesus made it clear that He was God and then set about proving it - fancy! Instead of giving a plethora of 'God' options - why would He? I suggest that Christians are often roundly hated because they tell the truth of and about Jesus Christ and refuse to entertain other options - why would you if you felt you had discovered the truth? Christians believe Jesus is The Truth, so why bother with 'untruth' offensive as that may sound to followers of not The Way, though they are entitled to their choice and not vilified for taking it - given, in the main, that they are reasonably peaceable (though hypocrites and bigots are to often to be found in their ranks and all sorts of sinners too), but then Jesus came to save sinners so they are welcome, besides Jesus did provide a way out of sin. Did you breathe while you read that gasp of a sentence? Christians are often a 'soft target.' Given they believe God is all powerful they do not feel they have to defend Him (or indeed themselves) - as say, the Muslims do. How annoying that they will not fight back! An extra bloody nose for that too.

Back to the whole human family. Deep down we are surely all looking for truth as long as we are reasonably sentient. It is what we look for in love, in justice, in peace. It is what we seek in all high art. It is the noblest quest, the deepest depth we are likely to ever dive to, though many run from it - because, the truth can sometimes be uncomfortable. Often a lie, a 'let's kid ourselves a bit longer,' is more palatable and less confrontational than: The Truth. The truth is often baldly offensive, it, like Jesus, offers up no other option, and as such the truth can strip one naked in its glaring light that shows up ‘the flawed’ - as of course we all are. Let us stop being arrogant and religious and let us believe the truth as we see it without condemning one another. For those of us who are followers of Jesus, our fulcrum of understanding is Jesus and his death on the cross for our sakes. Let Him be the one who shines the light on our hearts in order to gently expose, correct and heal. Let us encourage one another in the process, as we are all flawed yet uniquely made with inimitable potential for understanding and progress.