A Tale of Two Blog Posts

Banished_cookie_Liz_de_jager_booklaunchOr, It’s a Day of Two Halves

Diamond Geezer is one of my favourite bloggers. He’s funny, perceptive and informative.  I’m particularly enjoying an annual favourite at the moment – The Count – where he enumerates pretty much everything In his life. I’ve learned loads about London (and its transport) from his blog and he never seems at a loss for a daily subject.

I, on the other hand, seem to struggle for something to write about. I end up in spirals of indecision and concern that this simply doesn’t merit and am far happier when the Weekly Blog Club has a theme. As soon as an idea comes into my head, I knock it into retreat by thinking of everything that it excludes. Being balanced and comprehensive is important but it’s daft when that gets to the point of being counter-productive.

One of Diamond Geezer’s occasional formats is to write a for and against post. He’ll pick a big subject of the day – I’m sure I remember at least one about the Olympics – and enthuse why it is a Good Thing and then criticise the same points. I thought I would do something sort of similar in writing about my day yesterday: very much a day of two halves, Brian. If I’d picked either to write solely about, it would present a very different picture to the whole: morning misery and pm privilege.

Thursday 27 February 2014 Part I

My husband woke me around five am when he got up for work; I didn’t have to be up for hours but couldn’t get back to sleep. Daughter, on the other hand, stayed unconscious hours later despite yelling, threats and my full array of passive-aggressive techniques for coercing her out of bed.

A cat or two had broken into the fridge and swiped most of the ham for her lunch. The lentil soup I’d made days before was starting to mutate on the cooker because no one had washed up.

Despite the early start, I still had to run to get to a hospital appointment on time where – of course – the consultant was running well over an hour late. He was pretty dismissive in telling me that my knees are knackered and my tendons trashed. Two medical students poked and prodded my lower legs and I was sent off with a fistful of MRI, blood test and weird injection forms.

After coming to running late, doing a handful of 10Ks and loving it more than almost anything ever, I won’t run again.  There goes the triathlon ambition. Much sobbing.

Thursday 27 February 2014 Part II

I finished an amazing book (The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson) on the Kindle I’m lucky enough to own, before meeting  an author at lunchtime. I knew Louie Stowell through Twitter and she’s been amazingly generous in her support for my writing. We talked about literary festivals and she kindly invited me to go along with her to a book launch in the evening.

My husband pointed out there was no need to go home first:  he’d cook dinner for the teen and come to meet me later from the Underground station. So I went for a haircut (with bonus surprise massaging chair) in Chinatown, sat in cafes and browsed bookshelves.

The launch was for Banished, by Liz de Jager, at Foyles. It was so inspiring to see a debut author, meet awesome women novelists Robin Stevens, author of Murder Most Unladylike and Non Pratt, who wrote Trouble, and talk about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in the signing line. There was wine and popcorn and those rather wonderful customised cookies pictured.

My husband met me from the train, the washing up was done and the teen was in a lovely mood, full of jokes and hugs. Much smiling.




From kareatstybbanhythe. The beautiful church at the end of the road.

The Lost City of London - Before the Great Fire of 1666

Saxon rood (cross) Saxon rood (cross)

Stepney was first recorded in around 1000, as Stybbanhythe. It takes its name either from the Old English personal name “Stybba”, or the word “stybba”, meaning a wooden pile; and “hyth”, meaning landing place.  It became  built up, around the Saxon to Medieval church of St Dunstan and All Saints (otherwise known as both “The Mother Church of the East End” and “The Church of the High Seas”), in the post-Medieval period.  There were 6583 plague deaths in the parish, more than in any other in London,  in 1665.

Essentially Medieval exterior of church of St Dunstan and All Saints, with Red Ensign flying from tower
Essentially Medieval exterior of church of St Dunstan and All Saints, with Red Ensign flying from tower

Interior of church Interior of church

Memorial to Abraham Mallings, Mariner (d. 1644) Memorial to Abraham Mallings, Mariner (d. 1644)

Memorial to Admiral Sir John Berry (d. 1689) Memorial to Admiral Sir John Berry (d. 1689)

Memorial to Honist Abraham Zouch of Wappin[g], Ropemaker (d. 1648) Memorial to Honist Abraham Zouch of Wappin[g], Ropemaker (d. 1648)

Modern stained glass window and Saxon rood (cross) Modern stained glass window and Saxon rood (cross)

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Alex_Sophia_Amelia_Capel_Manor__2013My daughter Amelia is 17 tomorrow. This time last year, I posted 16 photos of her. She wasn’t happy. I thought I’d do something different, so I’m trying to get a snapshot of what she’s like, by looking at what she likes, aiming to shoehorn seventeen in awkwardly.

The photo of the girls, pinched from her Facebook page, was taken at the Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens annual harvest show. She’s been for the past few years with other young Stepney City Farm volunteers, The link shows a video made about the great work of the FCC&CG , featuring her being overly competitive with pride about an award-winning chicken. Show, Farm, chickens: three.

She’s just told Mum she’d like a duckling for her birthday. Same as she told me. Of course: what else for a fourth floor London flat with no outside space? And two cats. Ducklings make four.

Amelia’s on the right, with two of her four friends who’ll staying here tomorrow: wired on industrial amounts of sugar (I shall count ‘friends’ as making five in total, unless my deadline slips and I cheat to count them singly.)

She has several Pinterest boards. There’s ‘My cats :)’ featuring the love of her life: Loki.Loki_cat_newspaper I rather like her caption to this: ‘Loki is perfectly normal.’ I’m counting both cats together to make six. And ‘South Park!!!!!‘ I shall say, with no further comment, that her favourite character is Cartman: seven.

‘Inspirations (well, a mix of my role models and favourite actresses/actors ect’ (proofing isn’t up there, sadly) can help get the numbers up: there’s a couple of photos from Buffy the Vampire Slayer alongside Withnail and Marwood from Withnail & I (Hurrah. Top parenting marks to me and nine.) And, oh dear, Dakota Fanning, for ten.

Game of Thrones’ mainly features Daenerys but has this (eleven):

George_RR_Martin_Game_of-Thrones‘Penguins’ is self-explanatory (twelve.) As is ‘Merlin :D’, if you think TV pretty boy rather than Malory’s Morte D’Arthur. I don’t think a week goes by without her lamenting its absence (thirteen.)

There’s ‘No Category in Particular’, with pics from Harry Potter, Dr Who and The Big Bang Theory (sixteen.) ‘Quirky Nails!’ makes seventeen and she can barely shut her bedroom door for nail varnish.

I’m going to cheat and sneak in an eighteen, as it will be her 18th year. Here is my opportunity to ruin all her future employment chances by displaying the four-letter word cover picture on her wonderfully-named ‘Muhahahahaha! (board of truth?)’ I think it sums up her sweet, quirky nature. Yes, I’m proud of her. Happy Birthday x Alice_Dorothy_crossover




Digital on, real life off


Floral_door_St_Bartholomew_the_Great_KarenJKHartCafe_window_St_Bartholomew_the_Great_London_KarenJKHartSt Bartholomew the Great is a picture perfect church in the City of London. You’ve probably seen it, even though you may not realise: it featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love, The Other Boleyn Girl and more …

I first went to the church years ago, when I lived nearby in the Barbican. The Cloister Café is gorgeous: I had tea there a while back with esteemed artist and illustrator Gareth Hopkins.  Then, not long before Christmas, after a Bart’s hospital trip (for a first mammogram – ouch – but just do it, if you haven’t and should. Saves lives and all that), I went for a restorative mince pie with my husband.

The prompt for this post was a Twitter chat with the Queen of Storify, Kirsty Marrins. She’d noted a comment that someone hadn’t thought the Shard worth a visit as there was no wi fi. Kirsty, I think rightly, wondered if this was because he or she (or an organisation, I don’t know) couldn’t immediately share their experience with Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

I’ve already posted about leaving Facebook. Lack of a smartphone means I tend not to post many real time photos on Twitter as using the front-facing camera on my Kindle (non-3G) tends to bring on nervous collapse and whatever I wanted to snap has long gone by the time it’s sorted. On the positive side, I have never had so many photos of my hair.

I try to be in the moment and enjoy what I’m doing, or at least experience it. I posted about my Dad’s funeral last month; although I can’t say I actually enjoyed it, there was a freedom from trying to record what was going on that felt liberating.

I mentioned to Kirsty about a cliché that I’ve seen for myself: tourists who only see the Mona Lisa through camera lenses while they stand in front of it in the Louvre. I’m so advanced in years that at university, camera films had to be sent off in envelopes to be developed.

I have albums full of early photos of my daughter and comparatively few of her since I started taking digital pictures. All those processed, over the counter pics somehow mean more than the gazillions of digital shots that I’ve barely ever looked: such as those above. I didn’t take them for instant posting but I hadn’t got around to looking at them until I just scanned my Kindle to see what was there.

According to 2011 stats from the Digital Photography School, of the 50,000 of the people they surveyed, nearly half took between 20 and 250 photos a week. I bet that’s gone up since.

We had a lovely time at the café, by the way, with tea and coffee and reading the papers, buying charity Christmas cards and having a chat with the woman on the door about types of incense and wedding flowers. I somehow don’t think that would have been the case if I’d been busy telling everyone ‘ZOMG Hugh Grant was here.’


Jeri Johnson and the Tutorial of Death

What a terrific post: thanks, Louie. Wonderful illustrations. Gifted and talented you.

Stowell's Cosmology

I should begin by saying that I am not a Harry Potter fan – not a proper one. I’ve never bought a replica wand, or queued for the latest volume of the book. I read it first as an undergrad, so – at 19 or so – I was *far* too old and cynical to fall in love with it properly. But, at 35 I’m far less cynical, and much more in awe of JK Rowling as a writer. So when I found out she was going to be appearing as part of Exeter College’s 700th anniversary celebrations – my old college – I was pretty excited. By the time my wife (a genuine Potter fan) and I were in Oxford, queuing up outside the Sheldonian, it felt like a rock concert for nerds. We even got hand stamps.

Exeter College's crest. I am now trying to decide what Hogwarts house Exeter would be. Possibly Hufflepuff. Exeter College’s crest. I am now trying to decide what Hogwarts…

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Russell Hoban: with love and thanks

Ben_Osborn_Russell_Hoban_Feb_4_2014Russell Hoban  – it amazes me how some people still say ‘Who?’ Where to start with him?  I was lucky. When I was 18, my English teacher literally threw her copy of The Mouse and His Child at me as I was leaving for university and told me I must, had toNEEDED TO read it.

The RSC put on a new adaption of The Mouse and His Child in 2012, described in the Independent as ‘a thought-provoking delight.’ The Guardian called the book ‘both comforting and devastating’. I think all of those words can be applied to much of Russ’s work and perhaps to the man himself: the impact he seems to have on reading him and those, including me, who had the unforgettable privilege of meeting him.

The same year I started university, my best friend would not shut up about a new book she had read. She raved about its genius and made it sound awful. It was set in and around our home town of Folkestone, Kent, in a post-apocalyptic world and was narrated by a 12-year-old boy writing in a made-up language that was hard to get used to but ok if you read it aloud for a bit. Yeah, right.

The early 80s weren’t the right time for me to find this appealing. A nuclear meltdown seemed a real possibility then and was referenced all around, from Raymond Briggs’s heart-breaking graphic novel When the Wind Blows to the ITV bombshell (sorry) of Threads.

After university at Canterbury, I worked on the Folkestone Herald as a reporter. With Dungeness Nuclear Power  Station at hand, it wasn’t hugely reassuring to watch  local fire fighters rehearse their unstoppable defence of our safety by putting a rope around a notional radiation-blasted area.

I interviewed the inventor of the CND symbol, local resident Gerald Holtam, and was saddened and scared by his quiet melancholy about the state into which civilised people had got themselves.

And seeing that another Hoban book, Turtle Diary, had been turned into a romcom didn’t inspire me to read more. Idiot.

So I didn’t turn to Riddley Walker until nearly 20 years later. Now it’s my go-to book when I’m at a loss (along with Nancy Mitford. An obvious combination.) Yes, it demands concentration, probably complete attention. Good writing should and does. The rewards are endless. I read masses of children’s books now, not least as I’m trying to write them. It’s hard to think of another 12-year-old boy who is as real, powerful and engaging as Riddley.

In 2010, the Guardian chose Riddley Walker for its Book Club and writer John Mullan interviewed Russ. What better present for my best friend than a ticket? We sat with our mouths open throughout and then queued to get our books signed. Russ patiently listened to our various rambling theories about locations, made us laugh, posed for pictures (before selfies, hurrah) and chatted some more.

Not long after, Will Self interviewed Russ at the British Library. You wait years for one Russ Hoban to show up … Do read the article: a brief and affectionate capture of a hero to Mr Self and many more of us. Here’s Will Self,  reading Riddley Walker in his best ‘future Kent’ accent. We had more books signed; the security guards had turned off the lights and his taxi was waiting at gone 9pm but Russ, in his late 80s, stayed chatting and joking and signed my book by torchlight. What a gentleman.

Links for those events are on SA4QE: an inspired annual 4 February event that marks the date of Russ’s birth by encouraging people to note their favourite quotes from his books on yellow paper and leave them for people to find. You can see Tuesday’s quotes on @russellhobandotorg and at the official Russell Hoban website. I’m sure Russ would have loved the use to which Ben Osborn put his Pret wrapper, pictured above.

The fan sites and the event are a labour of love. Russ inspired it in so many of us. Please, please read him if you haven’t. Look – here’s where to start.

Russell Hoban: February 4, 1925 – December 13, 2011. Fine writer, fine man. Wel Im telling Truth here aint I. That’s the woal idear of this writing which I begun wylst thinking on what the idear of us myt be.