Saturday, 31 December 2011

The next great adventure

I suppose it's time for me to do a thoughtful, introspective, old-year-out-new-year-in post. After all, why should I flout internet tradition? But I hesitate. These things can have a tendency to turn into self-indulgent navel-gazing, and I'm Victorian enough to prefer a little emotional restraint once in a while. That said, I don't want to completely break with goes. But I'll keep it short.

2011 has been a pretty good year on the whole. I changed jobs and now work in a much nicer place. I put out my book BiOlogy in paper and Kindle format, and got reviews from Bi Community News, Diva and Forge. I also got interviewed in Nottingham's fabulous LeftLion magazine. That was pretty amazing. But the most brilliant thing that happened was conceiving and gestating my first biological child. On 02/01/12, I'll be 24 weeks pregnant. Mon Geek, the elder small person, and the rest of my family and friends have been wonderful, welcoming the coming new baby as much as I could have wished for.

Naturally, this leads me on to 2012. In the springtime, I'll give birth for the first time, which is kind of daunting, but not as much as you'd expect. After all, other women do it; I'll be in hospital with doctors and drugs; Mon Geek will be by my side; amd as I've never done it before, I don't know how much it will hurt. So I'm not too worried. Furthermore, I'm writing more stuff to be published. Plus, we are now looking for a new house, with a garden and space to raise our family. So, on the whole, 2012 is looking good so far. Bring on the next great adventure.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

If I was rich...

You know that game you play when you're a kid? The one that goes "IfIWasReallyRichLikeREALLYRichIWouldBuy....." presuming that money is infinite and of the scale that could easily purchase everything from a magic pony castle populated by talking monkeys to a live-in French patissier/sex wizard, depending on the player's age. Some sad cases continue to play this game until way past the age where it might do them any good whatsoever.
I am 29, and I am still playing it.
Moreover, I am proud to advise that I have now come up with the definitive list of what I would buy if I were magnificently, massively, amazingly, pant-wettingly rich. And here it is.

1. A Rembrandt. A really massive one. I've spent years of game-playing time hesitating between a Rembrandt or a Vermeer. So I've decided that I would have a huge Rembrandt on one wall of the enormous castle I would build to contain it, and a Vermeer facing it on the opposite one. That way, I have all eternity to sit and contemplate which one's prettier.

2. A Peter Scott painting. After careful deliberation I can now advise that this would be the remote and unlikely one entitled one entitled When The Tide Turned The Brent Geese Came In Against A Background of Showers

3. An Indonesian island one which gibbons and orang-utans could live undisturbed by humans.

4. A lake with reeds and ducks by it. I could pick it up by the corners and move it to just outside the massive castle I would build to contain my Rembrandt (see no. 1)

5. A holiday to go whale-watching in the Arctic. The elder small person and I would love to do this. Even Mon Geek has expressed halting enthusiasm. And the unborn will go where I take him, at least for now.

6. A bookshop. No one would be allowed to buy anything from it, though. It would be for housing my huge collection of first editions, and other stuff. And I would sit in it working my way through a case of Pol Roger.

7. A library with a wing back chair and a walnut desk where I could look at the lake (see no. 4) whenever I wasn't feeling sociable enough to be in the bookshop.

8. A harpsichord with a goat grazing nearby. No explanation is required for this.

9. A diamond-encrusted mechanised root vegetable dissecter, to stop chopping swede being such a frigging workout.

10. A skywriter to slag off all the people who irk me daily. "WANKER ON THE BUS - STOP SHOVING PAST PEOPLE" "VICTORIA CENTRE SHOPPERS - MILLING RANDOMLY WILL EARN YOU A KICK UP THE BUM" and so on.

There, that's my top ten. Of course, there are loads more, like the employment of a tutor to teach Mon Geek to be a top patissier and Escoffier-ranked chef, a permanent rotisserie in the kitchen, and an elephant to ride through the forests picking peachy fruits from the back of, but it's a start. Now, when my lottery numbers come up, I'll know where to start. It's a strategy I tells you.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

old wives' tales

I tell you what. Pregnancy doesn't half let you in for a load of old crap. No, I'm not changing nappies yet. Instead, I'm talking about the motley collection of old wives' tales, superstitions and rubbish that people suggest could possibly have some impact on the gender of your baby.

The gender of an unborn is of great interest to the wider world. Of course, some people have preferences for what they end up with. We're not too fussed. After all, whatever it is, it'll end up playing with Lego. I would mildly like to have a crack at parenting a girl, having had a boy. Mon Geek would mildly like to have a son. Neither of us are fussed. We just want a healthy baby. Come the scan (three weeks and counting down), and provided our child has no objection to doing a full frontal close-up while still in the womb, we'll look forward to finding out for sure. Meanwhile, however, there are lots of suggested ways to find out.

So far, 7 people think I'm having a boy, 2 think I'm having a girl, and my mum and eldest brother have some sort of sweepstake on and won't tell me what they think. Neither Mon Geek nor I have any feeling that it might be a particular sex. I've had two dreams about the baby, in one of which it was a boy and in the other of which it was a girl. So we're no help. I tried four baby gender predictors on different websites as research for this post (the things I do for you, honestly). Two said it was a boy and two a girl.

So I delved deeper. The people who come up with these things are deranged. That's actually the only firm conclusion I could draw. It suggested I look at all kinds of things including the colour of my wee and how fast my leg hair grows as opposed to before I was pregnant. So, actually "they" (whoever "they" are) are deranged AND intrusive, getting a kick out of asking total strangers about urine and leg hair. Freaks.

And some of these superstitions are nuts. Special points go to the people that think if you crave chocolate, you're sure to be carrying a girl, and if you want crisps and cheese it's a boy. I haven't had many cravings yet - except for cheese, ice cream and milk, which coincidentally are all the things I crave when premenstrual. Possibly something to do with the same hormones being active? Well, possibly. I also like the people who look at how high you're carrying your bump. Umm, I am five foot tall and overweight (this is not a bad thing, I'm placing no value judgment on myself, I'm stating a fact). My bump is *always* going to look high.

Swinging a needle over my bump told me I was going to have a boy. The fact that my hair looks like a bird's nest told me I was carrying a girl. In fact, if you're carrying a girl, you're supposed to look worse and more knackered than you did before pregnancy. Which I do...maybe because I'm undertaking a three-hour daily commute door to door, studying for a qualification which involves two gruelling twelve-hour days in Birmingham each month, travelling regularly on business trips and, well, life. And suddenly I'm coping with pregnancy as well? Of course I'm not going to look dewy and fresh-faced. I look like a bear rudely awoken during hibernation and intent on killing the waker-upper. Which frankly is a fair reflection of my mental state.

And whether I'm married to Mon Geek will affect what we're likely to have? Umm, bollocks. I don't think for a moment that my having a pretty dress and some new finger bling is going to bring forth a rush of XY (or XX) sperm, which last time I checked was how baby gender gets decided. And if it did, well, to be honest, I'd worry. I'd worry badly.

About my dry cleaning bill.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

it's listening in

I am concerned. Apparently the baby I am currently gestating is now developed enough to hear sounds. The boy and I were looking forward to this point; the point where we could talk to our offspring and know that somewhere, deep within the bodily darkness, a tiny human no bigger than a pear would hear what we had to say...

That, of course, was before we realised just how much crap we talk.

You listen to yourself a bit more when you realise that someone is doing a spot of in utero eavesdropping. And when you listen to yourself, talking to your boyfriend, you hear conversations about:

- farting
- petty annoyances of the working day
- cake
- working men's club singers
- why Mon Geek will never, ever be allowed to have hair again (past mullet)
- what you'd cook if you were on Come Dine With Me
- threats to sell my pants on eBay for revealing Mon Geek as an ex-mullet

And more. Can our child be allowed to hear this stuff, liberally sprinkled with expletives ("WANK BUCKET!") and childish threats ("I'll blow my nose on your X-Men shirt")? I fear for its later conversational skills.

And what about all the other stuff? Crunching Monster Munch, heckling teative TV quiz Eggheads, snoring, attempting to imitate the morning call of a lar gibbon? Quotes from films that an embryo is way too young to watch ("I feel like a pig shat in my head")? Threats to one another concerning axes, rectal insertion and Z-list celebrities? Cries of "GO ON MY SON" while watching Man Vs. Food? Slagging off of bad '80s knitwear?

I am concerned. Maybe I live too adult a lifestyle to birth a child. Maybe my baby is already smirking at old REO Speedwagon videos, and laughing at its father's white-faced, jelly-kneed reaction when I threaten to give his phone number to Kim Kardashian. Maybe I'll have to learn to be quiet and well-behaved to an extent that would satisfy even the rigorous standards of Lady Whiteadder...

Nah. Fuck that for a game of soldiers. I'll shut up when it comes out. Till then, this is my time to be as riotously adult as I know how. Twister, anyone?

Monday, 7 November 2011

Wars of the Roses

Most parents argue about their children even before they're born. Names are a popular cause of pre-birth rows. My own parents were so completely unable to agree on a name for their first child (not me, by the way) that they ended up exhaustedly agreeing on the only name that they could think of that neither of them hated. I was proud to have dodged this particular bullet. Mon Geek and I agreed on names with the minimum of discussion. I felt that I was entitled to feel a little smug.

No more. For this week, we realised that our child will be half-Lancashire, half-Yorkshire. It will be a Tudor rose. It will be a cross between perky buxom Lancashire lass (think Gracie Fields) and dour old Yorkshire bumface (think Fred Trueman). And this hideous realisation that we have produced a Lancashire/Yorkshire hybrid child, who will be growing up in Nottingham, has led to many, many rows.

Will our child say "barmcake" or "breadcake"? Will it aim for holidays in Blackpool or in Filey? Will it crack a superb deadpan joke, or will - No, there aren't any Yorkshire comedians. Even Boyfriend can't think of any, thus proving my natural Lancashire assumption that the Yorkshire temperament is naturally grumpy and miserable. (Boyfriend, aided by Wikipedia, has just come up with Charlie Williams, which, but he's the only one either of us can think of.)

We finally managed to compromise on bilingualism. We will teach our baby some of the great and deathless words in both our dialects. From his, words like, "maungey" and "fettle" and "How do"; from mine, ""ginnel", "skrike", "sken" and "mither". Compromise is key. My baby may end up eating haslet, but at least this way, it'll be in a barm. With black pudding.

And dripping.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

bad to balloon?

I hesitate to do another pregnancy-related post, but I'm all womb-brained at the moment so here one is anyway. Suck it up, people.


That's what pregnancy feels like. It feels like doing a fifty-mile run up Mam Tor in a blizzard while being mercilessly yelled at by a sadistic marine of a midwife. All while you're in a state of permanent and total exhaustion and hungry enough to fry up your own arse for a midnight snack.

Seriously. This is a bit of a culture shock. I thought of pregnancy as a time to relax, be easy on myself, bask in the serene glow of my expanding girth and eat more or less what I wanted (within reason). Far from it. Suddenly, my health is everyone else's business. Magazines, midwives and mothers all tell me how I should try not to put on weight, should keep away from takeaways, should exercise. To which I reply, "I commute a total of eighty miles each day on public transport, working a 50-hour week every week. I am growing another head inside me and nothing fits anyway. I deserve bangers and mash once in a while."
"Nonsense," shouts the magazine/mother/midwife in a cod-SS screech. "You vill comply, you lardy bitch."
"Leave me alone," I weep, pregnancy hormones oozing from my eyes, as I craft myself a face mask and matching hat out of pizza.

I was overweight before I was pregnant. I can't diet now and nor would I want to. I'm eating OK for the most part (apart from the pizza hat) and I've been doing the Release Your Inner Trapped Wind Pregnancy Yoga Workout. I'm not smoking, drinking or investing in a giant crack pipe. Why am I suddenly satanic just because I fancy chow mein once in a while? Hmm? I'm sensing that something's blown way out of proportion here. It could be my thighs, but then again, it could also be their thinking.

I know my body isn't my own now, but the only other person it belongs to can't speak yet. And if they could, they'd probably say, "Thanks for the pineapple, Mum. And I don't think the melted cheese has stunted my growth, really."

Monday, 31 October 2011


Since becoming pregnant, I have taken up a new career as a sloth. I move slowly, expand rapidly and spend approximately twenty-two hours a day asleep. (Well, I would, if I had my way.) My widening arse is permanently attached to the sofa, and I have to be practically peeled out of my pyjamas when the need to go outside becomes urgent (i.e., when I am late for work).

The consequence of being glued to the sofa is an exponential increase in TV watching. With a wedge of Edam in one hand and half a pizza in the other, I alternately goggle and doze through Come Dine With Me, The Origins of Us, Supernanny US, Snog Marry Avoid and endless repeats of Jeeves and Wooster. And naturally, many of these choice televisual morsels come with Adverts, many of which are repeated over and over and over again until I am maddened to foam-mouthed rage.

So, in the spirit of sharing my pain with you, dear reader, here are five adverts that are driving me buggering mad at the moment:

5. Perle du Lait, and other yoghurty rubbish
It is yoghurt. Just yoghurt. Slightly soured milk with a flavouring mixed in. It is not a sex aid. It will not make you substantially more beautiful. It is not a secret to share with your friends. If you did, they would think you were a bit demented. Getting Martine McCutcheon to sell it doesn't make it any better than basically, Munch Bunch for grown-ups. Don't try and sell me yoghurt as a treat. Have a Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough and shut the fuck up.

4. Uniform Dating
Now, I'm not against internet dating. Some people find it a valuable way to meet a partner, getting the chance to try out interaction before having to meet people in person. Which is valuable, and believe me, I have no intention of knocking it. But dating someone purely because they're a police officer, or a nurse? You are basically wearing a big internet label that says "SHALLOW AS A PUDDLE IN A DROUGHT." Why anyone in a uniform would sign up to be loved for the clothes they wear is beyond me, although I'm betting that traffic wardens probably don't get much loving on there.

3. Mazuma Mobile
Be persuaded to sell your barely-bought smartphone by cockneys shouting euphemisms for money until you want to put your foot through the plasma screen. Only worth it if your phone is a very new model indeed, otherwise you'll be lucky to get the price of a Wham bar.

2. Anything with car insurance
I don't drive. (Well, I'm just learning now, but I have to fit my lessons in around the nervous breakdown I give my instructor every time.) I have never driven. And yet, every time I turn the television on, I'm inundated by yelling moustachios, talking meerkats cynically marketed to the lolcat generation and people singing to the tune of YMCA. I have never used a price comparison website. I have no issues with third party indemnity. Why would I? I've never driven. And yet, due to exposure, I could probably get car insurance in a hurry quicker than I could whip up a treacle sponge. It's frigging ridiculous.

1. Kindle
Remarkable less for the product than for the hugely ire-inspiring advert, the Kindle ad features a smug gadget-twat slagging off a woman for carrying an oversized handbag. She retaliates by listing all the millions of books, magazines etc she can fit in it and eventually agrees that it would be oh so much better to get a Kindle. I have no issue with Kindles. I do have an issue with know-it-all wankers telling me I'm a Luddite for carrying a modest paperback in my smallish bag. If he comes near me, I give you fair warning that I will snap his stupid Kindle into and use it to sever every vein in his testicles.

You have been warned.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

bump in the night

Change can be scary. There's no two ways about that. For male teenagers, change can be so frightening that they forbear even to change their mucky knock-off Calvin Klein pants for days (or weeks) on end. For me, an alleged grown-up, change is less scary than that, but still, y'know, pretty unnerving. I don't like moving house. Come to that, I don't like moving desks. So it's kind of odd that I find myself undergoing the biggest change a person can go through...
...I'm growing another head in me.
Now, the boy and I have been hoping this would happen for a while, and so it's not a total surprise that I am, in fact, pregnant. Even so, it is part amazing, part, wildly exciting and part rather scary.
I'm not scared by raising a child. Rather, I'm scared by what's happening to my wardrobe. I'm now fifteen weeks pregnant and already have a sizeable baby bump. I went into maternity clothes very early, and this is my primary irritation. Maternity clothes, unless you're able to pay Isabella Oliver prices (ie, sewn from cloth-of-gold by nuns), are almost universally ugly. Leggings feature prominently, as do horizontally striped tops - surely the last combination of garments to put on anyone who is expanding rapidly. The clothes veer between "plain and utilitarian" or "hysterically fashion-conscious". The selection for alt or goth mums consists of ugly slogan t-shirts with coy, bump-related slogans. I'm 29. My days of suiting slogan t-shirts went out years ago. In blue jeans (the only alternative to leggings) and whatever black tops I can get my hands on, my much-loved alt identity is subsumed.
Why, though? Why aren't clothes made to flatter and hug the beauty of the pregnant shape? To play up the enhanced boob and play down the bloated cankle? Instead, we are offered clothes that tent, not skim; played down versions of the latest fashions which frequently uglify the body enceinte; and slogan t-shirts and pyjamas which feel kind of undignified when you're nearly thirty, and in any case, forget that the primary aim of clothes is for the wearer to look deathlessly chic, rather than to advertise that she will be giving birth within the sixmonth.
If I had the chance to design my own maternity range, it would be full of v-neck tops, long fishtail skirts and not a single pair of fuck-ugly leggings in sight. Anyone who wants to employ me to do this, I'm available now. Go on, you'd be doing a favour for pregnant women everywhere.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Dear reader....

My dad is coming to visit tomorrow. He's driving the many miles between his house and mine to arrive here about 11:30am, and he won't stay past about 3pm. He'll want to go for lunch, then coffee, then cake, so he'll only be in my house for a maximum of half an hour.

So, given this, why have I still spent all evening scrubbing the flat from top to bottom?

Because I have. I've scrubbed the tiles in the kitchen, a job which has only been done about once a year since we've been here, in case he decides to go and inspect the grout. I cleared all the out-of-date stuff out of the fridge, finding in the process a tub of Philadelpia which may well have been older than my son, since it was sprouting a virulent orange mould which made me squeal like a child. I only just stopped short of hoovering the boiler, and that was only because our airing cupboard is so small and full of junk that dear Daddy wouldn't be able to squeeze into it anyway.

It's not even like my dad is some sort of clean freak, either. He'll only be in the house for about half an hour in total between his need for large plates of various foodstuffs, and he'll hardly be clambering up shelves to inspect the light fittings for dust in that time. Because he's normal. (Unlike his only daughter, clearly.)

So why, every time my family turn up, does the place have to be spotless? I haven't got a clue. I generally exist in a state of contained chaos. In that, my house reflects my brain. I don't feel bothered about my friends seeing this, but the imminent arrival of my family awakens long-dormant cleaning instincts, and before I know it, I'm climbing on a chair to polish the light bulbs.

Is this normal?

Friday, 29 July 2011

Poetry in motion

Poetry's got a bad name. At least it has where I come from, which I can sort of understand because local poetry's pretty terrible. Not just poetry local to my home town but poetry local to anywhere. It's always amateurish, and usually about kittens and how this were all fields once but now is full of drugs and guns. I always feel bad criticising local poetry, when I find it printed in local papers next to the letters page. I feel like I'm poking fun at something a bit rubbish but essentially well-meaning, like the cheap market-stall trainers worn by a good but unstylish teacher on school non-uniform days. People who write this poorly scanning, self-consciously rhyming doggerel really value it. So I try not to be a snot about it.

I fail, though, every time. It's not personal. I don't have a crusade against middle-aged men and elderly women in local writers' groups, expressing themselves, getting the brief thrill of seeing their stuff in print. It's because I'm a perfectionist. I hate my own stuff, too. I pick it over, time and again, pulling apart lines, beating myself up over words, hoping that one day, by a sudden miracle, I'll wake up and find I've turned into Ivy Compton-Burnett or Alan Bennett. It hasn't yet, needless to say.

Plus, I love poetry in itself. It started with studying Hughes and Heaney at GCSE. I devoured everything of theirs I could, including their collection The Rattle Bag, which opened the door to WB Yeats, Elizabeth Bishop, Federico Garcia Lorca - the works. I read that stuff and I poured myself into it so much that I memorised so much of it. Through the hell of school (yes, you knew it, school was hell) I kept this stuff near me, like a Bible in the pocket of a Tommy in the trenches. I turned to it time and again, to make sense of the stuff that happened to me in my life, when so little of life seemed to make sense at all. I learnt to lean on that. You've got to have something to lean on, at least.

The thing is, like I say, poetry's out of fashion. I feel so old-fashioned. When my peers are there running to Rihanna, quoting Adele, when they need something, there's me, clutching on to a slim volume of Housman or Eliot. It's like a foreign culture - a huge, complexity of stuff that sits behind my experience, simultaneously soothing me and cutting me off from most of the other people I know. Take what you want and pay for it, says God.

Which is why I adored the poetry-loving eccentric Hector in The History Boys, who has something wondreful to say about reading: " The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - that you'd thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you've never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it's as if a hand has come out, and taken yours."

A hundred per cent, Hector. A hundred per cent.

Friday, 15 July 2011

New short story available for free!

I have a free short story available for download! My new short piece, BEFORE YOU LEAP, is available online entirely free.

Please go and download it and tell me what you think!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Scarlet woman, or Why I don't read magazines

I'm a girl. Bring me impractically foot-crippling, fugly, orthopaedic-looking high-heeled shoes in a range of migraine-inducing colours. Bring me nauseating "statement" bags with tassels on them. I can't live without the latest 'sleb news n' pics. Abbey Clancy in her bikini, showing off a rack of ribs that would do credit to a xylophone. Is JenAn wearing sunglasses to hide her tears at yet another doomed relationship? (They'll print her picture next to one of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie looking uxoriously smug, just to ram the point home.) And articles about the latest obscure Amazonian "superfood" said to be relied on by Victoria Beckham, a woman who has made a career out of being a smartly-dressed, blank-faced twig.

Really. Give it all to me. I can't get enough of anodyne daytime TV presenters, empty-headed reality TV "stars" and the girlfriends of oafish, lumpen footballers - all hovering on the edges of fame, waiting for the divorce sacndal or the sex tape that will catapult them into genuine D-list status. I can't get enough of the guilting to starve to fit into the clothes these substandard loo-roll mags tell me I should want to wear, the horrible, creeping feeling that somehow people who happen to have two X chromosomes will have the same three interests in common.

This is why, for years, I avoided magazines more or less completely, bar the occasional peek at Wired or Pick Me Up, providing that the latter had a banner headline about somebody "accidentally" impaling a rusty nail through their penis or finding love in the frozen-vegetable section of Jack Fulton's. And then, I discovered Scarlet magazine.

Scarlet magazine featured nothing on diets or fashions and the people they interviewed were successful businesswomen talking about their fascinating careers, rather than Christine Bleakley flashing an engagement ring and simpering. Sex formed a large part of the topics under discussion - as something you were free to enjoy however you pleased, rather than to be alluded to with the kind of arch tee-hee that is old by the time you leave puberty. I loved Scarlet. And it went under.

That's right. Somebody produced an intelligent, relevant, interesting magazine for women, and it went under. Due to the failure of the distributors, but still, doesn't that sound bad?

Nothing will replace Scarlet in my affections. Nothing. Certainly not Cosmopolitan, that depressing archive where "aspirational" means "guilting you about the fact that you don't have a high-powered career, a cordon bleu in cookery, a small number of well-groomed designer-clad children and an Oxford blue for sexual intercourse." I gave up trying to be perfect long ago, it was far too knackering. And not Good Housekeeping. I haven't got time to launder my dishcloths freshly with angels' tears or tenderise duck breast through the medium of interpretative dance. So what am I to do?

Back to Wired, I suppose. But wouldn't it be nice to find a fulfilling read on the women's shelf?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Murder redux

News broke this week that a skull unearthed in David Attenborough's garden has resolved the infamous Kate Webster murder case. Naturally this is a matter of extreme interest to me, as a student of Victorian crime. Because if you want to know anything - anything at all - about the Victorian mindset, then study this case. It's Victoriana in microcosm. All the fears, anxieties, emotions and relationships between domestic servants and their employers can be found in the Kate Webster case.
Kate Webster was one of the many women who lived their lives on the blurry line between domestic service and criminality. She was a heavy drinker, often violent and a habitual thief. These habits cost her most of her occasional forays into gainful employment - and on the final occasion, came together in a terrifying synthesis.
Middle-aged Kate secured a job as a cook with a widow, Julia Thomas - known for having a vicious way with words. In the days when an employer was free to treat a servant with appalling conditions of privation and hard labour, Mrs Thomas was well known to be unable to keep a servant for any length of time. Had this not been the case, she would no doubt have been able to engage someone better than Kate to cook for her. But she couldn't.
Inevitably, the two women clashed. There was a row. Kate later confessed that she threw her employer down the stairs and strangled her. Panicking, she dismembered and boiled the body, disposing of the head, selling the fat off as "best dripping" and carrying the remains around with her concealed in a large carpet bag. Meanwhile, she tried to sell off the furniture. The suspicions this aroused led to Kate's arrest. She was hanged for Mrs Thomas' murder, but without the head, the body could never be officially identified and the case was never closed...until the skull of Mrs Thomas was discovered during excavations in David Attenborough's garden this week, one hundred and thirty years after Kate buried it.
The case received record coverage in the Victorian press. The relationship between servants and employers was ambivalent in the extreme. Horrified employers followed the ghoulish case with terrified fascination, and, I like to think, were that little bit nicer to their maids thereafter. A servant knew the ins and outs of the house; they could choose to pilfer, or to abet thieves from the outside. Employers were vulnerable to their servants then in ways we often find hard to understand now. Looking at the Kate Webster case gives us a uniue insight into the complex, fearful ties between two classes of people who are far less common now than they were. It's a pause for thought.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Middle-aged teenager

Do you ever want to run away from being grown up? I do. I do all the grown-up stuff - I have a Proper Job (with accompanying intensive study course to prove I'm qualified to do it). I rent a pretty spacious flat with magnolia walls and pine bookshelves. I pay the bills on time. I can't wear a short skirt without trying to pull it down over my knees approximately every 1.08 minutes. I get my hair done at the salon very six weeks, instead of roping in a mate for an evening where we dye all the bathroom sinks (and our ears) dark blue.
And yet, every so often, I look at my life, and feel kind of nervous. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for all the many good and lovely things in my life, but sometimes I feel that this is all a bit too grown up. A bit too much of the belted three-quarter length office coat, and a bit too little of the hoody thrown on over vest and combats. A bit too much of proper meals eaten at a table, and a bit too little of smoked salmon and fruit eaten straight from the packet while I read. A bit too much getting to bed at a sensible hour, and hardly any of the picnicking in Endcliffe Park at midnight witha bottle of Blavod.
And at those times - maybe it's springtime, I don't know- the sap rises, and I feel like doing silly and quite innocent things, like getting legless on a school night, just to prove that I'm still in control of my own life, not fenced out of my own freedoms somehow. Just to prove that it's still up to me what I do and why. A kind of teenaged instinct, but there you have it. A poor thing, but my own.
I haven't yet done it though. The nearest I've got so far is having one more drink than I think I should when I know I'm at work in the morning, spending stupid amounts of money on beautiful but utterly un-sensible shoes, or staying out too late. But even that I've done with that attitude of "ooh I shouldn't, really" which characterises middle-aged women treating themselves to a verboten tiramisu. God, even my rebellion's middle-aged. There's clearly no hope for me. I'm off to buy some sensible sandals and a beige cardigan, ready for my exhausted slump into the menopause years.
I might take a bottle of Midori and some lip gloss, too.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Unlucky gym

I don't like blogs that are all rants, so this post will be approximately 50% rant.

Do you know what I hate? Gyms. God, they're depressing places, an atmosphere heavy with guilt and misery. Vending machines that only sell bottled water and the kind of muesli bars that are less a snack than an orally-administered punishment. The clientele an even split between people who use it as a religion, spandex saints with all the gear who go at least six days a week and really enjoy it, and women of all ages drearily doing their three times a week gym duty. It's written all over their faces that they'd rather be at home with Hollyoaks and a couple of rounds of toast.

The gym staff meanwhile, came straight out of the Nuremburg second eleven - dead-eyed sadists who hate the customers indiscriminately and whose overall air is "they won't be coming more than a month, so why bother with customer service?" The machines are essentially the tools of the Greek Hades. As Tantalus reached for succulent fruit he couldn't grab, as Sisyphus pushed his boulder up a hill only to have it roll down again just as he reached the top - so the gym is filled with neverending staircases and eternal hills to run up. I don't know why we put ourselves through it.

Nor do I like the packages you get tied into - pay £10 a month for the first three months (minimum membership duration seven years, whether you go or not), a forced "fitness plan" and "personal trainer." I.e., one of the sadists stops texting and picking his feet behind the desk, lollops over to look you up and down, and mutters, "Fifty on the cross trainer, Miss Flabby, until such time as I say STOP" and is silent until you are actually dead of exertion, having ignored your constant protests that every time the handles come back on the infernal machine they hit you in the boobs hard enough to make you bleed. And, between my day job and writing, it's very hard to find the time to gym it the required number of times per week without it beginning to feel like yet another obligation that I must find time for in my already packed life.

So, gyms. You sweat in front of strangers, exert yourself to coronary-causing levels and get ripped off to do it. Sadly, if you take no exercise (always my preferred option) you die of a heart attack at 35. And for the ten years before that, you've been too big to fit into anything other than ugly Bon Marche t-shirts and stirrup leggings.

Now, I want to live, and I don't want to wear stirrup leggings. So, I've started to explore the murky world of home fitness. Im pleased to see that it's moved on since I last did it. GMTV's Mr Motivator has long since hung up his migraine-causing leotard and ceased to shout cheerfully "I CAN SEE YOU FLAGGING THERE!' as you attempt to sneak off to your own goddamn kitchen for an energy-giving biscuit. No, I have found a wonderful thing.

Mini exercise bikes. I bought one. It's beautiful. It cost less than a night out clubbing. It has a calorie counter (for seeing how many hours you have to sweat for to burn off an individual tiramisu). And for the last few nights, I have sat on a dining chair, pedalling frantically with the remote control in my other hand, watching Emmerdale while I lose weight. I've got a set of weights in pretty colours too, but the bike is my first love. It's the way exercise should be - in front of the TV and half a dozen steps away from the shower for when you've finished.

Have I lost weight? Well, the thing is, I got annoyed and threw out my weighing scales, so I've no idea. But this I do know; I'm pedalling fast away from the risk of a future in stirrup pants.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Questions, questions everywhere

When I became a mum, in the weird, slightly back-door kind of a way that I did (it's a long story. And, for that matter, doesn't involve my back door), I thought I had it taped. Like 99% of parents, I soon found out that I didn't.
And the remaining 1% are lying.
You see, my son was an easy baby. He did all the right stuff, at the right time. Crawled at eight months. Walked at fourteen months. Talked at fifteen months. Ate everything he was given. Did all that stuff. And now, as he approaches his sixth birthday, I knew - of course I did - that there would be awkward questions. I prepared. He has a rough idea of where babies come from, and how they get there, thanks to nature documentaries, and relaxed answerings of the inevitable questions. I thought, smugly, that I was ahead of the game.
I didn't know, dammit. I didn't appreciate the sheer range of childhood questions. I had an idea that there were only a few, and they would be asked at home or on walks or something, as opposed to at the checkout in Tesco.
No. My most awkward question so far has been: "Why do we eat meat? We are made of meat." Quite apart from sounding like an alien conqueror from 1952, this completely threw me. As I floundered through an explanation of the role of protein in the human diet, I could tell it wasn't washing. "But," he said, frowning, "we can eat other things. Lions can't eat other things so they must eat meat. But we must not eat meat." My son, with syllogism.
We continue. "Isn't it wrong to keep tigers at the zoo? They should be with their families in the jungle." He failed to be convinced by my discussion of endangered species captive breeding programmes, or by the fact that tigers are solitary by nature. "How long does it take to make a big cloud? Why must hyenas survive? If the hairdresser's mirror isn't magic, why can I see the back of my head?" It's like being interrogated by the information Gestapo. After a while I can only feel like collapsing exhausted onto a crate of yams, weeping.
But no. I must soldier on. For as long as I answer, he will believe I Know Stuff. And as long as he trusts in my superior intellectual ability, I can still insist that there is a law that says people under six have to be in bed by half past seven, and the world will be safe for another day.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Me book, like!

I'm pleased to announce that my new book, BiOlogy, is now available! It's a collection of short stories themed around bisexuality, and if you'd like to buy a copy (which would delight me to yet unsurpassed realms of joy), you can do so via the link below. Thanks people!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Alas, soap justice

Once upon a time, soaps were the distributors of natural justice. Dirty Den only had to knock up his teenaged daughter's best mate to deserve being shot into a canal by a man hiding a gun in a bunch of wilting daffs, whereas Emmerdale's Bob Hope was punished for crimes against hosiery by being forced to shack up with Viv "The Quacking Mullet" Windsor for what felt like an eternity. Nowadays, soap stars get off lightly. Nobody's punished. Chester's favourite murderer, widemouthed Warren Fox has come back from the dead and is busy enjoying living his second life to the full, while Coronation Street's John Stape is continuing his career of rubbish villainy while wife Fiz is safely glued to the neonatal unit of Weatherfield General. Abductions, manslaughters, identity theft, underage sex with a pupil - John's criminal record is as long as your arm, and yet everything he does seems so hapless and weak-kneed that I just roll my eyes, like a sufferer of terminal Nintendo syndrome. Maybe the writers just can't be bothered to punish him, but I still don't see why viewers should be punished by his continued appearance on screen. And EastEnders! Normally the one soap that can be relied upon to dish out the grimmest, Victorian reformatory-style moral punishments, this has gone by the wall too, as Ian Beale, after a lifetime of grovelling, sidling, completely irredeemable awfulness, is still getting smart blondes to sleep with him. Honestly, Glenda. Surely you can do better than that.

I'm rather disenchanted generally with soaps at the moment. The constant recycling of characters and plots is getting me down. Squawking tart Kat Moon has dragged her hapless Alfie back to haunt my viewing, and now cousin (and ex-shag) Michael is set to hove into view. Michael is inoffensive to the eye, wears suits and is described as "having his eye on a few Walford ladies". So, not at all like Nick "Every Five Years Like Halley's Shitbomb" Tilsley returning to Corrie with a new face, then. Michael will do the same tired old rounds as everyone else - Kat, Janine, either slapper Roxy or Ronnie the Mucus Queen - then settle for a while with someone. That's what they all do. I'm just praying that this time it will be St. Tracy the barmaid. She's well overdue for someone to put a smile on her face.

But there is good news. Troublesome middle-class Maisie Wylde is set to depart from the Dales with younger brother Will in tow. Maisie can't see further than the end of her Babyliss curling wand, and the ultimate illustration of this is that she accepts, then rethinks and declines a proposal of marriage from Nikhil Sharma before she goes, silly bitch. Nikhil is tall, elegant, wealthy and has an independent income that he has amassed from confectionery. Confectionery, Maisie. I know you're a size eight, but even you ought to be able to spot that you might have been onto a good thing by shacking up with the Sweetie King.

But, as ever, as one soap waxes, another will wane. Maisie may have lightened the load of Emmerdale, but down in EastEnders, pin-eyed, tomato-faced Phil Mitchell is still alive and breeding.

It's like I said. There's no justice in soap any more.