Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Devil Makes Work

… for idle hands.

Is that where this last little current burst of work has come from??! Is the Devil bringing it to me to keep me busy? What an alarming thought!

If you haven’t used it before, Rescuetime is a great programme for keeping an eye on how much work you’ve done, how much time you’ve wasted and it will give you an efficiency rating too. I use it for billing time (because it bills how much actual time I actually spend doing actual writing, other than the time I spend getting diverted on the internet… like where you’re looking for expressions on la bouche and you end up looking at Daniel Craig in his underpants) and I use it to whip myself with if I’ve not done enough a day.

So…. my stats for November (up to to 24th November, since it goes week to week) include:

  • a whopping 189 hours of computer work. That doesn’t count the 12 hours of online teaching I do, and the 16 hours of face-to-face teaching I do each week. 
  • that’s 6 hours and 29 minutes a day working at the computer, on average. Monday-Sunday. That doesn’t count Skype teaching or face-to-face teaching. That’s a full day’s work just there!
  • I’m most productive in the morning and least productive at the weekend.
  • I spent 24 of that 189 hours marking 150 exam re-sit papers and 3 hours doing my standardising to make sure I was good enough to mark.
  • I’ve spent 40 hours working on my NaNoWriMo novel. At 55,000 words… I’m a WINNER!



I submitted it this morning.

So, what else have I done this November, apart from not blogging and not growing a moustache?

I have delivered 1500 copies of Living Poitou Charentes over an area from St Junien to Nontron to La Rochefoucauld.

I spent 7 hours blogging for Anglo Info.

I spent 5 hours 32 minutes answering mail on Hotmail.

I spent 4 hours 27 minutes on my Lady Justine blog.

I spent 3 hours 20 minutes on Wikipedia. I have no idea what I was looking at though. It’s my dream to own a full set of encyclopedias, but online ones are even better.

I spent 2 hours and 47 minutes on my teacher blog.

And beside all of that? Minimal housekeeping, some gardening, lots of leaf raking, lots of dog walking to keep my Heston a little less bored. I’ve knitted part of a jumper, made all my Christmas cards, made a few gifts for people and kept myself plenty busy. Is it just me or could everyone else do with a clone them? I could do with a clone. I wonder if clones have rights?

And though it feels like I’ve done 200 more hours than I did in October, I only did 20. Hopefully December will slack off a little. I can only hope! My mum sent me a message today to ask if I wanted the letter to mark GCSEs in January. I said yes. I’m crazy like that. In fact, ironically, it’s my last link to English Education, apart from teaching it. I do more ESOL teaching now. Funny how life changes!

In one way, there’s a little reminder of my former life coming up. On Tuesday next week is my ‘last’ big event of the year. I’m doing a social media/blogging event for a lady who kindly asked me if I would. She’s bringing the soup, I’m bringing cake, and we have 20 ladies coming to join us and hear about blogging from little old me. Another lovely lady, Hege, of Hege in France, is way more qualified to lead it than me but she reminded me of a little thing. Knowing a thing and being able to stand up in front of a load of strangers and talk about it is a very different thing. It reminded me that the last time I did corporate training was at the Emirates Stadium in London. I got first class train fare, two nights in a hotel, a projection screen bigger than my whole house and a room full of business leaders who probably wondered why a crazy lady had been sandwiched between someone on the honours list and someone who is a professor and a world leader in his field. I made them all change seats and cover the wall with Post-It notes. Sometimes, I look at my life and wonder how the hell it happened to me. There are many parts of it that seem like it happened to someone else. Much before 22 is now like somebody else’s life, and now, much before 36 is like somebody else’s life. I wonder if I’ll look back at the age of 50 and this whole segment of my life will seem surreal and weird and I’ll wonder how the hell it ever happened to me?


Still, never let it be said that my life has not been interesting. Surreal, mostly, but interesting nonetheless.


Thanksgiving 2012

No, I’m not American. I’m not having a turkey or any other Thanksgiving things, and I know my Much Love Mondays are often little more than a list of things to love, but here’s stuff I’m thankful for. I’m aiming for 100, but as I’m doing this squashed between 200 other tasks, apologies if it seems disjointed!

  1. Having plenty of work. That’s a blessing.
  2. My lovely little students who are learning to read and say such insightful things like a weed is a thing in your flowers that you hate and you try to kill it but it never dies.
  3. My teenage students who, at 13, are wise beyond their years. They care about important stuff and big ideas like life and death and God and religion. I’ve had more intelligent conversations with girls a third my age than I have with most people my age.
  4. My adult clients who give me an insight into life around the globe that I could never have had if it were not for them.
  5. The wonders of the Internet, letting me live here and teach in Russia, the Ukraine, England, France, Saudi Arabia… LJ goes global!
  6. Being an examiner, which gives me an insight into teenage minds. The future is never going to be bad when they’re in control.
  7. Being able to sit and look out of my window whilst I ponder on the fact that ‘succulent’ is the word of the year, marking-wise.
  8. Having parents who put up with me when I’m stressed and grumpy.
  9. My sister, who is the best sister I could ask for and always who always makes me laugh.
  10. Madame V., who in my state of constant chaos, has actually managed to arrange something of a birthday party for me, on my actual birthday. Yay!
  11. My lovely friends who never fail to amuse me and inspire me and make me laugh, even if I don’t get to see them enough.
  12. Heston, despite all of his crazy, energy-filled-puppy ways, who is just a happy, giddy, funny dog
  13. Miss Tilly, my American cocker spaniel, who is pretty and neurotic and crazy and cute and has learned to play after seven years of being alive.
  14. When Heston sits on my footstool, with his bum on it like a person.
  15. When Tilly sits on my knee to go to sleep.
  16. When Tilly guards me in the toilet.
  17. When Tilly guards the oven.
  18. When Heston barks at random things, like sieves.
  19. Getting to go to network meetings with talented ladies who just make me feel wowed and inspired and a little bit scared of how great women can be.
  20. Blue skies.
  21. Misty mornings.
  22. Neighbours who stop and chat.
  23. Days when all the people you meet are glad to see you and happy.
  24. Autumn leaves.
  25. Having doggies who need walks and make you stop and go outside to enjoy things.
  26. Coffee.
  27. Cups of hot, milky tea.
  28. Hot chocolate.
  29. Cider. Mmmm. Cold Cider.
  30. Magner’s Cider. Mmmm.
  31. Having plenty of logs and good fires.
  32. Having to ‘commute’ through the Charentais countryside.
  33. Miss Maddie, who taught me that there could always be a tornado.
  34. Having a pile of great books to read, especially books that haven’t been chewed. Heston gives ‘dog-eared’ a new definition.
  35. Electric blankets.
  36. Double duvets.
  37. Wearing thick socks in bed.
  38. Getting into bed with a dog on each side and not caring there’s not enough space.
  39. Hot water bottles.
  40. Making a hot water bottle and having it on my lap whilst I’m teaching.
  41. Knitting. Whoever invented that is a genius.
  42. Galaxy chocolate.
  43. Cadbury’s fruit and nut.
  44. Toffee Crisps.
  45. Having a big garden and plenty of my own vegetables.
  46. The fact that even if you have a crappy-weather year, the garden always reminds you that there’s always next year.
  47. Caramel ice-cream.
  48. Beurre salé ice-cream.
  49. Just all ice-cream. Full stop.
  50. Cake. I keep trying to find a type I don’t like and I’m very thankful I’ve never succeeded.
  52. NCIS, CSI, Criminal Minds, Bones, Person of Interest. If there’s a murder in it, it’s my cup of tea.
  53. Modern Family.
  54. Winter boots
  55. Snow boots
  56. Free ebooks.
  57. Music
  58. Skype
  59. Corn on the cob
  60. Cheese pie
  61. Sushi
  62. Teppenyaki bars
  63. Soup
  64. Catching wild animals out and about
  65. Seeing troupes of wild boar trotting across the road
  66. Inspiring blogs like One Hundred Dollars A Month which make me feel all giddy about gardening
  67. Finding old friends on Facebook that I never thought to hold on to, and seeing that everything in their life is just peachy; it’s always nice to realise that lovely people have had a great life.
  68. My brain, which never seems to get full no matter what I put in it.
  69. My mouth which gives rise to much work.
  70. Having a shelf-full of recipe books and lots of great ideas
  71. RSS feeder which cuts out everything I might like to read on t’internet and stores it for me neatly for me to read later.
  72. Bones, because they keep Heston’s teeth occupied and away from my stuff.
  73. My friends who send me funny emails that make me laugh in the middle of a long and stressful day.
  74. Words. Just how cool are they?! I bet no-one in America is giving thanks for the words ‘flap’ and ‘plop’, two of the funniest words in the English language.
  75. Colours. It would be rubbish to only see things in black and white.
  76. People who can spell properly.
  77. Other people’s blogs. I’m addicted to reading about other people’s lives. I’m such a nosy Parker.
  78. Christmas decorations, Christmas smells, Christmas full stop. I ♥ Christmas.
  79. Mushroom hunts. It’s like a real-life treasure hunt.
  80. Seeing hedgehogs, bats and owls in my garden at night.
  81. Creative people. They’re so much fun. And they never follow the rules.
  82. Punctuation. It governs our words and makes our writing make lovely, lovely sense.
  83. Annie Proulx. If I could only read one writer, she would be that person. Oh, or Dickens.
  84. Not that we need another great Great Expectations re-make, but I can’t wait to see Helena Bonham-Carter as Miss H.
  85. The fact that Baz Luhrman and Leo Di Caprio got together to make The Great Gatsby. Just genius. Thanks for that.
  86. That Colin Farrell wasn’t a total oaf in Total Recall. He’s an oaf in such a lot.
  87. Meeting people from the ether-world and realising they rock even more in real life.
  88. Omelettes. The ultimate in fast food for a hungry girl.
  89. Being able to always have food on the table, even if I’ve had to go out and dig up the last spuds to put it there
  90. The chicken ladies. Always good with the eggs.
  91. My sewing machine. Hours of amusement.
  92. Buttons.
  93. Etsy, which gives me plenty of inspiration.
  94. The fact that the simple life is good for me.
  95. Flower gardens.
  96. Planting trees.
  97. That the worst of my concerns this year have been incredibly trivial in the scheme of things.
  98. Having good health
  99. As Lois would say, having legs that work. Mostly.
  100. Having a strong back.

I don’t even care if this list makes me sound like a very old lady. Very old ladies have clearly had all their life to think of interesting things to do that they can be thankful for!

Anyway, though it’s late, I hope my overseas readers celebrating Thanksgiving have a good one! As you might be able to tell, I had a mushroom omelette. It was a feast.


If you go down in the woods today…

With Heston being such a demanding creature in terms of being a teenager in need of excitement, we spend a lot of time walking. If I’m working, or on alternate days, we go on the ‘short’ walk round the little woods near me. Every other day, we go to the Braconne forest for a bit of a romp. I’m hoping that when he gets to eight months and we can do agility training, he won’t need quite so much exercise! Luckily, the garden is very undemanding right now. Today, we went with his brother Charlton and my friend Mme V. Only 100 metres into the woods, a fine looking gentleman is coming towards us with a bag of something. All dogs go mental, but the man stops to chat anyway. I suspect he was rather proud of his big bag of mushrooms. In a two-minute chat, I learned he was single, he likes mushroom-picking, he was surprised I was foreign, our dogs are lovely, he has had a bad year for ceps and a good year for chanterelles. He showed me his wares. No. That’s not a euphemism. He had a bag full of black mushrooms that he said were trompettes de la mort – death trumpets. I thought that sounded suspiciously like something NOT to pick, along with destroying angels and the likes. He said you have to string them up to dry and then put them in ragu. I was not convinced. However, upon research, I now realise he was right. Damn it.

Anyway, I’ll be back there looking for death trumpets myself. I am very sad I did not arrange a date with this man, since he definitely knew what he was doing in them there woods. I need to stop watching The Walking Dead and thinking that a zombie apocalypse is just round the corner.

via Sam’s Roman Kitchen 

I think it is more likely, given my mushroom obsession and forest-time, that I get lost, break something, die of exposure or eat a poison-pie than it is that I have to face a zombie army. But still. Best be prepared.

C’est quoi ton probleme?

It feels like A-G-E-S since I did a Much Love Monday. Today… can I do one in 200 words or less?

Here goes!

Today’s MLM is brought to you by Mika with Elle Me Dit which is a cute little tune which was, of course, all over French radio. One because it’s good and two because French radio is obliged to play music in French.

So… what am I Much Loving?

  1. My NaNoWriMo novel is fini. Hoorah. Well, it’s finished to first draft standard and that’s fine with me. I’ve done 52,000 words in 14 days and that’s good going by any standard.
  2. This resit GCSE is fabulous. What a waste of a great paper on so few children. Tinie Tempah with his malteaser friend, people eating peanut stuff and Nigel Slater talking about sweet shops of the English variety. What’s not to love?
  3. Heston and water. It’s like a drug to him.
  1. Christmas Decorations. Before you get all G-O-M on me (grumpy old man…) and tell me that Christmas is a celebration of something deeply offensive to your miserable soul, I’d like to remind you that our forefathers brought light into the house to see them through the dark times. Just don’t tell me you don’t feel just a little better when you see lovely decorations like these:

This is from Citrus and Orange, a beautiful, beautiful website of beautiful, beautiful images.

Anyway, I am off to do some more teaching of Russians, a dog walk in the forest with the creatures, a bit of GCSE marking, a bit of teaching and a whole lot of feeling fabulous this fine Monday.



I am now in the middle of crazy work and any spare time is dedicated to walking the hounds, so I thought I would do a little 200 blog until the work business is over. Or, more over. Work, as you know, is never over.

Yesterday, I had a conundrum of a couple of blog lurkers on other blogs I do. One man pounces on any French typos I make. I don’t make many. I make many more in English. Is he lurking there, every time I post, never saying ‘I agree,’ or ‘I disagree’ or ‘here’s a thing you might be interested to know’? He waits until I make an error – and only in French – as if to say my French is inexcusably bad. Fact: I type fast. I make errors. But it happens. I just wonder if it drives him mental every time I don’t make a mistake?

Some people have too much time on their hands. As my Nana would say: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I’d kind of expand and say “if you never have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Genuine critiques, comments and opinions always welcome.



Grumpy Old Men


I shall explain.

Yesterday, a man chastised me for enjoying Bonfire Night. I should not, according to him, enjoy the night when a man was set up as a fall guy; and, he added, the whole thing encourages anti-Catholic sentiment.

I love it when I have a huge shiny great balloon of joy and some killjoy comes along with a pin to pop it.

Yes, I know Guy Fawkes was set up. I can read. Yes, I know he was a Catholic. I’m fairly sure it was a great big spin job by James I to endear himself to the English public – who didn’t really want a Scottish King who thought he had divine rights  – and loved Good Queen Bess with their whole hearts, despite the fact she was a protestant and a bastard and had her own publicity battles to deal with. In fact, being a Shakespeare scholar and avid historian, I probably know more about James I than the grumpy old man who was chastising me.

I know that if Barack Obama celebrated the execution of ‘alleged’ terrorist Osama Bin Laden in the same way, and over 400 years later, people were still celebrating the event, it’d be the biggest political spin ever. It’d be a spin triumph of a similar-ish ilk with a bogeyman and a happy ending. I say alleged not because I don’t believe OBL was a terrorist but because I don’t trust George Dubya Bush to have told the truth about Mr BL and also I have unresolved feelings about the US’s puppetry in the Middle East, not least Saudi Arabia. So I don’t know. Until I see the smoking gun and I’m damn sure who fired it, I’m a hung jury. I feel like that about Guy Fawkes.

And can you imagine if the US decided to burn effigies of OBL on bonfires??! I think there would be war. Bonfire Night would never happen these days.

So yes, I’m perfectly aware that it’s an achievement of spin that’s lasted a good 400 years. And I don’t need a grumpy old man to pass judgement on my love of parkin and toffee apples and fireworks. Let’s be honest, the Bye Plot was intended to kidnap James I and torture him until he agreed to become more moderate towards Catholics. Let’s just say both sides were as bad as each other. James was a menace; Catholics were a menace. But me being grumpy about it to make a 400-year-old point isn’t going to make the slightest bit of difference.

I mean, let’s face it, every time we have a party, it’s chastise-worthy. Christmas? A grump would say it’s nothing more than a Christian Roman Emperor’s attempt to appease the pagans and that really Easter is the big festival. And Christmas has been hijacked by all the corporations and has become little more than a time of materialism and greed. Forget what it once was, people get themselves into hock to buy as much as they can for their pampered little Tarquin or Clintessa and worship at the altar of Mammon. Underneath it all, the winter solstice and Yule are much more ancient festivals.

Easter? So, we’re celebrating another Christian Roman marriage of a Christian ‘event’ with a Pagan one. Those early Christians knew that we pagan peasants in the hinterland need parties.

Hallowe’en? Just Samhain for the masses, coupled with a healthy dose of consumerism these days.

New Year’s Eve? If you’re on our calendar maybe… I’m not sure it’s of any significance to the Hindu Calendar or the Chinese Calendar.

Birthdays? Why celebrate the day of pain some woman had as she squeezed you into existence, complete with a lot of wailing and crying on both sides?

Don’t get me started on Thanksgiving or Bastille Day.

So whilst I appreciate the Grumpy Old Man’s misguided assumption that I am some brainless airhead who is perpetuating anti-Catholic sentiment (and, let’s face it, few organised religions these days don’t have blood on their hands. I’m not surprised the English were anti-Catholic after Bloody Mary…) I resent the assumption that I need chastising. People will celebrate.

It might be less laden with historical guilt to celebrate the solstice and the passage of the sun and the moon around the world. It might be nicer to have harvest festival and Yule and Eostre and Midsummer’s Eve.

But people would think I’m some kind of hippy, pagan nutcase if i did that.

All I want to do is eat cake and have a party. We peasants and land girls like a bit of that. If it comes at a good time of year and brings a little cheer into the darkness, well, I’m all for it.

So if I get a bit over-excited at the thought of bonfire toffee, leave me to it. Don’t come along and judge me as if I’m some kind of mesmerised sheep following in the tracks of all the other mesmerised sheep. Your judgement will just make me want to enjoy it all the more. Next year, I might even make an effigy myself to burn on the bonfire. It might even be an effigy of a kill joy.

I reserve the right to understand both the hypocrisy and history behind a festival and enjoy it anyway.

What was worse was that this Mr Buzzkill Mc-Killjoy decided that he needed to come along and piss on my parade. Let’s face it. Reality sucks. You’ve got to get your kicks while you can.

Whilst I was looking for this Cyanide and Happiness cartoon (I was looking for the Easter one that’s ‘Zombie Jesus Day’…) I also found this:

May God love these miserable, sanctimonious, holier-than-thou people who feel capable in their invincible and eternal wisdom of passing judgement on me and who never do anything wrong themselves. God better love them, because they make me MAD! It must be great to go around the world being better than everyone else.

Anyway, since I am but a lowly peasant who likes fireworks (I’m easily amused), I’m going to keep on enjoying Bonfire Night until you come up with another November night dedicated to bonfires and explosions. Feel free to move Walpurgis Night to November. I don’t like it in May, but that would do fine. Of course, it’s another one based on a Catholic myth, but I won’t let that stop me…

* I was obviously in a fit of pique and apologise for this venting of spleen that grammar and sense failed to constrain. I’ve amended this accordingly. Sorry!

** I also reserve the right to get annoyed about fireworks on any other day than a special occasion. But that’s a rant about errant youths, not Bonfire Night.

The Pollyanna Principle

I know it’s cheesy schmaltz but I’m a huge fan of Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter. The film, too, by association. I’m mostly a fan of The Glad Game, which I think everyone should play regularly. It’s only when I’m very sad that I don’t play it. And afterwards, I’m always glad to have been sad, because if you haven’t ever been sad then you don’t realise how lovely it is to be glad. It stops you taking glad for granted. I think there should mostly be something to be glad about, even if it comes a long time afterwards. Of course, it doesn’t always work with really horrific events, the likes of which you’ve probably never experienced if you’re reading this.

Anyway, I need to confess a thing. I’m a fairly untidy, dirty woman. I’d quite happily live in a mess. I like clean and tidy, and heaven knows my Bolton house was very clean and tidy mostly, but I’m a messy person. I get preoccupied and things get messy. There’s generalised untidiness. This comes from being an enthusiast. Thus, I’m sitting amid a scarf, a coat from yesterday, some photographs, some paint I’ve not put away, some verb cards, loads of pieces of paper, a couple of books and some CDs. There are three pairs of shoes under my table. And that’s just in the space immediately around me.

I’m not just untidy, though, I’m fairly dirty. The fire puts out a lot of ash; the dogs walk in dirt and mud, and so do I.

I sweep almost every day and mop a couple of times a week aside from occasional spills and piddles and accidents.

I’d wash up only once a day if I could get away with it. And yes, I’ve been known to use a variety of cooking pots just because all my others are dirty.

You may be wondering where the Pollyanna is in all of this.

Mainly, it’s that I have a messy dog. He chews. He strews. He leaves mud everywhere. I have to tidy everything to put it out of reach and then he doesn’t chew it. If it’s in reach, it’s fair game. This is how he ate a Chanel lipstick and a table mat and a packet of dry pasta. I have to sweep up two or three times a day because he’s the messiest dog ever.

That might depress some people.

I’ve learned to see the good in this though. It forces me to tidy up and not be such a slob. I can’t get away with just turning the duvet over once in a while, I have to wash the sheets. I can’t get away with sweeping things into piles to pick up later. I have to dispose of the piles instantly. I can’t leave dirty pots, or Mr Heston gets his big bad self up onto the cooker top to have a little look. I can’t leave dirty clothes on the floor because these are delightfully chewtastic to Mr Heston and they go under the bed only to emerge filled with big holes. I’ve cleaned my kitchen shelves and rid them of any kind of thing Heston might want to chew. A good thing to come out of a bad thing.

So what else is there that’s a bad thing that gives rise to a good thing?

1. I keep all kinds of things in my bed, mostly, but not limited to: hair bobbles, hair clips, cardigans, books, pens and socks. This means they are always easy to find.

2. There are cobwebs on my ceiling that are so thick they cast shadows. This is a good thing because it means I’m supporting local wildlife. And when I got bitten by one of those creatures, well, it made me learn more about biting spiders and not pooh-pooh my friends’ stories of spider bites.

3. I’ve been drinking that much coffee recently that I’m out of coffee and I’m a bit giddy. On the plus side, I have written 39,000 words of my NaNoWriMo book and because I have no coffee and tomorrow is not a supermarket day, I will have to drink water. This cannot be a bad thing, unless the water is filled with poison.

4. The supermarket is far away, relatively speaking. It’s a 7 km trip that takes 10 minutes. That’s 14 km round trip. I go once a week. If I don’t get it on shopping day, if I forget it, I make do. On the plus side, I can make some really great dishes out of frozen stuff. I also am kinder to the environment by not keep going to the shops because it’s easy. It’s also kinder on my wallet. Of course, there are days when I run out of milk, but I’m not going to die if I don’t have milk in my coffee.

5. I don’t have a thermostat or central heating. I have one fire in the living room and that’s it. That means every time I want to get warm, I have to get wood, start a fire, tend the fire. I can’t light a fire and go out because fires need looking after. So, if I’m going out later in the day, I don’t light a fire. I don’t have fires on Wednesday because I teach all day and when I finish, it’s 9pm and that’s a silly time to light a fire. This is not a bad thing because I generally am much better at not leaving my heating on and I’m much more frugal with wood and with heat. It also makes me really appreciate that electric blanket. Last night was the first night it was on all night. Bliss. Between the socks, books and cardigans in my bed and the electric blanket, I was toasty warm.

There. Unexpected benefits of petty grievances. If only everyone played The Glad Game.

Bones to pick, bones to pick

First off, I apologise for the lack of blogging. I’ve gone NaNoWriMo mental and done 31,000 words in six days.

Second, my life has involved Heston barking at a sieve, Heston barking at the wind, rain, mushroom hunting, writing, Heston barking at people who shake sticks at him, Heston eating table mats, Heston eating another book, Heston eating my lipstick and me making cheese toasties. Oh, and more mushroom hunting.

Third, last night we went to a bonfire night that had four fireworks. I make it sound worse than it was, because there was quite a big bonfire (which didn’t last very long) and the French don’t understand Bonfire Night, and why should they? I’d be mad if some Frenchman lit fireworks round my house on 14th July if I were back in England. Also, there was chili and baked potatoes which kind of made up for the lack of toffee apples and parkin. Next year, I’m doing Bonfire Night at my house and believe me, even if I don’t have a bonfire, I’ll be having parkin and toffee apples.

Anyhow, I realised last night that I have been traumatised and I have a few bones to pick with various members of my family over this. I should explain that with more than a fair share of nurses and firefighters in the family, there’s always been more than a fair share of horror stories about Bonfire Night chez LJ.

1. If you don’t have your jeans over your wellies, a firework could go in and blow your toes off.

Can I just ask if anyone knows anyone who had this happen to them (and Madame V, I’m perfectly aware of YOUR horror story, thanks) that they let me know. Because I think in the scale of possibilities, you are more likely to have a mushroom fall on your head and kill you.

2. You shouldn’t wear flammable materials and stand near a bonfire. Self-explanatory, I’d have thought, and sage advice. I would like to draw your attention therefore to exhibit number 1.

This is my little brother Alastair. He is probably two and a few months. I reckon it’s Bonfire Night 1981. Can I just point out several things.

a. He is wearing what appears to be some kind of shimmery nylon fabric that would go off like a dragon if ignited.

b. His boots are clearly outside of his pants and therefore the likelihood of a firework going down there and blowing his little feet off is quite likely, according to my family.

Not very responsible parenting, is it? Feed a child with horror stories and then dress them inappropriately in flammable clothes.

3. Many, many people have their hands blown off by fireworks. Well, I tend to notice hands more than the average person, and get into talking points with people about how they lost digits. No-one has ever said – EVER – that their hands blew off with a firework. People saw them off, cut them off, trap them in things, have diseases and illnesses, but nobody has ever said ‘I never listened to my uncles and avoided fireworks as I should have done’. DIY clearly causes more bodily injuries than fireworks, yet my uncles are ALWAYS doing DIY.

4. Many, many people get their faces burned off by fireworks. Having spent some time in Booth Hall Children’s hospital in Manchester as a child, I was petrified of two things. One was all the yellow children in there. I thought I’d turn yellow if I stayed there. Nobody ever thought to tell me about stuff like that. And second was all the burned children in there, whose faces I thought had been blown off by fireworks. Seeing as virtually everyone I know had some kind of open gas fire or other, and a fireguard was all the rage, I suspect that my fears as a child were largely unfounded. 

Having filled me with horror stories about the hundreds of people being injured on Bonfire Night, we were then allowed to go to a bonfire with these uncles who’d traumatised us, if they weren’t on duty. As it was, we stood so far back from the bonfire and fireworks that it was almost impossible to see either of them. Next door’s bonfire was closer.

I’d now like to draw your attention to exhibit number 2.


This is me, behind the conifer, wearing the suspicious looking man-made fabrics. My brother appears to be on some kind of scooter behind me. I draw your attention to the look of horror on my face.


I seriously look like someone’s just passed me a bomb, not a sparkler. This reaction is entirely the fault of those uncles’ horror stories, combined with my parents’ devil-may-care attitude towards man-made fabrics. Those mittens have to be made with acrylic wool and would go off like a rocket, leaving me with nothing but burned stumps at the end of my arms. It’s no wonder I’m terrified.

Not only that, but some ‘wit’ (my father?? I can’t imagine my mother would have such a blasé attitude towards children, alcohol, fireworks and flammable fabrics) has photographed Lydia with a lovely pint of what I assume to be beer.

Let’s start with the obvious. Nowadays, people have their children taken into care for such ‘amusing’ mise-en-scenes. It’s no different than the man who got his granny to pose with guns or the man who put a spliff in his baby’s mouth.

Just assuming you are less cynical than me (which is not hard to imagine) you may think Lydia’s drink could well be vimto or blackcurrant juice. Even so. That’s no different than posing with a fake gun. And let me remind you, the police put out a warning yesterday that you could be shot if you brandish a fake weapon.

Clearly, my experiences last night, with only a very small bonfire and very few children, a handful of sparklers and fireworks, awoke deep-seated feelings of terrible trauma.

If you want me, I’ll be down at my therapist’s.

Bear with…

* if you don’t know this line, it’s a shame. It’s from the most marvellous comedy, Miranda. It’s one of my favourite comedies, and I love her because she’s just so very English. Patricia Hodge is great as her mother. Despite my love of Miranda, I also love Sally Phillips. Check her out at 2:04 and you’ll get the title.

I love her favourite words, too. Moist is a great word. I despise the word gusset, though.

However, I simply cannot wait for the third series. Also, as a spontaneous emission of facts, Miranda Hart is in fact 1 day older than me.

Anyway, this month I’ve started the NaNoWriMo challenge again (that’s National Novel Writing Month to all of you people not in the know) as I can’t take part in Movember (grow a moustache for November) and since I am otherwise challenged, I thought I would get it out of the way.

I’ve actually got about six or seven books in various bits and pieces on various hard drives and it’s my aim before the year is out to get them ALL out on kindle. Unfortunately, as you can tell from this blog, I am a ‘crossover’ writer and because I am diverse, I only get published for certain things. Educational stuff, yes. Fiction, no. I had a taker on a book I wrote, but the publisher wanted a happy ending. I couldn’t bear a happy ending, and also it turned the book into a kind of inadvertent copy of Small Island, so I put it on ice. I’ve also got a couple of other books – one’s about dealing with depression and one’s about dealing with bipolar disorder. Both are finished. I never really knew what to do with them. Unfortunately, the publishing world only like to hear from the so-called experts and never from someone who lives with these things on a day-to-day basis. Well, not day-to-day. Most days, being ‘ill’ and taking tablets is just a part of the day, as much as eating lunch and tea. Other days, it’s all I can think of. Both are an accumulation of things I do to stave off depression or to manage bipolar disorder. By and large, I think I’m pretty good at it now. A lot of that is to do with living here. However, in the days when I worked full time, I coped with bipolar disorder as best a person can. I did bloody well too.

Then finally, I’ve got a couple of study guides to add to the plethora I’ve already published. All the books above are in various stages of finish. If anything, I miss that about ‘proper’ published writing. An editor is a marvel, mostly. Not always. But having a good editor is akin to having a person tidying up after you and helping you out, and the clout of a publisher cannot be understated. However, my ebooks do relatively well and I figure I might as well put the last lot on there. Sometimes I read marvellous things, like the Hunger Games trilogy and the Annie Proulx I’m revisiting; other times what I read is such shit that I think I can do so much better.

Anyway, last year, I never made my commitment public; it fell by the wayside. I figure if I tell everyone what I’m up to, at least then I’ll be shamed into getting things moving.

And, if the truth be told, I’m not doing too badly. I’m at 21,000 words already. The plot is mapped out. It kind of writes itself. There’s some research, but mostly it’s stuff I’m very familiar with. However, at the end of the month, GCSE marking starts up again and I’ll be spending all my time doing that. The end of the month is likely to be very hectic, what with the GCSEs and the magazine deliveries, teaching as well, so I want to get the back of it broken by the 14th. Today, I’ve done 6,000 words, which is not bad going. I drift off mid-afternoon and end up getting lost in research, so I tend to switch off and watch something a little mindless. Today it was Pretty in Pink. 

I can’t tell you how much I love that movie.

Anyway, back to the grindstone. If you’re missing me, which I doubt very much unless you are related, just ‘bear with’. I feel a little drained of words to spare in other places.