Category Archives: meanderings about life


I used to love doing surveys. I was a total Myspace survey geek. There’s something kind of insightful about doing them and I think I feel like I know myself a little better. I got this one from The Curious Pug. She’s a girl after my own heart. She crochets. She likes surveys. She always has great links.

This one is a list of firsts:

First thing you do when you wake up…

The first thing I do is have myself a Heston and Tilly love-in. Now we don’t all need to get up and wee before we burst, we have a little doggie love.

First thing you reach for when you open the refrigerator…

Usually something liquid. Diet coke. Milk. Juice.

First thing you do when you get to the gym…

My gym days are long behind me, much as I loved Virgin, Esporta as was. The first thing would have been to dump my stuff. My gym is the house these days. Stacking logs and shifting dirt is enough for me.

First thing you do when you get home from work…

I have the luxury of doing very little work that is not at home, so I get to teach or write or mark in my pjs. Tonight I’m sporting the fleecy spotty lilac pjs that my excellent sister bought me, coupled with my Hunter welly inserts which are damn warm. I went out to put the chickens to bed before and they kind of stayed on my feet.


Admit it. You never saw anything so elegant.

Anyway, if I am out of the house, when I return the first thing I do is look for Tilly since she’s usually on the back of the couch looking for me. Then I pet the doggies. Then I look for carnage, the scene of a disembowelled duvet, a chewed hat, the remnants of a sock. It goes one of two ways after this. Either, my things are safe and I am happy. Or something has been wrecked. Sometimes this is amusing. Sometimes, it is sad, like when Heston ate my fluffy pink Kangol hat which has been everywhere with me.Then I check emails, facebook and the likes, make a drink and leave it to go cold whilst I get hung up looking at 25 terrible autocorrect accidents or the likes.

First car

The first car I owned myself was a 1986 Mark IV Ford Escort I bought off my first proper boyfriend. It was silver. It was the least reliable car I ever owned and I used to have to coast from Horwich to Chorley of a morning.

First accident

This is a bit random because I don’t really remember my first accident. I vaguely remember cutting my hand open and I remember being in hospital having some stitches in my head once. I think someone bought me a lego fire engine or helicopter for my pain. If it’s the first accident in a car, that would be when an articulated lorry ran in the back of me.

First thing you wanted to be when you grew up

I think I either wanted to be a teacher or a dictator. Or a writer. I don’t think I really knew until I was at University and my friend Rafiq was having such a great time on his teacher placement that I knew I wanted to do that as well. Up til then, I would have liked to have been a psychologist. I was such a little worker bee that even from about 12, I wanted to be in a profession that would always guarantee me work and a living and I could never really be made redundant. I was always a bossy child, so anything that involved telling people what to do would have been right up my street. I’d like to have written advice columns or have been a go-to girl for people who needed an opinion and had none of their own. 

First choice beverage

Something caffeinated. Coffee. Diet Coke. Either is fine, depending on the weather.

First choice breakfast

A pain aux raisins and a cup of tea.

First choice dessert

Ironically, for someone who likes chocolate, it would not be chocolate. Give me a steamed sponge pudding and custard any time. Or something fruity. Fruit and custard is a winner for me.

First song that comes to mind

Because this post is a follow-on, I can’t help but go A-Ha. Instead, I’ve got a little Life of Agony groove on.

I’ve got another little one to go with it as well… big voices, these two.

First major purchase

It went like this: car, house, good stereo.

First job

I had about five little jobs I used to do, collecting milk round money, working in a greengrocers, working in restaurants and bars, working in kitchens. My first big girl permanent full-time job was as an English teacher in Chorley. Chorley is always amusing to me. Even the way people in Chorley say Chorley is funny.

First time I flew on a plane

I can’t even remember. It should be more exciting, right? To me, a plane is just a big bus in the sky and it’s a whole lot less comfortable. In fact, when I was just thinking before about going to work in the Emirates (yeah, right! I have some weird daydreams!) I thought I’d prefer to go by car and drive there. Now I live on the mainland, I can drive to Kamchatka or Korea if I feel like it. That’s pretty cool. I can even drive to South Africa or Thailand. Madness.

Anyway, I shall be reviewing my resolutions 2012 tomorrow – feel like I’ve still got a lot to achieve!


On the beauty of nylon

A couple of people have sent me off on a nylon frenzy these last couple of days. Oh how enlightened I feel!

Since 40 (used to, maybe!) marks the passage to ‘old age’, On Saturday I will be spending the night with eight very good friends in La France, getting my groove on, granny-style. There will be nylon. There will be polyester. There may be sparks. There will hopefully be lots of laughs. We’re watching two films from my youth, Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club. I can dream about being Molly Ringwald again. There will be duvets and there will be takeaway curry. There will be bed socks and dressing gowns and curlers, and, if the truth be told, I’m looking forward to another 40 years of such pursuits.

I did do an internet search for Brentford Nylons yesterday when I found myself explaining to several bemused Russians about what I was doing over the weekend in light of the Emmaus. I’d like to share a little something I found that might ease you into the mood I’m hoping to recreate on Saturday. If nothing else, you’ll see how advertising has evolved these last 40 years!


I am pretty sure my Nan had lots of those Brentford nylon blankets. I’m also pretty sure my Nana, her daughter, was a cotton girl herself, even when it wasn’t fashionable. I’m sure we never got on board with the Seventies chez Lee. No Smash. No Imperial Leather. We did have Angel Delight once in a while. As you can see from the following picture, I was quite a dazzling array of fabric. Copper lamé and brown corduroy. A Seventies dream.

lameIt’s little wonder my hair was so static. Strangely, apart from the grey hair, it’s much the same. I still love corduroy though. I’m such a Seventies throwback. And just to finish it off, Seventies’ style, here’s Hot Chocolate with Emma

Anyway, Saturday is going to be old-lady-tastic and anyone who knows me knows I’m not going to age either gracefully or with any dignity.

p.s; For a disco anthem, it’s pretty depressing.

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.

Site Stats

The weirdest things bring people to my blog. Seriously weird.

On wordpress, you get a list of search terms that people have used to find your blog and thus the whimsy of mankind is revealed. The problem is, it doesn’t reveal nice things about mankind, only weird things.

Take Monday. On Monday I blogged about Adam Ant. Most of the content was about the King of the Wild Frontier himself. I had videos and pictures and text. The big three.

Does Adam Ant bring people to my blog? No.

Shakin Stevens does.

Firstly, why are people searching for Shakin Stevens in the first place? I can only assume those four misguided souls were  actually people who read my blog, had no idea who Shakin Stevens was and decided to have a gawk at the old sexless one himself. I hope so. In that case, the internet is operating like a little closed circle. I read a blog. I find a name I don’t recognise. I google it. I come back to the blog.

But I can’t believe this to be true. That would require only one internet site for the old Elvis wannabe and that’s impossible. In fact, there are 2,480,000 websites given to you by Google when you search for that. I’d put SS to be cute, but that would probably just lead to ALL sorts of hits I don’t want. Or $$.

So how far do you have to go through Google’s listings before you get to my blog? I’m sure it’s on about page 50. I got to page 11 before I got bored. So far, it’s all youtube links and lyrics links.

That means you’ve got to be a pretty dedicated internet researcher to get that far. Why not stop at his fan page or wikipedia? I have no idea. Or you have to really love Shakin Stevens.

Not only that, let’s assume that the dear researcher is a fan. You’d have to be a fan to get through all of that. Well, they’re not going to like what I’ve written about him, are they?! Or what I said about them. Mme. V has already taken me to task over it. I’ve already taken her off my Christmas card list for the next two years.

And I was kind of nice.

I could have been much worse.

Yesterday, I called Michael Gove a fat-faced loon. And that was kind of nice. Unfortunately, I just stole it from Macbeth, when he calls the boy who comes to tell him about Birnam Wood moving a ‘cream-faced loon’. I wasn’t even original. A google search revealed that one other person in the world has used that phrase.

Now they’re looking at their site hits and wondering why anyone would search for ‘fat-faced loon’.

Google searches are great inventions. I use them to settle battles with editors. I say ‘but my phrase is more popular than yours. 74,000,000 people used mine. Only 3 used yours.’

I don’t add ‘you bleeding buffoon’ to my answer. I don’t need to. I’m waiting for one to say ‘that’s because mine is original’, like I was with the fat-faced loon thing. Then I will say ‘no… yours is just bad English. I was just using facts to make a point.’

Statistics can obviously be interpreted in many ways.

However, the good thing is that dear old bland-Elvis has only 2,480,000 hits. Adam Ant has 38,000,0000. Who won that battle in the end??!

Mind you, two in the top ten have nothing to do with the bestriped one. One is a dictionary page about the word adamant and the other is a page about a computer web store. Weak-sauce Elvis mk 2 is at least original.

Google searches are my writerly way of finding what is unusual and what is not. I thought my business slogan ‘for all your wordy needs’ would be quite original. There are 750 other people who might have thought so too.

Once, I cornered a boy on his coursework via a 0.7 second google search. Said silly boy had handed me work that was just much too good to be his. It could have been mine. I googled one phrase and up popped the exact same essay. I printed it off.

“Is there anything you’d like to tell me?” I asked, sitting on the stern side of my desk, holding the documents. His and the print off.

“Nope.” he said, smug as anything.

“It’s very good. Did you have any help? You know you’re not allowed to have help, don’t you?”

“It’s all mine.”

“And I just need to remind you that if you stole this coursework, if you copied it from somewhere, you could be jeopardising 300 other students’ work. Our centre could be investigated for cheating. We might not be allowed to enter any single student. All our coursework could be investigated. You know that’s what could happen?”


“And you’ve nothing to tell me?”


“Your own exams could be affected. None of your results would stand.”


“Still nothing you want to tell me?”

The grinning loon was still grinning.


I then presented him with the whole kit and caboodle. Print-offs, date the original piece was done, who did it, the ISP address for the site, the location of the ISP address, the ISP itself.

Luckily, he looked a bit embarrassed and didn’t try to lie about the fact that he’d written it in Canada as a nine-year old boy.

Some things are a little sad, though.

When I was 19, one of my boyfriends used to send me poems. They weren’t very good. However, there was bit that was quite beautiful: “Of all the things worth dying for, none sweeter have I seen, than the rose that is my England in her cloak of leafy green…”

It was quite lovely.

It was also stolen from a folk-metal band circa 1991. If only I could have Googled it. I’d have seen through that poetry-writing charlatan in no time. As it was, it took me a good year or so to realise he was a bit of a waste of space. I’d quite accept he wrote all the bad poetry.

It’s pretty amazing, this internet world. It can show you as a Shakin Stevens’ lover, a fat-faced loon, a charlatan poetry writer, a silly boy who should have had more brains than to get himself into a corner with me (eat your heart out, Brenda Leigh Johnson) or an editor who can’t write.

Twenty years ago, it would have been impossible to learn most of that. Or at least to prove it with google stats.

Oh Brave New World, that has such people in’t!

Making hay…

Having a vegetable plot teaches you a lot about the world. I feel the weather much more than I ever did back in the UK. To be fair, that lovely Gulf Stream keeps us warm and wet. The winters seem to have been worse the last two years I was in England, including weather like this:

In fact, it was so bad the two winters before I came here that I lost almost a month’s worth of work. I wasn’t skype-friendly then. Last year, when we had a cold snap in France and I couldn’t get out, I taught by skype.

But this year has been a disaster in so many ways. First, that cold, cold snap.

I had icicles as long as trees, and no matter how much wood we burned in the day, getting up to 23 or 24 degrees inside, it was always 11 or 12 degrees by morning. I slept in the front room. My bedroom was 5 degrees.

Then the blossoms came. They were a little late, and the cold put paid to some of the early blooms.

That was okay. We had the promise of fruit. There was plenty of blossom. A long, hard cold snap is no deterrent to nature.

But then it rained. And rained. And rained. And temperatures dipped. From high twenties, it was back down to low teens in the day. And it did that pretty much all of April.

The insects disappeared. The blossom went unpollinated. The cold tricked my onions into setting seed.

But as the matron of husbandry points out, a bad year for one thing is a bumper year for something else.

Last year was terrible for potatoes. This year, less so. Last year, fantastic for tomatoes. I harvested over 30 kg. This year, I’ve not even had a kilogram. Partly that was to do with planting, but in general, any of the ratatouille crops have been a bit thin. My courgettes got hit by early cold. Then I had to plant some more. They came up and got hit by late drought. It hasn’t now rained properly since July. And it’s been hot.

So what’s been naughty?

No tomatoes. No aubergines. No courgettes. No gherkins. No lettuce. No pak choi (which bolted from two leaves… I’m leaving it til after midsummer next year, following Susan’s advice) No sweetcorn to speak of. Small onions and lots of bolting. No plums, no cherries, no apples, some pears, small quinces, no walnuts. Few grapes. No leeks. No turnips. No swedes.

And what’s been nice?

Peas. Peas and broad beans. Borlotti beans. More peas. More broad beans. Carrots. Beetroot. Oh, glorious beetroot. Lots of hazelnuts, lots of blackberries, lots of redcurrants and blackcurrants. Lots of cabbage. And weeds galore.

I’m a big fan of diversity. I practice companion planting, which works very well. My onions, carrots, beetroots and radish sets all did remarkably well, and not just because of the rain. They like being with each other and keep pests away.

And, of course, my flower garden, in the courtyard, was fine. It’s well-sheltered and well within watering grasp.

As it is, the vegetable year is over, and it’s not just on this side of the Atlantic that it’s been a bit of a hit-and-miss year. This post from Matron of Husbandry tells how it’s been in the Pacific Northwest. Of course, that place is mahoosive compared to mine. And this old Iowa guy explains why he doesn’t have crop insurance. It sounds a lot like the crops round here – corn and sunflowers almost exclusively. However, there are more and more wheat fields and colza fields and barley fields in there. It’s shame most of this is animal feed. That tells you a lot. Meat-eating is not only labour-intensive but commands almost all of the fields round here not given to grape production for cognac or pineau. Most crops for people seem to be grown up north in poly-tunnels, or in Holland and Belgium. I did see a field full of onions though. That was a nice sight. Especially since they’d gone to seed. It made me feel like less of a crap gardener.

There’s something about a crop failure that always makes me blame myself.

But what is true in the garden is true of life. Sometimes, there are crap years. Sometimes there are productive years. It’s a combination of being enough ant and enough grasshopper to both profit from them by storing for the future as well as enjoying the here and now. If I hadn’t frozen and bottled most of those tomatoes from last year, or those courgettes, I’d have none. As it is, there will be enough to take me through to next year.

This year, peas and beetroot have been my ‘pay-it-forward’ crops. That’s not so good, but if it looks like being crappy next year too, I’ll be more prepared and more wise. Such is life. You learn from this year so you can make provisions in the future. Being in tune with the weather means I’m much more at ease with what it can bring.

As Maddie said of a soap opera when told it couldn’t get any worse, she said: “well, there could be a tornado…” and she’s right of course.

There could always be a tornado…

What’s new pussycat?

In this amazing and glorious weather we’ve had in the last couple of weeks, we’ve got a lot done outside. I even mowed the grass for the first time since last year. I know I did it a lot earlier last year, and my grass REALLY REALLY needed it, but the rotavator has been hogging all the petrol, I was busy last week and Steve was painting the house. I’m leaving off posting a picture of his painting until it’s all done, mainly because it looks kind of worse, being half done, than it did before. It’s looking wonderful, though. It looks like a brand new house. Amazing what a lick of paint can do. At 8.99€ a tub for a giant-sized tub of paint, it’s a bargain as well. Hopefully, it won’t all wash off or something.

We’ve even got trees growing paintbrushes!

I have repotted a lot of our plants on, and I’ve even done something a little cute with some cheap terracotta pots. I’ve painted them with black gloss paint, then added ‘Yokoso!’, ‘Welkom’ and ‘Bienvenido’ – though Jake asked a) if I didn’t know any words in English and then b) asked if I’d forgotten how to spell welcome. Bah.

Hopefully, give it a couple of weeks and this will start to have some plants in. I’ve planted a whole load of yellow and white plants in it – think it will look mighty fine! I’ve gone for short, bright, colourful things – a mixture of various different marigolds in yellows – to be honest, I might make a bigger series – this was a 28″, 22″ and 14″ series. Given that the pots themselves are less than 2€ each, it’s not an expensive way to decorate. I’d totally stolen the idea from Diggerslist

which of course looks a lot smarter than mine on account of the fact that their plants have grown already. I confess I looked at the picture and then did it my way. The next one I do, I’m going to run a piece of pipe down through the holes so that it’s a bit more stable. They’ve also got a lovely red door and I’ve got cement bricks. Oh well. Steve’s painting will no doubt get round to rendering these bricks, or, at the very least, painting them. And then it will look pretty too. I’d not done ‘Home Sweet Home’ because I like to be a bit more original and not COMPLETELY steal someone’s idea. I love the gloss paint, though. I did all my lettering by hand. I really, really, really want a Cameo stencil cutting machine. I guess I could make my own stencils with OHT sheets and a stanley knife, but I’m too impatient and too lazy to do things properly.

I’d done Yokoso! first and then thought about German and Italian, but then that accidentally looks like I’m welcoming people to some kind of Axis powers summit, so I’d gone for Dutch and Spanish. Steve thinks it’s amusing I’ve tucked them away behind the gates but I don’t want anyone to steal my treasures and also, if it’s only me that sees them, so be it. I might do some for outside the house though, since he’s done such a good job of tidying it up. I thought about doing Kanji lettering, but my Japanese handwriting is not good and it’d look rubbish, so romanji it is. You wouldn’t believe how many languages I went through to get to these. If I do another, I might do an ‘England/Gaelic/Welsh version’ with Welcome-Failte-Croese on it, though that might make people think I know Welsh and Gaelic, though I do not. An Irishman once taught me to ask how to go to the toilet in Gaelic, and I can say Llanfairpwllgwyngyll-gogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch after a summer holiday in Anglesey with the Ellisons. Japanese is easy after you’ve mastered Llanfair.

In the garden, the beans and peas are almost ready to be staked. Potatoes should be in by now, but Steve’s been too busy to rotavate another time, so I’ll be either digging the plots over (not much of a chore anyway) or planting them anyway. I still hold by the Good Friday planting – it’s a reason not to plant until Friday, anyway!

The propagator is still in full-time use – I guess it will be until the weather heats up properly. It’s a marvel. Whatever goes in pops into life. It takes away all those will they?/won’t they? moments when I wonder what will come up. At the moment, it’s gloriosa in there, as well as some passionfruit – not been too successful – and some Super Marmande. Given that temperatures are due to dip, I’m glad I’ve not planted any tomatoes outside yet.

Since I’ve finally given up Madame Verity’s tresor, I feel I can share with you my joyous vide-grenier find:

If the truth be told, I’d sprayed it with degreasant and it has come up like new, which is a shame. I liked it tatty and unloved. I love the whole cheesy ‘Bromance’ picture, those nasty, nasty suits, the cheesy faces, the lilac suit, the hairy-hands-guy, the tie-pin, the fact it says La Vérité (I think I’m going to rename Verity ‘La Vérité’) – she needs a La in front of her name for when she’s being flamboyant, like I do when I am La Lee. For 1€, it was a worthwhile find. It was in return for this little grannified tea-pot she bought me:

I think this ‘tit-for-tat’ (or ‘tatt-for-tatt’) vide-grenier game needs to stop before we end up with a house full of ‘treasures’ and have to do our own sale, hoping that there might be some ladies out there doing a similar thing as us who will take the whole lot off our hands.

I’m not safe at vide-greniers. I’m still regretting not having bought those Nana Mouskouri LPs. Who’s to say when I’ll see them again?

Probably the next vide-grenier I go to, in all honesty…

Have a lovely Wednesday, all!

Getting playful

I’ve always been an art lover. Art, painting, photography, making stuff – it’s second only to writing for me. Just like reading is my inspiration for words, looking at other people’s creative stuff is my inspiration for my own art. I only think I chose words because they’re easier to master. After all, I’ve only got 26 letters and a handful of punctuation to master.

Though I always knew I couldn’t make a living from being artistically creative (or an easy living, at any rate!) – I’m just not as comfortable with drawing and design as I am with words, but maybe that’s just a practical thing – it’s surprising how it’s threaded its way through my life. Ironically, I did better in Art at GCSE than I did in English. I went sensible for A level, though a large part of me wishes I’d not bothered with A level French (though it’s turned out to be fairly useful, I guess!) and only picked up A level Art when I started teaching. I did it at night school from 1996-7 and got myself a C grade. Not bad. My final piece was shit. I should have done watercolour and ink and I went for acrylic. Bah. Still, I got some nice pieces out of it and fell in love with chalks and inks – something I’d not had time for at GCSE. Considering I only did a couple of hours every week, I’m pretty pleased with that there C grade.

I picked up photography Level 3 at night school from 2003 – and this is where I found my love. It MIGHT seem quick, but if you’ve been in a dark room for 3 hours trying to get the perfect print, you’ll know how frustrating it can be too. I can work my way around Photoshop and Macromedia products, but I love the darkroom most. It’s funny. It’s part science, part art. You just can’t get a ‘perfect’ print, where you can in Photoshop. My camera was a creative tool and one I could master.

By 2004, I’d gone on to Level 4 qualifications – degree level – and it was a whole lot more complex: thermometers and push processing, part bleach, lith printing, toning, filters and apertures in the darkroom as well as on the street. I think, by the time I got to Japan, I was au fait with my apertures and filters and I pulled out some pretty nice shots. Same for Morocco.

I guess I was thinking I’d put creativity aside (aside from writing, that is!) for a couple of decades, but looking back, I haven’t at all. It’s funny that I seem to spend much more of my day creating than I used to, but only because I’m not creating in the classroom. And the last couple of weeks have been a hive of activity here. In all honesty, I can’t wait to get my darkroom set up (my Dad brought my enlarger over and so now I have ALL my kit… not only that, I have the space and the plumbing and electrics to have a permanent darkroom in the cave… it’s not wine in there, but with the wine I made last year, I think that’s for the best) and I’m going to have a ‘create space’ too. I’ve been coveting creative spaces for a while and I just can’t wait to create my own. Knitting boxes, sewing machine permanently set up, fabrics, art supplies, paints… instead of all those little boxes I have round the house, I’ll be able to put it all in one space.

I’ve hand-made all my cards this year, and I was pretty pleased with them. Some designs worked better than others.

Christmas card design
Christmas card design

I’d actually been sitting and drawing these at a street sale I was doing and a couple of people came and bought them off me, though that wasn’t what I was there to sell, so I was pretty pleased. Does it mean you’re a professional if you’ve made 4€ doing something?

I’ve also been doing pencil crayon stuff like this:

Pencil crayon Chrysanthemum

But I still think this looks more like a cabbage than a Japanese mum… oh well…

Still, photography remains my main medium, though I’m getting much more into others. I thought I’d put a few of my favourites up, because they’re a part of my life I’ve loved – mainly because I got to do several things, create, play and also meet people.

One of my favourite candid shots in Morocco. I loved these ladies!
Ancient car in Cuba

You can’t imagine how much I played around with this shot! I did once part-bleach it, post-production, then gold tint it then copper tone it. It turned out amazing. I wonder where that is now??!

Whether it’s B&W (some of my favourites) of the Sahara, of Tokyo, of Morocco, of Havana, of Manchester, of Paris, whether it’s colour of Brazil or Cuba or Kyoto, or whether it’s just sheer playfulness (like this next one…) I love playing and creating.

This is pure play. No photoshop. I printed the image from a colour neg of a grotesque in Notre Dame, then reverse printed it (you have no idea how much science there is involved in exposing all that right!) then sandwiched some acetate in there with some carefully chosen words from Baudelaire (over whose grave the Notre Dame looks – ish – ) from Flowers of Good and Evil to convey the terrors of the city. He’s pretty cool!

Today has been much more basic. This year, I’ve made Christmas gifts for my mum & stepdad, my dad & step-mum, my sister & brother-in-law, Jake & Steve… a few people have shop-bought presents, but I would have made more if I’d got my creative vein earlier in the year. Unfortunately, when you’re out toiling in the sun, there’s not so much time for sitting about getting playful, so I’m enjoying the darkness.

This morning, I lit a fire early – Steve tends to do them late in the day and the house is warm at night. I prefer them in the day and let them die out by eight. Might as well. I’m off to bed soon! I need a lot of sleep in these dark days. I got the glue out, the varnish, a few things to do. I’m not posting pictures until after all gifts have been received – don’t want to spoil them – but I’m definitely enjoying getting my fingers sticky again!

Oh the things I can do…

I’ve dropped Man and Boy off at the airport. Hopefully they have winged their way Liverpool-side and I have two weeks of … quiet… Aaahh!

Things I can do. In no particular order.

  • a naked dance. I’m not going to because no more than 10 cm squared of my flesh is exposed at any one time from now until March, but I could do, if I wanted to.
  • listen to the KIIIIINGS very loud. Whoo-hoo-hoo.
  • Get even more baubles out.
  • Eat cake for breakfast. I could do this before, but it seems such an inappropriate lesson for a child to learn.
  • Dance with the dogs. I do this anyway and Stephen laughs. A Lot.
  • Watch girlie things. Glee is on download and I DO NOT CARE if you think that is funny for me to do because I’d quite like to see Dr Spencer Reid’s Mum being a PE teacher bitch.
  • Work at any time of the day, not just when Boy is asleep.
  • Use one plate for all meals.
  • Cycle round and round in my garden. I won’t, but I could if I wanted to.
  • Commandeer all the hot water bottles and duvets and sleep under ALL of them.
  • Eat chocolates without having to share.
  • Get anally-retentive with the housework. That’s how I roll.
  • Watch Criminal Minds again, from Start to Finish. And maybe again. Yes I know who’s done it. No I don’t care. I loves me a Penelope Garcia and a Prentiss and a JJ and a Dave and a Dr Spencer Reid and a Hotch and a Derek Morgan. And then I might watch NCIS again. Just because I can.
  • Watch me some French stuff without having to put the subtitles on for Steve.
  • Listen to Brazilian and Cuban music without feeling Stephen’s music snobbery breathing down my neck
  • Play Bing Crosby from dawn until dusk
  • Break out the festive because as Steve said yesterday, he’s a man’s-man and baubles aren’t very manly. Apparently. I think a real man’s man would be comfortable with his festive side and not be such a miserable Grinch, but there you go.
  • Go to bed at half past eight without anyone laughing at me. What’s that about??! It’s like a competition in this house to see who can see as much of the night as possible. Who wants to be awake at the time you feel all rubbish and tired??! I want more daylight!
  • Keep a clean kitchen.
  • Eat veggie food every day without anybody passing comment about lentils.

But I will miss them a little bit. I won’t miss them bickering. I won’t miss having my head pecked or being laughed at or being the butt of the joke. Give me two weeks and I might have got over my urge to make them live in the cabin at the end of the garden.

The dogs, unfortunately, already have Man and Boy sized holes in their life. Moll is unlikely to vacate Steve’s chair. Tilly spent half an hour looking for him when I drove back. I suspect long walks and a bit of girl time are needed. Besides, Moll will forget all about Steve once my dad breaks out the pork crackling for her. Poor doggies.

Another keepsake from the past…

My blog last week about the ten things I can’t live without reminded me of those little clippings from Just Seventeen and this one also resurfaced:

I’ve always thought I’m a successful presenter (well, feedback forms told me so, unless all those people I’ve trained were just afraid I’d hunt them down and kill them) because I’m natural. I don’t care what you think of me, much. I try hard, I’m sincere, I believe what I say. I did part of my Masters on ‘authenticity’ – whether our inner self is in step with our outer self – it’s a cause of many problems in life and in work. Ironically, when I left teaching, I was most in danger of not being authentic,  because I was disguising this huge depression. My boss said: “You? Depressed?!”

He honestly couldn’t believe it. I guess if you wear orange suits and appear cheerful, people don’t think you’re sad. However, like Shirley Bassey, I bang my own drum and some think it’s noise and some think it’s pretty. I guess I’m not too bad at number one.

Jake is probably best to attest to me embarrassing him. He ‘forgot’ to bring all his stuff for homework, so I took him to school, told his teacher and went to pick him up on my bike, wearing my fluffy pink hat. A boy is never, ever going to ‘forget’ to bring his homework home. Apparently, Jake is a cancer, and that is ‘gay’ because he doesn’t have cancer. Ironically, he’s just looking in his homework diary now. Nobody, but nobody wants me turning up at school in a pink hat to help retrieve homework.

He said “If you think I’m doing this every night, you can think again!”

He was right. I didn’t need to do it again. Embarrassment is a great weapon. I’m reminded of that man who sees his children off on the school bus every morning, wearing fancy dress. I’d be that parent. This is why I don’t have children and it’s probably not a good idea for me to start making plans for any.

Getting on with it. Yes. Okay. I moan sometimes, but if something needs doing, it gets done. I built my reputation on it.

Philosophy – maybe my Bible lecture yesterday is testament to that. I quite often think my depression is existential angst, and I confess to having a love of all things thoughtful. I still haven’t found any answers, though, which is annoying. God doesn’t talk back much. Actually, I’m glad about it because if He did, I’d die of shock. Or I’d be a Saint and people would come to my house on pilgrimage.

Grinning. I’m not sure. Maybe I grin. Apparently, I smile like Cherie Blair. This is better than Steve calling me Rose West as he has been recently. I don’t mind. If you’re good at embarrassing people, you have to be able to take it. I’m a fairly smiley person because if I don’t smile, I look like Rose West.

I don’t know about survival courses. I used to be a triathlete and I’ve done marathons, but my feet are K-N-A-C-K-E-R-E-D. But I subscribe to all manner of survivalist/homesteading blogs and I know what a BOB is and have plans for when the economy completely collapses. Be prepared. I bet you didn’t know that about me!

Spending money. Yes, I’ve spent it like it’s going out of fashion. However, I’ve got a good sense of how much I’ve got and I can live poor too. I was only saying to Steve today about this place I lived in, in Sheffield, where I had to put my mattress over a huge hole in the floorboards a) so I didn’t fall through the floor and b) the outside air didn’t come in. I lived in a squalid room once above a pub next door to a Goth who liked to listen to the Sisters of Mercy at full blast. I lived in a freezing cold building with sixteen other people right in the middle of Sheffield’s red light district. And when I came back west, I lived with other people. That’s what you do when you’re poor. I was saying this in context of the rising ‘dole’ problem I see in England, with a million 16-24s in unemployment. I’d never have thought to claim the dole or get benefits. And if you need to share a house, you share a house. If you need to live at home, you live at home. That’s how it worked. You didn’t move out into a two-bed house with carpets and ovens and no holes in the floorboards and expect the state to pay. Meh. That’s the problem with money these days. I worked in the days before minimum wage and I did lots of bits of jobs to make some money – collected milk money, worked in a greengrocers. When other people were going with their parents for work experience, I was out there getting work experience in the local hotel, knowing they might give me a job after. They did. I worked in restaurants and I worked in pubs. Even when I was teaching, I was tutoring (I did so for the first five years of teaching – just to make a little extra. It’s amazing how much further £100 will go) and I was working in pubs. I’d still have been working in The Bridge if it hadn’t gone and blown up! And I’d never, ever have thought of taking money from the Government, because that should be for people who need it. Kids don’t think like that these days. If they have to work for minimum wage, and heaven forbid that only brings them in £20 more than dole and housing benefit, then they don’t see that they should work. I worked for much less than I’d get on the dole, and did lots of work to make sure I had enough, even if I only spent £8 on my shopping each week. I ate well too.

Languages. I guess. I pick them up easily. Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, French, Italian… bits of Dutch and German. I like languages. I like words. I’d prefer a book to a film and I’d prefer to write over all other art forms. So this isn’t too far off the mark on that.

Ah… and the one that should be at number 1. Telling right from wrong. God I’m a moralist. I’ve often said I should be in charge of the world and make people’s decisions for them. Usually, I say this if I have the misfortune to watch Jeremy Kyle. I’m not always so good at doing the right thing, but I do try. You can see that with the money thing. And the honesty thing. I’ve often wanted (and said it too!) one of those signs they have at football that say ‘OFF’ – and I could have one of these and flash it at people when they were doing something deeply offensive to me, to the planet or to other human beings. I think I get this from my Uncle Paul. He wants all lorries fitted with a 6 foot spike in the seat which can be activated when certain drivers (i.e. him) set off a remote. He’d press it if they were driving badly.

Yes, I definitely get it from my Uncle Paul. He’s a trade union guy and whilst he fights the corner sometimes for people who are complete idiots, he’s a man after my own heart, because mostly it’s the little guy against the big corporation.

And travelling on my own – yes. In fact, whilst I like the company, I like travelling on my own too. Those days in Morocco or Brazil when I was completely at my own devices – I take the world at my pace (uber-fast, see everything, stop and marvel at the things that most need it, get lost a bit and enjoy it, take lots of pictures, read, have coffee) and I meet lots of great people. The taxi guy in Morocco was horrified when I turned up without a hotel in mind or reserved. “Take me somewhere you think I’ll like,” I said. “I want somewhere not too expensive, somewhere interesting. Not just your standard hotels.”

He took me to a fabulous hotel – my room was stunning.

My room in Casablanca

It was absolutely huge with the most mahoosive bed I’ve ever slept in and it was half the price of the usual hotels because it was new. The next day, he arranged for his friend Khalid to pick me up and take me around Casa – £10 for a day tour in an ancient Merc with amazing sagging seats. Every day, Khalid came to have a coffee with me and the bar manager came and ate breakfast with me. Many men in Morocco are VERY concerned about girls travelling on their own. On the other hand, if I hadn’t been on my own, I wouldn’t have got this picture:

Amazing image and an amazing afternoon

It was the kind of afternoon that doesn’t really happen when you travel with other people – you kind of huddle up in a group and don’t get to know the people where you are. These guys in this drum shop in Essaouira were such great guys. We drank tea, we talked in a garbled French-English-Spanish and back again whenever one felt better than the others. If I’d been with someone else, they probably wouldn’t have really talked to me. The kindness of strangers is never so powerful as when you are on your own – people are much more interested in you when you are on your own. I don’t know why. Maybe you seem intrepid. Maybe you seem lonely. Maybe it’s that great joy of being able to talk to someone you know you won’t see again, a bit like a free therapist.

Plus, when you are on your own, you can go places you want to and stay as long as you like. You can’t do that when you’re conscious of other people’s boredom. I climbed up this pigeon-poop-infested church tower when the guy only let me because it was just me. And I got the most amazing shots of Casablanca.

The Cathedral in Casa

So that last one is a bit of a thing of mine, despite how much it makes my Nana worry!

A letter to my sixteen year old self

Dear Emma,

I’d like to share a few things with you – things you need to know. I know you won’t believe me but …

it all works out okay

1. I’m going to say that again, because I know you won’t believe me. It’s all okay in the end.

2. There are ups and there are downs, but the ups make up for the downs. And the downs teach you to be kind to other people and understand that we’re all just people, and we all have ‘soft’ spots.

3. Your mum is going to be your role model. You might not believe it right now, but no person on earth (except maybe your Nana and Gramps and your Dad) loves you more. What you’re feeling isn’t anger, it’s guilt that she gives everything to you and you’ve got no way of ever being able to pay her back except by making her proud of you. That’s what the best mums do. And don’t worry about making her proud of you. She will be. She is, even if you cut the top off a boiled egg.

4. Your sister is going to be your best friend. I know you can’t see that now, but you will. I know she sees you as some weird oddity, and you can’t see past her popularity and shell suits (yes, Abi!) but you will, and no-one will ever make you smile more than she does.

5. Don’t worry about your popularity. You’ll look back and realise you didn’t have a ‘best’ friend because you don’t work like that. And that’s fine. You have lots of friends and your skill is adapting to different groups. That’s a strength. Treasure it.

6. You have the best skin ever. Fact. It will never be as beautiful as it is now. And keep the alabaster look. You don’t know it yet, but you’re saving yourself from wrinkles. It’s all good.

7. Don’t worry about your weight. All girls worry about their weight. It’s pointless. You’re perfect.

8. Keep reading. I know Mrs Skinner thinks you’re crap at English, but that’s just because you’re not confident yet. You will be. And just because she doesn’t like Wilfred Owen doesn’t mean anything. You like him. He will make you cry over and over and do you know what? Her opinion is for shit. You’re not confident yet because she knocks the stuffing out of you with every comment she writes. Mrs Trethewey got you. She’ll be your teacher role model in years to come. Value what she says, not what that uber-icy-bitch says. Miss Dawson gets you too. Treasure her, and Miss Mullineaux and Mrs Kerr, because those teachers are the ones that you’ll be like: quirky and intelligent and caring and strict when they need to be.

9. Keep writing. You are good at it, no matter what she says. I know how hard you work for those Bs, and that you feel like you have to work twice as hard to be thought of as half as good, but one day, people will ask you how to write.

10. Don’t worry about other people’s opinions of you. There are a lot of messed-up people in the world and if they don’t like you, it’s no biggie. Nobody says you have to like everybody. Hell, you don’t like anybody.

11. Weird is fine. Weird is good. Be weird. It’s what you are. This is where you get confident, so go for it.

12. I know you don’t know what to do yet. Try teaching. It’s who you are. But don’t forget, half of your teachers were shite. Remember Mr Mulroy? Some of the people you will work with will be like Mr Mulroy. Some of them will have been made into head teachers and deputy heads. Don’t forget: being in a position of power doesn’t mean that they deserve respect. Respect is earned. Don’t be afraid to get the hell out of dodge if the going gets tough. You aren’t a one-man army and you can’t fight them on your own. They will bring you to your knees with their stupidity and ineptitude. Move on and remember, that’s just human nature.

13. You’re naturally artistic and creative. It doesn’t make you weird. It makes you cool. Go with it.

14. Know that your miseries are all superficial. Big troubles will come, but you’ll be fine. And each time, you learn a little.

15. Enjoy every moment of your family and friends. They’re what make life worth living.