Gosh it’s nice to be back. I’ve spent the last week or so loafing about doing housework, filing paperwork and other pointless chores while my technical consultant, aka my husband, has been building me a new computer. There had originally been hopes of a seamless changeover between the two machines, but my old computer had other ideas. It was getting cratchety, and forgetful, and if I used it for too long it would pick a letter and run with it for page after page after page after pageeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Oops.
But then of course, you don’t get a new computer and away you go. You have to find everything on your old one that you want to keep and move it over, and it’s all very tedious and time-consuming and when you think about your blog quietly languishing away, there’s a very strong urge to leave it for another day before you post anything, and the days go by and you can’t really think of anything to write about anyway, so what’s the point?
I didn’t really mean to write anything when I logged in today. I didn’t expect that anyone would have read anything I’d written in the dim and distant past that was the week before last. But then I discovered I had a comment on one of my posts (thanks, Mike) and by the time I’d replied to him, I just wanted to keep writing.
It would be so easy to stop posting altogether, because thinking about what to write can be rather daunting at times. But I think it’s important to realise that not every post on a blog is deep and meaningful and full of sparkling wit (just the one would be nice, actually). A blog, I think, is a conversation, and sometimes we just need to check in and um and er for a bit before we realise what we want to say.
So here it is. Nothing much. But I’m still going.
My creative writing classes have started up again, and last week I asked my students to think of a scary experience that they could share. I emphasised that they weren’t to feel they had to unburden their innermost feelings, as this was creative writing, not therapy, but that it would be nice if they could find something to scare the bejesus out of the rest of us.
I ought to say now that these classes are held right at the top of an old Victorian building, in what was probably once a servant’s bedroom, and the window is barred to stop any student who is particularly depressed about their marks from throwing themselves into the library car park three floors below.
So Thursday evening came round, and they all arrived, and I thought it would be quite fun to switch the lights out, while we shared our scary stuff, in a sort of scouts-round-the-bonfire moment, leaving the curtains open so we could see the rain sliding down the windows against the grey, sodium-lit, sky. (Gothic enough for you, ed?)
And so we began. First up was a student who had recently been to the Grand Canyon. ‘We went into this viewing gallery, right on the edge of the canyon,’ he said. ‘And it began to rain. And then the windows began to go completely black.’
‘A thundercloud,’ I said, all teachery and knowledgeable.
‘No,’ he said. ‘It was a great load of enormous spiders trying to shelter from the downpour. They were all climbing up the window, until they covered it, and then they started coming in the door…’
Oh. My. God.
And then as we went round the class, it just got worse, or better, depending on whether you like the icy fingers of doom lacing round your throat. There was the student who keeps sheep, and who had to go out every night in winter to her barn to check on her lambing ewes. And, every night, she had the distinct feeling she was being watched (with the added mystery of the tractor radio always being on, even though her husband had always switched it off). She solved that mystery, although I’m not going to tell you how, (because I’m mean that way) and I’m only just going to mention the student who told of having, as a child, an imaginary fire-starting friend. All extremely creepy stories, and all brilliant as source material for their writing.
It wasn’t until I switched the lights back on and we all sat blinking in the unaccustomed brightness that I remembered my scariest ever experience. Years ago, my husband and I had driven all the way from the south of France and, instead of resting when we got back to England, decided to press on for home. At 3 am we got on a dual carriageway and seconds later realised that we were driving the wrong way up the fast lane of a (mostly) deserted road. I still feel breathless, and cold all over when I remember seeing the lights of another car coming straight towards us, and the high quaver in my voice as I said my husband’s name – just at the point at which he threw the wheel of the LandRover and did the fastest ever U turn, and came to a shuddering halt on the hard shoulder, the pair of us quaking uncontrollably and vowing never to be so stupid again.
I had asked for scary stuff. I didn’t expect to be scared. And, as I write this, I keep checking the windows for dark, twitching shadows. But its ok, because next week, we’ll be studying Shakespeare – and how scary is that?
I was going through my old emails when I found this one I sent to a mate two years ago, when my daughter was off school with tummy ache:
‘Rose is well enough to lie in bed, commune with her mates on Facebook, watch A House In the Country (not a brittle Noel Coward comedy of manners, but another pile of old bollocks) eat half a packet of biscuits and complain bitterly that someone has been drinking her Lucozade.
Steve stripped down to his knickers yesterday and dragged Bella into the shower. (what a great intro for a world weary 20th century novel) she emerged a happier, fluffier, altogether nicer-smelling dog. Steve, on the other hand, was a sadder, wiser man with sopping knickers. Today I washed the shower.
Life is full of event.’
I was watching QI the other night, the one on kitsch – and after about five minutes my daughter looked at me and said, ‘We have to be the kitschiest family, like, ever.’
Really? Like, Ever?
‘I’m not in the slightest kitschy, ‘I said haughtily.
‘Tiffany lamp shades,’ she said. ‘We have millions of those.’
‘Yeah, but they’re not real.’
‘Exactly,’ she said witheringly.
Kitsch, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way. So I suppose fake is more kitsch. If we had real Tiffany lamps, we wouldn’t have them for very long. I would sell them, so I could afford to loll about on a beach in the Maldives while some hunky bloke was standing ready with a strawbarry daiquiri. And that in itself, I have to admit, is pretty kitsch.
‘Lava lamps,’ she said.
‘Yes, but I’ve put most of them in the back bedroom now. Having them all in the living room made us look as if we were weird religious types with an altar by the telly.’
‘But you haven’t thrown them away,’ she went on inexorably. ‘And what about the nodding cat that gives you wishes?’ And all those blue jugs with place names on them?’
‘They’re collectables,’ I said weakly. ‘And I like having a jug called Stansted Mountfitchet.’
‘Toby jugs?’ she said, quick as a flash, and then starting reeling off lists of stuff I’d never even thought of as kitsch. ‘Your pencil case, that pink clock, your tea cosy, egg cosies, for God’s sake, those biscuit tins…’
I zoned out. The thing is, the person responsible for all this is my mother. Of course. Aren’t mothers to blame for everything? She was the one, when I was a child, who adorned our living room walls with those portraits of green-faced oriental women. She felt they teamed nicely with the carved cedar wood lamp stand (it looks as if it has a dragon twining around it). It was my dad who bought the G plan furniture, though. I’m not sure who started the collection of Bunnikins rabbits and china Disney models from The Lady and the Tramp. By the time I’d got to withering teenage mode I don’t think either of them would admit to buying any of the by-now chipped cutesy figurines, even though they were permanently on display (and religiously dusted).
Back to reality and my daughter was still droning on about my shameless lack of taste. ‘A caravan,’ she said sudddenly. ‘We had a bloody caravan. And you can’t get much more kitsch than that.’
‘We had some good holidays in that,’ I said.
‘It was lined in green brocade,’ she said. ‘With bobble fringes on the pelmets.’
‘Yes, but you cut those off,’ I argued.
‘Because I have good taste,’ she said.
And you can’t really argue with that, she does have good taste. But kitsch is cool right now. The seventies are in. And she has just bought herself a pair of platform sandals in wet-look leather. Cool? Straight out of the fridge, daddio.
This just made me laugh. I particularly liked the dalek planter captioned ‘germinate!’.
I suppose, before I start, that I ought to apologise to any Americans reading this, but would it be too much to ask for some cold weather? A bit of frost, maybe? I know snow is probably off the menu for this year, seeing as it’s all been sent to the States, but if whoever is in charge of the global weather department (British division) is reading this, could you please turn the taps off before this country overflows?
I know I ought to be used to living in an atmosphere of grey cotton wool, and I had my family waterproofed some years ago, but still, I have not yet fully developed my gills, and my new fins have not, so far, arrived from ebay (apparently suppliers are working overtime).
I shouldn’t complain really; I don’t have a rowing boat moored to the bottom of the stairs, because I don’t live on a flood plain, or anywhere near the seafront at Aberystwyth, but last week it started raining in my son’s bedroom, and there is a damp patch the size of Australia in the easterly corner of my kitchen.
The weather forecast today is something on the lines of, ‘We have a low weather front lining up in the Atlantic for today and another one arriving for tomorrow. There are flood alerts here, here and here. The only person not at risk of flood damage is Nelson, although we can’t say the same for his column.’ Actually, I made that last bit up. I had to, because I’m not sure the forecasters are bothering to turn up for work anymore; it’s been the same weather since November.
However, even if in America you’re finding it hard to breathe, and your kettle keeps freezing as soon as it’s boiled, spare a thought for one special brown dwarf star system – Luhman 16AB, home of the closest pair of brown dwarfs to Earth.
At just 6.5 light-years away, it is the third-closest system of any kind to our Sun, and the closest to the nearby star of Alpha Centauri.
Scientists using Nasa’s Spitzer telescope detected hurricane-force winds of 100-400 mph and temperatures of up to 1,227C. Which sounds quite toasty warm, but the astronomers also found clouds covering 50% of the brown dwarfs’ surfaces and they think the ‘rain’ is molten iron. Still, no mud, and I could always get my brolly reinforced…