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Elf hazard


Daughter was sewing her costume for a Hallowe’en party. Yards of green cloth festooned the kitchen, the dogs were paw deep in pins.

You have to realise here that daughter is 17 and a fashion student. So she has Ideas. And is, like, creative. It was obvious, this year, that the gothic witchy look was being sidelined, for something more, well, green.

Ages later, she stood up and put the costume on. It was kind of like a sweeping toga with a hood. But, it has to be said, she looked pretty good.

‘What do you think?’ she asked, twirling in an emerald haze.

‘Great,’ said husband. ‘What is it?’

‘It’s elven, dad,’ she said patiently. ‘I’m going as an elf in Lord of the Rings. What do you think?’

Steve looked at her thoughtfully. ‘Have you got a High Vis Jacket?’ he said.

‘No. Why?’

‘Because then,’ he said. ‘You could go as Elf and Safety.’

Health and safety officer

Health and safety officer


Lady Galadriel

Lady Galadriel

Pictures via Creative Commons, courtesy of:






I love you! (part 2)


Time passes and life stirs in the mud.

Her body lifts. An arm, a leg; they squelch back into place;

A bright eye bobs from a blackbird’s nest, sucked into its socket.

Blood raises like a curtain; and swerves back to the pump.

She flaps uncertainly.

And reaches for the sun once more.

‘I love you!’ she cries.

And every window opens as she goes by.

They stare at her from shops and homes and buses.

Past trees and granite soldiers,

And grimy paper swirling in the wind,

She loops and circles.

New love giving new life.

‘I love you! I love you! she cries once more.

And, as if by some unrealistic miracle, he springs out of nowhere, catches her and says, “I’m not entirely indifferent to you myself”.


I wrote this in response to the suggestions I had for I love you! which I posted on Saturday. The last line is by Peter Wells at Counting Ducks


Picture via Creative Commons, courtesy of  https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2357/2511306490_3173996d85_b.

I love you!


I love you!

She shouted, as she jumped out of a window on the 44th floor.

I love you!

Tumbling and cartwheeling through the pale air;

Legs like knitting needles in angora clouds.

I love you!

Past crouching silent couples, sofa bound, watching telly in the gloom.

I love you!

Past business suits and pie charts

And spotty waiters serving canapes.

Past wedding couples pushing knives into a cake;

And red-nosed men standing sweating, drinking at a wake.

Past doctors giving bad news,

And smartly hopeful interviews.

I love you! I love you!

Swinging down, coat flying, buttons straining, panting, laughing, crying.

A toddler holds Lego in her hand and looks as love flies,

And ploughs into the ground, and dies.


Picture via Creative Commons, via:


Happy birthday, mum


My mum is 94 today. As I’ve said before, she still lives on her own, and does her own cooking and shopping. I’ve written elsewhere about her spirit and coolness in the face of danger. And her handiness on a Scrabble board. I just want to say what happened after I visited her this week.

When she came out of her flat to wave me off, I got cross because she didn’t want to use her walking stick. ‘Ach,’ she said, picking it up in disgust. ‘You’re making me old.’

Happy birthday, mum.

When a blog queen waives the rules

VIB award

I don’t normally accept awards, because I can’t cope with the general request to think up seven interesting facts about myself. But Naptime Thoughts nominated me the other week for the Very Inspiring Blog award, in which (since she has changed the rules) you are allowed to lie through your teeth. How could I refuse?? Also, go check out her blog. It’s very good.

The first instruction is how you would change the world if you were in charge.

blog award2

First off,  I would banish:

  • Hot flushes;
  • Telephone answering systems – especially the ones that go, ‘Okay’ in a really irritating Lancashire accent. ‘You’ve told me you want to pay £5 off your balance. Shall I take £5,000 out of your account?’blog award 3
  • Dirty laundry. Everybody is to wear paper clothes and be issued with a rubber (or eraser, ed). Except me, who shall wear Valentino and look coolly magnificent at all times.
  • The link between eating and putting on weight.
  • The phrases, ‘Where’s my (insert word of choice)?’ ‘What’s for tea?’ and ‘Mum, this car is embarrassing.’blog award 4
  • Parking machines;
  • Traffic wardens;
  • People who talk to me in the third person when I’m with my children, ‘Does mum want to come in too?’
  • Vets that call me mummy, ‘So mummy thinks you’re anally impacted, does she?’
  • Every single human being that says, ‘Going forward,’ when talking about the future. Or uses the words, ‘facilitate, empowerment, framework conditions, or significant outcomes.’
  • The North Sea.
  • Magazines that are forever telling you to go out and buy new stuff. I don’t need new plates or a new sofa for Christmas. In fact, I don’t need to read about Christmas in October.
  • blog award 6
  • All talk about Christmas until December 23.

(That’s enough moaning,ed).

Ok. Ten things I have to make up about myself, but that I wish were true.

Hmmm. Right. I would like to:

  • be a model on a knitting pattern, next to a man (or two, I don’t mind) modelling a balaclava;
  • blog award 5
  • speak fluent Japanese (and be able to show this off, regularly);
  • sing like Aretha Franklin;
  • play the banjo;
  • win a BAFTA (for anything, really, just so as I can go to the awards ceremony and make a very long speech);
  • make a Victoria Sponge that is more than 1cm tall.

So now I nominate:

Bruce Goodman, with the plea that he doesn’t stop blogging at the end of the year.

First Night Design, beautiful artwork, and great historical stuff;

Larry Woodgate, love his exasperated views of American politics;

Charles Yallowitz, check out his books;

Tara Sparling, one of the funniest bloggers I’ve read;

Sally, with her humorous views on motherhood;

Olga, who is possibly the kindest and cleverest blogger I’ve come across;

Mel Healy, really thoughtful stuff, and when he’s not being serious, very funny;

David Prosser, massive hugs;

Simon, check out his cooking – and his pictures.

All pictures via Creative Commons, courtesy of:

God: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b0/Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_Bibel_in_Bildern_1860_001.png

Annoying person: http://cdn.someecards.com/someecards/usercards/1331768942223_8086082.png

Clown car; http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e4/Shriner_Clowns_Ferndale_CA.jpg

Balaclava: https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3306/4619273877_b8d7380de6_z.jpg

Scrooge http://s0.geograph.org.uk/geophotos/01/92/41/1924169_d5367653.jpg

Arse about face

Last week I looked at bollocks (in a manner of speaking). This week, as promised, I’m looking at arse. I almost couldn’t be arsed to do this, as I’ve had the plumbers in this week. They came to install a boiler that is big enough to power a small country, and the first thing they did was to chop through the gas pipe to our cooker. The boiler is so environmentally friendly that it blew a fuse after five hours and has since contributed nothing to any kind of warming.  Mind you they worked their arses off, and hopefully the electrician will be able to get off his arse next week and come and work his magic on the wiring which is all arse backwards. But as Jim Royle would say, ‘Boilers? My arse!’

Arse in British English is the same as the American term ass. The pronunciation was apparently the same in Victorian times, but the Americans then changed to what they felt was a more polite version (I found that on the internet, and now can’t remember where I read it; I’d look it up again, but I can’t be arsed. Sorry).

According to an online dictionary (you can see there’s been no expense spared on this research) arse (n. slang) means:

  1. the buttocks
  2. the anus
  3. a stupid person; fool


Its roots are very old. According to the dictionary again, they are:

the Old English ærs meaning ‘tail, rump,’ from Proto-Germanic *arsoz (cf. Old Saxon, Old High German, Old Norse ars, Middle Dutch ærs, German Arsch “buttock”), cognate with Greek orros “tail, rump, base of the spine,” Hittite arrash, Armenian or “buttock,” Old Irish err “tail.”

Arse (aaaaaahhrs) is used in all sorts of phrases in British English.

I give you:

  • a pain in the arse: a pain in the butt;
  • an arse: an annoying person;
  • arse about: as in stop arsing about and get on with your work.
  • arse backwards: you’re doing it all wrong
  • arse licker: a sycophant or obsequious person;
  • arse over elbow or arse over tit: to trip up;
  • arsed; to take the trouble to do something, as in, ‘I can’t be arsed’;
  • arseholed: drunk;
  • arsy: to be rude or uncooperative;
  • arsy tarsy: pettish and flouncy
  • as rough as a badger’s arse: describes a particularly bad personal state, either due to hangover as in ‘I feel as rough as a badger’s arse’, or to describe a not very attractive member of the opposite sex.
  • face like a well skelpt arse!: a face like a slapped arse;
  • she needs a kick up the arse: she needs some encouragement;
  • tight as a duck’s arse: someone who is extrememly careful with their money
  • you don’t know your arse from your elbow: you know nothing.

arse 3

German playwright Goethe even used arse in his play Götz von Berlichingen where the hero says the king can lick his arse.

There’s also the phrase ‘running about like a blue-arsed fly’ meaning to be very busy. This could possibly come from ‘a blue house fly’ as there are parts of England where the pronunciation of house sounds just like arse. Cockney comedian Mickey Flanagan tells of how he went to New York and upset some girl by asking if could come up her ‘arse’ – when all he actually meant was that he wanted to pop round to hers for a cup of tea.

Talking of Cockneys, the cockney rhyming slang for arse is aris (bottle and glass, arse; aristotle, bottle).

According to the online urban dictionary  ARSE is also an alternate name for the human enzyme Arylsulfatase E coded by the ARSE gene. One could therefore legitimately say:  “Could you please hand me that jar of ARSE.” Or, “I think your ARSE gene is acting up.”


My favourite arse phrase is ‘my arse and parsley’: a Scottish term of derision meaning, ‘Aye, that’ll be right’ as in, ‘You’ve won the X Factor? My arse (or erse) and parsley.’ In England this is just shortened to, ‘My arse’. As in:

‘Ed Miliband is a great Labour leader.’

‘My arse.’

Which could possibly be followed up by, ‘He’s about as useful as a one-legged man at an arse kicking contest.’

I leave you with Father Jack:

All picture via Creative Commons, courtesy of:

Rabbits: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tobiaseigen/130149019/

Devils house: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eepaul/3862425051/

German plaque: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6tz_von_Berlichingen_(Goethe)

Load of old bollocks


I never realised how many meanings the word ‘bollocks’ has, until I was in the middle of an email today with fellow blogger Naptime Thoughts, who was toying with the idea of dropping it into conversation in New Jersey.

She had seen it in one of my posts, where I got more comments about what it meant, than about the actual post (which can’t have been that brilliant, because I can’t now remember what it was about).


So here are the definitions I came up with:

Bollocks, firstly, means balls or testicles. Its first recorded use was in Anglo Saxon records in the year 1000, then meaning a small ball. The term was also used to describe an orchid.

bollocks 4

Professor James Kingsley, witness for the defence in a 1977 court case attempting to censor the Sex Pistols album Never Mind the Bollocks, said the word appears in the Bible, to describe small things of an appropriate shape. (You can read a short transcript here of the trial; it’s very funny. Counsel for the defence was John Mortimer, author of Rumpole of the Bailey).

Bollocks is usually used to denote rubbish; as in, ‘You’re talking bollocks.’ Or, ‘I’ve just bought a load of old bollocks from the car boot.’ (At the Sex Pistols trial Prof Kingsley said it was also used to mean clergymen, who are known to talk a good deal of rubbish.)

However the word can be used to show aversion, as in, ‘Bollocks to that, mate.’

Or frustration, as in, ‘Bollocks, I’ve missed the bus.’

It can also be used as a gerund (love that word), meaning a telling off, as in, ‘I got a severe bollocking for coming home late and setting fire to the curtains.’

And there is also the meaning ‘to mess up’ as in, ‘You really bollocksed that up, didn’t you?’


However, if something is really brilliant, you can refer to it as, ‘the dog’s bollocks’.

This last definition, according to British quiz programme QI, comes from the top of the range Meccano sets which used to be marketed as Box Deluxe. The lesser sets were sold as Box Standard which led, of course, to the term bog standard (meaning basic, unexceptional, or ordinary).

So there you go; my contribution of a load of old bollocks in an attempt to increase international understanding. Next week I shall be looking at arse.


Pictures courtesy of Creative Commons:

Sex pistols: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/8523115727/

Hilary Mantel: http://meetville.com/quotes/tag/living/page10

Embroidery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paperstringcloth/1442365471/

Street sign:


Just the ticket

wheel clamp

I hate traffic wardens. And I really hated this one. He was standing by my car, hunched over his pad like a sweating gargoyle when I got back with my ticket.

‘I’ve only been away five minutes,’ I said.

He didn’t look up. Just scratch, scratch, scratch at his pad.

I waved my ticket. ‘Look. I’ve just been to get it. You can’t do me for this. It’s ridiculous.’

He kept on scratching, so I thrust the ticket right under his nose. ‘See?’

He lifted his head then. Looked at my ticket. Put his whole pasty paw around it, tugged it from my fingers, screwed it up and threw it on the ground.

I looked at it, and then I looked at him. ‘You’re insane,’ I said.

But he just ripped the page from his book and slapped it in my hand. ‘You’re the one who’s insane, sunshine. Here. Have a fixed penalty notice from me. ’

I was going to hit him then, right in his little blobby jobsworth’s nose. My hand was tight in a fist, like this.

But he just looked at me and you know what? His little pouchy eyes began to fill with tears and he said, ‘Go on hit me. I don’t care. I’ve been waiting to do you. Ever since you drove on to a pavement last year and killed my daughter.’

This was part of an exercise I set for my students last night, to demonstrate showing and telling, and how you could use anger to move a story along. I gave them six lines of dialogue featuring an impossible traffic warden. And then I thought this morning that it might be interesting to look at it from the traffic warden’s point of view.

Picture via Creative Commons courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel_clamp

Mrs Olf and the three pigs


Once upon a time there were three little pigs. They went to see their bank manager. ‘We are a tripartite alliance of small independent bacon producers who are seeking empowerment as individual entrepreneurs,’ they told her. ‘We’d like to access suitable funding for materials relevant to ensuring our independent well being.’

The bank manager, Mrs W. Olf, snappily dressed all in pure new wool, happily lent them the dosh. ‘It’s a guaranteed investment,’ she grinned.

The first little pig,  sorry, small independent bacon producer, constructed a sustainable dwelling from locally sourced straw. The second constructed a hutment from FSC certified wood with a zero carbon footprint. The third called B&Q and had bricks delivered.

‘What are you doing?’ iterated the former two parties of the first part.

‘I’m building a house, my porky little brothers,’ replied the latter, who had not participated in the regular vocabulary trainings facilitated by their HR department. ‘What does it look like?’

‘But there are no framework conditions for using this building material,’ exclaimed the first two. ‘There is no collective agreement for brick dwellings.’

‘I don’t do collective agreements,’ said their brother. ‘I’m a pig. And so are you.’

Notwithstanding this unexpected problem in the building area, at some point, Mrs W. Olf arrived and signalled her intention to reorganise the straw house and conduct a personal take-over of the occupier’s assets.

‘It’s Mrs Wolf!’ cried the first pig, running to his brother’s house. ‘Let me in!’

‘No, that’s Mrs W. Olf,’’ said the second little pig. ‘You’ll have to complete these forms, before I…’

But it was too late, Mrs Wolf had blown down the first house and was already coming up the garden path of the second.

The two pigs exited through a back window, as Mrs Wolf blew down the second house.

‘‘Why didn’t you realise the possibility of making your house stronger?’ said the first pig.

‘I didn’t know there was going to be such a significant outcome,’ panted the second, as they both ran to the third pig’s sturdy brick house.

‘Facilitate our entry!’ they shouted at their brother. ‘Mrs Wolf wants to reorganise us into a suitable breakfast repast!’

But the third pig held the door tight. ‘You can only come in if you talk normally,’ he said.

The two brothers looked at each other in horrified amazement. ‘You mean, give up all the phrases that facilitate our ability to communicate indefinitely without ever having to – ’

‘I’m coming to gitcha, pigs!’ snarled the wolf, who was now at the gate.

‘But we’ve spent years consolidating our knowledge pathways,’ argued the first pig.

‘Let’s have an information event,’ said the second.

But just at that moment Mrs Wolf made one mighty bound and ate them both up. Just like that.

Which goes to show jargon will only take you so far, but a good wool suit is a killer outfit.

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia, Japan, via Creative Commons at: http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E4%B8%89%E5%8C%B9%E3%81%AE%E5%AD%90%E8%B1%9A

Stealing from the best

Flamenco dancer

When I was about 16 or 17 I wanted to be Ernest Hemingway. Failing that, I wanted to spend my afternoons in faded bedrooms making love to matadors (ok, maybe just the one, darkly handsome matador) and lounging about in bars smoking Gitanes and drinking red wine with, well, Ernest Hemingway, who of course would be writing about my fantastically interesting life.

Coming home from school, I would practise flamenco dancing in my bedroom, although I could never rattle my castanets; or dodging imaginary bulls (which, years later, came in very useful when trying to get served in crowded pubs).

I began to write my schoolwork in short, repetitive sentences.

In geography:

Farms are very big in Australia. In Parramatta, Gweea, Cameera, Cadi, and Memel, there is not much water, but they have many sheep. Often the sheep die. That is because of the water problem.

In history:

Napoleon was unlucky that year. He had stomach problems. It was not good to have stomach problems when fighting with Wellington. Wellington did not have stomach problems.

My teachers didn’t care for it much. I went to the staff room a lot in those days. To see my teachers. But I was not persuaded. If only everybody could write like Hemingway. (Stop it now, ed).

But, of course, the madness passed, and I began to develop a taste for other authors, and copied their style shamelessly too. I loved the way John Steinbeck described things, and discovered if I used his clear, step by step method, that I could put over what I meant really effectively. I tried hard to emulate PG Wodehouse’s effortless style and humour and I was completely seduced by the world weariness of Ian Fleming. And, naturally, being a moody pretentious teenager, I spent a lot of time wandering about casually with Dostoevsky, although we never actually got along.

Bit by bit, all these other authors and many more, have taught me how to write. I’ve taken what I liked from them and mixed it all up until I’ve found a method I’m comfortable with; that is my own voice. But I’m still learning. Still reading, still borrowing.

Who are your teachers?


Picture: Flamenco Gold 1998. Finished painting after a series of preparatory studies. Oil and gold leaf on canvas and glass by Fletcher Sibthorp.

From Creative Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/76/Flamenco_Gold.


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