I had a better night last night (thanks for asking) and another vivid dream. This time I was on holiday somewhere with another woman, someone older than me who I didn’t know very well. We were on our way to the beach (at least I was) when I lost my car keys. She was much more anxious about this than I was and gave me a lift back to our holiday home to get the spare keys. I missed out on going to the beach twice but managed to get on with some very satisfying work in the meantime.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is about lockdown. I didn’t get to go to the coast this year, though we had a couple of dates pencilled in; I’ve hardly used the car at all and I’ve done lots of really good work. In many ways lockdown has been like a holiday for me, though I do recognise it’s been awful for many people.
The novel, having been finished in draft form, is now gently simmering on the back burner while I get on with other stuff. Yesterday I sent off a poetry pamphlet to Mslexia and I’m getting another one together for future use. I expect I’ll get back to short stories but in the meantime I’m doing a lot of what I call ‘diary’ writing.
I don’t keep a diary in the usual sense as a record of events. It will not surprise readers of this blog to know that I can’t keep to one topic but go off in dozens of different directions, and that’s how it is with my diary. Though I do record some events in it (it’s my daily practice to write something at the end of each day) it’s more about how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking. But it’s also a place for ideas, snatches of poetry, dialogues (especially recording some of the whackier things OH comes out with) plans and anything else I haven’t yet thought of. I never go away without it and I always know where it is should I need to write something down in the middle of the night.
I’ve kept a diary like this since 1984. Sadly I don’t have the original notebooks as I found I was re-reading them too much and threw them out, but I do have stacks going back at least to the 90’s. I’m trying to keep them in some sort of order now and even though I rarely look back at them, they are a record of my life and thought. I can pull one out and read where I was at, say, ten years ago: what was I thinking? What were my preoccupations? Often they reveal anxieties that are now long-gone, things I’ve grown out of. It’s like looking at old photos. Who was I hanging out with in 1995? What were my hopes and fears? What was my daily routine? It’s good to have these diaries because you forget so much.
I had one of those nights last night. I woke at 3.30 needing to pee (it’s a constant aggravation having to empty one’s bladder in the middle of the night) and instantly my brain did that standing to attention thing and saluted smartly at some incoming ideas. Why do ideas choose the ungodly hour of 3 am? Don’t answer that – I already know why. It’s because there are no distractions, and because the brain has been chuntering away during the hours of sleep and like an eager intern who’s been working through her lunch hour, presents me with a whole sheaf of new thoughts.
I know this kind of wakefulness. I know it has to run its course and that after a while you may get a window of opportunity to try to sleep some more. So I lay and sifted through the ideas – a process which of course generates more ideas – for about an hour and a half. I can’t absolutely swear I didn’t nod off for a bit during that time but I don’t think I did; after a while I’d had enough and decided to hit the old noggin with some sleep techniques. I have a few of these, garnered from Paul McKenna’s book, so I started with counting down from 300 to zero – and by the time I’d got to 99 I was in a swimming pool. I’d finished my swim and was just about to get out. There was another woman in there but nobody else, just the male lifeguard. Another man came in and both men began to harass the other woman. Right, I thought. I climbed out of the water and strode towards the exit where the men were. ‘There’s a door there,’ I said to one of them. ‘I’m going to walk through it and you are going to let me.’ I wasn’t entirely sure this would work, but he just said nothing and let me pass. Out in the corridor I called the police.
Next thing I remember, a police officer is congratulating me. He’s played by an actor from the schlocky drama I’ve been watching, Industry. This does not seem strange to me. ‘Well done,’ he says, ‘you’ve just saved a woman from being raped.’
Then I go to work and everyone stands round applauding my actions. This is very gratifying. Next thing, I’m on my way home and preparing to tell OH all about it but before I get there I wake up and realise it’s not real.
And the moral of the story is… if you’re going to have a disturbed night it’s always better to end up with a vivid dream, especially one where you’re the hero.
I’m not one for the honours system as a rule but it particularly sticks in the craw that Philip Green, the robber baron of Arcadia, is still a knight. The honour was bestowed on him by, of all people, Tony Blair, who was busy falling over himself to prove that Labour weren’t a threat to business and made a nauseatingly fulsome speech as he did so.
People are lining up to condemn Green, those on the right aware that he’s exposing the fault lines of capitalism and keen to single him out as a ‘bad apple’. Even the Spectator doesn’t like him: the linked article states, before fading out into the inevitable paywall, that he ‘gives capitalism a bad name’. Some might argue that it already had one, but you can see their point; sailing off on a £100myacht while refusing to pay the pensions of staff made redundant from a company you bought for a quid – well, it’s not a good look, is it? And now thousands of staff are facing redundancy unless the Arcadia shops can find a buyer. Will he help them out? I know times are tough and he’s down to his last few billion but you’d think he could find a couple of quid down the back of the sofa. I know I shouldn’t judge by appearances but Philip Green (I refuse to call him Sir) looks like a hired thug in a suit; a dodgy dealer who’s made the big time and now hobnobs with the rich and famous. Nor is he keen to be interviewed: Phil was recently tracked down in Monaco by this Guardian journalist who tried to put some questions to him; he responded with aggression and threats. Hey, maybe he should run for US President?
Last time he ran away from his obligations there was a petition to strip him of his knighthood; he caved, suggesting that titles are in the end more important to him than money. After all, a title means you’re in, you’re part of the establishment.
It’s an honour he does not deserve.
Gosh, I’m in a righteous mood this morning. Maybe it’s the frost…
Gosh, I realised this morning that I went straight from doing the crossword to writing my novel without first composing a blog post. So here I am. The good news is that I have now finished Nanowrimo; my novel passed the 50,000 mark and slid to a halt at around 50,049 or thereabouts. It came to a conclusion as well, which is always a plus: OH hit 50k the other day and is still writing because the story isn’t done.
So here’s the deal: a woman wakes up in a cell or bunker of some kind with no memory of how she got there. The only thing she can remember is falling down a well or tunnel which seemed to be lined with sandbags but these on closer inspection turned out to be bodies, either dead or sleeping. She’s utterly alone but as she begins to explore her new environment unexpected things happen; she meets other people who are also in the bunker and like her have no idea how they got there or what this place is. Together they try to find the way out, but when they eventually do, they discover a truth none of them would never have expected.
So that’s the novel – and that’s the good news. The bad news is that I woke feeling grumpy and depressed having slept badly and with a headache of the kind that feels like a scalpel scraping out the insides of your skull. I know these headaches of old; in fact I’ve become quite an expert on the different types of mal de tete which assail me. There’s the tension headache which begins in the back of the neck and strangles the head, there’s the fuzzy headache caused by poor sleep, alcohol or being emotionally overwhelmed; there’s the banging headache which beats a tattoo against the old frontal lobes – and then there’s the one that visited today, the scouring headache. I have a theory that some of these headaches stem – literally – from one part of your mind blocking information from another part, producing tension in the neck which restricts blood flow and produces the headache. It’s really frustrating and I don’t know what to do about it. I feel like this guy:
I’m nearing the end of Nanowrimo, just two more days to go and I’m up to nearly 46000. That leaves 4,000 to go, which is totally doable. So far my character is in a bunker of some sort and has met three other people who are all trying to figure out what this place is and why they are there. Once they figure out why they’re there, they’ll be able discover the exit. What’s good about this is that by and large it’s coming as a surprise to me, unfolding little by little with each chapter. I have no idea what’s going to happen in the end; I’m like Harry Potter after he’s taken a little Felix Felicis or ‘liquid luck’ – he has no idea what he’s doing but ‘Felix does’ – and it takes him exactly where he needs to go.
This, in a nutshell, is the writing process. Some people plan every chapter and know the ending before they begin but if I did that I’d be so bored I wouldn’t want to write the damned thing. It has to come as a surprise to me. I do some planning and have a vague end point, then we start and all hell breaks loose. As Harry himself says, ‘When has one of our plans ever worked? We plan, we get there and then all hell breaks loose!’
I couldn’t think of anything to say this morning so fell back on the old British stalwart of the weather. One of the deep joys of living in Britain is the unpredictability of the weather. What with satellites and so on forecasters are getting much better at their job, but even so I’ve seen the forecast change several times in one day, sometimes only just catching up with a sudden belt of rain cloud or a snap frost. It’s a pain in the arse but I love it too; I love not knowing from one week to the next what the weather will be: it’s a bit like watching a good drama unfold. What will happen in the next episode? Will we see the sun at all? Will the gloom predominate or will there be a sudden frost? Will we experience unseasonable warmth?
Today we have a frost covering pretty much everything bar the roads. I knew it was coming because they’d forecast a cold night, but it’s still a big change from the early part of the week which was milder and wetter. Last night you could positively see the weather front approaching, the clouds disappearing and the stars coming out; you could feel the change in temperature. It was like being on Skye where the weather seems to shift every half-hour, from rain to sun and from warmth to chill.
There’s a weather phenomenon in the town where we live known as the Loughborough microclimate. This means that at times the weather here can be quite different from the rest of the county – I’ve seen it, coming up the A6 where the rain will suddenly stop and you head out onto dry road. Or where the weather is dry and sunny and it suddenly starts raining outside the town. I can’t find any official references to the Loughborough microclimate but it definitely exists. OH says so. So there.
Anyway, as a weather forecaster living in Britain you’ll never run out of things to say. No ‘scorchio’ here...
I’ll leave you with a memory of one of the BBC’s best-loved forecasters:
I don’t know about you but I’ve been watching a lot of TV lately and one of the things that really annoys me is the way they display detail. The drama’s jogging along nicely, there’s a ratcheting up of the tension, things are just about to come to a climax – and then ping! someone’s phone beeps with a text which is presumably utterly crucial to the action; they show it on the screen and I can’t bloody see it! It’s not that we have a tiny old-fashioned set either – we’ve got a reasonably large flat-screen model, just a few years old and it’s quite as big as either of us are prepared to countenance in a room that does not wish to be dominated by the bloody thing. But every time a text is shown on the screen I have to pause the action, put my glasses on and rewind. It’s really annoying. Why must they assume that everyone has a massive set?
I may be watching too much TV but sometimes there’s not much else to do. We can’t go out and while I sometimes do zoom discussions or read or play guitar, I often don’t have the brain to do very much when it comes to the evening. But I have started doing one virtuous thing, which is to plan my viewing and turn the damned thing off in between programmes. This means that OH and I talk more; plus we’ve taken to having dinner later which also leads to less viewing.
That said, what have we been watching? We’re glued to Series 4 of The Crown, which on the whole has been excellent and is gearing up nicely for a bloody battle between the actual Queen and Thatcher. The point of the drama is not to be historically accurate but to be believable, to be plausible within the known facts and to tell a damn good story, and this is what it does. There was only one scene I didn’t buy and that was the extreme rudeness of the entire Royal Family towards Thatcher and Dennis, which I found overdone and implausible (it may well have happened like that but that is not the point of a drama.) It is also reminding me of just how much I despised Thatcher particularly for the hypocrisy of her foreign policy; in the last episode we watched she is clashing with the Queen in refusing to impose sanctions on South Africa. She really was a most odious woman and the author of all the troubles we are experiencing now. So that was salutary. Other than that I’m continuing with Industry which I’m finding a bit of a laugh, and we’re enjoying the snippets of Michael Palin’s travels which BBC 4 is affording us. But I am trying really hard not to let evenings be dominated by TV viewing.
Badgers are a bit of a theme at the moment. I’ve blogged before about the pesky black-and-white mammals that show up in our garden at night and play havoc with the compost. It’s not that I mind them eating the compost – they’re welcome to it; it’s just that they spread it all over the garden in the process. I’ve tried wire, I’ve tried netting, I’ve tried plastic, I’ve tried spreading male urine around (well, OH has) and nothing works. The urine thing works for a while but then it rains and it doesn’t work. So I’m giving up with the dalek bin (isn’t it interesting how the word dalek has entered the language?) and it will be emptied and consigned to the top of the garden. I just hope the badgers don’t find a way to upend the other bins because that really will be the limit.
Honestly, sometimes it’s so hard to do the right thing. I’ve given up going to sustainability meetings, not because I don’t believe in what they do but because every time I go I find out more and more things that I’m doing wrong. Worse, sometimes I find out that the things I’m trying to do right are actually wrong and in order to put them right I have to either spend more money than I’ve got or do some incredibly complicated process I don’t have time for. Consider biros. They’re an easy thing to refill, right? You just take out the centre bit and replace it, thus reducing needless waste. We have a houseful of these standard bics, and I thought it was time I got some refills so we didn’t keep throwing them away. So I went online and ordered some – but when they came they were much smaller than the ones I wanted. But they were the only ones available. I checked at the Works – no joy – then I went to Smith’s. I asked for biro refills and she pointed me at the ones I already had. ‘No, I want them for that type,’ I said. ‘Oh no, we don’t do them for that type,’ she said as though I’d asked for the moon. ‘You have to throw them away.’
‘Well, I don’t want to throw them away,’ I retorted, and flounced out. I’ve never liked Smith’s anyway, they’re a horrible firm.
But! I can for a while at least feel a righteous glow because I am wearing not one but two items made from reclaimed organic cotton and – ta-da! – recycled plastic bottles. I got them from this site where they do a variety of similar things. My new t-shirt and sweat shirt are incredibly comfortable and the righteous glow they transmit keeps me nice and cosy.
It’s a cold and frosty one here this morning and the world is looking a colder place for Trump, too. Thank goodness, we all say, yet the danger now is not that Trump will overturn the election result – his chances of that are vanishingly small – but of how much damage he will be able to inflict on US democracy. There’s an interesting article on the BBC site about conspiracy theories and why people believe them, and Trump has been sowing the seeds of doubt about the electoral process for a long time. Every election in which he is not the triumphant – or Trumphant – winner is rigged. It’s the mindset of every dictator.
But the trouble is he’s convinced millions of his followers too. How do you go about debunking a conspiracy theory once it’s taken hold? If people don’t believe the evidence because they think all the experts and scientists and lawyers are in league, if they don’t believe for example that Coronavirus is real, that it’s a conspiracy organised by the powers that be for nefarious purposes of their own and that all the scientists and government spokespersons are either duped or in league, this requires a staggering leap of faith in another narrative. You have to believe that world governments are capable of working together, something they have signally failed to do up to now; that no-one (apart from a few ‘heroic’ whistleblowers) has given away the secret, that men and women of integrity are complicit or in denial – and so on. It’s like flat-earthers or climate change deniers; in order to believe one thing you have to disbelieve a whole slew of other things; you have to basically construct an alternate reality in which all the photos are faked and all the evidence is bogus. It doesn’t stack up. So yes, I believe that climate change is real and happening now, that Coronavirus is real and deadly and that Joe Biden won the US election without electoral fraud. But how do we go about persuading people who believe otherwise? Is it even possible? You can find the BBC article, including an interview with the son of a major conspiracy theorist, here.
Meanwhile, let’s lighten up a bit. The Beano this week produced a very welcome section for adults called the Beanold. It featured Dennis the Menace’s parents and a number of prominent politicians including Dominic ‘oops, where’s me glasses?’ Cummings. It was a great joy to read and I was heartened to see that the Beano is just as good as ever with all the familiar characters such as Minnie the Minx, the Bash Street Kids and Dennis the Menace including Gnasher and Gnipper, plus a few new ones. It’s great fun, irreverent and not at all cynical. Brilliant stuff.
Apart from that I spent most of the weekend tidying shelves and making soup, then making more soup because the first lot got contaminated. Although I can’t stick beetroot I do often add a bit of juice to soups and stews for colouring and yesterday I had a large pan of soup bubbling nicely and decided to pour a bit of the old purple liquid in. Argh! Too late I discovered that the beets had gone off and the juice had contaminated the entire pan of soup. OH said it stank the whole kitchen out. So that pan of soup had to be discarded and a whole ‘nother one started, in the process of which I discovered a big bag of lentils at the back of the cupboard. Joy! But my joy turned to despair when I opened them and found they’d gone off too. Who knew lentils could go off? Well, they hadn’t exactly gone off so much as become discoloured, demoralised and generally damp and manky. Never mind, I found a bottle of beer at the back of the cupboard. I opened it. Would it be flat? No, it fizzed. Was it all right? Errr, no, it was not. It’s been that sort of week…
I’d resisted watching the new drama series Industry because it looked utterly trashy – schlocky, I believe is the word – and so it is. But it’s also kinda fun. It features a slew of graduate recruits on the trading floor of an investment bank trying to sell something or other. So far it’s not at all clear what they are selling but I don’t care: the insults are excellent, like the dark side of The Apprentice and the slang is terrific. Here are some snippets:
‘he’s impressed with that US tail ride work you did’
‘let’s go for it in half a yard’
‘offer is five beeps’
‘half a yard done, four cents’
There’s more where that came from, oodles more. I suspect the slang is 100% pure bullshit, but if even one tenth of it is for real, that’s joyous. So yes, it’s a schlocky series but with a main character who’s black and fighting against the odds, you have someone to root for so I’m probably gonna keep watching. Same goes for The Crown, where I’m up to episode 2 and which has attracted some ire by not sticking to the facts. ‘Why don’t they tell the truth?’ lamented the Daily Express, to which the obvious reply is, ‘why don’t you?’ – but also, ‘it’s a drama, not a documentary.’ Episode two in the latest series focuses on a visit to Balmoral by Margaret Thatcher and Dennis in which the Prime Minister is utterly humiliated by not being able to fit in. The beef is that this was totally invented. Well, I have no problem with them inventing things so long as they don’t conflict with the main facts and are more or less consistent with them but the problem I had with this episode was that they over-egged it. I find it totally plausible that some members of the Royal Family would try to get one over on a Tory Prime Minister who was not ‘one of them’ but the rudeness was overdone and as a consequence I struggled to believe in it. They could have done much more with the subtle class distinctions – in fact the class war – generated by Thatcher, not only between the government and the working class but between it and the upper classes whom Thatcher despised almost as much. She was a true priestess of the meritocracy and had no time for inherited wealth or power. Nor have they – so far anyway – brought out any of the difficulties in the Prime Minster’s relationship with the Queen, what with Thatcher being the first female Prime Minister and there being some dispute as to which of them was actually Queen. On the plus side the Diana story is shaping up very well. So we’ll see.
OK that’s us up to date. I now have to return to the novel which today is grinding uphill like a train running out of steam.