Be Warned: These are the scribblings of a writer unruly, unsupervised, and largely unrepentant

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Long Weekend (and how I won't be spending it.)

So here we are on the crest of a lovely long, spring weekend. In the US, it's Memorial Day weekend, and in England it's a Bank Holiday weekend. No matter how you take your tea, and whether you eat biscuits or cookies with it, that means you get an extra day to relax, put your feet up and -- theoretically - do nothing.
Of course, there are always strings attached, right?
Because, as humans, we are obliged to spend that bonus free time interacting with other humans (chaos waiting to happen, if you ask me!), and we are equally obliged to "have fun" or else! The feeling that we need to get out and do something (anything) with our extra time off is so deeply ingrained that we tend to feel like failures if we don't fill every moment of these three days with every conceivable "fun" there is to be had.
When I was first married, it seemed particularly urgent that we not be seen to do nothing with our time off. Oh, the pressure! Surely other young couples were surfing on the Nile, eating pasta by a Roman fountain, or cavorting through a flower-strung meadow in slow motion. So, even if we were tired and wanted to spend our precious free time alone together, sitting in our newly purchased house and watching TV with our feet up was simply not acceptable.
On one such Memorial Day weekend, this attempt to be doing "something",  included going camping with another couple. Sounds innocent enough, I hear you say. Well, forget it. Perhaps I should state, here and now, that I'm not much of an outdoorsy person. Oh, I love nature - don't get me wrong. I love scenery, animals and the countryside. I just don't need to sleep in a tent and watch fish being arbitrarily murdered to get to know it all. So, anyway, I'm not sure whose bright idea it was to go, but we had to borrow a tent . Yes, folks, that's how little we knew about camping as adults -- we didn't have that most basic of equipment to call our own. It was so cold at night that I slept in fifty layers, on the hard ground, with a torch pointed at the tent peak to watch for spiders -- those hairy-legged sort that seek the heat of human breath at night. (Well, that's my theory).
 And as I lay there, stiff as a board, my nose glowing like Rudolph's, I thought the entire time, about how I was "sleeping" on that cold ground while paying a mortgage on a house I wasn't using for three nights. Not to mention taxes to the damn government. Then, on top of that, they wanted us to pay again to sleep in the "State" park. Plus, when an axe murderer came out of the woods and finished off at least one of our party before he was apprehended, we'd have to pay to keep him in prison for the rest of his life. Oh, yes, every grievance came to the fore as I aimed my slowly dying torch at a crouched spider, waiting for it to spring directly into the wide open mouth of my snoring husband beside me.
Being so ill-prepared for the camping experience, that borrowed tent was just about all we'd brought with us, while the other couple had every single item you can buy from LL Bean, or wherever else it is you can buy outdoor lanterns, fish hooks and foldable chairs. I felt very small and rather stupid as I huddled over their little stove and realized I was about to spend a hungry three days in the wilderness because I was a vegetarian and that bag of marshmallows wasn't going to last.
That was the first and only time I went camping as an adult, but, hey, at least I can say I went out and did "something" that holiday weekend. At least I was saved the humiliation of going back to work on Tuesday, being asked what I did with my time off and replying "laundry".
The need to fit in with everybody else's idea of fun, is something that I have battled against for years, and I believe its something a lot of writers go through. We're anti-social for the most part. I'm told that I'm a stubborn wench, but really I just like peace and quiet on my terms.
I'm older now, of course, and wiser. If I don't have the proper equipment, I stay home. But whenever a long weekend approaches with all its grandeur (yikes, a WHOLE extra day off!)and I hear people discussing how they plan to machete every precious moment into oblivion as if its a competition, I always think of how happy I'll be typing away at my computer. Doing the same thing I do every day. And I shan't feel even a tiny bit bad about it. Now that is my idea of fun.
Yesterday I went for a run in the early evening, and whenever I take this particular route I pass a house where there is always an argument going on. Or it seems that way -- maybe they just have naturally loud, angry voices. Usually its the man and wife outside yelling across the yard at each other about something one of them has done or neglected to do. Yesterday it was father and son who seemed to be preparing a family RV in readiness, I assume, for their Memorial day shenanigans. Already they were stressed, red-faced, veins popping, sweat-stains spreading under their armpits, shouting bloody-murder at each other. I smiled quietly and sympathetically as I jogged by, because all I could think was, those poor souls are in for a truly "long" weekend, crammed into an RV together. They probably feel as if they have to do "something".

I hope, whether you're doing something or nothing this weekend, that you get to enjoy it. But don't feel obliged to. It's your time off so do whatever you want -- however much or however little you really feel like doing.

That's exactly what I'll be doing.


Monday, May 9, 2016


I lost my dad today. After 89 years and a few months, he finally decided it was time for him to sail across to Valhalla (Yes, he was a fan of the old movie with Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas— among many old movies). It is a sad day, but I feel so lucky and privileged to have known him for more than half his life, that I really can't complain at losing him. I know he will live on for my family in the memories he gave us, the wonderful stories he told, and the countless tricks he took mischievous delight in playing on us. Frequently.
From my father I inherited my imagination, my love of a good old-fashioned story, my sense of humor and —so I am told— my nose. But by his example, and probably quite unintentionally, he taught me many other things: how to be strong when times are tough, how to appreciate the simple things, how sometimes a good laugh is the best medicine, to always be ready to learn something new, and how nothing is ever so bad that you can't make it better.
Other important things I learned: never brew homemade beer in an airing cupboard full of clean bed sheets and towels; builders sand is not the same as sand for a children's play pit, and don't try to fart a full chorus of 'God Save the Queen' unless you're close to the bathroom.

Unfortunately, I never did learn his party-trick for dramatically pulling a tablecloth off the table and leaving all the plates, dishes and glasses intact. Maybe I'll try that next Christmas, in his honour.

My father did not have the benefit of much formal education. He was a country boy who left school at fourteen to become a blacksmith's apprentice and then a fireman. But he never lost an eager curiosity for learning, right up to the later years of his life when he mastered the computer to write his memoirs— and play a great many bloodthirsty war games. When we were younger, and came home from school with scabby knees and tattered books in our satchels, he always wanted to know what we'd learned that day. He was a voracious reader and a "sponge" when it came to learning new things. I often wonder how far he might have gone, what else he might have done with his life, if he had access to more education. I think he would have been a writer. He certainly had a lot of stories to tell and he told them well, as only he could.

So today I lost my dad. But he hasn't gone far. I'm sure he's watching me write this and tomorrow, when I wake up to another new day, he'll be looking over my shoulder again to see what I come up with next.
I hope he approves, because without him and the encouragement he always gave me, I wouldn't be here. See, dad? It's all your fault!

Love you xxx