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You’re So Vane

19 Sep

The other day I embarked on a blog, prior to opening my birthday presents of 2016. Well.  Yours truly was delighted with the fact that even more ‘needed’ and ‘odd’ gifts came her way. So here goes …

I’ll openly admit to anyone that I’ve never been reet-impressed with status symbols, brands, the latest in whatever consumerist tosh that far too many people in western society tend to be. But I’d be a filthy liar if I didn’t confess to you that when my birthday comes around, I do tend to ‘ask’ for a specific present (or three.) Not because I’m Ms Greedy Guts Materialist – honest – but because I simply think to myself, ‘weeeell, if they’re going to be daft enough to get me a pressie, they might as well get me something that I need.’

Little man chops wood! Cuckoo drives husband insane! What more could a girl want.

Little man chops wood! Cuckoo drives husband insane! What more could a girl want.

Do note here – the word ‘need’, as opposed to ‘like.’ It has proven to be the bane of my life and has turned me into the dullard Puritan that I am today. Sadly, my daughter seems to have taken on this very same attitude. A recent visit to her grandparents, ended up with Nan having to practically staple various purchases shop-buys to her grand-daughter’s forehead in order for them to be accepted (‘I’ve never known a child to say ‘no-thank-you-I-don’t-need-anything’, with every other breath!’)

But honestly, it’s not all just self-denial and flagellation here in our little household (for example, child number two is now turning out to be Mr Capitalist Commercial-Pants, as any self-respecting psychoanalyst would have warned me would have happened, years ago). But that blip aside, yeah – we may not chuck money around like some do on birthdays and anniversaries. But we do have FUN and we do BUY STUFF for each other. Still, it’s usually something er… well. To put it in the world of a close relative ‘Something completely weird and odd. Very much like you. You’re special!’

And I’ve only got myself to blame for such back-handed comments. Because I always make a point of remembering to ask my nearest/dearest for what I would most like to see, wrapped in the newspaper (I kid you not on the latter remark.) And the wee wish-list doesn’t usually contain what most women my age are hankering after (or ‘needing.’) In fact, the most bog-standard birthday present that I’ve ever requested was in response to a best friend asking me what I wanted. ‘Er, I just ran out of body moisturiser.’ I told her. ‘Good God, woman!’ she said, ‘That’s the most boring present ever! Are you sure? Last year you wanted me to get you a pair of purple tights. What is WRONG with you?’ ‘Look,’ I replied. ‘It’s what I NEED. Okay?’ She then proceeded to tell me that I was the easiest person ever to buy presents for. Because she also knew that I’ll happily accept second-hand moisturiser from any charity shop at the end of anyone’s street.

But it’s a bit of a different story for the other half and the kids. Because I subtly point out things that I NEED throughout the year. And then they forget. And then I try not to sulk about it. I mean, you’d think that I was the centre of their world wouldn’t you? I don’t ask for much in life. Well sadly, yet again I have run out of cotton wool buds, white knickers and Pears soap. Or perhaps they only tend to remember the much more whimsical stuff that I’ve taken a fancy to. So here – just to prove to you that I am entirely easy to buy for – is my top list of really ace pressies from my family.

1) Headlice Treatment
Purchased for me by Mother. At the time, I had no children, I had never suffered from headlice and I certainly hadn’t indicated in any way, shape or form – that I ‘needed’ the above. However, Mum being Mum – she figured that because I was living in sub-Saharan Africa and working with street children, there would come a time that the little giftie would be both welcome and useful. And yup – what can I say? Mums are ALWAYS right.

2) Ceramic sculpture of a milk bottle

We actually have old-fashioned pints delivered to us. But this artist re-creates both.

We actually have old-fashioned pints delivered to us. But this artist re-creates both.

In Slaithwaite, one of the villages next to us, there exists a little gem of a shop -‘The Emporium’- which displays the wares of talented local artists. One of my favourite shelves contains the work of a woman who studies old milk bottles and the more modern plastic versions. She then makes these incredible ceramic milk bottles, with labels that have very ‘local and political’ messages.

Mum makes the kid drink rancid milk. Allegedly.

Mum makes the kids drink rancid milk. Allegedly.

All about the decline of the local producers versus the scary supermarket stranglehold. My fella remembered how enamoured I had been with her efforts and presented me with one. They are so very realistic and of such good quality, that it has taken my little boy three years to be able to stop saying ‘You’ve left the milk on the book shelf again, Mum.’ And for me to suddenly realise why he always refuses to have milk on his cereal.

3) A Cuckoo Clock

There has always been a deep-yearning in my soul to have something/anything mounted on the wall with a small apparition that pops in and out of it, as if by magic. I would definitely have settled for an old-fashioned wooden weather house. But if I remember correctly, my other half accused them of being sexist inventions ‘because the man is the one who appears when it rains and when it’s sunny the woman appears in a frock. Plus it would be factually incorrect because no matter how warm the sunshine is, you’re always bloody complaining that you’re cold.’ Anyway, I’m equally intrigued by cuckoo clocks and after many years of lusting after the one at Buffers Cafe in Bolton Abbey, I finally got my own. Huzzah! (Although it’s more often ‘yah-boo’ – because my husband doesn’t like the disturbance of the cuckoo popping out every half an hour. It’s like living with a Brummie version of Victor Meldrew, I tell you.)
Still, the cuckoo clock has also provided a bit of inspiration for the title of my next book. More on that soon.

4) A Trip to Bradford Industrial Museum.

One of the best museums in the North. And free, my friends ... free!

One of the best museums in the North. And free, my friends … free!

What else can I add to this? Other than it’s ace. It’s free. And we didn’t take the kids. The only disappointment was that the Toby Inn just next to it was shut. But you can’t have the moon on a stick, can you?

5) A Tour of Wentworth Woodhouse
This year’s birthday pressie and one that was actually suggested to me by a nice chappie at the gym (and no no no … ‘A Tour of Wentworth Woodhouse’ is NOT some sort of Huddersfield double entendre!) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Black-Diamonds-Rise-English-Dynasty/dp/0141019239 Me and some of the gym bunnies in this part of west Yorkshire like to lend each other reading material that happens to stretch our brains beyond ‘Running Like a Loon Weekly’ and ‘Muscles For Brains Monthly.’

Great book. A Must-Read for anyone who cares about issues of rich vs poor.

Great book. A Must-Read for anyone who cares about the issues of rich vs poor.

So I was very grateful to be lent ‘Black Diamonds’. It turned out to be a great socio-economic perusal of the Fitzwilliams – the family who made their moolah out of the coal mines of south Yorkshire and of the poor sods who had to do the lumping and the dumping. It’s very rare that Wentworth Woodhouse throws it’s doors open for booked tours… the place is still all a bit cloaked in secrecy. And it’s only taken my other half two years and four reminders of just how much I ‘NEED’ this tour for my birthday present – i.e ‘for my mental wellbeing, dear! And yours – so I stop having to remind you…’ etc etc.

So in a few weeks time I may well be able to tell you a bit more about the experience. And whether or not the Brewer’s Fayre nearby is closed pre or post-tour (I swear that my husband fibs about these ‘closures’ – in order to save himself a bob or two.)

6) The Weather Vane

You have to *see* where I live in order to imagine the climatic conditions that we’re faced with at times here. Slap bang facing Saddleworth moors in the bosom between the ‘Two Valleys’ of west Yorkshire. So Mr and Mrs Wooden Old Weather House would really and truly have been able to stand up to the fast change and pace in the way that the wind direction and force changes here (and that’s before we’ve eaten the kidney beans). And oh, my heart’s desire! For years I’ve secretly been *needing* one of these. And 2016 finally brought me one. Thank you, thank you – one and all. The swankiest weather station that a young(ish) lady could ever have lusted after …

Cannot wait to see this erection in my garden.

Cannot wait to see this erection in my garden.

7) The Dead Pig

And last but by no means least, I was promised ‘A Dead Pig.’ The children cunningly employed an environmentally-friendly approach to present wrapping (a suit protector – now redundant- I mean, who wears suits these days?) And then they more or less convinced me that it was an en0rmous ham joint ‘you know – a dead wild Boar – like in ‘Asterix’.)  Interestingly however, it turned out to be a bulk-win of …. body moisturisers and soap.  The kids it seemed, had swept the boards at their primary school Summer Fair. Just what I always *needed.*

C'mon. It really DOES look like it contains a dead pig, doesn't it?

C’mon. It really DOES look like it contains a dead pig, doesn’t it?

 

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M-Ilkley’ing it

1 Oct

I’m off. Not like the milk (we have a rather fab local milkman, you see) but I’m actually referring to the Ilkley Literature Festival – where I’m going to be doing various bits and pieces; championing pals Bluemoose indie publishers in their ‘Northern – Not Wanted’ session,  as well as working with the amazing Razwan ul-Haq.

I’ll blog about Raz’s work a little bit later on during the festival, but I just wanted to give people a bit of a teaser about our session. We’ll be aiming to share ‘what brought us to creative writing as individual’ but our main thrust will focus on the human connection.  On how friendships and laughter – untampered by the powers that be, unfunded by institutions and organisations – can create better understanding and harmony between people from different communities and backgrounds. In fact, Razwan and I believe that this approach has much better chances of succeeding in healing rifts between communities, than the politically correct overkill and the orchestrated by men-in-suits stuff can. So isn’t this kind of thing more important than ever – in an ever-increasingly Islamophobic world?

I’ve copied the press release for those of you who are interested what The Razster and I do. And why.

Maybe we’ll see some of you there? If not – bung us message if you ever want me and that dodgy looking fella to appear at an opera house near you.  (NB – *joke* about the opera house. Raz cannot sing for toffee. Although he claims he likes to tinker on church pianos. Which is probably blasphemous. Or something.)

EAST IS EAST and WEST IS WEST?  ***(PRESS RELEASE)***

chris n Raz ATTITUDE in black and white

At first sight, it might seem that Razwan Ul-Haq and Christina Longden have very little in common and that ‘Never The Twain’ should meet. But a serendipitous meeting at a previous literature festival founded a new friendship between two authors; one that embraces Islam, Christianity, class and culture – as well as injecting plenty of comedy and humanity into their writing.

Christina, author of ‘Mind Games & Ministers’ brings a bit of Northern mirth to everything she does, whether it be a blogging at ‘funnylass’ or her current role as a Director of Lorna Young Foundation, an international charity based in west Yorkshire. Razwan Ul-Haq, Islamic Artist and author returns to the Ilkley Literature Festival again after his talk last year’s Ilkley Playhouse talk on his “Sultan Vs. Dracula” novel. Both are Lancashire born but ‘saw sense’ but defected to Yorkshire, many years ago, with Chris settling in Huddersfield and Raz in Bradford.

In a world torn apart with opposing narratives, both authors want to offer festival-goers a bit of humanity and freshness in ‘Never The Twain’ – a lively evening conversation which will touch upon everything from religion to politics; on writing about what you believe in and allowing harmony to develop with others, whilst remaining true to yourself. Come along to their FREE session at Ilkley on Sat 3rd October 7.45pm at Church House and find out how to build bridges between some of the gaps that exist between different ethnic groups in the UK, because, as both Chris and Razwan advise others “it ain’t rocket science, you know…”

Too often, projects, programmes and events are built from the outside “looking in.” Isn’t it time we began to heal ourselves through the human connection?
****EDITORIAL NOTES ****

West Yorkshire is not perceived by the media to be the UK’s most racially or religiously integrated region; yet after a serendipitous meeting, Razwan and Chris discovered an unusual friendship and the inspiration to share with others, their stories – of having far more in common than many might think…
Chris’ career has always focussed on advocacy for marginalised people – whether representing the San bushmen of the Kalahari or fronting up to the UK government when fighting the cause of council housing tenants. Her venture into fiction with the Yorkshire-based ‘Mind Games and Ministers’ series uses comedy and social commentary as a way of informing others about the juxtaposition of wealth, poverty and prejudices in UK society
Razwan’s work also seeks to expose some of the incorrect assumptions that we all make with regards to groups of people in society. ‘Black Taj Mahal’ is a mystic love story, set in two continents. We all hear so much about the ‘plight of the Muslim woman’ – however Bradford is home to many newly-arrived oppressed Muslim Pakistani men too…
‘Never The Twain’ at Ilkley Literature Festival, Saturday 3rd October, Church House, 7.45 to 8.45 pm.
Chris blogs at http://www.funnylass.wordpress.com Razwan can be found at http://www.ulhaq.com

ILF Leaflet actual PHOTO

HLF Flyer ILF approved pdf

 

Go Ask Your Mother… Or Even Better -Grill Your Granny

7 Sep

Do you know what an ‘inter-generational’ project is? Sounds riveting, eh?

But before you expire of boredom in anticipation of today’s little bloggy-offering, please let me reassure you that this whole ‘inter-generational project’ malarky truly IS something to write home about. That it genuinely IS something that should tickle all of our fancies.

You too - can find out about an older relatives smoking habits. (Although in this photo, our kid possesses a chocolate cigar.)

See below. You too – can find out about an older relatives smoking habits. (Although in this photo, our kid possesses a chocolate cigar.)

In the days of yore, we simply used to refer to such projects as ‘Hey – I have a grandparent. Aren’t they BRILLIANT!!!??!!!’ (Ref: ‘The Fast Show’. Go Google.)

But I don’t want to get too sarky about this side of things, because lots of us (for whatever reasons) have lacked older relatives in our lives. For instance, the folk whom we could rightly claim as our own grandparents and older aunties and uncles, could have passed away when we were just wee nippers. Or maybe family breakdown meant that through no fault of our own, we were estranged from our parent’s parents.

Or perhaps even, those so-called Elders n’ Betters actually turned out to be drunken old lushes who had buggered off with a toy boy named Gazza to the Costa Del Sol (and that was just your Grandad…)

Inter-generational learning about growing up to be a Fag Ash Lil...

Inter-generational learning about growing up to become ‘a Fag Ash Lil’…

Anyways. In recognition of this – and of the fact that so many kids and young people today lack older role models in their lives, I’ve always loved creating and getting involved with such inter-generational projects. The first one that I ever heard about was run by a local community group in Gorton, Manchester. Teens who were having a tough time in life were taught how to do ‘hand-massage’ and were partnered with elderly folk in the area. As yon teen massaged the hand of an older buddy, they both got to know one another better, they traded experiences of dwelling in a (sometimes tough-to-live-in and to-grow-up-in area) and yup… you can just imagine. The youth received some great pearls of wisdom in life, made new ‘mates’… and the older ones who had lent their hands (and their heads) said that the whole project made them feel ‘less lonely’ and ‘more useful to the young people in our area.’

One of my all-time favourite inter-generational projects took place a few years ago, when I lived and worked in the Kalahari in Namibia. Whilst out there,  I trained San Bushmen youth to interview and record the words and lives of their elders. Not only did the kids find out startling new information in relation to how their ancestors used to live – before these amazing indigenous folk were kicked off their homelands – but the project also led to much improved relationships between old and young, heralding a revival in bushmen culture (the youth learning the traditional dances, the methods of hunting and gathering, the history etc. of their elders.)

The book I produced as a result of the San inter-generational project.

A wee book I produced as a result of the San inter-generational project.

It was startling that the San bushmen youth and elders often lived in the same one-roomed shack, but still knew very little about the histories of the elders. And yet… isn’t this something that we’re all guilty of?

I consider myself to be fortunate. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that my family are an unusual blend of working-class white and Pakistani-British muslim origin. Over the last two decades – collectively – we have had to overcome plenty of prejudice and bigotry (and I’m not even referring to the poor, discriminated-against Brummie contingent.) So we talk a lot. More than most families, probably.

But even then, we haven’t spent enough ‘getting to know you’ time together. And there has been a huge element of taking the grandpees (as we call them) for granted. Just ask my own Ma about the fact that she and I rarely get time to have a proper natter – because when we do speak to each other, it’s all about the littlies – the dates, the change of dates (yeh-soz Mum), the music lessons, the allergies, the tantrums, the sleeping arrangements, the bargain buys at Boyes in Ilkley and the Panto-tickets. It seems that the generation above us – and us grown-up parents, never get round to simply passing the time of day, talking about the past, mulling over not-so small matters such as Life n’ Death.

Sure, if you’re into your history as I am, you can take all of this ‘missed info’ stuff rather seriously. Urged on by the best Professor of History in the world (Carl Chinn) back in my university days, I actually recorded an interview with my own Granny. I unearthed some fascinating stuff (Gran was once wooed by a certain young Mr Cadbury, whilst she happened to be on her hols in Llandudno…) but you don’t have to be as organised as I, weirdy, nerdy-teen,  clearly happened to be.

Granny in the beret on Llandudno pier. Legging it from multi-millionaire choco-magnate. Like you do.

My Granny (in the beret) on Llandudno pier. Legging it from the advances of a multi-millionaire choco-magnate. As you do.

Because this is where the informal inter-generational project perhaps needs to be considered a bit more by all of us. I was reminded of this the other day when my ten year old informed me of a startling new nugget of information;

GIRL: Mum, did you know how you came to be called ‘Christina’?

ME: Well – yeah. I think Grandma just liked the sound of it.

GIRL: Oh no. It wasn’t like that. You weren’t given your name straight away. Grandad told me.

ME: Well… I know that I wasn’t ‘Christina’ straight away. I know that my hospital tag only had my surname on it. And I do remember seeing a few ‘arrival of new baby’ cards that referred to me as ‘Baby Jennifer.’ So they obviously changed their minds about plumping for that one.

GIRL: Well I know why and how it all happened. About two days after they brought you home from the hospital and thought you would probably be called ‘Jennifer’, the phone rang and Grandad answered it. A drunken man asked for ‘Christina.’  Grandad told the bloke that no one called that name lived there.

ME: Oh.

GIRL: Yes – then – the next night, at exactly the same time – the drunken man rang again and asked for ‘Christina.’ Again. And Grandad said the same thing. No one here called that.  And then when he hung up he said to Grandma ‘Actually – that’s a nice name isn’t it?’ And so they decided finally on your name and registered you with that name – and all of that.

ME: Great. So I was named as the result of a drunken, telephone mis-dialling phenomenon?

GIRL: Yeah! Cool eh?

nana and us babies

My Nana nurses me. My brother was probably hankering after Nana’s pink turban. Ah…the days when hats really *were* hats eh?

But this daft ‘your namesake’ new little revelation of mine reminded me of another ‘inter-generational’ discovery. Sadly, my own Nana died as a result of suffering with terrible dementia. For the last year or so of her life, her conversation made very little sense to most people. But as her granddaughter – it was perhaps easier for me than for others – to listen to her words and to try and find the meaning behind them.

But for Nana’s own daughters it must have been terribly too painful and too frustrating for them to listen to. (And if you’ve ever been through this, you’ll know that nursing a relative or friend through dementia is one of the most heartbreaking experiences in the world. This is truly a case in point where a generation-removed is sometimes a ‘balm for the soul.’)

A year or so after Nana had died – thanks to my dad’s renewed interest in family history – my mother informed me that she had just discovered that her Grandad had died in the Great War. Mum hadn’t known about this at all (because Nana’s mother had remarried when she was only small, so my mother had grown up only hearing about the stepfather in the family.)

AND YET – GOBBY GIRL HERE – already knew about this.

Seriously.

“But I already knew this, Mum,” I said when she told me about the fact that my dad had even discovered Great-Grandad’s war grave.  “Nana told me a few months before she died. An entire tale about how she met him when she was tiny and he was just back home on leave from the war. Wearing his uniform.”

Samuel Hight's grave 1 sml

When she finally knew where her Grandad was buried, mum left a photo of his family next on top of his war grave in Flanders.

This this little case study of course, marked a far more emotional inter-generational revelation than my recent discovery of the drunken phone conversation. And it also culminated in my parents going to visit my Great Grandad’s war grave in Flanders. Serious, heart-rending and important stuff can be uncovered – if we just listen to each other a bit more, between the generations. If I had thought to have mentioned this to my own mum before Nana died… perhaps we could have mentioned it to her more in her last few weeks and…

But no point in dwelling on it.

And on a lighter note,  as well as being the recipients of previously unheard-of information, the younger generations can also inform their elders of stuff that they might not be aware of. Or ‘grass us parents up,’ if you like. My daughter told me last week; “Grandad had no idea that you once chucked a tin of baked beans at Uncle Steven’s head. And that you always tried to get *your own brother into trouble* all of the time –  by sneaking into his room and turning the dial up on his stereo and leaving empty crisp packets filled with water on his floor.”

kung fu fighting

Thanks to my kids, my own folks are more aware of the Kung Fu fighting that went on when *their* backs were turned.

And then the titbits that you feed your own kids about what the grandpees revealed to you about their childhoods, can come back and bite the grandparent’s bums… (“Mum – Grandad tried to tell me off for punching my brother but then I said that he had no right to, because back in the 1950s he once hit another kid over the head with a shovel-handle.”)

So the moral of the tale is to keep that dialogue flowing between the budding youth and the oldies. Between ALL of us really. Or you can do as my mother-in-law has done, write down your life story and self-publish it – ensuring that your nearest and dearest find out about the bits that you may never have gotten round to sharing (although a very elderly friend of mine has done the same but has a lot more scandal to share and has therefore neatly typed out her life story and it remains under lock and key until she shuffles off this mortal coil.)

Go on Grandpa. Dish the dirt on what a miserable little swine our Dad was...

Go on Grandpa. Dish the dirt on what a miserable little swine our Dad was…

Inter-generational questioning of one another however,  can cause a bit of embarrassment. It might be pertinent for example, to advise the younger generation that it ain’t clever to grill your grandparents about their sex life (as a slap round the chops can often offend.) So diplomacy should always rule the day when interviewing your elders, my dears…

But if anyone- ANYONE – out there happens to know of a chappy who used to be rather sozzled during the 1970’s and who had a lady-friend called ‘Christina’ – you will give me a tinkle, won’t you?

Because it could be the last piece of my own inter-generational puzzle…

Teddy Boy-Dad. Apparently he had 'come to bed eyes'. But these days Mum says its in order to test the new electric blanket he got from Aldi.

My Teddy Boy-Dad once told me that “the girls always said that I had ‘come to bed eyes.'” And I’m all for trading stories Pops, but let’s leave it at that. Eh?

The Industrialisation of Words? And a Revolution.

30 Jul

Continuing my focus on library-adoration and generating more love affairs with the lit, in today’s blog I wanted to focus a bit more about the challenges facing the great British public when it comes to getting your mitts on a decent book.

First of all – let’s start with the schools. Now, I realise that I might differ from a lot of parents when it comes to The Big Choice of ‘which high school should I dump the kid at?’ – because for me, postcode, number of A-starred qualifications achieved and whether the uniform matches the girl’s eyes isn’t really of much importance. What is at the top of tick list is … The School Library.

So yes – Mr and Ms Headteacher – if you want me and mine to truck up and place bums on your seats thereby ensuring your future survival, you really will need to cough up some good library offerings. Because not only do I want my kids to be surrounded with a sea of books, I’m also acutely aware that for those outside-of-lessons times, the library can offer a sea of tranquility and a place of safety. Especially if the bigger and nastier kids keep trying to flush your head down the loo, during the lunch hour as a result of your Ma’s very public blogging-habit.

But sadly, the odds tend to be stacked against school libraries. I happen to know someone who works in one of them and who tells me that the budget for purchasing new books *for the entire year this year* was a staggeringly pathetic £300! Three hundred measly pounds! What on earth will that buy the school in terms of books? (well actually… I’ll allude to this issue again in a minute.) And with such a low amount to play with, trying to draw in the kids who are not natural readers, who may not venerate books and shriek ‘Mind The Spines!’ at others as I’m rather want to do – must feel nigh on impossible for staff.

Hogwarts School Library. (We can but dream...)

Hogwarts School Library. Bet this lot cost more than £300

For the purpose of this blog  I’ve been speaking to the Schools Library Association – a registered charity that supports schools who want to provide great libraries for kids. The charity provides advice, training and reviews of recent books for schools. And to be honest, they didn’t have to try very hard in order to persuade me of the benefits of a school becoming a member of the SLA;  as I’m already a bit of a born-again Bookie. But I was definitely sold on the organisation, when I saw the range of information available to members on how to engage the more reluctant reader. Schools Library Association

So I reckon that if you’re a parent and you want your kid to grow up to become an adult with a life-long love of books, you really should be persuading your school to join the SLA if they aren’t already members.  And if you’re not a parent – then the very least you should be doing is re-writing your will and bequeathing everything to the SLA. Or volunteering to work in a school library. You know it makes sense…

Good news then! That the likes of the SLA exists. But then the inevitable bad news; that the resources available to schools for stocking the libraries, well. Don’t exist.

In my previous blog, I mentioned that my daughter – a child with dyslexia who has learned to at least *enjoy* (if not froth at the mouth over books, as I do) – has become very dispirited with the type and range of books on offer at school. I’ve also heard from many other parents who were saying exactly the same kind of thing – and these are all folk whose kids don’t have any kind of issue in terms of reading or literacy. The dissatisfaction with the range of books on offer is now at the stage where I decided to set up my own informal little lending library – using the old-fashioned, second-hand but brilliant stories that have captivated my own children (although we do operate a fierce system of fines for overdue books – a ruddy great big bar of Galaxy and a bottle of Bulmer’s might just about stop us from sending The Tyke Lads round.)

But why did I feel that I had to do this? Why are so many of the books available *not working* for so many of our kids? Why are we still being told (see previous blogpost) that literacy rates give enormous causes for concern in the UK? And yet – conversely – the UK book industry publishes more books per head than any other country in the world?  Publishing Too Much Tosh?

And meanwhile, why are our kids (and boys especially) telling us in a recent survey that, “I cannot find things to read that interest me,” (with 35% of boys claiming this.)

Give boys GOOD BOOKS. Or they might do this to their toys. Boredom has that effect...

Give boys GOOD BOOKS. Or they might do this to their toys. Boredom has that effect…

The depressing truth is this; the UK book industry is completely controlled by humongously proportioned publishing houses who are continually re-branding, merging and jockeying in order to be the fellas who can sell the most.

These publishing houses work through a tiny number of distributors  and in order to *maximise profit* (which let’s face it – is far more important than literary quality or a rollocking good read, a brilliantly unusual story) books are bought and sold at ridiculously discounted prices.  The simple economics of 21st century capitalism mean therefore, that massive amounts of certain, selected titles have to be stacked high and flogged off; cheap as chips.  Hence the product placing, the ‘Summer Read Same-Olds’ – of a very selected number of titles in our high street shops and even our supermarket chains too, which on pain of death (i.e. profit margins) HAVE to be sold to us unsuspecting reading public.

And this means that an independently published (or self-published) ‘unknown’ author (read; ‘non-celeb’, or alternatively, ‘not well-connected in the literary world already’) finds it utterly impossible to access the high street market -or to be able to offer the kind of discounts that the distributors demand.  They cannot compete. Originality and innovation is stifled. Bland formulas and the approach of ‘hey – it worked for 50 Shades!’ rules the day. Hence the watering down of new styles, of content, of quality.

And all of this is because of simple economics; if you want to get rich off of the back of a book jacket, you have to pile ’em high and take NO risk on a new author. Risk aversion is the mantra of the marketing moguls in the publishing industry.  And if you don’t want to be part of the chain stores who have to play to the tune of the Big Fellas, you’ll also struggle. Our precious little gems – the indie book stores are subsequently having a hard time of it. In February 2014 – for the first time ever – the number of Independent Bookstores dropped below 1,000. Go Love an Indie Bookstore Bluemoose logo (2)

Kevin Duffy – founder of the north’s best independent, high quality publisher ‘Bluemoose’ always has plenty to say on the Londoncentric and ruthlessly profit driven literary establishment that now dictates what ‘tosh’ (in the words of my daughter) is all too often published and bulk-bought by both high street stores  and strapped for cash public and school libraries.

He and I got chatting about what his views were with regards to the range and type of books available as essential reading within school curriculums. He told me of an additional, worrying trend;

“The problem is this; that the school curriculum is so prescribed now, that it doesn’t allow for ‘peripheral’ reading – as teachers seem to only ask students to read passages and not the whole book, in order to pass the exams. The pressure on teachers to teach to the ‘exam’ is also limiting. The love of words and the rhythm and insight of novels is therefore lost – to this – the ONLY objective in state schools … to get the best possible grade in the exams.”

One of Bluemoose Books most compelling publications is ‘STOP – Don’t Read This!’ – the true story of what Leonora Rustamova, otherwise known as ‘Miss Rusty’ – a secondary school teacher from west Yorkshire faced when she tried to furnish the most disruptive kids in the classroom with a love of literature and of writing (clue: she was sacked. But go read the book anyway. Even though it’s title tells you not to. It’s ace.)

leonora-rustamova--stop-dont-read-this--paperbackAnd in relation to this rather famous incident which made the national news headlines (and the high court), Kevin says that Miss Rusty’s approach in order to engage these lads; “meant tramping into unchartered waters” in the sense that bringing in different books and references outside of the prescribed methods/materials met with *more* than strong disapproval; that a teacher who tries to do this is asked; “‘What does it add to the curriculum? And will it help them pass an exam?’ If the answer is no, then it exits stage left. Literacy in today’s education doesn’t mean the love of words and books and a lifelong gift of beautiful stories that transcend the everyday – but league tables and grades. It is the industrialisation of words.”

So should we feel depressed about these funding cuts, the dumbing-down of literature and stifling of innovation due to a horribly profit-driven market and the threats to our public libraries? Or should we count our blessings; for example – in comparison to

A blanket, pens, food AND A Beano. Poor wee chap was a bit disconcerted.

A blanket, pens, food AND A Beano. Poor wee chap was a bit disconcerted.

where I used to live (Namibia) we seem to have got it made eh? We have oodles of gubbins to read.  My own kids decided to start collecting and sending comics and magazines to these children, when they saw them happily sitting at the edge of the roadside, content to be reading empty food packets … Because these little ones are desperate to read – to scan anything that entertains or informs them. (And yeah – if they get to eat the contents of the food wrapper first, then they’ve had a damned good day.)

But perhaps we have too much choice. Perhaps we need more literary direction for the youtube generation who feel rudderless when faced with all of the books and therefore just give up and watch telly/youtube instead. A bit like me when I returned to England after living in Namibia and horrified my mother when I stood in the middle of Morrisons and screeched; ‘I DON’T KNOW WHICH ONE TO GET! HOW MANY DIFFERENT TYPES OF CHEESE DOES ONE COUNTRY NEED? FOR GOD’S SAKE!!’

Too many books? Too much cheese?

Too many books? Too much cheese?

But on the up-side, we do have an increasingly assertive and savvy band of high quality indie publishers and self-published sorts who are giving the big publishing boys a hell of a run for their money in terms of the craft of writing, quality of output and in being able to produce their own books. This means that a lot of publishers and agents are now doing their best to trash indie-publishing because quite frankly –  they are piddling their pants over this change; scared to death about what their own pension pots are going to be looking like in twenty years time. I kind of like famous literary agent Johnny Geller’s quote in relation to the sheer volume of new books being published in the UK; “either a sign of cultural vitality or publishing suicide.”

The times are a-changing indeed for writers and publishers;  we are talking about a revolutionary landscape here.

So take heart, dear devotee of the written word! But don’t forget, that as a discerning adult, it’s much easier for you to control the kind of stuff that you read. Less so for the nippers. And now – more than ever – our kids need us to swot up ourselves about what constitutes a good quality book. To see beyond the headlines, the chain-store teetering piles that want to devour your cash, to think further than just the same-old same-old famous names, the literary establishment circles and to start asking your more bookish friends for some rip-roaring reading recommendations.

And you can always ask me. And I’ll ask a much more clever, more literary-sort for you.

‘Cause I’m dead well-connected, me I am.

😉

 I kid you - we ARE very well-connected here in west Yorkshire. *True* Literary Establishment...

I kid you actually – we ARE very well-connected here in west Yorkshire. (*True* Literary Establishment…)

 

 

Sharing the Love

23 Jul

Save-Our-Libraries-007Now this wasn’t planned, but my 100th blog post has ended up addressing the love of my life; Books. Reading. Writing. Otherwise known as literacy. But rather than wibbling on about why I’m so besotted with all of the above, instead, I’m going to kick off with a bit of Shock and Outrage (because hey, if you’re already familiar with my blog, you’ll know that I’m at my happiest when I’m frothing at the mouth. And I don’t just mean as a result of excessive consumption of Sherbet Dabs.)

A recent CBI survey highlighted that 1 in 6 pupils struggle to read when they leave primary school and that for boys in particular – especially those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, reading rates are actually dropping. And the National Literacy Trust tells us that the gap has increased – between  the proportion of girls (61.6%) and boys (47.2%) who say that they ‘enjoy reading’.

And yet we live in one of the most well developed, most affluent nations in the world.  So, what the hell is WRONG with us? (Apart from the fact that we’re axing libraries – 201 public libraries were closed down as part of UK government cuts in 2011-12.) Now, I could spend the next several thousand words trying to persuade you of that I’ve been researching this issue to death, that I know precisely ALL of the reasons for this societal dismal failure, but I’m: a) not a well-paid journalist – or indeed, paid-at-all in order to preach to you and; b) I’m a hard pressed mother of two, who also tries to juggle several jobs, plus replacing the toilet roll AND continuing with my ongoing battle with our recalcitrant bin men.

Meaning that I can only provide you with a smattering of speculation and my own recent observations on this issue.

Previous posts on this blog have alluded to the fact that I was an early reader, that I had a Ma who encouraged me to sit with my nose in a book and that although I grew up in a pretty poor working class area of East Manchester, I was fortunate enough to live just a five minute wander from a local library, that babysat me for most days of the week (joke there, Ma – joke!) We also had a set of very exotic neighbours who influenced me with this peculiar reading habit.

He wouldn't let me upload the photo of him reading on the bog...

If Kirklees Libraries installed a loo in the corner of the children’s section – we might even move into the place.

There were all very bohemian because their kids were allowed to read books at the dinner table … and even (even!) whilst the family bums were parked on the loo! Consequently, my dream as a small child was to grow up to become the kind of lady who had a bookcase next to the bog.

So if I’m going to be honest, I’ve never really understood the Other Species. Those folk who can turn their nose up at a book – or at any form of the written word. Reading came oh-so easily to me. But a good few years ago, I began to write to inmates – both on Death Row in the USA, and here in the UK. http://www.lifelines-uk.org.uk/

Me and our Ant, death row, Texas.

Me and our Ant, death row, Texas.

And the one commonality that I discovered – was this;  that incarceration bred the thirst for literature. As I began to hear the different ‘stories’ of an inmate, of those who had never really *read* before going to prison, the themes became all too common; the lifetraps of an impoverished background, poor attendance at school, a chaotic homelife, no teacher or other adult who took the time to prod and poke the kid towards the certain type of book that might appeal to them… And then added to this melting pot of low literacy, was all too often added the final ingredient of a reading disability (such as dyslexia.) Worldwide, it’s estimated that 60% of inmates are functionally illiterate – and this statistic is set to worsen as the prison system in the UK is still horribly hampered when it comes to supporting inmates with their literacy needs. Literacy Shame Stats  

The letter-writing provided me with a new mission in life – to either send books into prisons, or to furnish inmates with a long list of; ‘if you CAN – do try and get hold of this one …’ I’ve become sort of a nicer, fluffier version of Amazon’s ‘If You Like That – You Might Like This!’ pop-up box. And I don’t gain nowt from it, neither. Other than the warm gooey feeling of having helped a fellow human being.

So yes, I have to confess that I had been enjoying the rather saintly feeling that hurling book choices towards other people involves. But as they say, pride comes before a fall. And the smug grin was wiped off my face when Child Number One arrived in my life. Because Child Number One did not want to sit and read a book. No. Child Number One would happily command you (and I don’t use that term lightly, but hell – the kid is scary) to read to her. For hours on end. But would she pick up a book and read it herself? Nah. In fact, she would hide her school books so that you couldn’t find them.  And it wasn’t so much that Child Number One didn’t enjoy a ripping good story – no. I mean, now that she’s ten years old, she owns nearly 150 audio books (most of them pitched at the Young Adult or grown-up market – but don’t worry – I haven’t let her near Fifty Shades, just yet.) So how had this happened to me? How had I ended up with a kid – so similar to me in so many ways, but who would happily have carried out a ritual book-burning in our back yard, if I had mooted the idea?

‘Dyslexia’ is the fast answer to that question. But the solution to the problem has been less straightforward. So for the rest of this post – and in celebration of being Kirklees Writer in Residence for this month – and with me wanting to champion the Summer Reading Challenge which The Reading Agency created, I’m going to share a few tips and ideas for getting the reluctant reader to become a little bit more engaged:

1) AUDIO-BOOKS – Now, I’ve posted on this one before. Buying Cassettes You Oddball? The thing with audio-books however, is that they can be damned expensive. My own personal solution is to go all 1980’s and to employ the use of a good old fashioned tape recorder. That way you can pick up those cassette-tapes thingies that no bugger else wants at your car boot sales etc – and force your kid to listen to them at bedtime.  CD’s are fine too – but get a bit scratchy, don’t they? And downloands? Fine. But pricey. And they tend to be the newer books which ain’t always the most captivating for kids in my opinion… (But more on that thorny subject in my next blog.)

Once you’ve tried a few out, you’ll become familiar with the kind of stories and authors that are working best for your little wanabee book-convert. But then… the trick is this; DON’T let them listen to more than one or two of their ‘favourite’ authors or series in a book! Or to see the films first (see ‘TV’ below.) Otherwise you’re going to get – as have done – “Why should I read the book ‘Treasure Island’? I mean, Mum! I know it off by heart already!” (and believe me, she does.)

A small sample of the big cassette collection...

A small sample of the big cassette collection…

Because, you’re aiming for a teaser…. to get them hooked on the book. Which leads me to:

2) INTRODUCING A BOOK – I’ve stopped chucking books at my daughter and expecting her to break the ice with it. It’s exhausting enough having dyslexia, without some smart-alec grown-up ladling on yet more expectations for you. Instead, I read the blurb out to her – in a very amusing and quite frankly, very annoying – ‘Hollywood Film Trailer Voice.’ And then I read most of the first chapter out loud to her too.  And yes, if I’ve done my work well in terms of researching *the right book for her to begin with* (see ‘GO RETRO’), then the wee varmint, more often than not has been drawn into the story and has already overcome her initial reluctance to read.

3) LISTEN TO PROFESSIONALS – Librarians for example. They’re actually very nice people. Most of them.  (I won’t mention the one who yelled at me back in 1982 because she refused to believe that I had read 3 books in one morning and I wanted to get another 3 out and; “But our system doesn’t ALLOW for this sort of thing!” Old bat.) And most librarians DO want to keep their jobs and they DO love books themselves.  And they WILL guide you to different sections where the books have been printed on paper with different shades, or maybe has a different font, or is more spaced out.  And whilst we are on the subject of the professionals – an optician might also help you with dyslexic tendencies; try and find a local, small shop who can help you or your child out with a colourscreen test. Specsavers do them too. Here’s a bit more on how they may help you; Colour Screen Tests

But beware of signing up for the tinted glasses too early on. We just bought the overlays and the kid gave up on them after a few weeks when the novelty had worn off (and believe you me, the specs would have been a hell of a lot more expensive than the overpriced overlay things.)

4) BEFRIEND A  WRITER – Sounds a bit crazy, but it works. My lass has now written to several authors in order to thank them and to tell them that their books have had the honour bestowed on them as becoming her favourites. We have a little shelf of children’s books – all signed by the authors that the kids have met. Perhaps our favourite ever encounter was with Val Biro – author and creator of Gumdrop – Val sadly died last year at the age of 93. But not before he had painted my kids what is probably – one of the last ever images of that famous little car (see below). Gumdrop’s Page

Many authors are nice. And they like you too!

Many authors are nice. And they like you too!

People forget that us writer-sorts have fragile egos. We need to be told that we’re lovely and that you didn’t just hurl our book in the nearest skip (speaking of which – have you reviewed my book on Amazon yet? If not – please do. I might just give you a fondle the next time that I see you.) Chrissy’s Amazon Reviews

And the same goes for the Big Guys too – my daughter wrote to The Beano, explaining how the comic had helped her overcome her hatred of reading; and this actually led to an appearance on Radio 4 by the nipper – alongside fellow dyslexic Nigel Kennedy. Yup – nice, well brought up kids should say ‘thank you’, I reckon.

And it should go without saying that – like the bigger and scarier inmates in prisons – the smaller inmates in Da Family simply adore receiving proper, old-fashioned letters in the post. Makes them feel like important, worthwhile little souls. And if a real-life writer writes back to you? Coolio Daddio.

5) WORK WITH THE SCHOOL – I was the kind of kid who volunteered to be a school librarian. Not only did it get me out of many a primary school soggy playtime (jumping over strings of elastic a la ‘french skipping’ was something that I viewed with disdain) but it also allowed me to sit for hours and get to know different types of books and authors. However,  most school libraries today pale in comparison to those of yesteryear. I have lost count of the number of times where my daughter has brought home a book from the school library – and even from the public library – and has abandoned it, telling me; “I chose it because I just sort of panicked – I just grabbed the first one and it’s actually well- boring” or “They’re all dull-dull-dull in that library” or “If you don’t like girly things or football – and if you’ve done all the Dahl and Walliams already – then – there’s nowt left there to read!” 

So for the purposes of this blog, I was pleased to be able to find out about the School Libraries Association and to track down their Director and I’ll be sharing a bit about some of the marvellous work that they carry out in my next post.  Of course, one of the reasons as to why the reading books available at schools, or in their libraries may not the best in the world (or ‘they’re total bobbins!’ in the words of my girl) – is due to horrific budget cuts but … there is a lot more to be said on this subject, so I’ll hangfire with it for now…

Suffice to say though, that *most* schools will support you in your quest for discovering the best books, the most suitable sort – to pitch at your kids in order for the child to use as their ‘school reading book.’ Meaning that there is nothing to stop you from seizing the initiative and actually sourcing your own book to be used by your kid, when there is nothing available in the classroom that tickles their fancy.  Schools will generally encourage your kid to just damned well read; so they WILL let you use your own books if the reading standard is of a similar match. And please believe me that this also doesn’t have to mean a big financial outlay on your part. Because you can do this;

6) GO RETRO – Some may accuse me of being a bit of a hoarder (or a mucky old tart) but I am so very glad that I kept an awful lot of my childhood books (although let’s not talk about the entire collection of ‘Smash Hits’ from 1985 to 1990 still lingering in my parent’s loft eh? Or Dad’ll be onto me about it again…) Because those books – the Narnias, the Judy Blume’s, ‘Flat Stanley’, ‘The Silver Sword’ etc etc have been the saving grace for my family. Re-reading these books – through the eyes of my daughter – has led to me remembering the titles and authors of books of old; now out of print, or deemed to be unfashionable. Some of them, I’m pleased to say – are having a bit of a comeback or a bit of a re-print (‘Amelia Jane’ for example). And Ebay and Amazon are the bees-knees if you want to track down some second-hand copies of the books that really got you giddy as a child; not to forget the brilliant book sales which are ongoing at most public libraries too – cheap as chips, bless ’em! Get chatting to others adults too, about books that wowed them when they were or a nipper, or which have worked for their child (and yes –  a huge thanks to Sharon B – for telling us about ‘Mortimer the Raven.’)

An ancient copy of 'Mary Poppins.' My cousin coloured her teeth in pink.

My ancient copy of ‘Mary Poppins.’ My cousin coloured Julie’s teeth in pink.

Because the thing about a lot of kids and adults with dyslexia is this; they ain’t thick. Far from it.

The word-skipping and the letter-reversal and the sheer frustration with the stupid topsy-turviness of the english language (resulting in avoidance of writing, or of ‘poor spelling’) are more often than not, actually  the *signs* of a very intelligent mind. Of a brain that works *fast* – that wants to stream ahead and to ‘get to the point of the story.’ Of a brain that is good at de-coding information and which gets totally naffed off with the seeming lack of consistency in written English. So the worst possible sort of book for a noggin like this is something that lacks a riveting story; that purports to be your high-falutin’ literary stuff and that tends to witter on too much about watery sunsets, one that “takes about ten pages to describe a sodding tree-trunk to you” (that’s my other half speaking there – undiagnosed dyslexic, no doubt.) And no, I won’t mention any *specific* modern-day children’s authors here, because us writer-sorts do like to have a sense of solidarity. Just email me for their names instead…  😉

7) GET GRAPHIC – Graphic novels and comics were key in turning both of my kids onto books. The big favourites being ‘The Beano,’ ‘The Dandy,’ followed hot on the heels by Asterix, Tintin and the many Marvel and DC graphic novels from our local library, which my 7 yr old keeps himself amused with for hours (and his Dad too – “Hey! I’m sure that this one should have been in the ‘teenage reader’ section – look at Catwoman’s outfit in this one! That’s…. practically gravity defying!”)

Were you a 'Buster' - or a 'Bimbo' kid?

More of ours. So…Are you a ‘Buster’ – or a ‘Bimbo’ fella?

Another wonderful discovery at one of Kirklees libraries for us, have been the graphic novels for children that convey the Sherlock Holmes stories – along with the books that also illustrate the classics by Dickens and Shakespeare. The complex story structures of classics such as these, are indeed too tricky for children to read in their original form, but they are ideally presented in the medium of graphic art or using the cartooning approach. And they also lend themselves to good old-fashioned ‘Fam-Time shared reading’, where you can explain a little bit more about the socio-economic and political tensions of the time and about the inherent misogynistic attitudes of the Establishment during the 19th Century (or perhaps that’s just the bit that I enjoy telling the kids about the most, just before bedtime.)

When the comic books get ripped? You can upcycle a set of drawers. Here's one I did earlier.

When the comic books get ripped – or if you just want to fill more time when the TV’s gone – you can upcycle a set of drawers. Here’s one I made earlier. Ace, innit?

8) KILL THE TELLY – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The biggest enemy to the reluctant reader is excess screen time. Chuck the telly out of the window. And as well as providing you with more time to read, you can also fill all of the extra time that you will gain with the sort of project illustrated in this photo, instead. And if you *must* have a TV, don’t allow viewing on the week days.  Please, believe me – this little act of discipline is one that you’ll simply suffer the pangs of short-term pain for, whilst reaping the benefits of long-term gain. It can be a LOT harder to bin the box when they’re under the age of 5 (and I personally don’t think that I could have done it, back then) but the minute that they’re able to read, go nuts on getting hold of second hand books!  Let them lose on a pile of those instead of CITV or CSI. I now have to physically lock the room in our home, which houses our biggest collection of the most fun-to-read books (i.e comic/ annuals), if I ever want my kids to do anything other than read … and these days they rarely even think to ask me if they can watch the telly. Remember Roald Dahl’s poem on what TV does to your child?

But, if you had told me that life would be like this three or four years ago, I would have smiled politely to your face and mouthed ‘yeah, right – you weirdo,’ behind your back.

So there you have it. Just a few tips – but as always, I’m eager to learn from others. Please feel free to share any ideas on how to get ALL of us reading a bit more. We should all aspire to be like our next-door neighbour – a chap whom we never see without a book in his hands (even when he’s tackling the binmen for us! He’s a Trooper, indeed.)

And my next blog will involve passing on some thoughts about how we can start getting a bit choosier about our reading material, whilst still supporting our libraries.

 

Keep those books... you never know when you can captivate someone else with them. (And who remembers 'Chic a Boos'?)

Keep those books… you never know when you can captivate someone else with them. (And who remembers ‘Chic a Boos’?)

———————————

*NB – please note that NOT all of these measures will work with a dyslexic child or adult. The severity of dyslexia does differ between people – but I would eat my Tam O’ Shanter if the audiobooks don’t clinch it for you. Oh – and don’t forget that lots of our ‘Classics’ can be accessed and downloaded for FREE – by this amazing scheme… where the books are read out by a band of book-loving volunteers…  http://www.loyalbooks.com/

Read, Write – Eat Some Viennetta

1 Jul
(Post 1 – for Kirklees ReadKirklees)

“You know what?” a friend said to me the other day. “I don’t think you’ll ever need therapy, will you?”  She cast a glance at me in a manner that I took to be as ‘rather admiring.’

“Ah,” I said. “That’s nice to hear. So, do you mean that I’m rather a ‘together’ sort of person? That I’m cool and calm and in control of life – and all of that?”

“Oh no,” she goes, “You’re a bit … well. Nuts aren’t you? You’re off the wall, you are.  Bats. I just meant that what with your writing. You won’t need therapy or time to chill, or whatever.”

After pausing and taking the compliment for what it was clearly meant to be (as opposed to it being a big, fat, obnoxious insult) I had to agree with her – on both counts. In fact, someone else said something similar to me, only last week. “Bet you don’t need to do meditation, do you?  Because of your writing.”

Small child urges me to pray or to meditate. I pick up a pen instead.

Small child urges me to pray or to meditate. I pick up a pen instead.

And both conversations made me realise – for the first time ever, really – that yes; this is what the process of writing does for me. An emotional and perhaps an even spiritual outlet, if you like. And alongside the writing side of things, I have finally surrendered to the reading bit of the sanity-checker in my life …. the scrimping and the searching for those few, precious moments each day, in order to try and absorb a chapter or two of a good book.

Now of course, the problem with finding any little trick in life that makes you feel better about yourself; that gives you a shot in the arm; that makes you an all-round nicer and happier lassie to be around – is this; you can become more than a little bit addicted to it. Because after all, addictions can taken on rather unusual and untoward formats. (At this point in the blog –  I am desperate to mention my  crisp-bag fondling friend – but the lady sometimes reads this stuff… and therefore may object to being outed as someone who wanders around supermarkets, drooling over the sound that scrunchy-bags make as she caresses them.)   But seriously, there is a deep, dark part of me that wishes that I had never decided to write books, blogs and overly elaborate notes to the milkman.

Because it can take over your life. And you realise this, when you overhear your own small children hissing at each other stuff along the lines of; “She’s being such a grumpy old bag! Hey – I know! Let’s ask her if she wants a bit of time to go and write, upstairs. Then when she’s less crabby, maybe she’ll let us eat the rest of the Wall’s Viennetta, after all!” *

Never the mint one though. That's just... weird.

Never the mint one though. That’s just…mucky.

Yes, it seems that now even those minor-lings in my household have now figured out how I tick.  No point in denying it any more. Reading and writing are an all-consuming passion for me.

So, I was really rather excited when I was asked to be ‘Writer in Residence’ for ReadKirklees. Anyone who has ever met me in person; anyone who has read more than few of the blog posts up here, will already be aware that I like to spend lots of time skulking around libraries and frothing at the mouth when it comes to urging others to keep them alive – these holy sanctuaries of books and of learning.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to be sharing with you a little bit more about what urged me to take my own writing more seriously; about my own personal journey – away from the days of feeling that I had to stuff any thoughts of ‘being a writer’ under the hearthrug (yes, I did grow up with one – I’m that old) and of the type, the genre of writing that I veer towards today.

But also – I don’t want to bore anyone witless with copious amounts of blethering on about Me Me Me – I Write, Me I Do! So I’ll be taking the opportunity to tell you a little bit more about local writers and locally produced books and ideas that I’ve stumbled across over the last year or so. And I’m hoping that some of these blogs might nudge you  – towards scanning such books, seizing such initiatives and perhaps even scribbling the odd line or two yourselves…

And if, on the off-chance that like me, you do end up using writing or reading as a long-term cathartic or therapeutic tool  – then at least please bob a few quid into the bank account of a local mental health charity such as HOOT/ AiM and the Packhorse Gallery.  Because believe me, this writing malarky might well mean that you would have saved a fortune on paying to see a shrink…

* According to my background – the consumption of Wall’s Viennetta; of this delicacy being ‘the high point of the week’ for a family is deemed to be a sure sign of your working class origins. And quite frankly – it seems a much more realistic definition than some of the stuff that Marx came out with. Yes, methinks that it’s time for a new academic study on ‘class affilation via frozen dessert choice.’

Everything Is Lovely

12 Apr

I’ve been asked by the marvellous Anne L Harvey to carry on the torch of ‘My Lovely Blog.’ This is simply a relay-blog between fellow writers who share similar interests and take in life.  I’m going to have a stab at answering these questions and then will pass you onto two further buddies…

My First Memory

Plenty of little ‘flashes’ – lying on a pink and black checked blanket outside my parent’s house in East Manchester.  Feeling as though I was going to melt like one of those sticky lemonade lollies that we always clamoured for from the ‘Faircloughs’ ice-cream van that used to do the rounds. Yes, this was *that* summer of 1976 and my parents clearly hadn’t heard of sunscreen, sun hats and the fact that pale, white-blonde baby girls shouldn’t be dumped outside a house in order to sizzle.

Another memory from outside of our house – me doing a Houdini – escaping from the reins that bound me into the big red pram. Me bouncing up and down on the edge of it. Yet still more parental neglect? I bet Mum was havin’ a crafty fag out the back door. Or had gone to the Costa del Sol with the milkman or something.

What *was* it about parents in the 70's and their insistence on dumping kids on blankets in the sun?

What *was* it about parents in the 70’s and their insistence on dumping kids on blankets whenever there was a sniff of  the sun?

But my strongest memory is of 1977. I had just learned to dress myself and proudly trundled downstairs. Our kid was sitting at the kitchen dinette table that our Dad had lovingly built. The bro’ was eating in his usual disgusting fashion (‘I’ll mash up my Weetabix, add loads of sugar and then scoop it up with my fingers.’ And he was nearly 3 years older than me, for goodness sake!) Sadly however, my mother paid me no notice whatsoever. She was hanging around ‘the wireless’ and crying. The newsreader had just announced the death of Elvis Presley.

(Did I tell you that Elvis Presley was my dad? No? Well. He should have been. I bet he wouldn’t have tried to fry me, or allow me to abseil off the end of my pram or ignore my early efforts at wardrobe-assemblage.)

Books

Of course – I jest about my horribly neglected childhood.  One of the things that I am most grateful to my mum for, is the fact that whenever she had a spare minute she would try and shove  her nose into the nearest book.  I can’t think of a better role model for a child. Interestingly however, I was never that impressed with the books that she urged me to read; Milly Molly Mandy, the Famous Five, Black Beauty, Janet and John.  No I reckoned that these sorts of choices were too ‘posh, too ‘up-itself.’ The stuff that my mother had been urged to ‘develop’ her reading muscle with as a kid, just left me cold. I guess this was the beginning of a lifetime enslavement to my own form of inverted snobbery.  Poor Mum. She did her best to introduce me to a lot of the decent, more literary stuff for kids. But I just wasn’t buying it.

It wasn’t until a thirty years ago that I came up with the idea of ‘Chrissy’s Book-It List.’ All of the classics – the most critically acclaimed high-fallutin’ stuff – that you’re supposed to read according to University Literature departments across the world. The Top 100 or whatever – that the critics who reckon themselves to be ‘in the know’ – say that you just gotta rifle your way through. I produced my own list and yup! Am steadily working my way through them all. Plus scribblings produced by writer friends and books by friends of friends (such as those published by the northern company Bluemoose – their productions are always worth hurling a Tolstoy across the room for, when you’re in need of a modern, well-written read that isn’t accompanied by the usual silly, London-centric literary PR-fanfares.)

Thinking about my grown-up Book-It list a bit more though, it does very much reflect the themes that titillated me the most as a child. So I’m doing plenty of political and historical sagas, satirical stuff, tragedies and wisdom with a twist of spirituality.  Chick lit, bodice-rippers and aristocratic oppression of the masses ain’t on the cards, pal.

Libraries/ Bookshops

Bookshops? BOOKSHOPS? In your dreams. In my childhood’s neck of the woods, there was never any point in entering a bookshop unless you had recently had a birthday and a very thoughtful Auntie (who happened to you know you very well) had treated you to a book token. Even at University there was very little point in locating a bookshop. I couldn’t afford them. Neither could kids from similar backgrounds to me who managed to get to university on that hallowed grant system (there was one lad at Uni however, who was also working class and who always had the recommended texts on our course – but he used to nick them from Dillons, so he doesn’t count.)

So it was libraries for me. The library was just a few hundred yards from our house and I visited it several times a week. Walked on my own. Crossed a main road. From the age of 7. Swigged a can of Special Brew on the way (okay, okay – I made up the last bit but you know what? Those were FUN days to be a child…)

It felt like that I lived in the library during the summer holidays. My earliest ‘library memory’ involved me and my best friend getting told off by one of those really scary librarians whose face looked like a cat’s bum. Our crime? We had both taken out 4 books just after 9am and returned them during the afternoon. Wanting 4 more out each. We got a bollocking; “You’re not supposed to visit twice in one day! Our system doesn’t allow for things to be checked out more than once!”

Fortunately even at the age of 9, I realised that even our marvellous municipal libraries end up having to employ the odd miserable old trout or so and who hates kids.

And even though that particular ratty old bag has been pensioned off into the great beyond – it does seem  these days, rather too many of her relatives  have been employed by local authorities. You know the sorts. The guys n’ gals taking the decisions to shut down over half of our public libraries.The sorts who don’t have an imaginative bone in their body and for whom it wouldn’t even occur that a library isn’t just a place to borrow books, but that it’s the very heart and soul of a locality. That it’s a blueprint to mental survival. A lifeline for many a curious and contemplative child and for many a lonely adult. Or simply  a sanctuary for those who live, learn and lust for a bit of bookish adventure

Damn. See what you started?

Some people think that these kids are the lowest of the low. San children of Namibia. Go google.

Some people think that these kids are the lowest of the low. San children of Namibia. Go google.

What’s Your Passion

Apart from libraries, you mean? Okay… People who ‘lack the contacts’ in order to get a fair deal in life. Whether they be unemployed ex-offenders in Manchester, working class Pakistani-British in west yorkshire or impoverished and starving rural communities in Africa.  Looking back, I guess that this has always been the thread that has wound its way through my work and my life. Not consciously….

But somehow I always end up getting involved with the outcasts, the unlucky in life and the folk whom people in the positions of power all too often perceive to be ‘unfortunate scum’ (NB at this point I am tempted to add ‘And yes dear reader, I married him!’ Heh heh.)

Learning

My brother and I were the first in our family to go to University. It was all a bit of a culture shock for me. I spent 3 years crying into a public pay phone and naffing off the other kids in the queue. My conversations seemed to consist of ‘I hate it here! Please can I come home? Everyone is so much… posher than I am. They’ve all read these books that I haven’t. And I’ve eaten Mum’s frozen Quiche every day for four weeks now, so can she make me some more to freeze? Oh. And someone fed all of my Cup a Soups to the fish in the pond.’

Other kids on those pay phones seemed to have chats with their parents along the lines of; “And Oh My God – Jemima was like – so drunk, Mum – that she like, totally like, projectile vomited all over the President of our Hall – but he was like – totally cool with it and even, like – shagged her afterwards.” Or “I don’t care, Mummy. You just have to send me the extra £100 because I wore that ball gown last term and there is like, no way-over-my-dead-body that I’m wearing the same gown twice.”

Sadly I am not exaggerating about the conversations between these girls and their mothers. I remembered rushing back to my room at University in order to jot down these exact conversational shap-shots.

I was so poor at University that I couldn't afford a haircut. Or a longer skirt.

I was so poor at University that I couldn’t afford a haircut. Or a longer skirt.

So yes, I was the last of a dying breed. Kid who got to go to university on a government grant. Kid who felt like a fish out of water and worked her backside off in order to do her parents proud.

Theoretically, I think that I would have done well at university, whatever (that hard-work ethic) but the real learning that I accumulated there came from the adults  – a couple of pretty special tutors and the Brummies that I worked alongside in the local shop – rather than the actual courses that I took.   Which is why – when it comes to the big question of ‘University or Not’ for my kids – I feel pretty ambivalent. I reckon that true learning in life is not at all about academic – or career – achievements.

But I’ll save that for another blog and another day.

Writing

I struggle with writing about writing. Because for me, it’s just the same as breathing. If I can’t do it, I’ll explode. But then … to admit the NEED to write for me, took a long, long time.

There still exists a massive class barrier for those from the poorest sectors of society who want to write. The Writing World is still 99% controlled by well-off, well-educated, white folk who lack the societal, economic and often physical barriers faced by the masses who might be pen-savvy. Did I also mention that they’re almost exclusively London-based too? I did?   😉

Thankfully the internet and the indie route to publication and artistic expression is rocking the traditional world of publishing to its very core.  It certainly was more than time wasn’t it?

And maybe I’m just bobbins at promoting myself, my own writing (or maybe I’ m just lazy and simply just enjoy rather more rather more alternative avoidance tactics than watching The X Factor on telly) but I’d rather spend lots of my own time championing the writing of others. And especially on upping the writing chances of the underdog. Which reminds me. I must tell you more about why I’m involved with the fabulous writing charity ‘First Story.’ One for another blog methinks….)

————————–

Anyroadup. That’s this ‘My Lovely Blog’ shenanigans over for me. I’ll now pass you onto two writer-chums of mine.  Tim E Taylor and KB Walker. Both have been fantastic help to me in terms of advice on my own writing and both are hugely talented in other areas of life (I shall drop in some key words here – such as ‘musician’, ‘educator’, ‘farming’ and ‘community’) and also need to add that the two of them also happen to be incredibly nice, witty and charming people. (People like that. Make you feel sick, don’t they? Not that I’d ever say that about them in public, of course.)

Over to Tim and Kim!

KB Walker

Tim E Taylor

 

Bookish But NEVER Boring…

5 Mar

Reporting back from the promise in my previous blog – to expose the kiddywinks to those Public Information films that so many of us were nurtured with in post-war Britain, I have to say that I am rather disappointed.  We watched many – and the general consensus was “Freaky! Creepy!” or “well you never took no notice of them did you? ‘Cause you’re always talking to strangers in the supermarket. You shouldn’t be so friendly, Mum.”

In fact, my youngest (6) pointed out that “you make us read much more scarier books than those weirdy films what you had to watch.” And I have to confess that this is true. Not a day goes by without me exposing them to one of the classics. Last week it was ‘David Copperfield’ (the 19th century Dicken’s hero – not the overly-tanned n’ toothy American illusionist) and this week we are onto ‘The Man In The Iron Mask.’ (But please note – that clever little devils though they are, my two are not super-brats. I am talking about the graphic novel versions. With me there to read and to explain. No – I don’t shove them in the cellar with a dusty pile of The Classics first editions. Although believe me, the temptation is there on some days…)

In 'The Beano.' Again. But this time for an even more wonderful reason...

In ‘The Beano.’ Again. But this time for an even more wonderful reason…

Today has seen much cheer in the household – as we celebrate World Book Day. My daughter (10) commented to me that; “it was Dennis the Menace who got me reading wasn’t it? And who got me my first radio performance and magazine appearances,” (like she shares the same agent with Big Dennis or summat…) And this is all true. The dyslexic tendencies had led her to hide her school reading books and when I stumbled across an ancient pile of The Beano annuals, it transpired that I had suddenly found something that got her hooked into the world of books.  Which, some longer-term readers on here will know led us to a marvellous project that involved us trying to get reading materials to street children in southern Africa….(read the month of May 2014 for more info – and my girl’s own blog on it all here… https://funnylass.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/comic-remedies/  )

And the journey to the written word took the same ‘Beano’ pattern with the second child (who doesn’t have dyslexia) and who is now one of the biggest Dennis fan in the world. (Indeed, last night he informed me that he wanted all Horrid Henry books removing from his room (“I don’t like Henry. He’s not like Dennis. He’s a bit…. what’s the word…you always say? Sinister. That’s it.”)

Read... or you can watch the film. Or just summarise the story for someone else. The oldest methods are the best...

Read… or you can watch the film. Or just summarise the story for someone else. The oldest methods are the best…

My own thirst for new stories and fresh books (in between trying to write my own – which I am right now, patently avoiding doing…) is also never quenched. In fact, my daughter loves to read the books that I happen to be stuck into at any given moment. Albeit vicariously. Last night it was “I see that you’ve finished The Book Thief. Please PLEASE tell me what happens before I go to bed! Does she kick Hitler’s butt? Or what? Please don’t tell me she dies… I couldn’t bear it! I’ll never get to sleep if she dies..!”

But if you don’t happen to have access to small children yourselves in order to brainwash them with superb reading material – I would still recommend that you immerse yourself in the ancient art of reading aloud. Or of storytelling. Me and my other half  – before reproducing reared its head – covered thousands of miles in southern Africa as I read aloud to him on those deserted, long, straight and dusty roads (because they don’t have Radio 4 there and there are only so many times that you can listen to ‘Wicked Hits of The 80s’.) And even today I always keep a book in the car.  Of course, in the UK we have the opposite traffic problem. Standstill. So if we are having to suffer some (cough) ‘comedy play’ on Radio 4, then I just whip out a tome or two from the dashboard (“But just get to the point of the story,” he always says “You know that I can’t be doing with poetic and flowery so-called literary tosh.”)

Still. There are days when I don’t feel like reading to the kids. Or when they bring a book to me that happens to be a bit more drivelly; you know, something that I really don’t fancy wasting any of my precious minutes on. For example they learned a long time ago NEVER to try and get me to read the Disney book-version of anything out loud to them. And that I also really struggle with reading anything about superheros. (Unless The Life of Jesus counts, because that’s always a great one with which to go off on contemporary and political tangents with; “So sweetie. Jesus saved that lady from a horrid death. Do you think that it’s okay to chuck stones at a woman until she’s dead just because she might have been caught snogging a man who wasn’t her husband? Well that’s what happens in many countries all over the world today!”)c hamster 1

Yes, the world of my own offspring’s books tends to be funny, thrills n’ spills filled and … sometimes dark. Which reminds me of perhaps our ultimate favourite cheeky lad. That 6 year old Calvin and his precious ‘imaginary but real’ tiger, Hobbes.

I first found out about C&H when I was 14 years old and quickly amassed all of these incredible books by the insanely talented and hilarious writer/illustrator, Bill Watterson.  Watterson’s work is far cleverer and far more ‘LOL’ than Peanuts and the like. Calvin and Hobbes should be on the Must Read list of anyone who has ever been a child. In fact, it should be on prescription on the NHS for anyone who every suffers from ‘the blues.’ c hamster 2

As a young teenager I could identify horribly with the plights of Calvin and the nefarious schemes that his evil parents and schoolteachers always employed in order to stop him from simply enjoying life, not having not a care in the world and generally being a lazy little swine with no social conscience.  And now..? But of course. I can completely relate to the downtrodden parents who practically have to re-mortgage the home in order to find anyone crazy enough to babysit Calvin.

So, back to the Joy of Reading and a chance to share with you – in a celebration of all things bookish; what happens to be one of my all time favourite C&H strips.

And yes, gentle reader. I have utilised Calvin’s dad’s tactics on several occasions in order to bring one of the ‘less quality’ stories to a close….c hamster 3 final

 

 

 

Gym Bobbins

31 Oct

Over the years I’ve been a member of your UK swanky city-centre female-0nly places; your corporate-shop ‘love your boss – love your gym!’ deals. And plenty of East Mancunian Spit n’ Sawdust in-betweeners.

So I think that I do know my moolah’s worth – and that I’m good at judging the overall social-aggregate, when it comes to fellow gym-goers.

I know for a fact that I don’t want to be around the sort of folk who invest more in their lycra than in their love of fellow man. Or who think that they’re a cut above the rest of us.

So, I go to a friendly gym.  A proper, not up-itself gym. A place where a man some thirty years older than me will lend me a book because ‘”it’s like the sort of thing you were reading on the cross-treader here the other week. I think it’s a bit bobbins, like. But you might fancy it.”  A place where a woman will hand me a donation for the “charity thing that you’re doing with the African kids. Overheard you talking about it in the dressing rooms.” A gym where another fella will hand us a DVD (“Oh no, love – it’s not dodgy or ‘owt! But make sure that you check it first before the kiddies watch it won’t yer?  ‘Cause I can’t always guarantee that ‘Tinkerbell Two’ won’t turn out to be something that sounds a bit similar to the Disney version…but in’t…”)

And we’re an incredibly fit bunch because we manage to work out AND have a good gas at the same time (last week we covered – politics, religion, breakfast cereals, rat infestation, Manchester City, cruise control, salsa dancing, “smack the little buggers or not”, ‘the bin men’ and The Welsh.)

But this week I happened to overhear a conversation between three of the bigger, scarier looking fellas.  It went like this:

Man 1: Did you see that rainbow yesterday afternoon? Did you SEE it?

Sunset over Holme Moss. Be-yowtiful.

Sunset over Holme Moss. Be-yowtiful.

Man 2: Aye I did. It were be-yowtiful        [NB ***this is how ‘beautiful’ is pronounced in west yorkshire***]

Man 3: Yeah – about three o’ clock? It were stunning. Utterly stunnin, it were.

Man 1: It were like…. like one of those moments for me – like where you stop and catch yer breath and go ‘Eee – bloody ‘ell – I’ll have some more o’ that, I will.

Man 2: An I’ll tell you what else. Same afternoon – bit later – I were coming over the top of Holme Moss in the van and there were this light like – like shafts of light just peepin’ through the clouds down onto Holmfirth. Just as I turned the corner at the top. It were like… angel light. You know what I mean?

Man 3: Yeah – I know what you mean. Like – you just catch it at the right moment up there and it sorta dapples through.  Like little pockets of angel light or whatever you wanna call it – your little rays just pickin’ out the dark and the light in the landscape. And all o’ that.

Man 2: I know. It were that bad – well – it were that good. That I had to pull the van over and me eyes were just…transfixed. The light had this sort of almost greenish hue to it. You know like when your bronze … sort of…glows like that?

Small boy on Holme Moss. If this little chap turns out to be half as smashing as the Yorkshire blokes at the gym - it'll be 'Job's A Good 'Un'...

Small boy on Holme Moss. If this little chap turns out to be half as smashing as the Yorkshire blokes at the gym – it’ll be ‘Job’s A Good ‘Un’…

Man 1: Oh aye, I know what you mean.  When it’s like that – you think – well. Get me a pen and a bit of paper and I’m gonna write us a poem. Ha!

Man 2: Oh aye. I don’t mind tellin’ you. I cried I did.  In the van. Lookin’ at it all. I cried.

Man 1: Did yer?

Man 3: Yeah, I did. An’ the last time I cried was when I were watchin’ that ‘Britain’s Bravest Kids.’ I don’t cry often, me.

Man 1: Aye. I know what you mean, though. Be-yowtiful.

At this point, I do confess that I was wondering what precisely the gym owner had been injecting into the bottles of energy drinks on sale…

But all became a little bit clearer as I passed the guys (still waxing lyrical about the shafts of autumnal light across the peak district) and headed towards the exit doors.   “Here Chris!” said the receptionist. “If you’ve been looking for that Writing Magazine of yours – it’s been in the magazine rack all week.  You left it behind again. Take it home with you before they all start thinking that we’re gonna cancel the subscription to ‘Top Gear’ magazine…”

 

A magazine what'll up yer use of adjectives. Innit. Plus a pair of stinky old trainers.

A magazine what’ll up yer use of adjectives. Innit. Plus a pair of stinky old trainers.

_______________________________

Postscript:

I was especially relieved to have this magazine returning to me as bless ’em – the good folk at Writing Mag printed a letter from me in this (November 2014) edition. Copied below for those of you who are curious about as to why I get all hot and bothered about self-publishing versus traditional publishing etc…

DEAR WRITING MAGAZINE:

Leah Osbourne was appalled that literary agent Johnny Geller wouldnt view her as a serious writer – that she is more of a ‘hobbyist’ – because she is a stay at home mum and writes (like a devil!) between her other family commitments.

Virginia Woolf is a great point of reference of course – on being ‘the home maker’ and also being a writer. And I am with her all of the way when it comes to women and writing and childcare and ‘the home’ … And how women have been unable to be taken seriously as writers (especially ‘for income gain.’)
But I also have many male writer pals who would be as equally horrified at this demarcation between ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ as Leah is.  Blokes who are damned good writers and who through circumstance are tied up with care for children, elderly parents, maybe even a full time job. A medical issue.

So even today (as any Marxist would chirply tell you!) the issue of who can afford to be *perceived by the powers that be as PROFESSIONAL’* versus the hobbyists … nearly always comes down to income. Or class. Or your ‘connections’ (not what you know…etc)

Some woman from Yorkshire. On a revolutionary rant.  Yawn. Pass the Pimm's,  Penelope!

Some woman from Yorkshire. On a revolutionary rant about writers having to doff their caps to the likes of us! Yawn. Pass the Pimm’s, Penelope!

What’s the answer? Well. We are living in writing-revolutionary times. For those who feel powerless – that the Big Guys are impossible to impress, to break into as a writer….Stop trying to doff your caps at them.  Go the self-publish route. Show them that you are serious about your art. And yeah this *does* mean  planning and pitching your work with the utmost professionalism. If writing a book for example, you absolutely can NOT afford to skimp on the professional editing. Don’t forget that indie publishing can be a two way process. You might well do a selfie and make a few bob yourself. But then pull in the agent or publisher who has stumbled across you via your indie status. As opposed to the desperado slush pile application.

Once you have been able to prove that you are ‘out there’ yourself …well. Then it’s totally up to *YOU* whether your writing is a ‘hobby’ or not.

As for biggie publisher and agent; Philip Pullman himself put it beautifully in the October edition of WM – “the market doesn’t know what it wants, until it sees what you’ve got!”

And I do have much sympathy with Johnny Gellar too. He is simply looking for guys n gals who can cut the mustard and deliver the goods. It is a scary new world for the agents and the publishing houses. We cannot blame them for wanting a simple way to sort the wheat from the chaff. The onus is on us lot to lead them to a new market – as opposed to one that reacts to their perceived ‘demands.’
Chris L Longden, Hudds
(Mind Games & Ministers – www.funnylass.wordpress.com)

Roald Dahl, Scottish Independence and Terrorist Infants

13 Sep

Daughter (10):  It’s Roald Dahl’s birthday today

Me: (distracted, as per usual): Sorry?

Daughter: Yeah. I always remember it because it’s between my birthday and yours. And we were all told about this at school.  IT’S ROALD DAHL’S BIRTHDAY THIS WEEKEND. Like …. it was the Queen’s birthday or summat! But way better. Obviously. Because Roald Dahl might not have been from Up North or that. But he wrote some really cool books for kids dinne?

Me: Yep! He did. He was great!

Daughter: And even that Little Weirdo [her smaller brother] is totally into Roald Dahl now.  But that’s probably because Roald Dahl had this really spooky bit in his head where he wanted to freak us all out and talk about drowning kids  in chocolate rivers and feeding kids on a big fat peach to seagulls. And that.

Me:  Well. He always had a dark edge to what he wrote. But his writing for children was never really that scary.

Daughter: No. It was. Maybe just a bit. Like your book! ‘A Dark and Bleak Comedy’. That’s what it says. About your book. Like. we can all laugh at horrible things – because when people die – it can actually be really funny….!

Me: Look… you need to stop reading the marketing material … my book isn’t at all like…

Daughter: Anyway.  However that Roald bloke writes – our Stinkypants loves him. And he hasn’t ever EVER wanted to listen to any other books or stories before he heard ‘Danny The Champion’ – has he? And now it’s all Chocolate Factory and Giant Peach every day, isn’t it?

Me: That’s true.

Daughter:  So you can’t blame any of us for wanting special treats today, ’cause it’s Roald Dahl’s birthday. Get the Waggon Wheels out, I say!  And we love books in our family and should celebrate it. ‘Cause the Queen never wrote nowt for us, did she?

Me: No… True.

Daughter: Which is probably why the Scottish ones want to tell us in our England to get lost. If our royal people can’t write good stories and if that David Cameron expects me to pay for you – when you’re old and loony and in a home for nice but mad old people – Well. I wouldn’t want to be in our England government thing either. If I was a Scots One!

Me: Hang on. We were talking about children’s books.  Now you’re talking about Scottish independence.  What on earth do you know about the referendum?

Daughter: Lots. I hear what you grown ups are always saying. Like… the UK Fish-Kipper party people need to read cleverer newspapers. And that the Scottish fish Allie Salmon bloke needs to remember that we don’t actually HAVE to do all of the government and royal family thing in england. Lots of us here are already happy to burn down the Houses of Parliament. And we might do it in a few weeks!!

Roald's Enormous Croc. These days being use by the Department of Education to aid revolution and to urge on Scottish Independence

Roald’s ‘Enormous Croc’. According to my kids – these days he’s being used by the Department of Education as a subversive tool encourage insurrectionist activity and to urge on Scottish Independence…

 

Me: [appalled] Sorry – but where on earth did you hear that its okay to do that kind of thing?  And if you’re talking about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot – you’re talking about some of the earliest acts of terrorism in the UK! And how on earth can you think that such things are okay?

Daughter: [irritated] Don’t blame me! It’s what our WhiffyPants told me he was learning at the Infants!  So yeah… they’ll probably be reading their dark Roald Dahl stories there. And then they’ll be learning about how to blow up fleas on rats in a tunnel to kill the Umbolic Plague. With one of Roald’s enormous crocodiles too. And then they’re also learning how to be exploding the bad government in a big Fire Of London. At the same time. That’s what Pongypants says he’s learning about.  And then…to remember it all – this is where that making of a fake body of that Guy Fawkes religious bloke comes from. And this is why we – in England –  chuck it on a bonfire.

Me: Sorry, poppet but both you and your brother have got it all wrong. And I am pretty sure that Roald Dahl would have loved your interpretation of things but…

Daughter: Arghh! You just don’t understand!  It’s something the government here just introduced! They told us about it at school! It’s called our new “NATIONAL CURRICULUM” We’re allowd to be independent and to celebrate our history, Mum!