Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Walking North

Christmas Day morning: one of my favourite walks, from Barley up through the woods above Lower Ogden reservoir, up round Upper Ogden Reservoir, and back down under Pendle Hill. A damp morning, so quiet in the trees, only the sound of running water, and the crackle of pine cones under my feet. Red dead bracken and a couple eating a picnic in Christmas hats. I've walked here many times before so there is something self-affirming about this walk. It's me. I grew up in the shadow of this hill.

Tuesday: Janet's Foss, Gordale Scar, and Malham Cove. Mist, mizzle and mud, until the sun broke through the clouds, not for long, but long enough to open up the sky. Twisted fallen trees and limestone pavements, more water in the waterfalls than I have ever seen and aching shins. Bacon sandwiches and cups of tea. Another favourite place, memories from when I was much younger.

Today: Another favourite walk from Howarth to Penistone Hill and onto the moor. Wind-whipped and stinging with cold, wrapped tight and struggling against the winds. Heather and dry stone walls, ruined barns and flagstones. It wasn't enjoyable, but it was needed. No photos because the weather was just too wild. It was like being in Andrea Arnold's version of Wuthering Heights but colder and with none of the passion. Walked today to try and recover something of myself.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

grateful for...

A warm bed. Presents under the tree. A lovely evening with friends and the best hug I've had in ages. Laughing yesterday until my cheeks hurt. Kind messages in Christmas cards. The beautiful turquoise beads in the mala Eric gave me. A vivid imagination. The view through my dirty office window onto the Rochdale canal and the looming mills of Ancoats. Friends who seem to love and accept me just the way I am. The best parents I could ask for. My cat who plays tig with the backs of my legs every time I walk up the stairs. A lovely inspiring house mate who makes a great cup of rooibos tea and makes me laugh when she says the word 'waltz'. My allotment. New pretty beads. Being taught a mantra to 'Eliminate all Darkness' and chanting this 108 times while the rain lashed the hut roof. SSRIs. James Vincent McMorrow. Florence. Bombay Bicycle Club. Foo Fighters. Regina Spektor. Six Feet Under. My doctor who gives me a lot of time and rough tissues. The ex-boyfriend who said how great it is to see how much I've grown as a person. Short stories. Mel's emails. Feeling scared but doing things anyway. A brilliant editor. Texts inviting me for drinks and cups of tea. Opportunities to learn about love. Opportunities to learn about loss. The courage to be myself even when I get hurt.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Miss September

I am Miss September in our allotment site's 2012 calendar. I am very proud of my nasturtiums and muddy knees. Ha.

The allotment has been amazing this year. I worked very bloody hard and had a glut of vegetables and fruit. My shed had a grateful renovation. As did my pond. In fact, I've been digging right up until last Saturday when the weather took a turn for the windy and wet. I've still been out anyway, and planted three trees into knee deep holes filled with horse muck. I was soaked and wet, but escaped the worst of the weather in the tea hut where Eric and me listened to classical music, drank tea and bemoaned the world. I then fastened my trees to stakes with strips of bicycle inner tube, and watched them sway in these crazy winds hoping they will survive this weather. Sunset apple. Victoria Plum. Conference Pear.

I've still got some winter veg to harvest, given the chance. Sprouts grown especially for my dad, leeks, beets and swedes. Still have a sack and a half of potatoes, onions, and pumpkins all stored in the kitchen. My horse muck is shovelled, wheel-barrowed and rotting nicely in a huge stinking pile at the back of my lot. I've dug in a lot of manure already, I've dug over most of the ground ready for winter, composted dead plants and cut back my currant bushes.

To be honest, the allotment is my escape, my therapy, my exercise, my peace and contentment, my joy. There is nowhere else I can run like a seven year old from one end of the site to the other with a carrier bag held up high in the air behind me like a balloon, or dance along the edge of my railway sleeper raised bed without a care whether anyone is watching me. It's the place where I hide, where I feel I belong and where I experience nothing but kindness. It doesn't matter if I fail, I just try again. It doesn't matter if I know nothing, nobody laughs or puts me down, we are all always learning.

I've been reading back through my allotment diary, through all the hard digging and ridiculous lists of vegetables I've planted and harvested. Just to prove I am hooked, here are three little snippets from earlier in the year:

'It feels more at home than being at home. At the lot, it's like I can breathe, and I hear the wood pigeons and the wind rustling the leaves, and whether it's basking heat or dull or windy or drizzling with rain, it always feel good to be out...'

'I love the pace, the focus, just me immersed in whatever I'm doing - sometimes I can't fix what's in my head, but most of the time the lot fixes everything and I feel bliss, wonder, awe, peace, I feel lucky to have these moments.'

'I harvested and dug and had a cup of tea, and dreamed a little while rain lashed onto the hut roof, just the sound of it, wow, with Eric's radio on classical and the kettle whistling. I needed it today, all this. I needed it so badly and I didn't realise how much. When I came home, I ran a bath and noticed in the mirror how I was smiling all over my face and how healthy I looked. It feels me with such an amazing sense of well-being,'

To be honest, it is such hard work, I have moments where all I want is to give up, but I push through because I can't imagine life without it.

I'm no good at relationships, I find intimacy hard and fall to pieces when someone says they no longer want me around. But I can take hardwood cuttings from a blackcurrant bush. And I manage my work stress badly, especially when I get no support. But I can dig two spits deep with a spade and turn the soil over until it crumbles. And I'm flawed in so many ways that it sometimes feels unbearable, but, somehow down there, noticing a red admiral butterfly at the end of November, or a ten spotted black ladybird on the inside of my shed door, or a robin eating the seeds from the sunflower heads I left on the ground rotting for him, everything clears. And it feels as if I can do whatever it is I need to do.

So when I saw my photo in our 2012 calendar, I remembered all of this, and wanted to write about it because in that moment, in this photograph, I was so wonderfully happy. And I wish that everyone could have something similar that makes them shiver and buzz and smile right down to their bones. This is life. No matter how tough it gets, I can cope if I can still have my time at the allotment.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

More to Say

Life is an interesting place.

One minute, I write a blog post about writing being the least important thing in my life. A few stresses and upsets later, and it feels as if writing is all I have left. I should have been more cautious about slagging it all off. Life has a habit of biting you on the arse when there's something you need to realise.

Here I am sheepishly and a little painfully admitting that I got a lot wrong. I still need to retreat from parts of the writing world for various reasons. But, as someone said to me recently, in the face of difficulties, 'write Clarkson, write write write.'

So, I am writing 'A Brief history of Wrestling', a conversational story about an amazing friend of mine who was a pro-wrestler in the seventies, taken directly from interviews with him about his wrestling days. I've written a strange story about friendship. And I have a story in the stew-pot that I'm waiting to write, exploring a difficult subject that follows me everywhere through life. I'd forgotten how much writing can focus me, drive me, comfort me, how sometimes it can be as essential as eating.

And this week I was interviewed by the Manchester Evening News, about my latest publication, a short story called Toby, which was published in Lemistry and launched this week in Manchester. The article explains the background to the book. It is a collection of short fiction and essays celebrating the life and work of Polish science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, published by Comma Press.

I've pasted the article here, but am not sure whether it's readable, so here's a link to the the interview online.

The launch went well, I think. Madlab in Manchester was packed with people, and the readings and discussion were widely diverse. Trevor Hoyle read part of his short story from the book. He's a lovely man, and I love his re-creation of an actual meeting with Phillip K Dick in his contribution to the book. Polish writer Wojciech Orlisnki, read a brief section of his story set in a Las Vegas style casino where people go on a virtual trip to nineteen eighties New York to try and win money. He gave us a very entertaining and illustrated guide to all things Lem, and although I would love to try and recapture a flavour of his discussion, I was a little nervous waiting to read so wasn't 100% concentrating. Sorry, Wojciech. This is what happens to me when I'm asked to read last. I sit at the back of the room, wondering whether my legs will take me to the front of the room when it's my turn to read. Thankfully they did, and I read an excerpt from my story about adoption, mixed relationships and damaged childhoods. We all answered questions at the end, and it was good, I think. I was able to kind of enjoy it in a strange nervous kind of way.

All in all, I feel reassured that I might possibly maybe have a small contribution to make to the writing world after all. And my plan (hopefully) is that instead of talking so much about writing on the internet, I will just write write write.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

forgetting to blog

I'm laying 'forgetting the time' to rest.

To be fair, I've been having a rest from it for a few months now, with the occasional post. But, the truth is, I'm forgetting to blog.

Originally 'forgetting the time' was a writing blog, a space for my writing, others writing, books, readings and other literature events, and to explore my inspiration. As time has gone on, I've written blog posts that have covered all different areas of my life from depression to redundancy to films and plays to friendships. Sometimes, I've written blog posts that on reflection seem far too raw and personal. But, then some friends have commented that these are the ones they like the best.

I'm nearing the end of 2011, and life is less about writing sadly, and more focused on just day-to-day life. I seem to have less and less to say about writing and even the allotment is dying back for the year now, so a lot of my inspiration is hibernating.

I've written this blog since December 2008 and have written 284 posts (285 counting this one). I'm not sure whether it's the end or just time for a break.

When I started out as a writer, I had huge ambitions to write a novel, to get published, and to BE a writer (whatever I thought that meant). Over past years, I have had some publications, I've not written a novel, but I've written stories and prose poems and letters and poetry. I used to feel I might die if I wasn't a writer, I felt as if I was meant to be a writer and if I couldn't be then it was a catastrophy. But, now I'm more realistic. I've no agent, no novel, not much promise of publishing a book, and to be honest I'm on the peripheries of every part of the writing world.

Recently, I went to a couple of writing events, and saw people I've met many times at readings and workshops etc, even had lunch. I said hello and was talked to politely as if I didn't really belong there.

So, I haven't been to writing events recently, wanting to avoid some of the charade about it. I dislike the way someone reads and people say great, wonderful, loved it, whether they mean it or not. I hate the way sometimes, people who know me, don't say hello or even acknowledge they even met me before. And I hate the way at these events some of the interaction is on such a superficial level.

There are many exceptions. I have a small number of friends who are also writers and they always inspire me. I love meeting with them and talking, and I love reading their work. And there are a mass of writers around me who I don't know very well, but I admire.

Maybe I'm just tired. But, my experience has been that it's difficult to find a place for myself as a writer. I often feel socially awkward amongst other writers, even though I feel socially confident in the rest of my life. I often feel as if I don't fit in, as if there is some big club that I don't have enough merit to join, and sometimes when I do get a little positive feedback I'm not sure whether this is genuine or the kind of crap I see going on between other writers... you pat my back and I'll pat yours.

Obviously, I'm being a little catty.

There are many people who have been supportive of my writing, who have followed my blog, bought my chapbook, come to readings and given me inspiration. I feel very lucky to have shared conversations, ideas, enthusiasm and I'm grateful for all the opportunities I've been given.

But, I feel it's time to retreat for a while. I will still write, explore ideas, feel inspired and creative, but I need to retreat from the writing world. It feels like too harsh a place, and not as friendly as I might like.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

What I Didn't See..

My latest book review, is up on The Short Review's website... Brilliant book. I loved it!

Friday, 23 September 2011

End of the Long Road...

Today, I went into the office and packed away the family room so all the furniture, toys, cushions etc are ready to be picked up and delivered to other projects. I took all the photos of families and children's art work down from the wall, and shredded piles of work that we've done that doesn't need to be archived. I handed in my keys and my ID badge, and cleared the last bits off my desk. I left an out-of-office message on my email that said, Sorry I won't be able to reply to your email, as I'll no longer be working for the organisation, if you need to speak to someone, please contact...'

We decorated the office ourselves, bought all the furniture for our family room, put it together from flat packs, and painted the walls. Today, I took down picture frames, and pulled out nails that I hammered into the walls two years ago. And I left a nearly bare office today, nothing on the walls, everything in piles ready for a man and van. There is one week of our project remaining, but it's basically gone now. I have a week's holiday and then I am officially redundant.

It's been a strange ending. We've known it's been coming for a long time, but the end has rushed to meet me. A bit like when you do a parachute jump and when you reach a few hundred feet from the ground, you suddenly feel as if the ground is coming towards you way faster than you would like.

As a team, we had a day out a few weeks ago, but none of us have said goodbye yet.

Maybe that's what happens when events are not your choice. We didn't decide the funding would end. We didn't choose for the project to close. Everyone (fingers crossed) has a new job. I'm the only one being made redundant as it turns out. I half found myself another job elsewhere, but no suitable jobs came up for me anyway.

It wasn't voluntary. I didn't get a generous payout. I get statutory redundancy pay, which is better than nothing, but there was no way I'd have been able to use any payout to take time off work to write, to travel, or to start a business like most of the other people I know who've been made redundant. Life can sometimes feel like a lottery.

So, after seven years, I'm leaving an organisation where I did most of my learning as a social worker, became involved in hundreds of people's lives, saw the best and worst in people, met most of the friends who I now spend time with, found love for a while, grew a lot of confidence, and had some great laughs.

I've worked in two different projects. One for five years, one for two years. Walking out of the office was hard today. It was almost like any other day. Three of us leaving together, having a joke about this and the other, signing out, and saying what could have been an everyday bye.

I have my new job, and I know that I'll grow and learn, support many other people and have new work colleagues who could hopefully become friends.

But, even though I have the chance for this new beginning, this ending is hard, especially because it wasn't chosen. So, tonight I'm letting myself feel the sadness. It's the end of a part of my life, and I'm going to miss it like mad.

Saturday, 3 September 2011


I am very pleased that my short story Toby is being published in this very exciting book.

Lemistry is a book of short stories and essays celebrating the Polish science fiction writer Lem Stanislaw. You might never of heard of him but you will know work that has been inspired by his writing. It's all over the place... in science fiction films, computer games and fiction...

Now, I am not as much of a science fiction geek as this seems to indicate. But, being asked to write a story inspired by Lem's writing was one of those opportunities I just had to have a try at... I delved into some of his writing, and was drawn into one story in particular, The Seventh Sally or How Trurl's Own Perfection Led to No Good. It triggered off a whole sequence of thoughts and ideas, and I sat down and wrote this story on a very rainy Manchester weekend. I've since learnt that The Seventh Sally was part of the inspiration for computer game The Sims!

I loved writing this story, and I've very excited that Toby has been published in this book. I love the fact that it's published alongside stories by such amazing writers... I'm a bit astounded actually, and might not fully believe it until I've seen a copy in print!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Valentine's Day (a video poem)

The second of my videos from earlier this summer when I read at Manchester Book Market. It's always a bit strange seeing myself on video, and hearing my own voice... There are a lot of really great readings recorded by Literature Northwest from this years book market. Worth having a good browse. I love that they ask such a widely varied collection of poets and writers to read at these events, something for everyone!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Friday, 12 August 2011

On Not Losing the Plot

Earlier this year, I had fleeting moments when I thought I might give up the allotment. Probably not give up the whole plot, just half of it. It was a struggle balancing everything, keeping up with the work, and sometimes it all overwhelmed me.

But, as fellow plotholder Eric said in a text message this was 'not a stupid thought Tinkers effing redickerous'.

(Tinkers is my allotment name. Short for Tinkerbell. It distinguishes me from the other two Annies on our site...)

And it was a ridiculous thought, because in more difficult times, the allotment has been the one thing that's been almost certain to fix or distract me from whatever else is going on.

So, here I am on friday evening after a tough, busy, tiring week, and all I wanted to do was drive to the lot and water my tomatoes and pick some veg for tea. So, I kicked off my work shoes into the shed, slipped my wellies on and wandered around my plot seeing what was ready for picking. Plenty of courgettes, gorgeous french beans, spinach, some raspberries eaten as I picked them, a bunch of sweet peas to bob in a jam jar on my kitchen windowsill...

I watered the spring cabbage seedlings and late brocolli and chard I've not long since planted in the cold frame, and I drenched my tomatoes in the greenhouse. They are just starting to turn red and I'll be able to pick some later this weekend. I noticed my aubergine plants are just flowering... probably a little late, but it's good to see what the flowers look like. I noticed the cabbages are ready to start picking, and celery is growing strong, my brussel sprouts are the size of peas and will be ready for a lovely late autumn/winter harvest, I've got some beetroot big enough to roast, and well... I could write a long long list.

I'm giving away veg all the time. A bag of spuds, some beans, whatever is going spare. I love giving veg away, or little bunches of gorgeous flowers. Small pleasures.

Here are my latest pics...

And weather permitting, I'll be out there again tomorrow. I'm nervous about my new job starting on Monday so it will be good to ground myself by digging on what looks like it might be a drizzly damp weekend.

What else? I'm still letting go about a hundred times a day. I'm listening to this amazing man (my dad had one of his albums on vinyl when we were kids and I've just rediscovered him). I'm watching Mad Men Season 4 and very addicted. I'm loving my beautiful Sissycat who is especially affectionate at the moment (not right at this moment, hissing and scratching at another cat through the window). I'm writing a little, editing a short story which will hopefully soon be published in an anthology. I'm celebrating that I've put on a pound for the first time in ten months (those who know how upset I've been at losing so much weight will know how pleased this makes me). I'm curling up on the settee tonight in my little black dress and fluffy slippers with the TV, some Finnish DVDs and lots of nibbles. And I'm smiling, because despite having a tough month, I'm doing OK...

Friday, 5 August 2011

Letting Go...

I'm learning to let go. Learning, the operative word.

For the past weeks, I've been holding on tightly to an idea/something that has gone/something I have no control over. It's hard to let go of it. I suppose there are many things we can hold on tight to: the past when we are faced with change, people we have lost, feelings or experiences that no longer exist, even youth.

I feel as if I'm living through similar predicaments over and over again. Life is perhaps trying to give me the opportunity to learn here. So, this time, I want to learn properly.

My situation was summed up beautifully yesterday. I went for a Chinese acupressure treatment. The man said to me: 'Let go, you be free. Hold on, you hurt yourself.' When he said it like that, it seemed simple.

So, right now, letting go is something I'm having to do many times each day. It's not a one step process. It's continual. I let go, I feel good about this, I feel freer and then a little while later I realise I'm holding on tight again to a memory or a feeling or a set of thoughts. It seems to be a process that takes time, patience, constant reminders, some struggle, and discipline.

But, maybe if I keep doing it, then I might start having to let go less and less and then before long, I will have let go without even realising it...

I'm reading an amazing book called When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön. She's an American Buddhist nun, and the book is a collection of teachings on all kinds of Buddhist approaches to life. Eric from the allotments lent me the book, he says he's had it in his shed for ages but I wasn't ready for it before.

She talks about being in the moment, even if that's painful or difficult. She encourages being with loneliness and living with suffering rather than trying to escape from it. She talks about giving up hope and accepting that the world being a groundless place. It's interesting actually, I can see what she means, it makes a lot of sense, although I don't feel able to explain it.

To be truthful, she is dealing with complex issues, that I haven't even begun to fully understand. My plan is to finish reading the book which I am doing slowly, and then start reading it again.

It all seems to come down to one thing, trying to live in the moment (which it seems to be is the key to letting go).

When I think about the times when I live in the moment. On the allotment, where I often just turn up, whatever mood I'm in, whatever the weather. I don't always know what I'm going to do. I just turn up and start somewhere on the plot... pulling up weeds for example, or planting something, or like last weekend, clearing the paths of weeds, covering them and putting chippings down. Most of the time, I focus on what I'm doing. It's very practical, often repetitive, and involves exertion. I'm conscious of what I'm doing, and whether it's hot, the birds chirruping, the strimmer somewhere on the plot, when the sun goes behind the clouds, whether I'm thirsty or not, how wet or dry the soil is, how it feels to dig the fork into the ground, the smell of the soil. I still think about other things, but the thoughts come and go. Often I can arrive in a bad mood or a tired mood or preoccupied and it works out by the time I finish. I notice what has grown a little more, I notice everything. It's the time when I am most observant of what's around me, but also observant of how I feel in a very uncomplicated way.

With practice, I hope to be able to spread this outwards into other parts of my life. But I often fall into old habits and patterns.

Letting go is something I've never done very well, but I want to learn how to be better at it.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


I escaped for the weekend with my friend Vanessa... onto the Leeds-Liverpool canal to stay on my dad's narrow-boat. We didn't chug/drive/sail it anywhere... but stayed at the mooring, which is very peaceful (apart from scary swans, lots of hissing and a few deviations in our plans to avoid them).

We watched DVDs, went for drinks in a barn with other boaters, lay in the sun reading, did some towpath gardening for my mum, cooked lovely food, went into Skipton and trawled round every charity shop in town and the market, drove up to Bolton Abbey and walked by the river, and finished it all off with a gorgeous Lamb dinner in a lovely pub.

I've come home with a burnt nose and two carrier bags of charity shop clothes. I wanted a new dress, and have come home with three dresses (one for work, two for play), a red and white swirly skirt, a vest top, a comfy jumper, a gorgeous leather handbag, and a beautiful silk top from Monsoon, all for the less than £40. It was fun trawling the shops and finding amazing bargains. I probably would have spent more than that on one dress if I'd bought brand new, and now I have a new wardrobe... (Vanessa really is the charity shop queen).

And I had such a lovely time. It was perfect. Almost.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The old, the new and the unknown...

I've not been writing much.

I'm revisiting a story from a long time ago. It's called Door, and centres on a character called Lars, who works the doors in Manchester. It's a story about denial or repression, how childhood relationships shape our adult ones, and is a story where the reader realises things the character hasn't realised yet. I wrote it when I was doing my MA course in 2005 and it never quite worked. There was something in there somewhere, and some moments I liked. But I never felt the character or the situation were fully formed or quite finished.

I suddenly found myself thinking about this story the other day. I realised perhaps what the story is really about, from recent experiences that have given me more insight. Some events in real life have very uncanny echoes of this story and I feel as if I actually understand now what I was trying to achieve with the story. I think I misunderstood what the story is most concerned with. Maybe I wasn't ready to tell it six years ago. I feel as if I can do a better job now. So, seeing as the rain prevents me getting down to the allotment, I might revisit the story and see what happens.

Other writing things...
Litmus is now available on most book sites, but is cheapest on the Comma Press site I think. I've been reading my copy are there are some amazing short stories, all inspired by eureka moments in science. I've loved reading the afterwords by scientists who specialize in fields of science explored in each story. It's what makes the book special, not just fiction based on scientific discovery, but scientific commentary too. All very accessible (believe me, I am the most unscientific person I know... if anyone reading this went to school with me and ended up being my lab partner in chemistry or physics, then you will know! More doodles, graffiti and gossip in my science books than lab notes). Anyway, my short story veers towards neuroscience/ psychology. It would be interesting to hear what anyone thinks of the book, if you've read it...

My latest book review is up on The Short Review. Another collection of short fiction that I very much recommend.
It's a brilliant first collection. I loved the way the stories were all based in a fictional Australian town, with interconnections betweens stories and characters. There's an interesting interview with the writer too. I love the way The Short Review interviews as many of the reviewed writers as possible. It gives insight into the writers, the background to their collections and how they write. I always like to nosy about other writers lives, experiences and approaches to writing...

Oh, and lastly, if anyone hears of any paid writing opportunities, please please let me know. I will starting my part time job in August, so will have space, time and energy to develop my writing... and am open to any opportunities that might arise. The world will soon be my lobster, as a good friend of mine says...

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Life Wishlist

Some changes in life evolve slowly, others crash into us and we don't see them coming. I'm in the process of the first one and then the second one hits me like a train.

My wishlist:

Sunny days on the allotment. To grow plenty of lovely healthy fruit and veg. Lots of laughs. Cups of tea. A whole decent nights sleep. For my health to stay settled. An easy transition to my new job. Easy goodbyes. Some bloody good nights out. Some dancing. To feel as if I'm in the middle or the edge of things, but not on the outside. Time with my favourite people. Gorgeous food and a good appetite. A peaceful holiday. Decent books. Inspiration to write. Courage. Belief in myself. To be a good daughter and make my parents proud.

That will do. Did I miss anything out? If I was a little wilder in my wishes, I would say...

A place in the country with chickens and a goat and some ducks. Lots of space and time to grow my own everything. And making things. Writing a novel. A campervan to drive and stay here, there and everywhere. Lasting love, and waking up with that person everyday. A family of my own.

I can aim for both lists maybe. But, the ones on the first list seem more in reach... Hope the Universe is listening.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A list...

The sound of an owl at dusk.

Baby caterpillar on my arm.

Plaster over a cut on my knee.

Filling watering cans from the water butt.

The smell of tomato plants.

Scratch on my leg from a bramble.

Twist of a bean plant up a bamboo cane.

Marigold buds.

The first growth of baby courgettes.

Tangle of strawberry runners.

Bright blue borage flowers.

Pink gooseberries.

Clank of the gates.

First sweet peas.

Prickly comfrey leaves.

Trug filled with weeds.

Scrape of a fork.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Butterfly Effect

The first short story I remember reading was Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder'. I was in third year of high school in Mr Bradbury's English class. Until then, I'd hated English classes. Two years of Mrs Jackson giving us comprehensions, lessons in grammar and enunciating my name with every syllable every time I moved. But, these classes were different. Mr Bradbury wanted us to write poetry and I remember clearly reading Ray Bradbury's story and the feeling of oh my god in the pit of my stomach as I was reading it. It was like a switch inside me that never turned off again.

I read it again this morning for the first time since I was 13, and it still holds the same power, and I experienced a similar compulsivity when reading it. But I'd forgotten how beautiful his description is, how the tension builds slowly. It's an amazing short story.

Last week I handed in my 8 weeks notice at work, after a very strange few months that I haven't been able to write about. We found out at the end of March that the funding for our service will end in September. I knew it was coming in a way. It was no surprise, let's say. With the £110 million cuts that our local council has to make over the next three years, I had a sense that our small service could easily be one of the many cuts it would choose to make. We were a relatively new team delivering a preventative service to families where there is a child in need or at risk, and I'm not sure how much preventative services have a place in the current political climate. And most importantly, we weren't meeting our targets. Yet. We've spent an awful lot of time building the work, rolling it out over a whole city with a significant level of problems, getting our service known, encouraging referrals, and learning the work as we were going. So, I knew in reality that further funding was a dim possibility.

All the same, being told that your project is going to end is hard news to hear. It was one of those hit by a bus feeling. And then a slow dawning question about what the heck are you going to do. Everyone reacts differently to news like this, and at first I figured I'd be fine, that as an employee for over five years I would get a decent redundancy payout if my employer couldn't find me another suitable job elsewhere. I've had friends who have faced redundancy and they had good payouts that gave them enough time to find other work without a huge financial worry. Other friends have decided to use the opportunity to take a little time out of work and write or travel. So, I tried to see it as an opportunity.

I started to do a little research, checking the jobs bulletin, read the redundancy policy. And this was when I discovered that redundancy can mean very different things. It can mean generous payouts or it can mean statutory payouts. I was shocked to find out that statutory redundancy pay is one weeks pay for every year you're worked, which added up amounts to very little in the context of mortgages and bills and the cost of living. My options became much narrower. redundancy was not going to be much of a safety net.

There haven't been many jobs out there. I'm not sure how many people are looking for work at the moment. I feel lucky to have found a decent job, it's not permanent, and it's part-time. So, I will have to find some extra work to get the income I need, but I can also have more time to write and dig and relax more. It's a good move. It's a move I'm not quite ready for, but life is pushing me on, challenging me. I'm not sure whether it's the right move, but I've decided to take the chance.

It has struck me a few times... if I'd have worked that little bit harder... approached the work differently, gone for quantity in my work rather than quality... would this still be happening? Perhaps the world would be a different place if there was one thing I could have done or said. Or if the political world was different, if we didn't have this Government, and the council was not being forced to make radical cuts, would we have been given the chance to build our service up more so we could have met our targets?

The butterfly effect is not comforting to think about. It somehow makes it harder to face change, because you keep thinking, was there one small thing that would have made the difference? could I have been better? made less mistakes?

But that's not helpful, sometimes life just hammers us with things and we have to face them. The reasons why don't matter, what could have been done or not done in the past isn't helpful. It's just a case of suck it and see. Get on with it. Try and trust somewhere that this fits in with some wider plan we have no idea about. Or it's just random life. No reason for it, just one in a long line of things we have to deal with.

There's time now to prepare, to adjust, get used to the idea. I'm thankful for the time. Some people lose their jobs within weeks and are left picking up the pieces. But I've landed in a decent place, and maybe the change will be a good one?

Monday, 6 June 2011

Digging for England...

It's June and I have less time for gardening than last year and twice as much allotment. What is a girl supposed to do...?

The best she can with what she's got.

So, with 270 square yards, a very old spade, two second hard garden forks, a tin full of seeds, a pile of horse muck and lots of donated and acquired netting, scaffold planks, used tyres, old railings, bamboo canes, and a free-cycled greenhouse... this is what I've done so far, this year...

January saw too much frost, snow, cold and damp to do anything at the allotment...

February saw a delivery of cow muck, some rough and wet digging with wellies caked in muck, and buying far too many seeds. I acquired a greenhouse, which Dave and Eric (fellow plot-holders) kindly erected for me and glazed. It's a rebuild of three different greenhouses all from freecycle. It has a window in the roof, and some slatted windows at the back, both open up when it reaches a certain temperature. It has a path of three small flagstones, and (also from freecycle) some bamboo blinds to protect my baby plants from too much direct sunlight. It's surprising how much is going on at the plot in February.... rhubarb shoots are coming through... onions, shallots and garlic planted in the Autumn were all growing. Tulips and bluebells pushing through the ground. All my fruit bushes had buds on. Everything else was waiting for some warmth.

March saw washing the greenhouse, more wet digging, sorting out my trays and pots, digging out failed purple sprouting brocolli and old leeks, and starting to plant things! I started off most of my seeds in the greenhouse or at home... peas, tomatoes, squash, courgettes, peppers, aubergine, brocolli, cabbage, sprouts, lettuce, sweet peas, sunflowers. Outdoors, I planted parsnips, radishes, beetroots, spring onions, Charlotte potatoes and more... I don't want to make out like planting is easy. It can take ages, so with my potatoes I had to dig over the bed, dig in some manure, leave it a while, dig it over again, dig trenches, line them with manure, bury my seed potatoes, earth them up as they are coming through... hours and hours, achy back, sore hands, a few bruises on route, bending down a lot, standing up, measuring, wheel-barrowing. I planted a LOT of potatoes on weekends in March and April... about 40 plants altogether.

April is wonderful on the allotment. The clocks have changed, the light is better, thermals come off and this April was scorching so it was shorts and vests and digging until 7.30pm. It was a month of barbeques and breakfasts at the allotment and people bringing their babies and friends down. I visited the allotment as many times as possible to water the greenhouse, and even got out the hosepipe. It was 'get as much as possible into the ground' month: the rest of my potatoes, early and maincrop, more parsnips, beans, marrows, swedes, kale, more beets, spinach, pak choi, about 100 flower bulbs (thanks to a cheap batch at Aldi), and loads of my seedlings went outdoors, the ones that could cope with late frosts.

I had a few helpers in April, which I bloody needed because I had a lot of new digging to do and the ground was hard. The woman who had the allotment before me (the bit I didn't have last year) hadn't done much work in a long time, so there were a lot of weeds and grass, the ground is solid, it had flooded like mad in the winter, and is like clay in parts. It was awful to dig and it took hours to clear even a few feet. Back-breaking digging, my lower back has ached since the end of March! Luckily I could alternate this with digging over the the part of the allotment I started with last year. With all the manure I dug in, the soil is rich and crumbles easily with a fork when I dig it. So I am learning, and the newly dug parts of the allotment are getting barrow loads of manure dug in.

I had slug and snail trouble in the greenhouse... so had to plant a whole new batch of seeds... and more new seeds... sweetcorn, nasturtium, coriander, parsley, rosemary...

Everything was starting to grow and push through in April... potatoes becoming bushy, salad leaves and radishes ready for picking, beautiful ruby beetroot leaves, onions and shallots getting fat, flowers on my blackcurrants, raspberries, gooseberries, jostaberries, huge thick rhubarb stems (which I SO wanted to pick, but left it to established for next year), gorgeous purple flowers on my chives, spearmint bushing out of its tyre.

And May was even busier... The greenhouse was bursting with seedlings in May, and I still had a load of digging to do... the digging never ever ends... to create space to plant them out.

I built two new raised beds by sawing scaffold planks and getting Eric to help me nail them together with six inch nails. I spent a whole day nearly trying to cover things with nets, and building all kinds of weird and wonderful protection for seedlings. Eric saw a pigeon lie on its side and shimmy under the netting to eat Carol's plants, so it really is like a full on war with the birds, mostly the big ugly ones like pigeons, crows and magpies. We also have rats, foxes, mice, cats and god knows what other creatures. (And sometimes intruders, Eric had his meditation hut vandalised and pissed on, although I tried to convince him it could have been a pair of amorous foxes).

More digging. One of the other plot-holders offered to help me dig a big section of my plot, and he digs like an ox, or a machine. He helped me make huge progress. I acquired some railway sleepers (via Eric, I think he was a womble in a previous life) for another raised bed and I was glad of a strong pair of hands to help me shift them because I couldn't even lift one of them on my own. They make a beautiful octagon (see the photo) and I can't wait to fill them with flowers and veg.

I caught the sun at the beginning of the month, and had to dig through a crust the soil was so dried out. But then the weather broke, which is great for the plants as they have been so thirsty, but not good for me. I got caught in thunderstorms, scatterings of rain and drizzle. I lacked the time to get out and do what I wanted to do. It's frustrating. Having an allotment is almost like a full-time job.

I got peas planted and beans in the ground, with my 8ft bamboo wigwams already trussed up with green string ready for them. I planted out brocolli, celery, sweet peas, the first lot of sweetcorn (I've gone crazy for it this year as it was SO good last year - 32 plants I think!). My courgettes and squash are flowering, big beautiful yellow flowers, which I would never have expected. My tomatoes are in the greenhouse flowering beautifully, and they smell divine when I water them, I think it might be my favourite smell in the world. My fruit bushes all have berries slowly ripening. I have lovely fuzzy carrot tops in a tyre, pea flowers, ragged swedes where the birds chomped at them, but still surviving, the most beautiful foxgloves which I planted from seed last year. I picked half a kilo of the juiciest strawberries yesterday, and there are lots more ripening.

My battles have been with the weeds, slugs (ongoing) and birds (ongoing). The birds stripped my redcurrant bush before I got the chance to cover it with netting. I have decided to share my strawberries with the slugs. There are so many, it seems only fair, and without miracles I can't keep them away.

The time just flies when I am down there. I get immersed and before I know it two, three, four hours have passed. I start on a job, like watering the greenhouse, and before I know it I have pulled out the flags to put hardcore underneath them, re-potted all my tomatoes, planted some in the ground, tied them to canes, dug a few weeds out and bang bang, there goes another two hours. I have a list of things to do as long as my arm, and I make slow progress all the time, but the list never ends. I would actually love to just sit in a deckchair with a book and enjoy it, but there is always another job to do, weeds to pull out, plants to put in the ground.

It's felt much more hard labour, than labour of love this year. It's been tough, and I haven't been at all sure a lot of the time whether I'm managing it. I'm a little behind getting things in the ground. Some of my seedlings are ankle height when other peoples are knee or hip height. My muscles ache. I don't have enough time.

Yet, I still keep turning up. I'm prodding myself to keep at it, thinking that the first couple of years is the hardest, everyone says it takes a good few years to get established. And it is worth it, I took these photos this weekend to show myself how far I've come...

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Hot Kitchen Snow and Blue Has No South...

I have been a busy reviewer. Two of my recent reviews are in this The Short Review this month..

Blue Has No South, by Alex Epstein

and Hot Kitchen Snow by Susannah Rickards.

They are both very different short story collections. Possibly couldn't be any different. Blue Has No South is a collection of 115 short fictions, that I would variously describe as fables, puzzles, poems, true stories, warnings, dreams, histories, myths, found stories. They are brief, intense, distilled, and this is probably a book I will dip into many times again. Hot Kitchen Snow is more traditional, in the sense that it contains the kind of short stories we might expect when we say short stories. It was a bit of a slow burner for me, but left me thinking wow...

I love short fiction, I love the way stories are so diverse that there is something for almost everyone. I love the way they can be enjoyed in the small pockets of time in my life, snatched between breakfast and work, or at lunchtime, or on the bus or in a waiting room. I love that a small world is contained in only a few brief pages, and we can be taken out of our own world for a brief time, feel something might have changed, or learn something, feel something completely outside of ourselves. And with a good short story it can shake our roots, make us question, unsettle, amaze or make us laugh out loud. And we can carry a whole book load of these moments around with us, get the book out when we want an escape, find odd collections of these experiences inside one cover, but with themes and connections, or an overall journey, or patterns, that if we want to find them are hidden within the different stories.

I mean, I love novels, and I love poetry. But, short stories... are my first love, I think.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Litmus and other writing...

I have just sent back the proofs for my short story What Kind of Dog, soon to be published in Litmus, a Comma Press anthology of short stories from modern science.

The book is due out in June, I think. And I have to say, it looks amazing from the sneak preview on Comma's website.

The list of authors and scientists in the book is amazing. I'm a little astounded and very pleased that I will be amongst them. And can't wait to get hold of a copy.

My story is inspired by a flood in Petrograd in 1924, which created a moment of discovery for neuroscientist Ivan Pavlov in his work with dogs. It's a subject that I never imagined writing about or researching, but sometimes life presents these opportunities, and I decided that yes, I was going to attempt a story completely outside my experience and strengths as a writer. For a person who was never good at science (or that interested), and has never been to Russia, can't speak a word of Russian, and has little knowledge about 1924, it was a bit of a challenge. And some people might remember me agonising a little over this story.

Anyway, lots of researching, a trip to Manchester University to talk with a researcher in neuro-science, reading, writing, editing, feedback, re-writing. It is ready for printing, almost in print, and I achieved something that when I was first asked to do, I almost said 'no, sorry, it's not something I could write.'

The lesson in this story is....

So, I am writing a new story. Again, a story that is outside my experience. It is set in another continent, in a country I know only a little about, a country with ongoing civil unrest and war, with horrific levels of sexual violence, and it's about a family with a different language and culture to me. Can I do it? Well, I'm 2000 words in and still going, and we'll see, but perhaps I can manage it, with the right research and hard graft, and feedback and writing and re-writing.

I've always been told to write what I know, but... I'm not sure about this sage advice anymore. Perhaps sometimes writing is about taking a leap into an experience you have never lived through, stretching the bounds of imagination, and feeling your way through the unknown. What do you think?

Saturday, 30 April 2011

All quiet on the North-Western front?

I've been a bit quiet on here.

It's been for a number of reasons, but mainly because I've been preoccupied. I'm not even allowed to say why at the moment. But, it's not a good thing. It's an unsettling thing. It's been dominating my thoughts, and because I can't write about it, I haven't had much else to say.

But, I haven't disappeared. I have been out and about...

- Seeing this amazing lady play live at the Deaf Institute in Manchester...

- Reading poetry... at the launch of this very beautiful collection of poetry by my good friend and amazing poet Melissa Lee Houghton (available here)...

- escaping to North Wales for a little caravan holiday, exploring castles, beaches, bingo halls, and arcades

- digging and planting...

Actually, an awful lot of digging and planting. My allotment is 270 square yards, which is a massive space for one person to work on. So far, I have planted Charlotte and Isle of Jura potatoes (enough to feed the whole street), mangetout, beetroot, swedes, brussel sprouts, parsnips, radish, all kinds of lettuce and leaves, spinach, pak choi, onions, garlic, shallots, carrots, aubergines, courgettes, squash, cabbage, tomatoes, leeks, marigolds, sunflowers, dahlias, sweetcorn, beans. I can't remember what else. That's quite a list, so it will do for now.

Some vegetables are growing outdoors, some are still seedlings in the greenhouse or at home. It's a very busy time of year at the allotment. It's the time when seeds are planted, seedlings nurtured and over the next few weeks everything will need to get planted out into the ground. Some of the digging is hard, because it's the new part of my allotment and hasn't been dug for a couple of years. There is muck still being spread. The weeds are getting ahead of me and it all takes far far longer than I imagine.

Today, I was there for hours planting out my mangetout, putting up canes to support them, tying the canes with twine for the peas to climb up, and then netting them to stop the birds from eating them before they get the chance to grow. Then I was sawing scaffold planks to build two more raised beds. Then I was digging over a space where I want to plant some things tomorrow. So, muscles are aching, skin is flush with sun and I am fit for nothing but sleep!

So, things are good, despite the worry that I can't talk about... some nice time with friends, romance blossoming, which is lovely actually, and this gorgeous warm weather is such a treat. I feel as if I come alive in the spring, a cliche, I know, but these light nights, the warmth, everything growing, it gives me a real boost.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

I forgot to tell you about...

... The blossom on the trees on my street that has been falling like confetti and scattering everything in petals.

... the sweetcorn seeds on my windowsill that are pushing up little green shoots through the compost

... the story I am writing/editing about a robot called Toby for an exciting science fiction anthology

... this song, which I LOVE at the moment

I've not been here much. I have been busy with things. Digging. Loving. Worrying a bit. Sleeping a lot. Working at a job that is ticking away like a little time bomb.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Oh, Arts Council Cuts

I was really gutted to hear last week that Lancaster Litfest lost Arts Council Funding.

It's a sad state of affairs in our country at the moment. Cuts everywhere, and sadly the Arts Council had its budget cut by £100 million. So, they announced which organisations they would keep funding, and there were 200 organisations including Litfest that will not be funded after 2012.

I don't know exactly what it means for their future. There is more on their website. They are still planning and booking events,

So, excuse me for a bit of a shmaltzy blog, but I wanted to write about all the wonderful things Litfest has done for me personally as a reader and lover of literature and as a writer.

I first came across Litfest in 2004, when I was studying in Lancaster. I was on a creative writing course at the University, and one of our tutors said it was a must for us to get down to their annual literature festival. I went to a few events, and thought, wow, friendly events, warm atmosphere, well-organised, professional, and well-attended. I did a little research about what else they did. It was my year of writing full-time, a time when I wanted to explore, learn everything, create, read, write, discover.

I discovered that Litfest do a lot to promote writing in the local area, not just in the community, but in prisons for example. They have an amazing breadth of activities and interests that blew the idea of 'literature' wide open, allowing for experimentation and fresh ideas.

I applied for one of their opportunities. A collaborative writing project. An opportunity for three writers from the North West of England to work with Jackee Batanda, a writer from Uganda. I sent off examples of my writing and was amazed when they got in touch to say I'd been chosen. For six weeks, me, Chris Fittock and Pauline Keith met with Jackee in the cafe in The Folly in Lancaster. We drank tea, ate cake and chatted about our lives and writing. Our job was to explore commonality and difference through writing. And we set ourselves writing tasks and goals, shared writing and ideas. For me, this was exciting. I was a real writer, working with other writers, writing. Ha, it sounds silly really, but this was like a huge boost for me, a break of sorts. I wrote a short story I never imagined I would write, called The Towpath. It's a story based where I grew up, and is about that point as a child when you start to really understand what 'difference' can mean. It explores the experiences of two girls - one white, one Asian - growing up at the time of the race riots in Burnley, Oldham and other places in the North. I never would have written this story without this project, without the support of those writers, and the inspiration.

It culminated in a book, The Big Picture, which is no longer available, but I still have a few copies. And a reading at Litfest, my first reading as a writer, where I shakily read excerpts from my story, and answered questions asked by the audience. My first taste of being a writer, I felt very inexperienced, but as if a whole new world had opened up for me.

Over the years, I have carried on going to a range of different readings and events organised by Litfest. And I feel really lucky, because since that opportunity, Litfest has supported me as a writer continually over the past few years. The artistic director, Andy Darby, and Sarah Hymas, editor of Litfest's publishing imprint have for some reason been very warm towards my writing, and I have been lucky enough to have worked with them on a number of projects:

- Andy invited me to read at Litfest in 2007, to launch my chapbook, Winter Hands. I was really humbled to read alongside Graham Mort and Ian Duhig, poets I admire deeply. I was sandwiched between these two amazing readers, without understanding quite how I had managed to be sharing an event with them. We opened the festival to a wonderful audience at the Duke's Theatre, introduced by my publisher Ian Seed. It was such a good night. It was the first time my dad heard me read. I signed books for the first time. My hands were shaking and I felt flush all night. But I read, and sold a ton of books, and was giddy for days.

- I applied for Flax Books Poster Commission in 2008, and along with five other writers was commissioned to write a short piece of prose/poetry for a poster. Jenn Ashworth, Ian Seed, Maya Chowdhary, Jane Routh, Meg Peacocke were the other chosen writers. The poems or prose were then made into posters, all of which are available as free downloads from Litfest. It was really exciting waiting to see the poster design. My poster Okarito is SO beautiful. It was chosen along with one other to be printed as A1 posters. I have a copy hanging on my living room wall, and they are available for sale for £20 via the link above.

- My writing was also chosen for two of Flax Books' Digital Anthologies. Unsaid Undone and This Road We're On. They are both very different anthologies of short fiction, featuring five writers. They are in digital form, and Unsaid, Undone, is also available for download as a free DIY pamphlet, or a professionally done £5 print copy.

Being published by Flax is more than just having words in print. Both anthologies have so much in them... audio recordings of the writers reading their work, a profile of the writers (Here is my Flax Profile), photographs and illustrations. And Flax are good to their writers, they produce postcards with excerpts from the anthologies, offer a coaching session, arrange further writing opportunities from time to time, take professional photographs and launch the anthologies in style.

Unsaid Undone was launched at The Brief Encounter Tearooms at Carnforth Train Station, the very same cafe featured in the film.

So, Litfest has really given me more opportunities than I could have imagined. I am a Flax writer. I am a Litfest writer. The roots of my writing are entangled in its history, and my learning, growth and love of reading and writing are partly down to the chances and support they have given me over the past six years.

This is why Litfest is important to me, and why it is so disappointing that Arts Council are going to end their funding.

Litfest are asking for support. They say this...

Send us an email telling us why Litfest is important to you. Tell us, for example, about an event that has uplifted you, or a writing workshop that has made a difference.

Book a ticket for one of our events, or pop in and buy a book from our Poetry Bookcase. As hundreds of British arts organisations are being cut, now is the time to show your support for the arts. Vote with your feet.

Tell your friends about Litfest - face-to-face or online.

Get involved - volunteer some of your time to staff our Poetry Bookcase, help with our leaflet and poster distribution, or join our Front of House team at events.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

a million ways to measure the sun...

My friend Steve is launching his book tomorrow.

I've only known Steve a couple of months, even though we're both poets moving around in the same circles. I went along last minute to a reading in Manchester, and there he was, this slightly tired but interesting looking fella with a woolly cap, standing at the mic on a very wintry Manchester evening. He started reading this poem called 'The Mills are Dead', and for a number of reasons, I tuned in more than I had been doing the rest of the evening. It was something about his rich Rochdale accent, there is something that says home to me about an accent like that. And I love mills. And his poem just spoke out to me that night. It has a real grim sense of the closure of the mills and all the detail of a time and place that died with them.

Anyway, a few hellos later, and some emails and coffee, and chat, and we're doing a bit of writing together. And then 'A Million Ways to Measure the Sun' comes through my letterbox.

A bloody good collection, I think. A real mix of intimate and industrial, his poems are stripped down, gritty and beautiful. They explore the darker, grimmer parts of life, as well as the more physical and real emotion aspects of being... He has a way with words and images that builds distinct sensory details into a broad landscape.

Here's 'The Mills are Dead so you can see what I mean...

The Mills Are Dead

Backboned of redbrick
guttural fuck from
the three day week,
the operation of bread
strike led darkness
scuffed end of the canal,

the mills are dead now mate;
the mills are dead.

The bones don't know
white finger, sluice-gated
pike faced, algae flushed
cheeks of the bar; after hours
poker hands, cribbage board
matchsticks; picking gristle
from Capstan teeth, kind of
open door neighbourhood kid,

Cos the mills are dead now mate
the mills are dead.

But I reckon your mother would know -
sure as a fiver on the flags
of a Sunday morning, organ playing
Afro-Caribbean lady - ginnel calling
her late husband to the pulse
of the cossack's daughter, shipped
over, shaving potatoes sobbing by the kitchen sink.

Cos the mills are dead now mate,
the mills are dead.

Anyway, I wanted to let people know about the launch. If you're around Manchester, come and hear him read. His voice reading these poems will be worth it...

And if you can't come, have a look at his book which is available as a download or a print copy.

Or have a look at his website. He is an amazing photographer and artist as well, man of many talents... And he's got short poem films on youtube.

And here is the man himself...

Sunday, 20 March 2011

A little round up...

I'm writing another short story commission, very exciting and on the hush hush, can't say much about it, although I am venturing into science fiction for the first time, and hope it will be worth it. I have a couple of readings coming up in April, that I will 'announce' in due course... I have written the odd poem this year, some reviews (online soon...) and am kind of nearly almost writing a script, just need to find the TIME.

Work is a stress. I'll say no more. It's necessary and sometimes rewarding, but I wish I had more time for myself.

I'm loving PJ Harvey's Let England Shake and Radiohead's King of Limbs, both are on repeat, and I'm not getting bored of them. I'm getting hooked by Mad Men. I loved The Fighter. I wish I had more money because there is a ton of music, film, gigs, theatre I would love to indulge in but just can't. I've not seen my friends as much recently and miss them, come on lovely friends, let's get together...x

Probably one reason for having less time is that I'm still enjoying a bit of romance. I'm squeezing him into my already busy and very full life, and he's very lovely, I can tell you. Ha. And he's not run a mile yet. Even after experiencing my grumpy emotional witchy side. Watch this space...

And of course, my allotment. I've been a bit slow getting started with the allotment this year. But thought I would give you a sneaky peek...

My new greenhouse! Thanks to Eric and Young Dave, I now have a beautiful square greenhouse. Eric acquired me it from freecycle, picked it up for me in three different trips, and the two of them put it together, with donations of flagstones from John the Gardener. I'm so lucky and very very pleased.

It has been cleaned, hosed down, dug over, and is now planted with many seeds... today I have planted tomatoes, aubergines, cabbages, broccoli, sprouts, squash, basil, sweet peas, sunflowers, leeks, and they are in my new greenhouse waiting to germinate. Also planted outdoors parsnips, radish, spring onions and beetroots.

I need to get my bum in gear and dig dig dig so I can plant everything out when it's ready. I have loads more seeds to plant, and potatoes chitting nicely in the kitchen. I have missed the allotment. I'm finding it hard to find the time and motivation to fully get back into it, but I think these lighter nights will help, and hopefully soon a bit more warmth. It's still very bitter out, up here in the north.

Ugh Politics

Politically, I'm very annoyed. (This is ongoing). Annoyed about the cuts, upset by the cuts. More people I know being made redundant, not just in the public sector but the impact of cuts is being felt in a lot of places. I've been signing petitions left, right and centre, and not randomly either, but there are so many children's centres, libraries and other such goodnesses facing closure, I feel the need to sign my name to so many important things. All places I use during my work or personally, all places that I know are valued in the community.

I've marched and had a shout about it in Manchester a few weeks ago. I'm not sure what good it will do but I was inspired by all the kids on the march, handmade banners from families trying to stop cuts that will affect them, and a lot of passion.

The big protest is next week of course in London on March 26th. I've decided not to go for a number of reasons, but I really hope the people that can make a difference notice and give a toss.

So, add to that my other angers

... anger at Sir Philip Green (the 'owner' of the Arcadia group, Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins, BHS, Burton etc) for his £285 million tax dodge), Vodaphone for not paying their 1.6 billion tax bill and all the other tax dodgers. Come on you rich bastards, pay up and then we can pay nurses, the police, social care, and public workers the money they deserve instead of pay freezes, cuts and redundancies.

... anger at the banks, I don't need to keep going on about why... why on earth are this government not making the banks pay for their mistakes and implementing the Robin Hood Tax

... anger at the government, which increases every day. Cuts in the short term will only cost more in the long term. And now here we are involved in a military attack on Libya, which I don't agree with, and where is the bloody money coming from for this? If we can afford expensive wars, then we can afford to put some money into our libraries, nurseries, and stop penalising the poor. Another link, this time to UNICEF's brilliant new Mind The Gap Campaign highlighting that 1 in 3 children in the UK LIVES IN POVERTY...

Anyway, cough, splutter, breathe.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

time (or lack of it)

So, there are the same twenty four hours in the day as usual. But they seem shorter, or perhaps they get filled quicker than I want them to. Where is the bloody time going? How come I have so little time to do everything I need and want to do?

Sometimes, all I can manage is to get to work, feed myself, make sure I have clean clothes. And even sometimes one or two of these go amiss. And I don't even have children. I have no clue how parents manage to fit everything in.

I mean, yes, work is very busy. I've been working the same hours as usual, but they seem to be very exhausting hours that require a lot of energy and concentration. But, I've always had a demanding job.

I'm not trying to be anything near a domestic goddess. If I can make it to the supermarket, wash my clothes, and cook a few meals, then the week has been a success. But, the house is a bloody pigsty and I don't know how I can find the time to clean it. The cat is moulting everywhere. The floor needs sweeping and I can't remember when it last saw a mop. I desperately need to fix the drawers that are falling out of my wardrobe, and the bathroom needs a good scrub.

It's not the way I want to spend a Saturday though.

Today, I felt cross and grumpy and completely out of sorts. I wanted to go to the allotment and get on with a million jobs down there and get some fresh air. I wanted to go on the demo in Manchester against the cuts because who knows whether I will still have a job later this year. I wanted to see my friends who I am seriously neglecting. I wanted to spend a bit of time with my new love, who I hardly have any time for. And I had a dozen jobs that needed doing. How on earth am I meant to fit everything in.

I felt cross with myself, stomped around, was snappy. I made a decision and then felt bad about the other people or things I was not getting the time for.

Ugh. Bleugh. Phf.

I've sacrificed a Saturday night to do jobs, just so I don't have to do any tomorrow. And I'm so bloody grumpy anyway, that I wouldn't want to inflict myself on anyone.

Please. Tell me. How do people do it? Especially those with kids? How do you stretch time? Get everything done? Still find time to relax sometimes? Find time to sleep?

Friday, 25 February 2011

Hush and Other Poetic Events...

Wednesday was Hush. A night of poetry at Earth Cafe. It's a monthly thing, and I've never been before. But I was lucky enough to be invited to read by the evenings organiser and host Gerry Potter.

Earth is a vegan cafe with very wholesome gorgeous foods. In the basement of the Buddhist Centre, it is all red brick and wood, Buddhas and prayer wheels, peaceful and light and calm. Gerry has created a very friendly, warm monthly event. I was surprised by how welcoming it was. People drifted in and scattered themselves at tables around the room, and then at a huge table in the middle of the room are sat poets and audience together. There was quite a gathering. I might guess at about forty people, or a little less. There are cups of tea and coffee, people eating, and it was all very cosy.

Gerry opened and closed each part of the evening with his own poems about men, read in his wonderful scouse accent, tender and acerbic, comic and beautiful. And he brought together three very different poets.

I was the first, and I read some poems about my childhood, about friendship, love, loneliness, the city and rain. This is quite unique as an event, as for a start, I was sitting down on a chair with other people sitting on chairs, so I was with the audience, and I was also part of the audience. It was quiet, attentive and warm. People listened, clapped, asked questions, and I was in the middle of them, not on a microphone, no need to project my voice above any peripheral noise.

Alabaster DePlume read next. I have met him before, but never seen him perform. And his performance was magical actually. He has a very unique, eccentric style and reminds me of a cross between a wizard, a Shakespearean actor and a comedian. His poems made us laugh a lot. His delivery was wonderfully timed.

Ben Mellor is a poet I've never come across before. Handsome young man in cap and jacket, with a relaxed and rhythmic style. Funny, political, moving. I loved one of his poems about paper... Bloody brilliant.

There is something intimate about having a quiet poetry night, like a soiree, or a sharing of poetry amongst friends. I really enjoyed the way, there is an open invitation to anyone in the room to read a poem after the guest poets. I liked the milling about and chatting, the casual to and fro of comments and questions, and the way we were all sat down together.

It's been a very poetic/literary week.

Monday was Beatification at Sand Bar. John G Hall's Beat Poet film and poetry night. I had cancelled plans so I mooched along on my own, and stayed for a while. It was worth it to hear Jackie Hagan's poem. I can't even recall what the title was, but she took us on a journey through her life, different ages and experiences, personal, exposing, funny, tender, painful. I really like her stuff. I think she is an amazing, brave and talented poet.

Thursday was Pen-ultimate at the Contact Theatre. Ben Mellor is part of this collective of poets, actors, MCs and playwrights, and we heard about it at Hush and decided to give it a go. A brilliant night of poetry, music, MCing, freestyling. I wouldn't really know how to describe it. Like a mash-up of poetry, hip hop and performance. There were some brilliant poems, some very funny moments, political stuff. I like unexpected or spontaneous nights out. They are full of surprises.

Busy, busy. This has been the poetic part of my week off work. I had nothing planned and have filled it with love and poetry, reading, writing reviews, a little digging, a short story and a lot of sleeping. Bliss...

Monday, 21 February 2011

My February

Today, I went to the allotment after an extended break. The allotment is almost bare and sad-looking. It's that end of winter barren time. Most of last year rotting back or composting. Plastic and carpet-covered ground. Fruit bushes bare. Empty raised beds. The pile of cow muck is sinking down and stinking. It's wet, flooded in parts, boggy or squelchy most other places.

Eric and Dave have built the frame of my greenhouse and it is waiting for some solid foundations, and some glazing. It's a lovely square metal frame, and I am hugely grateful for their kindness in acquiring it for me, picking it up and putting it together. I have been absent and kept away by the cold, wet weather and not feeling 100%. But they have inspired me to get back to it, work hard again, and start the new allotment year.

On closer inspection, there are signs of life everywhere. My rhubarb is poking through and has new leaves. Onions, garlic, shallots that I planted in Autumn are all pushing through. Crocus bulbs, the first shoots of my tulips.

We dug over the space where my greenhouse will sit. Pulled out dead brocolli rotting in the ground and bird-pecked. And we drank tea. Of course.

I have a willing boyfriend, who is handy with spade and has been patient with me as I told him all my plans, told him how I want things done. The allotment has been my solitary project and I always find it difficult to let others in. I love occasional help, but am strangely possessive over my plot, and like things my way. He seems to be accepting of this, and let me boss and criticise a little when I didn't realise I was doing this. I caught myself though and felt a little bad.

I must learn to share.

I must learn to let go of the control a little, and let others help me in their own way.

We spent our first whole weekend together. It was lovely in a most ordinary way. We cooked and ate, we watched TV and chatted. We went to the pictures and laughed (a lot). He is much more relaxed than me. I tend to rush around and do do do, achieve, busy busy. He is laid back, likes to see what comes, take the weekend as he finds it. He is teaching me his ways.

It's funny how another person can be a mirror, making me realise how I am, my own peculiar habits and ways. He seems very accepting of the aspects of me I dislike and are difficult. So far...!

I've had a few setbacks in my health again. I'm having some tests, and went on a dairy-free diet for two weeks. My GP asked me to go dairy-free, then eat dairy again to see how it affected me. So, on Thursday I ate two chocolate muffins, buttery toast and some milk. I felt a little ill, but wasn't sure if it was psychosomatic, so I had some more milk, and spent all the next day very bloated, gurgling and in pain. It was a bit horrible. So I went dairy-free again and what do you know, I'm feeling so much better.

So, maybe all the problems over the past few months, the weight loss, and so on, is down to being lactose intolerant.

It has been a whole adventure working out what to eat without dairy, and the idea of this being a long-term thing is a little daunting, but I'm hoping that this might be the answer. I reckon I can manage this, and it feels a relief to have a possible answer.

It's been a strange. Most people haven't really realised it's been tough for me, they just notice the weight loss and are like, wow you look really well. Then yesterday, someone I've not seen for months said straight away, concerned, god, you've lost a ton of weight, have you been sick? It hit home, how worried I've been and that actually it is a little frightening, not being in control of losing weight, or what food I can eat, or whether it's going to make me ill, and how ill. It was good to have someone notice. I feel as if I've been going on about it a lot and that others are thinking, what's she bloody moaning about, loads of people would love to lose a bit of weight.

So, anyway, maybe cutting out dairy might be the answer. Hopefully this is the reason, and I can get back to enjoy my food again.

I am in love with many things at the moment. Black eyeliner. PJ Harvey Let England Shake. Making mix CDs. Poetry readings. Woolly tights and skirts. Avocados. And I've not felt any depression whatsoever since the end of November. How good is that.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Sticking Two Fingers Up to David Cameron's Big Society....

I left University in 1994, not sure of what I wanted to do with my life, what career I might have, what use I might be in society. I decided to spend six months doing voluntary work full-time for a charity. I wanted to be useful, give something, but also learn something about myself.

It wasn't the first time I'd done voluntary work. I spent one day a week for a year while I was at University, helping in the classroom of a special school. I'd done numerous activities to raise money for charities. When I was a teenager, I spent Sunday afternoons visiting an old people's home for a while. I helped serve dinners, made beds, emptied bed pans, chatted with the oldies. Maybe a strange thing to do as a teenager.

But then, I come from a family who brought me up to think of others, to help people who needed help. My grandparents did supported lodgings for all kinds of people, I'm not sure exactly who they were, or where they were from, but mostly there was a string of men they supported, drinkers, addicts mostly I think. It was just normal for me growing up, something I never questioned.

I'm not unusual.

Most people I know give to charity, or help out a neighbour, or volunteer.

Plus, I've worked for three of the biggest children's charities in the UK, for most of my working life. I get paid for my work. So, it's not done for free.

But in the work that I do, I see families who care for each other, who physically care for their relatives or friends and neighbours, who take in the children of friends and bring them up, who make meals for people who can't cook for themselves, who do cleaning, washing, shopping, give lifts to people. Some of them work full-time and dedicate themselves to others in the evenings or weekends. Other people claim a meagre carers allowance. I've seen people care for relatives through terminal illness, care for people in their families with chronic disabilities. I probably don't need to keep giving examples...

These are just ordinary people, who are relentless, selfless, who have little money but loads of love, kindness, or just do it because they have no choice... who else is going to do it. Sometimes they get a little bit of help from the State... a bit of money, a small grant, a ride to a day centre, a bit of respite care, someone who listens, a group they can go to and get a break, or training, or a laugh, sharing experiences. Sometimes.

So, when David Cameron talks about a 'Big Society' it makes me really fucking angry.

It makes me wonder where he comes from and what kind of upbringing he had and what on earth he thinks people are doing in this country. I listen to him talk about a 'Big Society' and all I can hear is a man of privilege who has no clue of the struggles that people go through, or the way communities already rally round, or the amount of voluntary caring and giving people already give, of the amount of charities there are out there working in communities already doing so much to improve peoples lives.

I want to ask him where he thinks the money is going to come from for all this extra work in the community, because nothing is ever, truly for free. Good volunteers need training and support, they need resources, buildings or spaces to work from, they need protection. If groups are going to run libraries and post offices, then they need books, they need lighting, heating, chairs, a building, they need organising. They need money.

Because, most charities I know get money from government funding, local councils, as well as other funding sources, and they get it from the public. Only the government are cutting funding left, right and centre. They are cutting the budgets of local councils, and people are losing jobs, have higher bills, higher VAT, and they just don't have spare cash for giving to charities.

The charity I work for is launching an emergency appeal for funds.

The local council where I live is cutting funding to many of the places that are the hub of community work, voluntary work, helping, caring, supporting, forcing these to close if funding doesn't come from somewhere else by the end of March. That's six weeks time.

There are people I know who rely on support, childcare, groups, services, community resources so that they can keep going.

I know it sounds like I'm hamming it up a bit. But seriously, not everyone has it easy. Having a library that has a homework club can be like a lifeline for some parents and children. Or being able to go to a parent and baby group when you're 17 and know nothing about being a parent can give support and skills that mean a child is looked after properly, safely. Someone who has three kids and is a single parent feeling suicidal because it's so cold that they can't heat the house because they have no money, or they're isolated from their family, or they're ill... this person might just get by because they have a worker (a trained, paid, skilled worker) who visits them every week and gives them just enough support to keep them going...

I want to ask David Cameron...

So, who is going to be part of this Big Society? Who are the people who are going to fund it? Run it? Have the 'passion' for it? The spare time for it?

And why the bugger are you cutting the funding and the resources that are already out there, if a Big Society is needed this much?


I'm actually ashamed at the moment, of our Government, my local council, and of the organisations who aren't standing up against what seems to be happening in our country at the moment.