Friday, June 29, 2007

Three Beautiful Things

I'm probably years behind everyone else, but I have only just discovered Clare Grant's wonderful blog, Three Beautiful Things. I probably wouldn't have found it at all if it hadn't been for this post on Susan Hill's blog. So congratulations to Clare.

I really like the idea behind Clare's blog, to list three things which make you happy each day. Surely it can't be too hard, even on the dullest or most difficult day, to find three positives, however insignificant . In today's aspirational society it is so easy to forget to celebrate the small pleasures of life. Just thinking about them must be very good therapy for those of us with more negative outlooks on life.

Anne Brooke already does something similar at the end of each of her fabulously honest blog posts and I am seriously thinking of starting to post three beautiful things on each of my posts too. What do you think?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

In the news this week

So what was I doing blogging yesterday about something as trivial as my personalised homepage, when there is so much going on in the country this week?

The floods, for example. I feel desperately sorry for everyone affected further up north. For anyone outside the UK who isn't aware of this news story, there are pictures here and here.

Some viewers of GMTV were upset earlier in the week when live news reports of the floods were broken into to go to Hollywood for live coverage of Paris Hilton being released from jail. So a so-called celebrity in America, (remind me, what is she famous for other than partying?), is considered more newsworthy than a natural disaster causing loss of life and massive disruption in our own country.

Then of course there is our new Prime Minister and all the resultant changes. Apparently in the 68 minutes between Tony Blair resigning and Gordon Brown emerging from Buckingham Palace as the new Prime Minister, a matter of national importance was announced. Preston and Chantelle, two British Z list celebrities, are ending their shortlived marriage. I wonder if Max Clifford had any hand in the timing of the announcement?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Little things...

I've been having fun playing around with the computer over the last couple of days. I have had Google as my homepage for ever, but now you can personalise your Google homepage and add all sorts of gadgets.

So far I have a lovely cityscape template which changes colour in time with the daylight here (you tell it where you live when setting up). I have a calendar, a sticky note space for my 'to do' list, and Google notes, which I use to record odds and ends which catch my eye on the internet. I have local weather forecasts and a couple of news feeds. A Wikipedia search button and several inspirational 'quote of the day' widgets also find a home.

The quotes come from...wait for it...Oprah and Dr Phil. Today's quote from Dr Phil is one I can really relate to:

Sometimes you just got to give yourself what you wish someone else would give you.

Enough said.

And no, I am not going to comment on today's political changes in the UK except to say that Cherie's comment to the media as they left Downing Street was classy. Not.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Read it and weep

Sometimes it almost feels that we are alone in dealing with severe adolescent mental health issues.

But in The Times today is an important investigation into children , unhappiness and depression in what they call Generation Anxiety.

This should be required reading for all parents and teachers.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Singing in the rain

I've been to Glastonbury itself, but I've never been to a music festival. Which probably makes me a boring old cow, but there you go.

Apart from the fact that I am now far too old (there's nothing worse for teenagers than parents trying to be cool), I don't do camping. I'm definitely a 4* hotel type of girl.

I did camp once, with the school when I was 11. We pitched up in a big field near the Cornwall/Devon border and it rained. Just like it has at the Glastonbury Festival this weekend. We all got soaked and covered in mud and to make things worse there were no proper toilets or washing facilities. Never again.

So I'll content myself with watching snatches of the festival music online or on TV. I have just been watching The Magic Numbers online because I think two of them may have been at a table next to me in a coffee bar in Islington recently. Or maybe it was just two lookalikes. I'll never know for sure, will I?

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Novel Race revisited

Regular visitors might remember that back at the start of the year I considered joining the novel race being set up on Kate Harrison's blog.

I didn't then, because the time was not right. But now my Open University course is drawing to a close and I want to get back to my novel. Soon. But I need motivation and moral support.

Things are also changing for the novel racers, who are in the process of moving to a brand new blog home here. So I thought now would be a good time to get on board. It has not been the highly competitive race I thought it might be, so I think I will feel comfortable there. If you are writing a novel, why don't you join in too?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A serious subject

Over the last year I have learnt far more about mental health issues than I could ever have anticipated. It has been a long haul to discover that many of son 1's problems have resulted from actual and perceived bullying at school. Initially by a teacher. The truth is still being coaxed out, a tiny bit at a time, by skilled professionals.

It was for this reason that when I first heard about Caroline Smailes' book, 'In Search of Adam', I wasn't sure if I could read it. At least, not now. Because her book is about child abuse, in its many forms, and the consequences.

I have been an occasional visitor to Caroline's lovely blog (where her publishers actually discovered her) and I was more than happy to add a publicity button for the book in my sidebar, which you may have noticed over the last few weeks. But still I was not sure about actually reading it. Yet.

But then I read Dovegreyreader's astute review, followed by other bloggers reviews (links are on Caroline's blog). I realised that this book is both unusual and important. I ordered it. I started to read it yesterday and already I have been drawn into the dysfunctional world of young Jude Williams, who I desperately want to protect better than I did my own child. I can hardly bear to read on or to put it down.

Don't be put off by the subject matter. Caroline has, through her use of language and the young voice of Jude as her narrator, avoided falling into unnecessary sentimentality. We understand far more than Jude does.

I'll come back to it later, as it a multi-layered book which will take time to read and digest. It might not be for everyone, but why not try it and judge for yourself?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Book blogs

I enjoy reading some of the book blogs. I use them in the same way as reviews in papers, magazines or even on TV, to guide me towards authors and books I might otherwise not have heard of. Yes, we have a local branch of Waterstones, but there are so many interesting books out there which don't get into their special promotions or even onto their shelves, especially those published by the small publishing houses.

Yet parts of the literary establishment seems to feel threatened by ordinary people who blog about books, as evidenced by this recent missive from Persephone books publisher Nicola Beauman (what you read there is apparently an edited version of the original). There are comments about this on several book blogs...take a look at this post on Eve's Alexandria for links to some other views. Whilst you are there, just read the intellectual quality of the book reviews on that particular blog.

Not everyone wants to just read dry, inaccessable reviews in a broadsheet newspaper, many of which are, in any event, often written by someone with a connection to the author or publishing house. Why can't 'ordinary' bloggers also have an outlet for their opinions? After all, most readers are discerning enough to just use reviews as a starting point in deciding whether to buy a book or not. Just as we do when looking at readers reviews on Amazon, or recommendations attached to the shelves in a book store.

I suspect that book blogs do generate quite a few sales and, in most cases, welcome publicity. I know that in the last year I have ordered a number of books, often directly from a small publisher, which I would never have heard of if it wasn't for book bloggers such as Dovegreyreader. Funnily enough, not one of those was published by Persephone books.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Writing courses

As you already know if you have been reading this blog recently, I would love to do an MA in Creative Writing. Soon. But right now it is becoming even more clear that it would be silly to try to commit to such a major undertaking until things are a little more settled at home.

The Open University has a level three course planned for the autumn of 2008 which I might do instead. As it is anticipated that the syllabus will contain playwriting as well as prose and poetry, I have been thinking of perhaps doing the short level one course on playwriting this autumn as an introduction.

But that won't help with my currently stalled novel. So I was delighted to read on Susan Hill's blog today that she is intending to run a free, online course through her blog. Sounds like a fantastic opportunity to learn from an expert and I have already sent in my name. Anyone else up for this?

Friday, June 15, 2007


...I sat in a clinic for three hours while a social worker and a doctor decided whether to send son 1 to hospital. I'm not sure if it is called sectioning where a child is involved, but that is what it amounts to.

They concluded he could stay at home.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I turned on GMTV this morning and caught part of a piece on celebrity. I wish I had seen it all as it appeared fascinating. As part of a degree project (art or media studies degree?...missed that bit) a young, slim, attractive girl had set out to see if she could make her face famous in the space of 12 weeks. She succeeded in getting onto London billboards and a mural on a department store wall, she had invites to celebrity parties, etc etc.

Which all goes to once again prove how shallow modern celebrity can be. I have absolutely no problem with people being famous because they have a special talent or have achieved something exceptional in life and I will admit to enjoying a quick flick through Heat magazine. But last week I was standing in a shop and it suddenly hit me how many (mostly ghastly) celebrity magazines there are.

Nowadays celebrity seems to have become a goal in itself rather than something to be earned. It is the only reason many people go on reality TV shows. What is your ambition? To be a celebrity or a footballer's wife. Great. Why are people like Paris Hilton and Chantelle set up as role models for our children? No wonder so many girls have body image problems and fall into debt trying to emulate them.

I have more time for celebrities who use their wealth and fame to benefit others. The Beckhams may have their faults, but not everyone knows that they also run a childrens charity which funds badly needed equipment for children with disabilities.

Celebrity can be a millstone as well as a bonus in life. But surely it should be something that is earned for success rather than just notoriety, and those who have it should attempt to use their high profile to benefit others. Hopefully the current obsession with celebrity, where ghostwritten autobiographies of mediocre people outsell great writing, will soon be over.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


I've just finished reading 'Disobedience' by Naomi Alderman, helped by the fact that I had a very long wait while son 1 was in an appointment yesterday, so I could read without feeling guilty.

The reviews for this book seem to have been mixed, but it did win the Orange Award for New Writers in 2006. The story is set within the close knit Orthodox Jewish community in Hendon, North West London. Now I am not Jewish, but I have many (not so Orthodox) Jewish friends and I did spend a year living in Golders Green, just up the road from Hendon, before I was married. Golders Greeen is also a very strongly Jewish area and after a while I became used to the fact that many of the shops were closed on Saturday and that lots of the local residents were very Orthodox in their appearance and habits...Kosher shops and restaurants being the norm.

Through her bisexual heroine Ronit, who managed to escape, Naomi Alderman is critical of the insularity of Hendon's Jews. Yet at the same time she manages to show sympathy towards other main characters still caught up in the strict traditions of the community in which she herself grew up.

I loved this book.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Back to reality

Reality TV, that is.
Any Dream Will Do was won, rightly in my opinion, by the lovely Lee Mead. I loved his interpretation of Paint It, Black, but the duet where he more than held his own with the talented Josh Groban in an earlier programme also really shows his star potential.

Now for the final of The Apprentice tomorrow. Katie is still very much in the news after last week, but it appears that what goes around, comes around. She's been fired from her real job. Never mind, she's got the media interest she seemed to want, although it may prove to be shortlived. Just don't let her kid you that she stood down from the final to put her family first.

Monday, June 11, 2007


We think the foxes may have gone. Fascinating as they were, they are a nuisance and couldn't stay. Since horses and hounds, or guns, are not a practical solution in a London suburban garden, I sent off for one of these humane and rather clever little ultrasonic gadgets.

Soon after Hubby set it up in the garden, we watched the boldest fox emerge from the bushes. He sauntered up the grass (I hesitate to call it a lawn), then suddenly jumped in fright and ran back to the undergrowth. That was three days ago and we have had no sightings since. Sadly we haven't seen the squirrels either, so we think they have been scared away or worse still, eaten by the foxes.

Son 1 took some pictures, just to prove the foxes really had been there. Sorry about the fuzzy quality after I had cropped and zoomed in to give a closer view, but at least you can see them.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Eight things about me

As promised, since I have been tagged by both Marianne and Betamum....

1. As part of my degree course, I spent a year living and studying in Germany in historic Goettingen, though I did far more travelling than studying. I even crossed the Iron Curtain into East Berlin on my own, which was pretty scary.

2. My lovely grandmother, who had lived through two world wars, was afraid I might end up marrying a German. But that was never in question because I was madly in love with my boyfriend back in England......who dumped me on the day I returned for good.

3. I am the black sheep of my family because I do not believe in organised religion, especially the joylessness of the Methodist Church.

4. I don't believe in happy endings because I have realised over the years that every time things seem to be really going well for me, life will throw a major spanner in the works. Perhaps this is divine retribution (see above).

5. I used to love travelling, especially in the Far East, and my favourite place in the world (so far) is Bali. I really want to visit Mauritius one day, as everyone I have ever met who comes from there has been such a lovely person.

6. I never stop wanting to learn new things, which leads me to spend far too much time on the internet and to sign up for OU courses that I don't really have time to do properly. My next ambition is to get a place on a Creative Writing MA course and write a book before I am 50 (which sadly isn't too many years away).

7. I've always enjoyed being creative, even if I am not very talented at it, and spend a lot of money on beautiful craft materials which currently just clog up the spare bedroom because I don't have time to use them. I do, however, try to make hand crafted cards for family and special friends.

8. I am a chocaholic and a shopaholic with a serious eBay habit, but thankfully not an alcoholic, though I do enjoy a glass of wine (or two).

Well, that wasn't so hard, was it?

I've lost track of who has already been tagged on this meme, so I'll just leave it open. If you'd like to have a go yourself, I'd love to read your answers.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Take a day off...

...and suddenly there is a lot to write about!

I had a pleasant day in central London yesterday, despite hassles on the tube journey getting in. The main purpose of my visit was to be a guest speaker at a university, something I have done for the last three years and very much enjoy. My work was finished by 3pm so I wandered off to Borders for a long browse and a coffee in the Starbucks concession before heading homewards.

Although I wouldn't want to have to commute into London every day (been there, done that), I find that to go in every now and then for work or meetings, as well as pleasure, can be very energising.

So home for an evening in front of The Apprentice, with Sir Alan playing Katie perfectly. I then watched the follow-on show on BBC2 and was amazed how much younger and prettier Katie looked, having lost the dated blue eyeshadow and bright lipstick and got herself a sharper new haircut. A real improvement, just a shame the same couldn't be said for her personality!

Then there was the announcement of the Orange Broadband Prize last night. The hot favourite, Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was the winner. It sounds like a challenging yet rewarding read, but I'm not sure if it is for me, or at least not at the moment. I have, however, been fascinated by the reviews, such as this one by the always reliable dovegreyreader and this one on Eve's Alexandria.

Finally, I have been tagged by Marianne, but that will have to wait for another day.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Artful illusion

It is still half term here. Can you tell?

Have wasted too much time on the internet but on Sarah Salway's always inspiring blog I found this gem. Sarah, in turn, had found it on the blog of the wonderful hagsharlotsheroines website, so apologies if you have already seen it.

(video link removed)

Clever, fascinating, beautiful and yet somehow a little unsettling too?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Watching the wildlife

For an ordinary suburban garden, we have always had a quite a few interesting visitors in addition to the predictable cats.

Years ago it was the occasional nocturnal hedgehog or frequent little frogs, who made their way under the fence from next door's pond and liked to hang out beneath our climbing frame.

For several years now we have regularly had a playing squirrel or two, which we believe live in one of the many trees at the bottom of the gardens, perhaps even in our own mutantly giant pear tree. One of them even knocked itself out on our patio once, probably by falling off the fence or house wall, but recovered and ran off before I could even get hold of the RSPCA.

Sometimes we have interesting birds...a colourful jay perhaps, or as today, a pair of woodpeckers tapping on one of the apple trees.

But last night was a first.I looked out of the kitchen window just before 9pm and saw three urban foxes at the end of the garden. It appeared to be a parent with two semi-grown cubs and eventually they all disappeared into the distant patch of garden which has recently become somewhat neglected and overgrown, being beyond easy reach of the strimmer. Maybe they had been disturbed by Hubby cutting the rest of the long grass earlier in the afternoon.

The garden is not picture perfect. It is low maintenance and intended to be an area where children can play comfortably with water or football, where wildlife can find shelter and where fruit grows on trees and bushes. Our next door neighbour takes great pride in his garden, he frequently hints that we should have the huge pear tree cut down. But the houses are about 80 years old and the trees possibly older, they are an integral part of the character of the area. A garden, like a house, needs to be adapted sympathetically. We are not living in the 1920's now, but it is good to retain some original features.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


I went into central London yesterday to an Open University tutorial for my course on mental health.

The session wasn't well attended, though whether that was because of the heat and sunshine or because the students have dropped out, I don't know. Anyway we had a thought provoking discussion on the concept of 'recovery' in the mental health field.

I have to admit that I had never before really seriously considered the possibility that some mental health service users might not want to recover. That they might prefer to remain as they are because life is so much more comfortable when they are receiving professional support, services and financial benefits rather than having to look after themselves in the 'real world', where they will probably be marginalised anyway because of their history and diagnosis. That heroin users might go into rehab simply to get prescribed methadone whilst giving their collapsed veins some time to recover.

I'm sure, however, that this view does not apply to the majority of service users. I know son 1 really wants to get his life back and yet, in some ways, he too is using avoidance techniques for those aspects of life which will be the most difficult (in his case school and teachers). But judging how far he should be challenged against how much he should be allowed to control his own recovery, especially as he is still legally a minor, is a delicate balancing act and we have from the start received conflicting advice from different professionals.

I worry all the time that we are getting it wrong. Parenting is such a hard job.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Diamonds are forever?

The artist Damien Hirst is in the news once again, with a new exhibition about to open in London.

The centrepiece will be this.

I have just one question. Why?