Thursday, 28 April 2011

A short, short story called, Finally

     When he told me truth, I was standing at the bottom of the stairs.
     I couldn't take my eyes off his feet. They were bare; the knuckles of his toes knarled, the hairs; thick and black. I wished I was sitting down. The strength in my knees was gone, but not enough to let me slide to the floor. 
     Slowly, I lifted my eyes to meet his; the pale blue disks looked back at me. They usually told me so much, those eyes, they always spoke to me in soft whispers. I searched for a smile, for the ends of his mouth to turn up in a roar of laughter, but there was nothing. 
     So, he didn't love me. That was why he'd been behaving like a stranger; a shadow in the house, in our bed. He'd fallen out of love with me. It was so unromantic, so understated. Me, standing at the bottom of the stairs. Him, in his floral shorts after coming in from the garden. 
     I wonder what made him tell me, then. If it was the sun blasting from the sky that made him finally run for cover, to find me, coming down from getting dressed into a light green dress that was soft on my new, round belly.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Diaspora at Home

People find it amusing to find someone born and bred in Willesden Green, which amuses me in turn. I'm sure there are quite a few of us, and really, it needn't be such a surprise.

I went to the LSE Space for Thought Literary Festival in February. Its theme: 'Crossing Borders'. In one lecture they came on to second generation diaspora and my ears pricked up. It was about the thread of diaspora, and the fact that it  doesn't stop with the person who sails. They mentioned belonging, completion of the self; something we all want to do and which are complicated by diaspora. I identified with this, and thought of it the other day when I saw two teenagers with cockney accents in hiqabs on the 98 bus. I also thought of an Irishman my mum used to talk to, and when she asked him what part of Ireland he was from, he said he was born down the road.
     When I say to people that I'm from Willesden, the usual reaction is,
     'Oh! So you're actually from London, then?'
     Well, yes, I guess I am.
     Though it took me a long time to get to that bit. I am just like the kids I see now going to school, with their mums in hijabs, or a scarf, or whatever they might have on. My point is, my parents are from somewhere else, too. So it took me a long time to think I was from here when I used to have an Irish accent myself, when I thought I was from somewhere else. I've argued the point a lot, but I don't bother so much now. When I live in Spain, or should I say Catalunya, then I'm English. But then they say I don't look English, so I say my parents are Irish, and then the reaction is, 'Oh! So you're Irish?'
     Well, I guess I am.

In Ireland, I am English. At University, I was the Irish girl. In Willesden, I'm from Willesden. Sometimes, people are more extreme nationals of their own country when they are out of it. Home is always home, even when you've been living in another country for fifty years and at home for seventeen. Someone asked me the other day why second generation Irish want so much to be Irish? ... Interesting, I said. Maybe it's because they grow up hearing about another place called home. They go home every year. Their extended family are at home. Then you grow up and realise your home is not the same as the one you've grown used to hearing of.

So, in my home, Willesden Green, there are the following places, to name a few:
  • Irish pubs (Angie's, Lula's, McGowan's and more)
  • A Church, with a Polish congregation
  • KD's (A Caribbean take-away shop)
  • Mandy's (an Irish shop)
  • Liquid (used to be an Aussie place, maybe still is?)
  • Red Pig (a Polskie butchers)
  • The Charcoal Grill (Kebab shop)
  • The Central Mosque of Brent
  • The Queensbury Pub (used to be The Green)
  • The Queensbury Deli
  • Nest, a cafe by Willesden Green station
  • Foxtons - a big disappointment. Pizza Express should have got it...
  • Pomegranate - a Thai BYO
What we used to have:
  • The Spotted Dog - an Aussie hub, gone now apart from the fa├žade
  • D & G's - that great family-run Greek
  • Shish - never quite as good as D & G's but a lot better than Foxtons
These places tell me that so many threads, textures and colours meet here, and I think of a line of a poem: 'Wherever I hang me knickers - that's my home', by the Guyanese - British poet Grace Nichols.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Mummies Mummies Mummies: food for thought

I stumbled into a 'Mums and Bumps' group yesterday morning. Lots of lovely mummies, or soon to be, sitting around old wooden tables, eating chocolate cake and chatting.

And there I was, alone, reading Fat Is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach (for research purposes). It was uncanny. The page I happened to be on went like this:

"For a mother, everyone else's needs come first. Mothers are the unpaid managers of small, essential, complex and demanding organizations... For her keep, the mother works an estimated ten hours a day (eighteen, if she has a second job outside the home) making sure that the food is purchased and prepared, the children's clothes, toys and books are in place, and that the father's effects are at the ready. She makes the house habitable, clean and comfy; she does the social secretarial work of arranging for the family to spend time with relatives and friends..."

I looked around at this group and wondered if the 'bumps' were ready, and how the already mummies were coping with it all. And their jobs, what were their jobs? Ah, back to the book...

"In a capitalist society everyone is defined by their job. A higher status is given to businessmen, academics and professionals than to production and service workers. Women's work in the home falls into the service and production category. Although often described as menial, deemed creative, dismissed as easy, or revered as god-given, women's work is seen as existing outside the production process and therefore devalued."

Susie goes on to say that "women are seen as different to normal people (who are men), they are seen as 'other'". I look back at the women around me, who have reserved an area of the deli for their Tuesday morning group. They don't look the 'other' to me; they look like they're having fun. Orbach's book is old, now, so maybe lots of this is out of date, and let's hope it continues to become more and more so by the day. These women are attractive, powerful, full of energy and chat. They are not victims, but friends, professionals, people who are also mothers.

I am not a mother. I have one who struggled with the issues Orbach mentions, as many have. I hope that it's easier for mothers, nowadays, to be everything they want to be.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Research. Who wants to do it?

In the novel I'm writing, someone goes missing. I need to research this. Who better to talk to, only the police? I have some idea of what happens... I've watched The Bill, I'm watching The Wire at the moment (and loving it!), but for that real authentic stuff, I want some guidelines to work with. So I pop into the local police station. They have shut the office as there is an urgent case of a missing person, so I have to come back another day. It fleetingly crosses my mind to ask if I can stay, but that thought runs back to where it came from and I shut the door behind me.

I walk down the road to the community police office. A young girl (who looks like she would help me) explains she doesn't know about that department, she'll go and ask her colleagues. A few minutes later and I'm hopeful. The door opens, and instead of inviting me in, she says that they can't talk to me; rules and regulations. I need to talk to press. She'll be able to help me, she's very nice. I go home. I call the number I've been given but it's just after 5pm so there's no answer. I call again the next morning and get through. She'll see what she can do. She takes my email and says she'll get back to me. And she does; to say that, no, press can't help me. I should try the website. Well, I had already read that in the first place, hadn't I.

Someone goes to hospital, not the same person that goes missing, another someone. So I need a doctor. I've been asking myself who's brain I can pick but, as yet, haven't come up with one. I do contact a centre though, and explain my situation. Maybe they could point me in the right direction, let me know about resources available? I wait. Then I get an email saying, no, due to limited resources, they can't help me, many thanks for getting in touch. No, please, thank you.

Wait for it.

The next day I get an email from the same person, with an additional line at the end of the previously sent email, of a link of another institution that might be able to help.

Message of the day?

A teeny weeny life line always pops up when you least expect it.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The blues

Not the music, nor my favourite blues bar
Ain't Nothing But, on Kingly Street,
which you should go to if you haven't already.

I'm not talking about the shades of it in the sky
or The NYPD.

I mean the blues that make you feel heavy
When you wake up in the morning.

The ones that make everything darker
Than on other days.

I mean the way you feel when you're
Standing at the bottom of a mountain.

When it towers over you,
Casts a shadow as far as you can see,

And looks impossible
To climb. 

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Still writing. You can't see me, but I am

So here I am. Writing to win. Writing, sending, writing some more. That makes me sound really busy. I shouldn't lie. I was out in the sun today reading, and felt my skin get hot and begin to tingle and lose its jaundiced look.

Yes, I'm serious. About the colour of my skin and the heat. The sun is out in London. 21 degrees, yes sirree bob. So get out there in your lunch time and take your clothes off. Your statutory rights will not be affected.

Now I'm back in the pink room and as my dad's is a south-facing house, no more sun for me.

What was my point? Oh yeah, writing to win. Well, no knocks on the door yet. I have had an email though, and it wasn't an automated one. A person (other than a friend) actually wrote to me to say that if I don't hear from her in 45 days, get back in touch.

Er, thanks for that.

I must admit that this did make me kinda happy, even though it was to say, see ya! wouldn't wanna be ya!

I should also tell you that I've marked in my calendar when 45 days from now is.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Writing to WIN!

Here are 14 tips on writing for competitions from that I wanted to share with all writers, or in fact, anyone working on anything:

1. Read the rules and follow them. 
But rules are made to be broken, right? 
2. If you send off for more information always include an SAE. 
That's fair enough 
3. Don't play chicken with the closing date.  
Deadlines are really not my strong point. I do play chicken 
4. If there's a theme, use it.  
Oops. So you mean I can't just send my story with its theme EVERYWHERE? 
5. Keep to the word count.  
Okay. Just five or ten more doesn't count 
6. Don't publicly slag off the competition because you lose or aren't placed above someone who you think is a poorer writer. 
Oh right, you mean like Jacqueline Howett? 
7. Use a typewriter or wordprocessor.
I can do that
8. Spell check and punctuate.
Now, that's where the wordprocessor is a bonus
9. Don't pester the organisers. 
Of course not, I'll just give them a quick call... 
10. Don't use fancy fonts, coloured paper, or attach balloons etc.
Some Marks + Sparks chocolates?
11. Make sure you attach enough stamps and use a decent sized envelope.
Weighing it means queuing at the post office and at 5.30pm the queue is all the way down the road... Do I have to?
12. Include your contact details. 
My facebook page?
13. Never give up your copyright.
Yes, Sir.
14. Keep trying.
Finally, we've cut to the chase.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

"My boss sucks her thumb!"

Well now, that's not really something you ever want to hear, is it? And no, thank the lord it's not my boss that sucks her thumb. I don't have a boss, remember. I don't have a job, ha.

My boss is called Guilt. Guilt if I haven't written anything, Guilt if I have slept in, Guilt if I've got caught up in the afternoon Masterchef. My boss can be pretty nasty sometimes, can make me feel really bad. I've had others, too, that weren't too kind. But I'm happy to say I've never had the misfortune to have a boss that sucks her thumb. All day. With her index finger tickling her nose.

That sounds enough to have to deal with, but on top of that, of course, you have to take the power struggle between you and her, because she has to prove herself, defend her position, flex her muscle.

So the whole thumb sucking thing has a lot more to it. I'll stick with Guilt for now.