Monthly Archives: September 2013

Paramore, high tea and other distractions

It’s been a busy weekend what with one thing and another.  On Friday evening, I took the daughter and a gaggle of her school-friends to see Paramore at Wembley arena.  My original intention had been to accompany them, but in the event, my ticket was purloined on behalf of a girl who happened to be, I was heart-rendingly informed, North London’s most ardent, and tragically ticketless, Paramore fan.  Fair dos, given that my personal interest in Paramore is next to non-existent.  Besides, I readily admit there’s nothing quite as detrimental to one’s street cred as having an Anxious Parent in tow. 

I did my own bit of arm-twisting and managed to induce another AP to keep me company for the duration.  We’d hoped to see a film.  Finding Wembley something of a cinematic black hole we ended up scoffing mezze at a nearby Lebanese restaurant instead, and watching what appeared to be Saudi Arabia’s Got Talent on the big screen telly, while a noisy crowd of young Arabs sporting Tag Heuer watches and designer hijabs smoked shisha and played dominos on the veranda outside.  On Saturday afternoon, we had friends over to watch the footie and afterwards, they stayed for a post-match high tea that somehow ended up stretching well into the evening.  (For reasons I can’t quite fathom, the excellent, flexible meal of high tea appears to have all but disappeared from the nation’s tables.) Chores – someone has to cut the grass and clean the bathroom – homework and more football swallowed up much of Sunday, et voila! the weekend was to all intents and purposes over.

Of course, it’s good and necessary to be fully embroiled in life.  The upshot of all this, however, is that I haven’t done a great deal of writing.  My aim is to put finger to keyboard every day, but when family and other priorities crowd in, it seems nigh impossible.  Some people manage to write while the rest of the world chatters and squabbles around them, but I’ve never mustered sufficient concentration for this.   I rarely manage to write in the evenings either; an unconquerable lethargy tends to set in at around 8.30 pm and I end up collapsing onto the sofa and gawping at whatever’s on the box. 

As a result, last week I caught the end of Waterloo Road and then switched over to Educating Yorkshire.  The contrast between the two is perhaps instructive for a screenwriter.  For all the high drama of the fictional school, it was the real-life version that captured the heart.  This week’s programme featured a pair of unlikely friends who in the run up to their GCSEs had fallen out over a false rumour.  Although nothing happened that was unusual or beyond the quotidian, it served to illustrate just how intensely felt and all-consuming teenage friendships can be.  Here was jealousy, betrayal, misunderstanding, anger, alienation and ultimately forgiveness and reconciliation played out in utter seriousness and for real and it was completely captivating.  Equally moving was seeing how deeply involved the staff were in helping the students find a genuine resolution to an issue that could easily have been dismissed as a distraction from the main purpose and activity of the school.  There was a sense of real, heartfelt care for these young women as they struggled to make sense of their relationships and their place in the world.  Schools get such a bad press, yet what the best of them do is close to miraculous in terms of creating an environment that turns out confident, qualified, emotionally balanced young adults.


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A weekend in Amsterdam

How lovely is Amsterdam, where we’ve been spending the weekend doing the tourist thing of cruising around the canals, dodging high-speed cyclists and being titillated by the ready availability of soft drugs.  Cue the “you should never do drugs” conversation with the kids, which presents its own particular hazards.  Which is the lesser evil – the tawdry truth or dogged repetition of the party line?   “What, you never even tried one tiny, little puff?”

On arrival, we find the hotel is delightfully luxe and the fact that we’ve got the rooms at a last minute, bargain bucket rate does nothing to detract from the pleasure of pretending that we’re taking all this indulgence absolutely for granted.  After all, at home, one’s staff always turn down the duvet and place a foil-wrapped chocolate mint on the pillow to greet one as one slips between crisp, freshly laundered sheets.  Jacuzzi, steam room, spa treatments?    All part of the daily routine, naturally. 

Then there’s the highlight of any weekend away – the hotel breakfast.  We tell ourselves that if we eat a big breakfast, we won’t need lunch.  Plus we’re going to need all the energy we can get if we’re to elbow our way through the teeming hordes of fellow sightseers, all united by the single aim of ticking the Rembrandts and Vermeers in the Rijksmuseum off their “been there, done that” list.  And so we tuck in.  Creamy homemade yoghurt with a good dollop of stewed fruit?  Fill up the bowl.  And why not follow it with several rashers of bacon, a couple of sausages, scrambled egg and half a dozen grilled tomatoes?  Smoked salmon, pickled herrings, brie? Oh, go on then.  And it really would be a shame to miss out on that crusty artisan bread, or the baby croissants, or those fluffy sugar and cinnamon-dipped buns that must surely be a local specialty.  We can always diet when we get back home, right?

Armed with maps and cameras, we set off for the streets and squares of the old town.  It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Dutch take flowers seriously.  Every bridge is adorned by an impressive display of geraniums, petunias and lobelia, which someone must water daily.  Hollyhocks, jasmine and plumbago sprout enthusiastically from tiny strips of earth between apartment blocks and pavements. It occurs to me that September is the perfect time to stock up on tulip bulbs to brighten up our borders with splashes of orange, scarlet and mauve come next April.  Off we trot in the direction of the flower market, the kids squabbling good-naturedly, the spouse getting distracted by bric a brac at the flea market.  The perfect recipe for contentment.

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Right well, it’s now or never.  Let the last vestiges of dignity be stripped away.  It’s time to step blinking, embarrassed and very much daunted into the limelight of the blogosphere, and allow the last few feathers and rhinestones of my tattered self-respect to be blown away by icy blasts of public scrutiny.  Until now I’ve led a pretty respectable life – I’ve been a journalist and a civil servant, and am now a wife and mother.  It really should have been enough for anyone.  But no.  Some weird compulsion, some pesky, unsilenceable voice in my foolish head, has driven me to become – whisper it in shame – an aspiring writer.   See, there, I’ve said it!

Until now, this has been my guilty secret.  It’s very easy to scribble away in the privacy of one’s own kitchen and hope that this should somehow be enough to guarantee literary success.   But the reality is that if you actually want to reach an audience, you have to put yourself out there.   For many of us – shy, retiring creatures that we are –  it doesn’t come naturally, and I’ve spent quite a few months in denial.  Do I really need to write a blog – won’t it be awfully time-consuming?  And anyway, what would I put in the darned thing?   And who on this good earth could possibly be interested in the witterings of yet another lady writer?  But excuses are all they are; there are no convenient let-out clauses.  The fact of the matter is writers these days need blogs.   So here goes. 

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