Smugshot.

Non, je ne regrette rien.

Yesterday, after a long and often bruising fight, we ‘lost’ our campaign against the hostile academisation of my daughter’s school, the Hewett in Norwich.

Except we didn’t lose. We didn’t lose, because we couldn’t lose. It’s impossible to lose, in my opinion, when the other side is cheating.

The moral victory is ours: we played by the rules; they didn’t.

We proved to them, via a publicly funded consultation, that Inspiration Trust was unwelcome at Hewett.

They ignored it.

We spoke unanimously against them at our final public meeting.

They ignored it.

The Guardian newspaper leaked revolting email correspondence between the two worst offenders in this hideous stinking mess – Rachel de Souza, the CEO of Inspiration Trust, and the board’s chair Theo Agnew – in which de Souza described herself as SICK at Hewett’s Ofsted success in 2013. Was the school ‘vulnerable’ again, she wondered, when exam results later fell? Agnew remarked on her ‘cunning ways’.

They all had cunning ways, as it turned out: not only de Souza and Agnew, but all of their chums too: Lord Nash, the Academies Minister; Tim Coulson, the Regional Schools Commissioner; Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education. They all had their fingers in pockets and pies, and the stench of Tory cronyism is strong in Norwich today.

So I’ve woken up this morning with one or two regrets. I’m regretting the fact that gagging clauses and widespread fear meant that so few Inspiration Trust teachers were able to go on the record with the shocking stories they told me in confidence. Perhaps I should have got naked and chained myself to the railings or thrown myself under de Souza’s chauffeur driven car or the hooves of her Tory chums’ polo ponies. I’m regretting the ratio of food to alcohol in my life last night, when I slunk to the pub in the rain after helping to cover the gate of our school in Crime Scene tape, and regretting the paltry amount of sleep I’ve had for the tossing and turning and nightmarish visions of this...

Smugshot.

Smugshot.

I’m regretting the fact that Look East cut me to ribbons last night and gave squirming and gurning de Souza free reign to suggest that I’m some kind of numbskull who just hasn’t seen the light yet. She admires our passion. She hopes (gurn gurn) that we’ll later become her biggest supporters. (The words: ‘dead’ and ‘body’, ‘not’ and ‘over’ spring to mind.)

But there’s one thing I’m not regretting…

I’m not regretting this campaign. I never will. Look what happened last night, with an hour’s notice. All of these lovely people arrived in the absolute pissing rain, and they stood in support of our school. They brought banners and signs.

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Screenshot 2015-08-06 08.36.24

A supporter made this, in ‘honour’ of the Hewett’s new logo (rustled up within 24 hours if you believe the bastards at Inspiration Trust):

Hewett crime scene 2

We hugged and talked and commiserated. We spoke to reporters and had our pictures taken and wiped the drizzle from our faces and, later on, went to the pub and got drunk. (Well, one of us did…) Someone (who won’t allow me to name her) did something just beyond lovely for me, and I thank her from the bottom of my heart. Hewett kids and Hewett parents and local residents stood proud in the rain. Our school isn’t perfect. We’re not perfect. But we’re something else, something better: we are decent human beings.

I have met the most astonishing, amazing, and good-hearted people in the course of this long and hard campaign (too many to name individually, although Jo and Emma deserve special mention). Thanks to the vocal support of our MP Clive Lewis I’ve found that it is actually, physically possible for a politician to act on his promises. I have found my own voice again (it was down the back of the sofa for most of 2014), and watched other people find theirs. I have tweeted and blogged and written emails and stood shouting in school halls and gone on the telly box and the radio and flung my whole self at this campaign, and the reason I’ve done all this is quite simple: it was the right thing to do.

Unlike the delightful Dame Rachel, I’m not a believer in God. But I reckon if he did exist, he’d be on our side. He’d have been outside those gates getting soaked last night (or, possibly, stopping it from raining at all…).

So the Inspiration Trust may have stolen our school, but you know? Be careful what you wish for. Because we come with it. We’re not going anywhere. We are Hewett. And this is only the beginning.

The_Empire_of_Light_MOMA

Awake.

It’s 3.38 a.m. and I am awake. I don’t want to be awake. I don’t want to be thinking real thoughts about grubby Real Life. I want to be fast asleep, dreaming cool dreams in Technicolor with jazz on the soundtrack, floating in my PJs over the rooftops of Norwich (that was a good one) or spending a moment with someone I loved who isn’t alive anymore, or finding my novel on a bookshop shelf and remembering that, hey, I finished it months ago and it’s already published and under it there’s one of those little cards that says Our bookseller recommends…

But, no. I am awake. My stomach hurts. I’m far too hot. My mouth tastes metallic from taking a sleeping pill last night. I smell iffy. I quite need a wee, after drinking a cup of hot milk and a glass of cold water. My boy cat is thumping around on the floor catching insects. My room is too stuffy. I’ve got to get up in four hours. I’m going to be tired all day.

It’s like traffic lights. Green when you wake and you’re still optimistic (it’s only a blip; shut your eyes; think of sheep), and then amber when things look a little bit hairier (go on, head, tell me that one again about how inadequate I am as a human being; you know how I love that one), and then finally, angrily, you’re at red. There is swearing. The inadequacy engine is in overdrive. You might as well fling off the covers and fling your hot self out of bed and go flinging off to the microwave in the kitchen to fling some milk in it and now you’ve got to have a wee as well and the microwave has to bleep (of course) while you’re weeing, and what if it wakes your daughter up, and what are you meant to do at 3.38 in the morning, and why did you make such a dick of yourself in that conversation earlier? Why did you have to press send on that message? Why don’t things ever work out the way you want them to? Why don’t people like you back equal amounts that you like them? This is one of the great conundrums of the universe, of course, and even a really good cup of hot milk cannot solve it, neither at 3.38 am nor 338 years from now when, should the world still turn, the great minds – in the middle of the night – will still be pondering this question.

But then, you see. I mean, you see. 

The thing you see is this: that you’re awake. Awake. You climb in bed again. You drink your milk. You listen to some music. When you stop the music, there’s an owl outside. Is anybody else awake and listening? Someone’s car comes down the road: that’s odd. It’s 4.26 now. The owl has gone quiet. You try to picture it, in the forest behind your house. You generally keep different hours, you and the owl. Is it sort of a gift, then, that you were up just now in time to hear it? Is this morning a gift, no matter what time it starts? Will the owl return later, in your memory, when you’re writing (fingers crossed) and bring something real and true (the emotion you felt while hearing the owl) to a scene that’s a little too flat?

And the things that went wrong? Well, they were a gift as well. In their way. You were living, alive, awake to experience them.

It’s all over, already, for so many people. So many.

A new bird is making a noise now. A dawn sort of noise. Day will dawn, one morning, without you. You won’t be awake anymore, or again. This is it. Now is it. You have ears, to hear owls. A mouth to drink milk. If you’d died all those years ago, when you tried to, you wouldn’t be hearing that owl in the forest or watching your cat chew the plant on your cupboard or writing this blog post that someone might read when they’re up in the morning at 3.38 by themselves.

You’re awake. This is good. Now your cat’s on the windowsill, watching the birds. These are things you don’t usually see. Have a look out the curtains, a look at the world. You see differently now. Have a look at yourself. You look different as well. Stop regretting. You’re fine as you are. You’ve done fine. You’ll do fine in the future. You weren’t such a dick, after all, in that conversation that seemed such a crashing disaster before you woke up. You were just being you, being genuine, slightly too open. So what? You’re awake. It’s not over. Your turn isn’t over. Keep going. Keep playing. Keep waking up.

Chortling IT

19 reasons we want Inspiration Trust to do the goddamned decent thing and back away from Hewett. (You won’t *believe* no 9!)

A bunch of noobs called Inspiration Trust (who’ve been in the edukashun business since way back in the dim and distant days of 2012) want to ‘sponsor’ my daughter’s secondary school, the Hewett in Norwich. (Translation: snaffle the 54 acre site, valued by the Local Authority in 2009 at £60 million.) Here’s why they shouldn’t.

1. This email from their CEO Rachel de Souza, describing herself as ‘sick’ at a ‘Good’ Ofsted rating for our school.

2. This twitter convo with the Guardian’s education correspondent Warwick Mansell in which they go all coy, suddenly, about their future plans for the school’s 54 acre site.

Funny how it's 'all hypothetical' when challenged on a point of squirmy fact... yet they're happy to advertise no 3 on their website weeks in advance of the consultation even *starting*...

Funny how it’s ‘all hypothetical’ when challenged on a point of squirmy fact… yet they’re happy to advertise no. 3 (see below) on their website weeks in advance of the consultation even *starting*…

3. The fact this was on their website (see above) before the consultation even began. 

Investigations 'under way' for a high level sports facility...

Note bullet point 2: Investigations ‘underway’ for a high level sports facility…

4. These minutes from a totally impartial meeting with our IEB (Interim Executive Board: the peeps parachuted in by the lovely government after they kicked out our own school governors – by email! – and refused the IEB put forward by Norfolk County Council. Sounds legit.) Inspiration Trust are so terribly nonchalant and blasé about Hewett’s 54 acre site that they didn’t even think to mention it at the meetings they shouldn’t even have been invited to – oh no, wait, hang on! They did kinda sorta mention it…

You bet your ass there was a 'discussion'. I'm speculating here but, 'Get those chavs off my bloody land!' is the way I imagine it unfolding...

You bet your ass there was a ‘discussion’. I’m speculating here but, ‘Get those chavs off my bloody land!’ is the way I imagine it unfolding…

5. The fact that our ‘consultation’ was more of an insulting con.

Because HaslamDodd ran the consultation meetings with all the impartiality of a foot fetishist contemplating someone's toes.

HaslamDodd ran the consultation meetings with all the impartiality of a foot fetishist contemplating someone’s toes. ‘You’ve said enough already,’ as Sheree Dodd was fond of remarking.

6. Because the ‘independent consultants’ running our consultation said they publicised the meetings as hard as they possibly could, honest guv…

Because they said they publicised the meetings as well as they possibly could...

But they actually didn’t (love how the meeting was advertised in the local paper the day before…):

Because that wasn't actually true.

7. The sorry excuse for a questionnaire provided to us by HaslamDodd. It was (a) shit and (b) mostly written by Inspiration Trust themselves. And (c) there was no paper copy sent home with Hewett pupils which, hello, would have been an obvious move if you were genuine about widespread consultation. But who am I? Certainly not a firm of taxpayer funded ‘independent’ consultants.

For ‘The IEB regarded it as very important blah blah’ read: ‘Rachel de Souza regarded it as her god-given and inalienable right to waste taxpayer money on a marketing exercise’.

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Naturellement I pointed this out to them on The Twitter.

8. Because even though the consultation found eighty percent were against Inspiration Trust it still isn’t good enough for them…

Fave quote from one of ’em:

‘Deciding on the proposed changes to the Hewett School is not about a popularity contest or about making symbolic gestures – it is making sure the children of Norwich get the best possible start in life… Changes are needed to restore the Hewett to the full, bustling, and great place it once was, and we believe the Inspiration Trust has an important part to play in that transformation.’

You can read my response to them here.

Eh? Does that mean we can re-run the election cos of the silent majority?

Eh? Does that mean we can re-run the election cos of the silent majority?

9. The unbelievable truth that the civil servant who gets to decide the school’s future is a personal friend of Rachel de Souza…

Can you Adam and Eve it?

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C5RCqcLN_ajQdUghQXJx9vVGHtY8oSqQ5vQJeAlmoh8

10. And the gobsmacking fact that the Academies Minister, Lord Nash, is a personal friend of Sir Theo Agnew, the chair of Inspiration Trust. (Oh yes, and Theo also chaired the Department for Education’s Academy Board until Gove ejected him recently to cock up the home office instead.) Let the back scratching commence!

Chortling IT

Here they are chortling together outside Isaac Newton Sixth Form, housed in the old fire station and gifted to them at a knock-down rent by one of their millionaire mates. Sir Theo of Agnew is on the left of the picture, Lord of Nash beside him. Who’s that lady? Oh, it’s Rachel de Souza of course! Mwa ha ha ha ha.

11. His Majesty Sir Theo of Agnew’s usage of the vile phrase ‘cunning ways’ in reference to the Machiavellian machinations of Dame Rachel. (For sauce, see the Guardian article in no.1.) (Apologies, I meant source. Of course.)

12. The fact that Norwich has been telling them to sod off for months.

Hundreds of us marched in protest. Two thousand of us signed a petition against them. What does it take?!?!

Hundreds of us marched in protest. Two thousand of us signed a petition against them. Are they thick-skinned or what?!

13. The fact that Her Royal Dameness Rachel de Souza is a tiny bit chickenshit, let’s be honest.

RdSprivate

14. This chock-full-of-platitudes response from Education Secretary Nicky Morgan (in the run-up to the election):

nickymorganballs

I rewrote it for her cos I’m nice like that.

15. The fact that Inspiration Trust were allowed to write the advertisement for Hewett’s head teacher before the consultation began. (I’m sorry: assist in writing it. Excuse me while I go slap my wrist.)

16. The fact that Inspiration Trust SUCK at snark. (Although much respect for the lovely kids in this video and I’m genuinely glad you’re doing so well. Sorry that IT saw fit to use you as emotional blackmail.)

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17. The fact they think this is a good use of taxpayer money. Skip ahead to 5.50 if you want the fright of your life.

18. The fact that Inspiration Trust are evicting a brilliant Sure Start centre (my old nursery, peeps) that’s been around (in one form or another) since 1939:

EEYC

Sign the petition here to help save EEYC: http://www.clivelewis.org/saveeeyc

19. Last but not least… because Hewett kids are fab and do fab stuff like this.

Need I go on?

*As you will have noticed, there was nothing particularly shocking about no 9. ‘Twas nowt but a cunning ploy. What’s good enough for Buzzfeed/Upworthy is good enough for me.

I am an excellent woman.

To join or not to join the Labour Party: that is the question.

This Labour leadership thing is getting right on my tits.

A piece of human candy floss in the Guardian has said, in an utterly non-patronising way, that the swell of support for ‘left-wing’ leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn is nowt but ‘an emotional spasm‘.

If that isn't spun sugar she's got on her head, then I don't know what it is.

If that isn’t spun sugar she’s got on her head, then I don’t know what is.

What a peculiar phrase, don’t you think? As I commented at the time on Facebook (yes, I’m recycling my jokes now) I had an emotional spasm the other day, but it wasn’t over Jeremy Corbyn.

Boom boom.

Ms Perkins has also described ‘the Jeremy Corbyn surge‘. (At this point I’d quite like to link to a video of ‘The Gush’ clip on Jambut I’ll leave you nice folks to google that yourself as it’s possible – eminently so – that it mightn’t be quite to your taste.)

Unless you’re an utter turnip the point of all this emotive language won’t have passed you by. The pen is mightier than the sword, as they say. It’s no coincidence that Ms Perkins has used the word ’emotional’: it’s a common ‘slur’ tossed around by people in power. Get outta here with your operable tear ducts! There’s no room for emotion here. We don’t want an emotional person with access to the nuclear codes.

But my question is: why not? I wouldn’t mind at all if my Prime Minister cared enough to cry when something really fucking awful happened. I wouldn’t lose respect for him or her: I’d think, wow, that’s rare and brave and it makes you more like me. Now I can (kind of) relate to you. (So long as you’re not Tory.)

And why don’t we all just fess up that we humans can never escape our emotions: a vote for a ‘safe pair of hands’, for instance, is no less driven by emotion than a vote for ‘left-wing’ Jeremy Corbyn. And unless you’re blind you are also, partially, calling upon finely-tuned human instincts that cause you to trust certain faces more than others. (This applies to voices too: for instance, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, I am incapable of believing that anyone with a Scottish accent is right-wing.)

You are a thinking, feeling, sensing human being, and you use all your available senses when electing politicians. And anyone who says different has candy floss for brains as well as hair. Because faces, voices, stances, physiques… we care about these things. They matter.

And, what’s more, it isn’t wrong to care about these things. It’s not about making a Daily Fail judgement of somebody based on a flab roll, or an accidental flash of armpit hair, or the fact they’ve got last season’s shoes on. It’s just that we don’t, and can’t, like everyone equally. (Image the carnage if we did.) We’re drawn to some, repelled by others.

I, for instance, am… well, not quite repelled by but certainly not drawn to former Just for Men model Andy Burnham, whose Ken-doll hair competes with his wet-look eyelashes for the thing I like least about his face. His bio on the Labour site informs me that he’s ‘passionate about football and music’, which is cleverly vague and inoffensive (and leads me to the rank hypocrisy that it’s fine for grown men to cry about a fucking football team) and shows a spectacular lack of balls: people who fail to specify the sort of music they like are rarely, I’ve found, remotely passionate about it. Had he written: ‘I’m Andy, and I regularly head-bang to Napalm Death’ I’d have given his balls some applause, you see, because basically what that’s saying is: ‘I’m Andy, and I am genuine. I am who I am. Vote for me if you like me. Don’t if you don’t.’

The thing about Corbyn is that I like his face. Look at it. Go on.

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Even with that blood-soaked backdrop the Guardian have given him, he still looks kind. You can see it, can’t you? In his eyes. Very kind, and a little bit pained.

And I’m really not being facetious: this stuff matters. Years ago, when I lived in Manchester, a woman in a taxi queue needed the toilet once. So she went off and left me guarding her seven bags of expensive shopping. You’d be amazed what people tell me within five minutes of meeting me. It seems I have one of those faces. I’m trusted on sight. Just yesterday, at the UEA, I was asked, by a complete stranger, to take a small child to the toilet. If I wasn’t actually trustworthy, I might have made millions as a drugs mule by now (although, actually, as I write this, I’m reminded of being stopped and searched on a NYE’s journey to Paris because of some Vitamin C tablets so… scratch that).

I’m uncertain about Yvette Cooper, and that in itself is a worry. She’s pretty, I think (although, don’t get me wrong, she’s no Leanne Wood): like a cross between a chipmunk and a pixie. A chixie, you might say. But she’s got that head-girlish, trying-too-hard sort of vibe going on that I simply don’t like.

Yvette was always trying to stop their fun.

Yvette was a total buzzkill.

As for Liz Kendall… is she actually a politician? She’s not a sitcom character pretending to be a politician? She’s not an Apprentice candidate who took a wrong turn, one day, in a BBC corridor and ended up on Newsnight? I just can’t make my brain understand her existence. Her face is round and pointy both at once. She looks like the one in the office who won’t do the tea run because she’s secretly more important than everyone else. You just know this is what she says to herself in the mirror each morning:

Another thing Liz says is this: ‘My politics are inseparable from the party and country I love.’

Eh? That’s so inscrutable, Katy Perry could’ve tweeted it.

Here’s Liz-ism 2: ‘Making a contribution and playing by the rules is the bedrock of a decent society.’ Um, no it isn’t. I think Corbyn’s assertion that, ‘you can’t build a fair economy by casting people aside’ is closer to the truth. I’ve worked with Liz Kendalls before – there were several on the trading floor at Morgan Stanley, where I temped for one hideous month of my life – and they simply can’t compute the fact that other people are not them. If they can claw their way out of poverty, if they can manage four kids and a full-time career, if they would rather French kiss Richard Littlejohn than take a day off sick, then why can’t everyone else? She might as well go the full Nicola Murray and promise to ‘inspire’ people out of poverty.

I am an excellent woman.

I am an excellent woman.

So my issue is this: I kind of like campaigning and I’d kind of like to carry on, when our efforts to save my daughter’s school from the grabby hands of the Inspiration Trust reach their eventual conclusion. My gobbiness needs an outlet. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines, the way I did before, saying, ‘this should be different and that should be different’ and never shift an actual finger to make anything different. People who do that annoy me now. I don’t want to be one of them. I need a cause, I think. And a Labour party run by Corbyn is a cause I could possibly (probably) get behind.

So should I join, and vote for Corbyn? Or not join, because the leadership race is three quarters full of people I wouldn’t leave my shopping with if I needed a wee in a taxi queue?

Answers on a postcard, please.

EEYC

An Open Letter to Inspiration Trust: if it *was* a popularity contest then, hello, you lost!

Dear Inspiration Trust,

On this sunny Tuesday there are umpteen better things I could be doing. Why aren’t I doing them? Because I’m writing to you.

I’m writing to you because the Hewett School held a consultation recently. As you know, the results of that consultation were not in your favour. In fact, they were strongly against you.

Get off our land, we said. Step away from our comprehensive. Eighty percent of us said we didn’t want you in our school. That’s eighty percent, Inspiration Trust! Four to one against you.

So why aren’t you going? In this story in our local press your arrogance was stunning. Here’s one of the things you said:

Deciding on the proposed changes to the Hewett School is not about a popularity contest or about making symbolic gestures.’

And here’s another:

Changes are needed to restore the Hewett to the full, bustling, and great place it once was, and we believe the Inspiration Trust has an important part to play in that transformation.’

Okay, two things:

(a) it wasn’t a ‘popularity contest’; it was an ‘independently-run’ consultation funded by the taxpayer at Christ knows what cost. (And NB if it was a popularity contest then, um, you lost.)

(b) if you cared so much about the Hewett being ‘full’ and ‘bustling’ then why did you open two new free schools in the vicinity?

Curious, huh?

The answer is this: you couldn’t give two hoots, or shits, about the future of the Hewett. You want our land. We know that’s what you want. You know we know it.

You’re building an empire. And how do we know this? Because you’ve only been around since 2012 and already you’re evicting a Sure Start centre that’s been around since 1939, in one form or another (and that’s what we call a ‘track record’, you arrogant prats, in spite of your ‘executive principal’ Ian Burchett’s claims that yours is ‘second to none’), because (and here I’m quoting Burchett again): ‘We needed more classrooms.’

Give me strength!

You have very kindly said that EEYC may take up residence temporarily in the frigging car park. And, equally kindly, you’ve offered the Local Authority the chance to build them new premises… at a taxpayer cost of £750,000.

Apparently there’s no end to your charitable deeds! One might almost say there’s no beginning to them…

Inspiration Trust, you won’t know this, because I didn’t know it until recently (when my mum told me) but I’m a former child of that centre. I went there, years ago, when it was Larkman Nursery, and I was a poverty-stricken kid growing up on West Earlham in a battered pre-fab with drug addicts for neighbours and hand-me-down clothes from my brother (yup, I’m a girl; life ain’t easy sometimes) and, even then, it was a brilliant nursery. Brilliant things can blossom in un-brilliant, unexpected places, and by taking them away you do harm.

EEYC

Follow the link here: http://www.clivelewis.org/saveeeyc to sign the petition.

You are doing harm to our local community. You are doing harm to those children – children like me – who actively prosper at that centre.

And what about Hethersett Academy, which you’ve run into the ground since taking the helm in 2013? Let’s have straight answers to straight questions, please: how many teachers have quit since your tanks stormed the land? Forty-five out of fifty, I think I’m correct in saying. (Do, please, point out to me if I’m wrong.) And another thirteen, I believe, are set to leave this summer… According to your website, all Inspiration schools will have an ‘extended day’, and this has been true, of course, for Hethersett, where teachers have crumbled under the pressure.

We all know why you love extended days: it’s because it allows you to perpetuate the sad wet-dream that you’re offering private-style education to the ruffian kids of Norfolk. Private schools have longer days; that’s true. But they also have longer holidays as well. You forgot that, didn’t you? Teachers can’t cope with it. And they don’t want your inspirational power points or your corporate thinking or your non-subject specialists (hair and beauty teachers shouldn’t be anywhere near English lessons, in my humble opinion) or your barking-mad disciplinary procedures or your Core Values chant.

We don’t want it.

Please go away.

Quite apart from the fact you are noobs in the business of secondary schools, you are piddling on the legacy of Dr Walter Roy, who formed the Hewett School, as we know it today, in 1970, from the strewn buildings of three existing schools.

He would have hated what you’re doing. He fled the Nazi regime in Austria during the war. He hated bullies. You know what he had a passion for? Comprehensive education. Do you even know what that means? He didn’t care to swank about in chauffeur-driven cars (Dame Rachel, I’m talking to you), creaming £160,000 (or is it £165,000? Forgive me, I may have underestimated your worth) from the public purse. (Again, do please correct me if I’m wrong.) He didn’t drink tea from Vera Wang cups worth £420. He didn’t want to bring private-style education and corporate-speak to community schools. What he loved was the open-door policy of a place like Hewett: all welcome. No blazers, no ties, no pretending our kids are Little Lord Fauntleroy. Our kids are not for turning, to quote a woman I’m sure you’re all terribly fond of: our kids aren’t for turning into genuflecting future leaders. Our kids know that going to Cambridge isn’t the only valuable route in life. Our kids don’t chant. Our kids have green hair, if they want to. Our kids can go to the toilet during lesson time when they need a wee or a clean tampon because, hello, this is a basic human right. Our kids are gay and straight and trans and bi. Our kids kick up a fuss when you rile them. Our kids make art like this:

Our kids don’t need your ‘links with the Globe theatre’ to know what creativity is. Creativity comes from within. Like strength. We have plenty of both.

We’ve said no. Democratically. Freely and fairly. The process itself wasn’t free, or particularly fair, but look: by your own rules, by the rules of your buddies at the DfE, you’ve been found wanting. You’ve been asked to back down. Step away.

So will you jump, Inspiration Trust? Or will you have to be pushed?

And if you're not singing the Cagney and Lacey theme tune right now, then... you're probably annoyingly young.

Stragile and frong.

I think it’s all because I can’t play chess. I have the kind of brain that can’t think ahead.

I want what I want in the moment I want it. So what if (googles frantically) in two moves from now my king will be nakedly alone, on the brink of kidnap? (Not quite how google described it.) For starters, I’m anti-monarchy, and second of all: it hasn’t happened yet, and hence it isn’t life, it isn’t real, it isn’t now. The only thing actually ever happening is NOW. So whatever I want, in the here and now, I’ll just bloody do: and I won’t just bloody do it, I’ll bloody launch myself at it, body and soul, like a bottle of champers launching a ship and it’s no surprise, I suppose, that I often (usually) end up smashed.

It rarely ends happily for the bottle.

It rarely ends happily for the bottle.

It’s the reason I have no ambition, not properly. Someone described me as cat-like a couple of weeks ago (possibly because I’m hairy and love to nap) and, like cats, all I live for are moments of pleasure. Which makes me sound horribly decadent (very hard to be horribly decadent on a low income) and brings to mind something like this:

which is far from the truth. But I do need to keep inhaling happy things to keep me going. Not opium, obviously. But small, nice things. A yellow moon, a compliment, a new lick of nail polish, a perfect sentence. I look for little pleasures every day. The big pleasures are harder to come by. (Or, well, easier, if you… sorry. Smut alert.)

When someone you thought was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious decides to take a swift exit from your life, untouched and unruffled by any aspect of your existence in a way that makes you realise, ouch, you didn’t even leave behind a tiny scuff mark, never mind a hole… it’s sad and disappointing, of course it is. But the thing to do is not regret that you did it. Try not to. At the very least I have a new memory for when I’m old and grey(er) and possibly living on memories (of this nature) the way my poor dad is.

I have a hopeful sort of soul these days. It was hard and fierce and cross a year ago, and it might be forced to harden up again, who knows, if it keeps getting smashed on the sides of ships. At the moment, in light of its recent smashing, it’s trying to calcify and shrink-wrap itself, right now as I write, because it’s scary to let yourself hope for things. I am horribly, stupidly fragile: I sink myself into the moment and nothing else even exists anymore, and that means I get squished when the moment is gone. (It’s a useful technique, though, when you’re reading in public: just live in the words, and you won’t even notice the hundred staring eyes.) But I’m also (I think) pretty strong. So I’m stragile. Or maybe frong. I’ll wobble, but I won’t fall down.

And, once again, if you don't understand the relevance of this picture then you, my friend, are annoyingly young. Image at  http://www.rubylane.com/item/645543-KC-03633/1970s-Weebles-Man-w-Blue-Shirt

If you don’t understand the relevance of this picture then you, my friend, are annoyingly young. Image at http://www.rubylane.com/item/645543-KC-03633/1970s-Weebles-Man-w-Blue-Shirt

So even though the Voice of Reason (yes, I have one) is wagging its finger at me for writing this blog post, because come on, Lynsey, WTF, this is all under your own name and why didn’t you set up this site anonymously, because that would have been far more sensible, I’m going to write it, and publish it, anyway, because IDC, as people say on the internet. It’s something I want to do. I don’t mind exposing my insides (although, stupidly, I haven’t been swimming for about two years because I loathe my scarred legs).

And if you're not singing the Cagney and Lacey theme tune right now, then... you're probably annoyingly young.

And if you’re not singing the Cagney and Lacey theme tune right now, then, once again, you’re annoyingly young. Take your perfect skin and get outta here.

I can’t write anything decent or worthwhile that doesn’t expose me somehow. I want to live bravely and not let my fears or anxieties control me. I think this is more important to me than short-term embarrassment. I want to be a force for good somehow. I don’t know any other way for me to do it except by speaking out about things. And it helps me, too, to write and share: you’ll have noticed by now, if you follow this blog, that I’m fighting a couple of tiny battles these days: the first against the Inspiration Trust; the second against the pesky, melancholic nature I grew up with. Hence, all of my dirty washing is here, on this blog: and if any of it, that I’ve shared, can help you feel solidarity with another human being then, honestly, it’s worth it to me. Helping people helps me too.

So this is what I say to being sensible, and careful, and cautious:

[Literally my favourite ever sentence… 1.21 if it doesn’t do what it should and start there automatically. NSFW!]

And while I’m posting videos, here’s a short film by Percivale Productions about our school campaign, with clips of yours truly not a million miles from a microphone, which is (strangely) a place I’ve found I’m kinda happy being, although watching myself on screen is a much less happy experience. C’est la vie!

The Struggle for Hewett School.

And now I reckon, gauntlet down, my challenge to myself this week is to get my bikini on and go swimming. Scars and all.

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A sentence is long as a piece of string.

So I’m going to get a tattoo. Which is weird, because I don’t even like tattoos. But I heard about this project and immediately it seemed to fit.

First off, it’s a semi-colon. It’s punctuation. There can’t be many folks alive who love punctuation as much as I do.

But second, and more importantly, it’s a sign that you’ve survived depression. It’s a sign, in my case, that I’ve survived a suicide attempt, and you can read about that here if you’d like to (because, as people keep pointing out to me, I am very, very open about these things). What it means is: you could have ended your sentence. But you chose not to. Or, in my case, my own ineptitude stopped me from ending my sentence… But, hey, I was sixteen. What did I know? Very little (although, natch, I thought I knew everything).

After a bit of debate on Facebook I’ve decided where to have it, too. On the back of my neck, at the top of my spine. This means, of course, I’ll only be able to see it in the mirror.

But this makes sense, because… one of the other things I survived was an episode, ten years ago, when I hated my face so intensely I couldn’t leave the house. I had to go live with my parents. We had to cover all the mirrors up, or take them down, and the ones that were fixed to the bathroom cabinets had to be opened at such an angle that they couldn’t be looked in. Does this make me sound weird? I suppose it does. It’s not something I’m proud of. It happened, though, and since I’m a product of everything – good and bad – that’s happened to me since the second I burst, splat, from my mum’s womb, plastering the walls with blood (so I’m told), I can’t see the point in denying these things. I felt I didn’t have a face. I didn’t feel I existed. This made life difficult. I was just extremely ill, as I’ve been ill before and possibly (although every day I guard against that as well I can) will be again.

But my sentence hasn’t ended yet. Virginia Woolf wrote one that was 199 words long. A sentence is long as a piece of string. I feel unhappy, writing this. Things haven’t gone my way and, yeah, I’m sad. But my grasp on punctuation is as solid as ever. I can really rock a dependent clause. So I’m going to get a semi-colon on my neck because I want to celebrate the fact I’m still alive. I’ve fucked up 99% of things in my life, but I stuck around long enough to have the world’s best daughter and, maybe I’m kidding myself, but I genuinely think I do some good in the world these days.

I’m glad I didn’t die.

And I promise my next post will be about writing.

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On being incredibly hot (in a bad way).

Today I’ll be treating myself to an itsy bitsy teeny weeny pity party here on the blog, after which…

I’ll be writing about writing again.

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I am (or was) a (sort of) writer. It feels like frigging ages ago.

So what have I been for the last few months?

No idea.

I suppose I’ve been mostly a teacher slash anti-academies activist. But thanks to the mostly term-time nature of those activities (although fear not, Inspiration Trust, I shall still be gunning for you right through summer… to infinity and beyond, if necessary) I am now on my holidays. En vacances, as they say in la belle France, and although I’m not actually going anywhere, because the flip side of a term-time job = holiday poverty, I will certainly, like Paris in August, be a lot less busy than usual.

Many of my shops and restaurants will be closed. My metro will be occupied almost solely by tourists (not a euphemism) and, while others holiday in far-flung climes, I’ll be home in my garrett, fronting up to the giant-sized task of Le Novel.

But never mind the giant-sized novel, what about the teeny weeny pity party? Well, fire up the cheesy mix tape (Mustang Sally, Love Shack, the Macarena, etc) because the festivities are about to begin.

I am really extraordinarily hot as I’m writing this, and I am really extraordinarily sick of it. It’s very warm in England at the moment, but this is the sort of warmth that comes from inside and is driven by wildly fluctuating lady hormones, and this is my third year of getting so wet (in a bad way) when I walk up the road that I might as well have been swimming. I know you’re not supposed to talk about the M word in mixed company, but let me strike a blow here for forward-thinking on this issue. After all, you didn’t used to be able to show married couples in bed together on a TV screen and now… well, now, you patently can. It’s high time, IMHO, that talking about menopause was normalised and made okay. And if, like me, you happen to start it stupidly early (hot flushes at 32, Fact Fans) it’s meant to be worse and more intense and last longer. To which, I say: hurray! Oh yes, and you die earlier as well (so I’m told) which makes it all-round brilliant, really.

I need, I think, to get me some drugs. But these, you see, won’t be cool drugs of the kind the Verve once sang about the ineffectuality of; these will be distinctly un-cool, if cooling (see what I did there), Ancient Biddy Drugs (Ancientionius Biddicus in the original Latin) and then I will have to ‘be’ an old lady and can’t masquerade as a slightly crispy youngish lady anymore. Which is to say: I will have to ‘be’ an old lady inside my head, even more so than I am already. It is important to me (to everyone, I imagine) who I am inside my head.

My dad, for instance, although he can’t see well enough to walk anymore – except familiar routes from chair to bed to bathroom, etc, and even then with occasional difficulty – refuses to have a wheelchair so that we can take him out. He refuses even to hold my arm in the street. He refuses to do both these things because, even though he has dementia, he still maintains an image of himself with which the image of an otherwise housebound granddad in an adult perambulator is markedly at odds.

I suppose (or know, in fact) that I too hold an image of myself inside my head with which the image of a wrinkly biddy requesting HRT whilst, under her clothes, her neck and breasts are switching themselves to the rinse cycle, is also markedly at odds. But, yesterday, as I came back from a workshop day near Diss to find the streets half-shut for our local Lord Mayor’s Procession and, hence, no proper buses running, I very nearly actually died (all right, I didn’t, but sshh, I’m telling a story here) walking to the nearest available bus stop in the strobing sun, and when at last I caught the bus I went instantly onto a 60 degree pre-wash and thought, you know what, I just cannot anymore. I don’t know how other women manage this, and all power to those who do, but I am so far over this I’m peering at it from the wickerwork confines of a hot air balloon basket.

Hello down there.

Hello, down there.

So: drugs, I think. Let the mantle of Biddyhood fall where it will. I could get on board pretty well with being a biddy. I love my cats a really extreme amount (in spite of the fact they’re psychopaths) and I like books and board games and hot milk in bed and, even though it’s begun to rain – the loud, hard, window-slashing kind of rain – since I’ve sat on my old biddy backside writing this post and, undeniably, the air through my bedroom window has a minty cool, refreshing quality, I am still surreptitiously sniffing myself because I’m convinced I smell like cheese and onion crisps and my clothes are still stuck to my skin and I’m not sure if my laptop is cooking my legs or my legs are cooking my laptop.

I feel a bit sad about it all. And not just because of the extra washing – both of clothes and body; both of which I find very boring even when done in normal quantities – or waking with bird nest hair, a strange mad cross between straight and curly, because I’ve got hot in the night. It is sad not to be able, anymore, to make babies, even though babies are mostly composed of poop and sick and have magical, soul-stealing properties that make their parents obsessed with said poop and sick – as if art, and literature, and science, and current affairs had simply stopped existing. I don’t want to get up in the night anymore to have my nipple nearly bitten off (true story) and slink back to sleep so tired that I literally didn’t care that blood was pouring down my top. But neither do I want to be perimenopausal. Ain’t life grand.

But actually, yeah, my life is grand. And I need to remember that fact. I don’t have everything I want, of course; but, better than that, I have everything I need. I can ask for my old biddy drugs on the NHS (for now, at least…) and I can play piano when I’m sad and hug my daughter and sometimes, when I’m teaching, I see people look at me, like, ‘I never knew that before, what you’re saying, and now my life’s been changed a little bit’ and some of my lovely students buy me things like this:

The joy of having lovely students. Cheers!

The joy of having lovely students. Cheers!

… because they know I fall down holes sometimes, and get low, and also because Wimbledon. (Although damn you, Nadal. You were going to be my guy candy for the next ten days.) I have food, and shelter, and derive a bizarre amount of happiness from rubbing my feet together in bed. (I’m doing it now.)

But it’s weird, I think. One day you’re a lion, enormous, roaring. Then one small thing in your universe changes and, suddenly, how fast you shrink.

I’ll always be like this, I’ve realised. Never knowing, today, how big or small I’ll be tomorrow. Or later the same afternoon. Or last thing at night. It’s a very uppy-downy life I lead.

So I wanted to have this one last whinge, for now, about non-writing things because the book is calling and, from tomorrow onwards, I’ll have oodles of writing-related things to whinge about. I will care less about the ups and downs in my life, the things I wish I hadn’t said and done, the tumours in my womb, the sweats, the spots (I even have them on my shoulders now FFS), the grey hair, the blah blah blah. I will (I hope, I pray) be back to my writerly self, which is my best self, in my opinion, in spite of the fact there’s rarely any gratification in it. I’m planning a sequence of posts like the ones I did for NaNoWriMo once, because suddenly, once again, it is ‘Camp WriMo’… but more on that tomorrow. Or the day after. We’ll see. I’m not going to pressure myself this time, but I’ll aim for a regular update – if only to pin myself more tightly to having to finish the novel, properly, at last, before the Arts Council come at me with a hatchet.

Until then, I’ll be having a shower. A cold one. Cheerio.

Long and swishy.

How (not) to have a crappy day.

I’ve just changed (look up) the tagline of my blog. So I’m officially allowed to write this sort of shit, instead of feeling subtly guilty and or dirty for cheating on my novel blog as well as my actual novel.

Anyone seen the film Sliding Doors in which Gwyneth Paltrow inhabits two parallel story lines: one with luscious flowing locks, and t’other with sassy Brad-Pitt era slick-fringed crop? (There’s probably a proper hair-dressy word for this style. Do say if you know.)

It all hinges (nice bit of door-related humour for you there) on whether or not she makes her train. I’ll say no more, because spoilers, but suffice to say that, as butterflies’ wing beats can make skyscrapers crash (or something; as you may have gathered, I don’t really understand chaos theory), the missing or catching of a London train has profound effects on more than Paltrow’s flaxen hair.

I think lately I seem like I’m happy and smiley and possibly hothousing metaphorical testicles under my dress (we all know that real ones don’t make you ballsy). And often I am. But you know how people say you’re only ever three pay cheques away from homelessness? For me it’s three shit things away from feeling entirely rubbish about myself. Not even three, actually. Today is one of those days. And I’ve only accrued two reasons. One’s just the usual baloney I tend to get myself involved in, and the other’s the fact that it’s Father’s Day. If you’ve read this post you’ll know that my dad has dementia. Buying him presents is the devil’s own work. In the end I bought baby shampoo, because he hates having his hair washed, and anyway, blah, that’s the end of the sentence because I physically can’t write down the other stuff I’m thinking.

It makes me sad, is all.

So this could be a crappy day.

And then again, it couldn’t.

Like Gwyneth catching/not catching her train, I suppose I have two choices: sit here accumulating gloom, or get up and live.

The ‘getting up and living’ option was just on the brink of including a walk in the woods, but God or Zeus or whoever has put the kibosh on that with a sheet of thrashing rain (which I wouldn’t actually mind walking in, but my neighbours would probably think I’d gone mental again if I set off in that). So I’m back at the drawing board.

I reckon, with a nod to radical acceptance, the crucial don’ts are these:

don’t wish things were different;

don’t feel angry with the world for the fact that things aren’t different;

don’t feel angry with yourself for the fact you’re not different;

don’t feel angry with other people for the fact they‘re not different;

don’t feel differently about yourself because of other people;

don’t let jealousy make you feel differently about other people;

don’t let any old riffraff into your head.

And the crucial dos, I reckon, are these:

have bubbles in your bath;

have chats with the (many, lovely) people who actually give quite a lot of fucks about you;

step away from the school campaign for long enough to remember you were once a (sort of) writer;

play some fortissimo piano, wrong notes and all;

post a link to your speech at the school meet last week where (drum roll) you got a standing ovation;

post a link to the school survey you set up (to counter the ‘official’ piece of taxpayer-funded shit) and remind the nice readers of this here blog than anyone can fill it out (hint hint);

get up, get dressed, get some music on;

have tea, have cake, be kind to yourself;

remember it’s you who decides what to think about;

be smiley and happy, this afternoon, when you visit your dad: no matter what, you can still have a cup of tea and a row about politics together;

and maybe, just maybe, retreat to your novel? It’s where you belong. Possibly. Maybe. Most of the time.

And, just as I write these words, the rain has stopped. The sun is shining. Turned out nice after all.

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How Michael Gove had a wet dream once about state education, and now we’re all paying the price.

Today I’m concerned about Nicky Morgan’s eye health. All that staring! It can’t be good, can it?

Nicky Morgan

Nicky Morgan. She loves a good stare.

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Who, or what, is holding her eyes open? And what is she being forced to watch?

Surely she’s a shoe-in for the Stare Out Championship Finals?

Is it too late? Have the body snatchers taken up residence already?

Or is it too late? Have the body snatchers taken up residence already?

Anyway, I’m feeling like a massive bitch now, because mocking someone’s appearance isn’t cool. I should know better. I do know better. But I’ve been awake since 4.38 feeling stressed about my powerlessness to bloody do anything in the face of Nicky Morgan’s policies (coughs noisily into handkerchief and mumbles the word Gove… which, curiously enough, is a little-known synonym for the contents of one’s handkerchief when one has been too long in the capital, hence acquiring the sad affliction colloquially known as black bogies).

Moving on… (Because mocking Gove’s appearance would be entirely too easy, and irrelevant of course because one’s appearance has nothing at all to do with the state of one’s soul. To say, for instance, that Gove resembled a slippery fish would be wholly unfair when in fact— Oh, hang on…)

Very, very, very soon I will be blogging about writing again. I hope, I beg, I pray. I have reached the point in our school campaign (you can see more here) when I just want it to be over. I once had a normal life, I think. (Normal by Lynsey-ish standards at least.) By the bed there are two Cindy Shermans (not even prints – before you pop round to rob me: photocopies of prints. Wonky photocopies n all) that make me remember the heroine of my novel (I’ve fallen a bit out of love with the word protagonist) but no matter how many times I look at them lately my brain’s on a patch of ice, or a laminate floor with a rug on, or maybe roller-skates, because it won’t stick to anything it’s meant to stick to. It keeps getting angry and picturing Nicky Morgan’s bug-eyes and wanting to ruminate on the fact that, if Inspiration Trust invade my daughter’s school (the Hewett in Norwich), we’ll be making profit, by proxy, for a bunch of millionaire Tory donors. That’s definitely not something I want to do.

Other things I don’t want:

  • a Principal instead of a head teacher
  • chanting
  • rigour
  • tradition
  • children referred to as ‘products’
  • an openly right-wing deputy and an openly Catholic head (sorry, Principal).

The last time I checked, homosexual activity was ‘contrary to natural law’ in the Catholic church. In our school we have several gay or bisexual children. Last night (at the second of our parent ‘consultations’ on the future of the school) I raised the issue of LGBT rights in the light of Inspiration Trust’s avowed ‘traditional values’. I wanted the Catholic head, newly appointed, to offer a firm commitment to positivity around homosexuality (along with a woman’s right to choose, and the continuing rights of teenagers to access free contraception at the Base (a community centre operating on the Hewett site) in direct contradiction to everything their religion holds dear.

Sheree Dodd, however, (who was orchestrating the consultation at taxpayer expense), shut me down. I raised my hand again later, but sadly the sands of time had run away with us (probably while the White Men in Suits who constituted the panel were rambling on: this was the kind of consultation where some were more equal than others; you know – the unfair kind).

I’ve done you a little gallery here… I’ve even done you some captions: but owing to the fact I’m having fancy circles instead of boring old squares (because I’ve had enough of boring old squares at these bloody consultations) you’ll have to click on the pictures to read the captions. (It may not be worth it. Your call. Life’s short.)

It’s worth blogging about this, I think, because the kind of consultation we’ve been ‘enjoying’ this week will very shortly go the way of this: Unknown-2 Stary Nicky announced an education bill last week. This bill will enable her to ‘sweep away’ (her words!) the ‘bureaucratic loopholes’ (aka parents’ views) in order to push through the forced academisation process with a speed as yet unseen. At the moment it takes, on average, 13 months for the journey from ‘troubled’ community school to glorious academy. With Morgan’s sensible court shoe on the gas it could take as little as two months in future. In other words, from this: fifi to this:

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Always good to have a pic of Jeremy Clarkson looking twatty. (Basically every picture of him ever taken, then.)

If you think this is a good thing you’re probably an idiot and should stop reading now because the rest of this post will only irritate you further.

I think we’ve got up Morgan’s nose. I’ve tweeted her enough times that there’s a passing chance she makes the sign of the cross when she sees my name (another rightwing Christian; awesome). Last night I was so far up the nose of Sheree Dodd that I could’ve investigated for ‘Gove’. ‘We heard a lot from you last night,’ she said, slapping me down again. Well, we heard a lot from Ian Burchett, too: that’s the IT guy, and for IT read Inspiration Trust, BTW. Wouldn’t want to give the impression that anyone connected with academy BS is remotely Roy or Moss-like:

99.99% cooler than anyone connected with IT.

100% cooler than anyone connected with IT. And that’s a statement of fact.

You know what else is a ‘statement of fact’, according to Ian Burchett? Only one child (yes, one child) in the whole of Norwich defected from the Hewett to one of our brand-spanking-wholly-unnecessary-new free schools, Jane Austen College (owned by Inspiration Trust)! It really is true. Ian Burchett does have that kind of information. It isn’t opinion, or supposition, but a ‘statement of fact’.

He was in the mood for offering these cast iron sorts of statements last night.

Oh, hang on, no. Except he actually wasn’t! He couldn’t say ‘how long’ Jane Austen would remain in their present location (where, as I pointed out, they have no frigging windows! ‘I said please don’t send me here; it’s like a prison,’ as one child remarked to me last night). He couldn’t say why Dame Rachel de Souza, head of IT, should be negotiating over the future of Hewett’s land when – silly Rachel! She must’ve forgotten – she doesn’t own it yet. He couldn’t say anything concrete either about the future location of the newest player in the IT empire: Charles Darwin Primary Academy. He couldn’t say much about ‘traditional values’ either, except that, in his universe, traditional means ‘learning taking place in classrooms’. Or summat like that. No, it didn’t make sense to me, either.

I am roundly mocking him because it reflects the contempt shown to us by Inspiration Trust. We Hewett paupers are so terribly lowly that Dame Rachel couldn’t be arsed to show her face, but sent a stooge instead. I know supermodels used not to get out of bed for less than £10,000 dollars but FFS we have 54 acres of land, worth sixty million quid, at our disposal. The stooge didn’t even do us a bloody powerpoint. I’ve talked before about Aristotle’s definition of the distinction between empty (but impressive) rhetoric and genuine policy. Burchett had neither skill under his belt. I don’t pretend to be a policy maker, but I can write a speech: Mr Burchett, if you want a hand in future, I’ll help out! I rewrote the FAQ sent to us by our Interim Executive Board (IEB) whilst waiting to be (wo)manhandled by a gastroenterologist on Monday, so you see it won’t take me too long. What’s your hourly rate? I extend this invitation to the IEB as well: if you’re struggling to write a job advertisement you don’t need to ask IT to do it. I used to write job specs for a living. Once again, if you quote me your (own) hourly rate I could probably undercut it by, oh, 75% and still feel decently rewarded.

Anyway, we’re holding our own public meeting next Tuesday, 16th June at 7 p.m. There’s a link here if you’re Norfolk based and you’d like to come along. We’ll be talking about the same lack of choice I was talking about on this Future Radio story on Norfolk’s schools. We’ll be talking – honestly – about IT and why, no matter how Stary Nicky insists otherwise, they’re not the right fit for our non-traditional school. All the white men in suits, and Sheree Dodd, have been publicly invited (by yours truly) and rest assured I’ll be most upset if they don’t show their faces. I’ll (probably) blog about the meeting here.

And then… I’m done, I think. I really, really, really do have a book to finish. I’ve got to get back to it. My soul has got little bits of blackish bad stuff attaching to it, like lungs in anti-smoking ads, and I reckon it’s time for a detox.

Update: this post has been edited in light of the recent pointing-out to me, on ye olde twitter, that our incoming deputy is not, as I’d originally stated, a Catholic. He is, however, a Gove fanatic. Both these things are, of course, manna from heaven for an atheist pinko such as myself.

On the telly box.

Getting it right, getting it wrong. Not minding.

One day soon I will actually blog about writing my novel. (Before trading standards come knocking.)

One day soon I will actually do some work on my novel.

Neither of those things, however, will be happening today.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you may know that 2014 was a year of such cataclysmic awfulness that it’s almost been wiped from my head. For most of that time, I didn’t know how I would carry on being alive. I thought I was pointless and awful. It took a long while to get better. Some days would be bearable; some would be worse. There’s no rhyme to these things, and no reason. You just have to keep showing up every day and believe you’ll recover eventually.

did recover. I am recovered. I’d had an unpleasantly sticky break-up, on top of other things, and it takes time to un-plunge yourself from the bog of lost affections. ‘You’re more like you,’ my daughter said to me the other day, ‘now you’re single. You used to complain all the time… and now you just get on and do things.’

It’s like being an alcoholic, though, or an addict: you don’t just get better; you have to stay better, actively, as I wrote about here. Just the way a relationship needs to be worked at, you need to keep working at loving yourself. Is it harder or easier to love yourself than someone else? It should be easier, right? But it isn’t, not always. I think people (especially women) often make allowances for undeserving others. It’s way easier to make such allowances for someone you fancy (and unless you’re really peculiar, or else Narcissus, you don’t usually fancy yourself…) ‘Well, he did try to call me, but it wasn’t his fault a passing magpie swooped through the open window and, in the process of trying to steal his phone, hit the delete key with its beak, so you see he had no way of knowing my number and, what was even worse, he was nude when it happened, and Christ knows how but the magpie’s claw must have caught the camera button, because that’s the only possible explanation for the willy pic he accidentally sent my hot best friend.’

I think you catch my drift.

Good things and bad things have happened in the last few weeks. I’ve made sensible decisions, and I’ve made some really stupid ones. The kind that are so stupid you auto-cringe whenever you think about them. I’m auto-cringing a bit now.

This is the face of the auto-cringe.

This is the face of the auto-cringe.

But so what? There are worse things than cringing. Worse things than making a dick of yourself. What I’ve come to believe is this: if you don’t take chances, your life will be shit. If you want something, ask for it. Speak up, speak out, speak your mind. Have a go. You will fail sometimes. Things will happen that make you feel silly or sad. I’ve felt silly and sad quite often, the last few days, but I’ve also felt totally fucking awesome. I feel proud of myself. I will keep making twatty decisions, I’m sure, because one of the many facets of my personality is, if I’m honest, a bit of a twat. I did something a little bit twatty last night, when I’d guzzled some wine, and I might be a twat again later. There’s no way of knowing.

But yesterday I did some cool stuff too. Nicky Morgan, our fabulous Education Secretary, announced a bill of such stunning stupidity, arrogance, and injustice that our school campaign got a much-needed fix of publicity. These links won’t last for long, but you can see me here (about 8.15)

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and here (at about 2.15) having a ding-dong, and here (at about 0.57) walking around in a car park.

Windswept in the city.

Windswept in the city.

If you’d rather not look at my mug anymore you can hear me here with a fellow campaigner, Jo Smith, on breakfast radio this morning around 40 minutes in. And we made a pretty good team, if I say so myself.

And even though it turns out my forehead is way more crinkly than I thought it was, I’m proud of myself for stepping up.

Because, what the hell, there’s always Botox. And, yes, I’ve messed up (yet again) this week. But I’ve also done good things too. So long as, occasionally, I can do something good then I’m happy to carry on being a twat, occasionally, too.

Such massive love for Lucy in Peanuts, I even named my daughter after her.

Dear Ofsted.

There’s a certain, very famous Longfellow poem I expect you’re familiar with (although, hang on, Gove’s not fond of American literature, is he?):

There was a little girl,

Who had a little curl,

Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good,

She was very good indeed,

But when she was bad she was horrid.

While I can’t lay claim to curly hair (without the assistance of heated appliances, or else a particularly sweaty night) I think there’s some relevance, for me personally, in the last three lines.

I’m a fairly mild sort of person most of the time. I wouldn’t say I was good, exactly; but most of my acquaintances would likely be willing to chuck a ‘nice’ in my direction. Sometimes I can be very nice. When the mood takes me. I’m usually kind. I find kind things to say down the back of the sofa when there isn’t any obvious kindness immediately to hand. I smile at animals in the street. I say cheerful things about the weather to passing neighbours, even if those neighbours have passed my car on more than one occasion with the express aim of checking the date on my tax disc.

But, you know what? Don’t piss me off.

Don’t piss me off because, believe me, I will argue till the cows come home, and that first generation of cows will have withered and died and in fact their grandchildren will also have long been home and quietly resting in fields of chewed grass by the time I finally shut my gob.

Such massive love for Lucy in Peanuts, I even named my daughter after her.

Such massive love for Lucy in Peanuts, I even named my daughter after her.

I just like the last word. Always have; always will.

I think it’s a consequence of growing up with Tory parents. (Although, happy day, Mum has now defected to Labour.)

Before I explain, let me first bring some shame on my head by confessing to something:

Until the age of nine I, too, was a Tory.

Just because, you know, my parents were. And then my middle school held a mini election in class. We listened to the parties’ policies and made our considered nine-year-old decisions and, after hearing the arguments, the party I voted for was… Ecology. (1980s incarnation of the Greens.) This was a surprise to me. My thoughts and feelings weren’t, after all, that similar to my mum’s and dad’s in this respect. I actually had my own opinions. And they were strident. And natural-seeming. They seemed to have formed the way cliffs do, for instance – without even meaning to; in response to the buffeting of the world around them – or much as a freshly rinsed white linen sheet (in my house) will attract, by the laws of inevitability (and Sod), a black cluster of cat hair within twenty-five seconds of leaving the washing machine, even if both cats are currently outside. It’s a conundrum.

What was I talking about?

Ah, yes. Well, I grew up arguing, you see. I was hot-headed and angry, and so was my dad, and we’d clash about twelve times a minute when I lived at home, because I cannot stand (just cannot stand) being told what to do, or to think. And it may be that I do it anyway, what you want me to do, but – trust me – the resentment is building, and one day, whether it’s a giant ding dong (not as pleasant as it sounds) or the metaphorical scissoring of your life from mine (like an angry divorcee with the family photo album), you are going to know about it.

Ofsted, you have been pushing me for a while now. I’ve said nothing. Or next to nothing. In fact, I semi-defended you on the radio a few months ago (‘I’ve got no particular beef with Ofsted’, I think were the words), but you – and the government that has hold of your reins – is really beginning to piss me off now. First you helped capsize my daughter’s school with your doom-mongering of the knee-jerk variety (all your reports are knee-jerk, dear Ofsted, because you simply don’t spend long enough to make reports of a more considered variety), and now you’re coming for adult education.

Let’s stop for a minute and talk briefly about the education of adults.

How do you define an adult?

The dictionary says ‘person who is fully grown or developed’. Immediately, see, we’re in murky waters, because ‘growing’ and ‘developing’ are so open to (mis)interpretation. I’m 41 and still not sure I’m a grown-up. It’s one of those things that’s hard to define.

Something else that’s hard to define? Enjoyment. According to Ofsted, it isn’t enough for my learners to enjoy my classes; there has to be evidence of achievement on a scale from one to five, or one to ten (it keeps changing), and something called a RARPA (I still don’t know what that stands for) that may or may not be the same as the ROA (or possibly the ILP) and learners must self-assess themselves in order to evidence achievement against a range of SMART targets (don’t ask), and if you replace the words ‘giving’ and ‘receiving’ (in the following clip) with ‘evidencing’ and ‘achieving’ you’ll have a good idea of the massive balls that teachers are forced to regurgitate, over and over again, for the benefit of Ofsted, because Ofsted have no real way of assessing the success or failure of actual teaching. The only thing Ofsted know how to assess is paperwork.

In my classes I teach consenting adults. I say consenting because everyone’s here, primarily, to enjoy themselves. Yes, they want to learn something – and they will learn something, I guarantee it; or else! – but that something can’t always be easily proven in any meaningful sense. They have fun. We get on. As a person I suck in a number of ways, but I think, as a teacher, I’m good at making people welcome. How would Ofsted know? They wouldn’t. They’ve never once visited one of my classes. They’ve never seen one of my lesson plans. If they had, they wouldn’t like it…

I’m not meant to use these lesson plans anymore. We got slated by Ofsted a few months ago (more specifically, the management team were slated; hence, by association, the teaching has also been tarred… because them’s the rules). If you’ve worked in teaching in the last ten years you can probably picture the carnage. We can’t move for steering groups and rapid intervention teams and six-page lesson plans with space for each activity to be checked off against Ofsted’s Every Learner Matters criteria:

  • Be healthy – promoting excellent physical, mental, emotional and sexual health
  • Be safe – ensuring all learners stay safe from all forms of harm
  • Enjoy & achieve – making progress in learning and personal development
  • Make a positive contribution – developing self-confidence, social conscience and enterprise
  • Achieve economic wellbeing – preparing for financial independence

In my lesson plans, I’m supposed to achieve ‘number two’ (being safe) by ensuring my learners remove their bags from any gangways.

I’m actually supposed to write this into my lesson plan. Every week.

These are adult learners: professionals, past and present, with far greater economic wellbeing (for the most part) than the poorly-rewarded tutor who’s teaching them. It is really appropriate for me to make space in my lessons to help prepare an eighty year old retired policeman for financial independence?

I have yet to promote the sexual health of any learner, young or old.

As for three and four: come on! This is what you do your teacher training for. Once you’re trained, why can’t someone assess you (once, twice, thrice if you like) on probation – and once it’s been proven that (a) you’re not a massive bitch and (b) you do actually know, mostly, what you’re talking about, then leave you to get on with it. Would that be so crazy? You could have an appraisal once a year – you know, how they do in other jobs. I’ve had lots of other jobs: in shops, in offices, in restaurants… even a summer spent French polishing furniture for a pervert (don’t ask)… I don’t recall inspectors leaping from the woodwork to assess me, unannounced, in any of those jobs. (Although actually, in the latter case, an inspector might’ve helped.)

We have a peculiar new magazine called the Rising Standard (which I’m almost a hundred percent certain is what Nigel Farage calls his wang), and a red alert system to summon the rapid intervention team if a learner goes AWOL. It’s like a police state. I hate it.

I just want to teach. Is that too much to ask, Ofsted?

Shit. Where's he gone?

Happiness is a little kid next to a river.

Over the years I’ve thought happiness was a place to get to. Nine enormous lit-up letters, nestling in the hills somewhere like the Hollywood sign. And as soon as you get there: pow, like a comic-book sock in the face, you see stars. Hello, life. You can start now. I’m happy. And happy is how I’ll eternally be. Of course things will go wrong: I’ll forget to buy butter, and cats will still vomit, and Mailer’s Law decrees that every writing class I teach will contain a student who’s hell bent on being a bell end… but once you’ve arrived at Happiness you’ll manage these things happily and all shall be happy, as Julian of Norwich nearly said, and all manner of things shall be happy.

Of course, this is bullshit.

There’s a story about the Hollywood sign. One ordinary Friday evening in 1932, when the sign was only nine years old, a young actress called Peg Entwhistle climbed to the top of the letter ‘H’ and dived to her death down the side of the mountain.

If you go about life thinking ‘happy’ is somewhere uphill and you’ve just to climb to the summit then rest up forever, you might go the way of poor Peg.

That’s why happiness isn’t a place, or a state, or an end in itself. That’s why happiness, I think, is a little kid next to a river. And the bank’s a bit slippery, and he’s not really watching his feet, and his laces have just come undone, and that’s dog poo he’s about to step in, and who’s that weird man in the bushes – are those binoculars he’s holding?

And you, yeah you, are responsible for that kid. If you don’t keep your eye on him, unhappy things are going to happen.

Shit. Where's he gone?

Shit. Where’s he gone?

Happiness, too, has got to be kept an eye on. As any fule kno it looks perfickly lovely from the outside, watching kids play by the river. But under the skin of the outside it’s different. If you’re the one tasked with ensuring that child returns safely alive at the end of the day it’s less perfick and lovely than constantly stressful in small sorts of ways: like a kettle that can’t ever come to the boil but keeps trying to start. (Just been teaching my daughter about systems of imagery for her poetry paper this morning, and boy does this blog post need one…) You can’t close your eyes for too long, you can’t properly read, you can’t talk without having to check, check, check – and each check is accompanied by a squirt of adrenalin and after all, before you know it, this isn’t actually as much fun as you hoped it would be. Roll on bedtime.

That’s life too, right? Sometimes (not always) it isn’t as much fun as you hoped it would be. And then there are days, of course, when it’s downright fucking awful.

Even on downright awful days you can still be jolly.

How, Lynsey?

By deciding to be. By tending to your happiness the way you’d tend a tottering two year old by a fast-flowing river. By looking out for it.

It’s not in the big things: the new job, the fancy house, the lottery win. It’s a known fact that people who break every bone in their body can end up as happy, eventually, as a person for whom the giant sparkly finger said, ‘It’s you!’

As hard as it seems to believe when you’re going through shit, it’s not actually life events that make you happy. Except momentarily, fractionally, fleetingly. It’s a tiny bird hopping beside you when you walk into town, or treating yourself to sugar in your tea. It’s a text from a friend. It’s playing the ornaments in a Chopin nocturne exactly the way you meant to (fingers don’t always do what they’re told, as any piano-playing fule kno). It’s noticing colours, lights, sounds, faces. It’s walking along a warm street lined by trees and remembering that, even though you hate your legs in every cosmetic sense, you’re incredibly lucky to have them. It’s finding the right word. It’s cuddling a person you love. It’s throwing a bobble for your cat to chase. It’s being told you’re the staffroom pin-up in your new job because your students gave you such glowing reports, and that teachers you’ve never met in a school you’ve never been to are supporting your campaign against academisation and know who you are, and think you’re kind of cool.

In other ways the week’s been shitty. Campaigning is scary and stressful. I haven’t been sleeping, and eating’s gone out the window too (even Sainsbury’s knock-off nobbly bobblies have lost their appeal: don’t buy the real ones, people, because: Nestle…). I’m waking at 1.45, or 2.25 if my brain’s being kind, and I re-plump my pillow and pull down my eye mask and try to get back to the dream I was having, but this happens:

Twice this week I’ve been marking at 4 a.m. which doesn’t seem fair or proper for someone so poor she has holes in 87% of the clothes she owns, but there we are. Life is what you make it. You have to keep paying attention: and, yes, your purse has just dropped down a drain with your house keys in it, but maybe you never liked that purse anyway. And maybe you’ll have to ask help from a passing stranger, and maybe that stranger will have a long pole, and it might be the start of a beautiful friendship, etc.

My cat’s on the bed and he’s well cute. I had five hours sleep last night instead of two, so yay me, I’m winning at that, and I’ll bury my face in his floofy belly and not care too much about big things going well or wrong or so totally tits up you can hardly bear to think about it. All there ever is, in life, is this moment. The thing I just wrote? It’s already the past.

So is this.

Now is life.

And now can have happiness in it, no matter what, if you just keep an eye out.

Really serious now.

Forty-one and fighting.

I wrote this exercise for my Write Club group a couple of weeks ago. I call it I am born and it’s simpler than a two times table or the sky in a child’s painting or… other random things that are also quite simple. (My brain doesn’t seem to be working today: I blame the election.)

It has to be written in present tense (or else I’ll come round personally and tell you off) and each ‘chunk’ of your life is addressed in a single sentence: you’re aiming to capture a snapshot from that part of your life.

Lickle me and my nanny Gladys.

Lickle me and my nanny Gladys.

I am born and my hair is black. 

I am four and I look fat in photographs.

I am twelve and I still believe in God. 

I am fourteen and nothing has really gone wrong yet.

I am sixteen and miserable now, heaven knows.

I am eighteen and aching to leave.

I am twenty four and I don’t know yet that I’m pregnant.

I am twenty five and feeding fifteen times a night.

I am twenty nine and serious about writing.

I am thirty-one and sad about my skin.

I am thirty-five and can see the hill in the distance.

When I read this to the group in class I opted to maintain an air of mystery, amidst the crows’ feet, by stopping at thirty-five. But life didn’t stop at thirty-five, I’m glad to say (although, back then, I did feel it might be winding down, like that hideous bit when the lights come on at the end of a party and everyone blinks).

In another life I’m fairly sure I was a tortoise (slow and thoughtful; fond of lettuce), and hence, you see, I’ve decided I was just in hibernation. Under the straw in somebody’s shed. Tucked away in my shell.

But it’s Spring now. On my street, as I write this, lawns are being mowed. There are wildflowers in the grass strip between lanes on the way to the Sweet Briar Roundabout and, in between watching idiot drivers weave from one lane to another, without so much of a blink of their lights, I can turn my face a fraction of an inch and see those flowers. They make me smile. Am I silly for smiling at flowers? You might think so. I don’t.

There is always more life to be led. Well, not always, of course. I haven’t yet become immortal. We lost both our tortoises one awful Spring when my mum left them too long in the shed and if sheds are a metaphor for death (which, apparently, they now are) there’s a shed waiting for all of us, eventually. Which is why it’s important to do things now while you’re alive. Not tortoise-y things, bless them, because four hours with your face in a water trough isn’t something I’d particularly sanction (and neither is humping your good lady companion whilst she’s chomping lettuce; there’s a time and place for these things, as I used to think, in my childhood years, glancing out of the bedroom window to see poor Flash in the process of being molested by Speedy) but you can certainly come out of your shell (see what I did there) and get involved with your community, your country, your world a wee bit more.

And so I’m campaigning. Not like a tortoise; more like a yappy dog (that a fair few people would probably kick in the face, if they could). I’m campaigning because it’s wrong not to, if things are happening that you’re not very happy about, and you have a voice (I think I do).

Since I started campaigning I’ve been lucky enough to sit on a panel for the People’s Question Time with Natalie Bennett and Rufus Hound, where I shared my experience of depression (among other things) and finally got to say a public thank you to the nurses who played such a big part in keeping me alive last year.

Photos courtesy of John Ranson and Ann Nicholls.

But the fight continues. We have a Tory government, and our Tory government is hell bent on privatising every last inch of our country. They’re hell bent on privatising my daughter’s school, and if that’s something you, too, feel strongly against, then join our campaign here on Facebook.

And so, as this post ends, we come to the end of my timeline (so far):

I am forty-one and fighting.

Long may it continue.

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Lynsey White’s journey to fighting against the Inspiration Trust

*Please note: this post has been edited.*

In writing this post I have been inspired by an inspirational post on the inspirational website of the inspirational academy chain called Inspiration Trust.

I am no longer going to link to this post, nor name the author. Perhaps it is unfair to single out an individual and perhaps it detracts from the larger battle. Perhaps it should also be noted that individuals can be placed under pressure by companies for whom they work.

Nevertheless, this particular individual was happy to sling the first blow by suggesting that those who sit on the sidelines shouting and moaning about his employers, Inspiration Trust, were basing their observations on nothing more than ‘lazy twitter comments’.

Here’s one of these lazy twitter comments. Actually, it took me a whole four seconds to take that photograph. Another ten seconds or so to upload it and a minute or two to compose an appropriately concise slogan.

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But it’s taken weeks and weeks and weeks of being ignored by the Department for Education and Inspiration Trust for me to reach the point of snark. If de Souza had come and fecking well asked if we wanted to give her our 54-acre school site, worth approximately £60 million, we’d have told her very politely: ‘No! But thanks for asking.’ and sent her on her way.

However she has never asked. And never will.

People ought to ask. They really ought. Along comes a group of venture capitalists and Tory donors. Along they come. And they can prise your locally-owned school from your poor, cold fingers, and snaffle the freehold, and cream off the profits from businesses run on the site (never mind that Norwich taxpayers paid for that site), and splurge taxpayers’ cash on designer tea sets and furniture (£420 for a Vera Wang tea set; over £3000 for two armchairs) whilst advertising for cut-rate unqualified teachers and driving away the ardent, the outspoken, the unionised… (Look at their staff turnover if you don’t believe me: it isn’t just the unionised pains-in-the-butt, either…)

They’re not great at IT, either, in spite of their chain’s initials…

Neither has Sir Theodore Agnew, the chair of Inspiration Trust, come cap in hand to Hewett and said, ‘Hello, lovely yokels! May we please have your school and all its land?’ Theo Agnew is also, since you probably didn’t think to ask but ought to have done (because, hello Tory democracy!), the chair of the Department for Education’s Academies Board. Oh, and also he sits on Policy Exchange, the right-wing think tank which ‘advises’ the Department for Education on all matters educational. Did I forget to mention he’s great friends with Lord Nash, the DfE’s Academies Minister? Perhaps I neglected to say that he’s also a Tory donor, to the tune of several hundred thousand pounds. Oh, and one last thing! He made his fortune outsourcing work to India, where graduates could happily earn a pittance for doing jobs for which he’d have had to pay unskilled British workers more. 

Actually it isn’t the last thing, since I probably ought to say that he went to an independent school (Rugby, I think, off the top of my head), failed his eleven plus, and has a crinkly fat-cut chip on his shoulder about anyone and anything to do with education.

Such are the men (for they are, primarily, men, with Trophy Woman Rachel de Souza providing the female touch) who are taking slow hold (and I said ‘slow’ because I like the way slow and hold sounded together, quite menacing, although in fact they’re doing it rather quickly; rather bloody quickly indeed) of our education system and please, please, please will everyone stop wetting themselves over the r*yal baby and find the inspiration to sit up and say, actually, no, we don’t want all our schools to fall into the hands of private businessmen who do this sort of thing with them.

And hence my journey: not to work for Inspiration Trust, but to oppose them.

At Hethersett Academy, owned by Inspiration Trust, there is a tiny room. It is the isolation room. It is where children are sent to spend the day alone when misbehaving. It is a room where a child with special educational needs can be sent to spend the day alone.

It isn’t called Room 101. But it doesn’t have to be, does it?

This is where we are heading if we don’t do something now. 

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Raining on the parade.

I was seven when Charles married Diana. My street had a party. My mum or dad bought me the Ladybird book about the wedding, and to this day I remember my fascination with the name of one of her bridesmaids: Clementine.

It was all quite exciting, I seem to remember. Also the sausage rolls were very tasty. They always taste better on paper plates.

Fast forward thirty years or so and I’m walking home with radio four on my headphones, swearing out loud in the street at the fawning coverage of the ‘royal’ baby’s birth.

The thing is, yes it’s lovely that Kate and Wills, or whatever their names are, have  had a baby – by which I mean: it’s lovely for them. It’s lovely for the baby’s gran and granddad and aunties and uncles and so on and so forth, as it’s lovely for all families when a new arrival comes along. But the grown men and women who’ve camped for twelve days outside the posh London hospital where poshos give birth (is it just me, or does Lindo Wing sound like a Bond villain?) must surely be in need of psychiatric care. When the ‘duke’ arrived with ‘the toddler prince’ there were screams from the audience. Actual screams. 

I don’t mean to be rude, but: WTF? In a country where our Prime Minister (although, fingers crossed, not for much longer…) goes to great lengths to avoid being seen, or snapped, with his titled chums – mere peasants, of course, when compared with the ‘royals’ – because that sort of thing doesn’t ‘play well’ with the electorate… why, then are we falling over ourselves on bended knee to lick the boots of the land’s most toffish toffs?

Does anyone really believe (really, truly) that God chose Queen Elizabeth to rule us?

If the answer is no, then un-bend your knee immediately, un-doff your cap, get the next bus out of London and stop saying silly things on the radio about how it’s all been ‘worth it’ – for a glimpse of the toddler prince and then, some time later, a tinier glimpse of his new sister’s head in a shawl. ‘We’ve got a princess!’ said one of the crowd, excitedly, in a strong Geordie accent.

I don’t want to rain on your parade, love, but I doubt she’ll be round Newcastle way any time soon.

Although I must admit, this is a novel way to give birth.

Although I must admit, this is a novel way to give birth.

It’s the feel good factor, according to radio four. But what, exactly, are we meant to feel good about?

A night’s stay in the Lindo Wing is £5,913. (Kate gets a discount, having used the Lindo once before.)

This doesn’t include consultant’s fees, which are roughly £6000. (Reminds me of my own labour! I lay on the floor of the day room in the dark, by myself, for a couple of hours, because I didn’t want to wake the sleeping women on my ward.)

According to the Torygraph, the ‘Cambridges’ will hire a second nanny – one per child – although:

‘the Duke and Duchess are determined their children should have as normal a childhood as possible, and since they moved into the newly-refurbished Anmer Hall at the end of last year they have been immersing themselves in local life.’

This is Anmer Hall.

Anmer-Hall_3272919b

This is the ‘royal’ baby’s second home, Kensington Palace, where taxpayers picked up the £4 million refurbishment tab:

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Meanwhile, in other news, here are the contents of a food bank box from the Trussell Trust:

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Here’s an interesting fact:

20,247,042 meals were given to people in food poverty in 2013/14

Here’s another, from Barnados:

There are currently 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK. That’s almost a third of all children. 1.6 million of these children live in severe poverty. In the UK 63% of children living in poverty are in a family where someone works.

Did you know that some children in Britain today don’t know what a banana is? Food banks can’t often give fruit, because it doesn’t keep.

A hundred people every day, too mentally ill to work, have their benefits sanctioned (i.e. stopped) for paltry reasons. Forty two of them leave the benefits system altogether. Only seven enter work.

That’s thirty-five mentally ill people every day who don’t have a penny to live on. And, thanks to these sanctions, a hundred thousand children are suffering.Through no fault of their own. (Even if you ‘blame’ their parents.)

But yeah, you’re right. I should be celebrating. Two small children get to live in luxury forever at our expense.

Hurrah.

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Old Maid

Courtesy of the fab blog In the Media by the fab blogger Naomi Frisby (who is well worth a follow on twitter as well) I came across this collection of spinster cut-out dolls on Literary Hub. This is Edith ‘Age of Innocence’ Wharton, whose quote is my favourite of all:

Spinster_BookClubKit-dragged-1240x958

I am myself a spinster, being over forty and having never married. I do have a daughter and I think I’ll be horribly lonely at first when she goes off to university (and yes, you will go, darling daughter, no matter what you occasionally toss into the conversation about taking a different route through life…) but actually, in terms of needing another ‘half’, I think in fact I don’t. Need one. I feel whole.

Hair is seeping from places that used to be smooth, and stray bits of me (teeth, hair) are dropping off, and the other day I happened to turn my arm over to look at a lumpy scar I’ve had for years and my elbows look really old. I have spots and melasma. I snore. I get really worn out. I hate parties. (Don’t all rush at once for my phone number.)

Perhaps I’ll feel differently one day, but now I don’t care. I like work. I like reading and thinking and walking and watching TV by myself. I like going to libraries alone, and the cinema too, and I’ve got friends (and my daughter, occasionally, when I unstick the glue that attaches her lately to her friends) and I’m not really sure what marriage is for, if I’m totally honest. It seems to be totally fine for some people. For people who want it that’s totally fine. I even tried to join in once, a while ago, but it’s not my forte, I don’t think: marriage, relationships. Oh, I like it at first (I suppose everyone does), but then afterwards isn’t it all a bit hard and upsetting and boring? Either you don’t care enough, or you care too much, and the two of you seem to switch places every so often – caring, uncaring – and what about all of that effort we put into reassuring each other: she isn’t more pretty than you, I promise; I wasn’t flirting, etc? Stay single and channel that effort somewhere more interesting instead.

Spinster_BookClubKit-dragged-2-1240x958

Whether or not I’ll read this book Spinster that everyone’s talking about, I don’t know. I like these cut-out dollies, though. I don’t even mind the word ‘spinster’ although everyone says it isn’t fair because ‘bachelor’ is much cooler. To which I say: really?

Sir-Cliff-Richard-attends-a-press-conference-to-announce-details-of-his-new-album-at-Gilgamesh

ASMR, f*ck yeah! Russell Brand liberates ASMR from obscurity in the style of Team America liberating Paris...

ASMR, f*ck yeah!

Fair play to Russell Brand. He gets off his arse and does something, and just lately I’ve begun to understand how difficult and time-consuming and plain bloody admirable that is.

But this week he’s really got my goat.

I was watching a video on his channel (an admirable video) about taking direct action against the sort of buggers who are trying to nick our school (more to follow on this), and just as I was feeling a wee bit mean for linking to Parklife on another post I noticed this:

So, cheers for that, Russell. Have a gratuitous Parklife link in return:

First of all: female porn is just porn. Sometimes it’s porn with a knowing edge to it but it’s still porn. Willies are out and proud and enjoying their usual excursions to all the usual holes. The men tend to be better looking in female porn, but otherwise: tis porn as we know it.

I’m subtly insulted by his olde-worlde implications that women are titillated – yes, in their nether regions – by the mere fact of somebody paying them attention.

Russell Brand on ASMR reminds me of the Living and Growing DVD that convinced a nation of 5 to 8 year olds that feathers were an essential part of sex.

Russell Brand on ASMR reminds me of the Living and Growing DVD that convinced a nation of 5 to 8 year olds that feathers were an essential part of sex.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/vYVJwBkg1D8

Secondly (and here you can imagine me emitting a primal scream) why the red-top headline? Surely, but surely, RB already has enough attention without needing to sex-up (and, hence, smear with the pervy brush) something that’s (eventually, hopefully) going to be a key part of mental health strategy? You might as well call meditation ‘mental masturbation’ and have done with it.

Not in public please, love.

Not in public please, love.

Russell, although undeniably a man of the world, has come blundering into the ASMR debate like a horny cow at the crockery counter.

ASMR, f*ck yeah! Russell Brand liberates ASMR from obscurity in the style of Team America liberating Paris...

ASMR, f*ck yeah! Russell Brand liberates ASMR from obscurity in the style of Team America liberating Paris…

You might as well ask a nun about the ins and outs of tea-bagging as ask someone who doesn’t experience ASMR to ‘explain’ ASMR to his million-plus followers.

So, what is ASMR, I hear you ask?

Er…

All right. Hands up. If you don’t experience it, you will think it’s weird. You’ll think it’s creepy. You’ll want to stay especially clear of Hailey WhisperingRose who is mainly composed of bosoms (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and posts videos in which she ‘snuggles up’ with you:

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…or invites you on a date.

Hailey cooks up a feast in the ASMR kitchen.

Hailey cooks up a feast in the ASMR kitchen.

Okay. Wow. I’m really not helping myself here, am I?

Let’s talk about onions. This is my absolute favourite ASMR video.

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This is someone who calls herself Fairy Char. And she cooks caramelised onions. That’s all she does. She begins by lightly stroking the uncooked onions (because people who get ASMR like scratching and stroking noises) but other than that: there is no inappropriate handling of onions. The onions get peeled and go straight in the pan. They start cooking. Her clothes remain firmly in place at all times. She discusses the merits of onions. Perhaps you might like to include them on a pizza topping?

PHWOAR. Right, Russell?

He talks about ASMR as if it’s a fetish.

It isn’t a fetish.

I mean, I like onions, but I don’t like them like them.

ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) has always (we think) been around. I used to experience it years ago, and it wasn’t until another writer said: ‘Hey, do any of you guys get this weird tingly thing when someone talks to you slowly?’ that I realised there was a whole community of tingle heads out there. And I WASN’T WEIRD, because other people felt it too.

I used to get it on first days at work (of which I had several, as a temp in London) when somebody soft-of-voice was explaining, and pointing, and speaking at a certain pace… (And would promptly ‘come round’ afterwards none the wiser on how to work the photocopier.) Now and then a cold caller’s voice will fall into the exact rhythm that triggers my ASMR and I won’t even listen anymore to what they’re actually saying, about double glazing or needing my bank account details as a matter of urgency or whether I’ve heard of business opportunities recently in Nigeria, because all I hear is the cadence of it. And it’s lovely.

The key thing is that people shouldn’t feel WEIRD for experiencing something so fecking fantastic. I’m genuinely sorry for you if you don’t experience it, because it’s kind of like your brain’s in a bubble bath being soaped by velvet hands while angels serenade from on high and nothing matters except that feeling. You’re properly in the moment. You don’t even have to stare at a raisin for a really long time; you can soak your own head in the bliss of mindfulness and watch the world’s shit drift away.

Also, it helps you sleep.

So who cares if you have to keep minimising your youtube window when you work in the library, because sometimes, yes, there is oddness on screen:

The inimitable Tony Bomboni. Credit where credit's due: he's got some balls.

The inimitable Tony Bomboni. Credit where credit’s due: he’s got some balls.

I listen to ASMR a lot when I write, and it prickles my brain and keeps giving me tiny spurts of joy that help me write better, more happily, and I’ll quite often have two windows open at once and some Brian Eno overlaid on the crackle of frying onions because, wow, then I’m in heaven.

The University of Sheffield have a study going. The scientific community is slowly waking up. This is a medication free way for people who suffer stress, anxiety, and depression to lift their spirits for a bit. I suppose, if the women (and men) who ‘perform’ in these vids (ASMR-tists) are easy on the eye that’s because they get so frigging close to the camera (to whisper in each of your ears in turn, using binaural mics) the profession does tend to invite those confident enough about their lack of nostril hair and pustules to actively enjoy extreme close ups.

But that doesn’t make it porn. If that makes it porn, then 97% of the output on mainstream television is porn. Porn is:

‘printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement.’

See, Russell, nothing about onions.

EDIT: I feel duty bound to add an update here. Since posting this, a couple of months ago, I have been fairly swamped (by the standards of this ole blog, at least) by people searching for ‘asmr porn’ and ‘haileywhisperingrose tits’. Not sure what that proves, if anything, but in the interests of full disclosure…

The lazy servants have brought the tea at last. However they have only brought one cake. When her friend has gone the woman will speak to them sharply.

Even Hedgehogs Get the Blues, and Other Bedtime Tales.

Settle down, children, and I’ll tell you a story.

This hedgehog owns a school. It is a large school.

This hedgehog owns a school

She looks happy.

The hedgehook looks happy. That's because she is happy.

But she is not happy. She is not happy because her school has a tiny garden. This is her garden.

Only one tree

She is sad because her garden is shit.

My garden is shit

Whenever she looks at her tree, all she sees is failure. The man in charge of the country says there will be zero tolerance for failure. She is afraid.

‘I am special and important,’ she says to herself. ‘My school is special and important. My school should have a bigger garden.’

So the hedgehog invites her friend to tea.

The tea has not arrived yet because the servants have not brought it. The servants are not achieving at optimum levels. If they are not careful they will be sacked.

The tea has not arrived yet because the servants have not brought it. The servants are not achieving at optimum levels. If they are not careful they will be sacked.

Luckily the hedgehog’s friend is in charge of schools. She is wearing a blue dress because she likes the colour blue.

The lazy servants have brought the tea at last. However they have only brought one cake. When her friend has gone the woman will speak to them sharply.

The lazy servants have brought the tea at last. However they have only brought one cake. When her friend has gone the hedgehog will speak to them sharply.

‘I’m sad about my garden,’ says the hedgehog.

‘I’m sad about it too,’ says her friend.

‘I walked past the village school last week,’ says the hedgehog. ‘Their garden is very big.’

The village school has lots of trees.

The village school has lots of trees.

‘Yes,’ says her friend. ‘It is much too big. Also the teachers are pinkos.’

‘They are really taking the piss with that garden,’ says the hedgehog.

‘Luckily,’ says her friend, ‘the school inspector is going to visit them this afternoon.’

This is the school inspector. He likes arithmetic.

This man is the school inspector. He likes arithmetic.

The village school has only one chair.

The village school has run out of chairs

They asked for new chairs from the woman in charge of schools.

She said no.

The inspector calls. It is a sunny day. The children are playing in the garden with their teacher. Their teacher likes pink.

It is a sunny day. The children are playing in the garden

But the inspector is angry. He takes the teacher into a spooky room filled with shadow.

He tells the pinko teacher off.

He speaks angrily to the pinko teacher. The children have not yet learnt ‘Dover Beach’ by heart! Their school is failing.

Now the inspector must leave. He has an appointment for tea at the school with only one tree.

The servants have not brought the inspector a cup. They are really in the shit now.

The servants have not brought the inspector a cup. They are really in the shit now.

‘The village school is failing,’ says the inspector to the hedgehog’s friend.

‘We must take away their trees,’ says the hedgehog’s friend.

‘Be quiet!’ says the inspector. ‘We must go upstairs.’

‘I don’t think of you that way,’ says the hedgehog’s friend.

‘You are flattering yourself,’ says the inspector. ‘We must go upstairs to talk about the trees or else the pinkos will be angry. The pinkos will say we stole their trees to give to our friend.’

They go upstairs to talk about the trees in secret.

The woman in charge of schools meets secretly with the man in charge of inspecting schools

The hedgehog is definitely not listening at the door.

Later that day, the woman in charge of schools sets off in her motorcar.

Her friend goes everywhere with her. He used to be in charge of schools until the pinko teachers said mean things about him. He was very sad about this.

Her friend goes everywhere with her. He used to be in charge of schools until the pinko teachers said mean things about him. He was very sad about this.

‘Your school has failed,’ says the woman in charge of schools to the pinko teacher. ‘We are taking your trees away.’

The woman in charge of schools arrives

Her friend is hiding in this picture. He does not want to be seen by the pinko teacher.

‘What will happen to our school?’ says the pinko teacher.

‘I do not care,’ says the woman in charge of schools.

You have not learnt your equations. You must give your trees to my friend.

The children say goodbye to their trees. They belong to the woman in charge of schools now. She will take them to her friend.

Now I have your trees

Hurray! Here are the trees

‘Here are the trees!’ says the woman to her friend, the hedgehog. ‘They are yours now.’

‘Hurray!’ says the hedgehog.

The school inspector is hiding behind the trees.

Here is the school inspector. He is hiding behind the trees

He is camera shy.

The hedgehog looks happy. That’s because she is happy.

The hedgehook looks happy. That's because she is happy.

Very happy.

Very happy.

The End.

Sleep tight, children!

Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons living, dead, or hedgehog, is purely coincidental. 

Upside down world

Landlubbers, and life on the ocean wave.

It’s hard when you don’t get a ticket. It’s hard and it’s sad. I mean, after all, this isn’t the Titanic we’re talking about; this ship really is unsinkable, and some of the very best people you know are onboard already – or racing down the gangplank – and the worst thing is that you’ve been onboard before, a few times, years ago (you hitched a lift to the Cape of Good Hope but the Horn of Bad Luck was just round the corner and you fell with a splash into murky water)… So you can’t even tell yourself it’s a shit boat and the entertainment’s Jim Davison and the captain is Old Gregg.

No, it isn’t the boat that’s the problem. The boat is just fine. More than fine. It has all the English canon onboard and most of the Yanks as well, except people like Hemingway, who’s gone off in his own fishing boat with a bottle of turps (it takes a special kind of drink to get a ghost pissed), and Salinger, who went shopping for ear plugs on shore leave, once, and was never seen again.

I am, of course (of course! You mean you didn’t realise?) talking about rejection.

I’m talking about rejection through the hackneyed metaphor of ships setting sail. More specifically, the ship of literary success that was docked in the harbour for years and years and years and yet somehow, in spite of the fact you were once at the front of the queue, you failed to get a ticket.

Harrumph.

It’s a little bit rubbish, sometimes, this writing lark. You put yourself out there, and the editor says:

And your heart goes bang-bang-bang and the critic that lives in your head says never write again and then these guys appear:

Call yourself a writer? I'd call yourself a taxi to Loserville if I was you...

Call yourself a writer? I’d call yourself a taxi to Loserville if I was you…

And yesterday it was sunny but now:

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And your face is all:

itcrowd

And you come across this on the internet:

I can tell you now, God. You need a bigger jar.

I can tell you now, God. You need a bigger jar.

And you feel a bit:

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So you go for a walk, and you walk to a bridge, and you stand on the bridge and look down at the river. You take out your phone for a photo and tap a few words in a memo:

Upside down world

Look in the river. It goes down forever. The sky is in it. 

Darting insects make the river wink. 

A boy is fishing.

Shirt as red as flags. I’m here, it says. I live.

Birds fly through the water-sky. 
Or is sky-water better?
You put your phone in your pocket, go home again, and boil the kettle. Book, tea, blanket. You always get sick on boats, anyway.
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How to stay alive.

If I hadn’t been so clueless, I wouldn’t be here today.

The only reason I’m still alive is that, rather than gobbling a handful of pills in one go, I took each individually: thirty-five paracetamol and five of my Dad’s blue pills (for his bad back… this was 1989 and Viagra was but a glint in a drug rep’s eye). All this swallowing took enough time that my stomach rebelled and disgorged quite a lot of its contents before I could fall asleep.

I was sixteen years old at the time. And, yes, you have read this correctly. I once attempted suicide.

People are talking today on twitter about #youngmentalhealth, and seeing the hashtag made me realise that, actually, this is something I want to share. I shared it with my own daughter a year or two ago, after a local school student committed suicide, because I wanted her to know that know. I know how it is when you cannot go on… and I know how it is, the morning after, to be woken up, dopily, for your Saturday job at the library, a suicide note in your pocket, your family in shock and bewilderment. Frogmarched into the garden and walked up and down in the biting wind of a February morning. Rushed to the hospital. Stomach pumped. (I’d describe the pumping better if I could, but my brain doesn’t seem to remember it. All I have left is a couple of ‘flashbulbs’: a doctor’s white coat gaping open, come on, Lynsey, we’ve got to do this, and the fact that my throat was being awkward, refusing to swallow the tube. (I always was contrary.)

Anyway, not that you need me to tell you this, but it’s horrible. Having your stomach pumped is horrible.

I was sky high for hours afterwards. A psychiatrist came and discussed my most intimate details with nothing for soundproofing except a plastic curtain. ‘These young people,’ stage-whispered the old lady next to me. ‘They don’t know how lucky they are.’

As I said, this was 1989. I’m not sure what it’s like these days, for an over-dosee, but back then they dumped you with everyone else in the general medical ward. You weren’t terribly popular either. You’d made extra work for the doctors and nurses. You didn’t know you were born, and what did you have to be sad about anyway? Your whole life was ahead of you.

That, of course, was the problem. That is the problem, when you’re really sick. A whole life is ahead of you. And what if it’s all as horrendous as this little bit of it?

If this was a story you’d call it far fetched, but a boy from my school was wheeled in, later that night, having taken an overdose of aspirin after a row with his girlfriend (his ears ringing tinnily because of it, which is one of the consequences). Amazingly enough, he suggested I get into bed with him. (Of all the places I’ve ever been hit on, etc etc.) I declined.

This whole time, although nobody told me, they still didn’t know if I’d live or I’d die. Paracetamol has that effect: once the damage is done, then it’s done.

I was lucky.

But the thing is, you see, I did wake up. I didn’t die. I was glad to wake up; I had come to my senses. It wasn’t too late, for me, and I want to say STOP if you’re thinking of ending your life. Stop and think. Stay alive for another five minutes, then five after that. There are good things ahead of you. Honestly. I promise. A porter came whistling in while I lay in that hospital bed, and he stood a vase of daffodils on my bedside table, and he didn’t say anything but he smiled at me. A whistling man, a smile, a vase of daffodils. That’s all it takes, sometimes. If this blog post can be somebody’s vase of daffodils – yours, maybe – then I’m glad I wrote it.

Stay alive, please.

Wise words from Margaret Atwood.

The year I grew balls.

A book, a chair, a glass of wine. Such are the ingredients for a happy evening.

Add Margaret Atwood to the recipe and you have a properly fantastic evening.

Not just Margaret Atwood, but Margaret Atwood at the Book Hive reading from her new collection of stories Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood shaking your hand, Margaret Atwood telling you inspirational tales of Robert Louis Stevenson’s semi-accidental creation of Treasure Island, Margaret Atwood signing the following on your copy of Stone Mattress:

Margaret Atwood

The reason she signed this was because I asked her to. This is what I do now. I decide what I want, and I ask for it.

People can always say no, after all. (On occasion, they do.) They can also say yes.

Last year, 2014, was my annus horribilis. This year, so far, has been awesome. The fun started just before Christmas, at the tail end of the annus horribilis. I woke up one morning with balls, and decided I’d take a quick punt on tweeting a blog post of mine to the pianist and mental health advocate James Rhodes.

Moments later, this happened:

When James Rhodes retweeted me!!!! Hurrah!

Shortly afterwards, Derren Brown (who probably needs no introduction) posted the link on his Facebook page.:

WhenDerrenBrownlinkedtomyblog!!! copy

As a consequence I got my first ‘1K’ likes:

MyFirstEver1Klikes! copy

And I had the HUGE reward of being told, by several people, that my blog had helped them. Really helped them.

Good things do emerge from the ether sometimes, with no warning, but often – more often, it seems – they are likely to happen to those who go after them: don’t ask, don’t get, after all.

And so, in the spirit of living dangerously (NB by which I mean relatively dangerously: you’re unlikely to see me engaging in extreme sports any time in the next century) I applied for a TV game show (and got through the audition… watch this space!) and managed to land a lovely job teaching narrative strategies (posh name for ‘storytelling’) to animation students at the Norwich University of the Arts. I joined the campaign to save our local school from academisation (as I posted about last time) and ended up, somehow, on my soapbox as the opening speaker at Saturday’s demo.

I’ve set up my own Write Club in partnership with Norwich’s Maddermarket Theatre (beginning on April 11th, Norfolk peeps, if you’re interested) and, probably best of all, I made a guest appearance on the youtube channel of a certain Lucylou:

The awesome Lucylou would probably love you forever if you clicked through to youtube and gave her a thumbs up, by the way…

This time last year I was down in the mouth. I was cross and resentful and couldn’t bear anyone to mention my ex, his new partner or even their two little pugs. But things change. Yesterday, among numerous Mothers’ Day treats planned by the aforementioned Lucylou, we took the puggies to the park together.

And, as you can see, it was awesomely fun. If slobbery. Fun things often are slobbery, though, aren’t they?

So here’s to 2015: my year of living both dangerously and slobberyishly. (And making up words if I want to.)

And, finally, let me make clear that the having of testicles isn’t remotely connected to courage or brass neck or bravery. I just like the word ‘balls’.

That boy knew how to lean.

Change and the common girl.

I’m having a bit of a renaissance.

When I was fourteen I went to an all-night screening of John Hughes films at the local ABC and, watching Pretty in Pink, I remember despising (strong word, but the right one) the subplot about Iona, the thirty-something record shop owner, and her pursuit of true love.

Why is she even bothering, thought fourteen-year-old Lynsey? She’s so old, it’s too late, let’s see more of Steff (James Spader) leaning expensively on cars.

That boy knew how to lean.

That boy knew how to lean.

I wasn’t a complete idiot, though. This was always my favourite scene, even then (although I probably, yes, definitely used to have a massive heart-swell when OMD played at the prom where Andie and Blane – yes, you are reading those names correctly – were reunited at last over some oddly-sliced pink silk and chiffon. PLOT SPOILER. Oops, sorry).

Iona, the old-timer, is the disturbingly young looking creature in the pillbox hat.

These hastily-assembled teenage opinions came roaring back to bite me on the bum a few years ago when my daughter made the comment (apropos of something I’ve since forgotten): ‘What do you know? You’re thirty-five, you’re nearly dead!’

So, yes, I am now older than the old-timer Iona. Curiously, I have wound up giving that name to a character in The Novel That Dare Not Speak Its Name, so perhaps she had more of an influence on me than I realised.

What I want to say is that it’s fine over here, on the other side. Over the hill. The big hill that, in my imagination, has the numbers 4 and 0 in the style of the Hollywood sign. (The hill that seems mostly to be a part of the female landscape, IMHO, whereas men, perhaps, really understand this particular hill when they’re closer to 50. Or even 60. But I digress…)

The thing about being over the hill is that you’ve climbed it already. So, first of all, you deserve a goddamn cup of tea, in a fancy flask. And a biscuit. Give your old feet a rub. Have a natter with your fellow climbers about watercolour painting and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and admire a passing bird with royal blue plumage.

And then, oh aged one, hoist those binoculars because there is lots still to see on the other side of the hill. And the going is, well, it’s less hilly. One might say it’s Norfolk. It tends towards flatness.

Edward Seago: 'A Norfolk Landscape'.  In hills, it is somewhat deficient.

Edward Seago: ‘A Norfolk Landscape’.
In hills, it is somewhat deficient.

The thing is, you see, that until you’ve climbed the hill you can’t see over it. You can’t see what’s there. The young still milling about at the base of the hill, or a little way up it, can’t peek yet (or possibly peak) because ‘over the hill’ is a place you can only see once you get there.

And it’s freaking awesome! This won’t be everyone’s experience, I know. And it wasn’t mine, either, until a few months ago. All I could think of, sadly, daily, were the things I’d lost. The ways I’d changed. The wrinkly crinkly face I was growing. The strange sudden urge to throw ice cubes down my top every so often. The inability to walk twenty yards without dripping in sweat.

And, yes, those things still happen. I’m still wrinkly, crinkly and, often, incredibly hot (and not in a good way). But, you know what?

Meh.

There’s so much else to be getting on with. So many dreadful and wonderful things have happened in my life already: the dreadful things – well, no matter how dreadful, they’re rarely forever. And as for the wonderful things, it’s your choice to acknowledge them or not. A wonderful thing (as I said in another post, once) can be watching the wind on a stinging nettle, because so many wonderful things had to happen for you to be watching that wind and that nettle: the gift of sight (and it is a gift), the gift of freedom, liberty, aloneness (yes, they’re all gifts too), alertness. Aliveness.

I did a bit of rabble rousing yesterday, at a rally to save our local school from academisation.

Photo by ace photographer Lucy White.

Photo by ace photographer Lucy White.

I even, briefly (and silently) made the local news.

Angry and be-hatted of Norfolk.

Angry and be-hatted of Norfolk.

When I was younger, I wouldn’t have done that. I wouldn’t have bothered, and I wouldn’t have felt confident enough. I was too busy heaving myself up the hill (with a pushchair, to boot). There are lots, and lots, and lots of women in the Norfolk flatlands over that hill who have things to say and do and share. I never particularly thought I was worth it, to quote L’Oreal, because (a) upbringing (we’re kind of mousy in my family) and (b) what if I make an arse of myself?

But so what. It’s no biggie, making an arse of yourself. You always feel better the day after doing something, trying something, than the day after running away from it all.

So, don’t run away, my fellow hill climbers. You already ran up a hill (or crawled, or plodded): the scenery’s lovely, the tea’s hot, the biscuits are chocolate. There’s no going back, and it’s foolish to try. You can no more be 20 again than 11, or 8, or 4… Now is now. You are you. I’ll raise my fancy flask to that.

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Alzheimer’s, and other embuggerances.

Today Terry Pratchett has died. Today Terry Pratchett has died, and although I confess I’ve read embarrassingly little of his fiction this death has hit me harder than any other ‘celebrity’ death.

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This is going to be an odd little blog. A departure from my usual tone. My Dad was diagnosed with PCA, the particular kind of Alzheimer’s from which Terry Pratchett suffered, in the months following Pratchett’s own diagnosis. For that reason, my family and I have followed the very public progress of his illness with more interest than most. I sat down, one evening in (I think) 2007 and watched him, on a TV documentary, failing to tie his tie, trying a new-fangled treatment (a sort of futuristic hat), facing his diagnosis with the good-natured kind of bravery we all, secretly, hope we’d find inside ourselves in the same situation.

It’s a hell of a diagnosis. To face it as sunnily as he seemed to is a wonderful thing indeed. I’ll find myself suddenly, usually when driving, remembering moments, less than a decade ago, when my dad was a different man entirely. When my dad was still my dad. One day, not yet (thank God), there’s a chance he won’t know who I am. There’s a chance he won’t know I’m his daughter. The nerves in his brain are dying. His cortex and hippocampus are shrinking. He can’t read a book, do a crossword. He struggles to put down a cup on a table. It’s hard and it’s cruel and it’s not bloody fair.

As I write this, I’m raising my glass of white wine to my dad (in the full knowledge it ought to be beer, his tipple of choice), because I’ll always, always, be your daughter, even if, one distant day, you no longer know it.

And I’m raising my glass to Terry Pratchett too, this man I never knew, and barely read, for his bravery and his good nature. As a human being, he was top bloody drawer.

Rest in peace.

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The Spam Chronicles: an open letter to Angelina from Minsk, Belorussia.

It’s been ages since I was offered a larger willy.

Last week I was hailed as, variously, an Anal Explorer and a Pussy Sensei (my cats attest to the latter qualification). More recently I’ve been swimming in invitations for lifelong love in the arms of young Eastern European women.

Hello friend, I am writing this letter to invite you to this website, with an intention of meeting you there. Maybe you are the Mr. Dependable, the Mr. Perfect and exactly the one I search for. Well I have always wanted to meet foreigners who are so interesting with their gentle and sophisticated nature and stylish looks. My Prince charming should be reliable, loyal, humble and courageous or in other words the perfect man and a dream-come-true for me. I am Angelina and I am from Minsk, Belorussia. Ours is a small country with lots of political problems but we still try to be happy and live life to the fullest. I am a straightforward and humble girl who believes in finding my true love sooner or later. 

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It must be fun writing spam. (Second only to choosing colours for paint shades.)

As it turns out, replying to spam is also fun…

Hello Angelina from Minsk, Belorussia! I received your ‘letter’ with interest. (FYI in English we call this an ’email’.) I confess I am somewhat perplexed. You refer to me as your friend (my apologies if we’ve already met and I’ve simply forgotten)! I must confess I am ignorant on the subject of Minsk (besides knowing that Phoebe’s scientist boyfriend, David, was relocated there in Episode 10 of the famous television show, Friends, entitled ‘The One With the Monkey’. Do you receive this programme in Minsk, Belorussia, Angelina?)

I’m sorry to say I shall not be joining you on the website you mention. 

Allow me to tell you my story, Angelia from Minsk, Belorussia, as you’ve been so kind as to tell me yours. Or perhaps… might I call you Angie? You referred to me by a number of touching epithets: ‘perfect’, ‘dependable’, ‘gentle’, ‘sophisticated’, ‘stylish’. You also referred to me as ‘a man’. Dependable I may be, and one might also make a case for ‘gentle’. Sophisticated and stylish are rather less certain and surely, Angelina, you remember the final line of Billy Wilder’s ‘Some Like it Hot?’ Nobody, Angelina, is perfect. 

With one of your assertions, however, I must take issue. A moment’s exploratory foraging in the underpantal region has reinforced for me the pre-existing notion that I am, indeed, a woman. On this issue, as so many others, I’m afraid I must disappoint you, Angie from Minsk. 

Minsk.

I’ve never said that word aloud before. I’m saying it now, Angie from Minsk, as I picture you in your small country with lots of political problems. 

It’s only fair to inform you that you are currently competing for my affections with Yoshiko Centini, location unknown, possessor of ample breasts and butt, and Eugenia, a middle-class girl from Petrozavodsk in Russia, whose upbringing has rendered her free-thinking and liberal. (Amplitude of physical attributes as yet unknown). Poor Eugenia, so busy in the ‘computer labs’ of her software firm that she rarely has a chance to ‘mingle’ in nightclubs. ‘Left behind’ in personal life. My sympathies, Angie, are beginning to drift towards Eugenia…

If I just knew a little more of your taste in literature, Angie. What films do you enjoy watching? Do you have any firm beliefs on God’s existence? Where do you stand on monogamy?

Is this you, Angelina from Minsk?

Is this you, Angelina from Minsk?

I’m wondering, you see, if you’ve thought sufficiently of the day-to-day nature of ‘true love’ as opposed to the fantasy version exemplified by your reference to ‘Prince Charming’? One might say that ‘Charming’ and Cinderella have remarkably little on which to base a lifetime together. For instance, does Cinders enjoy long walks, foreign films, nights out with friends? Does Charming have a good sense of humour? Perhaps he is passive aggressive, controlling. He might be a drinker.

It’s hard to be sure of these things from an evening’s dancing together, abruptly severed at the stroke of midnight. Frogs may turn to princes, in the realm of fairytale, and indeed, in the realm of what we call ‘Real Life’, a prince may suddenly, nay shockingly, unleash his inner frog, so to speak, on possession of his ‘princess’. 

I’m concerned for you, Angie. You’re too pure for this world. ‘Reliable, loyal, humble and courageous’ are certainly good qualities to aim for in your search for lifelong love, but you may find the juxtaposition of ‘humble’ and ‘courageous’ somewhat rare once you move from the digital dating realm to the actual. How ‘humble’, in fact, was Prince Charming in the aforementioned fairytale? I saw no evidence for this. Neither do I feel sufficiently informed to make clear judgement on the issue of his bravery and/or reliability. 

'Charming' is rarely synonymous with the other qualities you profess to be seeking, Angelina.

‘Charming’ is rarely synonymous with the other qualities you profess to be seeking, Angelina.

Let me end this response by wishing you all the very best in your search for love. Had I, after all, decided to pursue the tempting offer of an eight inch appendage with which to give the ultimate in sexy satisfaction all night long, perhaps I could have been your ‘dream-come-true’. Let me humbly, if not courageously, suggest that you search within for the fulfilment of your dreams, Angelina from Minsk, Belorussia. Certainly you shouldn’t count on a prince to fulfil them for you. Indeed, if one can believe the recent revelations with regard to a member of our royal family here in England, it may be a very different variety of ‘happy ending’ that he’s hoping for. 

Yours in sisterhood,

Lynsey

Teacher writing on a blackboard

Other people’s work.

One of the hardest things about being a writer (unless you happen to be Stephen King, Jackie Collins, John Grisham etc) is having to spend the lion’s share of your time reading other people’s work.

You have to do this because it’s notoriously difficult to make a living from actually writing. Unlike bank managers, say, who are able to pretty much exclusively manage banks for a living, writers are expected to also have ‘day jobs’. A novel that takes upwards of two years to write (and some take much, much longer) could earn you far less than the minimum wage. A sobering thought, she writes (reaching for the wine glass beside her).

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An ‘umble writer begging for a crust of bread.

Some of you who read this blog will already know that my ‘day job’ (and, often, my night job too) is Creative Writing Teacher. if you’re interested in seeing the sort of things I teach, I direct you to the Exercises menu up above (i.e. at the top of this screen; it isn’t floating in the sky, I’m afraid. Although I sincerely wish it was). The actual teaching is fine, and often fun, and even though the cows have come home hours ago I’m still talking about writing… which is my silly way of saying I rarely run out of things to say about fiction. I love it. I love helping people get better at writing, and (most of) my students are extraordinarily nice human beings. They send me hampers of Cornish goodies to enjoy whilst watching the tennis and buy me notebooks at art exhibitions and give me ruddy lovely books for Christmas. (Students, you know who you are.) Many of my students have become friends, and that’s A Good Thing.

So I’m not carping. But I spend hours, and hours, and hours reading other people’s work. I spend hours, and hours, and hours writing comments about other people’s work, and then suddenly I turn around and… shit! I was meant to be writing a novel.

Today is one of those days. I literally (I really do mean literally) cannot remember what I’m writing about. Which scene was I on? What’s my novel called? How does one write a sentence that isn’t a response to a sentence already written by a creative writing student? Why does an ice wind blow when I open the Scrivener file with my novel on it? (And while we’re asking questions: is it positive or negative that my dishwasher’s broken? Washing dishes by hand is labour intensive, yes, but Agatha Christie got her best ideas while washing up…)

The weird thing is, I think teaching has made me a better writer. I’m much faster, now, at deciding what I think about a sentence, and landing – with the accuracy of my cats in the vicinity of a spider – on the precise problem that’s causing an ending to fall flat, or the reason a piece feels empty, or the single thing (sometimes the single word) that needs adding to make a thing make sense. I’ve got better and better at structural editing. Words and sentences have always felt either ’round’ or ‘non-round’ to me (round being good…), but now I can feel the roundness or non-roundness of an entire story, or scene, with fairly impressive speed. (Other people’s, I hasten to add. I’m still more tortoise than hare when it comes to my own work.) I’m good at striking out sentences that are nothing but echoes of what’s gone before. If a sentence says nothing new, then you ought to remove it. I’m good on the difference between story and plot, and I ought to have some kind of cape and a tight lycra costume for my superhuman efforts to eliminate the twin beasts of the Info Dump and the Unnecessarily Fancy Speech Tag.

All this makes me better, faster, simpler, more honest. Reading is reading (whether published or not), and writers ought to read. Must read. (I doff my cap here to Andrew Miller who writes, in the Guardian’s masterclass on fiction – ebook available here – that a painter who wishes to paint a tree must do two things: look at trees, and look at pictures of trees. Well said, Sir.) It isn’t the reading, per se, that’s the problem: it’s the mulling, and pondering, and probing, and mulling, and pondering, and commenting, and wondering, and mulling, and pondering, etc that a conscientious teacher does, and does at great length, quite often, while the clock ticks, and the day darkens, and the memory of her own novel creeps quietly into a corner and lightly festoons itself with cobwebs.

I'm not remotely religious... this was the best image I could find of a dusty book.

I’m not remotely religious… this was the best image I could find of a dusty book.

Anyway. That said, I must go. I have marking to do. And dishes to wash. And a novel to write. But that’s another story…

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What’s the point of art?

What’s the point of art, eh?

Does society owe artists a living?

Such were the topics for debate on Radio 4’s ‘You and Yours’ today. I listened while hanging out the washing on the multitude of radiators and clotheshorses jam-packed into the tiny flat I share with one daughter, two large pets (having had to say goodbye to our very lovely house-bunny earlier this month), and several hundred books, DVDs, and CDs.

Shelfie.

Shelfie. (The book I’m holding is ‘Jar Baby’ by the very awesome Hayley Webster… which I have been too busy – writing my own paltry novel – to actually read yet… Such is life.)

I carried on listening while various callers rang in to explain the point of art, or to moan that their hard-earned taxes were being relentlessly frittered away by men in tights, or frizzy-haired women sculpting vaginas from plasticine and nasal hair (these may not have been the actual words), or to point out (as if it was axiomatic) that art is a middle class affair for people whose wallets are bristling with fifty quid notes. If art can’t pay for itself, why should we?

Why indeed?

Because of people like me.

I grew up in a seventies house with wood chip walls, and salad cream (instead of mayonnaise), and a packet of dried spaghetti that sat at the back of the cupboard, unused, for at least five years. My dad got drunk in the pub every Saturday. Mum did the ironing in front of the telly. Pot Noodles were treats. As a kid I waltzed round in my brother’s handed-down jeans (which were awesome, with crossed swords on the knees). I never got the Play-Doh hairdresser’s I begged for. When money was tighter than usual I sat, aged seven, concocting a plan: I would cut all the grass in the garden with scissors, thus saving… electricity, I suppose (even though, as I seem to recall, we had a push mower). It seemed like a very good plan at the time.

I was far, far poorer than all of my friends. They had houses with hallways. Their parents owned classical music. They went to the South of France for their hols.

By comparison, we were poor as church mice. I still am as poor as a church mouse.

But I loved to read.

More than that, I excelled at reading. In fact, I was better at reading – and writing – than lots of the wealthier, middle class kids. I mean, look at me: I use words like ‘axiomatic’. (Actually, I don’t, very often. I heard Lou Reed use it in an interview twenty years ago, and looked it up.)

Because of that love for reading, I managed to do well in school. I did well enough in school that I went to university (the first person – the only person – to do so in my whole family). My brother loved drawing, and ought to have gone down the art school route; but didn’t. Didn’t feel able. Wasn’t encouraged at school (because he was less academic than me) and has wound up in one job after another that he doesn’t really like. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in the last few years, it’s the value of having a job that you like.

Shall we pause for a moment and think of a world without any literature? Music? Film? Television? Perhaps, now and then, a few shillings are spent on the sort of esoteric, elitist work that’s never going to set the world alight, and perhaps, yes, you could say it’s a waste of the taxpayer’s money when people need hip replacements, heart bypasses, chemotherapy. But the money for hip replacements and heart bypasses and chemotherapy exists a hundred, a thousand, a million times over in the purses of the wealthiest one percent of the country who live, parasitically, off the worker-bee efforts of millions of minimally-rewarded Britons. It isn’t a modern-day restaging of Tristan and Isolde that’s eating into the NHS budget; it’s the fundamental unfairness of the capitalist system. And if you accept (as everyone seems to) that communism – although sensible and fair in principle – inevitably gets effed-up in practice, then let’s all understand the same about capitalism. The cream on the top of the milk is going to fat cats with private planes and plastically-altered wives (or husbands, of course), not frizzy-haired ladies and their plasticine vaginas.

And even if it was… so what? For every plasticine vagina there’s a Rembrandt. For every overly-ambitious Metal Machine Music (sorry, Lou) there’s an Emperor Concerto.

Imagine a world without Beethoven's music... (subsidised, like Mozart's, by the patronage system).

Imagine a world without Beethoven’s music… (subsidised, like Mozart’s, by the patronage system).

A crucial part of art is failure. Another crucial part is waste. If you don’t want to subsidise art – any art – then I hope you like sitting alone in silence with nothing to look at and nothing to read. If you want people to excel in their artistry then you must fund their failures as well as their successes. Of course I wouldn’t choose art over life-saving surgery. But art makes the life-saving surgery worth having. From cave paintings and tales told round campfires to men in tights and plasticine vaginas, humans need art.

What’s the point of life without it?

Blog book quiz

Lynsey’s completely arbitrary, rather silly, possibly unfair Literary Quiz.

It’s Sunday and I’m in a silly mood. I’m also in training for an upcoming audition for a certain ITV quiz show… hence I’m currently boning up on UK PMs and US Presidents and Kings and Queens of England and/or Scotland and even the periodic table.

Which got me thinking…

Q: How come I’ve never had a quiz on this blog?

A: Because I’ve only just worked out how to do them.

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Anyway… For those of you, like me, who enjoy answering random questions of a Sunday morning, here’s my (fairly pointless, just for fun, absolutely no cash prizes) Literary Quiz… I would be tickled pink if you’d post your scores in the comment box!

My face when someone asks about my novel.

When I’m Queen (PS this book is driving me fricking crazy)

If words were beans you could feed the whole world with the words I’ve expended in writing this novel.

You could paper the walls of houses up and down the length and breadth of England with the drafts I’ve printed out and chucked away.

If you stood all my sentences end to end they would stretch to the moon.

if you broke them all up into letters you’d need a Scrabble bag the size of Russia to hold them.

And yet… and yet… and yet…

I still haven’t finished it.

That word haunts me. Still. As in: ‘You’re not still writing that novel, are you?’

Another favourite is yet. As in: ‘Haven’t you finished that book yet?’

My face when someone asks about my novel.

My face when someone asks about my novel.

When I’m queen we shall outlaw ‘still’ and ‘yet’ in all public discourse on the subject of printed works and their nearness to completion and/or the duration of time thus far expended with the purpose of completing said printed work.

We shall, in addition, outlaw the asking of these questions by all persons not sufficiently, themselves, acquainted with said process.

Prithee, kind sir, refrain from your impertinent questioning.

Prithee, kind sir, refrain from your impertinent questioning. Instead, bringeth cake.

When I’m queen, those persons who, personally, have no prior, personal experience of the production of a printed work of novel-icular length, shall be disallowed from the raising of eyebrows when excuses are made responses are given. Any and all persons encountered by the person encountering Herculean labours in novel-icular service shall select from the list 7(b) to be found in Appendix 12(f), titled: Soothing Statements. Under no circumstances should comparisons ever be drawn with rocket science or coal mining. In such cases (as indeed sanctioned by the Pope himself) a punch in the face may be forthcoming.

To speak plainly…

I think I may have stuffed up my novel.

Gulp. (And other four letter words.)

So, yes, I am still writing my novel and, no, I haven’t finished yet. Soothing Statements gratefully received.