Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Arms



Apologies to those of you who don't know the back of a horse from the front, and frankly couldn't care less. Here are two photographs taken this morning of me riding my darling Al Kateef. In the top shot my arms are as stiff as pokers and look at poor Al Kateef's head. I think he's saying, "Ouch! You're hurting my mouth!"
In the second photo my instructor Hussein has come into the arena to shout a bit at me - (and wave his long whip around)and just look at the difference in Al Kateef and myself - now there's a straight line from elbow to bit and we're in tune with each other

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Docking Station


He asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I gave him a quite detailed list - a bottle of Un Jardin Sur Le Nil, a Sony HandyCam, a sports watch, Christmas edition of the Spectator, The Natural Confectionery Company's jelly dinosaur sweets, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, Tefal's new chip pan - because years ago he bought me a collection of Alexander McCall Smith novels that I'd already read -
And what did I get for Christmas?
Yes, well, I didn't know what it was either.
He was very enthusiastic. He said, "I spent hours choosing this in the shop. I listened to all of them. This one is top of the line. It has the best sound quality."
"Yes, but what is it?"
"An iPod docking station."
"What's an iPod docking station?"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Team Tinsley


Once Beatrice learns to rise to the trot and Rex recovers his bottle I'm thinking I might teach them how to play polo - if only I could be sure they'd use the mallets to strike only the ball and not each other...

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Christmas Carol


I'm reading the children A Christmas Carol. They've been listening patiently enough but I've been wondering if perhaps it's too difficult for them to understand, what with the old fashioned language and adult themes.
So today we watched A christmas Carol The Musical with Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge...
And in the midst of all the singing they told me: "This is exactly the same as the book, Mum. Everything Mr. Scrooge says in the movie, he has already said in the book..."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Home Thoughts from Abroad


Sometimes I wish I could fly home for Christmas. To frosty skies and roaring log fires. A hamper from Fortnum and Mason. Carol singers sipping mulled wine. The Christmas Day rerun of National Velvet. Then I read something like Republican Rudolf on-line from my local newspaper and I remember why I don't live in Northern Ireland any more...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Stocking


Bahrain is an island with a busy seaport; ships from all over the world drop anchor. The children have each filled a stocking to give to four sailors for Christmas.
This is what they chose for each stocking:
Deodorant, shaving foam, razors, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, chewing gum, sweeties and Vaseline.
The Vaseline was my idea - to stop the sailor's lips from chapping at sea.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Manners Maketh Man


Manila: An act of gallantry paid huge dividends for a 'humble gentleman' who won $17million in a Philippine lottery after letting a woman jump a queue and buy what would have been his losing ticket.
The 63 year old winner's elation when collecting his money this week was tinged with empathy for the excited lady who pushed in front of him, the Lottery said. "The woman cut in. He was being very gentlemanly so he just stepped back and allowed her," said Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office chair Margie Juico. "When he won he kept thinkig: how sad for that woman. She could have won the big prize if she had just been patient."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tequila Christmas Cake


1 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup water
1 tsp. salt
1 cup brown sugar
Lemon juice
4 large eggs
Nuts
1 bottle tequila
2 cups dried fruit
Sample the tequila to check quality Take a large bowl; check the tequila again to be sure it is of the highest quality.
Repeat.
Turn on the electric mixer. Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar. Beat again.
At this point, it is best to make sure the tequila is still OK. Try another cup just in case.
Turn off the mixerer thingy.
Break 2 eggs and add to the bowl and chuck iin the cup of dried fruit. Pick the fruit up off the floor.
Mix on the turner.
If the fried druit getas stuck in the beaterers, just pry it loose with a drewscriver.
Sample the tequila to test for tonsisticity.
Next, sift 2 cups of salt, or something.
Check the tequila. Now shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts.
Add one table. Add a spoon of sugar, or somefink. Whatever you can find.
Grease the oven.
Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over.
Don't forget to beat off the turner
Finally, throw the bowl through the window. Finish the tequila and wipe the counter with the cat.
Cherry Christmas
Enjoy

Thursday, December 2, 2010

PC


Can it really be true that these three gollliwogs were originally called Golly, Wolly and Ni**er? Thanks to political correctness they've been rechristened Wiggie, Waggie and Woggie. It's just a pity political correctness stopped at the renaming of our heros and didn't censor their dirty habits. Allow me to quote a sentence on p.140:
'Now that afternoon Wiggie went out to buy some cigarettes.'

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Brotherly Love


Rex and Bea are very good friends when they're not killing each other. This morning Bea was struggling to tie her shoe laces. Rex stopped gelling his hair(!)and sat down on the day bed beside her. I over heard him saying: "Just copy me and I'll teach you.... Now this is the difficult bit... Noone can do this the first time..."
It took a while but he perservered, and now Bea can tie her own laces.
"I'm so proud of you Rex, you're such a lovely big brother!"
"Thanks Mum."
Five minutes later they were fighting again - he pulled the bunches out of her hair and she kicked him hard on the shin with her well laced up trainer.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

eBay


I think I might have an eBay addiction. These parcels contain stuff I recently won, forwarded from my address in N. Ireland - each parcel a work of art, thanks to my mum who is a disciple of the plastic supermarket carrier bag and thick brown sticky tape school of wrapping...
And as for the contents - Joules poloshirts for riding - 'teenager aged 14' fits me well; 'Ladies size 10' fits my daughters...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Patience is a Virtue


When I was a student I went inter-railing - first stop the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. I didn't care how much it cost, I wanted to see the dancing white stallions. Except the School closes during the summer. I sat down on the steps and I wept.
Now twenty four and a half years later the mountain has come to Mohammed.
At Bahrain's Agricutural Show we had, FOC, an hour long performance by the famous white dancing stallions.
And OMG it was stunning. Especially to a dressage freak like myself. I kept nudging the children and whispering - "Flying change" "Piaffe" "Passage"...
Even Nick was impressed with the Capriole - the vertical jump of a trained horse with a kick of the hind legs at the top of the jump. He said, "You wouldn't need to be standing behind a horse that kicks out like that."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Free Money

I received this message on my cellphone this morning from somebody called Free Lotto:
Congrats your mobile has won GBP950,000 winning No 05,11,20,22,23,08. Pls contact Claims - Patrick Owens email: patrickowens4@yahoo.com or +442030869805 ext1

That's nice - I could be doing with free money! I am, of course, assuming GBP means Great Britain Pounds... - GBP can also mean:
GBP Gastric Bypass
GBP Gain-Bandwidth Product
GBP Good Business Practice(s)
GBP Gameboy Pocket
GBP Global Best Practice(s)
GBP Gewestelijk Bestemmingsplan
GBP Group Buffer Pool
GBP Gameboy Player (Nintendo)
GBP Guanylate Binding Protein
GBP Generalized Belief Propagation
GBP Gameboy Printer (Nintendo)
GBP Gravity Based Penalty
GBP Global Buffer Pool
GBP Gun Buyback Program
GBP Gross Berth Productivity
GBP General Building Plan
GBP Global Backprojection

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why me, Lord?


Beatrice has been selected to play the part of Mary in this year's Nativity. Beatrice favours the method acting approach to getting into character. Here we see her with a pillow stuffed up her pyjamas, barefoot and dragging a bag of rugby balls round the garden. From her pained expression I'm sure you'll agree - rarely were the lines -"How much further is it to Bethlehem, Joseph? I am so tired" - spoken more truely from the heart.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Modelling


Happiest day of my life... Anyway, Richard and Rosalind Mulholland have got up a website to advertise their lovely house Ballyscullion Park where Nick and I had our wedding reception. And Ros asked us if we'd like to model the wedding section...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

On Chesil Beach


Poor Florence Ponting, disgusted by sexual intimacy, quite obviously she's been fiddled with, probably by the overbearing father, the hints are heavy throughout the book. I mean to say, what man takes his teenage daughter on sailing trips and hikes without chaperoning - and they never talk about it afterwards....
And yet all the reviews of this book focus on the decade - it wasn't Florence's fault her new husband's premature ejaculation caused such irrevocable disgust - this was the early Sixties, when young ladies did not lust.
Rot.
Here's an extract from Love In A Cold Climate (one of my favourite novels) first published in 1949.
Beautiful Polly Hampton is causing consternation - she doesn't seem interested in love or marriage, her mother is at the end of her tether. Sweet, normal Fanny, her friend, is asked:
"Have you ever fancied somebody ever since you can remember?"
I was obliged to admit this was the case. From a tiny child, ever since I could remember in fact, some delicious image had been enshrined in my heart, last thought at night, first thought in the morning. Fred Terry as Sir Percy Blakeney, Lord Byron, Rudolf Valentino, Henry V, Gerald du Maurier, blissful Mrs Ashton at my school, Steerforth, Napoleon, the guard on the 4.45, image had succeeded image...
Fast Mrs Chaddesley Corbett agrees. "From kiddie car to hearse, I couldn't know it better. After all what would there be to think about when one's alone otherwise?"
Florence Ponting was revolted by intimacy - just as Polly Hampton was and Fanny's cousin Linda - because they'd been fiddled with when they were young teenagers.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hallowe'en


And she's up, she's off, she's sleepwalking again...
Our 8 year old daughter is a nervous wee thing, highly strung and over wrought. A sprinter, not a long distance runner. When she's over tired she sleepwalks. And even though she's as silent as death we usually catch her upstairs on the landing...
But to-night she gave us both the slip. She floated past me reading in bed, and Nick downstairs watching the news on the television. She got out of the house in her long sleeved white nightdress and down the path, as far as the gate. And only that it slammed really loudly she'd have been out on the road and away...
Nick caught her, glass eyed and muttering furiously, clutching a book to her chest.
Just as well he caught her or she might have made the headline in tomorrow's local paper: 'Ghost spotted on Hallowe'en night'

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Possession


I was attracted to the movie Possession by the crush I suffer for Jeremy Northam (see above). Helped along by fact the storyline is adapted from a Booker Prize winning novel. Bound to be a winner I thought. Except OMG it is simply awful. It is the worst sort of Barbara Cartland. The central character of cold repressed Maud is utterly unconvincing. Her love interest, the pretty research assistant, has dirty hair and dirty stubble. When they finally kiss I felt faintly sick.
It took Jeremy and Jennifer Ehle to set the screen on fire - and they were electric together, while naked and fully clothed - except they didn't appear often enough to rescue such a ridiculous movie.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wayne and Coleen


Wayne and Coleen are in Dubai this week, soaking up Middle East sun. They’re celebrating Wayne’s 25th birthday and his new five year contract with Manchester United. They are staying at the Burj Al Arab – each room has its own butler, and the hotel spa serves up caviar facials; I don’t need to tell you the price; if you’re comfortable paying £25 for chicken nuggets and chips you’ll not quibble about the price of the caviar facial.
I can’t really blame Wayne and Coleen for choosing to visit Dubai instead of humble Bahrain where I live. Dubai is a rich person’s paradise, a fantasy island where the shopping is legendary: Dubai Mall is the size of fifty football pitches – it has 1200 shops and an ice rink and the biggest sweetshop in the world.
Burj Al Arab can provide a Rolls Royce to take the lucky pair shopping; they won’t even have to dress modestly for Dubai is tolerant and cosmopolitan; no one will tut tut at Coleen’s bare shoulders or Wayne’s exposed injured ankle.
With service like that why would anyone choose to visit Bahrain?
I can think of only one thing the Rooney’s are perhaps unaware of – Bahrain has a barber’s shop on Budayia Highway called the Manchester United Men’s Hair Salon. The painted bill board above the door features Wayne with Eric and Ryan and Alex. And even though the shop pin-up is Ryan Giggs (as a very young man) I know for a fact that should Wayne join the queue and wait his turn for a trim and a shave and a complimentary Indian head massage the barber won’t charge him much more than 75p for the privilege. He might even allow him to autograph his portrait over the door.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Shopping

Years ago, when I was student, I shopped in a second hand bookshop in Rathmines Dublin 6. The stuff I bought there was legendary - my literary education. (I was reading Agricultural Science not English at university).
Today feels like deja vu. A trip to the BSPCA thrift shop, and this is what I bought, and everyone one of them cost less than a pound:
On Cesil Beach - Ian McEwan
Brooklyn - Colm Toibin
The Good Terrorist - Doris Lessing
The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole - Sue Townsend
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Which shall I read first?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightdress


So this is affluent Ireland, wealthy South-sider Dublin with private school education and rich kids wearing rich clothes? Oh dear.
Allow me to introduce Ross our narrator. He claims to be 'West Brit' elite - that's middle class Irish to you and me. But in Ross's wee world this simply means he's got more cash than the CHV he so scathingly ridicules (CHV: Council House Vermin)
Except it's Ross who is the vermin. Somehow he has managed to miss the private school polish - he has no manners, no charm and no social skills. He doesn't even have a job - he's 23 and shamelessly lives on handouts from his parents. His friends are one dimensional; the girls he meets shallow and sluttish...
Of course Ross is only a caricature. A work of dark comic genius. A distillation of arrogance and ignorance; he's grotesque and shocking and terrifically funny....
And I shall continue to disbelieve the hair raising (real life) stories that occasionally filter through from affluent South sider friends - about 'blow job' parties amongst private school teenagers who don't wear knickers at rugby club discos...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Last September


They talk funny in The Last September. It's almost a different language. Just about English. Here's an interchange between Marda and Lois, who barely know each other: (Marda is writing to Leslie Lawe, her fiance, Lois is looking on):
Marda: "What was the name of the man at lunch - surname?"
Lois: "Lesworth. Gerald. Is very social. He smiles all the time like a dog. Do you think that is good in a man?"
Marda: "I am telling Leslie he wants to marry you. May I?"
Lois: "Will it give Mr Lawe a good impression?"
Marda: "Well it furnishes you rather."
'Furnish' - isn't that marvellous - as if empty headed introspective Lois needed wallpaper, a rug and a couple of armchairs to give her a bit of personality. Poor lost little Lois. She utterly lacks passion for smiling Gerald Lesworth yet she seems determined to marry him. Probably just as well Gerald is murdered before they make each other miserable.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bravo Chile!


The Catholic Church has been taking a hammering with clerical sex abuse cases and cover ups.
"I don't think we'll ever recover," said Nick. "This is the end of the Church."
Until this miraculous story of 33 miners trapped underground in Chile. Did you notice how many of them, when they got out, dropped to their knees and prayed and crossed themselves? How many said if it hadn't been for their staunch Catholic faith they'd never have survived the ordeal?
"I was with God and the devil. I took God's hand and He saved me."
Not that I would ever presume to advise the Pontiff on anything - but a swift trip to Chile to meet those brave men wouldn't do Pope Benedict's ratings any harm....

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What Doesn't Kill You

I was jumping Waif at the show. But Waif has only two gears. Gentle Waif who will stop at the very least provocation and Mad Waif who gallops and always jumps early and always jumps over the moon. Earlier this week he jumped from the canter pole 3 metres in front of the jump and I was up in the air for so long I had time to look down and to think 'Oh dear I shouldn't have done that' for of course when you look down that's exactly where you're heading - head first into the ground. My head still hurts from the thump. "We've four little children and I'm on the wrong side of 40 to be taking a risk on Waif," I told Nick. "Time to take up knitting?" said Nick. Easy for him to say. At the show Waif took the decision from me. He jumped the first three jumps as Gentle Waif, and knocked a pole. There was a big stretch to No. 4. Somewhere during the stretch Gentle Waif morphed into Mad Waif and I forgot that I'm an old dear with four little children dependent on me and Waif and myself stormed the rest of the jumps and when he jumped over the moon I jumped with him. It took about five hours for the adrenalin rush to die away.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Birthday


Maud was 11 a couple of weeks ago, today she had birthday party, organised by herself.
"We're too old for party games," Maud decreed. Instead she and her friends had a painting party, followed by pizza and cake, followed by a Santa Claus movie(!)
Then they stripped down to swimsuits and sprayed each other with the garden hose -
And my role in the proceedings?
"You must dress like a mum. And no showing off in front of my friends."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Naughty Little Sister


Introducing Beatrice (7), our resident literary critic.
She's reading When My Naughty Little Sister Was Good, a collection of short stories featuring a fascinating toddler, narrated by an older sister. Today's story was The Bonfire Pudding - synopsis: little sis doesn't like bangs so she stays with Granny and bakes Christmas pudding while big sis goes to the bonfire with mum.
We'd only just reached the point where Granny was tying 'a nice white apron round my sister's little middle' when Beatrice said: "How does she know?"
"How does who know what?" I asked.
And Beatrice said: "The big sister who's telling the story. How does she know what's happening at Granny's house? She's at the bonfire with mum."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

We Are All Made Of Glue


Do not read this book if you suffer from squeamishness or a delicate stomach for We Are All Made Of Glue is full of grotesque descriptions of hygienically challenged Mrs Shapiro.
Mrs Shapiro's 'smell was ripe and farty like old cheese, with a faint hint of Chanel No.5.'
Mrs Shapiro's house smells of 'damp and cat pee and shit and rot and food mould and house filth and sink gunge and cutting through all that a rank, nauseating fishy stink.'
In the pocket of Mrs Shapiro's coat is a 'disgusting snot-caked handkerchief with traces of dried blood'.
On the floor of Mrs Shapiro's bedroom lie 'a pair of peach camiknickers trimmed with cream lace a faint stain yellowing the silk.'
I have always considered myself to be fairly tolerant of filth; my mother used to lament: "Anne wouldn't see dirt if it hit her between the eyes..."
Yet I'm not sure I can read on without retching...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Globe


When I was an Orange child growing up in 'Ulster Says No' we had a map of Northern Ireland up on the classroom wall, with blue sea all around it.
I asked: "Where's Dublin's fair city where the girls are so pretty?"
They told me: "That's in a foreign country, nothing to do with us..."
I said, "But you can't just pretend it doesn't exist - can you?"
And so to today when we went to the shop to buy pencils and rubbers for school and the sweetest wee globe that lights up - it's fascinating to study - there are so many new countries formed from the breakup of USSR - Belarus, and Lithuania and Ukraine...
"What's the dirty mark?" asked Maud, pointing to eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea.
"It's not a dirty mark," said Rex. "It's black marker pen and it won't rub off."
"I didn't do it!" they chorused.
Of course they hadn't done it - someone else in the stationery shop had blotted out Israel with indelible ink.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Waity Katie


She's a lovely girl, isn't she - pretty as a picture, modest, serene and mad about him. So what's stopping His Royal Highness from making an honest woman of her? According to Barbara Ellen in last week's Observer it's a class thing. Kate's from a middle class family, her dad's a pilot; Barbara claims this is reason 'Kate will have to wait.'
Has anybody ever considered that it might be William who's waiting? That much as she loves him Kate dreads the day when she marries her prince and must trot obediently into a 'Royal Wife' harness?
In reality I think it's the prince who's on bended knee every weekend begging Miss Middleton to accept him.
"Please marry me, Katie darling. And I promise we'll have central heating in the cold, draughty castle we've to live in. And I promise we won't have a staff of a thousand, snooping and selling sensational scoops to the News of the World - just a lady to do the ironing. And I promise you won't have to spend every day visiting my 60 million subjects ..."
OMG but she must be very fond of him to even be considering such a life. It's not like she doesn't have a choice in the matter - she is the one with the choices. William is going to be king some day whether he likes it or not.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Twin


The Twin of this novel is Helmer. He's a middle aged bachelor farmer; he lives with a bullying father. Father is finally dying; Helmer's been half-dead most of his life - we're persuaded by Helmer this is because Henk, his twin, drowned as a teenager. I, however, am inclined to believe it's Helmer's repressed homosexuality which causes him to suffer a life of such awful emptiness and masochism every tiny action and interaction is recorded as though it has painstaking significance:
For example:
The donkeys are waiting for me even though I don't go out to them every evening. I've left the light on and it casts a broad track into the yard. My very own crib. They snort when I enter the shed. I give them a couple of winter carrots and a scoop of oats. Their breath billows up out of the trough as a cold cloud. I sit on a bale of hay and wait for them to finish feeding.

I, I, I. Poor bloke. Father sent away the farmhand with whom Helmer was falling in love; now he doesn't even have a dog to cuddle up with in bed.
Although The Twin is a Dutch novel, set on a farm in the waterlands of Holland, the story of gay repressed Helmer has universal appeal: twenty years ago when I was a student our Faculty of Agricultural Science produced a magazine: Ceres was full of wise chat and in jokes; photographs and fun. And a touching and memorable poem about falling in love, written by 'A gay Ag'....

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Modesty


Today we shopped for school uniforms. I thought Maud's school dress slightly short, it stopped at her knee, and I worried that after a couple of washes it might shrink shorter. I said:
"This dress is too short for my daughter. Can you please make it longer - mid calf?"
The shopkeeper was shocked. "Mid calf? Are you Muslim?"
I didn't want to hurt his feelings by explaining it was the quality of the fabric I doubted, not my daughter's virtue.
I said: "My husband's Catholic, not Muslim."
He nodded. He understood. "Certainly, Madam," he said.
Maud was less impressed. "I'm going to look like a dork," she said.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Miranda Hobbs


In the beginning she was probably the one I liked least - she was just so abrasive, and tough. I'd have been too frightened to eat breakfast with her, incase she ate me as well. And the clothes she wore were just awful. And the men she dated were worse -ranking only one step above the pond life Charlotte kept meeting who, inspite of blue blood and trust funds, were egotistical sexual perverts.
Then Miranda met Steve. A bit thick and without any prospects, but unlike the hot shot, smart talking law types she ran with, Steve was kind and wore his heart on his sleeve.
Now they're married with Brady, and Miranda has never looked better. Her clothes in Sex and the City 2 were the nicest clothes I've ever seen. She's no longer defensive and angry; she's empathetic and fun.
I care far more for Miranda than Scary Carrie with her strange baby voice, or Silly Charlotte who ices buns with her children while wearing vintage couture, or even my previous favourite Samantha - who has become a caricature of herself.
I might even manage now to eat breakfast with Miranda, should she ever care to invite me.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

with my lazy eye


Lucy Bastonme had a privileged 'West Brit' Dublin 4 upbringing. There was a holiday cottage in Connemara, tennis lessons and Mum baking profiteroles when friends came over for dinner... Lucy's dad was a VIP - so respected the family were given seats right at the front when Pope John Paul came to Ireland in 1979.
Yet this is misery memoir - it's angry, directionless; fatalistic. Lucy hates her life. And judging by the way she behaves I'm guessing she hates herself too.
Here she is, not yet twenty:
Abandoned one morning, I balanced in the listing bed - hung-over, make-up smeared, smelling of sex - and felt around for the remote control. I dully flicked through the channels, nothing on: cartoons, Mass, football, Mass. The layout of the church looked familiar. I sat up, tickled when I recognised Alison Hampton and her family sitting in a tidy row and Father Perry preaching from the altar. The cameras panned to the next reader approaching the podium: a woman in a tweed suit and scarf making self-consciously slow progression. Shoulders back, chin slightly raised, she adjusted her microphone, and in an accent more Anglo-Saxon than ever, my mother began reading. I got up and ran myself a bath. What was I doing with my life?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

In Cold Blood



Before reading In Cold Blood may I suggest you watch the 2006 movie Infamous? They work so well together, for the movie stops where the book begins - the final scenes in the movie are of Truman Capote at a cramped desk writing...
In the movie: "What starts out as the irreverent journey of the openly gay writer Truman Capote to the middle-class world of 1950's Kansas, where he goes--with his childhood friend Harper Lee--to research the murder of the Clutter family, turns to something altogether darker when Capote forms an intense and complex relationship with one of the murderers...."
Well, I'd never have guessed from the book alone that Capote was a gay man, or that he fell in love with Perry Smith. There's no trace of the author's private life in it. Or his personal feelings. Until I watched the movie I assumed In Cold Blood was kind to the killers because Capote had spent time with them, and got to know them as people; and that the dead Clutter family were harder to write because he never met them...
Now I realise the book is not a disinterested reconstruction of heinous mass murder and 'how the bad boys were caught'; instead it is a love letter and an apology to Perry Smith - for though Capote may have been in love with him, it didn't stop him bleeding Smith dry to get what he wanted for his book.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Hot Potato


We were flying back to Bahrain. We weighed the suitcases to make sure they were less than 21KG. Just for a laugh I got on. To discover I weigh 7Kg more than a month ago- a month ago I weighed myself when we were packing the suitcases to travel to Ireland...
How did I gain this extra weight?
There's no point pretending I don't know.
For a month I've been induging in potato bread and fried eggs for breakfast, baked potatoes and butter for lunch, fish and chips from the chipper for tea. That's three sets of spuds every day. And it's a sad but true fact that the more spuds you eat, the more like a potato you look...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex

Since the children quit school for the summer I've been dashing into Bahrain's one bookshop to seek out light-weight, escapist reading. I desire short sentences with no introspection as I cannot settle while the children are bickering and bouncing on beds; they can't go outside to play since it's 45 degrees in the shade. The solution, of course, is to get them reading, too, so I dragged them down to the bookshop and in the children's books section I discovered a curious thing; many internationally successful children's books are written by Irish men - John Boyne, Darren Shan, Derek Landy... and this week splashed all over the shop is Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex.
I'd never read an Artemis Fowl and this is the ninth book about him but I didn't allow that to put me off. I plunged straight in and I'm delighted to tell you The Atlantis Complex is so cleverly written there's no need for back story or explanations..
So, who is Artemis Fowl? He is, to quote himself, 'a child prodigy from Ireland who has dedicated his brilliant mind to criminal activities. His mother says: 'People are afraid of you, Arty. Girls are terrified of you. You're a fifteen year old in bespoke suit and nobody died."
Not a regular boy then? Well, no for 'Arty' is away with the fairies.
In The Atlantis Complex he has summoned the fairies to Iceland to demonstrate his latest invention to save the world from global warming. The Ice Cube shoots out nano wafers -each one 'smart enough to know which way is up when it hits the surface and configures itself to insulate the ice and reflect the sun.'
Sounds great except the fairies find it hard to believe Artemis might care for the environment; the Artemis they know is notorious for extortion and kidnapping. Also he's not himself - he's got galloping paranoia and is obsessed with the number five. Could he be suffering from Atlantis Complex - a mental illness caused by too much magic and a guilty conscience?
Meanwhile, imprisoned deep in Atlantis (second city of Fairyland) disgraced Captain Turnbull Root has been patiently working on a escape plan. Thanks to a gullible prison warden and a brainwashed personal guard his cell is full of sophisticated computer equipment. Root hacks into the command centre of a fairy space shuttle on its way to Mars and the shuttle changes course. It lands in Iceland to kill the fairies who are meeting with Artemis Fowl then dives into the ocean, heading fast and hard to Atlantis.
Captain Holly Short and Foaly a centaur survive the attack, as does Artemis. Under normal circumstances Artemis would now hatch a cunning and ruthless plan to recapture the hijacked shuttle but unfortunately Artemis is not himself - he's suffering phase 2 of Atlantis Complex; an alter ego, Orion, has taken over his consciousness. Orion is a lovely boy, not a bit cunning or ruthless and when appealed to for help he suggests they build a bivouac and wait to be rescued.
I have heard the Artemis Fowl books described as 'Die Hard with Fairies'
but such a description does not do them justice. I have never before been so seduced and convinced by the imaginary world Eoin Colfer creates.
VERDICT: There is nothing lightweight about Artemis Fowl. Prepare to be mesmerised.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Katy Did


I have a bone to pick with Aunt Izzie for I hold her partly responsible for Katie's horrific fall from the swing which left her unable to walk for two years. Aunt Izzie knew the swing was unsafe - but instead of explaining to 12 year old Katie: "The swing is unsafe, a support has been damaged, it will be fixed by tomorrow," she exercised her ridiculous theory that a child must obey unquestioningly, as if she were a soldier or an automaton... Is it hardly any surprise that intelligent, high spirited Katie defied her spoil-sport aunt and ran off down the garden without a backward glance, to swing on the forbidden swing?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Faithful Place


FAITHFUL PLACE
Tana French
I don’t know about you but before I commit to a psychological thriller I always read its beginning, then its end to find out who the killer is. Then I decide whether or not to read the rest of the story – for me the pleasure in reading a thriller is the stalking of the killer and the running of him/her to ground. (I do accept it’s the duty of thriller writers to feed the reader red herrings but frankly I find them boring.)
With Faithful Place it was not necessary to read the end of the book - the killer was waving and shouting to me right from our first introduction – yippee! - so I settled with satisfaction to follow the story of Frank who left home at nineteen after an aborted elopement with Rose who lived on his street, who was his secret girlfriend, who dumped him with a terse note, on the night they’d planned to run away together.
Twenty years later Frank is a cop and his family despise him for it. They’re from the Liberties, in inner city Dublin, where ‘the rules on my road went like this: no matter how skint you are, if you got to the pub then you stand your round; if your mate gets into a fight, you stick around to drag him off as soon as you see blood, so no one loses face; you leave the heroin to them down in the flats; even if you’re an anarchist punk rocker this month, you go to Mass on Sunday; and no matter what, you never, ever squeal on anyone.’
So Frank and his family don’t keep in touch until a suitcase is discovered stuffed up a fireplace in the derelict house where twenty years before Frank had arranged to meet Rose. To run away with her to England. Except she never turned up....
Frank returns to the Liberties and very quickly discovers not just Rose’s suitcase, but Rose’s poor body dumped and concealed in the basement of the derelict house. And in spite of the rules he was reared with, he begins with ruthless determination to find out who killed his girlfriend and to bring that person to justice. Even if that person is part of his close knit dysfunctional family – he says: “Personally, I would, in fact, have bet on at least one member of my family coming to a sticky and complicated end.”
The thing that stands out in this book is the unapologetic usages of proper Dublin speak. And the vivid portrayal of Irish people and Irish life. I can probably name you a dozen contemporary Irish novelists, off the top of my head, who routinely set their stories in Dublin yet they could be set in any old town – the dialogue is so carefully bland, and apart from a couple of tourist-friendly landmarks there’s no local colour or points of reference at all. Fair play to Tana French, who studied acting at Trinity College, for drawing to our unequivocal attention the Irish love of rashers for breakfast and singalongs at a wake. And equally impressive is her ability to convincingly write a male leading character. About this she says: “Because of the acting background, creating and inhabiting a character was what I’d been doing for a long time. Writing from the perspective of someone of the opposite sex didn’t seem like a particularly huge leap – not nearly as huge as, for example, writing dialogue for a killer.’
VERDICT: A chilling reminder that though you can choose your friends, you can’t choose your family.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Reading for Pleasure



I've only spent the past ten years banging on about the joy of reading - how you're never lonely when you've a book, how reading broadens the mind, that reading for pleasure is fun. Nobody listened, nobody cared.
"We'd far rather watch TV," they said, "Climb a tree, ride a bike, wreck the house..."
I persevered with their reading. Fifteen minutes every day whether they liked it or not. And I made them read stuff that was difficult for them - Just William, Laura Ingalls, Frances Hodgson Burnett.
"These books are classics," I told them, "I read them when I was your age."
They rolled their eyes and said, "Mummy, you grew up in the back of beyond. There was no TV. No DVDs. What else was there for you to do?"
I began to loose heart. Began to think I was an old fossil. That I was suffering from some sort of disillusion about children and reading and children's books...
Until this summer. When Maud (10) discovered Lemony Snickett, and Rex (9) became addicted to Percy Jackson. Now the shout is:
"Just another chapter Mummy! I can't wait to find out what happens next..."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer Holidays

The ambient outside temperature is somewhere round the mid-40s, the humidity is 100% To combat cabin fever the children have found new hobbies -
Maud (10) is learning to iron and she's taken up crossword puzzles
Rex (9) cleans bathrooms and enjoys Sudoku
Flor (8) washes dishes and loves 'Find the Word' puzzles
Beatrice (7) hoovers and does jigsaws .
We've also been baking biscuits, reading classic novels together and playing Junior Trivial Pursuit.
It's ten weeks till they go back to school and already I'm counting the days.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Glorious Twelfth


Today is the Glorious Twelfth.
When I was growing up, in my part of rural Ulster, even during the worst of the Troubles, my mother cooked us a fry for breakfast, my father wore a dark suit and we were taken to watch the bands in the village. Sometimes Catholic kids threw stones; it added to the festival atmosphere.
This morning my mother texted me: 'Do you know what day this is? Do you remember anything about your cultural heritage?'
Of course I remember my cultural heritage!
I rushed straight out to the ex-patriate supermarket and bought bacon and sausages for a big fry up.
Then I told Nick: "Now, you'll have to put on a dark suit, and you need a bowler hat, and you'd better carry that black umbrella Saba uses to keep off the sun...."
"And then what?"
"Then we march down the street and throw a few stones at the Kerala Catholic Men's Association..."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Skulduggery Pleasant


SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT
Derek Landy
Not so very long ago, before we moved to live in Bahrain, I was a member of Irish PEN. We met once a month in the United Arts Club to discuss contemporary Irish writing and writing related topics – one month there was a panel of Irish publishers and literary agents and the topic was ‘How to get published...’
The panellists said all the same thing – they were inundated with unsolicited manuscripts and did not have time to read them. They were reduced to reading only those writers recommended by word of mouth.
A lone voice from the back of the hall said: “But what about the true original – the writer who starves in a garret, who does not have literary friends, who is not already established?”
Derek Landy was at this time living and working on his family’s farm. All day he cut cauliflowers, pulled leeks and packed lettuce; and all day he was thinking about the novel he was writing. After work he sat down and wrote out all the things he’d been thinking about.
His novel was about a twelve year old girl, Stephanie, who inherits her uncle’s house when he dies. The first night she spends alone in the house, Stephanie is attacked by a man who demands a mysterious key. He’s seeking a magical object, the Sceptre of the Ancients to give to his master, Nefarian Serpine, who will use it to establish himself as master of the magical universe… Brave Stephanie puts up a terrific fight until she’s rescued by her uncle’s odd friend, and Serpine’s sworn enemy, Skulduggery Pleasant.
Skulduggery was once a powerful magician until Serpine killed him, burnt him and dumped his bones in a river. Now Skulduggery is a skeleton held together by magic and fuelled by vengeance...
Suddenly Stephanie’s humdrum existence is altered beyond recognition- she’s introduced to a magical world which coexists with the real world. She becomes Skulduggery’s partner, and when she’s off gallivanting with him, her reflection pretends to be her so her parents are never alarmed by her curious disappearances...
Once it was written Skulduggery Pleasant was snapped up by Harper Collins and Derek Landy, a true original, was offered an advance of one million pounds – I’ve written the number in words so you don’t think my finger slipped on the zero key. The book is dedicated to his parents – his mother in particular ‘for the look on her face’ when he told her. It’s marketed for confident young readers, it says age 9+ on the cover but don’t let that put you off, in this case age is just a number – like Harry Potter these novels can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Skulduggery is such a terrific character, so charming and articulate; he is without doubt the first skeleton I’ve ever heard shouting “Flee” in a novel...
And Stephanie is an excellent role model – she’s intelligent, resourceful, tough. And not afraid to challenge authority. (Derek Landy, a karate sensei, says he modelled her on girls he trained in the dojo).
Now Mr Landy has written four books about Skulduggery Pleasant - Dark Days is the latest release. Stephanie is no longer a child, she’s a force to be reckoned with in the magical world, she has taken the name Valkyrie Cain, and she’s plotting a dare devil rescue of Skulduggery who has been sucked into a magical hell by the Faceless Ones....
VERDICT: Beware the quiet man among the cabbages – he could be plotting out a novel full of magic, horror, action, suspense – it’s always the quiet ones you have watch...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Housework


Full time working mothers I salute you!
Saba has gone to Eritrea on holiday - she's not seen her sons in two years - last year she had to stay in Bahrain to get her work visa renewed. So even though I'm longing to write my anti-chicklit novel I have instead been doing the housework - OMG it's so terribly time consuming, the odd hour here and there that I'd spend at my desk is now spent ironing. Or hoovering up dog hairs. Or washing the dishes. Or scrubbing the top of the kitchen cupboards (yuk!) or wiping dust from the ceiling fans.
I'm finding it impossible to think literary thoughts. Yesterday a wonderful idea popped into my head but I was too busy scrubbing a saucepan to write it down. This morning I woke and my first thought was "I have not yet cleaned the bathrooms..."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I Capture The Castle


I CAPTURE THE CASTLE
Dodie Smith
Indulge me this week – it’s my birthday, and I’ve always wanted to read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith but have never been able to find it in bookshops, not even second hand bookshops… Happily, Virago Modern Classics have realised its worth and re-released it with an enchanting, whimsical cover.
I Capture the Castle was first published in 1949. It’s the story of Cassandra Mortmain, a seventeen year old girl, who through her diary entries describes an eccentric bohemian upbringing, 1930s style. Cassandra’s father is a famous author whose seminal work Jacob Wrestling brought him fame and fortune; the family moved to live in a castle, complete with turrets and swans on the moat. But that was years ago. Now Mortmain suffers from writer’s block, all the money is spent, all the good furniture has been sold; there are so few towels ‘on washday we have to shake ourselves’ and everybody is always hungry.
Cassandra has a romantic soul, she bravely embraces her uncomfortable circumstances, but her older sister, the beautiful Rose is very bitter with life – she does not enjoy ‘being shut up in a crumbling ruin surrounded by a sea of mud’. She is so desperate for money she says, “... for some time now I’ve been considering selling myself. If necessary I shall go on the streets.”
Fortunately for Rose, and in true Pride and Prejudice fashion, the local Big House is inherited by a wealthy, eligible bachelor – Simon from America. Simon and his mother are literary buffs; they are Mortmain’s Number One fans; Simon studied Jacob Wrestling at college. When he calls to visit his hero, Rose swiftly decides she must marry him, in spite of his horrible beard. She employs her most cunning and determined wiles and soon they are engaged. Simon’s mother whisks her away to London to shop for a £1000 trousseau, leaving behind a heartbroken Cassandra who after a stolen kiss to the strains of Sheep May Safely Graze has fallen in first love with Simon.
There’s a wonderful timeless quality to Cassandra’s agonies of unrequited love. She could be any young girl in 21st century Britain pouring out her heart into a diary. She writes: ‘Waking are the worst times – almost before my eyes are open a great weight seems to roll on my heart.’
In an effort to regain her equilibrium Cassandra experiments with religion, good works, strong drink and kissing another before deciding ‘a great luxury is letting myself cry... But it is difficult to arrange times for it as my face takes so long to recover.’
Cassandra also bravely records her less generous thoughts - when Rose admits she does not love Simon, but is nevertheless determined to marry him she spits at her sister: “Oh go and sit in your bathroom and count your peach coloured towels... They’ll cheer you up – you lying grasping little cheat.”
At the start of the Second World War Dodie Smith, a successful playwright, and her soon to be husband Alan, a committed conscientious objector departed England in a pale grey Rolls Royce with Dodie’s Dalmatian Pongo. They settled in Hollywood where Dodie worked as a screenwriter. She made loads of money but hated every minute of it. She wanted to be in war-time London, having the time of her life. Homesick, she wrote and rewrote this nostalgic story of England – and when it was published it sold over a million copies.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Saturday, June 19, 2010

1980s


In the 1980s I wore green wellies and a wax coat but only because there were no shops selling Madonna-esque fishnets and lace in my corner of rural Ireland. Last night Nick and I got tarted up for a 40th birthday party - the theme was the 1980s. I didn't know Nick in the 80s but he swears this is almost how he looked.
"Why almost?"
"I was two stone lighter and didn't have to wear a wig to have black hair."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Three Frocks


Please ignore the face in these photos, it's currently under construction.
Instead concentrate on the frocks, I bought them at the Sheikha's Sale - each one cost less than a tenner. Now I can't decide which one to wear to the Rugby Club Ball on Thursday -

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Artistic Temperament

I am cursed with artistic temperament. Either that or I'm very thick-witted. For six months I've being trying to write a frothy young novel for Little Black Dress. As you can see from the website the books are marketed at young, single women so my central character Cait was also a young single woman - an airstewardess based on a tropical island with unlimited access to sun, sand, sea and... storytelling.
Except Cait and I could not get along. No matter that she was pretty and fun, and got up all sorts of amusing antics - I thought she was boring. "Good morning you dreary girl," I would say when I dragged myself to my desk.
She'd flick her ponytail and say, "Oh pull yourself together. Aren't you getting paid to create me? You're getting paid to like me..."
But I hated and despised her so much I even killed her a couple of times; it gave me such satisfaction.
Then on Friday Little Black Dress emailed to tell me they've decided to temporarily put the imprint on hold; they will not be commissioning any more books.
"Sounds like they've sacked you," said Nick.
I know I ought to feel cheated or something but instead I'm thrilled to bits. I drop kicked Cait out of the window and immediately started to write the story I've been itching to tell for six months - the story 40 year old Jackie Diamond, the cabin crew manager at Cait's airline. Already I have the structure decided and the synopsis written. Yesterday Jacks and I went shopping together to the Sultana's Designer Clearance Sale, we both liked a stunning black evening dress with heavy beading on the bodice and clever corseting at the waistline -but Jacks said her cleavage had far too much sun damage to wear such a plunging neckline so I bought it for me instead... She's very impressed with my laser skin resurfacing treatment, she says already she can see all the open pores have gone and she might be tempted to indulge herself... In fact the only thing we disagree on his her soft spot for Commander Andrew Cunningham the senior captain at Ex-Pat Air. I think he's a randy old goat, she says "We're just good friends."
"If a man and woman say they're just friends, at least one of them is lying," I told her.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Netherland


NETHERLAND
Joseph O’Neill
For an older generation, the dinner party question de jour was always: “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” My generation ask: “Where were you when the Twin Towers fell?”
Well, I was living in Botswana. I had two children under the age of two. We had one children’s television programme every day; Teletubbies at 3pm. My friend Jenny was visiting with her son Angus, the children were lined up in a row on the sofa drinking UHT milk out of sippy cups...
A scream went up.
“No Teletubbies!”
Instead: “We interrupt this broadcast to bring you breaking news,” and the most extraordinary footage of aircraft flying, crash bang wallop, into the Twin Towers, New York.
Netherland is a book about the post traumatic stress suffered by Rachel and Hans, a European couple, who were in New York, living and working, that fateful September day.
Phlegmatic Hans remains stoic, but Rachel’s response is emotional; she’s too frightened to live in New York anymore; she’s convinced the city will be attacked again; she takes leave of absence from her high powered career and flies back to England with their son. But discourages Hans from following her... He must stay in dangerous New York, earning mega bucks as an equities analyst while she sleeps safe at her parents’ house. Oh, and he’s welcome to visit on alternate weekends.
So, Hans has been dumped by his wife. He gives up their loft in Tribeca and moves into the Chelsea Hotel, where he’s surrounded by eccentrics and artists. He eats out in cheap ethnic cafes. On his New York weekends he plays cricket with other immigrant New Yorkers; it’s a game he played as a child in the Netherlands, unlike his team mates who ‘had grown up playing the game in floodlit Lahore car parks or in rough clearings in some West Indian countryside.’
These are not lifestyle choices one would expect from a rich man like Hans but the alternative, he assures us, is that he spends all non-working moments lying prostrate on his hotel room floor staring at the ceiling, in a depression.
Instead cricket becomes his passion; everything else must take a back seat. He flies less often to England; he ducks out of important work dos.
He says, ‘Nobody understands better than I that this was a strange and irresponsible direction in which to take one’s life. But I’m reporting what happened.’
Through cricket he meets Chuck Ramkissoon, a dodgy business man who dreams of building a cricket stadium and establishing a New York Cricket Club. They strike up an unlikely friendship; Chuck offers to teach Hans to drive; Hans is not so naive as not to know ‘it gave Chuck a measure of cover, maybe even prestige, to have a respectable-looking white man chauffeuring him while he ran around collecting bets all over Brooklyn.’
No surprise then, when Hans leaves New York for England, that Chuck ends up dead and his body dumped...
Joseph O’Neill is an Irish barrister. Netherland is his third novel. He says he likes to start writing ‘as inadvertently as possible. Then I continue as accidentally as possible.’ This is the genius of Netherland, that we’re dropped straight into the action – so unusual in such a literary novel.
VERDICT: This is only the second book I’ve ever read about cricket (the first has the unlikely title ‘Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man’.) Both central characters, Hans and George Sherston, are very nice blokes, careful and philosophical, do you think that’s because they play cricket?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ten Minute Tingling?

It's now almost 24 hours since my laser skin resurfacing treatment. And finally the terrible pain in my face is starting to subside. I've had three short cat naps in 24 hours, the rest of the time I've been reading Georgette Heyer, eating Mars Bars and holding icepacks to my cheeks. I tried sleeping under an AC fan, and standing in a cold shower but neither worked to cool the burning. Nick suggested painkillers but I couldn't find any in the house, then he suggested strong drink and tempted though I was to self-medicate with a long cool Gin and Tonic I resisted incase the urge was too great to throw it over the burning skin as opposed to throwing it straight down my throat.
Now the skin is still tender to touch but the furious redness has faded and I'm covered in brown freckle- like spots. I gleam with the grease of two creams - antibiotic and hydrocortisone. The doctor most certainly knew what he was talking about when he advised I choose an evening on the eve of the weekend to have the treatment done. But I think he might have been somewhat cavalier with his assurances that the 'tingling' would abate after only ten minutes.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Suffering to be Beautiful

The laser skin resurfacing treatment took about 20 minutes. I lay on a table in my everyday clothes; gauze was placed over my eyes. The laser machine made 'put put' noises - it sounded a bit like a cap gun. There was a disgusting smell of flesh burning but it wasn't particuarly painful - a nurse cooled each area with ice, after the doctor had finished with it. I tried to relax and think beautiful thoughts about never having to wear heavy duty foundation again.
Then the doctor said: "I'm going to up the ante on the acne scars," or words to that effect. The gentle 'put put' noise disappeared, instead my cheeks were strafed with molten machine gun fire. Even through the gauze I could see the flare of the laser - it was very, very painful. So painful my life flashed in front of my eyes - hugging my husband, the children holding my hand, and how it feels like flying when you jump a horse very high...
The gauze was removed, the procedure was finished. With effort I opened my eyes. I resisted the impulse to say "I can't believe I'm not dead!"
The doctor gave me four tubes of cream with instructions how to use them.
"The tingling will last for ten minutes," he told me. Then it was time to go home.

Soft Focus


I asked Flor to take a photograph of me before I went for my laser skin resurfacing treatment. I'd hoped this would be the last photograph taken of my face with acne scars. But the poor child was so worried something would go horribly wrong and the doctor would leave me deformed her hands were shaking as she held the camera; this is the charming result.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sex and the City


For years I didn't see Sex and the City, because we were living in Africa, and we didn't have a TV. Then my sisters gave me the box set as a birthday present.
And do you know what hooked me?
Not one of those fabulous New York ladies is perfect! They're funny, smart, well groomed and successful but look closer and Miranda has terrible teeth, Charlotte has heavy legs, Carrie's hair cries out for conditioner and Samantha's clothes are frankly awful...
This is of course the reason we love them and why the show is such a success - because Miranda, Charlotte, Carrie and Samantha are real ...