Saturday, September 25, 2010


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


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


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.