Monday, April 30, 2007

I'll be making jam next...

I have to move that beer head picture down and out of my view: every time I see it I come out in a sympathy hangover. Not good.

I’ve been thinking I should set myself to write a thousand words a day, but it seems that thinking isn’t good enough. It doesn’t get it done…

So when am I going to do my writing? Today I’ve spent three hours at website brain drain training, (I can’t believe I outed myself as an IT Idiot a few days ago on Caroline’s comments and am admitting that I’m a webmaster of a charity here in Bangkok. This just goes to illustrate that sometimes, in charities, beggars can’t be choosers: volunteers are volunteers, after all!)

I came home for a rushed lunch, then I had a meeting with the Coffee Ladies (I can’t believe I’m ‘fessing up about have coffee ladies on our committee!) who are planning a coffee in June in my apartment and they wanted to see the space and decide where stuff should go (Jesus, did I really say out loud that we’ve got coffee ladies who want to come and do a recce six weeks before the actual date?)

Then one child came home from school, the other child missed the bus and had to wait for next one, the coffee ladies were still discussing which table should go where, and where they might be able to put the raffle prizes.

The management office of the apartments sent some men up to put up pictures and remove a dining room table and chairs at the same time as coffee ladies were trying to decide whether the sofa should be moved, and when to get the balloons delivered: day before or early that morning?

I still haven’t got time to write, let alone energy: I’m so exhausted trying to remember where the coffee ladies want my dining room table put in six weeks time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Webbery Admin

I’ve typed 4,500 words today.

Unfortunately 3,500 words were for daughter’s homework project which is to write a novel (she’s nearly written hers and I have a long way to go) so only the remaining 1,000 were for my novel. I am waiting for daughter to ask me what is taking me so long with my book.

Husband had a great day at work today (really) but grumbled at me for publicizing my theory about all men being autistic, and then he grumbled about the fact that my word count has been stuck for too long.

So I came in here to do some admin: find pin thing to pin to ‘Bangkok’ so I can search for Adam; update wordcount, since exciting discovery of old notes; see if I can cash in on clever Stray’s extensive knowledge of webbery stuff. (Anyone? Feeds? How do I choose? Do they all do the same thing? Why can’t I understand what Blogger Help is talking about? Why do they use different words to those that I understand? What does it mean?)

I am writing. I am very pleased that I am writing. I am letting go of some of the stupid stuff from the space in my head. I’m not sure if it’s the novel though, or just writing. BUT, since words on pages was all I was ever concerned about, I think this is progress.

Monday, April 23, 2007

World Peace

I have a theory. (I have lots of theories, among my favourites are that you can’t have too many pairs of scissors, and that all men appear somewhere on the autistic spectrum.)

But those are topics for another day.

My theory today is about cultural diversity: not understanding one another. Forget religion being one of the main causes for societies not understanding each other, possibly even fighting.

I believe that however open one is to cultural differences, puddings, as we British call them, are one of the great stumbling blocks to truly embracing and understanding other cultures.

My sister in law chose an ice lolly while we were out sightseeing in Thailand. “Careful” I called from my cool spot under the fan, “there are some funny flavours here.”

“It looks interesting” she said. “like a bean.”

“Soya beans are used in an impressive array of different dishes here. And the green things aren’t mint; they’re green tea flavoured things.”

Sister-in-law came and sat down next to me. “Mmmm, interesting: not soya bean then” I said on examination of the packet. “What does it taste like?”

“Uhhm, interesting. Do you want a bite?”

I sucked on my full fat coke. “No, thanks, I think it looks like red kidney bean flavour.”

She gave another large bite, as though she was trying to get through the experience as quickly as possible. This is NOT how I eat Almond Magnums; there was definitely something not quite right.

“Okay, no, that’s enough” she said, wrapping it, half consumed, back up in its paper, “it’s definitely red kidney bean flavour.”

When we returned home I had a look in our Thai/English cook book. And these were the array of puddings I could learn to make:

Mungbeans in Syrup
Pumpkin in Coconut Cream
Sweetcorn Pudding with Coconut Cream
Black Beans in Coconut Cream
Mungbean Balls in Coconut Cream
Mungbean Strands in Coconut Syrup
Mock Pomegranate Seeds
Candid Sweet Potato
Sweet Potatoes in Syrup

Like I say, puddings (sweets, afters, call them what you will) are an impediment to world peace.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Help wanted

Today is husband’s and son’s birthdays.

Today is husband’s and son’s birthday.

Today are the birthdays of my husband and son.

There are many other permutations of this sentence to confuse me.

There is one husband, one son and only one April 18th. How many birthdays are there?

There must be two birthdays: husband has been having birthdays on April 18 for 41 years. Son has only had a birthday on this date for 13 years.

Monday, April 16, 2007

No can do, hesitant scribe...

My extended family has highlighted some concerns they have for my health: my mental health.

They are worried about my behaviour.

They think I need a 12 step programme.

I said: ‘I am a webmaster, and committee member. I have to keep in touch.’

I said: ‘My blog needs doing every day.’

I am in denial.

I should have been able to cope for two weeks with limited access to my laptop, but I can’t. In Bangkok I kept disappearing into my office to ‘work’ and they noticed my absences.

They asked gently: ‘Does it take a long time to do the blog?’

I had to bring it on holiday to the beach, and I’ve got on the wifi router at the hotel every day to check my mail, post my blog, check everyone else’s, fiddle about with my technology… I am even doing it this morning, when we are leaving at 10.30am.

Sister-in-law asked: ‘Can’t you say on your blog that you’re away on holiday and will be back soon?’

‘No, no. I don’t want to go away: I need my laptop with me.’

My sister-in-law has diagnosed PMT-SA.

Personal Mobile Technology – Separation Anxiety.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Thailand Post

Isn’t it funny how you can sit down to write, knowing what you’re going to write about, and yet once you start your fingers and brain go off on a completely different tangent? That happened to me yesterday. So today I am attempting again to write the posting that I planned to write yesterday. Does that make any sense?

So here we all are at the beach. We’re somewhere called Bansaphan, Prachuapkhirikhan, which probably isn’t much use to you; it’s on the Gulf of Thailand, an area not affected by the Tsunami of 2004. The sea has waves, which makes a change from the other places we’ve been beachside in Thailand. Sometimes the sea is so still that I long for the drama of the English Sea (I used to live in Dorset). I feel guilty saying that though, because the Thais have experienced the drama of the power of the sea and it was devastating.

Thailand has suffered both with the Tsunami and with the resultant knock to its tourism industry. As a mainly Buddhist country, many Thais believe in ghosts and they will not go to the areas that they believe are inhabited by spirits. Thai tourism needs visitors to go back to those areas: this, and a good price is why we went to Khao Lak the first time.

We’ve been to Khao Lak, north of Phuket, twice. It was ravaged by the Tsunami. I was afraid: it was so peaceful there, hardly a wave on the surface of the bluest sea I’d ever seen, and yet always I would have in my head the violence that had taken place just 18 months earlier. Sometimes I would sit and scan the horizon, looking for approaching waves. Silly I know, but I was scared.

My children had a go at scuba diving in the hotel pool with a gorgeous Swedish girl. She had a tattoo on her shoulders in Thai, and one of the children asked what it meant: she said “it says: ‘live every day as if it’s your last.’” It’s hard to be judgmental about a pedestrian statement when you think about what people have experienced.

My fingers have written something else of their own accord again. I didn’t plan to write this… I wonder why it happened.

Will I ever be able to write the other one?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Family holidays

My sister-in-law and her family have come out to Bangkok see us for Easter. Although we keep in touch pretty well, it’s lovely to see them all here and for them to see where and how we live. In the UK we didn’t live that close to Sister/Brother-in-law who have small children (now 5 and nearly 7) so when we came to live in Thailand the cousins hadn’t spent lots of time together: family celebrations were the only time they saw each other, and their little ones were a bit small to remember.

So now they can get to know each other very well and enjoy each other’s company for almost two weeks: one week in Bangkok and 5 days at the beach.

(My) daughter has innate maternal skills she did not get from watching me. She takes care of her little cousins: anticipating and dissipating tantrums and hissy fits. There’s been lots of frolicking in the swimming pool; performances organised and presented, suncream applied, all by daughter, so sister/brother-in-law are getting some down time and a proper holiday.

With 'almost teenagers', I’d forgotten how hard work small children are: how you cannot take your eyes off them for long. I watch with delight at the energy, the get up and go and selflessness of daughter and it makes me very proud. I also see her recognizing when she needs to spend time alone, and announcing ‘I’m staying home today to work.’

I’ve never spent as long as two weeks with Sister-in-law either, so new stories are exchanged: tales husband has told me from his perspective are shared by her from her standpoint.

My dining chair seats are covered in Marmite, paint has been picked off our paintings and there’s pee all over the loo seats, but our children have created memories, anecdotes to share with their cousins and to tell their children, stories to reminisce over in years to come.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mrs Dordi

While I was writing The People Who Changed My Life something (nosiness?) made me google Mrs Dordi who had taught me at Grammar School. Although she was always ‘Mrs Dordi’ her christian name flew unbidden into my head.

She was a lovely teacher, a huge influence in my school life and my love of literature. I remember her perched on the edge of a desk, always smiling. I can’t place which works I did for O Level and which I did for A Level, but I remember lots of them, and still love them: Othello, Romeo and Juliet, The Wife of Bath, 1984, Animal Farm, The Crucible, Lord of the Flies, Testament of Youth.

I don’t know what I expected to find; I suppose I thought she’d still be teaching, probably at the same school. But instead I found her details here. Having retired from my school, she has been teaching creative writing at Canterbury University, writing her own poetry and editing a poetry magazine Equinox.

I wrote her an email:

Dear Mrs Dordi (I can’t call you anything else)

I don’t know if you remember me – but I was writing something
on my blog when I decided to google you: and there you were.

And then I signed off

The next day I got an email back. It was so lovely, but she signed off

Barbara (you can't possibly continue with Mrs Dordi)

So I wrote:

Dear Barbara (oh my goodness, I’m not 40 years old, I’m suddenly 13 again)

Isn’t it funny how 25 years can evaporate in an instant?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Slightly Disaffected Ranting

I‘ve just started a book which doesn’t follow my normal choice of reading material.

It’s historical fiction. I have read and enjoyed some (Sarah Waters) but really I’d rather read something written in that period. I love Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth and Testament of Experience; and Robert Graves’ Goodbye to All That, and Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man and Memoirs of an Infantry Officer. There’s plenty of other great material to choose from too.

I picked up this historical fiction with a view to taking it to the beach. It covers early 20th century London with a young woman who qualifies as a doctor. So I’m fascinated by the period, I’m interested in and have studied the women’s movement and various members of my family are doctors, so medicine appeals to me too.

Just about instantly I knew I’d made a mistake, but having paid good money for it, and wanting something that let me relax and didn’t demand to much, I persevered. (And I feel a strong obligation to finish any book I start.) The whole thing has an anachronistic flavour and I find myself stopping and thinking ‘would they actually have said that then?’ Cursed with the ‘look it up’ gene, I’ve gone and checked out the date of origin for some phrases and they are just about okay. For example one character says something ‘boggles the mind’ each individual word of which is fine and was easily in use at that time; but ‘mind boggling’ wasn’t in use until 1960-5. Did we call policemen ‘cops’ in the early 20th century (coppers, yes, but cops?) Or is that an Americanism?

I am sure I am begging and praying to be criticized and found fault with; undoubtedly people will leave comments correcting my grammar and finding all sorts of errors in my writing. I don’t wish this to be personal or some kind of witch hunt. I am in awe of anyone who finishes writing a book, let alone gets it published, but I think I have learned to stick to work published in that period.

Maybe I haven't just got the 'look it up' gene - maybe I've also got the 'nit-picking' gene too.

Damn it; that means son's got the 'splitting hairs' gene from me and not husband.

Blast, perhaps I'd just better quit now, while I'm ahead. Am I ahead? Or is that the 'competitive' gene kicking in?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

I am easily bewildered

This posting is a bit out of date, but on Saturday I commented (24 hours late) at Kate’s novel racers’ coffee morning.

I was late to comment because I was in a state of confusion; it wasn’t Good Friday here in Thailand but it was a public holiday, so husband was off work, which meant I got bewildered and thought it was Saturday. It also wasn’t helped by the fact that Sister-in-Law and family are here and the grown-ups went out on Thursday evening to experience some of the Bangkok nightlife (blimey, the mind boggles!) and I felt terribly hungover most of Friday.

So I apologised at coffee for being so late, and I said it was down to Chakri Day here in Thailand, which I wasn’t sure what it was and was too poorly to be able to go away and research.

But it troubled me that I didn’t know what’s going on here: I’m a guest in Thailand and it matters to me that I take part in the culture. Also I grew up encouraged to 'look it up', and no inertia can really prevent me from doing that, eventually.

I have put that right and now I know that Chakri Day, which was last Friday, was the anniversary of the founding of the present Royal dynasty, of which His Majesty King Bhumibol is the ninth King.

So now I feel much relieved and we’ve all learned something too.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The People That Changed My Life

My local English Language bookshop (Kinokuniya) is doing a promotion at the moment of books about books: titles such as So Many Books; The Book On the Book Shelf; Every Book its Reader; A Passion for Books and The Book That Changed My Life.

This last title, The Book That Changed My Life, as well as some of the memes doing the rounds on blogs has made me worry (again). The blurb tells me ‘every reader has a book that changed their life’. Inside the book successful authors list their top ten books and say what individual book had the most profound effect on their life.

So what worried me? I did only flick through it briefly, but there were an awful lot of highbrow titles and authors mentioned and I am suspicious that when someone comes to you and says ‘we’re publishing a book about authors’ top ten books’ they aren’t very likely to admit they like something trashy, are they?

The second thing that made me fret was that I don’t have a book that changed my life and I feel a bit bereft.

Books (period) have changed my life.

I can’t live without them.

When husband asked me to move to Bangkok I decided that I could only if my husband and children came with me and I had a good supply of books. They really are the only things I need (although I may get a bit grumpy without tea).

So it may not be a single book that changed my life, but I have people and events that changed my book life.

In my third year at primary school I was taught by a lovely man called Barry Place – he made me love words and made me realize that I could string them together to make people feel things. On the shelf in his class room I found a book by Lorna Hill about a girl who is orphaned and has to go to Newcastle to live with her horrible cousins, when all she really wants to do is go to the Royal Ballet School in London. It was a series of books and I fell in love for the first time.

I also fell head over heels in love with Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers, Twins at St Clare’s, the Famous Five and I tolerated the Secret Seven because otherwise I’d run out of her stories.

When I was a child we lived in a village without a butchers (bear with me) so every Saturday morning we had to drive to the next village along to buy our Sunday meat. I went every weekend with my Mum to the butchers because opposite was a little independent bookshop called ‘Goblins Bookshop’ (I’m sorry, I can’t remember if there was one goblin or many, so I’ve left out the apostrophe) run by a lovely little man called Mr White. Every single Saturday my Mum would take me into his shop and buy me books. We used to sit in his back room drinking tea, and talking about books. It was magical.

In my second year at high school Mr Caldwell introduced me to AE Housman.

At Grammar school Mrs Dordi taught me a passion for literature from 13 through to 18.

The list isn’t complete without acknowledging my parents’ generosity in buying me books. They consistently allowed me to choose my reading material without judgement, always having books in the house, and encouraging all reading and writing.

Monday, April 02, 2007

To Be Read

While reading about the lovely Lucy Diamond’s outcoming book, Any Way You Want Me, I’ve been intrigued at the tiniest detail a few of you have communicated in Lucy’s comments.

Helen (at Redders’ Ramblings) said that Lucy’s book will be her “next book to read (even though I have another twenty in my pile)!”

And then Rivergirlie said she would start Lucy’s book next “bumping everything else on the tbr pile.”

Now I’m fascinated by this idea that they might be reading their To Be Read pile in some kind of order? Or have I misunderstood?

I too have a big pile of To Be Read books, a random selection of which is pictured, but I don’t read them in any order, and I couldn’t. When I finish a book I grieve for a bit for the friends I’ve made and lost (if it’s good) and then after a suitable mourning period (five minutes to five days) I select another book. This is a hugely important process, and depends what I feel like; what mood I am in. Sometimes I can’t find anything on my TBR pile that I want to read at the moment! Horrifying but lovely because it means I can go out and buy more books. And sometimes Book Club looming requires that I read something specific, but after the meeting I feel liberated by my free choice.

Some books remain on my To Be Read pile for ever.

What does everyone else do?