Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The worst wife in the world

Who knew that a stationery fetish is genetically inherited? Well, whether it’s nature or nurture, our children seem to have got a double dose of it.

After lunch on Sunday we went off to an office supplies shop. I needed A-Z dividers and my life was going to fall apart if I didn’t get them but I’m not sure if anyone else actually needed anything; it was more of a speculative, dribble fest kind of retail opportunity.

But I think it might be a bit of a sickness.

I mean I know we writers all like notebooks and pens and probably some of us would admit to buying post it notes ‘just in case’ not to mention erasers, pencils and paper clips in different colours…

But what worries me… is it normal to get excited about devising and issuing identity cards on lanyards to the family just to get into our apartment? What about having receipts and invoices and carbon paper when we issue our children with their pocket money? And what about a ‘PAID’ stamp in red ink for when we’ve given them their pocket money?

Rubber stamps have nearly caused a war already in The Towers. A couple of years ago Husband purchased a collection of rubber stamps: ‘To Do’ ‘File’ and ‘Shred.’ He put this collection on the hall stand and when he opened the mail he would stamp the paperwork with whatever action he wanted me to carry out.

*GASP*

I know.

So it was nearly Christmas; I plotted and planned. I went out into Bangkok and had something special made for him.

This was it:


It's amazing how quickly those other little stamps disappeared.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reading

I can stop harping on about the internet and the Mac now. All fixed. It’s time to retire off the old PC and get to love the Mac.

I’ve been reading my first draft. I made the gargantuan mistake of reading Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn at the same time. Not simultaneously, obviously, because that would be impossible. During the day when I was working I read my draft and then when I’d stopped work I’d read One Good Turn. Talk about inferiority complex. I got quite depressed.

When I finished One Good Turn (particularly loved the opening scenes) I started Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This is a futuristic, YA novel set in a dystopian US, way out of my genre but one of the blogs I read (I’m sorry I don’t know which one) recommended it as a good example of tension on every page. Son had read it and I like to keep up a bit with what he enjoys so I put it on my pile to read, not really thinking I’d get around to it. Yesterday, I picked it up and started it but it was so… well, not my thing that after a few pages I thought I’d just read a bit to have a look at the way Collins had achieved the tension … and do you know only a few pages later, before I knew it, I couldn’t put it down.

Isn't it funny how a book can creep up on you like that?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Internet fairies fail to show up

I declared yesterday ‘sorting out internet day.’

I’ve scanned the internet and there seem to be a number of Apple Macs falling off the internet but no apparent diagnosis. Because I have a PC sitting next to it, which ISN’T falling off the wifi I know it’s the Mac. Both our January visitors had Macs which did the same thing.

I was home all day for engineers to call so I put the problem in the hands of the management office who have a contract with the service provider – and after all, who we are paying for ‘internet service.’ As a result ‘sorting out internet day’ flew by; nobody called and I still have no internet on my Mac. Lots of lovely wifi airwaves whirling around in the air but none of them attaching themselves to the new computer.

While I was in the management office, I picked up a parcel. It was a garganuan pile of post from our house in the UK and was posted on 9th December! While I waited for the internet fairies to come I got all of that post dealt with. After five years of living in Bangkok, I finally got around to changing my address at the UK bank. I’m a firm believe that if you leave your paperwork in a ‘To Do’ pile for long enough, much of it can be put straight in the bin when you finally get around to dealing with it.

Today I woke and in a Groundhog kind of way, declared the day ‘sorting out internet day.’ Then I had a stroke of genius – they don’t happen often – and googled the name of the wifi repeater we have. Doh; they only work on Window OS. I still don’t have internet, but at least now I know why.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mixed messages

I grew up in an environment that valued music and yet it wasn’t a home that played a lot.

I did however start learning the piano as a child. On the plus side, I got to miss French but on the minus, then I was rubbish at piano and French.

Years ago at my parents’ I found an old piano report in which my teacher had written: “Jenny seems to have problems sending messages from her brain to her fingers.”

It’s so true. I do.

Once I was cycling across Cookham Bridge after a long bike ride, I meant to call out to Husband to say we shouldn’t be cycling on the pavement but what I actually did was pull my brake! We weren’t going very fast but I still went flying into my handlebars while, in oblivion, my family continued on (illegally) over the bridge.

Another time, just after I’d met Husband’s family and was still trying to make a good impression, I was making coffee. I picked up the kettle and poured it into the jar of coffee and not the cups.

Sometimes these days if I’m returning to my office with a cup of tea, I might pick up something of the children’s from the dining room table to put in their room. I stand at their bedroom door and fling the item onto the child’s bed; but what if, one day, I fling my cup of tea instead?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Stories

I’m sure you’re dying to know how the hunt for treasury tags in Bangkok went last week. Not. But I’m going to tell you anyway  (there's always the off button) because it reminds me of another story from a life time ago when I lived in London during a gap year between school and university.

But first, back to Bangkok. I went to my local office supplies store, armed with a photograph of treasury tags, knowing perfectly well you DON’T attempt such a foolhardy task without photographic evidence. How many times have I attempted verbal only communication? A recent conversation in the Apple computer shop went something like this:

Me: Do you have an itornado cable?
Her: iTunes?
Me: No, itornado? To move data between a PC and a Mac.
Her: iTunes?
Me: No, I-T-O-R-N-A-D-O (slowly and clearly)
Her: iTunes?

So you get the picture. This is no-one’s fault but mine. My Thai will get me food, find the loo and give directions to the taxi to get me home while chatting about my family; and thereabouts it stops.

Back in the office supply shop, she peers at my picture; she leans across and shows it to her colleague and they both look puzzled. Then a light comes on and she points at the treasury tag and says “you want this?” “Yes” I say. So I follow her across the shop, dodging customers and displays of stationery. “There!” She says, pointing to the balls of string: treasury tags without the hard bit. *sigh*

It reminded me of another occasion when I was eighteen, and living in what, in those days, wasn’t ├╝ber trendy Notting Hill Gate. I can’t remember anything else about the dinner party we were having except the shopping trip. Up the road in the supermarket, we’d got all the ingredients except the bouquet garni. When we asked for help the shop assistant looked blank. I grew up with cooks so I knew what they were, but not everyone would, so I explained: “it’s a mixture of different herbs,” I said, “and they sell them in what looks like a teabag.” She thought for a while and then she said: “Well, the herbs are in aisle 4 and the teabags are in aisle 11.”

So, you know what? It’s not just in Thailand.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"Could do better"

I’m all cackhanded.

I haven’t been able to make a total switch the new MacBook Pro because I’m inept I hadn’t got the right software on it.

I am a bit ham-fisted too. I only have enough brain power either to write or use the Mac. Now that the four travel articles have been done and it’s only the edits I’m dealing with – which are going well – it’s crunch time.

I’ve got Scrivener installed – almost my sole reason for wanting a Mac – and yesterday I got all the other essential software organised. I need Microsoft Office because the children use it and we’re constantly passing work back and forwards. Most important though was Photoshop. I learned it so that I could prepare photos for the website I worked on. Honestly, the website software, Dreamweaver, left me likely to commit heinous crimes, but Photoshop? I fell in love. This 2007 example of my procrastination Photoshop skills is one of my all time favourites.

So all I need to do now is transfer the files from PC to Mac and work out why Mac keeps falling off the internet while PC doesn’t.

And then *gulp* it’s Mac time only.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Only a bit obsessed

When I first came to Thailand I couldn’t find elastic bands anywhere. I hunted in stationery shops, ironmongery shops, anywhere I thought there might be a chance of finding them. I knew perfectly well that these canny fasteners were available as most of the street food is sold in plastic bags, secured with elastic bands but could I find out where to buy them? Nope. Eventually a year or two ago I noticed novelty elastic bands appearing in funky stationery shops; call me boring but I wanted utilitarian not poncy.

Hair grips were also a problem; Daughter occasionally needs hair grips to put her hair up in a bun. I scanned the beauty departments, markets, chemists, supermarkets; hair clips, ties and bows? Yep: EVERYWHERE. Hair grips? Was it some kind of conspiracy?

It was the same thing with safety pins and blotting paper. I even went into the Mont Blanc pen shop and asked. I described how to prevent your ink from smudging after you’ve written with your beautiful ink pen. No; clearly I was from Mars. In the end I was so traumatised that my sister in law purchased blotting paper in Bath, England, and sent it to me. And I bought wholesale sized cartons of elastic bands, hair grips and safety pins when I was in the UK. Sod’s law is that now I see hair grips everywhere.

Today, I’m obsessing over treasury tags. I need them. I may not be able to write and carve up my first draft without them. I’m going out, armed with a picture to see if I can locate them.

I might be some time.

Procrastinating? Me?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wishful thinking

When Son and I were staying in Chiang Mai at half term, the hotel gave us a fortune cookie each day after housekeeping had been to clean the rooms. Here are three of mine:



I got it twice; it must be true. *Sigh*

I do wish that they applied to any part of my life but I seem to be out of control in every sphere right now.

So I am going to assume (and pray) that they apply to the writing part of my life. They certainly should: I am the only one at the helm. (WHAT? There’s no-one else in charge? EEEEK.)

Just before the red shirts' midday deadline kicks off, I am going to get myself out of the apartment for some air and to do a few jobs. I need to pick some New Red Editing pens, because L-Plate told me so. I am listening to her because she knows these things, even though I think scythes and bin bags might be more in order. What I have to do to this manuscript is looking less like editing and more like wholesale slaughter.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Red shirts, red toe and red with excitement

Yesterday the children and Husband worked from home (oh how the children cursed e-learning technology.) The city of Bangkok is eerily quiet and many activities have been postponed or cancelled. From yesterday the UDD, or red shirts, were accumulating in various points to march on Bangkok to try to persuade the prime minister to dissolve the government in favour of a truly democratic government.

After cutting her toe, Daughter and I had to go to the hospital yesterday afternoon for a tetanus shot. The streets were deserted and the hospital was like a ghost town. We got there and back inside an hour: unheard of.

***

So today, I have finished and sent off my last two travel articles; I have made some changes to the edited essay that my editor returned to me and sent that back too.

And.

Now.

After a three month break…

I am so excited.

I am printing off my novel.

And starting the first edit.

Oh yes.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Photo

No, don't ask me what's going on - I only live here.

There I was, innocently shopping in MBK, when I chanced upon this:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

City of Angels

I have been trying to put this post together for nearly a week. I’ve failed to find the words to describe the evening but I’m posting this anyway. It was one of the most extraordinary nights I’ve ever experienced here.

Last Thursday two friends told me that they were going to an Angel party that evening and they asked me if I wanted to go with them. This is a Thai party, my friend told me, where people-who-happen-also-to-be-angels are taken over by spirits; they go into a trance.

Most Thais believe in ghosts; mediums are admired and monks are consulted to gain auspicious names for babies, lucky dates to get married or open businesses. From what I gathered Thai people believe some people are angels. You can’t choose to be one; you are or you aren’t. When you are possessed by the spirit you can do all sorts of things that you couldn’t normally do. Coincidentally, this month the magazine Traversing the Orient covered a photographer who had delved into this spiritual part of Thai life.

The longer I am in Thailand, the less I seem to understand.

Enough with the talk; I didn’t learn enough to understand exactly what was going on and I think I need time to process it. Suffice to say that three western women turned up to a Thai community party about an hour out of Bangkok and we were welcomed most generously, given free food, and allowed to take pictures. Here are some of mine:





My friend Claire's YouTube of the evening is here.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A Blog Award

Lovely Debs in her shed has passed this Prolific Blogger Award on to me. I’m particularly pleased to have this award because I do love blogging and I had a dry patch recently which made me sad.

There are a few rules that come attached to it:
1. Every winner of the Prolific Blogger Award has to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers.
2. Each Prolific Blogger must link to the blog from which he/she has received the award.
3. Every Prolific Blogger must link back to This Post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.
4. Every Prolific Blogger must visit this post and add his/her name in the Mr. Linky, so that we all can get to know the other.

So my award goes to the following because they are all lovely and more:

1. HelenMH who blogs, twitters, works and subs like a machine.
2. SueG because I love how her blog reflects all the interests she has.
3. Fia because maybe she’s needing an award right now.
4. LizF because she flies between London and Dubai all the time and I think she must be perpetually jet lagged but still she manages to write…
5. Qwerty Queen because she’s always first on my blog come the UK morning.
6. Chris Stovell because she makes me laugh.
7. Angie because she’s been visiting my blog almost as long as I’ve had it.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Moral support

Some weeks ago I went on an outing with a friend at her request. I went as her moral support.

Normally I am a good friend. I will go and sit in hospitals, dentists or wait in dressing rooms while friend tries on millions of [insert type of clothing that makes woman friend lose the will to live.] But this time… I can’t believe how badly I let my friend down.

Woman friend had never plucked her eyebrows nor ever had them plucked. Now, don’t get me wrong, woman friend wasn’t sporting a monobrow or Dennis Healey set but they were a little straggly. A new eyebrow spa – straight from LA, I’ll have you know – appeared in one of our malls and we discussed the idea of her going.

We went. We asked the ‘eyebrow stylist’ if I could join her as she was nervous. Now this eyebrow spa has a system (the same system that they use in LA, so it must be good) and you have to sign to say you agree to them using their system. It involves measuring and marking the ideal eyebrow shape from the side of the nose to the ends of your eye. Then they place a stencil over the victim customer’s own eyebrows and use a black pencil to fill in the ideal shape. When they remove the stencil, they can see the stray hairs that need to be waxed and plucked.

I knew that the black pencil was just so they could identify the hairs that could go but woman friend lay back in the chair in this beautiful pink spa, gripping the arm rests wearing these ferocious black eyebrows… so much worse they’d been before we started. They looked as though they might start having a life of their own. And I am ashamed to say that I started to giggle. The more I giggled the more embarrassed I became because the poor, lovely, Thai eyebrow stylist was just doing her job. The more embarrassed I got the more I giggled.It was such a smart spa too.

Have you ever done that? I remember doing it in a Latin class once at university. It’s something about the environment too; the more unsuitable the time or the place, the more uncontrollable the giggles. In the end it’s not about anything funny but more like hiccoughs, something you have no control over.

By this time she was having the exposed non blackened hairs waxed and the skin around the black bits were steadily turning scarlet. I thought I might have to leave the room – I think woman friend would have been okay about that frankly, relieved even. In the end my horror at embarrassing the eyebrow stylist finally gave me some self control.

Anyway, I thought I should just pop by to say woman friend, your eyebrows are perfect. And sorry, obviously.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Blog splash

I'm delighted to be part of Fiona Robyn's Blog Splash for her new Book, Thaw. You can read the opening right here in my blog and follow the link to continue reading tomorrow. If, after whetting your appetite, you can't wait, then it's available from Amazon UK or The Book Depository.

Ruth's diary is the new novel by Fiona Robyn, called Thaw. She has decided to blog the novel in its entirety over the next few months, so you can read it for free.

Ruth's first entry is below, and you can continue reading tomorrow here.

*

These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It’s a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we’re being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.

The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they’re stuck to the outside of her hands. They’re a colour that’s difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I’m giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don’t think I’m alone in wondering whether it’s all worth it. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I’ve heard the weary grief in my dad’s voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I’m Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I’m sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat; books you have to take in both hands to lift. I’ve had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I’ve still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about; princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad’s snoring was.

I’ve always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I’ll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say; ‘It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for’, before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It’ll all be here. I’m using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I’m striping the paper. I’m near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I’m allowed to make my decision. That’s it for today. It’s begun.

Continue reading tomorrow here...