Friday, 30 September 2011

Slippy sloppy slope

Forsaking haiku
is the slippy sloppy slope:
shun unsought advice!

Wanted: Eliza Gray. Preferably Alive

Oh God. Kate Reddy says, in I Don't Know How She Does It, 'I think giving up work is like becoming a missing person. One of the domestic Disappeared. The post offices of Britain should be full of Wanted posters for women who lost themselves in their children and were never seen again.'

Yes. I am lost. Only I'm worse than a domestic Disappeared. I am an undomestic Disappeared. I seem to have forsaken the art of washing up, the art of cooking, the art of bothering to turn on the Rayburn (which has remained off since the day I bought up armfuls of Thai cooking ingredients to feed my Passion for South-East Asian Cuisine), the art of putting the washing in the washing machine and hanging it on the line (due to fact that reaching washing machine requires the art of removing coats, hockey stick and Hoover from the cupboard first, while avoiding tennis racket and hessian shopping bags falling on head).

The only thing I'm lost in these days is ferrying. Ferrying Dusty to and from the vet. Ferrying Lily to and from school. With detours due to road closures. (While I have been criss-crossing the countryside to get home so that I can stare at my house in dismay and spend an hour or two plucking up courage to switch on the computer, other Manor mothers, it transpires, went to the beach yesterday, only to be surrounded by tattoed nudist males. Why? Why doesn't this happen to me?) The upshot of all that ferrying and criss-crossing being that I don't get to my computer cupboard until 11am at the earliest, and then it's nearly time for lunch. And then I look at the mess that surrounds the kitchen sink, the unwashed Le Creuset with the encrusted chilli con carne that has been sitting there since last weekend, and opt once more for a garden lettuce (yes! One small success in my life is that I have Grown My Own lettuces from seed, planted on the last day of their Plant By date, 31 July) and a couple of oatcakes. Practically the fat of the land.

Anyway, so disgusted with myself am I by the extent of my daily lack of achievement (exacerbated by listening to Arthur Edwards, The Sun's royal photographer, telling us on Desert Island Discs that he has a wonderful 50-year marriage, three wonderful children of whom he is proud, and No Regrets, oh, except for photographing a pregnant Princess Di in her bikini) that I am now making myself apply for 3 jobs, as instructed by Meredith.

1. Baby photographer/sales rep at maternity unit in Canham (inspired by Arthur - well, you've got to start somewhere, and one of those babies may grow up to be a prince or princess - nice little retirement package!). I've taken some sweet snaps of Lily, and it's all about being nice to new mums, which I definitely would be. Hmmm. Says 'must live close to the hospital'. Wonder how fast I can safely go through the 30 limits? Anyway, people travel for hours to get to their jobs round here, so surely 45 minutes must rate as 'close'?

2. School cover supervisor at Canham Academy. £9.23 an hour, 18 hours a week. Hmmm - £166.14 a week. Pathetic, but less pathetic than pizza delivery. 8.15am start. Meaning 7.30am departure from home, or 7.20am to allow time for forgetting things and having to re-enter house. Hmmm. Unlikely, but might be achievable. 

3. Part-time administrative assistant in an art gallery near Candlebury. No mention of hours or pay. Of course, am highly qualified for this - in fact practically over-qualified, having worked in a London art gallery for two years - if a little rusty on skills. Must take a look at that Excel for Dummies Meredith sent me.

Ta-da! On way to becoming gainfully employed. Initially tempted by job as Customer Services Assistant to William Hill, 'focusing on delivering a great gambling experience for our customers'. But put off by the paltry remuneration of £6.08 to £6.22 per hour. Suspect William Hill pays himself somewhat more. Perhaps gambling is the way to go? Click William Hill. Yes! Online poker! No, no, no. It's the casinos and bookies who make the money, not the punters. Click Wikipedia, William Hill. Deceased. Started out with an illegal gambling den. Hmmm. Maybe I could run a stall as an add-on at Mistlebourne Market? Will run the idea past Meredith.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Skyping with Meredith

Meredith skypes from Brussels, between meetings with the Euro idiots (I refer to Peter Oborne, who seemed to have downed a few prior to his Newsnight performance, in which he called this poor po-faced EU politico an idiot one too many times, resulting in his walking off screen, leaving Paxman and Oborne squabbling like naughty boys over whether he deserved it). Anyway, Meredith is being feted by yet another European Count. I've lost count of her Counts. She seems to have one in every member state.

'So how's the job-hunting going, sweetie?'

'Well...' I play for time. 'The thing is, this Daily Haiku Challenge is taking up a lot of time.'

'What are you talking about?' Even though she's breaking up on screen, I can see the scorn radiating from every pixel.

'Well, I went to see Uncle Maurice, who's not exactly an uncle but some sort of distant cousin by marriage, and he was shocked that my memory was going at such a young age, and he said he had an excuse at 80, but actually his brain is as sharp as a dye, and anyway, he asked what it was like living in the country and I told him it was nice but a bit quiet and backwatery and he said, "well then, you're going to die," and he said when it came to the Day of Judgement, as I stood at those pearly gates, they might let me in if I'd done something a bit more edifying with my time than watching Love Films, such as writing poetry.'

Meredith has folded her arms, presumably in exasperation. Or boredom.

'Anyway, so then he sent me this postcard, challenging me to write a haiku a day - he said it would sharpen my brain.'

'OK, Eliza, my response to that is:

a) you are not a poet and you never will be, so don't waste time writing second-rate poetry
b) it's sharp as a tack, not sharp as a dye, and he doesn't know a thing about the menopause, because every woman I know of our age is suffering from their memory and eyesight fading
c) it's distracting you from getting a job
d) you need the money.

So tell Uncle Maurice to go sit on his hands!'

Hmmm. With Dusty off walks and Lily at school, it's about the only thing motivating me to get out of bed. That and the sourdough bread. Argh! The sourdough! Keep forgetting to feed the starter! It's been lying, dormant, in the fridge for days now. If it were a goldfish, it would be dead.

'How is Lily?' Meredith is asking in honeyed tones, perhaps to atone for the haiku assassination.

'Still wanting to board full time, but I still want her home on a regular basis. When she's out of my grasp she goes a bit feral.'

'Oh you're doing the right thing, sweetie. As much time as you can spend with her during her childhood is a gift that she'll value later in life.'

'Hmmm. Might turn out to be a poisoned chalice.'

'Enough of your nonsense, Eliza! Right, I have to go into another meeting. I'm going to skype you tomorrow and I want to hear that you've applied for three jobs between now and then. OK? Grasp the nettle!'

The screen goes black before I can tell her about the Entrepreneur Evening and turning Passion into Profit and Cass's and my pop-up restaurant plans.

I suppose I'd better check out this week's Candlebury Advertiser.

Bleeding heart

Held in summer’s warm
caress, and yet my heart bleeds;
foreseeing the end

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Indian summer

Early morning sun
melting mist, waking the day –
England’s finest hour

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Horizon dazzle

Neon yellow slash
twixt earth and heavenly blue
God's highlighter pen

* * *

The market is toast?
Big institutions don’t care?
Reality check

Monday, 26 September 2011

On the wagon


A word you won't find in a haiku. A word you won't find in the dictionary. A word you will find on the net. Is nothing new under the sun?

Pinking cheer

Argh! My worst-case scenario has come to pass. I was just downstairs, pondering whether this feeling of hot-headedness is an official Symptom – ie hot flush – or due, rather, to a) sleeping above the aga, and/or b) recently implementing the Eliza Stannah; I go upstairs to re-wake Lily, when I hear the familiar patter of Dusty’s feet following me up the spiral stairs! Before I can stop her she’s half-way up, and when she’s neither up nor down, I can’t turn her round, so she has to come all the way up and I now have to put the Stannah in motion once again, resulting in more hot-headedness, clawed thighs, scraped elbows and strained lower back!


Miracle dog. The vet is cheered, he says, by Dusty’s appearance. It's not what he expected. She has lost 2kg of fluid around her neck and chest and looks brimming with youth once more. Her eyes are no longer red-rimmed and poppy, her breathing is much clearer. He is wondering whether in fact there was a growth at all – especially given that they couldn’t see one on the X-ray or scan – and whether it might have been some circulatory obstruction (ie clot) that caused the strokes and build up of fluid, and whether it might now have broken down and be going back to normal. A bit like when someone’s put sugar in your fuel tank. She’s been pinking. To what, however, can we put it down? The steroids or the apricot kernels? 

She can come downstairs on her own four paws tomorrow.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Hypocrisy reigns


So much for our productive morning. Lily has just surfaced. I am at the kitchen table, engrossed in I Don’t Know How She Does It, thinking, I Don’t Know How I Do So Little. And still feel tired.

‘So what’s going on?’ asks Lily.

‘I’m just reading.’

‘I thought you said you weren’t meant to read at breakfast.’ She’s now sitting beside me in her nightie, spoiling for a conversation.  

‘Well now you know how it feels to be completely ignored at breakfast.’

‘And now you know how it feels to be such a hypocrite.’ She stalks back upstairs.

About 20 minutes later, I go upstairs to find her sitting on her bed, still in her nightdress, staring into space, somehow rooted to the spot. Where does she get it from, I wonder?


Lily catches me looking into the middle distance, tapping my fingers, one by one, on my forehead.

‘What are you doing? Oh,’ she turns away dismissively, ‘a haiku.’

‘Hypocrite,’ she cries.
Hard to practise what you preach -
parent conundrum

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Faithful hound

Summer-yellow rape
streaking on the horizon - 
lifting dank spirits

Dusty is rallying. Whether it's the steroids or apricot kernels that are working their magic, she looks slender-necked and youthful again. Watched over her as if she were a newborn baby yesterday evening, monitoring every shallow inbreath and short puffy outbreath. At bedtime, nothing will keep her from her dutiful place at Lily's bedside. I try coaxing, even manually pushing, her into the bathroom downstairs, but she's having none of it. I decide the strain on her vital organs of resisting being shut up downstairs is probably greater than that of battling up the stairs.

This morning, I take her two breakfasts in bed. The first, two capsules of Vetmedin and seven crushed apricot kernels in a ball of dogfood. Half an hour later, one and a half Vivitonin in another ball of dogfood. Half an hour later, she rises and comes downstairs (via the rusty Eliza Stannah) for her full English breakfast with a sprinkling of steroids and antibiotics. Touch wood and fingers crossed, she seems quite perky. Walking. Trotting. Rolling on her bone.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Long knives

Night of the long knives,
stabbing into self-esteem
Tried and found guilty

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a woman PANIC! Only 6.25am, but given that I went to bed at the same time as Lily, at 9.45, I’ve dunsleepin’ so should leap out of bed, rejoicing at having an extra hour to Do something in. But what? Indulge in one of my non-existent hobbies? Yoga? Urgh. Meditation? Urgh. A dawn walk? Waaaa. Would love to be someone who does dawn walk for pure enjoyment of dawn walk (plus thigh-toning exercise) but this morning the idea of it makes me feel desolate. No Dusty. Part of my love of walking is sharing it with her, the simple, pure pleasure of her enjoyment. Plus strategising to avoid sheep, using my ingenuity to cross fences (oh yes, I've had Dusty tightroping logs), exploring new territory, navigating back to where we started.  I now realise our walks were not just a physical but a brain workout. Walking seems pointless without her. Lonely, anyway. Intimidating, even, when it comes to new territory forged alone.

A little part of me is saying: no dog, less dirt and hair; no dog, freedom to winter in Asia. But the growing realisation of impending no dog is a wave of bleakness. At 50, I am suffering from premature bereavement of a partner coupled with premature empty-nest syndrome. The little voice in my head is getting louder: Get a job. Get A Job. GET A JOB, WOMAN!

Or go to Asia?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

She's not there

Dusty still at the vet's. More investigations. Fluid all around her chest, compressing her right lung to the extent that it didn't show up on the X-ray yesterday. My brave girl. I go to see her and she gamely bounds towards me, doing her little half-jumps of glee. With one lung and a murmuring heart, all puffy-chested and wheezy. I administer her first dose of apricot kernels, but now she's staying in an extra night, she'll miss tomorrow morning's dose. Now scanned, steroid-injected, heart-medicated, resting.

Each time I  go to get up from my chair, I check to see Dusty's not under it before I push it backwards. Each time I go out, I anticipate the patter of Dusty's paws on the wooden floor as she comes over to the door. And I keep nearly treading in her water bowl.

Come on, miracle cure.


Recycling haiku
when inspiration fails you -

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Vetted 2

All around are signs:
Dusty's lead, bowl, bed, pills, food -
absence feeds worst fears

I am at home. Dusty is not. She went in this morning for investigations. It wasn't an old-age stroke after all; it is a specific mystery condition, which they can't actually see, but which they imagine to be a 'space-occupying lesion' which I think means a tumour in lay language, which is resulting in 'oedema' (swelling) in the neck and, hot-off-the-press today, a collapsed lung. It is presumably the same thing that has been pressing on her heart and stopping blood flow to brain, hence funny turns. She is having a night at the vet's while she comes round from the anaesthetic.

Tomorrow I have been invited in to 'discuss options'. Always a bad sign.

I call Dan, who doesn't think it's my fault for taking her on that long bicycle walk at Easter, after which she could barely move for 10 days. It's apparently unlikely that she ruptured something then. Cars running into you rupture things, apparently, not long walks.

I call Hugh and Jemima. 'Don't go on the internet,' warns Hugh. 'Cyberchondria is the worst thing. I guarantee you'll find the worst-case scenario and end up in tears.'

I call Dusty's greatest fan, Sophia, who says all the right supportive things and then asks what happens now. I say I'm going for the miracle cure.

'Are you taking her to Lourdes?' she asks in her sweet voice reserved for endearing acts and moving moments.

'No,' I say. 'Apricot kernels.' Apparently the people of Hunza in the mountains of north-west Pakistan have no incidence of cancer or any other disease. And it's all down to apricot kernels, I'm told. Seven a day keep the doctor away. I've gone out and bought two packets. I've taken mine. Just praying Dusty lives long enough to eat hers and fulfil her status as Miracle Dog.


Tuesday, 20 September 2011


Visits to the vet
increasing, dog declining -
Can't hold back the years

Monday, 19 September 2011

A sign of the zeitgeist

Yes! I am not fragmented and scattered but a symptom of the zeitgeist. Andrew Marr and his Start the Week guests, Google creative director Tom Uglow and cybercrime specialist Misha Glenny, have confirmed it. I am merely ahead of my time. Though born to the pre-digital age, I am a product of the Post-Digital age! My hard-wiring has shifted. Fragmented is the new normal! I should not berate myself in the manner of old-school art historians shunning unmade beds and pickled sharks or arthouse film directors sneering at Hollywood. No. I am beyond that. Henceforth I shall be Proud to be Fragmented. Shall design Fragmented Pride T-shirt. Hmmm. That doesn’t work. Pride is newly buffed up, not in tatters. Flutterbrain Pride? Scatterbrain Pride? Hmmm. Will work on it. 

Yes! Proud to be me!


A day of rainbows,
golden light and smoky clouds -
season’s changing moods

Waaa! I've become a Daily Haiku-faker. I knew I'd never get away with this one, given that it's drizzly grey today. The weather has dulled my inspiration. Forced to pillage old work! This one was written on Saturday, 17th September.

Just another manic Monday

Wake up of own accord. Wonderful to meet the dawn, practically. Reason for this novelty is that by 9.30pm last night, thwarted in my mission to watch He’s Just Not That Into You due to Sky card choosing precise moment that film started to stop transmitting, I was falling asleep in bed over I Don’t Know How She Does It.

Upshot is a decent night’s sleep. Feeling moderately ahead of myself. It’s all one requires in life, really, feeling ahead of oneself instead of incessantly behind.

Descend the spiral stairs to a sparkling house, thanks to yesterday’s monthly clean. Return upstairs bringing Dusty breakfast in bed – her pills embedded in a ball of dogfood, resting royally on a Pukka Three Ginger teabag envelope salver. She opens her eyes, delicately takes the morsel, and goes back to sleep.

Turn attentions to Lily.

‘Oh Lily Rose Gr-a-a-ay!’ I sing. Not a stir.

‘Lily Rose Gra-a-a-ay!’ I sing again.

I jiggle the bed, which creaks alarmingly. Nothing. Bounce it up and down. Nothing. Pull back the covers. Nothing. Stroke her arm. Lift up her arm. Drop it. Nothing. Repeat.

‘Lily Gr-a-ay, come in please. Do you read me?’

A faint groan. Yes, we have a response!

‘Lily, darling. Don’t go back to sleep. We’ve got half an hour, time to have a delicious breakfast if you get up now.’

I go back down to the bathroom. By the time I ascend again, she’s gone back to sleep.

‘Come on darling,’ I say, jiggling her arm. ‘You’ve had a good sleep. Let’s get up now so we can have a nice breakfast and not have to eat it in the car.’

Another faint groan.

‘OK, darling, I’m going down now. I’m not going to call you again, OK? You’re on your own.’


Why do I fall for it every time? ‘Thou shalt not buy fruit out of season’ should be the eleventh commandment. Seduced by the half-price tag on the Tesco strawberries, which have never to my knowledge been full price, sucked in by the Any 2 for £3 sticker. Our delicious breakfast has grown little white furry hats over the weekend. I set about decapitating them, but the strawberries are brown all the way through. Grrrr.

Tesco strawberry shame
Buy any 2 for £3
Regret it later

I salvage what I can into two bowls and slice half a banana that I find nestling in its brown skin in the fridge. Lily appears and sits at the table.

I go to open the yogurt.

‘No!’ cries Lily, snatching it. ‘I need to christen it.’

She finishes peeling back the foil lid and draws a cross on the smooth white surface with her spoon.

‘I name this yogurt, Yogurt,’ I say drily.

‘No-o-o!’ she laughs. ‘I name this yogurt, Onken Set Natural Firm & Silky Biopot Yogurt!’

Yuk! The strawberries taste of garlic. I look accusingly at the chopping board, which I’m sure I washed up last night. 


On the way back from school, I stop by a wooden bridlepath sign. Dusty seemed a little better yesterday. Maybe she can manage a longer walk, especially if it’s on the flat. We set out across a field of dew-damp grass that soon penetrates my new ‘waterproof’ Nikes. I am just pondering this and the fur-capped strawberries when I realise Dusty isn’t with me. I turn to see her sway and then keel right over, legs in the air, like something out of a Monty Python sketch.

‘Good girl! Wait there!’ I call in soothing tones as I run back. As if she’s going to run off. She’s hidden in the long grass, so I’ve no idea whether I’ll find her alive or dead.

Alive, as it turns out. Lying the right way up now, and looking at me with her affronted expression. I squat with her for a while, stroking her damp head, and then stand up. Dusty’s up in a flash and trotting towards the car.

I suppose it was just a funny turn like my grandmother used to have. Like that Christmas when Dan heard a yelp and a thud in the middle of the night and found Grandma in the bath in her nightie. Oh God. Maybe losing our balance as well as our marbles runs in the family.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Harvest festival

Harvest festival
Ancient denizens unite.
Pause for gratitude

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Bad hair is the new good hair

Complimented by three people on tigerish yellow-orange hair today, including my hairdresser in Candlebury. Have stopped protesting. Instead rejoice on realising I'm in good company. Everybody who's anybody has badly bleached hair. Hmmm. Maybe can become late-onset film star?

Turning passion into prossie

Bump into Hugh and Jemima and tell them about my passion-seeking quest so that I can turn my Passion into Profit.

'What about a passion for sex?' Jemima suggests. 'You could become a prostitute.'

'Look at that absolute minger who was making 20 grand a week,' adds Hugh. 'You could rake it in.'

Hmmm. Will consider. Could take out a small ad in the Mistlebourne Magazine (a somewhat grandiose name for a photocopied sheet of A4). Trouble is, although I'm sure there are plenty of country husbands who'd be up for it, their wives wouldn't be too happy when they looked in their joint bank account. Plus the luxury industries are suffering, as Annie and Jim pointed out the other day. I'd hand out my cards to men at parties, and they'd say, 'How marvellous' and 'I know dozens of people who'd be interested', but when it came to it, they'd evaporate like the cushion buyers and house portrait-commissioners.

Grazia mille

Train-left Grazia
reminds of a life beyond -
hello fashion world!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Battling demons

How can I be envious of someone who has only just come to my attention? Someone I’ve never met? Someone who is no doubt entitled to a marvellous, successful, happy life. Mustn’t waste another second thinking about this, because

a)    It’s not good to compare ourselves with others. We are all special and successful in our own way.
b)    She’s probably very nice
c)     Or very unhappy
d)    Hope she is
e)    I mean, one should cultivate contentment with one’s lot rather than envy of others’ more thrilling-seeming lots
f)      Plus there’s no mention of a husband and children in the book or the article, so she’s not that perfect. Ha!

I’ll just check out Katharine Pooley online before becoming a Determined Seeker. Hmmm. Her ‘About’ button is labelled ‘Katharine’. Click. Oh my God! Not only has she visited more than 200 countries, she has summited many of the world’s highest mountains, driven a team of dogs on a sled to the North Pole and crossed the Sahara on horseback. Grrrrrrr.

At the bottom of an extensive biography page it says ‘more’. Click. Page two is all about her flair and flow. Oh God! There’s more still. Click. Argh! Argh! Katharine is married with a young son and, when not travelling, Divides Her Time between homes in London, Oxfordshire and Scotland, where her true heart lies. Argh!

Still, maybe that leaves the way free for me to become South-East Asian Pop-Up Restaurant Queen of Candlebury.   

Feta fret

Tesco feta woe:
creamy finest organic
gone – a change for worse

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Katharine Pooley Envy


The spookiest thing happens. In an attempt to ignite my passion for Asian cookery (a dormant passion coaxed out by Sally, who thinks I should host an South-East Asian Pop-Up Restaurant), I go to the Oxfam bookshop to check out the Asian cookery books. 

My eye is inexplicably drawn to an anonymous black silk-bound book in a black silk slipcase. I pull it off the shelf. A Taste of My World. By Katharine Pooley. I flip through. Beautiful pictures of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong, interspersed with beautiful-looking dishes from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong, the world. Argh! She is what I want to be. What I used to be. What I should be.

I flip to her biography. A beautiful 30something woman dazzles out of the endpapers, her hair perfectly highlit. Argh! Her passions are travel and cooking. She used to work for a bank in Hong Kong and she’s lived in Singapore and Vietnam! She is me! Except for the banking bit. Maybe she knows Gitface? 

I turn back to the beginning. Next to an immaculate dining room done up in Hong Kong Peak chic, it says, Hosting dinner parties at Katharine’s home has become a part of life for her, and those who have attended will agree that everything from the table setting, the flowers, the candles and the china to the beautifully presented, delicious food leaves guests with memories of a unique and inspired occasion. Argh! How can I run a pop-up restaurant in Candlebury after that?

It says she plans to open her own boutique in London, specialising in exclusive homeware. Wonder if she’s done it yet? The book was published in 2003. Knowing her (not that I do), it should be up and running by now. Let’s look on the bright side, though. She'll be looking longer in the tooth these days. No mention of a perfect husband or perfect children, either. Ha!

Katharine divides her time between Asia, London and particularly Scotland where she believes her true heart lies.

Argh! My heart is now burning. I have terminal Dividing Her Time Envy! It hasn’t flared up this badly since Eat, Pray, Love, when I discovered that Elizabeth Gilbert Divides Her Time between Brazil, Sydney and Philadelphia.

I snap the perfect book shut, replace it in its perfect slipcase and get on the bus to Waterloo, picking up a copy of London Homes & Property magazine for the journey. It falls open on a picture of a row of standing Buddhas on a Chinese sideboard, behind a sofa with perfectly plumped orange cushions.

Oh my God!

The headline reads: Designer Focus -  Katharine Pooley! And there she is, looking immaculate. ‘Katharine Pooley both dresses luxurious homes and creates gorgeous furniture for them.’ Argh! Argh! ‘Katharine Pooley’s passion for interiors is coupled with her enthusiasm for all things travel... Those seeking finishing touches for their homes will also be familiar with her eponymous boutique.’ Oh my God! So the things she said she wanted to do in 2003, she is doing. She is turning her Passions into Profit! And she has now visited over 200 countries!  

What can this mean? Has she been sent to inspire me? Or depress me? And why Katharine Pooley?

Mind you, still no mention of a husband.


Candlebury station is bathed in golden evening sunshine. Race cross-country to pick up Lily.

'Good news!' she says, as we strap in for the cross-country marathon back for her oboe lesson. 'I've been thinking this week, I really want to be in a committee. And guess what!'

'You're in a committee?'

'Yes! Only three girls in the whole sixth form have been picked.'

'And you're one of them!'

'Yes! I was elected by the other committee members!'

'That's brilliant, darling. So what committee is it?'


'What does that mean?'

'Undercover Agents.'

'Wow! What does it do?'

'I'm not sure.'

'Well does it do things like ask girls secretly if they like school lunches?'

'No! Definitely not.'

'Does it check whether teachers are doing their jobs properly?'

'No. It's not like that, Mummy. No committee actually does that.'

'Well then what kind of things does it do? If it's undercover?'

'I think we do lawn. Pick stuff up for Convers Box.'

'What's that?'

'It's basically full of stuff that shouldn't be left out. So the matrons conver it.'

'Does that mean confiscate?'

'Basically take it and put it in a box. Until they realise it's got convered. On Monday the UCAs read out the names after breakfast. If you get more than 3 items in the Convers Box you get an SYR.'

'What's an SYR?'

'A Serve You Right.'


They're talking about unemployment on Radio 4. Apparently only 17% of jobseekers are what they call Determined Seekers, who spend 30 hours a week looking for a job. They are the creme de la creme of jobseekers. Then there are the Disillusioned and Defeated, who spend 0-3 hours a week looking for a job. Oh God. Am now not only officially Unemployed but a Defeated Seeker. 

Literary heaven


Excitement. I am on the train to London. I feel like an important businesswoman on the daily commute. Except instead of a briefcase I have a ripped hessian shopping bag with ‘I love Mistlebourne Market’ on the front. And important businesswomen are on the 06:50. Plus I didn’t have time to put any make-up on. But no matter, will do that at Waterloo.

I have been invited to the Shoreditch House Literary Salon. Pause for gasps. I can hardly believe I used to be in the glittering fast lane of London and Asian life, instead of jacked up on the hard shoulder. But after my conversation with Sally yesterday, I've made a decision. I'm indicating and I'm re-entering the moving traffic. Hence acceptance of publishing pal Jen’s kind invitation. 


Shoreditch Lit Salon
IQs summit, laughter gales -
brain-spark revival

Now having a balti in Brick Lane with Jen. Love London!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Finding my Passion

Back to Plan B.

First, I need to find my Passion, in order to turn it into Profit.  Google 'how to find your passion'. Gosh, 192,000,000 answers. Everyone's trying to find it.

Click 7 Questions To Finding Your True Passion  Hmmm. The good news is, apparently 75% of us haven't found it. But, iNeedMotivation says, doing what we really love is absolutely necessary if we want to be fully happy.

1. What puts a smile on your face?

Is there a particular event, a particular topic that makes your whole face just lighten up? Hmmm. Sex and the City? Holidays?

Following what makes you truly happy is a wonderful way to figuring out what you were put on Earth for. Surely I can't have been put on this Earth purely to up the ratings for Sex and the City. What else? Sunshine. Aquamarine sea. Walking on the downs on a sparkling day. Travelling. Watching flamenco dancers. Listening to gypsy music. Maybe I'm a closet gypsy! Except I don't like travelling by horse or caravan. Prefer junks and long-tail fishing boats.
2. What do you find easy?

Chatting. As long as it's with someone chatty and inspiring or funny. Can’t chat to dieting younger mothers. Can't chat to strong, silent types. Hence (among other significant reasons) failed relationship with Gitface. Eating. Oh this is no good. You see, I was clearly born to be a society heiress in manner of Nancy Mitford, not a workaday worker.

Keep thinking. 

Don’t think that anything is off limits or silly. Some people have taken their passion for skateboarding, drawing, or collecting to full fledged careers.

Still a blank.

3. What sparks your creativity?

Think about something in your life where you seem to always expand its horizon, always coming up with new, fun, and exciting ideas relating to that subject.

Waaaa! Can I phone a friend? Sal. She’s passionate about things.

Spark & Hustle

Argh! It's terrifying. Tory Johnson runs a Spark & Hustle Boot Camp. Her website has a video on Turning Passion into Profit. Even the site itself carries a sponsorship banner. Tory likes Daring Doers, who are ‘audacious people fuelled by wild passion and sheer determination.’ Oh God. A Daring Doer is apparently unbothered by sleepless nights and runs on adrenaline and a commitment to serving her target market and profiting big-time. Never to be confused with an ordinary small business owner (just twist the stiletto, Tory), she’s defying the odds, making money and building and empire of her own. No, no, no.

It’s no good. I can’t turn myself into Tory. I don’t have a SPARK of an idea nor the HUSTLE to make it happen. ‘If you are inclined to believe those infomercials or sales pages promising the opportunity to get paid gobs of money for sitting on your sofa and doing very little, then meeting Tory will be a rude awakening!  She knows more than anyone how critical the HUSTLE is to your success.’ Oh God. I am a sparkless, hustle-free failure.

But this is not right. No it is not. We are not American. We are British. We do not spark and hustle. We quietly coax our inner underdog out from under the security blanket and plod steadily to a position of relative status and wealth, one where we can hold our heads up and say we are proud to have done our bit. Unless we’re an MP. Or a banker. Or a newspaper editor. Oh God!

No, there’s only one thing for it. Back to Plan A. Marry someone with Spark & Hustle. Oh God. Except you need Spark & Hustle to snare him.

Blue skies

Luminous blue skies
unseen since Easter uplift -
typical, innit?


Sheeting with rain.

Monday, 12 September 2011

10 Ways to Make Money at Home

Look up how to write a CV. Hmmm, the Arise site is still open. Ooh! 10 Ways to Make Money at Home. Click. A video pops up. ABC News. Click. Oh my Lord! Tory Johnson’s got hair like mine and her voice could cut clean through a glass.  

Numberrr 1! Direct selling! No thank you.

Numberrr 2! Make stuff! Sell it at, the premier online marketplace of all things handmade. Hmmm, what could I make?

Numberrr 3! Start a concierge business! You could make money by providing a helping hand and doing errands for busy people in your community! Yes. I could. Like what, though? Dog-minding is sewn up, can’t garden, babysitting is the preserve of 14-16 year olds, and those who can’t make it to the supermarket shop online. All I can think of is ferrying people around. Yes! A friendly taxi service. Undercutting taxi rates! Without a licence… Hmmm. Click on and

Hmmm, yourerrandservice has some ideas:
  • Drop off or pick up items
  • Banking needs
  • Car inspection or renewal
  • Wake-up call
  • Help with anniversary gifts
  • Flower delivery
  • Wait for service man
  • Special day reminder
  • Hospital or nursing home visits 
  • Wash & vacuum car.
Well, obviously I can’t do the wake-up call or special day reminder, what with my MAADD. Mud-spattered, wrapper-filled car not good ad for car wash and vacuum. But I could do deliveries and pick-ups and drop-offs and visits and waiting – that’s pretty much what I do all day anyway.

  1. Turn clutter into cash! There may be money hiding in my closet! Hmm, the last time I gathered a whole lot of stuff to sell on Ebay, only the vintage Carmen rollers sold. Whether face to face or online, I am useless at selling. Not that I'll tell the Estate Agent that.
  2. Become a Virtual Customer Service Agent. Back to where we started.
  3. Steady freelance work. Ha. Still, and might surprise me.
  4. Bid on graphic design projects. Eh? and
  5. Get a gig! Eh?
  6. Create a T-shirt line! Now this could be good. I thought of a brilliant T-shirt slogan the other day. What was it? Ooh, you can upload your designs at and
  7. Start your own business! Focus on what you love to do and figure out how to find a few people to pay for it. Yeah, right. I'll just head on over to Tory’s own site for advice:

Oh dear. Got distracted designing T-shirts on with slogans like Kiss my asp™ and I love Doris Day™. Still, if every one of her fans buys one, I'll be a multi-millionaire!


Pluck up courage to call Trainee Estate Agent man.

'Super!' he says. 'Do you have access to a computer?'

I try to match his brightness and enthusiasm. 'Yes!'

'Great! If you email us your CV we can take it from there!'

'Can I just ask, is it full time?!'

'Yes, it is!'

'And could you give me an idea of ... the pay?!'

'Obviously if you send in your CV we can give you a call back and go through all that with you!'

Why are they so damn cagey about pay? Because it's abysmal, I presume. The thing is, I still don't have a CV. Must bite bullet.


Eliza Gray div-
ides her time between sleeping
and waking – bad night

Despite getting only three hours' sleep last night due to alarm going off at 3am, 3.15am and 3.30am, I am a literary genius! A dingbat within a haiku!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Talking in haiku

A rat-a-tat at the door. Chris from the next village was just cycling by. He comes in for a cup of Earl Grey. I tell him about the Daily Haiku remedy for my ailing memory.

'A high salt diet leads to early dementia,' he says, 'so that explains it.'

'Hang on,' I say, writing that down. 'You talk in haiku!'

'A high salt di-et
leads to ear-ly de-men-tia -
so that ex-plains it'

He roars with laughter. 'Maybe we all speak in haiku,' he suggests. 'Maybe it's a natural rhythm?'

I am aware of the X Factor blaring to life in the background.

'Lily! Did I say you could watch the X Factor? No I did not!'

I turn to Chris. 'There, you see, it's not my natural rhythm. Mine is four syllables. "No I did not!"'

'Ah,' he laughs, 'that's because you're a mother.'

9/11 misunderestimation

Ten years ago, where was I? At Stansted airport, returning from a week in the sun. On the way home, I phoned Sally and got Giles, who said they couldn't talk because they were watching the news.

'A plane has flown into the World Trade Center,' he said.

Never having been to the World Trade Center, I got a mental image of a little Cessna flying into - as in landing in - a plaza surrounded by shiny high-rises, in the manner of that German guy who breeched the Iron Curtain and landed in Red Square.

'How exciting!' I said, trying to sound enthused by the idea of a little spy plane landing in New York.

'Thousands of people will be dead,' he said witheringly, putting the phone down on me.

I still squirm to think of it.

The sun before the hurricane?

Garden-cut lettuce,
late summer's healthy harvest -
a bitter goodness

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Market forces

Mistlebourne Market is quiet today. The rain is sheeting down, but apparently le tout village is at a charity coffee morning. Except for me, Annie from down the road and Jim from up the lane. Tucking into our bacon butties, we commiserate over each other's desolate working lives.

'I was making 25 grand a couple of years ago,' says Annie, who makes smart curtains and cushions. 'Last year it was down to seven. I haven't sold anything for over a month now.'

'I met someone who was running a smart charity do,' says Jim, who does architectural watercolours for people with posh houses. 'They loved my work and asked me to do a special brochure and bring along some pictures to hang and be part of the charity auction. I did all that.'

'You've got to speculate to accumulate,' chips in Annie.

'Yes, well, I get to this great fuck-off mansion, lugging all my pictures and brochures, and they're all sitting round the table with their diamonds and emeralds, and they say, Oh Jim, sorry, we don't need you now.'

'It happens to me all the time!' agrees Annie. 'I go to a party and meet all these rich people and I hand out all these cards, and they say I love your cushions and I know dozens of people who will order masses, and I think, goody, things are looking up, and then I sit by the phone and... not a squeak. I tell you, Mistlebourne is just like living in LA. Empty promises!'

Bang goes my dogsitting career, however. Seems Annie makes ends meet by dog-walking (£7) and dogsitting (£10 a day, or up to £20 a night, depending on owner's means). That could have been me! But she's cornered the dog-owner market.

'Not that I get any recognition for it from my clients,' she says. 'They come in and race straight past me to the dog bowl.'

'I'd do the same if I thought I could get away with it socially,' says Jim.

Iceland shop shame

Iceland salmon woe:
Once sushi-fresh, now rubber
Fab at 40? No

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Domino effect

Domino's Pizza calls me back! Yes!

I get straight to the point. 'How much does it pay?'

'That depends on how hard you are willing to work, the hours and all. Do you want to work part-time or full-time?'


'So you could start at 5pm or 6pm and work until 10pm or 9.30pm or 11pm, up to you.'

'And do you pay by the hour?'

'Yes. So you can do 2 days or 3 days or 4 days, like that. Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.'

Hmmm. Saturdays no good with Lily.

'And the money goes into your bank account once a month.'

'So how much is it per hour?'

'That depends on your age. If you are under 21, £5.35. Over 21, £5.93.'

'What if I'm 50? Does that pay more?'

He laughs. 'Unfortunately not.'

There. My first job interview, practically. But £5.93? Worse than minding half a dog. I'd be better off being a home-based call centre. Maybe I could be a home-based call centre while minding dogs and baking American confections. Yes. I'm going to have to do multi jobs. Work all hours that God gives. This is what real people do. Am lazy, spoilt brat. Hard to change at my age, though.

Bleached wail

My head is hurting along the parting line. I think I have bleached my head. It will probably blister and scab. No one will want to go near me for months.

Have run out of apple juice. And I keep forgetting to take my Endocrine Mender. I've now commenced my Test Day five times. Will I ever reach Nirvana if I can't get further than the first two capsules?

Lily calls. Yes! My darling is missing me!

'Mum, I'm in the netball match on Saturday. 2pm, at home. Don't be late and miss it like last time.'

'OK, darling, that's brilliant, so how is...?'

She cuts me off. 'Mu-um. I know you're going to say we'll talk about it when I see you, but can I fully board?'

I sigh. 'Darling, then I'll never see you.'

'OK, weekly board.' She has become impressively to-the-point in her negotiations.

'And what about your oboe lesson?'

'OK, weekly board except Thursdays for oboe.'

'All right.' I am defeated. 'After half-term, when the clocks go back.'

'Yess! Bye mum, I've got to go.'

Job-seeker blues

Candlebury Advertiser. Situations Vacant.

Candlebury Primary School has two posts. That could be good. Longer terms than Lily, but we could work something out. 

1. Female Teaching Assistant to support a pupil with learning difficulties. 12 noon to 3.15pm term time only. £8.15 to £8.72 per hour depending on experience.

Yeah right, as Lily might say.

2. Temporary MDSA post [whatever that may be] to support NPA pupil [ditto], 12 noon to 1pm daily. Pay £6.63 to £7.04 per hour.

Forget it! Worse pay than a Flexible Viewing Assistant or Dog Minder.

Gardener - Grounds Maintenance team
37 hours per week. £13,190-£13,874 p.a!

This is laughable. How do people live on a country salary?

Owner Drivers and Store Staff
Domino's Pizza are looking for motivated full or part time people [That's me, a part-time person] with a positive attitude and a willingness to succeed. [Oh God!] Experience is not necessary as we will provide you with a full induction and training plan. Duties include driving own vehicle to deliver pizzas.

Yes! A pizza delivery woman. Maybe we get free pizzas too? And get to wear one of those jaunty hats. At least it'll cover up the orange hair. Call and leave a message. Am motivated! And positive! Bet the pay is rubbish.

FREE Fork Lift Truck Training Course - immediate start.
Ooh! Pick up phone and dial, but then put it down again. No. No. No.

Call Centre Agent - Home Based 
Imagine owning your own business where you can pick and choose your own hours and you choose your clients from our portfolio? That’s the beauty of becoming an Arise Certified Professional. With over 20,000 agents and over 40 clients worldwide, the world’s leading provider of virtual business services is growing rapidly in the UK, and you can be part of this success.

£6.40-£10 an hour? Even being a home-based call centre isn't worth getting out of bed for. Still, let's check out the website.

No, no, no. I can't work for a company that offers Virtual Solutions and has trademarked the words Undisputed Top Performance™.

Trainee Estate Agent  Ah, now this could be the one.
If you are looking for a career in an exciting sales environment where you are rewarded for your hard work, look no further. Previous experience is not required, as you will be trained by the best in the business. All you need is the drive and determination to succeed and a clean driving licence.

Hmmm. One out of three ain't bad. Oh God! Do they count 3 points for doing 40 through the 30 limit at Sturmaine? Nobody drives at 30. Anyway, it's clean as a whistle otherwise. Will call later when up to feigning drive and determination.

Time for a Refresh.

Pukka paradise

Text from Dan: I have ADID. Attention Deficit Inactivity Disorder. As a consequence of your disorder.

I text back: Which disorder?

Dan texts: Boom boom!

Text back: No really! Alzheimer's? MAADD? IAADD?

Dan texts: AAADD

This is exhausting. Need a cup of Relax and a lie-down. Have invested in a party pack of Pukka teas. Revitalise (organic cinnamon, cardamom and ginger tea: to warm and invigorate), Refresh (organic peppermint, fennel and rose tea: to uplift and balance), Harmonise (organic rose, sweet vanilla and chamomile tea with shatavari: balancing for women), Cleanse (organic nettle, fennel and peppermint tea: to purify your skin) and Relax (organic chamomile, fennel and marshmallow root tea: to calm and soothe).

Mmmmm. Just reading the boxes sends me into a state of beatific calm. What with those, the Endocrine Mender, the gallstone flush and a daily haiku, I shall be a new woman. No longer MAADD.

Right. Relaxation over. Better scour the Candlebury Advertiser. Oh. First need to check how/where the gallstones come out.

Google: 'how do gallstones come out?'

Answer: 'If the stones are small enough, they pass through the bile ducts, ending up in the small intestines. Eventually, they make their way through the large intestines and are evacuated in your stool.'

Excellent. Drink a glass of apple juice and open the Candlebury Advertiser.

The minding curse

Meet up with Cass and Franny for a dog walk on Candlebury Downs. Except I have to leave Dusty at home. She, like her mistress, is unfit for purpose.

I take off my teacosy hat with a flourish, tip my head towards the girls and grimace expectantly.

'Eliza!' Franny is frowning.

'I know!' I wail. 'Meredith made me do it. She said I didn't have to go through life as a mouse and it'll always grow out.'

'It's a classic teenage hair disaster,' says Cass. 'They panic and wash it out too soon. If you'd waited it wouldn't be so orange. And you shouldn't have dyed the roots.'

'But they were so dark, the rest of the hair looked even more fake in contrast.'

'Well, it'll fade,' she says.

'Will it? Surely once it's bleached, you're stuck with it. I'll have this orange band working its way down my head.'

'Mine fades, but then it's Aveda. Vegetable dyes. No, you're probably right if it's bleach. You're stuck with it. Never mind, it's nearly winter. You can wear your teacosy for the next six months.'

We walk in silence, braced against the driving drizzle. I brighten on remembering the marvellous gallstone flush.

'And then you look down the loo, and it's full of little green raspberries,' I finish.

'But how do they come out?' asks Cass. 'Are you sure you're not talking about kidney stones? Because it's the most painful thing trying to pass a kidney stone.'

'No they're definitely gallstones. I suppose they come out in your poo.'

'But how do they get there? If they're in the gall bladder, they can't get out.'

Oh Lord!

We pause to climb over a stile. Wild oats at the field's edge ripple as Dotty and Plum go in pursuit of a rabbit.

'So was Lily happy to go back to school?' asks Cass.

I tell them about the injustice of her being relegated to the top bunk.

'Well what about poor Tilly?' exclaims Cass, the indignation boiling up in her voice. 'She's sharing with a new girl this year. When we got there, the best bed was swathed in Laura Ashley bunting and every square inch of the pinboard was covered with pictures of this girl and her family and the bedside table was crammed with more photos and little knick-knacks, and there was a whole zoo of cuddly toys on the bed, and the girl wasn't even there! She's only boarding two nights a week. So the mother had come in and staked her claim and then they'd gone home again!'

'Like Germans bagging the sunloungers,' sympathises Franny.

'The thing is Lily didn't mind at all,' I say.

'No, Tills didn't either - except for having to share with someone so uncool.'

'I had the same thing with Max last year,' says Franny. 'Just because he's so nice and doesn't make a fuss, he was put in with all the losers. I came home and burst into tears. I rang up the housemaster and sobbed down the phone to him." It's so un-fair-air-air, he's not with any of his friends!" But actually Max was fine.'

'It's such a curse, minding,' I say.

The other two nod in empathy.