Friday, May 29, 2009

living in stupid times

Tonight we went out to see a small local screening of  'The Age of Stupid'. To be honest, I'm completely blown away by it - partly because most of the predictions on which this deeply disturbing prediction of future climate catastrophe is based have been shown to be too conservative and cautious in their scope. The IPCC have to go through a ton of peer-reviews, re-writes and general toning down ( the detail of which would make your average writer throw in the towel in disgust and go get a career in something less demanding like writing up experiments in quantum mechanics with a goose quill pen dipped in toffee )before they can publish anything relating to MMGW, and consequently their data is past its sell-by date before it even hits the shelves.

So - hard as it is to take on board, the future could well be even worse than the film showed? Gulp. The words toast, utterly are and we come to mind. Hosed, stuffed and completely fecked  can be substituted for toast should carbonized bread product seem like too gentle a description for the fate awaiting us. The film states categorically that unless we do something, and do it soon ( like get our carbon emissions way down by 2015 at the latest) we're heading for extinction - or as somebody said in the film, 'Mankind appears to be determinedly focussed on the little patch of sand upon which it is standing as a tsunami sweeps towards us'. 

Or, put differently

So, if you know a dragon
and most of us do
ask it if it thinks that this story is true

for if we can't see that our stories are linked
then sadly, like dragons
we'll soon be extinct.

D'you know what was the most terrifying thing about this film? Not the bald facts of the mess we're in. Nor the possibility that we may already have reached the tipping point beyond which we will be unable to prevent runaway climate catastrophe. Nor the exposure of a fraction of the ghastly underbelly of the oil industry with its tentacles reaching out across the globe to draw us all into a web of culpability for atrocities practised in the name of Big Oil. 

No. None of these was as frightening as the fact that only about twenty people bothered to come along and see 'The Age of Stupid.' If it is screened somewhere near you, please, try to go and see it.  will show where it is being screened. It's powerful, moving, funny, wise and, I think, the most important film I've seen for years.  Or you could just file it under 'forget'. Apathy is indeed a weapon of mass destruction. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

no hay fiesta, amigos

Once upon a time, I went to the Hay Festival, did my event, was presented with a white rose and, much later, the crate of champagne that is Hay's wondrous tax-free payment for services rendered. I stayed in Laura Ashley's old home - now a hotel of deep beeswax and buttonback leather luxury, and dined and breakfasted with authors far more famous and celebrated than myself. 

Two things stood out of that time - one was the morning I had breakfast with a mortally hungover author who was, for reasons that I shan't go into here, giving a wind-up paper bat its trial flight over her porridge bowl ( porridge - with a hangover? yeeeearrrrghhhh) while giving every indication that she was about to throw up into her linen napkin. 

The other thing was that after dinner the night before - also with famous authors and harrassed publicists - I sat down in a deep sofa - actually collapsed would be more accurate - and felt a chill breath all down my spine. This proved to be the zip of my dress giving way in its entirety, and effectively reducing my frock to something more like the kind of gown one slips into prior to serious surgery. Crossing the acreage of Aubusson on my way back to my room to effect a quick change was a journey I have no desire to repeat.

So why do I always feel like a geriatric version of the Little Matchgirl when Hay comes and goes and I'm not invited, again? Cool and hip festivals bring me out in hives, as a general rule. I've never felt cool or hip, and you can usually get a seat at any event I've ever done, right up until the doors close. Which is a nice way of saying that I rarely sell out. Any more. I did, once or twice, way back when, and once I'd stepped onto the podium and stopped shaking, I revelled in the buzz. My goodness - what a heady feeling it is to play to a packed auditorium. Whooooooo, it's not rock and roll, but it certainly comes close.

The de-zippered dress was never the same again, btw. Lacking the skills to insert a full-length zip in a linen dress, I employed a local seamstress to do the job for me. She, I am sorry to say, made a complete arse of the job, and the frock now languishes at the end of the wardrobe which is a scant black plastic bag's length away from being recycled.

However - the wind-up paper bat lives on. Two years ago, I found myself emailing the famous author and asking her if she would name her source of wind-up mammals. Being famous, and kind, she went one better - she sent me the remains of the same Bat at Hay Breakfast. Unfortunately, BaHB had suffered the ravages of time, and fell out of the envelope in its component parts. Undaunted ( I lie - I was deeply daunted, but not irrevocably so) I set about trying to find a substitute bat. Finally, after much purchasing of secondhand books on paper folding/ automata, I discovered a source of wind-up paper butterflies. Spent a merry week pulling the wings off the butterflies and trying to cut out and retro-fit all manner of black paper, plastic, tissue, cloth by way of substitute. In the end, after many, many doomed attempts, a high street retailer's January Sale plastic bags provided the perfect black plastic for my bat wings and the rest you can see for yourself on 
At least, I hope you can, but being about as technologically capable as the bowl of porridge that the original bat nearly ended up in, you may perhaps encounter some difficulty accessing the link. You may have to, gasp, manually input it, which I guess is several keystrokes too many. Suffice to say, the bat, and several of his brothers and sisters, puts in an appearance. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Well, that seemed to go well

Had a delightful afternoon with my visiting Witch and Son. Thank heavens she didn't feel constrained to throw any spells around. Phew. More coffee, anyone?

Sorry to have taken almost a week to post this, but life and work rose up and devoured all the hours between then and now. And I still  haven't finished the illustrations for Witch Baby and Me After Dark. Aaaaaaarghhhh. This task is turning into a pictorial In( accessible) Pin(nacle). Every morning I tie on my crampons and have another go, but every evening I find myself 
(metaphorically) retreating back to Base Camp, short of oxygen and running out of steam. 

Talking of which, the gym doesn't get any easier. I'm still Mrs Blobby No-Lungs, or She Who Drips. And my old kit fits not - sadly because I'm a different shape ( think wider) and not as I'd fondly imagined, because it had shrunk in the wash. As I drag myself out of the door at 5.35 a.m., it's hard to keep my motivation going when a little Inner Voice of Sedition is muttering something about how comfortable our bed had been and how hard I'm working and how I should cut myself some slack.... Then, as if by magic, I find I'm outside the gym ( Note to Self : must've sleep-driven) and heading through the turnstile into the little Chamber of Cardio-Horror for another forty minutes of gruesome self-flagellation. In a shrunken gym kit. What a vision of loveliness - NOT.

Had wonderful conversation over dinner tonight. Youngest Daughter was saying that when she grows up she wants to write Popular Books for children. There was a silence after she said this, while we all mentally arrived at the corollary - unlike Mumma's Unpopular Books for children.

Oh, groan.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

me and my big Hexenkessel

I'm having a  Rather Special guest and her Son to lunch tomorrow, which is why my thoughts are turning to menus as I speed homewards on the train from Aberdeen.  I've been thinking about this meal ever since my Special Guest and I firmed up our lunchdate. And emailed back and forth about what would be off-menu, since I am lunching with a (whisper it) Witch and her Son. 

Yup. You read that one correctly. A real Witch.

You can perhaps understand that this is one lunch that I'm rather keen not to make a complete dog's breakfast of. She said, inelegantly. In fact, let's ramp up the tension a little here. When having a Witch to lunch, one most certainly doesn't mess up on the culinary front. Not if one doesn't wish to spend the rest of one's life extruding frogspawn from one's nether regions.

So. No pressure there, then.

My Witch-to-lunch sent a messenger ahead on the ether a few months back with a list of forbidden gastronomic no-nos. Some of these were things you'd expect - no cherub steaks, no wings under any circumstances, no fluffy, pink mousses or saccharine candyfloss desserts, nothing that's been even remotely near anything ecclesiastical ( pope's-eye steaks come to mind) and absolutely no salt, stakes or holy water. 

All of that you would expect. But can someone please tell me why it is that when given a list of proscribed ingredients, all that this cook can think of is - ooooh, but I make such a sensational cassoulet de cherub. Or - what a shame I can't let her try my Texan chilli wing thing. Or that yummy River Caff acqua sancta bollito misto, or  Fergus Henderson's salt-glazed Pope's eye medium rare with ceps. Or the River Cottage mousseline of raspberries and rhubarb with a blood orange jus? Or, or, or....

And my cauldron is, in truth, a tad rusty. Haven't hauled it down from the attic since that last disastrous attempt at stirring up a Perfect Love Potion and, after hours of effort, pouring the result down the drain only to discover that I'd turned the entire population of the South East of Scotland into something that resembled Brigadoon on Viagra.

Oooops. Only for one night, you understand. Yes. That night. Mmmmhmmm. Sorry about that. 

I digress. I think I know what I'll make for lunch, but you'll have to wait till tomorrow to find out if it passes muster with the

If I'm not back in 24 hours then come looking for me, huh? 

Monday, May 18, 2009

no fatted calves

It's not a question of etiquette or appropriateness or even of ecological sustainability ( anyway these days, it's almost an act of eco-terrorism to eat beef) but for the return of my prodigal, I didn't go overboard on the food front. We had kedgeree followed by apple crumble and ice-cream. Normal food for an abnormal occasion. It was a very late dinner, since my prodigal didn't arrive off the train at Waverley until 9.30 p.m and was heading back early the next morning. He drank loads and loads of water, didn't have an after-dinner cigarette and joy of joys, didn't wash it all down with a swift injection of heroin. So. Huge progress has been made. 

Didn't realise how terrified I was at the prospect of Eldest Son's first home visit from rehab until after I'd put him on the train back, watched it pull out of the station and went home to be hit by a wave of weariness that went so bone-deep it was almost frightening. Could barely keep my eyes open for the rest of the day. Which was unfortunate since it was the only day I had to bake cakes for Youngest Daughter's weekend celebration of her twelfth birthday. A coffee and Smartie decorated sponge ( Youngest Daughter's choice) and a sensational sour cherry and beetroot streusel number invented by the talented Dan Lepard and published in the weekend Guardian last week.

Family all arrived on Sunday to eat cake and drink cava, sun slid out from behind the clouds and Youngest Daughter did a wonderful thing which we shall all treasure for the rest of our lives. While the grown-ups were admiring the garden and being typical grown-ups, she snuck back into the house, took out her pipes ( which she only graduated to three weeks ago) and started playing as she walked round the back of the house and came to stand at the top of the garden. So at first, there was the distant sound of pipes and then, there she was, slender and beautiful, backlit by the sun, dark hair blowing in the breeze and playing something deeply evocative, traditional and almost unbearably moving. In a Scottish garden in May. 

So if I'm not making a whole lot of sense, it's because that was a weekend and a half and although I'd like nothing better than to begin this new week slowly processing the events of the preceding 48 hours, sifting through all the love and loss and hope and fear and stifled feelings and silted up muddy stuff all bobbing around demanding my emotional attention, instead I find myself biliously green-gilled and travel-sick and on a train to Turriff (north of Aberdeen) to do three days of back-to-back school events in a library. Three days? After that weekend? And no opportunity to play my fiddle for the next three days since I could not manage to carry it along with suitcase, portfolio and computer bag and besides, I'm sure my scraping and sawing would not be exactly welcome at the b&b where I'm staying. 

Damn shame, that. Music really does help. Especially if it's music I make myself. Swaying in a fashion which is guaranteed to deeply embarrass my daughters, and sometimes trying to ignore the tears that roll down my nose and slide under my chin to join me in a salty communion with my fiddle's chinrest. I debated whether to pack my flute instead, but decided that my fellow guests at the b&b would rise up and beat me to death with the thing after hearing a few of my shrieky attempts at notes in the higher registers. So I crammed in running shoes and a wet weather jacket instead and shall take myself out for some heavy breathing in the lanes of Turriff after my day's work is done. 

That is, if I can stay awake...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A grand day out

Brighton was a joy. Amazingly chilly sunshine ceded to amazingly chilly fogginess, but walking by the sea never fails to lift my spirits, even if my teeth are gritted against the cold. I could have simply stayed in my amazingly comfortable room at the Cavalaire Hotel but I needed to walk after the four-train, six hour journey down from Edinburgh, and if only I hadn't then decided I needed a spot of retail therapy, I wouldn't have tried to singlehandedly prop up the ailing British economy by dint of nobly handing over the contents of my slender wallet. But hey - I wouldn't have bought a divine pair of gladiator sandals ( for all those occasions where I anticipate going into the arena for the express purpose of being mauled by lions: a.k.a book festivals) nor would I have spent a merry hour or so struggling in and out of a succession of breathtakingly chest-compressing sports bras in forgiving shades of black, coal and soot. I didn't exactly need the sandals, but the sports bra was long overdue - the current once-white-but-now-taupe model being the kind of undergarment your mother warned you about* being run over while wearing.

*As if you'd put on your best scanties and then go out and deliberately fling yourself under a moving vehicle all the better for the A&E staff to admire your impeccable taste whilst picking bits of your person off the tarmac. 

Also, there's something quite encouraging for reluctant gym bunnies about buying new kit - it's not exactly inspirational, but it does vary the monotony a little. And monotony there is by the square hectare at the gym. Urrrrrghh, it is So. Very. Boring., especially on the days that my gym buddy doesn't show and I have to put in my lonely miles on the treadmill without the respite of conversation. There are only so many thinks I can think before my Inner Couch Potato starts the Seditious Whispering, and to my horror last time I went, some close descendant of the Marquis de Sade was - gasp - making toast downstairs from the cardio suite and had left all the fire doors open, all the better to waft the zephyr of carbohydrate concupiscence under our innocent noses.

And then somebody sneezed. Wetly. Explosively.

If you'd managed to hook all our rolling eyeballs up to a Van der Graff generator at that precise moment, our combined voltage could have blownthe sneezer straight across the room. As it was, we just kept calm and carried on. Proving once and for all that the Spirit of the Blitz is alive and stalking the land.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

cross-country training

On a train to Brighton - actually, on four trains to Brighton, such is the nature of interconnectedness-not. Four trains? Sheeesh. And dipping in and out of wireless broadband signals makes for twitchy blogging, lousy Guardian onlining and dodgy emailing. But hey. And it's beautiful outside - blossomy, sunny and precisely the kind of day that I do not want to be stuck on a speeding steel tube heading South. For some reason I get very travel sick on trains, and a day spent feeling decidedly ill, trapped on a variety of trains is Hell On Toast.

However, if I was home I'd still be beavering away at the line drawings for Witch Baby and Me After Dark which due to my having to lovingly limn each and every particle of foliage, shadow and woodgrain, are taking forever. FOREVER. Sisyphian doesn't even come close, right? Fortunately, I love drawing and close to four hundred line drawings ( over the series of three books) have sharpened up my technique to the extent that I no longer hyperventilate at the prospect of drawing a human face in deep chiaroscuro, but instead enjoy the challenge. Since the majority of the scenes in WBandMeAD are set in darkness ( the action takes place around Hallowe'en) there's plenty of opportunity on my part for much cross-hatching, and consequently the book will probably weigh more than most due to its freight of black ink. I used to have a tutor at Art School who would accuse me of knitting when he found me cross-hatching. That was back in the Dark Ages when knitting didn't have the same cultural appeal as it does now, and the tutor had an inbuilt bias against black and white line work due to being a watercolorist.  Media regardless, I wish I was a better draughtswoman, though. Looking through youngest daughter's copy of Finn Family Moomintroll,  I am as ever struck with awe at how stunningly brilliant Tove Jansson was in her use of light and line. 

There are some jewel-like drawings in Tove's books that lodged in my subconscious when I read them as a ten year old, and rediscovering them a few years ago was like finding buried treasure. Or, as I'm sure I may have said before, like stepping into a sunlit attic room and finding oneself home.