Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.


Saturday, 30 May 2009

A bit of fresh air

My parents are trying to move me out into the garden.

They're not being very subtle about it. This morning, at about 8am, they both knocked on my bedroom door.
"We're going out," mum shouted. "Do you want to come?"
"Depends where you're going," I said from underneath my duvet. 
"The garden centre. We're going to look at patio slabs. Want to join us?"
"Not even a little bit," I shouted back, and then I curled myself back into a ball and went back to sleep.

When they returned a couple of hours later (this, apparently, is how long it takes to look at patio slabs), they had bought me a present. 
"Come and have a look," dad beamed at me. "It's in the garden."
I ran through the house - tail wagging - and then I stared at the clingfilm wrapped gift outside for a few seconds.
"It's a deck-chair," mum explained eventually.
"I can see that it's a deck-chair," I said. "Wow. I don't know what to say. Thanks for the deck-chair, mum and dad."
There was a pause, and then mum nudged me with her elbow.
"Well, are you going to open it, then?" 
"Obviously," I stated flatly. "Because otherwise I won't be able to sit in it."

Once my brand new deck-chair was on the grass, I went to dutifully sit on it.
"Not there," dad said. "A little further down the lawn."
I moved the chair, and then made to sit down on it again.
"A little further," dad called. "There's a nice sunny spot on the other side of that trellis."
I moved the chair to the other side of the trellis, and then went to sit on it. You can't even see the house from there, so I'm guessing that the house can't see me either.
"Very nice!" dad shouted. "Do you like it?"
"Mmm," I answered.
Mum and dad then poked their heads through the trellis at me. 
"We've been looking at sheds too," mum said chirpily. "There's a big one with a porch and everything. You can put the lawnmower in the back, and then there's room for a writing table and a chair and stuff in the front."
"We thought we might get it for you," dad said. "As a present."
"What for?" I said. "I don't need a shed."
"You could write out here," mum said. "You know. Away from the house."
"I only write on computers," I pointed out. "You know that."
"We'll get a long extension lead."
"What if it gets cold?"
"You've got a jumper, haven't you?"
"There are a lot of spiders."
"You like spiders. You've always liked spiders. It'll be fun. A bit of company."
There was a shocked pause, and then I snapped: "Do you want me to bloody sleep out here as well? Because I've got a sleeping bag under my bed if you think I might need it."
Mum and dad looked at each other for a few seconds, and then beamed at me.
"It's just big enough," dad eventually said, "but we measured it and we think you'll fit."

So there we go. If I was a little more sensitive, I might think I had outstayed my welcome.

Friday, 29 May 2009


I received an email today from one of my closest friends. Her boyfriend is involved in a new tv programme idea, where people dress up in large animal costumes and then date each other.

What do you think? she wrote.

I scrolled down, and somewhere in the chain of emails was one from her boyfriend. Thought of Holly for this straight away, he had written. Will you ask her?

I have never actually met her boyfriend, so I can only imagine exactly what my friend tells him over dinner.

I'm not going to do it. It sounds great fun and fantastic viewing, but frankly - with the BBC documentary due out in July - I think I've made a tit of myself in front of the nation quite enough for 2009 already. Perhaps if it comes around again in 2010, I might have no shame again.

It still raises an uncomfortable realisation, however: my friends now see me as the kind of girl who would go on televised dates in a massive, fluffy hamster costume.

Awesome. Who says I've wasted the last year? 

Just look at the reputation I've gone and got myself.


So, last night - after letting him watch the football instead of Hollyoaks and making him a cup of tea that didn't taste of washing-up liquid - I eventually targeted my dad for the previously mentioned loan. I told him not to speak until I was finished, and he was extremely well behaved: his eyes only flicked to the television a couple of times.

"Which," I eventually said - running out of breath - "will be like an investment in life, if you really think about it. And who doesn't want to invest in life? You want to invest in life, right, dad?" I looked at him triumphantly. Who doesn't want to invest in life? My argument was water-tight. "So," I finished: "what do you think?"
Dad looked at the television with a completely neutral expression.
"No," he said after a pause.
"No?" I echoed. There was a silence while I waited for him to change his mind. He didn't. "NO?" I repeated again, a little more loudly. 
"No," dad said.
I stared at him for a few seconds - did a few calculations in my head: went through my argument again and confirmed that it was infallible - and then spluttered: "why the hell not?" 
"Because," dad replied impassively, "I'm not buying into any more of your hare-brained schemes. You have them every day. How long did you spend thinking about this one?" He looked at me sternly. "From beginning of idea to sitting here and telling me about it, exactly how long did it take?"
"A considerable amount of time," I said with dignity. "Considerable."
Mum, who had been sitting quietly - for her - in the armchair, then decided to pipe up with:
"three hours. She came rushing down the stairs gabbling about teaching English abroad at 3pm, and it's 6 now."
Dad looked at me again, while I glared furiously at mum.
"Three hours," he repeated. "Three hours, and you want £1,000 to do a course. That''s £333 for every hour you spent thinking about it."
"A course that will change my life," I said, standing up: furious. "I can't believe the lack of support around here. Jesus! What do I have to do to get a bit of belief?"
"Tell you what," dad said calmly. "You write it all down, and then come back in two weeks. If, in two weeks time, you've looked at all the options and you genuinely believe that this is what you want to do, then I'll lend you the money."
"Fine!" I cried emotionally. "Great! I'll see you back here in two weeks then!" And then I stomped to the door. "What time is dinner?" I added.
"Fifteen minutes," mum said. 
"Okay," I sulked: "see you in fifteen minutes." And then I left the room to go and play my music in my bedroom too loudly.

As I lay on my bed, I was absolutely furious: my argument, I thought, was absolutely sound. It would give me a qualification that would let me teach English in any country I wanted, and would therefore free me from the shackles of unemployment and general misery in Welwyn Garden City. What was there to question?

Except, I thought, that I don't really like teaching. Never have.

And I might get bored, because I love my own language too much to peel it down to the bare basics over and over again.

I stared at the ceiling.

And I'm not sure I like kids much.

And where would I live? Did I want to sign a contract in a strange city with no friends, and then stay there? Did I want to rent a place in a country where I didn't speak the language, when really I just wanted to pass through? Wouldn't that be almost as bad as teaching a class full of children here?

I stared at the ceiling for a couple more minutes.

£1,000 was a lot of money. You could do quite a lot with that. You could actually buy a round the world ticket with that. And you wouldn't have to teach at all.


And, actually, if I really wanted to teach abroad, I could do it for free. Or - if I was desperate - look for something that would take me anyway. I have a Masters degree in the bloody subject, after all.

I pouted for a few minutes, and then I went back downstairs.

"Dad," I said. "I've been thinking about it, and maybe I need to think about it a little bit harder."
"Right," dad said. "Fair enough." It looked suspiciously like his mouth was twitching, but I ignored that. His mouth often twitches when I'm talking, and I have no idea why.
"It's not that it wasn't a great idea," I pointed out. "But maybe it wasn't the...erm... right idea for me. Maybe."
"Fair enough," dad said again. "Keep me in the loop if you have any more ideas. One of them might be one you want to stick to."
And, as I turned to leave the room, I could have sworn that I saw him winking at my mum.

It's not dangerous to have hare-brained schemes, as long as you have people around you who can tell the difference between the good ones and the bad ones; between the ones that have a chance of working, and the ones that haven't got a hope in hell. 

As annoying as they are, thank God I have those people. Or I'd probably just float away.

Anyway, if that idea doesn't feel right, then there are plenty more that might. Now I just need to think of them.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Enough is enough

It's 3pm, and I'm half dressed (bottom half still in pyjamas). Today, I have: 
  • visited three job sites, and seriously considered pretending I can speak Polish and have a degree in Business Economics
  • applied for four jobs, none of which I am qualified for
  • applied for two jobs, both of which I am over-qualified for
  • applied for six jobs: none of which I actually want
  • cut a piece of bread so badly that it got stuck in the toaster, burnt and filled the house with smoke, and then I got shouted at "for trying to kill all the appliances again"
  • 'poked' at least four men on Facebook, just because it feels like human contact
  • had a long conversation with the cat, who took that as her cue to follow me around the house, crying and trying to sit on my chest
  • rung my recruitment consultants to explain, again, who I am and what my name is
  • asked my mum if she's finished reading my manuscript yet, so I can start editing: she hadn't
  • watched the last half of One Tree Hill on E4, and then the first half of it on E4+1, and then spent at least ten minutes trying to work out what was going on 
  • taken my grandad to the hospital
  • picked him up again
  • looked at my brand new wrinkles for 12 minutes in the magnifying mirror and wondered whether I was able to see the actual physical onslaught of time and age happening in front of me
  • wondered whether one day I will look like a Skeksky from The Dark Crystal
  • refreshed Hotmail 248 times in the hope that something good was in there. It wasn't
  • asked mum again if she had finished my manuscript. She still hadn't
  • shouted at the cat to leave me alone, and then - when she did - shouted at her to come back because I was lonely and bored

Something has to change, because I've had enough. My plans - to find work, earn money and then bugger off around the world for an indeterminate amount of time, while my book becomes a multi-national best-seller and I'm totally oblivious because I'm teaching children in Indonesia - are going to hell on a hand-cart, as my dad says. I'm not just unemployed anymore: I'm unemployed. Frankly, the only thing stopping me from watching day time telly is the fact that I hate day time telly more than I hate boredom - I'd rather be talking to the cat - and I'm not just happy to take my grandad to the hospital because I'm a nice person and it's raining: I'm happy because it's something to do

So: the plans are simply going to have to change. If life isn't going to bend to me, I'm going to have to bend to it: and so help me God, if I don't do it now I'm going to go absolutely bonkers.

When dad comes home this evening, I'm going to target him with an investment opportunity: enough money to take a TEFL course (Teach English as A Foreign Language course). I will, of course, pay him back when I'm earning: but, more importantly, it will almost guarantee my departure from the house before the end of summer. Which, I'm sure, will make him reach into his pocket quicker than if I put a rocket there: if I'm irritated being here, I think it's fair to say that dad is even more so, as I almost never do the washing up and insist upon playing music he hates far, far too loudly. I also type very loudly, very late at night, and thus dad keeps dreaming about tiny tap-dancing mice (probably: I haven't asked him).

I'm going to do a course, and then I am going to leave. I am going to go and do something, because the recession is showing no signs of loosening its strangle hold, and I simply cannot sit in my pyjamas for the rest of my life: it will kill me. And if teaching English in a strange place is what I need to do to start living again - start experiencing, start seeing, start actually being a part of life, instead of watching it from the sidelines - then teaching English in a strange place is exactly what I'm going to do.

So that's how I'll spend the rest of today. Researching. And possibly making a cake to butter up my dad.

In a minute, obviously. After I've told all this to the cat.

Dried up grapes

I've never really understood weddings. 

Or I should say: I understand weddings (obviously: it's the legal joining of two people in the eyes of God), but I've never really understood the point of them. Love can't be told what to do: it goes where it likes, and the freedom to leave again if it wants to is as important as allowing it the space to turn up in the first place. Weddings, for me, have therefore always felt a little like building a cage to put the love in in the hope of keeping it trapped there: by law, by religion, by the amount of money spent on a dress, or just by the embarrassment of sending back all the gifts if it all goes wrong. 

This weekend, however, there was a Smale wedding for the first time in nearly two decades, and no amount of amateur philosophising was going to get me out of wearing a dress and wearing heels and eating fruit-cake. None whatsoever. And believe me, I tried it. I don't like wearing anything pretty, I don't like being six foot tall, and I don't like raisins very much, so I pretty much gave it everything I had: love theories, religion theories, architecture theories, fashion theories. All my best theories, I gave it. It didn't work.
"You're starting to sound bitter," my mum eventually said.
"Ha!" I laughed. 
"That sounds bitter," she pointed out. "Somebody will marry you one day," she added distractedly, patting me on the shoulder. "Probably. If you start taking your dirty crockery through to the kitchen when you're finished with it, instead of leaving it on the floor in the living room."
"Don't care anyway," I grumbled, climbing into the backseat of the car. "Weddings are crap."

I was wrong. (I'm wrong far, far more often than I'm right, and there's a certain satisfaction in knowing I can believe in my own convictions as whole heartedly as I like, because the chances are they'll be short-lived.) This wedding was not crap. This wedding, in fact, felt a lot like a big party full of all the people I love most in the world. A big party, with a big free bar and a very sunny balcony to smoke cigarettes on with my cousins at fifteen minute intervals, even though it made all the grown ups cross. And that's not crap, no matter how frilly your dress is.

It wasn't until I got home and started piecing and editing together the video, however, that I started to see - maybe - what all of the fuss was about. In making the little film for my aunt (who couldn't be there), I had to concentrate on the expressions of the people I care about, and I had to really focus on the tiny gestures they made: the hands on shoulders, and the wobble of lips, and the grins I don't think I've ever seen that big. I had to watch my Aunt and Uncle look the happiest I've ever seen them look, over and over again. Which made me wonder if maybe I was even more wrong than I thought I was. Marriage, after all, balances everything out. We get the people we love together to mark the beginning of a life and the end of a life, so it's only right and natural that we get them together to celebrate the happiest part of a life: even if that apparently requires cake made entirely out of dried up grapes. 

Watching the faces of my family - both those who were saying vows and those who were not - it was suddenly clear that a wedding is not about two people celebrating love, but all of us; and it isn't about trapping it, but giving it a cheer as it goes past. 

I still wouldn't say that I'm a massive fan of weddings or marriage, but I think I'll be clearing up my breakfast bowl in the mornings now, just in case. 

Sunday, 24 May 2009

My domain

Self-belief costs £5.98. I know this, because I just received the invoice. As of this morning, www.thewritegirl.co.uk is mine. 

"Unbelievable," my ego hissed at me last night when I tentatively broached the subject. "Jesus. A bit of publicity and now you're full of it. What have you got to offer, Smale? Eh? Nothing. Exactly. Now go and sit in a corner and think about just how useless you are."
And, for the first time - possibly ever - I bridled.
"No," I shouted back. "I will not go and sit in a corner."
My ego blanched a little bit.
"Why not?" he said in a surprised voice. (He's male: of course he's male.)
"Because I am sick of sitting in the corner," I screamed at him. "Sick of it. I'm sick of data entry, I'm sick of feeling pointless, I'm sick of being dumped, I'm sick of feeling angry with myself and I'm sick of fighting with you all the time."
"Well you don't need to be so bloody stroppy," my ego complained. "Bloody hell. Pipe down."
"You pipe down," I said (I've never been very good at arguments: I tend to just repeat what they've said in an emotional voice). "Every time I try and do something, you try and stop me. Every time. Every chapter, every blog post, every video, every painting, every interview, every date, every time I fall in love: you're there in the background, telling me how stupid I am, and asking me why I'm bothering."
"Nobody likes a show-off," he pointed out. "It'll make people hate you. Do you want to be hated? Do you want to be lonelier?"
There was a long pause while I thought about it.
"I just want to do something I love without hating myself for it. I want to do something good without despising myself a little for even trying."
There was another silence.
"So will you just fuck off for a little bit, please?" I added eventually. "Please? Just for a month or so? Just so I can get on my feet? This is my life, and I want to own it for once."
"Well you don't need to be so rude," my ego said in a sulky voice. "You just had to ask nicely. I need a holiday anyway." 
And then he got up and stalked out of the room.

So I'm going to see what it's like without him there. This morning, I got up to buy the website and I waited for my ego to pop his head up - to ask me what I thought I was doing, and who the hell did I think was going to visit it? - but nothing happened. There were no interruptions. There were no waves of self-doubt, tossing me around like a tiny little boat in a storm. It was just me, and my website, and the excitement of having something to build. Something to create. Something to throw myself into. A place that was mine: that I didn't have to fight against myself for.

And it feels wonderful.

He'll come back, of course: I know he will. He always does; probably with a tan and a straw donkey. But by then, we might have a slightly more healthy relationship. By then, I might need him to help keep my feet on the ground.

Friday, 22 May 2009


For my grandad's birthday a few years ago, the entire family clubbed together and bought him a gift that David Attenborough himself would be thrilled with.

BBB - otherwise known as Bird Big Brother - is a bird box, and yet it is no ordinary bird box: inside the bird box is a tiny camera, hooked up directly to a very large flatscreen television. With the press of a button (button undetermined: the only person who knows which button it is appears to be my grandad, no matter how many times he tries to explain it to my grandma), Coronation Street switches off, and BBB appears in full, 15 inch , black and white glory. For the majority of the year this is obviously no great shakes - it's just an empty box - but, in spring, it becomes full to the brim of tiny blue-tits, magnified to such a degree that they look vaguely like massive furry dinosaurs.

Without exception, it's the best TV going, and every year there have been dramas of one kind or another. During BBB1, for instance, one of the eggs didn't hatch; during BBB3 it was a single parent family and the mother looked furious all the time. Nobody talks much about BBB2, because both parents disappeared and the chicks died in the box, leaving my grandparents to eventually drag the box off the wall in an attempt to save the remaining soldiers (it couldn't be done - they were too tiny - and to this day it makes us all sad). 

We're on BBB4 now, and by God is it fascinating. A brood of six giant, one foot big grey chicks - who, in reality, are about two inches big and blue and yellow - have all grown healthily, and both parents have returned every minute or so with giant (tiny) caterpillars, to the general uproar and commotion of the kids. The kids have pecked each other, slept, climbed on top of each other, given the mum and dad no thanks at all for feeding them (and for carrying away their poo in their beaks), fluffed themselves up, stared woefully at the camera, and occasionally stuck their little heads out of the hole to see what's out there.

On Monday, two of the chicks flew. It's what they do, apparently: they just puff their wings up a bit, say goodbye and then leave the hole and never come back. On Tuesday, another two left. And on Wednesday, at a ridiculous time of morning (this bird is clearly going to be one of the early singers who wakes me up when I'm hungover), the fifth bird made his tiny little way out into the world.

Last night, we all arrived at my grandparents for a birthday dinner (everyone - and I mean everyone - in my family appears to have a birthday in May). 

The sixth bird is still in the box.

We stood around staring at it for a few seconds, and then my dad said:
"What's wrong with it?"
My grandad shook his head.
"He's a bit reluctant, this one," he admitted. "He keeps poking his head out and then going back in and going back to sleep. It's very strange, for a bird."
At which point, one of the parents returned with a caterpillar and the remaining chick - who is getting unfeasibly fat - started squawking.
"Well no wonder he's not leaving," my younger cousin pointed out: "they're still pandering to him! He's never going to leave the nest if they do that."
There was a long pause, during which me and my oldest cousin - who has just moved home with her mum - stared at the carpet. And then everybody started sniggering.
"I mean, what is he?" my dad eventually managed: "27 or 30 years old or something?"

In the bird's defence, the economy is pretty bad out there. Maybe he's just trying to save up enough caterpillars to be able to find his own box. Maybe he stuck his head out, and got a little bit nervous about what he saw. Or maybe - just maybe - he isn't actually sure he's going to fit through the hole anymore.

Either way, if you see an obscenely chunky blue-tit wobbling around in the air: give him a wave. He might be one of ours.

Monday, 18 May 2009


When I was little, I read a lot. I read anything that I could disappear into: anything that would let me hide in its pages, and be somewhere else. When the book was finished, I would carry it around with me. I couldn't let it go - I couldn't bear to accept that it was over - so I tucked this other world under my arm and took it with me everywhere: to Sainsburys, to the park, to playschool, to the bathroom, to the dinner table (where it would inevitably end up covered in little ketchup fingerprints). "Are you still reading that thing?" my mum would ask, concerned with my literary skills, and I'd say yes because I was too embarrassed to admit that I'd finished it and simply couldn't put it back on the book shelf.

I still do it. I might not carry finished books around with me anymore, but I still can't let anything go. It doesn't matter what it is - whether it's a person, a memory, an event, an emotion, a place - I carry them around with me. I spend my time hiding in things that have finished, because I can't accept that things I treasure - or love - are over.

And I'm saturated. I woke up this morning and realised that I can't hold anymore. My arms are full of stories that I've finished and I can't put down, and they're too heavy for me to hold. Men I've loved, places I've been, hopes I've had, songs I've adored, emotions I've clung to. Moments - literally seconds - that were perfect, and that I remember long after they've been obliterated by the weeks and months that came afterwards. People I hold on to because I can't bear the idea of never: of never seeing them again, of never hearing them again, of never being part of their story again. Jobs - Best or not - that I still think about, when they were over a long time ago; friendships I miss, when we haven't spoken for years. I miss my little sister - not just now, but I miss the little person she used to be: sitting cross-legged at the end of my bed - and I miss being picked out of the bath in a big towel by my mum, and I miss the boy I was with for three years, and the boy I was with for three weeks, and the boy I was with for three hours when I'd never seen romance so closely. I miss the walk to school when I was seven, and I miss lying in bed and singing to the guitar my ex played (which I can't do now, because there's nobody to listen). I miss all of it. I carry around memories and stories, and I spend my life never really letting them go, and never really moving on.

"Where's this book of yours, then?" my grandad asked me yesterday. "When do I get to read it?"
"When it's finished. It's nearly finished," I replied slightly curtly.
There was a pause while he looked at me and I tried to look at something else.
"How nearly finished is it?" grandad said eventually. "I mean, lengthwise. How nearly finished is it?"
"It's, erm. Well." I scratched my foot and became incredibly interested in a toenail for a few seconds. "It's finished. It's been finished quite a long time, now, actually."
"So what are you doing with it? Why can't I read it?"
"I'm editing," I said obtusely.
There was another pause, and we both watched the next door neighbour's horrendous-looking Siamese cat snake around the hedge.
"You're going to have to let it go one day," my grandad eventually said gently.
"Mmm," I said, feeling - inexplicably - like I wanted to cry.

It's what I'm scared of most. If I couldn't let go of books I read and loved when I was tiny, letting go of the book I wrote and love now is a million times harder. It's not just a fear that nobody will like it - although that's there, obviously: it's a terror of what happens when it's over. Yes, I can write another one, and I will. But it's not the same. I'll never love another book like I love this one, and I'll never be able to replace it. Just like I've never been able to replace any of the things I've loved. Memories are still stuck to me like bright feathers, as if I've coated myself in something sticky and rolled in them.

It's time to let go. When I've finished writing this blog, I'm going to print out my manuscript and I'm going to give it to my grandad and my mum (and maybe even someone who isn't guaranteed to like it). I'm going to stop loving the boy who broke my heart: or at least stop thinking about him. I'm going to stop torturing myself for not getting the Best Job In The World; I'm going to stop wondering what would have happened if I hadn't screwed up my Cambridge University interview; I'm going to stop thinking about a pair of shoes I had when I was 19 and lost. I'm going to stop looking at the past and turning it over like a seashell in my head, and I'm going to look, instead, at every world I have yet to hide in.

Maybe if I learn how to put my stories back on the shelf, I might eventually be able to pick up some new ones.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Mum complains again.

My mum is not happy with me.

'Holly,' she said as soon as I picked up the phone. 'You can't just chop the blue flowers and then spray them and "hope they'll go away". They won't go away: they're buggers. You have to get in there with a fork and get right to the base of the root.'
'Muuum,' I said. 'They've got roots like tree trunks, and they go about six foot down.'
'They don't go six foot down: don't be so silly. Just get a fork out and put some welly into it. I don't want to come back at the end of term and find I have to do it all over again. I can't plant any flowers if those smelly blue things are still in there, waiting to pop up again.'
'Alright, alright,' I said grumpily. 'But I'm charging dad extra.'

And that's the bloody problem with blogs. You think you're talking about one thing, and all your mum is looking for is a way of cutting your pocket money.

Weeding and writing

In my final step towards being a teenager (who says you can't turn time backwards?), I am currently earning my pocket money by gardening. I didn't enjoy it, at first: all that fresh air and dirty hands, when I quite like warm pillows and lots of soap and water. Then I found it marginally therapeutic - a little like knitting (which, luckily, I won't be doing for many, many years, because I'm currently growing in the opposite direction) - and now I'm finding it almost compulsive. That's the great thing about me, you see. If I do anything enough times, I'll get addicted to it. It doesn't even have to be very nice: it just has to be regular. Hence some of my choices in ex boyfriend.

'Weeding again?' my dad said as I donned my increasingly disgusting 'house' clothes (I no longer have many other options, because moths have eaten all the rest) and headed out into the garden with my iPod.
'Uhuh,' I said, holding up my little garden trowel so that he could see it. (To be honest, I was mainly holding it up so that he could see that I knew what a 'trowel' was. This is a new finding: up until last week I called it 'that spoony thing covered in mud'.)
'Done much writing?' he said, nodding at me from the backdoor.
'Mmm,' I said, scrolling through my musical options and not really listening.
Dad cleared his throat.
'So,' he said, and then he waited for me to look up. 'Would it be fair to say that you are pretty good at weeding and writing?'
And then he laughed for about six minutes without stopping.
'Dad,' I said when he eventually stopped. 'Have you sent me out into the garden just so you could make that joke?'
'Well nooo,' dad said. 'But I have been waiting all morning to say it.'
So I told him to go back into the house and hang his head in shame, and then I turned my music up so he wouldn't try and make jokes at me while I was trying to concentrate.

Weeds are strange things, though: largely because they're entirely subjective. I tried to find out what I was supposed to pull up and what I was supposed to leave behind - I am not a born gardener - and dad looked at me like I was mad. 'Pull up the weeds,' he said slowly: 'and leave in the flowers.' And then I heard him mutter 'Jesus' as he walked away. 

The problem is, however, that the definition of a weed is simply a plant you don't want: and some of them are very pretty. Some of our weeds, in fact, are prettier than the flowers they're trying to kill. Much of weeding is therefore a little like playing God: I have to choose which ones deserve to live, and which ones deserve to be pulled out and then sprayed with poison just to make sure they die twice.

They're tricksy old buggers, though. One thing I've learnt in the last week is that the pretty ones are easy to pull up; a quick tug and they give up the ghost and barely make a peep in the process. The ugly ones, however, tend to be much stronger, with thicker roots and some kind of thorn or sting or spike as a double layer of protection. Which made me angry with both types, to be honest. I was angry with the pretty ones, for thinking that being pretty was enough to make sure that nobody would pull them out, and I was angry with the ugly ones for being so damn obstinate even though nobody could possibly ever want them there in the first place. And then, just for good measure, I was angry at the flowers too, because a lot of them had been completely overshadowed by weeds, and weren't even bothering to fight for their own space on the patch; possibly because they thought they had an inherent right to it, and so were trusting that somebody would come along and save them. 

Which was, I thought, a lot like people. They're either too busy growing flowers or too busy growing roots, and none of them seem to be able to focus on doing both properly. (Apart from, that is, the hideous, smelly blue ones that have both flowers and roots, take over everything and can't be pulled out properly, so I have to just kind of chop them off and spray them and hope they go away. And I know people like that too.)

I think, though, that - after my irritation with the garden had died down - my overriding emotion was one of respect. I could shout at them as much as I liked, but these plants had put themselves there - out of nowhere - and they were merrily doing their best to keep growing and prioritising whatever it was they preferred: flowers or roots. They were giving it their best, even if we didn't want them there in the slightest. Which was something to be admired, I thought. And possibly inspired by, as well: if you can be inspired by a weed.

Flowers or roots, though, they're all coming out by the end of the week. I'm bigger, and I'm stronger, and I get to choose. Which is something else to learn from, I guess. You can grow however you like, and wherever you like, but there's still a chance you'll end up pulled up either way.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Mini Breaks

Ben - one of the four of us Brits - has won The Best Job In The World! (I hate using exclamation marks in writing, but I think this warrants one.) 

First thought was congratulatory (he's a lovely guy), but the second thought - which came hot on the heels of the unselfish first thought - was: score! All four Brits agreed that if one of us won, we'd pay to fly the other three out for two weeks as a consolation prize. Now, I don't know the legalities of these things, but if a verbal contract is filmed by the BBC, does that make it legally binding?

I'm getting my bikini out, just in case. One doesn't want to be caught unawares, should one suddenly be presented with the holiday of a lifetime out of a reluctant sense of moral obligation. And if he doesn't come through, I'll be forced to speak to The Daily Express about it. Best Job Boy Robbed Me Of My Totally Unearned and Undeserved Mini Break, I shall pitch the story as. They'll love it. I'll let them take a picture of me, overturning a Monopoly Board or something. 

Well done, Benny Boy. You deserve every minute of it, holiday or no holiday.

The Little Table

'You're sitting on the little table,' my Grandad said when I marched into his 80th birthday party last weekend and asked where my mini name card was. He pointed to a table which was the same size as the other table and perfectly acceptable, as tables go; which was a relief, because in the past The Little Table has sometimes been a little too small, frankly. Especially when it was made of red plastic and there was only two of us.

'I'm still on the little table?' I moaned. 
'The little table's for the little ones,' my Grandad pointed out reasonably. 'That's how it goes.'
'Little ones now ranging from ten years old to thirty,' I clarified. I said it loudly enough for my eldest cousin to hear the word thirty. She visibly flinched, even though she had no idea what we were talking about; she takes being the eldest personally.
'I'm afraid you'll always be the little ones,' Grandad said, 'no matter how big you get.'
So I took myself to The Little Table and plonked myself down to consider the situation. 

When I was little enough to warrant a separate table because I couldn't reach the big one (or I could, but it would be generally regretted afterwards as I'd inevitably lunge for something red and sticky and then throw it around the room), The Big Table had a faint air of mystery about it. Adults sat there. My parents sat there. My great-grandparents sat there. Plus it was ridiculously large: the roast potatoes had to make some kind of Tolkeinesque journey just to get from one end to the other. I was therefore quite happy to sit on my mini-table with my elder cousin, because the tea never ran out (it was invisible), the service was impeccable (it was me, with a drying-up-cloth draped over my arm) and the guests were very polite (the teddies, obviously. Not my cousin. She's French). Eventually my other cousin joined us, and then my sister - and, after a large gap - two younger cousins, who we duly told not to touch anything or they'd be in trouble.

As I sat on The Little Table last weekend, I noticed that it was growing. Not only was it a fully grown up sized table now - and we had staff that weren't teddy bears - but there were more people on it than had ever been on it before, as boyfriends were starting to join us. And, I realised suddenly, it was going to keep growing. Eventually some poor soul might be persuaded to take the seat next to me and - probably not very long after - somebody would marry the ten year old. We would have our own little ones. The Little Table would grow, and - eventually, inevitably - the Big Table would start to get smaller.

And, just like that, I realised that I was in no hurry to leave The Little Table. I was in no hurry to stop being a Little One. On The Little Table, you see, you're safe, because there's always a Big Table to look after you. And this weekend only made me realise just how much I love it being there. And just how much I still need it.

At the end of the meal, Grandad stood up to make a speech: a speech that managed to navigate the diverse waters of off meat, fleas and vandalism with a great deal of dignity. By the end of it, at least half of the family was crying, although I was not one of them.

A fact that I think my Grandad noticed, because he promptly reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled up piece of paper.
'I've had this for nearly fifteen years,' he said. 'Holly gave it to me, and I've kept it ever since. It's a quote from Emily Dickinson, which has meant everything to me.' And then he looked directly at me. '"We turn not older with years,"' he said quietly, '"but newer with each day."'

At which point I burst into tears. 

'Grandad?' I said, after I had straightened my face out and the rest of the family had started heading towards the bar downstairs. 'Do you think I'll stop being a little one when I have little ones of my own?'
'No,' he said, grinning at me. 'You'll still be a little one. They'll just be even littler.'

Which means, I guess, that we'll just have to get a smaller table.