Friday, 20 December 2013

Things I Have Learnt This Year OR One Thing I Have in Common with Madonna

Everybody is piling the internet with things they've done this year, books they've read, good wishes they want to share, more stuff that they've done, anything they can think of. Well I'm going to add to that pile of virtual, often useless and sometimes warming information.

What have I learnt through another year in northern Italy, trying to write my way out of a wet paper bag?

That I love getting up before dawn. I like the blankness, the unwritten quality, the last coursing of the night between trees in the yard. The way stars fade or the moon delivers its final beams. I like having a clean mind, breathing in cold air.

That I dislike jellyfish. Although I have a gigantic shark phobia that makes each swim I take in Corsica a risky trial (I see them snaking along the sandbed, I imagine fins.. everywhere), I have now realised that jellyfish are not-so-loveable. I had my first huge jellyfish sting this summer and it lasted a month. Ha! And due to global warming the global jellyfish population will only double, triple, quadruple in the next few years. Jellyfish have no predators - not even man! They appeal to certain Chinese palates but otherwise none of us have devised a culinary way to cull the jellyfish population. This could mean more jellyfish stings for all of us. Speaking from experience, it ain't funny.

photo:Paul McVeigh/Word Factory
That I like reading in public. When DLC came out last year I had shaky hands and BREATHE written all over my speech. I even had a speech! These days I've learnt a couple of reading tricks. Practice your piece as though it were a sonata to be played for Carlos, my maestro. No mistakes! Oh and a pint at the pub around the corner is essential.  

That there is a God. This higher entity encouraged my current favourite writer to walk through the bookshop door at my reading in Soho last Saturday night. This higher entity allowed the tongue in my head to move and speak words in English.

That I understand the rain. Going to London quite a few times this year means I've learned what it means to have rain trickling down your face, into your scalp, down your back, in your shoes. It means nothing. It means that you will dry off later. It means that you will go into a bookshop and drip on the floor. It means you will smell like a dog on the tube. Before, I used to despise the rain. Now I've bought chunky boots that are as eager as frogs for a good puddle. As Madonna says, damp weather is good for your skin.

That it's hard to sell books. This is not a surprise to me, although it is. I thought some uplifting force would thrust my books into the public eye and they would be purchased over and over. That uplifting force is me. And I can't even lift more than three bags of shopping. I am skinny and distracted and my internet connection is weak and my computer makes me cry. I have learnt that my efforts are not in vain, but just about. This no longer upsets me. What sells, sells.

That a writer should go home and write. Ha! you laugh. She didn't know that? Oh I've heard it bandied about many times. Writers write. Builders build. Musicians perform. But I wasn't connecting the dots. I was writing - yeah - but I wasn't putting up a brick walled fence between my writing time and my social media time. Things were getting mushy. Lately, they are not.

That most of our problems are very minor.

Let me know what you think you have learnt this year. Are we taking ourselves too seriously here? No chance.


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Thursday, 5 December 2013

How to Love the Cold

The cold is here in the north of our now topsy-turvy world. How is it hitting you? We have frost ahoy outside in the mornings and it is so beautiful to see the dawn lifting her tinkering icy skirts. And yet I have many friends and family who shrink from this season, who fail to see its distinct pleasures and delights.

Buy a moose hat
You might ask how a skinny person such as yours truly, born in a sub-tropical climate, who spent 15 years in tropical East and West Africa, who spent her fourth pregnancy (electricity cuts and there was no AC anyway) lying mostly on the cool tiles of the floor, who was once seen frozen with bare ankles in the coldest winter known to Paris ('85), and who used to beg to stay in the car, with the heating on dammit!, whenever she was dragged to the friggin' Dolomites...can speak positively about this even crueller season.

Well, what happened sista? How did you of all people come to love the cold?

It's been a long hard ride and now I will share my secret tips. These range from walking with bare feet in the snow to - of course - succumbing to the sales. And also involve mulled wine and mulled wine.

These are suggestions that work:

1. Walk tall. One of my BFFs, an ex-ballerina, told me not to hunch to keep warm. She said, Throw your shoulders back and straighten your spine. It's so true. Hunching means your impoverished circulation will never warm your extremities. Walk the walk, preferably in a pair of beautiful, double-soled boots (*see ahead*)

2. Turn your heating down. Or off. At least twice a year I forget to top up the gas tank outside, or it's a public holiday, or a bill hasn't been paid, so our cold stone house drops to 7 or 8 or 9 degrees inside. What to do? Get used to it. Pile on layers. Enjoy your hats one by one. One time I polished all of my 1930s plantation furniture from Togo. Of course I'm not suggesting we all live in iceboxes but it is possible to do with so much less. Before renovations, there was barely any heating in this house, and it was tough but we survived. Read the passage in Silas Marner where the mother freezes in the snow, try to imagine the rags she was wearing, and you will feel hot where you are sitting.

3. If you don't believe *2*, try removing your shoes and running in circles in your yard or local park in the snow. I promise this will make you a better, fun-lovin' person who laughs at the cold.

4. Get half-naked and go to pool. Friends shiver when I say this and - silly people! - I saw a wetsuit for sale at my local pool today. The temperature is the same as it was before you ninnies! It's only coldish for the first three laps and then, by degrees, you warm yourself from your very core. This is a lingering, enrichening warmth which is almost as good as, well, lingering with your precious one, who may not always be on call.

5. Clean your rafters. I say this because I vacuumed mine this week, in a fit of I-don't-know-what, probably because I was locked between stories. How the layers of clothes and scarves and beanies came off!

Fall in love with a mountain (this one's mine & I climbed it)
6. I learned to ski as an adult and made a conscious decision to try to understand mountain people, mountain hardship, mountain car (bloddy) problems, mountain sports. In the first years there was one older gent who skied in a pair of boxer shorts. That's it. Ski boots on bare legs. It was said he had a disease and could not wear cloth against his skin. He wore sunglasses and lots of suncream, and looked very odd sitting outside lodges with everybody else in their mitts and goggles and cool jackets. Can you imagine? This man helped me feel warmer, much warmer.
I also advise mulled wine. Lots of mulled wine. In every ski lodge you should have mulled wine. And if there is no mountain or ski lodge nearby that's no excuse. Google the recipe! Red wine-brown sugar-cloves-cinnamon-orange peel in a pan. Go for it! It will make you a better winter person.

7. Next trick: if you are writer, then write about hot places. How I love doing this!! And if you are a devoted reader, then cast your eyes over literature from stinking hot places. It truly works. Egypt! Australia! Nigeria!

8. Come January, come the sales. That means boots. Although as you know I have already purchased these to help with my work. My writing work. My showing-up-stylish-for-readings-work.

**HOT NEWS** I'll be reading from my short story collection at the FREE Word Factory Christmas Party at The Society Club Bookshop and Cafe in Soho, London on December 14th, if you'd care to join us do book your place as the stylish venue is quite small. Wine and stories and wonderful company! Cannot wait for this!