Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The boss.

People in York are friendlier than people in London, that's just a fact. I was there last week staying with my parents, so I know. People in York talk to you. At a bus stop waiting for a bus into the city centre we struck up a conversation with a lady with three children, a girl and two boys, who were talking about Germany Beck, an area of Fulford where a controversial housing development is taking place (Persimmon Homes, building 700 new houses).

"You do know why it's called Germany Beck, don't you?" says my mother, butting in to their conversation. She can't help herself, she's a raging extrovert; standing waiting for a lift in a department store I have to instruct her not to speak to the people already inside the lift when we get in, reluctantly she usually (but not always) obliges, but I can see it's a struggle.

The three children waiting with the lady at the bus stop didn't bat an eyelid as they might have done in London if some mad woman suddenly struck up conversation with them. "No," they said, with sweet, enquiring faces. "Why?"

So my mother told them: it's named Germany Beck after German de Brettgate, a landowner who lived in these parts quite a long time ago. I knew this too, as it happens, because only the night before I'd been with my mother at the Fulford Historical Society meeting in the local church hall: 'Who's who in Fulford:1066 to 1266' (and I know what you're thinking, you're jealous because my life is so glamorous).

After this we had a long chat with the woman and the little girl at the bus stop about how troublesome boys are (the elder boy kept mithering the younger one, as they say in Yorkshire). When we got on the bus another woman greeted my mother by name and as I passed the place where the little girl was already sitting on the bus she beamed at me, so I beamed back.

Arriving in York city centre, we descended the stairs (we always sit on the top deck, if there is one) and another woman at the bottom of the stairs suddenly stopped and waited. "Everything alright?" I asked her, wondering why she had suddenly stopped and waited. "Yes," she said, "I'm just waiting so you can go first." I'll just repeat that; she was -  JUST WAITING SO WE COULD GO FIRST. 

When I stepped off the bus the driver was waiting there too, suddenly he shot his arm out towards me. "Look!" he bellowed. I jumped. What? What was it? Someone pulling a knife? A shivering homeless person lying prone on the pavement I was about to step on? "Your shoe laces are undone," he said. I didn't have any shoe laces. I was wearing boots. I studied his face. He was smiling. It was a joke. I'll just repeat that - IT WAS A JOKE. 

"It's not like living in London," I said to my mother as we walked away, "London is a war zone. In London you must put on your emotional body armour every time you go out. In London it's dog eat dog, every man for himself, survival of the fittest. It must be lovely to live in York where people know your name and everyone is smiley and friendly."

"It is," said my mother.

A few days later, back in London, I was walking through our local market with my husband, telling him this. "People in York are so friendly," I told him, "it's such a lovely place to live compared with London. Here no one knows your name and everyone is horrid and mean."

"Mmm," he said, just as we were passed the veg stall.

"Alright boss!" called out the veg stall owner, to my husband. I'll just repeat that - ALRIGHT BOSS! called out the veg stall holder, to my husband.

"Did he just call you boss?" I asked my husband.

"He did," he said. "You'd be surprised. I command respect in these parts."

I have to admit, I was surprised.

Love E x


P.S. Because he's not the boss at all, I am.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Who am I?

I am a fifteen-year-old boy. I'm not particularly happy. Can you blame me? I have GCSE's in a few months' time and I go to a huge comprehensive school in south London where no one pays me much attention. I'm shy with people I don't know. I'm also bored. I'd like to go to America where kids get to be stars in programmes like Stranger Things. I never go to parties. I like to play games on the computer and skateboard with my mates. I love my brothers and my parents, but especially my brothers, who aren't around much now because they went to university.

I am a nineteen-year-old-boy. I'm at university. I'm happy most of the time and I'm not shy. I like people. I'm interested in a whole bunch of stuff and I read a lot. I'm reading History at university. I like the people here and I like the town my university is in. I read stuff that isn't history too, like philosophy, and then I talk about it, a lot. I play the guitar really well. I'm pretty cool and I know I'm pretty cool. Life's good.

I am a twenty-one-year-old man and I'm very happy. I'm at university too and I'm in a band and I have a girlfriend and live with a bunch of people in a lovely house by the sea. I write and play music. I film stuff. I like to drink alcohol with my mates. I cook, but not meat, I don't eat meat. I like to draw and paint. Basically I like creating. On the train to London at Christmas my girlfriend and I embroidered each others' shirts.

I am a fifty-four-year-old man and I'm not going to tell you anything about myself except that I work hard and love my family.

I am a fifty-one-year old man and the brother of the fifty-four-year-old man and I'm one of the few people who ever bothers to comment on this blog, which is kind of me. (Hello, I'm his partner, 'hi!').

I am a seventy-eight-year-old woman. To be honest I probably need a whole blog to myself to explain who I am. I'm a happy optimist, an extrovert, a force of nature. I was a primary school teacher and then a head teacher. Now I'm retired but I'm on thirteen different committees. I love to dance. I go to Zumba classes three times a week. I'm very happily married and I love my life and my family.

I am a seventy-seven-year-old man. I also need my own blog to explain who I am, or maybe a PHD thesis. I'm a thinker, a professor, I still work. I write books and research. I still lecture too, often abroad. Sometimes I still teach undergraduates. I love gardening and worry about what we're doing to this planet. I run a community orchard. I'm busy. I love my life and my wife and my family.

I am an eighty-year-old man and the brother of the seventy-eight-year-old man; and I am the wife of the eighty-year-old man, and I am their children, and I am their children's children.

I am a forty-eight-year-old man, the son of the seventy-seven-year old man, with a wife and two girls, and I live in London and I'm busy and creative. I'm confident and pretty funny, though I say so myself. I write. I play music. I love to play tennis in my spare time. I love my wife and girls. (I am the wife, and girls, and we have good hearts).

Love E x


P.S. Who am I? See above.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Three films and a book reading.

In the last two weeks I've seen three films and attended another book reading so I thought I'd give you a quick summary in case you fancy going to any of them, the films, obviously, not the book reading because that was a one-off and it's happened. Don't read on if you don't like spoilers.

Darkest Hour

Winston Churchill is fat and old and nearly always drunk but nevertheless manages to take over the reins of war from lily-livered Chamberlain and begin his bumpy ride to victory. That's pretty much it. Halifax and Chamberlain are ghastly cowards, Winston's wife is ball-breaking Kristin Scott-Thomas (who I still can't look at without thinking of her up against that wall with Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient) and she bullies and mothers him by turns (Winston, not Ralph Fiennes). 

Lily James is at first a simpering goose but later a jolly sport and she and Winston have a charming father/daughter or slightly creepy Humbert Humbert/Lolita relationship, depending on how you look at it. It all seems plausible until there's some whimsy on a tube when Winston canvasses public opinion, which kind of spoils it.

Molly's Game

There's this woman except before that she was this girl and when she was a girl she was a skier, and really good at it, except it all went wrong so she had to get involved in high-stakes gambling instead, as you do, not that you really care because she's so unsympathetic as a character she doesn't elicit one jot of emotion one way or another. People play cards a lot and then she and Idris Elba talk really fast at each other in his office, a lot. Kevin Costner is ludicrously cast as her father and they have an important chat on a bench in Central Park near the end when she realises he was only mean to her when she was a kid because he loved her, not that you realised he was mean to her as a kid anyway. Terrible film. Nul points. I watched it at a friend's house because he had an advance copy and we all thought it was boring except for the fabulous cleavage all the way through. Go if you like tits.

The Post

Some journalists decide to publish something. It's set in America. Meryl Streep is in it and she's great but my goodness hasn't she gone broad across the beam since she was a delicate wisp of a thing back in Kramer vs Kramer? So sad how people age. Still, she really can rock a gold lame kaftan and tells all those fellas she's going ahead Goddammit and has tears in her eyes and everything so we know it's a big deal. She and Tom Hanks have an acting face off in a restaurant at the beginning which is great except you never forget for one second that he is Tom Hanks and she is Meryl Streep. Oh, and it's about the Vietnam War, which I did kind of forget after the first ten minutes perhaps because I'd had a long day and a boozy supper with girlfriends and briefly nodded off. A good film to snooze to.

From Aleppo Without Love, by Amir Darwish

The darkest hour for real. Amir Darwish read from his autobiography From Aleppo Without Love - a true story of anguish and despair by a boy from Aleppo as part of the Goldsmiths Arabic Poetry Festival on Saturday night and a group of us students went along to support him (this is my life now, I go to Arabic poetry festivals). Amir was physically and sexually abused as a child growing up in Aleppo. At the age of sixteen he began writing poetry but when this attracted the attention of the secret service and men with guns turned up at his house one too many times he decided to flee Syria. He ended up in Middlesbrough after hitching a ride under a lorry from Belgium and stowing away on a container ship. Kind of puts all of the above film nonsense into perspective along with any of your own problems, such as they are. He's on my M.A. course and it's a privilege to know him.

Love E x


P.S. Nothing can follow that.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018


This blog has been taken over, by words. You may have noticed, in fact I'm sure you will have, that because I'm now studying writing what I write about has changed. Now mostly what I write about is reading. This week I have two things to say about reading, and writing, or maybe three, at the moment it's three, but by the time I press the 'publish' button it might be more because by then I will have read more and probably want to write about it.


Wednesday evening I saw Nicol(a) B(a)rker talking about her new book H(A)PPY (she says you're not allowed to call it Happy, by the way, it has to be H-(A)-P-P-Y). It just won the Goldsmiths Prize -"fiction at its most novel". Irish writer Kevin Barry says "She takes the vapid discourse of social media blather, with its 'likes' and 'favourites', and extrapolates madly to make a language for an utterly believable future world, a world enslaved by the blandness of its technology." It's also been described as "a vision of a dystopian future which defies narrative and typographic convention." Yeah, I know, me neither. A lot of her words are printed in colour, apparently, at vast expense.


I haven't actually read it yet. I might never read it because my list of books to read is epic, but it was interesting listening to her talk about it. One of the interesting things she said was that happiness comes from misery. I think that's true. Later in the same talk she said they're actually the same thing, happiness and misery, but I don't think that is true, although I do think suffering has its benefits. If you've ever been hurt or traumatised in some way, as many of the authors I've met on this M.A. course have been, you might not walk as tall as you did before, your pain might stay with you forever, visible somewhere behind the eyes to anyone who cares to look hard enough, but if you're a writer you'll probably be a better one for it. For a writer misery has an upside: it's a driver.


Speaking of Misery, I was recently reading Stephen King On Writing, A Memoir Of The Craft and he has some great observations about what writing is. He has a description which ends with him asking the reader to think of a rabbit in a cage with a number eight on its back, he says -

"Not a six, not a four, not a nineteen-point-five. It's an eight. This is what we're looking at, and we all see it. I didn't tell you. You didn't ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We're not even in the same year together [the book was published in 2000, possibly written in the year before], let alone in the same room... except we are together. We're close. We're having a meeting of minds."

It's a clever way of putting it, I thought.


Later that same day I was reading something else (Alice Munro, Selected Short Stories) when Youngest came into my office and accused me of being a try-hard.

"What?" I said. "Because I'm reading?" 

"Yeah," he said. 

I told him it's good to read, he should read. "Have you started reading It yet?" I asked. (I gave him It by Stephen King for Christmas because he liked the movie of it.) 

"No," he said. 

I told him if you want to do something creative in life books can be your food. "You can steal things from other writers," I said. "A bit here, a bit there, and reading stimulates the imagination."

"I have an imagination already," he said.

Perhaps It is too weighty, I thought (it's 1,166 pages). So I went off to look for something else for him to read. I found The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness in one of the other boys' bedrooms (incidentally I met Patrick Ness once and he was lovely). I left it on his bedside table next to It. Sadly, I think he's yet to read a word of it.

Love E x


P.S. I'd like to introduce my friend Amir Darwish to you. He certainly knows a thing a two about misery, and has written some wonderful things because of it. I hope that lately he's become acquainted with some happiness, if only a little.


Tuesday, 23 January 2018


The best things about student life are the writing and the students - and the writing by the students - and the worst things are the rucksack and Southern Rail. 

Southern Rail.

Some months ago, on the first few occasions I marched down to the station carrying my heavy rucksack to catch the direct 09.03 to London Bridge, stopping at New Cross Gate, I thought it was a breeze. "It's a breeze," I told all my family and friends. "There's a direct train that gets me there in plenty of time and it's always empty and peaceful so I can work on the way." Since then I've caught the 09.03 direct to London Bridge about four times because it's nearly always cancelled. The other day five Epsom-bound trains were cancelled in a row and mine was delayed and delayed and delayed and when it finally arrived there was an announcement to say it wasn't going to stop at New Cross Gate at all. Last week I gave up and got the tube to London Bridge and a taxi from there, which didn't feel very studenty.

The Rucksack.

The rucksack is huge. Filled with books and a laptop it's incredibly heavy. By the time I carry it from home to station to catch the mostly mythical 09.03 my back is hurting, a lot, and there's roughly ten more hours of lugging it to go (interspersed with dropping it at my feet in a seminar or lecture). By the way, the rucksack here doesn't represent anything, it's not a metaphor or a symbol. That's been done, to death. If one more writer or film-maker should try using abandoning luggage as a metaphor for emotional growth and renewal they should be immediately struck off, not that a writer or film-maker can be struck off (unless it's Woody Allen) because it's not a proper job, but you know what I mean.

On Wednesday, when I'm given additional items to put in my rucksack - twelve heavy sets of creative writing - I decide to hold them in my arms in a folder for the rest of the day rather than add them to my already over-loaded rucksack. This might be inconvenient, I think, but it might also make me look more studenty, like Sandy out of Grease, perhaps, except hideously deformed by age. 

The rest of the day passes in this pleasantly deluded manner, carrying a rucksack and folder, pretending I look like Sandy out of Grease. I have a seminar, eat lunch, work in the library, attend an awards ceremony then go to the pub with new student friends. We take part in the pub quiz (again) which we win (again). At the end of the evening we contemplate our various routes home. "I could stand on a cold and windy platform at New Cross Gate waiting for a mostly mythical train," I say. "Or I could just get an Uber."

"I live in East Dulwich," says one of my new student friends. "Why don't we share an Uber?" So we do.

Next morning, when I rise, I go looking for the folder I was carrying, Sandy-like, all the day before and can't find it. I must have put it down somewhere in the university or the pub. I WhatsApp my new student friends. "I lost my folder with all the work in it!" Not long after there's a reply from the friend I shared the Uber with, emailing me copies of nearly everything I lost.

Love E x


P.S. He also suggested I check lost property, which I did, and it was there.