The pride and prejudice of reading

 

 

I recently read a non-fiction book called The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller. The author felt embarrassed about not having read enough “Great Literature” – especially as he’d claimed to his friends to have read many books that he actually hadn’t. So, to make amends, he set about drawing up a “list of betterment” which then became the premise for his book.

It was an entertaining read, but as he struggled through Middlemarch, War and Peace, Moby Dick and 47 other challenging tomes, I found myself thinking, why do this to yourself? (Unless, of course, you plan to write a humorous book about the experience and/or want to impress people.)

At university I struggled through a long list of “Great Literature”, namely French classics – only a handful of which I actually enjoyed. When I finished my degree, I almost felt like never reading anything again. But then I decided to celebrate my liberation from imposed reading by going out and buying Jilly Cooper’s Rivals. It was like downing a Gin & Tonic after years of being restricted to green smoothies. However, when reading this doorstop of frivolousness in public, I’d shield the cover from view – I didn’t want people to look down on me.

How ridiculous that some books should carry shame while others carry kudos. At a time when reading stories is not the go-to choice of entertainment for so many young people, literary snobbery is something we should be stamping out. And yet we continue to perpetuate it by keeping schtum about the books we’re too ashamed to admit we enjoyed – if not vocally damning them. (I’ve lost count of how many authors and critics have enjoyed publicly bashing Dan Brown. So what if The Da Vinci Code isn’t Pulitzer Prize material? Good on him for making a story accessible for thousands of people who struggle with reading.)

There’s a growing understanding among schools and libraries that in order to encourage kids to read more, we should encourage them to read anything – comics, graphic novels, non-fiction books, picture books, magazines, newspapers, ebooks, poems, blogs – to keep their appetite for reading on a positive trajectory. Perhaps it’s time we extended that ethos to adult reading habits, too.

We should be vocally celebrating the books we love – regardless of how uncool they may be in other people’s opinions. And we shouldn’t feel ashamed if we’ve never read any Jane Austen and can’t be arsed to either. It’s not a competition. You only lose if you deny yourself the pleasure of reading what you truly want to.

When a cat person gets a dog

Until recently I was the happy, easy-come, easy-go owner of a fat, middle-aged cat who spends his life eating, sleeping and pretending he hasn’t been fed. Pet ownership consisted of feeding, watering, an annual flu jab and strokies on demand. I was content. Cat was content. Husband was content. The kids, however, were not satisfied.

They’d been asking for a dog for years. We’d always said no way – we weren’t dog people. The husband was barely a cat person. But if there was one thing we were agreed on, it was that we didn’t want the responsibility, hassle and turd-scooping grossness of being dog owners. No thank you. Until one fateful day…

We were on a beach in Pembrokeshire. It was beautiful. The sun was shining, and the kids were paddling in the rock pools when the husband and I noticed another family with a dog. Their kids were chasing the dog across the sand. The dog was handsome. The dog was fun. They looked like an advert for a building society. The husband turned to me and said, “Shall we get a dog?” I felt his pulse to make sure he hadn’t been replaced by a cyborg. “Not yet,” he clarified. “I mean, maybe we could look into it…”

So we looked into it for the next 5 years, during which time the kids kept up a high-boiling pressure. Friends lent us their dogs. We walked dogs at the RSPCA shelter. We looked up different breeds on the internet. We watched dogumentaries. We warned the cat. And then one day, we did it. Enter Arnie, a 13-week-old chocolate Labrador.

The “get a puppy cos he’ll be smaller than the cat and the cat won’t feel threatened” plan backfired immediately: at 13 weeks, Arnie was already the same size as Ted. As a youngster, he was full of beans, excitement and curiosity – the polar opposite of twilight-yeared, life-weary rescue cat, Ted.

Ted, previously master of the house, hid under our bed. We bought a dog gate so that Arnie was limited to the kitchen when we weren’t around to keep an eye on him. Arnie wanted to play with every furry four-legged creature he met – including Ted. Ted doesn’t do play – apart from acting, when trying to dupe us into thinking he hasn’t been fed yet.

Ted only came downstairs when certain bodily needs left him no choice. The catflap went click and three seconds later (due to his size) clack, and you knew he’d made it outside for a visit to his poo patch in the garden. Which brings us on to one of the many “issues” of a cat-to-dog household.

Curious, eternally-starving Arnie seems to be missing an important chromosome: the one that tells you when you’re full. For him, Ted’s poo patch is the gift that keeps on giving. Our previously non-urgent approach to clearing out the cat poo in the garden is now as regular as Ted’s bowels themselves, which at two movements a day once seemed overwhelming – until Arnie came along.

At five or six shits a day, Arnie is the Cream of the Crap. The Dogfather of Defecation. The Emperor of Evacuation, and quite often, the Sultan of Squidge. Who knew that Arnie, named before this discovery, would become… The Turdinator? Who knew that he would poo first thing in the morning, last thing at night, three or four times in between and then wake us up at 3am for a bonus emission? WHY DOESN’T ANYONE TELL YOU THIS?

Here are some other things those dog-lovin’ friends don’t tell you:

  1. You’ll be spending a lot of time and money at your local vet’s surgery.
  2. You’ll be saying the word ‘sorry’ a lot more than you’ve ever done before. Especially to the cat.
  3. You’ll spend hours on the internet working out why your dog shits so much.
  4. After watching dogumentaries telling you how super-intelligent dogs are, you’ll worry yours is bored and under-stimulated and you’ll start reading him news articles from The Week.
  5. You’ll spend a fortune on dog toys that he ignores after 24 hours.

But here’s the good stuff:

  1. You end up meeting loads of people, most of them really nice. Some of them even become friends.
  2. You walk so much more than ever before. For a writer like me, that’s exactly what my sedentary body needs.
  3. You’re forced outdoors at the weekend, whatever the weather – which gets our family away from screens (also helping to preserve my tired, strained eyes).
  4. If the kids don’t do their agreed share of dog-related chores (or any kind of chores for that matter), you just say “Perhaps we should find Arnie a more suitable, loving family to live with…” and hey presto.
  5. His antics make us laugh every day.

Now, at just over a year old, Arnie has settled down a fair bit. He sits, lies down and stays on command, and there are no more middle-of-the-night poo shenanigans. He’s even learned to be calm and still when Ted’s in the vicinity. And yesterday we had a breakthrough: tempted by leftover milk in the husband’s late-night bowl of cereal, Ted voluntarily came within three feet of Arnie, hung around for a few minutes and then sauntered off, followed by a click………… clack.

Carry on middle class camping

After spending 24 hours in a field in Kent this weekend, I present to you my Camping Weekend Breakdown. Breakdown as in stats, not as in mental. (That came later.) I felt the need to work out how many hours were spent actually having fun vs how many hours were spent working towards having fun. So here goes…

• 30mins thinking of and typing up Camping Checklist Google Doc.

• 4hrs spent sourcing camping gear from every crevice of the house, lining it up by front door and packing.

• 1hr wondering where the fuck our 4th camp bed is.

• 30mins spent loading up car.

• 30mins spent repacking the car because husband says the way I did it was totally illogical.

• 10mins spent bickering with husband.

• 1hr spent driving to campsite with my feet on dashboard due to giant cooler box taking up all foot space. Kids buried under extra bedding in the back.

Weather: decent.

• 45mins and 4 people to erect our bastard tent. Discovery of lantern and a pair of knickers inside.

• 1hr spent setting up beds and preparing food. (Husband to sleep on a yoga mat due to missing 4th bed.)

• 2hrs spent chilling around campfire with friends, glugging fizz and being interrupted every 15 minutes by a child who needed the loo/needed more food/couldn’t find pyjamas/wanted their sibling’s torch. Sudden fizz-induced epiphany: we don’t actually own a 4th camp bed.

• One family abandons camp with vomiting child.

• 6hrs spent sleeping with child’s elbow in my face.

• Upon hideously early awakening due to other child needing loo, 30mins spent trying to unfold my face and re-inflate it.

Weather: rain.

• 1hr spent in tent sheltering from rain.

• 1hr spent outside tent discussing rain (in the rain).

• Another family abandons camp with poorly child. This time liquid poo is involved. A LOT of liquid poo. They have run out of clean clothes and the will to live.

• 20mins spent in tent privately discussing rain and possible bubonic plague outbreak in hushed tones.

• 1hr spent outside tent discussing rain and possible bubonic plague outbreak in hearty, cheerful tones.

• 1hr spent in small campsite café with a hundred other urban masochists.

• 1hr spent in Pizza Express in Tunbridge Wells hoping not to be spotted and shamed by the rest of our group.

• Another hour spent in Pizza Express in Tunbridge Wells, joined by the rest of our group. Shame dispersed by arrival of Tiramisu.

• 15mins spent strolling along high street receiving odd looks from well turned-out locals. We look like filth because we’re camping! Grrr!

• 2hrs spent in woods with kids trying to stay upright in the mud and being forced to ride a ‘see-saw’ which isn’t really a see-saw but an ill-placed log above a mud pit.

• 30mins spent discussing weather with less optimism. Rain has stopped but it is grey, chilly, and morale is sinking by the minute. Weather app says more rain likely.

Unanimous decision to abandon camp and return to civilization. Unanimous disappointed expressions masking sheer relief and ecstasy at the thought of being reunited with central heating and one’s own bed.

• 1hr spent rolling up camp beds, sleeping bags, hunting down their sacks, squeezing the bastard things into their bastard sacks and then dismantling bastard tent and vowing to sell it on eBay.

• 1hr spent driving back to Brighton with my feet sticking out window. Dashboard says it’s 12 degrees.

• 2hrs spent unpacking car, putting everything back in every crevice. Laundry basket overflowing. Child tramples mud upstairs. Husband unimpressed by my complaints of a stiff back.

• 12hrs spent sleeping. Wake up to a groaning stomach.

Modern Tongue Twisters

I like to play with words. The husband likes to play with shapes, colours and typefaces. Here’s a little something we worked on together: I wrote the words, he made it look pretty. Watch this space as there’ll be more of our modern tongue twisters appearing over the coming months, and they’ll soon be available to buy as posters, etc.

IMG_1043

 

The Old-School Headmaster

This is my first attempt at writing a short comedy sketch for radio. Forgive the presentation, I don’t know how to do tabs on WordPress.

SIR:                          [Speaking into his buzzer] I hear we have our first rabble of rioters waiting outside, Miss Crowther. Would you be so kind as to send the first three in?

F/X:                           [We hear a knock at the door]

SIR:                            Enter! Right, who have we got here then? Names!

WILLIAM:                William Chapman, Sir.

TOMMY:                   Tommy Spicer, Sir.

ERNIE:                      Ernie Jones, Sir.

SIR:                            Your second day at secondary school and in the headmaster’s office already. Tut, tut. So which one of you deliberately tripped over Tina Watts on the staircase?

WILLIAM:                 But Sir, it wasn’t like that.

SIR:                             William, is it?

WILLIAM:                  Yes, Sir.

SIR:                              It was really nothing, was it, William? Life in a humdrum town dragging you down, eh? Heaven knows you look a bit miserable to me, boy.

WILLIAM:                  I’m not miserable, Sir. And I didn’t trip up Tina Watts.

TOMMY:                    He’s telling the truth, Sir. It was just an accident.

SIR:                             Tommy, is it?

TOMMY:                    Yes, Sir.

SIR:                            [Chuckles] Used to work on the dock?

TOMMY:                    Eh, Sir?

SIR:                             Down on your luck, are you? Finding it tough? Tina’s probably thinking of running away.

TOMMY:                    Honestly, Sir, she just tripped.

SIR:                             And you, boy. What’s your name?

ERNIE:                       Ernie, Sir.

SIR:                             Fastest milkman in the west, are you?

ERNIE:                       What, Sir?

SIR:                             Feeling lost without Bert? Once a muppet, always a muppet, eh Ernie?

ERNIE:                       I’m not a muppet, Sir.

SIR:                             In the school of life, Ernie, a muppet is someone who trips up a fellow classmate, sending them iPhone over funny bone and leaving them with a broken arm.

ERNIE:                       But Sir, it wasn’t us. It was Luca Di Pietro.

SIR:                            [Speaks into buzzer.] Is there a Luca Di Pietro out there?

F/X:                            [Door opens, Luca enters.]

SIR:                            Name?

LUCA:                        Luca, Sir.

SIR:                            Live on the second floor, do you?

LUCA:                        What? No Sir.

SIR:                            Think you’ve seen me before, hmm?

LUCA:                        Sir? I was lost – we all were. I wasn’t looking where I was going. I walked straight into Tommy and we sort of stumbled into Tina and–

SIR:                            I think I’ve heard enough.

LUCA:                        If you must know, Sir, it was Rio Wentworth.

SIR:                            We’ve got a Rio in our midst? You’ve got to be kidding!

LUCA:                        Rio did it, Sir. I saw him stick his leg out.

SIR:                              I can’t wait! [Speaks into buzzer] Miss Crowther, please tell me there’s a Rio Wentworth out there?

 F/X:                           [Door opens, Rio enters.]

SIR:                            Rio, is it? Tell me, lad, do you dance across the sand?

RIO:                           [Sighs] Yes, Sir – just like that river twisting through a dusty land. And when I shine, I really show you all I can.

SIR:                            [Long pause.] All of you are dismissed on a warning – except Rio.

F/X:                           [The others leave, door closes.]

SIR:                            Alright you smart aleck, explain yourself.

RIO:                           Last year you gave my older sister a week of detentions, Sir.

SIR:                            And who might your older sister be?

RIO:                           Eileen, sir.

THE END

Creative Brighton

Last week Design Week asked a group of creative directors from around the UK why their location was a good place for a creative agency to be. My husband and co-director at Harrison Agency, Chris, suggested I respond with a poem about Brighton. Never one to turn a fun piece of creative writing down, I got stuck right in. Here’s my answer below. (And if you’re looking to relocate to somewhere with creative work in mind, the full article is worth a read.)

 

You might think you’ve got Brighton sussed

A town built on weekends of lust

With hipsters and greens

Mods, rockers and queens

The odd bit of new agey crust

 

Yet bold ideas are key to this place:

Its royal palace once deemed a disgrace

But a prince with a vision

Ignored all derision

The result? An iconic ace

 

This city gets under your nails

Its freedom puts wind in your sails

Be creative, be a freak

Brighton loves what’s unique

By contrast elsewhere simply pales

A poem about… Budgie Smugglers

Dedicated to all British men who dread putting on the appropriate attire for the French piscine… Allez. Bon courage.

 

One thing about France that British blokes hate:

The piscine rules aren’t up for debate

Baggy shorts are seen as a foreign man’s crime

Blokes, there’s no point complaining – it’s budgie time

 

You trawl the internet, seeking lenience

What are the reasons for this inconvenience?

How can baggy shorts be more of a scandal

than bikini bottoms that draw attention to your handle?

 

Get over it Britishers, work that stiff upper lip

Remember, in France, you’ll look pretty hip

There is one advantage to the hammock de banane –

all the French ladies love a budgie smuggler man