Donald Trump: Are there any shocks left?

Donald Trump flies into Scotland today, his red hatted man of the people posturing at the ready.  He is on a whistlestop tour to open a golf course in Turnberry, henceforth to be known as Trump Turnberry.

In 2010, Mr Trump promised the people of Scotland he would ‘build the biggest golf course in the world’ and create ‘six thousand jobs’ with the luxury hotel he was also planning to build, and 1500 luxury homes.  Go to his golf website with its un-ironic royal stamp of Trumpness and he says, when I first saw the coastline, I was overwhelmed by the imposing dunes and rugged Aberdeenshire coastline.  So I decided to bulldoze it and build a massive golf course. – golf courses being one of the most environmentally unsound things you could do.  Alex Salmond gave the go ahead, seemingly believing Mr Trump’s promises about saving the Scottish economy and respecting local concerns.

This is what actually happened.  He bullied local residents who did not want to move, with compulsory purchase orders.  The way he treated local, Michael Forbes, simply for refusing to sell his home, which was and still is inconveniently situated in the middle of Trump’s estate is a perfect example of Trump meeting someone who will not be bought.  When they first met, Mr Forbes said, ‘he was being all nicey nicey saying how successful he was and how much money he had.’  (THAT was Trump being all nicey nicey??) ‘That was it for me. I took an instant dislike to him.’  Don’t blame you mate.  When Mr Forbes refused to sell, Trump threw a massive tantrum, calling Mr Forbes ‘a disgusting pig’.

When residents such as Susan Monroe and David Milne refused to move from their home, his bulldozers dumped huge walls of mud and dirt outside their house.  Power and water were randomly cut off by his bulldozers and when Anthony Baxter, the documentary maker of You’ve Been Trumped asked why, he was arrested.

And what of Mr Trump’s promises to revitalise the Scottish economy?  He did not build the hotel or the luxury homes he promised, and of the 6000 jobs he boasted, he has created under 100 low paying ones.  He showed nothing but contempt for the environment or the people of Scotland, which is why so many of them today are hoisting Mexican flags in a show of solidarity.  US voters would do well to look at Donald Trump’s behaviour in Turnberry Scotland as it’s a microcosm of the yawning gap between his bombastic promises and complete failure to deliver.

What a shame you don’t get giant alligators in Scotland.Giant Alligator

But the truly frightening thing is that people who are going to vote for Trump in the US, have seen and heard all he has to offer and accept it totally. Because that’s why con artists are called artists.  They don’t take anything from us – we willingly give to them.  He has been around so long, that his racist, mysoginistic, bumper-car-sticker sayings are just the way he rolls.

He has no cohesive policies at all.

He gets his information off the internet.

He wants to build a wall to prevent Mexican ‘rapists’ from coming to the US.

He thinks the best place for women is ‘on their knees’.

He has shown from his handling of the Aberdeen Golfing Fiasco of 2010 that he is a man who brags, bullies and then screams abuse at anyone who doesn’t fall in with his plans.

He is a liar.

And yet here he is.  What would he have to do to get booted off the ticket?

a) Be filmed mocking a disabled reporter

b) Refer to a lawyer as ‘disgusting’ because she took out a breastfeeding pump.

c) Be filmed punching a dog

Yep – A and B have happened.  Yet here he is.










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That awful moment when you realise you can’t protect your child from pain and failure

The girl comes home from school her lip trembling.  I ask her if she’s ok and she says she’s fine.  We talk about school for a minute, then I repeat my question.  She repeats her answer a little louder and shrugs to her room.

The girl is just twelve but has become very private recently.  She goes into her room and shuts the door – a reaction I think to spending all day with other people.  I knock before I go in.

Ten minutes later she comes out of her room.

‘I’m upset because I did badly in on a science paper and I’m annoyed with myself.’

I tell my beautiful clever daughter the things I wish I’d been told at that age; that sometimes you do fail, you don’t get it right.  Sometimes you just fuck up.  And the key is not to obsess over the stuff that goes wrong when you can’t do anything about it.  If you didn’t work hard enough then try to remedy that next time.  If you can’t fix it then feel shite for a bit and move on.  Don’t do what I did which was to ruminate on all the stuff that went wrong and dismiss the many other things that went right.  And also to remember that grit and persistence wins out over being gifted and talented.

She sits and listens and occasionally nods her head.  I’m beginning to feel  like this could be one of those parenting moments I might be able to look back on with a degree of smuggery.  ‘Is there anything you need to say?’ I ask.

‘Yes’ she says thoughtfully.  ‘Stop swearing.’

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Once a Waitress

I was a waitress once, in an Islington Brasserie called Uppers.  This was in the early eighties and the only half decent restaurant review plastered all over the front door was a very pretty bistro. That was it. The rest of the sentence was probably  . . . but the food is shit.  The restaurant was run by two Turkish guys and a very strange painter called Bel who spoke in a falsetto voice and called herself ‘an artiste’.  I waitressed along with a group of similarly unemployed writers, actors and painters.

Unlike being a waiter in Europe, it’s considered a low grade profession in the USA and UK, and in the latter, it confers servant status.  Many of our customers were lovely, but a significant minority would use the opportunity of casually telling another human being what they wanted to eat, to let them know of their subordinate status.  Perhaps by not looking them in the eye. Or waving them away like some 14th century Pope.  Or when I arrived at a table cheerfully asking, ‘Who ordered the spaghetti?’ to be greeted with irritated glances as though I were interrupting Middle Eastern peace negotiations. Then after an awkward silence I would turn to go only to hear, ‘Oh yeah I did order it.’

Most annoying were the customers who needed background checks on every single item in their chosen dish.  ‘Could I have the Spanish omelette without the green peppers and with olives and not capers and can I have it made with egg whites?’  And that lovely moment when a party of twelve all want to pay individually.  Especially with the random calls of: ‘Don’t forget I only had a salad and diet coke!’ ‘I didn’t have pudding!’ (Yes you did you fat bastard)

Worst of all were the customers who wanted me to listen to their boring stories and tedious opinions, usually when I was loaded down with freakishly hot plates.  So however desperate you are to tell that hilarious story to the waitress, take a hint from her rigid smile and let her get on with her job.  And get your hand off her arse you balding, entitled creep.

This was over twenty years ago and I’ve never forgotten it.  I overtip like mad and have been known to kick my boyfriend under the table when he starts conversations with waiters who happen to be holding plates.  It doesn’t make me a complete wimp; I will complain if I get bad service but a smile and acknowledgement that the waiters don’t actually cook the bloody food goes a long way.  But when I was doing it, at least we had tips and the lovely chef would cook us anything from the menu we wanted.  Not any more.  The sheer meanness of companies cutting food and making up crummy wages with hard earned tips has made the job even harder.

Anyone who wants to lead should first learn to serve.  Which is (one of the multiple reasons) why the current Conservative cabinet are so dreadful.  Incidentally have you noticed that like the Thatcher Years nobody admits to voting for them?  None of them have worked their way up.  It’s all been private schools to university to something daddy found for them in the city or some management consultancy, to being a professional empathy free arsehole.  Maybe it’s not even lack of empathy but lack of the faintest idea.  Remember when Cameron contacted his own constituency Oxfordshire council to say how disappointed he was by cutbacks to frontline services?  And the astonished council leader explaining in return that Cameron himself had ordered these cuts?  So if the Prime Minister is blissfully unaware of the effects of these, why should we suppose that the rest of the cabinet are any better informed?  Can you imagine any of them worrying about paying a bill?  Ever? Or worrying about a tax bill?  Unless they were trying to decide which dodgy offshore company to slip their dosh into.  Although the idea of lump of human tofu, Jeremy Hunt, on his feet all day, working for a horrible boss, balancing plates on his head is quite pleasant (especially if he fell down the stairs at the same time) – not one of the cabinet would have any idea what it’s like to serve.

Once you’ve been a waiter you never forget it.  And with a bit of luck it makes you a better human being.  The entire cabinet should go and work for a pizza chain immediately.


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99% of workplace stress down to worrying about childcare


SAYS WHO?  you might say.  Well says me.  Only three weeks ago I saw one of my work colleagues being ranted at by an ex-student because he wanted a meeting ‘NOW’ and she politely explained that she couldn’t as she had to leave and pick up her child because if she was late she would be charged £10 per MINUTE.

The other 1% by the way is irritation at how the Daily Mail, despite all the data which clearly shows that women go out to work because so few families can get by on just one income – still insist on referring to women who work as Career Women.

I don’t envy women thinking about when to have a child.  But like the tsunami of advice we face after we have a baby there is no shortage of bossy opinion beforehand.  Our optimum age is between 20 and 35 says the Voice of Doom – actually Professor Sally Davies in One of Those Conferences Where Career Women are Warned about Their Shrivelling Ovaries but the reality (reality being what most of us have to live in) is we graduate if we’re going to college, at 21 with a truckload of debt and spend the next ten years trying to get and sustain a job, in order to chip away at said debt.  At the same time, we are meant to be sniffing out a husband.  Or you can do as Kirsty Allsop suggested and skip university, stay at home to ‘save up a deposit’ (really?  What kind of job will pay a 20 something enough to save up at least £20 000?) and then ‘find a nice boyfriend and have a baby by 27.’

I suspect that young men in their twenties and early thirties are less keen to become fathers.

I’ve had two babies – one at 30 and one at 39 and this is what I know about it.  I had no trouble getting pregnant at 30 because my cycle was regular and I knew I was ovulating. At 38 I had two miscarriages.  Sitting in the Early Pregnancy Clinic, I got used to seeing a large poster, which explained with cold clinical precision how a woman’s fertility plummeted after 35.  It was also the place where my miscarriage was described as: ‘The products of conception have left your womb,’ as though they had just popped out for a pint of milk.  I don’t blame the nurses – it was just such a terrible phrase.  So there I was at 38, on the downward plummet of barrenness, and knew I didn’t have time to wait for everything to get back to normal so I was prescribed Clomid, a fertility drug which fixes an outboard motor to your ovaries and pumps out eggs like one of those tennis improvement machines, firing out balls.  I’m constantly surprised by the use of IVF because it has a very low success rate – between 17% and 20%.  But if you want a baby, you research all this stuff and make a choice.  You spend time on websites, wishing ‘baby dust’ on your fellow hopefuls and sharing tips.  It’s not thought and planning or it wasn’t for me – it was hunger and aching instinct.  But once the baby is born and you realise that you have to go back to work because in Daily Mail land you’re a ‘career woman’ and in Real Life, you have to bring some money in to pay the bills as your partner’s wage hasn’t risen in three years or he/she is on a zero-hours contract or you have what’s elegantly described as ‘a boutique career’, doing several jobs, you have the Childcare Situation.

Childcare is INSANE.  My daughter is now twelve years old and travels to and fro to school and friends’ houses by herself.  Of course I miss the daily chats and small intimacies of that time, but I also realise that all the stress I’ve endured during my working life has been mainly down to worrying about childcare – fitting work in so I could run home to collect her – begging employers to allow me to come in a little later because the Breakfast Club didn’t open till 7.45am.  And dashing back to pick her up because the After School Club closes at 6pm.

The cost of childcare has risen by 77% in the last 10 years and with inflation is rising by 6% per year.  Full time nursery places cost twice as much as they did a decade ago.  Only Switzerland has higher childcare costs than the UK.  I’m so glad I had my two babies but I’m so glad to be finally through the tunnel of childcare and I don’t envy my colleague, just getting into it.

Being held hostage by our biology is something that women know.  We don’t need to be reminded in Death Knell Tones by the Daily Mail who keep referring to us as Witches Career Women.


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Woman reported to police for not being sorry she had an abortion.

One of my earliest memories as a Catholic girl was the bi-yearly visit of The Society of the Protection of the Unborn Child.  In they would bustle, armed with large placards.  I remember mum glaring at me because I pointed to one and said ‘that lady looks like Dick Emery.’  They seemed less concerned with the spiritual and emotional welfare of actual born children, since they were happy to place giant, full colour pictures of aborted fetuses around the church.  They also put up misinformation about the actual size of the foetus, and since 90% of abortions are carried out before 12 weeks, they made sure to show what were scientifically blobs of cells, sucking their thumb and looking like ready to be born babies.  Since then their assertions that the foetus could feel pain have since been roundly dismissed by actual doctors,  who point out that at twelve weeks, the neural circuits responsible for conscious awareness have not yet developed, along with how abortion causes miscarriage, and breast cancer.

After one such pulpit sermon, we all gathered together for a post church anti-abortion march.  I was only nine and shrank behind mum and dad, terrified, while we walked through London, secure in our self-righteousness.  I remember one young man shouting: ‘What about women dying from self-induced abortions then!’ and my mum pursing her lips.  Even at that age, I could hear her thinking, Shouldn’t get pregnant then.

My mum was lovely but her thinking on this remained rigid, whereas dad softened slightly with age.  But I think it was because of this early experience, that my first adult ‘march’ was one where Liberal minister David Alton wanted to chip away at the 24 week limit to 18 weeks.  I carried a placard reading: Keep Abortion Safe.  Not as good as the one brandished by a friend in Ireland reading Keep Your Rosaries off our Ovaries.  Because in Northern Ireland, that’s exactly what’s happening.

A young woman in Northern Ireland has been reported to the police by her housemates because she wasn’t ashamed about it, or sad.  .  Precious Life, have interviewed one of the flatmates who sold out this girl to the police.  Apparently the girl in question was ‘blasé’ about it and didn’t show any ‘remorse’.   She mentions ‘remorse’ or lack of a few times.  ‘Her attitude really got to me,’ said the Righteous One.

RO gets the chance to tell her side of the story in Precious Life, an anti-abortion group which has a section claiming that ‘abortion is linked to breast cancer’.  They also stand outside Marie Stopes and are ‘tirelessly devoted to reaching out to pregnant women who may be considering abortion. They are there to offer them valuable information on abortion’.  I live in West London and often see them, only it looks more like them harassing distressed women who are heading into the clinic shouting: ‘You’re killing your baby!’  I’ve always found it ironic that many anti-abortion groups are quick to appropriate the word ‘holocaust’ about abortion, yet during the actual Holocaust, the Catholic Church remained oddly silent about the massivepersecution of the Jews.   Continue reading

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World *Boak* Day

World Book Day 2011

Getting ready for work and on the phone to my sister about finding a suitable home for our rapidly deteriorating father.

‘I can’t talk now,’ I sigh.  ‘You can never talk,’ says my sister, quite reasonably.  ‘Yes but now I really can’t talk.  My daughter is sitting on the toilet dressed as a cat.  And I’m not sure if she’s pulled open the cat flap if you see what I mean.’

Meanwhile The Boy, age 15 is skumbling (a heady mixture of skulking, Lynx, and stumbling) around the bedroom murmuring: ‘Where’s the hairdryer?’

‘You’re holding it,’ I reply.  I sit down on the bed.  The shower room is just off the bedroom so I can keep an eye on The Girl.  My sister and I briefly discuss the situation with our dad. We have tried to keep him at home, supported by carers, but with care cut to the bone, dad is less able to make rational decisions and we receive endless calls about him getting lost, losing his wallet, ending up in A&E . . . .

‘Wipe my bum mummy!’ The Girl is perched on the edge of the loo, cat ears askew, her costume unzipped and pooled round her ankles.  The Boy stops drying his hair and mumbles something to her.   She yelps with feline rage.

‘I’m not licking my own bum!  I’m not a cat.  Oh.  I am.  I’m still not licking my bum.  Muuuum he says I should lick my bum!’   I try not to snigger.  ‘Where’s the hair stuff?’ This is The Boy.  He needs products, lots of them, to achieve that carelessly tousled, just got out of bed look.  He’s supposed to be attending a college interview today, while Husband and I are dropping off Cat Girl at school, then dropping him off.  Where is Husband?

I wipe Cat Girl’s bottom and zip up her costume while she chatters away.  I’m trying to get dressed and talk to my sister about nursing homes.  But soft! In comes husband, red with rage because The Boy has Done Something.

‘We’re going in eight minutes,’ Husband shouts.  ‘Why can’t you get up earlier?’

‘Because my body won’t let me,’ counters The Boy. ‘Where’s the blue hair stuff mum?’

Is my phone invisible?

I point out that I’m on the phone having a serious conversation.  The Boy considers for a second.

‘Yeah but where’s the blue stuff?’

Meanwhile there’s a wail from The Girl and she holds up the tail she has managed to pull off.  ‘You’ll have to be a manx cat.’

My sister and I agree to talk later.

World Book Day 2016

The Boy is at university.  My husband and I have split up and live ten minutes away from each other.  I have two cats  My daughter is now eleven and reading Young Adult fiction, where the heroines have names like Katniss, Zuma, Monroe and Clarke. 

World Book Day falls on a Thursday morning, where I am lecturing at the University of Hertfordshire, several train rides away.  Lara is dressing up as Clarke in The 100 which requires (thank God) normal clothes, plus a bit of black eye and bruises.  ‘Why?  Is someone beating her up?’ I ask.

‘No because Clarke gets into fights,’ says Lara.

I am pulling on my clothes, feeding the cats and putting on coffee, so still multitasking.  A text from my ex who is getting onto a plane. Yes he’ll be back at the weekend.

I use my best lipstick (Twig by MAC) to add a few sore marks and bruises to Lara’s face.  ‘Do you think the school will mind if I show up with  machine gun sticking out of my backpack?’

‘Only if it’s real,’ I quip.

Five minutes later She Is Gone.  Organised, dressed up and Gone.  I get my bag ready, slick on some twig lippy and off I go to Kings Cross to catch my train.  I flick onto Mumsnet to read about the Real Business of World Book Day, when you remember you have one hour to dress up all three of your children and wish desperately there were a few more nudists in children’s literature.

Ha I think.  And just as my smug vapour hits the air, my phone rings.  It’s Lara’s school.

‘Hello.  I’m afraid Lara just realised her Oyster card and front door key are in her blazer.  Which is at home,’ she adds, helpfully.

‘Oh dear.’ I say.  Which is a lie.  I am on a crowded train and say, ‘Oh fuck fucking fuck holes.’


‘Bollocks,’ I add helpfully.

‘Ok,’ says the nice woman on the end of the phone.  ‘We can probably work out a bus pass as they won’t accept cash anymore.  (Really? When?)

I ring off and contact my lovely upstairs neighbour who has a spare key.  She had plans to go to the dump that afternoon but very kindly offers to stay and let my daughter in.  I am so relieved.  Otherwise I would have had to cancel my classes.

Bloody world book day.  Nothing but trouble.  And I only have one child.

I log onto Twitter and giggle at writer Lucy Sweet’s fab tweet:

If I’d known about dressing your kid up EVERY FREAKING YEAR for World Book Day, I’d have never come off the pill.


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Bus stop Burgundy

So after a week of tonsillitis and vomiting, I figured I needed a nice relaxing afternoon at the hairdresser.  One which involved having cold, stinky-nappy smelling concoctions daubed over my unsuspecting scalp.  All while sipping tea and catching up with the latest celeb gossip.

I have auburn hair, but only in direct light.  One of the jollies about growing older is the terrible realisation that redheads don’t go grey, but beige streaked with grey or greige. It may be the colour of the moment, but not when it describes your face and hair combo.  Not so much pale and interesting, as half baked.  Also I’m broke for various non fun related reasons.  Nothing to do with high or loose living.  Oh all right – it’s because I’m saving for either a freehold buyout or a lease extension and it’s costing a bomb. And my car has just started flashing engine emoji, so I’m gritting my teeth for a monstrous bill.  Also (horrors!) the Girl has discovered the thrill of the swishy blow dry.  My fault – after years of my mother cutting my hair with bacon scissors (my dad came home one evening and said, ‘you look like Joan of Arc!’. I hoped he meant Ingrid Bergman but it was more likely to be Cadfael. And I was right.  All I needed was the polished stone to complete that Medieval Monk look.) So I swore I would always let my own children have proper hairdresser cuts.  Madness.  At the age of eleven and with hair that only an enchanted sword could get through, the Girl loves her blow-dries but they are such a pain in the arse for the poor hairdresser, she charges adult prices.

I read in the paper that a dental nurse recently carried out an AMATEUR FACELIFT – two words you hope will NEVER EVER go together like ‘gum’ and ‘peanuts’ or ‘Trump’ and ‘President’. But given that hair colouring can easily cost up to £300 in London, I sometimes go to those model night places and have a student hairdresser colour my hair. I’ve done it twice now and as long as you take some basic precautions, it’s fine.  I usually go through Gumtree, find a salon that’s doing what I want, and check how much.  Some people become unreasonably annoyed that three hours of colouring and tinting costs them a few quid. But come on!  A colouring that would normally cost £150 and you’re baulking at £25?!

Then I email with either a picture or a description.  Today I asked my lovely hairdresser Amy why she didn’t ask her clients for more details. ‘Because it weeds out the morons,’ she said. ‘If they send a sensible text then I know they’re probably all right.’  Because Amy gets up to a 100 texts she has a lot of weeding through to do. She’s been working at the same salon for a few years and just wants some more experience.

I wondered why Amy kept texting me to check when I would arrive.  It turned out that loads of people flake on her.  Anyway I showed up in the bustling market of Leather Lane and there was The Lion and the Fox, tucked into the corner of Hatton Wall. Half art gallery, half indie hairdresser, with scrubbed wooden floors, and metal lamps but not in that intimidating ‘conceptual’ way.  Delicate watercolours of birds festooned the white walls and the hairdressers had normal haircuts and smiled! I’m always put off by salons where the people who work there look as if they’ve gone a bit mad with pink dye and a chainsaw.

We got the worst bit over first.  That’s where you sit on a chair and look enviously at a lady whose appointment is coming to an end and the hairdresser is joshing up her already perfect hair. Meanwhile your hair is being poked at and lifted like a pathologist picking through a particularly gruesome corpse.  Amy had glorious natural red hair so when she asked what colour I wanted, I mumbled, ‘yours.’  Then realising how pathetic I sounded, I said, ‘sort of auburn and I don’t mind a bit of grey.  But not burgundy.’  The male hairdresser next to me who was busy primping and joshing his client laughed and said, ‘I call that Bustop Burgundy because I see so many elderly ladies with that awful colour.’  We then had a very cheering bitch about the fact that burgundy didn’t suit Cheryl Cole who is utterly gorgeous but not even she could make that colour look anything other than straight out of a box of Superdrug Mauve Mist or whatever they call it.

So we finally decided on colours and for the next three hours I sat looking at some shockingly ugly clothes in Vogue. Culottes?! Padded bomber jackets? Deliberate Cadfael haircuts?!  Apparently there’s a Dutch model called Kiki who was ‘boring’ before she cut her fringe with scissors and now Noam Chomsky wants to sit at her feet. Or something.  Every now and again, bits of foil were wrapped round my hair, or pulled off and I lay back while stuff was glooped through my hair.

I went back to Heat and learned that Kim has been to see a divorce lawyer.  And Jeremy Corbyn is no 24 in the Heat weird crush league.  Apparently it’s the saucy shirt collars that do it.  Game of Thrones season six is on the way and Jon Snowe is probably not dead. When I next looked up I was being joshed and my hair had a shiny cohesive look.  There were little gleaming sections of slightly brighter colour all blended and toning with the overall shade.  Swish swish!  Amy also performed a cracking blow dry which she didn’t have to do.  I paid £25 for this three hour service and gave her a large tip. But really, that wonderful smug gleaming swishness is priceless.

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A plagiarism on both your houses

Remember Dr Raj Persaud?  He used to be on television, a reliable, medically qualified psychiatrist who could explain complex medical issues on the Richard and Judy sofa, without sounding patronising.  He also presented, All in the Mind on Radio 4.  Then, in his book, On the Edge of the Couch, he admitted plagiarising Professor Thomas Blass, of the University of Maryland, and material from the academic’s website.

He also admitted using material plagiarised from an article by Professor Stephen Kant in a piece he wrote for the Independent in the same year.

Persaud paid dearly.  He was suspended for three months by the GMC for dishonesty and resigned from his position of Consultant Psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust.  His media career died overnight.

A sketch of mine was stolen once.  I’d gone on a course and read this sketch out.  People laughed which was pleasing, but a few months later, I heard the sketch on a radio comedy.  My initial reaction was delight. Somebody thought my work good enough to steal!  Then I was called by one of my fellow attendees on the writing course.  He expressed anger that somebody had stolen my work.  I was touched at his support but shrugged off the actual stealing.  ‘Why?’ he said.  ‘It’s hard to write funny stuff.  The idea of some lazy knob nicking it and not only not paying you but not giving you credit – it’s despicable.’  He was right of course.  But the person who stole it worked for a large organisation.  What was I going to do?  Never give away my best material or  talk about work in progress that’s what.

We’ve had a case of suspected plagiarism in the university where I teach.  End of term papers in, including a very good one from a student who seemed to hate the course.  She missed a lot of classes.   And when she did bother to attend, she would sit with a gloomy facial expression, never answer questions, never share her work, never proffer an opinion.  She had difficulty in forming a basic sentence and her grammar was poor.  I sent her to a tutor who offered private tuition – all free.  Later I found the emails between her and the tutor who was doing his best to squeeze her in.  I can do Monday, or Tuesday morning, and I could also squeeze you in on Friday? Any of those any good?

Busy on Mondays came the student’s reply.  She attended a few sessions then cried off the rest.

And yet her final piece was suspiciously error free, and well written.  A 2:1 from a student who was barely capable of getting a third.  Her marker, Alice emailed me and asked if I could read it as she was having a hard time believing the student had written it.  I read it.  The student in question could not have written this.  We put it through turnitin.  Nothing.  Not bought wholesale.  Probably.

We asked the student to come in and gently questioned her.  Asked her to take us through the process of writing it.  She said she came across the story in a newspaper and developed it.  She had asked her friends and her dad.  They had given her ‘advice’ but she had written it.  Alice asked her to go away and find the early drafts.

Alice and I looked at each other when she had gone.  There were channels we needed to go through – forms to fill in.  All very time consuming and we were in the middle of marking anyway.  We asked her to email some rough drafts of the story – early drafts and she was willing to do so.  ‘She’s just had huge amounts of help,’ said Alice, ‘and maybe didn’t realise this level of help is plagiarism.’

If she could produce early versions of the final story this would add weight to her claim that she just had a breakthrough.

A few days later the ‘first drafts’ appeared.  Two pages of typed notes on where she got the idea from – bullet points and links to journalism pieces about the subject she had chosen.  Something she had probably written after our meeting.  Not what we had asked for at all.

Alice thanked the student but wrote back pointing out that these papers were not first drafts.  She attached them to the plagiarism form and sent the whole lot off to the member of staff who dealt with plagiarism.

I talked to a longer serving member of staff about it.  ‘Oh I hate it when I know the student has plagiarised,’ he said.  ‘Unless you can prove it’ through matching chunks of text then they get away with it.  And you have to fill in all these forms.  And of course it always happens when you’re at your busiest.’

I’m left feeling really angry.  Continue reading

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Rewriting, not rejigging, tinkering or fiddling

The only kind of writing is rewriting:  Ernest Hemingway

God's First Draft

Rewriting is like grieving.  Nobody wants to face it, but the only way out of it is through it. After the white hot streak of the first draft, where you don’t look back, you keep going, ignoring bumps and holes in the road – on and on till it feels like the end and there you have it –  a big lump of dramatic, rough-hewn words.  Stop.  Now comes the really hard bit.  Putting your creative hat to one side and firmly fixing on your pernickity, anal retentive editor.  While the first draft might have been a Beethoven Symphony, the second is Phillip Glass played backwards.  Slow, painful and discordant.  They are the root canals of writing, the humiliating school verruca test at the side of the swimming pool, the slow passage of time healing a great wound.  Painful, and difficult and oh so necessary.

I was recently asked to read a series of stories by a new writer.  A few of the stories had promise but they were still at the very lumpen, early stage – full of exposition, telling, and thick, sticky lumps of dialogue.  I wrote a full report, detailing where he needed to concentrate his efforts, encouraging but truthful.

Two weeks after the report reached him, another pile of stories arrived, apparently rewritten.  The writer was honest enough to admit he had struggled with some of my suggestions, but what I was reading the second time round, was not rewriting.  It was tinkering, the small tweaks that writers make when the book/play is about to go to the printers, about four rewrites down the line.  Full disclosure – I  haven’t written a novel so I can’t give exact numbers on rewrites, but my novel-writing friends say it’s between three and five rewrites, and sometimes more.  Graham Lineham and Arthur Matthews would rewrite each episode of Father Ted, approximately eight times.

I wrote back a sympathetic but firm letter, gently encouraging this hasty writer to put more energy into making his writing as strong as possible, instead of getting his writing out there.

The second draft is the hardest which is why so many new writers don’t do it.  They like to believe that writing being a cataclysmic gust of creative woo – you just do it in a white-hot heat of words and then you run it through spellcheck.

Er no.  That white hot heat of pushing through the first draft is to produce a big pile of words roughly shaped like a novel.  Now you have to make the words better.  Nobody wants to do it.  New writers don’t want to.  Successful writers like Tess Gerritsen don’t want to do it either.  RICHARD CURTIS    who co-wrote the magnificent Blackadder was told to rewrite a Dr Who script because it was ‘too slow’!   I even googled ‘Everyone  hates second drafts’ and came up with this sage advice from Annie Lamott called The Shitty First Draft.


Writer and author of The Wolf Ticket, Caro Clarke has a whole writing advice section in her excellent blog, including the four main mistakes by new writers.  Because as she eloquently explains, the same mistakes are made time and again.  I’m a great believer in following the hard-won advice from a published writer.  Not that publishers and agents don’t offer helpful tips as they are on the front line of the publishing business, of course, but guidance from someone who has been in exactly the same position as you, is gold dust.  Caro Clarke knows what it feels like, the uphill struggle to publication, the self-doubt, the teeth gritting rewrites.  She’s done it and continues to do it.

Maybe you choose to try to sidestep some of this painful business and self-publish.  Up to you, but even if you are self-publishing, you, the author are still responsible for getting the book as ‘clean’ and error free as possible.  If you go to Jane Smith’s website, The Self-Publishing Review, she reads many books, and again, the same problems keep cropping up.

This is how I approach the painful business of rewriting.  It’s for plays but the same principle applies.

Firstly, I write out the whole play.  It’s very tempting  to keep going back and fixing things, but the trouble with that is you end up with half a play.  Push on and finish so you have a rough shape of the whole story.  Remember everything is changeable, and now you have a whole draft you have something to work with.  The worst bit is that leap from the perfect story in my head to the muddled up splatter of sh*te on the page.

I usually then leave it for a couple of days at least, until the pleasure of actually having finished it drains away, leaving a sad sediment of fearfulness as to whether or not it’s entirely rubbish or just partly.

Here is where having a writers group is incredibly useful.  Not just so someone else reads your stuff but you can read their stuff too.  And you’ll find that the more you do read both books and other people’s work – you’ll be able to point out what’s wrong AND how to fix it.

I read the play out loud.  This is a personal preference, but I’ve always found it a good way to literally hear the words – whether they sound right and natural or like a speech *urgh* or me, the author putting words into the character’s mouth *double urgh*.  I find it difficult to tell until I hear the words out loud.  Also Victoria Wood once said that all good writing, prose, poetry and drama has a rhythm to it.

So I read the play out loud and make notes.  I then save the first draft and trot off for a meeting with my producer hoping that her notes and mine basically tally.

We talk through the notes.  Now that I’ve got some perspective on the first draft, I often blush (literally) at its sheer awfulness.  The dialogue!  More clanks than Marley’s ghost.  Painfully unfunny.  Except for the bits that made her laugh (dramatic not meant to be funny)  The ending that nobody will believe.  And the middle.  And the beginning.

I keep a copy of the original draft.

I take the notes, go away and write a second draft.

Then a third.  And a fourth.  Each time it gets a little easier.  I keep all the drafts.  They are both useful and comforting.

Any other rewriting tips out there?

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Sweary Sex Row and other Holiday Conflicts

Surprise!  Holidays can lead to rows, mainly due to expectations.  Of what – having a nice time?  Or the gap between hope and expectation.   What do couples on holiday row about?  The same stuff they row about at home – sex, money, food, tidiness, only with added heat, alcohol and togetherness.

C and I don’t live together so two weeks together  in Spain is always going to be tricky in terms of Row Potential.  The Girl is with her dad –  an ideal opportunity to have a really adult holiday full of culture, food and free form swearing over my inability to read a map.

I add up our differences.   I slurp my coffee (apparently) and he snores (loudly).   I pull his underwear up to his waist and laugh, which for some strange reason he finds incredibly irritating.   I am emotional, he is much more logical.  He lives in fear of eating in one restaurant, burdened with the chilling knowledge of there being a better restaurant round the corner.  I can’t read maps in the car (he would argue that I can’t read maps anywhere) but it’s down to late onset car sickness.  I am, however, often asked for directions, so I must LOOK like I know where I’m going.  He is very sociable and I’m much more of a loner.   We both, however, love food and find the idea of eating just for fuel, pointless.  It’s one of the many things I love about him.  Not a hearts and flowers man but he will hang a mirror, put up shelves without fuss and take my little girl to Bocca di Lupo.  ‘I liked the cheese balls and sausages’ she says after a feast of mozzarella in carroza and buristo.

We fly to Gibraltar and visit my sister who lives in Sotogrande.  He gets on easily with her and does some DIY round her flat We spend time in Seville and then go to Granada to visit the Alhambra Palace, built for the Nasrid dynasty in the 13th century.  The heat is in the nineties.  We visit Jerez where he goes on a guided tour of a sherry factory, and I sit in a café, exploring the joys of drinking café con leche and people watching.   And we have a series of very stupid rows.

The Swordfish Row

The older parts of Seville comprise small, twisty streets.  Their narrowness creates a burrow of shadows which keeps them tolerably cool, particularly when the temperature was in the nineties.  We are looking for a particular tapas bar Th Guardian once reviewed in 1992.  C is marching ahead and I am trailing, blood sugar plummeting.  I am used to this scenario because in 99% of cases we do find the place, it’s full of Spanish locals and the food is fabulous.  But not tonight.  It’s after 10pm, it’s the beginning of August when a lot of restaurants close,  and I am starving.  There is a place in the middle of the square, and people are eating big plates of food.  Good enough for me but it’s touristy.  I put my foot down.

C sits twitching and we order swordfish.  It’s not thick enough (apparently) and is both overcooked,and overpriced.  Meanwhile a guitarist starts wailing some sub-Gypsy Kings dirge, rapidly followed by another man walking from table to table, loudly flogging fans.  ‘This is not the kind of place the locals go to,’ says C irritably. I feel I’m being got at for wanting to eat at a ‘lesser’ place.  C insists this is untrue, he just hates being ripped off.  It is soupily hot, even at 10.30pm.  The food is a few euros more than usual, but it’s *gritted teeth* fine.   But I feel soured by his tinge of disapproval.   This is the flipside of eating with someone who really cares about food.  And is a queeny food snob.  ‘This swordfish is delicious,’ I snarl, chewing determindly.

Tipping Row

I always tip, if the service is good and am a great believer in the Waiter/Waitress rule i.e. if your date is rude to service staff then he or she is a bad person.  Yes I was a waitress once.  It’s hard work, the quality of the food is not your domain and when you are carrying fifteen plates and the douche on table 3 whines, ‘Where’s the salad I asked for?’ it’s hard not to reply, ‘Stuck up my arse you stupid fat fuck,’ instead of ‘I’ll get it straight away Sir.’

Ooh that’s better.

C gives me a look for overtipping.  This riles me so I add another euro.  Not really a row, more A Moment.

Sweary Sex Row

We’re leaving the hotel in Seville, and I promise C certain favours if he manages to drive back to Sotogrande without swearing.  He doesn’t even manage to get out of the carpark.  So I let that one pass and give him one more chance.  He still doesn’t get out of the carpark.

Twisty Route Row

I really hate driving on the right so C does all the driving.  Driving from Granada to Sotogrande, we  are trying to avoid the toll roads which means an alternative route over the mountains and acres of olive trees.  Stinging blue skies, scorched earth and very twisty roads.  After an hour of this I throw up lunch at the side of the road.

Poor C tries to distract me by pointing out interesting land marks but as anyone who has been miserably car sick will testify, all you can think of is the toxic churn in the stomach as it slowly builds up again.  We finally emerge from Witch Mountain, only to see the only way of getting home is through another toll road.  I point this out which blows the lid on hours of repressed anger and nausea.   We hiss and snipe at each other.  He says I keep track of his mistakes.  I say he has a chip of ice in him.  Sweat trickles down my nose in the ensuing silence.   ‘I’m doing my best’ he says and I feel terrible.  We kiss and he doesn’t flinch at my double sick breath.

The Jon Ronson Row

We are in Jerez in a sleek modern hotel, The Itaca (reviewed on Trip Advisor) which overlooks a lime grove.  I’m in love with Spanish café con leche and their way of life.  It’s not just about having a snooze after lunch, it’s more about taking some time during the day to kick back and have a pointless row about reading material.  I’m lying on the bed with the very excellent So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson, and reading out the part where Justine Sacco’s life blows up after one ill-judged tweet.   C says she is in PR and should have known better.  ‘If I were her boss, I’d have fired her too.’  I think this cold and helpfully remind him of the unfortunate remarks he’s made in the past, which if overheard by an angry or vengeful person could have resulted with his life imploding.  This conversation swiftly descends into the ways in which we annoy each other.

‘You slurp your coffee,’ he snaps (too quickly for my liking) and when I tell you something you go ‘Really? Like you don’t believe me.  And  you wince when I drive.’

I bite back, with good reason.  ‘Ok’ I say, and pause as though I’m trying to think how to respond when in fact that list has been in my head for a while.  ‘You complain about the underhand methods used to catch speeding drivers . . . while you’re actually speeding.’

He laughs – the most unpompous man in the world.  I adore him.

Bitch Face Row

A peaceful hotel in Seville, designed the Moroccan way with courtyards, plants, throws and dark blue tiles.  I am reading  The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters.  Set in 1920, Waters lush detail is a salutary reminder of how much we take for granted, i.e. taking a bath without risking suffocation or an explosion due to a dodgy boiler.  ‘Are you ok?’ C asks.  I say that I’m fine.  He says that I’m very hard to read.  It’s apparently because of the way my face ‘falls’ when I’m concentrating.  For a start, ‘falls’ in relation to a face is not a cheering description.  ‘Are you saying I have a resting bitch face?’ I squawk.   ‘Yes,’ he says.  I don’t speak to him for half an hour.  I don’t think he notices.

What’s the stupidest row you’ve ever had?

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