In which I look for something to get wound up about and am overwhelmed with options

After a weekend doing the fun, glam bits of being a writer – a book launch party in London on Friday night, and a writing workshop day at Birmingham’s very posh new library on Saturday – today is all about getting my nose back to the metaphorical grindstone, and making a start on my Christmas novella for 2014. In the spirit of moving on, from a lovely couple of days talking about writing, to actually doing some writing I’d promised myself that today would be an old skool blog post in which I would rant about some snippet of news that had got my back up.

The problem is that, at the moment, pretty much all the news gets my back up. I could go on at some length about why the Daily Mail considers ‘Woman carries baby while wearing skirt and hat’ to be news. I have even more questions about why the same paper considers ‘Comic actor gets in a car’ to be headline-worthy, and that’s before I’ve even started on the issue of why it’s appropriate to picture female murder suspects in their bikinis. Although I suppose that’s a slight, and rather niche, form of equality, as it’s long been considered fine and dandy to picture female murder victims scantily clad. All any of those thoughts illuminate though is that I maybe shouldn’t go to the Daily Mail website, even when I only do it in the hope of finding something that’ll wind me up enough to write a blog about. That is, after all, what they want me to do. An irritated click is worth just the same as an interested click in advertising sales.

The business of print newspapers has long been to reflect the prejudices of their readers back to them. Doing so encourages brand loyalty by confirming what people want to believe. Online papers work slightly differently. Unless you’re working a Times-style paywall model, there’s much less commitment on the part of the reader. Most people would be reluctant to fork out actual money everyday simply to be irritated and offended, but clicking a link that you know is going to make you roll your eyes is different. It’s incredibly easy to do; it costs nothing, and all you lose is time and a tiny piece of your soul.

That means that online papers can have it both ways. They cultivate one section of their readership by reflecting back their existing preconceptions, and another section of readership are lured in in order to feel aggrieved, offended or outraged. And that’s not only a preserve of the right-wing press. Sites like theguardian.com work in just the same way. On any woolly headed left-leaning article there will be a portion of the comments that bemoan the ‘typical guardianista’ attitude. Those people were happier in the day when the Telegraph was delivered direct to their door and nobody else’s prejudices bothered them, just as I’d probably be happier sticking to the Guardian and the Independent while cultivating a disengaged feeling of slight superiority.

Now the sensible thing at this point would be to conclude that I should stop reading news websites that wind me up. I would then be a calmer and more serene individual. In many ways that is the mature choice, but I think that if I’m going to do that I have to give up the papers that confirm my existing opinions and support my preconceptions as well. It is, ultimately, only fair that we identify biases and prejudices that we agree with and fall into ourselves, just as critically as we identify those which offend us. And that’s hard, because, obviously, my own preconceptions are right. In my gut that’s what I believe. That’s what we all believe, and it’s only by consciously exposing ourselves to contradictory views that we give ourselves opportunities to examine our own ideas. Logically that should mean that I  start reading the Daily Mail regularly. I’m not sure I can actually convince myself that it would be a good idea to go that far. Maybe I’ll start with an occasional Times or the Telegraph as a gateway media drug and work my way up…

If you like these periodic ramblings, and want to read more by me, this is the place.

In which I go to a science festival

Last week was the week of Cheltenham Science Festival. They like a festival in Cheltenham. They don’t really care what it’s a festival of – horse racing, literature, food, jazz – they are entirely unfussy. So long as there’s a bar and some quality use of marquees the good people of Cheltenham are quite satisfied.

But last week was science. I was only able to get to a few sessions but what I did was suitably fascinating, because here’s the thing. Despite everything that happened in secondary school physics lessons to convince me otherwise, science is quite interesting. Actually that’s unfair. Secondary school physics was also intereating, but that was because my physics teacher was a certifiably insane man who, if you asked for a new exercise book, would drag you over to a picture of then Education Secretary, Kenneth Baker, and shout, “A new exercise book? You’d better ask Mr Baker if you can have a new exercise book. It’s all up to him these days!” He also used to demonstrate gravity by jumping off the table at the front of the room. So, from my secondary school physics lessons I know two things:

1. Education Secretaries personally sign off on all distribution of paper goods to school pupils, and;

2. The laws of gravity are mainly to do with what happens when insane people jump off tables.

Anyhow, what was I talking about? Yes. Science Festival. Right. At the science festival, we saw a live version of Dara O’Briain’s Science Club where we learnt why it’s much worse to drop a dog out of an upstairs window than a hamster. (At least I think that was the main point.) We saw some poor innocent victim (volunteer?) get MRI-scanned live for our entertainment. We saw a massive game of top trumps for science’s great unsung heroes, where it turned out that Hedy Lamarr (of siren of the silver screen fame) was also a proper top notch mathematician.

The best bit for me was seeing Dr Kevin Fong talk about the extremes of the human body’s ability to survive. He’s very clever and interesting, and it’s well worth seeking out his book on the same subject. He does a clever drawing of parallels between our exploration of the planet (and beyond) and medicine’s exploratory journey in relation to the human body during the past 100 years. It’s all jolly interesting and very much to be encouraged.

So science, it turns out, is marvelous, even if you’re a fluffy-headed arts and humanties girl like me. (My degrees are in History and Creative Writing – alternatively known as Old Shit and Makey-Uppy.) Instinctively though, I’m drawn to the belief that stuff is knowable. It’s a thing that frustrates me, in conversation, when the person I’m talking to says, “Of course there are some things that are just beyond our understanding.” It seems to be an attitude that lacks ambition. I also don’t accept that things get less interesting for finding out more about them. So the shape you thought you saw out of the corner of your eye wasn’t a ghost after all? It was your brain interpreting the shape of a face in a plume of steam, or shimmer of light. That’s fascinating. Why would your brain do that? What’s the evolutionary benefit of facial recognition and why would that extend to seeing faces that aren’t there? What else that we think we see is created in our brains rather than in the physical world we think we’re seeing exactly as it is?

So, in summary, finding stuff out is good. Another paradigm shifting conclusion for you there folks. Hurrah!

In which I go to the pictures, try to tidy my office and worry that I might not be a Proper Girl.

I’m writing this perched amongst the debris from my most recent attempt to tidy my office. My office is an important room for me. It started off, nearly ten years ago when myself and EngineerBoy persuaded a bank to buy us a house (that is how that works, isn’t it?), as our shared home office. Steadily, but decisively, the Boy has been phased out of this little bit of supposedly shared space, and the office claimed as my tiny box-sized writing room. At least it’s supposed to be a writing room. In real life, writing doesn’t earn me any actual money, and I’ve just discovered that we need actual money to give the bank so we can carry on living in the aforementioned house. Frankly, that’s a much poorer deal that I was imagining.

But the office, yes, it’s not just my writing room. It’s also the office from which I run my freelance training business and home to my folders of random business related receipts, and course notes and lesson plans on everything from Welfare Benefits law to writing a villanelle.

And it’s a mess. A proper, possibly infested, men-behaving-badly type of mess. Yesterday, in a fit of good intention, I cleared all the random paperwork off the desk and into a box, which is now sitting on the floor waiting for me to sort through the paper mountain. Somewhat dishearteningly, it’s sitting next to two full crates from the previous times I’ve done the same thing. Oooops?

messy messy office

 

And yes, that is a lakeland carrier on top of one of the piles. And, weirdly, it does contain cookie cutters. And no, I have no idea why it’s in my office.

All of which is a bit of a worry. I’m a girl, after all. Aren’t girls supposed to be clean and tidy beings? Sugar and spice and all that? Even this article defending the joys of raising sons concedes that they “do tend to be noisier, messier and more aggressive than girls.”

No matter. There have been plenty of chances to assert my femininity of late. For example, in the last couple of weeks I’ve been to see two of a the big film releases of December/January: The Hobbit and Les Miserables. Now these look like the sorts of films where you could expect a fairly predictable gender-split in terms of enjoyment. One of them is a searing epic of love, loss and redemption told through the medium of a fully sung-through musical, and the other one is about dwarves. Both are stupidly longer than they need to be, but apart from that, I did, as expected very much enjoy one and feel entirely “Meh” about the other.

However, the one I very much enjoyed was The Hobbit. It had wizards, and awks, and a dragon, and a range of recognisable actors with comedy stick-on hair arrangements. Really, what’s not to like?

Les Mis, on the other hand, left me underwhelmed, although I can’t quite put my finger on why. I didn’t mind the live-singing, even though that meant that it lacked the polish of most film musicals. I didn’t even mind the fact that you could see the pressure of trying to act and sing AT THE SAME TIME etched on Russell Crowe’s face. I very much minded the amount of noble dying, and I definitely minded the amount of gazing into the middle distance looking a bit wan. And at no point did I feel on the verge of weeping the copious tears that various (mainly female) friends had led me to expect.

Add to that the fact that I taught a creative writing class last night where my mere mention of Terry Pratchett (my absolute definite favourite writer) led to great excitement from the male students and absolute indifference from the women, and I’m starting to worry that I might not be a Proper Girl.

Happily that’s very obviously a stupid thought. I’m clearly a girl. I definitely have boobies, and I own more than two pairs of shoes. I like chick lit and baking and bubble baths and accessorizing, and also football and sci-fi and not tidying up. I’m girlishly pathetic about pretty much all forms of DIY, and blokeishly underwhelemed by pretty much all forms of romance. So probably it’s not me that’s weird. Probably it’s our tendency to think of some traits as masculine and some as feminine, rather than just thinking of people as individuals, that is weird. Yeah – that’s it. I’m not messy – I’m asserting my individual right to choose not to conform to gender stereotypes. Go me!

So how about you? Are you a rugby-playing make-up lover? Or a testosterone fuelled natural home maker? Talk to me people…

In which I look forward to yet another new year

So it’s January again. It seems, dear reader, to have come round a bit quick, but the calendar never lies. Actually that’s rubbish. My calendar says it’s 2010, so can’t really be trusted for anything very much at all anymore. But, depsite my calendar’s confident assertion that it is eternally December 2010, it is, quite clearly, January all over again, and time to do the whole resolution thing once more with feeling.

To get me in the mood for this I had a little lookie back here to see what I’d resolved last year. I won’t lie. It was a tad disheartening, because basically I’m going to be resolving all the same stuff again. I still need to lose weight, about half a stone less than I needed to lose at the start of last year, but the bigger picture is still rather unhealthily hefty. I still need to focus more on writing, and I still need to get over my utter phobia of being in control of a moving automobile.

Now that realisation might give the impression that 2012 was not a successful year. That would not be true at all. 2012 was great. I went to the Paralympics. I gained a very gorgeous niece.  I went to Venice (and Venice is, in my humble opinion, amongst the very best of the good places on the planet). I won a short story competition which earned me a year’s guardianship of a little cup. I saw a panda in Edinburgh Zoo on my 10th wedding anniversary. I joined a tiny little writer’s critique group all of whom say fabulously useful things, and frequently offer me cake. I spent time doing things with people I like.

It wasn’t a year into which no rain fell. My incredible, irrepressible grandmother died at the age of 97 in June. I was poorly for a slightly disappointing proportion of it (rather inconveniently I seem to have developed IBS). And, as we’ve already noted, I didn’t really achieve my stated goals for the year at all.

So maybe that should tell me that resolutions really are a waste of time. Maybe I should stop aiming for things I’m probably not going to achieve, and concentrate on enjoying whatever comes my way. Well, partly. The “enjoying whatever comes my way” sounds good, but I still think the resolutions are worthwhile too. Because, somehow, I absolutely believe that this year will be different. This year I will do better. I think it’s good to believe that – it makes us keep trying. I don’t really do bumper-sticker wisdom. The cute sayings and affirmations that people post on their facebook statuses leave me befuddled, but here’s one I do believe. I believe that it is, pretty much always, better to try and fail, than not to try.

So in a spirit of trying, and embracing the risk of failing, here are my resolutions for 2013:

1. Lose weight – 3 stone 10lb to be precise. And keep it off.

2. Finish writing a second novel, start a third, and submit a competition short story at least once per month.

3. Get over the driving phobia.

4. Get back to blogging every(ish) week. On that note – the all new blog day for 2013 is Wednesday. Mark it on your (possibly decades out of date) calendars – Wednesday. Wednesday. Wednesday.

You never know – this might be the year I stick to all my resolutions. And if not, I’m sure the failing will bring it’s own joys along with it. See y’all back here for a review in 2014?

In which I travel to London Town and view the Paralympics.

Paralympics baby! Cue much whooping and waving of little flags.

Inside the stadium

I’ve just returned home from two days of Paralympic excitement in London Town. There was athletics. There was wheelchair basketball. There was a lot of high-fiving. Here are some things that I learnt.

 

1. Soft toy characters of indeterminate species are like hard drugs to six-year olds

We went to the Games with my nephew, who is six and, like all the best six-year olds, largely focussed on running along stuff, jumping off stuff and playing superheroes. He’s also completely engrossed by the Olympic and Paralympic mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville. And it appears not just to be him, as attested to by the size of the queue outside Mascot House on the Olympic Park – an attraction essentially comprised of many Wenlocks and Mandevilles and culminating in the opportunity to have a picture taken with the real Wenlock. Yup – I said real Wenlock. Any suggestion that Wenlock and Mandeville are not real might be met with crying in some quarters, and that would be a Bad Thing. Never again will I greet the unveiling of Olympic/Paralympic/World Cup/Whatever mascots with scoffing. It turns out the little people are entirely captivated by them. Who knew? Well, parents, probably…

 

2. Being massively overstaffed makes everything run more smoothly.

To those of you with jobs, this might be unexpected news. Most of us who do any sort of, you know, work, will be very used to being told that we must work smarter. That there’s no point just throwing money and people at a problem, that our chronic stress levels and inabilty to complete essential tasks aren’t to do with being woefully underfunded and understaffed. They’re simply representative of our need to improve efficiency. Turns out that may have all been lies.

I was astounded by how smoothly everything ran at the Paralympics. Hardly any queues to get onto the Olympic Park. Hardly any queuing to get into venues. You no sooner had to wonder which way you needed to go now, than a shiny purple games-making volunteer with a big foam pointy finger would appear to foamily point the way. And all the shiny purple volunteers were in high spirits, presumably partly because there were enough of them for them not to be running about the place like crazy people.

There were enough security checks open that you could just walk straight through even when arriving right in the busiest time to attend the evening athletics session. They had enough people directing you to the shortest security queue so that there were no bottlenecks. Most excitingly of all, there were enough toilets. Enough women’s toilets at a major event. No standing watching men walk straight past. It was like a weird vision of a more egalitarian future. Aaaaah…. happy sigh…

 

3. USA are like totally awesome at wheelchair basketball

USA and Mexico warming up

We saw two wheelchair basketball matches and it is a rather cool sport to watch – fast-paced, high scoring, relatively easy to follow for the uninitiated. The only downside was that both the matches featured the USA against slightly less top-notch opposition, which meant that by about 5 minutes into the first quarter it was entirely obvious that America were going to win by an absolute shedload of points.  For a neutral spectator it would have been nice to see a really close match to facilitate a maximum amount of having to go “Ooooh..” and “Aaargghh” and do whooping. Nonethless, it was still marvellous fun and the USA, the men’s team in particular, did provide something of a masterclass in how to do wheelchair basketball. It looked a bit like hard work.

 

4. And finally, I would very much like to move to the Olympic Park

The Olympic Park felt like a weird oasis of happiness and good-heartedness, and I want to stay there forever. I would build a little cottage, probably just by the band stand in the little garden next to the velodrome and I would live there in much contentment for the rest of my days. Seriously, anyone who has a Park Pass and is wondering whether it’s worth going if you don’t have tickets for an actual event, you really really should go before the Games finish. The Park is amazing. It has street performers, and gardens, and places where you can have a go at a wheelchair obstacle course, and people selling waffles and hot pork rolls, and pretty multi-coloured paving, and happy policepeople on horseys, and big screens to sit on the grass and watch the sport. It’s like a magical fairytale land where everyone smiles and things are just a little bit simpler and more primary coloured than out here in the real world. Aaaah… lovely.

 

And that is what I learnt at the Paralympics. I’m super-glad I went and experienced the whole Games vibe, and now it’s time to get back to reality. I’m writing this in my dressing gown, postponing the process of actually having a shower, getting dressed and doing work. So, please keep my happy vibe alive a little bit longer by commenting, and I’ll be back next week talking about something else probably.

In which I go to the library, and behold its great and wondersome shininess. Aaaaah…

Worcester's shiny shiny library

So the magical city of Worcester (note: not actually magical) has a new library. It is called The Hive, and nobody really knows why. It’s very exciting. The reasons it is exciting are twofold. Firstly, it’s a combined University and City library and therefore is a bit massive and has space for ALL the books. If you’re thinking that no library could really have space for all the books, you’re wrong, and need, urgently to get your Pratchett on and learn about l-space. Secondly, the new library is exciting because it is GOLD! Altogether now….

The goldness is particularly exciting because it means that we have a new building that isn’t a glass box. Now some people aren’t fond of the gold. They think it looks a bit weird. Those people are, of course, entirely correct, but I love it. Weird is always better than bland. It’s why I very much like the Selfridges building at the end of Birmingham’s Bullring too. It’s silvery blue and looks like the shopping centre has a big lovely derriere.

Anyhoo, we were talking about the library. I say it’s new. It opened in July. The Queen came and opened it. Actually it was already open then. Queenie “officially” opened it. She didn’t turn up with a big bunch of keys and the code for the alarm system. She just wandered into a building that was already open and pulled back a little curtain on a plaque which said the building was opened by the Queen, which, I think we’ve clearly established, is technically lies. Thinking about it, it was even more of a lie when it was engraved, because the Queen hadn’t even turned up then. Probably the plaque should read, “possibly opened by the Queen, but maybe not. She might cancel with a nasty head cold. Anything could happen. It’s really too soon to say.” But that would probably need a bigger plaque.

Anyhoo, again, the point is I went to Worcester’s shiny shiny new library, and it’s really rather good. It’s like being back at University with all the books and little corners to sit and read and the many many computers which you can log into with your library card or, if you have one, with your University ID. It makes you feel like, with a bit of ingenuity, you could basically make up your own self-study degree programme, and maintain the pretense of still being 19 without the nasty tuition fees. And, because it’s all new, there are modern red sofas with individual overhead lights right out in the middle of the floor where you can walk by them and think “Oooh, red sofas, nice.” And then, further back in the darker corners, there are plain grey chairs and sofas, because it is still a council building after all, and you can’t go frittering public money on red sofas just willy-nilly.

The whole place is a bit of a gift to lazy procrastinating writers and wannabe eternal students like myself, and visiting it has led to a new plan. Novel no 2, which entered hard drafting mode last week, is, I think, going to be written at the library. On writing days I shall pack myself up a little bag with paper and pens and a bottle of water and leave the house like a proper grown-up with a proper job. I shall walk to the library, find a corner (probably a dark corner with a plain grey chair) and I shall write my words. Then I shall walk home again.

This plan has advantages. Again, they are twofold. Firstly, it adds a short walk into my routine, which, hopefuly, will contribute to the ongoing battle against my expanding writer’s bottom. I was going to type “running battle” there, but if I did running the writer’s bottom probably wouldn’t be a problem. Secondly, it moves me away from the home with all its various aids to procrastination, so I might actually manage to write something. I don’t see how I could possibly be led to procrastinate in the big room with ALL the books. Hmmm…

So in summary: libraries are good; big gold libraries are better; and plaques that say the Queen opened something are not to be taken at face value. That is all. Come back next week, when I’ll probably be talking in more detail about the whole diet/weightloss/writer’s bottom issue. Although I might not. I’ll probably become distracted and talk about something else entirely. As ever, please follow if you like what you read. And please comment if you have an interesting thought. If you’re Worcester-local what do you think of The Hive? If you’re not from these parts, then please just chat about libraries, or Queens, or writing locations, or gold things, or anything really.

In which I, for reasons which will be made clear, get behind Grenada for Olympic glory

So it is nearly time to stop grumbling about the expense, and the traffic disruption, and the inability of multinational companies to recruit security guards, and get on with some actual sport. I am genuinely excited about the Olympics. The Olympics is, I think, my favourite delivery format for sport, and this is from a woman who has a fully considered opinion on Andy Murray’s best chance of winning a grand slam (would have thought US, but maybe Wimbledon after all), and on the relative merits of a range of England strikers (Wayne Rooney – increasingly overrated).

The Olympics has a sense of the village fete sports day that you don’t get with those other big sporting events. You’ve got your Usain Bolt, but you’ve also got your modern pentathletes, archers, mountain bikers, and table tennisificators. And it’s that mix of different events that makes the Olympics so utterly brilliant.

This year I shall be mainly cheering for Team Grenada. Of course. Because of how I am Grenadan. Which, actually, I’m not. No. The reason for cheering for Team Grenada is entirely financial. My nephew’s school are running a fund-raising Olympic raffle, in which “winning” ticket holders are allocated an Olympic nation. Prizes are given to the ticket holders whos countries achieve the most Gold, Silver, or Bronze medals. I got Grenada. Hurrah! Go Grenada! Go Grenada!

In order to best support my newly adopted nation, I’ve had a little look at their previous Olympic performances. It turns out that Grenada didn’t actually win any medals in Beijing, or in Athens, or in Sydney, or, indeed, at any of the Olymipcs they’ve competed at since their first Games in 1984. I’m not daunted by this fact though. Sure. I may have to be a little bit realistic. Probably we’re going to be competing for the prize for Most Bronze medals rather than Most Golds but I still think that’s totally doable.

The team with the most bronze medals in Beijing was the USA, who took home 36 bronze medals. Admittedly, the Grenadan team this year consists of just ten athletes, but I’m not letting that dissaude me from the potential glory ahead. And that, right there, is the brilliance of sport. Being a armchair sport addict is, in the end, all about hope. It’s about maintaining the belief that this year will be different in the face of all evidence to the contrary. It’s about knowing that it’s not over until the fat lady blows the whistle or the referee sings (or something like that), and then, even when it is over, regrouping and coming back and doing it all again. Hope is what makes watching sport so seductive, and is why I remain entirely confident of scooping raffle glory. I’ll be there. Bum on sofa. Olympic themed nibbles on lap. TV and laptop fired up to facilitate multi-event viewing, and Grenada will bring home those medals for me. Probably. Go Team Grenada!

So there you go – week one of my promise to blog every Monday, and I’m totally doing it. Hurrah! As ever, please do commenting and following and all that stuff. Are you excited about the Olympics? Do you fall over with boredom when Match of the Day comes on the telly? Are you a unusually big fan of Grenada?  I warmly encourage you to tell us about any, or all, of the above (or about anything else that is flitting through your mind) down there in the comments.

In which I get all abstemious

So today is Shrove Tuesday, on which people across the nation will gorge themselves on pancakes, and then promptly give up pancakes, not just for Lent but for the whole damn year, or at least until they have cause to eat breakfast in America, at which point they will mutter, “These aren’t proper pancakes… hmmph…” and prod the bacon suspiciously with their knife on the grounds that the bacon is not proper either, and has no place on the same plate as a pancake. And thus, a great religous cultural tradition continues.

But it’s the part of the tradition after the pancakes have been flipped, and the Jif lemon chucked back onto the funny little shelf on the back of the fridge door where nothing else really fits, that I’m concerned with today. It’s the tradition of giving something up for Lent that’s preoccupying my pretty little head.

I had a phase of giving things up for Lent during my teenage years. Chocolate was the favourite form of self-denial. And this year I’m going to try it again. From Ash Wednesday to Easter with no chocolate. No chocolate bars. No chocolate cake. No chocolate biscuits. No hot chocolate. Strangely, the more detail I write down about this plan, the worse the idea seems. However, it’s still better than my first idea which was to give up alcohol. That’s a plan I was fine with until I realised that alcohol includes wine. Even rosé, apparently.

 The religious notion of Lenten self-denial comes from the biblical story of Christ being tempted by Satan in the wilderness. I will follow Son of Man’s example by being tempted by Maltesers in Sainsburys. It’s really very similar. Actually this form of self-denial has no particular religious resonance. I’m doing it because my well-intentioned weight loss has plateaued somewhat and cutting down on the sweets and puddings might reboot the diet plan.

So why pick Lent? Why not give up chocolate on the third Wednesday in January, or on a random Thursday during June? Well, just because “giving something up for Lent” is a notion that exists in my English-Christian educated brain. It delivers a feeling of cultural rightness that giving something up on another self-selected date just doesn’t provide. Somehow by picking Lent you get a gentle cultural shove that tops-up your motivation with two thousand years of learnt behaviour. 

And it has the added benefit of potentially irritating a wide-range of evangelicals. On the Dawkinsesque evangelical-atheist end of the curve you can be irritated by my choosing to observe an ancient church tradition, which I’ve already acknowledged has very little to do with my personal reasons for this particular act of abstention. On the evangelical-Christian end you can be irritated at a religious observance being taken over by the wider popular culture and reinterpreted for reasons of weight loss and, indeed, vanity. And here on the broad and friendly centre-ground you can just nod quietly and go, “Oh,” and then cheerfully get on with the rest of your day. That is all.

As always, please subscribe if you like what you read. I’d really love to build the number of regular readers of my somewhat scattered and random musings, so if you already subscribe, why not take a minute to give me a little plug to any of your friends who might like it here? Any tweets, facebook mentions, or simple old-fashioned telling peoples are very very much appreciated.

In which I look backwards to Christmas and last year’s desert island.

Christmas, I think we have to acknowledge, is over. The decorations are still up but they’re starting to feel weirdly out of date and inappropriate. There are still leftovers in the fridge but no-one can really face eating them anymore, so they’ll sit there a couple more days before being thrown away with lots of comments about how chucking food out is bad and how we’re going to shop more carefully in future and only buy what we absolutely and definitely need.

So, how was your festive season lovely readers? Please do feel at leisure to tell me all about it in the comments. Mine was good in a traditional family oriented sort of a way. We did the usual couple compromise of my family at Christmas and his at New Year, with a 24 hour “just us” break in the middle. And that’s probably enough about that. I don’t want to turn into the sort of blogger who witters on about random personal details like what I had for breakfast. Marmitey toast, obviously. I’m not uncivilised.

But a very long time ago I did blog about a Desert Island Discs party and then totally failed to tell you what I’d actually picked. So belatedly and with apologies, here are my choices:

1. Tim Minchin, White Wine in the Sun

I love Tim Minchin. I don’t totally agree with all his lyrics here. Regardless of religious persuasions I don’t see how anyone could prefer the idea of hanging out with Richard Dawkins over Desmond Tutu. Tutu just comes across as jollier, and definitely more like to have anecdotes about Nelson Mandela that end, “Of course, we were both very very drunk…” However, I endorse the sentiment. Christmas is commercialised and gaudy and should be terrible, but I really really like it.

2. Jools Holland & the Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, Enjoy Yourself 

A top song for a desert island. It is important to enjoy oneself. This is also the track Jools Holland usually ends live performances with, so has good associations for me of outdoor summer gigs with friends, alcohol and little sausage rolls. Very few situations cannot be remedied by the addition of friends, alcohol and little sausage rolls.

3. Pure, Lightning Seeds

This is me and the Boy’s official Song. We picked it on a car journey to somewhere in the early years of The Relationship. I believe we’d decided that if we were in a Relationship we ought to have A Song. And so we do, and it’s sufficiently unsoppy not to cause nausea, which is also nice.

On the music front honourable mentions should go to Semisonic’s Secret Smile, The Danse Macrabre by Saint-Saens, Tim Minchin’s Not Perfect, and pretty much everything by The Beatles. On another day any or all of those might have made the cut.

That just leaves a book and a luxury item to select. I wimped out on book, and went for The House at Pooh Corner. I call this wimping out because it avoided picking between all the incredible grown-up books. I could have picked one (if I had it would probably have been between Margaret Attwood The Blind Assassin and Kazua Ishigura Never Let Me Go – at least until someone gets round to publishing all the Discworld novels in a single massive volume) but that would have felt like I was rejecting all the other books and I couldn’t do it. Anyway, In Which Tigger Comes to the Forest and has Breakfast is a work of unadulterated genius and I would lift my mood during any low desert island moments, so Winnie-the-Pooh it is.

And for my luxury, it would have to be paper and pens (which would somehow magically never run out) so I could write write write. Only having one book to read would be a personal nightmare, but if I could write I might just manage it. There are lots of elements to trying to become a published writer that are a real pain in the behind, not least the actual trying to get published part. Editing and proof-reading can also be something of a bind, but the ideas are things of pure joy, so if I could live half on my island and half inside my own imagination I might actually be quite happy.

So comment away below on all things Christmassy or desert islandy, and please come back later in the week when we’ll be talking New Year’s Resolutions. Probably. Unless I see something more interesting before then and end up writing about that instead. Farewell.

Where I try to make the Internet pick my Desert Island Discs for me.

It’s Christmas! This means that party season is upon us. Fatness is growing (yeah, I know what I said here, and I’ll totally get back to that in January. Totally), and hungoverism is becoming the order of the day.

But internet I need your help, because tonight’s Christmas meal has A Theme. Desert Islands Discs, albeit a cutdown dinner party friendly version. So I have to select three tunes, one book and one luxury item that make me appear cool, witty and interesting by this evening.

This is a challenge. I’m not, generally speaking, a massive muso. I play music as a functional exercise to take the edge of the quiet, usually when I’m supposed to be writing and the crushing silence of an extended lack of typing becomes oppressive. So, for me, thinking of three tunes at all is a bit of a stretch.

And one book? ONE book? I own several hundred books, possibly into the thousands, and my favourite is generally whichever I’m looking at right now. How can I possibly be expected to commit to just one book for the rest of forever? The rest of forever is, potentially, ages.

And a luxury item. That could be anything. Am I allowed to pick a person? John Cleese picked Michael Palin, but specified that he would have him stuffed. I’m not sure that really helps. If I’m not allowed a person then what? I could be all dull and writerly and demand paper and pens, but that is very boring, isn’t it?

So help me out Internet? Three tunes. One book. One luxury. What would you pick? (And if you want to hear what I go for in the end, just subscribe or follow and you’ll get a little notification as soon as I get around to letting you all know).