Tag Archives: ideas

Sandi Toksvig and my London dream

Phil: As someone much more important than me once said, I have a dream.

I dream of living in London, but on my terms.

I’ll have a nice apartment near Marylebone station. My day will be spent pottering around the capital visiting galleries and museums. I’ll meet up with my (technically, our, but I’m doing the pottering) editor for lunch in a nice restaurant. Occasionally, I’ll head over to the BBC where I’ll be in demand for the occasional appearance on Question Time or a Radio 4 show to dazzle everyone with my wit and wisdom.

My clothes will be of the finest quality. My shoes hand-made. The sort of clobber that lasts forever and is best described (by me) as timeless and by someone I know as boring.

All this came to mind as I read Sadi Toksvig’s memoir Between the Stops.

The book hangs around the number 12 bus route, which our author likes to take from home to work. I like this, because I also love a bus ride in London. I enjoy looking at the capital as it passes by, and in my dream, I’ll reguarily get out and visit the more interesting shops I spot. Visit and not feel intimidated at walking in the door.

It’s a very unconventional memoir – we learn about Sandi’s life, but also some history of London. It’s a place with a lot of past to learn about, much of it fascinating and frequently grueome.

Anger plays a big part in our literary journey as it’s pointed out that very few women seem to rate a mention on the road signs or anywhere else. It’s not that women have never made their mark on history, just that the bar for memorials is a lot lower for men.

So we get a mix of life stories, showbiz annecdotes, politics, femanism and history. Quite a mix and I enjoyed it. There’s no showing off as in a tradtional autobiography and it’s not all looking at the past either. The future is just as important or at least making sure the future is a good deal more equal than the past.

Apart from the famanism and lesbianism, Sandi is living my dream. I mean my dream doesn’t include any misogyny and I’m inclined to agree that a few more women being commemorated would be a good thing and many of the men slipping into history would not be a bad thing, no matter how much the Daily Mail readers (Sandi has good reason to hate that paper) might howl. As for the lesbian thing, it’s just another on the list of things I don’t qualify for.

Of course, my dream is just that. The apartment I fancy is £1.6m and the BBC aren’t hammering on my door. A London publisher would be nice, but I bet they don’t pay enough for the hand-made shoes.

I do have the boring clothes though.

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The Hidden Army

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Candice: Six months ago on this date we were told that the UK was to be locked down. A lot has happened in that time.

I’ve been reading a lot of reports in the news about how the economy is struggling, the number of people unemployed, generally how this pandemic isn’t really doing great things for the world of work.

Behind all of this are the people who are working away from spare rooms, kitchen tables, lounges, and probably toilets if they need to. People who are suffering from bad backs, eye strain, migraines from working in unsuitable conditions. Those who have to deal on a daily basis with frustration, loneliness, tears, and anger both from themselves and their colleagues.

I call them ‘The Hidden Army’. I’m one of them, as I have been fortunate enough to have been still in a job through the last six months. We don’t get a clap every Thursday night, or often get mentioned in the news. Everyone is too busy talking about how students are coping without socialising in their first term, or what job they will get when they graduate. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t envy those who don’t have a job and I sympathise with those working in the NHS. But there are a large group of people out there who are working hard to keep the economy going and are largely going unnoticed.

So this is my post for them, 40% of the population according to the Sunday Times, who have been working remotely for all this time, and don’t always enjoy it. Those of us who get fed up with looking at the same four walls every day, who miss interacting with their colleagues over the watercooler rather than by Teams, who find that some days they are frustrated or angry for no reason at all and often take it out on those same colleagues.

So I’m going to clap to my fellow workers and share some of my tips for keeping sane. Exercise is number one – talking a walk, going for a run, going to the gym, anything to clear my mind and get rid of the anger.

Talking to people – some times I don’t want to but the times I have I’ve always felt better. Its all about finding the right person to talk to, and not just talking about work or Covid 19.

Take some time for yourself – even a trip to the shops for 20 mins is a chance to remember what normality is and to escape the house, your partner/child/cat.

Keep firing up that laptop and slogging away. And when you look at that picture of the far-flung beach on your desktop just remember that our time will come. In the meantime take the time to explore the UK, take breaks when you can and look after number one.

 

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Not going out

OutPhil: Have you spent time on Twitter recently? It seems that boasting that you have no intention of visiting a pub, park, beach or anywhere else the #covididiots can be found, is very much the fashion nowadays.

The boast is bandied about with the same pride as people used to have when announcing they don’t have a television. Superiority seeps from their pores as they try to pretend that they are too busy reading complicated Greek poetry or other “worthy” pursuits to lower themselves to watch the box.

Now, people are proud that they will never, ever, ever visit a pub again in a million years.

Not being able to get out and about has been an interesting experience. Incredibly frustrating for me as much of my work relies on going to shows where there will be several thousand people, many in high-risk groups. All that stopped in March and it’s not looking like it’s going to start again any time soon. Best bets are that 2020 is over, and the first half of 2021 is looking shaky.

Necessity is the mother of invention and last weekend, our magazine attempted a “Virtual Exhibition”.

There were displays made up of photos and videos to replace those found at a physical event. We managed to have model-making demonstrations via video too.

Being on-line, we did things you can’t do in real life too, such as interviewing people from around the world. While there is a little bit of this on stage at our London event, working via Zoom, things were taken to a whole new level. We are now used to “proper” telly being done this way, and technology allows us all to have a go.

The result was a huge amount of work – but it paid off. Plenty of visitors to the event and loads of great feedback. While you can’t really replace the physical show, what we produced wasn’t a bad alternative.

Have we created a new type of event? Could it carry on in the future even when the “real” shows come back?

Who knows. What I can be certain about is that the on-line genie is out of the bottle. I’ve seen a few virtual events aimed at writers. Candice is off to a concert, with bopping, in a car park. Some of these will become popular, others will lose their novelty value. Humans are adaptable.

The future probably won’t look anything like we imagine.

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Hoots mon, the scones are unbearably light!

Phil: Although I’m not Scottish, my ancestry does permit me to wear the Lamont tartan, I’m partial to a bit of Lorne sausage and even a portion of fried haggis. I also consider the Tunnocks teacake one of the finest delicacies in the shops. The caramel wafers aren’t bad either.

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones caught my eye in the book pile at work for a couple of reasons. I like scones, and it’s set in Scotland Street, Edinburgh.

I’ve been there, mainly because at one end of it was a railway yard and I spent much time helping out a friend who had built a model of it exhibits his efforts around the country. That it is written by Alexander McCall Smith was less appealing as I’ve never got into his Number One Ladies Detective Agency series, no matter how good people tell me it is.

Anyway, this is an interesting book that defies many literary conventions.

For a start, there is a huge amount of text that doesn’t move the story forward. All that stuff we are told to edit out. Well, not here. The characters head off at tangents, spend a long time thinking of random things and generally using lots and lots of words. Far from light, it’s actually quite dense and took me a couple of attempts to get going with.

The other oddity is there isn’t really a plot. Things happen, but we never get the feeling that anything significant is happening, but this isn’t a bad thing.

What we have a literary soap opera. My understanding is that the 100 (yes one hundred!) chapters are from the Scotsman newspaper and published on a daily basis. The books are collections of these for those who want their tales of Edinburgh life in a single helping. So, there are lots of characters living independent, but sometimes interconnected lives.  Along the way, several points are made by the author – for example, one of the characters is a small child whose overbearing mother could come straight out of the Guardian cliche lineup with her strident feminist ideas.

It’s a book riven with tartan too. You don’t see the pretender to the Scottish throne pop up very often not Jacobite being used as a slur. Do people still care about that stuff? Even one of the art sub-plots centres on a portrait of Robbie Burns.

If you can get past the style, then I can understand why the residents of Scotland Street become as popular as those of Glebe Street, albeit, representing a very modern take on their home city that will be a revelation to many readers from south of the border. This book could have been set in London in many respects. That it isn’t is a credit to the author, and probably a credit to his previous success allowing him to say a firm “No” to any publisher suggesting that he’s picked the wrong capital.

I got into the story after a few chapters and once in, worked my way through pleasantly quickly. I didn’t dare leave it too long between reading sessions for fear of losing the plot, but as the chapters are short, and the focus moved between different plot threads, it’s an easy book to pick up and put down for short bursts of reading between other jobs.

Now if you don’t mind, I think there is one more teacake in the fridge…

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Lockdown Buzzword Bingo

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Candice: So we are pretty much all going through it at the moment – my feed is full of people telling me how exciting their day is, what outfit they are wearing, “look at how much fun I am having on video calls.”  Or sharing information, true or otherwise. about what is going on. There was even a programme on TV last night about 24hrs in Lockdown, um do you think we really need to know about that, I know there is the lack of stuff to show at the moment but really!

So I’ve done a ‘Buzzword Bingo’ list.  You know the ones, they get used for meetings to add humour and you tick off when a certain project-centric or verbose word is used.  It adds to the long day if you are at a particularly boring conference.

Tick if you have done the following:

  1. Worn the same clothes more than two days in a row (I don’t mean undies!)
  2. Not put your jewellery on
  3. Not worn any makeup
  4. Become so attached to your phone and checking on the outside world its become an obsession
  5. Walking twice as much as you were before this (for those of you allowed to go out for exercise)
  6. Taken part in Joe Wicks’ exercise class
  7. Discovered Zoom
  8. Spent a whole Zoom call trying to teach an elder family member how to make it work
  9. Found things in your house you thought you had lost
  10. Ordered random things online – crepe paper anyone?
  11. Felt like you are running the dishwasher/washing up twice as much as usual
  12. Constantly washing clothes
  13. Forgotten what day it is
  14. Had your child/partner walk in on a video call
  15. Let ‘things’ grow out (that’s ladies and men)

For the outfit and style things, I’ve gone through the wear the same and now trying to mix it up.  I have done my annual summer/winter swap which has added a whole new level of fun to dressing (‘I’d forgotten all about this top’).  Also re makeup, as I’m starting to look a little haggard and need that bronzer to zip me up, even if it’s only for a walk around the block.

Even the phone I’m looking at less – I check the BBC once a day for an update on numbers, Boris’s health and any sight of an end to this but Facebook has become BORING.

Walking, bike riding – I used to do a lot but in these few weeks my daughter has gone from a reluctant rider to a proficient one so we go for a bike ride every day.  The bonus of car free roads means she can get used to it without us worrying too much about her wobbling.  We’ve found we can get quite far in our allocated slot.  And yes we’ve done Joe but more for me than her.

Ah Zoom, yes fun to start but I spend most of the day on the phone so the last thing I want to do is speak to people at night too.  I did get the parent’s version to work, FINALLY.

Our house has become craft central as my little maker loves craft.  Paint is probably the thing in short supply now.  We’ve found some of her toys we lost by spending time sorting out stuff to make things with, and also made a lot of things with crepe paper!

It’s all blurring into one, and I do struggle each day to actually remember who I am and what I am supposed to be doing.  There is a pad next to my desk that I have to write it all down else, with the constant distraction of childcare, I forget what I was saying and doing.  Only my watch really helps me remember what day it is.  What I can’t believe is we are on week three.  When this started it felt like someone had chopped my legs off, but now it almost feels normal.  I know I am not going to enjoy getting back into the ‘chuck child at school and drive to work’ routine.  And I’m also going to remember that you don’t have to throw money at things to have fun, there are boxes in our house yet to be opened and games we still haven’t played, thank god for the sunshine and a back garden to play in.

Reading and Writing – well this hasn’t turned into the supper productive period because I’m still working but I’m definitely using books to help distance myself from what’s going on and writing, well that will come when it does.

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Blue Monday?

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Candice: When I hear that expression I have to say I think more of the New Order song (which I hate) than the term that is banded around for the third Monday in January.

Monday, and this week, is supposed to be the most depressing point of the year.  Christmas is over, the days are still short and dark, and we don’t have anything to look forward to until the next big holiday which could be months away.

This Monday has turned into even more of a confusing one for me, my daughter seems to have decided it’s her blue Monday as she doesn’t want to go to school. At the age of six, they are already testing children at school, and she is in the middle of her first round of maths and reading checks.  I think it’s far too early, but that’s the way the world works.

What I don’t want this to do it take away from her enjoyment of school and learning, including reading.  One of the things that lifts me in the world of short, dark days is a good book or film, something to drift off in to so I don’t have the think about all the rubbish going on around me.

To me, you have to spin the concept of ‘Blue Monday’ on its head and find positive things to do to make this time of year better.  As much as I am sure my other half would prefer not to have a birthday at the end of Jan, its something I use to keep us going as I like to plan a day out activity so we all have something look forward to.   Birthday or not it’s good to have things in the diary so that you can go – ‘today was rubbish but I’ve got that trip to the theatre, cinema, day out in London’ – whatever it is that floats your boat, in the calendar.

Having a small person does help too as she always wants to find out new stuff, and I like taking her to new things too.  We were watching the ice dancing show last night and she said she’d like to have a go so we are going to plan a trip to the ice rink in a few weeks.  She’s never been so it will be an experience and there will definitely be falls, but it’s all new and exciting in her eyes.

My other ‘Blue Monday’ is the eternal battle with writing and time to do it.  Phil and I had a chat in a very busy Costa last week about plot lines, and then I didn’t manage to get to the edits off the back of that.  However, after beating myself up for most of the weekend about it, I’ve got my planning diary out and worked out when I might be able to look at it.  That makes me feel better.  It might not be until next weekend but now I feel more comfortable because at least I know when I will do, rather than constantly going when can I write.

If you are feeling blue, go and book in something that you will enjoy – a massage, drink with friends.  You might not be feeling motivated but once you do something you’ll find that the need to hibernate lessens and you’ll want to do more.  Now to sort out the six-year-old’s logic about school…..

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Too Many Ideas

IDEA

Candice:  I think Phil and I would both agree that we are struggling at the moment.  We’ve had pockets this year where we’ve had time on our hands (me more than him for a change) to really get on with some writing stuff.

We’ve chatted, sat in Libraries and written and I’ve tried to get Instagram off the ground, again.  But it’s all come to not a lot at the moment as he has been overtaken by train shows and me a full-time job (again).

Where do we go from here?  At the moment I feel like we keep creating promises we can’t keep.  Part of the problem is the only people who we are making the promises to are each other, and if we don’t prod each other than everything goes to pot.  We’ve always said that the writing partnership drives us in a way that writing on our own just wouldn’t. But currently, even that extra support is failing.

I’ve been through beating myself up for it.  I’m still the person in the office that people say – ‘You do that and that and that…!’.  Well yes, but sometimes I’ve over-egged my pudding, overstuffed my diary and actually there is no time for me!

I’ve been in trying to get to grips with my new commute and how that works with childcare and exercise.  Luckily, though my current workplace has got rid of the swimming pool (sad face) I can still go for a 5km run in my lunch break once a week which helps the mental and physical health.  However, with short, dark days, getting up and going home is hard work, especially when it takes you over an hour to do the commute. Writing time just doesn’t feature.

Phil’s been busy doing shows and writing articles, his workload never ends either, though it doesn’t involve those trips to the gym which are important to me!

We are meeting on Friday and I’ve decided to put a stake in the sand and say ‘What are we doing?”  We haven’t put a new book out in years and we’ve also been experimenting with mentoring.  We need to pick one idea and stick with it, as we just don’t have the time to do it all and instead we are doing things piecemeal and not doing any of them well.

I’ve plumped for finishing Book 3.  There is some cracking stuff in there and I want to get it out there.  Phil – well I don’t know his thoughts.  If you hear about fights in Birmingham on Friday it might be us.

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Don’t forgot the support

Candice: I was pondering the other day about those people who do all the work in the background to keep us entertained.

I’d spent a very long day mainly sitting in a room having random conversations with people I didn’t know and wouldn’t see again.  No, I wasn’t waiting for a job interview but waiting to do some work as a supporting artist or extra.

I meet the most interesting people when I do my extra work.  One of the last jobs I did I worked with a Bollywood star, a property magnet, a judge in training.  Plus those who do background acting as a full-time job.

Being an extra doesn’t pay well, the hours are long and you often get treated like stupid sheep – herded from place to place and told when you can eat and go to the loo.  But it also gives all of us a buzz being on set, hanging out with semi-famous and famous people and then getting to watch yourself on TV or the big screen. I’ve always said that there is no other job where I would get up at 5am, sit around for hours, be treated like I am thick, and get home for 9pm for peanuts in cash.

But these are the people who keep our favourite shows going and make them believable.  There are a whole host of people who do TV work, or write for the love, not the money or fame.  And we if didn’t have all those people then the world of entertainment and escapism really wouldn’t work.

Phil and I definitely fall into this bag, as we haven’t certainly become millionaires from our writing but we’ve had fun along the way.  And the same is true of my TV work.  But I can say to my daughter, look that’s Mummy on TV. She still doesn’t really understand it at the moment the connection between the two, (though we did watch a ‘making of’ programme the other day for a TV show she likes and then she watched the actual show and was talking about how the doors weren’t real). And that’s something, plus my books that I can always have to say – that’s mine, I did that and I’m proud of that.

So lets not forgot all the unsung background people, pretending to drink and chat behind the main shot making it real and never being acknowledged or the thousands of writers out there creating something that a small number of people get enjoyment from.

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Giant vegetable news: Life follows art.

The pièce de résistance, though, was a costume he had borrowed from the local amateur dramatics society. Many years ago they had presented a series of plays to local schools promoting a healthy eating message and for part of this the cast dressed as fruit and vegetables. Thanks to their attempts at tackling obesity, the roof of Oswythal House was surmounted by a giant cabbage waving a bed sheet covered in brown marks.Kate vs The Dirtboffins.

Phil: Our book opens with a protestor dressed as a giant cabbage being thrown from the top of a building. (Spoiler alert, he’s fine).

I thought it would be a funny idea, after all, cabbages are amusing, aren’t they? You certainly don’t want to eat them, or at least I don’t.

Last week, what do I see on the news? A man dressed as a giant stick of broccoli for a protest!

 

Oy! Get your own ideas!

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Writing to keep your head in check

Computer study exasperation colPhil: Last week saw World Mental Health day. As you’d expect, there is the usual trite advice about it being OK to not be OK (try telling your boss and see how far that gets you), or to ask for help when you aren’t feeling right.

All well and good, but ask who?

The NHS? They don’t have nearly enough money to provide these services. The Samaritans? They will chat, but there aren’t usually any answers. People you know almost certainly have enough on their plate to need your troubles.

Nope. In the real world, you are on your own. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do something.

First up, read a book.

I’m rubbish at getting away from it all. Unlike my friend, I don’t really do holidays and when I do, I’ve still taken me with me. If I can get into a good story, however, I can properly escape for a while. Reading engages my brain so it can’t do any of that spinning that it does when left to its own devices. The book needs to be a real page-turner and if I’m honest, something light and enjoyable. I want to see light at the end of the tunnel. There’s also the satisfaction of seeing the bookmark work its way from front to back – visible progress which makes me happy.

The other option, which we’ve been working on ideas around, is writing things down.

We’ve both found that writing empties dark thoughts from your head. More than once recently, I’ve had things rattling around my brain and stopping me sleeping. Turn those thoughts into an e-mail, you don’t even have to send it, and I feel a lot better.

Blog posts, and even scribbling in notepads work just as well. The key is the process of forming your thoughts into words.

A longer form novel provides both the satisfaction of a project that makes progress and a world that you are in control of. Many mental problems stem from a feeling of a lack of just that control, well you are the author, you make the rules. You can even be autobiographical if you want and visit revenge on those who cause your woes. Probably better not to publish this, or at least change the names though!

We’ll be looking at this again in the future, but in the meantime, if life is getting to you, write it down. You’ll feel better for it.

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