Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: 06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Granny has been tagged; not something she cares for, or does usually. Especially this morning when she is still spotty, itching, suffering from a bad dose of insomnia - it happens to her from time to time - and don't tell her as Beloved did this morning, that it's a matter of age, or she will shoot you, virtually. She's always had bouts of insomnia, from her thirties at least; so there. She's also got a very needy as well as flea-ridden cat yowling round her feet - Feline Lorengar got shut up in the next-door studio for 24 hours and is in need of reassurance; (she doesn't demand it from Beloved who is out, anyway; Beloved is a dog not a cat man. Feline Lorengar knows this from long experience.) Granny is also deep in writing; this is part of the reason for the insomnia.

Tag though comes from dear friend Clare, of Boob Pencil. Who is currently in Big Blogger house and needs voting for: here's the message she sent Granny.

Look, I'm really sorry...

But it's my task this week for Big Blogger to get the whole world and
her girlfriend to vote for me, and I came up with this idea...

It's a meme. And I'm tagging you with it. And I won't be offended if
you don't want to do it - heaven knows, I rarely do them myself - but, you
know. You might help me WIN! And I do like winning stuff...

So, here are the instructions for the meme:

(1) Tell your readers three things about you that would make you the
Ideal Housemate if you were imprisoned in a house with ten random strangers for weeks on end. Then three things that'd make you the Housemate From Hell.

(2) Think very hard about whether you would like Clare, the creator of
the creator of this wonderful meme to win the big Blogger challenge at this site and if so vote for her there.

(3) Tag as many people as possible with this meme. Quickly! The voting

ends at midday on Mon 2nd July!

Right: Ideal Housemate: Granny? Don't think so. But possible qualities: Tolerant(ish). Intrigued by other people. Can cook. Housemate from Hell. Snores. Doesn't suffer fools gladly. (Especially giggling girls.) Is ancient. (By BB standards.)

Tagging? Noone individually - she wouldn't want to make any of you feel guilty for not not doing it - just anyone who cares to. Or if not just to vote for Clare herself. She's worth it! As you can see for yourself if you hop over to her site, Boob Pencil, from Granny's sidebar.

Good voting. Cheers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Cat has fleas - despite being anointed by substance as expensive as caviar. Fleas must think it IS caviar; their kind of caviar. Mosquitoes usually fairly quiescent here are more in evidence - on the flesh - the weather has been a little damper than usual in summer this year. Down at the beach the sandflies leap up from the tideline. All of these little dears seem to think Granny delicious. She is spotty from top to bottom. "What's going on? Why are you so fidgety?' asks Beloved, as Granny scratches the all-over itches in bed. The only thing bites him are the sandflies. 'Get used to them,' he says. Granny should be so stoic. She isn't. She thinks of all those people in past ages, when there was little you could do about bedbugs, fleas, lice, mosquitoes. When there were no insecticides to get rid of the insects, no creams to soothe the itches. Under all their elaborate clothes, they must all of them have been itching like crazy. The Infanta, her maids, the King of Spain, Valazquez himself in that picture of pictures Las Meninas, must havc been itching like crazy - look at the big dog lying almost at the Infanta's feet. So must Queen Elizabeth have itched, despite her whale-bone from top to toe, so must King Henry the Eighth in his padded everything. They probably stank too, all of them. Even had there been dry cleaners in those days, they couldn't have dealt with all that gilt, etc. Launderers certainly couldn't.

'They got used to the itch,' said Beloved. 'So should you. I get used to it,' he said pointing out his few measly little sandfly bites. 'Well I don't,' said Granny, scratching again.

Island still smells faintly of smoke. Sunday was St John's day. Custom all over seems to be bonfires on St John's Eve - whole island was ablaze. It's the local equivalent of November 5th and no less pagan, despite the saint's being thrown in: fires are less to celebrate him than to inhibit witches. Red Cross warnings abounded in the local press the day before; reports of people burnt abounded the day after. People jump over the fires and throw themselves into the sea sometimes Granny is told. She didn't see it - she was very tired that night; she saw and smelt the fires on the way home from dinner out with Beloved and some friends, but didn't investigate.

What the fires did give her is the climax for her Lanzarote book. Plot, for her, always does spring from landscape and local event. An idea is like the grain of sand in an oystershell round which the pearl grows, assuming it is the right idea; for pearl here read story. Then you- she - goes on from there, using anything that comes along to stimulate its growth. Whether the story this time is pearl who knows. It might be fake pearl. It might just be an overlarge grain of common sand. How can she tell? All has yet to be written. ....oh the weary grind of the writer's life. Off to write another chapter, then back to Going Mental. Toodleoo.

Friday, June 22, 2007

spare time

Well, dears, if you have a little time to spare today, if you need cheering up, thinking of all those poors suckers being drowned at Glastonbury, try this. Just think how deprived Granny's generation was - nothing for them between Alex Comfort's Joy and someone who signed herself only 'J' s The Sensual Woman; which Granny does seem to remember coming up with some interesting if unseemly ideas for using whipped cream and chocolate buttons. Lucy Mangan seems to have had much more fun. So, reading her on a very windy and gloomy morning, did Granny. So might you. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Granny is working at steam pace. Yes there will be more of Going Mental - much more. But she is working on two books simultaneously; gutting and rewriting GM - which used to go under a different name! - and also writing from scratch another novel about a mixed up teenager, set on this island and called Breathing Fire. And no she is not going to post this as she goes along. She holds new work very tight to her (one-sided) chest and doesn't show it to anyone, let alone publish it to the world as she would do if she put it up here; even to the little world that reads her. She's not even quite sure how the story ends yet! She always works like that, not knowing quite where she's going till she gets there. But she's 16,000 words in, if you'd like to know and thinks she's pleased with what she's got. Going Mental is another matter, written, originally, several years ago. On the other hand she won't let herself put any new chapter up until she's got two more waiting - at the moment she only has two altogether. So bear with her a day or two and it will be there. She promises.

But she's back to all the writerly neuroses. Terrified of dying by some accident before the work is finished, she rushes on. 'Why worry, you've got plenty of time,' says Beloved, But Granny feels Time's Chariot at her heels, let alone air crash, car crash, rocks falling out of sky, flash flood, mad dog, bird flu, you name it........ And on top of that the house burning down taking all her work with it. Losing work is a real writer's neurosis. Thomas Carlyle wrote a book once, every day he put the finished pages in a cupboard in his study, near the fire. Unfortunately, every day, the maid opened the cupboard and saw the pages as perfect for lighting the fire....Lesson might be do your own chores; but I guess he didn't learn it. Remember to back your work up, Granny. Now. And take the memory stick out with you, on your keyring, like Beloved. That's the safest way of doing it.

The other effect of writing - appropriate on this tourist island - is feeling like a tourist in your own life. Don't know where she read it - but she's read it lots of places she thinks - other writers saying, I'm only living in my work at the moment. Not living life.......

Granny has nothing against tourism as such. On this island it has given previously hungry people a life. Since desalination made tourism possible, the picturesque may have declined bit by bit - no old men leading donkeys around, little if any ploughing with mules and camels - etc etc, but such picturesque is hard work, for the locals and not for the tourist. The island remains pretty good just for itself. It's a pity the tourist authorities don't get it. They want to make three more golf courses! - on a place with only desalinated water?..... please... Two or three more theme parks. (Wild West in Lanzarote? Anyone for Katmandhu?) They want to turn working areas - vineyards, cactus fields producing cochineal - into pastiches of themselves, working theme parks. And so forth. Thereby driving away people like you and me, darling -us discerning tourists (of course.) As opposed to the other sort, the tattooed bucket and spade, disco, Irish pub, Macdonald's lot, the flesh hanging out all over lot, who don't notice the concrete, who come on all-in packages, most of their money going to the tour operators. And who get drunk and cause trouble. Whom the locals - and tourist authorities are ever more fed up with.

A little story; the man who came on an all-in holiday - the all-ins hangs about their hotels mostly, emerging only to drink at British run bars. This one did venture out his last evening to local run restaurant along the strip. He ate his fill there and got up to leave. 'Hey', says the waiter - in Spanish -' here's your bill.' 'What bill?' asks the man. 'My holiday is all in.'

He had not only eaten his fill, he'd drunk it. He got aggressive. They had to call the police; yet again.

Living on a tourist island you do get ashamed of being British sometimes. Perhaps there's something to be said, Granny thinks, for living, mostly -at this moment - within her growing MSS.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Take off your party dress

A quick aside. If you go here: you will find yourself at Debi Alper's excellent blog. On June 15 - sorry, tried to take you directly there but didn't make it - Debi writes about Dina Rabinowitz' wonderful, very moving illuminating and witty book about her life with breast cancer Take off Your Party Dress. She is part of a chain who are sending the book round. If you felt like joining that - better still buying the book, please do. All profits go not to Dina but to building a new unit for breast cancer patients at Mount Vernon Hospital near London. She is hoping to raise £1 million. So far has made - brilliantly - over £37,000. Help her get nearer the goal! Thanks, friends.

Now cast your eyes downwards for something both ongoing - Granny hopes - and also COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Granny is wearing a scowl and a hangover this morning. The scowl relates to the washing-up she is not doing at the moment. Why? She's writing this. (Diversion tactic.) Beloved cooked yesterday. And COOKED. And COOKED. Eight people sat down to dinner. The results are sitting in the kitchen. Overflowing it. Only hope to add to the hangover. (Or maybe not.)

Tomorrow she will go for SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Possibly. See you then.

(Bugger it: she can't even size things properly. It's ALL bigger. Including her bum. It was a GOOD dinner.)

She ate the meal. The script is eating her..
Bigger and BIGGER.

help HELP


PS. Granny has just discovered the perfect answer for always to the complaints of the clear-thinking scientist - her Beloved - who else - that she is muddled or confused. In future she will just quote Robert Frost about whose notebooks she was have just been reading this afternoon.

I am not confused. I am just well-mixed...

Unlike this text. Script still in charge of it, of her, no matter how she tries to tame it. Her hangover maybe reached this page. Weird.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007


This post is so...BORING...it first got published as mere title by mistake. Perhaps that's all it need be. After all Granny's links with the famous are tenuous, beyond the Cure connection that she wrote about in the last post and the last post but one before that. She could talk about the time she sat in a theatre a row in front of Moira Shearer... who was famous as a ballerina once; she could mention the time she spent sitting two rows behind Miranda Richardson - at one end of her row - and Alan Rickman (SWOON - the thinking Granny's crumpet) - at the other. Or the time at a Wagner opera - in the long interval to be precise - when she heard a very familiar voice behind her say; 'Let the strength of the menopause come to our rescue' and turned to find Germaine Greer wrestling with a bottle and a corkscrew. (Nice when the famous behave so true to stereotype). She could - perhaps - mention the slightly more... intimate relations she had with one or two people you might not have heard of, but who were well-enough known in their own areas. BUT SHE WON'T GO INTO THAT. Or the time she went lap-dancing. (She didn't.) Or performed strip tease (she didn't - though she did, at urgent request from an artist friend, act as life model for an art class the friend was running; she was a broke single parent at the time and the money was useful.) Or ballooning. (She didn't: she did get offered a flight once but it never came to anything,) So perhaps her only other possible road to fame - or a pick-up on Google - would be to mention that Jimmy Page really did play his guitar in her then Richmond attic, a time or two. Not that she ever talked to him; she didn't get the impression our Jimmy was conversationally inclined. But he did mutter something when she passed him on the stairs, all striped trousers, Cuban heels and, of course, that guitar, on his way to join a then lodger in his upper room for some not so quiet improvisation. It must have been some time in the early seventies, not long after Led Zeppelin was formed.

PHEW, that's it, though, just about. Sorry.

So Granny will get REALLY boring instead and go back to her island and bang on about corruption, yet again. In particular the spectacular explosion of the resort at the south of her island, which when she came for a first visit in 1984, on a brief honeymoon (with husband no 2) consisted of two small streets and a beat-up little port out at the end of a sandbar. When she returned in 2001 it was a whole big town; oh dear. But fair enough, it was quite nice as resorts went, and the locals needed tourist money. More building work was going on, obviously. But at the same time, the island plan had put a stop to further tourist expansion for a period of 10 years. "Cero desarollo,' it said. 'Zero Development.' Good, thought Granny when she read this.

Except it wasn't. The mayor had quite other ideas. What did he care about island plans? he didn't. He went on building. And BUILDING. And BUILDING. Or rather he went on giving licenses to developers to let them keep on building. Without sending any plans or reports in advance to the Cabildo, the island council, as he was supposed to. The resort is now two, if not three times bigger than in 2001 and if the mayor had his way will get still bigger- much bigger - he has issued further licences for a development as big as the town Granny and Beloved live in. Since he no longer has a majority on his council and is under investigation for corruption, it seems hopeful this at least will go no further than its illegal pieces of paper.

The scandal is so enormous it's even made El Pais, the main Spanish broadsheet; named alongside Marbella, as one of the two biggest coastal development scandals in Spain.

In his first appearance in front of a judicial tribunal two days ago the local mayor claimed that it was the fault of his officials that development plans were not send to the Cabildo; that all he did was sign the licenses put in front of him, assuming that everything needful had been done. HA HA HA. If the judges believe that, they'll believe anything.

It isn't as if everyone doesn't know what's going on. If you read the comments appended to the online newpaper reports of these events, the words 'filling his pockets' - the Spanish version - appear with depressing frequency. Along with despair that the island is being ruined by such greediness. The mayor is clever though. His telephones were tapped, but that investigation was withdrawn because the transcripts revealed absolutely nothing. NADA. The mayor it appeared spent his time on the phone to his business contacts asking politely about their families or talking about the weather. As if as if AS IF. This is the man who can afford a yacht, who keeps it down at the new Marina that he authorised a while back, undoubtedly at profit to himself. Maybe he even gets its berth paid for: 6000 euros a year that costs, more than many people on this island earn. Though on paper, he pays its dues; of course he does. On a mayor's official salary? Don't make us all laugh.

Granny went exploring lately, down on that coast. Passing ever further lines of new houses, all as yet uninhabited. On the other side of the road the shells of more houses were going up. Talk about sprouting buildings out of the dead land; not a tree, not a leaf, around completed and half-completed houses alike. This is DESERT. Now a desert made of concrete as well as - desert. To green it will require huge amounts of the water that the island doesn't have; the water that has to be desalinated at huge costs of pollution to the environment. On top of which there are already 500 houses for sale down at Playa Blanca that nobody wants to buy.

None of the expat residents seem to have twigged yet; Lanzarote for the Lanzaroteans they are saying no doubt - just like Mr Handsome from Blackburn, who when confronted with such things claims that island politics have nothing to do with him, he will leave it to them. But such goings on do effect him, the other expats: they effect all of us living here, whether local or not. Those who own houses down at Playa Blanca, who want to sell, will be finding that they can't. Had they bothered to register for the recent elections, had they bothered to vote, they could have thrown the mayor out; but they didn't; there he still is in his minority capacity. And since none of the other parties so far can agree to combine to oust him, there he stays.

The day the charges of corruption, bribery, trafficking of influences, money-laundering stick against this mayor and he's banged up in jail - don't many of the online commentators long for it - will be a happy day for the island; and also for Granny.

But it will be too late, years too late, for the nice little two street fishing village with its tatty little port. SIC TRANSIT. Such a pity.

It's Granny's birthday today; a birthday rather overshadowed by the fact that tomorrow is the first anniversary of her children's father's sudden death. Granny subdued by that thought will be celebrating her advancing years - if she is celebrating them - alone with her Beloved.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Cure(d): Robert Smith for ever...

Earl's Court is ENORMOUS. And noisy - or so it seemed to me. But then the only times I'd been there before was for the Royal Tournament - an entertainment now, thankfully, defunct - either as a child or, later, with a wargame-mad son. There were a lot of bangs in that. But rock concerts, I suspected, come much louder.

Charlotte and I had been told to present ourselves an hour before the show was due to start. We picked up our tickets, and were led out of the entrance area and through into a cavernous space, the wide but not very tall screens separating one section from another making it appear still higher, still vaster. It was so much beyond any human scale that the group waiting in the same space as us looked dwarfed, like as yet unconnected cogs in some industrial metropolis. There was nothing to sit on, or lean against. It was dusty, I think. If not it looked it. Various other people came in and out. Someone who seemed to be in charge of the group admonished them from time to time, bossily but cheerfully.

We waited a long time. More people came, more people went. Apart from us, only the group stayed put. We were told that the people were American Cure fans from the mid-west, winners of some competition for which the prize was a trip to London, tickets for the Earl's Court gig and a meeting beforehand with The Cure themselves. All of them were clutching record sleeves, photographs, all of them were looking awed and excited, chattering among themselves in rather frantic American voices

Time went on. It was not until almost time for the sold-out concert to start that the whole of the Cure sloped in between two of the screens; sloped really is the right word, I promise you - slouch might have been near too; but 'slope' is better. Some of them clutched instruments; they had quite a lot of hair between them. They looked pretty much as you'd expect a pop group to look, not that I'd had much experience. The American group converged on them giving little shrieks. Pens came out, record sleeves and pictures were signed, the group smiled in a bored kind of way: clearly this wasn't their favourite aspect of the job. Why should it be?

Even so it took up a lot of time. The time the gig had been advertised to start was well past already.

I'd given up hope of anyone coming near us. Charlotte, shifting from foot to foot, was looking at me and shrugging. I was looking at my watch again, ruefully, and shrugging back. But then quite suddenly, everyone disappeared - the group of fans, the Cure, the watchful functionaries, the security guards, everyone; everyone but Robert Smith that is, who was sloping towards us (yes, 'sloping' once again will do it) hair on end, lipstick smudged, a beer can in one hand, and in the other a very tatty copy of the first paperback edition of Charlotte Sometimes. It was a Puffin book and the picture on the front was of two little girls: the only girly-looking edition of the book ever, and the very last one I would have expected him to be holding.

'Hi,' he said, thrusting it towards me. 'Could you sign it for me, please?'

He opened it up: from the first page onward, line after line had been underlined in pencil. 'You see how inspired I was,' he said, adding behind his hand, looking at me sideways, 'how I nicked it.'

I laughed, I couldn't help it. Then I signed, as requested, with more than the usual flourish. 'To Robert,' I wrote, 'love from Penelope.' And added my whole name to the title page, the way writers do.

Robert Smith apologised for the beer can. 'I have to keep my throat in good shape,' he said. Then he apologised for not being able to play the song in the main part of the concert, 'We've got to publicise the new album, you know. We'll play it as encore,' he said. 'I promise.' Underneath the lipstick, the standing on end hair, the Gothic everything, I can promise you, wombats, that Robert Smith really was just a nice, not to say very nice, very well brought-up boy from Sussex who not only loved his long-term wife but also probably loves -or loved - his mother.

Even eleven years older, he probably still is a very nice boy at heart. Why shouldn't he be?

Then he told me the story of how he'd come across the book in the first place.

'My elder brother used to read to us at bedtime,' he said, 'I was about twelve or so and he was still reading books to us. Your book was one of them, it never got out of my head. Once I got into music I wanted to make a song about it. That's how it happened.'

We didn't mention copyright. I admitted I liked his having written the song, and we agreed it might be nice to be in touch again, in slightly less rushed circumstances. 'Have to go. I'm running late' he said and sloped off, still clutching his beer can, still clutching his tatty copy of Charlotte, now with my signature inside. And 'Love from Penelope.'

I can't quite say the concert was an anti-climax. Unlike some later Cure concerts that year it got lousy reviews in various places; among other things there was a lot of trouble with the sound system. Yet it still seemed amazing to me, from my innocent standpoint, much more noisy even than Royal Tournament, and much more spectacular, lighting-wise, though I wasn't so sure about the music (I gathered afterwards it was far from their best album). I suppose it would have seemed tame to anyone who's ever seen Madonna, which I hadn't and still haven't except on television, briefly. But it didn't seem tame to me. The way the sound, the light, took me over, thrummed through me, physically, was outside anything I'd had experienced before. It was thrilling, as opera can be thrilling, though in an entirely different way. (Still, probably, I prefer opera. Sorry about that.)

The band went out and came back before the encores. And then it happened. A few familiar chords sounded; everyone started cheering. Robert held up a hand - stilled them - 'you all know the song', he said - more cheers, but stifled - 'this evening,' he went on, 'the writer of the original book is here in the hall with us.' The cheers rose again and he didn't stop them this time as the lights swung round to where Charlotte and I were sitting and picked us out. People craning round to see, I got up, put up my arms, waved my hands about and acknowledged them; the first and - certainly - the last time I'd get that kind of buzz, the kind rock stars are used to, but writers most certainly aren't, even the best known ones. Then the chords swelled up again, the cheers faded and I sat back and listened with everyone else to what was by now, even to me, something deeply familiar, even effecting in its way. My tune you could say; yes, really.

Robert Smith and I never did get round to communicating. I don't know we'd have had much to say to each other if we had. I seemed to remember sending him a Christmas card that year, but that was it. If he was grateful to me for the book - I think he was - I suppose I have to say - through slightly clenched teeth, being, among other things so very much poorer than he is - I have to be grateful to him too for that brief moment of pop glory, and for all the rest. Charlotte after all is still in print, has even gone into a new American edition. Cheers, Robert, wherever you are; though wine rather than beer is my tipple, I'm raising my glass to you.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Salt: A.K.A Corpus Christi

The finale to The Cure story will be up tomorrow. You'll have to put up with this aside for the time being...

What it is to live in a Catholic country. Corpus Christi is celebrated in Spain - why Granny hasn't yet been able to find out - by making flower pictures on the road on the Saturday after the feast, a holy procession of priests etc trampling over and destroying it on the Sunday.

Beautiful ephemera; a bit like making a fabulous - and decorative - meal and seeing it disappear immediately down other people's gullets. On this island, at this point of the year, flowers always few and far between, floral picture-making was difficult if not impossible. On the other hand, what there was, a plenty, it's being a sea-girt island, was salt; altogether too much of it. Someone had a bright idea. Enough said.

The tradition of salt pictures was dying out at one point; the salt works had more or less closed down. But thanks to all the foodies' demand for sea salt in their
cooking, they've been partly reopened and the festival revived in its old form too. Good.

The road through the town was closed on Saturday; first heaps of salt appeared, then large cans of colour. On Saturday evening half the town came out and made their pictures - like all the celebrations here, things continue both alive and local, particularly in a municipio like this, one of the most traditional on the island, with only a smattering of in-comers. Whether or not the procession followed yesterday, Granny doesn't know. The pictures still looked to be there in the afternoon and she hasn't been back since. It's unlikely they'll keep the road closed for long; the bank, the cafe, the bread shop wouldn't like it.

Here are some pictures.

First some older ones at picture making

Here some younger

Here the youngest of all.

And here are some of the pictures they made: this large sun and three crosses was put out by the third agers; Granny includes this to show solidarity with her own generation, rather than religious fervour.

here a somewhat misshapen angel

She will spare you the very grim looking BVM. She has some regard for your feelings and for hers.

Back on the ranch the wind is blowing from the North again. Granny and Beloved have an odd taste in their mouths, somewhat dental. Beloved did not realise that Granny had filled up one of the old pepper grinders with cloves - he was using that to spice thing up things instead of pepper. Clove-flavoured prawns anyone? Cloves with your breakfast egg? Unusual gastronomic experiences. Granny doesn't think they'll be repeating them.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Cure(d)

Granny seems to remember promising the story of The Cure and Charlotte Sometimes - the song -a long while back. She is about to start posting more, much heavier stuff, about the care home for people with mental problems. But she thought she'd post this first as light relief. Yet again, though, she'll be writing in the first person.


Years and years ago, in the late sixties, I wrote a book called Charlotte Sometimes, a book set in the kind of English boarding-school my twin sister and I attended/were incarcerated in - take your pick - for part of the fifties. The main character - Charlotte - finds herself switching back and forth between the year 1918 and her own time, taking the place of another girl in 1918, while that same girl takes her place in the 50's. The whole book turned - though I didn't see that when I wrote it - on identity; how do people identify you as you? How could they accept one person as quite another (assuming the two people look reasonably similar to start with as Charlotte and her 1918 equivalent did)? This happens to be a particularly relevant question for twins in general, and still more so for two not identical but similar looking twins like my sister and me, quite different in character and ability - even opposites in many respects, she right-handed, me left - but always taken together not singly. This was another connection I did not make at the time I was writing. The book would probably have worked less well if I had.

But other people made connections; the book struck chords; became my most successful by far. Just how successful I didn't realise till more than twelve or thirteen years later when one of my children came home from school and said 'Did you know, mum, there's a song called 'Charlotte Sometimes'?

No, Mum did not. Nor did her agent, whom she alerted immediately. Neither listened to rock much, neither had heard of the group called The Cure that performed this song. 'Get a copy' ordered the agent, so Granny went out and bought the single. The lyric to the song was on the record sleeve. Not only was it about confused identity, much of it consisted of quotes from the book. The title of the instrumental track on the B side, what's more, was another quote from the book.

Now copyright law at the time was a very crude instrument. 'Moral' and 'intellectual' rights, acknowledging an author's ownership of themes and ideas, as well as the actual text which incorporated them did not exist. The sole criteria for judging whether copyright had been breached was the proportion of a text used. Taking a mere two lines, from a poem, from a song lyric, in any book of mine would have constituted a breach of copyright unless permission was given for it, and, often, a hefty fee paid. On the other hand the amount of text used in a song lyric, even a longish one like this, was such a relatively small part of an entire novel that it would not count as breach of copyright. Nor did an author have any right to a title. Nor do they still. Googling Charlotte Sometimes for this piece I discovered a relatively recent film of the same name, not related to my book in any way. Such a title is unlikely to be pure coincidence. I suppose it's a kind of flattery really- even though I'm sure the inspiration here was the Cure song not my book - perhaps I shouldn't mind; but I do; a bit. I thought up that title first.

The blatant use of the text in the song was another matter; even then, it was, possibly, contentious, despite the limitations of the copyright law. Letters, faxes, were exchanged between my agent and the Cure's management. The Society of Authors took the matter up and went to consult counsel; counsel's advice was that yes there might be a case for breach of copyright in this case, but if the matter went to court they couldn't be sure of the outcome. The Society of Authors, a fairly timid organisation on the one hand, and a fairly poor one on the other, decided to take it no further. As I couldn't afford to follow it up myself, as the company were threatening to delete the song, and it was already clear it was doing wonders for my sales - and adding somewhat to my fan mail - we decided to back down.

So things went on for ten years or more. The extra income from Charlotte was useful; it was less than a pittance compared to what the Cure would have earned on their song, but at least it kept the book in print - it is the only one of my books that has always stayed in print, going through 3 or 4 separate editions. I enjoyed some of the other fallout too; the letters from people I wouldn't normally have expected to hear from; the reports in music journals like New Musical Express about girls deciding they were schizophrenic and renaming themselves 'Charlotte' because of the song - and directly or indirectly - because of my book; the naming of a yacht, 'Charlotte Sometime' - one year it came second in the round-the-Isle-of -Wight race. I ceased to be annoyed, even enjoyed the whole thing. It's good to be remembered for something as a writer, if only for one book. Many other writers disappear altogether but I didn't, entirely.

The Cure themselves went quiet for a while, They issued some new albums from time to time but did not tour. But in 1996 I think it was, I saw that they were going to tour again, starting with a huge gig at Earl's Court just up the road from Hammersmith where I was living. I decided to try and get tickets; to get myself backstage if possible, to meet the Cure themselves; in particular to meet the group's lead singer and song writer, Robert Smith. It wasn't easy getting in touch with them; even when my agent and I managed it between us - discovering in the course of this that The Cure's base was in a building they'd named 'Charlotte House' - the management was deeply suspicious. The law had changed by now, moral ownership was acknowledged, they appeared to suspect I was going after them again. Finally my agent and I convinced them this wasn't so. They agreed: yes, there would be tickets for me at the Box Office. And yes if I came early and went back stage, I would be allowed to meet Robert Smith himself.

And so it was I offered the second promised ticket to my twin sister's daughter, my niece, born a year after the book came out and named, appropriately for the evening, 'Charlotte' (if I so much as hinted that she might have been called after the fictional Charlotte, my sister would rise up out of her grave to clobber me, so I won't). On a June evening - or was it July?- we set off together for Earl's Court for my - if not Charlotte's - very first - and probably last - rock concert. To be continued.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

global warnings

The vet with the French name came saw conquered. Tumour no tumour merely an abscess. Lanced. Goat if not happy, less lumpy.

Wind having come weeks ago, went.

Sun having also gone weeks ago, came. So did the sea, so did the islands, all invisible for a week.

Granny was glad about these goings and coming; in relation to the sun, sea, islands, the relative lack of wind, relief and gratitude conquered, entirely,

In the short term, at least. She's hung out her washing in the sun. She's sat in her hammock.

On the other hand; she should really be feeling bad about her relief. The wind should still be coming; the sun in her part of her island should still be going. Such winds are called the Trade Winds, an important part apparently of the climate keeping the planet healthy. Granny read somewhere a few months back that the Southern Hemisphere version of the Trade Winds has diminished and that this is A BAD THING. It has been equally noticeable here that the summer weather over the past few years has grown less and less predictable. For the good of everyone the wind last week and today should have been blowing steadily from NNE at between 15 and 25 miles per hour. Rather than blasting from N or NW at up to 40 miles an hour, as up till yesterday, then diminishing to 10 mph and from the SSW as today.

Granny will enjoy her hammock with a glass of wine while it lasts. But she will also sit praying, dutifully, that things goes back to normal, for the good of the rest of you. She could also pray - if that happens - for a ticket back to England. But that would add - yet again - to her carbon footprint, wouldn't it? - her cf already quite high enough, given that her children, her grandchildren live on one island, her Beloved lives on another. No no no. She's returning for a school play in July anyway. She won't ask for yet another to-ing and fro-ing . Will she?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

pigeon feathers

A brief aside. Granny and Beloved went out to lunch today to their local tapas bar. No, not your tourist heaven, the real thing, the place where the truck drivers go. As usual there were two concrete mixers sitting outside, their oversize bellies turning and grinding. Inside, along with the drivers, sitting up at the bar, was the man in the hat, the one Granny and Beloved voted for vainly in the local election a whole ten days ago. The faces on the lamp-post have now all vanished. But here was the real thing, the alternative local, along with two alternative acolytes, wearing the t-shirts to prove it. And wearing baseball caps with pigeon feathers stuck into them; just what every town council needs among its members. Granny is not the least regretful about having voted for this lot. She just wishes that one of them, alternative ideas and all - DON'T WRECK THE ISLAND the main one - had got in.


The cloud hasn't just been sitting on top of us for the past two days on our side of the island, it's wrapping us up too, stifling us, mentally and physically. Its only possible merit is that it also seems to have stifled the wind, somewhat; on the sunnier east the wind been blowing people off their feet, according to Beloved. (Granny's car still with the mechanic, Beloved's pickup in use elsewhere, she can't check this out for herself.)

For summer up here read winter on the other island; without the cold or the rain of course. This is the time of year when hens cease to lay, when vegetables won't grow- unless you water of course, as Beloved does, but that's not, environmentally the right thing probably -when the birds disappear, when under permanently gray skies everyone starts getting depressed - 'deprimente' complained Nieves, Granny's cleaner, only this morning - when the air feels simultaneously both dry and dank, a disconcerting combination. Right now, gazing out on the gray sky, on her gray land, from a window covered in the mixture of dust and salt deposited there by the wind, Granny would rather be on her other island. It seems to have recovered from the extreme cold that made her glad last week she was here, cloud, wind and all.

Travel agents of course don't tell you about any of this. They wouldn't, would they. But Granny is telling you. Though it's true that the tourist parts of the island are less dismal than this - even sunny - this is NOT the time of year to come to Lanzarote. Go to Spain, Italy, France, even stay back home in England. Just DON'T bother to traipse all the way here. Autumn, winter, spring, is quite another matter.

The little kid, Rachel Vinegar can't be happy with things either, following the day last week when racket of goat bleats erupted, some from her mother, some from her. Jumping ever higher as time went on, she'd succeeded first in leaping onto one of the stone walls then onto the roof of the goat shelter. She couldn't get down; her mother couldn't reach her. Hence the bleats. In due course she did manage to jump into the pen with the other goat, Ruby, where she was quite happy, as was Ruby, but Isobel, her mother, protested still more loudly. Though Rachel is not fully grown yet, though her little devil horns are only just beginning to grow, the shades of the prison house have now closed about her. Her escaping into neighbours' fields/gardens or getting into ours and eating up the growing vegetables not to be contemplated, she has to be enclosed or tethered, just like her elders. Shame.

White goat Ruby has a tumour on her neck; probably not malignant but goats get these things, it turns out - oh how Granny's knowledge of these things is growing; things she thinks she'd rather not know about really. The goat vet with a French name - Rene - you'll have to imagine the acute accent on the last e - Blogger formatting doesn't allow for that - is coming this afternoon to cut it out. Beloved says he could do it himself, but he hasn't any local anaesthetic. If Ruby could think about such things she might be glad of that.

The water problems appear resolved for the moment. Seems likely they were caused by the replacement of water pipes up the street; the men with vans all came from the water company. The knowledge did not of course clear the smell, but the advice to chuck several bottles of bleach into the water tank did. Granny is giving that a day to clear too. She doesn't fancy bathing in bleach. But tomorrow she will take a bath, at last. Oh the bliss of it; and not just as an anti-depressant against all the cloud and gray. When Beloved reappears with the pickup she's off to buy some really nice bath oil. Between that and her carnation soap she'll smell so nice you're all welcome to come and sniff her, virtually or otherwise. Be her guest.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Hellfire: Part Two

Cloudy; windy. Island at its most charmless, granny knocked out by stomach upset two weekends in a row isn't inclined to go out in it anyway. At least - when not prone - it means she writes... She can do more of the hostel stuff, if anyone's interested; trouble is, since she went to her other island, and didn't check in much, her audience - never large -seems to have evaporated. Silly her.

Age seems the message of the day... A 60 year old on Big Brother. Fancy that! Granny hardly watches Big Brother. Beloved ISN'T KEEN. But she sneaks a look now and then and thinks the East End ex-Greenham Common lady, also over 50, is splendid. A great relief alongside the screaming little girls. If they did at last put in twins why did they have to go for two not only stereotypical in twin terms - look-alikes, finishing each other's sentences etc - but in girl terms? Barbie dolls singly are bad enough; but double....She foresees those two having trouble in later life. What is charming at 9, less so at 19, will be horrendous at 49, 59, 69. Separate them somebody. FAST.

You see she hasn't been well, getting into such stuff. She compensates by reading Philip Roth on illness and old age; Everyman. A book every man should read too. At least every wo/man beyond a certain age. Not exactly comforting on such themes he relieves them none the less by the sheer quality and vitality - and LIFE -of his writing. "Old age isn't a battle. It's massacre...' Indeed.

Back to another kind of real life...


Paul, Alan and I did not have to find our own way, that evening. We were picked up at the door of the hostel by a nice friendly middle class man in a car and taken not to a church at all but to a nice friendly house a mile or two away, filled with more nice, friendly, middle class people, all of them young. 'A house church', they called it; something evangelical groups like theirs, I discovered, went in for. Not that you'd have known it was a church. It looked like any post-student pad. Chinese paper lampshades; spider plants; posters for films or exhibitions and those divider bookcases filled with a mixture of CD's, books - none of them looking like religious tracts - and ornaments; a flamenco-dressed Spanish doll, a pottery boxer dog. There were two guitars leaning against one of the bookcases, a trumpet lurked in a corner. On a table in the bay window at one end of the room food was laid out; salad and lasagne emerged from under foil hats, along with a sliced up baguette of garlic bread. The lasagne was followed by tea or coffee - no alcohol of course - and by chocolate profiteroles. 'I'd sell my soul for those,' one of the girls in jeans told me; I think that's what she said. 'Are you a Christian?' she asked. 'I was brought up an Anglican,' I answered - and I was too, heavily; church every week, Bible study at school most days. By the look on her face, this didn't count; wasn't what she meant by Christian.

'I came with Alan,' I said. The soul-seller looked across at where Alan stood by himself, his arms at this side. 'He's an interesting character, isn't he?' she said. A comment of such spectacularly erroneous banality I couldn't have found an answer, even if she'd expected one.

After the leisurely meal we all sat down on sofas, armchairs or beanbags. Then the Bibles came out.

I was beginning to identify more of the friendly young people now. There was a pale man in a suit who looked out of place amid the others' jeans and who didn't seem to know anyone. There was a tall, plain girl with wide thighs and wider glasses who I'd noticed talking animatedly to one person after another, and who had now taken up a beanbag opposite my chair. There was a man somewhat older than the others, wearing a tartan-checked shirt and sitting alongside a spectacularly pretty, long-haired girl in a long skirt. There was another pretty long-haired girl on the floor by me, holding a little plastic figure of Buzz Lightyear which she passed distractedly from hand to hand, at times taking his head off and putting it back on again; on my other side was the girl prepared to sell her soul for chocolate profiteroles. There were two nice-looking young men, one of whom had told me while we were eating that he had given up his job to work for the church. There were Alan and Paul sitting next to each other, looking from one face to another.

The older looking man - I say older but I was by at least twenty years the oldest person there, so this is relative - took over. He was the acting pastor, he said; he asked the rest of us to introduce ourselves. The spectacularly pretty woman next to him identified herself as his wife. The young woman with the wide thighs and wider glasses on the bean-bag opposite related the progress of a hostel she was setting up for the homeless on behalf of their church – ‘Our ministry’, she declaimed, ‘is to wrecked lives.’ 'Interesting' Alan, whom she'd count as one of the wrecked, most likely, said ‘I want to live in your hostel, when it’s open. I’m hoping I can.' 'We haven’t got planning permission yet,’ the spectacled girl told him. The girl holding Buzz Lightyear said she didn't know what she was doing here. The smiling man in the suit said someone at work had suggested he should come. I said that I'd been invited by Paul and Alan. Paul said he had been mentally ill and used to hear voices, and had come because he wanted to be filled with the Holy Ghost. Alan said he didn't hear voices, but he was hoping the Holy Spirit would come to him again; that the people here were so nice to him, maybe the Holy Spirit would.

The pastor took over again. 'I need to talk about my brother-in-law,' he said, 'I need everyone to start praying for him. No matter what we say or do -' he indicated his pretty wife, who nodded, her eyes as fixed on him as a president's wife's on a president- 'we cannot persuade him that he is going to burn in hell, unless he accepts the Lord Jesus.' His wife I swear had tears in her eyes, now. 'Please everyone, pray for him, he's my brother, I don't want him to go to hell.' she begged. The others murmured fervent 'yes, Lords..' and 'Amens...' The second long-haired girl continued throwing Buzz Lightyear back and forth. Alan and Paul too were staring fixedly at the pastor; at a guess they were only two in the room who had any idea what real hell was like. Perhaps I'm being unkind. Or perhaps not. One thing I'm sure, is that the hell in question here was not a matter of alarm for anyone else much in this room - except, possibly, for the Buzz Lightyear girl, who did not strike me as sure of anything, except, possibly, for the newcomer in the suit, the certainty of salvation filled every face. The pastor meanwhile was countering the gloom with a more cheerful story of someone much less obdurate whom he’d persuaded to turn to Jesus. ‘At least he’s on the road to heaven now, not hell,’ he smiled.

'Has everyone got their Bible?' Alan, Paul, the man in the suit and I shook our heads. Bibles were found for us. Chapters and verses were given out. 'Our theme this evening is evangelism; about our duty to spread the good news the Bible gives us, ignoring mockery, ignoring pain. ' the preacher said, allocating texts. 'If we can save one soul from hell, what does mockery matter? It is only Satan's way of deterring you from proclaiming the truth.'

For the study of our alloted text I was partnered with Alan and the man in the suit. Neither of them having anything to say about it, guess who was left to expound our - my - conclusions to the main group. Luckily we'd been given a text I could relate to, just about; bloody St Paul basing himself on that much more sympathetic prophet - and still better poet - Isaiah. 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace'.... I was meant, I supposed, to say something about the beneficial effects on your feet of preaching the word. Lying being neither among my talents, nor among my major vices, I babbled about peacemakers having their feet on the ground which made them beautiful; of course.

There was silence when I finished. The Pastor looked at me strangely. 'That's a very interesting way of looking at it,' he said. My final credentials as a saved soul evaporating, the pastor announced that it was time for prayer - 'if anyone feels like speaking in tongues?'... he begged - but noone did seem to feel like speaking in tongues; maybe, this evening, the presence of Satan - me - kept the tongues locked fast inside spiritual mouths. There was the odd outburst of ‘Jesus.. Lord’, some grateful thanks to 'our Saviour..Christ,' but that was all, and in the end the song sheets came out, oh how they did come out. The pastor and one of the nice-looking young men picked up guitars. We were directed first to this page of the xeroxed sheets then that. The words uniformly abysmal -Well, Lord, you know scared I am/ but with you by my side I can/face the world and tell them what I know..' - the tunes were good enough to dance to, the guitarists both talented, the singing loud, lusty and musical. The man in the suit mouthed rather than sang but at least he stopped smiling. Afflicted by serious wind, the result, probably, of two helpings of vegetarian lasagna, I had to clench my buttocks hard to avoid embarrassing explosions, while I too mouthed, with as little fervour as I dared. Buzz Lightyear's owner found herself at last, put Buzz Lightyear's head back on for good and sang resoundingly in a lovely voice. All hands were held high, all eyes except mine closed. Between verses ‘Thankyou, Jesus’ echoed round the room. It sent the would-be hostel manager into ecstasies, the nearest thing this evening to tongues, I suspect. 'My Lord, my Lord' she repeated ‘My Lord, my Lord’ – crying ‘Jesus my Lover’ she started writhing and groaning on her beanbag ‘Jesus my lover. Jesus my lover.’ I'd read my Dame Julian of Norwich - 'the fire and the rose are one' - I knew how close religious ecstasy can come to the erotic. Compared to Dame J, though, this was the Big Brother version.

We were driven home not long afterwards by the same nice friendly man. 'Did you find Jesus?' asked Alan and Paul. I made a very non-committal answer. If I wouldn't say exactly that I'd found Satan rather - in such circumstance I quite like the thought of Satan, though not the one promulgated by Alan's Satanist friends - I certainly hadn't found any Jesus that I recognised. But then, unlike Alan and Paul I wasn't the prey this nice, friendly - and genuinely, terrifyingly, sincere lot - was after.

I looked up the organisation's website today. I discovered they'd got their hostel, that they'd continued their good work on the streets, providing the 'wrecked' with blankets, food and 'mentoring'; good stuff; for sure. But they don't mention the discussions on hellfire. They're canny about the suspicions this sets up, I think. Outside the evangelical fold, 'mentoring' sounds so much more acceptable.

Did Paul think the atmosphere in the car needed lightening? He told another of his jokes on the way home.

‘How long could you keep a turkey in a freezer, Per-NEL- ope? A few hours?’ ‘ Indefinitely?’ I suggested cautiously, suspecting some catch. ‘A live turkey?’ he asked, with his little sly grin. 'A LIVE turkey?'

Friday, June 01, 2007


This turned up in the Guardian last weekend. How merrily, merrily does the charming fellow condemn 95% of us to unspeakable pain - a 95% including many Christians, many believers from other religions, as well as unbelievers/agnostics, like you and me, darlings, who, whether we believe in an afterlife or not - Granny doesn't, personally - would never be willing - or arrogant enough - to condemn 95% of their fellow humans to unpleasanter aspects of it, sight unseen.

Granny bears no tolerance towards people who think like this. Especially when they use the fear that their promises of hellfire engender to hook the vulnerable and draw them into their net.

Granny can give an example. But will revert to the first person to do so; she'll find it easier that way.


In early 2000, I spent almost two months living in a hostel in Birmingham for people with mental problems or learning difficulties. Nominally I was writer in residence; which meant working orally, mainly, with people many of whom could not read or write. These were not your glamorous, let alone literary mad, these were people barely off the street in some cases. Some of them were toothless; some smelt; some muttered to themselves. A few were ex-alcoholics, others ex-junkies. Most if not all of them were the kind of people the rest of us don't want to know about, whom we sidestep if they approach us begging for a fag or for change for a cup of tea.

There were also a group of younger men; some were in transition towards more settled times, but all had suffered shitty lives, in one way or another. I became particular friends with this lot. I grew fond of them, they tolerated me, if only because I came from outside, because I endlessly listened to them, taped their stories or wrote them down, played pool with them after supper.

One was Paul, a thin, sensitive boy, also a great reader. ('Which do you prefer, Per-NEL-ope, Roald Dahl or Tolkein?). But he had been in trouble at school, where he was beaten up, probably for not being macho enough though he didn't report that directly. He got into more trouble after, took to drugs, hallucinated, went mad, for while was given the other - as lethal - kind of drug that baffled and overstretched doctors often pour into the so-called mad, so converting them to zombies, much less trouble to everyone. A gentle sometimes witty boy, despite all that, he sent me up continuously: 'There you go, Pern- El -ope,' he'd say, 'Digging our stories out of us. There you go.'

In betweenwhiles he'd tell terrible jokes, in the worst of taste. (A man went into an undertaker’s, said my mother-in-law’s died. Undertaker. ‘Do you want her embalmed cremated or buried?’ ‘All three,’ says the man ‘to make sure she stays dead.’ )

Another of my friends, Alan, was not a boy at all except in his head, and much more of a loner. A depressed forty-year old going on twelve, he wore a black leather jacket with skulls painted on the back, and aggressively studded leather wristbands. When he told the director of the hostel - he often did - that he wanted to sleep in a graveyard, she offered him sandwiches and a blanket whenever and as often as he liked, but I don't think he took up her offer. He showed me a photo once of his three year old self, taken when he went into one of the Welsh children's homes, his scared green eyes the only part of him still recognisable. Do I need to remind everyone of the horrors of the Welsh children's homes? This man was one of the results; the abuse he received there, mental, physical and sexual, was compounded in his case because he came out so angry he started hanging out with Satanists who abused him yet again, ritually this time. And no, he was not making this up; he showed me the upside down cross tattooed in his wrist. 'Why did you stay with them, Alan?' 'They were nice to me,' he said - one of the saddest and most terrible of all the more obviously terrible things he told me. He was a pretty boy at the time; he had photographs of himself at that age too. This could explain why the Satanists liked him. The result of course was human breakdown; a borderline schizophrenic, prone to panic attacks and worse. The chances of his ever-recovering and leading a normal life was nil, virtually.

He and Paul were friends of a sort. And for several weeks one or other would come to me and tell me about the church they'd discovered, went to weekly, from which they came back, they said, filled with the Holy Ghost. 'Do you believe in the Lord Jesus? Why don't you come with us, Pern -EL-ope? they said. 'You'll be filled with the Holy Ghost too.'

Finally, one Tuesday night I did. Not because I had any hopes of, let alone desire for the Holy Ghost; not of the kind that was after them, anyway. I was simply curious. Paul and Alan were both pleased; 'Now perhaps you'll find Jesus too and be filled with the Holy Ghost,' they said.

'Or maybe I won't,' I thought.

(To be continued.)

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