If You’re Not Happy, Change Something…

This is one of the best bits of advice I ever got at LRP.

If you’re not happy, change something. If you’re still not happy, stop doing it.

Well, on Thursday, I had one of those ‘down on myself days’, where I kept complaining about myself. I have painfully low levels of self-esteem (no, really?) and sometimes that manifests in the worst way possible. The ‘I need to buy some new clothes but I won’t go into clothes shops for fear they’re staring at me’ way. Long term effects of playground bullying are no fun. Don’t do it, kids. But given my current ‘up’ mood, I turned that negativity into positivity. I picked the Son up after work and about two minutes after he got into the car, turned to him and suggested we drop into a local leisure centre and see what activities we could do together. He was quite keen. That startled me, but also pleased me.

I used to go to this particular leisure centre when he was about six, doing the ‘Body Balance’ classes. I loved Body Balance. To this day I can’t tell you why I stopped going. It was a weird class though, had the most bizarre effect on me. The last bit was always a ‘stress-relieving relaxation’ where the instructor turned the lights in the room out and we closed our eyes and did the whole concentrating on breathing thing. The music she played varied, but there was one bit that just… got me. Every time I heard it whilst being all relaxed and chilling after the session, I would just cry. Buckets. Not even unhappy crying. Just a release of tension, I think. Even now, I can’t hear that particular bit of music without tearing up. Someone on the interwebs took that bit of music and attached it to a bunch of utterly glorious space images. It just moves me.

So anyway, this leisure centre is no longer council run and I have to say… what a good thing. It has a completely different air to it now. Active Life is a community project and I cannot help but admire that. For two years, they’ve been investing every penny of profit back into the place and it shows. The dance studio is utterly glorious and they are buying new equipment to replace the old, inherited from a disinterested council stuff. So I stroll in, indicate the Son and say ‘so… here’s the deal, we both want to get fit. What can we do?’

The lovely lady on the front desk showed us the obligatory forms and paperwork, then took us on a tour round the place, including the X-Bike studio, where they run virtual rides from a projector. Utterly brilliant. ‘There’s several instructor-led classes,’ she said. ‘They’re hard work, but fun.’ The tour was great and I cannot stress enough how excellent the customer service in this establishment is. Bigger places could do with taking a few tips.

So because I am the kind of person who has to strike whilst the iron’s hot, I signed myself and the Son up for an instructor-led X-Bike session this morning. At 9.30am. After checking that the Son actually knew what ‘Saturday morning’ was, of course.

My goodness me, I’m unfit. I didn’t get particularly out of breath – I’m not that bad, but oh god, my legs now feel as though they are made from sponge. I happily admit that I couldn’t keep up with the whole class. It is only thirty minutes, but it’s thirty minutes of solid workout. I feel good and energised (and spongy) and although I couldn’t manage all of it, at least I now have a goal. We’re going back tomorrow for the gym induction and I’m going – by myself, which is the hardest bit – but the staff make me feel so comfortable – to Zumba on Monday.

Best thing of all, of course, is that the Son thoroughly excelled and enjoyed it hugely. Having him to go with means that there’s more of a chance I will go as well. It’s brilliant: something we can do together, motivate one another with and generally bond over. So I’m changing something. I’m swapping the sitting around doing nothing lark for getting into the gym and doing classes and burning off that stress.

Oh – and utilising the Dulux ‘reds’ colour chart?


This is not a natural colour for anybody to be.



When Inspiration Strikes…

Inspiration is a funny beast, isn’t it? It strikes at the strangest of times and decides to up-sticks and leave you alone at others. For example, I almost invariably get most of my favourite plot ideas whilst driving home from any sort of gathering (be it LRP, or convention or similar). Then, when I get home and try to translate it from the terrifying interiority that exists inside my skull to the screen… nothing. Gibberish. Seriously, the screen may as well read ‘sdkldblkjb lkm lkdsgk lk mlefjlkmcv’ for all the sense it makes.

In my head, I scream silently, this was bloody amazing! 

The first person to invent a device that allows you to plug your brain directly into a USB socket and get those thoughts down before they turn to mush will be a fine individual indeed.

Generally, I do OK getting thoughts and ideas out of my brain and onto the keyboard. I type infuriatingly fast (accordingly to one of my friends) and that helps with the brain to keyboard process wonderfully well. The real problem for me stems from the fact that when I talk, I am always thinking about four or five sentences ahead of myself. Does that make any sense? I have no idea why it is that I do that, but every so often it means that in the middle of a conversation I’ll just stop dead and completely and utterly forget where I was. So even with the infuriating level typing speed, this means that occasionally, when I’m writing down thoughts and ideas, the same thing happens. My way around this has become quite simple. Initial plot ideas now get produced as stream of consciousness. Silly comments and all. Then I go back over them and refine them; take out the silly comments and make them into more acceptable working documents.

For example, when brainstorming with m’colleague John French on our tied-together stories that appear in Architect of Fate, the following was in the original outline that I shared with him before the story was completed. Apparently it made him giggle.

‘Another fight breaks out with I don’t know, a giant hot dog with legs, firing mustard. This is the Warp, man.’

This sentence gave rise to the story’s ‘code name’ of Project: Hotdog. Note: all my stories end up with code names. I’ve never quite been sure why this is, but it’s entertaining and allows me to happily discuss something I’m working on without the worry of openly acknowledging what it is. For example, I recently turned Project: Needles into the editor, am working on edits for Project: Comeuppance and working hard(ish) on Project: Carpark. For reference, The Gildar Rift is the only story that never had a project codename. Going on how excited I was to be writing a novel which was rapidly tempered by the discovery of how hard it actually is to write a novel whilst working full time, it should have been Project: Harsh Reality.

I enjoy stream of consciousness plotting. It allows me to express what I’m feeling without the constraints of the formality a pitch requires. I should really have kept some of the early drafts of the plot development of The Gildar Rift, for example. Had my former hard drive not imploded with the spiteful force of a device hellbent on eating 67k words of a manuscript – which it also accomplished, hooray for the 47k previous emailed-to-self back-up copy – I’d have had that to hand.

Most of my blogs are stream of consciousness style actually. Today, for example. I was contemplating what to write about and asked The Son for his ideas. ‘Inspiration,’ he said, looking up briefly from where he was caught up playing Deus Ex. So today’s blog became about inspiration. It rapidly devolved into an inward-looking self-criticism of my own inability to capture the darned stuff properly. I mean, I’ve got better at it over the last couple of a years. I have a notebook that goes everywhere with me now and I jot down things as they occur to me. Sometimes, however, I’ll turn the page of the notebook, see something written there and wonder ‘uh… OK. What the hell is that about?’ Example: we saw a ‘For Sale’ sign somewhere and the name of the estate agents was ‘Gadsby Orridge’. If that isn’t a name for a noir-esque Private Detective…

(Which automatically reminds me of a back-burner project called ‘Project: Time Freeze’. The previous may give you some idea what it entails…)

So inspiration strikes in the strangest of places. Whilst driving along and catching a glimpse of roadsigns (the A1, for example, features many would-be Hollywood actors. Burton Coggles. Kirk Smeaton to name but two). For Sale signs, or… any number of things. A half-empty field with a single van parked in the almost exact dead centre. Why is that van there? What is it doing? Ever since I was little, I made up stories based on things I saw as we were driving along – a pastime my mum encouraged to stop me being car sick, I suspect.

Now fully open!

Inspiration does not yet come in some kind of handy ‘tap-turning’ form. There’s no magic switch to press that turns humdrum reality off and switches over to the delightful silliness of idea forming. It just happens. I wish it was more controllable though. There’s not much more embarrassing than white-noising out an entire meeting whilst your brain contemplates exactly how it is you’re going to deal with that Silver Skulls Space Marine who is demanding you pick up his story and create Project: Surprise!

Someone get to work on that USB device, please. Chop, chop.

I’m the Batman

And right on cue after yesterday’s observation that everyone is entitled to an opinion, the internet obliges me by providing a highly entertaining round of OMGENRAGED responses to this morning’s revelation that a new Batman has been cast. It’s still early days yet, but poor Mr. Affleck has already been condemned. Given the time difference between the UK and the USA, he’s possibly been horribly condemned before he even wakes up.

I’d watch the shit out of batunicorn. Unibatman. Whatever.

Let’s just get one thing out of the way before I go any further. I didn’t think Christian Bale was ‘all that’ as Batman. Sure, he had a couple of decent film scripts to work with, but I never felt comfortable with him in the role. I’m afraid I’m one of these people who would much prefer a comic-book feel to comic-book adaptations instead of layer on layer of ‘real-world’ angst. Yeah, yeah, Batman is about as angsty as they come, but he’s still a comic book character. Let’s have more of the deliciously over-the-top villainy and less of the ‘argh, terrible inner torment’.

Batman doesn’t like chocolate. The later films could have spun this out for a good quarter of the storyline.

Tim Burton’s Batman back in the eighties captured, for me, the look and feel of the whole thing beautifully. It was deliciously gothic and Michael Keaton just carried off the character so well. (We ignore George Clooney and Val Kilmer, OK? They never, ever happened. There was only one Batman film). I enjoyed that film enormously. I also liked the second one – although not as much – and thought that Danny DeVito was an outstanding Penguin. But if I’m brutally honest, I’ve never been much of a Batman fan anyway. I’m entertained at the fallout surrounding the announcement of Ben Affleck filling Christian Bale’s ranty shoes, though.

I used to read lots of comics – now… not so much. I never really got into DC, being more of a Marvel girl (X-Men, mainly, with some Spiderman thrown in for good measure). I found them more… breezy and entertaining. After all:-

No further comment required.

I loved the reboot of several Marvel series, with the Ultimate range. Ultimate Avengers was one of the best things I’ve read for a long time in comics, but was totally made for me by the sheer beauty of Bryan Hitch’s artwork. Every frame in that comic was so well drawn, and the gatefold battle scene was just eye-popping. I’m one of those boringly traditional types who prefers detailed artwork in comics to the minimalistic approach that you see every now and then. But – to reiterate yesterday – that’s just my personal opinion. It’s what like.

In large, the comments I’ve read this morning in reaction to this news have all been of the ‘OMG, it’s doomed’ ilk. Strangely, this was the general reception that the internet gave to the announcement of Heath Ledger’s casting as the Joker. Most people seem happy enough to sing his praises in that role (although I still prefer Nicholson’s take) and it can’t all be down to the fact the poor bastard died, right? Ben Affleck was frankly awesome in Dogma. Yes, he’s been in some pretty dreadful films, but let’s get a bit of perspective in place. The role is that of a fantasy super-hero, not a biopic of some great philanthropist. Superhero movies should be fast, furious, tongue-in-cheek and above all else entertaining. Give the man a decent script and for the love of all that’s good and holy, give him a chance.

But you won’t do that, will you Internet? No. You’ll happily condemn him, arrange his execution and start digging his grave before his alarm clock has gone off and I Got You Babe starts playing. (Film cross-pollenation; see what I did there?)

Give the guy a break. Get over yourselves. Be grateful that they’re still prepared to fund Batman movies at all and enjoy it. Also, have this for good measure.

It’s all true. True.


Meanwhile, the sun is shining, Project: Carpark awaits my loving (snrk) attention and Project: Comeuppance is all but edited. And I have another week off work to look forward to. My husband and son are in the next room, my cats are basking in the sunshine… these. These are the important things in life. (The lamentation of the women is also cool, but… well. Not today).

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

So Mystery Men was on TV last night. Now, I love that film. I find it amusing and entertaining in equal measure. OK, it’s no Shawshank Redemption or American Beauty, but it’s good old-fashioned entertainment. It makes me laugh, I enjoy watching it (‘I am Pencilhead!’ ‘I am Son of Pencilhead!’) Yet over at the IMDB, it gets an average viewer rating of 5.9/10. Only 5.9. I’d happily rate it an ‘8’ on my personal score, but that’s where the whole thng falls down of course.

Films – like books, foodstuffs or music – are an entirely personal thing. What one person loves and thinks is THE BEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD may not appeal at all to someone else. I seem to find that I frequently fall into the category of ‘person who liked the thing that nobody else seemed to’. Maybe I’m just easily pleased, I don’t know. What I do know is that I have no problem at all with someone else having a differing opinion to me. What I have problems with is people who essentially say ‘you don’t agree with me. I am right, therefore, your opinion counts for absolutely nothing.’

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, absolutely. And those opinions don’t always gel. For example, here are two separate comments from two separate reviews of one of my novels from Amazon:-

It’s wonderfully written, contains cleverly crafted space battles and hand to hand which when all brought together gives the reader a story that they’ll remember for quite some time.”


In some parts it was good, characters gelled the story flowed, then out of the blue it would become stilted and jarring, over-long or poorly placed descriptions, bad dialogue, poor plotting, then it would switch again.”

So immediately you can see that these two people (both of whom spent the time to review my book – for which I am immensely grateful, thank you both if you’re out there and I’m directly quoting you) disagree. If you put them in a room to discuss their differing opinion, I feel sure that the conversation would be mature, sensible and lively. I like to think so, anyway. Whilst no writer enjoys negative feedback on something they’ve written, that was nonetheless politely worded and contained at least a trace of usefulness. Compare that with this ‘opinion’ taken this morning from one of the Warhammer fora regarding another novel, by a different author:-

But [the novel] is….Not good,i’ll leave it at that.”  [sic]

That kind of comment is hardly useful by any stretch of the imagination.

I’ve tried, really really hard to avoid reading reviews or getting online opinions of my work. This may seem somehow counter-productive, but when the majority of comments you see tend to be in the format of the forum example given above, you learn very quickly to just not bother. Every so often, I’ll get an email or message from someone who says ‘hey, you might want to read this review’ and I’ll always oblige. But I no longer ‘ego surf’. I believe it was someone awesome like Marilyn Monroe who said (and I parrot-phrase) ‘you only ever remember the bad reviews’. It’s absolutely true. You could have ten people praise your stuff and then see a comment like the one above. And that’s the comment you remember.

People often ask what it’s like to receive negative reviews. Well, if it’s non-constructive and simply dismissive in nature, it’s a little like getting gut-punched. No matter who you are, you’ve poured your heart and soul into the finished product. You’ve had sleepless nights over it. You’ve torn your hair out over it. You’ve made changes given to you by your editor that you later notice someone saying ‘xxx should have happened, not yyy’ and you can’t help shouting at the computer screen saying ‘but xxx DID happen originally’… and so on.

By contrast, constructive criticism is welcome. That way, you can learn from your mistakes and hopefully improve. Snark is not appreciated. If you don’t like something, justify it. ‘Not good, I’ll leave it at that‘ is genuinely silly and attention seeking. It smacks of ‘go on, ask me why I didn’t think it was any good’ and in its brevity, hints that nothing, absolutely nothing you can say will change that person’s mind.

I feel that I’ve been quite lucky and have avoided out and out nastiness, apart from over at a couple of Warhammer fora where they seem to have taken against me. And despite some of the incredibly hurtful – and occasionally personal – comments that are made, I no longer find myself bothered by them. Because at the end of the day, those people don’t know me. I also suspect that they wouldn’t imagine saying those things to my face were I standing right in front of them. Remember… always remember… the Internet Fuckwad Theory.

This is completely and utterly correct.

To the people who have read and reviewed my works, positively or otherwise – thank you for taking the time to do so. I appreciate it.

Right. Time to stop procrastinating and get back to Project: Carpark and the edits on Project: Comeuppance. And to email an editor to clarify something about Project: Needles…

I’ve Started, So I’ll Finish. Eventually.

So I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIII again. Apart from the obvious obsession with Star Wars: The Old Republic, I’m not really that much of a gamer. I used to be, but it’s ebbed off in the last couple of years – perhaps due to the writing taking up so much more of my time. Also, it’s probably partly tied in with my lack of attention span. I get bored with games really quickly – and that does include SW:TOR. I have evenings where I can sit in front of it and hours pass without my noticing – and then I have evenings where I sit there and go ‘meh’. But since my first Final Fantasy game (VII, on the original Playstation), I have thoroughly enjoyed the series.

Mind, that game also gave me my first ever ‘OH MY GOD I WANT TO HIDE BEHIND THE SOFA’ jump moment whilst I was happily chugging around the ocean floor in my cute little submarine, only to plough headlong into Emerald Weapon who loomed up out of the deep like an unexpected tax bill.

The FF games seem a bit ‘marmite’ amongst what we shall loosely refer to as ‘serious’ gamers. Some people love them, other people don’t. Personally, I enjoy them for the stories that come with them. I can remember being utterly caught up in the story of Final Fantasy VII as it unfolded. X had a great story too, as did XII and XIII. I have a particularly soft spot for VIII because everyone else seemed to hate it whilst I didn’t.

So what exactly is it that I like about them? I like the linear nature of the gameplay. Himself wrote a ranty blog post about this the other day (see here for evidence). I suppose that’s why I’ve been enjoying SW:TOR as much as I have as well – the fact that there’s a story that unfolds as you go along. Yes, there are side-quests and PvP and raids and the ability to role play – but the class storylines have been great so far. (I’ve completed 4/8 of them and am about 75% through the fifth). With the Final Fantasy games as well, the music is generally outstandingly good.

But there are very few games that I’ve actually sat down and played through to the end. Devil May Cry was the first game I completed. I’ve completed all the Final Fantasy games I’ve played. News yesterday was that the HD release of FFX is out later in the year for the PS3… just in time for the PS4. What timing. But it means that I can play that game again without the necessity of plugging in the PS2. Also out later this year on HD for the PS3 is the Kingdom Hearts series. Another one that I finished and another one that I enjoyed hugely.

Spellforce: The Order of Dawn – this is another game that captures my attention for longer than five minutes at a time. I enjoy resource building. I like to get my busy little workers collecting wood, stone and iron and try to build the neatest little settlements you’ve ever seen. It was like the old days of Sim City (the original!) when all my houses and buildings were in neat little squares. OCD, you see?

The Monkey Island games – well, just point and click adventures in general. I adore the Monkey Island series because the humour was just outstanding. Also from that Lucasarts stable came the mighty Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle, again, two games with more humour than you see in the OMG SO SRS games that seem to be the norm now.

As an aside, because I really am so very old, I remember when Lemmings first came out on the Amiga. We used to spend hours just making them explode before we realised that wasn’t actually the point of the game. Turn back the dial a little further and my friends and I used to spend a veritable fortune on the Outrun machine down on Brighton pier every Sunday evening. I knew those tracks so well and actually finished it. On of the biggest anticlimactic moments of my life, that was.

Did Pac-Man ever have a final level? Or Frogger? My god, can you imagine the final level of Frogger? Also, shut up young people who don’t remember Frogger.

So I do finish some games. It’s just that it takes me a while. How about you? What games do you find you can play/replay with great relish?

Health Issues

I don’t normally look at current affairs in detail on my blog. I prefer to go with the whole random stream of consciousness thing. This is in part because the daily news is guaranteed to drag everyone down. Just a glance at the BBC News home page this morning and you see all these very negative words and phrases.

‘Struggling’. ‘Bailing out’. ‘Crisis’. ‘Failing’. ‘Discrimination’. ‘Backlog’. ‘Disappointed’. ‘Attacked’.

Today’s main headline is about bailing out struggling A&E departments. This in and of itself is not a bad thing; I work for the NHS and heavens only knows they need all the financial help they can get. But there also needs to be an extra layer of education amongst the people of this country and a change in expectations.

A&E departments get the rough end of the NHS stick. They get enough genuine cases, sure. But they also get people who turn up with sunburn, or people who roll in on Saturday nights, drunk out of their skulls, expecting a free taxi home. And they get it, too. Because the staff working on A&E aren’t paid anywhere near enough money to put up with the levels of abuse they get. Packing the drunk fool into a taxi and sending him/her on their way is the quickest answer. But the costs of this mount up alarmingly quickly.

I get frustrated with people’s negativity towards the NHS, I really do. Everyone has had their experiences, I imagine. I have. I have had three personally close experiences of the NHS; when I had the Son, when the Son broke his arm and when Himself broke his leg. In all three cases the staff were professional, courteous, kind and caring. In one of those two cases, they also saved the lives of two people. Sounds terribly dramatic when you put it like that, but the fact of the matter is that had the NHS not been there for me, both me and the Son would not be here.

But like anything else, all you hear are the horror stories. Good heavens, there’s some horror stories.

There is an enormous amount of pressure on the NHS. In response to asking ‘the people’ what they wanted to see out of their healthcare, more services are being shunted out to custom-designed GP surgeries. Simple procedures that at one time required a trip to hospital are now carried out in a more local location. This is in accordance with the expressed wishes of the various populations. They were in agreement that it would be more convenient to go to a health centre closer to home for a day procedure than having to get to hospitals. What happens when this is implemented? The hospitals are able to re-direct their funds, injecting cash into the services for serious diseases and trauma treatments.

This also means that hospitals shrink in size. They lose a number of beds because now certain services are outsourced, they don’t need to maintain as many.

‘It’s a bloody outrage!’ The majority of people from whom this refrain comes are the very people who ticked the ‘yes, this is what we would like to see’ box. Double standards much?

When the illustrious Welshman conceived the NHS back in the forties, our country was ready for it. The population has changed so much since then though. The sheer strain and pressure on our services is huge. A huge proportion of time is dedicated to illnesses acquired through things such as smoking, drinking, drugs, poor lifestyles… things that were nowhere near as rife back in Mr. Bevan’s day.

It’s difficult to know what the solution is. That’s because there is no solution, or if there is, it’s so multi-layered and complex it’s way beyond the understanding of a lowly pleb like myself. Investing in their staff a little more would be a good way for the NHS to go. A clearer understanding of the demands and pressures from the faceless monkeys at the Department of Health who gaily smash out impossible targets to put the hospitals under even more pressure might be nice. Unlikely, I acknowledge, but nice.

The staff themselves also need to change. The NHS has all these wonderful facilities. Modern technology, breakthroughs in medicine and understanding… better respect for patient’s wants and needs…’ and yet it seems to run on 1950’s values. You frequently hear phrases such as ‘well, that’s the way we’ve always done it’ being bandied about all the time. Introducing modern concepts to what can only kindly be called ‘stick-in-the-muds’ can be roughly the equivalent of searching for hen’s teeth.

Our Trust is going through the motions attempting to consolidate two hospitals into one, through downsizing and shipping services out to GPs and custom-designed healthcare centres, so that they can focus on saving lives. Staff should at least be partly invested in this process. They joined the NHS for a reason above and beyond paying the bills (in most cases) and yet despite all the positives – such as the Trust being in a position to climb the ladder of technical advances, to offer patients tip-top and world-class services – people are obsessed with one thing and one thing only. Tell them about dignity for patients in the form of single rooms. Tell them about offering cardiac CT services. Tell them about all of the positives and the same question comes up.

‘Where will I park my car?’

Goodness. This turned into a rant.

tl;dr – The NHS is in trouble – again. Take a minute and consider where the real problems lie. Is it all with the NHS itself? No. Is it because of governments, current or past? No, not really, although Labour’s idea of ‘targets’ still linger. Is it because of the way people abuse the system? Just maybe the blame for problems with the NHS can be laid at the feet of all these people – as well as the people who mis-use the service itself.

Enough ranting. Normality will resume tomorrow.


So, this is me today.

Under the Weather

It’s nothing much; certainly not anything that won’t go away after a couple of days and at my (more than considerable) age, you’d think I’d have gotten used to it by now. But it still comes crashing along with all the force of a speeding train and knocks me out of kilter for about thirty hours. The timing sucks, because my dad’s coming up this weekend to pick up the Son for his two week summer holiday stint. It means I’m in a grumpy mood before he even starts in on the criticisms. Breathe. Calm. Breathe. Calm. Find a soothing image.

Cripes, now I need the bathroom. THAT’S NOT SOOTHING

THAT’S STILL NOT HELPING! Why are all these ‘soothing’ images roaring, gushing, flowing wat… uh, brb… kittens. Kittens. I need kittens!


My relationship with my dad is a strange one, but probably not so very different from countless other people the whole world over. Throughout my teenage years, I was – quite frankly – vile. I was independent from an early age and resented being told what to do. I’m still like that now, if I’m honest. I was a nightmare when I learned to drive. I have vague recollections of snapping ‘yes, I get it’ a lot at poor Mr. Twigg, my driving instructor. Now, if I’m sitting – say – attempting to assemble the one Necron that my Necron army current consists of, any helpful advice invokes much the same reaction. ‘Yes. I get it.’ I lke to be self-sufficient. It’s a good thing and bad thing in equal measure.

Anyway, as a teenager, me and my dad didn’t exactly get on so well. He criticised everything I did, but not in a nasty way. In an offhand, casual kind of way that had absolutely no malice behind it. Now that I’m a parent myself, I understand him a damn sight better. The problem my dad and I had (and still have to a degree) is a lack of ability to communicate with each other. We are the shining example of ‘what happens when A Generation simply can’t engage with the Next Generation’. He and I have so few things in common, but we do find common ground. He likes film music, I like film music. He enjoys sci-fi, I adore it. But the differences are too many to measure. He doesn’t read fiction that I’m aware of, for example. He doesn’t like music with lyrics. He can’t understand why I adore the internet and its crazy environs. Every so often at the back of my mind, I can visualise him standing just over my shoulder, shaking his head. The Generation Gap between us isn’t completely insurmountable, but it’s pretty damn huge.

My friend Nik and I were talking recently about how our generation is the last to truly have anything completely in common with our parents. We grew up in the eighties, a time when you still had to get up and cross the room to choose one of the four TV channels (until the remote controls-on-wires came along); a time where school holidays meant playing outside from dawn until dusk with only the occasional shout of the word ‘car!’ to prevent us from painful death. We knew it was stupid to play down at the lakes, but we did it anyway. I went in once. I remember making up some blatant and completely unrealistic lie about how I’d slipped on the bank of the brook on the way home and fallen in. The brook was about a centimeter deep. I was soaked.

I’ll always thank my mother for accepting the excuse and not telling me off. I get the impression that ‘hey, she didn’t drown, where’s the harm’? I never played at the lake again. Y’know. I learned my lesson.

But our kids have grown up in the age of remote controls. My son has never known a world without internet, or laptops, or mobile phones. He doesn’t go outside an awful lot, but always engages when we do. I was standing over his shoulder the other day watching him on his laptop. His ability to multi-task outstrips even mine – and I’m pretty short on internet attention span. At any given time I have about seven or eight or more different things on the go. He has more. He can flip between RPing on World of Warcraft to watching YouTube videos without batting an eyelid. But he still has the ability to switch off the technology and switch on the conversation when gently prised away.

It’s not -quite- this bad, I promise.

I like to think that I’m a billion times more approachable for my son than my dad was for me when I was his age. I think I’ve found the balance between friend and parent, but it’s hard. I’ve learned a lot about my own parents through being a parent myself. I’m a sort of… parent sandwich. I have my dad, which makes me a child, but I have my son, which makes me a parent. I catch myself constantly saying phrases my own parents used on me, despite all the countless times I promised I wouldn’t.

When mum died, my dad and I had to redefine our relationship. It’s definitely improved, but there are still times when he disapproves very loudly down the phone of something I’ve done, or something I’ve said I’m going to do. Whenever that happens, the rebellious teenager who flounced her way through doors and stomped up stairs comes to the fore. I’m able to ‘fight back’ now, which is something I could never have done when we had our screaming arguments back then and I’ve discovered that if only I’d stood up for myself back then, we’d probably have gotten along a whole lot better for longer.

Regardless, I am the person I am today thanks to a good upbringing from both my parents and much as he drives me completely mental, I do love my dad. Even if the minute he arrives the TV will be switched on and we will all be subjected to endless re-runs of M*A*S*H. He goes home on Monday, taking the son with him for a couple of weeks. Two days. I can do it.

Wish me luck.

Parting shot:

Damn straight.


Watch Your Manners

Today’s blog will mostly consist of me ranting. If this isn’t your thing, then turn away now. Go find a flowery, happy blog where people sing songs about unicorns, rainbows and fluffy bunnies. Because this morning, I am annoyed.

What has been the cause of these feelings of blood pressure increasing, twitch-inducing rage? Is it something in the news? Is it something I saw on TV? Is it the fact that I had to do all my ironing last night? Was it something on an internet forum? No. It was none of these.

What has brought on my rage is a selection of employees in this place who are seriously lacking in manners.

Over the six years I’ve been working here, I’ve unconsciously categorised people in terms of their Door Etiquette:-

Group One. The Polite Doormats. The people who end up holding doors open for everyone and wait patiently for their turn. Based on an Actual Experiment, approximately only one in six people bother to say ‘thank you’. I am a Polite Doormat. I have always held doors open for people to go through. Can’t help myself.
Group Two. The Reluctant Boy Scouts. The people who glare at you as they realise they need to hold the door so you can also come through. They perform this simple act of kindness with begrudging reluctance because they know it’s socially acceptable, but you can practically feel the hate radiating from them. Sometimes, Reluctant Boy Scouts deliberately accelerate their speed up a corridor so they can put distance between themselves and the person behind, thus making it far more acceptable not to wait for them.
Group Three. The Needless Hurriers. The people who just go through doors and let them close without bothering to look to see if anybody’s coming. There is a disturbingly high proportion of staff in this group. It’s ignorant, it’s rude and it’s completely unnecessary. It also, as you can probably tell by now, annoys the living beejeebus out of me. But even group three are as nothing to the one I’ve encountered several times. They should be rarer. They shouldn’t even exist, quite frankly, but let me introduce you to Group Four.

Group Four. The Unbelievables. I was subjected to one of them yesterday and bizarrely, another – different – one today. This is the most obnoxious group of all. This group consists of people to whom it’s actually OK to act in the following way:-
• Walk down corridor a few steps ahead of someone else.
• Reach door. Look over shoulder to see if anybody’s behind.
• Go through door. Let door swing shut anyway.

Wait, what? You even LOOKED to see whether someone was behind you! This morning, I called the person in question on it after I passed through the door they’d just let go in my face. I was carrying a bottle of milk, my coffee and a bag, so someone holding the door would have been very useful. It wasn’t exactly an insurmountable problem, but was there any need for it? So the following exchange took place. Politely, I hasten to add. Much as I rant and rage on my blog, I am cursed with being Terribly Polite.

Me: “Excuse me… why did you look to see if anybody was behind you and then just let the door shut in my face?”
Him: (Clearly confused by someone calling him out on his manners – or lack thereof) “Sorry.”

He didn’t even try to excuse it. If he’d said ‘I didn’t really look/didn’t notice you’, all that would have happened would have been a downgrading from being an Unbelievable to being a Needless Hurrier. Instead, he was just massively embarrassed about being called out on his lack of manners. I observed the said-same guy further on through the hospital. When he came to the next door, he actually took his time and, as it happens, DID hold the door open for the elderly gentleman who was coming through. So, small though it may be and as unlikely as it is that he’ll change his attitude, it did give me a faint sense of satisfaction. He scored a point for being chastised. Well done that man.

I was brought up to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. I was brought up to hold doors open for people to pass through and to be pleasant and polite. I’m grateful to both my parents for this and because they are the only template I have for child rearing, my son has also been brought up this way. I find it faintly alarming – although always very satisfying – when people feel compelled to comment on how nice his manners are. This should not be exceptional behaviour!

Someone said that I had nice manners because I was obviously – and oh, how I laughed – posh. Sure. If growing up on a council estate and attending a school the local bus drivers referred to as ‘The Zoo Run’ is your criteria, then I’m as posh as they come. I was simply brought up by decent people from a generation that knew the value of manners.

The value of manners, as encapsulated by my mother’s own words.

“Please and thank you cost nothing, but mean everything.”

Bah. It just annoys me. When I’m out and about, I can’t help but observe the behaviour of other kids, particularly young kids when they’re out with their parents. I watch as they are dragged along by the upper arms, whining and complaining, being sworn at by parents who themselves have never been introduced to the concept of good manners.

Right. I could go on about this forever. But I won’t. I’ll just be over here in the corner, smouldering. But I’ll be apologising for it, mark my words.