Monday, October 23, 2006

INFP off on holiday

I've done the Myers Briggs Personality Thingy before, but I suspect I am a changed person since then. I am now, I discover, an INFP (that's Introvert (a trait that every single person I have ever met in my whole entire life would challenge, but there you go...) iNtuition Feeling Perception type.)

Looking up the attributes of this type, it's not that far off, although the nomenclature 'dreamer' isn't accurate. I'm not a dreamer - I don't just dream of things; I work bloody hard to achieve them. And I always have done. In fact I think that's what marks me out from most of my age group. I have never stopped believeing that I can start NOW and build something completely new, learn something completely new, DO something completely new. I question, however, the benefit of knowing that I'm very nearly a textbook INFP. And I doubt that I'm going to look at a class of kids and be able to tell the ENFJs from the ISTPs. There's a whole industry built on thie idea that you can sort people into categories, and I find it all absolutely fascinating, but I don't think it's terribly helpful.

Half term this week and I'm away to France with the children tomorrow for a week in the country with my mate Den and her children. Eating, drinking, doing jigsaws, reading and generally kicking back with the children. Maybe some horseriding. Oh, and speaking a bit of French.

Au revoir, mes lecteurs. Je vous souhaite des bonnes vacances.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

History Matters - 1 Day in history

Today stuffstillhappens takes part in the mass observation exercise organised by History Matters.

This might make for a pretty tedious read now, but the idea is to get as many people as possible to record the minutiae of their day, in order for future generations to be able to know about and wonder at the way we lived today, October 17th 2006.

So, here goes:

Martin got up at 5am to take the dogs for a walk. The cab came to take him to the train station to go to meetings in London and Reading. I got up at six, put a load of washing in the washing machine, checked my email, looked on the screenwriting website to see if anyone'd looked at my work, looked at the local news and then settled down with a mug of red bush tea for my daily dose of Sudoku. I especially like the 'Killer' version, where there are no numbers to guide you, but instead combinations of squares are enclosed with a total numeric value, so that you have to use maths as well as logic. I like to think it keeps my reasoning faculties healthy! I beat the guide time, which is always my objective.

At 7am I unloaded the dishwasher, made the children's lunches (sandwiches, fruit, little cheeses, boxes of raisins, pouch yoghurts and squash) and laid the table for breakfast. I had just enough time to print out the scripts from the Blue Peter website for the competition to win a speaking part in Doctor Who, and went up to wake my kids at 7.30. They are massive fans of Doctor Who, and they are very excited about this competition. They read the scripts while they got dressed and I had a shower. We have to make one minute audition DVDs of them performing one of the monologues. Breakfast, as always, was at 8am. Martin is usually with us. It's our time to talk as a family, as we can't always do supper together. I had a poached egg on malted wholemeal toast and far too much very strong coffee, while the children had Weetabix followed by toast and butter and a boiled egg, all washed down with juice. Jake had a 'fish pill', his Omega 3 supplement, which helps him to stay focussed at school. (We try not to give him sugar in his diet as he has a tendency to be slightly hyperactive.)

At 8.30 we walked up to school together. They go to a Catholic primary school, although we're not Catholics. It's a lovely place - really nurturing and caring. At the moment the school is welcoming a lot of children from Eastern Europe, especially from Poland, which is newly part of the EC. Bristol has a very well-established Polish community and has had since WWII, and it has grown very considerably since May. There's a great debate about the very existence of faith schools and the effect, positive or negative, that they have on British life in these days of tension between religions.

On the way back I popped in to the corner shop and picked up a couple of things, and was reminded that the paper bill is VERY LARGE! So I paid it on the way into school. Our corner shop is run by two brothers who work unbelievably hard to provide an invaluable service for the local community. Unfortunately our neighbourhood has recently become the focus of the supermarkets, mainly because until recently we only had one. Which was absolutely fine. We have everything we need in the main road - an organic butcher, greengrocers, toyshop, bookshop, pet shop, card shop, coffee shops, jewellers, shoe shops, clothes shops, and not a well-known name among them - they're all independents. In the last year or so two more supermarkets have been opened and another two, one extremely large, are planned. So in two years if we don't succeed in stopping them, we will go from one supermarket within one mile's radius of us to six, or even seven. The existence of our thriving independent retail community is threatened. There is a campaign to stop it - - Bishopston Opposes Glut OF Supermarkets. They put up trestle tables on the main road on Saturdays and have petitions that you can download from the internet. Unfortunately another recent conservation campaign in the area made barely a dent in the planning applications when a local Victorian pub/hotel was bulldozed so that a developer could put up a block of modern flats. And we lost the beautiful Edwardian swimming baths, even though we fought tooth and nail, involving English Heritage and local and national media. It now awaits someone to come in and turn it into yet another restaurant... Although there is a campaign to revive it as a private concern.

I've put out a cheque for the dogwalkers - they only come once a week, on a Tuesday when I work pretty much all day. Today's going to be quite easy because Year 11 (15-16 years old) are out on work experience. I'll spend their double lesson marking coursework. I teach in an independent school. In our city the standard of education is pretty low in the state sector. This is partly to do with the fact that over the years when results are published and parents see that the state schools are doing badly, they avoid them and, because there are quite a few reasonably priced independent schools locally, they can do what is necessary to get the school fees together. So now education is quite segregated. As a result too much time is devoted in education to fudging the figures rather than actually improving education. I don't feel great about working in the independent sector, socialist that I am, but I'm pragmatic enough to know that I don't want my kids' education to be a social experiment. I don't want their futures in the hands of the useless dunces on our local council. And in order to make the school fees as affordable as possible, I hope I'll get a discount for at least one of the children.

I had a good morning's teaching, then a sandwich in the school cafe for lunch and a bit of marking and I came back here and did more marking. Then a bit of writing, rewriting a script which has elicited some interest, and I fetched the children. Both kids, my eight year-old boy and my ten year-old girl, play tag rugby, which is a non-contact introduction to the sport of rugby, after school on a Tuesday. My daughter scored a try last week in a match against another school. She was very proud! They also go to drama and football provided after lessons at the school. When they got home the children had a buttered hot cross bun as a snack, and then settled down to do their daily Kumon. Im does Maths and Jake does English - it's a Japanese programme, where the children's level is assessed and they are given a bit of the subject to do every single day of their lives. It tends to be repetitive and it's timed, so that skills become automatic, meaning that they can concentrate on more complex ideas in school. Although they complain bitterly about it, they like the effects it's having on their achievements at school. It's only about fifteen minutes a day. They also do their homework, which is typically about another fifteen minutes. Im does all hers on a Monday, so that the whole lot is out of the way for the rest of the week.

We'll all do some music practice at some point: she learns violin, he learns guitar and I'm keeping them company by learning piano. We plan to form a family band! He wants to be a rock star, she wants to play in an orchestra and I want to be able to accompany myself singing.

It's raining today so they don't want to kick a ball around outside. So it might be plasticine, if they're in creative mood. They both love the work of Aardman Animations, creators of Wallace and Gromit, plasticine inventors. They have made their own models, and even added some of their own creations; there's Mr Pork; an innocent besuited animal by day, at times of crisis he turns into the caped and leotarded SuperPig! Or they might make Lego models, tiny, intricate designs which can keep them happy for hours.

Martin will come home at some point and we'll all have our supper; lamb cutlets with redcurrant jelly, peas and mash. I've got some rhubarb from the garden which I'll poach in orange juice for pudding. I'll iron tonight while watching TV. Martin's going away tomorrow for a few days in France with his friends, so I'll iron some shirts. (Don't think I do this all the time - I don't. I would do practically anything rather than iron.) And then I've got to finish my book club book for tomorrow night - This Motel Life, by Willy Vlautin. I won't manage it tonight, because I'll fall asleep, but I'll be up extra early tomorrow to make sure I get through it.

Wouldn't it have been nice if I could report that something amazing had happened today? A director had rung clamouring for me to take my script off the market. One of the agents I'd approached had called to say they'd represent me. I'd done a gig with the jazz band. But no. I'm afraid not.

That's my quota of the quotidian.

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Brown Dog Films

Right, this is it. I've been talking about setting up a website and hawking my wares, and today's the day.

Brown Dog Films will hit the web today. (Well, it will if I can find my way through the set-up instructions, which is by no means a foregone conclusion.) I've got to contact the photographer who recently did some studio shots for us to see if he'll let me use one of the images of our gorgeous Viszla, Nina, to be my logo. Either tht or I'll have to chase her around to try and get a good shot of her. She's very, very timid and shy, and clearly believes that a camera is an offensive weapon. It would also be nice to have a pic of me, but that's trickier... I've edited out practically every photo taken of me over the last decade. The one illustrating my blog is, I think, the only one that survived the cut.

Not sure what should go up on the site once it's live. CV, obviously. Short bio. Loglines for my work or whole scripts? Just scripts or other work too? Short stories? Sample chapters of novels? Anyone with any expertise who wishes to give me the benefit of such, don't hold back now!

I'll get back you later and let you know how I'm getting on.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The veil and the cross.

A classroom assistant has been suspended from Headfield Church of England Junior School because she refused to remove her veil in class and it was impairing the children's understanding of her during English lessons. They have said that she may wear it in the staffroom and corridors, but must remove it when teaching in class. She claims that this infringes her civil rights.

On the same day, it is reported that a British Airways has asked a Christian member of staff to conceal her cross necklace because it contravenes the company's uniform policy. They do not wish members of staff to wear religious items visibly. Sikh and female Muslim members of staff are exempt from this as it is unrealistic to expect that the hijab or turban may be worn under other clothing.

Religion is becoming politicised in a country where, on the mainland, traditionally, politics and religion has been separated. Those of us 'over here' regard the Northern Ireland problem, massive as it has been, as political rather than religious. And, on the whole, we actively dissociate ourselves from it. While we do not have the French attitude of the rigid detachment of religion from the state, we have been more gently secular. In a country where the division between Catholicism and Protestantism made for a sticky couple of centuries and caused the death of many, we are sensitive about religious choice, and it is a widely held tenet that a person's religion is their own affair. (Thanks, Henry VIII, for the whole new religion thing. Never has a man's desire to rid himself of a wife caused so much death and destruction...)

But the secular Britain where I went to school in the 70s is becoming a distant memory. Religion was gentle in my day. It was the quiet, unassuming children who took to religion. On the BBC message board relating to the veil incident there are many British Muslims commenting on the fact that in their day it waas almost unheard of that a girl would wear a hijab, let alone a burqa or a veil, but now when they pass schools it is a common sight. In the 70s such a girl would have been regarded as retrogressive and oppressed; now she's radical in claiming her civil right to wear these items. This has all happened since 9/11. As Islam becomes the subject of ever more attack, the young, threatened Muslim community turns inward and battens down the hatches. You don't have to be an expert in sociology to work out cause and effect. Then, as Muslims demand, and are granted, more religious right, the Christian community, the most well-rooted religion in this country, itself feels threatened, and percieves its own oppression. Watch this space for some fanatical Christian acts. As an unscientific alert, I had never met a Creationist until about 5 years ago, and now they seem to be cropping up all over the place. There's that old film about the teacher being tried for teaching that evolution was the truth - I looked at that as a period piece, historical whimsy, something we could all look at and congratulate ourselves in how far we'd come. But no. It appears that the debate is still alive. More so in the US than here, but it's growing in these isles. Interestingly, in the name of religion, the archaic is being embraced as revolutionary. As a human trajectory it makes for a depressing commentary.

I don't really have any answers, because in a country where religious tolerance has been one of the hallmarks of our civilisation, it would be difficult to put the brakes on and adopt the French model. However, now that Muslim girls are having their hijabs and veils ripped off in the street to the accompaniment of verbal or even physical abuse from idiotic bigots, something really has to be done. No one can be more concerned about this than our country's religious leaders, and I hope (and would pray if I were that way inclined) that they are working together to avert the gathering storm.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The darkest hour...

Things are better today. Two people reviewed and really liked my latest offering. Which is just as well, because I really feel I've polished this pretty thoroughly. There's always more that can be done. There's one scene that's funny, but probably doesn't serve much purpose. One person's already picked up on that. I pitched it this morning on Shooting People and that has already generated some interest.

I'm putting in a story for consideration for a public reading to take place in a crypt on Halloween. This was a bit of an issue, as I don't really do creepy, so I've had that washing around my brain for a while, but I came up with an idea while walking the dogs in the rain today. Astonishingly the idea has nothing to do with either rain or dogs. I came home and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and wrote a few hundred words. It's a start and now I'm cooking.

Fun teaching today too. I generally have a laugh with most of the kids I teach - they're a really nice bunch, but today was lovely. I felt they really enjoyed their lessons. My year 10 had to make up excuses in French for not giving in their homework. I read them out and we voted for the best. It read "On m'a mis sur un bateau et envoye en Afrique" or, loosely, "I was put on a boat and sent to Africa". My personal favourite though, was "Ma mere les a mange" or "My mum ate them". Good fun.

North Korea, eh? What's the world coming to? Sorry - that's your lot. I'm not up to a rant. I'm feeling too mellow. How quickly things change!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Reader, he said No.

I'm up and down like the proverbial whore's drawers these days...

After a good few weeks of solid Pollyanna-dom (or Anne-of-Green-Gables-dom, whichever it was that was always 'glad'), here I am with, as a friend of mine used to say, 'a face like a slapped arse'. I've been pootling around under my own little raincloud. (Mixed metaphors? What do you mean - mixed metaphors?)

What fragile creatures we writers are. If I may be so bold as to describe myself thus, which today is touch and go. The Director said No. This has made me unreasonably depressed. I'm not too worried because I'll almost certainly snap out of it before Friday. Anyway, I haven't let him get completely away, but have already suggested that he read something else of mine. We'll see. If you don't ask, you don't get.

I'll try and work up some enthusiasm to rant about something tomorrow. It's been ages since I had a good rant. Maybe that's the problem. I'm spending too much time writing and not enough venting my existential angst with the world and its status quo.

On page 30 of the first draft of At the Front though, which is good.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Glutton for punishment

That's me. Having put up a script on the script review site I frequent daily, I now feel that I don't know how to write any more. Ironically this was the first script picked up by a producer, about three years ago. She claimed to love it and we worked together for a while. Unhappily it all fell through in the end, mainly, I think, because we didn't actually get on very well with each other. After that I didn't do much with it until a few months ago I dusted it down, rewrote it a bit, and posted it on the site to test the response. And it was savaged by a number of people. Rather tragically I've already sent this script to a producer who, having read one other script of mine, is interested in my work. He's calling me back before Sunday. I'm not optimistic, but if he does pass on it I am going to suggest that he read a third oeuvre of mine. I hope he goes for it. He's exceptionally nice and we've had some good chats on the phone. He has been directing drama at the BBC and has done some very good work which I've really enjoyed. I really, REALLY want him onboard.

However, I have just put up another script for review, one which is probably my favourite. I'm holding my breath on this because I feel that it's now well and truly ready. In that marvellous universe which exists in the third dimension, the main roles will be played by Judi Dench and either Marianne Faithfull or Meryl Streep. In this universe I am planning to write to Judi Dench, who once dandled me on her knee when I was six years old and she was the most promising young Shakespearean actress of her generation and touring West Africa with the RSC. I plan to remind her of this in the almost certainly vain hope that it will prick her curiosity enough to start reading my script. After that, and I might be ridiculously misguided here, I'm hoping that the words will take over and she might enjoy it. I'll give it a few weeks to see if the agents who asked to see my work offer to represent me. To have representation might make things easier.

I'm being very self-indulgent now, talking about writing, but the lack of movement in that rather large segment of my life is preoccupying me. I feel rather in limbo at the moment. While many projects are poised for action, nothing is actually happening, and that's very, very frustrating indeed.

Watch this space.

Monday, October 02, 2006


To cut taxes or not to cut taxes, that is the question being asked at the Conservative Party conference. Traditionally the Tories have been the party of tax cuts. It's usually the big surprise they come out with in the Leader's speech, although everyone's seen it bulging under the three-piece suit.

This morning it was reported on the news that some right-wing MPs went to the bother of hiring a steamroller to illustrate their opinion that taxes should be, wait for it, 'steamrollered'. You gotta love 'em.

But unfortunately this year, to muttering and despondency, David Cameron has decided against announcing tax cuts for the simple reason that he doesn't know if they';d be able to meet those promises if they came into power. There's a novel idea - linking the concept of tax to the concept of public spending. Politicians go on as if tax is A Very Bad Thing. People should make their own choices, they say. Robbing the taxpayer, they say. Stealth taxes, they say. Not a peep about the public services which these taxes are going to fund.

We've sold off the family silver in the shape of the formerly nationalised industries and our manufacturing industries. Now the boring infrastructure of the country is in private hands - coal, water, electricity, airways, railways, communications - and we've learned the hard lesson that private enterprises can be just as inefficient, wasteful and shoddily run as their public predecessors. The major difference being that the nationalised ones actually had a responsibility to keep working for the sake of the country, rather than bleating that certain necessary undertaking, such as making sure the trains run when they're supposed to, or that half the water supply doesn't drain away through leaks in unmaintained pipes, don't make economic sense for the shareholders. The manufacturing industry sector in this country, such as it is, is almost exclusively owned by other nations, Japan, America or Germany among them. So yes, there are jobs, but the profits of these industries wing their way out of the country. Bless you, Margaret Thatcher.

So the opportunities for raising funds to actually run the country start to look a little thin. Taxation has to be a key method, so to witter on blithely about how the Evil Labour Government is robbing its people through taxation is just daft. What are you going to do instead? Or is your big idea to stop performing any public services at all, but simply to frame legislation and supervide the closing down sale of GB Inc.? At least David Cameron, for all his polished plastic suavete, isn't quite down to the lowest common denominator of the Tory party whose big idea is to emulate their last 'successful' leader and carry on the legacy of St Margaret. He's won a titchy bit of respect from me for that. I'm not sure I could ever bring myself to vote Conservative, but as Tory leaders go, he's not the worst.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hungover and restless

H and JP couldn't make it to the party last week so they came round for supper and we sank a lot of wine. H is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We were BFs for years and at one point lived together. In fact at one point we lived together with our two French boyfriends. No, don't ask. Yes, it was a total soap opera.

Anyway, now we hardly see each other as our lives run on different tracks. But she is one of the most life-enhancing people on this planet. JP's a star too.

So this morning I'm hungover and inexplicably restless and frustrated. Nothing to do with last night. (Well, the restlessness anyway. The hungover bit's DEFINITELY to do with last night.) But this writing thing just takes too long. The writing itself takes time, but the marketing it, the marketing ME, the convincing everyone that I'm worth it is draining. I'm so bored of being nearly there. Every morning I wake up and I'm thrown into a state of waiting. I'm always waiting for that big break. Hell, I'm waiting for that little break. And I'm too old to be waiting.

I can't see a day when things are going to be otherwise. I don't think I'll ever be the kind of person who's satisfied. I'll always be striving and waiting. Most of the time I think that's positive. On days like today it depresses the hell out of me.