Monthly Archives: October 2014

Hairy Experiences

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Recently I noticed a small, circular, bald patch on the side of my head about an inch or so above my right ear. It’s about the size of a twenty pence piece, and I’m not sure what caused it or when it first appeared: I suppose it could have been prompted by my overuse of ghds, or those corn rows I had put in last June (but I’m sure I would have noticed before now if it was traction alopecia); or it could simply be stress-related brought onby my recent life-changing cirumstances (although, to be honest, I’ve felt much more relaxed overall since I got the hell out ofRenfrew).

The thing is, I’ve spent so much time and energy over the years attacking my hair both physically and mentally that it probably serves me right: I’ve had it sheared short, tied back, waxed and gelled down flat, and even braided close to the scalp in a bid to keep it under my control. Nothing has worked for long. And aside from my barnet being bigger than anyone else’s I know (the girl who did my cornrows actually exclaimed mid-hairdo ‘you have the thickest hair I’ve ever saw on a white person’), my main (mane) moan is that it is neither completely straight nor completely curly, but a strange mingle of ringlets, semi-crimped clumps and occasional perpendicular strands.

My gran had hair like mine. At least that’s what I’m told. I saw an old sepia photograph once that more or less backed up that claim. But that’s not how I remember her. No, my gran’s most distinguishing feature was her almost completely bald head. Alopecia robbed her of her locks long before I knew her, save a few white whisps that grew around her ears and down the back of her neck. She didn’t like to wear hairpieces either because the one she got from the NHS irritated her scalp.

I often used to think about shaving my head so that I could wear a wig. I liked the idea of having lego hair that I could swap on a whim. I thought it would be so much easier for things like swimming because I wouldn’t have to wash’n’go – plus I could finally wear a swimming cap which was something I could never fit over my head because of my voluminous tresses.

As an adult, people often say to me now: ‘I wish I had hair like yours’; then they’ll follow it up with comments about how thick and glossy it is and how I’ve got lovely curls. Plus, they’ll ask shock-horror-style why on earth I waste two hours straightening it!?

But people weren’t always this kind: during high school, my hairdo was the bane of my existence and the butt of many jokes: ‘Hairdo’, ‘Scare cut’, ‘Hedge-hopper’ (who knows how the last one came into being or what the logic behind it was) these were just some of the nicknames I was plagued with. I was also once asked by a bitchy fourth year girl in my class if I’d had a perm that ‘went wrong’, and as a result I wore my hair in a pony tail plastered with products for the next two and half years.

Years ago, I wrote a teenage character with alopecia into my first novel (‘Vicky Romeo Plus Joolz’). She was partly inspired by my ex-girlfriend’s little sister who lost her hair during childhood. But Kirsten Best aka Princess Zest was a lighthearted and quirky wee soul who – on the surface at least – appeared to accept her baldness with amazing gusto; so I never really got to the root of describing the hairy angst that she went through, or my own shaggy demons.

Then in January this year, Magi Gibson, the writer, asked me to compile a short piece about hair during one of her Wild Women Writing Workshops. And, although I gave it a go, I didn’t get very far on that occasion, but I’ll admit it’s been a bit of a bugbear ever since.

Now, I don’t know if or when my hair will grow back, but I can only wait and hope. And next time be a little more grateful, and careful of what I wish for. Because I’ve just been doing a bit of googling, and decent wigs are not cheap.

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One Hundred Percent

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Yesterday I got a hundred percent for assignment two of my crime fiction writing course. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever scored a hundred percent on a test paper, and I probably never will again; and although I’m incredibly pleased (so pleased I almost burst into tears when I read my results), I’m still trying to work out exactly how the percentages were divided up, and how anyone can get a hundred percent for a writing assignment which included open-ended questions such as: ‘in no more than fifty words write the opening to a crime story that will make the reader want to know more’.

It’s funny, because often when people find out about my brain injury they eyeball me suspiciously then make sweeping statements like: ‘oh, but you’re a hundred percent now’, or ‘you must have made a hundred percent recovery because you look fine to me’; or my favourite one: ‘Well, thank your lucky stars you’re back to normal now’. I’m never really sure how to respond to these people. Because I do feel ‘fine’. Most of the time. I’m physically fitter than most people I know, and probably more intelligent than a few of them, and all in all I’m very happy with my lot. But I find it difficult not to constantly compare myself to folk my own age, and this often leads me to thinking that I’m a failure and an embarrassment because I haven’t got a nine-to-five job or a mortgage or, more importantly to me, a recent book deal. And even when Antonia reminds me that ‘normal’ people don’t get into a lot of the situations I do on a daily basis – they don’t sleep for fourteen hours two nights in a row, or mistake wardrobe doors for toilet ones; they don’t forget the name of their current partner, what he or she looks like, or whether or not they’ve just had sex five minutes ago; they don’t spend over an hour looking for the way back to their own street like I did the other day – it doesn’t stop me from giving myself a hard time.

Years ago, when I sat my Standard Grades at high school, my maths teacher took me aside and told me he was amazed that I had managed to get the highest mark in my year for the General (intermediate) exam – and the reason it was so amazing wasn’t even that I’d outranked students in higher classes, but that I’d also FAILED the Foundation (lowest level) maths exam. I don’t know how I managed it: I couldn’t see any logical explanation for it and neither could the teacher. But I do wonder what would have happened if I’d been allowed to sit the Credit (advanced level)… would I have scraped a pass? Could I have gone on and sat a Higher exam in maths the following year if I’d wanted? That really would have been a miracle though, seeing as I recently had to ask my friend, Sophie AKA the original bean-cruncher, what shape a rhombus was.

(Sophie is one of these ridiculously brainy people who only this week bought a raspberry pi – not the edible kind – and was teaching herself a random computer programming language ‘just for fun’ on her day off; she once got one-hundred-and-five percent in an algebra test – and, no, there was no marking error.)

I’ve always preferred learning from books or instructional CDs at my own pace, which is why I chose to do a home study course rather than sitting in a physical classroom. It’s better for me to be completely in control of when, where and for how long I spend reading, writing or listening – especially since my concentration span is like a pendulum that allows me to be wired to a subject for two hours at a time one day and then two minutes the next.

And I constantly think about returning to uni. I fancy going back and doing a BA in Creative Writing or in English Language or even just finally doing that phd I keep deferring. I could even do it long distance which would save me from getting lost on campus. But I’m scared of having to remember huge chunks of information that I’ll later have to spew onto an exam paper or debate with a board that is judging my thesis. And then there’s all the money that would be wasted on fees if I were to drop out.

So I’m not a hundred percent sure where this mystery story is going, never mind what I’ll be doing after I’ve finished assignment five and the final paper. I may or may not save up and do a similar course. Maybe Romance? Or Historical fiction? Or Sci-fi? Or perhaps I’ll just ask Sophie to build me a time machine so that I can go back to nineteen-ninety-four and retake those maths tests… stranger things have happened…

Visitations

My parents are coming to Sudbury today. I haven’t seen them since the day before I moved here (eleven weeks ago), and they’ve never been to Sudbury before; and unless they sleep in and miss their plane or spontaneously combust (the latter is more likley where they are concerned), they will no doubt have arrived by the time this blog goes viral.

Antonia and I are due to pick the parentals up at 7.45am from Stansted airport. And from there, I think we’re going back to my flat for a cup of tea and then to their b’n’b to drop off their suitcases. In between, we may or may not go on a jaunt to Bury St Edmunds via a couple of other wee villages.

Antonia thinks my parents may be too tired for a cross county trip so early in their visitation (I mean normal folk would be if they’d had to get up at 4am to catch a flight) . But I know them better than she does (obviously), and I’m pretty sure that my mother will be demanding a tour of the local woolshops and haberdasheries no sooner than she’s crossed the theshold of my small and nefariously unfrilly abode.

My mother is one of these people who gets up at 6am every morning (rain, hail or zombie apocalypse) and cleans the house from top to bottom, before departing at 8.30am on the dot (or earlier) to traipse the length and breadth of Scotland in search of additional random household appliances… or the perfect pair of orthopedic shoes. I swear to god, I have never known my mother not to be on a mission; and she once complained that her whole day was ruined because she slept in till 11am – this was fifteen hours after she was discharged from hospital for having a suspected bleed on the brain. My father is also an early riser, but he doesn’t have any choice.

I often wonder what my parents were like before my sister and I came along, and what their younger selves would have thought of me if they didn’t know I was their daughter. I found a passport photograph once where they both had long hair and youth and goofy grins, and that’s when I started to fantasize about travelling back in time and visiting them during their early years.

Maybe I’m weird, but I like the idea of watching (and possibly interacting with) my parents as twenty-somethings.   And I like the idea of following them along the shingle of Blackpool beach during that summer they spent there in the late seventies, back when my mother looked like a brunette version of my sister. I would witness my father’s burial in the wet sand and his added appendage of two castle-shaped breasts. I could also wave to the giggling baldy toddler version of myself, complete with yellow cardigan and sunhat and pram.

Anyway, I really hope they enjoy their wee holiday down south. I’ll bloody need one by the time they’ve gone.

The Importance Of Being A Morning Person

The Importance Of Being A Morning Person

I have been doing ‘morning pages’ for nearly seven years now. That’s three A4 stream-of-consciousness pages that I write first thing in the morning. It was an ex-girlfriend who introduced me to the concept: she gave me a secondhand copy of ‘The Artist’s Way’ by renowned writer, Julia Cameron, when I was suffering from a bout of writer’s block. Cameron advocates the completion of morning pages everday no matter what. And I thought, ‘what the hell…’

What you write in your morning pages doesn’t have to be literary. It doesn’t even have to be anything to do with creative writing. It can be anything that comes into your head: a general moan-fest, your dream from last night, all the things you need to do in the day ahead… And anyone can do them: you don’t even have to be a writer, you just have to be interested in bolstering your own artistic ability. There are a couple of basic rules to the practise though: morning pages have to be written by hand (never typed), and no-one else should ever read them, not even yourself for at least eight weeks. (And I, personally, recommend that no-one should ever do what I did and collect forty-odd journals filled with your semi-conscious ramblings to revise on a rainy day).

Ironically, my ex later resented the time that I was spending doing the exercises in the book. These included going for daily twenty minute walks on my own, a weekly ‘artist date’ (which is basically an hour or so spent in solitude doing something playful such as feeding ducks in the park, taking photographs (sometimes of ducks) or reading random picture books from the children’s section in a book store)). The relationship (unsurprisingly) didn’t last, but it was certainly a learning curve. And I graduated to reading Cameron’s ‘Letters To A Young Artist’ and ‘The Right To Write’ and ‘Walking Through This World’. In February this year, I even went to a two-day seminar in London led by the creativity guru herself; and now, I’m working through ‘Vein Of Gold’, which is fascinating and inspiring but often very challenging.

Like a runner who has to put in the miles, these morning pages are both necessary for me as a writer, and incredibly addictive; I feel restless and unsatisfied and borderline depressed whenever I don’t get them done. Of course, no-one’s perfect and, there are days when I’ve skipped them or when I’ve had to take my notepad and do them on the bus or the train (or the waiting room at the airport at five AM); and if my girlfriend brings me a tasty breakfast in bed there really is no contest. At least, I’m pretty sure Ms Cameron wouldn’t mind me taking an extra ten minutes out, occasionally, in the name of love. Plus, I’ve learnt from personal experience that being too pedantic can only stave off creativity even more.

I’m not saying morning pages have suddenly solved all my problems. But sometimes – especially when I’m writing as fast as I can with no interruptions – I’ll get an idea for a story, or the name of a character will pop into my head. Mostly, though, it’s everyday inconveniences that are highlighted: I’m annoyed  because I’ve not sorted my filing cabinet yet, or because I haven’t received a piece of mail that was supposed to come last week. And I’ll write about these very mundane things over and over until finally I bore myself into doing something about them…

Just now the time is 8:35 AM and I’m still in my pyjamas, drinking a Lemsip and looking at an Amazon listing for Dorothea Brande’s 1934 creative handbook ‘Becoming A Writer’; I read somewhere that she used a technique called ‘early morning writing’ and this has piqued my interest.

Very soon I will get up and get dressed. And when I do I’m going for my morning walk. It will probably be another ten or twelve hours before I get around to typing up and posting this blog entry; because first of all I’ll chop and change it and then I’ll get sidetracked and scribble down ideas for other random stories; or I’ll hoover or sort that filing cabinet or check my mail, before going off on some sporadic mid-morning-time adventure…

The Whimsical World Of Lynsey Calderwood

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Yesterday, I almost stepped on a baby bat whilst I was out hunting dragons. Now I know that doesn’t sound like very vegan behaviour but it really wasn’t my fault: the bat was lying by the edge of the road, and it’s not the sort of thing you expect to see in broad daylight; besides, like I said, I was hunting dragons at the time.

I have been a ‘Pocket Dragon’ hunter since 1996, ever since my old school friend Elaine Blackie gifted me one for my eighteenth birthday. Pocket dragons, as their name suggests, are small enough to fit in the average pocket; they’re made of pottery and not to be confused with those pewter ‘Myth And Magic’ monstrosities, or the rather ferocious but somewhat impressive ‘Enchantica’ ones, which have recently made a mysterious appearance en masse in three of Sudbury’s charity shops despite becoming practically extinct in the late nineties.

Anyway, I fell in love: I don’t know if it was the mischievous grin or those black shiny eyes, or the fact that he was dainty enough to perch on the palm of my hand. Dragons are traditionally described as being huge, impending monstrous beasts with fangs and claws and firebreath that could roast you in a heart beat, and a tendency towards malevolent behaviour; this one, however, was called ‘Oh Goody’, and he looked the sort who was more likely to kill you with kindness.

After that, my mother bought me a second pocket dragon, and then I bought one, and then another… then I joined the pocket dragon collector’s club (the membership came free with one of the annual pieces) which came with it’s own news magazine via snail mail.

I soon learnt that there were hundreds of the wee beasties; and that the ‘Whimsical World Of Pocket Dragons’ was the brainchild of Texan sculptor, Real Musgrave, and his wife, Muff (yes, those are their actual names – he also has a brother named ‘Story’ who is a famous astronaut). Produced by ‘Collectible World Studios’ (formerly known as ‘Lilliput Lane Land Of Legend’) the company responsible for ‘Piggin Pigs’ and ‘Cherished Teddies’ and a load of other figurines, the first twenty-five pieces sculpted by Real were released in 1989 (this included two gargoyles and a teddy bear which were affectionately known as ‘pocket dragon friends’) followed by a large limited edition piece a month later and a xmas ’89 piece which was held up in production and actually didn’t make it to the shops until the new year.

I met Real once. Very briefly. I was at ‘Wetheriggs Country Pottery’ in Clifton Dykes near Penrith where the ‘National Collector’s Centre’ was and he’d come over from America to do a UK tour. I can’t remember much about it to be honest. I think I was more interested in getting one of the special tour ornaments before other fans snapped them up; that and visiting the pocket dragon museum which had rare never-been-seen-before prototypes.

Sadly, Collectible World’s marketing headquarters in Stoke On Trent were burnt down in July 2000: ten years worth of archived photos and irreplaceable artworks by Real and other prestigious artists were completely destroyed. Then, a couple of years later, there was a blaze which also destroyed the museum at Wetheriggs. I went back in 2006 but it just wasn’t the same.

Real retired shortly after this and the pocket dragons whose moulds hadn’t been broken by then retired with him, although he did make a special one-off piece in 2011.

I have approximately one-hundred-and-fifty of the wee green guys now. It’s difficult though to find them in real live outlet nowadays so my purchases tend to be from E-bay, which can be expensive. However, I have come across two pocket dragons in Sudbury in the last couple of years. And I regularly scour the charity shops just in case. That’s what I was doing when I nearly stepped on the bat… which surreptitiously took flight when a man tried to help it by scooping it up out of the way of the traffic…