Monthly Archives: July 2015

Summer In Scotland

  
Last week, Antonia and I were back in Scotland; back visiting friends and family and old haunts.

We set off early Saturday morning with the intention of stopping for lunch at Hebden Bridge (the lesbian capital of the UK) but, due to traffic constraints and Antonia accidentally driving in the wrong direction, we fell four hours behind schedule and ended up in a motorway Marks n Spencer’s instead of a quaint wee vegetarian village café.  

The weather in England was practically tropical, but as soon as we hit Gretna Green there was a downpour – I was completely oblivious to this as I was busy reading aloud to Antonia, so I got some very strange looks when I stepped out of the car during our penultimate pee-n-tea stop wearing shorts and bright orange sunspecs. When we eventually arrived at Fiona’s house in Glasgow, she also commented on my attire; and when I told her I’d packed three pairs of shorts she replied: ‘You’re optimistic’.

The next day, I decided to wear jeans; and Antonia, Fiona, Sophie and I went to Ayr for a coastal drive via the nearest Tesco, where we picked up a box of vegan Cornettos to eat en route. Antonia’s plan was to do some ‘wombling’ on the beach but we stopped first at a local pub and she and Fiona became engrossed in watching Wimbledon. Sophie and I eventually got bored of making ‘Wombles of Wimbledon statements’, and watching them watching, so we went for a walk along the seafront. Later, we discovered that the vegetarian café we’d planned to visit was shut on Sundays, but we had a really great meal in the Chestnut hotel instead.

My dad’s birthday was on the Monday. Antonia and I went for another coastal drive around Wemyss Bay in the morning, and then at 2.30pm we took my dad to see the new Terminator film – I got very excited when Antonia pointed out Emilia Clarke from Game Of Thrones playing the new Sarah Connor; and although we thought she was very good, we both still prefer Lena Headey (Sarah Connor Chronicles, 2008-2009).

On Tuesday, Antonia dropped me off in the city centre and I went to Caffe Nero for a slushy drink (some habits die hard) and sat outside in Buchanan Street watching pigeons and street performers, whilst she went off to catch up with her old college cohorts. Afterwards, I met my friend Tracy in Paisley for lunch and we chatted and charity-shopped and I bought several second hand paperbacks to add to my ever-increasing must-read pile. Antonia drove out to get me later, and we joined my family for dinner at the Toby Carvery (which is surprisingly vegan-friendly). We ended the night by going to Ikea to look for another bookcase for me before stopping off at Tesco again on the way back to Fiona’s to get yet more vegan cornettos.

On Wednesday, I met my crime-writer friend Elaine for coffee and we moaned about books and our writing and our mad families. It was great to see her, after a year of missing our Waterstones meet-ups, and I was so engrossed in conversation that I had to sprint down Buchanan Street to make it in time for lunch with my poet-friend Nicola. It turned out that Nicola was running late too, but I ran into Michael, another writer-friend, and it was nice to see him and be able to chat about books and his writing while I waited. Nicola and I both ordered seitan burgers when she arrived, and we also talked about books and our writing and our mad families. Afterwards, I went to my parents’ and my mum told me all the same stories she’d told me the night before, and as I was leaving asked if I’d heard about her neighbour – the one with the two sticks who can hardly walk – absconding from the hospital while she was in to get an operation. Somehow, my mum had managed to miss out this crucial bit of gossip which involved a door-to-door police search in the early hours of the morning and a sixty-something woman in a medical gown!

On our last day in Glasgow, I went shopping and was accosted on Buchanan Street by a middle-aged man who asked if I could give him fifty pence. I told him that I had no money, to which he replied: ‘Welcome to my life, I wake up with no money.’ I then told him I was on benefits, thinking this would get rid of him. It didn’t. He proceeded to follow me around town asking various questions about which benefits I was a recipient of and at what rate, as well as giving me a detailed financial breakdown of what he received. It took me almost an hour to detach myself from him and not before he insisted that I shake his hand.

 I then went to meet my friend, Jane, another writer who recently had her debut novel published. Over lunch, we talked about books and our writing and she convinced me to think again about rewriting my novel King Street – the problem novel I first drafted about eight years ago – with a crime fiction slant, but to perhaps to start it again without looking back at my previous material.

Later, I went out to dinner with Sophie, Fiona and Antonia in Saramago and I retold them what had happened to me with the beggar in Buchanan Street. As they sat sniggering, I wondered if there was any scope for turning him, and my mum’s hospital absconding neighbour, into fictional characters.

On Friday, during the drive home I got an email to say that an extract of King Street was to be published in issue nine of Glitterwolf magazine. Obviously, I am very pleased about this: knowing that my work has found an audience makes toiling over the manuscript worthwhile; however, I am still trying to decide whether to call it quits with King Street (after all I have had three published short stories out of the idea) or whether to take a long and winding road to writing draft five from scratch.

Talking A Lot Of Shite

After nearly two decades of being vegan, I’ve somehow recently managed to end up with constant constipation.

It’s come as a bit of a shock actually, especially since I’ve long prided myself on having the perfect poo (as according to the theories of diet guru, Gillian McKeith): years ago, one of my ex-girlfriend’s had a copy of ‘You Are What You Eat,’ and we sniggered our way through the parts of the book that talked about all the things that your stool shouldn’t look like, before I smugly came to the conclusion that my number twos were consistently of the right consistency during my twice-daily bowel movements. My ex, we decided, had too much fat in her diet (because her poo floated) and her brothers ate too much dairy (because theirs’ always stuck to the inside of the pan).

I am not joking. I was really quite pleased with all I achieved in the bathroom.

Anyway, I never had this problem till I moved to Sudbury – except for the times when I came here on holiday. And I’ve always maintained it was to do with hardness of the English water. Antonia had the opposite problem when she first moved to Glasgow: her IBS flared up.

The thing is, I don’t understand how someone with a very high fibre diet that includes at least one daily dose of beans (either on toast, in a chilli or simply from a carton of soya milk) can have trouble going to the toilet. I mean, if my bowels were just sensitive to the local tap water, then surely after almost a year of living in England they should have adjusted, not gradually ground to a halt?!

To be fair, I have recently changed my breakfast habits: instead of wholemeal toast or cereal I’ve been whizzing up smoothies made from bananas and berries and whatever other fruits I can find, together with kale and pond-scummy spirulina; because I wanted to be healthier and get a head start on my seven-a-day fruit and veg portions – and although I totally understand that eating the skins of fruits would be better for me, I don’t think it matters since I also usually chomp my way through a couple of apples, a half punnet of cherries and at least one large salad every day.

Lunch is usually a sandwich with hummus or plant-based cheese or avocado salad, and ninety percent of the time I eat seeded wholegrain bread. Dinner is almost always a mixed bean chilli, a lentil-based dish or something with lots of iron-rich leafy greens. And the snacks I have in between are five seed crackers or oat cakes or toast, all of which provide plenty of roughage.

So I’m perplexed.

I wasn’t keen on the idea of taking laxatives as it took me back to my days of being a teenage bulimic, but I had a look in Holland and Barratt just out of curiosity and was surprised to discover that none of their ‘natural remedies’ were vegan as they all contained lactose. Antonia’s response to that when I told her was: ‘That would have worked really well for you, hen… because you know dairy products give you diarrhoea.’

In the end, I got a two-hundred-and-fifty gram bag of prunes from Waitrose – I used to liked prunes when I was a teenager and regularly had to put up with my parents’ stupid ‘well, you’ll shite tonight’ comments. Maybe it was because I was vegan, or maybe it was simply because I ate a lot of other dried fruit, but I never noticed any difference.

One hour, two large glasses of water, and half a bag of prunes later I started to feel a bit sick. Two hours later, Antonia arrived and I began complaining that I still hadn’t been able to go. She said that me talking about prunes and constipation made her want to run to the toilet. Shortly after, on exiting my bathroom, she announced: ‘Mine’s smelly but otherwise fine.’ Charming.

Three hours later and I am still waiting…

Penning Anger

Recently, whilst updating my CV, I was reminded of the first poem I ever had published (in ‘Big!’ magazine): it was written during the time I spent as a fifteen-year-old inpatient in an adolescent psychiatry unit, and I use the word ‘poem’ very loosely here, because really it was just a rant with a rhyming scheme.

Back then, I was very angry a lot of the time: angry at my parents because they’d sent me to that place, and angry at the medical staff because their job was to ‘spy’ on me; mostly though, I was angry at myself and my lack of control over the situation; and the only thing that made me feel better was channeling my thoughts onto paper. Of course, I had a lot of alone time in the unit, so I had ample opportunity to write a lot of hateful letters over the three and a half month period I spent locked up; some of them were to my friends complaining about my ‘arsehole’ parents who’d left me in that place to rot, and about my ill-treatment at the hands of the ‘evil’ psychiatric nurses who followed me everywhere and were clearly out to ruin my life; but most were to Victor Bog-off, the foul-mouthed editor of the Big! letters page, who replied to all correspondence from his fans by showering them with abuse. I can’t remember what I said in those letters, but I know I wrote to him on average about three times a week with all my various woes, and it didn’t deter me when everyone else around me said his mailbag would be so full of other people’s letters he’d never get to read mine. 

Ironically, when the poem (which contained the last line ‘so bog off you great piece of snot’) was selected for publication, I was completely unaware of it – and I only found out that it had made it into print when I received a variety of stares, sniggers and whispers as I trotted into the dinner hall on my very first day back at school after my release; and one teenage girl I vaguely knew held up her copy of Big! magazine and cried, ‘oh my god, you’re famous!’

It’s interesting for me to look back on these small triumphs because not only does it help to see how far I’ve come, but it also reminds me of how much my outlook on life has changed: nowadays I’d rather turn tragedy into comedy; and I’m driven, not by rage, but by the ability to look at life from many odd angles and to laugh at myself.