Tuesday, July 31, 2007

No time to say goodbye.


I finished off the final illustration for Winter Wood last night. Done dusted and off to press. So that's it. I could probably write a long and quite emotional piece about how it feels to be saying goodbye to them all - these characters I've been living with for the last six years - but for the moment I'm just going to let them slip quietly out of the back door without any fuss. They can find their own way, I'm sure.

And anyway there's a new lot standing at the porch, clamouring to be let in. Better go and see what they want.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Blackpool illumination



I like to pop into my St. James club on a Wednesday night for a game of billiards (oh, alright then, it's a local workingman's club in Peel Street and it's snooker) and this week we saw an interesting notice pinned up next to the cue rack.

'Holidays in Blackpool. £99.
Seven nights accommodation.
To include transport, breakfast and evening meals.'


Eddie and I did some quick sums on our fingers, and two little light bulbs went on simultaneously - a veritable illumination. My God, (we said), if you went on holiday to Blackpool every week of the year it'd come to less than five grand! For about the price of renting a Leeds bedsit you could be beside-the-seaside-beside-the-sea, and living like a Regent! Forever!

No council tax, no house insurance, no more cooking or laundry or washing up. There'd probably be a 'turn' on most nights...'Jayde Crystal at the Organ' or 'Foxi McPhee and her Furry Friend' or whatever...

OK, so you'd have to find your lunch, but I expect they'd whip you up an egg sandwich if you asked. We could do a bit of busking during the day, make a few quid, and then spend the evenings as boulevardiers, sitting at cafe tables and idly stirring our demi-tasses with a stick of Blackpool rock. How wonderful!

So. The house goes on the market this morning, and the wife and kids can start whittling clothes pegs for all I care. I'm on the corner waiting for the charabanc.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Round Room


This is the very amazing 'Round Room' at Port Eliot, where I shall be giving a mumble at this year's Litfest. Sunday 22 July. 3 pm, I believe. Do come and flick things at me if you happen to be in the vicinity.

Curious Laws of Physics


I think that a desire to peer into the deeper mysteries of the cosmos is something that must come with maturity. I don't remember wanting to explore the outer reaches of physics as a younger man, but now such things intrigue me.

For instance, how is it possible for one little old lady with nine inch hips to occupy a whole pavement? Is that something to do with nature expanding to fill a vacuum?

And why is it that coat hangers multiply like rabbits so that you've always got too many of them, when ballpoint pens by contrast are able to decrease their tribe until they exist only in minus figures, so that you then have to buy a dozen in order for there to be one?

Who proposed this ridiculous idea that for every force there has to be an equal opposing force? What nonsense. Headwinds and tailwinds are a good example of opposites that exist only in theory. Go out on a bicycle and battle your way around blustery Yorkshire searching for a 'tailwind'. You'll be a long time gone.

Lately I've been making a study of the levitating properties of ordinary household objects. Yes indeed. And I believe I'm close to disproving the outdated law that everything that goes up must come down. Cups, for instance, and plates and bowls and pickle jars and yoghurt pots and all manner of cutlery. I've noticed how these things are able to rise of their own volition, and float right up through the house until the bedroom ceilings finally get in the way and they can ascend no further. Oddly enough it's always my daughters' bedrooms that they seem to seek out. Something to do with the rarity of the atmosphere I shouldn't wonder, but it's here that they remain, hovering, and emitting a strange hum. You could leave them there till Domesday, but they'll never ever come down.

I find it extraordinary - in fact I'm thinking of writing a paper exclusively on this subject - but our privileged pair show no curiosity in the matter. As I say, I think the enquiring mind is something that develops with age.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

DFB party



My social life, as everyone knows, is a whirling carousel of coloured lights marred only by the occasional vague feeling of regret at not having refused that final glass of champagne.

So it was this morning as we wandered about Oxford. My wife took the above picture of students, all togged up for their graduation ceremony, as they passed beneath the Bridge of Sighs. Quite a spectacle, and under other circumstances one that might have held my interest a little longer, but I felt that what I really wanted to be looking at was a cup of coffee. Preferably in a shady corner. Somewhere well away from the bright sunlight and the pounding of the bells...

Fellow author, illustrator and musician Paddy Mounter was in the same reflective mood, and so we hid ourselves away in the coffee shop above Waterstones and got into a staring match with our Americanos. Our respective wives, Gina and Patsy, were bearing up rather better - quite cheerful in fact. I suppose that at some point in their lives they've both learned the value of that simple little sentence 'No thanks, I've had enough.'

We'd all been to David Fickling's 'Now We Are Six' party the night before - a celebration of six years of the DFB publishing imprint. It was pretty impressive. They held it in the lovely grounds of Worcester College - all lakes and cloisters and hallowed halls. The perfect setting for a publishers' bash. Some of David's team had put together a half-hour cabaret, and that was fun. Not often you get to watch your publisher and your editors singing for their suppers. Paddy and I did a couple of our Gents numbers. A young guitarist called Jake sat in with us, but he was far too brilliant for his own good, I'm afraid. We took him round the back of the marquee afterwards and broke his fingers for him - it's a rite of passage they all have to go through.

Philip Pullman came and told us how much he'd enjoyed it. He's a big jazz fan, and as knowledgeable about that as he is about everything else in this universe and the next. I asked him if it was true that he played ukulele, and he said yes it was. He favours the Martin, I gather. Might there be a chance of him whipping out his Little Martin and giving us a quick burst at some similar gathering in the future? Er...possibly.

So watch this space. If I can get Mr. Pullman singing 'Mr. Woo' to a champagne-fuelled audience of agents, authors, publishers, booksellers and caterers then it'll be worth feeling a whole lot worse than this the morning after.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A funny thing happened on the way to the theatre...


No, honestly, it did. We were down in London last weekend - my wife, daughters, and me. The two girls had decided that they wanted to go and see some appalling Andrew Lloyd-Webber thing that's been on the telly recently. Don't even ask. Gina and I were going to drop them off at the Adelphi, and then go on to a jazz club somewhere.

So we all left the hotel at the same time and toddled along the Strand - girls in front, arm in arm, dressed up to the nines, and Gina and I keeping a respectful ten paces to the rear as parents are required to do.

I have to say they looked pretty good, those girls. They're wearing skirts short this year, and they do have the legs for it. If ever I'm stuck for ready cash I shall be auctioning them off on ebay. Their wardrobes alone must be worth the price of a flat in Mayfair. Yes, perhaps it's time we saw some return on our investment...

Anyway, they're turning a few male heads, and I'm feeling that mixed sense of pride and propriety that I suppose all fathers experience under such circumstances. Half of me thinks 'Blimey...did I have some part in all of this?' and the other half wants to shout "Oy! What're you looking at, you deviant?"

All par for the course, though, until we notice this blind guy, begging. He's standing on the corner of Southampton Street with his stick and dark glasses and tin cup. And I swear to God that as the girls sashay past him his jaw drops, his head spins round, and he ogles them all the way down the Strand. I had to hold Gina up, she was laughing so much.

I didn't put any money in the tin cup though, and now I feel guilty because that was the best bit of entertainment I had all weekend. Certainly the cheapest.