Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Thursday 27 February 2014

Sweetheart, Darling, Hun

A tweet turned up in my Twitter feed yesterday from Kelly Jensen @catagator; it read as follows: Men don't get called "sweetheart" in the line of their professional work, do they?

Clearly women do... By men.

Feminists rage at this sort of thing. 

I am a feminist.

I remember being sixteen and sitting in my first A’ level maths class (that surprised you, didn’t it? Smiles) with a lovely teacher called Mr Calvert. He was genuinely a good teacher and a nice man. He called us Blossom or Petal. We were all girls in an all girls grammar school. I disliked his habit because it suggested to me that he couldn't tell us apart, that he couldn't be bothered to remember our names. I was probably doing him an injustice. A week or two into that first term, when he called on me in class in his usual fashion, I simply told him that my name was Nicola. He always called me Nicola thereafter.

It makes me wonder why men do it. I wonder if they don’t do it to be charming or ingratiating or perhaps just non-threatening? I hope that’s why they do it. Of course women in the workplace feel condescended to, and of course it isn’t necessary to do it at all.

I wonder how many women do it and how many of those women do it to men.

I remember a fellow student at university who called everyone Hen. She was Scottish and annoying (those two things are mostly mutually exclusive in my experience, but sadly not in this case) and I hated it. She was barely eighteen and thought she was fifty.

I am fifty... I can do what I like.

I answered the tweet, though, for the very good reason that this is something that I’m guilty of. I’m TOTALLY, HORRIBLY guilty of calling people darling and sweetheart at every touch and turn. I'm very sorry if you're offended by that, and if I do it to you and it offends you personally, please do put me right.

I absolutely do this to men, and I absolutely do it to men that I work with and I do it to men at all levels of seniority. I do it to bank clerks and waiters, too, and just about anyone and everyone else.

I also use people’s names.

If I’m talking to someone on the phone and they give me their name I always jot it down and I always use it. I don’t overuse it, because I dislike it when that’s done to me, but if someone’s helpful, or when I say goodbye, I will use the person’s name.

My kind of name badge… Or yours.
I read name badges in shops, too. Funny how people who wear a name badge every day are baffled when I use their name. At the end of a friendly transaction at a cash register, I’m quite happy to say, “Thanks, Jason, have a good day.” Jason will then look at me as if I’m some sort of weirdo psychic, until I point and say, “name badge.” Then comes the smile and the embarrassed gesture.

I use the darlings and the sweethearts (and no I never use hun, but it did come up in the Twitter conversation with Ms Jensen) in all sorts of ways. I do it affectionately when someone has been particularly wonderful. I do it with people I know well. I do it to take the sting out of a complaint, and, yes, once in a very long while I do it to be condescending... But it is once in a very, very long while. I probably haven’t used a darling or a sweetheart that way for two or three years... In fact, thinking about it, I’m probably over it. I might actually never do that again. I don’t feel the need.

Never think I’ve forgotten your name, because I haven’t. If I’ve forgotten your name I’ll be terribly apologetic and I’ll ask you to remind me what it is, because I can’t bare to be the person that never speaks to you again because I’m embarrassed by something like that. I’d never using a darling or a sweetheart on you to cover for my own stupidity... That wouldn’t be fair to either of us.

Dearheart is my favourite. If I call you dearheart I mean it more than I mean other things... and if I give you a nickname you’re set for life.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Harold Ramis has died

Much is often said about the deaths of celebrities.

I seldom join in with the mourning.

These are people that I did not know and never met. Anyone’s death is always a tragedy to someone, but the general outpouring of grief for total strangers is alien to me. I might feel some sadness at the waste of a life cut short by a fatal accident or terminal illness. I might regret the untimely loss to us all of a significant talent, but to feel personally touched by the death of a stranger is rare for me.

Harold Ramis
Egon Spengler
Harold Ramis’s death struck a little closer to home than most celebrity deaths might, however.

I have a particular fondness for clever funny men. I have said it before. I tell women that those are the men they should take an interest in, and I find that many of the feistiest women do.

We all know that Harold Ramis was both clever and funny. We only have to recall that he was responsible for some of our favourite movies from the eighties to remember that fact.

Of course, I’m talking about Ghostbusters! 

Harold Ramis was largely responsible for Ghostbusters, which was released in 1984. I saw the film with the husband. We laughed. The movie outsold the second Indiana Jones film and went on to be the most successful movie in the US that year. It regularly appears on lists of the top 100 funniest films ever.

Harold Ramis played Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters.

I have a very particular fondness for Egon Spengler. Not only is he my kind of nerd, but he’s also my kind of nerd!

On March 28 1988 Marvel UK launched The Real Ghostbusters comic book, which was exactly what you think it was. It ran for, I believe, 193 issues with 4 annuals and 10 specials. 

I was in my mid-twenties in 1988 and I wasn’t reading comics. The husband and I were also on hiatus. I missed him.

Every issue of The Real Ghostbusters carried a column called Spengler’s Spirit Guide. It was a sort of monster of the week bio or character feature. The columns were funny and clever too. I didn’t read them at the time because I didn’t read the comic.

I did, subsequently, read all of them. I sat down one afternoon in the spring of 2000 when the husband and I had just moved house and he was sorting out storage for the comp copies of his work, and I read every single column.

The husband wrote every Spirit Guide for every issue of The Real Ghostbusters. The husband is my very own Egon Spengler.

Every girl should have one.

So, Harold Ramis has died, and I am rather sorry for that. He was a clever, funny man who made clever, funny movies. I will always have a particular fondness for his memory, because Harold Ramis gave us Ghostbusters and he portrayed the character of Egon Spengler, and that means a little more to me than it might to most people.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

The One About the Yellow Balloon

We were at the naval base in Portsmouth on Friday for a homecoming, and very splendid it was too. I might even blog about it some time.

Today, however, I promised you the story of the yellow balloon, so that is what you shall have.

We returned home on Friday teatime, and, because it was Friday teatime, we decided to take an alternative route to avoid the M3/M25. To cut a long story short, the less than two hour journey to Portsmouth had actually turned into four hours because of the motorways, and we didn’t fancy facing that again, so we decided on the coast/country option back.

Trust me, it was a much nicer drive.

The one thing you don’t get on the A roads is, of course, the convenience of motorway service areas, so when it came time to stop for a loo break and a couple of bottles of water, we ended up at a drive-through McDonalds (and, yes, I know they’re commonly known as drive-thrus, but I just can’t bring myself to do it).

The husband stretched his legs in the car park while the three of us tended to our ablutions and picked up refreshments. When I got back to the car first (no one expects me to queue any more - wonderful kids) I saw the husband standing on the verge holding a yellow balloon. It was a surreal sight, and rather sweet, too.

So hard to resist!
He explained that a little girl had fumbled the balloon getting out of her parent’s car, and it had been whipped away into a tree by a gust of wind. She’d been rather upset, but the accident was inevitable as the balloon was of the type that comes in a bag of assorted balloons from... well I don’t know where from since Woolworths no longer exists, but you get my drift. Anyway, as a consequence the balloon had no string, only the nubbin where the knot had been tied.

The family had disappeared into McDonalds, and only then had the balloon drifted back down onto the grass verge from where the husband had retrieved it. Then of course, he had the dilemma of what to do with it. He said that he was considering wedging the knot under the windscreen wiper of the car, but he didn’t want to set off the car alarm.

I don’t hear terribly well. It’s a stupid thing, but it can be a bit of a nuisance, so I have coping strategies for it. One of those coping strategies involves hanging my mobile phone around my neck on a long ribbon. I took the phone from around my neck and detached the ribbon from my phone case. I tied one end to the balloon and very gently tied the other end to the little girl’s family’s car door handle.

At that point the dort and her boyf came back and we were off on our travels once more.

Life is full of little disappointments and we all have to get used to them, and we all have to learn to deal with them and to live with them.

It’s not every day that any of us gets the opportunity to bring a little bit of magic back into someone’s life, and it’s not every day that a little girl’s life has a little magic put back into it.

My only fear is that her parents just might be utterly creeped out by the idea of a balloon fairy.

I do hope not.

Monday 24 February 2014

Two Whole Years

I realised today that I began this blog a little over two years ago.
A shot of me looking terribly serious

Of course, if I’d been on the ball I would have celebrated my blog-iversary on the actual date, but I didn’t, so here I am, a little overdue, rather surprised that it’s been two years, thrilled that some of you are still here with me, and amazed that so many people take an interest in my random thoughts and ramblings on a fairly regular basis.

I’m not going to claim to be any kind of global phenomenon... heaven forfend... but I’ve had little stats spikes in Cyprus and the Ukraine among other places, and I appear to be read pretty regularly throughout much of the English speaking World. Recently, the French have been fairly avid dippers into this little site, and chunks of Asia also glow on my map from time to time. I have no earthly clue why.

I have been surprised and delighted by total strangers approaching me in places as far afield as Canada, Sweden and Ireland to tell me that they enjoy reading my blog. It is always a real pleasure for me. I have also been overwhelmed by the amount of support I have had on the social networks with shares on FaceBook and retweets on Twitter, sometimes from some extremely illustrious types. 

I have no idea what I have done to deserve it, but I thank you all. 

I am also immensely grateful to those who offer comments and support on the blog, and to those who take part in debates. I cannot say I’m not sometimes baffled by the positions that people adopt, but I’m all for ‘live and let live’, and anyone who’s disagreeing with me, particularly on subjects that I consider to be pretty clearcut, is at least taking time to think about what I’m trying to say... Or, you know, not.

Today’s blog is my 512th, which averages out at 1 blog every 1.467 days. Not quite the one a day I was aiming for when I began, but not a bad output on the whole. I’m estimating that’s between 350k and 450k words, too, so about 5 novels worth in 2 years, which is frankly frightening. I could learn a lesson from blog writing... I could learn to write novels more efficiently and with a whole lot less effort. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I’ve written 4.5 novels in that time, so not altogether bad going on that front either.

The novel that got this blog started. The novel you have all read about, Naming Names, is still yet to be published, but is undergoing more rewrites, so, you never know.

I have talked on a range of subjects in this blog, beyond writing, from the very personal to the topical, from the snarky to the sentimental, and at the time of writing each blog, I meant every word that I wrote. I cannot, however, promise that I still mean all of those words today, although, if thoroughly questioned I’m sure I can still find good reasons why I thought what I thought and also talk you through the reasons why I have since changed my mind... should you ever wish to ask those questions.

I have also learned a very great deal about blogging.

For example, I will probably never use the word ‘knickers’ in a blog title again or the words ‘fifty shades of grey’ in the labels. That combination accounts for a not particularly interesting or insightful blog being my most read effort. Go figure.

I also learned that timing and Twitter and someone making a bogus connection can cause a media stir about a blog that has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Again... Go figure.

This is the World we live in, people.

Very recently I learned that it’s a good idea to have search engines recognise that your blog exists. I haven’t worked out how to do this yet, but I’m looking into it. For some bloggers I suppose it’s critical that their blogs reach a wide audience, but since I’ve always said I won’t monetise this site and since I put my thoughts into the ether with no expectation that anyone will ever read them, I guess I’m not one of those bloggers. I might just let those little spider things do their work and hope that one day my blog will magically be recognised by search engines everywhere. It could happen... right?

In the meantime, for those of you who care, and I have no points of comparison for these numbers apart from the husband’s blog, and, trust me, there is no comparison... After two years, I am within spitting distance of 200K hits.

Again, thank you for visiting.

See you all tomorrow with the story of a yellow balloon.

Sunday 23 February 2014

A Good Time was had by All

We’re all insecure from time to time; it’s a natural by-product of the human condition... OK, maybe not all of us, because some people simply are too arrogant or self-absorbed ever to feel genuinely insecure. I’m willing to bet, they’re the exceptions rather than the rule, though. So, for the purposes of this blog I’m discounting them and assuming that we all fall within what I think of as a normal range of humanity.

We all feel insecure from time to time.

I’ve come to the conclusion, though, that, in general, if I had a good time, others did too. In the sort of social situations that used to buy into my insecurities, you know the sort of things, dinner parties and whatnot, I used to worry that people had a good time. I used to worry that I was good company. I used to go away from those sorts of things trying to work out whether people had in fact enjoyed themselves or whether I’d managed to put my foot in it somehow.

Not any more. I have finally realised that if I had a good time, there’s a good chance that others did, too.

I’m a pretty decent person. I take no pleasure in others’ discomfort or confusion, and certainly not in their misery. I’m not even the sort of person who laughs at those video shows... you know the ones where you watch clip after clip of people slipping on dance floors and falling off skis and tripping over paddling pools. I don’t laugh; I wince.  

Very fancy, very enjoyable Burns Night
If I give a supper or go to a dinner party and everyone else around the table is talking animatedly and laughing, and eating well and drinking, if they’re expressing pleasure in the food and the company then they’re probably having a good time. If I feel relaxed, if I find the company entertaining and the jokes funny, and if I can sit back and enjoy the society I find myself in then there’s a good chance that everything is going nicely and everyone is having a good time.

I’ve stopped indulging my neuroses with the postmortems. 

People are only people. Most people are no better or worse than the rest of us. Some people are a little cleverer or funnier than you or I, but that just adds to their pleasure in a social situation and to ours. We don’t have to compete. Some people are a little more shy or a little more considered, but that doesn’t mean they’re less happy than the rest of us, or less interesting or less interested in listening to what’s going on around them. 

And sometimes someone like me is going to manage to say the wrong thing for the simple reason that people like me don’t have the sort of filters that others have. In the end, that’s usually OK, too, because there’s invariably someone in the room that is kind enough to diffuse my little bomb, or funny enough to make a joke out of it. And, there’s always the apology, because people are forgiving too.

We all feel insecure from time to time, and that’s what’s really worth remembering, because if you feel insecure in a social setting, virtually everyone else in the room is probably feeling a little bit insecure too. Just have a good time, and, who knows, you might send some of them home happy.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

All About Saying No

I have thoughts about porn.

I have seen porn. I have looked at magazines, films and the internet. I know a little bit about it. Not a lot. I’m not an avid consumer of porn, but I’m not a total porn-virgin either. I doubt that many of us are, in the internet age.

I have thoughts about porn.

My overriding thought about porn and the sex industry in general is that no nine-year-old girl playing with her dolls has a hankering to become a sex worker when she grows up. That’s sort of the bottom line for me. I believe that what we want to be when we grow up is a pretty good indicator of the sort of person we probably are. I believe that the sort of playing we do is a pretty good indicator of the sort of person we are probably going to grow into. I, for instance, didn’t play a great deal, but I did live an imaginary life in an imaginary world that was pretty real to me, and pretty close to the world as I experienced it. I was often a worried child, more worried than I should have been. It shows now. 

When I played, I played with a dolls house and I played dress-up and I made up stories about people and places. I told stories. I wanted to be a teacher at one stage and a barrister at another, because I thought that was about justice and solving problems. I wanted to tell stories too, but never realised that was a real job that real people did. Funny that.

I’ve never met a little girl who wanted to sell her body. At various times, my daughters wanted to be action men and lawyers and teachers and dancers and vets and musicians and politicians.

You get my drift.

The truth is, though, that some women, and men, too, end up being sex workers, and some of them make good livings and long careers out of those choices, and some of them don’t end up being clich├ęs. Some of them, many of them, don’t end up raddled on drugs or dead in parking lots. Some of them, many of them, aren’t victims. In the twenty-first century, many of them make good choices and add to our understanding of the world we live in and even the relationships we have and the sex we decide to indulge in.
Stoya, the pornstar behind the
New Statesman article

The New Statesman recently ran an article in which a sex worker, a porn star going by the name of Stoya, outlined her ideas about consent, what it means and how everyone can invoke the right to say NO. I think she has a point, so I’m posting a link to the article here (by all means check out the video, but it’s aimed at people who are interested in becoming performers in the adult entertainment industry).

I’m ambivalent about all of this. I hear tell that the proliferation of porn gives young people taking their first forays into their own sexual experiences unrealistic expectations, and that worries me. I’m ambivalent about all of this. I see the sort of trash porn that is freely available on the net and I know that kids are watching it and maybe thinking that anything goes and everything is normal, and that worries me. When I was a kid, we learned about sex by finding someone we liked and messing about with them, and, on the whole (no pun intended), I think that was probably what had been going on since time immemorial and I think it was probably pretty healthy.

Right now, though, it would be naive to think that’s what’s happening for this generation of kids and for a decent percentage of adults too, and, right now, we have to do what we can to ensure that we are all healthy in mind and body when it comes to our personal lives, and that has to include our sexual relationships.

I might not take advice from a porn star, but I also never, ever had any trouble saying no to anything. I never had any trouble laughing at anything or being shocked by anything. Perhaps now is precisely the time for many people to be taking advice from a porn star on the subject of sex and sexual relationships. I’m tempted to think that most of her advice is at the very least pragmatic for our times, and most of it isn't half-bad either.

Thursday 13 February 2014

My Last Word on Self-Publishing...

For now.

I had a bit of a snark the other day about a self-publishing masters degree newly being offered by UCLAN. Don’t worry, I haven’t changed my mind about it, but it got me thinking about a post I wrote last October titled Self-Publishing: The Experiment.

I’ve written several of my own novels, by which I mean books that weren’t commissioned, and, as yet, none of them has been published. There are any number of reasons for this, and I take the rejection on the chin and move on.

One of those books is called Addled Kat and it won universal praise from all of my beta-readers, which, frankly is unheard of. One of those people is my brother’s partner, who loved the book so much she is desperate for me to write the sequel. The book was turned down by a plethora of publishers and, as a consequence, despite having a plot in mind, there is no plan to write the second in the series. No one’s going to pay for it, and I can earn every day from my writing, so... you know...

My lovely brother
While the book was with my agent, I did get quite a lot of interest, and, my brother being the loyal and wonderful man he is, boldly made a deal with me that if the book wasn’t traditionally published he’d take it on as a self-publishing project so that I’d write the sequel for his partner. He’s a bit of a dude, my brother.

I shook his hand. 

It all seemed like a bit of fun at the time.

We haven’t got around to doing it, of course, because we’re busy people, and, frankly, when the book didn’t sell I was more than a little reluctant to go the self-publishing route. I’d painted myself into a corner, because I’d shaken my brother’s hand and I didn’t see a way out of it. I do like to keep my promises. I always keep my promises. So, I decided to throw myself wholeheartedly behind the whole idea and approach it with my usual enthusiasm.

Turns out, on this occasion, I just might not have to.

When I wrote my last blog Self-Publishing part ii, I, naturally, did my research, and it was only then that I found out just how little self-publishers are actually likely to earn. It’s one thing spending a considerable amount of time writing a book, but at least, with traditional publishing, when it’s done I can hand it over and let other specialists get on with the hard work of editing, proofing and fixing the thing up with fonts, covers, blurbs, isbn numbers and all the other stuff required to make an actual book. Also, I get paid to write. I get an advance. I don’t have to wait for odds and sods of money to trickle in. I don’t have to wait for the damned thing to sell before I can pay my bills. Then the royalties are well royalties.

The research I did for my last blog included an article in the Guardian, which told me that the average earnings for a self-publisher was £6375 last year, and that fifty percent of writers made less than £250... £250! The vast majority of self-publishers sell multiple novels this way, not just the one book that I planned. That figure is not per novel it is per self-publisher!

Even if my one little book were to make the average earnings of any self-publisher in a year, I still have the financial and time outlay of making the book fit for publication, I still don’t get an advance, and it’s still all in the luck of the draw and the laps of the gods. I’ve also got to wait til those twelve months are up to reap all of those £6375, and who are we kidding here? It’s only ever going to get to that amount if I spend an inordinate amount of time plugging the damned thing through every social media network I can tap into, and time is money! It wouldn’t be hard to spend six grand’s worth of my time on social networks flogging the book over twelve months, would it?

When I said it turns out I might not have to keep my promise to my brother, I meant it, because when I show him these stats, I know exactly what he’ll say. He’ll tell me it’s a waste of time and effort, and he’ll tell me to pitch something I know will sell to one of my contacts in the real publishing World.

On the other hand, I might just take a little time out and write one of the other many ideas that just won’t leave me alone, because, who knows? One of these days I might just be able to sell one of my own books! 

BTW, if you have any interest in reading the first chapter of Addled Kat here's a link.

Monday 10 February 2014

Self-Publishing part ii

I’m not a fan of self-publishing and I told you all why I’m not a fan when I wrote Self-Publishing part i. 

It has its up side of course, because it keeps a certain amount of crap off agents’ slushpiles, leaving more room for them to look at what’s left, or at least I hope it does. On the other hand, I happen to know that some agents and publishers are actually using the self-published sections of Amazon and other sellers as slushpiles, so, as they say, go figure!

I am, broadly speaking, a fan of education. I’ve exhorted you all to get one, more than once. I’m particularly in favour of writers being educated, since I honestly believe that the best stories come out of the most interesting minds, and I also genuinely believe that the most interesting minds belong to the best informed, most well-read people. It stands to reason, doesn’t it?

UCLAN's banner promoting its MA in self-publishing
For our sins, the World has now made available to us all a post-graduate degree in self-publishing. Well, not so much the World as UCLAN, the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. The course blurb begins:

Having produced commercial success stories, such as 50 Shades of Grey, self-publishing is now a highly successful and respected business model for both new and established authors.

OK, so anyone who invokes one of the most badly written books I’ve ever read as any sort of example of, well, anything is on a hiding to nothing from the outset. When an academic institution does it, I’m frankly appalled. UCLAN was ranked 92 of 124 (and falling) in the university league tables in 2014, and I doubt whether the introduction of this new MA in self-publishing is going to do anything to help that situation.

Clearly, the university wants the course to succeed, however. The first course requirement is an undergraduate degree or equivalent experience; so far so normal. However, the second course requirement is a writing sample. The people running this course are going to choose the best writers to take part. Surely this flies in the face of the whole point of self-publishing, which is that anyone can see his book in print. The people running this course are, in effect, fulfilling the role of the agent.

Why, then, would anyone in her right mind spend the £5000 on tuition fees that this one year full-time course costs and lose a year’s income to do it when she could simply send her book out to agents and, potentially, gain representation and have her book published professionally?

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it.

How long would it take to make back the cost of taking the MA in terms of self-published books? The average earnings for full-time paid work in the UK are £26,500. If we add the cost of the MA that brings us up to £31,500. According to the Guardian, the average earnings of a self-published author last year were £6375 and half of all self-published authors earned less than £250.

It’s worth remembering at this point that the average is skewed massively by the success stories and that a great deal of the rest is earned by professionally published authors who self-publish their out of print novels. Leaving that on one side and assuming that our MA graduates earn the average, it would still take them 4 years and 11 months to earn back the cost of taking a year out of work and paying for the degree.

As I mentioned before, if writing samples are being taken into account, and only the best candidates are chosen, these are the very same people who stand the best chance of being published in the real world.

I’ve been critical of creative writing degrees,  most notably in my blogs Creative Writing Courses - should you or shouldn't you? and The debate on Creative Writing courses continues to rage... but if I wanted to be truly scathing about the direction further education is taking I think I’d save the best of my rage for the MA in self-publishing. I think it’s cynical and wasteful of peoples’ time and money. I do hope UCLAN doesn’t start a trend for other degrees of this type in other universities.

If you want to self-publish go ahead and do it. There are any number of self-publishing tools on the web with their own help menus. When I put self-publishing into Google I got 165 million results. I can’t help thinking you’ll probably be able to find everything you need right there, and most of it for free.

Sunday 9 February 2014

When 2 plus 2 equals 5

This is how things start. This is how the news gets distorted and this is how rumours spread.

Let this be an object lesson to you all.

Early last year the husband and his collaborator on comic book jobs for many years parted company. That news never really seemed to get out. I don’t know why, but it didn’t. The husband wasn’t asked about it and didn’t choose to release the information in any formal sort of way.

Asked a question on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, the husband commented that he no longer worked with his former partner, and gradually that information began to leak out. It hit, which is a news site for this sort of thing. I didn’t know that, though, until rather later.

Meanwhile, as you know, I write a blog.

Today, my blog had a little stats spike, by which I mean that I had roughly double the number of hits that I might have expected on a regular Saturday, and certainly rather more than I could hope for on a day when I hadn’t written or posted a blog.

I thought this odd, so I glanced at the traffic sources column and there was listed at the very top: I’m not terribly familiar with the site, because my interest in comics is fairly limited and my interest in comic-related websites and fora is non-existent. Nevertheless, I clicked on the link and had a rummage around.

The news item about the husband was short and to the point. So far so good, but as fate would have it, the very day after the husband answered that question on Twitter, I wrote a blog entitled Kiss and Make Up about friendship and betrayal, and about mending relationships when they falter, even if you happen to be the wronged party. It was a blog that garnered quite a lot of interest and appreciation, and I was glad of that, because I genuinely believed, and still believe, that the subject matter was important.

I always post my blogs on Twitter and Facebook, and I also happen to share a Twitter account with the husband, mostly because he’s too busy to tweet more than occasionally.

Here’s where 2 plus 2 equals 5. 
A little light adding up for the
zen master of cool

Some bright spark on the forum, who ironically goes by the handle 'zen master of cool', had added the tweet about the husband and his partner parting to the plug for my blog about friendship on the same Twitter feed and decided that the two were connected. He’d then posted this theory on the forum at with a nifty little link to the blog.

There is so much wrong with this sort of maths that I’m not going to begin to try to explain it. I didn’t try to explain it to the self-proclaimed zen master, either, except to thank him for the spike on my stats graph and point out that all of my blogs are plugged on that Twitter account and that I have no interest in my husband’s working relationships.

If this sort of connection can happen in someone’s head, if this sort of weird misunderstanding can occur so easily, imagine the scale on which such silly shit must happen in the real world of newspapers and magazines. Red top journalists are schooled in the art of finding the most interesting (for which read salacious) stories, so just imagine the leads they follow and the connections they make, and then imagine how those stories grow in their... imaginations.

Mr zen master not only got hold of entirely the wrong end of the stick and shook it vigorously, but in his head, he even appears to have entirely misread my blog, which had a happy ending, and he misunderstood its meaning too. 

Go figure.

So, there you go, folks… If you ever needed a reason to take everything you read with a pinch of salt and not believe anything you didn't see with your own two eyes or hear straight from the horse's mouth then I hope this blog might prove useful to you. 

Wednesday 5 February 2014

A Note on Innovators

It's very good to find out that in the very prescriptive world in which we live there are still genuine innovators. I know this because we were with one yesterday.
the husband and I took a meeting yesterday, by invitation with someone we hadn't met before. This happens once in a while, and we do it when someone proposes a project that holds some potential interest for us... Usually for him. To be fair, we went back and forth on this one, but in the end our interest was sufficiently piqued, and  it was a nice excuse to get some other things done in London too.

We're glad we went.

Innovation is a rare and wonderful thing. It takes a particular mindset and a particular will, particularly in the arts, and, very particularly in entertainment. Producing good entertainment is generally an expensive business and time consuming, too, and everyone is looking for the next big thing, the thing that will put him on the map, make his name or his reputation, and always, always earn back the investment in the project. 

It's tough out there. Audiences and end users are demanding and fickle. Sadly that tends to lead to the same stuff or the same kind of stuff being produced and reproduced over and over again, the same movies, books, games, comics... You name it... Because it's safer to give the audience and end users more of what pleases them than it is to offer something new and different that might excite some new interest.

The truth is that the audience doesn't actually know what it wants until it is offered something, and then it reacts. The problem is that the big corporate entertainment companies won't or don't take those chances. It isn't in there best interests.

Innovation tends to be left in the hands of youth and inexperience. It's hard to fault their drive, energy and enthusiasm, but they're often simply reinventing the wheel, because their experience of what has gone before is limited. Their creative muscles aren't yet honed, either, so, while I urge them to continue in their endeavours, to learn and grow, I also know that they are probably going to end up being the corporate men and women of the future.

The man the husband and I met with yesterday has got quite a brilliant idea for his latest project. It is innovative. He's driving forward into new realms that will change the industry he's working in, should he succeed, which I suspect he might well. I was impressed. I was equally impressed that he's already succeeded in two entertainment businesses and that he is using his knowledge and experience to branch out. This man knows what he's doing and he knows how to achieve his goals.

Big corporations don't innovate, but when someone with experience of that world is able to step out of it and take a risk, that's when something new and exciting just might happen.

I do hope so.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

"Laughter… the most civilised music in the universe": Peter Ustinov

It doesn’t matter what I do...

... In fact, I do nothing at all.

Nevertheless, my post entitled The blog in which I eulogise Peter Ustinov consistently attracts more hits per day than any other blog. Other blogs have had more hits, but none has been more consistently read on a day-to-day basis.

I’m rather sorry, then, that I didn’t spend more time on this particular blog actually eulogising the great man.

I did mention that Peter Ustinov was the first man I ever fell in love with when I was nine or ten years old. I made it a habit, ever after, and, I think, to my credit, to judge every love by the love I felt for the man himself. I wasn’t much attracted by looks... I was always attracted by intellect and attitude. I was always attracted by the cleverest, funniest boy. I tell every girl that will listen that the boy they should be interested in is the cleverest, funniest boy on the playground with the biggest penis. Aged nine, I doubt that I had very much interest in Peter Ustinov’s penis... and thank heaven for that. 

I stand by my declaration, however. I stand by it; I repeat it, and I absolutely mean it. Girls, when you’re looking for a man, you want the best combination you can achieve of the cleverest, funniest boy with the biggest penis, and if all that comes in combination with a huge appetite for life and all that offers then you might just be in for a very interesting ride.

I do feel that I rather let Peter Ustinov down in the post that I named for him, though.

I suggested in that post that I would eulogise him, but, in the end, there was little room to talk about the man, because my mind was on other, at the time, more important things.

Time and tide have proven me very, very wrong on that front.

The fact that more people view that post every day than any other proves to me that there is a genuine interest in Peter Ustinov, and my interest in him was genuine, too... aged nine. Frankly, it was no less genuine when I was aged 19 or 29, and it is no less genuine now... except for the fact that the man is dead, so I won’t get to talk to him, or find out, in any very personal way, what he was really like, or whether his penis lived up to his persona.

Honestly... I kid you not girls... When I say that what you need to concentrate on is looking for the cleverest, funniest man with the biggest penis, I’m not actually kidding... Really!

Enough! Enough of all that.

Let’s get down to brass tacks and talk about Peter Ustinov.

I do so love a polymath.

I do so love a man with an education.

I do so love a raconteur.

There is nothing more intoxicating than a man who can tell a damned good story.

There is nothing sexier than a man who can make me laugh.

Is that just me? I seriously doubt it.

Peter Ustinov was a king among men... I was tempted to say that Peter Ustinov was a god among men, and I’m tempted still. If a man can be a god, and that’s my only question, then Peter Ustinov most certainly was one. 

Peter Ustinov, actor, story-teller, writer, bon viveur, raconteur... I think of him as I perceived him, and part of that involves the mysterious workings of a nine year old girl’s mind, which it is almost impossible to translate here. He was a husband and father, too, though. He was a writer and a reader, an intellectual and a man of the people the brightest people, perhaps, who could make the best of his wit, but the people, nonetheless.

I don’t know what is so constricting, so limiting about the times we live in, but they seem to preclude the emergence of another Peter Ustinov. 

Bill Gates doesn’t have the ‘nads, the humour, the sex appeal, the breadth and depth of thinking. 

Peter Ustinov was of his time and for his time, and I’m very happy that, as young as I was, I somehow managed to see something of that, however narrow my comprehension of it might have been.

When I was nine or ten years old, I fell in love with Peter Ustinov. He was my first love, and I am more grateful for that than I can adequately express.

To watch Peter Ustinov talking about tv and other things in 1965 follow this link. Trust me, it's a treat.

This is longer, and I'm not a fan of Parkinson, but if you can get past him, it's a wonderful way to spend an hour.

The best bred mongrel in Europe: Mr Peter Ustinov:

Monday 3 February 2014

Tell Someone You Love Him… or Her (obviously)

I know people who can talk for hours on all sorts of inconsequential subjects... and I do mean inconsequential. It’s not that they aren’t entertaining or lovely and it isn’t that they don’t love, so why is it that these same people... why is it that all of us sometimes have trouble expressing our emotions? Why is it that we all sometimes, often even, have trouble expressing love?

I’ve been on a bit of a riff about honesty recently, about being honest with oneself and with other people. It might have gone a bit deep in some of my blogs, but it was right on the surface when I wrote my blog Best Foot Forward the other day, and the very same theme is going to be loud and clear in today’s blog.

Here’s the thing... Tell someone you love that you love him.

Go on...

... Do it.

Do it now.

Do it often.

What harm can it do?

None... right?

That’s not the reason to do it, though.

Here’s the reason to do it, and it’s as plain as the nose on your face, but it’s also a little bit magic. It’s no secret, but you just might not have come up with it yourself.

Are you ready for this?

Here goes!

Think of the good it can do!

Think how much you can nurture a person’s self-esteem and confidence by telling her that you love her, by letting her know that somebody loves her. Think how much you can dissipate a person’s insecurities and banish her vulnerabilities with a simple verbalisation of your positive feelings towards her.

So why wouldn’t you do that?

Think of all the people who have made your day or your life by expressing their love for you in words. Think of that one singular person.

Think of the people who failed you when they could have told you they loved you and didn’t. Think of the difference that might have made on an especially tough day.

When we love someone we make ourselves responsible for him and we make ourselves vulnerable to him, pretty much in equal measures. That happens anyway. It happens without us noticing it, and it happens whether we like it or not. It also happens whether we say those words or not. Failing to express that love doesn’t make the feelings less powerful and it doesn’t make the joy or pain that loving a person brings with it any less extraordinary to enjoy or easy to endure, so why not say those words?

We are ready enough with insults; we are ready enough to tell people we hate them, even the people we love, so what on Earth are we so hung up on?

I’m not talking about paragraphs of purple prose, here, I’m talking about simple, everyday declarations of heartfelt adoration.

I tell the husband that I adore him all the time. I tell my children that I love them, “more than the World”. I tell them so, because it’s true.

If you struggle with these declarations, and, while I don’t, I know that others do, there’s one little trick you might employ.

We, the closest members of my family, have a couple of little ticks that just mean we say those words, make those declarations very easily as a sort of habit. We’ve almost built things into our lives so that it’s a choice not to make that statement of love.

Phone calls are a fine example of this. I don’t know how many times I’ve been glanced at by strangers when I’ve said, “seeya, love ya, bye” at the end of a short conversation. People seem surprised by the little sing-song sign-off. It’s what we do, though. Not to do it is to be cross about something, but actually, even pretty angry or frustrated about whatever is going on, we usually end up signing off in that fashion.

I’ve ended a phone call more than once not meaning to say it, or surprised that I’d said it, and been very glad that I had, because... Well, because, who knows? On occasion, I’ve even rung back after not saying it because I was distracted or hurried; I've rung back because I loved the person on the other end of the call and I didn’t want to be misunderstood. I’ve rung my husband or one of my daughters for no other reason than to say the words “seeya, love ya, bye.”   

The other thing I do, mostly with the dort, because it seems somehow less formal than the full declaration, “I love you” is a shorthand version. It’s sweet without being sentimental, but somehow more everyday, less serious, without being any less meaningful. Sometimes in texts, but in person too, we just say, “Loves” or “Loves, loves”.

There is more than one way to skin a cat, but in the end you want that ball of fur in one hand and the naked cat in the other. I can’t recommend highly enough the simplest option. 

Tell the person you love that you love him and two people will feel wonderful. I guarantee it.

Oh, and I love you You know who you are.

Loves loves.