Saturday, January 31, 2004
Seven pages yesterday. 2,200 words, to get to the end of a chapterette, and I'm not going to be far short of my ration for the month. January always is an easy month, but none the less...
I think perhaps one reason why I'm working so much is the old escapism clause, which applies to the writer as much as it does the reader. Or as little, but in this case quite a lot. I'd really rather not spend too much time hanging out in the real world just now, it's making me too angry. I don't want to plunge into a diatribe on British political scandalmongery (just Google 'Hutton enquiry' for the details) but the results are a scandal in themselves. It ought to be no surprise; Hutton is a Law Lord, and people have been saying that as though it were a byword for independent and objective judgement, whereas in fact it means he's an absolute establishment figure, so of course he would tend to come down pro-government and anti-media. Even so, the depths of his bias seem to have astonished just about everybody who's paid any attention to the case. He heard the same evidence that we did, but his conclusions are mind-numbingly perverse. He's bought into the government line at every turn, exonerated them entirely and done deep and lasting damage to the BBC. Good and honest men have resigned, while politicians are smirking. The only good news is that the British public doesn't believe it; we tend not to be a nation of conspiracy theorists (except about Princess Diana, obviously), but the poll results are almost as cynical as I am. One cannot help but wonder what Hutton actually thinks this piece of work will do for his reputation; my own money says that in a fairly short time, 'doing a Hutton' will become standard slang for a blatant whitewash.
Sorry, I said I wouldn't, didn't I? And there I was, diatribing already. But I really am very angry. Apparently 'diatribe' derives from the Greek word for 'spending time', which is a little curious, but kind of accurate. Rage does eat up the space available for other pursuits.
But I don't like it, I don't enjoy being angry, so off I go pursuing a book instead. These times of busy working are of course multifactorial, there is no single cause to glue me to the keyboard; another, and just as true, is simply that I'm enjoying this stage of the work. Sometimes, writing still can make me happy, the actual process as well as the end-of-day achievement, the pagecount. And then there are the sidebars, where writing rubs up against the world: as for example the fact that I posted 'Dragon Kings' to Pete Crowther on Monday of this week, and this morning I had the cheque. I think that's a record, but it's not just a cold statistic, it's also a nice warm fuzzy feeling that stretches all the way from the story to the bank.
Posted by Chaz at 01:07 PM GMT [Link]
Thursday, January 29, 2004
Tuesday was one of those confirmatory days, where you find out that something you've always assumed or accepted to be awful really is just as bad as you imagined; and then yesterday, ah, yesterday was good.
Tuesday we had a grading meeting at the university: half a dozen of us in a room and three and a half hours of 'You've marked him at a 58, but look, I gave her a 60 and if you compare their papers, look, she's not as good as he is...' It was, of course, a nightmare; what else could it be? Even with the wonderful Geoff Ryman there, who's teaching here next semester: Geoff whom I've known for twenty years, Geoff who is taller than me and smarter than me and a better writer to boot.
That meeting was so awful, there was nothing I could do after but stagger home, open a bottle of wine and read Terry Pratchett. And try not to think of those poor souls - many of whom I know - who do this stuff for a living, year in and year out. I deliberately keep the university work peripheral, do as little as I can, so that I can walk away at any time. That open door is a luxury, and I do appreciate it. I wouldn't want anyone to think I took it for granted.
But then came yesterday, and that was just happiness all round. Crunched through fresh snow in the morning to get to my Pratchett class, then spurned an offer of lunchtime drinking in order to come home and work (and yes, there really are times when saying no to a drink makes me happy; usually it's times like this, when the call of the keyboard is the stronger). Came home, checked the e-mail - and the lovely Peter Crowther wants to publish Dragon Kings Play Songs of Love, in his new magazine Postscript. Reading the story to Bryan & co at the weekend had reignited my fondness for it, which was reinforced by the company's reaction, so I sent it to Peter on Monday. Swiftness is a virtue in any editor; when they're swift to say yes, this is doubly blessed.
Buoyed by that, I might have bounced down the hill to the pub with a book, and thought the day well spent. But I had come home to work, and work I did: not bone-crushingly, not anxiously, just steadily from then till bedtime, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Fifteen hundred words for the day, which is ample. And so to bed feeling entirely satisfied with myself; and the mood goes on, this morning I have again turned down an evening's socialising so that I can stay at home and work. Use it while you've got it is the rule, I think. These moods don't last.
Posted by Chaz at 01:09 PM GMT [Link]
Monday, January 26, 2004
And a happy Year of the Monkey to all my readers. I cooked nine courses of Sichuan feast-food for a table of friends - which means of course that I cooked Fuchsia Dunlop, whose book Sichuan Cookery is one of those instant classics, and will still be definitive in fifty years. Even so, there is always that thing where you follow a recipe exactly, and it doesn't exactly work; most commonly the timing's off, and the food isn't cooked. Partly I guess this is down to personal taste, partly quality of ingredients, partly equipment (and particularly ovens, of course, where eight or nine graduations are a nonsense in a domestic cooker; ovens are cool, medium or hot, and that's about it). Even so, where the recipe says 'simmer for fifteen minutes' and you have to add a good hour to that to get the rabbit tender, I think something's gone askew.
Still and all, it was two days of effort to make far too much food, nothing went seriously pear-shaped and people were nice afterwards, so that was all worth while. Then we went all Victorian, and read to each other. I took my Chinese fantasy story, Dragon Kings Play Songs of Love, which seemed appropriate to the occasion. Others ranged from the Pied Piper to an uncle's autobiography.
And today I had lunch with the great Val McDermid, and came home to confront student portfolios with my marking pen in my hand, and pretty much waved a white flag and went to bed instead. There is clearly something wrong with me, but every time I go near those portfolios it gets significantly worse. It is the Examiner's Evil, and can only be cured by the touch of a senior lecturer...
Posted by Chaz at 01:17 AM GMT [Link]
Friday, January 23, 2004
The great thing about drink - no, one of the many great things about drink is the way it lays down such a crude pattern of interference, fogs up the whole district indiscriminately. Sometimes discrimination is just completely undesirable. I've been living for days with a sort of scratchy, swollen feeling to my tongue (sorry if this is too much information, but it's your own fault for reading someone else's diary); this morning I woke up with a tenderness in my throat and it was very, very hard to get out of bed. In many ways this was a relief; I'm crap about going to the doctor, but I do hypochondria very well, and if I've got a virus then I probably haven't got all the other stuff I've been worrying about.
At the same time, this would be a totally crap time to have a virus, as I have to cook a Chinese new year banquet on Saturday, and mark & write reports on a couple of dozen student portfolios by next Tuesday, and I'm seeing a friend on Sunday and still trying to keep a grip on the slippery oiled tail of my novel as it slithers out of my grasp, so I do not have time to be ill.
So I took my work to town, headed for the Lit & Phil and felt odd all the way, marked a few portfolios and felt worse, all dizzy and headachy and strange; abandoned the hopeless enterprise and went to the pub. And I've been drinking ever since, and you know what? I feel great. I have no idea if I'm sick or not; alcohol has overridden everything, numbed my nerve-endings and my neuroses both, set me in a steady state of fuzz where frankly I couldn't tell if I had a virus or bubonic plague, they'd both feel much the same through this blanket of white noise. From here I can regard the whole damn world with equanimity. At least for tonight. Tomorrow it'll all be worse, one day fewer to do the same and more, and God knows how I'll be feeling; but that's tomorrow, and there's nothing I can do about it tonight. I'm going to bed.
Posted by Chaz at 12:52 AM GMT [Link]
Sunday, January 18, 2004
Yesterday was Andrea Badenoch's memorial, and I'm not really sure I want to talk about it. What's to say, what can I tell you that's useful to be told? Some of you knew her, so you know already how multi-faceted she was, as elegant in thought as she was in person, and as sharp, and always surprising. Those of you who didn't, I can't draw her for you now; all I can do is sympathise, and suggest you read the books. In order, preferably: start with Mortal, and go on. They get better and better.
We had a sort of muted celebration, readings and reminiscences at the Quaker meeting house: a little tearful but affirmatory, fitting both to the occasion and its locale. Then back to her house for a little food and a lot of drinking, at least in my case. Apparently I had whole conversations with people on the phone after I got home, which began with my explaining very carefully quite how drunk I was, so that the conversations had best be repeated today. Which they were, and just as well, because I don't remember a word of the originals, I don't remember their happening at all. When I was a teenager, I remember middle-aged friends talking about alcoholic amnesia, and I assumed they were joking, I thought it only happened to alcoholics. Sigh.
And today, today I declined the offer of a long walk in the country (one of those errant phone-calls) in order to stay home and work. Again. Can virtue be a habit, I wonder, does it cling...?
Posted by Chaz at 11:57 PM GMT [Link]
Friday, January 16, 2004
I didnít go to the cinema today, and I want full credit for my abstinence. The invitation was there, the film was attractive - Lost in Translation, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson (whom we saw in Girl with a Pearl Earring a few days back, and thought really rather good) - and no doubt there would have been dinner and drinking and happy talking after. And look, here I am, a stay-at-home. No, no, I cried, I'm working...
And I am, I truly am, it wasn't an excuse. I seem to be working on three or four different things at once, which is frustrating - proposals and submissions and unpaid articles, not to mention the bloody university - but at least I keep coming back to the novel, that's the focus that everything else spins around. I can be spun off, but not (at the moment) for long. Which is not to say that I think I'm doing particularly well with the novel, it's in one of those phases where I keep thinking 'Christ, this should have been over in five pages, and it's taken twenty-five' - but at least it's in progress, I'm engaged and enjoying it. Always a good sign, when I'm turning down treats to stay home and work.
Got to go now, no time for logorrhoea in the weblog. To the book, to the book; we shall be brought to book. Book early, book often... (Exit, pursued by a bear with a sore head)
Posted by Chaz at 12:48 AM GMT [Link]
Friday, January 9, 2004
At times like these, it's oddly easy to feel that you've had a good day. What have I done today? I've spoken to a couple of friends, on the telephone and in the flesh; I've bought a book; I've read some, watched some TV, listened to the radio, cooked dinner, had a bath. And I've written a thousand words, which in itself is enough to satisfy; and it just felt like a normal part of the day, here's me doing the thing that I do, which is always good. And now I've done my weblog also, which is another good deed in a naughty world.
For those who knew Andrea, and are in striking distance of Newcastle, we're having a memorial for her on Saturday week, the 17th. Twelve noon at the Friends' Meeting House on Archbold Terrace, and then afterwards at her house for wine and readings.
Posted by Chaz at 11:50 PM GMT [Link]
Thursday, January 8, 2004
Andrea Badenoch died on Sunday, and it's taken me this long even to record it. For those not fortunate enough to know her, Andrea was a writer, a teacher, an academic and an editor. She had a partner and children, she loved to garden, she was a snappy dresser in a community that tends to run to the shabby, she was a passionate and committed friend, and she died too bloody young. Maybe everybody dies too young except for those who live too long, maybe it's just a truism but that doesn't prevent its being true. I think there's as much anger as sorrow on Tyneside this week. Sometimes death is just an outrage.
Posted by Chaz at 12:45 AM GMT [Link]
Wednesday, January 7, 2004
I found myself musing on friendship today, and the breaking of friendships - which so far as I remember is a thing I've never done, not part of my understanding, which is why I'm always so bemused when it's done to me. I'm not claiming never to have let a friendship slip, that would be ridiculous and untrue, a hundred times untrue: but only by passivity, by inaction, by letting things drift too far. I can drift on a continental scale, and I'm hopeless at keeping in touch.
The other thing, though, the sudden decision that we can no longer be friends: every time people tell me that - and they do, with increasing frequency - I find myself in awed admiration of their ruthlessness, at the same time that I'm flinching from their candour. I think I must be missing a bone somewhere, probably a backbone, a spineless creature I. I admire it because I cannot do it, I can't conceive of doing it, or of living in a way that would call on me to do it. That notion of friendship as a constructed thing, a thing that can therefore be disassembled, even though it leave scars and wreckage in the landscape: no. It doesn't work that way, not for me. Friendship is irredeemable: no deposit, no return, as it used to say on pop bottles when I was young. It can turn twisted and vicious and black, surely, it can be stretched too far and spread too thin, it can suffer in a thousand ways but you can't just snap it off. At least, I can't. There are people out there who can, or think they can; people who will tell you that I am no longer a friend of theirs, though we used to be close. Well, don't tell them, but they are secretly still friends of mine, even if we haven't talked for years. We'll always have Paris, and that's enough. That's a definition. Friendship doesn't go away; when it's feeling bruised, it just crawls off and hunkers down somewhere in the past, in the good times. They can't take that away from me.
And other popular sentimental songs, and cheap cultural references. Oh, lawks. It's the new year, it always turns me mawkish. I know we always try to see ourselves and our own behaviour in the best possible light, or at least the light in which we like ourselves the best, but sometimes I do suspect myself of a secret hankering after saintliness. I think saints think that way: black & white and sentimental, all the philosophy and life-experience of the greetings card, simple and savage and blunt. The good news is that I can't keep it up. Simple is difficult for me, I just keep complicating things; I can be cruel but savagery is beyond me, I'm too nervous to be savage; and blunt - well, no. Never. Not in any sense. I cut myself again today, bless these knives of mine.
And I started writing a piece for the local paper, about a crime fiction festival we're having at the Lit & Phil here next month. Eight hundred words of basic English prose on a given theme, with all the facts to hand: it should have been a morning's work, and I've struggled with it all day and not got halfway through. God, but I hate journalism. Gave it up in the end, left it till tomorrow and cooked another turkey tajine just to prove that the first one wasn't a fluke. Half my birthday presents were foodie, you'd expect that; but it's remarkable how, with no hints and no consultation, so many of them are ideal for a tajine and have almost no use else. Fruit and nuts in honey, what else are you going to do with that? Pickled tangerines, for crying out loud? They couldn't have got it righter if I'd written them a list. Friends are good...
Posted by Chaz at 12:33 AM GMT [Link]
Monday, January 5, 2004
So there went the festive season, then. I feel stewed to rags, and largely by cooking; first for the anaesthetists, and then for Xmas day (three-bird roast and seven veg, after prawns and cucumber mousse for starters and followed of course by the pudding. The three birds were goose, chicken and pheasant, boned and stuffed the one inside the other and again, and interleaved with pork & orange stuffing; I'm still too chicken to do the job myself, so this one came from Seldom Seen Farm in Leicestershire, and is highly recommended), and yesterday again for my birthday. I had a tea-party, from three till whenever people left, so I boiled & glazed a ham, roasted a joint of beef (I wish I could say a baron, but alas...) and made cakes and scones and such. Had a couple of disasters, but that's okay, I'm still a novice baker. A fruit cake just had to be slung out, but no matter for that, people have probably had too much of fruit cake by this end of the season; and when the sponge layers came out more leathery than spongy, I converted my caramel cake into a banoffee flan, by the strategic purchase of a precooked base and a scatter of bananas over the far-too-gorgeous-to-waste caramel cream filling. Never made caramel before; it's scary, but it's fun.
Then I let the gannets - sorry, guests - in, and they devoured almost everything, which impressed the hell out of me. For me it was one of those busy-busy parties where you're always dashing around trying to meet three different needs at once, and so never get to talk to anyone; but so it should be, and I think most people enjoyed themselves. And they brought lots of presents, which is after all the point and purpose of a birthday party; and the good thing about starting mid-afternoon is that people tend to drift off commensurately early, so you have time to wind down and have a bath and watch Red Dwarf and still be in bed at a relatively normal hour. God knows why I'm so shattered today, then, but I am.
Today being the first day of the working year, my thoughts turned virtuously to the novel, which I seem not to have looked at for weeks; and then they seized the sudden opportunity of a day-trip to the Bowes Museum (a strange faux-chateau near Barnard Castle, which is itself near nowhere; it ain't actually that far as the crow flies, but it takes forever to get there) to see a William Morris exhibition. Love Morris, love the whole Arts & Crafts movement, we have strong connections here in the north-east, there are a hundred good reasons to go to such a thing even discounting the company of friends; but the best reason, obviously, is that I should have stayed home and done working. Or at least done the washing-up. I did have this lovely theory that in the days before the party I could devote many hours to cleaning, tidying & sorting, so that the working year should begin fresh and scrubbed and ready. Hah, say I. Many hours came down to a quick hoover on Sunday morning, and shove all the papers into the office any old how; so in fact, what with all the dirty dishes & lost documents, the house and my life are now in worse order than they were before. And the only one surprised at this is me.
Posted by Chaz at 09:50 PM GMT [Link]
© Chaz Brenchley 2002/2006
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.