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Chaz'z Blog

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

For I will consider my cat Misha
For I am the servant of the living Cat, duly and daily serving Her

Etc. For those of you who donít know the original, go check out Christopher Smartís Jubilate Agno - thereís some good stuff in there. "For I bless God for my Newcastle friends, the voice of the raven and heart of the oak" - how could you not love this man?

However, the realisation of cat-worship in my life is our proper topic of the month, and I must report upon the princess. The vet is pleased and a little surprised; frankly, he didn't really expect her to survive. But she has done that thing, though her head is still askew and she is still taking mega medications (I learned on Sunday that the steroid she's on is the very same that I was taking myself a couple of months back; gave me a warm feeling, that did. But she's on one-eighth of my dose, and I weigh considerably more than eight times two kilos, which is what she weighs. As I said, mega medications...). She has condescended to start eating again - the most expensive foods on the cat shelf, and fresh chicken in the evenings - and last night, oh joy, she regained her esprit de l'escalier.

Thing is, with her head on sideways and her balance shot to ribbons, she has a strong tendency to fall over. This is no great harm on the floor, not a calamity if she falls off the sofa; on a steep staircase, it could be another matter. The first few days after I fetched her back from hospital, I kept her shut into the dining room & kitchen, largely to keep her away from the stairs. Turned out that I was worrying unnecessarily, though, 'cos when I did let her through, she ignored the stairs altogether and pretended we were living in a bungalow. Even at night, when ordinarily she's first up to bed while I'm still fussing with lights and visiting the bathroom, she just settled happily down in her box by the radiators. This really impressed me, because I was fairly sure she could get up the stairs okay, it was her coming down that worried me and I didn't believe that she would think far enough ahead to let it worry her. Not great chess players, cats.

But there she was, exhibiting good sense for the first known time in her little life - until last night, when clearly she decided that she could do this after all. I was in bed, and asleep, and then suddenly I wasn't, on account of the small furry thing fussing at my face. I applauded her cleverness, we had a nice snuggle and listened to the radio a while, then I turned it off and rolled over and thought she would curl up by my head as is her habit.

Not she. She went off to try the going-downstairs thing: which had me anxiously out of bed and watching, to make sure she could. Not a problem, seemingly. A little erratic, perhaps, in her progress, but nobody's awarding points. Anyway, she made it safely down, and I went back to bed. And back to sleep.

And she came back again. And left again, and this went on all night, up and down, see how clever I am, Chaz, see...?

It's midnight, and I am going to bed. Alone. For now.

Posted by Chaz at 11:56 PM GMT [Link]

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Supreme Being is home, but - well, Ďyikes!í about covers it. Her head is skewed at ninety degrees to the known universe (privately I suspect that her mind always was, but thatís another matter), and she can barely stagger about. She does a lot of that, staggering and wailing. Iíve cranked the house up to hospital heat, set her bed in the bay window where she can have radiators on three sides, and am trying - with conspicuous lack of success - to persuade her to occupy it. She prefers to drag herself around in pursuit of me. íTwas ever thus, but right now itís pitiable.

The vet says we can hope for a slow recovery, though her head may never again sit straight on her neck. Me, Iím going to hope for a quick one, straight or otherwise. Visitors are welcome, so long as they bring grapes and chocolate. Those are for me, obviously. Misha's tastes are more carnivorous. Though she is very fond of toast.

Posted by Chaz at 12:01 PM GMT [Link]

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Did the hospital-visiting thing again this afternoon, and I think the goddess seems a little brighter. They let me have half an hour with her, on account of itís Sunday and theyíre really only open for emergencies, so they donít need all the consulting rooms; and she did deign to lick a little food from my finger. I think this is the feline equivalent of allowing your slave to peel a grape for you: a gracious and a kindly act of condescension.

What sheís actually got, as well as a (presumptive) inner-ear infection, is apparently called vestibulitis. I never did like vestibules.

Posted by Chaz at 04:27 PM GMT [Link]

Saturday, October 15, 2005

This is Misha's third day in hospital. I thought she'd be in and out, as she has been before, whack the infection with antibiotics and she's a homecoming drama queen. How wrong I was. She's really seriously ill; three days in and she can still barely stand, isn't eating, won't even drink. I've just been to visit, and they carried her in like a queen on a fur-lined bed; she cracked one eye open, waved a weakly paw in my direction and yowled faintly, in a summoning, 'advance and be recognised' kind of a way. So I did the melting-marshmallow thing, and the nurses kindly left us alone for a while.

They think she's a little better today, in which case I'm glad I didnít see her yesterday. The vets say 'wait and see' and 'it's still worth persevering', which has a salutary effect on my optimism, when I can find it.

Meanwhile, what? I cook a little, clean a little, work a little, drink a lot. I go out, much of the time: I have seen happy movies (Sky High, Pride and Prejudice, like that) and foolish theatre (there is a new stage version of an old radio hit, Round the Horne, wherein they use original scripts and play them straight, but it's a recreation rather than a remake, because the contemporary actors play the originals, Kenneth Horne and Kenneth Williams &c. It occurs to me that this may make no sense at all, to anyone who wasn't English in the sixties; but Williams particularly is a cultural icon, and it's not pastiche, they play him for himself rather than for laughs, and so it is screamingly funny because he was).

School of happy coincidences: a couple of days back, a letter got misdirected by the postman, it came through my door when it shouldnít have. It was clearly addressed to someone else, who lives on another street altogether. The coincidence here is that heís actually a friend of mine. So I trotted up the road to hand-deliver, and he yelped with glee and opened it there and then, and it was from a mutual friend, and Andrew said "Weíre going to the theatre tonight, to see Round the Horne." "So am I," I said. Which made a double coincidence, which cheered us both; and then the phone rang, and it was a friend of his calling to say that the man playing Kenneth Williams was staying in her house, and would he like to go round for a drink after the show? So he shrieked, and passed the phone to me with instructions to her to repeat herself; and I shrieked, and she invited me too. 'First time is happenstance; second time is coincidence; third time is enemy action', but I didnít have time to get paranoid. Off to theatre, see show, back to Carolineís for drinks - and she turns out to be one of the kind people who helped me move here ten years ago, and there is no rubric for what the fourth coincidence means.

Another of the originals in Round the Horne was one Betty Marsden, a name I know only from that show; this evening I was watching a rerun of Sherlock Holmes and there she was, playing a landlady. Is that five, or do we have to start counting again, what with the passage of time and shift of focus?

Posted by Chaz at 06:37 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Okay, look. I know about hubris, all right? I understand the concept, and its applications. Which is why, when I spoke of finishing a book in three months, I was joking...

Some things are just pure over-reaction. Like yesterday, when the Arts Council deliberately conspired to stop me working, with a last-minute invitation to a party that I dared not refuse; like four oíclock this morning, when my Misha-cat suddenly couldnít stand up, on account of another mega-infection in her ear; like right now, when Iíve taken her to hospital and was thinking I could spend the morning chained to my keyboard before I phone at lunchtime to find out how she is, and I find that I canít, because Iíve made arrangements to meet people in town.

I get the message, okay? No more jokes, no more expectations. Just leave me alone, o ye gods...

Posted by Chaz at 10:04 AM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

There comes a time when you have to stop shilly-shallying around, and buckle down. A time to stop shopping; a time not to cook any more; a time - shock, horror - not even to clean the house.

Say it straight, sometimes you do just have to start the new book.

Actually, I like beginnings. First footsteps on journeys new-begun, all of that sentimental stuff, I love it, despite all the hesitations beforehand. Going from nothing to something, the plunge taken, full immersion guaranteed: once you step off the edge, there's nowhere to go but in.

So - at my editor's quite urgent request - I have begun vol two of Selling Water, which vol is now called River of the World (to go with Bridge of Dreams, vol one: do you see how I did that? Bridge, river; dreams, the world. Itís an exercise in contrasts).

And I wrote six pages today, which at that rate I could have it finished inside three months. Yeah, right...

Posted by Chaz at 11:05 PM GMT [Link]

Saturday, October 8, 2005

There must, I suppose, be people who would confront a sudden career-crisis by pitching full-force into the work that will - presumably, eventually - lift them out of crisis again. When the going gets tough, etc. But where the tough get going, I go shopping, or go to the pub; or in this instance, I clean the house and cook and have people round for dinner and try not to think about it.

Dinner was a Moroccan lamb-and-veg-and-pulses soup called harira, a South African chicken biryani, and exceedingly English sticky ginger pudding. This last was the best of them, I think (but then, I have been called the Queen of Puddings - which for foreign visitors should be explained as an English pudding in itself, made with breadcrumbs and eggs and jam and meringue and such - but then, if you have to explain it, it isnít funny). It started as a recipe in a magazine, but I think Iíve done enough to it - deliberately, lazily and by accident - to remake it here. This is my version, then:

Tip a 350-gram jar of stem ginger and its syrup into a food processor, and blitz till it's chopped fine. You donít want a purée.

Put half of this into a pan with 75g of dark muscovado sugar, the same of butter and 200ml of cream - double or whipping, either is fine.

Sift 175g of plain flour into a bowl with half a teaspoon each of ground ginger, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Add a couple of eggs, 75g of softened butter and 100g of dark muscovado. Mix two tablespoons of molasses sugar with one of cream and add that. Whisk till it's all incorporated.

At this point, you can set everything aside and pay attention to the starter, the main course, the cat or your guests. Come back to it when they're picking the bones out of their teeth, wiping their fingers on your tablecloth and starting to slur; they wonít even notice you've gone.

Butter a six-hole non-stick giant muffin tray, and heat the oven to gas mark 6 or thereabouts, with a baking tray on the middle shelf. I should say at this point that the original recipe said gas mark 4, but I always pre-heat a mark or two higher, because it loses heat when you open the door to slide the food in. The plan then is to knock it back to the heat desired, but sometimes I forget. This time was one of those, but it worked perfectly at the higher heat for the original timing; could be a case of variation from one oven to another, perhaps from professional to domestic, but whatever, this works for me.

Add 150ml of warm water and the rest of the blitzed ginger to the mixture, whisk it all together and spoon into the muffin tray. Slide that onto the hot baking tray in the oven, and leave for twenty minutes (well, look at it after fifteen, if youíre me, and turn it round if your oven heats unevenly; by now they should be nicely risen little puddings, and don't worry, they won't sink). Meanwhile, set the pan with the sauce ingredients onto a low heat and stir occasionally. Don't boil it, there's no need.

Turn the puddings out onto plates when done, pour the sauce over and serve with cream. Scrummy.

Posted by Chaz at 07:13 PM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

"Out of the darkness a voice spake unto me, saying, 'Smile, and be happy; behold, things could be worse.' So I smiled, and was happy; and behold, things did get worse."

Sorry. That used to make me crack up as a kid, and I've never forgotten it. Trouble is, these days I can't remember why I ever thought it was funny.

I did a lot of smiling and being happy, last week. I did a gig with Frances Fyfield and Christopher Brookmyre for the Durham LitFest, which was exceedingly easy and a lot of fun; I was hosting, but all I actually had to do was interrupt them long enough to let a couple of questions in from the audience.

I did a fair bit of work too, on the second Taiwan novella, which was fun; and then I spent the weekend in Walsall. Outside Walsall, rather, on a roundabout off the motorway. This was not, in itself, fun. But I was there for FantasyCon, which was, as it always is: some of my favourite writers, some of my favourite people (two categories not always contiguous, but sometimes), new people - check out Joe Hill, if youíre into horror; he had the best story in the last issue of Postscripts, and his first collectionís just out from PS Publishing, and he is very likely to be the Next Big Thing, once he gets around to that first novel - and lots and lots of drinking. How would this not be fun, why would I not smile and be happy?

So I did all that, and then I came home, and on Monday my career took another little nosedive, which I'd really rather not go into the details now but I do seem suddenly to be looking for a new agent.

This is interesting for all sorts of reasons, but - shock horror, Chaz Censors Blog. I am, of course, selective about what I do and don't write about in these pages, but only in terms of what is or isn't creative or engaging or illuminating. What's relevant has always gone in, if I remembered. Nothing could be more relevant to the writer's life than his relationship with his agents; I think this is the first time I've ever decided that personal or professional factors are sufficient to override relevance and keep something out.

Can't say I like it, but it is interesting. Especially as the work I'm doing at the moment, the second Taiwan novella is in the form of a blog, borrows significantly from this in both style and substance, and is currently much engaged with those early anxieties about what one should record, and what not. See, everything's relevant...

Posted by Chaz at 03:38 PM GMT [Link]

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© 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.