I’ve always been a book lover, ever since I finally had the words to read ‘Old Dog Tom’ one of the epics of the reading scheme at my 1970s primary school. No, it was not written on parchment or etched in stone. It was colourful though, I remember lovely ochre and chestnut tones and there was always something about the rhythm of the title ‘Old Dog Tom’ 3,3,3. Literary magic. Could not tell you now what that story was about but the feeling of it, the colours, the sound of it lodged in my mental geology like mica.
I read and re-read Ladybird books. I mowed my way through Enid Blyton and Sue Barton District Nurse. My mum was adept at leaving books idly on stairs and upturned on tables and in this way I found ‘The Pigman’ by Paul Zindel, Jean Plaidy’s young queens historical books and Alan Garner’s ‘Owl Service’. I roared through Alan Garner, Elidor settling into the old geology like Lewisian Gneiss.
Harriet the Spy was another geological deposit, a book I still have, yellowed and creased to glory. It is no lie to admit that many of my writing skills come from the way that book made me think about people and about their stories and their secret inner lives.
Another totally immersive book for me was The Adventures of James Bond Junior 0031/2 written by the mysterious R D Mascott. At the time I had no idea it was by a mystery author, some thought it was Dahl, others that it might be Amis. I just thought it was brilliant. I borrowed it over and over and over again from my primary school library, a small corner room at the top end of the hall that was a haven of hidden stories. These are the proper libraries, the ones that are quiet with secrets not brash with the council’s corporate hype. A library should be dusty and hidden, the shelves should be tall so that readers can scuttle between them undisturbed. There should be paperbacks and bookworms not protocol.
This book might seem an unlikely choice for a ten year old girl but believe me, I thought this book was the Bible. I liked the adventure of it, the gripping writing style and the fact that this boy just wandered around the countryside finding out secrets and solving a mystery and then, at last, not being given credit for it. It was not a sop of a book. One of my vivid recollections of its storytelling was when he ends up in the river trying to get away from the bad guys and gets his leg broken. I can’t tell you how that book imposed itself into my head. It was a wonderful place to run around in.
That’s the key. It’s what is in your head, the secret places, the hidden dreams and desires, and stories need to reach those places. We all love different stories because we are all different but we connect as tribes through those stories. I like witchcraft and the supernatural, you might like horror or crime.
You find your tribe. You build your hut. You read.
I love Autumn despite the fact that the dawning of September gives me panicked flashbacks to my schooldays. Riffling images of black polyester blazer, mustard coloured Hush Puppies and the crack of Tracey’s nose after Karen hit her with the hockey stick that time. Her nose swelled like a vast purple balloon, an image that has stayed with me. Purple. Yes. Imperially so.
Autumn has the best colours and I love the cooling weather plus there is something lush about the name ‘October’. It might be the ‘ber’ at the end, reminiscent of bears and other predatory wildlife that roam the fictional forest that fills my skull. Oct, too has a sharp clicking sound to it and probably accounts for the fact that one of my favourite aquatic creatures is ‘octopus’. November is good because it has a ‘v’ in the middle and also the word ‘ember’ which reminds us that we can light fires in the crisp Autumn darkness to chase away the less welcome spirits or invite others in.
I was at the gym the other day listening to a boring woman drone on about bad weather. She hates bad weather because when it rains ‘You are stuck in the house.’ to which I replied ‘Why? Don’t you have a coat?’, which comment went down like a lead balloon but I was in that sort of mood. What sort of a sop doesn’t like bad weather? As Billy Connolly tells us ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing’. Cold? Put a jumper on. Anyone who won’t venture out into the rain is a hopeless write off, especially in this country with its daily meteorological smorgasbord. Seriously folks, the weather here is a breeze compared to the monsoons of Asia and the wild hurricanes of Tornado Alley in the US. Get your boots on. Knit a scarf. Get out there.
I visited California on my honeymoon and it was relentlessly sunny. After about five days my husband (Welsh) and myself (Northern) began to crave some clouds. Just a few puffy ones, possibly a bit of cirrus streaked across the unending blue. Then, after a week of sweat and squinting, even with sunglasses, we needed a fix of cumulo nimbus, a great towering thunderhead and possibly a bit of a chilly breeze, maybe a spot or two of rain. It was torture. I am not of a sunny disposition it has to be confessed. I don’t roast or bake on the nearest beach; when I’m on a beach I like to build a sandcastle, which is no small embarrassment to my now grown up children.
Eventually the skies opened and we were treated to a vast and monsoon like downpour just as we decided to visit the La Brea Tarpits. It was one of my favourite moments of the generally wonderful honeymoon, the rain trickling down my neck from the collar of my cagoule as I looked at the black gloop and its cargo of concealed mammoth.
So here we are at October with its recent harvest of pumpkins. When I was a girl the only pumpkin I had ever seen was in my Ladybird ‘Cinderella’ fairytale book. Pumpkins were the fruit of myth until I visited the east coast of the US and was assailed by the pumpkin stands and general pumpkin bounty.
In more recent years the pumpkin has had a comeback in this country and I love their brightness and their fairytale aspect. The flavour isn’t half bad either, whether in a pumpkin pie or roasted with some walnuts and blue cheese. In case you were questioning my sanity I also love brussels sprouts and find it difficult to relate to those who don’t like them. What’s not to like? Green and tasty and like a fairy sized cabbage!
Autumn has all the best colours too, the vivid reds and umbers, burning oranges and the light held within the yellow ochres. There is the soundscape of the wind, of rustling leaves on branches and underfoot. You can’t beat it.
Flip over to the October page of the calendar, you’ll probably find it’s a squirrel or a dormouse armed with a hazelnut or dangling from an ear of wheat, although that’s probably a harvest mouse.
Harvest. Another lovely Autumn word. See, you just have to squint a bit at the season and you’ll be fine.
I had my hair cut this week. I have it snipped at by the estimable Eddie from BA1Hair (@ba1hair) in Bath because the lad is a craftsman, frankly, and he doesn’t chit chat and therefore the whole experience is very Zen.
This was not always the case for myself and my mane. I am not the kind of woman who likes to go for a blow dry really or to have her roots done, my roots along with the rest of my tresses are a grey colour these days. I have not always looked on a haircut as a positive experience hence the fact that in recent times I actually let the lot grow until it was down to my waist.
When I was a kid our hair was cut, firstly, by my mum, a similar experience to sheep-shearing by Salvador Dali. I had an edgy hipster fringe long before there were edgy hipsters. There was the infamous ‘urchin’ cut too, think Artful Dodger meets unfortunate incident with a kitchen whisk and you’re most of the way there.
Finally my mum decided that we were too old to have our hair slashed by Sheila any longer and so we began to go to Adam and Eve, a newly ‘unisex’ salon, where Jean and her daughters cut hair. This was always a lovely experience, a mother daughter event on every level with my mum getting her hair permed or cut alongside myself and my sister. This was the era when I had a ‘Purdey’ cut, the one sported by Joanna Lumley in The New Avengers. I loved it although it must be said that at eleven I did not have the cheekbones or elan of Ms Lumley, no matter how precisely Jean cut my mop.
The 80s dawned and saw me invest in several thousand curly perms. My hair is very straight and fine although, as several weary hairdressers have commented over the years ‘there’s a lot of it’. In a bid to outsmart mother nature I grew my hair and I had it permed and that was that. Hair bliss. I felt like a Pre-Raphaelite beauty although if you check the photographic evidence I bore more resemblance to a Poodle.
Over the years there have been only a few people I trusted to cut my hair. The most trusted was a young woman called Lisa who worked at a local salon. This woman always did my hair exactly the way it was ‘in my head’. You know the usual drill, you pick out a hairstyle that you like and then you go to the actual hairdresser. ‘This is how I’d like it’ you say and point at the picture and they can only do three sorts of cut so they just pick the one that is closest to the picture that you show them. At least, that was my experience.
Then I met Lisa. She was skilled and my hair looked good and then one day I showed up at the salon to be told she had moved to Cardiff and that another girl, let’s call her Wilma, would be cutting my hair.
She would be cutting my hair after she had eaten her lunch, a chinese takeaway of sweet and sour pork. I am not making this up.
In the 90s I had my kids and chopped at my hair with any available implement in the brief moments available between feeds and fingerpainting.
On one occasion when they were at school I thought I would treat myself to a cut and colour at a swanky type salon. It is the only time I have ever walked out. The girl said when I showed her the cut I wanted ‘You can’t have that. You’re too old.’ I was thirty six and the cut in question was a choppy bob, not the most radical of styles. In other times I might have sat in the chair and been given the shampoo and set that she clearly had planned for me. Instead, utterly deflated, I said simply ‘I’ll go then’. And I got up and left, taking the sleek space age coverall off as I did so. She was so shocked, and suddenly so contrite as her supervisor watched me leave the building.
After that little fiasco I let it grow. I permed it once or twice. I snipped the more irritating bits off with the pinking shears, the breadknife, the toenail scissors.
It was when it finally got down to my waist and was not permed that I reached a nadir of hair fashion. It was so long that it took about a week to dry each morning and it was snarled in everything. I took to simply twisting it around itself and clamping it to my head. In my imagination I was Victorian, dreaming once more of the Pre-Raphaelite look. In reality I looked like someone’s ratty granny.
Enter, Eddie and his scissors. When faced with the opportunity to chop my waist length hair into a pixie cut he was not fazed, nor did he question my age or current status as a trendsetter. He offered a few bits of advice about how we could go about this epic cropping and the second he cut the first section I felt relieved and more like myself. Hence, I have returned. As I have said, he is not a chatterbox, there is something meditative about the process of a haircut and all the stress vanishes. Sometimes I eavesdrop on other conversations as Eddie combs and sections, before I begin to drift. The story sludge of my mind gloops and bubbles and I think I have solved more plot problems sitting in the chair at BA1 Hair than almost anywhere. I don’t want to work out the magic of this process. Is it the meditative qualities of having your hair shampooed with lush smelling botanicals? Or possibly being swathed in a black cloak? Then there is the snip-snip of the scissors, the discarding of the outgrown, the neatening of edges.
Perhaps that’s the key, unlike Samson, a writer needs to have their hair cut from time to time in order to edit out the tangles of story.
This blog post is a bit of frothy nonsense. However, check out Eddie Ilic and his journey for a real story. #Notallheroeshavecapes
A barber is offering haircuts to those on the streets in Bath to help give them confidence. pic.twitter.com/XsTBe9Gkxh
— RT UK (@RTUKnews) September 17, 2017