Monthly Archives: February 2017

Three small things and the smirk I need right now

Three small things and the smirk I need right now


A friend of mine recently went on a Buddhist activist weekend, and came back with the best advice I’ve heard of coping with the world right now. DO SMALL THINGS, she was told. There’s no way you can change everything.

So I’ve taken this on board. My small thing at the moment is what I call the Polish Ladies and Tea Club. A group of Polish women come to my house weekly to drink tea, eat cake, and er, yes, learn English. They are teachers, shop managers, university students who are now all working as cleaners here. One of the problems we identified is that their hours don’t allow them to study English regularly so this is a chance to sit down and have some general conversation.

As always, the best things to do are the ones you enjoy yourself. And what this has done is to remember the joy of everyday words. Cup, I say, and then cupboard… is that because that’s where the cups board???? Oh my gosh, how bizarre that we never think of what’s behind these words. I’m not trained in teaching English as a foreign language, but as they are just ‘paying me’ in laughs and chocolate biscuits we are all happy. If anyone would like to try something similar, I’d be happy to let you have some of the exercises and games we’ve used so far. Or indeed to swap resources.

And then, other small things… well, I’m not sure I’d call reading a small thing, but we went away recently for a reading weekend. We put our phones away and got out our books instead. Apart from missing a call from my sister to say she was at the local pub, we didn’t miss them at all. Mind you, we were staying here in one of the Landmark Trust houses.. Fox Hall in West Sussex. It may look like a mansion but it was actually a bedsitting room.

So what did I read. Well, here’s a clue…

I’ve placed it by a labyrinth because Sarah Hilary is plot-master supreme – who even holds back certain mysteries (no spoilers) for the next Marnie Rome book. I could hardly bear it. If you see her on twitter or facebook please send her back to the manuscript. I can’t wait too long. I also read the most extraordinary biography of Shirley Jackson, A Rather Haunted Life. GET BOTH! I promise that you’ll never hear creaks in an old house in the same way ever again.

But despite being too frightened to go anywhere on my own one evening, I felt so relaxed and … yes, stilled at the end of the weekend.

And the third thing? Laughing of course. Helped by this sign I saw…

And then a friend of mine spotted my photo on instagram, and sent me her poem which made me laugh out loud… ENJOY! En-joy… In Joy… that’s not a small thing after all!

by Susanna Clayson

I recently was entertained –
my mirth could barely be contained,
by a list of British places
with names so rude they redden faces.

One county stood out from the rest –
Northumberland was naughtiest.
With Lickar Moor, and Great Tosson
Bushygap, Flesh Shank and Sodom

Dorset has a Scratchy Bottom.
Shaggs, Piddle, Spanker and Weedon,
Nob End, Minge Lanes and Lower Swell
Cockintake, Twatt and Staines as well

Up north, I laughed at Cockermouth
And smirked at Sandy Balls down south
Beaver Close and Bachelor’s Bump.
Bishops Itchington, Great Trump!

Butt of Lewis, Cock of Arran
Hole of Horcum and Wetwang
Horneyman in Kent, near Thong
While Crotch Crescent is just plain wrong

But west to east or in the middle
Acock’s Green to Wyre Piddle
Fanny Barks wins the rudest prize
Tied with Fudgepack on Humberside

The photographs I didn’t take…

The photographs I didn’t take…


I went by train from London to Newcastle today, realising too late I’d left my phone at home, so here are some written snapshots of the shots I might have snapped….


1.     Walking through Bloomsbury and looking up as always at the flat with the blue plaque which says Lenin lived there, I spot a woman in the kitchen cooking breakfast. For the next few streets, my feet ring out to the phrase ‘frying bacon for Lenin, Lenin’s bacon is frying, Lenin’s frying bacon.’ By the time, I’ve reached Kings Cross, I’ve written a whole opera in my head, including smoke alarms.

2.     On the train, four railway employees come to sit across the aisle. They’ve just been on a course together, and spread drawings and plans of signal crossings across the table. For nearly the whole journey between Peterborough and Darlington, they discuss signals. With enthusiasm.

3.     Looking up suddenly and seeing the Angel of the North from the train window.

4.     There’s a queue spilling out on the street as I walk to the university, I imagine a restaurant, pub, nightclub, but it’s a gym. The bouncer is letting people in one at a time.

5.     At the bar, I sit and wait for Viccy. At the other end of the table two architecture academics are discussing ‘civilian architects’. Separately they both pull out the same huge heavy book from their bags. One has dragged her copy all the way from Denmark. For the whole time I sit there, the two books sit in front of them. Unopened.

6.     The Premier Inn I’m staying in used to be the old Co-Operative headquarters. On the stairwell there’s a memorial plaque for employees killed in both world wars. They are listed under their old departments – Butchery, Boot Repairs, Ready to Wear…

What one piece of advice would you give a woman writer, artist or musician starting her career?

What one piece of advice would you give a woman writer, artist or musician starting her career?

It was good to step away from the world last week and have a day’s discussion and writing workshop with four of the South East Associate Artists involved in the Spreadsheets & Moxie research project Viccy Adams and I are currently running, with the support of Arts Council England.

We covered everything – from role models for writers, to unprofessionalism, to the differences between qualities, strengths and skills, to best ways to communicate. Our day ended with an impromptu quick fire round table of the one piece of advice we might give a woman* starting out on a career in the creative arts. Here’s what I scribbled down from the discussion…

Qualities for a writing career

Some of the qualities we identified for sustainable arts and writing careers

Take yourself seriously and don’t be derailed by other people’s jealousy and/or fear.

Work on one project at a time. 

Work on six projects at a time

Find somebody who will be really supportive of you.

Try to keep a different mind and experiment with different medium

Ditch the idea that it is necessary to suffer as a writer or an artist.

Never dismiss something just because you find it easy. If you’re enjoying your work, it doesn’t automatically mean that it is, or you are, shallow. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

And lastly: TURN UP!


So, what might be the one piece of advice you’d offer someone? 


(* I think all of these are applicable to men too, but it’s interesting. MIght there be some circumstances where we would offer different advice?)

With grateful thanks to our lovely South East Associate Artists – Clare Best, Catherine Smith, Ellen Montelius, Kay Syrad, and Vanessa Gebbie, for continuing and welcome challenges and inspiration! We will be in Newcastle next week for a similar day with our NE Associate Artists… notebooks ahoy!