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The Needless Extra Apostrophe Ditty

I’m not a punctuation and grammar-basher. I understand that some people are verbal communicators and have less comfort with, or less need/wish to use, the written word than others. I know that different types of dyslexia make it difficult to remember rules about writing and I also know that bad teaching or other hurdles to our written work do not equal lack of intelligence. So… not being perfect myself, I overlook a lot of unintentional errors and, even though it makes me twitch, I forgive such things as incorrectly writing you’re as ‘your’ and forgetting where apostrophes go. I often find an extra apostrophe in ‘its’ when I don’t want one because computers and phones put them in for you when you’re not looking. Most things are understandable even when peppered with mistakes and if we’re too snotty we put people off writing, taking on jobs that involve writing and cause all sort of hang-ups, insecurities and make bright people feel stupid. So I try to be relaxed and point out to my son that he should have spelt ‘their’ ‘there’ on a facebook status update. I don’t have to do this with my 17-year-old – her spelling and grammar are better than mine. She has a photographic memory. It’s just a difference in the way their brains retain and organise information. It’s unfair to make a big fuss about it.

BUT.

When someone goes out of their way to PUT an apostrophe in where it’s not needed, all my tolerance and understanding goes out of the window. Why go get an apostrophe? Why? Why? Why deliberately stick an extra blob into a word that doesn’t need it?
‘I put the bins out this morning’ There you go – a plural. Makes sense.
‘I put the bin’s out this morning’ You what?!!! The bin’s what? Are the bins a family that live in the same street as us and you put their bins out for them? In which case I think you mean you put ‘The Bins’ bins out this morning.’

So. To help everyone out there who is struggling to make The Needless Extra Apostrophe Nation see sense, I’ve made up a “catchy” little ditty for the kids. I hope you like it.

Don’t put apostrophes in plurals
If in doubt don’t bother using one
Don’t put apostrophes in plurals
Unless you’re talking about something belonging to a group – like ladies’ men’s and children’s toilets.
Don’t put apostrophes in plurals
But you can put one in if you’ve missed out some letters
Don’t put apostrophes in plurals
Or I’ll rip off your head and crap down your neck.

Or how about:
Thirty days hath September and none of them hath a bleedin’ apostrophe!

Ironic

A flash fiction

‘Oh, isn’t he lovely?!’ they said, with only his wide smile, smart suit and ability to buy a round of drinks to go on.
Didn’t they so want to be one of his friends when they saw how he dominated the room?
Didn’t everyone laugh at his jokes?
Didn’t the women smoulder under his charm?
Wasn’t he the perfect host?
Wouldn’t it be marvellous to do all this again? Oh you must come to ours next time.
Cue the hand slipping around the shoulder and the pithy upper arm squeeze. Yup. There it was again.

One pace away for every year of marriage, the exclusion had become tangible. She was out of his circle. Had she moved or was she pushed?
Her performance hadn’t been up to much after all. Not quite the double act he’d been hoping for. The gregarious social couple moving in all the “right” circles hadn’t touched the feminist issues she’d expected it to. She’d begun to feel like 1950s arm candy. A secretary, an assistant. A PA. A Smiling Thing.
Where had her political life gone? What happened to her opinions? She felt around in her coat pocket for a tissue. She missed the feeling that she was standing for something, doing anything good. But she’d found that her inner strength had made her quieter, strangely. Tears of fury pricked at her eyes as she watched the stage and the repeat performance. Fools. They were all fools.
‘Not stopping?’ laughed Daisy from the office, as she walked by heading for centre stage, poking at the coat and not waiting for an answer.
Daisy. Daisy. Oh he’d be glad to see Daisy. He was half crazy for Daisy.
She wanted to tell Daisy she was welcome to him. Him and his fake teeth, his personal grooming products that took up more room than hers, his slow, degrading, emotional bullying.
But she wasn’t going to be tipped out of his net like an accidental catch. She was going to make a bloody great hole in it. She’d seen a TV programme about huge fishing trawlers that grab everything in sight and chuck back the dead and damaged things they don’t need. Ruining life that needn’t have been touched and then moving on without a care in the world. Maybe he needed unhooking from the bottom.
Eventually.
She slipped off her coat. Threw back her gin. Breathed in deeply. Stood tall. She practised her smile on the faces around her, the beam growing and spreading like a contagion. Oh, the power of a clique grin. The false togetherness of a room full of people all in it for themselves. She touched the arms of the inner circle with well-practised political matey-ness, and hissed in Daisy’s ear to piss off out of the way. Please. With wide, endearing smile. Oh, and mine’s a gin. So kind. You are wonderful. Isn’t she wonderful? Two can play at this game. I’ve learnt from the best after all.
The beaming bastard had a powerful edge to his voice that cut people short and as she approached him her personal space was invaded by his vibrations.
Those fishing trawlers were damned noisy and ugly when you got up close, she recalled. The little boats hadn’t stood a chance.
How rude he was. How charmingly rude.

Instant Chums

A flash fiction

‘In the war…’ said Grandma…
Here we go, thought Sally.
‘… even though we wasn’t the ones fighting, we was like an army, we was. All working together. All gettin’ on with it for a common good. None of this – whatcha callit – image thing. All this wow factor that you gets on telly now. We was teams and chums and you fell in love because you had a nice chap that cared.’ Grandma said “cared” like Sally had never heard of the word before.
‘You all wanna be something special naradays, you lot. “Think not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”!’ Grandma waggled her candy cane forefinger at Sally who pretended to scratch her ear so she could look at her watch.
‘Look, Grandma. I have to…’
‘Appearances!’ Grandma interrupted firmly. ‘Stop judging people on how they look, stand, talk, smell, and what-‘av-you. It’s what’s inside that counts.’ Grandma thumped her chest a little too hard and Sally knew there would be bruises. She bruised so easily these days.
‘Yes. I’ll try to remember that… but I must… I’ll see you next time I get cover, okay?’ She kissed Grandma patting the bed ineffectually.
Back along Brick Lane she passed the familiar hunched shoulders and pinched nose of the man whose body language screamed, ‘Don’t touch me. I don’t even want to breathe the same air as you!’ Grandma was right – she had judged him by his withdrawn, unwashed appearance, his faded, leaning stacks of pre-computer-age unwanted kids’ games, and his apparent disregard for fashion. She wondered what he “cared” about. From now on she would be civil to him. She offered what she hoped was a friendly smile in his direction. If he smiled back or said hello or anything like that maybe she would offer to fetch him a coffee and perhaps sometimes they could help each other set-up.
His top lip curled on one side.
‘What are you smirkin’ at, you smug bitch?’ he growled, folding his arms.

Wot OU Studying Learns You

Why is everyone telling us to keep calm and carry on so much recently? Have we decided that the war years were better than life today? From what I’ve heard it was vile for everyone and we’d do well to avoid history repeating itself.
As for keeping calm and carrying on, well I’ve recently discovered that stressing out a bit, questioning why you’re doing something, stopping for a while and deciding what your reasons for carrying on are is a much better option.
Carrying on is not always necessary.

I flapped, lost the point, and gave up my literature module (see previous post: Flooded Engine ) I stopped for 2 weeks, had a think and started again. It was a mad rush getting back into it but far better than trying to keep calm when what I actually needed was a break.

I had to read masses of course materials and write an assignment in 10 days, then read loads more course materials in order to have another assignment written by this Friday (which I haven’t started yet… ahem…)

The latest assignment question reminds us to develop own our argument, and avoid recycling course materials and quotations.

This the point at which you know you have “done proper learning” and are ready to think for yourself. For course after course after course it has been, regurgitate, regurgitate, regurgitate the things that other people tell you until finally you get to a stage in your learning process where the stabilisers are taken off and you can ‘GO’ – pedal, balance and whoosh all by yourself with the techniques you have been learning for years.

I’d love to continue my learning and carry on expressing my own arguments based on what I’ve read. The next natural progression academically would be an MA but I can’t afford the time, the money or the stress.
What I can do, though, is apply that motto above to the rest of my life.

The Need For Female Communication

Or self-indulgent blogging?

Last night I dreamt I was pregnant again…
It’s happened a few times recently, and in every dream I’ve always had very mixed feelings about it.
I can see (outa the way Freud) a few reasons for these dreams and mixed feelings:
1. I’m getting too old to have any more children (I’m not saying all 42-year-olds are too old to have children, I’m just saying that, 17 years after my first of 3 amazing body-stretching tricks, I feel ancient). I suspect that this realisation can spark dreams of babies and fertility for many maturing women. So to find out I could still have children would make me feel younger and feminine. But…
2. Pregnancy was always lovely in my imagination but horrible for my body. I suffered with a lot of pain/discomfort/sleeplessness/headaches/low-blood-pressure every time I was pregnant. It was like being quite unwell and completely exhausted for 9 months. I didn’t have the ‘good’ bit, struggled to walk, and suffered constant pelvic pain in the last 3 months. So, to go through it again would be horrible.
3. I love babies and have an idealistic notion of what me being a good mother could be like yet I feel I never fulfilled that. I was totally shattered and run down and suffered from non-stop viruses and overwhelming feelings of being swamped and stupefied constantly. I guess there’s still a yearning to go back in time and get it right and enjoy it.
4. I am confident about my own ideas about parenting now but when I was 25 I let other people boss me around even when it went against my instincts. I wouldn’t do that now. And, to a certain extent, I suppose I let my pre-parenthood life control the new mother.
5. After juggling/struggling, trying to cope and feeling like a failure for many years I’m finally doing something for me now that involves stepping outside of being a mother and it’s making me feel guilty and selfish but also more well-rounded and I wouldn’t want to go back. I would feel trapped.

Number 1 child decided to be born on the day we took over a shop and started a new business from scratch. We had to put the house on the market and hurriedly make the stinking, semi-derelict flat above the shop suitable for us to inhabit. Richard was at the shop almost constantly and I was responsible for keeping the house looking presentable to sell, doing the packing, and fitting in the care of a new baby and all the washing somehow. I was also eager to be involved with the shop as much as possible and making sure the flat would be ready on time. I frequently ran into the bedroom, shoved my face into a pillow and screamed into it. I had a baby that cried frantically every time I put her down, I had no idea there were such things as baby carriers that you could actually wear for any length of time and so I charged around the house like a maniac whenever she fell asleep. It would be another five years before I had a mobile phone. But I had no one to call or text anyway. It was 1995, there was no NetMums available to me, it would another 3 years before we got a computer and another year or two after that before I discovered other mums online. Even then I kept my emotions to myself; I’d got used to pretending.
I couldn’t share with anyone how ill and awful I felt, I didn’t talk to anyone (apart from on the 2 completely fruitless visits to the GP) about how I was struggling with exhaustion and constant ill-health. I didn’t tell anyone that I couldn’t stand day-after-day doing the same damn things, saying the same damn things and having a husband that worked more than full-time including every weekend, every Bank Holiday, every school holiday – even in the summer evenings when I knew everyone else was having family time, and he was always on-call. Life was very intense and very tiring for several years. Breast-feeding my first child was a disaster because I never got any peace and I didn’t have anywhere that I felt comfortable and safe. I felt as if I was being hammered into the ground from the head down and it was useless to fight it. So I drifted from day to day for years with regular headaches and a permanently detached feeling. I often saw no one for days. I was working as hard as my husband – with no lunchbreaks, little sleep and no toilet breaks, and no conversation but no one was paying me for it so I didn’t feel I had the right to complain. I often thought, ‘This is what it’s like to be a single mum. I don’t have anyone to talk to.’ My husband, who had been talking to people all day, would come home and fall asleep.

I didn’t talk to anyone.

I know now, looking back, that it was a very difficult time and I feel sorry for the young woman I was then, trying to cope with young children on her own and a busy life.
People tell you that talking about yourself too much is narcissistic, it’s navel-gazing, self-centred, self-obsessed. So you don’t do it. You bottle it up. You pretend, you hide, you lie. Or maybe, like me, you drink too much, you put on weight, you try to numb-out the problems, find false happiness in things and food and you wonder what’s wrong with you, and why everyone else is coping so much better.

But there is another reason why I didn’t talk to anyone. I wasn’t happy being a practical machine and I didn’t know it yet and I even if I did I didn’t want to admit it because I didn’t want anyone to take over – either to try to change things or suggest inappropriate solutions – I wanted support and understanding. I wanted the right to complain that, even though everything seemed good on paper, I wasn’t getting the chance to enjoy any of it. And I wanted, somehow, the chance to get it right and feel some sort of control over myself, rather than being pushed from one demanding situation to the next. Although we lived (and still do) in a beautiful area, I was stuck indoors – apart from the one day we tried to squeeze out of every week to go to town to shop frantically for everything we needed. We very rarely saw the beach a mile from our doorstep or went for walks and never had a holiday. If we weren’t kept awake by a crying baby it was groups of people yelling in the street on their way back to their campsites, caravans or holiday homes or peeing up the alleyway by the flat. I could have been living anywhere. I was miserable. I started to hide. Already a person crippled by shyness, the limited social skills I had before motherhood vanished.

I’m writing this because every now and then I get cross. Cross with a society that thinks it’s self-indulgent to talk about ourselves. I’ve recently read about woman journalists who have been attacked for talking openly about the less rosy aspects of motherhood. But if I’d had the chance, opportunity, permission, confidence to talk about myself, I think my life would have turned out a darn site better and so would the lives of those around me. If I’d known that women everywhere were feeling similar things, suffering the same physical and emotional strains as me then I would have felt less abnormal and things could have been easier to accept.

To have one’s youth, social-life, figure, strength, health, sense of identity (such as it was!), sleep and freedom and home taken away all at once when at the same time you are getting the chance to do the most important job in the world but for no money no recognition and no status is ENORMOUSLY overwhelming at any age but especially so when you are still young and haven’t found your own way in the world. I still believe that the enormity of it all didn’t hit me for years and can see now how the sleep deprivation was completely debilitating.

How do you explain or admit that the best thing in the world that has ever happened to you has also caused some of the worst things? That in theory everything is good but in fact it is very, very bad.
I remember when our first two children had a really nasty case of chicken pox. I think they were about 4 and 2 years-old at the time. The health visitor had commented that it was particularly nasty outbreak. We were shattered anyway but after several nights of fever and itching and crying, and days of non-stop grumps, we were fed-up. My husband’s parents laughed at us and said, ‘Well you wanted to have children!’

So that’s it, is it? We had children – we couldn’t complain about it.

The National Lottery started up about the same time as our first child was born and for a while we both bought a ticket on a Saturday but eventually I said I wouldn’t bother anymore because no amount of money could make my children sleep at night, get rid of my headaches or fix any of the anxiety or stress that was making my life difficult. Then as the shop became more successful we moved up the property ladder. I was pregnant again. I didn’t know it at the time but I was suffering with SPD (Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction) – a pelvic disorder that made moving around, lifting, carrying, housework and sleeping difficult. I just assumed everyone found pregnancy difficult and I had to put up with it. Child number 2 came along a week before the Easter holidays in 1997 and – as anyone with a seasonal business in the South West will tell you – that is the worst time of year to have a baby. I was left at home on my own for days with a brand new baby again, sometimes only seeing Richard at ten o’clock at night. Only this time I had a toddler too. The SPD didn’t ease until weeks after the baby was born and in that time I felt as if my groin was tearing. The houses in the modern echoing street in which we lived were turning into holiday homes for rich people and rental accommodation. The comings and goings were erratic and noisy and my need to hide away was escalating. I felt I had no privacy and I wanted another adult at home with me to answer the door, the phone, close the curtains at night, fetch me food and drink while I had quiet time with the new baby, and someone to play with our 2-year-old. I was also losing the ability to make adult conversation and on the rare occasion that we did go out I said nothing at all or spoke in nervous gibberish. I began to panic. I used up all my energy pretending I was okay every time I had to go anywhere and then I would get a crashing feeling and need to be at home immediately. But it was never quiet at home. The village had become a holiday village. So we bought a house 3 miles up the road in the middle of a field. It was incredibly stressful, the children were still pre-school age and the second move came with a bundle of building jobs. I wish I could go back in time, ease some of that young woman’s pain, tell her not to worry about the practical things so much.
I’ve always felt as if people think I don’t have a right to complain about anything – at just 29-years-old I seemed to have so much – and yet I often felt terribly frail as if I was paddling on the edge of life.

When I feel quiet, when I feel sad, overwhelmed, exhausted, drained, unwell, confused, lonely, deflated, I remember that people don’t like you being honest about your feelings especially if they think your life is somehow cushier than theirs. I remember that I’m tall and I don’t look frail. I remember that I live in nice area and it sounds wonderful. It’s beautiful here – outside of my head. Inside it’s like a rubbish dump on a frozen wasteland with no blanket.

So I write about it.
Because it’s still all in there from years ago, I still feel physically and emotionally wrecked, and it needs to come out.
Because someone, somewhere out there, needs someone else to be saying these things so that they know they are not alone, not mad, not a freak. We all struggle. And tough things happen to even the most sorted-looking people. And if they don’t talk about them they may never get over them.

It’s now 2 ½ years since our youngest started school, and after 17 years, Richard tries not to work evenings anymore and can occasionally take a few days off in school holidays – but never enough so we can ever have a family holiday together and he’s still always on-call. We now have a dog so we are forced to go for walks and can finally enjoy our own patch a bit more when the shop is less busy. I still feel our lives are often negatively dominated by tourism and the daily uncertainties, curveballs and insecurities thrown at us from having our own small business but that I have no right to complain because it pays the mortgage.
Unfortunately I still suffer from the years of anxiety and feel as if I will always be padding on the edge of life – never quite able to give myself permission to fully immerse myself in any enjoyment. And I still feel physically crushed by years and years of plodding from day to day with little sleep on the conveyor-belt of total unending brain-wrecking anxiously executed domesticity.

It’s ridiculously difficult to explain how I still have to lift myself up from that persona daily. Yes – every day. Even now.

And I still get that crashing feeling and need to go home. Regularly.

I wish I’d had someone write something like this for me to read 15 years ago. It’s not depression, it’s not insanity, it’s just the result of being too tough on myself for too long.

I’ve found a few “men slating women who write emotional blog posts” blogs and they made me laugh. Why are they reading them if they’re not interested? And if they’re not reading but merely criticising something they haven’t read then that’s not very clever, is it?

A New Name

Flash: oo-arr! is no more (well at least not in name). My sensible side kicked in yesterday and came up with the less inspired but more widely acceptable Flash-Fiction South West
New site is under construction and is available here: Flash Fiction South West

Flash Collection Update

Ten days into announcing this anthology things are ticking along nicely. Submissions are now into double figures and, going by the feedback from the beta readers, there’s some really good stuff coming in. A diverse mix of, ‘something for everyone,’ you might say.
Other collections, websites and anthologies to celebrate the first National Flash Fiction Day are springing up and to make this one something unique I would really welcome some west country inspired stories. You know, as I do, that the south west is the place of dreams and adventure.

There are still 3 weeks left and if we carry on as we are there’s a plan to get a printed copy of all the stories together. In May I will open a website specially dedicated to the stories

If you’ve thought about submitting something but haven’t yet, you have until 31 March. Full details on original post here: Flash: oo-arr! Your West Country Needs You*

**UPDATE 10 March 2012: The new site is up and there is a new name too. Please visit Flash-Fiction South West

Here’s an email form if you want to contact me:

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