27 November 2009

The latest very best thing...

Last night, We, the girls from work, otherwise known as “The Circle of Trust” went out for a spot of dinner at Awana down Kensington way.

Food was good. Nice bit on wonton. Healthy option veggie stir fry thing. Non-healthy trio of choc mousse for dessert. Good. But, here’s the thing. Awana Hibiscus Champagne cocktails at £10 a pop. Sweet lord. The absolute very best drink I have sipped in many a moon.

Will be getting myself along to the nearest Lakeland for some of them hibiscus flowers in a jar asap to recreate the wonderment at home over the Christmas season. Oh yes I will.

16 November 2009

We, The Girls, went out

on Saturday for an early celebration of Natalia ChimmyChanga's birthday. There was dancing. And drinking. And a lot of laughing. And chips on the way home.

I swear, life gets no better than laughing with your mates. The ultimate Prozac.

There was a time before Twitter

Back in my day, and by that I mean the late ‘70’s, early ‘80’s, people – ALL people – had respect for authority. We didn’t bang on about respect having to be earnt; we just didn’t fuck around with the police. Or teachers. Or our parents. That was just the way it was. You didn’t break the law. You went to school to learn stuff. And what your parents said, went.

There were 3 TV channels. Just three. It didn’t mean you were deprived. Or poor. You didn’t call ChildLine and claim you were being victimised. And there was one TV in the house. In the front room. And you watched what your family wanted to watch. And you turned the channels by GETTING UP. No remote. And no Freeview. Or satellite. No streaming. No MTV. No video. No DVD. No Blu Ray. No HardDriver recorder. No IPlayer. No nothing. And we just got on with it. And at the Government-decided bedtime a thing called a test card came on, and that was that. You turned it off. And went to bed.

There was a time before people comparedthemarketdotcom for the fastest broadband they could get at home. I’ll tell you what – there was a time before most workplaces had a computer, let alone every home. I hear talk of the Government proclaiming that a family has a right to fast internet connection at home. Seriously – an actual Human Right. Laptops and PC’s at home weren’t even thought of when I was a girl. I typed on an Olivetti word processor at work in 1986, and I was considered ahead of the IT game.

Of course there was crime. And kids being a nuisance. BUT. There weren’t any hoodies who would literally kick your head in if you looked at them. ASBO’s didn’t exist. Child burglars didn’t successfully sue a homeowner when they fell over and cut themselves whilst trying to break into their house. Kids didn’t sue their parents for damages cause you were sent to your room. There was no naughty step.

There was rubbish, and litter and trash. But you didn’t get fined by the local council for putting a piece of paper in the rubbish. Your tax paying dollar didn’t go towards printing a manual for road sweepers on how to pick up fallen leaves. (PS – there wasn’t any council tax… there wasn’t any poll tax either come to that!). And you know what, all the litter got collected. No fuss. No nonsense. Job done.

Your NHS contributions actually paid for your dentist and doctor fees. And you could actually get to see a doctor or dentist as well when you were poorly.

You had to wait till you got home to talk to your friends on a LANDLINE. There was one phone in the house, normally in the hall by the door. And it had a lead, that plugged into a socket. In the wall. You didn’t have a mobile, or a Blackberry. You didn’t text. There was no facebook or friends reunited, or myspace or twitter. There was no Youtube. There was the News at Ten. And there was a Newspaper. And that’s where you found out what was going on in the world.

You didn’t have a Wii. Or a PSP. Or an Xbox. Or a Game Cube. Or Nintendo. Or anything. If you were lucky you had a Merlin or a Pacman. But mostly you went outside. And played with your mates. Or stayed at home. And made something. With glue and paper and old cereal boxes. Or you painted. Or read. A book. Or an annual. Or a magazine that didn’t have air brushing or celebrity gossip….cause there weren’t such things as celebrities. You had people who were famous for actually doing something great. Not just being famous for sleeping with someone else. Or wearing less clothes than someone else. Or eating grubs in the jungle. I know!

There was no gluten free. People weren’t wheat or dairy intolerant. Jamie Oliver didn’t tell Schools what to feed our youth. You ate what you were given or you stayed sat at the table (Yes, in my day people ate at a table) till your bum went numb and it got dark outside. No-one talked about 5 a day. Or nutritional value. And let me tell you – we were healthier then than most kids seem to be these days. Child obesity was never discussed and there certainly wasn’t an epidemic of it.

You knew a lot less about the inner workings of things like public bodies, and organisations and Big Business. And quite frankly you didn’t care. MP’s probably were spending our money on beer and chips, but we never knew so we couldn’t be outraged by it. There was no Tax Payers Alliance. There was no Political Correctness. No Human Rights. People just got on with it. Living. Most normal, average people just wouldn’t dream of doing something that would physically, mentally or emotionally hurt another human being. Call me old fashioned, but I really miss that.

If you pissed someone off by saying something they didn’t like, you said sorry… or you didn’t. You didn’t get lynched. Or sacked. Or jailed for it. You were allowed to not like people for whatever fucking reason you wanted. People who supported a different football team. Went to a different school. Liked different music. Whatever man. That’s freedom of speech.

I’ll tell you what. It’s not as good today as the old days you know. We may be advancing with every passing day in science and technology and you know, other stuff. But in my opinion society has gone to the dogs. And instead of trying to “inspire the world and lead the construction of a new global order” Gordon Brown and all his other useless, money grabbing, lying toad colleagues in The Government could look a little closer to home and fix Britain, cause from where I’m sitting, its all turned to shit.

12 November 2009

Don't patronise popular fiction by women

Genius column on the Guardian website today …

Don't patronise popular fiction by women.

I'm fed up with seeing some of our best novelists written off as 'chick lit' – you don't see the same belittling line taken with male writers. Until May, I had two jobs. I was a writer, with three novels out, and I was an editor at one of the biggest publishers in the UK. I was lucky enough to work with many bestselling authors, but eventually writing won out, and now I am a crazy person sitting in my pyjamas eating jaffa cakes and wondering from where the crying baby in the basement flat suddenly materialised.

When I was an editor, my books were in the genre known for some reason as "commercial women's fiction". We – my colleagues and fellow publishers – loved these books and knew the truth, which is that books bought by women prop up the book trade, and that we should be proud both of the product itself and the diversion it gives hardworking people who want a good read. Now I've left, I'm looking at it from the other side – and what I see alarms me.

I am passionate about this kind of writing, but it seems to me to come in for an extraordinary amount of bile and patronising comment which I rarely see applied to novels by men in the same vein. Books – both fiction and non-fiction – reflecting women's lives, whether young or old, are labelled. Hence "chick-lit": often a derogatory term used to mean books by young women drinking chardonnay and being silly about boys, without the thought that novels by women about women might accurately reflect their lives and thus have merit or, at the very least, relevance.

It winds me up that books about young women are seen as frivolous and silly, while books about young men's lives that cover the same topics, are reviewed and debated, seen as valid and interesting contributions to the current social and media scene. Take anything from Toby Young's How To Lose Friends and Alienate People to The Contortionist's Handbook to Toby Litt or David Nicholls's One Day, or the works of Dave Eggers and Jonathan Lethem. Often these books are far more sensationalist than those by the authors' female counterparts: about how many women the protagonists have slept with, how many drugs they've done, what a crazy nihilistic time they're having in London / New York. I'm not saying they're bad books: Jonathan Lethem is one of my favourite writers and One Day is probably my book of the year. I'm just saying they aren't belittled and dismissed in the same way on the grounds of their subject-matter.

The truth is, women happily read books (and watch films and TV) aimed primarily at men. That's because women buy more and read more, full stop. They read thrillers, travel books, biographies – and yet the majority of these books are marketed for men. Women know they'll like it and give it a go. They'll happily pick up a copy of Porno, with a plastic female sex doll on the front. But men rarely try women's fiction, because they've been conditioned to think they can't pick up a book with a pink cover.

It's a real shame, because if you want to read someone who reflects women (and men's) lives with authenticity and sharp observation, someone whose books will absorb you and make you cry, there are so many options. You can do no better than Lisa Jewell or Emily Barr, or the high priestess of "commercial women's fiction", Marian Keyes. For me, The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank is note-perfect, one of the best books of the last 10 years. Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada is like a thriller of first-job hell, it's so tautly written. And Jennifer Weiner (Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, Little Earthquakes) is a genius. Her books are totally gripping, beautifully written, heartbreaking and hilarious. But I have yet to see a review of her which reflects this, except in magazines like Heat, which takes its commercial fiction seriously.

And don't get me started on the criminally undervalued women writers of the previous half-century: Dorothy Whipple, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym, even Joanna Trollope, who I think should be taught for A-level, she's so good.

It amuses me when people say, "Oh, it's a bit like Jane Austen", to denote a writer of romantic novels or sharp-eyed stories about mousy young women (Barbara Pym is always being compared to Jane Austen, I guess because they both write about spinsters. She's nothing like her.) There's something a little patronising about the tone of it, whereas books by young men are compared to older male writers as if it's a coronation, a welcoming to the literary canon. And quite often I'm left wanting to go – huh? I don't get it. There's room for both. And I know which I'd prefer to read.

10 November 2009

In May next year, Hodder will be publishing a brand new hardback from the ever satisfying Mike Gayle The Importance of Being a Bachelor which I finished at the weekend.

Oh My - what a cracker. I love, love, love Mike’s books, and have been a firm fan since back in the days of My Legendary Girlfriend some 10 years ago. This bad boy concentrates on the three Bachelor boys – bar owner Adam who is persuaded by his mates that WAG’s and Page 3 girls just aren’t the right type of girl to date anymore, Luke who has baggage to deal with before he can move forward with fiancĂ© Cassie and then poor old youngest son Russell, in love with a woman he can’t have.

There is something about a dude writing books about relationships and love and stuff that I find fascinating and fabulous – and the other perspective he brings in the never ending Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus debate is refreshingly frank.

9 November 2009

Gingerbread Latte versus Skinny Latte with a ginger syrup shot‏

From: SJV
Sent: 09 November 2009 15:32:05
To: ukinfo@starbucks.com


As a valid and loyal customer of Starbucks for some 10 years, I am writing for clarification of your pricing policy for the above.

A venti skinny latte with a shot of gingerbread syrup should cost me £2.90 (£2.60 for the coffee, and an extra 30p for the syrup).

Why then do I have to pay £3.45 for the exact same thing, despite not wanting the cream, and infact having to specifically ask the barista to “hold the cream”?

As someone who buys a coffee every working day of the week, and will be having a skinny latte with ginger syrup shot for the entire Christmas season, I am fearful that I will end up being some £30 out of pocket just because of your “Winter Special” marketing gimmick.

I look forward to hearing from you.

With kind regards


5 November 2009

I have found myself with very little to say of late. I fear I have S.A.D. to go with the bog standard O.C.D.

It’s not that I am particularly peeved. Or miffed. Just a bit sullen. And sulky. Almost grumpy I would say.

Don’t get me wrong. There was some good stuff in October. We had The Niece to stay for a weekend which was fab and we took her to see Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs which was great fun. I met up with my old work buddy’s from the Big W at Ayoush and had a Moroccan feast. I had The Girls over for a Saturday night with dinner and The X Factor. I met up with my two gorgeous author chums at The Union Club again and got happily squiffy. I then had one of them (together with her husband and little girl (who is quite beautiful)) over for Sunday lunch. Me and The Husband had a day off together and chill-ax’ed on the sofa. I did some baking. And some bike riding. And almost finished my Christmas shopping already. I kept on top of the never ending chores. We watched Up and I cried my eyes out. And I even found the time to paint my nails.


It’s just all overshadowed by the constant darkness. Literally.

Any one else find themselves feeling miserable?