Archive for July, 2009

Lost in Translation

It is seldom that, under normal circumstances, anyone utters the words:

‘So, once again I find myself miserable in Denmark.’

I, on the other hand, seem to recite this often enough that it has become something of a mantra. Denmark is a wonderful place and has been voted the happiest nation in the world on numerous occasions. It has a quaint, toy-town feel to it and is full of skilled designers, artisans and people who generally care about what’s happening around them. To find oneself miserable here is, in itself, quite a feat, but to do it on a number of occasions as I seem to be able to, is very near impossible.

The second time I lived here – during the 2007-2008 academic year – I spent my days working as either a dishwasher, or the person who counted how many frozen-chicken stickers there should be on a roll*. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to be working, but both were tiring, boring jobs. I started at six am every day and finished at three. By the time I’d come home, cooked dinner and done my language homework, it was time for bed again. That period of my life was not a pleasant one.

The problem now though stems from too much German sausage, long trips in the Primera and a misunderstanding about the word ‘over’.

The dress I’d brought with me for the wedding we’re going to tomorrow no longer fits. Apparently, my boobs – and no other part of me – have decided to gain weight so that now, the lovely red-silk gown that S- bought is too small. Then, the ‘trim’ I’d booked for myself at the local hairdresser’s went horribly wrong. Silly me for presuming that ‘over the eyebrows’ meant my fringe would remain a length that most people consider too long. Apparently though, in Danish, ‘over’ means that the hair will be cut above the eyebrows, making me look like a combination of Spock and the guy who pushes the wheelchair around in Little Britain. Though the lower layers of my hair are chin length, the top ones are a mere two inches, leaving me with what I have dubbed a ‘bobbed-mullet’. To add insult to injury, the girl who did my hair was quite heavily pregnant and so instead of cutting my Spock-fringe from the front to ensure that it was level, she sat at my side and cut down at an angle. The right side of my fringe is about an inch and a half, whilst the left is almost three inches.

I’m not normally a vain person – my daily attire usually consists of whatever too-large shirt S- dropped onto the bedroom floor the previous night and a pair of Thai fisherman’s trousers**. I just really wanted to look nice for J- and R-‘s wedding pictures and for once, not be the strange, eccentric girl who stands out for all the wrong reasons. It’s going to be a beautiful day tomorrow and I really want to do my best to make sure my brother-in-law and his future wife have beautiful pictures to match.

Maybe I’ll go and get a Star Trek uniform… seemed to work for Nemoy…


*Yes, somebody does actually have to do that. I not only possess an unusually large Danish vocabulary, as far as sticker production is concerned, but can also recite the ingredients for a Rose brand chicken as I spent days running thousands of labels through the cutting machine.

** I would like to specify that I did not take said trousers from a Thai fisherman, but that this somewhat confusing name is that given to that particular style of breeches.



I happen to live VERY close to where this horrible tragedy happened. I understand that people want to know what went on here, but for goodness’ sake! Did anybody stop to think about the effects a book like this might have on the girls’ friends, or their families, or the town in which it all happened? For someone completely unrelated to the events which happened in Soham when Jessica and Holly were murdered to release a book about it seems heartless and mercenary.

I’m not saying ‘Forget’, I’m just saying, ‘Leave Alone’.


I just don’t know where to begin!

This week, in my eternal search for interesting pants, I decided to venture into Topshop. I know the 80’s are supposed to be ‘in’ right now, but that was like stepping through a Tardis! Not only are the days of monster-pants, and Union-Flag boxers (like the guy from the first Fable game wears) gone forever, but Arcadia’s usually awesome underwear seems to have been replaced by sequined leotards, made from Laura Ashley’s 1985 fabric leftovers. And the items which did look remotely normal felt like running my hand over velvet, covered with lumpy custard-skin. Needless to say, I was reminded why fashion and I do not easily combine.

I did make one marvelous discovery though – or rather, rediscovery:

Marks and Spencers make the best lingerie in all the world, and they make it for real women. Whilst waiting for my friend to try on a bra with a large cup-size – an item which the vast majority of high street stores fail to stock – I came across a very cute, spotty twin set. The bra was available in every size I could imagine, and donated 10% of the profit made on sale to a breast cancer charity. It was only on reading the label that I discovered this item was intended for ‘post-mastectomy’ women. On the rare occasion I’ve seen this sort of bra before, they’ve been hideous things and were definitely never designed to make a woman feel normal, let alone sexy, after such a life-changing and figure-altering operation.

To a lesser extent, the same goes for women with larger breasts. I’m a 34D so am at the smaller end of the big-boob-scale, however, after two years in Denmark – amongst the stunning blond Valkyries – I know a little something about simply having to take the dire, slightly-yellowish off-white pair of woolen ear-muffs, simply because they happen to be the only thing that is large enough to offer any sort of support.

More companies should learn from M&S’s example – every woman deserves to feel fantastic in her underwear, regardless of her size.

N-, the friend I was shopping with on this particular occasion, also has the added (dis)advantage of being over six feet tall. She is one of the previously mentioned, stunning, Valkyrie women I met whilst in Denmark and has to come over to the UK to buy trousers long enough for her from the specialist store, Long Tall Sally.

I suppose, under all of this, what I’m trying to do is retract my previous statement – there ARE designers out there who cater for women-shaped women. There just aren’t enough.

Just so everyone knows…

…my friend, N-, is visiting from Denmark so I’ll be posting less until tuesday when I may, or may not, provide you with the finished ‘Let It Be’ as a tab so that it can be read as a completed story.

Also, if anyone has a ‘viper-green’ Scirocco with the ‘winter pack’ that they want to sell me, drop me a line. Looking at that vehicle is like looking at car porn!

People forget…

I’m not sure how to proceed with this post whilst staying within the realms of political correctness, so I’ll simply express my thoughts instead. If I am wrong on any factual point – and I would like to stress factual point because opinions, by default, can not be wrong – I hope people will correct me.

* * * * *

Whilst procrastinating yesterday I found this article about a man who is determined to “take back Islam from its hostage takers” and  I think Dr Naif al-Mutawa’s letter to his sons speaks for itself.

The papers have demonised the Islamic religion to a point where it has become synonymous with terrorism. Words like ‘Jihad’ – which, according to a friend of mine, originally meant ‘an internal,  spiritual struggle towards self-improvement’ – have been adopted by extremists and turned into something else.  In no uncertain terms, it’s the equivalent of someone calling me a marauding, pillaging rapist because my country participated in the Crusades ( – if anyone is interested).

I maintain that to give something a name – and in this case, we have called the political and religious unrest ‘terrorism’ – is to give it power. By doing so, it becomes an entity in itself and is then outside of our control. Were we to actually talk about the things that happened on 9/11, or to openly educate our children in regards to other faiths, then perhaps we wouldn’t be having this problem now.

We live in an age where schools are not permitted to perform nativity plays at Christmas time for fear of offending someone, despite the fact that this is the core of the holiday. In our struggle for equality we seem to have forgotten that different countries and cultures are just that – different. We should highlight and celebrate that our wonderful little island-nation has such a diverse population. If we teach children to understand one another’s heritage and encourage them to ask questions about other cultures, then the frightening aspect of the unknown will be gone and they’ll simply accept that this is how people are.

Those who are scared of their fellow man and try to encourage racial and religious hatred should be pitied, not feared. It is fear in the first place that is making them lash out and to be constantly afraid of someone because they are different to you must be the most terrible thing in all the world.

I’d like to close with a quote from Dr Mutawa: “… knowing that children will learn vicariously from THE 99 to be tolerant of all who believe in doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, that, my son, makes me very proud.”

And rightly so…

I wouldn’t normally…

…just post a link as an entry, but this is pretty accurate.

Let It Be – Part Six

I kept walking until the sun got too hot and then went home.

I tried sitting on the porch, just thinking things over with a beer in my hand, but it was no good – my legs were used to doing my thinking for me and as soon as the day cooled down enough, I took to the streets again with that picture in my pocket. I had no idea where I was headed, but Mama Doyle’s seemed like a reasonable place to start.

When I got there, she was serving whiskey to her man and his friends, and invited me to join them. I took a glass to be polite and knocked it back because I don’t much care for the taste. The old boys took that to mean I liked it though and kept filling up my cup until I told them I had to go if Mary wasn’t there. Then I took Mrs Doyle to one side and pulled out the picture, explaining to her everything that Bertie had told me. She just nodded, glanced at her men folk and led me into the kitchen. In her soft, Irish drawl she told me Mary’d always looked that way and handed me a locket that she pulled from her neck. Inside was a painted picture.

It was a pretty, imperfect thing but I could see straight off who it was meant to be. The hand that painted it had stripped some of the puppy-fat from Mary’s cheeks, and had made her soft brown hair darker and thicker, but the eyes gave it all away. Those big black eyes that knew too much and never said a word.

Apparently, Mary and Agnes Doyle had lived together since they arrived on this side of the Atlantic back in 1898. Mary had come over with the Hart family as young Bertie’s nurse maid, and the newly wed Doyle couple were looking for employment on the railroads. Mary and Agnes took to each other on the boat over and had been inseparable ever since. According to Mama Doyle – a name that Mary coined when Agnes gave birth to her only son, Billy – the locket had been painted by Bertie and subsequently passed from shy Mary Ward to her best friend.

I tried handing it back when I heard that part, but Agnes shook her head and smiled. She told me I was the first fella to come looking after Mary in all the time they’d known each other and that she was just glad I was a looker with a decent job. I took the little necklace, wrapped it double round my wrist and thanked Agnes Doyle for the whiskey and the trinket before setting off into the twilight.

I decided to walk into town instead of going home – the drink was clouding my head a little and I got the notion to check if Mary was in any of the cafes. As usual, I didn’t find her, but I did see Betty leaving the cinema with Walter Davies and I couldn’t help but laugh.

Lisa Lisa, sad Lisa Lisa – Cat Stevens

Lisa Lisa, sad Lisa Lisa – Cat Stevens, 1971

She hangs her head and, cries on my shirt
She must be hurt very badly
Tell me what’s making you sadly?
Open your door, don’t hide in the dark
You’re lost in the dark, you can trust me.
‘Cause you know that’s how it must be

Lisa Lisa, sad Lisa Lisa

Her eyes like windows, tricklin’ rain
Upon her pain getting deeper
Though my love wants to relieve her
She walks alone from wall to wall
Lost in a hall, she can’t hear me!
Though I know she likes to be near me

Lisa Lisa, sad Lisa Lisa

She sits in a corner, by the door
There must be more I can tell her
If she really wants me to help her
I’ll do what I can to show her the way
And maybe one day I will free her
Though I know no one can see her

Lisa Lisa, sad Lisa Lisa

I wish I could convey in words how beautiful the violin in this song is. In fact, I haven’t actually felt this strongly about a piece of music since my angst ridden adolescence when, I am ashamed to admit, I kept a book of any ‘meaningful’ song lyrics I happened to find. I scrawled them all down in a huge A4 journal and sobbed into the pages when my perfect, pampered life become oh-too-much. I was hard done by – my brother and I never had satellite or cable while we were growing up.*

In any case, MTV or not, I know a good song when I hear it and I’ve had this track on repeat for the last few hours, happily dreaming. It’s as though there’s a story in it that I’m not quite getting and as a result, the whole thing feels like the final pages of a detective novel, when all the pieces of the plot have been revealed but no one has yet put it all together.

When I finish ‘Let It Be’ and sometime after November – when I can start distributing my Bridport prize entry – I plan to put an anthology of short stories together and consider self-publication, if only to test the waters a little. I’d love to be able to write something around this so I could name the collection after it. Music is such a central part to everything I write and if I manage to pull a plot from the lyrics above, this will be the third short story I’ve taken from a song.

As ever, we shall see.

*I would like to point out, in case someone doesn’t get it, that I am being horribly sarcastic. My childhood and subsequent teenage years couldn’t have been better. My ever incredible parents – especially my poor, long-suffering mother – made my youth as painless as it possibly could have been and supported me through twat-ish boyfriends, the relocation of my soul mate and the heartache that comes with multiple failed driving tests.

Let It Be – Part Five

Hart’s papa, Albert Hart Senior, was not what I expected. He was stood outside the drug store, smiling to himself and leaning back on his dreamy Buick 8 Business Coupe. He smiled at me – that same dumb smile as his boy had – only Hart Senior didn’t come across as evil when he did it. From where I was looking, there didn’t seem to be a mean bone in that fella’s body, so when he offered me his hand to shake, I took it.

“Why, you must be Mr.- ” he stopped, when he realised I hadn’t given him my name.

“Just John is fine, sir.”

“Well then, Just John, you’ll have to call me Just Bertie.”

We fell to talking then, and the whole thing felt to me like being with an old friend. He even offered to let me try the Buick when I told him how much I liked it.

We set off on the road out of town, looking to loop back into the city when we passed the Moore farm. About half way out a quiet settled between us so that all we could hear was the road and the engine. Then Bertie said,

“So, Junior went to see Mary?”

“Yeah, shouted all kinds of murder at her, too.”

“The boy’s an idiot. It’s his mother’s fault – she was too soft on him and Junior suffered for it,” he paused, “or rather, Ruth will.”

“You know about his other girl?”

“Yes, sadly – he came to me asking for money to keep her. Nancy, her name is – she’s Ruth’s cleaner. And she’s pregnant.”

I hated the boy even more right then because I saw myself in him. Fooling around with Betty meant that I no better than he was, just lucky that the same thing hadn’t happened to me. I kept quiet a minute while I turned the Buick back towards town then decided to try and talk about something else.

“So why did you send the boy to Mary?” I fished in my pocket and tossed him the now oily photograph, “And how in hell is this possible?”

I glanced at Bertie and saw him staring down at the picture, his smiling cheeks drooping into a bull-dog jaw. He was quiet a long while, until we reached the edge of town and he asked me to pull over. I did as I was told and turned the car onto a side lane, killing the engine’s purr and waiting.

“I’ll speak frankly to you, John, because I like you. I took this picture when I was a little boy – the man in it is my father and the wall-paper is that of our old London house. That is Mary, but I can’t tell you any more than that. I pride myself on being a gentleman and I swore to her that I would never let a stranger know who she really was. I’d wanted to keep Junior from her and have tried for years to do so but… Well, you’ll know yourself. When Mary speaks, the world listens.” He paused for a long minute, his sausage-fingered hands trembling on the picture. Finally, he gave it back to me, “You can take us back to the drug store now, if you like?”

I told him thanks for everything – the drive, the talk, even the picture – but I decided to walk back in to town. Driving was too quick, and I needed time to think.


The North. Those signs that litter the A1, for me, have always been synonymous with hills, adventure and tea as black as tar.

It’s funny how the further up the country you get, the stronger the brew becomes. By the time you reach Wick, it must resemble treacle. Still, I’m not one to complain – not only did my brief northern sojourn let me visit M-, but I also felt cold for the first time in weeks. It was blissful.

As always, though, I’ve come away with much to think about. I’ve realised now that yes, I really do want to be back in Scotland, but until M- and I can afford a tea shop, or S- gets an absolutely incredible job there, we’re better off down here.

We’ll see how things go. Perhaps I’ll write a best selling novel, or win the lottery or something similar.

In any case, I’m home now and it’s back to the grind. 🙂