Thursday 28 January 2010

Tagged and pretty pink Ouija boards

Crikey, I’ve been tagged by @alphamummy. I’m so rubbish at keeping up with blogs that I would have missed it altogether had it not been for the wondrous Linda.
The meme is to reveal a memory, be it a dark or light one. The one that springs immediately to mind is not surprising really, given I have just read the alphamummy post reporting that ToysRus are actually selling a kiddie Ouija board. Pretty in pink, aimed at little girls but undoubtedly a Ouija board.
Now this bothers me - immensely. That may surprise some of you as I don’t exactly hide my weirdy-beardy proclivities. I learned to read the tarot when I was in nappies and am happy as Larry with the runes, the I Ching, whatever. In my recent book The Mind Body Spirit Miscellany I even chunter on about even more arcane forms of divination. For example:
• Bibliomancy – opening books at random and reading the first passage seen (people tend to use the Bible or other sacred texts but any book will do - I find Marion Keyes works a treat).
• Tasseomancy - reading the patterns of tea leaves, coffee grounds or (more usually for me) wine sediments left at the bottom of a cup or glass (very common party trick)
• Cledonomancy – interpreting chance remarks from passers-by (usually do this waiting in the queue at the Dulverton post office)
• Onychomancy – reading symbols formed by the reflection of sunlight on the oiled fingernails of a child (so far no joy - the child steadfastly refuses to play along with this one).
• Alectoromancy – reading the letters revealed as a cockerel eats the kernels of corn that cover them (working on my neighbour to have a go at that with her chickens).

Sorry, brief aside there. But anyhow, these are all fine and dandy in my book (ho ho, neat plug there eh?) but the Ouija board isn’t.

I think I was around eight when I first used it. It was the sixties and the boards were the latest craze. One day I was hanging out with my friend Mandy Cotton and it was raining so we couldn’t go outside and pretend to ride ponies over jumps, whipping our bottoms with crops. So we pulled out the Ouija board which I had been told NOT TO TOUCH UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER.

We were giggling in the usual way of eight year old girls and then the planchette moved.
‘You moved it,’ I said.
‘No I didn’t. YOU did.’
‘I didn’t.’
And so it would have gone on except by now the planchette was seriously whizzing round the board.
‘Is there anyone there?’
‘Are you dead?’ (cut to the chase, why don't you Mandy?)
‘What’s your name?’
D.A.V.E (how very suburban)
‘How did you die?’ (that was me - always was a morbid child)

The planchette was moving so fast we couldn’t follow what it was saying.
It was clearly getting agitated.
Then something shifted. The atmosphere in the room became thick and heavy. The planchette stopped in the centre of the board.
I looked at Mandy and she looked at me. We both knew something was different.
‘Are you still there, Dave?’
‘Is someone else there?’

‘I think we should stop,’ I said. ‘I don’t like this.’
The temperature in the room had dropped and it felt as if something were waiting to happen, something bad. Chills ran down my spine and I stared petrified at the board.
Suddenly the light bulb exploded over our heads and fragments of glass rained down. The room was plunged into darkness and we both screamed and ran out of the room.

When I saw the film The Exorcist in my teens (underage of course) I wasn’t remotely surprised somehow that the events kicked off with the use of the Ouija board.
Many years later I was on a press trip to Macedonia and a crowd of us, rather drunk, made our own Ouija board (if you really want to do it, there are instructions in my book). Someone faithfully copied out the strings of meaningless letters that splurged out. It was total rubbish and we shrugged our shoulders, gave up and went to bed.
The next morning we met up with our interpreter at breakfast and he noticed the letters in my notebook.
‘What’s that?’ he said.
‘Oh, just some rubbish we got from a Ouija board. It doesn’t make sense.’
‘Not to you maybe but I can read it. It’s Serbo-Croat.’
Cue spooky music.
So, there you have it. My spooky memories and why I really don’t think it is remotely appropriate to sell pink Ouija boards to little girls.

Now I have to tag five others so (rummaging in the sorting hat) I’ll tag:

Preseli Mags

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Getting hairy - peripuberty hits the Bonkers House

There’s a whiff of puberty in the air. Hairs are appearing. Hair gel is being used in industrial quantities. ‘Don’t come in, I’m changing,’ is a common refrain. How strange that this body, which I grew within mine, which I have always known as well, if not better, than my own, will become something unknown. It seems highly unlikely that I will ever see my son’s willy again. How strange but really, how natural and good. I always knew that you ‘borrow’ children, that they aren’t yours and that the main purpose of parenthood is to allow them, in their own time, to move away from you, to be independent, to be their own people. But it seems to be coming so soon.
I’ve always tried to be frank and down-to-earth about sex stuff but seriously I have very little idea about the mechanics of boys and adolescence. Spouting breasts and periods, copious weeping and sulking – yes, those I get (those I’ve had). But wet dreams, erections, voices breaking – nope. Way beyond my field of expertise.
Fathers should step in at this point but Adrian is still pretty vague about human biology. ‘Hormones – what are hormones? We don’t have hormones do we?’ (we being men). And (my favourite): ‘Men don’t have hips, do they?’ So there was absolutely no point in asking him to do the fatherly thing. Hence I did what I always do when confronted with something new and potentially problematic – I bought a book.
What’s Happening To Me? (Usborne) looked suitably unintimidating and turned out to be a little cracker. Straightforward, blunt (‘you will start to sweat more and may smell’), light and humorous. I handed it over in a pretty casual way. ‘Was buying a few books and thought this looked interesting.’
And that, I thought, was that. Maybe he wasn’t ready. Maybe the hairy legs were something else entirely – werewolf syndrome?
‘Did you ever take a look at that book?’ I asked a few weeks later.
‘Oh yes. I’ve read it about five times.’
Well, who’dda thought? If you’re the kind of parent who finds the words ‘scrotum’ and ‘semen’ don’t trip easily off the tongue, I’d heartily recommend this (there’s a girls version too but I can’t vouch for that).
It’s also teaching me a bit about girls too. Apparently girls ‘don’t need to shave their faces’ (tell that to the women who regularly get their taches waxed). And ‘some girls trim their pubic hair, so that it doesn’t poke out of their swimsuits’. Tell that to my London friends who wouldn’t know a pubic hair if it floated in their mojitos.
Actually, the more I read of the book, the more I realised that what’s going on in our house probably isn’t puberty proper but more of a peripuberty (if there can be such a thing). But it won’t be long. In the meantime, I’m beginning to think I may have missed out on a few essential growing up lessons. Maybe I’ll buy the girl version for myself.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Bloggers for Haiti

People deride social media. They mock blogging and roll their eyes at Twitter. I seem to spend a lot of time encouraging people to use this media, for a variety of reasons – for self therapy, to battle isolation, to build business. But this weekend I realised that social media can save lives too.
Like most people I watched the horror of Haiti unfold with disbelief and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Then a positive deluge of emails appeared in my inbox. I logged onto Twitter and my online friends were getting together to do something. Could I join in? Of course I could and Englishmum sent me the info. How simple a thing – a blog post. How amazing if all our blog posts could transform into practical, lifesaving, help for the people in Haiti.

We’re all sitting in our homes or Internet cafes or whatever on our computers. How feeble my winging about the Bonkers House seems when you think about the chaos in Haiti. No water, no food, no shelter. Can you imagine how it would feel not to be able to feed your child? No, I can't either.

Just take a moment – seriously a couple of minutes is all...and help us send out Shelterboxes to Haiti. Each box costs £490 and Haiti needs as many as we can send. This is real practical help.

Each box includes:
* A ten-person tent.
* Thermal blankets and insulated ground sheets.
* A life-saving means of water purification.
* A basic tool kit containing a hammer, axe, saw, trenching shovel, hoe head, pliers and wire cutters.
* A wood burning or multi-fuel stove – that can burn anything from diesel to old paint.
* Pans, utensils, bowls, mugs and water storage containers.

Every item is durable, practical and new, including the box itself, which can be used for anything from water and food storage containers to a cot for a newborn baby.

How to donate

It couldn’t be simpler. Just click on

Give whatever you can. It doesn't have to be a fortune - every little bit helps. But please do it. Don't fall into the trap of thinking, 'oh, everyone else will' and don't get cynical, thinking your help will be siphoned off elsewhere. This is not a scam - it WILL help.

As the wonderful Dulwich Divorcee says on her blog: "Let’s show that blogging does have a purpose and a point. Let’s turn compassion into action."

Thursday 7 January 2010

Oh God, am I a pushy parent?

Should you push children? That thorny old question. Gloom has descended upon the Bonkers House because the end of the holidays is looming and with the new term comes entrance exams. James has been set a pile of practice papers and getting him to tackle them has been akin to making a terrier avoid rats.

Part of me thinks, oh for heaven’s sake, he’s eleven. Surely it’s an eleven-year old’s god-given right to lounge around during the holidays, watching TV; hanging out with his mates; lobbing snowballs and so on. But another part of me thinks, shit, I’m working my socks off to keep you at this school and I’d like just a tad of commitment in return.

Aha, I hear you say, clambering onto the moral high ground and gazing down disapprovingly – well, if you will send your child to independent (ie fat fee-paying) school, then it’s your lookout. And, yes, it is. But let’s not go into that one right now – I seriously haven’t the energy.

James will pass his exams, of that I have no doubt. It’s the scholarship thing that bugs me. Let’s be honest, anything that would help with fees would be a blessing from on high. The annoying thing is that he could do it. He’s a bright lad but, by heck, he’s lazy.

‘I’ve finished my English paper,’ he says.
‘But you’ve only done half an hour.’
‘But I finished.’
‘Well, write more.’
‘My hand hurts.’

Ah, it is a sad thing for two writers when their offspring finds writing a story a chore. But such is the sheer nastiness of fate.
‘But isn’t it fabulous, making up stories, letting your imagination go wild?’
He just looks at me as if I am a complete imbecile.
So I figured I’ll resort to bribery.
‘Look, no pressure okay, but just saying...if you were to get a scholarship, we’d save so much money that maybe we could afford to go on a really great holiday.’
Why he is fixated on Portugal, I have no idea. He hates seafood. Maybe it’s the golf. He caught the quizzical look.
‘Okay, not Portugal. DisneyWorld. Florida.’
Gulp. Disney was fabulous but, having tasted the high life there, I don’t think I could bear to do it budget fashion. This time he caught the look of sheer panic-stricken rabbit in headlights and, bless him, took pity on me.
‘Disney Paris then. With a friend.’

So it was agreed. Has it worked? Nope. Not even the charms of Mickey and the thrill of the roller coaster has lured him away from the Xbox and the snow. The papers sit, gathering dust, and wistful dreams of skinnier fees have been put sadly to one side.

Because maybe, just maybe, my heart isn’t really in it either.

Monday 4 January 2010

Forget the tarot, the runes, the I Ching - learn how to tell your future by reading a stone at