Monday 30 May 2011

Ras Mbisi - go for it!

Sometimes you have to let the winds of Fate blow you, like dandelion seeds.  Sometimes Fate gives you no choice – it knows where you’re going. I’m a great believer in trying to live lightly; trying to get with the Tao; practicing wu wei. My mother always said that if you push things too hard, you can force them to happen, but at a price.  You can exert your will but it may backfire.  It’s the difference between Magic and Mysticism (if you want to be esoteric about it).
But sometimes… Maybe.  If you know – if you really know – what you want (and that it is the right thing), then maybe you have to fight, to give it all you’ve got.  What do you think?  I do admire people who get this idea, this vision, and then just pursue it, hell for leather.  Like Michelle.  
I met Michelle on Twitter (yes, another one) – thanks to Sam Baker (who, incidentally, always goes for it 100% - check out her new book).  Anyhow, here’s an abbreviated version of Michelle’s story – of how she gave up life in cold boring Ramsgate and bought a beach in Tanzania!

It all started in 2005 on a cold winter’s day.  The rain was lashing down and Michelle was idly browsing the web while her two young daughters watched TV.  She stumbled upon a website called, listing beaches and properties for sale around Tanzania and within a few clicks, she had started hatching a plan.  By the time her husband Jon came home from work, the idea for Ras Mbisi, an eco-lodge on a stretch of pristine sand, had formed.
With a feeling of wild impetuousness, they booked a flight to Dar es Salaam and they found “their” beach.  ‘It was love at first sight,’ recalls Michelle.  ‘We just looked at each other and said, “God, it’s gorgeous.”  There was pure white sand – that actually squeaked when you walked on it.  Clear blue sea and no neighbours for miles either way.’  It may have been beautiful but there was no accommodation other than ‘a subsiding, bat, rat and hornet-infested pit’ of a house.  If they wanted to make a go of it, they would have to start from scratch.
They sold up their house and hawked nearly all their worldly belongings.  Money was going to be incredibly tight and so everything that wasn’t totally essential, had to go.  Jon even auctioned his vast LP collection on eBay. ‘The proceeds bought us a Land Rover,’ he says ruefully. 

They left the UK on a rainy August afternoon in 2006 and arrived in Tanzania to bright morning sunshine. ‘We just ran to the sea and plunged in,’ says Michelle.  ‘The girls were so excited – it was a huge adventure.’  But reality quickly kicked in.  The house on the beach was uninhabitable and for three months the Vickers had to rent a run-down cottage 18 kilometres away down a pot-holed road while they rebuilt it. 
They dug their own bore hole (and learned how to use the various pumps required), constructed a solar system and built a biomass gasifier (running on waste) to power the Lodge as there is no mains power in this part of the island.  They employed over forty local people to build the lodge (which is all made from sustainable cocowood from the plantations that back onto the beach).  Most of them were then retrained as cooks, waiters and gardeners for the Lodge.  Digging and planting a large vegetable garden was a must as part of Michelle’s dream was to provide the most delicious, fresh, seasonal food possible.  Everything had to be local and eco-friendly – even the soap is made locally from virgin coconut oil.
To cut a very long story very short, Jon and Michelle finally saw their vision become reality: nine open-tented thatched bandas (simple yet sophisticated rooms with balconies and ensuite bathrooms) sitting just metres from the beach, looking out over the aquamarine water.  They are cleverly planned to benefit from the cooling sea breeze as does the restaurant and raised sundowner bar which overlooks both the beach and the swimming pool. 
Food is cooked simply using a combination of traditional Swahili recipes with Middle Eastern and Asian flavours (reflecting the old trade routes).  The menu changes daily, depending on what the local fishermen catch or what Michelle and Jon have found at market.  Vegetables often come from their own garden and your breakfast egg will have been laid by one of the Vickers’ own pampered hens. Fresh fruit literally falls from the trees and, given the Lodge backs onto a coconut plantation, it’s small surprise that the exotic nut features heavily.
When guests aren’t eating, they can be as active or leisurely as they desire.  You could swim with the Whale sharks or watch the Humpbacks make their way past during their biannual migration.  Or visit one of the uninhabited offshore islands for a fish barbecue and snorkel one of the many reefs. 

Michelle’s next project is to add a small spa offering a simple menu of massages and scrubs, based around the local coconut oil.  No overegged ‘rituals’ or gimmicks – just good bodywork to relax guests into ‘swahili time’.  There are still so many things I want to do but it all takes time,’ says Michelle.  ‘We’ve learnt to walk; running comes next.’

Fancy a serious chillout break? It's actually damn good value: check it out.  Or read the blog (with delicious recipes and more pics). I tell you, I am SO going there when funds allow. 

NOTE TO EDITORS: This is a much abbreviated version of a longer lifestyle feature I wrote.  If any mags or papers fancy the whole thing (2K words), let me know.

Sunday 29 May 2011

Dulverton goes Wicker Man

It’s all gone a bit Wicker Man in town this weekend.  I was sitting quietly in The Bridge, minding my own business, when I glanced up and saw a man staring across the bar with glowing red eyes.  No, really – they were glowing, glowing and red.  ‘Oh my God,’ said the people sitting at the next table. ‘He’s seriously scary.  What the hell is he?’ 
‘I don’t know but he looks fabulous,’ I said and jumped up and went and said hello.
‘Great look. Love the eyes.’
‘Thanks. Can’t see a bloody thing though. Hope I’ve got the right beer.’

Nice chap.  See, appearances are often deceptive. So I popped into the Ladies and found two girls adjusting their bindis and rearranging their boobs in jangly bras. 
Children with shaved heads and dinky DMs were running in feral little gangs.  You couldn’t move for guitars and fiddles and drums and bits of ribbon and, for some inexplicable reason, a lot of boxers (my favourite dog). Oh, and a traction engine, belching smoke.
It’s the Dulverton Folk Festival and TheBridge is having a beer festival to coincide so, as you can imagine, Adrian is as happy as the proverbial pig in shit.  Not the folk so much (he was more into punk and rock before hardcore classical stole his ears) – but he had a good deal to do with the beer selection.  James wasn’t so keen.
‘I’m scared of Morris men,’ he said, shuddering. ‘I think I have a phobia.’
Well, I get there is something a little unsettling about blacked up faces with staring red eyes; about masks and long pointy noses.  It’s all very raw and primitive.

‘They’re rude, they are,’ said a chap outside the church. ‘Downright rude.’
I frowned.  ‘But the ones I spoke to were lovely, really friendly.’ 
‘Oh no,’ he replied.  ‘They’re nice enough. I mean rude as in, well…’ He lowered his voice… ‘….sexual.  Honestly, it’s the wrong time of year.’
Eh?  Sex has seasons, like pheasant or salmon?  Who knew?  ‘Oh, I dunno,’ I said with a grin.  ‘Any time of year works for me.’  He looked a bit startled but grinned back.  ‘I guess you’re right.’

So, we wandered from pub to pub, catching a bit of music here, a bit of dancing there.  Listening in on folk wars and stifling grins.  ‘Is that a banjo you’ve got there?’ asked one woman innocently in the cafe, pointing at a case.  Eyebrows raised, eyes bulged and two fingers flashed across one another in a warding gesture. ‘Banjo? BANJO? It’s a mandolin.’ 
The only sour note came from a severe case of I’m Very Importantitis.  Last night a party of four bustled to the table next to us. ‘We’re the committee,’ said a large florid  chap in a bright sweatshirt with COMMITTEE or CHAIRMAN or summat of that ilk written across it.  Well, there's a surprise.  And, frankly, why on earth does being on a committee mean you get to be unpleasant and unfriendly?    ‘It’s very tiring organising this, you know,' he blustered, when we didn't genuflect with suitable awe.  'We need our food. We need our table.’  And who precisely was stopping him from having his food and table?  Ah, *sigh*. Whatever.
graphic by Sarah Diggle - perfect image!
Then, this morning, I pitched up, a trifle late, for my kettlebell class by the river and saw our little group facing off – yup - Mr Bumptious again, this time with two henchmen.  Turned out he was objecting to us doing our class on “their” festival weekend.  Apparently we would ‘steal customers’ from the festival and we were ‘taking advantage’ of “their” weekend for publicity. WTF?  Six local women slinging kettlebells around off under the trees at 10.30am on a Sunday morning?  Ye gods, the festival goers were still sleeping off the excesses of the night before.  It was raining.  Nobody was even performing or dancing.  Who the hell did they think we were going to steal?   
He spluttered and pontificated and clearly wanted to intimidate Trish into cancelling the class.  Honestly, why is it that some people feel the need to throw their perceived weight around?  Is it that classic case of big fish, small pond – a very shaky ego that needs bolstering?  But really, it was bullying and it pissed me off so I threw my toys out the pram a bit and, given I couldn’t lob a kettlebell at the pillock, I unpinned my Folk Festival badge and thrust it into his hand, stifling a laugh at myself for such a totally pathetic gesture. 
Anyhow.  Forget him.  I love  anything really that brings people into Dulverton.  I just hate petty-mindedness and small thinking.  If you’re around the area tomorrow, there is still beer left at The Bridge and there will be music wherever you go (yes, we have four pubs in town - greedy eh?).  And there will be more dancing and mayhem and misrule. 
I reckon we’re just missing one thing…  A good burning to round off the festivities! 

(tell me you've seen The Wicker Man? One of my all-time favourite films).

Friday 27 May 2011

Learn. Unlearn. Relearn.

You don’t have to come,’ said Adrian.
‘What? Miss parents’ evening?’ Frowning. How can you have a parents’ “evening” at 3pm?
‘Well, you’re cold and you’re not well.  You don’t have to come. James won’t mind.’
‘I’d mind,’ I replied.  ‘Anyhow, I’ll be warmer in the car than here and, besides, I’m getting better.’

And I was. Mind over matter and a gut-load of weirdness was sorting me out. Sort of.
So he dropped me at the health store so I could stock up on more potions and then we trip-trapped into school, into the auditorium. Now, put me in a theatre seat and I have a nigh-on instant Pavlovian response: my eyelids droop, my head nods (legacy of my theatre reviewing days I suspect).
But then a few words and phrases broke through my dozy reverie and I started paying attention.
‘Everything’s changing,’ said the Director of Studies. ‘And so education has to change too.’ I’m paraphrasing wildly here: she was far more eloquent. But the gist was that it’s no longer enough to learn ‘facts’, to get a firm ‘grip’ on a subject alone.  It’s not about being an encyclopaedia because that is, frankly, impossible as well as useless.  There is simply too much information out there and it’s growing exponentially. Children will need to become navigators, weaving their way. They will need to learn skills of elasticity, of discrimination; they will need to sift, to select, to choose wisely, to figure out what is truth and what is misinformation.  Hmm.
‘Learn. Unlearn. Relearn,’ she said, paraphrasing Alvin Toffler.

Then she said that, at this point in their lives (we’re talking age 12-13) they were, in effect, learning how to learn and learning how to approach life. The major skills the school hoped to impart were those of confidence, independent, discrimination and enquiry.  ‘We want them to become self-reflective,’ she said. ‘Self-critical, to dialogue without judgment.’ She really did say that, I scribbled it down.
Did that mean that a lot of the actual ‘meat’ of their current studies was, frankly, irrelevant?  She shrugged, eloquently. ‘Yes.’  Paused.  ‘But don’t tell them that.’

Interesting.  Learn. Unlearn. Relearn. 
Maybe we all need to be navigators, setting aside dull certainties (which don’t exist) and head into uncharted waters.

Dump ille, illa, illud.  Embrace qui quae quod?  And quomodo?
Be Wise, not Wo(o)den.

But really. What do you think? Does education need to shift? Do we just give children a foundation, a few building blocks? A compass (moral, philosophical?) and then gently push them out to sea, to see? 

Why is life so difficult?

Why is life so difficult?  Or rather, why do we make life so difficult for ourselves?  Sometimes it feels like I’m pushing against a vast weight; that I’m like Sisyphus, poor soul, with his shoulder to the boulder.  Okay, so I haven't slept again, and I feel pretty ill and the dreadlines are crashing and the vultures are circling but still...

Maybe I need a different perspective.  We fall into habits, into routine; we have rat-runs. We run in circles, always the same way.  Sometimes, perhaps, we need to reverse the route.  It dawned on me, as I took the SP for his morning walk, that I have never walked up The Chimney, the steep path to the hill-fort (place of strength?).  I have slid down it, many times, but I have never clambered up.  So
It was beautiful. Filled with flowers.  Not so hard really at all.  Easy, even.  Everything looks different when you go the other way, when you reverse the polarity.  But you still have to be careful.  Once you reach the top the path is indeed easy and even, deceptively so. A straight track through the woods.  Yet roots stretch and, if you don’t keep your eyes on your feet, they will trip you up. 
I used to write about this a lot.  Used to advise people to shift their routines, to try different things, to make shifts, even tiny ones… Does everything always have to be the same? No.  If you do the same workout, the same job, the same anything, you will hit a stagnation point.  Every smart trainer, businessperson, whatever knows you have to shift things around, to throw the occasional spanner in the works.  Do I follow my own advice? Shit no.  Things need to change.
I came down from the fort and reached the vantage point where you can look right out over the valley, past the river and see this small town stretched out in front of you.  I had to refocus my eyes to pick out our house, way over on the other side, up on the hill – a long way away as the path winds.  Ah, but...I had this sudden flash that I could fly there in an instant. Oh, how I wish I could.  Now that would be a change indeed.  Instead I walked back slowly through town, people waving, cars tooting.  Just like always. 
But, funny thing, seems my neighbour, the vicar, has been thinking the same sort of thing.  ‘If you’re a slave to routine, you become anxious when you have to change,’ he said.   True.  ‘But God doesn’t like repeating things,’ he went on.  ‘Since we’re made in God’s image, maybe we should think about how we can find fresh ways of doing things.’  Right on, John.
And, when I came back I found the postman had delivered (out of the blue) three CDs by Art Giser who does something called Energetic NLP – check out his site here.  ‘Are you running your own life?' he said (accusingly, or so I heard it).  Ummm.  'Clear programming and energy to identify your own authentic goals’…’avoid negative energy’…’excuses obliterator’ (ho ho)….’increase your prosperity’… 

Hmm, which to try first?  Then an email pinged in from my accountant which answered that question pretty quickly.  I'll let you know how I get on. 
better hope he leaves the boulder behind, eh?
But enough about me; what about you? Do you always do the same stuff all the time?  Does it feel as if nothing ever changes?  Do you feel comforted by routine, or stifled by it? Sometimes it’s hard even to tell until you try shifting.
Maybe today try doing just one thing differently… it could kick off an entire chain reaction.  One of these days, even Sisyphus might think, ‘sod it’, let go of his boulder and book a cruise.
Music? Alela Diane today...

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Stoke Newington Literary Festival

Stoke Newington.  A chunk of my past I’m set to revisit next weekend.  I lived there 20 years ago, in the sweetest house tucked away down a side-street, nearly backing onto Abney Park cemetery (one of the great Victorian graveyards of London).  I loved that house. Loved Stokey.  Crazy happy days.

Anyhow, some good friends still live there and one of them, the lovely Liz, launched the Stoke Newington Literary Festival last year. It was, to put it mildly, a resounding success.
"A literary festival that's thrown its pretensions in a skip" The Londonist
"The coolest literary festival of the summer" Authonomy (eh, what?)

So, year one was fabulous but year two looks like it’s going to be even bigger and better.  Hence I’m hoiking myself up to London again and taking myself for a trip down memory lane.  Past the pub  that banned me (totally unfair – case of mistaken identity); past the flat I used to visit on my astral travels; through the cemetery where I wafted with bits of old lace tangled through my white haystack of hair…
But don’t let the idea of my old mad molecules still floating round there put you off.  Stokey is a fab place – a little hidden village in inner city London.  It revels in a rich literary heritage and if gothic, supernatural, ghostly and horrific rocks your boat, you simply cannot afford not to go.  But don't take my word for it: here’s the blurb.
“2011 is the second Stoke Newington Literary Festival, created to celebrate the area's long and influential literary history and to keep the spirit of radical thinking, debating and story-telling alive.
This year, we'll be shining the spotlight on some of the people that have helped put Stoke Newington on the cultural map, in particular Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Wollestonecraft. We'll also be bringing you some of the UK's most exciting debut novelists, a superb line-up of poets who'll be popping up at events throughout the weekend as well as a programme that covers ska, dissent, cycling, punk, gangs and ghosts.”
There are loads of events and it most certainly isn’t Poe-faced (sorry, that was unforgiveable) – there’s tons for children (from age 3 upwards) so if you want your children to love books, this could be a way to lure them in.  I’m going to as many events as I can squeeze into one weekend without going word-blind but, in particular, I’m looking forward to meeting some of my online friends who’re doing a gig on Saturday – The New Libertines at the Baby Bathhouse at 4pm. 

Check out the programme.  Book some tickets (but hurry, they're selling out fast).  Come and tap me on the shoulder (just be warned, the waist-length white hair has gone – and thank feck for that!).

A few highlights (well, the ones I like):
Friday 3rd June: 2pm: Chainsaw Gang – have modern vampires lost their bite? Four rising children’s horror authors bite, snarl and growl.  12+ (unless accompanied by brave adult)
2pm: Arsenal Story Telling Event – er, right…”fun football stories, games and riddle” – fun and football don’t sit happily together in my lexicon but hey ho…might encourage reluctant readers. 6-12 years.

4pm: In Conversation with David Walliams.  ‘nuff said.  Except I didn’t know he wrote children’s books.  Family event.
8pm: The Life and Works of Alexander Baron – his cult novel about the London underworld, The Lowlife, is considered a major antecedent to punk.

Saturday 4th June: 10am – Dr Seuss event.  Including a visit from the Cat in the Hat. 5-8 years.
3.30pm: The Life and Influence of Edgar Allan Poe – Poe lived in Stoke Newington and a panel discuss his work before Steven Berkoff discusses his own adaption of The Tell Tale Heart.

Sunday 5th June: 1pm: Pete Brown’s Beer and Book matching – what ale should you read while drinking Dostoevsky?  Pete’s a good bloke – this should be a cracker.

Monday 23 May 2011

Karma and The Cold

There are times when I have absolutely no idea who I am.  I catch sight of my reflection in a mirror and am simply perplexed.  I look down at my hands, typing, and think 'whose are these and whose words are they tapping out?' So many people seem so sure of themselves; so keen to bestow their certainty on everyone; to tell you what is right and what is wrong. How lovely to be so sure.  Even if you’re not right.

Right now, I feel buffeted.  It feels like I’m standing at the front of a fast-moving ship with the wind forcing air into my lungs – so hard that I can’t breathe out. Signs and symbols and synchronicities are crashing into me so fast, so furious. I try to bat them away like flies, but there are simply too many.
It’s nearly June and I’m cold, so cold, so freezing cold.  Or is it just me? Is it an inner cold, an inner ice, a soul cold?

Is. Ice. Isa. The rune that is one straight line. I. Id. Idol (ego).  I’m in here (but where/when?).
Isa imerges again and again.  Standst(ill). (Cons)t(r)aint. That which impedes. Ill(us)ion. 
‘”The winter of the spiritual life is upon you.”
The I, the eye and the ei. Funny, innit – egg in German is Ei.  The divine I. Eggo. Egg-O.  This last bit, by the way, from a little book Adrian gave me on his return from Russia – on Euphonics.  ‘I and O are sounds which link the solitary self with the totality of things, as in I alone, or I all one. At one are those who can atone; For the All One revolves alone.” 

Sorry…(I can see Milla rolling her eyes) but I just love the way words have deeper, core, universal, sometimes hidden,  meanings…
And I dunno. I have no right to feel frozen. I am lucky, I keep reminding myself. I have family, friends, health, not wealth (but that is small in importance – as I was strongly reminded the other day, I would rather live in a bedsit and be free than in a mansion and be bound in hell).  So why this freezing? Why this soul sadness that creates such a deep ache in the heart?

I asked on Twitter, as you do.  Yeah, you can ask about deep soul sadness on Twitter – it ain’t all about cupcakes and sexbots.
‘I’m getting a strong hit for Yellow Rattle karmic essence,’ said Jackie Stewart (@JSFLowerspirit).  So I checked it out.

Those in need of this essence carry an innate sadness and melancholy from previous lifetimes that they are often unable to express, and which causes recurring and apparently unfounded feelings of hopelessness and despair to surface in their current lives.” 
And welled up a bit.  ‘Are you alright, Mum?’ said James, curled up on my sofa (home ill from school).
‘Of course I am, love. I just felt a little sad. You know – you do too, sometimes.’  
Swallowing the tears – sometimes one is never alone when one needs to be.  He hugged me until he made me smile, his warmth thawing the chill.  But it returns, it always does and then all I can do is run, run, run.  Go to the gym again and race against my self to get physically warm, pushing my body, punishing it really.  I do get warm, eventually…but only on the outside.
I ordered the remedy.  I wonder what it will bring.

Do you believe in karma? Can we carry *stuff* over from one lifetime to the next?  My family believes so.  My brother always said that, as a family, were carry bad karma. My sister goes further. ‘We did bad, bad things,’ she said once. ‘And we will pay and pay…’  Will we? Do we? 

Sunday 22 May 2011

Free books!

When I was young, I prayed to be sent away to boarding school. It wasn’t that I was particularly unhappy at home but simply that I had fallen head over heels in love with the idea thanks to Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St Claire’s books.  I wanted to play pranks and have midnight feasts with a gang of friends.  Okay, so I also rather fancied the idea of swimming in a natural seawater pool and having my own pony in the school stables. At the bottom of it, I guess I just wanted to escape from the tedium of suburbia.  I was a lot younger than my siblings and I spent most of my time alone in my head. I wanted ‘chums’; I wanted merry japes; I wanted passionate friendships and drama and secrets.
The allure of the school saga has not diminished over the years. When my son first saw his school he muttered, with deep awe, ‘Hogwarts’.  And I smiled broadly when I saw that Lyn Gardner had written her own school series, starting with Olivia’s First Term (oh that title - so delightfully reminiscent of Blyton’s series).
I met Lyn when we both worked for the London listings magazine, City Limits.  Lyn was the theatre editor (I fixed the typewriters  – which says it all really).  Lyn went on to The Guardian (and remains there today) and continues to review theatre with her habitual insight, sensitivity and humour.  If anyone knows theatre inside out and back to front, it’s Lyn. Oh, and she has daughters so she’s the business twice over.

Now, you know me. I love dark and doomy and depressing. I inhale supernatural and overcast and heart-broken and wretched.  So how come I devoured a book about a bunch of kids at stage school, for pity’s sake?  Olivia’s First Term is about dancing and acting and singing; it doesn’t even have one vaguely creepy moment (though there is plenty of drama).  I hated High School Musical. I loathe Glee.  But, you know, this isn’t like that…not one bit.  It’s really got that old Malory Towers magic about it (though the writing is way better). I’ll let you into a secret – I even shed a few tears at the end.
Anyhow, if you have stage-struck daughters (roughly aged 8-12), they’ll devour it (and, fear not, it teaches valuable lessons about Not Being A Brat). I know a lot of you have young girls in the house and so I asked the publishers, Nosy Crow, if they could let me have some copies to share. They very kindly agreed and I have six copies to give away. So, if you’d like to win one, simply leave a comment and we’ll do the usual paw in the hat routine.

Oh, and talking about writing and young people, check out the Wicked Young Writers’ Award finalist entries, now published in an anthology by Headline. – some amazing stuff here.

Girls v boys (warning, contains penes)

Now don’t get me wrong on this.  First things first: I adore my son. Totally, utterly adore him. But I do sometimes wish I’d had a daughter as well.  I always thought I would.  Way back, when my sister was having her fourth (or was it fifth?) child she said, very firmly, ‘I can see you with one child.  A girl. I just know it.’  Now, see, maybe this is why I’ve always been a bit wary of the psychic malarkey.   Cos while she got the one bit right, I have ended up being the only female in the house – yup, even the dogs have dicks.
But anyhow. I don’t have a daughter and, unless I become one of those ancient mothers with babies (which SO isn’t going to happen) it’s going to stay that way.
I was going to crash in front of the fire but, having successfully ignored the phone ringing, I caught a late tweet (perils of Twitter) from Charlie:
nice, innit? particularly without us being noisy
‘It’s Rachel’s birthday; you’re ignoring the phone! Just join us at the Thai. Now!’ 
What can you do?  So I whizzed down the pub to tell Adrian and James I was off out - again.  Problem with the pub is that you can’t whizz.  So, by the time I’d wriggled away and got to the restaurant, they were finishing off the noodles. 

Their youngest, G, is my godson and he’s delicious. But oh, I do love their girls so much:  The Mistress of All Evil and Princess Delicious.  The MoAE wanted to talk books and music and fashion.  The PD was keen to tell me how she’d pulled a fast one on the MoAE who now owed her a small fortune (plus interest).  I admired the PD for her business acumen but felt a stab of pity for MoAE who has as corrosive an Amazon habit as I do – books, music, shoes – we’re soul sisters.  She wanted to know about Samael – she was my first beta reader, inhaling every chapter as I wrote it.  So I told her about the rewrite: she wasn’t impressed.
‘But I loved the surfers, and the crusties.’
‘Yeah, but what the zombie beheading and the crucifixion and that unseemly tussle at the gates of Hell?’ I said with a sad shrug.
‘Oh God, yeah! You haven’t…??  You HAVEN'T???? But those were the best bits….’
I explained that editors seemed to think the book was too complex, had too many sub-plots, was too dark.

‘But we teens love horror!  We devour dark,’ she said with venom, with a firm emphasis on ‘we teens’ (when you’re thirteen that teen bit is mega important). ‘We love complex stuff.  We teens are deep.  Dumbing it down is just patronising.’
Well, couldn’t argue with that.  She did a great eyeroll (told you we were soul sisters). ‘I can’t think about it,' she said flapping her hands. 'Let's listen to this instead.’ She pulled me down and stuck an ear-bud in my ear. 
‘Are you trying to shock Jane?’ said her mother, ‘Cos it won’t work.’
‘I know, silly,’ said the MoAE. ‘She’s cool and trendy….’  See why I love this girl? 
‘You’ll love this,’ she continued. ‘It’s called….’ She dropped her voice…’I’ve Just Had Sex.’
So we listened to it together. Catchy tune so we started jigging around a bit.  And then I just howled with laughter.
‘Penis. He said penis….’ I covered my mouth with my hand. ‘Shit, sorry.’ (flapping my hands guiltily in the direction of my young godson). Rachel gave me The Look. ‘The penis bit was okay…’ she said witheringly.  ‘….the shit wasn’t.’  Damnit, bad godmother again.
‘But, but…you can’t say ‘penis’ in a song; it’s just such a ridiculous word.’
‘I know,’ said the MoAE happily.  ‘It’s hilarious.’

And it was and we just howled with laughter.  And then laughed more about hair and friends and how ridiculous boys can be.  And tried on sandals and considered doing the helium out of the birthday balloons, like we did last year. 
I left with the biggest smile on my face.  Big hugs from everyone apart from my godson who took my hand very carefully, bent over and gave it a soft, respectful kiss (he always does this – it is just edible).  When I got home, I asked James if he’d heard the Penis song. He frowned with total disdain. ‘God no. That’s disgusting. Why on earth would I listen to something like that?’

Girls and boys. Different creatures.   

But, but…just watch the video – it cracks me up.  Maybe it's a girl thing.