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            So it turns out that keeping up with blog posts, whilst maintaining a hectic work schedule and secretly trying to carve out a career on the Welsh literature scene, is not as easy as one might have thought! I have, at various times in my life, kept paper-form diaries, and seemed to have no problem writing a few words each day; it’s often therapeutic if there’s lots of stressful, unpleasant and especially unfair things going on at the time. But I guess the main differences are that:

1.       The purpose of a paper diary is usually for the person writing them to express their thoughts, and even if they are then read back, it is usually only the person reading them that will be party to their content…with any attempt to turn the diary into published work being subject to heavy editing and creative fictionalisation (Jean Rhys wrote the fabulous Voyage in the dark based on some paper diaries she wrote having been pensioned off by her former lover…but she reworked the diaries several years after the fact, having not published them as Triple Sec, in their original form as planned).

 

2.       But the whole ethos of blogging is based on the instantaneous publication which is true to life, minute day to day; of people following the story as it unfolds, unedited, unabridged, unashamed…and this requires a greater level of on-the-spot-self-reflection than most of us mere mortals are capable of!

            One of the things I am finding difficult is to produce edited highlights relating to the focus of the blog; that is to say – Belle de jour was a call girl, so she presented anecdotes and stories from her working life (although she did brilliantly weave in stories and reflections on life generally – I especially enjoyed reading about her holiday when she stayed with J…it made me wish I could do something so spontaneous!) However I am an aspiring author and had originally hoped to present stories from a literary club I was trying to establish: The Inklingettes…however if there’s one thing I’ve noticed it’s that, not only have I singularly failed to establish such a group with any kind of real consistency in terms of meetings and output – which would seem to suggest the blog would be better re-named ‘The Inklingette’ but I do not really do much in the way of producing actual finished short stories or other creative output! Consequently tales of rejection and publication (as uninteresting as they may prove to be?) are as sparse as tales of a happy group of literary-minded friends, meeting at a cosy ‘local’ and engaging in scholarly activity!

            One problem, of course, is that I have two cyber-identities and thus two blogs. Each month I ensure I post something on my Welsh blog. Most months I have my column as published in the local Welsh-language newsletter, and for the stretches in between I dig out poems and short stories, some of which have been published, but most of which failed to make the grade in the ‘real world’.

            I did of course mull over, at first, the idea of ‘blogging’ as I am here, on that website, thus the ‘traffic’ would be doubled….but then that ‘blog’ isn’t really a blog per say (now that I understand the real meaning of the word) it is more a depository for my creative output. It is a place where anyone interested in my work can go and check it out, see if they like it, offer me a book deal or publish my poems in collections of great Welsh poetry etc. A blog is more a stream of consciousness, a diary, making it up as you go – with not all of it brilliant or worthy of being read more than once. Would this matter? I’m not sure. I’ve agonised over what to do about it for the last few months and I think I have finally decided to keep things as they are. Whilst blogging on this site and only posting my creative output on the other site undoubtedly dilutes traffic and means that I am out of the running for Golwg 360 best blog awards, I feel that blogging on that site would risk obscuring my creative output in the ‘white noise’ of my whingeing about work, money and not being acknowledged as a creative genius.

             Having just read back this post and the last couple I think this is definitely for the best. Perhaps I should rename the site ‘navel-gazing of an aspiring author’! One thing’s for sure, this blog will not be publishable in the breath-taking unedited way of Belle de Jour’s diary…she is obviously a more skilled writer than I…these will be useful notes to draw upon though and a useful place for me to try out chapter drafts, when I get around to shepherding my ideas in that direction…

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            The life of a budding author is so hectic. I managed to get up for early morning training yesterday and felt really good keeping up with everyone. Then I hot-footed it across campus to check my emails and do a few things in the office, even though I was officially ‘off’ on time in lieu. I then raced out to the car, programmed the TomTom and headed for Llangollen.

                On arrival I was so hungry I went out to Fouzies and had a whole 10inch veggie pizza, fries and an orange juice (so much for slimming from swimming!) As I reached my parents’ flat I was hit with a wave of fatigue and went to bed for 2 hours. I got up just in time to spruce myself up – make up, fancy new black trousers and top with glittery bits on.

                Reengaged TomTom and drove over to the literature committee meeting (very exciting new development in my budding author career) then drove back to Llan and promptly fell asleep. Got up this morning, walked to the top of the mountain to burn some calories and clear my head, came home and cooked Spaghetti Bolognese with my niece Carmen, who was delighted with being given the job of washing the vine-tomatoes! Then I fired up the Clio and the TomTom and sped back through the traffic to get back to work, with just enough time to send a quick email about the meeting last night, write this blog post and I shall shortly be switching off my computer and racing down to meet Faith in the car park to go to the Frock exchange! In fact, had she not been caught in traffic I probably wouldn’t have had time to write a blog post at all!

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           On Friday evening, as I prepared dinner, my husband walked through the kitchen, looking very pleased with himself, and said:

“Guess what I bought this afternoon”.

I guessed at various books and fishing-related paraphernalia until he gave me a clue:

“It’s to help clean the pond”.

“Hmm, is it a pump?” I asked.

“No” he said.

I thought some more.

           Then I remembered my aunty Pearl’s fish tank, which years ago I had been transfixed by; it had a mechanical oyster in the middle of the tank which opened and shut – and somehow this was supposed to clean the water:

 “One of those oyster things” I said.

This was greeted with some astonishment on his part and he enquired:

“How did you know that?”

           I began to explain and it transpired that the “Oysters” we had, were actually mussels – and they were real, living one’s rather than mechanical devices!

“New pets! How cute” I said

“Yes” he said (looking slightly bemused or amused, it was hard to tell)

“I didn’t even know you could get them, what made you buy them?” I asked.

“Well I thought they could help keep the pond clean and also, I thought they might be quite nice things to have!” Then: “Come and have a look at them”

(me) “What they’re out there right now?”

(he) “Yes” (laughing).

            So we went over to the pond, in our exotic garden that would have made Jean Rhys feel at home once more (it bears some resemblance to the landscape she describes in Wide Sargasso Sea) and there, in the shade, nestling together, were three, large mussels (much bigger than the ones you get in restaurants covered in a creamy, garlicky, white wine sauce).

            Now, you might think, they’re not your usual pet, and I would agree. They are also never likely to be very interactive or show much in the way of affection. But I felt that same nice warm feeling you get inside when you get a new pet, even when I got back to the kitchen – it’s just nice to know that they are there. On Sunday I went out onto the sandstone patio to eat my breakfast on the picnic table and I saw a little bubble emerge from one of the mussels – you’ll have to trust me on this, if you don’t have pet mussels of your own, but it really was cute!

            Anyway, since I am classifying them as pets I figured I may as well name them and, since there are three of them, I decided to name them after the three musketeers (must get around to reading this one day!) I had some inkling of their names since I used to watch Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds when I was a little girl, but having just googled to check, the three names are: Athos, Porthos and Aramis (this was the one I remembered!) So hopefully this will also help me to remember their names, should the need ever arise for me to recount them – hey, it happened in Slumdog Millionaire!

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           I am a huge fan of Jean Rhys. I have everything she has ever written, including a rare copy of the “The Left Bank”, which is out of print and very difficult to obtain. She died the year of my birth. Last year it was 30 years since her death and I felt the occasion ought to be marked. I scoured the internet and found nothing so I decided to ask the New Welsh Review if I could write an article in tribute to her. They turned me down, but later ran such an article. In the meantime I had written my article and published it in the Welsh language community newspaper back home, and thus my column was born.

                Early this year I decided to write a short story based on my fascination with Jean and one idea for a plot line was that I had wanted to attend a conference about her…I googled to see if there had been any such conferences and low and behold there was one being organised, for this year. I put forth my details to be contacted when the conference had been organised. Registration began last week and I have been in torment over whether or not to attend.

For

  • I love Jean Rhys, her work and everything connected to this fascinating lady.
  • I think it is unlikely that there will be such a conference again anytime soon, so if I do not go I will doubtless regret it for the rest of my days.
  • If I go I can stay in Bloomsbury where Jean lived for a while.
  • It would be a good chance to step outside my usual bubble and spend 3 days musing over literature and my favourite author, rather than reading Cochrane reviews and dry textbooks.

Against

  • It is being held in July, on exactly the same week as the International eisteddfod back home and my parents already have tickets for some of the shows and events.
  • It is in London (thus far away and expensive).
  • It starts early and finishes late which means that I will need to stay overnight for two nights (due to my fatigue it just wouldn’t be feasible to try and travel back on the same day and it starts at 9am, so travelling down that day isn’t an option).
  • It is not connected to my work or my studies – can I really justify going?
  • I cannot really afford to go anywhere or do anything at the moment, much less spend so much on an extravagance such as this one…not even connected to my studies…but then point 2 comes into play: it is a once in a lifetime chance to be surrounded by others who adore Jean – or even just people who know who she is!

 

           I think, finally, I have resolved to go for it. I’ve booked that week off work anyway so I can go to some of the eisteddfod celebrations and I have made some enquiries regarding the conference. I have provisionally made a booking at the cheaper hotel recommended, which is in Bloomsbury so that will be lovely, I just need to get the okay from my parents (my Dad was a bit stony in his reaction earlier when I rang to tell him of the clash) and make sure I can get a train ticket that won’t cost the same as a trip to Paris would…otherwise maybe I ought to just go there and moon about in cafés, and drift gloomily around Montparnasse!

          I wonder what Jean would make of all this? A conference with the great and the good discussing her work…I’m sure she would have been amused…maybe she is? What would she do in my shoes I wonder?

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           Whilst I have always been less than keen on any kind of fuss surrounding appearance, the one ritual I have always felt particularly loathe to conform to is that of painting nails or, worse still, that of painting toe-nails.

            So used to seeing my nails in their nice, neutral colour, as nature intended, I felt very false, painted and harlot-like with any paint at all on either set of nails – even if it was the creamy, pastel kind.

            However, with the party date fast approaching, and having bought a pair of lovely purple-pink ‘peep-toe’ shoes to go with my midsomer-murder-esque flowery dress and navy twin-set-type-cardie, complete with matching dusty-pink handbag, I realised that many of my toe nails were bruised and my feet were ugly; this would never do!

            I booked myself in for a visit to the podiatrist and she did wonders to improve the aesthetics of my feet, including using a device which looked like a mini-industrial sander. However there was nothing, she said, that she could do to help me with the bruised toe-nails. These were probably caused by shoe-pressure and would take a long time to heal.

            So I resolved to find a strong colour of nail-varnish, preferably to match my handbag and shoes, to disguise the problem and spruce myself up so as to be fit for the posh party. As luck would have it (and given my infamous short temper whilst shopping and miniscule interest in cosmetics, one can only conclude that it was down to luck) I found the perfect shade: “Piccadilly circus” (though quite why dark pink would be named after this particular area of London is an enigma…which perhaps I shall resolve when I go to London in July).

            Now I am not the most patient person in the world and I wasn’t even really sure I wanted to wear the nail-varnish anyway. Consequently there were a few botched attempts and the end result still included one or two splashes remaining on the cuticles; this said the overall effect was surprisingly good and I felt instantly more sophisticated. I kept catching glimpses of my hands in the mirror as I added the finishing touches to my make-up, and I liked how different they looked.

            At the party I was relieved when, upon mingling with some other female guests, I discovered that they also confessed to having no idea how to apply nail-varnish, with one recounting an interesting idea she had seen put forth by one of the Atomic Kittens: Apply nail-varnish liberally, not worrying unduly about splashes on the skin; wait until it dries then do the washing up; the paint-covered cuticles will drop off and your nails will be perfect. We all pondered the merits of this plan – wouldn’t the nail varnish chip or peel off? Would the cuticles really peel away like this? Anyway, I am sure I will try it sometime.

            I was so tired when I came back from the party I even went to bed in my make-up; in truth I was pretty much asleep in the car on the way home! Anyway, the next day when I started washing and dressing I realised that I was growing more and more fond of the nail varnish, especially the toe-nail varnish, with every moment. I tried a few pairs of shoes on and decided to re-apply to cover the chipped bits and am still wearing it today (Monday).

            I’d really like to wear the toe-nail varnish until the bruising goes away, but it means an extra few minutes every day to maintain it, and I’m pretty lazy with these things! Another problem is that I can’t imagine any other colours which would look good/ not too frightful, and I’m pretty sure ‘Piccadilly circus pink’, nice though it is, won’t go with every outfit…and then there’s the paying out for more varnish and remover, cotton pads etc. So maybe I will or maybe I won’t keep it up, we’ll see, but at least now the option is there if I really need to scrub up well. It’s a bit of a revelation really: brightly painted nails, not just for harlots and strumpets after all!

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           Yesterday I drove to Big-Northern-City to interview a patient for the mini research project I’m moonlighting on. Although it was a tiring drive, it was well worth it as the interview went really well and then on the way back I stopped off at the Harland shopping centre. I went to the Sketchers shop to check out the ‘shape-ups’. I’ve had my eye on the ‘Mary Jane’ ones in ‘stone’ (beige and light grey) and thought that if I tried them on, and they fitted, I would just get them…despite the £90 price tag.

                But they only had them in black, which just didn’t fit with the summer-themes look I’d been building in my mind…I wanted the ‘stone’ coloured ones. I wondered could they check if they had them over in Midsomer Murderville Shopping village?

“No”.

“Really?”

“Humph” (He went and checked) “They’ve been discontinued in that colour”.

          “Damn”, I thought. I then spent about an hour trying on different types but they all seemed clunky and unattractive. Whilst I was stood, rocking on the soles, trying to convince myself that the black version of the Mary Jane’s were just as nice another lady who was trying some on came over and said:

            “They look much nicer with black socks, I tried some on with white socks and they looked awful”.

           I looked down at her feet and saw that she was trying some black, leather lace-up ones. “They look quite good” I said, “Like normal shoes”. “That’s what I’m looking for” she said, “but I’m not sure”. She was a lovely, wholesome, smiley woman by appearance. I would say she was in her mid to late thirties, quite shy. She would fit in perfectly on the set of Midsomer Murder. Her husband was with her, he looked a bit like Captain Picard.

           I tried on some navy and pink trainers, which to begin with I hated but I started to warm towards after watching the DVD a few times over which was playing on a loop on a small screen next to the Shape-ups stand. Lots of beautiful people, bouncing around in their sports leggings and sketchers, meeting up for power-walks and the like – “I want to be part of that crowd”, I thought.

            Another lady came in, very business-like, and she started talking to myself and the other lady; it seemed she already had a couple of pairs and they were brilliant and now she was back for some more.

            For the next half hour or so we each tried on dozens of pairs and chatted intermittently about the various merits of certain pairs – the ones with less of a wedged sole that you could use in the gym that were more attractive to look at, but would they be as effective if you were just walking around in them?

            This may all seem a bit odd – three women who’d never met, didn’t know each other’s names, all comparing notes as though they’d come shopping together? But that’s the strange thing up north, strangers do appear to be friendlier to each other…no, really they are! Even when I arrived at the car park and asked a complete stranger whether the car park was in fact free, she smiled warmly and said “Yes, that’s right” before going on her way, like it was no trouble at all. What a lovely place. Anyway, back to the shoes.

            I walked over to the lovely, smiley lady to ask what she thought of the white pair I was wearing but as I reached her side she laughed and said “He’s gone to get me some black socks!” I was bemused for a second but just at that second her husband raced up, with a big smile on his face, and handed her a plastic bag from Miss Selfridge – he had been to get her some black socks so that she could make an informed decision regarding the black Mary Janes!

            I couldn’t stop saying “ahhh”, what a lovely thing to do? Not only was this husband patiently participating in shoe-shopping with his wife, he was pulling out all the stops to ensure it was a successful outing. How sweet? How thoughtful? How romantic? So Cupid may well have ‘flown the co-op’ in New York City, but, it appears, he is still pottering about at the Harland Centre!

            Eventually business-like lady smiled over at me and said she’d decided to take two pairs, different ones for different occasions; I was jealous. Lovely, smiley lady left happy with a pair of black trainer-types which suited her perfectly and looked good with her jeans. I, however, decided miserably that I couldn’t really afford them, even if they had have been a pair of stone-coloured Mary Jane’s…and felt quite glad they hadn’t got any or I’d have had to make my excuses and made a sharp exit. Curse my lack of success in securing a lucrative book-deal!

            However I still left with a slight bounce in my step (despite the lack of bouncy shoes) for having been witness to this rare scenario, which proved that romance isn’t dead, and that it doesn’t necessarily need to involve contrived gestures of flowers and chocolates; it’s alive and well Harland shopping centre, in the mundane activity of shoe-shopping!

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           This is one of Gareth’s favourite phrases and he uses it to describe all manner of social activities involving work-related people. He is very good at organising work outings and post-meeting trips to the pub.

                I have poached this idea and translated into a Chester Inklingettes version with Elizabeth who shares an office with me. We’re not so much pub people as jam-making, cardigan-wearing, ladies who drink tea.

            So, since we are both working on systematic reviews at the moment, we have formed a little club, which so far consists of us meeting up every few Mondays, going to the café downstairs, and discussing our search techniques and progress over a cuppa. I am hopeful that this will help me get back on track for my PhD when I start up again in September.

           This Monday, following our Inklingettes meeting, everyone connected to the research office was invited to attend a meeting about the future coordination of research within the department. Halfway through the meeting, the head of the department, Mary, who was chairing, outlined what she hoped to achieve, and this included keeping track of all the ‘Scholarly activity’ going on in the department’!

            I couldn’t believe my ears and shot Elizabeth a look of disbelief. She, in turn, clocked the expression on my face and giggled…I looked away quickly and stifled a chuckle of my own. Later when I told Gareth over the phone he said “It does have other applications you know. In most job descriptions one of the more general tasks listed is usually along the lines of ‘relevant scholarly activities’…” I cut in and said “So that’s where you got it from? And you just thought, well that could mean anything, including drinks with colleagues!”

          This was met with sheepish chuckles from Gareth, who does, however, devote much of his free time to work-related activity including conferences at weekends and so forth. Anywhoo, no amount of tea drinking nor even post-meeting beverages in the local tavern could ever put us in league with the goings on of the ‘Bird and Baby’ of the original Oxford Inklings…

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