We’re having a heatwave…

Further to the tooth-fairy post, I was reading one of Godmother Betty’s donated Woman’s Realms this lunchtime (never admit to buying this yourself, unless planning to roll it up and beat somebody on the bottom with it *) and on the problem page discovered another yet another interesting snippet of tooth-fairy lore. Here is both the question and answer:

My grandson is about to lose his first tooth. I was talking to my daughter-in-law and I asked what they were going to leave him from the tooth fairy. She said nothing, as it’s made-up nonsense and she doesn’t want to fill his head with rubbish. I think that’s a bit mean.

Of course, it’s her and your son’s decision whether they do this or not. The tooth fairy is a very old tradition: it was believed that burying the tooth would ward of evil spirits and protect the child. This seems a bit outdated now. But will this single him out from his peers at school and how will they react if he says it’s all made up? It might not please other parents!

I think many people do this as a reward for their child who’s moving into the next phase of their life. For some children, it helps them to manage the discomfort of both losing a tooth and the new one growing. They know that alongside the bad parts of this experience, they will get something nice. Maybe your daughter-in-law could focus on this bit, rather than the fairy.

What interests me is the daughter-in-law, and the subtext: some kind of power struggle going on between these two? Or echoes a very unhappy childhood.

They used to believe, in Victorian times, that children were Empty Vessels and it was the educator’s job to ‘pour’ knowledge into them. Alternatively, children were a Blank Slate or tabula rasa, and it was the educator’s job to write useful facts on that slate. Since both a Vessel and a Slate have finite capacity, it might well be possible to waste valuable space in in/on them with rubbish. But this concept has long since been discredited. Children seem to be perfectly capable of sorting fact from fantasy, as they get older. They just re-categorize things. And what would childhood be without fantasy?

Well, I’ve had a rubbish day today. Things are supposed to go to plan but they never do. According to the internet the local Post Office is open on Sundays. I got there, it wasn’t.

According to the internet Boots the Opticians in a distant town are supposed to be open on Sundays, so I could have collected one of my new pairs of glasses and had a week without headaches rather than with. However, I got there, I paid for parking – it wasn’t. Barriered off, with a little handwritten note impaled on the barrier: We are not open on Sundays any more.

The loo in the car park was closed, it being Sunday. The loo in BHS was closed, it being the final week of their Going Bust Sale and so Frankly, My Dear they no longer give a damn about the public’s convenience.

I sat in Tesco’s car park and ate an overpriced egg-and-cress sandwich and a chocolate bar. The chocolate bar was mostly melted by the time I got to it since the temperature inside the car, even with both windows open, was at heatwave level. No hint of breeze. The water in my water-bottle, which I had foolishly left on the passenger seat, would have been warm enough to wash my face in. My face felt in need of a wash, but thirst won.

On the way back from the far distant town with the air-conditioning on full blast, I got stuck in a traffic jam. I crawled home, listening to Gardeners’ Question Time. I now know all about New Zealand flatworms. They look like British worms, apparently, but somewhat flatter. Did you know they eat the British worms? Yes, worms are their diet. They are also slimier than ordinary worms, and the slime is pretty nasty stuff; not good to get on your hands. And the way to trap them is to stack old plates and saucers under a tree or in a cool, damp place, whereupon the New Zealand worms will worm their way in between and await their eventual fate at your vengeful hands.

In between all this driving, I spent an hour at the home with Godmother Betty, watching Mum eat half a bowl of cornflakes very slowly and drink half a mug of tea even more slowly. A shrill alarm sounded constantly. That’s when someone in one of the rooms has tried to get out of bed. There are alarms under the carpets. The carers ignored it. The other old folks ignored it. The home’s enormous tabby-cat ignored it, waiting for a triangle of sun to get round to his spot on the carpet. Luckily Mum is stone deaf.

And tomorrow I start training for a new job, back in that far distant town, which means I’ve got to get up at five in the morning for the next four weeks, and probably won’t get back till seven in the evening.

Ah well. Onwards and upwards!


* The Ballad of Barry and Freda: Victoria Wood

Dead People Who Would Have Been Bloggers

I’m not suggesting that to paint a bison on a wall, or blow coloured powder through your fingers to make your hand-print on a cave wall is the equivalent of blogging – communication, yes; symbolism, yes but for blogging you do need words. However, words have been around for a long time, and as long as they have been around there have been people who wanted to… just update you on their Daily Doings, on their Thoughts, people who just had a weird idea or two and found some sort of pleasure in putting it out there… see if there was any reaction.

These individuals were not necessarily novelists. Writing a novel is a specialised, long-term project and requires a lot of sterling qualities that bloggers may or may not be somewhat deficient in – gritty determination; staying power; that passionate, obsessive attention to detail; that ability to remember who in God’s name Catherine Earnshaw is and why there need to be two Catherine’s in one book; that ability to keep going day after day, pushing that knot towards the invisible end of that invisible piece of string, building that wall whilst standing two inches away from it, telling the joke for which there may well turn out never to have been a punchline; wading on through that dark, dark treacle when one’s novel sinks into its inevitable Soggy Bottom – or rather it’s Soggy Middle.

I’m not like that, fellow bloggers. Maybe you are – in which case why are you wasting your time on this frippery? Wamble off somewhere and pen that novel. Get thee to a nunnery, why woulds’t thou be a breeder of sinners?

All through history there have been people who have something to say – sometimes frivolous but equally often unique, subtle, interesting, humorous; people who wanted to gossip rather than lecture; people who just wanted to say, hey, what do you think about this? In the past those people did blog, they just didn’t call it that, and they used whatever medium came to hand. In Ancient Rome Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, tutor and advisor to the truly horrible Emperor Nero, wrote letters.


Except that they weren’t really letters. His one hundred and twenty-four were formally addressed to a friend, a distant student, but whether or not such student actually existed – is unimportant. The Letters were Seneca’s way of talking to the world. Give him a computer, he would have blogged.

Diarist Samuel Pepys would probably have blogged. He eventually had to give up diarising because of his eyesight. He was afraid that having to write, with an inkpot and quill pen, by candlelight, was damaging it further. However, he might well have blogged in his own private code, based on the well-known (in those days) Shelton’s Shorthand, plus Spanish, Italian and French, since the grown-up stuff was interspersed with quite a lot of saucy stuff about maids and mistresses that he that wouldn’t have wanted his wife to read, also a lot of stuff about his wife that she probably wouldn’t have wanted other people to know.


For example (skip this bit, children):

“… and did tocar mi cosa con su mano [ touch my thing with her hand] through my chemise but yet so as to hazer me hazer la grande cosa ” [make me make the great thing (orgasm)]

Jane Austen would have blogged, you betcha. She would probably have called herself Johan Austen for more gravitas, or Herbert Finke and had one of those little round pictures where you can almost but not quite see someone’s face, and it might not be them anyway (not that I can speak, hiding behind a picture of a stuffed witch puppet). Can you imagine her observations, this quiet, mob-capped auntie in the corner? I think I would almost rather have been able to read Aunt Jane’s blog than Pride and Prejudice. Almost.  Better still, Cassandra might not have been able to get her censoring little hands on it after her sister’s death.

Charles Dickens would have blogged. He published those enormous and rather wonderful novels of his in weekly instalments – respect to him; it’s no easy feat to write a novel on the hoof, no safety net – the possibility of tossing the whole thing in the wastepaper basket half way through or drastically rewriting it. But he was also a businessman and wrote and published several magazines. I can imagine his blog as being more of a zine, but a wonderful zine. A wonderful new(ish) word zine is, too – so useful for Scrabble.

And then there are the women’s magazine journalists, the newspaper columnists, the poets, the publishers of scandalous broadsheets and lofty sermons. Do you think they would have been able to resist the lure of that lit-up screen? Two more, and then I’ll shut up.

Nella Last (or Housewife, 49 so brilliantly played by the so recently late Victoria Wood) who wrote page after unpunctuated page, in pencil on scraps of paper, and submitted them to Mass Observation movement during the Second World War. What she writes about is so dull, so every-day and yet, running beneath it all, the sorrows of a real-life mismatched but stuck-to marriage, the loved but not entirely comprehended son, the struggles, the clever ‘dodges’, the pride in being able to manage, the pleasure in making her ‘dollies’ for the hospital, the achievement of running a wartime charity shop; the emergence of a downtrodden middle-aged woman, partly through her writings and partly through war, into a circumscribed individuality. She’d have blogged – if her husband had allowed her on the computer.

George Mackay Brown, eccentric poet and dramatist from Stromness, Orkney, Scotland, and regular columnist in The Orcadian. He died in 1996. Apart from one or two sorties to university and so forth, he spent his whole life in this one, beloved place and he wrote about the small things, the daily things that were important to his readers. He said he wrote for an imaginary Orcadian, someone exiled to America maybe, or Canada. He wrote to give them a taste of home, to keep them in touch with what was important to all. After breakfast each day he would push aside the marmalade pot and the breadcrumbs and start writing. He often had a bit of a struggle to get his handwritten column to the post-box on time, when it was blowing a gale or the up-hill-and-down-dale streets were a sheet of ice. Often he was cold, in his own little house. Sometimes he was ill, sometimes depressed. Sometimes – pretty often, in fact – he turned to whiskey for solace and when he did he drank too much of it, but always he wrote. He brought Orkney to life. He knew so much about its history and geography, and was constantly referring to his overloaded bookshelves for the meaning of some tantalising word or phrase in the Orkney Norn – the old Norse language.

He was a nerd, before there was such a thing. He would have been a blogger, although he might have had to use the computer in the Public Library, since he had little money and only the most basic possessions. His newspaper columns were eventually collected into two books:  Under Brinkie’s Brae and Letters from Hamnavoe. He wrote about what he ate for his supper, his bachelor experiments with cooking; about the challenging Orcadian weather; about taking friends and visitors round the island and showing them the sights; about long walks and seabirds; about problems with heating, postal strikes; ballpoint pens; a sagging couch a friend had bought on his behalf in a sale; nature, football matches and television programmes… anything.

And that’s the thing about blogging, isn’t it? You don’t have to have a theme, or a purpose, or a noble aim. You don’t have to be coherent, you don’t need to be propagandising or sending some sort of message. You can write about anything. Just because.