Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Dreaming is free

I had a strange childhood really. My mother now openly admits that she doesn’t like children and I suppose back then, that showed. I am not bothered about not having loving doting parents, I just got on with things then and I still do now. I was never too bothered with books either. I read the primary school stuff, Noddy and some other Blyton things. I always loved Winnie the Pooh and still do, I have my Mum to thank for that. I remember enjoying Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Zeuss from the library, it was new then. My father did read books for a while, but I think as a younger man, when I was growing up, he was too busy farming and drinking.
For all she doesn’t like children, I get my love of writing and words from my Mum. She is never without a book in her hand and reads five or six per week. It is hard to impress her with my writing, she compares everything to the very highest level and I know I am not there yet. I am often too scared to show her things I have written and likewise, she is too sceptical of it to read it anyway. She would rather read the paper end to end or a book she has read three times already, than pick up one of mine that I may have nonchalantly left on the sideboard.
Going away to boarding school at barely 11 years old, I never really took to books in my teens either. My love of music developed at an early age, when I would spend hours marvelling at the song lyrics on the back of album covers by Led Zepplin or bob Dylan. I still do that although it never dawned on me to write a few of my own, I probably would have been quite good. Sadly I realised that I couldn’t play a note and a life of rock’n’roll would be quite difficult without that. I certainly didn’t write any more things at school than was required by class-work and gave up the subject of literature as soon as it was an option. That is quite ridiculous when I look back, I probably didn’t something like woodwork instead! 
Then on leaving school at a young age, farming, girls and drinking were all I cared about. It wasn’t till I was 26 that I set out in business on my own and then the huge task of learning to read everything, write things down as well as a competent level of salesmanship set me new challenges. I did all these with ease and enjoyed those years, but they afforded me little time to think of anything else and certainly not enough time to read fiction. I used to revel in story telling though, always keen to pick up on a recent funny situation and make it my own, or retell a joke with my own characters in it. That became my best sales pitch, I would laugh my customers into buying things.
I am not quite sure when the love of writing forced its way to the top of my todo list. It was always underlying, for twenty years I have known that one day I would be a writer. Famous writers speak of the torture of seeing an empty page and it mirroring an empty head, the old writers block. For me that has never been an issue. I like to talk, I love to tell stories. It is just a simple progression on to writing them down. My English teacher once told me it is the learning what not to say, that is harder than the spoken word. The same applies to me in written form. I quite literally can write 1000 words per hour and it isn’t until I read them back that I even know what I have written.
What I have learned to do more of now is to dream and I need to stop and do it even more often. I sometimes quote that my stories write themselves, just driving my fingers to the keys without passing through my brain. This in some instances is great, but at other time it is this that holds me back. A page of writing for writing’s sake is no better than a blank page, worse in fact. Sure, the more I write, the better I get with the practice, but if I am to succeed where perhaps I am failing right now, I need to stop, think, look, listen, and sometimes possibly walk away.
So I am scribbling this blog instead, as my head clears out the words that have built up through a few days and are begging to spill over the dam. I think maybe that is what a writers blog is for? Tomorrow I can get back to writing a story that I am loving with more clarity. Loving writing it is one thing. Loving reading what I have written with complete surprise and admiration, that is where the real enjoyment lies. I hope I can always achieve that, rather than being disappointed by seeing things in print that I know are not my very best.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


A while ago we installed an electric fence system to contain our two dogs within our grounds. The device is simply a collar that gives out a warning beep when the animal gets to near to the fence and then a small electric shock if it ignores the warning. The instructions said it would take up to 31 days to train the average dog, and quite correctly, Pooper, the clever one, learned in about 10. Unfortunately it has taken Louis, the not so clever one, three and half years and he still has to wear his collar like some sort of ASBO! It is not that he is being naughty or defiant; I am quite convinced that he just forgets and wanders out into the road.
However, the device got me around to thinking about other purposes it could serve. For instance I could wear one so that it sent me a reminder when I went to near the cheese, or the pub even. I know I shouldn’t go there, but sometimes (often involving alcohol) my mind plays tricks on me and calls me to temptation. Possibly football players could wear them to stop them getting too close to other players wives or sisters. Idiot rugby players could wear them to stop them going on game shows and Andy Murray could wear one that electrocuted him every time he lost a set point at Wimbledon. The possibilities are endless. Hands up who would like to see John Prescott or Susan Boyle get a shock every time they go near a TV camera or Alan Sugar every time he says anything smug? Although the latter might be quite a drain on the batteries. Let the shocking campaign begin.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The wrong trousers

In answer to a question I raised a few months ago about the accountability of the press, I note that new rules have now been imposed in France on that subject which may affect me personally. For instance, I am no longer allowed to say ‘follow me’ on Facebook or Twitter, as this would be seen to be advertising. Also if you do follow me on Facebook (andy frazier) or Twitter (andy_the_author) I may just have to be responsible for the accuracy of my rantings, particularly if they were insulting in any way (which they are not, of course!). For those older readers, this means I may be imposed with a “super-injunction” were I to mention on the internet, say, that I happen to think that Princess Eugene’s wedding-hat was just an attention-seeking stunt or that Graham Norton is an annoying little twerp (which I wont, of course, despite both these statements being true.) On receipt of this super-injunction, I would then be able to appeal and leak contents of my insults to the press in order to gain free publicity for my latest novel while hiding in a sort of Salman Rushdie fashion on the tabloid front pages. My point here is that all this nonsense about idiots like Ryan Giggs are surely just a publicity stunt and it is as certain as a homing pigeon that both he and whatever bimbo he has been sleeping with will soon release a new book each by the time this column goes to press. It will then catapult to the top of the best-seller list and they will waltz away with a bucket load of cash, grinning from ear to ear. Do they really think we are that stupid? Well, yes they do because many of us are.
Wendy and I have been on our travels again last month, taking in the capital cities for various reasons. A visit to Cardiff found it full of Irish rugby supporters and some great craic, prior to a superb European cup final. We then progressed to Dublin to rub shoulders with the most powerful man in the world. No, not Simon Cowell, I am talking about none other than President Barack Obama. We were completely taken by surprise when Air Force One just happened to land about 10 minutes after us and we managed to escape from the airport before it was ringed in a security fence as the world’s first black president set foot on Irish soil. After claiming his roots in some small but highly publicised village nearby, he then drank the statutory pint of Guinness for the cameras before parading around the town kissing babies. I have to say it was all most inconvenient as roads were closed and public transport brought into chaos while we tried to reach our own destination, a mere Pink Floyd concert at the O2 arena. But the biggest insult of all was that a pair of talentless twits by the name of ‘Jedward’ were, for some reason, invited to ‘perform’ at a free concert in front of the Obama’s. Whatever must they have thought as these two numpties jumped around and mimed to songs, with their stupid hair, in the name of entertainment. The presidential visit may well have done some good for US-Irish relations but these two morons will have surely set Ireland’s (and Dublin’s in particular) musical reputation back 50 years. They have to be the worst thing to come out of Ireland since Gilbert O’Sullavan, or possibly the Guilford Four?
Our travels continued into Scotland, this time to Glasgow. A fine city and, despite it being colder than our fridge, we enjoyed a social gathering in the first of a series of fiftieth birthday parties that we are due to attend this year, (my own among them). Whilst visiting a local corner shop on Sauchiehall Street, one of those ridiculous situations arose that could only be scripted by the Two Ronnies. On ordering a bacon roll, the Pakistani shopkeeper asked me a question which, after three times of me requesting her to repeat, I still failed to understand as her Indian accent was so strong. Eventually, a local builder behind me in the queue translated it into Glaswegian for me but I failed to understand him either. He then repeated it to Wendy who translated it into English. Did I want red or brown sauce? Le rouge s’il vous plait, Madame, I replied in French!
            Hands up if you have tickets for the 2012 Olympics? Really? It seems that nearly half the applicants have failed as there were not enough tickets to go round. Well here is my take on that? Cheapest ticket, £190 to watch one of the early rounds of the show jumping? From £450 up to £1450 to watch the athletics finals? From a seat so far up in the stands that you wouldn’t be able to distinguish Asafa Powell from Enoch Powell? Do people really pay these prices? You would be far better watching it on TV and spending your money on a ticket to see Princess Kate’s wedding dress for a mere £17.50 per sniff!
I am not sure why but I never seem to manage to wear the right clothing at the right time. Anyone who knows me will concur that I am not exactly a fashion guru but I am not referring to style here, more to practicality. I often step off the plane in Birmingham to 50mph crosswinds without a coat, or into 26 degrees wearing two. I turned up at Hay book festival last week wearing a jacket and shoes to sweltering heat which required my panama hat, which I had left in France. So this week when I arrived back at Bergerac airport I was, for once, relieved that I had done it again; worn a thin t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, only to be greeted with rain coming down in stair-rods. Regular readers of this column will recall that here in South West France we have been officially in a drought for months and hopefully this recent rain will bring it to an end. It may be too late for some crops as many of the sunflowers failed to germinate and maize crops are stunted. My farming brother in Rock tells me that the UK price of wheat has risen by £8 per ton due to the failed wheat harvest here in France, but at least the place is becoming green again. So now I must go and mow the lawn.