jacqson

The perfect school visit.

So it was perfect – absolutely brilliantly perfect.

It’s not the first perfect school visit I’ve done but it’s the most recent, so I thought, for the benefit of everyone – I’d try and record the perfect details.

I was contacted in loads of time. This meant that I could book the cheapest rail fares and work out the best, most relaxing, cost efficient way of getting from Bath, to Southend.

The contact was a bookshop.  A brilliant children’s bookshop in Westcliff on Sea – Jacqson Diego. So I knew that the children would be able to buy books.

They offered to pay me and my travel – before I even had to prompt them.

A programme of possible activities was emailed to me a fortnight beforehand – a schedule that we kept – no sudden PE lesson in the middle of my talk or half of year 6 disappearing on a theatre trip.

Jacqui from the bookshop met me at the station so I didn’t have to get lost wandering the streets of Southend.

There was tea at the bookshop.

Jacqui accompanied me and a couple of boxes of books to the school where me met a governor, who was there to observe. She was delightful and helpful.  All the staff knew exactly who I was.

There was tea.

The children knew who I was – lots of them had actually read my books. The teacher who introduced me asked the children how they were to treat me – “like a rockstar” they replied. The hall was not too hot or too full or too farty.  The teachers listened to the talk – the children listened to the talk – they laughed in all the right places – they were keen. All 240 of them.

There was coffee.

There was the workshop which I had planned and printed a few copies. But one for each child appeared shortly afterwards and this way it was actually possible to workshop 120 children simultaneously, calmly and with everyone engaging.

There was lunch, with year 6.

There was another mug of tea.

There was more workshopping and then the children read out their work which was BRILLIANT!

And then there was signing – in the library – with tea, and loads and loads of children and their parents who wandered in from the outside and asked their children which books they wanted and a proper bookseller and a fantastic teacher doing the sales.

Then it was time to go back to the bookshop to meet more children – sign more books, and drink a little more tea.

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And then finally, to head out into slight snow, an easy walk to the station, and back to London.

So thank you Jacqui, and thank you Jo Farrell and thank you Hamstel Junior School for being awesomely welcoming and giving me an easy ride.

Not writer’s block so much as a washing machine.

Just at the moment, a broken washing machine is dead in the middle of the kitchen.

‘What’s for supper?’ ask the kids as they come back from school.

‘I don’t know, I reply. It depends on the washing machine. It’s blocking everything.’

‘Oh,’ they say staring at the piles of plates trying to get into the dishwasher and the shopping unable to cram itself into the cupboards. ‘So probably pasta again.’

I too stare at the mayhem and nod my agreement.  ‘Pasta again,’ I say.

It’s not that I couldn’t cook something more exciting, it’s just the limbo of not knowing that stops me committing myself to cooking something more exciting.

Real life dictates that I wait for a delivery driver.  That’s been going on since 2 – it could go on until 9.

It’s boring and it completely stops me from functioning as a writer.   I’ve done nothing remotely useful since 2.

This is not writer’s block, it’s just life block.

I have this image of Ernest Hemingway never washing up.  Jane Austen never had to go to parents’ night.  Charles Dickens didn’t have to get his car serviced.  Chaucer didn’t have to file accounts.  None of them ever spent all Sunday doing Geography homework.  None of them had real lives outside work.

But then if I had all that time back, without the minutiae of life blundering in, I’d probably find I didn’t have anything to say.

 

Another little book baby hits the shelves.

The third of the SHRUNK! books slipped out into the world last week. Like a freshly scrubbed seal pup it drifted out onto the waves and started to swim .  It’s called GHOSTS ON BOARD, and it has the same lovely characters as SHRUNK! with the addition of a bunch of ghosts.  Jacob is awful, Eric is wise and Tom is sorely tempted.  Tilly, Tom’s unreasonable sister is back –  and Mum and Dad are as ever, clueless numpties.  There’s threat and danger and the contributions of hundreds of schoolchildren (see THE STORY ADVENTURE) wrangled into shape by the application of logic and hard work. You don’t have to read SHRUNK! first, but it helps.

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Thank you letters

It’s that time of year:

Dear Grandma,
Thank you for the colour by numbers set. That is really kind.
Thank you,
Fleur aged 18

Or
Dear Uncle Ian,
Thank you for the pen nife,
I will try to us it carfully.
Ed aged 3.

Now people have different views on thank you letters – see here in the Guardian.  And in part, I kind of agree, but…

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I’ve just written one to a school of children in Stoke on Trent who sent me a stack of letters. They’ve been studying SHRUNK! this term and they’ve been to visit to model village. They had a load of excellent questions like ‘Why did Tom shrink Jacob?’ and ‘Why is it called SHRUNK!’ but best of all, they sent some fantastic drawings:

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They’re definitely worth a thank you letter.

Epitaph for a basin.

basin

This is a blurry image of our bathroom basin.  It’s the only original surviving part of the house and it’s going to die today.  It must have been plumbed in sometime after the first world war, and when the second seemed impossible. It has looked up at a mass of different faces, been washed, taken out, replumbed and loved.  My children bathed in it when they were babies, they learned to clean their teeth at the side of it.  They swam Playmobil pirate ships in it and ran long hair dressing sessions with Barbies from the jumble sale.

But it’s developed a huge crack, and the taps are giving up. so it has to go.

Why I should mourn a basin – I don’t understand, but I’ve developed an attachment.

It’s ridiculous.

Sniff.

 

Do you know about keckling? Or Liripoops?

When a friend of mine was little or ill or stuck on an island with his grandparents – I forget which – he read the Oxford Dictionary.  From A – Z.  He didn’t remember it all, but he remembered some of it, and he always said that he really enjoyed it.

On Sunday – my husband, in search of a word to fit the crossword carefully combed the columns searching for a particular word with the right spacing of As and Es.

He could have searched it on Google, but the sun was shining, he had a pair of specs and he was happy to while away 20 minutes perusing the onion skin pages of my dad’s ancient dictionary.

Afterwards, he told me a string of words I didn’t know, even using some of them in conversation. Do you know what to Keckle is?  Or a Liripoop? This word press program certainly doesn’t.

It occurred to us that there is great pointless glee in doing this, and that to truly fulfill such undirected curious joy you have to have the real book.  The internet is so big it isn’t in alphabetical order, you can’t just look up all the words beginning with K, you’d explode, and anyway, there are probably loads of replacement window companies and takeaways in West London who’d come top of the list.

So make sure, that every once in a while, you have a dictionary moment. Roam through it, pick up a stray word and start using it.

I might just go and iron my liripoops and keckle something to a post before the wind picks up.

 

 

A chat with my 10 year old self.

Hello – can you say who you are?

Yes.

And?

Fleur.

And?

I like horses. Riding bikes, reading – and I fight with my older sister.

Ok. Anything else?

My grandmother lives in the flat opposite our front door and she’s really miserable.  I hate her. She’s an ogre.

Do you really hate her?

Yes.

Why?

No matter how hard my Dad tries, she won’t laugh.

What does your dad do to make her laugh?

Long pause. You’re a grown up – why would you want to know?

I just do.

He dresses up.  Puts on a silly hat, then knocks on her window. He tries to make her jump, or laugh.  It’s really funny, but she just says: “Raymond! You’re puggle.” And knocks her cigarette ash into the marmalade tin.

What does puggle mean?

You know – daft.’

So do you have a horse?

No – I hang around the horses that live in the field on the other side of the river.  They’re owned by a woman called Jan, but she never comes to see them.  One of them had a foal in the field when I was there.  It was in a white film, and it wriggled as it came out, and then the mare chewed the white stuff off and the foal treid to stand up, but it couldn’t so I ran to find mum.

What did your mum do.

Nothing, she was on the phone, so I got Dad, who found the policeman who lives next door and then he decided that the foal was ok.

So was that exciting?

Pause.  Dunno.  I’ve got a friend up the lane.  He goes away to school, but when he’s at home, we play James Bond under the tree in the garden.

Play James Bond?’

Yes, he’s James Bond, I don’t know what I am really. I’ve never actually seen a James Bond film. And we shoot things.

Really shoot things?

Silence.

Really?

Can I go now?