Sunday, 22 June 2014

University choices.

One minute your bouncing them on your knee and checking your back for tell-tale trails of baby sick and the next....

Yesterday I began the tour of Universities with my eldest so she can chose where she would like to apply. Fittingly we started in Manchester, the place where I placed my hat for three years when I was about her age.

I wasn't sure how it would be. A lot can change in almost thirty years. Piccadilly station felt vast and unfamiliar and the route that they set us down to Oxford Road wasn't one that I had ever walked before. Then the Gothic main building appeared before us and I was suddenly more confident.

It's big business these days, Open Days. I went to a few back in my time. Manchester with my parents, I think and the remainder on my own. That was how it was done back then. There was very little sign of prospective students on their own this time round. Everyone had a parent in tow. It felt a bit like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory except that the prize was a glittering academic career rather than a gobstopper.

We found our way to the first venue and sat in a lecture theatre waiting to be told why we should choose to spend our £27,000 with them rather than any other institution. Research funding and student satisfaction surveys were mentioned as was the impressive selection of libraries that Manchester boasts.

Then we got to the meat - the course. I don't know about my eldest but I was transfixed as I listened to the options, the transferable skills, the expertise of the lecturers. They made it all sound so enticing. If I could have, I would have signed myself up on the spot.

But I'm 47 not 17. Did I feel that way when I was in the game myself? To be truthful, I can't remember but I suspect not. To me, my university study was a means to an end, three years that I had to get through in order to move on, that would take me ever closer to my dream. Study for study's sake was not something that even crossed my mind. Why would it? I had known nothing but study in my short life up to that point.

I seem to be discouraging my off-spring from vocational courses. I want them to follow their hearts. There is something truly magical about chasing an idea down a rabbit hole with scant idea of where it might lead you. I'm not saying that vocational courses don't offer you that it's just that it's harder to see the hole.

Next week it's Birmingham and no doubt I'll feel same, not that my feelings count for much this time round. I have no regrets about the way I played my own cards. The decisions I made were the right ones for me at the time but if I were leaving a note for my younger self........

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Le Bon Mot

"A teenager who led police on a 19-minute high-speed chase while his pregnant girlfriend screamed at him to stop has been locked up."

Not my words but a sentence pilfered from my local rag. It's not a great sentence, I'm sure you'll agree and would have benefitted from a more judicial use of punctuation but it was the last four words that caught my attention. When did we start using such casual language in print? "Locked up"? Not "gaoled" or even "jailed" or "sent to prison" but "locked up".

Using formal language is something that comes easily to me. I went to university where they teach you to write in an academic style without you really realising. Then I trained as a solicitor and passed many a year comically referring to myself in the third person. You know the kind of thing...We are concerned to note that your client appears to have flouted the terms of the confidentiality clause entered into with our client on the 14th of last month.

I know. It's all a bit pompous and pleased with itself isn't it and I don't often have cause to construct sentences like that these days. My point is, however, that I could if I wanted to. Somehow, I seemed to have picked up what kind of language is appropriate for a particular situation.

This is something that we seem to be losing. Just listen to an average BBC news report and you'll hear how casual expressions are becoming the norm. Spend time with children and notice how often 'like' is used in place of other, more appropriate words. I sometimes struggle to understand the meaning of what they are saying. Words that I thought I knew are employed to mean something else, sometimes the complete opposite of what I expect.

But is this a problem? Language evolves over time. It always has done. New words are born every day and that helps to keep English vibrant and exciting. However, I can't help think that this shouldn't be at the expense of established words and that if we slip into a 'one size fits all' kind of language that  we will be losing something very special about our mother tongue.

The journalist who penned the offending sentence probably did it without giving it a second thought but I am left regretting the loss of my news being served to me using neutral, unsensationalised (is that actually a word?!) terminology.

But maybe it's just me.....?

Monday, 9 June 2014

Maxine Peake and Beryl Burton.

You've got to love Maxine Peake.

From the irrepressible Twinkle in Dinner Ladies to the straight-talking Martha in Silk, she is fast becoming a national treasure of stage and screen.

So when I heard that she had turned her hand to writing, I was curious. I'm aways a bit sceptical about actors who write. They seem to turn to the keyboard when other work falls fallow, as if writing is second best or else produce something with the full marketing might of a big publishing house behind it so their book gets rocketed to the heavens whether it merits it or not.

Anyway, she was in Ilkley last night as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival to promote her play, Beryl which is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse to coincide with Yorkshire's hosting of Le Grand Depart next month. Of course I was in the audience.

I liked her immediately. Unfazed by a theatre full of people gawping at her, she told stories from her acting career with such humour and self-depreciation that you couldn't help but love her.

Then the discussion turned to her writing. When she said that actors often think they can write, she had me on the edge of my seat, waiting to hear what would happen next. Then she mentioned a radio play that she had written about a pit protest, Queens of the Coal Age, which follows the true tale of Ann Scargill and other miner's wives who occupied Parkside Colliery.

As it happens, I heard the play when it was broadcast, not realising who had written it. It was funny, thought provoking and emotionally challenging and I remember stopping what I was doing so that I could listen properly.

She talked about how she was drawn to tales of strong women and how, encouraged by those around her, she strove to capture their stories faithfully and bring them to a wider audience. I couldn't help but think that someone should write the story of Maxine's life for the stage. It would make fascinating viewing.

So after last night, I love her even more. She is the kind of woman that I strive to be. Proud but without prompting envy, strong but keeping others in her thoughts, determined but realistic. However, I'm sure I will never make a theatre full of people laugh like she did, no matter how hard I try!


Wednesday, 4 June 2014


My course is finished for another year so it's time to focus on other stuff. The garden would be useful or maybe the state of my kitchen cupboards. But no...  My focus is my writing.

I have a new novel project. It's more or less plotted out and ready to go. I have three months until Year 5 of my course starts. It's a lot of time but only if I use it properly. So I have set myself a challenge.

You know me. I love a challenge. How about this to give you a flavour of how my mind works. I'm currently doing the 30 Day Squat Challenge. It's horrible. My thighs feel like they've been flattened by a steam roller and I'm walking a bit like John Wayne but each day I get to tick off to say that I've done it on my little app and am then enveloped in a cloud of smug self-satisfaction for the rest of the day.

You see! It works. Or it works for me. Let a day go by without ticking that little box and my life is somehow less successful.

So I decided that I needed to do something  similar with my writing. Write every day and record it courtesy of Write Track, a site being developed by a writer that I met online.

Here it is. Lots of little yellow dots to show me and anyone else that sees them that I am keeping my side of the bargain.

And there you have it! How to control Imogen Clark. Give her something that involves ticking something every day and then sit back and watch her tie herself in knots trying to achieve it. Simples!