Friday, 28 February 2020

Pipeline Theatre London, Stories, Lies and Fake News by Enid Richemont

I'm opening this post with a little publicity for a Pipeline Theatre production, currently on tour. It's called "DRIP DRIP DRIP, and it toured the South-West of the UK last year. Now it has its first London booking, at The Pleasance Theatre, Islington, so I'm hoping London-based followers of our blog will come.

 My daughter is an active founder member of the very successful Pipeline collective which has already showcased work in the Edinburgh Festival. It specialises in bringing our attention to difficult and often challenging subjects, and "DRIP DRIP DRIP" is no exception, taking a very hard look at racism in our NHS medical system, especially now, when the UK has split from the European Union, and following every performance there's a discussion panel if you feel like taking part. Pipeline routinely gets excellent reviews, so if you can, please go. Oh, and there's a discount on the ticket for anyone working in the NHS.

I was given books for Christmas, among them two very different novels which I'm now reading (had other stuff on the menu before.) The first to be finished was Salley Vickers' THE LIBRARIAN, a book so 'quiet' (to use a current and awful publishers' rejection excuse) that I almost gave up on it, but so glad I didn't. Set in the late 1950s, not a period I'm especially fond of, and in a very English small town (likewise), I became slowly seduced, as was the main character, Sylvia, by both the setting and the people (in Sylvia's case, one person in particular), but eventually by Sylvia's passion for children's books. It's her job to ignite a passion for reading in the town's kids, but with a run-down and neglected children's library, this wasn't easy. So many wonderful children's books are mentioned in the text that there's a recommended reading list at the end of the novel. Anyone remember Philippa Pearce's "Tom's Midnight Garden"? Or the adventures of Professor Branestawm with his multiple spectacles? T H White's "The Once and Future King"? And for me, the most intriguing "My Friend Mr Leakey", by Professor Haldane, which I shall now have to order. If you love children's books, if you have children or grandchildren, do, do read "The Librarian" and you will be richly rewarded.

The second novel, which I'm about halfway through, is Zadie Smith's "N-W", set in Brent, North London - Willesdon. Her ear for dialogue is amazing, but her obviously accomplished writing skills are getting in the way of the story for me. With writing this good, it can happen, and the fault lies probably with me, the reader - drifting seamlessly into a story is so much easier.

And on the subject of stories, whenever my mum thought I was fibbing, which I probably did with great frequency, she'd say I was telling stories. In fact, my mum's word for a 'lie' was a 'story', so how this fitted in with the stories she read to me I don't really know, but wait! I do! Stories printed between the covers of books are respectable, and made up by authors, so that's OK, then.

Casting its ugly shadow over this argument, though, is current "fake news" and its ilk, where the basic fact that it's 'published', and so out there and available, automatically makes it 'true' (or at least worth our consideration.) Freedom of speech is a hard one ethically. A racist children's book published during the time of Nazi Germany has, apparently, been recently made available by Amazon, in spite of complaints, and vicious trolling on Twitter continues unabated. On humanity - when it is good, it is very, very good, but when it is bad, it is UNSPEAKABLY horrid!

Zadie Smith N-W/The Librarian by Salley Vickers

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Are Authors Skilled Enough for Little Britain? - Andrew Crofts

The British Government is currently working out who they plan to allow into the UK to work, following their triumphant disposal of “freedom of movement” after Brexit, and it has made me question whether I am actually of any use whatsoever to my fellow man.

If I were to decide to venture out of Britain for any reason, would I automatically be allowed back in? I mean, I guess I would because I was born here and that apparently qualifies me as the sort of desirable person the government wants to protect from foreigners, but do I actually pass any of their other criteria?

It is confusing because they say they don’t want any “unskilled” folk. I have to admit that I am entirely unskilled for every practically useful job available in the modern workforce. I have no idea how to work a till, let alone a credit card machine. When I make a bed on my own it immediately looks unmade. I am lamentably ignorant on the best cleaning products for a variety of tasks and I have no idea how to help anyone suffering from either physical or mental health problems – beyond the bleeding obvious. Nothing I have ever cooked would be something that anyone else would pay money for. I am incapable of remembering more than one instruction at a time and cannot simultaneously carry more than two plates of food.

Fortunately for me, however, none of the above are considered to be “skills” in the desirable sense by the lawmakers, although most sane people would think that they were considerably more useful than, say, a law or classics degree.

More worrying for writers is the fact that they don’t want anyone who is self employed or who earns less than £25,000 a year. More by luck than judgement I am on the right side of that latter stipulation, but since the average professional writer in this country is self-employed and makes something like £10,000 a year I can only assume that puts us all in the “low-skilled” and therefore “undesirable” category.

These ruminations on my dismal potential as a desirable employee have led me to realise that it is jolly lucky that I have been able to earn a living from putting pen to paper because I have absolutely no other professional skill that I can fall back on, and never have had.       

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

When I Have Fears... Rituparna Roy

My writing is born of fear, the fear of failure – always palpable, always present.

From 2005-2020, these have been my fears:

From May 2005 - Nov 2019:
- Will I be able to write fiction?
- Will I be able to flesh out the sketches waiting in my desk-drawers for 2 years?
- Will I be able to do justice to the lives of the women I’m writing about?
- Will I get a publisher for a collection of short stories?
- Will my book ever come out?

From Jan 2020:
- Will my book (Gariahat Junction) reach enough people if it’s not available in bookstores?
- Will it get reviews?
- Will it vanish from the face of the earth in a few months?

Most of the fears in the first set were productive. It pushed me into writing fiction – first of all. And then doing all that needed to be done. Write, submit my work to a group, re-submit, edit, revise, submit to journals, get rejected, sometimes get accepted, seek representation over years, get the MS accepted, & finally go through the process of being published (entailing another set of edits).

The fears in the second set are counter-productive. They have nothing to do with writing, but rather with the immense desire to find an audience – in the accomplishment of which one has little power, individually. As there are many variables involved, apart from the quality of the writing.

The fears prior to publication had long phases (some of which were longer than others); the fears post publication, are, however, only a few weeks old now. And I have no idea how long they will stay. But that I have them is undeniable.

Other fears:
No sooner has the first book been out, that I’m assailed by new fears:
- Will I be able to get back to my shelved novel… just pick up from where I left off almost 3 years back? Or will I have to painfully re-establish my relationship with an alternate world that I was trying to create?
- Will I ever find the time for serious, sustained writing while teaching full-time in a private institution?
- Do I have new things to say, or am I redundant?

Ultimately, I know, writing is a routine. And one needs to be disciplined in order to be able to write at all. Over the years, I’ve created my own rules & negotiated with the varying time & space at my disposal at different points in my life to figure out a working formula that suits me best - to write.

But the fears don’t leave me….

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Come to the Sterkarm Wedding -- by Susan Price

A Sterkarm Kiss by Susan Price
'...There had been a lot more dancing, and drinking and eating, and the evening light that came through the door... had flickered into dusk before the fiddlers and the pipers began to play, once more, the tune called 'Come to the Wedding.' As they played, they bore down on Per and Joan, and people cheered and clapped and stamped. It was time that the wedded pair were put to bed...

          Mistress Crosar put her mouth so close to Joan’s ear that it tickled, and shouted, “Undo thine garters!”

          Joan froze. They were at the back of the dancing hall, near the benches. People were everywhere. How could she pull up her skirts and undo her garters?..

          "Oh, come here, lass!” her aunt said, and turned her round, tutting at how slow and clumsy Joan was in moving. Other women gathered round her... The women spread their skirts, blocking the view of other people, while her aunt pulled up Joan’s magnificent scarlet dress of Elf-Cloth with a flurrying and rustling, and reached underneath to undo the garter strings. It was necessary to undo them because, very soon, the newly-wed couple would be put to bed and the brides’ men would demand their right to take off her garters. It was better to have the garters already undone, and the strings dangling down where they could be easily reached...
          "She didn't want them undone, that's what it was," said Isobel Sterkarm. "She wanted the men to reach right up her skirt."
February, the last month of winter and the month of St Valentine's Day when, it's said, 'The birds do choose their make.' Certainly the robins and blackbirds in my garden seem already to have chosen their makes. That, and seeing all the bright red cards splattered with hearts all over the shops earlier this month reminded me of the 16th-century wedding I perpetrated in A Sterkarm Kiss, between Per Sterkarm and Joan Grannam.

It's anything but a love-match, since the Sterkarms and  Grannams are at blood-feud and have hated each other for generations. The marriage is engineered by the 'Elves': the time-travelling representatives of a 21st Century company. They want to make money from the land that the Sterkarms and Grannams continually fight over, to drill for oil and mine for coal and gold. Blood feuds make that harder and more expensive, so the Elves want peace. They pay the feuding families to stop fighting and as a symbol of that peace, they pay the Grannam laird to marry his daughter, Joan, to the Sterkarm laird's son, Per.

At least, that's the part of their plan that the Elves admit to. There's a bit more that they keep to themselves. (The bit about provoking an outbreak of feud so they can back one side against the other, wipe out the opposition and install a puppet laird.)

'Signing the Register' by Leighton
While writing A Sterkarm Kiss, it quickly became obvious that I was going to have to describe something of the wedding. What was a 16th-century wedding like?

Initially, I supposed that it would be much the same as a modern wedding, with the bride in white and 'Something old, something new...' I imagined the traditional wedding was traditional because those traditions had been carried on for centuries.


A little reading in social history showed me that, for centuries, people had wandered about in dark confusion, uncertain -- if it concerned them at all -- of whether they were married or not. There was no single agreed form of marriage. It all depended on the customs in the area where you lived, your social class, how religious you were and what form your religion took.

It was in part to clear up this confusion that the 1836 Marriage Act was passed, bringing in licences and registers for all. After that, if you had a licence, you were married; if you didn't, you weren't. But before that, you could consider yourself 'properly married' while your neighbours and in-laws considered you to be sinful fornicators. Or even vice-versa. Imagine the horror of out-and-out bohemians discovering that they were, unsuspectingly, properly and legally married

Go right back to Anglo-Saxon and Viking law, before paperwork existed and communal memory was everything. The 'Things' or meetings held in every district four times a year were a mixture of law-court, fair and market. All that was needed for a legal marriage (or, indeed, divorce) was a declaration before witnesses. Your own household would do, initially. You then repeated your declaration at the next Thing. The fact of your marriage or divorce entered the collective memory of every busy-body and gossip in the area. After that, there was no pretending otherwise.

(It's worth mentioning that under this early law, women were just as free to declare themselves divorced as men. It's been said that women had more rights and freedom under Saxon and Viking law than for a thousand years after the Norman Conquest. But, just  to be clear, I don't hold that against the EU.)

This belief that a declaration before witnesses was all that was needed to make a legal marriage lingered on. If you had property to leave, this could cause problems because common law only recognised marriage as legal if there had been a public ceremony, in church. But as Maureen Waller points out in her '1700, Scenes From London Life,' the vast majority of people didn't have enough property for that to make any difference. The cost of a church wedding did.

This is what made Gretna Green's name. In 1754, the Marriage Act made it illegal in England for those under the age of 21 to marry without parental consent. However, in Scotland it remained legal for people of 16 to marry without that consent. Moreover, marriage by declaration before witnesses was lawful in Scotland, so if you could get yourself across the border before being caught, you only had to rustle up a couple of witnesses to hear your declaration and you were legally married under Scots law, with no doubt about it. And blacksmith's shops had always been places that attracted small crowds of people who had time to kill...

Back in England, another persistent belief was that if a couple exchanged vows and tokens -- rings, or broken coins or any kind of keep-sake -- then they were married, even without witnesses. This led to a great many 'misunderstandings' where the women believed they were married and the men were emphatically certain that they weren't. And, occasionally, where the man believed they were married and the woman (having recieved a better offer or, at least, thought better of this one) was absolutely sure they were not.

In some parts of the country this exchange of vows and keep-sakes had to be followed by consumation for the marriage to be considered 'made,' hence the witnessing of the couple being put to bed. In other traditions, the mere giving of a 'love-token' such as a pair of gloves or a carved wooden 'love-spoon' by a man to a woman was considered to be a solemn promise of marriage -- which led to a great many 'breach of promise' law-suits.

Alongside this 'folk law' and adding greatly to the general confusion was the common law of the law courts and the church's ecclesiastical law, which often contradicted each other. But since making any sense of that makes my head ache now just as much as it made heads ache then, what about the actual wedding day, the bun-fight, the vows? What was that like in the 16th century?

'C16 Hanseatic patrician in her wedding dress.'
Well, no diamond rings were in evidence. The idea that 'diamonds are forever' dates only from the 1940s, as a result of one of the most successful ad campaigns ever, by De Beer's diamond company.

Diamonds were considered 'precious stones' in the 16th century but second-rank if not third-rank ones. The Bible says a good woman's worth is 'above rubies' and also talks about pearls being cast before swine. For centuries, rubies, pearls, emeralds and sapphires were considered far more valuable than diamonds -- and, indeed, geologically, they are rarer.

The bride never wore white either. That was a much later tradition, which most historians trace to the nineteenth century. Before then, bright colours were favoured. In A Sterkarm Kiss, Joan Grannam marries in a dress of shining, scarlet, Elvish cloth. Rich women wore rich materials: silk, velvet, lace. They also made sure they had showy garters tied just below their knees.

This was in preparation for the noisy game of putting the bride and groom to bed. (Modern marriages seem to retain the garters but shrink from the full ceremony.)

First, the groom's men crowded round the bride, pulling up her skirts and trying to grab her garters. Modest brides loosened the garters beforehand, so that the strings hung down, well within reach of groping hands. Once they had possession, the men waved the garters in the air and fastened them to their hats (which were worn indoors).

While the men partied on, the bride was escorted to bed by her mother, new mother-in-law and other women friends, who finished undressing her. This was quite a task, since 16th-century clothes weren't so much stitched together as laced and pinned together: sleeves laced or pinned to bodices, bodices laced or pinned closed, skirts laced or pinned bodices. Accessories such as gems and posies were pinned on. This sounds extremely uncomfortable to me. It must have been like wearing hedgehogs -- but my sources assure me it was done.

This meant that scores of pins in the bride's clothing had to be discovered, removed  and placed in a pin-cushion. Pins were in constant use, were probably always being bent out of shape or lost and were quite expensive, hence the expression 'pin-money' for an allowance made to a dependant. Obviously a lot of pins disappeared at weddings, because it was said that to keep a pin removed from a bride's costume brought very bad luck and the pin-nicker would herself not marry for at least another year. (At a time of arranged marriages, this may have inspired many pin-thefts.)

When the bride was in bed, word was sent to the groom's men, who stripped the groom of everything except his shirt and stockings. He was escorted or dragged to the wedding chamber, no doubt with a lot of noise. The groom was put into bed with his bride and then the stocking game was played.

The bride's maids used the groom's stockings and the groom's men used the bride's. Each player sat on the end of the bed, facing away from its occupants, and threw a stocking behind them. If a woman managed to land one of the groom's stockings on his head, it was said she would be married herself within the year -- and if a man landed a stocking on the bride's head, then he too, would soon be married.

This performance had to include as many bawdy jokes as possible from players and on-lookers. No doubt the women tried hard to land a stocking on the right head while the men tried hard to miss and hilarity ensued. It ended when a big cup of posset was brought in, for the bride and groom to share, to 'keep up their strength' for the strenuous night ahead. Having seen them drink it, the crowd finally went away.

The bride and groom probably then played cards or I-Spy, having been quite put off the idea of sex. Unfortunately, the crowd would be back the next morning, demanding up-dates. (Because the word of witnesses was all-important.)

Per Sterkarm and his bride avoid this, though. A traditional part of the wedding ceremony has always been the punch-up between the families. As the Sterkarm-Grannam marriage is between feuding border reivers, the night ends with a traditional armed skirmish and blood-shed.

Mum and Dad cutting the cake
 It turns out that all our 'age-old wedding traditions' barely date back a hundred years, if that. My parents married in 1950 and -- in a genuinely age-old tradition -- they each wore the best clothes they happened to have. My mother had a 'New-Look' green suit which she wore for years afterwards. My Dad wore his best suit, and ditto.

They didn't go away for a 'honey-moon' but went back to work, as most people did. (The phrase 'honey-moon' is 500 years old but originally meant only the month after the wedding, when everything was sweet, before reality set in. It was only in the 19th century and initially only among the well-off, that it came to mean a holiday taken by the newly-weds.)

Mum and Dad had a wedding feast, in my grandmother's front room. You can see the clock on the mantle and the sumptuous spread seems to include a sauce bottle. This is much more what a 'traditional' wedding has always looked like.

Feel the need to keep up your strength in these post-Brexit days? Here's the recipe for that strengthening posset. (You don't have to get married in order to drink it. Or need it.)


Take a quart (1 litre) of white wine, likewise the same measure of water and boil whole spice in them. Then take twelve eggs and put away half the whites. Beat them very well.
Take the wine from the fire and put to it your eggs, stir them very well, then set it on a slow fire and stir until it be thick. Sweeten it with sugar and strew beaten spice thereon, then serve it forth.
You may put in Ambergreece, if liked.

Monday, 24 February 2020

What is the point of travel writers? Jo Carroll

Ah, travel writers - they can transport us all over the world.

But times have changed since Eric Newby wrote about his Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. Now we can google anywhere we want. We can watch people terrify themselves with white water rafting or bungee jumping. We can relax to the shush of the waves while we sip wine from the comfort of our own living rooms. Do we need words any more?

And, if we do need words (I'm a writer - what is life without words?), what are we hoping for? To find out about a faraway place we might visit some day? To learn about cultures and differences that can widen our horizons? To get vicarious pleasure from someone else's risk-taking?

I've written about travel for decades. I think that the focus - even the reason - for travel writing has changed. When I wrote about my round-the-world trip (Over the Hill and Far Away) I was in my mid-50s and wanted to show that it was possible for women of any age to take on the world and have adventures safely. (More or less safely ... there was a man with a gun in Lucknow ...)

Times have changed - and not only for women. Politics has made more countries unsafe - maybe this is a good reason for travel writers to highlight cultural differences and how irrelevant they can be. We all have the basic human needs for food, shelter, and people around us who love us. Everything else is window dressing. In a world in which skin colour or religion is increasingly seen as divisive maybe the travel writer has a vital role in debunking myths about differences.

On the other hand, our understanding of the environmental challenges facing the planet has also changed. When you read, in the Sunday glossies, of someone's two weeks in the Maldives, do you drool over the blue sea while at the same time muttering about the impact on the environment of such jaunts? Is a caveat that the writer has contributed a few trees enough to salve a conscience?

I've just returned from Ecuador - a six week trip, and I did much more than flop about by the sea. In six weeks I did my bit for the Ecuadorian economy. And I have stories: one day I'll write about the tarantula ...

But if I have to choose between continuing to travel and write as I do, or making sure that the planet is protected so my grandchildren can travel and write if they want to - then it's more important to me that I do my restorative bit to save the world for them. But as readers - what is important to you?

While you're pondering, I'll leave you with a picture. This was taken in the middle of a busy city (Guayaquil). Maybe you can think of a caption:

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Bring Fiction to Life with Dialogue by @EdenBaylee

One of the ways in which we bring life to characters is through dialogue. Unless you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, you must create a world with believable people in it who do believable things. How they talk and what they say is integral to that world.

An author can create characters by giving them specific personality traits such as being rude, boastful, kind, courageous, tender-hearted, etc. This is all well and good, but the reader needs to experience these traits. In other words, show me how a character is boastful or tender-hearted.

Effective dialogue is one way to reveal such details.

Good dialogue is all about listening to your characters. It’s the process of: writing a line of dialogue, listening, and then writing down the next line, and so on. Characters come to life through what they say and how they say it. 

For this reason, I often talk to my characters as if they are real people. I suspect I’m not the only author who does this! I refer to characters by name, have full conversations with them. Sometimes I have a conversation involving multiple characters to work out their unique voicing. It’s akin to having imaginary friends, that world we played in when we were kids (in the pre-video games era!). 

When writing fiction, we balance scenes using a combination of: dialogue, action, and narrative. Let me address when we should use dialogue.

Use dialogue to convey conflict and tension

A scene about two people spending a perfect day at the art gallery doesn’t constitute plot. Though pleasant conversations are great in real life, they don’t make for gripping dialogue in fiction. 

An example of yawn-inducing dialogue.

The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Jane was nervous about her first date with Bill. Going to the art gallery was her idea. “Do you like Van Gogh?” she asked. 
Bill stepped up to the painting and read the label, hesitated. “Yes ... I do like it.”
Jane offered a sweet smile. “Me too. This painting is one of my favourites.” 
“All those blue and yellow swirls, very calming.” 
“That’s an interesting observation.” 
Bill stood a bit taller. “Thanks.” 
“Feel like seeing more of his work?” 
“I'd love to." Bill cleared a path for her. "You lead the way.”

Boring, right? Let's improve this dialogue by adding conflict.

“Do you like Van Gogh?” Jane asked.
Bill stepped up to the painting and read the label, hesitated. “Can’t say I do. All those blue and yellow swirls, looks like a kid went crazy with finger paints.”
Jane glowered at him. “You’re kidding, right? You're talking about one of the master painters.”
“His work is highly over-rated, not my style.”
“So who do you like then?”
Bill stood a bit taller. “I don’t know the name of the artist, but I love that painting with the dogs playing poker. Now that’s art!”

A Friend in Need by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge

Isn't this more interesting?

And the reason is because the dialogue is in conflict. Jane and Bill obviously have different tastes in art. You can only imagine how this first date will go! 

Use dialogue to move a story forward

Effective dialogue should advance the plot and create anticipation and suspense for what is coming next.

Nancy seethed at the thought of her husband. “I can’t wait to get rid of him once and for all,” she said.  

This dialogue advances the plot. It forces the reader to explore the possibilities. Is the husband a villain? Is Nancy a villain? Are they going through a divorce or has she hired a hitman? Dialogue provides a tool to create interesting scenarios by adding to the character’s motives.

Use dialogue to deepen characterization

In addition to advancing the plot, dialogue can also give us a deeper understanding of a character’s personality. 

Imagine the speaking character talking about her fear of heights, her love of animals, or what gives her nightmares.

These revelations may not affect the plot, but they can help explain the character’s motivation for what she wants. Knowing this gives us greater insight into the character’s goals. 

Use dialogue to impart information

All stories have a certain amount of “boring but necessary information” for readers. These are the details known as exposition, normally found at the beginning of a story when the setting and characters are introduced. 

A writer can weave the background information into dialogue. This allows the reader to piece together what is relevant. Presenting this type of dialogue in bite-sized pieces will make potentially dry facts easier to digest.

Jessie asked, “Will you be staying the week?”
“Afraid not,” said Tom. “I have to get back to Toronto for a birthday party, twin daughters.”
“Wow, how old are they?”
“Ten,” he said. “Hard to believe how quickly they’ve grown up since their mother died.”

Use dialogue to speed up a scene

If you’re creating a fast-paced scene between two or more people, consider using only dialogue. While it can take pages to tell the reader something with narrative, a scene of dialogue can quickly let us know what a character is thinking.

We’ve all experienced when someone tells us a compelling story. We immediately focus on what that person is saying. Everything else fades into the background. This is what happens when we strip away action and narrative and leave only the characters’ spoken words.

Narrative explains what’s going on, but dialogue divulges what's in the character’s head. When you have narrative that goes on for pages and pages, adding dialogue breaks up the monotony and provides a more interactive and interesting read. 

Do you have any great dialogue tips? Please feel free to share. 

I’d love to hear from you! 


Saturday, 22 February 2020

On the Thingness of Things by Mari Howard

This comes to you — but might well not have done – since we have these several past weeks been beset by the rebellious nature of our Internet connection.  Was this a curse from beyond or within the house? Was it some malfunctioning of the line, the router, or some other source?

Whatever it was, came the day when the whole thing packed up, and we found ourselves without connection to the outside – the online grocery shop, the Bank to pay for services purchased, the connection to my husband’s office (he works from home), and our various family and friends. Never mind Facebook, Twitter, and the BBC iPlayer… Or that vital thing, the weather forecast.

Never mind vital background research when writing!

When my phone went Chinese
(without being asked...)
It is in such circumstances that the Thingness of Things raises the question – How sentient are the non-sentient Beings which (or who) surround and control our lives? Makes you stop and think – What if this whole system were to collapse – to be collapsed? Well, how often have you tried to book a ticket, an appointment with the doctor or dentist, hairdresser or vet, and been told “We can't do anything at present, the system’s down”?

So – this Thingness – it isn’t, don’t imagine it is – new. Things have always tried to demonstrate their Thingness, which is determined, assertive, and contrary. Far from being dumb articles of usefulness to Human Beings, Things are above all that hierarchical thinking.

  For example, Christmas. Who hasn’t had their oven, fridge, freezer or dishwasher decide that 24th December is a great day to pack up, or at least to temporarily break down? Immediately they hear of one’s plight, friends and neighbours share their own experiences. We, for example, have had (severally) oven, fridge, and tumble dryer all take unpaid leave over Christmas. The oven spectacularly dared to totally conk out one year. And the replacement proved itself cleverer than the two John Lewis employees who were supposed to install it...

Then there was the boiler, thankfully a different year.  And, the electric cable the road – that left a whole group of us in cold and darkness…

And there are the small things. My kitchen food mixer suddenly began, with no warning, an unheard-till-then loud grating noise, in the midst of mixing biscuits... it was kaput... If towels are hung on a hook on the bathroom door, they will often drop (or jump) to the floor with a particular satisfying (to them) thud as you leave… Futon sofa beds  prefer to stolidly cling to the couch pose than to change to the bed pose when an unexpected guest arrives late. Very small things (take the elastic which holds my rolled-up Yoga mat together when not in use) delight in hiding in plain sight – this thing disguised itself within the pattern of an Oriental-style rug. Hairpins, rubber bands, even pens and pencils also play this kind of hide-and-seek.
Just an innocent sofa-bed?
And a friendly oriental-style rug?

Doorhandles stick or fall off. Drawers stick or fall out, throwing their contents to the floor. Talking of drawers, I had a friend at Uni who was so fearful her knicker elastic would snap that she always wore two pairs, one on top of the other… (I know, pretty extreme but… it had apparently once happened… never would it catch her out again…!) Leaves co-operate with the railway line in autumn, as snow does in winter, to make sure trains don’t run.

And, for us writers, our computers or printers find many ways to thwart and hold back our Work in Progress. There is, very definitely, a Thingness of Things. Whether I have thwarted such ambitions will be seen when I attempt to post this on the Authors Electric site… (dictated from  my draft, and entitled, by the dictation programme, “Playing gnarls”: now how did that translate from The Thingness of Things? What are ‘gnarls”?) 

Then, the internet connection failed...again...

Further reading… Paul Jennings, ‘Report on Resistentialism’ in The Jenguin Pennings, pp. 196–206. The French philosophy of Resistentialism has as its basic concept Les choses sont contre nous.