Monday, 4 April 2011

Diaries of my youth

I kept a diary for about three years from 1980. I think I was trying to emulate the behaviour of my eldest brother Anthony who had begun a similar endeavour a year or so earlier. I singularly failed to achieve that since my diary peters out into patchy snippets around mid-1983 whereas, I believe, Anthony is still going with his.

I thought it would be funny to dip into the life of the 13-16 year old me to see how the world really looked to me in those days.

Now, let's be clear, I was no precocious Anne Frank style diarist. Setting aside the bleak circumstances of her diary keeping, her daily writings were clearly the outpourings of a deep thinker, examining the myriad aspects of people and their interactions with one another. Mine seemed to focus, largely, on what I had for breakfast.

Here is a typical example from 18 February 1981: For breakfast we had cornflakes and toast.

I occasionally extend this to the evening meal. 21 February 1981: For dinner we had baked beans on toast.

And there was room for unconventionality. 24 February 1981: For breakfast we had fishfingers on toast.

Fishfingers? For breakfast? What was Mum thinking of?

I appear to have eaten a lot of toast in February 1981.

To give you the full flavour of this diary, here is a completely faithfully reproduced entry from January 13, 1981 in all its cryptic glory. It involves scenes of toast.

Oh bore of bores! That is my impression of school!

I was woken up at 7:10 by podge [unflattering term for my mother] and had a cup of tea which was pretty tasteless!

I went downstairs and read the paper.

For breakfast we had sausages on toast. The sausages were pretty neat.

I left for school at 8:20 and walked with Jonathan.

When I got to school I almost broke the stopper on Barry's locker door but Sue mended it!

First two lessons we had French in which we finished our plays and performed some of them. Afterwards we watched the film strip about the bloke who stole some petrol and then had a crash. I was asked a question but couldn't answer it as my biro had leaked (see front cover of Rough Book Mark II).

At break I revised Biology.

When we got to Biology we discovered that Nicola Phillips and co. had locked us out but Kevin Gedny let us in.

For the first 5 minutes of the lesson we revised and then we had a test. This was quite hard.

After the test we started a new topic, breathing. Mrs Murgatroyd brought in a sheep's heart, lung and food pipe system. This was very interesting.

In Music we started a topic on the organ. We watched a film strip. This was pretty boring but had some interesting parts.

In ICS [Individual and Community Studies] we continued the government and all the parts of it.

At lunchtime I ate my sandwiches and auditioned for the Kings Herald in the play All the King's Men.

In Games we did basketball and swimming. Jonathan and I forgot our plimsolls so our feet had to freeze on the cold sports hall floor!

In swimming I did 13 widths on my back and not a lot else.

In the evening Mum and Dad went to Anthony's open evening.

Max 1. Min -4. Time 22:00. Span 14hr 50mins

So there you have it. No idea what was going on with the time check there at the end.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Blogged off?

I haven't posted for nearly seven months and you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole Father's Daze blog thing had died a predictable death.

Well, happy people, this is not true. My writing energies, such as they are, have been directed towards an entirely new project these last few months. Around November time I determined that I would finally get round to writing a book and, not just that, would actually complete the thing. Over the last 18 years or so I have begun probably four or maybe five works of fiction and never got near finishing one. Now, finally, I have achieved my aim.

This marvelous story is in draft form (which means it is full of stylistic potholes and continuity bloopers) and, having finished typing it up the other day, I promised myself I would leave it to settle for a couple of weeks before having a determined stab at re-drafting it.

It's not a long book. At the moment it stands at just shy of 14,000 words. It's a children's story of the surrealistic/anarchic variety. It is called The Trumblebuggins and tells the implausible tale of two children, Oliver and Cynthia Trumblebuggins, whose behaviour sees them expelled from their Junior School and follows the unlikely efforts of their parents and hopeless friend Mr Catchratter to get them back into the school. I started telling this story as a made-up-on-the-spot bedtime story for Rachel and Zack about a year ago. The written version is not quite as absurd as the bedtime story version but it's still a little odd.

I won't pretend that it doesn't owe something to the writing style of Roald Dahl. It wasn't an attempt to ape him. It's just what came out when I got going with it.

Rachel and Zack have taken portions of the book to school for their friends to read and comment on and reaction so far has been pretty favourable. Once it's ready for a wider readership I intend to try to get it published commercially. This is most unlikely to succeed.

Should I not find a regular publisher, I have a self-publishing route that I can follow which will at least see the book exist, even if you won't be able to find in on the shelves in Waterstones.

I've redrafted some chunks of the book to the point where I'm now feeling brave enough to expose it to a wider audience, so here is a section that will give you a feel for what this is all about:

Chapter 7: Mrs Trumblebuggins has a Crumpet

Later that day, Mr Trumblebuggins and Mr Catchratter sat at the kitchen table of the Trumblebuggins’s house.

The day had not been a great success. Mr Catchratter had barely escaped from Crackpot Junior School, Mr Trumblebuggins had had a long and difficult conversation at the police station about what had happened at the Corkscrew’s house that morning, and worst of all, as far as Mrs Trumblebuggins was concerned, Olly and Cynthia were still not able to go back to school.

Mr Trumblebuggins and Mr Catchratter sat in silence. Upstairs they could hear the heavy tread of Mrs Trumblebuggins as she put Olly and Cynthia to bed. She was not in a good mood.

The occasional yell or scream could be heard from above. Mr Trumblebuggins was unsure if the noises were coming from his wife or his children.

There was a clatter of feet on the stairs and Olly and Cynthia appeared together at the door of the kitchen, dressed in last year’s Halloween costumes. Ollie was wearing his werewolf mask and Cynthia had vampire teeth, dripping with what Mr Trumblebuggins hoped was only tomato ketchup.

Moments later there was another yell from upstairs and Olly and Cynthia made a run for the front door. Mrs Trumblebuggins had had the good sense to close every bolt and turn every key on the door to prevent their escape. Before Olly and Cynthia got halfway through undoing all the locks and bolts, the shapeless form of Mrs Trumblebuggins rushed down the stairs and grabbed them by their ears.

Mrs Trumblebuggins appeared at the door of the kitchen, a child suspended from each hand.

“This is what I mean, you nincompoops,” she said, addressing Mr Trumblebuggins and Mr Catchratter. “These two horrors are even worse since they got chucked out of that school.”

“Not possible,” muttered Mr Catchratter under his breath.

“What was that you said, Sidney Catchratter?” demanded Mrs Trumblebuggins.

Mr Trumblebuggins looked down at his hands, suddenly fascinated by the state of his nails as Mrs Trumblebuggins advanced on Mr Catchratter, a child swinging from each hand.

She leaned down until her nose was an inch from his.

“Well?” she said.

“Nothing, nothing…” mumbled Mr Catchratter.

Mrs Trumblebuggins stood up straight again.

“I’m taking these two up to their beds,” she said. “Where they will stay!” she continued, glaring first at Olly and then at Cynthia. “And then I will come down here and one of you useless men will make me a cup of tea and toast me a crumpet. Do you think either of you can manage that?”

Mr Catchratter and Mr Trumblebuggins nodded silently.


And, with that, she marched back upstairs with the children.

The two men sat in silence for a few moments more.

“Not happy, is she?” said Mr Catchratter eventually.

“No,” said Mr Trumblebuggins. “I noticed that too. I’ll put the kettle on.”