Monday 27 December 2010

Christmas Spirit and Olives

Christmas coupled with a Closing Down Sale makes life very busy.
My finger tips are sore after manic crystal pinning and I can barely zip up my vital fourth fleece which protects me from the arctic temperatures of our shop.
Fond memories of a nail salon in Bogotá come to mind and I push them away.
My hands currently resemble those of Santa’s great grandmother.
I’m not complaining. I love it when it’s busy like this.
When all the shop crew are together I feel happy.
There’s great banter and team work when Alfie is building lamps, Papa is throwing massive boxes down the stairs and Petra is laying out rows of crystal to pin. When Mum is going the extra mile by cleaning a half-price chandelier and I’m relishing the thought of a new space on the ceiling.
We’ve been working late to get our jobs done and on Thursday we reward ourselves with a bottle of wine and upgrade from a jar of Crespo olives to a superior pot of marinated ones.
It’s the little things in life, after all.
The little oily, herby things.
People believe we are closing now. Old customers bring us in chocolates and promise a drink that probably won't happen (but how nice anyway).
To make things a little more hectic, the Fiancé and I move north.
North of the river, that is.
I finally get the chance to be excited about having my own chandeliers.
Each time I come into the living room, I look up at the sparkly crystals and feel uplifted.
We get our first Christmas tree as soon as we move in and name it ‘Pepe the Great’.
We bring it home and find that its trunk is teeming with bugs.
The Fiancé grabs deodorant and a lighter, and the flames roar as he torches all the little beasties.
The smell is amazing. Pepe is less impressed.
Back at the shop, Christmas takes the form of a little bark crib in the window, complete with a mini fire that lights up.
Everyone wants to buy it.
“Sorry, I’m inheriting it,” I tell them.
What am I going to do after the shop?
The best I can!
As ever, at this time of year, I’m thinking it’s time for a revolution in my life.
Sometimes you get lost in the flow and you make excuses for not achieving your goals.
Lately I’ve been unable to get up early or squeeze writing time in at night.
I’ve been feeding my inner Spartan mince pies and half price sparkling wine and it’s all been very cosy.
The thing is, all the films on telly are insisting I spread the festive cheer and believe in Santa so his sleigh can take off.
I wouldn’t want to be a Bah! Humbug!
So...Ho ho ho, I think I’ll let the Christmas spirit bubble for the time being.
When January comes, a new story will begin.

Monday 6 December 2010

Back to School

I contacted my old school to see if I could speak at an assembly about my journey from blogger to author.
I’d just booked a stall to sell copies of Shop Girl Diaries at their Christmas market but I knew I wouldn’t sell many if no one knew anything about it.
The date was set for the 29th November.
The time: 8 am.
When the day arrived, there was a massive tube strike.
I got up at 6am to find all my tights had vanished.
The only tights I could find had fake suspenders outlined on them.
I pulled them up anyway, believing my skirt would hide the sexy pattern.
My local station was closed so I ended up having to take two buses and a tube to get there.
I was running late and phoned the head mistress to warn her.
“We’ll sing a hymn or something,” she said.
As I strode towards the school building I noticed with horror that my inappropriate tights were very visible.
I jumped the toilet queue as soon as I got there and yanked up my tights so hard I ripped them.
I couldn’t believe it. How on earth could I walk into a room of two hundred girls aged 10 to 18 wearing ripped suspender tights?
I took off my boots, pulled off my tights and hurried into assembly with bare legs.
On a raised stage I looked out across a room filled with girls dressed in blue.
Once I’d been one of them in that same uniform. Would I have been eager to listen to an author?
I like to think so.
We sang a lively hymn and one of the girls read out a prayer. There was such a positive vibe that despite my nerves and cold legs I felt happy to be there.
There was a lectern for my notes which gave me great comfort.
The lights dimmed and I showed my first picture.
It was a photo of me in my St James’ school uniform when I was 4 years old, writing on a slanted board that we used to use.
I relaxed pretty quickly and enjoyed telling my story.
“Fantastic,” my head mistress whispered when I’d finished and I felt really chuffed.
She continued her support after the assembly by lending me some tights.
It was impressive how many back-up tights she had; clearly the mark of a successful woman.
The Christmas Market took place on the following Sunday.
Petra and I spread out sparking crystals, little brass ornaments and of course, my books, on our stall.
Our prices suited a child’s pocket money and we had lots of little people pleased to be able to buy little brass baskets and sparkly beads.
The Fiancé stood close by cheekily bullying parents into buying my book.
I squirmed as he did it but I couldn’t complain as he got great results.
By the end of the day I wheeled my suitcase home 18 books lighter!

*Thank you St James School and all those who wished me real good luck by buying my book!

Monday 15 November 2010

Closing Down...Honest!

The shop has been closing down for two years and three months.
To be fair, it’s only been ‘closing’ most of that time. Mum thought writing ‘down’ on the window was too negative.
Last month she finally wrote the whole thing.
There was little reaction from the public so she painted around the letters in pink to make it stand out.
No one believes us but this time we’re not bluffing.
In fact we weren’t bluffing before. It just takes a long time to clear a three storey building that has been gathering stock for over thirty five years.
We put a sign on the door: 8 weeks to go.
That provoked a bit of panic.
“I better hurry up,” a customer said and then disappeared, leaving us wondering if he was talking about buying a light or catching the bus.
Inside the shop we put up the customary signs ‘Everything Must Go!’
Then we worried that the hagglers would be ruthless so Mum wrote ‘Nearly’ in front of each one so they wouldn’t think we were desperate.
There are lots of bargains so if you want a chandelier now is the time. You have eight weeks, honest.
Someone else is moving in so we can’t change our minds.
I’m not sure we can imagine life without the shop.
What will we all do?
“It must be magical working in here,” a customer said last week, her eyes widening with each sparkle of crystal and I didn’t know what to say.
Obviously it’s not magical working in a shop just because it sells sparkly things but you don’t want to dampen the mood.
We’ve had fun times but it’s exciting to be going.
It’s like being a baby bird about to be pushed off a cliff. Isn’t that how they learn to fly?
Harsh but effective.
I think we’re all ready to swoop off.
So hurry, if you don’t want a chandelier but still fancy a reminder of our lovely shop, my book is only a click away: Shop Girl Diaries

Wednesday 27 October 2010

On the Third Day... (of job hunting)

Day 3 and still no job.

What a disaster!

I was secretly hoping for a top editor to pop out of nowhere and say,

“Hey kid, I’ll show you the ropes but don’t expect a million dollars...”

I’d turn up in her chaotic office and she’d give me a brisk once over, her eyes narrowing behind her chunky designer glasses.

“For starters I want you to get me a tall, extra dry mocha with a coat of cinnamon and no cardboard handle.”

“Why no cardboard handle?”

“Goddammit, do you need a reason for everything?”

It would be tough but that first task of getting a coffee would lead to numerous published features, vital contacts, invaluable confidence, excellent computer skills and ultimately a best-selling novel.

I know, too many films and not enough degrees!

Meanwhile I’m finding it difficult to begin looking for a flat before I’ve got a job.

Perhaps my Fiancé won’t mind living with his in-laws for a few more wee... mont...years?

Alternatively he could leave me behind for a posh studio and we could text each other from time to time.

We could be like one of those modern couples who have their own separate apartments.

Except my apartment would actually be my childhood bedroom in my Mum’s.

Chin up!

Day four is approaching and there’s bound to be a reply from somewhere soon.

Though I’m slightly worried that if I check my mail one more time the glare of my computer may reverse my laser eye surgery.

I must simply remember that Rome was not built in a day.

Although technically, if the world was only built in 7, then Rome should’ve taken much less than a day.

Like half a quarter of a millisecond.

The time it takes to make a decision to stop procrastinating and do something about not having a job!

Sunday 24 October 2010

WANTED: 1 job, London

I’m back in London and I need a job.

My CV is awaiting a polish up.

Registering with a temping agency is the first thing to cross my mind, then teaching in an English Language School.

Everyone is talking about a crisis. Are there vacancies out there?

I got myself a Journalism Diploma last year.

The classes had a strong focus on the impossibility of breaking into the industry.

“But you have to try,” the tutor would add.

The effect of this message is, that despite all the studying and a cosy little distinction on my certificate, it doesn’t even occur to me to look for a job in the media.

That said, I’ll now spend a moment looking wistfully out of the window while I imagine this blog was a column in a newspaper.

How I’d love to be able to write for a living!

I’m disciplined, I’m determined, I love the satisfaction of meeting deadlines and I love tea.

In Bogota I was able to dedicate entire months to my novel.

It was the first time in my life I’d been able to do that.

Up until then I’d always written in moments snatched before and after work.

Being able to write every day actually made writing easier.

I started to get into the zone more quickly; my ideas developed and the novel began to take shape.

Now two weeks have passed without me looking at it and I already feel it drifting away.

I just need to find a new routine so I can keep at it.

I want to get something good enough to send off to an agent.

Of course meanwhile I need a paid job, a job which might teach me something and help me develop my skills.

This blog has brought me a lot of luck, a lot of support and a lot of advice... so if any of you readers know of any opportunities out there, or have any tips for me, I’d love to hear from you!

Saturday 16 October 2010

What a Sight!

Laser eye surgery... how do you imagine it?
I imagined a huge green laser beam ready to burn off my eyebrows if I moved a hair.
Not so.
It’s incredible.
Incredibly quick.
Five minutes an eye.
It’s not pleasant. There’s glaring lights, the sensation of a sticky plaster being pressed over your eye, the sound of an electric drill which turns out to be a gentle dryer.
Later you spend three hours with your eyelids taped closed and your eyes stinging.
But it’s still not as awful as that wax I once had in Peru.
Because of my surgery, I have been off the computer for a few days and I haven’t been able to share last week’s special event: Our official engagement party (Colombian style).
It was only fair to celebrate our commitment to each other in each country and include all our friends and family.
Our party began at 7.30am with the Fiancé and I sticking single flower stems into a sandpit in the drizzle.
We were in the finca, the house in the countryside belonging to my sister-in-law and her family, and it had never been so cloudy.
“Look, the sun,” my father-in-law said, pointing at a tiny spec of white amidst all the grey. “It will clear.”
As the rain increased and our dream of an outdoor celebration looked like it wasn’t to be, we began emptying the house and preparing to move all the tables indoors.
But a few hours later, while the guest started to arrive, the sun made a miraculous appearance.
The simple and beautiful ceremony was held outside as planned with a reading by the local priest and a blessing of our rings.
“I never thought I’d ever say ‘yes’ to a man before I’d met his mother,” I began my speech.
It meant a lot to me to be able to address all these people that had come to share our special day. Many of them I’d never met while others I’d still not got to know fully.
My sister-in-law made the occasion feel particularly complete.
She had researched different wedding traditions from all over the world.
I stepped on an egg, my fiancé on a glass, my father-in-law threw acorns over my head while my mother-in-law held up a green leaf to show her approval.
I can’t match the countries with the traditions now, except the Polish one, where we tasted bread (‘may you never go hungry’), salt (‘may you overcome all bitterness’) and wine (‘may you enjoy the sweetness in life’).
The local band, la papayera, burst into a chaotic melee of drums and trumpets as we finished off a rodizio (rotation) of succulent meat.
Then came the Mariachis to woo us in the night.
All our guests had come to enjoy themselves and there was no holding back as the music played.
I danced all night, exchanging my heels for flip flops and best of all, barefoot.
As it grew colder, the party moved inside beside a roaring fire.
The Fiancé and I were the last ones standing.
When I felt my eyes starting to close, he took my hand and we went outside.
Amidst the eucalyptus trees we sat and watched big, blurry stars.
It was a perfect day and a perfect way to bring to a close my time in Colombia.
I can’t thank my new family enough for taking me in with such an open heart.

Friday 1 October 2010

The Little One

I’m convinced my newly acquired nephew is drinking Red Bull on the sly.
This wouldn’t be a problem if he wasn’t 4 years old.
In fact he’s 3 years and 10 months and he knows he’s not a baby anymore.
He hasn’t stopped for one minute since he arrived in Bogotá a week ago.
The sword fighting starts before we’ve even had breakfast.
Then comes the fall outs and reconciliations between Tiger and Mr Donkey, the plasticine creations including the fish with a tumour on his face, the hospital made of chunky lego, the piecing together of Sponge Bob, the re-piecing together of Sponge Bob and of course the acting out of scenes from superman, batman, spiderman, the fantastic four, transformers and the green lantern.
By 5pm I’m knackered and craving a soothing glass of wine, (by glass I mean bottle).
Meanwhile he’s just warming up.
After my first play day with my little nephew, a thought occurred to me.
What if baby animals were anything like humans ones?
Little calf: No Mummy, I don’t want to eat grass! I want chocolate!Baby Seal: Why do I have to go in the water? Baby bear hasn’t gone in!
Baby lion curls his lip after one bite of antelope: I don’t like it. I want zebra.
Mummy Lion: You asked for antelope. Eat it.
Baby Lion: No!
Mummy Lion: All superlions eat antelope, don’t you want to be a superlion?Baby Lion: No they don’t! They eat zebra!Yes I’ve resorted to talking animals. That’s what relentless playing does to you.
In short, baby humans are inconsistent.
One minute my nephew loves me, the next he is attacking me with a cardboard tube under the guise of Optimus Prime.
Admittedly I’m not much different.
When I’m tired and he’s being grumpy, I think having kids is an absurd idea.
Then there are those other moments.
When he’s giggling his socks off because I’m giving Tiger a silly voice,
When he’s sitting on the sofa explaining to me something very seriously and looking so little,
When he sneaks into my room and switches off the light, then runs off squealing with nervous anticipation of me chasing him to tickle his tummy...
Those moments give me an insight into something special, something you would fight every superhero in the world to protect.

Monday 20 September 2010

Ode to Rome

Sorry I haven’t written for a while.
I’ve been grieving.
The pain began as soon as I left Rome.
What a beautiful city. What history. What fantastic men in fantastic suits driving down the cobble stoned streets on their Vespas.
We arrived at the five star Baglioni Hotel after a killer journey from Bogotá (all courtesy of Peroni).
Our double bed turned out to be a twin, the toilet was broken and there was no hot water.
This was great news since we were promptly upgraded to an executive suite.
Ah, what luxury. The kind that would make you feel slightly ill if you thought about it.
We had a private city tour with a very knowledgeable and good-humoured guide and had our own driver, Lorenzo, who drove us around the capital in a spotless silver Mercedes.
He collected us from the Olympic Stadium after we watched Lazio versus Bologna, and waited for us while we had lunch.
For a special evening, the concierge booked us into an exquisite restaurant with a view over the city.
Luckily my lady’s menu had no prices or I wouldn’t have been able to order a slice of bread.
It was our pre-honey moon and we clinked our glasses of prosecco and wished ourselves a happy marriage!
On day four, Peroni’s promise had been fulfilled and it was time to leave the hotel that had housed royalty and head to slightly more humble lodgings.
The porter took our luggage out to the entrance.
“Shall I call you a car, Sir?” he asked.
“Oh no, our friends are waiting for us down the road,” my Fiancé lied.
One feels compelled to keep up appearances in places like the Baglioni.
We couldn’t possibly admit that we were walking our bags by ourselves to a three star hotel.
Rome was heaven even without the fancy bottles of body lotion and chocolates on our pillows.
I fell in love with the ancient skyline and the wonderful hues of burnt umber, terracotta and olive green.
I’d never seen such elegant pine trees and I thought of my Mum, who in the past had used up whole films on snaps of trees rather than of us lot on holiday.
We walked until our legs ached and then walked some more.
I bought one half of Rome and admired the other.
A few more weeks and I’d have been posing as a silver-painted cowgirl with a money pot in front of me.
I may be gone now but my absence is temporary.
I threw a coin in the Fontana di Trevi which means my return is assured!

Monday 6 September 2010

Yoga and Beer

I used to think Yoga was just a relaxed roll-about on the floor.

A bit like taking a nap on your special mat in nursery.
I wasn’t going to do it because it obviously didn’t involve any sweating.
Then my shoulders started to ache a lot and I worried I was getting arthritis.
“You should do yoga,” the masses advised me.
So I did and I was shocked to find it was the most physically challenging exercise I’d ever done in my life.
Every stretch made my body cry out ‘I’m not meant to be doing this!’
Despite the pain, I’ve taken it up here in Bogotá and I love it.
It’s a two hour session but the teacher always tries to waste a bit of time at the beginning explaining what yoga is.
I mean to arrive late to miss the talking but then I tell myself it’s good for me.
While I’m thinking I’ve heard it all before I’m probably missing something key.
I like the sound of the positions in Spanish, especially Guerrerro* 1 (*Warrior) and Guerrero 2.
With legs firmly on the ground, arms stretching out at each side, eyes focused ahead and Indian music playing in the background, there is a moment where I think I’m Arjuna (from the Mahabharata).
A whole enemy army awaits me but I am not afraid.
That’s what happens when you inhale and exhale deeply with every movement.
It goes to your head.
You just don't get such brilliant illusions on the treadmill.
The melodic music, which could be from Bollywood for all I know, gives the class a special feel.
It’s not the same when the teacher’s ipod selects some wishy-washy version of a film sound track.
That happened last week and I was distracted from my Guerrerro positions because I was trying to guess what film it was from.
The soppy English lyrics killed off any spiritual element there might've been.
I wanted to ask him if he’d please change it but being half British it really goes against my genes to make a fuss.
Luckily it swapped back to the Indian chant.
My favourite bit about my yoga class is at the end when the teacher comes over and rubs tiger balm over my nose.
It stings a bit but it smells delicious and I feel myself drifting to sleep.
Pity I can’t go next week.
But not too much of a pity because I’ll be in Rome!
The Fiancé won the trip in a Peroni raffle. I’ve never been to Italy before so I’m very excited.
Yoga and Beer.
Happiness is about finding that balance.
I’ll tell you how it goes.
Until then… Arrivederci!

Monday 30 August 2010

Video Malfunction and the Little Cow

I miss my friends and crave a proper catch up in a pub with a pint and a packet of crisps (salt & vinegar).
“You have to think of yourself as a monk,” Petra says.
She’s the only person I can talk to on Skype without a problem.
It refuses to cooperate when I try to speak to Mum.
Either the video works for her and she can see me, or it works for me and I can see her.
We can’t see each other at the same time.
Only once we’ve resigned to chatting without a video, the audio dies and we have to hang up.
At least I can talk to Petra.
She reminds me of what I already know. One of the reasons I came to Bogotá was to write my book.
I’m not living like a monk and I am writing more than ever.
My writing is diabolical but I just need to get the ideas on paper.
Hopefully it will become readable during the editing process.
Despite odd moments of longing for home, life is good.
The Fiancé’s family feed me as if every day was Christmas.
Last weekend we went up to La Calera, a pretty town up a mountain, close to Bogotá.
We stopped in a busy open air restaurant where they were grilling all sorts of animal parts.
A vegetarian would’ve had to content themselves with a plate of guacamole.
As for me, I loved it.
We all ate out of a single big basket and there was so much, we were still eating it the following day.
Talking of Christmas (sort of), I’m convinced I’m living with Mrs Santa Claus.
My mother in-law is so generous and is always buying me treats.
Last week in Bogotá book fair they were selling boxes of plasticine.
It made my fingers twitch.
My mother in law didn’t think twice about buying a box.
A couple of days later, I was rolling it between my fingers with a big grin on my face.
It was a moment of bliss. I felt about six years old as I made my little cow.
Would I have made that cow if I’d been in London?
I can’t be sure.
The great thing about being here is having the time and space to create.
It’s good I’m staying a while longer.
That pint and those salt & vinegar crisps will taste even better if I come back with a book half written.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

A Spell on the Coast

I went to Cartagena de las Indias to do research for my book.
This involved a lot of sitting on park benches with my cousin, Rosie.
We watched people coming and going as we sipped our sugary tinto bought from one of the men with the flasks.
If you sit long enough in a park something will happen.
Like a presenter from Cartagena TV appearing and rolling up her t-shirt to record a news’ slot.
Or a preacher man stepping up to deliver the word of the Lord and being applauded.
We saw Afro Caribbean folk dancers in the park and a man feeding an Iguana.
After a few days we left town and headed to the harbour.
Beside a reeking fish market we climbed into a boat headed for the beautiful beach of Playa Blanca.
The small vessel was already full when we arrived but not full enough for the locals who wanted to take half of Cartagena across to the island in one trip.
A man approached with a huge sack of plantain and I scrambled up onto my seat to avoid getting crushed. With no space for my feet I lifted my legs on top of the sack as another man handed me a large electric fan to hold onto.
Once the rest of the cargo had been packed in around us, the heaving little boat set off.
The wind whipped against us as our boat sped over the waves and the fan in my hands spun like mad.
Items were inching towards us.
“We have a sausage situation,” Rosie said.
I looked down to see that the largest frankfurters I’d ever seen in my life had slid from their place and were edging slowly up her skirt.
We tried to push them back but they wouldn’t budge.
The boat was bouncing, the fan was blowing, the sausages were slippery and we were helpless to do anything because we were laughing so much.
Two days on a beach didn’t lead to much research but it was fun.
Less fun was having to say no to all the people trying to give us massages or sell us jewellery.
I’ve always found it difficult to say ‘no’.
“The key is no eye contact,” my cousin said.
But I couldn’t resist a peak at those brightly coloured stones and my curiosity landed me with an insistent sales man.
I bought a necklace and some bracelets. That should’ve been the end of it.
The next day, just before we were set to leave the island, my eyes roamed again.
The seller was on me like a flash.
“No, really,” I said, accepting the necklace to look at, “I’ve got no money.”
He halved the price.
“No, really, it’s beautiful, but I can’t.”
I could’ve kicked myself for showing interest. The man wasn’t going to leave me alone.
“I’ll swap it for your sun glasses,” he said.
“Okay,” I said, feeling relieved there was way out.
I handed over my sand-encrusted glasses and took the necklace.
A moment later I got that sinking feeling.
I was on the blazing Caribbean coast with no shade.
My survival instincts had failed me.
What I didn’t know was that in swapping my sunglasses I had cast a spell.
From that moment on the sun ceased to be as blinding.
The days that followed were boiling hot but overcast.
Back in Cartagena new arrivals complained about the rain while I felt relieved I wouldn’t have to buy replacement specs.
I don’t know if the spell has broken yet as I’ve come back to Bogotá.
Maybe it won’t break unless I return.
I could handle that.
Cartagena is the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited.

Thursday 29 July 2010

If I'm quiet, they'll never know

I don’t recommend going to countries which require a Visa.
Just stay where you are, it’s much easier.
You may live in a dump. So paint the walls.
You may have no job prospects. Adapt your goals.
You may just live somewhere cold and miserable. Buy a coat.
Seriously, I don’t know how my fiancé had the patience to move to the UK in the first place.
I don’t know how he can still be such a happy person after half a lifetime of filling forms.
I waited four hours for my Visa to stay in Colombia and that was just the start of the fun.
Afterwards I was told I had 15 days to register it.
The Visa costing $160 was worthless if I didn’t.
I went to register it but I was told I couldn’t unless I had a foreigners’ ID card, which would cost another $60.
“I’m only staying three months,” I said. “Do I really have to?”
“Yes,” the woman said and gave me a strip of paper with everything I needed, including photocopies of my passport, photos, a document proving my blood group and so on.
I already had a pile of photos left over from applying for the Visa but they had been taken on a white background.
The ID card required photos with a blue background.
Because anything related to getting a Visa has to be annoying. It’s the law.
I don’t carry a document with my blood group around with me, so after getting the photos I went off to a clinic to have some blood extracted.
I passed the test with an A-
To be fair, what I had to do was easy compared to what a Colombian has to do to stay in the UK, since all Colombians are supposedly drug dealers.
But still, after the tedium of another long wait in the security office, I decided to reward myself with a manicure.
Manicures cost about 3 pounds here so you have to do them.
I chatted to my manicurist about my trip to get my documents.
“You shouldn’t be too trust worthy, there are bad people out there.”
“I only walked five minutes down the road,” I said.
“Still, you have to be careful.”
“It’s hard to know which parts are safe.”
“Nowhere is safe.”
“Don’t say that or I’ll never go outside!”
I think she thought that would be for the best. I, on the hand, was bored of being scared.
“Are you saying it’s unsafe because I look like a tourist? Or is it unsafe for everyone?”
“Because you look like a tourist,” she said.
“Ah…” I felt hopeful, “so what can I do to look more Colombian? Should I dye my hair darker?”
“No, it’s the way you talk.”
“What if I don’t say anything?”
“Then you could pass as a Colombian.”
Well I haven’t paid all this money to stay here and be quiet, so I’ll just have to accept I’m a tourist.
Goodbye, I’m off to fetch my flip flops.

Monday 19 July 2010

Taking Steps in Bogotá

I’m still not travelling around the city as I did in London.
My job is to write and it’s at the kitchen table which doesn’t take long to get to.
“Are you putting on weight?” Mum asks.
“No, I don’t think so,” I say, prodding myself.
My saviour is the family’s step machine.
I’m doing twenty minutes in the morning listening to music.
Today it was Jonny Cash.
When I feel that tingle of air meeting the sweat on my arms, I experience a sense of well-being.
It’s also the satisfaction of routine which I need to write this novel.
Writing is slow.
I’m worried my book sounds like an Enid Blyton. Too chirpy, too golly gosh.
I’ll be doing a lot of rewriting over the next few weeks, which is alright because Mum stuffed my suitcase with tea bags.
When I’m happy I’ll send the chapters over to her and she’ll tell me the truth.
Apart from writing, I’m not doing much.
On Thursday I came very close to joining a yoga class.
I got as far as writing my name on a list and going into a room full of chairs.
Yoga on chairs? How unusual, I thought.
“It’s a lecture on yoga,” a woman said.
“Ah,” I said and hurried out of the building.
Apart from looking after my physical being, it’d also be good if I did some voluntary work. At least it would get me out of the house.
Cooking too might be an idea.
Embarrassingly, the only thing I’ve cooked here has been a solitary omelet.
If I don’t get the hob on soon my in-laws may chuck me out.
Is it me, or are other people’s fridges intimidating?
Or is that just an excuse and really I’m afraid that what I cook won’t be good enough?
An excuse ... definitely.
Thank god I can wash up.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Forget the Bacon, SAVE SALT!

I didn’t have a clue until they published my book.
I was always the sort to head into Waterstones before a holiday and scoop up 3 books for the price of 2 from the front table. They were generally published by the biggies and recommended by Richard&Judy.
I’d devour them on the plane or by the sea, and afterwards I’d think how satisfying reading was and wonder why I didn’t do it more often.
Just because I write a lot, doesn’t mean I've always read a lot.
I do read though and I’m more conscious than ever where the books I read come from.
Salt Publishing is a bit like my shop.
Its got great products, pursues quality, is run by friendly people and yet, despite these excellent features, isn’t known by enough people.
Right now, business is slower than ever for them.
1000 copies of Shop Girl Diaries were published in December and there are still plenty left.
Perhaps because people think it’s just my blog in print, so why spend the money when they can read it for free?
But the book is very different, if it wasn’t I’d erase my past blogs.
More likely the lack of sales is due to losing the battle to get a review in the newspaper and not having the money for a decent advertising campaign. It’s not for lack of trying though, believe me.
But this isn’t about my book. I’m writing because there is a brilliant independent publisher who needs your help!
All you need to do is buy 1 book.
Personally, I like the sound of Wena Poon’s ‘Alex y Robert’, a book about a young American woman determined to become a matador and Roberto, a reluctant star Spanish bullfighter whom she recruits to help her.
There are plenty of books to choose from.
See it as a well-deserved treat for yourself.
When that package arrives, put your feet up and enjoy it!

Thursday 8 July 2010

Shop Girl in Football Mania

I must’ve been to every Spanish bar in Bogotá.

La Basca full of bulls’ heads and flamenco posters,
La Tasca with its heavy wood beams,
La Puerta Grande with mosaics a la Gaudi and a white-washed terraza nicknamed ‘Ibiza’.
I wear my Spanish top with my name on the back and shout and scream at the television alongside the Fiancé.
My mother in-law bites her nails and gets as nervous as me while my father-in-law secretly supports the other side!
I’ll write my book when the world cup is over.
I’ll run off to the quiet of the country and write it word by word.
Meanwhile, I’ll wait for the octopus’s verdict while I quietly miss my family.
Because that’s the downside of the football, not being able to share the emotions with them!
I wish I could’ve seen my Dad’s reaction to those late in the game goals that got us through each time.
I imagine my Mum, walking in and out of the kitchen to watch bits and shout ‘Come on Wales!’
I want to be transported to Barcelona to see the game with my brother on a big screen by the beach.
You might not get it if you’re not into football.
So I’ll keep it short.
And when it’s over, I’ll write again.
If they win, if they lose, I’ll happily go through this all again.
Good luck to them all and Viva España!

Tuesday 29 June 2010

To Wonder Or To Wander

Yesterday morning I was concerned I’d developed agoraphobia.

You see, it’s very comfortable in this apartment.

Everything is soft and clean.

There is plenty of food and the bathroom is lovely.

Beyond the apartment there are roads you have to cross and people trying to sell you stuff.

There are young boys selling black plastic bags, adults sorting through rubbish, acrobats performing at traffic lights…

Every time I step outside I realize how easy I’ve got it, which makes me feel ashamed and confused, and brings me to the inevitable conclusion that humans are selfish bastards.

“Speak for yourself!” you may say.

I am.

After all I’m the one hiding in the apartment.

Ironically, seeing people struggling to make ends meet puts me right off shopping.

As if not spending money will help anyone!

Even if I did fancy a shopping spree the Shop Girls here are so sticky they put me off it.

They chase you around the shop like an episode of Tom n’ Jerry.

But perhaps my mind is playing tricks.

The less you see for real, the more you imagine.

Luckily, the Fiancé is not the sort to watch me develop a mental disease.

He takes me outside and walks me to a lovely park.

There are lofty palm trees and a huge eucalyptus.

I feel relieved as we sit side by side in the quiet.

When I travelled to South America with my friend three years ago, we never stopped more than a couple of days in a city.

We preferred the countryside, opting for excursions in the mountains rather than museums tours.

Cities take some getting used to and can be daunting.

Still, the mind can be scarier than the outside.

I’ll wander soon.

I just need time.

Monday 21 June 2010

Football and Nails

The World Cup is very distracting and I love it.
Here in Bogota everyone is watching.
Colombia may not have classified but there are plenty of other exciting Latin teams to support.
Thank God I’m staying in a home that’s embracing the tournament!
My very first day with the in-laws involved shouting at the telly as Spain played Switzerland.
Despite our enthusiastic support from the sofa sidelines, Spain lost.
I rang my dad feeling distraught.
“It’s part of their strategy,” Papa assured me.
My in-laws are brilliant and not just because they get emotional about football.
They are everything I could hope for: Caring, generous, open, relaxed, good-looking, funny, affectionate…
Did I mention affectionate?
My Mum sometimes calls me ‘Flower’ which is lovely. Over here, they take it a step further.
Mi vida, mi amor, mi lindo Corazon…(my life, my love, my beautiful heart…) My Fiancé’s family don’t speak without uttering some loving term. I reckon they couldn’t resist even in an argument. Even in a football match.
Pass me the ball, my life.
I’m fast getting used to being here.
It’s been special seeing my cousin too, who turned up in Bogota on the same day, as part of her world travels.
We went for a manicure and pedicure together. My first ever!
The women assigned to me fell quiet as she realized how much work lay ahead.
I winced as she scraped and chopped at my cuticles with a tool not too dissimilar from the wire cutters back in the shop.
All these years of moaning about horrible finger nails, well finally Shop Girl has nice nails.
Unfortunately wearing open shoes is a bit of a no-no in this city so I can’t show my toes off. Instead I have to make do with walking around the apartment bare foot so I can enjoy looking at them.
That’s enough now.
Spain is playing in 2 hours and I’m already nervous.
Yesterday my mother in-law bought a special Spanish supporter snack pack, of chorizo, jamón Serrano and Manchego cheese.
What more could I want?
Ah yes, a goal!
And if not?
Well there are plenty of Latin teams to cheer for!

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Shop Girl in Washington DC

Washington DC is clean.
It’s so clean I’m tempted to drop litter just to test whether a gnome pops out of somewhere to pick it up.
So far I’ve resisted because I’m concerned the gnome may issue a million dollar fine.
We’ve been staying with my sister-in law (to be), her husband and their 3 year old son.
I was so nervous about meeting them that I couldn’t eat my free packet of pretzels on the plane.
I remained nervous the day after our arrival as the immensity of our trip hit me.
Speaking Spanish felt as uncomfortable as the ulcer I’d developed on my tongue and I worried my new nephew would sense my fear and attack me with a plastic Star Wars laser beam.
Of course that initial anxiety is long goneand has been replaced with a good feeling.
I love being part of this new family. It’s so special hearing this smiley child say, ‘Hasta mañana tios’ (‘See you tomorrow uncle and auntie’) to me and the Fiance.
Of course, as an Auntie I feel it’s my duty to teach him proper English.
Eating out recently, I found it hilarious that the American waiter couldn’t understand me when I asked for a glass of water. A table of Colombians and I, born and raised in England speaking English, was the only one who couldn’t be understood
“Water,” I said, again, in my best Queen’s English.
“Wa- Wa- Waaat?” the waiter replied.
“Water,” I repeated.
Still nothing.
“Warra,” my little nephew says, later.
“No, WA-TER.”
“Warra,” he says, giggling.
I shall not give in. Nor, daresay, will he.
Slowly I will introduce ‘pavement’ ‘lift’ and ‘rubbish’ to his vocabulary.
Then I’ll do the same with Spanish from Spain, because with so much Colombian slang around me, I don’t know what’s going on.
A bit of Catalan might not go amiss either.
I’m only teasing really, hearing American accents everywhere makes me feel like I’m in a film.
They’re so friendly too.
In fact, I can’t get over how chirpy they are when they’re working.
Shop assistants and waiters all introducing themselves and wishing you the greatest day of your life, even when you are the hundredth person they’ve served that morning.
What are they all on? I wonder.
As Shop Girl such chirpiness was reserved for special occasions and not for each and every customer.
Then again, I never expected a massive tip.
Is it too late to hope for one now?
I mean, obviously I want you to have a super dooper day!

Sunday 30 May 2010

The Winning Stories

Thank you all for entering the first Shop Girl Competition. Here are the 5 winning ‘shop’ stories, including a restaurant and call centre story for good measure. Writers, your copy of Shop Girl Diaries will shortly be in the post! Meanwhile, happy reading.

Story 1

By Angela Topping, who lives in a house full of books and spends her days writing poetry when not distracted by writing which pays the bills.

My father-in-law, 88 today, who now has dementia, still remembers going into a record shop to ask for 'Adam Faith's latest'. On requesting this, he was somewhat nonplussed to be answered by a question 'What do you want?' He repeated his request and the shop assistant repeated the question. Eventually Tom gave up and asked for a different record. He never did get Adam Faith's latest, titled 'What do you want' and continuing if ya don't want money/ what do ya want if ya don't want love/ say what ya want and I'll give it you darlin'wish you wanted my love, baby!' Wonder if anyone else had problems buying this?

Story 2

By Girl Afraid :The singer of an all female Smiths tribute band 'Girl Afraid.' Lover of vintage ukuleles, hats and of course Morrissey.

"I needed a job and then I got a job and heaven knows I'm miserable now."

I can’t help thinking Morrissey wrote that after spending some time in a call center.

My day today started with a twenty minute pitch on the wonders of the credit card.
The chap I was trying to sell it too, who had seemed at first quite interested, started laughing.

“Don’t need one of em” He said.

“Can I ask why not?” I said in my best salesperson voice.

“Cos I’m drunk and in a wheelchair” He cackled and then hung up.

I wasn’t quite sure which of these two things didn’t allow him to have a credit card. My boss certainly didn’t think this was a good enough excuse either. Her general policy is ‘the inebriated need credit cards too’. As punishment she made me stand up until I made a sale. I felt like I was in year three, standing on a chair with my hands on my head after being caught covering my arms in PVA glue so I could let it dry and peel it off.

The rest of the day didn’t go much better. The next guy who answered started yelling at me.

“Why don’t you get a real fucking job?” He spat down the receiver.

I wanted to tell him this was the best I could do with a music degree in a recession but I didn’t and after he hung up I ticked the call back later button.
To get me through the rest of the day I made lists. I started with the top three Smiths albums.

1) The sound of The Smiths
2) The best of The Smiths
3) Singles The Smiths

But of course this is cheating.

I wonder why The Smiths have so many albums with the same songs on them? Maybe it was too make sure they made enough money so they would never have to get proper jobs again. Can’t say I blame them.

Story 3

By Bob Keim, Son of a nuclear physicist who used his love of math to become a Chartered Accountant, yet succumbed to his adrenaline addiction and morphed into a motorcycle racer and later a sea captain.

For mental exercise, my Dad taught us to add up the ticket at restaurants. His theory was that people good at math were unlikely to be waiters. The number of incorrect guest checks seemed to support his beliefs. So, of course sitting quietly at the dinner table waiting for Dad to finish double checking the ticket for the first 21 years of my life, rubbed off on me.

We went skiing in Colorado and found a nice place for breakfast. The ticket was added incorrectly, so I politely asked the cashier to triple check my double checking. Reluctantly, she agreed and I saved 79 pennies.

The next day, the ticket was not added correctly either. The same cashier was not as pleased to add that one up as the day before. But, again, I didn't have to pay the $1.25 stupid tax after she double checked the ticket.

The 3rd day, the ticket was wrong again! But this time it was in my favor by about 50 cents. I got to the cashier and in a very rude tone, she announced, "I will NOT re-add your ticket again today!" I smiled and said, "OK, if you insist."

Story 4

'Louboutin's with a Side of Potato' - By Victoria Fotios, who was Online Poet of the Year 2008 and Sunday Morning Spiders, published by Neopoiesis is her first poetry collection. She is also a collector of shoes, and when we say “collector” we mean “addict purchasing well beyond means”

I finally found the Christian Louboutin shop post lunch in the NYC Meat Packing district. This was it, I thought, finally I get my red soles. I am forty years old and the time has come for me to take on the world in the ultimate celebrity shoes. It was as I had feared, the shop staff were better dressed and groomed that I could ever manage after 5 hours of prinking.

I gingerly put my handbag down on the gilded, red velvet love seat to avoid a “bag in the china shop” situation, moved slowly towards the rows and rows of gloriously silly shoes.

I had engaged the attention of the black cashmere shod sales chap and he was patiently trying to get me to settle on a pair.

“What do you think of these?” I, twirling like a 6 year old.

“Fabulous.” he murmured,

“They are a little tight across the instep.” I would protest, dancing in the mirror

“Perhaps a 40.” he suggested, sweeping off into the curtained section behind the counter.

I had settled upon some impossibly black, patent, 5 inch peep toes and was now, I am ashamed to admit, sashaying.

“Fabulous.” uttered Cashmere for the umpteenth time

But the truth was we had hit a problem, if the shoe was long enough for me, then it was too narrow; wide enough and it was too long.

I turned to Cashmere,

“It’s my feet isn’t it, they are too wide. Is it possible, do you think, that my feet are the wrong shape for Christian Louboutin’s?”

A ghost of a smile moved across Cashmere’s lips, “Not possible, we can also fit them for you, chemically, so that they are a perfect match to your feet.”

So there it was; in order for us to get out of this with any shoes or dignity, said shoes would have to be “fitted”... translation, “stretched”.

“My Grandma used to do that with potatoes overnight; you don’t use potatoes do you?”

The shop fell silent and I couldn’t quite believe I had shared this snippet of 1970’s Lancastrian shoe stretching practice. Then the impossible happened, a genuine grin spread across Cashmere’s face.

“No, but perhaps it is something we could consider, very organic”

The deal was done; we had bonded over Louboutin’s and potatoes. Twenty minutes on, clutching an enormous brown bag containing the holy shoes, my soul was finally red.

Story 5

By Tracy Sweeney, A ‘P.A’. who has a passion for crystals, works in the City and lives in the country – has the best of both worlds!!

Funnily enough, this happened in your shop, Emily. Yep, the one and only chandelier (‘n’ stuff) shop – a few years back. I used to pop in there regularly to buy crystals from your mum – and, of course, stop for the routine chit chat, which always went hand in hand with the purchase.

It was during my lunch hour and I remember distinctly that as I entered the shop, the window cleaner was just finishing up and the windows were looking fantastic! I even made the comment to your mum of what a great job he had done.

I had my chat, bought my crystals and said my farewells, leaving your mum to deal with an influx of customers who had just entered the shop.

I smiled politely as I passed them on my way out…….

And then, BOOM!

I missed the door and walked straight into the newly cleaned, floor to ceiling window.

I ricocheted off it, as everyone screamed – they thought a bomb had gone off!

As I shakily turned to let everyone know that it was only my head and not, in fact, a bomb I noticed the shop had fallen silent and every eye was on me so, with a big beaming smile, I said ‘ Wow, your window is so crystal clear it’s as if nothing is there!’ and made a quick exit!

It must have made an impact on your mum at the time because when I returned, a few months later, the first thing she asked about was my head!

I hope you enjoyed reading these fab stories. It was great to hear from you!