Friday, 20 December 2013

A Book to Read When You've Got Your Mojo Back

Posted By Daisy

LAST WEEKEND, I put on a red dress, stuffed a Santa suit into my bag and headed into town to meet my friends for Santacon. Initially, I couldn’t understand what it was all about. I asked them if we needed tickets, or was there an official start time? 'All in good time, my friend, all in good time,' they said.
We fought the Oxford St crowds and found Santacon in full flow near the tube station. Where I discovered that Santacon is a few thousand people dressed up as Santa all gathering to drink and smoke on the street.

Everyone on this wall was singing a call-and-response -  ‘What do we want?’ ‘CHRISTMAS!’
‘When do we want it?’ ‘NOW!’

We weren't ready to join the melee. So we decided to have a quick drink across the street in the Langham Hotel. But the doorman spotted us as we walked fast past him, and told us (with the slightest twinkle) about his ‘No Santa Suits’ dress code.

If you can’t beat them, join them, we said. And promptly bought drinks and mixers in a nearby shop.

It was so much fun. We were hugged by random Santa’s as they ran past. If a lone elf passed, everyone shouted ‘Elf, Elf, Elf’ and threw Brussels sprouts at them. The ground was littered with them.

And later on, lots of non-Santas wanted to take their picture with us.  And I may have kissed an Asian Santa in a Soho pub.

On the last tube home, people sang and made eye contact, and the station master put on a funny voice for his announcements in Leicester Square.

London is great at Christmas, but I can’t wait to go home to Cork tomorrow for the first time in four months.
Elevator Pitch: A middle-aged man with high aspirations, a long-suffering wife and some strange friends, writes every mundane and hilarious detail of his life in his diary.  His n'er-do-well son returns to live at home for a while and turns their quiet life upside down.
Definitely not a book that attracts with it's dull, brown cover, it's actually very funny and I found myself stifling a fair few smiles on the early-morning tube.


Thursday, 12 December 2013

Lovely London Things #4

ISN’T it lovely when someone has the imagination to preserve an old shop sign?

Anglo Persian Carpet Co, South Kensington tube station

Especially when the current function of the shop is completely at odds with the old sign.

Palmers exotic pet shop, which sold Talking Parrots and Monkeys; Parkway, Camden
In operation since 1918, they once sold a cat to Winston Churchill, and two Abyssinian kittens to Charlie Chaplin.
It's now a coffee shop.

Schram and Scheddle, Upper St, Islington
I OFTEN pass these two vintage shops during my working week in Islington, and always admired the old ‘Schram and Scheddle’ sign.

Gift shop owner, Stan Westwood, unearthed the painted-over shop sign in 1978 when he established his shop, Preposterous Presents, which remained at the 262 Upper Street location for over 30 years.
It took Westwood, some time to think of the name ‘Preposterous Presents’, an homage to the fact that the first 3 letters of ‘Schram’ were the same as the first 3 letters of ‘Scheddle’.
Intriguingly, Westwood also found a strange package hidden in a loft at the rear of the shop. Addressed to the man of the house, the package contained a letter from Middlesex Lunatic Asylum, informing him that his wife was being detained in the asylum, along with a card with visiting times written on it. And hidden in another bag was a cut throat razor.

He reveals the rest of the story here, if you'd like to read it.
I was delighted to discover that Michael Rosen has recorded a short poem called ‘Schram and Scheddle' - how utterly random!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A Book To Read When You've Become A Nun

Posted By Daisy
He looked just like this guy.
LAST WEEKEND, I was chatted up. For the first time in four months. It’s been so long, I didn’t even realise it had happened. To my bemusement, my work colleagues got very excited for me, telling me he was lovely.
Go for it. That never happens here,’ said a girl, from Northern Ireland, urging me to go back for further conversation. But it was 11pm and I had to leave the Upper St bar to get two tubes and a taxi home.
And therein lies the rub. In London life, there are two barriers to meeting potential suitors.
1.       Not being able to stay out long enough to actually chat to anyone other than the people I’m out with because I’m usually too far away from home to get a taxi (£50 is too much).
2.       English men don’t do idle chit-chat and banter like Irish men.
Case in point: Standing by the bar with my friends in the (shockingly cheesy) Bunga Bunga bar in Battersea (where everything is Berlusconi-themed – there are mugs with his face on them, portraits of him on the wall, and cocktails named after him), I made some neutral conversational opening gambit to two men standing beside me. Without even reacting, they formed a protective V shape with their bodies, and closed ranks by turning in towards the bar.
The only other male interaction I’ve had is in a Shoreditch hotel when my friends came to stay for the weekend. Drinking wine and eating burgers in the hotel lobby at 2 a.m., three drunk men came and sat beside us. Being Irish, we chatted to them happily, until each of them picked up our wine glasses and started to drink out of them. On the way upstairs in the lift, two Americans on holiday invited us up to their room for drinks. At 3a.m. We declined.
There have been a few offers of blind dates, but none have come to fruition. And I’m not ready for London internet-dating yet, after being freaked out by this story. Although two people I’ve met recently met their boyfriend and husband online.
Probably the longest single-state of my life, it’s been surprisingly refreshing not to have even thought about it since I arrived in August. 
Although I now have a fresh worry – what if I’ve forgotten how to chat to men in general? Looking forward to testing this theory at home in Ireland over the Christmas holidays.
'Londoners' by Craig Taylor
I've decided that short stories are just the thing for the tube.

From the artist who collects hair from train station floors (horror) to create an art piece, to the female nightclub bouncer who watches people vomiting outside the club before trying to get in, to the Voice of the Tube, who says her ex-boyfriend is haunted by her every time he gets the tube and hears her saying ‘Mind the Gap’, this is a brilliant collection of features about London living.

And speaking of London, below are my two other most useful London apps:
Citimapper: It tells you how to get anywhere (including how to get to the bus stop, and when to get off the bus), has a handy pre-programmed 'Get Me Home' button for when you can't remember your own postcode, and even tells you how many calories you'll burn getting home. I couldn't live without it.
O2 Tracks: If I never hear Ed Sheeran +, Now That's What I Call Running, or the Amelie soundtrack again, it'll be too soon. With no internet access underground, that's all I've been listening to for the last few months. Until I discovered O2 Tracks. For £4.99 per month, I can download the weekly Top 40 and listen to them wifi free. I can't wait for tomorrow morning.



Tuesday, 19 November 2013

A Book to Read When You Have Asperger Syndrome: Author Interview: Dr Stuart Neilson

Posted By Daisy
DR STUART NEILSON dislikes tying his shoelaces, walking through crowded streets, and refuses to take off his jumper on sweltering sun holidays because he hates the feeling of air on his bare skin. Every time he goes shopping, he rehearses the infinite number of ways in which the shopkeeper may interact with him, and he prefers predictable daily events, like having a daily holiday schedule of activities and checking out unknown destinations on Google Streetview before he leaves the house.

Neilson also has a PhD in Statistics, and lectures in Disability Studies module in University College Cork, Ireland. When he was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome four years ago, he felt nothing but relief.

‘All my life I felt odd in some way. There was nothing at all negative for me about being diagnosed. It was such a revelation and I found it very helpful,’’ says Neilson.

Labelled a troublemaker in school, Neilson had difficulties with learning to read, and was sent and kicked out of remedial classes. He absorbed himself in building complex Lego structures, and had a lengthy obsession with Egypt, learning how to write people’s names in hieroglyphics.

Unable to understand the subtle nuances of everyday social interaction, and often failing to read body language cues, he was unpopular during secondary school. Before completing his A Levels, a teacher said ‘I really hate you Neilson, you’ll get an A in Chemistry, and you’ll do it to spite me.’

In adulthood, Neilson received psychiatric care for depression and anxiety, and was once commandeered by two security guards in a hospital because he reacted aggressively to a doctor’s unexpected touch.

‘Having an over-emotional response to something trivial is embarrassing, ’he says.

When he arrived home after an occupational therapy consultation with a bundle of leaflets about Asperger Syndrome, Neilson says his wife wasn’t surprised. He now attends regular occupational therapy, where he learns about social interaction, language and relationship building.

‘Being diagnosed has made life easier,’ says Neilson, who has just published a book ‘Living With AS and Autism in Ireland’ with his co-author, Diarmuid Heffernan, a keyworker supporting adults on the autistic spectrum.


The book is a fascinating, part first-person account of what it feels like to have autism or AS, and how to deal with the issues that may arise as a result of this.

Neilson describes how he feels nauseous after attending a buffet, because he had undergone a surfeit of ‘social calories’ – the effort of making social contact with so many unfamiliar people in such a short time, and eating unfamiliar food, made him feel sick.

He also warns that people with ASD who have difficulties with their visual sense may feel overwhelmed in the lead-up to Christmas, as there are simply more flashing and flickering lights around. He advises sticking to the old-fashioned non-flickering lights, or to confine lights to one area/room of the house.

Both practical and theoretical, the book discusses relationships, school, college and work, how to plan to achieve goals, how to achieve success in daily activities, and barriers to participation in daily life.

For example, he advises if a person is sensitive to the feeling of air on their skin, then it is more socially acceptable to wear a few thin layers on the body, rather than one thick winter coat which ‘may look like you are about to leave, or don’t want to stay.’
"I have Asperger syndrome. I notice little details that other people don't pay much attention to, which makes me good at managing statistical data. But I am not just good with numbers - I also have an interest in photography and take images that pick out beautiful little details in life, like these dew drops on our cabbages..."
When I asked Stuart to name his favourite books, he sent an email, beginning rather humorously with:

‘Dear Daisy, you probably *would* believe that I keep a log of the books I read, in alphabetical order of author.’
He continues:

I read everything by Iain M Banks and was captivated by both the escapism of “Surface Detail” (which has the most amazingly courageous female lead) and his appropriately cynical final novel, “Hydrogen Sonata”, in which mediocrity and momentum triumph over the best of intentions.

Hugh Howey's “Wool” series is a credible portrayal of the near future of humanity, again portraying betrayal through the momentum of political ambition and expediency - warning each us of how important it is to be politically and scientifically informed about the world we share.

My current read is “Year Zero” by Rob Reid and it is, so far, a riotously funny exposé of the very serious issues of copyright, the remuneration of content creators for their intellectual works and the imbalance of power between the people who create and the corporations that hold the rights over their productions.

I am a fan of forensic crime fiction, particularly Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs and Val McDermid - the cross-over between reality and fiction of Val McDermid's character Vance in “The Wire in the Blood” (based on Jimmy Savile) is spine-chilling, without any hyperbole. The depth and breadth of Savile’s offending - in plain sight - has had a life-long impact on his victims that few works of fiction could hope to parallel, and yet so many statistical indicators (the SAVI Report, or HSE and Dublin Rape Crisis Centre’s annual reports) tell us that he is just one of very many sexual offenders.

The biggest theme of the year has been the extent of state scrutiny of our personal lives and communications, which lead me to read some of the classic fiction on surveillance (“Memoirs Found in a Bathtub” by Stanislaw Lem, “Spew” by Neal Stephenson, “Super-Cannes” by JG Ballard, “The Shockwave Rider” by John Brunner, “Watchbird” by Robert Sheckley and “We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin) of which “Spew” was the most immediate - forget law(ful) enforcement, because the big corporations drive the entire agenda of modern electronic surveillance, to maximise our potentials as consumers.

Non-fiction fills more of my time than fiction, and is sometimes more emotionally intense and transformative.

The “Speeches on the Late Very Interesting State Trials” by Dublin judge John Philpott Curran (in 1808) is the origin of the grossly-misused maxim that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”, but in fact said that “It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt.”

My final praise goes to Naoki Higashida for writing “The Reason I Jump”, in which he explains so eloquently how assistive technology allows him to “anchor my words, words that would otherwise flutter off as soon as I tried to speak them.”

‘Living with Asperger Syndrome and Autism in Ireland’ by Stuart Neilson and Diarmuid Heffernan is available from Amazon in both print form (€12) and as an e-book for Kindle (€6).

For more information, please see the Facebook page LivingWithASandAutismInIreland.
'This is Autism' flashblog is an interesting look into what autism means to a variety of people

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Lovely London Things #3

'Take Courage' sign on a disused pub, North Road, Islington
I FIND this sign quite inspiring on my morning trudge to work, on a fairly grim road bounded by two huge council estates, a clothing factory, a theatre, a pub and a hot-seating office block for creative types.

Initially I thought it was a keep-calm-and-carry-on type relic from the war era (my history is shoddy). However (and disappointingly), I discovered that it's just a beer slogan (used between the 1950's to the 1980's) for the Courage Brewery!

An ad for the 226-year-old beer was banned in 2009 for implying that the beer would give the man enough confidence to tell the woman the truth- what do you think?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Book to Read in Krakow

Posted By Daisy

I went to Krakow last year on a city break. I loved the city, but couldn't sleep for a week after visiting the horrors at Auschwitz. When we got home, I donated the white painted vintage suitcase under my coffee table to a friend, and got rid of a picture of silver-hued trees in my bedroom, as it reminded me too much of the woods behind Birkenhau. I wrote this for a travel feature published last year.

A YOUNG man with a prosthetic leg and a walking cane drinks beer with his girlfriend in a café on the main square. Two tiny ladies study a city map on a pavement hoarding before taking their seats and ordering espressos and some water. A homeless woman in a raincoat does a moonwalk shuffle past the first layer of café chairs. She stops beside a girl in a Day-Glo green visor who swiftly extracts some coins from her purse.

Pigeons scatter as a long-haired man holding a ‘Free Walking Tour’ placard ambles about followed by a group of tourists. People point upwards outside St Mary’s Basilica, listening to the hourly trumpet call coming from the steeple. In the Cloth Hall, permanent stalls peddle carved chess sets, fridge magnets and wooden children’s toys. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clop through the square, following the Royal route towards the Wawel castle.

Mention a city-break in Krakow and people remember three things. The Square, Auschwitz and the Salt Mines.

Rows of travel agencies on Grodzka Street pedal day trips and before I have time to think, a day-trip to Auschwitz is booked with on-bus educational video and picnic lunch included. Outside the camp, the sign, ‘Work Sets You Free’ glints in the daytime sun as crowds of teenage school tours and middle-aged couples surge forward at the ticket barrier. A nearby shop sells flower garlands and candles in stained glass holders, which visitors lay at the Death Wall inside, or the iron hanging hooks situated on the side of one of the streets in side. The tour guide is solemn and rarely smiles during the three-hour tour.

We visit the site of Auschwitz 1 first where two-storey red bricked houses are laid out in neat rows surrounded by barbed-wire fences. Now a series of museums, this area once served as an administrative centre, medical experimentation centre and torture centre. The first exhibit shows huge photographs of prisoners arriving in Auschwitz, smiling and unaware of their fate. Deeper into the tour are the rooms full of the prisoners’ possessions taken by the Nazis and stored in huge warehouses which were known as ‘Canada, the Land of the Plenty.’ Everything was taken, from hair which was made into fabric, to gold-teeth which were extracted from the bodies by fellow inmates in a room next to the gas chambers.

The rooms of possessions are next. In one there are thousands of gravestone-like battered suitcases with names and addresses beautifully painted on them, some bearing the handwritten label ‘child’. Next is the Room of Hair where hundreds of chopped-off plaits sit casually atop mounds of hair. It may as well be bodies. Other rooms contain huge piles of shoes, baby clothes, prosthetic limbs, shaving brushes and eyeglasses. Walls of black-and-white photographs of men and women in striped pyjamas surround the prisoners living quarters. There is a flower atop one of these photographs, perhaps left by a relative.

We take a bus to the extermination camp at Birkenhau, ten minutes away. Its red-bricked train station is instantly recognisable. An original wooden train carriage still stands at the platform where exhausted people were divided into those who could work and those who could not. I had previously seen a photo on-line of a young dwarf-sized man sitting on a chair on this platform, looking bewildered at the crowds around him, totally unaware that his stature sealed his fate. Once chosen, women, children and the elderly and sick walked 1 ½ kilometres up the platform to the gas chambers, reassured by the soldiers that they would be having dinner after a shower. The four gas chambers are gone now, destroyed by the fleeing Germans, and never rebuilt, out of respect to the 8000 people per day who were murdered there. But pieces of wall remain in the rubble and plaques from every nation adorn a walkway.

After Auschwitz, I have no interest in visiting Oskar Schindler’s factory, or the Galicia Jewish Museum, or the Pharmacy Museum which details the plight of the Jewish ghetto victims. It’s simply too much suffering to bear. The Square of the Ghetto victims has a permanent installation of 70 large wooden chairs to remember the Jewish people who were moved into the walled ghetto after the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany.

We head to the beautiful Jewish quarter of Kazimiertz. At the Ariel café (frequented by Stephen Spielberg and his crew during the filming of Schindler’s List), there is a large family having a lively dinner served by elderly waiters. I drink hot chocolate at a polished tiled table filled with gold grout and study the paintings of Jewish elders lining the walls. ‘Once Upon A Time in Kazimiertz’ is an interesting. Consisting of a row of original shops amalgamated into one restaurant, the shop fronts still bear the Jewish names of the carpenter, the grocer, the tailor and the general store. The menu offers chopped chicken livers with eggs in truffle sauce, veal jelly with quail egg and green peas.

At the nearby Remuh Synagogue and cemetery, there is a wall of plaques dedicated to the victims of the holocaust. One is donated by Henry and Lola Tenenbaum, New York. Later, I discover that Krakovian expatriate, Lola, watched her mother being transported to Auschwitz on Mother’s Day, 1944. Another family plaque remembers the 88 members of the Ferber family who were killed during the Holocaust.

The Museum of Ethnography in the former Kazimiertz town hall, provides a welcome break from the all-pervasive sadness and I have an interesting ramble through Polish life past and present, with costumes, farming implements, childrens’ toys and a recreation of a rural classroom all on display.

My hotel recommends a trip to the ski-resort of  Zacopane and the Tatras National Park, a two-hour drive from Krakow. Lionel Richie and Roxette play on the radio as we zoom up the motorway, spying bleak countryside, and unattractive bungalows with dormer windows and smoking chimneys and piles of chopped firewood stacked against lean-tos.

Many Polish taxi drivers remain silent until you speak to them. Once encouraged, they love to chat. One man tells us all about his Scottish cousin who’s embroiled in a bitter family feud. This taxi driver guide speaks no English and deposits me at the ski lift at the ski resort of Zacopane, smiling and signalling that he will wait. With the ski season over, it’s deserted at the top, with piles of slush, and some empty cafes. An old woman sells the ubiquitous pierogis (dumplings stuffed with potato or cheese) on top of an upturned bucket. I speak no Polish and nobody can tell us how to get the entrance of the National Park.

We trudge through the slush in the deserted ski resort, and head down to check out the pretty log-cabin lined town of Zacopane. At €120, it’s an expensive and disappointing day trip.

My advice is to learn some Polish before you go. Plenty of Krakovians speak perfect English. But many do not. And buy a guidebook. And carry a pocketful of zloty coins wherever you go. Toilet-trips cost 1 zloty everywhere. Sometimes even in a café where you’ve already bought a beer.

A three-hour guided tour around the Wielicska Salt mines is interesting. On the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites (along with the site at Auschwitz and  Krakow’s Historic town centre), we walk hundreds of steps down to the mines, seeing chandeliers, statues and a church all made of salt, before whooshing up to ground level in a shaky metal lift.

Back in Krakow’s old town, we eat steak smothered in blue-cheese sauce in Scandale Royal, and  drink vodka in the uber-cool communist-like bar, Antycafe, with a silent movie projector showing grainy cartoons on a wall, with ‘What’s Next’ daubed in red paint beside it. The Jazz Rock club beneath the bar is cavernous, with scary black-clad, pierced and tattooed goths grunging to a surprisingly mainstream selection of Linkin Park and Nirvana classics.

Krakow fizzes with history, beautiful architecture, and a quiet sense of cool. The perfect spot for a winter city break.
Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking
I first read this book during my J1 working summer in Seattle. In 2001. And managed to give up for a year. Since then, I’ve given up many, many times but always gave in eventually. Who knew it was simply a change of scenery that would finally persuade me to renounce the dirty things for once and for all?
Stephen King once said (before he gave up) that he thought smoking improved his writing as it helped the synapses in the brain. I’ve written a few features since giving up smoking, and they worked out fine. However, I did almost miss a deadline recently for the first time in 7 years – can I blame the lack of nicotine?
This time, I was surprised that I actually found it easy enough to give up. I was staying with my sister and her family - she hates smoking and usually wafts a hand in front of her nose whenever I came inside after having a cigarette. And it felt horrible hugging the babies after a cigarette. It was almost easier to give up than face the criticism on a daily basis. I also knew I didn't want to get into the habit of smoking in London, or to associate London with smoking at all.
I fully expect to gain at least half a stone, and I no longer wear my red or light blue skinny jeans, as they are simply too tight now. I eat cakes from the next-door deli every day for lunch, and they’ve christened me ‘The Feeder’ in the office as I try daily to press my calorific stash upon my workmates. Thank God for all the walking I do in London.
(Btw, my friends were visiting last weekend and I smoked outside a bar at 2 a.m.  - but I've allowed myself one little slip up....oops)



Lovely London Things #2: A Sunday (!) Photo of the Weird and Wonderful Things I See

Du Cane Court, Balham High Road: My friend lives near this Art Deco 1930's apartment block, at one time the largest privately-owned block of apartments under one roof in Europe.
The interesting thing about it is that it was one of the few buildings in the vicinity to survive the German bombings during World War 2. It has been suggested that Hitler planned to use this building as his future headquarters, and also that the Luftwaffe used it as a navigational aid when flying over London.
It has hosted a variety of famous theatre and musical personalities over the years, with the most famous resident currently Arthur Smith and Christopher Luscombe.
It's possible to rent a one-bedroom flat here for a mere £1560 per month.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A Book to Read When Treasure-Hunting

Posted By Daisy

HAPPINESS IS….browsing a vintage car boot sale on the South Bank on a crisp, sunny Saturday morning with tea and a jam crumpet in hand.

There were scary plastic dolls, authentic vintage bus blinds (£80) and French grain sack tote bags (£40).
There were vintage suitcases and faded props from the circus.
I bought a beautiful gold-rimmed, mint-green milk jug and sugar bowl, as well as some matching cups and saucers from Willacy Whimsy's stall.

How innovative are these blank notebooks made from the covers of old Ladybird books?
My brothers had a similar painting in their bedroom when we were very young. The boy's eyes would follow us around the room. Years later, I was fascinated to learn about the creepy story behind the mass produced 'Crying Boy' paintings.
I've found my dream car. Better get that best-selling novel started during NaNoWriMo.

All vendors were obliged to sell their goods from the back of vintage cars. How lovely!
Heft by Liz Moore
Elevator Pitch: A housebound, lonely, obese man rekindles an ancient friendship via a letter and his life begins to change for the better. But how does anyone ever end up like this in the first place?
It's 'Wonder' by RJ Palacio meets the 1980 'The Elephant Man' movie.
It's like no other book I've read before and I LOVED it. Although my mum found it a bit depressing, I couldn't agree and was HOOKED from beginning to end.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Author Interview: Helen Fielding (sort of)

Posted By Daisy
BY NOW, everyone's sick of Bridget Jones and the countless articles written about her in recent weeks. Here's another one to add to the slush pile.
I went to see Helen Fielding speak in Primrose Hill on the night of her book launch and got a bit tipsy on one warm cup of wine. Which gave me the courage to ask her this (totally objective) question in front of 300 people...
'Do you think a 34-year-old singleton moving to London nowadays would have the same experience as Bridget, despite the fact that it's 17 years later and the internet now exists?'
She laughed when she realised I was writing down everything she said - but I had a 1200 word feature to write. And her answer was vague and non-committal and something about the internet having changed everything. I thought she'd say that people are the same everywhere, and that everyone's ultimately still looking for love no matter what year it is.
And afterwards, still elated from getting her autograph, we ate steak and blue cheese sauce and drank vodka and coke and I decided that I still loved London, despite the smelly old Tube and the fact that earlier on the Piccadilly line, a crumpled tissue fell out of a man's pocket onto my lap...shudder.
THERE are women everywhere. A glamorous elderly blond wearing a jaunty head scarf chats to her friends in the reserved seats in the front row, while another lady necks a plastic cup of red wine before taking off her coat and sitting down. A woman in leather trousers and a digital-print shirt opens her newly purchased hard-back with a squeak, while two men behind her joke that women outnumber men here and that they should have sold their tickets on the black market. At the back, a bookseller ties a few balloons to his stand, while an elderly gentleman arranges a motley assortment of wine bottles and some plastic cups on a desk.
On the evening of the publication of her first novel in ten years, and having already reached number one in the book charts as well as appearing on the One Show and the 6 o’clock radio news, Helen Fielding has shown up in this draughty hall in Primrose Hill to appear in conversation with veteran broadcaster, Sue MacGregor. Her goal is to raise money for her local Primrose Hill community library.
Initially panned by the critics as being inauthentic, anti-feminist and as presenting an unrealistic version of a now middle-aged Bridget, ‘Mad About the Boy’ is slowly beginning to receive positive reviews. Fielding’s long gold chain glitters, catching the light as she looks around smiling, seemingly unperturbed any negative reactions to the book.
After all, she dealt with criticism after the publication of Bridget Jones’s Diary in 1996.
‘We’ve got to be able to have comic heroines without being so terribly anxious about what it says,’ she said after the publication of Bridget Jones’s Diary.
I loved the original book and films. At 17, I admired Bridget for her admirable lack of self-reflection, her guilelessness and for having the impetuosity to run outside in the snow in her jumper and leopard print knickers.
I enjoyed spending the weekend reading ‘Mad About The Boy.’ It’s still funny. Daniel Cleaver has become a parody of all the dreaded Uncle Geoffrey’s at parties, and the satirical view of over-zealous North London mothers and their offspring (Atticus or Luigi) and Bridget’s responses their frantic emails and organised lunches make me smile.
Her relationship with her younger boyfriend is humorous. He reads an article about toy-boys and the rise of the sinister cougar, and gets scared, while she sees a sign for an Over-50’s club (activities include Bingo and Tea Dancing), and gets Botox.
There are moments of poignancy, when Bridget sits at home alone on a Saturday night, or when she wishes Mark was there to accompany her and her two children to the school play, or when she remembers her much-loved father and wonders how he would have reacted to certain situations. Just as in previous novels, Bridget’s still searching for love, and being a klutz and over-eating (this time, it’s bags of grated cheese), and furiously chewing Nicorette gum.
There are a few clunkers in the book. At times the language feels a bit try-hard, like a grandmother trying to be hip. At one point, Bridget sees a young ‘iBabe’ in a bar, and later, one of the mothers threatens her children with ‘Don’t you dare touch that dustbin or I shall enter you in the HUNGER GAMES’. I’ve never heard anyone speak like this.
However, the major criticism of the novel has been about the ‘cruel’ death of Mark Darcy. Although I never understood the attraction to him at the time. He was just so deathly dull
‘I don’t think cruel is quite fair because we have to remember that he’s not actually a living person,’ laughs Fielding, referring to the screech of horror in online forums after the death of Darcy was revealed in the Sunday Times magazine prior to the book’s publication.
‘I wanted to make her be in that situation [a single mother], and I was also fascinated by the internet age. When I first wrote Bridget, there wasn’t even the internet. Daniel Cleaver’s messages [about the short skirt] was just the office messaging service.’
‘I nearly didn’t put in her age but it’s like the 30-something spinster – it’s like the idea that when you get to a certain age, you’re going to start knitting….although there’s nothing wrong with that…She does have to handle certain things she didn’t have to handle before, but she’s basically the same person,’ says Fielding, herself now a 55-year-old single mother of two.
Fielding’s talent lies in her ability to make the mundane funny.
‘What makes me laugh? Life,’ she says, joking that the long gap between books was because she had discovered the internet and had been ‘Googling for 16 years’.
Her previous attempts to write serious novels were unsuccessful.
‘I can only sort of write about what I know,’ says Fielding, although she is at pains to point out, with a grin, that she is not Bridget Jones.
But Fielding is not as flighty as she sometimes appears. She used to write for three hours every morning before going to work on the political desk at the London Independent. She says her first novel, ‘Cause Celeb’ was ‘unreadable’ but fails to mention that it actually garnered good critical reviews. And she’s apparently worth £30 million. Likewise, Bridget is not as stupid as she appears, despite texting her boyfriend during an important meeting about the publication of her screen play, and obsessively counting twitter followers. Jones has raised two children on her own, written a screenplay, and is described as a ‘genius’ by her erstwhile publisher. She’s not doing too badly at all.
It’s clear that many women still feel a kinship towards Bridget and her mishaps, as some women in the audience raise their hands and speak about their personal lives, something Fielding says happens to her regularly. We’ve all identified with Bridget at some point in our lives, be it as a single thirty-something year old, or a widowed 51-year-old.
A fifteen-year-old fan asks Fielding about the nature of friendships in the book, tripping out the names Shazza and Jude confidently, as if she knew these characters well. 
‘The measure of happiness isn’t the partner, it’s the wider group. People go through different phases in their lives but it’s really friends who carry you through,’ says Fielding, who mentions that her friend, film producer, Richard Curtis, is in the audience.
‘The thing I like about the character is that she does have this joie-de-vivre, she dusts herself off and gets going again,’ says Fielding.
‘If you’re ever feeling a big down, a mixture of a self-help book and a PG Wodehouse can’t be [beaten],’ says Fielding, who thought she had coined the term ‘singleton’ but later realised she had inadvertently borrowed it from Wodehouse.
It’s obvious how fortunate Fielding feels to have won success third time round.
‘It’s a wonderful thing to happen and you can’t complain about it,’ she says. ‘Honestly, for the first event in the evening, it’s been a really lovely way to start it off and keep [my] feet on the ground.’
Afterwards, a long queue of women snakes around the hall waiting for Fielding to sign their book.
When it’s my turn, I tell her I’m a 34-year-old singleton who’s recently moved to London and ask her write something heartening. She looks up at me for a moment while continuing to write before thrusting the book back at me. KBO, she’s written inside. Which I find out later is Bridget’s motto. Keep Buggering On.
It was also Winston Churchill's motto, apparently.
My Top quotes from ‘Mad About The Boy’.
Summer is here! Finally, the sun is out, the trees are in blossom and everything is marvellous. But oh no! My upper arms are not ready. (Bridget)
Better to die of Botox than die of loneliness because you’re so wrinkly. (Talitha)
He wants me to say things like ‘Lick the soles of my shoes, lick out the toilet bowl. I mean, it’s just not hygienic. (Jude)
Children are asleep and house is all dark and quiet. Oh God, I’M SO LONELY. Everyone else in London is out laughing uproariously with their friends in restaurants and then having sex. (Bridget)
Have a look on Goop….See what Gwyneth has to say about sex and French-style parenting. (Tom)
Oh, darling, this is what I always feared would happen. I’ll get trapped on a desert island where they have no hair-extension specialist or Botox aesthetician and all my artifice will drain away. (Talitha)
Maybe will go to yoga and become more flexible. Or maybe will go out with friends and get plastered. (Bridget)
Never pursue a man, it will only make you unhappy. Anjelica Huston never, ever called Jack Nicholson. (Bridget)
Mum and Una strode furiously towards us with mad bouffed hair and wearing identical pastel Kate Middleton’s mother coat-dress outfits. (Bridget)
I was just taking a slurp of wine and laughed in the middle, then choked with the wine still in my mouth, and sick started coming up my throat. (Bridget)
But surely it is not normal to be too vain to put on your reading glasses to nit-comb your toy boy? (Bridget)

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

A Book To Read When You're Ancient

Posted By Daisy

A FEW weeks ago, I had a moment of 'Oh my Lord, I'm a childless spinster sharing a bathroom with strangers in a new city- how did this happen? I should've just married John or Brian or Philburn or whichever one of my highly-unsuitable former boyfriends.'

It may have had something to do with the fact that I would shortly be turning 35.

So I rang my mum to run through The Script with me. Which goes like this:

ME: 'I'm feeling a bit down. Am I a loser for moving to London at 34? Do you think I'll be single forever?'

HER: 'Don't be so silly, sure you only look about 25. You're any man's fancy and you'll meet someone lovely. What's for you won't pass you....'

It's not true but it's comforting and I don't know what I'd do without my mum's script.

In the end, my birthday was utterly lovely. We drank Bucks Fizz with freshly-squeezed orange juice at brunch, watched wealthy ladies try on vintage Rolexes at an antiques fair in Berkeley Square, listened to the funny banter of an auctioneer trying to flog half price Persian carpets in a hotel on Gloucester Road, and ate chocolate cake for tea.

My friend sent me this text: "As Oscar Wilde says, 35 is the perfect age for a woman, so much so that many women have decided to adopt it for the rest of their lives.'

And I sent her this in reply:

(It was totally tongue-in-cheek - one of the downsides to moving to London was that I had to miss my lovely friend Dee's fabulous Spanish wedding)

To which she replied:

G's photographic representation of her current life as a stay-at-home-mum

At least us ancient ladies still have a sense of humour, I guess.

Of course, when my mum came to visit a week later, they all had a great laugh when she pointed to this picture in a magazine saying 'This is the question that Daisy must ask herself every day.'

Elevator Pitch: Two teenagers meet at a cancer support meeting and fall in love via smart banter, literature and a trip to Amsterdam.

It's Michelle Magorian's 'Back Home' meets the precocious teenagers from Dawson's Creek.

I really enjoyed it, but it is a children's book and the Dawson's Creek speak can get a bit annoying- Which of us ever spoke like this as teenagers?

Monday, 16 September 2013

A Book To Read When You Realise that a Change Is As Good As A Holiday

Posted By Daisy

YESTERDAY, I realised I’ve been smiling to myself lots since I moved to London. Smiling as I march through Kings Cross/St Pancras at 8 a.m. on the way to work, ever-present earphones jammed in my ears. Smiling at the huge crowds of commuters waiting to cross the ticket barriers, at the ads lining the walls on the way up the escalators, and at the two ladies wearing shiny, swishy, curtain-material-patterned prom-dresses, at the girl nonchalantly boarding the tube wearing a see-through dry-cleaning bag over her clothes, and at the gorgeous guy in the check shirt and jeans who I lock eyes with for a second before whoosh – he's gone.

Smiling at the punters sitting outside on a damp Upper Street, Islington, having cups of tea and cigarettes, and at the elderly lady in a jaunty suit boarding a bus to Battersea.

Smiling at my new colleague as we walk past the barbed wire at Pentonville Prison, and at the custard tarts in the café across the road from work that I’ve been craving since watching ‘The Great British Bake Off’ last week.  

Daisy pinkened slightly while taking a photo of the ad
but then realised this is London and no-one cares!

Smiling at the dog barking at the grey squirrels skittering over the headstones of the graveyard I walk through every morning, and the shoe shops on the King’s Road, and the French shops on Butte Street, and at the early-morning dog walkers on the river’s walk near Hammersmith Bridge, and the amazing book shop behind Putney Bridge tube station.

Smiling as I sit on a bench in South Kensington waiting for my sister, watching men and women in Porches, Maseratis, Range Rovers and vintage Rolls Royce's whooshing past. Or as we walk home through Chelsea, spying huge chandeliers through apartment windows, and crowds of people standing outside the Troubadour enjoying post-work pints.

Hmmm, which celebrity do I fancy seeing today?

Smiling as I realise how easy it is to just pop into the Lowry exhibition in the Tate (I loved the song ‘Matchstalk Men’ in primary school), or listen to Simon Baron-Cohen talk about kindness in an evening lecture at the Royal Geographic Society or hear Ellie Goulding play in the Hammersmith Apollo in November.

Dalston - where you can get your hair cut in a cool hairdressers at 10pm on a Friday night, if you so desire

Smiling as I sit in a crowded Dalston pub eating chilli chips and drinking beers with my new workmates on a Friday night, and have to take three trains and a taxi home in the rain afterwards, and smiling as I write with a new writing group in a café in Primrose Hill before heading off to a nearby cupcake shop.

Smiling as we eat cronuts and tartiflette in Herne Hill Market and watch strangers swing dance in the drizzle.

Smiling as I pop to Zara in Regent Street after work and walk past the Ritz sign on the way to the tube, and at the fruit and vegetable stall propped up against the far side wall of the hotel. Smiling even as I push my way through a sea of suits at the turnstiles and have to let two crammed-to-the-brim tubes pass me by.

I don’t think I knew how much I had craved novelty until now.

I've been reading this book on my daily commute. It’s not an easy book to read and I often find myself flicking backwards in the story. But I’m hooked.

Elevator Pitch: An old gangster has arrived back in Bohane after 25 years, and all around feathers are being ruffled and old feuds being resurrected.

It’s Charles Bukowski’s Post Office meets Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (more specifically the scene with Mercutio and Romeo posturing by Venice Beach before the masked ball.)

And the writing is bring-a-lump-to-your-throat amazing.

‘She looked out at the night. A swirl of stars made cheap glamour of the sky above the bog plain.’
Barry lived and worked in Cork for years, and it’s apparent in his prose. Bohane is a melted, twisted, tarnished-Dali-clock version of Cork city. It’s the city seen through a Valley-of-the-Ashes haze. The language and descriptions are familiar ('norrie', 'gatch', 'pikey') and I smile when I realise Barry has immortalised a real-life Cork character.

The madwoman of Smoketown paraded in her white cowgirl suit, sequins aglitter, and directed the sky traffic of angry gulls.’

 I haven’t seen her in a decade, but I remember this lady, directing traffic outside the Capitol Cineplex, with white cowboy boots and shiny, over-pink cheeks.

‘City of Bohane’ also makes me happy that someone from Cork,  such a tiny city, can create something as beautiful and lyrical as Shakespeare.