So, who is the best actor to play Lemmy in a biopic?

I often cast films in my imagination. If I read about a character in a book, an actor will come to mind and I think ‘he or she would be perfect for that role.’ Many times, I’ve considered actors who might be in films of my own novels: Brendan Gleeson and Julie Walters feature a lot when I’m hypothetically casting one of my books in my head, as do Colin Farrell, Emma Thompson and Imelda Staunton. So, when I heard there was going to be a film about the late, great Lemmy Kilminster’s life, I immediately started wondering about who’d be the best actor to play the role of that incredible man.

I saw Lemmy performing with Motörhead in London not long before he passed away; he was quite static on stage but his indomitable spirit, his energy, his love of music that was so loud it made your eardrums buzz and his devil-may-care attitude were tangible. The actor who would play Lemmy on screen would need to do him justice; it would need to be someone who could embody his intelligence, his iconoclasm, his mischief and his rebellious streak. He would need to be magnetic, full of charisma.

I’m quite open-minded about actors who are cast as rock stars: they are actors first, so imitation and interpretation are everything – they don’t need to look exactly like the character they are playing.  Val Kilmer embodied Jim Morrison so well in The Doors. Rami Malek looked nothing like Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody but he managed to portray him with such panache and skill that the character was utterly credible. Taron Egerton was inspired in his performance in Rocket Man: I even conceded that I liked the music, although I’m no Elton John fan. So, for me, the actor who plays Lemmy doesn’t necessarily have to be a look-alike or a predictable choice as their talent comes first. So, here are some of my choices for the role of Lemmy.

The obvious ones:

Johnny Depp is a reasonably good choice to play Lemmy. He’s a musician, a rock star, an experienced actor; by his own admission, he understands the ravaging effects of an alcohol and drug-fuelled lifestyle. He’s a middle-aged sex symbol who can act. He could probably use a good role right now at this point in his career. It seems he ticks all the boxes to play Lemmy.

Robert Downey Junior. As above, probably.

Tom Hardy. He is possibly one of the most gifted actors on screen. He pulled off the roles of both Kray twins in one film; he rescued Venom from the depths of banality and he took the role of Alfie Solomons in Peaky Blinders to such heights that he managed to get away with a character that, in other circumstances, might have been perceived as a bit risky to say the least. He played Heathcliff with such passion that he achieved empathy where the character deserved no sympathy. He is a genius. Just imagine how he’d play Lemmy.

The less-obvious ones.

Benedict Cumberbatch. Not remotely like Lemmy, not in your wildest dreams. But he’s played everything from Hamlet to Dominic Cummings, so I wonder what he’d make of Motörhead’s front man? He could do it, certainly.

Russell Brand. Russell may be some people’s choice; he has the patter, the charisma, the confidence, the bravado to play Lemmy but he lacks Lemmy’s rawness and natural charm. Not for me.

Orlando Bloom. I was really surprised that, as the initial idea of Orlando Bloom as Lemmy made me burst out laughing, the choice really grew on me. Orlando has served his time playing undemanding roles of young, well-meaning fresh-faced heroes such as Legolas in Lord of the Rings, Paris in Troy and Will in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. It would be a challenge for him to take on the gritty role of Lemmy and I think he’d do it justice. I can imagine Mr. Kilminster chuckling over his bottle of Jack Daniels to think that he’d been portrayed by a man who once played the love interest of Keira Knightley, and an elf.

Jason Momoa. He’d be ‘superhero Lemmy’ in the animated version. A hilarious thought!

Joaquin Phoenix. After an incredible physical performance in Joker, Joaquin can do anything in my opinion. He’d make Lemmy leap from the screen.

Jared Leto. He is possibly my first choice to play Lemmy. Jared Leto is an incredibly versatile actor who would be able to show Lemmy’s progress from his early days in Hawkwind where he became a member because the bass player didn’t show up for a gig to his arrest for drug possession on the Canadian border, creating an empathic staging of Lemmy’s final days as Motörhead’s anarchist bassist and well-loved antihero.

Of course, it depends on the demands of the screenplay: will the film be a linear story of Lemmy’s life, or a glossy romanticised depiction of his early days as a young man whose youthful experiences were steeped in sex and drugs and rock and roll, or will we see the wistful older Lemmy reminiscing on his life as the speakers blast out the strains of such famous songs as No Remorse and Built for Speed.

Whoever is chosen for the role, I’d certainly watch the film. It will be very interesting to see how the director portrays Lemmy and I hope the film goes some way to do justice to a fascinating and unique musician who remains widely admired by so many people.

This leads me to reflect on similar films to come. We’ve had biopics about Freddie Mercury, Sid Vicious, Ray Charles, Billie Holliday, Edith Piaf. Now I’ve heard there will be a film about David Bowie’s life: I wonder who they’ll pick to play that role. And who would be a good choice to play Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Tom Petty, Marc Bolan, Kurt Cobain or Dolores O’Riordan? Are there roles here for established actors or could someone new cut their teeth on such a huge part? It is fascinating to speculate on casting and to look beyond the obvious choices.

Whatever music you need, Escapades hits the right note.

I know some people like to work in silence: writing a novel, a dissertation or doing homework means that concentration must continue uninterrupted and they prefer no noise at all. Others like the buzz of a radio playing music in the background, or the friendly hum of a voice on Radio Four.

I like the pace, the ambiance and the motivating mood of loud music.

I wrote an entire novel while listening to Rory Gallagher playing the blues. Another novel was written with Planet Rock constantly bustling in the background. Once, I changed the music I was listening to as I changed the mood from chapter to chapter; Gogol Bordello for the lively moments, Nina Simone for the tender moments, the scenes of pathos.

At the moment I have started a novel set against the backdrop of the Scottish lochs and that’s where Jack Gardiner’s Escapades comes in. I’ve discovered his album and it’s perfect for when I’m writing.

Jack is from Liverpool, only twenty-six years old, but he’s been playing guitar since he could sit up in his cot. A consummate musician, composer and technically-brilliant teacher, he cut his teeth playing guitar with China Crisis and he has toured with many more maestros in his short but productive time.

Now he’s made a solo album and it is heaven to write novels to. Jack has fingers that spider across the frets at a speed you wouldn’t believe, producing spiky atmospheric sounds, ideal for me when I’m imagining dawn over Loch Ness or the winding roads of Skye. But there’s so much more to Jack’s music than that.

From a musical family, (Jack’s father is a consummate bass guitarist, his brother plays a mean bass and drums and his mother has published articles as a music journalist,) Jack was always destined to perform. The track, 1993, which I guess is named after the year of his birth, is rhythmic, celebratory, with a spacy atmosphere, the guitar playing of a virtuoso. But Jack is no flash-in-the pan exhibitionist; his music comes from astute intelligence and empathy. There is a melodic, echoing tenderness in track 6, Until Next Time; track 4 Lark Lane, is mischievous and funky while track five, Cereal Killer, is more heavily percussive.

Jack is a huge talent. He wouldn’t be out of place playing in any band, and he has the potential to become a big name alongside Bonamassa and Page. He would wow in a traditional rock band with bass, guitar and vocalist – he has done this many times before – and he has the skill to stun in a duet with another musician or a singer, but it is this solo album that currently steals the show, that surprises in its confidence, a maturity beyond his years, credibility and the sheer impact of one man and his guitar creating a range of skilfully-played and produced tracks.

Escapades is great for me as a writer; it bubbles in the background like a lively stream as I match the pace and mood with my own ideas and words. But the album offers so much more. I’d listen to Escapades with the lights on low, lying on soft cushions; I’d fall asleep and wake up to it; I’d serve the music up with a meal for my best friends; I’d use it to cheer people up and to soothe the troubled soul.

It is an album that satisfies, that draws the listener in and that impresses. Jack is a young man who will go far; I believe one day his name will spring to the lips as quickly as Clapton’s or Gilmour’s when people are discussing great virtuoso guitarists. And this new album is a gem. Listen to it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

Listen to Jack’s album Escapades on Spotify or buy it here: Jack Gardiner Official Bandcamp

Jack

The Hu and cry for hu-manity through Mongolian music

I recently went to see The Hu perform in Brighton and I can’t praise them enough. It is a wonderful experience to go and see a live band play and come away not only having enjoyed the music but also having being filled with respect for the performers.

The Hu are a Mongolian rock band who have been playing together since 2016. There are eight musicians in all, and they play a wide range of instruments. The Morin khuur – there are two of them played in the band – is held like a guitar, played with a bow and is fashioned with an ornate handle such as a spearhead or a horse’s head. The tsuur is a kind of flute. There are drums and bass as well. Several members of the band sing in a deep resonant style called Mongolian throat singing, which is an integral part in the ancient pastoral animism that is still practised today.

The band calls their style of music hunnu rock, hu being a Mongolian root word for human. As well as being musically brilliant, they were exceptional live performers. Their rapport with the audience was one of boundless generosity. There was none of the egocentricity in the encore concept of most rock bands, where the band walk offstage and wait for ten minutes while the audience clap and cheer until the band come back, feigning modesty, and play two of their best known songs. The Hu just played and played, as if it was what they enjoyed doing most in the world. And ninety minutes later, they were still playing and as soon as they’d finished, the ‘encore’ thing happened so they came straight back and did another half an hour.

Their music is very powerful and rhythmic, ranging from rocking tunes like Yuve Yuve Yu to songs that are meditative and hypnotic. The audience loved them, although a woman next to me said that she thought it was a pity that she didn’t know what they were singing about. But it’s not difficult to find out. Their YouTube videos contain translations of the songs line by line as they are performed, and it is wonderful to understand the respect for their ancestors through their lyrics and musical heritage. For me, there was no language problem: the band invited us to join in with choruses and we could all emulate phonetically what they were singing. It was a privilege to embrace their culture.

The singer, Jaya, repeatedly thanked the audience in four English words. Another musician, Gala, had no English and the audience as far as I know had none of his language, but we applauded and cheered and he communicated his appreciation by thumping his heart with his fist. It was a perfect example of multicultural communication.

The Hu are currently on tour and I rank them among the best live bands I’ve seen, the criteria being that you leave the gig feeling like you’ve been to a party and danced and been included in a celebration and enjoyed every second. Gogol Bordello, Steel Pulse, Manu Chao, The Dropkick Murphys, The Hu, Motorhead (RIP Lemmy!), Greta Van Fleet – all these bands create the same atmosphere of rejoicing in music and a coming together of humanity. It’s what we need now as much as at any other time, the sense that music is shared together: it’s party time, an experience which connects us all and that we are basically humans, all the same, a one-world community who wish the best for others and for themselves.

The Hu are magnificent. They are on my list of bands I’d travel to watch again and again. They are seriously very good. Do go and watch them if you get the chance. Their music is hypnotic, celebratory and a damn good rocking night out.

 

 

Now about some of these old rock song lyrics…

I work at my computer most days and listen to rock music on the radio on my smart speaker. I love a lot of the songs and I enjoy the DJs’ banter, the cheery voices and the sense of company as a happy voice rattles away in the background while I type. Most of the music is pacy and energetic, ideal when you’re writing a novel.

Of course, I am aware that there’s a down side of the radio station. The presenters are, reflecting the rock-music world, (bar one woman on the early slot on a Saturday and Sunday morning,) white and male. They seem nice enough guys but there isn’t much in the way of diversity, and that clearly needs to be addressed. The same is true when it comes to the music they play. But maybe other fans of the radio station would tell me that rock bands are mostly male and mostly white. I think that needs to change.

Of course there are the exceptions. Jimi Hendrix wasn’t white and he was one of the best rock guitarists ever. Janis Joplin wasn’t a man and she was one of the best vocalists, although her songs, influenced from a blues background, are chiefly about men doing her wrong: just listen to the heart-breaking Ball and Chain and Piece of My Heart.

Old rock classics are being played all the time on the rock radio station I listen to and some of the older songs bring with them the problem of their social history, specifically misogyny: some of the lyrical content is  extremely outdated. The 1980s wasn’t a great time for women being perceived as equal to men: anyone who has watched an episode of The Professionals on TV or seen Legs and Co dancing on Top of the Pops , their faces stretched in an everlasting grin of pseudo-enjoyment, will know exactly what I mean. There was a time when a modicum of racism and sexism were tolerated by some people more than they should have been. And a lot of songs on the rock station come from this era and reflect this problem. But we can’t tolerate all that silliness now.

Rock isn’t the only musical genre not to cover itself in glory when it comes to misogynistic lyrics. But the station I listen to every day, that I enjoy listening to, will occasionally play something that makes me shake my head with disbelief. I tolerate Hendrix’s Hey Joe, even though ‘he shoots his woman down’ for ‘messing round.’ I put up with ZZ Top’s reductive Legs and the Rolling Stones’ inappropriate Brown Sugar and Under My Thumb, simply because they have been around for so long, but I remain unimpressed with the absurd lyrics.

I can even tolerate Neil Young’s A Man Needs a Maid if I ignore the lyrics and just listen to the tinkly tune: apparently, Neil meant ‘maid’ as in ‘Maid Marian’ and claimed that it was a genuine love song. That’s fair enough if you know the context.

I actually like Dire Strait’s song Lady Writer despite the subliminal inference that being a writer is normally a male profession and Marina Warner, whom I’m guessing the song is written about, breaks the norm by actually having a brain and writing about history. But some rock songs are lyrically off-the-scale-silly.

For example, listen to Jack and Diane by John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp. This one beggars belief. It’s about two sixteen year-olds sitting in Jackie’s car. He dreams of being a football star while she gapes vacuously at his suggestion of running off behind a tree and letting him ‘do what he pleases.’ Really? I know this is an old-fashioned 1982 song but the lyrics convey an archaic message about choices for young girls and submissiveness shouldn’t be a choice. Try reversing the genders in the lyrics and see how farcical it all sounds.

Then there’s Bryan Adams’ Run To You. According to the song, he has found a hotter woman to two-time his cold partner with but it won’t hurt her if she doesn’t know. Bryan should have spoken to Jimi’s Hey Joe about the rock-consequences of ‘messin’ around’. Hilarious!

Meat Loaf’s Dead Ringer is another of those songs about the passive, compliant woman with nothing better to do and, the most laughable yet perhaps, is Rainbow’s All Night Long. Just check those lyrics! It’s the same deal as Rod Stewart’s Stay With Me: women as a one-night sex-toy. Was it ever acceptable? I didn’t think so when I heard the songs at the time – it struck me as being misogynistic nonsense and nothing’s changed. As for the suggestion that AC/DCs Whole Lotta Rosie is about celebrating the larger woman! I don’t think so. We’ll just leave it there.

Clearly, my beloved radio station needs to clean up its act, embrace the spirit of the new decade and employ more presenters who reflect the diversity of the world. They need to insist on a playlist that doesn’t denigrate women and encourage some poor men to think that unless they conform to an unpleasantly outmoded mindless priapic male-stereotype, they fail to live up to the presupposed potency of their guitar-grinding gods.

There are plenty of brilliant male guitar heroes out there playing professionally who think differently, who value women for their brains and their personalities and who wouldn’t be seen dead popularising versions of  the well-worn  ‘shag them and leave them and treat them mean’ story. I know several rock musicians personally and they are great guys, feminists even!

There are plenty of other good rock songs, plenty of good tracks from the long-forgotten past that admire women without demeaning them: I like Natural Born Bugie from Humble Pie which came out in 1969 as it’s a great song and not disparaging in its glorification of female beauty. There’s Hendrix’s melodic Little Wing which is a romantic song with great guitar and vocals. I have no problem with songs about sex; Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love and Lemon Song imply that the female in question has a modicum of choice in the arrangement and isn’t duped into a brief night of passion and then quickly discarded.

There are wonderful rockers who are great musicians and vocalists who happen to be women too, from Joan Jett to Joanne Shaw Taylor, Samantha Fish, Beth Hart, Joanna Connor. There are also very promising modern male rock bands: Greta Van Fleet’s Highway Tune is a nice example of a raunchy song that is inoffensive to women, as all songs should be.

And for real diversity, let’s have more of The Hu, a Mongolian heavy metal band formed in 1996, whose song Yuve Yuve is about the respected ethics of their ancestors. All these are much more appealing lyrically than the outdated topic of how many schoolgirls a rock singer can line up to have sex with in one night as he ogles them from his vantage point on the stage.

Although I won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, there’s a letter to be written to someone who makes decisions about playlists on my favourite radio station. Gone are the times when this laughable stuff was acceptable. We’re in the twenties now. So I’ll continue to listen to rock radio but I’m not putting up with inequality or lyrical offence. The days when that sort of stuff was grudgingly accepted as being part of a male-orientated genre have well gone.

New Cam July 2011 095

What a difference a play makes…

I’m open to going to see all sorts of theatre but I’ve never been much of a Noel Coward fan. His plays have never particularly struck a chord with me, perhaps due to the archetypical Englishness, the veneer of sophistication, the stylised repartee with just a hint of misogyny unsurprising in a play written in 1943. But I’m always prepared to take another look, so I went to see Present Laughter when it was streamed to cinemas. It was a breath of fresh air.

The director Matthew Warchus brought the play up to date by making the central character, flamboyant actor Garry Essendine, played by Andrew Scott, bisexual and by swapping a few the genders of the original characters. The original predatory female, Joanna, becomes Joe, an incorrigible cad whose presence threatens Garry’s little clique of chums.

The performance of each character is spectacular, as is the timing and rapport: there wasn’t a weak link in a very accomplished production, but Andrew Scott is central to the success. His dynamic performance of contrasts, pouting and peacocking and throwing tantrums is directed in order to amuse and entertain. As a successful actor, Garry Essendine is adored by clamouring fans on all sides and subsequently he is vain, charismatic and extremely lonely. But it is a play that makes an audience laugh out loud and then stop to consider moments of tenderness and poignancy. Beneath the comic surface is a play that deals with an individual who feels lost and alone despite being surrounded by sycophantic acolytes.

The result is hilarious comedy and powerful commentary. Indira Varma is excellent as Garry’s separated wife Liz, the one who watches from a distance, understands and deals with any crisis. Similarly, as Garry’s secretary Monica, Sophie Thompson creates an impactful character on stage, as does Joshua Hill as his overconfident valet Fred. Garry employs and exploits these characters, he abuses them verbally and he is lost without their support.

Andrew Scott is energetic and inspired. I saw him last as Hamlet and, on that occasion, I was bowled over by the intelligence, subtlety and depth of emotion. His role in Present Laughter is an equally impressive virtuoso performance. For me, the directing was exactly right. We have to laugh with the hilarious frenzy of Garry’s cavorting histrionics; we celebrate his highs in order to understand his lows. As a successful actor, Garry is incapable of doing anything other than acting constantly and, when we glimpse the man behind the superficial show, he is exposed and fragile.

Present Laughter is an entertaining play and stands up well as a memorable evening at the theatre; it is well-worth visiting. But it leaves the viewer with more than a just a smile. The characters are superficial stereotypes but there are also poignant moments that hit home, as we consider the fragility behind the charm. A brilliant production.

How I fell in love with Scotland.

It’s ridiculous, really, that I hadn’t been to Scotland. I love travelling. I love the excitement of exploring new places, of filling my senses with new sights and scents and experiencing new cultures. I’ve been to some fascinating places: India, Israel, China, Africa, Mexico. And there are lots of places I want to go to, places I’ve never visited: Peru, Thailand, New Zealand. But somehow, in all the fun I’ve had travelling, I forgot about Scotland.

Some places you visit fill you with a sense of belonging there, even if you’ve never been before: there’s some kind of connection you can’t explain. I remember visiting Africa and the scent of the sun warming the land as I stepped from the plane was incredibly familiar. When I visit Dublin or the west coast of Ireland or Liverpool, there’s always a welcoming feeling, like I’ve come home. When I go to Europe, I’m always conscious that I’m European. But for some reason I can’t explain, I never really thought about Scotland that way, although it’s really only just up the road.

Scotland Loch Ness

I suppose first of all that I never thought of going there because I have no real connection to Scotland. There are no Scots in my family history that I know of; I have few Scottish friends and, if I’m honest, it’s the warm weather that often attracts me to a place and I know Scotland has a reputation for being cold.

But last week, all that changed forever.

I flew to Inverness. It took an hour: the same amount of time that it took me to travel to the airport. So, of course, the Highlands are on my doorstep. Why did it take so long for me to realise that?

The people were welcoming and friendly. I hired a car and took off towards Loch Ness. That was when it all fell into place. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. As I drove towards the place I was staying, mist was rolling on the loch and the surface of the water was calm, a sheet of glass. I slept in a bed that was so big I needed a ferry to cross it. The view from my window was of fog shifting around pine trees in a palette of so many colours that I couldn’t find words to describe most of them. Then there was the water merging with the sky, the mist and the mountains.

I drove to the Isle of Skye the next day and just kept catching my breath as I rounded each corner. Snow-capped mountains, stretches of water, trees and hills and a landscape any artist would be challenged to paint and represent the sheer beauty. Skye even has a beach and a walk to the top of hills so high you can see the Hebrides.

Scotland skye beach.jpg

The next day, as I took off to the west coast I was greeted by a wild boar trotting cheerfully down the road on my side. Of course, I slowed down to let him continue. The sun shone and the frost glittered on the grass and in the hedgerows. Again, the views were stunning.

I decided I had to write a novel set in Scotland and, because the air is so pure and the ambiance so calm, ideas were flowing faster than the whisky in the lodge where I was staying.

So I went out for a night ramble to take in the local stories and places. Castles, circles of stones, waterfalls, everything still and spectacular under a star-crammed sky and a low-hanging moon: ideas came thick and fast. And then I drove into a glen filled with deer, their eyes shining diamonds in the headlights, their antlers raised and their faces calm in contemplation. The serenity was overwhelming.

When I flew back from Inverness, I was changed somehow. My head was full of thoughts like ‘  When can I go back?’ and ‘Why don’t I live in Scotland?’ and ‘I want to go again with family and friends so that they can share the experience too.’

scotland castle.jpg

I can only imagine how fresh Scotland will look in the spring, or how exhilaratingly cold the Highlands are in the depths of winter under snow. The autumn is a stunning time to visit Scotland and, like most addictions, I suppose, it starts with an overwhelming first experience quickly followed by the desire for more. And I could easily become addicted to Scotland.

I am currently thinking about an imaginary trip somewhere, soon, but my destination is now fraught with confusion. I might go to Majorca or Scotland, or Portugal, or Scotland. I am possibly going to France in the summer but I may go to Scotland before then, or afterwards, or both. I plan to go to South America some time but I will definitely go to Scotland before then, at least once. You see the problem?

It’s a place I can’t imagine ever having too much of. I have no idea why I left it so long to visit. But I loved it, everything about it, and it won’t be long before I go back to visit the Highlands again. I think I left a little bit of my heart there…

scotland snow.jpg

Cover Reveal: Five French Hens

I’m excited to reveal the cover for my next novel, Five French Hens, which is available from December 10th. It’s a story about people seeking fulfilment and it shows that sometimes life’s routine appears fine until you move away from it and take a look from a different angle.It is a novel about celebrating life, having fun, being resilient and unafraid of embracing change.

The plot concerns Jen, who is a widow. She meets Eddie, a widower, when walking alone on Exmouth beach on Boxing Day and they strike up a conversation. A friendship develops; they meet regularly and find they have much in common. In many ways, they are the ideal couple; they look good together, they enjoy each other’s company and they both know that living with each other would fill a hole in their lives so, when Eddie proposes to Jen on Valentines’ Day, she accepts and a date is set for an early spring wedding.

Her four friends from aqua aerobics are surprised at the news of Jen’s sudden engagement but they are all delighted for her and so, when Eddie announces that he will go to Las Vegas with his son for his stag party, the friends convince Jen to have her ‘hen do’ in Paris.

Jen’s four friends have very different lives. Tess is full of fun, but unhappily married. Della is happily married, wise and caring but with a mischievous streak. Pam is independent and happy living alone, although she has her adorable spaniel Elvis for company. Rose is a lonely and somewhat under-confident widow who teaches piano lessons to uninspired children and hates it. The unlikely group of friends embark on the hen party to Paris with the intention of enjoying themselves, but they have no idea how the trip will develop or how it will affect the rest of their lives.

Paris brings glamour, mischief and excitement: galleries, casinos, clubs, restaurants, shopping, and the five friends have a whale of a time. The women hit Paris and they are outrageous, romantic, funny and the events that occur make them rethink the course of their lives. But it is a very different group of women who return home several days later and, of course, when they arrive back in England, much has changed for each of them.

I hope readers will find Five French Hens hilarious, poignant, but with a strong sense that life is out there for the taking and, no matter what your age, you can try to find another chance at happiness.

 

For more information, go to https://www.boldwoodbooks.com/contributor/judy-leigh/

 

Why I’ve stopped writing my new novel for at least a week…

I moved home about fifteen months ago, at the end of the summer of 2017, into a beautiful old farmhouse in the sticks. It is quirky, fairly spacious, perfectly habitable, well-loved by its previous owners; it’s in a fantastic setting of fields and trees, sheep, pigs, pheasants and buzzards, with great neighbours. Last winter was cold here – we had ice and snow, but there’s an old Rayburn in the kitchen and two wood burning stoves in each of the downstairs rooms, so everything was cosy.

By Christmas day last year, the new kitchen was ready – I cooked nut roast wellington with all the usual stuff on the new range and it was great fun finding out how all the knobs and settings worked for the first time. Bold from the success of a nice new kitchen, I moved to decorate the dining room and stripped off the wood panelling to find damp walls underneath. Of course, in a house that is 500 years old, a bit of damp isn’t a problem, but I decided to have it lime plastered and done properly. The man who did the job was brilliant and I’m now putting 10 coats of lime paint on the walls. Every time I open the tub of lime wash, I think ‘This is the stuff they used to put in paupers’ graves. Mozart went down under a load of lime wash. It is fierce stuff: I’d better mask-up and wear protective clothing. On a roll, I ordered new windows, to make the house better insulated for the winter. A dear friend recommended the company who’d done his beautiful windows. All would be well, of course- what could go wrong?

A month later, I’m still lime-washing a huge empty room. All the dining room furniture is in the lounge, so I can’t move around in there. My desk, my computer, two sofas, two easy chairs, a TV, books, shelves, CDs, furniture and me, are squashed in or piled high. I can’t light the fire in the wood burner – I can’t even see where it is. It’s incredibly cold in the lounge. And then there is the saga of the windows.

Last Friday I looked on as the window installers sat in an open windowless frame upstairs, in tears, as several large random bricks fell about them out of the wall and onto the ground outside. ‘I didn’t expect this…’ he muttered. ‘It’ll need plastering. And rendering.’

‘It’s an old house…’ I suggested, feeling very sorry for him.

‘Can I come back next Friday and finish it off?’

So the current situation is that the Beast from the East is out there along with cold icy blasts, perhaps even snow. The house is freezing, especially the lounge – the rubble room, where my desk and my computer are.

I’ve been busy writing: I’m over 50,000 words into a new novel and I love it. I’m having such a good time writing about the adventures of my three protagonists who are mixing it up hilariously in a little village in the middle of summer time. I’m laughing out loud and I know exactly where the plot is going next, with great effect. I’m completely enjoying myself and I’m really pleased with how the characters and action are coming together.

So, imagine me on my way to work each day, climbing over the rolled-up rugs, the sofas and chairs; there are piles of books like elephant droppings everywhere. I crawl over to my computer to log on amid the icicles. My cats TC and Murphy follow me into the lounge in case I have any food – the oldest cat, Colin, won’t come – it’s too cold, he can see his breath! So I’m dressed in two jumpers, a pair of jeans, thick socks, sturdy boots, a long coat, a colourful faux- woollen hat with plaits and the word Amsterdam on the front, a football scarf, a pair of fingerless gloves and leg warmers. I have a steaming cup of green tea to keep me warm, a flask of pumpkin soup, and I’m still freezing. The patch of sky I can see through the half- finished window over the piles of junk is stone grey.

Back in the kitchen, I can press my backside against the Rayburn and try to heat up my bones. Upstairs, I can go in my little gym to warm up, but I’ll need to step over the floor boards that are there resting before they go into the new en suite. And as I try to reach my exercise bike, I have to clamber over a new shower tray, a radiator and a toilet, complete with fittings, which is leaning against my punch bag.

Of course it will all be over by Christmas. (Isn’t that what they said in wartime?) But I’m keeping my pecker up with green tea and soup. Perhaps I’ll take a week off writing, do some planning instead with my feet on the Rayburn, listen to music, go for a walk or a run, and make bread and vegan bacon. (Note to reader – Another blog post is in its early stages, about a conversation someone had with me recently, which went ‘Why do people even make vegan bacon? Can’t you just eat the real thing?’)

By Christmas I will have a proper lounge, a living room, an en suite and double glazed windows. And I’ll have another novel, almost finished, ready to soak in brandy, leave to mull for four weeks and come back to edit in the New Year. By Boxing Day I will be able to invite friends round for drinks and nibbles (such as vegan bacon…) and a good time will be had by all, as we huddle close to the wood burning stoves fresh from a shower in the new en suite, and chatter about nothing much in the warm, well- insulated rooms. There won’t be an Amsterdam hat with plaits or a pair of leg warmers in sight as I sprawl on the sofa watching the football in vest and pants murmuring ‘Open the new windows – I’m boiling.’

But for now I think I’ll just take a week off, park my bum against the Rayburn and dream of a fortnight in Goa, imagining myself sitting on a beach sipping cool beer. Brrr. I wish!

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If a vegan diet is good for a septic tank, then it might just be good for us…

I’ve just had an interesting conversation with a man who shovels poo for a living. More accurately, he has a machine which slurps waste from septic tanks and cess pits. Not the best job in the world, perhaps, but someone has to do it. On the plus side, it took him half an hour to stand by his machine while it sucked the smelly stuff from the septic tank in the field and  educated me on the vagaries of cess pits.

It was his conversation that interested me most. We had a lovely chat about waste: he knew all about it, the ups and downs, the best sort, the worst sort, what to put in a septic tank to make it function well and what never to put in. He was a real expert.

I’ve lived in the house for a year and had paid no attention to the bog-standard septic tank covered in nettles and briars in the field adjacent to my garden. I’m very careful what I put down the drains of course: no detergent, no washing powder, no cotton wool or plastic, just gentle stuff which biodegrades, a bit of food waste, water, that sort of thing.

So I uncovered the tank and invited out the man to clean it. What he said really surprised me. Not the bit about the tank being old, that he had no idea how it functioned so well at such a great age, that it would benefit from installing a smart new system, and everything else you’d expect him to say. What was really interesting is that he said ‘You don’t eat meat, do you?’

I was impressed: he could tell things about my diet from my cess pit? Now that’s a real professional.

It turns out that meat, the cooking of it, the disposing of residual bits of it through drains, the residual oils, all contribute to clogging and to the general bad condition of the system. Basically, it’s greasy and likely to make the drainage system function less well.

Now there’s an allegory.

If regular meat intake clogs drains and is bad for them, I wonder what it does to the human digestive system and to arteries?

I hear a lot from non-vegan people about vegan diets being inadequate and how do we ever manage to survive without meat. I am asked frequently what I eat and how I get enough protein, vitamins, how I maintain a high level of energy. I agree, whatever you eat, vegan or otherwise, it pays to have some understanding about the value of what you’re putting in your body. I take vitamin B12, and vitamin D in the winter. I consider what goodness I am getting from my food at each meal. I try to weigh up the balance of nutritional benefits and avoid foods high in sugar and bad fats, palm oil, too many empty calories. Doesn’t everyone?

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Nowadays, some people want to veganise everything, so they can enjoy burgers that bleed, authentic sausages, and cheese which tastes exactly like the ‘real thing.’ I can understand why these products are popular; it’s impressive when people who love meat and dairy give it up and it’s understandable that they want to replicate their favourite flavours and textures in everyday vegan fare. It’s useful to have ready-made standby foods in the freezer too. 

On social media, I read about a lot of vegans who are thrilled to find ‘sfv foods’: safe-for-vegan stuff is really just food not originally intended for vegans but that just happens to contain nothing which is non-vegan. Such ‘accidental vegan’ foods include things like Oreos, some makes of custard powder, pickles, some types of pot noodles, some crisps, bourbon biscuits, Skittles. Some vegans’ delight when discovering Oreos are vegan is touching. Vegan pizza has been a huge success, as has vegan ‘fish’ and chips. Now people can be vegan and not give up fast food and treats they crave from their pre-vegan diet.

 While I’m happy that ‘accidental’ foods like vegetable extract, baked beans, peanut butter and hummus are vegan, I’m cautious about commercial high sugar, salt and high fat foods and the long-term effects of eating too much processed fare, vegan or not. I’m happier cooking something from scratch, with simple ingredients that I know and that I can be confident are good for me. While I understand that people can live off a diet of bourbons and kettle chips and still be vegan, and that fast food takes less time to prepare and it’s great to have an indulgent cruelty-free sweet treat occasionally, ready meals are perhaps best as a stand-by.

Of course, it’s a different kettle of hummus when it comes to alcohol – in moderation. There are great vegan wines to be found, beers too, and supermarkets are starting to understand what makes alcohol vegan and label it accordingly. I still find myself in trouble in bars, restaurants  and shops when I ask ‘Is the wine vegan?’ There are still many places where I’m greeted with confusion, horror and the question ‘Why, isn’t all wine vegan?’ Why, indeed.

Back to the neglected cess pit in the field. What if our bodies are similar to septic tanks: we put stuff into them and they reflect our lifestyle- choice back by being in good working order or less so, depending on the nature of what we put in? The better the quality of ‘stuff’ that goes in on a daily basis, the better the tank functions long-term.

Of course, there’s no scientific correlation between the cleanliness of a septic tank and the health of the human digestive system; I’m being facetious: it’s just a thought. I’m delighted that the meat-free septic tank is hanging in there. I will continue to feed it a diet of biodegradable waste, detergentless cleaners and good vegan manure. I certainly won’t be adding any Oreos and custard into the mix, but there may well be a recycled glug or two of good vegan Merlot every so often.

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Why the World Cup is like a novel

Coverage of major sporting events is difficult to escape: whether it is the World Cup, the Six Nations, Wimbledon or The Tour de France, it is regularly in front of our eyes, on the television and in the newspapers. It is the main talking point in the news, perhaps more than the NHS crisis or halting Brexit negotiations.  Players’ names and faces become familiar; results are publicized far and wide and key events quickly become assimilated in our culture. The tournaments begin with people selecting favourites: a national team, a vital player or a big personality, and then the show begins. For me, it’s like any good novel: there are heroes, villains, injustices, triumphs, laughter and tears. We have underdogs, someone to root for and someone who is dangerous, whom we will fear: the opposition. We hope and pray that things will go the way of our heroes and we hold our collective breath as they set forth on their quest for victory. There will be adversity on the way – offside goals, penalties, red cards – but we hope that it will all end happily ever after for those players we support.

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In terms of the 2018 World Cup football tournament in Russia, the English media and fans are hopeful that their team will make a respectable showing. Fans will never lose sight of the iconic memories of 1966: Bobby Moore hoisted on top of the victorious team of cheering players, his fist clutching the Jules Rimet Trophy. The moment 52 years ago that England last won the World Cup is fixed in the minds of the English fans, whether they are old enough to remember it or not, because it has been so long since England had a football team who could go close to emulating Moore’s men. They long for football to ‘come home’ again.

Of course, there are the football haters who echo Guy Martin’s words: ‘I have nothing against football. It just seems very wasteful losing 2 hours of my life to watch 22 millionaires on TV chasing a bag of wind in their underwear.’ Martin has a point: he is a motor cycle racer turned TV presenter and it must be frustrating to adore and participate in such a thrilling sport where coverage is marginal. Footballers are paid a great deal of money and live a life of luxury. That is the case for many people and we are all aware of the gap between rich and poor. The difference in salary between the Premier League and lower leagues is huge. In the Championship the average salary is between £7.500 and £8.500 a week. The top players in the Championship can earn around £80.000 a week. The average salary in League One is between  £1.700 and £2.500, and in League Two it’s between £1.300 and £1.500. Still above average, but hardly enough for a life of luxury.  Many working class boys around the globe practise football skills from an early age in the hope that they can one day live the dream of being a sporting hero. Few achieve it.

This brings me back to the World Cup. Before this year’s tournament even began, the media machine was underway, thrilling us with episodes from the soap opera which is football. We held our breath wondering whether Mo Salah would start for Egypt, given the arm wrench he received from the dark lord of tackles, Sergio Ramos, in the Champions League final. We witnessed the sacking of Spain’s national coach. England’s Raheem Sterling was criticised over the gun tattoo on his right shooting leg, until it was revealed that  he’d vowed to  ‘never touch a gun’ after his father was shot dead when he was a boy.

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The World Cup has historically had its fair share of memorable controversies. 1986 brought the ‘hand of God’ moment where Diego Maradona, one of the greatest players ever, cheated by handballing a goal. In 2006, English referee Graham Poll booked the same Croatian player three times in match against Australia. (Two yellow cards constitute a red card sending off.) In the same year, Zinedine Zidane of France was sent off in his last-ever match, for butting an Italian player in the chest in retaliation to a verbal provocation, apparently about his mother. 2006 was a red card year for England too: Wayne Rooney was given his marching orders for stamping on a Portuguese player’s foot in the quarter finals, thereby contributing to England’s low chances of progression beyond that stage.

So there’s no shortage of best-seller material – scandal, horror, violence, tragedy, intrigue – but what about the romance, the love interest? I suppose that is where the supporters come in. We see them on the television, throngs of happy singing men with their shirts off, their whole national flag painted over their faces and bodies. Gone are the days of simply waving a rattle – this is full-on passion. And of course, like all mindless passion, it is about the heart ruling the head. When the team win, they are adored, idolised, their names chanted in songs which laud their prowess and promise eternal devotion. And when they lose, they are brought low, deemed flawed, despised, their names dragged through the mud and of course, all fans are technical experts and know what was needed to win, to alter the outcome, to change the game.

Albert Camus said that football is like theatre, and it is. A play in two acts, two halves. The players are centre stage for all to see. Fans live through the comedy and the tragedy, waiting for the final outcome. I think football is also like a novel:  each moment is a page turner, each game another episode leading towards the final game, the denouement where it all kicks off, where the climax happens. And of course, when the novel ends, it may be the best one yet or it may be one of the less satisfactory stories. But there will be more games, the next sequel, and more opportunity to invest emotionally, another chance to watch, to analyse, to give our opinions and offer our own interpretation. We will always continue to hope that our central characters win the day and become the memorable heroes we all aspire for them to be. And when it all becomes completely unpredictable, someone will breathe a sigh of amazement and say ‘You couldn’t write this stuff!’
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