Pie & Miles Davis

I was going to write about pie. We made one yesterday and I still can’t move and now it’s all I can think about. Pie. But have you ever tried writing about pie while listening to Miles Davis? It can’t be done, even about a really memorable pie. You start writing about pie while listening to Miles Davis and stuff gets weird. The pie stops being something you made on a Sunday afternoon with Bake-Off on in the background and becomes something you once devoured with your bare hands in a Manhattan diner on an accidental night out in 1952 with a grizzly four-piece from the Bronx after they made you smoke that funny cigarette and you all ended up sleeping in a bathtub in Greenwich Village. And that never happened, it’s just that Miles Davis makes you feel like it did. The tinker.

I’m not just casually dropping Miles Davis into a column so you can be all like “Oh, jazz lover are you, Sadie?” and do that little associative link that people make with jazz like you must either be somehow culturally enlightened, or cerebrally developed like loving Jazz is a little extra tail flicking off the end of your DNA helix, along with other genetic distinctions like being able to curl your tongue in half and loving Marmite. No. I’m not responsible for this morning’s music pick. I can’t take credit and so nor can I take the blame. I’m being pummelled by the frenetic stabs of something on the more freeform side of things and it’s making me feel a bit mental this Monday morning if I’m honest. Miles Davis is making me twitch. I’m getting about five words down at a time, nothing on the wonders of pie at all, and then glazing over staring at the turntable spinning, my eyeballs all wide and oxygen-puffed, the steady bob of the needle like a musical woodpecker chipping into my temporal lobe and meddling with the natural order in there. If there is any.

I’m not dissing though, man. I can do jazz. I like a bit of jazz. I love the dirty sounding speakeasy stuff from the twenties and thirties, I like the smooth swaying stuff of the forties, Glenn Miller is a peach, Chet Baker makes me go woozy, I’ve tapped my feet to a shedload of live jazzy stuff down the pub and haven’t even been drunk. And I’ll definitely remember this Miles Davis album for when I need to write a character who’s having an intellectual breakdown at a posh Uni or a very tumultuous love affair that ends in one of them cutting all their hair off with a bread knife and running down the street half-dressed before drowning in a stagnant canal. For that it’ll be great. Man.

Choosing an album to listen to must be one of the sweetest things in modern life, a beautiful melding of the conscious and subconscious, a fusion of choice and abandon, of change and nostalgia, celebrating an old familiar thing or discovering something new, making a new friend. But when you’re at the mercy of someone else’s choices – pub jukeboxes or moochy mornings at home with someone else at the helm of the record player – the needle becomes a rudder of your mood for the next hour, and the ride isn’t entirely yours. But it’s nice giving in to the bends and sways of someone else’s journey, your brain in the sidecar, the wind in your hair.

So I was going to write about pie but it didn’t happen. And now the record’s been switched and Carole King’s on and I feel like I could maybe write about pie after all – a sad pie – dark cherry – the kind you stuff in one go after breaking up with the love of your life – but I’ve run out of words and that’s probably just as well.

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Treehouse Built By Girls

When I found out I’d passed my 11+ I cried. All that slog had paid off. It may have taken endless revision, sitting in a hall with a bunch of kids once a year for 24 years, and latterly some serious backhanders to the local authorities, but finally, now, aged 34, I can count Key Stage 2 examination glory amongst my successes.

Not really. Passed first time, aged 10. I think my parents would have taken me back to the shop if I hadn’t so the pressure was on.

That pass marked the start of a change. Because it meant that I got into my local girls grammar school of choice, and that ultimately would find myself in the company of, well, just…girls. How would I fare without boys? I wondered.

Who was going to do all the orange squash belches after necking a Kia-Ora carton in one? Who was going to chomp Space Raiders into mulsh then flob it on whoever had the newest shoes? Would all that stuff have to stop now that I was a lady-in-training?

Well of course I fared very well. I loved my new friends, I worked harder and performed better than I ever would have if I’d had the distraction of boys once hormones kicked in, and it just became ‘normal’. Boys were creatures on the bus, they were weekend things. And there were discos with the boys school to hook me and my pals up with studs. We pretty much all took it in turns to snog the same set of boys for about three years. Value for money.

When I left my cosy girls grammar years later and went to university, I had a rude awakening. Here was I with my arms full of books, being met by men doing their flies up as they walked down the corridor. Their winkles were in there. Ugh. Here was I sitting in a lecture hall, smelling the manly composites of Lynx, yesterday’s t-shirt, and hour-old farts. Here was I suddenly conscious that someone with stubble was staring at my boobs while I squinted at lessons on the whiteboard. And then I would leave seminars to go back to my halls of residence where there were…more boys. Men. I did not live with men. It had mostly been my mum, my sister, and I since I was five. How odd it all was.
But I adapted. We all do, all the time.

Since then I have not really encountered any environments that divide the sexes like my days at school. Men are everywhere now, we’re all mixed up in the jumblesome stuff of life, and so I have similarly not had that sense of being part of a singularly girly world. Until last week.

I have been contributing to a new magazine set up by Sarah Millican, Mickey Noonan and a gang of other indomitable dudesses to challenge the material on offer in established women’s magazines that all exist largely to make us feel bad about ourselves. It’s called Standard Issue. It’s a fabulous mix of stuff by some brilliant ladies and I am very privileged to write for them. It’s been nine months – long enough to brew a baby – of hard work.

To celebrate, last week Standard Issue staged a massive gig for Comic Relief, and while watching the cream of the country’s female comedians take to the stage, I felt that feeling again. Despite there being men in the audience, it felt like the best kind of girls club. Not to the exclusion of boys – all are welcome in our treehouse – but something for, by, and of our own sex.

And it sort of felt like school, but it felt grown-up and important and inspiring, and it definitely felt like home.

Check us out if you fancy – http://www.standardissuemagazinesafe_image.phpsimag

Spat On In A Bookshop

Bookshop. Morning.

The shopgirl wipes the spittle from her face as a man in a long black coat beflecks her with the bitty remains of his Full Monty breakfast.

“No. Sorry, sir. Still no date on the new Game of Thrones book.”

“Well, can’t you have a word?”

“With George R R Martin, the author?”

“Yes.”

“No, sir. We don’t do that. We try and leave the authors to it.”

Long pause.

“Are you sure?”

A shorter pause.

“Yes. George expressly told us to stop calling. It was putting him off.”

“Oh.”

Bookshop girl awkwardly sidles out sideways grinning like a cardboard cut-out, then scurries off into a safe corner of Crime.

This is my other life. My bookshop life. I’ve worked part-time on and off in the same bookshop for eight years. It feels like home and I love it dearly, but like all homes it can get on your wick sometimes.

Like the other day, with The Sci-Fi Spittler: “I bet Caitlin Moran doesn’t have to put up with this shit”, I found myself thinking as I answered the same question for the thousandth time. “I bet Caitlin Moran doesn’t have to make excuses for lazy bestselling authors at tillpoint. I wish that George Reginald Ronnie Whatever would pull his bloody finger out.”

But Caitlin Moran doesn’t have to keep anti-bacterial wipes in her pockets in case of close-up face-flecking, because Caitlin Moran’s a proper writer and doesn’t have to sell books about dragons to elf-haired dribblers to keep her in cardigans. Because Caitlin Moran’s…well, good.

It’s hard to try and think of yourself as a proper writer when you work part-time in a bookshop. All those books, all those words. Not even one of them yours – not even one of the small rubbish ones that don’t sell. I mean, you could use all of those words if you wanted to, they belong to everyone – but the fact is you haven’t used them, not in that order, not to that end. You are not George R R Martin. No one’s coming in off the street literally (LITERALLY) every five minutes to be belligerent with a bespectacled Converse-wearing bookseller for your latest literary profferings.

Every now and then I allow myself to think I might be getting there. Getting to ‘be a proper writer’.

There are little props that help. Nice pencils and notebooks, naturally. Pockets stuffed full of half-written notes of ideas I jot down blindly inbetween book queries. Halfway through a line about some facet of human nature, when…

From nowhere a Benson & Hedges wheeze…

“‘Scuse. Has Jordan got a new fing. I might have seen it in Heat. Something about love in a car. It’s a book. Do you have those? I dunno. Anyway, where is it?”

“Katie Price doesn’t have another one lined up for a while, sorry. Maybe she’s between ghost writers. (Private bookseller chuckle.) No – no madam, don’t choke – she’s not dead. I meant… I’m sure she’ll write another one soon.”

Madam leaves looking like I have just asked her to recite Pi. I pick a scab and wonder what Zadie Smith’s up to.

There is the odd success to make you feel like you’re getting there; ‘Being a writer’. Getting funding to do your plays in Edinburgh. Getting close to the end of a book that’s driven you half-mad that you might try and find a literary agent for at some point, if only you can stop faffing and let it go. Getting asked to contribute to an exciting new magazine. Getting nominated for a columnist of the year award. But it’s easy to not let it feel real when you’re surrounded by the work of others, writers much better than yourself. (And much worse; most of Towie have slender tomes out and I’ve a feeling none of them will be making any shortlists soon – unless it’s an overlong guest list for Sugar Hut or wherever it is they go to totter about with their tits out. But that’s just the men. The women are secretly reading Naomi Wolf in the lavs.) You have to let yourself actually enjoy your successes inbetween feeling like you’re being terribly silly trying in the first place.

I’m lucky, though, in that I love my bookshop. And I love my bookshop friends. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by nice bookish people and thousands of books and all their endless inspiration and resources for a couple of days a week? Far more talented people than I are working less fun day jobs while also slogging at their less remunerative ambitions. Some of those day jobs are well paid. Some of them are not. None of these people would choose to keep their day jobs if their other careers took off. Most recently I’ve been speaking to musician friends – amazing wonderful songwriters – all working ridiculous hours to make it happen, to keep it all ticking over. Photographers and artists and writers and composers and designers and actors and illustrators too. None of them quite free to do what they feel in their souls that they should be doing with their time. We’re all doing five million things at once, feeling utterly stretched and schizophrenic, and almost none of us are without money worries. An artistic life is a gamble with few wins. There’s certainly strength to be found in talking to each other, if not much money forthcoming. Our riches come from other things, not least each others’ understanding.

I guess it’s what keeps everyone humble. And hungry. And productive.
And on occasion a teeny bit mischievous…

A customer walks in.

“When’s the…”

“New Game of Thrones book out? George just called actually. It’s not good news I’m afraid. There’s no easy way of saying this, but……..(deep intake of breath for effect) he got bored and is going to leave it there. Said something about having a great idea for a taut political thriller set in one office with a shortage of mythical creatures. I’m sorry. Er. Would you like to wipe your nose on this new Katie Price?”

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