Saturday, April 30, 2011


She got me in the face again. She does it every time I walk through the front gate, under the over-arching greenery. I forget that she would have been busy all night and would now be lying in wait for the unwary. Excuse me, lady, I live here! I have a right to walk through this gateway whenever I want to.

Oh well, she lives here too. She and her friends. Inside and outside. The one outside the back door has a harder job – more space to spin that first critical filament across from one side to the other and then to create the beautiful, intricate web that is her daily life’s work. But she doesn’t catch me so often because I can see it when I open the door and I duck.

The one that lives behind the brickwork of the hearth behind the log-burner is pretty safe. She’s messy, she leaves her corpses for me to clean up, and her web is one of those indeterminate ones – smallish, dense, dusty and squashy – but she doesn’t have to keep building it because I leave her alone. In earlier times she didn’t even have to do much catching either because my other half used to toss her the dead flies from the windowsills. She would dart out and snatch them as he flicked them at the web. She would have got a fright in the recent earthquakes though because the brickwork has been shaken loose from the wall. I hope that the re-decorators will leave her space to emerge when they’re done plugging up the cracks and crevices.

In the beachy suburb where I live we are accustomed to sharing our houses with spiders. I remember when we did some major renovations to another house a few years back and the builders “broke the house” – that is, exposed its innards. The wild life that emerged, blinking, from the dust and debris was amazing. And big. And very black. But not as big and black as the Huntsman with whom I once shared a shower in Oz. We stared at each other, she in the corner above the door and I, scrubbing as fast as I could, in the shower box.

But mostly the spiders that live in my house are regular sized and harmless enough. They catch flies. I make sure there aren’t any webs above my bed. I’d prefer they didn’t occupy my standard reading lamp, although they try. But that persistent, determined, patient arachnid at the front gate is taxing my patience. I’m tired of facefuls of sticky, invisible fibres. Every day.

Perhaps I should tack a warning to the gate to remind me of what’s lurking outside. Everyone has to eat. And that’s the only way she knows how to catch lunch.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


It’s an age thing. Or a generation thing. One person’s trendy is another person’s tacky. Taste, fashion, style, manners, even language – all have movable boundaries, are endlessly flexible, surge in and out like the tides.

At sixteen I painted my fingernails scarlet and my grandmother, had she known, might have raised a disapproving eyebrow. Much later when nail polish went from all shades of red to all shades of any colour you can think of, my own eyebrows rose a trifle. Later still, to my surprise, I chose blue when a grand-daughter wanted to paint my nails a couple of Christmases ago. If red is OK, why shouldn’t blue, green or purple be OK?

In my youth grannies had noticeably blue rinses through their stiffly permanent-waved white hair. So quaint. But recently on television I saw middle-aged women with screamingly blue and pink hair, and what’s more they were wearing really silly hats, and even worse, it was after dark. So not done a generation ago. They must have been yesterday’s punks, I decided, with a superior smirk. Punkhood does not age well. But neither do most of the fashions of the past, except when they return only slightly modified and masquerading under another label.

Mention “leopard print” and my mind flies back to 1950s London and the notorious Lady Docker. Once a dance hall hostess, she out-lived two husbands before she married Sir Bernard Docker and set off on an extravagant and ostentatious life-style that had the press and public permanently drop-jawed. Sir Bernard was chairman of this and director of that, and apparently had a cavalier way with company funds. Lady Docker had no taste but she had a glorious time with shareholders’ money and everything she did was splattered all over the nation’s newspapers. Her cars were gold-plated and upholstered with fur and skins flayed off animals. She bought the real thing and made it seem trashy.

Leopard skin looks better on leopards, and leopard print, in 1950, equalled cheap and was worn only by ageing, busty barmaids (surely an extinct species). Now it’s trendy, and I am ready to be converted. After all, I changed my mind about fake fur when – briefly – it came in day-glo colours and was made of nylon. It wasn’t pretending to be something it wasn’t, and it was fun. I also changed my mind about wearing high heels and jewelry with pants – why not, I said, and piled on the bling. Perhaps there is a pinch of Lady Docker in most of us.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


My snake ring is not valuable but it is precious. It is not beautiful but it is eye-catching, quirky, unusual. It is made of heavy silver, and the snake’s head peers over its tail with beady eyes that may or may not be sapphires. The ring is a little too big for my finger, and recently I wore it at a family lunch – our second, very late, Christmas lunch complete with turkey and presents – and went home without it.

I suspected that it had dropped off into the box of paper rubbish that we collected after we had opened our glittery parcels. The rubbish had then been piled into the yellow bin – a large, rather full bin – for recycling and by the time I realised this, I was home and the family had scattered. I resigned myself to the idea that the ring was lost.

It had been given to me by my Significant Other who, unlike me, loved shopping. I wouldn’t notice a tempting article even if it was highlighted in a shop window with stars twinkling around it shouting “buy me!” My Significant Other was made of more discerning stuff and had an eye for interesting things. He also had great taste.

We had progressed beyond exchanging presents on birthdays or at Christmas, but the Significant Other didn’t let that stop him shopping. One of his pleasures was to come home with something, unexpectedly and for no particular reason, that he thought would please me. Usually it did, although once it was a particularly ugly two dollar teddy bear with its tongue hanging out. He saw it in his mind’s eye with a stud in that lolling tongue and couldn’t resist it. I often threatened to throw it out but never could – and now I never would. It sits on my bedroom sofa with its insolent tongue still studless and sometimes I poke mine out in return as I pass.

However the Significant Other was particularly tempted by rings. Not diamonds or rubies, but rings that caught his eye in junk shops. Every one is precious because of the thought behind it, and the snake ring was one of these. But it was lost in a heap of bright paper – or so I thought.

Then one day it appeared on top of the family’s letterbox – distorted and flattened. Clearly it had slipped off on the drive and been run over, unnoticed, and found later by a neighbour. It has now been carefully, meticulously restored to roundness – not quite perfect, but its imperfections are honourable scars that I wouldn’t be without. They are partly what makes it precious.

Friday, April 8, 2011


… That which we call a rose, by any other name …” would be inappropriate, seeing that I am casting about for a name for a male character. Not just any male character but the leading man. In my half-finished novel. Which has been in the bottom drawer for, oh, ten years or so. Abandoned. Derelict. Bo-o-o-ring. Rather like the character’s current name.

(Think. How about Adam? Boris? Charles? Dougal? Edwin? …) The four people who read the first thirteen chapters have stopped nagging me to finish the novel. No stamina. A fifth reader has recently popped up, read all thirteen chapters in one go, and has taken over the nagging. I feel a stirring of interest and I’m tempted. But, ten years on, everything needs changing: the style, the pace, the language – and the name of the leading character.

(… Malcolm? Norman? Odin? …) Reading through the manuscript so far, and after so long, I can see that the story itself has a fairly decent basic structure. Alright, it needs kicking along a bit but that sort of tinkering can come later with the revision process. And I happen to like tinkering. As long as there is plenty of material to play with, I can make adjustments, cut and polish until the manuscript is gleaming. And the plot, so far, holds up – yes, there is a plot in this novel, there has to be, it’s that kind of novel. But if I am to re-activate it, and believe in it enough to finish it, I have to start in a small way, by giving the wretched leading man a new name. It’s a bit like changing one’s hair colour, or buying a new pair of shoes – a fillip (… Philip? …), something to ginger things up and get me going in a fresh new direction.

I don’t know yet if this manuscript is any good, but I’ll never find out if I don’t finish it. The leading man (Thomas? Ullrich? …) has to wake up and assert his authority, get a move on, do something. Maybe that’s the problem – he’s not very alive yet. The name of the leading character in a work of fiction is important in that respect. It has to reflect the persona that has been created for him or her, and the character has to stand out and be significantly alive. The name has to sound right in context and not clash with other names. And it can’t be anything like, say, Adolph or Hannibal, that might carry unfortunate connotations. Connor? Now there’s a thought. Yes – I think – Connor! Connor Page. That’s a definite maybe, as Sam Goldwyn may or may not have said.

P.S. Fifth Reader has vetoed "Connor" for a variety of very good reasons and the new name for the character is Daniel - I think - at the moment - unless ...