Tuesday, 30 March 2010

My book for the Orange Prize?

I must remember this every time I wonder about whether I should pursue the printing and sale of my book. For only the sale of 188 copies I could be long-listed for the Orange Prize. 

With enough bullying and bribery I think I could find enough friends to manage that!

Perhaps I need to have the right friends?

In all seriousness, it just goes to show how difficult it is to get a book into the market place, even an excellent one (which I am sure Clare Clark's is). It is only when you have established yourself, or managed to find a niche market, that it can be more comfortable to make a living as an author. 

It is often quoted that the average writer earns £5000 per annum, which is hardly enough to retire to the Bahamas on. Shame, though, because I was looking forward to seeing out my years lazing on a beach in the Caribbean...

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

African accounts

Thoughts on a place I used to work

I am sitting at my desk, tapping figures into a spreadsheet. I am the privileged one: I have the biggest desk and the only laptop. On the other side of the room Maggie and Winnie write up their accounts longhand, in pencil in the massive ledgers. These ladies are my rock and support, people with all the answers I need to the history of the organisation and its finances. They carry on in the way they have done for years and in all reality they would be better with bigger desks so they could spread out. Glancing at the piles of papers that surround me, I am in no hurry to reduce my working area: I need all the space I can get.

The windows are open, light cotton curtains fluttering in the breeze. The cooling air is welcome to counter the heat from the tropical sun. Mid-morning is still warm, and by this afternoon the sun will be streaming in through the glass on my left, baking us for the last three hours of work. Out of habit, I reach for my two-litre bottle of filtered water and take a long, refreshing draft.

From outside I can hear the sound of the school children laughing and shouting to each other: it must be break-time. They run and skip over the parched earth, red dust prevailing over the scratchy grass. There is an attempt at a play area with a climbing frame, swing and roundabout made by the local metalworkers. The primary-coloured paint has faded and largely worn away; the feet have sunk into the ground during repeated rainy seasons and the resulting angles are concerning. It is not a school I would be happy to send my child to, which saddens me greatly. These beautiful children will (in my eyes) get a sub-standard level of education because they cannot afford the luxuries of the international school that my son attends. Then again: these children are getting an education, and many in Africa do not.

I sigh, and return to my work. Somehow these books have to balance. Somehow I have to persuade all the other staff that cash cannot be available just at the click of a finger. Somehow I have to bring some order into their chaos, if only to satisfy the Western donors who fund their relief and development efforts. And fund my job.

Yet I am white: the outsider, the novice in the country. How can I understand what they go through? I don't have to work 8-5, and then go home to work more hours as a seamstress or carpenter in order to make ends meet. I don't have to feed an extended family, the children of my brothers and sisters who have succumbed to The Disease. I don't understand the need for travel allowances, payments to the local chief, the perks of being invited to a conference. It is all a far cry from working for a Big Four accountancy firm in the City of London.

On the outside, I provide confidence for the funders and hope for my colleagues. Inside, I flounder and panic, wondering what I have let myself in for. After all, no sane person would choose to be an accountant in the ninth most corrupt country in the world... would she?

Monday, 22 March 2010

Hidden treasure

Part of the joy of refurbishment is not knowing what you will find. Whilst our house is gradually being dismantled, the builders found this writing underneath wallpaper in the spare bedroom. 

Presumably it was last decorated in 1959 - over fifty years ago. If that is true, the wallpaper was holding up well. If it referred to a previous papering, nevertheless it is an interesting piece of history. I wonder whether H Oakley is still around today?

It reminds me of a tongue-in-cheek (I hope!) piece of advice I heard recently. Before wallpapering a room, buy some blood-red paint and write on the wall "I WILL KILL AGAIN". I suspect my equivalent in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years' time would have a wildly exciting blog post to read then!

It is quite a tradition to leave your mark, much like the stonemasons did in carving their faces in the decorations of cathedrals and stately homes, or wood-carvers did with their initials in the details of screens and decorations. I will be intrigued to find out what our builders write on the wall to be uncovered in the future. 

Old houses give up so much of their past and we are determined to maintain as many of our house's quirks as possible. There is an old doorbell in the hallway (painted over many, many times) that we wish to keep as it probably dates from the 1930s when the original house was built. We'd like to keep the deep skirting boards and the coving (which is probably not original, but of a simple style that feels in keeping with the inter-war period). Stripping the wallpaper has revealed that there were picture rails in most of the rooms, which we'd like to reinstate.

In contrast, the back end of the house, where the previous extensions have been built, is to be more modern in style. This is where there will be large windows overlooking the garden; this is where we will have clean, sharp lines and our open-plan living space. Whether we'll ever be capable of keeping our house in the minimalist style I picture in my head I don't know - it rather goes against the natural habits of our family! 

I am so excited now the works are finally underway. It is such a relief to be progressing, even if there are already hitches (our kitchen appears to be 60cm smaller than the architect's drawings, for example...) but I am actually challenged and energised by them, rather than despondent and despairing. Remind me of that last sentence when things get more difficult in weeks to come... 

Hopefully we will be able to leave some history in the house that future generations will uncover and enjoy. We may only be planning for the next 20 years, but we hope the house will remain a family home for many more decades to come. 

For those who are interested, here are some before and after photos from just a week of the build.




There is still a long way to go...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

There's no going back!

I fear my blog will now become 'Building Blog' or, more likely, 'Withenay wobbles'. As of Monday the renovation of our house began.

The last couple of weeks have been a mad scramble to find rented accommodation, and pack, and move, and get our home ready for the builders. As you could tell from my last post, this was stressing me out. Things are on a more even keel now and the serious work of making our aged house into a home fit for the 21st century has begun. 

On Monday morning, as I walked the kids to school, there was a portaloo in the driveway: seriously, that was the first thing they moved onto the site! I realised there was no going back when this arrived in the back garden mid-morning:

By the end of the day a skip had also arrived. Better still, it is now lined with the remnants of this:

And the men set to work removing the wallpaper, so now this too doesn't exist:

... nor this ...

...nor this ...

We know all this as we watch the skip fill up on our walks to and from school. I shall be back on site tomorrow, hopefully, to take some pictures of our denuded home. In theory, all the work will be finished by the end of July - indeed, the site manager told me he's aiming to finish a week early, which is all very well given he threatened November in an earlier conversation! 

Until then we are enjoying our rented home. Although we are surrounded by boxes and I still don't know where any paperwork is (although I have found my daughter's spelling book, which is a relief), we do have a couple of exciting facilities:

1  A dishwasher. This was the best incentive to get my son to tidy his room before moving. "The sooner we move the sooner we'll have a dishwasher and then you won't have to do any drying up." Boy, did he move quickly! (Clearly he now has to fill and empty the dishwasher, but it is a less arduous task!)

2  A cooker. Better, a range cooker. Having survived for nearly ten months on a single hob and a microwave, the mammoth machine in the rented house is eye-watering! It has seven hobs and three ovens, I believe. I'm totally in awe of it ... and still can't get my head around the fact I could put two pans on the hob at the same time. And I could bake cookies, or cakes, or anything. Wow!

But now I must go and finish unpacking a couple more boxes. I am determined our temporary home will be set straight by the end of the weekend (even if my only contribution is to find the bottom of the ironing basket...)

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Back after the interval

Please forgive me, little blog and friends.

The world is going crazy. The children's hectic social lives still whirl around and I, mother taxi, whirl with them. Husband is working beyond 10pm most nights. I have a service to prepare for Sunday on a topic I know nothing about. Yet despite this, our house renovation is due to start soon and I have a week to finalise the rental of another home and move into it. And yes - that does mean pack, pack, pack and hope that I'll never need the things in storage.

I am stressed beyond comprehension, in all reality. There are other matters that have arisen, and even our imminent (and much needed) holiday is threatened. I don't want to go into details but nothing in my life seems to be going according to plan. At least, not my plan...

So, forgive me if there is radio silence for a bit. I will be back, but a little space is needed so that this blog can be a release of stress, rather than a cause of it. And anyway, I've yet to organise the transfer of the broadband to the new address. Add it to my 'to do' list ... !
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