Breaking Up with a Little Help from Oasis

Journalist Harriet and charity worker Sanjay are two characters from my novel Hampstead Fever. Here’s what happened one afternoon.

“I’ve been thinking,” said Sanjay.

Another bad sign. Harriet already knew something was wrong before he came up to the flat. He normally looked full-on at the camera in the entryphone and gave a cheery wave or said, ‘I’m here with a friend. Can we interest you in a copy of The Watchtower?’ 

Today he’d ducked. He never ducked.

She buzzed him in. Then he sat next to her on the sofa, had the cup of tea she’d made him, and told her he’d been thinking. All the while, Be Here Now was playing. It had been one of her favourite albums for over fifteen years, but from now on she would always hate the Gallagher brothers and their grating Mancunian accents.

“Why, Sanjay?” It was the only thing she could think of. FreeImages.com/Thiago Felipe Festa

At first he stared at his feet. “Look. When we met, I thought I was a goner. Now I’ve got my life back, and… Well, I guess I want to be single for a bit.”

“I knew it!”  She’d even told him so about two years ago, as she reminded him. “We should have talked.”

He had the decency to look upset. “Yes, we should have. But we can’t seem to talk the way we used to.”

“Have we even tried?”

“I don’t know.”

Until October 25, you can get the kindle version of Hampstead Fever for just 99p/$1.30 right here. Or even right now.

Did a break-up ever put you up a particular piece of music? I’d love to hear from you.

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#TBT: Dating 1940s Style

The past is indeed a different country, especially when it’s in a different country. On this Throwback Thursday, I’m reminded how tough, and expensive, it could be to date in the 1940s.

by Jacqueline Cooper

This was Alexandria after World War Two. My parents, who had just met, struggled to find time alone together to indulge in illicit pleasures like a cup of coffee or a chocolate éclair. Here are my mother’s reminiscences.

Sightless, armless, legless, moving around on small wooden boards with wheels, or accompanied by a child or a barefoot woman in a black robe with bangles round her ankles, beggars were part of my earliest memories. They were everywhere we went. We knew them, and they knew us.

Portly one-legged Ahmed had taken up domicile outside my grandparents’ house on rue Fouad in downtown Alexandria. He was outside other people’s homes too, but he liked my grandparents’ house best. He and Mohammed the porter would sit side by side on a bench on the pavement chatting about this and that.

Not only did Ahmed know by name everyone who went in and out of my grandparents’ home, he could get about more quickly on his one good leg than most people could by car. Having just seen me leave my grandparents’, he would be waiting outside Pastroudis, a favourite café of the English, before I had even had time to get out of my Fiat.

Pastroudis in Alexandria

That evening, at a cocktail party at the other end of town, Ahmed was there. He stood, a broad smile on his unshaven face, and a white carnation in the buttonhole of a coat that had been a hand-me-down from one of my uncles and was now grubby and frayed.

Holding a necklace of fresh jasmine, he hobbled over to greet me like a perfect host, as if he lived in the beautiful home where the lights shone and where Glenn Miller’s tunes filled the air.

“For you, oh Princess!” He offered the jasmine necklace in the manner of a grand seigneur.

“May Allah keep you,” I said to him, opening my purse to give him baksheesh.

In a stage whisper Ahmed said, “Where’s the handsome English captain I saw you with at Pastroudis this afternoon?” His eyes studied me as I blushed. “Ah, I swear on the Prophet that the English are very good people. Very generous!”

I doubled the baksheesh. I’d kept the rendez-vous a secret from my parents. It was going to be hardier and costlier to keep it from Ahmed.

by Jacqueline Cooper

“Single Mother of Four Seeks Man with Pulse”

“I was going to specify GSOH and plump wallet. Among other things,” says Rose, her wine glass poised in the air as she gives a meaningful look. “But then I thought: you can’t be too picky.”

“You are so NOT going to compose a lonely hearts ad for me.” Karen crosses her arms for emphasis.

Karen is a newly single mother of four from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. And Rose, as you can guess, is a well-meaning friend who’s sitting in her kitchen dispensing advice.

kitchen

“Well, how are you going to meet anyone?” asks Rose.

Good question. Certainly not at the Tupperware club. That’s what the local mums call the evenings they spend together moaning about the price of school blazers or discussing how to get grass stains out of their kids ’ gym kit. There is no Tupperware, but there is plenty to drink.

red wine

Not at her children’s school, either. As it is, the one male teacher has to fend off the attentions of every single mother, especially when he’s in PE shorts.

“I don’t suppose there was any talent at the tyre place last week?” Rose’s eyes light up briefly.

Karen shakes her head. “One spotty youth in a beanie, and that roly-poly one who can barely squeeze himself under a car.”

Since when has Karen’s world become so divided along gender lines?  Since the children, that’s when. It has got worse with every one of her four kids.  Now it is as if feminism never existed.

She tries to explain this, but Rose doesn’t get it at all. “You’re not going all Mary Portas on us now, are you? Not that there’s anything wrong with being a late-flowering lesbian, I suppose. Got any more Merlot?”

Karen is giving this search her best shot. She never leaves the house without lipstick, when she remembers.  Even for shopping she wears her best clothes, which are her latest finds from Oxfam and the Red Cross shop.

shopping trolley

From previous experience, she reckons Sainsbury’s is hardly a great place to pull, except maybe a shopping trolley. But you never know, do you?

Yesterday she made Mr Jellicoe’s heart beat a little faster in the supermarket carpark.  

old persons crossingThere he was, looking like the man in the Elderly People Crossing sign, with a humungous carrier bag that clanked as he shuffled along. He still had his Lambrini habit then. He recognized Karen and got so close she could see his dentures moving. So she said she had to run. Which she did, like the wind.

Rose drains her glass. “You know what?”

Karen says nothing. ‘You know what?’ usually presages a really, really bad idea.

“I’ve got my cousin coming to stay next month. He’s a widower, and he’s not short of a few bob either. I don’t know why I didn’t think of him before.”

“What does he look like?” asks Karen, mostly to show interest.

“Actually, he’s not bad. I think you’ll really like him.”

Karen refills her glass. Yes, another really, really bad idea. But what’s there to lose? 

How to Be Single AND Happy on Valentine’s Day

Even if the whole world is loved up and you’re not, you don’t have to be a sad singleton on Valentine’s Day, according to my friend and colleague Christine Webber. She’s a psychotherapist who’s just updated her book Get the Happiness Habit, so you can expect her to know what she’s talking about. Here’s what she has to say…

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When you’re single, February 14 can feel like a nightmare – being one of those dates that loom large and trip you up emotionally. It’s nearly as bad as having to go to your sister’s wedding when you’re heartbroken after a relationship break up, or being forced into a family Christmas where relatives invariably – and loudly – ask if you’ve got a boyfriend.

On Valentine’s Day, everyone seems to be flaunting their flowers, their cards, and their plans for the perfect evening. Not surprisingly, you can easily allow yourself to feel a romantic failure in comparison.

But here’s the thing. How insecure, or unfeeling, must your boss be about her relationship if she has to have a Valentine’s bouquet delivered to reception rather to her own home? Maybe she sent it herself? And how many of your friends are going to be seriously out of pocket after a poorly-cooked dinner in an overrated and crowded restaurant? People’s expectations of Valentine’s Day are stratospheric; so much so that they’re nearly always disappointed. Well, you have no expectations. And no need to spend a fortune. So your situation’s not all bad!

paint the kitchen

Why not stay home on Valentine’s Day and paint the kitchen or something? But then go out with a bunch of happy, single friends on the 15th when everything is saner, cheaper and roomier.

Here’s something else to ponder. Most of us – in our fast-changing world – are going to be single from time to time. And it’s important that we view these periods of our lives as viable and productive – and not just as some sort of limbo till we fall for someone new. Individuals who place too much importance on the value of relationships are often guilty of believing that their single life can never be anything than a dilute version of the joys of coupledom.

heart in the sand

This is dangerous thinking – particularly when people believe that they must have a partner in order to be happy. When they have those thoughts and beliefs they’re anxious about relationships even when they’re in one – because they’re constantly terrified that it might end. That anxiety generally manifests itself as neediness, which is hugely demanding on any spouse and damaging to the relationship.

Christine WebberSo, this February, have a think about what being happy means to you.  And make sure that there is plenty about your single life that is contented and joyous even though – at present – you have no romantic liaison.

When people take responsibility for their own happiness, rather than expect someone else to provide it for them – they become more mentally healthy, resilient and optimistic.

Of course, having a warm, loving partner is going to augment your levels of happiness, but he or she should not be responsible for it.

Happy Valentine’s Day! 

Get the Happiness Habit front (2)Thank you very much, Christine.

For more insights and advice on being happy, see Christine’s book Get the Happiness Habit.

You may also like to read her guest post on How to Mend a Broken Heart.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, I’ve never seen Christine look glum.  

The Not-so-Secret Game of Sevens

I’ve been tagged by alternative historical fiction author Alison Morton in a game of Lucky Sevens. 

It’s a bit of online fun for writers that pulls us out of our sheds, studios or beds where we sit scribbling away for hours on end and lets us reveal a little of our current work in progress.

That’s almost word for word what Alison said in her blog.  I’d love to go the whole hog and copy all of her fiction writing so I too can enjoy her amazing success, but back at school the nuns drilled into me that envy was A Bad Thing and that plagiarism was even worse, and the two together were The Devil’s Work and would ensure I never met St Peter.  Ever.  So I’m only copying a little eeny bit of Alison’s homework.

Here’s how the writers’ Game of Sevens goes:

Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
Go to line 7
Post on your blog approximately the next 7 lines or sentences – as they are!!
Tag 7 other people to do the same

Now, a lot of people have already done this, so I’m not tagging automatically, but I’m inviting any writers who read this to dare to do the same.  Just let me know if you do and I’ll add your name to this post (free advert!).

Alison posted seven lines from AURELIA, based in Roma Nova and the Germanic Federation state of Prussia and set in the 1960/70s. As I said, I’m not a complete plagiarist, so you’ll have to go to her blog to read her excerpt.

My seven or so lines are from my forthcoming novel CAMDEN PASSAGE. It’s set in London and follows on from my novel ONE NIGHT AT THE JACARANDA:

Dan had never been on radio before. And this was live. Which explained why his heart was leaping around in his chest long before he arrived in the studio. satellite dish

The building had a massive atrium that was all shiny marble and glass. So this was where the license fee went. No wonder they weren’t paying guests anything.

He’d made a tray of his new monkfish parcels. They’d be OK cold, especially with a light garnish of red amaranth. Each one was roughly bite-sized, with a toothpick through the middle.

A woman in the lobby barely looked up from her desk to tell him to take a seat. It was the kind of seat designed to make you uncomfortable. So there he sat, balancing out the foil-covered tray on his knees, staring at a bank of silent TV screens for what seemed like ages. Lucky old people on TV.

Well, not that lucky, because one of the programmes was a hilarious reality show in which children were meant to humiliate their parents. Dan supposed Jack would do much the same when he stopped being a cute little baby and grew into an egregious adolescent.

Egregious. It was Dan’s word of the day. He rolled it around in his mouth, still not sure he’d use it on air.

Let me know if you too want to take part of the writers’ Not-So-Secret Game of Sevens.

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO and PERFIDITASThird in series SUCCESSIO is out now

How to Go Up in the World in Just Four Steps

Now that Dan’s out, he’s on the up. going up in the worldFirst off, he needs to find work.  The snag?  How to explain away six years at Her Majesty’s pleasure.  Inventing a job abroad might fill that big gap on his CV.  Lucky he’s got a good imagination.  You don’t get very far without one, in his experience.

Dan is one of the characters from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda.  In this post I’m letting him out to share his current MO with you.

Dan needs to learn stuff.  That’s step two.  He reads a quality paper every day now. Cover to cover.  At the public library, if it hasn’t already been nicked.  Or he might find one in a bin.  Some days he has to pay for one.  newspapers

And he listens.  You can learn a lot from people, especially when they don’t even realise what they’re saying.  That’s when you discover things.

He chooses his own words carefully.  From a dictionary he got at the charity shop.  That’s step three: not sounding like a lag anymore.  Course, when you’re inside you want to sound like everyone else, because bad things are even more likely to happen when you don’t fit in.

Oxford Reference Dictionary

A lot of his new words are adjectives.  Easier to slip into conversation than nouns.  How the fuck would you shoe-horn a word like behemoth into a chat with the bint on the till at Iceland?  Yesterday he just about managed to use contiguous.

definition of contiguous

That was when the old biddy behind him pushed her shopping right up next to his on the belt.  He’d have let her go first, especially seeing as she only had a pint of milk and a packet of Rich Teas, but then he wouldn’t have been able to say contiguous. So he just put a divider up on the belt.

Today’s word of the day is egregious.  Means outstandingly bad, but so far he’s only managed to use it once, even though he waited an age for the 16 bus and when he got on it ponged of rotten fish.  Which is about as egregious as it can get.

Fourth and most important of all:  he’s looking for a woman.  Nobody said these four steps would be easy, but he’s got a good feeling in his bones.

Yep, there too.