An Epiphany

Twelfth Night looms and Harriet cannot wait for all traces of Christmas to be gone.  

Christmas tree

Simon packs every single decoration off the tree into its rightful place in its box. Only he knows where this is, so all Harriet can do is make tea. It’s Lapsang Souchong, brewed in a pot because he always says it tastes better that way.

Freelance journalist Harriet is a character from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda.

On the first day of Christmas, Simon gave her a cashmere and silk jumper, but it’s not nearly as soft as Pushkin was.  

Pushkin

On the second day of Christmas, they had turkey drumsticks and leftover roast potatoes which, Simon reminded her, had not been as crisp on the day as they could have been. 

Of course they weren’t. The heart went out of Christmas several years ago.

The tree survived well, but that was because there was no Pushkin to climb its branches or bat the baubles off.

“It’s just ailurophobia” she’d told Simon at first.  But it wasn’t fear of cats.  His breathing was really bad, beyond the help of inhalers, pills and sprays, and there was a tissue permanently attached to his nose.  She tried products to keep down fur and dander, to no avail.  It would have to be the RSPCA or the Mayhew Home. What alternative was there?

It was December 18. Simon got the cat basket out of the cupboard and Pushkin promptly fled under the bed. 

“He’s gone into the bedroom!” cried Simon. “Now I’ll be wheezing all night.”

“Well, he won’t be here much longer, will he?” Harriet retorted.

Pushkin emerged warily, though not warily enough.

“Grab him, Harriet.  I’d rather not touch him.”

Harriet picked him up and kissed the soft places behind his ears.  It was too awful to let him go. “It’s raining,” she pointed out.  “Pushkin hates rain.”

“Put a towel over the basket if you’re so concerned.” 

cat basket

The car was parked two streets away.  Simon went to get it, but he drew the line at driving to the shelter.  “I’d rather not spend the next hour sitting a foot away from him.”

Harriet lugged the basket downstairs and into the car.  As Simon got out of the driver’s side, he warned, “Don’t bottle now, Harriet.”  He may as well have added it was only a cat.

Harriet negotiated the traffic out of London.  She thought the RSPCA place off the A1(M) would be best, as there’d be more chance of finding him a suitable home in a rural area.  Plus with a shelter that far she’d be less tempted to rush back and adopt Pushkin herself.

She got stuck in a fierce bottle-neck on the A41, trapped between a bus and a Chelsea tractor surely bound for Brent Cross. When she finally moved off, a van driver nearly clipped the wing of the Peugeot.

Harriet had transferred the basket to the passenger seat.  Pushkin yowled and stared at her through the grating with huge eyes.

“Come on, big boy,” she said, her voice catching.  “Everything’s going to be fine.” 

Her words failed to reassure a stressed Pushkin, and the car filled with an unmistakeable aroma.  Fresh dog turds occasionally smell of coffee grounds. Cat shit, on the other hand, only ever smells of one thing.

Harriet wept openly on arrival.  The kindness of the RSPCA staff only made things worse.

“My partner’s allergic to cats,” Harriet explained. 

“Has the cat had any health problems?” the girl asked.

“Well, he has a slight irritable bowel.”  What kind of luck was it to have a fastidious boyfriend and a cat with loose motions? 

Tears streaming, she left Pushkin and a large donation and returned to the car with the empty basket.  

The potatoes had been soggy and the turkey tasteless ever since.  

roast potatoes

As the last bauble goes into the box, Harriet thinks of this year’s Christmas message from the Queen and its theme of reconciliation.  She wonders whether it can ever apply to them.

***

Twelfth Night marks the end of Christmas for many people, but in the Eastern Orthodox Church Christmas isn’t until January 7. That means there’s still time to enjoy the Christmas Party Blog Hop devised by Helen Hollick. My own contribution is below, and you’ll find about 25 other bloggers taking part too.

2014-ChristmasPartyBlogHop

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How to Be a Party Animal

Christmas parties come in many shapes and sizes. This one had four legs. The Mayhew Home’s Tinsel & Tails extravaganza at St Paul’s Church, London W6 was a red carpet affair with candle-light, chilled fizz and celebs galore.  We had a fabulous time. I also gleaned valuable tips on being the ultimate Christmas party animal.

Dress up for the occasion. Ditch the much-loved blanket and get into some glad rags, like Rufus and Bobby.   

photo by Bonnie Baker

photo of Bobby and Rufus by Bonnie Baker

Here’s Evie in a red frock, a classic choice for Christmas.  

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2 Get some humans to volunteer for something eg giving readings and drawing raffles

At this year’s Tinsel & Tails, Sylvia Syms and Beatie Edney did a mother-and-daughter routine, assisted by their Mayhew dogs Bunny and Billie. Peter Egan, fresh from guesting on Downton Abbey, read poetry while his pooches provided vocal encouragement.

3 Have a bit of a sing-song.  Georgian choir Maspindzeli sang a few numbers, while The Great British Bark-Off competed at the back of the church.

4 Don’t invite cats. They always climb the tree and raid the buffet.

5  Make sure there’s plenty to drink. You don’t want to run out of the good stuff halfway through.

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6 Watch out for gate-crashers. Big stars like Bill Bailey get their own bodyguard.  

security

7 Have fun, but remember the true meaning of Christmas.  When CEO Caroline Yates outlined the Mayhew’s work at home and abroad in countries such as Russia and Afghanistan, there was scarcely a dry eye in the house.  

Some less fortunate souls didn’t get to go the ball.

Amaruq (photo from The Mayhew)

You can find out more about 17-month old Siberian Husky Amaruq by clicking here.

Alfie Moon (photo from The Mayhew)

Alfie Moon had to live rough for years. But he’s a gentle boy who likes the quiet life. Find out more here.

Rambo

Rambo (photo from The Mayhew)

Despite his name, Rambo is a sweet 4-year old cat who likes having his cheeks rubbed. Find out more here.

Honey (photo from The Mayhew)

Honey is a 9-month old female Staffy crossbreed who arrived at The Mayhew because her owner was no longer able to look after her. She’s active, with a sensitive side. Find out more here.

Merry Christmas, one and all, and here’s hoping all these dogs and cats find forever homes in 2015.

dog-tired

As you can see, Evie is now partied out, but you’re invited to continue the Christmas Party Blog Hop with my fine blogger friends. Big thanks to Helen Hollick whose brainchild it is.  Now follow on below for more fun. Look carefully. There’s even some party swag in there. 

2014-ChristmasPartyBlogHop

  1. Helen Hollick: You are Cordially Invited to a Ball (plus a giveaway prize)
  2. Alison Morton: Saturnalia surprise – a winter party tale (plus a giveaway prize)
  3. Andrea Zuvich: No Christmas For You! The Holiday Under Cromwell
  4. Ann Swinfen: Christmas 1586 – Burbage’s Company of Players Celebrates
  5. Anna Belfrage: All I want for Christmas (plus a giveaway)
  6. Clare Flynn:  A German American Christmas
  7. Debbie Young:  Good Christmas Housekeeping (plus a giveaway prize)
  8. Derek Birks:  The Lord of Misrule – A Medieval Christmas Recipe for Trouble
  9. Edward James: An Accidental Virgin and An Uninvited Guest 
  10. Fenella J. Miller: Christmas on the Home front (plus a giveaway prize)
  11. J. L. Oakley:  Christmas Time in the Mountains 1907 (plus a giveaway prize)
  12. Jude Knight: Christmas at Avery Hall in the Year of Our Lord 1804
  13. Julian Stockwin: Join the Party
  14. Juliet Greenwood: Christmas 1914 on the Home Front (plus a giveaway)
  15. Lauren Johnson:  Farewell Advent, Christmas is come – Early Tudor Festive Feasts
  16. Lucienne Boyce: A Victory Celebration
  17. Nancy Bilyeau:  Christmas After the Priory (plus a giveaway prize)
  18. Nicola Moxey: The Feast of the Epiphany, 1182
  19. Peter St John:  Dummy’s Birthday
  20. Regina Jeffers: Celebrating a Regency Christmas (plus a giveaway prize)
  21. Richard Abbott: The Hunt – Feasting at Ugarit
  22. Saralee Etter: Christmas Pudding – Part of the Christmas Feast
  23. Stephen Oram: Living in your dystopia: you need a festival of enhancement…(plus a giveaway prize)
  24. Suzanne Adair: The British Legion Parties Down for Yule 1780 (plus a giveaaway prize)
  25. Lindsay Downs: O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree 

Thank you for joining in, and see you in the New Year.

Easy tweet: “How to Be a Party Animal by with & other bloggers”

 

The Hack’s Progress

Harriet has been a journalist for 16 years. At first, she hoped to become a household name.  

Household names

Now, as she sits in Starbucks, her goal is more mundane: to pay Simon back. Her boyfriend put a roof over her head and this new laptop in front of her. Still, it would be nice to be invited to speak at an Editorial Intelligence Breakfast Salon.  Or just contribute to a trending topic on Twitter, ideally in the same week that it’s trending.

Simon does not approve of Starbucks, or, as he puts it, ‘all that it stands for’. Harriet’s view is less complex. It stands on the corner and it’s a place to work.

Whenever Harriet thinks her career’s going OK, she brings herself back down to earth. What kind of household name would pen features like “What your loo roll says about you”?  

What does your loo roll say about you

That was at least easier than some of the other features. The commissioning editor of RightHere! magazine, a terrifying Glaswegian woman, once wanted a really fun piece on women who’d traded their baby for a Hermes handbag. When Harriet’s jaw dropped, the editor assured her there were zillions of women out there that would feel unconditional love for a Birkin, hen. Especially since it wouldn’t poop and cry all night, and it certainly wouldn’t tell them it hated them in 12 years time.

Harriet knows all about ‘really fun’ pieces.  After making a zillion phone calls and pestering everyone on Facebook, she still ends up without any case studies willing to give their real names and photos, let alone women young, slim and blonde enough. Editors always claim to know their readers, but Harriet doubts if any of them are smart sassy under-40s. RightHere! magazine could probably keep 99% of its readers happy with knitting patterns and offers on cod liver oil.      

Instead Harriet asked “Could it be a Mulberry bag?”

The editor was withering.  “Are ye daft?  Nobody would do that.”

Christmas is coming up and Starbucks has gone all red and green.  This time of year makes Harriet blue so she tries to keep busy. She is up to her eyes in her piece Great Gifts for Under £10.  These are remarkably similar to Great Gifts Over £10, except for the quality.

She wonders about covering Fabulous Festive Gifts Over a Grand, but doesn’t think PR companies will send over the freebies she has in mind. 

freebies over a grand

By now most titles have Christmas sewn up, but there’s always the chance of a last minute request.

The editor at RightHere! will probably ring her with a really fun festive feature idea.  All Harriet would have to do is find three women who’ve had an immaculate conception. They’d have to give their real names and be photographed, of course.  And it would a bonus if their partners are carpenters. 

***

Harriet is a freelance journalist from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. This weekend you can read more about her and other single Londoners for only 99p (UK Kindle edition). And let’s face it, what could you get at Starbucks for 99p?

The 12 Quotes of Christmas

Right now you can hardly turn around without hearing the word Christmas, usually accompanied by lame puns on seasonal words like holly and merry, and the lazy journalist’s headline The 12 whatever-they-are, even if those particular whatever-they-are have nothing to do with Christmas.  Well, I’m not about to get left behind in this frantic festive scramble, so here are my 12 favourite quotes.  Just in the St Nick of time.

If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. And if they don’t, they never were.”  Khalil Gibran

“What we’re saying today is that you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.” Eldridge Cleaver

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”  Nelson Mandela

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”  Vincent van GoghMLK crop

“If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” Martin Luther King, Jr

“True friends stab you in the front.”  Oscar Wilde

‘There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”   W. Somerset Maugham

“I still have my feet on the ground, I just wear better shoes.” Oprah Winfrey

“Stupid is as stupid does.”  Forrest Gump

“I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry.”  John Cage

“You cannot predict the future.”  Stephen Hawking

and that’s why you probably didn’t expect this 12th quote

يوم عسل يوم بصل

This anonymous Arabic quote translates as “One day honey, another day onions” and I think it nicely encapsulates the bittersweet nature of life.

What are your favourite quotes?

Seven Days as a Novelist

Thanksgiving Day 2013 and my novel comes out after spending years getting ready. 

front cover reduced

First cover of my novel

Day One is great:  congratulations arrive on Facebook, in cards and by email.   I don’t have a launch party but I go to Women in Journalism’s Christmas bash.   Everyone can see that I’m floating about 6″ off the ground.  That’s because I’m wearing red suede heels like these.

By Day Two, I’m seeing stars in the form of my first review.  Five stars to be exact, and from an author I respect hugely.  I tell all my friends, which means I post the news on Twitter.  Writers lose their real friends because they spend all their time writing. 

On Day Three I see a neighbour who wants to know all about my book. When I explain how she can buy a copy, for instance here, I get a blank look.  She asks “What do you mean, buy?”

It’s the Primrose Hill Christmas Festival on Day Four   The place is crawling with models, writers, actors, whatever (MWA, darling).  I don’t see any celebs out and about with their noses in my novel, but I spot these supermodels in their new winter coats.

Ruff & Tumble

Monday night is Day Five.   I attend the British Lung Foundation’s Christmas Carols by Candlight at St Pancras Church.  It’s a big occasion so I’m wearing THE shoes off the cover, not a stand-in pair.   Along with Linda Robson, Tommy Walsh and David Oakes, I read a poem. By now my book and I are feeling proper festive.  

jacaranda tree

But that day my elderly mother has another fall and can’t stand up.  I catch a flight out as soon as I can.

She’s in a geriatric hospital.  Her lipstick tells me she’s still fighting but the rest of her tells a different story.  She has severe osteoporosis and has broken several more bones.  They give her morphine which barely helps her pain.  You have to work up gradually to the right dose and we’re not there yet.  

The red heels have come off.  I sit by her bed and help her drink from a drinker, the kind my children had as toddlers.

This, now, is reality.  Fiction?  That’s just escapism.  But what a welcome escape it can be.