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Monday, 18 February 2013

Rats. I mean real, live ones.


Snowdrops - the first sign that spring really is on the way. 
It’s a good job I’m not paranoid. If I were, I might be tempted to think that the Fates were conspiring to keep me from my work. First it was the computer. Let’s say it was misbehaving, and that it took several days to get it fixed. There was also a problem with the wi-fi: interrupted signals, weak signals, total lack of signal. I think – think – I’ve fixed that, with the help of a pair of boosters which I’ve plugged into the power outlets adjacent to (a) the router and (b) the computer. If that wasn’t enough to  drive me nuts, throw in a couple of days recovering from a manic spell of reading and report-writing and, just to round it off, a telephone call. ‘Dad, we’ve got a rat in the house.’

As an ex-rat-catcher I knew I had to sound calm, knowledgeable and authoritative, which is not easy from 90 miles away. I suggested places where my daughter and her husband might put down some poison, and reminded them that rats like warm dark places and tend to follow pipe-runs. Even so, it came as a surprise when he found the nest: tucked away behind the boiler, in the kitchen. But that was a couple of days later. In the meantime, my daughter had packed her bags, grabbed her little boy, taken the train north and moved in.

There were many delights in spending a week with the pair of them. It was a rare opportunity to play silly games with a fourteen-month-old, play Yahtzee with his mother – and remind myself of just how demanding parenthood is. Resolved: that I shall stop complaining about the weather, about publishers, agents, York City’s lousy form, my arthritic right foot, and be grateful, every time I wake up and find a new day at my disposal, that I am no longer responsible for feeding, cleaning, entertaining and comforting a brood of youngsters. If there’s one thing guaranteed to instil a sense of perspective about life’s vicissitudes, it’s wheeling a wakeful toddler around the neighbouring streets at eleven at night, trying to get him off to sleep before his Mum loses the will to live.

So… work? Blog postings? You have to be kidding. To tell the truth, I am struggling to recall precisely where I was. But I’ll try. A sample chapter of the book on Mike Pannett’s childhood is now with an agent, who wishes to meet with us. Cue a trip to London in a couple of weeks’ time. The word ‘series’ has been mentioned, and that unsettles me. I fear I may be running out of gas on this project after six, seven years.

As for my own work, I still have two more chapters to complete on More Jobs Than Birthdays. These aren’t going to be easy.  First, I have to dredge up my memories of the winter season at the sugar-beet factory, a mere nine years ago. Second, I have to write a humdinger of a piece about the final months of my career in the horse-race business, working as a Tote betting assistant. There were so many great times, so many great characters… and for some reason those are the hardest stories to tell. The temptation is to run one anecdote into another with oneself at the centre. What I need to do, as I have managed in some of the other stories that comprise this work in progress, is to shift the focus to the characters who surrounded me. I need to remind myself that they are, generally, more interesting than the actual narrator.

So, that’s the major task over the next few weeks. My second application for a residency at Ucross, Wyoming,  is more or less ready to go. I’m also trying to submit The Red House On The Niobrara for the High Plains Book Awards. But I’ll come back to that – and a couple of other matters pertaining to my ebooks – over the next two days.