Thursday, 26 May 2011

Reading Out Loud

I am paralysed with fear today and have done no writing whatsoever… I am doing a very short reading at the Flash Mob Flash Fiction writing competition event at Dulcimer in Chorlton. It is part of the Chorlton Arts Festival. The prospect of standing up and reading makes me feel like I’m actually going to throw up.

Probably most people’s first ‘reading out loud’ scenario would be school assembly. There’s the awful lining up outside the hall, all clutching sweaty bits of paper with a few lines on to read out about something no one really cares about but you have been rehearsing for weeks. There may even be the worrying prospect of singing multi-faith-relevant songs (I went to a right-on primary school…) the feeling of possibility to fail epically rumbles from this time like a troublesome appendix. Back then in the 80’s primary school hall, staring at the hypnotic orange print curtains, trying to remember what you are supposed to do, desperately needing a wee, under the eyes of your peers, the school bully and the lad in the top class who you've sent a Valentine card to for the last three years and think he might suspect… to actually open your mouth and say actual words feels like the most alien prospect in the world.  

Today I feel those same familiar rumblings. Minus the Valentine sending, and I’m sure there won’t be bullies in Chorlton… and I’ve no idea what the Dulcimer’s décor is like… but that permanent needing a wee feeling… 

It’s because I look up to and massively rate the other people that will be at the event. The ones I know a little about and have read their work, are brilliant, and those that I don’t I imagine are also uber cool, street, hip, with it, effortlessly stylish, totally not fazed, and ultimately will spot me as a wannabe writer who doesn’t really know what she’s doing.

One strategy I use to deal with situations that frighten me is to think, like that well loved fizzy drink, what’s the worst that could happen… I have made a list, in no particular order…

1. Loss of some sort of bodily fluid (vomit, wee etc…) while everyone stares on not quite knowing what to do or say... think Alan Partridge after he impaled his foot…

2. Swearing by mistake… saying the C word by accident is one of my worst social phobias. Words I try to avoid in readings would include constable, continued, incontinent, vacant…

3. Falling over. I trip and / or fall over quite easily as it is, which mostly is funny but usually I can pretend it’s because I've drunk too much. Walking across a room to do a reading on the couple I've done before suddenly my legs become Bambi like and wobbly, and my feet grow extra snagging corners that catch on the finest carpet pile.

4. Reading the wrong piece of writing. I panic, thinking perhaps I have printed the wrong story off or have got the wrong end of the stick, where everyone knows what they’re doing and I don't and will only embarrass myself… 

So these are possible strategies I could employ:

1. Don’t go. But this is spineless and I’m really looking forward to hearing everyone else read…

2. Have a very lot to drink before hand. However this will increase the chances of most of the worst case scenarios above.

3. Pretend to be someone else, a writer I respect and admire… restricting this to my own head of course. Instead of 'What Would Jesus Do?', the adage of Christians everywhere, perhaps it could be 'What would Rushdie / Atwood / Donoghue / insert other/ Do?'   

Right. I’m off to man up. And decide on a writerly outfit. Can’t wait to get there and hear everyone else's stories. Hopefully everyone will be at the bar ordering drinks when it comes to my turn.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Slippery Business of Snake Keeping

My husband owns an incredible snake… yes, yes. Let’s get all the juvenile giggles out and over with now.

It’s a Corn Snake called Geoff (after Buckley and a favourite science teacher from years ago) Geoff slithered into my life one day under a strict premise. “We’re just minding him for the weekend," husband, the science teacher, muttered. "He’s for school... live vertebrate specimen… he’s only a baby.” 

Geoff looked whimsically, some might say hypnotically, into my eyes as both he and husband played on my very vague maternal urges towards anything small and orphaned and I agreed he could stay in the spare room. He’s only quite little, we will just not feed him too much, I thought. 
Geoff having his tea.
As Geoff grew on his diet of pinkies (dead baby mice that look worryingly like the nicest of the jelly baby packet) we came to an understanding. He was very beautiful to look at but I really wasn't interested in handling him. (yes… that’s nearly a line if your playing innuendo bingo) People popped over just to see him. If he really liked you he would leave a little mouse-scented poo in your shirt pocket. At parties, people would ask after him in polite conversation as though he were perhaps a toddler who was too young or rambunctious to attend. “Eating well? Getting big now?” He liked sitting on his rock or curling under the lid of his box. His box that incidentally husband found on a skip. Lidless. The lid he designed was a couple of sheets of glass over the top. This, perhaps, is where everything went wrong.

Geoff escaped. 

I would have been Very Very Cross. But husband stood at the top of the stairs nearly in tears and I found myself patting him gently as we peeped under the loose floorboards. “Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll turn up,” I said. “We’ll waft a dead mouse around and it’ll tempt him out.”  

It didn’t. There was no sign of Geoff. We spent a forlorn few days prising up carpets and setting up complicated mouse-and-heater apparatus in order to spread the smell of brained rodent into as wide a radius as possible. I worried a bit about him finding his way through the pipes and turning up, horror movie style, in next door's toilet pan. Or wrapping himself around their child’s throat while they peacefully slept. We didn’t mention his escape to the neighbours. We felt it might harm our defence…

Six months later, I felt it was time we put the rubbish, lidless snake box on ebay, and someone else with a desire to loose their snake bought it. But that very same day Alfie, our one eyed cat, grew intensely interested in certain areas of the house. He spent hours staring into a corner, then under the dishwasher. A while later, I happened to wander into the garden through the open kitchen door. Alfie was patting a piece of rope under the garden table. “Where did you find that bungee cord?” I asked him. He didn’t reply, just gave me a withering, one-eyed look and I realized it wasn’t a bungee cord, but Geoff. Looking a bit thin (yes, really) and startled by all the attention.

With Geoff safely tucked into his transport box at home we hurried to the pet shop for a new extra secure vivarium and freezer-ready mice for our hungry snake. I was holding it together quite well – despite being surrounded by a desert’s worth of reptiles all bulgy eyes and flicky tongues on me in a very confined upper salesroom. Then, in walks a man with an enormous pet python draped scarflike around his shoulders. They stood in the narrow doorway blocking the light and the exit, like they were about to audition with some horrific act in the first round of Britain’s Got Talent.

“Oh,” I said. Or something along those lines. Geoff suddenly seemed tapeworm sized in comparison. This man’s python was several feet longer than me. Thigh-wide and not overly friendly looking. The crickets in their Happy Meal boxes started leaping. I looked for an open window to jump from.
“We just came for his rats,” the man said, tickling his snake friend under where his chin would be if he had one.  “Don’t worry. He’s very sociable. I take him out with me all the time.”

I muttered something about public health and safety.

“People are more likely to get bitten by a dog,” he said. It sounded like he’d had this argument before. 

Well, yes, I reasoned. That would be more likely, because no one else is stupid enough to take their snake out shopping with them. The snake, incidentally, was big enough to easily eat a ten pound baby, ready-dislocated jaw and strike distance permitting. I had a notion that if the python did decide to veer off his usual rat and chicken diet amidst the rich pickings of our Lancashire town progeny, the owner seemed like he would be as effective as Rod Hull trying to restrain Emu. It made me reflect that although we had been a bit rubbish about allowing Geoff to escape, we were perhaps not so irresponsible as to own a pet that could actually eat small children.

But pythons aside, I'm surprised by how pleased I feel that Geoff is back! And how attached we all get to our pets.

It made me think about the dog on the fells I wrote about last time. And hope that he did make it home. And also gave me a prompt to get on with writing his story. I did promise and instead I’ve been writing about canapés. So this week I will leave the pre dinner nibbles for now and chew over my dog story instead. He will definitely not be a baby eating pet.