I am notoriously bad at booking things. Part of the problem is that I do things very quickly, and don’t have the patience to study the details. Invariably I am disappointed that things are not what I expect.
I also have an assistant who is very, very similar to me. This is why I completely adore her, but we are both disastrous at things like booking travel. I just want to get it done, as does she, and neither of us ever realize how long and complicated things can be, until I am actually on the road.
Eldest daughter was desperate for a spa day once we got to Lithuania, so I decided to treat the two girls, and my husband and myself. I am not good at spa days. I am spectacularly low-maintenance when it comes to looking after myself. It’s all I can do to get myself to a hairdresser a couple of times a year, let alone do things like facials and massages. It just isn’t in my DNA, but I decided to splurge.
I have no idea what I googled, but I came up with an amazing looking resort, just outside of Vilnius, that looked more like it belonged in Fiji than in Lithuania. It had Tiki huts on stilts on a lake, and was offering spa days that included massage, facials, steam room, saunas. And all for a ridiculously bargain price. I immediately booked four spa days, congratulating myself on my find.
Vilnius is very beautiful, particularly the old town. The taxi picked us up and wound us through town, before taking us to the countryside, which is rather grey and dismal. About twenty minutes later we pulled into a long driveway, at the end of which stood our resort.
I can’t say the pictures didn’t do it justice, because I’m not sure there were pictures of the front of the resort. It was very…. Well. I’m not too sure I can find the right words. It was huge, and empty. There was lots of orange wood that had been lacquered in high gloss, and slightly musty sage green carpets.
The spa was in the bowels of the hotel, and was empty, save for a woman with a hoover in the ladies changing room, which was vast, and marble, and smelled dank, as if it hadn’t been used for years.
It felt like a relic from Communist Russia. Our two girls looked at me, wide-eyed. We changed into threadbare robes, then made our way upstairs, to a few sunloungers outside. The sun-loungers were in a bed of weeds, at which point, I got the giggles.
“See?” I said to Beloved, who frequently says I was rather grand when we met. “You’ve knocked all the princess out of me.”
“And you’ve now gone lower than I ever would,” he responded, with a grin, at which point I looked around at the weeds, and became vaguely hysterical – I started laughing so hard, I was doubled over in pain.
“Can we, er, bounce?” said eldest daughter. As a famous newspaper used to often say, we made our excuses and left. And I have now been told that I am never to be put in charge of spa treatments again.
Years ago I saw a George Clooney movie called Up In the Air, in which he played a traveller so seasoned, he never ever checked his bag. Since that time, I have lived my life in a Clooneyesque manner, never ever checking my bag. It doesn’t matter where I travel, nor for how long, I manage to fit everything into my carry-on.
I have always been something of a light packer. My most important item has always been my hairdryer. I once travelled Europe with a backpack the size of the one my children take to school every day. It contained a handful of T-shirts and clean knickers, and a very large powerful hairdryer.
But my recent trip to Sweden, Iceland and Lithuania proved to be more challenging. Sweden required city clothes, and Iceland, layers of warm clothing including hiking boots and rainproof jackets. Lithuania was going to be hot again, and I had cocktail parties and perhaps dinner with other people, so needed something vaguely nice.
In other words, there was no way in hell I was going to be sticking to carry on. It was just this once, I figured; what could possibly happen?
I remembered we had an enormous suitcase in the basement, which I dragged out, and proceeded to fill to the brim. It was so full, it was groaning. I wasn’t sure it would make it without splitting.
The suitcase did very well in Stockholm, and Iceland, but sadly Scandinavian Airlines lost it somewhere between Iceland and Lithuania. Three of our suitcases went missing, and there was no-one to help us, nor answer our increasingly desperate plea.
After a couple of days, we learned our suitcases had been sent to Poland. We weren’t sure why, but it was quite clear it was going to be a while until we would be reunited.
And so I hit the shopping mall next to our hotel in Vilnius. Oh dear. This was not the smart shopping mall, this was the one filled with multi-colored polyester kaftans. Reader, I really tried. I am firmly of the belief that if you have a good eye, you can always find something good, and I very much believe that I have a good eye, but I couldn’t do it. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make the green and orange floaty nylon top work.
Eventually we discovered another shopping center. By this time we were all starting to smell, and drastic measures were needed. There was an H & M, which we all pounced on with glee. By this time, I was fed up, and tired, and not in the mood to try anything on. I gathered a handful of T-shirts, a pair of jeans, and on the way out, in a slightly dodgy shoe store, found some sandals that seemed the height of fashion in Lithuania, plus enough make-up to ensure I felt like me. Back at the hotel I discovered that nothing looked very good, but by then I was determined to make-do.
Our luggage arrived after four days. I have never been so happy to see my hairdryer, and my clothes. I celebrated with a hair wash, and I have decided that no matter the circumstances, I will never, ever be checking luggage again.
A few months ago my whole family discovered something brilliant on our iphones – an app called Find my Friends. I added all my children, and Beloved, and they did the same to me.
This is particularly brilliant for me at this stage of life because of the following scenario which occurred multiple times during any given week. What are you doing this morning, I will ask Beloved, on a Sunday morning. He will say words, and I will respond by making approving noises or telling him to have a good time, and a few minutes later I will ask him again what he is doing this morning. He will look at me in disbelief, and then say more words, that may or may not be the same as the words he said before, and I will nod approvingly and pretend that I am listening, and two hours later, when I realize he is nowhere to be found, I will send him an angry text asking where the hell he is.
He will then tell me that he has told me repeatedly where he is going, and I will deny it furiously, with every fibre of my being, convinced that he has not told me, and that he is in fact gas-lighting me by making me feel completely crazy. I will not, for one second, ever, admit that a lot of the time I do not listen to him. I will not, for one second, ever, admit that there is so much going on in my head all of the time, that even if I am looking at people, smiling, and nodding, the chances are that in my head I am thinking about something completely different.
I blame ADD. Which is besides the point. Since adding Beloved to Find my Friends, rather than send him furious texts or phone him demanding to know where he is, I click on the link and see that he is at the gym. Oh yes, I think, now I remember him telling me that. Or I see that he is in a neighboring town. Ah yes, think I, I do vaguely recall him mentioning lunch with a business colleague who lives over there.
Find my Friends has done wonders for our relationship. He no longer things he is married to an angry crazy woman with early-onset dementia, and I no longer find myself despairing over where my husband disappears to. Although, he still disappears. I’m just going out to get some groceries, he will say, and three hours later I will track him on Find my Friends and discover he is at the boatyard, discussing outboard motors for the Boston Whaler.
Beloved also knows where I am all the time. Thankfully, I have nothing to hide, but my goodness, I have no idea how people conduct affairs with all the apps and texts popping up on your screen all the time. I have heard of people who are unfaithful having second phones, but I have a hard enough time keeping track of one phone, let alone two (never mind the fact that I am hopeless at secrets not to mention very happy in my marriage).
I am also busy tracking my children, but I am very careful to pretend that I am not in case they should decide to remove me. I phone them all the time asking where they are, when I can see perfectly well they are at the beach, or at a friend’s house.
Somewhat worryingly I have found myself attempting to track my friends when they are late. I have gone as far as opening the app, wondering where Sophie is, or whether Nicole is on her way, or is Dani back home. And then I remember, this is for family only.
I’d very much like it for my friends, but I think it’s epically stalker-y, and so I will keep on wondering where they are, and I will keep sending texts, having forgotten entirely that they have already told me they are on holiday for two weeks. Hopefully, because they are all women of a certain age, rather than think I am losing my mind, they will know exactly what it’s like.
In the meantime, I’m off to check what Twin B is up to today…
A few weeks ago I was invited to a rather swanky literary dinner at a hotel called The Gramercy Park, in Manhattan. It was to be filled with the great and the good, and not only was I excited for the dinner (and utterly thrilled to have been invited), I couldn’t wait to go back to the Gramercy Park hotel.
The last time I went to the Gramercy Park hotel was in 1996. I had decided to write a modern take on the Cinderella story called Jemima J. I had booked an extended stay in Los Angeles to do the research, and was spending a week beforehand in New York with a girlfriend. We were going just after Christmas, with plans to be in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
Both of us were young single girls, with little money. We were doing New York on a shoestring, and had booked into a terrible hotel near Times Square with stained furniture and dirty sheets. We lasted one night, before deciding that squalor was not what we had in mind for this trip, and I would use some of my new book advance to upgrade.
Have you ever tried getting a hotel room in New York at Christmas time? We spent hours desperately trying to find a hotel, and the only thing we could find was a suite at the Gramercy Park Hotel.
A suite! It sounded so grand! We discovered the Gramercy Park had hosted The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles. U2 had lived there, as had Debbie Harry of Blondie. This was clearly the epitome of cool, and we had to stay there.
The hotel faces a pretty private park, in a lovely neighborhood. I caught my breath as we got out the taxi, and walked in to the hotel, past the dark wood-panelled bar, and exhaled again in vague disappointment when we were taken up to our suite. I remember the carpet being impossibly worn and shabby, in an unflattering shade of green. The hotel was dated and dingy, with an old and fabulous bar filled with New York characters, and we felt incredibly cool staying there.
We were there for a week, and over the final weekend, I fell slightly in love. A friend of a friend was in New York at the same time, and my girlfriend and I spent the day with him. We came back to the suite, and while she was in the bathroom, he kissed me.
We spent the next two days together, as characters in a Nora Ephron romantic chick-flick, circa 1996. It snowed as we held hands walking down Park Avenue. We had snowfights in Central Park then drank hot chocolate in a storied bar. We went up the Empire State Building, before I left for Los Angeles, itching to get back home to London, to see whether this new romance might turn into something more.
So here I am twenty one years later, a married mother, living in Connecticut, standing outside the hotel that truly epitomized my single girl adventures, and it is almost unrecognizable. A few years ago it was transformed into a sleek, stylish, trendy hotel.
The hotel is now beautiful. The party was wonderful, and the food, delicious. I spent the evening looking over my shoulder expecting to see the ghost of the love-struck girl I once was, but she, along with the shabby green carpet, had long since disappeared.
And whilst I loved everything about the evening, and whilst I am so happy and grateful for the way my life has gone and the woman I am now, I have to confess I had a few moments of yearning for just a touch of the hotel I used to know.
July 4th is a very big holiday on this side of the pond. On American Independence Day we fly the flag proudly (the American one), gather with our friends and neighbors and celebrate with a barbeque, and tables filled with disgusting desserts turned red, white and blue with food coloring.
In our neighborhood, there are fireworks at the beach every year, and parties at almost all of the houses. Guests spill from the front yards across the road – closed for the day – and onto the beach. In the old days, when I lived on the other side of town, we braved the traffic to come down to the beach, with a twenty minute drive taking up to an hour. In the past I have assigned the driving to someone else, jumping out of the car and stopping at various people’s houses for glasses of wine on my way down to the beach.
The mood is celebratory, and fun. At the beach, when the children were small, we would set up picnics, and bump into everyone we had ever met. It was social, and happy, and one of my most favorite holidays.
It was crowded, but not too crowded. I have never been good with crowds. I once spent New Year’s Eve watching the ball drop in New Orleans, and as the crowd closed in on me, I had my one and only panic attack. Now I tend to avoid crowds wherever possible, even in my home town.
As the years have gone by I have become more introverted, and the beach has become busier. This year traffic was so bad, one friend drove to our house from her own, fifteen minutes away, and she sat in traffic for almost three hours. It was back-to-back traffic for miles, and the beach was so packed with people, you couldn’t see any sand. In the back, was an area for standing, and hundreds of people were crammed in there, sardine-style, for the firework display. Twin A returned from the beach saying there were so many people there this year, it was utter hell.
Happily for us, we live on a little private street just off the main beach area. We can cross the street to a private beach with a spectacular view of the fireworks, thereby avoiding the crowds entirely. We decided to eat at home with friends, then perhaps wander the beach when it got dark to experience some of the magic.
I made the obligatory barbeque food. For the first time I succumbed to one of those disgustingly decadent desserts, making brown butter Rice Krispie treats with a salted chocolate topping. I alternated spooning the stuff into the pan to set, and into my mouth. Once I had started, I didn’t seem able to stop. We ate smashburgers on pretzel rolls, and hot dogs with sauerkraut. We served corn on the cob and tomato salad. I had no room for the kale and grapefruit salad. Unsurprisingly I often find I have little room for kale.
By the time we thought about strolling along the beach, my stomach was so full, it was actually painful, and a headache was forming. I excused myself, went to bed and had Beloved bring me a mug of mint tea. Outside, I could hear our friends laughing softly, as I snuggled down, drank my tea, and drifted into sleep. All in all, it was about the most perfect July 4th I could ever have imagined. And not once did I have to brave the crowds.
Something strange is happening on book tour this year. It used to be that after I had given a talk and read from my book, I would sit behind a small table, and sign books. The line tended to move quickly, some people having questions that took a little longer, but I signed, made small talk, and left feeling much the same way as I did when I walked in.
Now that we all travel with permanent cameras built into our phones, everyone in that line asks for a picture. For the past couple of events this year, I bounced up and down from my signing table like a jack-in-the-box for pictures to be taken. It was fun, and tiring.
Recently I had an event in Cincinnati. I could tell instantly that this was a room of devoted readers. Mostly because they laughed uproariously at all my jokes, and audibly sighed with pleasure when I mentioned some of my older novels.
It was a wonderful talk. Afterwards I went to my signing table and the first two women came up, iPhones clutched in their hand. I stood up for the photos, sat back down again, stood up, sat down, stood up, and realized (clearly I am a little slow) that this would be much easier if I stayed standing.
I moved from behind the table to in front, and the strangest, and loveliest thing happened. After each picture, every single woman gave me a huge hug.
Now I know this happens to some authors. Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Love Warrior, turns all her events into love-filled hug-fests. I have also seen videos where she sits on the laps of her fans and cuddles them. Please know that this will not be happening at my events. Glennon is teeny tiny. If I were to sit on your lap, I may very well flatten you. The hugs, however, I will gladly take.
My boring old book signing turned into a glorious love fest, and my heart felt like it was going to explode by the end. This is only strange because my mother’s childhood nickname for me was “touch-me-not”. I never liked being touched, by strangers or anyone else, but as I have grown older, I seem to have completely shed that outer protective layer I carried for so long, and now there is nothing I love quite so much as a hug. Especially from a stranger on book tour.
I am fascinated by how I am changing as I am ageing, as I shed the insecurities, the fears, the need to impress or try to be good enough. I feel like I am finally Becoming Jane: more comfortable in my skin, more myself than ever before. And it is precisely by showing those vulnerabilities that enables me to connect with my readers in the way that I do, that ends up in a hug.
And so I have decided that for my solo events, I am never going to sit behind a signing table again. I am going to be standing in front, dispensing signatures, photographs, and many, many hugs.
(Picture is with the delicious Emma Straub, who is not only extremely huggable but the author of the brilliant Modern Lovers, and now bookseller extraordinaire at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn.)
All I want on book tour are events filled with adoring readers, drivers who drive smoothly enough that I don’t get car sick, and quiet hotel rooms with soft pillows.
The only one that is truly important is the quiet hotel room, and regular readers may know I have a history of disasters in that area.
Recently I showed up at very swanky hotel in Boston, after a grueling few days on tour. I couldn’t wait to crawl into bed, order room service, and spend my one day off doing absolutely nothing other than reading in bed and drifting off to sleep.
After an excellent night’s sleep, I spent the morning reading and was just drifting off for a second sleep when I was startled by a loud cacophony of whistles and cheering outside. I looked out the window to see the street outside my hotel had been cordoned off, and was filled with thousands of people, all carrying rainbow flags.
It was Pride march in Boston. I stood in the window in my long white nightie, watching my dreams of sleep and quiet disappear. The crowd looked up, and saw me, ghostlike, in my window, and started waving. I waved back, and then, as a smile spread upon my face, I figured if you can’t beat them, you have to join them.
If you read my novels you will know that I am an unequivocal supporter of gay rights, and that I firmly believe that it doesn’t matter who you love, as long as you love.
My gay male friends (and I have many) ask me if I am sure I am not secretly a gay man. My lesbian friends (and I have many) ask me if I am sure I am not secretly a lesbian.
Perhaps, in another life, I was one of each. I do know that I am fervently and passionately and ardently supportive of gay rights, and that watching that Pride parade brought me to tears. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act in the U.K., which decriminalized homosexual acts between two men in private. How wonderful that today so many are out and proud and accepted.
And yet, after years of growing acceptance of different races, colors, sexualities and genders, we are again living in frightening times with no idea if these past few decades of freedom will soon be a distant memory.
I jumped in that march. Someone gave me a rainbow flag, and I hollered and whooped with the best of them.
It may not have been what I planned for my one day off, but I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.
Stan has been living on the porch for the past year, but now that we have finished the kitchen renovation, we have lost the porch. It has now become part of Beloved’s office, and Beloved is not happy with sharing a room with Stan the rabbit.
Because it is summer and because the weather is warm and beautiful, we decided to move Stan and his rabbit palace into the garden for the summer. Surely he would be happier in his natural habitat.
I’m not sure that Stan has ever felt grass before. We moved the hutch into the vegetable garden, with a big pen, and watched as Stan explored, seemingly delighted at being on the grass. Baby the cat, who is Stan’s best friend, immediately jumped into the pen, as Stan bounded over to be groomed. He closed his eyes in heaven as Baby licked his head, then the two played for a bit, as Beloved and I stood and watched, our arms around each other as we congratulated ourselves on what a good thing we had done, on how happy Stan would be, bounding around in nature, with a tempting view of all the vegetables.
I went back inside, as a nugget of doubt started gnawing in my head.
“Darling,” I said, half an hour later. “Can raccoons lift rabbit hutches?” I was thinking of the fact that this rabbit hutch has no secure base.
“Raccoons don’t eat rabbits,” he said, confidently, before pausing. “Do they?”
Minutes later he re-emerged, phone in hand. Apparently raccoons are a huge threat, and not the only threat. Stan is a very large and rather fat rabbit. It seems eminently clear that he is a rabbit bred for the pot rather than domesticity (which is true), but he would be no match for a raccoon. Nor for a coyote, fox, possum, owl or hawk. Apparently cats and dogs can also be rabbit predators, but luckily not ours. Baby adores Stan, and the other cats are entirely disinterested. The dogs are kept well away.
Apparently there is no such thing as a predator-proof outdoor cage, and rabbits often die of fright with the stress of being outside and coming face to face with predators, even outside their cage.
Needless to say, Stan and his rabbit palace were back in Beloved’s office before you could say Beatrix Potter. And it looks like that’s where he’ll be staying, at least until someone comes up with a better idea. I am thinking about somehow incorporating a rabbit hutch with the chicken coop, but I’m pretty sure Stan – a grouch at the best of times – will end up terrorizing the chickens. I will just have to hope Beloved and Stan can bond a little more in the safety of the office.
Regatta season is now almost over, The Rower’s boat did magnificently, and the next stop will be National championships, before the world championships in August.
It hasn’t been quite as much fun as other years, largely, I suspect, because I am a middle-aged menopausal woman, without the same energy or cheerful smile as I had a couple of years ago.
I found it all rather exhausting, although fully recognize that a large part of that is down to my perfectionist tendencies. I couldn’t just show up and cook, I had to devise special menus, and spend days before mixing sauces and marinating chicken (which ended up being delicious, if a little dry).
I didn’t sleep well before the last regatta, and was busy cooking breakfast when a woman came over and asked to have a word. Her daughter’s pancakes tasted of onions, she said. In fact, it was so strong, her daughter took one bite and threw them away. She stood, staring me down, demanding an explanation, and I found myself speechless. So speechless, that rather than risk pointing out that I am a parent volunteer who regularly busts her ass to cook for the team, and all the parents, while she relaxes and watches the races every week, I shrugged and turned my back so I wouldn’t say something I would regret.
This is the problem I have found with going through the menopause. I do not let things go. And the little things I would once have ignored, now fill me with irritation. I should have let it go, but hormones dictated this was not about to happen. HOURS later, I decided to discuss it with her, downed my spatulas and apron, and set about finding her. Steam may or may not have been spouting from my nostrils.
The good news is, I didn’t find her. The better news is that I decided I needed to go home. I may have planned to spend the day cooking, but after seven hours of being on my feet, I thought it best for all concerned if I got in my car and drove the three and a half hours home, preferably listening to something soothing on the radio so Beloved would not be welcoming back the deranged woman who stalked the regatta, jonesing for a fight.
I am now looking forward to a break. And I also need to issue a warning: if, for whatever reason, I happen to do something that makes you unhappy, far better to keep it to yourself for now. Hopefully you can tell me about it in a year or so…
(Details may or may not have been changed to protect the innocent, and my rower, aka THE Rower, is the one in yellow…)
For years I was happy working on my own at home, but that was before children, before the business of life, and most importantly, before technology.
What I have found, for some time, is that whilst we all like to think that technology is connecting us more than ever before, we are in fact growing more and more isolated, and a lack of human connection (that can go on for days if we work by ourselves at home), is leading us all to feeling increasingly lonely.
Just before Christmas, I lost the office space I had been using. I knew I wouldn’t be able to work at home, and didn’t like the idea of renting a room by myself. After some searching, I found a gorgeous space in my favorite part of town – the bit that still feels like a village, with restaurants and cafés steps from my office – and invited two friends to join me, one a writer, one not.
I started to decorate, finding lovely wallpaper online, and inexpensive furniture that made the office feel more like my living room than an office. I wanted a warm, cosy, beautiful space that I would want to spend time in, not a corporate hell hole filled with black and grey office furniture.
Within a couple of weeks, we writers (oh, okay it’s the fabulous Lauren Weisberger) realized it was too distracting working with someone who has a proper job, so we took the empty office next door and moved in there, finding three other people to fill the vacant spots next door, on short-term leases at bargain prices.
Others heard about our impromptu co-working creative office space, and asked if they could join. I spoke to the landlord and asked if he had more space. A double office across the hall, he said, and acres of unused space upstairs. May I renovate and decorate it, I asked, as his eyes lit up.
The decorating and furnishing of the office opposite is about to be finished (lovely grey grasscloth walls, wood floors, a heavy wood community table and the coolest of cool clear Lucite chairs), and four more people will be moving in, after which I will be renovating the entire building, including space for twenty five more people upstairs, and a drop-in inexpensive writer’s room.
The six of us who are currently here, are loving every minute. Each of us thought we liked working on our own, assumed we were saving money by not renting an office, but what we have found is that we no longer take days off at a time (when you’re paying for an office, you definitely use it!), because we are accountable to other people, and more than that, we love the people we are working with, and we love the routine of “going to work”.
In my twenties, working for a national newspaper, I used to feel that I was going to work every day with my best friends, and for the first time in years, I feel that way again.
Already, incredible collaborations have taken place. Friendships have been struck up, and business ideas exchanged. And most importantly, we have created community; a community of like-minded people who have found a third place in which we don’t have to feel lonely anymore.
I have always believed that when good people come together, magic can happen. And now I know it to be true.
Those who know me well know my propensity for rescuing animals. This is not necessarily a good thing. Occasionally I have found myself overwhelmed and have ended up being a halfway house for the animal in question, finding them a much more loving home after I realize that we have taken on too much, or not thought things through clearly enough.
Devastatingly, the gorgeous Chester the Molester has had to become one of those casualties. He is the sweetest, most adorable, most kitten-like rabbit there has ever been, but I rescued him without realizing that he and Stan would likely hate each other. I have now spent months attempting to gradually introduce them, hoping that they would eventually grow used to one another, but it was not to be. Stan absolutely hated him, and would try and attack him whenever he could (and this is despite them both being neutered).
Stan is something of a grouch. He is not very cuddly, and sometimes hops over and bites your feet for no explicable reason. But he also makes us laugh, and has an enormous amount of personality. He was also here first. Even though I really really wanted to figure out a way to keep Chester the Molester, Stan is clearly the heir to the throne, and so Chester the Molester has gone to a lovely woman with three gorgeous daughters, all of whom are spoiling Chester rotten, and giving him all the attention and love he deserves. And there are no enormous black bunny rabbits with very long teeth who are constantly lurking and trying to bite him through the bars.
Last week the daughter sent me a video of her cuddling a divine little puppy. She was at a friend’s house and he had nine of these puppies that were looking for a home. What kind of dogs were they, I asked, feeling the old familiar urge begin to wash over me, knowing my husband would have to make a strong intervention because a new puppy is the very last thing we can handle right about now.
They were a cross between a Pug and a Yorkshire Terrier. A pug and a Yorkie, thought I? What on earth do they call that? A Porkie? Because every mutt these days seem to have a designer name. And even though I do not want another dog, the prospect of having a dog called a porkie was enormously appealing. Given that I have occasionally been known to finish off entire boxes of Quality Street by myself, I thought it would be fitting.
The daughter came home that night telling me I was mistaken. The puppies are not known as Porkies, apparently, but as Pugshire Terriers. Happily, the urge passed, because it’s not as if one husband, six children, two dogs, five cats, six chickens, one rabbit, and one fish isn’t enough for any harried writer.
I’m not a big follower of fashion, but every now and then, I have to admit I do succumb. I am generally a firm believer in the “High/Low philosophy”, which is to mix the very cheap, with the occasional very expensive. A couple of years ago I found myself on Nantucket with the always glamorous Emily Giffin and Elin Hilderbrand, both of whom were exquisitely dressed. Emily was talking about the importance of being High Low, and looked at me saying she suspected I was “High High“.
I did happen to be wearing extremely expensive sandals (I had seen them in a magazine ad and had lusted after them for weeks, before biting the bullet and spending far more money than was wise, particularly since I think I have only worn them twice), but I waved my arm proudly. Jangling on my wrist were a bunch of gold bangles and beaded bracelets, which cost about a fiver at the local accessory store for teenage girls. “As low as you can go,” I exclaimed.
I should have kept quiet. Years ago I remember lusting after diamond earrings. I didn’t have enough money for them, and found a remarkable pair of copies on ebay for next to nothing. They were gorgeous, and sparkly. I wore them to a friend’s party, and every time someone complimented me on my beautiful earrings, I burst out, “Ebay! Twenty five dollars!”
A few years later, I was able to afford the real thing, and this time none of my friends said anything. After a while, I realized it was because they presumed they were fake, and probably bought on ebay.
I recently fell in love with a pair of sneakers. They seemed the epitome of trendiness, these sneakers with a large star on the side, deliberately distressed so as to look vintage and worn in, and were horrible amounts of money. I decided to splurge on a whim, and last week, brought them out for the first time. I paired them with jeans, and a simple top, as Beloved and I were getting ready to go to friends.
“How do I look?” I said, walking into the bedroom.
“Great,” said he. “Except for those old sneakers. You can’t wear those. They’re awful. It’s time to get some new ones.”
When I told him they were brand new, and the height of fashion, he asked the price. And reader, I am ashamed to tell you, I lied. And now I feel so guilty, I have put myself on hiatus from anything trendy and expensive for the next few months.
Also, I haven’t been able to wear the shoes since.
I am exceptionally gullible. It is in fact my middle name. I also believe in all manner of unbelievable things, like ghosts, and past lives. And aliens.
There is absolutely no evidence to support my belief in all these things – I have never encountered a ghost, nor an alien; I was once hypnotized by a past-life regression therapist (for an article which I suggested, pretending I was skeptical, when in fact I was hugely excited), and I didn’t come up with anything at all, so I pretended to be a former royal who could see Regents Park from her bedroom window.
And I continue to believe.
Creaky Cottage, our lovely old falling-down-slightly house on the water in Connecticut, has a ghost, or so my husband and daughter tell me. They both say they have seen a woman, out of the corner of their eye, walk down the hallway. I have never seen anything, and I think they are pulling my leg.
Creaky Cottage also has very large windows in the master bedroom. We have thought of putting up curtains, but we love the view so much, we have decided to leave them naked. Every time I wake up at night and look out the window, at the moon reflecting on the water, I feel at peace.
A couple of days ago, I woke up at three in the morning and as I made my way to the bathroom, I found myself looking at the stars, and one in particular. It shone brighter than the others, and – was I going completely crazy – it seemed to be moving from left to right.
I blinked, before noticing that there were another two lights, blinking, and moving from left to right. I stood in the window for twenty minutes, with a mix of vague fear, and excitement, for this was surely my first alien encounter.
I didn’t want the aliens to be coming for me (I was as still as a stone, just in case any movement would attract them) but I wanted to prove once and for all that something ridiculous I believe in, exists. Also, I was waiting for more lights to appear, probably in a circle, and start shining white light down to the ground. I truly expected this to be my close encounter.
Eventually I decided to wake up Beloved, who was in the deepest of sleeps. I tiptoed over, trying not to attract the attention of the aliens and their probes, and shook my husband, who blearily got out of bed.
“Don’t turn on the light!” I hissed, in a sudden panic, before regulating my voice back to it’s normal level. “There are strange lights,” I said, pretending I was exceedingly calm and this was a regular occurrence.
He joined me at the window, looked out and said, “they’re satellites.”
“But…but,” I spluttered. “What about that one? It’s hovering right over the country club.”
“Trick of perspective,” he said, turning and going back to bed. I followed him shortly thereafter, and fell into a dreamless sleep that featured neither aliens, nor probing. I still believe, though, so if you have stories to share, do please let me know.
For many years, I prided myself on my musical knowledge. Not a Thursday night went by during the seventies and eighties when I was not glued to the television screen for Top of the Pops. I remember watching Pan’s People and dreaming of the day when I too might own a pair of glittery stretch lurex leggings. I knew every song that came on the radio, and all the words.
Top of the Pops may be long gone, but up until recently, I still had my radio tuned to the pop station, still knew all the new artists and songs, still knew most of the words. I would always be a modern mum, I decided; my love of pop music would never leave.
Mysteriously, of late, I have found myself on long car journeys craving quiet, and conversation. I have been listening to podcasts, to Desert Island Discs and here in America, NPR. The more I have listened, the more I have forgotten to listen to music, and when I have done, it was through Spotify, and tended to be the music of decades gone by.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to watch The Grammy’s with the kids. I love nothing more than a good awards show, particularly the red carpet beforehand. I like seeing what the stars are wearing, and what they’re going to be singing. I sat through twenty minutes of the red carpet before the truth finally hit: I have officially aged out of the Grammy’s. In fact, I may have officially aged out of youth, because I didn’t have a clue who any of them were.
And worse than that, the clothes! Or rather, the lack thereof! “Why are their bosoms hanging out?” I kept muttering to myself, although somewhat gratifyingly The Rower kept overhearing, and he agreed. I felt a wave of pride at having raised him well. We both stared aghast at the screen, at a presenter who wore an evening dress that essentially consisted of two black triangles of fabric that somehow managed to barely cover her breasts, whilst forcing them together in a most unnatural way.
The show started and presenters approached the podium to announce the new categories. Best album, best newcomer, etc etc. With the exception of Adele and Beyoncé, I didn’t have a clue who any of them were. Frankly, neither did my kids. It all sounded like a lot of noise, with some very bad fashion thrown in for good measure.
I felt immeasurably old. I went into the kitchen singing some Jackson 5, realizing I never did buy those sparkly lurex leggings, and wondering if it might not to be too late. Even if they never leave the privacy of my bedroom, there is much bopping in front of the bedroom mirror that I could be doing, the sounds of the seventies, when music made sense to me, on my mind.
(First published in The Lady magazine)
I was lying in bed the other morning, scrolling through Facebook, reading the news, as the heat of the electric blanket seeped through my long white nightgown and warmed up my frozen feet.
I posted something funny online, and The Chef wrote a message underneath. “I know where you are,” she said. “You’re lying in bed in your long white nightie.” Well of course I am, I responded. Where else would I be on a freezing February day at eleven O’clock in the morning?
For a long time I felt guilty about my winter hibernation, but as I hurtle towards midlife (I’m not actually hurtling towards it, I’m firmly in it but I shall continue to pretend for as long as I can), I am finally managing to accept that when it is cold, and gloomy, and snow is on the ground, the most comforting place to be is in bed.
Every now and then I will read an article about the importance of good sleep habits. The number one rule is to keep all technology out of the bedroom. Turn your bedroom into a retreat – no phones, no ipads, no television. The blue light from the television and the white light from our screens apparently causes havoc with our sleep patterns.
Do not read in bed, they say. Never eat in bed. Use your bed for one thing, and one thing alone: sleep (maybe two, I will grant you, but that’s another column entirely).
I think about this from time to time, as I study what has gathered on my bed on those days when I choose to stay in it during the winter months. There is invariably one plate and one bowl, precariously stacked on the side table, waiting to be knocked over by an eager cat in search of crumbs.
There are stacks of books piled on same side table, plus on the floor, plus a few on the bed. There are often magazines. There is always an iphone, with an ipad too, just to add some variety. There are headphones for listening to podcasts. There is usually a cat or three, sometimes five, on the bed. There is a notebook, and an assortment of pens. There is sometimes a child, but rarely more than two. On a very rare day, there will be a laptop for writing, but my writing tends to happen in my office rather than in bed.
Friends will send messages inviting me out, and I will make up excuses, generally involving work. Those who know me very well know that my only excuse is that I am in my nightie, in bed, and it is so warm, and cozy, there is nowhere else I would rather be.
When the sun starts shining again I shall be up and about, cooking, writing, running around. But until then, I’m turning the electric blanket on and climbing back in.
(First published in The Lady magazine)
I wrote this a year ago today, on our anniversary. I am posting it again today, because it so perfectly describes our marriage, and I haven’t found better words than these.
Eleven years ago, just after my first marriage ended, I picked up the phone and answered an ad for a tiny little rental cottage by the beach in Westport. The phone was answered by the man who was to become my landlord, neighbor, and three years later, my husband.
The stars were aligned that day. The stars have been aligned ever since. It is our wedding anniversary today, and I have learned immeasurable lessons over the last eleven years.
I have learned that marriage, like life, is something of a rollercoaster; if you’re lucky, the highs and the lows will be exhilarating and fun; when they’re not, the key to success is knowing it will pass. It always does.
I have learned that generosity and kindness are the single biggest gifts you can give your partner, the single greatest traits that will ensure your marriage grows deep roots to sustain you over time.
I have learned that it isn’t always easy to be kind, when you’re tired, and grumpy, and busy herding kids and cats, but that the mindful act of stopping what you are doing and paying attention to your partner, may be the greatest act of kindness there is.
My beloved, beloved husband is the best human being I know. He is wise, and warm, and clever, and funny, and goofy, and sexy, and handsome, and sweet, and selfless, and distracted, and brilliant, and thoughtful, and kind.
He has brought so much laughter, fun, comfort, friendship and peace to my life. He has been the only one to ever really know me, and to show me that even when I’m grumpy, or sad, or angry, or shouty, he still loves me; he has taught me that I am loveable, which has been an enormous gift.
We have been together eleven years, and it is our eighth – bronze – wedding anniversary today. Last year was copper – he bought me flowers and a copper watering can because together we have learned the very best lesson of all: The grass is greener where you water it.
Happy Anniversary to my Beloved.
When I first started writing novels, I managed to write at home. It was at the very beginning of the internet, and distractions were few and far between. No-one really knew what to do with the internet, and I managed to while away the days in my tiny home office, writing my books.
Then technology took off, and I had children, and suddenly the home office was a place filled with distractions. I would sit down to write a chapter, but mistakenly spend the next six hours playing computer solitaire. Or I would be checking email every two paragraphs. Or hunting down the perfect pair of shoes, which sometimes took all week.
I decided I needed a routine, that it was important to break the solitude of working from home. I needed to be around people, to leave my house with a computer and “go to work”. For a few years I wrote at the local library, but the library is no longer a quiet place, so I kept searching.
Next I found a writer’s room that was quaint and cozy, and after a couple of years there I was offered a tiny windowless office in the basement of our local theater. It was perfect, but now that they have staffed up, I am on the hunt again for another office.
I have spent the last few weeks looking at large spaces, and small. All of them either need vast amounts of work, or are dingy and depressing. Two days ago I finally found a small room that is perfect. It is light, bright and airy. I can fit two, or possibly three desks in there, a lamp, a chair, and a shelf of books. I can fit two, or possibly three fellow writers to break up the solitude. It will not fit children, dogs, cats, chickens, fish, bearded dragons, or rabbits.
I have taken the office for a year, with two friends now joining me. I have a feeling that soon we may need a bigger space, because there is a definite need for a creative co-working space in my town. So many of us are attempting to work from home, none of us anticipating the loneliness which comes with that. I can’t think of anything lovelier than creating a place for us creative types to go.
I will be starting my next book just as soon as my flat pack furniture for the new office arrives. And just as soon as I can figure out how to put it all together. Which means I may have a few more week’s grace after all.
(First published in The Lady magazine in the UK)
Ever since my children were born, I have been cutting their hair. I am very bad at cutting hair and almost every time has been a disaster. Despite this, I am convinced that I can cut hair, even though hope has yet to triumph over experience. When the children were very small, they didn’t notice how uneven their hair was; that sometimes there were a couple of bald patches. Now that they are teenagers, they won’t let me touch their hair.
Twin A long ago decided that he likes his hair on the longer side. For the past few months he has been looking increasingly like George Harrison, circa 1974. I realized, just before he went away recently, that we had barely any time for a hair cut, and the hair needed cutting before the trip.
Twin A and I met my gay husband for lunch. “What are you doing the rest of the day?” he asked, as we were leaving, and I told him we were off to the barber, which was not something I wanted to do, because it was cold, and raining, and I wanted to cozy up at home.
“Want me to cut it?” He asked. “Do you have scissors and a comb? We can do it in your kitchen.”
My gay husband is not only one of the most handsome men I know, he is also, unequivocally, the most stylish. He is always beautifully-dressed, with great hair. The only fashion disaster I have ever witnessed was when he made the mistake of dyeing his grey hair back to its natural blond, but it grew out quickly, and none of us have discussed it since. This was the best offer I had had in ages.
We headed home, and Twin A perched on the kitchen stool as my gay husband started cutting his hair. I frowned. It didn’t look like he knew what he was doing. In fact, I would go as far as saying it looked much like me cutting Twin A’s hair. Which isn’t good. I decided not to say anything. My gay husband had been so confident, surely I was the one at fault; surely it would get better.
Halfway through the haircut, when one sideburn had been shorn off completely, a centimeter or so above the ear, I spoke up.
“Have you ever cut hair before?” I asked.
“No,” he said happily. “But I think I’ve done a pretty good job. Apart from this bit. And this bit.”
Twin A says that’s it. Not only am I not allowed to cut his hair, nor are my friends, nor indeed anyone, unless it is in a professional hair salon. Frankly, I no longer blame him, but as I have been saying to all my kids for the past seventeen years, the good thing about hair is that it always grows back.
(First published in The Lady magazine)
The piles are threatening to take over my house. I do not think of myself as a hoarder, and I very much like living in a space that is clean and tidy, but I don’t seem to have any control over the piles of papers that accumulate in every room of the house.
Nobody would ever think it, looking at pictures of my perfect kitchen counters on Instagram. They have no idea that seconds before I shot the picture, I slid everything on the counter three feet to the left.
Jane Green's fifteenth novel, Tempting Fate, is soon to be released; she is the author of fourteen previous New York Times Bestselling novels.Full Bio