I’ve gone and got myself a cold. Well, not ‘got’ one necessarily but rather ‘acquired’ one from my daughter who’s been sniffing and coughing her way around the house for the past week. ‘Blow your nose,’ I say to her, sniffing and handing her a hankie. My husband looks at me. ‘Err, honey?’ I look up, my mouth hanging open because I have lost all ability to breathe through my nose. ‘You’ve got a little something streaming down your face.’ I touch my chin and realise that my daughter is not the only one requiring a tissue. ‘Oh damn it,’ I mutter to myself, to which the youngest hollers from her bedroom, ‘Whoohoo! 50 pence in the swear jar for mum!’ I stumble into the bathroom wondering why they only tell me about the swear jar and not my husband, when I promptly slip on a sock and land face first in the laundry basket. My husband walks in and points. ‘Look at mum, girls!’ They come running in. ‘You’ve got pants on your head!’ they yell, clearly delighted. I sigh and, after a few choice words to my husband and a further declaration of the swear jar by my youngest, I haul my snotty self from the smelly socks and PE kit, I wonder if I can go to Barbados and maybe stay there.
And so, this is pretty much how it has been all week, perhaps minus the head pants. Come Friday, I am sat at my laptop checking my emails and deliberating whether to have a crumpet with jam or Marmite for my snack (you can’t say I don’t make ground making decisions here…) when up pings a message in my inbox. Seeing the sender’s email, I happily click it open and read. At this point I have to tell you that I am rubbish at taking bad news. Utterly bobbins. Depending on what time of day it is, I can either a) go quiet, b) stomp or c) cry. I can also perform all three at once – it is a skill us ladies have honed over many a year, and a skill which on this particular Friday I display, with may I say, a special finesse. The email in question is unexpected. It is also not intended for me. It’s funny when you receive an email about you, but not for you – a bit like eavesdropping on a conversation at a smoky party. The good news is that I really don’t mind the comment in question that the email raises – but it perhaps just would have been handy if I had been told directly by the sender as opposed to through a crack in the door. But, such as things are, you’ve got to make the most of it and I think I’m pretty right in saying that, thankfully, give me a bit of bad news and, once I’ve dried my face, I’ll grab it by the legs like a snappy Jack Russell and not let go until I’ve sorted it out.
And so, it is during this ‘Jack Russell’ period that, feeling low, I get a call from my good friend to remind me that in the evening we are due to attend the local literature festival short story night. Naturally, I had completely forgotten. ‘What are you going to wear?’ I ask her. I hear the phone drop. ‘You okay?’ I ask. ‘Jesus,’ she says, returning, ‘the washing machine’s flooded the garage. Got to go.’ I put down the phone and wonder if perhaps Bali is nice at this time of year.
That evening, my friend and I attend the Wotton-Under-Edge Arts Festival literary evening. As I am normally a bag of nerves at these things to which my default position is to babble on like a kiss on Blarney Stone, I was very grateful my buddy could be with me as an antidote to my waffle. Her default position in such nervous circumstances is to completely clam up, so between us we make quite a pair. We sit down, a bit late, and look around. The average age is about 65. ‘I’m sorry,’ I whisper to her, uncertain what is ahead. ‘It’s fine,’ she says, smiling and swigging red wine, ‘this is making me feel young! I love it!’ And do you know what? The evening is great. The two ladies hosting the event are the writer Sue Limb and Dr.Rosemary Bailey – and they are hilarious (think The Golden Girls meets Ab Fab and you’re about there). As the short stories are read out, everyone listens, laughs and applauds what are, without doubt, some well-crafted tales, particularly from the junior entry group. Come the interval, my friend turns to me and asks what the name of my short story is. ‘The woman who walked to school,’ I whisper. And, just as I say this, they announce the next story to be read out – and, yup, it is mine. Like a man in a Zumba class, having your story read out loud is strange. ‘My heart’s banging,’ my friend whispers. ‘Poker face,’ I reply, ‘keep your poker face on.’ I say this because what I don’t want to do is reveal what I really feel – namely I might cry (seems my reaction to happiness is the same as to bad news – no wonder my hubbie gets confused.) To my relief, not only do they read it, but they like it too, commenting on how well constructed it is, how observant and how true. By the time the winners are announced I am breathing hard, and when my name is given as third prize runner-up, my friend can hardly sit down. ‘Yay!’ she mouths as I go up to shake hands and receive my prize. Yay! Afterwards, several people come up to me to comment on how much they enjoyed my story. I am so touched, it is very humbling. Indeed, one lady asks me if I can send the story to her daughter in France as she thinks it may help her adjust to life in a new country with a new baby. What can I say – I am honoured. It is all I can do to not cry there and then like a jelly mound of hormones.
That night, arriving home after my friend gives me a well done hug that could have squeezed the life out of a boulder, shrieking, ‘You won an award! For something you wrote!’, my husband pours me a large glass of red by way of celebration. I tell him all about the evening as well as the eves drop email early that day. ‘Are you cross about the email?’ he asks. I shake my head and sigh. ‘No. It’s okay. It’s good to get feedback – they know their stuff. I’ll make the most of it, and hopefully things will be even better.’ He narrows his eyes at me. ‘You cried about it, didn’t you?’ I nod. ‘And stomped?’ ‘Hmmm.’ I pull a blanket over my legs and peer at the TV. ‘Is that Stephen Fry?’ My husband nods. ‘It’s QI.’ I am about to reply when I promptly sneeze all over the couch. ‘Bloody hell, honey!’ says my husband. ‘Aha! 50 pence in the swear jar for you!’ I’m telling the girls. Take that, daddy!’ He tuts, leans to the side and hands me a tissue. ‘You’ve got a little something on your nose.’ I take the tissue and sniff. Maybe Crete is nice at this time of year.
**Out on Thursday “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest newspaper column to my blog. This week it’s all about shopping locally…**