Last night in a New York loft

This is a true story.

 Tomatoes by Jo Bradshaw

Last night I went to bed early, leaving bags of tomatoes, peppers and pears donated by my neighbours (not to mention the fruit falling off the vines and trees in my own garden) yet to be dealt with. Tomorrow, I thought. I will see my mum off, tidy the house, make sauce, cakes and check in with all the work things I need to do. I fell into one of those odd work-meets-garden dreams as so:

I dreamt that I was at home doing very ordinary things like picking up laundry from the floor, trying to find my diary and nagging the kids to tidy their room, when a knock on the door came and a friend summoned me to a party. The party was in a New York loft, which I guess isn’t weird if you live in NY, but I’m in a crumbling village in Eastern Europe. I didn’t have time to change, so I went in jeans and sandals, no makeup, a hairy old jumper. Let’s not worry about the minor details of getting there—boring snoring—but suffice to say once I’d arrived I felt scandalously underdressed. There was some kind of pyramid made up of either cakes or people (I couldn’t tell) and dozens of hipster-bespectacled pretty folk. I went searching for cheese on sticks or something to do with my face. I didn’t know what to say to anybody, and now I had crumbs on my hairy jumper and not enough mascara.

Then, quite out of the blue, an insanely glamorous Marie Forleo invited me for a chat. A business-chat. 

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Glowworm in your pocket

My aunt Fan is the loveliest person you ever could meet. She used to be a librarian. She draws intricate patterned thingies that would blow your mind. She has the best sense of humour. She plays the piano. And I've always thought, since I was four, that if only all grown-ups could read books aloud and talk with children the way Fan does, then the world would be a much happier place. 

So here: a teeny poem to celebrate this wonderful woman on her almost-birthday. (It was yesterday. You know. Nearly)

I'm making a list in my head
Of all of the things I am crazy
About not just
Crazy-crazy but
Concerning a particular auntie because
Never in all my two score
Minus three
Years have I met somebody who could
Shake the words in a book and have them
Fall about like leaves
With just the right amount of
Hope and I've heard that hope is
A thing with feathers but really it's
An auntie because
To have an auntie like Fan is to
Have a glowworm in your pocket the kind of
Glowworm you pull out on occasion to
Remind yourself how lovely the sea is and how
If you speak to little children in the way that
Fan does then they can go
Into the darkest caves and greyest days with
A hoppity heart and all because
They have someone who speaks to them
As if they could be in charge
Of the sun at least
On Tuesdays when they're not
Doing times tables or
Trying to tie a shoelace.

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An Inordinate Fondness for Stars and Beetles

I have an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles

I think in Venn and
Quadratic equations
No man who cannot be trusted with an apostrophe
Should be in charge of bombs
Or Value Added Tax
Or vaginas
A radical policy
Hear me out

When the moon is dark and
Our hearts are dark
And like egg timers we
Pour wine in the top and dredge
Blood from the bottom

Then you men can rule the world
Just for a week while we
Do blanket forts and wallpaper our ramparts with books
Because we don’t want to talk to you anyway
And we might even trust you with the beetles
Acute angles
Radii and
Things that feel important like
The remote control

But when we’re done
And the moon is waxing
We take the stars back
Acute angles
And the beetles

You can keep the remote.

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I read like a squirrel and I'm not sorry.

These fragments I have shored against my ruins (said the squirrel)

I was reading the end of a novel a few weeks ago. As a reward for finishing the first draft of my own book, I’d thrown myself into this new world and my heart was crashing and swelling all at once. The book’s called A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

My daughter went to go to nursery, but then didn’t at the last minute. So she was at home, doing some counting exercises in a little workbook and I was sitting near her, reading, pretending to supervise, but really reading. Back into the wave machine.

The last few pages - Yes, draw eight more dogs and then count them all and write the number.

Eyes blurring - Yes, draw seven ladybirds and then count them all and write the number.

The not wanting to turn the page, wanting a magical new chapter to appear, not to have to let go yet.

- Mum, what is a ladybird, big with no antennae? I break out of my trance and think.

‘A tortoise?’

Yes, she says, grinning madly, ‘I just made that up.’

I wonder for a second how it’s possible that I could be balancing between these two worlds simultaneously, hers and that of this massive, immersive book and then I smile through the silent tears and realise that this is the whole point. That’s what she does when she breaks into a favourite line from Mr Gum over her long-cold, half-chewed omelette.

That’s what we all do: we eat books like squirrels in a forest, saving up all the nuts for times of Great Need.

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Go and vomit.

Fran Lebowitz is my muse and she's scary

Okay, I get it. You want to be a writer, you’ve always dreamed of writing, and you know you have a novel or a story or an epic dystopian fiction set in terza rima just bursting to get out of you like an alien in that terrifying film Alien.

So you sit down at the keyboard. You tap out a title, you format it all nice in 18pt Times New Roman, you type in Chapter One, you fiddle with the alignment and the line spacing and then…

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I Don't Like Stories That Taste Like Chicken Nuggets

I'm a Story, You're a Story

There’s a meta-movement going on at the moment on the internet.

My email inbox is a petri dish spawning daily, weekly and crescendoing entreaties to add my voice to the online conversation. To get writing, blogging, sharing my no doubt profound experience with the world. That I, too, will be able to find my niche of fellow oddballs. In fact, I read so much rousing, encouraging stuff that sometimes I’m left wondering:

But when do they get to sit down and write the stories?

Are we all writing about writing and making socially shareable images in order to avoid telling the stories and making the art we really want to? And ‘we’ is of course a rarefied layer of internet land; of course there are hundreds of thousands of writers, artists and musicians out there just getting on with it.

Are they okay, though?

If success is measured by how many shares your Huff Po advice piece received, and not by how a story you wrote might have tunnelled its way to the hearts of just a handful of those who were ripe for it, how does that skew the goalposts?

If I tell you the stories I want to tell you about barbecued hedgehogs, about standing in a room about to effervesce with frustration, about miserable nights spent in mosquito-infested irrigation areas, about being lost in foreign lands, even in my own country — will I be mattering? Will I be broke?

See, there won’t be any nice cut-and-dried takeaways, or flawless rhetoric or any 9-point lists, apart from that list of 9 reasons not to get out of bed when you feel like where you’d like to get to is being in bed with a queen-size coffee and a novel.

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Less Carnally Traumatic Mattering (or Blazing Vaginas)

A few years ago, on a January night, the water had frozen because it was bleak midwinter and all that. I was in my little house in a little village in the middle of a little valley in Bulgaria and my little daughters were sleeping and I was feeling a little bit mad and sad, to be completely honest, because I was wearing a very little nappy at that moment and wondering whether I had left civilised society. Yes, a nappy. Diaper. Loincloth for small humans. Having run out of sanitary accoutrements and being far from any late night shops, I made do with the one remaining Pampers Newborn that remained from an old stash in the tallboy. It could have been worse. I had a flannel and a kettle on the wood stove. A brandy. I wanted a man size bar of very wicked chocolate.

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Not Quite Myself

I’m not quite myself today I said
To my friend on the internet
Whom I’ve never met
And she said
When were you last yourself and I said
Let me see
I remember that day
In two thousand and three
When I didn’t have to speak or leave the house
But stayed swathed in a dressing gown
Greasy as a sheep
Flitting like a cabbage moth
In and out of some books whom I’d met
And some that I hadn’t
And coffee cups lined up
To watch me
And when nobody was there 
I put on Bowie
And danced like I’d taken
LSD and when a friend
Whom I’d met came around
Unexpectedly for tea
I said sorry I smell like a sheep
And she said never mind
And we laughed like drains
And played word games
And then she went home
And I did the washing up with
A silly grin.

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I is not the Queen of Hearts

Show up, just as you are. 

That’s what they say. The branding experts, the authenticity coaches, the wellness facilitators. Show up just as you are. But hold on a minute. I are not a pack of cards. I are not the Queen of hearts. Sometimes I is her tarts, sweet and jammy in the middle and crunchy on the outside. Other days I is the hedgehog rolled up tight into a croquet ball waiting for someone to hit me with a mallet so I can skittle away under a bush.

Occasionally I’m the joker and other days I don’t even want to decide what I am. Okay, so maybe I am a pack of cards. But show up just as I am? I’ve tried doing that. In fact, I myself have been an enthusiastic advocate for doing that. I think we should do that. In theory. But what happens when we feel like a snarky feminist on Monday, a jolly parent on Tuesday, a pile of shit on Wednesday, an Empowered and Abundant Manifestation of Entrepreneurhood on Thursday and like railing against the world on Friday. When we sit down to pen our weekly email newsletter, who is it sitting down to write? Who were we last week? Who will we be next week?

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Tensile bonds and things

For my mum who has been unlucky enough to break her arm playing catch but who is nonetheless wonderful.


I seem to have a problem

Not the kind where 

You go and see a nurse

A therapist

Or ring a hearse

Not a problem with sanity

Or even mild depravity

I just seem to have

A fairly insignificant

But nonetheless worrying

Problem with gravity.


Just the other day

I was picking plums 

At the top of a ladder

Made entirely of rungs

Held together by strange forces

Tensile bonds

And nails and things

When there was a slight fluctuation

In the position of

My centre of gravity

And with startling alacrity

I met the ground with a force

Roughly equal to, say, 

Oh, seven hundred newtons

Or thereabouts.


And at that point I 

Politely wondered

Whether many other people

Had this fairly insignificant

But nonetheless worrying

Problem with gravity.


Or perhaps it’s just me.

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