Tag Archives: Mrs Dim

I hear those sleigh bells ringing…

Eldest Weasel makes a Rockin' reindeer in the school production of "North Pole Musical"

For many people here in the Greater Vancouver area, Christmas has been coming since Hallowe’en bowed out on November the first. Folks round this way really seem to enjoy decorating their houses, so barely had the month changed before the giant spiders’ webs and inflatable Frankensteins were being pulled down and replaced with miles and miles of twinkling strings of lights and inflatable snowmen and Santas. Since the World’s Largest Home Improvement Retailer skipped straight over Hallowe’en and started flogging Christmas decos way back in mid-October, I was a little jaded about the whole thing, but recently Mrs Dim and I have taken the odd stroll out along our neighbourhood of an evening, and I have to say I’m charmed. Yes, by UK standards, I suppose the houses look a little gaudy, and there’s an austerity measures voice in my head that mutters about the electricity bill all these people must have to pay in January, but look, it’s PRETTY, ok?

If the lights are going up and the evenings are drawing in, then the weasels must be performing in the school play, right? I fear so, but this being Vancouver, the multi-cultural melting pot of the most laid-back country in the Northern Hemisphere, we won’t risk anything as controversial as tea-towel wearing re-enactments of the Nativity. Nope, last year’s fiesta was a play that stressed the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (a common theme for the school that year) and this year we had the North Pole Musical, where the inhabitants of Santa’s workshops competed to see who would get to perform in the musical. This year the performance was by the elder two age groups in the school, so the singing was more tuneful and there was less “Ahh, doesn’t he look lovely?” from the watching parents.

Middle Weasel had a less demanding role - First Flower in the three-minute Nutcracker

As always, I was torn between enjoying the show and wishing I had written something for them. At the climax of the piece, Santa, Mrs Claus and Crystal Snowflake sing a song about the heart of Christmas, which seems to be about, you know, peace and love, and hope and generally nice but vague concepts. Because, you know, it’s Christmas. A time for presents, and…stuff.

I can appreciate that not everyone at the weasels’ school wants to celebrate Christmas as a Christian festival, but recently we (being TLC Creative) were asked to consider writing a secular piece for a schools Christmas show. I was hesitant, because I dread getting to that moment when one of the characters steps forward to talk about the true meaning of Christmas. I’m sorry, but if you’re atheist, agnostic or of another religion (all of which are fine by me, go right ahead…) then there is no true meaning of Christmas for you. Just as Eid, Ramadan and Diwali mean nothing at all to me. I won’t stop you celebrating them, and if you ask me to come along and hold up a lantern in a Diwali celebration, why I’d love to. Sounds like a neighbourly thing to do. But does it mean anything to me? Nope. So just as I wouldn’t write a secular play on the true meaning of Diwali being what draws a group of street kids to reform their thieving ways and become teachers, I don’t feel comfortable writing about the True Spirit of Christmas being to give out presents and be nice to people you don’t like the rest of the year.

This feeling comes round every year and it makes Mrs Dim cross because she has always worked in a multi-faith, multi-cultural environment, whereas for most of my working life I’ve been in a dark room, staring at the computer screen, so she knows it’s not about the True Meaning of Christmas, it’s about making people take part in Christmas when they don’t want to. People of other beliefs have no option about Christmas, she says patiently every year, the whole place (UK, Canada, wherever) closes over the holiday and some people don’t want to celebrate Christmas. Saying “Happy Holidays” may set your teeth on edge, Mr Grumpy, but it doesn’t offend.

So let me apologise. I know a fair few atheists, agnostics, and folks who just find the whole “Them and Us”ness of religion too much bother. Fair play to you, not going to convert you. You are not a rugby ball, as I point out in one of my plays. But please, let me wish you a Merry Christmas, with no ill intent, no offense meant. I hope it brings a little light into the darkest time of the year, even if it’s only from the strings of lights around your tree.

The house I grew up in…..

One of the places I've called home.

The weasels were a major reason for our emigration. We wanted them to have a home, and life with the RAF meant a lot of moving around. I worried about their childhood being little more than a series of half-forgotten friends and a collection of school photos where the uniforms changed year after year.

I moved around a little myself as a child. I was born ‘Oop North and managed seven years in Sunderland before we came south. That’s long enough to have an accent you could bend steel on, by the way, which is a tough thing to carry in a village school of only fifty kids, all of whom have grown up in the depths of Hampshire. We were only there a handful of years before we moved again, and then in my college years we moved within that town.

All this strolling down Sentiment Lane was prompted by listening to the excellent Amanda Palmer on Kevin Smith’s Smodcast . In the session (which contains the odd rude word, please don’t be offended) she prefaced a song called “House that I grew up in” with the story of her parents telling her the house that had been her childhood home was going to be sold. She said that travelling the world and having no real base had been fine because she’d always had this home in her mind, and now that was going. That made me wonder how the Weasels might feel about their nomadic life to date – have we deprived them of an important piece of childhood’s landscape : The Family home?

So that’s why I was examining my past. I’ve been ok with the many moves since marrying Mrs Dim, and part of that was the preparation of my own roaming past. I see how Middle Weasel struggled to cope with change during her first two moves and realised that allowing her to stay and put down roots at an early age might have exacerbated that problem – someday, for some reason, we would have had to move, and then the explosion might have been nuclear, instead of only…well, conventional doesn’t seem the right word.

Mrs Dim’s folks lived in the same house for thirty years. Almost until the time we moved to Canada we could go visit and she could show the kids the room that used to be her bedroom. She could describe the many changes to the house, including the extra rooms that were built on while they were living there. I envied her that history, but then I never suffered that feeling of loss when the house was sold.

As we have travelled around the UK, home has been the place where we keep our stuff, the place where the five of us are together. The apartment we stayed in on landing was as much home to us as the first rental house, as much as the RAF house in St Athan. For now, the New Wonkey House is shaping up to be a pretty good home, and I hope we’ll stay here for a long time. For one thing, it’s going to be years before I get round to sorting out my garage room.

Facebook and the Imminent Divorce Drama

We hadn’t been living in Canada very long before the top question from people we spoke to became “What do you miss?” rather than “Why Canada?” It wasn’t so easy to answer, because we’d spent a long time thinking “Why Canada?” but had been consciously avoiding the “What will we miss?” question. To be honest, there weren’t a lot of the expected things to miss, because there were so many new things to get used to. The Weasels missed odd things, like Weetabix and Ceebeebies, but Mrs Dim and myself…Well, I suppose you could say we immediately missed the familiar, the known ways of doing things. We tried to buy a car by looking in the local papers, a method we both had used in the UK for buying a second-hand car, something good for running about it but not too precious. We couldn’t find any listed. Odd. No “Autotrader” magazine in the shops either…. Little differences, rather than gaping absences.

As time passed, however, it was clear that the expected suspects were the ones that were missed most – family and friends. That first month in Canada was the longest time we had all spent together as a family without the intervention of school or work, and the realisation that the kids had no friends to go and see, that we had no parents available to go and stay with, was quite terrifying. You know that moment on a rollercoaster, when the bar clunks into place and you realise, however enthusiastic you were getting in, that now you CANNOT GET OUT if you want to and your stomach gives a little flutter of panic? Well, that was us, all day.

Moving into our first house and making friends with the other people in the street took some of the strain off, and regular Skype chats with our parents helped the lonlieness, but it still felt like we were on the end of a long line. We’ve adjusted, had friends come over to stay, but there are times when we still feel those absences sharply. Like last weekend.

I’ve mentioned in a couple of posts how I’m struggling with The World’s Largest Home Improvement Retailer over the matter of working every weekend. For her part, Mrs Dim is struggling with working 7am to 6pm weekdays and Weasel wrangling all weekend. There are unhealthy tensions from time to time, and last weekend the dam broke again. Despite me working Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon/evening, we had gone to the US to celebrate Thanksgiving with Mrs Dim’s Sister and her family. I came back early Sunday to get away to work, and returned home in the evening to find a frosty reception. Over lunch the next day we laid out the problems on both sides and discussed possible solutions. In the meantime, Mrs Dim used my Facebook account to post that we were in the throes of an “imminent divorce”. It’s nice to report that friends were horrified and rallied to support us and send messages of hope and best wishes. Nobody weighed in with “I knew he was a waster, you’ll be well shot of him!” which was a relief. Once we had sorted through the mess and established a plan of action, we posted a retraction:

Mrs Dim is worried that we trivialised the very real and stressful effects a marital break up can have on everyone concerned, when the real problem we seemed to be suffering (apart from inflexible working conditions) was the lack of a safety valve – had we been in the UK, Mrs Dim might choose to spend at least part of the Weasel Wrangling weekends with one set of parents or the other, thus spreading Granparently joy and getting a break from being sole caregiver. Knowing that isn’t an option increases the tension.

I picked up my new work rota yesterday, and there’s a whole free weekend coming up in early December. The school  Christmas break might involve some manoevering, but for the moment the marriage prospects look good again. Plus, it’s been a record month in terms of writing income, which always helps. Today’s moral seems to be, don’t always believe what you read on Facebook. Or maybe it’s make the most of the family you have around you. I shall be smiling more broadly at my folks on Skype this Sunday anyway.

As the first snow falls…

The youngest weasels examine Canadian snow for the first time.

All this last week, Eldest Weasel has been checking the weather forecast every morning. On my days in work, I’ve been watching happy shoppers struggle out with armfuls of de-icer, sand, snow shovels and Christmas lights. And at least one Barbeque, but hey, it was a bargain, and it’s a healthy way to cook…

I get nervous when the forecast talks about snow. Judging by all the de-icer and snow shovels, so do a lot of other folks around here. I’ve had little experience with serious snow as an adult. I remember my parents having to cope with terrible winter weather when we lived in Sunderland, but the only dangerous snow driving I did in the UK was when the car spun out on a corner on some black ice. Since we were only doing about ten miles an hour, it was a stately revolution that ended with us facing the wrong way on an empty road. A little slower than those Tea-cup rides for toddlers at fairgrounds. We just sat there for a second, said “Huh.” and drove on.

The year we arrived here in Canada they were just recovering from an unusual amount of snow – it doesn’t normally fall on Downtown and the suburbs, you understand, just on the mountains. Vancouverites weren’t sure how you went about clearing your drive without throwing the snow onto your neighbours’ drive. They certainly weren’t sure about driving in snow. Gary, a supervisor at work, gave me this sage advice:

“When it snows and you’re waiting at a red light, don’t pull away when that light goes green. Count to ten, and I bet you there’ll be someone come sliding right through the intersection…”

Last year there was no major snowfall, but we did have a couple of white days, and on one of those I was driving the kids down a steep hill that also turned a corner. On the bend I felt the wheels lose traction, and in a very male reaction I snapped off the stereo, yelled at the kids to be quiet and got a death grip on the wheel. We were fine, and the snow melted the next day, but I can’t help remembering that I wasn’t cool and calm under pressure, just very, very scared.

If there IS the big snowfall this year, I may just hand in my notice, let Mrs Dim drive the bigger and heavier car to work and walk the kids to school every day. Frostbite may be preferable to car accident.

Here's today's forecast....DOOM!

Haven’t we been here before?

Just have to take the next step....

It doesn’t seem that long ago that every post I published was about my frustration with the jobhunting misery. First it was resistance to the idea of going out to get a ‘real’ job at all, something I have resisted since going freelance all those years ago. I really, really didn’t want to, and that was all there was to it, no clever arguments, no belief that my writing income would suddenly triple, no great Business Plan to grow that income….I just didn’t want to.

Go ahead, picture me slumped in a corner with my thumb in my mouth. I know how childish I was being. Really I do. After all, Mrs Dim told me.

After the fit of pique had passed, I got stuck into looking for work and the second gloom descended. Finding work was difficult and for several reasons.

First, the economy was not good. Remember the banking collapse and global financial EEEK!? Guess when I was looking for a job?

Second, I hadn’t had a real nine-to-five job since Eldest Weasel was born. I had precisely two people I could call on for references, and they were both connected with my writing. They couldn’t comment on my ability to get into the office on time, dress myself, or talk on the phone coherently.

Third, everyone else I had worked for had either gone out of business, moved on from my last point of contact or, in one case, burned to the ground. That doesn’t inspire confidence in a future employer.

Fourth and lastly, I needed a job that still allowed me to get the Weasels to school and back, at 8.45 and 2.50 every day. So, work hours of 9.15 to 2.30, if I don’t have far to travel.

And honestly, the childish thing crept back into it. Thanks to my portfolio career to date, there is a long, long list of jobs that I never want to do again. I found the one I want to do, I’m doing it, I love it, but sadly, writing plays does not earn enough money to buy essentials like clothes, food and Wii games.

I’m sure there are jobs that fit the hours. Other Mums (and face it, that’s what we’re talking about here: employing a Mum) get jobs and still get their kids to school. But search as I might, I couldn’t find a job I was qualified for that fell within the insanely restrictive parameters.

Finally at Mrs Dim’s suggestion I went along to the hiring session held at the World’s Largest Home Improvement Retailer and lucked out. A job I could do, at hours that suited, for some money. Within driving distance and time allowance. SUCCESS!

It’s not a fulfilling job. It’s challenging enough, trying to remember the location of forty thousand products, trying to placate angry customers who just want a dozen electrical or plumbing questions asked and they can’t speak to the electrical or plumbing guy because there are ten people already talking at him. It’s hard staying on your feet in pretty much the same spot for four hours at a time. But it’s a job.

But this week we had to admit something else. Since June I’ve only had one complete weekend off. I’ve booked holiday here and there, but I have worked almost every weekend since I started work and Mrs Dim is beginning to unravel. She works long hours at her job, which is far, far more demanding than mine, and then she has to spend her whole weekend wrangling weasels alone, and then go back to work Monday morning. Plus, when do WE get to spend time together? We don’t count slumping on the same sofa at nine thirty in the evening spending time together, by the way. On Wednesday we both fell asleep in the middle of whatever we were trying to watch.

So I’m jobhunting again, off in pursuit of the magical job which will only require me to work weekdays, 9-3, preferably closer to home, something clerical, at least $12 an hour, no heavy lifting. And if possible, something that leaves me enough energy to keep on writing, reviewing and appraising scripts in the evenings.

And while we’re wishing, Middle Weasel would like her own Millenium Falcon….

Writing collaboration – Is co-writing a contradiction?

David's not far away, he's really that small....
Three men, three computers, many, many, many ideas.

There are some things that you do alone – dying is the one that comes to mind. Good start, a nice cheery place to kick off. But writing is a solo occupation, usually at least. No matter how many people contribute to the initial idea, only one of you can sit down at that keyboard and hammer it out.

A long time ago, I heard that some of the American TV shows used writing rooms, whole rooms full of teams of writers, to create their stories. I couldn’t see how that worked. Now, of course, we’ve seen TV shows based on people writing TV shows (like “30 Rock” and the excellent but sadly missed “Studio 60  on the Sunset Strip” ) and we know that the Writer’s Room is a place the stories begin.
But is it a good way to work? Well, I’m not going to do a big analysis of how other people have made it work, or the famous screenwriting partnerships, because other people have already done it and I’m fundamentally lazy. Let me tell you how we at TLC manage to write as a trio.
Our big project this last fortnight was a pantomime. We’ve cracked the main canon of panto, writing Aladdin, Cinderella, Babes in the Wood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington, Puss in Boots. We’ve also done some more off-the-wall pieces, like the Space Panto “Watch this Space” and the Arthurian epic “Knight Fever“. This time we were turning our attention to Sinbad.
Stage one is research, and Steve handled that, reading through dozens of variations on the Sinbad story and presenting a choice of storylines for us to consider. David and I made some choices and put forward any elements we felt should be included. Steve then came up with the definitive storyline that we would work from, and divided it up into scenes. There’s a standard we use for producing panto scripts that Steve and David have developed from years of experience on both the stage and script side of panto. We have a certain number of scenes for each half, a longer first act than second, each main stage scene is followed by a front of curtain scene to allow for set changes and so on. There should be certain character types included, certain scenes that are must-haves. Each of these scenes should still, in some way serve the overall story. If the Princess has been kidnapped, the characters have to snap into action to save her, not simply go into the palace kitchens and bake a cake just so the panto can have the slop scene.
With the scene outline completed, we each take two or three scenes and write them. That’s the bit where the collaboration is suspended and we’re writing alone again.
 That’s the bit Mrs Dim had real trouble with. Although we were all writing different parts of the panto, it’s still handy to have the others nearby. Stuck for a gag? Ask David. Need a song suggestion? Ask Steve. Written something that makes you laugh? Tell one of the others and see if it makes THEM laugh. That’s an important test. So Mrs Dim, who works in a real office with real work to do, wandered occasionally through the living room to see three middle-aged men sitting with separate laptops, sniggering at juvenile jokes, surfing the web, or listening to music. It didn’t look like work. But we were doing what we needed to do – juvenile jokes are the bread and butter of panto, the web supplies both corny jokes and useful information, and if you’re rewriting the lyrics to a song, it’s a very good idea to have the real song playing so you can match the rhyme scheme and scansion.
Ultimately, we end up with enough scenes to build an entire pantomime. That’s when the other important part of collaboration comes into play. We sit and read through the whole thing, taking different parts to perform. Reading it out loud is a useful check – does that gag work as well out loud as it does on the page? Is the name funny when you can’t see it written down? Do those stage directions make sense to other people? Those read throughs are my abiding memory of our TLC writing meetings. We laugh unashamedly at our own jokes, and at those of the others, we fight to keep our own worst jokes in and kick out others when the script is running long, we suggest the worst songs to annoy David (Ask him to include “Endless Love” in one of his scripts and you’ll see what I mean) and we tease Steve about his typos.
The theory says that this method of co-writing would work with anything, but on other projects we work individually and put the final pieces up for peer review in the partnership. We produced a sketch a day for the period of time David and Steve were here in Canada, but each sketch was written by one person and reviewed by the others on completion, only a few changes being made after the sketch had been read. We’re starting a new chapter in collaboration with a planned radio sitcom idea, and I think that different format will test our collaborative powers somewhat.
A solo occupation? Yes, ultimately, you always write alone, but what you do with that writing, who you show it to and what you do as a result of sharing it is where the joy of collaborative work lies.

5 things you should know about working from home

When this was all I did, I kept EVERYTHING to hand

I’ve been thinking a lot about working from home recently. Partly because I’ve been thinking a lot about the way I work, and partly because my friend Lucy sent me this: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/working_home That made me laugh, but it’s all true.

I’ve told the story of my becoming a full-time writer many times in this blog, and if you’ve read through my back-posts, you’ll have seen me go back to being a part-time writer. Now I feel it’s more important than ever that I capitalise on my chances to work from home. I keep the thought of going back to working full-time at home as my ultimate goal.

Five Things You Should Know About Working From Home

  1. It may not be for you. Sorry to be blunt, but it isn’t easy. And there’s two parts to that. It isn’t easy to be productive in the home environment, and it isn’t easy to find a job that’ll let you work from home in the first place. Yes, people will sell you books explaining how telecommuting is changing the face of the workplace, but I dare you to go ask your boss if you can work from home. He’s likely to say “For god’s sake, you’re a Zoo Keeper! How are you going to feed the lions? Facebook?” Ok, he’ll only say that if you’re a zookeeper, but I bet he doesn’t agree.
  2. Working in your pyjamas isn’t as much fun as you might think. No, really. I see this used as a justification all the time. Folks saying “I used to have to wear power suits every day, and now I sit at the computer in my pyjamas and make $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!”. For one thing, unless you’ve got a computer in your pyjamas, that sentence is grammatically incorrect. For another, how businesslike are you going to feel, in your pyjamas? I once had to do a serious interview with a genuine TV personality. She returned my call unexpectedly early, and I found it hard to remain detached and focussed on taking notes because I was in my dressing gown while talking to Charlie Dimmock. By the way, she doesn’t know this, so please don’t tell her. One traumatised person is enough.
  3. It can be lonely. Just run through in your head how many people you talk to every day at work. Even if you hate the people you work with, can you imagine spending the day alone? You like the thought of that? What about the next day? And the next. And the next. Every day, just you and your PC, only communicating with others by phone or email. You will find yourself cruising Facebook, looking for live users to chat to for the pure human interaction. Well, that’s my excuse. If you find yourself on You Tube looking at kittens, give it up.
  4. An unstructured day can be unhealthy. Now I know that some of you can spend waaay too long in the office. One of Mrs Dim’s first bosses had his desk next to the front window and would always be visible in his office until seven or eight, his face glowing in the light from his monitor. Turned out he was playing Solitaire most of the time, and he ended up having a heart attack at his desk. What was my point? Hang on. *pause* Oh, yeah. even if you like to hang it on at the end of the work day, there are little clues to keep you in the regular rhythm of work. You probably can’t get into the office before 6am. You see everyone else going to lunch between 11am and 3pm (FROM 11am to 3pm if you work in advertising) so you know it’s lunchtime. And at some point they’ll turn off the lights and lock the doors so the cleaners can get to work. If you’re childless and working from home, who’s going to regulate YOUR working day? You are, that’s who. So if you let lunchtime slide because you’re on a roll, or start working at five in the morning, no one’s going to stop you. But no one’s going to make you go outside either, no one’s going to make you take a break, make you eat something. There are days I go outside to collect the weasels from school and I am surprised by the sunshine. If the light’s bright outside, I close the blinds so I can see the words on the screen, and then four hours later I step out the front door….It’s a wonder I don’t disintegrate into a pile of ashes.
  5. People won’t believe you’re working. If you’re a parent returning to the work environment via working from home, the chances are you’ll know other parents who aren’t out at work all day. They may well believe it’s ok to drop in on you at coffee time (read: any time their kids are at school/playgroup/college/scoring dope) and talk your ears off while you’re wondering if your partner will be angry there’s no money coming in from your business today. If you’re at HOME, you’re not at WORK, folks, no matter how fancy your home office is. If you’re working, don’t answer the door. If you answer the door, don’t blame me.

Slightly less clutter, slightly more productivity in slightly less time

So now I’m trying to empower my business, big up my personal brand, claim my webvibe and…you know, earn some money. Today (and I still can’t believe I did this) I decided to take some positive steps towards increasing sales of my e-book (www.tiny.cc/ghfo9) and so I went online and discovered the excellent blog by Kristen Lamb . I followed her advice and bought her e-book ‘We are not alone“. Yes, read that bit again. I wanted to promote my e-book, so I went out and bought an e-book. Should I just have sent myself that  money? All will be revealed when I have read through “We are not alone” and followed the advice within. If I can consolidate my social media platforms and expand my webpresence without losing my grip on my brand….I’ll be very surprised.