Where there is no imagination there is no horror

‘Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world.
(Shakespeare)

Arthur  Conan Doyle, one of my heroes, was spot on re imagination. My friend and I saw Paranormal Activity IV at the weekend, and agreed that the most frightening things are those which are not seen. This is why The Others frightens me a lot more than Hostel (that just sickened me), and fiction stays with you much longer than film. Ones worst enemy is ones imagination. I remember a few years ago staying at a friend’s house in Portugal alone. During the day, when it was sunny and bright, the light felt it would go on forever, and there was not a cloud in the sky, I foolishly read a book about Jack the Ripper. I then watched a film about Nazi Zombie Killers in the evening. And then went to bed. I was utterly alone.I lay very still and very quiet, not wanting to lie facing the door in case I saw whoever it was Coming In, but at the same time not wanting them to surprise me. Every creak was Jack tiptoeing up the stairs. Every tickle of tree branches at the window was a zombified Nazi clawing at the glass. I have learned my lesson (more or less), and try to alternate between good light-hearted reading material and embracing my darker side, but I just like frightening myself too much!

The Mitford Girls is one of my ‘lighter’ reads and I am enjoying it immensely. The book is very well written, as if you are chatting to an old friend, but it’s also searingly honest, making it clear that, popular and fascinating as the girls were, they were human, and not without their faults. It is most amusing in places, particularly in some of the things Sydney (their mother) says: “Ovaries? I thought one had 700 or so of them, like caviar.”

However, of course, as we approach Halloween, which is possibly my third favourite night of the year after Christmas Eve and my birthday, I am thinking of spine-chilling books, and want to share them with you, mainly because some of them are not terribly well known. At school, I raided the library for John Gordon, Aidan Chambers and Dennis Hamley. Our primary school was tiny, probably 40 pupils max. The library was, of course, my favourite place: a tiny corner in the corner of the ‘big class’ with dark shelves of rather old, tatty books covered in plastic. I could quite happily curl up on one of the little, hard-backed wooden chairs and spend hours. The books smelled of hundreds of pre-readers. I loved the way the pages were marked by blobs of Ribena or the occasional tiny squashed spider. It showed that someone had been there before me, and enjoyed them.

I recently tracked down, and bought, a variety of these story compendiums on Amazon. They are very simply written, and utterly chilling. Reading them again, 17 years after I first opened them, I felt that delicious silver shiver go down the back of my neck and tickle each vertebrae. They were quite hard to find – I remembered the title of a few (who could forget a book called The Shirt Off A Hanged Man’s Back?) but for some I simply had to Google lines I remembered from stories, and hope that the volume came up. It took a little digging, but I’m really pleased that my ghost story collection has grown to include these gems which I recommend for children aged 8 up, or from adults who like to curl up when the wind is howling down the chimney with a hot chocolate, a slanket, and cold fingers tiptoeing their way down your spine…

Catch Your Death

Ghost After Ghost

The Burning Baby

A Haunt of Ghosts

Favourite Ghost Stories

My favourite collection is Shades of Dark, by Aidan Chambers. Many of these stories I could recite word for word. I tried to order it from WH Smith years ago (before the days of Amazon) and was gutted when they told me it was out of print. Discovering it in a second-hand book shop in Cheltenham was possibly one of the most exciting days of my life, tragic as it sounds. It’s a real gem. I am infuriated that it took me some time to find it as that bloody 50 Shades is top of the list grrrrrr…Another very good compendium (all her own work) is The Shadow Cage by Philippa Pearce. These are SERIOUSLY creepy, highly original, stories, none of them without the ‘happy ending’ which one could really do with from a ghost story in order to tuck down and get a good night’s sleep. Fans of Tom’s Midnight Garden and A Dog So Small will know Pearce is one of the superior children’s authors, but she needs to be recognised for her chilling talent, as well.

Ramsey Campbell is another writer I really like for unusual fiction which leave sa bit of a nasty taste in the mouth.The last book of his I read, The Grin of the Dark, was not as good as I expected, but it hasn’t stopped me enjoying his old stories. Most recently I have enjoyed Dark Matter by Michele Paver – a darkly original tale set in Alaska, and of course, possibly the best ghost story ever told: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. Don’t go to the book expecting the film, and don’t watch the film expecting the book: they are different to each other but I think this is the best way of doing it as the film shocks the reader, and the book the viewer.

I may well come back to this post and update it as I think of more strictly supernatural scribblers to share – M R James and Edgar Allan Poe are of course pure gold – but if anyone has any others to contribute I would love more recommendations.

I have written my own supernatural stories – a collection of very odd little tales I wrote when I got bored during my GCSEs, some based on dreams (I do my best work when I sleep, obviously!) and a couple which I wrote for competitions. I don’t think my story about a man haunted by the death of his best friend was quite what Gloucestershire Libraries were looking for but it was a damn sight more interesting than the soppy romance wot won, and I am quite pleased with it. I’m not putting any of them up here, because they might get stolen and published for millions, or (more likely) you will all go “Yeah. Nice work” politely and then never bother reading my blog again.

I am skipping out now – for a ghost walk, of all things! Let’s see what Cheltenham has in store. I had a lovely drive home last evening, just as the light started to fade. The trees either side were golden brown (texture like sun) and the road dusted with leaves.

I wonder if, like a leaf, I will be possibly most beautiful when I am dead. That would be just my luck!

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On the Beach – Reading List

Seeing as the idea for this blog was commenced on holiday in Greece this year when I thought, I really ought to start a reading blog, I really ought to write a brief synopsis of the books I read on holiday.  So here you go. This is especially for Clare who asked for a reading list!

Jubilee by Shelley Harris

This book was quite interesting, but didn’t really grip me. The scenes where one young character is abused are very distressing and well-written though.

Empire by Jeremy Paxman

One of the best books I have read in a long time! Fascinating and v well written. I learned a lot from this which is written in Paxman’s intelligent yet user-friendly prose.

The case of Mary Bell by Gitta Sereny

Already blogged about this.

The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

My first encounter with Wodehouse, and oh how I loved him. I laughed all day on the beach. Interestingly, my first ever gerbil was called Jeeves.

Porterhouse Blue : a Porterhouse chronicle by Tom Sharpe

Quite funny but not on Wodehouse’s scale. I felt that I ought to be ‘getting’ it a bit more than I was, like there was an in-joke I didn’t find terribly funny.

Deity – Stephen Dunne

While I wouldn’t put Steven Dunne up with Mark Billingham, he’s a gifted crime writer and DI Damen Brook is an agreeable and believable creation. The deaths of several homeless men seem initially unconnected with the sudden disappearance of some teenagers, but slowly horrifying details help Brook put two and two together, and the ending is really quite shocking – you don’t see it coming! Which is what I like most in a book. The plot staggers a little at times, and it does lose its way in the middle, but by the end of the book you are racing to read through. I enjoyed The Reaper, and would certainly read more by Steven Dunne.

The Guilty One – Lisa Ballantyne

The Guilty One is another story about a child killer of children, but its tone is absolutely original. Paul, the main character, is representing a young boy accused of murdering a peer. As court commences we go back into Paul’s past and see how he has been shaped by events in his own life.

Ballantyne has the rare gift of being able to give both adult and child utterly authentic voices. The characters are believable, and the plot taut and deep. I stayed up far past my bedtime to finish off the story and find out what happens to both the main protagonists. This is a book which will stay with you long after you have put it down. I thoroughly recommend it and look forward to reading more by this author.

The Falcons of Fire and Ice by Karen Maitland

For me Maitland has yet to top “The Company of Liars”, her first book, but the Falcons… is an improvement on “The Owl Killers” (her second), and her historical research and characters never fail to disappoint. As usual the story is full of mysticism and mystery. The supernatural is entwined with actual historical events (in this case the Spanish Inquisition and the horrific auto da fee), all the more powerful because belief in the supernatural was a lot stronger in the past.

This is the story of Isabela, who must must travel from Portugal to Iceland to find pure white falcons in order to save her father’s life (he, the Royal Falconer, is accused of killing those in his care). But members of the Spanish Inquisition are on their way to stop her, and the journey becomes fraught with peril for all involved with an unusual ending which I liked.

Maitland’s history is carefully researched and she brings the past to life, but the story doesn’t have quite the intensity of “Liars”. I enjoyed reading it but not to the extent that I couldn’t put it down. It’s a good book, but the author still has to regain the captivating magic of her first novel and unlike that I probably wouldn’t reread this one.

Stranded by Emily Barr

I haven’t read Emily Barr since “Backpack” and I really enjoyed that, so I looked forward to “Stranded”. It didn’t fail to deliver: well-written, with a strong background and good characters, it’s a highly readable if somewhat implausible story about a woman who following her divorce goes on holiday to Malaysia and is stranded (hence the title) with fellow holidaymakers on a deserted island.

The story twists and turns enjoyably and the characters are on the whole well-drawn, though one of the stories between the two Americans fails to convince, and the sub-plot doesn’t quite add up. (I’m trying not to say too much as I don’t want to give anything away.) Some of the plotting is clunky: one of the lines about a pivotal email plot (“who uses hotmail nowadays?”) feels forced and doesn’t make much sense. But don’t let these small flaws distract you, suspend your disbelief and enjoy. “Stranded” is a good holiday read (as long as you’re not in Malaysia).

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan

Jude Morgan has a gift for bringing shadowy people of the past to life, and The Secret Life is a real gem of a book, particularly for Shakespeare lovers but in fairness to anyone who enjoys a good read, particularly a historical one. Morgan writes from the viewpoint of both William Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway, and brings them, their friends and family to life. I learned a lot about Shakespeare, and his family, that I had never known, and while of course this is a work of fiction and should not be taken as gospel, it’s still hugely enjoyable and informative.

She also gives us the history of many of his most famous plays, and their places in his life, giving them emotional context. You read not only about the man and his family but about his texts. I couldn’t wait to continue reading this book and will seek out more from this author.

666 Charing Cross Road by Paul Magrs

I’m not normally terribly keen on books about fantasy, vampires, witches et al – no, I haven’t read Twilight! – but I found 666 Charing Cross Road funny, readable and original. When Liza Bathory (yes, you’ll recognise the name) discovers a mysterious booksheller in London she begins ordering from them, with disasterous results; while her niece Shelley who works in a museum finds one of the most unusual artefacts comes quite startlingly to life. Something has been unleashed by Liza’s parcel, but can its evil be contained?

The book is well-written and amusing, without losing its sinister edge. Another review describes it as “unclassifiable” and I’d agree with this. Original and quirky, this is a new voice in fantasy that I look forward to hearing from again.

There But For The – Ali Smith

I really love Ali Smith’s stories. They are small snippets of life, cleverly observed and don’t appear to be about very much, but you come away from them glad that you read them. I also read The First Person, another collection of stories, by her too. Good short stories are often harder to write than novels, I think. I know authors whose novels I have enjoyed (Joanne Harris, Emma Donoghue) whose stories disappointed me. Ali Smith is not one of these.

The Bryant and May books are all tremendous fun. They are detectives working in the Peculiar Crimes Unit, and anyone who knows me knows that peculiar crimes are my most favourite of crimes! I like Fowler’s odd, offbeat spooky stories. I also read Bryant and May on the Loose and White Corridor, and look forward to seeking the rest of the series out.
I read another Fowler novel, Breathe, which was good, but not as human and enjoyable as Bryant and May. There should be gaps in the paragraph now, but I have tried editing it 5 times and it won’t work, and I’m afraid I am losing my temper now, so I am going to leave it and you’ll just have to know I did my best.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D H Lawrence

I finally got around to this, the 50 Shades of its day; and found it rather uninteresting. I didn’t understand any of the characters, or warm to them, and I’m afraid Mellors have a moustache absolutely killed it for me. Frankly I thought the pair of lovers, with their little garlands of flowers, remarkably silly, and Lawrence really has no idea what sex is like for a woman because he is very inaccurate (sorry to my brother if you are reading this, just pretend you didn’t see that bit).

I did however think that the book raised interesting questions about relationships based on physical attraction and whether they have long-lasting foundations; the last paragraph of the book says quite a lot on that. I am not keen to seek out more Lawrence, though I fear that says more about me than it does about him.

The Turtle Boy by Kealan Patrick Burke

This is a very odd little book, and is right up my street. It’s the first in the Timothy Quinn series, about a young boy with a most extraordinary gift. He has no idea about it, though, when he and his friend Pete find an odd boy ‘feeding the turtles’ at the local pond. Oof, it’s giving me the heebies just writing it. I am looking forward to purchasing the rest of the series.

The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. The hero of the story is the local hangman who’s (believe it or not) a jolly good sort, and you can’t help but warm to him, even as he’s preparing his instruments for torture. The translation is a little clunky at times, but the historical detail is fascinating and I’ve just ordered the second in the series.

The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman is one of my favourite authors, and another of those rare writers who captures both the art of the novel and the short story perfectly. This series of stories tells the story of a ‘red garden’ through the generations and has Hoffman’s trademark whimsy which strays just on the right side of sentimentality.

The Submission by Amy Waldman

An original and thought-provoking book about a group’s attempts to make a memorial for those lost in the 9/11 attack.  I consider this very well-written and winced on many pages, understanding where both sides of the argument regarding the winning entry were coming from.

The Mark of the Angel by Nancy Huston

A silent, secretive German woman enters into an illicit affair with a man who mends instruments. I’m sure there is much more that could be said about this book, but I didn’t find it interesting, and it left me cold. Not just the heroine Saffie’s reservation, and the fact that she and her husband get married for no reason whatsoever, but because I didn’t think the story went anywhere. It’s got good reviews on Amazon though, so pay no attention to me.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The first Steinbeck I have read, and it made me cry on the beach just as Wooster made me laugh. Steinbeck is as clever with character and dialogue as Stephen King, who I think is a master of it. The story of the friends George and Lennie warms and breaks your heart simultaneously.

Now Clare, if you can’t find something you fancy in that lot, you can pay for me to go back to Greece and spend another fortnight doing nothing but read…

Bring up the Books

First and foremost…

Bloody well done to Hilary Mantel! I was so pleased that she won the Booker Prize for Bring up the Bodies (see an earlier post some weeks ago if you want the link as I put in there, mind you the time it’s taken me to write this bit I might as well have linked to it, but you really should know how to find it without a link), her fabulous sequel to Wolf Hall. It is nice to see decent literature lauded, rather than a book being snatched off the shelves because it mentions the word ‘clitoris’. (Which has always sounded like the name of one of Shakespeare’s heroines. But anyway.)

This evening Matthew I’ve mostly been Lounging. I am not known for relaxing, and decided to get some Loungewear specifically to encourage this. I tend to come home from work, go back out to work, go to the gym, come home, wash up, and Do Stuff until it’s time to put my pajamas on. So, courtesy of Gap, I decided to Lounge this evening (after coming home from work, going to the gym, then going to work, then coming home, then eating supper, then washing up). I bought some ‘lounge pants’ in subtle hues of grey and plum, and a snuggly grey vest and some shapeless ribbed tops, and very nice they are too. I know this is going to sound really knobby but the clothes REALLY made me chill out. They are close-fitting but very comfortable and of silky, slippery fabric that makes me feel a bit like a slow worm (a relax one). Dressed thus, one cannot help but sit in the lotus position on the sofa, light a scented candle and contemplate life.

Unfortunately as far as life goes I have little to contemplate or report. The only remotely interesting thing wot has happened recently is that I realised I really needed a reading diary, as I began reading The Queen’s Agent eagerly one evening, only to realise by page seven that I’d read it a few months back. Poor Sir Francis Walsingham! He really was much more interesting than this particular paragraph will have you believe. I turned instead to The German Trauma by Gitta Sereny. She is quite an extraordinary writer, IM humble O anyway, particularly with her two books on the case of Mary Bell which were quite groundbreaking: The Case of Mary Bell and later Cries Unheard are thought-provoking, horrifying, and heart-breaking, and turned my thoughts about Mary Bell (and the young boys who killed James Bulger) on their head (if one can turn thoughts on their heads). The German Trauma is about different reactions and admissions to and about the Holocaust, and is eye-opening, but I felt a bit Dark after reading it.

So I decided to try The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. It’s an original and entrancing take on the very old fairytale, and is written quite beautifully. The author enhances her matter-of-fact story about a couple who have moved to Alaska, and their trials, with a magical dusting of slight faerie: a fairy story for grown ups. It shouldn’t work, but it does, irrepressibly and hauntingly so. It’s one of those books that I will be giving out for Christmas this year (so if you’re a friend of mine, close your eyes when reading this bit or it won’t be a surprise).

I also sweetened the pill with It Just Occurred To Me…by Humphrey Lyttleton. This was quite interesting, not so much the jazz thing (I concur with Tony Wilson on jazz: “Jazz musicians enjoy themselves more than anyone listening to them does”, it sounds to me like someone falling a flight of stairs with a piano down their trousers and a trumpet stuck up their nose) but the insights into Eton, entertainment, and his rather eccentric relatives. It made me do real live guffaws at several points (the story about him head-butting a vicar and setting his stomach on fire is a particular highlight). Lyttleton’s story isn’t an autobiography, it’s ‘just’ a random meandering cornucopia of memories, but a very fine and enjoyable one. Rather than a full feast like an autoiography, it is more a taster menu at a fine restaurant where you keep getting the giggles.

I now have The Mitford Girls to settle down to. I am horrified to realise that a dear friend lent me this book about four years ago and I have yet to read it! I opened a couple of pages while brushing my teeth and it’s tugging at my attention like a puppy at a shoelace, so I might cut this entry short and crack on with it. Especially as Question Time is now on, and it is the kind of programme that makes me get hot, and want to stand up and shout at people on it. This is not condusive to a period of Lounging.

A Child’s Garden of Satanic Verses

OK so my last post was a bit snowy, dark and deep, but I had promises to keep. To myself. That I’d just blether, and practise writing again, because I hadn’t done it in so long. So I’m not going to delete the post, because I don’t really think anyone reads all this anyway. But here is a bit of a lighter post, just in case someone does!

This week has been exciting literature-wise. Because of National Poetry Day, which had me spending hours remembering poems I loved, not lost, but gone before, down the back of the sofa of the mind. Plus, the Literature Festival has come to Cheltenham, and the town is scattered with marquees, and celebrities, and odd little shows tucked into corners like gems glinting in the dark.

I have loved poetry since I was little. I had a book collated by Kit Wright, which was my first book of poetry: Poems for Nine Year Olds and Under. The cover itself fascinated me, as it shows a dog carrying a book of poems, and the book of poems in its mouth is the book of poems, which has a cover showing a dog carrying a book of poems … it goes on into infinity. Inside were happy poems, sad poems, dark poems, bright poems – it’s a huge great stew of verse and I recommend it to anyone, not just people Nine Years Old And Under. Although I remember thinking that the poet Anonymous had written a heck of a lot.

I also had A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. Including The Land of Counterpane, My Shadow and From A Railway Carriage. These are great for reading aloud; try to read Railway Carriage at a sedate pace and see how you get on! The words thud and thump their way off the page with a relentless rhythmn. A poem I wrote called “The Hunter’s Despair” when I was 8 or 9 owes a lot to Railway Carriage I think. It began “Dashing and leaping through bushes and brambles / Dancing and swirling through light summer air” about a deer escaping a huntsman.

The first Proper poem I wrote was A Donkey’s Dream. I was about 7 I think and we had to write a poem for Christmas, so I wrote:

I wish I was my ancestor

Led by Mary, ridden by Joseph.

Going to see the baby Jesus in his manger bed.

And on his head

A halo, golden.

*somethinn something*

‘Tis bad enough now that’s all gone,

‘Twas something to rely upon.

But still I dream of Christmas white,

And Jesus crying in the night.

No great literary masterpiece but the head teacher got me to read it out in front of the whole class and told me I had a talent. I was so excited when I went home I could hardly breathe. I remember lying in the bath and hugging that word, ‘talent’, to me, like the golden ball in The Princess and the Frog. I had my purpose for being. I wanted to write all day, every day. Then I thought “No, I mustn’t waste my talent” as if it was a pot of ink that was going to run out.

As I got older I began to appreciate the Romantic poets, and for A-level we studied Robert Frost and Jenny Joseph. The Bloodaxe Book of Women’s Poetry was a window into modern female poetry and its distinct power. Having dissected lines carefully for educational purposes, what a pleasure it is to read these poems afresh, with the knowledge of their resonance buried beneath them. It’s like enjoying a piece of music, but hearing not only the words and tune but the tambourine, and the triangle, and all the small little elements that make it what it is. The one poet I fail to appreciate is poor Roger McGough, and it’s not because he isn’t great, far from it. It’s because my biological father, having no idea what to give daughter he’d never met, gave me a book of his poetry for my seventh birthday. The book had rude words in it and included very odd little verses I didn’t understand. My mum put it – along with the Meccano set he’d given me the year before – on top of their wardrobe until I was old enough to enjoy it. Sorry, Roger, it’s nothing personal. You just bring back bad undefined memories. If it helps, I get the same feeling when I eat ginger biscuits. I don’t like this memory, but I don’t know why.

I could go on all day and all night about poetry. The Lady of Shallott by Tennyson alongside My Sister Jane by Ted Hughes. King John by A A Milne and Ariel’s song from Shakespeare. I feel excited by all this wealth of poetry. Panicked that there’s not enough time to read it ALL. I want to gather up all the words and drink them like wine. I want to memorise them so I can pull out quotes at opportune moments and sound intelligent. Other people’s words always sound better than your own. I mainly quote Monty Python, which is genius, but leaves non-Pythonites bemused. I don’t advise saying “a DUCK” in a rather sepulchural way to someone unless you’ve established they watched The Holy Grail several times, and know when to clap in Knights of the Round Table.

It would be nice to think if one day someone quoted me. For something other than “Don’t you know your own face” or “very funny, Officer.” (And only people who know me rather well will know what I mean by that.)

I’m going to stop typing now as I have painted my nails a bronze colour and I keep smudging the varnish. Tell me your favourite poems. Post links. It’s like diving into one of those big pools of balls they have at Soft Play and rolling around for the sheer joy of it. Something we should all do more often, don’t you think?

Bedtime Reading

I am feeling a bit rubbish this evening. The missing little girl in Wales is really disturbing me. I think the older you get the easier you find it to put in other people’s shoes, and empathise more, and with that comes the horror of having some tiny inkling of how they might feel. If I feel this worried, if I wake up in the wee sma’s and my automatic thought is to murmur a prayer for her, if I feel sick with dread every time I hear the news come on – what’s it like for people who actually know, and love her? What’s it like for her parents, not knowing where their little one is, the endless dreadful images going through their heads? The pillow smelling of her hair, undented by her head? Kurtz said “The horror, the horror” when he Realised, and I think Realisation is the big abyss into which every human looks into at some point. Not everyone does, obviously. Hitler and Stalin didn’t. A guy at school who chased another boy around the kitchen with a knife cos he ate some of his cheese (long story) didn’t. But most normal human beings Realise at some point and I think the 30s are my Realisation decade.

On top of this I finished Bloodlands last night. I am very glad I read it, because it is important to know what ‘really’ happened. Before I read this I thought that the Holocaust had been mainly concentration camps. This underestimates the effect of Stalin and his starvation policies and the mass shootings done by both the Nazis and the Soviets. I was reading the book in the waiting-room at the hospital on Monday and an old bloke next to me asked if I was a student. I said no, I just liked reading to learn things. He looked at my book and said “Everyone ought to read books like that. Lest we forget.”

I was in the waiting-room waiting for my hand to be looked at. I had a rather odd incident on Friday night/Saturday morning. I went to bed with a cold worrying about a spot; I woke up having punched the picture of Sappho above my bed. I was dreaming that someone was coming out of it. Probably not Sappho, who would not have been frightening. But Someone. My instinct was to scream and punch the glass, and so I did in my dream. I woke kneeling on my bed with a slight stinging in my knuckles. I started to wake up and realise what had happened, and thought putting the light on might be a good idea to see if there was any glass on my bed. Not only were there slivers of glass, there were huge puddles of blood all over my pillows and my hand was covered.

I was frightened. Very frightened. I can’t remember being so frightened – it was probably when the police came through my window and I thought they were burglars and that was in 2009. I ran to the loo to get tissue to try and mop the blood up. As I couldn’t stem it I tried to ring the non-emergency ambulance number but, still half-asleep, I couldn’t get the digits right and kept getting through to BT. In the end I rang 999, by this time sobbing like a two year old. I tried to explain what had happened, premising it with “You won’t believe this, but …” and believe me the woman certainly did not. She kept asking me if I “still felt violent” and if I still had a weapon. She then told me that they were very busy, she hadn’t asked an amublance to come to me as she didn’t think I’d need one, and I should blot my cut with a tea towel. I’m ashamed to say at this point I started crying even more. A clinician came on the phone who snapped “I’ve got people unable to breathe, and you’ve cut your hand.” A fair point, but not one that was helpful, so I hung up and realised I’d have to get myself to hospital.

I tugged on a pair of trousers with one hand, and set off in my Wallace and Gromit nightshirt, still hiccuping and sobbing like a loon. Fortunately at half midnight the roads were fairly empty, and the drive wasn’t too difficult. I must have looked like someone out of Shameless: tear-stained, no make-up, hair everywhere, dressed like a tramp. I was lucky – A & E wasn’t madly busy, and I was seen fairly quickly. The doctor also seemed convinced that I had hurt myself deliberately, and it wasn’t until he inspected the wound that he admitted that I would have been hard pressed to make the injuries on purpose.

My hand needed to be x-rayed to ensure there was no glass in the cut, and the X-ray technician tried to talk to me about God, praying, and the Bible. I wanted to call my dad. I was cold and couldn’t stop shaking and I wanted someone with me. I sent a few texts to see if people were awake, but didn’t want to ring anyone because – who wants to be woken at 0100 by someone covered in blood?! But I thought I might call my dad. The technician said no; that he must be in his 80s, and I’d be waking him up for no good reason. How often did I go to church? Did I pray? Who did I pray to? Did I study the Bible? He was trying to be kind, but I felt so very tired.

My hand was stitched up. Isn’t it ironic how painful local anaesthetic is. I’ve never got irony right; someone’s going to post on here “ooh you’re like Alanis Morissette”. But it bloody hurt. Hurt far more than smashing my fist into poor old Sappho.

I drove back home, picked the glass out of my bed, and soaked my blood-soaked pillowcases in the sink. I probably wouldn’t have done that with my old Kays Catalogue bedding, but White Company linen doesn’t come cheap. I couldn’t sleep, had to take a diazepam in the end. My blood was throbbing in my injured hand and my thoughts were throbbing too.

As it is – I am alright. I was ridiculously fortunate. I punched with my left hand, not my right, for some reason. The tendon in my finger was visible, but unsevered. I’ve got sensation and movement. And I’ve got a wonderful dad who rang me as soon as he got my text telling me I should have called him because “that’s what dads are for”; took the morning off work to help me; came round and hoovered up the glass; cleaned up the blood and made me lunch; then drove me into town so I could have my hair and make up done for the hunt ball, before driving me to that. I was surprised I went, as well. I didn’t really think I could go. But I did, and had a great evening, even if I did have to ask my friend’s husband to cut up my dinner.

The next day is when the shock set in. I felt so very tired, and very nauseous (and no, it wasn’t the wine!). I curled up on the sofa and slept. (As an aside – how wonderful it is to have a Real Life sofa, rather than one which feels like sitting on Kate Moss. Thanks to my work colleague who gave it to me. The simple pleasures of life, eh.) Shock, and anger about how I’d been treated. I’d been frightened enough as it was, to wake up covered in glass and blood; if I’d been in a bad enough state to wound myself deliberately, my treatment by the 999 staff would scarcely have helped me. I suppose it helps that I am in the position of someone who has wielded a blade deliberately, and knows what goes through your subconscious in a lightning-fast flash which bypasses your logical mind and goes like wicked quicksilver right down your wrist, but I didn’t call an ambulance over it. I would never have done that. The one time I was in hospital because of that, my neighbour rang my mum, and she drove me. We sat in the waiting room and she put my head in her lap.

Well, so much for my early night.

Anyway I was talking about bedtime reading. I’ve got a book about the Bronte sisters: The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan. I absolutely loved The Secret Life of William Shakespeare which I read by her earlier this year. She has a unique gift of taking historical people who seem so distant they are like fictional characters, and making them real. I wanted to go to bed early and read that. Instead, I’m watching a film about Hillsborough. Like my Bloodlands book, it feels like it’s something that is so important to learn about. But it’s hard to take in. I must have been about 11 when Hillsborough happened and I never really understoof how hideous it was. “The horror, the horror” again. Imagining how it was to be in the ground, and crushed. Unable to breathe, suffocating. This article by Adrian Tempany is the most graphic I have read, and also the most powerful. I have thought about those people an awful lot since the latest enquiry, and like Bloodlands, it feels like I owe it to those people to know The Truth. Sometimes I get a bit worn out by all this learning though.

I need another round of Wodehouse. I need to write more about Wodehouse, and read him too. I think we would have been tremendous chums, and I was very excited when Wooster used the phrase “sharper than a serpent’s tooth” in the same way I do, although it’s a bastardisation from King Lear. It reminds me of my resolution to speak more like Wooster, because he is so entertaining and original, and behave more like the Queen, because she is dignified and kind to everyone, even dreadful people, and I can’t imagine her doing anything wrong, ever. Nothing anyone would find out about, anyway.

I’ve rambled terribly. I might delete this post in the morning.