Kate Simants

I write it. You read it. Splattering fresh brains into your eyes.

Frozen, miserable, unable to wash. But at least we’re ‘Individuals’.

We love a good freeze, us boatpeople. We run around the place lighting fires for each other to stop the pipes freezing. We have no water for days and days on end because the one standpipe that serves all twenty of us is frozen, so we just stick potatoes in our woodburners because it’s a saucepanless meal, so it doesn’t matter that there’s no water for washing up. We scrape the ice off the inside of the windows and row over to the pub and sit there for hours “for warmth”, and then, when the inevitable comes and we need to wash, we go to the leisure centre. We don’t quite live in the same century as everyone else. We are A Bit Different.

(Because that’s what we like to think, us boatpeople. That’s why we use that term. Do you call yourself a houseperson, or a flatperson? Deep down – or possibly, not all that deep – we are, of course, very boring people. Like everyone else, we run out of milk, get grumpy in the morning, experience that wincing little flicker of sicky hate whenever someone on the radio says ‘the Prime Minister, David Cameron.’ But this boating thing – economic necessity notwithstanding – is one of those things we do to convince ourselves that we’re Individuals. So when we find that we can’t vote/join a library/flush the toilet when there’s a regatta/get a Nectar card/bend our begloved but frozen fingers around our porridge spoons/stop the Stowaway from screaming after she is woken once again by freezing cold water dripping from the hatch above her bed onto her precious little head, we just say, at least we’re Individuals. It’s the same as dyeing your hair blue, but a lot, lot colder)

Yes, we love a  freeze, or a good snowstorm. Ideally it goes like this: a good freeze first, for several days, then a few days of snow to get the ground all nice and covered, then a sudden thaw, which means… a good flood! And boaters love nothing better than a good flood.*

We all pretend it’s a disaster. We run around the place (especially the men) shouting things like, “check your ropes!” and, “bail out your tender!” and, “bring her astern!”**, and, “beware the Severn Bore!”*** and things. We love it. Love it. The river rises, we stand outside looking across what used to be a field and is now a sea all the way to the chocolate factory, we provide the bewildered chickens with liferings. We smile at each other and have a sense of community even greater than in peace-time. We feel all risky.

Then the river goes down and there’s just a lot of mud, and we go to work. Like everyone else.

* With the exception of the presumably – hopefully – uninhabited boat over the river that has the strange quality of staying in the same position relative to the riverbed, regardless of the level of the water. 

** Less so when not in active naval manoeuvres.

*** Less so here, as we’re on the Avon.

ACT THREE, in which the writer, defeated, puts the novel away.

ACT THREE

In which the writer, defeated, puts the novel away.

At rise of curtain, KATE is discovered at her kitchen table, left. In the centre of the stage is a very large and very old chest of drawers. KATE is alone – for the purposes of this self-indulgent introspection, the audience will forget the husband and small child whose presence would ordinarily preclude the silence of the scene. Her hair is chaotic, and not in a tousled way. She wears a satin nightgown – suggesting a history or an expectation of glamour – and an expression of resignation. In front of her is a bottle of whisky, and a thick, white manuscript.

A thin wall of something like natural light is creeping up behind her, through the curtain, right. The light is weak, and it is unclear if it signals the beginning or the end of a day.

KATE    (Her hand on the manuscript.) Well, old friend. This is it. Act three. The denouement. Fin de bloody siècle.

(She wipes the back of a hand across her eyes, sniffs. She is really very awfully sad, see.)

KATE    We did our best, didn’t we? You and me?

(A tear, maybe several, fall onto the cover page. She brushes them off and stands, heaving the very heavy manuscript which took a very very long time to write, from the table, and clutching it against her heart.)

KATE    What’s that? (Lifting the manuscript, listening.) You don’t want to go? Oh, my baby. Don’t be afraid. You won’t be alone. Everything I’ve ever written is in there too. (Pause.) Yes, it’ll be dark. (Another pause.)  Yes, and cold too. I can’t help that. But it wouldn’t be much of an Obscurity otherwise would it?

(Off stage, a letterbox creaks, followed by the thud of papers hitting the floor. Quickly KATE lays the manuscript on the floor, brightening for a moment as she takes a step towards the door. Then she stops, the despair returning. She drops to her knees, and begins to wail.)

KATE    Oh agonising hope! Why do you torment us?

(She scoops up the manuscript, wrapping it into her gown, and points viciously at the door. Her voice becomes a growl.)

KATE    Leave him alone! He’s not an idiot! He knows as well as I do that good news from literary agents doesn’t come through the post. They would use the phone, damn you, or they’d email. Take your stinking, filthy, photocopied pro-forma rejection letter and –

(She stops abruptly, bringing the manuscripts out again, cradling it)

KATE    You’re right. I’m sorry. I mustn’t tarnish our goodbye.

(The light changes, as if the sun has gone behind a cloud. KATE looks over to the window, then to the chest of drawers, which she now approaches.)

KATE    It’s time.

(She kneels, and opens the bottom drawer. It is filled with other manuscripts. She finds a place for the manuscript she holds, and carefully lays it down. 

The manuscript looks up at her, its hopes and ambitions drained now from its pages, all its youthful self-assurance just a distant memory. It weeps, yes, weeps, for its abandoned dreams, its forgotten promises. And then, slowly, it turns its face away from KATE, its eyes still open, its sad, sad heart still beating.)

KATE    Don’t worry, old friend, I’ll visit. I’ll come and hold you, late at night, and spill tears and whisky on your sheets, as I always did. We’ll always be together. But I have to leave you now. The world wasn’t ready for you, my dear, overworked comrade. It might have been your multiple point-of-view narrative, or your under-developed protagonist. Or even the confused political stance, that we never quite seemed to fix. No, my darling, it isn’t a criticism. It’s not you, it’s me.

(She pushes the drawer in to the chest, but it is stiff, and she has to shove.)

KATE    Please. Don’t cry. Please. You’ll be OK. (One final shove, and the drawer is closed. She leans her head against the chest, defeated.) We tried. We really, really tried.

CURTAIN

Feminist rant of the week (with a special treat at the end).

A very good friend told me recently that she isn’t going back to paid work when her maternity leave ends. She’s got two kids, and would make no money if they were both in nursery. She wanted to look after her kids, but everyonbe was telling her what a terrible mistake she’d be making. What a waste, they said – why would you want to be a housewife? Wasn’t she a feminist after all?

Because of my place in this debate – that I do about 75% of the childcare, and work in the remaining time and my spare time but make very little money – I took the comments of my friend’s friends to heart. I told her they were c*nts. Then I qualified that a bit. If someone chooses to spend most of their time caring for their child/ren instead of continuing in paid work, they can still be an egalitarian and a  feminist. You don’t have to work for money to be committed to a belief that women are equal to men.

But how does that work? If a woman believes that she should be entitled to the same political, social, and economic rights as men, how does devoting many years of her life to bringing up children entitle her to those rights? Motherhood isn’t paid, and therefore what she does leave her at the financial mercy of a partner (read, in most cases, a man), or on benefits, unless the paid work she did before she became a mother made her financially independent.* She is not helping herself to those rights. She does not deserve the respect that ‘working’ women deserve. She doesn’t exist in the world of work, or finance, or politics, or any societal structure outside that of the family, and therefore will not ever contribute to the progress achieved in obtaining those rights.  She is, as many people, including a hell of a lot of feminists, a waste of an education.

So therefore the 868,000 people in the childcare sector** should do their jobs for free, because looking after children is not real work. Someone needs to look after my child, but if it’s me, that means I’m not making a contribution to the economy because no money is changing hands. And I should be ashamed ofbeing dependent on the Deckhand because, for the most part, he earns the money? Funnily enough, he’s dependent on me looking after the Stowaway, so he can do his paid work. It’s called sharing. I’m not ashamed of the way we do things.

I could be wrong, but I thought feminism was about being entitled to the same rights and respect as men. To me, that means that if I choose to do work, for now,which is traditionally women’s work, which does not involve me fighting against men to get to do that work, then I still get to have those rights, to be respected and taken seriously. I’m not asking to be paid for the work I do. I’m asking to have my work recognised, socially, as important, valuable work. And no, I’m certainly not saying that all women should ‘stay at home’***. What I’m saying is that my contribution to society and feminism doesn’t (shouldn’t) be judged on how much I earn and whether or not I’m spending my time doing things traditionally barred to women.

I like my jobs. Doesn’t make me lazy. In my spare time and when the deckhand does his dadding, I write. We try to live simply. Both of us made sacrifices, financial and otherwise, so that we can live our lives doing the things we really want to do. Equal Opportunities, is what that is.

OK, all done. Off to make the dinner and succumb to my nightly beating now. The treat mentioned in the title, btw, is that the next chapter will be up this evening.

* in which case she’d be in a highly unusual position, given that even if women do the same job as the man in the office/shop/factory/racing car next to her, she will earn an average of £10,000 a year less than he does.

** Office of National Stats, 2010.

***An execrable term I fucking loathe. I have spent about ten days ‘at home’ with the Stowaway this year. I don’t nob about in a 4×4 worrying about my nails, and I don’t lounge around watching telly. I spend time every evening thinking planning the things I’m going to do with my daughter the next day, making sure she has fun, learns stuff, interacts with a wide range of people, finds out about the world, gets decent nutrition and plenty of exercise. We get wet and muddy. The TV is on for about 20 minutes a day when I make dinner.

Fairy stew

The Deckhand and I have different parenting styles. For example. The other day.

Me: anxious that, if the Stowaway continues to subsist entirely on beans and tiny yogurts, she will develop something both gaseous and hypercalcemic, I resolve to feed her some vegetables and lentils and that. She refuses, so the following evening I big the meal up before serving it, claiming that because she has been so good by not liberally pissing and shitting herself quite so much these days, the fairies have let me use their secret recipe. It is not vegetables, I insist, but fairy stew. I have proof – how else would it glitter and gleam so? (See previous post for details of obsessive use of Jane Asher disco sprinkles.) (No, they’re not exactly toxic, as such; yes, one’s deposits also glitter and gleam. It’s a half-life thing, don’t get too hung up on it). The Stowaway’s eyes light up and she happily sucks the health-slop down.

The Deckhand: ambling over to where the Stowaway sits joyfully eating her holographic cassoulet, he asks what she’s got. “Fairy stew!” she replies. He peers into the bowl, puts his hand over his mouth, points. She stops chewing, following his gaze. “What, daddy?” she asks. “It’s just,” he tells her, “that I can see a little bit of fairy, right there.”

Inspirational potty training from the Stowaway

So I’ve had an idea. It’s born partly of my bad parenting choices, and partly of greed.

The Stowaway starting potty training today. In the past, I’ve tried very hard to avoid just bribing her into submission, but this is different. This involves puddles, and, y’know. Shitty carpet. So, for Day One, we agreed she’d have a sticker and a ‘present’ every time she used the potty. The first five hours of the day were unsuccessful, and the rug started taking on a distinctly waterlogged feel. She whined and wailed for nappies. We got through ten pairs of big-girl* pants before lunch.

Then something changed. My darling daughter, born into the insolvent bosom of a family steeped in socialist ideals and little capital, is demonstrating what can only be described as an inspiring dedication to the acquisition of wealth.** The last three hours have gone in six minutes cycles of having a tiiiiiiiny slash so small you’d be hard pushed to drown a beetle in it, doing a celebratory dance, sprinting to the present box, unwrapping present, utilising present for no more than 90 seconds, then insisting she needs another wee.

And as such, my idea is thus. I will revert to a state of barely-managed continence. I will demand that the Deckhand buys a box full of trinkets, and then I will join the Stowaway in her cycle of urination and remuneration.

* Big girl pants being distinct from nappies. I don’t mean vast BHS knickers for the obese of bottom. Those belong to me, and would be inappropriate for a two-year-old.

** By ‘wealth’ I’m referring to juice boxes, plastic dinosaurs, hair clips and other disposable tat, mind. Doesn’t stop her pissing her little kidneys out for it.

Nicole and Adam’s chocolate orange wedding cake

Ok, since you asked. Actually, Mrs Krzanowski, (Adam’s mum, not wife, eek) wanted this about 104 years ago and I failed to provide it, and since my sister-in-law just asked too – yer tis, as they say.

2-3 satsumas or other small orange chaps

6 eggs

2 tsp baking powder

200g ground almonds

200g caster sugar

60g cocoa

Boil the oranges in a bit of water (don’t let them dry out) until they’re completely soft. Takes about an hour or so.

Blend them violently and wait until they’re cold

Preheat oven to 180c

Add everything else to blended orange mixture

Bake in, you know, some kind of tin or cupcake cases or whatever, for somewhere between twenty minutes and an hour. Just, you know, check it, every so often.

Leave to cool and spread with chocolate icing and some suicidally cool holographic disco sprinkles off JaneAsher.com. I said it, bitch! Jane fucking Asher!

The Blanks – the bit to read before you read the bit you already read…

OK, so I did something a bit stupid. There are now two ‘articles’ to read before you read Chapter One. (I’m talking about the fiction pages. Do keep up). In fact,there always were two articles, but I didn’t give them to you because they’re not as immediately hooksome. Anyway – go back to Fiction now, read the articles, skip Chapter One if you’ve already read it, and then read Chapter Two.

Got it? Good.

For my part, I promise to do things chronologically from now on.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.