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Reasons why I loved being in Colin the Harsh's classes
You bump into someone in the street. ‘Sorry,’ you say.
‘No, I’m sorry,’ says your bumpee.
‘No, my fault,’ you insist.
‘My fault,’ they say. ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘No, really …’
And it could go on for ever, this quest to be the one in the
wrong, if you didn’t both have shopping to do, letters to post, and other
people to apologise to.
They say it’s a British thing. Whatever it is, my creative
writing tutor, Colin, was determined to stamp it out.
I joined his class in 1995 when my third child had started
school. During that first lesson, he asked a woman to share her work. She
opened her notebook, announced, ‘I’m sorry – it’s not very good,’ and began to
He interrupted her. ‘Rule Number One,’ he said. ‘We will
never apologise for what we’ve written.’
It took us weeks to learn that he meant it. If we launched
into a bumbling, self-effacing, ever so ‘umble apology, he’d put up his hand,
like a police officer stopping traffic, and say, ‘Start again.’
He wouldn’t accept any of the following:
‘Sorry – it’s not quite finished.’
‘I do apologise – I think it’s a bit rambly.’
‘I’m sorry – I had to rush this before I came out tonight.’
‘I’m sorry – it’s not my best work.’
‘Apologies for this – it’s a bit depressing.’
‘Sorry about this one – it’s not the funny stuff I usually
‘Sorry, guys – I didn’t have time to do the usual edit.’
‘Gosh, how can I follow Simon’s? It was brilliant. Well, I
guess I’ll read it anyway.’
‘I really struggled with this. I’m sorry if it doesn’t come
‘Oh dear, I’ve lost my place. Sorry, sorry. Let me just find
it. I knew this was going to read
The need to apologise beforehand – or during - was as strong
as a Delhi-belly urge: verbal diarrhoea in its purest form.
Sometimes, we’d apologise all over again for apologising.
‘I’m losing the will to live,’ Colin would say.
One day, he brought in a pineapple. Don’t ask me why he
chose a pineapple. ‘Every time I sense an apology-fest coming,’ he said, ‘I
will shout “Pineapple!” at which point you must stop explaining, justifying and
second-guessing our reactions, and just read
the damn piece!’
That was a turning point.
‘This is a piece I wrote last night about my grandmother’s
funeral,’ we learned to begin, or ‘I wrote the start of a short story. Here it
We could request particular critique, but only in positive
terms. These were fine: “Could you listen out for sections you think are
confusing?” or “I’d like to get the girl’s childish voice exactly right. Could
you comment on that?” As Colin put it, ‘Self-aware is fine. Self-deprecating
He also pointed out that, sometimes, when we heralded a
piece with ‘This is a bit rubbish,’ it wasn’t lack of confidence at all. It was
over-confidence. We thought we were the new Stephen King or J K Rowling.
‘So, I’m not allowing false modesty either,’ he’d say. ‘It’s
not sincere. And if you come to class thinking you’re Booker Prize material,
you won’t listen to anyone’s critique. Go and join Embroidery or Spanish
Cookery: something you think you need help with.’
Colin the Harsh, he was, but also Colin the Wise.
Anyway, I’m sorry if you found this blog post a bit …..
Apologise one more time and I'll just throw the tin at you
A crossword book travels with me everywhere now. It's a hobby that's developed into an addiction over the past couple of years. If I'm stuck at a bus stop, waiting - a daily occurrence, and sometimes twice or thrice-daily - I'll whip my crossword book out, turn to a new puzzle, and while the time away filling in the clues.
I've nearly missed my bus many times. Buses sneak up on people with their heads buried in books, then hurtle past to punish you for not staying alert. There are some bus drivers around here who probably keep a joyful tally of the number of people they've outwitted this way.
Never mind missing buses, though. My bigger problem, currently, is that the book I'm carrying around is filled with general knowledge crosswords. My husband bought me this for Christmas, forgetting that I do not possess General Knowledge.
I possess only Generally Forgotten Knowledge and it's so far down, at the very ends of my brain neurons, or wherever knowledge r…
Is it just me? Is anyone else affected by the colours of food?
I've just made an omelette for my lunch. On my days off (Mondays and Wednesdays) lunch is usually an omelette. I'm trying to avoid bread. We have fallen out, bread and I. I can eat most anything else and not put on weight. I have one thin slice of bread: suddenly I'm the size of a Juggernaut and can't get through normal doors.
Two or three slices of bread, and people pass me saying, 'Look at that hot air balloon, out walking.'
I reached into the cupboard for eggs for my omelette, pulling out a box of eggs that looked different from those we usually buy. My husband bought them - they're called 'Burford Browns' and there's a message - I call it a warning - on the box: 'With deep brown coloured shells'.
Fine. Deep brown coloured shells I can cope with. Who cares about the shells? They go in the recycling, to shell heaven.
But when you crack these eggs for an omelette, inside the…
We are on holiday in Tenby, Wales. Paul and I come here most years, renting the same house each time because it has an original version of Monopoly with the metal tokens such as the top hat, boot and iron. We also like the pretty duvet covers on the beds. And there's a sea view, which is also nice.
It's a bit quiet this year - usually we bring some of our offspring with us. We are missing them. In part, this is because our she-was-on-Masterchef-once older daughter always does the cooking. We've been sitting around waiting for dinner to arrive before remembering she's not here and leaping to our feet to run to Tesco.
I'd like to share some of my holiday pictures with you. Fear not. My holiday snaps tend not to feature panoramic views or cathedrals.
This is post-op and relieved Rat, although his look says 'If you'd known the difference between a wall ornament and a light fitting, none of this would have been necessary ...'