Kate Woodward is telling tales again



Going into battle with the pithy phrase



Don’t get me wrong, my parents did a fantastic job of raising me and my siblings. But now that I’m trying to make it the world of writing, they have a lot to answer for. Yes, they encouraged me to read. Yes, they supported me in the choices I made – and still do – but every choice I make is conditioned by the words that surrounded me when I was a child.

My family were fond of the pithy phrase. We grew up shaped by words – a collection of rules to live by, put downs and rallying cries. A neighbour was too slow to carry cold dinners another going so fast he’ll meet himself coming back, a third all fur coat and no knickers. Holes in our socks were greeted with a cheery you’ll never fall while your feet can see and any ideas of spending beyond cautious limits were cut off with an admonition to wind your neck in.

And here’s my issue – amongst these lovely phrases are ones that hold me back. The wind your neck in still has me gasping in horror at my niece’s suggestion that I should buy her a Christmas gift from Selfridges. I see the bright yellow bags and instantly make a value judgement on the shopper with more money than sense.

The killer for me is the rule that you mustn’t get too big for your boots. Along with a strong sense of knowing your place, it carries the message that it’s wrong to think you’re better than others. It’s wrong to think you’re special, and it’s wrong to wave a flag and say ‘hey, look at me, see what I’ve done’. That’s why I struggle to promote myself and my writing. The world of social media seems like a great big shouting match of ‘Me! Me! Me!’. Pitching is painful, submitting a trial, and although I know it’s never going to happen, there persists a crazy notion that good work will be miraculously spotted and quietly rewarded.

These phrases have become part of my DNA. They are what I am, but I don’t have to accept to be bound by all of them – I have inherited short sight, but I choose to wear glasses. There’s one phrase that I can call on to help – getting too big for your boots might be a terrible crime, but it’s also foolish to be backward at coming forward.

That, then, is what I need to do – stop worrying about the boots and start putting myself forward.

Wish me luck.

Spug’s Top 10 Running Essentials

The usual advice to beginners is that all you need to start running is a pair of training shoes. Rubbish! Shoes might help but, as the popularity of barefoot running demonstrates, they aren’t essential. Neither – and this point is aimed mainly at the girls – is a sports bra (but it is more comfortable with than without).

No, what I am talking about is the real top 10, the things you really can’t do without. Forget your GPS watch, your isotonic supplements and your micro-fibre silver-lined socks, these 10 are crucial.

In the time-honoured, reverse-order tradition, here’s my countdown of the items you really need to be a runner.


10. Legs

Before you start yelling prosthetics at me, I didn’t say what type of legs, did I? But you do need them – a minimum of two, but four also works well.

9. Lung

Notice I’ve used the singular. Of course, the norm is a pair and if you have a choice, go for the norm. Don’t economise here and look after them well once you’ve got them home.

8. A heart

More or less essential for sending blood around the body (not having one could cause your heart-rate monitor to give confusing data). Very importantly, it takes a lot of heart to run when it’s hailing on a pitch-black January night.

7. Sweat

If you don’t sweat when you run, you will get hotter and hotter, and then you will overheat and explode. It would make a mess and hurt an awful lot (I have simplified the science, but you get the picture).

6. Clothes

Technically it is possible to run without clothes. Indeed, we have evidence that it may help you to become an Olympian. It may, however,  result in arrest, frost-bitten bits and ridicule.

5. Washing Machine

A consequence of numbers 6 and 7.

4. Food

You don’t eat enough, you’re going to die. Don’t cut it too fine. Eat most days, and eat to excess at least once a week. After all, it has been statistically proven that a fat runner is faster over all distances than a dead runner.

3. Surfaces

We’ve all heard about concrete being really hard and grass being nice and springy. Older runners will wax lyrical about the advantages of modern tracks over cinder ones. Forget all that. It doesn’t matter which surface you run on – try running with no surface at all! You’ll soon see what I mean. Let me know if you get anywhere.

2. Reasons

You could run simply because you enjoy it. Or to catch the antelope you need for your supper. However serious or lightweight your reason, you won’t run without it.

1. Excuses

Beginners learn these quickly. Old hands have a stock ready for every race, season or competition. Used wisely they’ll work time and again, but like overuse injuries you need to rest them from time to time. Never, ever, be without one.

Pixar and the woman who fell to earth

This is going to sound a bit sad – not in the sense of tragic – rather in the teenage speak sense of the word. Let’s get it out there: I am a saddo. When Pixar animations celebrated a quarter century of outstanding filmmaking in last year, I hadn’t seen a single one of their films.
I have spent Pixar’s lifespan in a difficult place. Twenty two years spent in a marriage to a man with strong opinions and a dominant nature. In terms of entertainment, what he said went. And I, mea culpa, fell in with that. It was easier to go along with things, than to fight and lose a battle over a little matter of what film we should watch on the TV. I am talking here about a man who could manage a major sulk if I so much as suggested I would watch something else in the other room. I hadn’t been to the cinema above a half dozen times in those years – the last film we saw together was the first Lord of the Rings – and yet I had watched The Long Riders, Deliverance, Southern Comfort, and Master and Commander, so many times that I could walk onto the set of a remake and deliver the lines word for word.
It isn’t an enormous surprise that we are no longer together. His choice, not mine – I’ve already said, everything in the marriage was his choice, haven’t I? The rejection hit me hard; I have spent three years slowly making my way back to being me. I’m at the stage now – the Promised Land that you can’t envisage when a break up is new – of realising that I’m better off without him. I am returning to the real world, and this time, I’m coming as myself.
So back to Pixar. How do they fit in? It’s like this: I’ve got catching up to do; I can’t play in the real world without understanding the cultural references everyone else bats about. I need to know who Woody, Buzz and Dory are, and goddamit, I need to know if anyone ever found Nemo. I have been borrowing DVD’s and enjoying the escapism of some of the things that the rest of the world has taken for granted. Not just Pixar, either, I’ve not been that exclusive. Let’s just say that I now know about King Julian and have a real soft spot for Sid Sloth.
I should have been getting heavy into my exciting new Amazon purchase “The Complete Business Start Up Book” but I discovered that there was a little Pixar gem on the TV. WALL-E was being shown. A five star rating in the paper, 8.5 on iMDB – the book could wait. I had the important business of catching up to get on with.
It’s not exaggerating to say that I watched it with a grin on my face, that in the privacy of my own home I laughed out loud; that I watched awestruck as I saw the destroyed Earth and that I was entranced by the two robots dancing together against a star strewn universe.
As I watched the film, I felt like someone who had been away for a very long time suddenly and unexpectedly finding that what they’d longed to get back to, isn’t a disappointment, but is better than they remembered. I have missed out on popular culture and yet it’s popular because it’s damned good and because it appeals to our very human-ness. We can try and ignore that side of us, think we are above enjoying what the masses enjoy, but we do that at cost to ourselves not to them.
Like the stultified passengers of the Axiom, I’ve been away a long time. It’s taking time for me to get sorted, but watching these movies and seeing why they are so loved and talked about has been great fun and more than that – it’s been a return to Earth.

Website Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: