Tag Archives: Hadley Freeman

You need five weeks between the squirrel columns

Some time back when things were normal, I wrote to the Guardian and asked them to send me Tim Dowling. They wrote back and said they would think about it.

Finally, last night Tim was in my living room! Admittedly only on screen, and he had Hadley Freeman with him. But it was good; two of my favourites at the same time.

The squirrels, as you will know, are his. But there’s a limit to how often even Tim can write a column about them. Not every week, that’s for certain. (But I did think it could be more frequently than every five…)

And he sounds so English! For an American, I mean. Almost like an Atlantic version of Colin Firth. I admired his living room (?), until it was suggested by someone that it might be Tim’s shed. Was it just a fake background, to fool me?

I knew Hadley’s ‘background’ was in fact her bedroom. I’ve been in her bedroom before. The bedroom with the wallpaper.

Apparently it’s hard writing a weekly column, although for Hadley it provides a break in her ‘parenting’ as she knows she should refer to the child care as.

For Tim the task is to make Mrs D laugh on Saturday mornings. She’s generally not ‘pissed off’ by what he writes, knowing full well she’s the funny one. Tim ‘only writes it down.’

If they were to write about last night, the first you would read about it – except on here, obviously – is Saturday next week. That’s as far in advance as they need to be. They both dread coming up with acceptable topics, and for Tim not much beats the squirrels. Or a hole in his sock. He started his writing career with a column [elsewhere] on ‘How to live off your girlfriend’. Because it’s what he did, having followed the future Mrs D to England. She has tried to send him back.

We all love Hadley’s interviews. When asked who her dream future interviewee would be, she said Eddie Murphy. Also a lot of already dead people. And apparently her recent piece on Angelina Jolie, which I enjoyed, caused very many readers to write in to defend Angelina…

Both Tim and Hadley have books on the go. To write, I mean. But Tim filled me with dread when he said he might need three months off to finish his novel. Don’t do it!

Packed bags and passports

While I’m talking about Hadley Freeman, as I was yesterday, I’ll return to something she wrote in her Guardian column in the summer [about antisemitism]. She said ‘the stories about Jewishness I grew up with, at home and at Hebrew school, were all about persecution, keeping your bag packed by the door, just in case.’

Reading that sent chills through me, because it echoed what another Jewish author told me a few years ago, which was that as a Jew she couldn’t have too many passports.

And now, I’m thinking of both those statements, and finding myself closer to ‘packing a bag, just in case.’ As for passports, they have been greatly on my mind recently. Brexit – do you remember Brexit? – raised its ugly head and almost shoved Covid aside.

I thought, I need a new passport. Not immediately immediately, but pretty soon. Sooner than felt comfortable, as the borders of Europe closed again, and airlines cancelled the flights they had been happy to take your money for, and there were quarantine rules all over the place. I’m not saying I wanted to fly anywhere, or even to travel. But to have a passport is awfully handy when you live ‘somewhere else’, even when that is your home.

So not only were there fears about catching a bad illness, but before we knew it, those tiers started coming and we were not supposed to travel. Unless essential. Seems passports might be ‘essential’. Doesn’t mean you won’t catch anything, though. Travelling domestically or internationally both have drawbacks, as well as the odd advantage.

It’s very expensive, travelling within this country, to your ‘local capital city’. And the passports cost more. Going abroad would have been more cost effective, but not advisable.

My nearest honorary consul held a Zoom meeting this week, where we all discussed stuff like this. Many turned out not to know certain relevant things about continuing to live here in 2021. Many might be unable to afford a 600 mile return trip for a new passport, or feeling too old or feeble to undertake the journey.

I’m now so old that I have started thinking about pensions. While we’re in the grip of the virus, many will – possibly – have to go without their foreign pension, if they are unable to prove they are still alive. This, too, necessitates some travelling in many cases. The foreign authorities have said they’ll be somewhat patient, waiting for proof, but not for that incredibly long. If you’ve been declared dead, I’m guessing it’s hard to be ‘revived’ after travel restrictions are lifted. If ever.

So, we’ll see. Technically I’m not supposed to go and pick up my new passport, either.

‘My Mom got me my job’

I’d like to think that Hadley Freeman and I are [almost] the same. She’s just more famous, and mostly gets to interview more famous people than I do, but we both do it for the same reason; to meet people we admire. So that’s why I simply had to attend Hadley’s event for Arvon at Home this evening.

She apologised in advance for any potential interruptions from her young children. There were none, but I’d say she was a little tense, just in case they’d decide to join us. I’d have liked it if they did, and I’m sure most of the others would too.

To start, Hadley read from the beginning of her latest book, House of Glass, about her French grandmother. I’d read about it in the Guardian, so knew it would be interesting, and almost enough to make me want to read something other than children’s books. Deauville is not like Cincinnati. And none of the elderly relatives five-year-old Hadley met on that holiday in France were the type to run around like she was used to doing with cousins.

Having spent something like twenty years on this book, after finding a shoebox at the back of her late Grandmother’s wardrobe, it was interesting to learn how she set about her research and the writing. Her American – but bilingual – father helped with some of the French, while the Polish was done by the wives of her Polish builders at the time.

For the structure of the whole thing, help came from all directions, and as I keep quoting others on, you should always ask your friends. Apart from different coloured files, which is always attractive, you should know your subject completely, but write only what’s interesting and what your readers will want to know. Like the interviews, in fact.

Hadley’s Grandmother and her siblings never spoke of what happened in the war, but they kept everything. It was there for Hadley to find and to read. It took her 18 months to write the book, and the way you achieve this with three children under five, is to have the right husband who does the parenting at weekends, leaving Sundays for writing.

For her second reading Hadley chose her 2015 book Life Moves Pretty Fast. I think it’s about her love for the 1980s, and in particular for 1980s films. And music. Apparently they are better than 1960s stuff, which I can almost believe. (Except for the music.) She herself was surprised to discover that her mother, being the kind who only gives you fruit for dessert, let her discover these movies at a young age.

But then, it was that same mother who sent an early interview to a competition, which Hadley went on to win, and which brought her to the attention of the Guardian, where she has been for the last twenty years. Mothers are good.

Questions, and compliments, from the audience seemed to surprise Hadley. I think it’s time she realises that quite a few of us admire her writing quite a lot. No, scratch that. It’s better she doesn’t, in case it goes to her head.

As you were, Hadley.

On doing the impossible

The good thing about the Edinburgh International Book Festival is how impossible it is. The many famous and wonderful authors it will be impossible to see there, simply because they have so many such people coming.

The 2016 programme was unveiled yesterday and I have scanned it for the best and most interesting events. Of which there are a lot. So to begin with I will plan not to see quite a few tremendously big names in the book business, since even at a distance I can tell I can’t possibly get them on to my wishlist. Then comes that list, and then comes the more realistic list, and finally comes the actual list I will actually be able to do.


Best of all would be to have no opinion, but to go along one day, or two, and pick something off that day’s menu, where tickets are still available. That would be excellent.

I can’t do that.

There is a follow-on from last year’s YA debate with Daniel Hahn, and Anthony McGowan and Elizabeth Wein among others. Chris Riddell will deliver the Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, making it unmissable, and Michael Grant is back in town with his WWII alternate history.

Meg Rosoff will be talking about Jonathan Unleashed, and Francesca Simon is ‘doing away with’ Horrid Henry! Cornelia Funke and Vivian French have things to say about dyslexia, Nick Sharratt will talk nonsense (poetry), and Theresa Breslin and Debi Gliori and Lari Don and all those other lovely Scottish authors are coming.

Debut writer Kathy Evans is talking to Jo Cotterill, and Lucy Coats has some more Myths up her sleeve. And so does Kate Leiper, I believe.

Jackie Kay is doing stuff, and many of our finest crime writers are coming along to kill and thrill, and there are Swedes and other Nordic authors; some expected, others more unexpected. Quite a number of children’s authors are doing adult events, which I think is a good idea. Politicians will be there, talking about all sorts of things.

I know I’ve already mentioned Daniel Hahn, but as usual he will be doing so much that he should try and get a rest in now. Just in case. Hadley Freeman is coming, which makes me quite excited. Lemn Sissay.

Who have I forgotten? You see, it’s impossible. There are so many!

OK then; speaking out

Fainthearted male readers can go away now and come back tomorrow. You won’t want to know. After yesterday’s sex and Monday’s thoughts on criticising people – or not – we’ll mix the two and forget that we’re mostly about books.

I’m going to have a go at Hadley Freeman in the Guardian. I love Hadley, and she writes beautifully, with forceful and funny thoughts on all kinds of things. The fact that she’s wrong about what constitutes good clothes is something I’m willing to forgive her. The fact that she’s anti homeopathy is also fine. It’s less fine that she uses her clever, and therefore influential, writing to belittle and ridicule homeopathy.

Had I not been convinced otherwise, I may well have taken her word for it.

I was once totally unknowing about the subject too, but in such desperate straits that I grasped the straw. Had I not, then Daughter would have embarked on a very sudden diet at the age of five months. Now, it could have been the placebo effect that made me better that time. But if so, why didn’t I placebo my way to painfree ‘babyfeeding equipment’ after the course of antibiotics from my GP? I believe in them, and they had helped before. Or surely the second lot of antibiotics should have done the trick, and not had me wait until I poured sachets of caster sugar down my throat? Very expensive caster sugar, I may add.

Being quite anti anything new or strange, and fully expecting to find myself in the hands of a mad, and for some reason white-coated, scientist type homeopathic doctor, I was relieved to be sitting in Doctor Finlay’s surgery, spilling out everything about me and my life. £35 later I went home with my caster sugar, wrapped very deftly in small white pieces of paper by Doctor Finlay, and took some the first week, phoned him back, and then took the next the following week.

If that’s placebo, then I’m happy with it. Daughter should be, too, as she could continue to dine every day.

The fact that my Doctor Finlay was also a ‘real’ doctor is reassuring. I sent the Resident IT Consultant there, and he was so unwell that the good DF muttered that he ‘may sink so low as to prescribe some penicillin’.

DF took care of quickly disposing of Daughter’s food supply when the time came. I’d rather have placebo hocus pocus, than months of dribbling and discomfort. And it was straight into the world of Anne of Green Gables when DF provided something for croup. We crouped a lot for a few years, and it felt strangely literary to be getting familiar with Ipecac after all these years. Poor Offspring were easily duped and placeboed their way through not only croup, but car sickness (and if sugar sachets means less vomit in the car, that is surely a Good Thing?), the repercussions of tooth extraction (only with the second remedy tried), insomnia due to very bad tummy bug (teething powders, of all things), and even the acne responded. (SO sorry for mentioning that in public my dears.)

Mother-of-witch spent all her visits succumbing to colds accompanied by high temperatures, so I threw Belladonna at her with good results, although it never worked on me. And that Saturday afternoon when she coughed and could barely breathe? I read up and found two likely remedies, both of which I had in the house. Tried the familiar one first, being the unadventurous type, and it didn’t work. The second one did. The placebo effect works in mysterious ways.

One Spring I was boasting to another parent of the reduction in colds we had all experienced after taking Doctor Finlay’s ‘winter prevention’ caster sugar, when I started worrying about it having been less true that winter. My next immediate thought was dismay when it dawned on me that I had forgotten my September phone call to Lochgilphead (DF retired) and we had never taken any that year. Oops.

I now have half a shelf full of books on homeopathy, and I consult them whenever it feels like homeopathy is the right thing to go for. The rest of the time I’m satisfied with antibiotics and cocodamol. Oh, and I’ve paid for every single sugar grain of placebo effect myself. No such happiness as sugar on the NHS around these parts.

Hadley boasts of taking an overdose of homeopathic pills, to prove they are useless because they caused her no harm. It is possible to overdose, Hadley. You just didn’t do it right.

Still love you, Hadley. (And some of the clothes in Weekend are less horrendous, these days, btw.)