Cake Cake Cake

October 16th, 2016

‘I feel hurt.’ Peirene is sitting on the sofa in the office, holding a plate with a half eaten slice of Black Forest gateau on her knees. ‘My soul is weeping.’ Two big round tears are running down her cheeks as she pushes another forkfull into her crumbs_saucer_fork mouth.

I sit down beside her. ‘What’s the matter?’ I eye the cake. I wouldn’t mind a couple of bites.

‘Have you recently looked at our kickstarter?,’ she sniffs.

I nod and wipe away a bit of cream that has got stuck at the tip of the Nymph’s nose. ‘It’s going fine,’ I say. ‘We are up to 60% after two weeks and we have another three weeks left.’

‘That’s not why I’m upset.’ Peirene takes another, massive bite. Then she continues: ‘Of all the goodies that we are offering our pledgers, the two that have received the least attention involve me’. I know what she has in mind: a day at Peirene HQ with the Nymph and a personalized character assessment based on the investor’s three favourite book titles. ‘Meike, you tell me, when, over the last 2000 years has there been an opportunity anywhere in the world to have your character analysed by an Ancient Greek Nymph! Not to mention the preparation I have done to satisfy my customers!‘ She pointes to the big pile of books at the side of the sofa, ‘So many nights in the past few weeks I’ve spend brushing up on my Freud, Jung and Melanie Klein. I’m fully prepared.’ She rises to her feet. ‘I need another piece of cake. This defeat is unbearable.’

I follow her into the kitchen. ‘I wouldn’t take it too personally, Peirene.  People might not have the money to pay for your expertise,’ I try to calm her.

She takes the remainder of the gateau out of the fridge.

‘Wow, that’s a bit excessive,’ I exclaim.

She shakes her head, cuts a slice and hands it to me. She cuts another one for herself. ‘There is a guy who made tens of thousands of dollars with his kickstarter project and what did he offer? Each pledger received a personal insult – yes insult – from him on a postcard. People loved it. They paid for the joke.’

‘But that’s not you,’ I remark, feeling slightly sick of having eaten the cake so fast. The Nymph is now on her third slice.

‘I’m too serious, too odd. No one loves an oddity like me,’ she whines.

Before she has time to go for the fourth slice, I put the cake back into the fridge.

‘You and I we are going for a run now. Because I still love you. And I don’t want an unhealthy Nymph. And when we come back I will pledge money for our kickstarter project so that you can analyse my character.’

Peirene immediately perks up. ‘Let’s go.’ She has already grabbed her trainers. ‘I will finally be able to tell you the truth about yourself.’

Suddenly I feel less certain that my offer was such a good idea.

Roller Coaster Fun

October 9th, 2016

‘We are far too early!’ Peirene exclaims. She shivers and her teeth begin to chatter. We are standing on a cold, deserted platform in Paddington station. It’s 6.20am on Thursday morning and Peirene is wearing a little skimpy dress and a
6977647257_f0bdc60d9c_zcardigan as if we are still in the middle of summer.

She is right. We have arrived too soon for the 7am train to Totnes, but at least there is no doubt that we will arrive on time at Dartington Hall – the venue where Counterpoints Arts is organising a retreat about art and social change, with special focus on migration.

I buy us a coffee and a chocolate croissant, but Peirene is not that easily appeased when she hasn’t had enough sleep.

‘I don’t understand why we are going,’ she complains.

‘Because it’s an important subject and Counterpoints Arts has invited us,’ I reply tersely. Then I go and stand a few meters away from her. I don’t like the Nymph when she is in such a whiny mood. And truth to tell, I don’t know either what to expect from this retreat. At the moment I worry about all the work on my desk that won’t get done in the next two days.

At Dartington Hall we step onto an exhilarating roller coaster of ideas, discussions and workshops. We meet performance artists and activists and funders and directors of Irish and Danish arts organisations. We exchange experiences and insights. We talk about how art can facilitate social change, how to avoid the trap of talking to ourselves and how to reach out to different audiences.

‘Wow! That was just what I needed.’ The Nymph slips off her shoes and stretches out her feet on the seat opposite her. We are on the train back to London. ‘Publishing conferences often feel so stale and stuck. But this retreat has given me a thought for a publishing project that if we manage to pull it off could change the book world and maybe even bring about a small amount of social change.’

I, too, feel utterly content and satisfied, as if I had just devoured a beautiful meal. ‘I know what you are thinking,’ I wink at Peirene. ‘But let’s go steady. We first need to arrange a few meetings to test the viability of our idea.’

The Nymph nods: ‘I agree. Still, this could be the beginning of an exciting new chapter in our life together.’

We smile at each other in blissful harmony. And the cold start from Paddington train station less than 48 hours ago is but a faint memory.

Image by Jeremy Thompson, creative commons.

Approaching Hollywood

October 3rd, 2016

I’m at my desk. The phone rings. I hear a breathless Peirene on the other end of the line.6228188120_3012416506_z

‘Oh, I’m so pleased that I haven’t missed the film crew,’ the Nymph pants. ‘I’m just at the bottom of the road. And I can see their van hasn’t arrived yet. I’ll be with you in a moment.’

I’m not entirely sure what she’s talking about. As soon as I put down the phone I turn back to the Advanced Information sheets for our 2017 books.

Five minutes later she walks into the office, surrounded by a cloud of different artificial smells: hairspray and perfume and creams.

‘Wow!’ I exclaim.

The Nymph’s hair is backcombed a la Brigitte Bardot, big earrings, red lipstick, dark eyeliner, matching red jacket, skirt and high heels and even her finger nails are done. As a small girl I always dressed up as a film diva aiming to look just like that. I sigh, about to continue with my work.

‘Shouldn’t you get ready?’ Peirene disapprovingly runs her eyes from my carelessly pulled back hair down to my bare feet. ‘They will be here any moment. And,’ she looks around the office, smiling fleetingly at my assistant James, ‘-and where is my co-star Anthony?’

The coin drops. I suddenly understand all the Nymph’s efforts.

We have decided to crowd-fund our next Peirene Now! book. The novel will be a response to Brexit written by the Black country writer Anthony Cartwright. Every project on kickstarter, our crowd funding platform, requires a video introduction. James filmed Anthony and myself with my laptop in the morning. It took numerous takes until we finally learned to behave naturally in front of the camera.

‘I wondered where you were,’ I now say. ‘We could have done with a diva in our video. It would have added some colour to our performance.’

I click on the film saved on my laptop. The Nymph watches the three minutes in utter silence, not even breathing. At the end she straightens up.

‘Anthony is a star, worthy of my presence beside him,’ she shakes her head slowly at me. Then turns to leave the room. I’m surprised she isn’t more upset of having missed chance to appear on screen.

‘You don’t mind that we went ahead without you?’ I asked carefully.

‘Not at all.’ She stops in mid-stride. ‘You are planning to make a couple of more videos in the coming months talking about the process of the book, don’t you?’ I nod. She continues: ‘Well, I’m off to make a demo tape now and will send it to Anthony. He can then decide who he prefers to have next to him in his forthcoming films.’ She waves her painted nails at me and leaves. A cloud of perfume follows her out of the room.

Image by Shinya Suzuki, creative commons.

An Alien Spaceship In our Garden

September 25th, 2016

It’s hard to allow others to express their creativity. Especially if that person is my husband AND he decides to express his creativity in garden design. 9400949816_7a4819e43b_z

For the record: We’ve been together for nearly 25 years. So I must be a person easy to get on with. And certainly tolerant.

The Nymph rolls her eyes. Twice.

‘Why twice?’ I ask irritated.

‘One for  the ‘easy to get on with’ and one for ‘tolerant,’’ she replies.

I decide to ignore her. She doesn’t know what a marriage can be like, if one partner has good taste and the other… well …

‘You’re being unfair.’ Peirene again. She always takes my husband’s side. ‘He writes beautiful poetry. And as a first reader of your own novels, his editorial advice is often spot-on.’

‘Ye-es,’ I admit reluctantly. She’s beginning to take the wind out of my sails.

So let me tell you what has recently happened in our back garden, and you can judge for yourself.

Two years ago we spent our family summer holiday cycling through Romania. There my husband fell in love with the traditional carved gates that stand at the entrance to villages and farm houses. After much research he found a Romanian woodcarver online and ordered a custom-made gate to put into our backgarden. ‘It won’t be big,’ he promised me, ‘We will have a work of art in our garden.’

Last week the gate arrived in a van from Romania. In six separate parts. The Nymph opened the door and let the men carry everything through the house. I wasn’t there. Which was lucky. Because I might have refused to accept the delivery. The roof alone is huge – totally out of place in a North London backgarden –  and it’s already clear that it will look more like an alien spaceship than folk art. But my husband is determined. ‘Its pillars represent the tree of life, ‘ he tells me with sparkling eyes.

‘I think the Salon guests will love it,’ Peirene now says, as we are standing side by side staring at the still cellophane wrapped roof.

‘Yes, ‘I sigh. ‘As a curiosity and because they don’t have to live with it day in day out.’

‘You will get used to it,’ she puts her arm around my shoulder.

‘I guess I have no choice.’ I pause for a moment. ‘But you have to admit, Peirene, you can’t any longer accuse me of not being tolerant.’

The Nymph squeezes my shoulder.

Image by Nan Palermo, creative commons.

Hangover in the Swiss Alps

September 20th, 2016

‘This is the life! To be swept off to the Swiss Alps in the middle of a working week. Just like that. And everything organised– including check-in at the airport and taxis at our destination’. Peirene sighs happily, as she sips her café crème sitting photoin the Piazza Collegiata. It’s Monday morning 11am. ‘And if you hadn’t insisted that James and I help with the Salon on Saturday we could have come earlier.’ She can’t resist giving me an accusing glance over the brim of her sunglasses.

We, that is James, the Nymph, breach author Annie Holmes and I are attending the international literature festival babel hosted in the Swiss town of Bellinzona. Annie and I presented breach on Sunday in the main theatre in town. We discussed the UK refugee crisis in Calais and the challenge of writing commissioned fiction. In the evening we had dinner with a group of other UK writers, including Don Patterson, Nadifa Muhammed and Chloe Aridjis. No wonder, the Nymph is content.

Although, I can’t help feeling that she might be suffering from a little hangover. I went back to the hotel at midnight, while she decided to stay on. As I got up from the table she ordered herself another cognac. For a moment I was tempted to say something but then I decided against. This morning I knocked on her door at 8am. We had agreed to go for a run. After the third knock she finally opened the door. ‘You have to go on your own. I forgot my trainers,’ she said, blinking sleepily into the light.

I’m pleased she has now risen from her bed. I already had visions of having to prop her up on our way back to Milan airport later in the day.

‘How about buying you some trainers?,’  I now suggest. ‘We still have the entire afternoon. A walk in the beautiful mountains will do you good.’

‘I-‘ the Nymph stutters, her cheeks blushing. ‘I … found the trainers after all,’ she then admits. ‘They were at the bottom of my bag.’

‘Ah! Well good!’ I pretend to be surprised. ‘We can save the money.’

I pay for our coffees. As we are walking towards the restaurant to meet the others for lunch, she suddenly says: ‘Since we didn’t need to buy new trainers but you were willing to spend the money, perhaps I could undertake some retail therapy this afternoon – instead of climbing mountains? You, Annie and James will reach the top of the mountain much faster without me.’ She smiles at me sweetly. But I’m firm. If you’re lucky enough to visit the Swiss Alps on a Monday, the least you can do is appreciate the scenery.

Image by Annie Holmes of  me admiring the Alps in Bellinzona.

Green Love

September 11th, 2016

‘Where were you?’ The Nymph is standing in the hallway as if she’s been waiting for me for a while. There is a hint of accusation in her voice. It does cross my mind that her attitude is not totally reasonable since it’s Sunday just after 4pm15026914893_20eaa95b81_z

‘At a yoga retreat with Rosa.’ Rosa is my 21-year old daughter and for the last three years we have made it our mother-daughter ritual to go on an annual yoga retreat for a weekend in September.

‘Why didn’t you ask me?’ Peirene blocks my way.

‘Because you are not my daughter. And this is something special I do with Rosa alone.’

I squeeze past the Nymph and head into the kitchen where I drop my bag. Peirene follows me.

‘No, I’m not your daughter. But I always assumed…’

I hear her voice shaking. Oh dear, my poor little Nymph, her insecurity can be quite endearing.

‘Peirene, you are very important to me. And it shows. I spend more time with you than with my husband and my children taken together.’

‘But you never do anything nice with me. Only with them. With me it’s always work work work.’

I have started to unpack the groceries that I’ve picked up from the corner shop on my way home.  Spinach and kale and chard and beets with their leaves still on.

Peirene interrupts her self-pity. ‘That is a lot of greens,’ she points out.

‘I bought these for you and me.’ I tear up the chard and kale. ‘Despite your worry that I neglect you, I’ve actually been thinking a lot about us over the weekend. And wondered how we could improve our lives.’ I put the green leaves into the mixer with some water, ginger and a few nuts and almonds. ‘A yoga retreat is not just about stretching and breathing, it’s also about healthy eating. Over the last 48 hours I have lived off amazing soups and green vegetable smoothies.’ I put the mixer on. ‘I’ve come back revitalised. From now on you and I will have a green smoothie each per day and raw vegetable soup for lunch.’ I pour the smoothie into two glasses and hand her one. ‘And we will start straight away.’

‘No way. I’m not drinking that.’ She puts both hands up in defence.

Unperturbed I push the glass in her direction. ‘Come on. It’s your turn.‘

The Nymph picks up the glass between the tips of her thumb and index finger as if it might explode. ‘OK. To do you a favour I will have a sip. But suddenly, I’m rather pleased I’m not you daughter.’

Image by Mike Licht, creative commons.

Holidays in the Back Garden

September 5th, 2016

The doorbell rings. A man wants to deliver a freestanding stainless steel patio heater. I’m about to tell him that he must have got the wrong address, I didn’t buy this, when the Nymph appears next to me.5779715772_ede39d38a2_z

‘I’m so pleased. Thank you.’

She signs the delivery and drags the heater through the kitchen and into the back garden.

She has arranged a deckchair underneath a big sun umbrella. Next to it stands a table with a pile of books and jar of fruit cocktail. She places the heater beside the deckchair, strips down to her bikini, puts on her sunshades and drops down in the deckchair.

‘Do you mind moving, please.’ She waves her hand at me. ‘You are blocking the sun.’

I don’t move. Instead I put my hands to my hips. ‘May I point out that it’s Monday morning, 9am, our work week is about to start. Holidays are over.’

‘You might have had your holidays. But I’m exhausted. You made me work far too hard over the last few weeks. Our first Peirene Now! title breach was launched successfully with reviews in the national press and a blog tour by the authors, the second Peirene Now! title -  about Brexit -  has just been commissioned, Peirene No 21, The Empress and the Cake has arrived with our subscribers and we have recently announced our 2017 series.’ She drinks a few sips of her fruit cocktail through a straw. ‘I’m in desperate need for some serious me-time,’ she sighs. ‘Otherwise I will collapse before Christmas,’ she adds.

‘Peirene, I think you are exaggerating. Both James and I have been around on and off to help you throughout the past two months.’

‘On and off.’ She puts the back of her free hand to her forehead. ‘That’s precisely the problem. I had to carry the entire responsibility on my own.’

I feel guilt creeping up inside me. I have indeed relied on her, expecting everything to run smoothly.

‘I see your point,’ my tone is less harsh. ‘So how long would like to spend out here?’

‘Two weeks.’ She is now creaming her arms. ‘And I’m prepared for all types of weather. For sun,’ she points to her shades, ‘for rain,’ she points to the big umbrella, ‘and for the cold,’ she points to the heater. I’m about to say something, but she interrupts me. ‘And I’m doing it the cheap way – in our back garden.’

Her last argument has defeated me. ‘Fair enough,’ I agree. ‘But how about reducing it to a week?’

Her face breaks into a big happy grin and she blows me a kiss. ‘Thank you. That was my plan all along. But I thought if I say two weeks I would stand a better chance of you agreeing to one.’

Image by Erich Ferdinand, creative commons.

Summer Blog Break

July 2nd, 2016

I’m on my annual summer blog break until first week of September. summer-chair-small

A Warrior’s Spell

June 26th, 2016

‘Oh, my god! This is awful!’ On Friday morning Peirene and I starred in shock and disbelief at the referendum results. I felt the 4415693080_930297196c_zNymph next to me gasping for air, then tears began to roll down her cheeks. I searched for her hand and held it tight.

‘I’m going back to bed,’ she eventually said. ‘Maybe this is all a bad dream.’

She didn’t reappear for the rest of the day. In the evening I woke her up and encouraged her to eat and drink something. She did me the favour but then went straight to sleep again. I sat by her bed and stroked her head. I was worried about her. Would my little Nymph slide into depression? Or worse: leave me and this country for good?

The next morning as I emerged from an erratic sleep, I could hear commotion from the next room. My heart stood still. This could mean only one thing: Peirene was packing her suitcases.

I jumped out of bed.  ‘Don’t go!’ I shrieked and tore open the door to the office.

A most peculiar scene presented itself to me.

Peirene was standing in the middle of the room. She was wearing a rag that resembled a tunic and on her head the old plastic viking helmet that my son used to play with when he was four or five – she must have found it in the attic.  In her hand she was holding the kitchen broom like a spear. Around herself she had organised in a circle hundreds of our books. She was pointing her broom-spear from one book to the next, muttering incomprehensible words.

The Nymph had gone mad! I now noticed her red cheeks, a gleaming wild look in her eyes. She must be burning with a fever way beyond 40C. I had to get her to hospital straight away. I stepped forward.

‘Don’t!’ she hissed, directing the broom head at me. ‘You might break the spell!’

I froze. After all, unsettled nymphs might become violent. So I decided not to risk a confrontation and ambled downstairs into the kitchen. I brewed up a pot of tea and waited.


‘We have a lot of work ahead of us.’ Peirene sits down opposite me and pours herself a cup of tea. She is back in her jeans and T-Shirt, her hair in a neat pony tail, her face calm.

‘So you are not leaving me?’ I watch her carefully. Then add with a lump in my throat: ‘And you’re not losing your mental stability?’ I prefer to put things on the table.

Peirene throws me a surprised glance. ‘Leave? Now? Mental stability? The referendum has made clear what we’ve always suspected: this country needs to learn to listen to other people’s stories, only then it will change for the better.’ She pauses. ‘We have an important mission that hasn’t yet been accomplished. We can’t give up half way.’

‘And your show upstairs,’ I nod towards the ceiling. ’What was that about?’

‘Something I will now do every morning. It’s an ancient ritual that gives power to our books to penetrate to the heart even of the most closed Brexiteer.’ Suddenly her face breaks out in a smile. ‘I have to admit: I don’t know if it will work. Brexiteers are hard nuts to crack. But it has made me feel more positive. And that’s a good start.’

Image by Erick E Castro, creative commons.

Knitting Therapy

June 20th, 2016

‘I have a present for you.’ Peirene hands me a parcel. I open the package.  Knitting needles, yarn and a book with retro knitting patterns fall into my lap. Surprised, I look at the Nymph. I haven’t knitted in years.151899525_24e04e590d_z

‘You should start again.’ The Nymph nods encouragingly.

‘Thank you, Peirene. That’s kind. But I just don’t have the time. I’m about to commission Peirene Now! No 2 for next year and that will take a lot of my space. Maybe when I’ll have retired from publishing in 20 or so years,’ I add.

‘Well, I was wondering if you would like to take early retirement-‘ I stare at the Nymph horrified and she corrects herself quickly. ‘I meant, sabbatical. A year of sabbatical leave would do you good.’

‘Do you think I’m losing it?’ I’ve recently felt a bit overworked. I suddenly begin to worry that I overlooked something or made a mistake?

‘No, not really. ‘ Peirene shakes her head mildly, avoiding my eyes. ‘It’s just… James and I are a great team… and you are slightly cramping our style.’

I’m utterly confused. ‘Cramping your style?’

‘Yes.’ She now leans back in her chair and swings her feet on the table. I notice a new butterfly tattoo on her ankle. She folds her arms demonstratively behind her head. Her sleeves slide up to her elbows and a tattoo of an open book appears on her lower right arm. Also new. ‘As you know, James pulled off this super cool event on Thursday in the hip Libraria bookshop in Brick Lane, with Octavia and Carrie from the trendy Literary Friction as moderators. Marie Sizun, our French author, was a star, too. The place was packed. Lots of young, arty people.’ Peirene begins to twirl her hair. Her fingernails are painted black.

‘You’re right.’ I agree. ‘James did a fantastic job on Thursday. But I’m not sure I cramped your or his style that night.’

‘No, you didn’t that evening. However, middle-aged woman just aren’t ‘it’. Sorry,’ she says in that annoyingly teenage tone that doesn’t mean sorry at all.

I quickly lean over to her and scratch her ankle tattoo with my fingernail. It’s peeling off straight away. I laugh.

‘And you think fake tattoos and black nail varnish is ‘it’?

‘It shows that, at heart, I’m a non-conformist,’ she informs me.

I pick up the needles and yarn and begin to cast on stitches. I still remember how to do it and it feels good. Maybe I should start to knit again?

‘Fair enough,’ I say. ‘If you want to run the company for a while…the monthly accounts need doing.’ I’m counting the stitches on the needle and wonder what I should aim for – a scarf or a jumper?

‘Accounts?’ I hear the Nymph swallow. She hesitates, then mutters: ‘Perhaps you should stay and do those – and then take sabbatical.‘

Image by meknits, creative commons.