Archive for ‘misc’

March 19, 2020

Advice for working from home

I haven’t figured out yet how to stop the feeling that every organ is about to explode from anxiety, but I do have advice for you if you’ll be working from home and are concerned about adjusting to the solitude, absence of people and hubbub, and the significantly shorter commute (unless your home is huge, I guess).

I’ve been working from home on my own since early 2005. I had been prepped for it all my life – my model for employment was my father, who is a sculptor and thus has spent most days since 1973 by himself in a studio, welding bits of metal together and not even taking a break to mess about on Facebook. He’s not on Facebook. The nearest he has come to social networking was when in the 1980s he used to record letters onto cassette, send them to his old college buddies in South Africa, and maybe a couple of months later receive a response. THAT was his Facebook. Perhaps the sculptures are all the social contact he needs.

BTW: bear in mind, I do not have children. I’m sure working from home with children requires a specialised take. My dad dealt with it by marrying my mother and deciding it was her problem.

TIP 1: Get dressed.

Just because you CAN wear your oldest, stainedest pyjamas to work doesn’t mean you should. Your work isn’t less significant than usual, it’s just in different circumstances. Confer some respect for the task from the outside in. Garments with some structure will make you feel like less of a schlub – a waistband or shoulders with seams would suffice, you don’t need to wear a corset and ruff. Although, turning up on a video conference call wearing full Queen Elizabeth I garb would be one hell of a flex.

TIP 2: if you want to work in bed, work in bed.

A lot of the working from home advice tells you not to work in bed. “Don’t associate your bed with work, else when it’s time for bed you won’t be able to go to sleep!” However. I work in bed pretty often. For a start, it’s sometimes the only place warm enough that I can type. Plus, it’s acoustically absorbent when I’m recording. The morning commute is fantastic. The relaxed posture can beget a more relaxed state of mind for the work. But also, the past few years I’ve been travelling a lot, usually living in one room, so sometimes the only places to sit are the bed or the toilet. And “if you associate the toilet with work, when it’s time for toilet you won’t be able etc etc.”

TIP 3: If you don’t have to keep to a set schedule, figure out your own schedule.

Which times of day do you work best? And when are you most suited for particular tasks? Me, I’m shit in the mornings, so it’s best if I use that time for tasks that don’t require any creativity or decision-making, or if I do what other people might do in the evenings – life admin, socialising, watching TV, reading the internet. My brain kicks in around 3pm; my best time for creative work is really from around 7pm till 3am, which is very inconvenient but the later it is, I’m too tired to keep resisting the task I’ve been resisting during sensible waking hours.

I’m not recommending this timetable to you, I’m just relaying how it is.

TIP 4: Nap.

If you want. But only for 20 minutes. And not in bed, because that’s either for proper sleep or work (see above). I favour a sofa. My dad has a little wicker napping chair in his studio, I guess the creaking wakes him up before he gets in too deep.

TIP 5: Fake distraction

If you’re used to working with or around other people, working at home might feel eerily quiet or lonely. This can lead you to seek distraction, and therefore not get work done, so: preemptively create your distraction. Put on something like a radio or TV show or podcast that doesn’t annoy you but isn’t so interesting that you start paying attention to it. For example: reruns of Escape To The Country. Gentle music, shots of British gardens bathed in watery sunshine, Alistair Appleton in a nice clean sweater, househunters who always speak in pleasantly dull monotones; and you won’t get stressed because the biggest problem of the nice couple looking for a retirement home in Wiltshire in 2014 will be whether the house comes with an Aga or not. No danger of getting sucked into that. Now get to work.

(PS I hope you’re OK. I made a special episode of the Allusionist for self-soothing and anxiety-quelling; in case you need it, it’s here:

September 5, 2019

New show! Live shows!

Hello again, hello! This year I wrote a new Allusionist live show, No Title, about gender in language, honourifics, pronouns – that kind of palaver. It’s very interesting! And fun! We sold out the tour in Australia and New Zealand earlier this year, and now it’s NORTHERN HEMISPHERE TIME. The shows are pretty soon: the London Podcast Festival is 14 September, then the North American tour starts in Boston in early October. Some dates are still TBA, but the ones that are already on sale are up at, including NYC, DC, Durham NC, Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland and LA. Come to see the show, do!

Since last we’ve chatted, I’ve done a lot of Allusionists, averted personal meltdown – maybe? – and, in the past couple of weeks, started a NEW PODCAST! In Veronica Mars Investigations, we recap every episode of Veronica Mars from the start, and the ‘we’ in question is me and Jenny Owen Youngs, fantastic musician and cohost of the podcast Buffering the Vampire Slayer (and she’s in charge of visual opps, making such magnificent things as this). It’s a romp! Get it on the pod apps and at There’s also some very strong activity at @VMIpod on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Clamber aboard.

November 3, 2017

Radiotopia quilt

I recently finished a craft project that I started nearly two years ago.

In Radiotopia’s 2015 fundraiser, I offered a bespoke quilt ‘featuring the short epithet, monogram or letter of your choice’, in return for a $1234 donation. The quilt was bought by the generous Leigh. She requested the phrase ‘The news is good’, which is something she and her husband say to each other, when reporting on their inner state.

I sketched out a few different layouts and colour schemes and Leigh chose this one:

And a mere 21 months and c.2,500 patches later, it turned into this:

read more »

September 8, 2017

Live shows! Imminent live shows!

Friends, the London Podcast Festival is imminent, and I’m involved in a shitload of events at it. In order of how much they’re stressing* me out:

1. The Allusionist. It’ll be brand new material that has not appeared on the podcast before, and may indeed never be on the show (or on stage again)! 2pm Saturday 16 September; click here for tickets.

2= The Bugle. Judging by the live Bugle we did a few weeks ago, when my brother Andy and I share a stage, there’ll be a lot of razzing. 2pm Sunday 17 September; click here for tickets.

2= Song By Song. My husband Martin Austwick and our friend Sam Pay make this award-winning podcast examining each song by Tom Waits. This will be their first live recording, and John Hodgman and I will be joining them to contemplate the first three tracks of Raindogs. 9pm Thursday 14 September; click here for tickets.

4= Radiotopia on Radiotopia. A bunch of Radiotopians are coming to town for the fest – get tickets for Criminal, The Memory Palace and Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything at – and in this panel, we’re going to interview each other and find out how the hell we each do what we do. If you’re a podcaster or interested in becoming one, we should say some stuff that is useful to you. 11.30am Saturday 16 September; click here for tickets. And there’s also a free Radiotopia meetup on the Friday.

4= Jordan, Jesse, Go! It’s always a fun time when I get to shoot the breeze with Jesse Thorn and Jordan Morris. 9.30pm Friday 15 September; click here for tickets.

4= Networks and Representation Plus Pitch-a-Thon. This is part of the Podcast Maker Weekend, at which there are numerous events for podcast producers/potential podcast producers – here’s the full lineup. I’ll be chairing this panel about podcast networks with Imriel Morgan, CEO of the ShoutOut Network, Jesse Thorn, founder of Maximum Fun, and Julie Shapiro, executive producer of Radiotopia (and, long before, coiner of the name). Then you can pitch your podcast ideas to them and receive sage advice. 11.30am Sunday 17 September; Click here for tickets.

Good news: it’s three tickets for the price of two at the festival! Come to it!

*Really I’m only stressed about the first one.

BTW I know, I know, this is the first I’ve posted here in a year. Update, and a recently finished large craft project, will appear soon. Meanwhile, find my regular work at and

August 7, 2016


Hello! I’ve been moving house, and WOW has it been tedious. It did speed up when I just started throwing all our stuff away. Forget KonMari’s “Does it spark joy?” edict; my future bestselling tidying handbook will make you ask, “Can I be arsed to make a decision about this object ever again?” The upshot is, if you peruse the charity shops of Crystal Palace, you can recreate 50% of my old home.

But apparently, among all the packing tape and dirt and existential malaise, I did some work! There are a bunch of Allusionist episodes, including one with some Olympics-related etymologies, and a discussion of brand names and how we came up with ‘Allusionist’ for the show, and another about generational terms such as Millennial and Generation X. And a contemplation of small talk, which came out the day after the EU Referendum which, amongst its many other effects, obliterated small talk.

On 24th September at 4.30pm, the first live Allusionist will take place as part of the London Podcast Festival. A handful of tickets remain, get one HERE.

There’s a bit of a backlog of my appearances on other podcasts, too. Eg:

  • Talking about a night bus journey gone bad on Nocturne: ‘A Luminous Bubble‘.
  • Talking about jingles on Between the Liner Notes: ‘Jingle Brains‘.
  • Talking about a couple of my favourite books on Charles Adrian’s Page One, episode 109.
  • Talking Drinking about it on Let’s Drink About It: ‘The Promise of a Premise‘.
  • Making a brief cameo on The Beef and Dairy Network: ‘Rio Special‘.
  • Discussing burnout on Millennial: ‘Systems Check‘.
April 7, 2016


Sound the fanfare, here are two pieces of Big Radiotopia News:

radiotopia-live-tickets_05-05-16_3_56f1dcfa1abaa1. Radiotopia is putting on its first ever live show! And if it goes well, there’ll be more – so if you’ll be in or near Los Angeles (specifically the theatre at Ace Hotel) on 4th May, get yourself tickets at

2. It’s Podquest time! Do you have a terrific idea for a podcast, and are you’re willing to work your arse off to make it (I’m reluctant to admit it, but this job is a serious blow to my natural laziness)? Radiotopia may be able to give you the financial and technical – and emotional, good grief – support to make it happen. We’re looking for new voices, new ideas, new talent, and hopefully a new show that’ll become a permanent addition to the Radiotopifamily. Podcasts that already exist are eligible too; either way, your show/idea will 100% belong to you, whether it wins or not.

Opportunities are scarce to receive money to make podcasts; this is a great and rare opportunity! Submit pitches to Radiotopia’s Podquest by 17th April – but read the FAQ thoroughly before you do, and also perhaps these tips from the committee. I’ll save you some time: two-hour episodes of unedited discussions with your friends will not make it to the semi-final stage.

PS This person knows too much:

December 19, 2015


If you’re a podcaster or a podcast enthusiast, may I recommend an exercise which has brought me (someone who is both those things) a ton of joy and interest this year?

Gather a few similarly podcast-focused friends and form a


It’s like a fight club book club but for podcasts instead. When I’m listening to other people’s podcasts, if it’s a show I already like, I’m usually not all that critical – if anything I’m listening to shut up that part of my brain. So Podcast Club has has made me listen far more attentively, as well as to podcasts I would not have chosen myself.

Plus it means that one evening a month, I have to move away from the edit screen and go to the pub to shoot the shit with the PodClub: Eleanor McDowall who produces shows including the Radio 4 series Short Cuts; Sam Clements and Simon Renshaw from the Picturehouse Podcast; and my husband Martin, who makes a fistful of different podcasts including Song By Song.

Here’s how it goes: each month, we each choose an episode of a show that has not been discussed in Podcast Club previously. If you’re concerned about practicalities, we put the links into a shared spreadsheet on Google Drive. We listen to all of them in our own time, then gather to talk about each of them. Some months there’s a theme, eg shows that started this year, or for our Christmas fixture we each had to choose an episode of Desert Island Discs – it was very interesting to hear how the nature of interviewing and celebrity has changed over the 70+ years of the show. If Diana Mosley was interviewed now, I imagine she would be probed to admit more about her friendship with Adolf Hitler than just “He had lovely eyes.”

PS I got lucky in the PodClub Secret Santa: podcaster baubles!


November 13, 2015

Radiotopia Forever: big non-cash prize

*** UPDATE: Someone donated for the quilt! Thanks so much, whoever you are. I’m looking forward to making something lovely for you. But I still wholeheartedly recommend donating to Radiotopia, for the other cool prizes and so that we can make shows for you for a long time. ***

It’s the final stretch of the Radiotopia fundraiser month, and Radiotopifans have been doing an excellent job of making our shows continuing exist for a long time to come. Awash with gratitude, I’ve got a special prize to offer one high-rolling donor.

Take a look at the picture below of the 100% OK quilt, which I made a couple of years ago to commemorate my friend Racton’s trademark expression of whelm-ment.

I will handmake a unique quilt featuring the short epithet – or monogram or letter – of your choice for the ONE person who pledges $1234.

You want the quilt? Get over to and pledge.

quilt wall

I see you trying to sneak off with the quilt. Nice try, chancer. Supporting Radiotopia is the only way you can get it.
statue hides

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November 13, 2015

Food Showoff

Hey! Do you like food? I’m helping run a food-themed gig, Food Showoff, on 27th November at Kings College. Click here for all the details and tickets. Watching people talk interestingly and entertainingly about food is a gluten-free, zero-calorie banquet. I’ll be wheeling out my mid-20th century cookbook collection, so prepare for your appetite to be destroyed.

October 26, 2015

Radiotopia Forever!

Here are the minutes from the past couple of weeks in my realm*:

1. I was recently on the lovely BBC Radio 3 show The Verb. The theme of the episode was ‘backwards’, so I was talking about false etymology and reverse linguistic engineering. There was also wrestling, and those backwards satanic messages in songs. AND they gave me four kinds of cake and free books. It was a great day. Here’s the show on the BBC’s site, but you can also search for it as a podcast.

2. I’m currently in the midst of a spate of weekly Allusionists, each in collaboration with another Radiotopian. Hrishikesh Hirway from the wonderful Song Exploder and charming veteran songwriter Tony Hazzard joined me to talk about vocables – the non-word words in songs like ‘la’ and ‘doo’ and ‘zig-a-zig ah’. You can hear the special Song Explusionist here. The week before that, Roman Mars popped up to talk about his beloved eponyms, so James Ward (founder of the Boring Conference and author of Adventures in Stationery) appeared to talk about the eponymous pens Bic and Biro. Hear here. Three more Radiotopial episodes are in the pipeline. The Podcast Broadcast interviewed me about all this Radiotopianism, which is happening because…

3. It’s Radiotopia fundraising time! A year after the record-breaking Kickstarter that made it possible for me to start The Allusionist, we now need listeners to step in and support the collective long term, with small monthly donations. (One-off donations are also extremely welcome. Even £1 is very useful.)

I don’t want to repeat what I’ve written about the fundraiser here and also last year, during the Kickstarter – those points still stand, but I will update to add that my excitement then at the prospect of becoming a full-time podcaster has only increased now that I am one. This has been the best year of my professional life, and The Allusionist is the most demanding and creatively fulfilling job I’ve ever had. I’d love to be able to carry on making it for as long as possible, so if you are able to chip in anything at or Paypal, I and the twelve other shows will be Very Grateful Indeed. And we’ll use your money very wisely. Promise. (Conceals order for platinum exoskeleton.)

Just one more thing: I’ll be doing a Reddit AMA this Thursday at 7pm UK time, 3pm ET, 12pm PT, middle of the night most other places. Please come along and ask me about Allusionist stuff, Answer Me This, or any old thing that’s on your mind. You know I live for it.

Here’s my AMA proof, as IF anyone would aim so low as to masquerade as me**:

HZ reddit proof

* which is slumped in front of a screenful of edit software for 12-15 hours per day, LIVING THE DREAM yes yes
** Seriously. Have some self-respect. At least go for someone who’s on telly.

March 2, 2015

despatches from the podcasting frontline

A bunch of things about podcasting:

1. I’ve just booked in the next podcasters’ meetup – Monday 9th March from 6pm at the Carpenter’s Arms. Come along if you’re a podcaster or fancy becoming one. All are welcome. And don’t forget to join the Podcasters’ Support Group on Facebook for virtual support and encouragement for your audio endeavours.

2. I’ve done several interviews about podcasting this year, and they all came out in the past few days:
2.i. The women of Radiotopia and Invisibilia talked to Ravishly about equality in podcasting and radio – there are some great mic drops in the piece, which is HERE.
2.ii. I talked at very great length to The Timbre, which is a great site if you’re interested in podcasts at all. If you’re interested in my own thoughts about them, the piece is HERE.
2.iii. I had lunch with the brilliant Caroline Crampton of the New Statesman. She is a lot more interesting than me; sign up for her newsletter. The interview with me is HERE.

3. I’m really happy and excited to see the emergence of several interesting sites devoted to podcasting in the same way that people have been critiquing music and film etc for years. As well as the aforementioned Timbre, Nick Quah’s Hot Pod newsletter, and the charming Podcast Pillowfort podcast. If you’re podcast-interested, get stuck in.

January 23, 2015



In other Radiotopia stretch goal results news:

Last autumn, they promised that if their Kickstarter campaign raised $425,000, they would hold parties for Radiotopifans.

As you donors blasted through that target, the parties are about to happen – and the first is in London, 2.30-5pm on 15th February, upstairs in the Upstairs Bar at the ever marvellous Ritzy cinema in Brixton.

I will be there. Love + Radio’s Nick van der Kolk will be there. Free pizza will be there. Will you be there? Click here to book your place.

January 5, 2015

decade in the job

Today is a milestone of sorts for me.

Ten years ago, 5th January 2005, I packed in my last normal job and went rogue, ie self-employed.

I had turned down the opportunity to make permanent my temporary office job, and didn’t feel compelled to get a new one immediately because at the time I was making enough from work on the side – an occasional bit of overpaid radio comedy, on top of a regular income from going to a rich businessman’s house every Saturday morning so he could dictate his memoirs to me. Plus in those halcyon days, my rent was only £50 a week. IN ZONE 2 LONDON. It would no doubt be far more challenging to try this now, when you need to be clearing £40K a year just to be able to sublet a beanbag in zone 6.

By the time the radio show was cancelled and the memoir-transcribing was on hiatus, frankly I was ruined for proper jobs. I was always terrible at getting them anyway, so being self-employed didn’t really feel like a choice – although I suppose it is, if the absence of an action counts as an action itself. Also, I think it was easier for me to default to this feckless ‘career’ ‘path’ because my father is a sculptor, and my brother is a comedian; I wasn’t taking a risk and breaking the mould, because that mould was already long broken.

Nonetheless, this past decade has been full of fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency hard graft, begging for work, monumental levels of procrastination, frequent feelings of failure, frequent feelings of smugness when I don’t have to get up on Monday morning to go to an office, stress about my lack of current and future financial/career/emotional security, and, above all, the absolute joy of getting to do pretty much what I wanted.

Self-employment is a pretty great way to live, if like me you favour variety, self-reliance and solitude over stability, structure and the company of colleagues.

But let’s not forget that fear. It’s not my ideal constant companion, but maybe I’ll get used to it after another ten years.

Are you in the same self-employment boat? I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you’re willing to share them in the comments.

PS More about freelancing in the October 2014 episode of Sound Women.

November 19, 2014

paper bags and sobriety

A couple of new articles by me have just appeared online:

1. For How We Get To Next, I wrote about the author of one of my favourite items in my collection of weird old cookery books. I don’t like it for the recipes, but because of the earnest egomania exhibited therein: the author Nicolas Soyer really wanted to change society for the better, via paper bags. I found this so full of pathos, I even wrote a play about him several years ago. Here’s the article.

2. For Standard Issue magazine, I wrote about being someone who doesn’t drink very much and how this is unacceptable to most people even though there is MORE BOOZE FOR THEM. Chug it down HERE.

October 26, 2014

branching out

Radiotopia backer

A new project of mine has been bubbling away in secret for quite a while, but I’m excited to be able to divulge it at last:

If Radiotopia succeed in raising $400,000 in their current Kickstarter campaign, in January 2015 I’ll be joining their network to make a new fortnightly podcast. It’ll be all about phrases and etymology and commonplace things we say without realising how weird those things actually are.

I’m cock-a-hoop about this: anyone who has listened to Answer Me This! will have sussed that I have endless enthusiasm for this subject, so I’m looking forward to being able to spend a lot more time indulging my interest. Finally, my degree in Anglo-Saxon and Middle English will come in handy! Which, when you do a degree in Anglo-Saxon and Middle English, is not something you ever expect will happen.

I also have great admiration for what PRX and my friend Roman Mars of 99% Invisible are doing with Radiotopia: they are trying to change the way broadcasting is done. The stretch goal that my show is part of aims to correct the gender imbalance in podcasting, and you know from my Sound Women work and posts like this that I am very much in favour of that. In an ideal world, nobody would even have to make the point that they’re encouraging more shows made by women; but while podcasting, like almost all forms of media and entertainment, remains so dominated by straight white men, this is a positive start – and it’s only the beginning of their plans to diversify the field.

More broadly, Radiotopia is making it possible for independent audio creators to have complete control over what they make, whilst being able to afford to make it at all. Because while podcasting is cheap to start – recording equipment and hosting become less and less expensive as time goes on – the biggest cost is one’s time.

WHY? Making a podcast that is even halfway decent requires a hell of a lot of time and effort. If you’re listening to a podcast that you like, know that a huge amount of both went into making a podcast good enough for you to like.

For instance: each episode of Answer Me This! takes half a week to put together. When we were on a weekly schedule, that left me with slightly insufficient time to work on other things in order to earn enough to live – especially as I’m freelance, and a large chunk of a freelancer’s time gets pissed away on jockeying for paid jobs, leaving even less time in which to do actual work.

Even when my bank statements made me cry, Answer Me This! always felt worth doing, because the audience was and is growing, and continues to be so enthusiastic and encouraging. It took years for the show to make much money, and in the past couple of years the albums and sponsorship have made a remarkable difference to AMT’s fortunes, but it’s still not enough to live off. Over the years I’ve had many ideas for new shows that will probably never be realised, because having been through it once before with AMT, I just couldn’t afford to spend the amount of time it takes to build up a new podcast from scratch again.

Until now!

If Radiotopia reach their Kickstarter goal, after nearly eight years of being a podcaster, they can fund my new show and I will be able to become a FULL TIME PODCASTER.

I absolutely love podcasting as a medium, both as a maker and a consumer: it’s so direct and intimate. It only involves the podcaster and the listener, with no layers in between of institutions or compliance. I can listen to material I’m interested in without a commissioner and scheduler having decided that I’m going to listen to it; and as a maker, I’m not at the mercy of those people either. I didn’t need somebody else’s permission to start making Answer Me This!; Olly and I did it because we could, then the listeners themselves confirmed that this was an OK thing to do. So few things would make me happier than for podcasting to be my main pursuit.

If you can afford to chip in to the Kickstarter, even $1 makes a difference; you’d not only be enabling me to make this new podcast which I think you’ll enjoy, but also you’d be bringing in The Heart and Criminal (one of my favourite new podcasts), AND you’d be supporting Radiotopia’s current roster of brilliant shows: Love+Radio, Theory of Everything, Radio Diaries, Strangers, Fugitive Waves, The Truth and, of course, 99% Invisible.

Also, you’d be preventing Roman Mars exploding from stress.

Click here to make all these wonderful things happen!

PS: I’ll still carry on making Answer Me This!. I plan to keep doing that show until all the questions in the world have been answered.

PPS: Earlier this year, I interviewed Roman for our Radio 4 documentary about podcasting, in which he outlined the principles that compelled him to start Radiotopia – as well as saying a lot of very interesting stuff about 99% Invisible and podcasts in general. You can stream or download the interview here (alongside interviews with several other great podcasters I spoke to) or here or right here:

September 10, 2014

Podcasters’ Support Group

Following last week’s Podcast Clinic*, one of the attendees, David Thair, has sensibly set up a Facebook Group so that in between Podcast Clinic events, we podcasters can chat, exchange ideas, moan about problems, and generally commune with one another. Because podcasting can be a lonely business, so let’s stick together, huh?

Join the Podcasters’ Support Group here.

*Thanks very much if you came along – I was so delighted to meet everybody, and to see people making friends with each other. I think we’ll stick to a similar format for future Podcast Clinics: an hour or so at the start in which to hammer out specific questions/problems regarding your particular podcasting needs, followed by a mixer. What do you think?

September 3, 2014

runs in the family

H Andy dolphin
In what felt like quite a peculiar exercise – like therapy that I hadn’t paid for – I was interviewed by the Guardian in tandem with my elder brother Andy about both being funny people and from the same family.

If you’ve met my family, you’ll know that there are a lot of funny people in it. My brother Rick took a sensible career path that doesn’t require a GSOH, but he’s hilarious; Andy’s long-time cohort John Oliver said Rick is the funniest person he’s ever met. And more than three years later, lots of people still talk to me about the speech my dad made at my wedding. I don’t actually remember what was in the speech, although I know there were many Class A puns; I just remember laughing till I cried.

Zaltzmans aren’t much inclined to talk to each other about Feelings, so humour is our form of emotional currency. Luckily mum is a proper well-rounded human being, so she stops the family being merely a bunch of hollow wise-cracking sociopaths.

If you’d like to read about it, the interview is here.

May 10, 2014

Doing Something


Here I am in today’s Do Something supplement of the Guardian!

Click here for more of my patchwork; and here’s how I began it.

November 19, 2013

dead dogs

Today, the last of the Zaltzman dogs died.

The first of the Zaltzman dogs died early in the morning on 13th November 1997 (yes, I remember the date, shuddup). All over the lawn there were dark patches in the grey frost, one for each time she had lain down to die. And each time my mother had brought her inside, anxious to keep her alive through the night lest we thought she’d deliberately killed the dog whilst we slept.

The vet committed the final dispatch, invoiced for the service with dispassionate efficiency, and I went to work.

“I’ve buried both of my parents,” said one of the customers, “but you never get over a dog.” He was a retired policeman and WW2 POW, so he’d seen some things; but you never get over a dog.

Later that day my boyfriend was punched in the face and mugged, but everyone continued to be more concerned about the dog.

The second of the Zaltzman dogs died in January 2002 while I was away at university. To raise my spirits, I bought the best sandwich from the best sandwich shop and took it to the best bench in the best park.

An alive dog approached.
It gently lifted the sandwich from my hands.
It jogged off with my sandwich.


Today, the third Zaltzman dog died after living far longer than expected. For a long time my parents have insisted that she will be the last Zaltzman dog. They want the freedom to travel, they say, but I wonder whether it’s just too much of a risk to allow that emotional attachment again when every 12-15 years the dog dies.

Perhaps they will waver, because for the first time since 1984 there won’t be a dark furry shape standing blocking the television screen, standing in the doorway refusing to budge, standing under the dining table waiting for food to fall. There’ll be no reason to do a lap of the garden in the midnight rain, waiting for the dog to urinate; nor to maintain a collection of chewed tennis balls on the living room floor. Nobody will headbutt the newspaper I’m reading to get attention; nobody will hide cushions in the garden; nobody will continue digging the mysterious pit in the flowerbed by the front door; nobody will fart on my hand while I try to prune the dreadlocks from their back legs (add ‘hopefully’ to all these, because I can’t predict what turns life will take). There’ll be no benign snuffling presence allowing me to pretend that I’m not alone in the room, because today the last of the Zaltzman dogs died.

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July 16, 2013

iced badger

Yesterday I went to the funeral of a family friend, Katherine. She lived up the road from us and was a striking presence throughout my childhood, more so than most of my blood relatives.

Katherine was remarkable in many ways, but one of the stories from her sons’ eulogy was SO remarkable, I had to share it with you:

Once upon a time, Katherine found a dead badger at the side of the road. She picked it up off the verge, took it home and put it in the freezer.

She kept it in the freezer for many years, and every time her children had a birthday party, she’d take the badger out of the freezer and sit it in a high-chair in the middle of the room. Picture a dead badger partially defrosting whilst dozens of five-year-olds played Musical Statues around it.

The dead badger also attended dinner parties if there were thirteen people at table.

Sadly the badger has since been disposed of, because it would have been so perfect if it had been sitting in its high-chair at the wake.

Goodbye, Katherine, you revolutionary of party-throwing.