Yes, I have returned from the not-so-snowy hinterland. The police weren't kidding when they said conditions were 'unsuitable for driving', it was bloody horrible. For miles around our house the world had been rendered featureless, just a swollen blanket of white.
But in addition to being slippery as hell the roads were pretty quiet. Everyone else being brighter than me and following the official advice to sit at home on their bums, drinking coco and eating pickled onions. But it still took two and a half hours of hunched in the seat, peering through snow and dirty road-spray, windscreen wipers going twenty to the dozen, heater turned up to maximum, driving. Didn't help that I got stuck behind a sodding huge truck all the way.
And I was only five minutes late! Even managed to find the school, which was a miracle in itself. But I got a cup of tea in the staff room -- first time ever for me. I'd always imagined that teachers' lounges were pretty dingy places full of depressed adults, wondering what the hell they'd done in a former life to deserve this. But it wasn't. Or they'd hidden the Prozac cases in the stationary cupboard for my visit. Who can tell?
I was doing two assemblies, 13 and 14 year olds, twenty minute slots, half an hour apart. Bit rowdy to start with, settled down, listened to me rambling on about how I hated going to assemblies when I were a lad (and we rode dinosaurs to work and they hadn't invented electricity or boy bands) and how people who tear stories apart into simile and metaphor should have rabid weasels forced up their rectum without the benefit of lubricant. Except maybe Ralgex. Then the reading.
Now, there's a popular saying for public speaking which goes, "picture your audience naked". Let me be the first to say you shouldn't do this in schools, or you're going to end up in a Vietnamese prison with no hair and a startled expression.
The readings seemed to go quite well, or at least everyone went quiet. And only a few of them were actually asleep. I'd decided in advance that I wasn't going to fiddle with the text to tone it down too much -- after all, they're thirteen and fourteen, not six, so everything went in as it appears in the book. Except for the two 'fucks'. I edited them out. And the line, "Come back here you hairy wee SHITE!" got a good laugh too. Which was nice.
Then it was Q&A time. Tumbleweed. Then Jeff Dugdale -- my minder for the visit -- says, "Well, if you don't have any questions, you'll have to go back to class…" WHOOOOSH! A forest of hands go up. My favourite question being, "Have you ever thought about doing a story about zombies?"
In between the assemblies, I got another cup of tea in the library, chatting with Martha Bertrand who's here to talk to the kids about her book, 'Little Angels Don't Cry'. It's an autobiographical account of her time in an orphanage in Northern France, after she was rescued from the Vietnam War. Not the 'First World War', which was how she was introduced to me. Followed by an embarrassed pause, then, "Oh, sorry, no. The Second World War…" That went down well.
Afterwards it was into the school's radio studio thing. Which is incredibly cool -- BBC Radio Scotland have put in a little recording studio / remote station that connects to the main BBCRS. They did Fred MacAulay's morning show from there a couple of weeks ago, and they frequently do interviews with people visiting the school out on the air. I'd have loved that when I was at school. The most we could manage was a bit of string. No tin cans, we'd just sit about and look at the string until it was time to go home. Heady days.
Only trouble was that desk wasn't working properly, so Calum -- the poor sod on technical duties -- was left poking buttons and trying to get everything working again. With remarkably little swearing. And he managed too! Hurrah. So I didn't have to spent too much time attacking Melissa -- interviewer for the day, wants to be a drama teacher -- for her rabid toastaphobia, waiting for the kick-off. Question, chat, chat, chat, then another reading. Same bit as before, so at least I'd had some practise by then.
Drive home: not as crappy as drive up, but still pretty damn horrible. And about fifteen minutes after I got back I was asleep. Totally shattered. Didn't move again till tea time. So no writing got done. Not even a single word. Nothing.
Don't tell HarperCollins, for God's sake, OK? They still think everything's going great. This is just between you and me.