Monday, 4 January 2016

Sunshine in the Rain

‘Happy New Year!’ my dear friend, Jill, and I chorus, delighted to hear each other’s voices. We start to swap news which quickly becomes a reciprocal roll call of the sick, the dead and the fragile elderly. ‘Whatever happened to fun?’ we ask ourselves, laughing as we recall our carefree younger selves in our dark green school uniform and ridiculous platform shoes.

Many moments of 2015 were not much fun, but it was the year when I had the most precious gift of all, that of seeing my new granddaughter come into the world. And lately, when we’ve spent many, many hours on dark, rain-soaked roads, or waiting by my mother-in-law’s hospital bed, I’ve had to remind myself to look for the joy in each day, to remember there is light in the gloom.

We were fortunate to be able to share Christmas with my daughters, our sons-in-law and our granddaughter. One blustery day, we took Smallest Person to the beach and it was an utter delight to see the world afresh through her eyes, seeing her lifting her face to look at the wide sky, frowning at the wind and listening to the roar of the sea. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we love babies… although when Bee screamed the place down in protest at being left in our care whilst her parents went out to see Star Wars it was a powerful reminder of why we have them when we’re young!

Last year didn’t going according to my plans, so no big resolutions this year, just a mental note to make the most of every day… and have some fun. Here are a
 few things that have cheered me up so far: My family and good friends.  Good reads: Liz Harris’s informative, uplifting novel, The Lost Girl and Viv Albertine’s searingly frank, funny and painful autobiography, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.   Running, running, running – and being rewarded with a rainbow on a wet day.

And this…whilst every single one of my writing resolutions turned to dust, I did have a very lucky break at the end of 2015.  Opening the post to see my feature article in The English Home magazine made me very happy indeed.

Here's wishing you a happy, healthy and joyful New Year.

The painting is 'Coast near Dinas' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Why Kindness Matters

Last night I retweeted a lovely positive thought from a running friend (the running community tends to be a supportive, encouraging bunch) about kindness… and provoked a troll who came out of his cave to tell us exactly what he thought of us. Some people, it seems, will have a pop at anyone which is a great shame when there’s more than enough unhappiness and pain in the world. Perhaps the troll thought I was a bit of a Pollyanna which is ironic because the only reason I’ve been trying to hold on to any moments of comfort and joy is because this year’s been so demanding!

Like everyone else, our family’s had its share – quite a large one, in fact - of unhappiness, illness and tragedy. A full life comes with ups and downs, light and shade – it’s part of being alive – so we have to cherish the good times, take pleasure in small moments and make the most of every day. My birthday, at the end of November, brought a moment of pure happiness when I looked round a restaurant table at my daughters, their husbands, my granddaughter and my husband. 

A few hours later we were rushing to the south east to a hospital emergency department where my mother-in-law had been admitted for a life-threatening condition.

My mother-in-law remains seriously ill so we’re all doing what we can to ease the situation. Tom’s been at her bedside or with my father-in-law for much of the time and there’s been a lot of commuting up and down the M4. It’s a tough time full of uncertainty but I’ve been very touched by kind messages from dear friends who write or pick up the phone to say they’re thinking of us.

Maybe it’s the time of life or maybe it’s the time of year, but I’ve thought a lot lately about the reading which always marked the end of term at the traditional girls’ grammar school I was very fortunate to attend. It’s St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 13 on the nature of love which, though I’m not religious, always moves me for its beauty and poetry. If I close my eyes I can still hear the words and that closing line falling into the hush of a final assembly or a Christmas service at St Martin’s Church in Epsom. ‘So now abideth faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.’

Kindness - love if you like - matters because it’s what makes us human, gives us comfort, and brings us hope for the future. I may not always succeed – I know I’ve failed plenty of times - but I’ll continue to try to treat others as I would hope to be treated then I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I did my best.

I mention the troll incident to my dear friend Jill who reminds me that back in our school days trolls were plastic dolls with coloured hair that we stuck on the ends of our pencils. A fleeting thought crosses my mind that a few real life trolls could do with a pencil up the bottom… but that would be unkind, wouldn’t it?

Friday, 27 November 2015

Beyond The Comfort Zone

Our roller coaster year continues, hence the radio silence. Last week saw me back at hospital for what I hoped would be the final appointment for what’s euphemistically known as Women’s Troubles… though I daresay there have been moments when Tom might feel that this Woman’s Troubles have resulted in a few Man’s Troubles too. Tom and I are ushered into a small room with a male consultant and his male colleague leaving me feeling slightly outnumbered. The consultant introduces himself. His name is so wildly inappropriate for a gynae that I have to suppress giggles. We engage in a little ‘why we are here’ session and he asks how my libido is, explaining, in a low voice, ‘your sex drive’ just to make it clear, I suppose, that he’s not asking about the welfare of a small pet. ‘Fine,’ I assure him, resisting the urge to add, ‘how’s yours?’

The next step is a small procedure. ‘We’ll do another biopsy whilst we’re there,’ he says, momentarily rattling my composure. Another? Will there be any of me left? Ah well, it’s good to know that I’m being checked and double-checked. Having learned the drill now, I remember, once I’ve donned my hospital gown and fetching plastic bootees, to exit the theatre side of the changing room not, as last time, back to the consulting room which caused the theatre staff to think I’d done a runner (in a backless gown!).

I’m greeted by the Professional Hand Holder (you know it’s going to be bad when the NHS provides someone to hold your hand) who was so lovely to me last time only this time she’s down the business end with the consultant and his colleague so I have new and equally lovely Hand Holder. After several eye-watering minutes , and a few disconcerting moments when the consultant’s head pops up from my nether regions to give me a progress report, it’s all done and I hope very much that’s the last of it. I do have to say that throughout, I’m treated with great kindness and care and I’m truly grateful for all the staff involved for looking after me.

‘I don’t suppose you’d be interested in writing a piece for me?’ asks a dear, supportive friend in happier news. I readily agree since the piece is a lovely feature for a glossy supplement and I’ll be paid real money! I really enjoy feature writing, more so than fiction at times, especially after the heartache that comes after devoting blood, sweat and 90,000 words to a favourite novel (step forward Follow A Star) for it to be largely ignored. Discounting, that is, the dear lady who bothered to leave a ‘meh’ review on the same day the world was reeling from the Paris attacks. Who does that? Anyway, back to the feature, nothing not to love, although a little daunting because the deadline’s quite tight and it involves chasing people (very nicely!) for information. After a couple of sleepless nights turning it over, I deliver my copy in time and to everyone’s satisfaction - all of which considerably lifts my spirits. Not to mention, my bank account. Hurray!

Monday, 16 November 2015

A Day of Contrasts

One of the joys of working freelance (and let’s not think about the downside of that fluctuating income) is being able to rearrange my own hours. I have two deadlines looming, but after week that brought news of the death of my 92-year old aunt (a good age, yes, but another member of that dwindling generation in my family lost) and saw my sister in A&E with concussion after she fainted and fell down a flight of steps at a station, we decided to make the most of a blustery, sunny day.

I’m not religious, haven’t been since I was little girl, but I love visiting cathedrals for the beauty of their architecture and all the skill and effort that goes into their making. St David’s is a favourite.

We then had a brilliant walk on the stunning beach at Whitesand where a passing stranger ‘complimented’ me on my hat. Cheeky b*gger.

And Tom and I grappled with the mysteries of the selfie.


It was one of those glorious days when the beauty of nature was almost sublime, yet a few hours later the images in my mind’s eye were juxtaposed with the horror unfolding in Paris. A day of extremes indeed.

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Container of Our Years

We’ve had the pleasure of my younger stepson and his girlfriend’s company for a few days. Between jaunts, they’ve been meticulously tracing and compiling family trees, something I’ll never have the patience or energy to do. It’s not just the double and triple checking of hand-written entries in various logs that bothers me; I can’t help but think of the inconvenient truths that lie behind some of these official documents. Are you really who they say you are? Mostly though, it’s just that I don’t feel that those long-dead ancestors, whoever they were, make me the person I am.

However, when my stepson produces an old ordnance survey map for Epsom in 1912, I’m very moved to see the outlines of two tiny little squares which instantly fill with colour and life. One represents the small Victorian cottage on the edges of Epsom Downs where I grew up, where I watched the ebb and flow of the seasons in the racing stable opposite from the bedroom window and where our family was ruled by Zorba, our naughty miniature dachshund. The other, another Victorian cottage, represents the first home Tom, my daughters and I shared. Our financial circumstances meant we had to consider properties other buyers rejected, but we walked in and saw past the wall-to-wall battleship grey d├ęcor and fell in love with the place which became our very happy home.

Occasionally we’ll drive past these two houses; the first still bears the wooden house name plate my dad made, the curtains that cost me hours of swearing and tears still hang at the windows of the second, but what’s most important about these homes are the memories they hold, those are the real fabric of my life.

The last month has created many moments for reflection. We attended a funeral for Tom’s cousin, a much-loved man enjoying a full, interesting life who suffered a fatal heart attack aged just 62. My parents-in-law are adjusting to the after-effects of my mother-in-law’s emergency hip replacement. And, in contrast, I’ve had the utter joy of ‘row, row, rowing the boat’ with my granddaughter and making her giggle.

To return to houses and memories, my novella Only True in Fairy Tales was inspired by growing up on Epsom Downs and includes a Wurst, a badly behaved dachshund and Gracie, the dog I always wanted, a retired racing greyhound. Writing friend, Tina K Burton and her husband Paul, gave a home to greyhound Cherry after reading my novella and today sees the launch of their book Fifty Tails of Grey, a collection of true stories about how and why people came to own their first greyhounds. All proceeds from the sale of their book will be donated equally between The Retired Greyhound Trust and Greyhound Rescue West of England. Tina says in her dedication that their hope is to help present and future hounds find love and kindness – now, isn’t that a happy ending?

Monday, 5 October 2015

Many a Slip

Ah, why did I talk about light at the end of the tunnel? Less than two weeks after we gathered as a family to celebrate my parents-in-law being married for a magnificent sixty years, my poor MiL is in hospital recovering from an emergency hip replacement having broken her hip in a fall. Our immediate concerns are to help both MiL and Dil get over the shock and to do what we can to assist MiL’s recovery.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Autumn Light

I had such plans for this year; writing plans for a novel and a novella, running plans for another Cardiff Half Marathon. But I hadn’t bargained on the posterior vitreous detachment, which temporarily knocked out a big old chunk of the central vision in my left eye, or the debilitating health problem which saw me fast-tracked then, thankfully, declared free of anything sinister. Just a couple of loose ends to tie up and all should be well again.

Perhaps things do happen for a reason; this year also brought the utterly amazing experience of being with Lily and Russ when their daughter was born, and with no deadlines to worry about, I’ve had the joy of spending unhurried time with our new granddaughter. Having Rose and Si move closer was an unexpected bonus and makes getting together a lot easier; a couple of weekends ago, for example, we had brilliant time at the Millennium Stadium watching Wales play Uruguay.

However, with my personal goals in disarray, there have been moments when I’ve questioned who I am. Am I’m still a writer if I don’t produce a new book? A runner if I’m not training for a race? Getting the all clear from the consultant put the spring in my step which has enabled me to really up my running mileage; I won’t be running the Cardiff Half this year but – fingers crossed – I’m going all out for Llanelli in March. And now the worry has lifted, I’ve started writing again too, because I want to and for the pleasure of it, not because I feel I must. There’s a lot of ‘stuff’ that comes with being published that I don’t enjoy, like the inevitable stinging review and fretting about what everyone else is doing so it’s easy, in low moments, to be dragged down by it. Voracious reading has helped me regain my writing appetite, and this wonderful post by literary agent, Lizzy Kremer, reminded me that the only ‘right’ path out of the writing wilderness is the one we choose for ourselves, the one we take hopefully and with joy. There’s a little autumn light at the end of the tunnel.