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.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Summer's Lease

Blue skies at Goodwick yesterday
‘Someone’s going to be busy,’ says the cashier at Wilko eyeing our bucketful of cleaning goodies. Summer in west Wales, like the roses outside our kitchen window, showed early promise before being battered by strong winds and heavy rain leaving only a glimmer of hope. But today, the sun is shining so what are we doing to make the most of this rare bright day? Why, we’re scrubbing the boat, of course!

Actually, one of the aspects of sailing that I really like is the ‘playing houses’ bit, making another home from home. We’re currently working our way through washing the teal and white upholstery covers, we’ve tackled the mainsail cover – which included The Thing That Crawled Inside, Cr*pped Itself and Died (discovered when Tom shook the mainsail out over me, Rose and Si when we were eating our sandwiches) – and now, I’m cleaning the inside whilst Tom sorts out power and water to clean the outside.

For a 23ft boat, Blue Nun’s surprisingly spacious with lots of headroom, which is one of her plus points. The DVD player with drop down screen in the forecabin (to watch what? A Perfect Storm? Dead Calm? Overboard?) is a questionable asset and the Porta Potty (bleurgh!) is definitely going to be replaced by a boat loo. To be fair, my sprucing up of the interior is more of a psychological ‘out with the old, in with the new’ kind of clean, but it’s when Tom turns the power washer on the exterior that the satisfying transformation begins and Blue Nun starts to regain her sparkle. All told, it’s been a good day!

Swabbing the decks!

It was a good day, with lovely weather, three years ago when Lily and Russ got married and now, of course, they have Bee! Congratulations to them and to my parents-in-law, aka MiL and DiL, who celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary on Thursday. Given that MiL’s had to overcome serious health problems this year, we’ll be particularly pleased to raise a glass to their continued happiness when we meet for a family party later this week.

And finally, a small celebration of my own; the German edition of Only True In Fairy Tales. I studied German for part of my degree and produced a very average dissertation after struggling through original historical texts, however I’m pleased to say that reading this delightful translation is banishing painful memories of those dry old tomes and introducing me to words that are much more fun to learn. My thanks to Choc Lit and to Heidi.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Please Release Me: A Blog Splash and a Gale

Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog splash for fellow ChocLiteer Rhoda Baxter to celebrate the release of her latest book, Please Release Me, which has a rather unusual premise for a romantic novel. In Rhoda’s own words, “Please Release Me, is a contemporary romance with a touch of the paranormal, published by Choc Lit Ltd. It’s set in a hospice (granted, that’s not the most intuitive setting for a romantic comedy…) and features Sally, whose body is a coma while her ghost gets to walk through furniture; Peter, who reads to his comatose wife every day; and Grace, who is the only person who can see or hear Sally’s ghost. It’s a story about moving on in one way or another and about how people need each other, especially when they think they don’t.”

Something else you need to know about this book is that Rhoda’s generously donating half the royalties from it to Martin House Children’s Hospice.

When Rhoda invited me to take part in her blog splash she suggested ‘being stuck’ as a possible prompt because her characters are unable to move on. Perhaps it’s because we’ve just bought another boat that I thought of Veryan, the first and loveliest of our boats and when, on an early Epic Voyage, we found ourselves galebound in Ramsgate…

“To describe what I did this morning as ‘waking up’ would be stretching it. Although we were expecting a gale, it blew up really quickly” my sailing diary records. “One minute I was washing up in the cockpit and the next I was leaping ashore because the boat was jumping around all over the place. We felt very vulnerable on our mooring but couldn’t move because the wind was driving straight onto a pontoon. We did what we could to make the boat safe, then waited… and waited, but the gale didn’t stop. It blew throughout the afternoon, evening and all through the night making even the most innocuous sound seem threatening.”

Veryan (and her crew) take a battering!
However, there was a silver lining to that storm… 

“Last night was one of the worst of my life after one of the nastiest journeys, but it suddenly occurred to me that if the advice is to write about what you know that this is what I should be writing about! Some of the characters we’ve met here would fill several books …”

Well, two so far, Turning the Tide and Follow A Star (directly recalling that time in Ramsgate!) which just goes to prove that sometimes you need to be stuck to move on. And once we set sail again, next summer, who knows where those adventures will lead?

Please Release Me

What if you could only watch as your bright future slipped away from you?
Sally Cummings has had it tougher than most but, if nothing else, it’s taught her to grab opportunity with both hands. And, when she stands looking into the eyes of her new husband Peter on her perfect wedding day, it seems her life is finally on the up.
That is until the car crash that puts her in a coma and throws her entire future into question.
In the following months, a small part of Sally’s consciousness begins to return, allowing her to listen in on the world around her – although she has no way to communicate.
But Sally was never going to let a little thing like a coma get in the way of her happily ever after …

Please Release Me by Rhoda Baxter is out now and you can buy it here.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

A Slice of Dundee (with a Topping of Edinburgh)

Tom, to his great credit, is presenting a paper at The Society for European Philosophy and the Forum for European Philosophy Annual Conference in Dundee. This leaves me with some freewheeling time to explore a city that’s famous for the three ‘js’; jam, jute and journalism. Keen to find out more, I head for The McManus, a neo-Gothic building designed by George Gilbert Scott which houses an art gallery and museum.

An exhibit in ‘The Making of Modern Dundee’ reminds me that Dundee’s also famous for the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879; there are pieces of the collapsed bridge, fragments of glass from the doomed passenger train, and poignant memorials to lost lives. It’s a bleak story in this dark, almost empty gallery so I move on only to find myself standing in front of a couple of enormous whale harpoons. Whale oil, I now know, was essential to jute processing, softening the material and making it flexible, but these relics from the whaling industry still make me uncomfortable, as does the story of the poor Tay Whale whose skeleton looms just above my head.

In search of something lighter, I flee to ‘Landscape and Lives’ but finding myself alone in a room of teeth, claws and beaks, I start to feel ridiculously freaked out and head upstairs to look at the paintings in The Victoria Gallery instead. Oh god!  Another vast empty space - except for all those faces caught in freeze frame!  I have a strange, unnerving sense that a conversation has suddenly halted because of my presence and actually have to force myself to walk round the room.  

Normally I love museums, but something’s bringing me out in goose bumps here,  Nerves shredded, I escape into bright sunshine and find myself passing the famous Howff cemetery. Might as well pop in whilst I’m passing, I think.  It’s a lovely day, a few people are sitting on benches eating their sandwiches, nothing to spook me here…that is until I reach the shadowy paths away from the sunlight. 

At this point there should have been a photo - but it won't load! Spooky!!

I give up and decide to cheer myself up with tea and cake, except that everyone in Dundee’s had the same idea so I end up instead with a takeaway coffee and a Sicilian lemon muffin and find myself a bench by the Tay where I finish reading Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind than Home which, after the museum and cemetery, seems almost cheerful!

After Dundee, and a wonderful drive along the beautiful east coast, we end our visit to Scotland with a real treat, thanks to Lily and Russ who presented us with a Loch Fyne voucher. Thank you, both, for a wonderful evening and a superb meal!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Sea Fever

‘I think I’ll try an offer,’ says Tom. ‘What do you think?’
‘I think the same as before,’ I reply. ‘I’m still concerned about time and money.’
‘Hmm,’ says Tom.

The subject of all this intense thinking is a rather forlorn yacht lying locally whose owner has run out of, er, time and money so has put her on the market for what’s really a very competitive price. After we sold the dreaded Pig Boat, there were a couple of years when we were both quite glad to be free of all the responsibilities (ie bills) that boat ownership brings, but it wasn’t very long before Tom starting poring over boat ads and shouting, ‘come and look at this one!’ at regular intervals.

Perhaps it was because I was fed up with looking at the rain and perhaps it’s because, in these PhD days, part of me’s nostalgic for the guy who liked to mess around in boats, but eventually I’m persuaded to view one of Tom’s discoveries. We clamber aboard and as I peer down the companionway at the clutter below, I feel… excited! For all her shabbiness, it’s only going to take some elbow grease for this Cinderella to go to the ball. She’s the kind of boat that would suit us admirably; perfect for the kind of pottering we now plan to do, a little bolt hole, somewhere to plan, to dream, to write or just watch the seascape around us. Except, of course, we agree after much discussion, that it’s probably not the best time for us to buy a boat, unless, of course, the owner is willing to take an offer…

‘We own a boat!’ says Tom, a little later. And so a new chapter begins!
First meal in the cockpit!
With guests, Rose and Si

For the last two weeks, we’ve had the immense pleasure of having Lily and Bee staying here, plus Russ at weekends, whilst their bathroom is being replaced. Home Thoughts hasn’t appeared because it’s been such a unique and important time and I’m really going to miss Bee’s big, big smile first thing in the morning and seeing her arch her back and wave her little arms signalling she’d like to be picked up. We’ve introduced Bee to lots of sea air and, when Rose and Si joined us for the Bank Holiday we also took a few snaps of us girls together.

Taking the air at Aberaeron

All the girls!

Monday, 10 August 2015

Cheers, Boos and Coos!

156 has an 'Uh-oh' moment.
On Tuesday, pretty much on the spur of the moment, I decide to run the last of the Poppit Sand Series, a 5k race hosted by Cardigan Running Club which you’d be correct in thinking takes place on the wide beach at Poppit… Except it’s two laps of a looping course which begins on the road, encompasses marshy wetlands, stepping stones, grass, a long stretch of the beach and a narrow path across the dunes. It’s nine years since I last ran this course and my first mistake is to line up thinking I’m going to ace it, because, hey, I’m a hardened half-marathon runner now, aren’t I? Looking round though, I notice that the other entrants are predominantly – two thirds, in fact, - male and that although there is a handful of women in my age range they all have the wiry, determined look of seasoned club runners about them. I start to suspect this may be quite tough, a suspicion confirmed when the starter klaxon sounds and everyone else goes off like bats out of hell leaving me jogging along at my usual half marathon pace.

We hit the wetlands and I remember there’s been quite a lot of rain here over the last three weeks. Hovering by the first of a chain of muddy pools of unknown depth wondering about the best approach, I’m splattered by a big beefy man splashing straight through the middle. Lesson learned, I charge across wet stepping stones – eek! – up slippery banks, across boggy grass and merciless sand all the while pursued by a runner so hot on my heels I can hear his breath! Damnit, I think, I haven’t done all this work to be lapped at the last minute! You will NOT get past! But then, double damn, the runner in front of me STOPS in the part of the path so narrow and overgrown, I can’t get overtake! Gaargh! We reach the clearing and I manage what, in my head, is a sprint finish… although video evidence suggests otherwise… plus everyone else seems to have got there before me. I’m 90th out of 114 runners, but with the same time as nine years ago and some great memories. It might have been tough but I loved every minute!

On Saturday we set off down the M4 eagerly anticipating the Wales v Ireland game at the Millennium Stadium, a warm up for the rugby world cup. A severe traffic jam means we only just take our seats in time, but at least we turn up, unlike the Welsh team who put in a truly lack-lustre first half performance and barely redeem themselves in the second. ‘You want to get your money back on that,’ says Tom pointing to my brand new rugby top. It’s still an enjoyable occasion, though, and always worth savouring the atmosphere and the sound of 74,000 people singing. A couple of Bellini cocktails and an Italian meal afterwards also lift our spirits.

We complete our big day out by popping into see Lily, Russ and our granddaughter - since all the names in this blog are altered to protect the innocent, I’ll call her Bee. Thank you so much for all your good wishes; Bee’s coming out the other side of her operation very well with only a small scar to show that anything happened. As for me, I’m that lost cause, a hopelessly smitten grandmother!  I’ve never been that fussed about babies (there, I’ve said it) before but, seeing how quickly Bee’s personality is unfolding is nothing short of miraculous to me. Today, when I hold her in my arms and talk to her, she talks back!  Well, she smiles, coos and gurgles at me… to be fair, it’s not much of a conversation, but to me it’s the best feeling in the world!