Monday, 27 October 2014

Walking Pace


Traeth Bach
Eye worries apart, I decide I can’t sit around like Chicken Licken waiting for the sky to fall in so I take myself out for a run. It feels good, so good in fact that I discover when I check my watch that I’ve run my fastest 5k ever. 
Hmm, so much for taking it easy. 
But I also make time for plenty of reading; some new fiction and some old favourites too, like BB’s Little Grey Men and Down The Bright Stream, prescient depictions of a fragile English countryside irrevocably changed by human activity. Non-fiction draws me back to another comfort read, Roger Deakin’s Waterlog which is now on my Kindle so I can revisit the secret world of wild swimming whenever I like and his Wildwood which is a treat in store.

The weekend brings a visit from Rose and her husband Si so we decide to take a slow walk to the secret beach. Although the weather’s grey there’s a wealth of autumn colour along the way.

Mr & Mrs Fitz prepare for rain.
A precarious coastal path.

And an even more precarious descent!

But you do get the beach to yourself.

Well, almost!

All you have to do is climb back up.
Then it's a slow walk home for a well-deserved cup of tea and a big slice of home-made cake!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Flashing and Dashing

‘And this,’ the A&E doctor tells us showing us into a treatment room at the end of a corridor, ‘is also our ebola room!’ There’s comfort of a sort to be had in the fact that I’m not actually surrounded by staff in protective clothing, and also that I’ve been fast-tracked through casualty … although that in itself is rather worrying. I’ve had to seek emergency treatment for a flashing light show in my right eye which could be a posterior vitreous detachment – like the one I experienced in my left eye – or it might be the start of something more sinister like a retinal detachment and the only way to know is to seek expert medical help. Fast.

The ebola room, it turns out, usually serves as The Eye Room, and after a couple of basic eyes tests, further help is summoned. After a nervous wait, I’m thoroughly and efficiently examined by the on-call ophthalmologist who declares my eyes to be in surprisingly good shape for someone so short-sighted but to seek help immediately if the symptoms get worse … and breathe. Except, of course, I now have a few more anxious weeks hoping everything will settle down. I am, however, hugely grateful to the A&E staff at Aberystwyth's
 Bronglais General Hospital who showed me such kindness and dealt with me so efficiently.

With all the excitement of the Cardiff Half Marathon, Tom starting his PhD, my poor mother-in-law facing a round of medical treatment and a whole heap of Romantic Novelists’ Association committee work, we’ve barely stood still. And although I’m disinclined to agree with a couple of lay opinions that Too Much Running and Too Much Looking have contributed to my eye problems, I think I probably have been squeezing quarts of activity into a pint pot and it may well be time to take a bit of a rest.  On a more cheery note this arrived today – a very pretty sight for both my eyes!




The painting is Sea Monoprint by Tom Tomos.

Monday, 6 October 2014

What a Difference The 'Diff Made!

Medal and T-Shirt!
The last thing I do, before leaving the car to make my way to the start of the Cardiff Half Marathon, is to tell Tom that I love him. The horrific attack on ordinary people at the Boston Marathon in April 2013 has added an unspoken, ‘What if?’ to the pre-race nerves and the Cardiff Half Marathon is now the biggest half marathon in Britain after The Great North Run. It’s a chilly morning and the rain starts to fall as I walk to Cardiff Castle and find my timing pen. The atmosphere’s subdued; not quite so much of the banter which often marks the countdown to the start. I wrap my bin bag round my shoulders to keep warm and let go of all those nagging thoughts and fears leaving a clear calm space where I can focus on the race. A klaxon sounds but it’s almost six minutes before I cross the start line – and then we’re off!

The first mile’s over before I know it. I check my watch; 8.59. 8.59? My head tells me I’ve gone out too quickly, but my body feels fine. I settle in and just keep running, enjoying the rhythm of my own pace and enjoying being part of this colourful sea of runners where the waves eddy back and forth. At mile 4 we reach Penarth Marina then the Cardiff Barrage where crowds line the route, cheering and really raising the atmosphere. I’m so used to running alone in deserted country lanes that I rarely consider what a difference spectators can make. As the race winds up through the city, that crowd support sustains and energies my race; it’s exhilarating to see so many people clapping and cheering us on. There are snapshots in my mind that will stay with me; the little boy in the crowd on his dad’s shoulders, nearly asleep but still holding up his ‘Come on, Mummy’ sign, the elderly residents sat in chairs outside their care home waving at us, and a Muslim lady and her daughter offering water to the runners in plastic cups on a silver tray.

By mile 10, I know I’m going to finish the race and probably beat my best time … I’d love to come in at under 2 hours 10 minutes, but how much fuel have I got in the tank? At mile 11 I pick two good runners and try to shadow them picking up vital seconds despite a tricky hill. And then suddenly, I’m running for the finish line. The race clock reads 2:07:55 – I’ve beaten my 2hr 10min goal… but that includes the time elapsed waiting to get to the start so when my official chip time is confirmed at 2:02: 25 I’m absolutely over the moon!

But there was always more to this race than just running. This was my sixth half marathon, but my first for a charity, Pancreatic Cancer UK, the cause that’s so dear to my heart. I have to say I’m overwhelmed and incredibly touched by the support I’ve received not just from friends and family but from many strangers whose kindness often moved me to tears. Your stories of loved ones lost far too soon were with me and my thoughts of my dad as I ran. I’m immensely grateful to all of you whose generosity has enabled me to raise over £600 so far (my Just Giving page is still open here) for Pancreatic Cancer UK who do so much to help increase survival rates for this cruel disease. Many thanks to all of you.

Huge thanks, too, to the organisers and volunteers who made the Cardiff Half Marathon possible and to the spectators who came out in droves to create such an amazing atmosphere.

And finally my heartfelt thanks to my husband, Tom and to my family for their loving, loyal support which gave me wings to fly.

Shattered but happy!


Monday, 29 September 2014

Taking Stock


'Sunset Bardsey' by Tom Tomos
We’ve spent two days this week cataloguing Tom’s paintings which were rather haphazardly stored when we moved here three years ago. It’s been a joy to see old favourites, discover forgotten gems and to change the mood of our living rooms with different works. Not everyone has the chance to get a private viewing of a major retrospective of an artist’s work – nearly a hundred paintings - but my pride in Tom’s achievement has been tinged with frustration that he isn’t receiving wider recognition. He’s not alone, of course, Andrew Graham-Dixon’s BBC programme about David Bomberg, whose critical stock rose only after his death from malnutrition, was a powerful reminder of how cruel the creative Fates can be. 

Drinking my tea this morning, I ruefully listened to Radio Four’s Today programme giving author David Nicholls over four minutes of airtime to promote his new book, Us, and to tell listeners how pleased he was that his comedy about marriage and family had been long-listed for the Booker prize. I subsequently tweeted Today telling them I’d be happy to do a soft interview talking about my novels which are also about relationships and marriage, but they have yet to take me up on my offer, so I can only assume that when male authors tackle these subjects they automatically become newsworthy. I’m sure David Nicholls is a good author - don’t all those sales prove it? - yet I can’t help but think that given the same amount of promotion, I could be a 'good' author too. As things stand, my ‘discoverability’ as an author, is mainly due to whatever I can do on social media – short of being really annoying – and on special deals on Amazon (or, last weekend, Kobo). The lower the price, the more willing readers are to take a punt, but it really did make me wonder, standing in the queue for a coffee in the Turner Contemporary café last week about what’s really of value to people when I noticed that the price of a single cupcake there, was higher than any of my ebooks.



Grumbles about relative values apart, driving to the supermarket a couple of nights ago, Tom and I were reflecting on what we’ve achieved between us since moving to Wales nearly nine years ago; paintings sold, novels published, academic achievements etc. Our quiet self-congratulations nearly became our last words as, suddenly, as an impatient van-driver, fed up with waiting behind a bus, sped head-on towards leaving us, so I thought, with nowhere to go but A&E. I still don’t know how we escaped, although Tom’s excellent driving skills had a lot to do with it, but, gosh, I’m grateful to be here. Being alive seemed a good reason to crack open our latest foraging recipe; Hedgerow Fizz made with elderberries, blackberries and a few rosehips. Sometimes you have to take stock and realise how lucky you are. Cheers!


 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Making Memories

Coffee time in Whistable
‘Keep Making Memories’ reads the slogan on the Shearings coach we’re following on the motorway. An auspicious sign for our holiday break with Ma, perhaps. It also, along with treating people how you would wish to be treated, resonates with my personal philosophy of trying to make the most of every day. As a line from a particularly moving scene in one of my favourite films, Blade Runner, goes; ‘all these moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain’ - which is why every minute is precious.

Alas, our first holiday meal proves memorable for all the wrong reason. We’ve booked in to a Premier Inn at Herne Bay to explore the Kent coast. The Premier Inn itself is clean and efficient with polite, helpful staff; so helpful, in fact, that when our online reservation at the next door 'Table Table' appears to have failed, the receptionist remakes the booking and even comes to our room to assure us we have a table for three at 6.30pm.

Beach huts at Herne Bay
‘Sorry guys, nothing under that name,’ says the restaurant manager when we present ourselves. ‘Grab yourselves a drink while you wait and I’ll try to slot you in as soon as possible.’ Because it’s the first night of our holiday and we don’t want to kick off with a row we try to ‘grab ourselves’ a drink. Unfortunately this entails a fifteen minute wait at the understaffed bar. Grabbing ourselves somewhere pleasant to sit is even more of a challenge since almost every table is covered with a detritus of dirty glasses and crisp crumbs.

Needless to say that when we finally get to eat, my meal is the worst I have had in a very long time with flaccid greasy potato wedges and disagreeable greens that smell and look as if they’ve visited several other plates before mine. What really makes my blood boil though is seeing a steady stream of customers, many of whom are elderly and some of whom are infirm, all dressed up for their big night out and watching their faces fall as it dawns on them that the whole pack of cards has come tumbling down and they won’t be eating any time soon. It’s a shameful way to treat people.

I could go on… but all that needs to be said is that our polite complaints were answered with a polite apology, but nothing else (hey, at least we weren’t offered a free meal!) and the next day, after searching Trip Advisor, we found an absolutely delightful Thai restaurant, 'The Coconut Tree' where the three of us enjoyed a fabulous evening for less than the price of a meal at Table Table.

Our ghastly first evening aside, the memories we made this holiday were of sun, laughter and the joy of English seaside resorts.

Whistable Harbour
All set for a picnic on the beach at Sandgate
Prospect Cottage and garden, former home to Derek Jarman (taken from a distance)
View from within the Turner Contemporary at Margate
A hot day in Ramsgate
And finally, a visit to Ramsgate Harbour evokes memories of being gale-bound there on our sailing trip which inspired both Turning the Tide and Follow A Star, but it also reminds us of how much time has passed and of people who are no longer with us. Keep making memories, indeed.

Now...
And then!


Friday, 5 September 2014

Why I'm Running for Pancreatic Cancer UK


When you’re sitting, waiting with fragile hopes, in a hospital room for relatives, it’s brutal to be told instead, ‘the operation was a complete success – but we couldn’t remove the cancer.’ On October 5th I’m taking part in the Cardiff Half Marathon for the fourth time, but on this occasion I’m also aiming to raise as much money as possible for Pancreatic Cancer UK. Pancreatic cancer is known as the ‘silent’ killer because many of its symptoms reflect less serious illnesses meaning that by the time diagnosis is confirmed it’s often too late – which is what happened to my dad. The Whipple procedure, the major surgery he withstood, which might have prolonged his life, came too late. 

I’m afraid I can’t provide photos of sad kittens or cute puppies to make my chosen cause seem more appealing. Pancreatic cancer isn’t very pretty, it’s cruel, it ravages strong beautiful bodies and is no respecter of fame, talent or fortune. Here, instead, are a few illustrations of what the disease took away from him, and ultimately, from us.

This is my dad’s last pair of glasses complete with his fingerprints. Light Titanium frames with sprung sides and high-index lenses. On a ‘cost per wear’ basis they were never going to be a good investment, but medication combined with the dying of his own light had played cruel tricks with his vision. But my dear friend, Jill, Best Optom in the World, did her best for him and this pair gave him a few more weeks of reading pleasure – not the dense, academic tomes he’d previously relished, perhaps, but at least he could read a newspaper, engage with the world a little and enjoy his stamp collection. After his death, they came to me. When I opened the case there was another slip of paper placed beneath the cleaning cloth. Phone numbers. Waypoints for the final path. Mum’s mobile, my sister, our husbands, my two grown-up daughters and me.



This a set of book cases Dad made for me. He was a carpenter and joiner, often called in by architects when they needed someone with traditional skills who could make oak staircases, roof lanterns or sash windows.


The back pain he suffered with pancreatic cancer was relieved a little when he leaned forwards. He made himself this lectern so he could read sitting at a table. It now sits on my desk.



This block also sits on a corner of my desk. It’s an intensely personal and profoundly moving object. What is it? Well, it’s one of a pair, the last things Dad made for himself which were designed to keep his bed at a more comfortable angle during his final weeks.

 


And this is the man we loved, lost and miss every day. One of a kind, Arthur Stovell.



Pancreatic cancer is the fifth leading cause of all UK cancer deaths, but research into the disease is extremely underfunded and survival rates have not improved in forty years. It’s too late for my dad, but someone else’s dad might live longer if those survival rates improve. Please help if you can. You can find my JustGiving page here

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.



Monday, 1 September 2014

Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

September arrives in mist
Having won the ‘pinch, punch, first of the month’ battle for the first time in ages, I get up to make tea to find a truly autumnal start to the month with mist obscuring Cardigan Bay. Eight years of living in the Welsh countryside have made us acutely aware of the changes marking the passing seasons. Over the last week, the colours of the leaves have changed on a daily basis; the wash of green is now tinted with reds and golds and the hedgerows are jewelled with berries. Country living’s also opened our eyes to the possibilities nature’s abundance offers. After the success of our elderflower champagne – which has added a real note of celebration to summer evenings - we went out last sunny Saturday, to gather elderberries and blackberries to make red fizz to brighten up the darker nights.
We're keeping an eye on those sloes!
Taking a few elderberries from several trees
Elderberry fizz in the making!
Given I have extreme Tomato Phobia, I stayed out the way when Tom used our crop of tomatoes to make chutney...
From this...

... to this
But I'm always happy to see our sweet peas...


In other news,
 first reports from the Little Family in Canada are all good, Tom’s leg is healing and I’ve now run 164 miles in training for my Cardiff Half! On Sunday, I learned that just because a 12 mile run is training run doesn’t mean it should be treated lightly! A two hour run in the sunshine with very little water and using isotonic drink for the first time did not end well. A useful lesson before the race!