Friday, 22 May 2015

Close Encounters

The first of our fixtures in what’s going to be a busy week finds us in De Beauvoir Town at former library and community centre, Open School East. We’re here for a seminar on Posthumanism and The Arts, in part because the speakers include one of Tom’s PhD supervisors, David Roden. A trickle of attendees turns into a flood and soon it’s standing room only for what proves to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening with fascinating presentations and lively debate. If you’d like to hear more about it you can listen to David Roden’s post on SoundCloud here.

Tom and I are probably the oldest people in the room, however there’s an interesting outbreak of #GrannyHair, both here, and on the streets of trendy East London, which makes me wonder why I bother hiding mine – except, of course, that the young women will still be young and I’ll look even more like a granny!
St Leonard's. Shoreditch

Thanks the non-appearance of trains on the London Overground, there’s plenty of opportunity to people-watch en route to Brick Lane where we have a curry before tackling the rest of our journey. Some of our encounters are closer than I would like; the woman who calls me a ‘horrible f*cker’ for declining to give her her bus fare, the busy train carriage where we sit opposite Mr and Mrs Shouty-Fighty and their snarling, farting dog, the ranty man at Wimbledon pacing the platform while fulminating into his phone and the man urinating in the street as we leave the station. Perhaps I’ve just lived in west Wales too long!

On Wednesday, Tom sets off to Milton Keynes to present the first of his PhD papers at the OU Music Department Research Day and I continue a busy round of catching up with friends and family before a full day in London on Thursday when I’ll be attending my final RNA committee meeting and the Romantic Novelists' Association Summer Party. But before that, on Wednesday evening, Rose and I have some rare ‘mum and daughter’ time at a local restaurant where we have a lovely time recommending books to each other and discussing plans for the future. 

I go to bed very happy, but wake up at two in the morning feeling very unhappy! My body feels as if it’s on fire, my head is spinning and my stomach is in considerable distress. The moment I have to ask Tom to fetch me a bucket, I know that no fairy godmother in the world is going to get this sick Cinderella to the RNA ball! Perhaps unsurprisingly words like ‘gutted’ and ‘bummer’ spring to mind at having come all this way to say thanks and farewell to my fellow RNA committee members only to fall at the final hurdle. The only consolation is that I seem to be getting over it quickly and now just feel tired rather than ill!

And finally…
Apologies to my regular readers and fellow bloggers for my absence – it’s just a very busy time!

Painting is Totem Gymraeg by Tom Tomos

Monday, 27 April 2015

Mountain High

The weather’s set fair so Tom and I decide Wednesday’s the day to tackle Snowdon. Armed only with sandwiches, sushi, Gala pie, Mars bars, a tray of Bakewell tarts and lots of water (yep, you can tell we were determined not to starve), we’re up at the Crack of Doom and out the door at 6.30 am to be at the car park for our walk at 9 am.

After a slight false start when one of us spots the sign which states ‘Watkin Path’ and one of us who ‘has been here before’ ignores it, we are on our way. At first, I wonder what all the fuss is about; it’s just a series of wide stone steps, isn’t it? But the ‘steps’ are high, uneven and the incline just keeps getting steeper.

Along the way we have a very slow race with two men neither of whom has climbed Snowdon before and who are both a little daunted by the path – or lack of – across the treacherous scree slope which leads to the summit. Tom’s hearty reassurances that the path isn’t as dangerous as it looks make me completely oblivious to any difficulties until we’re actually on it. Fortunately the sound of my calf muscles screaming in agony as I pin myself to the side of the mountain stops me worrying too much about falling off. I even manage to perform a daring grail quest when the two men above us stop for a breather and send the lid of a thermos tumbling down the scree. 

However, the views on this glorious day when we finally reach the summit are worth every bit of pain and effort; it’s truly sublime. Now all we have to do is get back down.

My hopes that we might somehow avoid sliding down scree slopes on the descent by taking the Rhyd Ddu Path first before re-joining the Watkin Path further down are quickly dashed, but once again Snowdon rewards us with wonderful views.

After eight hours of climbing, scrambling and walking perhaps the most welcome sight at the end of the day is that of our car. It’s been a wonderful and extraordinary day… but I’m glad I don’t have to get up and do it again tomorrow!

P.S. For anyone who hasn’t read it, Turning the Tide is the Amazon Kindle Daily Deal today at 99p.

Monday, 20 April 2015


A spell of bright sunshine here in west Wales brings bright illustrations of Dylan Thomas’s ‘force that through the green fuse drives the flower’; vibrant new leaves unfurl, pale buds unfold into blossom and the hedgerows are a jewel box of colour. But all this energy, this renewal, brings, as Thomas’s poem also identifies, a strong sense of time marching on and nagging feeling that there are things I need to get on with.

Seeing the glorious photos my seventeen-year-old niece took when she recently climbed Snowdon reminds Tom of his walk there with my stepson and me that it’s still on my ‘to do’ list. We can just see the top of Snowdon from an upstairs bedroom window so it’s high time I stopped looking at it and walked up it instead! I’ve bought some new boots, taken them out for some test walks and we’re keeping an eye on the weather with a view to heading off to the mountains this week.

Now we’ve completed our utility room, it’s time to tackle the jungle that is our garden. There are three main areas; a front garden with views over Cardigan Bay, a south-facing terrace, lawn and vegetable plot behind the kitchen, and a large sloping wilderness of overgrown shrubs which got away during a spell of very wet weather when the ground on that side turned into a quagmire. We’ve made a start, but, unlike my sister, I definitely didn’t get the gardening gene from our talented mum. I have to keep reminding myself that all the hard work will be worth it!

Looking towards Cardigan Bay
Behind the kitchen
The garden slopes away steeply to the side of the house. Lots of work needed here!

The Work In Progress. Ooh, this has been so flighty and fugitive! Like the garden, it’s rather big and untamed at the moment and I seem to have been particularly prone to bouts of self-doubt. It’s not that I don’t think I can write the book, but as regular readers of this blog will know too well, it’s all the other pressures that come with staying published that sometimes get me down. I suspect the only answer is to shut out the ‘noise’ – other writers’ successes and failures, a wobbly review, the pressure to produce more for less - and stay focussed on the work itself. Now it’s a matter of taking a deep breath and conquering it a bit at a time.

I suppose this is true of everything on my list of ‘things to get on with’. None of them matter in the great scheme – they’re all what our neighbour aptly described as ‘small things in a big world’ – but as I look out of my window every flower that opens is another reminder that time waits for no one

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Spring at Penbryn

It's a beautiful day!  Here are a few sights from this morning's walk to the beach...

The hedgerows in bloom:

The woods in dappled light before the canopy of leaves casts a shade (although there is someone lurking in the shadows!).

And a beach all to ourselves:

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Renovation and Restoration

Pre-loved but unloved
Following a brief discussion about Preseli bluestone and Stonehenge, Tom comes up with a cunning plan to shift our brand new beech worktop from the carport to the utility room. The worktop weighs nearly as much as me, but with the use of three kitchen chairs the two of us manage to slide it along and make stately progress towards the front door with only a minimum of raised voices. There is a slight hiccup when we reach the front steps and the lovingly polished worktop takes a gentle tumble into a flowerbed, but all the effort is worth it for the moment of triumph when we finally see it in place.

The utility room’s the one space we left after our frenzy of renovation when we moved here four years ago. It sort of worked, so we lived with it, but now it’s finished I can’t believe what a difference it makes; suddenly the house no longer stops at the kitchen door but feels bigger and with a better flow. And although we gutted the room, thanks to a bit of forward planning, nearly two weeks of hard work and some careful recycling the only real expense was the beech worktop…. Just as well it had a soft landing when we dropped it then!

The Belfast sink; before and after

Floor replaced, new shelves installed

That worktop!
N.B. Tom says these photos show who did all the work... I guess all the paintwork happened by magic then, eh?

I also take a bit of a tumble during the renovations; in the middle of the night , I turn my head and the whole room lurches. Hoping it will be better in the morning, I keep very still and try to sleep, but getting up the next day sets my world spinning and I find myself sitting on the bathroom floor shouting for Tom to come and help me up. And when my sinuses feel as if they’re about to explode too, I give up and go to the GP who diagnoses a sinus infection and sends me home with strong drugs which will hopefully restore me to rude health so I can look forward to getting back to normal…

Monday, 23 March 2015

Travels and Travail

Newhaven Harbour, Edinburgh
So, the initial plan is that we’ll have a four night city break in Edinburgh to celebrate our sixteenth wedding anniversary, with a short pause on the return journey to visit Tom’s aunt in Harrogate. Then Tom’s PhD work creates a couple of extra stops; a meeting in Sheffield and a course at the OU in Milton Keynes. Once we take travel time and costs into consideration, we decide to book a couple of extra nights in Premier Inns along the way rather than dashing backwards and forwards then we’ll come home reasonably refreshed… won’t we?

Well, Edinburgh’s terrific and the Premier Inn’s in a great spot at Newhaven Harbour. We have sea views from our room and an excellent Loch Fyne restaurant right on the doorstep. There’s so much to see in this wonderful city and we make the most of every minute covering mile after mile until our feet can’t walk any further.

Proving we've yet to master the 'selfie'

After whistle-stop visits to Harrogate, Sheffield and Barnsley, we’re beginning to feel a little institutionalised although Premier Inns are great; they’re clean, comfortable, do exactly what they say on the tin and breakfast there sets you up for the rest of the day. But, my goodness, eating out in the evening is a different story. Perhaps we notice it more because given where we live we rarely bother to venture out to a restaurant, but we quickly discover that finding somewhere economical to eat that doesn’t involve non-stop fried food and utterly indifferent service is almost impossible. ‘My lips are very dry,’ Tom observes at one point. ‘It’s probably scurvy,’ I reply because it’s so long since I’ve seen a fresh vegetable. 

With just two nights left before we can go home, we arrive at Milton Keynes and are pleasantly surprised to be shown to a room with a balcony.

And there, sadly, the nice surprises end. Tom checks his phone and finds three missed calls. My mother-in-law, we are dismayed to hear, has had a mini-stroke…

To date, MiL’s tired, of course, but doing well. A few more test results to come, but so far, so good. It’s been a shock to all of us and a reminder, as we needed it, of the importance of showing our loved ones how much we care about them.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Llanelli Waterside Half Marathon 2015

Lining up for the Llanelli Waterside Half Marathon, I have a strong sense of déjà vu. It’s another cold, grey, murky Sunday morning - just like last year - but with added wind and rain to ring the changes. I’m drenched and freezing cold before I even cross the start line, but it really warms my heart to see Ma and Tom there cheering me on.


And we’re off! I love this course – an 'out and back' along the stunning coastline – but, my goodness, the horizontal rain, gusty winds and mixed terrain certainly make for challenging conditions. Even more so for the marshals who stand at their posts for hours and do such a magnificent job - although I can’t resist throwing a few names at the guy who cheerfully quips as we pass, ‘see, if you had run a bit faster, you could be home by now!’. Nevertheless, I dig in and feel… well, not too bad considering! Fuelled by hearing Ma and Tom cheering as I reach the home stretch, I’m delighted to cross the finish line with a course PB of 2:0:39 coming 9th in my class and 735 out of 1175 finishers overall.


A few post-race thoughts:
  • Ma tells me even alpha males were commenting on how tough the race was as they came in – glad it wasn’t just me!
  • I always feel outnumbered by blokes at this race… and  that’s because I am: 768 men (most of whom are under 40) to 442 women, of which only 18 are in my age group.
  • Being soaking-wet makes for some interesting injuries; Ma reported a few cases of severe chafing among the men, mainly thighs and armpits. I felt quite smug about this until the euphoria wore off and I discovered the band of my sports bra had given me a painful friction burn!
  • Will I do it again?  You bet!

Many thanks to everyone involved in the organisation of a wonderful race and a special thanks to Ma and Tom for their love and support.