Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Raving, Waving and Racing

Xname and Yaxu at Bleach
The news from my consultant ophthalmologist is good, given the limitations of my myopic eyes with their defective tilted discs, but with my sight still blurred with drops we’re off to the south east to catch up with friends, family… and a rave.

Tom’s PhD research leads us to Bleach in Brighton and an algorave where music is generated from algorithms using live coding techniques. Having always felt a bit miffed to have missed out on raves and foam parties, I’m slightly disappointed that there isn’t a glow stick in sight. Actually there isn’t any dancing either - though the young man in front of us does go wild and nod his head from side to side at one point during the proceedings - but it’s certainly an interesting experience and I think my internal organs have now recovered from the bass notes.

After calling in to wish Stepson Two and his lovely girlfriend every happiness in their first home, we bring Ma back to Wales with us and introduce her to sailing. With her poor bad back, I’m a little concerned about how she’ll manoeuvre herself onto the boat, let alone cope with a full day’s sailing, but in true grit fashion, she not only copes but also throws herself into the role of crew, passing ropes and fenders and generally making herself useful. Her only complaint is that she’s waited until the age of 82 to begin.

After what’s been a hectic few weeks, we have particularly unusual and busy day which begins at crack of doom with a visit to the Boob Bus. I get my kit back on and then it’s off to change our poor old car, Le Beast - which has been run into the ground - for Le Beast Rouge, a newer model with far fewer miles on the clock. More expense. The day ends with me putting a few more miles on my own clock with the madness that is the first of the Poppit Sands Race Series, a 5k yomp over mud, stepping stones and energy-sapping sand. In a field packed with club runners and fit young men I come 91st out of 114 runners - 8 places up on my last attempt!

Monday, 20 June 2016

Precious Time

June. The summer solstice. The year, it seems to me, is turning before it’s begun. At home, there are personal reminders of the wheel of life turning full circle. Was it only a year ago that I sat with my daughter and son-in-law, watched as Bee came into the world, listened as she took her first breath? We didn’t know this little person at all then, never imagined how much love she would bring. Now she’s very much a character in her own right, someone who on Saturday at her first birthday party, trotted round the room smiling and clapping with pleasure at everything that was going on. I’ve seen my daughter and son-in-law put Bee at the centre of their world, giving her all their love and care, and I’ve watched my daughter blossom into the most loving, attentive and generous mother.

June also marks the number of years since my dad died, eleven now, but the sense of loss is no less for the passage of time. I so wish I could tell Dad about all the things he’s missed. That’s part of the reason, I’ve decided to run for Pancreatic Cancer UK again this year, in the Cardiff Half Marathon. I know that there are many deserving causes out there, but I have set up a JustGiving page because pancreatic cancer survival rates remain shockingly low and this grim disease is still taking too heavy a toll.

On a far more trivial note, I’ve been fighting a losing battle with my hair colour which has bleached thanks to the combination of a sunny holiday and sailing. I’ve decide not to fight the tide any more but go with the flow…. but I’m taken aback by how difficult it’s been! I’m not vain - there’s no turning back the clock as all those strangely Botoxed and filled faces prove - but I am struggling with a certain loss of identify. The change has happened so suddenly that I don’t recognise the person I see in the mirror at the moment. My regular makeup looks wrong, some of my clothes drain me of colour so I’m back to experimenting like a teenager. And just to cheer me up, waiting on the horizon at the end of this month is my appointment with the consultant ophthalmologist closely followed at the beginning of next month by a mammogram.

Whatever my personal trials and tribulations, everything’s been put into context by so many sad and bad stories in the news and in particular the tragic death of MP Jo Cox. I may not like my grey hair, but it's a sign of age that too many people never see. I’m lucky to have seen my children grow up to be wonderful people and I have the pure joy of being a grandmother. Time is too precious to waste it fretting about the colour of my hair!

The painting is 'Sunset - Bardsey' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Heading for the Rocks

Blue Nun and the rocks!

Aaaah! The joy of having a boat again! Blue Nun’s so much more responsive than our wooden boat, lovely as she was, and so nippy too! We enjoy a brisk sail from Neyland to Dale where we spend a couple of restful days, reading, writing and generally watching the world go by. On the third morning we decide on a change of scenery and potter round to a sheltered bay where we can pick up a mooring buoy. Well, we would have, if I’d been quicker. Now, I’m pretty good at picking up buoys, but make a right dog’s dinner of it this time.

‘Never mind,’ says Tom, ‘we’ll give it another go!’ He puts the engine in reverse and Blue Nun obediently travels backwards (something no previous boat of ours has ever done!) … and a rope which trails the dingy behind the boat whirls round the propeller. Yikes! Tom manages to free enough to regain control of the engine, but he’s pretty sure that some of the rope is still tangled up.

Whilst I would quite like to pretend it doesn’t matter, ignoring the problem isn’t a solution - there are huge ships manoeuvring in Milford Haven and the last thing we need is for the gearbox to pack up or lose control of the boat when one of those is bearing down on us. There’s only one option; we’ll have to run the boat up the beach, dry out and free the prop that way.

A Chris-eye view of the beach as we approach
Although Tom has planned the operation very carefully, I have a very disturbed night during which I decide I would quite like to be airlifted off the boat. Low water comes and it’s time to begin. I sit on the bow scanning for rocks - and see bloody millions of them - but there is a clear stretch and Tom navigates it superbly. What a star!


He frees the prop - which does indeed have rope wrapped around it - and then we spend a couple of hours in the sunshine waiting for the tide to rise again. A glut of sand eels has washed up on the shore and the seagulls are having a field day feasting on them. They’re beautiful birds in their natural environment and it’s great to be able to watch them closely. The tide returns and we lift the kedge anchor and cruise back to our berth, no harm done. Another adventure in a small boat!

And I wonder why I'm going grey!

Sunday, 29 May 2016

A little Mansplaining and a lot of Spa

 It’s raining in Cardiff but Lily, Rose and I are going to make the most of our long-anticipated spa day. Russ has arranged it as a treat for Lily before the end of her maternity leave and we’re going to make the most of every moment, heck, we’re even going in to town by cab! 

Unfortunately no one’s told the cab driver this is our treat, not his, as every time one of us tries to talk, he talks over us! There’s a lot of mansplaining about how many miles he’s travelled, he tells us about the ring he chose for his fiancĂ© (her birth stone in a heart-shaped setting, delivered to her with the bill at the end of a meal, (a lovely touch) in case you’re wondering. Apparently, she ‘liked’ it but before Christmas, she presented him a Samuel’s catalogue with a diamond ring marked out that she ‘liked better’ i.e. she hated it), and he passes us his phone to show off the many fancy dress costumes he’s worn to darts finals. And do you know what? Instead of saying, ‘do you mind, we’re trying to talk,’ we find ourselves muttering ‘lovely’ at his photos of himself as Mrs Brown and laughing at his feeble jokes. None of us is exactly a shrinking violet, we’re just too polite to tell him to shut up!

Anyway, we reach the hotel and check in at the spa. The girls have both booked back massages, but I’ve decided to have a facial - the first one in years. It must be the Day of the Talkers as my very sweet beautician drones on throughout about how my skin would be much better if I spent £80 on various lotions and potions. ‘Although cennot vork miracles,’ she adds, comfortingly, warning me that I’ll end up ‘like dried epple’ if I don’t drink more water/spritz my face/spend £80. Nice. Still, off to the spa where groups of women perform a strange watchful dance as we take it turns to occupy favoured spots like the jacuzzi. There are only two men - and guess what? - one of them jumps into the pool like Shamu the bloody whale and causes the biggest splash ever. We almost sit on the other one who is lurking in the steam room when we wander in blinking in the murk and don’t realise he’s there.

Our day is rounded off with a champagne afternoon tea which is lush, but it’s still raining when we leave so we pile in another cab which, we quickly realise, smells of wet dog. Luckily our driver doesn’t chat. Oh no, he’s too busy cutting up other drivers and complaining under his breath about the other road users. We make it back to Lily’s in one piece, although I suspect the strain of the journey won’t helped my chances of avoiding the ‘dried epple’ look.

I then spend a fab three days with Lily, Russ and Bee who’s such a joy tottering round the place. It’s quite a wrench to leave and I have to admit to being a bit tearful on the train. Next month it’s Bee’s first birthday - how quickly that time has passed - another reminder of how important it is to make the most of every day.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

A Merry-Go-Round of a Weekend

Whilst Tom is busy on a research day at the University of Kent, I have a freewheeling day in Herne Bay which has more than a hint of Little Spitmarsh about it and it makes me wonder what my characters who live there are up to. There will be some fiction - it’s not that I’m short of ideas - but, gosh, as I’ve said many times here, with so many readers expecting to pay as little as possible for a full length novel, it’s a lot of work for scant reward. However, Herne Bay in the sunshine is a fine place to be - even though that North wind is a bit nippy on my bare legs (sorry about that, people of Herne Bay). I tuck myself away in a sunny spot in the municipal gardens to admire the triumphant tulip displays and read for a while then I take myself off for a walk round the pier. A wonderful display by the Herne Bay Cosy Crew who’ve ‘yarn-bombed’ the railings with their brilliant knitted and crocheted creations makes me stop in my tracks. It’s not just the art work, but the smiles on people’s faces that delight me - it’s such a lovely, playful idea. I buy myself a pot of tea and brave the icy wind so I can just sit and soak up the sights.

In the evening Tom and I find an unexpectedly good restaurant, The Oyster and Chop House, where someone really knows how to put a dish together. It’s not too expensive either and makes a wonderful end to the day.

Over the weekend we do the relly round and keep our fingers crossed for Stepson Two and his lovely girlfriend who are - if all goes according to plan - buying their first house. Exciting times.

It’s good to have some lovely memories in the bank because on Monday my eye test brings up worrying discoveries and a new referral to an ophthalmologist. Health wise, I’m pretty fortunate, but, goodness how I would like better eyesight and stronger eyes. The lesson, in the meantime, is to concentrate on the moment and keep soaking up all that is good and precious in this world. Whilst I’m sitting down absorbing the news someone sits next to me… it’s Julie Walters. I have a ‘one of our national treasures is sitting next to me’ moment before spotting Ma heading towards me. Ma’s feeling good because she’s treated herself to some new glasses, after getting every penny’s worth out of the pair she’s been wearing for ten years. I wonder, perhaps, if Ma is so distracted by her new specs that she hasn’t noticed who else is there, but no. Proving she’s still as sharp and eagle-eyed as ever, Ma leans in and tells Julie how much she loves her work. I hold my breath but Julie Walters smiles warmly back at Ma and thanks her. Happy faces, and some relief, all round!

Monday, 2 May 2016

New Adventures in a Small Boat

It’s launch day for Blue Nun, time to see if all the hours spent scrubbing every bit of her, hoisting sails (during which I managed to turn the boatyard air blue as I fight with one end of a flapping Genoa (sail) whilst Tom bellows instructions from the other) and the long, hard, expensive fight to install a sea loo have paid off. Launching is always fraught but wondering if Blue Nun is about to leak like a sieve adds an extra frisson of danger and I have flashbacks to the our previous little boat, the stumpy-legged, evil-tempered Pig Boat which must have been a submarine in a previous life so keen was she to disappear underwater.

The sky's a beautiful blue and there’s a stiff, bitter breeze but at least it’s not raining. Alistair and Martin, who are in charge of operations, calmly scoop up Blue Nun in Rudders boatyard’s tractor contraption, trundle her down the hill and place her gently in the water beside a pontoon where Tom and I step aboard. If the new seacocks leak it’ll be the shortest maiden voyage ever… we wrap up, put on our life jackets and check again… the seacocks still look good. Phew! The engine - after a heartstopping moment - starts running. We run through safety checks and procedures and then it’s time to cast off!

As the boatyard recedes we see Alistair waving us off, a curiously emotional moment which underlines the fact that even a short passage in a little boat has the feel of an epic voyage. Six years of being without a boat suddenly fade into nothing as everything comes back to me. Blue Nun’s certainly lighter, friskier in motion than our first boat - the one we sailed the most, pretty Veryan, a vintage wooden boat - and there’s enough of a chop beneath the Cleddau bridge to get a feel for her, but - amazingly and wonderfully - I don’t feel sick! And believe me, I can do seasick very easily!

We follow the marker buoys to Blue Nun’s new home in Neyland Marina’s Upper Basin where she slides obediently into her berth… which, take my word for it, is a huge relief. We’ve made it, the sun is shining and new series of adventures in a small boat beckon.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Breaking in the Sun

‘You and Tom need a break,’ says Rose and sends us a link to the resort where she and Si stayed last year. Tom, who’s been telling me we need a holiday for months, books it immediately; twelve days in sunny Tenerife - what could be nicer?

A week before we’re due to fly I go down with the worst cold I’ve had in years. By the time Tom gets off the plane, he’s feeling absolutely wretched too. A few days later he picks up a stomach bug, which drags him down even further, and I get conjunctivis and have to wear my glasses for three days. 

It’s not just the physical ailments either; after running on empty for so long, I’m finding it really hard to switch off and just relax. It’s not as if it’s difficult; we have a huge, if slightly dated, apartment with an enormous terrace, sun-loungers and glorious views across the Atlantic, a maid arrives every day to freshen the place up, the weather is fantastic and, heck, we’ve even gone half board and the restaurant is jolly good. (As an aside, what a sign of the times when I heard a little boy declare at breakfast, having perused the buffet choices of a wide range of cereals, bacon and eggs etc, fruit, yogurts, breads from all over the world, ‘Oh, there isn’t really anything I like here.’ Really?)

Eventually I stop thinking about what I should be doing, forget about trying to write and go with the flow and, of course, that’s when the holiday magic begins. On a walk to the harbour, we notice sinister-looking black and red crabs which scuttle across the black rocks when they sense us looking at them (anyone else remember the annual ‘The Eyeballs in the Sky’ episode of The Perishers?’) .

Then, as night falls, we hear what sounds like the Mass Kazoo Band of Tenerife piping in the hill above us. A little research reveals they’re Cory Shearwaters returning to their burrows. A female wall lizard darts away from my foot when I stop to look at her and bougainvilleas bloom in brilliant colours contrasting with the blue sky. We round off our stay with a two-hour boat trip on a lovely old wooden boat, Katrin, and see dolphins and what the crew cheerfully call ‘bad seas’ as we surf back into the harbour on huge Atlantic rollers.

Yes, we agree, it’s been a good holiday. We’re definitely in a better place than when we started …and then we get to the airport where our plane’s delayed. Arriving at Cardiff airport, there’s another long delay while someone is found to unload the luggage (one little plane in the middle of the night - not three airbuses!) and eventually, worn out, we crawl in at four in the morning. Apart from the journey, it was a really good break!