Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Kimono Arms, Koko, Clocks and Christmas


Wednesday 12 December
What’s the point of staying at home for Christmas when we still have to hurtle down the M4 to drop off a load of presents anyway? Yes we’re heading south for another round of driving too much, eating too much and not sleeping enough. Ho hum! On the way we stop at a retail outlet at for some last minute presents (who is Last Minute and why does he get so many presents?). Tom, who has been on at me for ages to buy some wet weather gear for the boat, spots a bargain in Helly Hansen and I lob out the best part of forty quid for a deeply unsexy bib and braces number. ‘Well, that’s my Christmas outfit sorted,’ I tell the guy on the counter who has clearly heard it all before and cannot even raise a fake smile. Then it’s onwards to Epsom, a flying visit to Mum, a flying visit to my lovely friend Jill and finally to Worthing to stay with Mil and Dil.

Thursday 13 December
Still dealing with the after effects of eating Mil’s meat pudding at 10 o’clock at night, I fend off the cooked breakfast Mil’s is threatening us with. Besides, we are due to meet Stepson One at a pub chain for lunch and I dread to think what culinary delights lie in wait for us there. 40 miles later we are back in Surrey and I am staring at a burger meal and diet coke. Stepson One is off to Canada with his girlfriend for Christmas to meet her folks and they are also in the process of buying their first home together so there’s lots to catch up with. My sister, who works as a solicitor in the same town, escapes from the office long enough for me to force-feed her my chips. We then head off to drop off my nieces’ presents and say hello to my brother-in-law before downing more tea with Mum.

In the evening we collect Rose from work and catch up with her, then it’s over to Croydon to visit Tom’s brother and his family who’ve had another cr*ppy year with too many woes to go into. Just to add insult to injury, Dave’s been knocked off his bike this week, broken a finger and sustained multiple bruising all because someone didn’t look before opening their car door.

Friday 14 December
Tom finally gets the cooked breakfast but I chase some muesli round a bowl instead. Phew! Today we finish off the visiting, try a fabric warehouse for some curtain material I’ve been looking for (no luck – my goodness that makes me sound like domestic goddess!) and Tom buys some art materials.

Tonight we’re seeing Clocks at Koko in Camden (comment from Rose, ‘Mum, it’s very trendy there.’ And your point, Rose, is?). We say a quick hello to Stepson One, Girlf and a gaggle of colleagues before meeting Stepson Two for a curry before he goes on stage (rather him than me!). Stepson Two is looking suitably rock starry; lean and lovely, clad in black and wearing a top hat. He also, bless him, has two back stage passes so we can schmooze with the bands and drink their mini bar dry. ‘Drop o’ the hard stuff, eh?’ says their Scottish road manager when he comes in and sees us nursing our diet cokes but given that Clocks aren’t on stage until 11.45pm and we’re driving back to Wales afterwards it’s our only option!

So, picture the scene, if you will, Clocks are having a great time on stage, Stepson Two is working the crowd and really enjoying the night, the moshpit is heaving, Tom is off taking some photos of the band and I am standing, minding my own business idly wondering if SBS and I can work our bra twanging, kimono arm flapping routine into the act, when I get a tap on the shoulder and some boy who is a bit young even for Rose, tries to chat me up. What is this? Grab a granny night? He gives up when Tom returns but comes back for a second attempt when Clocks have finished their set. I also get my left buttock cupped by an unknown hand which is a bit unsettling… though not, perhaps, as unsettling as it was for the perpetrator, whoever it was, when I turned round!

Monday 17 December
We do a 260 mile round trip so that Tom can pick up a mangle he has bought on ebay with the aim of turning into a press for some lino prints. Sheesh! It’s never a dull moment here, I can tell you.

And finally…
I’m still working on the book but sometimes, especially at Christmas, you just have to show your face before your nearest and dearest forget what you look like. Thank you taking the time to read my blog this year. I look forwards to resuming this blog and catching up with yours early in the New Year. Here’s to you!

Hwyl fawr!

Painting is 'Pebble Pool' by Tom Tomos

Friday, 7 December 2007

That Friday Feeling



Hello chums and chumettes! Snailsbeachshepherdess was good enough to ask how my book/shoulder/Ma are going and since I’m in a Friday night sort of mood and, having fought my way round Haverfordwest to attempt some Christmas shopping (bah!), it’s clear that I’m not going to get any novel writing done today so here’s a quick update instead.

We are off to hit the town tonight with Tracy and Jeremy next door – I just hope the town doesn’t hit me back. Jeremy is keen for us to ‘Get a few early ones in’ before we eat -‘nuff said. I’ve splashed out a whole £7 on a top from New Look for the occasion and have been listening to Dave Gahan’s latest album ‘Hour Glass’ … I love his voice, he always sounds as if he’s going to break down the door and do unspeakable things to you. Only hope I’m not entertaining Mil and Dil if he pounds up my drive (ooh-er!).

Yes, well, back to the update. There have been moments when I’ve felt like taking Pipany’s advice (get drunk, stay drunk) but I really am getting there. I was confident that I would finish by Christmas until Tom reminded me that there are only two weeks to go before Hotel H’s open season begins and next week we are heading south for three days. Rewriting FTT has been like trying to tame a gigantic wild beast; for a while new storylines and characters were sprawling around all over the place but I think they’re finally under control. All I can say is that I’ve learned a lot during this process and next time I’ll do it differently!

Ma moved into her flat on November 1st. Since then she has had new double glazing installed, had rewiring and replumbing carried out, has gutted the kitchen (herself!!) and planned the next one, has ordered a new bathroom, laid a concrete base for her garden shed and started landscaping the garden. Oh, and she had a fight to the death with a rat in her kitchen. It’s okay, Ma won. Quelle surprise… this week she has been laid up with a bad back and is moaning like billy-o. I’ll have to see if there are a few little jobs she can do for me, like painting the exterior of the house, whilst she’s up over Christmas.

The shoulder is less painful but my arm is still neither up nor down. SBS and I have been comparing notes and we think we can manage to twang the odd bra strap (very odd in my case). Tom and I are off to see ‘Clocks’ at Club NME in Camden on Friday so I’m going to see if there’s any chance of SBS and I doing a bit of bra twanging in the background. Failing that I shall be able to clap beautifully by flapping the one bingo wing I’ve developed recently. Should go down very well with all those trendy night-clubbers.

Ah well, time for me to get into my glad rags and try to fix my face – better allow several hours.

Hwyl fawr!

Painting is 'Haverfordwest Castle' by Tom Tomos

PS There were copies of 'my 'anthology, 'Strange Days Indeed' in Tesco at Haverfordwest today... what a thrill!

Friday, 16 November 2007

The End Is Nigh

Hmm, you see that word counter on the right? Some of you might also notice that the amount I’ve written doesn’t seem to have changed very much and that the total I’m aiming for has gone down a bit too. Now let me say straightaway that any comments such as ‘What’s changed’ or ‘What have you been doing all this time?’ will go straight into that little bin symbol! There has been much wrestling behind the scenes and plenty of gnashing of teeth.

Rewriting ‘Fighting the Tide’ has proved to be another steep learning curve; you don’t have the intense thrill of the first draft to entice you on and you have all of the self-doubt and inner critic to hold you back. The only way forward, as I’ve belatedly discovered, is to write through it. Yep, you apply your bum to the seat, you open your laptop and you write. You write even when the inner critic is telling you, ‘That’s pants, that is!’ because, hey, some of what you’ve written might not be pants – how do you know until you’ve written it?

I caught the end of an item on ‘Today’ this morning when someone, (sorry, dear heart, I didn’t catch your name) was talking about the hundreds of hours he spent trying to fish for salmon (look, don’t shout at me if you don’t like it, I’m just giving you an example, right?). He said that all the fruitless hours are worth it for the moment when the fish twitches the line. It stuck me that there were parallels with writing; the long unproductive hours and many deleted words are forgotten in the rare and joyful moments when something rather wonderful rises to the surface.

For my final push I’ve joined The Finishers, set up by Lane of the Novel Racers. If you haven’t read Lane’s Write then do pop over and have a look; she’s very entertaining and her dogs are sooo cute (but don’t mention the cat at the moment). What more can I say?

Monday, 22 October 2007

Time Out

Thanks for taking the time to read 'Home Thoughts Weekly'. With a book to finish and my mum needing help to move house next week I've decided that something's got to give. I want to deliver a 'What's Next?' book not a 'So What?' book so I'm taking some time out for the next few weeks to give 'Fighting the Tide' my best shot.

Best wishes,
Chris

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Farewell Veryan, Bonjour La Reve!


Some of you may recall a certain froideur descended on Hotel H earlier this year when Tom decided it was time to buy a new boat. After weeks of being constantly worn down I finally agreed – on certain conditions – one of which was to sell Veryan, our old wooden boat. Well, the photo on the left shows her leaving Cardigan with Norman, her new and delighted owner who, with the intention of restoring her to her former glory, has entered her for the Milford Seafair 2008 classic boats craft event. I have to say after years of having a love/hate relationship with Veryan I waved the old girl off with fond memories of the good times aboard; being so sick I wet my knickers, nearly getting us mown down in the shipping lanes crossing the Channel, strip washing in a bucket, that sort of thing.

Despite her age Veryan always turned a few heads being a very pretty boat but her deep keel and her inability to take the ground – ie stand on her own two feet without water – make her difficult to sail in this part of the world where there are fewer opportunities to stay afloat in harbour. Now, once upon a time I would probably have given up sailing without a second thought but I’ve slowly been indoctrinated. Being the only yacht in a secluded bay under a starry sky is totally beguiling, being the sole witness to a rosy dawn is breathtaking and yes, I have to say that being together on the boat has given us the space and time to come up with some of our best ideas. We’ve had traumas and scares but proper adventures too, the sort that everyday life rarely offers.

So, as of last week we became the joint owners of La Reve, a fat old plastic tub, like a bigger version of something you’d stick in your bath. Pretty she ain’t, but her redeeming features are that she has proper engine, unlike Veryan which seemed to have something which would barely power a strimmer, she can take the ground and – this is the winner for me – the last owner fitted her with a gizmo which produces hot water! I can actually have a shower aboard now!

At the weekend we went for our inaugural voyage in her, which was supposed to be a trip to Fishguard. Unfortunately we didn’t make it over the Cardigan bar because some giant Atlantic rollers were breaking there so it was back for a quick jaunt round the estuary, an afternoon watching the tide go out and the wading birds dabble around in the mud (the stars of the show being a pair of egrets). We then cracked open the fizz and were rocked gently to sleep as the tide crept up again. Not bad at all.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Clocks Again!


Ah, bless! They're all grown up now. Stepson two is second from right.




Wednesday, 10 October 2007

A Week in the Life of Mrs Hyde


Thursday 4 October
Ten grisly prunes, black and syrupy, glower at me across the breakfast table, where they nestle threateningly on a bed of All Bran. Mil’s Inherited Digestive Condition, which relies heavily on dairy and chocolate has come back to bite her with an eye-wateringly high cholesterol reading and something that Mil refers to as a ‘sore tum’, so poor Mil has been forced to swap all things creamy and chocolaty for a low-fat, high fibre diet. Alas, Mil’s Inherited Digestive Condition stubbornly rejects our healthy puds, such as stewed apple, but she has taken to tinned and dried fruits in a big way. A very big way. Tom and I both recognise that she’s trying but it’s not quite going in the right direction. ‘Where will it all end?’ says Tom, shaking his head. One thing is certain: and the answer, as Bob Dylan would say, is blowin’ in the wind.

It’s my Rose’s birthday today. She’s out in the big wide world enjoying her first ‘proper’ job but on this day, I miss her. I make a tentative reference to the events of twenty-two years ago when I left for hospital in the wee small hours with my Dad telling me how much he was looking to hearing about his next granddaughter’s arrival before breakfast (yeah, fat chance, Dad – seventeen and a half hours later, eh?). I don’t get any further because Mil counters with, ‘Oh, well I remember when Tom was born…’ alas, this a story I have heard so many times I could tell it myself.
You weren’t allowed to go home for Christmas
‘We weren’t allowed to go home for Christmas.’
And all the girls cried.
‘And all the girls cried.’
And so it goes. More fool me for firing up another game of ‘The Good Old Days’ – a variation on the theme of ‘Life Before Chris’.

Friday 5 October
It’s a glorious, west Wales day. I stand on the long sandy beach at St David’s where the waves sparkle under a clear blue sky scored only by the jet stream of a passing plane.
‘Next stop New York’ says Tom and I think of Frances and the busy, city life she describes with such serenity and composure. We head for the refectory at St David’s cathedral for lunch, which is complete chaos. By the time we have found something we can all eat and then queued to pay (surely there must be a better way than standing in line with plates of rapidly cooling food?) I have completely lost the will to protest when a plate of salad turns up instead of the salmon sandwich I ordered.

Sunday 7 October
‘Hello? Hello? Does my voice still work?’ Just it’s so hard to find a topic of conversation that refers to anything post 1994 that I’m beginning to wonder. At least there’s plenty of rugby on the telly, thank goodness.

Monday 8 October
Mil and Dil’s train departs and I can see that Tom has a lump in his throat. I’m torn between feeling guilty that I can’t be a bigger person and rise above all the references to the past and feeling mad at being isolated and hurt. Biting my tongue all week hasn’t done me any good. You know those interviews when folks are asked to say what their most unpleasant trait is, well mine is sarcasm. My ability to come out with something deeply cutting surprises even me; after the initial rush of ‘There! Take that!’ I almost instantly regret what I’ve said but of course it’s too late then so we drive back in silence the air almost solid with unspoken thoughts. Back home we go our separate ways, Tom to the boatyard and me to play loud nasty music by rude bad boys. Our trial separation doesn’t work; we have an almighty row and slink off to bed.

Tuesday 9 October
We make up. Tom cooks a wonderful meal for me. Peace – for now!

And finally…
I have been delighted to receive an award from Little Brown Dog which will sit here until next week – thank you so much LBD! However, having begun to feel very uneasy about the whole awards thing and after reading a wise comment from Kittyb, I’ve decided to remove them from my blog thereafter. No offence to anyone, it’s just that there are so many good writers out there who deserve recognition in different ways.

Hwyl fawr
The painting is 'The Fox' by Tom Tomos (you have to look very carefully to see how it got its title!).



Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Clocks News


No Escape In the Country

Ah, the benefits of a university education! No, not the UEA degree nor the language course at Heidelberg but the summer job working as a chambermaid in a posh hotel in Norwich which has enabled me to make beds in a flash and clean bathrooms like a demon.

We had a great time with our friends Jan and Roger. If you are looking for professional guests I heartily recommend this lovely couple who come laden with goodies, are very easy-going and leave whilst everyone’s still laughing. (Members of the Ace Gang if you are reading this, no, I’m not going to recommend you as professional guests because someone might decide to keep you and then where would I be?).

We are now deep into Mil and Dil mode. In the interests of marital harmony I have had to keep Mrs Hyde well away from the keyboard. Suffice it to say that two days into an eight-day visit and my smile is already wearing a little thin as the panel assembles for another rousing game of Life Before Chris.

Anyway, there is really only one important event to share this week: Rose is twenty-two tomorrow. How did that happen? Best wishes, my lovely girl, be happy, fly high and keep safe. With love, as ever, Ta Mere XX

The painting is 'Wittgenstein's Ladder' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

New South Wales to Old North Wales



I had an unexpected visitor last Friday evening. It was my Uncle Bill fresh from Australia via West Wittering. Armed with a mental map consisting of two dots representing Auntie Vera’s house in Sussex and mine in Wales joined by a wiggly line, he’d found his way after seven hours on the road, asking everyone after the Severn Bridge if they knew where I lived and having been piloted the final stretch of the journey by a good Samaritan from Cardigan.

‘I’m not stopping,’ he insisted weakly, ‘I’ve got to get to Porthmadog tonight.’ As Tom said afterwards, what else was there to be done? Imagine if I’d driven for miles to his home in Australia, exhausted and with only the most tenuous grip on where I was going, only to be told, ‘Yeah, good luck with that, pal. Best you get off now, nice to see you!’

Uncle Bill is eighty-one. His quest, we discovered, once we’d fed him and given him a fortifying tot of rum, was to find the naval training base where he had started a journey that had changed the course of his life. Anticipating a long evening, I’d found myself instead being absorbed by my uncle’s clear, incisive recollections of the danger and camaraderie of war and, afterwards, the anguish of coming back to England to tell his mother, my gran, that he had fallen in love with an Australian girl and was returning to Sydney. My uncle and his Aussie bride, Edna, (I’m not making that up!) have been married fifty-nine years now. Edna has untreatable macular degeneration and is going blind so my uncle returned alone to England for the last time to see his family and revisit the past.

It’s a long drive up to North Wales. We were all tired and Uncle Bill was confused by the changes he found. Nothing seemed familiar so we put our thinking caps on. Bill came up with a name, ‘Afon Wen’ and Tom remembered that Butlin’s had taken over many of the old army and navy bases and turned them into holiday camps. A little way up the coast, just outside Pwllheli we found the place and a sympathetic porter let us have a look round.

Whilst Uncle Bill was pleased to have revisited his past it was undoubtedly an emotional journey for him and he was pensive on the return journey. Once back at my house, at about four in the afternoon, he was insistent that he needed to be back on the road as my Auntie Joan and Uncle Sid (he of the ‘Cutty Sark’ fame) were expecting him. Considering this is only the third time in my life I’ve met Uncle Bill (if indeed it was him!) I felt really sad to see him go, knowing that I would never see him again.

Anyway, we saw him off with provisions for the journey and good directions and I phoned Auntie Joanie to say not to expect him until late, about 10.30pm.
‘Billy?’ said Auntie Joanie, ‘Is he coming here?’
Ah, good old Uncle Bill, he’d done it again. And, true to form, he managed to get lost on the way there and turned up at 1.30 in the morning.

And finally…
*Phew! I got an award and didn’t even know it. As I said to Milla, I might have the odd Orange prize knocking around somewhere without realising it. Thanks a lot, Milla.

*Having worked frantically on the book the word count’s hardly gone up. Need to add rather than subtract I think!

*Uncle Bill seems to have started an avalanche of Autumn visitors here at Hotel H with friend arriving later today (what am I doing blogging? I should be cleaning?), Mil, Dil and Mil’s inherited digestive condition next week and the Fat Boys) Tom’s equivalent of the Ace Gang bringing up the rear.

Hwyl fawr!

Painting is 'Under the Castle' by Tom Tomos

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Proceed With Care

The Blogosphere is heaving with writers many of whom are aching to be novelists. A few days ago, over at Purple Coo, I was asked a couple of questions about making submissions. This may possibly have raised a few eyebrows as I’m not exactly bursting with novels but I have plenty of writing experience and a few cautionary tales which may help anyone about to embark on this path.

1. It helps if you can write.
I’ve spent most of my working life as a professional writer. That hasn’t always been my job title, of course, which has been Research Officer or Local Government Officer (of various descriptions) but writing has always been essential to the job description. I’ve written research papers, policy notes, briefing papers and press releases and if you want someone to turn your hesitant speech or venomous rows into concise elegant prose, well, it ain’t me, babe, because I don’t do that anymore.

In addition I’ve been placed in national essay and poetry competitions, I’ve been published in magazines and I’ve sold work to newspapers. Earlier this year I even had the pleasure of seeing my work in a real live book. Last June I picked up a 20,000 word script I’d abandoned and, by January, had turned it into a novel, which, I reckon, also makes me a novelist.

If you have any doubts about your writing ability send it out into the big wide world and test the water.

2. Stop if…
a) You think writing’s a chore – it’s not, it’s a privilege and pleasure. Certainly it requires a lot of effort but sewing garments in a sweatshop is hard work, not writing.
b) You are not completely and utterly in love with your writing. If you don’t love your work why should the reader?
c) You think you’re going to get rich. For every dazzlingly successful novelist there are dozens who get two book deals then disappear off the radar. ‘Cracking it’ isn’t enough. You’ve got to keep turning out page after page of sparkling fiction if you really want to be a success.

4. Recognise help.
When my daughters were little I wrote a Mills & Boon. It came winging back with a very nice letter explaining why it had been rejected (not sticking to formula), suggesting amendments (beef up the hero) and inviting me to resubmit. Did I take this help? No. I saw it as criticism, spent the whole day chucking my toys around and vowed never to give M&B the dubious pleasure of reading my work ever again. This is what is known as a big mistake.

5. Choose your publisher wisely.
I sent my failed M&B to a new publishing company. They asked for some changes (make it less formulaic, make the hero less arrogant, grrr!). I delivered, they sent me a draft contract, I congratulated myself on how easy it had been, they went bust.

6. Don’t forget the rest of the book.
After mucking around with bits of genre romantic fiction it was suggested to me by Hilary Johnson, who has been described as ‘the doyenne of doctoring’ and who, at that time, ran the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s ‘New Writers’ Scheme’ that I should try my hand at contemporary fiction. I duly sent three chapters and a synopsis off to a well-respected agent who phoned me up the minute my script landed on her desk and asked to see the rest of it. My personal life then went into freefall and I failed to deliver the goods. This is what is known as a very big mistake and it’s one I’ve taken ten years to recover from! My advice to you is to write the whole book first, apart from anything else it’ll be good practise and teach you to hone your craft.

7. Listen to Beeny.
If you’ve ever seen ‘Property Ladder’ you’ll know that there’s always a bit where Sarah Beeny tells the would-be developers who intend to turn their wreck into a 6 bedroom, 1 bathroom family home, ‘If I was you I would add an extra bathroom.’ The so-called developers round on Sarah and tell her that the family they’re aiming at are good at crossing their legs and saving water so they don’t need an extra bathroom whilst the rest of us are screaming at the telly, ‘Listen to Beeny!!’

If a professional is good enough to give you their opinion, please act upon it. Please don’t think that she is wrong and that you, your partner, your best friend and your dog know better!

So there we are, a brief guide of the possible pitfalls you may come across on your journey to becoming a novelist. As for me, in July, I heard from the agent who’d read the novel I finished in January. She suggested a number of amendments and this time I’ve listened – there’s absolutely no guarantee that when I’ve finished my rewrite that my novel will be one that she can represent but at least I’ll know that I’ve tried. I would prefer not add to my list of big mistakes.

And finally…
* Clocks played a really tight, professional set at their gig at the Barfly on Tuesday despite Stepson Two’s appalling cold and sore throat.
*I saw my lovely Lily – I am, if you haven’t guessed, completely besotted with my daughters and it’s so good to catch up with either of them.
*The rewrite is going well at last!

Hwyl fawr

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Picture This


8 September: 7.30am
Popping into Jeremy and Tracy next door to watch the opening game of the rugby world cup was possibly not the best idea in the world before today’s Welsh ‘Rustbuster’ day. Especially since large amounts of curry and wine were involved. Fortunately my sensible head prevailed so I’m not feeling too fuzzy but ‘Dw i’n nerfus yn iawn!’. In view of the fact I’ve completed two intensive weeks of Welsh learning I’ve decided to go up a level from September and today’s one day course is a chance for me to see if I can talk the talk.

10am
Okay. Here I am in Grwp 3 and I can already see from the pages they’re looking at in their course notes that they are way ahead of me. Even worse a couple of the students should be in the group above but have come down to this one for a spot of revision. Great.

I’m trying to tell myself that it doesn’t matter if I’m the class dunce when The One walks in. Yep, there’s always one person I dread working with. In this case, he’s like Oliver Reed way past his prime, swaggering and loud, so naturally he makes a beeline for me.

3.30pm
I have survived the course but The One has been a right pain. He’s spent all day telling me what a hit he is with gorgeous Laydees – including Keira Knightly (It’s all gone a bit Keira and Sienna mad round here since they were spotting filming for the new Dylan Thomas biopic). He’s stuck so closely to my side that I can still smell his aftershave even when I get in the car. To make matters worse he’s going to be in my new group when term begins in a couple of weeks. Tom who is normally utterly sanguine and never swears advises me to tell him to f*ck off!

7pm
All I want to do is throw myself on the sofa but it’s the opening night of Tom’s exhibition so have to put my public face on and get ready to glad hand everyone. I’ve said before that I think that Tom’s latest collection is very powerful but it dawns on me, shortly after we arrive, that en masse, they are possibly a bit overwhelming. There are simply too many huge, energetic canvasses on the wall for folks to take in.

9.30pm
Oh well, I needn’t have worried about the punters being overwhelmed. Almost nobody has turned up, apart from the usual coterie of artists and gallery hangers-on. Tom is putting a brave face on it but I am so disappointed for him.

11.30pm
Everyone in the room now except me is (1) An Artist. (2) V. v. drunk. Quite a few people are in danger of disappearing up their own backsides by the time I persuade Tom it's time to leave. ‘But we said we’d do each other’s opening nights and book launches!’ Tom reminds me, as I start the car, sensing, perhaps, that I have had enough for one day.
So far it’s opening nights: 2, book launches: (‘Strange Days, Indeed’) 1. Suspect that enjoyment of any of these occasions rather depends on whether or not you are the centre of attention.

And finally…
*The Local Authority has apologised and reinstated Tom’s nephew’s school transport. (Not entirely unconnected with Tom’s brother making a fuss).
*My niece seems to be doing well on her epilepsy medication.
*My shoulder is still bloody killing me so it’s back to the GP.
*Stepson Two’s band, Clocks, are on tour now.

Hwyl fawr!
Painting is 'Urban Garden' by Tom Tomos

Monday, 10 September 2007

If the Lights Grow Dim



Little Brown Dog (and, by the way, if you haven’t read her blogs you are missing a treat) has asked me to reveal the twelve scents and sounds which would still reach me when everything else has failed. They are:

1. Freshly sawn wood. Forever associated with my dad who was a carpenter. If this doesn’t revive me than at least I’ll know Dad’s waiting to show me the way.

2. Talisker. Peat, wood smoke, phenols and memories of a golden October holiday with Tom, Lily and Rose. A few drops of this wee dram wafted under my nose and I’d be a happy woman.

3. Rose and Lily making each other laugh.

4. The warm, clean smell of my husband when he gives me a hug.

5. My mum saying the prayer she used to recite to us before we went to sleep. Not for religious reasons but as a talisman against fear.

6. Crushed basil leaves. We always have a pot by the kitchen window.

7. The smell of autumn mornings – the dying of the year and new terms and new beginnings.

8. John Martyn singing ‘One World’.

9. Putty. That linseedy smell takes me back to when I was little and I ‘helped’ dad who gave me little chunks of putty to warm up in my hands when he was glazing windows.

10. The smell of a brand new, pristine, glossy magazine and the crisp crack of the pages breaking open. Shallow? Moi?

11. Rain on the coach roof of Veryan, our old wooden boat, and feeling snug and secure in the cabin below. A nostalgic memory now as we’ve just sold her.

12. Someone whispering in my ear, ‘Chris! Your book's number one in the best seller list.’ That ought to do it!

Okay. You know who you are. If you haven’t done this exercise yet, stop hiding at the back and do it.

The photograph is of Mwnt, our nearest beach.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Application, Talent or Luck?



Friday 31 August: The Right Place
Back at her Dad’s in the south east the heat’s been on for Rose to find a job ASAP. After an interview and near miss at Penguin, Rose needed something in the pipeline fast. She tried three local employment agencies hoping to do some temping. The first agency entered her for a bulk recruitment day for short term work at an insurance company, the second agency refused to register her (‘Just’ a graduate) and the third, ‘Reed’ asked her what she was hoping to do in the long run.
‘Well, I’d like to go into publishing,’ said Rose, ‘but I know that’s a tall order round here.’
As it happened that particular branch of Reed recruit for an international company which has a publishing arm. Looking at Rose’s details, the recruitment agent thought she be just the kind of person the organisation liked. He emailed Rose’s CV straight to the company; she had a phone interview the same day and was invited for a second interview yesterday. This morning she rang to say she’d been offered a job as a production assistant.

Naturally I’m absolutely delighted and I suppose you could say that Rose happened to be in the right place at the right time but I know how hard she’s worked to be that lucky. Not just academically but in her extra curricular activities, for example taking herself off to Tanzania last summer to carry out conservation work. Sure, you can work hard, be very talented but still need luck – it doesn’t always work out, but it’s nice when it does.

Saturday 1 September: The Right Time
Tom starts to take paintings to St Dogmaels for his forthcoming exhibition and returns with exciting news. Three of his small paintings have sold. Hurray! Some of the proceeds will come in handy for buying wine and nibbles for the opening night on Saturday, a third goes to the gallery and the rest will get ploughed back into art materials.

Sunday 2 September: Not Winning Them All
Tom rings me to tell me to come over to the gallery to the paintings in situ. I’m really excited about this exhibition as think this is Tom’s strongest collection yet and I would love to see his work reach a wider audience. I arrive to see two teenage girls walking away from the side window where three smaller paintings are on display.
‘Ninety-five pounds!’ says one in disgust, ‘I might pay a fiver!’
It doesn’t bother Tom who paints because he loves painting but this current show is really stunning. It’s not about the kind of safe watercolours folks might like take to home as a reminder of their holidays but he’s certainly talented… now all he needs is some luck.

Tuesday 4 September: Application, a Personal Mantra
Over at ‘The Novel Racers’ (see link) we were invited to share our writing mantras. Mine is ‘apply bum to seat’ because it’s the best way I know to keep writing. I’ve never needed it more than with this re-write! I know I keep bleating on about it but there’s a sense of new love about a first draft which keeps me engaged whereas a second draft is about hard work and application. This week I’ve been writing a lot of back story, most of which I won’t even use in the work in progress but I have to know what’s there. The bottom line is if I don’t believe it, the reader certainly won’t.

Why bother? I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week. After all, it’s not just hard work that will decide the final outcome for this book: timing and luck play a part too but I’m a very driven person and I expect a lot of myself. (I blame Mum, of course, (remember that Philip Larkin poem?). My sister and I could get 99% in an exam and she still would tell us to do better next time!) So, I think I’ve got the talent, I might need some luck but it’s application I need to finish the re-write and find out whether or not I’ve made a better job of it.

Hwyl fawr!

Painting is 'Aberystwyth Beach' by Tom Tomos



Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Silver Linings


Sorry about the muffled protests in the background: it’s Mrs Hyde. I’ve had to restrain her and keep her away from the keyboard. It’s always the same when we’ve had visitors; she has terrible urges to be indiscreet and it’s the only way I can control her.

Worries about family and nagging pain have made me feel out of kilter with the world but I’m trying not to let the black cloud overwhelm me so here, instead, are three things which have made me feel better this week: -

My dear friend, Jill, has sent me a lovely book called ‘Quotable Dogs’ by Milly Brown. I particularly like this one by Agatha Christie:

‘Dogs are wise. They crawl away into a quiet corner and lick their wounds and do not rejoin the world until they are whole once more.’

Hmm, on that basis I might have to become a recluse.

We had an unexpected visit from Mr and Mrs Parents-of-Tracy-Next-Door bearing gifts. Some of you may recall that Tracy’s dad was taken ill a few weeks ago when the couple were looking after the house and we were able to help. The good news is that a change in medication seems to be resolving the problem. It was lovely seeing Tracy’s dad looking so much stronger and incredibly sweet of them to bring us flowers and wine as a thank you.

Tom and I walked along the estuary late yesterday afternoon. The sun had come out and we sat down on the rocks to watch the tide creep in and the boats pick their way across the tricky Cardigan bar to return to their moorings. It was just glorious sitting in perfect peace with the sun on my face, listening to the oyster-catchers and watching the waves. A far better tonic than any medicine.

Oh dear, Mrs Hyde has broken free and is performing her post-visitor ritual of running round the house in her nuddypantness playing the Foo Fighters and Nick Cave’s ‘Murder Ballads’ at full volume. I suppose I’d better do something before she scares the builders opposite – but that’s another story.

Hwyl fawr!

PS Don’t be taken in by the fact that the word count has stayed the same. There has been frantic activity behind the scenes and I now have several characters backed into a corner pleading for leniency.

Painting is ‘Black White Grey’ by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

On the Hard Shoulder


Friday 17 August. Frozen Stiff
For a couple of months now I haven’t been raise my left arm, say, to spray my armpit with deodorant, or reach behind my back, say, to undo my bra without seeing stars. What to do? Other allowing my BO and nunga-nungas fly free. I’ve worked out that I’ve got a frozen shoulder and that there’s not much to be done about it but, after a bad night, the pain is so severe that I am forced to take myself to the doctor’s.

Within an hour I have seen my GP twice and been for an x-ray – there’s efficient for you. Have also, to my surprise, cried twice during this process, once when my GP asked when the pain was worst and once when the very gentle radiographer offered, without being asked, to undo my bra for me! The good news is that there is no sign of osteo-arthritis but, given the lamentable state of my Mum’s back, I’m being referred for a bone density scan too. In the meantime I am despatched with a truckload of extra-strong painkillers.

I feel slightly shocked to be in this state, after all I take reasonable care of myself and exercise regularly but, hey ho, it’s happened so I’ve just got to get on with it. Back home I down my pills and, free of pain at last, madly rush round the house doing everything I haven’t been able to do.

Saturday 18 August: Frozen Out
Wake exhausted after crazy drug-fuelled dreams. Look, it’s not exactly Trainspotting I know but I don’t feel quite like myself. Slump on sofa to watch the Welsh rugby team do their very best to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Sense of complete helplessness not eased when a very unhappy Rose rings and is clearly having a tough time fitting in to a different regime at her dad’s. Seems there are lots of unwritten rules that Rose keeps transgressing. I’m trying to be charitable here; I hope that it is just a change of regime and nothing more sinister. Poor kid – she has been there less than two days!

Tuesday 21 August: In the Doldrums
O me miserum!, as we used to say in Latin. Mind you we also used to say things like ‘The happy farmer loves the sailor’, and ‘Whilst I was swimming the dog stole my clothes’ and look where that got us. Ho hum! Have had a severe attack of the miseries today, so was most grateful to offload my troubles to Elizabethd, who was hosting coffee, and Westerwitch and Fennie who were also there. Thanks to all of you for your kind words of sympathy and advice.

And finally:
Acute observers of the re-write word meter will notice that the word count has gone down. This is because there are slaughtered ‘darlings’ all over the place (actually they’ve been consigned to a file named ‘limbo’ for possible recycling). I do hope there’ll be something left at the end of the cull or I’m in big trouble.

Hwyl fawr!

The painting is Tom Tomos’s interpretation of Pentre Ifan – for Fennie!


Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Noses To Grindstones


Friday 10 August: In the Basement
Spare a thought for Lily who has been down in the emergency room taking phone calls all week from farmers concerned about foot and mouth. Lily works for the Welsh Assembly Government and has volunteered to help see that callers get the information they need. So don’t shoot the messenger, folks, she’s doing her best! Actually Lily’s had some previous experience of dealing with all sorts of queries from the public when, after graduating, she did a stint working for BT and dealt with drunks phoning up to see what day is was (and then arguing back!) and lonely old people who wanted someone to talk to (what a comment on our society).

Sunday 12 August: On the Road
Stepson Two is putting the final touches to Clock’s debut album. In the meantime the band’s third tour has been announced, there are twenty-eight tour dates covering venues over much of the country. (see: myspace.com/clocks ) Only those of you on far-flung islands will be excused. Do see them if you get a chance.

Monday 13: On the Wall
Tom, who is currently exhibiting at Art Matters, Tenby, The Apple Gallery, Godalming and St Dogmaels Gallery, is currently preparing for a solo exhibition at St Dogmaels. Look, I know I have a vested interest here but these are really exciting paintings so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that lots of people will come and see them (and, even better, buy them) when it opens at the beginning of September.

For those of you who live in Wales there was a really nice photo of one of Tom’s paintings in this month’s 'Pembrokeshire Life' in a feature about St Dog’s.

Tuesday 14 August: In the Black
One of the changes I’ve been asked to make for my rewrite is to make my work a bit darker. I’m currently feeling like the Fast Show’s Johnny Nice Painter making everything ‘Black! Black!’ I do have a dark sense of humour but have a terrible tendency to want to make all my characters likeable. Looks as if it’s No More Mr/Ms Nice Guy for some of them!

I’ve now rewritten three chapters; the word count is rather a crude guide to what’s actually happening as I’m busily ‘killing my darlings’. I’m finding that taking a knife to my book to cut out the parts that don’t move the plot forwards requires a steady nerve and some confidence that it’ll all work out in the end! Sheesh! I just hope it will be all right!

Wednesday 15 August: On the Coach
Sob! Rose is heading south tomorrow to resume the search for work. There’s only so much she can do on the Internet so she’s back to her Dad’s to look for vacancies in publishing. To any prospective employers out there, please find one bright, beautiful graduate complete with relevant work experience. She’s my baby so please look after her.

Hwyl fawr!
Painting is 'Steelworks, Port Talbot' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

High Speed Blog Approaching!

Friday 3 August:
Excursions
Rose has been taking a well-deserved break after finals and graduation. The real world is calling but we’ve taken some time out together. Yesterday we raced off to Theatr Mwldan to beat the rush of people flooding in to see Harry Potter. Yes, there must have been, ooh, nearly a dozen of us in there. We’ve armed ourselves with a bag of sweets each from the Pick ‘n Mix so I have a brilliant time watching the film and scoffing Snowies, Dolly Mixtures, black and orange Jelly Babies and Shrimps.

Today we’re off to the Cardigan Island Coastal Farm Park just down the road, well worth a visit if you’re in this part of the world. We spend two and half hours wandering through beautiful scenery feeding very eager animals and, best of all, watching the seals. Both Rose and Lily loved farms when they were little so the visit brings back lots of happy memories. When we return the Foot and Mouth outbreak has been announced on the news. Not such happy memories.

Saturday 4 August: More Excursions
The normally quiet hours of the night are broken by sounds of lorries trundling along the road. In the morning I see a trailer of sheep being towed past, a herd of cows being moved along the main road and half a dozen sheep materialise on a spare field opposite.

Sunday 5 August: Chickens and Eggs
It’s been a difficult week for Tracy-next-doors parents who have been minding the house whilst Tracy and Jeremy are away. We’ve been round to help but Tracy’s dad is still unwell so they decide to return to their own house. I am now the Lady In Charge Of Chickens. Now, look, I know that many of you are experts at this but I am a Chicken Novice so I am a bit apprehensive at first. I quickly find that next-doors’ chickens are complete tarts, purring and cooing at me and making up to me shamelessly. Although they seem a bit disappointed that I only have hen food for them and no treats (I’m afraid of poisoning them!) they reward me with my first egg.

Wow! Isn’t that thrilling? I know it’s obvious, I mean that’s what hens do, but it still felt like a small miracle! I think I am a hen convert… just wish they wouldn’t keep pooing in their water.

Tuesday 7 August: Rewrite Progress
Thank goodness! I have finished a chapter. One chapter? Yes, I’m afraid there was a severe bout of nerves to overcome, not to mention the horrid inner voice whispering, ‘That’s rubbish, that is!’. One down, thirty four to go!

Wednesday 8 August: Far From the Boden Blogger
For all the lifestyle journalists avidly reading our blogs (or not, or we wouldn’t be described in such stereotypical terms) our model today is Chris (Biggest Indulgence: ‘Soaking my feet in a bowl of hot water’). Chris is wearing a pair of her daughter’s cut-offs (fallen upon with glee along with two pairs of jeans and a black skirt in bag of clothes Rose was throwing out) and an old Primark tee shirt. Now, would anyone like to take a photo of me for their aspirational magazine – or would that be too much like gritty reality for you?

Hwyl fawr!

Painting is 'Newgale' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Triumph and Troubles

Thursday 26 July: Rose’s Graduation

‘Oh, look at you lot. You’ve clearly had much better weather up there than we have,’ says Lily from beneath her umbrella as we load her bags into the car. She grumbles a bit on hearing that Rose and I owe our golden limbs to a tin and complains that we are making her look like White Leg Winnie in comparison. Once on to the motorway there are more serious considerations; it’s pouring with rain and the visibility is appalling. Thank goodness we have allowed plenty of time to get to Southampton.

Heroic Tom gets us there with time to spare so that Rose can do the necessary before her ceremony. Rose collects her gown and I fill up with tears then we head over to the Nuffield Theatre where the conferment of degrees will take place. Rose’s Dad, Stepmum and little Stepbrother turn up and pretend they haven’t seen us until I go over and break the ice. Rose’s Dad and I are shuffle off to take our seats whilst the others find a hall with a live link to the ceremony. I can’t pretend it’s not awkward but it’s Rose’s day and no one is going to spoil it if I can help it!

And there she is, my girl, her name is called, the Pro-Chancellor clasps her hands, says a few words (which Rose only hazily recollects!) and my baby receives her degree. Well done to her and all the other young people who have made their families so proud.

Saturday 28 July: Neighbours In Distress
After our whistle stop visit to the south and a round of catching up with parents and siblings we have a horrendous seven-hour journey back on Friday. Lily has returned with us for a couple of days and one of them has been spent largely on the M4! Tom and I get up early to do the shopping so I’ll have some time with the girls.

Alas, no sooner have we returned when it becomes clear there is trouble next door. Our neighbours, Tracy and Jeremy, are on holiday so Tracy’s parents are up to look after the house, water the plants and feed the chickens. I look up from unloading the car to hear cries of distress from Tracy’s Mum. Tracy’s Dad has had ‘a funny turn’ and they need help. I literally drop the bags and run next door and don’t surface until mid-afternoon! Tracy’s Mum has asked for advice from the weekend health service provider but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. One good thing about dealing with my Dad’s illness is that I am now a dab hand at ‘making a fuss’ and a GP comes out pronto. Inside I’m fuming that a frightened elderly woman has been ignored and it takes me, being bossy, to get results.

Sunday 29 July: Middle Aged Woman Mistakes Herself for Olympic Swimmer
We manage a walk on the beach before taking Lily to Carmarthen to catch her train but it’s typical that the sun doesn’t really come out until the afternoon when she’s gone. Tom proposes a late afternoon swim so we dig out the wetsuits and head for Mwnt.

I used to love swimming in the sea but then Lily and I narrowly escaped drowning off a boat in Greece and it’s taken me a long time to regain my confidence. Today it’s lovely; the wetsuit keeps off the chill, the waves are benign and the sun is shining. In no time at all I am swimming about like a mad eejit. Ha! Running, cycling and now swimming -at this rate I’ll be tackling triathlons! Goodness me, this is the life!

Later that evening there is a sharp pain in my ribs and I’m having trouble drawing breath, probably where I’ve pulled an intercostal muscle. At two o’clock in the morning I give in and down a couple of painkillers. My baby has just graduated and my ribs are protesting at an afternoon swim and I can’t help but wonder if nature is trying to tell me something… well, maybe, but I’m not ready to listen just yet!

Wednesday 1 August: And finally…
Rose has finished Harry Potter and kindly donated it to me but I’m itching to get my hands on the book she’s currently reading. Yes, Louise Rennison has produced a fab new confession of Georgia Nicolson, ‘Luuurve Is A Many Trousered Thing…’ What’s not to love?

August has arrived and, after a lot of limbering up, I’m about to start the rewrite of ‘Fighting the Tide’. I’ve installed a word count to show progress; it’ll probably go down before it goes up and I’m not absolutely sure I’ll end up with 120,000 words but, hey, it’s time to begin.

Hwyl fawr!

The photo of Rose is published with her permission.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

From Aberystwyth With Love


Monday 16 – Friday 20 July: Welsh ‘At a Gallop’
It’s strange how people who should know better revert to classroom stereotypes even in adult education. You get the show-off, the shy one, the clown and the one who resents being there, probably because her employer is paying for her to be there, so acts up as much as possible. Quickly clocking the woman on the other side of the room as ‘looking a bit miserable’ I took a seat a safe distance away and was relieved to be joined by a very jolly young girl who was my partner for the initial session.

There’s a lot of working with a partner or in a small group on the Cwrs Carlam, which is, indeed, Welsh at a gallop. The tutor gives you the nuts and bolts of a chunk of grammar, which you and a partner then put into practise through a series of short exercises. The trick, I’ve found, is to try to suspend your embarrassment and just wade in.

A good tutor will make you work with everyone and before long I found myself paired with the ‘miserable’ woman. Once we started chatting I discovered, to my shame, that in the space of a few months she had lost her father, her dear old dog who’d been by her side for years, and then her husband contracted a rare cancer and died. So much for their dreams of building a new life in the country – and all this only eighteen months ago. Small wonder then that she wasn’t exactly grinning from ear to ear. In addition this lady, I’ll call her Jo, hadn’t been near a Welsh class for well over a year and was very nervous about the course.

With a bit of encouragement Jo started to regain her confidence and by the end of the week she was smiling again which was lovely to see. She has a huge emotional journey ahead and lots of decisions to make such as whether to stay in Wales and continue to forge her new life or whether to return ‘home’ to be closer to her children. Whatever she decides I wish her well and I am truly sorry for my snap impression. I’ve learned a lot this week – and not just about Welsh.

Tuesday 24 July: Honno
Whilst I’ve been learning Welsh at Aberystwyth, Rose (cruelly rejected by Condé Nast – you’ll be sorreee!) has been gaining some work experience there with the lovely Helena at Honno. Honno (http://www.honno.co.uk/) is an independent co-operative press guided by a committee of volunteers who set the strategic direction, decide the publishing direction and manage the office and staff. Most notably Honno is run by women with the aim of increasing opportunities for Welsh women in publishing and bringing women’s literature to a wider public. And, ahem, they have published yours truly.

It’s been brilliant for Rose who is probably seeing more of what it takes to be a successful publisher than she might do at a bigger operation. This week she’s been helping Helena organise a book launch and applying some of the transferable skills she acquired during years of Saturday’s at Sainsbury such as predicting the likely location of the cocktail cherries at Somerfield (with the pickles if you’re interested) and lugging back the ingredients to make pink and blue cocktails!

The lucky author, whose book, ‘Big Cats and Kitten Heels’ is being launched this week, is Claire Peate. So if you’re near the Millennium Centre at Cardiff this Thursday pop in a buy a copy of Claire’s book… and when you nibble your cocktail cherry, think of Rose!

Wednesday 25 July: Coast to Coast
We are rushing around like headless chickens today because we’re off to Southampton tomorrow for Rose’s graduation ceremony. Tickets are limited which means that only Rose’s dad and I will be able to attend but the university have pulled out all the stops to make sure that all family members can share in the big day with marquees and big screens of the action. Tom, Rose and I set off at crack of doom tomorrow, stopping at Cardiff to pick up Lily, and we’ll be meeting the girls’ dad and their stepmum at Southampton. It’s one of those occasions when everyone has to put their differences aside and jolly well get on since this is Rose’s day… but am I very shallow for touching up my roots and slapping some fake bake on my legs before I go?

Hwyl fawr!

The painting is 'Beach' by Tom Tomos

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Cwrs Carlam

Home Thoughts is off to Aberystwyth on an intensive Welsh course and will return on Wednesday 25 July.

Hwyl fawr!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Mad World

Friday 6 July: James
James is Tom’s nephew. He has blonde hair and eyes like a summer sky; cornflower blue and fringed with sweeping black lashes. He’s a very observant boy who notices the slightest changes in anyone’s appearance. James has just turned thirteen and for his thirteenth birthday his local authority decided to withdraw the free transport that takes him to the school where he feels secure and happy on the basis that he is now perfectly capable of walking the three and half miles or catching a bus.

Fair enough, you might say, quite right that a child of his age should fend for himself. But unlike his older brother and sister, who are already making their own way in the world, James is a Peter Pan boy who, because of his considerable mental and physical disabilities, will always need someone to take care of him. To expect James, with his weakened left side and limited understanding, to make his own way to his special school beggars belief.

Well, perhaps, his mum could take him to school, you might suggest, not unreasonably, and of course she could. Unlike many of us, though, she doesn’t have the benefit of flexible hours; her job depends on her being there at a particular time so she would have to give up her job to take James to school and lose her much-needed income. But it’s not just one family that would be affected if James’s mum had to stop working. You see, she’s a teaching assistant in mainstream school where her particular role is to help a child who knows her well, a child with special needs…

Wednesday 11 July: Charlotte
Charlotte is my seven-year-old niece. She is quick, sharp and cute as a button so when my sister noticed recently that there were times when Charlotte appeared to go off into a daydream she was immediately concerned.

Epilepsy is something we know about in our family. My sister’s epilepsy started after her baby injections and continued into her early adult life. The seizures, major and dramatic though they were, were in some ways easier for her to deal with than the sledge-hammer medication that was used to treat the condition then, and the sometimes raw prejudice and fear that she met with.

Having watched Charlotte closely, my sister was sure that she was having absence seizures and took her to the doctor for confirmation. The upshot was that Charlotte was put on a waiting list to see a specialist. How long do you think a child would have to wait in these circumstances? A month? Three months? Try eighteen months. Eighteen months is a very long time when you are watching your child’s condition deteriorate and you know she needs help. Oh, and she’s been told off by her teacher, even though you’ve shared your concerns with the school, for ‘rolling her eyes’ at other children.

In the end my sister and brother-in-law used the limited access they have to private health care to get an appointment for Charlotte. No, they’re not ‘fat cats’. My sister is a lawyer who works in a very demanding field and my brother-in-law regularly puts in 50-hour weeks in his job. Like any family with young children and a mortgage in the south-east they’re hardly rolling in it.

So Charlotte went to see a specialist. Her epilepsy was confirmed and the consultant thinks she’s having 75-100 seizures a day. The good news is that he’s optimistic that her condition is age-related and that she will grow out of it in a couple of years. With medication she’ll be fine. The risky time for Charlotte is now, until her medication is sorted. The absences mean that she needs to be watched when swimming, bathing, crossing the road etc, common sense precautions which everyone who takes care of Charlotte needs to be aware of. Imagine what might have happened if Charlotte had still been on an eighteenth-month waiting list.

The painting is 'Fishing Floats' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Tumbling Dice


Or 'You Can’t Always Get What You Want
but Sometimes You Get What You Need!'

Stepson Two
We finally track down Stepson Two and he’s tired. Bone weary in fact, and with another three weeks of recording ahead there are many hours of hard work to put in before the album is complete. Glastonbury was great, he said, Clocks were well received but they’re not in the luxury trailer league yet. It was a tent after the gig and the train back to London the next day. As the songwriter it’s Stepson Two who particularly feels the pressure to deliver but there’s a lot at stake for all of them. With a full release single due out in September, timed to fit in with the album demo, a tie-in with Orange (see http://www1.orange.co.uk/entertainment/music/featuredArtistDownloads.php for more details) there are exciting plans for the band but it also goes to show how much effort lies behind an ‘overnight’ success.

Rose
A very excited Rose is on the phone. She has a job interview! Hurray! Rose is determined to break into publishing and knows that first she’s got to prove her worth. The media sales department of a large magazine company have got in touch so Rose and I discuss tactics. Have you ever tried to choose a suit for someone over the phone? ‘What do you think? Plain black or textured pin-stripe?’ She asks. Wish I was closer. I tell her to go for the one with the best fit and get as much bang as possible for her few bucks. Next step is to run through possible questions before the interview… and I thought my nerves were going to get a rest!

Lily
In contrast Lily is utterly dispirited. Trying to get the contents of a house into one room has exhausted her. There are boxes everywhere and only one socket for all her electrical gear. She gives up and goes to her boyfriend’s to recuperate. The next day she’s much happier, the boys who are to be her new housemates have tidied up in her honour although the bathroom leaves something to be desired. Lily decides to tackle it but is mystified by rows and rows of bathroom products with a dribble of unidentified substance at the bottom. ‘Do these belong to anyone?’ She asks. No, is the answer. Not anymore, their previous owners simply can’t be bothered to throw them away. Feel that the next few weeks could be a steep learning curve on both sides.

Um, Me
Well, who would have thought that events would change so quickly? From deep disappointment on Thursday to yesterday’s unexpected boost it’s been quite a journey. The agent, it seemed, had given both me and my book a second thought and concluded she was reluctant to let me go. When I screwed up my courage and phoned her I was greeted with warmth, praise and generous advice. The result is that I actually feel much happier about the direction I’ve been advised to go in, to aim, as she so succinctly put it, for a ‘substantial meal’ instead of a ‘tasty light lunch’. There are no guarantees of course, but all I can do is try.

To those of you who have so very kindly found the time to both sympathise and cheer, your support has been appreciated more than you could imagine. Thank you.

Hwyl fawr!

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Reasons To Be Cheerful


Un Peu has cruelly dragged me from the Sofa of Misery to tag me. Apparently I’ve got to write about five strategies which make me feel better. Right now a lavish publishing deal and lunch at L’Escargot would hit the spot nicely, so that’s two if anyone would like to make my day.

No, I do know what she means so I had a little ponder about it whilst myndying the siopa just now. I remember when my heart was broken for the very first time and Dad found me sobbing. He gave me a hug and said, ‘It’ll never hurt this much again, Miss Chris.’ Reader, he lied. But I can see why. A couple of minor dents and bruises help prepare you for the serious knocks that come everyone’s way. Stuff happens. That’s the cost of living if you like.

Okay, this is how I deal with the small stuff, this is different to living with the black dog who I’m also well acquainted with but we’ve got the measure of each other now. This is what Lily would call the ‘Cry me a river, build me a bridge and get over it’ stuff.

Make Every Day Count
This is it. You get once chance, one life. Yesterday’s gone, forget about it. You have this precious new day so live it.

Keep On Running
This is how I get dispose of the daily rubbish, the stuff that would grind me down if I let it. Ticking off the miles with only the rhythm of my breathing to think about is an almost transcendental experience – and I get to see the sea as well, which is always a bonus.

Wallow
When I’m really hacked off the best thing for me is to shut the door and immerse myself in music. An hour of listening to other folk’s misery and despair never fails to cheers me up! My personal choices would include:
Nick Cave, ‘I Had A Dream, Joe’ – sheer madness
Nick Drake, ‘Black Eyed Dog’ – sheer desolation
Tim Buckley, ‘Song To The Siren’ – hauntingly, scarily beautiful.
To cap it all, of my three choices only Nick Cave is still alive and kicking. Both Nick Drake and Tim Buckley died wastefully young.

Poetry
We’ve got shelves of it. I always return to:
W B Yeats, anything really
Siegfried Sassoon, ‘Together’
Don Paterson, ‘A Private Bottling’

My Daughters
I would walk through fire for them. Thinking about them or imagining them by my side has got me through no end of trying times.

So there you have it, my highly personal account of what works for me. I won’t tag you but if you’d like to write about what makes you feel better I’d love to read it.

Hwyl fawr!
Painting is 'Lobster Pots Off Caldey' by Tom Tomos





Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Lily, May, Rose, Lily

Thursday 21 June: By Any Other Name
The business of choosing names was made simple in Mum’s family; the girls were named after flowers, the boys were named after kings and the dogs – one at a time, thankfully – were all called ‘Prince’. Unfortunately there were a couple of hiccups when my grandfather went to register Mum’s birth. Probably because he’d been celebrating in the ‘Blenheim’ beforehand. ‘Lily’ and ‘May’ turned into Lilian May and, just to add an extra flourish, he landed Mum with the moniker, Doris, as a first name.

Well, I don’t know how Mum coped but I cringed for years every time I had to say what she was called. I mean, let’s face it; Doris has been in the deeply unfashionable drawer for so long it hasn’t even been revived by the young and trendy. Mum was the cook at a smart private school for years so we always got a flavour of what was in the ether. We were quite taken aback when a few Arthurs, my Dad’s name, trickled through but there was never a sniff of a Doris!

Until now. As Mum lay in hospital recovering from treatment on her back she was being cared for by a young Philippina nurse who expecting her first child, a girl. The nurse explained that, like my gran, she was thinking about giving her daughter a floral name. She liked Lily but it was Mum’s first name that really made her catch her breath. ‘Dorees!’ She sighed. ‘Now that is a very pretty name!’

Friday 22 June: Rose’s Day
The postman arrives early with a packet for me. Rose has sent me a CD with a note that brings tears to my eyes. Rose is left-handed and her distinctive writing, careful and rounded, reminds me of all the struggles at school when teachers tried to make her use a fountain pen. ‘I remember you saying you liked this so here it is,’ she writes. ‘I thought it would help reduce the waiting time to hear about your book.’

I’m not thinking about my book today though, because it’s close to ten o’clock, the hour when Rose’s final results are due out. I put on the CD and listen to Regina Spektor sing ‘Fidelity’. ‘And it breaks my heart’, the chorus line floats out across the room and I wonder how many more times my heart will break for my girls.

The phone rings just after ten. ‘Mum?’ Rose’s voice is thick with emotion. ‘I got a 2:1!’
Pondside, you were right. I didn’t stop smiling all day.

Sunday 24 June: Lily Moves On
As a huge ugly block of houses that look nothing like the plans appear in the field opposite me, I wonder where our children will live in the future. In Cardiff, Lily’s landlord has plans for the house she’s lived in for four years. She’s been lucky in many ways, to have had the benefit of a modest rent and, for the last year since her housemate moved out to find work in the south, she’s had the place to herself. Lily’s going to move in with three mates, all blokes from university in order to try to save some money but today, when she rings, I can hear that she’s down and a bit apprehensive.

As a small child Lily was afraid of everything. The world was full of unspoken terrors, which challenged her and reduced her to tears every day. I wondered how on earth my wary little girl was going to cope. Well, she just did. One day Lily just dug deep inside and found reserves of strength and courage we never knew were there. She’s brave and kind, the sort of person who walks into the room and makes everyone feel better.

You’ll be fine, Lily, you always are.

And Finally…
Still waiting for:
* Book news
* Glastonbury news (we didn’t go – no tickets). The only word from Stepson Two is a Facebook message to Rose to tell her he had returned ‘covered in muddiness’. He’s now back in the studio
*Asda to send Haze the vouchers they promised in return for sending her mouldy flowers on her birthday. You’re losing customers fast here Asda!

Hwyl fawr!


The painting is 'Margam Steelworks' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Closely Connected With Guilt

Thurs 15 June: Cut and Dyed
Years of trying to make a little money go a long way have resulted in me developing a personal style which makes the term ‘low maintenance’ seem excessively demanding but as The Great Boat Debate rages I decide that it’s no more Mrs Nice Guy for me. I’m b*ggered if I’m going to be the one making all the sacrifices!

Whilst I’d half thought I might wait until I’d heard about my book before getting my hair done it’s becoming clear that my prospective agent has left the country never to be seen again. So, since I’m also in danger of disappearing, not on a plane but under an unruly mane, I book myself in not just for a cut but for a colour as well.

‘I’ve put you down for foils,’ the receptionist tells me.
‘Eh?’ Oh whatever, I don’t care anymore. Anything’s better than the way I look now. I abrogate any responsibility and leave it all to Llinos, my lovely hairdresser, to transform me whilst I have a great time drinking tea and reading all the gossip magazines. Bliss. Even better, when she’s finished I have beautiful coppery tresses with a few, it has to be said, slightly trashy, blonde streaks. Very satisfying. And, before I start to feel guilty about spending money on myself, cheap, too, at less than the price of a standard hair cut back south.

I come home to a call from Asda, they apologise, without sounding in the least bit sorry, for the condition of the flowers they sent to Hazel and offer to send her a voucher instead. Frankly it’s the least they could do.

Tuesday 19 June: Learning and Yearning
Torrential rain and still no news on the book front. I try to work up some enthusiasm for ‘Make, Do and Mend’ aka Novel 2. Having discovered that I went to a girls grammar school a couple of miles away from the one Exmoor Jane attended, it’s interesting to see that we both feel lashing of guilt at any sense of not working flat out. My mum recently found the offer letter sent to her by the education authority at the time, which practically requires her to sign in blood to assure them ‘of your intention that your child shall remain in school.’ ‘A pupil’, it warns, ‘who fails to complete the course loses a period of experience and education which cannot be made up later in life.’ Yikes! And that was before I’d even set foot in the building.

Given that I was educated in such a hothouse environment where the stress was entirely academic (Domestic Science was given the most cursory nod in the fourth year – in the first lesson we were told to keep our armpits shaved and how to dispose of sanitary towels, tampons only being used by racy girls. In the second lesson we taught how to make packet scones. Job done.) I had a terrible sense of shame for years that I wasn’t head of ICI, or the CEO of a huge financial institution. I’m sure it’s half the reason why I want to get a novel published so badly, not just for myself but to justify all those ‘crème de la crème’ (yes, really) expectations from so long ago.

Wednesday 20 June: A Troubled Conscience
Mum’s going in for day surgery today to have cortisone injections in her poor crumbling back. My cousin, Barbara, a lovely kind person, who has already done far too much nursing for her own nearest and dearest has offered to look after her but I feel absolutely wretched about not being there. To put it in context the procedure, I gather, is routine, takes about twenty minutes and Mum should be fine shortly afterwards. Of course if she was having a major op I’d be there. But, it won’t be comfortable for her, she’ll be nervous and possibly scared so I should be there and that’s what’s bothering me.

And finally…
I’ve had a terrible sense of not being myself since I’ve been writing these blogs. Waiting for news that doesn’t arrive has made me feel hemmed in and unable to pass go. I’m not usually this introspective and moany, I assure you. Oh, good, it seems I’ve just found something else to feel guilty about!

Hwyl fawr!
Painting is 'Garden' by Tom Tomos - to be honest it needs a hell of a lot more grey splashed all over to bear any resemblance to what's going on outside at the moment.


Wednesday, 13 June 2007

A Few Local Difficulties

Thurs 7 June : About a Boat
Oh dear, there’s tension in the air chez nous. In this lovely weather with flat calm seas a young-at-heart man’s thoughts turn to sailing. Tom thinks of sleepy havens where we drop the hook and sip a few glasses of something cold. I’ll be writing very productively in my notebook and he’ll be pulling up a couple of fresh mackerel for lunch. All very civilised (unless of course you happen to be unlucky enough to be one of the very rare mackerels Tom actually manages to catch). Unfortunately I have a few bad memories to contend with before I reach this stage such as huge rolling seas and, on one occasion, being so sick that I wet my knickers as well. Charming.

There is also the very slight problem that our poor old wooden boat is laid up in a yard with serious injuries after being damaged in a severe storm. It’s a bit ironic really. We kept her at Fishguard harbour, which is considered very tricky in certain conditions, for years without a scratch but only a couple of months after moving her to a nearer, allegedly safer haven she was scuppered!

After weeks of procrastination, since neither of us can face the devastation on what was our floating home, we decide we can’t put the moment off any longer. Dear God what a mess we find! There is oily water everywhere, carefully stowed food supplies have bulged and oozed into the mix with even the most innocent ingredients like black pepper fermenting into a mephitic stink. Cushions and curtains, made by moi, are thick with slime and our collection of dear old boat books are ruined.

While our hearts sink at the enormity of the task ahead Tom spies activity across the yard. It’s been a long-term plan of his to own a motor sailer, a boat that you can sail but has a nice big engine with a bit of poke for when you need to get out of trouble. There is one such boat for sale in the yard and, look, here are the owners!

In no time at all we are standing on the deck of the motor sailer, our sad wooden boat forgotten. Tom’s eyes are shining and as soon as we’re alone he turns to me excitedly and says ‘What do you think?’

My answer, putting it bluntly, is that I think I’d like to know where the magic beans are that turn into money since I would dearly like some new glasses, a spare pair of contact lenses and, by the way, my running bra, I’m ashamed to admit, is about to celebrate its fifth birthday!! Alas, this is not the correct answer and prompts a mega-sulk which I try to ignore.

Saturday 8 June: Happy Dead Flowers to You!
Living in the sticks means, as many of you know, being heavily reliant on the internet when it comes to sending gifts to friends who are far away. I’d used Asda to send flowers to my sister on her anniversary and she assured me that they’d arrived in perfect condition and had lasted well. So I had no qualms about using them again when I wanted to send my lovely friend Hazel some flowers. Yes well I won’t be doing that again! Poor old Hazel received a lovely bunch of mouldy blooms for her birthday! Just what every girl wants.

Sunday 9 June: This Wheel’s on Fire (and so is something else)
After a full and frank financial discussion there is a temporary truce on the boat front. In the meantime Tom is servicing both bikes. A keen cyclist himself he is eager for me to share the delights and I am heartened by thoughts of freewheeling through the country lanes. When my bike’s raring to go I have a little practise in our road and attract the attentions of a neighbour’s small boy who is so alarmed by what he sees that he feels compelled to rush out and give me a few lessons.

Monday 10 June
Up at the crack of doom we head off for a ‘gentle’ six-mile cycle. By the time we finish I have terminal hay fever, my eyes and nose are streaming and my backside is on fire.

Tuesday 11 June
Has anyone been crippled by their buttocks? It’s a question that really bothers me as I try to sit up in bed only to find that someone’s attached a couple of cricket balls to my bottom in the night. Dragging myself up, I limp to the bathroom and run a hot bath to try to soak the pain away. It’s late afternoon before I can sit down with any sort of nonchalance… reminds me of how I felt after giving birth and it’s not a good feeling

And finally…
1) A crumb of news on the book front. Apparently if ‘Fighting The Tide’ had been ‘instantly rejectable’ I would have heard by now. I don’t know whether to be pleased or thrown into despair… how will I cope if it’s turned down now?

2) I’m both delighted for and envious of Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, the writers of ‘Tunnels’ billed as ‘the next big thing’ by Barry Cunningham who ‘discovered’ Harry Potter. With advances of over £500,000 the pair sounded refreshingly taken aback on the ‘Today’ programme this morning. N.B. Jane – send ‘Walker’ in now!

3) Stepson Two is twenty-one this Friday but he won’t be celebrating just yet as his band, Clocks, are currently recording their first album. With a Glastonbury performance ahead, a full release single in August and other exciting projects in the pipeline he’s more than answered those who raised their eyebrows when he took special leave from Cambridge to pursue his musical career. Happy Birthday Tom, we’re so pleased for you.

Hwyl fawr!

The painting is 'Ceibwr' by Tom Tomos


Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Stuck In A Moment


Tuesday 5 June: Leaving It Behind
It’s all right everyone, you can look again. The grief fest is over for another year so it’s time to draw a line under that for now and try to move on. Except I’m feeling a bit stuck after an unexpected attack from one of my visitors this week.

Now, gather round because I’m about to tell you a secret. Come right in, that’s it. Do you see that woman on the right? Yes her, piggy eyes and dodgy hair. Well, I’m afraid that’s not the real me. The thing is, if I posted a photo of what I actually looked like there’d be fly-buttons popping all over cyberspace and Suffolkmum would look, well frankly, rather ordinary.

Hmn. I can see that you’re not convinced. Hang on a minute whilst I adjust my slinky pencil skirt and make myself comfortable. Ah, that’s better! Oh wait, I’ll just kick off my very high and very pointy stiletto shoes too. These buttons will have to be done-up even if it means that no one gets the dubious benefit of my fake leopard-skin push-up bra.

Nope, it’s not fooling anyone, is it? All right, hands up, the middle-aged mumsy person over there is me, happily minding my own business and trying not to rub anyone up the wrong way. However, I now gather, from a telling conversation raised when everyone else was safely out of earshot, that I am something of a femme fatale who single-handedly destroyed two marriages thirteen years ago. My response, rather measured in the circumstances I thought, was to advise walking in my shoes before making a judgement on my morals and principles.

I’ve tried to shrug it off because the people involved know what really happened then so there’s no need for me to tell my story here. Everyone came out the other side; the adults are all happily remarried, the children grew up to be high-achievers making their way successfully in the world. And thankfully the most important people to me in this equation, my lovely daughters, don’t think I’m an evil person. As Lily said to me when she heard how upset I was, ‘We were there, Mum, and we know that’s not true.’

Wednesday 6 June: Hair Today
Ho hum. On a more frivolous note, it’s hair decision time again. The longer and wavier my hair gets the more Tom loves it and the more I hate it. I don’t even recognise myself anymore because I’m morphing into Brian May. I’ve been going along with Tom because I’ve been telling myself I’ll do something with my hair once I get a decision on my book. But at this rate I’ll look like one of those folks who periodically appear after being lost in the jungle for years. I’ll probably have the beard as well. Oh well, at least the men in the village will be safe.

Hwyl fawr!
The painting is 'Cathedral Interior' by Tom Tomos.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Arthur Stovell, December 1930 to June 2005

My lovely Dad died two years ago today. Pancreatic cancer is a stealthy disease; by the time the symptoms appear it’s very difficult to treat. In Dad’s case it was a bright yellow ‘suntan’, severe jaundice of course, which took us to casualty. Dad bore his illness with immense courage and dignity. He always felt deeply sorry for anyone he perceived to be worse off than himself – usually manifested by him shaking his head sorrowfully and tutting, ‘Look at that poor bastard’ until the day I had to point out that he was the poor bastard since no one else in the ward was as ill as him. From the day of his diagnosis to his very last breath Dad led the way and showed me how to face the unimaginable. I consider myself very lucky and immensely privileged to have had him as a father.

The following verses were written after that first trip to casualty when I drew some comfort from noticing the physical similarities between us.

Familiar Landscape

Since this new journey may be your last,
we laugh about your tell-tale tan
and joke about your choice of resort.
A and E, on this Sunday afternoon,
is as hot as the Med but it takes more
than a beach towel to reserve a bed here.

Even ambulances queue to strew
their pallid pallets of human wreckage;
broken limbs, faltering hearts, the self-harmers and
fallers from grace fill the rooms and line the corridor.
But you are accepted as an honoured guest
and that disturbs me more.

The doctor turns you tenderly in his arms,
Imparts the news that leaves each of us alone.
I find your naked foot and in your feet see mine.
And in this familiar landscape of your flesh and form
I seize a lifeline and carry it in my heart and in my bones.


I would also like to renew my thanks to the staff of the Royal Marsden Hospital and the Princess Alice Hospice who cared for Dad with such tenderness and love.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Sons, Daughters, Sid and Shoes


Friday 25 May: Displacement Activity
Okay, I now know that ‘very shortly’ means more than a week so I’ve taken to pounding the country lanes running off the nervous tension. At this rate I’ll be able to run marathons with ease! Whilst running I notice a ‘flat’ – my shoes have exceeded their mileage and it’s beginning to show. If I don’t do something about a new pair I’ll injure myself. Part of the reason I’ve hung on is because I love my Ascis 1110s and the chances are they’ll have been updated which will mean getting used to a new model. Back home I trawl the net and find a pair for a truly bargainous price saving me a whopping thirty quid. The only difference I can spot is that the colour has been changed and I shall now be bringing bling to the countryside with Barbie-esque silver and pink. Next day delivery too. Marvellous.

Saturday 26 May: Glastonbury Update
Needless to say there is no word on the book and my shoes fail to arrive. Pah! Plus I have to clean the house from top to bottom as Lily and Boyf and Stepson 1 and Girlf are coming to stay for a couple of days each. Rally to news from Stepson 2 that Clocks are set to play on 23 June in the Orange tent. Apparently Stepson 2 rejected the first slot the band were offered at 11am ‘because everyone will be in their tents’ so they were given the 11pm slot instead. Amazing! I would simply have been pathetically grateful for anything – but then I’m in that kind of mood.

Sunday 27 May – Wednesday 30 May: Mixed Doubles
Lily and Boyf come up from Cardiff on Sunday for a couple of days. Stepson 1 and Girlf come up from the south on Tuesday. Both Lily and Stepson 2 are in fairly new relationships and it’s the first time they’ve brought their other halves to stay so there’s a lot at stake here. Just to add to the tension Tom and I organise a huge roast dinner to say farewell to Lily and Boyf and welcome to Stepson 1 and Girlf. Trying to ensure everyone feels happy and included doesn’t do much for my nerves but I manage to resist the temptation to settle them with alcohol. I’m one of those delightful drunks who feels the urge to tell everyone their fortune which is never a good idea but especially not in these circumstances.

It’s been lovely seeing someone looking after Lily. There have been several instances over the last few days when my maternal instinct has kicked in and I’ve turned to help her with something and found Boyf there instead. It’s a good feeling.

As for Stepson 1 and Girlf? Well, that’s interesting too. Complete opposites in every respect they are making the air round Hotel H crackle. No wonder my Internet connection’s been playing up! Strange that they’ve gone out by themselves for a while and I’ve been able to post a blog.

And Finally…
1) I sat down with Lily to watch the DVD of Uncle Sid’s fifteen minutes of fame and found that I’d recorded ‘How to Look Good Naked’ over it! Fortunately Rose came to the rescue and found him (Uncle Sid, not Gok) on the net. If anyone’s interested he’s on the BBC website under ‘Memories of the Cutty Sark’ or the ITV London website under ‘Cutty Sark: Sailor’s Stories’.
2) My new running shoes have arrived. They are beautiful and will, of course, like their predecessors before them, be the pair that will make me run like a gazelle.
3) ‘Very shortly’ means more than twelve and a half days.
4) I am now going to throw myself on the sofa and lose myself in Marian Keyes’s ‘Anybody Out There’ before Stepson 1 and Girlf return and the fireworks begin again.

Hwyl fawr!
The painting is 'Where the Railway Used to Run' by Tom Tomos