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

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Waiting and Hoping

Thursday 17 May: The Meaning of ‘Very Shortly’
After a little prompt I hear that my book will be looked at ‘very shortly’. In other words I have been suffering migraines, sleepless nights and mood swings wondering what’s been happening to my baby when the answer, in a word, is nothing. But enough, I must dismiss that train of thought because the latest one arriving at the station is ‘what does ‘very shortly’ mean? It’s like being a teenager again, waiting for HIM, to ring. Do I position myself between ‘phone and computer waiting for a message to come through or do I abandon the house in the certainty that someone is bound to try to get hold of me when I’m not there? In the end I settle for not doing very much except to quietly mad(der).

Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 May: Down the M4 and Back
Tom has six paintings to deliver to the Apple Gallery in Godalming ( so we decide to see the folks back home whilst we’re down that way.
Our itinerary ends up like this: -
Leave Wales at crack of doom.
Arrive for morning tea with my Mum.
En route to collect Stepson 2 we happen to run into Tom’s cousin Geoff, his wife Maureen, another cousin, Liz, her daughter, Amy and Liz’s Dad, Ron.
Collect Stepson 2, head to restaurant to meet Stepson 1, Mil and Dil.
Take Stepson 2 to bike shop to buy new pushbike with rock star proceeds.
Collect bike one hour later. Drive Stepson 2 to within cycling distance of home and watch him cycle off looking very pleased with himself.
Drive to see Bil who is about to have a tricky operation. Arrive at Bil and family just as football finishes. Good timing.
Leave Bil’s house and drive to best friend and partner’s house for evening meal and bed for night.
Collect Mum and view the maisonette she is hoping to buy.
Return to Mum’s for pizza with sister, bro-in-law and nieces (who, incidentally have always called me KitKat – Chris – Kit –KitKat).
Set off for Wales.
Stop at Cardiff to see my daughter Lily.
Return home 8pm and then have to ring everyone to let them know we’re back in one piece.

Over the weekend I realise I have eaten:-
1 bowl muesli,
1 carvery meal comprising sad turkey and sadder vegetables,
Lamb tagine and coucous followed by strawberries and cream,
Two Bendick mints,
White toast and honey,
Greasy and wildly overspiced pizza followed by more strawberries and cream,
A piece of highly coloured and completely artificial looking angel cake.

Is it any wonder that I feel completely jaded and worn out!!

Monday 21 May
Our Welsh teacher springs a test - or as she prefers to call it – a task on us. Sneaky.

Tuesday 22 May: Characters, Cutty Sark and Clocks
Hurray, I am up and running with ‘Make, Do and Mend’ (Novel 2) at last! On the journey to the south a living breathing character suddenly came to me. It’s typical that she turned up 150 miles down the motorway when all I had to write on was my scruffy notebook (don’t worry – Tom was driving). Thankfully I could decipher my notes and get her into my typescript. This is going to sound very pretentious but I’ve found that if one fully formed character turns up the others stop behaving like Muppets and become more credible.

One of the characters in ‘Fighting the Tide’ owed more than a little to my uncle Sid who served on the Cutty Sark for three years from the age of thirteen. The media picked this up and I nearly burst with pride and love watching him on the television this evening. From the shots of him and my auntie Joanie tending their very impressive garden and his eloquent witty interview there was little to show how ill this man is or how bravely he has served his country. I did note, though, that his description of cleaning the voluptuous figurehead was a little less earthy on the six o’clock news than the version I know!

Whilst I am dabbing the tears from my eyes I get a text from Stepson 2. I’ve always said, half jokingly that if he ever gets to play Glastonbury I want to be jetted in like Kate Moss (only older, fatter and poorer!). Well, b*gger me, they’ve only gone and done it - Clocks are playing at Glastonbury this year! Now, where are my shorts and wellies?

Hwyl fawr!
The painting is Cilgerran Castle by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Off The Starting Blocks

Thursday 10 May: Struck Down
Oh lucky me! This morning I have a double dose of the incredible multi-coloured migraine with psychedelic flashing lights and a hot knitting needle through the left eye. I’ve been experiencing the joy of migraines since I was about eleven and they’ve just become part of my life. They crop up during times of stress (like waiting to hear an important decision about a book!) or when stress is lifted (the classic ‘Friday night and holidays’ migraine). Certain food, stages of the menstrual cycle, bright lights, strong smells have all triggered attacks and these days – or should I say, nights – I even get them in my sleep.

I’ve tried diets, medication, meditation, nasal sprays, and set routines, all to no avail. I’ll occasionally go for months without an attack or I’ll experience weeks of cluster attacks. The best that I can say now is that the pain is no longer so great that I feel suicidal which, in all seriousness, used to be the case during particularly bad episodes so I guess that’s progress!

Friday 11 May: My Bum DOES Look Big in This
I’ve run eighteen miles this week in three six-mile chunks. Six miles is a good distance for me; a shorter run doesn’t really hit the spot, it’s over before you’ve got into it and any longer takes up too much time so six miles gives me a good work out both physically and mentally. It’s not mad, honest, it’s just one of the most glorious, life-affirming experiences I know, especially in this part of the world after the rain when the landscape shimmers in the watery sun.

Today I’m even in my summer kit ie shorts and vest. Unlike my faithful old winter jacket the vest stops at my waist making me feel horribly aware of my derriere. But who cares if a big wobbly bottom is roaming the countryside – there’s no one to see, is there? All the same as I run past a herd of bullocks I get the strange feeling that I’m running past the bovine equivalent of a building site. The bullocks all stop eating to watch me and just as I get past them there is a long and very loud, ‘Moowooooaaaarrr!’

Coincidence, I think, pushing on to see just ahead a man in a fluorescent jacket waiting by a car with chevrons and flashing lights. I get a little closer wondering if there’s been an accident when I see a sign on the car… ‘Wide Load’. It’s coming to something isn’t it when they send someone out to escort me through the narrow lanes? But no, even worse, a huge mobile home is coming towards me so I have to step up the pace and run like the clappers to get out of its way which means that both Man in Jacket and Mobile Home Driver see far too much of old Sweaty Betty here.

Saturday 12 May: Fowey
Watching Rick Stein exploring Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall and her family’s home at Fowey conjures up memories of one of our Epic Voyages in an ancient wooden boat. Tom and I had been at sea six days when we reached Fowey in the early evening light. We were just crawling towards a visitors buoy when a newer, faster boat nipped in and beat us to it so we ended up mooring opposite the not very picturesque China Clay works. Engines throbbed throughout the night, the rain lashed down on the roof hatch, and the Unluckiest Mackerel In the World (ie one that Tom had actually managed to catch) was exacting its revenge by making its presence felt at frequent intervals.

A miserable time then? Well, strangely what I also remember is the sense of recharging our batteries at Fowey; having a strip wash in a bucket, feeling clean after a long passage at sea, then enjoying the deep sleep that comes with being on a safe mooring made the next stage of the voyage bearable. Mustn’t tell Tom though or he’ll think I’m getting too comfortable and then we’ll have to address the thorny matter of The Boat.

Monday 14 May: About A Girl
Scenes for my novel come to me like stills from a film so the ingredients for Chapter One were there but now, along with the time line I’m trying to find out more about my characters, beginning with my heroine. And just so I don’t spend too much time fannying around I’ve joined the Novel Racers (see link). Actually I’ve joined it a bit late since the race has already been won by the lovely Liz Fenwick, but the racers are carrying on anyway which will be great for me. As someone who’s been used to regular deadlines I’m more productive when I know I’ve got a target to reach. First check in with the racers is Friday. Gulp! Time to get writing.

Hwyl fawr!

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Catching A Spark

I’ve realised this week that I’ve been so full of self-recrimination for not pushing on with Novel 2 whilst waiting for news about ‘Fighting The Tide’ that I’ve been forcing the process rather than looking inside for the spark that ignites an idea. Capturing the elusive element that breathes life into a project requires concentration, an ability to be calm and listen to the inner voice. The spark for ‘Fighting The Tide’ was kindled by my love of sleepy, seedy seaside towns and I enjoyed writing it so much that it’s going to be quite a blow if I don’t get the news I’m hoping for. And, essentially it’s the waiting that’s holding me back. Good news and I’ll be storming into Novel 2, (working title ‘Make, Do and Mend’ because it’s about making a mistake, doing something else and mending in the process). Bad news… well, no prizes for guessing how I’ll feel. In the meantime I’ve tried to press on and the results have been mixed!

Thursday 3 May: My Study
After years of waiting I’ve finally got my own room where I can spread out and leave work in progress. From where I sit I look out across the Preseli Hills (and yes, today the bloody builders – they’re back). But am I drawing inspiration from nature? No, I’m not. I’m looking at the rudey-nudey farmers calendar my sister gave me as stocking filler for Christmas thinking that it’s scaring the bejesus out of me this month! Just what is that man hiding behind his drill? On second thoughts, should any of you be married to or cohabiting with Mr May 2007, best not tell me as I’m already feeling a bit faint. My ‘Farmers In Their Nuddy-Pants’ calendar is propped on a shelf so that I can put it away when guests of a sensitive disposition visit… remember Mil?

Elvis, on the other hand, is on proud display (no, no, Elvis isn’t in his nuddy-pants –that would be like the Queen doing a Dove advert). There’s nothing Lily and I like better than a tacky Elvis calendar and this year Lily excelled herself. From the back of the door the King broods at me dressed in cowboy gear in tasteful (ish) black and white. It’s a pleasant contrast to April where he was sporting rather a lot of man-tan and mascara.

Ho hum… not a lot of writing going on this study, as you can tell. Right, Faith has summoned up a ‘release’ angel card for me so it’s time to stop staring at the wall.

Friday 4 May: A New Beginning
Dadaaaaaa! I have a first chapter! Sheesh! I’ve gone all round the houses and pretty much come back to where I started. The acid test is running it past Tom. At one time I wouldn’t have allowed Tom to read anything I’d written, I mean, I know him! Why it should be easier to bare yourself to complete strangers but go all coy with your nearest and dearest I don’t know.

Anyway, Tom is a terrific proof reader (I have to say he’s also so pedantic I feel like pulling out what’s left of his hair sometimes, me being Mrs Slipshod and all). More than that Tom is the last man who would choose to read romantic comedy so he scans my work with a very cold eye and plenty of ‘Do you really mean that?’ and ‘This doesn’t make sense to me at all!’ comments. The upshot is that when I write now I’m constantly asking myself if the reader is still with me or if they’ve given up and flung the book down in disgust?

Saturday 5 May: Temper Tantrum
The Telegraph announce their short list for the ‘Novel In A Year’ competition and my entry is not amongst them. Cue mega-hissy fit and much chucking around of toys from yours truly. I visit the website, scan the shortlist and cheer up a bit since my work is nothing like any of these. Of course it isn’t, I hear you cry, yours is worse that’s why you weren’t short-listed! Well, maybe, that’s true but I think it’s because my writing looks frothy on top even though does have a darker, more serious layer underneath. I can’t see very much froth amongst this list so, once again have fallen foul of the fluffy rule (or fallen fowl – perhaps Chickenix and the Green Duck helped to judge?).

Sunday 6 May
A six-mile run restores my mood – well, it would, I’m too tired to rant and rave now.

Monday 7 May: Mourning
I wake up desperately missing my Dad. It’s almost two years since he died and May was the last complete month he saw. Every poignant, funny, angry, joyful and raw moment returns and I long to hear his voice again. At such times the spiral of grief is overwhelming, the thought that I will never see him again is almost unbearable so I try to salvage a memory that will help me come to terms with losing him.

Today I remember a trick he learnt that delighted us both. Once I knew his prognosis I’d made up mind to spend as much time with Dad as I could so had taken to dropping in to whichever hospital he was in to keep him company. On this particular occasion I planned to surprise Dad who wasn’t expecting me. A childhood illness had left him partially deaf and background noise interfered with the limited hearing he had so when I entered the ward and saw him with his back to me looking out of the window I knew I’d have to walk up to him before he knew I was there.

But I was the one who was surprised as, without turning his head, he said ‘Hello Miss Chris!’ After that it didn’t matter where he was or what shoes I was wearing he could always pick my footsteps out and went on to prove it time after time. Miss Chris. His name for me. And suddenly I can hear him saying it, only in my head, of course, but it helps.

Tuesday 8 May: Picking up the Pieces
I’ve gone back to basics, laying down the bones of ‘Make, Do and Mend’. For me that’s a timeline: when the story takes place, dates of important events, sketching in the peaks – and the troughs. Once that’s in place I get a better idea of the supporting cast required, possible sub-plots and my subconscious starts to put the pieces together. I’m beginning to see a glimmer of light when the phone rings. It’s Rose, who is about to email her dissertation to proofread, now that’s one interruption I don’t mind, especially when I read it and nearly burst with pride. My two daughters have been brilliant, wonderfully supportive even when I’ve plundered their lives for copy. They’re also keeping everything crossed for ‘Fighting The Tide’ (probably with cries of ‘Please, don’t let Mum write about us ever again!). Oh well, we’ll see what this week brings.

Hwyl fawr!

The painting is 'Drygarn' by Tom Tomos and shows some of the view from my study.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

The Ace Gang at Hotel H and Beyond

The Betty Ford Clinic have now discharged the Post Natal Girls aka Ann, Ju, Haze, Rosemary aka the Ace Gang (after Georgia Nicholson) following their weekend at Hotel H. Wine and chocolate levels became critical during the journey on public transport but picked up quickly once they got home. In addition Haze and Rosemary are now sporting patches to help them with their shopping addiction. Three hours in Fishguard, girls, how did you manage it?? Anyway the week at Hotel H has gone something like this…

Thursday 26 April
I drive down to Carmarthen playing ‘Clocks’ demo disc all the way. Their sound and this weather are a perfect blend. (see I’m particularly enjoying listening to ‘Old Valve Radio’. Stepson 2’s lyrics are cracking now with great lines like, ‘It’s all miniskirts and cigarettes.’ The Ace Gang’s coach turns up but where are the Ace Gang? I start frantically wondering if I should be at the train station instead – sometimes it’s hard to keep track with all the comings and goings – when a sylph-like Ju spills out the coach, followed by equally sylph-like Rosemary.

What’s happened? They’ve both lost so much weight they must have shed a whole Nicole Ritchie between them! Ann jumps out after them with a gorgeous new blonde hair-do courtesy of Trevor Sorbie (birthday present from her husband – not Trevor, just the hair-do) and then Haze, who always says she needs to lose weight but is all lush curves, creamy skin and bosoms that make grown men go weak. Cow.

Ace Gang’s spirits, which have fallen a little flat during the last hour of the five-hour coach trip, pick up immediately and very soon my Berlingo is full of luggage and five women all trying to talk at once. We reach Hotel H after another hour, crack open the pink bubbly, essential for lubricating tired vocal chords, and catch up until even we can’t keep our eyes open any longer.

Friday 27 April
Ju’s in-laws originate from Fishguard so I propose a trip there for the morning and a walk on the beach in the afternoon. We whiz through Newport, eyes left for Y Mochyn Drwg (looking good, Brown Mouse) and dismount at Lower Town Fishguard, scene of many exciting escapades for me, Tom and the boat (no, no, I can’t talk about the boat yet). Then it’s into town where I suggest a walk round the West Wales Gallery, which shows some great work in a fabulous location. Three hours then gets swallowed up by an unprecedented outbreak of shopping the like of which Fishguard has never seen.

In the afternoon we head for the long golden sands of a local beach. A couple on the first day of their hols have got lost and ask for directions to the pub they started from. I reassure them that they’re on the right track and that we’ve just come from there ourselves. ‘How long have you been walking?’ the man asks, trying to gauge the distance. ‘About four days,’ Ju replies naughtily.

Rosemary, who is a trainee counsellor, makes us pick any bits of flotsam and jetsam that attract us, so she can practise her new skills on us. We then sit in the dunes, sun on our backs and the blue ribbon of the sea ahead of us, comparing finds. Just for the record I pick up a bleached twig that reminds me of a magic wand and a heart-shaped stone that neatly fits in the palm of my hand. Make of that what you will.

Before dinner we liberate Tom from the hot stove he’s been slaving over for our benefit all afternoon, and I make everyone except Haze, who is recovering from an op, climb the hill at Mwnt. It’s only when we reach the top that I discover that Ann doesn’t like heights so has made a truly heroic climb. Even better Haze has taken photos of us all so Ann’s bravery is on record.

Back home it’s time for more bubbly. It’s a year since we moved to the house. What a year it’s been and what a way to celebrate!

Saturday 28 April
More walking for the Ace Gang – poor things, it’s only writing this down which has made me realise how hard they had to work. I march them round the long loop of the village. In the afternoon it’s Cardigan’s answer to the Pamplona bull run, Barley Saturday, when prized stallions are raced through the narrow streets with the merest nod to health and safety (Good! Makes a change to see something really exciting). May I remind you, girls, you were supposed to be looking at the horses NOT that yummy police officer’s bottom!!

After all that ogling the Ace Gang retire to the nearest hostelry where we find ourselves in the most unexpectedly tranquil courtyard surrounded by curling vines, lantern like abutilon and scented geraniums. The girls drink Felinfoel but I’m driving so have to nurse a diet coke. There follows another marathon shop (no, I don’t know how it’s possible in Cardigan either, but these women have superhuman powers). I am only revived by the smell of huge roast dinner with all the trimmings prepared by Tom as we walk through the door.

Sunday 29 April
We make the most of last minute photo calls, hugging and wiping away tears before I drive the Ace Gang back to Carmarthen. They come close to missing their coach because the shops are open when we arrive. I have to race ahead to tell the driver there are four more passengers!

Monday 30 April
I feel ‘wedi blino’ after my weekend of excess but still enjoy my Welsh class. At home I pick up the book I bought with the Sunday Times whilst waiting for the Ace Gang to finish shopping. I don’t put the book down again until I’ve finished it, so for a quirky and evocative account of a country childhood I’d thoroughly recommend Xandra Bingley’s ‘Bertie, May and Mrs Fish’.

Tuesday 1 May
No one describes the magic of May better that Jilly Cooper who has an unrepeatable little rhyme to celebrate May Day. Tom and I are up early to welcome the new month in – he on his bike and me running (well, what else did you think I meant?). Something beastly stings me on the foot to stop me getting too carried away about the joys of nature.

Back home Tom hears from Stepson 2 who tells him that lots of exciting things are happening to the band in June. This reminds me that nothing exciting will happen to me unless I get off my backside and start doing something. Spend the rest of the day tearing holes in Novel 2 and beating myself up. Now, if I work hard ‘Home Thoughts’ next week should be a straightforward account of how many words I’ve written every day… or maybe not.

Hwyl fawr!