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.