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 ( 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 for more details) there are exciting plans for the band but it also goes to show how much effort lies behind an ‘overnight’ success.

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!

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.

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.

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