Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Aims and Arm

How did that happen? It’s New Year’s Eve already! We’re whizzing round the house preparing for the arrival of our dear friends, Jill and Martin who are staying with us for a few days, but there’s time for a quick look back at the year and to think about what I hope to do next year.

I’ve reached the end of year with immense relief that, personally, we’ve avoided anything too unpleasant, though we’ve had enough tough years not to take anything for granted. I’m still a bit worried for Lily and Russ and hope that they will be secure in the home they love and I’m sad for Ma who is mourning the loss of her brother and sister. But, on the whole, life’s been good and there’s lots to be grateful for.

We’ve been to some interesting gigs this year – the standout moment for me was seeing Radiohead, which was sublime, and we’ve got some events lined up for early in the new year. Quite envious of Stepson Two who is going to see Bob Dylan, though not quite so jealous of Lily and Rose who are off to see Britney, although Lily has quite a record of buying tickets for artists who go into meltdown the day before she’s due to see them, so good luck with that one, Lily!

The Ace Gang and I have a tradition of setting challenges for the year ahead, some of which are deeply blush-making, but I was dead chuffed with myself for completing the Cardiff half-marathon. I’m looking forwards to the Llanelli half in March, although I’ve been told by folks who know that it is definitely not the place for a PB… oh well, we’ll see! So, what are we doing in 2009, girls?

On the writing front, my aim every year is to get published in fiction and I’ve finished a bit further forward in the sense that FTT is with a publisher but its fate is yet to be decided. In the meantime I have finished my OU short story (yay!). Rachelsaid it would be like writing a novel and it berludy well was. Had I not been writing it for an assignment I would have given up so it’s been a really worthwhile exercise and taught me a great deal about plugging away at a project. Next year, my aim is to send more work off so I’ve made a list of short story and poetry competitions to encourage myself. I’m also starting work on the next novel so the new sidebar goes up soon.

But, before all that, I’m away next week to have my frozen shoulder thawed. The last time I was in hospital it was to have all four wisdom teeth removed and it was a truly horrific experience: I fainted on a bedpan; got woken up for bleeding on a pillow; my lovely friend Jill’s ex phoned the hospital for news and pretended to be my brother which caused no end of speculation. When I was discharged I was so bruised and swollen that my mouth went from ear to ear and Lily and Rose, who were only little, howled and refused to kiss me! Worried? Just a tad!!

Thank you for reading this post. May your New Year be happy, healthy and safe.

Painting is 'High Preseli - Mist' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Relief, Rellies and Recommendations

‘I’m going to be baby Jesus for Christmas,’ says Lily, tearfully. Lily and Russ were looking forwards to their first Christmas together in their rented flat but an official letter suggests this might not be possible. It seems that their landlord is in arrears with his mortgage and the flat has been repossessed. To add to their woes there is no trace of the bond into which their deposit for the flat was allegedly paid which means they are the best part of a grand down on the deal and will have to scrape together more money for another deposit if they have to move in a hurry.

You can say I’m biased but Lily is truly one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I know. Lily sees the invisible people; the cleaners, the porters, the security men, the people some folks don’t see. No one deserves to be homeless at Christmas but the thought of Lily suffering makes me incandescent with rage and frustration – there is almost nothing we can do. After a very worrying few days a fresh letter arrives – the landlord’s mortgage account is up to date and the flat is back in his possession. Let’s hope it really is just a glitch. Who says renting is the easy option?

On a happier note, we did a whirlwind tour of the south-east catching up with the rellies. Here’s how it went:-

Monday& Tuesday: Worthing with Mil and Dil
Wednesday: Multiple birthday celebrations: Lunch at ‘The Gun’, not your usual depressing carvery chain but good food, good service and excellent value. Up to Surrey to stay with Ma. Dinner with my lovely stepsons and their girlfriends at our favourite curry house ( yes, I did pace myself!).
Thursday: AM meet the Ace Gang (Julia, we missed you!). Four women go all out on the talking, drinking coffee and eating mince pie front. PM Dinner at my sister’s with her family, Rose and Ma – much silliness.
Friday: Me to my dear friend Jill’s for lunch and a jolly good catch up. Tom to town to see a former colleague. PM to Tom’s brother and family.
Saturday- Tuesday: Return to Wales with Rose and Si for a lovely pre-Christmas celebration. Now home alone!

A couple of recommendations… Tom had an appointment in Aberystwyth yesterday and afterwards we carried on up to MOMA (The Museum of Modern Art, Wales). Unfortunately two of the current exhibitions, including Ian Phillips beautiful prints of the Llyn coastal path finish on 3rd January but there is plenty of time to the Martin Bloch retrospective which is very special indeed. If you get the chance, do go.

Also, I’m on the last couple of chapters of Hillary Jordan’s debut novel, 'Mudbound'. It’s teeth-gnashingly good. Sigh.

And finally…Here’s wishing you all a very happy Christmas and a safe, healthy and peaceful New Year.

The painting is 'Mont St Michel from St Jean Le Thomas' by Tom Tomos

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Hospital Thoughts and Away

‘I’m Michelle’, says the kindly nurse with a warm smile, before taking my blood pressure. I’ve come armed for lots of waiting around especially as I’m twenty minutes early for my pre-op assessment but Michelle summons me before my bum hits the seat. Despite having low blood pressure, being half an inch taller than I thought and weighing a bit less than I expected (I don’t weigh myself – I have a pair of shorts which tell me what to do, if they fit, I’m fine, if they’re tight I eat less) I am found to be in rude health.
‘Just a couple of forms now’ says Michelle, leading me to an office. ‘I’ll just lock the door.’
‘We’ll just do a couple of swabs to make sure you’re not carrying any bugs. Nose, throat and groin.’
Checking for bugs is fine by me, especially since Tom needed emergency surgery and was horribly ill after contracting MRSA during a routine op, but groin? Actually it’s all very dignified and not at all embarrassing, just a quick dab at the knicker line and we’re done. Michelle adds that she has to be very quick to tell men exactly what she’s going to do. ‘You wouldn’t believe the number of times I turn round to find they’ve dropped the lot,’ she tells me, her smile wearing a bit thin. ‘I mean, just because I’ve seen it all before…’
We have a chat about the procedure that I’m having to free up my still-frozen shoulder and the word ‘pain’ crops up a lot. Finding out that I’ve been booked in for up to three days isn’t exactly reassuring either but the good news is that Michelle tells me that my consultant is THE man for shoulders. Phew!

Tom and I are off to the south for a few days to do the rounds of rellies before Christmas but I’ll leave you with one of Tom’s more figurative paintings he’s been doing lately. It’s called ‘High Preseli – Low Cloud’.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Writing Babies

I’m pregnant again! About twenty weeks, I think - I can even feel the baby moving! But, before my grown-up children faint or anyone starts knitting booties, I should explain that it’s only my subconscious mind at work. Every time I start to feel excited about a new writing project my nights are filled with vivid dreams about various stages of pregnancy. By the time I’d finished the rewrite of ‘Fighting the Tide’ I’d even given birth to twins!

The other recurring dream I have is one that crops up when I’m trying to find a solution to a plot problem. In that case I suddenly come across a secret room in my house which was hidden to me before but which is crammed with all kinds of treasures. It’s quite a difficult dream as the room is usually hard to access and frightening to enter but when I wake up I’m always in the right frame of mind to find the answer to what’s bugging me.

All this frantic nocturnal activity has been sparked off by me making a start on my OU short story. It’s undoubtedly a fault on my part but I’m not a great fan of short stories, reading or writing. To me, they fall into two broad categories, ‘cosies’ or ‘crazies’ ie popular or literary fiction. For example, I love Margaret Atwood but have you read ‘Hairball’? (1992, Wilderness Tips, Virago), I mean, bleurgh!

Anyway, after a great deal of procrastination, I ended up setting the timer for twenty minutes and just writing. Then I repeated the exercise and came up with 800 words of utter drivel and put it away. In the meantime ideas started to fall into place so I started again and wrote 500 words which became the foundation for my short story, hence the pregnancy dream.

Of course, everyone who advised me to just keep writing when I was stuck recently was right; it’s not until you’ve written anything (in my case, complete dross) that your mind starts making connections and you start to see with where the pieces fit. For any work to arrive ‘whole’ is quite rare, unfortunately. For our latest tutorial we were invited to write a 300 hundred word short story from a choice of opening lines and it tumbled out just like that – if only it always happened so easily!

Painting is 'Dusk' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Looking Up

‘Come and see this,’ says Tom.
It’s too cold to stand outside so we’re standing in the dark by the radiator, looking through the open window. Jupiter is pinned against a sapphire blue sky above the black shadows of the Preseli and a shred of grey cloud drops away to reveal the pale gold of a crescent moon.
‘Any minute now.’
And then it happens. Venus emerges, dazzling as a diamond, from behind the moon and it’s breathtaking to watch. No one’s about, except for us, and I feel extraordinarily privileged to have witnessed this astronomical delight. It’s a dramatic and beautiful start to the last month of the year.

Tom and I have been to some strange places at odd times to look up at the sky. Next year it will be ten years since we sailed with Lily and Rose across to France in our old wooden boat, Veryan, to watch the total eclipse. Cherbourg harbour wasn’t exactly an intimate setting but the effect on the crowd was just as dramatic when the sun disappeared. Looking back, I can’t believe how intrepid we were. Oh, I know plenty of sailors cross the Channel every day without mishap but when I think about the four of us in our small, slow Veryan, dodging through the shipping lanes I feel quite ill. Mind you, I was quite ill for most of it. Lily spent the entire voyage back tending to the sick (me and Rose) and making tea and sandwiches for Tom at the helm. It was a brilliant sunny morning when we finally tied up at Beaulieu. Tom opened a beer which, because we’d landed and I felt better instantly, seemed like a good idea to me and when Lily, who was just fifteen at the time demanded one too, we didn’t say anything but just handed one over!

I’ve always felt utterly thrilled by my daughters and feel so fortunate to have them. After the sadness of Auntie Joanie’s funeral last week it was a huge delight to have the girls and their boyfriends with us at the weekend. We’ve had cold, crisp sunny days for walks by the coast and dark evenings for catching up over leisurely meals. Thanks all of you, it was a real treat.

Painting is 'Snowstorm - noon' by Tom Tomos

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Great Expectations

‘So,’ says the guy with guitar cutting such a lonely figure on the stage, ‘are you here to see John Martyn?’ Tempting though it is to shout, ‘No, mate, we’re waiting for Guns N’ Roses. Where are they?’ or ‘Well, we didn’t stump up the best part of fifty quid to see you!’ I manage to restrain myself. It’s tough being the support act and even tougher if you’ve been busking in an underpass just moments before being thrust on stage and told to keep the audience amused. Oh, okay, I’ve no evidence for that but it certainly how it sounds, nevertheless I manage to applaud politely when the poor man winds up his set to everyone’s relief.

I’ve been looking forwards to this evening but I’m a bit apprehensive too; some of these songs are going to stir up memories of people no longer in my life, like Kay who disappeared after university never to be seen again. With thoughts of the past reverberating in my head, it’s a shock when a huge fat man in a wheelchair comes on stage and I have to reconcile the John Martyn in front of me with the John Martyn I last saw some twenty years ago. I knew he’d suffered a leg amputation but the physical changes in the man are a sharp reminder of how much time has gone by. It’s a bitter-sweet kind of evening; some of the songs are only saved by a very accomplished band and it feels uncomfortably like watching a tired old boxer in one fight too many, and then there are moments of sheer dazzling genius. One song in particular, almost reduces me to tears because it is so perfect, so painful and so beautiful. Whilst Tom declares the evening to be ‘sheer purgatory’ there’s enough for me to take away and feel glad I went.

It’s lovely to be able to stay with Lily and Russ in their Cardiff Bay flat and we get up the next day and go for a windy walk under a crisp blue sky to the barrage and back before heading into town for the game. Our neighbours, Mr & Mrs Across-the-Road, have been kind enough to offer us spare tickets to watch Wales v All Blacks. They’re ‘getting a few in’ at a town centre pub but it’s a first time at the Millennium Stadium for both me and Tom so we get there early to soak up the atmosphere. OMG! It’s amazing! Everything’s well-organized, our seats are brilliant and, look, there’s James Hook glowing orange in the lights, booting the ball between the posts from the other half of the pitch (why didn’t you do it in the game, James?), there’s Dan Carter, fully clothed, unfortunately, and here come the Regimental Band of the Royal Welsh and the Pontarddulais Male Choir.

The sense of anticipation is enormous; every Welsh supporter in the 75,000 strong crowd firmly believes that the boys are going to win. Mr Across-the-Road gets warm commiserations when Mrs Across-the Road, a Kiwi, bravely sings the New Zealand national anthem and then the rest of us nearly take the roof of with ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nahdau’. ‘Now we get the girly dance,’ Mr Across-the-Road, says dismissively of the Haka and finally, after a bit of posturing, the game begins. Well, Wales do win for a little while before the All Blacks overwhelm them and whilst there is, shall we say, a little disappointment in the crowd there is never any of the aggression and hostility I’ve witnessed at football matches despite the huge amounts of Brains being consumed.

Along the way I make a new best friend when the man on my right stops making rude gestures with his sausage roll to indicate his opinion of the players and suddenly turns his attention to me instead. ‘So, where’re you from, then?’ he says, before determining to discover every detail of my life… (and what was Tom doing whilst this was happening? Nothing! I swear I could have gone off and had a drink with my new chum and Tom wouldn’t have blinked!). Game over, Mrs Across-the-Road takes me down to the front to have my photo taken with Dan Carter; she has a cunning plan to snap us together as he goes into the tunnel. Alas, her timing is a bit off and we end up with a photo of me and a steward instead. We return to our other halves to find Mr Across-the-Road has become rather emotional. He gives us a very stirring rendition of ‘Myfanwy’ which rounds the evening off nicely. And so out into the Cardiff night to find ourselves in the middle of the country’s biggest street party attended by lots of girls with hair straightened to within an inch of its life and wearing tiny skirts made of the Welsh flag. Hard to believe, looking at this lot, that their team has just lost. What a weekend!

And finally…I’m sitting here writing this looking at the view in Tom’s painting, ‘Hidden Summit’ above. It’s a beautiful day with soft light on the hills. Some compensation, perhaps, for the funeral I’m so sad to attend tomorrow.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Beginning, End, Middle.

On Monday evening I did a quick check of my email and saw the message I’d been waiting for sitting in my inbox. I immediately went all butterfingered and almost sent it winging into space instead of opening it. Keep calm, Chris, don’t get your hopes up, it’s probably bad news… but it wasn’t. Tom was outside in the studio, putting the final touches to a frame.
‘The publishers want to see the rest of the book!’
Much hugging, jumping around, another look at the email just to make sure I hadn’t been seeing things and a glass of wine. Then the phone rang.

It’s strange how hearing my cousin’s voice didn’t ring any alarm bells. But then Auntie Joanie had been doing so well and most of the recent news had been positive. I suppose I’d started to think that she would just go on despite being so terribly ill. And it was such a shock to hear that she wasn’t there any more. The end had come quite suddenly and had happened just at the moment Tom and I had been celebrating. Life gives, life takes away, an ever-spinning wheel.

Yesterday there was work to do reading my typescript for the umpteenth time before emailing it to the publishers. I’d also been asked to say something about myself and it was so hard trying to make myself sound vaguely marketable with an aching heart and hurt that was almost physical. Still, it was probably good to have to concentrate on something other than grief. I’ve done the best I can and now all I have to do is wait.

November is my birthday month and some folks, ie my sister – look away now, Kid – think I make far too much fuss of my birthday. A big fat fuss, in fact. But, hey, I’ll never be this young again! On Friday I’m going to see John Martyn in Cardiff which I’m really, really looking forwards to. I love John Martyn; if I was ever stuck on a desert island I could easily take at least eight of his records… except that wouldn’t leave any room for Nick Cave and I could just as easily take eight of his… but what about Nick Drake and Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’? Oh, well, hopefully I won’t ever be stuck on a desert island in which case I can just listen to what I like at home. On Saturday we’re going to see Wales v All Blacks which will be an experience too. A couple of celebrations before the funeral next week and then my lovely daughters and their boyfriends are coming to stay. Life goes on.

And finally…
Thank you to everyone for your very kind messages. And thank you, Edith Mary Joan, my lovely Auntie Joanie for everything you gave me.

The painting is 'Oily Dawn' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Writing In My Head

Ever since Tom and I took the loo to bits trying to find one of my contact lenses I’ve had ‘Buy new specs’ on my ‘To Do’ list. The thing is my prescription is so chunky is it doesn’t matter how nice the frame is or how far the lenses have been slimmed down, I still look like Nick Robinson (‘though, hopefully, with more hair) once the glasses are made up. Anyway, I’ve done the sensible thing and the pair I collected yesterday have, once again, lost something in translation. I quite like them but the combination of retro frame and very beady lenses makes me feel as if I should be sporting a gentleman’s Fair Isles waistcoat and striking a pose on the front of a knitting pattern. I’m thinking about taking up pipe-smoking too, just to complete the look. Although I’m not exactly sure what you do with a pipe (from what I remember as a little girl, folks seem to spend most of their time trying to light them) I’d welcome a touch of the zen-like calm that seems to go with the whole ritual, not to mention a sense of purpose.

Purpose is sadly lacking from my writing at the moment; at the beginning of the year I was merrily rewriting FTT in the firm hope that I’d be well into the sequel by now. It wasn’t even the agent deciding she couldn’t get it published after all that threw me – hey, I’m a big girl now, that’s what happens to writers – but I just don’t seem to know where to go next. What’s making it harder for me to know what to do is that in the summer a friendly publisher asked to see some sample chapters of FTT and I find it sooooo hard waiting for their decision - but, hey, that’s something else writers have to do too. If the publishers say ‘yes’ presumably they’ll want more of the same and if they say ‘no’ I’m free but still unpublished in fiction. I suppose the advice I’d give someone else in the same position is ‘write the book you want to write’. There’s no point in trying to follow a trend which, more than likely, will be gone before your book’s in print. It’s also back to the old advice about choosing your rut carefully; if you don’t love what you’re writing neither will anyone else, it’s a simple as that.

I do have the faint stirrings of a novel in progress but it’s mainly in my head at the moment… hmm, if I actually wrote all the books in my head instead of thinking about them I’d probably have got this cracked by now. In the meantime I’ve got a couple of short stories to think about, one for next OU assignment and another for Mslexia’s short story competition (By the way, I heartily recommend Mslexia for a refreshing, intelligent approach to women’s writing). Short stories are a complete mystery to me so this is going to be quite a challenge.

And, speaking of competitions. Tom’s painting didn’t win the Tenby Open Art Competition but he says the main point is that it’s in the exhibition. Anyway, here it is.
'January Sea' by Tom Tomos

Saturday, 8 November 2008

What's Hot and What's Not at Hotel H...

Three days and counting. In the meantime here’s a quick guide to the measure of things at Hotel H this week:-

Going Up:
1. Weetabix – the new prunes
2. Aleshia Dixon
3. Fluffy jumpers
4. Welsh water Рthe new Cr̬me de la Mer
5. Flog it! (not to be confused with 5 below)
6. Escape to the Country – just don’t do it for real
7. Babies
8. Christmas-size packs of cashew nuts

Going Down:
1. Prunes – movers and shakers now out of favour
2. Camilla – what does she think she looks like?
3. Jo Brand
4. Katherine Jenkins
5. sex/violence/language/other
6. Silence – what is the point of it when you can squeak your slippers?
7. Salad – indigestible
8. The Planet - severe run on heating oil accelarates climate change

Ah, well. That’s me on page one of the naughty book then.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

The Outlaws Are Upon Us!

This blog has been temporarily suspended for the duration of Mil and Dil's visit to Hotel H. Normal service will be resumed when the blogger has had a little lie down.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Now What?

Eleven months and 13.1 miles after waking up on one of those birthdays requiring a towering inferno of candles on the cake and deciding to run a half marathon, I crossed the ‘finish’ line and stopped. Someone draped me in a space blanket, someone else gave me a medal, a third person handed me a goodie bag and then, in the middle of that noise and excitement, I was suddenly quite overcome. I thought of Dad, who hadn’t been there to see me, and Tom and Lily, somewhere in the crowd, who were and got a bit emotional. By the time Lily found me (they’d lost track of me once I was wrapped in foil and looked like a drumstick, like everyone else!) I was a gibbering heap which set Lily off too.
‘Never, ever let me do that ever again!’ I blubbed.
‘No, all right, Mum,’ said Lily, texting Tom to say where we were.
Once Lily had fished out my free sample of energy drink and got it down me I started to cheer up a bit. I felt even better once I’d had a soak in Lily’s bath with some of her Champney’s Orientale bath stuff, (highly recommended. And, yes, I know you’re not supposed to use heat on exhausted muscles but I was waaaaay past caring). But run a half marathon again? No, never! The trouble was I had time to think on the drive home. Okay, I managed a reasonable time, fifty-fourth out of ninety-nine women in my age group. But maybe I could improve? Oh, what the heck? I got in and signed up for the Llanelli half in March – well, I’ve got to have something to aim for. Here’s a few weird things about the race and then I will shut up about running.

• Out of the six thousand or so runners that day, I met two runners I knew in the crowd.
• I passed a bloke looking mighty uncomfortable in a mankini … tried not to think about where he might be sore.
• I ate three of my Jelly Babies but the last one disappeared without a trace… where did it go? I did see someone else’s dead one on the pavement and was quite tempted to pick it up but decided that would be a bit gross.

Hurray! One of Tom’s paintings was selected for the 6th Tenby Open Art Competition. My selection this week was rejected but it happens to be my favourite of the bunch so you’ve got it too. Anyway, judging takes place on Saturday and if Tom’s placed we’ll both keel over as his work tends to be big and bold and outside a lot of folk’s comfort zone but you never know…

And finally…
I’ve had a thoroughly lazy week doing lots of lolling around with good books. It’s been useful time for percolating writing ideas. FTT is flirting with a potential suitor but it’s time to stop worrying about that and get on with the next book. I’ve also thought of this week as time spent recharging my batteries… next week Mil and Dil descend on Hotel H!!

Paiting is 'Cranes - Port Talbot - Rain' by Tom Tomos

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Cardiff Half Marathon


I DID IT!!! 2:18:35 Official time.

Comments by Tom and Lily. Laughter by Lily.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Aber, Cardiff, Tenby, Aber

Friday 10 October
Tom’s reached the end of this year’s OU course which means he sitting in a church hall in Aberystwyth taking a music exam. I’m only on Week 3 of mine so I’ve found a quiet spot in the Arts Centre where I can alternate periods of quiet study with drinking coffee and people watching. The boundaries become a bit blurred however when my peaceful place becomes powerfully attractive to every noisy nuisance in the centre. A couple of school-girls flop beside me and do a running commentary of everyone they’re texting, a bearded man plonks his briefcase on the table the other side of me and shuffles all his paperwork self-importantly and, to cap it all, a class of pubescent dance class pupils turn up and start flinging themselves all over the floor in front of me. It’s like berludy Fame Academy here! I give up and meet Tom for a post exam debriefing. It all sounds fine to me so fingers crossed.

Saturday 11 October
Down to Cardiff for my first day school. Good to put faces to names but a long way to go for three hours. A beautiful sunny day in the city with folks out enjoying themselves. Only hope it isn’t this hot next week for the half marathon or it’ll be even tougher. Back home I find my race number’s arrived together with an envelope which warns ‘NO CHIP = NO TIME’. Inside there’s an electronic chip to tie on my running shoe. Immediately start having nightmares about not putting the chip on properly and getting struck off.

Sunday 12 October
My last long run before the half marathon and I’m armed with three Jelly Babies in a plastic bag tucked inside the waistband of my shorts hoping they don’t migrate anywhere. Halfway round I bite the head off one and my legs feel better instantly, then I get a mini sugar rush which makes me feel a bit shivery in a good way and quite revitalised. Amazing! Even better it doesn’t linger in my mouth to outstay its welcome or do anything unpleasant to my stomach. Phew!

Monday 13 October
Tom’s entering some paintings in the 6th Tenby Open Art Competition at Art Matters Gallery. I go with him (a) because I don’t want to miss a chance to talk to Margaret and John who run the gallery and (b) hey, it’s Tenby! Another lovely day so we catch the last rays of the sun on the beach. Sitting there with a rum and raisin 99 in my hand enjoying the view makes me very happy. Even happier when I think about the old days of working in an office.

Tuesday 14 October
A three mile run and it might as well be 30 – I’m getting to the end of a long haul now, both looking forwards to Sunday and completely dreading it! In the afternoon we pop round to some neighbours to celebrate her younger daughter’s first birthday. Never has one chocolate cake covered so many people. Thank goodness that’s another thing I don’t have to do anymore.

And finally…
Look out Aberystwyth! Purplecoo invasion taking place tomorrow. Well done, SBS!

I know you've seen Tom's painting of the beach at Aberystwyth before but it had to be done.

An Award from Debs

Look! Isn’t this nice? Lovely Debs gave it to me. Actually it’s half Tom’s because Debs likes his paintings so much. Thank you from both of us, Debs.

The winners of this award have to answer the following in one word per question. Tom’s on the phone arranging for Mil and Dil to come down (nooo, don’t say anything Chris) so I’ll do the answers myself. Okay…
1. Where is your cell phone? Handbag.
2. Where is your significant other? Negotiating.
3. Your hair color? Depends.
4. Your mother? Surrey.
5. Your father? Jewelry box (oops, that’s two words. Will explain another time.)
6. Your favorite thing? Family.
7. Your dream last night? Decorating.
8. Your dream/goal? Happiness.
9. The room you're in? Study.
10. Your hobby? Running.
11. Your fear? Illness.
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Bestselling.
13. Where were you last night? Bed.
14. What you're not? Teenager.
15. One of your wish-list items? Mac.
16. Where you grew up? Surrey.
17. The last thing you did? Breathe.
18. What are you wearing? Clothes.
19. Your TV? Off.
20. Your pets? None.
21. Your computer? Vintage.
22. Your mood? Happy.
23. Missing someone? Dad.
24. Your car? Poorly.
25. Something you're not wearing? Beret.
26. Favorite store? Book.
27. Your summer? Missing.
28. Love someone? Yep.
29. Your favorite color? Blue.
30. When is the last time you laughed? Today.
31. Last time you cried? Sunday.

Now I have to pass this award onto another 5 blogs that I love. Hmm, too many to choose from so these are going to SBS for arranging the Aberystwyth meet on Thursday (yay!),
Preseli Mags who’s driving us there (thank you!), Flowerpot to show she’s appreciated, Zinnia Cyclamen who writes so damn well and Rose’s friend Rich who is travelling and whose blog is very entertaining.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Haiku and Half Marathons

Haiku for Our Times
A Plumber

Composing a verse
in seventeen syllables
sends me round the bend.

Stock markets falling
faster than the Autumn leaves.
Call Robert Peston.

Friday 3 October
Yes, this week for the sake of freeing up our writing, we are mainly writing haiku. Again it’s a bit out my comfort zone, not a form I’d usually try and to be honest (and no disrespect to those highly respected writers of haiku who make such an art of it) it all feels a bit like being told to doodle when you’re hoping to learn how to paint like Michelangelo. Still, one of the aims of starting this course is to stretch myself and try new fields and I’m certainly doing that.

Sunday 5 October
There is a gale of epic proportions going on outside my window and it’s pouring down with rain. I’m planning to do a half marathon course today but with weather like that I might as well sit in comfort and draw inspiration from the ‘Great North Run’ instead. With in minutes I’m blubbing; Bill Bryson is saying how proud he is of his daughter and suddenly it hits me that my dad won’t ever see me achieve anything ever again and I miss him so much. It’s been three years now but sometimes it feels like yesterday. I pull myself together and watch the race, feeling desperately for Jo Pavey who after a magnificent effort and a personal best, is narrowly beaten into third place but, my goodness, what a great race.

Only two weeks to go before the Cardiff Half Marathon and today’s my last full run before then, just a couple of longish runs this week and next week I’m tapering down before the race. Despite the fact that the rain’s stopped and there’s even a glimpse of sunshine I’m not really ‘up for it’ today. Tom says he’ll give me half an hour to get going and then he’ll follow me on the bike. The first couple of miles feel a bit sticky but around four miles everything flows nicely and I feel okay and I’m keeping up a good steady pace.

Around ten miles I start to feel really hungry, really empty. Normally I get up, drink two cups of tea and run but today I’ve even had porridge although that was four hours ago. The trouble is it’s all a question of balance; sports drinks tend to make me feel queasy and I definitely, definitely do not want a case of Runners’ Trots but suddenly my legs are heavy, hills become like mountains and I’m really worried that I’ll have to stop.
‘Keep going!’ Tom bellows.
‘I can’t,’ I whimper.
‘Yes you can – it’s only pain!’
And, in the end, I do it and in a reasonable time.

Tuesday 7 October
Wretched weather. Go to the gym and do a speed session but my neck’s feeling sore, one of my toes doesn’t look very happy and I’m just hoping that everything will stay in place until I’ve finished the race. A few folks on the Runners World website seem to swear by Jelly Babies to keep up their energy levels. Tips include keeping your Jelly Babies in something waterproof to stop them getting sweaty (bleurgh!) and making sure you wash them down with water. Trouble is that I haven’t had this problem before and it’s a bit too late to experiment…

Painting is 'Black Squre, Red Square' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Creaking, Cardiff, Cruising and Classes

Friday 26 September
Lalalaaa! After the hurly burly of the creaky bed in France I am enjoying the deep peace and a deep sleep in my own bed. Still fast asleep I have a lovely stretch and something in my neck goes bang and wakes me up. Aargh! Despite all the running my back is a bit dodgy and my neck still plays up from time to time after a whiplash injury. I reach for strong painkillers and wish I hadn’t broken myself

Saturday 17 September
Tom’s doing his last OU seminar before his exam so I get to play with my lovely Lily for a couple of hours. Her partner, Russ, gets millions of Brownie points for chauffeuring us around. What a star! Lily and I are very excited because we’re hoping Rose has won the Euro Millions since she has promised to share her winnings with us. Rose has told us that she’s going to buy Lily a pug and someone to do the unpleasant bits for her and I’m going to get my rescue greyhound and an annexe to keep it in since Tom is not a dog fan. Apparently I also have to sign a contract promising not to love the greyhound more than Tom. As if?

Sunday 28 September
No sign of my greyhound yet. It’s a little known fact that I am secretary of the West Wales Cruising Association and Tom is the sailing captain. Before anyone gets any funny ideas we’re talking cruising sailors here – and they’re all about to descend on Hotel H for the annual barbecue! Tom and I run round like headless chickens cooking the legs of bodiless chickens and a few sausages and burgers to keep them company. It all seems to go down very well and, even better, everyone does the decent thing and goes home before we’re fed up with each other.

Monday 29 September
Should have been doing a long run today but my neck is still giving me hell. Torment myself with thoughts of my training schedule going to pot. Very frustrating.

Tom's enjoyed his OU course (214 Understanding Music) so much that he’s encouraged me to sign up for one too. As his draws to a close mine begins and along with the lovely SBS (pity she’s not in the same class as me – we could do a bit of bra-twanging together. What? Oh, it’s a long story…) I’ve begun OU215 Creative Writing.

It’s only week one and already I’m finding it challenging. We’re practising techniques to loosen up our writing, such as freewriting. The main problem is that I’m such a control freak I find it really hard to let go and let the words flow. My self censor interrupts every time! Even worse, if I do manage to let go the train of thought triggered by the prompt seems to lead straight down the path of buried memories that I don’t especially want to uncover. What is this? Writing therapy or psychotherapy? Oh well, I suppose I will just have to let it flow and see where I end up.

Tuesday 30 September
Looking at Ma on holiday Tom and I were a bit concerned about her health and suggested she went to the doctor who rushed her off for urgent tests. The good news is that apart from a couple of running repairs Ma seems okay for now.

And finally…My daughter Rose moves into her new rented accommodation today. The downside is that, like many young people, she’s shelling out an eye-watering amount of money. The upside is that her landlord is a fireman. Seriously, my lovely Rose I know what a big step this is for you but I’m sure it’s the right one. Here’s wishing you every happiness in your new home and a very Hippo Birdie at the weekend.

Painting is 'Evening Sky' by Tom Tomos

Friday, 26 September 2008

Stuff Happens. The End.

Shellfish Tale

Reflections on a Normandy Beach
By A Plumber

Who would be a little cockle
Hiding on a beach,
Where furtive fingers hunt you down
And pluck you like a peach?

Perhaps you’d be a razor clam
Waiting for the tide?
‘Til someone tugs you from your hole
and takes you for a ride!

They rake the sands
They dig with forks
They rip the mussels off their stalks
And when you think you’re safe – oh f*ck it!
You’re rudely flung into a bucket.

Monday 15 September
I insist that we visit the Cathedrale Notre Dame at Coutances and very fine it is too. Beautiful slender stone towers and spires, gorgeous medieval stained glass and the most amazing and awe-inspiring lantern. We have a wander round Coutances and enjoy the window boxes and floral displays before following the coast road back. A stop to enjoy the view proves that not only is the sun shining but it’s hot as well so we go home, change and spend the rest of the day on the beach. Lovely.

Tuesday 16 September
Another run – really enjoyable with some good sightings of the coypu things. Pleasure enhanced when a large male jogger appears some 200 yards in front of me and I burn him off. Shallow? Moi?

Mainly cloudy and cold but during a brief sunny spell we visit Villedieu de Poeles which is a right old catch-penny. Ma strikes up a conversation about the holiday house hideous loo with a man she claims she thought was Tom. Trust her.

Wednesday 17 September
We are supposed to be going for fruits de mer at a restaurant but the prices, coupled with the poor exchange rate, make us think again. Since the shellfish at the supermarkets here are so good we buy all the ingredients for our own slap-up fruits de mer plus two bottles of good white wine for the price of a restaurant meal for one. Eat too much and have a roller-coaster of a night of wild and crazy dreams.

Thursday 18 September
Now longing to go home; there is a distinct feel of autumn in the air that reminds me of new terms and I feel that I’ve had my holiday and want to start doing things. The car has started making ominous noises. Boats? Cars? What else is going to break down? Me, probably. Just don’t let us be marooned here.

Nobody feels like doing much. I go for a run. An old man in a large van coming towards me removes both hands from the steering wheel to applaud me. Despite this I get back to the accommodation in one piece. I suggest a visit to L’Abbaye Sainte-Trinite at Lucerne-D’Outremer which is in a beautiful valley. We drive up and admire the Anglo-Norman tower but no one else feels like going inside. Have lunch and go to the beach where we watch a man making tender conversation with his dog whilst lavishly washing its bottom. They really do aime their chiens here.

On our way to the car Ma and I are accosted by an elderly Frenchman who asks in French whether we have been indulging in a spot of la peche a pied. Can he tell by looking at us? No, we assure him. We are English and we have been sunbathing. ‘Curled up comme a leetle cockle?’ he suggests. ‘I speak a leetle English,’ he tells us, making crafty eyes at Ma, ‘I love you!’ he announces, to Ma’s amusement. Really, she is not safe anywhere.

Saturday 20 September
It’s the best day we’ve had weather-wise – well it would be, wouldn’t it? We’re going home! Closer examination of the car has revealed the source of the ominous noise to be a dodgy wheel bearing. And it’s right where I sit – bloody great! Tom and I elect not to say anything to Ma but decide to allow plenty of time to get to Cherbourg. The wheel, fortunately, does not come off and the day pans out quite well, a leisurely lunch, a walk, some last minute shopping and off to the port.

We find a lovely quiet spot on the boat only to have our peace rudely shattered by a family with young children who attract yet more families with young children. It’s late, the children are tetchy, the parents more so. We could get up but I can’t be arsed so I drink my Scotch to cries of ‘Joshua! Share nicely!’ ‘Jo-Jo! Give Percy back to the little boy!’ and, worse, ‘Freddie! Do you need a POO?’ Ah, the perfect end to a perfect holiday. What else would I expect?

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Stuff Happens 2/3

Wednesday 10 September
Begin with a local and very small market at Hayes Pesnel. ‘Rubbish!’ sniffs Ma. An open church is more rewarding with wonderful contrasts between huge mosaics of biblical scenes and amazing modern abstract stained glass. The long roll of honour to the war dead shows the loss to this small town made even more poignant by a stained glass window dedicated to some of the deceased, their faces forever young.

In Avranches Ma buys postcards but the tabac doesn’t have enough stamps so I queue in the post office along with half of Avranches. My schoolgirl French is pushed to the limit when my neighbour in the queue strikes up a rather one-sided conversation with me. From there to the Scriptorial D’Avranches, home of the Mont St-Michel manuscripts and, more importantly so far as I’m concerned, an exhibition of work by Marc Chagall.

Far from being an appetiser for the main course, the manuscript themselves are dramatically displayed and utterly breathtaking. The sense of connection with the scribe of each work is immediate and moving. The Chagall exhibition is a massive delight, spread over a series of rooms and comprising paintings, ceramics, lithographs, studies and the original copper plates. I amuse myself by trying to pick out what, if given the opportunity, I would take home with me (fat chance!). Decide that if I could not have the warm and erotic ‘Song of Song’ series of paintings then I would be quite happy with a very touching print of David watching Bathesheba bathing. Absolutely beautiful.

Thursday 11 September
My second French run. Pouring down with rain which I quite like – feels rather life-affirming. Return to find it’s Pick Holes In Chris Day, so far as Ma is concerned. Apparently my hair is too dark (yes, Ma, I know that Elvis is alive and well and sitting in a Normandy kitchen but it will wash out!), I drink too much and have a beer gut (I have narrowly exceeded my 14 units a week but I am on holiday! And yes, compared to Victoria Beckham I do have a stomach but I wear size 10 jeans – I’m hardly Jimmy Five Bellies) and I was much too strict with my daughters when they were little (yes, and look how disastrously you turned out, Lily and Rose). Later it transpires that Ma is feeling very distressed about her brother Billy, whose funeral is taking place today in Australia and that’s why she’s taking a pop at me.

Friday 12 September
More rain. Our neighbours in the adjoining holiday house go home. Lucky buggers. We visit the Faiencerie de La Baie Du Mont Saint-Michel where Ma orders a number tile for her house, or rather I do it for her and nearly collapse with the strain.

Our next jaunt is to La Baleine, where they ‘faire l’andouille’, a smoked tripe sausage (yes, I’m desperately finding stuff to amuse everyone). Alas, there are no tours today but we see quite enough of the manufacturing process through the open doors of the Andouillerie to satisfy our curiosity. The reality of seeing women in wellies standing in pools of water pushing armfuls of tripe up miles of intestine is almost too much for my digestive system. Tom, brave soul that he is buys a chunk of sausage and some smoked ham. The car stinks of smoke all the way home.

Saturday 13 September.
I get a surprise on my morning run when I hear loud splashes and, peering over the side of the road to the stream below see three strange animals staring up at me. What are they? They are about the size of a Jack Russell with beaver faces… coypu, perhaps?

The sky remains grey so we set off with a vague plan to drive towards Mont Saint-Michel. It soon becomes apparent the whole of France is also heading to Mont Saint-Michel. Decide that the ethereal beauty of the place might disappear on closer inspection – especially when swarming with tourists so we turn back through the back roads towards Avranches and, through overgrown vegetation, catch glimpses of the most beautiful faded fairy tale chateau adorned with slender round towers. All very ‘Sleeping Beauty’.

At Avranches the clothes and shoe warehouse Ma has been eyeing is open at last. Ma flies into a spending frenzy emerging with one pair of boots, a pair of trainers, slippers and three pairs of socks. Amazingly the sun is still shining when we get home so we sit outside and soak it up for an hour.

Sunday 14 September
Ma and I go off on a beaver/coypu hunt and surprise two of them. In the afternoon we brave the beach at Saint Jean Le Thomas. Whilst it’s not especially warm we have a great time observing the French at play.

Three generations of various families come to the beach equipped with pails to gather shellfish; little girls dressed like children not Britney Spears call to ‘Grandmere’ or ‘Papa’ and instead of being told to ‘F*ck off’ there are sweet responses of ‘Cherie?’. A gaggle of middle-aged walkers of both sexes – thirty to forty of them – arrive, heralded by whoops of laughter to use the two toilettes. By the time the last has been the first want to go again – they bang on the wooden doors, joke at each other and gather for endless group photographs. Six riders make their way along the beach, stopping so the horses can investigate the rock pools and bonjouring us as they pass.

And then there are the dogs, dozens of them. In the main they are small, rough-haired and scruffy but, my, how the French aime them. A tiny, tufty, tawny specimen crouches a few feet from us and craps mightily before bounding off with great leaps into the air. ‘Well that’s put a spring in its step,’ Ma observes reducing me to hysterics. ‘Must be feeling a lot lighter after getting rid of that lot.’

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Stuff Happens. What We Did On Our Hols. 1/3

Friday 5 September
Leaving aside the minor irritation that, due to an overcorrection at the salon, my hair colour is vintage Elvis, the holiday does not get off to a good start. The day before we are due to depart Ma, Tom and I go to visit Auntie Joanie hanging on in there despite being given only days to live. On our way we learn that Uncle Sid (he of the Cutty Sark fame, husband of Auntie Joanie) is himself very ill. Auntie Joanie is not looking too bad in the circumstances and we leave feeling quite reassured about her at least.

I’m just about to get out of the car to follow Ma into her flat when I get a call to say that my Uncle Billy in Australia has died. I rush in after Ma before she can pick up her answer phone messages and break the news to her. Ma folds up with grief but won’t cry and shrugs me off when I try to hug her. It’s her way of coping.

Saturday 6 September
2pm. Arrive Portsmouth in pouring rain. Normandy Express not due to board until 3pm but we are in pole position.
3pm. Normandy Express is delayed by an hour due to bad weather.
4pm. Board Normandy Express and note alarming absence of sick bags and pervasive scent of vomit and disinfectant.
5pm. Depart Portsmouth. Beyond the Solent fast cat meets whopping seas. Unnaturally cheerful steward reassures us that, ‘This is good boat.’ Just as well because the wind speed is now force 7 gusting 9. Feel the need of a medicinal Scotch.
12pm. Arrive at freezing holiday home with only black tea and cake to sustain us since we have missed the shops. Open kitchen drawers looking for instructions to heating/domestic appliances/anything vaguely helpful and it becomes apparent that the last occupants simply put their dirty plates, pots and pans back where they found them. Lovely. In addition the downstairs loo is very grim indeed and there is a liberal coating of dust and cobwebs everywhere else.

Discover that the description in the brochure is far from adequate; there is a warning about the steep stairs to the second floor, where Tom and I plan to sleep but nothing about the perilous ancient steps to the first floor which are open-tread, uneven and present an Everest-like challenge to Ma. The good news is there is an en suite to Ma’s room. The bad news is it doesn’t have a loo – you’d think they would mention a little thing like that, wouldn’t you? Ma puts on a brave face but I’m infuriated about her having to negotiate tricky stairs in the night. We retire to bed shell-shocked and knackered. The beds, thank goodness, are clean and dry but creaky as hell and the floor/ceiling arrangement means I can hear Ma breathing in the bedroom below… not exactly conducive to romance.

Sunday 8 September
Break fast with black tea and cake whilst comparing tales of ancient creaking house. Ma spooked out by enormous old fireplace in her room and fears that something will come down it. Assure her that the only thing likely to come down it is Tom clumping over fragile floor/ceiling. Head off in search of supermarket. All shut. Have to make do with hellishly dear ‘8-8’ shop. Back at the house Ma is wearing three jumpers and a fleece.

Monday 9 September
Replenish at U-Marche. Le soleil is actually brilling so we head off to ‘Jardin des Argences’ which is tres charming. Le soleil still brilles so we sit outside in the sunshine for nearly two hours. Smugness rudely interrupted by guest at the adjoining holiday home. We torture ourselves with thoughts of how much nicer their accommodation probably is than ours. Bastards.

Tuesday 9 September
a.m. My first French run; 5m to Sartilly. Set off feeling nervous as I always do on a new run in a strange area. Road safer than I anticipate and French drivers more considerate. Manage a few bonjours with appreciative cyclists, get heckled by a French wag with a cry of ‘Plus vite!’ and exchange a few words about how chaud it is with an old man and a dog.

p.m. The accommodation is a real bummer and doesn’t help the tension that naturally arises when three people have three different ideas of what makes a holiday. Ma likes to shop, Tom likes to watch the sea and I like to explore. My solution is to study all the tourist information trying to come up with suggestions that all of us can bear.

Set off to Musee D’art Moderne Richard Anacreon at Granville. Have now mastered ‘Y a-til une reduction pour les personnes de plus de soixante-cinq ans?’. Better than jabbing my finger at Ma and saying ‘vieux person’. No wonder the girl behind the desk at the jardin looked amused. Wrong on so many levels!

The walk through the old town is beautiful; tall houses, window boxes, little cafes and exotic bars but Ma is finding it very hard to put one foot in front of the other. She pretends that her back isn’t hurting but it’s obvious that she’s in lots of pain. It makes me sad for her and for myself.

‘What we did on our hols’ continues tomorrow.

Painting is 'Bad Moon Rising' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

En Vacances

The pound is falling faster than you can say ‘Thanks, Chancellor!’ there are early warnings of gales in the Channel this weekend and I’m developing a cold. Yes, it can only mean one thing; we’re off on our hols!

We booked this break earlier in the year when Ma was staying with us. Ma adores France but the last time we were there was just after my dad died and it was a bittersweet time for us as we struggled to find our feet again. Our holiday is tinged with sadness once more as we depart with the knowledge that Ma’s beloved elder sister and now her brother, on the other side of the world, are both desperately ill.

It’s been a very sad and painful time, especially for Ma, but come rain, shine or recession I’m determined that the next couple of weeks will bring some light relief.

And finally…
My Ace Gang are having more than their fair share of woes, too. Here’s to you, my lovely girls, and treasured memories of laughter and sunshine to keep us going until we meet again.

Friday, 29 August 2008

On a Limb

In June last year my left shoulder started to ache. By July it was really beginning to play up and there were things I couldn’t do anymore. Like sleep. I like to curl up on my left side or lie on my back with my arms above my head but since it hurt like hell to lie on my left side and I could no longer raise my left arm above my head those options weren’t possible. In August I gave up and saw my GP who confirmed, as I suspected, that I had a frozen shoulder and prescribed hefty painkillers and a course of physio.

Since I’m quite good at taking care of myself I was pretty miffed to be struck down by something completely out the blue (yes, there are much worse things out there, I know) and it was especially frustrating that even after lots of hard work with Margot the Marvellous Physio that some movements weren’t coming back. Without an operation, Margot told me, I’d be looking at all kinds of problems one of which was muscle wastage. Looking at my nice new bingo wing I agreed to get myself referred to an orthopaedic consultant asap.

After six months of waiting I finally got an appointment this week so, leaving Hotel H’s latest guests to amuse themselves, (it’s been a busy time at Hotel H) Tom and I made the long trek to hospital. After more x-rays I was ushered in to see a rather serious Asian doctor. At least, I hope he was a doctor because he didn’t introduce himself but he did have a nurse with him. Anyway, my new friend twiddled my right arm and then, less successfully, my left, before he finally smiled.
‘Very restricted!’ he announced.
I didn’t roll my eyes and say, ‘Ooh, gosh – you don’t say!’ which is just as well because the next bit sounded very painful and I didn’t particularly want it performed without an anaesthetic.
‘This, I will do for you!’ he proclaimed, with a flourish.
I mentioned that I was training for a half-marathon in October and didn’t particularly want to miss it and was met with frank stares of disbelief… what I’m trying to work out is whether it’s the thought of me running a half-marathon or my innocent belief that I might actually rise to the top of a waiting list before then which caused them.

And finally…Auntie Joanie is holding on but poor Ma has heard that her eldest brother, Uncle Bill, is also very sick. Uncle Bill is my Australian uncle who went walkabout in Sydney and turned up, unannounced at my door in Wales. What a sad time it is.

Image is No.VI from Tom Tomos's series of sea prints

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Looking Ahead

Honestly! If it wasn’t so sad it would almost be funny. After visiting Auntie Joanie last week I really didn’t think she’d still be here, especially since the medics had warned the family to think in days rather than weeks, but it seems she’s perked up a bit! In the general hospital she was sinking fast but it seems that some tender loving care in a pleasant environment has definitely made life more bearable for her again. Perhaps all your good wishes, both here and sent to me privately and for which I thank you, have reached her somehow. Ultimately there will be no miracle recovery because the odds are so heavily stacked against her but it seems that Auntie Joanie isn’t ready to let go just yet.

I’m grateful, too,
for the suggestions for my treadmill playlist. After some trial and error I have discovered that it’s hardcore that does it for me! How tragic is that!! The fast, insistent beat, which would drive me crazy in real life, is absolutely brilliant for keeping me up to pace. The speed sessions have really helped my long runs and I’m knocking three and four minutes off my best times. Don’t think that Team GB will be calling on me any time soon, though. Running has been very important to me in times of emotional upheaval and it’s given me time out this summer from worry and disappointment. I ran ten and half miles this morning (before the torrential rain came in again) and once I’d settled into the rhythm I reached that blissful state when thoughts just come and go without hurting or causing pain. Can’t say the same about my legs which are aching today.

Encouraged by Tom, who has been thoroughly enjoying his OU music course (A214) I have signed up for a creative writing module, A215. As well as doing some learning for learning’s sake I’m looking forwards to stepping out my comfort zone a bit and trying some different creative forms. In a way it’s also an opportunity to set right what I sometimes think of as an old mistake when I rejected reading English at university in favour of European Studies and German which I naively believed would make me more employable. Ha! What a lot I had to learn! I might have been employable but for work I didn’t really want to do. Rejecting what you love for something you believe might be practical seems an entirely ludicrous way of doing business now with the benefit of hindsight.

Whilst I was making my mind up about the OU course I took some soundings from the lovely Novel Racers who were enthusiatic in their recommendations. Congratulations to b who got a distinction for A215 this year and I’m glad to have Fiona's company as she has signed up too. Congratulations, too, to Novel Racer, Lucy Diamondwhose novel , Over You, is the the Lovereading top ten. Well done all.

Image is a monoprint, 'By the Cliff Edge' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

'Ta ta, Ducks.'

‘Mum can’t talk anymore,’ my cousin tells me when I ring to see if I can visit Auntie Joanie, ‘so it can be quite tough. If there are a couple of you, you can have a conversation around her which she can follow.’

Auntie Joanie has now been moved to a small cottage hospital. Inside it’s clean and bright with views across a field. The atmosphere is calm and peaceful. The staff look up and smile when they see Ma and I’m glad that my aunt is in a place where someone’s taking notice of what’s going on.

I’ve thought about a few things I want to say but it all goes out the window when we turn the corner. Auntie Joanie is propped up in bed, supported by pillows. The general hospital, where she was previously, lost all her clothes so she is wearing a new cornflower blue nightdress which brings out the blue in her eyes. Her hair, which was once a rich gleaming auburn, frames her face in silver waves. From this angle you can’t see what radiotherapy has taken away but Ma bends over her big sister and rearranges her curls just to make sure. All the time Ma’s talking softly, calling Auntie Joanie by one of the pet names they shared and which I’d almost forgotten. Watching them just breaks my heart. Tom catches my eye and I can see how moved he is too. I have to make my excuses and leave the room, briefly – I want to be brave for Auntie Joanie, and especially for Ma. Crying all over the place isn’t going to help.

When I return Auntie Joanie stares long and hard into my eyes; her gaze reminds me of a newborn baby seeing the world for the first time, trying to take everything in. Maybe it’s the same at the end of life too. Tom manages to raise the faintest of smiles by teasing her for not offering him a whisky as she does usually, whatever the time of day, but mainly she watches us with a clear, steady gaze until sleep starts to overcome her and we have to let go.

Letting go is the hardest part. I didn’t manage to talk about the things I’d planned but it doesn’t matter; Auntie Joanie will always be there in everything from my earliest sun-kissed memories of a beach in Cornwall, through being given a thorough telling-off for some inconsiderate behaviour as a teenager, to being cared for by her when I was convalescing after an operation. I will miss her. It’s hard enough saying goodbye to Auntie Joanie when she’s on the end of a phone as neither of us wants to be the one to actually break the contact but I can’t keep her here forever. Bye bye, Auntie Joanie. Ta ta, Ducks.

Painting is 'Chapel Window' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

All We Have

As a firm believer that ‘today is all we have’, I try to squeeze the most out of every hour and tend not to dwell too much on the past but when my lovely Ace Gang came to stay recently we had the kind of weekend that memories are made of.

The five of us met at antenatal classes when the only thing we had in common was carrying a bump. Barriers quickly dropped as we exchanged horror stories about labour and new babies and we have continued to share, scare and care ever since. Some of my happiest and most hilarious memories are of our annual night out but out of this came a serious tradition of setting ourselves goals for the coming year. 2008 has already seen Ann climb Ben Nevis and Ju save enough to buy herself a much long-for cello so we don’t hang about!

With geographical distance between us our annual night out has been replaced by a get-together at Hotel H. This year’s visit coincided with the most glorious spell of sunshine here on the west Wales coast. We walked on the golden sands at Poppit and paddled in crystal clear water, occasionally stopping to waylay handsome men on the pretext of asking them to take a group photo. We visited the farm park – ‘No children?’. No, no children, thank you – just five middle aged women larking about in the sunshine. We spent a day by a pool with lunch and a glass of wine for £10 which, given the weather, was like being in Greece for the day, and we laughed and talked late into the night.

Occasionally we’ll sit and try to analyse our extraordinary friendship; it shouldn’t work – we’re five completely different characters. Maybe it’s something to do with the odd number? We don’t pair up but simply slot in and feel comfortable with each other. Perhaps it’s because, being expectant mums when we met, we began from a point of always being ready to share our feelings with each other? I don’t know but whatever it is I’m grateful for it and feel very lucky to have these dear friends in my life. After recent trauma and continuing heartache having my Ace Gang to stay was the best tonic I could have.

Tom’s been at OU summer school. Given the cost of fuel at the moment we worked out it was cheaper for him to get an off-peak rail ticket than to drive to Durham but as I set off in heavy rain just before 1am to meet him at Carmarthen I did wonder if it was such a bargain. Whilst I battled over high, lonely roads in a cloudburst or urged the car through flooded hollows, Tom was one of the few sober passengers on a train full of boisterous drunks with no staff in sight. Anyway, all the unpleasantness was immediately forgotten when we saw each other. One of the good things about being apart for a few days is that you can appreciate what you have all over again when you are reunited.

My thoughts at the moment are now with my Auntie Joanie who is currently in a busy general hospital ward waiting for a place in a smaller hospital or hospice. My cousins, I know, are doing everything they can to get her the dedicated care and attention she deserves. It’s tough for everyone when the word ‘hospice’ is mentioned but I know what a difference it made to the quality of my dad’s life; his final days were good days because the staff made everything as easy as they possibly could for all of us. All I can do wish the same for my beloved auntie.

Image is 'Sea II' from Tom Tomos' series of sea prints

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The Random Tag

Blossom has tagged me to share six random things about myself. After a completely cr*p week everything feels pretty random at the moment so, off the top of my head:-

1. I am a tad under 5’4’’ tall.

2. Yesterday my lovely daughters, Lily and Rose, sent me a surprise gift to cheer me up after ‘Fighting the Tide got rejected. A bouquet of roses and lisianthus arrived together with a copy of the latest Louise Rennison’s confessions of Georgia Nicholson, ‘Stop in the Name of Pants’. I may have work to do on the writing front but I am very fortunate to have such wonderful daughters.

In the same post a framed photo arrived that Rose and Si had taken during their stay with us. It shows Tom and me looking like Pooh and Piglet walking down the beach hand in hand, our backs to the camera and says a lot about us. My thanks to Si who thought of the idea and chose the frame – what a nice man!

3. In a couple of hours time I am off to sea again and I’m pretty apprehensive after our boat ‘ La Reve’ (Ha! One of those great misnomers) nearly sank off a rocky Welsh headland last Thursday. La Reve is stranded at Fishguard at the moment. We plan to replace the leaky pump which nearly sent us to a watery grave last week and sail the boat back on the early tide tomorrow morning. There are lots of things that might not add up in this equation so I’m trying not to think about them. The good news is that I think I’ve found something to solve my seasickness. ‘Traveleeze’ seemed to hit the spot – either that or I was just too damn scared to be sick.

4. Three things I have laboured over:
Lily – 23hrs
Rose – 17 hrs
Fighting the Tide - 17 months.

5. The most enjoyable race I’ve ever taken part in was the Epsom Oddball Perch over Epsom Downs. 6.25 miles of pure adrenaline and exhilaration.

6. I have just finished reading this
Sheesh! He’s been a naughty one.

Well, I told you they were random. Anyway it’s time to pass the baton on. The rules, to remind you:
Link to the person who tagged you.
Post the rules on your blog.
Write six random things about yourself.
Tag six people at the end of the post – and let them know with a comment on their blog.
Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Okay, Flowerpot, Mountaineer, Preseli Mags, Bayou, Cowgirl, Lawyerlady – over to you. Me, I’m running away to sea again.

Image is another of Tom Tomos' Sea series prints. Number IV.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Bad, The Good and The Sailors

The Bad
1. Mil has become one of those domestic accidents stats that get trotted out at the end of the year; the ones where slippers rear up to savage their wearers and trousers lay traps for the unwary. The ones that sound funny but end up in a trip to casualty, if not worse. Poor Mil woke up to see a spider on the ceiling, directly above her head and couldn’t go back to sleep knowing it was there. Rather than wake Dil in the next room, she trotted off to fetch a broom to coax it down herself. Now Mil is a fan of the Marshmallow Bed, very high and very squashy, so you know what happened, don’t you? One minute Mil was swatting a spider and the next she was on the floor, slammed up against the wall, wondering if she would ever walk again. Fortunately she doesn’t seem to have sustained any permanent damage, nor even, it seems, any broken bones but she’s terribly shaken and needs a lot of ‘‘phone’ support at the moment. We’ll have to see how she goes and hope her confidence returns soon.

2. Ma has had a nasty bout of cystitis. ‘I thought you only got this if you had too much sex,’ she grumbles. ‘Well, ease off a bit,’ I suggest, to mutual sniggering. But once we’ve got beyond the rude jokes I find she’s actually been quite ropey and hasn’t breathed a word of it to me. She did the sensible thing and went to the doctor’s but with her and Mil both in the wars it raises all the old concerns about living so far away from them both.

3. On Sunday I took my eye off the ball for a moment, panicked and inadvertently downloaded a malicious software programme which, as Purplecooers know, pretty much trashed my ancient laptop. I’m very grateful to Wizzard who offered advice on how to start repairing the damage but the laptop is still poorly. Ok, it was my own stupid fault but whoever started that little wheeze, thanks a fricking bunch – you’ve really made my week and will probably cost me a load of money I haven’t got.

The Good1. We had a visit from my lovely cousin and his wife who are house-hunting up at Caernarfon. They’re a very gentle, level-headed couple and we enjoyed having them to stay. I have to admit that it also alleviates some of the guilt I feel about leaving family in the south east behind when someone else is doing the same.

2. Tom had an OU seminar in Cardiff on Saturday which gave me the chance to catch up with Lily. Yippee! Lily and Russ are settling nicely into their new flat so we took some time out to visit the Food Festival at Cardiff Bay. The sun was shining and the pancakes with strawberries and chocolate sauce were superb. One glass of chilled cabernet sauvignon was so good that I had to have another and nearly lost control of Mrs Hyde who got over-excited with Russ’s mates turned up. Phew! That was a close one!

3. Not long now until the Ace Gang arrive for their annual visit! Hurray! We met up, ooh, more years than I care to remember now, at ante-natal classes and we’re still together. Can’t wait to catch up with them.

The Sailors
The boat went back in the water last Wednesday. Tomorrow we’re off, we hope, for a mini-cruise. Not quite the extended tour of the Irish Sea that Tom was hoping for but it’s a start. I’ll let you know how it goes.

And finally
I’ve just finished Sadie Jones’ ‘The Outcast’. It’s teeth-gnashingly good and deserves all the hype. Well done her.

The image is a print by Tom Tomos, ‘The Sea’

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Cancer 2020 Campaign

This is a photo of my lovely daughter, known to you as Lily, in her role as Ambassador for Cancer Research UK, meeting Constituency Assembly Member for Cardiff Central, Jenny Randerson.

Lily is one of 40 volunteer campaigners who have been recruited across Wales by the charity to seek improvements in cancer services and policy for Wales. Cancer Research UK’s Cancer 2020 Campaign calls for a Cancer Plan for Wales which would focus on prioritising cancer prevention, improving early presentation, detection and screening and the uniform provision of cancer treatment across the country.

Many of the charity’s ambassadors are themselves cancer patients and survivors but Lily volunteered because of what had happened in our family. In her words:

‘When my grandfather developed pancreatic cancer in 2004 one of the few positives was that he was treated at a nearby hospital, the Royal Marsden, the first hospital in the world dedicated purely to treatment and research of cancer. Although there was no cure for this form of cancer and, sadly, he died 18 months later, he was able to take part in a trial of new treatment in the hope that information gathered from this would help future sufferers. The way in which his cancer was managed demonstrated to me the importance of a well-planned, well-run system and the difference that this could make not only to the patient and their family but also to the prevention and treatment of the disease in the future.’

I think that just about sums up why a Welsh cancer plan is so important.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The Beat Goes On

I never do it outside but love it in the gym.
The Libertines do it for me but Dirty Pretty Things don’t.
There’s a certain frisson that comes from Dave Gahan roaring ‘You can’t tell me that you don’t want it,’ as I tackle a 6% incline but it’s Razorlight and the lovely Johnny Borrell singing ‘Somewhere Else’ that really sets my pulse racing. I refer, of course, to my running playlist.

I’m a recent convert to running to music. Until now I’ve always run outside where I’m keenly aware of potential danger. Back in the days when I lived between a busy town and the Downs there was too much of a risk from commuters reversing out their drives without looking at one end and race horses and weirdos in the bushes at the other to contemplate wearing headphones. These days my route takes me through narrow winding country lanes where lone runners aren’t the first thing on drivers’ minds so it’s essential to keep a sharp ear open for traffic. Besides, the purist in me just likes to stay in touch with the rhythm of my breathing and monitor how I’m doing.

The purist side of me has also sniffed at treadmill work – well, it’s not ‘proper’ running, is it? But, hey, I was wrong about that too. Whereas my outdoor runs are great for long, slow sessions in beautiful scenery, using a treadmill is proving to be perfect for building up speed and music makes it exhilarating rather than a slog.

After a bit of trial and error I’ve found that tracks with a tempo of around160 bpm work best at the moment but what’s strange is that many of the songs that motivate me aren’t what I’d normally listen to at all. My most successful tracks from a workout point of view so far include:
Moby, ‘Feeling So Real’
Fatboy Slim, ‘Wonderful Night’(and, at a pinch, ‘Rockafeller Skank’)
Outkast, ‘Hey Ya!’
The Libertines, ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’.

How bizarre is that? Other tracks, such as The Stranglers, ‘No More Heroes’, ought to work but are just too drearily reminiscent of times gone by. In this case standing in St Andrew’s Hall in Norwich with some idiot trying to pogo off my back wondering why the girl standing on stage next to Jean-Jacques Burnel, and who I recognised as a fellow student, wasn’t me. (Clue: I was wearing skinny jeans, a leather jacket and a stripy T-shirt. She was wearing black lingerie and a pink transparent mac. Some people are so obvious.).

So, no nostalgia for me, thanks, but I am curious about what works for you and would especially welcome any suggestions for fast tempo music to help me pick up my pace. Thanks for your time.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Rooms For Reflection

Friday: West Wales.
With relatives in and out on hospital on both sides there are pressing reasons for a trip to the south. Mil and Dil are missing Tom but Mil isn’t up to travelling at the moment and Ma’s been sounding a bit wheezy on the phone so I’d like to make sure she’s all right too. A couple of phone calls later we’re collecting things together for an early start the next day.

Saturday: Epsom
We’re at my Auntie Joanie and Uncle Sid’s for a quick visit and it occurs to me that their modest living room is one of the constants in my life, a container of so many memories. I’ve ‘twisted’ here as a very little girl amongst a sea of adult legs at one family party, drank my first Snowball at another and spent years aching to be like my glamorous and sophisticated older cousins. It’s a merry, vibrant room with the satisfying patina of long, deeply entwined lives. There are small plastic tubs filled with dolly mixtures and liquorice allsorts and other little treats on one table, a huge complicated jigsaw is a work in progress on another, there are puzzle books half finished and crosswords to be solved.

Of course it’s not just my memories that fill the air; images of the sea line the walls and there are many photos, reflecting not only my uncle’s service in the merchant navy but also that of other family members who’ve served, or continue to serve their country at sea. With prompting Uncle Sid shows us his medals, including the Atlantic Star and the Arctic Emblem, tiny symbols I think, for such a dangerous and difficult time.

Auntie Joanie is philosophical about her own trials; every day this week she’ll be receiving radiotherapy for what she and Uncle Sid call ‘a bug in the head’. ‘Well, you’ll be getting the best care from the best people,’ I tell her. ‘No,’ says my uncle. ‘She gets that from me.’

Sunday: Cheam
We’re at a Chinese restaurant with Ma, my stepsons and their girlfriends. In the aftermath of two painful and difficult divorces (is there such a thing as a pain free and easy divorce?) I would never have believed that this day would come but we’ve made it. We’re meeting Stepson Two’s girlfriend for the first time and she is Gorgeous with a capital G and a complete delight as well. Ma enjoys herself immensely.

Monday: Worthing
I’m trying not to eat the sweet new peas and tender baby broad beans in the colander in front of me before they’re cooked. We’ve picked them from Dil’s allotment this morning along with fresh mint, green garlic, and thumb sized carrots. Aren’t new potatoes exciting, too? I love watching the earth to see what jewels are waiting to be uncovered. Tantalizing smells of roast lamb and rosemary fill the air and when we sit down to eat it feels like a banquet. What a lovely way to celebrate being together.

Tuesday: Cardiff Bay
I’ve thought about the past, the present and now, sitting on a beanbag on the floor of an otherwise empty flat with my lovely daughter, Lily, it’s time to think about the future. After a year of living in a house worthy of ‘The Young Ones’ Lily is moving in with her boyfriend and they’re renting a brand spanking new flat with views across the old docks, the sea and the Mendips in the distance. We’re waiting for Russ to arrive with boxes to unload then we’ll be off to Ikea for bits and pieces. Here’s to Lily and Russ with every good wish for their first home together.

Painting is 'West Pier, Brighton' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Feeling Groovy

Saturday 14 June
Tom and I have now recovered from the Great Wormery Evacuation. My brain has managed to wipe out the memory of the terrible smell, so I no longer have to plug my nose with Vick to erase it, and the noxious fumes from the compost have died down sufficiently for us to be able to venture out into the garden again.

After all the excitement I find myself a bit fidgety. Whilst I am extremely happy not to be doing my previous job, I did used to enjoy walking through the town in my lunch break, watching all the faces, seeing what was new and absorbing different influences. It’s quite easy to settle in a groove here and sometimes you have to push yourself a bit to get out it. Tom has some paintings to collect from Art Matters in Tenby, which offers us the chance of an excursion, a gallery to view and a chance to catch up with the lovely Margaret and John who run it. Margaret shows me an autobiographical short story she has written which leads us into a discussion about the wrongs and rights of plundering your own life for copy. For me, it’s trying to strike a balance between aiming for emotional integrity without seriously p*ssing off those I care about.

Some of the paintings we have collected have to be delivered to another gallery. We arrive just in time for the opening of a new exhibition and my heart sinks at the invitation to ‘come in and have a glass of wine’. Tom, like me at Hay, is in his element but there are gorillas out there with better painting skills than me so I always feel a bit of a misfit with this particular group. Confronted by too many mission statements and self-conscious grooviness, I am severely tempted to numb the pain with drink but hold back for fear of expressing my full and frank opinion and being placed in the naughty corner for evermore.

Sunday 15 June
With a virtuously clear head I am off for some LSD or long, slow distance. I’ve been gradually building up my weekly mileage through shorter runs but have fallen into the habit of running like a mad eejit going faster not further. Beating my time is satisfying but only long runs will build up my stamina for a half-marathon. I dig out my heart monitor and keep everything nice and steady only once surprising myself when a freak reading from a power cable suggests that I ought to run straight to A&E.

In the afternoon I am lolling around on the sofa feeling virtuous when Tom suggests a brisk walk in the hills. Is he joking? No, he is not, but, what the heck, it’s a lovely day and I can wear one of my new hats. I’m not a hat person at all; Lily can put a dustbin lid on her head and look glamorous but not me. However, when Ma was up and we were poking round the indoor market in Cardigan I spotted some Fair Isle berets on the knitting stall, made to a secret recipe by the lady on the next-door fabric stall.

Anticipating my usual danger-to-the-community look, I was taken aback to find a hat I could actually wear so I bought it. Unfortunately Ma was also taken aback to find a hat I could actually wear and since she is a demon knitter she immediately decided I needed a few spares. Just in case I grow a few more heads, I suppose. Miffed that the lady on the fabric stall wouldn’t divulge her secret beret recipe, Ma has been back home trying to crack the code. When Rose came up recently I took delivery of the first batch of Ma’s cloned berets. And do you know what? They’re really good; beautiful autumn colours with a very vintage feel, very ‘Edge of Love’.

So Tom and I trek the hills and arrive at one of the viewing points; it’s a wonderful day, crisp and clear. We can see Snowdon to the north, the Devon hills to the south and the Wicklow Mountains across the sea and one of Ma’s berets is keeping my hair out of my eyes. How perfect is that?

Painting is 'Lobster Pots off Caldey Island' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

What Lies Beneath

Thank you for your concern about the dark clouds over Hotel H, they involve people who are very dear to me and that’s all I can say but your kindness is much appreciated.

As well as fears for others, we’ve been beset by general worries; slow progress on the boat engine has put Tom in the doldrums whilst I keep looking at the Great Green Monster in the garden, aka, the oil tank, wondering how much more of our budget it’s going to devour. With chores building up after our run of visitors I decided that sitting around worrying wasn’t doing me any good so I’d start tackling the backlog, beginning with the garden.

Inspired by Wizzard’s composting blog,( - why can't I get the script prompt to work?) I took the plunge and decided to get to grips with the wormery. Now a wormery is fine and dandy at the beginning; it arrives pristine and shiny with a little bag of bedding material and your very own compost worms. You simply put the lot together and let it settle for a week before gradually building up the amount of kitchen waste you add. After about eight weeks you can start tapping off the liquid and that, dear reader, is your first shock.

I remember shortly after moving here, one lovely sunny day when I’d thrown all the windows open, suddenly being hit by the most mephitic, eye-watering stink which sent me scurrying for cover. The farmer opposite was dredging his cowshed, although he may well have uncovered the pit of hell as well. Imagine that on a slightly smaller, wormier scale and you get the picture. Worm wee really smells. And they do a lot of it. Much more than I can use. In addition to wee, the worms produce compost; some wormeries have chambers to help you decant the layers – mine doesn’t. Recently it’s become a huge, bloated bin swarming with fruit flies and, having sought advice from Wizzard, it was time to face the inevitable.

Tom and I moved the wormery to the middle of the garden where we hoped the neighbours wouldn’t think we were waging germ warfare on them and lifted the lid. The house martins went berserk eating all the fruit flies whilst Tom and I started forking out the horrible, smelly, caramel dog-poo coloured contents. If there is ever a lesson in reaping what you sow this was it. All the instructions that come with the wormery? They’re there for a reason! They don’t tell you to avoid excess moisture content and add lots of shredded paper for fun but because it’s essential if you don’t want to find yourself up to the elbow in evil slime. The don’t tell you to chop up woody stalks to give you something to do but so you won’t have to extract ancient, stinky stems of old cabbage and cauliflower that has been marinating in worm wee months later.

With cries from Jeremy and Tracy next door about the sewage smells wafting in their direction and mutterings from Tom that he’d attended sweeter-scented post-mortems, we finally managed to harvest our seam of useable compost, turning the rest of it over with plenty of shredded paper and calcified seaweed and sticking it back in the freshly washed bin. I can’t say that what we dug out was exactly teeming with worms but I’m hoping that the ones who’ve made it this far will appreciate their spring clean and turn what’s left in the bin into something a little more user-friendly.

And finally...
I’ve resumed work on an idea for the next novel which I started last year before the rewrite of FTT. The working title is 'Make, Do and Mend' - what do you do to set right a terrible mistake?

Painting is 'Orange Rope' by Tom Tomos