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