Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Who's That Girl?

The girl on the left is Tina, painted by J H Lynch. Tina hung around for more years than was strictly fashionable, above Dad’s writing bureau in our front room. My parents adored Tina, but for me she’s powerfully evocative of the stomach-churning embarrassment of early dates because Dad’s bureau was where the only phone in the house sat. And, unfortunately, because it was the front room, it wasn’t just the phone sitting there; inevitably the date calls came when Ma and my kid sister were in the room too, keenly anticipating the opportunity for a bit of sport.

A discussion thread started by Faith over at Purple Coo on ‘Firsts and Worsts’ this week got me thinking about Tina and those first dates again. Before The Best Optometrist In the World and I became regulars at the youth club discos and learned to flee the dance floor before the last slow record was played and all the extras from the Thriller video emerged from the shadows to grab a snog (ooh, get me, Miss Gorgeosity with bad skin, bad hair, bad glasses and braces) I’d gone with another friend to my first grown-up disco.

The lighting levels in the church hall where it was held were so low that they wouldn’t be allowed now on grounds of health and safety, but when some bloke asked me to dance then, later, asked me out I felt quite pleased with myself for getting through a difficult rite of passage quite smoothly. Until that was, a few days later when my date turned up at the house. The fact that I had made lip contact with the person before me was made even worse by him declaring undying love. Arriving home to jeers and sniggers from Ma and Little Sister didn’t help and prompted me to write a hasty letter asking to be excused from our relationship forever on the grounds of too much homework.

Tina also reminds me of a time when Ma was at her most glamorous, she’s pretty damn good for her age now. We’re lucky to have Ma, Mil and Dil and having them to stay gives us a chance to check them for signs of wear and tear, especially since Mil claims to have everything wrong with her and Ma claims to have nothing wrong with her – both equally inaccurate. But, two weeks of back-to-back Planet Parent have been fairly exhausting. There are the three very different lines of conversation for a start; Dil’s tend to the entirely random, ‘Scotch eggs. Why aren’t they called Welsh eggs?’ (please don’t tell me, it’s Dil who cares, not me), Mil’s are dedicated to seeing all the good in the world, Ma’s to making lots of mischief.

And then there’s just the sadness that comes with seeing the effects of time passing. Sitting on the sea wall one glorious afternoon opposite Ma and Tom whilst we ate ice creams, I watched Ma’s eyes dancing with amusement. ‘I can smell a funny smell,’ she announced. ‘It’s not you, is it Tom?’ With her eyes crinkled up and her shoulders shaking with laughter at her own joke she looked more like a six year old than a seventy-six year old. The years may have taken their physical toll but it’s curiously comforting to catch a glimpse of that little girl and know that in some ways, Ma will stay forever young.

If any book can make you grateful for your family, friends and home comforts this is it.
My legs were shaking with fear at times when I read it, but it’s beautifully written and ultimately redemptive. An extraordinary read – although probably not a book for bedtime.

Cardiff Half Marathon Training
Runner’s World SmartCoach Programme Week 13 = 25 miles.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Save Jess

‘Em’s on GMTV’ a text from Stepson Two and Gorgeous Girlf tells us. Em is Gorgeous Girlf’s eldest sister. Blonde, bright, articulate and vivacious, Em, sitting on the sofa chatting to Penny Smith might be there to promote her latest film or talk about her current book. But Em’s story is far more remarkable. Three years ago the damage to Em’s lungs caused by Cystic Fibrosis was such that only a lung transplant could save her life. The family, as Em’s other sister writes so movingly in her blog, were sat down by doctors and told to say their goodbyes.

Em’s story ended happily because in January 2007, the lungs became available that enabled her to have a transplant, become well and lead a full, happy life. Oh, hang on, ‘the lungs became available’- yes, another family put aside their own grief and turmoil so that a stranger could live. Lots of heartache and difficult decisions. Em and others have worked hard to address those issues and give a voice to those affected by transplant through ‘Live Life Then Give Life’, a registered charity set up to raise awareness of organ donation and the chronic shortage of organ donors in the UK. Today, Em is talking about what the shortage of people on the Organ Donor Register means to one person in particular, her friend Jess. Jess is currently in hospital, her lungs are failing and only a vital transplant can save her life. Until more people are prepared to consider organ donation, the clock is ticking for Jess and others like her.

Since last week we’ve caught up with my cousin and his family, we’ve had Ma to stay (I’ve been very brave and given her FTT to read, complete, unexpurgated and including the bit with the Vigorous Horizontal Romp –eeek!), we’ve helped Rose and Si move into their lovely new home, we’ve seen my sister and her family, Tom’s brother and his family, visited Stepson One in his flat, been to the beach with Stepson Two and Gorgeous Girlf, stayed with Mil and Dil (and brought them back with us on a kind of return-one-bring-two-back basis) and had tea with Lily on the way down and on the way home. We didn’t get to see friends in the south but, hey, everything being equal there’s always another weekend when I can catch up with them. For Jess, in her hospital bed, that may not be true.

Cardiff Half Marathon
Runner’s World SmartCoach Programme week 12 – 14 miles. 4 miles lost due to travelling and bad back combo.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

She's Leaving Home

Rose, my baby, is moving into a new flat... and this time she’s taking her books. After a year of renting a room in a house (albeit one belonging to a fireman), Rose is setting up home with her boyf, the lovely Si. I’m really proud that my daughters are capable, independent women who have had the courage to make tough decisions; Lily’s path, carving out a life in the city where she went to university has taken her through some hard and lonely times to reach a place of happiness. Rose, too, had to make tough choices when she struck out on her own. I hope I’ve encouraged the girls; certainly I’ve always believed that the sooner you make your own life the more you’ll get out of it. But when Rose asked if I could bring her books with me when Tom and I head back to help with her move, I realised that my daughters had finally left home.

Books have always been special and I know how much Rose is looking forwards to having hers around her, but it still felt strange packing them up and seeing the chapters in Rose’s early life laid out before me; A Necklace of Raindrops, The Dancing Bear, Oryx and Crake, A Book of Middle English, Rough Guide to Tanzania, countless others too – such evocative reminders.

I’ve always been very protective of my own books (okay, you could accuse me of being a bit anal about them). I’m extremely careful with new books (I’m one of those people who never breaks the spine or folds the corners of the pages over) and I like them to be arranged in a particular order (no, not alphabetical – I have my own system, thank you). So when Tom and I moved in to our first home one of the first things Dad did for us was to fit some gorgeous ash book-cases into the recesses either side of the chimney breast. Tom looked at the book-cases, squeezed my hand and said, ‘I’m really looking forwards to putting our books out and seeing them all mixed together’. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough to wipe the look of horror off my face before he saw it, but at that stage I really felt quite faint at the all mixed together bit. There was quite a lot of reassuring to do and a few ruffled feathers to smooth after that, but we got there in the end.

We’re still trying to leave our own home – or at least the old one, although no one seems interested at the moment. In the meantime a series of ‘possibles’, including the pretty stone cottage in the middle of nowhere, have sold, so today we’re off with Ma to see what else is out there. After a wet, cold summer we’ve had some sunshine and it looks glorious out there today. Who knows what we’ll find?

Cardiff Half Marathon Training
Runner’s World SmartCoach Programme Week 11 = 24 miles. Lots of travelling to do over the next few days so I think the schedule is going to take a battering – hope my legs don’t forget what to do.

Image is 'Abstract 1' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A Hard Day's Write

That’s it! After two weeks of solid work on the Big Project it’s done, polished and sent off into the big wide world looking its very best. My thanks to Tom who, as ever, has kept me fed and watered whilst I’ve been leading my alternative life and put up with my primitive conversational skills whenever I’ve emerged sounding (and looking) like someone who’s been in the dark forest too long. It’s Tom, too, who’s done his Mr Red Pen bit – even when I get scrappy if he challenges a word – and picked up my clumsy mistakes. Best of all it’s Tom who swells my heart when he says nice things about the plot, because I know he’d tell me if he thought it stank. Ta, darlin’, my very own Critical Reader.

Having two weeks to write is a luxury I’m lucky to have at the moment, but I’ve spent years trying to juggle writing with all the other stuff. One of those ‘thrifty’ tips in the paper this weekend reminded me of when I tried to buy myself some writing time with some redundancy pay. It wasn’t exactly a huge sum so I decided to stretch it out, not by returning to another office, but by doing something that would leave me free to think about my work. I became a ‘Treasure’ by morning, doing rounds of housework for nice, middle class people on a nice estate of ‘executive’ homes, which left me afternoons to write.

Well, that was the plan. I hadn’t factored in how knackered I’d be. ‘Doing’ for one family in particular was like the labours of Hercules; every week I’d walk into food-encrusted surfaces as far as the eye could see, pebble-dashed loos, baths with grey, greasy tide-marks and floors totally obscured by discarded clothes and toys. Every week I’d leave it gleaming only to return to repeat the process again. The red mist finally descended when the lady of the house left me a little note asking me to ‘make sure to do the corners of the kitchen floor thoroughly’. I thought it was a bit much in a house where you could use a pig as an air freshener. Even now I get a bit hot thinking about it.

Then there were, oh let’s call them Margo and Jerry, a couple in their early seventies. It was them I thought of when I saw the thrifty tip as Margo, who was rather grand, had embraced the idea a long time ago - unhappily for me. Margo’s money-saver was to recycle Jerry’s baggy white underpants as cleaning cloths. If it wasn’t bad enough doing the dusting with my hand down someone’s old Y fronts, worse still was that their previous occupant loved following me round the house chatting to me. Ewwww!

Actually, Jerry was a dear, dear soul which brings me to the point of this post. Jerry, an engineer, had overseen some exciting projects in many exotic countries so decided to write his autobiography. Tiring of pen and paper he’d bought himself a whizzy new computer, but didn’t know how to use it so I ended up doing less cleaning and giving computer tuition instead. At the end of one morning, Jerry who was sitting with a cup of coffee, looked up and beamed at me. ‘Do you know, Chris,’ he said. ‘I’ve had a very happy, very fulfilling life. It wouldn’t matter if I died tomorrow.’ Two days later Margo phoned to say that Jerry had died in the night. I’m glad that Jerry died peacefully... but I’m still haunted by the thought of the notes of that unfinished autobiography sitting on his desk. Another reminder, I guess, to make the most of the time we have.

Cardiff Half Marathon Training
Runner’s World SmartCoach Programme Week 10 = 16 miles. One 7 mile session missed due to feeling unusually grotty.

Painting is 'Sunset - Bardsey' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Western Mail Article

I can't provide a link to the article, but thanks to Rosie who kindly scanned it in, I can show you what it looks like.

I'm still working on my Big Project, but will resume normal blogging and visiting as soon as I've finished. See you then!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009


Starring in a litter tray near you by the end of the week... but currently appearing on pg 6 of the WM section of the 'Western Mail' (not to be confused with pg 6 of the 'Country and Farming' section which features a very cute Bichon Frise Cross Pug) is, er, me. I'm in very good celebrity company today as Charlotte and Gavin are on the cover, except that they also made it to 'Hello!' and I didn't. Well, not this week anyway.