Friday, 27 November 2015

Beyond The Comfort Zone

Our roller coaster year continues, hence the radio silence. Last week saw me back at hospital for what I hoped would be the final appointment for what’s euphemistically known as Women’s Troubles… though I daresay there have been moments when Tom might feel that this Woman’s Troubles have resulted in a few Man’s Troubles too. Tom and I are ushered into a small room with a male consultant and his male colleague leaving me feeling slightly outnumbered. The consultant introduces himself. His name is so wildly inappropriate for a gynae that I have to suppress giggles. We engage in a little ‘why we are here’ session and he asks how my libido is, explaining, in a low voice, ‘your sex drive’ just to make it clear, I suppose, that he’s not asking about the welfare of a small pet. ‘Fine,’ I assure him, resisting the urge to add, ‘how’s yours?’

The next step is a small procedure. ‘We’ll do another biopsy whilst we’re there,’ he says, momentarily rattling my composure. Another? Will there be any of me left? Ah well, it’s good to know that I’m being checked and double-checked. Having learned the drill now, I remember, once I’ve donned my hospital gown and fetching plastic bootees, to exit the theatre side of the changing room not, as last time, back to the consulting room which caused the theatre staff to think I’d done a runner (in a backless gown!).

I’m greeted by the Professional Hand Holder (you know it’s going to be bad when the NHS provides someone to hold your hand) who was so lovely to me last time only this time she’s down the business end with the consultant and his colleague so I have new and equally lovely Hand Holder. After several eye-watering minutes , and a few disconcerting moments when the consultant’s head pops up from my nether regions to give me a progress report, it’s all done and I hope very much that’s the last of it. I do have to say that throughout, I’m treated with great kindness and care and I’m truly grateful for all the staff involved for looking after me.

‘I don’t suppose you’d be interested in writing a piece for me?’ asks a dear, supportive friend in happier news. I readily agree since the piece is a lovely feature for a glossy supplement and I’ll be paid real money! I really enjoy feature writing, more so than fiction at times, especially after the heartache that comes after devoting blood, sweat and 90,000 words to a favourite novel (step forward Follow A Star) for it to be largely ignored. Discounting, that is, the dear lady who bothered to leave a ‘meh’ review on the same day the world was reeling from the Paris attacks. Who does that? Anyway, back to the feature, nothing not to love, although a little daunting because the deadline’s quite tight and it involves chasing people (very nicely!) for information. After a couple of sleepless nights turning it over, I deliver my copy in time and to everyone’s satisfaction - all of which considerably lifts my spirits. Not to mention, my bank account. Hurray!

Monday, 16 November 2015

A Day of Contrasts

One of the joys of working freelance (and let’s not think about the downside of that fluctuating income) is being able to rearrange my own hours. I have two deadlines looming, but after week that brought news of the death of my 92-year old aunt (a good age, yes, but another member of that dwindling generation in my family lost) and saw my sister in A&E with concussion after she fainted and fell down a flight of steps at a station, we decided to make the most of a blustery, sunny day.

I’m not religious, haven’t been since I was little girl, but I love visiting cathedrals for the beauty of their architecture and all the skill and effort that goes into their making. St David’s is a favourite.

We then had a brilliant walk on the stunning beach at Whitesand where a passing stranger ‘complimented’ me on my hat. Cheeky b*gger.

And Tom and I grappled with the mysteries of the selfie.


It was one of those glorious days when the beauty of nature was almost sublime, yet a few hours later the images in my mind’s eye were juxtaposed with the horror unfolding in Paris. A day of extremes indeed.

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Container of Our Years

We’ve had the pleasure of my younger stepson and his girlfriend’s company for a few days. Between jaunts, they’ve been meticulously tracing and compiling family trees, something I’ll never have the patience or energy to do. It’s not just the double and triple checking of hand-written entries in various logs that bothers me; I can’t help but think of the inconvenient truths that lie behind some of these official documents. Are you really who they say you are? Mostly though, it’s just that I don’t feel that those long-dead ancestors, whoever they were, make me the person I am.

However, when my stepson produces an old ordnance survey map for Epsom in 1912, I’m very moved to see the outlines of two tiny little squares which instantly fill with colour and life. One represents the small Victorian cottage on the edges of Epsom Downs where I grew up, where I watched the ebb and flow of the seasons in the racing stable opposite from the bedroom window and where our family was ruled by Zorba, our naughty miniature dachshund. The other, another Victorian cottage, represents the first home Tom, my daughters and I shared. Our financial circumstances meant we had to consider properties other buyers rejected, but we walked in and saw past the wall-to-wall battleship grey d├ęcor and fell in love with the place which became our very happy home.

Occasionally we’ll drive past these two houses; the first still bears the wooden house name plate my dad made, the curtains that cost me hours of swearing and tears still hang at the windows of the second, but what’s most important about these homes are the memories they hold, those are the real fabric of my life.

The last month has created many moments for reflection. We attended a funeral for Tom’s cousin, a much-loved man enjoying a full, interesting life who suffered a fatal heart attack aged just 62. My parents-in-law are adjusting to the after-effects of my mother-in-law’s emergency hip replacement. And, in contrast, I’ve had the utter joy of ‘row, row, rowing the boat’ with my granddaughter and making her giggle.

To return to houses and memories, my novella Only True in Fairy Tales was inspired by growing up on Epsom Downs and includes a Wurst, a badly behaved dachshund and Gracie, the dog I always wanted, a retired racing greyhound. Writing friend, Tina K Burton and her husband Paul, gave a home to greyhound Cherry after reading my novella and today sees the launch of their book Fifty Tails of Grey, a collection of true stories about how and why people came to own their first greyhounds. All proceeds from the sale of their book will be donated equally between The Retired Greyhound Trust and Greyhound Rescue West of England. Tina says in her dedication that their hope is to help present and future hounds find love and kindness – now, isn’t that a happy ending?