Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A winter duvet to warn off the blues

This is the fabulous bronze statue dedicated to all the Newlyn fishermen who have died since the 1980s - far too many of them, sadly. We walked past this on the way to Newlyn a few weekends ago, doing the first walk for my new book.

It's strange how our moods can change, isn't it? Last Thursday I went to an inquest with a dear friend of mine whose partner's son had very sadly committed suicide earlier this year. As you can imagine, it wasn't the most pleasant of ways to spend an afternoon, but no one wants to have to go to those things, let alone on their own, so I was very pleased to be able to offer some moral support. I was very impressed by the professionalism and thoroughness of the investigation, too. They were very sensitive to the witnesses and offered a volunteer in case anyone needed emotional support in the Coroner's office.

The worst part, for me, was coming home to a cold, empty, dark flat. This is one of the times when living on your own isn't much fun, paticularly in winter. I did meet a friend for a drink which cheered me up a bit, but as I lay in bed, on my own, I was very grateful for darling Moll at my feet. And wishing for some strong arms around me.

So the next morning I felt really miserable. About everything really. But I walked Moll, got down to work, and gradually I began to make headway. And that afternoon I went to a friend's for rehearsals for the numbers we were singing at the Looe Literary Festival the following day. Paul greeted me wearing a red patterned fish hat and blue goggles - one of the numbers is an a capella version of Yellow Submarine. And from then on, we had a brilliant time. The rehearsal went well, our singing improved, and then I realised the time, said I'd better walk Moll before it got too dark. "Can I come?" said John. "And me?" added Paul. "And me," said Heather - and so we all set off, Paul in charge, and had the most wonderful walk through a farm, down along fields onto Point Quay where the sky turned rose pink streaked with purple. The reflections of the swans on the river were perfect mirror images. And the trees formed blackened silhouettes against a perfect pearly sky.

We walked back through woods of ochre leaves dimmed by the twilight. As it grew darker, we switched on our torches and shouted out warnings of what to miss - dark and sinister tree trunks, like silent buildings; hidden, huge cow pats, darkened ditches and muddy puddles. And as we walked, our voices rang out in the dark of a Cornish evening and I felt a warm glow, which started from within and spread outwards. What fabulous friends I have, I thought, wrapping this duvet of happiness around me. Isn't singing wonderful?

It's a long time since I realised I was really happy. So whenever I feel down I will reach for that duvet and pull it tight around me, up to my chin so only my nose sticks out. The best way to combat the winter blues.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Pay it Forward

Today's been one of those grey, dark days when nothing turned out as planned. A meeting that I needed was cancelled this morning, I've had no luck on the work front, and then I had some depressing news via a phone call at lunchtime before I had to go to the hygienist. So you can imagine I wasn't feeling too chirpy.

But I had a lovely weekend in St Ives courtesy of a friend at singing who was going to be away for the weekend and said would I like to use her house while she was away? Viv and I and the dogs set off there and after a few hiccups (couldn't get the key out of the safe, then couldn't get the heating to work), all was well. We had a really relaxing weekend exploring the beaches of St Ives, so we (and I'm including the dogs here) had a brilliant time. And how very generous of this singing friend to let us have her lovely house for two whole days!

Highlights included a very good evening in the pub on Friday night, seeing seals close up on Saturday afternoon, and meeting a bunch of people promoting Cornish apples and Allyn day - they were giving out apples which you must then put under your pillow and you would dream of your sweetheart.

The next morning Viv and I compared notes. "Well?" I said. She grinned. "I had a lousy night, but I can't remember my dreams at all - if I had any." I roared with laughter. "Same here!" She stopped."Do you think that's bad luck then?"

The effects of the weekend wore off rather quickly though, making me realise how much I need a holiday - I haven't had one this year and must make plans for several next year. Anyway, I was walking into Lidls after walking Moll when my phone rang and a dear friend asked me out for a drink tonight. Suddenly, I found I had some energy again.

Then I was loading my shopping into the car when a teenage girl approached me. "Really sorry, but do you think I could borrow your phone to make a call?" she said breathlessly. I'm sorry to say it crossed my mind that she night run off with it, but it's an old phone so no use to a teenager, so I let her ring her mum to get her a lift to go from the car park to work. Her mum wasn't answering so she thanked me and handed the phone back. "She's hopeless at answering the phone," she said. "Oh well, I'd better walk to work."

It turned out that work was a long walk away on foot so I said I'd drive her and she was so pleased. She hopped in, Moll instantly jumped out of her basket and sat on her lap and we set off, out of the car park. Then she suddenly said, "Oh, there she is - my mum!"

So she was able to jump out and go with her mum to work, but as she left she said, "Thank you so much. I'm so glad i met you."
Yes, I thought. I'm really glad I met you, too. At the risk of sounding like some goody two shoes, sometimes when you're feeling miserable, helping someone else can be the key to feeling better.

Friday, 10 November 2017

The importance of earwigging

One of the attributes my mother passed on to me is the knack of eavesdropping. This is quite an art, actually - watch my mother as she sits, utterly still. Her whole being concentrated on the person/people at the next table. She will absorb their conversation like osmosis, so that it becomes part of her, enriching her life. Yet she would never betray a confidence - and this is what makes her such a good listener, and why all my friends would come and confide in her. Marriage gone wrong, trouble with children, broken love affairs - they would troop in anxiously, sit down, and talk……She would listen and dispense advice where appropriate.

And all this comes from the ability to really listen to other people. My mum is a pro, and the story goes that when my parents were courting (such a lovely word, rarely used nowadays), my dad had saved up all week to take her out for dinner.

Imagine the scene - sitting at the table, wine glasses full, platefuls of delicious food in front of them. My father leaned forward, to whisper someting lovingly in her ear - when she said, “SSSHHH. I want to know what he says next,” looking at the next table. It is some tribute to my dad that they actually got beyond that date. A tribute to my mum, too, no doubt.

Years later, when I was working in London, I got the coach down to Exeter as this was the cheapest mode of transport, but it broke down three times en route. It was very hot and Dad had asked me to bring a big bag of olives from one of the delicatessens near Berwick Street Market. As the heat increased, the olives emitted a somewhat unsavoury smell, and I was left with the seat next to me empty. All the way.

This was long before the days of mobiles, so I had no way of telling mum that I would be late, so when eventually we arrived, hours late, I expected a very fed up mother. (I’m being polite here. You don’t want to anger my mother.) To my surprise, she greeted me with a kiss and a big hug. “No it was fascinating,” she said. “I sat in the cafe and I got talking to....... and off she went, painting a delicate picture of the finer parts of her companions’ lives.

She taught me to recognise the pitch of a persons’ voice - you can always tell how they’re feeling. Depressed, hungover, tired - voices are sluggish and low, dragging along the ground. As their hopes rise, so do their voices. I’m a prime example here - when I’m excited I almost talk in a Top C.

The other day I was walking Moll along the beach and two women were walking behind me, deep in conversation. I’d worked with one of them, many years ago, and recognised her voice. It carried, clear and true, through the quiet of an autumn afternoon.
“The thing is,” she said to her friend, “He’s the one that's been left behind after thirty years.”
I almost stopped walking, this was such a gem. I held my breath to hear why and where, what. I could almost see my ears flapping. But I carried on walking, head down. As if I wasn't listening.

But there was silence. They must have seen my ears pinned backwards, ready to snap up their every words, like a Venus Flycatcher. Sadly, they moved over to the other end of the beach, stared out to sea and from what I could gather, change the conversation. So I never will know who he was, why he was left, or when…

Then yesterday I went to the corner shop as two students walked in. One was tall, dark haired, the other short and dark. They wore jeans with large (fashionable) holes in. The tall one had a skimpy top that showed her goosebumps. The other one wore a dark green jumper with cuffs that came down over wrists.
“You know,” said the taller one, “I've never seen your arms.”

And if either of those isn't a brilliant start to a short story - or a novel for that matter - I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017


Life recently has been overshadowed by the darker moments of life - losing my lovely, cantankerous, elderly Bussie to begin with. Then Mr B's even older mother would not be hurried onto her next journey, which obviously caused a lot of distress for the family. And while I was writing about organ donation, I had to dip into Pip's last days, which was harrowing to say the least.

It's all served as a reminder of how in life we have to deal with matters that are incredibly hard. And ones that I wish to write about, for I feel they can help others.

Then last Sunday Louis Theroux did a very good documentary on anorexia. Having suffered myself - thankfully a long time ago - it brought back all those terrible feelings of powerlessness, fear and complete lack of self worth. Nowadays the media might be unhelpful in portraying celebrities with supposedly perfect bodies, but most anorexics' problems stem from lack of confidence, a desire to gain some control over their lives. Some may have experienced terrible loss or other unhappiness and find life just too painful; starving yourself brings a certain numbness, and all focus is then drawn in on oneself rather than external factors that might be too difficult to deal with.

I could see Louis Theroux looking completely flummoxed on more than one occasion, for all the women featured were highly intelligent, extremely attractive and very adept at describing their situations. So why would they seek to destroy themselves in such a vicious way? For believe me, anorexia is terrifying. It seizes you with an iron grip that is so, so hard to get out of - think addiction and it's a million times worse than that. I've given up smoking, which is apparently more difficult to give up than heroin, and that was a breeze compared to getting out of the anorexic grip.

But many people - myself included - have found our way out of this stranglehold. it is perfectly possible to live a normal life after an eating disorder. And to be happy. To form good, meaningful relationships, to bear children. But it is so important to get help. And get that help as soon as possible.

So if you know of anyone who has an eating disorder, it is vitally important that they get help soon. I know only too well how difficult it can be to persuade an anorexic to get help, but be patient. Contact BEAT. Do what you can. For I wouldn't wish anorexia on my worst enemy. And it's one of the few reasons I am glad I don't have children - at least I don't have to go through what my poor mum went through all those years of my life that were ruled by this miserable condition.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017


Apologies for absence - life has been even busier than usual, with a lot of work, finishing and sending my latest book, WALKS IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF DAPHNE DU MAURIER to my publishers. I've also been doing a brush up journalism course which has been brilliant but very challenging, and writing a piece on organ donation, something I feel very strongly about. Writing this took me back - by request from the editor - to when Pip was dying which was a very harrowing experience. However, if it can help others then it will be worth it.

I've also got a contract for my new book, to be about Rosamunde Pilcher who I interviewed several years ago. A wonderful lady, very interesting, with a brain much sharper than my own despite her 90 years. And on top of that I've been doing lots of singing, meeting up with dear friends, and seeing a few films.

So life might be busy and sometimes exhausting but it is fun and rewarding, for which I am very grateful. I'm off to sing in Truro tonight and have been aware of how joyous singing can be. We rehearsed on Monday and Tuesday afternoons and it was fabulous to hear our different voices mingling together, of seeing a few friends that I hadn't met up with for a while - and then having a beautiful cliff walk with Heather and Moll afterwards.

Several friends have poorly relations who need looking after, and I am becoming aware of my own age creeping up. In the past I have found myself in a rut, not sure or not knowing which way to turn which is not a good place to be.

Recently, as I have become busier, it has made me very aware of how precious life is, and how we need to not only look after ourselves, but make the most of every single day. And I leave you with some very cute cows, wanting their pictures taken.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Saying goodbye

The call came at about 9pm on Sunday evening. A strange male, wanting to speak to Mrs Jackson. "We have your cat Buster here, and he's not at all well," he said.

It turned out that someone had handed a very poorly Bussie in to the vets earlier that evening. He'd been found in someone's overgrown garden, where he was hiding in an old greenhouse. I won't go into the details, as I find them too upsetting, but he wasn't well and hadn't eaten for a week. They suspected he had organ failure and was refusing food.

While I was so glad that he'd been found, it broke my heart to think of him all alone in someone's garden, unable to move. (Don't go there.) And I was really worried how ill he'd look, given the descriptions of him.

He was wrapped in a towel when I got there and screamed loudly when I walked in (nothing wrong with his vocal chords then) and began to purr when I stroked him and talked to him, foolishly as we do. "Why didn't you ring me, darling?" I said, tears streaming down my face. This lovely, impossible, stubborn feline that has been part of my life for nearly twenty years.

There wasn't really any decision to be made about his future. They'd already printed off the consent form which i signed, not really reading it. No, I didn't want his body, I had nowhere to bury it. I didn't want his ashes either (I've still got some of Pip's and had visions of my bedroom becoming an ashes closet - how macabre would that be?) - I have many, many memories of The Big Fella.

The ending was quiet, peaceful. Well, apart from me weeping copiously but I stroked him all the time, whispered more nothings but along the lines of "I'm here. I love you," just as I had with Pip. And that was a final farewell.

Apart from the bill which was so unexpectedly huge that I went into complete shock (well, I was halfway there anyway).

Since then I've been staggering around feeling exhausted, muzzy headed, unable to think clearly. In need of comfort reading. Al took us for a sail yesterday and we sailed miles out into Falmouth Bay, with me on the helm, the spinnaker ballooning majestically out as we sped along, the land slipping away from us. Gulls wheeled overhead; a cormorant flew low over the waves before diving cleanly down without a splash. AT one with nature, the elements, my head emptied out until I was nothing.

But in a corner of my beach garden now sits a little china Bussie, on top of one of the chunks of driftwood. He's facing into the sun at the moment, for he always loved to sunbathe in the mornings. But I shall move him round, depending on the weather, so he has a change of view. Thanks darling Bussie, and I hope you enjoy your new home.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Bussie Buss

This is my favourite picture of Bussie (the cat) asserting his rights with the infuriating dog that had arrived to interrupt his life, demanding far too much attention.

Bussie didn't have the best start in life - he and his sister were abandoned over Christmas and deposited on the door of the vet in Tuckingmill, near Camborne. My last cat had had to be put down just after Christmas and I spent a week weeping and scouring all the rescue centres in Cornwall. Then the receptionist at work rang to say she'd found these two kittens, so we took our lunch hour at 10am and raced over to Tuckingmill to collect them. She'd already reserved the tabby so I was left with this bruiser of a black and white kitten who, when we arrived at Pip's workshop, exploded out of the cardboard box they were in, and landed on Pip's jumper, just like a cartoon cat.

He was the most strong minded, bloody minded cat I have ever come across (and I've had lots of cats) with the most imperturbable expression. His nose was severely put out of joint when Moll came along, but they've managed to rub along over the last 12 years, largely by ignoring each other - they were never going to be friends, but of an evening I can be found with the cat on one side of me on the sofa and the dog on the other, watching telly or reading.

On Sunday I fed both the animals and settled down for the night. Next morning, I got up to feed Moll which is when Bussie would lever his aged joints out of the bunk and patter along the hall to join us in the kitchen.

But there was no sign of him - or in the bunks. He had become very fond of his food in latter years, so this was unheard of. I thought he'd appear later in the day but he didn't, and despite calling, checking in garage, bins, along the roads and telling the neighbours, there is on sign of Bussie anywhere.

Years ago he wasn't well and just took himself off to another garden where he hunkered down until we found him and got him to the vet. This time, I think he has gone off to meet his maker. And I don't blame him. When my time comes, that's what I'd like to do. I only wish he'd told me first so we could have said goodbye.

So this is my farewell note to you, Bussie. Thanks for all the company over the years, Big Fella. It's too quiet with just the two of us now - even if you didn't say much, your presence was all around. I'll miss you my black and white mate. Go and give Pip a good cuddle from me.