Wednesday, 5 August 2020

My Mum and The Lab

This might not appear to have much to do with this post, but I saw my mum last weekend for the first time since December. I was due to go up in March but Mum said no, don't, as it was just before lockdown and she thought it would be too dangerous. So that was an emotional visit as you can imagine.

We went to Dartington Gardens on Saturday morning and saw this wonderful Henry Moore sculpture which I really love for its solidity, and its wonderful rounded shapes - you almost want to stroke it. The gardens are also stunning and almost better for being a bit wilder.

And it made me think that sculptures require a lot of technical as well as artistic expertise, which is exactly what, I have discovered, dental technicians need.

Yesterday the Tooth Fairy and I went to visit my neighbour James at The Lab Dental Design Studio in Penryn where his partner took some pictures of my teeth and he explained the whole process of how implants, dentures and crowns etc are made. It is incredibly complex and requires a hell of a lot of expensive, highly advanced equipment, as well as a lot of dexterity and experience.

We were both incredibly impressed, then he took us upstairs to meet the others working there, including his wife who designed my teeth on this amazing 3D programme. I had never really considered what goes into making teeth but having seen it, it is completely understandable why it's so expensive.

To be honest, a lot of the technical stuff went over my head, but the Tooth Fairy has done a lot of casting and moulding so he understood a lot more. But we thought, well, what a talented lot of people we have as neighbours! It's like keeping it all in the family. So I'm going back to see James on Monday just to check that I'm happy with my teeth, then they will be fitted next Wednesday.

All my friends that have seen them have said what an incredible difference they've made, and I must say I feel so much better. They felt comfortable straight away and I've been walking, swimming ("don't get them wet!" cried the Tooth Fairy) and generally doing everything as normal. Though I haven't bitten into an apple with them yet.

Just think - this time next week I will have my proper new gnashers.

And here's another one of some amazing tree trunks at Dartington...

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth....

I was known as Rabbit at school (well, that was just one of my nicknames). Others were Flowerpot, Pot, Kit Kat, Kitten, Sex Kitten (that's another story), Puss, Sis, and a few others that have accrued over the years, for various reasons.

But I digress - the reason for Rabbit was that I've always had slightly sticking out front teeth due to an overcrowded mouth. I started wearing braces as a teenager but moved schools and the boarding school didn't want to have to take me to an orthodontist up there and as I was having a lot of trouble eating by this time, my Mum decided it was best to leave it.

I've always been very self conscious about my teeth, so I don't open my mouth when I smile. A few years ago I had to submit a load of publicity shots for my books and thought - oh my god, my mouth is really gappy. I had an unfortunate NHS dentist who whipped out a load of teeth in my forties, rather than try and save them.

So, having a very good (and, of course, expensive) private dentist, I was persuaded to have two implants. My dear Mum gave me money towards this so they are largely down to her. And they have made a big difference.

But my front teeth have always been a bit crooked and uneven. For ages a close friend kept saying how much difference it would make if I had them done (though I wasn't sure what could be done). So earlier this year I asked what could be done and how much it would be. Yes, a lot of money. But he very kindly said, "Would you like me to be Tooth Fairy? It'll make such a difference to your confidence."

Delighted, I said yes, and then Covid came along and everything was cancelled. But this morning I went along for my first appointment. Little did I know it would involve an hour's worth of drilling but I now have temporary front teeth and they look amazing! I'm so pleased I can't tell you.

As soon as I got home, with frozen mouth, I went round to see the Tooth Fairy, who was almost more delighted than me. "Take your glasses off," he said. "You look really beautiful." (He is biased.)

And, to keep it in the family, my next door neighbour is the dental technician who will make my teeth. "Come round to the lab and you can choose exactly what you want," he said.

So next week we're going to go and choose my front teeth. Or, as the French would say, "mes deux dents de devant".

Thursday, 23 July 2020

The Great Enabler

Here is my great enabler, who is 15 this week. Well, it's sometime around now - as she was brought over in her litter from Ireland, and we never saw the parents, she could be any age or indeed any type of dog, but that's not what matters. (To digress a moment, remember when dogs were just - dogs? Mongrels, like Moll. Nowadays perhaps the term 'mongrel' is non-PC. Dogs have to be labradoodles or cockapoos or whatever. Why not just dogs? End of murmur.)

Anyway, it's incredible to think that Moll arrived in our lives 15 years ago, when Pip was suffering from really bad depression, which is why I thought a dog might help him. It did. Shortly after that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and then pulmonary fibrosis. The other stuff came later. So any dog lovers will appreciate that there timing was impeccable. Without her we would have sunk.

I can remember when Pip's diagnosis came through and he didn't want to talk to anyone. Not that he was chatty about personal stuff anyway, but our world shrank to the three of us, with me shielding phone calls. Moll was our black and white spotted bundle of joy who kept us going. And still keeps me going today and every day for as long as she is here.

The other great enabler, as I was reminded by Patrick Gale during an online session yesterday, is death. I would also add that of course other massive life changes such as separation, divorce, illness etc can also be great enablers. Sorry, this isn't meant to be a depressing post but death really can be an enabler, as well as being utterly devastating.

Many people feel stuck in their lives, bound to partners or parents or people they feel they can't leave. They tread water, wading through treacle-like limbo, hoping guiltily that the time will come when the people they care about (or may not care about, which makes it even harder) will be taken from this life, freed from their pain and leave the carer free.

If things are really intolerable, some people find the courage to leave notwithstanding and who can blame them?
Being a carer must be one of the hardest things imaginable. I only had several months of it when Pip was very poorly, latterly, and I wondered how the hell people carry on. The simple answer is that you just do because there's no option.

But when death comes, alongside the gut wrenching, sleepless, gnawing grief, there can be a gradual relief. That the one you love is free, and that means you are too. The Berlin Walls surrounding you crack and crumble, brick by brick. You see glimpses of life outside - a "normal" life, whatever that is. You tiptoe and look outside furtively, expecting a brick to land on your head. A few might land on your feet, but you scrabble at them to create a hole big enough to crawl through. And gradually you wriggle through the debris, and stand up, glancing at the sky, the buildings, the people, the sea, the boats and the dogs, the cats and the spiders, the birds singing their hearts out.

And you realise that there is another life out there. You just need the courage to live it.
So here's to my Great Enabler. Happy birthday Mollie Dog. The picture below is one of Terence Coventry's superb sculptures in his Sculpture Park at Coverack. Do go. It's wonderful.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Taste your words

The other day on the radio I heard a 10 year old talking about arguing with his siblings during lockdown. He was incredibly eloquent, particularly for his age, but ended the clip saying "You have to taste your words before you spit them out".

Well, I thought that was brilliant. From the mouths of babes and all that.. and it made me think of how important this is.

The other day I was talking to a fellow author who was bemoaning some feedback she'd received from a professional in the business. It was so obviously untrue and didn't apply to her, or her work, that I was flabbergasted. She was deeply upset and was on the point of ditching the novel which is FAR too good to do that. Several of us persuaded her to keep going, and then she received some other feedback which justifiably was incredibly enthusiastic about her work, restored her spirits and made her look ahead again.

The same has happened to me - many years ago someone tore what I'd written to shreds (she wasn't a professional but the same stands) and I cried all the way from Penzance to Falmouth. When I eventually asked her why she'd done that she merely said the same thing had happened to her. (IN which case why do it...??)

We all open our mouths and insert feet every now and then - it's easily done - but I do think, and particularly in a professional or friendly capacity, it's important it remember it's not what you say but how you say it. I have several friends reading my novel at the moment and their criticism is always fair and well thought out, so I really respect it.

I think we could all learn a lesson from that 10 year old. Apart from anything else, tasting your words before you spit them out is so beautifully visual....

And I leave you with a picture of Moll enjoying a good back scratch...

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Love in all its forms

I love this picture which I was sent via WhatsApp last week but had already been sent as a birthday card from my dear Belgian friend. It says it all, and made me think about how many different types of love there are - and all of them equally valuable.

My friends are so important to me. They would be anyway, but not having children of my own or a close family, they are the mainstay of my life. We walk miles with our dogs (or just Moll), cry and laugh over our trials and tribulations and keep each other sane. I've learned how important it is to be non-judgemental. To listen. I got that from my Mum, bless her, who is an amazing listener.

I've found love, the last two times, very suddenly and unexpectedly. A friend and I were discussing how her tenants had run up a massive phone bill (It's strange what you remember about certain occasions) when Pip walked in. And the rest is history.

Four months after Pip died, when I was deep in the throes of grief, I met someone else. I really couldn't handle falling in love again, not in the middle of grieving the man I loved most in the world. I couldn't sleep, lost half a stone in a week and felt as if my world had turned upside down.

Well, that love has been full of ups and downs, some great sadnesses and moments of enormous happiness. During one of the sad times, several years in, I had to have major surgery and met another wonderful man, incredibly kind, who offered to nurse me through my operation. While we weren't as compatible as might have been hoped, he remains a dear and true friend and I am so grateful to have met him.

Last year I ended the ongoing relationship as the sadnesses outweighed the good times. And yet that love, which has been incredibly complicated, has endured through the darkest of times. Even though we're not together we are still very close. It's rare that you find someone you can confide in, share laughs with, be utterly yourself and also find them attractive, years later. It's a great shame this one didn't have the happy ending I feel we both deserve, but it seems this is as good as it's going to be.

Over the last week I've learned of two people I know, both who live near me, who have both found love during lockdown. Now how incredible is THAT? The first one I heard about via Facebook when I was feeling particularly miserable and it felt like a real kick in the guts. I'm sorry but it did. Now, I'm having a better day and I am really glad for her. Which I was anyway, but when you're feeling unloved, sometimes you don't want to hear about how happy other people are.

Then I heard about the second person and I am so very glad. So happy for both of them. It just shows that love can - and does - pop up when you least expect it. In the most extraordinary of circumstances.

I was talking to a dear friend the other day and she looked at me and smiled. "There are lots of different types of love," she said. "Be careful of your heart, but remember, life is about risk versus benefit."

So I give you Love. In all its forms.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Here today, gone tomorrow

Confidence is a strange thing, isn't it? Some people seem to have it ingrained, from birth, maybe, whereas others struggle desperately, floundering on the slippery banks of insecurity.

I've noticed that many creative people have low levels of confidence. I suppose because, like anyone who sells anything, we are only as good as our last product. If, say, your first book sells really well, the expectation is that the second book must be as good, if not better. That's enough to knock the creative stuffing out of anyone.

But even for those people who write books that consistently sell well, there is very often the sudden confidence crisis once the book's been sent in to an editor - is it good enough? Will she/he like it? And then, when the book comes out, you have the same worry - will the readers like it? Will it sell? Will it convey the message you're trying to get across?

I remember hearing that Jenni Murray said that, for all the many years she's been presenting Woman's Hour, the only time she wasn't nervous was the time that she made a huge blunder - on air, with her mother listening. So perhaps this lack of confidence is like stage fright - we need it to keep us performing at our best, whether it's books, art, presenting - whatever it is.

As I've grown older my confidence levels have mostly levelled out. But there are those Bad Hair Days when everything seems wrong, when I can't write a word - or what I've written is rubbish. When I'm convinced that I am unlovable, unwanted, few an utter failure, all that stuff.

What I try and do now is remember that there are certain times of year when I just feel rubbish. Mid December to mid January us often a write off for me. Lockdown hasn't been fun. But the only constant in life is change.

And I think that's what we all need to remember. That the rubbish times do pass. Last week I was feeling horrible, but today the sun is shining, Moll is snoring under the bed as I write this and I'm seeing some dear friends later.

So we all need to remember, not just in these Covid times, that this too will pass.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Bubbles and Huge hugs

I wrote a post on Facebook a few days ago about my own experiences of the Social Bubble and have been asked to write a longer version, so here it is.

When I first heard that people living on their own could form a support bubble with another household, I thought, What great news! and skipped around the kitchen, as I am fortunate in having some really amazing close friends. At last - the prospect of a HUG! Like everyone living on their own, we are starved of that most basic of human needs - TOUCH. But now I’d be able to hug my friends!

But as the evening wore on, it gradually became clear that all my close friends have FAMILY, and family takes precedence over friends. So, at a time when the government finally appeared to be trying to make it easier for those of us living on our own, I now felt as if I were being punished for not having my own family. (I have brothers but I rarely see them, and my mother lives 100 miles away. Much though I love my mum, driving 200 miles to see her would not be support in any way. But I still felt guilty, that I was being a Bad Daughter.)

The fact that my friends have family commitments was quite understandable on one level, but because I was feeling very wobbly, it felt like a personal rejection. I began to feel unloved, unwanted, the odd one out - it opened up a Pandora’s Box of insecurity that I have battled with since being a teenager.

Once again it felt like Christmas (a friend once described me as The Waif and Stray), with everyone wrapped up in their family bubbles, while I stood outside, watching through the window, before trudging home on my own. Or at school, when everyone picked teams and you were the last one left. The odd one out. The one that the teacher made one team take, and they hated you for it. Yes, the demons really had a field day.

I finally plucked up courage and texted a dear friend, but I was by this time so worried about rejection (her partner has family commitments), that I was prepared for her to say No, sorry.

But bless her, they readjusted their family commitments so I can be part of their bubble and we celebrated with HUGE HUGS (I cried like a baby) and a glass of wine on Saturday night.

For someone who hasn’t touched another human being, let alone had a hug for three months, those hugs were simply the best thing ever.

I know I'm incredibly fortunate in having a Support Bubble, but those days of feeling really isolated and wretched made me realise that there most be so many people who feel the same. And who don’t have the prospect of a bubble to help them.

Those who don’t have friends or family nearby. Those who might have family but don’t get on (remember, this is supposed to be a support bubble, not a detention bubble. We’ve all had enough of those.) Those who have to make really difficult choices between children and partners, children and other children - the list is sadly all too long.

I discussed this, sobbing loudly, when I met with my dear mate Jacqui, and wondered how I could help others who are, for whatever, reason, Bubble-Less.

And while I can’t invite anyone to join mine, I would urge any family or couple to look around you, think of who you know who might be on their own, who might really need some support. They might not want to ask: they might be scared of being rejected. (I was.) And that would make them feel even worse. But if you can help anyone, please do. It would not only change their lives, but it might also change yours.

Just think about how quickly life can change. It could be you on the outside, looking in.