Wednesday, 21 October 2020
We never had careers advice at school. I wasn't considered bright enough to go to university, as I did badly at exams, and in the end my parents were asked to remove me after O levels as my anorexia was considered too disruptive. I was delighted - it was what I'd been campaigning for since the age of 11.
Throughout our lives, work apart, we may become parents, partners, brothers, sisters, carers, wage earners, dependents - all kinds of things. But these roles can and often do change.
I remember after Pip died, I had a real Who Am I time. I wasn't his wife any more, or his carer. I'd lost my best (male) friend and I was just so desperately grateful that I was still a journalist rather than being cast into the role of Grieving Widow. For when I was working I was back to being Me again. The Real Me.
This year, of course, has been exceptionally weird and while for some life has stood stil, for many it has fallen into a rubble about their ears, so this can be a really difficult question to ask ourselves. It can be scary because it means looking at hopes and aspirations that may have crumbled. Our dreams might seem unrealistic, impossible, which is daunting Or just Not Possible At the Moment, which is different.
I've always been a writer, ever since I could spell, aged 4, but it was a long, long time before I was paid for that work. And now I am looking to change things a bit with my books and also I hope to get my novel published.
Not that telling stories is something new - I've made them up for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first novel when I was 13 (a Gothic novel which I found the other day. It wasn't nearly as bad as I feared!). But getting an agent/publisher is, as most of us know, incredibly hard.
But when I was asked the other day, Who Do You Want To Be? The answer has always been A Writer. I've achieved that, but now it is also A published Novelist. In addition to Journalist, Poet and Travel Writer. Greedy? No, it's what I've always longed to be.
Thursday, 15 October 2020
Like many people, this year I had Plans. I was going to go on holiday! Unlike a lot of people, I was extremely fortunate in being able to get my writing retreat in before Covid and for that I am more grateful than I can say. And sincere condolences to all those who missed getting away.
I'd also planned to go to France with some friends for a long weekend. I'd booked four short breaks courtesy of those special offers if you collect vouchers from various papers. Hah! Though one is still a possible, hanging on by a thin thread of hope and optimism.
They say that things often come in threes - bad luck that is. (I'm not sure about good luck, or perhaps we just don't notice it as much.) Anyway, last Friday I had an email from my business partner because some design work that was long overdue had arrived and wasn't what we'd hoped. Then I had an email from somebody regarding the possible sale of one of my books in Germany - well, it looked like that was a No No. Then a phone call from the caravan park where we were due to stay in November, saying that because of rising Covid cases, they've decided to shut the park for November and December. Oh, and to get a refund I had to contact the agent who then said they couldn't pay it without a Request for Refund from the park who said they'd already sent it - etc. etc. With luck we might get our money back in 28 days....
I think you can imagine how I felt. But the sun shone and I had a walk with a new friend and her dog and I thought bugger it I will not be beaten. Various friends gave very interesting feedback on the fact that Rosamunde Pilcher TV films are being shot here in Cornwall and will be aired in Germany next year, so all is not lost. Or at least that is still - maybe - a possibility. I've also found another caravan park that would be willing to take us. This required some effort, as most caravan parks in Cornwall seem to be closing quicker than you can say Sod It.
Of course we might all be in lockdown by mid November, which is when we were hoping to go, but I always feel better with a bit of optimism on the horizon. Don't we all? I've had two rejections for my novel but it's out there being looked at other agents, and I've had an offer of guidance from someone in the business and I am SO grateful for that.
So I guess the motto for this long ramble is that when it looks like the shit's hit the fan, don't give up. With a bit of perseverance, there might be some good news - somewhere. It just takes a bit of digging to find it. (Of course in a few months time when I'm weeping over yet more rejections, I might say what a load of bullshit. But at least I can self publish.)
So keep going folks! And here's some Vitamin Sea....
Wednesday, 7 October 2020
This is a rare picture of me and my lovely friends (sorry Ali, you're hidden behind Bev!) on our brief but brilliant trip to Roscoff this time last year. We had earmarked last week for a repeat trip but sadly and for obvious reasons this hasn't happened. But it will.
At least of course, I hope it will. I was talking to a friend last night about bending the truth - or not being entirely truthful - lying - whatever you like to call it. And he said "lying comes from fear" and I realised how true that is.
I have two good male friends who are at opposite ends of the Truth Spectrum. One, a very talented and clever man, tends to say exactly what he thinks. The advantage of this is that you know exactly where you are with him. The disadvantage could be that he upsets people though he's never upset me.
The other is another intelligent and talented fellow but so concerned with what people might think, that he tends to bend the truth over backwards so as not to offend anyone. And in doing so, tends to tie himself in knots. And this can have obvious complications, like not knowing when be's telling the truth.
Now I'm not saying that either is right - I tend to say what I think most of the time but I try to be reasonably diplomatic about it, and like most people I will tell the odd white lie.
So that got me thinking about you lot - those who read these words that spew forth once a week. What do you think about Bending the Truth? When and where did you last tell a white lie? After all, this is very often the stuff that books are made of. Thrillers, romantic novels, crime, historical - just about every good story has a good lie or two in it, to bring in doubt, misunderstanding, arguments, fallouts, murders- you name it.
So whatever you think of lies in real life, we couldn't do without them in our books.
Friday, 2 October 2020
This painting is by my very talented friend Ernesto Pescini - check him out on Facebook for other works of his.
Much of Ernesto's work comes from emotional turmoil, as I'm sure you can see from this one. I find them tremendously gripping - they pull you in, and the more you look, the more you see.
When I first met him, he was a bit lost - aren't we all - and hadn't been able to paint since February. But I'm glad to say he has been taken on by another gallery, in St Mawes, and is now back painting again, producing an alarming amount of paintings in the last few weeks!
He also very kindly helped sort some problems with my van this week, which was much appreciated. Yes, Van Gate rumbles on a bit (not as badly as late last year) but having totted up how much I've spent on it this year, I've realised the time has come to start looking for another one.
But then, so much has changed this year. Just after Moll died I was walking with a friend who said she thought this summer would go down as the year when nothing really happened. At least you've got your DOG, I thought bitterly. I was in that stage of grief where just seeing anyone else's dog was too painful.
But now I have Lainy - yes, I couldn't let a whole post go by without mentioning her. And Ruth, who is a dog whisperer and creator of all things caninely magical, said she couldn't believe the change in Lainy over the past week. She's gone from being scared of everyone and barking like mad, to - in a single week of meeting more of my friends, at home - welcoming them in. We've done quite a bit of work, instructing friends to give her a chew on arrival and a few other things - and lots of training, but the difference is incredible.
Now Lainy chews her chew, comes over to greet our guests, then lies on the carpet and usually goes to her bed. Quite remarkable. She also mastered going to a pub for the first time and I am so proud of her I think I might burst.
She was lost and then I found her, but more to the point she has rescued me, just as much as I rescued her. So thank you my darling girl.
Wednesday, 23 September 2020
They are both very different characters. Moll was very self contained, very sure of herself, doled out love in specified doses. Moll was not about unconditional love. But the love that she awarded was all the more precious.
Lainy, despite her difficult start in life, is incredibly loving and bonds very quickly. She is trusting of me but very nervous of strangers. I say to friends, don't lean over her, don't put your hands out, let her come to you. Those that ignore this advice may get nipped. Plus when she's stressed, she has a tendency to nip people's ankles when they are inside and suddenly stand up. A dear friend suffered a nip when this happened.
So there is work to be done - as with most dogs, least of all rescue dogs. If you think of the work that goes into training a puppy, that is phenomenal. Lainy needs time to gain confidence and realise that strangers in the house can be friends, and won't hurt her (and are supplied with treats). And I really look forward to that day.
With all the news of further restrictions, and autumn/winter approaching, there is little to celebrate. Although as I write, the sun has come out. I am getting on with what I hope is the final edit of my novel. There is other stuff on the horizon (book stuff that is, to be announced at a later date). Lainy is asleep behind me as I write (just like Moll did) and I take huge comfort knowing that she is here, with me, and loves me already. As I love her, very strongly and powerfully. Whatever happens over the next six months, we have each other.
And that, together with my dear friends, old and new, is worth celebrating. Pip said to me once, "life's easy when things are going well. It's when things are difficult that you find out about yourself, and need to be strong." So to all my friends - let's help each other through this next tricky phase. Walking in the fresh air, talking, laughing and crying. And I have the honour of doing it with Lainy.
Thursday, 17 September 2020
Thursday, 10 September 2020
Wednesday, 26 August 2020
Thursday, 13 August 2020
Blogger has gone all strange on me, and there's supposed to be an icon to add images but I can't see one, so this will be a boring post while I try and figure out how the hell to do this. It's like supermarkets changing the layout, so just when you get used to the bread being in a certain place, and the fruit and veg in another, they change it so everyone wanders round looking confused. I often have a strop, and walk out, which somewhat defeats the purpose of the trip, but there you go. Anyway, I now have my teeth. Thanks to a dedicated trio of men - my dentist who is an incredible fellow, very good with nervous people, very calm, explains everything going on, and does a brilliant job. Secondly, my fabulous neighbour who runs the dental design lab I talked about last week with his business partner. He has dedicated so many hours to my teeth and then, when they needed a bit of a tweak yesterday, spent nearly three hours getting them absolutely perfect. To him, too. And for his amazing generosity which has really blown me away. And lastly to The Tooth Fairy, who made it all possible financially. A bit like the Unholy Trinity - at least, I can't speak for the other two, but I know the Tooth Fairy isn't religious. So I now have a smile that we are all proud of: Donal and James professionally, and the Tooth Fairy personally. As he said, "I am pleased to be a part of you." So next time I need some professional pics done, I won't have to smile with my mouth shut... I am the least vain person - the only time I ever look in a mirror is to put my contact lenses in, but these really will make such a difference. So here's a big thank you to my Trio. And I believe that good things are paid forward. So I hope I will be able to do for others what these guys have done for me. And next week I hope to have some pictures!
Wednesday, 5 August 2020
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Wednesday, 10 June 2020
Well, to a certain extent I suppose I did slow down socially as, like everyone else, I had no social life during lockdown. But during the day I was busy working on my novel. I did a counselling course. I collected prescriptions and shopping for people as part of Volunteer Cornwall. I walked Moll as and when permitted. I wrote my blog. I wrote. And I wrote. As I'm used to working from home, this part of my life didn't change.
But I listened to various friends talking about how lovely it was to be with their families and/or partners, doing nothing all day. Evenings spent watching films, drinking wine with their nearest and dearest. Daytimes spent cycling or walking or doing the garden (with their nearest and dearest).
Last week I had a socially distant walk with some friends I hadn't seen for a while who had both spent a relaxed time with their partners. "You've been ever so busy," one of them said.
I felt almost guilty, that I hadn't been relaxed. Doing nothing. But I explained, "It's lovely to do nothing when you're with your loved one, but the trouble is, because I live alone, if I sat around doing nothing, I'd get extremely depressed. I'd fall into that black chasm which has steep, slippery walls, and I wouldn't be able to get out again and that scares the hell out of me. So it's vital for me to keep working. Have a purpose. A focus."
As Wendy Perriam once said, on being widowed, "I've got plenty of friends to do things with. I really miss someone to do nothing with."
I was telling a close friend about this conversation with my mates when he rang a few days ago. He's not on his own but sometimes you can feel more lonely when you're with the wrong person. There was a short pause when I told him about fearing I'd fall into that black pit. Then he said, "Yes. That's what's happened to me."
As a writer we want to communicate. And part of that communication is to help other people crawl out of their black pits. So for everyone wanting a hand up, just shout. Talk to anyone you trust about how you feel. The black pit only exists when there's one person in it. Once you've shared how you feel, the black will become lighter. Daylight will filter through. You will realise that the walls are not so steep, and they're beginning to dry out.
Furthermore, there's a foothold in the corner, and if you put one foot in, you can reach up, and pull yourself out.
Wednesday, 3 June 2020
As you can imagine, Thursday was a bit of a fraught day. The vet rang at 9.30 to see if I'd like to bring her in earlier as they had a cancellation, so I had to take her there, ring from the car park, while someone from the surgery, in PPE, picked her up and took her off. And that was the last I saw of her for six hours.
Luckily the heart surgeon rang before and after the scan to ask what had been going on etc. and he said he thought she'd probably just had a bug. Certainly after several days of very little exercise, her energy levels have bounced back which is lovely to see. Moll has a heart murmur which could lead to congestive heart failure - this is essentially when fluid accumulates around the lungs. (This is how Pip died, so I am praying this doesn't happen to her, bless her.) So I monitor her breathing once a week while she's asleep and as it hadn't changed, this seemed a good sign.
Having done the scan he said no, the heart isn't enlarged, she's no worse than she was nine months ago, and she doesn't need to have another scan for a while. Unless her breathing changes or I see anything else I'm worried about, in which case bring her in straight away. I suspect that she led them a merry dance in there as she gets very stressed at the vet anyway, let alone when they're trying to sedate her and do scans etc. The scans are also incredibly expensive so I will be glad for her not to have any more for a while.
So she's back and, to my amazement, the next day she was firing on all cylinders. Had her first proper walk for a week and loved it. Since then her energy levels have been amazing - especially as it's been hot - so we've walked later, in the cool, and the last few days we've both been swimming which has been fantastic.
I am so relieved and delighted and amazed to have my little companion back with me and walking alongside me. Bouncing and swimming alongside me, in fact. I can't tell you the difference it has made.
There were other things going on last week that were very stressful and unfortunate, resulting in more sleepless nights and a lot of tears. But having Moll back to her occasionally grizzly self makes me a very happy woman.
She is snoring on the bed behind me as I write: the one loving constant in my life and I am so glad that we have some more time together. Time that I hope to make as joyous as possible for both of us.
Wednesday, 27 May 2020
"I find them very comforting," she said. "I think it's because I realise someone else thinks the same way as me."
Certainly when it comes to dogs we do. All my friends know what a huge part of my life Mollie is. She has been with through so much with me for the last 15 years - shortly after she arrived, Pip was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Moll kept us going then. Later on he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. Once again Moll was there. And when he died - well, life would have been so much harder without her.
True, she has a heart murmur and possible arthritis so she's on medication but so far, apart from a few blips, she's been her resilient self. But since lockdown she has really slowed up, and didn't appear to be enjoying her walks much. Which has meant I haven't, either.
To those of you who don't have dogs, a walk alone is completely different. Our four legged friends might not speak (much) but they are such amazing company, and you never feel alone with a dog. OK, she has her maddening habits like eating anything she can get her jaws on, and increasingly wanting to sniff rather than walk, but none of us are perfect. And at least she's never had a habit of running off which must be very worrying.
Anyway, last Thursday I could see she was really struggling, and since then she's made it clear she just didn't want to walk. My vet said don't push her so she has been on a very short walk round the block (5 minutes rather than half an hour) and the hour long afternoon walk is again either 5 minutes or maybe 15. It's heartbreaking, seeing her struggling. And, selfishly, I really miss her striding out exploring with me. Solitary walks are a constant reminder of her absence. A visit to the beach at Helford at the weekend had me in floods of tears as she wasn't there to share it with me for the first time ever.
Today she is a little brighter but it is very hot which isn't good for dogs, particularly older ones, so having had a little walk this morning that will probably be it.
It's not an understatement to say I have been in mourning and I've cried more in the last week than I have for a long time. Our pets occupy such a special part of our hearts, and when you live alone they are even more special. My days are structured round my time out walking with her, and during lockdown this has become increasingly important. She was my only contact at first and the only being I can touch.
So now it's a question of having to accommodate her decreasing energy with my high levels - I have to think of us both. She is having a heart scan tomorrow which will determine the state of her ticker, darling girl. Maybe she will be able to do slightly longer walks, maybe I have to do those without her. We will see....
So think of us both tomorrow, please. And keep fingers crossed....
Wednesday, 20 May 2020
I realised yesterday that it is nearly three months since I last had a cuddle. Since I actually touched a human being. And for many others it's a lot longer than that. Writing it down, it seems incredible that I have survived without this fundamental sense - as all my friends know, I am a tactile person.
But oh my god I miss it. I was watching Normal People on Monday night (it's so achingly good that I am trying to ration myself to just watching it on Mondays so I have something to really look forward to) and as they are touching each other most of the time, it was agony. I had to hug a cushion very hard and pray that it won't be too long before we can have physical contact again.
But it does all add to stress levels in what has to be the most extraordinary time most of us have ever encountered. I'm doing a course on Mental Health First Aid on Friday and as part of that, we will talk about Stress Containers. This is such a brilliant way of describing how we deal with stress that I thought I'd share it with you.
Basically, we all have stress in our lives but some obviously have more than others. The size of this container can be influenced by lots of things - bullying, abuse, being out of work, financial worries, relationship problems, health problems - etc. Those who are more vulnerable to stress have a smaller container, so it fills up quicker.
And when the container overflows, problems start to occur. So we all need to learn ways of turning the tap on so that we can let the stress out. Others the tap gets blocked, and the stress container overflows. It's such a simple idea but, like all the really good concepts, is spot on.
Talking to people we trust is probably one of the best things. Asking for their help. I know some people find it very difficult to ask for help but THIS IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS. It is a sign of STRENGTH that you realise the situation and have the courage to do something about it. That is real bravery. And once you've made that first little step, it all becomes a hell of a lot easier. Believe me, I spent much of my teens and twenties receiving help. I have a degree in it.
I can't speak for others, so I will briefly list my ways of coping. Writing - this helps - my novel, journalism, or a journal. It doesn't matter what you write really. Walking - this is one of my favourite things to do. Reading - nothing like getting lost in a book (other than writing one of course. That is the best thing ever.) Hugs - well, those are off limits at the moment so moving swiftly on, cooking and enjoying new recipes. Eating on your own is bloody boring but I do try and experiment a bit. Planting stuff in tubs: watching things grow. DIY. Helping others I find helps me too. It gives me a sense of purpose and when we're feeling low it's all too easy to lose that sense of purpose and so we feel useless.
And I think lastly it's being kind to myself, as well as others. It's so easy to beat ourselves up because we haven't done anything with the day, because we lack motivation, because our confidence has crashed. We're feeling really low. We feel really stuck in our lives, a failure, can't see the way ahead. (I've been through this all too.) But really we all need to cut ourselves a bit of slack. And try and turn a negative into a positive. For instance, instead of 'I didn't sleep last night, try thinking, 'I had a bit of a wakeful night but I read for a bit and listened to the radio and eventually I dozed off again'. This takes a bit of practice but it really does help.
Celebrate the small things - getting out of bed is a good start. Talk to or ring someone who will make you feel better (some don't as we all know). Write an email to a friend or send a text. Having a walk. A bike ride. A swim. When you feel rubbish, celebrate the small stuff. But please, if you need help, take a deep breath, and ASK. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Wednesday, 13 May 2020
Anyway, as I was saying, I decided to give my hair a quick snip last night before going to bed. And no, I was quite sober in case you're wondering. The last time I did it, about four weeks ago, I didn't make too much of a mess of it, so I set to last night with a snip snip here and a snip snip there. I have to say rumpled chicken came to mind when I washed and brushed what was left of my hair. Oh well, I thought. There's no one to see it and it will grow. It's just a question of what it will look like when I grow it out. And there's a lot more grey, I noticed. But I can't do anything about that either so - onwards, dear reader.
The good news is that I finally finished the first draft of my novel on Friday and as a result was shattered all weekend. But a good sort of shattered. Not an Am I Sick sort of shattered. (Though of course that did occur to me as well.) So I'm giving myself a few days off before starting on Draft Two. And once more being everlastingly grateful that I have this world of mine to escape to.
Today, as we know, we have more freedom to go out and walk which is music to my ears. What is not music is the fact that people can drive as far as they want, so those of us in Cornwall are terrified that some may think they can come down to Cornwall on holiday or to their second homes. PLEASE DON'T. We would love to see you when it's safe to do so but it really is not right now. There are no camp sites, pubs, restaurants or cafes open either, so there would be nothing to do when you did get here. So please stay away for the moment.
But if you're planning a holiday towards the end of the year, or live here anyway, and would like some inspiration, I am having a lockdown sale of 10% off all my books. I keep stock here to sell when I do talks but all my talks have been cancelled for obvious reasons. So now is a good time to plan what walks you would like to do, inspired perhaps by your favourite authors. (Not me - I refer to Winston Graham, Du Maurier, Rosamunde Pilcher and many others.)
On that note, I see it's clouding over. But the forecast is set fair for the next five days. So enjoy the weather but please keep safe, be careful and keep well.
Friday, 8 May 2020
This is both a good and a bad thing. It makes lockdown more bearable, but it also means I am withdrawing from everything that is good for me on a social level. But then, so are many others, and if anything makes lockdown a little easier, that's no bad thing.
But I digress. The first thing to say is that I have finished the first edit of my novel. This has been a huge amount of work and I have loved it. It gives me focus, a reason to get up in the morning. It is an escape and keeps me sane. So for that I am so grateful. And, after this weekend is over, I shall start on Edit Two where I shall look more at the actual writing rather than the structure of the novel which was what I have been addressing. It's a times like this that I am so thankful to be a writer. In the absence of a partner by my side, or physical friends, it is wonderful to have them in my head.
A common question floating around at the moment is, What will you do once lockdown measures are more relaxed? As in, what have you learned? Well, I've always been busy, with work and socially. Obviously the busy-ness is much less these days but I have a structure to my day which I think helps a lot. And while I have no social life, other than on the phone or Zoom, it made me realise that I want to do more with my life and at the same time less.
Yesterday I helped out a friend who lives upstairs and as a thank you she bought me a copy of a gardening magazine, which contained a booklet offering free access to lots of gardens (not much good at the moment, but hopefully one day in the not too distant future) and SIX PACKETS OF SEEDS. I can't describe how delighted I was - and still am.
SO I started sowing some seeds, leaving the rest for another day. I had just finished typing the last words of my edit and wanted to save more of this planting treat for later. I've had a look at the magazine and also the brochure, seeing what gardens I might like to visit. One day. To be honest I've never been a great one for gardens - I prefer striding out to inspecting flowers, but I do love the colour and brightness that they bring to a day, and I get beyond excited when I see shoots coming up.
Which just goes to show that it really is the little things that matter. But then, when you think of it, growing things is pretty big stuff anyway. From a flash of an idea comes a novel. From a rough piece of timber comes a boat. From a seed comes a flower, a plant or a tree.
So here's to the little things in life. May they become strong and grow tall.
Wednesday, 29 April 2020
I've always been an avid reader since the age of four. My parents both read a lot so it was as natural to me as breathing. I've always, also, read too fast. I'd love to be one of those people who savour books, but I can't. If I'm enjoying it, I have to tear through the next page, and the one after that.... and if I'm not enjoying it, I'm afraid I skip bits.
But my appalling reading habits haven't stopped a lifelong love of books. When the libraries announced they were closing for lockdown, I took out ten books, knowing that wouldn't last me long. But to my surprise, I find I've still got a high To Be Read List, healthily enabled by various friends.
Anne texted a few weeks ago to say she'd got Tom's Midnight Garden, a childhood favourite of both of ours and would I like it? YES! I'd told her I was re-reading several childhood books for comfort reading - Susanna of the Mounties being one. Which was just as good as I remember, and beautifully old fashioned, being written in the 1920s. So Anne dropped it round, while walking her dog round the block.
Last week she texted to say she'd got two more for me, so this time I took Moll round there. It's so lovely to actually talk to someone, face to face, albeit from two metres. Cheers my day up no end. This time she lent me Sweet Caress by William Boyd, which I'd read some time ago - the true story of Amory Cade, one of the first women war photographers. It's so well written and useful research for my novel, which features a young photographer. I couldn't put this book down, and as I'm going through a phase of walking at 3/4am for a few hours, it's lovely having something good to read to while away the wee hours.
I'm half way through Tom's Midnight Garden, which I find good for reading at night. it's not overly exciting and beautifully written, full of imagery and time travelling magic. And inscribed by the seven year old Anne, which makes it all the more special.
Corinne lent me several French text books as well as The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell, a fabulous writer whose books I will always read. And Fiona dropped round Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo - another amazing writer.
So, along with another pile of books for my book group, I'm OK for a few weeks. This might not be a big deal for some people but for me not having enough books is like telling a smoker she's run out of fags (I was one, I know how terrifying this is).
So thank you, all my other book loving friends, for enabling my escapism during lockdown. It is much appreciated.
Thursday, 23 April 2020
Nowadays, and particularly when you live on your own, such instances are to be treasured. And this blog is due to a sharp reminder from Izz. "Are you OK?" she said, as we walked our dogs along North Parade - at a safe distance. "I haven't seen your blog for ages, and I thought, of my God, what's happened?"
I reassured her that I was OK, but I wasn't really sure what to say. Life ticks on, the days are curiously full - though I have in part my novel to thank for that. I never thought that anorexia would be a welcome release....! I collect the odd prescription, explore new solitary walks, learn French, do my counselling course, talk to friends on the phone, paint and cook.
I am not one of these people who can sit and watch television for long. Thirty minutes is about my limit. I wish I could just get stuck into a good box set, but I do find it very difficult to sit still and concentrate - unless it's my own book of course. So I keep busy.
I am learning new skills. At least, that's going a bit far. I have cut my hair and Moll's, though I have had marginally more success with Moll's than my own. Moll has been terrified of groomers all her life, and she got so stressed that the last groomer (a very mature lady who's been doing it for 30 years), said she didn't think she should do it any more as she was frightened of hurting her. This was about six months ago - maybe longer, so you can imagine how long her coat has been getting.
For Easter she was given some dog treats from Lidls and god knows what are in these but she ADORES them. I mean, she's one of the greediest dogs I've met but these are the heroin of dog treats, if you'll excuse the mixed metaphor. So I thought I'd have a go at cutting her hair. I balanced a bit of one on my knee and snipped away carefully while she shook with anticipated delight at the prospect of this injection of delight. So focused was she that she didn't notice hair going missing.
I repeated this over about a week - which meant that she looked really weird when half of her was cut and the other half not - but we're just about there now. Apart from her bum, and who wants that interfered with? And she looks so much better and lighter in this warmth. Her spots show through and she is, I think, happier. And I'm £30 better off - and it means I can carry on doing it. So that's one bonus out of this strange time.
Like all - or most of us - I miss my friends. I am lucky in HAVING so many friends. I miss daily companionship. I miss cuddles. I miss walks and a coffee with my mates most of all. I try not to cry when others say that they are really rather enjoying this time. I try not to be jealous. I have my Moll. And for the moment, that's just how it is. I am so much luckier than so many. And I try never to forget that.
Monday, 13 April 2020
Several weeks ago I read a piece written by an Italian journalist about what she'd learned from living in lockdown. One of the things I remember her writing was that you will find that some friends aren't who you thought, while the opposite can be true. I had an example of this last week when talking to several friends I've known well for many years, some of whom are married and have family living with them and were saying how lovely it was to all be together, have barbecues, great for the kids to be getting on so well etc etc.
Each word, in that last conversation, felt like a punch in the guts. I pointed out, eventually, that it wasn't so much fun when you're living on your own and don't have a partner, or children. (And for the many, many people who ARE banged up with family and/or a partner they really don't want to be with. For those who have lost their business, who aren't able to pay the rent, bills, and all the other terrible things that people are having to go through.)
My point was entirely lost, and so I ended the conversation feeling bruised, lonely and miserable. And while I am really happy that several of my friends are enjoying this situation - I think that's great - it doesn't make me feel any less lonely and isolated to hear about it. So please, when talking to friends who are less fortunate than you, please be careful. We are all anxious, over sensitive and downright wobbly right now.
To counteract that, providing inspiration on Easter Sunday, The Reunion on BBC Radio Four, featured John McCarthy, Terry Waite, Brian Keenan and Jill Morrell. For those that don't know, the three men were held hostage in Beirut for many years before being released, and I was working at WTN (where John worked) shortly after he was taken hostage, so I knew Jill Morrell and the awful uncertainties she lived through. I would advise anyone to listen to this brilliant piece of radio - it was full of gentle humour, incredible bravery, and showed the deep love and respect they all had for each other. When we're chafing at the bit about lockdown, think about being locked in a cell for four years with no one to talk to, no radio, no books - nothing. As Brian Keenan said, "We belong to an elite club, and Jill is an honorary member" which I thought was such a beautiful thing to say.
And finally, to also counteract these wobbly times, what are you reading? I have been dipping into old childhood favourites of my mother's. Susanna of the Mounties by Muriel Denison - what a joy! Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery. I think A Traveller in Time will be next - any other suggestions?
Hope you're keeping well and safe everyone. Take care, please.
Monday, 30 March 2020
I really miss our morning walk, but figure that I'd rather have something to look forward to later on in the day, so we have our walk in the afternoon and Moll has found this equally confusing - dogs like habits but she is adjusting, bless her.
I have started preparing the walls of my back yard ready for painting - which badly needs doing - and it will be a lot brighter as a result even if I can only go up to as far as I can reach. It's also been good for me as when my friends upstairs are also outside painting, we can have good chats at a safe distance - they're up a flight of steps on the next level. So I've had a bit of company on those days which is good.
Otherwise, thank god I have the novel to work on, although some days that's hard. In fact, everything is hard but it is for all of us. As has been said before, this is a great leveller.
One good thing to have come out of it is that although I couldn't get to see my Mum - the lockdown came in force just as I was about to go up, but she'd already said No I'd rather you didn't come - I am ringing her every other day which seems to really cheer her up. I sent her flowers last week instead of for Mother's Day which was a much nicer surprise (she did get a card on The Day) and she rang last night, absolutely delighted. I suppose since we're all isolated now, for some reason this has broken down barriers between us.
Since Pip died, and being involved with someone who was away a lot, I was very aware of not having a partner around all the time, compared to my brothers who have both been married for a long time. (And of not having children but we won't delve into that Pandora's Box.) Now all that is irrelevant. You could say that while I don't have company as I would if I had a partner living here, at least I have lots of friends to talk to when I want to. So while I am alone it is a very different sort of alone-ness to missing being with someone, if that makes sense.
The divorce rate in China has rocketed over the past few months - no surprises there - and I know of at least one good friend who would rather not be in lockdown with the person she's with. So at least I don't have that problem.
And yes, I wish sincerely that I did have someone to go through this with, but life isn't like that at the moment so we have to make the best of what we have. I can look out of the window at fabulous views. Spring is really on its way. I can dream of the walks I will do when we are safe to go out freely again. I can walk to the castle or the seafront. And I am learning to like myself more. As a wonderful veteran said on the radio this morning, "If you can't get on with yourself, who else can?"
I know the coming weeks and months will be very testing. We will all be going stir crazy at times, frightened and angry and frustrated, lonely and miserable. But maybe some of us will learn more about ourselves, which could be interesting.
I'm wondering what lessons we will learn from this time? Or will we just go back to how we were before? It will be interesting to see, long term.