Saturday 30 June 2007

H - h - h - handkerchiefs

Another outing with our elderly friend James, who we took to his favourite cafĂ© for coffee and cakes. He wanted to have a good talk about his daughter as he feels she isn’t doing as much as she might, and he's understandably very hurt. (As we and his neighbours do his shopping and generally look after him, I would say that she could do a lot more for her dad, but it’s difficult for us to say anything.)

Bless him, each conversation takes ages because he forgets what he was trying to say, or can’t find the words, and we have to guess what he’s trying to say. It’s like playing charades where you have to decide whether it’s a film, a play or a TV show – and then guess each syllable after that.

When he gets stuck, he has a sip of coffee and another mouthful of cake - regretfully they didn’t have their wonderfully sticky flapjack but the banana and walnut cake came a good second best. This gives him thinking time until he can formulate what he’s trying to say next. So the conversation is full of gaps where we either speak or don’t, and try and work out what he’s trying to say. I don’t know who it’s more frustrating for – him or us.

In the car, we asked if James would like to stop to do any shopping on the way home.
‘Yes, please. I’d like to stop there,’ he said, pointing to the newsagent as we went past. ‘I need to get some – (pause) – some (another pause) – six –’

‘Six what, James?’

‘Six - six - six - paintings.’

This had us flummoxed. I was thinking paintings, papers, what does he mean?

‘No, I er I don’t mean paintings, I mean –’ yet another pause. ‘Six –’

We sat there with baited breath. ‘Six – h-h-‘

I tried to think of something – anything that began with H that you might get from a newsagent. I couldn’t.

‘Handkerchiefs!’ he cried triumphantly.

Friday 29 June 2007

So nearly a star...

Yesterday my friend Sue and I walked our dogs through the deeply muddy woods round the reservoir and commiserated on our weeks – my inability to write anything lucrative, her problems with pets: one of their rabbits died and the family are all in deep mourning, particularly the children.

However, she had to go and see a client who had nine jobs to offer, and duly set off, arriving at a huge mansion with those big black gates you see in films. Picture CCTV, razor wire looped over the high brick perimeter walls, and behind the gates were two massive Dobermans, but these were American Doberman; half as big again as the ones we get over here.

Being a wimp, I would have turned tail and run, but Sue is made of sterner stuff and was rescued from the jaws of death by The Boss who took her on a guided tour of his estate. This covered several hundred acres and housed a variety of tarantulas, six Arab horses and several birds of prey.
‘How big – like buzzards?’ said Sue, her voice rising to a squeak.
‘Bigger,’ came the reply.

At this point she cursed the fact that she didn’t have a mobile phone and wondered if she was going to get out alive. The children would be motherless, her dear husband sobbing over her coffin – and all because she'd been torn to pieces by a buzzard the size of a house, or at the very least as big as a vulture.

‘What did he do?’ I asked, ever nosy and beginning to wish that I’d gone. I could have taken notes, put him in the next book.

‘He said he made horror films,’ Sue said. ‘Hence the tarantulas and things – oh yes, and rats.’ I gulped here. I really don’t like rats. Neither did Sue by the look of her face. ‘But he said they don’t harm the animals,’ she said, looking faintly green. ‘They just run across the set.’

At this point Sue said she looked down at her feet, wondering if any vermin were going to shoot across the floor, and tried to find out more about this man. It turned out that he’d made a lot of money out of these films and asked if Sue liked that sort of thing.

‘I’ve shivered behind the sofa with the rest of them,’ she said, diplomatically. (I’ve watched one horror film in my life and that was one too many. Couldn’t sleep for weeks.)

Delighted, Mr Hammer Horror then gave her several videos to take home – three lots of trilogies – so she has her viewing cut out for the next few weeks. He also mentioned he’d had the likes of Christopher Lee over for the weekend – they flew over in their helicopters. As you do.

At this point, Sue got a whiff of Stardom. ‘I thought he might want me in his next film,’ she said. ‘So I pursed my lips and looked at him, sort of like this.’ She made a Marilyn Munroe type pout. ‘But he took no notice.’

‘They usually have a ravishingly attractive woman in horror films,' I said, remembering the trailer I saw for King Kong.

‘That's what I thought,’ she said thoughtfully. ‘After all, I’ve got experience. I’ve been in Oliver.’

Sadly at that point his phone rang and he had to go. And she was so close to being famous…....

Thursday 28 June 2007

The Lure of the Sea

This is why I'd buy Himself another boat, if I could.

When I first met him, my 56 year old husband slept on a wooden shelf in his workshop, surrounded by gardening machinery. His bed was a foam offcut, reached via a ladder, and he had a lamp for reading at night. It was April and bitterly cold, but he wasn’t fazed by such hardships. He’d spent much time at sea, so wasn’t used to creature comforts, and he needed to be near a phone because his mother was very ill. (This was before the days of mobiles.) Compared to his principle residence, the workshop had all mod cons: an outside toilet, phone, electricity, gas fire and even an electric frying pan.
His principal residence was White Heather, a one hundred year old wooden working boat (oyster fishing boat) moored on the river Fal in Cornwall. I spent most weekends on this 32 foot beauty getting to know one man and his boat, though much wooing took place in the nearby pub, a mere staggering distance from White Heather.
“I’ll teach you how to make toast,” my new man said one morning, “in return for sex.” An interesting chat up line, I thought, and one that I hadn’t heard before. (I ate a lot of toast from then on.)
Cooking aboard took place by means of a single gas ring lodged on a lump of cast iron ballast. The toaster was a piece of wire bent into a diamond shape and attached to a stick; anything else was cooked in sequence, in a variety of saucepans. For example, in order to cook curry (his favourite meal), he cooked the meat in one pan, then removed it from the heat with a plate on top to keep it warm while he cooked the rice. (Note who did the cooking.)
We slept on narrow bunks either side of a table he’d made from planks of old pine, and spent many an evening eating, drinking and arguing from the light of a tilley lamp. Next to the lamp stood a narrow silver vase, found at low tide in the thick mud below White Heather. By the time I arrived, every Friday evening, he had filled this vase with wild flowers.
Living aboard a boat with no heads (toilets to landlubbers) was something I soon got used to. The bucket and chuck it facility was used. This was a small price to pay for being woken by a blackbird, stamping his feet on deck, demanding breakfast.
“Look,” this man would say, pushing open the hatch to reveal a low mist lying on the river, a few swans and ducks sailing past serenely. “Boats bring you closer to nature, to life itself.”
“Living on a boat is being part of a living thing,” he continued. “It’s always moving, tugging at the tether, urging you to go. Who could say that about a house?”
One of the first difficulties I encountered living aboard was negotiating the gangplank. (This is more difficult when sober.) At high tide the long, ridged gangway would slope down onto the grassy bank and the water below lurked, dark and uninviting.
“It’s quite easy,” he would call from the safety of the deck. “Just don’t look down.”
But it was impossible not to, and I would take a deep breath and think of sailors walking to their death. At low tide the gangplank was a sheer walkway only negotiable by those with steel nerves or, as I discovered, by sitting on my bum and inching my way down. I was soon cured of such unseamanlike gestures and took to walking the plank like the rest of them.
I became so used to the constant rocking movement aboard that it wasn’t until I returned to my landlubber’s existence in the week that I realised its absence. When I lay in bed at night, only my head felt as if it were moving: the pillow stayed still. You either love or hate this feeling, but it can be quite comforting, provided the rocking is of manageable proportions.
A trip to the launderette proved expensive. The nearest laundry was at the marina in Falmouth, which just happens to have a bar. Of course we never had the right change for the washing machines, so we had to purchase a few drinks in order to get the correct money. Then we had to wait while the clothes were washed. Another round. A dash downstairs to sort washing and put it into the tumble dryers, and we had to wait another half hour. Whose round was it this time? And so on.
I soon met other people who lived afloat. An artist in the nearby yacht basin lived aboard a Dutch barge, furnished with incredible antiques. She had moved down from London to study at Falmouth College of Arts, and relished the peace and quiet of the creek. “The only problem is cabin fever,” she said. “You know – lack of space. I have to go out in the dinghy, row for hours and then I feel much better.”
Tristram Hollingsworth, who lives aboard a 40 foot gaff cutter in Gweek, had no regrets. “I moved from London ten years ago and have spent the last ten years afloat,” he said. “The transition of lifestyle must be experienced to be appreciated. You can feel a storm approaching, smell the rain and experience a warm front passing through. There is an abundance of wildlife; visiting swans looking for titbits, the shrill of seabirds on the ebbing tide, curlews at dawn and egrets in the evening. All these nuances of nature are lost to those ensconced behind concrete and double glazing.”
Boats also provide independence: the freedom to move around when and where you want. To many people, the concept of living in a house is too restricting, too claustrophobic. Why be tied down by rules and regulations, when you can cast off and be in France, the Isles of Scilly or indeed anywhere, in no time?
This is a fundamental issue for those who feel they are not meant to live on land. “Stop for a moment in a house and you hear nothing, feel nothing,” my husband says. “It’s a quiet reminder of our own mortality. But live on a boat and you experience life itself.”

First published in Classic Boat March 2007

Wednesday 27 June 2007

Cut off my hair and call me shorty

I’ve been shorn. I didn’t mean to come out looking like a bloke, but staring back at me from the mirror is someone with No Hair.

Himself hates it when I go to the hairdresser as he likes my hair as long as possible. He said, ‘Don’t have it cut – I love it like a gooseberry bush.’

I think you can probably guess the gist of my reply, and as I was feeling fed up with the endless rain which seems to have seeped into my head, rendering me incapable of writing anything likely to earn me any money at the moment, I thought I’d be adventurous. My confidence seems to have been washed away by all this wet stuff, and I needed to cheer myself up. That's what Himself suggested, anyway.

Jill, my hairdresser, looked at me and narrowed her eyes and said, ‘how about going shorter? Much shorter?’

I should have realised by the word ‘much’ that she had Drastic Measures in mind, but as I trust her and she does cut my hair well, I agreed. Soon we were talking about her upcoming holiday in France, when she and her husband are going round France on motorbikes for 10 days. As she’s the same age as me (fast approaching 50) I think this is terrific, and I’d had to remove my glasses as she couldn’t cut my hair with them on, so I couldn’t really see what was going on.

Twenty minutes later, I looked up blearily and thought Oh Shit. I put on my glasses. That was worse. I looked down at the floor and saw a mass of dark curls lying like dead commas on the floor. Oh My God. I summoned a smile and said, ‘Thanks, Jill,’ in a breezy, this-is-fine sort of way and got up. More lifeless curls hit the floor. I stumbled towards the desk, paid and drifted out, feeling faint. And cold around the head.

The arrangement was that I’d ring Himself when I had finished in town so he could pick me up in order to walk the dog.

‘How’s the hair?’ he said.
‘It’s rather short,’ I said, falteringly. ‘As in, Very Short.’
‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Well, if it’s too short I’ll drive straight past. Me and the dog will go somewhere else.’
I laughed as if I knew he was joking (was he?) and went outside to wait for him. Just in case, I put my hood up.

When he picked me up, he pulled back the hood, then looked at my face, by this time ashen I would think. ‘Not much you can do about it now, Flowerpot,’ he said. ‘Anyway, don’t worry. It’ll grow.’

Which is what I keep telling myself every time I look in the mirror. How long before I stop looking like a boy? Do I buy a hat? Get hair extensions? Hibernate? What shall I do?

When I told Himself that I was having problems writing (work related stuff) this week, he nodded thoughtfully. ‘You need some time off,’ he said. ‘You’re probably like that fellow – who was it - who lost all his strength when he had his hair cut?’

‘Samson. Thanks, darling.’

Tuesday 26 June 2007

Narcotics Anonymous

As an ex-smoker, I’m afraid (to all you smokers) that I’m very glad the smoking ban is coming in on Sunday. Himself, however, thinks it’s scandalous. ‘Everyone should be allowed to smoke in a pub,’ he said. ‘You can’t just impose that sort of ban on everyone.’ Although, of course, that’s precisely what has happened.

If I was still smoking, I’d be jumping. But having spent the last 11 years avoiding smoky places, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be given the chance to enjoy going to those places now. It means that if I do, I don’t have to come home with my hair and clothes reeking. Himself thinks that smokers will now set up smoking dens – houses where people can go and drink and smoke to their hearts content. It’ll be interesting to see.

That got me thinking about other drugs. I’d class music as a drug – it’s addictive, it keeps me (and Himself) awake at nights, it’s mind altering (good music really does make me feel I can fly) and once a tune gets stuck in your head, it’s hell trying to get rid of it. (I currently have Supertramp’s Breakfast in America running round my head, having found the tape in the car last week.)

I did my share of illicit drugs when I was growing up. Not much but enough to realise that I didn’t want to make a habit of it. (Sorry, puns seem to be tripping off my fingers today.)

I had a boyfriend who was a criminal lawyer who had access to a lot of white stuff. It wasn’t a good idea, as it made him impossible to live with. But he tried to interest me in the stuff, so we did a few lines before meeting friends in the pub one night. I got to the pub and started sneezing. And sneezing. We were invited back to the friends for a meal and I couldn’t stop sneezing. In fact, I sneezed all night and finally had to be put to bed, worn out. Believe me, sneezing for 5 or 6 hours is not fun. Chris was concerned, but more pissed off at the World’s Most Expensive Sneeze.

I’ve never been that keen on drugs, though. I’m quite hyper enough without any artificial stimulants – I can’t even drink caffeine any more. But I was talking to a friend yesterday about narcotics, and that reminded me of a time in hospital when I was given a truth drug.
‘Whatever for?’ said my mate, her eyes growing larger.
‘They couldn’t figure out what had made me stop eating, and I didn’t trust anyone enough to tell them. So they said they’d give me this drug “to help me talk about my problems”. I was terrified, actually – I remember that. What an invasion of privacy! It’d be illegal now.’
‘I should think so. So what happened?’ she said, gulping the last of her coffee.
I thought back. ‘In retrospect it was quite funny. ‘By the time the day arrived, I was determined that I wouldn’t tell ANYONE ANYTHING.’ I laughed. ‘So I was taken into a room full of shrinks and nurses all ready to take notes, and had the injection,’
‘- And?’
‘I fielded all the questions with the skill of an ace cricketer, and finally they gave up. I was high as a kite for the rest of the day, ended up doing the Can Can on the ward tables that evening, and was still on the ceiling at around midnight. They decided they’d had enough then, gave me several horse pills and that knocked me out. I lost about half a stone that day.’
‘Not surprised,’ said my mate. ‘But what a waste – just think, you could have worked for MI5. No one could get any information out of you!’

And now I know where I’ve gone wrong all my life. I should be an undercover agent…..

Monday 25 June 2007

I've been memed

I have been memed, by several people, apparently, which means I have to answer the following questions – or so I believe. I could have got this completely wrong.

What was I doing ten years ago?
Living in a very damp bungalow in Falmouth with Himself and a very lovely old cat called Cyd (as in Charisse), but other than that I have no idea. Can’t remember details of that far back.

What was I doing one year ago?
According to my diary I was having a mammoth walk with Mollie and my Swedish friend, round the coastal footpath. (Does anyone really want to know this? And why did I write it in my diary?)

5 snacks I enjoy
Toast with peanut butter and blackcurrant jam. I have that for breakfast quite often
Cashew nuts
Leftovers – cold, from the fridge

5 songs to which I know all the lyrics
Nearly all the songs in Oliver! – I’ve just been in the musical and loved it. Sang them all day and every day (and night) for months till word perfick.
My Fair Lady – most of them
Most of Supertramp
Ditto Mary Chapin Carpenter

5 things I’d do if I was a millionaire
Buy Himself a boat and a plane (he has expensive taste which is unfortunate given our circumstances)
Give money to my brothers
Give money to my friends
Buy a house with a garden for Mollie
Buy a campervan

5 bad habits
Making snap judgements which are invariably wrong
Crying too easily (is that a bad habit?)
Not looking at the Overall Picture

5 things I like doing
Getting lost in a good book – preferably one I’m writing
Walking Mollie with a friend on a sunny day/exploring Cornwall with her and Him
Going to the cinema with friends/meeting friends for drink
Snuggling on the sofa with Himself and Moll, watching a good film
Laughing/making others laugh
Singing – I know that’s 6 but it’s important. And there are lots of other things I enjoy doing. But with good singing, I feel I’m flying.

5 things I’ll never wear again
Polo necks – hate them
High heels – had to stop wearing them in my 20s
Power suits – any suits, come to that

Well, that stretched the brain cells..... is it really of any interest? Mind you, it's what I do when I'm working on characters for a novel, so am sure others' memes will come up with some excellent character traits.....

Sunday 24 June 2007

Musical Dearloves

Himself discovered the missing photo of the jazz band about five minutes before we left to go to Penzance. He stood rather sheepishly in the door holding it, waiting for me to look up from the article I was reading.

‘It was on top of the wardrobe,’ he said. (This is the only storage in our one bedroom flat so I was a little surprised he hadn’t looked there already.) He smiled his I’m-just-a-lovable-little-boy-smile and those blue eyes glinted. ‘You’re exonerated.’ At which point I threw the newspaper at him.

We finally made it to the Musical Evening after a few false starts. First we forgot the strawberries, then, half way to Penryn, he said, ‘have you got the phone?’ Note The Phone. Not Your phone, or My phone.
It turned out that we had to ring them five minutes before arriving as Penzance was very busy and they’d kept us a parking space. In fact I did have My Phone but I didn’t have our cousins number on it, so that meant another U turn to get our address book.

Finally we got there on a sunny June evening with St Michael’s Mount looking like the castle in Sleeping Beauty, all gracious and sun kissed, instead of being wrapped in the usual clouds of rain. Our cousins have a house in the middle of the town, in one of the oldest squares with houses overlooking Mounts Bay. It’s pure magic, right out of an Elizabeth Goudge book (just to mix metaphors).

Having fed and watered us (or wined us in my case: Himself volunteered to drive), we settled down to listen to some of David’s recordings from the last sixty odd years. I can shamelessly namedrop now, on his behalf, for he has written music and lyrics with the likes of John Dankworth, Dudley Moore, Ralph McTell and many others. In fact, he gave Ralph McTell the contacts to get going in the music business.

So we had several hours of listening to some very old recordings of a very young John Dankworth and Cleo Laine performing and singing some of David’s songs, with Dudley on the piano and Ralph accompanying some other songs. What an incredible talent. I can string a few words together, but how you do that to music is utterly beyond me. Even more difficult – how do you write the lyrics and then write the music?

I take my hat off to David. To have produced such a consistently high standard of music, for so long, is one hell of an achievement. And to cap it all, he has the most wonderful surname. Dearlove. I’d love a name like that.

Saturday 23 June 2007

Bothered and Bewildered

We saw our elderly friend James yesterday, who was thrown into a stuttering panic by the unexpected arrival of his doctor, and was further confused when we turned up. We asked if he wanted any shopping done, or anything mended (everything’s falling apart in his house).
‘Ah – yes,’ he said and took us into the kitchen where he’d been trying to get the video to work.
At that point the doctor left, and the phone rang. This was evidently too much and poor James got into an even worse state on the phone, waving at me frantically. I thought he couldn’t hear because of the noise of the TV, and tried to turn it down. No luck. James waved even more frantically so I went over.
‘Who are you?’ he shouted. ‘What’s your name?’
I told him and he shouted the information down the phone before returning to the kitchen. ‘You look bewildered,’ he said, putting a comforting hand on my shoulder.
I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry, but opted for the former.

Himself finally got the video working and we were about to leave when one of the cats walked in. I was horrified – she was so thin and scraggy, and he’s always adored his cats. I found some catfood and put down a large plateful which she tucked into with relish. James came and stood beside me, looked down at the cat.
‘She’s very thin,’ I said.
‘She’s very thin. The cat.’
James looked down at the floor and seemed puzzled, but whether because he hadn’t noticed the cat, or hadn’t noticed how thin she was, I wasn’t sure. ‘Oh,’ he said blankly.
I’d love to have both cats, or even just one, but two animals in a one bedroom flat is pushing it, I think. Added to which, I don’t expect Buster and Mollie would welcome Intruders, so I rang his neighbours to ask if they’d keep an eye on the cats. As they don’t like cats I feel this is a bit of a liberty, but what else can I do?

Having fixed everything that needed fixing, it was time to go and poor James looked Harrowed, so I suggested he should have his afternoon rest. He insisted on seeing us off, and as we got into the car, he stood there looking like a little boy and said, ‘You must curse me.’
We comforted him, but I felt that words were inadequate. So what do you say? How do you help someone whose brain is in such turmoil?

Writing fiction, it’s vitally important to get inside your character’s head in order to be able to write convincingly. This is always a challenge, but I dread to think what’s going on inside poor James’s head. It must be so frightening not to be able to communicate. As we drove off, I thought, how does he survive in a world without access to the right words?

On that note I must go and help search. Himself has lost a photograph of an old jazz band he was in and had promised to take it to cousins this evening where we are having a Musical Evening. The photograph went missing after Himself took it out of its frame weeks ago (why the hell did he do that in the first place?). Of course he can't find it now and has been looking since 8am. As you can imagine, tempers are somewhat Short by now and it is, of course, all my fault.

'It's gone,' he cried. 'You've thrown it away.'

Note he has absolved any responsibility for this and now the entire flat has been turned upside down. Oh, for a peaceful life....

Friday 22 June 2007

Falling in Love


I asked Himself this morning why when Mollie was a puppy, he chose her instead of her almost identical sister.

‘Because she had a shorter tail,’ he replied.

That flummoxed me. ‘What’s that got to do with anything?’

‘It’s all about proportion,’ he said. ‘Mollie was just right.’

Though how he could tell that when they were eight weeks old, scampering around a loose box on a farm in the middle of nowhere, I can’t think.

‘Mollie was more adventurous,’ he continued. ‘The other one was rather timid, so I felt Mollie was Just the One. Though the other one had better colouring.’

‘Did she?’ I said. Astonishing how an unobservant man can remember such details in a tiny puppy – and this was two years ago.

‘Yes,’ he said dreamily. ‘The other one had better markings on her body, but more brown on her face. But Mollie was perfect – a bit like you, Flowerpot.’

What a creep. But a nice one.

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Thursday 21 June 2007

Absent Friends

Doom and gloom here in rainy Cornwall. Husband’s appointment to have his tooth fixed so that he can play the trumpet properly has been cancelled as our dentist is ill. Tooth can’t be fixed till Tuesday. This is Bad News for someone who’s waited two months to have it fixed; he’s itching to start playing again so that he can sit in with other bands. TLC has been administered in large doses and he has departed, slightly (but only slightly) mollified.

During a long, hot flushed night, I started thinking about a friend I met over 20 years ago in hospital. (I know where to meet people.) She’d just tried to commit suicide following the breakup of her first marriage and was talking to no one, but I must have sensed some kinship there as I said, ‘do you like cats?’ We’re talking high social skills here.
‘Yes,’ she replied. And so a friendship was born.

Sandra had trained as a nurse, then decided that she wanted to become a pilot. In order to get cheap flying lessons she had to belong to London Transport, so she took her LGV licence and became a bus driver. It wasn’t a job that she enjoyed much, and on one occasion she left the bus in the middle of the Kings Road, to the outrage of her passengers.

Still, she achieved her purpose, which was to get her Private Pilots Licence, and she then went on to get her commercial licence, and gained flying experience in such places as Papua New Guinea. This meant that her darling cat Cyd moved in with me. Initially the arrangement was for six months but as Sandra didn’t reappear for 18 months, by that time Cyd had decided she was going to stay with me and Sandra could bugger off. We had a very soulful evening discussing adoption rights.

Eventually Sandra got a job with an international airline that shall remain nameless where she got the sack. She sued them for unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination and a massive rumpus followed, court cases were flung across the globe and Sandra and her family were dogged by reporters camped out on doorsteps. Eventually they agreed to settle out of court and Sandra disappeared to America.

Being an extremely attractive woman, she was never short of admirers, but some were dodgy, to put it politely. At one point she was seeing a man in Scotland who had offered to set her up in business, had Bentleys etc., always took her to the smartest restaurants – but always declined to meet me. I saw her off at Kings Cross one lunch hour when she travelled up to Scotland to beard him in his den (she had a sniff that Something was Up) and found that he had a wife and children up there. The moral of this story, never trust a man who won’t meet your best mate.

Months – sometimes years - would go by without me seeing her, then she would ring and we’d meet up, pick up the pieces as if she’d never been away. At some point while her court case was going on, she met a lovely man in America, and they eventually married. She was determined that I go and stay with them in Florida (he worked at NASA) and rang me at work, insisting that I go for a specific date.
‘Why?’ I said.
‘Because it’s the shuttle launch,’ she said casually.
Well, I had to go for that, didn’t I?

That was the last time I saw her. We kept in touch for a while but she wanted me to move out there, and I wasn’t keen on the idea. When Cyd died I sent her a postcard, and she rang up one day, from London. She was studying for more exams, she said, but I must have sounded a bit lacklustre: I had bronchitis and was feeling terrible. She never rang again.

I tried on several occasions to get in touch, by phone and letter. I even rang her Mum and asked her to pass on the message. But I never heard from Sandra again.

The other day I was sorting out my desk when I found a beermat from one birthday of mine. On it she wrote, ‘Very many Happy Returns to my Best Mate always. Lots of love Sandra.’

So what went wrong?

Wednesday 20 June 2007

The Moonlighting Masseuse

Reading about the demise of Peter Dally (see previous post) set off a spiral of memories about life in my twenties. I was living in London and, having a short attention span combined with spasmodic trips to Westminster Hospital to be fattened up, I changed jobs at least once a year. You could in those days – work was easy to come by, and you didn't need qualifications. When I didn’t know what to do, I temped, and you could earn good money then.

Towards the end of the 1980s I didn’t have a boyfriend so I had no man problems (for once), my eating problems had settled down (thank God) and I found myself in a long term temp job working for a television news agency called Worldwide Television News, in Foley Street.

I worked on a programme called Roving Report, the staff of which which provided me with a sort of eccentric family – just what I needed at the time. We were all extremely unconventional and therefore regarded as bonkers by the rest of the company, but that never bothered us, and the highlight of the week was, having put the programme to bed, to play word games with Chambers Dictionary before going to the pub.

Mid week things got a bit boring for me – I was the secretary who transcribed tapes and typed up people’s scripts – and I’d developed an interest in massage, so I sloped off to do a bit of moonlighting. My editor was an understanding man, very keen for me to further my life in whatever way I wanted, so he didn’t bother about what I did on Tuesday afternoons when I wasn’t in the office.

I’d done a week long training course near Regents Park which was incredibly hard work and curbed my smoking (no, smoking and massage don’t usually go together). Having survived that, with furtive trips into the bushes for a quick cig, I then did some more training and met another masseuse who persuaded me to join her as a temporary masseuse at the RAC Club in Pall Mall.

Tuesdays was Ladies Day and, being an old fashioned club, they wouldn’t allow women to be massaged by men, thereby ruining most lady members’ Tuesdays. So we were employed – about ten of us would arrive late Tuesday mornings where we had the run of their very cut price canteen before we knuckled down to work. Knuckled being the operative word.

The treatment area seemed huge, as I remember, and was always hot and steamy with various curtained off cubicles for massage to take place, and in the main area was a hot plunge bath, a cold plunge bath and a sauna. There was also a beautiful very old swimming pool with ornate pillars and a gushing fountain – the sort of place where you expected to see Agatha Christie, or Miss Marple off duty. Us workers weren’t supposed to use the pool, but I did sometimes, wearing goggles and a swimming hat in disguise.

I did that job for a season but after a while I got sick of pummelling tubs of lard – that’s what they were known as in the trade. Spoilt fat rich women who came to have their lunchtime calories massaged away by someone else. They might not have been spoilt and rich, of course, but most of them were fat. It was one of my most exhausting jobs but extremely good for the circulation, and because of the steamy atmosphere from the sauna, I never got chilblains that winter.

But after three or four months at the RAC I decided I’d had enough. As an ex-anorexic, working with overweight women was like aversion therapy and I’d had my fill of therapy. But I’ll never forget those moonlighting afternoons, of being roused (more than once) because I’d fallen asleep, worn out, while my next client awaited.

One of my favourite treats is still a good massage. Though you can imagine my husband’s face when I first told him that.

Tuesday 19 June 2007

How do you define charisma?

A few nights ago I had a dream concerning a shrink I saw as a teenager. I was fairly hell bent on getting myself out of boarding school, which I hated and became anorexic. Somewhat drastic measures, but I felt the times were desperate. I ended up in hospital, on and off, for years (I've had my money's worth from the NHS) so I got to know this man quite well.

He had a certain manner, this man, that made you feel very comfortable. He didn’t talk a lot but his eyes smiled at you as he listened. You sensed you could trust him. He had endless patience (he needed it with me) and never turned away anyone in genuine need of help. My mother adored him – not just because he was saving her daughter’s life, but because she found him very attractive.

I haven’t thought about this man for years but I Googled him and found that he died a couple of years ago, from cancer, aged 82. There was a picture of him which gave me a real jolt, not just because it brought back a dark knot of memories that I would much rather forget, but because I realised he had Charisma. Reading on, I found that my mother and I weren’t the only ones who thought so. According to his obit, written by his ex-wife, patients, doctors, parents, nurses – everyone adored him. He was called Peter Dally – have a look and see what you think.

So what is it that makes someone attractive? In his case, he’d had polio and his legs were wasted, one in a caliper, and he had a very bad limp. Not the macho bit then. I think it was his compassion. He was prepared to listen. He was gentle yet utterly firm: no one disagreed with his judgement. Well, not to his face. His bright twinkly blue eyes looked at you as if you were the only person that mattered. His mischievous sense of humour caught you unawares. He had no sense of hierarchy and treated student nurses with the same respect as his senior colleagues.

There was a piece on the news recently saying how important Doing Good was for celebrities nowadays. We want to know that people care, not just that they have a good looking face, or a body to drool over. Thinking about all this has made me realise that Dally’s attributes would make a great checklist for characters in any novel (well, the decent ones).

I had several fallouts with Peter Dally. Terrible arguments. How he put up with me for so long I’ll never understand. But the important thing was that he had faith in me, at a time when I had none in myself. And that’s charisma enough for me.

Monday 18 June 2007

Mothers and Daughters

In a few weeks, my 78 year old mother is having her second hernia operation in 8 months, and she’s asked if we would go up and look after her when she comes out of hospital. Being a very independent person, it’s not just the operation that worries her, because she recovered from the last one very well, but the fact that she can’t lift anything or drive for a month afterwards. She lives 7 miles from the nearest town, and the buses are non-existent, so a car is a must.

For her last operation, her friends rallied and gave great support and she asked if we would (me, Himself and Mollie) would go up for a week. So we took the laptop so I could do some work, and headed up there. It was not a success.

I’m usually a good nurse. When Himself was very ill, I was calm (well, I hid my fear quite well in front of him), patient (not a word usually associated with me) and retained my sense of humour. Mind you, the dear man was extremely appreciative and that goes a long way to keeping a good nurse/patient relationship in my books.
One day, when I’d had to virtually carry him to the GP surgery, he insisted on stopping in town on the way home. He dragged himself off and returned a few minutes later with a big bunch of flowers. See what I mean?

My mother's usually cheerful, very loving, has a good sense of humour, is always interested in other people, and her extreme intelligence shines through. She has a huge army of friends because she cares about her friends and is a good listener, is very good company and looks after her mates.

My mother was none of these things this time, and subsequently was an appalling patient. I daresay I was also an appalling nurse. If it hadn't been for Himself I would have exploded, but every time I was about to BLOW, Himself would intervene and remind me that a) she was my mother, b) she wasn’t well and c) she was probably worried. So I put a lid on it, took several very deep breaths, took the dog for an even longer walk and had a very large glass of wine. Or several.

When she announced her second operation, my heart sank. What a clichĂ©, but it really did sink, lower and lower. For her, because it must be horrible to have to go through all that again, and selfishly, for us. This makes me feel really BAD. I’m a horrible daughter, I don’t love her enough and I shouldn’t be so selfish. I feel horrendously guilty – why am I behaving like this? How would I feel if it was me? But it was such a nightmare last time, how am I going to manage without exploding?

Having talked it over with Himself and a few friends, this is what we think.
She behaved like that because she was scared. In pain. Feeling vulnerable. She was worried she wouldn't recover. And so as not to show her fear in front of me, she became stroppy.

Hopefully she won’t be so worried this time, and if she is, I need to say to her, gently, 'Stop It, Mum,' and give her a big cuddle. Well, a little one so I don’t hurt her stitches.

That is the plan…….

Sunday 17 June 2007

Yo Ho Ho

We went to the Sea Shanty Festival yesterday, making a dash through monsoon type rain down to Custom House Quay in Falmouth where about 12 groups of shanty singers are taking part in an amiable weekend full of tall tales, good natured rivalry and, of course, alcohol to lubricate the singing.

I’d wanted to see our local group, Falmouth Shout, but at their allotted time they were absent, so we got the Wareham Whalers (from Dorset) instead, who were jovial and thirsty, if a bit croaky – it had evidently been a long day. Next on was Rum and Shrub who are very professional (and excellent) singers, and despite the intermittent rain, a good crowd gathered to hear them all.

I’m going to have another go at trying to see Falmouth Shout this afternoon, after walking Moll. As rehearsals for our next musical don’t start till November, I don’t know how I’m going to survive that long with no singing. Apparently there is a meeting in the Famous Barrel in Penryn one night where you can go along and join in, so three of us are going to do that if we can find out when it is.

Another friend went along to it but said that when she started singing, everyone stopped. ‘And you could tell it wasn’t the sort of quiet where everyone was thinking what a wonderful voice I had,’ she said. ‘They sort of glared at me.’
‘Sing a bit quieter,’ hissed her husband.
'I did,' she said, 'but what’s the point of singing if no one can hear you?'
Quite right. (And actually, there's nothing the matter with her voice - they must have been an Off lot that night.)

After a glass of wine yesterday, I was Giving It Stick, as Himself says, and singing out with the rest of them. He suggested that if we had a shanty singing group, we could call it Yo Ho Ho. As he doesn’t really enjoy singing, this is highly unlikely, but I liked the name. ‘Good idea,’ I said. ‘You can be Yo, and Mollie and I will be Ho and Ho.' How we teach Mollie to sing is a different matter. Watch this space….

Saturday 16 June 2007

The Retiring Ballerina

Last night I wept my way through Darcey Bussell’s farewell performance for the second time. In case you didn’t know, Britain’s most famous principal dancer retired last Friday and it was televised live by Channel Four. This marks an era not just in Darcey’s life – she has been a principal dancer of the Royal Ballet for the last 18 years – but in British ballet. Darcey was the last British principal dancer of the Royal Ballet.

Watching her last performance, you could see that the whole time she was dancing she was utterly focused, dancing a ballet she knew well. Once the curtain came down, she collapsed. Watching her I felt a granite rock lodged in my throat as I peered blearily at the television screen. Darcey stood on stage, clutching her side with the sudden and intense pain of realising that she had danced for the last time on that stage. One minute she was the consummate professional, the next an agonised child, panicking, lost. She looked almost naked in her vulnerability, wearing a skimpy Greek tunic, her hair in the typical dancer’s bun.

Retiring while she was at the top of her profession was, as Monica Mason said, a courageous thing to do. I’m sure Darcey won’t regret it, but it must be a massive shock to her daily routine not to have to do class every morning, rehearsals every day, performances most evenings. But she has a family now, and a new business to run, a totally different life to lead. But I’m sure it will catch her, at times when she least expects it, and she’ll itch to be back in that studio, straining her body to achieve perfection. As an artist she must need to create, and having spent over 20 years dancing, no one can brush it off that easily.

The morning after we watched the live performance we were staying with my mother. I thought of Darcey, waking up on her first day as a Non Dancer. I could imagine her sense of relief, of confusion, of unreality. Her worry that she’d done the right thing.

‘I wonder how she’s feeling?’ I said, wiping my own tears away at the thought of it.
‘I expect she’s got a hangover,’ came the crisp reply.

Friday 15 June 2007

The Elderly Retainer


Out walking Mollie yesterday, we tried a new path outside Porth Navas, a small creek along the Helford river. Walking up a long, muddy bridlepath surrounded by acres of ploughed fields, we looked through a gap in the hedge and there was this elegant granite farmhouse. Was it the inspiration for Navron, the house in Frenchman's Creek? It was the right part of Cornwall, after all. I gasped, could see the Frenchman striding across the graceful lawns at ten at night to meet Donna for a secret dinner. I could see the candlelight flickering, see the trusty William smiling in the shadowy hall.

We walked round the corner, and I crept up to the garden, beautifully manicured lawns, flowerbeds carefully maintained, but no one in sight. No sign of Donna, or her noisy children, or the sulky nurse. I couldn't hear the Frenchman in the distance, working on La Mouette in the sleepy creek.

No cars, no four wheel drives, no one. The empty silence of a June afternoon. Heat steaming from the hot earth.

I looked round, edging forward, and came face to face with a large, elderly fox who shrugged.
'Pah,' he said, 'this is my house. What are you doing here?' and continued his leisurely stroll towards the hedge.

This wasn't in the Du Maurier script and I looked round, bemused, wishing I had the camera. Having emerged into reality, (always a mistake) with a jolt I was worried about what would happen when Foxy met Mollie.

'Tea!' I could hear him cry, baring his mangy teeth and licking his lips.

Foxy met me the other side of the hedge and watched me disdainfully as I scurried round the corner to waylay Mollie, running towards me. While she's a good Irish farm dog, bred for ratting, she's never actually met a fox before. Foxy versus Moll - who would win? I wasn't going to find out. We scooted back to the safety of the lane and I stopped, looked back. There was Foxy, the Elderly Retainer, and I could have sworn he smiled at me.
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Thursday 14 June 2007

Who on earth would read my food column?

Himself usually does the cooking in our house. This is from self defence, as he's interested in food and I’m not, really. I know most people will fall down in horror at that admission, but it's true. Food is something I have to consume in order to write, to go for long walks, to enjoy life.

Whenever we have friends round for a meal (which isn’t that often), Himself is in charge of the food which means everyone is amply fed (he cooks enough for an army) and there is enough wine for a platoon. Mind you, everyone seems to stay until the small hours, so they evidently enjoy themselves. If I was in charge, there would be a big casserole, jacket spuds followed by cheese and biscuits. (Note minimum amount to cook, can all be prepared in advance.) There's also a good chance that we might not have enough. Worse admission. I have an inability to judge correctly how much people eat. This is something I have inherited from my mother.

When we go shopping and He’s in charge, the trolley is loaded and we spend our entire monthly food budget in one fell swoop and eat baked beans for the rest of the month.

His choice of menu is usually something like this:-
bowls of crisps, peanuts etc to nibble before the meal, oh and dips as well
Main course – Two mammoth cottage pies with several platefuls of vegetables
Large bowl of prawns for vegetarians, plus salad and new potatoes
Pudding – Groaning bowl of trifle and/or ice cream
Cheese and biscuits
Coffee with dishes of smarties and those chocolate matchstick things.
All this is washed down with bottles of wine which, luckily, the guests bring lots of.

I once tried to suggest that the menu could be more balanced, but that fell on deaf ears. And I have to say, most of it usually gets eaten. The men, in particular, dig in until they can’t move.

Last night, Himself was watching Celebrity Masterchef and started chuckling. ‘Why don’t you write a column about food, Flowerpot?’ he said, evidently enjoying the look of horror on my face. For once, I was lost for words. What would I say?

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Summer Blooms and Bob Monkhouse


And no, the garden has nothing to do with Bob Monkhouse, but is a way of alleviating a serious subject. Did you see the Bob Monkhouse ad on BBC News last night? In it, Bob Monkhouse has been computer regenerated to warn against the dangers of prostate cancer, a disease that he died off in 2003. The ad sounds and looks just like Bob and, according to his widow, Jackie, he would have liked it.

It blends humour with the serious message that prostate cancer kills 24 men a day in Britain, while the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation says that one man an hour dies in Britain from the disease.

According to the blurb we got from a well known Cornish hospital in Truro, “only 3% of men die from this disease and 98% of us from something else”. So who and what are we to believe?

Prognosis obviously depends on how much it has spread, and there are varying forms of treatment. I can only speak from experience – or rather, secondhand experience, of Himself’s treatment. When he was diagnosed with the disease, we were told that it had spread, or metastasised, to the bones. That put the fear of God into us, as you can imagine, but I didn’t like to ask the oncologist exactly what that meant in front of poor bewildered husband.

So I sent off for lots of literature from all the main cancer agencies that specialise in prostate cancer, and the bumf is largely contradictory. I read some and felt relieved, read others and my heart thumped with terror, my hands became sweaty and I threw the papers away in case he saw them. I spent long nights staring at a blank ceiling wondering How Much Time we had together. I wanted to rewind the video and go back to a safe place without cancer, when we just had normal problems like paying bills.

But he started hormone therapy and despite the side effects – and they were BAD – the cancer level shot down in three months. Another three months and it was nearly zero. Shows what these modern drugs can do – but at a price. He had very unusual side effects – well, he would, he’s an unusual man. At one point I thought the drugs would kill him long before the cancer did. But the main thing is, the cancer is now under control and now he’s on intermittent treatment, he can lead a normal life again.

If you, or anyone you know has any of the symptoms of prostate cancer – difficulty peeing is the main one – please try and get your partner to see a doctor. The disease occurs mostly in men over 60 and while in most cases it can’t be cured, it can be treated successfully. So much more is now known about treating this disease, and it needn’t be a killer. Himself is a prime example.
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Tuesday 12 June 2007

Best of Devon


My mother's garden, looking at its best, last Saturday afternoon.
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A visit to the Back Man

Several days ago I woke with a cricked neck, which made me walk along doing a passable imitation of the hunchback of Notre Dame. I quite often wake up with this and find it usually passes, but yesterday I woke up feeling as if someone had driven a core of granite down my neck and along my shoulders. I couldn’t move so it was time for a trip to the chiropractor who, by some intervention of fate, had a space yesterday afternoon.

He gave the offending part a very deep massage which derived me of the power of speech for several minutes, and I lay face down on the couch, while the chirporactor sat at his desk, humming ‘while those muscles relax.’ Muscles were dumbstruck, I think, like me.
I was pondering the pain in my shoulder blades when there was a discreet knock at the door and a voice trilled, ‘Tea!’
‘Ah!’ he said, in a James Bond sort of way. ‘What’s this? And cake? How posh!’
She tittered in a Moneypenny sort of way and retired while I wondered if this was a game they played every day, and whether it was for my benefit or theirs.

He went on to cluck and click my shoulders so that I could move again, though he did say, ‘you’ll feel a bit sore for a few days,’ SORE? My right shoulder feels as if I’ve had an argument with a very tall building and is now sticking out at right angles. I’ve just checked in the mirror, it’s not, but I’m typing very gingerly, as using my right arm is a bit dodgy.

As I turned to leave, he was eyeing the (very small) cake on his desk with an expression often used by Eeyore.
‘I shouldn’t knock it,’ I said, relieved that I didn’t have to eat bright yellow cake.
‘No,’ he said gloomily. ‘I’m just wondering what I’ve got to do to earn this.’
And on that note I decided it was time to leave.

Monday 11 June 2007

Noisy villages and ageing

It's very noisy at my mother's house, surrounded by fields and orchards, deep in the Devonshire countryside. I woke early to let Mollie out and was struck by the early morning racket that us townies don't have. The raucous squawk of a pheasant across the fields; the rusty gurgle of next door's hens; a pigeon's persistent coo. In the eaves outside our window, a family of sparrows twitter from their nest; above it all a cow's long drawn out bass moo. I opened the door and was struck by the heady rich smell of summer roses; the fresh aroma of dew on grass, cool and wet against hot feet.

Upstairs, Himself was also awake and threw his book on the floor. 'It says it's his debut novel,' he said (pronounced 'day boo'). 'He should take up windowcleaning.'

At times like this I want to hold time still. On the outside he's 66 but inside I know he's really a six year old boy, and I want him to stay like that. I never usually think about our age difference (18 years) but sometimes it hits me and I panic, want him never to get any older. I shut my mind to that grey area, try not to think about that bit of our future, for what's the point? I look at my mother, nearly 80, who looks like a young girl at times. I watched Himself as we listened to Just a Minute yesterday and thought, yes, there's that six year old. What is age, after all?

Friday 8 June 2007

Dreams and Portents?

As I write, I am surrounded by chaos, otherwise known as packing and the animals are nervous. Buster is behind me, lying on the bed looking suspicious while Moll is in the yard sitting on the table, keeping an eye on me while I write in case I make a run for it. We’re only going to my mother’s for the weekend, and most of the clobber is the dog’s. Bowls (2), toys (box of), bed, food (biscuits and tins of, water etc. Rather like having a baby, though at least I don’t have to worry about baby wipes, nappies and change of clothes. After all, Moll is a teenager now.

The journey to Devon takes most people two hours, but for us it’s at least four given stops for a) Mollie’s bladder, b) mine and c) walks for Moll. Today it’ll take even longer as Himself wants to stop in Plymouth to see a secondhand music shop to see if he can sell his lovely old cornet. If anyone reading this is interested in buying a cornet, get in touch quickly. It’s silver, was made in East Germany in the 1950s and is in excellent condition, having been lovingly cared for all its life. With this extra stop, I reckon it’ll take us about 5 hours.

My mother asked us to go up ‘as it’s my wedding anniversary.’ I agreed feeling somewhat unnerved. My father died over 25 years ago. I don’t even dream about him any more.

This morning I woke up at 4.30 with a hot flush – or flash, as my sister in law from Vermont calls them. Much more descriptive. I’d been dreaming about one of my brothers who knew he was dying from cancer. As you can imagine, I was terrified. He didn’t look like my brother – why is it that people in dreams rarely do, or is it just me? But I knew that it was him and he was worried about what was going to happen. Unsurprisingly.

I told Himself who said, ‘Christ, Flowerpot! Can’t you dream about something proper like romping sex?’
‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I’ll try and get my thoughts in order next time.’

As I lay there with the duvet off, sweating, while my heart beat returned to normal I wondered - where do dreams come from? Was this an omen of something terrible that was due to happen to my poor bro? I thought of him and the three children, his wife, the worries that they’ve had already. I pictured helping to bring up the children, supporting a distraught sister in law. I couldn’t imagine my life without either of my brothers. Not that we see much of each other, but we’re always there for each other. What would I do minus a sibling?

Then I realised that in the book I’m reading – Wicked by Jilly Cooper – one of the nicer teachers has an inoperable tumour on his back. Phew! After that, there was no hope of getting back to sleep but at least my bro is saved.

Thursday 7 June 2007

Chicks and chores of writing

The seagull chicks have hatched! I keep trying to get a picture but they are either hiding behind the chimney breast or not in sight at all, which makes photography a bit tricky. This pair of gulls nest on a roof opposite every year so we have a good view of the maternity suite and get quite proprietorial about the state of play.

Unlike most people, himself loves seagulls though I’m still not sure why. Both he and Father Seagull are in the dog box at the moment as Himself threw dog biscuits out of the window to feed the gulls, and Father Seagull trampled all over one of my tubs that I’d just planted up with a very fetching pink petunia. The petunia now looks as if it’s been on a bender and been trampled on and I think you can guess my reaction.

Today I finished the third edit of current novel and I feel a certain sense of achievement overall. My brain has hit a slump and feels as if I’ve run a marathon, which I suppose I have in a cerebral sense. I have aching brain cells – know the feeling? With unusually good timing, we’re going up to Devon for the weekend so I shall have several days to recover, and get over yet another rejection of an article I’m trying to sell.

Sometimes I read what I’ve written and think, ‘this is TERRIBLE,’ and struggle on, hating every word. This is usually when I’m tired and my concentration skids over the surface, unable to catch on. At the end of the working day I slump on the sofa with a glass of wine and wonder what I’m doing, where I’m going with it all.

Other days I read it and think, ‘this isn’t too bad.’ Occasionally I wonder, ‘did I really write that? It’s good!’ And I take the dog for a long walk and go to bed happy.

Wednesday 6 June 2007

Of animals and insects


Yesterday on our walk, we passed a car of exactly the same make and colour as ours and Moll ran over to it and jumped up, as if to see if Himself was there. Who’s a clever girl then?

This morning I came into the kitchen to see this MASSIVE moth type thing sitting on the floor, right by my chair. When I say massive, I mean of Dr Who proportions (you can hear imagination revving up here) though it just sat there, apparently dead. I tackled Himself (defence being the best form of attack) for not having noticed it, and he obligingly put it in a jam jar with a perforated cover on top, so it could breathe.

Himself then said, casually, ‘it might have come over with bananas or something and be dangerous. We should take it somewhere.’

Imagination roared into fifth gear and I hid in the kitchen while The Beast of Death was transferred to another larger container and I looked up the RSPCA number before dismissing that as they don’t deal with insects, and they’re the other side of Cornwall.
I suggested we take it to the vet, so we did but they don’t deal with insects either, and the nurse there said we should either ring DEFRA (I don’t think so) or let it go. So as I was feeling terrified and mutinous, Himself let it go in the vet’s garden on the basis that if this thing was poisonous, it could bite a vet, while I skulked in the car with the windows shut, just in case.

I was lambasted for being a wimp, of course, but how would you feel if you were sharing a room (or worse, car) with a huge winged creature with a wing span of 5 or 6 inches, the body the size of Himself’s thumb (and he has BIG hands)? He was the one that said it might be poisonous….
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Tuesday 5 June 2007

Azab race

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This, by the way, shows you how murky it was on Saturday. It doesn't show you the 100 or so odd boats in the bay, but I blame that on the photographer.


After walk....

Following on from yesterday’s blog (as always the forerunner in current affairs!) it comes as no great surprise to hear, on BBC News this morning, that a survey has found that while most parents played unsupervised as children themselves, they wouldn’t dream of letting their children do so in case they were seen to be neglectful parents. The piece was then followed by various interviews wondering why this is so. I would have thought anyone with half a brain could work out that the media coverage of first Holly and Jessica, and now Madeleine McCann, has a huge part to play in this.

Surely the obesity problem is linked to this? If we don’t allow our children to run around and play, we keep them inside where we can keep an eye on them. So they put on weight. They don’t let off steam, so their problems become internalised and come out in other directions. And what about children’s imaginations? How do they use them if they’re cooped up all the time? How do they get to meet other kids and run around like kids should do, go swimming or running, fall over, get up again – all the things we need to learn about to grow up. It seems this society’s problems go round in every decreasing circles, fuelled by the media and paranoia.

But how do we get away from this 24 hour news coverage? I worked for one of the first 24 hour TV news channels, and of course then it was such a novelty. Now it’s par for the course. Perhaps we should all chuck our TVs into the sea, turn off our computers and stop reading newspapers. But I can’t see that happening, can you? It’s too addictive…..

Lack of concentration

Today I have a skittish brain. Do you ever get that? As if my brain cells are like hyperactive children, skipping around the place and giggling, unable to stand still. It makes concentration very difficult, if not impossible, particularly when I’m editing my novel which requires a Quiet, Still Brain. A friend is coming with me to walk Mollie this afternoon so hopefully that will still my head and I can write better when I get back.

Or perhaps it’s the weather, which is enough to make anyone kick up their heels with glee. The sky is a sheer blue, unblemished by any clouds. There’s a slight sea breeze – good for sailing or walking – which makes the water shimmer and dance, like diamonds. A chaffinch is sitting on the fuchsia tree outside, his tail bobbing up and down, as if to say, ‘it’s great out here – come on!’ And on my desk is a vase of sweet peas, their heady scent filling the room with sun drenched summer.

More later

Monday 4 June 2007

Paranoia of a different kind

Last night we met friends in the pub and were talking about the ongoing conundrum that surrounds the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Our friends have a six year old daughter (going on 26) and they are going out to Portugal to stay with a relative who lives very close to Praia de Luz.

Well, what do you do? Chain your daughter to your side? That’s what I’d do. Not let her out of your sight for a moment – yup. Become utterly paranoid? Definitely. So where do you draw the line? Does everyone henceforth become frantic if they can’t see their child for 5 seconds? And what is going to be the knock on effect on the children?

How do you explain to a child that when you’re out walking the dog you say hello to strangers and chat, but when they don’t have a dog you avoid strangers? Then again, people are usually abducted by people they know, which negates the don’t talk to strangers argument.

I used to walk to school and walk home again, alone. The walk must have taken me about 15 or 20 minutes. This seems unthinkable now. I would have been taken from my parents by Social Services, citing neglect. What is the world coming to? And what is the alternative?

Sunday 3 June 2007


Once more the harbour is encased in thick fog, and this morning as we walked Mollie round the castle, looking out over the bay, the mist drifted like smoke, revealing pink studs where the thrift grows. As we walked, figures loomed out of the fog like the beginning of the David Lean version of Great Expectations. You know the one I mean, where Madgwick is in the graveyard? Always makes me jump, every time.

The delicate summer scent of the dog roses greeted us as we turned the corner and made me wonder why such a beautiful, fragile flower is called a dog rose. I mean, I love dogs, but no way does that rose look like a dog. Who thought up these names? Having said that, I can't think of anything that would particularly suit its delicacy. Spring rose is unimaginative, and inaccurate, though it's too early for summer. Mother of Pearl rose? Better but not entirely accurate, either. Blushing rose? For me that's better - sums up its shy naivety. Any other ideas?

I spent part of this morning with a friend who's survived bowel cancer and is in rude health (I do like that phrase) considering that not long ago she was given 30% chance of survival. Then this afternoon I spent walking with my Swedish friend who's got through breast cancer, twice. These women and their positive attitude to life is an example to us all and I am proud to have such friends. Apart from their strength, both possess an excellent sense of humour (necessary when dealing with me) and a love of dogs (ditto). We got back from the walk covered in mud (don't ask) and soaking wet. But happy. Just like the dog.

Saturday 2 June 2007


Today the AZAB race left Falmouth - some 70 boats took part in a race to the Azores which will take about 8/9 days to get there (for further details see According to Himself, they then have a few parties, unwind, sleep and eat for a week or so and then head homewards.

You would have had pictures to accompany this but the dense sea mist hadn't lifted enough to give a good camera picture. Still, they got a good send off - people crowded round Pendennis Point, the castle, along the seafront, holding binoculars (the keen ones like himself) and talking in very Nautical Terms. Being very un-nautical despite Himself's teachings, I asked, 'where do you they go from here? Left or right?'
Himself laughed. 'If they went right, they'd end up in Truro, you nutter. To get to the Azores you head down to Helford, put in a tack, down to the Manacles, another tack and round the Lizard.'
Just as well someone knows where they're going. If I'd been in charge they would have ended up the river in Tesco's.

Mollie thoroughly enjoyed this outing as it meant a good walk from the car to our viewing point. She also met a wild eyed, manic boxer and another scruffy looking terrier who was smartly put on a lead, to Mollie's disgust. She just wanted to play but apparently the other one bites. 'She has to rule the roost,' said her owner, with a mix of pride and despair.
I was tempted to explain that the dog needn't rule the roost - she just needs to be trained properly, but had a feeling this wouldn't go down too well. The owner should read Euro Dog (see links).

I turned on the radio on the way to walk Moll later and heard an artist being interviewed who sounded just like a friend who died two years ago. Her voice was so like this woman's that I started wondering whether Jane had faked her own death and absconded to America to join her children. Believe me, if you'd met Jane, this is quite possible. I could see Jane, restored to her former glory, lapping up the sunshine somewhere, with an attentive man by her side. I say restored because she lost her sight due to glaucoma, and by the end of her life also needed a hip replacement, had no money and lived in a cottage that resembled the inside of a boat - tiny, crammed full of ornaments from her colourful life. Apart from her carers, her most regular visitors were Brian who cleaned the public toilets opposite and a robin. She enjoyed animated conversations with both, but Brian could make tea and biscuits for her.

Throughout all her latter problems she remained cheerful (in company) and resolute. She adored company of any kind, loved a good gossip, a drink, a smoke and a laugh. She was fiercely intelligent, an ace flirt and an inspiration to us all. Jane, here's to you.

Friday 1 June 2007

Tall Ships and Apricots

Gwen has gone and the flat has a different feel to it without her, as if someone's missing. Which they are. At least I was able to buy her a top for her birthday (on Saturday) which was an achievement - as one of the world's most generous friends, she finds it difficult to accept presents. Are you listening, Gwennie?! I put her on the bus to Truro looking very forlorn, clutching two huge bags and her mobile phone. She was very dog sick while she was here, desperately missing her chocolate lab, Dylan and her boxer, Walker, though Mollie provided some small comfort (small being the operative word after the size of Gwen's dogs). The phone was important as she carried pictures of her Beloved Boys, and also one of Mollie that she sent to Dylan as a present.

She'd be furious to find out that the tall ship, Artemis, sailed into Falmouth yesterday afternoon, in torrential rain. A small tall ship, as they go - sort of family sized, and perfect for Gwen, who's fascinated by ships. But that birthday present was not to be.

So life has returned to the usual frustrations - two features editors refusing to answer calls, more calls from elderly James, and trying to get on with editing the current novel. James wanted some cat food delivered, but when we arrived, James looked blank. 'Er, I'm sorry,' he said, with an apologetic grin. 'It's very nice to see you, but why are you here?' We explained about the catfood and he broke into a smile. 'Ah!' he cried. 'Yes! As it happens, I'm just about to run out.'

He then went on to reveal that his kitchen drain was blocked, and, after much guddling around (Himself being of a practical nature, he's good at unblocking drains), he found the offending objects. A pound of apricots and a silver spoon. Knowing James, he'll probably recycle the apricots for breakfast. And the silver spoon. How can you not love someone like that?