Tuesday 31 July 2007

Every fridge magnet tells a story

We have a magnet from Amsterdam on our fridge. It’s of a tall brick house and downstairs, three girls in red and black bras and knickers posture in the window. Above is a sign saying SEX SHOP. On the first floor, a girl with a red bra leans out of the window and on the floor above that are two girls with no bras at all.

This was a present from a friend who, many years ago, went to Amsterdam for a weekend of lust with her new man. Unfortunately she got a terrible tummy bug so no lust was to be had. She spent the entire weekend in the bathroom (or bed), while he explored the city on his own. But the magnet always brings a smile to my face for it reminds me of my mate.

When my nieces were about 4 and 6, they came into the kitchen and inspected the fridge with care but said nothing. Later, we were walking along the road to the beach and I had one by each hand.

‘Flowerpot,’ said the oldest one. ‘What’s a sex shop?’

I thought quickly; what the hell do you say? And I had to get it right: their mother was behind me, snorting with suppressed laughter.

‘It’s a place where you buy – er – bras and knickers,’ I said, sweating profusely.

Well, it was sort of true, and at least it seemed to satisfy them. I wonder though, whether they remember that. Now that they're Advanced Teenagers, I must ask them.

Monday 30 July 2007

Scanning Bread in the Sunshine

Today the sun is not only shining but according to the weather forecast(oh, the naivety of me) it’s going to be dry all week. And sunny! I feel skittish and girly, as if I were six again and the long weeks of the summer holidays were stretching before me like an oasis of pleasure. I want to kick up my heels and run through the surf shouting, ‘weeeeee!’ In fact, later on, Mollie and I will do just that.

Meanwhile, from next door emanates an ominous silence. Himself has drawn a wonderful cartoon of an ostrich (did I mention his cartooning talents?) which he is attempting to scan onto his computer. He had three tries yesterday,starting in the afternoon and finishing at 8.30pm. The scanner is at the workshop, a 10minute drive away. That machine doesn’t have Broadband so it took 20 minutes to download the ostrich.

The first time he scanned it, he hadn’t turned it into the right kind of file but he didn't realise that till he came home and found he couldn't open the file because there was nothing there. So he went back and the second time sent it to my old email address that I haven’t used since the beginning of March. For some reason unknown to mankind he omitted to send said email to himself as well. So the third time he went over to get the scanner and bring it back here.

Now it appears that neither of these computers have the necessary wherewithal to run the scanner CD. The scanner’s too old. But does he let me have my computer back? Does he hell. If I hear, ‘I won’t give in that easily,’ once more, I shall scream.

Just before he left the second time, he decided to make bread, so left it to prove and had to ring me at half hourly intervals with instructions. The bread turned out all right, by some miracle, except that he bought wholemeal flour which he doesn't like, and mixed it with granary flour which he finds too heavy. He ate two pieces this morning with a certain sense of duty, saying, 'well at least it tastes of something.'

Sometimes, you wonder...

Sunday 29 July 2007

Polly Joke

This is Polly Joke, a magical place made all the more special by the fact that Himself spent time living here as a teenager. Of course the weather wasn't anything like this yesterday, but it was good enough to have a long walk with one of my brothers and his family yesterday.

The children are quite gorgeous - well, the girls are almost grown up now, at 14 and 16, and it was wonderful to catch up. I am now bereft and broody and wishing they didn't live so far away. Sniff. Gulp.

Oh yes, if you go here, start at the Bowgie pub at Crantock. It's a rip off but there are plenty of places to sit outside with children and dogs. Good for people watching, too, of the Upper Crust variety.
SIL, we must go here next year!

Saturday 28 July 2007

Awards and Families

Another Rocking Blogger award, from Mother at Large. My! Many thanks indeed, and you have cheered my weekend no end. I received notice of this award yesterday afternoon when I was almost stuck to my chair having been in a meeting all morning then been editing current novel for another two hours. I had to have a much deserved break to unstick myself, stretch my too long back and go and walk that scruffy canine of ours.

Any work I was trying to do yesterday was, of course, punctuated by various cries of, ‘POP!’ from next door.
Then, ‘Pop. Help!’
A few minutes later, in quavery voice. ‘Pop? Are you busy?’

Yes, he’s still working on his blog. And no, there are still no words to read. But I’ve put a link in so you can at least look at his Personal Profile which, though I say it myself, is quite impressive. A man of many abilities, as well as talents. He’s now drawing a cartoon of an ostrich which he is adopting as his - mascot? Emblem? Very suitable considering what it does with its head.

We are off to meet up with one of my errant brothers in a minute. Errant because they live in Surrey and don’t come down this way often. In fact, I haven’t seen my nephews and nieces for nearly 2 ½ years, as the last two times they’ve been down they’ve been too busy. They're staying in North Cornwall so we're meeting in Crantock where there's a pub with plenty of room to sit outside with the dogs (hah - if it ever stops raining) and a beautiful beach called Polly Joke that we will walk the dogs on later. They have a Staffy called Whizz and a pug called Pug, I think, but not having met him I'm not sure.

We will be confronted with teenage strangers and shan’t know what they look like, let alone what to talk to them about. I am compiling a list of what my mother assures me are joint interests – Musicals, Sailing, Books for the girls. Blogs? Doubt it. Sailing for the nephew. God knows what else. But it will be lovely to see them again, and the dogs will have a good time. It'll be a day of discovery.

And while I’m contemplating Family Matters, yesterday we received a book token in the post from my mother. Remember that nursing we did when she came out of hospital? Inside the token she wrote, ‘with many thanks for such wonderful care’.

Isn’t it nice to be appreciated?

Friday 27 July 2007

It's a Man Thing

Yesterday, being incapacitated due to his bee sting (see previous post), Himself settled down with the laptop and set up his new blog, as he didn’t like the name of the last one. So far so good. I’ll give you the link when he’s actually written something. (Don’t hold your breath.)

He then spent hours learning about Blogger which mystified me as he’s not usually patient. I’m certainly not – being a) extremely impatient and b) permanently short of time (that’s my excuse), I email a friend, usually Cornish Dreamer, who’s younger and infinitely wiser than me, and she can usually sort out the problem in a trice.

Being a male, however, of course Himself would never dream of Asking For Help. He spent all afternoon trying to download a cartoon which won’t work because it’s not a Jpeg. I suggested he email CD.
‘No, no,’ he said. ‘Can’t you help, Pop?’
I’d already tried and couldn’t, so with a Manly Sigh he turned back to the keyboard, muttering darkly about Wives and Unhelpfulness.

Getting sick of this, I emailed CD who, sure enough, emailed instructions through in a moment. She also offered to come round and sort it out if that didn’t work. For five minutes emailing, he could have got the whole thing sorted, instead of wasting hours.

I had years of temping in London (it was a lucrative way of stalling when I got bored with the latest job) when I was paid to be fast and efficient. As a result, I didn’t have time to faff around trying to work things out – I had to find out how to do things and get them done, preferably by yesterday. So, as time is of the essence, that’s what I still do.

When I asked Himself why he didn’t like asking other people, he said, ‘because I want to work it out for myself.’

Very admirable. No, I mean it. I think it’s very honourable. But he does have more
time at his disposal. And patience. I’d rather find out how to do it and get on with – the book, article, my course.

From next door I hear Himself still battling with his Personal Profile. He's lost part of it (how?). All I can hear is angry thumping of the keyboard and, 'It's a Fxxxer.'

So why do men find it so difficult to ask for help? Did someone mention ego? Male pride?

What do you and yours think?

Thursday 26 July 2007

Bee Stings and Transvestites

First of all, I would like to say that Himself is not a transvestite. Those of you that know him in the flesh will doubtless agree with me. But I bring this up because, according to Richard Madeley’s blog this morning, transvestites are three times more likely to be stung by bees than men who don’t dress in women’s clothing.

Himself was stung, helping a friend in her garden on Tuesday. The sting didn’t make much impact at the time, but 24 hours later, he started complaining that his foot hurt. By lunchtime yesterday, when I inspected it, his ankle had swollen to massive proportions and was the bright red of a pillarbox. The sting itself, lurking in amongst this bulbous tissue, was a livid purple. I managed not to scream or throw up and unearthed some antihistamine tablets. Then I picked up the phone and, ignoring Himself’s pleas, rang our surgery and got an appointment for that afternoon.

The doctor checked him over and offered him a prescription for antibotics which he declined, of course, so the doc said to come back if it was no better. This morning, thankfully, the ankle is now merely twice its normal size and a ruddy, bruised colour rather than purpley grotesque and of amputation proportions. But Richard’s post got me thinking.

What does Himself really do up at the workshop? Those Sundays when he says he’s going to jazz, is that what he really does? When he was helping this friend the other day, did he sneak into her bedroom and gaze at her clothes? Did he disappear into her wardrobe and emerge in a black slinky number? Grab the feather boa and drape it round his hunky shoulders? Did he dabble with her lippy or flirt with her mascara?

I doubt it, if only because he is well over six foot, sixteen stone. But you never know. Look at Danny La Rue…

Wednesday 25 July 2007

One Last Drag

I gave up cigarettes because I felt increasingly guilty at smoking in front of the new man in my life - it was worse than trying to smuggle another man in. We’d been living together for two weeks and were sitting in a pub with a friend who smokes at least 40 Players a day, when my partner suddenly announced that the packet of B&H he had just bought would be his last - any left over after that evening would be given to me. I stared at him in total incomprehension, and the ashtray soon overflowed in compensation for the forthcoming event.

I smoked my first cigarette at the age of 18, encouraged by a NHS nurse who thought it would stop me “being such a fidget”; I was an inpatient at Westminster Hospital at the time. Twenty-four years later I was still smoking at least twenty a day, more at weekends and never contemplated the idea of stopping. I had appalling circulation - a condition I was born with - but this was exacerbated by years of anorexia and nicotine. Every time I got a cold it went on my chest and turned into bronchitis, and resolutely I puffed my way through it all.

Prior to my last puff, I had contracted a sufficiently bad bout of bronchitis to frighten myself that my lungs were in their last throes. Combined with the embarrassment at smoking in front of Himself (who had given up three weeks earlier), this was enough to make me give up. I had not considered mental preparation, a vital part of undertaking anything important, but essential in tackling a nicotine habit.

I was therefore unprepared for the ferocity with which my mind and body complained. I was further outraged and betrayed when my "best friend" of the last 20+ years was revealed as a promiscuous, filthy, lying and stinking murderer. And worse of all, no-one had told me (Government health warnings, posters and TV documentaries counted for nothing in this argument). I wept copiously into my partner's jumper at the injustice of it all, hated myself, hated the world and most of all tried to hate cigarettes. After four days I realised a strong bout of mental gymnastics was needed if I was to get through this ordeal and not give in. I had to want to give up more than anything else, be absolutely firm about it, look forward to it.

It was a tussle, but the cerebral backflips and triple somersaults were worth it. The relief of finally flicking that switch was so wonderful that, in front of my mother who had arrived to stay for the weekend, I conducted my own private party (being the sole invitee), arrived in a slithering, giggling, drunken heap on the floor at my partner's feet and was put to bed. The next morning I had a hangover but no parrot cage mouth.

The surprising part of this nicotine-free life was that my hitherto small breasts sprouted. Every morning my partner inspected them with awe until I reached the giddy size of 34C. (As a rare man who prefers small breasts, he bore this phase with admirable fortitude.) The increase in weight (several pounds) landed mostly on my bosoms - the equivalent of egg on your face I wondered? However, these miraculous breasts dwindled in time, leaving me with a happy man and larger but empty bras.

Like most of us, I was terrified of putting on weight if I gave up smoking. Many women are subject to scrutiny from the media, if not in everyday life, over our outward appearance. As an ex-anorexic I still bear the scars, and for me the latter phase of anorexia involved a terrifying bout of bingeing; I knew I couldn’t go through that again. There was also the very important matter of my new relationship and adjusting to living with a man after a long period of independence.

A friend lent me Alan Carr’s “How To Give Up Smoking” which I found very helpful, particularly the chapter surrounding food, our attitude to it, the psychology surrounding what we put in our mouths and why. I can only speak for myself but it made me think about the attention my mouth had been receiving, and, with a lot of effort, ensured that I didn’t eat when I really wanted a fag: consequently I learned to cope.

I had a lot of support which is vital, my circulation started improving instantly, and whenever I had that blinding urge to grab a stranger’s cigarette, stuff it in my mouth and inhale, I took a deep breath of air and exhaled slowly. (Try it – this is not as stupid as it sounds.) I also thought of a friend who suffers increasing agonies every time she attempts to give up, and this made me determined not to give in. Yes it’s hard, at times it’s hellish, but when has anything worthwhile in life ever been easy?

It is possible to give up smoking, and it is possible to be happy without cigarettes. It is further possible to live without nicotine and not put on more than a few pounds. I am always aware, though, how easy it would be to have that one fatal fag, which keeps me on my guard. The relief at not being chained to the endless cycle of guilt and discomfort is incredible - no more freezing on street corners or furtively glancing around a room for an ashtray. I don't have to stagger out in the pouring rain, with flu or bronchitis to get that all-important packet. I can sit at my desk without wondering when I can escape the building to have that much needed gasp. Dignity and self-respect are restored, and my legs are no longer in danger of being amputated.

I can still remember the place where I had my last fag, what I was wearing, how I felt when that nicotine rushed through my system, causing my legs to go numb. How I had one puff, crushed the offending butt in the wastebin and walked away. For good.

First published in Stop! magazine, September 2000.

Tuesday 24 July 2007


Regular readers may remember that a couple of weeks ago we went up to look after my mother who’s recovering from a hernia operation. All went well, or so we thought, and she was very appreciative of our nursing, shopping and cooking efforts. We returned home worn out but with the feeling of a job well done. Mum and I hadn’t wound each other up like the last time we’d been up there to nurse her.

A few days later, one of my brothers rang. He’d just been on the phone to Mum who had said how touched she was by our efforts. My brother laughed. ‘She said that you were much more considerate than last time,’ he said.

You can probably guess how I felt at that remark. Fuming is putting it mildly. Deeply hurt that our efforts were so swiftly dismissed. I was so angry that I couldn’t talk to her for days. Luckily when she rang I was out, as I knew I’d explode if I did talk to her. What a thing to say! If I’d known she was feeling like that, I wouldn’t have gone. Thankless – pah! On they went, round and round my head, these contorted thoughts, bruised feelings and tattered emotions.

It didn’t occur to me till later that it would have been better if my brother had kept his mouth shut. After all, there are certain things that are better left unsaid. This being one of them. But he’d listened to my rantings last time we’d been up there and I was so wound up afterwards. Was he merely passing on information? I’m sure he didn’t intend to hurt me.

As the days passed, my feelings simmered, then quietened to glowing embers.

‘Did you say anything?’ asked a friend.
‘No,’ I said. ‘It was a chance comment, perhaps unfortunate, but I didn’t think anything was to be gained from muck raking. Mum would be upset and kick herself, my brother would be upset and kick himself, and really, what’s the point?’

As Himself said, ‘It’s Family, Pop. Leave it.’

Families, eh? Who’d have them?

Monday 23 July 2007

Rockin Blogger

Well – I’m delighted to say that I have been nominated by Akelamalu for a Rockinblogger award. As I’m new to this game – Flowerpot Days only arrived in blogsphere in May – this is very cheering indeed.

(It has taken all morning, with the assistance of two friends and finally Darren, our techie expert, who spent an hour trying to manhandle Picasa on my behalf, but the image is now here. I think you can probably guess what colour the air is around here. The animals have taken cover.)

I gather by the blogging rules I must nominate five other people for this award, so here they are:-

Around my kitchen table
Miss Understanding
Life of Sand
Cornish Dreamer
The Writing Business

The other news is that Himself has now set up a blog. This took up several hours of Sunday morning, with repeated calls of ‘POP!! Help!!’ just when I was trying to get on with things. Luckily he went off to listen to Phil Mason’s New Orleans Jazz Band at 11.30 and shortly after that I went off with a friend for the day to walk Mollie (it was her second birthday yesterday) and go to Flushing’s dog show, so peace was had by all. And by the way, you can’t actually read his blog because he hasn’t written anything yet…..

By the way - news hot off the press for local friends - Himself's lung check was fine. Lungs aren't any worse so consultant is pleased. So am I.... Means lots more trumpet playing.....

Saturday 21 July 2007

People Watching

I’ve been tagged by Life of Sand to list my top 5 restaurants which I sort of did a couple of weeks ago, but was side tracked by a memory of Christmas last. And the fact that I don’t often go out to eat. If I do it’s with a girlfriend and we meet for a bowl of soup somewhere.

One of the greatest joys in eating out, for me, is people watching (and luckily I have likeminded friends), so these eateries are marked on the standard of their clientele, as well as their food.

The Clipper is a tiny café in Falmouth with only three tables. The coffee is excellent, their food is locally sourced and very cheap and includes a range of home made salads, ditto cakes and a good line in toasted sarnies. Unfortunately one of the owners is the most miserable girl I’ve ever encountered. She booted us off our table recently as we’d been there for a while and there were people waiting. Huh. I still go back, though.

Star rating: 7/10. Attracts a lot of art students but also families. Given its tiny size, eavesdropping tends to be noticed. Copies of local papers provided.

Mali Thai
Also in Falmouth though we’ve never eaten there – we get takeaways. Their vegetarian red curry is spicy but not too hot and in fact everything I’ve had there is excellent. You get free crackers too if you like that sort of thing. Conveniently placed for nearby pubs.

We've never sat in so unfortunately can’t allocate star rating.

Miss Peapods
A bohemian type café in Penryn next door to Jumbles Nursery so this place attracts a lot of bohemian type breastfeeding mothers. I would hasten to add I have absolutely nothing against breastfeeding in public. Quite the opposite. It’s just that these women are a certain Type. But I digress.

Food here is again locally sourced, organic and mostly vegetarian which suits me as I’m mostly vegetarian. I’ve only had soup and flapjack so far, both homemade and both excellent. Soup is always imaginative though the bread’s a bit hard, but the flapjack is chewy with lots of apricots. Yum. Most of the staff are a bit dozy so don’t go there if you’re in a hurry.

There’s a large decked area out the back where you can sit and watch the river and boats go by. Or you could if it ever stopped raining.

9/10 This is a wonderful place for people watching so go with someone who doesn’t mind sitting quietly or go by yourself. Newspapers provided.

De Wynns
Another café in Falmouth, used by my mother in the war. It was her great treat with two of her friends to get the train to Falmouth and have tea there. Nowadays the scones are homemade and melt in the mouth, their soup is always very good but only served in winter, and they do very garlicky mushrooms served with toast which is perfect for a winter warmup. Or a summer one given this weather.

6/10 Not so good – mostly middle aged/retired people but rather conventional.

This is the most reliable café as Himself is a very good cook. Much better than me as he is interested whereas I’m not, very. He does very good Thai, cottage pie, fish pie and stir fries. He can be a bit heavy handed, but that seems to be a male trait. And it doesn’t stop people coming back here to eat. Does it Nik?!

People watching: 8/10 if you sit in our front room and watch the world go by. Lots to see, and if people bore you, there’s a great view of Flushing, the docks and out to sea.

Oh - five people to tag if they feel like doing likewise.
Cornish Dreamer
Miss Understood

Friday 20 July 2007

Missing Curls

Last night I went over to see a friend who had volunteered to give me a makeover. I can’t remember how this offer came up, but I decided I was sick of looking like – well, like I’ve looked for the last x years, and, given that I trust Carole’s abilities in that direction, thought I’d take her up on her offer.

I took over a bottle of wine and we had a glass while she applied moisturiser, blusher, mascara and the faintest hint of eyeliner (we’re talking the au naturel look here) and then she got out –

‘Curlers?’ I shrieked. (I have very curly hair.)

She explained that she was going to straighten my hair, purely to wind up Himself. I sat there and took several nervous sips of wine at the prospect of losing curls which, suddenly, I was rather fond of. Me and straight hair? Not at all sure. I reminded her of the time I was about to have my hair cut, and he said, ‘Anyone that messes with your curls is dead.’

‘Oh dear,’ said Carole blithely, plugging in the heated rollers.

By the end of the glass of wine, and by the time she’d removed the curlers and blow dried curls inside out (so to speak), it didn’t look bad. In fact, I liked it. It wasn’t straight but looked – different. Chic is a word that springs to mind but never one usually associated with the likes of moi. Peter Pan was the other description. Well, if you can imagine how PP would look at nearly 50.

We were both delighted with Carole’s works of art and went downstairs to have another glass of wine and sort the world out. When I got back home, I pranced into the kitchen, pink and blushing. ‘Well – what do you think?’

Himself looked at my face and said, rather dubiously, ‘Very nice.’ Not a good start. Then he looked at my hair and cried, ‘What have you done to your CURLS? Where have they GONE?’

He rang her up later, complimented her on the makeup and said, ‘as you’ve got rid of her curls, you’ll have to make me up now.’

I didn’t hear her response.

Thursday 19 July 2007

Ho Ho Hum

A few nights ago I went down to one of Falmouth’s oldest and well known pubs (famous because the landlord is a priest) in order to hear the local shanty group. I’d been told that if you want to join, turn up at 8pm, so I did. No one was there. After a while another new recruit came along so we joined forces and waited. Finally two members came along and informed us that in fact they had too many members already and were in danger of being larger than their audiences, but we could come and sit in if we liked.

Having got that far, we decided we would, so we went and joined them. Half an hour later a few more trickled in but still no singing and after another 15 minutes I decided to go home. It was disappointing not to even have a sing, but more disappointing that they’d already got a full quota. I get withdrawal symptoms from not singing, and our next am dram production doesn’t start again till November.

When I told Himself, he expressed a Poor View of the shanty group (I think you can probably guess what he actually said) and suggested that I should set one up myself.

A good idea except that a) I don’t know many shanty songs and b) I couldn’t think of any friends that do sing.

But yesterday I met up with two dogwalking friends who sing – after a few pints – and thought Pip’s idea was an excellent one.

‘We can meet in the pub, have a few drinks and a good sing,’ said Viv, her eyes lighting up. ‘So what do we call ourselves?’

This is a problem. Shanty singers tend to have names like Wareham Whalers or Rum and Shrub. Himself had suggested Yo Ho Ho, but we thought we could do with something a bit more distinctive and remembered last year, when the three of us cleaned holiday lets and called ourselves Scrubbers R Us.

We came up with two options:

Hammered Slags,
Falmouth Shags (after the bird, of course).

I can see this group will have a long and happy future.

Wednesday 18 July 2007


I have several friends who are single. I have one friend who’s just got back together with her husband after a period of separation. I have friends who’ve been married for a long time. Most of my girlfriends are mothers, but I have several who don’t have children, for whatever reason. I have friends who are gay, friends who are straight. I have friends from work, friends from the loony bin, friends I met abroad. But I have never had a circle of friends. Until last Christmas, when we had a party and threw the local friends together, most of them didn’t know each other.

I’ve always been an oddity. I’m unconventional, have never fitted in. I didn’t marry until my early forties. So I suppose it makes sense that most of my friends are not part of a set group. I like that. I like going to the cinema or for a drink and sitting next to them, thinking, ‘these are my mates. I’m proud of them.’ It gives me a warm glow. I also like it when I introduce friends and they get on.

Looking around, mothers form a strong bond, a formidable group, to those of us that are excluded from it. But for the first time in my life I find myself belonging to several groups. Me, the cat that walked by itself. Dogwalkers are one group who provide a good networking support of everything from how to sort out problem dogs to finding accommodation for homeless friends.

As a writer I belong to several groups, some professional, some not. Our local group that meets every week has been a lifeline. We are of different generations, from different backgrounds with different viewpoints. Our link is a love of words, and a necessity to put them on paper for others to read. And preferably get paid for it. That’s a very strong, and very essential bond. We lift each other up when we just know that every word we’ve written is complete garbage. We celebrate each other’s successes. We give words of advice and encouragement, and never, ever, say anything to put our fellows down. Constructive criticism is one (vital) thing. Viciousness is another.

The professional group meets periodically in London and there I meet fellow writers from all over the country. With shaking legs, I meet agents and publishers (sometimes) and try to sound intelligent, not to spill my wine. Afterwards I heave a sigh of relief, feel I could have done better and head for home.

This morning I woke early and hugged to myself the thought that I could read for a whole hour before I had to get up. I pulled back the curtains and the sky darkened as if it was dusk and the rain fell in torrents, rattling the windows and splashing against the walls. As I read, the sky lightened again and gradually I heard other sounds. Someone washing upstairs. A van roaring down the street. Seagulls crying and wheeling overhead.

Next to me, Himself breathed deeply, turned over and muttered in his sleep. A contented sort of grunt. Our cat nudged me with his nose, urging me to stroke his silky fur. He purred ecstatically as I tickled his soft underbelly, white as parchment. And on the floor, lying in a patch of light, our Jack Russell, blissfully soaking up the sun. My family.

When I was single (for many years) I would look at other people and envy them their marriedness, their coupledom. Their automatic right to a group. But we all have some sort of a group. Friends, work colleagues, a love of music or art or words. Of animals or travel. Of food or wine. You’ve heard some of my groups. What are yours?

Tuesday 17 July 2007


Dermot rang last night – as of the TV series (see earlier blog on Flowerpot's forthcoming 4 minutes of fame). He spoke to Himself who said that I was walking our dog and instantly we have a connection (darlings). Dermot has a Jack Russell, too, though he won’t be bringing him to Falmouth for filming. Not another Chalkie then. I very nearly offered to dog sit but felt that could be asking for trouble – the cat would leave home at the very least.

He lives in Exeter (MissU are you listening?!) or at least was phoning from there, and is making a series of art based programmes. Having established that I was a) a writer and b) had worked in television, he was very chatty.

One of his programmes, he confided, is of a pub quiz in Dorset. He’s concerned about the level of alcohol they will have consumed by the time they start filming, so he’s promised them with as much as they like afterwards (paid for by him), provided they don’t have more than one drink beforehand.
Then there’s another programme with the WI. ‘You’re not a member of the WI, are you?’ he asked anxiously.
‘No,’ I replied. ‘Not my sort of thing at all. Brings to mind slow handclaps.’
He laughed then and said another programme was of painters in North Devon and he was looking forward to that as they were ‘semi professional, like yourself, so they should be easy to film.’

Not sure how I like being a semi professional, but better than being an amateur I suppose. After all, I'm a luvvy now, darling.

Monday 16 July 2007

Friday 13th


On Friday we had to take Mollie to the vet for her annual booster. As most of you will have gathered by now, she’s a good natured dog, excellent with children, adults and other dogs alike.

When she enters the vet she sits, alert and well behaved, trying to make friends with other dogs/cats/rabbits and their owners. (I took her to puppy class there so she evidently has happy memories.) But get her into the consulting room and face her with a bloke in a green coat and she goes beserk. Suddenly this loving, friendly dog becomes a whirlwind of frantic growls, teeth and flying claws.

Trying to put a muzzle on her made things worse, and while Himself held her and the vet finally gave her the jab, I don’t know who was more distressed; her or us. Given how most of us feel when we have to go to the dentist, you can sympathise to a certain degree. As this happened last time she came for her jab, I asked if a lot of dogs were like this, and was told ‘only a few’.

Well, that pulled me up with a start. I’d thought most dogs went bonkers at the vet’s, but evidently not. Despite having gone through Going To The Vet at puppy class, which she was fine with, faced with a real vet in a real consulting room, she panicked.

‘She doesn’t like vets because every time she comes up here, something horrible happens.’ Himself said. ‘Does she really need to go to the vet?’

‘Yes,’ I said, rather shortly. ‘What we have to do is get her to realise that vets are OK people, so she needn’t be afraid of them.’

Luckily our vet agreed with me and suggested that we bring her in out of surgery hours when it’s quiet so she can meet the vets, play with them and have a few treats and hopefully reverse her bad associations. It’s like having panic attacks – you have to relearn behavioural patterns.

This has yet to be put into practise, but I feel better knowing that the vets realise what the problem is, and are prepared to put the time in to rectify the problem. It also made me realise how thin the line is between a loving well behaved dog (or child/adult) and one that goes loopy for whatever reason.

Having worked with young offenders, I could see Mollie’s behaviour only too well in some of our Young Crims, as we called them. Fear is very often the reason behind such behaviour. If these fears can be caught before they are blown into full scale behavioural problems, the person/dog will be fine. If not – well, the rescue centres are full of ‘badly behaved’ dogs. Teenagers are given ASBOs or sent to Young Offenders’ Institutions. Adults are sent to prison.

I don’t intend to let that happen to Moll.
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Saturday 14 July 2007

Canine Therapy

A year ago my 65 year old husband had sold his boat and was in mourning. He was also stuck in a sedentary job that he hated, was overweight because he never got any exercise and rarely felt like socialising. Privately, I reasoned that a dog would provide a distraction, a way of getting out, exercising and meeting other people. But trying to persuade Himself (and the cat) was another matter.
In order to prove that mine was an Informed Choice, I got books from the library, spent hours on the internet and talked to everyone I knew about the cost, (our) suitability, vet’s bills and insurance. There was also the matter of our six-year-old cat. Spoilt only son, who could wind Himself round his left whisker. I’d been advised that it would be better to forget ideas about a rescue dog and get a puppy so that he could boss it around.
I’d thought that the dog should be small, given that we live in a one bedroom flat with not much garden, and one night Himself said grudgingly, “if you want to get a dog you should get one like that,” pointing to a Jack Russell walking past the window. I tried not to get too excited, but felt this was a significant breakthrough. It was the first time he’d shown any interest in anything for months.
Eventually I managed to get Himself interested enough to see a litter of Jack Russell puppies advertised in the local paper owned by some gypsies. He had nothing against the gypsies but didn’t take to the dog’s father, a short-haired Jack Russell, and proclaimed that he looked vicious.
“I’d look extremely vicious if you tried to take away my babies,” I pointed out, but Himself had suddenly gone deaf.
The following week, there was another ad in the paper for two Jack Russell bitches so I rang up and could have sworn I spoke to the same gypsy as last week, except that these dogs were long haired and recently brought over from Ireland. While I’m not anti-Irish, I realised that we wouldn’t be able to see the pups’ parents, which we’d been advised to do.
Nevertheless, I rang Himself who reluctantly agreed to see them and I arranged a visit after work that evening. I wasn’t hopeful but reckoned it was good experience; we had to learn what to look for. To my astonishment, Himself picked one up, inspecting it all over. While I played with the other scrap, Himself cradled the other lovingly and said, “If you really want to get a dog you should get this one.”
Note the way he absolved any responsibility. Taken aback, I muttered that we might go home and think about it, but he was adamant. “If we don’t get this one, someone else will.”
I was so dumbfounded by this complete about turn, I gave the owners a deposit without quibble and arranged to collect the puppy the following day.
I spent that night not sleeping, petrified by this new responsibility, desperately worried about whether I’d be a good enough mum, would the cat be all right, was it all a terrible mistake. Himself had his first good night’s sleep in months, snoring blissfully beside me, untroubled by impending parenthood.
When we went to collect the puppy, I was more concerned with making sure Himself Bonded with her. In fact, looking back, that had already happened. What I hadn’t expected was falling in love myself, but that came later. Back home, a Very busy Himself sat in our kitchen showing a rare animation. “She’s a real little joy,” he breathed, gazing adoringly at her. He finally left at 3.30 “so I can come home early” and returned an hour later, suggesting that we call her Mollie. This was in deference to her Irish ancestors and also after a much loved, strong minded cousin, though a friend swiftly nicknamed her Mollie Coddled.
The first night she was understandably a bit squeaky, so at two in the morning this hulk of a man cradled the little snip in his arms and soothed her while I gulped back tears. So much for the man who never wanted children. After a few minutes he took Mollie and disappeared from the bedroom. I got up to find him taking Mollie’s bed into the kitchen then lugging a mattress and duvet onto the floor beside it.
“What are you DOING?” I asked, half asleep.
“Frankly, Pop,” he said, with the air of a Man with a Mission, “there’s no alternative but to sleep in here with her. You go back to bed.”
I did so, smiling to myself. It might not be good puppy training but it was good bonding. I did start to have severe doubts about training though – not Mollie but Himself.
Being new parents, I felt we needed all the help we could get so we had a very good session with our vet nurse – another young Irish girl. She answered all my frantic questions and suggested I bring Mollie to the socialisation class on Thursdays. The first session was somewhat alarming for Moll, who sat underneath my chair and refused to say hello to anyone, but after that she joined in and was soon playing happily with the other pups.
We were both very worried about how the cat would take to having a canine interloper but Himself had endless Man to Man talks with him. While the cat evidently didn’t approve, he tried to ignore the irritating little scrap which was, after all, much smaller than him. If that didn’t work, he hissed and swiped at her before stalking off, tail in the air. At night, the cat slept clamped to my hip (lovely in hot weather) on top of the duvet, while I was squashed between the cat and Himself, and Mollie slept in her crate in the corridor. In the daytime, I had to fight the cat for possession of my writing chair. He obviously felt his position as Top Cat was in danger of being ousted, and needed to redress the balance.
Himself’s interest in people blossomed, with Mollie to show off to the world. Having overcome her initial shyness, she loved meeting everyone, and spent many hours trying to persuade two aged shitzus to play. We learned a lot from their owners, two gay men who adored their dogs, who had stylish little pigtails on top of their heads. You will note that Mollie was very PC in her friends – lesbians and gays were among her greatest admirers.
It soon became clear that we had a child prodigy on our hands. One night Himself said, “you know, Pop, I reckon she’s at least as bright as – what are those exams?” Not having a clue what he was talking about, I couldn’t help, but he got there. “O levels!” he cried. “Yes, she’s up to O level standard already.” And she wasn’t even three months old ... the worrying thing was, he wasn’t even joking.
Himself’s depression improved dramatically. While he still hated work, he had focus again, and most waking hours were devoted to Mollie. She became the daughter we never had, and all my friends started muttering, “he’d make a lovely dad”.
While Himself adored Mollie and she could do no wrong, I soon realised that there was a wilful little girl who loved being boss. As I was with her most of the day, working from home, she had to realise that she couldn’t do what she wanted. To my relief she was surprisingly quick to learn, but as Himself told everyone, “she’s very bright you know.”
Puppy school followed the class at the vet’s, and it soon transpired that I was good at Being Firm while Himself, like many men I know, wasn’t. His version of training was to hold a biscuit in front of her nose and give it to her. “No!” I would shout. “She has to earn it.”
He would look at me sorrowfully and say, “She has, Pop, just by being her.”
See what I mean? Hopeless. So puppy school was essential for him, and we all learnt a huge amount.
Mollie arrived in our lives in a sunny week in July, and in late August Himself was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Throughout the dark days of terror, Mollie was a constant in our lives, focusing attention away from illness and onto her. When the initial shock wore off, the discipline of having to walk Mollie twice a day was a good one and got us both out of the house. There are wonderful days in Autumn, even cancerous ones.
One weekend just before Christmas, although his cancer level was down, Himself developed a lung infection and, coupled with terrible side effects from the cancer drugs, was in agony and unable to move from the sofa. That same week, Mollie had had her dew claws removed and the two invalids sat side by side on the sofa, watching mindless television together, transmitting wordless comfort.
Having helped him through the blackest days of December, when her stitches had healed, Mollie helped me to cope by coming on long walks. Outside I could breathe non-cancerous air and the everyday panics dissipated as she bounded across fields chasing a bird or splashed her way through streams trying to fish.
The prognosis for the cancer improved dramatically and we heaved a collective sigh of relief, but several months later, Himself was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. Furtively I looked it up on the internet, and read, “this is a terminal lung disease.” You can imagine how I felt, that having cheated cancer, he was now going to die of a lung disease. And as he seemed to think it was a mild breathing problem, there was no way I could tell him how serious it was, so I sat on this new fear and tried not to let it grow.
Our friends and family have been wonderful, but the greatest tribute goes to Mollie. Thanks largely to her, we have survived. She is much loved by everyone she meets (except the cat), and has changed our lives by proving a wonderful companion.
A year on, the prostate cancer is now under control, the pulmonary fibrosis has proved not to be terminal, and Himself has sold the business that was contributing to his depression. As a result of walking his hyperactive daughter twice a day, Himself has lost over two stone and is rightly proud of this achievement. He looks younger, his sense of humour has returned, and he strides along instead of shuffling like an old man.
He proudly shows off his wonderful daughter, chats to everyone and is now world expert on Jack Russells. The cat is not ecstatic, but has resigned himself to living with two scruffy, hyperactive women, and as long as he’s fussed over, he doesn’t complain too much.
As for me? I smile and thank my lucky stars that the gamble paid off. I not only have the best dog in the world, but a happy Himself to boot.

First published in Dogs Today December 2006

Friday 13 July 2007

The Chapel


My mother’s chapel is an impressive stone building with thick walls and a new roof, though it’s small by housing standards. It is listed, whereas her house isn’t, apparently because her house has a wall along the road so the listings officer couldn’t see it. That's me and Mollie inside, by the way. (Purposely) too small for indentification.

She didn’t really want a chapel, nor the graveyard outside, but there was no choice in the matter, apparently; one came with the other on the deeds. And yes, it could be turned into a dwelling but she’d need planning permission and a lot of renovations; it doesn’t have any plumbing or heating.

It’s about twenty foot square with a gallery that runs along one side, up some stairs. This is now stuffed with backdrops from various plays, and downstairs, as we walked in, was a gravestone saying E. Scrooge, RIP. The acoustics are wonderful, as proved by Himself while we were up there, and the elegant sounds of the trumpet drifting through to the garden next door were most impressive.

Since my mother’s owned it, the chapel has been a dance studio, a resting place for some friends who were homeless (not ideal given the lack of heating and plumbing), a pottery studio, a gallery, a painting studio and a party venue. It is currently being used by an amateur dramatics company.

It’s extremely cold in winter – the windows are tall and let a lot of light (and cold) in, and the thick stone walls enforce the refrigerating effect. Conversely in summer it’s boiling as the sun streams in and the walls drink the heat up greedily. Having said that, it’s a friendly feeling place that needs a lot of attention. It should be used for music, I think – singing and music and laughter. Plays, perhaps and paintings. It needs performances and a purpose. It needs people to fill its solid squareness and bring it cheer, to make it feel loved. I hope someone does, one day, but the tenants never seem to last long.

Any of you write for children? The chapel is your hero. Or heroine. Perhaps one day someone will stay long enough to cheer its heart.
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Thursday 12 July 2007

Hopeless Tagger

I was tagged by Mother at Large re Food. Now, this is not a good one for me, as we have spectacularly bad luck eating out. Food is either burnt or uncooked, we’ve been overcharged and pissed off, so we’ve given up eating out except for two exceptions which are both in Falmouth, Cornwall.

Mali Thai restaurant is in Quay Hill, Falmouth, just off Custom House Quay, conveniently placed for both the Chainlocker and Quayside pubs. We always get takeaways rather than eating in, and the other night I had their vegetarian red curry which was spicy, hot yet delicate at the same time. Definitely worth repeating. I can’t remember what Himself had but it was good and garlicky.

The Clipper café in Well Lane, Falmouth. Here, despite their less than friendly proprietor, the food is consistently good, imaginative and cheap. They use local ingredients and my favourite is toasted tuna and coleslaw sandwich, or hummous and roasted vegetable sarnie. They also do tortilla, home made tarts, a selection of salads and ham on the bone. Their coffee is spectacular and served in huge French style cups/bowls; a sarnie and coffee costs under a fiver which isn’t bad these days. Unfortunately it’s tiny – only three tables, so you either have to get there very early or queue. Or go somewhere else.

I can’t stretch to five restaurants but on Christmas Day we took ham rolls down to Church Cove, having stopped for a quick drink at the Blue Anchor in Helston. (They do very good Spingo if you’re into real ale which neither of us are.) I digress. Church Cove is beautiful and was filled with dogs and people who’d been swimming, warming up in front of a big fire. We walked Mollie along the beach, where the tide was out, then over onto the dunes and up to the top where we had a breathtaking view of the Lizard, north and south and all the way out to sea. Those Atlantic rollers looked spectacular.

On the way back we met a girl in her thirties at a guess, walking along the road. Now the Lizard is very isolated – you can walk for miles without encountering a house let alone a village or person. It was also nearly 3pm and would be getting dark soon so we gave this girl a lift. She’d obviously been to a pub (she reeked of booze) and asked us to drop her back onto the main road as she was lost and staying on a campsite in the middle of nowhere. In between phone calls (her mobile phone rang, endlessly, from her husband) she told us that they’d split up on Christmas Eve, he’d disappeared with the car and she was left alone on this campsite knowing no one.

By this time I was in tears, she was in tears and I think Mollie was too. Himself was moist round the eyes. I couldn’t just drop her at a crossroads, so we took her back to her caravan. She got out, gave me a huge hug, then gave Himself a huge hug and disappeared into the mist.

I promptly burst into sobs, thinking what a terrible way to spend Christmas Day. So lost and alone, unloved and miserable. She couldn’t get back home (Liverpool or somewhere, hundreds of miles away) until after Boxing Day as there were no trains, and the nearest station was Penzance or Truro - both miles away. And how would she get there? There were no buses that far down. Taxis? Doubtful. I couldn’t stop thinking about, worrying how she was going to spend the next few days. What really happened with her husband? Would he come and collect her, to take her home?

I appreciate this has very little to do with food and I seem to have broken all the tagging rules, sorry about that, but it was a Christmas Day I'll never forget. I wonder what happened, and where she is now?

Wednesday 11 July 2007

The Trumpeter


First of all, we have some very exciting news. Some dear friends of ours are getting married – though nowadays it’s called a Civil Partnership – and not only are we invited, but we have been asked to be Stand In Parents.
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘We can be whatever you want – parents, mates, brothers, sisters, cats or dogs. We’re easy.’
We are of course delighted, honoured and overwhelmed. Gulp. Even the animals are invited. Excuse me while I grope for my hankie….

But back to the trumpet. While we were away (see previous posts), Himself found that he couldn’t play the trumpet properly because his system is too acidic. This interferes with the mouthpiece and – er – things. (You can tell I’ve never played a wind instrument.) The remedy for this is, apparently, to cut down on things acidic. So far so good. But when he said he was going to stop drinking wine, I started worrying.
‘What are you going to drink instead?’ I asked, with a sense of déjà vu.
‘Vodka,’ he replied.
Those of you that know him will appreciate that Himself and spirits are not a good match. But I am learning not to say, ‘Oh God NO!’ Instead I watched him put a bottle of vodka into the shopping basket in the supermarket and advised moderation. Big mistake. I was told where to go. It was not a polite suggestion.

So that evening I watched as the level in the vodka bottle dropped. ‘Much better than that awful gin,’ Himself said, pouring himself yet another Large One and mixing it with grape juice. ‘It’s wine that’s the problem, Flowerpot, so I’m just going to Cut It Out.’

He went to bed early that night.
He didn’t sleep very well.
I suspect he didn’t feel very well in the morning, because he said, ‘I’m not going to drink vodka, Pop.’
Phew. But I’ve been down this path before. The proof of the pudding and all that. I just said, ‘Good idea, darling.’

Last night he announced he was giving up alcohol for as long as it takes to clear his system so he can play the trumpet properly. So we went to the pub while we waited for our takeaway. He had two gins and said, ‘that’s better. Bloody vodka. Horrible stuff.’ I managed not to say anything. Or snort.
We got our takeaway and went home and the rest of the bottle of vodka disappeared. Must be evaporation.

So today is Day One of Sobriety. Well, possibly.
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Tuesday 10 July 2007

Return of Nurse Flowerpot

I arrived home to find my writing seat at my desk occupied by a certain male cat. In my absence, judging by the seat covered in white hairs, Buster has been using my computer. I am no longer the only writer in the family. What has he been saying? I’ve checked my blog but there’s nothing there, so it’s entirely possible that he has set one up himself. How do I find out? What would he call it? Buster Blog? Diary of a Falmouth Feline? Down with Dogs? The possibilities are endless…

We left my mother looking very small, sad and vulnerable. I wanted to scoop her up and bring her home. She hates us going and was Extremely Appreciative, dear thing. We had provided just the right level of care, apparently, which even if it wasn’t true was a very lovely thing to say. In fact, several times she said how good I was at looking after her. I think that was when I’d run up and down stairs about 15 times and was getting decidedly Snappy. But she’s doing much better and you’d never think she’d had major surgery only a few days ago.

While in Devon I developed a habit of waking at 5am. When Mollie sensed this, she decided that she’d like a pee, so I had to let her out (at home she lets herself out through the catflap). Once I’d done this and given her breakfast, I couldn’t get back to sleep, and as I didn’t want to wake Himself or Mum, I would go back to bed and read, looking at the clock every now and then to see when it was 7am which, I felt, was a reasonable time to get up. My mother, who is a night bird, was horrified to see me hanging out the washing at 7.30 one morning. She couldn’t appreciate that it was a beautiful sunny morning and the best time of the day, and stared at me blankly, obviously wondering how she’d produced a daughter who likes mornings.

Now I must say I’m feeling a bit jetlagged. We’d packed the car, hoovered the house and I’d walked Mollie by 9.30 this morning so felt we might as well leave. However, we had to stop in Saltash for coffee (my back starts aching after about ¾ of an hour so I have to get out and unstiffen it.) Then we stopped in Lostwithiel for a picnic and to give Mollie a run in the meadows down by the river. Then we had to stop at Tesco in Truro as there is zilch in the fridge. So it took us 4 hours and my head’s spinning. It’s very nice to be home. I’m sort of thinking it’s time for a glass of wine but – oh God, it’s only 3.45.

Anyway, good parental relations are restored and Mum has someone else arriving this afternoon to look after her, so she’s in good hands, plus all her friends that pop in bringing flowers, books, food and drinks. Even so, it was hard to leave her. I keep seeing that pale little figure, in her pale blue dressing gown, looking agonised. Oh hell…..

Sunday 8 July 2007

I'm writing this underneath the stairs. My friend Gwen has kindly volunteered her childrens' computer so as I was getting withdrawal symptoms from not writing, here I am. A surprise Sunday afternoon blog.

It's noisy at my mother's house. The phone rings a lot, with endless messages of goodwill from her endless friends. She may not have a husband but she has friends in abundance, and they care about her. A lot. When the phone is quiet, Wimbledon is on, and I left her glued to the TV, a cup of tea by her side and a flapjack to keep her energies uo (she's lost a lot of weight and needs feeding up. A family complaint).

The important thing is that she is in good spirits - you'd never think she'd had major surgery 2 days ago. Her dark brown eyes are startlingly clear and her voice is light and free of pain. phew. Consequently we are all more relaxed adn even enjoying our nursing sojourn.

In fact it's turned into quite a social whirl. I've had three offers of company while dog walking so HImself is delighted - he's let off the Long Walk and is earning brownie points by doing endless jobs and creating culinary masterpieces. Then yesterday when we went shopping we bumped into a friend from Falmouth who's housesitting up here and suggested we met for a drink last night. We did. We've also been invited for a drink with other friends tonight. The giddy heights of Devon social life. Added to that, Ways with Words, the literary festival is on, so I went to a talk with Kate Atkinson this morning and am on my way to see another one with Esther Freud later on. (Himself is Patient Sitting, though that's not really necessary as Wimbledon is doing that.)

The audience at Kate A's talk was mostly women, average age 65+ though I was glad to see a spattering of elderly men. She is shorter and larger than I would guess from her author picture, with a fondness for large jewellery - heavy chunky bracelets and a huge turquoise ring on her left hand, third finger. Like a lot of the audience she wears Moshulu sandals, turquoise.

She is nervous to start with, you can tell by her garbled speech but soon she settles down, revealing a good sense of humour, an ability to laugh at herself which is always endearing. She said she thuoght the purpose of anovel is for the characters to find their true identity - as it is in life, I suppose.

I sat next to a dark haired lady making spasmodic notes from Kate A's talk. 'Failed doctorate' she wrote. This evidently cheered her. 'Short stories Good practice for novel writing.' In fact KA learnt her apprenticeship this way - she wrote short stories for womens mags (n the days when they still published them) and said this was an excellent way to learn her trade. She's had her failures, including one rejection letter which said, 'I don't like your writing so I don't want to be your agent.' Well, at lesat you know where you are with comments like that.

'What I had,' she said, 'was profound self belief that I would get published.' And she was right.

Friday 6 July 2007

Icebergs and nurses

It struck me yesterday how little we really know about each other, and there are aspects of this that I like. Surprise can be a good thing in relationships, I find. (Note the word ‘can’. I appreciate there are a lot of instances when surprise can be Very Unwelcome.)

For instance, last week two friends told me things about themselves that I was really surprised about. Both concerned events in their past (and no, I can’t divulge them, am sworn to secrecy) and made me realise that while we think we know our friends, we are all like icebergs. We only show what we want other people to see.

One friend of mine was a highly successful international corporate lawyer who petrified me when we first met. She and her husband (another boating friend of Himself’s) invited us for a meal one evening and, facing this diminutive Swedish lady over the dinner table, I was stunned into silence by the sheer force of her intelligence. She was still living in London then, and I can remember her saying, ‘I’m 55 doing the job of a 35 year old.’ She was also the only one around the table sober – she couldn’t drink, with her job.

Her husband is always generous with the wine - and it’s always really lovely wine, not the £2.99 a bottle that Himself and I drink – so as the evening progressed, I was aware of talking perhaps rather too much, Very Earnestly. Across the table, the terrifying Swede remained impassive. I had another glass of wine and giggled, and the rest of the evening passed in a sort of blur.

It wasn’t till the next day that I thought, Oh God. What did I say? I’d thought I was quite sober, but the finer points of the conversation escaped me. So did the larger ones, actually. Luckily she didn’t come down to Cornwall very often and by the time she did, I’d airbrushed that evening.

She took early retirement due to ill health and arrived to live in Cornwall, knowing no one. She asked me to go walking. I agreed, quaking. I thought, ‘What do I have in common with this horrifyingly intelligent lawyer? What shall we talk about?’

We found we had a lot in common. She has a gorgeous sense of humour, and even better, a great sense of Fun. She is devoted to Mollie (who she refers to as My Dog) and is one of those friends I can talk to about anything. And by anything, I mean from Himself’s cancer (she’s had her fair share of that), to my Murky Past (she’s had murky bits as well), to longing for children, to difficult relationships. We go for long walks with Mollie and sort the world out.

Last week we had a longer walk than usual (a lot to discuss) and when I told her how terrifying I had found her at first, she looked at me and twinkled. ‘I worked hard at that version of myself,’ she said.

And don’t we all? It’s gratifying to know that underneath, she has the same touching insecurities as all of us. Which makes her all the more lovable.

Nurse Flowerpot

Today we are off to look after my mother following her hernia operation. She won’t be able to lift anything, drive or cook or really do much. Oh and she can’t get her stitches wet either, so about the only thing she can look forward to is watching the rest of Wimbledon. And seeing her darling daughter of course.

I’m looking on this trip with a certain amount of trepidation as the last time we went up to look after her, she was a lousy patient. Mind you, I was probably a lousy nurse. However, this time is going to be different, I’m sure (Think Positive).

What this means is that as she doesn’t have any internet connection, you may not be hearing from me for a few days. (Our laptop battery is knackered and at £60 for a new one, we decided against that.) On the other hand, we will have to go and shop so I might find myself lured into an internet café en route.

Meanwhile, think of Nurse Flowerpot, lamp in hand, angelic expression on face. Or not. Watch this space…

Thursday 5 July 2007


I’ve just rung my mother to tell her about The TV Appearance. She’s going into hospital later today to have her second hernia operation in 8 months and is understandably nervous about it, so I thought hearing about her daughter’s forthcoming Fame might cheer her up. It did. She laughed and said, ‘I’ve been fiddling around the house, I’ve tidied my jumpers, written letters - it’s just like waiting to have a baby.’

I thought then how much she’ll enjoy the wonders of the World Wide Web. (We’re getting her a computer, but it’s taking a while to get it and the money together.)
Mum would love some of our blogs, and having just read Mother at Large’s post about acronyms made me think further about titles, and how ridiculous it is that we define people in such a way.

Himself has, like me, had a variety of careers. He was an Oil Rag, the only time he ever worked for anyone else (Castrol Oil, back in 1956) and since then has been self employed. His jobs have included Runner of Violet Farm, Landscaper, Builder (of houses), Yachtsman (sailed to West Indies in 1976, in a working boat, without engine*), Engineer, Yacht Deliverer, Boat Designer and Builder, Health Farm worker in Germany (which he suspected was run by the Mafia**), Jeweller/Tin Caster. Now he is Property Administrator (Odd Job Man) and Jeweller of Pewter.

*this expedition has been written about by Flowerpot and has been accepted by Classic Boat – will be featured when the editor decides when to run a piece on eccentric sailors.

** I would write about this but it’s so extraordinary I don’t know that anyone would publish it. It could also get him knocked off, if the Mafia were involved.

All the years I worked in London I was, variously, Receptionist, Secretary, Account Executive, Personal Assistant, Editorial Assistant. I have also been Waitress, Bar Maid (though that would be Bar Person now) and Temp. After redundancy, when I moved back to Cornwall I was Bar Person, Shop Assistant and Unemployed. Then I was Team clerk, Youth Justice Team (Young Offenders). Then Accommodation Administrator. Now I’m Landlady, Writer, Cleaner and Port Representative, though not all at the same time. Like Cherie Blair, I’m not Superwoman (she says, modestly).

You will see from the above lists that Himself and I have one major thing in common. A low boredom threshold. Neither of us have stuck at anything for long. This is a common trait among writers, I’m pleased to notice (the exception being writing which is the one thing we do tend to stick at) though I’m not sure what that says about us.
We have gained a lot of different experiences over the years.
We are unemployable.
We are mostly mad – who else would want to sit in front of a computer typing words all day?

Given all this, when my mother put us onto her car insurance last year, she put Himself down as Retired, and me down as Housewife. You can probably guess what my reaction was, and I expect my mother’s ears are still ringing from my shrieks of outrage.

Why was I so insulted? I know what we both do – why should it matter what other people think? Ah, but it does. Our lives are validated by our occupations. Why shouldn’t I be a housewife, or mother, and be happy with that? Because being labelled a Mother or Housewife insults our intelligence. It implies that we aren’t capable of doing anything else. We are simply an appendage to our spouses, or if we are single, we’re kicking around Wasting Our Lives.

I haven’t got children so I can’t be a mother, and I wouldn’t be fulfilled by being a housewife. I loathe housework (it’s different if someone’s paying you to do it), I dislike shopping and I’d be bored rigid. My brain needs a good workout which it wouldn’t get unless I had a constant challenge, which writing gives me. So I’m deeply hurt if my writing is dismissed, which doubtless makes me Shallow and Insecure.
But why should our achievements, whether they are raising children (which must be the most difficult job on earth), being a cleaner or writing an article, be knocked down? Our achievements are part of us. We should be proud of them.

Let’s hear it for the girls. Whatever we do.

Wednesday 4 July 2007


How wonderful to wake up to hear good news for once. Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent who has been held hostage for 114 days, has been freed (in case any of you live on a different planet).

In this age of dimwitted celebrity icons, it’s heartwarming to see Alan so calm and composed, despite his ordeal with his captors whom he described as ‘dangerous and unpredictable’. I shudder to think of what he went through, and how it will affect him in the long term, but the important thing now is that he’s free. (Will he go back to his previous job?) We can only imagine the joy of his family and friends.

I was working at WTN while John McCarthy was held hostage, and got to know his girlfriend, Jill Morrell, who worked round the corner at ITN. I became involved with the Friends of John McCarthy and can well imagine what the BBC have been doing backstage in order to get Alan released.

I had been made redundant and was working in a shop in Fowey when he was finally released, and heard of his freedom on the radio when I’d nipped over the road to buy an apple from the greengrocer. He looked somewhat alarmed when I burst into tears and rushed out, without apple, to leg it to the nearest phonebox so I could ring WTN.

Alan Johnston seems to have been captured because he worked for the BBC; a good way of manipulating the British media? His capture was certainly guaranteed worldwide coverage. At least, thank God, he’s safe. Let’s all celebrate.

And talking of the media, Flowerpot is to be on television. Before you get all excited (and Himself is, very), there won’t be much of it. And it will be on Westcountry so all of you further up the country and in warmer climes my miss out on this exclusive bit of coverage.

It’s an arts programme, where a panel of four (yours truly being one) will take part in a chaired discussion on a selection of Westcountry authors – John Betjeman, Agatha Christie, Mary Wesley, Daphne du Maurier and Thomas Hardy. They will film for about an hour and edit it down to 4 minutes. Probably less, I would imagine. I don’t know who else will be taking part, but it could help my writing – er – somehow. Who knows what may come of it? Probably nothing, but my friends and family will all have a good laugh. I will, too.

Tuesday 3 July 2007


This weather is getting to me. I’m normally volatile, but this rain is dragging me down into its liquid muddy depths. I don’t mind getting wet, but yesterday I was SOAKED three times. Twice walking Mollie and once in town. This ensured Very Bad Mood and when Himself got back from work, I wasn’t speaking to him either. (He’s lucky in this aspect – he would only have got an earful.)

After a glass of wine I was slightly more affable and anyway, Himself was busy boring over a flying magazine that had been sent to him featuring an incident that occurred when he was 16 (more later). So he’s nearly famous as well and that cheered him no end.

When I think of how different Himself and I are, it’s amazing that we actually speak to each other, let alone get on. For instance:-

I am quite a sociable creature; he is not.
My idea of a good evening out is with friends, going to the cinema or theatre, having a drink or two. He’d rather stay at home with a bottle of wine. Unless there’s any jazz on, in which case he’d rather go and see jazz, which is a type of music I’m not very keen on.
I eat very little meat; he likes meat and two veg every day.
I’m not very interested in food, whereas he will spend hours poring over recipe books, before cooking a meal.
I love long walks with a friend and Mollie.
He doesn’t like walking at all, but comes on the short morning one under duress.
I love singing; he doesn’t.
I love ballet and most forms of dance; he doesn’t, though he has been known to lurch round at a pub disco when sufficiently inebriated.
I am mostly hyperactive, whereas he has a slow metabolism.
I sleep naked, as I’m always boiling hot, while he sleeps in a sweatshirt.

Our differences serve to provide lively debate (for which read, heated arguments, imminent divorce, wine glass thrown across room, depending on the state of my hormones). Topics to avoid are Children (see earlier blog). Abortions (light touch paper and stand back). Politics. Iraq. My family. His family – or an appendage to his family (a Long Story).

So what do we talk about? Er – I’ll just see if I can remember…

So far we’ve managed eleven years together. I wonder how much longer we can survive under one roof without killing each other?

Monday 2 July 2007

Children haven't always made me cry

I used to be quite a rational being, but every now and then my hormones, evidently ignored, kick in with vengeance. Last month, two Chinese babies in the pub turned me from a laughing wife to a tearful wreck in the space of seconds. Somewhere inside me a knife was being turned, and the pain was so intense I couldn’t speak.

Broodiness was something I had always associated with other women. I love my nieces and nephews, but as a grandparent does, happy to hand them back at the end of the day. I met my husband when I was 36 and, being eighteen years older than me, he was anxious to make it clear that he didn’t want children. I happily agreed. We wanted to sail and go adventuring. We looked pityingly at exhausted mothers lugging screaming children around supermarkets, and thanked God that wasn’t us.

Then at the age of 42, my body clock, like the crocodile in Peter Pan, started ticking loudly. It followed me everywhere, and around every corner lurked danger. Pregnant women, mothers with buggies or children with dummies were too painful to witness. The sense of deprivation was so powerful that I felt winded. Why did these women have children when I didn’t? How could I bear the fact that I would never hold my child in my arms? But I was happily married, in love with my husband. Why did I feel like this?

This phase lasted for months. We talked about it rationally, when I wasn’t weeping. My husband agreed that if I really wanted, we could adopt. Tearfully I thanked him, all the while suppressing feelings of disquiet. If we adopted in the next year, my husband would be in his eighties when the child was 20. I would be 60. We have several friends who have opted to have children later on – but this much later?

I have always felt that having a family is a tremendous undertaking, and one that should be discussed very carefully before embarking on. It is, after all, other people’s lives at stakes. So I asked myself endless questions. How would our relationship change, for it must. Would it survive? Would it be fair on the children, to have such older parents? Would it be fair on us? I’d always thought parents should be there to play football with their children, to adventure with them. It looked like we’d be doing it from zimmer frames.

And what of the sleepless nights? Could I cope? Would my husband ever be able to get back on a boat and sail around the world one last time? Probably not. How could he not feel resentful of the fact that I’d chosen children over him, and denied him his dreams? Wasn’t I just being selfish?

Could we afford children? We could pay the bills, but there was no money left over for anything else. How would we feed and clothe a child, buy toys and outings, what about schooling?

For the first time in my life, I was free to do what I wanted. I had recently left a job that was making me ill with stress, and had my own business as a seaside landlady, letting flats. I could chose to devote my time to writing and running my business, or I could become a mother. At 43. My head knew what it wanted, so did my heart, and they were utterly separate.

Throughout all this, my husband couldn’t have been more loving and supportive. He never tried to influence me, though I knew how he felt. But his relief, when I decided to concentrate on writing, was palpable. The financial outlay needed to bring up children was enough to bring both of us out in a sweat. I made my decision for several reasons – the answers to my questions above. But also because I wanted to become a better writer.

In order to alleviate my hormones, which were still mutinying at the choice I’d made, I started writing a short story. No prizes for guessing the topic, but at least I was able to give my anguish to someone else. You’ve heard of retail therapy? This was diversion therapy. The story became a novel in which a broody woman’s answer is granted, in an unexpected way. My pain was absorbed into the book, and I started learning the complex business of writing a novel.

My broodiness still rears its head, usually out of the blue. It’s painful and tortuous but it’s something I have had to come to terms with. I have time to write, run a business and work part-time which I would not be able to do if we had children. I can see friends, go to films and walk the coastline. We don’t need much money because this is Cornwall and we have only ourselves to look after. With children things would be very different. If we’d met when we were younger, I would have loved children – particularly to adopt. But we didn’t.

Two years ago we became the proud owners of a Jack Russell puppy who stole our hearts. Her first night with us, it was my husband who jumped out of bed and cradled her in his arms, crooning to her lovingly. I looked at him then and knew he’d make a wonderful dad. Everyone who knows him says the same thing. And last night in the pub, he spent ages teaching a friend’s 6 year old a trick. So should I have insisted? Should I have stuck to my guns and been selfish? Did I make the right decision?

It is this sense of loss that keeps me writing. Everything – my books, my articles and stories – published or not, are my children. They are nurtured, cried over, keep me awake at night and even argue back. When they are criticised, I cringe with humiliation. When they won’t behave, I am exasperated. When other people enjoy them, I brim with pride.

Life is too short for regrets.

Sunday 1 July 2007

There was summer in June


It seems incredible that a month ago, we were nearly dying of heat. Given this appalling and deeply depressing weather, I thought we should have a picture of my Mum's garden in Devon, a month ago. It is probably now knee deep in mud, but at least the picture can lift our spirits a little!

Enjoy your Sunday.
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