Saturday 29 September 2007

Flowerpot is somewhat indisposed at the moment and is heading for a minor operation on Monday, so here is a soothing picture of my mother's front door in sunnier, warmer times. I'm sure I'm not the only one who needs comforting.

You were going to have a lovely picture sent by my mum of me aged about 3 and my dad sitting on the terrace at our home in Devon. Himself scanned the picture, sent it to me - but it's a PDF file not a Jpeg and blogger doesn't like pdf files. Anyone any ideas? You know what a technical virgin I am.

Excuse me while I crawl off with my hot water bottle.

Friday 28 September 2007

Awards and Smiling

Another award – this time from the lovely Akelamalu. What a lovely award – guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone’s face! And as I have to nominate three others, here they are:-

Graham, Prince & Tilly – not that he’s always funny, far from it, some previous posts are hearbreaking, but hopefully his life is on the up and Tilly is such a darling, full of wonderful antics

Rilly Super – who seems to have disappeared from blogland, but hope she will return soon. Her earlier posts had me crying with laughter.

Around my kitchen table – for often hilarious, wise and beautifully written posts. Wish there were more of them, table!

On the subject of making you smile, I have a beautiful wooden box on my dressing table shaped like an old fashioned pencil box. The wood is pale with darker wood inlaid, simple and sturdy, a no-nonsense box smudged with the years.

It was a present from a journalist I used to work with in the late eighties, who brought it back from Albania. We weren’t involved – he was happily married and expecting his first baby, but it was such a thoughtful and generous present, it always makes me smile.

And what is life if you can't smile?

Thursday 27 September 2007

Many thanks to the rotten correspondent for her award of Blogging Star. How extremely kind and generous.

Now, of course, I have to pass it onto other people, who are:-

Crystal Jigsaw
Laurie (3 dog blog)
Lady Thinker
Miss Understood

It is a wonderful, if cold, day here in Cornwall with a Wedgewood blue sky, a brisk northerly wind and clear, bright sunshine. If only my head felt as clear as the sky. But I feel dizzy and befuddled. Words are down the other end of a long hazy tunnel this morning, and my legs are wobbly, unable to go and retrieve them.

However, a strange thing has happened. The post arrived and with it a note saying I had won a prize. I viewed this with a certain amount of cynicism but decided that as the phone number was a normal rate one, that I'd ring it. To my amazement, I have won a Gold Card membership for the health club in Falmouth. Not that I have any desire to go to a health club. I went once to aerobics and was bored rigid, and after all, Mollie does a very good job of keeping me fit. But they do yoga and pilates, which I am told I should do. So perhaps I should go and have a look. After all, it is worth £700 (gasp) and I am a firm believer in Never Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth. Shame this one didn't have cash in its mouth though.

By the way, my blog instructions have gone back to German. Anyone else got this? Or is this a sinister message? Big Brother is German?

Wednesday 26 September 2007

A reading meme

I have been memed by RT about my reading.

Total number of books owned – thousands over the years. They come and go except for the old favourites.

Last book read
Boy in the World by Niall Williams

Last book bought
The moment you were gone by Nicci Gerrard

5 meaningful books
HARNESSING PEACOCKS by MARY WESLEY. A story of great originality, wit and imagination. Lessons for us all.
NEVER CHANGE by Elizabeth Berg. It’s never too late for anyone to fall in love, but if they die, you mustn’t give up. Life is for living.
RACHEL’S HOLIDAY by Marion Keyes. A bittersweet tale of addiction.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD BABY GIRL – anything by FANNIE FLAGG is worth reading
A SPOT OF BOTHER by MARK HADDON. The agonies of a dysfunctional family.

I have to tag five people who are –

Crystal Jigsaw
Rilly Super
Liz Fenwick
Mother at large

And a PS. I've just started the new novel and need a name for a dog. A young collie-cross. Any ideas? Oh, as aptly pointed out by MissU, it depends who owns the dog. It's the older, sprightly lady who is in her late 60s/early 70s. I thought of calling the dog Fred, after Fred Astaire, but think he needs to be a bit more imaginative than that. She is an ex-dancer, so - no, he can't be called Rudolph...

Tuesday 25 September 2007

Filming in the Library

Apologies to RT for her reading meme which I am looking forward to tackling, but felt I should give an account of last night first.

Filming got off to a dodgy start yesterday evening as two out of four of us on the panel didn’t turn up – they thought it was today. So a passing poet was roped in plus one of the librarians, neither of whom had done any research, of course.

Looking back, I wish I’d re-read some Hardy as I was sitting next to a retired Know It All (ex-teacher I would guess, though no offence to any ex-teachers who might be reading). She was convinced that whatever she said was right, when she was frequently off topic. I shot her down on several occasions, notably to say that I’d never read Hardy since school as I found him too depressing. Being a Hardy Zealot, this enraged her. She was the sort you could imagine on Mastermind, taking Hardy as her Specialist Subject.

Dermot the producer was good at throwing questions at us and one was, ‘how would you interest a 17 year old in any of these writers?’

For once, my brain worked on time. ‘Sex,’ I said, before my neighbour could give Hardy another blast. She merely looked horrified. ‘Get them to read Mary Wesley. They might pick up a few tips.’

I don’t expect that bit will make it to the final edit, but it will be interesting to see. It’s to be shown on Westcountry at the beginning of December – I’ll let you know details as soon as I find out.

However, Himself came and watched and Dermot seemed happy with it overall, despite all of us drying up at some time or other. I managed to give Daphne du Maurier and Mary Wesley a good plug, although to my horror Hardy won the vote for Westcountry Writer. Pah!

Himself says that autographs are available by post. He's organising that side of it, having appointed himself my agent. Knowing his business skills, I think I’ll sack him before he starts, but he’s Very Proud and told everyone this morning on our dog walk, ‘I’m with a Star, you know.’

Monday 24 September 2007

Fraught Weekend and TV Fame

A busy weekend here at Flowerpot House. My 78 year old mother, who has recently recovered from major surgery, was staying but warned that she wouldn’t be able to do much.

‘That’s fine, Mum,’ I said, picturing a sedate wander through town and a cup of coffee.

Saturday afternoon saw us striding into town (she walks FAST), to the bookshop, stopping at various places along the way. She doesn’t wander when she shops, she streaks in and out like a collie rounding up sheep. We spent an hour in town before going off to take Moll for a Proper Walk. My blood sugar level was starting to tumble, and after walking for half an hour I suggested we start back (making it an hour long walk).

‘Oh,’ said Mum. ‘Why don’t we just go a bit further? Just to the end of that field.’

‘OK, Mum. Fine.’ I mean, I couldn’t be walked off my legs by my dear Mum. I’m fit, for God’s sake. Or thought I was…

That evening I was assembling a meal when I realised that whereas there had been three bits of salmon for our tea, there were now only two.

‘Oh,' said Himself. 'I thought it was empty so I threw the carton away.’

God – men! I delved into the bin and out came everything teabags, egg shells, potato peelings – everything except salmon.

As I was half way down the bin, I heard a squeak from the shower.

‘Hello!’ called Mum, her voice rising in panic. ‘I can’t turn the shower off! Help!’

Having turned Mum’s shower off, the phone rang. Thankfully Himself answered. It was James. He couldn’t work out how his new hole punch worked. Himself, who possesses infinitely more patience than me, spent the next half an hour explaining to James how to put a piece of paper in, and punch the holes.

Back in the kitchen I wondered about the salmon and turned to the animals. ‘Mollie! Buster!’ I shouted. ‘Have you been eating salmon?’

Both animals looked at me with that angelic, ‘Who, me Mum?’ expression, and I abandoned all hope of finding the salmon. It had gone, I think down Bussie’s gullet.

I retired to the front room with a Very Large glass of wine. My God it tasted good.

Tonight is the filming of the Westcountry Writers debate (for TV) featuring a panel of people including yours truly, though how they got these people or who the others are I have no idea. (Before you get excited, the end result will be edited down to 4 minutes.) I don’t know when it’s being shown – sometime next year I presume – but will find out and record it for posterity. Well, I would if the video was working but that’s another story.

I am now off to mug up on Mary Wesley, Betjeman, Hardy, Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier. Watch this space, now I’m a television luvvie, darlings.
Actually, I’m quite nervous.

Saturday 22 September 2007

A Rant

Last week our elderly friend James asked us to type a letter to his solicitor for him as he is concerned that his daughter isn’t looking after his finances properly. I wasn’t sure about doing this but Himself said we should help James as the daughter won’t listen to him and James is unable to write a letter himself or talk to the solicitor on the phone.

After much deliberation the letter was sent off and today we saw the reply. The solicitor has clearly talked to said daughter who has said – via the solicitor – that she would rather look after James’ finances by herself without interference from anyone else. (I bet.)

The letter also said that she would do any typing that James wanted rather than having “Outsiders interfering with his personal finances or his marriage settlement”.

While I appreciate that the solicitor is doing his job warding off untoward people trying to grab James’s money, I am so hurt that I want to slap and shake the daughter for even suggesting such a thing. She should know by now that we are true friends of her father’s.

I want to shout and scream with rage. I feel as if someone’s stuck a knife in my guts and wrenched it around. We would never do anything to interfere with James’ finances and I find it highly offensive that this is being suggested. All we were trying to do was help him.

But this, I suppose, is what you get. You can see why people stop helping, when all they get is a slap in the face.

End of rant. Thank you. I feel better now.

Friday 21 September 2007

Progress reports - cats, dogs and great grandsons

I’m pleased to report that Bussie is now back to his normal self. He is eating – well, not as much as he used to, but that’s no bad thing, and has taken over reign of the bottom bunk, as normal.

Unfortunately (for him), my mother is arriving late this afternoon and given that we have a one bedroom flat, she sleeps on the sofa bed in the lounge, and the bunks are where she puts her case and clothes. You can imagine how Bussie is going to like that.

The Itching Moggie is no longer itching but the anti inflammatory pills (or antihistamines, whatever they are) have turned our bouncy girl into a very quiet, lethargic girl which is extremely unnerving. She didn’t even want to go for a walk yesterday which is unheard of. I persevered, as my back was hell from sitting in front of the computer for too long, and after a while she enjoyed it, but she is really not herself. Still, she's stopped itching which is the main thing and she won’t be on the drugs for much longer.

Going back to yesterday’s post, it turns out that my friend’s 19 year old grandson took his 19 year old, very pregnant and terrified girlfriend to hospital the previous night but they told her to go home as she wasn’t ready.

‘He rang yesterday to ask how he could tell if his girlfriend’s waters have broken if she’s in the bath,’ said N. breathlessly. This was when she told him to time the contractions and ring her back.

‘I should think they were both petrified,’ I said, thinking of myself at 19. Utterly hopeless. Who knows much about childbirth at that age? And not a parent in sight.

‘Exactly,’ said N (an ex-nurse, which is one of the reasons why her grandson rang. Another reason, I suspect, is that she wouldn’t panic). ‘Poor lad – he said the contractions were 4 minutes apart but luckily they were able to get an ambulance, got to hospital and she gave birth 3 hours later.’ She paused. ‘I’m now great grandmother of a 6 ¾ pound boy.’

‘Congratulations,’ I said, though from her voice I wasn’t sure whether commiserations would have been more appropriate. ‘How are you feeling? I don’t suppose you got much work done after that.’

‘I’ve been trying to write all day, and now I’m exhausted.' She gave a hooting laugh. 'I feel like taking my false teeth out and going to bed.’

Thursday 20 September 2007

I’ve just rung a writing friend who I am trying to interview for a feature on inspirational women over 65, and she sounded breathless, as she often does.

‘Oh,’ she gasped. ‘I’m so sorry – I really do want to talk to you, but my grandson’s just rung. His girlfriend’s in the bath, having contractions, so I’ve told him to time them and ring me back.’ She giggled. ‘I have to say, I hadn’t expected to become a great grandmother the day after my daughter’s 50th birthday, but there you go!’

You can see why I want to write about her, don’t you?

But I digress. Debio has nominated me for the Awesome Dude award. How very cheering on a very grey, damp Cornish morning. Thank you so much!

I have to pass this on to five people who are:-

Crystal Jigsaw
Cornish Dreamer
Three Dog Blog
The rotten correspondent

And here's another quote.

"No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power."
P.J. O'Rourke, writer (1947- )

You can tell he wasn't a politician.

Wednesday 19 September 2007

Novel News

When I opened the door, the postman stood there with a Big Parcel. It was a jiffy bag which meant this was my novel back from the New Writers Scheme. The fact that it had been returned meant it wasn’t good enough for a second reading. My stomach plummeted as if I was in a very fast lift, along with my confidence. Bugger.

With trembling hands I ripped the package open, desperate to know what the report said. Well, I had an idea – “ this is well written but xxxxx needs looking at and I wasn’t happy with xxxx and your plot needs working on and you could improve it by xxxx and good luck and keep writing.”

I stood in the kitchen, shaking while I scanned through the compliments (those are always first) waiting for the BUTs. A few very minor ones – like missing pages, a briefly mentioned character who never reappears again – she could be got rid of as she doesn’t add anything to the story. I could perhaps sharpen it up by cutting down on the description but don’t get rid of too much because it’s lovely.

Then at the end, a warning that there is no guarantee that an agent or publisher will take this on. If they don’t, I might need to tighten up a certain passage of the book, but it reads well as it is. Next page, a list of agents to send it to.

So this is a good report? Where’s the list of things that are wrong? If the writer thought it was good, why didn’t it get a second reading?

Brain went into complete overdrive and I couldn’t concentrate for the next hour.

Thankfully I was due to meet a friend in town so I had a long walk, a good chat and came home and sent the first few chapters off to Piatkus.

I’ve now re-read the report several times and while I’m delighted, there’s no guarantee that this will succeed with an agent or a publisher. If it did – well, we won’t go there. I’ve been disappointed too many times.

But – and this is the tricky bit about being a writer - I know this is the best thing I’ve written. Can I do it again? Already I’m thinking that the next novel, which I’m plotting, is weaker. The characters aren’t as strong or as quirky. Or are they?

Oh hell, who’d be a writer? Why, a friend of mine asked, do I do something that continually tests my flailing confidence? Why do I work in a business that means I’m continually up against rejection?

That I can’t answer. I inherited the writing gene – no idea from whom - and I have to go with it.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Itching Moggies Part Two

Poor Mollie has had a bad few days. She started itching on Saturday night and by yesterday morning had scratched great lumps of fur from her back. Poor darling looked as if she had eczema, so I whisked her off to the vet as soon as possible. Of course the first available visit wasn’t till 5.30 pm by which time I’d consulted various friends who gasped in horror and said, ‘Oh, Flowerpot. Poor Mollie!’

She did look pretty bad. Even I winced looking at her.

By the time 5.30 arrived I’d looked up eczema, mange and a variety of other skin disorders – cancer included – so you can imagine the state I was in. We got to the surgery which was full of yowling cats, but my weekly visits paid off and Moll just sat, then lay down at my feet and snoozed while I continued to hyperventilate.

The vet was young and Irish and very cheery, put up with Moll’s growling with amazing good nature and decreed that it was a hyperallergic reaction to a flea bite. As we’ve dosed her with Stronghold, that would rule out mange (she does roll in all sorts of ungodly things but the itching isn’t where mange would be), so that was another relief.

She’s now got some anti-inflammatory pills that she has to take a double dose of this week then cut it down to once a day next week, and that should do the trick. In fact she hasn’t itched since she came back so they must be working, and I am hugely relieved that it’s nothing more serious.

The only downside is that now she’s developed this hypersensitivity to flea bites, we have to be very careful it doesn’t happen again, so she must be topped up with Stronghold regularly.

Meanwhile, she looks as if she has galloping alopecia, poor darling. Luckily, given her innate sense of humour and smiling confidence, she carries on as if nothing’s the matter. What a girl!

And I leave you with a quote from my dear SIL that certainly applies to me and my Moll.

“If you have ever been called defiant, incorrigible, forward, cunning, insurgent, unruly, rebellious . . . you’re on the right track.” - Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Monday 17 September 2007

Recipe for a happy marriage

The U3A brigaade weren’t going whale watching, after all (that’s what happened last year), but on a sedate adventure to Le Havre and back via Scilly. A wonderful trip, you would think, in balmy weather (or it was on Saturday when they left). But I’ve never come across such a disgruntled, unhappy lot. Intelligent, they may have been, but possessed not a scrap of common sense.

They questioned having to leave their passports in the purser’s office (standard procedure), moaned about having to take their own hand luggage on board, and we were all pleased to see the back of them. My smile was stretched to breaking point by 2.30pm, when I somehow managed to say to one particularly obnoxious couple, ‘have a LOVELY trip.’

The husband looked up at me and suddenly shut up. He could probably see the venom emanating from my nostrils.

I was telling Himself this on Saturday evening. Then, as things do after a much need visit to the pub, it turned into a Philosophical Discussion which went like this. (Stop reading now if you are easily offended.)

‘We come from a fairly doomed family,’ said Himself. (You can tell he’d had a few Large Ones.)

‘You mean you’re fxxxed?’ I asked.

‘Well, our home environment was hardly inspirational.’ He paused. ‘Meeting you was –’ he paused and scratched his balls. ‘I don’t want to drop myself in it,’ he said at last and took another fortifying gulp of wine.

I waited for him to do just that.

‘I think I was ready – like a piece of beef – for a different kind of life.’

‘A piece of beef?’ I snorted. ‘No wonder I don’t eat much meat.’

He looked up and those blue eyes twinkled. ‘I spent all my life in the sh*t, Flowerpot. Since I met you, these last 11 years, it’s just the depth that’s changed.’

I could see this conversation wasn’t going quite the way I had been expecting.

‘I’ve been in it closely up to my nostrils,’ he said, clearly getting whimsical. ‘Since I met you it’s got up to the top of my ears, but I probably got oxygen from somewhere.’

I giggled at the thought of him, like a pig in clover – except that it wasn’t clover of course. He caught my look and grinned. ‘I’m calling on my expertise for scuba driving,’ he said, slurring just a little bit as he poured himself another generous glass of wine.

‘Scuba driving?’

He grinned. ‘Yes, scuba driving. That accounts for my survival. Either that or I can hold my breath for up to 11 years.’


Saturday 15 September 2007

Political Correctness

A brief post as I’m working on the Van Gogh again today. A party of elderly U3A passengers have chartered the ship to go whale watching apparently. Did I hear that right?

Last night we met a friend who is shop sitting for a friend’s antique shop in Falmouth.

‘I don’t want to be rude,’ he said. ‘But seeing the people that come in reminds me exactly why I gave up my shop. They are so dense!’

Some time in the afternoon a large girl carrying clipboard and briefcase came into the shop and looked round, demanding to see the No Smoking sign.

Julian doesn’t smoke but stared at her. ‘Who are you?’ he said.

‘I’m from Carrick Council,’ she said. ‘It’s against the law not to have a No Smoking sign.’

‘Who would smoke in an antique shop?’ said Julian. ‘And anyway, it’s not my shop. The owner’s away.’

‘That doesn’t matter,’ said Ms Carrick. ‘You have to display one of these signs by law. I shall come back next week to make sure the owner’s put one up.’

While Julian fumed, she made notes, handed him a few signs and a card.

The card read Smokeenforcement Officer.
Yes, all one word.

Not only has political correctness gone bonkers, but they don't know any grammar or spelling. So she's enforcing smoking? I’m not sure which incensed Julian more.

Friday 14 September 2007

Open Marriages Part 2

Following on from yesterday’s comments about Open Marriage, this got me thinking about someone we’ve met who builds catamarans and has become well known for having ‘adopted the Polynesian way of life’.

To me this seems to mean that he has a wife ( a lovely, very intelligent woman) but he became famous for his Other Women, who he took sailing and obviously had sex with. (He has a son by one of them. Oh yes, and his wife stayed at home and brought up the son while the mother went off sailing. Why, I wonder?)

Apparently the Polynesians have lots of wives. The women appear to pander to the men, bring up their children and have a good time. Oh yeah? The children, in turn, are ‘instigated into sex’ by uncles or fathers or whoever from a very young age. Don’t get me started on this topic - but evidently child abuse is unknown, or unacknowledged, in Polynesia.

When this character’s way of life was first mentioned, sitting round over a meal one evening, I was horrified. Unsurprisingly, the men around the table were very envious of this man. Talk about having your cake…

‘Don’t be silly, Pop,’ said my husband with a lustful glow in his eyes. ‘Of course the women enjoy it. That’s what they’ve been brought up to expect.’

I don’t think one qualifies the other, and I shot down his argument pretty smartly, but it got me thinking.

Now I don’t know nearly enough about this way of life, but I know enough to realise that there’s no way I could ever live like that. Perhaps I’m too needy, too selfish. But I need to be able to trust my partner. If he’s off screwing other women, all of whom are people I know, if not my best friends, I won’t respect him let alone trust him. And for me a relationship has to be based on trust and respect. Believe me, I’ve had enough disasters in the past to have learnt the hard way.

So I have no desire to go to Polynesia, or to entertain Himself’s wild fantasies about this way of life. (When he’s sober he would admit to finding one wife hard work, let alone more than one.)

I’m staying firmly in Cornwall. With my husband. In shackles. (Him of course, not me.)

Thursday 13 September 2007

Overload and Infidelity

My mind is buzzing today, like a directionless, demented bee. I have too much to do and can’t decide how to prioritise my workload because I’m waiting for various replies from people. Just to make matters worse, when I sit down and try and concentrate on my course, my mind flits to character studies of the novel that I started doing.

I should be working towards a feature for my next assignment but I can’t get my brain to slow down enough. The words dither around in my head before flying out into the garden where they sit, flapping their wings on the washing that drifts, lethargically, in the breeze. Even the sky is a lazy blue.

Last night we were talking about a friend of Himself’s who, many years ago, had a very Open marriage.

‘He made it very clear that he and his wife slept with whoever they wanted,’ said Himself. ‘He said he always dreaded that knock on the door and someone standing on the doorstep saying Hello Father.’

That never happened (he has two legitimate daughters) but one day Himself and the wife were walking back from the pub when she made it very clear that her current lover was about to move on and she wanted a replacement, and that Himself would do.

‘What did you do?’ I said, trying to imagine a bloated middle aged woman groping Himself - tall, angular, younger man.

‘Shag her?’ cried Himself, outraged. ‘I wasn’t that desperate!’

I only hope he didn’t say that to the husband. He might not have been too flattered.

Wednesday 12 September 2007

Another meme

I’ve been memed by Lady Thinker –

To list one word, fact or titbit that is relevant to your life for each letter of your name.

When you are tagged you need to write your own post with the above

Then choose one person for each letter for you to tag.

Let them know so they can continue the meme if they wish.

So – here we go, though I have so many names it’s difficult to choose which one to use. I’ll go for what Himself, and most of my friends call me.

P is for painful. Life can be, at times, but then without the bad bits you don’t enjoy the good bits. And life would be boring if it was all plain sailing, wouldn’t it?

O is for out of this world. This morning the sea is calm, another cruise ship came gliding into the harbour under an early morning golden sun, and the dew on the grass was cold and magical underfoot. Summer may be late this year but it seems twice as good.

P (another P?!) is for purpose. If life doesn’t have a purpose then I tend to drift round in circles. I’m not saying I’m driven, but I need to know where I’m going. I’ve just finished reading Boy In the World by Niall Williams which is about just this – finding out what he wants; what his place is in this world. A touching, thought provoking book.

I’m bending the rules here, as I think Penny did, or perhaps I’m just too thick to work out what she did. Anyway, I’m passing it on to 5 people who are:

Cornish Dreamer
Three Dog Blog
Crystal Jigsaw
The rotten correspondent
Mollie’s Blog

Please feel free to join in or not!

Tuesday 11 September 2007


Last night I saw Nigella Lawson’s Express food programme featuring laughably expensive dishes like steak with crushed butter beans, served in a ton of garlic olive oil. Nigella simpered at the camera in a way that was at first funny but later became as cloying as the chocolate mousse she made. She gives soft porn (or prawn for the starter) a whole new meaning.

Nigella used to be someone I admired. She handled her husband’s death with courage and fortitude and was a brilliant writer and speaker. Now she seems to have turned into a parody of herself. If I had children I certainly wouldn’t want them eating her recipes (not a vegetable in sight, and such rich food), so I wonder what her kids eat.

So I started thinking about who inspires me. This question was posed on the Novel Racers blog the other day, (as a neat link)…

Well, I would say the late and great Jayne Tomlinson for her courage, determination and perseverance (all qualities that are vital in a writer).

My husband for his bravery in dealing with prostate cancer. He’s just been told he has to go back on treatment to bring his PSA count down, and the drugs make him feel lousy. But he hasn’t complained. (Mind you, he was only told yesterday.)

(PSA is a blood test that measures the level of cancer in the blood, by the way.)

My friend Av for having such intelligence and compassion in dealing with problem stepchildren, elderly mothers and mothers-in-law, and still retaining a sense of humour.

Someone I met recently who has survived alcoholism, drug addiction, cancer and several broken marriages. She is resolutely cheerful, resonates with lively intelligence and has a wonderful sense of humour. I am proud to be her friend.

My Mollie Dog for being so persistently optimistic, loving and intelligent. I love her to bits.

Bussie for his disdainful arrogance and his recent decision Not to Wash. He has turned from a spotless white and black cat to a grey cat. Is he rebelling? Having a mid life crisis? God knows.

Who inspires you?

Monday 10 September 2007


The first time it happened I thought I was going to crash the car. I can remember it all so vividly – the feeling that something terrible was going to happen. I was being threatened by an unknown force, and my stomach clenched like a fist. A pain wrenched through my chest and I couldn’t breathe, knew I would choke soon. My hands began to tremble as they clutched the steering wheel. I could feel my heart pounding, and I became hot, cold, flushed then pale. I felt dizzy, sick and wanted to run far away. I was terrified, for I knew I was in terrible danger. I steered the car into a layby and jumped out shaking and gasping for breath.

Afterwards, I sobbed in despair. I was a frightened failure. Was I mentally ill, or physically – terminally – ill? Had I had a heart attack? But I didn’t tell anyone else, for I knew no one would understand. How can anyone who hasn’t experienced a panic attack even guess what it’s like? Thrillers and horror films get the adrenaline going, so you can experience fear from the safety of your own home, but no one really wants to experience panic. There is nothing glorious about it – panic is the black sheep of the fear family.

Driving is something that many of us take for granted. Living in rural South Devon, as I did then, I couldn’t get to work by public transport. Overnight, my car turned from an everyday necessity into a torture chamber, making life very difficult. This panic attack shook my confidence. Everyday trips like driving to work or to the supermarket became a major ordeal, but I was too ashamed to tell anyone about my problem. I went over and over what had happened, reliving the experience in horrifying detail. The fear that it might happen again was paralysing.

For years I struggled with what I soon realised were panic attacks. I learned to live with them, after a fashion, but I felt bound to some strange god who had control over my emotions – in particular, my fear. And yet I had always been a fearless person. I’d travelled alone around America, slept on trains and buses and stayed with strangers, without the slightest thought to my safety. Now, fear had crept into every corner of my life. I was a pathetic, watered down version of myself. A wimp.
The normal stress response to an emergency situation is fight or flight, caused by our involuntary nervous system. When a panic attack occurs, this same response is activated when in fact no threat exists. Knowing this doesn’t make it any less frightening, for it soon becomes the fear of an attack that is so paralysing. Sufferers are usually reluctant to tell people. I was ashamed, embarrassed and frightened by my loss of control. I made excuses and avoided situations that involved driving. Daily I battled with my invisible tormentor, cowering in my car on bad days, muddling along on good days, but always fearful of another attack. Every now and then, another monster pounced, and because you can’t run when driving, I panicked.

Then I met a new man who lived in Cornwall. For our first weekend together, I decided I would defeat my fears and drive down to visit him. I armed myself with supplies – several packets of fags, a bottle of wine for when I arrived and my selection of tapes. I discovered, by chance, that it is impossible to panic while singing or laughing. During a panic attack, the sufferer breathes shallowly, as in an asthma attack, and feels they can’t breathe. When singing or laughing the mind is concentrated on other things, but so is the diaphragm, ensuring that we breathe deeply. As I had no reason to laugh while in the car, I drove the two hours to Cornwall singing, constantly, to my musical collection. I was exhausted by the time I arrived, and had to repeat my repertoire on the return trip. However, I didn’t panic.

The new man was a great success, but the drive was so shattering that I was disinclined to repeat it. From then on I went by train, ashamed that I couldn’t face the drive again, but relieved at not having to.

After about six years, I finally summoned up the courage and determination to see my GP who referred me to the National Health counsellor. The man reminded me of June Whitfield in drag, but was friendly and welcoming, and much more interested in my attempts (at the time) to write my first novel. Our sessions were therefore devoted to what was going on in the publishing world. I enjoyed our literary discussions, but they didn’t further my confidence behind the wheel, and I was no closer to determining why my crises occurred.

I arrived for my appointment one day and noticed the counsellor furtively glancing at his desk. I realised he was reading out advice for me from a photocopied list in front of him, and was torn between dismay at his lack of experience, and a desire to show him up. The incident did not inspire my confidence in his counselling abilities. I didn’t go back after that, but I did practice driving and even managed to drive up to Devon and back – with my husband beside me.

I had been panic free for several years when, completely out of the blue, I had an attack driving home from the supermarket. This temporary blip took a sledgehammer to my fragile confidence. I was back at square one, and for months I agonised over what had gone wrong, and what I should do. I drove short distances, but fearfully, convinced that at any time the panic would overwhelm me. I was little Red Riding Hood and the panics became my wolf.

Again I sought help, this time from a well-known counselling service. The charge was well beyond my means, and when I explained why I had come, the counsellor replied that he had “no experience in Phobias”. He saw people with sexual or marital problems, he said, people who’d been abused, but not with my sort of problem. I should have got up and walked out then, but I clung on for the prescribed hour. I was desperate for a word of help or advice, but walked out feeling depressed, even more alone and helpless.

To my husband, my closest friends and myself, these attacks remained a mystery. Why did they happen? The initial attack was brought on by a very unpleasant situation I was in at the time, where I felt both my personal and work life were being attacked. But having changed jobs three times, moved away from the area and being happily married to a wonderful man, my life had changed. I shouldn’t be having these terror trips – should I?

What I hadn’t realised was that I must relearn the way I thought when driving, so that I no longer felt I was being threatened. Once the sufferer gets used to panicking as a response to a certain situation, it takes time for the body mechanisms to change – to react “normally”.

After talking to my husband and friends, I finally decided to tackle this problem myself. I found several self-help books from the library that made sense. They explained the causes of attacks, and helped me to feel able to tackle my panics, using diversionary techniques, such as breathing exercises.

I feel safer with someone beside me in the car, so my poor husband has clocked up hours of extra mileage while I “do a trial run” somewhere. Last weekend I drove back from Devon, astonishing my husband and myself. The first half hour was hell, but I knew that past Plymouth it would get better, and I decided to carry on. We stopped once, so quickly that it interrupted my husband’s illicit purchase of a packet of fudge.

We arrived home two hours later by which time I was reeling with exhaustion and suppressed nerves. My contact lenses felt sticky, my head was spinning and I felt like crying and laughing at once. But gradually a sense of triumph emerged. I’d beaten the bastards.

I have now realised that there is no quick fix to getting over panic attacks. While some people have bad hair days, I am subject to bad car days. Every good day brings my self esteem up a notch, while every bad day is still another step in the right direction. I am no longer constrained, frightened and ashamed and I look forward to the day when I can drive anywhere without worrying. For that day will come. There is life after panic attacks, and there is plenty of help for those who suffer. We are not alone.

Useful contacts: NO PANIC, Helpline Freephone 0808 808 0545
“Overcoming Panic” by Derrick Silove and Vijaya Manicavasagar
Published by Robinson Publishing

OpenMind magazine September 2007

Saturday 8 September 2007

A secret boathouse

This is a picture of a secret boathouse (very Du Maurier) on a beach I'm going swimming at tomorrow, weather permitting, on the Helford. It has absolutely nothing to do with this post, but I felt like a bit of Cornish colour.

I received a copy of OpenMind magazine in the post this morning containing my latest published article. I'm hoping the cheque will follow shortly. I'll post the article next week, but as it's about overcoming panic attacks, I felt we should have something a little more uplifting for a sunny Saturday.

The BBC were discussing Favourite Words this morning, so I asked Himself what his were.

'Threnody,' he said. Pause. 'Jazz. Ocean.' He thought, long and hard. 'Bollocks,' he said finally.
'Anything else?'

You can see the pattern emerging here.

Being altogether more erudite, of course, here are mine, which I would stress are because of their SOUND, not for their meaning.

Neuilly (as in Sur Seine) which probably doesn't count as it's a name but never mind.

What are yours?

Friday 7 September 2007

Jazz, sex and honeymoons

The girls have just called round with a key so I can keep an eye on things while they’re off on their honeymoon.

‘Would you like me to water your plants?’ I said with a sense of what was coming.

‘Oh, please!’ ET said, ‘oh, and do you think you could keep an eye on the overflow from the downstairs bathroom?’

‘And there’s milk in the fridge if you’d like that.’

‘If there are any tomatoes that the slugs don’t eat, please have those.’

‘And some of my dad’s tomatoes in a bag on the kitchen floor.’

‘And a loaf of bread – do you want that?’

‘How about some flowers – we can’t enjoy them, so please have them.’

So I went over and came back, laden, like a camel. Not bad for a bit of plant watering.

Walking Mollie round the castle this morning, I was aware of heavy breathing beside me. I looked at Himself who was walking along with his eyes shut.

Had he got something in his eye? Was he about to have a heart attack? (After his meal last night of salad laden with mayonnaise, new potatoes covered in butter, followed by cheese, I wouldn’t be surprised. He, of course, looked injured when I suggested that such a meal might not be perfectly nutritionally balanced.)

‘Are you all right?’ I said

‘I’m fine,’ he said. ‘It’s jazz.’

Now I know that most of the time we both have music roaring round our heads, but I couldn’t quite make this out. ‘Why do you sing jazz (silently) with your eyes shut?’

‘Because I can hear it better,’ he said. ‘Jazz is all about sex.’

Any the wiser? I’m certainly not.

And I leave you with another quote courtesy of Shelagh.

To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift. Hardly less
important is the capacity to see others as they see themselves.
Aldous Huxley, novelist (1894-1963)

Thursday 6 September 2007

Back to normal?

A short post today as I’m off working on the Van Gogh (cruise ship) in a minute.

Bussie deigns to join us on infrequent occasions to tuck into liver served on a china dish, but departs before I can indulge in anything slushy like Conversation or Stroking. He is back to his role as Supreme Cat – not to be disturbed. We are, after all, merely servants.

Life back to normal, then.

Himself has finally decided to sell one of his cornets and the trumpet on ebay. I thought that the instruments would continue to gather dust in the Flowerpot museum forever, purely because he can’t bear to sell them. But nothing like a few bills coming in to force the issue.

He’s asked a friend of mine to sell them for him as she has an ebay account and has acted as agent for him before.

‘I was going to set up an ebay account,’ he told her. ‘But then I thought, why? I won’t sell anything else. And it would mean setting up a Penpal account as well.’

‘Penpal?’ she said, giggling.

You can understand why he’s never been able to sell anything on ebay.

He was busy sending her an email this morning, but to the wrong address, so I told her the new one.

‘….,’ he said, typing (with two fingers) as he spoke. ‘I wonder if she has hot knickers?’

Yes, definitely life back to normal.

Wednesday 5 September 2007

Liver and wedding presents

Thanks to the website that Dee sent me, I learned a lot about feline anorexia last night. So we went off to get some liver. I have to say I didn’t think he’d eat any, but as we got home my neighbour leaned out of her top window.

‘Flowerpot! Michelle’s just been giving Bussie some biscuits and he’s eaten them!’ she cried. You can see the whole street’s in on Bussie’s eating problem.

I thanked her profusely, grabbed Bussie who’d come to greet me, and brought him into the kitchen while Himself chopped the liver into little morsels.

‘Not too much,’ I said, putting a tiny offering onto Bussie’s plate. We watched while he sniffed at it – gulped (oh no) and then – tucked in! In silence we watched as he ate the first lot, then devoured more – and a bit more. We couldn’t speak, stared at each other, hardly daring to believe what we saw.

He didn’t hang around to say, ‘thanks you two,’ or ‘hey, that was scrummy,’ but gave his paws a cursory lick and was out the catflap before you could say What?

He did reappear a few hours later, tucked into another dish of liver and departed, just as quickly. Well, I guess that’s cats for you. If I wasn’t so weak with relief, I might feel quite insulted.

He’s also eaten another dish of liver this morning, so for the first time in two weeks, I’m feeling cat worry free. It’s quite a strange feeling. I can begin to think again.

The other cheering news was that the girls came over with a wedding package, as we hadn’t been able to make the reception.

They arrived with several bags of Cornish cheese, some home made scones, two pieces of wedding cake and a wedding posy which is sitting on our chest of drawers. I was more touched than I can say, but they regaled us with stories of the photographer who got them to pose in strange angles for photographs (??!!) (He was Very Attractive, I thought, with tight muscular buttocks. But we won’t go there.)

There was also the guest who managed to get stuck in the toilet at the reception. She was, by all accounts, Massive and very drunk. And hysterical. Not a good combination. They finally managed to extract her, and she stood for a while, swaying, before crashing to the ground in a perfectly straight line, just like in a film, to land on her nose.

RT was terrified that she would have broken her nose and there’d be a pool of blood seeping onto her mother’s carpet. But the guest muttered a drunken ‘oh,’ before passing out – by some fluke she hadn’t broken anything.

‘Tell you what,’ said ET. ‘I’m very glad I don’t have to see her at work for another couple of weeks. I don’t know what I’d say.’

I grinned. ‘Been to any good weddings lately?’

And I leave you with this quote courtesy of my dear sister in law, walking buddy and cat consultant, Shelagh. Unfortunately she lives in Vermont so we don't see each other nearly as much as we'd like (well, as I would like) but at least we can keep in touch via cyberspace.

"It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three
unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them." -Mark Twain, author and humorist (1835-1910)

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Weddings and anorexia

The good news is that the wedding was wonderful – a beautiful day, they had a cheery little yellow Austin 7 that came and picked them up, and they both looked stunning and so very happy. We were proud and honoured to be there – and I managed to snuffle quietly into my hankie, rather than blubbing embarrassingly. (I noted that neither mother was crying so not sure how that reflects on me.)

We didn’t get to the reception as I wasn’t well on Sunday and was still feeling lousy yesterday, and also because we had to take Bussie to the vet again, but I’m sure they had a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

The bad news, talking of Bussie, is that the vet (not the lovely Helena) thinks he might be anorexic. For someone who squandered years as a teenager and in my twenties in and out of a psychiatric hospital with this chronic problem, this sent shivers down my spine. Ever since I’ve been broody I’ve consoled myself with the fact that I won’t, at least, have an anorexic daughter. How on earth would I cope? (How does anyone cope?)

What do I now have? An anorexic son. But enough of me, I’m still in shock.

Apparently anorexia is quite common in cats that have either got a serious illness or have suffered trauma. Bussie’s actually looking much better in himself so I don’t think he’s got a serious illness, but he’s evidently been traumatised. And being somewhat of an expert on the subject, I don’t know that feline anorexia is quite the same as what we suffer. I hope not, anyway. It’s as if he’d like to eat but he keeps retching at the sight of food – it just won’t go down. Either way, he still can’t eat, but it’s not quite so psychologically sinister. I hope.

Anyway, we didn’t see the lovely Helena which was a pity as this vet was rather more heavy handed and Bussie didn’t care for her at all. She tried to get some stuff down him with a syringe, and he hated that and spat it out all over the table, then she had to give him an injection in his haunch and he yowled and jumped off onto the floor. By this time I was a nervous wreck so god knows what Bussie felt like.

Luckily by the time we got home he seemed a lot better and actually ate a tiny bit of this high calorie food she gave us, but he’s supposed to eat a tin per day to build him up and he had half a teaspoon and that was it. If he doesn’t eat, she said, we must inject him. Oh God. This brings back very unpleasant memories indeed of my colleagues being force fed (I always figured I’d rather feed myself, thank you, but it’s not pleasant to watch).

So last night dear Himself managed to get some food down him with a syringe (I wasn’t in the room at the time) and I stroked and brushed Bussie afterwards while he purred and seemed much better, to our relief. He came back after an hour or so, so he evidently didn’t hold it against us. But we’ve had to do the same thing at breakfast time and it is just horrible. I’m still shaking from the experience and that was two hours ago, so god knows what Bussie thinks. Though I did do the same thing and he went off purring.

If he’s not eating of his own accord by tomorrow we have to take him back to the vet. I feel utterly at a loss here, sinking in a mire of ignorance. What happened to traumatise my cat so much? I’d kill the bastard that did it if I find him.

So watch out. Flowerpot’s on the war path.

Monday 3 September 2007

A Catch Up

Bussie is still not eating – apart from about three biscuits last night – and has a lost even more weight poor darling, so I’m taking him to the vet later. I only hope he hasn’t got another infection from that s**ing cat that got him in the fight in the first place.

Later, at midday to be precise, when we’ve changed and slapped on a bit of make up (Himself looks wonderful with a bit of lippy and mascara) we’re going to a wedding – well, it’s officially a civil partnership, but as they presumably have the same service that we did in a registry office, who’s counting? I must remember to take enough hankies – I’m bound to sit there blubbing.

But to start with the weekend. Av and I got some sarnies and spent the afternoon walking along the South Devon coastal path from Maidencombe back towards Teignmouth. It was very hilly but a wonderful way to catch up on the last few months (without other halves) and the weather was warm but not sticky, not a breeze anywhere. The sea was eerily flat, only broken by the occasional water skier rippling the surface.

It was so strange walking without Mollie – because I never do, now. But she was there with me (she would have loved the walk), and I could almost see her prancing ahead or stopping to sniff and chase, looking back at me with ears pricked, saying, ‘Come on, Mum.’ When we got to a road, I bent down to put her lead on, was surprised to see her not there. My girl. My pal.

The following day, after a mushroom stroganoff at the local pub that night, we went to a nearby animal rescue centre as that’s going to feature in the next book. I was hoping to interview the staff there and find out more about how it’s run, but we made the mistake of seeing the animals first. They have an amazing selection – dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, geese, ducks and all sorts. I was OK until we got to the kennels for the dogs to be rehomed. There I started reading the reasons why we were there – through cruelty, neglect, because they weren’t wanted.

Well, that was it. ‘I can’t understand how anyone could be cruel to animals,’ I wailed as we left the building, the hopeful barking ringing in my ears. I couldn’t bear their looks of desperation, the questions in their eyes.

Dear Av hugged me as I sobbed my way out of the kennels. ‘I don’t think you’d better to your interview now,’ she said gently. ‘Let’s go and have a cup of tea and I’ll put you on your train.’

Now that’s what I call a wonderful friend. We go back some years, Av and I, through countless heartbreaks and the occasional triumph. Through several men and two husbands (one each). She now lives in Dorset so we don’t get to meet very often, but she is a great friend and a rare person. She is also one of the few people I know who still looks beautiful when she’s crying. Sickening if I didn’t love her so much.

Sitting on the train was wonderful – for two whole hours I could please myself so I did some of my course, then sat and read the paper, eavesdropped and made notes for the new book. No phones ringing, no sick animals to worry about (well, not on the train) and I loved it.

I think I’ve got a new character for the next book. She was sitting in the opposite aisle to me, so I had to be careful about not turning to stare too much. She was tiny and very neat, in her early 80s at a guess, her sprightly face lined and carefully made up with a rather curious shiny foundation. Her eyes were clear and surprisingly young and despite the wrinkles, inside that you could see the face of a twenty year old shining through.

She wore a thick zip up brown cardigan, a twill cotton green skirt with thick mesh tights and sensible brown lace up shoes. Her crumpled thin fingers clutched each other as she talked, animatedly, to what looked like her daughter opposite. (Same bone structure, same eyes and nose.) Her voice was high and clear, with a strong Cornish accent but her daughter, by contrast, seemed older and tired. She lacked her mother’s sparkle – or perhaps she’d been worn out by her.

So - what shall I call her?

Saturday 1 September 2007

The Reluctant Traveller

The correspondent had a wonderful idea yesterday – to pin a picture of the lovely Helena up so that any time Bussie has to go the vet (which let’s hope won’t be for a long, long time) he will go like a shot.

I now need to find the equivalent for Mollie who changes from a loveable bouncy terrier into a growling, snarling bundle of teeth and claws when faced with the vet.

I’m taking her to see Ruth, a wonderful vet nurse, every other week to try and get her used to the surgery and Mollie thinks this is wonderful. She adores Ruth who has wide honey eyes, long fair hair and a gorgeous open personality. (She also has a pocket full of treats.)

You can’t not love Ruth. She’s in her early twenties, married with a tiny baby and has a rescue greyhound and two Irish terriers, one of which is bonkers, despite her careful training. I haven’t met the husband but I know he works shifts.

Anyway, all I need do is find a male vet that Mollie can fall in love with, and my problems will be solved.

I’m off now to spend the weekend with a girlfriend in Devon. I didn’t sleep much last night, my mind on red alert from 2.30 – will Bussie eat today? Will he be all right? Will Mollie get a decent enough walk? And so on. I can see I’ll be ringing for hourly updates.

But it will be lovely to see Av again. We’re going walking and will sort the world out, eat in a pub and spend the night with my mum. I’m leaving Himself in charge of The Invalid and Mollie on the basis that a) I shouldn’t deprive him of both women in his life at once and b) he’ll have to walk Moll twice a day in my absence.

How much liquid refreshment is poured down his neck in the process is another matter.