Tuesday 29 April 2008

Seven Random Things

I’ve been tagged by Julia to name 7 random things which has caused my brain to go into underdrive – ie shut down. But after some pencil sucking (no comments please), here they are:-


When I was born my mother and I both contracted some infection and were kept in hospital for ages. I lost weight, shrivelled up and went purple and was known as The Prune. My hands and feet still go purple now when I’m cold.


I’ve been a late starter in a lot of things - I was 38 when I met my future husband and 41 when I married. Mind you, he was even older but we won’t go there…


When I want a bit of easy escapism, one of my favourite films is Pretty Woman. We watched it last night and Himself enjoys it too. His favourite line is “We’re the same you and I. We both screw people for money.” Except that by the end, of course, they don’t…


I didn’t get broody until I was forty. This really is NOT a good time for these hormones to kick in. Don’t try this one at home – or anywhere else for that matter.


I have 3 claims to fame: the first is that I was once in hospital with the Queens Master of Music.


The second is that I chatted up Michael Heseltine at an office party when I was 18. I hasten to add that I didn’t know who he was. I thought he looked lonely.


I met Margaret Thatcher when she came to the BSB News studios when I worked there. She had incredible presence but she was so SMALL…

Rather than tagging anyone, please pick this up if you feel like it!

Monday 28 April 2008

Callington Art School

We had a great weekend which started off with a very interesting time interviewing the couple who run the Callington Art School. For any of you painters, have a look at their website – she’s a well established art teacher and painter herself and caters for adults, children, teachers, residential and day courses. The studio is in a converted coach house with amazing light and I would really recommend a visit, virtual or otherwise.

They also run a B&B in their house which has the most welcoming feeling – it’s just like walking into someone’s family house that they’ve lived in for years. Friendly atmosphere, walls covered in Tessa’s paintings, loads of bookcases, big sash windows that let in lots of light, and gorgeous bedrooms that are all en suite.

The kitchen is big enough to house a long table where everyone sits and eats and the room is again light and comfortably cluttered, with the cat stalking in and out. I think the cooking is probably great – I was offered a cafetiere of decaff coffee and a plate of home made looking biscuits (not easy to eat and interview, sadly), and Peter was stirring something delicious smelling in a large le Creuset pot on the stove.

They’ve invested a lot of time, money and emotional effort into this place so do give it a try or pass the word round.

The rest of the weekend passed in a haze of catching up with lots of friends, walks and sleep. I was so peopled out by Saturday night I could hardly speak (quite an achievement for me).

But thank you Mum for a lovely weekend. She ordered her first book from Amazon yesterday so I hope this will be the start of a long and happy relationship…

Thursday 24 April 2008

The Tooth Fairy

We're off early tomorrow morning to do an interview in Callington (well, I'm doing that bit while I dare say Himself will sneak off to the pub) and then go on to spend the weekend with my mum. So I thought I'd leave you with this in my absence.

This is for anyone who, like me, hates the dentist...

My dentist is like a younger George Clooney. Yet despite his looks, I’ve always been terrified of having my mouth examined. Teeth can be the source of so much pain that when faced with a dental appointment, my stomach plummets and my pulse thuds like a drum beat. The high pitched squeal of the drill makes me want to flee the building.

Last year I developed an abscess the week before my birthday. It hurt too much to chew, so my celebratory meal was cancelled and I was reduced to baby food and fluids.

Three days before my birthday, I had to see The Lovely One as the antibiotics I’d taken hadn’t worked. He prescribed me some that said in large letters, AVOID ALCOHOL. I saw my birthday becoming a very sedate affair. No food, no drink, work, walking our hyperactive dog. Great. But womanfully I chucked these horse pills down my throat hoping they would cure my throbbing jaw.

Two days before my birthday I was at my computer when I started feeling rather light headed. More so than usual. Concentration proved a little difficult, and as the morning progressed I started feeling swimmy. Not in a watery way, you understand, but in a drunk kind of way. I tried to get up from my computer and realised that I couldn’t focus very well. Was it the cheap glasses that I’d bought online? I felt floaty and other worldly, bringing back distant memories of first experiments with cider.

I struggled to get up and lurched down the corridor like a drunken sailor. My husband looked alarmed and suggested that I ring the dentist. I giggled.

‘Er – don’t go away. Hold on,’ said the receptionist, and her voice shook a little.
A minute later she came back on the line and said, ‘The dentist says to stop taking those antibiotics NOW. If you come in, he’ll leave a prescription for something else.’
‘OK,’ I grinned. ‘This means I can have a drink for my birthday!’ I said to Himself - a fact that suddenly seemed hilarious.
‘I’m not sure that’s a good idea,’ was the disappointing reply.

By my birthday itself, the effects of those drugs receded and my feet reconnected with the carpet but my toothache returned with vengeance. I felt as if I had flu, spent the day in bed, and several days later the Lovely One removed the offending tooth.

Looking in the mirror, I saw gaps everywhere. From then on, all I could think about was teeth. When I talked to people I started surreptitiously inspecting their mouths. If they had pearly perfects, I would mutter through a closed mouth, tricky if you want to be understood. If they had crooked teeth, or ones missing, I felt able to open my mouth a fraction and give a reasonably intelligible response.

A few weeks later I was talking to a friend who also goes to the Lovely One and she told me that she’d lost all her teeth before she was 50. I froze in horror. I was 49. Back in the Lovely One’s chair, I demanded action.
“I can refer you,” he said. “But it’ll cost.”
I didn’t care. I was desperate.

So a week later saw me enter the hallowed portals of private dentistry. In a glass fronted building overlooking the river, I was greeted by a receptionist who spoke in muted tones. The lighting was dimmed, like a health spa, and I sank into the plush armchair and looked around. Copies of that day’s Times and various glossy magazines lay on pale pine coffee tables. No dog eared copies of Hello magazine here. Classic FM drifted from invisible speakers; no child dared scream in this room.

At my first hour long consultation, my gums were severely scrutinised and I learnt that severe gum disease leads to periodontal disease, the main cause of tooth loss in adults. I was given an estimate of what it would cost to halt my periodontal disease and my remaining teeth nearly fell out in shock. How much? But I went back. I had to feel the fear and return to this dentist or lose yet more teeth.

It took ten sessions and ten massive monthly repayments to get my gums under control. Ten sessions where I subjected myself to gum interrogations. Ten sessions where the smile from the receptionist faded as she noticed my mud spattered, dogwalking jeans. But a year later, after endless hours of brushing and flossing my teeth, I’m pain free and my gums are vastly improved.

After ten months of intensive, painless treatment I’ve realised I’ve faced the worst, so there’s nothing to be frightened of. Now I waltz into the dentist’s surgery with barely a tremor.

So I didn't plan any birthday festivities this year. Just in case.

Curiouser and curiouser

Last weekend we saw an elderly friend of ours (another one from James but the same age) on Saturday afternoon. She had been away staying with cousins who had mentioned that she might be going into a residential home as she’s in her late 80s and it’s a hike into the shops and she can’t really manage, poor thing.

Anyway, we dropped by on Saturday and she made no mention of this and we fixed up to see her on Monday early evening. She said hello to Mollie, gave me a pat on the shoulder (unheard of) and waved us off with a big grin.

The next morning, being Sunday, we came back from walking Moll to find a message on the answerphone. It was very abrupt – she’s evidently one of those people who hate leaving messages on a machine – but said that she “wouldn’t be available for visitors on Monday as she was moving”.

And slightly more curiously, she said the message was for me when it’s Himself that always goes to see her. I played the message again and we both listened to it. And again.

Finally I said, “Why didn’t she say something yesterday when we saw her?’

Himself shook his head. “I’ve no idea,” he said, unhelpfully. “That’s her for you.”

And we’re still none the wiser. He didn’t want to go down there as she had said not to, and presumably she’s not there anyway. But we have no forwarding address so no way of contacting her.

What would you do?

By the way, Shelagh, the new washing machine is arriving today - I hope!

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Good and Bad News

Today is St George’s Day, Shakespeare’s birthday and – last but not least – my Mum’s birthday, so Happy Birthday Penny!

It’s a sunny morning here and the car is now safe to drive having had its brakes fixed so we can drive up to Devon via an interview in Callington on Friday without worrying if the car will stop or not.

Yesterday Himself helped me plant out my broad bean plants as given to me by my dear mate Carole. He returned from doing some work at her house last week and I helped him in with his tools (so to speak) and saw a tray of broad bean plants.

“Darling!” I cried, tears rushing to my eyes. “How thoughtful.”

“Well, actually, they’re from Carole,” he said looking rather pink.

(Chalk that up for future reference if needed. It's always useful to have ammunition, I find, Just In Case.)

So now they are outside in the yard, planted into bigger pots and each with a tall string to climb up, as they’re quite enthusiastic already.

I do love broad beans – when they’re tiny of course, not the big fat chewy ones. The baby ones are lovely raw, or cooked for about a minute or in salads. Roll on broad bean time…

The bad news is, the washing machine has just blown up. As Himself has just said mournfully, "It started off being a good day. And now....."

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Good Deeds

This picture is for my mum - to remind her of happy times in years gone by. It's the Tinners Arms in Zennor.

This morning we were walking Mollie round the castle and it really looked as if spring was about to make an entrance. There was no wind – for once – and the sea mist was gently clearing to make way for a shy sun. The primroses are nearly over but they sprinkle the walls of the moat with their wonderfully pure lemon colour, and the bluebells are a carpet of violet and blue.

Half way round we met a friend, Maggie, who has a rescue collie called Jasper and an elderly black lab called Jackson. She spent so much time last year training Jasper and was unfailingly patient as she took him round the moat, every morning, calming him, praising him and most of all loving him. Something I suspect he hadn’t had before.

As a result he’s now a happy, calmer dog devoted to Maggie and his ball on a rope. The difference in him is incredible.

Several weeks ago we came across an elderly couple with a 10 month old collie called Roy who had been let off the lead for the first time and they couldn’t get him back. He was having such fun for the first time in his life. Luckily Maggie was there and finally got him back and she volunteered to go up to their house and train Roy (by which I mean, train the owners).

She’s now going up there 3 times a week and already Roy is a different dog – as are his owners. I love this sort of story, as I hate to think of dogs not having a good life. So I said, “this is your new career, Maggie. You’re the Victoria Stilwell of Falmouth.”

She smiled and said, “oh but I couldn’t do it like that. I do it because I love the dogs and I want them to have a good life. I couldn’t take any money for it.”

I’m glad to say that apparently Roy’s owners have given her bottles of wine and some cash which she reluctantly took. They said apparently that they didn’t want to feel obligated to her, which is a good thing to say.

Hearing about Maggie’s work with Roy made me sniff and gulp for the rest of our walk. It’s so heartening to hear of people like her, doing things out of the goodness of her heart. There’s precious little of it in this life and it makes people like Maggie all the more special.

Monday 21 April 2008

Another way to beat the credit crunch

This is gratefully received from Maggie who awarded me this last week – many thanks Maggie!
I hereby pass it on to all of you who read this blog because you must be people of distinction to read it!

Himself has just departed after a Home Hair Cut. This is the latest is the battle to beat the credit crunch here in Cornwall. (Don't mention the wine consumption. That is up to its normal levels.)

Himself bought a pack of 3 thinning scissors from the Pound Shop - you know, three pairs for a pound. He's used them to cut Mollie's coat before now - amid much growling from her - but the other day he decided to use them on himself.

I have to say, it didn't look too bad though this is probably more a comment on his barber than anything else. So today he decided he needed help with the back.

He stood outside in the yard with the mirror and a comb and handed me the scissors. "Here you go, Pop. Munch it and comb it."

I took a swipe and at that moment he leaned forward to remove a snail from one of the flowerpots. "Don't!" I said, having removed a large chunk of hair.

He assumed his previous stance and I chopped - sorry, munched - and combed. Pocketfuls of fine white hair fell, like dandelion clocks, all over the yard. The end result is - well, I don't think I'm going to win Distinctive Hairdresser of the Year Award.

Just as well he's not vain.

Friday 18 April 2008

Twin Dogs and Credit Crunch

At last – technology permitted me to transmit the picture of Moll and her twin. Not that they took much notice of each other, but they are very similar. The other one is of the churchyard at Zennor and I hope gives a rough idea of the bleak beauty of the place. West Penwith at its best.

But to other more serious matters. The Credit Crunch. We are really noticing the pinch here, because everything has gone up and our income hasn’t. Or not enough. The very basic foods now cost a lot more and there isn’t much we can cut back on. We go to the pub very rarely, ditto eating out (unless paid for by dogsitting services) and I’m wondering what we can do.

Well, I am earning a bit more but because of the recent changes in the tax system, I will now be paying significantly more tax because I’m a low earner. Don’t you love the Chancellor?

However, Himself has the solution.

He came back from doing a job for a friend and said, “I know where we can cut back, Pop.”

I looked at him, full of hope.

“I asked Carole if she had any kitchen paper, and she said that she wasn’t really a kitchen roll sort of person.”

I waited for the mind blowing answer.

“So I thought, why do we buy kitchen rolls?” he said. “We can save several quid a week not buying those.”

I looked at him. “Good idea,” I said, ever mistress of the ironic. “And of course, you’ll be saving a lot of money now you’re cutting down so much on wine.”

He gave me a very old fashioned look then. And wisely kept quiet.

Thursday 17 April 2008

The Sennen Trip

Yesterday we had a wonderful trip down to Sennen, which for those of you that don’t know, is near Land’s End. The landscape down there is very different from other parts of Cornwall. A couple of miles outside Penzance you drive over the brow of a hill and suddenly before you is miles and miles of moorland. Scrub and golden gorse, rough looking cattle and the odd sheep. Not a house in sight. You can almost feel how old this land is, and how many stories it can tell. It is magnificent and humbling.

The interview - with an enterprising couple in their early 60s who manage a camp site on the outskirts of St Just – went well, and afterwards we took our picnic down to Sennen Cove where we realised, sadly, dogs aren’t allowed in summer. So we set off on the coast road to St Ives, which must be one of the loveliest in the country, and arrived at Zennor, well known for its mermaid chair in the tiny church.

Himself ensconced himself in the Tinners Arms, Moll and I set forth along the coastal footpath. Despite the brisk wind, the sun was hot and we walked towards St Ives looking down on a sea which was a tapestry of different blues interwoven with the palest green. It was just perfick and I thought how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place.

Arriving back at the pub about an hour later, we found Himself sitting outside with a dog that was Mollie’s almost exact twin. The pub dog, called Murphy, was a placid friendly creature that sniffed at our Moll and evidently decided that the food smells emanating from the kitchen were more interesting.

You’ll get a picture of the two scruffy dogs when technology allows. It’s on a go slow at the moment. The picture above is courtesy of the BBC.

Shelagh - we will definitely do this walk when you come over. Mark - we didnt have time for Treen but will fit that in when Shelagh's over!

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Abandon all Diets

Last night the diet was abandoned. Having decided to Cut Down the wine, he – er – didn’t. Mind you, it could have been worse. The Diet In the Bin was blamed on Himself’s poor state of health – he felt shivery and his sinuses ached and his nose streamed all day apart from when he was working and playing the cornet.

The germs seemed to subside when I gave him some Nurofen (the wonders of modern science) though he seemed surprised when I asked if it had helped.

“Actually, yes, Pop,” he said. “Funny that.”

No comment. On the way home from walking the dog, he decided that he would get a) brandy (to kill the germs) and b) sausages and spuds because he didn’t fancy the leftovers in the fridge.

He also got a bottle of wine but stood staring at the large bottles of brandy, willing the price to go down, in a frenzy of indecision.

Eventually I couldn’t stand it. “No point in feeling vile in the morning AND having a brandy hangover,” I said. “Why not get a miniature?”

He agreed and we went to the cigarette kiosk where he realised that it was more expensive to buy a miniature because they’re so small. “I could have bought a half bottle for the same price!” he cried.

Luckily he knocked himself out with wine and paracetamol.

We have a long drive today, down to Sennen Cove where I’m doing an interview with a couple who have recently opened up a campsite down there. Shelagh – don’t worry. We will have another recce when you come over! Mark, if there’s time we’ll go to Treen as well. We’re taking the camera so hopefully I can enlighten you lot with the beauty of the Cornish spring.

I’m wondering how his hangover will be. Because of course, being a man he will deny that he has one….

Tuesday 15 April 2008


This morning we were up early because Himself has trouble with his sinuses. He’s also decided to go on a diet but the two are not in any way related. For those of you that know us, this diet is not necessarily anything to get excited about. He has been known to change his mind.

It started when we were in the pub having a quick drink on Saturday before getting a takeaway. (Given the announcement on the news recently that households of our income are officially on the poverty line, but we will be paying more tax this year, we are eeking out our frivolity money.) He went off to the gents and came back and took a gulp of his wine.

“I think I need to lose a stone,” he said.

I sat there, wondering what had happened in front of the pissoirs to make him come to this decision. “Why?” I said.

“I looked in the mirror and realised I have a tummy,” he said.

This is true but given that we have very few mirrors in our household – I mean, who wants to look in them anyway – it’s possible to escape knowing what you look like. Or ignore it if you’re as blind as I am.

So as from yesterday the diet is on. This means cutting down on things like butter, bread and cheese – and of course wine. He was very restrained last night. We’ll see what things are like by the end of the week.

Cynical, moi? No, but realistic.

Monday 14 April 2008

Lost Stolen or Strayed

I was talking to a friend the other day about things we have lost, and what they mean to us.

Thankfully I haven’t lost anything recently, though in my twenties I had phases of losing earrings – though only one out of each pair. Next it was contact lenses – again only one out of the pair. Many’s the time I spent hours crawling round the floor, patting the floor with outstretched palm, desperate to find that elusive bit of glass.

But the thing I remember most if losing a St Christopher I was given when I was about twelve. It had belonged to my mother who had been given it when she was a child by her Irish Catholic nanny, Una.

I was very fond of Una who could teach you wonderful things like how to play poker. She had a giggly sense of humour and was, looking back, incredibly wise. Shame she never married. But I digress.

When the St Christopher passed to me from my mother I was delighted as I knew it came with Una’s love as well. So I wore it constantly. While I had a bath, while I slept, it never came off.

Then one day I made it to the lacrosse team and we had an away match. On this foreign turf I ran up and down and managed to score a few goals, and when we changed back at the end of the game, I realised I had no St Christopher.

Distraught, I combed the pitch, walking up and down in icy winds with tears pouring down my face. I found the St Christopher on a muddy patch near goal.

This happened more times than I can remember, until I began to feel that this medal had a homing instinct. St Christopher was, after all, the patron saint of travellers.

So when it went missing for the nth time I didn’t worry. And of course that was when I lost it for good. So the motto of this is never to get complacent.

I still miss that St Christopher, all these years later. I can see its silver smiling face, rub its rough edges on my fingers, feel the heat coming off its tarnished surfaces. I wonder where it is now?

What have you lost that was important to you?

Friday 11 April 2008

Awards and Inspiration

Many thanks for this award from Ak which is much appreciated. For those of you that read this blog - well, I know you all have impeccable taste (of course) - so please take it as read that this belongs to you as well.

Apologies for non reading of blogs recently - I'm having a busy week workwise which has been inspirational and challenging but very worthwhile. It's made me think a lot and lose sleep. But some things in life just do - the ones that make a difference to your life, I find.

Yesterday I met an amazing man, farmer and baker and father of 12 children. His wife is also incredible but I didn't get to speak to her much.

It was so refreshing to meet someone who freely admits that he could be a better businessman if he was more selfish. "But I tend to think about what I do and how it will affect others," he said.

They live in a beautiful granite farmhouse on the north cornish coast, far from traffic, towns or shops but near the sea, where the Atlantic glistens nearby and skylarks sing from the wheat fields. Below the farm, near where the ewes huddled together, is Snow Valley, so called because of the hawthorn trees that are just about to burst into blossom.

This family work together, play together, and enjoy life to the full, held together by their love for each other and their strong Catholic faith.

"We don't measure success by money, but in happiness," he said.

Perhaps we should all do that. The world would be a much better place if we did.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Finding Miracles

This picture has nothing to do with this post but that's the mood I'm in this morning

Yesterday I walked Moll near Mawnan Smith, down to the sea. The sea was flat calm, cobalt blue, the sky as bright as a summer's day in our childhood memories. No wind ruffled the trees and bluebells poked their young, inquisitive heads through the ground as we walked along.

At the bottom of the woods, I started walking up Rosemullion Head, where the shadows were so clear they looked as if they'd been carved.

"Hello!" said a voice. "I bet you don't remember me."

I did. She was someone who had belonged to a writing group I went to years ago. She used to live with her mother but she died and she is now living in "lodgings" (a term not often used nowadays) nearby. She was walking two portly dogs, and stopped to question me on what I was doing.

I'd just finished transcribing an interview from that morning and told her that I was writing more journalism nowadays.

"Oh," she said. "You are lucky. I'm still waiting for my miracle."

My heart sank. But I had to say something. "Sometimes you have to go and get your miracle," I said. "I've found it's all about perseverance."

I didn't add that I also need determination, dedication, a sense of humour, sensitivity, empathy, the ability to listen and the need to pick myself up when I've been kicked in the teeth. Which is often.

She smiled. "Oh well," she said. "Perhaps my miracle will come along one day." And she called to her dogs.

Her dogs ignored her much as I fear her miracle might.

Tuesday 8 April 2008

Musical Memories

Last night Himself asked me what was the first piece of music that made an impression.

I had to rack my brains, because I didn’t come from a musical family. Nor did we sing at school. But then I remembered. It was a record of My Fair Lady – not the film version but the Broadway version with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. My uncle and aunt had been to see it in New York and brought the record back for my parents.

They didn’t play it much but I loved it. I used to stare at the cover, a mass of grandiose black and white swirls – from the Ascot scene I think – carefully finger the vinyl record, and play it over and over again.

I would dance round the living room as I learnt every line, every note and made up every step, because I couldn’t imagine singing without dancing.

Even now, all these years later, I’m still word perfect. So it shows the brain’s working somehow.

What’s your first musical memory?

Monday 7 April 2008

Memories of fridges

This picture has nothing to do with this post other than being a) cute and b) featuring a fridge.

I’m defrosting the freezer as I write this.

By that I mean that every quarter of an hour or so I have to jump up and boil another pan of hot water, empty the previous one and stick it in the freezer compartment. After a few hours all the mountains of ice will have melted and I can stick the contents of the freezer back inside: a strange assortment of bread, fishfingers, frozen peas, crumpets and an old quiche. Sounds tempting doesn’t it?

I found myself looking yearningly at Frost Free freezers the other day. How lovely not to have to go through this palaver every few months (or longer given the state of the fridge at the moment). But we’ve had a run of bills so the new fridge freezer will have to wait.

I’m very fond of it though because I’ve had it for over 15 years and can remember the moment I was offered it.

I’d come back from a Greek holiday with a friend and was Greekly brown (as opposed to Englishly non-brown) and showing off my tanned legs at a party given by a friend in Totnes. At that party was a friend of mine’s father, Ron, and his new wife.
Dear Ron was a vicar whose temptation was widows. His last wife – his fourth – was one he met, like the last three, at their husband’s funeral. He was conducting the service, you understand.

But I digress. Ron was moving into his latest wife’s new house (they must have been in their late 70s at the time) and offered me his fridge freezer. Delighted, I accepted and paid him the princely sum of £25. Bearing in mind he’d had this freezer for several years, it’s now well over 20 years old and still functioning. Well, it’s a bit rusty around the edges but it still works which is the main thing.

One of the reasons I’m reluctant to get rid of this fridge is because it reminds me of Ron. A loving, warm hearted man who needed someone to look after. He nursed all his wives, and when the last one died he was bereft. His life started to disintegrate after that, and he lost his sight.

But when I look at our fridge I think of the happy Ron, laughing in the flower scented garden on that warm summer’s evening as he knocked back the wine. That’s the Ron that I remember.

Friday 4 April 2008

Do It Himself

Himself has long been bemoaning how much rubbish there is on television, so a friend very kindly lent us a digital box to try out. As the analogue signal is being turned off soon, we have to do something.

I brought the box home and that night Himself spent two hours crouched over the television, swearing. From past experience, I kept out of the way, but did poke my head round the door at intervals to see if any help was needed in the form of liquid sustenance or hands on aid. From past experience, he accepted the former but vehemently refused the latter.

At one point, I noticed that the picture had disappeared, leaving a black and white screen like a window frame. When I looked again, it was still there and the muttering from Himself was getting louder.

An hour later he gulped down some stew and returned to the box. The black and white screen was now a permanent fixture and Himself grew more and more incensed, particularly as I’d just got a video out.

Two hours later he had to admit defeat, and retired to bed with vile grace. This is a man whose motto is “I will not be beaten”. You can imagine the mood in the bedroom that night.

When I told a friend, she asked why I hadn’t just rung a TV engineer. “It’d be a lot easier and save all that hassle,” she said innocently.

“You forget about Male Pride,” I explained. “Outside Help is a No No.”

The following evening he managed to eliminate the window frame and retune the television so we were able to watch the video through a gentle but persistent snowstorm. From what I could see, the video was rubbish anyway.

The following day he decided to go up on the roof and turn the aerial round so we could use the digibox, the video and DVD player. As there was a force eight blowing I wasn’t too keen on this idea, but he had that I-will-not-be-beaten-look.

So while he swayed on the roof in that easterly gale, I held the bottom of the ladder and prayed to the god of roofs that my husband would return in one piece. And that we might be able to get the digibox to work.

This saga continued for the rest of that week, with increased ill humour, and by Saturday morning Himself was back on the roof, out of sight, and didn’t respond to my increasingly hysterical calls. After what felt like an hour, I was convinced he was dead and started panicking. Given that he was working on the far side of the roof, I’d have to let go of the ladder and go round to the front to see if he’d fallen off the other side. Why hadn’t I made him take his phone? But then, if he was lying on the pavement with a broken back, he wouldn’t be able to phone anyway. The other alternative was to get up on that roof with him, and with my vertigo that was my last resort.

I was so caught up in his impending demise that I was relieved and astonished when he appeared about half an hour later. Unfortunately his high wire antics didn’t result in being able to get digital or Channel 5, and that night there were wobbly lines all the way through Have I Got News for You. Still, I decided to keep quiet. My nerves couldn’t stand another of his jaunts on the rooftops.

The next day, our upstairs neighbour came down to say that since Himself went up on the roof, they’d had no picture at all. I grovelled profusely and hesitantly explained this to Himself when he came home.

He’d altered the wrong aerial. But rather than call out a TV expert, he insisted on yet another voyage to the top of the world, in the pitch dark, with more gale force winds and – an added hazard - rain. I knew the roof would be slippery as a banana skin, and was once more convinced that husband was going to depart this life pronto.

While the tenant held the ladder this time (he has no head for heights either) I skulked down in the kitchen and drank a glass of wine, trembling fingers all ready to ring 999.

Finally, Himself reappeared white with cold and dripping with rain, but otherwise unscathed. The neighbour reported that his TV was now working so I guided Himself towards a hot shower, lit the fire and opened a bottle of wine.

The trouble is … there’s now something the matter with our video channel so I can’t record anything. But I daren’t mention that.

Wednesday 2 April 2008


Yesterday a couple of dog walking friends and I got together and walked our dogs down through the woods near Mawnan Smith. The sunlight shone through the trees, the first bluebells were peeking through the green denseness, and the two dogs ran miles up and down the banks, down onto the beach at the bottom, chased each other in and out of the water, and up and over the cliffs on the way home.

Seeing their enthusiasm, their sheer joy of running, the kick of the chase, made me smile.

Watching Buster give Mollie a piece of his mind when she’s overstepped the mark. That makes me smile.

Seeing Himself with the giggles. This doesn’t often happen, but when he does, tears run down his cheeks, he wails and shakes his head. It’s very contagious. It happened last night when we spent nearly an hour trying to work out who’d paid what to get the car through the MOT, and who owed who what.

Seeing the delight on my friend’s face when she met me in the pub last night for the first time since her hip resurfacing. She insisted on coming down to the pub – on crutches – so I held the door open and gave her a big hug. Her grin lit up her face.
And mine, I suspect.

Love Soup – on Saturdays at around 9pm. The antics of the two younger girls, always trying to pull, always make me smile.

Looking out from my bedroom window (where I write) and seeing blue sky, purple tulips, bluebells, a red and white freesia – and my other nameless plants in bloom. Spring is nearly here. That makes me smile.

What makes you smile?

Tuesday 1 April 2008

Songs we love to hate

As you may know, I am a seaside landlady. Well, when I’m not trying to decipher notes from an interview, or crouching over a hot computer, wrestling with words.

The common conception of a landlady, courtesy of Andy Capp cartoons, was of a blowsy lady with curlers and slippers, fag hanging out of the side of the mouth, while she ignored whatever request came her way. In reality I’m about as far removed from that as you could be, and nowadays, with the pressures of Housing Law, it doesn’t pay to be disinterested in your property or your tenants.

This is an ironic twist given that thirty years ago I lived in places of such squalor that one of them was condemned. I was nineteen at the time and found a room in a flat shared with four other people, all in their twenties. The address was Redcliffe Square, a grand sounding mansion block of decaying flats not far from Earl’s Court tube. To enter the flat we walked up a flight of stone steps from street level and up another flight of stairs onto a landing where there was a tiny kitchen.

None of us cooked much, so the bin liner in the corner of the room was a travesty of burnt toast, used tea bags and rancid milk bottles. As time went on rats came to gorge on its contents, and you could hear their muffled squeaks of delight as they found a succulent piece of egg or bacon rind.

The next flight of stairs led to a landing with two bedrooms and a living room. My bedroom was first, and consisted of a huge old wardrobe, a bed with no springs and a bedside table. There was no heating, and no bedside light, so when I wanted to turn the main light out, I crept to the end of the bed, put one foot on the floor in a strange dance that, with luck, turned the light off. I would then dive back into bed and lie there, listening to the mice rustling underneath my bed.

Up another flight of stairs was the bathroom, with an elderly gas heater that is now illegal. You had to keep the window open even in mid winter, to ensure there was enough ventilation, and the bath was so big that by the time you’d run a few inches of water, it was lukewarm at best. For this reason, baths were an ordeal not undertaken too often. I wonder whether we smelt – I never had any complaints but perhaps all my friends lived in similar squalor so we all smelt.

It never occurred to us to complain: we had no idea who the landlord was, and I’m sure they wouldn’t have done anything anyway. Landlords didn’t in those days. We paid rent, we had a gas fire in the living room and warm water, if we were lucky, in the bathroom – what more did we want? But in a curious way those were happy days. We had no expectations so no disappointments.

We were a strange mixture. There was the lanky ex-public school John, who was having an affair with a beautiful girl married to an Arab. She spent most of her time in front of our gas fire, her eyes glassy with opiates. Her friend slumbered by her side, rising only to eat, drink or go out to nightclubs. Another girl with such bad eczema that her hands were always bandaged. Two men who would take me to the pub on Sunday evenings. Nameless, faceless people who hover like stubborn ghosts in the corners of my memory.

On the way home from Earls Court tube there was a pub fraternised by young men clad in black who lounged outside, brandishing whips. Being a na├»ve 19 year old, I watched these men in fascination, wondering where they got their SS type uniforms from. One evening I was caught short on the way home and nipped into the ladies’. Whereas the pub was dark, noisy and thick with smoke and spilt beer, the ladies’ were spotless. I couldn’t understand it and told John when I got home.

He roared with laughter. “Of course it’s clean,” he said. “No one ever uses it.”

It took me a while to assimilate that.

Several months later we were told by the management company that owned the building that they were going to renovate the entire square and we had to get out because they were changing the locks. No such thing as tenant’s rights in those days.

I had nowhere else to live, so when Simon upstairs asked me if I wanted to move up with him and his six year old son, I said yes. He never asked me to share his bed but was delighted at how well I got on with his son.

Simon was a quiet, pleasant man and seemed grateful for my company but I felt out of sorts, nervy and uneasy. At any moment I wondered whether someone would beat no the door, demanding to change the locks. We lived in almost silence except for the burst of the TV and next door, someone who played Leonard Cohen from the time I went to bed until I got up for work.

His heavy, droning voice will forever be synonymous with lingering depression for me. I would lie there, wondering if the rest of my life would be spent feeling so panicked that I couldn’t move, let alone eat.

I wondered whether Simon could hear it too, and wonder why he was living in such a hovel with his young impressionable son. What had happened to the mother? Where would they go when we were finally thrown out? Did he have any family? Which was probably what he thought about me.

I didn’t last long. I couldn’t stand those heavy, black, sleepless nights. I scoured the Evening Standard and found somewhere else to live; a marginal improvement on the Redcliffe Square squalor. But I remember those months with a strange clarity, and wonder who lives in the flats now? They will have been spruced up, are no doubt eye watering sums in rent. But what about my flatmates, Simon and his son? What happened to them?

I think of it as the last of my innocence. A period of my life that stands out, even now, as unrelated to anything else. I’ve never been able to listen to Leonard Cohen since.