Monday 30 June 2008

Accommodating Victor

This is the latest Flowerpot missive, in Cornwall Today - July issue 2008.

Several miles out of Penzance on the St Just road, the landscape reveals how Cornwall must have looked thousands of years ago. A vast expanse of rugged moorland and disused tin mines, scrub and golden gorse, weatherbeaten cattle. Hardly a house in sight. You can almost feel how old this land is, and how many stories it has to tell.

In this remote area of outstanding natural beauty, Andy Holliday, 56, and his wife Faith, 63, live in their campervan, Victor, and manage the Sennen Cove campsite, a job not even considered by many.

“It’s like caring for a big family,” says Faith. “It’s great to see people having a good time. What’s nice is that we get a lot of people who come back year after year. They’re like old friends now.”

Andy and Faith are versatile, love the outdoors and are adept at dealing with problems. “We both like the variety of meeting people,” says Faith. “We go around tying people’s tents down when they try and blow off in a gale.”

Their work involves a 42 hour week, opening the gates of the site at 7am and closing them at 11pm. They also run a shop on site but have assistants who share their work load and enable them to have time off.

“People think that this job is like a glorified summer holiday, but there’s a lot of physical work and we do all the facility cleaning and make sure everything’s spick and span,” says Faith.

This job isn’t for everyone. “You work very hard but if you didn’t like it you wouldn’t do it,” says Andy. “We’re in our sixth season and if you like the outdoor life it’s great.”

Faith agrees. “From the site you can see Longships, the Isles of Scilly and Land’s End. It’s fabulous. I love trundling up and down on our little red tractor with the wind blowing through my hair and the view is just wonderful. I used to get hayfever symptoms but I don’t now because the air’s so clear.”

Andy and Faith met in 1983 on a blind date organised by Faith’s sister and married the following year. They settled in Wiltshire where Andy, who had been in the RAF, worked for several telecommunications companies while Faith was a freelance journalist working for BBC radio in Wiltshire, Oxford and Bristol.

She loved her job but Andy wanted to do something different and they both liked the idea of a challenge. “We’d always camped, so we started off with a little campervan as it was a great way of seeing places,” says Faith. “We loved being able to get up and go. We looked at buying a campsite in the Westcountry but it was too expensive so we applied to work with the Camping and Caravanning Club. You start off as an assistant, so we did that and got promoted.”

The couple worked on various sites before coming to Cornwall. “We started in Veryan, then we were asked if we’d move to Sennen. We said if we could get Victor in we’d run it,” says Andy.

They bought Victor when they were still living in Wiltshire because it was practical. “We had an ordinary 21 foot camper but we needed something bigger and longer so we blew our savings and got him,” says Faith. “That way we could live in him for the summer season each year.” At 33 foot long, Victor is a handsome beast, but his size can cause problems. “You can’t go to the shops with him, so we use our bicycles or the little Jimny car.”

The site is open from late April until early October, and attracts a mix of people. “There is a big influx of families in July and August,” Faith says. “But early and late season we get walkers of all ages and there’s a nice walk through fields to the beach where you can take a dog. We also get a lot of Germans and Dutch people - everyone comes to see Land’s End and some come for a day and spend the week.”

Despite what some say about the Cornish being insular, Andy and Faith have found the locals in St Just very friendly. “In the town people know who you are and stop and chat and I get all the gossip!” says Faith. St Just is an old mining town that now consists of a butcher, several art galleries, a greengrocer, post office and several pubs. “There are no high street shops here but a sense of time gone by.” Faith grins. “That’s why I love it. The butcher supplies me with meat for the camp shop and we use the post office as a bank. They’re all so nice.”

Andy and Faith love the area so much they have bought a bungalow on the outskirts of St Just which is in need of huge renovations. “The house is a long term project,” says Faith. “We fell in love with the location and we had to have somewhere big enough for Victor in the drive.”

And while this project will keep them busy for years to come, they have plans for the future. “Under current law we’ll be retired at 65,” says Faith. “Long term we want to go back to touring round Europe which is what we used to do.” The couple have several grandchildren and would like to see more of them. The only change they would have to make is Victor. “We’d have to downsize,” she says sadly. “He’s great for living on site but too big for travelling.”

For the moment, they are more than happy with Victor on their windy spot in West Penwith. “I love the sheer rugged beauty of this area,” says Faith. “It’s bracing, the people are lovely and it’s a different world. Nowhere else in the country compares with it.”

Camping and Caravanning Club
Booking number 0845 1307633
Sennen Cove campsite 01736 871588

Cornwall Today July 2008

Thursday 26 June 2008

An epistle on hormones

Last night I celebrated the menopause.

Yes, I say ‘celebrate’ because for the last two or three months I have been having trouble sleeping. I thought this was due to stress. Which in part it was. The writing business is incredibly competitive, and in journalism trying to break into a new market isn’t easy. So I felt under tremendous pressure to prove myself.

I succeeded, but the price to pay was increased anxiety and sleepless nights.

Soon I began to realise that sleeping had become a Problem. And once you start worrying about something as basic as sleeping, it becomes much more difficult to sleep. Having a very active brain, the only time I do switch off is when I’m asleep, so sleep is crucial. And when I couldn’t I was lying there worrying because I wasn’t sleeping and knew I’d be tired the next day – and so on it goes.

I tried everything. With a sleeping pill I could get 5 or 6 hours kip a night. Without I got 2 or 3 hours, and I really don't function on 3 hours sleep. But I worried because I didn't want to get addicted to them. I tried heavier lined curtains, milky drinks – you name it. And no, I’m afraid any herbal remedies had absolutely no effect.

I started getting more worried, thinking I couldn’t cope. Why couldn’t I cope? I always had done before.

In desperation, and after nearly 3 months of this, I started seeing a counsellor and it was an incredible relief to spill out all my worries to someone who was able to deal with them. I didn’t have to worry about worrying her. She understood. And that goes a long way.

I finished the first draft of my novel and thought – hooray! I can celebrate! Forget about it and have some time off.

Then an agent emailed saying she would like to see the entire manuscript of my previous novel. Normally I would have jumped in the air, celebrating, but as I knew it needed some revision, that prospect seemed more pressure than I could cope with.
I needed a holiday. Badly.

Then I got an abscess, and two lots of antibiotics had drastic effects so I had to stop taking them. Then my GP gave me something else to knock me out at night and the effect of that was my heart started banging so hard I thought it was going to jump out of my chest. I lay in bed, holding onto Himself for dear life, crying, “I’m frightened.”

After that I seemed to have palpitations on and off – like having an ongoing panic attack. For no reason. I despaired of ever sleeping again properly. I felt I was cracking up. And having done so, many years ago, I knew that dark tunnel is the most terrifying place you can imagine. Literally a living hell. Where you can’t relax, don’t feel safe, feel as if you are splintering into tiny fragments. Don’t go there.

We came back from our break and I managed to get some rest and sleep a bit better. But on Monday I woke up and my heart was racing – another day long panic attack. Oh no. What was I to do?

I met a dear friend for lunch which I couldn’t eat. Food wasn’t going down. Another bad sign for me. She listened thoughtfully and said, ‘do you think this might be the beginning of the menopause?’

I looked at her and a large question mark filled my mind. I raced back home and googled ‘menopause symptoms’. There I read –
“insomnia often due to anxiety. Racing heart – palpitations. Sore breasts. Irregular periods – or none at all.” In fact the only symptom I didn’t have was hot flushes.

I could have cried with relief. I wasn’t cracking up. It was The Change!

Suddenly everything fell into place. I looked up my file from Dr Gray and saw she had written, “if you start to feel low start taking half a patch (HRT) twice a week. If symptoms don’t improve, raise the dose.” The last time I’d seen her I was feeling fine, which was why I hadn’t remembered this significant gem of advice.

I rang her, just to make sure and she said, “you’ve done absolutely the right thing. But if you need me, you know where I am.” What sweet words of comfort.

So I opened a lovely bottle of wine and Pip and I toasted my hormones.

Since then I am now sleeping better, have cut down my sleeping pills and hope to be off them for good very soon.

Courtesy of our break I am more relaxed, enjoying editing my novel before I send it off to the agent, and have finished a piece on our wedding for a bridal magazine. Next in the pipeline is a piece on zerobalancing. But I am enjoying the variety and the challenge. Every day is different and while I must be careful not to overdo things, I love what I do. And I intend to get better.

My counsellor has signed me off, saying she’s there if I want her. But I seem “in a good place at the moment” and why rock the boat? Why indeed?

I walked Mollie round the castle this morning and enjoyed the sunshine, the sweet scent of the dog roses. I was incredibly grateful just to be alive and be happy. To love and be loved. To live in such a beautiful place. And to have the support when things go wrong.

So the motto of this epistle is – take breaks. Don’t work too hard. Enjoy life. Ask for help if you need it. And remember, if you’re of a certain age and start feeling you really can’t cope. Stop. Listen. It could well be your hormones.

Sunday 22 June 2008

Balls and Mothers

Mollie is delighted because, doing our usual morning walk around the castle this morning, we found a carrier bag full of old balls. The grass has been strimmed around the moat and evidently loads of elderly rubber and tennis balls have been found. Bingo! So we nabbed a few to put in the car for future use. To any non-dog owner, this might sounds strange, desperate even. Dog owners will know how many balls are apt to to missing.

Our break was much needed as we were both run down. We collapsed, read a lot, walked Moll a bit and slept (with a bit of chemical intervention on my part still as normal services have not been entirely resumed just yet).

We got back and both went down with flu and colds. You know, those streaming ones that make you feel utterly dire, shivery and achey. Really what a couple! So for the next week I am trying to persuade Himself Not to go up the scaffolding and help Mike (some hope) and not to overdo things myself.

Wise words eh? We'll see if it works.

While we were away I had some wonderful, close talks with my mum. We either get on very well or not at all, but this time, we were very close. Like sisters. The best it could be.

I am so grateful to have this relationship which means so much to me, that I started wondering, with a sense of black terror, how on earth I will manage when she goes. Not something I care to contemplate. Then I read a piece about Imelda Staunton who lost her mother several years ago and it had a huge effect on her. She said it felt like a huge hole appeared on her left side - apparently our left side is our mother - which she thought would never be filled.

"Now I think what you have to do is fill it with yourself because your mother is part of you," she said. "I'm easing into that space, using it and being comforted by it."

I shall endeavour to remember that.

PS Normal service will be resumed shortly

Friday 13 June 2008


This is what I hope Moll and I will be doing all next week. Playing and relaxing and having FUN.

But first of all, I have had an unwanted visitor who I feared was coming away with us tomorrow.

She was irksome, painful, and like a greedy fledgeling, ate and ate, growing larger and redder as the days went by. Antibiotics were prescribed – the first lot disagreed with me, so we tried another lot.

By yesterday afternoon my visitor was huge, throbbing and it was difficult to talk.
Then, as I met a friend last night, we started talking about our worst fears. I cried. As you do. She hugged me, proved what a wonderful friend she is and I cried some more.

I got back, had supper with Himself and we talked about love and cuddles and what they mean, how important they are.

“Like an internal memo,” said Himself. “We can use them to express how we feel just with actions.”

I hugged that thought to me (and actually didn’t cry) and later, as I brushed my teeth, I felt something in my mouth burst. I won’t go into the gory details, but I started trembling and laughing with relief and wonder.

My abscess had burst.

This morning my poor battered gum is almost flat and my relief is as great as the sunshine streaming through the windows.

And on that note I will bid you au revoir – we are off tomorrow for a week. A week away from work, computers and everything else. It will no doubt rain but what the hell?

PS I have just read Elizabeth Berg's latest blog (see link on side bar, links don't seem to be working) and she says, "All people need is recipes, and to be love and be loved. And dogs."

Being somewhat of a philistine when it comes to food, I would omit the recipes but wholeheartedly endorse the rest of it. What do you think?

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Jack and the Beanstalk

This is principally for my dear friend Carole who bought me some broad bean plants several weeks ago.

I’ve never grown them before, but look - SUCCESS!

Don’t think I’ll be harvesting a huge crop this year, but I am so chuffed that ANYTHING has come up.

On a completely different subject, Shelagh sent me the following quote which I think is so true.

Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the
letting of a little water.
Christopher Morley, writer (1890-1957)

Here’s hoping your hearts are light as a fluffy cloud.

And if they aren’t, that you are able to get some relief.

Sunday 8 June 2008

The good, the bad and - the beautiful

The good news – well, you know my good news. And the weather has to be the best this year. Cornwall looks breathtakingly beautiful, and on Saturday Moll and I walked down through Mylor Churchyard where a wedding was about to take place. The granite posts had been decorated with bunches of the palest pink and white roses, and pink rosebuds had been tied to each stake on the wrought iron gate at the entrance to the church.

Walking past the wine bar there, we saw a lot of smart bods in morning suits and flowery dresses, huge hats and too high heels. Short haircuts and nervous smiles, braying laughs and posy sun shades. I had to make sure we got back to see the bride, who looked stunningly happy, but appeared to be wearing a long cream sundress. Just as well it was so hot.

The bad news for Himself started with a tummy bug on Friday afternoon. He insisted on taking me to the pub to celebrate but he was very pale and had spent most of the afternoon dashing to the bathroom poor love. We stayed for one drink and came home.

He went to bed early but the tummy bug has persisted all weekend, and the poor darling looks ashen, his voice has become croaky as if through lack of use, and he’s so weak he can hardly walk.

Typically, we have scaffolding going up outside the whole house and Himself and his mate are due to start work on Tuesday to repair large chunks of the top flat, move all the TV aerials and paint the entire frontage. In the state he’s in at the moment it’s as much as he can do to stagger down the corridor. We can only hope that Monday brings an end to it – or at least an improvement.

As for the beautiful? Well, my Moll has had a shower so her coat gleams, her eyelashes sweep majestically down her face in the most artfully coquettish gesture ever – did I tell you how incredibly long her eyelashes are? And apart from the fact that she needs her anal glans done (we won’t go into that right now), she is looking very beautiful.

Perhaps best of all, behind me comes the sweet, heady smell of a bunch of honeysuckle that I picked while walking along the coastal path on Friday afternoon. The lemony fragrance reminds me of an English garden full of the best of flowers: rich, pungent roses with petals like velvet, the fragile scent of sweet peas with their clever pastel shades, and of course my favourite honeysuckle, twisting its way up a warm stone wall.

Friday 6 June 2008


Many thanks for all your kind and helpful advice regarding sleeping. I am trying all of them (apart from Salman Rushdie which I can't face, Graham!)

The good news is that I've finished the first draft of my novel, GIVE ME TIME!!!
And the picture is of the woods where my protagonist goes to play his cornet.

I'm shaking with adrenaline, know I've got a lot of editing to do, but the foundations are down. I will now leave it to settle for a few weeks and begin the hard work....

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday 4 June 2008

Insomniacs Unite

The above is a Soothing Picture which is what I need, for I'm afraid I have another moan now - this is turning into Flowerpot Hypochondriac Week. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

First I’ve had a moan about my deafness which is, I’m glad to say, cured as of Monday afternoon. Everything sounds so LOUD now. As I type even the keyboard rattles with a musical rhythm like tap dancing fingers.

The other thing that has been bothering me is sleep – or rather the lack of it. I’m an eight hour a night person and have never suffered from lack of sleep before, but for the last month or so (probably longer) I have been waking up at 3 or 4am and can’t get back to sleep.

The reason for this initial crisis was pressure from work which has now sorted out, I’m glad to say. But the habit seems to have continued.

My GP said my body clock had got out of balance and to take some sleeping pills (we had some from Superdrug) for 3 or 4 nights and that should do the trick. I tried it and it didn’t, so she prescribed me some which, she assured me, would not give me a hangover in the morning. Wrong. I felt utterly hyped up and paranoid all day and decided it was a high price to pay for a few extra hours sleep.

Last week I managed one night of 7 hours sleep and then went back to waking very early so I had one night of that, then took a pill the next night and so on. The trouble is now I’ve started worrying about not sleeping which makes matters even worse.
I’ve been told about deep breathing techniques which I tried but last night made not the faintest difference. I tried reading for an hour, felt tired but couldn’t sleep. Then it’s light at 5am and the animals decide they want their breakfast – you get the picture.

Now the idea of going to bed worries me because I suspect I might have another 4 hours of lying there tossing and turning.

Himself said, ‘Take the pills for a week and that might kick you back into gear.’ My GP agreed. But I don’t like the idea of taking pills – not that they’re addictive but because they make me feel gloopy in the morning and I hate that.

What I need to do is re-programme my brain. But how? Any ideas anyone?

Monday 2 June 2008

Sorry - what did you say?

It’s not often I long for the weekend to be over, but this one I was counting down the hours till 10 past 4 this afternoon.

I’ve gone deaf – sorry, hard of hearing - you see. This happens on a regular occurrence because I have narrow entrances to my ears and when too much wax builds up, my ears need to be syringed. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, but in order for it to happen, I have to put oil in my ears for 5 days before hand. This means that the wax tends to clog up my ears, I feel a huge pressure round my sinuses and inside my head, and frankly Monday afternoon cannot come round soon enough.

As luck would have it, on Friday morning I had to do a phone interview with a consultant. Tricky when you can’t hear the other person well. So I had to start off by saying, “I’M REALLY SORRY BUT I’VE GOT BLOCKED UP EARS AND CAN’T HEAR VERY WELL.”

“THAT’S ALL RIGHT,” he said. “I’LL SHOUT!”

Which he did. And in fact it was fascinating – and I was taping it in case I missed anything - but that’s another story.

Being deaf is a strange experience. Other worldly. Isolating. Removed. All these things. I’m not entirely deaf, of course, but the little I can hear comes from the end of a very long tunnel. If one of my ears pops, I jump, realising how incredibly noisy the radio is, or Mollie’s bark.

Everyday things that I’ve taken for granted suddenly become impossible, or at best far reaching. I start to try and work out what people are saying by watching their mouths. It makes me miserable and weepy. I feel like a little girl, wanting someone to sort it all out for me.

I often think how terrible it must be to lose your sight, but being deaf would run a close second.

Meanwhile roll on 10 past 4 this afternoon…