Thursday 31 July 2008

Six Random Things

ChrisH has tagged me to write six random things about myself.

I believe I did this some time ago but as I never have any idea of time, I have no idea when. So I may be repeating myself.

Here goes:-

My middle name is Lucy. Can you imagine? LUCY. Really. It brings to mind a prissy little girl with short white socks and her thumb in her mouth. I was not, I hasten to add, one of those. However, one of my nieces is called Lucy and she is how I would have liked to have been when I was growing up: smart, self assured without being arrogant, clever, interested in other people and a good listener. So perhaps Lucy isn’t that bad after all…

I have a problem with low blood sugar. When I had that zero balancing session recently, I discovered that the practitioner also has this problem. We were able to exchange stories about how off balance, even paranoid it can make you feel and it was such a relief to realise that it wasn’t just me.

I have a thing about Johns. Or Jonathans. Well, I don’t, but there have been a lot in my life. My Dad was called John. My oldest brother is Jonathan. I first fell in love with someone called John. During that time I also became close to another John who sadly committed suicide. I had a fling with a bloke on holiday who was called John. I had a boss who was my closest buddy for many years. Called – John. There are probably more of them but this is written off the top of my head.And then - I married a Jonathan.

One of my dreams is to live in a slightly bigger house – with a spare bedroom for when people come to stay – and a garden. I could then go to the local rescue centre and bring home some dogs and cats and they’d have a garden to run around in. The dogs, of course. The cats would have comfy beds and cushions to sleep on. But a garden to hunt in.

I inherited my habit of people watching from my mother. It’s not very sociable but is very good for improving writing dialogue. Rumour has it that when my father first took her out for a meal, he was trying to talk to her and became aware she wasn’t listening. When he persisted, she said, “Shhh. I’m listening to them.” Curiously, they went on to get married and had a very happy life together.

I’m a late starter. I realised what I really wanted to do with my life when I was 40. I married when I was 41. I became overwhelmed with broodiness at the age of 42. This continued for a while. I first began getting published when I was in my early 40s. It’s taken until 50 to get regular journalism work. Fingers crossed that will apply to my fiction. It’s a frustrating, challenging job that sometimes has me weeping that I‘m no good, that I can’t find the right words, the right sentence, say what I mean – and a million other worries. But on a good day, I love it. I wouldn’t do anything else.

Anyone else who wants to take up this tag please do.

Monday 28 July 2008

Dreams, homes and holidays

I’ve just had the most exhausting but lovely few days. First of all my mum came down to see a friend’s exhibition in Morvah on Friday. For once summer had decided to pay a visit, so we had spectacular weather to travel down in, and walk along the coastal path from Zennor towards St Ives. This is the most stunningly beautiful part of Cornwall, and if I close my eyes now I see the endless hues of green and blue of the sea, smell the rough, barkish smell of the bracken, feel the sun beating down on my neck. Bliss.

The next day Mum and I drove up to Tavistock where she was to leave me to spend the weekend with my dear mate Av. Unfortunately the world and his wife had also planned to leave Cornwall that day and we had to double back and go via a different route which got us there before sundown. Don’t go near the A390 if you want to leave Cornwall. It was hell.

Av and I had a wonderful time walking on Dartmoor, catching up on our news and doing what good friends do. In the evening we wept our way through Shirley Valentine for the umpteenth time and appreciated what a very wise and uplifting film it is. As Shirley said, “Why do we get all this life if we don’t use it? What do we do with all our dreams?”

The next day we had another long walk through Tavistock and along by the river, a deep, fast flowing stream of dark greens and browns, of secrets and hideaways. Made me wish I could paint – I could almost see the Lady of Shallott, her long hair streaming with the long flowing weed.

And then the long hot journey home - not as bad for me as for poor Av in a hot car. I stood on the platform at Plymouth, reeling from sun and tiredness, and looked at the departure board with a kind of giddy, mad thrill. I could go anywhere, I thought, just jump on a train and go. But where? I had a choice of Edinburgh, Paddington, Manchester, Waterloo. None of them appealed, and yet the idea that I could just get on a train and be somewhere else was curiously liberating. I put aside what my husband, my animals, my friends and family might say. But that strange excitement was liberating, gave me a buzz that I plan to hang onto.

I thought of what Shirley Valentine said about making the most of our lives.

I looked up at the departures screen, and considered where I would most like to be. When the Penzance train came roaring into the platform, my heart gave a skip. I jumped onto the train and sat back with a smile. I couldn’t wait to be home.

Where would you most like to be?

Friday 25 July 2008

Zero balancing and cartoonists

I had a wonderful zero balancing session last week courtesy of the lady I interviewed several weeks ago. It was much needed: it had been a strange week and as I’m still having sleep problems, it was wonderful to have 45 minutes to myself to zonk out.

Zero Balancing uses touch to balance body energy with body structure. The work is gentle to receive but potentially powerful in effect, capable of helping a wide range of people at many different levels. Finger pressure and held stretches encourage the release of tension in the body and as a result, emotional and physical problems may be resolved and symptoms relieved. Zero balancing aims to balance a person on all levels – mind, body and soul – and coax them back to optimum health.

Zero balancing was developed in 1975 by a Californian, Dr Fritz Smith, who was an osteopath, physician and acupuncturist. He tried to bring together the Western concept of wellness with the concepts of energy and healing used routinely in the East, combining osteopathy with acupuncture, where you work purely with body energy. The name arose from a recipient’s description of the session she had just received, meaning that she felt her body had been set back as nature intended.

During a session you have a chat about whatever might be bothering you (if anything) then I lay on my back on a couch (no need to strip off) and she did these wonderfully gentle stretches. My brain was still whirring round (it takes a lot to stop that) but having been feeling decidedly jet lagged, I emerged feeling refreshed and clearer. I also slept better, albeit with a little chemical intervention.

Zero balancing is derided by many of the medical profession as, like many alternative therapies, there’s no scientific evidence that it works. But it has been used very successfully in treating emotional trauma – for instance, women who have been raped or sexually abused, and to help migraine, stress and tension. It’s also good for whiplash and muscular problems.
So if you feel in need of a boost, whether emotional or physical, I’d recommend a session.

And on that note, I must go. I've had a busy journalistic week with no time for fiction (that's next week). Need to finish off a piece on a coastal walk and one on a cartoonist. Have a look at his website here – Nick Brennan - I think he’s incredibly talented. He's also a very likeable fellow with a quiet, self deprecating sense of humour. His wife is lovely and his dog - well, I am smitten. By the dog, I hasten to add.

Have a good weekend!

Monday 21 July 2008

Hip Hip Hooray!

The latest missive for Cornwall Today -

A ‘new’ hip has given Debbie Davis a new lease of life

62 year old Debbie Davis walked up the steep hill from Falmouth and stood outside her front door where, to her neighbour’s amazement, she shouted, “I’m free!” This was the first time she had walked without crutches for weeks.

At Easter this year, she underwent an operation for hip resurfacing as the cartilage in her left hip had completely worn away due to osteoarthritis. Hip resurfacing is a relatively new option, only available in the UK for the last 14 years. Mark Norton and two of his colleagues are the only orthopaedic surgeons in Cornwall to provide this service which is mainly for younger people with hip arthritis who wish to remain active.

In hip resurfacing, the hip joint is relined rather than replaced, and the head and neck of the femur are preserved. The worn surfaces of the head and socket are machined away with precision instruments and the joint is then lined with a metal covering for the head and socket.

“As a surgeon you have the ability to change something immediately and get instant feedback via X ray as to whether you’ve done a good job,’ says Mark Norton. “That gives a lot of satisfaction, and I think that’s very attractive to men.

“One of the biggest advantages with hip resurfacing is that there’s a lower chance the ball with come out of the socket if they twist and bend than with a normal hip replacement,” Mark explains. “Another advantage for younger people is that all of these mechanical devices will fail at some point. With resurfacing we haven’t damaged the inside of the femur so if the hip has to be redone it’s more straightforward.”

Debbie had little warning that anything was wrong. “I’d had twinges 5 or 6 years ago, then gradually started getting shooting pains if I turned around or went up steps awkwardly, so the obvious solution was to stop whatever I was doing and the pain went. I’d also had an ache on the inside of the thigh, but only if I’d been on a long walk. I was in denial for a very long time.”

It got to the stage where the pain was happening more often so Debbie went to see her GP. “Initially I was told that the condition had been caught early, and go away and take glucosamine, fish oils and do yoga. I didn’t know I had osteoarthritis.”

There is no history of osteoarthritis in Debbie’s family, but as it’s hereditary, her daughters have been told to look out for any pain in the groin, or sudden and stabbing pains.

“When the pains got worse but were not incapacitating in any way - I was still walking the coastal path - I went back to the doctor and had an X ray. He said I had quite severe osteoarthritis and recommended a hip replacement.” Debbie smiles. “I’m just amazed I wasn’t in as much pain as everyone thought I should have been. I like to think I’m incredibly brave but that’s not true!”

“We really can’t explain why some people feel pain more than others,” Mark says.
“Some people feel pain in the soft tissue around the hip, others from the inside of the bone. People experience pain differently.”

Debbie was referred to a physiotherapist. “She suggested that I was young and active enough to benefit from a resurfacing rather than a replacement,” Debbie says. “This was the first time I’d heard of this. Within a month I had an appointment with Mark Norton at the Duchy and he saw my X ray and agreed that a hip resurfacing operation would be suitable.”

Mark explains further: “Smaller implants don’t function as well as the bigger ones, so small women fare worse with hip resurfacing because they have thinner bones, a higher risk of bones breaking and getting more hip fractures. They are safer with a conventional hip replacement, because if they have a metal hip it can’t break. But it depends on their age. I generally don’t do hip resurfacing in women over 65.”

Debbie had doubts about her operation, but found the session with Mark Norton very helpful. “He had time for me, which made all the difference,” she says. “I was much relieved because he told me exactly what was going to happen. He allayed my fears – I was being a bit of a drama queen and thought that my active life was over, which would have been a huge loss. I was told that with hip resurfacing I could continue to play squash, whereas with a hip replacement I probably couldn’t.” She laughs. “But I haven’t tested this out yet!”

Debbie was booked in within a couple of months, and because the ‘choose and book’ system was used, she was able to go to the Duchy hospital on the NHS. “Mark Norton did the operation, kindly offering at the same time to shave off a slight abnormality that he found in my hip which has the added benefit that I may find I can do the splits which I’ve never been able to do before!” Debbie says.

She suffered some post operative discomfort but that was easily controlled by painkillers. “For the first few days it was quite scary to realise that I couldn’t move my leg off the bed,” Debbie says. “And one of the most difficult things after the operation was having to sleep on my back for six weeks.”

But she made a very swift recovery. “Two days later I was walking aided with crutches at least as far as the bathroom. By the third day I was doing exercises and walking to the rest room and on the fourth day I came home.”

Debbie’s friends and family were worried how she would cope when she came out of hospital, and rallied round to look after her. “After a week of intensive care by good friends and family, I was desperate for them to go so I could look after myself!” she says. And she has never looked back. “I was told to keep using my crutches for 6 weeks but I did cheat a bit. I got away with one crutch for the last 3 weeks.”

Since then she has managed to walk 4 miles on level ground. “I even worked behind the bar in the pub the other night, so I feel that I’m doing quite well,” she says. “In fact I’m absolutely amazed and wondering why I made such a fuss before I went in!”

Now her mobility is good. “I still have a small amount of discomfort at night but not enough to keep me awake. I just have to move more than I used to,” she says. And the only thing she can’t do is get her socks on. “I have to use a special device,” she says, “but I’m hoping that one day I will be able to.”

Although hip resurfacing is relatively recent so there are few statistics available, Debbie’s prognosis is encouraging. “At the moment it’s looking good so I’m feeling pretty positive,” she says. “Although nobody would choose to have any operation, I feel very lucky.”

Cornwall Hip Foundation
t: 01872 870969
f: 01872 870969

Cornwall August 2006

Friday 18 July 2008

A Chance Encounter

The above picture has nothing to do with post but is what I feel like doing now. A few nights of not sleeping well leaves me grumpy and knackered. But I digress.

It's been a busy week, what with sending my novel off to the agent in Ireland - my baby is well and truly on its way so think of me - or rather, it - and cross fingers, please. I feel sick with nerves at the thought of it, so I am trying to focus on Other Things. Like an interview with a cartoonist next week and a free zero balancing session courtesy of the very nice lady I interviewed last week.

One day last week I was walking Moll up near a farm where there is a camp site. Adjacent to this are two fields where I throw her ball so she can race through the stubble and have a good run, so knowing this she ran ahead and stood at the entrance to the field with her head on one side, waiting for me.

As I rounded the corner, I laughed and said, “look at YOU! Just LOOK at you!” (For non dog lovers, I’m afraid this is typical of the kind of conversation a lot of doglovers have. Sad but true.)

Mollie didn’t reply, but a rich, deep voice to my right said, “Who, me?”

I jumped and found myself looking into the widest, most open smile in the blackest face I’ve ever seen. He saw my amazed expression and flung his head back, revealing white teeth with a hint of gold. His face just rang with enjoyment of life. I laughed too – how could I not? And he asked if my dog would bite him if he shook my hand.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Let’s try.”

Mollie might be small but her teeth are very sharp and her jaw is made of steel. I don’t know if he knew that, but he did look rather apprehensive. We looked at Moll who looked up and wagged her tail.

“She’s a good judge of character,” I said.

My new friend exhaled loudly and with evident relief. I asked him where he was from – “Coventry,” he said. My wife and I come down and camp three times a year. We love Cornwall.”

I told him about the private view I’d been to at Morvah, last weekend. I told him how beautiful West Penwith is, and how he should get there.

“We’ll go tomorrow,” he said, with that wide easy smile and we talked some more. About where they’d been, about what I did. “Tell me,” he said, “what do you think makes a relationship work?”

I grinned. I like this kind of conversation. We shared our views and I found that he has remarkably similar tastes to Himself. Though to look at they are somewhat different. For one thing, Himself isn’t into camping.

We laughed and I threw the ball for Moll and he said, “Isn’t this great that we’ve only just met and we’re standing here getting on and having a good time?

“It is,” I said. “It’s a shame that more people don’t do this. Have respect for others and enjoy different company. Life would be much more enjoyable if we did.”

Again that lovely grin. He held out his hand to shake mine once more. “Gabriel Fry,” he said, and clasped my small hand in his comfortable large one. “Nothing to do with chocolate. I hope we meet again. I’ve so enjoyed this meeting.”

“So have I,” I said, and reluctantly said goodbye.

It’s amazing how a chance meeting can engender so much good will. I walked off feeling ten foot tall.

Monday 14 July 2008

Taking Lungs for Granted

We had a busy weekend but for once had time together to enjoy. This was made all the more poignant by Himself going to have a lung checkup this morning for his condition called Pulmonary Fibrosis.

He dropped me in Truro as I had several meetings there, and he went on to Treliske, not knowing how long it would take – last time he was there all morning. I couldn’t ring him till nearly 1o’clock and he sounded cheery as he answered the phone, so I knew things couldn’t be that bad.

“I had an X ray and breathing tests, and apparently my lungs aren’t likely to improve but it’s no worse,” he said. He paused and I knew there was more to come. “He said that most people are dead within three years of getting pulmonary fibrosis,” he added, in a matter of fact sort of way. “So I’m very lucky.”

It is now three years since he was diagnosed with the disease. I went hot and cold and shook. If there is such a thing as a ghost walking over my grave, this was it. A brush with death. Or a near brush. I’m still trembling just thinking about it.

“In fact, he says it might just be scar tissue, not pulmonary fibrosis after all,” he added.

My first thought was Thank God for that. Then I thought – hang on. Why didn’t they get the diagnosis right in the first place?

But the important thing is that he’s doing fine. He’s playing the cornet well – the Big Gig is in a month’s time – and his lungs have to benefit from that.

The bad news is that we didn’t win the lottery this weekend. But I’d rather know that his lungs are OK. Because you can’t buy new lungs for love nor money.

P.S. Off to Ways with Words in Devon on wednesday to listen to a talk by Celia Robertson about her grandmother. Apparently "by the 1970s, Sophie, the grandmother was destitute and mad. She washed her hair in margarine and cut up presents in case they had a listening device in the lining. In another life she wrote for the BBC; her poetry was published by Leonard and Virgina Woolf; she was reviewed in the national papers and had tea with Vita Sackville West. Celia Robertson asks: Who was Sophie?"

I can't wait to find out....

Friday 11 July 2008

Printers and Group Sex

First of all, many thanks to everyone for their very helpful comments regarding printers. I now have a Xerox Workcentre 3119 laser printer which I am in love with. It printed the entire novel in under half an hour, and is also a printer and a scanner, so at the moment it can do no wrong. It was also in my price range which is even better.

On the other hand, I am unable to receive emails at the moment - a problem with BT I believe - so if you're wondering why I haven't responded, blame it on BT.

But to other matters. A few weeks ago – in the days when we weren’t awash with rain and gale force winds; when we could count on walking our dogs in a degree of comfort, and warmth. When I started getting a brown face from the sun, so that no matter how wobbly I felt inside, people said, “you do look WELL.”

As I was saying, back in those clement days, I walked Moll up from the beach at Swanpool along the coastal footpath and up to Stack Point.

It should be noted that, according to my hairdresser Jill, who grew up in Falmouth, if you wanted to indulge in teenage fumblings, you would go Up Stack as it was known. Being an innocent, I didn’t know that at the time of my walk. And as I’m a long way from being a teenager, it doesn’t count.

So Moll and I strolled along in the sunshine, she sniffed the ground and bounded along and I picked honeysuckle and watched the ships anchored out in Falmouth Bay. The sea was ruffled with the gentlest of breeze, and the ships looked like items on a wedding cake, cemented by icing.

Then I came to a hawthorn bush with a small message pinned to it. It was written in uneven capitals, and said something along the lines of

I picked up the paper and looked closely at the wife. Frankly, she didn’t look as if she was having fun. She was clad in – well, not very much from what I could see, but the photograph wasn’t very clear. Her smile seemed somewhat strained. As if she was saying, “Oh God, not again”. Or perhaps she was shy and didn’t want to admit how much she did like sex with strangers. Or perhaps she’d just had one orgasm too many and was wiped out… Or perhaps she had indigestion, or was worried about how to pay the electricity bill.

After some consideration, I put her back on the hawthorn bush. And started wondering. Did the husband really pin that message to that bush? If so, why there? True, there’s a certain amount of passing traffic, but most of those passing are Serious Walkers – though of course that doesn’t preclude them being into Serious Sex. Or even Fun Sex with Strangers.

Perhaps the husband had pinned the message somewhere different, and someone picked it up and put it on the bush for a laugh. Or he was walking along the coastal path (prior to group sex) and it fell out of his pocket – and someone put it on the bush for a laugh.

I wonder if anyone did ring her, and what happened. I don’t suppose I shall ever know, but that doesn’t matter. I have enough material for several novels by now.

The next time I walked along there, she’d gone. Not that I was checking, of course.

Monday 7 July 2008

Printer rage

You’ve heard of road rage. Now there’s printer rage.

A friend of mine suffered from this problem last week, when attempting to print out posters and invites for an exhibition she is having next week. Of course, her printer went wrong at the last minute, started printing things out in the wrong colour, or not at all. So after endless spare cartridges (at great expense), she now has her trusty computer man coming round this morning to fix it. We hope.

By the way, to see some of her paintings, go to This Painting Life.

I’ve been sitting here for an hour now trying to print out my last novel to send to an agent. 330 pages needed in pristine condition, no blobs of ink, virgin white paper (top quality, not the cheap stuff from Asda that I usually use, which I use both sides of as well).

My printer has acquired an unpleasant habit of printing one page, under sufferance. It then decides the weather is too autumnal, that the damp has seeped into its joints, that it has arthritis. So it spits the next page out. And possibly the next page after that. And then three pages get stuck and the red light comes on.

My blood pressure is rising by the moment and the language is enough to make Himself wince. I’ve just been next door where he’s checking his emails and he looked at me furtively, as if expecting me to shout and hit him.

I did shout but I didn’t hit him. I took several LARGE BREATHS and now I am back here writing down my angst. I will then feel better, and able to tackle the next 300 pages.

And in half an hour I shall go and interview a lady who practices zero balancing. I’ve tried it – in the interests of research of course – and it’s like a massage but even better. The idea is that you balance the emotional energies of the body with the physical. I shall be interested to her version of it.

On the other hand - can anyone recommend a reliable printer that won't cost the earth, has cartridges that aren't too expensive and produces good quality print. Looking online is so confusing - laser or inkjet? I don't need colour by the way.
Any advice gratefully received.

Friday 4 July 2008

Neurotic Writers


It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little. -Sydney Smith, writer and clergyman (1771-1845)

This week hasn’t been one of my best. Not sleeping well and a huge amount of emotional as well as hormonal turmoil.

As most of you other writers know, fiction comes from the subconscious – or at least, when I write it, it does. (Journalism comes from the conscious side of the brain, whichever side that is.)

For those of you that don’t write, I can only describe writing fiction as like meditation. Though meditating is not something I’ve ever been able to do.

When I write fiction, I go into another place. I inhabit another person. I have to be able to breathe, think and feel like that person – or people. I have to BE that person, and live in their house, look out on their view. I have to know their likes and dislikes, understand their insecurities, know what makes them laugh or cry.

When I start a novel, I have an idea of a person who might have come from someone I’ve seen or know. But once I start writing, this person takes on a life of their own. They are in charge. They have their own hangups and talents, headaches and insecurities. They make up their minds what they like and what they don’t.

I can remember going to a talk with Julie Myerson, a fabulous novelist. She was asked why she had written about the death of a two year old – the character’s daughter. She said that one of her deepest fears was that something should happen to one of her children. In order to deal with this fear, and perhaps to prevent it happening, she made herself write about it.

One of my deepest fears is that something should happen to Himself. Which of course it will one day. But this has been bothering me more than somewhat of late. And it struck me the other day, that it’s ironic that I should have written about what I fear most. No wonder I haven’t been able to sleep.

The good thing about fiction is that it’s cathartic. And you can, to a certain extent, dictate what happens. (I say to a certain extent because quite often the characters have other ideas.)

But in the case of Arthur, all is not doom and gloom. He has to understand why things went wrong, and learn to let go. And then he has a second chance of happiness.

So whenever life is bleak, don’t despair. (I have been telling myself.) Weep and wail, grieve and rejoice. Somewhere, round the corner is a letter addressed to you. It could be your chance at happiness – or luck – or love. Or all three.