Friday 31 October 2008

A Truce - and Curious Goings On

The above picture says it all, I think. Bussie and Mollie have finally laid down arms – for a minute...

The other night I had the strangest dream A little girl stood in front of me and put her arms up towards me. I bent down, picked her up, and she hugged me tight, wrapping her legs around my waist, clutching me with hot little arms, her head tucked into the nook by my chin. I held her tight and rocked her until she was comforted, and felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach. Who was this girl, and why did I love her so much?

The dream was at once deeply upsetting yet a great comfort, and stayed with me all day, not fading as dreams usually do. The image grew stronger, which made me think she has a purpose.

So I wondered who she was. The daughter I never had?
The sister I never had?
Me as a little girl.
An embodiment of life and death – for they are different ends of the same spectrum.

Or perhaps I'm just being analytical and it was just one of those strange things that you can't account for.

On the way home from seeing a friend last night I came round the corner to our flat and there beside me was the little girl, skipping along and calling me. She held my hand and we swung arms and then she faded away.

When I woke in the middle of the night, she was there again. Close by, needing me there while she went to sleep.

Curiouser and curiouser...

Monday 27 October 2008

Callington School of Art

This is in this month's Cornwall Today - an aspirational couple I thought who deserve all the best


Lower House in Callington has the most welcoming feeling, like walking into an old family home. There’s a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, big sash windows that keep the rooms light, bookcases and paintings galore, and four sympathetically decorated en suite bedrooms that have been rated four star by Visit Britain.

The kitchen has a long table where everyone eats together, and adjoining this is a coach house where Peter Sulston, 58, and his wife Tessa, 57 run Callington School of Art. A well established art teacher, Tessa is able to provide a wide range of courses including 3 or 6 day residential courses, one day workshops, and courses for teachers. “We never have more than six in a class so I can give individual tuition,” she says. “This way, we can be professional and versatile.”

Located in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty, the school is open all year round, offers comfortable accommodation, delicious home made cooking, trips to local outdoor locations and an extensive art library. “We cater for all ages and abilities and we’re getting a lot of interest from people who haven’t painted since school,” Peter says. “We provide the time for them to do that.”

Since opening in September 2007, the art school has already proved a success. “We worried whether people would like our style, but people have commented on how relaxed they feel in our company and how friendly it is,” Tessa says. “And they love Peter’s food!”

“People are already booking to come back which is very heartening,” says Peter. “We advertise a lot but word of mouth is the best way. It’s a personal endorsement.”

Peter and Tessa met as students in London in 1970 and have been married for 33 years. Their first son was born in Australia; their second son in Ethiopia where Peter was working for Oxfam. They returned to Oxford 20 years ago where he took up loss adjusting and Tessa taught at Magdalen College School, one of the country’s leading independent schools.

Two years ago, Peter and Tessa decided it was time for a change. “I said ‘do you fancy an adventure?’ ” Peter says. “We’d talked about running our own school and now we had the opportunity to do it.”

They explored the possibility of buying in France, but decided that negotiating a strange legal system with their limited French would be unwise. “We browsed the net and found Lower House, with an attached two storey dilapidated coach house which was the right price with some left over to finance the renovations,” Tessa says. That was the start of a steep learning curve. “We had to be aware of everything. Like fire precautions, Health & Safety, disabled access and filling in incredibly complex grant application forms.”

With help from an Objective One grant they finished the renovations last year and ran their first residential course in September. “Just as the builders left!” says Tessa. “The first people arrived when it still smelt of fresh paint and the varnish on the staircase wasn’t quite dry. They declared at once that this would be their sixteenth art holiday so we replied, 'Well, this is our first!'”

They needn’t have worried about their reception in the town, as the art school has been welcomed by locals and visitors. “The mayor said it’s just what the town needs,” says Peter. “There’s a little theatre here and I think perhaps we’re seen alongside that. It helps the status of the town.”

“We were surprised by the level of local interest,” Tessa says. “Most of our customers have come from Penzance to Bristol.” But already the word has spread and people are coming from further afield. “We’ve just had someone from Dublin, two from Scotland and an Australian.”

The couple have quickly become involved in community life in Callington, a small market town with a population of just over 5000. “I worked for Oxfam when it launched the Fairtrade movement so when I found out there was a committee here, I volunteered,” says Peter, who has found everyone very friendly and helpful. “One of our neighbours offered us a parking space for visitors which is very generous.”

Tessa wasted no time in using her artistic skills. “The town is internationally famous for its murals – there used to be 17 of them,” she says. “The surrounding schools ran a competition for children to design a mural and I was on the committee so I judged it.”

Learning to work together was another huge challenge. “We started out rather irrationally with both of us doing everything,” says Tessa. “Now I liaise with prospective students, run the courses and clean and make the beds. Peter does the accounts, maintenance, administration and cooking and entertaining. When we can, we’ll take on help with cleaning and laundry and outsource some of the tutoring.”

“We’ve been together more in the past 2 years than in the last 20,” says Peter, and this has brought its rewards and frustrations. “Like any couple we have our differences but nothing serious. Tessa gets on with things and I adapt!”

Tessa agrees. “We talk things through mainly. If we have any spare time, Peter plays badminton and I paint. Although we’re together most of the time we have space.”

Despite being incredibly busy, they have found time to explore the area and have quickly fallen in love with Cornwall. “The pace of life seems different,” says Peter. “You get to know people and I’ve got a local pub again – it’s lovely to go in there and be welcomed.”

For Tessa, the landscape has inspired her painting. “I get completely different inspiration from Bodmin and the coasts. Both have different atmospheres, different views, contrasts, shapes and colours. When you’ve got shadow coming off rocks and water you get wonderful changes in colour.”

Having given up well paid jobs, security and pensions, Peter and Tessa realise they have taken a huge gamble, but have great faith in their business. “We don’t in any way regret our move,” says Tessa. “As with any new business we’d be lying if we said we weren’t nervous about our future. But we’re going to give it everything we have, physically, financially and emotionally.”

Callington School of Art, Lower House, Church Street, Callington PL17 7AN
01579 383491

Lower House Guest House

Friday 24 October 2008

Email Bloomers

There was a piece in the news recently about Google, who have set up a facility called Mail Goggles. This is in response to the number of people who have sent emails to the wrong people when Under The Influence. Several people were quoted having sent vitriolic messages to ex-spouses; ex-lovers, ex-in-laws etc., having had a few in the pub. Or at home, which makes it easier to send the emails.

When enabled, Mail Goggles kicks in at a time specified by you and says, “It’s that time of day. Are you sure you want to send this?” It then tries to ascertain if you’re drunk by asking five maths on the screen which you have to answer in a limited time. If you can’t, it presumes you’re pissed and suggests that you send it the next day when you’ve had time to consider the matter.

The writers of the piece were unable to test this out as all of their staff were sober, but many said they wished it had been invented earlier to prevent previous bloomers.

It seems an excellent idea to me. I’ve never actually sent embarrassing emails when drunk as I can’t type after a glass of wine. I have, however, sent them when in a hurry and sober which is infinitely more embarrassing, as I have no excuse.

It made me think, wouldn’t it be lovely if we could apply this facility to our brains, so when we’ve worried something to death, a message would come up saying, “Enough - I’m sick of this. Can you think about something else, please?”

P. S. To activate Mail Goggles, go into Gmail's settings, and turn on Mail Goggles in the "Labs" tab. Then adjust how and when it works in the "General" tab.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Another Swansong and Meme

My new computer is due to arrive this afternoon (I hope) but at least this one’s limping along which is the main thing.

So as the second swansong, here is a meme from Pat and ChrisH as well

The winners of this award have to answer these questions, in one word per question.... so here we go:
1. Where is your cell phone? Kitchen
2. Where is your significant other? Jazz-ing
3. Your hair color? Brown
4. Your mother? Devon
5. Your father? Heaven
6. Your favorite thing? Love
7. Your dream last night? Confused
8. Your dream/goal? Published
9. The room you're in? Bedroom
10. Your hobby? Walking
11. Your fear? Loss
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Here
13. Where were you last night? Home
14. What you're not? Sane
15. One of your wish-list items? Younger
16. Where you grew up? Devon
17. The last thing you did? Drink
18. What are you wearing? Jeans
19. Your TV? Off
20. Your pets? Sleeping
21. Your computer? On
22. Your mood? Steady
23. Missing someone? Always
24. Your car? Parked
25. Something you're not wearing? Socks
26. Favorite store? Zilch
27. Your summer? Mixed
28. Love someone? Yes.
29. Your favorite color? Autumnal
30. When is the last time you laughed? Today
31. Last time you cried? Yesterday

Instead of passing this meme on, as I have a deadline and should be finishing a piece on teapots, please pick this up and run with it if you like it!

Friday 17 October 2008

A Swansong

This computer is on its last legs, and has developed a habit of bleeping at me from a dark, blank screen and not letting me go any further - tricky that when you've got two deadlines (can you hear me screaming?).

New computer arrives on Monday - I hope - so normal service will resume next week. So while I'm not able to blog or read your blogs for a few days, I will be back soon.

Meanwhile, I'm frantically trying to finish a piece on a nearby animal rescue centre before the pc crashes again.... I was in tears most of yesterday transcribing the tape and now writing it, the floodgates are opening yet again.

I will leave you with a joke which has enlightened my week.

A 3-year-old boy examined his testicles while taking a bath.

'Mom', he asked, 'Are these my brains?'

'Not yet,' she replied.

Have a good weekend!

PS Computer not arrived yet - am hanging on by fingernails and hoping this will see me through the last deadline!

Tuesday 14 October 2008

A Philosophical Post - or how to deal with Menopausal Wobbles

We had some of the best weather for our long weekend that we’ve had all summer, and it was lovely to have time with Mum and Moll – 3 girls together. I also had time to see a few friends without having to worry about Himself, who was on his Boat Hunt.

But in amongst all this crept my old fear about losing those I am closest to. My mother is incredibly fit and sprightly (mentally and physically) and doesn’t even wear glasses (groan from her daughter who has been myopic since the age of 13). She is always interested in everything and everyone and has a huge army of friends – understandably. At 79, she is also still extremely attractive.

Himself is doing well, his cancer is under control and despite having days when the medication makes him feel exhausted, as well as general ageing, he is feeling well. He plays the cornet still, has resumed his love affair with boats and still thinks about his wife and dog now and then. (A bit more than that to be honest.)

That I should chose a long weekend to delve into mortality is unfortunate but probably because I wasn’t working so had more time to think about it. Anyway, it kept me awake in the small hours, terrified of this huge void called death.

Ageing is no bundle of laughs. And being married to someone 18 years older, I am more aware than some of the frustrations that this can bring. The body’s gradual refusal to do things we could once do easily. But there’s nothing we can do about it, and it is completely natural. It's part of the ongoing process of life. Look at nature - the tumbling, flame coloured leaves of autumn. Crackly winter frosts. The emerald vibrancy of spring. Life goes on.

Luckily I saw a wise friend who knows me very well. When I was a child, she said, I thought that when you died you lay down in a lovely wood on a blanket of leaves and went to sleep. Death is not a void – it’s something peaceful and part of nature. Part of life.

Seeing my worries, she said you must face your fears, not hide from them. You should have a plan, she said. Write it down, then put it to one side - don't dwell on it, but make the most of the time you have. Enjoy your time with your nearest and dearests. Enjoy life but be prepared.

One of the worst things about losing those we love is being left behind. And yet, as my friend said, we only lose their physical presence. We have albums in our heads full of memories, and it is these that we can remember and play over and over again. And we are not alone. Most of us are fortunate enough to have friends and/or family. We have animals and other responsibilities. We have work. We have hobbies that soothe or distract or invigorate us. We meet new friends, lovers, animals, and these don’t replace the old ones but add to our army of supporters. We can learn new things and this adds to our wisdom and enjoyment of life.

I talked to Himself and he said that we need stamina and courage to face our difficulties. I also think we need to know that we are stronger than we might believe. Particularly if you are in the midst of a menopausal wobble, as I was. As Julie Andrews sang: “All I trust I lead my heart to, All I trust becomes my own. I have confidence in confidence alone. Besides which you see I have confidence in me!”

After that musical outburst, the other thing my friend said was, “You’re not alone. But you must believe in something.”

What, I thought? I was brought up C of E but lost faith in God, or perhaps I never quite had it. As a teenager I was unhappy and developed anorexia, then lost several people who meant a lot to me, then my dad died. Perhaps He was looking after me anyway, but I was angry and turned away, felt bitterly let down. Now a part of me would like to believe but doesn’t quite know how. Or what.

But thinking about what my friend said, I wondered - what do I believe in? Friends. Love. Determination. Perseverance. Caring. Justice – but I don’t mean the legal system. I mean a sense of fairness in life that might not be obvious but usually works out in some odd way. Lots of other things, too. Laughter, fun, enjoyment. Helping others, and being helped in return. A good cry with friends. Cuddles. Sunny walks with Moll. The lovely stretched way I feel after yoga. The sense of peace following meditation. The joy of having a good sing.

As a writer I have to be sensitive enough to write about emotions so that others can understand and empathise with them. But I must be tough enough to deal with the multitude of rejections and disappointments that come across a writer’s path. So this made me realise that I believe very strongly in the subconscious.

Not that I really know what that entails, but I do know that while it might contain memories of old fears and worries, it also stores up joys and treasures. Furthermore, it enables me to write. It spurs me to write. Sometimes phrases tap out of my keyboard and I wonder where they came from. I read them and cry, or laugh, and think, did I write that? Perhaps God is in my keyboard, or my subconscious?

This reminds me of the lovely fellow I met when out walking with Moll. Gabriel Fry he was called. A solid fellow with a wonderfully broad smile, intelligent eyes that missed nothing. If my subconscious could be a person it would be him. Full of rich secrets, fun and laughter. An instant supporter who trusted me, laughed with me as if we'd known each other all our lives. Perhaps we had.

Who do you believe in?

Wednesday 8 October 2008

A Lost Husband

We're off to Devon tomorrow for a few days - or rather, Molls and I are. Himself is dropping us at my mother's so we can have a few Girls' Days while he peruses the boat yards of Lymington, Southampton, Gosport etc. in pursuit of an ex-racing boat that he can't afford. Well, it keeps him happy and out of mischief. We hope.

Anyway, this afternoon Moll and I did one of our favourite walks and Himself had a quick half in the pub while waiting for us - and we usually meet him there. We got to the pub - no husband. I retraced my steps - no sign of him. Back to the pub. No sign. Saw the van, couldnt get in. No mobile, no money, bag in van, no keys. Swore. Appealed to Molls who grinned and wagged her tail and said, "I dunno Mum," or something similar.

We repeated the above exercise with me trying not to get increasingly frantic. Himself is not a walker, you see. He grudgingly comes on the short walk with Moll in the morning and That's It. Added to which he was off to do a job at 5pm and this was 4.15pm. I'd last seen him at 2.45.

One last time I went back asking everyone en route. By this time I was convinced he'd fallen into a ditch, broken a leg, had a heart attack - you know the kind of thing. I called an d called him, panic rising in my chest as I ran along the path, legs wobbly with fear.

And just as I asked yet another couple if they'd seen someone matching his description, there he was lolloping along the beach. I fell into his arms, weeping and swearing, "Where have you BEEN?"

As we walked back to the van he said he'd walked as far as the second field and waited for me, thought I was talking to someone, as I sometimes do. No comment.

"Anyway," he said. "Tomorrow and Friday you won't know where I am. I could be in a Laptop Club."

So That's what those dancers do......

Monday 6 October 2008

An eventful weekend

Poor Mollie had another terrible outbreak of itching on Friday which resulted in yet another trip to the vet, antibiotics, Piriton and a steroid spray as well as increasing her steroids. We were so desperate at the time that we didn’t question this dosage as perhaps we should have done, so having rung the vet this morning we've cut down her dosage and hope the spray will help. Poor girl, she's had a really bad few months and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight. But she's such a cheerful soul and we love her for that.

Notwithstanding that, Moll and I set off to pick up a friend on Saturday to do the Mevagissey Treasure Trail for Cornwall Today. As we neared Mevagissey, the clouds gathered and by the time we arrived we were wading through steady drizzle and a gathering wind, but we completed the trail, had a fascinating trip round the town and felt we deserved an award for stoicism and determination - Moll included.

The rain finally stopped late Sunday morning and we had a wonderful walk with my Swedish friend around Rosemullion Head. As apparently this was to be the only good day of the week, I’m glad we made the most of it as today is back to normal grey drizzle.

I’ve recently been told about a website run by Harper Collins which is for avid readers and budding novelists. The idea is that you can upload your novel – or part of it – and while reading others’ novels, they can comment on yours. If you’re very lucky your novel might land on the desk of an editor, but the site is regularly perused by agents and editors.

I thought it was worth a go, so please have a look at my first three chapters, if you feel so inclined, and let me know how I might improve them – here

You need to scroll down until you see The Current Beneath by Sam Kittow (pseudonym)

And do pass the word around - try it yourself if you're a writer - it could help us all get published!

We’re off on Thursday for a few days in Devon so this might be the last post for a bit.

Thursday 2 October 2008

A Great Idea

I recently read about Barbara Bright, who has set up a company called Nexus, which began in the 1970s as a phone based network service and is still going strong.

Nexus is not a dating agency but a means of meeting other unattached people. As Barbara explains, “If you’re lonely, you’ll find that people are not going to beat a path to your door,” she says. “You just have to get out and meet people. NO one can change your life but you.” And that is what Nexus does – provide an opportunity to do just that.

Nexus was devised by an Australian civil engineer who found it difficult to meet people in the early 1970s. He heard of a system in Japan where people could phone a number and listen to recorded messages. If they liked the sound of the person, they could contact them.

So Nexus was founded on that idea and a similar service set up in the UK. Barbara and Peter advertised and were inundated with calls. Within this service came Icebreakers, which is a listing of members’ ads with a first name and phone number, released every month.

Then Skills Bank was started by a member who wanted to help people with business skills in exchange for practical help. The Leisure Interest directory came next, categorising members by their interests, and the Bulletin tells Nexus members what’s going on in their area.

As a result of all this communication and contact, members form a community and help each other. Not just that, but they tend to keep their membership long after they have found a partner.

“It becomes a way of life,” says Barbara. “It gives people a family outside their family.”

It seems strange that nowadays there are more forms of communication than ever, yet it is ever easier to avoid talking to people, so communication skills are dying.

Perhaps we should all re-learn the art of listening. Of having time for each other; of caring. Taking the time to stop. Grabbing those moments of happiness, and sticking them in our mental scrapbook, to be taken out and treasured.

With so many of us scattered all over the country, if not the world, Nexus sounds like a wonderful idea.
or ring 01237 471704

And just to lower the tone completely, Himself has suggested calling the van the Bonkmobile....