Thursday 31 December 2009


On this last day of 2009 I would like to wish everyone a very happy, healthy and successful 2010.

2009 has been a busy year for me, with a lot more work, progress on the novel front (albeit slow) and the start of a fabulous new choir. I won't dwell on the downside of things, but I hit a very low spot just before Christmas which, as always with me, was caused by a kick in the teeth to my confidence. This pulled me up, made me look at myself and what I'm doing. That's not a bad thing, I find. Being honest with myself is something I find very important.

I woke up early this morning with an easterly wind howling outside the window and snuggled up against Himself and Mollie, and thought about some of the things that had troubled me recently. Two concerned being let down by people. Being oversensitive, I react more strongly to others, I know, and I need to find ways of dealing with that.

But I have some wonderful friends, one of whom I had a long walk with on the Lizard yesterday. We both talked about our troubles, listened to each other and commented where required, comforted where necessary. And as the miles ticked by, and Mollie scampered ahead, oblivious to foolish human troubles, our perspectives changed, settled, normalised.

I liked to imagine our problems blown away by the brisk wind, off towards Porthleven, dashed to smithereens in the fierce waves crashing and pounding off Loe Bar.

I value my friends so much, and am especially happy to have made some very good new ones recently, some through writing, which is even more special.

So to all you friends of mine out there – thank you. I will raise a glass to you all tonight and hope 2010 is a good year for all of us.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Thought for Paws

Wishing everyone a good Christmas - here's a tale that makes me cry every time. In January's edition of Cornwall Today, out now.

Caring for Cornwall’s unwanted animals is a heartwrenching but deeply rewarding job

“Nothing would stop me doing this job, heartbreaking though it is,” says Louise Barker. “I don’t think any of us can say we don’t get emotionally involved. If you ever stop shedding a few tears then I think it’s time to walk away.”

Louise Barker, 38, is the manager of the National Animal Welfare Trust (NAWT) rescue centre on the outskirts of Hayle. Founded in 1971, the NAWT is now one of the top 10 animal rescue and re-homing charities in England, and runs 5 centres across the country, located in Berkshire, Essex, Somerset, Cornwall and Watford.

“Molly Wyatt was a lovely eccentric lady who’d been rescuing and re-homing dogs and cats in Cornwall for 25 years,” says Louise. “When she was diagnosed with terminal cancer she asked the NAWT to continue her work and they were happy to do so.”

Louise has been manager at Hayle since January 2008. Before that she managed another animal rescue centre in Leicester for 9 years, but when this post came up, she jumped at it. She explains, “My sister lives here and my husband has family down here, so moving to Cornwall really is living the dream.”

Louise has always worked with animals and currently has two rescue dogs and a rescue cat, “but the numbers go up and down! I’m a sucker for taking in older animals.”

Any animal lover will feel at home at the centre in Hayle: dogs bark and volunteers and staff come in and out of reception carrying dog leads, treats and blankets. The atmosphere is warm, friendly and you can sense the passion for helping animals.

The facilities were very basic but in August 2008 the Trust purchased the land they had been renting and the new homing centre was ready to move into in November 2008. This cost over a million pounds to build, has 24 kennels and 20 cat pens and is eco-friendly. “The old centre will be demolished but we’ll salvage as much as we can to make staff kennels, so staff can bring their own dogs to work,” says Louise. “There will also be staff accommodation so that someone will always be here over night.”
The money for the new centre was raised following years of hard work. “The Cornish are wonderful fund raisers,” Louise says. “They turn up in any weather because they’re passionate about helping dogs. There are no warm weather volunteers in Cornwall.”

In addition to fundraisers, there are about 25 helpers who walk dogs, clean kennels and carry out home checks. “We’re always looking for volunteers and now with the new centre we’re looking for cat carers as well,” says Louise. “Some stay all day, some can only stay an hour.” Louise smiles. “The cat helpers are called Fussers and Brushers! Socialising the cats for a few hours is so valuable because we don’t have time. Without this we wouldn’t be able to re-home half the cats we do because they’re so frightened.”

Volunteers are of all ages but have to be over 16. “They don’t need experience,” explains Louise. “As long as they have a caring nature and their hearts are in the right place, they’re always welcome.”

The Trust have a policy that no healthy animal is ever put to sleep, but there is occasionally an exception to the rule. “Most dogs just need rehabilitation though sadly we sometimes get one which is so nasty we can’t deal with it and it has to be put down.

“Once we’re full we sometimes foster dogs and sometimes we tell people we’ll fit them in if they can hold on a while.” She sighs. “We usually find homes for the older dogs because they’re quite calm. It’s often the younger loopy ones that end up being long termers. If we can’t find a home they just stay with us.” Walking through the kennels she points to a black and tan cross breed who wags his tail as he sees us coming, his dark eyes full of hope. “I won't even tell you what he's been through,” she says. “He's been here since last November. So far nobody wants him.”

The current recession has had all kinds of repercussions. “Some people leave us money in their Wills but because houses aren’t selling we don’t get the big donations,” Louise explains. “Some volunteers can’t afford the petrol so we’ve lost them. The only place that hasn’t been affected is our charity shop in Falmouth. Perhaps people can’t afford new stuff so they’re buying from there; the shop always needs donations.”

It’s no wonder the staff shed a tear most days as they see plenty of life’s casualties. “We’ve had people having to move into rented accommodation who’ve lost everything and probably the only thing that’s helped them through is their dog. If they have to bring that into us as well, that’s just choking.” Louise continues, “with the recession we’ll see more of this – this week alone we’ve had 3 people begging us to take their dogs.”

Others can’t afford to keep their animals. “The dog wardens pick up a lot more dogs now whose owners have let their dogs loose because they can’t afford to pay vet fees.”

Like any jobs, this one has its down side. “It’s very frustrating dealing with human beings who don’t know any better,” says Louise sadly. “Sometimes they turn up with animals in an appalling state. It’s not always cruelty, it’s ignorance. It would help if dog licences were brought back as it would teach people to be more responsible.”

Another disadvantage is lack of money. “It would be lovely to have a larger centre,” Louise says wistfully. “We’d always fill it no matter how big it was. We rely on volunteers for food but some dogs need specific diets.

“We also need money for vets’ fees, though we have a great vet who gives us a discount. We have a vet room in the new centre but we can’t afford the equipment for operations so it’s just going to be used for health checks and vaccinations.

“Exercise equipment would help socialise the dogs and teach them how to play. A hydrotherapy pool would help relieve the stress of being in kennels and help build up muscles for the undernourished or arthritic dogs. I’d love to employ someone to train dogs and go into the community to teach people how to look after their pets properly.” She smiles. “But any donations that improve the animals’ quality of life or simply brighten their day are always gratefully received.”

Christmas is a strained and stressful time, as Louise explains. “People seem to part with their pets prior to Christmas, so our policy is not to re-home any animals at Christmas to prevent them going as presents. The Christmas fortnight is not an ideal time for a dog to settle into a new home. Though there are exceptions, namely elderly people who live alone.”

For anyone stuck for birthday or Christmas ideas, the NAWT offer the gift of a year’s sponsorship of a dog kennel or cat pen which comes with photos and a folder of information. With this in mind, Louise would like to create more awareness of NAWT in Cornwall. “I’d like to get more local businesses involved maybe in sponsorship and have open days so people can come and look round.” She grins. “The official opening of the centre will be in May 2009 and I’m told that royalty has been invited. I’m practising my curtsey!”

It’s clear that Louise, her staff and volunteers all have one thing in common: the animals’ happiness. Without them, Cornwall would be a poorer place. “You can really make a difference,” she explains. “It’s very hard and emotional but it’s very rewarding. When you see a frail, nervous dog transform into a really happy one and you find it a new home, you know that you’ve changed the rest of its life.”

National Animal Welfare Trust
Wheal Alfred Road
Hayle TR27 5JT
01736 756005
Opening hours 11am-3pm
Dogs to be re-homed are featured on the website, which is updated weekly -

NAWT Shop, 38 Church Street, Falmouth TR11 3EF 01326 211700
Open 10-4 Monday-Saturday. Donations of items in good condition (not electrical or furniture) or offers of help are welcome.

Thursday 17 December 2009

I'm in love.

And I suspect that Himself is a little envious. Though he pretends he's not.

For most of his life, his two loves have been music and boats, and these two are not usually compatible, so one took precedence over the other. Then I came along and confused matters.

But these two have been constants, and as we don't have a boat any more, Himself turned back to jazz. Unfortunately, having been out of the swing of things for many years, he found it very hard to get back into playing the cornet again. After trying for a year or so, he finally decided to hang up his cornet and hasn't wanted to listen to any jazz since.

I can understand that. It's like when a love affair goes wrong. You don't often want to be reminded of the person, so you shut it all out.

But now I've discovered this fabulous choir and I'm in love with music. I love the hour and a half that we have every Thursday to get together and make these incredible noises. Though I would add that all credit goes to our musical director, Claire, who is one of the most inspirational and musical people I have ever met.

For years I belonged to one conventional choir after another and each time I would leave, knowing that it wasn't quite right. Not their fault. Mine. But this one is just FAB. We have no accompaniment, just the natural harmonies of our voices, and Claire clicking her fingers and tapping her foot to keep time.

We sing gypsy music, a Liberian chant, a negro spiritual number, traditional carols, a Congolose folk song, a Bulgarian song, an American canon and many others and for that hour and a half every Thursday I am transported. I get back and can't concentrate on anything else, just the music roaring round my head.

And I would so like to be able to share this with Himself. It's not the kind of music that he has enjoyed in the past, but not to be able to enjoy music is such a loss. Particularly for someone as musical as him.

He's coming to hear us sing this weekend at a Christmas fair, and I hope he'll enjoy that. But somehow I must devise a Cunning Plan to get him back to music.

Any ideas gratefully received.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Food for thought

I've had a busy few weeks – lots to do with a new novel writing group, which has provoked lots of thought about the novel and where I'm going with it. Diverse opinions from others – some published, some not – about it which can lead to confusion. But at the end of the day this is my book. And it's up to me to write it the way I feel is best. Publication can feel so near yet so far – but hearing the news that ChrisH has finally got a contract is very cheering for all of us Not Quite There. Well done, Chris! You've shown us there is hope...

On the paying front, I've interviewed a humanist who really made me think about life – and death. He became a humanist after his son died at the age of 4months, very suddenly. He felt that a religious ceremony for someone who wasn't religious was wrong, and formed a Cornish branch of the Humanist Association, and set about persuading funeral directors to allow him to take funerals. From there he now does weddings and baby namings.

In case you didn't know (and I didn't), humanists don't believe in an after life – this is what you get so you must make the most of it and take responsibility for your actions. But they also believe that we should help each other, and that this is the way for humans to succeed. I very much agree – though mankind seems to be heading in the opposite direction with gusto.

This fellow – called John the Fish, from when he was a fisherman, has been at the forefront of professional folk singing in Cornwall for many years. He's also been a clog dancer/maker, a leather craftsman, a broadcaster, an engineer – you name it there's not much he hasn't done.

Every time something has gone wrong in his life, he simply does something else. “Doors always seem to be opening if you look for them,” he adds. “I think we have to accept what comes and turn it to our advantage. You need to look for the positive rather than the negative, which isn't always easy to do.”

Wise words that I will endeavour to remember.

Friday 4 December 2009

I recently volunteered to take part in a trial for treatment of Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder.

I hadn't realised how much weather can affect me until several years ago when we had a(nother) lousy summer, then I got food poisoning. By late September I was feeling terrible, and rang a girlfriend in desperation.

“Can we meet for a long weekend?” I said (she'd just moved to Bournemouth: a long way from Cornwall.

She agreed to look into it and rang back the next day. “You've got a choice,” she said, with a catch of excitement in her voice. “It's a week in Spain or ten days in Menorca.”

We opted for the ten days, said goodbye to our respective partners and did a runner. Typically we arrived in the middle of a storm and spent the first day freezing, the next day going to a market and buying thick sweatshirts and wondering what the hell we'd done. The next day the sun came out......

That really set me up for the winter and I returned home tanned and beaming to pick blackberries in the greyness of a Cornish October. Now we have Mollie (whom we would not leave behind) but anyway finances rather preclude any foreign jaunts, so I am now sitting in front of my lightbox, getting my daily dose of light (there being none from the sun), and reading my booklet on ways to beat SAD. This includes Getting Outside – not a problem given a) my propensity to cabin fever (inherited from my mother) b) itchy feet and c) Mollie. But there are suggestions for beating negative thinking, Trying New Things and eating sensibly.

I'm charting my progress. So far I've joined the most amazing choir which has lifted my Thursdays beyond belief. As I was having a wobbly time, I tried the ways to beat negative thinking (and I think that helped), but a good sing helped more than anything, followed by a chat with new friends over coffee afterwards. I do eat reasonably sensibly anyway

So, does the lightbox work? Well, given the weather we've had over the past month, I haven't being dragged down into dire depression, put my head in a gas oven or murdered my husband. So I think the answer must be yes.

Do any of you suffer from SAD and/or tried a lightbox?